The Journey of 2014

   

Links to Photos, related links, and More Travel Reports at bottom

    

Prologue          June Lake          Baker & Great Basin     Utah & Dinosaur National Monument

Colorado & Dinosaur National Monument     Colorado & Rocky Mountain National Park

Missouri & Indiana     Ohio & Michigan     Missouri Again     Heading Home     Observations

  

NOTICE: Due to the large size of this report, photos are on a separate page

   

Prologue

June 14, 2014: If I had known how much work it was to travel by car, I might have stayed with the motor home. It's not the driving that is difficult; that hasn't started yet. It's the planning - deciding where I will go, how long I will stay, then finding and booking motels.

Of course, I had to find a place to stay with my trailer or motor home, but if I could not find an RV park, I could have stayed in a rest stop, parking lot, or wide place beside a rural road. In practice, I made reservations less than half the time, and usually was told "come on down, we've lots of room." Only once in all my travels did I arrive at an RV park with no reservation and find it full. And there was another one a half mile down the road with plenty of room.

So I am studying paper and on-line maps, calculating mileage, looking at national park web sites to see what there is to do, and trying to locate nearby towns in a couple of very remote areas. I've already made one reservation change, and decided to hold off on some others until the trip begins.

The first stop is the easiest. I will be camping with my daughter Teri, grandson Mikie, and his friend Max, at June Lake on the eastern side of the Sierra, and Teri took care of all the planning and booking. I just have to show up. 

After that it gets more complicated. My first stop will be Great Basin National Park, a day's drive from June Lake, and one of the more remote parks in the whole system, on the eastern border of Nevada next to Utah. The fact that this area is considered to have some of the darkest skies in the country will give you an idea how far it is from any town of significant size.

The second stop is Dinosaur National Monument, another remote and far-flung area, with two distinctly separate sections, one in Utah and one in Colorado. The nearest motels seem to be anywhere from 15 to 50 miles from the various points of interest in the monument. So far I have booked motels for everything up to and including the western part of the monument, and have a couple of possible places in mind for the eastern.

June 15: It's not just route planning and motel booking. There's also deciding what to take. I'm so used to having all the comforts of home, I'm tempted to try and fit them into my Honda Accord. To help offset the added cost of restaurant meals, I don't see why I can't at least have stuff to make breakfast and sandwiches. This of course means ice chests, which can take up a lot of room, as well as a few dishes and some silverware. Right now I have not yet started figuring out how to load the car, but I hope to fit in a full-size ice chest, a smaller one, a large plastic tote box, an extra large suitcase, and several smaller carrying cases, brief cases, etc. Not to mention a laptop, cell phone, iPad and all the charging equipment required.

In deciding to take the car, I did a rough cost analysis. With the car there would be more restaurant meals, and motel rates would be two to three times that of an RV park. But the big factor is gas. The motor home gets less than 10 MPG, while the Honda can hit 30. In my calculations, I forgot to include the fact that with the motor home, I would need to rent a car in several places. It still came out several hundred dollars cheaper to take the car. There's also the fact that near Great Basin, there is no car rental agency closer than 60 miles, and it's probably just as bad at Dinosaur.

June 16: Another disconcerting aspect of the pre-planning process is reading motel reviews on line. My first few stops are in fairly remote areas. This means small towns, with few motels, which means high prices for facilities that are less than ideal.

For the most part, negative reviews have been offset by positive ones, and I've made reservations with my fingers crossed, hoping that any serious problems have been corrected. I also take comfort in my pre-internet travel experiences. In 1978 I drove across the country and back, making reservations by phone without any reviews to comfort or concern me. We had no serious problems, although the motel with the worst service was the most expensive. Interestingly, it was in a major tourist destination, Niagara Falls. The problems were offset by the fact that we could go outside the hotel and walk across the street to the falls.

--Dick Estel, June 2014

 

June Lake:

June 17: I had heard of June Lake and the June Lake Loop, but had only a vague idea what and where they were. After Teri invited me to join them for camping there, I checked Google Maps, and expanded my knowledge.

I knew June Lake was located on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, not far from Lee Vining. What I did not know is that it is an actual town, with a Zip code and stores, restaurants and rental cabins. The Loop is California State Highway 158, which leaves US 395 south of Lee Vining, winds into the mountains, and returns to 395 about eight miles farther south.

June 22: We are at our lodge and settled in, after a busy weekend for all of us. Mikie and Max were at a hockey camp in Oxnard all week, and just returned home Saturday afternoon. Teri had a meeting in Mariposa Saturday evening, so she spent the night there and came up this morning. I attended the Mariposa High Alumni picnic Saturday, then returned home and loaded the car last night.

After last-minute preparations, I drove across Fresno to pick up the boys, and headed up State 99, with Mikie driving. We left 99 a few miles north of Madera, taking several back roads into LeGrand, then across to State 140, and on to Mariposa where we made a quick pit stop. I took over the driving at El Portal near the entrance to Yosemite Park, and not far past that we took Highway 120 which goes north, then east over the Sierra, with the high point at 9,943 foot Tioga Pass. On the way I stopped at Olmstead Point, as I always do on this route. Here there is a great view of Half Dome from a very different angle than the classic one seen from Yosemite Valley. You also see 9,900 foot Cloud's Rest, and nearby Tenaya Lake.

At Tioga Pass we left Yosemite and continued down to US 395, then to the southern end of June Loop. It was about three miles from this junction to Reverse Creek Lodge, where we found Teri waiting for us.

Our "room" is a large A-frame, with a good size bedroom with two double beds at one end, a separate bedroom with two twin beds and two bathrooms in the middle, and a large room at other end with a small kitchen, dining table that would be comfortable for six adults, a couch, and another double bed. There are TVs in the two end rooms, a deck outside, and trees and rocky mountains to look at outside all the windows.

Teri fixed a good dinner around 5, then she and the boys drove to the creek to investigate the fishing. I took a short nap (having missed my nap yesterday and today), then began an exercise in frustration that is not only not resolved, but looking like resolution may be impossible.

First some background - my Outlook program on my home computer is flaky in several ways, but I hate the newer versions and refuse to upgrade. I have to re-enter my password every time I restart the program, a minor annoyance that I am used to. The version of Outlook on my laptop is newer and doesn't have the menu items I normally use for the password entry, and I can't find out how to do it. Maybe it does not need to be done on this computer, but it does not look like I will find out, since I can't access the internet anyway (Teri can, and I can with my iPad and smart phone). We have wi-fi, and the network information window shows a connection, but none of my browsers will actually access the Internet. This means that you may get this massive report all at once some time in August. Or maybe it will work tomorrow or when I get to Nevada. Right now I'm going to do something else.

June 23: By using my iPad as a wireless hot spot, I was able to connect to the internet, which is ridiculous, since the iPad was connected through the lodge's Wi-Fi. Still no Outlook email, however; I suspect I will have to call for tech support, which I won't do until I feel like spending an hour on the phone.

Today is Teri's 50th birthday, and she is calling this vacation her Fabulous Fifty. At the top of her to do list for this area is the gondola ride to the top of Mammoth Mountain, so that's where we went today. Mikie and I had gone up it in 2007, but he appreciated it a lot more at age 16, and it was everything Teri had hope for and more. At various times on the ride up, there is a view of the Minarets and other high sierra features. From the top the view is even better - Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak and Mt. Lyle, and directly to the south, the Minarets, topped by the highest of these jagged peaks, Clyde Minaret, named for the noted climber Norman Clyde who was the first to climb it, a solo ascent in 1928.

We took the very short walk to the top, 11,060 feet, with a 360 degree view of the Owens Valley and Mono Lake to the east, and many high peaks south, west and north. Following the advice of a ranger, we took short walk, maybe 1/4 mile, to Seven Lakes Lookout. From here we looked down on five small lakes surrounded by evergreens, plus Crowley Lake and another lake out in the valley.

As expected it was colder at the top of the mountain, but the comfort level was very inconsistent. In some spots we were hit by strong, cold winds, and could have used a hood; then we'd get out of the wind and think about taking off a layer.

We purchased a package that included the gondola ride plus lunch, and had excellent sandwiches at the snack bar on top. For our sides, Teri and I chose potato salad, which was also great, while the boys had chips. It turned out that we were ready for lunch at the same time as everyone else, and we ended up sitting on the steps outside to eat, not very comfortable, but offset by the amazing view of the Ritter Range.

Once we got back down, we discussed other possibilities for the day's activities, but everyone was ready for a rest, so we returned to the cabin. Teri drove to a nearby lake to do her resting, while I took a nap then read, and the boys watched TV and their cell phone screens and played cards.

Later Teri drove the boys to a nearby lake where they fished with no significant results.

June 24: Today Teri and I planned to go to Obsidian Dome and the Panum Crater. We first dropped Mikie and Max off at Gull Lake since fishing held a lot more interest for them than geological wonders. You can drive right to the base of the dome, but the crater requires some hiking, so we decided to do that first in order to take advantage of cooler morning temperatures.

Panum is part of the Mono–Inyo Craters, a volcanic chain of craters, domes and lava flows that stretches 25 miles from the northwest shore of Mono Lake to the south of Mammoth Mountain. Teri had been there before, but it was my first visit. The crater was created about 700 years ago when hot magma rising up through the earth came into contact with underground water. This created an instant steam explosion that blasted rock and dirt into the air, with volcanic activity continuing for some time. The result is a small, rugged cone, known as a rhyolitic plug-dome volcano, with large and small chunks of obsidian and pumice. At the top there are twisted boulders of the two types of rock, which are chemically identical, but as different as night and day in weight. Teri easily lifted a 16-inch diameter pumice boulder over her head, while it would have been impossible for us to lift a chunk of obsidian the same size.

The trail leads up from the parking lot, reached by a one-mile dirt road off State Highway 120, east of US 395. A straight, moderately steep section leads up to a fork. To the right is the Rim Trail, which seemed to offer less interest. We took the Plug trail, which leads down into the crater, and zig zags up to the twisted rock plug, where you can wander around on side trails as much or as little as desired. There are a number of distorted trees, whose trunks look like those of a Sierra juniper, but they are mountain mahogany, a broad-leaf plant. Bushes with ancient-looking trunks were only a few feet high.

All around there are broken and twisted chunks of rock, testifying to the violent explosion that created this phenomenon. When I went to Obsidian Dome several years ago, I was expecting a smooth, shiny black surface, but weathering has left it somewhat gray. On the crater, there were many areas of shiny black obsidian, ranging from finger size to as big as a washing machine. All in all, it was a very impressive hike, especially since I have had an interest in geology since my high school days.

We decided we were ready for more relaxing activities, so we passed on Obsidian Dome for now, and took the longer section of the June Lake Loop, the northern junction, which is about 14 miles back to our cabin.

Meanwhile at the lake, Mikie and Max caught eleven trout between them, bringing home three. These were cooked for dinner, along with barbecued ribs, and were excellent (and this is from someone who rarely eats and does not like most fish).

June 25: Today's first adventure was fairly low key, and mildly disappointing in one aspect. We went to Hot Creek, a thermal area about 30 miles south of June Lake. In times past people could swim in the creek, which is warmed by hot water bubbling up under the creek after being heated by magma three miles below the surface. Due to weather conditions in the last few years, the creek is dangerously hot, and you can't get close enough to test it.

Fishing is allowed in the area above the hot spots, but the water there is normal creek temperature. Still, there are thermal pools beside the creek with steam rising, and some incredible rock formations. Internet articles about this area imply that swimming is permitted, but it did not appear that there is any access to the heated part of the stream.

Returning to June Lake, we dropped the boys off at Gull Lake for fishing. Teri headed for the beach again, while I tackled my email problem, with limited success. I was able to send the second chapter of this report, but only after a lot of tedious work copying and pasting email addresses from one program to another. (The things I do for you people!)

Today's fishing results were not as good - the boys caught the same number of fish as I did without leaving the cabin. It has been very windy the last two days, especially on the lakes, so the fish decided to stay where they were.

As part of the continuing celebration of Teri's birthday, we went into Lee Vining and had dinner at Bodie Mike's Barbecue. Even choosing some of the smaller dishes, Teri and I had more than we could finish. Of course the two teenagers made short work of their hamburgers, which came with a large serving of fries and a side salad.

June 26: Our plans for today were to take it easy, and maybe go some place close. A sudden change in the weather made that schedule seem perfect. Last night when I checked the weather, the chance of precipitation was 0%. However, just before I went to bed I went outside and saw a huge black cloud to the northeast. During the night there were heavy winds, and when I got up one time it was raining.

By the time I was up for the day it had stopped, so I decided to try my morning walk. On the way I could feel the wind at my back, and I knew it would be in my face on the return trip. I turned around and felt mist on my face, and saw heavy mist above the mountains nearby, in the direction from which the wind was blowing. I decided it was time to return to the cabin. I got back safe and dry, and so far there has been no further rain.

After breakfast, Teri and I went to Obsidian Dome, while Mikie and Max decided to just hang out at the cabin for the day. When I went to that location with Mikie in 2007, we didn't walk around much, and I didn't really appreciate it. This time Teri and I walked quite a ways along the mountain, and I realized there were many more areas of shiny black obsidian than I had thought. 

This is not a dome like the granite features that stand out in Yosemite, but more of a huge jumbled pile of volcanic rock. Walking along the north face of it, there are sections with smaller chunks of broken rock, much of it pumice, with dark streaks of obsidian all along the way, where the rock chunks tend to be larger..

We turned back and walked the other direction, where the mountain curves around to the south, an area Teri had not seen on her previous visits. We saw a place where some cars were parked, and noticed what seemed to be a path up the mountain.

We returned to the car and drove in that direction, and discovered that there is an old road, now just a wide path, leading up the hill. It was not very steep, and took us to a place where we could walk on what seemed to be cleared paths between piles of twisted rock - obsidian, pumice, and other materials. It was a completely different view of Obsidian Dome, and we were delighted to have found it. With further research, I discovered, as I had suspected, that these cleared areas were the result of mining activity.

One of the more interesting sights on top was what appeared to be an ancient steam vent. It was a more or less circular area with rocks in it. Another hiker there shined a flashlight down between the rocks and could not see bottom.

Most of the time we had a very strong wind, but we had prepared for it with an extra layer, and considering how much walking we did, we would probably have found warm weather to be less pleasant.

It was after two p.m. by the time we got back to the car, so we returned to the cabin and had a little snack, not wanting to spoil out appetite for the promised dinner of carne asada.

June 27: This was my last day at June Lake, and it seemed that the time went very fast. We took a trip to one of my favorite places in the Sierra Nevada, Devil's Postpile National Monument. I had been there three times, most recently with Mikie in 2007, and Teri had ridden there with her husband and friends on motorcycles, so Max was the only first-timer.

With limited exceptions, private vehicles are not allowed into the area, so we got tickets for the shuttle bus that leaves from the Mammoth Mountain ski area, and got in line. The first shuttle filled up before we got to the door, but they run every 20 minutes, so after a short wait we were on our way. The road is narrow, steep and winding, and offers some excellent views of the Minarets, so we were happy to let someone else do the driving.

The bus stops at a number of places in the area, which is known as Red's Valley and is graced by the middle fork of the San Joaquin River. The stop for the Postpile is at a small ranger station, from which we walked the half mile, which is mostly level or very gently sloping. This easy accessibility brings many visitors, young and old.

The Postpile itself was formed by a flow of lava that came down the valley about 100,000 years ago, and was stopped by a moraine, a natural earth dam that marked the termination of a glacier. The lava formed cracks as it cooled, and when each crack was about ten inches long, it branched off at a 120 degree angle, forming hexagons. The face of the formation consists of vertical columns about 100 feet high. There is a large talus slope of broken posts between the trail and the bottom of the cliff. Not all the columns are hexagonal, but the majority are.

After looking at the dramatic face of the pile, and taking the requisite photos, we followed the loop trail that goes up on top, where you can walk across the rock and see the hexagonal divisions. There are also some nice views of the river and the meadow on the opposite side of it.

Many people walk an additional two miles to Rainbow Falls, which Teri and I had both done on earlier visits. We did not have that much ambition this time, and I suspect that because of the low water level in the river, the falls is not at its best. 

We walked back to the bus stop and caught the next shuttle. It was going on to the other stops in the valley before heading back to Mammoth, but we were happy to ride along, and we learned some new things from the driver's spiel, mostly about Red Sotcher. He was a farmer and merchant who was the big cheese in the area in the 1880s, and gave his name to Sotcher Lake as well as the valley and Red's Meadow. Here he grew potatoes which he sold to miners and loggers for a dollar each, the nearest alternative being a distance of several days travel.

Eventually our shuttle started back to Mammoth, where we enjoyed another walk of several hundred yards to the car, at which time the boys were expressing an interest in food. Once we got back to the cabin we had an early dinner of barbecued chicken, baked potatoes, and potato salad. Here I'd like to salute my daughter for her cooking abilities. She likes to cook, but due to her busy schedule at home, she usually sticks to very simple cooking. For this trip she brought along all the spices and ingredients to put on several feasts. My cooking is mostly limited to punching in the numbers on the microwave, so it was a welcome change.

This was the day of the National Hockey League draft, of great interest to all of us, and we were able to get the channel that was showing it, so no further outings were planned. I made a quick trip to the general store for ice and a few groceries, and got back just as the show was starting. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, although I also got as much ready as possible for my departure the next morning.

 

Baker, Nevada and Great Basin National Park

June 28: Baker, NV is a tiny town located in the remote high desert of Nevada, not to be confused with Baker, CA, a tiny town located in the remote low desert of California. I drove here today from June Lake, a distance of about 365 miles, leaving about 8:45 and arriving at 4:30.

I drove down the June Lake Loop to US 395, then a short distance to State 120, where I turned east. There was a lot of variety in the scenery, starting with the volcanic features south of Mono Lake. This route goes through areas of pine forest, over mountains, and through some nearly treeless areas. At one point the side of the road is decorated with small lavender colored lupines, as well as some unidentified yellow flowers. In another area, a seemingly bare spot on a hillside was painted purple  by the lupines. Another nearly barren spot had log barriers along the highway and signs warning against off-road use, since the fragile terrain looks like the perfect place to tear up with a dune buggy (it isn't).

Past this was a section with a sign warning "dips next five miles." Some of the dips were mild, but some were the kind that get you in the pit of the stomach, and a couple were the kind that make you say "wooooo!." Sometimes I felt like I was on a roller coaster!

Since it was open range, I thought about the time I hit a cow in Utah, but I didn't see a one, on or off the road. This section had very little traffic - I saw only eight other vehicles between Mono Lake and the town of Benton, where Highway 120 comes to an end. Before you get to Benton, there is Benton Hot Springs, but neither place is much of a place. The Springs had what seemed to be an RV park with some dilapidated units that were probably long-term residences, while Benton claims a population of 264.

At this point your choices are US 6 to the right or US 6 to the left. This highway goes south and west to Bishop on US 395, or north and east to Cape Cod, MA if you choose to go that far. I rode it all the way across Nevada until the last five miles of  my trip, although the final 50 miles were contiguous with US 50. The latter is known as "the loneliest road in America," but US 6 could give it some competition. From Benton it was only about ten miles to Nevada.

Through Nevada the roads went through typical basin country, up over mountain ranges, and down across flat sections, most covered with sage brush, but one or two of them white alkali plains.  In many places the highway is straight as far as you can see, and that's pretty far in the wider basins. At the higher passes, there are juniper and piñon trees, but most of the vegetation is sage and other low growing plants. In these areas I was usually going through a section of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

The most interesting terrain was a long stretch where the highway went into some mountains, winding up through a little valley that had some irrigated land and quite a few small ranches. Then it went through a canyon with rock cliffs on both sides and into a forest of piñon and juniper. Most of the sections over mountains were much shorter. This was Murray Summit, above 7,300 feet, the highest point on the drive.

Earlier in the day I stopped for gas at Tonopah, a small town 120 miles from my starting point. Coming down from Murray Summit, I  made a second stop for groceries at Eli, a larger town at the junction of US 6 and US 50. I also filled up the gas tank here, in the belief that gas would be more expensive in out of the way Baker.

From Eli US 50/6 goes south, then east, then north a short way to go over Sacramento Pass, just north of the national park. At the bottom of the pass I turned right for the five mile drive into Baker on Nevada 487, and soon got settled into my motel room for the night.

June 29: After fixing breakfast in my room, I set off on my first ever visit to Great Basin National Park. I stopped at the main visitor center which is here in town, then started the uphill drive into the park. Baker is at 5,300 feet, but it did not take long to reach the 7,500 foot level, just below upper Lehman Creek Campground. I had allowed three days here, with several items on my to do list. Three nights a week there is an astronomy talk at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, with telescope viewing to take advantage of the dark skies in this remote area. I also want to take a tour of the caves, which requires advance ticket purchase. The other thing that interested me is the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which is twelve miles on the only major road that goes into the park.

That was my goal for today, and after reviewing a description of the drive on the park web site, I was ready for the steep winding road and the changes in vegetation as I went up to just above the 10,000 foot level. There are several stopping points along the way, and I stopped at all of them, plus a few unofficial places where there was room to get off the road. The major point of interest is 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak, the highest point in the central Great Basin. There were good views of it from several places, including a look at the tiny permanent snow field on the side.

There are several trails near the top, and the one that interested me most leads into one of the few existing stands of bristlecone pines. Unfortunately it is a three mile round trip, starting at 10,000 feet, so I passed on it for today. I'm still considering it for Tuesday.

At one of the viewpoints, and again at the end of the road, I had a nice conversation with a couple from Kansas who have been traveling throughout the west for over three weeks. Like me they are driving a Honda that is over ten years old, but theirs has 250,000 miles to the 102,000 on mine. It gave me hope that I will not have to buy a new car for a long time.

I walked around a little, sat in the amphitheater and read a while, then started back down. On the way I checked out the upper Lehman Creek Campground, where there is a ranger talk that I plan to attend tomorrow night. Then I went to the Lehman Cave Visitor Center and got my ticket for tomorrow. I also walked a short nature trail that loops around the hill above the visitor center, learning the names of some of the trees I'd been photographing earlier.

Although it was early in the afternoon, I was ready to get back to the motel and just take it easy the rest of the day. I read, fixed a salami sandwich for supper, and watched a few minutes of TV. I went out at about 8:35 to look around and there was a buck deer slowly walking through the field right behind the motel.

June 30: Unlike most days, today I had a schedule to follow, but of course, not a demanding one. I needed to be at Lehman Caves visitor center in time for the 10:30 tour, so there was no need to get up early. Naturally I woke up before six and could not get back to sleep. I got up, checked my email, went for a walk and mailed an anniversary card for my younger daughter, Jennifer, and son-in-law Rod, and had breakfast. By this time I had nearly an hour before it was time to leave, so I did some reading.

The cave tour was all I had hoped for. I had visited Oregon Caves, in the southwest part of that state, two or three times twenty years ago or more, but that was the only cave I had visited. It was nice, but nothing special, and a very quick tour. The cave here is much more extensive, and the features are what you expect to see, all kinds of formations including stalactites, stalagmites, shields, drapery and so on. The tour took about an hour, and we were able to take photos. The most common feature seemed to be stalactites, with hundreds of them, many quite short and less than an inch in diameter, but also many large ones and quite a few columns, where the two formations have grown together.

It was still early when the tour ended, so I sat on a shady bench and read for a while before heading down to a lower, warmer elevation. Actually the weather today has been very nice at all locations, with a very good breeze this morning while I was walking.

Along Nevada highway 488, which runs from Baker to the park border, I had noticed a "ranch exhibit," so I stopped there. It consists of several panels with information on ranching from early days up to today, with an emphasis on how people must learn how to adapt to the area's harsh conditions to make a go of any enterprise. Nearby, just over a barbed wire fence, was an old rusted out truck, being "driven" by a horse skull. The best feature of the exhibit was a row of metal silhouettes relating to ranching - cowboys, cattle, a barn, windmill, wagon and other items.

From here I headed for the Baker Archeological Site, which I had noticed on the way in, a mile off the main road. This area was excavated by archeologists from Brigham Young University in the early 1990s, and was found to be a village of the Fremont culture. After artifacts were collected and catalogued, the dig was filled in and there is little to see now, but there is a short, self-guided trail that explains what we know or think we know about these people, who abandoned the site about 700 years ago, probably in response to drought.

Once back at the motel I tried napping, to no avail (if I start typing gibbrish you'll knowo i felw asleop at the keeborfd). Since I was tired of fixing my own meals, I went to town (a one-minute trip). There are two restaurants, but one was closed for mid-day, so it was an easy choice to go to T & D's, where I had an excellent roast beef sandwich. While there I talked with some bicycle riders who have been traveling since early May, starting in Virginia and headed for San Francisco. I don't envy their ride over the many ranges across Nevada.

Tonight and tomorrow night I'm going back up to the park for the evening programs - "competition" tonight and astronomy tomorrow. This will require me to do one of my least favorite things, drive on mountain roads after dark. Since I've been doing it all my life, I suppose I can manage a few more times.

9:30 p.m.: The ranger talk at upper Lehman Creek Campground was interesting, although not a topic I would have chosen. The focus was on competition between species, specifically various kinds of trout. The only species native to the area is the Bonneville Cutthroat, which once swam in large numbers in ancient Lake Bonneville. This body of water occupied much of the great basin, and was as big as Lake Michigan and a thousand feet deep. About 14,500 years ago it began to drain away, and the trout eventually occupied various streams and rivers in the area. The Great Salt Lake is a small remnant of the original body of water.

Unable to let well enough alone, humans over the years introduced rainbow, brown, brook and one or two other species. The competition for space and food was not favorable to the Bonneville, so humans once again stepped in, removing the other species and reintroducing the cutthroat. Currently they are found in two or three streams in fairly remote parts of the park, while the newcomers remain in other locations.

July 1: After much thought, I decided to try the trail to the bristlecone pines. It starts just below 10,000 feet, but gains only 600 feet in elevation, but that's some pretty thin air. Some sources said the trail is 1.5 miles each way, but rangers I asked and a sign at the trailhead say 1.4. I decided that I could always turn back if it was too much, so I got to the trailhead about 10:30 and started out. It took me a couple hundred yards of hiking to get acclimated, then it seemed a little easier. I took short, slow steps, stopped often, and drank lots of water. When I got to a fork that marked the half-way point, I knew I was going to be able to go all the way, and it seemed easier after that.

The first two-thirds of the trail goes through a thick forest of Engleman Spruce and Limber Pine, and is mostly shady. Then it goes through a rocky, open area, with some sunny uphill sections, although there are always trees close by.

I arrived at the first identifiable bristlecone, a dramatic but dead giant, about the same time as an older couple and a young man. We took each other's pictures, and they were still photographing when I went on. Apparently they turned back at that point, although it was barely 100 yards to the main grove.

These are amazing trees, not huge but very old. They are known to live up to 5,000 years, and after death can remain standing for another 2,000 years. There is lots to tell and learn about these trees, but those who are interested can find plenty of information on line. I'll just add that the main thing I learned is that they occur in many more areas than I realized. I've seen bristlecones and Foxtail Pines in California, and they are also found in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. There are three species, Great Basin bristlecones, Rocky Mountain bristlecones, and foxtail pines. Some sources say they are all considered to be foxtail pines, and all are part of the white pine family, which has over 100 species. The foxtail articles from the Internet all seem to treat it as separate from the others.

I chatted with a ranger at the grove, sat on a rock and ate an orange, then started down. Although I don't go much faster walking down, I can take longer steps. As I had expected the entire trip took three hours, one and a half up, a half hour there, and an hour down.

8:15 p.m.: Tonight I was going back to the park for the final time to attend an astronomy talk. However, storm clouds that were predicted for this afternoon have arrived, putting an end to that plan. Since I had a pretty good hike today, I'm not really broken hearted about just relaxing the rest of the evening.

When I drove to the top of the road the first day, I stopped at a number of places along the way, went to two visitor centers, and still got back to the motel in the early afternoon. I began to think that two days here would have been enough. However, each day has had plenty of activity, without any feeling of being rushed to see everything in a short time, something I have experienced at other places in the past.

Tomorrow I will be heading northeast, and will be in Utah after a few minutes. I will be staying in Springville, about 180 miles away. I'm not doing or seeing anything there, I just wanted a shorter drive, so I picked a place about half way between Baker and Dinosaur National Monument. The next day's drive is only 160 miles. Springville is close to Provo UT, and there are a number of towns around there that are probably all suburbs of that city. It will give me a chance to buy groceries and gas without paying resort prices. Also a screw fell out of my prescription sun glasses yesterday, and I plan to get them fixed there.

About Baker: This is a very remote small town in the Snake Valley, 60 miles from Eli, the nearest "big" city. There are two motels, one of which includes an RV park; two restaurants, one of which is part of one of the motels; two grocery stores, both of which are part of the restaurants; a post office, a gas station, a church, and a bunch of cows. Actually the latter are out in the fields east of town.

There are a number of old square log buildings around town and in the field nearby. Most seem to be part of old ranches and some are still in use. There is one that has been spruced up a bit and looks like it may be a residence.

Although a lot of the area around is sagebrush desert, there are a few streams flowing down from the Snake Mountain Range, which includes the national park. There is quite a bit of green area in the open land east of town, and a small lake. There are a number of ranches, with the headquarters identifiable by clumps of trees. The underground water of this area has been targeted by Las Vegas, and a heated battle is underway.

I have named Highway 488, the road into the park, "Whimsy Way." On both sides there are a number of objects obviously placed there by a rancher for the entertainment of passers-by: The old truck and horse skull I mentioned yesterday, several metal sculptures in the form of human figures, a plastic pink flamingo, two life jackets and a tire, a motorcycle, another skull, and some things that defy description.

The area is plagued with moths and butterflies. The butterflies are thick up at the end of the road into the park, at just under 10,000 feet, while the moths predominate down in the valley. I was keeping my windows slightly open, and last night when I left for the ranger talk, there were about a dozen moths inside. The ranger said they are a cyclical event, like the 17-year cicada, and of course, the profusion of moths and butterflies means there was a large invasion of caterpillars earlier this year.

My motel leaves a lot to be desired, but choices are limited. The towels and sheets seem to be clean and they aren't stingy with fresh towels. It has a microwave, refrigerator and TV with DirecTV, so in that respect it beats most motels I've stayed in. It appears that they do not vacuum or sweep and they did not empty the waste basket until the last day. At least there are fewer dead bugs on the floor of my room than there were at the pit toilet in the park. There's no free breakfast, but I brought a lot of stuff for fixing breakfast and lunch, including a toaster, so that's not a problem.

 

Utah and Dinosaur National Monument

July 2: This morning I slowly got ready to go, enjoying my homemade breakfast, packing carefully, and even just loafing a bit. I got underway about 10:40, and returned to US 6/50 headed toward Utah. At the border, just a few miles from Baker, is a motel/casino/restaurant/gas station. The casino is on Nevada soil, while the rest is in Utah. This was the last commercial establishment I saw until I arrived at Hinkley and Delta, two adjacent towns 88 miles from the border.

The first part of the drive was much like my trip across Nevada, with some very scenic mountains and basins and very little traffic, but as I approached these towns I entered the Sevier River Valley. Like all Great Basin streams, this one ends within the basin, never reaching the ocean. The river, and the nearby Gunnison Bend Reservoir, make this a significant agricultural area, and traffic out of Delta included lots of trucks with ag-related cargo. I had stayed at the RV park in Delta twice in the past, but didn't stop this time.

This is where US 6 separates from US 50, heading north to intersect I-15. I drove about 15 miles on 6, then took Utah 132 at Lyndyll. This a slightly more direct route, connecting with I-15 at Nephi. From here it was about an hour to my destination, Springville, Utah. My first stop was at the offices of Caywood and Winward, eye doctors, to get my sunglasses fixed. I had called yesterday to make sure they could do it, and I was in and out in less than five minutes, at no charge. Five stars for this medical practice!

Since it had been a long time since breakfast, I went to a nearby Wendy's before heading to the hotel, which was up I-15 another mile.

I am staying at the Best Western Mountain View, and it is aptly named. The Wasatch Mountains are visible on three sides, including from my window. The motel is very nice, and I only wish I could expect equal accommodations at the remote areas I'm headed to after today.

July 3: Before getting under way today, I did some grocery shopping and went to Big 5 Sporting Goods to buy hiking poles. I've been considering this purchase since my Hite's Cove hike in March, and could have used them on the bristlecone trail in Big Basin. Since there are many more trails ahead, I decided it was time.

I had a very scenic drive from Springville to Vernal, Utah. The most direct route is to head north for a short way, then take US 40 all the way to Vernal. Naturally I went south, got back on eastbound US 6, and enjoyed every mile. Unlike the lonesome road of Nevada, this section of the highway had a lot of traffic, but there were passing lanes where needed, and I could go as fast as I wanted to 99% of the time. Even when I had to go "too  slow," it gave me a chance to see the scenery a little better.

Not long after I started out, the road went up over 7,000 foot Soldier Summit. On the east side of this the country was "softer," more open, with grassy areas and fewer desert trees. However, it eventually went down through a particularly striking canyon, along Price Creek. In some places there are red sandstone cliffs, but it is rough-textured, not smooth like that in southern Utah, and contains foreign rocks. In this area there was and still is a lot of coal mining, and there is a large electric generating plant that burns many tons of coal per day to produce steam to power the turbines.

Just past this area I left US 6 and took US 191, which goes northwest toward US 40. There was more great scenery on this route, and a lot less traffic for the first few miles. After going over a 9,000 foot pass, the highway descends through a long, narrow valley with a stream and a lot of cultivated land. There are also many places where oil pumps are operating.

The junction is at Duchesne, seat of Duchesne County, and about seven miles from Fort Duchesne, which is in Uinta County. This is Ute Indian territory, with a number of commercial enterprises operated by the tribe.

Along the first part of US 40 it follows (what else) the Duchesne River, but then the road jogs north out of the canyon, and down into a lower valley. Beyond here it soon enters true Colorado Plateau country, with long mesas and canyons, where the road goes down, levels off, then drops down into another canyon.

I stopped in the town of Roosevelt and had a pizza, taking half of it with me for later. From there it was about 30 miles to Vernal, which is in the Uinta Basin. I got checked in and just spent the rest of the day unpacking and reading. Tomorrow, dinosaurs!

July 4: This morning I drove east 15 miles on US 40 to Utah 149, which leads into the monument, running along the Green River the last few miles. The main attraction in the Utah section of the monument is the Dinosaur Quarry, where fossils were first discovered in 1909. The location proved to be an area where floods had deposited hundreds of dead dinosaurs. After many fossils had been removed, it was decided to leave the remainder, visible on the cliff side, and build a viewing area beside it. Fossils were collected from almost 400 different animals. There are 1500 bones remaining, from 100 individuals. This display was very impressive, and it was possible to get some pretty good photos of the bones.

In addition to the bones, there are replicas of several of the creatures that lived there, informational displays, a real apatosaurus skull, and a long mural depicting what the area might have looked like in those prehistoric days. Access to the viewing area is via shuttle from the visitor center, a ride of only three or four minutes.

My visit to the quarry was my final activity of the day; before that I drove the 11-mile road to the Cub Creek area, known as the Tour of the Tilted Rocks. This route goes through endless scenic areas, with 15 "official" stops listed in the guide book. Much of it is near or along the Green River, and most of it features sandstone formations.

At least four of the stops are where people of the Fremont culture created petroglyphs a thousand years ago. Usually it requires a short walk from the road to the cliff face to get a good look. At one point artifacts were found a number of years ago that date back 7,000 years.

Along the way the road goes through some private land, where the Chew Ranch is still being worked by the same family that homesteaded it in the early 1900s.

Past this point the pavement narrows then ends, with a fairly good dirt road the last mile or so. Some of the best petroglyps are along this section, but require a short but steep hike which I did not feel up to. At the end of the road is one of the more interesting man-made sites in the park, the cabin of Josie Bassett Morris, also referred to as Josie Jensen. The stories told of her in the guide book and in a handout I picked up at the Uintah County Heritage Museum are certainly colorful, and probably contain some exaggeration.

With five husbands, stories of association with Butch Cassidy, and other allegations, it's not surprising that she chose to move to this remote area at age 40, in 1913. She built a cabin, which was replaced by the current building in 1924, and lived there till just before her death at age 89 in 1963. She raised cattle, grew fruit and vegetables, and according to the stories, sold moonshine during prohibition to get cash for necessities. She was accused of rustling, and almost certainly butchered a stray cow or two that wandered on to her property, but was acquitted the only time serious charges were brought.

You can wander through the four-room, dirt floor cabin, see the fruit trees, and hike two short trails into box canyons where she corralled her cows. I took the shorter of these trails, and had some fantastic views of sandstone cliffs, juniper and piñon trees, as well as reeds and cottonwoods in the wetter areas. If you're a cow and have to be penned up, this is the place; you would have plenty to eat and about ten acres to wander around in.

Driving back out, I turned off the main road to the Split Mountain area. This is a place where the Green River flows through a deep narrow canyon, giving the impression that the river cut through the hard rock of the mountain, rather than taking an easier route through softer material nearby. In fact, the river is much younger than the mountain. There is a campground, picnic area, and boat ramp by the river.

Although it was early afternoon, I was ready for a rest and something to eat, so I returned to the motel, where I stayed the rest of the day, except for a short walk down the street.

July 5: There were a couple of hiking areas that I bypassed yesterday, mostly because it was late in the day and a bit too warm for anything ambitious. I got up a little after six so I could do my hiking before it warmed up. The trail that intrigued me most was the Sound of Silence Trail, the second stop on the Cub Creek Road. According to the guide book, this trail "will take you into an arid landscape of towering stone walls, dark red paths, and solitude."

All of this is true, with some disclaimers. I certainly had solitude - I did not see another person on the entire hike. The land is arid right now, but the trail follows a dry wash most of the time, and from the flattened-down vegetation and obvious water sculpted land along the side, there was a lot of water runoff earlier this year, either from rain or snowmelt. Along the upper part of the wash there is enough moisture underground to sustain a number of large cottonwood trees. And somehow animals are getting a drink - I saw at least a dozen or more lizards of two or three species, and ten or twelve rabbits, two cottontails and the rest pigmy rabbits. These smaller rabbits had a tendency to sit still while I watched and photographed them. I'm not sure how that works as a survival technique. There were also many deer tracks along the trail.

The trail is a three mile round-trip loop, connecting with another trail. I didn't go all the way, and came back the way I went in, probably hiking about a mile each way. The sign at the trailhead makes it sound like they really don't want you to hike it. Warnings there and on line include an admonition to carry a gallon of water per person (the guide book says a half gallon); "sections of the trail can be difficult to follow," "this is mountain lion and black bear country," "the trail is easy at first, but gets more difficult," and "there is no shade on this trail." Despite all this, the dramatic beauty of the area makes it well worth a visit.

I went through a couple of difficult areas, but they were very short, and my new hiking poles came in very handy at these places. For the most part, it was level or a very gentle rise up the wash. Eventually the trail left the wash but stayed parallel to it. At the place I turned back, it was going back down to the wash, and the terrain ahead was rounded dirt hills rather than rock formations. Since I got started at 8:30, there was shade on the western side of the bank and the large rocks, and a couple of places where there was a good sitting rock. At mid-day, these areas would be in the sun.

After I got back to the car, I continued on the dirt road nearly to the end, to the next to last stop. This is the location of the best collection of petroglyphs on the tour. I didn't see them yesterday because it requires a short but very steep hike up through the talus slope to the base of the cliff, about a third of a mile. Today I had more energy and made the hike with no difficulty, taking short slow steps on the steepest parts.

The masterpiece here is a large lizard etched into an area of desert varnish, resulting in a striking light tan on black effect. There are at least nine lizard figures in this area, and many others including human figures, a flute player and some abstract designs. In one place there is a family group that looks for all the world like the family silhouettes you see on the back windows of cars.

I completed the day with a last stop at the visitor center, then got gas and groceries when I got back to town, in preparation for my departure tomorrow. I also stopped at the Uinta County Museum. They are still unpacking after moving from a much smaller location into what used to be the library. They have a nice collection of artifacts from the county's early days, including cowboy and Indian items. They have dozens of photos of the Ute tribe, dating from the late 1800s forward. There's also a display devoted to the notorious Josie Bassett.

An employee told me that in the old building they had no storage space, and had to display everything in a disorganized, crowded way. Now they are able to put together more meaningful displays. Later in July they are doing a display in conjunction with the Smithsonian on how and why people moved across the nation.

5:45 p.m.: There has been a fire north of here for the last two hours or so, probably a brush fire. There were big clouds of smoke, and still are. For a while the sun was dark red and almost dark enough to look at. My car is covered with white ashes. As of 7 p.m. a lot of the smoke has cleared and the ash fall seems to have ended.

About Vernal: The town seems bigger than its population of just under 10,000 would indicate. I think that's because it is strung out along US 40 for five miles or so, so it's long but not wide. It's the county seat of Uinta County, and is located in the Uinta Basin 20 miles west of the Colorado border, and 30 miles south of Wyoming. Considering its proximity to Dinosaur National Monument, it's no surprise to see a number of businesses with a dinosaur theme, fossil stores, plaster dinosaurs, etc.. It's also the home of a substantial museum, the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum (say that ten times fast. Or even once). And a block or two west on the opposite side of Main Street is the Uintah County Heritage Museum. There is also a satellite branch of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum, which has its main headquarters in Salt Lake City.

When I drove out of town the morning of the 4th, the streets were lined with chairs, in anticipation of an Independence Day parade, which I of course missed. The main street is also lined with flags and planters overflowing with petunias - very festive. The town is so patriotic that they set off fireworks till almost midnight on the Fourth, and fairly late on the third.

   

Colorado and Dinosaur National Monument

July 6: This day actually started with my final Utah adventure, a visit to Utah Natural History Museum in Vernal. This is a wonderful facility, with displays that will satisfy everyone from young kids to those who want to learn everything there to know about the area.

The focus is on the geology of the area and the fossil record. There is a lab where they are working on various restoration projects, including stabilizing and cleaning a pair of mammoth tusks. You can't enter the controlled environment, but large windows with signs explain what is being done.

There are literally hundreds of mineral samples, including rock that goes back to the earliest days of the earth, nearly four billion years old. There are many fossils and bones of animals ancient and modern, and paintings, dioramas and displays of what things may have been like in pre-historic times. Outside there are a number of life-size dinosaur models, as well as a wooly mammoth that looks like he might just turn his head as if to say "are you lookin' at me?"

In the main entry there is a cast of a complete apatosaurus skeleton, the huge plant-eater that we used call brontosaurus. There is also an excellent display of Indian projectile points, in such a variety of colors that I could only think they were able to shape any kind of rock.

I spent about 90 minutes there, and decided if my great grandson becomes a dinosaur nut like his uncle Mike was, I would gladly bring him to this museum.

When I finished there, I had a short drive of 20 miles to the Colorado border, and just beyond that, the town of Dinosaur. I drove on through another mile or so to the Canyon Visitor Center of Dinosaur National Monument, to get information on what I can do the next three days. I had already done a lot of research on line, and of course had literature I picked up in the Utah section of the monument, but I did get some information on things to see just outside the park that I was not aware of, including a place where wild horses can be seen.

There was a 1/4 mile nature trail starting at the visitor center, so I decided to walk that. I think it would have been interesting if the trail guide container had not been empty. As it was, all I could tell was that I was walking through sage brush, and I've been doing that since June 22. I decided to just let it count as my exercise for the day.

I drove back to Dinosaur and went to the Colorado welcome center, where I got a map and information on an area to see near where I am staying, the Canyon Pintado Historic District.

I had wanted to stay in Dinosaur, but could not book its only motel on line, and they never returned my call, so I was forced to choose a place in Rangely, 20 miles away. Looking at the motel in Dinosaur as I drove by, I think I was lucky.

I got to Rangely about 2 p.m. and got checked. I brought in all the stuff I need to make this my home for the next four nights, did some laundry, and had lunch. Or maybe it's supper like back on the farm; it's definitely my last big meal of the day.

July 7: Today's adventure was a 110 mile round trip, 40 of those getting from Rangely to the park entrance and back. The road I took into the park is a little over 30 miles one way from US 40, with lots of good places to stop along the way. I stopped at all of them.

The first stopping point is the Plug Hat Butte picnic area and trail. The butte is a flat-topped mountain, with light colored sandstone above, and red rock around the base. The road passes to the east of the butte, revealing a dramatic canyon to the north. A short, mostly paved trail from the picnic area takes you out to the edge of this canyon, with views to the Utah section of the park to the west. Across the road, another trail leads out on the butte on that side, to where the highway passes between Plug Hat and this butte. There are also more views of the canyon to the north, and of the lower country along US 40 to the south. This trail has interpretive signs along the way.

Some of the view points along the 30 mile drive are somewhat similar to each other, with the views to the west generally less interesting. The vistas on the opposite side of the road are mostly of the canyons that contain the Yampa and Green Rivers, which come together at Echo Park, one of the areas where the Powel Expedition was able to rest and catch its breath between dangerous and challenging runs down the rapids.

Most of these turnouts have interpretative signs, but some of them, instead of telling what you are looking at, focus on how bad people are, editorializing on air pollution, noise, and development. Even if the points made are valid, I'd rather read about how the land was formed and the names of features I'm looking at.

The two best viewpoints that are accessible by car are Canyon Overlook and Echo Park Overlook. I believe the first one is probably the highest point on the road. In addition to good looks at the river canyons, you can picnic near Douglas fir and aspen trees. As I drove out the road to the overlook, there was a pronghorn antelope resting in the ditch right next to the road. When I got close, he got up and moved into the field, then stood there and posed for a photo.

At the Echo Park Overlook you can see a little bit of the river and Steamboat Rock, which marks the river junction. You can also see the twisted canyons through which the rivers and their tributaries run, an endless sweep of canyons within canyons, carved rock cliffs, and flat planes making up the different levels.

The road ends at Harpers Corner, where the best views are seen by hiking the two-mile trail. There is a trail guide available at the start, and 16 posts marking either features you can see or explaining geological and historical information. In the latter category, down in the canyon are some buildings from the historic Chew Ranch, the same people who now ranch on the Green near the western part of the monument. A narrow dirt road into this area is visible, and in one place it runs through a canyon that appears barely wide enough for a vehicle.

You also get good views of the river, both in the Echo Park area, and on the west side of the ridge, the Green River as it runs into an open area where it meanders slowly before raging through the canyon of Split Mountain.

This trail mostly follows a long ridge, and after I had hiked most of it, it started down hill, meaning an uphill trek coming back. I was getting tired, my water was warm and running low, and I was hungry, so I turned back at this point. I was content that I had seen the best views, and got an hour or more of exercise besides.

By the time I got back to the car I was ready for a fast trip home, and not making ten stops along the way did speed up the journey. I did stop at one place to photograph an old cattle guard and corral, but I made good time getting back to Rangely. I stopped at the market for a couple of items, got gas, and came back to the motel and finished off the last of the pizza from my stop at Roosevelt, UT.

July 8: Today I did the longest excursion from my home base that I have ever done, 232 miles round trip. That's farther than my next destination, but no, I didn't leave for Rocky Mountain early, I went to Dinosaur Monument again. In this case, it was the far northeast corner of the monument, a remote and isolated place even in an area that is relatively remote and isolated overall.

My destination was the Gates of Lodore, where the Green River enters a rugged canyon, after wandering quietly for about 30 miles through an open valley. When John Wesley Powell and his crew camped here in 1869, they recognized that they were entering dangerous and exciting country. They named the place for a poem by Robert Southey, "The Cataract of Lodore," whose words proved to be prophetic.

"All at once and all o'er, with a mighty uproar - And this way the water comes down from Lodore," he wrote. Sure enough, just below the gate one of the expedition's boats was wrecked in a rapids they named Disaster Falls. They salvaged much of their equipment, and learned a lot about navigating the unknown rapids of the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Today rafters float down the river with relative ease, and the really smart explorers, like yours truly, hike the trail from a campground down to an overlook where the canyon starts.

I had previously asked a ranger, and myself as well, if the long drive was worth it, but I have the time, I'm here, and it would be silly to pass it up. So I started out at 8 a.m., taking a shortcut across via Rio Blanco County Road 1 from just west of town to US 40 at Blue Mountain, more a sign than a town. From here it was about sixty miles to my turnoff at Colorado 318, and another 46 miles north and west to the dirt road that leads into the area. I think THIS is the loneliest road in America - I saw a half dozen vehicles in 50 miles, and there was only one person at the campground where the road ends - the campground host. However, rafters were expected.

A few miles in on 318 what should I find but my old friend, the Yampa River - well above the canyons where I spotted it yesterday, and flowing leisurely through a broad green valley, where it supported cattle and crops. However, most of the drive was the usual high desert, with sage brush and in the higher spots, piñon and juniper.

The trail starts at the very end of the camp ground, and is only 3/4 mile each way, with a few steps and switchbacks at the start, then a gentle up and down walk. The river is visible nearly all the time, and the opening of the canyon is seen from various angles. Where the trail ends you can see down into the canyon a few hundred yards, with dramatic rock walls towering above - surely a daunting if challenging sight for Powell and his men. Unlike other canyon views where I was looking down from high above, this time I was only about 100 feet higher than the river.

Was it worth the drive? I'd say yes, once. I would probably not make that long drive again, although I'd visit other parts of the monument again. Of course, if you could stay at the tiny town where 318 leaves US 40, your round trip would be "only" 100 miles.

July 9: Unlike yesterday's outing, today was probably the shortest of the entire trip so far. I scheduled myself for three days in the eastern part of Dinosaur National Monument, but this was a day more than I needed. There are other roads into the park, but they are dirt and mostly limited to high-clearance 4-wheel drive, which does not apply to my Honda.

Fortunately the woman at the Colorado Welcome Center in Dinosaur had steered me to the Canyon Pintado Historic District on Colorado highway 139 south of Rangely. The chamber of commerce booklet that I picked up that day lists sixteen sites with historical interest along the highway, of which eight are in the official historic district. The book gives the mileage post reference for each site and a description of what to look for, and most of them have signs.

The one I spent the most time at was Four Mile Draw, which has a loop trail that is probably about a mile total. The book says there are "a great number of panels," but I only saw one. An old line shack, which could be mistaken for a pile of old boards and logs, helped make the walk well worthwhile. The one panel I saw was a pictograph, meaning it's painted on the rock, not chipped in as are petroglyphs. There are a number of informational signs along this trail, but unfortunately they are faded to where they are unreadable - essentially off white lettering on a white background. The same problem has occurred with other signs along the road.

I made three other stops, one of which required a 15 minute uphill hike. This is the White Bird site, which has bird paintings, which I had had not seen anywhere else. There are also other figures.

The best one, featuring the ubiquitous Kokopelli, as well as a lance and another figure, was visible from the road, and could be seen fairly close with a 100 foot walk. There is a problem here: The rock has cracked and is in danger of falling, so a cable has been placed right across the middle of the figure, and bolted to the rock (I used PhotoShop to remove the cable in my photo).

The third spot is said to have camel figures, but after making my way through a trail of dry, flattened down grass, I came to a very steep ascent which I chose not to try.

Of course, throughout the area there are canyons, plateaus, and striking rock cliffs, as well as the usual vegetation - sagebrush, greasewood and saltbush in the lower elevations, and juniper and piñon on the top of he cliffs above.

When I returned to town I spent about a half hour at the Rangely Museum. It has a number of old, rusty, mostly broken artifacts outside, but there are nice displays inside the three buildings, all historic structures that were moved to the location from elsewhere in town.

There is a particularly fine collection of Indian projectile points, from various areas of Colorado, identified as to type and location. Another similar collection identifies the time period of the object, going back to 2,000 B.C.

After returning to the motel to rest and shower, I walked across the street to a Mexican restaurant. I had considering patronizing the Subway that is attached to the motel, but wanted a hot meal after a week of sandwiches and re-heated pizza. The dinner I had was OK, but made me long for the many wonderful Mexican restaurants we have at home.

 

About Rangely: This seems like a very out of the way place, and indeed, it is said to have been one of the last places in the nation to be settled. It's claim to fame is oil production, and it is the location of a major field that was developed in the 1930s and produced 815 million barrels of oil. "Settled" seems to mean the development of the town, since there have been ranchers in the area at least since the late 1800s, but it was the oil boom of the 30s and 40s that brought a sudden population of 5,000. In the 2000 census it was a little over 2,000.

Rangely is located in Rio Blanco County on the White River. I first thought that it was the county seat, since I did not see any other town in the county on the Colorado state map. However, I was misreading a stream as a county line, and the honor actually belongs to Meeker, about 60 miles from here. Like most of this area, it is high desert country, with sage brush and similar vegetation.

South of here is the Canyon Pintado Historic District, home to the largest concentration of Fremont archaeological sites, with many petroglyphs and pictographs.

There is a fairly diverse bunch of businesses, a community college, elementary and high school, Ace Hardware, Family Dollar Store, and a number of motels, restaurants and gas station/mini-marts. The economy is obviously still based strongly on oil, although there has been ranching here since long before the oil boom.

 

Colorado & Rocky Mountain National Park

July 10: With a relatively short drive of a little under 240 miles, I got a late start and drifted and wandered from Rangely to Granby, near Rocky Mountain National Park. I managed to take over seven hours to make the drive, with lots of stops to take pictures, and a lunch break at Steamboat Springs.

Instead of returning to US 40 the way I had come in or the way I went on route to the Gates of Ladore, I continued east on Colorado 64 for 60 miles to Meeker. Along the way I was following the White River, and driving through a wide valley, often with sandstone walls, but with small farms and agricultural crops, mostly hay. This was another of those lonesome roads.

At Meeker I took Colorado 13 north, leaving the White River behind, and going up over Nine Mile Gap Summit. This is still sagebrush and juniper country, but more open and with fewer sandstone cliffs. There were still some of these, but the country got greener as I went on. When I came down from the summit I soon crossed a river, and guess what - the Yampa once again.

When I reached Craig at the junction of US 40, I turned east and was in the Yampa Valley for many miles. Here it is a very wide valley, with lots of farming, plus fishing access and a state park. My next stop was in Steamboat Springs, a well-known vacation spot for both summer and winter. I stopped here at the Burger House and had a very good hamburger with shoestring fries.

Just past this place the road starts up into the mountains, and into national forest land. The slopes are heavily forested, with tall evergreens instead of the endless piñon and juniper I have seen since the first day. I also made several photo stops along here, one of my favorites being a place with an old house off in the field, and a wooden corral and cattle chute by the road.

From Steamboat Springs on it was obvious I was heading into the storm. The road went up and away from the Yampa, but soon came down to another river, which proved to be the Colorado. I've seen the Colorado River in California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah, but this was the first time I had seen it in Colorado.

Just after the highway went through the small town of Kremmling, 26 miles from Granby, a few raindrops fell, and in less than a minute it was pouring hard. I had rain off and on, mostly on and mostly pretty hard, for about 20 miles. Then at Hot Sulfur Springs the road veered to the north where the sky was partly blue, and I had only very light rain into Granby.

The motel is reasonably nice, but best of all you can look out the window right into Rocky Mountain National Park, complete with rugged peaks with patches of snow.

July 11: Today I drove into the park, a very scenic drive. US 36 from just west of town goes uphill past Granby Lake (the second largest reservoir in Colorado), and the smaller Shadow Mountain Lake and Grand Lake. Along the road by all the lakes there are many businesses catering to tourists, offering lodging, food, guide service, fishing and ski lodges.

The road is known as the Trail Ridge Road, and goes up over 11,000 feet and down to Estes Park outside the eastern boundary of the national park. I did not want to drive the entire road today, and I knew about only one short hike, so as always, I stopped at the visitor center. A ranger at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center gave me some good advice on hikes and places to see on the west side of the park, and I set off for the Coyote Valley Trailhead.

This is an easy, level half-mile walk along the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley, which is Arapaho for Coyote. The river begins at the head of this valley, about 15 miles away. On the south side of the river the forest and hills are very close, but on the north side there is a huge meadow which runs for several miles. Across the meadow are views of 12,397 foot Baker Mountain and other mountain vistas. There are also many wildflowers - I counted at least 17 separate varieties. There are informational signs at several places along the trail, and it's an easy walk for young and old.

My next stop was at the Holzwarth Historic Site. There is a homesteader's cabin here from 1902. Although he stayed long enough to claim his 160 acres under the Homestead Act, the hard life of the Rockies eventually proved too much for him. He left in 1911 and was not heard from again. A fellow tourist speculated that his bones may be lying out in the woods nearby. The sign is not clear on the nature of his leaving.

A half mile walk from the road takes you to an early dude ranch, which I'll discuss tomorrow, since I did not take that walk today. Instead I continued up the road, thinking to go as far as I felt like or till the storms started, whichever came first. On the way up I saw many cars pulled off the road at an unmarked spot, a sure sign of wildlife. I didn't want to attempt a U-turn so I went on by.

A few miles up the road, after it started really climbing and presenting many 15 MPH curves, there was thunder and a few drops of rain, so I started back down. Many cars were still at the presumed wildlife spot, so I stopped, and soon saw that a cow moose was feeding in the stream below. A lot of people scrambled down the bank, within 50 to 100 feet of the animal, who continued her meal as if curious humans were a normal part of her day (they probably are).

Continuing back down the mountain, I turned off at Grand Lake Village, where a dirt side road leads to a trailhead. Ambitious hikers can choose several destinations, the farthest one nine miles in. Hikers like me take the 1/3 mile trail to Adams Falls. Here a fairly large stream known as East Inlet crashes down over the rocks, making a series of cascades and drops, and rushing through a narrow chute at the bottom.

Although this area is above 8,000 feet, it seemed low and warm compared to the other places I had been, and I was glad to get back to my car and turn on the air conditioner. I drove back to Granby, went out to eat and did some grocery shopping, and was in for the day by 4 p.m. As I drove from the restaurant to the grocery store, there was lightning in the east, a wind came up, and I felt drops of rain as I went in and out of the store. I got back to the motel and got everything carried in just in time to miss getting wet.

As I was writing this I had to stop, get my camera, and go outside. The setting sun was hitting the snow dotted Rocky Mountains that I can see through my window, presenting a much better view than I had yesterday when I arrived right after a storm.

July 12: Yesterday I  decided to make some changes in my schedule. I had planned three full days at Rocky Mountain, but that was proving to be more than I needed. Unless you like to do long hikes, Rocky Mountain is kind of a "drive through" park, with some places to do short walks. The Trail Ridge Road goes through the park to Estes Park, and I was planning to leave that way, so I decided to cancel my last night and make that drive on the way to my next destination, on what would have been my third day.

Today I returned to the Holzwarth Historic Site, and walked the half mile in to the old dude ranch. The Holzwarths came from Germany in the 1860s, and ended up here after working at various jobs and operating a saloon and lodge in Denver. Prohibition put an end to that enterprise, so they decided to homestead along the Colorado River, on land that was right next to the park.

Eventually they ended up establishing a dude ranch, where people could stay in primitive cabins and dine on Mama Holzwarth's cooking. After the older couple died, their son continued the enterprise, and remained in the area until the 1970s, when he decided to retire. Both the National Park Service and developers who wanted to build a ski lodge were negotiating for the property. Finally he agreed to sell to the Nature Conservancy, which would turn the land over to the Park Service, as long as they promised to keep the original buildings intact and make them available for public visits.

Born of parents who arrived penniless in the 19th century, the younger Holzwarth walked away with over two million dollars, and the land was added to the park in 1975.

There are several volunteer rangers on duty who give an interesting talk on the history of the place, and conduct tours through the family home. Several other buildings can be entered, including the earliest cabin and a taxidermy shop operated by the family patriarch. Of particular interest is a sod roofed ice house which kept 125 100-pound blocks of ice through the summer. The ice was collected in the winter from Grand Lake, using various tools designed for the purpose, and hauled to the ranch on wagons.

As I was getting ready to walk back to the parking area I felt a few drops of rain, and they continued throughout my walk, but never turned into anything serious.

On my way in there was another moose sighting, so I stopped, but this one was not as easy to see as the one yesterday.

July 13: This was the best day of my visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, with a drive through spectacular scenery on the Trail Ridge Road. I got an early start, in hope of getting over the mountains ahead of the thunderstorms. However, when I looked at the Rockies from my window, there were just a few white clouds, unlike the previous two mornings, when storms were already building.

I got on the road just after 8 a.m. and drove past the places I had visited Friday and Saturday, seeing the daily moose along the way. The road soon began to climb and the curves often had a speed limit of 15 MPH, but it was not long before I had gone from a little over 8,000 feet at the entrance of the park to over 10,000 at Fairview Curve. Here you can see the length of the Kawuneeche Valley and the Never Summer Mountains above it, the only volcanic mountains in the park.

My next stop was just past a sign that read "two miles above sea level (10,560 feet)," where a marmot scurried off into the trees when I got out of the car. At this point I started seeing the alpine tundra area above the tree line on the side of the mountains above me.

I won't describe every single stop, since I pulled over nearly every place that had a parking area, delighting in the always changing view of mountains and tundra. (You can read a stop-by-stop description here.) One significant stop was where the road crosses the Continental Divide, at 10,759 foot Milner Pass. Interestingly, this is not the highest point on the road.

Not far above this the trees end, and the road is above tree line at 11,500 feet or more for eleven miles. Although treeless, the land here is still covered with life, over a hundred species of plants. During my trip, wild flowers were abundant.. There are also large patches of snow along the road throughout this area.

At the Alpine Visitor Center there was a very cool breeze, and I put on my sweatshirt for the first time since June Lake. At the back of the center you can look down into a glacial cirque. I've looked up at them before, but had never been above one.

Once you go "over the top" at 12,183 feet, the scenery changes, but is still breath-taking. Many of the designated views along here are of "parks," the term the mountain men used to describe meadows. At one point you can walk along a path at the side of the road and see four or five such features. Instead of rugged peaks, the hills are softer looking on this side.

The descent seems to go on a long time, and it's good to remember that the "bottom" is around 5,000 feet. As soon as you leave the park you are in the city of Estes Park, from where the road follows the Big Thompson River for a number of miles. The river descends a half mile in elevation as you drive down the canyon to Loveland; it runs into the South Platte south of Greeley.

Loveland is a fairly big town, and marks the beginning of farm land, although there is a lot of development along the road to Greeley. This is an even bigger city, but beyond that the road runs through the countryside, with only a few small towns. It was along this route that I did my first driving on an Interstate, I-76, which took me through Fort Morgan and to my overnight stop in Sterling, CO. Although my total drive was only 209 miles, it took from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to complete it, testimony to the many places to stop and enjoy the surroundings in Rocky Mountain National Park. (I take that back - later I remembered that I drove about 30 miles on I-15 in Utah.)

I had wanted to stay in Fort Morgan, but there were no rooms available. The road I wanted to take the next day left I-76 there, but I had to go up the interstate another 30 miles or so and stay at Sterling.

Driving over the mountains there were two or three misty drops when a small dark cloud was overhead, but nothing you could call rain. Down in the plains it was a different matter. Rain started about 30 miles from Sterling, and continued on and off till just before I arrived. It was hard at times, but nothing like the blinding rain coming into Granby last week.

Thus ends the part of this trip where I commune with nature. Starting Tuesday, I commune with friends and relatives.

About Granby: Granby is a nice, small town in a beautiful setting. It's located just below 8,000 feet at the junction of US 40 and US 34, with views into Rocky Mountain National Park. The population is a little over 1,850, the largest town in Grand County.

It has a variety of businesses, including Ace Hardware, several gas station/mini-marts, a number of restaurants, a general store that advertises "Christian books and electronics," and many other businesses. The big supermarket is located two miles out from downtown, in a shopping center that includes a McDonald's and a Subway, seemingly the only chain eateries in town.

Of course, its economy is based mostly on the tourist industry, with the national park, Arapahoe National Forest, many lakes, and a number of ski lodges a few miles away.

   

Missouri & Indiana

July 14: The days of driving to enjoy the surroundings are over, and now I'm driving just to get somewhere. I'll be visiting friends and relatives for the next two weeks or so, and doing some long drives with overnight stops when my destinations are more than a day apart.

Because of having to go out of my way to find a place to stay last night, I found myself back on US 6 heading east from Sterling. Much of the way US 34 is contiguous with 6. This route took me into Nebraska, where I turned south on US 83 at McCook, into Kansas, and then east on US 36 at Oberlin. I will be on this highway for all of tomorrow's drive and some of the next day.

My favorite signs along the way were for the names of several gentle creek valleys in Nebraska, all of which were "something" Canyon.

All along the way, even in eastern Colorado, it was like typical Midwest territory, with little towns every ten miles or so. I went through Fleming, Haxton, Paoli and Holyoke in Colorado; Imperial, Enders, Wauneta, Culbertson and McCook in Nebraska; and Oberlin, Norton, Phillipsburg, Agra, Kensington, Athol, Smith Center, Mankato, Montrose, Courtland, Scandia and into Belleville in Kansas. The only one of these towns I had ever heard of was Oberlin. Most are very small, with one traffic light and more often none. Imperial, McCook, Oberlin and Norton were the biggest, but only one of them was big enough to have a Wal-Mart (and I can't recall which it was).

In Kansas I stopped at a sign proclaiming that I was near the geographical center of the continental United States, a little over three miles away.

On this two-lane highway I had to be especially alert for two things - slow moving farm vehicles on the road, and trucks with wide loads, typically big farm equipment. I met a truck hauling a tractor bigger than a homesteader's cabin, another with a combine, and others with various unidentified pieces of large equipment. Fortunately the traffic was light enough that I could always pass a slow-moving tractor within a few moments.

The weather was sunny and in the mid 80s, with a strong breeze nearly all the time. Although people say these areas are flat, I disagree. Most of the way, particularly in Kansas, I was driving through rolling hills, comparable in appearance to what we see heading into the low Sierra foothills in central California. Of course, California's hills are brown in this season, while the ones I saw today were green.

I arrived at 5 p.m., and did some laundry, ate the rest of the Subway sandwich I got for lunch, and bought ice. Now at 9:20 it's just getting fairly dark, and I'm thinking about getting to bed in the next fifteen minutes or so.

July 15: I had a pleasant and relatively short drive of about 280 miles today, going through typical Midwest country similar to yesterday. US 36 is pretty much a straight line across northern Kansas, with lots of ups and downs. It's a two-lane road except when it goes through towns. The countryside is unrelentingly agricultural, with corn and soy beans predominating. There are some beef and dairy cattle, and some fields that look like they might have had wheat, with the stalks gone, probably baled into straw.

As I approached the Missouri state line, the road became a four lane highway (not a freeway), and I crossed the Missouri River into St. Joseph. This was by far the largest town I've been in since leaving Fresno. There were a couple of traffic lights on the highway, but the road was still divided four lane, and I was through the city and out in the country in less than ten minutes.

The rolling hill country continued across Missouri, but it seemed there were more trees, with woodland bordering most fields. Where there were no crops being grown, the land was still green. The road no longer had long straight stretches, but gently curved with the land.

In Kansas, the highway went right through every town, which I expected and enjoyed. However, in Missouri each town seems to have a Business 36 exit, and you never actually get into the town itself.

My destination was Macon, MO, and my first visit with people, in this case a friend I had not seen for 26 years (although we have talked on the phone a few times). Jim McGee grew up in California, and lived in or near Fresno for many years, leaving there in 1988. Back in the day we visited each other, hung out with a group of other friends, went camping, and were well acquainted with each other's families.

Jim drove down from La Plata, about 30 miles north of here, and we spent some time catching up. I showed him pictures of my family and other people he knew, including recent photos that showed how they had or had not changed since he last saw them. One of the biggest changes was my older grandson Johnny, who was four when Jim left California, and is now a 30 year old father of 1.5 kids.

We went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant that Jim was familiar with, then drove by a nearby lake where he frequently goes fishing. After returning to the hotel I placed a call to Gary Reed in Fresno, one of our most frequent companions back in the "old days," and they talked for 20 minutes or so. We took a few pictures of each other and some together, and had a very nice visit. It's interesting how long time friends can go so long without seeing each other, but then sit down and pick up right where we left off.

July 16: Today was a long and sometimes frustrating day. I had a 428 mile drive ahead of me when I started out before 7 a.m., on my way to visit June Watkins Ganshorn, a distant cousin. It ended up being 490 miles, and the added time was more than it would normally take to drive the extra 62 miles, since correcting my errors involved stopping and studying the map to find the way back to the right road, and then traveling on state highways with a slowdown at every little town.

The trip started off fine, with the road taking me east through the last miles of Missouri, through Mark Twain's home town of Hannibal, and into Illinois. There had been a lot more traffic this morning, but as US 36 became contiguous with I-72 at the Illinois line, the number of vehicles on the road dropped dramatically.

Except for about 50 miles total in Utah and Colorado, this was the first time I had driven on an Interstate. Since I was no longer driving to see what was there, but driving to get somewhere, I was glad to have the faster road for what was going to be a longer drive than my daily average.

Just before Springfield, the state capital, I-55 joined my road, so I was on I-72, I-55 and US 36. I expected I-55 to exit to the north, while I would continue on 72. Apparently it was I-72 that exited, while I stayed on what seemed to be the "same" highway I had been on since the border. It was about 20 miles before there was a sign indicating that I was on I-55 north only. I got off at the next exit, drove into a tiny village, and found a place to park while I studied the map. I saw that there was a state highway that would take me across from I-55 to I-72. I got back on the Interstate and drove the eight miles or so to the state road. It proved to be a fairly slow route, since it started with a 30 MPH trip through a fairly large town, and through two or three more places with low speed limits. Thinking back on part of a conversation I overheard at a rest stop before I discovered my error, I think there was another driver who missed that exit, so the signs probably are not as clear as they should be.

However, I finally got onto the right Interstate, and soon after made the change correctly from I-72 to I-57 to I-74, which took me east into Indiana. The rolling hills that I had driven through since leaving the rocky mountains continued for most of my drive today, but as I neared my destination, the land became flat.

Eventually I ran into more trouble. Because the route from Macon to Etna Green, IN, was not very direct, I had to do a lot of zig zagging on various US and state roads. At Lafayette I needed to get on state 24, which would take me most of the way to my destination. However, I did not see a sign for that road where I expected it, so kept going on a US highway. I knew I should soon cross an Interstate, but I kept going long past when that should have happened. When I checked the map I found I was going southeast, parallel to the Interstate. I was able to take a short drive on another state road, get on the Interstate, and finally get off on 24. However, from the time I arrived at Lafayette till I headed northeast on the correct road, it was at least 45 minutes.

Of course, I always eventually get where I am going, and finally arrived at the home of June Watkins Ganshorn, a few miles north of Etna Green. She is a distant cousin (3rd cousin twice removed if you're keeping track). Her great grandfather and my great great great grandfather were brothers. She and my mother somehow got in touch a number of years ago, since both were working on Watkins family genealogy. They became good friends, and my parents visited them on their many trips to Ohio, and the Ganshorns visited the Estels in Mariposa.

I had met June and her late husband Cap only once, about 1996 at a Watkins reunion in Ohio, but I kept in touch with her by phone after my mother died, usually calling once a year to check in. We had a short visit and a light supper, and by this time it was getting late (being now in Eastern time), and I needed to rest from my long stressful day, so I went to bed.

July 17: After we finished breakfast and got ready to go out into the world, June took me to see where she was born and grew up, one of 14 children, two of whom died in infancy. Along the way she pointed out various farms that are now or once were owned by her various relatives.

The farm where she lived was homesteaded by her grandfather, Robert Watkins, and is still owned by the third generation to occupy the land.

Next we went to the Sand Ridge Cemetery, where her parents and grandparents are buried. Her grandfather Robert was the youngest of four brothers who enlisted in the Union army in the Civil War. They joined at the same time, fought in the same unit together throughout the war, and all returned home safely to live to an old age. An unusual aspect of this burying ground is that there are a large number of small cactus plants growing there.

After that we went to another cemetery where her husband, Earl "Cap" Ganshorn is buried, along with other relatives.

Finally we drove to the town of Bourbon and went to the pizza parlor there, where one of June's daughters-in-law works, and had lunch. During our drive we saw two fawns go into a corn field.

Before leaving town I got ice and a battery for my computer mouse, which suddenly started misbehaving. I don't think the battery fixed the problem, but I can't be sure. Using the little finger pad on the laptop is tedious, so I may have to get a new mouse. And to add insult to injury, the ice melted! (Well, actually not yet, but I just know it will happen.) (The next day the mouse worked fine.)

When we got back to the house, we spent quite a bit of time looking at photos and genealogy information. June started working on her family genealogy before the days of home computers, and has continued to maintain the records the "old fashioned" way. She has dozens of binders for the different family branches, and has everything very well organized. Her photos are in binders by subject or family also.

June lives in the 100-year old house that she moved into right after she and Cap were married, about 60 years ago. They have a large amount of land in corn and soy beans, currently being farmed by renters.

July 18: Today's drive was delightfully short, 153 miles to Maumee, OH, a suburb of Toledo. I went back south on Indiana 19 to US 30, east to State 15, then north to good old US 6. This took me east into Ohio, and not long after crossing the border, I got on US 24 going northeast. A short drive on an Interstate took me to the off ramp just a few blocks from the Extended Stay America motel in Maumee.

These properties offer a full size refrigerator and kitchen with utensils, stove and sink, a nice change from making do in a regular motel room. The bed is in an area separated from the main "living room" by an arch, and there's a large opening between the kitchen and bedroom, making the room seem very open and spacious.

Today's travels started in the flat area of Indiana, but I was soon going through gentle rolling country. This continued into Ohio, then it flattened out again, which I expected since I have been in this part of the state a number of times.

I have five full days here, and five people to visit, and I've scheduled all the days, so tomorrow I'll be seeing another cousin, Martha Evans. Her mother and my dad are first cousins, making us second cousins. After she graduated from high school in the 1960s, she came out to California and stayed with my parents and sister. She and Linda became good friends, and I've visited her in Ohio twice before, and always kept in touch.

She married a man from Merced, CA, and had four children. They have been divorced for many years, and I have not met her current husband Scott, but that will change tomorrow..

   

Ohio & Michigan

July 19: Around 11:30 I set off for cousin Martha's place, about twelve miles away in Swanton. Swanton and Delta were the two towns I heard about from my dad as a kid, although technically he grew up near Ai (pronounced A-eye). Although Wikipedia calls it a "ghost town," I hear there's a traffic light there now.

Martha grew up in Maumee, where I'm staying. Her mother and my dad were the same age and went to school together, and kept in touch throughout their lives; my sister and I have continued this tradition with Martha.

I had a bit of trouble finding Martha's house, because the numbers are not necessarily in order. However, when I called for help, it turned out I was only one driveway away, so no time was lost.

We last saw each other in the mid 1990s, so we had some catching up to do, although we exchange email regularly. The first bit of news she had was that my sister had just been there a few days earlier, but had left for Niagara Falls before I arrived in Ohio.

We toured her garden, which is spectacular with flowers and vegetables, tomatoes being the major crop right now. She also has some very tall mulleins, a plant that most consider a weed, which I have seen in just about every state and at every elevation I've been in.

We had already planned to hike in Oak Openings Preserve, so we headed there, just a few miles away. I hiked there during my time in Ohio in 2002, and I always selected one of the marked trails and watched the signs carefully. Today we just set off on the first trail near where we parked, which I assumed was fine because Martha has hiked there many times. We ended up walking a bit longer and farther than I would have preferred, because we were not sure where we were, although it turned out fine. I haven't done much walking since leaving the mountains, so it was good to get in a 90 minute walk, and it was pretty much all flat.

We went through an area where a tornado came through a few years ago, so there were lots of broken trees. Throughout the area we walked there are huge oak, ash, tulip, and maple trees, and many other trees and bushes, large and small. We also saw lots of wildflowers, and at one point about eight deer ran through the woods near us. Just after that we saw two fawns that probably had become separated from the main group.

The exercise gave us a good appetite for a light lunch when we got back to the house, then we talked, looked at pictures and rested up for the evening. Actually I did most of the resting while Martha made a potato salad and got other things ready for dinner. Her daughter Heidi came over, with twin daughters Vanessa and Natasha, and their friend Morgan, three lively six year olds.

Martha and I ate barbecued chicken, while the rest had vegetarian links, then we topped off the meal and the day with homemade blueberry pie a la mode (berries freshly picked that morning by Martha and Heidi).

Since it was nearly dark and it's been ten years since I drove the roads in this area, I depended on my GPS to get home, but it directed me to a longer, slower route than I had taken in the morning. When I got back to the hotel, I decided it would be useful to get out the map of the region that I had brought with me, and get reacquainted with the road system of Lucas and Fulton County.

July 20: Today started too early, although the result was good. It also started with a prediction of fog on my Weather Channel app, but a look out the window revealed hazy sunshine. Just a quarter mile into my drive, I encountered the fog, and drove through it off and on the first ten miles or so.

I attended the Vaughan Breakfast, a long established tradition. My grandma Estel's sister, Marjorie Clifton, married Kenneth Vaughan, and gave birth to ten children. These siblings, their children, and other relatives who are available or visiting the area have been meeting for breakfast at 8 a.m. on Sunday for many years. I attended quite a few of these breakfasts with my parents, and with Mikie in 2004.

Although many of the older generation are gone, their kids are getting involved, and today we had a group of eight, including two of the original siblings, and two from the next generation, plus spouses, a cousin from another line, and me.

For a long time they went to Valleywood Country Club, but changes in ownership and the menu caused them to look for a new location, which turned out to be Wings Station, in Swanton. Despite the name, this place has a large traditional breakfast menu, and I had my favorite, pancakes and bacon, two things I can't fix in a motel.

After breakfast, instead of returning "home," I drove west on US 20A (AKA Airport Highway) toward Delta, then turned right on County Road 5-2. Just off this road a couple miles north is Fulton Union Cemetery, where many family members are buried. This includes my great grandparents John and Pauline Estel, and his parents, Frederick and Augusta, the first Estels to come to America, from Germany in the 1850s. As well my paternal grandmother's parents, William and Aletha Gasche Clifton, are buried there. There are also many members of the Watkins family, both direct ancestors and distant relatives. My mother's parents, George and Opal Watkins Mason are among them, as well as her parents, K.K. and Tillie Watkins.

I walked around the cemetery, seeing many familiar last names I had heard my parents and grandparents mention, some of whom are also distant relatives. I was disappointed to see that Frederick Estel's limestone marker has become virtually unreadable, something I may try to remedy. His wife has a much newer-looking granite marker.

I returned to the motel to rest, read and write, then a little after three left for the Snyder residence northwest of Delta, stopping in Swanton to pick up some pizzas.

Annette Snyder is a half third cousin once removed, and I visited her and husband Rob and their three kids in 2002 with my parents, and in 2004 with Mikie. At that time they had added another son. Since my last visit, two more boys have been born, and oldest daughter Helena has joined the Army, so there were five kids and three adults present. It was a nice afternoon so we took the pizzas and sodas out to the picnic table, where everyone enjoyed a good dinner. We had a nice view of their pond, where Mikie and Jacob caught frogs ten years ago, of the evergreens that line three sides of their two-acre property, and of their large garden.

Luke and Dominic, the "new" kids, were cute and funny, and as active and excited as you'd expect from four and five year olds. It is fascinating to see the changes in Mark (only a year old when I last saw him), Catherine, now 13, and Jacob, who will be 16 in August.  Rob and Annette don't look any older, and I commend them for raising a delightful family.

After we ate, we toured the grounds, starting with the extensive garden. Besides a large array of vegetables, there are raspberries and blackberries, which Luke and Dom "thinned" as we walked through the area; and an extensive orchard with apple, apricot and peach trees. Behind the back row of evergreens are two walnut trees.

We finished the tour of the yard near the playground equipment, which includes some recycled climbing structures that Rob recycled from a nearby church when they bought new equipment. These structures include a train and a stage coach. All the kids, but primarily the younger two, demonstrated their climbing abilities.

The older kids have been raising rabbits for several years, and Jacob showed me the different varieties they have now. They've won a number of prizes showing them at fairs.

Before I left, Luke presented me with a picture he had colored, of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. It is safely stored in my brief case, and will receive an honored place on my refrigerator when I get home.

The delightful day ended all too soon, as Luke and Dom went off to bed. We said our goodbyes and I made the 22 mile drive back to Maumee. I was familiar enough with the road numbering system that I made this a "GPS-free" trip, but in the dark and in less familiar territory near the motel, I went two miles out of my way, and had to call on technology to get me back home.

July 21: Today was the first of two visits to Michigan, both to visit cousins named Nancy, who both live in yellow houses on lakes. In this case it was my second cousin, Nancy Dzierzawski and her husband Ron at Wampler's Lake. The actual town they are in is Brooklyn, MI, a few miles from the Ohio border, about a 60 mile drive from my motel. Nancy started doing genealogy research many years ago, and I had corresponded with her by email starting in the late 1990s, before I ever met her in person. Mother, Dad and I visited them during my trip here in 2002. She is the daughter of one of the ten Vaughan siblings.

Soon after I arrived we had a good lunch, including an unusual but very good salad. It has a name, which I can't remember. Then we went for a ride around the lake on their pontoon boat. There are many houses on the lake, ranging in size from small cottages to pretentious mansions. There is also a state park, Girl Scout camp, public access area, and some swampy territory where no one can build or approach the lake. At one point during the trip we saw one of three blue herons that make their home at the lake.

When we got back to the house Nancy connected her laptop to the flat screen TV and we looked through part of her genealogy data base. She has it very well organized, with literally thousands of names. She also has an extensive collection of photos on the computer, some that I had seen, and many new to me, going back four or five generations. She showed me a couple of connections to people I knew of, but didn't know were relatives.

Next we went across the street to a house they own that is used by their sons when they visit. An example of the difference between one side of the street and the other: The assessed value of the lakefront lot is about six times that of the other lot. Behind this house is a large shop where Ron has his pride and joy, a Model A Ford which was originally owned by Nancy's father. He took me for a ride around the block, my first time in such a vehicle since I was a very small child.

I had used my GPS to get there, but was able to return home without it, and without taking any unintended side trips.

July 22: Today was devoted to relatives of my paternal grandmother, descendants of the Clifton line, mostly Vaughans. One of Grandma's sisters married Kenneth Vaughn, and had ten children, of whom five are still living. One of them is Aletha Vaughan Schmidt, one of my Dad's cousins, and her house was my first stop.

She took me to Schmidt Brothers Farm, a huge operation just a block from her home. This was started by her late husband Bob and his brother, and has developed into a vast complex of greenhouses. Two of her sons drove us through the buildings on electric carts, and gave an explanation of what we were seeing.

There are 14 acres of greenhouse. Since their specialty is bedding plants, the flowers and vegetable you can buy in six packs or small pots, much of the area is empty right now, but they ship hundreds of thousands of plants each spring. Currently they have about 110,000 chrysanthemums starting to bud, and they are planting poinsettias for the Christmas trade. They will have around 75,000 of these.

Most of these plants are in the newest section, which is largely automated. The roof has panels that are open during the day. At night, or if there are storms, or if it gets too cool, they close automatically. The mums require short days to force blooming, so there are blackout panels that also operate automatically to create artificial night. An overhead sprinkler system with drip lines moves through the building, with a row of sprinklers stopping over each individual row of pots, providing just the right amount of water needed for each separate plant.

There are 25 people working in the greenhouse now, but at peak production in the spring it provides employment for 85 persons.

When we left the greenhouse, we drove west then north to the home of Marion and Evelyn Lehman. She and Aletha are first cousins; Evelyn's father and Aletha's mother were siblings. They live on a farm where they moved a little over 50 years ago, but at age 92, Marion leaves the farm work to someone else. My parents always visited the Lehmans when they were in Ohio, and I had accompanied them when I was back here in 2002. I had also met them at a family dinner a few years earlier.

On the way to Lehmans, we drove through Ai, at Fulton County Roads 4 and L where Dad and some of his Estel cousins lived. Although Wikipedia would have you believe Ai is a ghost town, there is a pizza joint there, as well as a couple of farm-related businesses and a number of houses The school they attended still stands. Lively ghosts indeed. I did not see the rumored traffic light, but if Aletha says there is one, I believe her.

We had a nice visit, then headed back to Swanton, and to a Mexican restaurant for lunch. The food was OK, but like the restaurants I patronized in Rangely, CO and Macon, MO, did not measure up to what we have in California.

Our last visit of the day was to see Chet and Dorothy Sadowski. They are not relatives, but have been friends with the Vaughans for many years, and are the only non-family members who have been a regular part of the Vaughan Breakfast. They own a large farm market, and grow most of the fruits and vegetables they sell in nearby fields and in a small greenhouse. The actual work has been taken over by younger family members, but Chet was looking out the window from his easy chair, keeping track of how many cars were parked at the stand.

We went back to Aletha's, where we both read and napped until it was time to go to dinner. This was held at Delta 109 in Delta, with a total of 14 present. They included the three Vaughan siblings that still live in Ohio, the widow, daughter and son of another, some spouses, four grandchildren of the son, and me. It was enjoyable to meet some more relatives I had not seen before, and to renew acquaintance with others. I had a very good grilled chicken salad, and everyone agreed that the food there is excellent.

About half the group went to Aletha's after dinner for some more visiting, then I said my goodbyes and made it safely back to the motel without any unwanted detours.

July 23: The scattered thundershowers predicted for early morning arrived about 2 a.m., with an extensive lightning show, and noise that at first made me think a jet was going over. The rain had moved on by 3:15, although lightning was still visible in the distance. This area is badly in need of rain, but I don't think this storm did much to fill the need. There was a little more lightning and thunder later, but no further rain. However, the storm cooled down the entire region, and today was very pleasant.

This was my day to visit Harry and Nancy Teets. She is my first cousin, the daughter of one of Mother's sisters. Like 2nd cousin Nancy, they also live on a lake in Michigan, about 55 miles away. In fact, they told me that there are supposed to be 50 lakes within 15 miles in that area. This one is Devil's Lake, a well known and popular vacation spot for many decades in the northern Ohio/southern Michigan area.

Because of the rain, it had cooled off a lot, and was breezy. We discussed the possibility of a boat ride, but none of us were enthusiastic. I had just had a boat ride two days earlier, and Harry and Nancy go out on the lake nearly every day during the summer. We decided we could find other things to do.

The first of these was a very good lamb chop dinner, with raspberry pie for dessert. After that Nancy and I went for a drive around the lake. It turned into a tour of the area, as we drove by or tried to drive by, several of the other lakes. We ended up driving right past the "other" Nancy's house, which is maybe five or ten miles from Devil's Lake. We also stopped at a farmer's market and got fresh sweet corn, which is available in great abundance in the Midwest right now.

Our drive took us down some "no outlet" roads where we had to back on to grass to turn around, and at one point through about a mile and a half of fairly good dirt road. We were looking for the highest point in Lenawee County, and maybe we saw it; at least we saw a place where the land rose up to what could almost be called a hill.

We also drove past the Michigan International Speedway, which is not far from Devil's Lake. There are extensive grounds around and near the facility where fans come by the thousands in RVs, as well as filling up all the motels for miles around.

Back at the house we caught up on each other's lives, including the discovery that Nancy and Harry have a new grandchild, just under a year old, who is number twelve. They have five kids, including triplets who were born on my birthday, many years after I was of course.

We also looked at pictures of each other's kids and grandkids (and my great grandkid), and she showed me a book containing the genealogy of her father's family.

By this time it was time to eat, so we had a light supper of vegetables, including the corn. It compared well with what we get at the Fresno State University farm market. It was close to 8 p.m., and I was hoping to get home before dark (about 9 p.m.), so I said my goodbyes and headed back south into Ohio. Again I had a successful GPS-free trip.

July 24: From now on it's all west, all the time. When I left Maumee this morning I was starting my homeward journey, with 3,869 miles on the odometer since leaving Clovis on June 22. A significant part of that was local driving, including 382 miles at the eastern side of Dinosaur National Monument. A total of 1,148 local miles were added at the three national parks, plus Ohio and Michigan. There should be only a few more of these, at Lebanon, MO, where I will be visiting my cousin Jim Hall and his family, including his son James, who just retired from the Navy.

My drive today took me into Indiana and almost all the way across the state to Terre Haute, about twelve miles from the Illinois border. I got on US 24 just a mile or so from the hotel in Maumee, and followed it to Fort Wayne, where a bypass freeway took me to I-69. This led to Indianapolis, another bypass, and I-70 all the way to Terre Haute. I stopped about 20 miles from here to get a Subway sandwich, which I ate in the room after my arrival.

It was very sunny in the morning, with clouds all around later in the day, but no storms in sight. There was a lot of wind, so it was cool outside, but the sun made the closed car seem warm. I ran the A/C for a while in the room, but now it is very comfortable with it off.

  

Missouri Again

July 25: Today's destination was my final stop visiting people; when I leave here I will be driving, driving, driving every day just to get home. Although I completed the day's drive fairly early, the trip was not as smooth as I would have liked. From Terre Haute I continued on I-70 to St. Louis, where my GPS and I had a serious disagreement on how to get through that area. I was concerned when it told me to leave I-70 and take I-270, but when it told me to go ten miles north on I-55, I rebelled. Eventually I got onto I-255 and/or I-55 south, and crossed the Mississippi into downtown, right by the Gateway Arch. Two very busy freeways came together at this point, and traffic was moving about 5 MPH, but at least it was nearly always moving. As I passed the arch I was able to take several pretty good photos through the windshield

It was not long after this point that I saw the exit for I-44, which would take me southwest to my goal, Lebanon, MO, and once on this highway, traffic moved at a good pace. St. Louis is surrounded by many smaller cities, and it took a while to get through these and into the country, but once I did, it was one of the most scenic drives since I left the western mountains. Leaving St. Louis, I realized I was actually going down a real hill, and for much of the trip, the tree covered ridges of the Ozarks were spread out on both sides of me. Everywhere the road went through a cut, there were layers of exposed limestone, a sure sign that the area has many caves. Indeed, there are signs urging you to visit various caves all along the road through Missouri.

I also got the impression that people in southern Illinois and south central Missouri are just trying too hard. I saw signs for the world's largest golf tee, world's largest wind chime (both in Casey IL), and in Missouri, world's largest rocking chair. Of course, all these pale in comparison with the world's largest ball of twine, which is also on my "must miss" list, and is claimed by Darwin, MN; Cawker City, KS; Lake Nebagamon, WI; and Branson, MO. 

The people at the end of the trip were my cousin Jim Hall and wife Gayle, and their son James and his wife Paz. James is retiring after 20 years in the Navy, and is moving to this area in search of a quiet country way of life, after being on an aircraft carrier with about 5,000 sailors, or stationed in a big city on the Virginia coast. He made seven cruises and was an avionics specialist throughout his career. His wife retired after many years as a civilian employee of the Navy. They are living in a house that his father owns nearby, waiting for a moving company to deliver their furniture on August 1. That seems like it's not far off, but they have been in Missouri since mid-July, and the furniture is in storage only an hour away.

About 17 years ago Jim and Gayle moved to Missouri from California, where he was an engineer for CalTrans, California's transportation department. He pursued similar work here, as well as raising cattle, but is now officially retired, although he has plenty to keep him busy, with 20 acres of woods, as well as a house he is fixing up in Springfield, about an hour away.

After I got checked in at my motel, I called to see what our plans were. Following the GPS on my smart phone, I found Jim and Gayle's place with no difficulty, even though it is hidden back in the woods out of sight of neighbors and the main road. The latter is a good dirt road (official speed limit 35 MPH), and there is a driveway about a quarter mile long, bringing you to a large home which Jim remodeled when they moved there from a nearby town about nine years ago.

We visited for a couple of hours or so, getting caught up on each other's kids and lives since we last saw each other, which was about 1990. Then we drove into town for dinner at the Elm Street Eatery. The link includes some negative reviews, but you can toss out the ones that complain about smoke; this restaurant is now non-smoking and we had a great dinner. Mine was prime rib with home fries and stuffing (two of about a dozen sides to choose from). The waitress was friendly in a southern mildly pushy way, but service was faultless. Everyone else was happy with their food, and Jim and Gayle have eaten there many times. A nice small town touch was a marquee sign in front congratulating a local couple on the birth of their child.

After dinner we returned to the house and had a choice of berry or rhubarb pie with ice cream for dessert. I chose the berry since rhubarb is one of the few foods I hated as a child and still do, but James was in seventh heaven since it was his favorite. Thoroughly stuffed by now, I headed out so I could find my way back to the motel before dark. I did so without resorting to technology.

July 26: Of all the things that were not on my list of things to do on this trip, today I did probably the most unlikely. I attended a Tea Party function. Jim is the membership chairman of the Lebanon chapter, and was committed to helping with the barbecue, as was Gayle. So I decided I would be a spy/ambassador from the DNC and see what it was like.

The barbecue was fantastic, with hot dogs, chicken and pulled pork, plus all the extras you’d want and more. When the program started, things got interesting. There were some statements made that I could agree with, quite a few that were reasonable from the speaker’s point of view but wrong, and some that made it obvious the speaker had gotten all his information from Fox News.

The people I talked to were friendly and polite, and it was clear that some were well informed and sincere in their beliefs. John Webb, running for Congress against a popular Libertarian incumbent, was intelligent and charming one on one, but his program as described in his talk is essentially to shut down the Federal government.

All in all it was an entertaining day, and I'm glad I went. I got a couple of nice pens too, one of which will be a gift for one of my more conservative Friday lunch companions.

After the event ended we went to Jim's house and had an enjoyable afternoon visiting, eating more homemade berry pie, and taking photos. James got out his bow and arrows and did some target practice. He has become very skilled at it, and is looking forward to hunting season this winter.

We were also treated to a harp concert and some piano music by the daughter and son of a missionary family who are staying with the Halls while on a break from their service in the Dominican Republic.

As it started to get dark, it was time for me to head back to the hotel while I could still see the street signs well, although by this time I had learned route pretty well. It was great to reconnect with James, who I knew only as kid; to meet this wife, and to see Jim and Gayle again after so many years.

July 27: Just as I was getting up I received several texts from James, giving me the address and phone number of his brother Aaron, who lives near Springfield. Since it had been about 24 years since I had seen him, I decided to make one more stop for visiting purposes. He lives in the small town of Nixa, south of Springfield, so I made the necessary detour down a series of state and local roads, into a rural subdivision, and found him waiting for me. Also present was Aaron's daughter Casey.

Aaron had recently retired from a career at a prison in Springfield, and is doing some remodeling in his house while deciding what his next activities will be. We had a nice visit, which included looking at some photos of the two boys when they were kids and young adults. I stayed only about a half hour but I was happy that James helped me connect with Aaron after so many years.

The roads out of Nixa took me northwest back to I-44. I was happy to see that one of these roads was US 60, which was the route taken by my father and his parents when they first came to California in 1935. This took me into I-44, which I would follow all the way to Oklahoma City.

The road through Missouri had a lot of gentle curves, which continued a short distance into Oklahoma. Then the Ozarks came to an end, and there were long straight stretches, but with lots of up and down. All along the way in both states it was bright green, with grass and trees everywhere. It cost $8 in addition to gas to drive through Oklahoma, due to two toll roads.

At OK City I got on I-40, which will eventually take me all the way to Barstow, CA, and reached my motel in El Reno, OK, around 5 p.m. I had a sandwich in the room, drawing from my "comforts of home" food collection, and had a quiet evening reading and working on this report.

 

Heading Home

July 28: Most of I-44 and I-70 on my route are close to the alignment of historic Route 66. I drove west on I-40 from near Oklahoma City in 1978, except that the Interstate was not yet complete. I know we were no longer on the new highway going through Gallup, NM and Flagstaff, AZ, so through those states and California we traveled the original Route 66. Mikie and I came this way on both our cross-country trips, leaving I-40 at Amarillo in 2004, and somewhere in Oklahoma in 2009.

There are still sections of the old road that are intact, the longest being in western Arizona. And of course, there are many Route 66 themed businesses all along the way, and sections of the old road in most towns.

This was the first day of a four-day marathon race to get home. Actually I don't travel very fast overall, since I stop to nap and stop to use a restroom several times during the day. Sometimes I stop to eat.

Today was the second time I had to drive through rain, and it was quite a bit longer than the other time. It started about 9 a.m. in Oklahoma, and continued till about 11:30 in Texas. Most of the time it was hard enough to  have the wipers going constantly, but I only had to turn them up to the highest speed when passing or being passed by a truck.

The rest of the way it was fairly cloudy, and in New Mexico I could see a storm off to the south. I ended up going through just a tiny edge of it, with one minute of hard rain.

It was pretty green through the rest of Oklahoma, but seemed a bit dryer almost immediately after I entered the Texas panhandle. The last 30 miles or so started looking more like New Mexico, with mesas and buttes, and the foliage was mostly small, high desert plants all the way to my stop at Santa Rosa, NM.

Having eaten in three Mexican restaurants that were just OK, I figured I could not go wrong in New Mexico. It turned out I could. I had two chicken enchiladas that tasted OK, but were a little dry. The red chili served with them was delicious. Salsa and chips were extra, and not worth what they charged. The salsa was hot, but not the fresh, chunky kind that I prefer. Still, the food was reasonably good and the service likewise, but I'm looking forward to visiting one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Fresno or Clovis.

Since I jumped back another hour entering Mountain Time, I will probably be ready for bed fairly early, which is fine with me. As it is, it is only 7 p.m. now. My mileage was 405 for the day, but I arrived earlier than I expected, even considering the time change.

July 29: When I got up about 1 a.m. I heard a noise outside. I opened to door to find what I expected, pouring rain, but no thunder or lightning. I must say that I blame my friend Clayton for this. He drove through this area heading east recently, and had rain all but two days. I have had rain ONLY two days, and I think he stirred up these storms.

There was some thunder later, then about 3 a.m. my phone made a strange beep, and displayed a warning for flash floods. I'm to avoid flood areas, if I only knew where they were. At the same time, the warning was underscored by a lot of thunder and lightening. After about a minute of light and noise, the downpour started. I think the flood area is  the motel parking lot! All this reminded me of the fact that driving through New Mexico back in 1978 was the first time I ever drove in rain so hard I had to pull off the road.

When I got up about 6:30 the rain had stopped, although there were clouds all day. The part of New Mexico I went through on the first part of the drive was very green. Later there were lots of nice standard southwest views of red sandstone mesas, cliffs and buttes, especially right where the highway entered Arizona. It was hot most of the day, and I had the obligatory few drops of rain for about 30 seconds during the last half hour of the drive.

At the eastern border of New Mexico I stared seeing billboards for the Flying C Ranch, which is located near Moriarty, NM. The last few miles before the location had more and more billboards, till they were spaced just far enough apart to allow reading them. I had to reward all that effort by stopping. For the most part, the store has a huge collection of worthless tourist junk. There are some nice T-shirts, and lots of odds and ends, and about a third of the store is devoted to fireworks, the kind you can't buy in California. I made a small purchase, but I'm invoking my 5th amendment rights and will not tell you what it was.

I'm in Winslow, AZ, made famous by the Jackson Browne song, Take it Easy. I actually haven't seen much of the town, since my motel is at the first exit, near a gas station/restaurant and a feed store. As has been the case all through Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, it is windy. You can't set anything moderately light weight down outside without putting something heavy on it to hold it in place.

Since Arizona is the only state that does not observe daylight savings time, it is now the same time as California. An exception is the Navajo Nation, which is spread across three states and observes DST for consistency. Also they are not as loony as the rest of Arizona. But don't call it Pacific Daylight Time here - it is Mountain Standard Time. So I gained another hour. Supper is over, I'm settled in for the night, and it's only 5:45 (MST).

One more night in a motel, two more days of driving!

By the way, for more on the Arizona and New Mexico areas that I am rushing through, I recommend Clayton and Melinda Walkers blog and photos, covering their more leisurely journey, that also includes parts of Colorado.

July 30: Today's travels took me across 255 miles of Arizona, with a wide variety of scenery. I can't remember it all, because I was focused on driving, but there were a lot of red sandstone cliffs in some areas, as well as other rock and mountain formations of various shapes and colors.

About 10 miles from Winslow I saw a 5,000 foot elevation sign, and of course knew that I would be climbing up to 7,000 at Flagstaff, a distance of less than 50 miles. The first thousand feet was very gradual, and when I saw the sign for 6,000, it hardly seemed that I had been climbing. After that the road became a true mountain road, and the next thousand feet was attained in a much shorter distance.

Through this section the way went through piñon and juniper, which then gave way to almost 100% ponderosa pine through Flagstaff and beyond. This part of the drive was very scenic, with pines continuing for miles on the downhill run, and even when the forest turned to the high desert trees, there was green grass all over the land.

Farther west the dryness of the desert took over, and near California most of the vegetation was creosote bushes, sage and tumbleweeds.

The 150 mile drive from the Arizona border near Needles to Barstow is one I've taken many times, but I still enjoy the desert scenery. It's true that there are enough creosote bushes in one acre to satisfy my needs for a lifetime, but the mountains in this area are quite dramatic. Most of them are distant enough that you can't tell what the vegetation is, and the closer hills are often covered with scrub brush only. The road goes up over several summits, and the vistas coming down from these places are the best part of the drive.

I arrived at Barstow about 3 p.m., after a drive of 416 miles, got checked in, and went out to eat. I wanted a hamburger, so I looked up In & Out and Denny's, and was happy to see they were very close to each other, so I could decide were to go as I drove. I am only familiar with the freeways in and out of Barstow, so I entered the address into my phone's map app, and discovered a part of the town I never knew existed. The motel is just off East Main, near where I-40 comes in to I-15, and my directions took me south on I-15, past the road to Bakersfield, and through bare hills with no development. Then I came to a huge complex, including an outlet mall, several motels and gas stations, and apparently every chain restaurant in existence.

I decided on simplicity and went to In & Out, but it was crowded and very noisy, and I went out as fast as I came in, drove across the road to Denny's, and had a nice quiet meal.

Tomorrow I will have a shorter than average run, only 250 miles to my home in Clovis.

July 31: I've driven between home and Barstow at least a dozen and probably fifteen times since I retired in 2002, and I realize that I usually skip over this section of my trips in a sentence or two. Time to remedy that. Barstow is a fairly small town, but a major crossroads.

I-40 starts here and goes to Wilmington, NC, 2,554 miles away. From Barstow east to Oklahoma City, it mostly parallels old Route 66. I-15 comes in from Victorville and beyond that, San Diego, and goes north to Las Vegas and all the way to the Canadian border with Montana. From Barstow south to San Bernardino, it is the modern incarnation of Route 66.

State highway 58 also begins at Barstow, and goes west through Bakersfield and on to Santa Margarita on US 101. In addition, this is a major railroad switching center, with lines going south, east and west. The Mojave River runs through town, but you will rarely see water in it. It flows underground for much of its length.

Adjacent to Barstow is Fort Irwin, the Army's desert training center, where General George Patton and his troops trained in the 1930s. I attended National Guard summer training here several times in the 1960s. There was not a lot going on there at the time, but with the US involved in desert warfare the last two decades, it has regained its importance to the nation's defense.

My normal travels take me through Barstow a few miles on I-15 (coming in on I-40 or from Las Vegas), and west on CA 58. The next stop is Kramer Junction, where 58 crosses US 395. There are gas stations, a couple of restaurants, and a souvenir shop here, and at the end of busy weekends, lots of traffic backed up coming in from Sin City. There is also a huge complex in the desert north of the junction which is a solar-thermal generating plant that was built in the 1980s. Driving into the area,  you can see acres of parabolic mirrors that appear blue from a distance.

Heading west the route goes past Edwards Air Force Base, famous as the site of the X-15 rocket plane experiments in the 1960s, and the landing spot for many of the space shuttle flights. Nearby is the town of Boron, which my cynical friends who have driven through it say is the right name for it. It is certainly not a vacation spot, located in a mostly featureless part of the Mojave Desert, but it has a fairly nice RV park that I've stayed at when it was just too late to forge on to Fresno. As you might guess from the name, it's the location of major borax mining operations. You might not expect to learn that it has two museums, devoted to space and to borax mining.

As you approach the eastern slope of the Tehachapi Mountains, you come to the town of Mojave. This used to be a regular gas and food stop, but highway 58 was converted to a freeway that bypasses the town, so I'm not sure how it's faring now.

This is another crossroads, with CA 14 coming in from Lancaster and continuing north to join US 395 at Indian Wells. West of the town and on the mountains east of the town of Tehachapi, you can see hundreds of windmills. Tehachapi is the jewel of the route so far, a small town in a level valley with mountains on three sides. The elevation here is 4,000 feet, so it's not unusual to see snow in the town, and it's common on the higher mountains.

From here it is all downhill to Bakersfield, a drive that is very scenic in the spring, and enjoyable at any time. It's a drop of 3600 feet from Tehachapi to the valley floor, through oak-covered slopes, past the famous Tehachapi Loop on the rail line at Keene, and through farmland in to the city. Keene is also well known as the headquarters of Cesar Chavez and the site of the Cesar Chavez National Monument.

The vegetation through the desert is mostly creosote bushes, with some palo verde. From near Kramer Junction to just east of Tehachapi, there are Joshua trees in many areas. Between Barstow and Mojave there are some small mountains, but nothing like the more dramatic ones between Barstow and Needles.

Since I was driving only a little over 250 miles today, I made a number of stops to take pictures, including my first and surely last visit to Keene. At the bottom of the hill I went to Murray Family Farms, a farm market complex that includes a lunch counter, gas station, and shaded picnic areas. I have found this place to have limited selection and high prices, and didn't find anything that tempted me today.

Despite a lot of construction areas, I made good time, and traffic was moderate and moving fast. I arrived home a little before 2 p.m., and have done about 15% of my unpacking. I am very glad to be back, but I greatly enjoyed the trip, and would do it all again.

--Dick Estel, July 2014

 

OBSERVATIONS

Motels          Gas Prices          Weather          Wildlife          Bad Jokes          Roads

Fulton County Road Numbering System          All the Comforts of Home?

What the Heck Is this Guy Doing?          The Walker Blog          Statistics          I've Been Everywhere

    

Motels: A summary of each motel I stayed in:

Reverse Creek Lodge at June Lake: A housekeeping cabin, meaning no maid service during your stay. The selection of dishes and utensils was the best either Teri or I had seen in a place like that. The provide a basket so you can take used towels to the office for exchange, but we had enough to last the entire week. With no nightstand or lamp near the bed, I had to feel my way to the bathroom light each time I got up. Electrical outlets were not well located. Over all a ***½ rating.t a while. Good refrigerator and DirecTV satellite are a plus. There's a nightstand, but no lamp on it. However, overall lighting is very good for a motel. Give it ***.

Best Western Mountain View at Springville: A big upgrade from Baker, very clean and with a fantastic mountain view out my window. There is a complete complimentary breakfast, free wi-fi that works consistently, refrigerator, and microwave. It has nightstands! With lamps!  I'm going to go all out and give out my first ***** award. (A few hours later I learned that the wi-fi here is unreliable, just like the previous two places.)

America's Best Value Inn in Vernal: Even the name is a lie. There are a lot of motels in Vernal, so I don't know why anyone would stay at this one. I think it had to do with price and availability, with others close to double the cost here. You get what you pay for, and what you get here is a faucet that was loose, and seemed like it was going to come free of the sink. I had to use two hands to operate it. The ice machine worked once; the next time I went to it, I got about six chunks, then it refused to provide any more. There's a big hole in the wall with exposed wiring, where some repair may be underway. The air conditioner worked well sometimes, and hardly at all other times. On the other hand, the place was clean, I had all the towels I needed, and there was a very minimal free breakfast. Despite being close to US 40, it was quiet when there weren't fireworks going off. There are signs saying it's under new management, so maybe they just haven't had time to fix all the problems. Meanwhile, I can only give **.

Budget Host in Rangely: This was one that i worried about a little. I believe it had some really bad reviews, it's expensive for its location, and I knew it was in a remote area. However, it has proved to be one of the best so far. It's clean, only a little beat up looking in a few spot, has two beds and plenty of towels. It has been quiet so far. The ice machine did not work the first day, but when I reported this they had someone working on it. Meanwhile, you could get ice from the Subway next door at no cost. The A/C works very well. The refrigerator has no freezer; there's no breakfast; and the shower whistles. Yes, a loud, ear-piercing whistle. A strong ***+.

Littletree Inn, Granby, CO: For a big plus to start with, this was the first motel where the Wi-Fi service was reliable throughout my visit. The view into Rocky Mountain National Park was spectacular. The price was high but not unexpected in a resort location. I had to have an upstairs room; big pain in the butt hauling my stuff upstairs.

Super 8, Sterling CO: The ice machine was in a room right next to my bed; I heard it every time someone got ice. Lots of other noise too. Very expensive for the location and quality. The room was clean and adequate for one night. Extra electric outlets in two lamp bases were appreciated.

Super 8, Springville KS: A big improvement over Sterling because it was about 40% cheaper. The laundry room was filthy, but the clerk said she had never been in it and was clearly upset at its condition. Like the other Super 8 it was fine for a night. Both have inside entrances, so I had to carry stuff a little farther than usual.

America's Best Value Inn, Macon, MO: I think this chain has been allowed to deteriorate badly, and now new managers are trying to bring it back. The room here was OK, and only for a night anyway. The outside was very bad; sidewalks literally crumbling. When I drove up, the man who checked me in and a woman were painting, so I hope improvements are underway. Breakfast was supposed to start at 6, but the door was still locked at 6:10. Since I had a very long drive I wanted an early start, so had to provide my own breakfast. I would not stay at one of these motels again.

Extended Stay America, Maumee, OH: This hotel should get four or five stars, but there is a full star penalty for a terrible design flaw. There is a room called the "maintenance room," in which a loud piece of equipment comes on every 90 seconds and runs for about fifteen seconds, 24 hours a day. It sounds like a muffled jackhammer. This room could have easily been placed between the laundry and the exercise room, but instead it is right next to a guest room, mine of course. I will admit I got used to the noise and it did not keep me awake, but if there had been a night when I had trouble sleeping, it would have been an extra irritant.

On the plus side the unit is large, with a separate kitchen with full size refrigerator, four-burner stove, microwave and dishwasher. In a really cheap move, the refrigerator was set at the lowest setting, allowing ice cream to melt until I discovered the problem. The dial did not have a knob; it needed to be turned with a screwdriver or a dime. The bed area is separated from the living room by an arch; there are plenty of drawers, coffee table, good desk, and there are more than enough electrical outlets. Wi-Fi service was good with no disconnections. A very limited "breakfast" of muffins, granola bars, fruit and coffee was provided. This is not a criticism, since the room has cooking facilities and I planned to fix my own breakfast. I would definitely patronize this chain again, as long as they could guarantee I would not be next to the maintenance room. I'm going to go ahead and give a generous ****.

Quality Inn, Terre Haute: This hotel lacks a comfortable chair, a microwave, and a refrigerator. I rely on a refrigerator to chill my water and freeze my blue ice for the next day. I don't use the microwave much, especially for one-night stays, but the presence or absence of one indicates the service level the hotel is trying for. This room also has a smell - not gross, but not pleasant; not enough to really bother me, but I think more sensitive people would be bothered by it. I think this is the darkest motel room I've ever been in. Entry is from a hallway, and that is dark also. Otherwise, it's a typical average motel, good for a one night stay. The A/C works better than most I've experienced on this trip, and electrical outlets are adequate. The Wi-Fi disconnected without warning, something that happens at MOST hotels. I give it *** due to the missing amenities.

Best Western, Lebanon, MO: The Wi-Fi did not work at first, but after a half hour it connected, and never dropped the signal after that. This was one of the better old motels I've stayed in, with an excellent A/C (a must in the humid land of Misery). Room was reasonably clean with plenty of towels, room for everything I needed to bring in, and very quiet, despite being close to the Interstate. A rating of **** for the type of hotel it is.

Best Western, El Reno, OK: Another very dark room that has not been upgraded for the modern traveler. The desk was located under the only overhead light, which would have been fine if there were an electrical outlet anywhere near it. I had to move the desk across the room so I could use my laptop. The A/C seems to struggle against the Oklahoma heat and humidity; I can work up a sweat indoors if I am active. Otherwise it's the usual "OK for night," worth three ***. There was a bit more variety for breakfast, including bacon, sausage and potatoes. However, they were not good, sort of pre-fab tasting.

Best Western, Santa Rosa, NM: This is the best Best Western yet - it has a table AND a desk, with enough outlets in the right place. There are three chairs plus a desk chair. There is a sink in by the toilet and another sink in what I guess is like the "dressing room" area. There's no freezer in the refrigerator, which I use to freeze my blue ice each night, but I just use cubes from the machine for the little cooler that I keep water bottles in. The breakfast is said to be a full, hot breakfast, but that can be disappointing sometimes. So far, a rare ***** five star rating. Breakfast was nothing special - unappetizing sausage, so I had raisin bran. The toaster only toasted one side of the bread.

Best Western, WInslow, AZ: There's a disconcerting inconsistency between BW hotels in different areas. The staff at check in was somewhat slow and disturbingly unprofessional.  Again the refrigerator has no freezer. There's no microwave, on a night I actually planned to use it. Entry is from inside, which makes it inconvenient to carry stuff in, and tonight I needed to bring in more stuff than usual. At least there was a luggage cart. The water pressure was barely a trickle when I arrived, but then a letter was slipped under my door saying that a break in the municipal line was the cause, and it was fixed within an hour or so. There's an easy chair and a fairly good desk chair, and enough electrical outlets in the right place. It seems somewhat unfair to dock them for no microwave, when most nights I would not need one, but it should be there for those who want it, and the same goes for a freezer, so *** three stars. We'll see what breakfast brings.

When I walked into the breakfast room and smelled bacon, my hopes were high. However, it was paper thin, too crisp, dry and tasteless. There was a machine that made pancakes, something I'd never seen before. The pancake was a little tough to cut, but pancakes are just an excuse to eat syrup, so it was acceptable.

Super 8, Barstow, CA: Another "OK for a night" facility. No freezer, but there's a microwave. The desk chair is a straight back model, not adjustable, and a bit too low for comfortable typing. I had to get down on hands and knees under the desk and unplug the clock to have a place for my computer. Overall it's nice enough, clean and with outlets well located for charging. The price is the lowest I've paid on the whole trip, so I'll shut up about the limitations, and just hand out the three stars it deserves. ***

 

A final rant: About half the motels had inadequate electrical outlets. There are not enough unused ones, and they are poorly located. This is considering what SHOULD be provided for guests who have a laptop and two or three devices that have to be charged daily. I have had to unplug lamps or other items to free an outlet, and place my iPod dock in less than desirable locations. I have also plugged in a surge protector I have that turns one outlet into  two, but this is not usually enough. The better properties had a desk lamp with outlets in the base. Every motel could provide this at a very reasonable cost. Like Tim Taylor, I want MORE POWER!

Sometimes the lengths motels go to be cheap is beyond annoying. In at least two places the refrigerator was turned to the lowest setting. I didn't discover this till my ice cream started to melt. In one motel on a different trip, the refrigerator didn't work at all, a discovery I made after putting medication that needs to be refrigerated into it overnight.

Gas Prices: I bought gas at $3.89 a gallon before leaving home, not the lowest in Fresno, but one of the cheaper places that's convenient for me. I was glad not to need gas at Crane Flat in Yosemite - long lines waiting to pay $4.99. It was a bit lower on the eastern side of the Sierra - $4.89 at Lee Vining, $4.69 at Mammoth Lakes, and somewhere in between that at June Lake. Although gas is normally cheaper everywhere outside of California, I was in fairly remote areas in Nevada, paying $3.94 at Tonopah and $4.01 at Eli. It's around $4.10 in Baker, but I won't need gas till my next stop in Springville, UT.

Gas prices across Nevada were consistently higher than in California. In Springville, UT, I paid $3.59, the least I have paid anywhere since January. I've also been getting over 30 MPG on these long, mostly straight highways compared to my overall average of just over 25. It makes me extra glad I'm not driving my 8 MPG motor home.

Gas at Vernal, UT was $3.65, although there were several stations charging more. At Dinosaur it's $3.79, but I don't need it yet. I will  fill up before I start my 220 mile round trip to the northeast corner of Dinosaur Monument. When I did I paid 3.69 in Rangely.

Despite being a resort area, Granby offered good gas prices, ranging from $3.59 to $3.69. There are some major brand stations charging the usual high prices.

The lowest prices of the trip so far were observed driving through Nebraska and Kansas on July 14: $3.49 in Imperial, NE, $3.48 in Kensington, KS, and $3.29 in Belleville, KS. I got gas in McCook, NE, where all stations were charging $3.52. In fact, it seems that gas price fixing is common in this area; in many towns there is a variation of no more than one cent.

The lowest price yet was $3.15 in Indiana, but I didn't need gas when I was near that station. Three stations in Maumee are all charging $3.55, but since I'll be driving around northwest Ohio a lot before I need to fill up, perhaps I can scout out a cheaper place. By the way, most of the prices I've quoted are either for 85 octane, or for "super unleaded." Stations that sell the latter also have "regular unleaded," usually for 20 to 30 cents more. There's nothing on the pump to explain the difference, but perhaps one of my readers will enlighten me.

I finally needed gas when I was in an area of lowest prices, $3.39 in Swanton. Quite a few stations in the area were at that price abound July 23. It's a tribute to the shameless greed of the oil industry that we think that is a "low" price.

Prices just keep getting lower - a new record, $3.25 per gallon at Warren, IN. Other prices across the state range up to $3.55. A new low at Oklahoma City, $3.14.

In New Mexico, prices started creeping up - $3.43 at Tucumcari, and most prices above that in western New Mexico and Arizona. I got off the highway in Holbrook, where the first station I saw was charging $3.99; the next one $3.69 cash price. I finally found one for $3.64, a price I would have thought low before I left California. I am assuming that Arizona is still less than the Golden State, so I will make a point of getting gas shortly before I cross the border.

Across Arizona my next to last day, the prices I noticed were $3.55 to $3.65. I paid $3.55 at a Flying J close to the California border. According to a cheap gas finder app on my iPad, prices in Needles, CA were $4.25 and up. It's always been one of the highest in the state. Closer to Barstow, a travel plaza displayed $3.65.

My final fill-up was at a Love's Travel Center in Barstow, where the prices told me I was finally back in California - $3.89 for regular unleaded.

Weather: As always I've been watching the weather for the first few stops for a week. There were days of possible thunderstorms before I left, but predictions for all clear the first week. We did have a completely unpredicted rain storm on June 26, but it was at night and did not interfere with my activities.

Possible thunderstorms were predicted for the day I went to the bristlecone pines, but the sky was deep blue with just a few lacy clouds. The clouds arrived in the evening, causing me to cancel my trip to the park for an astronomy talk.

There are scattered storms predicted for my first day at Dinosaur National Monument.

Lots of clouds in Springville July 2, with scattered thunderstorms predicted around Dinosaur National Monument. It was very hot anywhere I got out of the car today, although it had cooled down quite a bit when I went out walking for a few minutes at 8 p.m.

As of July 4 no storms of any kind, although we had some big black clouds to the north. The shuttle driver at Dinosaur Monument said that cloud would go east and stay to the north of us, and not drop rain anywhere. It's nice and warm, but not like home, where the highs have been 105 to 110. Makes me appreciate the 95 degrees in Vernal.

Not exactly "weather," but it stays light quite late and gets light early in northeastern Utah.

As of July 9, it's been hot all day and warm inside at night, although the mornings are cool. I have not slept with even a sheet over me since the night I stayed at Springville. I hate to sleep with a motel air conditioner running, but at Vernal and Rangely, I sometimes turned it on for a few minutes when I got up during the night.

On the evening of July 8 in Rangely I heard a great crash, which sounded like the people upstairs were throwing ice chests off the balcony. It immediately started to rain, and soon was pouring down, with a great flow of water running off the parking lot. It was hard enough that it washed all the dust from the day's dirt roads off the upper part of my car, and ended about 15 minutes later. On the 9th there are a lot of dark clouds and quite a strong, cool breeze. The forecast says 20% chance of rain.

My final full day in Granby brought only a few drops of rain while I was in the park. There are plenty of clouds over the mountains, but no really dark areas. However, my neighbors at the motel reported heavy rain at Grand Lake later in the day.

After leaving the mountains, the weather was warm and dry, or warm and humid, and always windy. There's a Wikipedia entry, or maybe it's a Rogers and Hammerstein song, that says "Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain." That wind has been sweeping down much of the territory I've been in, especially Kansas, Missouri north and south, Oklahoma, and Texas. Hot or cold, the wind seems to always be there. It was nice on July 28 in New Mexico, more of a breeze. On July 26 in Lebanon, MO, a humid 98 degree day, it provided some cooling in the morning, but just emphasized the heat in mid-afternoon. Those of us from the San Joaquin Valley need to brag that we not only have a dry heat, we have a mostly still heat.

In Ohio it was fairly nice most of the time; a bit warmer on the next to last day, then very nice the last due to a nighttime shower.

It really IS the humidity. Every two days or so I empty the water from my ice chest. I did this in the parking lot of the motel at Lebanon, MO. It was hot, and in Fresno, the water would have evaporated within fifteen minutes. Here it was almost all still there over an hour later.

All in all, I have had very little rain, especially compared to my friend Clayton, who has been traveling since July 8. They had rain all but two days. I had a hard rain driving into Granby; CO at the start of my Rocky Mountain visit, and approaching Sterling CO at the end of it. There was rain at night in Rangely, Granby, Maumee; and Santa Rosa, NM, hard rain 2.5 hours going from OK to TX July 28, and a bit of rain in NM and AZ.

In Santa Rosa, NM I got up about 1 a.m. and heard a noise outside. I opened to door to find what I expected, pouring rain, but no thunder or lightning. There was some thunder later, then about 3 a.m. my phone made a strange beep, and displayed a warning for flash floods.

Wildlife: I have seen many hawks and vultures, as well as hundreds of smaller birds. I was in an area of swallows' nests one day, and being very protective, they were circling around above my head. 

The number one mammal is certainly the prairie dog, which I've seen by the dozens along the road, as well as many dead ones ON the road.

I've seen at least three or four different kinds of rabbits - large and small jack rabbits, cottontails, and pigmy rabbits, both along the road and on trails. Several varieties of lizards have also appeared in great quantity along the trails.

Somewhere in Nevada I saw a large dead animal in the roadside ditch, probably an elk. At Baker, NV, I went outside at dusk one evening and saw a buck in the field behind the motel. On the Harpers Corner road in Dinosaur Monument, a pronghorn resting right by the pavement got up and went into the field, but stopped and posed for a photo.

Driving across Utah, a vulture in the road must have had the tastiest tidbit ever, because he waited so long to fly up that I hit him. I think I just grazed his wing; I didn't see him fall to the road, but he lost a bunch of feathers.

Teri was floating on one of the lakes at June Lake Loop when an eagle flew down and caught a fish just a few feet from her. A short time later, he came back and caught another one. A man in a Mono Lake shop said it was probably an osprey. They nest at Mono Lake, but since it's salty and empty of fish, they go to the nearby lakes for "groceries."

Somewhere along the way, probably in Colorado, a doe darted across the road in front of me. And in Rocky Mountain National Park I saw three female moose, as described in the entries for July 11, 12 and 13.

There was a dead gopher snake in the middle of "downtown: Baker, NV, and two marmots were seen in RMNP July 13.

June and I saw two fawns going into the cornfield in Indiana; and when I was hiking with Martha in Oak Openings eight deer ran through the woods near us. Just after that we saw two fawns who probably had become separated from the main group.

Since leaving Ohio, I have seen very little wildlife, mostly birds, including several large raptors, certainly hawks and possibly eagles.

Bad Jokes: Uinta Mountains? Yeah, I'm inta mountains. You?

The White River runs west into the Green, where it becomes the Light Green River.

Painted on a rock east of Rangely: "Jesus is comming." What I'd like to paint on the next rock: "And he shall enlighten the ignorant."

Roads: Except for a few miles here and there, and of course the dirt roads, I've had smooth driving for the entire trip, whether on US or state highways or country roads (I am mostly avoiding interstate highways).

When I took Rio Blanco County Road 1 from Rangely to US 40, I was delighted to discover that it was newly paved. In fact, workmen were putting the finishing touches on it when I drove through. There was a sign saying "rough road next five miles," which can now be taken down. Incidentally, I think most of this work crew was staying at my motel. Each evening there were more than a dozen pickup trucks and company work trucks in the parking lot, and a large contingent of men arriving around 5 p.m.

When I left Rangely on Colorado 64 East, I soon came to a sign warning of ten miles of construction, "expect delays." There were men working, but they were taking down the Construction Zone sign, and the road was completely finished - another ten miles of smooth new road, striped and everything. My timing in this area seems to be pretty good.

Speed limits are observed in the rest of the country with the same faithfulness as in California, that is, hardly at all. There are two exceptions: going through small towns, some of which are known to be speed traps. On the two-lane US highways which go through every little burg, there is usually a 50 or 55 miles section, then 40, then 30. It looks like everyone observes these limits. In most place, most drivers observe the limits in construction zones, even though there is no construction visible in many of them. In one two mile stretch in Missouri, one lane was blocked with orange cones, but the only person working was a highway patrolman.

Since I-15 in Utah has a section where the limit is 80 MPG, the drivers in that state and western Colorado have the opinion that they should always be able to drive that fast. Indiana has some very nice four-lane divided highways, which tempt you to go 70, but the limit is 60. I noticed a lot of cars got close to 70 on these.

On the entire trip as of July 20 I had seen only ONE patrol car on the state, US and Interstate highways. I saw two or three local police or sheriff cars. In Rocky Mountain National Park I saw law enforcement rangers writing tickets the first two days (they are very serious about the low speed limits there). Now as the trip nears its end, I have seen a half dozen or so patrol cars, mostly in NM and AZ.

In California we're used to roads that are grooved on the sides, to remind you not to run off the road. Two-lane roads in Nevada and some other places are grooved in the middle, to remind you not to cross over into oncoming traffic.

The worst roads and worst traffic were in Indiana. Of course, part of this was because I went through Indianapolis, the country's 12th largest city. Well, maybe they were in Missouri. I got caught in 5 MPH traffic where two freeways converged coming into St. Louis. However, it only lasted maybe ten minutes.

An unusual thing on I-44 in Missouri was a rest stop between the two traffic lanes, with a left exit and entrance, always a bit confusing and dangerous. At first I assumed they were feeding cars into one facility from both directions, but there were two separate sets of buildings in the land between lanes.

Texas is not friendly to travelers, at least in the panhandle. Across the entire distance the only state operated public restroom was at the Travel Information Center in Amarillo. Near the Oklahoma border there was a place that looked like it once was a rest stop, with the usual road configuration, but it was bare - no buildings or trees. There were several "picnic areas" and at least one "parking area," none of which had restrooms.

There was construction in every state, but very few delays. I think I may have waited two or three minutes a couple of times; mostly it was just a matter of slowing down. The most construction was between Tulare and Fresno in California, and the traffic was moving close to full speed there. The work activity was separated by concrete barriers from the traffic lanes.

Fulton County road numbering system: Some people are confused by the road numbering system in Fulton County, OH. In my opinion, nothing could be simpler. Like many flat areas, there are roads in both directions a mile apart, although of course not every road goes all the way through and there are places where sections may be two or three miles apart. North-south roads are numbered, and east-west roads are lettered. If there is a road in between the "whole" numbers, it is given a designation that indicates the quarter mile location. So Road 5-2 is a half mile west of Road 5, and 7-1 is a quarter mile west of 7. Simple, right? Of course, it helps that I spent a month here in 2002, a week in 2004, and rode around the area with Dad and Mother different times in the 1990s.

All the comforts of home? Since 1992 I have done nearly all my longer traveling with a trailer or a motor home, so I'm used to having all the comforts of home. The thing I miss most is not having a bathroom with me wherever I may stop. This is followed closely by a well-equipped kitchen. I don't do a lot of cooking other than breakfast, but even for sandwiches and snacks, having a good size refrigerator is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

Therefore I have tried to cram as much stuff into the Honda as possible, in order to recreate my "comforts of home" experience. It was a real challenge to fit Mikie and Max in for the drive from Fresno to June Lake, but after that the car has been well packed but not overly so.

I have a large and a small plastic tote with food and utensils, including a sauce pan to make oatmeal, although I have not had a stove yet. I'm getting by with paper plates (I do that a lot in the motor home too), but I have a plastic bowl, glass, one each of all the necessary silverware, dish soap, sponge, towel, and so on. I have a cardboard box with laundry soap, fabric softener, and dryer sheets. There's another box that holds my iPod dock, iPod, headphones and an inverter. I have yet to use the inverter, and I think I used the headphones only once. But I've set up the iPod every where I've spent more than one night.

Another box holds chargers for my various electronics, a magnifying glass, a tiny flashlight, and extra car keys. There's a large suitcase with t-shirts, shorts, pants, a couple of "nice" shirts, and a new pair of sneakers. I have hiking boots, crocs, and my "every day" sneakers. Once I get out of the mountains to the towns of the Midwest and less outdoor activity the new ones will come out.

There a small suitcase with warm clothing, although I've only worn a light sweatshirt a couple of times. Jeans have likewise stayed in the suitcase all but a day or two. There are two containers of CDs for the car, a cassette case, and a bag with socks and underwear. There's a large ice chest for milk, bloody Mary mix, yogurt, cokes, lunch meat, cheese, mustard, mayonnaise, and whatever else needs to stay cool. There's a small ice chest lunch kit that I use for extra water in the car.

There's a bag for various daily needs such as razor, tooth brush, medications, first aid needs, etc.

There are various items either lying on the front passenger seat or stuffed into corners in the trunk. The latter includes extra bottled water, a compressor for inflating tires, a few tools, binoculars, and an umbrella. The front seat usually contains my camera, iPad, smart phone, book, and whatever papers and maps I need for the current day's activity.

There's more, but that's enough. Oh, yeah, the laptop that I'm typing on right now. And two ever growing bags of dirty clothes.

What the heck is this guy doing?

Approaching the Rockies, I came came around a curve in the road in Colorado and spotted an old corral, barn and house. It was a perfect picture, but by the time I realized there was a place I could pull off, I was right by it. A mile or so up the road I found a place to turn around, and again got too close before I could identify the driveway. Another mile, another U-turn, and I finally parked and got some good photos.

I've done a lot of traveling where I saw things I wanted to photograph, but either due to time limits or an impatient grandson, I passed them up. On this trip, I vowed, I would stop every place I wanted to, road conditions permitting.

I've made U-turns in a number of places on this trip, always where it's safe. I saw on old log cabin in Utah, and found a good place to get off the road several hundred yards farther on. I walked back, took a photo of the cliffs across the valley on the way, and focused on the cabin. Nothing...battery was exhausted. Since I had already invested so much effort, there was absolutely no doubt what I would do. I walked back to the car, changed batteries, walked back to the cabin, and got my photos.

I probably could have cut a day off the eastbound trip if I had not stopped so many times, but that was all part of the plan.

 

The Walker Blog:

 

Statistics: I traveled a total of 6,406 miles. 1,192 of these were "local" miles, that is, driving around while at a destination. I had reached 3,869 when I left my farthest eastern destination in Maumee, OH. I bought 205 gallons of gas on the trip, and averaged 30.54 MPG.

I drove through or spent time in 15 states, but didn't add any new ones to the list of 36 I've been in.

I took 2,012 photos. There are actually more, since some were taken in panorama mode, which is usually two to four separate photos. However, they will ultimately become one, so I counted each set as one. Many will be discarded, either because they are different exposures of the same scene, they are out of focus, or they are just not worth keeping. Less than 10% of the photos I keep will make it on to the web site.

When I got home, I did four loads of laundry in the first two days (I did laundry twice on the trip).

I left my thermostat set at 86 degrees; it took from 2 p.m. till 10 p.m. to cool the house down to 80.

I got lost five times but found myself quickly.

I had more fun than the law allows, but I'm looking forward to being home for a while.

I've Been Everywhere: Not really, but I've been a lot of places. Maybe it's just natural human chauvinism, but I have not found a place I would prefer to live over California. There is at least one place I think I could live and be happy, and that is Arizona. It would have to be somewhere half way between the high country and the Valley of the Sun, maybe Wickenburg. I'd have to investigate the weather patterns a lot more thoroughly than I have just by driving through there a few times in February or March.

Another place I liked a lot was Missoula, MT. It's a good size town, with Target, Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid, and other chain stores, but only one of each instead of half a dozen like Fresno. It's in a fairly level basin surrounded by mountains. I think the only drawback, and it's a deal killer, is winter. If they ever do something about that, I'll reconsider.

Just about every other place I've been is too hot, too cold, too humid, too rural, or too red.

    

Due to the large size of this report, the photos are on a separate page.

  
Related Links
    
June Lake Loop Reverse Creek Lodge June Lake
Lee Vining Panum Crater Obsidian Dome
Great Basin National Park Baker, Nevada Mono-Inyo Craters
Dinosaur National Monument Obsidian Dome Mining Devil's Postpile National Monument
Rocky Mountain National Park Truman Library Geology of Devil's Postpile
Rainbow Falls Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive Lehman Caves
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Tonopah, NV Eli, NV
Baker Archeological Site Fremont Culture More about Fremont Pepole
Foxtail pines Foxtail Pines Foxtail Pines
Bristlecone Pines Great Basin Bristlecones California's Bristlecones
Amazing trees Engleman Spruce Limber Pines
Bristlecone Photos Lake Bonneville Cutthroat Reintroduction
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Green River Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum
Uintah County Heritage Museum Uinta Basin Rangely, CO
Canyon Pintado Historic District Kokopelli More About Kokopelli
John Wesley Powell Holzwarth Historic Site Trail Ridge Road
Fulton County, OH Schmidt Brothers Farm Fort Irwin
   

 

 
Travel Reports
   
Before 2002     2002     2003     2004     2005     2006     2007     2008

2009    2010    2011    2012     2013     2014     2015     2016     2017     Other

   
Before 2002
Early Trips Later Trips
Camping Trips Backpacking Trips
1961 Monterey Jazz Festival Bluegrass Odyssey
   
Multi-Year Compilations
Fresno Area Canal Walks Clovis Trail Walks
   
2002
Journey of 2002 (Ohio & Back) Logandale & Utah Parks 2002
   
2003
Arizona & Bluegrass on the River 2003 Grand Canyon & Logandale Bluegrass 2003
Parkfield & Huck Finn 2003 Early Frog Camps (2003-2005)
   
2004
Paso Robles & Parkfield 2004 Road Trip 2004 (Ohio & Back)
Bullhead City Bluegrass, Mesa, Superstition Bluegrass 2004 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2004
   
2005
Arizona-Southern California 2005 Huck Finn Bluegrass 2005
Morro Bay 2005 Stargazer Rock Camp 2005
Parkfield Bluegrass 2005    
   
2006
Huck Finn Bluegrass 2006 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2006
Rock Creek Non-Camp Stargazer Rock Camp 2006
Parkfield Bluegrass 2006 Oregon 2006
Bluegrass in the Foothills 2006    
   
2007
Bullhead City, Bakersfield, Joshua Tree 2007 Frog Camp 2007
Eastern Sierra Journey 2007 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2007
Stargazer Rock Camp 2007 Roundup #1
(Mother Lode; Kings Canyon, Yosemite)
Bluegrass in the Foothills 2007    
   
2008
Nevada-Arizona Hockey & Bluegrass 2008 Parkfield Bluegrass 2008
Frog Camp 2008 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2008
Stargazer Rock Camp 2008 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2008
Hobbs Grove Festival 2008     
   
2009
Roundup 2009
Las Vegas, Mariposa, Table Mountain, Orange County
Frog Camp 2009 Southern Journey 2009
Parkfield Bluegrass 2009 Stargazer Rock Camp 2009
Bluegrass Tour 2009
Brown Barn, Plymouth, Hobbs Grove
Hensley Lake Camp
   
2010
Mojave National Preserve & Havasu Bluegrass Roundup 2010
Hensley Reservoir, Mojave Preserve 2 & 3
Parkfield Bluegrass 2010 Lake Almanor & Mt. Lassen 2010
Las Vegas Expo Summergrass
    Brown Barn, Watsonville & Hobbs Grove
   
2011
Roundup 2011
Mariposa, Hensley, Table Mountain
Frog Camp 2011
Parkfield Bluegrass 2011 Frank, Pat, Dick & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Northern Coast Journey 2011 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2011
Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival Chilkoot & Stargazer Rock Camp
Kings River & Brown Barn Bluegrass Festivals Hensley Camp 2011
    
2012 
Parkfield Bluegrass 2012 Four Squaw Leap Hikes
Northern Coast Journey 2012 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2012
Stargazer Rock Camp 2012 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2012
A 3-Event Weekend
Farmer's Market, Kings River Bluegrass, Antique Fair
2012 Las Vegas CAN AM Hockey Challenge
Fall Hikes
Finegold Trail; Bower Cave
Into Los Gatos Canyon
  
2013
Silver Stick Tournament - Canada Sierra Foothills - Winter 2013
Finegold Trailhead, Hensley Lake, San Joaquin Gorge
Death Valley - Alabama Hills - Whitney Portal Sierra Foothills - Spring 2013
San Joaquin Gorge Hike, Big Creek Drive
Parkfield Bluegrass 2013 Shaver Crossing Station & Big Creek
Lake Almanor & Caribou Crossroads Mono Hot Springs
Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival A Wedding in Duluth
Sequoia Park Hiking Roundup 2013
Kings River Bluegrass, Buena Vista Peak Hike, Hensley Lake Camp, North Fork Mono Museum, White Rock Road, Hockey in Denver
     
2014
2014 Winter Hikes
Millerton South Bay Trail, Clovis Trail, Hite's Cove Trail
San Joaquin Gorge Campout
Colorado Springs Hockey Tournament Lake Havasu Bluegrass
2014 Spring Hikes
Stockton Creek Preserve, San Joaquin River Trail, San Joaquin Gorge, Millerton Lake, Sycamore Creek, Buena Vista Peak Again
NORCAL Hockey Playoffs and Santa Cruz Visit
Greeley Hill Road Trip Parkfield Bluegrass 2014
Journey of 2014 Journey of 2014 Photos
Nelder Grove Hikes 2014 Sentinel Dome Hike
2014 Fall & Winter Hikes
San Joaquin River Trail South & North, Red Rock Canyon Nevada, San Joaquin South Again
California Flat Campout
Snow Day with the  Upshaw's   
 
2015
Rambler Hikes 2015 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2015 Part 2
Adventures of 2015 - February to May
(Goofy Smith Flat, Coast Redwoods & Big Sur, Pine Flat, Finegold Trail, Edison Point Trail, Nelder Grove)
Adventures of 2015 - June to December
(Lewis Creek Trail, Kaiser Pass, Kaiser Pass Again, Taft Point, Kings River Bluegrass, Shaver Logging Road, San Joaquin River Trail, Lewis S Eaton Trail, San Joaquin River Gorge, Thanksgiving at the Gorge)
Lake Tahoe & Virginia City Parkfield Bluegrass 2015
Colorado Springs Cousin Convention 2015 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2015
Stargazer Rock Camp 2015 Grand Canyon & Arches National Parks
  
2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 1
Adventures of 2016 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 2
Adventures of 2016 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 3
Adventures of 2016 Part 4 A Pennsylvania Adventure
Adventures of 2016 Part 5 Parkfield Bluegrass 2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 6 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 7 Stargazer Rock Camp 2016
     
2017
Adventures of 2017 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 1
Adventures of 2017 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 2
Adventures of 2017 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 3
Adventures of 2017 Part 4 Hiking and Hockey
Parkfield Bluegrass 2017 Stargazer Rock Camp 2017
Other
Fresno Area Canal Walks Clovis Trail Walks
Butch's Blog Walker Family Trips
Parkfield Earthquake Kim & Morgan Brown Trips & Photos
Travel Report Menu Estel Home Page
Photo Albums Slide Shows
Laurie Lewis' High Sierra Hikes Email
   
 

Updated December 17, 2015