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A Brief Sonoma Vacation

July 4, 2017

Saturday, 1 July 2017, Sonoma and Santa Rosa

We haven’t been anywhere for a while, so the long weekend seemed like a good opportunity for a brief getaway. We have been through Santa Rosa, hiked Annadel state park some years ago, but thought it could be a base of operations for a few days.

These pictures from the view area at the north end of the Golden Gate bridge. Millions of people have taken these same pictures, but the views are still pretty classy, and we haven’t even been here for quite a while.

Nice.

Rather than going directly to Santa Rosa, we spent much of the day in and around Sonoma. Definitely a tourist town, but pretty nice for all that.

Sonoma city hall, embedded in a large shady park on the edge of which we were able to park for a few hours. They were enforcing 3-hour parking restrictions today, so we moved the car later on.

A pretty town. We’re not much interested in the wine tasting routine, not least because the right amount of alcohol when we’re driving is zero. But the historical district is right here in the middle of town, easy for walking.

The mission, which is said to have been intended to be temporary. Once the natives’ souls had been saved, it was to become a parish church. Lt Vallejo was responsible for the secularization, a name we will see again, though later prefaced with the title General.

These wide overhangs are always cool and pleasant, ideal architecture for California summers.

The roof beams and stick lattice are both held in place with leather thongs. Drainpipe tiles above, and as long as it stays dry, it should last pretty much forever.

Inside the mission church. Glad we’re not religious. Imagine spending any noticeable amount of time here?

There was quite a little community here. This building was the servants’ quarters. Six of the servants were employed just making tortillas.

We decided to walk out to General Vallejo’s house, accessible to pedestrians via a rec trail, and quite pleasant.

Although this was also a private single-family dwelling, it was also a mini-community of its own. Not stupid, these people: the cookhouse was a separate building, so that the family would not be inconvenienced by the heat and smoke of food preparation.

A volunteer sold us tickets here, good for several other state park venues today as well.

The Vallejo house itself.

Even today, one could imagine living pretty comfortably here.

Well, the absence of indoor plumbing would detract from the amenities.

Not far from the main house, a guest cottage. Up the hill was another building, very small, where Napoleon Vallejo, the general’s oldest son, lived according to his preferences for isolation.

The pond between the upper and lower houses was chock full of turtles. All we had to do was stand at the edge and several would come swimming up to us, hoping to be fed. But when they got nothing, they wasted no time on us.

And then we went for a short hike in the hills. Hot and dry, but nice to get a little exercise. We came down into the local cemetery, thence back into Sonoma and the car.

Drove to Santa Rosa, where we’re staying at an airBnB. Quick and easy to get checked in, and the room is fine. We wandered out, thought we might stop at the Russian River Brewing Co. But it had a line down the block, not at all our kind of thing. We ended up at Wilibees, a liquor store with a bar. Over our brews, we talked with several very nice people there, then adjourned to El Coqui for a good Puerto Rican dinner.

Spoiled again.

Sunday, 2 July, Sonoma redwoods and coast

Up early enough to walk down and help Adel’s open up at 6. Then we drove to Guerneville and north to Armstrong Redwoods, where we’ve never been. Very nice, and because we were early, not too crowded.

We took what was essentially a flat course to the picnic area, decided to return to the car via the Pool Ridge trail, which started off as a seriously steep climb.

As we grunted up the hill, we met a millipede coming down.

I think this is the largest millipede I’ve ever seen.

With that as a trophy, we returned to Guerneville, where we wandered around for a while, had a look at the Russian River, chock ablock with swimmers and kayakers. We felt as if we weren’t getting enough fruit, so we found a grocery store and bought a bag of cherries. Great!

Then out to the coast, where we turned south on highway 1 and stopped at Shell beach. Our hiking book recommends two hikes here, one of them inland up the hills. So that’s where we started. Cool and breezy, very nice day. Fog intermittent over the ocean, sometimes completely gone, sometimes completely opaque.

We reached a local maximum, decided to call it enough and turned back. Open, dry grass, not a whole lot to see.

Back at the shore, however, there’s the other hike, the Kortum trail toward Goat rock.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether these people were daredevil rock climbers, but when I blow up the photo on the big screen, it’s clear that it wouldn’t be all that much of a challenge to get up there.

Jacky says one of the rocks here is called the Sphinx. My guess is that it would be this one.

But it might also have been this one. Jacky thinks this looks like Queen Elizabeth I, and I agree.

We drove around through Bodega Bay and Bodega town without stopping, but we did stop in Sebastopol for a quick wander about. There was a historical museum, open, and free of charge (our important criteria), so we stopped in. Turns out this area was home to a couple of the summer-of-love hippie communes. I had no idea! Cool!

As best we could tell, no one was being held here involuntarily, and no third parties were being damaged or injured. But the Powers that Be, of course, invoked building codes and bulldozers, and that was the end of that. Too bad people can never just let other people alone.

Back in Santa Rosa, we walked north this time, to Steele and Hops brewpub, where we sat outdoors and enjoyed the late afternoon.

Monday, 3 July, Annadel and Luther Burbank gardens

We had a recommendation for the Omelette Express, which opened only at 6:30. So we drove there and headed out for the day’s adventures after a big breakfast.

Today’s adventures started with Annadel state park. We parked at the foot of Cobblestone trail and hiked up the hill to Ilsanjo lake, some 700 feet of gain. The paper map doesn’t align all that well with the trails on the ground; we agreed that should be described as “based on a true story.” Glad we had GPS as a cross-check.

Cool day to start, but hot enough by the time we got there.

We hiked most of the way around the lake.

Stopped in a shady spot on the dam for munchies.

And a shot of a little bird that would have been happy to get fed (sorry, little guy!).

Down Spring Creek trail, a quite pleasant route mostly through forest, until we got into the county park at the bottom, where there was a busy swimming hole, a lake with boats, canoes, kayaks, and people, people everywhere.

Much of the rock along the trails here is clearly volcanic, but there are patches at the bottom that are bare of soil and vegetation, and unmistakably volcanic.

Back to the BnB, where we left off the car and went out again.

We take various different streets through the neighborhood, looking for interesting things. Interesting things, such as, for example, a cow?

Our primary objective was the Luther Burbank gardens. Very nice, an impressive achievement.

I recall artichokes being only waist high, or thereabouts, the these are taller than we are.

Water spilling from a fountain; what attracted me is the chaotic dynamism of the flow. Pretty impressive.

Among Burbank’s achievements: white blackberries (above) and thornless blackberries (below).

The home is often open, but not today (Montag Ruhetag).

I was delighted with the camouflage of this little fly.

I wonder whether the lotus sundial has always been in the shade, or whether the trees grew up after it was installed.

Diagonally opposite the Luther Burbank garden is a little stream, complete with a river walk rec trail.

Along the water, a black crested night heron.

At the same location, a sprayground. I unloaded all my electronics, everything that might object to getting wet, including my glasses, and challenged the spray. We see here a pretty bedraggled Dave.

Then we adjourned to the Third Street Aleworks where we sat outside in the shade and enjoyed a couple of oatmeal stouts at a very reasonable price. Finally, a visit to Paradise Sushi, where Jacky had tempura and I failed to bankrupt them with the all-you-can-eat option.

Tuesday, 4 July, Napa

We walked to Adel’s for breakfast again, left early before our hostess was up and about. Drove over the hills to Calistoga, and down highway 29, hoping to visit the Bale grist mill. But it was too early in the day, and possibly not going to be open at all today, so we went on.

We had not explicitly planned to see a 4th of July parade, but the street was closed for staging as we came into town. We left the car and wandered the town. Another pleasant tourist trap venue. Plenty of time to stroll before the parade started.

Lots of candy was being given away in one way or another.

Before the parade started, I had suggested that people should climb to the upper levels of the parking structure for better views. I guess a thousand of my best friends heard me!

I first noticed this little girl when her basket was empty. She had such a forlorn expression on her face, but quickly ran up to the car that was her support vehicle for a refill, then got back down to business.

This little guy was out collecting candy and (below) a balloon, with a little help from Dad.

By the time the horses came along, we were about ready to call it good. A seriously long parade; there was quite a bit more to come.

The most important guy in the parade! following along behind the horses.

Then a straight shot down the east shore and home. Good to be gone for a few days, very good to be home again.

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Thistles and Gabriel Fauré

June 10, 2017

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Almost 9 hours on the trail today. I had intended to do mostly a hike, but I needed to check on purple star thistle, and there was enough that I ended up only walking about 15 miles. On the plus side, some really pretty things to see.

I think Mariposa lilies are the prettiest of the wildflowers. They also come in yellow, but I like the white and pink ones best.

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Very pretty rock and vegetation, almost surrealistic.

This reminds me of a propeller. A drone flower maybe?

Here we have a California native, the Venus thistle. I have an abiding hatred for most thistles, but I have to admit this one, and the Indian thistle, are very attractive.

This is fairly uncommon. The Midpeninsula volunteer project coordinator says she has only seen them in one place. Well, we now have a dozen more examples, along the Waterwheel Creek trail in Montebello Open Space Preserve.

They are also called cobweb thistle.

Much beloved by hummers, at least by this one.

Oh boy! More over there!

A fully flowered out honeypot.

But there’s more than just thistles. These little guys are only an inch or three tall.

An alien with its hand on its hip!

This one, especially, reminds me of something you might see at the bottom of an aquarium.

Long day. Good day.

While I cleaned up, Jacky roasted a pork. Well, not the entire porc, but more than enough for dinner. Then we walked downtown to attend a live performance highlighted by Fauré’s Requiem. One of those that bring tears to the eye!

Thinking back about music

January 1, 2017

1 January 2017

We put on Brahms’ Serenade Nr 2 this evening, and it brought back memories. When we first moved to Ottawa, we thought classical music was something we ought to learn about, but really had no idea. As it turned out, someone from one of the universities — I am embarrassed not to remember even which university, much less who the instructor was — had launched a course that matched the season’s performance series at the National Arts Centre. We would attend a lecture about the upcoming music, then go to the performance, which was vastly more interesting than if we had only gone cold to the performance itself.

Brahms’ Serenade was on the list. So was Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Haydn. Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, if I recall. From a distance of lo these many years, I’ve forgotten what else there was. Mahler’s Lied von der Erde? In any event, it was a wonderful introduction.

A year later, we signed up for Anton Kuerti’s series on Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Every Sunday afternoon, he would lecture about the day’s two or three sonatas, then perform them, of course(!) without reference to paper. Kuerti was at the University of Toronto, refused to fly, took the train between Ottawa and Toronto. I recall the afternoon he performed the Hammerklavier sonata; he explained that there would be only one quick perfunctory bow at the end — he had a train to catch, and wasn’t going to miss it for the world.

And there was Clyde Gilmour, who had a weekly classical music evening on the radio. His theme music was Faure’s Pavane, leading us to discover an underappreciated genius. His version of the Pavane was a rare vocal arrangement, wonderful.

Great years in Canada.

The year we spent in Munich was also profitable in the same way. My colleague Doris introduced me to Arvo Paert, now one of my favourite composers.

Thanks to all who have greatly enriched our lives by sharing their appreciation for wonderful music.

A weekend of being spoiled

December 4, 2016

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Several volunteers worked on French broom (mostly) at Thornewood open space preserve today. As always, I got there early and did some extra work on the side. A pretty place, a perfect day.

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Ellen took this picture of the volunteer group. The pile to my right is some of the broom we removed, by no means all. It is always impressive how much can be done in a few hours.

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The property was transferred to the open space district through details that need not be repeated here, but the house was in pretty bad repair. What was to be done with the house? Tear it down? Oh, surely not! But there was no money to fix it up, and what would you do with it then? In the end, it was leased to a family in exchange for them repairing and maintaining it. Fair trade, I’d say. The volunteer group lunched on a stone fence just outside what might be considered the yard.

Having dealt the broom a serious blow, well, some of it, we took a short mushroom hike.

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The first attraction wasn’t a mushroom at all, but a Kings Mountain manzanita, and in bloom! This variety is found only here, on King’s Mountain. The leaves attach very closely to the stem; one can even imagine them wrapping around the stem.

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For comparison, here (above) is another manzanita, garden variety, also in bloom, from Sunday’s hike at Rancho San Antonio. The leaf detail and attachment are clearly different. I learn something every day.

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This might also not be a mushroom, maybe a moss. Worth a look, in any event.

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But the big jack-o-lantern fungi are definitely mushrooms. Sometimes called false chanterelles, I don’t think they really resemble chanterelles all that much. Poisonous, though apparently not deadly. And the most interesting thing is that they are bioluminescent. Too bad it wasn’t dark.

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Saturday evening, we sponsored a holiday pot-luck. Good attendance, good food, ho, ho, ho. Thanks, Jacky, for doing all the work.

Sunday, 4 December

I haven’t been to Rancho San Antonio for a while now, so it seemed like a good choice. Cold morning, warming to pleasant. A perfect day. The public parking lots fill up early; people drive around and around … and around. The volunteer lot was empty except for me. Well, and except for half a dozen deer, at least three of which were multi-point bucks.

The way I usually do these things is to work hard at the outset, then kick back and luxuriate.

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The first three hours took me from the parking lot to the top of Black Mountain, at 2800 feet. Hard work indeed. Not the fastest gazelle in the pack, but I get there, as long as the jaguars are elsewhere.

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And then I perched on one of these rocks and enjoyed the view out toward the ocean, soaked up photons and calories, and reaffirmed my status as totally and hopelessly spoiled.

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Poison oak. No, not the leafy stuff (that’s toyon). The bare red stems. It’s characteristic that the offshoot twigs break off at different angles around the stem, and curve upward. No two twigs start from the same place. New growth tends to be red, but (below) it fades to a mellow shade of brown later in life. Even when they have completely gone gray, they are still seriously to be avoided.

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This one still carries the seeds from last year.

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And speaking of last year, we see on the right, a naked poison oak bush, center left, red leaves from last season that have not yet fallen off, and in the background, fresh green leaves beginning to appear for next season’s delectation.

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The season is really mixed up. Yellow star thistle doesn’t even bloom until July, and here it is, standing on the shoulders of plants you thought were dead, taking a second lap for 2016.

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Forests and winters mean mushrooms. More today, and I watched carefully for some that might ordinarily be missed.

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This one, for example, black and invisible at foot level.

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This one, even more so. An imperceptible smear of black on the horizontal surface of an old stump.

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And triffids!

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When I got back to the car, the deer had been chased out of the volunteer parking lot, but I had to arm-wrestle the wild turkeys to get back to my car.

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I especially like the one on the right, trying to decide whether it wanted to buy a car like mine.

Black Friday: a time for fungi

November 25, 2016

Friday, 25 Nov 2016

When I have several free days, or even two for that matter, I alternate long (more or less) hikes with weed removal. Today was for hiking, El Corte de Madera open space preserve. I haven’t been here since August. I did the usual perimeter trail hike, only 15 miles but 3950 vertical feet, very close to the 4k vertical feet that would make it an official killer hike.

A cool, nice day. I started at 7 and had the world to myself for three and a half hours. At three hours, I was all the way down, as far down as it goes in this preserve, at the creek bridge, enjoying the first calorie break of the day.

Finally I began to see mountain bikies, though not a lot. I was all the way back up to Skyline before I saw the day’s first hikers.

If I saw only a few people, wheeled or otherwise, it was more than made up by the number and variety of fungi.

This new Olympus Stylus camera has a close-up mode in which it shoots a burst at differing focal lengths and then combines the images. Above, the single-shot close-up of the fungus; below, the merged image. I am impressed!

This almost looks like stalactites!

And many hours later, some interesting mushrooms inside the burnt-out interior of a redwood.

More fungi inside the burned cavern.

I wouldn’t upturn a mushroom myself, but someone else had turned this one over, so I got up close for a look at its gills.

This and the two following photos are from a vertical embankment.

For some reason, this strikes me as a bit obscene. No idea why.

A jelly fungus. Without the multi-shot composite close-up the branch is blurred, and the redwood frond in the background it just a stripe of color.

It really is a day for the fungi to come out!

I walked the last quarter mile to Skeggs Pt parking with a couple of mountain bikies who had had enough hard work for the day. From there, it was a fairly flat couple of miles for me back to the parking lot. On the way I talked with three groups about scenery and hikes in the preserve. It was mid-afternoon, and it only occurred to me later that I should also have called to their attention the fact that sunset today was at 4:52. I hope everything worked out well for them.

New boots, day 2: Industrial grade hike

November 13, 2016

Sunday, 13 Nov 2016

REI had an offer of 20% off more or less anything. I like my boots, but they’re getting to the point that I can see air through the bottom. Asked the REI clerk if I could get the same thing again, and I pretty much did. 20% off a pair of boots is a noticeable amount of money.

Saturday’s volunteer project was about 5 miles of hiking, something over a thousand feet of vertical gain, a good opportunity to check out the boots.

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Monterey cypresses, clearly planted by someone who presumably lived here back in the day.

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We had lunch under a big broken redwood, the side branch showing evidence that it has been broken off and regrown several times.

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The crew, photographed by Ellen as we started back to the car. Dave, Lynn, Doug, Scott, Bill, Miki.

Sunday, I thought I’d do a longer hike. Russian Ridge, for example. 18 miles, 3100 vertical feet. Industrial strength hike, not a killer.

On Mindego Road trail, I saw a bobcat. It stopped long enough to check me out, then went on its way.

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Spent much of the day looking for purple star thistle (above), removing all I found. Yes, I could wait a few months, while more of it germinated, but I might as well stay ahead of it as best I can. Also worked on bull thistle; mostly too late for this season, but many of the seeds are sprouting, and it’s also worth keeping ahead of next season’s crop.

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Fog over the ocean, but here it was a beautiful day, just about perfect. View from the top of Mindego Hill.

A 3-inch Douglas fir had fallen across Charquin trail. That’s small enough I can saw it off and clear the trail.

I found thistle in small clusters in a number of places, and had a chance to talk with a number of visitors as I worked on it. Collected some fresh purple star flowers and seed in a trash bag for landfill disposal.

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As the day wended its way along, the afternoon light became horizontal. Here, a pretty area along the aptly named Ancient Oaks trail.

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A late look at Mindego Hill, from whose summit I took the first picture of the day.

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Oh, yes, the new boots. Tired feet, but that’s hardly unexpected. I think they and I will become good friends.

Killer hike at Purisima

November 6, 2016

Saturday, 5 Nov 2016

On this last day of daylight time, I started off in twilight so dim that I could not yet see colors, even out in the open. It turned into a cool, partly cloudy, beautiful day, perfect for a long hike in the redwoods, up to Bald Knob, down Irish Ridge on the other side to Lobitos Creek trail, and on around. A bit more than 20 miles, well more than 4000 vertical feet, either of which qualifies it as a killer hike. And I got back to the parking area just about the time I was no longer able to see colors in the fading light. Great day.

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At the bottom of Irish Ridge, we find redwoods indeed, but also a row of Monterey cypress, presumably planted to adorn the drive of a country estate that we hypothesize might have been here at one time.

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Far from the madding crowd, along the largely deserted Lobitos Creek trail, mushrooms find themselves free to sprout with little concern for damage from passing traffic.

My Canon camera died from getting wet. I resurrected a Panasonic that I had put on the shelf due to some kind of internal failure. Although it more or less works, I Photoshopped these pictures artistically — the quality out of the camera reminds me why I had scrapped it. New one on order, coming soon, an Olympus, and waterproof!

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Here’s Purisima Creek trail, one of the prettiest redwood trails I know of, but this section is unusual, prettified without redwoods. Nice.

When I reached the landmark stone bench dedicated to Craig Britton, I needed a calorie break and a transfer of water from the spare bottle in my backpack. A couple was already there; they readily made room for me. While I ate, they asked about trail patrol and my assortment of weaponry (saw and digger). Then the woman sat up on the back of the bench, clamped her Significant Other between her knees, and proceeded to massage his neck, shoulders, back.

“Pretty decadent,” said I.

“Would you like one, too?”

“I wouldn’t say no!”

And so it happened that my special adventure of the day was a massage break, about eight hours and seventeen miles into it, and very welcome it was indeed. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Pinnacles

October 2, 2016

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Thinking about tarantula season reminds me of the Pinnacles, about a hundred miles south-ish. Haven’t been there for a long time, 2010 I think. With a break in the hundred-degree heat, now is a good time to renew auld acquaintance. Jacky came along; we hiked Bear Gulch and the High Peaks trail.

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The view from the parking area. We’re going up there. Well, actually, we’re not. These are more or less the near-ground. Where we’re going is further up and further back. But it gives the idea.

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Zoom view to the top of a cliff. I have the impression that there is some kind of wilderness ethic among climbers, not to leave ironwork behind. Some climbers may be more into that ethic than others.

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First stop on the trek, the Bear Gulch reservoir. The water appears a bit green, probably from algae. We’ve seen it clear and blue, but in springtime.

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Yes, there’s where we’re going.

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Pretty tough environment, pretty rugged trees. They play the hands dealt them.

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We entered from the east side of the park. When we reached the crest and were able to look across toward the west side, the bare rock on that side was more monolithic, less broken up. I predicted into my own head that the old volcano whose split remains are the Pinnacles had split on the east side, the broken rock through which we’re hiking. Sure enough, when I checked the map later, the other half of the old volcano was once east of this part, having now moved along with the San Andreas fault almost to Los Angeles.

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There is a choice to take the High Peaks trail or an alternative. The sign warns that the High Peaks trail is steep and narrow. But pretty. So we did it. Amongst other steep and narrow bits, there are several almost vertical sections with steps carved into the stone and grab railings for stabilization.

I had remembered the difficult down from previous visits, so we went the other way. Guess what! There were difficult downs in both directions; I had just forgotten about the comparatively much easier up routes from before. Jacky swears she will never hike this trail again.

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As well as interesting rock shapes, there is quite a bit of color, both in the vegetation and in the lichen growth that adorns much of the rock.

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As we came off the High Peaks, there were two routes back to the parking lot, and I chose the extra bit, descending through open grassland, where I hoped to find a tarantula.

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No tarantula, but I did see probably the biggest gopher snake I have ever seen. Six-ish feet long, and big to match. Unfortunately, it didn’t hang around long enough for a full-face photo.

Hot weekend

September 25, 2016

Saturday, 24 September 2016

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Today was for a run in the coolth of the morning, then a mid-day event,  Mid-Peninsula Open Space District volunteer recognition day, at Ravenswood — Cooley Landing. Sunny, breezy, and I crossed the threshold to a thousand volunteer hours. Considering that I only started in summer 2013, that’s not too bad.

And then in the evening, the annual traditional Oktoberfest hosted by Alex and Sigrid. Nice.

Sunday, 25 September

Supposed to be hot today, so I did a short one, close by, Windy Hill. I could go somewhere cooler, but with far less chance of finding a tarantula. Didn’t find any anyway, but at least I was out there just in case.

As I walked up Betsy Crowder trail, I met a woman with a dog, who told me she had just seen a bobcat near the BC bench. She decided to turn back. I, of course, dug out my camera. No bobcat at the bench, but I found it on Spring Ridge, just below the BC junction. It saw a bunny, which put it into skulking mode. It was happy to let me stand there quietly shooting off photos, but when a couple of trail runners came along, it disappeared into the bush.

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On Spring Ridge just below the spring, I found a curious vee of snake trails, only 2/3 across the trail, one much bigger than the other. My interpretation: a medium-size gopher snake making its way across the trail, surprised by (say) a mountain bike. Fast 180 and a scramble back where it came from, this time making a much wider track because it was pushing hard on the dust.

Found a purple star thistle at the top of the hill, and three or four yellow star thistles along Anniversay trail. I had no way to carry them away, so I wrapped a trail map around them, wrote up a note, and left them in the map kiosk at the picnic area, hoping a ranger will collect them.

I came here because the day promises to be hot and unpleasant, but up here along the ridge was quite pleasant. So I detoured to Skyline and back on the top stub of Razorback Ridge trail.

Talked with a runner at the Lost Trail-Razorback Ridge junction, who was consulting his map, wondering whether Eagle Trail was paved. Always glad to get a question whose answer I know.

As I came back down from Skyline, I met another visitor at the same junction. This one was hoping to be able to go to Skyline and connect to some trail there that would allow him to make a wider loop back to Willowbrook parking. Told him he could connect via Crazy Pete’s road, but he would have to walk on Skyline to get there. He wondered why the Bay Area Ridge Trail sign pointed that way if there was no connector trail. Fair question.

Other wildlife: a garter snake, too shy to photograph.

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Back at the parking lot, I saw two hang gliders on the adjacent field, two more in the air. By the time I got over there, a third had landed, but I got a chance to photograph the fourth. They thanked me for being on the volunteer project that put the chain at the top; they say it works well. Good to hear.

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Jacky says I have far too much fun. She would know!

Arachnids rule!

September 18, 2016

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Five of us cleared three areas of Fremont Older open space preserve of stinkwort, all of it that we could find. The day was bright and sunny, but started out cool and gray, with wonderful condensation patterns on the cobwebs and indeed, on their proprietors.

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Garden spider season, and no mistake.

Sunday, 18 September

Speaking of which, it’s also getting on into the time of year when the tarantulas come out. Do you suppose, if I go trail patrolling in the open grasslands, I’ll find one? So I drove up Page Mill road and hiked a loop through Montebello, Coal Creek, Russian Ridge and Skyline Ridge open space preserves.

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No tarantuli, but I did find two gopher snakes and a garter snake. That’s three-up from the usual count.

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Only recently did I learn that the forked tongue is actually a stereo sensor, able to differentiate the taste of the air left to right and help the snake locate smelly things such as, well, me.

A spare the air day here, not much breeze, highs estimated at 90 in San Jose, 100 in Livermore. Maybe a bit cooler on the ridge over the ocean, but still a hot day. Glad I have water.

A week ago, Ellen, Tom and I scoured Mindego Hill for purple star thistle. It was part of my hiking plan anyway, so I took along a trash bag and scoured it a second time. If we got 90% of it last week, and I got 90% of what was left today, we’re down to 1% remainders. Hard to estimate these numbers, of course, but I think they’re not too far off.

This left me with a trash bag to carry out. I tied it to the back of my backpack, where it probably looked silly, but didn’t get in my way. Dropped it off at the Midpen Skyline Field Office (always known, confusingly, as SFO), where I talked with Ranger Frances for a few minutes.

I used up all of my water before I got there, but I was able to tank up again at Alpine Pond. A life-saver, and no mistake. Too bad there are so few sources of drinking water up there, but that’s how it is.

As to big spiders, the season is yet young, and I’ll be out there looking for them next week, and the next and the next.

Fence removal

September 11, 2016

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Ellen and Tom and I met at Russian Ridge open space preserve and spent a few hours on Mindego Hill working mostly on purple star thistle (PST). We found enough to be worth our while, and enjoyed the views out over the coastal plain.

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Tom and Dave on the rocks!

Around on the side of the hill is another area, more wooded, a couple of ponds, a place where there was once a house. We picked an area there to work on stinkwort, but discovered a massive growth of PST, below.

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These are about as big as PST ever gets. We almost closed our eyes, turned around and left, but, well, we came here to work on PST, so … we worked on PST.

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Here’s the same view an hour later. Ellen’s truck wasn’t big enough to haul away the garbage bags, so we left them for later pick-up by an open space tech.

Sunday, 11 September

Ellen has another project today, this time removing fence from the neighborhood of an old barn in Coal Creek open space preserve. As is my wont, I arrived a couple hours early, checked several miles of trails at Russian Ridge for PST, and found enough to be worth my while.

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Great to watch the sun rising over the fog banks.

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The sunlit hill to the right is Mindego Hill, where we were yesterday. You can see the ridge trail running across the picture to the base of the hill. The trail, and the area we worked, is roughly along the edge of the forested part, and the subsequent attack on the PST forest was to the right, in the deep shadow just below the forest.

Well, ten of us, including Ellen, a Midpen ranger, and Jordan, a Midpen employee, cleared fence. Tom was there yet again, another glutton for punishment. There is an old barn, with several wire fences around and about. The fences are impediments to the free movement of wildlife, so we’re taking out as much as we can.

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Thanks, Tom, for the above picture, showing a before view. The nearground is only one bit of the fence, which pretty much surrounds the whole area.

Most of it is what they call hog fence, square wire mesh about four inches on a side. There is also some barbed wire and some tighter mesh. We also removed rotten wood posts and all of the steel posts. Hot, hard work. Our wire cutters weren’t really capable of dealing with the gauge of the fence wire, and many of the lower strands of fence were buried, some of them further anchored underground by additional barbed wire. Hot, hard work!

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Here’s what the spoils looked like; by the end of the day, the piles were even a bit higher than this. I couldn’t help thinking of bed springs all day!

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Last, and also least, I rescued a little friend that decided to explore our buckets just as we were getting ready to stack them and leave.

Kirkwood

July 27, 2016

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Up, eat, out. A moderate drive today, to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, where we hope to enjoy the shade of high-altitude forest, even if it’s hot.

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The first stop of any significance was at Carson Pass. After the salt desert of Utah and the basin and range of Nevada, it’s wonderful to be back in the Sierra Nevada.

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I talked to the bikie. He said he lives in South Tahoe, just decided to come out and ride today. Thought he’d go as far as Kirkwood, then turn around and go back. Good for him!

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We too found ourselves at Kirkwood not much later. We’ve gone past here any number of times, but never turned in. It’s actually quite a big place, condos and lodges, surrounded by a U of volcanic cliffs, with ski lifts going up in all directions. These places are trying to turn themselves into four-season attractions, but I think Kirkwood is falling short. Few people here, trails almost deserted, lots of empty parking places, For-Sale signs everywhere. Only food in walking distance is at the general store, which closes at 5.

While we wish them all success, we’re happy to have the world more or less to ourselves. Jacky and I went out for a hike, along the Dangberg trail.

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Wildflowers everywhere, enough water that they can exuberate well beyond the level possible where we live.

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At the junction of Dangberg and Sentinels trails, we parted company. I wanted to do more work than did Jacky, so I hiked on up to the rim and some distance along it toward Thunder Mountain. Jacky continued on Dangberg trail.

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I heard a loud whoosh, and this guy passed within inches of my head, soared off into space, perched on this snag, turned its head back to look at me and ask, “What are you going to do about it?” Notice the band on its leg.

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A view from the top, showing pretty much all of Kirkwood Meadows. We’re staying in one of the buildings down there.

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Different angle from much the same vantage point, showing a sliver of Caples Lake and highway 88 as it comes down from there.

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Yet a third view, yet further to the left, showing the exposed granite north of here. It is somewhat different geology; the local rock is lava, often containing embedded chunks of rock, which are themselves broken chunks of earlier lava flows.

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I presume that these two large rocks are the Sentinels for which the trail was named. The one on the right is visible from Kirkwood valley.

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Looking the other direction from the top of Sentinels trail. We’re near the tree line; much of what we see here is alpine meadow.

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The flow of lava is clearly visible in this outcropping.

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At the top, and maybe in the depths of the ridge as well, the lava is a barrier only 20 or 100 feet thick; the trail runs below the crest, on the side away from Kirkwood valley. I thought there might be views of Silver Lake down the back side, but not from the part of the trail I hiked.

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I hiked into the trees at the top right of this picture, but declared victory before reaching the patch of snow. I have only one water bottle, it’s mid-afternoon, and I’m not entirely comfortable with an unfamiliar trail and a minimal to nonexistent map.

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Showing how thin the wall of lava rock is at the top.

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We usually don’t think of evergreen patterns as particularly artistic, but this one impressed me.

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Having already seen some of the distant views, I looked more closely at the wildflowers on the way down.

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Went back to the Resort office to see about getting checked in. We’re in a separate building several hundred feet away, a condo room that’s just fine — windows on two sides that can be opened to let in the overnight mountain air! Walked back to the general store for munchies, then returned to the lodge where we sat in the lobby and worked on photos and such.

Home tomorrow; nice to end the vacation on a high note. But no more three-week vacations: it’s just too long.

 

Dinosaurs

July 25, 2016

Monday, 25 July 2016

Up early, and ready to go. One good thing about this outdoors-oriented town is that the breakfast restaurants open at 6. We were on the road at 7. We had thought to go to Grand Junction today, but decided instead to stay on US 40 and go to Salt Lake City. Good choice: pretty grassland and forest scenery along the Yampa valley to start with, then getting into open plains, then into the eroded land near the Flaming Gorge, the Green, Yampa and Colorado rivers.

Our early adventure was successfully braking for a deer in the road, which was busy demonstrating why deer are poor life insurance risks.

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We stopped to enjoy blueberries and apples at a rest stop, quite different scenery to the west and to the east.

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A phallic close-up of the rock to the east.

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And the Jacky borrowed my camera and wasted a shot.

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A couple of little birds across the way, pecking for something yummy. No idea what they are.

Next stop was the Dinosaur National Monument gift shop, where we learned that the fossil exhibit was seven miles north of Jensen. Well, why not! (Why not could be that the entrance fee is $20 per car; but we have a parks pass, so that wasn’t a problem.)

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There is a large building over the site of many of the fossil excavations. In the beginning, they removed them and shipped them off to various universities and museums, but close to a hundred years ago, they decided it was best to leave the fossils in situ. And so they are.

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Two grad students were climbing around on the quarry, taking notes. The ranger said they were working on a Master’s project.

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Some of the fossils have been cast in plaster and are more easily seen.

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And models have been constructed for a few of them, too. The allosaurus is of course the favourite, as the biggest carnivore in the local menagerie.

Very hot day, so we didn’t go hiking, although there were plenty of trails. Drove on, enjoying a brief thunderstorm, until we reached I-80 east of Salt Lake. Slow (slow!) trucks making their way up the Wasatch grade on the east side, but on the west side, all of us, including the 18-wheelers, took it out of gear and let it roll. Speed limit 65, actuals up to about 80, except of course for the curves.

A little tricky finding our B&B, getting in, getting ensconced, but we did. Out for a beer and a meal, to Bayou, a nearby cajun restaurant. Pretty good, and only about three blocks. The heat was so uncomfortable that we didn’t go wandering, just headed back to the B&B to mellow out.

 

Steamboat

July 24, 2016

Sunday, 24 July 2016

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Allan, one half of our B&B hosting team, is pretty versatile. As well as having done some very impressive athletic things, he also sketched these, which adorn our room.

After yet another great breakfast, we said our good-byes and headed for LaGrange, Cheyenne, Laramie, where we stopped for gas and to get some blueberries and apples for later.

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Later turned out to be Walden, Colorado, where we sat in the grass on the courthouse lawn for munchies. Just across was the Pioneer Museum. Well, why not? The lady on duty told us it was bigger than it looked and she was right. Full basement, two second story sections, more stuff than you could imagine.

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An area of military gear, with rifles as its centerpiece.

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Forestry. Some of these are amazingly long, but when you think of the size of some of these trees, it’s clear that they have to use big saws to take them down.

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Moving away from outdoors violence, we see some telephone equipment.

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I hadn’t realized that Dodge has used the Ram symbol since forever, at least since 1936.

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My mother had a sewing machine like this, except that the treadle mechanism had been retrofitted with an electric motor.

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Just outside Walden, a little nature stop, and a view of more poles than you could count. I thought they were destined as utility poles, until we saw something about material for log houses. Makes sense.

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Some little distance further on, a pull-out with a view of Rabbit-Ears Pass; then a long climb up there and a long descent down the other side into Steamboat Springs.

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We’re staying at the Bristol hotel, above. Nice enough, except that the rooms are very small. Left our things and went out to wander.

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The corner building is a drugstore, where Jacky stopped, while I went on to the second store, with the yellow sign. They had been advertising Lee and Levi jeans on their billboards for miles, as well as Stetson hats. Jacky thought I should get a Stetson.

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Well, certainly not Stetson boots. Does Stetson make boots?

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As to the hat, I don’t anticipate needing to give my horse a drink any time soon, so I skipped the hat. I was able to resist getting a classy western shirt, too.

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We found a place to enjoy a couple pints of stout in a shaded outdoor nook, wandered some more, napped in the hotel, went to Mahogany bar and grill, which was a definite disappointment.

Overall, that’s our reaction to Steamboat, too. When we were here a couple years ago, we liked Steamboat, tourist trap though it obviously was even then, but the appeal is less and less as time goes on. It is becoming so popular that its essence is disappearing. Aspenizing, should it be called, perhaps?

Scottsbluff, again

July 23, 2016

Saturday 23 July 2016

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There is a second museum here, the Farm and Ranch museum, FARM, so we stopped to see what there was to see. Much is under construction, not really advisable for unrestricted public access, but a pleasant young woman was kind enough to show us around.

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The first attraction is a house, donated by a local family and restored to authenticity as certified by the family itself. Not completely antique; the phone has a dial.

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Notice the heat exchanger atop the refrigerator. The range was electric, with coiled heater wires exposed in the grooves of the burners.

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Outdoors, the first attraction is a jail cell, manufactured by a company in Detroit and available to those who might have need for such a thing. We presume it would normally be installed indoors somewhere.

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One of the larger of many tractors. The ambition is to restore as many machines as possible to working order, but it is a self-funded volunteer effort, so it’s completely open-ended.

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Not even sure what some of these things are.

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This one is a combine, actually never used, but donated by the manufacturer to the museum.

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There’s a big equipment shed, whose star attraction is arguably this big steam tractor. Our guide wasn’t sure this one would be possible to restore.

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The hearse is sometimes rented out, and not just for movies. Supply your own horses and enjoy a stylish final trip.

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A kit tractor made by Ford, parts from model T or model A, our guide wasn’t sure which.

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A smaller steam tractor, with some of its gubbins, below.

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This is a bullboat, a buffalo hide stretched over a frame. Big enough for one trapper and his load or furs, or a smaller version big enough for the man and his gear but not a load of furs.

We went to Dorthey’s for lunch, but we supplied the lunch. We get far too few veggies on these trips, so we stopped at the grocery store and bought a package of broccoli slaw, some blackberries, and in a concession to the inevitable, fried chicken.

Then off to a tour of the new high school, under construction. They had only enough hard hats for half of those who signed up, and we were in the group that toured the existing high school under the guidance of the principal. My reaction was great relief that I will never again (I fervently hope) be associated with such a place. We bailed out after the first part and never did see the new construction.

After saying good-bye to Dorthey, we stopped at a liquor store for some porter, a couple of bottles of which we enjoyed on the balcony of the B&B. This evening, the formal reunion dinner at the Country Club, and tomorrow back on the road.

Scottsbluff

July 22, 2016

Friday 22 July 2016

Up at 5, out to the monument for a beautiful sunrise. We hiked all of the trails that were open from below and got back to the B&B in time for breakfast at 8.

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After breakfast, we stopped again at the monument, went through the visitor center and drove to the top. Very impressive 3D model of the terrain. The entire ridge was originally called Scotts Bluff, but the term now pertains only to the rock beyond Mitchell Pass, above the gap in the photo.

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In answer to my question: why did the pioneers come over the pass instead of going around the end, the answer is the extensive badlands below the bluff (the service road was built much later), and the quicksand further down into the North Platte flood plain.

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As to the rockslide that closed the trail, here it is. The signs warn about the upper surface having been undercut, so there could well be more risk than just loose rock fallen across the trail. We were able to hike only to a point on the near side roughly below where I stood to take the picture.

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I dropped Jacky off at Dorthey’s and went out to explore a little. High 90s again, so I’m not too ambitious, but then there’s not a lot to do around here anyway. Walked the main street of Scottsbluff, enjoying the uses to which the old theater has been put.

Jacky is completely down on Runzas, refuses to eat at Runza restaurants. So I tried one for lunch, just to form an independent judgement. It was okay, but we do a far better hamburger and cabbage pie ourselves at home. Not least because we would use red cabbage.

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Went to Lake Minatare, which has a lighthouse. No idea why. Tight spiral staircase to the top, where there is a view that’s pretty much the same as at the bottom. But it was something different to do.

Found a spot under an awning to read my book until the afternoon thunderstorm blew up. Rained pretty hard while I was in the car looking for trees to get under in case of hail. There were reports of big hail in the area, but none where I was. That’s fine with me.

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Back to Gering to pick up Jacky, and we went out to the reunion picnic, well out of town, but at a very nice meadow with a pretty pond.

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Of course, I didn’t know anyone, but several of the significant others banded together and talked about topics unrelated to the good old days. Probably upward of a hundred people, bluegrass band (without excessive amplification!), the usual picnic fare, and a good time was had by all.

Gering

July 21, 2016

Thursday, 21 July 2016

We did nothing much today, visited Dorthey, spent most of the afternoon in the air-conditioned library, took Dorthey to dinner at a godawful good-ole-boy restaurant that was just what she wanted. And escaped with our three remaining bottles of oatmeal porter to the deck on the back of the Barn Anew B&B, looking out at Mitchell Pass.

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While sitting there spoiled, what should my wondering eye behold but a fox. Don’t see many of those, at least not where we live! Cool!

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After doing our duty to the beer, we wandered the grounds of the B&B. We are the only guests tonight, as it happens.

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They have about four sheep wagons, at least two of which appear to have been fixed up such that they could be used for overflow guests. No plumbing, I suspect, so likely just a place to sleep.

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And the head of a windmill. We don’t see those close-up very often.

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I think I mentioned that the B&B had been reconstructed from a barn. There was also a house that was in pretty bad shape. The house itself was demolished, except that its bay window has been turned around and now forms the backdrop for the weddings that are performed here. Nice.

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This the the old barn itself. We sat on the porch and watched the sunset.

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The sprinklers were busy keeping the wedding venue green, and the spray in the sunset light was purely fortuitous.

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One of several cats came around to make friends, but when we didn’t pet it, it decided that a nap was the better part of valor. Agreed. Good night.

Making our way through the wilderness

July 21, 2016

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Up early and out of our BnB (no breakfast: just a B, I guess) in Spearfish.

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Drove to Deadwood where we parked curbside, hoping to eat before the parking meter enforcement began. No problem. Pricey breakfast in Bullies hotel and casino, and we headed on south on the scenic route.

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Next stop was two or three points around Pactola reservoir, surrounded by pine forest, with a few boaters already out on the water. Pleasant place.

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Then a quick stop at Hill City to enjoy the trains. Big crowd already lined up waiting for the train ride in an hour. We don’t see any point in that kind of thing, but it’s fun to wander around and look at the  big machines.

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Further south, the map showed Cascade Spring and Falls as notable roadside stops. We didn’t stay long at the spring; signs warned of poison ivy right at the picnic area and more down along the water, and we believed them. Not the kind of adventure we need today.

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But we stopped longer at the Fall, a distinctly optimistic description of a few vertical feet of rapids. Pretty place.

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I like to view the texture in fast-flowing water by setting the shortest exposure possible.

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A family was there, also enjoying the water.

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Much of the Black Hills region is quite pretty, but as we got further south and into Nebraska, we got more into the long stretches of rolling grassland that don’t have much to offer. Stopped briefly in Crawford, where we talked with an Information volunteer for a few minutes, and then we went on to Fort Robinson.

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The fort is back into the pretty country, probably as much because of water as anything else. Cavalry and infantry, late 19th century. Brick buildings, many of them, some adobe, some wood-frame. Big (big!) stables, as would be expected for a cavalry base.

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And stagecoach rides. The employee hitched up the team while we watched, and drove the coach out. The girl got to sit up top with him, and on the way back, she got to drive.

And then, more long miles in the hot, until we reached Agate Fossil Beds national monument.

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Above the visitor center is a trail to a couple of the hills where the big finds originated. We hiked up in hundred-degree heat, glad that it crossed the green of the Niobrara river flood plain, and that the total loop was only a couple of miles.

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When seeing the name, I have always wondered why agate geology and fossils were compatible. Turns out they are not, of course. The ranch was called Agate Springs ranch because of what’s called moss agate found in the springs here, and the spring got lost from the subsequent name. No quartz around here anywhere.

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Gazillions of insects along the trail, mostly grasshoppers, but also those who are happy to prey on grasshoppers.

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Even grasshoppers can be interesting sometimes.

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I think this little guy is a robber fly.

Getting on in the afternoon, and we need to find our BnB in Scottsbluff.

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Scott’s Bluff is the left end of this ridge, and Mitchell Pass is the low point between. Why, we ask, did the pioneers not just go around the end of the ridge, rather than climbing the pass? Good question. Apparently the badlands and muddy terrain along the North Platte flood plain were more difficult than the pass. (But Google Earth shows that the railroad builders went level along the river instead of winding back and forth up the grade.)

Our B&B is the Barn Anew, an old horse barn (percherons: big rooms on the ground floor!) that has been rebuilt for lodging. We’re told that the framing is original, but I imagine that the rest of it was reconstructed. Picturesque.

Into Gering for an evening with Dorthey, another long day, happy to be out of the car.

California snobs

July 19, 2016

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

We drove north out of Casper to Buffalo, where we stopped and wandered around for a few minutes, then turned east on I-90 toward South Dakota. We had talked about going to Rapid City today, but decided to make today a bit shorter and do some extra miles tomorrow. So I reserved an airBnB in Spearfish. To avoid arriving too early, we overshot Spearfish on our way into the area, went to Sturgis, the home of the world’s largest motorcycle rally, the first week in August.

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I got a Sturgis baseball cap for $5, a good price, considering that they usually sell for $20 and sometimes as much as $30. Mine always get sweaty and sun-bleached, so I always need more. And for that price, I don’t mind advertising Sturgis.

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It’s nice of them to invite me to enjoy the dog water, but I think I’ll pass, thank you very much.

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If any further evidence is needed that it’s a motorcyclist’s town ….

We drove on to Deadwood, but decided, rather than spending the afternoon wandering Deadwood’s tourist attractions, we’d go visit Spearfish Canyon, a highly recommended byway. And it was well worth the visit!

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We took a brief hike above this stream, but turned back when the trail got steep enough that returning downhill would become difficult.

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According to the description, some of these cliffs above the road are as high as a thousand feet.

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Just as we began to think we were not going to get our promised waterfall, we came to Bridal Veil fall. Yes, I know, this is a poor imitation of the one in Yosemite, but still, pretty nice.

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On into Spearfish, where it turned out that we couldn’t get into the B&B; the allegedly unlocked door was snap-locked. We perched on the porch until Chad came home, riding up on his mountain bike. Nice place.

Of course, we immediately went out again, wandered a bit until we came to the Bay Leaf Cafe, which caters to yuppie tastes. We thought it might also have good brews, and indeed it did. They had Moose Drool, which we skipped this time, because we already know it’s good. Jacky had A Pile of Dirt (locally brewed porter) and I had a pint of Buffalo Sweat (oatmeal stout). Pretty good, along with our seafood dinners and decadent desserts.

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The official pictorial emblem of Spearfish suggests a catfish (whiskers), but this model looks more like a trout. Hard to say.

We wandered off to find a drugstore after dinner, then returned on the rec trail along the creek. Nice town.

Casper, Wy

July 18, 2016

Monday, 18 July 2016

Nice breakfast with our airBnB hostess. We thought we’d go out Logan Canyon, maybe stop to see some sights or even do a bit of a hike. But at the edge of town, a sign said the road was closed. Not the kind of adventure we’re looking for today, so we went south, back to the freeways, through Ogden and onto I-80 to and through Wyoming.

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Not that our choice turned out to be the worst scenery in the world. This picture is from a rest stop. Not too bad.

Wyoming has everything from desolate desert to red lumpy rock to white strata to varicolored strata. Much of it was very pretty. We crossed the continental divide at least four times, at elevations near 7000 feet. Oh, yes, and Wyoming has wind. Real, heavy-duty industrial-grade wind.

We had thought to go to Casper, but the intended route was 380 miles, and we weren’t sure we wanted to put in that many miles. But if we can’t hike Logan Canyon, maybe it’s doable after all. As it happened, the backtracked route we took was about 450 miles, so it was a long and tiring day. At least the traffic was okay, and we didn’t get delayed noticeably by road construction.

We stopped somewhere — Rock Springs, maybe? — at a Subway for lunchies. We like this chain: fast, inexpensive, and healthier options than the burger joints.

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We stopped on highway 220 at the Independence Rock site; so called because the first pioneers came past here on July 4. (I wondered whether pioneers are nuclear physicists who specialize in pions. Jacky thinks I was being frivolous.)

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While Jacky drove, I tried airBnB for options. We could have stayed the night in a sheep wagon, or a Minibago, or a $330 private room, or maybe in Douglas, Wyoming. So we checked into a La Quinta motel instead. Poor choice; not something to do again.

Wandered into town, mostly along a rec trail that runs along the North Platte river, full of more water than I would have expected. Walked up one street, down the next, almost ready to give up on anything worthwhile, when we spotted The WonderBar Brewery. Ok, Casper is not a dead loss; it has one redeeming virtue. A pretty good homebrewed porter. We ordered potato skins and barbecued ribs to share. Big dish of ribs shows up, I take half of the considerable visible amount, then discover they are layered two deep. We did what we could.

We had seen a sign that warned of high fire danger until 8 this evening. What !? But the seriously vicious wind began to die down as the sun sank, so I guess they know whereof they speak. And actually, the vicious wind was rather pleasant, once in a while, as long as the air is warm and not full of dust and grit. The kind of thing we don’t get very often at home.

Tomorrow: South Dakota?