My American Tour is my first cross-country trip from coast to coast. It is also my first serious attempt at a travelogue.
I was traveling with my friend Andy, who I met in high school. We were young and ambitious and had a desire to see as much as possible.
Never spending more than a few days in one place, the trip gave us a sampling of the various flavors of the country.
This is our path around the country. Starting from our homebase outside Philadelphia, we traveled to the Southwest then looped to the Northwest and northern plains. Click on a day number on the map, or go to a chapter listed to the left.
Before writing this account of my cross country trip, I had to determine who the audience was going to be, who am I writing this to? I figured, rather selfishly, that I am writing this for me. I mean, my primary reason for writing this is to vividly preserve the memories that we encountered on our journey, after all, you can't let Kodak do all the work. But also, I have written this to condense all of the information I learned about the many places we visited not only for my benefit, but for anyone else who may be interested and able to put up with my drivel.
The amount of information one collects on a five week trip is immense, especially if you consciously go around collecting things like I do. Therefore, I have divided this journal into parts to mask some of the confusion. The first part is the part you're reading now, the introduction and preparation. The second part is the day by day account of the trip split into sections based on geographic location. The third part outlines our expenses and my conclusions about the trip.
The toughest part about going on a trip like this is the amount of preparation and the uncertainty of that preparation. At some point this trip went from a far off dream, to a good, let-me-look-into-it idea, to reality. My friend Andy had just gotten back from his semester in Spain and found that many of his friends had taken cross-country trips. I have dreamt about taking a trip like this for a long time and even practiced last summer on my solo, week long, 2,200 mile trip. Once we both started to talk about a trip like this I think the idea fermented in our heads. It probably started during the summer of 1993 and continued into the fall. By the time Andy went to Spain, I think we both knew we were going to do this. We kept talking about this idea as if it was going to become a reality, exercising a lot of faith in our planning. This is what really transformed the idea into reality, as is the case for everything, I guess.
Throughout the fall of 1993 and the winter and spring of 1994 we met a few times and tried to nail down where we wanted to go, what we needed to bring, and how much we would need to spend. The primary purpose of these meetings, I think, was to psych ourselves up for this thing (as if either of us needed that). We probably made dozens of lists and revised these lists many more times. Our lists covered the things we needed for camping, cooking, clothes, tools, first aid, books, bathroom stuff, and assorted necessities like Trivial Pursuit, a flashlight, and garbage bags. We also made lists of the places we would like to see and thought about how we might get there, compromising between the two of us. These lists helped in cost estimation. Our original estimates for food was about $500; lodging, $400; gas, $500-550; and other fees, $100; were very rough and did not include other spending money we may want or need. Because we really did not plan our route, sometimes until the night before, we really couldn't estimate our expenses without a lot of uncertainty.
By the time summer came around, we were both trying to get our supplies together and began sending away for anything we needed. The living room became the trip headquarters where all our scrounged stuff was deposited. During the week before our departure it filled quickly. We did a lot of shopping for clothes, food, and anything else we needed.
The day before, we gathered everything we were taking and put it in the car. We were taking the 5-speed, 86,000 mile, 1986 Accord. By the time it was packed, the extra blankets had to be sacrificed but we did get two nice outdoor sleeping bags from my neighbor so they probably wouldn't be needed anyway. I wanted the car to be roomy, not crammed with stuff. We packed it in such a way that it was somewhere between these two extremes. There was more stuff in the back seat than I wanted, but there really wasn't much of a choice.
I tried to get a good night's sleep the night before, but this usually proves to be a lot harder than it sounds, especially since the next time I would sleep in this bed, and possibly any bed, would probably be at least a month from now. Eventually, though, the panic of getting only three hours of sleep is suppressed by the absolute need for sleep at that sub-conscious level. At six o'clock the alarm will go off and our adventure will begin...
The first leg of My American Tour where we visit Ohio, Indiana's river towns along the Ohio River, the flat plains of Illinois, St. Louis, the Ozarks of Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
We got up at 6 A.M. to begin this monumental trip - the dream has begun. We took showers and ate the last home-cooked meal for a while - eggs, thanks Mom. We decided something must be done for the opening ceremonies of a trip of this magnitude. We settled on two things: Mom surrounding the car with white light and Andy and I christening the car by spitting tap water on it. With this we were off.
It was a foggy, muggy morning which was fine since it was going to be a day of driving. We got gas and were on the PA turnpike by 7:45. Not much time for scenic travel today, we had many miles to cover. Our first stop will be Morgantown, WV to see WVU and, hopefully, some friends. I took the usual route out there, I-76, US 220, and I-68 to Morgantown, not much had changed along the way.
We arrived in Morgantown around 12:30 P.M., parked the car on Fife St. which is way up at the top of High Street. It was a hazy, humid day. Morgantown had changed quite a bit, a lot of new landscaping and restructuring. Took a few pictures of downtown then went to the 'Lair to call Tomás and Mary Ann but neither was home. Took more pictures from across the Monongahela (Mon) River, at Evansdale, and from the law school. Tried calling again but no one was home so we went to the store to get some food. Drove out to the Coliseum to fix an afternoon lunch. We set up shop in the parking lot under a tree but the ants soon caught on. Our PB&J attracted them. Got gas in Star City, WV and were on our way by about 2:30 P.M.
Got on I-79 north to Washington, PA where we switched to I-70 toward Wheeling, WV and Ohio. Got to see a bit more of Wheeling than I did last time I passed through. Before we knew it, we were crossing the Ohio River and into the state of Ohio. Ohio is big, and unfortunately, the only way we were going to get to Scott's at a decent hour was by taking the interstate. I would have liked to take the scenic roads near the Ohio River but it would have taken all day. Instead, we drove straight through Columbus on I-70. The city had a decent skyline.
Continued on what seemed like a straight path through the state until we reached I-75. At this point we turned south toward Dayton, where we were going to visit Scott and Alicia. At US 35 we headed back east through the southern part of Dayton. Scott lives in the south-east corner. Both Scott and Alicia ("Leash") have not changed too much, it had been a while since I'd seen some of the Scott-isms (those who know Scott are probably all too familiar with the Scott-isms and know that it's not suitable material for this composition). Andy and Scott had not been face to face in a very long time. We were introduced to their cats, Bubba and Little E, both little and both male. They got along with each other very well. Scott wasted no time introducing us to his gun. It was a big shotgun. I keep asking myself why? What's the deal with a gun? Not that there's anything wrong with guns necessarily, it's just that I can't see myself wanting to own one and have trouble understanding why anyone else would.
We all decided to go out to dinner to some Mexican place where they gave us beepers that, rather than beeping, vibrated when your table is ready. This is the first time I'd seen one of these, am I that clueless? On the way, Scott drove us by his place of employment, primary care for those with brain injuries. We ate outside in front of the sunset which was quite late since we were on the western end of the Eastern Time Zone, I had noticed the same thing when I was in Michigan last summer.
Scott gave us a little driving tour of Dayton after dinner. We started at the University of Dayton which was quite beautiful. The campus is kept up wonderfully and is creatively planned. The architecture varied a lot, large intricate buildings surrounded by exceptional landscaping. Villanova could learn a few lessons here. There's even a pendulum in the science building. Saw some of the student housing and into the "slums" of student housing where Scott lived with the holes in the floor and the crack-heads in the alley. We went into the city where Scott made sure to point out all the gay and lesbian bars and told us of his experiences there - it took him a while to figure out what that pink triangle was. He told us how racially divided the city was and took us by the municipal hotel where he won a weekend vacation paid for by the city of Dayton a few years back.
Scott had to work tonight from midnight to 2 P.M. the next day! He had Alicia work for him until about 2:30 A.M. so he could have some time with us. He told us of his engagement plans with Alicia and that he had bought a ring. He eventually went to work and we went to bed as Alicia walked in. We all talked for a while but she had to go to work early the next morning and we had to get up early in order to get to St. Louis, so we all went to bed. Although we didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked to with Scott and Alicia, it was great to see them and they were kind to work us into their busy schedule.
We got up around 8:15 A.M. as Alicia was leaving. We left Scott's (he was still at work) and planned to get a cheap breakfast somewhere but never found anything, so we just ate stuff out of the car. We had a lot of food in the car: generic cheerios, bread, peanut butter, jelly, crackers, and granola bars. Did I mention generic cheerios?
We wanted to see Cincinnati so we cruised down I-675 and then to I-75. Construction on this road slowed the pace down and it was morning rush too. Gotta hate that Cinci rush-hour! Finally got to the city and its skyline. Not terribly exciting, a typical Ohio city. I'm finding they really all look the same. They all have about the same number of buildings and all are built in similar styles. They all look like they were built around the same time too. The architecture reminds me of the RCA (now GE) building in New York City, scaled down a bit of course.
Before long, we were on a bridge crossing the Ohio River again and going into Covington, Kentucky. Stayed on I-75 and then picked up I-275 west, the local beltway, toward Indiana and US 50. Crossing the Ohio again, we were in Indiana and turned west on US 50 to start the scenic part of the trip today. The banks of the Ohio are very industrial, power plants everywhere. There was one that we could see from a bridge with a huge cooling tower and below it a man fishing on the wide, lazy Ohio. We were on US 50 until Aurora, IN where we turned south on IN 56, which follows the Ohio River. This is a designated scenic route so my expectations were high. The road hugged the river for quite a distance but then suddenly we found ourselves among all these hairpin turns and going up a hill. They have hills in Indiana? Yes, even ski areas. We eventually made it to the top and onto a plateau where there were a few towns and houses. Many tobacco farms in this area and, of course, corn. The towns up top were Aberdeen, Center Square, Mount Sterling, and East Enterprise.
It was in East Enterprise that we passed a cookout in the center of town (the town was only about 2 or 3 blocks long and less than a block wide on either side of the street). We cruised by it and then reconsidered the offer: a hamburger, chips, and a coke for $1.00, can't be beat. So we drove back to get some lunch. I talked to the women working the grill. This woman was interesting, an older woman, short, had a few teeth missing. She was bitchin' about how hot it was next to the grill while she was cooking, smoking, and keepin' the kids out of the street all at once. We got our lunch and sat down next to an abandoned building. I asked the woman what people do around here. She replied that most people farm tobacco and corn, and continued to explain that this was a big town - it had a bank, a post office, and a volunteer fire department, all of which were so close one could throw a stone through their windows even with my unsound aim. This little cookout is to benefit the fire department. They didn't have a police force, they used the county's (Switzerland County). It was funny, whenever they ran out of food all they had to do was walk over to the grocery store across the small street to get more. We told them we were from out of town; they weren't too surprised. There were about 5 or 10 people there and everyone who drove by waved or stopped to talk. We said goodbye and continued on our merry way.
We started down toward the Ohio River again off the plateau and into the town of Vevay, IN. Passed through Madison, a sizable city with an old fashioned look, and many small towns and, of course, more power plants. The larger towns have something in common out here, they all seem to have a city hall that is similar, with a large, dome-like structure on top made out of wood. They are very distinctive. Madison was a typical small town untouched by the urbanization that I see in the small towns out east. There were clean, wide streets for parking and a lot of large, old trees for shade. The next big towns were Scottsburg and Salem. Many of the towns we are able to pass through in a matter of seconds. At Paoli, IN we turned on US 150 which later joins up with US 50. The land was still somewhat mountainous, okay, hilly, but we were driving away from the river so I expected the land would soon change. Passed through the Hoosier National Forest, nothing too impressive here. Other towns on our journey towards Illinois were Schoals, Loogootee, Washington, and Vincennes, IN on the Illinois border.
Crossed the Wabash River into Illinois where the hills began to disappear and everything was suddenly flat, straight, and boring. Too much farming. Not much to report from these parts. We were now driving through a flatness that we hadn't experienced before. The heat was reflecting off the distant pavement which is why people drive with their lights on out here. God, I'd hate to live out here. One interesting observation: there were these old bridges that crossed over creeks and paralleled the more modern bridges we crossed on. I suspect they were part of the old US 50 and the once state-of-the-art network of roads that connected the coasts before interstates came along. These were nice looking bridges, bridges that had some thought put into them architecturally, unlike the bridges they build today. This was the only source of interest along this throughway of the past. Some of the towns we passed through were Lawrenceville, Olney, and Clay City in Clay County, and again Salem (but this time in Illinois), an interstate town near I-57. What is an interstate town, you ask? A town at an interstate exit where one can choose from eight fast food joints, two-dozen 24-hour gas stations, and towering signs for each of these establishments can be seen at least five miles outside of town, ten with the flat terrain found here. Don't get me wrong, at times an interstate town has its benefits and is just what one is looking for but, more often than not, this is not a desirable destination.
Continued on US 50 till IL 127, which we took north to hook up with I-70. IL 127 was desolate, flat, and completely straight. We pushed toward St. Louis and my friend Dwayne's place on I-70 and began to see the skyline. We passed right next to this hill which I thought looked like an American Indian mound. We found out later that it was the Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site. Three interstates merge into the bridge that crosses the Mississippi River so traffic started to backup in East St. Louis, which at least allowed us to snap a picture of the St. Louis skyline.
Went on I-64 / US 40 to the outer part of the city where we turned in and tried to find Dwayne's house. We drove around for a bit and finally found his house after retracing our steps a bit. We went to go call him and finally got inside around 6:30 P.M. We decided to get a bite to eat; Dwayne wanted it to be something that said St. Louis. We hopped on the Metro train and went downtown to Union Station. This was a very clean, indoor/outdoor mall where there were fountains and jazz bands playing under a partially covered roof. Inside was a mall filled with people. We looked in a National Park store and ate at some chili place. We had a spunky waitress who was able to take our order by memory and was able to remember all the sides and options we requested. She was good at boisterously yelling across the restaurant whatever she wanted or needed. Chili and eggs are a big thing here, doesn't make a lot of sense to me, I passed on that. I complimented her on the water and she told me to tell my friends about the place and asked me if I wanted a job there. I told her my friends probably would not make the long trip just for the water. We moved on to the old part of the station which was reminiscent of Union Station in DC. The ceiling is high and dark and the structure is very old.
We left the station and boarded the Metro again for the Gateway Arch. We walked down toward the river by the old Amtrak station. Saw the many gambling boats on the Mississippi, which were quite drab. The least they could have done was to make them aesthetically pleasing. Not like a Disney production or a Las Vegas nightmare, but something that's not a burden to the senses. Right now they resemble floating boxes where they have maximized their space in order to fit the highest number of people, it certainly does not add to the noble history behind the Great Mississippi. By the Mississippi are cobblestone bricks that just merge into the river. Dwayne showed us where the flood line was in the great floods last summer; where we were standing would have been about 20 feet under water. We made our way up to the Arch which is actually the first national park we visited, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. There is an underground museum beneath the Arch.
|Height||630 feet (192 m)—63 stories|
|Foundation||60 feet deep|
|Sway||Up to 1 inch in 20 mi/hr wind|
Keep in mind that the Statue of Liberty is only 305 feet and the Washington Monument is 555 feet high. Below, in the Museum of Westward Expansion, is an entire museum devoted to all facets of the expansion, from the Louisiana Purchase to the American Indian Experience to the Lewis & Clark Expedition but we had no time to visit. To the west of the Arch is the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott case was heard and the history of St. Louis is commemorated. You remember the Dred Scott case - 1857, blacks were denied citizenship, the Missouri Compromise was voided, and, some would say, it was one of the causes of the Civil War. We did not go into the courthouse, but I would have liked to. The Mississippi, which runs beside the Arch, flows at a sluggish pace of three miles per hour and is only 12 to 15 feet deep. This is certainly not its widest part.
We had to be back to meet another friend of Dwayne's who was in town for the evening. As we were coming out of the visitors center under the Arch we heard booms. We emerged from the tunnel to see brilliant fireworks illuminating the sky. Nobody seemed to know the reason for the fireworks display that night, but, no complaints here, they were beautiful, lighting up the dusk sky, the Arch, and the skyscrapers. For some reason these fireworks seemed to mark a wonderful beginning to the trip; sort of acted as a preview to the unexpected things that we would soon experience on our travels.
We were meeting a bunch of Dwayne's friends at an ice cream place (situated on historical US 66) which I can't remember the name of, but it is one of the most popular landmarks in town. We finally made it to the ice cream place after going to Becky's house (one of Dwayne's friends), then to Becky's Grandmother's house. The place was packed, tons of people there and virtually no one at the Baskin Robbins next door. We (Dwayne, Me, Andy, Becky, and the engaged couple who are moving to Pittsburgh) were all going back home and his friends invited us to watch a movie at their house but we decided to go back to Dwayne's and hang out. The three of us talked for a while but Dwayne had to get up early to go to church, so we went to bed around 1 A.M.
Today Dwayne had to go to church at 11 A.M. so it was a lazy day until about 1:30. At that time Dwayne came back and we decided to go downtown again to take some pictures. We took the Metro to Union Station again and looked at this building a little closer. Then we went outside and saw the castle-like tower and the hotel attached to the north side of the station. We walked along a park called the Memorial Plaza, a strip that extends toward the Mississippi and the Arch. There were large fountains and the park eventually led us to the Old Courthouse. It was very hot and humid so we stopped to get something to drink then continued walking toward the water. Saw all these Delta Sigma Theta girls in town for a convention, all wearing white and traveling in groups of three or four.
We made it down to the water and rested for a bit by the Mississippi. Walked up the long stairs (in case of floods, I guess) to the Arch and walked around the park a bit. Andy and Dwayne were interested in seeing the World Cup Finals so we went to a sports bar where they had a large crowd of various ethnicities watching the game on hundreds of TVs. We sat and watched for a while then decided to eat dinner at the restaurant next door. We watched the end of the game (Brazil won in a shoot-off after a 30 minute overtime) and a little of the Tour de France (I forgot how much Dwayne likes biking).
We finally went home via the train and Dwayne went out to get a paper and a movie while we hung out talking to his roommate John Tan. Dwayne came back with the Pelican Brief and we watched that then went to bed.
We woke up early, about 7 A.M., in order to get on the road. Dwayne was a good guy and got up to see us off. The weather had been excellent all weekend and we had a good time in St. Louis but it was time to move on.
We were off by 8:30 A.M. and encountered a little rush hour traffic. Took I-64 to I-270 south then picked up I-44 west. Once out of the city, the terrain was still hilly and there were many trees. We stayed on I-44 till the Cuba exit where we turned south on MO 19. Yesterday, we made the command decision to go through the Ozarks instead of going into Nebraska. MO 19 is very hilly at points and passes through many national forests and recreation areas. It also passes through another Salem, Salem, MO (this had nothing to do with the choice of routes). We drove through the Ozark National Scenic Riverway and one of the many patches of the Mark Twain National Forest spread throughout the lower part of Missouri. Thayer is the last town in Missouri before crossing into Arkansas. We turned on AR 9 going southwest and the first town we encountered - Salem, AR (surprised?). Yes, Salem. How many is that? The towns on this road were few and far between. Once in a while there would be an unincorporated two-second town (it only takes two seconds to drive through these towns) but the towns listed in the atlas (which were only five to ten second towns) were about 15 to 20 miles apart.
There is not much to see here, the ground is too rocky for farming so there are just old houses and rolling, grassy, scrubby hills with the appearance of rock once in a while. Also, many evergreen trees which served as a constant reminder that, yes, we were in the south. Passed into Izard County and the towns of Mountain View, Melborne, and Clinton, AR. Turned south on US 65 in Clinton until AR 9 began again in Choctaw, AR. In the interest of time, we decided to cut short our Ozark tour through the Ouachita National Forest and take I-40 west. It was getting late and we wanted to cover a few more miles. The Ozarks were interesting but didn't really compare to any other mountain chain. Actually, it's not really a chain of mountains but a clump of mountains. It reminded me of the mountains in western New York, but New York was much prettier, probably because of the vegetation. The Ozarks are a lot scrubbier than New York and the towns look like southern towns with many old, run-down buildings and the like.
We passed on the "Hand clappin', knee slappin', toe tappin' good ole time" that we could have had at the Mountain View Ozark Folk Center - this is all I'm going to say about the culture down here. Picked up Izard County's White River Current, the local paper. Among the comical headlines is the announcement that Marlon and Alma Collins were proud recipients of the Yard of the Month. It sounds like they need incentive down here. Okay, that was definitely the last comment on the local culture.
We continued on I-40 paralleling the Arkansas River west into Oklahoma where the land became drastically flatter and the trees became more sparse. Passed by signs for Sequoyah's home in Sequoyah County, OK. For our first night of camping we chose to look at this place which was on a little branch of Eufaula Lake, which drains into the Arkansas River and is fed by the South Canadian River. It was about 6 P.M. when we got off the highway and into Checotah, OK. This put us on US 266 till we got to the campsite outside of Hitchita, OK. The camp was in a park, Gentry Creek National Recreation Area, set up by the US Army Corps of Engineers. We drove around the park and checked it out. There were two parts of the park. We chose the part where there were no people and figured that everyone was on the other side because that's where the bathrooms were. So we chose a site and parked the car and, being the experienced campers that we were, I asked, "Is that it?" Did we need to pay anywhere? We both shrugged our shoulders and laughed. I had only camped two nights in my life and Andy's track record was about equal to mine. We set up our stuff anyway. I think I lost five pounds in water due to the oppressive heat.
Around dusk an army woman arrived and took $7 from us and asked us how we could stand the heat. She didn't seem to be handling it too well, she had the A/C blasting in the pickup. We talked about our trip and she concluded that she was the first "okee" we had met, and she was right. As night fell a cool steady breeze moved in off the moonlit lake. After cooking dinner (spaghetti) and cleaning everything up, we walked down to the lake's edge. It was a beautiful, clear night. We eventually went to bed after doing some planning in the tent for tomorrow's journey. This was our first night of camping - there would be many more to come.
Having crossed the plains, we now entered the Southwest. We spend a lot of time in this area. We drove into the northern panhandle of Texas, northern New Mexico, Santa Fe, southwest Colorado, southern Utah, northern Arizona, a bit of Nevada, and into Death Valley, California.
I didn't sleep too well last night. The wind was strong and steady and kept me up. I guess my guard was still up, this being our first night in the tent. I was a little nervous given the pickup truck, beer-drinkin' people we saw on our arrival here yesterday afternoon. I was up at dawn wrestling with the allergies and the birds were singing so loudly that there was no possibility of returning to sleep. Once the sun came out the inside of the tent began to bake so we got up, took showers, and left. Stopped in this little bait, food, beer, and pool (the game not the swimming hole) place. The woman who worked there was very nice. She told us a little about the area and filled our water jugs for us.
We left her little store and got back on US 266 west to Henryetta, OK where we jumped back on I-40. We decided it would be a good idea to get a substantial breakfast. However, it was a long time before we found a decent place to stop, eventually stopping in Shawnee, OK where we ate at a Best Western that was all the way on the other side of town. This place was all old people who look at you funny and, I might add, we had an unenthusiastic waitress. I think she thought we were freaks or something. Back on the road around 11 A.M. Passed through Oklahoma City which was nothing to write home about. No distinctive buildings, just the usual cluster of five to ten high-rises.
It's about 140 miles to Texas and the landscape is getting grassier and the trees are becoming bushier and sparser. At one point in Texas we stopped at a rest stop. It was very windy and we could see for miles. What did we see? Grass. However, it was becoming somewhat canyon-ish. The land was not flat in the close-up view. There were small canyons and tiny hills. But on the larger perspective there were no huge hills so one could see as far as the round earth would let you. No sign of civilization either, not a house, farm, or cow in sight.
If you thought Oklahoma City was bad, take a trip to Amarillo. This place only had one building to its skyline, not as big a city as I thought, I guess. At Amarillo we turned north on US 87/287. This road was straight and flat, and people were flyin' on it. It also brought us closer to this new and interesting landscape. At Dumas, TX we refueled and I had a chat with the Exxon owner. He informed me that this was probably going to be the last Exxon station I would see for a while, he said they were, for the most part, bought out in New Mexico, Arizona and other western states. This was good seeing that I had an Exxon card.
US 87 turns west to Hartley, TX which was the next town, 24 miles from here. A lot of farming along here. They farm in those circular plots too. We figured each circle to be about a mile or a mile and a half in diameter. All the towns here are just gathering places for farmers. There are grain co-ops and farming stores but no houses in these towns. After Hartley, it was 14 miles to Dalhart, TX then 36 miles to Texline, TX.
We were planning to camp in Clayton, New Mexico. Passed through the Rita Blanca and Kiowa National Grasslands in Texas and New Mexico but, by now, grass was grass. Around here there are isolated outcrops decorating the landscape. Turned up NM 370 heading for Clayton Lake State Park and found ourselves on the edge of a wide, shallow canyon covered in green-yellow grass. It was beautiful and we had to have a picture of it before we drove into it. In the distance was Rabbit Ear Mountain which was 5,940 feet but didn't look it, the ground level must be pretty high.
After traveling for about 15 miles, we came to the park and it was starting to look like rain. I paid the fee and talked with a few folks who drove in with us about the setup. As soon as we chose a camp site it started to pour. The storm was rather violent and the lightning was very close. After a while, there was a break in the action and we set up camp and got all our stuff in the tent just in time for the next storm to develop over us. By now it was dark so we watched this one from the tent. There was a lightning strike every five to ten seconds, often enough that Andy was trying to get a picture of one. The wind accompanying the storm was very strong and since our tent was on top of this hill overlooking the lake, there was no natural shelter to protect the tent and us. This weather, to say the least, was not conducive to sleep, especially since I was still getting used to sleeping in a tent. The rain stopped eventually but the wind continued on all night which made it hard to get a good night's sleep.
It was still windy when we woke up today which made taking down the tent and other normal morning activities almost impossible. Eventually we took showers and left. It was still cloudy this morning, and somewhat dreary. We hit a grocery store in Clayton to get some food. We made PB&J in the parking lot which always conjures up a few interesting looks from passers by. Made our way up US 87/64 to NM 456 and Capulin Volcano National Monument. It was still cloudy and we couldn't see the top of the volcano from the Visitor's Center. Nevertheless, we bought our Golden Eagle Pass and headed for the top.
This park offers the unusual treat of walking into a volcano. We got out of the car at the top and showed the same amount of disappointment as everyone else. However, we trekked up the Crater Rim Trail which is a one mile trail that encircles the rim of the Volcano. The highest elevation was 8,182 feet although it is only 1,000 feet from its base. As we walked, the clouds kept misting up my glasses, everything was damp, my hair, clothes, everything. The only evidence of wildlife was the removal of bark by porcupines off the pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, and the juniper trees. The trees were coniferous and small. Nothing grew very tall up here.
From the top, three lava flows can be seen, each occurring at different periods in time. This volcano marks the end of the geologically active period that began two million years ago. The last eruption here was about 10,000 years ago and there are many more cinder cones in the area as evidence of this activity. By the time we were making our way to the trail's end, the Sun was starting to break through the clouds. The clouds enshrouding the volcano were starting to break up and we could at least see the other side of the rim. We then started on the short trail that went into the cinder cone. The trail goes into the bottom of the crater where the vent solidified into rock, then broke apart when it cooled. Today it is just a bunch of boulders where the vent once was. These boulders were light and we found that even we had the strength to move and pick up these large boulders.
Leaving on the road outside the volcano we could see the top of the cone now with the clouds dissipating. The frequency of these isolated mountains is growing and it would not be long before we would be in the Rocky Mountains. It was 25 miles till the next town on US 87/64 which was Raton, NM. Got on I-25 south briefly to follow US 64 which was a few exits down. This area is home to the largest N.R.A. center in the U.S. The Whittington Center is built on 33,000 acres of land and is open for public tours. We didn't stop.
The next town was Cimarron, NM, 45 miles away. Cimarron is Spanish for "fugitive" or "wild." This town has seen some of the west's best, Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Jesse James, and Billy the Kid. After going through the town, we found ourselves in the Cimarron Canyon State Park. This was an unexpected treat. US 64 goes through the canyon and along each side are walls of rock. One wall is so steep they named it the Palisades Sill, rising 600 feet above the canyon floor. The canyon was cut by the Cimarron River which is one of the best fishing spots in the state. The canyon is about eight miles long and ends overlooking a breathtaking valley of green grass, surrounding pine covered mountains, and the Eagle Nest Lake. This is a large lake that the tiny town of Eagle Nest, NM uses for fishing and recreation. Here we went to the tourist info place and talked to an older woman who greeted us and began spewing knowledge about the town. She seemed to really enjoy what she was doing and loved the area. It's too bad. According to the paper I picked up we just missed the Cowboy New Year Rodeo and the Saddle-Sore Slumber Party, oh well.
We continued on through the town and turned north on NM 38, part of the "Enchanted Circle," an 85-mile road encircling Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in the state at 13,160 feet. This circle is in the Carson National Forest and most of the towns along the way are ski resort towns. The next town after passing through Bobcat Pass, which was over 9,000 feet, is Red River. All of these towns survive primarily on tourism, especially winter sports. Next is the town of Questa at the junction of NM 522. This town was settled in the 1840s and named for the Spanish word meaning hill, although spelled in an Anglican way. These towns were really beautiful, clean, and crisp looking. Traveling south on NM 522 we passed through the towns of Lama, San Cristobal, Arroyo Hondo, and at the end of the circle is Taos.
Taos seems to be located at a lower elevation based on the sudden dryness of the land. The literature I picked up describes Taos as "a town where Native Americans, Hispanics, rednecks, hippies, new agers, born agains, developers, environmentalists, Republicans, Democrats, Green party, Yankees, Daughters of the Civil War, espresso drinkers, micro-brewery, wine tasting, Bud slamming, cowboys live side-by-side." The town was touristy and all the buildings were made of the Spanish or Mexican type architecture with the adobe-looking faces. Next to the town of Taos is the Taos Pueblo. This is a mud and straw town that has been inhabited for 1,000 years. The Spanish came in the 1600s and the "Gringos" in the western expansion. There is no running water or electricity for the inhabitants of the pueblo and bread is still baked in outdoor adobe ovens.
Out of Taos we were on NM 68 and heading for Santa Fe and a place to camp for the night. We decided to check out this campground near Espanola, NM on the Santa Clara Pueblo Reservation. As we were driving through Espanola on all the street corners were American Indians of all ages selling the Rio Grande Sun to passers-by in their cars. We have been paralleling the Rio Grande River since Taos, it's about 25 feet wide up here. Got through Espanola and turned on US 84 then south on NM 30 toward this reservation.
There was a sign telling us that we were now in the Santa Clara Pueblo Reservation and the laws that we are used to no longer apply here. They have their own police enforcing their own laws and their own tribal court to judge you in. The campsite was 11 miles up this road where the Puye Cliff Dwellings were dug out by the ancient people of the past. These were what looked like tiny holes in this mesa wall where the American Indians lived at one point. No pictures allowed on the reservation, so words will have to do. The road we were on was getting thicker with pines and eventually we were out of the desert and into an oasis. We made it to the checkpoint and it was starting to drizzle. An Indian approached us in a pickup and took the $10 fee from us and told us the campsites were up this dirt road for the next eight miles. By the time we had gotten to our site the drizzle had stopped and we started setting up fast because it still looked like rain and we could hear thunder beyond the canyon walls. We could not see in the distance because we were in a canyon surrounded by sheer walls of rock. There was a nice babbling brook running along the site and cliffs all around, a spectacular site. This was a nice campground because we could not see anyone else, someone would drive by once in a while but otherwise we were isolated. Although we got everything set up just before the storm made it over the canyon cliff, we weren't going to be able to cook tonight.
We woke up early today to a damp, sunny morning. The sun was shining down the length of the canyon and everything was still wet from last night's rain. Last night may have been the first good night's sleep I've had in the tent so far. Our tent was about five feet from a brook and the noise of the water helped drowned out the other mysterious sounds that otherwise would have kept me awake. The sun really brought out the colors in the canyon walls and the tiny trees that lie on top of these walls. It really was the most spectacular thing I've seen on the trip so far. The sheer cliffs surrounding us are tinted red and yellow by the rising sun. We cooked Raman noodles for breakfast since we have not been able to cook for the last few nights due to the weather. Before long we were back out in the desert and heading for Santa Fe on US 84 south.
It was a sunny day and very hot. Eventually made it into the city. All the buildings were southwest-type fake adobe (this must be written in the zoning laws) and the city was filled with people, many were tourists. We parked the car and walked around. There were many shops and artsy places, mostly American Indian art and jewelry. There is a central plaza in the center of town with a nice park. Today some band was playing Spanish style music and there was quite a crowd watching. Doesn't anybody work in this town or are we all tourists? There were many sidewalk tables in the shade under the overhanging roofs of the storefronts filled with American Indian jewelry and families patiently sitting beside their merchandise.
We got some food from this lady who owns one of those carts. It was some Spanish thing, I can't remember the name of it. Then we sat in the grass in the plaza listening to the band. Picked up some of the local free papers one of which had a nice picture of a guy flippin' the bird. All of them were full of astrology, spiritual healing, and psychic readings and just about all of them showed a picture of the typical older, gray-haired man (nice tan of course) wearing a long white caftan gently blowing in the breeze. What this means I don't know, I just know there are a lot of them out here. Some of the local news: people are getting angry because the new Sprint communications tower freezes then the wind carries chunks of ice bombarding the towns around the tower; also, people are worried about the build-up of bomb making at Los Alamos. A bit late for these people.
We continued to walk around town and decided to go to the oldest church in continuous use in the U.S. The San Miguel Mission was first built in 1626 but was destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo Rebellion. The current church was built in 1710 and has the oldest altar in the state (1798) as well as a bell that they say was made in Spain in 1356. This church and many of the other landmarks like the Capulin Volcano are on the Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail (Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe) opened in 1821 and was one of the most famous travel routes to the west, connecting Missouri traders with Mexican soldiers.
Since we're never taught about the history of the Southwest, I feel I should mention the Pueblo Rebellion since we've bumped into it here on our trip. It was started by a militant medicine man named Pope from the pueblo of San Juan. He was against the suppression of Indian's rights to practice their religion and the Spanish exploitation of all Indians of the area. He sent runners throughout the region to let his followers know of the upcoming revolt on August 11, 1680. Those who he did not trust, who worked with the Spanish and accepted Christianity, he sent runners with news of a revolt to take place on August 13. The attacks began in northern New Mexico along the Rio Grande River. Pope set up his headquarters in Taos and with much success and gathering support, they moved on toward Santa Fe with an army of 500 men reaching the city on August 15. Santa Fe was guarded by 50 troops and brass cannons. Fighting went on for days, with the chapel being destroyed on the third day, but there were no decisive victories on either side. On August 19, Pope and his army abandoned their position north of Santa Fe and retreated. On August 21, the Spanish also left Santa Fe and headed south to El Paso. The result of the uprising: 400 Spanish killed, 2,500 Spanish settlers driven back to Mexico, a colonial power driven out by a band of Indians. Within 12 years, Spain would again occupy the American Southwest unchallenged.
We did a little more walking around then left the city the same way we entered it. We knew it would be tight if we were going to try to make it to Chaco Canyon. We turned west on NM 4 off US 84. This road goes around Los Alamos and by many of the Los Alamos labs that require "proper clearance." The road also goes through the Santa Fe National Forest and the Jemez Mountains. We were going through higher elevations and the road soon became very curvy. Unfortunately, we were stuck behind logging trucks and the ride was very slow. Soon the pavement ran out and the road turned to dirt. This was on the map but the dirt portion of the road did not look too long. Little did we know we had begun the ride from hell.
The dirt lasted forever and the road condition did not allow us to drive at normal speeds. There was one town on this road, Seven Springs. It looked as though there were more springs than people, the place was deserted. Andy thought it might be a skiing town since there only appeared to be residential A-frame dwellings (McDonalds hasn't found this place yet and neither had Rand McNally) but there were a few people walking around. Soon we were at the point where we no longer trusted the map and we were afraid we were on some road to nowhere. I thought a compass would have been handy at a time like this. At this time we came across a sign that said END PUBLIC LAND. Did this mean the beginning of private property? Were we now on someone's driveway or did this mean we were out of the national forest? Would we have to turn around and go all the way back? We ultimately decided to press on after a few minutes of deliberation. What's the worst that could happen if it were private property? While it's possible we could have been entering the Manson Ranch of New Mexico or some anti-government militia compound, what are the chances? Besides, these places usually have a lot of highly visible NO TRESPASSING signs around and I did not see any unfriendly signs. So this was a good decision and we eventually made our way back to civilization. The scenery on the road was beautiful but we were glad when pavement returned since it looked like rain again. By the time we got to pavement though, it was much to late to get to Chaco in order to get a campsite, but we tried anyway.
We finally got to Cuba, NM and turned northwest on NM 44 toward Bloomfield, NM. This road was deserted and flat. Not much to see out here, but we were able to go over 30 miles per hour now. Passed Chaco, it's 10 to 20 miles off the road and it's all dirt. I was a little worried about going all the way in there to find out that the campground is full then having to drive back out this 20 mile dirt road, especially after the dirt road experience earlier. If the campground was full we may have trouble getting a place to stay elsewhere so we decided to keep going. Civilization was not far, only about 40 miles to Bloomfield and Aztec, NM.
There were a wide variety of camping options east of these towns and we figured on staying at one of these tonight. We stopped in Aztec to get organized and continued on. The next thing I saw was a New Mexico Historical Marker sign (which are all over the place) that simply said COLORADO. I thought this was pointing out the river that the road was running beside but I began to think about the path of the Colorado River and concluded that we're no where near the Colorado River, so we must be in the state. Apparently we took a wrong turn and we had gone north instead into Colorado on US 550 and the river was the Animas River, not the Colorado. Another instance where a compass would have come in handy. This was somewhat of a disappointment since there were a lot of ruins we had planned to see in the Aztec area and we even considered going back down to Chaco tomorrow but it was just too far now. Yes, 65 miles sure beats the 2,000 or so miles from Pennsylvania but I guess we decided it was too much.
We were now in the Southern Ute Indian Reservation and things on the whole were much greener over the border, a lot more irrigation it seems. Now the next town will be Durango, CO. This was a nice town (El. 6,523 ft), a sizable city which is home to Fort Lewis College so there were good places to eat, like Denny's. We arrived around 8 P.M. and just wanted to find a place to stay. We ended up going to the Hermosa Meadows Campground which is in the San Juan National Forest. This was one of those "family" places which meant that kids could run around and be as annoying as they wanted to. The type of place people bring television sets to. Not ideal but not too many choices either, and hey, it had showers.
We met this group of girls from New York as we were checking in. They stopped by later and we compared trips. They were envious of us because they were going to be home in a few days while we were just starting. They were more into partying and loved Las Vegas, NV. They gambled a lot, then, as they were leaving, got pulled over for speeding. To pay the citation they went back to gamble. Interesting story, glad our trip isn't like that. Eventually they left, they were going out to Denny's to get the birthday special since it was one of the girls' birthday. We cooked Spaghetti and went to bed.
I awoke early today (this is becoming a habit) to the sound of a steam engine whistle. Durango is one of those old western towns and has an old coal fired steam engine that pulls tourists from Durango to Silverton (a 47 mile trip) all day. I heard this train early, before I was out of the tent. The train apparently was the reason for the town's existence. Durango was founded in 1879 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway. The railroad was constructed to haul mine ores, mostly gold and silver, from the San Juan Mountains. If you want to locate the train in town all you have to do is look for the steam cloud that rises above the roofs of the buildings.
We were out of the child-infested campground by 9:30 A.M., dined at Denny's for breakfast, then headed to Mesa Verde National Park. I wasn't feeling too good today and I don't think Andy was either. I think we got bad water somewhere in the last day or two and it has taken a toll on us. We headed west on US 160 and in about 35 miles we were at the turnoff for the park. We were going to the Chapin Mesa ruins which was a curvy 21 miles from the park entrance. The road is very scenic, it basically follows along the north rim of Mesa Verde, which is a giant mesa. The elevation on this mesa is above 7,500 feet. As we drive in, to the north and far below is Montezuma Valley and the town of Cortez. The road is extremely curvy and is one hairpin turn after another.
We stopped at the Far View Visitor Center to get some information. There was a line around the building (which is circular) for the ranger guided tours. We by-passed the line and went inside and said, "What can we see here by ourselves?" The ranger questioned why people would stand in line when there was so much to see on your own. So she filled us in and we walked back to the car. The literature we picked up warns that "park visitors can be the target of professional thieves who rob campsites and locked vehicles." We weren't trying to prove anything but we did leave the car door wide open the entire time we were in the visitor center. Perhaps the thieves only rob locked cars?
After taking a brief inventory, we were off to see the ruins on Chapin Mesa. Our first stop was the Museum at the Spruce Tree House. The museum was interesting, describing the Anasazi culture and how and when they lived in these houses. Here is a quick overview of the history of this area. The first settlers were called Basketmakers and were here around 550 AD. They replaced hunting and gathering with farming and they lived in pithouses which were clustered into small villages. The pithouses are just that, pit houses. They are squarish and sunk a few feet into the ground. There was a roof supported by timbers and covered with mud. They also had firepits, an air deflector, and storage chambers carved into the earth walls. By 750, the population grew and the villages became larger. From this time on these people were known as Pueblos. By 1000, the Anasazi had mastered stone masonry. The most prosperous period in Anasazi history was between 1100 and 1300. The pithouses were no longer being used now. They were building large stone structures sometimes two or three stories high. Inside these walls were kivas or ceremonial rooms. This is a room sunk underground and covered by a roof like the pithouse but more sophisticated. The kiva had a fire pit and an air deflector but also had a ventilator (a chimney that goes into the ground and comes out on the surface), benches, and a sipapu or entrance to the underworld (this is convenient). This room was used as a meeting place or a spiritual place for special ceremonies. Around 1200 there was a population shift into the cliff alcoves. The reason for this is not known. Here they built houses ranging from one room to over 200 rooms. By 1300, Mesa Verde was deserted. It is known that there was a long period of drought in the last quarter of the 13th century but this does not necessarily provide the answer, so this desertion still remains a mystery. The Pueblo Indians of today are thought to be descendants of the Anasazi culture of the past. This sums up the human history of the area and the Anasazi culture which populated much of the southwest.
After the museum we went to see the ruins for ourselves. First, we strolled down to the Spruce Tree House. This is down in Spruce Canyon and is a huge cliff dwelling. There were tons of people so we could only catch a close-up view once in a while. We could look into kivas and the huge structures that were built perfectly flush with the top of the rock alcove. Next we hopped back into the car and drove down to the other ruins. They are set up in such a way that as you go to each ruin you are going forward in time. So the first thing we saw was a pithouse dating from about 575 AD. Next we stopped at the view to the Square Tower House. This dwelling contains over 60 rooms and was occupied in the 1200s. Next stop is the Late Pithouses. This trail shows the evolution of the pithouse into the kiva and was built around 675. After this were examples of villages - clusters of these houses. Next we stopped at an overlook into the Sunset House, the Oak Tree House, and the New Fire House. These are all cliff dwellings that we could only see from afar. The last stop was the Sun Temple. This is a D-shaped building that you can climb a ladder to and walk around on the top of the walls. The original tops of the walls fell in but now there exists a 7 to 9 foot wall that people walk on to view the inner structure of the temple. After this we were on our way. We did stop at Park Point (8,571 ft), an overlook into the Montezuma Valley. There was a fire lookout station here but the guy up there was not very talkative.
We left and headed for Cortez, CO on US 160. Got gas here and headed northwest on US 666 toward Utah. Stopped in Monticello, UT to get some groceries and film. The entire town lies beneath the Elk Ridge which consists of four mountain peaks covered in trees. This is the Manti-La Sal National Forest. I really had a desire to drive right up this road that could be seen far in the distance disappearing into the trees below the 10,000 foot plus summits, but I didn't. Instead we kept to the plan and headed north on US 191 to Moab, UT. On the map this is 55 miles from Monticello and is the largest town in what looks to be the entire southeastern corner of Utah.
Looking in the opposite direction along UT 128 with the Colorado River hidden behind the cottonwood trees.
Too many ants in this campground.
Today we had to wake up early to get a campsite in Arches National Park. These filled up quickly and we really wanted to get one. Once we got a site we would go to two nearby parks and see Arches tomorrow. We got to the park entrance and the guy gave us information about camping. The campground was on the opposite end of the park which is 18 miles from the entrance. We started driving up the road, passing the Courthouse Towers area, the Tower of Babel, and Park Avenue - some of Arches' landmarks. We were driving for about 20 minutes when Andy, while reading the park paper, said, "all campers must register at the visitors center." We weren't sure if we needed to do this since we talked to the guy at the gate but we turned around and headed back just in case. We drove all the way back to find out what we had was fine. So we were on our way again. The scenery was so beautiful that it was a pleasure but we were worried about getting a site since it was getting late.
The morning had not been going too well thus far. We needed something to eat and I would have liked a shower. We set up the tent and got something to eat at a Subway in Moab which was very good. Our first stop today is in Dead Horse State Park then Canyonlands National Park. These two parks are a bit south of Arches but we had to go north on US 191 to get to them. We were going to the north part of Canyonlands called Island In The Sky. There are three other parts, the Needles, the Maze, and the Horseshoe Canyon Unit. All require a lot of hiking, backcountry camping, and/or a four wheel drive vehicle. Turned in on UT 313 which is a road that makes its way to the top of the mesa that overlooks the canyons from these two parks. Both of these parks are surrounded by cliffs and canyons and the road that was built on this mesa top extends out to the tip of this mesa and all points around the edges.
Dead Horse State Park was really a surprise. I had seen pictures of this and always wanted to go but didn't know where it was. The fee was $3 and it was well worth the price. The view is tremendous into the Meander Canyon, which the Colorado River is responsible for creating. The river is 2,000 feet below the 6,000 foot elevation of the park. The cliffs expose 150 million years of erosion by the river.
320 million years ago, Canyonlands was a basin southwest of an ancient mountain range 15,000 feet high named the Uncompahgre Uplift. This basin was repeatedly flooded by an adjacent ocean called the Cretaceous Seaway that extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, resulting in the accumulation of salts. Debris from this ancient uplift added layers of dark shale to the deposited salt in the basin. In the next 100 million years limestone, sandstone, and more shale were deposited. After this, erosion began to overpower the rock layers and deposited sediment. This has continued to the present time, eroding away at least one mile of rock and creating the features we see today in the parks. All of this material was eroded by the powerful Colorado and Green Rivers. As far as human history, Paleo-Indian cultures inhabited the area as far back as 11,500 BC. By 1000 BC, they grew corn and began to develop into the permanent settlements of the Anasazi culture. By the end of the 1300s and a twenty year drought, Canyonlands had no more inhabitants. Not until the 1800s did Europeans enter the area. Several explorers traversed the area, the most famous being John Wesley Powell who brought back the first detailed account of the area from his 1869 and 1871 expeditions down the Colorado River. In the 1950s and 1960s people were exploring Canyonlands for uranium deposits. For this, roads were created in the canyons for extraction but the yields were not worth the effort and cost of extracting it. Soon after, in 1964, Canyonlands became a national park.
Anyway, back to reality ... It was an extremely hot day today. We headed for Canyonlands and stopped in the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and poked. Some lady came in and asked if there was a place in the park where the family could have a picnic in some shade. The ranger replied, "Ma'am, welcome to the desert." There was no shade, all the trees were small and all the leaves were small to conserve water for the plant.
After leaving the visitor center, we went to the many overlooks. The first was the Buck Canyon Overlook. Then the Grand View Point Overlook, Orange Cliffs Overlook, and then we walked out to Murphy Point which overlooks the Soda Springs Basin. Actually, we drove out to a point where there was a sign reading FOUR WHEEL DRIVE VEHICLES RECOMMENDED BEYOND THIS POINT. So we walked the last mile and a half out to the point. This looks west upon the Green River. In the middle of the park the two rivers converge and the Colorado continues on its way to the Gulf of California, 1,400 miles from here. It was starting to look like it might rain, sounded like it too. I was watching a storm in the distance, hoping it would stay away from us. We began walking back, I didn't want to have to drive on these sandy roads, I've heard it's impossible to do when they're wet.
Finally made it back to the car and drove up to the Upheaval Dome, which is actually a huge dome beside a crater-like feature. Basically it's a large hole surrounded by walls of sandstone. These walls are thought to have been pushed up by slow moving salt layers beneath the surface deposited by the ancient sea. Another theory suggests the huge hole may be the result of a meteor hit. We walked out on the Upheaval Dome trails along one of the walls of this 1,500 feet deep hole. Walked out a bit further then made our way back to the car. The last thing we saw in the park was the Mesa Arch. This is a long, wide arch and is found at the end of this trail on one of the cliffs overlooking Buck Canyon thousands of feet below. This was an amazing feature and I was tempted to climb out on top of it but if a strong wind came along there could be a problem. It was starting to get late so we left.
We went into Moab to get a few groceries. This is like going to the grocery store at the beach. All tourists, mostly German and French, I was beginning to wonder what country I was in. We got back to Arches and our camp around 8:30 P.M., night was not far. Today was hot as hell, the Canyonlands visitor center forecast the day to be 107 degrees. I don't know if it ever made it to this temperature but it was hot. One effect of this heat and sunshine: crispy skin.
We sat up and watched the dusk sky, there were just enough clouds to make it beautiful. It was perfect: there was this guy playing a harmonica in the distance, old west style. For all I knew he was probably German or French. We had to get to bed early tonight. We signed up for the Fiery Furnace hike tomorrow morning at 10 A.M. I could not get to sleep. There was a deer munching on the trees outside our tent. I was afraid she would stick her nose in our tent or something. I could still use a shower; actually I really want a shower.
We planned to spend most of the day in Arches today. We woke up, packed things up, and went to the Fiery Furnace. This is a grouping of tall, thin, and long sandstone fins all lined up parallel to one another. The hike we signed up for occurs twice a day and is three hours and three miles long. They do not let people in the Fiery Furnace without a ranger to guide. The reason for this is that people get lost in the many dead-end canyons and cannot find their way out.
We were being guided by Ranger Jim. Jim was a guy in his thirties who liked to do volunteer things like this and knew an awful lot about the environment around here. He took us (about 20 people including this couple from Canada and their annoying kids) through these sandstone fins. There was a trail through the fins and many rooms and passageways to stray into. We went along the trail and would all of a sudden find ourselves in a room of sandstone walls that are 40 or 50 feet high. This was really incredible, many of the "rooms" had arches in them, formed from water running into the canyons and carving a hole through the soft sandstone. One of these "rooms" had a large bowl-shaped hole in the rock floor about three or four feet in diameter that was created by water long ago. The bowl was filled with sand and Jim said that once the rain comes, there are fish in the sand that will come out. They know to "wake up" only when there's enough water in the pothole.
There was one room near the end that was huge. The walls were so high very little sunlight was able to get in. We took frequent breaks and Jim would tell us about the animals that live in the area, people who have lived in the area, how they used the local vegetation for food, and how the land came to look the way it does. The sky was a deep blue which really brought out the color of the rock. Jim had us climbing up rocky slopes (without getting rim-rocked), slithering through thin cracks between rocks, and gave us a little quiz, only one question: "What is an Arch?" We all passed and were on our way. Jim was so knowledgeable that we were asking him questions after the hike was over, as were several other people.
We continued our trip through the park taking a trail from the Devil's Garden, which was out near the campground. This trail went to the Wall Arch, Landscape Arch (one of the longest rock spans in the world, 392 ft across and 92 feet high), and the Double-O Arch. It was a long trail and I was starting to get tired in the oppressive heat. Jim said earlier that it might actually be double-digit humidity today, unusual in these parts. My legs were getting heavier and heavier. We walked out to and under the large but very thin Landscape Arch. Under it were a whole group of German men resting in the shade of the arch and making a racket.
We went to see the Delicate Arch and by the time we got there I really was too tired to go all the way out to the arch so I stayed behind. Andy took off on the trail to the arch. It was a long trail, I could see the tiny people disappear on the horizon. I caught a little nap but didn't sleep much, the French Foreign Legion was eating lunch out of their van next to me. I think the trail was a little longer than Andy expected, he was gone for quite a while and when he came back he seemed a bit surprised. Now we were both tired.
Drove to the Windows. This is an area where huge diamond shaped holes are in the distant outcrops. Passed many fascinating rock formations like the Parade of Elephants and the most amazing, the Balanced Rock. This is a huge rock that sits on top of a rock pedestal. Really unusual.
The geologic history behind this area is incredible. Like the Canyonlands, formation began 300 million years ago in the Pennsylvanian Period when salt water from the Cretaceous Seaway flooded the area. The water evaporated and left a deposit of salt. This process of flooding, depositing, and evaporation occurred over and over, leaving many deposits of salt thousands of feet thick. This salt was then covered with debris that fell from higher elevations due to erosion. Over time the debris was compressed into rock. The weight of this rock caused the elastic salt layer to be pushed away creating domes, cavities, faults, and anticlines. By the Late Jurassic Period, the movement of this salt layer ceased. Time passed and thousands of additional feet of rock formed on top of the salt until around 10 million years ago when the deposit of rock slowed. At this point erosion began and it has been estimated that in the last 10 million years 5,000 feet of this rock has eroded away down the Colorado. This erosion has exposed the Entrada Sandstone. Entrada Sandstone is a blend of numerous textures and densities, fused together with varying amounts of this salt cement. These variations in the rock's composition cause the different erosion features in the park and are the reason why some rock erodes faster than other rock. An arch is created from a narrow sandstone wall, or fin, that was isolated as a result of cracks in the earth and subsequent erosion. Water seeps into cracks in the fin, freezes, and expands, weakening and eventually breaking the rock, forming a hole, and eventually an arch.
Enough with the geology lesson. We were both pretty tired by now and decided to leave Arches and get another meal at the Subway in Moab. Taking advantage of the free refills, I probably drank the equivalent of five or six cans of coke. I had been craving something cold for a few days now. Hit the store for the last time and left Moab for good, we had passed through town too many times and it seemed as though we had been in this town for a week. It was not a very nice town, on one of our passings through there was a dust storm. The wind was strong and all you could see was dust blowing around in the air.
We headed south on US 191 the same way we came in. In Blandings we checked out a campground but it was more like a parking lot so we kept going. There's not a lot out here and we finally decided to just hope for a site at Hovenweep National Monument. There aren't really any towns out here. From Moab there are only three towns in the 110 miles to Hovenweep. Turned on UT 262, then it was a mix of San Juan County Road 2416 and Ute Mountain Reservation road. This was the only portion of the road that was unpaved and, ironically, the only sign of civilization.
We finally made it to the park and did get a campsite around 7:30 or 8 P.M. I ate an apple and then we quickly set up the tent. There was a storm in the distance and it was fast approaching us. There is not much soil to stake a tent around here, mostly rock surface. We talked to this older couple who were rangers collecting money and keeping the place clean. They go to a different park each summer to volunteer their services; good idea, I'd say. They repeated what we've been hearing all along, "We haven't had any rain all summer, maybe a third of an inch" or "This is the first storm we've seen in a month." Somehow the rain always seems to find us, but that's all right.
The terrain here is very flat and scrubby but there's something interesting about it. It's as if you're on a large plateau with gradual slopes on all sides. It's hard to explain. I was told coyotes can be heard at night but we heard nothing. Only rain and thunder. The storm inevitably came and it was a strong one. The terrain is so flat I felt exposed to the strong lightning. Luckily there were no strong winds. We watched the action from the tent, Andy was ecstatic.
Hovenweep is actually closer to Mesa Verde than Arches and very close to the Colorado border. We visited the Square Tower Group. There are several other groups nearby with similar historical backgrounds. The word Hovenweep is an Ute word meaning "deserted valley." These buildings were occupied by the same groups who were at Mesa Verde. It was very hot this morning and again, no shower. After our "dunking-the-head-in-the-sink routine" we went to the visitor center. There was some guy in there, not too friendly though.
We walked over to the structures lining the small canyon. There was one large building above the canyon and several inside the canyon. There were more people there than I expected here. The castle was all right. Nothing too impressive, aside from the astronomical significance. The Anasazi used the site as a calendar. Windows in the side of the structure marked the solstices and equinoxes by the position of the sunlight coming through these windows at sunset.
Driving out the way we came in, we passed by only a few houses (which didn't appear to have electricity or running water), plenty of windmills with water tanks below, and the Hatch trading post. Thirty miles later we were back on the main road, US 191 south. We took this down to Bluff, UT where we turned on US 163 southwest to Monument Valley. The next town after Bluff was Mexican Hat, named for a large stone in the shape of a sombrero that rests on top of a stone tower, like the South of the Border sombrero on that large tower in South Carolina, except this one's natural. After this tiny, dusty town we crossed over the San Juan River and into the Navajo Indian Reservation and Monument Valley, passing many trading posts.
The Navajo Nation is the largest reservation and seems to be the most organized as far as government goes. They have their own signs for buckling seat belts - IT'S NAVAJO LAW, and there were Navajo construction crews on the roads. Monument Valley was nice, not as large as I expected, but it was cool. Passed through Monument Pass (5,209 ft) and drove into the town of Kayenta, AZ. Picked up US 160 which goes by Navajo National Monument and then turned northwest on AZ 98. Along this road were many power lines that seemed to go on forever. Big huge towers that are shaped like people, two legs and two arms holding up the lines. The towers had to be over a mile apart holding up the sagging lines. This road goes to Page, AZ, another larger town. I guess the towns had to be larger out here because they are much farther apart, in the last 175 miles we've only passed through 4 towns.
Page actually has an airport and it is situated above the Colorado River. In Page we picked up US 89 in a westerly direction. Once you've gone through Page, you pass over the Glen Canyon Dam. We crossed over the river on a large steel arch bridge, the kind you always see in car commercials. The bridge is attached to the smooth, steep canyon walls that shelter the river. On crossing this bridge we were leaving the Navajo Indian Reservation and entering the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We did not drive over the dam, the dam, and Lake Powell, were to the north as we drove across the bridge. Jim, the ranger from Arches, called this lake a large evaporation pit and added that enough water is lost there each day from evaporation to water the entire Midwest.
The dam was started in 1956 and supplies power to the surrounding states. The water began to back up behind the dam in 1963 and reached its full pool in 1980, filling Glen Canyon. The dam is 710 feet above the bedrock, took 7 years to build, and cost over 200 million dollars. The bridge is the second highest steel arch bridge in the world at 700 feet above the water. The water of Lake Powell was very blue and contrasted beautifully with the white and orange layered sandstone that surrounded the lake. The length of Lake Powell's coastline is over 1,900 miles which is more than the western coast of the U.S. if you can believe that.
We crossed back into Utah and the road became even more barren. The first town in Utah was Big Water and 56 miles later is Kanab. Big Water was a no-horse town, nothing there. We passed over some hills, the Vermilion Cliffs, which extend north and south to the Grand Canyon. As we were driving through the car started doing weird things. I pressed on the gas and nothing would happen and the speedometer was going down, down, down. I thought we were going to be stranded, I asked Andy how long ago we passed through Big Water. It had been a while, the town was at least 20 miles behind us. The next town on the map, Kanab, was at least double that. I was very worried because there is nothing out here, nothing! Luckily, when we were struggling around 30 miles per hour, the gas came back and we made it to Kanab without having to pull over. I talked to this guy at a service station who provided a little confidence, but not enough to overcome the thought of being stranded somewhere.
Outside Kanab is the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, we did not stop here but it gives one a mental picture of the area. Actually, one major difference between here and eastern Utah is the lack of vegetation. The eastern part of the state has much more vegetation on the ground than the parts we've traveled through today. We followed US 89 up to the turnoff for Bryce Canyon. From Kanab we traveled northwest to Mt. Carmel Junction where the road veers north. This part of the road is in between two mountain ranges and parallels the Sevier River. Both the Ranges to our east and west are in the Dixie National Forest and have peaks over 10,000 feet. This was a more populated area. We were higher up and there were more trees and plants making things a bit more hospitable.
We decided to camp at this privately-owned campground, Bryce Canyon Pines Campground, about six miles away from Bryce. We arrived around mid-afternoon. This place had showers and as soon as we set up the tent and unpacked everything we took showers. It was lightly raining and this produced a double rainbow, soon after which the sun set. The elevation here is 6,000 feet plus, which makes the temperature much more pleasant. Talked with a truck driver in the bathroom. It's interesting to find out what other people do with their lives. This was the first shower since Colorado and it felt great. We started to do laundry today too. I was running out of clothes. We talked to an older woman who seemed to know about everything in the area. She was a bit preachy but that was all right, she was just trying to pass on the lessons that she learned years back. The laundry was full and a line had formed so we'll do laundry tomorrow. We went back to camp to hit the sack early tonight. Andy wanted to be at Bryce Canyon early tomorrow and we may even get up early to see the stars.
We woke up around 3:45 A.M. but it was cloudy; I honestly don't think we would have done anything had it been clear. We got a few more hours sleep and got up at 5 A.M. with the intent to see the sunrise at Sunrise Point. It was still pretty dark out by the time we arrived at the park and there were not too many people there, this changed quickly though. As dawn became brighter and brighter, more and more people started to arrive. Sunrise Point looks out into the Tropic valley and more importantly the point looks onto part of the canyon that is illuminated by the sunshine.
By sunrise, there were too many people jockeying for photographic positioning. After sunrise, around 6:45, we went to Ruby's Inn, a nice inn just outside the park, to get breakfast. We decided to do all the rim vistas first then take a trail down into the canyon. Bryce is not really, by definition, a canyon. It was not created by a river but by erosion.
Like Arches and Canyonlands, the Cretaceous Seaway played a role in the development of Bryce. Bryce is basically the side of a plateau, the Paunsaugunt Plateau. On this plateau side are the strange rock formations called Hoodoos, or pillars of rock. The word hoodoo means to cast a spell, because that is what these strange rock formations do to you as you gaze upon them. These hoodoos were exposed by erosion. The rock was created millions of years ago and water coming off the plateau has exposed the bedrock and shaped it into the formations seen today.
The southern end of the park was closed due to road construction - can you believe it? We saw Farview Point, Swamp Canyon, Paria View, Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point then back to Sunrise Point. Paria View looks south to the Pink Cliffs and all the other viewpoints after Paria look into Bryce Canyon. The top of the plateau is above 7,500 feet and the canyon drops to 6,000 feet.
We descended into the canyon at Sunrise Point on the Queen's Garden Trail, named for the castle-like rock formation along the trail. We picked up a connecting trail to the Navajo Loop Trail. Some of these trails were shared with horses so they smelled a bit and you had to watch your step. The Navajo Loop ascends up to the rim on Wall Street. These trails were quite extraordinary. At times we were standing right next to the base of these hoodoos that rose high into the sky, other times we were out in the sparsely shaded open areas away from the cliffs.
Once we were down away from the rim the trail fluctuated quite a bit in elevation. The trail was up, down, up, down, up, down, and around each corner was a new sight to see. The Wall Street Trail was like being in an M.C. Escher drawing; back and forth, back and forth, making our way up to the top of the rim between two vertical rock walls and spruce trees that reach for the sky. I think we should have gone down Wall Street instead, it was a real bitch to go up.
Once on top at Sunset Point, I was soaked. There was a water fountain nearby and because we had nearly finished our water that we brought and what was left was beyond luke warm, I hogged the fountain for a while filling our bottles, that Japanese family can wait dammit! We had just hiked all morning to the tune of about four or five miles and I felt I could get as much water as I wanted. Now it was only a short one mile walk back to the car at Sunrise Point along the Rim Trail.
It was about 1 P.M. and I was ready to get some lunch. We went back to the campground and took down the tent, did the laundry, and took showers (two showers in less than 24 hours?). Met another interesting woman, an RV camper who had traveled a lot and knew how to talk a lot. She was from Texas, I think, and Andy went to take his shower while I watched the laundry. We talked the entire time and when Andy came back he got sucked into the conversation. By the time I came back from the showers, they were still talking and it had been as if I'd never left. Once our laundry was done and everything was packed up, it was about 5 P.M.
We left for Zion National Park which is not too far. We had to retrace our route on US 89 south until Mt. Carmel Junction where we turned west on UT 9. Less than 90 miles and we were in Zion. This park is on a level below Bryce. Below the Pink Cliffs of Bryce is the Upper Kolob Plateau and Zion is located below this plateau in the Gray Cliffs and the White Cliffs. Below the White Cliffs are the Vermilion Cliffs then the Chocolate Cliffs. The series of geologic levels from the Chocolate Cliffs up to the Pink Cliffs is called the Grand Staircase. Beyond this Grand Staircase is the Grand Canyon, but it is raised on its own plateau above the Chocolate Cliffs. There'll be a quiz later.
Zion means a place regarded as devoted to god or a sacred city. The Mormon settlers named the area this in 1858 and many of the landmarks in the park were also named by the Mormons. The area that is now Zion National Park was once the floor of a shallow sea, the delta of a great river, and the bottom of a lake. Volcanoes erupted and left ash and sand which once covered this land, forming the sandstone present today. When the Colorado Plateau was pushed up, the rivers draining off it began forming canyons. The Virgin River in Zion is an example of this, eroding away the layers creating Zion Canyon, and depositing the debris into the Colorado River.
As we drove into the park it was nearing sunset and the colors on the huge stone mountains were incredible. The park road, UT 9, is very old and narrow and takes you through a geologic transformation. It first winds past huge white and pastel orange sliprock and petrified sand dunes carved by erosion on the eastern side of the park. Then you go through a mile long tunnel with large bay window-type openings overlooking Zion Canyon but you are traveling too fast to look out them and there is no stopping in the tunnel. Once out of the tunnel, you are in Zion Canyon and the road descends into the canyon. It's like being surrounded by these huge red and white stone mountains. The road winds its way into the canyon then continues westward. We got a space in the Watchman Campground. Our camp site had a nice view of The Watchman (a mountain) but it was full of people and kids. We scrounged in the car for dinner, played a little trivial pursuit, and were in bed by 10:30 P.M.
We explored Zion National Park, hiking up the Virgin River for several miles, and driving around its beautiful valley. Later, we headed down the road a little to northern Arizona.
I woke up relatively late today. The sun did not hit the tent until about 9 A.M. because of The Watchman and other mountains to the east. We went to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to get information on trails and a peek at the museum, the forecast calls for 105 degrees today! We wanted a good breakfast so we drove out the southern entrance on UT 9 looking for a place to eat. Springdale, the first town, was established by Mormons. Some nice places but they were all packed with people. We kept going, passing through Rockville, Virgin, and La Verkin. This was getting ridiculous! In Hurricane we finally found this place that was, well, different - a local-type place. The food and prices were great, the atmosphere was strange.
After our long journey in quest of breakfast, we returned back through all those sleepy towns eventually making our way to the park. We decided to go up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This park was very congested, it is one of the most visited parks in the National Park System. This road parallels the Virgin River and is situated between mountains like The East Temple, The Beehive, The Sentinel, Court of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), Mount Moroni, and The Great White Throne, all named by Mormons (as if you couldn't tell).
The Temple of Sinawava marks the end of the road and the trailhead of the Riverside Walk Trail to the Narrows. We took the Riverside walk which was a nice one mile trail that also parallels the Virgin River and eventually ends at its banks. There were a lot of people standing around in the water, we started walking up the river. It was not possible to walk in the river without shoes on. I tried - it wasn't going to happen. The Narrows is a trail in the Virgin River and is so named because the canyon walls on either side of the river are over 1,000 feet high. This goes on for the next 16 miles and by the end, the canyon walls are about 20 feet apart. Down river, where we were, there were sandy banks to walk on at times and the canyon was much wider. The water was green in the deep parts and it felt nice to take a swim now and then. We spent the time we were going to use to see the rest of the park here. We just kept walking up the river for about two or three hours and we usually did a little over two to three miles in an hour. Eventually, we decided it was time to come back, which seemed a lot quicker of course. This was a nice trail; although it was hot out, we were in water and it was very refreshing.
We were going to see the hanging gardens and waterfalls in the park but we had seen waterfalls and hanging gardens on the river walk so we skipped them and headed out. We paid a bit more attention to the curious rock mountains on the east side of the tunnel. Many of these were petrified sand dunes, like ones seen in Arches National Park. These are characterized by the thin, horizontal layers of rock called cross bedding. The Checkerboard Mesa is an example of this. This has the horizontal cross-bedding lines but also has vertical lines caused by fractures and runoff.
Drove out to Mt. Carmel Jct. on UT 9 and then south on US 89 to Kanab and into Arizona. At Fredonia we took US 89 ALT into the Kaibab National Forest and to Jacob Lake. At this point the road going south to the north rim of the Grand Canyon had a sign telling us that all the campgrounds there were full which was nice since it was a long drive away. So we stayed at the Jacob Lake campground which was run by the US Forest Service. We were on the Kaibab Plateau in the company of large pines and a lot of shade. Tonight we had our first real meal in a while - with meat even. We were told by the ranger that there was a show on backcountry camping tonight at 8 P.M. Arizona time! "What's Arizona time," I asked. Arizona does not do Daylight Savings, she explained, so we gained an hour and didn't even know it. The show was amateur theatrics but it was funny at times. Went back to do the dishes and went to bed.
Today was going to be a long day. We were going to see the Grand Canyon then it was on to Fitz's in Scottsdale. We drove south from Jacob Lake on AZ 67, it was about 45 miles to the North Rim. They were doing construction on this road and had narrowed the road to one lane for many miles. We stopped at the Grand Canyon Lodge and ran into the two girls who borrowed our hammer in Bryce Canyon days ago, that was really strange. They had taken the flight over the canyon, not something I was going to do. We walked out to Bright Angel Point which overlooks Bright Angel Canyon that was formed by (any guesses?) Bright Angel Creek, which drains into the Colorado. It was a hazy day and the views were not that great.
We took the side road to Cape Royal on the Walhalla Plateau. This road is 23 miles in one direction and goes through some beautiful forest. We walked out of the trail and onto a large rock wall jutting out into the canyon. People can walk out on top of this wall and gaze at the canyon but underneath their feet is the Angel's Window, a huge hole through this large rock wall. We took our pictures and left; it was not a good picture taking day. We were leaving the North Rim by 11 A.M. and, after passing through the backed up traffic due to construction (there were a lot more people in the park by now), we were on our way to the South Rim.
We had to drive all the way up to Jacob Lake then take US 89 ALT east, driving by the Vermilion Cliffs and up to Marble Canyon where we cross the Colorado River and enter the Navajo Indian Reservation again. Actually we were just south of Page, AZ where we were a few days ago. They are building a new bridge over the Colorado here called the Navajo Bridge. Once over the river the road veers south and joins with US 89 into the Painted Desert. At Cameron we turned west toward the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. On these roads it seemed that there was a Navajo jewelry stand every couple miles and houses out in the middle of nowhere. The land was flat except for the cliffs or buttes that rise out of the ground.
We eventually arrived at Desert View and the South Rim of the canyon, about three hours and 190 miles later. Basically we had made a 190-mile semicircle and we were now about 10 miles below where we were this morning. We stopped at Moran Point, Grandview Point, and Yaki Point. The South Rim is much more popular than the North Rim and there are many more people here. The light has greatly improved for taking pictures since this morning. I did not find the canyon to be as awe inspiring as people have told me. Compared to all the other canyons in Utah, the Grand Canyon, although large, is hard to get up close and personal with unless you have a day or two to go down inside it. To me it seems distant and remote.
It was about 4 P.M. by the time we found our way out of the park. We headed south on US 180 and were in and out of the Kaibab National Forest. We passed through the San Francisco Mountains and drove by the highest peak in Arizona, Humphreys Peak, which is 12,663 feet high. US 180 took us right into Flagstaff where we got on I-17 south to Phoenix. Sunset was not far away now and it looked like rain was on the way. I-17 passed through the Coconino National Forest and the ride went up and down with all the mountains and valleys. Eventually, it did start to rain and it was difficult to see the road.
It's 138 miles between Flagstaff and Phoenix. Soon we were out of the mountains and settled into a valley on our way into the city. We got off at Bell Road and made our way to Scottsdale. It was still raining and many of the streets in town were flooded but it was difficult to see the water and it was a very dangerous driving situation. We called Fitz's from the Thunderbird Shopping Center around 9:30 P.M. We basically had to drive to the other end of town to get to Fitz's but we did make it.
For dinner we went to a place called Two Pesos for some good, cheap Mexican food. Went back and played some triv (trivial pursuit), and a few "May I" games when Rick noticed that it was light out and we all were surprised that the night had gone by so quickly. We all went to bed around 5:30 A.M.
This is a double day because we decided to drive at night and actually the drive turned out to be a lot longer than I expected, lasting all day Saturday as well. We woke up about 11:30 A.M. today (Fitz almost missed Dynasty). Fitz watched his shows and then we went out to the pool where I updated the journal and Andy and Fitz sat in the heated pool. It was hot out, the temperature was supposed to go up to 107 today. Went to Two Pesos again for lunch with Rod, their other roommate (I didn't spill my drink this time). Fitz wanted to play more "May I" on their porch even though it was hot out (at least I was hot). They were going to party tonight so Andy and I decided to leave because we really weren't up for that. Fitz tried to convince us otherwise but we had made up our minds.
We left around 9 P.M. as they were beginning to party at their place. We left the way we came in but pulled into this auto parts store to investigate why the car's fan wasn't working. None of the fuses had blown so it remains a mystery. We left there after about 45 minutes of fiddling around.
We were traveling up Scottsdale Road when the van in front of us drove right into the oncoming traffic. This is a three lane road each way and luckily, the van was about 40 feet in front of us because it drove head-on into a car and flipped into the air, landing upside down behind the car where three other cars rammed into it. After the cars hit, Andy said, "That person can't be alive..." and he was right. This is the first time in my life I'd ever actually seen someone die. Andy went over to the accident scene to see if anything could be done, joining a large crowd who were just peering into the van, realizing there was nothing they could do. I asked this lady in a crowd outside this Mexican restaurant if the police had been called. The cops were there in minutes and closed the street. We were in a group of witnesses and gave our testimony to the cops. They asked us to wait for the investigators to show so we could tell the story to them as well. There was a small group of us comparing our view of the accident and what we saw. One of the other witnesses told us that she came very close to hitting us since she had to veer out into our lanes to avoid the van, which was in mid-air when she passed it.
While we were waiting for the investigators to show up, one of those fierce ants that one finds in the southwest bit Andy on the toe, he was wearing sandals. It was eerie sitting there thinking about the fact that it could have been me in that car, or that we could have easily been hit by one of the cars trying to avoid the accident. The point being; it could all be over in seconds and thinking about the number of people who lose their lives and loved-ones this way every day (112 people per day) really made me nervous when I faced the fact that I would have to get in the car again tonight. Since we had to go a long way tonight, the cops made sure Andy and I, or "the guys from Pennsylvania" as they called us, were first so we could be on our way as soon as possible.
It was a hot night and there was a storm approaching so they wanted to finish clearing the accident and wrapping up the entire affair. Because there was a fatality, we were told that there may be a chance that we would have to come back for a trial if the case went to court. The investigators were very nice, we talked about the trip and everything, but it was odd in a way. This was a very solemn start to the journey before us but we pressed on. We thought about going back to Fitz's but we both decided not to.
It was about 11:30 P.M. before we got away from the scene and we wanted to keep the conversation going in order to keep our minds off the accident. We traveled out of the city the same way we entered it, driving very slow and as far away from oncoming traffic as the road would allow. Took Bell Road through northern Phoenix and Sun City until we hit US 60, turning northwest. At Wickenburg we turned on US 93 in the same direction. This was a 100 mile stretch of nothingness. There is only one town on this stretch, Wikieup, which wasn't much of anything, not that it mattered, it was pretty dark on this stretch of road. This was principally a truckin' road. It looked as though we were in a desert, however, there were a few mountain regions here and there, it certainly was not flat. There were also a lot of Joshua Trees around.
We eventually picked up I-40 west for a few miles and got off at Kingman, AZ and US 93 to Las Vegas. I was wishing it was light out so I could see our surroundings, they looked interesting. It was a 71 mile straight shot up to the Hoover Dam. Hoover Dam creates Lake Mead and we passed through the Lake Mead Recreational Area, although we did not see much. I didn't even know we would be passing over the dam. The road approaching and following the dam was very curvy and slow-going behind all the trucks. The architecture of the dam looked very interesting and I wished we could have seen it in the light of day. Two towers on each side of the dam had large clocks on them, one displaying Arizona time and the other Nevada time.
By now it was about 5 A.M. and we wanted to see the lights of Vegas before it started getting light out. We got a brief taste of what was coming in Boulder City and Henderson, NV. Both towns had gambling and stopped at nothing to advertise this fact. There is a ridge of mountains outside Las Vegas and once on top of this ridge, we could see the city below. I wasn't sure it was the city but Andy, looking at the map, confirmed this. Plus, in addition to all the never-ending lights, there were literally two strips of lights that traced the path of "The Strip." This was a remarkable sight from our high vantage point above the city; two bright strips of light traversing through the city, not straight, but tracing out the famous strip, home of the most luxurious Las Vegas resorts, old and new. We really had to hurry if we wanted to see the strip all lit up, dawn was growing.
We made our way into the city, which was very much alive at six in the morning on a Saturday. Spotted many people walking the streets possibly going home after a long night of gambling. We did make it in time to see the lights of the strip but it was no longer dark out. We stopped for a break and went into the California Casino and played a few quarter slots. Inside, there was much activity. Primarily, old, cigarette-smokin', blue-haired women strategically playing three or four slots, also, a of couple card tables where cheering and screaming could occasionally be heard. We made little with the quarter machines and Andy switched to nickel machines. He made quite a bit on these, enough that he did not want to carry it around and continued to play in the hopes that he could get rid of some of the change. I finally convinced him to leave with what he had (a handful of change) and we were on our way out when I lost him. I looked back and he was staring into another kind of nickel slot machine. He played for a bit and the machine paid off generously. After a few tries, jackpot. Three 7s, which pays out 300 nickels. We got one of the cups sitting around for change, filled it with our $15 in nickels, and left. This would be our emergency, last-resort funds. We didn't even bother to cash it in for bills.
We left the casino to press on toward California. Continued out The Strip passing the biggies, The Sands, Circus Circus, MGM, Stardust, and Caesar's Palace. Started to drive out of the city but we were both disoriented and, it turns out, heading south. We knew something was wrong when we passed by the McCarran International Airport, one of the landmarks in the atlas. We got gas and directions and got out of this town. By the way, every little business here has slot machines in it. The gas station had slots and people were playin' them. Every motel has gambling, you could be out in the middle of nowhere and there are bright lights and flashing arrows pointing to the grandiose doors of these places and the gambling inside. Unbelievable!
We finally found our way out of town on US 95. This road passes mountains that look as though they have been worn by erosion. They have very gradual slopes and many alluvial fans at their base. There are only two towns that we would pass through in Nevada after Las Vegas. One, Indian Springs, is about 40 miles to the northwest, and the other, Amargosa Valley, which is another 45 miles. It is very dry and mountainous out here. We turned on NV 373 south and passed through the Amargosa Desert and the Funeral Mountains. At this point we were in California on CA 127. At the town of Death Valley Jct. we headed west on CA 190 into Death Valley National Monument (now a National Park).
It was a hot, crystal clear morning. Andy was sleeping pretty hard by now. There were no rangers working. All the visitor centers were closed. We passed by many interesting things here. There were a few fellow tourists but not many. We traveled on roads that passed through salt flats, roads that overlooked valleys of salt deposits, sand dunes, and signs warning: TURN OFF A/C NEXT 20 MILES TO AVOID OVERHEATING. Also there was a resort complete with golf course and pools at 106 feet below sea level. Is this absurd? Who would want to play golf in the heat of Death Valley? This park has a wide range of elevation from Telescope Peak at 11,329 feet to the lowest point in North America of 282 feet below sea level. This region only gets two inches of rain a year and there's no McDonalds to get a coke either.
CA 190 took us below the -200 feet level and up to 5,000 feet plus elevations. There is very little vegetation in the park and sometimes no ground cover at all. A lot of desert pavement, sand that blows away leaving a rocky surface. We ascended out of the valley up thousands of feet over many miles. Along the route was radiator water every couple miles. Luckily, we did not need it. The car took the hills slowly, they were long. Finally, we were over the Cottonwood Mountains, out of the park, and into the Panamint Valley. Sounds plush, right? It was a tad better than Death Valley, but not by much.
Soon we came to CA 136 which we took around Owens Lake. Things were looking greener now. Because there's no crossing over the Sierra Nevada Mountains near here, our options were to go south and then north to Sequoia National Park or to go north and cross in Yosemite National Park. We chose door number two. We took CA 136 to US 395 north. This area is the site of many movie locations. Lone Pine, the first town we passed through, has been the host of so many movies, every year they have a film festival, running some of the movies shot here as well as giving guided tours of all the local movie sets. This road goes through Owens Valley and has the Inyo National Forests on both sides. Passed through other towns like Independence, Big Pine, Bishop, Toms Place, and Lee Vining, where Mono Lake is (I slept through most of these). We got gas at the turnoff into the park ($1.59 a gallon!) and took a rest.
By now it was about 2 or 3 P.M. and I was getting anxious to get somewhere to settle down. We made our way into Yosemite and through the Cathedral Range with peaks over 10,000 feet. Some of these peaks had snow on their summits, the first snow I'd seen on this trip. Drove on Tioga Road and through the Tioga Pass which is at an elevation of 9,945 feet. We stopped at the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center to see about the camping options. We found out that we had none in the park tonight. This part of the park is just spread out wilderness. There are lakes, huge summits of rock, canyons, valleys, rivers; and everywhere else - green meadows. No more arid desert or orange sandstone. Now there's mountains of gray granite, pine trees, wildflowers, moss, and yes, water. This park is filled with trails, including the Pacific version of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. This part of the park is closed in winter which I would imagine is most of the year.
Turned on Big Oak Flat Road which goes into the Yosemite Valley, the treasure of the park. We weren't especially interested in sightseeing now, we would do that tomorrow. We just wanted to find a place to sleep. We found Wawona (means big tree) Road, which would lead us out of the park at the South Entrance. Hopefully, we will find a campground for the night close to the park. This road was very curvy and descended in elevation out of the high Sierras. One RV and you're finished on these roads. It was a long trip out of the park but we finally made it, over two hours after entering it. Just outside the south end of the park is the town of Fish Camp on CA 41. This was a tiny town which probably flourished solely on tourists. I didn't see any evidence that would point to the meaning of the name. I wouldn't want to live in a place called Fish Camp, I can tell ya.
Anyway, we continued down the road behind the Winnebagos and busses to a place called Bass Lake arriving around 5:30 P.M. This is all in the Sierra National Forest and we stayed at a campground that overlooked Bass Lake, where boats, fishing, and swimming are the main attraction. The lake is at 3,400 feet and it is still nice and cool, it doesn't get too hot up here. Talked to Lois who said she had one space left for us. We didn't care about the looks of the site too much at this point, we got the last site in the campground and were happy to have gotten it. It could have been next to a dumpster and we still would have taken it. Luckily, it wasn't.
We set up the tent and all that jazz and were contemplating eating out but decided to just cook our own food. There was a family next to us with young kids; make that young, whiny kids. We cooked dinner, did the dishes, and went to bed. I think we even went to bed before it was dark! It had been a long, long, long drive (11:30 P.M. to 5:30 P.M. the next day), but I think it was worth it.
We emerged from the dry, dusty Southwest into the cool, tree-covered Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. We moved on to the California coast, Oregon's Crater Lake, and the volcanoes of Washington.
We had to get up very early in order to get a campsite in Yosemite. This was necessary since it would be hours in travel time if we stayed this far from Yosemite Valley. We were up by 7 A.M. It was a cool, clear morning. We left Bass Lake and drove back to the park arriving at the Bridalveil Creek Campground on Glacier Point Road. We drove around looking for a spot but people were still eating breakfast and stumbling out of their tents in long underwear and flannel. Looking around, I could see steam rising from people cooking breakfast; people seemed to be doing the usual morning things. We got a site but it was crammed in the inside of a loop, we waited for this group to leave across from us and took their spot. This was an excellent spot. Number 108. There was a family on one side of us (this kid actually brought weights on their trip), flat, level rock on the other side of us, and a pine forest behind us. We were going to stay here for two nights so it was nice to get a scenic site.
Today was a car sight-seeing day, tomorrow we would hike. First, we ventured out to Glacier Point but it was a bit foggy out. I figured it would burn off by this afternoon. So we went down to Yosemite Valley, which took about an hour! This park is almost too big. We went to Yosemite Village to get something to eat; it was 11 A.M. by now so that something was going to be lunch (no breakfast for us). We drove the loop road that circles the valley.
Our first stop was Yosemite Falls. This was a short walk to a huge fall. Unfortunately, the amount of water flowing is minimal since the winter snows have melted by now, but there was still a trickle. We made our way past all the toddler-raisin', cam-corder holdin' parents to the end of the trail where it's your job to climb, jump, and slide your way to the falls on the massive granite boulders that blaze a trail to the falls and the pool of cold water beneath them. This granite is called sliprock, named for the fact that it is relatively smooth and the chemical make up of the rock make it very slippery. You can't get a grip on it and neither can your reebok. It was quite an adventure getting up to the falls. There were many people in and around the pool. Some were swimming, some were climbing, some were sitting under the falls. We left this spot and continued around the loop road in the valley, stopping at all the vista points.
In the center of the valley is the Merced River which many people use for rafting, swimming, or sun-bathing on the rocky banks of. This park is one of the most-visited parks in the country. It receives over two million visitors each year and I would guess, judging from all the people in this place, that most of them come in the summer, around the end of July perhaps? The valley floor is in the 4000 foot range. El Capitan, a huge granite mountain, rises over 3000 feet above the floor.
We drove up out of the valley on Big Oak Flat Road to get an overall view of the valley and see the points we passed yesterday as we were coming into the park. These views were spectacular and are those seen in the postcard pictures. Talked with this German fellow who thought that this view overlooking the valley was the best in the park, he just stayed there and marveled it.
Headed back to our camp which was a little under an hour's drive from the valley. Stopped at the store before we went back to get some food. Once we arrived, we went into the woods and gathered wood for the fire we were going to build. We took our time tonight cooking dinner, we had chicken tonight along with carrots and one of those noodle mixes. It was a relaxing night, the stars were nice and bright tonight. I think the temperature was in the upper 30s tonight. I had to sleep with a sweatshirt and socks.
I awoke around 8:30 or 9 this morning. Had a great sleep, nice and comfortable. We made plans last night to hike up to Glacier Point from the Valley. This would involve getting up here and hopefully catching one of the many busses from Glacier Point to the car in the Valley. This was not going to happen. The Hiker's Bus, as it's called, did not fit our schedule since there were no busses later than 1 P.M. Andy was determined to cook breakfast one morning and today he was going to do it. We each had three fried eggs, not in sandwiches though, we were out of bread.
We drove down to the valley and parked at the stables again. Walked a mile to the Happy Isles Nature Center and the trailhead. We started on the John Muir Trail which parallels the Merced River. Then we took the Mist Trail which makes its way to the Vernal Falls. These trails are primarily in the up direction and I think I was finding the altitude change taxing. Also, the pace in which we were going on these trails probably didn't help too much either. The trail approaching the Vernal Falls is vertical - steps the entire way. After many rests, I finally made it to the top. The falls were beautiful with the yellow-green grass, the dark granite, and the rainbow in the mist of the falls. Above these falls is a large lake called Emerald Pool where people were swimming. On one side of the lake is forest all the way up to its banks. On the other side is granite. The entire bank of the lake is one sloping bank of rock-sliprock.
We made our way over to the granite bank which involved going above the lake and crossing through the rushing waters that feed the lake. Above the lake is where the stream is thin and the rock it travels on is relatively level. Because it is virtually impossible to walk on the wet rock without slipping, the only place to cross is where the rock is level, and even here you must be very careful not to slip and let the water carry you away. While we were crossing, one girl thought she could walk out into the flowing water, she slipped and took a little trip into the pool below. It's nature's version of the waterslide.
We crossed successfully and got a spot on the huge stone bank. The water was extremely cold but we were both determined to swim since a shower was not in our immediate future. Andy was brave and dove right in, I chose the gradual approach but this back-fired. This huge sliprock bank extends into the lake and after my legs were submerged, I lost my footing and fell in the water, Nestea plunge style. This caught everyone's attention, it also caught mine, in a big way. The temperature of this water took a few minutes to get used to, it was cold, the kind of cold that's painful for about five minutes until your body gets used to it. The kind of cold that gives people heart attacks. Got out in about five minutes and stretched out on the rock bank for a while.
I decided to part ways with Andy. I let him continue the hike and decided I would meet him at the top - it was no longer fun for me. So he left going in the up direction and I in the down direction. Talked to some Mexican folks on the way down. Stopped in the Nature Center and browsed for a bit. It was nice to be alone for a while and I'm sure Andy was thinking the same. Ended up wandering around the valley floor lost, trying to find the car, and walked into the housekeeping camp. I eventually did find the car and went back to our camp to change my clothes and the four day old underwear I was wearing. After this, I made my way out to Glacier Point where Andy would be coming 'round the mountain.
I had brought a bite to eat and a book to read but I ended up talking with a guy from New Zealand the entire time. He had just climbed the 8,842-foot Half Dome, which was standing in front of us like a monument. We were sitting at a picnic table talking about each of our travels. He was into backcountry sight-seeing and had no car in the states. He took busses as close to the parks as he could and walked the rest of the way. He had walked the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and seen other parks in California and the southwest.
Andy got back within an hour and we went back to our camp. Andy went off to get some food and got back around 8 P.M. We had hot dogs tonight along with a Lipton noodle casserole and green beans. By the time we finished it was about 9:30 and we went to bed straight away. It was cold out, hope I'm warm enough tonight.
We made no effort to get up early today. We packed our things and left the campground around 9 A.M. Swimming and the cool temps hide the fact that we haven't had a shower since Fitz's.
We exited the park going south on CA 41 through Fish Camp and Bass Lake again. This is not a road that you should expect to gain time on. There are so many hills, curves, and busses that you hit 45 miles per hour and you think you're going to fly off the road. Eventually we came out of the Sierra National Forest and the large pines began to disappear. The hills became flatter and were now covered with brown grass instead of the greens that we were used to. By 11:30 A.M. we were in Fresno, CA and the hills were long gone. We were now in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley and it had become hot, dry, and dusty. Fresno is a flat, spread-out city. Not the nicest looking place I must say. The populace looked primarily Hispanic and both English and Spanish were seen and heard everywhere. We found a Denny's and ate something there (I asked for the non-smoking section in the restaurant, the quickest way to detect out-of-staters in California). We then got gas and got the hell out of Fresno.
The San Joaquin Valley is a shocking contrast for the eye when just this morning we were in Yosemite. We headed east on CA 180, a straight shot over to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. This valley is one huge farm. They grow all kinds of fruits and vegetables here. Passed many orchards, grapevines, and, of course, fruit stands, where Andy bought two bags of plums and pears for $1.53 - about the only cheap thing we've encountered in California thus far. Soon the grassy hills were returning and the hills were getting bigger and bigger. The elevation in Fresno is 296 feet. Once into the Sequoia National Forest and the parks, the elevation is around 7000 feet.
Sequoia National Park has the highest peak in the lower 48 states; Mt. Whitney at 14,494 feet. The park resembled Yosemite, nice to see the evergreen trees with the fluorescent green moss again. The road first enters Kings Canyon National Park where we stopped at the Grant Grove Post Office. There was some guy listening to some religious radio station in the post office which was only a shack really. Anyway, this religious station sounded so fanatical that it was worth mentioning here. If it weren't for the separation of church and state, I'd wonder if the station was being broadcast right out of this little shack in the park.
We decided to concentrate our efforts on Sequoia Park since we'd seen plenty of canyons on this trip and we'd also seen Yosemite, so we figured you put these things together and you'd have Kings Canyon to a certain extent. We headed for Sequoia on General's Highway, the only main road in Sequoia. We arrived at Dorst Campground around 2:30 P.M. and I must say we got another nice spot. Not as nice as Yosemite but there was a pine forest behind us.
The world's largest living thing, General Sherman, is a 275-foot tall, 36-foot wide sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park, California.
Here, as in Yosemite, were bear boxes, large, metal storage containers for food and other bear desirables. There was a ranger at the campsite next to us leaving them a nice little note about leaving their coolers and bright colored objects out. Apparently bears go for bright stuff, like coolers, even if it has no food in it they'll still destroy it looking for something. There was a nice picture in the Yosemite paper of the top half of a car door totally bent down. Bears are determined creatures.
The elevation here is 6,720 feet so the cool weather was back. We set up camp and drove to the Giant Forest part of the park - sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it? We parked at the General Sherman Tree, the largest and oldest tree here. How large and how old? Here are the stats and facts about the park: this is the second oldest national park (Yellowstone is the first). John Muir was one of the first white men to discover the park but American Indians used the area for hunting and fishing centuries before he came along. The sequoia is the largest and one of the oldest living things on earth. General Sherman is 275 feet tall, 36 and a half feet wide at the base, 103 feet in circumference, and has branches that are 8 feet in diameter. Their soft bark is 31 inches thick and is very fire resistant, it does scar but usually will not die in fires - this accounts for their old age. The fire does, though, open the cones on the tree, releasing the seeds to spawn new trees. So without forest fires the tree would cease to exist. Kind of ironic. The age of these giant trees can be in excess of 3000 years, usually dying by toppling over. With over 2 million pounds of tree, combined with their shallow root system, they are vulnerable to toppling over. There are only three places in the world where these trees are found, some lady, who appeared to be an expert, was giving an amateur question and answer session beneath the giant General Sherman. California has the largest number of them with 75 groves on the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas. I tried to get a picture of the giant general but people would not move out of the way so we got a picture of the tree with strangers in front of it. It took two shots to get the tree and probably could have used another.
We walked on Congress Trail, a two-mile stroll through groves of giant sequoias. Some of the trees were scarred from fires of the past, one had toppled over - its roots exposed. By now it was around 5:30 so we decided to head back to camp. As we were driving back I saw a bear crossing the road about 2000 feet in front of us. It was going slow like it owned the road. By the time we were able to drive up to its crossing point, it was about 200 feet up a hill and into the woods, but we could still see it. Of course, we took a picture of it.
Cooked an interesting one tonight, spaghetti and corn. Played a little "May I" while these guys across the way from us tried unsuccessfully to get a fire going. They would douse it in lighter fluid, throw a match in for a rousing combustion and within a minute it would die, then they would douse it again and it would die again, this went on for a while.
Today we were going to see the rest of the park then head for the coast. We had saltines and peanut butter for breakfast today, what a way to start the day. Ventured further into the Giant Forest, driving up the narrow side that goes to Moro Rock. Passed by the Auto Log, a fallen tree that you can drive on top of, drove through the Tunnel Log, a fallen tree that has a tunnel dug through it, and parked at Moro Rock. This is a dome shaped granite monolith with a quarter mile trail up to its top. The elevation is 300 feet from the parking area or 6,725 feet. From Moro Rock, the high snow-capped Sierras can be seen to the east while the smog-filled San Joaquin Valley is below us to the west. The trail is very narrow making its way up the rock but once on top there is a large open viewing area. This is the highest view for miles around.
Next we went to the Crescent Meadow, a crescent-shaped meadow surrounded by forest and a nice trail. This trail looks out upon the thin meadow filled with flowers of all colors and the yellow-green grass blanketing the ground. No one is allowed to go in the meadow since it would ruin the grass and chase off the animals that live in it. The trail led us through the surrounding forest which was covered with ferns and soft, mulchy soil. Along the trail were Lodgepole Pines and the occasional Sequoia grove, each having a name. Many of the sequoias had burn scars and some were just charred towers, no longer alive. We followed the trail to Tharp's Log. This is a fallen tree that Hale Tharp, a cattle rancher in nearby Three Rivers, CA, built a house in. He was the first white man to see the giant forest in 1869 and spent his summers in this carved out shelter. He did this until his death in 1912. We eventually made our way back to the car and were on our way around noon.
We exited the park on the road we spied from Moro Rock earlier. It was very steep and curvy. This was CA 198 and it takes us out of the park and once again into the yellow-brown grassy foothills. The first town is Three Rivers and is on the Kaweah River and Lake. Now we were back in the agricultural parts of the valley. Went through Vasilia, CA and Hanford, CA, two large towns and our elevation was back to normal, 300 feet. After Lemoore, we turned southwest on CA 41. The farms began to disappear as we approached the Sierra Madre coastal range. It was sort of desert-like out here except for the fact that everything was covered with this yellow-brown grass. At Cholame we turned on to CA 46 which took us west to Paso Robles and back to CA 41. The hills were becoming higher now as we continued west. We hit US 101 and went south for a few exits to follow CA 41 to Morro Bay. We traveled over a steep ridge, part of the Los Padres National Forest.
Soon we were in the town of Morro Bay, a seaside community. We drove around the town trying to find a beach. Driving up this seemingly deserted road took us to the wide beach and the Pacific Ocean. Down the beach a ways was Morro Rock, a huge stone mountain sitting on the beach. There was a lot of fog in the area and on top of the rock was a small cloud just sitting in place over the top of this huge stone mountain. We came to this town to find a grocery store. After searching and almost giving up hope, we found Vons. This store guarantees that everything is overpriced, we spent 70 bucks in this place! Once we got our food we traveled up the Pacific Coast Highway, CA 1.
Both Andy and I were not in the best of moods today and I think we were quite sick of one another. This was a shame since the scenery along the coast was so beautiful. We were quickly running out of gas and the gas stations were very few and extremely far between. The prices were so high that I convinced myself that I'll never come back to this part of the state again. We paid $1.99 for the cheap octane gas and this harmonica-playin', hermit pumped our gas for us. The higher grade was $2.19! This certainly took my breath away! It is especially aggravating that there are no roads connecting this highway with civilization for a 150 miles. So we were stuck. We put a couple gallons in and took off.
The coast is mountainous and filled with flowers and grass. It was unfortunate that Andy and I were so mad at each other today but we would make up by the day's end. The Sun was on its way down and I could not keep it out of my eyes. It was at such a level that the damn visor didn't help so this became annoying real quick. Looking for a place to sleep tonight, we stopped in San Simeon State Park, but it was too RV-ish for us. The Hearst Castle is here but we didn't stop to see it. Kept going north into another part of the Los Padres National Forest. Stopped in the Lucia Campground, which was perfect. It looked right out on the Pacific and was really beautiful. Unfortunately, it was full. We were not in a position to be discussing options with one another. We were holding on to our grudges tightly.
It was getting later and later and we both were getting anxious to find a place and settle in. Everything was full up to Big Sur, CA. Big Sur is a touristy area and the prices reflected that. We did find a place to stay here and we decided to settle with it even though it cost $21 to stay a night, over twice the price of other campgrounds where we've stayed (of course, we got a free hefty bag here). This whole area was a rip-off and I was getting tired of it. The people running this place looked like bikers and were not that friendly. It was dark by the time we pulled in. There were a lot of kids running around too. Where do these people come from and why do they bring their kids? This campground was deep in the woods and our neighbors were two bikers, I figure this place is known in biker groups, they must advertise to that market. I took a shower before going to bed. Andy and I decided that there wouldn't be another day on this trip that we would be mad at each other, we've come to far to let a thing like this detract from our trip.
Today felt like a new beginning since Andy and I decided that there was no point in getting angry at one another anymore. From now on there were no grudges, it was as though we had reset our minds last night, forgetting about the things that we found annoying about each other. I think this had been building for a few days and yesterday we reached critical emotional overload, resulting in the explosion.
We were heading for Oregon today. Continued up CA 1 through the residential parts of Big Sur, Carmel, and Carmel Heights, bypassing the Monterey Peninsula. Passed the Del Monte farms growing vegetables like peas and many others, so close to the beach? At Santa Cruz we got off CA 1 and picked up CA 17 north to San Jose. This was a narrow, two lane road that wound its way over the hills against the coast. We got on I-280 north to San Francisco. This was nice as far as interstates go. It was very scenic and is called the Junipero Serra Highway. It goes through the San Francisco State Fish and Game Refuge. It also runs right next to the San Andreas Rift Zone (this is comforting). In this zone are several reservoirs that are supplied by the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct. This water flows from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park, over 150 miles away. The aqueduct even travels over (or under) the San Francisco Bay to the east.
Passed by the familiar towns of Mountain View, Stanford, Palo Alto, and San Mateo, CA. Soon we were in San Francisco and off I-280 and onto 19th Street and CA 1 again. We went through the western part of the city with the downtown part to the east of us. This road took us through Golden Gate Park and on Park Presidio Blvd. Then it was into The Presidio, through a tunnel, and joining up with US 101 over the Golden Gate Bridge. On both sides of the bridge is the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. We pulled off the highway and parked at a place for tourists located just over the bridge. There were so many people here that it was impossible to get a spot against the wall overlooking the bridge and bay. We decided to walk out onto the bridge. There were a lot of people out on the bridge and bike riders are also allowed to ride across the bridge. Many of them ride so fast that someone's going to get hit one day. We walked out about half way and looked out upon San Francisco to southeast, Alcatraz Island to the east, the Bay Bridge to Oakland, and the interesting design of the Golden Gate Bridge itself. We walked back to the car and left.
By now it was about 1:30 in the afternoon and it was looking like we would be sleeping in California again tonight. We continued up US 101 till CA 37. This road went east over the north part of the bay, the San Pablo Bay (part of the San Francisco Bay) and goes into Vallejo where we got on I-80 toward Sacramento. We traveled on this till I-505 north, which took us to I-5 north. We would be on this road for the rest of the day. It was very flat up here and still grassy and dry too. We were now in the Sacramento Valley and could see the Sierra Nevada Range to the east and the Coastal Ranges to the west.
The dry, grassy hills were slowly becoming pine covered hills until we eventually found ourselves in the lower part of the Cascade Range. Redding was the last large town we drove through before entering the Shasta National Forest and the Whiskeytown Shasta-Trinity Recreation Area which surrounds Shasta Lake. We were now back in the mountains and out of the scrubby, dry climate of the California Valleys. We decided to camp in Castle Crags State Park which was in Castella, CA, just south of the 14,162 peak of Mount Shasta. This was a nice park with nice people.
We ate well tonight; hamburgers, hot dogs, and carrots. I-5 was a little too close, we could still hear it, and an occasional freight train would pass through the area, but it was a very nice park.
We both heard this scream last night in the middle of the night. It sounded like some demon child screaming. I asked the ranger as we were leaving and she said that everyone was asking her about this scream last night. She said it was probably a baby fox crying for its mother to bring food. Whatever it was I knew I didn't need to hear it again; you never know when you're in California, it could have been anything!
We drove around Mt. Shasta today, up I-5 until Weed, CA. Then we turned northeast on US 97 and drove into the Klamath National Forest. This was a desolate road, only two small towns to the Oregon border one of which had a central intersection called Malfunction Junction. Oregon was our 18th state. It was very agricultural so far, with many farms and a cow now and then. There were also many aqueducts along the side of the road and trucks everywhere. The first large town was Klamath Falls, OR on the Upper Klamath Lake. The road was wedged between the lake and the mountains and went through the Fremont and Winema National Forests. There were barriers to keep the falling rock off the road. After the town of Modoc Point, we turned up OR 62 which leads directly into Crater Lake National Park.
There was only one campground open; Mazama. We picked out a site and were ready to see the park. By now it was about 2:30 in the afternoon and our first stop was the Steel Visitor Center. Here we learned about some of the local history and picked up some information on the boat ride around the lake. Today we will explore around the rim of the lake, tomorrow we'll do the boat.
Our first stop was the Sinnott Memorial Overlook. The Crater Lake Lodge is here, built at the turn of the century. It is in danger of slipping into the lake if there is another major earthquake. The last big quake was in early fall of 1993 and was 6.0 in magnitude. This caused many landslides around the rim, including one near the lodge. The lake is the most amazing and unique thing I've laid eyes on. The color is deep, deep blue going on violet. The deepest blue sky does not compare to the color of this lake. The green trees contrast with the blue color of the lake which makes all the natural colors vibrant.
We continued along the Rim Drive to The Watchman, a high point along the rim of the lake. We climbed 400 feet to the top of the 8,013 feet peak. From the top, Mt. Shasta could be seen on a clear day as well as the lake's Wizard Island, and many other Cascade volcanoes.
Our next stop was Cloudcap, at 8,070 feet, overlooking the lake from the eastern side. After this were The Pinnacles. These are not near the lake but on a side road down a bit from the lake. They reminded me of the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. The Pinnacles are odd formations jutting out of the canyon walls of Wheeler Creek. The difference here is that they are gray in color and made of volcanic ash instead of rock. They were formed after these glacial valleys were filled with ashflow. Fumaroles, or steam vents, formed, cooled, then erosion uncovered them to the odd gray spikes sticking out of the ground today. Some of them are hollow which makes sense if they were once fumaroles. We continued driving on the Rim Drive passing the Vidae Falls that pour down the side of the rim away from the lake into Sun Creek. By this time the sun was getting low on the horizon.
We completed the rim overlooks and went back to camp, built a fire, and ate dinner. During this time, darkness had fallen and rangers were warning campers over loudspeakers that bears roam the area and to be extra careful how we take care of our food storage. Andy and I talked for a bit around the fire then decided to put the rest of the stuff in the car. One of those things was our trash from dinner. As I was about to open the car door something moved about four feet from me and all I heard was the low pitched sound of feet thumping away. I shined the flashlight to see the tail end of a bear running away. For some reason this did not scare me and, thinking about it, there could have been more of them all around our camp, but this did not freak me out. I walked back to camp and nonchalantly told Andy what I'd seen. He was more excited than I was. Were there more out there?
Today was boat day! We woke up leisurely and got ready. Had PB&J for breakfast, which always hit hard this early in the morning.
Here's a summary of what I learned yesterday about Crater Lake. To begin with, the lake was not always a lake. It was a large volcano named Mount Mazama equal in size to those that surround it in the Cascade Range. It began forming half a million years ago and grew to about 12,000 feet. Like any mountain of this size, glaciers formed on its sides creating the signature U-shaped valleys which can be seen today along the rim. About 7,700 years ago, the volcano blew itself apart spreading six inches of ash over 5,000 square miles. The magma chamber was emptied leaving the mountain with no support. The result of this was the collapse of the mountain forming a cauldera. This cauldera cooled and filled with water creating the lake we see today. The lake is the deepest in North America at 1,932 feet (seventh deepest in the world), and is on average six miles wide. The area gets 66 inches of precipitation a year, most of which comes from the average of 588 inches of snow that falls between October and June. The lake has no inlets or outlets, so it is a closed ecological system; evaporation balances the precipitation. The elevation of the lake's surface is 6,176 feet and the rim around is about 1,400 feet higher. This is what we were going to tackle today.
There is only one trail down to the lake and it is a 1,400 foot elevation difference, therefore, most people that visit Crater Lake do not even touch its waters. Because we were going to do the boat trip around the lake, we would have to take this trail down to the lake. We made it down there in time for the noon boat. While waiting, a few hummingbirds thought my bright, red sweatshirt was food and hovered next to it. Their wings sound like a little model airplane. We were off with Steve Robinson serving as our "Naturalist Interpreter." The trip was about two hours taking us around the steep slopes of the walls and stopping at Wizard Island, the current volcanic cone that will someday grow to a sizable mountain. Unfortunately, we forgot our sunscreen and I roasted up quite nicely. There were small patches of snow near the lake's edge, in direct sunlight too. Steve said this was snow left from two winters ago when they had a bad winter.
We got off on Wizard Island for a few minutes and debated whether to stay and play for a while, catching a later boat. But we planned to make it to Eugene at a decent hour so we decided against it. The island does have trees and plants and animals on it but its soil is primarily made up of volcanic rock. These rocks are hard to walk on but great for those chipmunks to hide in.
We got back on the boat and took it over to the Phantom Ship, a small rock formation sticking out of the water. Its name comes from the fact that the small island blends right in with the cauldera walls behind it from certain vantage points. This is actually the old volcanic core that has cooled into rock, like the buttes of the southwest and Monument Valley. We returned to the docks where we walked on the boulders that make up the banks of this lake and I waded in the lake. Steve said the water in the lake is the cleanest in the world, since there are no inlets, and the temperature of the water (around 53°F at the surface and a constant 38°F below 200 feet) does not allow plants to grow in the water. The only animals in the water are fish that were introduced into the lake between 1888 to 1941. Only two of the species survive today and they aren't doing too well since there's no food for the fish to eat. Andy dove right in the water joining this old, Asian-looking man. I decided it was too cold for me. After this, we climbed back up the trail to the rim and then climbed into the car.
We were now on our way to Eugene to visit Andy's friends who had just moved there a week ago. We drove out through the Pumice Desert, regions where ash from the eruption is 50 feet deep, preventing the growth of anything but grass. This eventually connects with OR 138 east. Around here, in the middle of the Winema National Forest, the road cuts a straight path directly through the forest. The problem up here: beetles. There are signs all over the place warning drivers to watch out for fallen timber due to beetle kills; apparently they're killing all the trees up here.
Turned north on US 97 briefly then northwest on OR 58 which would take us to Eugene. It was a nice clear day and the colors in the mountains were nice and crisp. There were many recreational areas and parks along this road and almost the entire road goes through National Forests like the Winema, the Deschutes, and the Willamette. This road ducked in and out of passes and valleys, a real treat. We eventually made it back to I-5 and hopped on this highway north for a couple of exits. We were now in Eugene and it was about 5:30 or 6 P.M. Andy called his friends, Mike and Catherine, and we cruised to their place. They were having friends over, Mary Lynn and Valerie, and we all had dinner and hung out for a while. Later we watched the 11 o'clock news. The big story: trees. The first half of the news was spent on tree and tree related stories. Interesting.
I woke up today around 9:30 and everyone else had gone to a meeting. They all got back around 11 A.M. and Catherine and Mike decided to come with us to Mount Saint Helens. We needed to eat somewhere and they chose the perfect place; something that characterizes the city of Eugene. The place is called the Rainy Day Café and in addition to the name, the menu also characterizes this place. It was extremely crunchy, examples: Granola... $2.75, several types of water including diet water, this baffled all of us but we didn't ask. I had the Homemade Garden Burger which was a paddy of fused vegetables served on a 7 grain bun and, of course, alfalfa sprouts. It wasn't too bad, but you had to laugh. Picked up two free papers here. I realize these free papers are usually the outlet where the outrageousness of the city presents itself. So, when I saw advertisements for 100% Hemp clothing and Sundance Natural Foods telling me how to homeopathicly cure my dog or cat and displaying the founder of this type of healing, Dr. Hahnemann, reincarnated as a black labrador retriever, I concluded that this place takes the cake.
We were on our way up I-5 by 1 P.M. We drove through Salem (haven't been through a Salem in quite some time), through Portland, and over the Columbia River into Washington State; although we almost didn't get there because some idiot decided to stop in the middle of the bridge for some inexplicable reason nearly causing an accident. All the Washington state road signs have Washington's profile on the sign with the route number stamped on the side of his head. We stopped the convoy at a rest stop where they serve free coffee, imagine them doing this in Pennsylvania. Actually, I may as well mention here that this entire region is coffee and espresso crazy. There were signs for espresso bars everywhere, from McDonalds to Subway hoagie restaurants. Out in the middle of nowhere too, very weird.
It was not long before we were at the exit for the Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center. This place was far from the volcano. It was just a few miles in from the interstate on WA 504 in Castle Rock, WA. The Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument was established in 1982, two years after the eruption. It was a cloudy day and pretty cold. Everything about this park is brand new. The buildings are modern and the roads have just been completed within the last couple years. The visitor center has a lot of interesting stuff, a film about the eruption in May of 1980 was the most interesting though. Several exhibits were about the geologic past of this region and how the recent eruption affected the people and animals surrounding the volcano.
We continued toward the volcano on WA 504. This entire area has been logged. It is a mountainous region still and the trees are taken in patches. Often there are signs with the year of the harvest and when the next harvest will occur. Now the logging companies have to replant so they take out a section of trees, replant, then harvest them in 100 years. It's odd, driving along you would see fully-grown trees for a bit and then no trees, then small trees, and it just goes on and on. The worst is seeing these entire mountains stripped of trees and all that's left are a bunch of stumps and the miles and miles of twisted dirt logging roads covering the mountain. Not a pretty sight.
It was wet out and there was a bit of mist in the air. We went out to the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center which is as close as one can get to this side of the volcano. This was a brand new center and there was a nice viewing area, even though the volcano was in the clouds. Mike and Catherine left after a while because it was going on 6 P.M. and they had a nice little drive home to Eugene. Little did Andy and I know we also had a nice little drive in front of us tonight.
We decided to try and get to the other side of the park tonight to camp. We had to go all the way back out WA 504, which was about three hours according to the Volcano Review, the paper given to us at the Visitor Center. These roads weren't made for speedin', especially when it's raining out and you're driving through clouds. Got on I-5, went north four exits, then off on US 12. The towns along this route look small and sleepy, not much action. Passed through Mossyrock, Morton, Glenoma, and in 48 miles the turnoff in Randle, WA. We stopped at the (only) store to get some food and in doing this we missed the turn. So we went ahead for a few minutes before realizing we missed WA 123 south going into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This is where we would be camping tonight, hopefully.
Once in the forest we were on National Forest Road 25. It was dark by now and I was having a hard time seeing the narrow, curvy road with all the water vapor in the air. We pulled in the Iron Creek Campground around 9 or 9:30 P.M. We couldn't see what we were doing and had to shine the car lights on everything if we wanted to see. We chose a site, paid the fee to the hosts, set the tent up, and hit the sack.
Because we could not see our surroundings last night I was quite surprised at what I woke up to. We were in a northwestern rainforest. I didn't know there were rainforests in this country and it turns out I slept in one last night. What made this different from the other forests? The ground and all the fallen logs were covered with the thickest blanket of moss I've ever seen. This stuff was softer than wall to wall. All the branches were covered in moss that dangled down like the Spanish Moss of the Southeast. You get a sense that there is a quick rate of decomposition here, all the fallen trees I could see appeared as though they were turning into mulch before my eyes.
We left our plush spot in the woods around 9:30 and it was still cloudy and raining slightly, very cool too - probably in the lower 60s. We took National Forest Road 26 to the monument. These roads are still heavily forested, very thick. The monument is small in terms of the amount of land, it doesn't even cover the blast zone around the volcano that occurred in the eruption. Eventually, as one drives closer to the blast zone and the volcano, the forest disappears and all that remains are fallen trees and low regrowth, like wildflowers. We turned on National Forest Road 99 which leads to Spirit Lake. Along the way there are several overlooks but because it's cloudy, all we could do is read the sign and use our mind. We got to Windy Ridge, the closest overlook of the volcano and the end of the road. It was still wet outside and we both had changed into jeans and long sleeves by now. It's hard to change your pants in the car.
Spirit Lake is still partially filled with trees. In this picture, 14 years after the eruption, the growth is now beginning to return.
We left and headed for Cedar Lake and then the Harmony trailhead. Here we hiked down to Spirit Lake. This is a short trail but it's a 600 foot elevation difference. The trail lets you see up close and personal the regrowth process and the devastating effects on the trees. Near Spirit Lake the vegetation disappears and it is very rocky. Pumice and other volcanic rock are scattered throughout the entire area here. The lake is still filled with logs, it looks as though it is more than 50% full of the trees that settled in the lake after the eruption. Trees also lie on the banks where the trail meets the lake. It is remarkable to think that before the eruption, Spirit Lake was 200 feet below where it is today. The eruption caused the side of the mountain to slide into the valley where the popular Spirit Lake was. It buried all the houses and the one old guy who refused to leave, Harry Truman (no not the former president, or his son). You could say he's two hundred feet under. All the soil is gray from the ash. We hiked up, narrowly escaping the rain, and headed out of the park and back to US 12 and Randle, WA.
We stopped to get some pizza at this country bar, which posed as a restaurant in the daytime. We were now heading for Mount Rainier National Park, continuing up US 12 through Packwood and then to WA 123. This park is just beautiful; the combination of the rainforests, the alpine meadows, and the many streams and lakes were spectacular. Unfortunately, it was still cloudy and the only way we were going to see Mt. Rainier was on a postcard. We missed the Visitor Center and were halfway toward the northern boundary of the park before we turned back. There are only two main roads going through the park and we get lost. Mt. Rainier is the highest peak in Washington at 14,410 feet and has the most extensive glacial system in the lower 48 states.
We finally got on the right track taking WA 706 west along the south side of the mountain. We stopped at Box Canyon where the Cowlitz River runs between two walls of rock. It's not wide but the rock is practically vertical. We continued on to the Reflection Lakes but nothing was reflecting today, still too cloudy. Our next stop was Paradise. There was a nice visitor center here at an elevation of 5,400 feet where we looked at the exhibits and then took to the network of trails through the Alpine Meadows. On average, this part of the park gets 630 inches of snow a year. The record is 1,122 inches or 93.5 feet of snow in the winter of 1971-1972.
Higher and higher, we hiked into the clouds and sleet passing glaciers and these purple wildflowers.
There is a real sense of climbing in elevation on these trails. At the bottom were many bright green grasses and wildflowers of all colors. As we went higher, the flowers and grass were not as abundant, more stone and sandy soil is exposed and fewer people were around. Higher still and we were walking in snow. We kept going and there were only a few determined tourists left. It was very rocky now and there was little vegetation. We saw this furry thing scurrying about the rocks, looked like a light brown, long slender mop. We asked a guy about 100 feet behind us if he saw it and knew what it was. He told us it was a marmot; I've never even heard of a marmot! Onward and upward. Now we could look down on snowfields and the Nisqually Glacier. We were now in the clouds and could not see the trail below that brought us here. We finally made it to Panorama Point at 6,800 feet, climbing 1,400 feet from the parking lot. Now freezing rain was coming out of the clouds and the trail we had planned to take down looked like it was closed so we had to go down the way we came.
We came out of the clouds and it was just drizzling now. We decided against going to go to the 10,000 foot Camp Muir (laugh), the base camp for the nearly 10,000 people who climb the mountain each year. We also decided not to do the 93 mile Wonderland Trail that encircles the volcano (laugh again). It was about 6 P.M. by now and we still had to go to Sharon's tonight outside of Seattle. We took a change of clothes into the visitor center, changed quickly, and were off.
As we headed out it became darker and darker. We were on WA 706 through the Snoqualmie National Forest and then turned west on WA 7. We were beginning to re-enter civilization again. WA 7 took us to Tacoma where we got on WA 512 then I-5. We went to Ruston where we had to take the $11.85 ferry to Vashon Island, where Sharon lived. We drove around the island looking for a phone to get directions to her house. Once we finally found one, Sharon's phone was busy. It was busy so long that we got some food out and had a bite to eat while waiting to get through. Eventually we drove into the town of Vashon to kill a little more time and called again. This time we were able to get through.
She lives with a bunch about her age, male and female, who share the house together. When we got there they were just hangin' out. One of them cooked a homemade pizza and we all had a piece. We talked to her roommates for a while. At 10 they all watch Star Trek, but it was one they'd seen so we continued talking. We all went to bed around 11:30 or midnight.
This house and these people really remind me of the 60s communal living thing to some extent. I mean, they're not milking their own cows or anything but there are at least five people living in the house and one's got a tent set up in the backyard for his bedroom. It seems like they're able to share so much without getting angry at one another, I really envy them and there's a part of me that could stay here, but I know another part of me would not like it and that's the ironic thing about it. It's one of those idealistic dreams I've had since high school but I know that I probably would not be able to deal with it too long.
Everyone goes to work at 9 A.M. in this house so it's a crazy time in the bathroom in the mornings. Sharon, Seth, and Andy went to Bob's Bakery at 7 A.M. while I slept. I woke up at 9:30 and Andy and I decided to do our laundry here, since they offered. While waiting we wrote postcards and we did a little planning as to where we were going to sleep tonight. Some of the people who live here work at this place that's only a stone's throw away. They trickle in for a short break now and then. As soon as the laundry finished we were on our way off the island. Before leaving though, I thought it would be nice to thank them and thought it would be funny to use the magnetic letters (the ones that kids play with) on the fan cover above the stove to do so. We stopped at the post office and then caught the ferry from the north side of the island. This ferry dropped us just south of Seattle. We were so close that we figured we would go into the city.
We took WA 99 into the city and got off at the Seneca Street exit, it looked like it would take us downtown. It was about three in the afternoon by now and our plans to get halfway to Yellowstone were not looking good unless we drove into the night. The car needed an oil change so we looked in the phone book for the nearest Jiffy Lube to get the car serviced. We had to call them for directions since all the maps of the area were ripped out of the phone books and we didn't know where anything was.
We left Seattle on I-90 east, we were now officially on our way home and would be heading east from now on - I guess it had to happen sometime. We got off the highway a few exits outside of Seattle and went to a McDonalds to ask them what town we were in. They didn't know (unbelievable) so I had to guess from the maps in their phone book (this one had maps).
We decided to go to the Jiffy Lube in Bellevue and called them for directions. Talked to this girl working the register while we were waiting for the car to be done. I think she was an American Indian, she had that type of complexion and facial features. She was very interested in the Pine Ridge Indians and the incident at Oglala. I had heard of the Incident at Oglala because it is a movie I've always seen in the movie store and thought about renting. Never did though. It's about a shootout that took place in 1975 between the FBI and members of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Leonard Peltier was convicted of the murder of two FBI agents in a case that many believe was unfair and corrupt. The federal government approached the Indian activists of the 1960s and 1970s with that Hoover style of law enforcement, a similar case a couple years back was dismissed because of misconduct by the prosecution. Peltier still remains in jail and the incident has become a rallying point for Indian activists.
We left Bellevue after trying unsuccessfully to find a post office. Got back on I-90 east around 4:30 P.M. and headed into the Cascade Range. The highway took us through the Snoqualmie National Forest again, not too far from Mt. Rainier. On the top of one of these mountains was a large statue but it was so far away we couldn't make out what it was. After we passed through the Cascades, we were now back in the dry, hilly climate. We continued on I-90 until the Columbia River, where we got off and got on WA 26 east. Out here a field of green sage looked completely out of place. It's too dry for farming so irrigation is necessary to grow anything. Towns are 50 miles apart and the scenery is beautiful. The sun was on its way down which really accentuated the rolling, brown hills.
We stopped in Washtucna after traveling on a straight road for miles and miles. We would come to the top of a hill and hope that the road would vary a bit in its direction or there would be a store or something but there wasn't. For the longest time it was just straight road for as far as the horizon would let you see. But in Washtucna there was civilization, people walking the streets, living in this small town in the middle of nowhere. Here we turned south on WA 260 and then in a bit, picked up WA 261 east. This road was curvy and took us through country that looked similar to what we had seen in Utah. We passed the Snake River on its way to the Columbia. Now it was beginning to get dark and we couldn't enjoy the marvelous sights anymore. The only town on this 30 mile road is Starbuck. Not much to it really, but an interesting name.
At US 12 we continued east, this road was a bit more populated. The towns on this road were older looking with old style buildings. At Clarkston, WA we were against the Snake River again and crossing the Idaho border into Lewiston, ID, a small city on the banks of the Snake. We soon were in the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. This area was filled with history. The road followed the Clearwater River closely and the hills were becoming mountains once again. This area is the site of several Indian battles. Lewis and Clark came through here in 1805 making contact with the Nez Perce people and the Nez Perce lived peacefully with the white man for nearly 50 years. But with the gold rush in Idaho and more and more whites coming out to settle, their land was disappearing. By 1877, the tribe decided to take action. This was the year they were forced to flee their valley on the Clearwater River and engaged in battles with whites. It would have been nice if we could have stopped to see the two parts of the Nez Perce National Historical Park but it was late. We passed through Orofino, Kamiah, and Syringa, ID and stopped at a convenience store to get gas and food. There was this kid in there who had this little, tiny dog (the kind of dog you see with ribbons tied in the tuft of hair on top of its tiny head) with bright red nail polish on its claws. It was different.
We pulled into a campground in the Nez Perce National Forest outside of Lowell, ID to spend the night. By the time we got in, it was about 11 P.M. and we were now in the mountains. It was dark out and we didn't see the transition between the dry Eastern Washington and the mountainous Northern Idaho. The Lochsa River was nearby our camp site, I could hear the water. It was interesting setting up the tent in the dark, I wonder what we'll wake up to tomorrow?
I am sad to be heading east. That means we are on our way home. However, there is still plenty to see in the northern Rocky Mountains. We cover Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, including Yellowstone, the Tetons, and Devils Tower.
Today was another day of driving in order to get to Yellowstone. When we woke up it was hot, the sun was shining right in the tent - nature's alarm clock. We packed up the stuff and hit the road by 9:30.
Lowell is the last town on US 12 until Montana, about 80 miles away. This is the only road through the Bitterroot Mountain Range that's nearby and the traffic proves that. To add to that, practically the entire stretch was under construction. Out here they do road construction a little differently. When they close a lane and let traffic through while the oncoming traffic waits, they don't just do this a mile at a time like they do out east. They do this for miles and miles, causing a long, long wait. It can be frustrating and all you can do is turn the car off and wait. The road was nice. The entire trip out of Idaho and into Montana was through the Nez Perce and Bitterroot National Forests; up and down and around these 7,000 to 8,000 foot mountains. Driving through the 5,235 foot Lolo Pass brought us into Montana and the Mountain Time Zone, so we lost an hour. Hate it when that happens.
We got into Missoula around two in the afternoon and ate at a Subway there. We needed to make some time now since we were going at a slow pace all morning; we were stuck behind trucks when we weren't waiting for construction. Missoula was a nice town but we just wanted to find I-90. Montana was a dry place it seemed. It was a hot day and if you're not in the mountains it's hot and hazy. We traveled on I-90 through Goldcreek, Deer Lodge, Opportunity, and Anaconda. The Clark Fork River was in sight the entire way and the Lolo, Deerlodge, Beaverhead, and Helena National Forests were not far either. We pulled off in Butte, MT and went to a grocery store. Next point of interest was the headwaters of the Missouri River. We were just below the mouth of this great river in St. Louis and now we are at its beginning.
We continued on I-90 until just short of Bozeman where we turned south on MT 85 which connected us with US 191 south. The last time we were on US 191 we were in southeast Utah. It was about 90 miles to the town of West Yellowstone. The only town between was Big Sky, MT, a town which shares its name with the state motto. This road took us into the mountains once again and into the Gallatin National Forest and along the Gallatin River. We arrived in West Yellowstone where there were many people walking around. We drove up to the entrance gate of the park to learn that all the campgrounds were full (surprise). So we went to the Chamber of Commerce to find out where we could camp for the night. It was almost 8 P.M. and clouds had moved in, I hope it doesn't rain while we're in Yellowstone tomorrow.
We ended up going back up US 191 about eight miles to US 287 (the last time we were on US 287 was in Texas) which leads to the Hebgen and Earthquake Lakes. This was all still in the Gallatin National Forest so it was National Forest campgrounds. There were about a half dozen campgrounds clustered around these lakes. They were close to the road but we weren't really in a position to be picky tonight with darkness near and the possibility of rain shower. Finally finished off the hot dogs tonight.
We woke up early in order to get a campsite in Yellowstone. It wasn't hard waking up this morning with the guy next to us hacking up his lung the way he was. We wanted to get a space in the park because Yellowstone was too big to be going in and out every day. We were planning to stay two nights in Yellowstone.
It rained last night and was still cloudy when we emerged from the tent. The tent was all wet which really makes it hard putting it away. I didn't get too much sleep last night, the first time that's happened in a while. We packed up the stuff and headed for Yellowstone. These lakes surrounding the campgrounds here are artificial, dammed. All the tall grasses surrounding the lakes and around the few houses that are out here sparkle with water on them this morning.
We drove into the park and looked at the camping options we had. We decided to go to Norris. The roads in the park basically form a large figure eight with spurs exiting the park. To get an idea of the size of this park, it is about 50 by 60 miles square, and the two loop roads making up the figure eight are 70 miles for the upper loop and 96 miles for the lower loop. Its 3,472 square miles is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island put together. This park would take at least two days to see and really deserves more.
It was 30 miles from the park entrance to the campground. On the way we passed through many fire-damaged forests. We got to Madison and turned north for Norris. The road passed through forest then all of a sudden the trees would disappear and you'd find yourself in the middle of a giant meadow. It was so early that many of the animals were still feeding including a large herd of buffalo. We stalked the campers at Norris campground and finally settled on a site surrounded by roads. Not the most scenic but we were tired of waiting for people to leave and it wasn't all that bad.
We set up the tent and were off to Canyon Village to get some breakfast. This was 12 miles away and we were hungry-it was a long 12 miles. We ate at a "fountain" and had Mary Tennessee as our waitress (no that's not her last name). We poked in the Canyon Village Visitor Center and then saw the canyon part of the park. They call this the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We took the North Rim Drive which took us to Inspiration Point and the Glacial Boulder, a huge boulder surrounded by pine trees. Then it was Grandview, Lookout Point, then we took the Brink of the Falls trail to the Upper Falls. We skipped the Lower Falls which are the falls always seen in photos, we saw them from afar.
The canyon has an interesting geologic history as does the entire park. About 600,000 years ago there was a huge volcanic eruption that, like Crater Lake, formed a caldera. This cauldera is 30 miles across and 45 miles wide and was filled with lava. One of these lava flows ended on the west side of the canyon and a thermal basin developed there. This thermal activity weakened the lava while other lava flows created large lakes that cut through the solidified lava to create the canyon. Further sculpting came from three glacial periods which filled the canyon with ice then eroded the rock when the glaciers melted. The last glaciers retreated about 10,000 years ago and since that time, water, wind, and earthquakes have kept the erosion process going. One of the signs told us of an earthquake in the 1970s that brought the rim of the canyon in about 100 feet from where it was before the quake. The canyon is about 20 miles long, 800 to 1,200 feet deep, 1,500 to 4,000 feet wide, and the yellow rock is called Rhyolite. It is a unique canyon among all the canyons we've seen on this trip. The walls are yellow and have trees growing wherever they can get a grip in the soil. The elevation here is around 7,700 feet. The park's elevation ranges from 5,300 feet to 11,358 feet at Eagle Peak. The average elevation on the roads is between 7,500 to 8,000 feet so we'll remain in the cool weather for a little longer.
We continued south on the Lower Loop Drive. We stopped at the Mud Volcano and the Sulfur Cauldron. This was my first chance to get a whiff of the park, and I almost threw up. It was worse than anything I've ever smelled in Florida. It was an overpowering sulfur smell which had an intense dullness. We walked the short trail that was actually a boardwalk built to protect people from the scalding hot water and thin crust. First on this trail is the Mud Cauldron. This is a pool of snow and rain water that appears to be boiling. It is not actually boiling; its bubbles are due to steam rising from a source of boiling ground water located several thousand feet below the pool. The water in Dragon's Mouth Spring, the next feature on this trail, is around 180°F and can be heard rumbling in the underground caverns. The Mud Volcano is an active spring surrounded by vertical walls of mud. Next is the Grizzly Fumarole, a place where steam escapes the Earth's crust but depending on the season its appearance is different. In the early spring it's a bubbling mudpot but as summer progresses the water evaporates and it becomes dryer and dryer until it may just be a steam vent with no mud.
Sour Lake and the Black Dragon's Cauldron are two related thermal features. Black Dragon's Cauldron burst into existence in 1948, knocking over and scorching trees and covering the area with mud. The creation of this cauldron allowed volcanic gas to rise and water to descend into the Earth's crust. Once this occurred, Sour Lake, named for the water's taste, became less active. The bacteria in this lake thrive on the sulfur; their byproduct, sulfuric acid, causing the acidic, sour taste. In 1978 and 1979 there were a series of earthquakes in this area. This caused a rejuvenation in these thermal features. The Sizzling Basin was named for its similarity to a frying pan in the 1960s but in the 70s it had cooled down enough to allow plants to grow on its surface. The quakes changed this. The soil nearby rose to 200°F killing the plants and leaving the area looking like a barren wasteland. The Mud Geyser is not as active as it once was, however, it does have standing dead trees on its banks, indicating the roots of these trees were and are being cooked.
We pressed on to the banks of Yellowstone Lake. The lake's surface is at 7,733 feet and it is 136 miles square. The shoreline is 110 miles and it is 390 feet deep. We did not stop here, instead we continued to the Upper Geyser Basin 17 miles away. On the way we crossed the Continental Divide twice at 8,391 and 8,262 feet.
The Upper Geyser Basin, where Old Faithful is located, is probably the most popular part of the park. They have a visitor center, restaurants, a post office, a photo shop, even a clinic. We walked over to Old Faithful Geyser. It is surrounded by a gallery of benches. The next predicted time of eruption was 2:36 P.M., 50 minutes from now. Instead of waiting, we strolled the boardwalks always keeping the time in mind so that we could look in its direction. Most of the geysers and springs in this area are clustered along the Firehole River. This river runs through the Upper Geyser Basin and the Biscuit Basin. Water from these geysers and springs drain into this river. We walked over to Geyser Hill to kill some time and see other things while waiting for Old Faithful.
It would probably be a good idea to define what exactly a geyser is and how it differs from a spring, so I'll do that here. The origin of the springs and geysers in Yellowstone come from the combination of two ingredients: molten rock or magma, and the water that falls on Yellowstone as rain or snow. The magma may be as close as 3-5 miles beneath the surface (yikes!). When the water seeps several thousand feet into the ground it is heated. This hot water rises through underground cracks and fissures and makes its way to the surface. The water will arrive at the surface as a hot spring if the water's circulation is rapid enough to allow convection to keep the system in equilibrium. A geyser is a hot spring that erupts periodically. Imagine the hot water rising and filling underground channels that do not reach the surface. The heat in these channels is trapped and builds up, increasing the temperature of the water and the pressure in the channel. Because the pressure in these channels is high, water can exceed the normal boiling point without vaporizing. Once the water does begin to boil, the steam will expand and rise toward the top of the water column. Eventually, these steam bubbles will be too large to pass through the tight parts of the channel upward. At this point the bubbles lift the water above causing the geyser to overflow. This decreases the pressure in the system and the water will now boil at a lower temperature producing more steam which again forces more water upward. The eruption will stop when either the water supply is diminished or the pressure decreases enough to allow the steam bubbles to flow freely. While we're on the subject, a fumarole is just a hot spring which lacks liquid water-a steam vent. A mudpot is a hot spring with a limited supply of water which allows the sulfuric acid to dissolve clay mud which accumulate on the surface. Now that that's over with, back to the trip and some facts about Old Faithful.
Old Faithful's eruptions are about 75 minutes apart but this can vary from 45 to 105 minutes. It reaches a height of 100-180 feet and lasts for one to five minutes. Across the Firehole River is Geyser Hill. There are over a dozen springs and geysers here. While we were walking here it was just about time for Old Faithful to erupt so we sat in front of these two small geysers. One would spit water about a foot high and the other, about five feet away, had walls around its opening. I thought the steam from this little one was going to get in the way of our pictures of Old Faithful. These two went off continuously as we sat there. As we waited for Old Faithful people would stop and ask if it was about to go off. This one guy waited as we did and it wasn't going off. It had thrown out some water but nothing like the pictures and the descriptions. We continued to wait while the skeptics left. It finally did erupt and it was spectacular. We were seeing it from a distance and it still appeared high. It's funny, as you walk around there are geysers going off all the time catching your attention.
We walked by the Giantess Geyser, the Doublet Pool, Aurum Geyser, and many more. Depending on the underground plumbing, each geyser is different. Some are empty and before erupting the water flows in filling the geyser, steam bubbles begin to rise, and the eruption occurs, and the water drains back underground only to be heated again and go through the same process. Some explode in quick bursts. Some are ejected through thin nozzles projecting the water very high. There are also many sounds. Some like the Lion Group sound as if they're roaring, some cause thumping and vibrations, gurgling sounds, and any other sound imaginable.
Next is the Castle-Grand Group. Castle Geyser has the largest cone and is thought to be the oldest geyser in the park. The Crested Pool is a spring whose waters are so hot (199°F) that they do not allow any algae to grow. The result is crystal clear, indigo colored water. Walked by the Liberty Pool, Spasmodic Geyser, named because it erupts continuously, and Sawmill Geyser, which went off as Andy was next to it. He went through the falling water and I had to do the same, luckily it had cooled down by the time it had reached the ground.
The next grouping is the Giant-Grotto Group then the Morning Glory-Riverside Group. In these are the Beauty Pool, Chromatic Spring, Giant Geyser, Grotto Geyser, and Morning Glory Pool. Giant Geyser is dormant for the time being and has been since 1955. Grotto Geyser has a cone that has formed around and covers trees that once grew next to the geyser. The Riverside and Vent Geysers were erupting as we passed. The Vent Geyser is angled so the plume goes off at an angle, really a beautiful sight.
We kept going down the dirt path that leads to the Biscuit Basin and the Mystic Falls Trailhead. The name Biscuit Basin comes from the fact that around the Sapphire Pool there were once biscuit shaped and biscuit colored deposits but they blew apart after an explosive period of activity. Andy thought it would be nice to hike to the Mystic Falls on the Firehole River. It was a tad over a mile to reach the falls. It was a nice clear day with big puffy clouds moving in the sky. The 1988 fires affected 36% of the park's forest, by not only burning the part of the forest that we see but also heating the soil sufficiently to destroy the roots and seeds. It was weird seeing all the trees burned and a green floor with trees beginning to come back. There was no shade in this forest. Along the river were springs creating steam when the hot water leaked out into the cold waters of the Firehole River.
View of the Upper Geyser Basin from mountain top. Down below is Old Faithful and a hundred other geysers.
The trail back went up the mountain to the north of the river and was a mile longer. It went up and up through the unshaded forest and brought us to a cliff that overlooked the entire Upper Geyser Basin. Old Faithful was way off in the distance. Once we made our way down the mountain and back in the valley, we had gone over two miles from Biscuit Basin to Old Faithful. This was a shock to my tired, sun burnt body. It didn't seem this far on the way out.
It was around 6 P.M. and there was still more to see today. We walked on a path on the opposite side of Firehole River. This took us by the Daisy Group and there was a crowd forming which was a tell-tale sign that one of these things was going to go off. We debated whether to stay or press on and we sort of did neither. We walked sluggishly, keeping our eyes and ears on the geyser. It did go off and Andy went back to record it forever on film. We finally made it back to Old Faithful but it was not going to go off for another 20 minutes, so we left. There is a beautiful Inn here. It is a huge, old, wooden structure, with intricate architecture. They used all the powers at their disposal to save this in the 1988 fires and it worked. They doused the building with water constantly to lower the risk of it catching fire. It's really amazing, too, because most of the forest surrounding the entire area was burnt.
We passed up the Midway Geyser Basin. It was getting dark now since clouds had moved in. We continued up the Lower Loop Road and turned on the Firehole Lake Drive, a small two mile side road. We did not know what we would see on this road but we got a surprise. The first geyser on this road is the Great Fountain Geyser. There was a large crowd assembled so we pulled over and got a snack while waiting for this thing to go off. It was predicted to go off at 7:45 and it was now 7:39. Many in the crowd had set up folding chairs on the trail around the giant geyser and were quite comfortable. We were on the other side of the Geyser, somewhat far from it. As we watched the geyser in the opposite direction, the White Dome Geyser blew behind us. This geyser has a 30 foot cone of built up deposits around it. The eruptions blast 30 feet into the air in a thin stream of water and steam. After this, the one we'd been waiting for went off. The Great Fountain blew into the air. The wind blew all the water right down onto the gallery of old folks with their lawn chairs and RVs. It was perfect. This geyser only erupts every 8 to 12 hours so we were lucky to have seen it. The water soared to heights of around 100 feet. It was still going and we were at the point where we were thinkin', how long is this thing going to go, I mean you've seen the geyser go off for over five minutes, how much longer do you need to stand there and watch it? We were about to jump in the car and keep going when the geyser literally exploded. The noise is what forced me to turn around and when I did I saw this huge bubble that had swelled to immense proportions. It blew apart, creating a massive explosion and eruption of water. This was by far the most exciting geyser today.
We continued up this road driving by the Steady Geyser (you can probably guess why they call it that). Back on the Lower Loop Road, we stopped briefly at the Lower Geyser Basin and Goose Lake. This brought us up close to the tiny terraced ground around the springs here. Close enough to touch the water as it ran down toward the river. There is a spring on top then a long, gradual drop-off down to the river. The entire drop-off is covered with little centimeter-high terraces all the way down to the river. All different colors too. Sometimes it's white, or reddish, orange, or yellow, depending on the temperature of the water. Quite a sight.
The clouds were threatening us with a drop of rain now and then. We got to Madison and the next junction was Norris. Along the way we stopped in a meadow where a crowd had congregated. These guys said they saw Coyotes or Wolves hunting on the edge of the woods but I guess they were gone by the time we arrived. There was one buffalo playing games with a herd of Mule Deer. He was rolling on the ground and staring at this one deer that was sort of separated from the herd. I think the buffalo wanted those deer out of there. We walked out into the meadow to a stream and sat and watched the contest.
About 20 minutes later we headed back to camp and attempted to cook dinner. For some reason everything went wrong tonight. All we wanted to cook were some hamburgers, a Lipton noodle mix, and a veggie. Someone didn't want us to eat this stuff or something because, first, the wood for the fire would not stay lit, we couldn't get the fire going. Second, the stove would not stay lit, the noodles boiled over and put out the flame. To add to this we only had one match left. On and on ... We did eventually eat, for better or worse, and we liked it, dammit!
This morning was bright and clear. We almost got up to see the meteors but screwed that idea-we needed the sleep! This campground is close to the Norris Geyser Basin, a little too close. It's not pleasant waking up to these smells. Today we are going to see what the Upper Loop Road had to offer but first, breakfast. We ate at the same place in the Canyon Village. No Mary Tennessee this morning.
Our mission today: the upper half of the park. We headed north to the Roosevelt Lodge and drove through Dunraven Pass (8,859 ft) and by Mt. Washburn (10,243 ft). This half of the park seemed much more open. More mountains and open meadows of green grass, fewer trees. We stopped at Tower Falls, part of the Tower Creek which joins the Yellowstone River which flows northeast eventually joining the Missouri River in northeastern Montana. These falls were quite picturesque. The trail down was sort of steep but these things get you goin' first thing.
Andy wanted to go to the Lamar Valley which is on a road that heads toward the Northeast Entrance. This was a beautiful, wide, grassy valley. We hiked up Specimen Trail which is a trail that proceeds from the road up a mountain and into the trees that blanket the tops of the mountains here. The trail was steep at times but not too bad. Andy really had to push me to get to the tree line. Once there, we rested. A family from Scotland arrived and we had a chat with them. They thought it was "just dreadful" that Americans only get two weeks vacation. "I mean you're just getting started after two weeks," the mother said. We went back down the mountain and they continued on.
Driving a bit farther we saw a sign for a petrified tree. We pulled in and sure enough, there was a fossilized trunk of a tree sticking out of the ground. This guy's four or five-year-old daughter summed it up best, "Dad, another Kodak moment." It was fenced in because people cannot resist having a piece for their very own so I had to jam the camera between the bars. We found out here that the Specimen Trail leads to a petrified forest, oh well, maybe next time.
We turned on the Blacktail Plateau Drive, a six mile dirt road that took us on the plateau and through some valleys too. It was a nice ride but it brought back the horror of dirt roads. It was a hot day out, much like yesterday at this time. We continued on the Upper Loop Road and finally reached our next destination, Mammoth Hot Springs. There is a nice setup here. There is a visitor center, a hotel, another clinic, a chapel, and stores. All of these are on the site of Fort Yellowstone, built in 1886 when the Army ran the parks. That is why there is grass everywhere. Not wild grass but nice lawn-type grass, green grass.
We parked on the lower terrace and walked the trails. We started at the Liberty Cap, an extinct hot spring cone that towers out of the ground. Nearby is the Devil's Thumb, a similar feature. Next, on to Minerva Terrace. This is the most intricate terrace system of any spring in the park. There are so many levels that it's impossible to figure out the logic of how they may have formed. Minerva Spring is a flat, blue pool of steaming water. The water runs off the circular terrace, depositing the limestone it picked up underground. This limestone creates the terraces and the "frozen waterfalls," the white deposits hanging off some of the terraces. Beside Minerva is Jupiter Spring but since 1992 it's been dry. The clouds were moving in now and the rain was threatening again.
We went back to the car and took the Upper Terrace Drive. We stopped at the connecting trail to Minerva and walked down to Canary Spring and Terrace. This is another incredible system of terraces. The upper terrace seems to be mostly quiet. Not too many active springs. The ground is all light gray from the deposits of the past but it appears for now that the activity has moved to the lower terrace. There are a few springs here; the New Highland, Orange Spring Mound, and Bath Lake, but all of them have a very slow flow rate. The White Elephant Back Terrace is a long ridge, once an active system of terraces like other springs at Mammoth. We continued on this short excursion when we came across a cluster of cars. Why had they stopped? The only way we were going to find out was to park the car and walk over. It turns out they were looking at three mule deer sitting under some dead trees on the white soil. Odd seeing them just sit there with no food to eat or leaves to hide behind. Last on the route was Angel Terrace and Spring. This one smells particularly bad but is beautiful in its color variations.
We were on our way back to camp when we pulled over in a turnoff to get some wood that would burn. The forest had burned in the '88 fire and there was dead wood all over the ground. We filled the trunk with it and were homeward bound. We got in early tonight so we could relax a bit. Andy decided to tie the tarp to the trees in case it rained and it's a good thing he did because it rained for about two hours. Dinner was good tonight, could it be any worse than last night?
We tried to wake up early to see meteors but we were too tired again. We woke up at the usual time, eight-ish, packed everything, and headed for Grand Teton National Park. We stopped at the same meadow where we saw the buffalo dancing two days ago. There was a herd of buffalo eating this morning. We could still see dew on the grass and it was cool enough to see the steam rising from the hot springs above the distant tree line. We continued on through Madison for the last time, then through West Thumb again.
It's a 70 mile drive just to get out of Yellowstone. Once out of Yellowstone we were on the eight mile John D. Rockefeller, Jr. National Memorial Parkway. This park connects Yellowstone with the Tetons. The roads in Yellowstone desperately need work. It was a relief to drive on nice roads after the last two days in Yellowstone. We crossed the headwaters of the Snake River, which winds its way through the Tetons and into Idaho and Washington.
It was about 11:30 by the time we entered Grand Teton National Park, two and a half hours after we left this morning. We looked at the Lizard Creek Campground but it looked pretty full so we continued down the road. We pulled into Colter Bay and asked the ranger in the campground for her best site, they assign sites here. She gave us D95, and it was pretty good. Close to the bathroom yet somewhat secluded as well. The Teton Range lies before us and in between is Jackson Lake.
We needed something to eat. Passed by Signal Mountain Lodge but it was too expensive and not really a place for campers who haven't showered since Seattle. We drove up Signal Mountain Road, a thin, curvy road that makes its way up to the top of the 7,600 foot Signal Mountain for a spectacular view of the Teton Range and a description of the different geologic features in the park.
The Tetons are here today because of movement along the fault at the mountain's base. This has been occurring over millions of years and the result is the pushing up of the crust under the mountains. The total displacement along the fault is 30,000 feet. This means the rock that makes up the Tetons can be found 30,000 feet below the surface of the valley. One remnant of the ancient seaway that covered this area millions of years ago remains. Atop Mt. Moran, one of the higher peaks, a layer of sandstone remains; its corresponding layer in the valley is 24,000 feet underground. Glaciers helped sculpt the mountains and erode away the layers of sedimentary rock. The glaciers also carved out the holes where the lakes that are beside the mountains now exist.
The location of trees in the park show where the moraines are. A moraine is the deposit of junk dragged by a glacier. When a glacier moves it drags along with it rocks, dirt, trees, et cetera and they are left when the glacier retreats. Otherwise it is just grassy, with the soil being dry and rocky. The only glaciers that remain today are in upper elevations. From Signal Mountain we could see all these effects, the moraines, the lakes, and the glacier-capped mountains.
We continued south, still in search of food. We took a little side road that goes to Jenny Lake. There were several turnouts along the way each looking over the lake at the mountains. Still going south we ended up at the bottom of the park at the Moose Village Visitor Center. There was a snack bar across the road. Unfortunately, the food wasn't that great and neither were the prices for that matter. We sat down and looked over the maps to decide what we wanted to do in the park. We were close to the Death Canyon Trailhead so we decided to explore this trail. We drove out Wilson Road and onto the dirt road which wasn't recommended for low vehicles, but we made it.
The Death Canyon Trail starts in thick forest. At times the trail was almost overgrown, you couldn't see the ground it was so thick with plants. We passed a mother moose and her child feeding on plants. It was hot still, a little humid too. The trail wound its way past tiny brooks and made its way up out of the valley to the Phelps Lake Overlook a mile later. By now the forest was primarily evergreen trees but it varied a lot as the trail continued on. After this, it was back down and into Death Canyon. It was somewhat level and the trail was nice, it followed a mountain stream. We hiked in for about two or three miles through the wide canyon, over rock fields and next to waterfalls. We went to the Death Canyon Patrol Cabin and then came back. Unfortunately this was not a loop trail unless we were going to be spending the night out here and we weren't going to do this. Talked to some interesting people on the trail, one guy from Washington DC who comes out here often recommended some things we should do in the park and in the area.
As we walked back the sun was behind the mountains and it was getting darker. We were walking on one of the rock fields and came around a corner and coming at us on the trail were a mother and baby moose, probably the same ones we'd seen earlier on the trail. If it was the same pair, they'd gone a long way. There was really no where to go on this narrow part of the trail. On either side of the trail were boulders lying on a steep slope. We decided to climb up the rocky mountainside and let them pass, and they did, mother shielding her baby all the way. We were only about 20 feet from these moose and it was quite remarkable to see nature this close. Seeing them this close made me realize that moose are funny looking, definitely not a graceful looking animal.
By the time we made it back to the car it was about 7 P.M. and we figured we'd walked about eight miles today. Went back to camp and cooked dinner; another interesting combo, spaghetti and carrots.
We decided to take another ranger-led hike to Inspiration Point this morning since all our previous ranger-involved activities were quite informative. This one, however, started too early. We had to be at Jenny Lake at 8:30 A.M. That means we had to wake up really early. Andy woke me up at 7:45 and we left at 8:02. It was about 20 miles to the lake. We didn't know if we were going to make it. We traveled at light speed to catch the boat. The program consists of getting on the boat to go across Jenny Lake. This drops you at the trailhead for Inspiration Point and Cascade Canyon. We got there at 8:31, following the other speeders.
Eric Best was our "naturalist interpreter" today. This was a college kid who reminded me of Timothy Busfield in Field of Dreams who kept pushing them to sell the farm. He was a nice guy but I couldn't help associating that image with him. We started talking to this older couple from Annapolis who were a bit weary about hiking the one mile trail and 400 feet elevation to the point. It wasn't a flat trail but at the rate we were going a turtle could have beat us up there. Eric had some interesting things to share with us, for instance, the American Dipper. The sparrow-sized bird we saw yesterday in Death Canyon dipping in and out of the fast flowing water looking for food. We saw it as we perched ourselves next to a waterfall. I've never seen a bird dive in the water like this one was doing. So Eric had some interesting little facts to share with us, but he talked to us as if we were children. He would ask questions like; "What's going to happen if everyone fed the cute little bears?" or "What's going to happen if we cut down the trees?" - the type of questions no one would reply to because everyone knows the answer is obvious. Thankfully, there was this kid who answered all the questions; he was hyper and was running around all over the place. We spotted a pika on a rock field, this kid chased it all over the place. On top of Eric's condescending questions, at the conclusion of each stop, which was about every hundred yards, he had these readings. Quaint selections from works ranging from Muir to Thoreau to Dr. Suess. These readings had to go-Eric had to go-no, we had to go, and we did just that. We got the hell out of there.
Made it up to Inspiration Point and we were able to look down upon Eric and the group taking another rest. Once we checked out Inspiration Point, it was about 10:30 and we continued on into Cascade Canyon. This canyon was a bit more popular than Death Canyon (who would have guessed?). The Cascade Creek flowed at the bottom of the canyon, fed by high mountain lakes that cannot be seen from this elevation. This canyon is surrounded by the biggies: Teewinot Mountain, Mount Owen, and Grand Teton which is tucked back in there, and Mount St. John on the other side. Grand Teton is the highest peak in the park at 13,770 feet. Along the way we saw many pikas carrying branches that were two or three times their size. In fact, this is the easiest way to spot a pika, just look for moving branches or moving leaves around rocks. Saw another animal which we figured was a muskrat. No moose or bear today. The glaciers on top of the mountains created streams that flow down the steep slopes into the Cascade Creek. We walked in about three miles and turned back. All the kids we passed asked if we'd seen any bears, I don't know what they were going to do when they found a bear, but they were sure anxious to see one.
Clouds were beginning to come in and a clap of thunder could be heard on the west side of the range. We decided to take the boat back and when we arrived there was a long line. We went on the third boat. It was funny though, there was a scuffle between two women and a couple. These two women had apparently walked out onto the dock to look at the lake. When the boat came these three people started bitchin' that they were cutting in line. The couple who confronted the two women were southern and looked like the typical tourists, dressed in flashy clothes that didn't fit, and a lot of camera equipment hanging off the shoulder. Anyway, this guy, who reminded me of Willie Nelson, tells the boat driver not to let the two ladies on and the two ladies started yelling back, telling them they didn't cut in line. All the while, I couldn't believe this was happening. The guy made it a point of letting everyone in line know that they cut in line. Obviously, the two women didn't make the boat and as we were pulling out this guy stood up and waved to the two ladies yelling, "Adios ladies!" Some of the other passengers joined in as well. I still couldn't believe this guy but by now many people in the boat were laughing along with him which, to some degree, was even more frightening. There were some foreigners in the boat as well and I didn't want to think about the stereotypes this couple were enforcing about "those crazy Americans."
We were back on the other side of Jenny Lake around 2:30 P.M. We went back to camp and decided to take showers at the public showers in Colter Bay since it was sprinkling and may possibly rain this afternoon. This was the first shower since Seattle, seven days ago. There was so much dirt on the back of my legs that it acted as an effective sunblock. We planned to go into Jackson, WY tonight which is about 12 miles below Moose Village. Andy did a load of laundry and we got cleaned up and rested.
We got into Jackson around 5:30 hoping to see a movie and get dinner somewhere. This town is like a northern version of Santa Fe. All the sidewalks are the old style boardwalks and there is a large center square with huge archways made of antlers at each entrance. The stores were many of the catalog-type places like an L.L. Bean store, J.Crew store and others. I ducked into the Jackson Drug and said hello for Laurie DeWarf, she did her pharmacy internship here and worked there for two summers. We walked around looking for something to eat but were having a hard time finding something. We settled on this family type restaurant, it was cheap and we stuffed ourselves. We went to a bookstore and got ice cream from these people who had moved here from some middle eastern country. There are a lot of bikers in this town and a huge cowboy/country bar. The country music blared out of the doors of this place. We got back to camp around 8:30 and relaxed for a bit before going to sleep. Tomorrow was a driving day.
We got up today around 8:30 packing up the stuff and heading for the north eastern corner of Wyoming. We ate at this all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at Colter Bay which was the best food we'd had thus far, besides our own food, of course. I picked up some free papers there where the headline in the Jackson Hole Daily was, "Health care reform definitely illin'." Another story was about a guy who was mauled by a bear on a trail in the park. This was nice to know, it's a good thing we're leaving today.
We left the park on US 26/287 into the Bridger-Teton National Forest heading for Dubois, 55 miles to the east. We crossed the Continental Divide again at the Togwotee Pass which is 9,658 feet, not quite as high as Tioga Pass in Yosemite, probably the highest road we drove on. Soon the Wind River joined us and we followed it right into the Wind River Indian Reservation. This area is a lot more arid, the evergreen forests were gone now, the low scrubby plains were before us. We followed US 26 into Riverton and then over to Casper, WY. Some of the towns along this road are the smallest I've ever seen. Each town has a sign with the town's name, the population, and elevation. Moneta has a population of 5, Powder River has 10. How do you have a town with 5 people in it? Everyone must be town officials and they're probably all related as well. Hell's Half Acre is located off this road. No big deal, just a colorful canyon around the Powder River. Now the high peaks are around 5,000 to 7,000 feet, no more 10,000 foot mountains on this trip, or snow for that matter. This meant that there was no more cool mountain air either.
In Casper, which is on the Platte River, we picked up I-25 north to Buffalo, WY. The main industry out here appears to be oil. There are wells everywhere, out in the middle of the dry, rolling hills. We turned east on I-90. The first town, Gillette, was 70 miles away. Crossed the Crazy Woman River (I wonder how this river got its name?) and got off in Moorcroft on US 14, about 35 miles away from Devils Tower National Monument.
We were on the western edge of the Black Hills, so it was a bit more up and down now. Devils Tower Junction is 27 miles up US 14 where we turned on WY 24 and then on WY 110 to the monument. Before the entrance to the monument there is the small town of Devils Tower. The post office here is a trailer. There are lounges and hunting places here also but the town is only a few buildings, didn't see any houses.
We drove into the nation's first monument, preserved in 1906, and were hoping to camp at the Belle Fourche Campground, named after the river that runs nearby. It was filling up fast and it appeared as though the only sites left were the group sites. We were debating what to do when the ranger approached us and took the sign that designated this a group site and told us it was ours. This was a relief since it was getting dark and we didn't feel like driving back and forth looking for a place to camp, only to have to come back tomorrow. We were lucky, we got a nice site too. To the south we looked out on a large meadow in front of the river and a 30 foot wall of rock on the other side of the river. To the north was Devils Tower.
However, with the privilege of using a group site comes the possibility that our next door neighbors will be a group. This was the case but it wasn't too bad, although they were all pre-teen kids with one guy trying to control them all. We ate dinner and cleaned up during a windstorm. Lightening could be seen in the distance but it never rained. Everything just started blowing around.
The final push home. The Black Hills of South Dakota would be our last refuge before we baked on the hot northern plains. Once we left the Badlands in South Dakota, we drove straight home. It took about 40 hours and, having spent over a month on the road, we were eager to be home.
The heat woke me up this morning. No more cool mountain mornings, from now on the tent would heat up in the morning sun and it would be like going into an air conditioned room when stepping out of it. Looking out the window of our tent, I could see Devils Tower. It was another PB&J breakfast, something we haven't done in a while. The park is about 1.5 by 1.5 miles square. We drove up the circular road to the visitor center at the tower's base. There was a lot of information here, about climbing the tower, walking around the tower, and the history of the tower.
We found out that there was a ranger led walk halfway around the tower. We weren't going to let Eric of the Tetons have the last word. We joined Liz and the other couple who were interested and proceeded around the tower on the Tower Trail. This trail was a little over a mile. Liz was nice, seemed to know her stuff. The Belle Fourche River exposed Devils Tower with its relentless erosion. The tower is 5,117 feet above sea level and 1,267 feet above the river. The tower used to be magma that forced its way to the surface. This molten rock then cooled and fractured into five-sided columns, the shape of the tower's rocks today. Then the river eroded away the surrounding sedimentary rock to expose the tower. The diameter at the base is 1,000 feet and the area of the top is 1.5 acres.
There were many climbers on its faces today. The first people climbed the tower in 1893. The Native Americans think the tower is sacred and perform many ceremonies around the tower, even today. Liz ditched us about halfway around the trail and we finished it up ourselves. At times we were in the thick of a pine forest, other times we were next to the tower and huge fields of rocks. We finished up the trail and headed for the exit. Before leaving we stopped at the Prairie Dog Town. This is a dry grass meadow with dirt patches dotted all over the field. These patches were prairie dog holes. The prairie dogs would come out of their holes and look around nonchalantly posing for pictures. We got the obligatory prairie dog picture and left.
Devils Tower would now fade away in the rear view mirror as we headed for South Dakota. The area around Devils Tower is a transitional region. It has characteristics of both the plains and the mountainous regions of Wyoming. By tonight we would be in the great plains, leaving the Rockies behind for good. We took US 14 to Sundance, WY where it was back on I-90 east. We passed Spearfish, SD and got off I-90 and onto US 85 south.
We were now in the Black Hills National Forest heading into the town of Deadwood. This is an old gold mining town with a lot of history. Wild Bill Hickok, the legendary marshal of Hays and Abilene, Kansas was shot dead here in 1876 also, Calamity Jane, the woman who dressed in men's clothes, is also buried here. Tucked in the Black Hills, the town is very touristy and has legalized gambling. They try to preserve the old west here but it's just not genuine. There are motels everywhere with pools crammed next to the road. Tacky tour busses and billboards begging those who pass to see where they actually filmed Dances with Wolves.
Rather than go into Lead, SD, we turned on US 385 south which was a nice ride through the Black Hills, without too many towns along the way. This took us to the Crazy Horse Monument. This, when completed (if ever), will be the largest statue at 563 feet. This monument to the Oglala chief who, along with Sitting Bull, crushed Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn, was taken up by the artist Korczak Ziolkowski. He set up a home here and made the sculpting of the mountain his life's work. Because this is not a federal project, they refuse to take money from the government, therefore, it has taken decades to make the little progress that they've made (this explains the $12 entrance fee). They hope to have the face done by the year 2000 but I don't think they will. This project is not only a statue but a major development project. They want to build a Native American college here and practically an entire town. The plans they have here would be completed in a matter of months where we live; here they must have patience and understand that they may not be alive to see their dreams fulfilled.
We left the monument and headed for Custer State Park. We continued on US 385 south through the town of Custer, where Lt. Col. Custer led a party of gold diggers in 1874. Turning east on US 16 ALT took us to the park. This park has nothing to do with Native American history, it's just a park outside of Custer, SD. They did build a stockade here and there are other interesting historical things but the park is primarily a wildlife refuge. The park is home to buffalo, elk, pronghorn antelope, white tail and mule deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and prairie dogs. We turned on SD 87 toward Wind Cave National Park, which I wish we'd stopped at now but turned on the Wildlife Loop Road. We saw pronghorn antelope, a herd of buffalo, and came across these burros in the road. They were just hangin' around, blocking traffic. This brought us back to US 16 ALT (Iron Mountain Road) and we took this north to our next destination: Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This was one of the most scenic roads we'd been on in a while. It didn't go through any towns, it just wound its way through the Black Hills and the thick forest. At times the road would even split with these large trees on an island between lanes. It was the type of road without lane lines and had one-lane square-carved tunnels and custom-made, curved wood bridges called the pigtail bridges.
As we got closer to Mt. Rushmore, the trees would occasionally provide us with a peek at the "Shrine of Democracy." We were on a mountain top and could gaze over to the memorial. We turned on SD 244 west and entered the park. The sun was beginning to head down, it was approaching late afternoon. There is a nice visitor center here and a long walkway lined with all the flags of the states and territories. There is a large cafeteria and a couple of paved trails through the forest. This memorial was started in 1927 and took 14 years to complete. The 5,725 foot mountain was named in 1885 for a New York lawyer. The work was designed and carved by the sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The sculpture is of (as I'm sure you know) Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and T.R. Roosevelt. Roosevelt was the last one dedicated in 1939. Borglum died in 1941, leaving, some think, an incomplete work. To get an idea of scale, Washington's forehead to his chin is 60 feet. His eyes are 11 feet wide and his mouth is 18 feet wide. We both got some ice cream and relaxed for a while.
We left, traveling west on SD 244, but pulled over in the first turnout to look at the map. We turned around and as we did there was a mountain goat sitting there eating away. I thought it was a big white plastic bag; I saw it out of the corner of my eye when we initially pulled in the turnout. This thing had big black horns and was the first mountain goat we'd seen.
We followed US 16 to Rapid City. It was getting cloudy and we drove on the new highway into Rapid City so we could get back on I-90 east for the Badlands National Park. There was a very big storm approaching now. We got rained on near Rapid City but we were able to drive out of the storm, only to have it catch us tonight.
It's about 50 miles to Wall, SD where we had to get off on SD 240 south to the park. At the park entrance, the ranger told us that tornadoes and large hail were spotted in Rapid City and Box Elder and gave us instructions on what to do if a tornado was coming our way. We took the free advice and got the hell out of there. It was getting darker and darker and we were hoping to get the tent set up before the storm came. We stopped at a vista point and the storm was huge, pushing down a part of the cloud in a bowl-shaped depression, the beginning signs of a tornado. The sky under the storm was pink as the sun was setting. We got in the car and continued to speed through the park, heading for the campground at the other end of the park. We made it there and it was really dark now and the winds were kicking up. The ranger out in the road told us that the campground is full and gave us a few alternatives as he held on to his hat.
We ended up going to the Circle 10 Campground in Cactus Flat, SD; hey, they had showers. It was raining hard now and we got a somewhat secluded sight and waited in the car for the rain to die down a bit. It was obvious that the rain wasn't going to stop soon so around 10 P.M. we set up the tent. By 11:30 P.M. the rain had diminished but the wind was relentless. Because we had gotten in the habit of not staking the rainfly into the ground, the tent was now all deformed and the rainfly was flapping so hard that the entire thing was lifting out of the ground. So we had to go out and do some repairs, staking down the tent and rainfly properly. Once we did this it was smooth sailin' for the rest of the night.
My god, it's hot! Too hot. The storm left us with crystal clear skies this morning and the tent was warm enough to bake bread in. I put on the same stale clothes from yesterday and we went to get breakfast. We ate at the little place in our campground. All you can eat pancakes, $1.95. After our quick preview of the park last night, we already knew what we were going to see.
Badlands National Park is an odd park. Surrounding the park is the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. The most popular part, the North Unit, is a very narrow strip one to two miles wide. Then it extends out into the Sage Creek Wilderness Area and down into the Stronghold Unit and the isolated Palmer Creek Unit. Both of these are surrounded by the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which extends all the way south to the border with Nebraska.
We entered at the Northeast Entrance and our first stop was the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail. We walked around the short loop trail but didn't stay on it too long. We walked through Juniper groves where there was a little moisture left from last night but we saw no critters. We joined other people and ventured off the trails. We just walked around on the firm, dried dirt and up the odd shaped mounds of earth that characterize this park. It was too hot for any animals to be out.
We drove to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and got checked out on the history and the park's features. What makes this place so special? First, this park is one of the richest fossil beds in the United States. 34 million years ago, at the end of the Eocene, this entire area was a broad marshy plain through which streams from the western highlands flowed. As the Oligocene period ended 23 million years ago, volcanic ash had rained down on the area from volcanoes in the west and southwest. This is the white layer of rock seen in the top of the formations. Slowly, the climate changed, rains diminished, and dry winds from the north allowed grass to take hold. The mammals that existed during this period are alien-like compared to the mammals of today.
We left heading west toward the other features in the park. We stopped at Saddle Pass Trail, a trail that goes over the wind, rain, and frost sculpted canyons, ridges, spires, and knobs. We walked over the ridge to find more grass and dirt, big surprise! We didn't see any snakes but this looks like the perfect place for them. The little water that's left from last night's downpour is now beige, and is changing from liquid water to mud. We walked back to the car, which was below us, and continued on.
We stopped at many overlooks. The first was the Prairie Winds Overlook which described the wild weather and how it affects the landscape. Next was the Homesteads & Ranches Overlook which pointed out how and where settlers of the past tried unsuccessfully to take up living here. Rainbow and the Seabed Jungle Overlook demonstrated the red and yellow rock layers from the Oligocene jungle. Next was the Ancient Hunters Overlook where the mass killing of mammals is described. It is thought that the ancient peoples of the area drove herds of mammals over cliffs instead of hunting them singly. Today all we see are the massive fossil beds beneath these cliffs. Pinnacles is the last overlook, no story here, just scenery.
We decided to see the Fossil Exhibit at the Fossil Exhibit Trail at 2:30. We got there around 2 P.M. and the ranger giving this talk was not far behind. We first did the trail which displays fossils or plaster casts of the actual fossils of the exotic animals of long ago. We then sat in on the talk by Ranger Rick, yes, his name was Rick. The talk was about all the types of fossils found in the area and was very interesting. Rick told us of the Big Pig Dig going on in the park near Conata. This is one of those strange animals that someone found one day. This guy was walking along this road and below his feet he saw what looked like part of a backbone. In the park people have found this pig-like mammal, ancient rhinoceroses, and horses, all of them very well preserved. After the talk we went to this Big Pig Dig.
Driving out dirt road 509 we came upon a trailer with a ranger ready to answer questions and archeologists working on the dig. After this, we drove up the road and then decided to do a little fossil hunting of our own. Since you could walk anywhere in this park, we just pulled over and started climbing up the narrow ridges. We walked around for about and hour and a half looking at the ground. Sometimes there would be a piece of earth that is raised, looking like a miniature mesa. The surrounding ground may be ten feet below, but these somewhat large, flat-topped features seem to have escaped erosion. I climbed up to the top of one of these and on top I found little six inch high cactus. I couldn't believe there were cacti in South Dakota. We found many fossils, something that looked like a foot long backbone, you could see the core of each vertebrae. After growing tired, we left, and headed back to camp.
We took showers, relaxed, and watched the annoying kids next to us. We cooked dinner tonight and planned the long drive home. We were thinking of going back to the park tonight and catching the 8:30 hike or, if it's clear a night sky show, but we bagged that. We were too relaxed.
Today we were really on our way home. Before, we knew we were heading home but still had more to see on the way. Now, the only things left to see would be from the car. We got up around 8 A.M. to the noise coming from Butch and the kids next to us. Those kids whine a lot and mother likes the always threatening, "I'll give you three seconds to give that to her; One... Two... !" I guess it worked because I don't think I heard her scream "THREE!!!" at all.
Our plan was to get to Illinois and find a place to camp there, getting as far away from these people as possible. We were leaving the west behind and by tonight we would be back east, not something that excited me, although both of us were pretty anxious to get back home again and see our friends and family. We got on I-90 and headed east, unfortunately, we had to take interstates most of the way home since, for me, school started in a few days. I am entering my final year at Villanova. We crossed into the Central Time Zone in Murdo, SD, the line splits the state. There were about 260 miles to cover in South Dakota alone.
We crossed the Missouri River again. Near the crossing are two Indian Reservations with several forts left from the westward expansion days. I would have liked to go visit them but time does not permit this. Passed through Mitchell, SD, home of the Corn Palace. The only reason I know about this is because my grandfather always stopped in when he was in the neighborhood. Why he did this, I do not know. I suppose it's because he grew up on a farm. It was a nice clear day, good day to travel. Around 1:30 we crossed the line into Minnesota. We stopped in Luverne, 12 miles inside the border, and got lunch and gas (not in that order). From here we turned south into Iowa on US 75.
The landscape appeared to change dramatically as soon as we crossed into Iowa. Now all the roads were squared off, no diagonal or curvy roads here. We stayed on this road until we entered Le Mars, the ice cream capital of the world. They have a factory here I guess. We turned east on IA 3. This road was a straight 305 mile shot to Dubuque, IA, on the opposite side of the state. The landscape and odor of this state is such that if you fell asleep and woke up three hours later, it would be as if you hadn't moved. I swear, the entire state is one big farm. Passed through towns like Pocahontas, Humbolt, Goldfield, and the big one... Waverly. This was another old town with old churches and store fronts. A lot of old people as well. As we approached Dubuque we watched a large thunderstorm before us in the distance. The sun was low and the thunderhead looked spectacular in the setting sun's light, people were pulling over and taking pictures of it.
We were getting closer to the Mississippi River and the land was becoming a bit hilly. We picked up US 52 which goes directly into Dubuque. The road was even curvy and there were trees, a lot of them. It was getting dark now and the storm was looking like more of a threat since we were driving into it. By the time we were in Dubuque, it was very windy and the rain was coming down. We got gas and kept going. This town is very blue collar and industrial. There was no sign of prosperity in this place, with run-down, empty stores on every block. We crossed the mighty Mississippi on US 20 and into the very top of Illinois, a stone's throw from Wisconsin.
It was about 9 P.M. now and the rain was coming down fiercely. As we continued east, the road was under construction and there were no lane lines. This did not help. The road was covered with water and the rain was coming down so fast and I couldn't see the road. There were even periods of hail now and then. I wanted to find a place to pull over but I couldn't and even if I had, we would have had to drive through the storm again. This was one of the reasons we decided to continue on tonight and drive as long as we could. This was the same front that hit us in South Dakota Tuesday night and if we stopped we would have to drive through it somewhere between here and home again.
All I wanted now was to get back on the highway but it was 80 miles away. We did make it though, miraculously. In Rockford, IL we got back on I-90 and were on the Northwest Tollway into Chicago. By the time we made it into the city the rain had let up a bit but not completely. It was about 11:30 P.M. when we were driving by the fogged in skyscrapers of Chicago. I would have liked to have seen the city instead of fog but I figure there was really not one day on this trip that it rained all day. There was not a day that we were trapped inside somewhere all day because of rain which is pretty remarkable when you think about it.
There were actually traffic jams at midnight because they closed all the lanes except one on this road. We stayed on I-90 but took a wrong turn onto I-94 south of the city. There were so many lane splittings that I had a feeling this was going to happen somewhere. This road looped south of Gary, IN and intersected back with I-90 before going on to Detroit, so it was not a problem.
Now we were on the Indiana Toll Road, I-90 and I-80 east which was a 150 mile express to Ohio. By now, we decided to go all the way home. Just keep driving till we made it home. Now that we decided this, we did a little planing as far as who was going to sleep and who was going to do the driving, and when we should switch. Today I'd driven through all of South Dakota, then Andy took over through all of Iowa until Dubuque, then I took over. This road skirted the Michigan line and since it was dark out I can't report any unusual sights. Unfortunately, we lost another hour in Indiana making it now 3 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time. This was actually good because these are the longest hours of the night and it felt good being able to move ahead toward the more reasonable hours like 6 or 7 A.M. Andy was sleeping hard since Gary, IN and I was glad because I wanted him to be rested when we switched. I really wasn't that tired. You'd think my bloodshot eyes would keep me from seeing but I really was fine and feeling good.
We switched just inside the Ohio line. The toll on the Indiana Turnpike was only $4.65, much better than PA. In Ohio, we got off the Indiana toll road and onto the Ohio Turnpike. This was 240 miles and cost $4.95, even cheaper! I slept for a bit and missed Toledo and the southern end of Cleveland. I guess I missed the entire state, not something I'll lose sleep over. When I woke up the sun was out but it was very hazy and foggy, making it look like the aftermath of a nuclear war or something-rather bleak. We weren't far from the I-80 turnoff. I didn't want to continue on the PA turnpike because it's expensive, so we went the northern route. We took I-80 which goes east to State College, PA.
Once in Pennsylvania it was lighter out and we were in the mountains again. This road was quite beautiful, lined with ferns growing under thick forest. It was nice to see the tame Appalachian Mountains once again after the being in the ruggedness of the Rockies, Sierras, and Cascades for so long. We got off this highway at exit 23 around 11 A.M. We were north of State College and took PA 144 southeast through Milesburg, Bellefonte, and Pleasant Gap, each located in a valley and separated by a high ridge. We got gas, switched driving for the last time, and picked up US 322 south into Harrisburg. This road parallels the Juniata River which empties into the Susquehanna River, which we followed to Harrisburg. We arrived in the Harrisburg area around 12:45 P.M. and I was getting very anxious to get home. Now it was smooth sailin' all the way to King of Prussia on the PA turnpike.
We got home around 2:15 in the afternoon after traveling 1,650 miles straight from South Dakota in 28 hours. We both were looking pretty bad and needed a shower and a good night's sleep in a nice soft bed.
Now that you've read about our trip, you're probably wondering how two people with an annual salary under $2,000 (for me at least) were able to manage a trip like this. Well, primarily I have to blame Mom and Dad. The use of the car was what made this trip possible, we surely would not have been able to rent a car. Everything else came out of our pockets; gas, food, lodging, and supplies and surprisingly, did not cost too much. Because the cost looks insurmountable to a no-income college student like myself, below are some statistics concerning our expenses.
|Books, Maps, Music||82.19|
|TOTAL (without personal items)||1750.06|
I learned that film costs a lot but I think it's worth it. Well, maybe not so much, but, I'm glad we took pictures, I usually don't. Some are of the attitude that pictures distract from the "experience" but I disagree. If you shoot the right things, pictures can bring the reality of that moment right back to you years later. Unfortunately, you're the only person which has this sense of this reality and, therefore, showing your pictures to other people is usually less fulfilling for that person. But, it's good to take them anyway.
I'm still impressed with the fact that excluding the personal things we bought or needed at the onset, the total for each of us for the entire trip was only $875. That isn't too harsh on the savings.
Now that I've returned, the question I'm asked most is, "What was your favorite place or part of the country?" This question, for me, is really impossible to answer. I don't think I have a favorite part of the country. Anyway, I haven't been to every part of the country yet so I can't really answer this question. I do have several favorite places within each region we visited though. In the southwest I really liked Dead Horse State Park in southeast Utah, it was really a surprise. Also the northeast part of New Mexico was beautiful I thought. It's a bit like a desert but is covered in green grass instead of sand. I also was surprised to see rain forests in the Northwest. The Cascades were beautiful and the lushness of the area was very nice. Of course, along with that comes a lot of clouds and rain. Hey, if you want lush you gotta put up with the rain and clouds, right? Also, eastern Washington was quite nice too, I'll have to spend more time there someday. I could go on but you get the idea.
There were several parks I'd wished we'd had time to see but it was either impossible to get there or it just didn't work out time-wise. Some we had to leave for the next trip were Chaco Canyon, Devil's Postpile, Gooseneck State Park in Utah, Wind Cave, and many Anasazi sites in the Southwest. A few were just too far out of reach like Glacier and North Cascades National Parks, most of Colorado, and the extreme Southern part of Arizona and New Mexico.
Over the 36 days we were gone, we traveled 11,799 miles through 25 states. Our highest elevation was in Yosemite at 9,945 feet and our lowest was in Death Valley somewhere under 200 feet below sea level. I estimated that only about one-third, or 4,000 miles, of our travels were on interstate highways. Not too bad. If you don't know by now, I like to keep off the interstates. It, in my view, is the fast food of traveling. I like to take my time (usually) and see all the weird and outrageous things people will do like the huge strawberry at Strawberry Point, Iowa, the Corn Palace at Mitchell, South Dakota, and the small town of Malfunction Junction near the border of California and Oregon.
So, those are the stats and this is a wrap. Hopefully the next trip won't be to far from now, although I don't wish to have to undertake a project of this magnitude for a while I must admit.