Saturday, December 27, 2008

More Observations While Traveling About The West

For the last couple of days we've had extremely poor internet communication and were stuck in a very crappy environment. I had nothing much to do so I reminesced about travel around the american west. It was a lot of fun for me to do, this is all from memory except for a few place names I asked my wife about,; I did this, was there, saw, or experienced everything.

. Traveling around in the US is different than in other countries from what I've heard. In Europethere are systems set up to facilitate ease of travel and it's far more accepted and normal than in this country. At times on the road I feel like a pinata that unscrupulous bastards can come along and beat on for loose change.

. Take the tram wherever you find one.

. In Tuba City, AZ one time, we were the only whites in a supermarket filled with Indians. Not once have I ever felt uncomfortable on the res.

. At Big Bend NP you can camp a mile up in the mountains. In Texas.

. One thing I want to do someday - take a week to paddle through the scablands on the upper Missouri in Montana.

. You can see the highest point in North America (Mt Whitney) and the lowest point (Badwater) from the same vantage point in Death Valley (Dante's View).

. Firefighting at the Department of Agriculture, at least 25 years ago in Wyoming, was party time for the bureaucrats. Don't know about now but that was when every little flame was the enemy and the government gave out blank checks.

. Climbing Mount St. Helens was the single hardest thing I've ever done. Ran out of water on the way up. Bring at least a gallon. More if it's warm.

. I intend to bag some fourteeners in CO this summer. REI is my friend.

. Be very careful about renting jeeps to go 4 wheeling around Moab. The companies there are too lax about maintenance and some vehicles are flat out dangerous. Make sure the tank is topped off before you set out - One outfit used my rental to commute before they gave it to me. And they have to be full on return.

. If you do some off road exploring in Canyonlands, be sure to go down Schaefer Canyon. Your gut will be wrenched.

. Deer flies at Yellowstone are ferocious in June. My wife and I were so busy swatting them we almost stepped into a boiling fumerole.

. There isn't any place in the world that has more balanced rocks than Chiracahua National Monument.

. Whether or not you get seasick, take some dramamine before you go charter fishing off the coast of Oregon.

. The NPS started to institute a shuttle bus service in some parks several years ago, a wonderful way to get around for free. Park at the visitor center and they show up there and at all popular attractions every 15 minutes. In Zion put your bike on a rack and get off at the top of the valley. Going down will be the finest ride you will ever take.
Or take the shuttle to the top in Bryce and hike the rim above the hoodoos.

. Any photograph taken at Glacier Point in Yosemite will be award winning.

. The first time my wife and I used our new inflatable kayak we naively went through Martin's rapids on the McKenzie in Oregon.

. A lot of lesser known places in the US stagger the imagination and aren't necessarily designated parks or monuments.

. Never, ever drink water straight from the Green river. I woke up parched in my van after a big night in Jackson Hole and thought alka seltzer would kill the little beasties. It didn't.

. If you can afford it, take the plane tour from the Moab airport over Canyonlands. Worth every penny. But don't take overflights in helicopters, the windows are too small.

. The Puget Sound side of the Olympic Peninsula all the way around the north side is much more inviting than the logged off west coast.

. Extreme up and down old mining towns like Jerome and Bisbee, AZ, and Ouray, CO are fascinating. Sometimes people fall through sidewalks into shafts.

. If you float the Colorado make absolutely sure you lather your face with protection. We paddled 16 miles but the wind was against us and it took a while. My upper lip blistered and I couldn't shave. Have a mustache to this day.

. As you plan a trip to any southern CA park, be sure not to go during any large school's spring recess.

. I don't like jet boats but had grudging respect for the operators in Hell's Canyon and how they fit into the river system.

. Don't bother trying to take pictures down in Carlsbad Caverns, even Ansel Adams thought he didn't do well.

. The Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, WY is the finest museum west of the Mississippi. Actually it's 5 museums in 1 with the biggest gun collection you're likely to see and original Catlin, Remington and Russell works of art. You can literally spend days there and not see everything. Go. You will not be disappointed.

. You really shouldn't skydive at the airport in Albany, OR. We watched a hotdogging instructor land hard and get carted to the hospital.

. Going into the Cabelas store in Sydney, Nebraska was like kids walking into a candy shop. We dropped some serious dough there but don't expect any free camping at the campground if you do.

. Texans must never have to pee while driving. None of the rest stops have bathrooms.

. The Valley of the Gods is a miniature Monument Valley just to the north but is every bit as nice, you don't need an indian guide, is free and has plenty of places to camp. For free.

. The Sleeping Ute Mt. outside of Cortez, CO looks like, well, an indian on his back. You can see this for 50 miles in any direction and legend has it that he'll awaken just in time to defeat the bad guys in the final battle of good and evil.

. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is far nicer, a lot cooler and has fewer crowds than the South Rim. It's also somewhat higher so you can look across and see the desert plain abruptly plunge into the big ditch. I haven't been to that new Navajo structure where you can walk out over a 4000 foot drop on glass, but at the north rim there's an observation platform on a natural brige that juts way out over lots of air.

. The "campground" at Guadalupe Mts. NP is a parking lot.

. Pigus Americanus types have shot all the saguaros to hell next to highway 8 leading into Yuma, which, coincidently, is one shithole of a city.

. It used to be called Jackson's Hole but the name was changed to protect innocent ears. The Grand Tetons, or the Big Tits, was kept because it wasn't in english. Jackson, by the way, is a fine town to visit to have a beer at the Cowboy, but leave before you're picked clean. The place is beyond expensive.

. Take the narrow gauge steam train out of Durango up into the San Juans, it's a blast. The Jimmy Stewart and Robert Ryan movie "The Naked Spur" was partly filmed along the Animas river.

. Lake Havasu is hellaciously hot. We were going to run the Colorado through the wildlife refuge there in May but the temps got up to 116, hottest I ever experienced.

. The four best places we found to look for Navajo rugs are Hubbell Trading Post, Thunderbird Lodge at Canyon de Chelly, Cameron Trading Post especially and Notah Dineh in Cortez.

. Three Island Crossing on the Snake in Idaho was the best birding spot I ever saw. Darkest skies were at Steens Mt, OR.

. In early spring the hummingbird moths hatch in Zion NP. They are actually bigger than some little hummers and feed exactly the same way.

. Several years ago we almost died. I had new wheels put on my truck but the kid forgot to air tighten the rear driver lugs, which came off the next day. When replacing the wheel they told me the lug bolts were fine. They were damaged. Later we were coming down out of Estes Park at 70 MPH and I noticed some thumping. When we got to Boulder that wheel came off at 30 MPH, took out the rear quarter panel and ripped out the flooring of the trailer. If it had seperated at 70 it would have been certain death.
Moral - periodically tighten all lugs, especially the driver side which tend to come loose because of the rotation.

. City of Rocks State Park in NM has thousand ton boulders plopped down in the desert like some giant dumped them there. You can camp in the middle of them. And there are showers.

. 35 years ago I took the inland ferry up to Haines, AK and hitched around. I got as far as Tok, which used to be Tokyo until WW2.

. The untexted image Death Valley chose to admonish you not to feed the coyotes looks exactly like "don't let a coyote throw up in your hand".

. Canyon De Chelly NM has free camping and sometimes the Navajos have drum ceremonies into the evening. Pronounced Canyon de Shay.

. Some of the finest fly fishing in america is a 50 mile float on the Deschutes in Oregon from Madras to Maupin. In the spring, during the salmon fly hatch, big, strong redsides take your dries with such ferocity it'll give you a heart attack.

. Most people enjoy the towering sandstone formations as they drive through the sliver of Capitol Reef on the highway and maybe stop at the visitor's center, then drive on. Which is a shame because the park extends for miles both north and south and shouldn't be missed. Any high clearance vehicle will navigate the dirt roads but avoid fording the Fremont to the north when it's big.
Bonus - the orchards around the campground are free for the picking in season.
Double bonus - climb the mesa opposite the campground for incomporable views.

. Buffalo jumps in Montana are strangely fascinating.

. There are hobos and homeless living on Mt. Shasta. They joined us when we set up our telescopes on an astronomy trip. We had fun showing them views, they were good people and none of our expensive equipment disappeared.

. Something always happens when passing through Rachael, Nevada. One time there was a UFO convention. Another time there were sonic booms and writing in the sky.

. If you stop at a Hopi mesa for traditional food it's surprisingly bland.

. Forget Canada unless you like your vehicle and maybe your rectum searched.

. Ptarmigan at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic NP are quite tame. Chipmunks at Collier SP in Oregon will fight each other to climb all over you. Bunnies at Hovenweep NM in CO beg you for water. Bison and elk have the right of way in Yellowstone. You can feed immense ravens at Bryce, but feeding animals is a no no just about everywhere. I disagree about the reasons. Aside from bears who pose a threat I think most critters are opportunists who don't lose their natural habits.
One of my favorite experiences was to have grey jays in the Cascades launch themselves from treetops hundreds of feet up a hillside and swoop down to land on me like falconry when I waved pieces of bread.

. That "lonliest telephone booth in the world" isn't there in CA any more. I looked.

. Everything Texan is exceptional according to Texans.

. Those round structures at homes on the Navajo res are hogans where people purify themselves.

. Bicyclists swarm to Moab in March and April because the slickrock and the urge to merge.

. One time I came across a newborn fawn while fighting a forest fire in Idaho. They really do stay absolutely still, relying on their spots as camoflage. It's little nose twitched, however.

. Valley of Fire NM outside of Vegas is no place to visit when it's hot. The twisted shapes of the rock formations start to resemble animals at dusk.

. Security is the tightest I've ever seen at Glen Canyon Dam.

. It's alleged that operatives set the 2003 B&B devestating forest fire in the Cascades so Bush would have a dramatic backdrop when calling for more clearcutting on a trip to Redmond.

. The 1000 year old buildings at Chaco in New Mexico are all aligned astronomically.

. Don't count on getting into Yosemite from the east entrance at Lee Vining until at least June, sometimes July. But it's far more scenic and better than from the Central Valley in the west.

. Mount Rainier NP is least crowded and at it's best just before the weather turns in October. It's like the park is holding it's breath and the colors are magical.

. October is tarantuula mating season and males come out and start to crawl.

. A replica Stonehenge sits at Maryhill on the Washington side of the Columbia gorge, a memorial to the soldiers of WW1.

. The first JC Penney was in Kemmerer, WY. I bought a pair of pants there once, but it's closed now.

. A fun drive is through the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, CA. You'd be surprised how many movies were filmed there. Once you see the boulders with the Sierras as a backdrop, you'll instantly recognize the place when you see it on film.

. Louseworts in Yellowstone are called elephant head flowers because, well, they look like tiny elephant heads complete with trunks and ears. Macro shots are amazing.

. Navajos refuse to open casinos.

. The giant radio telescopes at the Vast Array in New Mexico all sit on train cars on tracks. The astronomers at Pine Mountain Observatory near Bend, OR let us sleep in their barrack beds after a star party one autumn.

. I climbed Angel's Landing in Zion last year, yikes. Google "Walter's Wiggles".

. When the marine mammal protection act was passed decades ago, sea lions proliferated and casual fishing along the coast of Oregon collapsed. You used to have to stop fishing back in the 70s because you'd catch too many fish to carry back in off the rocks. The first species to disappear were the slow flounders, then the sea bass and cod. Now the sea lions are collapsing docks in Newport.

. The best hike to take for the best picture at Arches is early morning out to Landscape Arch. Or some say in the afternoon to Delicate Arch, which is on the Utah license plate. So Delicate is more famous and much more crowded. Landscape is in reality far more delicate than Delicate arch. It's about the length of a football field and very thin in spots.

. Tour guides proudly show off bullet holes in the walls at the Bird Cage Saloon in Tombstone.

. Some out of the way places are really worth the trouble to get to, like Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico, especially when you consider the journey is just as valuable as the destination.

. There's a naval base in Nevada at Walker Lake near Hawthorne. On the way you see uncounted numbers of what are probably ammo bunkers dotting the plain.

. Lake Missoula was backed up by an ice dam some 12,000 years ago at the end of the ice age. It was something like 2000 feet deep and the size of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined. When the dam busted a torrent with the force of 60 Amazon rivers scoured eastern Washington and the Columbia Gorge, creating scablands which you can see today. It happened many times.

. And never stay at any trailer park in the southwest with "resort" in the name. Translation : we are crotchety old farts who haven't got a clue what WIFI means.


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