Tuesday, August 4, 2009

July 27, 2009

On the road to the Tetons

Thirty five degrees this morning after a sleepless night. I think despite numerous modifications to our bedding in anticipation of coldness we were still a little too cold for good sleep – and overtired from 11 miles of hiking – and 8 kinds of itchy from the bounty of mosquito bites.

Our felafel dinner ended abruptly when a tremendous thunderstorm rolled into the valley on a big wind. We managed to wash but not rinse the dishes before callosal bolts of lightening chased us to our car. The campfire jumped its ring in the pouring rain and Cary had to run out a put it out in the pouring rain.

It poured for about an hour and there was a brief period of slushy snow and hail. From the car we had a wonderful view of a cliff face stretching across the eastern edge of the valley. Lightening cracked back and forth horizontal to the peaks along the cliffs like the lightening over Mordor. It was very dramatic and exciting. The wind came through in tremendous waves which could be heard rolling across the lake. The lake was whipped to a froth of churning waves . Because we were in the heart of the storm the winds were going back and forth across the lake and through the trees.

I am happy to report that the duct taped tent held up mightily against the dramatic storm and we had only the smallest wetness at one edge. When the storm abated there was a sparkling double rainbow against the cliffs of Mordor.

Camping and rainbow at Brooks Lake

We finished the dishes and fell into bed wearing double pajamas and my wool cap in expectation of cold high mountain air.

The pine borers (ae there more than one kind?) have devastated the pines in the high mountains. You will see this is many photos. It is a forest fire waiting to happen. It may be that forest fies are “rejuvenating” to the ecosystem but this will be a tremendous fire when it comes. It is a sad thing to ponder. Many campgrounds have restrictions about bringing in wood from other sites (no wood from greater than 50 miles) in an attempt to contain outbreaks but here in the Rockies we haven’t seen such signs. It has spread everywhere already. In Nebraska we were given a newsprint booklet with large photos of invasive weeds with the request that we try not to spread them. In Champagne at the goat farm the old soy ean/corn fields on the farm which were overused have deep taproot invasive plants that will require speacial efforts to remove.

July 26, 2009

Upper Brooks Lake WY

It may be too cold to type. This morning it was 42 and in the first week of June this year they had 6 feet of snow. This is definitely high mountain. We are camped at 9,200 feet but hiked as high as 9.500 today on our alpine meadow/lake/continental divide tour. We ended up hiking almost 11 miles and hope we don’t suffer for it tomorrow and onward! It was completely worth it and, in the end, only 300 feet change in elevation which eased the breathlessness a bit. We’ve tried to come up into the high mountains slowly, 5,000 at Medicine Lodge, 7,000 in Dubois, 9,000 here but nevertheless you can feel the alpine air in your legs sometimes. Sometimes they are just lead. You can definitely feel it in your breathing and your pulse.

Continental Divide Hike

What you hear up here is mosquitoes. Mosquitoes and flies and more mosquitoes. It is lucky that I have lived in the Adirondacks and canoed in Canada because it is literally swarms of mosquitoes. Yesterday because of the thunderstorms we had to seek refuge and sometimes (like now), when the wind dies it is not o.k. to be sitting still.

If you don’t hear mosqitoes (which is less than 30% of your waking time) you hear wind. Wind is very wonderful up here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

We did not get as far as we planned today, Starting from Medicine Lodge, we went to Legend Rock petroglyph site, where we saw the best rock art we have ever seen. I've posted them to our facebook page

Then we went to the state bath house in Thermopolis where we soaked in 104 water. Yum!

After lunch we drove as far as Dubois, but decided it was too late to head up to the campground, another 20 miles and 1 hour away, so we took a cute little room here and had excellent pizza in the touristy mountain town.
This is the sunsetting behind a thunderstorm on the way in to Wyoming

Friday, July 24, 2009

Highway 231, Wyoming

On the way from
Medicine Lodge Archeological Site to

Legend Rock Petroglyph Wall

We are happy to be on a paved rode after Mr. Garmin (the GPS) took us onto tertiary roads in the Wyoming minefields yesterday. We were driving from Ten Sleep to Hyattville and we knew it would be gravel for 9 miles but Mr. Garmin wanted us to take State Road 117, which was a set of deep ruts in red clay. A fellow in the campground in Milwaukee had been through minefields when he go misguided in the same zone but we wandered through a Wildlife Management Area with a deep river and lush marsh. We’ve seen oilrigs and evidence of mining but happily we have not seen the open pits and slag heaps, which were such a part of back road Pennsylvania

If you want to go to Medicine Lodge you just have to believe you will get there. If you call ahead you get an answering machine with no useful information. The Wyoming 1-800-Camping said there were no reservable sites remaining for the next two weeks so have a back-up plan for camping. There were No Signs except things such as “Archeological Site, 0.5 miles) . The postmistress at Hyattville (population 46) gave excellent directions (take the Alkali road but don’t continue if it goes to hard dirt.) We arrived for lunch and immediately hung the hammock chair on a small cottonwood by a rushing stream in a narrow canyon. We ate lunch and then followed the waterway toward the main campground where we found a swimming hole made when the rushing stream hit a sandstone cliff face. The water was deep and completely clear and 58 degrees. It was delicious.

After another swing in the hammock chair we continued up the stream, into the box canyon and backwards through the interpretive trail, past similar encampments along red cliffs with swim holes and flat river bottom campsites. We saw an oriole.

The canyon ends at a red sandstone cliff wall, which has been continuously occupied for the last 10,000 years. The most recent 4,000 years was scraped off by the Taylors who built the luscious grand farmhouse, which still stands and also donated 12,000 acres of ranch to posterity.

At the final red rock cliff at the along the canyon there are 100s of petroglyphs and pictograms.We had waited for late afternoon and it was wonderful to see them incised in the walls so carefully and so detailed. The pictograms are very hard to discern but the petroglyphs are astounding in both their clarity and their ability to evoke the artist’s presence. One is huge – round shield hunters whose arrows are deeply embedded in a fat antlered animal (an elk).There was a petroglyph grasshopper! I got to draw a lot of nice pictures.

After our reverse interpretive hike we decided to move our campsite to the swim hole by the red cliff wall. We watched fish jump out of the water and eat bugs while we ate our dinner. I liked the idea that I was camping where people had been camping for 10,000 years. We saw a muskrat or some similar animal swim along the red cliff wall and out the other side of our little swimming hole in the mid-evening. After dinner we did hike up on top of the red cliffs and out onto the back plateau of the riverbed. There were a lot of mule deer unafraid of us.

This is the swimming hole we camped next to.

One of the petroglyphs


The wildflowers were wonderful in Western Nebraska!

July 21, 2009

Agate Fossil Bed National Monument

Nebraska (still)

A lovely cool prairie day with a gentle breeze so I can sit in the van while Cary does the weekly conference call. We gambled on cell phone service at the national monument to make his call.The rangers have been very accommodating and set him up at a desk!

You have to want to get to this place and, honestly, it isn’t the best fossil beds I’ve toured.That’s because yesterday we got to see the Hudson-Meng Bison Bone bed, where 1,000s of bison bones are preserved in ancient mud. Of course, technically, the Bison bed bones are not fossils. They are not old enough. The bones pulled from Agate fossil bed are true fossils, 19 million years old. Unfortunately, the actual fossil beds are hidden under piles of rock and closed to visitors who might disturb them. The visitor center is lovely, the rangers knowledgeable, their displays well done but the actual fossil beds were bust. After the conference call we’ll do one more hike and that may have more fossils.

Yesterday we drove into the Ogala National Prairie and went to pasture 27 to look for rocks.We found lots of agates and crystals and other fine rocks. The pasture appears to undulate in a sea of waving greenery but as you walk into it you find rocky exposures where the fine old rock samples are exposed. You will be reassured to know that a person can collect up to 70 lbs of rocks a day from National Forests and Prairies, without consequence. We did not collect 70 lbs but we are working on replacing all that we sold in Pennsylvania. From Pasture 27 we went down to Toadstool Park where the sandstone deposits have eroded faster than the clay on top leaving funny pedastals of stone. The clay is old river bed and rich in fossils. We saw rhinoceros ancestor footprints, stretching almost ¾ mile along the trail. It is always a fine day to get to scramble about on great rocks. The undercuts are full of swallow nests and the swallows swarm in great clouds out and back from their homes.

From Toadstool we went along to Hudson-Meng and the bison bone bed, stopping on our way at a “homestead” called the Cook Shack. The little restaurant was closed but a woman stuck her head out the screen door to say she did have pie and ice cream and sasparilla floats if we wanted. Since we are on holiday we enjoyed peach pie, strawberry-rhubarb pie and a float for lunch. It was fine. The restaurant is part of a small old ranch which included an abandoned school. The official state of Nebraska registers for the school were still on the shelf. The book is a state form, the teacher completes it annually to satisfy the state and give the next teacher some idea of where her students were at the end of the year. One entry read “due to the harsh winter, we only had 5 months of school this year.” One young woman had trouble with her arithemetic for every year of entry. Another young man “could not be persuaded to attend school regularly.”

Hudson-Meng was a covered, cooled site which was a relief after the heat of the day. The origins of the bone bed are controversial – a mass hunting after “herding” the bison up a waterway? Disease? Famine? There is evidence of spears in the bones of the bison so it seems much more likely that they were hunted. The shear volume of bones is astonishing. Conditions here are such that they can dessicate the bison meat rapidly so they could preserve the meat for winter. They “tan” the bison hide by using the animals brain. The guide said (in an off hand way), every animal can be tanned with its own brain. Oh yea, my mother taught me that too!

This far right photo is a shot of our camp table after dinner, planning our route.

While on the hike ouside Ft Robinson we got covered with these grass weed seeds that had little arrows to embed themselves in your clothes (see my sock, right).

This is what our site looked like at Ft. Rob.

It got so windy while we we away hiking that our tent fly ripped. After only 22 years (bought when rebecca was born, immediately clawed by a cat). Fortunately duck tape came to the rescue, and now our tent looks appropriately ghetto, (that's for you sammy!)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Carhenge Nebraska.  

Nebraska bugs

Oglala National Grasslands 

July 20, 2009
Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska

We are camped in a park on the site of the old Fort Robinson.  Fort Robinson was the scene of many horrific events in the history of the country, repetitive demonstrations of man’s inhumanity to man. Crazy Horse was murdered here and several other massacres occurred.  German prisoners of war were brought here because there could be no escape.  K9 dogs were trained here for many years.

Today the Fort is a quiet, serene resort in a valley surrounded by lovely rose colored sandstone buttes. We are camped next to an official graveyard (I’m sure that there are other, innumerable, unmarked graves around us but our site is quiet and shady.

Nebraska is home to a treasure of fossils. Yesterday we saw two complete Columbian mammoths who died with tusks locked together in combat. Remarkable.

On our hike up into the buttes we saw three long horn sheep. My family will appreciate how long I have scanned the horizon for a long horn sheep. Now I just need to see a moose (and an antelope). We also saw naturalized sunflowers in great swaths along the hillsides.

When we came into Nebraska we were given a free fly swatter from the ‘host’ at the campground. It was a portent of our experience of Nebraska.  Nebraska might well be called the grasshopper state but, if you don't like grasshoppers, the state is not lacking in flies, gnats, mosquitoes, and very large striped green beetles which dive bomb into our lantern in the evening (see photo).