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.
I woke up this morning to frost on my windshield! Yes, it was in the 50sdF when I went to sleep last night, and yes, I was camped at 9600 feet, but still. It’s June! I had to find my ice scraper, and thank goodness I’d remembered to pull it out of Kestrel’s glove department when I traded him in, and thank goodness I’d thrown it into Merlin’s glove department, too.
So that was kind of an adventure. I went over an 11,000 foot pass this morning, too, and saw two waterfalls, then I came down into the town of Ouray and all of a sudden the land flattened back out again. By the time I reached the city of Montrose (yeah, it’s a city – I passed a big box store conglomeration on my way into town), it was almost 80dF, and by this afternoon it was in the mid-80s. A 50-degree temperature rise in less than four hours.
Then I headed east on U.S. 50 (the same highway I’d crossed Nevada on), and, in spite of being at over 7000 feet, I was back in the desert.
Still, I did have an interesting place to stop along the way. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (for those who are counting, this is my twelfth national park/monument of the trip <g>) is another of those places we went when I was a kid. I think I was nine or ten, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Anyway, I did sort of remember it.
The canyon is over 2000 feet deep, narrow enough to make it feel like you could throw a rock from rim to rim, and made from a very dark rock called gneiss (“nice”) that has a lot of stripes and color in it. It was something to behold. But, as usual for me, the flowers kind of took over the show.
I drove the six mile with lots of viewpoints rim road, ate lunch at the picnic area at the end, and took another gazillion photos. It was well worth the stop, especially since it was right on my way.
Gunnison, Colorado, is about an hour east of the Black Canyon (or it would have been if I hadn’t run into my second bout of road construction of the day – the first was at the 10,000 foot level just south of Ouray), and it’s where I am tonight. It’s also the home of Western Colorado University, where my nephew Mike went to college. I’m not sure how he ended up there, but it’s a nice little campus.
I had it in my brain that Gunnison was going to be a mountain town, but it’s in a valley, and sort of a cross between desert and ranchland. It’s pretty, but it doesn’t look at all like I thought it would.
And as the crowning touch of nostalgia, I’m staying in a KOA campground (for the showers and the wifi, since motels here are expensive) for the first time since my ex and I stayed in one just outside Eugene, Oregon in the early 80s. My folks and I used to stay in one about every third day when we traveled for the same reason I’m here tonight (well, not for the wifi…). Anyway. It’s funny.
As of today, I’ve been on the road for two weeks. Amazing.
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).
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.
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.
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.
It was only 70dF when I left Capitol Reef NP at seven this morning <wry g>. I’d have liked to do some hiking, but not with temperatures approaching 100dF in the afternoon. Today was my last real day in the desert, though. It’ll still be warm at Mesa Verde over the next day or two, but after that I’ll be way up in the Colorado Rockies for a few days. Of course, after that I’ll be crossing the Great Plains, but still… I have to take my optimism where I can get it. Part of me is wondering if I should have headed across Canada, turned south when I got to the other ocean, and come back across the middle of the U.S. Oh, well. Too late now <g>.
But here’s two more Capitol Reef photos, anyway.
Today was sort of Monument Valley North. I’m only a hundred miles or so northeast of the real Monument Valley tonight, but I can remember going there when I was a kid, and trust me, what I saw today was plenty. Lots of huge monoliths rising from the ground. And very few places on the narrow two-lane road to pull over and take a photo.
Oh, and the mighty Colorado wasn’t all that mighty. Or at least it didn’t look mighty enough to justify photographing it, apparently.
Natural Bridges National Monument, which preserves three of the largest natural bridges on the planet, was much more photo-worthy. It was the first designated federal property in the state of Utah, which is saying something, and was brought into being by Theodore Roosevelt. Well, the monument was, not the bridges. They’re natural, formed by water over thousands of years. Never mind.
Two of the three bridges were easily viewable. The third one was perpendicular to its viewpoint, and so you really couldn’t tell what it was. But here are the two that actually looked like bridges.
I also saw lizards (I think they were lizards, anyway), and a beautiful prickly pear cactus blossom (along with more other kinds of flowers than should have been blooming in that heat). Pretty nifty.
The rest of the drive over to Cortez, Colorado, where I am now, was mostly through farm and ranch land, and I didn’t see anything really worthy of photographing. But tomorrow is going to be fun. I’m going to Mesa Verde National Park, just ten more miles down the road, and see cliff dwellings.
I have to say, after last night’s incredible stars, that I can believe Great Basin NP’s claim to have some of the least light-polluted skies in the lower 48 of the U.S. Amazing.
This morning I took an hour and a half tour of Lehman Caves, which are one of the high points of this park. I discovered, to my delight, that my new (as of last winter) camera takes much better low-light photos than my old (as in ten years old) camera did. Both of the cave photos in this post were taken sans flash or tripod. Some of the others weren’t so great, but I’d say at least half of them came out well.
I had a little time between changing the ticket I’d bought several days ago via phone from this afternoon to this morning and the start of the tour, so I went for a walk along the nature trail on the surface above the cave, where I saw something really pretty called a cliffrose. I also saw the natural entrance to the cave (which isn’t used for people anymore, but is kept open for the bats), and the entrance and exit used for the tours, which were blasted out by the WPA in the thirties, before people knew better (I suspect this was about the same time the elevator that goes down into Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico was installed, too).
Then I put my sneakers into a (very shallow, only the soles got wet) Lysol bath, to disinfect them and protect the bats that live in the cave from something called white nose syndrome, a fungus brought over from Europe that has killed millions of bats in this country and that they’re trying to keep from spreading. If you’ve worn your shoes into a cave before, you have to have them disinfected. So because I’d been in one of the caves at Lava Beds, my sneakers now smell ever so faintly of Lysol <g>.
The cave tour was cool, and not just because it was 50dF inside, while it was pushing 80dF outside. It was beautiful in there, from teeny-tiny soda straws (they’re long and skinny and hollow) to huge columns, elegant draperies and things called popcorn and shields. We walked through for an hour and a half, and every minute was interesting.
After the tour was over, I headed southeast across yet more lonely highway about 150 miles to the town of Cedar City, Utah (my fifth state of the trip), where I am tonight. One thing I did not expect was the acres and acres of the same desert globe mallow I saw in Oregon, in full bloom. It made the entire landscape orange in places, almost like the California poppies down in the Mojave Desert do, except the globe mallow is a darker orange. Just lovely.
Today was a short drive day. I spent the morning exploring the Painted Hills section of the John Day Fossil Beds, which turned out to be my favorite part. The hills weren’t just multicolored – red from iron, gray from manganese, lavender and yellow from minerals I don’t remember, sorry – they’re textured to look like the skin of some ancient reptile. Nothing grows on them where the soil hasn’t been disturbed, because of the density of the clay and a whole bunch of other things. Where they have been disturbed, even out in that desolate country, there are flowers. I saw three species I had never seen before, and thanks to a lovely identification panel on the kiosk at the picnic area, I now know what their friends call them <g>
Prineville was about an hour’s drive on, and I stopped there for lunch before coming on to Redmond (just north of Bend), where I have taken my first motel of the trip (I had always planned on stopping in motels about every third night – for showers and wifi and easy charging of stuff, if nothing else). I was a bit concerned about finding a motel on the Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend, so I checked in early, then drove over to Sisters, of quilt show fame.
Sisters is sort of the Cannon Beach of central Oregon. Or maybe that crossed with Winthrop? Anyway, lots of tourists, but some really good huckleberry ice cream. And the Stitchin’ Post (the shop that started the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show all those years ago), which was something of a disappointment. For one thing, half the shop is knitting stuff now, and for the other, I don’t know who their fabric buyer is these days, but her taste and mine do not agree. I was looking for fabric that would say, this came from Sisters to me, but mostly what they had was that sixties-looking stuff that does nothing for me, and has nothing to do with where the shop is.
It wasn’t important (having just packed up my entire stash a couple of days ago, I am acutely conscious that I need more fabric like I need a hole in my head), but it was sad to me, anyway.
I did get some spectacular views of the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Three-Fingered Jack, and Mt. Bachelor along the way, but there was no place to pull over and actually take pictures. I promise to try to do better on that front tomorrow.
Having fallen asleep before most children’s bedtime last night, I woke up with the birds this morning. And ended up driving a bit further than I thought I would for one day, but that’s okay.
Down U.S. 12 to Yakima, where I drove five miles of I-82 before I could escape onto U.S. 97, about 60 miles down to the Columbia River. 97 crosses the Yakama (yes, that’s spelled right) Nation Indian Reservation, and for some reason I’d been expecting high desert. What I got was beautiful foothills, and peekaboo glimpses of Mt. Hood, until I got to the little town of Goldendale, where I had gorgeous views of both Hood and Mt. Adams to its north. And a farmers’ market on this Saturday morning, where I bought some strawberries.
Then I went to Stonehenge <g>. No, not that Stonehenge, but the replica built back after WWII as a war memorial, perched over the Columbia River. It’s made of concrete and is seriously surreal.
Then across the wide Columbia River and my first state line of the trip, into Oregon, and on south through miles of wide open countryside, over at least one pass and past several hundred wind turbines (more than I’ve ever seen anywhere including Washington state’s Palouse country, which is saying a lot), along the John Day River, and through some cute towns.
Wasco, where someone’s got a weird sense of humor, and Condon, which I’m really glad isn’t a typo, and Fossil, where I ate lunch in the middle of a motorcycle rally. Well, in a café in the middle of a motorcycle rally, anyway.
I was headed towards John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which I’d been wanting to visit for a long time. The landscape there reminds me in some ways of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Lots of multicolored rock layers. The history was interesting, too. John Day (whose namesake was a fur trapper) was sheep farming country before the fossils were discovered, and the park service has preserved one of the farms, with well-done interpretation.
But the best part was the John Condon Paleontological Center (John Condon was one of the first people to discover the fossils). They don’t do dinosaurs at John Day. They do ancient mammals. The Cenozoic period, to be precise. Fascinating stuff. I spent a good chunk of my afternoon there.
But it was time to find a place to stay for the night. I’m in another forest service campground (I figure on finding a motel or hostel or whatever about every third night), up in the forest above the high desert. It’s nice and cool, and there are wildflowers, and I got the last campsite <g>. Can’t ask for much more than that!
The movers pulled away at about 2 pm on Friday, with all my worldly possessions filling most of a truck.
In spite of a minor kafuffle with the closing (you all knew everything was going way too smoothly to be real, right?) and some last-minute computer issues (my computer guy finally finished working on my laptop at 5:30 on Thursday evening – fortunately he was doing it remotely so I didn’t have to go pick it up), everything got done. Hallelujah.
I did a last walk-through, called Loralee as I’d promised, made a few last stops, and got the heck out of Dodge.
I’d decided a while back that I was going to go through Mt. Rainier NP on my way, so that’s what I did. Through the Nisqually Entrance, where I found out that the route I wanted to take had just opened for the season that day, up towards Paradise and down through Stevens Canyon. There wasn’t as much snow up there as I’d thought there would be, either. I suspect the reason Stevens Canyon doesn’t open earlier is because the terrain is basically an avalanche waiting to happen. Chute after chute after chute.
It showered off and on most of my way through the park, and I saw not one, but two separate rainbows before I got to Ohanapecosh. Good omen much???
I’d thought about spending my first night at Ohanapecosh, but it was still relatively early and the campground was crowded, and I decided to go on.
On down to U.S. 12, which eventually leads to Yakima, with a bunch of forest service campgrounds along the way. I knew it was Memorial Day weekend. What didn’t connect was how this fact would mean full campgrounds along the way. Oh, well. I did eventually find a site, but it was almost 8 pm by the time I did. Thank goodness for almost 16 hour daylight hours this time of year.
And this is where I end by saying I love Merlin the van. He’s comfortable and self-contained, and I was exhausted, and he made my first night on the road great