Archive for June, 2010

american avocet mother

ground nest of eggs

The answer to last blog’s eggs in nest identification:  American Avocet

June 24,  Matt and I rode the Vernonia-Banks Rail to Trail.  http://www.oregonparks.org/images/pdf/bv.pdf  Vernonia is a small town in the Coast Range of northwest Oregon.  In the past, a train used to transport timber from Vernonia to Banks on the way to Portland.  Now the route is a 21 mile long multi-use path (horses, bikes, pedestrians).  Most of it is asphalt pavement but there is a central section of ~3 miles that is packed dirt with some patches of gravel and ballast.  Our trail bikes were perfect for the trip although we think our hybrid bikes could do it with some brief “portaging” likely on the unpaved section.  Altogether our  17 mile trip took us ~ 3 hours and that included a number of stops for picture taking and exploring bridges, and one pause for lunch.

The drive to Banks and Vernonia is half the fun as we took 99w west of Salem to hwy 47 north .  The scenery alternates from wheat fields, vineyards, and patch gardens to small towns we seldom see otherwise.  It’s a beautiful trip, and we had no traffic issues.

The trail begins at Anderson Park in Vernonia.  However, they have a day fee charge so we parked on a side street a block from the park. 

Blue House Cafe, Vernonia, OR

We found a small café/brewery with Mediterranean menu and chose a gyro sandwich to go.  It made a delicious lunch on the trail.  I worried it would get soggy by the time we were ready to eat, but I was wrong; and it was great. 

We started from Vernonia because we suspected there would be less uphill slogging involved.  Turns out we were absolutely right.

The first segment of the trail, from Vernonia to Beaver Creek access, is the least interesting as well.  It runs alongside hwy 47, and, although there is a small greenway buffer between, the road noise and traffic were somewhat distracting.  It does have the most bridges, but the really spectacular high trestles are farther south.  Bridge count for the trip from Vernonia to Manning equaled 11. (I love the bridges).

The trail has 5 access points- in order, north to south: Vernonia, Beaver Creek, Tophill, Buxton, and Manning.  There is no access at Banks, and the last 4 miles between Manning and Banks was the most populous with mill noise, hwy 47 traffic noise, pedestrians, dogs, and other bicyclists.  We ended our trip at Manning-17 miles total.

From Vernonia to Tophill the grade is very gradually uphill-we had no problems maintaining a steady pace with minimal effort-and we HATE hills. 

mostly asphalt and great condition

typical of unpaved trail

some unpaved areas have small loose rocks

I had to walk the mudhole

The unpaved section, of course, is slower, and the sections that have looser rocks would be difficult on road tires; although they are short, intermittent and could be walked if necessary.  There used to be a fantastic curved high and long trestle bridge at Tophill but part of it burned down and was not restored.  A detour of sorts was built for the trail, and this is the crux of the unpaved section.  The trail descends from the elevated railroad grade down to the highway and back up again on the other side.  As a consequence there is a short but very steep downhill and equally steep (but short) uphill section with a highway crossing between that we walked. 

bridge to nowhere

horseshoe trestle-beautiful!

You can follow a short dirt trail to the remaining horseshoe trestle ruin, and it’s worth the time.  The trail cuts to the left from the top of the uphill section and is marked only by an orange and white post (some sort of utility marker).   The sight of 100 feet or so of wood trestle towering over the trees and highway, ending abruptly without a connection, is eerily stirring.

trail in Stubbs Stevens State Park

After Tophill and the ascent to the railroad grade, there is another 1-2 miles of dirt/gravel.  This seemed the most challenging piece of trail because of tires spitting the loose rocks, affecting speed and balance.  Fortunately it doesn’t last long-perhaps a mile or so.  Then the pavement returns and remains to the end.  This part of the ride is through classic coastal woodlands,  remote, beautiful, serene-stunning.  The grade is downhill all the way!  Passing through Stub Stevens State Park, the trail is brand new asphalt pavement, and it’s an effortless cruise!  We were coasting at 15mph. 

buxton trestle bridge from park below

buxton trestle bridge

At Buxton, there is another huge curved trestle bridge that has been restored and is part of the trail.  You can also reach the bottom of the trestle bridge, either from the trail or from the small state park at the access for a different perspective.  Either view is inspiring.  From Buxton to Manning, the trail passes through farmland and countryside vistas but stays well away from the highway until the access is reached. 

L.L. Stub Stevens State Park has 2 campgrounds, although they looked to us like “California” campgrounds-small sites and no visual buffers.  Anderson Park in Vernonia has camping as well, also small and crowded close together.  We found a primitive campground next to the Vernonia airport (south of town), nestled into a small forested area that looked like it would make a great impromptu  starting point from Timber Road; thus avoiding much of the initial highway distractions. 

This is a great ride and, apparently, not highly used.  We did avoid a weekend just in case.  The shorter ride from Beaver Creek to Manning would include all the best features.  And Tophill to Manning would encompass the largest bridges, the best scenery, the best pavement, and once you climbed up to the railroad grade—it’s all downhill!


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cotton boll burner or tower drier, Quitaque, TX

This is a tower drier for a cotton gin.  The Texans call them boll burners.  Hot air produced by the “boll burner” was used for this purpose.  Ginning is the process of separating cotton from seeds and waste material.  Moisture provides strength but interferes with cleaning cotton so controlling the moisture is critical in processing.

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Bear with me as this trip (May21-June 4, 2010) encompassed several mini-adventures in one overall fabulous experience.  I’m still flashing back on many of the adorable and intriguing glimpses we caught of this unbelievable country we live in.  Although we travelled the Interstates on the way to TX in order to arrive more quickly, Matt vowed to stay off them whenever possible while travelling home again.  Ergo, from Leakey, TX to Salem, OR, we drove a total of 31 miles of Interstate highways.  The rest were state highways and county roads.  The only qualifier was to remain on pavements in deference to the Bootie being towed. 

Our arrival in Texas, May23, began as usual with a hellacious thunder and hail storm just outside of Fort Stockton.  Highway traffic came to a stop temporarily-for those with prior experience, under overpasses to avoid hail damage.  We weren’t so farsighted but fortunately no obvious damage resulted to our vehicles.  Following this interlude, the fates were kind, and we saw no more storms until after the Memorial weekend/Bird Olympics.

 The Bird Olympics officially began Friday, May 28 as other family members and friends arrive.  Cardboard boat building was the main event at the Bird Olympics this year and was well received -although a lot of work was involved. 

riverside cardboard boat building

matt fixing ears of Frio Fury

Frio Fury red dragon team

competition ready

The races were hilarious!  Most boats lasted 2 races so almost everyone involved got to try.  My team’s boat, The Frio Fury, although beautiful, came in last, sad to say.

 I can’t resist introducing the newest members of the Grummet clan: Layla Jade and Jesinia Lys

jesinia and layla (could be layla and jesinia)

We left Leakey (lay’ key) Monday, May 31 for the Texas panhandle and our planned Rail to Trail excursion at Caprock State Park.  Caprock, or Caprock Escarpment, is used to describe the geographical transition point between the higher and flatter great plains and the lower rolling plains of Texas and New Mexico.  The escarpment stretches almost 200 miles south-southwest from the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle. The escarpment is made of a layer of calcium carbonate (caliche) that resists erosion. In some places the escarpment rises almost  1,000 ft above the rolling Texas plains to the east. The escarpment’s features are formed by erosion from small rivers and streams, creating canyons and arroyos.  The famous Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo is just north of where we rode the old railroad grade off the great plains, down the canyons and onto the rolling plains of Texas. 

It took us ~9 hours to get there and, wouldn’t you know it, we arrived in the middle of another tremendous thunderstorm!  Had to pull off the road again to let the worst of it pass.  The lightning show was unbelievably dramatic and prolonged-beats any 4th of July fireworks I ever saw.  The next a.m. was stormy and windy so we spent the time preparing bikes and selves for an assault on the trail the following morning.  The afternoon was brilliant sun and withering heat; temp in mid-90s and 15-20mph hot winds, so all we could do was hunker down under a shade tree, turn on the fans, undress to bare essentials and wait for sundown.  Good thing I brought lots of books, Sudoku and crossword puzzles! 

Thunderstorms developed that evening again although we didn’t get directly involved.  We did see lightning in the distance and suffered buffeting winds all night long that rocked the Slipper constantly.  Not much sleep that night.  We knew we had to get an early start for the bike trail so we could finish before the brutal heat of the afternoon.  When we got up at 630am, it was drizzly rain but we forged ahead.  So glad we did because the rain stopped, and the clouds helped delay the sun’s intensity through much of the morning.  Fortunately the wind was at our backs as well.  All in all, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions.

1st mile of caprock rail to trail

The trail started rough at South Plains, TX but improved a bit after a couple miles of bumpy cinder surface overrun with grass clumps.  Most of the trail is cinder-only a mountain bike could manage it-but, oh what a magnificent trip down and over the caprock canyons.

matt on one of largest trestle bridges

It was difficult to make any time because every curve and trestle bridge required a picture-taking stop.  There were so many trestle bridges we lost count-probably 12 or so.

 I saw a horned toad dodge my tires, and Matt nearly ran over a rattlesnake-I don’t know who was the more alarmed!

typical course through caprock

so many canyons; so little time

The main attractions to this section of the trail were the transition from the caprock to the plains and a nearly 600 foot long tunnel filled with Mexican bats. 

approaching tunnel entrance

entering the tunnel

The tunnel was an awesome structure to view up close.   The bats were not visible, but as we walked through we could hear little bat voices softly chittering above us.  One could just imagine mother bats gently soothing and calming their babies.  As we exited the far end, we saw 2 great horned owls that had been disturbed by our presence.  I suppose they are nesting in the tunnel as well, but I wonder if they feed on bats??  As for humans, we saw none after the first mile and only 2 houses in the 17 miles of trail we traversed.

We made the trip in ~ 4 hours and finished at 1130am.  Temp was 91-I had said we needed to finish before temps rose above 90 so we were close.   Didn’t feel bad but we were both ready to stop.  We also felt we had done the best part of this trail.  The remaining 40+ miles are flat and through rather monotonous plains with little shade or land formations.    The biggest problem was we had to endure the blistering hot afternoons and could only bike in the mornings.  Every day was forecast to get hotter until highs were into 100s.  We decided to move on.

J.B. Buchanan windmill park

We headed north and west, with a delightful detour to Spearman TX to see the J.B. Buchanan park devoted to restored windmills.  

We were heading for the Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands.  The vistas we had envisioned of endless oceans of native grasses were disappointingly nonexistent.  The land looks to me like mega cattle ranches.  (I suspect a hoax on the American taxpayer).  We did find an unadvertised, little known, poorly marked, cozy little national park hunting camp/campground called the Thompson Grove picnic area.  One would think no one wanted outsiders to find this place-altho it is a federal public park. 

tiny peaceful primitive campground-avoid during hunting season

We had the place to ourselves, and it was a very restful night after the buffeting winds we had at Caprock—that is, until the starlings/grackles started squawking before dawn.  I swear I never heard such noisy birds!  Still, we felt restored and ready to explore Pagosa Springs, Durango and Cortez country in CO.

Pagosa Springs from south

Pagosa Springs-what can I say!  It’s an adorable town.  The mountains and river are spectacular.  We found a small campground, East Fork (San Juan River),  just a few miles out of town that was quiet and practically deserted.  Townsperson assured me that it would likely be full in another day as they were having a bluegrass festival that weekend.

It’s a town devoted to playing-winter skiing/snowshoeing/snowmobiling and summer hiking, kayaking/rafting/dirt biking.  They have even built wave challenges in the river that courses through their downtown for kayakers to test/learn their skills. 

I think I could learn to do that!

Too bad the hot springs are totally and commercially geeked out.  It looked like a great place to vacation, but too much winter for us to live there!   The views of the mountains will stop your breath!

view leaving East Fork primitive campground outside Pagosa Springs

Tooth of Time mountain range outside Pagosa Springs-love the name!

We traveled west  to Durango and tried to connect with the doctor that helped deliver Dan, our son, in AZ (28 years ago)(saved Dan’s life but that’s another story).   Unfortunately he was out of town for the weekend, so we’ll have to try to meet another time.  Durango is big-time city (for this area) with lots of traffic, but the historic downtown is still quite attractive.  Too big for our tastes, we think, so we moved on to Cortez. 

Cortez sits north of Mesa Verde National Park.  We promised a visit there another time as construction issues prevented our little entourage from driving into the park.  At this time we were more interested in the town and surrounding countryside.  The town is small but with the essential amenities for daily living (grocery, fuel, hardware store, restaurant).  Between Cortez and Dolores is a broad river valley with farming-mostly grass and wheat but also beans, corn and squash. 

canyonlands-what more can I say!

breathtaking vistas for miles and miles

West of Cortez lies Utah and the most spectacular country imaginable.  There are surely regions of the world as beautiful, but I wonder if any could be more so than the canyonlands of Utah.  Everyone who lives in the US should drive through southern Utah at least once.   I need weeks to explore and take pictures to my heart’s content


Indian ruins below and left of rock thumb across the Devil's Canyon

best view of Devil's Canyon

We have a favorite campground outside of Blanding, UT called Devil’s Canyon.  We walked the very short trail from the campground to the canyon then bushwhacked a very teeny bit in order to get the best pictures.  We also found out biking on dirt roads is not fun if 4-wheelers use them also!  I’m still spitting dust when I think of it.

looking into Devil's Canyon from my rock outcropping


every curve in the road brings fresh grandeur

rest area in Capitol Reef National Park

 We travelled hwy 95 from Blanding to Hanksville which winds through the heart of the canyonland , then hwy 24 that cuts through Capitol Reef National Park to hwy 50 and into Nevada.

The temptation to stop and hike around this country was overwhelming but each time we tried, tiny biting gnats found us within minutes-very unpleasant unless we were constantly moving.  I felt great sympathy for the wildlife here.

tiny segment of Capitol Reef

Ward Mountain NV

We found a small campground outside of Ely at Ward Mountain where we rested and oohed over a lovely cloud-studded sunset before falling asleep with the surrounding scents of pines and sage and the alluring calls of unknown and unseen birds in the distance.  How sweet moments of life can be!

sunset at Ward Mtn

Next morning we’re on the road again, passing through the tiny but charming town of Eureka (gold!) ,then turning north to Owyhee and Idaho.  

eastern OR country-we're nearly home!

Now we start to see rivers with more water and  greener valleys with larger herds of cattle, sheep, goats and even llamas.  It starts to feel like home again although we are yet in western ID and eastern OR.  Our road more or less follows the Snake River in ID as it becomes a major presence in the landscape, then crosses over to the Malheur River in OR.  Glimpses of potential kayaking excursions begin to dominate our conversations, although we stopped only once for lunch in Nyssa, OR, on the banks of the Snake River.  The river was high and fast and some hatch of insects (nonbiting thank goodness) kept us inside the Slipper.

As we travel west across hwy 20 in OR, we identified an abandoned railroad grade paralleling the highway until disappearing south into Malheur country.  We begin planning/dreaming of a biking/hiking exploration trip along pieces of this abandoned grade as it leaves the highway and winds over the Malheur River.  It could be a stunning rail to trail conversion although the condition of the trestle bridges may be prohibitive.

Our goal for our last night on the road is Crystal Crane Hot Springs between Crane and Burns.  What a luxury to end a day of car travel in a 100 degree hot pond watching nighthawks and swallows in the sky.   A group of women shared the pool with us until one of their beach towels caught fire in their firepit, also poolside.  Quite a blaze it caused.  No harm was done (except for the towel).  The women were entertained; the owners were unfazed.  I marvel at the miracle of alcohol!


Do you know whose eggs these are?

While parking our Slipper for the night, we almost destroyed a ground birdnest, but these same women warned us away in time.  Anyone recognize the eggs?  They are ~2” x 1.5”.  The parents share incubating duties and noisily run around nearby if you approach.  I was told they will even run at you, but I didn’t test that.  Next blog I will show a picture of the parent.  Hint: they are larger than killdeer-and beautiful.

Cascade Mtns from eastern hwy 20

Approaching Bend from the east is a stunning view.  Oregon can certainly hold its own in the natural beauty category!

I can’t begin to tell you how travelling this grand country of ours is affecting my perspective on life, my roles during my little chapter in time, the immensity of the universe-so I won’t bore you further!  Let’s just say I’m looking forward to further adventures with Matt on the road, trails, waterways….




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