Mima mounds are one of those quasi-mysterious landforms that no one really has an explanation for. They occur in various places in North America and elsewhere, but the landform itself is named after the mounds on the Mima Prairie, which happens to be just down the road from where I live (I’m northeast of Olympia, Washington, and the mounds are about 10 miles south of Oly). This area is also one of the few examples of native prairie left in western Washington, as well as a prime example of the mounds. It’s now preserved as a Natural Area Preserve by the state of Washington, and as a Natural National Landmark by the federal government.
I’d been there once before not long after I moved to Washington, then I completely forgot about it. Which is really too bad, actually.
But the real draw for me, especially this time of year, is the flowers. Of course. I saw at least a dozen different kinds. Here are some of them.
And two other non-flower photos.
Oh, and by the way, it’s pronounced like lima bean, not like Lima, Peru.
I always wake up at the crack of dawn when I’m camping. Especially this time of year when it gets light before six in the morning. But that’s okay.
I’m not sure why (am I ever sure why?) I decided to drive up to Lake Chelan this morning, but I never really have before. I stopped in the touristy town of Chelan, at the foot of the lake, to buy batteries for my camera and to stick my head in a quilt shop on the main drag. Whoever their fabric buyer is, her taste does not agree with mine. I’m not a big fan of what I think of as sixties neon, and that was about all that little shop held.
There is no road clear around Lake Chelan. It’s a landlocked fjord, and the upper end of the lake reaches deep into the North Cascades. There are two roads on either side. The one on the north shore of the lake is only about twenty miles long. The one on the south side is about twice that length, so that’s the one I took.
Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in North America at over 1500 feet deep (the bottom is lower than sea level), according to a sign I read at the ferry landing. It’s roughly 55 miles long, and varies from one to two miles wide. It’s also pretty darned gorgeous. I stopped at the Fields Point Landing, a few miles up the lake, to poke around the visitor center and ask about the ferry that runs daily to Stehekin, the tiny settlement at the head of the lake. One of these days I want to take that trip, but the boat had left an hour or so earlier. Next time.
But I saw beautiful views, anyway, and more flowers.
I’d thought about camping at 25 Mile Creek State Park at the end of the road that night, but it wasn’t even noon yet, and I decided I wanted to actually go on up to the Okanogan. So, stopping along the way to make a picnic lunch, I headed up to the town of Omak, where one of my favorite quilt shops (Needlyn Time) is. And, yes, this time I bought fabric, which I needed like a hole in the head, but tough.
After that, I headed up to Conconully, the little town that inspired the ghost town of the same name in my Unearthly Northwest books.
Conconully is one of the few towns I know of with a state park right at the edge of town. But it’s a nice state park, and the campsite I wound up at was right on the lake and pretty secluded. I spent what was left of the afternoon just enjoying the day and reading, and listening to the red-winged blackbirds sawing their courtship cries. Oh, and watching the geese and ducks use the lake as a landing and launch pad. And the deer eating the campground’s mowed grass.
All in all, I drove a bit more than I had intended, but it was well worth it.
It’s no secret that this has been the wettest winter on record in western Washington (almost 45 inches of rain between October 1st and April 30th – our average, for well over a hundred years of record-keeping, is closer to 35 inches for the entire year), and one of the coldest. There’s no argument that it’s been incredibly depressing as well (and personal reasons have made it even more so for me).
So, when the weather forecasters for this past week noted (with great cheer) that it was supposed to get to and over 70dF on the west side of the mountains for the first time this year on Wednesday and Thursday, and even warmer, with lots of sunshine, on the east side, I thought, you know what? Screw it, I’m going camping.
Of course, when I thought about the east side of the mountains, my first idea was to go back to the Okanogan, which almost feels like home after the time I spent there researching my first two Tales of the Unearthly Northwest. I was also hoping it would nudge me back into writing the third Tale, which has sat there a few chapters in whining at me for longer than I want to think about it, due to those personal reasons I mentioned above. That didn’t really happen, but at least I got to spend some time in the sun, in nature, and to see lots of spring wildflowers.
The first place I went for flowers wasn’t on the way to the Okanogan, not in the region proper. At some point in the past I had picked up a flyer titled Wildflower Areas in the Columbia Basin, and one of them was about ten miles southeast of Wenatchee.
That turned out to be something of an adventure, as the photo of the Rock Island Grade Road will show. At my first sight of it, I thought, oh my gosh, I hope that little dirt road climbing up the side of a canyon isn’t the one they’re talking about, but yes, it was.
It wasn’t the steepest, narrowest road I’ve ever driven, but I think it’s the steepest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever driven. The recommended place to stop was about two and a half miles up, and the flyer hinted that there was a parking area. Ha. And what it turned out to be was a place for locals to go up and shoot cans, with all of the attendant garbage. That said, it was also literally carpeted with wildflowers. I managed to park Merlin as close to the edge of the road (not, at that point, hanging over the cliff) as I could, in case someone else came by (no one did, thank goodness), got out, and this is what I saw.
After I made my way cautiously back down to the highway, I headed back to Wenatchee, then north along Hwy. 97, which borders the Columbia River. It was getting fairly late in the afternoon by then, so I stopped at Lincoln Rock State Park, the first of three parks with campgrounds north of Wenatchee. I’d never camped there before. All of the sites are within sight of the river, and it was a peaceful, warm evening. I sat out in my lawn chair and just absorbed it all. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera chose just then to give up the ghost, and apparently I’d forgotten to bring the spares, so I have no photos of that.
And that was my first day east of the mountains this year. More tomorrow.
Ah, Bloomington. It’s amazing how much has changed, but how much has remained the same. This morning I went looking to find places on campus that I remembered – the building in the music school (at the time, and still, I suspect, given that I saw no less than three new-to-me buildings with music school signs, one of the best in the U.S.) where I worked as secretary to the director of undergraduate studies (my longest job title ever [g]), while my ex was going to library school. I loved the job and my co-workers, but, oh, dear godlings, I still shudder when I remember the stage parents. Kids came to study here from all over the world, but the American parents were the worst. Pushy, omigod.
But I digress. I also found the library school, excuse me, now it’s the:
It was the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) when I was there. Wow, do I feel old.
Anyway. I also found my old grad dorm Eigenmann Hall, see below, which is not one of the beautiful old stone buildings that most of the campus is made of. I will try to take some photos of them on my way out of town tomorrow, because Indiana University really is a gorgeous campus. Even if at least one of those buildings (the music school undergrad office) housed a waterbug the size of a silver dollar that wasn’t crushable by anything. We ended up scooping it up with a piece of paper and throwing it out the window.
This place is bringing back some singularly weird memories.
I got my hair cut for the first time since I left home, too. She did a really good job. And, no, that’s not the borderline TMI.
In the afternoon, I drove thirteen miles east of Bloomington to one of my favorite places when I lived here, Brown County State Park. The guy who took my money at the gate (and who gave me the “honorary Hoosier” price because I told him I’d gone to IU — $7 instead of $9) was from Pasco, Washington [g].
I love Brown County State Park. It’s actually hilly so the views are pretty impressive and the woods are dark, deep, and full of so many different leaf shapes, sizes, and colors that it’s impossible to count or identify them all (I remember it being particularly spectacular in October, but the shades of green now are still pretty amazing). The roads wind from viewpoint to viewpoint, down to two little lakes (really reservoirs) and around and about. Picnic areas everywhere. And a neat lodge and a nature center (which latter, alas, was being remodeled, so I didn’t get to visit it). Oh, and a nifty little covered bridge. I ate lunch at the lodge, and drove around just remembering and enjoying.
But by the time I got back to Bloomington late this afternoon, my rear end was hurting again. TMI warning. I didn’t just crack my rib and bruise and scrape myself up when I fell out of the van. I also managed to bruise my tailbone. Anyway, unlike everything else (the rib doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it did, mostly, I think, because after a week and a half the bruising is all gone), the backside is still aching, more than it did right after. So I stopped at a drugstore when I got back to Bloomington and bought one of those doughnut cushions. Inflatable [g]. Anyway, I should have bought one right after the accident, because wow, is it making things feel better!
Anyway, end TMI.
Tomorrow, I am off to Mammoth Cave NP. This is one of those places that is definitely on my mental list. I am so looking forward to it.
But I’ll try to remember to take at least one good photo of the IU campus before I head out. If I can figure out where to park, I might even go into the Student Center and see if the Venus de Milo is still gracing the staircase inside as a newel post [g].
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.
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.
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].
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.
So. I’ve been on the road for a week as of today. Man, it’s going fast. I made it across the rest of Nevada today. Actually, I really rather enjoyed the whole “Loneliest Highway in America” thing. It was beautiful and desolate and greener and more floral than I thought it would be. And not nearly as lonely as I thought it would be, either. I probably passed at least three dozen cars in the 100+ miles I drove today. Oh, and six, count ‘em six over-sized loads, two of which were so wide that they had the Nevada Highway Patrol running interference for them. They actually had me pull over onto the shoulder and stop until the two giant pieces of what I think were probably mining equipment went by (Eureka, one of the two towns I passed through today, was basically just an overgrown lead mine), because each one of them took up the entire width of the two-lane road.
I still don’t know how to pronounce the name of the town of Ely (it’s either Ee’-lee, or Ee-lie’ — I asked, and it’s Ee-‘-lee), which was the “big city” of this part of the world. I’ve been topping off the gas tank whenever I hit a town of any size ever since I left California, because they’re so few and far between around here. I don’t think I’ve put more than $20 in the tank at a time since I left home, which is about 5/8ths of a tank.
Oh, and whoever heard of a rest area without a toilet??? I have now. Ridiculous. It had a garbage can. A pit toilet wouldn’t have been much more effort.
I arrived here at Great Basin about 12:30, and the first thing I did after checking out the visitor center was snag a campsite. As it turns out, this early in the season (?) only one of the three main campgrounds is open, and it’s only about a dozen sites. I got the last one. Second time that’s happened on this trip.
This afternoon I drove up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which goes up to 10,000 feet on 10 miles of switchbacks up the side of a mountain (not the peak itself). It was gorgeous, if a bit white-knuckly (I had to downshift on my way back down to keep from braking constantly). Unfortunately, the bristlecone pine trees the park is famous for (they’re the oldest living things on the planet) are a three-mile one-way hike along a still-snowy trail (nothing was even budded up there – it still looked like winter), so I guess I’ll have to satisfy myself with the exhibits in the visitor center.
But it was still well worth the drive up there. Just beautiful. And you can see forever from up there. One of those curvature of the earth things.
I’m really looking forward to touring Lehman Caves here tomorrow.
You don’t have to camp to see critters, apparently. This morning, I looked out my motel room window on the north shore of Lake Tahoe and saw a bear! A big lumbering black bear. He didn’t stay long, fortunately, and was gone by the time I was ready to pack up and leave. But still. A bear!
I headed around to the east side of the lake, crossing my third state line into Nevada, stopping at a viewpoint to take some better photos, and drove down the steep eastern escarpment of the Sierras. I arrived in Carson City in the middle of the morning, where I have to say that the signage for east on U.S. 50 was not the clearest on the planet. I did finally find my way out of town, though.
I hadn’t realized until I’d pulled my map out while I was trying to figure out the aforementioned way out of town that Virginia City was only a few miles off of U.S. 50, just a few miles east of Carson City. I hadn’t been to this Virginia City since the weekend I got engaged to my first husband, thirty-mumble years ago. Since I visited another Virginia City (the one in Montana) early on during my first Long Trip, it seemed like a good idea to visit the other one this time. Besides, it was getting on towards lunchtime.
Virginia City, Nevada is kind of a hoot. It’s a tourist trap extraordinaire, but it’s also the home of one of the richest strikes in mining history, as well as where Mark Twain got his start as a newspaperman. It was fun to wander up and down the board sidewalks and peer into shop windows, and eat lunch in a saloon. I do have to say, though, that it wasn’t where I expected to see anything Seahawks. At this point I’m a lot closer to Forty-Whiner country <g>.
After Virginia City, I kept going east! finally! (after almost a week of going south) on U.S. 50, which in Nevada is known as the Loneliest Highway in America. Once you leave the outskirts of Carson City behind, and the town of Fallon about an hour further on, it does get pretty empty, at least of human stuff. It was 110 miles from Fallon to the next town, Austin, a tiny old mining camp perched on the side of a mountain, and I think I saw one human habitation along the way. Oh, and a rest area with an exhibit about the Pony Express, the route of which crossed what would become the highway several times.
There’s a reason they call it the basin and range country. The geology is such that from the air, the state of Nevada looks like a piece of fabric stretched then rumpled repeatedly in neat rows. Across the plain, over the mountains, across the plain, over the mountains, lather, rinse, repeat.
I’m in a forest service campground just east of Austin, where I think I may have camped with my parents when I was a kid. It looks vaguely familiar, anyway. The altitude is 7200 feet, where it’s nice and cool, as opposed to the 90s I left behind in Carson City. There are wildflowers, too. My old friends mules’ ears and lupine, and my favorite wildflower of all, alpine phlox. My neighbors are friendly, too. It’s a good place to be for the night. I wonder if I’ll wake to find critters peering in my window again.
I really didn’t mean to drive 320 miles today. I’ve been averaging less than 200 a day so far, but, well, California is like Ohio, and I’m not sure I can unpack that enough to make sense for anyone but me. Let’s just say I’ve been having some really weird flashbacks today and let it go at that.
Anyway. They weren’t having guided cave tours at Lava Beds NM today, unfortunately, so I decided to head on out. Basically what I did today was go down the eastern edge of California from the far northeast corner down to Lake Tahoe. I’d had it in my mind that I wanted to visit the northern end of the Gold Country tomorrow, but by the time I reached the turnoff, the idea of going back west just felt seriously wrong, so I didn’t, and came down to Tahoe instead, and found a motel on the north shore.
Tomorrow I escape California and head east into Nevada, on a highway called The Loneliest Road in America <g>. We drove it once when I was a kid, and it really is the shortest route between here and Great Basin National Park, where I plan to spend a couple of days (and go in a cave I know has guided tours).
Anyway, this is some of what I saw today. I think I took maybe six pictures all day, which is also seriously weird.
Oh, and Merlin now has 2000 miles on his odometer (he had almost 1000 before I left).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.