Monday, August 30, 2010

big river, lots'a falls, and lots'a people

7/31 from the fossil beds to Beaverton, Oregon

Heading north from the John Day Fossil Beds area on highway 97 we passed through vast wheat fields with two white peaks of the Cascades on the horizon. We stopped for a few minutes to stretch and listen to the dry rush of wind through the heads of grain, then the road dropped into the Columbia Gorge. We met the river East of The Dalles where the gorge has been partly filled with a wide dam bound lake. It wasn't until we drove West some distance before the gorge turned into the green coated dripping wet valley that we remembered from our first visit to Portland.
We took some time to visit some of the fantastic waterfalls that drop from the basalt cliffs of the gorge. We hiked a bit of a trail passing close enough to a cascade to soak our clothes to the skin with a heavy blasts of mist. I can not recall the name of the one we visited but there are several to choose from along the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Our drive brought us to the gorge on a weekend in the summer and it's a very popular place. Don't let the photo above fool you, the trail was full of damp hikers. We waited for a rare opportunity to take this picture of the bridge in front of the falls. If you want to hike these popular trails in the summer do start out early as the parking gets a bit crazy particularly at Multnomah Falls. The loop trail that climbs the cliffs above Multnomah and some of the smaller falls is well worth braving the small parking lots.
Further along, the highway climbs high above the river to the Vista House. The web is littered with fine photos of the view from this place and it was a bit overcast by the time we were there, so I will stick with the pretty picture above. This was taken on the stairs to the upper floor. The colored glass was casting some swell light that day. From here we drove into Portland to seek out a room for the night. We were a little ahead of schedule and our hosts in Portland would not be expecting us yet. The best deal for the night turned up in Beaverton where we could flop down on the beds and take a break from the long day of driving.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

where the fossils sleep

7/30 and 7/31 John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Travel fatigue, hot weather, and the feeling that we were running out of time and money kept us from taking time to linger in the places we saw after Jefferson City, MO. Still, we managed to scope out several places where we would like to return on future trips. These places are closer to our end of the continent a more leisurely return trip won't be too difficult, and maybe by then we'll have our Transit Connect to make camping out a more simple proposition. One of the spots on the map that I really wanted to check out for future reference was the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. There are three parts of this monument with short hiking trails and a visitor center but the area of the fossil beds them selves is enormous covering much of northern central Oregon and then some. The area has a long history of sedimentary geology interspersed with volcanic activity including basaltic lava flows and layers of ash fall. All this history and the erosion action of the John Day River (and a mess of tributaries) has created one of the richest and most continuous fossil records in the world. It presents a library of fossilised critters, plants, insects, and more spanning from 6 million to 54 million years ago. That makes it a nearly complete record of the Tertiary Period.
The visitor center is a must see for any aspiring fossilised bone sleuth. The displays will keep 'em busy for hours. The fine grain of the stone resulting from the ancient ash falls in the area has preserved some astonishing things, and the samples of leaves, seeds, and other plant materials preserved in a layer known as "the nut beds" (I just love that title) all look like they fell off the trees yesterday. The sound track playing inside the museum area is a little nutty. It is intended to offer the background noises of an ancient forest that once stood here. I was delighted, but the quantity of grunting and rustling of bushes makes the place sound like all 50 million years of critters had been herded into one little clearing in the forest.
The folks at the visitor center had a small map of campgrounds in the area so we decided to give it a go. I can't quite recommend any of the sites we visited, but they will do in a pinch. Unfortunately many of the camping facilities this part of Oregon to the north of the visitor center are not getting the maintenance they need. There were sites right along the river and some were popular and quite full even if they seemed barren. One of the pit toilet shacks we saw had the standard bullet holes in it. We did not visit it but the area to the south the John Day River might be a better bet. We did at last find one camp ground that was neither deserted nor full to over flowing. The tent sites were a bit too sloped and weedy but we were ready to take what we could get. The camp host visited in the morning and he was nice enough but the place is in need of some animal proof trash receptacles and even more in need of some pit toilet repair.

After an OK night (including an hour in the car while some thunder rolled through) and some hot chocolate in the morning, it was off to see the other parts of the fossil beds. On the way we couldn't help stop at a small hill top cemetery just outside the town of Fossil on highway 218.
Had to do some jumping.
The second part of the Fossil Beds Monument had more of the spectacular weathered rocks and some short hiking trails into the hills.
Exploring more of this layer cake of mineralized bones will have to wait for another trip with more time and another season when the days allow for some longer hikes. With a long way to go down the Columbia Gorge by the evening, it was time to head north into the wide wheat fields south of The Dalles. So long nut beds.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

leapin' lava tubes

7/29 Craters of the Moon

The night before was spent in a motel in Idaho Falls. The notion of camping out had been nixed by the threatening clouds and the severe thunder storm warnings on the radio, but staying in a motel makes getting out for the morning quick and easy. No ground cover to dry out, no tent to roll up, and that fresh showered feeling just can't be beat.

We passed through Arco, Idaho on the way to Craters of the Moon National Monument. The town offers some swell small town charm on the main drag and just out side of town we passed this achingly worn abandoned house. Arco's claim to fame is being the first town electrified with power from a nuclear reactor. The first experimental nuclear breeder reactor in the U.S. was activated here in 1951 but it was a second reactor a few years later that lit up the town. A bit further to the West out of town one can visit that reactor site and see all sorts of didactic exhibits. Apparently this reactor had the world's first partial melt down too. That's nothing to sniff at.

Another bit down the road (we happened to be traveling part of the historic Goodale Cuttoff of the Oregon Trail) we arrived at Craters of the Moon National Monument. A truly surreal place and sooo hard to photograph.
Folks on the Oregon Trail had to use the few land marks and cinder cones that stick up in this unearthly place to skirt these lava beds either to the north (that's the cutoff I mentioned) or to the south on the main trail. Trying to cross any of this black rumpled blanket with a wagon would be nuts'o. We explored what we could before the heat of the day could turn the black landscape into an inferno. There are paved paths provided to reduce the erosion caused by foot traffic and lots of signs discouraging folks from climbing on the rare splatter cones. All the Hawaiian terms for the forms of lava rock are used in the educational materials about the geology here. It made me think that the National Monument staff might benefit by invoking the protection of Pele and her curse to help out with protecting this special place. Mess with Pele's stuff and she will put something real bad on your plate.

There are big lava tubes here too. Some of them are quite easy to explore and have steel stairs at the entrance. Others require spelunking gear and some experience. The one tube we visited was a favorite of the local pigeons these days (not too many but enough to dabble plenty of guano here and there). The temperature down in the holes was pleasant too, even as the air outside heated up to the high nineties. It was easy to see why these places were once favored by the Shoshone (and maybe the pigeons of yore as well).
The visitor center featured a relief map of the broad Snake River valley designed to highlight the volcanic history of the area. The big valley is primarily the result of a long series of caldera eruptions that blasted out huge quantities of materials. The Craters of the Moon area is a less violent lava flow that released some of the left over heat and magma from one of these ancient explosions. In addition I learned that the Yellowstone area is the remnant of the most recent of these calderas. The geothermal activity there is just a faint hint of the energy released when the caldera blew it's top.

Once again the heat of the day had us beat and we spent the second half of the day driving to a motel just outside of Boise where we took a nap. The rest, a shower, and a bed for the night would at least make the next day's trek to the John Day Fossil Beds easier.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

playing in our own private idaho

upon entering Idaho, we found ourselves surrounded by fields and fields of grassy and wheaty things. there were clouds all around (and we do LOVE us some clouds) and suddenly, the sun peeped through and i hollered pull over so mr. a-go-go did.there was something wonderful and quirky and magical about the light so i snapped away. i don't know if you can see it here but it was lovely. so lovely in fact that we pulled out our masks (the bunnies, not the bernies)...and then we jumped.and jumped.and jumped some more.

these are the moments in the trip that make me smile. well, make me smile just a little bit more.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

early gysers and grand peeks

7/28 Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and the Snake River

The morning went by in a slow manner and we packed up camp quite lazily. The day called for a drive to Cody in which we were to (hopefully) procure not-too-expensive lodgings before we hightailed it up to Yellowstone.

Hopeful, schmopeful, we got one of the last rooms in a swanky safari themed hotel complete with cuddly stuffed lion on the bed. Crazy. We simmered down on the crankiness and went to bed early so we could be up and out before the sun. It would take about two hours to get to the park and we wanted to see pretty not people.Even up as early as we are there were still all sorts of cars zipping here and there both TO and IN the park. We still took our time and moseyed about. We stopped for thermal vents, pretty flowers, a bison and a moose! We stood still and listened to bees and birds. I even used my pstyle on the side of the road and waved at a passing truck.Eventually we made our way to the visitor's center and the ever famous Old Faithful geyser. We lucked out and arrived about twenty minutes before the next "show". Old Faithful did not disappoint but we enjoyed the crowd's reaction a wee bit more than the geyser itself. Show over, we hitched up the cameras and adventure bag and took a walk along the path in search of other geysers and chromatic pools.While there were (was?) a good number of other people about, arriving when we did saved us from major traffic and people blues. While our fellow early risers camped out by Grand geyser, mr. a-go-go and I took a somewhat empty path and wandered for another mile or so. While traipsing across a wooden bridge, we stopped to watch the swallows and swifts. mr. a-go-go suddenly noticed the gaping open mouths of baby birdies peeking out from a knothole in one of the bridge's posts. I snuck in for a closer look and even caught a tiny bit on video. Like I mentioned before, we definitely lean towards being birding dorks.As luck would have it, we managed to hit Grotto not too long after it "erupted" and gazed upon it for about half an hour checking out its blurts and fizzes and shoots and steam. Grotto may be the oldest active geyser in the park, while Old Faithful can be quite showy and predictable, we think we enjoyed Grotto a bit more as it had a lot of character and grumbled about in a lackadaisical way. You can't really time it though but if you get it "just" right yer in for a treat! After we had our fill, we wandered back through passing Grand (which STILL had not blown), more people and the chromatic pools. Tired and weary we decided to pile back into Rodney to continue through the park.Upon seeing the number of cars all about, we decided to pass on exploring the rest of the park and continued on out to the south side of the park towards Shoshone. It was a good decision for us a-go-gos once we saw the long, long line of cars waiting to enter on our way out. We motored on out with a stop here and there to admire the Tetons, fuel up poor Rodney (and pick up more cheetos), and continue on to Idaho.

Friday, August 20, 2010

big horn time travel and the search for not-too-expensive lodgings

7/27 Devil's Tower to Cody, Wyoming

It's pretty fantastic, isn't it? Truth be told, we didn't get any closer. The view from our tent was pretty spectacular and we were approaching laziness. So fast in fact that we fell asleep before the sunset thus missing the campground's outdoor screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I know, but we were very very tired.
mr. a-go-go woke up before i did (this is mrs. a-go-go writing here). Way, way before, and he managed to grab the camera and take that picture up there of sunrise on the tower. The color is unreal, I wish he woke me up for it. He also got a quick sound bite of the mad gang of nuthatches in the tree over our tent. They were chattering up a comical storm and yes, we tend to lean towards geeky bird watching and listening.

After a bite of breakfast and packing up we struck out west once more on I-90. A few stops were in order. First we had to slow down, creep to a halt, and get out of the car very slowly to watch three pronghorn, the first time either of us had seen them in person. We were far enough down the road that they made a few alarm grunts (or honks or whatever you want to call the funny sound they make) but didn't spook right away. They bounded away when we tried to slowly walk closer, so our pictures are not worth mentioning.Later, waves of wind in the grass prompted us to stop for some barb wire and another short film.

Leaving I-90 on highway 14 we climbed up into the Big Horn National Forest and back through time. At least according to the roadside signs that highlighted the name and age of each strata of geology the road cut exposed.I recognised some of the names from didactic displays about the geology of the Grand Canyon. It's remarkable how far some of the sedimentary geology of North America reaches. The layers of rock here have been turned up on a steep angle so in spite of the feeling that we were driving up through the layers the road cut was actually exposing ever older formations as we drove West. This must be a favorite place for geology students. On the far side of these mountains the landscape dried out and the plats thinned. The rest of the drive to Cody, Wyoming was right out of a serial western. We knew Yellowstone would be a very popular place this time of year and figured our best bet was another early morning. Onward to Cody it was where we were hopeful to find a not-too-expensive bed to rest our heads.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

all sorts of south dakota and wyoming

7/26 Badlands, Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and Devil's Tower

We were up just before the sun and hurried out of Wall, South Dakota to see Badlands National Park at dawn. We had a real payoff for getting out of bed early.
There was a cool morning breeze, puffy clouds dribbled just enough moisture for a rainbow, the sun was still below the horizon and the full moon was still up. We couldn't get enough of the sights and sounds of the morning.
mrs. a-go-go clicked the shutter madly in every direction while the early light held up but we couldn't really catch it. Remembering that we had not used the old Powershot's short video capabilities for a long time I did my best to make some short recordings.

Still a measlely substitute for the real thing but it caught a brief glimpse.

Once the sun was up high enough to tear down the shadows and the heat of the day was on us it was time to head east to Rapid City and Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills of South Dakota are a beautiful place even without the attractions of Wind Cave National Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Mount Rushmore, but with all this extra stuff the area attracts a mess of visitors in the summer. We knew it would be crowded and braced ourselves for traffic. Getting to Mount Rushmore wasn't all that rough, but we were a little put off by the $10 parking fee even if you have a National Park Annual Pass. At the beginning of our trip we invested in a pass and it has been well worth it, but if you have never purchased one before you may be disappointed by how few things it actually covers. Rushmore is indeed part of the National Park system but the excuse given for the fee (and it not being covered by the pass) was that parking is handled by a concession. Hmm. But hey, you can come back all year in the same vehicle for free. Wait a minute,... that's a three day drive,... oh well.
Parking took a bit of a wait but the crowd wasn't crazy before 10am. By the time we were on the way out the crowd had thickened, so arrive early if you visit in the summer. I think seeing the nutty sculpture near dawn in rapidly changing light would have been more thrilling. Our visit was fun and I'm glad we stopped but we probably won't be back. One visit feels like enough to ponder the crazy dream of Doane Robinson and the work of Gutzon Borglum (and a whole mess of other folks). The rubble pile below the sculpted chins is daunting and pondering the effort that went into making it did more for me than the sculpture itself. I highly recommend the museum displays about the monument that are housed just behind the amplitheater.
These display some working models and explain the methods used by the sculptors. In addition the models show just how ambitious the original plan was. Washington was intended to have a complete torso, gadzooks.

I had hoped that we could camp in or near the Black Hills and spend another day seeing the other sights (and maybe get in that dawn visit with Washington and his pals), but after leaving Mount Rushmore we found much of the camping was geared for RVs. I'm sure there were more appealing places over the next hill (the map was littered with little green tents) but our stamina was weak. If we come back to the Black Hills it will likely be for Crazy Horse and Wind Cave rather than to find parking again at Rushmore.

Next on the map was Devil's Tower, the big columns of phonolite porphyry (HA!) and the model I made out of cheese at lunch time beckoned.
But seriously folks, after our day's trek through this landscape and finding a place to camp near the base of this tower I understand why these places were held sacred by the people who used to live here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

the palace of corn and more superb clouds

7/25 from Iowa to Wall, South Dakota

This little fungus met mrs. a-go-go's camera first thing in the morning. Within seconds of this photo op it digested itself into weeping purple-black liquid. Some fungi just don't like the limelight.
The 25th was a Sunday and Sunday mornings on Blue Lake near Onawa, Iowa is time for amplified morning services. Across the lake from our Koa camp site was a Catholic youth camp and they sounded reveille at six over a booming loud speaker, "Buenos días niños!" The voice went right to it quoting scripture in Spanish to the kids struggling out of bed. No matter, I was up with the dawn and mrs. a-go-go had been driven from sleep by the bright morning sun. On the heels of the youth camp another group kitty-corner across the lake started whooping it up by six-thirty. Not to be out done, they had the band plugged into amps. and the people were raising spirits clapping to the hymns until their hands hurt.
Nebraska was so close we just couldn't help ourselves. A short hop over a one dollar toll bridge and we set foot in one more state. Then we headed due North and jogged just a bit East to Sioux City, Iowa. From there we had a long stretch on I-29 and I-90 to Wall south Dakota where we would stay the night. Fortunately we had lots of puffy little clouds to entertain us and one stop to make along the way...
The place to stop on I-90? Why, the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, where else?! No one can pass this up. How could they? It's utterly irresistible. In the Corn Palace glory days of the past the building was covered on all sides with mosaics of dried corn cobs and husks (they have pictures to prove it), but in modern times the building is a large multi use space and just one large wall, the facade on the main boulevard has the corn mosaic.
It's still impressive and silly. Inside, the front hall is filled with the permanent Corn Palace history displays, but the main part of the interior is a large space that functions at different times as basketball stadium, a theater for movies or stage productions, and (when we were there) a great big Corm Palace gift-shop/emporium. Corn Palace themed everything was on offer.
The quantity of people needing a photo of the corn murals was impressive.
After Mitchell the road rolled on through what some folks would describe as boring. Perish the thought. These folks are just are not looking. The cloud shadows rolling over green and tan fields and the bails dotting the horizon made us stop several times to marvel.

I-90 carried us right to Wall, South Dakota where we had to check out Wall Drug after reading ALL the billboards along the highway. Kitschy fun for all. Don't miss it if you are headed to the Badlands, folks.


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