Saturday, October 13, 2007

07Oct13 Selected Photos from the Trip (low res)

07Oct13 ­ Cave Lake State Park, NV to Oakland, CA

We got an early start today, thinking we may push on all the way to Oakland, but not sure. With a generally overcast sky with some pockets of sunlight on the distant mountains we turned westward again when we reached the highway.  The temperature was floating up and down in the forties as we crossed from broad valley bottoms to passes.  The roadway traverses a series of mountain ridges that run north/south across the sate.  He started in the Steptoe Valley, and by 10:00am had crossed four passes; Robinson Summit (7,600 ft) , Little Antelope Summit (7,400 feet), Pancake Summit (6,500 feet) and Pinto Summit (7,400 ft). In between the snow dusted summits are broad, and barren desert valleys – often 30 miles across.  It was easy to imagine this was what the congested and productive Livermore, or San Joaquin valleys of California looked like before irrigation and development.   Without the omnipresent signs of our current times I felt myself slipping in and out of time, back 100 years, then forward again as I looked down at the space age cockpit in which I was sitting.  At one point we looked across and saw a horseback cowboy rounding up black and brown cattle on the open range.
They certainly don’t call this highway “The loneliest road in America” for nothing.  Here, the passage of time is not measured by the towns we go through, since they are few and far between. Instead, the vast open areas are identified by their geographic names – Pancake Range, Monitor Range, Toquima Range, Toiyabe Mountains, Shoshone mountains.  In the flat areas, the roads make no turns – not even slight bends.  It’s as if the pavers lashed the wheel and took a nap for 30 mile stretches at a time.  Besides the low scrub, sage and dry grasses at the side of the road there are patches of white salt deposits along the way where undoubtedly, winter precipitation puddles have leached minerals from the soil, until evaporated by the dry air and steady wind.
Out here we need to project distances between towns (and fuel) carefully.  We are getting between 18 and 20 miles per gallon (depending on our speed, the wind, and the slope of the roadway)  – with a range of just less than 400 miles on a tank.  We have been warned about putting bad diesel in the tank (fuel with water in it) so we’ve been trying hard to fill up at more reputable stations, or at least those that look like they get lots of truck and farm vehicle traffic.  Diesel is costing between  $3.11/gallon up to a high of $3.59 /gallon so far– so we are driving conservatively to reduce our expenses.
Westward we flew today, one mountain range after another.  It seemed like Nevada would never end, and then, all of a sudden, we arrived in Fallon, NV and stopped for a quick lunch at the city park, watching the youth throw tricks at the skateboard park.  In one 25 minute episode, our trip changed from that of exploration and discovery, to driving home from 2 weeks away. The barren openness of Western Colorado, Utah, and Nevada were instantly replaced with the fast food signs, big box stores and the rest of the clutter we almost take for granted motoring through any metropolitan area.  We hopped on 80 east of Sparks, NV and joined the swarm of humanity and goods traveling west on the Interstate.  The scenery became instantly recognizable as we passed into California and our familiar stomping grounds north of Lake Tahoe.  As we moved ever westward, the crowds grew and we were carried along through Auburn, Sacramento, Davis, past Travis Air Force Base, and finally through the Caldicot tunnel and into Oakland.  Our seven day odyssey had suddenly come to an end. 4,000 miles with fond memories boiled down into a dirty laundry bag, a bag of recycling, a few words in this blog and a camera filled with  snapshots.  Everything here is as we left it – thankfully.
Now its time to start planning our next big adventure….

07Oct12 ­ Rifle Falls State Park, CO to Cave Lake State Park, NV

The morning broke clear and cold. We were camped around 7,300 feet and when we were awake enough to check the thermometer it read 37. Definitely dropped below freezing last night. With a flick of a switch, the cabin heater ignited and we had our morning coffee at ease, watching the day begin outside. Because our waste tanks were getting full, we strolled down to the outhouse and were greeted by 5 mule deer grazing right at the road’s edge. Before setting off on our day’s drive, we took a short hike up to the namesake falls of this location. There, just 1/8 mile from our campsite was this 75 foot triple threaded falls cascading over a sculptured limestone escarpment. The water fell in pools filled with large boulders, and the adjacent spray had created a plant ecosystem unlike anything else we had seen in the canyon. Apparently, the falls was romantic enough to inspire one of the early owners of this property to create a resort focused on the falls and it’s mineral infused waters. It has subsequently burned down, and in the 60’s the property was turned over to the state for custody. There is no signs of the old resort, except for some of the paths, and the historic sign.

We took our time driving down the access road back to the highway, through the upland ranches above the townsite of Rifle. On the way, we surprised a grey fox as he was crossing the road. He did not hesitate to study our strange and lumbering vehicle, but headed straight for the roadside sagebrush for cover. He had that special “I’m a fox and you are not” bounce in his gait.

Once back on Interstate 70 we drove a truly enchanted portion of roadway heading to Grand Junction – the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. As the highway dropped out of the western flanks of the Rockies, it followed the river as it cut a deep gorge through the sandstone. The further west we drove, the deeper the canyon became, and the more layers were exposed. There was the top orange layer, then the red, then brown, then finally at its deepest, the charcol. Occasionally, we could spy a dark cave opening above, with the tell tail mine tailing pile like an alluvial fan cascading down hill below the opening. As we dropped in elevation, the high juniper gave way to more oaks, and aspen and cottonwood. Because the road was very windy, the speed limit was reduced and we really got a chance to look around.

Once past Grand Junction, we climbed up and over the mountains in Fish Lake National Forest, and finally gave up on the wide interstate highway and exited to follow a “back road” (Rt. 50) near Salina, Utah. Almost immediately, cell phone coverage dissolved, as did our computer’s wireless connection. The two lane highway was virtually deserted and we slowed down to see more intimately what we were flying past.

The trip has begun to feel like surfing down a monster wave. We need to keep moving down the wave’s face, being washed towards our homeland shore, but feel the strong pull of a counter current or undertow pulling us in just the opposite direction- and back out to sea. We know we must keep moving to reach our Oakland objective before the next work week starts, but we are seeing such beautiful places that beckon for more attention and a slower investigation. We are making notes of things to return to/for on a subsequent journey.

The terrain has now shifted to the flat dry lakebeds of the south western deserts, with dramatic remaining battlements of sandstone mesas remaining as the last remnant of a higher ground, now eroded away over the millennium by rushing river water, a drier climate, and the incessant wind. To the south we peer into the famed open spaces similar to monument valley.

Now we pound ever westward on the arrow straight ribbon of Route 50 as it crosses through Nevada. Up and over one mountain range and into another massive dry lakebed valley. The scoured, mesas are like layer cakes, with eroded sides. In the lower draws and dry river beds, stands of willow and aspen send their roots deep to the subterranean flow of remaining water. The scale of things has magnified and the vistas are more dramatic. I’m sure we are looking down 50-60 mile long valleys with no apparent end. It brings to mind some of the vast vistas Diane has described to me from Tibet. At one time, I think much of this land was used for open rangeland, but now it is mostly abandoned for recreational purposes and the cattle have been concentrated to feedlots. It is hard to imagine braving a crossing of this desolate area by foot, or on mule or horse. At 70 mph it still takes us hours to cross the region. At one point we pass a lone bicycler in the midst of his grand adventure.

After finally crossing over the Great Basin we passed into Nevada and the Pacific Time Zone. Wheeler Peak dominates the horizon for a long while as we approach the western edge of the Basin. There is a National Park here with tourable caves, a campsite an a wonderful visitor’s center with a large window looking out over the vast basin. They tell us this area was once the inside of a massive volcano with a diameter over 200 miles across. The perimeter mountains have since significantly eroded, but the gently sloping floor of the basin remains. We stopped for the night at a small Nevada State Park nestled up on the mountainside called Cave Lake State Park again at 7,300 feet, just east of the town of Ely. On the way up the winding access road, we surprised a bob cat, who gave us one quick glance and disappeared behind the nearby creosote bush. We reached the lake just before sunset and saw over 50 coots wandering about at lake’s edge foraging for food. I had always thought of these birds as a salt water species. As we rounded the lake on foot watching the evening overcast sky turn black, on the lake’s inlet side we were greeted by a small family of mallard ducks who behaved as if they had been regularly fed.

Again, camped at 7,300 feet, the cabin heater worked like a charm – although we barely needed it once the dinner cooking got underway. Tonight’s dinner was a stir fry with tofu, onion, and red bell pepper. We used miso soup mix, some garlic and soy to make a sauce, and when blended with some basil, black pepper and sesame oil, the result had its desired effect – although I suspect the Merlot had more impact on this long posting than anything else.

Friday, October 12, 2007

07Oct11 ­ Rocky Mountain National Park, CO(State Road 34) to Rifle Falls State Park, CO (Rt 70)

We awoke just before daybreak to the sound of coyotes conversing with their yelps just beyond the tree line of our campsite. We listened, at first wondering what sort of animal makes that sound, then relishing in its proximity.  The sun lit up the east side of the camper with a warm glow and we greeted another day for adventure.  
Today was to be our “rest” day – a chance to do some hiking between bouts of driving.  We were camped at 9,500 feet.  After a night at this elevation, we were feeling more normal than when we arrived, winded last night.  The cabin heater failed to ignite at this elevation – something we had been warned about by other Westy owners.  There is a solution, but we’ll have to look into that after we get home.  For now, we warded off the mountain chill with a few more layers of clothing and all was fine.
After a brief stop at the visitors center at Beaver Meadow, on rt 36, we connected to 34 west and began the long climb up and over the Rockies within the park.  The road was spectacular climbing to well over 11,000 feet on it way westward.  At first we skirted a river lined with aspens which had almost entirely shed their golden leaves. Then the road began to climb more steadily and we crossed through the tree line and found ourselves in the high alpine tundra above all timber.  Evidence of recent snows still lingered in the shady cures, but not in sufficient quantities to close the road for the season. We parked the camper at a trail head well above timber line and spent a glorious 2 hours hiking across the vast terrain.  In all directions we could see recently snow covered mountains.  Looking down the valleys we could see the deep green of the healthy forest creeping up as high as it dared.  The wind was brutal, blowing what I estimate at over 35 mph. – and cold. We were bundled up and enjoyed the exposure after being cooped up in the car for so long.  Occasionally, a small hillock, or roll in the terrain would afford us a break from the biting wind, and in one such spot with a grand vista over the whole valley eastward, and our campsite from the night before we had a light lunch.  The sun at this elevation is very warm, and in no time we were stripped down to just flimsy layers.
Once our all too brief hike was over, we collapsed short of breath, and a bit dizzy in the car and recovered briefly before continuing our push to the west.  The mountain road was in great condition, and the slow speed limit allowed us ample chances to take in the wonderful mountain scenery.  We dropped back below timberline and passed Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby, the first catchments holding back Colorado River water on its journey downhill.  We wound our way back down hill to Rt 70 near Mt Evans and headed westward.  We’ve driven this stretch before on our way to the famed summit county ski resorts – only this time, the hillsides were bathed in large patches of golden from the aspen trees, rather than a blanket of snow.  Route 70 follows the Colorado river for a long ways here, and we were delighted to head into Glennwood canyon for a stretch.  The mountainsides rose immediately 1,00 feet on each side of the river, with barely enough room at the bottom for a train track, a bike path, and two overlapping roadways for the highway.  We hope to return here in the future on bike, making sure to ride east to west (downriver) on the 20 mile stretch of unique riverside canyon bound path.  It was like a Swiss roadway, with most of the road bed supported on bridges or passing through tunnels.  Exhausted, we pulled into the town of Rifle around dusk and camped at quaint Rifle Falls State Park.  There are just a handful of campsites here, and we are perched just above the banks of a wonderfully babbly brook. The falls, people here believe was formed in the waters of a beaver dam.  The stagnant water behind the dam became saturated with natural chemicals, forming thick limestone deposits that are now exposed as cliffs. Between the 1840’s and 1850’s this area was full of “mountain men” making their living trapping beavers. In the morning we will hike to the nearby falls before moving on.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

07Oct10 ­ Lincoln Nebraska to Rocky Mountain National Park

I could really get used to this.  We awoke before day break and watched out the skylight as the late night stars dissolved into a beautiful sunrise.  By the time we left the campsite, we were the only ones there.  On the way out, we filled our water tank. We had made it all the way from Albany NY to here, three days and three nights with about ¼ tank to spare.
Nebraska seemed to go on and on.  We took three hour turns at the wheel.  On my off shift periods, I connected my computer to the internet via a CDMA wireless card and caught up on e-mail, checked in with my work teammates, and attended teleconferences.  An inverter plugged into a 12 volt circuit kept the computer fully charged, and I used the other outlet to top off the cell phone and Bluetooth earpiece. All the way across the country I never once lost connectivity.  Scary thought actually.
We hoped off Interstate 76 east of Denver and savored some rural sights as we headed more northerly towards Greely and Rocky Mountain national park.  Greely has developed into a feedlot center and is surrounded by the large industrial feedlots we’ve read so much about. Immense waste lagoons just down hill from paddock after paddock of mud and excrement caked cows. The stench was horrific and did not stop until we were climbing up the front range above Loveland.
Within 10 minutes of leaving Loveland, the road began to climb rapidly, and the vegetation changed from agriculture to open range and high desert.  Loveland is at 5,000 feet.  Almost in a blink of an eye, bright yellow and orange aspen trees in their full fall glory appeared and the road entered the narrow gorge of the Big Thompson River.  We wound back and forth steadily climbing.  The steep rock canyon walls seemed to grow taller and taller by each turn. We’d reach a bend and be rewarded with the glorious view of  back lit aspens, surrounded by pines, golden sunlight sparkling over the mountain stream rushing down and out to the plains below. A peak’s shadow would engulf us, we’d turn, and repeat the process over and over.  We were very happy.  Our long journey westward had finally brought us back to the terrain that puts us at the most ease. By 6:30 (now in Mountain Time zone) we had nestled the camper into a beautiful and secluded campsite, high above the populated road valley on the shoulder of Long’s Peak (just a few hundred feet shy of Mt Whitney – California’s tallest. The sun set, changing the surrounding mountain peaks shades of orange and pink.  The temperature is now in the low 50’s.  We’re camped above 9,400 feet and can really feel the altitude as we move about, take short hikes, and take care of camp chores.
The camper is luxurious, but small, so we move about in the cramped space with a newly learned ballet.  Each thing has its special place.  Any item out of place, is in the way of something else.  We move things about to get them close to where they are needed and used. Just stowed enough so they don’t rattle, but not so deep that they are difficult to get at and use.  We keep learning and adjusting, moving slowly in each maneuver so as not to bump an elbow, or a knee, or a head, or to knock something loose,
This area was first occupied by the Ute (or Mountain People) over 6,000 years ago.  They lived in bands scattered throughout Colorado and Utah.  Their nomadic lifestyle led them to move about, following the game that traveled through predictable seasonal routes.  In the early 1800’s fur trappers and traders arrived to take beaver pelts which lasted until the 1840’s when a drop in price forced that market to collapse. An 1858 gold rush in the Rockies created the boom towns of Denver, Golden, and Boulder.  The traders eventually spread word of the area’s beauty and tourism grew.  This park was created by Congress in.  At that time, a small band of powerful Coloradians felt that the large mountain range would be taped for its vast repository of natural resources. As it is, a water diversion tunnel was dug more than 15 miles long from the west side of the range (Colorado River drainage) to the east and after passing through two additional sizable tunnels provides agricultural irrigation to the parched farmland below. When you look at the jagged, snow capped peaks it is hard to believe someone would have the vision and skill to dig such a hole.  On the southwest side of the park, Grand Lake and Lake Granby form the headwaters of the Colorado River.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

07Oct09 ­ LaSalle IL to Lincoln Nebraska

The temperature finally dropped today and we warmed up the camper when we awoke using the diesel cabin heater. We are reminded again, this is not “camping” the way we had defined it to ourselves for all of our previous experience. We sipped hot, fresh brewed coffee, in our cozy cabin while still in jammies watching the sun light up the sky for another day.

When we fueled up in the morning we struck up a conversation with a neighboring truck driver who happened to be a farmer, fueling his big rig for hauling harvest out of the fields. We asked him about all the dried corn still standing in the fields and he commented that this summer will yield a bumper crop of corn, soy and barley throughout the mi-west and the weather has been perfect for letting the plants mature, die, and dry before harvesting. He is looking forward to the governments plan to unify fuel used for all military vehicles to a bio-diesel blend – thus affording him even greater market and growth of the bio-diesel infrastructure. He assures me the farm lobby is working hard on this initiative.

We drive the endless seam of concrete and asphalt leading us steadily westward. The land is slightly rolling here, with occasional rises affording a view over the vast landscape. This has become the land of big sky, with the eastern haze dissolved, and a deep blue canopy viewable horizon to horizon. The farms have grown so now its mostly fields with scattered farm structures – getting larger and larger as the elevators and silos must accommodate ever greater concentrations of this bio-mass being produced. The slender triangular cellular phone towers are as ubiquitous as the corn silos and have been since we left the east coast. For some reason, this style of tower has not made it to California. The wind is buffeting us mercilessly as we cross these wide open places so we sowed down to stay on the road. The wind seems to be a fairly constant factor in the local eco-system as we’ve passed several very large wind generators piercing the skyline.

We crossed the mighty Mississippi River in Iowa and the Missouri Rivers crossing into Nebraska, then swung south and crossed the Platte. The major rivers bringing to memory the heroic explorers then settlers who used these rivers as major transportation arteries before jumping off westward in their wagons and mule trains. What a different landscape this was then, covered in prairie grasses and carved by the great rivers. Now in a blink of the eye, we have spanned the rift, whereas before crossing the river was a major undertaking, requiring long swings off-route to find the appropriate ferry for your conveyance.

Tonight we dined on clam sauce pasta while the sun was setting, exactly the same time in central, as it was two days ago in eastern time zone. The campground here at Branched Oak State Park is deserted except for one other party. We picked a wonderful site, fronting on the lake, with a great view.

Tomorrow, we pass into Wyoming and the large landscape we long for – beyond the reach of the corn farmers and up into higher country.

I definitely did not bring the camera cable as now we have searched each compartment twice. Oh well. The really important stuff made it to the duffels. I’ll add a few pictures once we get home.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Monday 07Oct08

It being close to the fall equinox, the hours of daylight are almost equal to the hours of darkness. We noticed as we turned in early last night that daylight did not arrive again until almost 7:00 am. We were very surprised, then delighted, when early in the evening our automatic skylight whirred to life all on its own and began to close. The heavy evening fog had rolled in from Lake Erie and was beginning to engulf our site. The moisture sensor in the exterior skylight frame noticed the change and promptly took action keep us dry. By late in the day yesterday the rolling mountains of western Pennsylvania had given way to the alluvial plains of the great lakes. The deciduous trees continue to line the roadway, but fewer and fewer of the bright colors dotted among them. We spent last night at an unremarkable Geneva-on-the-lake State Park in Ohio, right on the shores of Lake Erie 40 miles east of Cleveland. Geneva is known as the birthplace of Roy Olds, the inspirational founder of Oldsmobile.

We are still discovering things about our camper and our provisioning. This morning we got a nostalgic blast of home when we opened the specially packaged bag of home made granola from David’s mother. Spreading some whole wheat bread with raspberry jam from her as well we had warm thoughts of upstate New York and family members we left behind.

We headed straight west past Toledo and the curving obliquely intersecting county roads rapidly settled down to a predicable grid, reminding me of the original plattes with which this land was settled. Across Ohio we sped, into and across Indiana. The forests of the east began to give way to the larger farms and endless cornfields of the mi-west. Inexplicably dried corn fields remained un-harvested mile after mile after mile. I’d like to believe this is for some reasonable purpose, other than corn subsidies which support the farmers to grow the corn independent of whether they harvest it or not. Perhaps it is due to the unseasonably warm temperatures and lack of rain Today the temperature soared into the low 90’s as we roared along the highway.

We passed just south of Chicago as the tracker-trailer rigs began to get larger and longer. Now it is not uncommon to see triple-long rigs roaring past us as we seem to troll along as a measly 70 mph. The highway begins to follow the Illinois River just west of Joliet and ahead of schedule, we make our stop for the night at quiet Starved Rock State Park just east of LaSalle.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

07Oct07 - Sunday's travels


We departed today on our first big driving leg after spending a week more or less attending a niece’s wedding, purchasing the camper, registering it with a temp permit from New Jersey, provisioning for the journey, and shaking down the various systems to test them and teach ourselves their use and to adjust stowage for the fewest moving, clattering, and rattling noises.

Yesterday we left the western suburbs of Boston after attending a memorial service for Diane’s brother Jim. Over 150 people crowded into the Broadmore Audubon reserve nature center representing family and friends from Audubon, the bird club, radio club, and Jim’s work. He was recognized for his professional contributions to the government’s national security through his work on remote radar systems and the advanced analysis of complex radio telemetry. People spoke of his important impacts on their lives, and we all cried together. The temperature rose to the mid 80’s with soaring humidity and we all retired to the out of doors to catch a wisp of air and look at the colorful foliage surrounding the property.

With a heavy heart, but feeling some additional closure, we at last pointed our rig westward to begin the journey home. Leaving so many warm family relationships and other friendships and hugs behind, we drove through the colorful Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. As we drove the temperature plummeted more than 30 degrees and by the time we reached the New York State border we were engulfed in a massive thunder and lightening storm, putting on a flashy display for our first night’s stop in Clifton Park at Diane’s brother David’s house.

We awoke to an acorn bombardment from the local squirrels, with loud and persistent “poings!!!” reverberating through the camper as the summer fat nuts dropped far from the tree limbs above us bouncing off the fiberglass roof. Although we could not see them through the skylight, Diane’s brother informed us that this time of year it is not uncommon for small dings to appear in the cars from this dietary habit of the local wildlife.
After a quick breakfast we topped off the water tanks and departed.

We chose to follow the southern tier west, through the broad glacier carved valleys along the southern border of New York. The place names of Oneonta, Otsego, Unadilla, Chenango, Susquahana, Tioughnioga, Tiog Center, and Oouga Creek conjured up images of the Native Americans who heavily populated this region long ago. The water ways which carve through the region became central arteries for development and places like Central Bridge, Davenport, Port Dickinson, Port Crane and Painted Bridge were added to the map. Industry arose along the rivers powering mills and factories leading to the population of towns like Gang Mills, Stephens Mills and more. Even with all this development, there are large stretches of this highway that unfold visually as they have for hundreds of years, with small family farms patch worked with a variety of crops and pastures filling the bottom land, orchards climbing up the lower slopes, giving way to heavy woodlands covering the 1,000 to 2,000 foot ridges. The long running mountain ridges stretch uninterrupted from here down to Virginia and the lower Appalachia, so Harris Hill claims to be the soaring capital of America.

Today the temperature hovers in the mid 60’s but the colorful deciduous trees tell of colder nights past. The sumac lead now with the brightest of reds and yellows, with the birch trees not far behind. Their stark white bark gleams in the low angle sunlight with yellows and tans of their falling leaves. There is still lots of forest canopy cover in green, so we are missing the “peak” – an annual event so dramatic it is tracked nightly on the local weather stations like a coming storm, ushering in the long cold stretch of winter.