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Thursday, Feb 24, 2011

As usual this time of year, Matt and I have been dreaming of sunshine and warmer temps.  We were intrigued by Death Valley on our last return from the southwest.   Thanks to our great friends, Cathy and Rick, we had read Death Valley in ’49 by William Lewis Manly.   One of our goals this trip was to reconstruct his route as he and the Arcane and Bennett families struggled across Death Valley as gold rush pioneers in 1849.   By the way, Manly’s book is a great read for anyone interested in life as a single male adventurer in our country during the 1800s.

Day one of the trip, or rather, night one, began at 9 p.m. as soon as I got home from work.  We left Salem in driving rain hoping to get to the coast before a predicted late season snow storm decended on the Willamette Valley.  We drove to Bandon, arriving 1am and camped the remainder of the night in a friend’s driveway near Bandon Beach. 

Next morning we had a delightful breakfast at The Minute Café in Old Town Bandon with our dear friend, Bob, and then headed south on 101.  Highway 101 courses through the redwoods in southern OR and northern CA, so it’s a stunning drive even in the rain.  Pushing hard to stay in front of the storm mass close on our heels, we spent our second night in a rest area off Hwy 99 south of Stockton.  The steady rain masked the traffic noise.

Saturday, Feb 26, 2011

We headed east over Tehachapi  Pass with no difficulties, then cut north and east to Ridgecrest along Hwy 14 and Hwy 178 into Panamint Valley.  Our conversations were increasingly about the likely route followed by Manly and Rogers as they hiked out of Death Valley after leaving the Arcane and Bennett families at Furnace Springs.  They promised to return with supplies after finding a route to CA the others  could survive.  Astonishingly, they succeeded and no lives were lost in the Bennett/Arcane party.  Other pioneers in Death Valley at the same time were not so lucky!

 As we entered the southern end of Panamint Valley, we watched a huge sandstorm develop just east of us in Searles Valley.  Its course paralleled ours until we saw the leading edge disappear over a pass through the Slate Range.  As we traveled further north then cut east through the Panamint Valley, the sandstorm reappeared to the south and east of us, funneling up the same valley.  It was an awesome sight as it filled the southern horizon and began to blot out the mountain ranges on each side.

 Fortunately, we were able to stay in front of the growing sandstorm while crossing the Panamint Mountains and descending into Death Valley.  Visibility was poor all around due to the sandstorm behind us, increasing clouds from the west piling up over the Panamints, and clouds moving in from the south over the Amargosa and Grapevine Ranges on our east side.

We settled into Mesquite Springs campground at the north end of Death Valley (not far from Scotty’s Castle). 

mesquite springs campground

scotty's castle in snowstorm

 The winds were quite fierce and cold, and rain began falling sometime in the night.  By morning the rain was alternating with snow and hail.  By the time we got moving from camp, snow was continuous and blanketing the ground.  We drove to Scotty’s Castle for some photos, but, between the cold wind and the slushy snow, we didn’t spend much time out of doors.  Still, it seems very fortuitous that we could see the valley during a snowstorm!

Afterwards, we traveled the highway south to check out Furnace Springs, which is a total geek hole.   We caught some sun in the southernmost part of the valley, and the temps rose to the 50s briefly; but the winds remained so strong that we were either inhibited by the cold or by the dust clouds swirling from the sand dunes.  There would be no hiking today. 

storm edge left and sandstorms valley floor

 

We circumnavigated the valley in a spectacular drive, coming to rest again at Mesquite Springs.  Although it will be cold tonight, the rain and snow should end.  We have high hopes for hiking tomorrow.

Feb 27, Sunday

awesome view from top ubehebe crater

ubehebe crater from western edge

Our first hike was around Ubehebe crater and Little Hebe crater.  Not really a hike but more of a stroll, yet the scenery was spectacular.  Ubehebe crater is a volcanic pit with impressive colored and crevassed walls.  It is surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides.  The air feels and looks clean and clear, and the remoteness and  the varied topography are both inspiring and soothing to the soul.  I was surprised by my response to Ubehebe as I thought it would be boring.  Quite the contrary, I felt a release of tension  and a calming sense of “peace and tranquility” (it even looked like a moonscape).

From Ubehebe crater, we drove to the Titus Canyon entrance off Scotty’s Castle Road.  Titus Canyon is a popular hike in the Grapevine Mountains of the Amargosa Range on the east side of northern  Death Valley.  Titus Canyon, however, has a one-way dirt road accessible from Beatty NV, (east of Death Valley),  that traverses its entire length.  We felt there was too much potential for overuse.  However, Fall Canyon just north of Titus could also be accessed from the Titus trailhead, so we headed for it. 

Matt entering Fall Canyon

Matt at 18ft dry fall

Our major hiking guide is Hiking Death Valley by Michel Digonnet, and we highly recommend it to anyone interested in Death Valley.  He describes in good detail many hikes, and he has a special interest in the geology and origins of Death Valley.   Reading about the different rock formations and then finding them for real in your surroundings adds another layer of intrigue while hiking.  This is a good thing, because there are practically no animals to distract you and very little vegetation as well.  You have to admire the sturdy plants and critters that do manage to survive these extreme conditions.

The hike into Fall Canyon was mildly arduous but well worth the effort.  Hiking was slowed by the loose gravel of the canyon floor, as well as our poor winter conditioning.   The canyon is nothing less than spectacular with towering rock walls and lots of twisting corridors and overhangs.   The hike seemed long, and just when we were about to falter, the fall for which the canyon is named appeared.    It’s a vertical 18 ft slick rock that looked too technical for us to free climb, but there is a bypass.  The bypass involved a short but easy free climb,  then a traverse over a narrow ledge that rises gradually about 25 feet, and finally a climb down into the wash above the fall.

rock intrusion looks like prehistoric insect

offset intrusions shifted by earthquake movements (?)

Having accomplished our goal of reaching the main fall, we stopped for lunch and a brief rest.   Above the fall is a narrows where the towering walls pinch in towards each other, deeply shading the canyon floor.   Here we found fanciful white stone intrusions in the  base rock that looked almost like hieroglyphics.

The hike back out of Fall Canyon went a lot faster and easier as it’s all downhill.  Although the slope is gradual, the loose gravel took its toll on our quads and calves.  All in all, it was an immensely satisfying first hike in Death Valley.

Monday Feb 28

Today we began by leaving Mesquite Springs campground and driving to Beatty NV to fuel up, do laundry, buy food, and most importantly, shower.   It’s a long way from Death Valley to anywhere.  We breakfasted in Beatty, did our chores, ate a dynamite lunch at KC’s Outpost and returned to DV in time to hike Desolation Canyon.  This hike was only slightly over 3 hours but was incredible! 

entering aptly named Desolation Canyon

climbing a dry fall

The canyon is indeed desolate of vegetation and living creatures (although we did see a small lizard).  But it is composed of sandstone and clay walls that curve and carve a deep channel winding always upward for a couple miles.  The surface was much firmer than Fall Canyon and easier to walk.  There were a few falls to free climb that were fun but not frightening. 

Death Valley view from top of desolation canyon

 

view south over artist's drive

The real delight was at the end of the trail where we climbed onto a ridge ~1000ft above the valley floor.  The vistas in every direction were indescribable.  This hike only took 3+ hours-just right after yesterday’s 5 hr hike.

Mar 1 Tuesday

matt's looking at waterfall and pool

climbing around the waterfalls

Monarch Canyon was the goal today.  The first hour of the hike is trailess-just head out across the desert, following the advice of our guidebook, Hiking in Death Valley.  It was fun to walk the desert and view the plants, yet easy to avoid the occasional cholla and prickly pear cacti threats.  This hike we saw more wildlife sign than any other hike yet.  Not surprising since the main attraction is a perennial waterfall and spring.  We heard birds we never saw.  We were buzzed by a hummingbird.  We saw several small lizards and one fast little runner we couldn’t identify-a small rabbit or ground squirrel?

massive geologic forces recorded in these rocks

 

beautifully detailed and rich molten patterns

 As we moved deeper into the canyon, the walls became a veritable mosaic of different rocks, tilted and jumbled and marvelously discordant.  There were two short waterfalls to clamber up, then we came to an impassable 110ft waterfall. 

no, we didn't climb past this one

 It’s like magic to see actual pools of water in the desert.  At the bottom of the lowest pool we could see part of a skeletal backbone and ribs and near the upper pool was a partial skull-clearly a bighorn sheep.  We also saw butterflies.  Lots of anthills and communities of ground holes littered the canyon floor and wash.  We could only guess what occupants resided within–rabbits, ground squirrels, foxes—snakes???

4.5 hours in and out with lunch at the waterfall made for a near perfect day.  Desert hiking is hard on the feet and the knees, I’m finding out.  After our canyon hike, we drove over the Panamint Mountains into Panamint Valley to look at Ballarat ghost town as a possible campsite, but we didn’t like the looks of it.  We returned to Wildrose Campground in Death Valley NP where we could camp for free.  Only one other van was spending the night so we were pretty much alone with a gorgeous view through the pass toward the west and the sun setting behind the Inyo Mountains.

Wed Mar 2

charcoal kilns for producing charcoal from pinyon pines

To my dismay, my left knee developed aching and mild swelling after three days of hiking, so we decided a day off was appropriate.   After a leisurely breakfast, we drove to the charcoal kilns located just a few miles from Wildrose.   Charcoal was used to process silver ore. http://www.flickr.com/photos/8524489@N07/536474600
    The kilns are startlingly odd in their beehive appearance and  isolated location in the pinyon pine forest on Wildrose Mountain.  It was just a gorgeously perfect sunny warm day, and the picture taking opportunities here were great fun.

looking towards Panamint Valley from charcoal kilns

mining equipment at warm springs talc mine

We spent the rest of the day driving the length of Death Valley to the south and then west up Warm Springs Canyon Road.  This dirt road to Warm Springs was 10+miles of very rough gravel and rocks.  The Ruby Slipper valiantly plowed on but, at a pace of 10-12 mph, it seemed forever before we reached the Warm Springs site.  It used to be a talc mining camp, and there were abandoned buildings, a large spring, a neglected nasty swimming pool (nice camp in its day)  and some mining equipment to view.  When we arrived, there were 6 motorcycle guys who left shortly thereafter.  Within 10-15 minutes, a caravan of three 4WD vehicles arrived, clearly intent on spending the night, so we rode the dusty trail back to the main highway and returned to Wildrose Campground.  The distances are so extreme, and the roads (except the main paved ones) so rough, it takes a long time to get anywhere.

Thursday Mar 3

My knee feels much better after the rest, so we picked Darwin Springs for our last hike before leaving DVNP.  So glad we did because it turned out to be the best yet!  Darwin Springs is actually in the Panamint Valley (although still part of DVNP) in the Argus Range.  We had concerns because the access road, although gravel, is relatively short (3 miles), and the hike into the first waterfall and springs is rated as very popular and frequently visited.   Fortunately, we started relatively early, carrying our breakfast with us and reached the first waterfall in solitude. 

1st waterfall, pretty as can be

The first waterfall is only a 1.5-2mile hike on pretty nice surface most of the way.  There are a few short crosses over the creek, but they’re easy to make.  We listened to cactus wrens sing and watched goldfinches bathe in the shallow creekbed.    The sound of water is magical in this desolate country.

The real miracle of Darwin Springs lies up canyon from the first waterfall.  There are a couple of boulder climbs necessary.  They are a little technical but not difficult.  Most people don’t climb them.  They have no idea what they missed.

beautiful discoveries past the first fall

Within a very short distance are two back to back waterfalls that drop between steep slickrock boulders and towering walls– absolutely beautiful.  

60ft of breathtaking grandeur directly above falls 2 & 3

 

Beyond these two waterfalls, a tiny spray of water barely visible hinted of even a third.  It was necessary to climb about 60 feet up a loose rock talus, then walk around a ledge and down a short series of rocks to arrive at the top of the 2 waterfalls, where the third towering waterfall dominates in all its grandeur.  It is truly mindblowing.

sand dunes near sunset

There remain so many canyons and hikes we didn’t have time for, and many more we couldn’t access without 4WD.   I feel we had a good introduction to this marvelously unique  world, but now it’s time to say “Good-bye Death Valley.”

What is likely living here?

Recognize the partial skull in foreground?

can you name this butterfly?
Enjoy this little quiz.

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desert trumpets

The answer to the challenge picture is Desert Trumpet (Eriogonum inflatum)

The swelling of the stem used to be considered a response to a parasitic wasp but was recently shown toactually be accumulated CO2.  Go figure.
Now I have to correct an error I made in the Iron King-Peavine blog.  My picture of a hiker on top of a granite protrusion did not, in fact, include the hiker!  Unfortunately, I deleted the regular scale view but I do have one of a telephoto just to prove he was not a figment of my imagination.

hiker on a granite peak

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Leaving the Iron King rail to trail, we turned north intending to drive through Death Valley National Park on the way back to Oregon.  We also wanted to drive over the new bridge spanning the Colorado River at Hoover Dam.  Our interest in Death Valley had been piqued by friends who visited there and described the valley as an intriguing and unique natural resource.  It was even more impressive than I had expected.  Some things you just have to see to believe.  The complexity and beauty of Death Vally can be so difficult to describe.

Heading north from Prescott, we crossed into Nevada over the new Hoover Dam Bypass bridge.  More info about the bridge:  http://www.hooverdambypass.org/purpose_overview.htm   It was disappointing because of heavy traffic and essentially no good view or place to stop for pictures without risking traffic chaos.  We saw one exit for tourists and picture taking, but it was stuffed full.  There is a hike from a casino parking lot just over the Nevada border I would have liked to have taken but Matt was in no mood by then.  It looked like it could have some spectacular views, but it was just too late in the day to check it out. 

Skirting the south and west flank of Las Vegas in rush hour traffic, we discovered Lovell Canyon in Springs Mountain National Recreational Area only 30 or 40 miles west of Vegas. http://www.sunsetcities.com/lovell-canyon.html   We spent an amazingly peaceful and quiet night just a couple miles from Hwy 160, gazing at the Springs Mountains while eating dinner and then at the brilliant stars after nightfall.  There are no facilities in Lovell Canyon; you just pick out a level spot with a view and claim it as yours (and hope for no motorcylce gangs or other Las Vegas area weirdos). 

Death Valley:barren landscape to the horizon

Death Valley:hard even to walk in this soft sand

Next day we drove hwy 190 through the Death  and Panamint Valleys, and then along hwy 395 and the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas to Hwy 50.  Matt was extremely generous and patient with many stops to take pictures as I became increasingly fascinated with the desert vegetation, the challenges of trying to capture the barren isolation of Death Valley, the colorful topography of Panamint Valley and the towering immensity of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Death Valley:no easier to walk here

Wikipedia has great info on Death Valley NP:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Valley_National_Park

The overwhelming impression of Death Valley for me is that nature here is oblivious to our human sense of self-importance.  This dangerous environment is one we should enter with forethought, because nothing else out there cares if we live or die through our own arrogance, stupidity or bad luck.  I like that. 

approaching panamint valley, hwy 190

overlooking panamint valley

Highway 190 cuts across Panamint Valley which is separated from Death Valley by the Panamint Mountains.  The northern part of Panamint Valley is included in the Death Valley National Park.  The smaller Pamamint valley is 65 miles long but only 7 miles at its widest point.  Panamint mountains are incredibly colorful with a very ancient carved and sharp featured appearance.

Panamint Mtns:so much color and texture

beautiful mountains all the way to the horizon:Sierra Nevadas

Sierra Nevadas, Lone Pine,CA:alpine majesty-breathtaking

After crossing the Panamint Valley, we headed north to Lone Pine and hwy 395- approaching and then paralleling the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west.  Highway 395 would take us almost all the way to hwy 50 where we intended to cross the Sierras to Interstate 5.  The drive is an unforgettable feast for the eyes and spirit. 

Lone Pine, the first real town north of the junction of 190 and 395 is a small but quite adorable town with the Sierra Nevadas as a backyard.  Very alpine!  Big Pine is the next town on 395- it looks like a tourist trap. Then comes the “big” town of  Bishop, California.  Biship is-well-Bishop.

I had a lot of fun this trip taking pictures of desert vegetation.  Lots of familiar cacti and some plants new to me.  Here’s a brief sampling:

makes you pay attention when walking

yuccas, Lovell Canyon

If you know this one let me know (answer next blog)

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Fuji and us about to begin our journey

As the weather in Oretgon started to deteriorate this fall, I decided a trip to Arizona would be just the thing- and I found the perfect excuse.   I volunteered to deliver a Pug dog to his owner, now living in Alamagordo, New Mexico, since New Mexico is right  next door to Arizona.   Fuji, the Pug, turned out to be a lovely traveling companion.  His preferred traveling position was front and center in my lap.  He had his own center platform complete with doggy bed, but it was clearly second best for him. 

Fuji's perch in Ruby Slipper

 

His sleeping position at night was a bit more difficult as he felt he could only sleep plastered next to me, wrapped up in my sleeping bag.  I found him adorable even at night; Matt was less amused.  We made the trip to NM in record time, reuniting Fuji with his owner;  then drifted on to Tucson, AZ to regroup with our dear friend, Susie.

sunset in Tucson

Susie’s home in the Catalina foothills above Tucson has a panaramic view of the City as well as three mountain ranges and stunning sunsets.  What a fabulous setting!  We could hear coyotes on the next ridge over as we watched the sun go down.  The next morning we encountered a family of javelinas while strolling between the saguaro cacti behind her house. 

huge barrel cactus and several saguaros

 

We watched a Cooper’s hawk patrol his territory around her hillside.  We are always treated like royalty when we visit with lots of food, drink and good conversation.  No wonder I love to go to Arizona!

With all the food and wine we were consuming, we were badly in need of some exercise.  We tried out Tucson’s very nice, mostly paved city bike trail that travels the north edge of The Rillito River.   The ride is flat with a dry wash below you on one side and a mix of old and new construction to peruse on the other side.  It’s very much a city ride, but safe and easy.  It felt good to be on wheels again.  Right next to the bike path, we entered a Sunday open market that was delightfully full of vendors, locals and tourists.  Fresh fruits and veggies, chips and salsa, music, artwork- all under a clear sunny sky.

After leaving Tucson, we headed north, finding a marvelous Rail to Trail to share. 

it makes you wonder

 The Iron King and Peavine Rails to Trails actually converge from separate starting points into one terminus.  They are located in the Prescott Valley and travel through some of the most spectacular granite rock bluffs and outcroppings I’ve ever seen.  We started at the east end of Iron King off Glassford Hill Road, in the town of Prescott Valley.  Iron King ends in 4 miles at Peavine Rail to Trail near a place called “point of rocks.”  Point of rocks was the location of the railroad terminal buildings.   To the left, Peavine continues to a terminus at the south end of Watson Lake, ~4 more miles.  That was our end destination.  We then turned around and returned to our starting point.  Peavine ‘s other  terminus is about 1 mile from the point of rocks Iron King-Peavine junction, near hwy 89, north of Prescott.   We scouted that section, but it stretched across rather flat dry prairie scenery that was no match for the rest of the trail, so we returned to the junction.

We first entered the Iron King via an underpass that avoids crossing a busy highway.  Because of a recent rain, the underpass concrete surface was muddy and slick, but we made it without mishap.   (We continually congratulate ourselves for buying fat tire trail bikes for these excursions.)   Courtesy mandates that we wait for a horse and rider to walk their way through the underpass before proceeding so as not to spook the horse.  These rail to trails are shared by bicyclists, horseback riders, walkers and runners.

At the risk of boring you with multiple vacation photos, I just couldn’t begin to select the most appropriate pictures.  Trying to illuminate the awesome topography in a few snapshots is a fool’s task.  You simply must see this place for yourself.  It’s easy to get to and so worth the effort. 

matt approaching the entrance to Granite Dells

 

magnify this and you'll see a hiker sitting on top

After a couple miles of rolling rangeland, punctuated by old railroad cars at the mile markers, the trail enters a granite rock wonderland, the Granite Dells.  Riding between granite boulders, outcroppings and bluffs, the landscape is overwhelming.  One hiker passed us with a backpack on and running.    We saw him a few minutes later on top of the highest bluff in the area.  Talk about an ironman!  I wanted to try to find his path up the bluff, but we were not equipped to hike in desert and rock (no boots). 

A couple miles farther on, the junction with Peavine is marked by an informative history marker.  Turn right and Peavine leaves the granite boulders and courses across sweeping broad rangelands to its terminus.  Continue straight as we did, and you soon come to Watson Lake.  A stunning vista of blue-green water, towering granite bluffs and partially submerged granite boulder “islands” fills one with wonder and awe.  It’s also a perfect spot to pause for lunch.  The trail ends at the south end of Watson Lake, jarringly so, next to a major highway.  We did meet a few walkers and bikers around Watson Lake area but most of the time we had the trail to ourselves.

railway car at mile 1

 

rock pile Granite Dells

oasis-I'm looking for cougar

point of rocks

this lake is unbelievable-Watson Lake

dreams are made of this

 

A brisk wind came up by afternoon; fortunately it was behind us for the ride back.  My adventurous husband thought we should try one of the many single track trails that branch from the main route through the granite rocks to the lake shoreline. 

side trails are for walking

 

these are the easy parts!

 

The experience once again confirmed that we are not single track contenders.  We walked our bikes over and through the boulders.  I don’t see how people can ride bikes through that terrain! 

nice trestle bridge

The main rail to trail route is hard packed dirt and easily travelled by hybrids and trail bikes.  Skinny tires would have a pretty rough time of it.  Once we got to Granite Dells,  I could have spent hours just hiking/walking over and through the granite boulders and along the water’s edge. 

 The history of Granite Dells was fascinating as depicted by the trailside sign.  One can only wonder why these fabulous areas lose their appeal.  I suspect they don’t but somebody makes more money selling them to the privileged wealthy.  A few lucky people live among the boulders and bluffs.   The rest of us can only gaze and dream. 

historical granite dells

go for campsite 18

 

We discovered a beautiful, quiet national forest campground for our after trail evening: Yavapai campground in Prescott National Forest, 8.5 miles from Prescott.  Campsites are nestled between slick rock boulders and scrubby trees, offering both privacy and stunning views.  Made me wish I was considerably younger as the boulders were nearly irresistible climbing surfaces.  I settled for the wine and the pleasures of a lingering sunset. 

life at campsite 18

 

I did fall in love with Arizona and its beautiful dramatic landscapes all over again; just as I did the first time I visited 30+ years ago.  Of course the weather was perfect: all sunshine and temps in high 60s to low 70s.  What’s not to like?!?

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Matt and I have just returned from riding the Weiser River Trail in southwest Idaho.  The trail ends in the small town of Weiser (wee-zur), Idaho on the Snake River near Ontario, Oregon.  This trail is the longest unpaved multiuse rail to trail in Idaho- 85.7mi.  We completed nearly the entire trail in 3 days.  You can learn more about the Weiser River Trail in Falcon Guides Best Rail Trails Pacific Northwest

True to our ethic of downhill-downwind bicycling, we began our journey at the northernmost trailhead, West Pine, just south of New Meadows, Idaho. 

not a fun surface and highway to right

I wouldn’t recommend starting there unless you simply must travel every mile of the entire trail as a point of honor.  This part of the trail is not completed yet and has very rough and uneven terrain. 

unimproved trail surface

gravel road-hated it

A section has been detoured onto a dirt road with the resultant hill climbing over loose gravel and ruts.  Not pleasant!

The switch from the road to the trail again is not well marked.  I was riding ahead and saw the turn off,  but Matt didn’t; so he went one way and I went another.  We lost each other, wasting valuable time and energy before hooking up again.  You can imagine the discussion that ensued.  We now have a pact to maintain visual contact at all times. 

alpine forest-much nicer terrain!

A better place to start if you want to ride the really good stuff is Strawberry Road intersection on the east side of Hwy 95.  The Pineridge restaurant and motel is on the west side directly across.  Just down from Strawberry Road, the trail enters the Payette National Forest. 

Matt liked the trailhead at Evergreen National Forest campground even better, which is just another 2 miles south on Hwy 95.  Either way, you’ll skip the rougher undeveloped trail that simply parallels the highway from New Meadows anyway.  Starting where the forest begins is much nicer, with the pine smells dominating the senses and the welcoming shade of the towering trees.  Have I mentioned how HOT it was?  No? Well, this will be a recurring theme on the Weiser River trail in July. 

The entire trail runs alongside the Weiser River as it winds its way down through the forest, through valley farm and ranchlands, and finally through a high desert canyon to finish in downtown Weiser. The first 2 nights we camped at Evergreen NF Campground between Council and New Meadows.  Evergreen is a tiny rustic campground right next to Hwy 95.  It has very good visual screening from the highway, which is not particularly busy; but, unless you have a Ruby Slipper with cooling fans to provide “white noise,” you will hear traffic sounds.  The camp host says the campground is a magnet for foraging bears, but we didn’t see or hear any.  The big advantage to camping at Evergreen is that it is high enough in altitude to cool nicely at night.  So much so that I was reluctant to start riding early in the morning before the sun could warm the air.  Matt says I’m too sensitive to environmental stimuli.

Once past the trailhead at Evergreen, the trail loops away from the highway quickly and follows the river through an alpine valley. 

trail passes under highway just before leaving forest

what a contrast from the forest!

A significant part of this section of the trail runs along and through meadows and ranchlands.  You definitely feel like you are the only ones out there.  We never saw another soul on the entire 25 mile section.   The guidebook claims a 1200 ft descent from West Pine to Council, so the ride is mostly downhill.  The nice thing about railroad construction is that everything is built to maintain a constant grade. 

I sooo love the trestles!

Trails can include high trestle bridges, tunnels, steep cuts and embankments- whatever it takes to maintain that constant grade.  That makes for some nice bike riding.

Our goal the first day was Council, Idaho, 26 miles south from West Pine.  We left West Pine at 9:45am and rode into Council at 1:15pm.  The temperature by then was 92.  We knew right away we’d need to have an earlier start the next day as the heat builds rapidly in this part of Idaho in July, and we were dropping elevation every day.  We also discovered that trains don’t like trees,  so shade was significantly lacking once we left the alpine forest south of New Meadows. 

After completing the first day’s ride and getting some lunch, we drove to McCall, Idaho just 12 miles from New Meadows, but a world apart.  McCall is an outdoor playland, with a big mountain lake complete with sand beach, hiking biking, off-roading, skiing-the list goes on.  All the amenities one expects in a happy outdoor-oriented town are there.  McCall, with a population of 2554 is also, with the exception of Weiser (pop 5222), larger than the other towns along the trail.  Council, for example, has only about 678  people .  [population data from city data.com] Nonetheless, It does have a great little restaurant, The 7 Devils Café, where we ate breakfast before beginning our ride the first day out.

On day 2 we changed our plans to start earlier.  No more luxury restaurant breakfasts before hitting the trail.  Instead we were up at dawn to eat toasted English muffins, orange juice, tea or decaf coffee in the Slipper- not too shabby a breakfast at all.  Then it was on to place the shuttle car in Cambridge and return to Council to begin the ride.  We managed to start the second section of the trail at 8:30am. 

The second segment of the trail from Council to Cambridge is just 19.7mi.  The trail starts straight and flat across farm and ranch land running right next to the highway. 

water is almost exotic here

mule training--Intriguing concept, isn't it?

We met a rider coming toward us within 1 mile of starting out from Council, and that’s the only person we saw on the trail in the whole 3 days.  

About 3.5 miles south of Council the trail loops away from the highway and drops into a canyon as remote as any we’ve ridden.  We scared a few cows along the trail as we passed by but none threatened us. 

I was relieved he was behind the fence

One bull did start talking ugly, but he was behind a fence so I felt in control and talked ugly back.   We stopped a few times to drink water and eat M&M peanuts and raisins.  We find we do better if we snack while on the trail and eat more heartily once we’re done.  We carry two 20 oz. bottles of water each and have not run out of water on any of our rides yet.

temporary bridge at spring washout

lots of sun and little shade

pretty wild country

Near the end of the canyon, we chased/followed 2 young coyotes that were travelling up the trail toward us until they became aware of our presence and turned and ran.  Although they were clearly panicked, they were reluctant to leave the trail for quite some time.  We were delighted and entertained by their escape antics,  but  I expect they’re still talking about their near-death experience encountering two humans who could “run” the trail almost as fast they could. 

We’ve added front and rear packs to our mountain bikes to carry all the gear, water, repair supplies, jackets, and food we need. 

mile markers on trail are made from railroad spikes-clever!

There is also room for any “treasures” I might find along the way.  I tend to fill both Matt’s packs, as well as my own, with these “treasures” so we end up traveling heavier and heavier as the ride progresses rather than lighter and lighter as we otherwise would.  I get comments, but he always finds room and takes the heavier load.  What a man!

our goal in the distance: Cambridge water tower

We finished the shorter second section of the trail early pulling into Cambridge about 11:30am.  We were glad to finish the segment before noon as the temperature was already 92 degrees.   The flat straight unshaded sections of trail that cross the valleys between the canyons are boring and hot.  We knew we’d need to start the last section of the trial even earlier- much as I hated to admit it. 

After we completed the second day’s ride, we ate way too much food at a great restaurant in Cambridge:  Bucky’s Cafe.  They have great burgers and fries but be sure to distinguish between the chili cheeseburger and the Ortega chili cheeseburger, or you might end up with both.  We did and felt obligated to eat both, in addition to the ham and cheese sandwich Matt ordered.  This was a huge mistake to eat so much food, but it was irresistibly tasty.  Some lessons one never learns.

That afternoon we drove to Brownlee Dam and reservoir in Hell’s Canyon of the Snake River.  The Snake River forms the border between Oregon and Idaho here, and we were interested in what the level of activity and chaos might be on the river in this area.  Turns out not to be a problem because there is no appeal for kayakers.  True, there is a grandeur of landscape with the rounded brown mountains surrounding and leading into the canyon, but the reservoir is without vegetation on the shoreline; and the water is filled with slimy thick green goo, especially along the edges.  No way would I find kayaking this waterway unattractive!   It was too ugly to take pictures.

We spent the night before our last day on the trail at the Presley Trailhead, 11 miles outside of Weiser.  This would be our final destination.  We scouted the trail between Presley and Weiser and decided not to include it.  It runs close to the road through flat farmland and consists of miles of straight, flat, unshaded (think hot and boring) stretches that we felt we could do without.  I’m a “start to finish” kind of person, so it was a bit of a struggle to forego some of the trail; but, for us, it really was the wiser decision.  These flat unshaded sections are just not FUN in July!

heading out from Midvale

pretty typical trail surface from here on

The last day’s ride started at 815am from Midvale.  With that early a start, we knew we could do this section before it got too hot.   We’d already ridden the last seven miles of this 23 mile section (see previous blog) when we first scouted the trail last spring.  

entering the longest, largest and last canyon of the trail

isolation and breath-stopping beauty-such peace

I could ride forever! If it weren't for those *** thorns.

This section enters a long canyon desert running alongside a beautiful rock-strewn river, high hillside walls and jutting rock spines.  No roads and no people!   I suspect no one else travels this trail in the mid-summer heat!  

Half way through the canyon, Matt got a flat rear tire (our first since we began this trip and due to the deadly goat horn seed).  Fortunately, we packed our emergency pressurized tire repair goo.  Matt attached the can it to the tube nozzle, squirted in the pressurized goo and rode a short distance to distribute it.   It held!  We were saved (at least from the loss of time and effort necessary to take the wheel off, remove the tube and either patch it or replace it)! 

Three miles later, I had a flat front tire-also from the dreaded goat horn seed.  We had one pressurized can of repair goo left.   Under Matt’s guidance, I squirted it in and rode on.  We were about 5 miles from the Presley trail head where the Slipper was waiting.  The tire seemed to be holding, but as I rode along, I began to feel droplets of rain on my thighs.  But the sky was clear, and my water bottles weren’t leaking.  I stopped to check my front tire and discovered my thighs were speckled with drops of the fluorescent green goo I’d shot into my front tire.  My tire was leaking green goo from the spokes.   My tire pressure, however, was still good.  We were still ~3 miles from the end.   I tried to speed up, but let’s be real:  I’m not going to go any faster than I have been.  I’m tired and I’m hot.  I became fatalistic.  Que sera, sera. 

This part of the trail was familiar so I knew I could walk out if I had to, or we could take the time to repair the tire and finish the ride in the blistering afternoon heat if it came to that.  But the green goo held, and I finished the trail with honor, if not dignity.  

sweat, dust, mud, grease, green goo-oh and a few bruises. Never felt better!

I cannot remember the last time I have been so dirty.  I was covered with sweat, dust, mud, and fluorescent green goo.  It felt great!    I just couldn’t be seen in public.  Once we returned to our starting point in Midvale, Matt felt compelled to hose me down using a water spigot in the local park.  Someone must have reported us, because one of the locals did a slow drive-by to see what the crazy tourists were up to, but he didn’t stop; as we were done with their hose and about to leave anyway.

My final thoughts about the Weiser River Trail experience and the lessons learned:  don’t let your partner out of sight.  It’s amazingly easy to lose track of each other, and voices don’t carry far in mountains.  I’m going to get a whistle.

Don’t even think about doing this trail on anything but trail bikes. Street bikes or even hybrids won’t cut it.

Pressurized tube repair works.  We’re switching to thicker tubes and liners, etc; but on the trail, cans are fast and effective.  They’re a mess to clean up later, though.  Ask Matt.

Heat is the number one factor in the summer.  On the one hand, the trails belong to you.  On the other hand, you better be done or somewhere with shade and water by noon or so, because it will be too hot to do anything until the sun sets.  You can‘t carry too much water:  we carry two 20 oz bottles/person and usually are into our fourth bottle when we finish.

you see the oddest creatures on these trips! Near Weiser ID on way to Presley trailhead

I love this trail.  I hope to do it again, although I will skip the first couple miles.  The Texas Caprock Trail is still my most favorite, but this is a great wild and scenic experience.  I highly recommend it.

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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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