Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A trip to Rogers Pass

In September, I took a little one-night backpacking trip to Rogers Pass.


I don't normally find myself at so high an elevation so late in the year -- it's usually too cold for me! But I didn't realize how much I was missing. Though there were no aspen to speak of, the bushes in the alpine zone were gloriously colored, the grasses all shades of red, yellow, brown and orange. Next to the blue-green ponds, it was breathtaking.

Heart Lake

Rogers Peak Lake

Elephant's-trunk trees... no, I made that up. They're pine trees.

Resplendent fireweed

It was so warm that night I slept with the fly off my tent, waking sometime in the night because I was too hot in my bag.

On Sunday morning I climbed up to the pass, which is on the continental divide. It was very cold, with a fierce wind. I could see Winter Park, as well as a couple ravens playing in the drafts.

The wind was gusting to perhaps 40 mph, and the ravens were doing remarkable things in it -- shooting straight up, diving down in a barrel roll, skimming an inch above the ground, or hovering exactly two feet above me, watching me. They kept returning to examine me. (Or were they taunting me?)

It was one of the most extraordinary wildlife encounters I've ever had. I didn't manage to capture their more extreme acrobatics, but did get these videos (which also illustrate just how windy it was):

I followed the divide a ways, peeping down on the Iceberg Lakes:

I can see my car from here. Well, the parking lot anyway.

North toward the Indian Peaks

Heart Lake from above. Still doesn't look like a heart.

Mormon cricket... neither Mormon nor a cricket

As I was leaving, I came to the dried-up lake above. After the brilliant color of the rest of the scenery, this area seemed drawn in black and white.

I regretted that K. hadn't been there too, though the truth is that I always connect with nature more deeply when I'm alone. I notice things I wouldn't otherwise and I often feel more at peace. It was the kind of trip that reminds me of why I love backpacking.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Nearly Perfect Road Trip (Part 3)

See Part 1 and Part 2 of our adventure here.

While in Portland we got to hang out with K.'s best friend and go to restaurants, but I didn't take photographs. On Monday, when K.'s friend had to go to school, we took off for Silver Falls State Park near Salem. This beautiful park has ten large waterfalls and many smaller ones. The differential erosion of multiple layers of volcanic flows means that you can walk behind many of the falls. We hiked a nine-mile loop to see all the falls, and it was one of the most pleasant hikes I've done.

The forest wasn't too bad either.

On our final morning in Portland we went to Powell's Books, which was overwhelming in a good way, and after that to a seafood restaurant. I'd previously realized that, though we'd spent the last few days near the coast, I hadn't taken advantage of the opportunity to get some good seafood. (Having grown up near the New England shore, I find Denver somewhat disappointing in that area.) K. wanted to treat me because she is a lovely human being.

I got a bowl of clams and a glass of sparkling wine, the latter of which took way too much of our attention. The bubbles were issuing solely from the very center of the golden-glowing glass, making it look like a perfectly composed work of art. A sort of royal lava lamp. We took way too many pictures of it but none of them did it justice.

I ate all these clams.

The meal was one of the best of the trip and I was very grateful. And then it was time to turn for home, and make the long drive back through Oregon, Idaho and Utah. But wait, what's this?

Not long after we got onto the highway I saw on my map that we would pass by Multnomah Falls. I was vaguely aware of the name, but (1) thought it was elsewhere, and (2) thought the whole place had burnt down in a fire last year. K. had also been a little mixed up about its whereabouts and/or existence, and anyway our schedule had already been packed; thus the falls hadn't made it onto our trip itinerary. But it was right there, so we pulled over.

The area around the falls had been fiercely protected from the fire and was still intact and open. The fire, which had reached almost 50,000 acres, was initiated by some teenagers who were filming themselves tossing firecrackers into the forest despite a burn ban, admonishment from other hikers, and the presence of the Indian Creek Fire already raging nearby. I was so grateful the falls were protected -- they are truly beautiful and amazing at over 600 feet high. I couldn't even get the whole thing in my wide-angle lens.

It was fun to play tourist again when I thought I'd be doing nothing but driving for the next two days, but soon we had to turn and face the driving. We drove and drove through Oregon (or, well, K. drove while I slept) until the sun set on us.

After dark we pulled into Farewell Bend State Recreation Area, where the gnats were so thick around the lights at the check-in station that we had to hold our breaths while we filled out the permits. In the morning, we woke to gnatless sunny skies over the Snake river just south of where it glides into Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon in the country -- far deeper than the Grand Canyon. (To read about my and Katie's attempt to see this remote canyon eight years ago, check out this post.)

We had meant to explore more of Boise than we'd had time to do on the way out, so we stopped there again, visited the state capitol (I needed a bathroom) and had some Thai food and a milkshake. We relaxed by the river we had tubed the previous week; I finally got to take a photo.

In the car, we were admiring this Larabar, talking about how much it had puffed up from the altitude.

Something felt off, though -- I buy Larabars in Denver all the time, and they're never that puffy. (When I went to eat this bar the next day, I discovered it was fermenting!)

We were blessed to be able to stay at Kris and Erin's in Salt Lake City again. We needed a walk after driving all day, and Kris mentioned, "Oh, there's a park up the street."

When we got there we were surprised to see amusement rides, a playscape with a manmade river, and an entire aviary, among other attractions. Sadly, the rides and aviary weren't open. But if we were to delay our drive tomorrow morning...

K. also found this adorable pear.

Catching up with Erin's cats

The Tracy Aviary was the size of a small zoo and was very nice. We caught a bird show and made sure we left no exhibit unseen. It was one of K.'s favorite activities of the trip.

I am wider than a turkey vulture.

After two long days, it was a relief to have a drive of only a few hours to get to Dinosaur National Monument. We had originally planned to spend just one night here, allowing us to take another backpacking trip before our vacation ended, but increasing exhaustion prompted us to extend our stay. Since I'd only reserved one night and the campground was divided into reservation-only and first-come-first-served-only loops, the camp host let us set up in a first-come-first-served site so we wouldn't have to move again the next morning.

This turned out to be great, as when I'd booked there were no reservable waterfront sites. However, we were now able to grab a site with a beach behind it. It even had some pre-built soaking pools.

The day was hot and we quickly changed and got in the water. We couldn't have asked for better scenery. The water was so cold I didn't want much more than my lower half in it, but it was still such a pleasant surprise to be "swimming," yet again -- way back when I was packing for our trip I asked K. if I should bring a suit, and she said "sure," not knowing when we'd get to use them. But with them we had been able to go tubing, take a dip in a hot springs, jump in Waldo Lake, and now soak in the Green River.

We took a little hike after our soak. The cloudy skies parted to allow a gorgeous sunset.

In the morning we drove to the central part of the park to see Harper's Corner.


It turns out that there's a great little shop in Dinosaur, CO called Bedrock Depot that makes its own bread and ice cream and has a large variety of delicious sandwiches. The gift shop has some interesting items, if you can endure the music, which is a soul-stirring mix of Jesus tunes and John Philip Sousa marches.

We then drove all the way around to Rainbow Park to see the petroglyphs and the colorful, nearly vacant hills and river bends in that part of the park. (To be fair, most of Dinosaur NM could be classified as nearly-to-actually vacant.)

Every time I've been to this area I've noticed a distinctive ranch on the corner of middle of nowhere and God knows where. Surrounded by disintegrating mudstone badlands, irrigation ditches and claptrap shanties, it always stood out for its sheer size and immaculate landscaping. Well, now it has a pool house and waterslide.


Back in reality, we finally took a trip to see the dinosaur quarry, which is in fact the reason for the park's existence. It's an uplifted, tilted and exposed bed of rock in which are encased whole dinosaur skeletons.

I'm pleased to see that one the photos I took while working in the park is still being used in an interpretive display (above, with K.).

Our final hike on this exhausting day was a little interpretive trail back to the parking lot. We followed along on the trail guide, which bore the sentence: "Fossils in these rocks include belemnites (squid-like sea creatures), snails, ammonites, and bones of an ichthyosaur (giant marine reptile that resembled a modern dolphin)."

I found that ichthyosaur when I was working here in 2011 -- the first such skeleton ever found in Utah. So, I felt a little bit famous.

Then, back to the campsite, which was as disgustingly ugly as usual...

We had invited Kris and Erin to come camp with us that night and go fossil hunting outside the park the next morning, but as it's a long drive for one night of camping, we didn't really expect them to show up. However, when I woke that morning...

It was a chilly morning, but soon we were off baking under the sun at our fossil site. This was a place to find leaf fossils. Not quite as exciting as dinosaur fossils, but more legal to collect.

One of Erin's finds

A leaf fossil I found, torn and bent

When storms threatened, we headed back to the Bedrock Depot for lunch, then -- you guessed it -- back into the river.

That evening, K. and I went to the night sky program. Dinosaur has some of the best night skies I've ever seen, so I was hopeful. And it was very nice -- the ranger pointed things out with a laser pen, they had telescopes set up for us to look in, etc. There were shooting stars. But the highlight of the evening came later. I wanted some photos of the night sky, so I left the gathering and wandered down the road into a disused section of the campground. It was utterly black. I lay down on the warm asphalt and took some photos of the sky:

There is both a plane and a satellite in this one

Here is the milky way

I went back to get K. and we lay with our arms around each other, in our own little world with the big black sky all to ourselves. 

In the morning we had to say goodbye to our beloved river beach, and head toward Steamboat Springs, the final stop on our vacation.

...with a little delay due to cow-herding.

We pulled in at Yampa River State Park and I found I'd happened to reserve the only campsite that had midday shade. Perfect for a nap.

This is absolutely the nicest landscaping I've seen at a vault toilet.

We hiked to Fish Creek Falls again -- we'd been there in winter, and I was eager to see it unfrozen, at full force -- but it was really just a trickle. It was the end of summer.

Our real mission here, though, was to see sandhill cranes, which use the Yampa Valley as a staging area for their migration. After driving around some recommended areas for a while we finally spotted some, a ways distant in a field. I saw a little bit of a dance (they dance more in the spring) and we could hear them croaking.

Taken through K.'s monocular


The other scenery wasn't bad either.

Back at the campground, it was our final night. We explored a tepee on the premises and built a nice fire.

It was an interesting night. When the sun went down, the screaming started. Some animal was screaming from the trees, one call followed by another in a different tree, then another. It sounded rather like a canned scream from a horror movie. (Research reveals this was possibly barn owls.)

When we got in the tent I noticed an earwig and flicked it out. Because I don't like earwigs, I then made K. help me search the whole tent to see if there were any more. And I was validated because there was another one! Feeling safer, I settled down to sleep.

But I kept awakening during the night because something was tickling my leg. My gut told me that this was also an earwig. My head said that it was just my paranoia making me itchy. I scratched it and went back to sleep, but it woke me up again. I went back to sleep and woke again. Reasoning that if it was just paranoia I would feel itchy everywhere, not just my right leg, I turned on my headlamp, opened my sleeping bag and took off my fleece pants, inspecting them. Nothing. I went back to sleep, trying to ignore the tickling.

When it woke me up yet again, I quickly crushed my fist around a wad of pants, feeling a hard lump inside. My headlamp revealed a crushed earwig. I HAD BEEN SLEEPING WITH AN EARWIG IN MY PANTS. So, I guess I can survive anything now.

K. never woke up.

We went out to find more cranes in the morning, and got a few shots of them flying.

Our drive home took us past State Forest State Park, which is supposedly the best place in Colorado to see a moose. I have been here three times and no moose. We did, however, see that summer was over -- at least, in this neck of the woods:

And then -- a moose!

That morning I had made K. promise me that we would still be on vacation even though it was our last day, and we would still be in the moment and do fun things. When we stopped at a campground to use the restroom, she climbed an apple tree to pick apples (which she later made into an apple crumble). We stopped again in Fort Collins to look around and get some ice cream.

From there it was one more hour to home, where the unmowed state of our lawn allowed us to realize we were cultivating onions.

The end.