Dateline: Deadwood, SD

Leah and I deliberately planned our arrival to Deadwood to coincide with the conclusion of the 81st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and for good reason. This year’s 10-day event brought 700,000 bikers to Deadwood’s neighbor town of 7,000 residents amid the highly infectious Delta variant–without vaccination, testing or masking requirements–which from a Covid-19 perspective is equivalent to shoveling 100 pounds of shit into a 1-lb. bag.

Adding perspective to our paranoia, last year’s event qualified as the nation’s #1 super-spreader of the summer when 462,000 gathered for the rally–infecting 649 with Covid, and contributing to soaring hospitalizations throughout the region, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Despite the many Harleys that lingered at our campground beyond the last tequila shots and freshly inked tats, the streets of Deadwood were relatively crowd-free. We weaved around occasional families, and dodged small gatherings of people dressed in leather vests when they were missing masks.

Because we had little interest in repeating the same activities that brought us to the Black Hills 4 years ago–albeit still wanting to be safe in the process–we decided on pursuits that would limit our exposure to the Delta variant, like: cycling on the George Michelson Rail Trail;

touring a gold mine on the edge of town;

and strolling through Mt. Moriah Cemetery…

which I’ll detail now, with the other activity highlights to follow in future posts.

On a clear day, the best view of Deadwood gulch and the surrounding Black Hills comes from Mt. Moriah Cemetery, rising 200 ft. above town. And from the look of early photographs taken from the edge of Deadwood’s Boot Hill, not much has changed.

Thanks to the 23 casinos across town, the revenue taxed from gaming has funded the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission which provides loans and grants for large-scale restoration projects that manage to keep the 19th century vibe alive.

When strolling down Main Street, it’s easy to imagine the likes of Jack McCall sneaking up on Wild Bill Hickok while he played a hand of poker at Saloon #10,

and shooting him dead in the back of the head on August 2, 1876.

Wild Bill’s final resting place is just beyond the cemetery gates.

Calamity Jane, per her dying wish, keeps him company next door.

However, it was widely known that Wild Bill had no use for her and considered her a nuisance, which makes their graveyard union the cruelest of eternal jokes.

There are many distinct sections of Mt. Moriah Cemetery:

A children’s section of unmarked graves calls attention to a time of heartfelt tragedy;

In Section Six, an alter for offerings to departed spirits denotes the thriving community of 400 Chinese immigrants who followed their dream of striking it rich during Deadwood’s Gold Rush. Thirty-three souls were buried in Section Six, but only three remain, with the majority having been disinterred and returned to China;

There is a Soldiers’ Lot of Civil War veterans administered by the NCA;

But most interesting is the Jewish section, known as Hebrew Hill, honoring many Jewish pioneers who made significant civic, commercial and social contributions to Deadwood society, notably:

Harris Franklin, an immigrant entrepreneur from Prussia who amassed a fortune through banking, ranching, mining, and hospitality, and whose son became the the second mayor of Deadwood;

and Nathan Colman, who became Deadwood’s life-long elected Justice of the Peace, and lay Rabbi for the Jewish community for more than thirty years. His daughter, Blanche was the first woman from Black Hills to be admitted to the South Dakota Bar.

Oddly, Solomon Star is missing from Mt. Zion. He died alone on his Deadwood estate in 1917, and was thrown a lavish funeral fit for a king by the townsfolk…but he was buried in St. Louis.

Sol Star was a dedicated public servant, who served on Deadwood’s first town council before becoming Deadwood’s ten-term Mayor. He was elected to the State House of Representatives, and won a seat in South Dakota’s State Senate shortly after. He finished his civic career as Lawrence County’s Clerk of Courts for twenty years.

But if that wasn’t enough, Sol Star was also a long-time business associate of Seth Bullock, the undisputed king of the hill…

from where he shares unimpeded views of the Black Hills with his wife, Martha beside him.

Seth Bullock’s origin story is an essential part of Black Hills lore. He arrived two days after Wild Bill was murdered and was quickly appointed Deadwood’s first Sheriff. He was an imposing figure who got the job done without ever killing a man or woman.

He celebrated his deeply personal friendship with Teddy Roosevelt by building The Friendship Tower atop a peak in the Black Hills National Forest 2.5 miles from Deadwood…

and declared it Mount Roosevelt.

All the history that’s baked into the bones of Deadwood’s dearly departed, and all of the iconic imagery that’s scattered among them are references and remembrances of a time when people pulled together and persevered.

Together, they tamed the Wild West. Together, they defeated lawlessness with civility, and went on to create a diverse and inclusive community that was determined to improve their condition through mutual cooperation.

And they accomplished this in the midst of Black Hills, South Dakota…

which helps to restore my faith in optimism.

Rock Art

Billings was our final stopover in Montana before continuing east to Deadwood, SD. Upon arrival, Billings health officials issued a local advisory restricting outdoor activity due to a blanket of smoke and ash that had invaded the valley from several regional fires that were burning unabated.

While we would have preferred exploring the winding trails through the Rimrock Bluffs–overlooking the Yellowstone River and town–we lowered our expectations, given the extreme heat and unhealthy air quality index, and opted for a brief walking tour through Pictograph Cave State Park, known for its natural and cultural significance.

Just a 5-mile jaunt south of Billings, we approached a sandstone bluff in the shape of a horseshoe, and turned into an empty parking lot. Surprisingly, the Visitor’s Center was open and filled with a variety of artifacts that WPA workers recovered from the cave floor between 1937 and 1941–considered the first major archeological excavation on the Northern Plains.

In all, over 30,000 artifacts were discovered, with some dating back over 9,000 years.

We cautiously hiked up a narrow, sandy footpath through sprigs of yarrow and juniper shrubs, hoping to avoid an encounter with a prairie rattlesnake or bull snake…

until we reached the mouth of Pictograph Cave, revealing a stone wall that was once part of a ceremonial lodge. The dotted line above the left side of the wall structure was drawn by WPA workers to mark the original floor line before they began digging.

We stood motionless for a beat to allow our eyes to adjust to the shadows, before scanning the cave in search of ancient charcoal and red markings. Even with the help of graphic displays that emphasized these creations,

it was no less a challenge to identify the drawings due to a veil of calcium that had formed over the pigment during a dry period. These figures were carbon dated between 1480 to 1650 A.D.

The red pigment was created from an ancient recipe combining ground up hematite (concentrated iron ore) with assorted binders such as animal fat, berries, blood and adjusted with water or urine while heated to form a paste that was applied by finger or stick.

A rack of flintlock rifles that were painted within the last 200 years is located no more than 15 feet away from the other figures.

While not the easiest to decipher, a nearby graphic makes it more apparent.

Continuing our walk along the cliff, we reached a middle cave with evidence of clams fossils and other sea life embedded in sandstone that likely lived during the late Cretaceous Period when this portion of America was under water.

Then up a rising that followed the curvature of the cliff, we reached the Ghost Cave. While no drawings were discovered here, a series of round boulders known as concretions formed as a result of a clam bed that was exposed when the sea eventually receded.

These cliffs continue to evolve as winter ice cuts through brittle stone; massive rains charge over the cliffs, turning into intermittent waterfalls; and smoke ash eats away at porous surfaces.

While the evolution of our landscape is inevitable, we must look for ways to tap the brakes on what’s creating the intensity and severity of our man-made issues, and allow nature to take its true course.

After all, it’s not supposed to be this hot; it’s not supposed to be this dry; and it’s not supposed to be this smoky during Montana summers.

Big Things Come in Small Packages

This post originally celebrates the enormity of the General Sherman sequoia as I observed it 4 years ago. However, today it’s a reminder of the fragility of this ancient forest–currently facing a ravishing fire–where the largest living organisms on our planet are in peril. General Sherman has survived over 100 burns in its 2,200 years of existence, but the scale and intensity of today’s wildfires have become more commonplace, and threaten the world around us. I pray the fire can be contained and the forest survives, so future generations can appreciate nature’s miracle.

Streaming thru America

“Size matters!” has long been considered a hard fact among those who measure the enormity of things, and eagerly justify the value of their preponderance. Yet all things big begin from most things small, and that’s the long and short of it. While this may come as a relief to many who seem challenged by the limited extension of their personality, it comes as no surprise to sequoias that have sensed this for millions of years.

Giant sequoia trees are native to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas, where they grow exclusively in protected groves. Every tree starts from a firm cone no larger than a chicken’s egg–

hand and cone

–each one releasing thousands of seeds resembling oat flakes, hoping to take advantage of a litter-free forest floor made fertile by fire.

Flash forward 2400 years, and if the then-seedling hasn’t been logged…

Mark Twain stump

…or besieged by fire (although its bark…

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Glacier N(o) P(ass)

Each and every time Leah and I applied online for an entry pass to Glacier NP we were too late, and we fretted that maybe we made the trip to Glacier for nothing.

Then I learned that if we make a reservation for an activity inside the park, that would guarantee our entry through the gate. So I booked a scenic rafting trip through the Middle Fork of the Flathead River with a third party vendor.

Problem solved…or so I thought.

It turns out our rafting outfitter operated in the village just outside the park gates, and our park entry was still in jeopardy. We could have canceled with sufficient notice, but we were still up for a float,

and decided to go with the flow…

through glacially carved flats,

and formidable canyons walls…

that were ideal for jumping into crystal-clear waters.

But there is another way in, and it’s not really a secret. Just get to the park anytime before the gate attendants arrive at 6AM, or visit the park anytime after the gate attendants leave for the day at 5PM.

We did both, and left tired each day…but satisfied!

There’s very little to say about Glacier National Park that hasn’t already been said. It’s acknowledged by many as one of the crown jewels of the National Park Service since its inception in 1910.

If there was a beauty pageant for National Parks, Glacier would win the crown, and wear it with authority:

There are more than enough peaks to pique a mountaineer’s interest;

plenty of waterfalls to satisfy a photographer’s wet dream,

and a fair share of elusive critters to make one’s heart beat fast.

Sadly, no bears wanted their portrait captured by me, despite ample park activity reported at the time of our stay.

While much of the park’s majesty is projected through its mountains, lakes, canyons and waterfalls, its easy to overlook the shimmering river rocks beneath our feet,

or the shimmering heavens above our heads.

North Cascades Detour

So much about North Cascades National Park reminds me that I’m at a very remote place in America. For starters, there’s limited phone service here which makes GPS plotting a nightmare, and probably explains the frequent mile markers that line North Cascades Highway (State Route 20). It’s the only road that winds its way through the park, and connects all the entities that encompass Stephen Mather Wilderness.

Of the 684,000 acres that Lyndon Johnson and Congress set aside in 1968, 94% of the land has been designated as wilderness. Of the remaining 6%, there is no formal camping and only a handful of designated trails, which may help to explain why the park hosts an average of 30,000 visitors per year compared to 2 million visitors per year at Mt. Rainier National Park.

By the time Leah and I reached the Pacific coast, we learned that the Cedar Creek Fire was burning out of control within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest–threatening the eastern entrance to North Cascades NP, and compromising Winthrop’s air quality, nearby. To make matters worse, North Cascades Highway had been barricaded between mile marker 170 and 185, which meant that if we managed to visit the park–which was always part of our original itinerary–we had no way out.

SR-20 road closures are not breaking news to the people living east of the North Cascades. They’re used to it. In fact, every year from late fall to early spring, SR-20 is closed because of drifting snow across the road (measuring 12 feet) and the high risk of avalanches in areas of steep terrain. Anybody wishing to travel to Seattle must settle on traveling I-90 through the dreaded Snoqualmie Pass.

One week before our anticipated arrival, we phoned a park ranger to voice our concern about likely dangers, and help us determine if our plans were realistic. In return, she gave us a website address to track the daily conditions of the fire, and she reassured us that, “Every day in the park is unpredictable. It all depends on which way the wind blows.”

By the time we were scheduled to visit the park, the Cedar Creek Fire had merged with Cub Creek 2 Fire to become America’s largest forest fire with over 100,000 scorched acres and still burning wildly. Leah and I had an important decision to make: either we risk a visit, or we make alternate plans. There really wasn’t much debate. We were determined to stick to our plans, while well aware of the ranger’s mantra.

We camped outside the park in Rockport at an unusual location dotted with dated, theme cabins, a shuttered restaurant, a wine-tasting room, and a smattering of weedy RV sites overrun by rabbits.

After unhitching, we drove a half-hour to Newhalem, the site of a company town owned by Seattle City Light and the residence of employees working on the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project–a series of three dams and power stations along the Skagit River–

Gorge Power Station
Diablo Dam
Ross Power Station

providing electricity to Seattle since Calvin Coolidge ceremoniously started the first generators in 1924.

As of this summer, the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe has petitioned Seattle City Light to remove the Gorge Dam in order to restore treaty-protected fishing rights to sacred grounds known as The Valley of the Spirits–a 3-mile stretch of the Skagit River area that has dewatered since the dam’s creation–causing the disappearance of bull trout, chinook salmon and steelhead, and consequently threatening the existence of killer whales in the Puget Sound that depend on the fish to survive.

If Seattle City Light hopes to win a new 50-year license to operate the dams, they must demonstrate that the dams cause no harm to the environment. However, regulatory agencies have noted that the dams limit fish passage, affect the water temperature, and prevent much-needed, mineral-rich sediment from reaching the river beds where salmon once spawned.

The following day, our excursion took us deeper into the park, where a faint scent of smoke was in the air. It wasn’t bad enough to impact a full day of activity, but it still managed to drop a smoke bomb on our vistas, turning the “American Alps” into an American disappointment.

We started our exploration at Diablo Lake, created by the Diablo Dam finished in 1930. While the smoke offered an impressionistic vision of the mountain, water and sky,

I much preferred clearer conditions the following day.

Nevertheless, we took advantage of calm waters,

and beautiful scenery.

Feeling like a hike nearby, we followed a trail that followed Thunder Creek,

providing the following views:

until we reached our turn-around point at the suspension bridge…

and reflected on flowing riverscapes north,

and south of the span.

The latest news on the Cedar Creek Fire brought tears to my eyes. Officials proposed closing North Cascades Highway for the remainder of the year. I immediately recalled the time four years to this day when we crossed the Continental Divide at the Vermilion Pass–outrunning the BC wildfires on Kootenay Highway–with the mountains ablaze on both sides of us (see Smoke and Mirrors).

While I had no interest in repeating history, I wasn’t looking forward to the two-hour detour that would return us to I-5 in order to reach Spokane to the east. But if that was to be our only way out, I was determined to travel the North Cascades Highway the next day for as far as the law allowed.

Of course there were stops to make along the way. When we reached Ross Lake at milepost 134, we took the opportunity to stretch our legs along the Ross Dam Trail. With so little traffic on the road, we were not expecting the parking lot at the trailhead to be a challenge. But then we weren’t anticipating a mule train either.

They were preparing to cross the dam to perform trail maintenance further up the Pacific Northwest Trail.

We crossed a dense forest…

to the edge of Ross Lake and across the dam road,

where we were soon joined by the pack leader and company…

for views of Snowfield Peak and distant glaciers.

Of course, we had to dance around the mule poo on our return to the parking lot before continuing our quest.

Our next destination took us to milepost 158, where we intersected the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail at Rainy Pass on our way to Rainy Lake for an easy, 1-mile, wheelchair-accessible hike, until we encountered a tree across the trail within 500 yards of the trail’s end.

Unfortunately, physically disadvantaged people could not appreciate the crystal clear water of this alpine beauty,

or enjoy a distant look at Rainy Lake Falls cascading 850 feet into its namesake lake.

Shame on the NPS!

We reached Washington Pass Overlook–our final destination at milepost 162– to ogle the Liberty Bell Group,

and Kangaroo Ridge–

the defining point between Western Washington and Eastern Washington.

And that’s when I saw it! In the distance, midway along the stretch of highway, 8 miles away was the end of the road. I steadied myself for the shot.

We had completed our mission. There was nothing more for us to see before returning west to resume our journey east on August 5th.

By August 10th, the road closure was lifted, and low-speed, one-way traffic resumed in both directions. But I was unconcerned and didn’t mind. I had already arrived at Glacier National Park.

Blockhouse, Bluffs, and Bagels

It was our last day on the Olympic Peninsula, and we intended to visit the San Juan Islands, but time and weather never allowed it. Getting an early start in the rain seemed risky given the distance we’d need to travel, and the ferry reservation was an added hurdle and inconvenience.

Instead, we hoped and patiently waited for the early morning weather to abate. There was news of improving conditions by mid-morning, so we chanced a trip to Whidbey Island, where we were rewarded with thick, dismal skies, (yuck), and no rain in sight (yay)!

We drove to Mukilteo, where we just missed the 10 o’clock ferry to Clinton by 6 cars (damn!), but we were poised at the front of the boat for the half-hour ride to Whidbey Island at 10:30 AM (yay!).

After docking, we completed the half-hour ride to Ebey’s Landing, site of the Nation’s first National Historical Reserve (1978),

and a stunning landscape that befits the gateway to Puget Sound (wow!).

Just outside the Jacob Ebey homestead (now the Visitor’s Center) in Pratt’s Preserve…

stands a reconstructed blockhouse, originally built in 1854, and one of four still standing (who knew?). The blockhouse was built by Colonel Isaac Ebey to defend his claim against insurgent Skagit natives, who naturally resisted the pioneer settlement. Unfortunately, Isaac’s father, Jacob was beheaded in the cabin by a Skagit warrior in retaliation for the murder of one of their own chieftains (hmm…).

On the edge of the prairie, tangent to the Sherman-Bishop Farm…

is the trailhead that follows the bluffs along Admiralty Inlet.

We steadily climbed the bluff which gave us a birds eye view of Perego’s Lagoon–half wet, half dry–(huh?)

with a salt residue that could have resembled the surface of a different planet (odd)

until I spotted the pentagram that an ambitious soul had designed from driftwood logs (very odd!).

While the landscape was certainly impressive, something was still missing (huh?).

Where were the picture postcard views of Port Townsend and the Olympic Mountains across the water that were hiding behind overcast skies? (right?)

Nevertheless, our spirits were undiminished. We finished the Bluff Trail (phew!), and continued by F-150 to the historic waterfront of Coupeville, Washington State’s second oldest community, and it’s teaming with century-old buildings (nice!).

Our stroll down Front Street, once a beehive of maritime commerce,

brought us to a gentrified collection of bookstores, wine tasting rooms, gift shops, ice cream shops and coffee shops (sad).

Discovering the birthplace of Seattle’s Best Coffee was of particular interest to me, as I served this coffee exclusively when I operated my boil-and-bake-from-scratch, bagel bakery in Denville, New Jersey (really?). Their company and my franchisor later became symbiotic partners when both companies were acquired by AFC Enterprises in 1998.

All of which has contributed greatly to my being able to gracefully retire and follow my whim in pursuit of images, impressions, and memories.

The Mountain Is Out Today

Mount Rainier is so imposing that it makes its own weather, and on most days the mountain disappears under its thorny crown of rain clouds.

In fact, weather analysts calculate the odds of “seeing” Mount Rainier likely hovers between once or twice a week, considering the 189 rain-days per year, producing 126 inches of precipitation annually.

On the other hand, July is Mount Rainier’s driest month, with an average of 7 days of rainfall, amounting to 2 inches on average, which improves the odds tremendously for the millions who live and travel the I-5 corridor between Tacoma and Seattle. They invoke a familiar colloquialism that captures the moments when Mount Rainier reveals itself. They say, “The mountain is out today.”

My youngest son Nathan, who lives in nearby Bellevue had arranged long ago to glamp with Leah and me for a summer weekend at the National Park so he could experience Paradise, up close and personal, for the first time.

Happily, during our visit, “the mountain was out,” and it was magnificent!

On our first day together, we sought out a few of the requisite park sites as part of Nate’s Rainier orientation, including:

a wobbly walk across a suspension bridge…

to gaze at ancient trees…

in the Grove of the Patriarchs;

a hike to Myrtle Falls, cascading 72 feet into a rocky gorge;

a gambol across Sunbeam Creek on the Wonderland Trail before it rolls into Stevens Canyon;

tracking iconic, Narada Falls,

as it plunges 168 feet into a canyon of split rocks;

admiring Reflection Lakes, sans the reflection (ruined by wind-swept ripples);

and relishing the trove of jaw-dropping, mountain vistas that seem to vanish into thin air–

which we reflected on while enjoying a soft-serve swirl at the historic Paradise Inn.

The next day, the mountain was still out, and it was a picture perfect day for hiking the Skyline Trail to Panorama Point.

Of all the trails I’ve trekked, I can say with cautious certainty that the Skyline Trail may be among the most magnificent of them. With the sun out, and blooming wildflowers dotting the landscape, there are few hikes that can compare.

We started on a paved path from the Paradise Inn at 5,420 feet elevation, and continued to climb through flower-carpeted meadows for a mile…

until we reached the Deadhorse Creek Trail spur, and looked back in wonderment.

We were now traipsing through packed snow and rocky terrain as we reached the tree line. We paused for a break where other hikers were keenly aware of something or someone through binoculars and long camera lenses. I scanned the mountain for movement through my viewfinder, and discovered the attraction–a team trekking across the glacier on their way to the summit.

Nisqually Glacier was now looming large in our sights.

The spectacle of watching the snowmelt pummeling the moraine below was thrilling.

It seemed to us that Rainier was so close, we could almost touch it.

With one last push, we arrived at Panorama Point, having climbed 1400 feet in 2 hours. I should have felt drained, but I was giddy with excitement with views from the overlook,

while also spotting Mount St. Helens far in the distance,

and capturing the Nisqually River as it meanders through the Rampart Ridge gorge.

On our return trip, we opted to take the Glacier Vista spur for a beauty shot of the mountain,

and ourselves.

Returning via the Alta Vista Trail gave us a very different impression of the valley below,

but also prompted us to occasionally glance back to admire the source of all the magic.

An Olympic Reunion

Dear Olympic National Park,

I missed you, and that’s the truth. It’s why I wanted to see you again. But you sure don’t make it easy–playing hard-to-get with me. You had me waiting over 40 minutes outside your gates before you finally greeted me.

After the way things ended between us four years ago, I expected better, but I guess I was wrong about us. I realize that we got off on the wrong foot during my last hike, but that’s because I woke up on the wrong side of your park. If only I had paid more attention to your signs, then maybe I wouldn’t have driven myself crazy driving through your forest like a maniac in the first place (see An Olympian Apology).

While I’m grateful for all the photogenic landscapes that you provided in the past…

I’m here to make amends and some new memories…with your cooperation, of course.

You might think I’m asking a lot of you, but it would go a long way towards rebuilding our partnership if you could spare me a blue sky and high clouds during my stay.

In return, I promise to leave no stone unturned…

While in your presence, I will pay respects to your ancient trees and forests;

I will tread lightly through your Hoh Rain Forest;

I will resist the Sirens of your noble beaches;

I will appreciate the beauty of your mountains views;

I will treasure the pristine waters of your alpine lakes;

and I will appropriately distance myself from your wildlife, as you have requested.

My one-week stay with you was delightful, thanks to your moderate temperatures, and your smokeless, blue skies. I sensed you enjoyed it too, because I caught you basking in your own sunlight.

I hope that we can remain friends, because I find you so intriguing. I’m amazed that you have so many different ecosystems to juggle, and you manage them all so effortlessly.

I’m a fan.

All the best,

Neal and Leah

Oregon Potpourri

Leah and I had a lot of ground to cover during our brief visit to the Oregon Coast. With so much to see and do before we moved on, there was little time to waste. We immersed ourselves in seaside activities until we were Ore-goners.

We set up our first camp site at South Beach State Park, and made a beeline to the beach. After 10 weeks and 9,000 miles on the road, we were finally celebrating “sea to shining sea.”

The following morning, we visited Yaquina Head to play in the tidepools;

observe the seabirds,

study the sealions;

and visit Oregon’s tallest lighthouse (93 feet), projecting its light beam 19 miles out to sea since 1873.

And then we were off to Newport’s Historic Bayfront,

where we lunched with our safari buddies Brenda and Michael, who drove from Portland to join us for the afternoon.

On our last full day at South Beach, we played nature tourist. We gawked at Devil’s Punchbowl;

the Seal Rock;

and Cook’s Chasm.

We combed the black sand beaches, searching for sea glass gems;

and we were entertained by surfers braving frigid waters along Beverly Beach to round out our day.

Typically on moving day, it’s clean-up, hitch-up and safety check before moving on to our next destination. Once in a while we’ll break up the drive by stopping for lunch at a roadside dive, but mostly we’ll snack in the pickup. However on this particular day, on our way up the Oregon Coast Highway to Cannon Beach, we were eager to stop at Tillamook Creamery.

And we were not alone. Hundreds were passing through the overhead exhibition windows with us…

before earning a taste of Oregon’s finest ice cream.

Once situated at camp site #2, we were free to roam the shore to explore a different kind of scoop, but still a rocky road…

along Ecola State Park.

Our evening was reserved for clam chowder at Dooger’s in Seaside, and then a walk along their lively beach at dusk.

The area is also filled with history. Leah and I spent the next day time climbing through the gunnery emplacements at Fort Stevens,

intended to protect the mouth of the Columbia River.

We also discovered the Peter Iredale, or what was left of the four-masted steel barque sailing vessel that ran aground in 1906 en route to the Columbia River.

Nearby, the Lewis and Clark Historical Park offered a replica of Fort Clatsup,

and a glimpse of early 19th century housing for Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Lieut. William Clark,

and their guide Sacagawea and son, Baptiste.

Finally, a day of walking through Astoria gave us wonderful examples of coastal living…

and coastal culture,

But a hike up 164 steps to the tower of the hand-painted Astoria Column…

offered us a scenic perspective…

that prepared us…

for our crossing to Washington’s Olympic National Park.

to be continued…

Oregon’s Rugged Coastline

I’ve longed to experience Oregon’s rugged coastline in person ever since the 4th grade, when I was assigned to write an essay on Pacific Ocean sea stacks by my social studies teacher. I can remember dutifully tracing the shapes of coastal rock formations from an atlas I discovered at my community library in preparation for the accompanying poster that counted for 50% of my grade.

60 years later, I finally got to see this exquisite landscape with my own eyes, and it was worth the wait. So much so, that I decided to reenact the assignment and create a new poster of my own images.

(Click on any of the images for a full-frame slide show)

No other words are necessary.

Caldera Lake, aka Crater Lake

When Mount Mazama, a 12,000-foot volcano exploded approximately 7,700 years ago, the mountain collapsed into itself and created a caldera–not a crater.

Subsequently, the caldera–not the crater–filled with rain and snowfall, giving birth to Crater Lake–despite not being a crater.

Craters, on the other hand are formed by the outward explosion of rocks and other materials from a volcano.

Given the current r/age of woke, caldera supporters from around the world have voiced their concern that calderas run the risk of becoming extinct because they’re misunderstood and so often mistaken for craters.

Yet this caldera is not giving up so easily. It may be dormant today, but that doesn’t mean it won’t blow its top in another thousand years if provoked.

And the caldera experts say they have solid, supporting evidence that science is on their side,

convincing them to champion a campaign that calls attention to the ‘Calderas Matter‘ cause.

There are also plans to petition the Department of Interior for a Caldera Lake name change to assure accuracy in earth science, eliminate caldera bias, and restore caldera dignity.

Eventually, a hearing conducted by the National Park Service will help to decide the matter, and weigh the importance of the Mount McKinley/Denali precedent as part of the woke defense.

The strategy may seem twisted to many skeptics,

and naturally, the Caldera Committee members acknowledge the uphill struggle–

considering that Crater Lake (aka Caldera Lake) was declared a national park by Teddy Roosevelt in 1902, which amounts to overcoming 120 years of fake news.

Nevertheless, Leah and I were immediately dispatched by the Caldera Committee to Crater/Caldera Lake for a routine site inspection,

but what we observed was anything but routine.

The day after our arrival, an ill wind blew in from the east bringing smoke from the Bootleg Fire,

which settled over the caldera like a blanket of blur, and interfered with our investigation.

We had little choice but to comb the mountain in search of alternate evidence, and found it on the backside of the caldera in the shape of giant pinnacles that rose up from the ashes to vent the volcanic gases.

Additionally, we followed the Pinnacles Trail to inspect Plaikni Falls,

and observe the habits of local insects.

We also trekked to Annie Creek to judge the wildflower growth…

against the ash canyon.

Ultimately, there will be a public forum on the issue, but the final decision will always come from those in high places.

Mount Denali

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

If it wasn’t for Mount Mazama’s collapse from a major eruption approximately 7,700 yeas ago–which ultimately formed Crater Lake in Oregon’s Cascade Range–

then surely the Lava Lands surrounding Newberry Caldera would have become Oregon’s sacred National Park.

There actually was a fierce debate at the start of the 1900s on which natural wonder deserved this special status. Ultimately, Crater Lake was established as a National Park in 1902, and the Newberry Volcanic arc within Deschutes National Forest was eventually protected through Congressional legislation in 1990, and has been managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

That’s good news for any visitor who may be interested in the widest array of volcanic features of any U.S. National Park or National Monument.

Especially striking is the perimeter trail around Lava Butte–one of over 400 volcano cones and vents scattered over a 1,200 square mile area that’s equal to the size of Rhode Island…

and offering panoramic views of Oregon’s High Cascades,

and the surrounding lava fields and forest.

The current observation tower that rises atop the cinder cone’s rim is an active fire lookout that’s been staffed by the Forest Service since the original structure was constructed in 1913.

Aside from staring endlessly at Paulina Creek Falls as it cascades 80 feet…

from the lip of Paulina Lake,

no other park experience can compete with visiting the Lava River Cave, and taking a plunge into total darkness.

But first, there’s a mandatory briefing...

After listening to Ranger Dan’s orientation on white-nose syndrome and bat health awareness, he lectured us on what to expect inside the cave and cave etiquette.

For instance, Ranger Dan highly recommended that we pee before entering the cave.

“There are no facilities in the cave, nor is the cave to be used as a facility,” he announced. “It will be one-mile in and one-mile out. You’ll know when to turn around because you’ll come to a stop sign. Expect the hike to take two hours. The temperature inside the cave is 42o, so dress appropriately. Also, there is no electricity inside the cave, so take a reliable and appropriate light source with you that is NOT a cell phone. Watch how you step, because you will be walking on uneven surfaces, so I recommend footwear that are NOT flip flops. And remember to duck in low places, because you will come to a low ceiling halfway into the cave called Low Bridge Lane. Lanterns are available to rent at the gatehouse. Any questions before I let you go?”

A young voice from one of the 20 attendees seated behind asks, “Has anyone ever died inside the cave?”

“No human remains have ever been discovered inside the cave, and today is no exception,” predicts Ranger Dan. “So enjoy yourselves as you walk through something special that happened 80,000 years ago.”

First, we peed.

I returned with my flashlight, and Leah took my hand as we started down the first 50…

of 150 steps into darkness,

descending deeper and deeper into the abyss.

That’s when I realized that sharing a flashlight was an obvious mistake. It was a daunting challenge, trying to take photos in total darkness…

while navigating the terrain and guiding Leah simultaneously.

So I enlisted her as my key grip–coaching her to direct my flashlight beam where I needed it most–while I composed the shot, and prayed she wouldn’t run off, leaving me stranded with my cell phone.

Eventually, we reached the end…together,

where I stopped to reflect on our tandem accomplishment before u-turning…

Inevitably when hiking together, Leah walks ahead, as I’m more inclined to go at my own pace, taking photos. It drives her crazy that I’m deliberately slow at times: either waiting for the light to improve; or I’m busy framing an image; or I’m manipulating settings on my camera. However, Leah has come to accept my pokey photography habits. She realizes that she can explore ahead of me instead of waiting for me. Besides, I always catch up to her.

But this hike was different. With only one light source between us, we were forced to stick closely together and work as a team. And that made all the difference getting back to start.

Clear Lake Mistake

There is a lake in Oregon’s high Cascade Lakes region that was created 3,000 years ago by a lava flow that burned and dammed a forested valley. Then it filled with fresh spring water from Mt. Washington snowmelt and the McKenzie River springhead that percolated up through pumice and lava rock. The water is so pure and cold enough throughout the year that algae has no chance of growing, allowing remarkable visibility–up to 100 feet below the water’s surface. Hence, the name Clear Lake.

But even more remarkable is the standing forest of sunken petrified trees that time and alpine freshwater has preserved in pockets of the lake.

We arrived at Coldwater Cove to survey the scene with the option of launching our origami kayaks to explore the depths for its underwater secrets.

But Leah preferred to hike the 5-mile trail around Clear Lake, thinking that the water would be too cold.

So we set about on foot, through the lava fields on the eastern shore, and walked around the south side of the lake, crossing the McKenzie River…

to an inlet where the water was mirror still.

At this point, I was perfectly happy to backtrack to the pickup to reconsider our kayaking option, but Leah wanted to finish the loop and talked me out of it.

The trail hugged the western shoreline, providing amazing views of the water…

until we reached the resort area, where a boat concession reminded me of my missed opportunity

to be paddling on the open water with the others.

We pit-stopped at the resort store and filled our water bottles before pushing on, past the lakeside cabins to complete the second half of the hike…with the light beginning to fade.

Just as I was wondering out loud that we’d lost sight of the lake, we came to a bridge over a creek that directed us to the McKenzie River.

“I really think we should take the bridge and follow the water, because the trail we’re on is taking us away from the water,” I advised.

“But there was never any indication that we ever wandered off-trail,” Leah countered, walking past the bridge, “and besides, if that was the way back, it would be marked that way.”

“Okay, but if this trail is supposed to be a lake loop, then where’s the lake?” I followed up, as I was following her footsteps.

“How should I know? I’ve never hiked this trail before. Besides, you’re just bitter,” she said.

“Fine! Have it your way! But for the record, I think we should have taken the bridge,” I reiterated.

We continued to walk for a mile or so until we noticed changes to the forest. The trees grew thicker and taller, and light was struggling to penetrate a dense canopy of spruce. The mosquitoes must have sensed my uneasiness; they were feasting on the backs of my legs.

According to Leah’s iPhone, we had already exceeded what was to be a 5-mile loop.

“I think we’re lost, and if I only had a spark of phone service, I could prove it!” I said.

This is the map I could have downloaded if only I had a signal.

“Do you want to go back and take the bridge?” Leah offered.

“Are you serious or seriously joking?” I asked, wondering if Leah was really surrendering.

“In fact, we could also walk back to the resort, and bum a ride somehow,” she suggested.

“Who in the world is gonna pick us up and drive us back to our truck?” I sighed.

“You never know,” Leah snapped, “I can lure them with my wily ways.”

That’s when I heard the sound of traffic. There was a whoosh and it was gone. Then another whoosh, and another. The road had to be close by, but now the trail was leading us to the right, away from the road noise, but onto a single-lane gravel road with marker NR-2676. We followed the road north and around the bend, which brought us to a McKenzie Hwy turnout.

“Do you know which direction to go?” Leah asked.

“We have to cross to the other side to go back to the resort,” I advised. “Maybe you’ll have a chance to charm a ride from someone who’s rented a kayak for an hour or two.”

There wasn’t much traffic in either direction, which meant the park at 7PM was past its peak busy period. We walked along the roadside, occasionally stopping to flag down oncoming traffic but no one had any interest in slowing down.

“You realize it will be dark by the time we reach the truck,” I figured.

“What if I fake a limp, and maybe someone will feel sorry for us and stop.” she said, badly imitating someone with a bad knee.

“I’m not sure I want a ride from someone who pretends to feel sorry for us,” I mused.

That’s when a gray Toyota Avalon sedan slowed and pulled off the road, fifty feet ahead of us.

“I told you it would work,” she declared.

Leah didn’t know whether to run, or limp, or limp-run.

A burly middle-aged man with thinning gray hair exited his car, and opened the rear door.

“I’m gonna make some room in the back for you. Don’t mind the dog on the floor. He’s old and harmless,” he assured.

Leah took the middle seat beside his sullen son, and I wedged myself behind the driver’s slouching seat. A mangy terrier sat between our legs while our driver drove us to Clearwater Cove where our truck was parked.

His mother was animated in the front seat during the ride. She explained to us how special it was to “see the sights of nature” with her family.

We were so relieved to get back to the truck, and so was their dog, because It followed Leah out the door and refused to listen to its owner, our driver. Leah and I spent the next 10 minutes chasing, corralling, and eventually luring the dog back to the car while everyone watched from inside the car.

Nevertheless, Leah and I are immensely grateful to you and your family for stopping to help us in our moment of need. You saved us the time and trouble of walking an extra 3.5 miles.

We certainly need more moments like this in our lives, if only to prove to ourselves that humanity is about community, and mistakes make us more human.

P.S. I regret that I never learned your name during our brief exchange, but I remember giving you my card. If by chance, or design you happen to be reading this, I hope you’ll post a comment so I can thank you by name.

Land of Landscapes and Landmarks

If the Three Sisters are the most dominant feature of central Oregon’s landscape, then we must be in Bend. In fact, these three volcanic peaks comprise the centerpiece of the Oregon Cascades.

Leah and I stopped at a roadside turnoff to capture their beauty while on our way to Broken Top–a damaged volcano who forever defends his spinster Sisters from the 6-inches-per-day glacial advances of Mt. Bachelor.

Our mission was to drive and hike our way to Tumalo Falls to admire a waterfall plunging 97 feet…

over a channeled canyon wall…

that was shaped by ice 20,000 years ago,

and to our benefit.

Leah and I followed the 6.5-mile Tumalo Creek Trail upstream for a short distance before turning back.

Nearby, under the watchful gaze of Mt. Bachelor sits Little Lava Lake–created by its ancient lava flow,

and the origin of the Deschutes River, which runs through the city of Bend–providing its residents of all ages with a familiar recreational pastime.

Which begs the question,

“How does anything get done in Bend, if everyone’s out on the river?”

Equally as telling that we’re in Bend is our visit to the last Blockbuster on the planet,

where hundreds of DVD-heads, curiosity seekers, and nostalgia collectors drop by daily…

to pay homage to a cultural icon by capturing a selfie at the entrance…

or participating in the next 80’s fashion redux.

It all adds up to good times, and a good reason to Bend over backwards to visit this outdoor wonderland.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Extreme heat is baking the northwestern states in July, and historic highs are being set with every new day. Murphy, Idaho is no exception. Triple-digit heat has become the new normal, and we were about to cross that threshold, as we continued our journey across the Snake River Plains to Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey, where temperatures reached 104° the other day with no foreseeable break in the heatwave.

Originally, the plan was a sound one–we would travel across Idaho, from Craters of the Moon to visit a raptor sanctuary. But at the time, we never considered that booking a Bureau of Land Management campsite (the only campground in the vicinity) would expose us to unbearable heat inside the Airstream, as most all BLM campsites are primitive–meaning NO services.

Leah and I needed to adjust our plans accordingly and without delay if we were to remain on course and on schedule, but we had to find a worthy substitute for the next couple of days. We thought about staying in Boise (it was nearby), but we had little interest in visiting Idaho’s largest city (pop. 230,000); we were looking for something more adventurous and outdoorsy.

After checking area state parks, I discovered that Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park was close by (1.5 hours away) and available with water/electric hook-ups. There would be no sightings of prairie falcons or golden eagles at Bruneau Sand Dunes, but if we closed our eyes, we could imagine them in air-conditioned comfort. …and lots of sand…again (see Great Sand Dunes National Park).

We arrived to a nearly empty campground on the edge of the “tallest ‘single-structured’ sand dune in North America,” with a peak rising 470 feet above the surrounding desert floor. The park also touts its own observatory within a Dark Sky Place, searching the sky with Idaho’s largest telescope (25 inch diameter) for public viewing.

My first inclination was to compare it to Great Sand Dunes National Park, but I was determined to curb my skepticism and see what surprises awaited us inside our new backyard/playground…for the meantime.

The following day, we went exploring. Unlike a couple of coeds and a dog, we immediately dismissed the notion of climbing the dunes in extreme heat.

We were looking for a more sedate hike that required less elevation. Rather than follow the 6-mile self-guided hiking trail step-by-step, we improvised, skipping the Big Dune ascent, and followed the trail around the dune base,

where we discovered water, and that made all the difference.

We circled the lake…

and dunes…

and crossed over a few of the lesser dunes,

until we reached the observatory.

I was eager to stargaze that evening, but the observatory was closed until further notice due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, the only celestial offering on-site was a human sundial created by Girl Scout Troop 140 in 2015.

I was curious about the design, but I required a human to test its accuracy.

Leah stood on the current month (July), for the sun to cast her shadow on the current time of day. Checking my watch, I recorded 10:24 AM, which from the looks of her shadow, validates her as human and punctual.

The rest of the day, we played by the water, and enjoyed the air-conditioned comfort of our Airstream, never giving Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey a second thought.

Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon is a deceptive name for a National Monument and Preserve. After all, the craters of Idaho don’t resemble the surface of the moon.

On the contrary, the upheaval of 600 square miles of basaltic lava as recently as 2,000 years ago was caused when the Great Rift fissure reawakened. Nevertheless, it was NASA’s preferred location to train Apollo astronauts to search for rock specimens because its harsh terrain is akin to a lunar landscape.

This patch of scorched earth along the Snake River Plains is still considered active, although unlikely to erupt in the next hundred years or more–which gives all of us plenty of time to explore the lava fields…

for stellar examples of lava craters,

lava tubes,

(that’s Leah, standing top left)

lava cascades,

spatter cones,

and cinder cones.

Trudging up the steep gravel pile to the summit of Inferno Cone gave us sweeping views of the Snake River Plains,

an overview of the volcanic basin,

and a distant impression of the Pioneer Mountains.

Next attraction to explore on the 7-mile Loop Road was the Indian Tunnel and neighbor caves, stitched into an underground network of collapsed lava tubes.

Before arriving at Indian Tunnel, Leah and I consulted a ranger at the Visitor Center who helped to plan our day. She also permitted us to enter Indian Tunnel (stamping our park map), but not before allaying her suspicion that our clothing, shoes, and all personal accessories were carriers for spreading white-nose syndrome to a vulnerable bat population.

Traditional stairs and railings led us to the brink of the cave, but we were soon on our own–finding our footing over and around immense basalt boulders–as we descended deeper into a pit surrounded by colorful walls.

Available light came from a open dome whose ceiling had crumbled hundreds of years ago.

We scrambled through rock piles, feeling our way through the tunnel, until we reached another lit opening, signaling our exit.

We rounded out the day’s visit with a stop at Devil’s Orchard, a nature loop trail winding through cinder beds and hearty vegetation,

although, flourishing flora was more the exception than the rule.

The following day, Leah and I drove through the Craters of the Moon Wilderness,

taking a dusty, rutted, gravel road to the edge of civilization.

We were completely isolated in a desolate wasteland. Only the livestock had a half-hearted interest in our visit.

We were eager to find something significant on the drive, but we quickly reconsidered after discovering Piss Ant Butte in the distance.

At last we reached our objective: the end of the road, and Snowdrift Crater, a landmark detail on our map.

Back at Arco, I captured the edge of town beneath a cloudless sky, and I had low expectations for any kind of a sunset.

And then the winds pick up…

They’re gusting at 40, 50, mph…

and baby pinecones are peppering the aluminum rooftop…

and a storm cloud passes directly overhead, shooting crazy lightening…

and Leah is tracking the storm on her phone…

and the TV announcer is cautioning viewers to prepare for tornadic thunderstorms…

and I’m standing outside with my camera, wondering if the lava fields have come alive, after all.

Flaming Gorge

Kissing the edge of the Ashley National Forest at the intersection of Wyoming and Utah lies Flaming Gorge.

Once underwater and formed over a billion years ago, the Precambrian Uinta Mountains showcase the dazzling red cliffs of a glacial gorge cut from a river system that also carved the Grand Canyon, courtesy of the Green River.

The Green River ends at the dam wall constructed in 1958,

and completed in 1964 as one of four storage units for the Colorado River Storage Project.

The dam impounds Wyoming’s largest reservoir,

providing water storage and hydropower generation to seven states,

and offers 91 miles of water recreation bliss behind its wall.

But scenically, the clear cool water is the perfect foil for a mesmerizing landscape of vivid colors and mountain formations.

Following the footsteps of Major John Wesley Powell and company, who explored the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869, Leah and I set off on our own geologic survey

for a closer inspection of castle rock…

folded rock…

limestone towers…

and notched peaks…

which is more than enough to inspire future geologists.

Ode to Scotts Bluff

While spending time with friends in Cheyenne WY, Leah and I scheduled a side trip across the state line to visit Scotts Bluff in Gering, NE. Nebraska was not originally part of our travel plan, nor did we consider Nebraska when we set out to explore America four years ago, but we caved to public opinion and we are now happy to endorse Nebraska as a state with a meaningful attraction.

This Bluff is a Butte,
or this Butte is a Bluff?
It don't amount to a hill of beans
.
A wide range of arrangements 
are only future cliff-hangers
for cave-dwellers.
Making mountains out of molehills
or taking the high road,
We all plateau on the summit or the plain.
Monumental achievement
can only be measured at the

peak of a towering task.

Rocky Reservations

Leah and I have been planning our current trip since January–looking at various routes, places of interest, and RV park availability. At times it seemed like a logistical nightmare–having to shift dates and locations to accommodate timing, anticipated weather and RV park amenities (service hook-ups).

By April, most all of our mapped destinations (44 in all over 20 weeks) were booked. That’s about the same time the National Park Service (NPS) announced that two of our anticipated stops (Rocky Mountain and Glacier) now require timed-entry permits to be eligible to visit.

Because NPS is grappling with record attendance and overrun facilities at many locations, this additional measure is intended to relieve congestion at the park gates at best, and eliminate park closures due to limited parking and staffing woes.

At Rocky Mountain National Park, two reservation options were available for visitors between May 28 and October 11: Bear Lake Road Corridor plus full park access, which includes Wild Basin, Long’s Peak, Trail Ridge Road, and Fall River Area from 5:00 AM – 6:00 PM; and all park roads except Bear Lake Road Corridor, with a reservation period from 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM.

When the reservations window opened on May 1 at 8 AM (MDT), passes became available on a first-come basis—up to 60 days in advance–with approximately 25% of day passes held for guests planning to arrive within 2 days. I logged on to recreation.gov bright and early, and was eager to claim my permit, but apparently the rest of the world had the same idea.

When the online dust settled, I had my coveted entry pass, albeit with a 2:00 PM start time. While it wasn’t the most ideal situation–losing half the day–it was better than making the trip, only to be turned away. Yes, it’s happening.

On the day of our permit, Leah and I meandered through Estes Park for a few hours, breezing through art, jewelry, sporting goods, and general stores, where Leah found an eyeglass lanyard for a buck. We passed a dress-up cowboy spieling in front of Bob and Tony’s Pizza on Elkhorn Ave. and laughed it off, but we returned for some of the worst pizza we’ve ever tasted, although comparable to spreading Ketchup over a cardboard circle, which I did as a child.

Once we passed through the Bear Lake ranger checkpoint, we stretched our legs with a walk around Sprague Lake, the site of a one-time mountain resort, and immediately, we were greeted by a curious teenager,

who looks as if he had a bad reaction from a slice of pizza from Bob and Tony’s…

and is returning to a healthier diet of tall grass.

Half way around Sprague Lake, we encountered his girlfriend romping through the water, courtesy of Leah’s iPhone…

Completing the lake loop, we stood in awe at the doorstep of the Continental Divide and admired the view…but not for as long as I would have liked, since we only had a narrow window of time to explore our immense surroundings.

Naturally, being inside the Bear Lake Corridor gave us an opportunity to circle Bear Lake,

and its neighbor, Nymph Lake.

But running short on time, I abandoned my goal of hiking the rest of the trail to Emerald Lake,

and opted for time in the higher elevations. Our drive took us through Moraine Park,

till we reached Horseshoe Park at the junction of Trail Ridge Road.

Once we rounded the bend from Hidden Valley…

it was one spectacular lookout…

after another…

and another…

and another…

until we reached the Gore Range, the highest elevation on the park road at 12,183 feet.

We drove as far as Medicine Bow Curve, when a herd of elk happened to wander across the tundra to graze, as if to remind us that we were approaching dinner-time. It was our cue to U-turn.

As we doubled back, our conversation turned to the timed-entry, reservation system. The time we were allotted was just a teaser, considering the 355 miles of hiking trails throughout the park.

While I would have preferred a whole day or two or three to satisfy my craving for mountains, I support more people having a chance to appreciate this country’s beauty without annoying crowds, and to capture a lasting memory…