Thursday, May 31, 2012

THE LAKE MADE FROM A GLACIER


Lake Mc Donald

This is Lake Mc Donald seen  from the low end. It is made from snow and clouds and moist air from 12,000 feet and flows to this point in Glacier National Park. It is a wonderfully peaceful place on an early overcast morning before the rain starts and the tourists arrive. I was here for 30 minutes with no company except this solitary loon and the sounds of birds and other ducks and loons unseen. He appeared at the end of his wake and then dove and  I never saw him again..


The Common Loon

The Road to the Sun is open for the first 18 mikes to a place called Avalanche Point. The crews continue to remove huge amounts of snow from the higher elevations. I was told by the kindly Ranger named Art that I met in the Visitors Center after I came down that it is not unusual and the good news is that the storm that was due this week which would have undone much of the work, it never materialized. I spend some time watching a video of the men doing the removal and looking at the relief map and historical material at the Center. Art is good enough to tell me the pros and cons of the various routes I can take tomorrow when I go  to Canada  to see that side of the this International Peace Park and  maps out the one he thinks is best. Occasionally, "tourists" come by and ask questions. Many have good questions and serious discussions about which campsites and trails are open. One lady demanded to know where she should go to see the "animals." Another man, whose question labeled him a life long city dweller pointed at a road on a map and demanded to know if there were bears there right now. Art handled him and the others graciously. When he saw my smile, he said the best question, and one he hears all summer, is "What time do you let the bears out?" Art has been here 30 years and had it not been time for his lunch I could have listened to his stories of Mountain Goats and Moose all day.

The park is an enchanting place even in the rain, even before they let the bears out and whether you see the animals or not. Some say the Canadian side looks better. I find it hard to believe it can beat this place of clouds and glaciers and rainstorms and mountains in the mist..

 It's been more than 2,000 miles getting this far. In another 200 or so I will be entitled to an opinion. and am very glad I came.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

M is for madness

The trip continues in a bit better weather. It is mostly overcast, 40 degrees at night but in the 60's in the day time if you don't happen to be crossing the Bitterroot Mountains. As I left Idaho, the owner of the campground suggested that it was good that I waited another day since the rain we had was snow "up in the pass" and they were "chaining up" to get through. Now I am an easterner and went to school in northern Vermont so I understand all those terms it is just not what I expected to hear in May, nor were they things I was prepared to deal with now.. Just wrestling the water hose into loops in the 38 degree weather the following morning was enough winter for me.

There was lots of snow over the pass as I went on to Missoula. I was not quite prepared for Missoula. It was a one night stand to refill the refrigerator, steam clean myself and the van, and get the laundry done. These are always busy, somewhat annoying stops and the night, as this one, was spent in a motel.

So far as I can tell there is a "Casino" on every other corner in Missoula. Some of the small towns on the way up had three of them and one gas station with no other visible business. These are not, I an assured by the motel staff, the same as the "Indian Casinos" in that they only offer Keno and of course poker after 7 PM. I failed to understand any of that, but there it is. Casinos of this type are legal here. It is apparently the way Montana keeps its taxes down. What state does have a gimmick?

The madness of Missoula is that essentially  every possible business is on the same street. It isn't downtown (there is one and it is quite historic and lovely) but rather in a higgly piggly collection of open strip malls which seems strange given the weather here. Reserve Street, which runs north and south along the western side of town an it is where you go for anything possible  in Missoula.  Worse, it is the street everyone uses to get to and from work.Worse yet is that the paucity of traffic lights leaves one wondering how to cross over to go where one needs to go. One wag at the motel suggested that it may be the reason there are food stores and restaurants on each side. They really aren't in competition with one another,the one you will go to will depend on whether you are north or south bound.

Makes as much sense as the street.





NOTE: Reamus goes over the border (if they let him) on Friday. Posting could be light for the next ten days. Or not.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

UTAH IN THE RAIN

The time from Bryce to my current place on the Salmon River was nice at first, then boring and then, after one afternoon of eagle and elk stalking at my destination, has turned to rain showers with a wind chill of about 36 degrees. I can't say it is fun to be outside, but, at the risk of becoming claustrophobic I am trying to be out there as much as the weather will allow.

The general rule of RV travel is never look at the distances, always  the topography since it  really determines how hard the miles will be. Since my aversion to Interstate highways is so strong  I found myself on the first day out of Bryce Canyon marching up and down the hills of Cedar Breaks National Monument when SR 14 from Bryce to the Nevada state line was closed for reasons neither apparent nor announced. This detour was welcome since the weather was still marvelous and the scenery its equal. Yet it made the trip longer, which was long enough since my hope was to reach Wells, some 430 miles away near the top of the state before night fall. I knew the trip from Wells to my present place at North Fork Idaho was a long day's ride because of all the things to see along the way and the winding road that borders the Snake River all the way here.. At 430 PM we were here and had a lovely evening that stretched well beyond my usual expectations due to the rising latitude. Full darkness came near 1000PM and I slept in this lovely quiet place in the hope that the rain would somehow miss this happy little valley.

I was very wrong.

The next day dawned cloudy, windy, and (for me) cold. The threat of rain persisted all day and while I ventured out several times. I was never far when the next showers would bring a cold rain. While cold is not  something I eschew, cold, wind and water together are not conditions I enjoy all at once. Thus, Friday was a day of indoor cleaning, organizing and catching up on electronic editions of newspapers. Napping was also involved. Two days of 400 mile driving fatigues me now and I was enjoying the zen like silence of my small home. There are no telephone signals here nor television. There is WiFi  and Satellite Radio so I don't feel completely isolated.

It is now Sunday. Yesterday was a day of  rain. Today is better as the wind has died off and only an occasional shower darkens the brightening sky. I am hoping for a nice day tomorrow before we move on to a housekeeping motel stop in Montana and on to Glacier National Park before crossing into Canada..

Of all the trips I have taken in the spring over the years, this is the first Memorial Day I can recall that was this cold and nasty. I was due for one, and it has not been entirely unpleasant. Because I am this far north, there no crowds here wandering about in general disgruntlement about how their weekend has been "ruined." There are seven RVs here, all but I enjoy the company of at least two dogs each and it is hardly a rowdy bunch. In all, it is a pleasant break.

The weather map tells me that a front filled with rain sits just along the border, a giant comma-like shape that covers the area that I was planning to travel. With luck, it will move before I get there. Without luck, I will  change it and move above it. It doesn't matter. There is still much to see either way.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Deserts, Indians, and Solar Eclipses

As always the trip out of San Diego requires a trip to the desert. You can pick which one, but if you are going east you will cross one.


The weather was cool and foggy, a typical May morning at departure. The Mojave Desert was this year’s choice, passing Joshua Tree National Park, the improbably named town of 29 Palms which exists only to house feed and clothe Marines, their kin, and old curmudgeon retired Marines who spent so much time there in their careers they grew to like it which is indictment enough. When we detoured to Amboy and the other smaller towns before rejoining U.S. 95 we found little but remote houses, straight roads, heat, red mesas and lots of very white sand which gives a special beauty to this forbidding place. Services are non-existent. There is a small service station and store in Amboy but that is all that marks the turn in the road.

This route is a shortcut found after many years of hewing to the Interstates in order to reach Kingman which is the first stop simply because it is far enough to drive in such conditions in one day. Little else recommends it unless one considers the birthplace of Andy Devine a place of cultural significance. It was 95 degrees in town when we arrived and the wind was at near 40 mph and it would stay that way for the next night and day. It is what one finds in Kingman this time of year. By dark it was below 70 and except for the incessant wind, not all that unpleasant. A very early start in the morning found the wind as advertised, the entire state under red flag fire warning, and two out of control fires large enough to gain national news attention to the south of my route. The usual wrestling match with the steering wheel in a high profile vehicle ensued for the next five hours whether we were headed east or north. We turned at Flagstaff where it was cooler because it is higher but even windier.

The renewed desert landscape that lasted most of the next 250 miles going north surprised me. There are more than subtle differences between it and the one crossed the day before. Here is a white grass that carpets the earth, black soil from a volcanic eruption more than a thousand years ago and signs that it once was well watered and farmed by the Hopi and perhaps even earlier tribes when they migrated into the area. The ruins of the adobes at the Wupatki National Monument are some of the more impressive I have seen. The largest, a 100 room high rise built partially underground is incredible in the diversity of materials used and for the fact that despite weathering and vandalism, remain partially intact 700 years after their owners inexplicably walked away. Why they left is one of those vague Indian stories, part reality, part spiritual and part legend. As is true in Monument Valley and other centers of Indian culture near here, it is not even clear how many times these were inhabited and by whom. The Indians can tell you the oral history, but the clarity is only as good as the memories that are pass it down. There is no written record so much of what we know of these peoples is at best guess backed by stories and relics and shards of pottery of different materials. All that having been said, it is still a place of wonder and incredible innovation, more proof that these “savages” the migrating whites chose to shoot on site or treat horrifically were a great deal more innovative and wise than they are credited.

Climbing to the top of Arizona on U.S.89 is both breathtaking in its rural splendor and depressing in the grinding poverty of the remnant Indian population selling trinkets by the roadside to those headed for Lake Powell and the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. The neglect of these people, who subsist in the most substandard of housing, much without electricity or plumbing and live each day in a quiet, yet proud desperation makes questions about priorities part of the journey.

One turns east again to climb to the north rim of the Grand Canyon at 8000 feet and passes through the Vermillion Valley with its nearly deserted lands of remarkable rock formations. Eventually the mountain is climbed to Jacobs Lake where there are pines forests, some late afternoon clouds and a temperature not unlike those left two days before.

The next day is spent at the North Rim, which is higher and much less developed than the South Rim with which most are familiar. I confess that the temperatures and the lure of the arms of Morpheus kept me from a sunrise or sunset visit. What was clear was that many camping there were waiting for Sunday to see the Aureal eclipse. The National Parks in the west are hosting special programs for the event. I chose to go on to Bryce Canyon to see it. It is clear the interest in this invitation was vastly underestimated. The camps are packed. I managed the second to last spot at Bryce Canyon and watched the event amid an array of portable radio telescopes and camera equipment that defies imagination. Vehicle traffic into the Park was stopped before noon although the shuttle bus ran. There were people from everywhere. The Europeans were here in strength as were east coast amateur astronomers. The rest of us watched through special glasses given to us for the twenty minute event. It was an awesome sight. Applause greeted the circle of fire, and then we went back to camp and talked about it awhile. Today, there are thirty campers in the campground and some sense of normalcy has returned.

The weather was excellent for all this and expected to remain so for the next three days. Memorial Day Weekend may well be another story. There may be snow here. I will be in Idaho by then where rain is forecast in that “perhaps” language used when the Chamber of Commerce wants the picnics, festivals and the rest to go forward. The campgrounds will be full despite how bad it may be.

Juan and the rest of my “companions” are fine, I am bothered a bit by the altitude at the moment, but otherwise content that the trip is a good one so far.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

O CANADA !


Reamus is off in the morning on his next excellent adventure. In the hope of missing of all tornadoes and as many hail storms as possible, I head north to visit our North American cousins on Valium, the good people of Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the far western reach of Ontario. With luck and my usual dose of superstition, I will exit their country---assuming Homeland Security will let me—in Minnesota.

La Coachasita is breathing heavily in the drive, straining at the brakes to be left to run free. She bears all the foodstuffs and goods for the journey, at the ready as always despite our collective increasing ages and her near 150,000 miles. I, of course, have many more than that, so while she gets no sympathy from me I will treat her gently in the hope that her journey will be trouble free.

We will spend a few days in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks on the way north and be on the Salmon River for the Memorial Day Weekend.

There was a book to finish and all the grinding clerical work entailed in publishing and some other issues keeping me here longer than usual this year. I believe it was the first Mother’s Day I have spent at home in the past ten years. Now ready, we, all my inanimate travelling companions and I will see what and whom we can find that will awe and amuse us as we go around the next bend in the road and find the unexpected waiting there.

We will leave sea level here in Carlsbad, the paradise by the sea now resplendent in roses and wonderful smell of blooming jasmine, and ascend to 8000 feet at Jacobs Lake in the very northern part of Arizona. From there it is a short 30 miles to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We remember it from a few years ago in the fall when we visited two days before they closed it for the winter and we left in the midst of a snowstorm. We expect a more temperate welcome this trip although the campground only opened Monday of this week. Bryce and Zion Parks will be next. Then north in Nevada this time for a different view of the climb up the map to Idaho, allowing too for a few ghost town visits along the way. I will reach the valley of the Salmon River, the towns of Challis and Salmon, and stay at North Fork Idaho for four days of what I hope will be continued good weather. The area has been in the 80’s most all of this week, although there is a certainty in me that it will change soon.

As always, at least until go into the black hole of communications on the northern side of the border where data transmission is more expensive than gasoline for me and my Verizon, I will try to bring you some of the sights and as many thoughts as I gather worth repeating. We hope to learn much about the beginnings of the Royal Mounted Police, the place to which Sitting Bull repaired after the nastiness in the Black Hills with General Custer, and why the Canadians are paying three times the market value for their houses these days. The itinerary is vague except to be easterly. There are a host of Provincial Parks to visit, free ranging Bison to chase, and lots and lots of prairie grass.

Once back in the states we will stay in the north through the country of the Lakota Sioux and back through more of Utah and Nevada on the way to the most unpopulated and remote Northeast corner of California and the gold country of Placerville, Alturas, and Susanville.

I am looking forward to the new places and the chance to re-visit others. As always, I hope you will ride along.