Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Riding the Yeti

This is a sledding adventure.

We began making plans on Friday afternoon to go sledding on Saturday. Sledding was essential. The semester was finally over, and this would be the first weekend in what felt like years that I wouldn't have to do homework half my waking hours. Plus, we were going to get a ridiculous amount of snow. Nine to thirteen inches! I'd been in the hospital for our only big snowstorm last year, so I especially didn't want to miss out on this one.

Saturday around noon, as the snow began to tail off, Pamela and I shoved two sleds and a sno tube into the car and went to pick Katie up. We had decided to take Pamela's car as it has all-wheel drive. However, we found that even though Katie's driveway is shared by two houses, at least one of which has five adults living in it, no one had bothered to shovel or plow it. Pamela tried to back in but got the car only halfway into the driveway before it started spinning its wheels. Impatient cars backed up on Route 138 and then started to go around us. There was nothing we could do but leave the car there and go inside for Katie.

Katie had no boots. She was wearing some sneakers. I looked at them and visualized the snow packing in around the ankles as soon as she stepped outside. We went out and I bounded to the car, taking big leaps through the twelve inches of snow like hares do on nature programs. The car was still there with its butt up in the snow and its nose in the wet street, and we discussed where to go. None of us grew up in Rhode Island and the only good place I could find online was half an hour away. I also offered one of the places I used to go in Connecticut, which was a little farther, but there was the promise of rotisserie chicken at my favorite restaurant afterwards. This sold Katie.

We followed the poorly-plowed 138 to the highway where, as soon as we accelerated, Pamela's car began juddering. This behavior was new to Pamela. The highway was clear of snow but we were reduced to going 40 mph up hills, Pamela's hands bouncing on the steering wheel. It was about two o'clock when we got to Fort Griswold in Groton.

Fort Griswold is a Revolutionary War fort on a hill overlooking the broad Thames River. On September 6, 1781, a British expedition led by Benedict Arnold swept up the river to attack stockpiles of goods and naval supplies. They burnt New London on the other side of the river; nearly the whole town, buildings, wharves and ships, was destroyed. In Groton they advanced on the fort but its commander, Colonel Ledyard, determined to hold it. When the British burst through he ordered his men to stop fighting. He surrendered to the British and they accepted his sword, and then killed him with it and went on to massacre or mutilate more than 80 of the fort's defenders.

This grim scene is now a park used for exercise, contemplation, festivals, firework viewing and sledding. Here is Fort Griswold in the summertime, with sledding slope to the right, mostly out of the picture. I believe sledding was a very important activity used in the defense of the early Colonies.

A few families were sledding past ancient battlements and powder magazines as we arrived. Katie went down first to try out the lime green, bullet-shaped sled she'd bought at Benny's the previous night, but the sled was a bit too short. It wanted to be a saucer, and kept turning about and dumping Katie off the side. My longer red sled was a bit more of a success. Here, Pamela and Katie get ready to ride it down together for extra momentum.

The hill is steep enough for some really rocketlike speed if you have the right vehicle with the right amount of weight in it. However, this particular trip ended in another wipeout, as captured by my zoom lens:

If your web browser allows it, click on the picture for detail.

My sno tube proved to be the best implement for the thick, powdery snow, and we all enjoyed going down on it, in ones and twos. This had a graphic of a Yeti on it and was also purchased at Benny's. I also used the red sled a bit. Once, on coming back up, Katie informed me that the tube had blown away into a ditch. The ditch was a ways away and so deep I couldn't see the tube. I slid down inside and made my way down until I came to the tube, and then continued to where the ditch let out, as the sides were four feet high and lined with snow-slippery rocks. As I went along I found a very large banner that had also blown into the ditch. I wondered if it would make a good toboggan, but I left it there. However, by the time I got back up to the top of the hill, and turned around, there was Pamela:

The banner read, "THE SPOT - LUNCH SPECIAL - Mon. Thru Sat. - All Lunch Entree Specials - $6.99." It also had a large picture of a beer with lime on it. Pamela very much wanted to use this as a toboggan. She said, "It's a sign... from God! That we were meant to sled with this sign!" Katie did not. She was not optimistic.

So Katie stood aside as Pamela recruited a couple strangers and we sat down upon the thing. As I gamely grabbed stranger Dave's legs after he sat behind me, I thought that Dave looked a bit familiar, shrugged it off. We got a push and then slid... very... slowly down the hill. Not a huge success, but no wipeout.

At some point around this time, a family with a very energetic black dog arrived. As people slid down the hill, the dog would chase after them, nearly keeping up, then race back up the hill. We all thought this was incredibly cute. I went down next on the sno tube, on my belly, and the dog chased after me. How fun! And then, all of a sudden, the dog was JUMPING ON MY HEAD and my face was forced downward into a foot of snow. Somehow, this did not diminish my speed. I was still rocketing down the slope at approximately infinity miles per hour, snow feeding directly into my shirt beneath my scarf and packing into my mouth and nostrils like thick cotton wadding. When I finally came to a stop, I picked my face up--it was burning with cold--and tried to cough and spit out all the snow, which was so packed it was almost a solid block of ice in my mouth. I rolled about in a slobbery, indignant fashion for a bit, spluttering, then trudged up the hill, throwing dirty glances at the dog. Snow still clung to my eyebrows. The snow in my shirt had mostly melted already.

I wanted to go down together on the sno tube, all three of us. Pamela and Katie didn't see how it could be done. I insisted that it could indeed be done, as I'd gone down on a tube of the same size with four other people once, but they still couldn't quite imagine how we'd do it. I eventually got us all sitting, facing outward and linking arms. This did not instill a feeling of security, as we weren't holding onto the tube, but nothing about sno tubing really installs a feeling of security. We went down the hill fast, Pamela yelling, and slid for a record distance!

After that we mostly stuck to this triple-tubing technique. We did try one variation in which Pamela wanted us all to lie on top of each other. I lay down on my stomach on the tube but had a vision of my back being broken and quickly rolled over before anyone else could flop on top of me. I ended up sort of curled on my side, and Katie curled up beside me with a confused expression. Pamela gave up telling us we were doing it the wrong way and splayed herself over top, and we were off down the hill in an awkward configuration that felt a bit wrong, something like putting your shirt on backwards. But we were having fun. Here, Katie and Pamela pause from the activity.

The hill was not evenly sloped. Over on the right side were some undulations, a bit divot and a big ramp someone had built right on top of one of the undulations, for maximum air. Pamela was terrified that we would go over one of the "jumps," which we never did, but we did end up going into the divot a couple of times. This was sort of like a jump, but not. Instead of feeling a lightness and then slamming into the snow, you just sort of slammed hard, butt jamming into your lumbar vertebrae, without much warning. We did have a few wipeouts near the end of the hill, as well, in which it was driven home that the painful thing about sledding is not really going over bumps but having your adult friends fall on top of you at high speed, their various elbows and knees finding all of your organs.

Pamela wanted to use our "toboggan" again before we left for the evening. But with six people. She recruited Dave and friends and Dave asked where we were from. Then he asked where he might have met me before. Suddenly I knew. I had been friends with his girlfriend years ago, and we'd all gone out to dinner once at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place. He remembered me by my voice. (This wasn't the only connection of the day, in fact; I recalled at some point that Fort Griswold was named after the same Griswold to whom my boss from my Arizona job this past summer was distantly related.)

As people piled on the banner toboggan, I took pictures:

I got on behind Dave and one of his friends gave us a push and then jumped on back, grabbing my shoulders and standing on the back of the banner the entire way down like a sled dog musher with a bundle of human cargo. No one fell off. We still didn't get very far--being scientists, we postulated that our butts created drag points on the bottom of the flexible laminated sheet--but I think it was a success.

I had been looking at the undulations on the right side of the hill throughout the afternoon, and I decided I wanted to go over them. Specifically, to go over them fast enough to catch some air. Nobody was with me on this, which I expected, but I considered it a safe way to confront one's fears. I had a soft, air-filled sno tube with a comforting picture of a Yeti on it and there was a foot of snow. So off I went. I rode the tube on my knees, reasoning that in the event of a wipeout I would rather land on these than on my stomach or rear end. The first few runs I went over the undulations but didn't manage to lift off the snow much, at all.

Katie and Pamela tried again to line me up with the big manmade jump. I went down once more and began to turn so that I was facing completely backwards. I was going quite fast. I thought I was headed for the jump... and then... yes... I was launched like a catapault into the air. It felt like I was up about fifteen feet and it all happened very fast, so that I only had time for about four half-formed thoughts:

I thought, "This is very high, maybe too high."

I hit the snow hard, chest first, pain immediately in my ribs on the right side. I thought, "I hope I haven't broken a rib."

I thought, "I can't breathe."

After I tried to suck in a few breaths, I thought, "Why can't I breathe?"

I flopped about weakly and lay there gasping, really gasping. I could only pull a thin thread of air into my lungs each time. I sounded like what you imagine dying people sound like. I was not worried about the breathing... more about my bones... I half wanted people to show up now in case I'd broken something, but I didn't want them to, because I thought the sound of me breathing would scare them. After what felt like a minute of noisily squeezing thimblefuls of air in and out, Dave's friends appeared and asked if I was all right. All of a sudden, I was able to take a full breath, and it didn't hurt my ribs at all.

"Yeah, I'm fine!" I said, surprising myself.

"Did you get the wind knocked out of you?"

"Yes," I said.

I walked back up the hill, feeling fine except for the bruised skin over my ribs. We made a number more triple-rider runs and as four o'clock came around we departed the park for antique shopping. Katie could not feel her feet. After enjoying the antiques we went to Neon Chicken in New London, which is one of the best restaurants in the world, got a take-out meal of a rotisserie chicken and four pints of mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and butternut squash, four cornbreads and six cranberry sauces for $24, and went back home and ate. We all felt like a nap after that, but it was something like nine o'clock and so we watched a movie and then there was bed.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hate it

The mashed potato adventure is no kind of adventure. I don't want to put up posts from my everyday life. Everybody else's blog is about their everyday life. It's no good. So, pending an actual adventure... I am already planning to be in Wyoming next spring... we will return to our previous fare, that being stories. About things happening. To fake people.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I get these crazy ideas

So, my roommate and I finally put up pictures in the living room, and the apartment is now like we want it. We thought we would have some people over to see the pictures. In fact, we decided to host a gallery opening, complete with brochures, wine, hors d'oeuvres and entrees, and requests for money.

For the entree, I decided on mashed potato parfaits. Did I make this up? Sort of, yes. I'd been to fundraising events where we had "mashed potato martinis," which were basically mashed potatoes with some toppings in a martini glass, but I thought, why not take it one step further? I got some large clear plastic cups and a whole bunch of potato flakes and other things to go with the potatoes, and let people mix them up.

This idea sounds fun and creative on the page, but we discovered that the results really depend on what exactly you choose to put in your cup, and in what order. When I finished making my parfait I was horrified to see that it looked a lot like the newest offering from McDonald's. Anyway, here are my friends and I sharing our creations.

We all thought Pamela's was the nicest.

After this, we made s'mores over the electric range. And yes, you can light a marshmallow on fire with an electric coil.

Somehow our measely little marshmallows managed to set off the smoke alarm. We only seem to set this off after midnight. The previous evening, when I was cooking the bacon and filled the whole house with smoke, not a peep.

I suppose I ought to show the pictures we were showing off (we spent most of the night ignoring them), but we did put some effort into hanging them on the wall. Spot the pics from my trip this summer.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Right now

I keep meaning to post some final bits about Arizona, and not getting around to it, so I'll just skip that for now and get on with some of what's happened since I came back in the fall.

We had another geology field trip, this time to New York. We saw a cave and some rocks, and camped out one night. Here we are looking at rocks.

And camping. I and my roommate are sitting down on the left and the professor is showing me how to do a chord, I think.

The cave we visited was named Secret Caverns, and it seemed to be sort of undervisited smaller cousin of the famous Howe Caverns in NY. To make up for its status, they had installed all kinds of wonderfully ironic signs on the property.

Click to view close-up.

In the gift store they also had a wonderful arcade game called BAD DUDES vs. DRAGON NINJA. I think this was a real classic back in '84. Here it is, with one of our heroes from this summer at the controls:

Though it's hard, of course, with school and employment and everything, Katie and I still find time to continue the good work of making fun of things, screwing around and hitting each other with rocks that is an essential part of friendship. Here is Katie trying to improve my photo of the Helderberg Escarpment at Thatcher State Park:

Gratuitous wildlife photo:

This is some kind of orange newt. There were a lot of these on the Helderberg Escarpment.

Unfortunately, by the time we climbed to the overlook of the valley, it had gotten a bit misty:

You will just have to use your imagination.

We were looking at units of rock on this trip but we were also looking at fossils. These rocks are from the Devonian period when a shallow sea covered much of the continent. So the rocks are limestones filled with ancient sea creatures.
This is a whole bunch of crinoid columnals. This is a crinoid. They are related to starfish. They still exist, but aren't nearly as common now.

Well, I can't have adventures every day, but I will have them sometimes, so there will be more posts in the future.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The way home, part 3

This is it, the end of the trip!

We woke up in the fly-beset Oasis State Park in New Mexico and got in the car and drove. We drove through Hereford, TX, the beef capital of the world. Katie dozed in the passenger seat, opening her eyes whenever the car slowed down and putting on her glasses to take a look at whatever small town we'd just entered. We turned north at Oklahoma City and headed toward Wichita, and through it, and then to El Dorado, KS, where we stopped and ate at a cajun restaurant. Katie had the alligator.

We made our way to El Dorado State Park, by a big lake in the grassy hills of southeastern Kansas. This is a large state park. It has 1,100 campsites. By our reckoning, possibly 1,060 of them were unoccupied, and we picked out a very nice spot near the lake and the bathrooms.

Once the tents were set up, we went for a nice bike ride. The sun was setting on the lake and the drowned skeletal trees. And a goose.

The weather was perfect, it was quiet, the landscape was beautiful, and there was no smell or flies. It was the best state park ever. We returned to our campsite as darkness fell, and set up the stove to make more terrible s'mores, sharing our last beer with George:

The sky was clear and we went into our tents and said good night to each other through the mesh, and pledged to wake up at five AM to begin the longest leg of our trip on the following day.

I woke up sometime in the dark to hear Katie going to the car. I looked at my watch. It said 4:00. I figured she'd woken up early, and so I rolled over and went back to sleep. In fact, I'd forgotten to set my watch to Central time, and made Katie wait for me as I got ready.

The bathroom was open to the sky. This had seemed cool when I first entered it, but I felt rather badly about drowning the five thousand bugs that had made their way into the sink. There was a carpet of mayflies beneath the light, all clinging to the yellow cinder block and facing the luminescence like penitents. Occasionally one would fall off the wall to its doom in the sink. It was a weird purgatory for insects.

The sun had come up a bit before we pulled out and I waited for the sky to lighten further so I could see more of the beautiful hills with cylindrical bales of hay yellow against the green. But it got no lighter. We passed through Cassoday, KS, the Prairie Chicken Capital of the world, and then onto the highway, and still it looked like it was five o'clock in the morning. Then the rain started. So hard we could see only a few feet in front of the car. By the time we outran the storm, I thought for sure the bikes would be clean, but looking through the rear-view mirror I saw there was still plenty of red mud clinging to mine. Tough stuff.

We drove through the rest of Kansas, and Missouri, and the terminally boring Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and by nightfall were heading north to Toledo, where Katie's undergraduate friends were having a yearly get-together she mustn't miss. Sometime around midnight we pulled up beside a house in the Toledo suburbs. We had been on the road for some eighteen hours.

And there was no sleep--not for a few hours, anyway. There were acquaintances to be made and re-made. Hours later I conked out in my sleeping bag on a plush white carpet and didn't wake up when everyone else came in.

We stayed in Toledo for a couple days, and ate at Tony Packo's, which I am told one of the characters in M*A*S*H mentions frequently in the series. And then we drove to Rochester, NY, where Katie's father lives, and we stayed there a very long time.

Katie needed rest, and there was some half-conscious effort to delay the start of the school season, which would mean more work for her than for me. We watched TV and DVDs and ate good food and petted the cats. It was a bit of a time warp. I lost track of the days. One day, tired of the television, I wandered into Rochester and found the National Museum of Play, which was filled with children dragging their parents along by the hand. I asked the lady at the counter whether there were anything here for a single adult to enjoy, and bought a ticket for admission and for the butterfly garden. It was alarming having so many in the air there, flickering black shapes crossing my vision again and again. Everywhere on the plants, though you had to look to see them. And I watched all the children having fun, and got asked a few questions by random children, as if I worked there. I told young boys about sea stars, which I know about.

There were three cats in Rochester.


PJ on my bed

And Ringo, who was the friendliest. Ringo, the Bone Prince. He was skinny and ailing from lymphoma or some other such ailment, and a greenish flux dribbled continuously from his nose. But he liked people. He would inch up to you, blinking, dribbling, wanting dearly to sit on your lap and be petted. It took me a while to see the cat and not the illness.

I let Katie decide when to leave Rochester, and eventually she gave in to the inevitable, and we left Rochester. We visited her grandmother in Albany and then drove into Massachusetts and then Connecticut, no longer in strange territory. We stopped at the Book Barn in Niantic and looked at all the old books, and had Indian food in New London, and then drove to West Kingston where I helped her unload her things from her car in the summer night. I expected it to feel like forever we'd been gone, but instead it felt like two days, a weekend, a little trip to Arizona. It felt like we'd left only a couple days ago. Everything was the same here.

When I was in Arizona I never thought about home or school. I just did my job and ate and slept. And so somehow there was a disconnect, like it was all a dream, it wasn't really part of this life. It was a story someone told.

I said goodbye to Katie and got in my car and drove back down Route 138 and went to change the station on the radio, and thought for a moment I should be considerate of Katie, and then realized I was alone.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The way home, part 2

See the previous entry for part 1. Continuing...

We woke up early at Rio Penasco, Katie's tent and my sleeping bag (I had slept under the stars) so covered in dew we might as well have slept under a sprinkler system. But we stuffed the wet items into the trunk anyway and headed to the campground office to see about getting some money back.

No one was in. There were hummingbirds everywhere. I watched them as Katie scribbled a note describing our situation to the owners and asked for any excess fee to be sent to me. She signed it with my name. (I would have written it, but my handwriting is atrocious, especially when my hands are cold.) I stuffed it in the payment drop box. Something sticky touched my hand.

We were happy to move on, and soon drove out of the forest into a less tropically humid environment. It became dryer and hotter as we headed down past Artesia and Carlsbad, then up the long road through Carlsbad National Park, with yucca and cacti lining the road.

We paid the $6 each for the self-guided tour of the caverns and headed out to the natural entrance. Apparently, some of the population touring the caverns is unsuited for this hike, prompting the sign below:

And here's the trail in:

I took a bunch of pictures in the cavern, balancing my camera on the railings to try to get sharp photos in the darkness, but the stabilization wasn't quite enough as most of the shots came out blurry. This one, however, was sharp:

This is the doll's theater, which is a cavern some 300 feet high.

Actually, it's more like 4 feet high. But you can't tell from the photo, can you?

This sign was a favorite of mine. It put the stamp of approval on my unkempt camperness.

It took a couple hours to go through the caverns, but by the end, I saw all the speleothems I wanted to see. I don't know what it is about caves; I always expect to enjoy them more than I do. But there I was, thinking, "Another stalactite, boy." My favorite aspects are the exploration aspect and the peace and quiet and dark, but those aren't easy to come across in caves frequented by the public.

After we finished up there, we drove north, back through congested Carlsbad, north to Roswell, where we were certain we would find a cheesy alien-themed diner to eat at. However, the main street of Roswell does not live up to the imagination. It could have been anywhere. It's true that most of the businesses downtown--from lawyers' offices to hair salons--had random alien cutouts and decals in their windows, but cheesy alien-themed diners were sadly lacking. Instead, we visited an antique shop, where I picked up an antique brass key that I later made into a necklace.

We headed for Oasis State Park outside of Portales. The park was a small oasis around a man-made pond stocked with fish, one of only a few such places in that dry country. It would be our last night in the southwest. Figuring it was our last chance to get good Mexican food, we picked a Mexican joint and ordered supper. My food was very similar to Taco Bell fare in presentation and quality, and Katie's might have been the same. I don't know; we never discussed the meal. We ate without talking about it and left without talking about it. It was like some tragedy too immediate and raw to be spoken of.

When we pulled off the highway for the state park, we finally rolled down our windows, and were greeted with a familar aroma. Katie identified it as the gentle smell of cow dung. I said it was more like an aggressive smell. Like it physically grabbed you and forced itself into your nostrils. There were some fields and trees, but nothing to explain this sign once we reached the park gates:

This stymied me, until I turned and saw the other sign:

Pond closed! Whoever heard of a pond being closed?

We set up at a campsite that was nice and quiet but found that the whole park was (perhaps unsurprisingly) swarming with flies. I mean the kind of flies that lay their eggs on cow dung. And so I set up my tent for that night. We took a brief bike ride and I had a shower. I walked back to the site in the dark to find Katie reading under a tree taken over by full-throated cicadas. I set up the stove and we had terrible s'mores with withered, stale marshmallows, two of our remaining beers, and melty chocolate that had to be scooped out of the wrapper with a knife. And then we leaned back against the picnic table and talked for a long time. I don't remember about what. It was probably something dorky.

Sometime in the night it started to rain. I felt the fine spray on my face from drops hitting the mesh of my tent. I hadn't put the fly on. I got up and stumbled to the car and dragged it out of the trunk, and then stood there staring for a while, hoping the rain would stop. By the time Katie had put her fly on a couple minutes later, the rain did stop, so I dropped mine on the ground, stopped staring and went back to sleep.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The way home, part 1

We chucked our stuff in the car on the morning of Wednesday the 6th. This included approximately ten bags of glass jars and bottles, as they don't recycle glass most places in Arizona and we're part of the environmental generation. This is something like being raised Catholic, in that it involves lots of guilt and regular ceremonies in dimly-lit places that smell strange. We had a wistful parting with Kate, who would have been in favor of us staying another five weeks (her remaining tenure at the park, which she is now spending alone in the apartment) and headed for Gallup and the recycling center. With our summer's harvest of glass deposited in the fusty black barrel provided, we were free to begin our journey home in earnest.

We turned south at Albuquerque to head toward Las Cruces. After a couple hours, the landscape changed from the beige sandstone mesa-and-butte terrain we'd been seeing all morning and became green and mountainous.

We passed the exit for the Very Large Array, but didn't have time to visit it. Past Las Cruces, we turned east and descended into the Tularosa Basin. The long road downward from the San Andres mountains was the longest downhill stretch I've ever coasted in a car. At the bottom, the land was flat and boring, except for an army of yellow caterpillars crossing the road. After a few minutes these abruptly disappeared. One moment there were caterpillars; the next there simply weren't.

Near the White Sands missle base we were diverted off the highway for a border patrol checkpoint. The officer asked us whether we were citizens (yes) and where we were headed (Rhode Island), then let us go. We drove a couple minutes further to our evening stop, White Sands National Monument.

This attraction is one of the only gypsum dune fields in the world. Ages ago, when this part of the U.S. was under a shallow sea, evaporating water left minerals behind, including calcium sulfate, or gypsum. The gypsum layer was buried beneath subsequent layers, and much later, rifting and faults lifted the San Andre and Sacramento mountains above the Tularosa Basin. As the nearby mountains were exposed to erosion, the gypsum began to wash out of their sides and into a lake in the basin. Here it forms large crystals, or dries and blows into the dune field.

This park is only $3 a person to enter. When we arrived at the end of the park's Dunes Drive, we saw families sporting in the sand, just like at the beach--complete with loud and obnoxious music.

We hiked out on the Alkali Flats trail to escape them. Soon we were surrounded by white dunes. The air was warm and humid and there was a strange smell, like a salty beach with no organic component, no decaying seaweed or dead crabs. I'm not sure I would call it pleasant but it wasn't unpleasant. And it was certainly beautiful.

I made a sand angel.

Here is the sand that stuck to my arm. Click on the picture to see the shape of the grains close-up.


Katie and her friends had a tradition dating back to her undergraduate days; it involved a large round stuffed bat. This bat must be brought to unique places and have its photo taken. After we'd been visiting unique and lovely places all around the southwest for two and a half months, Katie's friend finally managed to get the bat in the mail to her. Here is Katie and the bat, rolling down the hill. (The bat is rolling down the hill, not Katie.)

Here is Katie of the Post-Apocalyptic Dune Planet, with bat, camera and water bottle in arms.

It was lovely out, you understand, with balmy air and gorgeous scenery. It was quiet and we were having great fun. The park was open until 10. Unfortunately, we were on a schedule and had to go. With the sun setting, we packed ourselves into the car and drove off east. We entered the Sacramento mountains after dark, and began a twisty climb that lasted an hour and would certainly have been great fun if we could see where we were going. In the dark it was slightly hair-raising, with cars and motorcycles whizzing past in the opposite direction, and reflectored guardrails close on either side.

It wasn't until after nine that we arrived at our first camping place, Rio Penasco RV Park. I had chosen this particular destination because it was the only place on our route that advertised tent sites. All the other camgrounds I could find with my sole resource (the internet) listed only RV hookups. We didn't want to pay $20 for a night in a tent. But when we got to Rio Penasco, no one was in the office. We read the placard outside with dismay: $20 a night for an RV space, plus assorted other fees. The map showed no tent sites. We drove disconsolately around the park, retirees watching us from lawn chairs in their haloes of lantern light. Finally we decided to pay the fee and set up the tent on a unused grassy area. In the morning we would check in at the office and try to reclaim some of our money.

The air was thick with humidity and the ground already wet with dew, and cows made strange noises in the distance. We made ramen noodles hunched over my stove in the gravel parking spot, then turned in.

Later... part 2!