Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Santa Monica is denser and busier than ever, but still entertaining. Pamela and I kept saying, "I recognize this side of the street but that side is completely new." It's been 16 years since we lived here. They have the nerve to keep changing things since we left.
After lunch we strolled on the palisades to get a little taste of the ocean views.
Then it was time to battle traffic on the way back to the Gentiles. Oh my god, the traffic is never-ending here. I know when you live here you learn how to structure your life to avoid traffic. As a visitor, however, it's so daunting. Makes us so glad to be living in sleepy western Massachusetts.
That night Ralph and Karen invited a dozen or so of our old friends over and whipped up a great meal of shish kabob with their typical easy grace. We spent several hours visiting with Steve and Patty, their kids, Jon Root, Bruce and Roma, Sue DiJulio, and Bruce Carter, who we had not seen in a dozen years or so. It was great to reconnect with all of them.
What a great time we had with Ralph and Karen and all our other LA friends.
After getting the kids squared away, Pamela and I blasted down the 5 to LA, arriving just after rush hour (meaning about 1 AM). Ha ha. That's a joke. There is no end to the rush hour in LA! We got there around 7 PM and decided to visit our favorite burrito stand, Tito's Tacos. It was as filling as every. We even remembered the details of our typical order Perhaps the only difference is that everyone now stares at their phones while they wait for their food. I'm not sure that's an improvement.
Then we headed over to the Gentile's, who welcomed us to their home with typical easy-going hospitality. It was great to visit with Karen and Ralph. Their lives are on the cusp of some changes. Noah is about to leave for college. Karen has started a new job in San Francisco, and they are pondering how to set up a new pattern for their lives that allows for Karen to work while Ralph keeps a foothold in Los Angeles.
The next day Pamela and I did a drive-by of Frank Gehry's Disney Hall, which was wonderful. We were supposed to meet Bruce Favish for lunch in Santa Monica but we were also intrigued by a phenomenon we had read about, Korean tacos.
Pamela got online and determined that one of the Korean taco trucks would be on the west side this afternoon. So we set our navigation system and prepared our taste buds. Our plan was to eat a little pre-lunch.
We arrived in a parking lot behind a non-descript office building in Brentwood. There are a few people hanging around. After a few minutes they all start queuing up. Pretty soon there are 35 people standing in a line in a parking lot, but no sign of the truck. It's supposed to show up at noon, but noon passes and no truck. Lots of people consult their phones. Word goes out that the truck is delayed 30 minutes for mechanical problems. One of the reasons I had heard about the Korean taco trucks was because they are often cited as one of the first practical uses for Twitter. The crowd can tell you when the blessed truck is in your neighborhood. We saw this in action while we waited.
Pamela and I had a few minutes to spare and this was such a strange event we decide to wait it out. Finally the truck rolls up. The driver apologizes but everyone grovels and says, "No problem." Clearly these people LOVE these tacos and don't want to mess with the driver.
I have to say, the tacos were incredibly good. Slightly sweet, fairly spicey, excellent meat. A most unique taste combination. We only had one each. I could have eaten five. Although it was just a few bites, it was one of best meals we have had on the whole trip. No wonder people are lining up in parking lots.
Last winter Linden and I had watched the PBS special about the national parks, and Linden became very interested in John Muir. We thought it fitting to visit his home. After all, it was his legacy that preserved so much of the wild lands we saw on this trip.
Surprisingly, Muir lived in a large Italianate home on a hill in Martinez, amidst a large property filled with fruit trees. (He had to wisdom to marry well, and eventually he inherited this big house from his father-in-law.) It was interesting to see Muir's home and develop some images of him that differ from the iconic shots, such as he andTeddy Roosevelt on top of Half Dome.
Afterward I went back to my brother's and did some BMC work while Pamela and the kids went into the city to visit Chinatown, Ferry Plaza, and other fun sites.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
9:20 Left Best Western in Fort Bragg
10:20 Settled on a bakery/cafe in Mendocino for breakfast. Ordered bagels and cream cheese and combined them with the smoked salmon we had purchased on the Klamath Indian reservation. This combination, along with the best coffee we've had in weeks, made an excellent breakfast.
10:45 Pamela strolled through Mendocino while Dave, Lark, and Linden walked along the headlands, looking down into the coves and sea caves. The headlands walk was excellent, even though the blackberries that grow everywhere are not yet ripe.
12:30 Left Mendocino
1:30 Stopped at the Standish winery for tasting. It's an old apple press. Our visit was not an entertaining as a visit Pamela paid here in 2007 with Bruce and Linda. The winery is in the process of being sold, under court order, as a result of a family dispute. We bought an excellent dry rose.
1:50 Stopped at the Goldeneye vineyard. Sat out on their beautiful patio over looking the vineyards while the fountains splashes. We drank a toast to our friend Linda who was with Pamela in this same place in 2007. She passed away last fall and we miss her.
2:30 Stopped at the so called General Store in Booneville for a late lunch. Food was very good.
3:30 Finished listening to Jane Eyre, after many long days. We all liked it a lot, even though we felt Charlotte could have used an editor. She seemed to repeat her points a bit often.
4:15 Stopped in the upscale town of Healdsburg for coffee and a late afternoon treat.
6:23 Arrived at Wicinas west. Mileage: 58989 (approximately 6,000 miles since we left Fallbrook, 4 and a half weeks ago.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Monday, July 26
9:20 Leave the Inn of the Beachcomber.
9:30 Stop at a scenic point to view ocean rocks and take pictures with the Jurisich family. One of the rocks has a cool sea tunnel carved through it.
10:00 Stop in Brookings to buy cherries and nectarines as a roadside stand.
10:15 Stop at Dutch Bros. Coffee for coffee and hot chocolate. Very hot coffee!
10:40 Enter California and had to surrender cherries we just bought. We were allowed to proceed to the safety zone and eat as many cherries as we could before surrendering the rest.
10:52 Coffee now cool enough to drink.
11:35 Searching for a charcuterie in Crescent City. Fail to find it. Have to stop at Safeway for picnic supplies.
12:15 Photo op of Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox.
12:20 Purchase some smoked salmon from the Klamath Trading Post.
12:30 Entered Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
1:11 After making an incredibly beautiful drive through the redwoods, we meet Jurisichs at the visitors center and picnic at Big Tree, which, as you might guess, is an exceptionally big redwood. Then we take a three mile hike through Cathedral Grove. At the very end, Linden and I peel off and head our own way, convinced that everyone else is heading the wrong way. We are correct, and we spend the next half hour driving between Big Tree and the next trailhead looking for our compatriots. Eventually they find their way back to Big Tree.
4:30 Say goodbye to the Jurisichs for now.
4:45 Stop at visitors center for Redwoods National Park for my last patch of the trip.
6:30 Swing through Garberville looking for lodging and restaurants. There are a couple decent looking motels, but the restaurants are all pretty grim and the town seems to be crawling with grubby, pseudo-hippies. We push on for Leggett.
7:00 There is nothing in Leggett. We have no choice but to head for Fort Bragg, but that’s a torturous 50 mile drive, starting with 22 miles through narrow winding roads. The kids have become extremely good road trip travelers and tonight they get to prove it as we make this long drive without a single complaint, despite the fact we are all starving.
8:45 Stop at the North Coast Brewery and Grill in Fort Bragg and devour some nachos. Then proceed to dinner
9:45 Check into a Best Western in Fort Bragg for our last night of the trip.
Sunday, July 25
8:55 Departed Double Tree Inn
915 Breakfast at the Grand Central Bakery on Hawthorne in SW. Ate good pastries and bought some excellent breakfast for today’s picnic lunch. Lark had bread and water—her choice.
9:55 Safeway stop for picnic supplies.
11:55 Stop for gas in Eugene. Trying to get hold of Betsy Finegan to set up a rendezvous on the Oregon coast tonight. We are driving up the Willammette Valley. It looks a lot like Napa except it’s a little more green and a little less posh.
12:15 Stop at a Farmer’s Market in Drain but they forgot the farmers. Now we are making a beautiful drive along the Umpqua River valley.
1:40 Stop at the Visitor’s Center for Oregon Dunes. We are looking for a good picnic spot. They ask, “Are you here for the buggies?” Everyone rides ATVs on the huge dunes along the coast here. Pamela says no.
2:00 We stop at a picnic area along the beach but it’s dusty, grim, and infested with ATVs. We push on.
2:15 We stop at a very pretty picnic area near the Umpqua lighthouse. We eat a hasty picnic lunch while the fog rolls over us. Too cold to sit down. Also, we are short on rations as we never did find fresh fruit. Today chocolate covered blueberries will have to serve as fruit.
4:05 Stop at a beach overlook in Port Orford. Beautiful view of some sea haystacks, or water hoodoos, as we call them. We looked as some beautiful flowering snapweasels.
5:00 Arrive at our motel, the Inn of the Beachcomber in Gold Beach. This was a great piece of Internet research combined with some luck. We reserved two rooms, one for us and one for the Jurisich’s. Our very nicely appointed rooms had decks looking out over the dunes. Jump off the deck, cross a lawn, take a trail through the dunes, and you’re on a huge long stretch of beach that’s largely deserted. The weather has cleared and it’s a great time to be there.
We have a wonderful night with the Jurisich family. We take a long long walk on the beautiful beach, all the way to a couple distant water hoodoos. Linden builds some elaborate sand fairy structures. Pamela and Betsy visit on the deck. The fathers and kids play Frisbee and soccer on the grass outside the deck. We order take-out seafood from a local restaurant and eat at a picnic table on the lawn and drink beer.
Later on the girls take a flashlight and take a walk on the beach. They see a bonfire and they have been telling Linden that hoboes gather on the beach around bonfires. Only then they can’t find their way back to the hotel. It’s tricky to find the path through the dunes. Eventually they end up at a neighboring hotel and have to make their way home. Right around the time they return, we are realizing they have been gone a suspiciously long time and are about to send out the police. But, all’s well that ends well.
A most excellent night. I would gladly come back to the Inn of the Beachcomber.
Portland seems like a great place to be 28 years old.
We rolled into Portland on a Friday night at dinner time. Using her “game mom,” Pamela had scoped out a good, cheap restaurant called Pok Pok. Using our GPS system, nicknamed Penelope because she is the woman’s voice on the Odyssey we are driving, we found the place easily after passing many other bars and restaurants that were hopping with life.
Pok Pok must indeed be a great place because it was a two hour wait to be seated. Pamela returned to her game mom while the rest of us listened to our stomachs growling.
She found another place called Por que no? Penelope led us there in a few minutes. There were 20 people in a line snaking out the door.
We gave up and ate at the Dingo grill, a Mexican place across the street. It was decent and we ate at a table on the street, which was fun. It was a warm night.
This part of Portland seems like a giant Berkeley. Lots of single family homes, tightly spaced. Long, pre-war commercial strips revitalized with restaurants, galleries, vintage clothing stores, etc. And lots of youngish people, many of them riding bicycles. There are bikes everywhere and plenty of bike lanes. Everybody seems very environmentally conscious. I'll bet George Bush is not popular here.
After dinner we checked into the Double Tree Inn, near the Lloyd Center. This is a fairly lifeless area, but the hotel was luxurious. Again it was the result of some good Internet scouting from Pamela.
In the morning we went to the Saturday Market. Pamela and I were envisioning something like San Franciso’s Ferry Plaza Market. Instead it was more like a big, weekly crafts fair with some food booths.
We pushed on to Powell’s City of Books. What a great bookstore! Linden in particular was in seventh heaven. She’s been flying through books on this trip. The area around Powell’s has become interesting too. When we were here 20 years ago it seemed rather desolate. Now it’s upscale, with an Anthropologie, a Sur la Table, and a Whole Foods right across the street.
After several false starts we finally end up eating lunch from a band of foot carts. Although we had to stand, the food was excellent. I had a very good gyro.
Then, after some more tramping around and a consultation with the game mom, we drove to an excellent French-style bakery and café where we had some cold drinks and little pastries. The weather is in the mid-90s—very un-Portland.
We returned to the hotel to cool off in the pool. Then we got dressed up and met Nate Herrmann, son of our friends Bruce and Erin. Nate has just finished his sophomore year at Reed and is spending the summer in Portland.
We had a very good dinner at a very stiff hotel restaurant, a recommendation from some waitress that Pamela accosted. Then we drove to Reed, where we had ice cream and Nate led us on a moonlight tour of the campus. We learned all about life at the library, where Nate is working, and the nuclear reactor in the Psychology building—probably the only Pscyh Department in the country that has its own nuclear reactor.
It was great to see Nate. He’s grown up a lot in the last year. Lark and Linden aren’t so sure about that. But, it’s clear he’s doing well at Reed and pleasing to see how he's matured.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
7:15 Dave visits the largest spruce tree in the world, a five minute walk from our motel, and he does that before breakfast.
9:00 Rest of family pays respects to the three. It's huge! 56 feet in circumference, 191 feet tall. Estimated to be 1000 years old.
9:45 Stopped at Lake Quinalt Lodge for coffee. It's a beautiful WPA-era building. Pamela and Dave start planning a return visit.
10:15 Take a loop trail through the rain forest. Lots of undergrowth and big trees, though we see no ferns bigger than a sub-zero. (Yesterday a ranger promised us ferns as big as houses, or at least VWs.) The trail crosses a nice stream several times and we have several rounds of Pooh sticks. Linden wins 2-1-1. In places lots of the big trees are downed, their rootballs turned on their side and 15 feet around. A huge windstorm in 2007 with sustained winds of 90 mph took down all the trees.
11:30 Stop for a short hike to the largest red cedar in the world, 63 feet in circumference. It's mostly hollow inside. The hollow space goes up a hundred feet or more and has a cathedral feel. In many places wood is shaped like stalactites. It's a very cool hike to this tree, with lots of big trees festooned with moss, their trail winding through their roots.
12:00 Say goodbye to Olympic National Park.
1:00 Stop at a miserable supermarket in Aberdeen for picnic provisions. After leaving, we have a rolling picnic of salami, cheese, bread. We've been amazed at how widespread good bread is these days. Sadly, no good bread at this store in depressed and depressing Aberdeen.
3:15 Stop for gas and a driver change as we begin the drive up to Mt. St. Helens.
4:10 Stop at the John Ridge Observation Center to see the mountain. Listen to a ranger talk and learn many interesting facts about the blast at St. Helens. If you stacked the debris from the explosion up on a football field, it would stretch up 150 miles.
7:15 Stop outside a restaurant in Portland called Pok Pok. Pamela says it's a good place and that must be true because it's a two hour wait to get in.
7:40 Stop outside another good restaurant with a very long queue out the door. We give up on the good restaurants and go to a Mexican place across the street. Food is adequate and we sit at a table on the street, which is fun. We are in a very lively part of Portland. Lots of people, mostly young, on the street.
9:15 Check into the Double Tree Inn in the Lloyd Center part of Portland. Pamela was able to score a very reasonable room rate through Price Line, since we had not made arrangements before this afternoon. Listen to Jane Eyre before retiring.
7:45 Dave and Pamela get up early and leave our room at the Port Angeles Inn in Port Angeles, WA so we can get the oil changed in the Honda and do some laundry. Pamela gets out at a truly depressing laundromat in a seedy part of Port Angeles (not sure there's another other part). Dave proceeds to Jiffy Lube.
10:20 Check out of the Port Angeles Inn. We liked this motel, and not just because it had two twin beds and we didn't have to listen to the kids shouting "You crossed the line!" It had an incredible view of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.
10:30 Get coffee at Bella Rose Coffee House. It was a popular hangout. Lark and Linden bought a cool coffee mug made by a Washington potter.
10:50 Arrive Olympic National Park visitors center.
11:18 Leave visitor center after getting patch, map, and postcard. Linden purchased a buffalo tooth and bead necklace from a native American gentleman selling them in the center.
12:05 Reached top of Hurricane Ridge. Found snow and celebrated Christmas in July by eating red and green Skittles and singing "This year let's have Christmas in July."
12:20 Picnicked while viewing Olympic Mountains. The highest summit, Mt. Olympus, remained in clouds, but otherwise it was a spectacular day. Fought off aggressive gray jays and hordes of chipmunks who wanted to share our picnic. Jokingly said another nearby party must have been a funeral because everybody was wearing black (jeans and tee shirts). As we left we realized it really was a funeral. Or more probably a wake. An an excellent place to have one, I must say.
2:11 Stuck in another National Park traffic jam.
3:00 Hiked to Sol Duc Falls through rain-forest like habitat (not technically rain forest because this area only gets 80 inches of rain a year, not the 200 further west on the peninsula). We feel like hobbits hiking amoung the big trees.
3:55 Decide to proceed around the peninsula and try to find a motel somewhere rather than backtrack around the peninsula. This decision takes much discussion since we are heading into an empty quarter and may wind up being on the road for many hours.
5:00 Entered Forks, WA. Bizarre combination of a down and out logging town, native Americans, all interspersed with hordes of teenagers wandering around looking for signs of vampires made famous through the "Twilight" series of novels.
5:15 After failing to find any place that sells little food items (that is, cookies), we stop at a supermarket and clean out a group of people having a bake sale. We talk with them for a while about the strange Twilight phenomenon. They laugh because the town just decided to tear down the high school and build a new one, just when thousands of people want to come to town to look at the high school.
5:50 Pass many areas along roadside that have been heavily logged.
6:00 Stop to view Pacific Ocean beach. Beautiful and desolate. No people in sight.
6:30 Stopped in Quinalt at the Rain Forest Resort Inn, a pleasant if slightly shabby motel with a fabulous view looking over Lake Quinalt. Luckily Pamela was able to snag a reservation here using her smart phone (known as her "gamemom" to the people of the back seat.
7:00 Walk across street to Salmon House Restaurant. Have a pretty good meal of salmon and trout while Lark and Linden use the breaks between courses to run wildly across the big lawn between the restaurant and the lake.
9:00 Back in motel room, Pamela and Lark engage in some personal hygiene while we listen to Jane Eyre.
I’m sitting in a grungy laundromat in Port Angeles listening to 50s rock & roll while my three tubs of laundry chug away. Dave is off at Jiffy Lube getting the oil changed and Lark and Linden are back at the Port Angeles Inn asleep. Yes, we still have mundane chores to do while on vacation.
Yesterday we had a lovely day in Victoria, British Columbia. We took the 8 o’clock ferry over, playing cards and waiting for the fog to lift so we might spot orcas. The fog lifted as if by magic just as we approached the harbor. No whales though.
Once through immigration we hopped on a creaky double-decker bus and took off for Butchart Gardens. On the way we talked with two other families who were making similar trips to ours. One family from Florida left on June 5th and won’t be home until just before school starts—and they were camping the whole time! The kids (both girls our girl’s ages) had a glazed look about them. In contrast Lark and Linden are the life of the party—even if it was only 9:30 a.m.
Our bus driver gave us a very Canadian tour telling us all about Canada’s health care (they are all very happy with it), telling very mild, polite jokes, and saying a-boot often.
The gardens were spectacular with gorgeous blossoms everywhere. Hard to imagine they only have 60 gardeners. Dave said they must have hundreds of weeders. Linden promptly decided to start redesigning our yard at home. We told her to have at it!
After the gardens, we spent a pleasant afternoon strolling around Victoria. The Royal BC Museum was remarkable. It’s collection of Pacific Northwest native art was stunning. Rooms full of towering totem poles. Masks depicting the entire pantheon of native mythology, spirits, and heroes. Basket work with intricate designs of orca and ravens. Along the harbor native people were carving, weaving and selling their wares. It was a nice continuation of what we saw earlier, even if it was only for the sake of tourists.
The day ended with a ferry trip back to the U.S. The wind and rising tide made for an adventurous roller-coaster ride. Not so good if you get seasick but, as all of us seemed to be good sailors, it was a lot of fun.
So now it’s back to the mundane—laundry and oil changes. More adventures will ensue before this trip is over but taking a breather for chores and a bit of reality isn’t a bad thing.
3:45 Take the Bainbridge Island Ferry from Seattle
5:30 After walking around Port Townsend for a while, we finally settle on dinner at a Thai restaurant. Lark decides she like Thai food.
8:30 Arrive at the Port Angeles Inn in Port Angeles. Try to turn in early because we have to get up early the next day to take the ferry to Victoria, BC. but first we have to listen to Jane Ayre.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
We met Andy outside the Pike Place Market. Stopped at Lowell's for an expensive breakfast. Only the view across the Seattle harbor was worth the price.
After Andy went on his way, we strolled around the market a bit, grazing from all the good food options, watching the fish-tossing fish mongers, appreciating a good dose of city life after weeks in the outback.
After Pike Place we walked to the Seattle Public Library, a Rem Koolhaus building, I believe. It was pretty interesting, although I thought the exterior rather harsh. Inside, though, it really worked.
Next we did a quick drive around downtown Seattle, checking out the Frank Gehry EMP building, which was was cool, driving along the edge of the houseboat community, where they filmed Sleepless in Seattle, and then an obligatory stop at the REI headquarters. We stopped there 12-13 years ago and were impressed. I think LL Bean has one-upped them because it wasn't so impressive this time.
All in all, it was a short but nice trip to Seattle.
The night before we stopped at Cafe Bizarro in the Wallingford neighborhood for a fantastic Italian meal in a cafe with amusingly strange decor. When you combine the Bizarro trip with our quick tour of the central city, I got a different, and better, impression of Seattle. On previous trips there, I had concluded it was "LA with trees." That impression may well be somewhat accurate, but on this trip we saw several intersting neighborhoods and in general the city seemed more appealing.
9:00 Leave Ruby's Inn early because we are hoping to meet Andy Davidson in Seattle for dinner and we have a long day of driving ahead of us.
9:01 Stop for ice and a bottle of Bug Blaster at a gas station convenience store. We hope the Bug Blaster will help to keep the windshields clean.
10:20 Stopped in St. Regis to buy cherries from a guy who buys them from orchards near Flathead Lake and sells them here by the Interstate. Also stopped a nearby espresso drive-thru (they are now ubiquitous as we approach the epicenter of coffee, Seattle). We order a huckleberry smoothie. We declare that it is without doubt the best huckleberry smoothie we have ever had.
10:56 Entered Idaho (time change)
11:45 Stopped at a supermarket in Post Falls for provisions. Then proceed to eat a rolling picnic lunch of cheese, salami, bread, and leftover fried chicken from last night's dinner.
1:55 Stopped in Ephrata for gas, ice, coffee and a driver change.
4:10 Stopped at the Ashahel picnic area in Baker Snoqualmie National Forest for a most excellent cherry pit spitting contest. During the contest we consumed the very good cherried we bought in St. Regis. In this picnic area the picnic tables are huge. Instead of sitting at them, we stood on them, which gave the cherry pits better loft. Linden also filled our water bottles with some excellent water that she had to pump.
5:00 Arrived at the Moore Hotel in Seattle in downtown Seattle. Unloaded bags and Lark and I did the now familiar drill of removing the rooftop carrier and putting it into the back of the van. We always do this when we are parking in areas that humans frequent.
6:30 Dinner at the Bizarro Cafe in Wallingford area. An excellent meal in a very cool but strange place.
We couldn't meet Andy because he was in Portland after a bike ride and couldn't get a train back in time to meet us. We'll shoot for breakfast tomorrow.
8:00 Walked around downtown Seattle a bit before retiring.
9:50 Drove out of Bridge Bay campground. Not much sleep due to jerks in next campground.
9:58 Almost ran into a deer in the road.
10:15 Stopped at Mud Volcano. Linden thought the name lacked imagination. Dave renamed it Satan's Spitoon.
10:23 Buffalo jam. Big herd. Hundreds of them. Gave us an idea of what a real western buffalo herd might be like.
11:20 Ran into another wildlife jam. Turned out to be a mother grizzly and cubs. Once the mom started climbing up the embankment to the road. Everybody turns and runs to the cars. We did too, but not before we snapped a good picture of the bear.
ll:40 Amazing vistas of clouds, mountains, and hillsides covered with a multitude of wildflowers.
12:33 Saw elk snoozing at the post office grounds at park headquarters.
12:48 45th parallel of latitude. Halfway between the equator and the north pole.
12:53 Leave Yellowstone Park.
1:09 Stopped at Yankee Jim picnic area in Gallatin National Forest for a picnic lunch. Sat in shade at picnic table while the river rushed by a few feet away.
5:30 Stopped at Ruby's Inn in Missoula, MT.
6:15 After driving around Missoula for a while, we end up going to the Shack, which, despite its name, was a pretty nice restaurant. Almost everything else was closed on this Sunday night in Missoula. Dave had an excellent pasta with fresh Morel mushrooms, maybe the best meal I've had on this trip. Afterwards, we went to the Big Dipper, a local ice cream institution. Linden is on a mission to have a different flavor of ice cream every time she has ice cream this summer. Tonight's flavor was yellow cake.
Jenny Lake was as magnificent as I remembered it. Dave and I had told my friend Pam, who had joined for a few days, that we thought it was the most beautiful place in the United States. Considering it was over an hour drive from our Yellowstone campground we hoped it would live up to our memories. It did.
When we drove down from the mountains of Yellowstone and got our first up-close look at the Grand Teton range it took my breath away. This same site is quite familiar to the whole family. We see it each time we have our teeth cleaned. Our dentist has a poster of the Tetons mounted on the ceiling so patients can view this majestic and magical setting while having excruciatingly painful things happening in their mouths. Painful memories aside, the real thing is quite spectacular.
As we descended into a valley near Jackson Lake we encountered a large (over 100) heard of elk. Considering our recent close encounter, we thought this a good omen. Another half hour brought us to Jenny Lake. The lake is nestled right under the brow of the mountains. It is a perfect combination of mountain-lake-tree-sky.
When I was a kid my mother and I rode horses round the lake while my bother and dad crossed the lake via motorboat. We met at the falls a mile above the lake. The horses are gone but the boat and the falls remain.
After a picnic on the lakeshore we crossed the lake to the Hidden Falls trailhead. The tail was steep and crowed but well worth the effort. You could hear the roar of the falls and feel the mist in the air long before it came into sight. I think it one of the prettiest waterfalls I have ever seen. It is a strange combination of majesty and intimacy. Dave, Pam and Lark continued on another mile to Inspiration Point. Linden and I stayed at the falls a bit to soak up the negative ions. I wanted to drink up its beauty so I could draw from an internal reservoir at some later time.
On our way home we stopped in Colter Bay to shower. The showers in the Tetons were much less crowded than in Yellowstone. How often can you say you have showered in one of the most beautiful spots in the Untied States.
Friday, July 23, 2010
I live among humans because that's where my ancestral grazing grounds are. When the humans came, I just refused to leave. my mother worries about me because she thinks some human is going to shoot me. But i think they are all too busy taking pictures to pull out a gun
I have been watching some crazy family go about their chores. They are not acting like the rest of the humans. For one thing, they keep singing. Also, they stand on logs and balance like cranes. Strangely, they seem to be having a good time as they go about acting oddly.
I keep munching on the sweet grass. I am not going to worry about the humans or my family for now.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I have to admit that I am a bit of a misanthrope. Car camping makes me think I may be justified in my opinion of humanity.
The campground at Bridge Bay in Yellowstone was a bit depressing. Mostly clear land with campsites positioned fairly close together. When you settle down in your folding chair to appreciate the wonders of nature, all you see before you is a dozen little family tableaus spread out before you. Kids playing ball. Men setting up fishing gear. Teenage girls tramping by in flip flops. Mothers scolding children. It’s far more humanity than I get at home.
That was strange enough. But, I suppose if you choose your campsites well, you could still have a good car camping experience. However, you’re still at the mercy of your fellow campers. And, scientific analysis shows that out of every 100 people, you’re always bound to get a few assholes.
Unfortunately ours took occupancy of a campsite two doors up. They arrived at 1:30 in the morning and proceeded to set up a tent, with lots of loud conversation about how to erect the structure, clearly without a thought of lowering their voices. At least one of the voices spoke with an Indian accent. I know that accent well after nine years at BladeLogic.
Their volume level was inconsiderate, to be sure. We lost an hour or so of sleep that night. But we got over it.
The next night was even worse. We bedded down around 10, when the quiet hours take effect at Yellowstone. That’s typical for most parks. Soon after we turn our lights out we realize someone nearby is talking, laughing, arguing. I could tell by the Indian accent that it was the same people who had disturbed the entire campsite the night before.
We lay there listening to them for an hour. From their conversation you could tell they were not even thinking about going to bed.
As I grew more and more annoyed I made a calculation. Should I get up, pull on my clothes and go out there and ask them to be quiet. That would get me all riled up, and I wouldn’t get to sleep for another hour at least. Or, should I take the chance that they will shut up on their own.
I kept waiting for someone else to intervene. Where are all the tough guys on motorcycles and pickup trucks? They are all camped nearby. Shouldn’t they be acting like the town marshal? Why should this fall to me, an aging technical writer driving a minivan?
Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. I pulled on my clothes, grabbed a flashlight and marched over to the Indians. They were taken aback when they saw this dude coming at them, shining a mega-flashlight in their eyes, lecturing them about the quiet hour.
To their credit, they did tone it down to a more muted level.
I do not relish confrontation, and it takes me a long time to calm down from one. Finally, much later I fell asleep.
But wait. It wasn’t over. About 1:30 I awoke to a terrible scream. Lots of shouting. At first I thought, Is it a bear attack? Then I heard the Indian accent. The two guys at the nearby campsite were arguing. One is shouting, “I will fight you!” After a while the two women with them talked them down and they grew quiet. And eventually I went back to sleep. But not before I considered that one of the guys in the campsite, who seemed to be of an indeterminate ethnic background, might be an Arab terrorist doing some kind of deep background assignment by coming to Yellowstone. I also remembered that firearms are now legal in national parks and I was lucky those guys didn’t just pop me when I went over to yell at them.
Fortunately, I’m used to functioning on four hours of sleep. So I was able to enjoy the next day reasonably well until I got a splitting headache at about 8 PM.
All in all, I have to say I deal with enough jerks in my day-to-day life. Why expose yourself to even more by going car camping?
Yellowstone National Park is full of interesting and beautiful things, but for us the most notable was the wildlife.
Coming from western Massachusetts, we are not wildlife deprived. We commonly see black bear in our back yard. During our first trip into the park, we were scoffing at the tourists who were creating huge traffic jams just to see a couple elk. (“Elk jams” soon became part of our vocabulary.) We were joking that they should sort traffic into different lanes by asking questions such as: “Have you ever seen an elk before? If no, then take this lane.”
A few minutes later, however, I have to admit we were impressed when we encountered a buffalo jam. A huge male bison was walking down the opposite lane of traffic as calmly as could be. It was almost as if he was cockily showing off his ability to disrupt hundreds of peoples’ lives. Of course, judging by the people hanging out of car windows to photograph this guy, most were delighted by the interruption. We passed the buffalo broadside about five feet from the car. That thing was huge!
INTERESTING AND SAD ASIDE: At breakfast in West Yellowstone we were discussing this buffalo encounter with another family at Running Bear Pancakes (an excellent place for pancakes). We started talking with them after they commented on the poor quality of the maple syrup. (Try the boysenberry syrup.) Turns out this family was from Vermont, near Burlington, so they knew maple syrup. I had noticed while we ate, that the wife looked stressed and the husband often had a far-away look in his eyes. Turns out they were visiting Yellowstone thanks to the Make a Wish Program. So I suspect that buffalo encounter was very important to their son.
As we spent more time in Yellowstone, I came to think that buffalo are the new bear.
When I was in Yellowstone as a kid, bears were everywhere. Here is a selection from my 1967 journal:
1:50 2 bears
1:55 1 bear
1:56 1 bear
On this trip we saw bears only twice, including a grizzly and her two cubs. What we saw lots of were buffalo.
When we arrived at our campsite at Bridge Bay, we were surprised to see a lone bull buffalo calmly surveying the campground from a point about six campsites away. There were people watching him. A few were taking photographs.
This buffalo became our near constant companion when we were at the campsite. He would stand there looking around. He’d graze for a while. He’d lie down and wallow for a bit, sending up a cloud of dust. Then he’d repeat the process. Eventually he’d get bored and move to a different campsite, sending the campers there scrambling to a safe distance.
It was strange. This buffalo was almost completely habituated (as the biologists say) to humans. I say almost because we stopped at the campground office to ask them about the buffalo. They said, “This is his home. You’re just visiting. Don’t get too close. If he comes close to you, move away. He attacked somebody this morning because the person got too close.”
Our first night there was a restless one. Our site was near the road and the restroom, so there was noise from both the whole night. In the morning we asked if we could move sites. There were very few sites that weren’t reserved. The one semi-decent site was two doors down from our friend the buffalo. We took it.
We staged an interesting parade up the campground road, moving our big tent, fully erected, to it’s new site at 136 Buffalo Wallow Road (not its real name).
Sometimes the buffalo would wander off and do its buffalo business somewhere else. But most of the time we were there, he was there. When I woke up first thing in the morning, he was there two hundred feet away watching my head emerge from the tent. While Pamela fixed dinner, she’d be cooking away while I was watching her back until I’d say, “You really need to move to a safer place.” During close encounters, Linden felt discretion was the better part of valor and she sat in the car. Even though the buffalo seemed to be headquartered at a site two doors up, he never decided to harass the asshole campers there (more on that in another post).
Clearly buffalo are more abundant than they were in 1967. And they are far more comfortable around humans. We’d spot buffalo in ones and two all over the place, sometimes right beside the road. On the road north of Bridge Bay we saw an entire herd, maybe 300 strong. I’d seen that scene so many times in movies, I expected to see an Indian hunting party descending on the grazing bison.
For me the highlight of the Yellowstone trip was not buffalo, but a series of wildlife encounters we had on a hike we took to a remote spot called Riddle Lake.
We hiked for 2.5 miles through a new forest of pines mixed with occasional meadows. Beautiful meadows (Much of Yellowstone is new pine forest growing up through the fallen remains of pines that burned in a big file some years ago. The remains of the ghost forest are everywhere.)
We passed only a handful of other people. (Walk for a half mile and you can escape 95% of the crowds at national parks.) Just as the lake came into view we saw a bull elk grazing amidst the fallen trees. We carefully passed him, with maybe 100 feet between us. Then we came onto the shore of this beautiful lake, maybe a mile or two wide, with snowcapped mountains rising in the distance to the east and south.
A few white pelicans were swimming in the lake, and we studied them with field glasses.
Lark and Linden got their feet wet. I was still studying the white pelicans (I’ve always liked them), when they took wing, joined up with a few of their friends, and then proceeded to stage some aerial maneuvers. They always fly in a V formation. At one point the V came down low right over us and we could hear the wind in their feathers squeaking with each flap of a wing. It sounded like they needed lubrication. Then the birds settled in for more paddling.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch while sitting on a log near the shore. Just then, the elk wandered back toward us. We watched him warily until he strode into the lake, picked a spot he liked, and casually chomped on some water plants. He kept one eye on us and we sat there quietly watching him. He must have been no more than sixty or seventy feet away. His big rack of velvety antlers (10 points) was very impressive. Pamela said it was like having lunch with Harry Potter’s patronus.
Just then we heard a loon crying in the distance. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to hear that while we watched this majestic elk. Then, we heard a whippoorwill. I hadn’t heard one in decades. Then we heard another. Then whippoorwills began calling to each other all around us. Soon the whippoorwills fell silent. I don’t know what they were doing, making their calls in broad daylight. In my experience, you only hear them at dawn and dusk. We were forced to conclude that nature had decided to give us a little nod, or maybe the fairies were thanking us for the fairy house the kids and Auntie Pam made the day before. In any case, it was a few absolutely magical moments.
Then the elk decided to finish his bathing and he moved toward us. Fortunately I had earlier crept up to the beach and retrieved the kids’ shoes. We scrambled over our picnicking log and beat a retreat into the jumble of downed trees. We circled around back to the trail and headed away from Riddle Lake. Only on our hike out did we start to encounter people again. Again, for some reason the fates tipped their hats to us here on this special afternoon at Riddle Lake, giving us the entire lake to ourselves.
Wednesday, July 14
10:15 Left Clubhouse Inn in Billings, MT. Headed west toward Yellowstone. Ahead are beautiful snow capped mountains.
11:45 Spotted white pelicans flying above us.
12:10 Stopped for gas in Livingston, MT. Nearby the beautiful foothills of the mountains are littered with “ranchettes.” The hills are blanketed with a profusion of wildflowers, especially purple lupine.
1:00 Stopped in Bozeman, MT. Walked around for a while and finally had a good lunch at the Cat’s Eye Café. Bozeman lived up to its reputation as a nice, lively town.
2:15 Stopped at a Safeway in Bozeman for groceries.
4:01 Entered Yellowstone National Park.
4:21 Leave Yellowstone National Park.
4:50 After hunting for a room for a while, checked into the Yellowstone Park Hotel.
5:30 Entered Yellowstone Park
5:43 Encountered traffic jam caused by baby elk. Glad we weren’t going the other way because the elk jam going that direction stretched out for at least a mile.
6:00 Encounter a buffalo jam when we see a bull buffalo casually strolling down the road, demonstrating that he was the boss here. Tons of tourists leaned from their cars to photograph him.
6:05 Take the Firehole Canyon Drive. See lots of people swimming in the river. It looks like a good thing to do.
6:15 Take a walk through the Lower Geyser Basin and see lots of thermal features. Our favorite was a mud pool that bubbled in a comical way.
6:45 Take a drive through the Firehole Canyon Drive and see more geysers. I was able to make one erupt by chanting, “Geyser, geyser, glowing white. Won’t you blow your top tonight?” Lark wondered if there are geysers, shouldn’t there also be girlsers?
7:45 Returned to West Yellowstone after enduring buffalo and elk jams. Had a very satisfactory dinner at Wild West Pizza. There was a bit of a wait to get in, but the pizza was good. So was the beer.
When I first saw the Grand Canyon I thought that I’d never see anything bigger in my life except maybe the ocean. But now as I look around I find myself gazing out at something so vast my small human mind can barely wrap around. That thing is something you see every day in New England but you never really conceive how big it truly is until all the trees are gone which usually shield it and you have nothing but prairie grass swaying in the breeze. This large object is not actually an object it is the sky. Out here you could go into a field and look around only to see golden blades of grass waving in the wind with an occasional fence dotting the grasslands and that big blue sky all around you with cotton ball clouds scuttling across the horizon. An endless road forever traveling on.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
And, most interesting of all is the eavesdropping. A young man sits by himself at a table next to us working on his laptop. I glance over his shoulder and see he is checking Facebook and Gmail. The name on his facebook account is Dennis Bear Won't Run.
Soon another older man sits down nearby and they start talking about reservation politics. Dennis is evidently a first year law student, trying to determine what sort of law he wants to practice. As he says, there are many areas to choose from in reservation life.
The older man may have been a lawyer too. He was certainly very sophisticated in his analysis of reservation politics and economic issues. He talked knowledgably of issues such as foreclosures on the res, lobbying Congress to get particular concessions, and discussing issues with the Secretary of State.
It was fascinating to listen to them.
Laura had said she didn't want to be buried in her home town of Bishopville, SC. My first thought was to scatter her ashes over the hillside opposite where we grew up in Pittsburgh. Our side of the street was a row of modest suburban houses, but it always gave us great joy over the years to look across the street to the hills, woods and meadows of the beautiful farm there.
Then I went back to Pittsburgh and discovered the farm had been turned into some sort of industrial site. I didn't think Laura would get much eternal peace looking out at the Jersey barricades.
Bruce decided to bury half of Laura's ashes at his vacation property in Mendocino County. From what I understand, this is a very Japanese decision. First of all, the Japanese have an interest in cremated remains. They venerate larger pieces of bone that survive the cremation process, doling out the fragments to family members. They also have a great reverence for ancestors, so it makes sense to them to put someone to rest at a place where the family visit frequently.
As an American, I had a somewhat different attitude. To me it seemed strange to place Laura in a place that she had never even visited.
But what should I do with her?
She wouldn't want to be composted, like I do.
Laura always had a great interest in Native Americans, particularly the plains Indians. In fact, in her younger days she had many strong interests like this. She was one of the more widely read than most people I have ever known.
People who met her in her later life might be surprised by this. They probably perceived her as an extremely grouchy old lady with no known interests except cats and television. I could not argue with them about that. But she was a different person when she was younger.
Laura had her faults, but part of her was strong, proud, and fiercely independent. I chose to honor that side of her personality. That's why I thought scattering her ashes over a site where the plains Indians once lived would be an appropriate gesture. The lives they lived always epitomized courage and independence.
I had wanted to scatter the ashes at Wind Cave National Park. I knew there were some areas there that are excellent examples of native prairie vegetation. Unfortunately, our trip to Badlands NP took up all all our time yesterday. So Wind Cave was out. As we drove through the Dakotas and Montana today, I was scouting for an appropriate location.
The fallback was Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monmument.
It's a beautiful spot, a sweeping vista of gently rolling plains and hills with mountains in the far distance. We walked up to the hill where Custer made his last stand, learned about the battle, then walked down a coulee, as they say here, until no one else was near. Meadowlarks were singing, which I took to be a good omen. I scattered Laura's ashes over the edge of that coulee while saying a few words about the proud, strong Laura that I remembered.
I think she would have taken ironic pleasure from knowing that her ashes were scattered here at the Little Big Horn.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
We tramped around for a while looking for a place to eat breakfast. Many of the casinos have breakfast buffets, but we didn't want to go into a casino. Finally we gave in and stopped at a deserted cafe in Miss Kitty's Saloon for a wretched breakfast. The coffee I brewed in the coffee valet at our room at the Bavarian lodge was better than Miss Kitty's.
We always hear our political leaders saying casinos are economically valuable. I wonder if anyone has really studied the demographics. Maybe they provide a short-term economic boost, but almost everyone I see in these smaller casinos is old. Families are rare. (Vegas is a different story.) Many of the people I see in casinos are obese too. Some look (and act) like they won't live out the year. How can this clientele provide a long term benefit?
We raced out of Deadwood the instant we finished breakfast.
Towns like Deadwood make me embarassed to be an American.
The Bavarian Lodge offers a continental breakfast, but it’s a little bizarre. Sausage, cheese, and rolls. Perhaps that’s a German continental breakfast. The price was right (free), and I urged the girls to absorb some calories.
Lark had said she wanted to see the Badlands, so we decided to take a day trip out there, while still trying to be at Jewel Cave National Monument by 4:00 for a cave tour we had scheduled.
We should have studied the map more closely. It took us 2 hours to get to the Badlands. We only had time for a couple scenic overlooks, a stop at the visitor’s center (for the patch, of course), and then a drive through the park to see the weirdly sculpted hillsides.
Then we headed east again. First we stopped at Wall Drug, but again we had no time, so we got our buffalo burgers to go. By this time everyone was hungry and annoyed and we were all snapping at one another.
Finally we made it to Jewel Cave, where we took a ranger led “lantern tour.” Everyone carries old-fashioned kerosene lamps.
It was a great tour. Only 20 people could come. There was a gang of young folks, recent graduates of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who we really enjoyed, especially one guy, John, who we all took to calling "John the dragon slayer" because he went first once down a dark passageway and declared it was safe for everyone after he had killed the dragon.
For much of the tour we had to “duck walk,” which was great fun for Lark and Linden. Not so pleasant for Pamela and myself with our aging joints.
The cave itself was a mass of strangely shaped rocks. The walls were almost all covered with crystals (jewels, that is). At one point we had to let ourselves down a trap-door like hole into the darkness, although John the dragonslayer stayed to light our way. We had to pick paths through jagged footing. At another point we had to squeeze through a tight spot called Fat Man’s Dismay. In many narrow places, the wind blew hard up the cave. On days when there is low atmospheric pressure, the cave exhales like that. When there's high pressure outside, the cave inhales.
The lanterns were cool too. They were dim, so if you walked into a big room with a lantern, it would barely cast any light. However, by the time the others joined you the whole room would light up and you could see all the strange colors and shapes around you.
All in all it was a great little trip and mostly outweighed the frustrations of earlier in the day.Ranger Joe, our guide, said this may be one of the last tours offered in caves in this area. The white nose bat fungus, which we know well back east, is spreading across the U.S. The park service is closing caves to prevent the spread of the fungus. Within a few weeks they may close Jewel and Wind Caves. So it could be a long time before anyone takes that tour again.
A couple wildlife notes: Driving through Custer State Park we saw a bison right beside the road. It was HUGE.
We also saw a small animal (maybe a mink? Or a muskrat?) carrying a fish almost its own size. The mink was on the road, struggling with his fish. Fortunately the traffic stopped for him to let him safely cross the road. Of course, it wasn’t so safe for the fish.
We pulled out of Niwot, CO, my old home, after taking a picture of me standing under an “Old Town Niwot” banner just outside aswanky French restaurant.
When I lived here 31 years ago, Niwot was a punch line. Almost no one had ever heard of it, and, if they had, they knew it was a sleepy little community plunked down in the middle of cornfields with a couple antique stores that woke up on the weekend. Now it’s an upscale little town. The cornfields are long gone, as are most buildable lots.
I shared a house with Jim and, though he lives in the same house, it’s barely recognizable. Only one familiar roofline remains. The rest has been enclosed in a fanciful home of towers, arches, and odd angles. Jim used to be a builder. Now he's an architect. I think architects always have to make a statement with their own home.
It was fun spending time with Jim and Kim. The kids got along well too. They were always racing somewhere together. We enjoyed hearing Quinn walk around the house playing the sousaphone and seeing Lark try to play Jim’s long dormant accordion.
I felt a little sorry to be leaving, although some of that was just the pleasure of being in a real home rather than living out of the back of a minivan.
Hopefully it won’t be 28 years before we see the Kalinski’s again. As we left, we said “Your nursing home or mine?”
We are in the factory for Celestial Seasonings Tea. It is just outside of Boulder on Sleepytime Lane. We are getting a tour of the factory.
For the last 15 minutes different smells have bewildered our noses. Chamomile, green tea, lemon grass, clove.
We start the tour with a ticket that is actually a package of tea--to be precise, Black Cherry Berry herbal infusion. We learn that real tea always includes tea leaves. Everything else is an herbal infusion. But that sounds bad so they call it tea.
We learn that Sleepytime is the best selling tea Celestial Seasonings makes. Another thing we learn is that the factory can make up to one million packages of tea a day during the busy season, during the cold months from October to April. And, we learn that if they left the door of the peppermint room open, you could smell the mint two miles away.
It was a beautiful factory, and it was the best smelling factory I've ever been in.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Coming into Boulder Linden says, “I knew we were doing a lot on this vacation, but there’s even more. It seems like we should be done.”
Lark adds, “It’s like when we jumped off the high dive at Mt. Gretna. It seems like you should be hitting water, but instead you keep falling.”
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Thursday, July 8
9:50 Leave Morefield Campground at Mesa Verde. Got a bit of a late start because we had to clean up from having the Kalinskis over for dinner. The night before we just threw the dirty dishes in the van. Too hard trying to wash up in the dark.
9:55 The usual construction delays. Our recovery dollars at work! Math class for the kids begins.
10:05 Leave Mesa Verde NP.
10:19 Stopped in Cortez to buy Colorado map because we evidently recycled our other map accidentally.
10:50 Passed Circle K dude ranch where Pamela stayed when she was 14
11:45 Stopped to take photo of Mt. Wilson. Encountered heavy mountain thunderstorm. Quite a change from the dry desert climate we’ve been dealing with for the last 12 days.
12:30 Stopped in Telluride for lunch and touring.
3:30 Stopped in Montrose for gas. Also stopped at a roadside stand to buy a string of dried chiles.
The last time I passed through Montrose, in 1982, I was struck by what a pleasant town it was. This time it looked like just a big suburban sprawl surrounding a Walmart and a Target.
Earlier in the day we passed through Ridgeway. We didn’t stop but it seemed like a rather cool little town. That’s how Montrose felt 20 years earlier.
5:10 Pass road to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Don’t bother to go there. If it had been earlier, I would consider making the drive so I could snag another national park patch. Instead, we just had a memorial singing of “Patches.”
7:00 Crossed Monarch Pass. It wasn’t snowing, thank goodness. When Pamela and I drove this road in August of 1992, it was snowing hard. That was a scary drive. This time there was fresh snow on the roadside, but nothing in the air.
7:30 Checked into Silver Ridge Lodge in Salida, CO.
8:00 Dinner at Amica’s, a cool brew pub. Thurday night and a crowd on the street waiting to get in.
We didn’t get to our campsite, 67 Zuni Loop, at Mesa Verde until fairly late in the afternoon. The road into Mesa Verde is under construction and there were many traffic stops.
We only had a chance to tour one ruin, Spruce Tree House, before we met the Kalinskis for dinner. Then we all went to Cliff Palace, where we had arranged to take a special guided tour. A young man playing the character of a 1930s CCC worker took us on a tour of the ruin while telling us about life in the Civilian Conservation Corps. The tour was small, about 20 people, and dusk was settling in. It was a great time to be there in the ruins.
The next morning we had to get up early to beat the construction jams to get to the meeting point for our next hike, another ranger-led hike, to a ruin called Spring House.
Our ranger was Kim Accardy, a seasonal ranger from Louisville, Colorado. We began at Chapin Museum near Spruce Tree House, descended into Navajo Canyon and walked about four miles, finally climbing onto another mesa. After we left the museum we never saw another person. It was great. Along the way we saw a number of small cliff dwellings on the walls of the canyon.
We had to climb down a few ladders and do some boulder hopping to get to Spring House. It is still in its original state, having never been excavated at all. It was interesting, but because we had been able to climb right into River House on our rafting trip, this experience paled a little. They wouldn't let us actually step into the ruin. We had to stay on a viewing platform. When the kids tried to sit on some nearby rocks, the ranger told them to stand, as these rocks might have been part of the structure at one time.
On the trip back we were all worried a bit about Pamela. She was struggling a bit with the heat and the altitude. But she had her own personal retinue of three rangers (Kim, a volunteer ranger named Sharon, and Jessica, a third ranger who has to accompany every back country hike to make sure we don’t violate the country’s patrimony and to deal with any medical emergencies. Jessica agreed with us that it was a crazy use of ranger time, but as she said, “Hey, they’re paying me to hike.” They took good care of Pamela up the last climb, making sure she rested and was properly hydrated. We all made it.
It felt good to sit on benches in the shade, knowing we had completed a pretty strenuous hike.
We stopped to take showers. (Free at Mesa Verde!) Then Pamela swung into action preparing dinner because we were having the Kalinskis over to our home at 67 Zuni Loop. Not sure how Pamela did it. I was lapsing into catatonia about then, but she was able to whip up some potatoes and grill steaks and hot dogs.
Once the K’s roused themselves from their own stupor and fought their way through the traffic, the kids played Frisbee. We drank some beers, had some good steaks, and later Jim told us the famous “cardboard box in the middle of the road” story.It was a good time.
Friday, July 9, 2010
In addition to the Wicinas and Kalinski families, there are two more people joining us, for a total of ten. Two rafts.
We meet our guides, Jim and Marcus. Jim is kind of what you'd expect for a river guide. Tall, lean, sun-burned. Splits his time between being a carpenter, a micro-brewer, and a river guide. Very articulate. Seems like the kind of guy who, if he hadn't chosen the western outdoors for a career, would have been a Wall Street guy or a professor or some other high-functioning career. The other guide practically made the whole cost of the trip worthwhile. His name is Marcus. He is a Navajo (Bitterwater clan).
Meeting Marcus is a good exercise in judging books by covers. He's bare-chested, has a giant tattoo of a tomahawk on one arm, and wears impenetrable black sun glasses. I have to admit, my first reaction is, Who's this agent?
But, as we proceed, we realize, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the river. Marcus has been guiding raft tours for 11 years. Before that he worked for a lot of petroleum exploration trips down the San Juan for seven years. (There's oil in this area.) So he knows just about everything about the river. His knowledge of the region's geology is vast. Besides all his acquired knowledge, we're basically rafting through his neighborhood. So he tells us things like, "My friend was walking her dog over on that cliff. The dog chased a squirrel and fell off the cliff. Fell two hundred feet. But the dog lived. Kind of limped but he lived. So then we called him 'the flying res dog.'"
Our trip down the San Juan is spectacular. Virtually no signs of human habitation except for a few traces of Navajo ranching. One side of the river is reservation land.
The first half of the trip we pass down a broad river valley. Unfortunately, the river banks are largely choked with invasive Russian olive and tamarisk. They have introduced a beetle that attacks the tamarisk, and most of them seem to be dying, but the olive still forms a nearly impenetrable jungle. In one stretch they have manually cleared the invasives, leaving only the native willow and cottonwood. It is pleasant and makes me sad the river's ecology has changed so dramatically.
The river guides make a stop and we take a short hike up to a blackened cliff face where there are a couple hundred yards of pictographs. It's an incredible "panel," as the archeologists call them. You see carved feet and spirals and six-fingered hands and lots of human-like shapes of people with antennas or strange horizontal markings over their heads. Jim gives us a big explanation of what the drawings might mean, but it's clear to me that these are portraits of the aliens who visited this area thousands of years ago.
At another stop Marcus leads us on a hike to an overlook to give us a geology lecture. He moves so fast on his short legs we can barely keep up with him. Then we move on to River House, a cliff dwelling in an alcove facing the river. We are allowed to walk up into the dwelling. (In Mesa Verde this would be punishable with banishment or arrest.) After we look at this ancient site, Marcus hops up into a corner out of sight and starts playing his Indian flute. Really well. Suddenly we are transported through the eons and find ourselves pondering the lives of the people who came through this canyon before us. It was magical.
Later in the day the canyon walls close in on us. Nearly sheer cliffs rise 1400 feet. We see desert bighorn sheep on the banks 30 feet away.
We stop at a sight to look at some fossils, and we all enjoy jumping in the river, drifting downstream in our life jackets, hauling ourselves out, and repeating.
There are some minor rapids on trip. They make things interesting, but nothing heart-stopping. The guides could probably handle this kind of water in their sleep.
I rode on the kid boat with Jim all day. At one point we plotted a pirate attack. We were equipped with a giant squirt gun and a baling pump that could shoot water. Jim faked engine trouble and when Marcus approached, Lark raised a black flag, we shouted, "Arrrrrr," and we tossed as much water as we could at the adult boat. Unfortunately, we were downwind, so I think we got as wet as they did.
All in all, this raft trip was a fantastic experience.
Jim and I were good friends in college, and we shared a house off an on for a few years afterwards. When I lived in Boulder (actually Niwot), I was sharing Jim's place there and we worked together too.
Now it's been 28 years since I've seen him. We keep in touch with Christmas cards.
At the Recapture Lodge in Bluff (a slightly shabby but very pleasant place, by the way), I find myself studying the face of each middle aged man who passes and thinking, Are you my friend?
I'm pretty sure I'll recognize Jim, even though I've only seen a couple pictures during those 28 years.
Finally I see a red haired kid walk by. Jim has red hair. Then someone drives by in an SUV with Colorado plates. Gotta be Jim.
I get out to meet the driver. We say hello, and it sounds exactly like Jim. Only the voice is coming out of Jim's father's face. It's a little dizzying.
We're doing a tricky melding of the families. Of course, no one in my family has met Jim, his wife Kim, or their twins Amy and Quinn. The kids are the same age as Lark. But who knows how well this will go? In April I asked Jim if we could stop by their place in Niwot. Then he suggested we meet in Mesa Verde for this cool hike he knew about. Then we suggested they meet us for this interesting raft trip in Utah. Suddenly we're spending six days off and on with these people.
Just in case things don't click we decide to build in some apartness to counter the sudden bout of enforced togetherness.
As kids, when we went out with him and he parked at a meter, he'd tell us to stay in the car, hand us a nickel, and say, "If a cop comes, put the nickel in the meter."
On our 1967 trip, we determined that the Wicinas coat of arms was a "clenched fist holding penny."
Back then you could buy decals from every national park. People stuck them in their car windows or on the backs of their trailers. My brother and I quickly realized we could amass an impressive collection of decals, considering our route ahead. So we asked my father to buy us a decal of one park. They were cheap. Less than a buck, as I recall.
He adamantly refused.
We steamed and steamed over this.
I guess I'm still annoyed by it because a few years back I decided, "Damn it, I'm going to collect my own decals.
Except they don't sell them any more. Instead I decided to collect embroidered patches all the parks seem to sell. Pamela says eventually she'll sew them all together into some sort of fabric art.
A little aside: I introduced Lark and Linden to the sappy 60's song, "Patches," so now, whenever the subject of national park patches comes up, we all break into a rendition of:
Patches, I'm depending on you son
To pull the family through.
My son, it's all left up to you.
We're almost as bad as the Von Trapp family.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Wednesday, July 7th
I’m tired. A while ago my mother asked if I could do a 6-mile hike? I said, “Sure, I can do a 6-mile hike.” It was to be an all day hike. When we got there in the morning the ranger said, I hope you guys are all ready for this 8-mile hike. We were all confused until the ranger explained that someone had brought their GSP and told them it was an 8-mile hike. I was a little annoyed because an 8-mile hike is quite different from a 6-mile hike. So when another ranger came by and said are you ready for your 8.8-mile hike I was starting to get frustrated. But since we were about 2 minutes from going I had to go. And now I’m tired.
The hike turned out to be pretty good even though it was much longer than I expected. We hiked up the canyons. Then we hiked down the canyons. And then we hiked up the canyons. And then we stopped for lunch and saw a cool lizard. After we climbed down two ladders we saw Spring House Ruins. They were crumbly and old. It was a ruin. And then we climbed up the ladders and saw some smaller cliff dwellings. Then we hiked down the canyons. Then we hiked up the canyons. And after many miles of vigorous hiking, 8.8 miles to be exact, we reached the place where we started. It wasn’t actually that hard for me especially because I got Quinn to carry my backpack in exchange for gummy bears.
Sunday, July 4th
9:04 Broke camp Grand Canyon. Beat our Bryce time. Good riddance Mather Campground.
10:25 Exited Grand Canyon National Park as we listen to john Phillip Sousa music in honor of the holiday. Lark asks, “Can I walk?”
12:45 Stopped in Tuba City. Not much there.
1:38 Pulled over on approach to Monument Valley and picnicked in car.
3:05 Went to Goulding’s Trading Post in Monument Valley. This is where John Ford headquartered when making his westerns. Lots of John Wayne memorabilia.
3:36 Drove through Mexican Hat. And yes, the rock looks just like a big sombrero.
4:05 Entered Bluff, UT, starting point for tomorrow’s raft trip down the San Juan River.4:09 Checked in Recapture Lodge, friendly mom & pop motel next door to the river outfitters. Heard in Goulding’s that this motel is owned by local fire chief and all the employees are either fire fighters or EMTs. Know we’ll be safe here. Now just waiting for the arrival of the Kalinski family.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Patterns are beginning to form. They form mannerisms, habits, unavoidable things that come along with time passing. As the days swing by with the slow moving western sun we camp night and day, over and over, despite the persistent throbbing of altitude headaches. We have steadily lost track of the day and frequently of the time. Living in Arizona can confuse a foreigner. I believe it is Sunday the 4th of July but I could be mistaken. As we widdle our way across the country those patterns become more present. The tent goes up. The tent comes down. Mamma cooks, daddy cleans. Linden configures all the chairs while I fold and unfold all sleeping material. This goes on and on, back and forth to the campground sink. By now clothes are not clean and we all home the peculiar smell of sweat, tent, and fire smoke. We eat to gain nutrients and energy to survive, not to enjoy any meal. Arizona does not understand the concept of fresh vegetables. The car is always a tetras game, trying to work the puzzle of the trunk.
Snap, snap, argue, argue, beautiful landscapes one after another.
First it’s hot. Then it’s cold. Then it’s windy. Then it’s raining. We fight on through all of this, trying to absorb everything. We fight on. And on. A battle against time and nature.
Chairs up, down, pack, clean, wash, see, write, think, sleep, cereal. Over and over. There are many more cycles ahead. Many more sunburns and dishes to wash. Today is just one unit in the cycle.
And we have miles to go before we sleep.