Tempus Fugit

When I reflect over the past eight months on the road, it’s a focused blur. Like the miles that melt behind us as we’re cruising on the Interstates, our side-view mirrors only serve to remind us what we once observed before it’s gone in an instant.

“Did you see that?!” has been a common cue while driving, that could come at any time. It could be a natural phenomena like a double rainbow, or a dramatic change to an underwhelming landscape, or a man with no teeth whose nose touches his chin passing us in his hot-rod Mustang convertible.

Whatever the case may be, we usually have just a moment to react and make a meaningful connection before we’re on to the next moment in time. Our experience may be filed into memory, but memories can be sketchy, ambiguous and subjective.

“What’s your favorite place so far?” is a question that unquestionably comes up when meeting friends or strangers who hear about the progress we’ve made on our year-long odyssey. It’s also the hardest question to answer, considering the nearly 30,000 miles we’ve covered en route to 90 different destinations.

Leah and I often joke and reflect about our day at its conclusion, just to gauge if our recollections match.

“Was it a top 10 day for you today?” I’m likely to ask.

Certainly more than 30 times to date, she’ll respond with, “I don’t know if it was ‘top 10’, but definitely among the top 20.”

Looking back–with help from impressions of places from past posts–I’m now ready to answer the question, and reveal my top five favorites thus far, in chronological order.

1) August 2, 2017: Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada–Athabasca Glacier

Herbert detail (2)

Athabasca Glacier currently recedes at 16 ft. per year, and has lost over half its volume over the past 125 years.

Glacier water

2) August 21, 2017: Corvallis, Oregon–Total Solar Eclipse

totality

Totality of the eclipse lasted one minute, 40 seconds.

partial eclipse (3)

4) August 29, 2017: Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

cinder cone1

The 750 foot ascent up the 35% grade of loose gravel to the rim of the Cinder Cone took 35 minutes.

cone crater panorama (2)

4) October 4, 2017: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Sunset over Rainbow trail

7 minutes lapsed between the sun setting behind the Muddy Mountains to the moon rising over the Valley of Fire.

sheep and moon (4)

5) October 14, 2017: Albuquerque, New Mexico–Balloon Fiesta

lighting it up

The hot air balloon was aloft over Albuquerque after 13 minutes of inflation.

Balloons over Albuquerque (2)



Although each adventure is fundamentally different from the others, collectively, they represent before and after transitions.

The ephemeral existence of each event is temporary in its own special way, with its own time-stamp carved in soap. Fortunately, the moment can be captured and preserved in words and pictures, lest there be any doubt that something significant happened in our lifetime.

 

Fire in the Hole

I’m standing on the rim of the Cinder Cone volcano at the northern edge of Lassen Volcanic National Park, and steadying my camera against sustained winds whipping across the crater. My biggest fear at this moment is not for my safety, but being unable to properly memorialize my euphoria in a sharp photograph.

While there is no comparison to the energy of B.F. Loomis’s exposure of Lassen Peak’s 1914 eruption,

lassenerupt

the thrill of standing on the precipice of a monument created by the forces of nature…

cinder cone

should be testament to Lassen’s National Park worthiness.

But getting to Lassen Peak was a thrill of a different kind. If the shortest ground distance between two mountains is a crooked road, then 50 miles of US-299 through the Trinity-Shasta National Forest qualifies as a marathon winner of zigs and zags, and unlike any other road I’ve driven since our trip began more than five months ago.

It had to be the most rising-and-falling-and-winding-and-grinding-kind-of-road that went on and on for more than an hour. Rarely would 100 feet of straight road pass us by before we’d follow a familiar pattern of maneuvering to the right and then pulling the truck to the left and then turning the wheel hard to the right, and leaning around the bend into a corkscrew, only to continue all over again.

The drive was exhausting, but at least we left the smoke behind us. We were now basking in sunlit blue skies without a single cloud.

The park was uncrowded, and it didn’t matter why, but I suspect that families were now tackling teachers’ homework.

After an orientation at the Visitor Center, we strolled around Manzanita Lake for centerfold views of the mountain.

Lassen Peak and Manzanita Lake

Taking the highway deeper into the park, we passed Helene Lake,

Lake Helen and Lassen Peak1

offering a peek at Lassen’s desolate peak.

Lassen Peak and snow.jpg

Since the trail to the summit rises 2000 feet in 2.5 miles without shade–which is not my idea of fun–we continued to Bumpass Hell, named after an early 20th century guide who stepped through the crust of a fumarole while doing his job.

The namesake trail provided commanding views of Brokeoff Mountain and Diamond Peak.

overlook

We found it odd to be crossing snow in the middle of August under a searing sun,

summer melt

but the park receives snowfall averaging 40 feet per year at the higher elevations.

Once over the ridge, the sweet mountain air was replaced with the pungent scent of sulfur bleeding from a hellish valley of hydrothermal activity:

Bumpass Hell

complete with requisite spurting mudpots,

mud pop

hissing fumaroles venting from angry rocks,

P1070500

and brilliantly colored hot springs…

hot springs

Bumpass Hell2

mineral rocks

Bumpass Hell1

…collecting in a milky stream of hot minerals.

Sulphur Spring runoff

Absolutely gorgeous!

The road to the south entrance of the park took us past the defunct commercial Sulphur Works,

Sulphur works3

Sulphur works1

boiling mudpot

before we u-turned to catch the westerly light on the Chaos Crags,

Chaos Crags

and fawned over the stillness of Reflection Lake.

Reflection Lake

It would be hard to top this day, unless it was from atop the Cinder Cone, and that’s where we traveled the following day.

After a drive through dense forest and pastureland to the northeastern corner of the park, we turned onto a dusty hard-packed road terminating at Butte Lake, where a delta of trails branched out for a closer inspection of the Fantastic Lava Beds…

Fantastic Lava Beds

–a heap of sharp and shiny lava rocks rising to heights of 50 feet or more–forming an impenetrable barrier of blackness.

Lava beds and ash

We trudged through shifting black sand bordered by groves of Ponderosa pines for nearly two miles, until we reached a clearing with a view of the cone.

trail

“I don’t think I can make it,” Leah admitted. “It’s too steep for me, and it’s completely exposed, but you should go for it.”

The winding trail up the side of the cone was sloped at a 35% grade, the sharpest possible angle that cinders can stack before rolling downhill. It was going to be very challenging. The ascent over crushed cinders mixed with coarse sand was harder than I presumed. With every step, the gravel swallowed my boots to the ankle.

slow and steady climb

But I was undeterred. The power to continue came from the constant revelations brought by every foot gained along the way,

Lassen peak and lonesome tree

and the promise of something more spectacular by climbing even higher.

Lava beds and Butte Lake

I could follow Leah–becoming increasingly smaller–as she took the detour around the cone, just as she was watching me shrink in size from the base of the volcano.

from the base
glare from Leah’s iPhone

After scrambling most of the 750 feet to the trail’s vanishing point, a whirling wind confronted me from the blind side of the cone, stopping me in my tracks, but offering an amazing overview of the Painted Dunes and Lassen Peak in exchange.

Lassen peak and painted dunes panorama

I imagined a walk through the dunes, taking time to examine the explosion of color, while wondering if camera sensors were sensitive enough to record such an array of wonder.

painted desert1

And then I reached the top of the cone!!

cinder cone crater

The wind at the top was relentless, but so was my need to circle the cone. Nothing was more exhilarating than having the cone to myself (although I would have willingly shared the summit with Leah had she been able). The magical feeling of surveying the terrain from all sides was awe-inspiring.

the cone

cater and peak

And then I discovered that the Painted Dunes continued on the other side of the volcano.

painted desert4

painted desert5

painted dunes

I really didn’t want to leave. But after exploring the area, the only thing left to do was to take the long trail down to share the experience with Leah, and yield the cone to a new arrival.

the long climb