Category Archives: hiking

August 2: More lighthouses, more beach, more plants, more everything seashore

This morning I got a fairly early start, and, after a quick stop at a grocery store, I headed back north along U.S. 6 (the Cape’s backbone highway). The advantage of getting up and out before eight in the morning is that the roads aren’t crowded.

My first stop was at Nauset beach and lighthouse, the parking lot of which was full by the time I got to it yesterday. The sky was gorgeous this morning, and while the lighthouse itself wasn’t open to visitors, it was still pretty, perched up on its cliff where it had been moved back not once, but twice in its 150 years of existence.

A whalebone gate and a weird-looking house near Nauset Light.
A whale’s jawbone gate and a weird-looking house near Nauset Light.
Salt marsh and water at Nauset.
Salt marsh and water at Nauset.
More cool skies over the Cape.
More cool skies over the Cape.
Nauset Lighthouse.
Nauset Lighthouse.

I then went for a hike at Great Island, on the bay side of the cape, which looks very different from the ocean side. The trail was about four miles long, but I don’t think I went more than a mile and a half or so one way. Part of the trail crossed a huge dune, and it’s really hard to walk on all that loose sand. On the other hand, the sand is this lovely golden color and the views were pretty amazing.

Salt marsh and water at Great Island.
Salt marsh and water at Great Island.

The next thing I knew I was back up in Provincetown, where I ate a picnic lunch. It started to rain just as I finished up, which was good timing, and I thought I’d like to go and see the Pilgrim monument and its associated museum. I didn’t count on everyone else thinking that would be a good idea on a rainy day, too, and it was impossible to find a parking place within a reasonable walking distance, so I had to bag that. I did manage to get a picture of the monument, which is by far the tallest thing in Provincetown. This is where the Pilgrims landed before they decided it probably wasn’t the best place to start a colony and went on to Plymouth.

The Pilgrim Monument at Provincetown.
The Pilgrim Monument at Provincetown.

Provincetown is also the gay mecca of New England, and is famous for its drag queens and nightlife and so forth. All I can really tell you about that is that there are rainbow flags everywhere there. I liked that. The Pilgrims are probably spinning in their graves ululating at high pitch, to quote Lois Bujold (she was talking about Beta Colony and John Knox, IIRC), which amuses me vastly.

My last little hike for the day was at Pilgrim Heights, a few miles south of Provincetown, which, in good national park tradition, was a nature trail with plant labels. I saw bayberries and Virginia creeper and oaks and pines – and a little red berry with no label! I’m going to have to look that one up. The berries look like currants, but the foliage looks like plums. I’m wondering if it’s beach plum, but if it is, people make jam out of it, and, wow, it would take a gazillion of those tiny things to make just one pint.

Whatever this is, it doesn't look like Googled photos of beach plum.
Whatever this is, it doesn’t look like Googled photos of beach plum.
Bayberries, the stuff they make candles from.
Bayberries, the stuff they make candles from.
The trail at Pilgrim Heights.
The trail at Pilgrim Heights.

After that, I was chilled (yes! really!) and damp, so I came on back to my campsite and read for a while.

Tomorrow I will say good-bye to the Cape, after stopping in Hyannis to visit the John F. Kennedy museum, and drive up and around Boston to Lowell, Massachusetts, which has some history I want to explore, and to meet up with Ann from the Bujold list at an eggroll restaurant for dinner.

July 9: Footsore, sweaty, and in my element

Wow, was it hot today. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much time in that much heat and humidity (90s, with 60-something percent humidity – they were saying the heat index was over 100dF, which is just Wrong, in the most Ivanian sense of the term). But it was so worth it, and all of the buildings were air-conditioned, at any rate. Their original owners would have been so jealous…

I spent the entire day wandering around Colonial Williamsburg. It’s pricey – one day is $41, getting the ticket holder into all of the historical buildings and all of the craftsman demonstrations, plus two art museums I didn’t make it to – but it was fascinating. I went through the Capitol, and the Governor’s Palace, and several residences, and a tavern, which is not a bar, but more like a B&B or a rooming house.

The capitol building, with a couple of the many re-enactors sitting out front.
The capitol building, with a couple of the many re-enactors sitting out front.
The equivalent of the Supreme Court's room.
The equivalent of the Supreme Court’s room.
A handsome young Colonial gentleman.
A handsome young Colonial gentleman.
The Governor's Palace.
The Governor’s Palace.
A mirror protected from flyspots in the Wythe (pronounced with) house.
A mirror protected from flyspots in the Wythe (pronounced with) house.
George Washington slept here.  In the Wythe House.
George Washington slept here. In the Wythe House.
Stove in the ballroom in the Governor's Palace.
Stove in the ballroom in the Governor’s Palace.

I saw bricks and furniture and barrels and clothing and fabric being made (oh, and fabric being dyed, using natural materials, of course – the red was cochineal and the blue was indigo and the yellow was some kind of bark, and the colors were amazing). Shoemakers and hat makers and wig makers and candle makers and metal workers and just all sorts of crafts. Everything your 18th century colonist needs, well, except that most of the raw materials had to come to them through England, which had a monopoly on shipping, which caused a great deal of trouble. Even local stuff, like the indigo from South Carolina, had to go to England, be processed, and come back to Williamsburg.

Practicing Mr. Gutenberg's profession.
Practicing Mr. Gutenberg’s profession.
Making candles by melting wax over an open fire (in this weather) and dipping the wicks.  It takes about forty dips to make a candle.
Making candles by melting wax over an open fire (in this weather) and dipping the wicks. It takes about forty dips to make a candle.
Another open fire in this weather, this one in the dyeing demonstration.
Another open fire in this weather, this one in the dyeing demonstration.

I ate lunch in the Merchants’ Square just outside of the historical area, because it was considerably cheaper. Still good food, though, just without the ambiance [g].

And I drank more water today than I have ever in one day, I think.

By the time I got back to my motel this evening, I was footsore, and I think I walked more in one day today than I have since I left home.

It was so worth it. Especially the gardens, which were amazing. My photos do not do them justice in any way, shape, or form. Even the little kitchen gardens were gorgeous, full of plants that I haven’t seen blooming in years, because the climate’s so different from home, and I haven’t been to a hot, humid climate in the summertime in I don’t know how long. The crowning glory was the garden at the Governor’s Palace. Boxwood hedges and long, long flowering borders just full of gorgeous blooms.

A simple kitchen garden.  The pink flowers are phlox (which I did actually grow at home [g]).
A simple kitchen garden. The pink flowers are phlox (which I did actually grow at home [g]).
Sunflowers, a house with a nifty chimney, and a garbage can disguised as a barrel.
Sunflowers, a house with a nifty chimney, and a garbage can disguised as a barrel.
Boxwood in a back garden.  Boxwood has a distressing tendency to smell like cat pee, but it is pretty.
Boxwood in a back garden. Boxwood has a distressing tendency to smell like cat pee, but it is pretty.
Part of the Governor's  Palace's gorgeous gardens.
Part of the Governor’s Palace’s gorgeous gardens.

 

I love Williamsburg. I suspect if I lived within a day’s drive, I’d buy an annual pass the way I do now for the national parks pass. And I’d get more than my money’s worth.

June 28-30: This trip is turning into a cautionary tale

I have good reason again why I haven’t blogged for three days. First, I’m fine, or at least I haven’t hurt myself again. Second, Merlin is also fine. However…

So, I did decide to go back to Mammoth Cave on Tuesday and take another tour. This one was the historical tour, and it was much more like what I’d expected Mammoth Cave to be than the tour I’d taken the day before. We went down from the natural entrance (well, one of them, and the one that’s been in use the longest, since 1816), and walked down to a huge room called the Rotunda, seeing some of the history of the cave along the way. One of the reasons the U.S. did not lose the War of 1812 was because saltpeter mined in the cave was used to make gunpowder for the troops after Britain blockaded out ports (up till then, almost all gunpowder was imported from Europe).

A slightly blurry view of the main natural entrance to Mammoth Cave.
A slightly blurry view of the main natural entrance to Mammoth Cave.
Looking back up at the natural entrance from inside the cave.
Looking back up at the natural entrance from inside the cave.
The best photo I was able to take of the Rotunda.  Note the round formation on the ceiling.
The best photo I was able to take of the Rotunda. Note the round formation on the ceiling.
The ranger with a kerosene lantern, showing us what things would have been like for early explorers and tourists.
The ranger with a kerosene lantern, showing us what things would have been like for early explorers and tourists.

Beyond the Rotunda, we hiked about two miles in total (and went up and down over 500 stairs). Through a place called Fat Man’s Misery, where the passage narrowed down (below the waist, above the waist it was several feet wide) to about a foot, and you had to go sideways to get through. We also had to crouch down to get through several passages. It was in one of the latter that my camera fell out of my (always otherwise secure before) pocket and crashed onto a rock.

I picked it up. It looked fine. Only one tiny ding along the outside metal edge of the lens, but otherwise not a scratch. Then I tried to turn it on. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

And this is why I only have photos of about the first third of the Historical Tour of Mammoth Cave.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the tour was wonderful. We climbed 200 metal stairs up Mammoth Dome and through all sorts of interesting formations, and learned more about the slaves (in particular, one named Stephen Bishop, who was the first to explore many of the passages tourists see now, and who was so famous people requested him as their tour guide), and about the tuberculosis sanitorium (which still boggles my mind – why anyone would think that chilly and damp and dark would be good for lung conditions is beyond me). It was fascinating and beautiful.

But when I emerged from the cave, my camera was still dead. And nothing I could do would resurrect it.

So that night I looked up to see where the nearest Best Buy was, and it was on my way to Fort Knox to visit Danielle Hart. So I made note, and the next morning I stopped there. They could do nothing for the camera, not that I was exactly expecting them to be able to. But what I didn’t realize is that a) there are different sizes of Best Buy stores, and this was a smaller one, and b) Best Buy doesn’t carry a lot of digital cameras anymore. I’d bought the one I broke online, but that wasn’t an option given that I’m on the road with no permanent address, and that I needed one right away. I tried several other places, too, but nada.

So after trying several other stores, too, with no luck, I went on to Danielle’s. She lives in a really nice half a duplex on Fort Knox, so I had to go through security to get in, which was much more lax than it is at Fort Lewis back home. AAMOF, I now officially have permission to come and go from Fort Knox for the next six months if I so choose [g].

Danielle (and her daughter) and I had a great visit. We went out for Greek food, and I got a wonderful cat fix from her two Siamese kitties, Hector and Penelope, and, incidentally, did my laundry [wry g]. And we talked pretty much nonstop. The thing about Bujold listee friends is that we automatically have so much in common and so much to talk about (besides, any house with that many books automatically feels comfortable). Danielle is also a football fan (Detroit Lions), so that was fun, too.

She put me in her cats’ bedroom/library on a really comfortable air mattress. And took me to two more stores in my still-unsuccessful hunt for a new camera. I do hope she can come out to Washington sometime so that I can return the favor (minus the camera).

This morning I drove into Louisville, Kentucky (about 45 minutes north of Fort Knox) in search of a bigger Best Buy. Two more Best Buys later, I finally wound up in one with an adequate selection of cameras, and am now the proud possessor of a refurbished Nikon a couple of steps up from what I had. It basically operates the same way, but it has an even better optical zoom (it also cost about $70 more than my old camera [sigh]. But at least now I can take photos again.

I got seriously stuck in traffic trying to get back out of Louisville (I hadn’t intended to go there at all before my camera-tastrophe) but I did finally manage to fight my way clear. I’m now in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, the oldest town west of the Appalachians, on my way east again. Harrodsburg is a pretty little town with a lot of really old (from this West Coaster’s viewpoint, anyway) pretty buildings.

Beautiful downtown Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
Beautiful downtown Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
Chicory blossoms along the sidewalk in Harrodsburg.  Chicory is all over the roadsides in Kentucky, along with a lot of Queen Anne's Lace.
Chicory blossoms along the sidewalk in Harrodsburg. Chicory is all over the roadsides in Kentucky, along with a lot of Queen Anne’s Lace.
One of the many cool old houses in Harrodsburg (I love the fanlight above the downstairs window, and the porch on this one).  I walked around town for over an hour this afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
One of the many cool old houses in Harrodsburg (I love the fanlight above the downstairs window, and the porch on this one). I walked around town for over an hour this afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

There’s an old Shaker village just up the road, too. I’m going to explore it tomorrow before I head east towards North Carolina over the subsequent couple of days, and two more friends to visit.

Oh, and the weather feels like nice August at home! It’s cooled and dried out considerably!

June 27: Rain, caves, and really good BBQ

Today (not counting a short shower yesterday afternoon) is the first real rain I’ve had since Mt. Rainier, my first afternoon on the road. On the bright side, it has cooled the temps down from the upper 90s to the mid 80s. On the downside, apparently you’re supposed to drink the air in this part of the world it’s so humid.

Rain is a winter phenomenon in my world. Well, a late fall, winter, and spring phenomenon. It’s not supposed to rain if the temperature is above 65dF. It’s just not.

That said, I’ll take what cooling I can get [g]. And it only lightninged and thundered a couple of times, way off in the distance, so that’s good.

This morning I drove the forty miles or so from Bowling Green to Mammoth Cave National Park. Mammoth Cave is a place I’ve wanted to get back to ever since my second honeymoon (my honeymoon with my second husband, that is). We got married, after living together for over a year, in the courthouse in Bloomington, the day before Thanksgiving, 1987. We then drove to his parents’ house in suburban Cincinnati, and spent the next two nights on the foldout couch in their family room (I did mention we’d been living together for over a year at this point – it was more a formality than anything else), where his dad had been smoking cigars all evening.

Yes, I’d told my now-ex that tobacco smoke makes me ill. I don’t think he or his family believed me until I woke up on the morning after Thanksgiving looking, as I was told, rather green. But I had my heart set on us spending the rest of the weekend at Mammoth Cave, so we drove on down. It was too late to go in the cave that day, so we planned to do it the next day.

And, you guessed it, I woke up the next morning so sick that we ended up driving straight back to Bloomington. I was out sick from work for two weeks.

So. I’ve been to Mammoth Cave NP before, but I’ve never been in the cave. I’ve been wanting to come back and rectify this ever since, and today I did.

Not just a national park.  Mammoth Cave has world importance.
Not just a national park. Mammoth Cave has world importance.

I got a ticket to something called the Domes and Dripstone tour, which was two hours long. It was interesting, but not at all what I expected until almost to the end. Most of Mammoth Cave (at over 400 miles mapped so far, it’s the largest cave system in the world) is a dormant cave, which means there’s no longer any water working on it. All of that part is mostly big piles of jumbled rocks and squeezes through spaces between them. To get down in the cave to begin with, we had to go down 280 extremely narrow, switchbacking metal stairs. By the time we got close to the bottom, I was really wishing I’d counted them. I swear it felt more like 1000. At least it didn’t hurt my rib or anything else.

By the time we got to what’s called Frozen Niagara, where there’s still water creating formations, we were almost through the tour. But that part really was amazing. And I did get some okay photos of it.

There were two stops on the tour where we sat down on benches and the ranger told us about the cave.  This was the first one, and where he did the obligatory "let's turn off the lights" thing.
There were two stops on the tour where we sat down on benches and the ranger told us about the cave. This was the first one, and where he did the obligatory “let’s turn off the lights” thing.
My best photo (still pretty lousy) of Frozen Niagara.
My best photo (still pretty lousy) of Frozen Niagara.
Flowstone draperies.
Flowstone draperies.
A much better photo of more flowstone near Frozen Niagara.
A much better photo of more flowstone near Frozen Niagara.

For me, the human history of the place really overshadows the geology. They’ve been giving tours here for 200 years. The first tour guides were slaves. Part of the cave was once a tuberculosis sanitarium. And one poor fellow by the name of Floyd Collins was exploring a nearby cave looking for a connection to Mammoth in 1925 when he was trapped by a rockfall. They couldn’t get him out, and he died two weeks later, still stuck, from exposure. It was the biggest news story in the 20s that didn’t have anything to do with Charles Lindbergh.

The visitor center here does a really good job telling the human history of the cave, and the movie that goes with it is narrated by Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs and The Deadliest Catch), which is the second time I’ve run across him narrating something like this (the other time was at the Kansas History Museum) on this trip.  It’s a bit disconcerting.

Tonight I ate my first barbecue of the trip, at a bustling little joint in the little town of Cave City. I had a brisket sandwich, which was so piled with beef that I had to eat it with a knife and fork. It was falling apart tender, smoky, and the sauce was amazing. If you ever find yourself in Cave City, Kentucky, I highly recommend Bucky Bee’s Barbecue.

The history of the cave piqued my interest enough that I’m thinking about taking another cave tour tomorrow morning. This one is called the Historical tour, and takes the route that the early tours did. I think it ought to be interesting.

Then it’s on to Louisville, and hopefully to see Danielle, another Bujold listee (or former listee). And then on across the rest of Kentucky to North Carolina.

June 23-24: Not much the first day, more the second

Yesterday was pretty much a driving day. I had anticipated it only taking me a couple of hours from Decatur, Illinois, to Indianapolis, Indiana, and had called listee Kevin Kennedy (who is in rehab for some health problems) to arrange to come visit her yesterday afternoon. When I was still only on the outskirts of Indy at 3 pm, and still anticipating a grocery stop, plus rush-hour traffic, I called her back to rearrange things for this morning.

The drive across the rest of Illinois was flat and corny and soybeany, which was fine. Big skies, making me feel tiny again. But as soon as I crossed into Indiana, three things changed. First was relatively minor – Indiana needs to spend more money on their roads. Tooth-jarring is an exaggeration, but not by much. Second was even more minor – I lost an hour going from Central to Eastern time, which was another reason it took me longer than I expected to get to Indy (also, Indiana now observes DST, which it did not when I lived here in the late 80s and early 90s – I’m glad they came to their senses about that). The third was bizarre. No sooner than I crossed the state line, the landscape went from flat as a pancake to hilly — not just rolling, but hilly. It was like there was a reason for the state line to be there. Very strange.

Still, there wasn’t much to take photos of. As a matter of fact, I only took two photos yesterday, and here they are.

Right before the road got curvy.
Right before the road got curvy.
Hemerocallis fulva, or orange day lily. I saw literally thousands of these alongside the road in Illinois and Indiana. They're feral, not native. They come from Asia.
Hemerocallis fulva, or orange day lily. I saw literally thousands of these alongside the road in Illinois and Indiana. They’re feral, not native. They come from Asia.

Last night I spent my first night of the trip in a hostel. It’s called the Indy Hostel, and it’s on the north side of Indianapolis in an old craftsman style house. It was nice and clean and quiet. I like hostels, but there simply aren’t very many of them in the U.S., especially outside of big cities. I’m hoping to take advantage of more of them when I get to Canada (they have a lot more hostels up there).

This morning it was much easier to find where Kevin is doing her rehab than it should have been, and I even found a parking place right out front. We had a good hour’s chat (or at least I did, and I hope she did, too), which wasn’t quite as far ranging as the one I had with Jim the other day, but every bit as enjoyable. She also called me right after I left to let me know Lois had posted on the list that the new Penric novella is now available (I bought it this afternoon [g]).

Then I drove down into the hoots and hollers of southern Indiana. Not directly to Bloomington, because I wanted to stop at one of my favorite places when I lived here, McCormick’s Creek State Park. It’s Indiana’s first state park, and it, like the National Park Service, is celebrating its centennial this year.

It’s a beautiful little park, with a lodge (restaurant, rooms, and cabins, like a proper eastern state park) where I ate lunch – a delicious pork tenderloin sandwich (an Indiana specialty). It also happens to be where my second husband and I told my parents we were getting married, so that was kind of weird.

Then I drove the winding road into the park and wandered down through the dense green woods (I don’t know why I always think of evergreens as the forest and deciduous trees as the woods, but there you go) to the little canyon and waterfall. Southern Indiana and large chunks of Kentucky are karst country, similar to what I saw near Jasper Township in Jasper NP, Alberta, last year. That’s why Mammoth Cave and so many other caves are around here.

This is native. It's a species of hydrangea, and it was growing near the waterfall at McCormick's Creek.
This is native. It’s a species of hydrangea, and it was growing near the waterfall at McCormick’s Creek.
The waterfall at McCormick's Creek. Lots of people playing in the water below the falls. I'd have liked to do that, except I was worried about the footing. The last thing I need to do is hurt myself again.
The waterfall at McCormick’s Creek. Lots of people playing in the water below the falls. I’d have liked to do that, except I was worried about the footing. The last thing I need to do is hurt myself again.
The falls via zoom.
The falls via zoom.
I don't know what he is, but he's cool. He was near the falls.
I don’t know what he is, but he’s cool. He was near the falls.  ETA:  I am informed that this is some sort of damselfly.  Thanks, azurelunatic from DW!
The stairs going back up to the parking area, through the lovely woods.
The stairs going back up to the parking area, through the lovely woods.

It was cooler today (80 something instead of 90 something), especially in the shade, even if it was humid enough to need to drink the air instead of breathe it, so walking around in the woods was actually rather pleasant. And the waterfall is beautiful.

The park has a nice nature center, too, with a glass-walled room lined with bird feeders on the other side, so you can watch the birds in air-conditioned comfort [g].

A phlox! This one was near the nature center.
A phlox! This one was near the nature center.  I love the lavender and white combo, but then I love phlox just on general principles.
I'm not sure what kind of birds these are, but it was so much fun to watch them from inside. There were squirrels and chipmunks all over the ground eating fallen seeds, too.
I’m not sure what kind of birds these are, but it was so much fun to watch them from inside. There were squirrels and chipmunks all over the ground eating fallen seeds, too.  ETA:  I am told by my birder friend Katrina that they’re house finches.  It’s always good to know what I’m looking at [g].
I'm pretty sure the fellow on the left is a downy woodpecker (you can't see the red, but he had it), and the guy on the right is a goldfinch.
I’m pretty sure the fellow on the left is a downy woodpecker (you can’t see the red, but he had it), and the guy on the right is a goldfinch.

After I left McCormick’s Creek I drove on into Bloomington and did a little exploring around. I lived here for two separate years, once (1986-87) while my ex was in library school, and once (1991) while I was in library school. But I hadn’t been back since. I found some landmarks – the apartment where my ex and I used to live, way out in the country, and the bar where my friend Heidi from the library school library and I used to go to drink Long Island Iced Teas and Blue Hawaiians on the occasional Friday night and then weave our way back to the dorm [g].

And now I’m ensconced in a Motel 6 here for a couple of nights, because I have more that I want to do in Bloomington. It’s good to be here. This is the one place, where if someone put a gun to my head and said, “you have to move back to the Midwest,” I’d say, okay, send me to Bloomington. I have a lot of good memories here.

June 9: Climbing ladders and squeezing through tunnels, oh, and two 10,000 foot passes

Today was a two-part day. The first part of the day was my 10 am tour of Balcony House. I’d never done this one before, and I was a bit nervous about it. A 36-foot ladder was only the beginning. A 12-foot long, 18-inch wide, and 2-foot high tunnel, two more 12-foot ladders, and a set of stairs that rather reminded me of that part of the Mist Trail in Yosemite where you’re shinnying along a cliff edge that’s about a foot wide, with nothing between you and a hundred-plus foot drop except what looks like an old chain-link fence anchored into the rock. The only difference is that at least you’re not getting soaked with spray from Vernal Falls. Then again, with the temperature in the high 80s at 11 in the morning, the spray would have felt good.

36 foot ladder into Balcony House.  That was seriously scary.
36 foot ladder into Balcony House. That was seriously scary.
Inside Balcony House.
Inside Balcony House.
The view from Balcony House.
The view from Balcony House.
A kiva in Balcony House.  A kiva is an underground spiritual/social place.  That little hole just below the firepit is a sipapu.
A kiva in Balcony House. A kiva is an underground spiritual/social place. That little hole just below the firepit is a sipapu.
More Balcony House.
More Balcony House.

But it was worth it. Balcony House isn’t as big as Cliff Palace, but it’s got a lot of interesting pieces to it, and this ranger’s emphasis was on how the Ancestral Puebloans (the modern name for the people who lived in Mesa Verde, instead of calling them Anasazi, which is kind of pejorative, basically “ancient enemy” in Navajo) managed to live in a pretty darned harsh place. I’d always known they lived short lives (to their 20s and 30s, mostly), and that they only stayed in the cliff dwellings for about 80 years before they moved south to become part of the ancestors of the Hopi and Zuni and several other tribes, but their existence was a lot bleaker than the red Indians of the Mesa Verde book that came home with us from my first trip here made it out to be.

I read and reread that book as a kid, and even made a school project diorama about them, inspired by the really wonderful, elaborate 30s-era (WPA strikes again) dioramas in the Chapin Mesa Museum. I don’t know why they fascinated me so much, but they did.

One of the dioramas  at the Chapin Mesa Museum.
One of the dioramas at the Chapin Mesa Museum.
Spruce Tree House, which you can't go inside of anymore because of rockfalls.  It's near the museum.
Spruce Tree House, which you can’t go inside of anymore because of rockfalls. It’s near the museum.

By the time I managed to get back to Merlin and stop by the museum to see the dioramas once more, I was hot and sweaty and ready to head to the mountains.

A sculpture outside of the visitor center.  That's a man, climbing a cliff with a load of wood on his back, just as the Ancestral Puebloans would have done to reach their cliff dwellings.
A sculpture outside of the visitor center. That’s a man, climbing a cliff with a load of wood on his back, just as the Ancestral Puebloans would have done to reach their cliff dwellings.

Which I did. With a stop in Durango for lunch and gas and ice, I headed north (I know, I know) towards Silverton on what’s locally called the Colorado Skyway. Aptly named, too. Merlin climbed over two passes, both over 10,000 feet, this afternoon before I stopped for the night. I have one more to go, at 11,000 feet (only 3,000 feet lower than the summit of Mt. Rainier!), but that’s for tomorrow.

Along the road between Durango and Silverton.
Along the road between Durango and Silverton.
Another view along that road.
Another view along that road.

Tonight I’m in a forest service campground at around 9000 feet, next to a river rushing with snowmelt. The best part? It’s in the fifties out there, and is supposed to get to the thirties tonight (my sleeping bag is rated to 30dF, so I will be fine <g>). No more desert! No more heat!

At my campsite in the Lower Mineral campground just north of Silvertion.
At my campsite in the Lower Mineral campground just north of Silvertion.

At least not till I hit the plains of eastern Colorado and Kansas in a few days. Eep.

June 8: Cliff dwellings, and a bit of a rant

First, the rant. I think I need to write Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (my senators) about how our national parks are being priced out of the means of too many Americans. Thirty-two bleeding dollars for a campsite at Mesa Verde is just the tip of the iceberg. It brought back memories of a bunch of other indignities, like the fact that the price of a cabin at Yellowstone has doubled in the last ten years (and never mind that you can’t even camp near Old Faithful anymore, so if you want to be at the geyser basins early or late, you have to pay for lodging), or that the cheapest place to stay in Yosemite is a filthy (and I mean that in the literal sense – the one I stayed in was disgustingly dirty when I was there in 2011) tent cabin for $125 a night. There’s a lot of inequity about entrance fees, too – some very popular parks don’t charge fees, and some charge upwards of $30 just to get in (this is why an annual parks pass for $80 is something I always do – even when I don’t travel it pays for itself just for going to Rainier and Olympic). Anyway, I hate how the parks are letting the concessioners get away with murder. If they really want to walk the walk about getting the younger generations into the parks that they keep talking about, then they need to make sure the younger generations can actually afford to go to the parks. And those of us in the older generations who aren’t rich, too.

Rant over. At least for now.

Other than that, I love Mesa Verde. This is another of those parks that I first visited when I was too young to remember. Almost. The earliest memory I have of traveling with my family is of my sisters holding my hands as I walked along the top of the walls at the Sun Temple here (which is strictly illegal to do these days).

Sun Temple, which the archaeologists think was a communal worship/spiritual gathering place.
Sun Temple, which the archaeologists think was a communal worship/spiritual gathering place.

I’ve been to Mesa Verde once as an adult, in 2002, in the immediate aftermath of a huge fire that closed chunks of the park. It’s nice to be back when everything’s open.

The first thing I did was stop at the brand-new (2012) visitor center just inside the park entrance to buy two tickets, one for a tour of Cliff Palace today, and one for a tour of Balcony House tomorrow, then  I drove the mesa top loop, which is where Sun Temple is, and where there are other ruins, and where of course I saw more wildflowers.

One of the mesa-top ruins.  This was a pit house from before they started building cliff dwellings.
One of the mesa-top ruins. This was a pit house from before they started building cliff dwellings.
Scarlet gilia
Scarlet gilia
Mariposa lily
Mariposa lily
Prickly pear cactus, yellow this time.
Prickly pear cactus, yellow this time.

I went through Cliff Palace in 2002, and it’s an amazing place. The ranger who took us through this time talked mostly about the history of archaeology as it applies to Mesa Verde, and the good things that happened and the bad. It was eye-opening. Did you know that because the first “real” archaeologist who excavated in Mesa Verde was from Sweden, that the largest collection of Mesa Verde artifacts is in a museum there? I knew from my own education that repatriation is a fraught concept, but I hadn’t known this in specific.

A view of Cliff Palace from across the canyon.
A view of Cliff Palace from across the canyon.
A cliff dwelling I didn't get the name of.
A cliff dwelling I didn’t get the name of.
Cliff Palace from the head of the trail.
Cliff Palace from the head of the trail.
A view from inside Cliff Palace.
A view from inside Cliff Palace.
Another view from inside Cliff Palace.
Another view from inside Cliff Palace.
A view from where we left Cliff Palace.
A view from where we left Cliff Palace.

Anyway, Cliff Palace is a remarkable place, well worth climbing ladders and squeezing up narrow steps (better than the hand and footholds on the cliffs the residents used) to get in and out of. I understand I’ll have to crawl through a tunnel to get into Balcony House tomorrow. That ought to be interesting.

Given that I refused to pay $32 to camp in the park, finding a campsite last night was interesting. The national forest doesn’t start until almost Durango, so that was out. I ended up in a commercial campground just across the highway from the park entrance. It was $19, which was considerably better. But still. I need to write my senators. Not that it’ll do any good, but it’ll make me feel better. The parks are supposed to be for everyone, dammit.

June 6: Hoodoos and slickrock and cliffs, and jaw-dropping scenery

I don’t think I’ve ever seen more beautiful scenery than I saw today. Not even the Blue Ridge Parkway. Not even the Icefields Parkway. Not even the Beartooth Highway. This was the desert version of all three, and it was spectacular. The photos I took don’t even begin to do it justice, and I took 150 of them today <wry g>.

I started the day at the crack of dawn by driving to the end of the road at Bryce and working my way back (this, as the brochure advised, puts all the viewpoints on the righthand side). I’d forgotten how pretty Bryce is (the last time I was here was in February, 1997). The colors and the shapes (collectively called hoodoos) and the curvature of the earth views are just magnificent, especially early in the day.

Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point.
Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point.
The start of one of the trails down into the canyon. Given the temperature and the requirement to come back whatever I went down, I decided discretion was the better part of getting myself in trouble.
The start of one of the trails down into the canyon. Given the temperature and the requirement to come back up whatever I went down, I decided discretion was the better part of getting myself in trouble.
Another view from the same spot.
Another view from the same spot.

But that was just the beginning of the scenery. I headed east on Utah Hwy. 14, which is marked on the map with those little green dots denoting a scenic route. This was the understatement of the year, if not the decade.

First, I stopped at a place called Mossy Cave. I never did see the cave, but there was a pretty waterfall (enhanced, it seems, by a canal dug back in the 1890s to bring water east of the mountains to the small town of Tropic). The real highlight, though, was being below the hoodoos without having to hike down and back out. Just a half-mile stroll in and back.

The stream along the Mossy Cave trail.
The stream along the Mossy Cave trail.

Things only got better from there, through canyons and broad valleys and up over hills and dales to the town of Escalante (Es-ca-LAN-te), where I ate lunch at one of those “okay, we’re too small a town for franchise fast food, so here’s something better than any franchise” places. Best hamburger I’ve had in a very long time.

And then the real gorgeousness began. The local term for the shining, smooth, red and white landscape dotted with dark green junipers is slickrock, I suspect because it would be hard to keep your footing on. The road came out on a viewpoint above miles and miles of this amazing territory, where I could do nothing but goggle and say, “Really? Seriously? Really?” I don’t have words for how beautiful that view was, and the pictures don’t do it justice. It was absolutely amazing.

Looking across one of the most spectacular views I've ever seen. The photo looks like crud in compariion.
Looking across one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen. The photo looks like crud in comparison.
And one more try. It was so amazing, really.
And one more try. It was so amazing, really.
Another failed try at capturing this unreal place. See the road snaking down? That's where I was headed.
Another failed try at capturing this unreal place. See the road snaking down? That’s where I was headed.

And then the road wove down through it, for miles. This stretch is called the million dollar highway, for how difficult and costly it was to build, but it was worth every penny. To the dairy farmers of Boulder, too, apparently. Before the road was built, the milk they sent for sale to Escalante often turned to butter on the rough trail. Or sour cream, which then exploded <g>.

I passed through the tiny hamlet of Boulder, and began the climb up over Boulder Mountain. I haven’t seen that many aspens since I lived in Colorado. I can only imagine what it must look like in the fall. Gold as far as the eye can see. Today, it was all pale green, except at the viewpoints (the pass topped out at 9600 feet) with more curvature of the earth views. This was a road I know we didn’t travel when I was a kid, because it wasn’t actually paved until 1985.

A view of the Waterpocket Fold, which is the main feature of Capitol Reef National Park, as seen from near the top of 9600 Boulder Mtn. Pass.
A view of the Waterpocket Fold, which is the main feature of Capitol Reef National Park, as seen from near the top of Boulder Mtn. Pass.

My goal for today was Capitol Reef National Park, beyond the northern foot of Boulder Mountain. The last time I was here, too, I wasn’t old enough to really remember. I have vague memories, but that’s it. And, again, I was on scenery overload. Tall dark red cliffs and monuments in all sorts of shapes and sizes, looming overhead like they were going to lean over enough to make a tunnel. I’m pretty sure the ten mile scenic side road (as if the whole place wasn’t scenic) wasn’t paved the last time I was here, either, and while I originally decided to take it because it was 97dF outside this afternoon here (only in the 70s on Boulder Mountain – part of me wishes I’d camped up there instead and come down here in the morning) and I wanted to stay in the AC some more, it was still far more beautiful than it had a right to be.

Aptly named Chimney Rock, in Capitol Reef National Park.
Aptly named Chimney Rock, in Capitol Reef National Park.
Along the "scenic drive" at Capitol Reef.
Along the “scenic drive” at Capitol Reef.

The campground here is in an old Mormon fruit orchard, so at least there’s shade, and now that the sun’s gone down the temperature is actually quite lovely. But heat aside, it was the most amazing day of the trip so far. I’m still just shaking my head at the glory of it all.

May 31: Deep blue lakes and into California

I woke up this morning to the distinct feeling of being watched. It was extremely disconcerting, but when I looked out my back window it was to see a deer, about ten feet away, staring straight at me. As soon as I moved she bounded off, but that was pretty cool.

Merlin and I survived the most washboardy dirt road on the planet <tm> back to the main highway without jarring anything loose, and headed south to Crater Lake. The closer I got to the lake the more snow there was, until by the time I reached the rim, the snowdrifts were considerably taller than my van.

My first view of Crater Lake on this trip.
My first view of Crater Lake on this trip.
Merlin next to a snowbank.
Merlin next to a snowbank.
The classic view of the lake from the Rim Village.  Note how un-snowy the south side of Wizard Island is compared to the north side in the first photo.
The classic view of the lake from the Rim Village. Note how un-snowy the south side of Wizard Island is compared to the north side in the first photo.  And isn’t the reflection nifty?  The lake was extremely calm.
A Clark's Nutcracker.  They are everywhere around the rim of the lake.  This one was in the top of a dead snag, about thirty feet away.
A Clark’s Nutcracker. They are everywhere around the rim of the lake. This one was in the top of a dead snag, about thirty feet away.

I’ve never seen Crater Lake with snow before. I’d been there at least once as a kid with my parents (the Mazama campground is where my dad once chased a bear away, which story gets trotted out regularly in my family), and with my first husband, and this was the third time since I moved to Tacoma 23 years ago. But still, first time with snow, which was amazingly beautiful. Most of the roads and all of the trails were closed because of it, though, so, really, after taking lots of photos and sitting for a while on Crater Lake Lodge’s patio overlooking the lake, and hearing the weirdest sound, which I thought was a wild animal but turned out to be a baby (I’ve never heard a baby make a noise like that before), there wasn’t much else to do but go on.

Down down down to lunch in Klamath Falls, and some necessary phone calls now that the holiday weekend is finally over (there’s not a lot of cell phone signal in this part of the world), and then across my second state line of the trip to the town of Tulelake, California, the site of the largest Japanese internment camp during WWII. There’s a small national park service exhibit (and a bored to death park ranger) at the fairgrounds in town, but that’s pretty much it. Oh, and Tulelake High School is the home of the Honkers <g>. The Pacific Flyway goes directly over Tulelake, and there’s a huge lake and wildlife refuge nearby, but still.

Tulelake High School.
Tulelake High School.

And on to where I am tonight, which is Lava Beds National Monument, home of the largest concentration of lava tube caves in North America, and the last stand of the Modoc Indians, back about three years before the Nez Perce tried to flee to Canada. I hiked a trail around Captain Jack’s Stronghold (Captain Jack was what the whites called one of the Modoc chiefs), where the tribe held off a U.S. Army force ten times their number for months before they finally had to surrender.

Count it as another odd place to find wildflowers, too.

Part of the trail through Captain Jack's Stronghold, Lava Beds National Monument.
Part of the trail through Captain Jack’s Stronghold, Lava Beds National Monument.
One of several wildflowers I saw along the Stronghold trail.  This one is called Phacelia linearis.
One of several wildflowers I saw along the Stronghold trail. This one is called Phacelia linearis, and yes, it’s really that blue.  
This is called The Devil's Homestead.  It's what I thought most of the National Monument would look like, but that was not the case.
This is called The Devil’s Homestead. It’s what I thought most of the National Monument would look like, but that was not the case.
Desert buckwheat near the visitor center.
Desert buckwheat near the visitor center.

I did go down a little ways into one of the caves, but they’re not lit, and a lantern was not enough light for me to go far down there alone. I’m hoping there’ll be a ranger-guided walk through one tomorrow before I head on south. We’ll see.

May 30: The High Desert Museum is not Northwest Trek’s sibling, after all

I’ve been wanting to go to the High Desert Museum just south of Bend, Oregon, for a long time. I went once before, back in the 90s, when I don’t think it had been around for very long, and I wanted to see what it was like now.

I’d had it in my brain that it was this ecosystem’s NW Trek, which is basically a wild animal park (as opposed to a zoo) populated with local animals. The HDM did have local animals, but they were mostly of the creepy-crawly variety – reptiles and insects and a couple of arachnids I could have done just as well without – with the exception of a pair of river otters being terminally cute in a new habitat which just opened in April.

Desert collared lizard.
Desert collared lizard.
A sheepwagon like the one Charley saw in Repeating History.
A sheepwagon like the one Charley saw in Repeating History.
Otters!
Otters!

4

My van's namesake.
My van’s namesake.

But the rest of the museum included a 1904 family logging operation (contrary to the moniker “high desert,” most of this part of the world is heavily forested with ponderosa pine) done up in living history style, a huge exhibit on the Native American history of the Great Basin, and several other exhibits. A temporary exhibit featured the work of the WPA in Oregon in the 1930s.

So, actually, it was a cross between NW Trek, the WA state history museum, and Fort Nisqually. Pretty darned impressive. And that doesn’t even take into account all the terrific outdoor sculpture, one piece of which was created by Rip Caswell, who I know through Facebook. Small world.

Lunch was back in Bend, and so was a trip up Pilot Butte, just east of downtown, thank you for mentioning it to me, Paul. But could you have at least warned me that the road to the top is at least as terrifying as the one up Steptoe Butte in the Palouse??? But it was worth the white knuckles, and I finally got some excellent views of the central Oregon Cascade volcanoes.

Middle and South Sister from the top of Pilot Butte, with the zoom.
Middle and South Sister from the top of Pilot Butte, with the zoom.
The same peaks from the same place sans zoom, with the city of Bend below.
The same peaks from the same place sans zoom, with the city of Bend below.

I spent most of the afternoon at Newberry Crater Nat’l Volcanic Monument, not far south of Bend, a place I’d camped at with my parents when I was about nine or ten, and with my first husband in my mid-twenties. It was fun to see it again, to hike the Obsidian Flow trail (which still had snow in places!) and stroll along the shore of one of the tiny lakes inside the crater.

Obsidian Flow, Newberry Crater.
Obsidian Flow, Newberry Crater.
Along the Obsidian Flow trail, Newberry Crater.
Along the Obsidian Flow trail, Newberry Crater.
An interesting obsidian formation.  Sorry about the photographer's shadow.
An interesting obsidian formation. Sorry about the photographer’s shadow.
East Lake, Newberry Crater.
East Lake, Newberry Crater.

Tonight I’m camped at a little forest service campground along the road to Newberry Crater, with a waterfall as background music. Pretty nifty, IMHO.

Waterfall at McKay Crossing campground, about a two-minute walk from my site.
Waterfall at McKay Crossing campground, about a two-minute walk from my site.