Oct 31, 2009

An Easy Day at Zion

It was a relaxing and easy day for us here at Zion yesterday, Friday. We planned nothing and spent the day at Watchman Campground. While it was a bit chilly in the morning, I was running and biking around in just a T-shirt and jeans during the afternoon.

We shared a campfire last night with Jimmy and Julianne, one of the couples we met at dinner the night before. They're camped just up the road from us. We thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and hearing about their rich lives and varied experiences. We burned through all the wood I got earlier in the day -- usually a sign of a successful campfire.

Today, when I'm finished pounding out this quick update, Dar and I are driving up to Kolob Canyon to explore that section of Zion National Park. It's in the extreme northwest corner of the park, about a 35 mile one-way drive from our camp.

Exploring Zion...

Oct 30, 2009

Zion Daze

I'm finding it hard to describe in words what we're seeing here at Zion National Park. The harder I try the less satisfied I am with the result. We've been taking a ton of photos too but even the best of those don't do a complete job of adequately expressing the sensory experience of the Park. To really know Zion, you've got to come here and see it for yourself. It's really something.

But the photos are the best thing we've got. Dar is busy everyday selecting the right pics, adding captions, and uploading more to our photo gallery -- check them out -- [Link]

Yesterday, Thursday, we drove to the furthest point up-canyon it's possible to drive. From there, we hiked another mile along the Virgin River into the narrowing and rising canyon, to where the path ends at a place called the narrows. At that point the walls of the canyon are so narrow that to proceed further entails walking in the river itself and it's possible to continue in that fashion for some considerable distance. But the chilly temps and brisk biting wind yesterday kept our urge to do so in check.

What we did see as we drove along the Canyon Road were rock climbers. A flash of color or movement caught my attention as we motored along... it might have been a floater... no, I think it's a climber. Stop. And sure enough, with binoculars, we saw not one, but three sets of people clinging to the vertical side of the canyon wall on the other side of the river. At the pull-off, while gawking, I struck up a conversation with a young couple from Colorado who appeared to be preparing packs and gear for some kind of adventure. They too, it turns out, are climbers and they were heading over to scale the same wall the others were velcro'd to. Their plan was to scale the first 300 feet, leave their ropes in place, drop down to river level and camp for the night. The next morning, with an early start, they'll make it all the way to the top.

I asked how high the canyon wall is at that point. They looked at each other and shrugged, "That would probably be a good thing to know, wouldn't it?" When pressed, they guessed it was about 1500 feet. I got the impression that it really didn't matter much to them, but I hoped they had enough rope.

We did a couple other short hikes during the rest of the afternoon. It's hard to walk far when we stop every 20 or 30 feet to take more pictures of this or that from slightly different angles, with different shadows, different amounts of bright sun. We saw mule deer all over the place -- they're very tame and seem to take as much interest in us as we do in them.

And we finished the day by joining Mike Fousie and two other couples from the State of Washington for dinner at Oscar's Cafe in Springdale. We know Mike from a rally we all attended almost two years ago in Arizona. He's from the Portland area originally and now travels fulltime in his Newmar motorhome. He does a lot of volunteering, which is the reason he's at Zion... camp hosting at the South Campground just up the road from Watchman. We had a wonderful time getting to know one another and the evening ended much too quickly.

In Zion National Park...

Oct 29, 2009

Bighorn Sheep

I won't dwell on the weather other than to say it was cold and windy much of the day, Wednesday. But mostly sunny skies helped make our day of exploring enjoyable.

We had our usual long morning, breakfast, talking, working with photos, and writing in the journal. Later in the morning we headed over to the Zion Park Visitors Center, and then to another facility just up the road, the Zion Human History Museum. Both places included some good exhibits explaining various aspects of the Park, had knowledgeable people on hand to answer questions and make recommendations, and, of course, the ubiquitous gift shop. The Human History Museum had a very good 20 minute film -- an introduction to the Park, it's history, the story of how it became a National Park, and an overview of the key features and geography of the area.

We're in what is considered the main part of the Park -- at the bottom of Zion Canyon. The canyon walls, which you've seen some photos of in the past few days, consist of various layers of shale, mudstone, and sandstone. The brilliant and varying colors on the canyon walls are, for the most part, the Navajo sandstone layer which can be up to 3,000 feet deep at spots. For much of it's history, the land that makes up the Park was the bottom of a shallow sea, and then, as the land started to uplift, a low flat sandy plain. Prehistoric winds drove sand into massive sand dunes, which themselves were eventually covered by ash and material from volcanic activity. As the layers above thickened, all that sand below came under tremendous pressure, and with the assistance of minerals of various kinds leaching downward through the sand, cemented it together into that colorful Navajo sandstone layer.

As the land continued to uplift, streams and rivers that drained the area grew progressively bigger and began cutting channels in the relatively soft sandstone. Over eons of time, the Virgin River cut it's way downward, creating the canyon we see and enjoy today. As one stands at the bottom of the canyon, taking in it's scale, it's hard to understand the amount of time necessary for a stream of water to have done all this. Immense periods of time are a theme of our explorations of the West the past few weeks.

There's one road that runs up the Canyon -- Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. About a third of the way up, another road takes off to the East -- the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway, which we explored yesterday after our stops at the Visitor Center and Museum. This is the road that was built in the late 1920's to provide an easier connection of Zion with Bryce Canyon to the Northeast and the Grand Canyon to the Southeast. To make this road a reality it was necessary to bore and blast a 1.1 mile tunnel through solid rock. At the time completed it was the longest tunnel in the country. But having been designed and built when vehicles were smaller, it's not large enough for things like the bus-house to go through normally. There are strict size requirements for vehicles to be allowed in the tunnel with regular two-way traffic -- and those sizes are really quite small. Only the smallest RV's can make it normally. However, as long as the vehicle is less than 40 feet long and 13' 1" high (we're 39 long and 12'8" high) you can purchase a $15 permit which buys you permission to transit the tunnel by driving down the middle in one-way traffic -- they stop traffic coming the other way. During our exploration yesterday we saw a number of tour buses and motorhomes that did just that. When we leave the area we think we'll take the tunnel. Besides being the most direct route to the Grand Canyon area, it'll be an adventure to remember.

 For scale, notice the car at the bottom of the above photo. As always, you can click on any photo for a larger size.

The landscape and scenery along this road on the east side of the Park are different, but no less impressive. Rounding the next curve always presents a new view that usually causes another exclamation, another "Wow". We'd pull off here, and there, and walk around a bit, taking photos and just absorbing the scene. I can't remember being anywhere where I've been so in awe at my surroundings.

The highlight of the afternoon was at a pull-off on our way back down the Zion - Mt. Carmel Highway... back into Zion Canyon. We saw some commotion and a couple big camera lenses at work, everyone looking in the same direction across the highway, so we stopped too. There was a Bighorn Sheep... a female (ewe)... just standing there watching us as much as we were watching her. Then... movement... another one... then more movement... and there was a large male (ram). This threesome treated us to about a 5 minute glimpse into their lives as they slowly worked their way up and away from the road. I saw Bighorns many years ago in Glacier NP, but this chance meeting today was a real treat.


The next stop, a bit further up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, was the Zion Park Lodge. This historic lodge was designed and built in the 1920's, but burned down in 1966. It was rebuilt in just 100 days. While not as large or grand as the lodges of Yellowstone, Glacier, or Yosemite, it has a warm feeling (especially on this cold day) and fits well in it's surroundings, hard against the canyon walls. We had a light lunch in the famous Red Rock Grill while we warmed up.

So that was pretty much the day on Wednesday. We went back to the bus-house where Dar, who's been exercising her culinary creativity lately, made dinner of pork chops and apples with a side of brown rice. Yum.

By the way, Dar has uploaded a bunch of new pics to our online photo collection. Click on the link and check out the most recent albums.

In Zion National Park...

Oct 28, 2009

Cooling It In Zion

After moving campsites yesterday, we hung out close to the camper most of the day. The terrible nasty weather never materialized, at least not here. We must be just far enough south to miss the worst of it. We had clouds much the morning and early afternoon, but about 2pm or so, the skies cleared and bright blue sky held the rest of the day. It was colder though -- low 50's, and a brisk wind made it feel colder than it really was. Today we woke to 32f, clouds, and a predicted high in the 40's. But starting tomorrow, Thursday, the forecast is improving nicely with clear skies and temps into the 60's and 70's by the weekend. In the mountainous west, when the sun comes out it warms up quickly.

Today we're going to start exploring the Park in earnest. I'm sure my next journal entry will be more interesting.

In Zion N.P.

Oct 27, 2009

Zion Shuffle

I think I mentioned in yesterday's entry that I was a little surprised at how busy Zion is at this time of year. When we arrived yesterday afternoon we had to settle for a piece of a group campsite, which was OK but not as nice as many of the other sites in this loop of Watchman Campground. The camp hosts said we could move this morning after campers leaving today start departing. And that's exactly what we did. In the process, we met a very nice couple from Switzerland who are touring the USA for a year. They were camped right across the road from our temporary camp last night. After they left this morning we shuffled things around and moved into their spot, which we think is one of the best in the campground. It's right on the banks of the North Fork of the Virgin River and very spacious and private. We may never leave!?

We're mostly hunkered down today waiting for the storm we've been outrunning the past few days to pass. That's OK too. Dar's in the process of uploading lots of new pictures to our online photo collection. And I'm working on other boring chores -- budgets, expenses, paying bills, stuff like that.

On the banks of the Virgin River in Zion N.P.

Oct 26, 2009

Camped In Zion National Park

This will be a quick and short update.

We left Baker, NV. this morning, Monday, just a few minutes after 9am. The predictors of the future, those practictioners of the dark science of meteorology, are relentless in their prognostications that the next few days will be the first blast of real winter in these parts of the Great Basin. So off we lumbered, to the Southeast, in search of safe haven from the storm.

With a bright sun and blue sky, the drive was agreeable. Despite the generally poorer roads encountered in Utah, we made it all the way to Zion National Park about 4pm, after having traveled almost 200 miles and lost an hour of time crossing the border. The drive into Zion, especially with an afternoon sun lighting up the mesas and cliffs ahead of you, is simply nothing short of spectacular. Dar is still recovering from a serious case of the vapors after having seen the colors and dramatic mountain-scapes she saw today.


Although Watchman Campground inside the Park is busier than I anticipated, we were able to find a space for the next week. After seeing the Ken Burns film on the National Parks, and getting a glimpse into the efforts that went into making these places a reality, we're going to try to stay longer when we visit them and take the time to really see and appreciate these things for the treasures they are.

I will still be posting an entry on our day in the Great Basin National Park, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow. I'll post-date it so it's included in the journal in chronological order.

In Zion National Park

Oct 25, 2009

Great Basin National Park

We came to Baker Nevada (population 120) for the sole purpose of seeing Great Basin National Park. It's one of the smaller of the 58 places designated a National Park, and one of the more out-of-the-way being hundreds of miles away from the closest big towns like Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. The 90,000 visitors they see during an entire year is about what some of the bigger parks have during a long weekend. Created in 1986, it's also one of the newer parks. Until designated a National Park, much of the area was a National Forest and the well explored Lehman Caves, a centerpiece of the new Park, was a National Monument.

Since we were being chased by predicted weather... nasty cold rainy snowy blustery winter weather... we made the decision yesterday, Saturday, to do two days of travel in one and shorten our visit at Great Basin to just one precious day, Sunday. That allows us to drive far enough South, and to lower elevations, on Monday in order to escape the worst of this weather, due to arrive on Tuesday.

After setting up a minimal camp in Baker Saturday evening, we made plans to drive to the Lehman Caves Visitor Center on Sunday morning. We arrived about 8:30am and were able to buy tickets for the 9am tour of the Caves. There are a bunch of caves within the Park boundary, but Lehman is the most famous and the only one open to the public on a daily basis.

First found by a rancher named Lehman in the 1880's, these caves have been through a lot in the past 130 years. During the late 1800's and early 1900's, the owners sold access to the caves for $1, a considerable sum of money in those days. That dollar bought three things... access to the cave for a day, usually unescorted, a candle lantern for light, and the right to take home a souvenir... any stalactite or stalagmite or any other cave formation you could break off and carry away. Why, for a while, parties were held in the cave, and boy scouts would camp in the cave... it was a local amusement, entertainment, and a natural gift shop.

The cave was designated a National Monument in 1922 and fell under the auspices of the US Forest Service in 1933. During the 20's and 30's a growing number of people began to see the cave as something that should be preserved. The Civilian Conservation Corps was responsible for cleaning up the cave and making some improvements during the later 30's.

Despite the trauma the cave has endured in the past, it's still a magnificent thing to see. Over many millions of years, drops of water pick up minute quantities of minerals while seeping through the rocks and ground above the cave, eventually seep into these cave spaces, and, ever so slowly, deposit their cargo of minerals onto the cave structures built by the trillions of drops that preceded them -- adding an infinitesimal layer to the magnificent natural work of art. The cave is still "alive" and still growing. Many of the stalactites broken off by early cave visitors have new "mini-stalactites" growing from the bottom of their "stumps" -- it's taken about a hundred years to grow them about a half inch. Caves have a time scale all their own.

Cave tours are great for low-light photography, especially since most caves are artificially lit to dramatically highlight the best features and structures of the cave. We got a few good shots that Dar will have online soon. Oooo's and Ahhhh's are common as darkened spaces are suddenly lit and the scale of what you're looking at becomes far bigger than you first thought.

But sometimes it's best to put the camera away and just absorb the incredible natural sculpture... wonder at the timescale needed to do it... and hope that it can be preserved so our Grandkids can someday marvel likewise.

After the cave tour we headed up the road to Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain in the Park at just a hair over 13,000 feet. Along the way we stopped at a viewpoint pull-off and ate our picnic lunch. It's possible to drive to the 10,000 foot level of the mountain, where there's a number of trailheads and a campground that's open in the summer months. Our objective was to take a 4 mile hike, round trip, to a grove of bristlecone pines which are among the oldest organisms living on the planet.

Snow had already fallen on these mountains a week or so ago, and at the 10,000 and 11,000 foot level where our hike was today, it was 4 to 6 inches deep the entire way. The hike is classified as a moderate one, with an elevation change of about 800 feet, and a trail that clings to the sides of steep slopes for much of the way. The sky was bright blue and there wasn't a cloud to block the sun. We were determined to see these ancient trees that few people ever see. Bristlecone's like high, rough, rocky conditions and they grow best in clusters or groves. They thrive in adversity and hardship. The best examples of them are at the highest elevations, right at the tree-line, in the toughest conditions.

After an hour and a half of hiking, climbing, on a snowy and icy trail, there we were... among them. We walked amidst these 3,000 and 4,000 year old living trees and I found it hard to talk, to vocalize my feelings. They're not tall, by tree standards, and they all look like their environment... rough, tough, gnarly, weathered. Some of the older ones have portions that are dead, but other sections continue clinging to life with vigor. They've adapted, successfully I'd say. They grow very slowly and their wood is extremely hard and strong -- so strong they'll continue standing for many years after death. We saw one example that was still standing despite having died before Christopher Columbus discovered America... standing as it's own monument to it's adversity-filled life.

In addition to a great experience, the day has given me evidence that may come in handy with our grandkids someday, proof that Dar and I are NOT the oldest things on earth.

At Great Basin National Park...

Rubber-Necking Our Way Across Nevada

Our trek from Winnemucca to Baker.

374 miles in one day may not be a record for us during the Sabbatical Project, but it sure ranks up there in the top two or three. We left Winnemucca, NV. about 9am and hopped on I-80 East. I'm not a big fan of Interstate Highways and am becoming less a fan as time goes along, but the 160 or so miles between Winnemucca and Wells, NV. was generally in pretty good shape. Traffic volume was light too. As a point of geo-historical information: for most of it's length between Omaha and Sacramento, I-80 closely follows the alignment of the first transcontinental railroad, built in the 1860's. During our drive I could see the tracks most of the way. Dar drove this leg and we made great time including a 20 minute stop for fuel in Battle Mountain (2.88/gal). She got us to Wells before noon and we found a truckstop parking lot where we could take a break and make a quick lunch in the bus-house.

Especially when on Interstate Highways, I keep the CB radio on to listen to trucker chatter and to maybe catch word of a traffic problem ahead. While sitting in the parking lot at Wells, the CB still on, we heard something new... "advertisements" for "legal brothels" right here in little ol' Wells. And not just one. During our short stay there were three separate announcements for, as near as I could figure, three separate establishments. Why, I hadn't been able to write down all the information from the first one and, by golly, there was another one right there on my CB radio! Now that's something a boy from Smalltown Wisconsin doesn't hear every day. Dar got lunch cleaned up quickly, got me in the drivers seat, and she had us underway in the opposite direction in short order.

From Wells we proceeded South on US-93 which we took all the way to Ely, NV. I've heard that Nevada claims it's the most mountainous state in the Union, not for the size of it's mountains but for the number of mountain ranges that cover the State. Natural forces have created a series of generally north-south aligned mountain ranges that run from one side of the State to the other... more than 50 ranges in all. Like the material your corduroy pants are made from, the ridges all run in the same direction. If you're traveling at right angles to the "grain", you've got a job on your hands... up and through a range of mountains, down and through a valley, repeat... over and over again. That's what it's like to cross Nevada in an east-west direction. Going the other way, north-south, is easier -- get in a valley and stay there. That's pretty much what we did coming down US-93. We were in a valley between ranges of mountains for well over a hundred miles. At Ely, we changed direction and headed east, and crossed two mountain ranges, before finding Baker, NV., our destination because it's the gateway to Great Basin National Park.

Baker certainly ain't much to brag about. With a population of only 120 and most of the town shut down for winter, it certainly didn't strike me as the gateway city for a National Park. The town appeared worn down and a bit shabby, just like the only RV Park in town -- our camp for two nights. But for two nights we figured could live with the environment in order to accomplish our main objective... seeing the National Park.

It was an interesting day of travel. There was always something to see: if it wasn't the mountains and interesting landscape itself, it was dark, heavy, clouds dumping rain on one of the mountains. My neck was always spinning this way, then that way, to see something new. But there were places, with a little elevation, where you could see 20 or 30 miles ahead... I mean, you could see and identify a landmark, maybe a bend in the road, a full 20 or 30 miles away and you just have to sit there, big Cummins motor droning away, and watch, and wait, and watch and wait some more, until finally, a half hour later you're finally at that curve in the road. In the wide open West the dimensions of time and distance... and patience... take on a new meaning.

In Baker, NV. -- the Gateway to Great Basin National Park

Oct 24, 2009

Bus-House Makes it to Baker

evening edition

We're at a small RV Park in Baker, NV. We made it after a very agreeable day of traveling a big 374 miles -- a huge day for us. There may only be one or two other days since we started the Sabbatical project that exceed that number. We don't do long drives like this as a matter of course, but we're trying to get out of the way of a storm and cold front that are due through this part of the country Monday night and Tuesday -- very cold and snow they say. By making it to Baker, we're positioned for a good solid day in The Great Basin National Park tomorrow, Sunday. Then we'll make our escape down a smaller State road to the Southeast, into Utah, on Monday and should be able to find safe haven for a few days near the entrance to Zion National Park.

There is NO cell phone service here in Baker. The only reason I'm able to post this entry is that I'm glomming onto an unsecured WIFI signal from some unknowingly-generous local resident. But I won't take advantage of the situation and will keep this brief.

I'll write more about our drive today later and will post that entry when I get a chance.

In Baker, NV.

Being Chased by Weather

morning edition:

I've been keeping my eye on the weather forecast for the next few days and it now appears we'll have a weather issue to deal with. There's a strong cold front that's expected to cross over the Great Basin -- Northern and Central Nevada and Western Utah -- on Monday night and Tuesday. The front will kick up strong winds, drop the overnight temps down into the teens, and snow will fall... even at the relatively low valley floor elevations. Hmmm.

We wanted to be in Great Basin N.P. during this time. But the high elevations, snow on the ground, and temps well below what our prime-directive calls for, we've got to come up with another plan. So we talked over the alternatives and the plan right now is this: We'll drive all the way to Ely, NV. today -- further than we were planning to go. That's 300 miles, some Interstate and some two lane roads. Depending on how the drive goes we'll find a camp somewhere around Great Basin N.P. and make our visit a much briefer one. At this point Monday still looks good, so we'll escape from the area toward the southeast and end up in the southwest corner of Utah before the weather hits on Tuesday.

If we have internet, I'll do another update later today.

There's adventure every single day!

About to leave Winnemucca, NV.

Oct 23, 2009

First Time in Nevada

Almost 200 miles we traveled today, through country that's variously referred to as "the Oregon Outback" or "Oregon's Forgotten Quarter". But I found it much more interesting and scenic than those labels suggest. It's a mixture of high desert, wide vistas, and almost continual series of small mountain ranges. It's also the northern edge of the Great Basin -- that huge area that encompasses most of Nevada, and parts of Oregon, California, Idaho, and Utah. It's high country, we spent all day today between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, and it's dry. If any water does find its way onto the ground it has no chance of making it to the ocean... any ocean. The Great Basin is just that... a huge basin... there are no natural outlets or streams that escape. The water stays here until it either evaporates or soaks in to groundwater.

We're camped tonight at the Winnemucca RV Park, an old KOA park. Once in a while it's nice to have full hookups so we can get caught up on laundry. We arrived early enough that we should accomplish that task before we leave tomorrow morning. We're also going to stock up on some essentials and enough food to carry us through the next week or so. We may find grocery stores harder to find while we're down near Great Basin National Park and traveling down to Zion National Park after that.

Winnemucca, located mid-way between Salt Lake City and San Francisco, was a key railroad station on the first transcontinental railroad. The guys that surveyed and selected the path for that first rail line through here were pretty good at what they did, as it's still the best alignment for the tracks and I-80 uses the same route as well.

After we spend tonight here in Nevada, we'll have fulfilled all the requirements for having officially "been" to our 31st State. That alone is cause for celebration.

Having a blast in Winnemucca, NV

Oct 22, 2009

A Hot (Springs) Stop

After some long good-byes to new friends we made at Clyde Holliday State Park, we were rolling by 10:30 this morning. The weather was bright, the wind very light. Generally, our route today was from John Day to Burns on US-395. The first half of the drive was a slow continual climb through the Strawberry Mountains to well over 5,000 feet before leveling off into wide open valleys where the bus-house shifted into high gear for what seemed like the first time all day. The views out the window were stunning, once again, and we truly enjoyed this drive.

Before Burns, the landscape opens up into high desert... a lot of sagebrush and very little farming. A glance at hills in the distance, 10 or 15 miles distant... they just don't seem that far. It's more of that big-sky, western, ranching country that we haven't seen for a while.

For our camp tonight we settled on Crystal Crane Hot Springs, which has a small RV Park. It's 25 miles southeast of Burns right along OR-78, the road we're taking south tomorrow. Since our drive today was only about 100 miles, we arrived here shortly after 1pm, which gives us plenty of time for a soak or two in the hot springs. Just a guess, but I might have another great nights sleep tonight.

We're about 130 miles from the border with Nevada and 200 miles from Winnemucca, where we plan to camp tomorrow night. That will be our first overnight in Nevada which will make this our 31st State during the Sabbatical project.

At Crystal Crane Hot Springs in Southeast Oregon

Continuing South

I'm writing this before 8am this morning -- a quick update on our plans for the day.

The weather looks good, with favorable winds, for a southward move today. The options were to get an early start and make a run for Winnemucca, NV., a 300 mile day including some slow twisting mountain roads between here and Burns. Or, we could break it into two days and stay tonight near Burns. The latter option was approved by the SD after she learned about a likely camp about 25 miles southeast of Burns that includes a hot springs. This option is only 100 miles so we may actually have a chance for a good soak before dinner tonight.

Taking it a day at a time...

Clyde Holliday State Park near John Day, OR.

Oct 21, 2009

More about the Fossil Beds

In last night's journal entry, I promised to write a bit more about what we learned in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument during our exploration yesterday.

Almost everything about the geology of Eastern Oregon originated with volcanic or geo-thermal activity of some kind, somewhere in the Western part of the USA during the past 50 million years. Of course, some of this activity is still taking place, to one extent or another, in Yellowstone and at various places throughout the  Cascade Mountain Range. Sporadically during the not-so-distant past, the last 50 million years or so, this activity would blossom into very large events that could cover the landscape for hundreds of miles around with layers of ash-fall 50 feet or more deep; or rivers of red-hot flowing basalt that would cover several thousand square miles with a 200 foot layer of solid rock after it cooled; or volcano caused mud-flows that would pour down and cover everything in their paths for hundreds of miles around. These were events far larger than anything we've witnessed in our lifetimes... Mt. St. Helens was a very small event on the scale when compared to this early geologic activity.

During the same historic time period, the last 50 million years, mammals came into existence and were developing, competing, adapting, and evolving. Because of the explosive nature -- the quickness and speed -- of the volcanic activity, often these early animals were unable to escape and were frozen in time within a matrix of material that was perfect for preserving their bodies along with the plants of the time. This combination of large scale events that covered the landscape with thick layers of material and large numbers of rapidly developing and evolving animal and plant life came together to create the most complete and highest quality fossil beds in North America, and possible the world.

In this photo it's possible to see the layering of various materials over millions of years. The harder layers stand out as ledges or lines in the photo, the softer material, often volcanic ash, weathers away quickly and falls down the hill. There are hundreds of identified layers and each one can be precisely dated. Any fossils found within a layer can be likewise dated.

The colors of the rocks and hillsides are dramatic and quite variable -- due to chemicals and minerals contained in the original material, and the natural processing of those materials that took place over many years, the pressures of the layers above, etc.
There are greens, (that to our surprise are not the result of copper), reds, (which are due to high iron content), pinks, yellow, light blue, white, and more. Of course, the oldest layers are at the bottom.

About 30 miles away from the Visitor Center is another unit of the Monument called Painted Hills. Here, some of the oldest and deepest layers are exposed and various natural processes have changed mostly volcanic ash into claystone, a very hard substance in which nothing grows. But the very top layers are dried by the sun and crack into a chunks of powdery clay that give the hills a soft, wool-blanket look from a distance. The bands of color are due to minerals and natural elements and, depending on which minerals predominate, hues of red, or gold, or yellow and streaks of black are on display like nowhere else.

If someone has any interest in natural history, paleontology, or geology, this is a wonderful place to explore. Frankly, I wasn't expecting very much from this exploration. But it turned our to be a real gem.

Thom hoch
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Taking a Break

I woke to light rain tapping on the bus-house roof this morning, then turned over and fell back asleep. Dar was up earlier, working on photos from yesterday, but I wallowed in bed until almost 8am. There are no explorations planned for today, just work on a chore or two, read, and prepare for heading further south tomorrow, Thursday. The weather is in full agreement with full clouds and spritzes of rain, at least so far this morning, according to my weather stick.

Oct 20, 2009

The John Day Fossil Beds

I just now got in from another evening campfire at our site here in Clyde Holliday State Park near John Day, OR. It was another perfect night for a fire... cool temps, little wind, clear skies, cheap wood. Does life get any better?

And I'm serious when I wrote "cheap wood". Dreaded tree-killing insects have pretty much squashed the idea that you can drag your own cheap firewood from Cousin Biff's woodlot in Northern Idaho into a campground for those nightly campfires. Most States now have restrictions about it and demand that the wood you use come from within a few miles of the campground where it's consumed, or, conveniently, you can buy the wood they have available for sale. It seems the going price is $4 or $5 per little bundle... pretty much wherever you go. And it usually takes 2 bundles to have a decent campfire, if the wood is burnable at all. That's why we don't have as many campfires as we'd sometimes like.

Except here in Eastern Oregon. Here, at Clyde Holliday State Park, they have a large woodshed filled with an abundance of dry and very burnable wood... excellent wood for campfires. And imagine this... the woodshed is unlocked... they use something called "the honor system". They have a fee collection station right there and you deposit $3 into the slot for every load you take. They have a wheeled cart that's 2 cubic feet in size... about the amount of wood needed for a nightly campfire and more than twice what you'd get for $4 other places. They have a chopping block so you can split your own wood right there before filling the cart. Once full, you use the cart to drag your purchase to your site. Hmmm. Sounds too simple and too trusting... it'll never work. But it does. And that's why we've been having a fire every night and why I think I'm home!


Today, Tuesday, we got an early start and headed back to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument -- about 30 miles west of our camp. We stopped at the Visitor Center there on the way down with the bus-house on Sunday and collected some basic information on where to go and what to see. Today we went back to explore.

Over the past 50 or 60 million years, pretty much the time frame for the development of mammals on the earth, the Eastern half of what is now Oregon had been inundated by the effects of volcanic activity in the western part of the USA. Layers upon layers of ash or lava or mud or all three at the same time have preserved a record in fossils of life during those years, plant life as well as animal life. Because the different layers of volcanic material can be dated very accurately, the records of life contained within each layer can be dated in the same manner. And because most of these volcanic inundations happened quickly, many animals didn't have time to escape and large numbers were caught in the fossil record we can see today. The landscape all around us here is filled with the evidence of early life and scientist have only begun to scratch the surface of what's here. For a paleontologist or a geologist, it's a very exciting place to be.

The National Monument itself preserves about 20 square miles of these rich fossil-bearing rocks, only a small portion of the, oh, maybe 20,000 square miles that exist. But those 20 square miles are some of the most dramatic landscapes you'll ever see.

Earlier today, we again stopped at the Visitor's Center in order to learn more about the area and the work that's going on here. There are wonderful exhibits that help a novice like me understand a bit more about it all. Then we drove to two of the three far-flung units of the Monument to hike out into the landscape and see for ourselves what it looks like up close. A total of three short hikes today.

I don't have pictures ready to go with this journal update, but in a day or so you'll be able to see, in an online photo album, some of what we saw today.  I'll also do another journal update tomorrow, Wednesday, with a little more detail of what we saw today.

Hope you're well...

Thom Hoch
Clyde Holliday State Park near John Day, OR.

Oct 19, 2009

Golden Flower of Prosperity

Man-O-Man! I slept great last night... I can't remember when I last had as good a nights sleep. Dar too, she tells me. I didn't stir until almost 8am, and I was up before she was. The almost total absence of outdoor lighting may have something to do with it. And maybe the deafening silence, all night long, is part of the answer too. Whatever it was, I'm looking forward to getting this entry posted and hitting the sack again, hoping for a replay of last night. This may not seem like much of a big deal, but, hey, it's my blog, and I'll write what I feel.

I was expecting to see rain this morning, but it never materialized. You know, there's a pattern forming when it comes to weather forecasts out here and I'm beginning to pay attention to it. When they say it's probably going to rain... it probably won't. Whatever they say, the opposite has a good chance of happening. I guess life will go on regardless of what the atmosphere decides to do or not do, so maybe I should just stop paying attention and do what I decide to do or not do. I've been advised to just buy a weather stick. The way it works is this: you poke it into the ground, at a 45 degree angle, just outside your front door before bed. When you wake up go out and check it. If it's casting a shadow, it's going to be nice. If it's wet, it's raining. If it's covered in white stuff, it's snowing. If it's missing, it's windy. After absorbing all this scientific weather data, go about your day as you would have anyway. You get the picture.

So after a slow morning, we decided to head into town, John Day, and get a feel for the place. Dar even said she'd treat me to lunch if I could find an eatery that she'd like. The Outpost Pizza, Pub, and Grill looked good from the outside so I made it my choice, she liked it, and I got a free lunch.

A number of people suggested we stop and explore the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, which was just down the road and around the corner from our lunch spot. It's a small landmark and museum that preserves early Chinese culture in Oregon. Ok, we're here, there's not much else to do in town, so let's check it out.

Everyone knows or has heard of the California Gold Rush. But in the second half of the 19th century, Oregon had a gold rush of it's own. Gold was discovered here in 1862 and the area around John Day and Canyon City, just to the South, was the center for these early mining operations. In fact, Canyon City was at one point the most populated city in the State, and probably the bawdiest and rowdiest too. Because much of the man-power needed for these mines was pre-occupied with the Civil War during the early half of the 1860's, mine owners started advertising abroad, China in particular, for workers. With things not economically or politically great in China during those years, a large number of Chinese emigrated to the USA and filled these back-breaking jobs. They lived apart from the white population, in a Chinatown within John Day, and were paid a quarter of what white workers were paid.

About 1887, enter a couple of talented Chinese guys... "Doc" Hay and Lung On. Doc Hay came from a family of Herbal Doctors in China and was quite talented in his healing skills. A combination doctor, pharmacist, and herbalist, he began his practice in a small building in Chinatown that he bought with the other man, Lung On, who was a merchant and opportunist. The little building they owned together served as their home, Lung On's General Store, Doc Hay's Apothecary and Doctor's office, a small rooming house, and, reportedly, an opium den for a period of time. They called it Kam Wah Chung & Co., which, loosely translated, means something like "Golden Flower of Prosperity". Both were successful in their respective businesses and became well known and accepted, by Chinese and White alike, in the community.

That little building, Kam Wah Chung, was stuck in a legal limbo for many years, but eventually it became the property of the City of John Day. It then languished, forgotten and untouched, for almost 20 years -- until the City began surveying for a new city park. Inside, it was like a time capsule that had been sealed for many years. The artifacts, furniture, supplies of herbs and medicines... all of it was just as Doc Hay left it the last time he closed the door. It was a rare find that preserved and documented the 19th century Chinese culture in America. The Chinese are gone now, from John Day. But their story can still be told.

The City tried for years to make a go of it as a museum. But realizing they had more on their hands than they could handle, they offered it to the State of Oregon, which put some money into restoring, safeguarding, and preserving it. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2005.

Because of the lack of tourist traffic in this part of the world in late October, we had an excellent tour guide to ourselves. We explored both the historic building, complete with it's original artifacts, as well as a nicely done museum that explained more about the Chinese and their culture in America. It was an enjoyable stop, made better by friendly and knowledgeable museum staff who were eager to share.

After a quick stop at a grocery store we made it back to camp with enough time to spare for a good walk along a nature trail here in the State Park. We finished the day with a blazing campfire under a nearly clear sky. The wind was calm, the temps cool, but the fire and our lively conversation kept us warm.

Thom Hoch
Clyde Holliday State Park near John Day, OR.

A Day to John Day

The trek from Arlington to John Day on Sunday was nothing short of sensational. I was a little concerned what the little State Highway, OR-19, would be like, what kind of issues it might present for a 32,000 pound bus-house, and how difficult it would be to negotiate the turns and twists with a car in tow. But my worry was for naught. It was one of the more enjoyable drives that either of us can remember. We followed OR-19 to US-26 east, which led us to the John Day area.

We climbed out of Arlington about 9:45am... and "climbed" is the right word. The road ascends from less than 300 feet of elevation at Arlington to over 3,000 feet in the first 25 miles... not really all that steep, but it was a continuous climb with slow curves much of the way. The sky was blue and bright and the traffic almost non-existent, so we just settled back and enjoyed the slow climb out of the Columbia Gorge, thoroughly enjoying the views of snow-capped Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams off to the West, and the deepening valleys in our wake. It isn't often that scenery sparks as much open verbal exclamation as it did inside the bus-house today.

But the first 25 miles was only the beginning. The twisting, winding, ascending, then descending road was always interesting, always amazing. I battled between keeping my eyes on the road and on the vistas. We went through little towns -- Olex, Condon, Mayville, Fossil, Service Creek, and Spray. We drove over hills, through valleys, around canyons, and along streams. There was always something new to see. We'd pause at a pull-off and see a bald eagle sitting at the top of a tree, or scan the steep rock walls on both sides of a canyon for deer, or elk, or bear, or mountain lion -- they're all here.

Fall color was in peak form, at least for this part of the world. Along streambeds, in niches here and there, in clumps alongside the road, the bright golds, yellows, shades of tan, reds, and purples... grasses, trees, weeds, all accompanied by the bright sun to provide a visual party for us along the way.

 A portion of the road we were on today is designated as the "Journey Through Time" National Scenic Byway, so named because of the rich fossil beds -- the best in North America -- that are pervasive in this part of Oregon. Since we're going to spend more time in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument during the next day or two, I won't spew more on this subject until that time.

During the previous few days, as I researched possible encampments in the John Day area, I found a State Park that sounded like something we'd enjoy. The Clyde Holliday State Park is a few miles west of John Day, right along US-26. We pulled in before 3pm and really liked what we found... a real gem... a campground, NOT an RV Park. With only 31 campsites, it's a small place with mature trees right along the banks of the John Day River. The campsites are all well separated and private, long and level, with water and 30/50amp electric. Our site is 84 feet of asphalt pad. With only a smattering of other campers here, it feels open and secluded -- just as we like it.

With some iffy weather the next few days (a little rain, some cold mornings) we thought we'd stay here for 4 nights anyway... maybe more if necessary. I think we're going to sleep good tonight.

Thom Hoch
Clyde Holliday State Park near John Day, OR.

Oct 18, 2009

Cooling It on the Columbia

Somehow, overnight, the Weather Service decided that the 80% chance of rain Saturday should be changed to only 20%. The sun was out most of the day and the wind was relatively calm, although it was supposed to pick up to gale strength for a while later in the day -- that could get the bus-house a-rockin'. It all doesn't really matter anyway since we thoroughly enjoyed the day off.

Arlington is where Doc Severinsen was born and spent his formative years. Those younger than about 40 probably don't even know who he is, but those of us who enjoyed the Tonight Show during the 70's and 80's know him well. As a young child he really wanted to play the trombone but his dad, a dentist, somehow brought home a trumpet, which young "Doc" took to quickly. At the age of 7 he was invited to play with the High School band and was touring with a traveling band by his early teen years. He's still alive, living in Mexico, and playing concerts and benefits when he feels like it. Dar and I saw him in concert many years ago and have fond memories of his light-hearted humor and his talent with the horn.

We took a long morning walk around the port and the town. With a population of only about 500 people, there's not much here, but the basics are covered... a grocery store, a hardware and liquor store (nice combination, Huh?), post office, library, gas station, and a couple restaurants. Tucked into a small valley along the River, there's a constant din from the Interstate Highway and the busy Union Pacific rail line that follow the southern bank of the river. But the town feels very comfortable and relaxed. I rather like the feel of it.

In 1963, part of the town was moved southward and higher into the valley to avoid inundation from high water resulting from the completion of the big John Day Dam just downstream on the Columbia. I'm guessing the port facilities where we're parked were created at that time too.

We made another trek into town about mid-day, had a light lunch at a local eatery, dropped some mail at the Post Office, and picked up a few needed provisions at the grocery store. On the way back to the port the predicted stronger winds arrived, along with a little rain, and we hunkered down with a couple movies the rest of the evening.

On Sunday, we're moving South to the John Day area in Oregon. I don't know what internet access will be like in those parts, so if updates to the journal are a little sporadic... well, that could explain it.

Thom Hoch
Arlington, OR.

Oct 17, 2009

Easy Day to Arlington

It was just a bit before 7am when I groaned myself out of bed and shuffled to the coffee pot. Dar was up just a short time after that. Since our day was a simple one... get up, get ready, get going, and get there... (and getting there was only 140 miles away), neither of us was setting any land speed records. The emotional exhaustion of leaving was most of my problem. (Hi Ryan, Evan, Andrea and Gage!)

After a couple cups of coffee things started clicking and I was knocking off departure chores like an old hand. We had a little problem with a balky slide-out, the kitchen one, which wouldn't lock after being retracted. The lock secures the slide-out tightly to the rest of the coach's sidewall, and while it's better to have the locks engaged, it is possible to drive without them if necessary. We've had occasional problems with these locks before but have always been able to get them to eventually engage. I'll work more on this issue as we make our way South. Eventually the Safety Director approved my plan to "go" without the lock and we were on the road by 10:30am. It's a rare thing indeed for me to have a plan approved by the Safety Director.

The route was I-84 East to the town of Arlington, OR., which is situated right along the Columbia River. It's a shorter-than-normal day for us, but there's no rush and it made the first day back on the road enjoyable.

Wind is a common phenomenon in the Columbia Gorge and we had a real nose-full for the first 50 miles or so... a direct, hard, gusty headwind out of the east. But at some point we crossed a line and the wind stopped... not "eased" or "lessened" or "subsided"... it stopped... just like that. I don't know why. The Gorge is a wierd place when it comes to wind.

Exiting at Arlington, we found the way to the Port of Arlington RV Park, situated on a man-made spit of land that extends out into the Columbia River. (Link to interactive map) The modest port facilities include a large grain elevator, a marina for pleasure boats, and an RV Park. Because we could use a day to recover from a mild case of emotional trauma (due to GS -- Grandkid Separation) and because the chance of rain is high on Saturday, we decided to stay until Sunday.

From here we'll head South into the heart of Eastern Oregon where our next stop should be somewhere around John Day, OR. We'd like to learn more about the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument near there and the other objective is to experience the forgotten and expansive eastern part of Oregon.

Thom Hoch
Arlington, OR

Oct 16, 2009

Saying Good-Bye

We had a wonderful evening over at Andrea & Gage's place last night. After dinner at a popular Mexican restaurant in Camas, we went back to the house and talked and watched old videos of the kids and savored those last hours, minutes, seconds before we had to go. The kids, Ryan and Evan, stayed up later than normal and (was it my imaginatiion?) seemed a bit sad too. Dar wanted to be the one to put each of them to bed before we left.

We've had a marvelous visit this past 6 weeks. The opportunity to be surrogate-parents to two of the best little Grandsons I can imagine, for a whole 9 days, was the highlight of the stop. I really bonded with these two little guys and I'm dreading the upcoming separation. Since the bus-house has wheels, we know we'll be back... maybe even this next spring. Thanks Andrea & Gage for a wonderful time.

So this morning while I'm jotting down these words, Dar is scampering around the bus-house stowing those last few things, making sure the contents of cabinets and the fridge are secure, and making the final inside preparations for leaving. I did most of my outside chores yesterday, but those remaining will be handled quickly. We're getting back into exploring mode.

If we can get moving by 10am we should be able to beat the promised rain that's moving into the Portland area. Our drive will be an easy one today... east on I-84 for 130 miles to Arlington, OR. We'll find a place to hunker down along the Columbia River somewhere nearby and take a day or so to do nothing... maybe think a bit, reflect on the last few weeks, and what we'd like to explore during the next few weeks.


Oct 15, 2009

Website/Journal Change

Thursday, October 15, 2009
Vancouver, WA

Starting today, I'm making a change to my method of updating readers on "What's New?" with Thom & Dar.

Prior to today, I've been inserting a couple paragraphs of "what's new" stuff on the front page of our tdhoch.com website. It's worked ok, but the downside is that those newsy updates are lost once I put up a new one the next day. And those daily updates drained time and energy away from the journal -- which is where I'd really like to focus.

So, starting with this entry to the journal, I'll provide that "What's New?" information here instead... along with more expanded tales of our adventures as well as my thoughts on things.

OK, so "What's New?"

We're sitting the kids today... the last time for this visit to the Northwest. And we had Ryan overnight last night, as he really wanted to spend one more night in the bus-house. He was our alarm clock this morning, waking me up about two minutes before the more traditional alarm went off. There's something really special about being awakened by your 4 yr. old Grandson. After some morning chores the three of us were off to the house so Andrea could shuttle off to work.

While Dar kept an eye on the kids, I repaired a flat tire on my bike, which has been in Andrea & Gage's garage during the recent rainy spell. A little detective work provided the answer to why it was loosing air... there was a small and nearly invisible thorn embedded in the tire. Apparently, as the tire rolled over road and trail the thorn worked it's way through the tire and into the tube, eventually creating a small hole. With the thorn problem eliminated, I hope the tube replacement job holds otherwise. It's easy to pinch these tubes during the process which can create more problems later.

We're also focused on leaving tomorrow, Friday. I'm planning a short and easy travel day. We're a little out of practice having been here for a month and a half.


Oct 8, 2009

Spewers of Hot Air

Thursday, October 08, 2009
Vancouver, WA

Spewers of hot air?? So, what could this cryptic title possibly refer too? Well, yesterday's explorations took us to the Washington State Capitol Building and Mount St. Helens -- two things that have both spewed incredible amounts of hot air and debris in the past. And because the nature of things doesn't change quickly I expect more of the same in the future.

The Washington State Capitol

Here in Washington the State Capitol Building is referred to as the Legislative Building. For the sake of this article though, I'm going to use the term "Capitol". Built during the mid-1920's, it's the last of the State Capitols built in the traditional domed style. It's the dominant building among a collection of 5 similarly designed buildings referred to as the State Capitol Campus. Some of the functions normally designed into Capitols in other states were decentralized from the beginning and placed in these surrounding buildings -- house and senate offices, Supreme Court, insurance commissioner, and others. Because of this tight grouping of buildings we had to work at getting a good photo of the Capitol by itself.

The Capitol Campus is situated on a hill overlooking Capitol Lake, part of an inlet of Puget Sound. Like other seats of state government, it's impressively landscaped and maintained. Because the part-time legislature is not in session, it was easy to find parking close by and there was virtually no congestion anywhere we went on the campus -- I assume all the bureaucrats and state workers were busy at their desks, right? Here again, as in Oregon and Minnesota, the building is totally open to the public. The high security check-points they had for a while after 9/11 were removed when common sense eclipsed fear.

The dominant feature of the Capitol is it's dome, a 287 foot tall all-masonry structure built of brick and sandstone -- the tallest self-supporting all-masonry dome in the USA. In fact, it's the 4th tallest dome of this type in the world. The dome on the Nation's Capitol in Washington DC, although slightly taller, isn't counted in this grouping because it's made of steel.

Sandstone quarried from the base of Mt. Rainier dominates the exterior of the building. The interior is mostly marble -- the largest quantity of marble used in any State Capitol in the USA -- marble marble everywhere. It also boasts the largest collection of Tiffany bronze lighting fixtures in the world. The 5 ton chandelier that hangs in the rotunda, the largest single piece Tiffany ever did, is so large (25 feet high) a small car could be contained within it.

While the building has a lot going for it, and is very impressive and stately, there's a noticeable lack of paintings, murals, or statuary that could provide symbolism, a sense of history, and a record of the struggles and sacrifices of early pioneers. One can find large plain-painted walls in the rotunda and each of the legislative chambers that could easily be utilized in this fashion. I think it would only enhance the feeling of reverence for the rule of law and the power of the people. But, for whatever reason, the Legislature hasn't felt the need to do so.

Being in Western Washington puts the Capitol atop a lot of geological activity. Three major earthquakes have rocked the building since it was finished. The last, in 2001, a 6.8 rated affair centered just a few miles from Olympia, actually shifted the 26,000 ton masonry dome slightly -- it wasn't fastened down to the rest of the building as architects figured it's weight alone would keep it in place. This has since been remedied along with other structural improvements and strengthening which have now made the building more earthquake resistant.

We tried to see the Governor, Christine Gregoire, but were unsuccessful once again. We made it as far as her outer office before being turned away. A number of people who work in the building commented on how much Dar looks just like the Governor. I even took a photo of Dar beside a current picture of the Governor, not being able to meet with the real thing. But I don't think the likeness is really all that close since we were unable to use Dar's face to get a free lunch in the Capitol Deli or some free place mats or coffee mugs in the Capitol gift shop. But at least we tried.

Mt. St. Helens from Johnston Ridge

Isn't it wild that it's been almost 30 years since Mt. St. Helens erupted in May of 1980?

The entire area effected by the eruption, some 110,000 acres, was declared a National Volcanic Monument in 1982. Entrance to the monument from the east side is a series of Forest Roads along the south and east side of the Mountain to Windy Ridge, about 5 miles Northeast of the Mountain. Access to Windy Ridge has been open since the middle 1980's. You can also come in this way from Randle to the North. Entrance from the west side is from I-5 at exit 49, and then east on WA-504 about 55 miles to the Johnston Ridge Observatory and Visitor Center, about 4 miles Northwest of the mountain. The elevation changes from less than 500' near I-5 to 4,200' at Johnston Ridge. Conveniently, there is another Visitor Center only about 5 miles from I-5 on this road for those who don't have the time or determination to make it all the way to Johnston Ridge.

We moved to Washington in 1987 and lived here for almost 8 years during my working years. During that time we made several family excursions to Windy Ridge, always interested in the weathered evidence of the power of nature and seeing the area during different times of the year. But in all the years we lived out here, and during visits back here since, we've never taken the drive to the Mountain from the West side. That's precisely what we did yesterday, Wednesday.

Mt. St. Helens, the eruption, was a huge display of the power of nature, but was actually a small event in the geologic history of the area. All the mountains in the Cascades are volcanic in origin... formed as two large continent-sized "plates" -- the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate crush into each other just off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. These forces create tremendous heat some miles beneath the surface, and melts rock which occasionally boils up to the surface about 100 miles inland, creating a mountain range of volcanoes -- The Cascades. Mt. St. Helens is but one example. There are many more here in the Northwest. The ground is alive, moving, and shaking all the time.

Much of WA-504, the route we took into the Monument, was totally rebuilt and re-aligned in the years since the event. Most of the old one was destroyed or buried. The road is in excellent shape and the new bridges that cross deep valleys and streams are amazing for their design and their apparent cost, especially considering this road only goes to Johnston Ridge and the Visitor Center. The cost of rebuilding it must have been astronomical. And then it's closed altogether during the deepest part of winter. There are plans, I've learned, to continue the road about 7 or 8 miles further to the east, across the eruption blast zone, to an intersection with Forest Road 99 on the east side of the Monument. But the lack of funds now may make that a way-in-the-future project.

29 years after the eruption much of the landscape near the mountain is still relatively barren... but there are growing signs of life. There's a greenish cast over what used to be gray barren moonscape. A bit further away where the ground wasn't totally steralized by heat, trees have taken root, and are struggling upward. Plants have taken root in the hoof prints of elk, which can hold water and germinate seeds like a flower pot. The population of elk has bounced back to pre-eruption levels. New lakes have formed where debris dams plugged previously free-flowing streams. It's a landscape that has changed forever. But change is part of the natural history of this planet. We're just able to watch this one up close.

Our day was clear and, at 4,200' of elevation, downright cold as the sun dropped low in the sky. We took a couple hundred pictures. We sat through a couple presentations and a film at the Johnston Ridge Observatory. We scanned with binoculars and found a herd of a dozen or so elk. Later, on the way out of the Monument, as the sun was setting below the hills to the west, we stopped at an overlook and enjoyed a happy-hour snack as we watched shadows climb the sides of the mountain and one more day was complete.

What an enjoyable day.


Oct 6, 2009

Mission Accomplished

Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Vancouver, WA

Now that our mission has been accomplished... now that everyone's lives are getting back to normal... I guess I can take the time to document the past 10 or so days. It's been a real whirlwind for sure.

Back in the Spring or early Summer of this year, our daughter Andrea mentioned that she and Gage, our son-in-law, were planning a cruise in the Caribbean this Fall. She wondered if we'd like to time our visit this year to coincide with their trip so we could watch their boys, Ryan and Evan -- our Grandsons, during that time. It didn't take more than, oh, 5 seconds to say "of course", and plans were made. One of the advantages of our lifestyle is being able to adjust and make things like this work out. Of course, on the flip side, one of the disadvantages is not being a regular daily/weekly participant in these little guy's growing lives too. But we'd like to think our longer visits make up for it somewhat, and in this case being able to live with them, full time, for over a week was a rare opportunity.

If I had known (remembered?) what it was like to be in charge of two munchkin toddlers, I would have worked out for a few months prior to our arrival in order to build my stamina. These little guys have more energy than seems possible. If it could be bottled you'd probably be able to power a good portion of a typical house's energy needs. Ryan - code name "Sparky", the oldest at 4 years, is the easier of the two to manage. He's very communicative, observant, intelligent, and can help out when pressed. He's full of questions, has fun pretending this or that, and loves to play games with us old codgers. Evan - code name "Squeaky", a year and a half, is something else. While he is observant and intelligent, like Ryan, he has the added feature of having a built-in, pre-wired trouble-finder. The situation or setting doesn't matter... if there's something he shouldn't be getting into, something he shouldn't touch, a cabinet he shouldn't be opening, furniture he shouldn't be climbing, or an older brother that needs tackling... he's there... in spades. And while he doesn't talk much yet, he has a shrill scream -- the reason for his code name. He screams mostly to get attention... and boy, does it work. But this annoying trait is offset by a knowing smile that melts your heart and makes it difficult to be too stern about it all.

So Andrea and Gage took off for their vacation early on Friday morning, September 25th, and we moved into their house and became surrogate parents for the next 9 days. Gage's Mom & Dad, Shirleen & Duane, did help out and gave us a needed break mid-way through the week by taking Ryan overnight. That same night we camped overnight in the bus-house with Evan, an adventure for the little guy and a chance for us to sleep on our favorite mattress.

The schedule for much of the week involved pre-school on some days for Ryan, afternoon naps (the kids... although I felt like I should have napped too), trips to the store, a few expeditions on walking trails in the Vancouver area to get the kids outside and work off some of that pent-up energy, and very little time to ourselves. Evan is at the age that requires nearly constant watching to keep him out of trouble.

Then, later on Saturday evening, Gage & Andrea arrived home from their trip. Ryan and I went to the airport to pick them up. While neither of the kids exhibited any outward signs of missing their Mom & Dad, they were clearly excited to see them. Especially Ryan, who was so pumped he couldn't stop talking long enough to take a breath at times.

It was a good week. While there were times during those 9 days that challenged our enthusiasm for this bonding opportunity, we both agree that we wouldn't have missed this for anything. The joy of waking in the morning to a little finger poking my arm, accompanied by a genuine smile and bright cheery eyes... these kinds of things can't be taken for granted, especially when it's your own grand-child helping you greet a new day... so fresh, so innocent, so basic. We get used to the routine of our lives... the all-adult nature of our interactions... and often go through our days by rote. But having this chance to see the world through a child's eyes gave me a new energy for family and for life itself. For me, it was a metaphysical experience.


Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...