Welcome to our BLOG. We are on our second trip west. We hope that you enjoy following us on our journey.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 61: Home

Thursday, October 28, 2010 Cloudy and 57 degrees

We were at Strong Memorial Hospital about 8 a.m. this morning. Sumana was very chirper, but Mom and Dad looked whipped. She had another CT scan to check that the new shunt was working, and everything looked great. Cheryl called earlier this evening, and Sumana is having significant pain tonight. The nurses are trying different methods to relieve it.

We were home by midafternoon. Phil tackled getting the water system operational while I began unloading the car. We were more methodical this time. We brought in one bag at a time and unpacked it before we brought in another. Much less confusion and mess. Tomorrow there'll be more unpacking and laundry, and then we'll have to wade through the box of mail. That's always the worst.

We had a wonderful time on this trip, and we felt blessed to experience so much of this amazingly diverse country. We'd been talking about a Rhine-Danube River cruise, but there's still so much more to see here that we may change our minds.

TODAY'S ROUTE: I 390S to CR 252 to CR 64 to US 5&20 and home


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day 60: On the Road

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 Foggy with gradual clearing through the morning; then sunny and 67 degrees

We left the motel later than usual this morning because we waited for the fog to lift. Then it was a long haul, stopping only for gas and lunch until about 3:30 when we stopped at the Prime Outlets in Grove City, PA, to stretch our legs. Our plan was to spend the night in Erie, PA, and go on home tomorrow. However, we got a phone call from Cheryl about 5 p.m. Sumana is having shunt replacement surgery tonight. We plowed on through and are now in Henrietta, NY, tonight so we can be at the hospital early in the morning. Cheryl just called again, and Sumana is out of surgery and in recovery. Everything looks good at this point. Thoughts and prayers are appreciated.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Grayson, KY, I 64E to I 79N to I 90E and Exit 46

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 59: Buffalo Trace Distillery; Toyota Motors Manufacturing Kentucky

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 Cloudy in the morning; then heavy rain with high winds, and nearby tornado warnings; 77 degrees dropping to 55 degrees

Since wineries are such a presence at home, we wanted to see how distilleries compared. We drove through the countryside to Buffalo Trace Distillery near Frankfort, KY. The name comes from the path the buffalo took as they moved from the mountains to the plains for the winter. This trace was later used by explorers like Daniel Boone and by pioneers moving "west" across the Appalachian Mountains. Buffalo Trace has been operating continuously since 1797, operating during Prohibition for medicinal purposes.

The process of making Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon Whiskey begins with Kentucky and Indiana corn (now we know why we saw so many cornfields), selected rye and barley malt, fresh limestone water, and several phases of cooking, fermenting, and distilling. It is stored in oak barrels that have been charred on the inside to enhance the flavor. Then the whiskey is aged in century-old brick warehouses, and the airflow through the windows is used to control the heating, cooling, and humidity during the aging process. The whiskey is aged from 2- 23 years in the same barrel, and much is lost from evaporation through the wood as the years pass, concentrating the color and the alcohol content.

Our guide led us through the warehouses and then into the distillery where we saw the the alternating heating, cooling, and filtering processes, smelling the bourbon at each stage. We learned the proof must be adjusted to distillery standards, if necessary, during quality control and before bottling. We also watched as workers hand-bottled, capped, sealed, labeled, and boxed Blanton's Special Reserve for shipment to France. We were given rejected caps, which portray eight different positions of the jockey and horse during the Kentucky Derby, as souvenirs. The tour ended in tasting room. Straight up bourbon is mighty powerful.

This afternoon we took a tour of the Toyota Manufacturing plant in Georgetown, KY. We rode a tram through the facility as our guide gave non-stop commentary. Within 20 hours, rolls of steel and plastic resins are transformed into completed automobiles ready for a test drive on the test track. Only four hours of inventory are kept at the plant so up to 150 tractor-trailers bring in more components and raw materials every day. The cars and parts are placed on the line in the same sequence as the orders were placed by the dealers. This means a red six-cylinder Camry hybrid may be followed by a green Avalon, next to a white Venza, next to a black four-cylinder Camry, and so on. Imagine keeping all those components in order through out its entire assembly.

Workers are assigned to one of the two eight-hour shifts. They are on teams with one team leader and one team supervisor. Each person works in four different assembly areas every day. This cross-training curtails boredom and repetitive-motion injuries. When a problem occurs in one section of the assembly line, if the problem is not resolved within 54-59 seconds, the whole line is shut down until the problem is resolved. Each line has a daily quota that must be met so workers do not leave until that quota has been filled. Four hundred fifty-four cars was the quota for line two today. Approximately 1,900 cars are produced every day at this plant.

It was amazing to watch the workers putting the cars together one piece at a time---doors, engines, fenders, brakes and struts, headliners, the dash, gas tanks, seats, HVAC, hybrid batteries, rocker panels, windows, etc. (Obviously, not in that order.) We also learned that all of the exterior steel gets four coats of primer, seven coats of paint, and four coats of clear-coat; sanding and cleaning occur between every coat, and the whole process takes just nine hours.

The information came so fast, and the tram moved so quickly it was hard to absorb it all. But I know I'll never look at another Toyota without remembering how quickly and flawlessly they are assembled.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Georgetown, KY, US 460W to Frankfort, KY, and returning to Georgetown via the same route. Then from Georgetown, I 75S to I 64E to Exit 172, Grayson, KY

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day 58: Churchill Downs

Monday, October 25, 2010 Cloudy with sprinkles in the morning; then partly sunny and 74 degrees

As we drove to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, we were stunned to find it located in a residential area, completely surrounded with homes. What a zoo during Derby Week! We had lost an hour changing time zones so we barely arrived in time for a tour of the grounds. As we headed out for the tour our guide showed us the "shingles" with the horse's name and year that he/she won the Kentucky Derby that are on the walls around the entire stadium just above the entrances, all 138 of them. Those who won the Triple Crown have their names printed in gold. Secretariat still holds the record time for the Kentucky Derby. When he died an autopsy revealed that his heart weighed 22 pounds; Sham, the horse who came in second to him, had a heart weighing 18 pounds; the average thoroughbred's heart weighs 8 pounds. Thus the explanation of Secretariat's amazing stamina.

We learned that only three-year-old horses run the Kentucky Derby. (Interestingly every horse's birthday is January 1st regardless of when they were actually born.) Of those only the twenty nominated horses, who have grossed the most winnings prior to the derby, are allowed to participate and then only after their owners have paid $50,000 in the two step nomination process.

As we walked past the old wagering windows, we learned about the types of betting and how they were placed. During the early 1900's when betting was illegal, the law was circumvented when parimutuel betting was introduced.

Next we walked toward the paddock on tiles made of recycled tires that are used to cushion the horses hooves. In the paddock we heard that the horses are paraded around a small track so they may be viewed by the crowd before trainers saddle them for the derby. Meanwhile the jockeys are being weighed to ensure that the all of the horses are carrying 126 pounds (121 pounds if the horse is a filly) during the race. Weights are added, if necessary, to equalize the loads. Once the jockeys reach the paddock and the trainers help them mount, the horses are paraded again and then led out to the track. Each derby entrant has another horse and rider with them as they head toward the gates to keep them calm. The race begins as soon as all of the horses have entered the gates, and the gates are closed.

Our last stop was the grandstand. Boxes have six seats and the entire box must be purchased at $600 for each seat. The owners boxes are just above them. To the left is 'Millionaire's Row" where stars and celebrities are seated. A five year commitment of $6,000 per year is required to retain a seat there. Meanwhile general admission to the grandstand is $70, and $40 gets a person a place to stand in the grass oval within the track. As we learned about the track itself---75% sand, 23% silt, and 2% clay---the vice-president and general manager of Churchill Downs was grading the track. Such is his commitment to racing.

The Kentucky Derby Museum tells anything and everything about horse racing. The introductory film portrayed Derby Day from 5:30 a.m. until the race is over: the lengthy preparations of the trainer, the groom, the jockey, the owner, and the horse. The various rooms display the owners' silks and owners' dresses and hats; jockey's clothing, boots, and crop; trophies and horseshoes. Videos show derby races, owners discussing their horses, and offer trivia questions. Kiosks gave information about the more famous horses, their breeding, the wins, and some times their losses.

The upper floor is all about the horses. The choice of stud and broodmare is dependent on their racing successes and physical characteristics. As soon as the foal can stand after birth, he is fitted with a halter. From then on he goes through an imprinting process so he is used to being handled by people. The roles groom, the trainer, the "hot-walker," the veterinarian, the jockey, and the owner are given in detail. Next May when we watch the Kentucky Derby at home, we'll have a new appreciation of all the has preceded the race.

By the way, Churchill Downs was named by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Upon purchasing the grounds he named it after his two uncles whose last name was Churchill.

Later we went in search of a distillery. Instead we found Woodford Thoroughbreds, Pin Oak Stud, and Summer Winds Farms. Miles of wooden fences delineate the pastures around the horse farms where the horses were grazing. The farms have multiple stables, exercise tracks, and practice gates. We went from reading about thoroughbred horse racing to the reality of where it all begins. An interesting day.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Evansville, IN, I 64E to Louisville, KY, I 264E to Exit 9 at Churchill Downs; then I 264E to I 64E Exit 69; finally US 62N to Georgetown, KY

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day 57: Searching for Camp DuBois and Lewis and Clark

Sunday, October 24, 2010 Partly sunny until midafternoon, then cloudy, 77 degrees

Our plans for the past two days centered around the Wood River Museum's days and hours of operation: Wednesday through Sunday, 9-4:30. Imagine our surprise/disappointment/dismay when we made a mad dash for Wood River, IL, today and found it closed. Fortunately we met a bus driver who was on his way to work. He gave us information for three other sites that were related to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The first stop was a fort constructed by local people who enjoy reenacting history. They had built a replica of Camp DuBois, Lewis and Clark's first winter camp. Today they were holding a "rendezvous." They spent the night sleeping in the cabins and tents and cooked their meals over campfires or in the fireplaces. When we arrived, however, the participants were dressed in Revolutionary era garb, filming a commercial for Patriot beer. Not quite what we were looking for. We made a quick tour of the grounds and left. Strike one.

Still looking for an authentic L&C experience, we stopped at the Confluence of the Rivers Tower. It is what its name states. Although L&C are portrayed on the entry walls, it is a tower from which the confluence of the Missouri, Mississippi, Wood, and other rivers can be seen. Strike two. But we did get directions to the Lewis and Clark State Park. Home run.

We watched the requisite film about Camp DuBois. Between December 12, 1803 and May 14, 1804 preparations were made at this camp for the Corps of Discovery's Expedition into the Louisiana Purchase. Much of this time Lewis was actually in Cahokia, Kaskaskia, and St. Louis acquiring the provisions the Corps would need for their lengthy trip: food, tools, clothing, bedding, medicines, scientific equipment, boats, weapons and ammunition, gifts for the Indians, tenting material, whiskey, tobacco, etc. He studied known plants and animals so he would be able to identify new species. He also studied the use of transits, compasses, etc., to aid the surveying of the new territory.

Meanwhile Clark was training the men who had been recruited for the Corps. Some were soldiers, but others were frontiersmen. He spent those months forming them into a a disciplined, cohesive unit, and training them in military protocol and procedures. They also built pirogues to carry their supplies upriver. Finally on May, 14, 1804, the expedition began their two and a half year journey into the unknown.

Much of the information in the museum is from the logs of both Lewis and Clark. They fulfilled the assignments given them by President Thomas Jefferson. They identified many new plants and animals; surveyed and mapped new territory, its mountains and rivers; identified and made contact with 50+ Indian tribes. They were unable, however, to find a waterway to connect the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. Their findings opened the new territory to fur trappers who developed commerce through trading. This in turn led to pioneers moving west for new farming opportunities, religious freedom, and to seek riches during the Gold Rush.

On this trip we visited all three of the winter camps of the Corps of Discovery: Camp DuBois, Fort Mandan, and Fort Clapsot. We gained a new appreciation of the importance of their expedition. We learned a lot, but at the park today we found out that there are 53 Lewis and Clark related sites across the west. Looks like we've only scratched the surface.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Concordia, MO, I 70E to Exit 3 in IL; then IL 3N to Wood River; next IL 255S to I 70E; finally I 64E to Exit 25 north of Evansville, IN

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day 56: National Trails Museum

Saturday, October 23, 2010 Rain and fog early morning; then partly sunny and windy, 77 degrees

We drove through the cornfields of Nebraska this morning and sympathized with the pioneers who trudged through it at 15 miles per day. It really would have been tedious. When there was no corn, there were extremely large livestock pens and feeding lots. Those we could smell before we could see them. We also saw large trucks hauling sugar beets and corn, of course.

We left for Independence, MO, early this morning to get to the National Trails Museum before it closed. With good weather and relatively light traffic we were there by 1:30.

The National Trails Museum details the major trails of the Westward Expansion: Oregon, California, Santa Fe, and Mormon Trails. Regardless of the trail taken or what the reason for traveling it, the details of the hardships faced were the same: disease, injuries, death, starvation, lack of water, difficulties fording rivers and climbing mountains, bad weather, injured or dying draft animals, and wagon mishaps to name a few. Although the maps, illustrations, artifacts, and narratives were very informative, the words of the pioneers themselves as recorded in their diaries or letters were the most poignant. Early in the migration they wrote of the excitement of the journey and what they hoped to realize when they reached the trail's end. But by the time they were into the mountain ranges, they were writing of the hardships they were facing. As they wrote, they'd met the "elephant," and they wished they could return home.

As usual we watched the introductory film, but an especially helpful docent gave us several books and maps to read at our leisure. In the bookstore is a series of books which holds diary entries by the year that I'm hoping to read.

We had hoped to reach Columbia, MO, tonight, but there is a big football game between undefeated OK and MO teams. Everything is booked for miles around. Tomorrow we plan to be in Wood River, IL, the jumping off point for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. We've been to the end; now we'll finally get to the beginning.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from North Platte, NE, I 80E to NE 2S at Lincoln, NE, and on to I 29S into IA and to I 435E in Kansas City, MO. Finally, I 70E to Concordia, MO

Total mileage to date 11,544

Day 55: Pursuing the Oregon Trail

Friday, October 22, 2010 Sunny in the morning, 54 degrees; then intermittent rain Central Time Zone

Because we couldn't find our cut-off road WY 160, we stumbled upon some gems of the Oregon Trail in Guernsey, WY. Just off US 26 we found the grave of Lucindy Rollins. Many of the 500,000 pioneers who headed west never made it, most dying of cholera, errant gun shots, or wagon accidents. Thousands were buried along the way. Lucindy was one of them.

Next we walked a path to three lengthy trail ruts. The wagon wheels cut into the sandstone creating ruts as deep as five feet. Walking along those uneven, lopsided ruts, it was hard to imagine how the wagons ever made it through, and yet thousands did. Then we visited Register Rock. As in Capitol Reef, pioneers carved their names, home towns, and the dates into the side of the bluff, some go as far back as 1850. Many are hard to locate because "modern graffiti pioneers" have also carved their names into the rock. Fortunately, the originals are written in distinctive script and print. Interestingly, although many left their names in the rock, no one recorded doing so in their diaries.

Our last stop in Wyoming was at Fort Laramie. A film told us that the government bought the former fur-trading post and converted it into an army fort. The purpose of the fort was to guarantee the safety of those heading out on the Westward Expansion. The Pony Express and three trails shared this part of their routes: those on the Oregon Trail, heading for their homesteads in the Willamette Valley, those on the Mormon Trail heading to the Great Salt Lake to escape persecution in the East, and those following the California Trail in the pursuit of gold. The soldiers were to promote peace between the pioneers and the Indians and also between the various Indian tribes. Once the transcontinental railroad was completed the trails became obsolete, and the fort closed. Several of the buildings are standing and can be toured. For example the enlisted men's barracks is furnished as when it was in use. Cots line the walls of the second floor with their gear, clothing, and rifles near at hand. The first floor was the mess, and it, too, is set with dishes as if ready for the soldiers to sit down and eat. Ruins are all that remain of some of the other buildings.

In Nebraska, we visited both Scotts Bluff and Chimney Rock. At the Visitor Centers we watched short films. By the time pioneers approached these two landmarks, they had traveled 500 miles, eight to fifteen miles a day, over the boring, rolling prairie. Seeing these two rock formations reinvigorated them both physically and mentally. They knew that they were approaching the Rocky Mountains and that their hopes and dreams laid beyond them. This afternoon Scotts Bluff was hidden in fog, but Chimney Rock stood as a sentinel guarding the trails and pointing skyward as if offering a prayer for safety.

Tomorrow we continue our pursuit of the Oregon Trail, looking for its origin in Independence, MO. We have a big problem, though. It is 420 miles and about seven hours away, and the interpretive center closes at 4:30. It'll be quite a sprint in order to make it.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Cheyenne, WY, 1 25N to US 26E to Guernsey and Fort Laramie, WY, and Scotts Bluff, NE; then NE 92 to Bayard; finally US 385S to I 80E and Exit 177 at North Platte, NE

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day 54: Three Colorado Springs Sites

Thursday, October 21, 2010 Partly sunny, 65 degrees

U.S. Olympic Complex: There are three Olympic training centers in the U.S., one in Lake Placid, NY, another in Chula Vista, CA, and the one in Colorado Springs, CO. We arrived so early at the U.S. Olympic Complex that we were the only ones watching the introductory movie and the only ones on our tour. Flags from all of the participating countries are flown along the sidewalks within the complex, and an Olympic torch is on the roof of the Visitor Center. Although this is the training center for the summer games, life-sized metal sculptures of all Olympic sports are displayed on the lawns outside of the buildings. One of the most impressive is the long, curved luge run.

Our tour took us into several of the training centers. First we went into the men's gymnastics building where mats, rings, and pummel horses were ready for use; volleyball is located on the other side of that gym. Across the lawn the shooting range was set up for different distances and different types of guns. Another gym houses work-out areas for weight lifting, strength conditioning, wrestling, and women's gymnastics. Nearby the aquatic center provides lanes for both lap swimming and synchronized swimming with timers and video footage to aid the swimmers in perfecting their strokes. Lastly we were shown the Athlete Center which serves as both a dorm and dining room for resident athletes, their home away from home.

Back in the Visitor Center, a Hall of Fame honors athletes who have accomplished unusual fetes. For example at its entrance is a "track" twenty-nine feet, two and one half inches long which is the Olympic record for the long jump set by Bob Beamon in the 1968 Olympic Games. It is such a long distance that it doesn't seem humanly possible. Our tour gave us a greater appreciation for the dedication and accomplishments of our Olympic athletes.

World Figure Skating Museum: As you would assume, this museum houses memorabilia throughout the history of figure skating from the 1880's to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Costumes, skates, boots, posters, pins, programs, photos, trophies, and medals are on display. One video shows highlights of special skating moments, and in another Scott Hamilton demonstrates how the jumps and spins differ from one another. Biographical information reveals that most women skaters are between five feet and feet feet two inches tall, and most most men are five foot nine. The skating costumes of Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, and Sarah Hughes illustrate just how tiny they are. We also read that those costumes cost between five and fifty thousand dollars! After watching figure skating over the years, it was interesting to read and learn about those men and women who have competed in the Olympics over the years.

Air Force Academy: The Visitor Center gives the history of the Air Force and the Academy. A film and displays also explain what qualities are required of incoming candidates and what roles they assume each year they are enrolled. The different academic majors and expectations are detailed. In addition to their studies, cadets must parachute jump, fly a glider, participate in either intercollegiate or intramural sports, and in the summer undergo military training. They obviously have very little spare time.

From the Visitor Center we walked to the much photographed Air Force Academy Chapel. Constructed of seventeen rows of spires, the frame is of tubular steel and one hundred tetrahedrons. These are spaced a foot apart, creating gaps that are filled with one inch colored glass. To encourage spiritual development of the cadets four chapels are available for all faiths. The Protestant Chapel fills the main floor where the affect of colored glass is most evident, and a mammoth pipe organ occupies the balcony. The smaller Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist Chapels are located in the lower level.

Next we took a driving tour of the grounds, passing various air craft and overlooking the football field. Meanwhile overhead we watched a glider doing flips, spins, and spirals, moves we've never seen a glider do before.

We really like the Colorado Springs area. It is vibrant, clean, and is nestled at the foot of Pike's Peak. The climate is pleasant most of the year, and the sky is cloudless. Snow that falls quickly melts, and we've grown to like the drier air throughout the high desert. We could easily take an extend vacation in Colorado.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Manitou, CO, CO 24E to I 25N to Cheyenne, WY

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 53: Pike's Peak, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, Garden of the Gods

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 Sunny; 32 degrees on Pike's Peak;
65 degrees in Manitou, CO

Remember all of my blathering about driving mountain roads? So what did we do today? We drove to the summit of Pike's Peak. Actually, although it twisted and turned, the road was quite wide and well-maintained. We climbed from the montane climate zone to the alpine zone. The trees disappeared at about 11,000 feet, and we soon were driving through the tundra.

At 14,115 feet Pike's Peak is the thirty-first highest of the 54 "fourteeners" in Colorado, and with clear skies, it was the perfect day to be on the mountain. We could see to the horizon in every direction. Five states are supposed to be within view, but since there were no signs, we were left guessing which was where. We could see all of Colorado Springs and many other towns as well. A beautiful alpine lake laid off to the west, and beyond it the snow-capped Rocky Mountains stretched from north to south. To make the visit memorable for everyone at the summit, an Air Force C-130 climbed out of the valley and soared just overhead. From where we were standing, on its descent it looked as if it were flying into the Visitor Center.

At the foot of Pike's Peak we stopped at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Preserved under a protective sandstone ledge are authentic Anasazi cliff dwellings. As at Mesa Verde, these were occupied between 1200 and 1300. The theory is that a prolonged drought hit the area and forced the people to move from the Four Corners region to more productive farm lands in the south. Unlike Mesa Verde, however, here we took a self-guided tour through the buildings. Numbered signs explained their use and construction as well as telling about their social structure and the crops they grew. Nearby were reproductions of a stone mesa-top building and an Anasazi baking oven. A three-story Pueblo-style building houses the Anasazi Museum and Gift Shop. The museum was well done, informative without boring us with extraneous details.

Lastly, we drove through Garden of the Gods, filled with many red sandstone formations. While we recognize their unique beauty, we didn't think they began to compare to the formations we saw at Grand Staircase-Escalante just one week ago.

So to summarize today, we did more of the same: more mountains, more cliff dwellings, and more red rocks. From here on we expect our next stops to be "new" or to at least expand on what we've already seen.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Pueblo, Co, I 25N to exit 141; CO 24W to Pike's Peak; then CO 24E to Manitou, CO

Day 52: Great Sand Dunes National Park

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 Sunny, frost on the windshield (!!!!) early, then 58 degrees

Last night I bought the new hiking boots I talked about. After I wore them in the motel room all evening and again this morning, I knew that they rubbed on my insteps. So.... back to the store. Forty-five minutes later with the seams flattened with a hammer and new insoles, the problem was solved. Thankfully, since I was not told and did not know that they were not returnable. This stop made us late arriving at Great Sand Dunes NP which was not part of our original itinerary. But with the detour to Mesa Verde yesterday, we were driving by the road leading to the park so why not?

Across the high desert at the foot of the Sangre De Christo Mountains are the 750 foot high Great Sand Dunes. These towering dunes, the tallest on the continent, seem out of place, located in the Rocky Mountains far from any sea. "The dunes were created over thousands of years by southwesterly winds blowing across the San Luis Valley. They were formed when streams of water from melting glaciers carried rocks, gravel, and silt down from the mountains. Accumulating on the valley floor, the sand was picked up by the wind and carried toward the mountains. Even today the winds are changing the face of the dunes. So-called "reversing winds" from the mountains pile the dunes back upon themselves, building them higher and higher."

After watching the film in the Visitor Center we drove out to the Dunes Parking Lot, the trailhead for the hike to the top of the dunes. We walked out on the valley floor, looked up at the ant-sized people climbing the dunes, ran the sand through our fingers, and said to each other, "Yep, that's a mighty big sand dune." Since we usually spend half of the year on the beach in North Carolina, we long ago lost our love of trudging through deep, loose sand. In fact we try to walk the beach only at low tide to avoid it. So we opted for the Montville Nature Trail which led to part of the Wellington Ditch Trail where we could see much of the thirty-six square miles of dunes without walking through a single grain of sand. It really is a magnificent sight to see sun playing on the peaks and the troughs of the dunes.

Miscellanea: Another day, another mountain pass. Today it was Wolf Creek Pass at 10,700 feet. We have been pleased that we have been able to adjust to great changes in elevation. Last week we went from 267 feet below sea level to 10,600 above in less than twenty-four hours. Not bad, huh? Now can we make it up Pike's Peak?

On US 160E today we crossed the Rio Grande River. In fact its source is located near South Fork, CO. (No Ewings in sight, though.)

The past four days, we have been watching Magpies swooping and diving along the edges of the road. They are black with white throats and bellies and white tips on their tails. When they perch, the green/teal feathers on their wings can be seen. A beautiful bird.

We stumbled upon the Old Spanish Trail this afternoon. In 1859 Mexican and Spanish pioneers from Santa Fe, NM, were the first to head west along this trail. Since it led to Los Angeles, it eventually became an important route for trade and emigration.

A blast from the past: We saw a two-screen drive-in! And we thought drive-in movies were long gone.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Durango, CO, US 160E to CO 150N and the Great Sand Dunes NP; then CO 150S to US 160E to Walsenburg; finally, I 25N to Pueblo, CO

Monday, October 18, 2010

Day 51: Mesa Verde National Park

Monday, October 18, 2010 Rain and clouds early; then clouds and sun mix, 55 degrees

About 1200 the Pueblonans moved from mesa tops to cliff alcoves. These structures, built of sandstone blocks and mortar, served as homes, public and religious spaces. The existence of these cliff dwellings was unknown until a rancher, moving his cattle into the valley for the winter grazing, discovered them about 1880. Now over 600 of these dwellings are protected within the park.

Today we were toured two of them: Cliff Palace, the largest, and Spruce Tree House, the best preserved. To get to Cliff Palace we walked down a steep, narrow set of stairs to the alcove level and then used five ladders to ascend 100 feet back to the top. Spruce Tree House was reached by walking a steep paved trail.

We walked across the plazas to gaze into some of the houses which were usually 7' by 12'. Kivas, a ceremonial chamber, were built beneath the plaza floor, and walls, reaching to the top of the alcove, decreased in height as they progress toward the rear. The courses of blocks are amazingly smooth and straight and constructed so well that they remain true even today.

All that is known about the Puebloans is deduced from the artifacts that have been recovered from within the cliff dwellings and from their trash piles. The men were about 5' 4" tall and lived to be 40 years old while the women were about 5' tall and lived to be 25 years old. Their diet consisted of corn, beans, and squash. They were skilled basket weavers and potters, and they traded with other tribes as far away as Mexico and the Pacific coast. By 1300 they abandoned their cliff homes, but no one knows why.

We also drove to the numerous overlooks where we could see more of their buildings including towers, reservoirs, and villages. These are some of the oldest man-made structures in the U.S. Even though we were here just three years ago, we enjoyed visiting the park again.

We saw one more type of tourist today: the "run and gun." One person runs from the car to snap a picture while the other guns the engine to make a get-away to the next spot.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Durango, CO, US 550S to US 160W; then US 160E to US 550N back to Durango

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day 50: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Sunday, October 17, 2010 Sunny and 65 degrees----mostly

This morning we took the East Portal Road to the banks of the Gunnison River. It was a five mile drive with up to 16% grade and hairpin turns, but as mountain roads go, it was a broad avenue. (I wasn't even white-knuckled!) The sun was just reaching the bottom of the canyon, lighting up the canyon walls. We could finally see their spectacular colors. Two dams are located at the end of the road. Not only do they generate electricity and divert water to the Uncompahgre Valley, but they have tamed the river, slowing the erosion along its banks. We took a short hike along the river and marveled at the steepness and the ruggedness of the canyon walls. It just reinforced the marvel of the construction of the diversion tunnel which is still providing water to the surrounding area.

Back up on top, we drove to the end of the rim road and then worked our way back, stopping at the pull-outs we missed yesterday. The light was much better for seeing colors and the fins. We peered down at the river, and the rapids far below looked stationary instead of as turbulent as they really are.

Today we decided to take another "detour." Instead of continuing east, we turned south toward Durango and Mesa Verde NP. But there were two things we failed to thoroughly research before we headed out. First we wanted to see the section of the park we missed three years ago. Doing some reading on the way, we discovered that section of the park closes after Labor Day. Obviously, we're going to miss it again. Secondly, we have to learn not to assume what is on the map is accurate. I'll explain.

We left Montrose, CO, which is at 5,763' in elevation and headed south. We noticed, however, that we were steadily climbing. We were enjoying the fall colors, light greens, rusts, and golds contrasting with the evergreens, when we came to the beautiful, little town of Ouray (you-ray). We wound around and up above the town, admiring how nice it looked nestled among the mountains. That's when we found out that we were headed for Red Mountain Pass at 11,075'. We spent the better part of the next hour driving 25 mph around the continuous, serpentine turns. It was a beautiful drive with snow-dusted mountains above, fall colors and numerous abandoned mines to the side, and steep gullies and flowing streams below; however, the reality of the road was very different from what was depicted on the map. When we reached the sensible elevation of 8,800' we were finally able to make brief forays into the 50 mph range. Now on this trip we have purposely made trips into numerous mountains, but this unplanned trip took us to the highest elevation of all. But by now we should have learned to expect the unexpected in the west.

AN OBSERVATION: There are different types of tourists. There are the "I came, I saw, I went" bunch. They breeze through, barely glancing out the car window. Then there is the "aim and shoot" group. They wheel into the parks, aim their cameras out the car windows and shoot before moving on. Then there are the wanderers. They are out and about in the parks, but they don't seem to know where they are or what they're doing. And, then there are those who seem to drink in everything they see and enjoy doing what they can. These are the people we have enjoyed meeting and talking to. We've picked up great travel tips on how to make the most of our time and money. We're already giving some of them a try on this trip.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Black Canyon NP, US 25W to US 550S to Durango, CO

Day 49: Grand Junction, CO; Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Saturday, October 16, 2010 Sunny and 72 degrees

Finding a post office and restocking at Walmart (not so easy to do in the west) were at the top of our agenda this morning. Afterward we made short stops at Ross and Sports Warehouse. I think that my ankle problems may be caused by the hard soles on my hiking boots not gripping as they should, so now I'm trying to find out what might be best option for me.

Then we drove into Grand Junction. We've been looking forward to returning here since our first visit three+ years ago. This time it was obvious that the economy hasn't been kind. Numerous store fronts are now empty. The construction of a Marriott across from the Convention Center is the only positive we could see. However, this still is a very pedestrian friendly place: brick paver sidewalks, mature trees, and major traffic diverted to I 70 Business and US 50. What makes it fun is all of the sculptures found along Main Street: a bison made of car bumpers; a woman riding a bike; a frog prince; children playing in a fountain; a boy riding on his father's shoulder's; a huge dragonfly with mobile wings, intertwined railroad axles and wheels to name just a few. I didn't mention the abstract scupltures because I don't "get" them.

For lunch we went back to Dolce Vita for a delicious and huge Italian dish of pasta, sausage, and great variety of fresh vegetables. Of course, we had to have dessert, too. Yum. After all of that we didn't need supper tonight!

When we drove into Black Canyon this afternoon, we gasped. We turned a corner, and suddenly the whole earth fell away into an enormous wild, raw, rugged chasm with nearly vertical walls. "The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has the greatest combination of depth, steepness, and narrowness of any canyon in North America." It ranges from 1,730 to 2,700 feet in depth , drops an average of 95 feet per mile, and is only 40 feet wide at its narrowest point. The canyon was formed by water chiseling and shaping the metamorphic (schist and gneiss) and igneous (granite) rocks. The freeze-thaw process contributes to the formation of the columns, spires, and fins found mostly on the south walls. In fact the north side of the canyon is steeper than the south because sunlight, hitting its south-facing walls, causes moisture to evaporate, slowing the freeze-thaw cycle.

The film at the Visitor Center related not only the formation of the canyon, but mans attempt to explore it. In 1853 John Gunnison with a survey team entered the canyon to find the best location for a railroad. This attempt failed, and it was not until 1882 that a survey was completed, and then Italian and Irish immigrants, using picks, shovels, and hammers, were able to construct a railroad part way through the canyon. Finally, in the early 1900's, Fellows and Torrence were the first to explore the entire length of the canyon. By jumping into the rapids and "going with the flow," they discovered the best place to construct a tunnel that diverted water from the canyon to the nearby valley floor to make it arable.

We drove the seven mile road through the park, stopping at many of the pull-outs. At first glance the canyon walls look black, but as the sun shines on them up pinks, tans, and various mineral deposits light up. Even from our high vantage point, the roar of the Gunnison River echoes up the steep canyon walls.

From Chasm Point we looked down at the banks of the river and saw 7-8 kayakers struggling to portage an area where the river disappears beneath huge boulders. The difficulty of the terrain was obvious as they slowly made their way up the bank and along the base of the canyon. The sun was low, casting dark shadows below, and those of us watching from above wondered how and when they would make it around the boulders and how and where they would to spend the night.

Tomorrow we plan to return to the park to hike what few trail there are. The most interesting one may be beyond our capabilities. We'll be checking with the rangers to find out.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Fruita, CO, I 70E to Grand Junction, CO; then US 50E to Montrose, CO, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison


Friday, October 15, 2010

Day 48: Arches National Park

Friday, October 15, 2010 Sunny and 77 degrees!!!!

"Arches National Park contains a lot or rocks. The area is a virtual layer cake of rock miles thick, a celebration of sandstones, mudstones, shales, salts, and limestones all stacked one upon another." If you've been following our blog, you know that it means there are lots of different sizes, shapes, and colors of rocks here as there have been through out our entire trip. But the arch is the formation found mostly in this park, and we spent the entire day hiking to some of them.

We drove to the furthest end of the park to hike to Landscape Arch. At 306 feet, it is the longest and thinnest of all the arches, just a ribbon of rock stretching across the side of the canyon. We started up the steep, rocky part of the same trail, but decided against it. Instead we turned back to see Pine Arch, which has a tree growing under it, and Tunnel Arches. Not too hard to figure that one out. As we were returning to the trailhead, we saw five mule deer, grazing nonchalantly while many hikers snapped their pictures.

At this point I should mention that Utah schools had this week off for Fall Break. The park was teeming with families and children of all ages---tiny babies to teenagers. We had to avoid being run down by kids that were racing up the trails. Thankfully, this is the first time on this trip that we've had to deal with hordes of kids running amok.

At Skyline Arch we met a young couple from England. They quit their jobs, flew to the US in July, and rented a van in New Jersey. They have been touring the country from east to west ever since. After today they are headed south, then east, planning to return home in time for Christmas. From then on we saw them at every stop we made. We enjoyed hearing how they were making use of their time and their van, were doing their meals, and their experiences in the US. That has been a bonus on this trip, all of the interesting people we've met from here and aboard.

As we continued to make our way back toward the park entrance, we stopped at Fiery Furnace and Salt Valley Overlooks, and Delicate Arch which is featured on the Utah license plates. Because of its unusual shape, it is also called Old Ladies Bloomers or Cowboy Chaps. At that same trailhead we walked to Wolfe Ranch, home to a Civil War veteran who moved here from Ohio in 1898. He and his son lived in a cabin that was no more than a small lean-to. When his daughter and her family moved in in 1907, they built a 14'x18' cabin. I can't imagine how they all lived in such tight, rustic quarters for three years.

When we started up the trail to North and South Window Arches, I turned my ankle again. So....the swelling is back, but I still have only mild discomfort. We gave up that hike and walked---gingerly on my part---to Double Arch. The description is lacking because the shape is more complex than that, more like two adjacent arches with a third arch overhead. This is our favorite of all we have seen.

By now the afternoon was slipping away, so we drove to the Visitor Center, passing by Balanced Rock, the Three Gossips, Courthouse Towers, The Organ, and Tower of Babel. We watched a fifteen minute film about Arches and neighboring Canyonlands National Parks before heading to Colorado. While it was a pleasant day, I now wish that we had gone back to Mesa Verde NP instead since part of that park was closed when we were there three years ago.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Moab, UT 191N to Arches NP, then UT 191N to I 70E to Fruita, CO

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day 47: Capitol Reef National Park

Thursday, October 14, 2010 Sunny and 38 early, then sunny and 68

Meteorologic note: The Colorado Plateau has the purest, clearest air in the Lower 48.

It took us an hour and a half to go six miles this morning because we stopped to view rock formations and walk out to overlooks on our way to the Visitor Center. Twin Rocks are two mushroom-shaped boulders, each perched on its own pedestal. Nearby was Chimney Rock which is just what it says, standing near a cliff. Just before the V.C. is The Castle. We called it that when we first saw it so it must be aptly named.

Along the way we also walked two trails. Goosenecks Trail overlooks the Sulphur Creek Canyon where the river twists and meanders upon itself 800 feet below. Trapped between the resistant rock of the steep canyon walls, it creates loops that look like goosenecks. Then we headed on to Sunset Point Trail. This offers panoramic views of cliffs and domes to the east. And that was the problem. We were there at 9:00, and the sun was so low that we had trouble seeing anything. We had to look over our shoulders at the cliffs behind us to get an idea of what we were missing.

At the V.C. we viewed a film and picked up a Self-Guided Driving Tour brochure and a trail map. We were fortunate to be able to take the driving tour. Two roads were reopened today after being cleared of sandstone mud which had washed across them during a recent flash flood.

Several of the stops on the tour discussed the geology of Capitol Reef. The various formations are created by differential erosion, meaning rocks erode at different rates. One feature unique to this park is Cassidy Arch, perched high on a cliff in Grand Wash. It is named for Butch Cassidy who is said to have used this wash to hide from lawmen. Nearby is Oyler Mine. In the early 1900's uranium was mined here for medicinal purposes. Later it was used for atomic energy.

What interested us most was found in Capitol Gorge. A short hike into the gorge brought us to petroglyphs scratched into the canyon walls. These were left behind by the Fremont people who farmed along the streams in Capitol Reef until about 1300 A.D. Some were pictures of people wearing headdresses; others were of a sun and a bighorn sheep. It's amazing that they are unscathed after all of these centuries.

A little further down the gorge we came to Pioneer Register. About 1870 pioneers moved rocks and debris from the gorge bed so they could drive their wagons through the canyon. To record their presence in the area, they carved their names high on the sides of the canyon walls. These names date from as early as 1871. These remarkable people overcame extremely difficult circumstances to fulfill their dreams so it seems fitting that their names should be memorialized here. Looking up at the tall, smooth walls of rocks, we could experience a little of what they must have seen and felt.

The Tanks was the last destination in Capitol Gorge. These are pocket-like formations that collect and hold gallons of rain which provide water for birds and a place for tadpoles and insects to hatch.
We hiked about 2/3 of the way when we decided that we had climbed, clawed, and clung to too many slippery, rocky surfaces so we left the trail to more agile folks.

Leaving the park along UT 24, we encountered more unique rock formations such as silos, grain elevators, temples, bugs climbing rock walls, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Acropolis to name a few. This drive reminded us of Monument Valley since some of these features were dropped randomly in the wide, open spaces of the high desert.

We also decided to name UT 24 Recreation Alley. Heading south were numerous RV's, camping trailers, ATV's, boats, and watercraft. On our last trip we couldn't figure out what boats were doing in the middle of the desert. This time we knew that they are headed to Lake Powell located behind Glen Canyon Dam. Nonetheless we still find it amazing that people purchase a boat when it has to be trailered so far to be used. A case of "to each his own."

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Torrey, UT, UT 24N to I 70E to UT 191S to Moab, UT

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day 46: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 Sunny and 62 degrees

Our plan to go to Capitol Reef NP today took a beautiful detour. First we stopped at the Petrified State Park just outside of Escalante (ess-kuh-lon-tay). We climbed the one-mile loop trail up 200 feet to the top of a mesa. Here "groundwater permeated buried trees, and because they were in an oxygen-deprived environment, the trees did not rot. Instead a silica solution replaced organic material in the tree, leaving the cell structure complete. The beautiful and varied colors are caused by the presence of other minerals during the petrifying process, producing oranges, reds, yellow, blues, blacks, and purples" in what had been the bark. It is quite a sight to see the colored bark turned to stone.

The tourist brochure for the Grand Staircase-Escalante NM reads: The GS-E NM extends over 1.9 million acres of sandstone canyons, plateaus, cliffs, and unique rock formations...that extends north from the Colorado River at the Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon." This is a very inadequate description of what we saw as we drove UT 12N from Tropic to Torrey. We experienced sensory overload.

This is an expansive area of sandstone canyons, mesas, deep chasms, and narrow gullies. The salmon, cream, and tan colors swirl, band, and stripe the rocks that fill Box-Death Hollow Wilderness. Grooves and striations in some places are so regular that they appear to be machine-made. Looking from high above at the rugged, confounding scene, it is obvious why this was the last area in the Lower 48 to be mapped.

The shapes of the rocks are so varied that what follows is a lengthy list of what they look like:

spires; beehives; pillars; domes; ledges; caves; holes-in-the-wall; alcoves; niches; slot canyons; cathedrals; smoke stacks; timpani drums; chess pieces; stacks of tiles; huge urns; coils of rope; a ship's stern;
large and small rock crepes arranged in tilting stacks; red skull caps; the Sphinx; a walled city perched atop a long narrow mesa; the nose, fuselage, and wings of the space shuttle blasting into space from the canyon floor; a submarine's conning tower perched on a long ridge; and a fort reminiscent of San Cristobol in Old San Juan.

As if that were not enough, we saw even more rock formations as we drove along Burr Trail which wound through a narrow canyon. This time we were among the formations looking up at them instead of looking down on them from above.

Here there were: a giant pencil attached to a canyon wall; concert shells of various sizes; canyon walls decorated with sand paintings; red rocks on white rocks and white rocks on red rocks; canyon walls imprinted with paw prints; rock faces with holes resembling clay strawberry plant pots. Only our imaginations limited what shapes we saw.

Resuming our trip north we encountered a mule deer grazing near the road, and since this is an open range, cattle meandered along the edge of the road. Meanwhile the wind was blowing the yellow and orange leaves on the quaking aspen trees. So our detour turned out to be a wonderful experience.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Tropic, UT 12N to Torrey

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 45: Bryce Canyon NP

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 Sunny and 65 degrees

Our first stop of the day was at Water Canyon. Between 1890 and 1892 enterprising pioneers dug a ditch from neighboring rivers to Water Canyon. This ditch supplied water to the drought-stricken valley near Tropic. It also created a waterfall that now flows continually through the canyon. Mossy Cave is located along the trail, too. The sun was shining on the water and the canyon walls, and it made for a beautiful walk.

Next we were on our way to Bryce Canyon when we saw our first pronghorns. A doe and fawn, crossing a busy highway, were trapped by fences running along both sides of the road. They are beautiful animals and are finally making a comeback in the high desert.

Bryce is a one-of-a-kind park. There is no other place like it on earth. Since it was formed by weathering, specifically freeze-thaw cycles and not by flowing water, it is not a canyon but an amphitheater. Thin ridges of rock called fins are broken down until "windows" are formed in the rock. When the tops of the window become too thin, they collapse and form pinnacles. These pinnacles continue to weather under a resistant dolomite cap and create hoodoos. (A hoodoo is a pinnacle or other odd shaped rock left standing by the forces of erosion.) These hoodoos are banded and colored by oxidized minerals: red, pinks, and oranges from iron, purple from manganese while the whites are pure limestone. Today the afternoon sun was shining on the pinnacles and hoodoos in such a way that they appeared to be glowing, as if they were lighted from inside.

Since this was our second visit to Bryce Canyon, we knew what areas we wanted to see again. Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise Points were at the top of the list. Each point looks down on the same vista but from different perspectives, and each vista reveals more details in the shapes and colors in the rocks.

As we gazed out over the amphitheater, the various rock formations began to take on specific shapes. A whole medieval city appeared. Massive walls surrounded the castles with manned turrets guarding those castles. Meanwhile inside the walls the spires of cathedrals soared skyward. The more we looked the more details we were able to imagine. We enjoyed this visit more than the last because we weren't rushing to see the whole park, but instead took time just to sit and absorb the beauty on display before us.

TODAY'S ROUTE: UT 12E to Bryce Canyon and on to Tropic, UT

Day 44: Great Basin NP

Monday, October 11, 2010 Periods of sun and clouds, 68 on the high desert and 45 in the mountains. Mountain time zone.

"North America's Great Basin includes, Nevada, Utah, and parts of California, Oregon, and Idaho. It got its name because the rainwater that falls here stays here. It has no outlet to the sea." The park consists of two main areas. The first is 13,063 foot Wheeler Peak, and the other is Lehman Caves, home to stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations.

After we picked up information at the V.C. we decided to take the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive up to the 10,400 foot level. Along the road are views of the wide, open high desert to the mountains to the north and east. Coming around one of the many turns on the road, we found ourselves face-to-face with Wheeler Peak dressed in a new coating of snow. It really was a stunning sight.

When we finally reached the parking area, we took the Bristlecone Trail which led to a grove of bristlecone pines. These pines cope with the extreme conditions, the cold and strong winds, found at this high altitude. These are the longest lived trees on earth with some up to 3,000 years old. Their dense, disease and insect resistant wood accounts for their longevity. Under normal conditions this would have been any easy trail, but the recent snow had turned to ice after being trodden on by previous hikers. We turned back before reaching the interpretive part of the trail. On our return we took a short side trail to Teresa Lake. Since it is fall, the lake level was low as it is fed by snow melt. Once we retraced our steps, we headed back down the mountain, but we were too late to take the last cave tour.

Back at the Visitor Center we learned many interesting facts about the Great Basin: it is possible to see up 106 miles across the basin because of the pure air quality; night skies here are very clear also because of the pure air and lack of light pollution; Nevada has over 300 mountain ranges, the most of any state; this is the only cold desert in the US. Since we knew so little about the Great Basin before our visit, we enjoyed seeing and learning about this part of the US.

Miscellanea: 1.) Many of the rural areas of Nevada are very poor. Their buildings and homes are in disrepair or abandoned. 2.) Because of the great distances between towns (75-163 miles), people here must have to plan ahead to have the food and fuel they need. Also, doctor and dentist appointments must be a challenge. We also wondered where the children go to school. 4. Glancing across the wide expanses we quickly figured out that where there is a tree, there is water, and where there is water, there is a house. Following this pattern, what few homes there are on the high desert are either close together or far apart. 5.) Senator Harry Reid has many detractors. One poster read, "Will Rogers never met Harry Reid." 6.) After visiting so many national parks, we will have to relearn the art of toilet flushing.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Ely, NV, US 50E to NV 487S to Baker, NV, into Great Basin NP. Then NV 487S to UT 21S to I 15S to UT 20E to US 89S in Panguitch, UT

Monday, October 11, 2010

Day 43: Death Valley III

Sunday, October 10, 2010 Sunny and 85 degrees

Several people told us to make sure we saw Scotty's Castle when we came to Death Valley, and now we know why. It's the story and the house, both of which are fascinating. Walter "Scotty" Scott was a cowboy who wanted to be a millionaire and sold shares of his fictitious gold mine to gullible investors. Albert Johnson was an erstwhile millionaire- businessman who wanted to be a cowboy and was conned by Scotty. When Albert went to Death Valley to check on his investment, a botched, staged robbery revealed Scotty's duplicity. Although Albert was angry, he realized that he had more fun when he had been with Scotty than at any other time in his life and so began a lifelong friendship between the two men.

Eventually Albert and his wife Bessie built Death Valley Ranch in the desert. The Johnsons were very religious and didn't want their friends to know how much money they had spent on their extravagant vacation home. When a newspaper reporter interviewed Scotty who was now the caretaker, he called it Scotty's Castle, and the Johnsons allowed the name to stick to protect their privacy.

Built in a Mexican style it is exquisite in its details. The tiles, the fireplaces, and the hand-hewn details in all of the wood beams, trim, doors, etc., are unique and vary from room to room. It had its own electrical and water systems, and a surprisingly modern kitchen and seven bathrooms.

On the grounds are a swimming pool, unfinished because of a land dispute with the government, a chime tower, a guest hacienda, garage, bunkhouse, cookhouse, and stables. The spring that provides water to the castle runs in a watercourse through the center of the complex. It truly must be seen to be appreciated. We were so fascinated that we wandered about after our tour, taking it all in.

Our final stop in the Death Valley NP was at Ubehebe Crater. More than 300 years ago a massive volvanic explosion released cinder and dust up to 600 feet deep over the area. But it was the people we met at there that we found more fascinating than the crater itself. First we noticed two young men (Ubekistanis we found out later) who had a flat tire and a ruined spare tire. An English couple (Penny and Bill Howe) in an old, garishly decorated Mercedes conversion van, ala 60's hippie-type, were helping them. Phil joined in, and with the tools Bill had, they were able to repair the flat.

What's so interesting about all that? Well, Bill and Penny are on a three year trip around the world. They had their van shipped from Liverpool to Baltimore. They drove cross-country and had been to the North Slope of Alaska prior to working their way to Death Valley. They plan to continue through Mexico to South America and then have the van shipped to Australia as they continue on their way. But this is not their first trip around the world. They have already done it on bicycles!!!!!!! On the van's top, sides, and fenders, etc., are the names of all the countries they have been to: Russia, Hungary, Germany, Lithuania, etc., plus numerous states. They are 76 and 70 and have a small "cottage and garden" at home. They call themselves "The Ageing Overlanders" and have a website we intend to follow. Now they are real role models for those who want to live their dream of travel.

Eventually we headed out of the park to Tonopah and on to Ely (ee-lee), NV. It is 163 miles between these two towns and there are NO services along the way. As we drove east, we could see miles in every direction passing through one mountain pass after another into one valley after another. Wild horses and cattle graze on the open range and military installations, including a missile test range, are also along US 6. The mountains are colorful, lava is strewn about, and long, straight highways stretch across wide, desolate valleys. Yuccas and sagebrush were the only plants on the high desert until we reached the scrubby trees of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. We were enthralled by the scenery the entire three and a half hours of the trip.

Tomorrow we plan to visit Great Basin NP before we cross into Utah.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Beatty, NV: NV 374W to and through the park to Scotty's Castle and Ubehebe Crater, then NV 267E to US 95N to US 6E to Ely, NV

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Day 42: Death Valley II

Saturday, October 9, 2010 Sunny all day; 55 degrees in the morning to 99 degrees in the afternoon

We packed a lot into our second day in Death Valley, and we saw many beautiful and unusual sights.

Badwater Salt Flats: The Badwater Basin covers a large area between the foothills of the Panamint and Amargosa Mountains. At 282 feet below sea level, this area is the lowest in the US. A sign on the side of the mountain indicates where sea level is in relationship to the salt flats. This area is also hottest spot in the US and the wettest in Death Valley. Through repeated evaporation of salts from mountain drain-offs and spring-fed ground water, the soil here is pure white. Walking on the path, the salt crunches, and the ground gives beneath your feet.

Natural Bridge: We hiked to Natural Bridge formed by erosion from flash floods as they roared through the narrow canyon.

Devil's Golf Course: This is a "forbidding landscape created by salt and erosion on a lake bed that dried up about 2,000 years ago. The result are spikes, pits, craters, and jagged edges stained brown. In between are ragged, salty white circles."

Artist Drive: Over the years mineral deposits have created brilliant swaths of color across the low, rocky hills. The oranges, reds, blues, pink, and green patches look like confectioner's sugar sprinkled on the surfaces of the rocks. Gorgeous. And again, for our Star Wars family members, this area served as a location for the original Star Wars movie.

Furnace Creek Visitor Center: The information here discussed the geological formation of the features in Death Valley and the indigenous plants and animals which live in this harsh environment. Some panels told about the many different peoples who have inhabited this area for historically brief periods of time, and how they moved on when they could no longer get sustenance from the land. Other displays told of the Gold Rush "49ers" who passed through the valley on their way to California and the difficulties they faced trying to survive the transit. Lastly, the discovery and mining of borax is described. In theater the film gave an excellent overview of Death Valley.

Harmony Borax Works: From 1883-1888 more than 20 million pounds of "white gold," borax, was mined, concentrated, and shipped. Interpretive signs led past the ruins of the borax refinery and some of the outlying buildings. The famous 20-mule teams hauled huge wagons loaded with 36 tons of borax across the desert to Mojave. Some of those wagons were on display at this site.

Zabriskie Point: "Wildly eroded and vibrantly colored, this area is the Badlands of the Death Valley..... The clay, sandstone, and siltstone formations, once level, have been eroded into the chaotic yet strangely beautiful landscape we see today."

Dante's View: This 5,475 foot point looks out over the floor of Death Valley to the Panamint Mountains in the west. Badwater Salt Flats, Artist Palette, and Furnace Creek all can be seen from here. It is the best place to view the expanse, diversity, and beauty of Death Valley.

Rhyolite: Fittingly, we arrived at this ghost town just as the sun was setting. The ruins of this mining town, its banks, school, mercantile, railway station, miners' union hall---were eerie in the darkening shadows. Also at the entrance to the town were various "strange" art works: The Last Supper portrayed by fiberglass ghost-shaped figures, a large mosaic sofa, a circular rock maze, wooden free forms of a miner and a bird, and a house made out of bottles.

Incidentals: Phil was in mechanic mode this afternoon at Dante's View. There is a 15% grade leading to the top, and two cars rented by foreign tourists reacted badly to the climb. Phil helped the Dutch couples figure out that their car just needed to cool down, and he helped the Italian couple get their vapor-locked vehicle running again. Since this area is beyond cell phone range and mechanics are outside of the park, all of them could have been stranded indefinitely.

We saw our first animals in Death Valley, a tarantula and two tiny squirrels, no more than two inches from nose to rump.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Beatty (Bay-tee), NV, NV 374W to CA 190S to Badwater and Dante's View and back to Beatty


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day 41: Death Valley NP

Friday, October 8, 2010 Sunny and 55 degrees in the mountains in the morning; sunny and 90 degrees in the valley in the afternoon.

Death Valley would take a whole dictionary of words to describe, and forbidding and foreboding might be the first two, but it is fascinating as well. Below are some nouns and adjectives to describe some of what we saw today.

Mountains: round, peaked, ridged, banded in shades of rust, red, gray, black, yellow, and orange; some with stegasaurus-like ridges
Mesas: some high, some low, rough sides, smooth tops
Valleys: wide, open, flat; littered with moon-like rocks, salt flats, volcanic cinder cones, or lava fields
Canyons: wide and open, box, steep sides, varied colors

The physical features of the park change with surprising rapidity, and only a geologist could explain why. We were driving into the mountains along a wide open ledge---and I was experiencing acrophobia---and suddenly we were in a box canyon barely wide enough for two cars--so now I was claustrophobic. Good thing I wasn't driving.

Below are the six different areas we visited today.

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns: At the end of a rough gravel road were ten beehive shaped charcoal kilns constructed of stones mortared together. Each kiln held four cords of wood which burned for 6-8 days and then cooled for 5. The charcoal was used at the Madock Mine Smelter for processing silver and lead.

Eureka Mine: We hiked up a hill to look into the adit of a gold mine. All these years later, the shafts, cashier mill (which pulverized the ore), and some of the equipment set there as if the miners abandoned it a decade ago. Below the mine is a tiny town where the miners lived.

Aguereberry Point: At an altitude of 6,433 feet, we had expansive views of Death Valley. Mountains rise in all directions---even the Sierra Nevadas far to the west---and in between are valley areas, flat barren, and some layered with salt. The vastness of the park is obvious from there.

Mosaic Canyon: An amazing, narrow canyon. The eastern wall is marble, striped in colors of yellow, cream, gray, and tan. Beautiful. I'd like to take some home. But the western wall is a mosaic of rock fragments cemented together creating a massive free-form mural inlaid with rocks of different sizes, shapes, and colors. One canyon; two very different faces.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: While no sand is naturally occurring in this area, four different types of sand dunes have been created by the winds blowing across the valley floor. They occupy an area just east of Stovepipe Wells.

Salt Creek: We followed the boardwalk through stands of pickleweed and salt grass across the desert floor which is 267 feet below sea level. This time of the year Salt Creek is dry, but in the spring it is home to pupfish, found nowhere else on earth. They are able to live in this harsh environment even though the water in the creek becomes saltier than sea water. Not surprisingly, pupfish are on the endangered species list.

If you had our map, you would see we traveled over a large portion of the western part of the park today; however, it is so vast that we only drove through about a third of the "friendlier" areas of the park. Tomorrow we go back to check out the southeastern section.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Panamint Springs, CA 190E with side trips, and then NV 374E to Beatty, NV

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 40: Bakersfield, CA, and Turn-in-the-Road Day

Thursday, October 7. 2010 Overcast until mid-afternoon, and 66 degrees; then sunny and 74 degrees

On our drive from Visalia to Bakersfield and then to Mojave today, we saw more of the agriculture of the San Joaquin Valley. CA 99S was lined with more orchards, cotton and hay fields, and stockyards. Many of the vineyards were shrouded from one end of the row to the other with green or white plastic. We don't know if it was to discourage birds or whether it has an impact on the maturing of the table grapes. Also on the tracks along the highway rail cars were lined up, waiting to be loaded with grain. Then this afternoon driving on CA 58E, we passed trees bearing dates, almonds or pistachios. There is such an amazing variety of produce grown here.

Our purpose for stopping in Bakersfield was to visit a former colleague of Phil's from their Mobil days. Both worked in R&D and traveled to the various plants together. We met his wife, Janet, and she and I listened to the guys reminisce about their common experiences in the "good old days:" the good, the bad, and the hilarious. After an all-you-can-eat-shrimp lunch and five hours of chat, we were back on the road. For the first time on this trip we are deliberately headed north and east. It's sad since it means that we're turning in the direction of home, and we're having such a great time, we're not ready for it to end.

Tonight we are in Panamint Springs, CA, on the western edge of Death Valley. There wasn't much along the drive here on CA 190. We passed a couple of small towns off of the highway, but other than that it is wide open spaces: desert, mountains, Joshua Trees, and scrub brush. But the sunset over the Sierra Nevadas to the west was beautiful.

The motel we are staying in tonight has no phone and no TV. Neither service is available here, but the location is very special. When we came to our room, we looked overhead. The sky is so clear, and there are so few lights around that we can see every star in the sky. The Milky Way looks like a long cloud stretched across the sky, and the constellations are everywhere you look. Ursa Major is so low on the horizon that it is sitting on the mountain crest. If we had chaises, we would probably fall asleep out there, gazing up at the night sky.

We are reading about what there is to see and do in Death Valley, and if the weather cooperates, there is a lot. There are four sections to the park, some miles from the others. I'm doubting that we can do it justice in one day. We'll know by tomorrow night.

P.S. There are straight roads in the west! We found them today, and it was a wonderful change: the first time since we left Glacier NP, however long ago that was.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Visalia (VI-sail-yuh) CA 198W to CA 99S to Bakersfield; then CA 58E to CA 14N to US 395N to CA 190E to Panamint Springs (not shown on our map)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 39: Kings Canyon and Sequoia NPs

Wednesday, October 6,2010 Filtered sunshine and 43 degrees in the morning; rain, thunder, hail, and wet snow in the afternoon and 35 degrees

We really enjoyed our drive from Fresno to the parks this morning. The route the GPS was sending us on didn't make sense to us, but what we saw on the way was a real bonus. We drove past miles of vineyards, orange groves, and fruit orchards. And miles is not an exaggeration. We also saw strawberry fields and raisins drying in the sun. Farm stands were open, and for a Northerner it was strange to see "summer" fruits next to "fall" vegetables and pumpkins. I think almost every fruit imaginable was available. How wonderful that must be! But we've yet to find an apple in the west we really enjoy. Honeycrisp comes close, but nothing compares to NY's Cortlands that crunch and drip juice down your chin when bitten into.

We drove into the Grant Grove VC when we arrived in Kings Canyon NP. We thought our string of bad weather had come to an end when we were able to walk the General Grant Tree Trail in filtered sunlight. This tree is a magnificent specimen of the Giant Sequoia. At 267 feet tall and 108 feet in circumference, it is one of the world largest trees and may be over 2,000 years old. It also has been designated "The Nation's Christmas Tree."

Sequoias not only are impressive in size, but I think they are one of the most beautiful trees I've ever seen. Their trunks extend many feet toward the sky before any branches can be seen, and it's almost impossible to see their crowns. The bark is smooth with large ribs, and it is a wonderful shade of red that makes them easy to identify. With all the parks we've been in and all the different types of trees we've seen on this trip, I thought I'd seen just about enough trees. But these trees are so magnificent that I could stand gazing at them for a long time.

Next we went in search of the Big Stump Trail, an area that had been logged before the park was established. All day we were very unhappy with the lack of signs in the park. There was nothing to tell us where this trail was, and we had to get directions from a ranger twice before we found it. That was when the rain and hail began. We decided stumps weren't all that exciting and took a break for lunch.

Trying to outsmart the weather, we headed into the adjacent Sequoia NP. We stopped at the the park's largest Visitor Center, Lodgepole. Again we were disappointed with the paucity of displays and information, so we left for the Giant Forest, a large grove of Sequoias. This is the home of the General Sherman Tree "considered the largest tree on the planet although it is neither the tallest or the widest. At about 2,100 years of age it is still growing. It's top is dead, but every year it adds enough new wood to make another 60 foot tree." This tree is also part of the Congress Trail, containing trees named for presidents and the House and the Senate.

Because there are so many huge trees around, it's hard to view this tree and say "Yes, this tree is the largest." It is impressive, but by this time I was so in awe of them all that I found it hard to find this one exceptional. We walked down the steep trail to The Gen. Sherman Tree and started around the Congress Trail when we decided we were cold enough and headed back to the car. I neglected to mention that when we drove into this parking area, a black bear cub was nosing around looking for something to pilfer, and a short way down the trail another was trying to hide behind a fallen log. Of course, people were going crazy taking pictures of them, but all I could think of was "where is their mother?"

To thaw out, we thought we would go to the Giant Forest Museum and then head out on the Big Tree Trail. But by the time we got there it had closed for the day, so we gave up and head out of the park. Easier said than done. As with every other park, road construction is underway. Fortunately we caught the right side of the "on the hour" one way road and only waited a few minutes. But the line of traffic behind the pilot car was extremely long, and it was a very slow trip down the mountain to the main road.

Another interesting thing today was the number of buses in the park, at least twelve. We can attest to the fact that the euro is doing well against the dollar. Throughout this whole trip we've been amazed at the number of people who come as far as they do to tour our national parks. We've talked to Brits, Australians, and Germans who are spending weeks here, traveling from park to park as well as city to city. A few times we felt that we were the foreigners when we were hearing everything but English.

From the park's website: REDWOODS OR SEQUOIAS: Redwoods thrive along the Northern California coast in the moist, humid climate, and the nearly daily fog provides them with the conditions they need to grow. Coastal Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, up to 378 feet tall, living up to 2,000 years, and reproduce by seed or sprout.

Sequoias grow on the western slope of the California Sierra Nevada Mountains between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation. They need mild year round temperatures and dry heat for their cones to open and release seeds. Giant Sequoias are the largest trees in the world with bases up to 40 feet in diameter, living up to 3,200 years, and reproduce only by seed.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Fresno, CA 99S to CA 180E into and through the parks, then CA 198S to Visalia, CA

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day 38: Yosemite NP II

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 Fog, rain, 50 degrees in Yosemite Valley, 40 degrees in Mariposa Grove

One and four tenths inches of rain fell in Yosemite Valley yesterday, but snow in the northeastern portion of park closed Tioga Pass. The rain and fog continued today in the rest of the park.

We decided that we would retrace yesterday's stops before heading around the mountain to Mariposa Grove. The play of light and fog created ever changing scenes as we drove into the park. El Capitan looked mysterious as it was concealed by fog and then reappeared again. Bridalveil Falls was visible, but only the Lower Yosemite Falls was in view, and Half Dome was completely hidden.

We also drove through Curry Village which is the setting for much of the camping in Yosemite. There are spaces for tents, campers, and RV's, but there are also permanent tents set up on platforms. Heat is available, and it sure was needed day with the low temperatures and high humidity overnight.

Finally we started up CA 41 toward Mariposa. We hadn't gone far when we came to Tunnel View, a pull-out just before the tunnel on the road to Wawona and Mariposa. This spot provides one of the park's most recognizable vistas, memorialized by photographer Ansel Adams. Looking to the right we could see Bridalveil Falls from its precipice until its spray disappeared behind the trees. Directly across the valley was El Capitan still partial hidden in fog, and Half Dome, straight ahead, was still completely obscured. We stayed at the overlook for quite awhile waiting in vain for the fog to clear.

The road to Mariposa is strictly a driving road. There are no pull-outs, and trees are close to the road, blocking any possible views. It is also under construction, but the delay was no more than ten minutes. We were losing altitude so we were hoping for clearing and higher temps. No luck.

We took a two mile hike through the Lower Mariposa Grove in steady rain. This area is home to a stand of giant sequoias, some of which are about 3,000 years old, 300 feet tall, 50 feet in circumference, and weigh an average of 2 million pounds. Tannin is responsible for the red color of the sequoias, and it also makes it resistant to rot and insect infestation.

Along the trail we saw a plant called horsetail which looks like a thin stalk of asparagus, thriving in the same moist environment as the sequoias. We made our soggy way to Grizzly Giant, the largest tree in the grove, to the Bachelor and Three Graces, and then to the California Tunnel Tree which had its center hewn out years ago to draw tourists to the park. A tram ride through the grove was available, but we had more shelter under the trees than they.

The stubborn low pressure system is hanging around through tomorrow. Looks like we'll get to enjoy more rain and fog in King's Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Mariposa, CA 140 into Yosemite Valley, then CA 41S to CA 180W to CA 99N in Fresno

From yesterday: A male black-tailed deer, sporting an impressive rack, was grazing nonchalantly in front of the Visitor Center, oblivious to all of the excitement he was causing as young and old grabbed their cameras to snap his picture.

Day 37: Yosemite National Park

Monday, October 4, 2010 Intermittent fog and rain in the morning, steady rain in the afternoon, 50 degrees

The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is 400 miles long and 80 miles wide. Yosemite occupies 1,200 square miles within that range, and of those 1,200 square miles only 1% is regularly used by the public, Yosemite Valley. The Merced River runs through this narrow valley, and steep granite walls hem it in.

The forces of nature are evident everywhere. Some granite cliffs have been broken, chiseled, gouged, and striated by erosion, and others polished smooth by the movement of glaciers. The force of moving water has thrown rocks and boulders down the hillsides and into the riverbed. Even part of the main road into the park is closed because of a rock slide, and we heard other rocks falling several times during the day.

The fog and rain that followed us into the park this morning lessened as we walked the trail to the foot of Bridalveil Falls. The water sprays over the trail and everything around it as it tumbles 620 feet, but no one could really tell on a day like this.

Soon we rounded a turn in the road, and there, staring us in the face, was El Capitan, at 3,000 feet the biggest and tallest granite monolith in the world. Although we have seen it in numerous pictures, we were surprised how its mass and grand presence reign over the valley. When we stopped at the Cathedral picnic area and walked down to the riverbed, we looked up through the trees for another view of El Capitan. Beside it were the Three Brothers, while imposing themselves, appear subservient to their neighboring captain.

In contrast to the scarred ruggedness of El Capitan are the smooth sides of Half Dome. Its name suits it since it looks like a quarter of a sphere, peering down on the valley. The descriptive panel on the bridge over the Merced River reads, "Massive granite domes form when large curved layers of rock 'exfoliate' or slab off," another way erosion changes the landscape.

Driving toward Yosemite Village we saw this impressive waterfall to our left. We were surprised when we finally recognized it as Yosemite Falls which at 2,425 feet is the highest North American waterfall. We had read and been told that because it is snow fed, it runs dry in August. But apparently the recent rains rejuvenated it so we were able to see this spectacular sight. Yosemite Falls is actually made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall, the middle cascades, and the Lower Yosemite Fall. Just before we left the park, we walked to the foot of the Lower Yosemite Fall. By itself it is beautiful, but it's amazing to realize it's just part of the spectacular whole.

We finally made it into Yosemite Village. At the Visitor Center we read about the geological formation of Yosemite NP, its indigenous plants, animals, and people, and those who campaigned to preserve this natural treasure as a national park. We were watching the film, "Spirit of Yosemite," in the theater when the thunder rolled, and the heaviest rains of the day fell. From then on we popped in and out of the shops, stores, and Ansel Adams Art Gallery between downpours.

Finally, we waded over to The Ahwahnee, the six-story concrete and stone hotel, which has hosted Queen Elizabeth, star athletes, actors, artists, and other celebrities. We wandered through the public rooms, admiring its towering ceilings, elegant light fixtures, furniture and upholstery, tall windows, and three fireplaces large enough to stand in. Every room has views through French windows out into the valley. At rates between $400 and $1,200 per night, needless to day, we didn't book a room there.

Although it rained all day, there were enough breaks in the fog to get some beautiful pictures of this park. Sunshine would have been better, of course, but at least it wasn't snow!

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Mariposa, CA 140 into Yosemite Village and back to Mariposa

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 36: Lake Tahoe, NV, to Mariposa, CA

Sunday, October 3, 2010 Steady to heavy rain until mid-afternoon, 50 degrees,then partly sunny and 78 degrees

The television weather forecast for Yosemite NP had us in a quandary this morning. We had purposely avoided that park on the weekend in order to miss the crowds, and now the forecast predicted 48 degrees with rain and snow until Thursday. We drove to South Lake Tahoe not knowing whether to head to Yosemite or wait out the weather some place else.

Rain overnight began again as we entered the Visitor Center. According to the man on duty, there isn't much to do in the area when the weather doesn't cooperate. So we began north on the lake rim tour. Lake Tahoe is 72 miles in circumference and fills a glacier created valley which is surrounded by mountains. It is 12 miles wide, 22 miles long, 1,645 feet deep, and 6,225 feet above sea level. It is the third deepest lake in the US.

South Lake Tahoe is a typical mountain lake village: motel after motel interspersed with restaurants and small shops. The added feature here are the casinos which are found in so many areas of the west.

On the way around the lake we stopped at several overlooks, but the views were partially obscured by rain and fog. Our favorite stop was Inspiration Point Vista which looks down on Emerald Bay, named for the color of the water. Located at the head of the bay is Vikingsholm Castle, handcrafted in the 1920's of local stone and wood. Its style is that of Scandinavian castles and churches and cost $250,000. The owner also built a teahouse on Fannette Island, a pointed granite rock island just off shore. It would have been fun to hike the one mile trail down to the castle, but not in rain, fog, and 50 degrees.

By the time we reached Tahoe City at the north end of the lake, the rain was heavier and the fog denser, so we decided it was pointless to continue the rim drive. We sat in the car reading California information, looking for alternate places to visit. Nothing else excited us so we decided to head to Yosemite and hope the the forecast would change.

Traveling I 80W was nerve-wracking in the heavy rain, traffic, and road spray, but just before we got off, the rain stopped. As we headed down CA 49S, the skies cleared, and the temperature rose to 82. In Carson City we were told that CA 49 was a pleasant, easy drive through small towns. Pleasant if your idea of pleasant is a route that constantly turns left then right as it wends its way through town after town after town. Then once we got past most of the towns, we were back in the mountains, twisting and turning, climbing up and crawling down. We were very relieved when we finally reached Mariposa, the entrance to Yosemite.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Carson City, NV, US 50W to CA 89N to I 80W to CA 49S to Mariposa, CA

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Day 35: Reno, Virginia City, and Carson City, NV

Saturday, October 2, 2010 Sunny and 87 degrees until rain and 63 late afternoon

The drive from Susanville, CA, to Reno, NV, was through a wide scrub brush valley with mountains on either side. There were many herds of beef cattle on the range, but it's hard to imagine what they were eating.

We drove into Reno in search of a Visitor Center. When we finally found one, it was-----closed. Since driving around in circles wasn't what we'd planned for the day, we decided to head for Virginia City. That drive was gorgeous! It had its requisite twists and turns as the road climbed out of the valley, but above and looking down, we could see for miles. The bright sunshine lit up the high-rises in Reno, which soar above the rest of the city and everything else in sight.

When we finally got to Virgina City, people were everywhere, and cars were parked along both sides of the streets. We had to drive to the south end of town to park. We walked back just in time to catch a parade for the Outhouse Races which were being held this afternoon. Each outhouse is decorated in a theme: the Golden Throne, the Party Pooper, Hasta la Pee-Pee Baby, Flapper Crapper, Run-away Bride, Breaking Wind, etc. You get the idea. Main Street was shut down for twenty minutes for each heat. The Plungerettes, dressed in blue costumes and carrying blue plungers, did a drill-style routine, and then a man dressed in a "Bat Masterson" suit fired a double barrel shotgun, and the race was off. Two outhouses, built on tricycle frames and pushed by two men, tore down Main Street while one person rode the 100 yards to the finish line. It was hysterical and fit right in with the bathtub and cardboard boat races we've seen in the past.

In between heats we walked the wooden sidewalks to see the town. Virgina City has maintained its 1870's facades. Restaurants, ice cream, candy, and clothing stores have been painted to theme. One hundred saloons are also in town including the Red Dog Saloon, Bucket of Blood Saloon, the Delta, and Silver Queen. Leather, western clothing, and gear are everywhere, too. Additionally there are museums, gold panning, trolley car tours, and train rides. Unfortunately with the crowds it was hard to do much of anything. So having been introduced to Outhouse Racing, we headed out of town.

We had climbed a mountain to get to Virginia City so now we were headed back down through Silver City. Along the way we passed numerous mines, some gold, some silver, and some tungsten. Soon we were in Carson City which lays in a valley on the other side.

Carson City is the capital of Nevada, and its downtown is gorgeous. Here, too, their public and government buildings have been impeccably maintained including the Capitol Building, the Assembly Building, and the former mint which is now a museum. We took a driving tour around the city to see historical houses of various styles built between the 1860's and the early 1900's. We also drove past the Governor's Mansion which was gaudily decorated for Halloween. We were not impressed.

Tomorrow we plan to drive around Lake Tahoe before we head to Yosemite NP.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Susanville, CA, US 395E to I 80 E to NV 341S to US 50W to Carson City, NV

MILEAGE TO DATE: 7,132 miles

Day 34: Lassen Volcanic National Park

Friday, October 1, 2010 Sunny, 78 degrees in the park

When we pulled into the Loomis Museum/Visitor Center, we found it a very busy place. Outside two buses of school kids were gathered around a ranger, and a doe and her fawn were trip-trapping across the parking lot. To make getting into the Visitor Center even more interesting, chickarees, gathering their winter stores, were dropping huge pine cones from the trees above the entrance. I almost got beaned.

Once we were safely inside, we watched a movie and perused the displays. Lassen is home to all four types of volcanoes: shield, cinder cone, composite, and plug dome. It was Lassen, the plug dome volcano, that erupted in 1914, the first time in recent history, reshaping the surrounding area. Benjamin Franklin Loomis, for whom the Visitor Center is named and an amateur photographer, was on site when Lassen erupted. Using his box camera and plates, he captured six amazing pictures which were published in newspapers across the country. Not only were his pictures a gold mine for geologists and volcanologists, but they provided the momentum that led to Lassen being named a national park.

Driving into the park, our first stop was the Devastated Area. The 1914 eruption melted glaciers, combined with rocks and pumice, and created a lahar that destroyed the forests and dropped huge boulders, rocks, and other debris in their place. It has been 96 years since that eruption and the forest has begun to recover, yet along the trail the huge boulders remain as evidence of the devastating destruction.

When we arrived at Summit Lake North, the trail head was closed, but at the South entrance we were able to walk part of the trail along the lakeshore. The surface was very still, reflecting the mountain in its calm waters. We sat on a nearby log to enjoy the peace and tranquility. Not a single sound could be heard. Even the pileated woodpeckers flew through without stopping to disturb the quiet with their drilling. Next we made a quick stop at King Creek to walk through a wooded area to a waterfall, spilling over rocks on its way out of the park.

We spent most of our time walking the trail to Bumpus Hell. This area is a smaller version of Yellowstone NP. Arriving at the site, we walked along the boardwalk to view the park's three hydrothermal features: fumeroles which are holes in the ground that emit sulphur steam, mudpots that are just that, boiling mud (looks like a pot of chili with big bubbles exploding on its surface), and boiling springs which are exactly what they say. It's an eerie setting with steam rising and hissing, mud popping, and water bubbling away. The areas surrounding them are colored with whites, yellows, and blacks, and streams of hot water run down the mountainside. The trail climbed 500 feet on the way over and then dropped 250 feet to reach the features, with rocks strewn in the path to make the hike more challenging. We were tired by the time we retraced our steps, but it was the highlight of the day.

On the way out of the park we stopped at Sulphur Works where more fumeroles and mudpots can be found and at the Kohm-Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at the main entrance. Since its information and film were redundant by now, we were soon on our way.

We shelved our plans to drive to Carson City, NV, tonight, and instead we've crashed in Susanville, CA.

TODAY'S ROUTE: from Redding, CA 44E to and through Lassen Volcanic NP; then CA 36E to Susanville, CA

TRIVIA: Bumpus Hell is named for the early settler that discovered the hydrothermal features. Leading a group of tourists out to see them, he stepped on a weak area that gave way beneath his feet. He fell into the boiling waters, receiving severe burns, and losing his leg as a result. Hence the name.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Day 33: Jedediah Smith State Park; Crescent City and to Redding, CA

Thursday, September 30, 2010 Alternating sun and fog along the coast, 63 degrees; sunny and 98 degrees inland

We began our day in the Jedediah Smith State Park, home to the largest California coast redwoods in the world. Fog, heavy winter rains, and moderate temperatures allow them to thrive, and trees can grow to 300 feet or more, with a base diameter up to 20 feet. Some of the oldest trees are about 2,000 years old. Those are the facts, but it's something else to see them in person. We stood in the Stout Grove with our necks craned upwards, trying to see their tops. Between the density of the trees and their height, it was rare to see beyond their lower branches. Let's just say they are massive. For our family members who love Star Wars, scenes from the Return of the Jedi were filmed in this park.

We made a wrong turn when we got to US 101 and were headed north into Crescent City instead of south. We saw a sign for the Visitor Center, and we decided to continue on. Soon we were armed with a city map, so we headed out to explore the marked areas. First we went to the Battery Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1856 and is located in the harbor on a small island 100 feet offshore. We were there at low tide when it is possible to walk out to the lighthouse. Phil ventured over a small retaining wall and rocks to explore. With my swollen ankle, I stayed on shore and watched the surf running up on the rocks.

After Phil came back, we walked across the street to the Marine Mammal Rehabilitation Center. Injured animals are brought there to be treated and, when they have recovered, returned to the sea. We walked around the cages where they are kept. As we were too early for feeding, the animals were lethargic, sleeping next to their swimming pools.

Next we drove across town to the Rumiano Cheese Factory, one of California's oldest cheese producers. Through the tasting room window, we watched as large paddles were rotated in the rich Jersey cow milk to separate the whey and the curds. The richest whey is made into butter, and the rest is sprayed on diary pastures to nourish the grass. Once the curds have congealed, they are formed into forty pound blocks, wrapped in plastic, placed in boxes, and refrigerated to be aged from three months to ten years. We sampled a wide array of cheeses, including Phil's favorite Dry Jack (similar to an ungrated Parmesan), but we came out with a block of Habernero Jack cheese with tang that bites the tongue. Yum.

On our way out of town we stopped at the the harbor front. There on a floating dock were huge Stellar seal lions and smaller harbor seals,
barking at each other as the jockeyed for a better position on the dock. Out in the harbor other seals were bobbing their heads up and down in the water as if to see what all of commotion was about. Animals can provide some of the best free entertainment.

Next we headed down the Pacific Coast Highway, driving through the Redwood National and State Parks, lined, as you would guess, with more majestic redwoods. Rocks like we saw yesterday continued offshore, but the surf was much calmer. We took a side road to Klamath Overlook to see where gray whales resided year round. We climbed the 600 feet to the top, but instead of an expansive sea view, we were greeted with fog, climbing the face of the cliff from the chilly waters below. No sea view; no whales. :(

Back on the road we saw a sign that declared that elk grazed there. A quick drive out; no elk. But as soon as we got back on the highway, we saw a small herd elk on the roadside. When Phil climbed out of the car to take a picture, a large male lifted his head and scowled. He was one intimidating dude.

Our sight-seeing for the day had ended. Now we were on CA 299, headed to Redding. This drive was another example of what goes up must come down, and what goes around must come back again. To make the drive more interesting, road repair occurred with annoying frequency. It would be a pleasure to drive in a state where there isn't road construction. Or maybe not. Potholes and decaying bridges aren't enjoyable either.

TODAY'S ROUTE: From Brookings, OR, US 101S to CA 197, back to US 101S to CA 299 to Redding, CA

TRIVIA: Jedediah Smith was the first non-native known to have traveled overland from the Mississippi River, across the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific coast. When he and his two fur-trapping partners crossed into California, Smith was jailed for three months by the Mexican governor, and ordered to leave the territory. But between 1821 and 1831 he returned several times, once being attacked by Indians and being jailed again. In 1831 at the age of 32, he was killed in a Comanche ambush. But his reports of the geology and geography of the western territories appeared in newspapers of the day, and proved that the Sierra Nevada could be safely crossed to California. His travels, observations, and notes filled in many blank spaces on the country's map. The state park honors his courage.