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The Butchart Gardens in March offer a mood of dark quiet, wisps of foggy intrigue, and solitude.

The Butchart Gardens in March offer a mood of dark quiet, wisps of foggy intrigue, and solitude.

Prior to our long road trip last month, M had called from Boston and asked me, “What’s the weather on the coast like in March?”

I exhaled with doubt and not a little cynicism, “Wet. Grey. Temps in the 40s, maybe around 50.”

“That sounds great!” he gushed. It left me puzzled for several minutes, till I remembered he was going to fly away from New England, and a record snowfall in Boston. Obviously rain was an improvement, and 40s sounded like a heat wave.

Though it was cool and wet, it suited me just fine and kept most of the other tourists and locals away. We practically had the grounds to ourselves, as you will see from the photos.

A road trip on the coast in March may be just what the doctor ordered, as long as you bring a bright fuchsia rain jacket and a friend with a great attitude.

A road trip on the coast in March may be just what the doctor ordered, as long as you bring a bright fuchsia rain jacket and a friend with a great attitude.

My earlier blog post referencing our trip to Butchart Gardens included only a couple of lovely shots and a promise to post again. Here it is! Lots of photos. In fact, way too many for a blog post. If you really want to see a bunch of garden photos, please visit my Flickr page.

Jennie Butchart was the chemist for the family business, but her soul’s work was gardening. She and Isaburo Kishida began designing a Japanese Garden in 1906. Mrs. Butchart also had her eye on Robert Butchart’s quarry. As her husband exhausted the limestone quarry in 1908, Jennie was having topsoil hauled in to line the floor. One of the first things she planted was a row of poplars to block the view of the concrete factory, and those trees remain. Mr. Butchart was very supportive of his wife’s garden, and was pleased that the grounds and ponds were suitable to his own hobby of collecting birds.

The couple gave the garden to their grandson Ian Ross for his 21st birthday. Mr. Ross revitalized the garden and the couple’s home, and hosted events – such as the symphony – to share the place with the community.

By the 1920s, more than 50,000 people a year were visiting Jennie’s garden, and today visitors number nearly one million each year. In 2004 the garden was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. The garden has grown to 55 acres and spread well beyond the old quarry pit. In addition to the Sunken Garden (in the pit), other main gardens are the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Italian Garden. (More info at The Butchart Story.)

The welcoming sign

The welcoming sign

The Sunken Gardens are one of the first things a visitor sees. It's a truly amazing and beautiful garden in a hole left from a old quarry.

The Sunken Gardens are one of the first things a visitor sees. It’s a truly amazing and beautiful garden in a hole left from a old quarry.

The water feature

Ross Fountain, built by Ian Ross

Another view of the Sunken Gardens

Another view of the Sunken Gardens

The Carousel. Look at those wonderful animals!

The Carousel. Look at those wonderful animals!

This is where they prepare their own starts from seeds.

This is where they prepare their own starts from seeds.

bells in the rain

bells in the rain

Petals provide enough rays of golden sunshine to suit me this day

Petals provide enough rays of golden sunshine to suit me this day

Twisty branch of Corylus with catkins

Twisty branch of Corylus with catkins

Cherry blossoms covered the ground as though it were snow!

Cherry blossoms covered the ground as though it were snow!

Entrance to the rose garden. It was not rose season when we were there.

Entrance to the rose garden. It was not rose season when we were there.

Entering the Japanese garden, I had M place a pebble onto the Torii gate for us. While I was in Japan, it was explained to me that, since the torii is a gate to the spirit world, the rock holds a connection back to your own world, so you have a better chance of being able to return. I don't know if it's a true Japanese tradition, but I love it. Torii that I saw in Japan frequently had pebbles along the top.

Entering the Japanese garden, I had M place a pebble onto the Torii gate for us. While I was in Japan, it was explained to me that, since the torii is a gate to the spirit world, the rock holds a connection back to your own world, so you have a better chance of being able to return. I don’t know if it’s a true Japanese tradition, but I love it. Torii that I saw in Japan frequently had pebbles along the top.

The Japanese garden is large and well done.

The Japanese garden is large and well done.

Lantern balanced on an uneven rock.

Lantern balanced on an uneven rock.

Path through a pool

Path through a pool

Butchart Cove is directly behind the Japanese garden, and is picture perfect.

Butchart Cove is directly behind the Japanese garden, and is picture perfect.

Part of the perfection of gardens is arranging features so that, when viewed from different angles, what you see forms a portrait.

Part of the perfection of gardens is arranging features so that, when viewed from different angles, what you see forms a portrait.

Frogs in the Star Pond.

Frogs in the Star Pond.

In the Italian garden.

In the Italian garden.

M had been asking me periodically what the plants were called, how they grew, were they found in the wild. We walked into the greenhouse and our roles reversed! M talked with delight at how many of the plants we saw grew wild in Sri Lanka where he grew up, and he found it a delight to see those same plants showcased as  "exotics" in the garden.

M had been asking me periodically what the plants were called, how they grew, were they found in the wild. We walked into the greenhouse and our roles reversed! M talked with delight at how many of the plants we saw grew wild in Sri Lanka where he grew up, and he found it a delight to see those same plants showcased as “exotics” in the garden.

Dripping with colour

Dripping with colour

Like cotton candy

Like cotton candy

Orchids are my favourite flower.

Orchids are my favourite flower.

Pike Place Market. A must-see if you visit Seattle.

Pike Place Market. A must-see if you visit Seattle.

{I called it right when I realized I needed to blog on the road or I’d never be able to post my whole week of road trip once I got back home. As you have noticed, being home is like entering the caucus race* from Alice in Wonderland, and time for blogging is hard to come by. But in any case, I’m here with bells on. Nice to see you again!}

One wall in Caffe Vita. This is a great coffee shop.

One wall in Caffe Vita. This is a great coffee shop.

Waking up walking distance from the Space Needle was perfect for me and my friend M on Friday morning. My brother recommended a coffee shop, and we hit that first. Caffe Vita is strongly encouraged, should you find yourself in Seattle!

EMP Museum and the Space Needle. The monorail track runs right through the building.

EMP Museum and the Space Needle. The monorail track runs right through the building.

I had it in my mind that I would lead M directly to the Pike Place Market, since he likes markets so much, but we chose a route that went past the Space Needle, because, duh, Seattle. Well, that’s all it took. Only ten minutes into our day, and we were in line to ride the elevator to the top!

My disappointment was palpable, and even M asked what happened. It was a particularly hazy day. Really bad. I pointed out Mt. Rainier to him, but a person sort of had to know it was there to find it through the airborne particles. M was unimpressed with looking in the direction of the mountain, and more excited about the view of the city. And he should be! It’s spectacular! Only, in my mind I was comparing it to all my other visits, and this was truly the worst one. I wanted to show off Seattle to a Sri Lankan/ Bostonian.

M with the hazy Seattle skies behind him, from the top of the Space Needle.

M with the hazy Seattle skies behind him, from the top of the Space Needle.

By the time we reached the bottom, we had to hustle to meet my brother and his girlfriend for lunch. We zoomed through the market, not there to shop, but only to jog through on our way to the federal building. M was in awe, as I knew he would be. I am SO glad we stopped in Seattle instead of pushing on home the day before.

We met up at the federal building, and K led us up to the 34th floor to her office and a one-of-a-kind view of the city. Everyone who has visited knows the views from the Space Needle, but we got to view the needle itself! What a treat! My spirits lifted.

The view from K's office. Outstanding! Even on this hazy morning.

The view from K’s office. Outstanding! Even on this hazy morning.

K, my brother I, and me. Look at the clothes and guess which one of us is on vacation? ha ha!

K, my brother I, and me. Look at the clothes and guess which one of us is on vacation? ha ha!

K bubbled about the “secret waterfall” on our way to lunch, so we went to visit the Waterfall Garden Park, built in honor of the United Parcel Service (UPS). It is enclosed by walls and completely invisible from the outside, but an oasis inside. Please see Lucy Wang’s photos and description of this place!

Across the street from the waterfall, we ate at another place I’m going to have to recommend: The London Plane. It’s a restaurant/flower shop/specialty goods store in a reclaimed industrial building. The light inside and the sky-high ceilings are transportive.

The counter at The London Plane.

The counter at The London Plane.

Looking down at a man making bread in the London Plane.

Looking down at a man making bread in the London Plane.

Spying on I, K, and M as they wait for lunch to arrive. They are at the table by the window, farthest from me.

Spying on I, K, and M as they wait for lunch to arrive. They are at the table by the window, directly across from me.

M was really excited about this monument to Chief Seattle, since he had been taught about the man in school as a kid in Sri Lanka. Wowzers. I never would have imagined.

M was really excited about this monument to Chief Seattle, since as a schoolboy in Sri Lanka he had been taught about the man. Wowzers. I never would have imagined.

Satiated, we said our goodbyes and walked back to the market. It was a delicious madhouse that never fails to delight me. We even caught a glimpse of the famous fish mongers tossing a codfish. Here’s an old video about the fishmongers that I had to watch years ago when I was a forecaster with the National Weather Service:

Flowers at the market.

Flowers at the market.

Springtime colours at Pike Place Market.

Springtime colours at Pike Place Market.

M with Smokey

M with Smokey

It was time to hurry home. We hugged goodbye to my brother I, and to the cat, Smokey, and in seconds we were heading south on I-5, and racing toward Portland at about 4.6 miles per hour, bumper to bumper in 5 lanes of rush hour traffic.

Somehow we made it on time to catch a show in Portland. We swung by the Blue House to pick up Tara, and went downtown to the Keller Auditorium to catch Shen Yun. I had purchased the tickets back in December, and we had been waiting to see it all this time! The show was made up mostly of dancers performing traditional Chinese dances and dances that told stories. There were two professional singers and one musician who played an erhu, a two-stringed instrument that M particularly liked. The orchestra was entirely Shen Yun musicians, who performed all the music for the dancers. There was a political message that was only possible because it’s a New York-based Chinese group and not a China-based group.

Saturday morning we took Tara to the Convention Center to get into line for Abby’s Closet, an organization that provides free prom dresses to people interested in a free, used, prom dress. We had barely begun our day when Tara texted us to come back. Turns out it was a six-hour wait and Tara had other plans to meet friends that day. So the three of us explored Washington Park, the International Rose Test Garden (sans roses this time of year), and Pioneer Courthouse Square. Tara went off and M and I rode the Tram up to Pill Hill (so-called because there are multiple hospitals at the top of the hill).

M at Pill Hill, at the top of the tram route.

M at Pill Hill, at the top of the tram route.

Sign in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Sign in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Portlandia!

Portlandia!

Our long, fabulous journey was finally at an end, and I took M to the airport for his flight home to Boston.

At home I began the daunting tasks of home upkeep that had piled up in my absence, beginning with laundry and mowing the lawn. I had just finished mowing the lawn, all green-smeared and in my cowboy work boots, when Tara came home and begged me to go back to Abby’s Closet to see if we could squeeze in before closing, in 30 minutes. I washed my hands and off we went, cowboy boots and all!

It was evening, and they got us through in two hours rather than six. The staff made an exceptional effort to keep us all happy and entertained and moving through. {Imagine: hundreds of teenagers and thousands of dresses. Instructions: Pick one!} I am glad I experienced that with Tara, who leans alternately from tomboy, to stereotypical masculine characteristics, to stereotypical feminine characteristics. It was a really girly experience, and neither of us is particularly girly, so it was good that we could lean on each other in that overwhelming cavern of pink and lace and sparkles.

What a long and action-packed week it was. I hope you enjoyed the journey with us. 🙂

Post Script: M texted me from the airport. “You would not believe what happened in security! The TSA guy going through my bags said, ‘Let me guess: Tillamook! But why do you have so much cheese?!’ I started laughing, and had to tell him what happened at the border. He laughed too.”

*After swimming around in Alice’s pool of tears, the animals need to dry off, and the Dodo recommends a caucus race. There are no rules; all of the participants run haphazardly around in no particular direction, and everyone wins.

The view north from Cape Lookout State Park, near Tillamook, Oregon

The view north from Cape Lookout State Park, near Tillamook, Oregon. This was the first moment we spotted the Pacific Ocean on our trip. We plan to hug the sea and go north until we run out of time.

#PDXcarpet

#PDXcarpet

My college friend M flew out last night and I picked him up at PDX airport. Was very excited for a chance to get what will certainly be one of my last chances to take a selfie of my feet on the Portland Airport Carpet. The famous teal carpet is being torn up amidst the gnashing of teeth. Beloved by Portlanders, this carpet has a line of merchandise, a facebook page, and a twitter feed. And it’s going to be the Grand Marshall at our upcoming Starlight Parade. Yes, we are a bit wonky in Portland.

This morning we took off on our coast road trip. I have challenged myself to post each night, because I promise I will not post 7 days’ worth of photos in a timely manner once I get home and go back to my busy life. It has to be done now or not at all. Wish me luck.

Thus, I am going to go heavy on the photos w/captions, and light on the talk. Please enjoy.

Driving past this marshy area, I was drawn to these flowers. Aren't they interesting from a distance? I knew it would be worth the trouble to get a close up, so we pulled over.

Driving past this marshy area, I was drawn to these flowers. Aren’t they interesting from a distance? I knew it would be worth the trouble to get a close up, so we pulled over.

What a fabulous flower.

What a fabulous flower.

We left the house and came through the center of Portland so I could show a little of the city to M on our way West. We explored the outdoor amphitheater in the center of the volcanic cone of Mt. Tabor, then we spotted clusters of food carts, went down Hawthorne Street, and crossed the Willamette River. Purely by coincidence, we ended up downtown next to a classic Portland must-see spot, on my way to Chinatown. So we pulled over and waited in line 25 minutes to get into Voodoo Doughnut. Check out the link: craziest doughnuts you’ve ever seen. As M said, “Take that Dunkin Donuts!”

Portland is such a lovely small city that in minutes we were out of town and heading toward the coast. The sky kept things interesting all day: alternating drizzle to rain to mist and then one actual downpour with hail. We did get some breaks of sun that sometimes corresponded with our stops.

We toured the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and ate some of their fabulous ice cream. That was just too much sugar for one day, but neither of us is entirely sorry. We toured the cheese making operations, and purchased giant slabs of extra sharp white cheddar. We ended the day in Astoria, and now I need to rest up for tomorrow. (spoiler: Goonies!)

Tillamook Cheese Factory

Tillamook Cheese Factory

The factory floor.

The factory floor.

A view along the coast.

A view along the coast.

I am in love with the sharp dramatic cliffs of the Pacific Northwest coast. Reminds me of the scenes in Japanese traditional art.

I am in love with the sharp dramatic cliffs of the Pacific Northwest coast.

See how the highway cuts a slice right through the rock?

See how the highway cuts a slice right through the rock?

Enormous slabs of cheese! They must be 20-lb blocks or so.

Enormous slabs of cheese! They must be 20-lb blocks or so.

I may know how that raccoon sticker got on that sign.

I may know how that raccoon sticker got on that sign.

My friend M is as addicted to photo as myself, thank goodness.

My friend M is as addicted to photo as myself, thank goodness.

Another vista point. They are all stunning. How grateful I am for the bursts of sun right when I need them.

Another vista point. This one of Haystack Rock. They are all stunning. How grateful I am for the bursts of sun right when I need them.

The Astoria Column is remarkable and I must look up the story of this structure. In the meantime, this is what it looks like.

The Astoria Column is remarkable and I must look up the story of this structure. In the meantime, this is what it looks like.

And this is the view from the top. That's the Astoria Megler Bridge connecting Oregon to Washington, across the mouth of the Columbia River.

And this is the view from the top. That’s the Astoria Megler Bridge connecting Oregon to Washington, across the mouth of the Columbia River.

Here's the view of M from the column.

Here’s the view of M from the column.

We chose seafood for supper and then had to run out of the restaurant before the food came because sunset was happening. You get that, right? It was impossible for photo addicts to let this one go.

We chose seafood for supper and then had to run out of the restaurant before the food came because sunset was happening. You get that, right? It was impossible for photo addicts to let this one go.

Seagull on an old boiler from the seaside fish processing days.

Seagull on an old boiler from the seaside fish processing days.

What a beautiful boiler.

What a beautiful boiler.

I caught this one and then it was time to head back in for halibut.

I caught this one and then it was time to head back in for halibut.

The Canby ferry, M.J. Lee II, on the Willamette River.

The Canby ferry, M.J. Lee II, on the Willamette River.

Seems like I subconsciously invite adventure into my life. Sure I plan things to do, but so often mishaps along the way turn into side stories and discoveries I would have never anticipated. Such is life with Crystal.

For starters, I planned an ambitious foray into the Trinity Alps Wilderness to coincide with picking up Tara from her dad’s house in McKinleyville, California. The Alps are in northern California between Mt. Shasta and the ocean. I packed the Dragon Wagon 2 (My Saturn Dragon Wagon recently deceased as I mentioned in my last post) and got a late start Saturday (also mentioned in my last post). Heading south on I-5 and just outside of Portland I got stuck in traffic. A fire truck was making its way across the four lanes into the fast lane and as I slowed to allow it to pull in front of me the lights came on. Finally, people began moving out of the way like they’re supposed to do on the Interstate. If only I had rotating lights on the Jeep…

So I’m keeping my distance, but gosh traveling behind a fire truck with its lights on goes smoothly. About 10 more miles down the highway, traffic was getting really really jammed and only then did the light bulb go off over my head. Bumper to bumper in a four lane highway in the middle of a Saturday, fire truck with lights, “Oh! An accident!” Rather than be trapped on I-5 for who knows how long, I pulled off at the next exit and moved over to Highway 99 to parallel the Interstate for awhile and come back later.

Following signs to Hwy 99, I suddenly found myself on the second surprise ferry I’ve stumbled upon along the Willamette River! Finding these tiny vessels incorporated into the Oregon highway system is such a delight to me. I rode the Canby Ferry among families playing in the river on the very hot day, and though I knew I was losing precious travel time, the discovery was worth it.

Next I was tooling through the darling town of Aurora, thinking it looks like a New England village, with its oddly-shaped central square surrounded by ancient houses converted into antique shops. I made a mental note to come back and investigate the place for a future hometown. Funny how being reminded of New England tugged at my heartstrings. I never realize how deeply I’m attached to something till it’s gone.

I stopped for the night in Medford, and as I unpacked I noticed I had left my hiking boots at home! My memory is so unreliable sometimes! I was too far to turn back and without boots there would be no hike, so I decided to buy new boots. I pulled this same stunt last year, and it would be my third pair of hiking boots. {don’t mind that sound, it’s just me slapping my forehead with my palm.}  Medford had an REI that opened at 11am, but I was chomping at the bit by 7:30am, already breakfasted and pacing, worrying how I would salvage my trip since there were no more cities ahead, in this very rural part of the country. I couldn’t stand waiting and got back onto I-5, changing my route to go through Redding, CA. I crossed my fingers it was big enough to have an outdoor store.

The volcano Mt. Shasta, rising in front of the sun at a rest area in Weed.

The volcano Mt. Shasta, rising in front of the sun at a rest area in Weed.

I had to stop in Weed because, of course, my friends were teasing me about heading eventually into Humboldt County, a land famous for marijuana production, and on the way passing through the town of Weed. I marveled at the show-stopping Mt. Shasta, then felt a pang of worry and regret as I saw that there is hardly any snow left on its slopes, so early in the season. People (and ecosystems) who live in high deserts depend so profoundly on deep winter snows to carry them through the summer.

In Redding at 11am, I took the highway exit for “Tourist Information,” and followed signs to a parking lot. I asked the first person I saw if there was an REI in town. Nope. Looking around myself, I realized I was in some sort of a celebration. There were families everywhere, a farmer’s market in the middle of the parking lot, laughter all around me. I followed the general flow of people down a path, through some trees, and viola! This striking, sparkling, white and blue glass walking bridge opened up before me. I was standing in a gorgeous plaza with a tall and stunning museum/Peets coffee shop/Tourist Info station. This center of art and architecture and public access was having a 10-year anniversary celebration, and people had thronged there to experience it. And not just any coffee: my favourite coffee! How lucky am I?

Sundial Bridge at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California.

Sundial Bridge at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California.

There was a Big 5 Sporting Goods just a couple blocks away (so close! I lead a charmed life), and the tourist info guy swore they would have a selection of hiking boots. And they had some on sale for $19.99, which is crazy cheap but I thought if they really are cheap and wear out in a week, then that’s all I needed anyway. While I was there I asked if they had any water shoes, which they did of course, on sale for $9. And after 20 minutes I was heading due West on Hwy 299, into the mountains, and counting my blessings.

I turned off 299 and my excitement grew as my Jeep climbed higher into the mountains on a twisty one-lane dirt road to the trailhead. A couple of deer grazed near me as I loaded up my backpack, and with a thrill and heart pounding with happiness, I hit the trail.

A deer watches me with curiosity, and perhaps a little hope that I'll spill some food.

A deer watches me with curiosity, and perhaps a little hope that I’ll spill some food.

My pack was heavy, and the temperature was in the 90s, so my happiness was a bit dampened pretty early on. Barely a mile or two on the trail, and I came to a wide river crossing and got to use my new water shoes. Perfect! I waded across the North Fork of the Trinity River and my spirits soared. What a beautiful, beautiful country. How spoiled I am to live luxuriously enough to leave everything behind me (poor kitty, I hope you have enough food) and walk into the woods for days, just for fun.

From the middle of the North Fork of the Trinity

From the middle of the North Fork of the Trinity

Five days on the trail is the longest I’ve ever spent backpacking, but as far as I’m concerned, there really isn’t such a thing as too long in the wilderness. There are things a girl can do to make the most of her trail time, however. Mainly, she can pack better than I did. I carried too much weight and it made me slow on the trail, and made me feel discouraged in the raging heat.

To overcome the challenges to my joy, I splashed in streams every chance I got. Despite drought conditions in California, this section of the Trinity Alps is loaded with water, cool and refreshing and invigorating.

Naked spikes of trees from an old forest fire crest the peaks.

Naked spikes of trees from an old forest fire crest the peaks.

A natural life cycle of a forest includes fires.

A natural life cycle of a forest includes fires.

I climbed higher and had some nice views of the mountains, all showing evidence of a huge fire that burned through here years previous. Blackened tree trunks were so prolific along certain sections that I could still smell the charred remains.

The sun dropped in the sky, but it remained in the 80s and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep, so I kept going for awhile. Every time I stopped for a rest I would pull out my trail map and do calculations for how long it would take me to get to my destination: Grizzly Meadows, 18 miles from the trailhead. The trail was in great shape, and the few trees fallen across the trail had luckily landed in ways that allowed me to easily climb around or over. I didn’t meet a soul on the trail, which was part of my plan for hiking during weekdays. I’m a person who tends to think intense thoughts and I often don’t have the patience for it. So I push the thoughts away by keeping activity and sound around me. In the woods there are not enough distractions to avoid my thoughts, and so I get to be healthy and engaged with life, and I have the time to process ideas.

Eventually fatigue won out and I pitched the tent, rubbed my sore shoulders, took a quick dip in the river, and turned in for the night.

My shadow in the setting sun.

My shadow in the setting sun.

View from the Thomas Condon Visitor Center

View of Sheep Rock from the Thomas Condon Visitor Center

We roused the kids early, fed everyone breakfast, and were rolling through the eastern Oregon desert by 8 am. We stopped first at the Mascall Formation Overlook. The Mascall layer is remarkable because it’s a 15 million year old section of rock made up of successive layers of volcanic ash (you know I love volcanoes) separated by floodplain activity. This formation spreads across a large area of Oregon and holds a wealth of fossils. The protected area of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument includes 20,000 square miles.

Mascall Formation Overlook. You can see the wedge of the ash layer poking up.

Mascall Formation Overlook. You can see the wedge of the ash layer poking up.

Picture Gorge. On the other side of that gorge is the turn off road to the Visitor Center and museum.

Picture Gorge. On the other side of that gorge is the turn off road to the Visitor Center and museum.

From there we could also see Picture Gorge, so named for the pictographs said to be on the walls of the canyon. I yearned to see the pictographs, but there didn’t appear to be any good place to pull off the highway, and there was no clear indication in brochures and signs of where the ancient art might be. And we had a truckload of teenagers dying to get home to their friends…

Those kids were so funny on this trip. Moan and groan at every opportunity, then enjoy every stop. We pulled up to the museum, and blam! They all disappeared into the exhibits, got excited about stuff, read the placards, pulled out drawers holding small fossils, and peered through the glass into the fossil laboratory co-located with the museum. “Mom! Check this out!” “Dad! Look at this!”

dinosaur heads and turtle shell

fossilized skulls and turtle shell

Tara, Arno, and Diego engrossed in the displays

Tara, Arno, and Diego engrossed in the displays

Million-year-old leaf fossils

Million-year-old leaf fossils

Like I said in the last post, Arno and I had never been to this part of Oregon before, and for me it was a surprise to discover what a wealth of fossil excavation and high-quality paleontology is going on right here in my back yard.

This part of Oregon holds one of the richest fossil beds on Earth, revealing a window into the Age of Mammals, in which ancient prehistoric critters battled out the circle of life in rich riverbeds and floodplains. The fossils here come from multiple eras dating back as far as 55 million years. There are remnants of early three-toed horses and rhinos, camels, elephants, and giant sloths. Early dogs, wolves, and cats are here, and crazy creatures like warthogs as big as bison. Tara and I were pleased to discover bones of ancient mouse-deer and bear-dogs, since they would fit perfectly into the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender or Korra.

Diego suggested a stop at Painted Hills, without being able to explain why. He had seen them the summer before, while at an OMSI camp. We were still trying to keep kids happy, and made a lunch stop there. The ranger at the museum had told us that all the trees growing in the park were particularly selected because they were relatives of the 30 million year old plant fossils retrieved from that very area. So cool!

View from the Painted Hills Overlook trail

View from the Painted Hills Overlook trail

What a spectacular scene. From this distance, I could only guess at the texture and composition of the hills.

What a spectacular scene. From this distance, I could only guess at the texture and composition of the hills.

After lunch we chose a couple trails and headed out to see the sights. Bravo Diego! The painted hills are wonderful! They are 33 million year old coloured clay hills that are somewhat beyond description with words. You’ll have to use the photos to see what I mean.

The hills are fragile and millions of years old, so one of our trails was on a boardwalk, to keep our reckless feet away from the precious resource. There were a couple places where we could see tracks across the mounds. Yes, the appeal of touching them is nearly irresistible, but resistance is not impossible. And I wished people could do a better job of restraining themselves (or their children or dogs).

Mounds of coloured cracked clay

Mounds of coloured cracked clay

Miguel, Diego, and Tara along the boardwalk on the Painted Cove Trail

Miguel, Diego, and Tara along the boardwalk on the Painted Cove Trail

This little girl ran ahead of her parents in her excitement

This little girl ran ahead of her parents in her excitement

 

boardwalk into Painted Cove Trail

boardwalk into Painted Cove Trail

We hit the highway again, and put the miles behind us. We had to screech to a halt when we spotted this beside the road.

Shoe tree

Shoe tree

wow. all those shoes...

wow. all those shoes…

North of Madras we had a lovely view of a whole string of volcanoes running north-south along the Cascade Range. Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, both above 10 thousand feet, then Mt. Hood above 11 thousand.

We came to an intersection that is a poignant reminder of one of the obstacles in our lives. A metaphor for Arno and me. Amidst the astounding beauty of this phenomenal place in the world, the sign says turn left for where Crystal lives, or turn right for where Arno lives. Before we met, Arno and I moved a lot. A LOT. We packed up our kids and dragged them all over the place. Before we met, we had each promised our eldest not to move anymore, so they could have a home in one spot till they were able to finish school. So we find ourselves today, 62 miles apart in a beautiful relationship, which is not impossible, but frustrating on some days. Miguel and Tara graduate in 2015, and Diego will still be in high school in Hood River. I’m already scanning the internet for homes for sale in Hood River!

left or right?

left or right?

A new perspective of Mount Hood. This is from the south, an angle I don't get to see very often.

A new perspective of Mount Hood. This is from the south, an angle I don’t get to see very often.

Post Script: I had to soothe my curiosity and thus finally figured out the mystery of The Great and Powerful John Day. Who was this famous man? Ground-breaking paleontologist? Mining magnate? Politician from the pioneering days of the Oregon Trail? No, to all the above. Mr. Day left Virginia with a group heading for Astoria, Oregon to start a fur trading post on the coast. On the way he got lost and was helped by a band of Indians to find the Columbia River Gorge in late 1811. Not long after, a different band of Indians robbed him, taking even the clothes he was wearing. The scene of the robbery was the mouth of the Mah-hah River as it emptied into the Columbia. Mr. Day finally made it to Astoria and told his story. From then on, people pointed out the river and said, “That’s where John Day was stripped naked by the Indians.” Well, it eventually was known as the John Day River, instead of the Mah-hah. Meanwhile, far upstream, and many many years later, a national monument was named after the river that flowed through. As far as anyone can tell, John Day never came within 100 miles of the town of John Day, the fossil beds, or any of the other dozens of things named after him in the region. 

Sunset in the Owyhee desert

Sunset in the Owyhee desert

Pa and Michelle's house on the Snake River

Pa and Michelle’s house on the Snake River

Arno, me, and the kids left Wednesday for southern Idaho to visit my Pa. Originally we had planned to camp in their lawn on the Snake River, to hang out and chew the fat like we traditionally do at Pa and Michelle’s house. I like to sit on the deck and watch the river go by, commenting on the bird calls and how hot it is. However, my Pa Bear was not feeling well, so we changed our plans. He and Michelle are wonderful hosts and we did not want to tempt them to take care of us, when Pa Bear needed the care.

We packed our three teens into the back seat of the truck, left the Columbia River Gorge, and took off through the wilting heat for southern Idaho. We decided to camp nearby so that we could visit, but not so close that we added to their stress.

Agriculture along the Snake River south of Boise, Idaho. This is typical of what the countryside looks like out here. I call it desolate. My Pa calls it beautiful.

Agriculture along the Snake River south of Boise, Idaho. This is typical of what the countryside looks like out here. I call it desolate. My Pa calls it beautiful.

Our first night at Givens Hot Springs was great because it’s about two miles from the Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch. The facilities at Givens Hot Springs are right out of the 1970s,  with the family-friendly camping, a mock covered wagon to take photos beside, and the centerpiece: a naturally heated swimming pool. The entire inside of the pool building – including the pool – was painted pistachio green over cinder blocks, with showers by the pool but bathrooms outside around back (um…not good planning when kids are the main customers). There was a bulletin board with a map of the U.S. and a world map, where people had pressed in pins over the city they came from, and the pins – covered in dust of decades – nearly obscured the maps. Brochures for local points of interest were warped from the moist air and faded from sitting in the display rack for 15 years or so. I expected to see a teenage Kristy McNichol or Bill Murray step out of the pool at any moment.

remote intersection

remote intersection

After choosing our camp spot, we visited my dad. It was Arno’s first time meeting him. There may have been some anxiety on Arno’s part, and my dad’s part, about that. But I was full of anxiety about the state of my dad’s health. He was weak, tired, and in pain. It made me sad. But actually, I was mostly relieved to see him, hug him, talk to him. I had built up some fear, probably because I recently lost my mom and my grandmother, that he would be a different person, like Mom became when she got so sick. But he was still 100% Pa, with the same sense of humor, the same inclination to tell stories and get excited about cool stuff. My Pa and I both felt better after the visit.

The hills on our way to Silver City.

The hills on our way to Silver City.

While we were visiting, Michelle told us about the old mining town of Silver City. None of us had heard of it, so we decided to go. After breakfast in camp, we headed up into the mountains to Silver City, Idaho.

The scenery got prettier as we rose into the mountains on the one-lane gravel road.

The scenery got prettier as we rose into the mountains on the one-lane gravel road.

Now what else would you expect to see in the trails around a Wild West Ghost Town?

Now what else would you expect to see in the trails around a Wild West Ghost Town?

View from the back of the center of Silver City. I love the large, patched-together building in the center, the Idaho Hotel.

View of the Idaho Hotel, the large, patched-together building in the center.

click to read

click to read

It’s like a ghost town; only a few people still live there. Established in 1864, Silver City truly was a boomtown for decades, as the War Eagle gold and silver mines continued to give up natural riches. At its peak, Silver City had a population of 2500 people and was the Owyhee County seat. They even had an opera house! Today, there are about 75 buildings that date from 1860-1900.

The two main shops in town: Pat's What Not Shop and the Silver City Fire & Rescue Store

The two main shops in town: Pat’s What Not Shop and the Silver City Fire & Rescue Store

We found it interesting that the only stone building was the one in the worst shape.

We found it interesting that the only stone building was the one in the worst shape.

Silver City School

Silver City School

My dad told me there is one resident who winters over, but the other residents snowmobile in and out during the winter. All of the land and property is privately owned, and the locals were out getting ready for 4th of July festivities. It looked liked festivities would consist of games of horseshoes at the tiny Memorial Park.

We made a picnic lunch in the shade beside one of the two creeks in town, then wandered around and explored the wonderful buildings and character of the place. This was the largest almost-ghost town I’ve seen, with three parallel streets instead of only one. The church is still used. The school is empty. There is a restaurant in the Idaho Hotel and apparently visitors can rent a room there.

The kids found a treehouse after lunch.

The kids found a treehouse after lunch.

Memorial Park in front of the drugstore.

Memorial Park in front of the drugstore.

A side street makes the town look more alive, as it  actually is, since people own and live in these homes.

A side street makes the town look more alive, as it actually is, since people own and live in these homes.

Catholic church on a hill

Catholic church on a hill

Front of Idaho Hotel, and the true "downtown" of this darling little settlement.

Front of Idaho Hotel, and the true “downtown” of this darling little settlement.

Inside the Idaho Hotel

Inside the Idaho Hotel

Antiques for sale at the Fire & Rescue Store

Antiques for sale at the Fire & Rescue Store

Finally we left town. We stopped at the Masons/IOOF Cemetery on the way out. It was a wonderful stop that even the teenagers enjoyed. Tara found a gravestone for Thomas Jefferson, 13 headstones marked “Unknown,” and Diego and she tracked down many, many gravestones for babies.

Diego and Tara finding interesting headstones.

Diego and Tara finding interesting headstones.

Learning about someone's past

Learning about someone’s past

I found this terribly sad story.

I found this terribly sad story.

We were so impressed with the shady, cool, green campsites near streams along the road on the way, that we moved camp from Givens Hot Springs to these mountains for the night. The cooler temperatures and lack of bugs resulted in a better night’s sleep for us.

I’ll finish our road trip in another post. For now, I hope you enjoyed the photos of a darling little place we found purely as an afterthought. Just goes to show that radically changed vacation plans can be an opportunity for additional torture of teenagers I mean, additional good times!

Our camp on night #2

Our camp on night #2

Sun on the Sierra above our camp

Sunny Sierra morning above our camp

The sun on the Sierra Nevada mountains this morning was stunning. My mouth dropped open and I ran for the camera. Part of the beauty could have been because the snowy peaks above the trees provided a different view than what we had been seeing in the rocky, prickly, dry parts of southern California. I am making an effort in daily life to pay less attention to how something came to be and more attention to simply addressing what is in front of me. So the important point here: gorgeous!

In the morning we treated ourselves to luxury and bought tokens to take showers in Big Pine. Then, all cleaned up to a no-longer-offensively-smelly level, we ate breakfast at an actual restaurant. Stuffed and happy, we hit the road for what would end up being a 330 mile drive.

I am enjoying the warmth at the water's edge, and thinking about pulling off my black fleece

I am enjoying the warmth at the water’s edge, and thinking about pulling off my black fleece

Ever since we camped at Trona Pinnacles State Park, we hoped to be able to stop at Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve on our way home. The fascinating tufa formations revealed in both lakes once the water level dropped, are formed in the same way when mineral rich springs bubble up into an akaline lake. We wanted the benefit of being able to compare the 10,000 to 100,000 year old Trona pinnacles with the Mono pinnacles, which are younger and smaller.

tufa pinnacles reflect in the water at Mono Lake

tufa pinnacles reflect in the water at Mono Lake

an island of tufa

an island of tufa

The campaign to “save Mono Lake” seems to have effectively been stamped onto the public consciousness, because many people (myself included, prior to my visit) believe we need to save Mono Lake. What I found out was that the campaign was successful in reverting the damaging drain of water since 1941 from Mono’s sources. In 1994, an order to protect Mono Lake was issued, and the City of Los Angeles reduced its level of water diversion. Now we can wait for the lake to begin filling up again – not to pre-Los Angeles levels – but back up a few feet with no more danger of total evaporation because of people. So Mono Lake has been saved already – yay!

The water hosts life on many levels, to include plant life below the surface

The water hosts life on many levels, to include plant life below the surface

I was surprised at the numbers of birds there, assuming the water was somehow poisonous. But it’s not poisonous, just salty. Our morning had been a chilly one, and I pulled black fleece over my head to keep warm, but down at the south shore amongst the tufa towers, the sun quickly warmed us. We lounged and enjoyed the heat. And took photos.

A snowy egret perched atop a tufa spire

A snowy egret perched atop a tufa spire

A bird perches high atop a spire for a magnificent view

A bird perches high atop a spire for a magnificent view

Yellow grasses from last summer have not yet been replaced by this year's crop

Yellow grasses from last summer have not yet been replaced by this year’s crop

Looking west to the Sierra Nevada

Looking west to the Sierra Nevada

The solitary tube standing alone out there is a good illustration of how each tufa spire begins as a formation around a spring bubbling up from underground.

The solitary tube standing alone out there is a good illustration of how each tufa spire begins as a formation around a spring bubbling up from underground.

After that it was time to go. We had much driving ahead of us, and we had recently discovered that the iPod connection that Arno installed had stopped working. Best guess is that it got disconnected during all the back country roads we bounced over in the pickup. We were not able to listen to music or news or audiobooks. So I pulled the laptop from the back seat and read a few chapters to Arno from my Shemya book that has been about 10 years in the making. I will -I WILL- finish it someday. Sharing it with other people really does help me pressure myself to work on it more.

Since we’ve known each other, in fact since our very first date, Arno and I occasionally come across topics that are too big to discuss in the moment. Arno suggested on our first date, as we stood on the Troll Bridge, that perhaps it was a topic to bring up later over a glass of wine. In the meantime, we’ve had this come up often: a topic to be discussed over wine. If it’s a heavy-duty topic, we suggest it should be discussed later over whiskey, heh heh. In anticipation of the trip, I had done a subject search of all our old emails (I’ve kept them all) for the keyword “wine” and had a list ready of stuff we now had time to talk about. We were driving, so there was no wine, but that was ok.

Preoccupied with talking, we zoomed north through Carson City and Reno, barely noticing them. I did interrupt discussion to point at the Upper Air dome (the radar that tracks the instrument box attached to launched weather balloons) as we passed the Reno National Weather Service office. I bragged that when UA operations were moved from Winnemucca to Reno, I was the one who wrote the SOP and and trained the Reno staff on how to fill, launch, and track weather balloons.

Our camp beside the Lassen National Forest road

Our camp beside the Lassen National Forest road

In that way, we made it to Susanville and barely noticed the miles. It was getting late, and though a campground at Old Station had been recommended, we didn’t want to go that far. I was driving along Highway 44 when I saw a sign for Bogard Campground. I pulled off onto the red dirt road, and the truck got bogged a little bit in the mud. We came up over a hill and had to stop because the road was completely snow-covered. We were nowhere near the campground, but ready to stop anyhow, so we got out to take a look. When Arno found a fire pit, that sealed the deal. We found a dry-ish spot for the tent and settled in.

Yes, I am blogging by the campfire. In a skirt. And a down jacket.

Yes, I am blogging by the campfire. In a skirt. And a down jacket.

Well after dark, we heard a eerie bird call that was much like the Common Loons I had heard when living in New England. Perhaps they were Pacific Loons, I don’t know, but their call was so compelling I couldn’t bear to make a sound while I heard it. After the fire died and we went to bed, I turned up my face and was astonished to see a million gazillion stars! I forget! I forget how many there are, and how incredible it is to see them without light pollution.

Is it cliche to call this a natural tapestry? How else would you describe these colours and swirls and dynamic fingerpainted streaks across the mountainsides?

Is it cliche to call this a natural tapestry? How else would you describe these colours and swirls and dynamic fingerpainted streaks across the mountainsides?

Thursday morning we rose early as usual. Well, to be honest, we’ve been “sleeping in” till around 6:30 this whole vacation. We typically rise at 5am on a weekday, so this is more relaxing. Arno has been so indulgent and supportive of me on this trip; often rising to make coffee so I can disappear with the camera, and several times entertaining himself while I write blog posts and then again while I post them at some borrowed wireless stop. This morning we skipped the breakfast routine in order to make an early tourist stop.

Me with my coffee at Dante's View

Looking north toward me with my coffee at Dante’s View

Looking down onto Death Valley from Dante's View

Looking down onto Death Valley from Dante’s View

The white path is what we walked on the day before. The black curved strip is the paved road. From Dante's View we could actually discern little black people specks on the white.

The white path is what we walked on the day before. The black curved strip is the paved road. From Dante’s View we could actually discern little black people specks on the white.

Our goal for the morning was to hit Dante’s view (5475 feet elevation) in the morning light. It made sense that with the sun rising in the east, the view of Badwater Basin (5577 feet below) would be best in the morning. It was a great view despite the hazy air, and we got a better sense of where we had walked the previous afternoon. The area that we assumed was packed flat by mere human feet alone, coincided with a drain channel in the basin. People seem to have walked to the edges of the channel, rather than forcibly widening a walking path beyond what was necessary. This information was easily ascertained from our great height, and made me less irritated with the tourists.

Arno makes breakfast on the tailgate, at the site of a supposed ghost town called Furnace.

Arno makes breakfast on the tailgate, at the site of a supposed ghost town called Furnace. The vastness of the desert appeals to me.

We bought only a couple gallons to get us safely to the next gas station, because gas prices in the park were a bit steep.

We bought only a couple gallons to get us safely to the next gas station, because gas prices in the park were a bit steep.

After the view, we backtracked to the dirt roads again to find a ghost town because Arno was hoping we might find something cool. There turned out to be only minimal evidence of mining operations, and I hardly think the nomer “town” was appropriate. If the place had ever been a town, there would surely be more residue. Today there is a framed mine shaft with a steel cage around it (for safety we assumed), and nothing else but a leftover pile of tailings. I wrote for my blog while Arno cooked breakfast.

mine shaft

mine shaft

Breaking News! Death Valley has now been officially recognized by the World Meteorological Organization as the hottest spot on the planet. On July 10, 1913, a temperature of 134 F was measured at the Furnace Creek Ranch. Previously the record was believed to have been set at El Azizia, Libya, but the WMO determined that the inexperienced observer mistakenly recorded the temperature 7 degrees too high in 1922 when he used replacement instruments.

The courtyard of Scotty's Castle. Family living quarters on the left, and guest quarters on the right.

The courtyard of Scotty’s Castle. Family living quarters on the left, and guest quarters on the right.

We calculated our time available, and were saddened to have to cross the Racetrack Playa off our itinerary. That’s the place where rocks appear to have been pushed across the dry desert floor. Instead we aimed for Scotty’s Castle; our last stop before leaving the park.

We drove almost 80 miles to Scotty’s Castle, still in the park. This truly is a ginormous park; apparently the largest National Park outside of Alaska, and the 5th largest in the U.S. at 5,269 square miles. The trip took about two hours, and at one point we climbed high up into the mountains and were able to look behind us and spot Mt. Whitney. There are 85 air miles between Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the contiguous United States, and Mt. Whitney, at 14,495 feet, the highest point. (They’re also in the same state!)

Looking down into the living room from the second floor balcony

Looking down into the living room from the second floor balcony

Prior to this trip I had heard about Scotty’s Castle, but had no idea what it was.  We were in for a treat! This amazing Spanish style house is also called Death Valley Ranch. It was built by Albert and Bessie Johnson, two young and wealthy adventure-seekers from Chicago. Scotty (Walter Scott), our tour guide told us, was famous for being famous. He began working for Buffalo Bill Cody in his Wild West Show, but after being fired, began one heck of an investment fraud. Scotty duped many, but when he found physically disabled Chicagoan Albert Johnson, he thought he had hit the jackpot. What were the odds that Johnson would ever take the trouble to visit Death Valley and discover that Scotty’s famed gold mine didn’t exist?

Bessie's fabulous Spanish kitchen

Bessie’s fabulous Spanish kitchen

The dining room. Scotty's initials are on the porcelain plates. I want to know how he pulled that one off.

The dining room. Scotty’s initials are on the porcelain plates. I want to know how he pulled that one off.

Johnson did come to Death Valley however, and Scotty desperately cooked up a plan with his buddies to fake a pistol battle and robbery in a desert canyon, intended to scare the bejeebers out of Johnson and send him howling back home. The buddies accidentally shot Scotty’s brother in the leg, and the whole plot was revealed. In the meantime, Johnson was having the time of his life, and all his fantasies about the Wild West had come true in that one crazy afternoon. So he continued to fund Scotty, who looked after the property that the Johnsons began acquiring in 1915.

dragons everywhere

dragons everywhere

Bessie and Albert built the gorgeous mansion near a generous spring that supplied power and water. They built Scotty his own room in the mansion, as well as his own house, 4 miles up the canyon. When the Johnsons were away, Scotty used the setting to dupe a growing list of investors in his gold mine, and not one of them saw a return on their investment except Johnson, who got a mad storyteller and a desert guide out of the bargain.

Today the mansion is a museum, owned by the Park Service. The place is stuffed with all the original furnishings, to include the leather curtains, a refrigerator and freezer, and Albert’s own invented electric fixtures. Since I am a dragon collector, I was delighted to see dragons scattered throughout the place. Though Bessie was an intensely devout Christian, and took it upon herself to preach every Sunday, she apparently loved the mythical as well. Our tour ended in the music room (where Bessie held her sermons), and we were treated to a song from their Welte-Mignon Pipe Organ.

One of the buildings of Palmetto

One of the buildings of Palmetto

Finally we left the park and bent our way north, hoping to find some greenery to camp in for the night. We found the ghost town of Palmetto, right beside the highway. It is the site of lots of broken down stone buildings and is much more interesting than the one we investigated in Death Valley. So Arno got his ghost town fix, which made me happy.

The mountains in a darkening sunset as we made camp in Big Pine

The mountains in a darkening sunset as we made camp in Big Pine

The truck was almost running on fumes when we finally made it to Big Pine, California. After feeding our ride, the attendant told us we could camp right there in town. The spot we found was unexpectedly beautiful. We parked the truck and carried our gear across a creek by stepping on stones. We fell asleep to the sound of rushing water; a different environment entirely from Death Valley.

My attempt to make the Central Valley look beautiful. (Luckily the photo doesn't capture the stinky cow poop smell.)

My attempt to make the Central Valley look beautiful. (Luckily the photo doesn’t capture the stinky cow poop smell.)

Tuesday we hit the freeway with the intent to make some miles. We zoomed through the Central Valley and saw acres upon acres of crops. There were political signs up about water rights. The battle for water rights must be permanent in this area, since it’s always dry, they get much of their water from somewhere else (e.g. diversion from the Trinity & Klamath Rivers into the Sacramento River), and since an enormous quantity of America’s food comes from right here in this big valley.

Arno stands at the base of one of the stunning cliffs in Red Rocks State Park.

Arno stands at the base of one of the stunning cliffs in Red Rock Canyon SP.

Arno beside a Joshua Tree

Arno beside a Joshua Tree

We reached Red Rock Canyon State Park relatively soon, since it is a little over an hour east of Bakersfield. I asked Arno to stop at the short trail named for Rudolph Hagen, right at the entrance to the Ricardo Campground. I love that Arno is always game to pull over and take pictures, or hike, or climb, or explore. I had been looking forward to visiting this place since my spring break trip two years ago in the rain and cold. Today’s visit was gorgeous and warm!

I photographed this rock two years ago.

I photographed this rock two years ago.

I’m a sucker for geological intrigues, and find so much satisfaction in discovering unexpected rock formations and the queer things the wind and rain have done to them. Here we saw lots of angles jutting from the earth, columns holding up tables of rock, and curtains of rock walls.

Me, jumping down the rocks

Me, jumping down the rocks

Then we were off again to try and get as close as we could to Death Valley before it got too dark to set up a tent. We got to a town called Ridgecrest and filled the tank with the idea of having plenty of gas upon entering the park.

Arno was excited to see China Lake Naval Weapons Center and China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, and had me get a photo of the F4 Phantom as we passed the entrance.

We had asked at the gas station and the attendant told us there was no place to camp between there and the park. But just as we were leaving town, we spotted the Maturango Museum and information center, and pulled into the parking lot at 5:32 pm. There was a man with a name tag on his khaki shirt, walking away from the building and toward the parking lot. “Are you closed?” we asked. “Yes,” he answered. “What do you need?”

This cliff looks like curtains of fabric to me.

This cliff looks like curtains of fabric to me.

So we explained that we just wanted a place to pitch a tent before it got dark. “Let me ask Mary,” he said. “You can follow me.” He knocked at a locked Employees Only side door and Mary let us in and introduced herself. The man introduced himself as Harris. We thanked them for taking pity on us, even though they were closed. We explained what we wanted for a campsite (we’re fully self-contained and simply need a piece of land). As she came up with some ideas, Mary also asked us where we were headed, and we told her. She disappeared into the back for awhile, and came back loaded with brochures, a map, and a Death Valley National Park publication (you know, the kind you always get at the entrance of a national park).

One of the sheets she brought out was of a local point of interest she thought we might be interested in: the Trona Pinnacles.

“Oh!” Harris and Mary said almost at once, “You could camp at the Pinnacles.”

The Trona Pinnacles in the setting sun.

The Trona Pinnacles in the setting sun. Can you spot the pickup?

Mary told us how to get there and said people camp there all the time. We thanked them again, gathered up all our brochures (including one of wildflower identification – how thoughtful!) and left. Before leaving Ridgecrest, I sat in the cab of the pickup and wrote some postcards and birthday cards for my niece  nephew, and brother, and we mailed those off before leaving town.

Looking out from our campsite

Looking out from our campsite

We found the Pinnacles without much trouble, and they were truly remarkable. On the way, I read the brochure to Arno and we discovered that they are 10,000 to 100,000 year old tufa (calcium carbonate) formations from back when the area was the site of a huge lake, now called the Searles Dry Lake Basin. These formations are caused when a spring beneath the lake bubbles up mineral rich water into an akaline lake, and it forms a cone around the spring, much like stalactites and stalagmites in a cave. The cone builds higher and higher over the years, but remains below water level. It’s only when the water disappears that the tufa formations become visible.

Sun strikes the spires rising from the dry lake bed.

Sun strikes the spires rising from the dry lake bed.

The temperature was pretty warm, but the wind was crazy wild. We drove for some time until we found a place where we could tuck the tent in the shelter of one of the larger pinnacles. Then I ran around with my camera and took photos.

Full moon rises in some thin cirrus behind a tufa spire.

Full moon rises in some thin cirrus behind a tufa spire.

The lights of Trona are visible in the distance, and stars above make it seem peaceful here, though the wind was whipping at the time the photo was taken.

The lights of Trona are visible in the distance, and stars above make it seem peaceful here, though the wind was whipping at the time the photo was taken.

The moon rose full tonight, so I played with the tripod and night time setting. My camera pulls in so much light, the photos make it look like it was still daytime, but you can see the stars that prove it was night. The wind raged for a few hours, then finally dropped off during the night. The moon rose higher and higher and lit up the tent almost as bright as a spotlight. When we woke in the morning, it was dead calm and we had an easy time making scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast before we left the most amazing dry lake bed I’ve ever slept in.

Melt-in-your-mouth

Tara’s Spring Break was last week, so I took the week off work, and we made plans for a road trip.

Arno suggested going to Moab, Utah, since that is what he and the boys have done multiple times in the past. T and I were game. We went in separate vehicles, since I could do some family visiting along the way. Saturday, March 24, we made it as far as the Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch (TRRR&RR), near Givens Hot Springs, Idaho.

On the way we truly enjoyed ourselves. Tara and I adore road trips. Although she is a teenager, we love each others’ company on a highway. In our effort to avoid a chain restaurant for breakfast, we discovered a fabulous restaurant in The Dalles, called La Petite Provence. After fresh croissants that melted in our mouths, Tara loved her salmon hash and I inhaled the breakfast special du jour. For the remaining 350 miles we listened to the audiobook of Heroes of Olympus, the second series by Rick Riordan after Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It is a fun way for me to brush up on my Greek Gods. This book in particular was also a lesson in comparison of their Roman counterparts.

We popped in CD #1 and began learning Japanese by Pimsleur’sfabulous tools. This is the same company that had me impressing Egyptians after only a half-hearted attempt and probably 10 hours of listening (far less than the whole tutorial I bought). I again bought the inexpensive ($35) “conversational” version. Tara enthusiastically practiced right along with me, and we got through Lesson #1. It was fun to have her correct my pronunciation, based on her gazillion hours of watching English-subtitled Japanese anime.

Tara, Pa & Chelle on the porch at their house

I’ve blogged my Pa’s gorgeous place in the past, so I won’t belabor it. Always a place of peace with two excellent hosts. It was a long overdue visit. I haven’t been to their place on the Snake River in about two years, and Tara hadn’t been there for three. Pa and I have had a couple of explosive fights in the meantime, making our relations even more uncomfortable than they were already growing. Mom’s death made it so we could talk again. Out of character, my Pa finally felt empathy for me and reached out to give some long-hungered-for love and affection. Breaking that ice in December made this visit easy.

Tara and I left Sunday morning to do some visiting around the Treasure Valley. First Gramilda (Gramma + Armilda) and Rex across the river in Nampa, whom I simply could not drive past in good conscience. Gramilda is rightfully grieving the loss of her daughter, and somewhere in there got the idea that I don’t like her anymore. I had to go visit to assure her of my love and devotion, as well as give her some needed love and support too. She’s 85 and looking surprisingly well, since she has struggled with serious health issues the last few years.

Parker was a big fan of Tara right away. Here he has asked her to read him a story. {I had to take the photo with my phone. Sorry about the poor quality!}

It was high time I visit my brother Eli and Addie at their house. I think… is it possible… I haven’t seen Addie since the wedding in 2004. That makes me a dreadful sister in law. {sorry!} Got to see little Parker, who is growing stronger and smarter. What a great nephew I have. My brother built a picture frame to hold historic U.S. Forest Service posters, and made Parker a little book that holds miniaturized versions of all the posters. He flips through the little book and tells us which poster he wants (this time: “Snakes!”), and Dad puts the proper poster at the front. Very clever. Eli had also built a bathroom stool for Parker with a fold-down step that I was very impressed with. Since it was my first time at the house, they gave us a tour, and I got to see all the hard work they put into making their place beautiful. All new floors, paint, fixtures, features… Eli even cut his ownslices of rock for the fireplace hearth. The guy is amazing. Addie is carrying Parker’s future younger brother, and -tired and sick- apologized for not being the ultimate hostess, but I thought she was as wonderful as always. What a dear, dear woman I have for a sister-in-law. She never missed an opportunity to ask about my life, my work, my well-being, and asked Tara all about her life. Addie raved about her son and her husband, and I just couldn’t imagine a sweeter family. I love them so.

Adorableness.

Then I called up my old high-school sweetheart, Jess, who had moved to Boise only days before. We’ve stayed in touch all these years. He was at his mom’s house (who I remember from 25 years ago when we dated – funny, huh?). Stopped at Fred Meyer on the way to buy T some shorts in anticipation of sunny weather. We had a short visit with Jess and I finally got to meet his beautiful boy, Everett, who is not at all like Parker and just as delightful. Our visit was short and Tara and I made our way back into the streets (at this point VERY impressed with myself for having navigated all over the Boise area communities without getting lost).

The peak event of the day was, of course, alligator for dinner. Chelle recently traveled to Georgia to visit family, and arranged for some alligator and turtle to be sent back home to my Pa, who is always ready for a culinary adventure. He thawed it out in honor of our visit. He made a light and savory sauce that complimented the mild white meat perfectly. We also had fried cod and sauteed mushrooms and salad. Absolutely delicious. One never goes hungry at the TRRR&RR.

We crawled gratefully into bed to get some good sleep for our early departure for Moab, Utah on Monday morning.

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