Saturday, October 13, 2007

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.

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