"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Beautiful Lake Tahoe


OK, that's all the fuming I'm going to do about the internet and AT&T cell service we've been getting as we travel south along the eastern edge of California. It is truly beautiful country around here, and we have loved everything about it except the electronic connectivity. It took me 30 minutes to upload three pictures from Lake Tahoe - a place where Rick and I took literally hundreds of photographs of incredible scenery. So, although I can personally live without phone, internet and television for a long time, it makes writing blog posts almost impossible. I apologize for the scarcity of my communications. 

We've heard about Lake Tahoe so often from those with more experience in the western USA, but this is the first time we've witnessed its beauty for ourselves. Whatever rave reviews you've heard, they are not an exaggeration. It is truly a spectacular place. The lake itself is breathtaking and the surrounding mountains are dramatic. The relationship of water and rocks is at its best here. 

Yes, there are parts of the surrounding area that are built up in a less than attractive manner, like South Lake Tahoe and parts of Zephyr Cove, with casinos making their ugly appearance.  But other than those two areas, we thought the development was very tasteful. We know the locals and old-timers in the area mourn the pristine conditions, but as newcomers, we were still impressed with the natural beauty of the lake and shoreline communities.

We are currently in Coleville (or maybe it's Walker) CA and are working our way down Rt. 395 through remote areas of the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. Yesterday we visited Mono Lake and today we're heading for Bodie, arguably the largest and best preserved "ghost town" in the country. We'll be in touch as we can. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Smokey Days in Sparks, Nevada

The weather here in Sparks, NV is hot and dry, with a lovely afternoon breeze. Unfortunately there's a down side to these otherwise pleasant conditions.  The King Fire (I had no idea they named fires) has been blazing since we arrived, 70 miles west of here, near Pollock Pines, California. At this point it covers almost 70,000 acres and is only 10% contained. The dry, windy weather is not helping the firefighters.  This effects us almost every afternoon at about 4:00 when a vast murky cloud blows slowly into the Reno/Sparks valley and shrouds us in smoke, ash and unpleasant smells, and then sits there until the next morning when it usually has blown away.  

Being Easterners we have had almost no experience with forest or wildfires that are now so common in the far western states.  Our first experience with a widespread forest fire that lasted for many days was the Two Bull Fire in Bend Oregon early this summer (below).

Interestingly, life doesn't stop with a fire nearby. Everything local seems to go on as normal, even though there is intense fire fighting activity less than an hour away.  We hear the reports on local radio of evacuations and the numbers of firefighters, trucks and helicopters that are deployed to battle this fire, but here in Sparks we do errands, swim, hike or take our recreational outings in the mornings, and gripe about the smoke in the afternoons. Strange. 

We can read updated reports on the it and any other fire on a great app for the iPhone called US Fires that gives the locations on a map or a list, with important information like distance from where we are, evacuation warnings and road closures. It also provides links to other more detailed maps and sources of local information. The app is free but you have to purchase each state at a nominal fee. I wouldn't travel in the West without it. 

Our stay here at the Sparks Marina RV Park has been uneventful. It's the kind of suburban RV park where every store you might ever need, plus car washes ands restaurants are practically in walking distance.  We've been in the boonies for about a month so we did chores, stocked up on supplies and groceries, did a little indulgent shopping and successfully completed a much needed RV roof repair job (thank you Rick).  No really big adventures except a drive over to the north end of Lake Tahoe. More about that in our next post, as we're heading that way tomorrow. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dry Times in Rural Northeast California

 We are slowly working our way down the eastern side of California this fall, one week at a time in a series of small RV parks in small (or nonexistent) towns.  Last week we were in Likely, CA at Likely Place Golf and RV Resort, and this week we are in Standish at the Days End RV Park, the largest thing in Standish.  Both are nice, modest parks with the necessary amenities. Not destination locations, unless you golf, then Likely is a great spot.  With the heat we've had lately we sure wish they had pools though.

As you may have heard, California is in the midst of a drought, and we are seeing evidence of that as we travel. In the nearby towns of Janesville and Susanville, the deer have come down from the hills and have taken up residence - maybe to get to the luscious green grass in some of the yards - maybe just to get away from predators, like the moose do in Anchorage.  For whatever reason, they are there in herds and families, bucks, does and babies alike. You really have to watch where you're going to avoid driving right into them. They're pretty relaxed.

Of course, this is the fall, when things are usually dry, but the landscape is bleak. The colors are very subtle, if they are there at all.  I was out taking early morning barn pictures and the monochrome landscape really showed up. (There are many beautiful, old, aged-wood barns in the area.)

So I thought I'd play around a little with black and white versions, and with"focal B&W" which leaves a little color only where you might want it.

Really the black and white versions don't look too much different from the color ones.

There was more color in the sky and the patchwork roof of this barn than in anything else I saw that morning.

Because we usually travel in the shoulder season we rarely have to cope with extreme heat or cold. In fact, in the three plus years we've been full-timing, we have rarely used our air conditioners. Now we are having enough summer weather to satisfy any longing we might have had for sunshine and dry heat. And we're heading for Death Valley! Hopefully we'll linger in the higher elevations and northern latitudes long enough to avoid the worst of it. So far we're having nice cool nights and our air conditioner's working fine.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

More Hot Rocks: Glass Mountain

While in Tionesta, California, I ventured to yet another location created by hot lava, this time a whole mountain of it!  Much of it is obsidian, the hardest kind of volcanic rock sometimes called glass because of its high silica content, and shiny, brittle character.  It's part of the same Medicine Lake Volcano that Lava Beds National Monument is, and is very close to Medicine Lake itself.

From tiny Tionesta, the local Route 97 West takes you almost there, then there are signs directing you to Glass Mountain. Google Maps is not very helpful as it shows every logging road and makes no distinction between two dirt ruts and paved roads in this area. Barbara and Craig at Eagle's Nest RV Park provided a great local map to help out. Here's what Glass Mountain looks like in Google Maps satellite view in which you can see the gray lava flows. I probably explored about one hundredth of the area. 

After parking at the edge of the lava flow, there is a narrow road winding through the flow that is stable and safe to walk on. This is not part of the national monument, and it looks as if a private enterprise is quarrying the obsidian here. At first it just looks like a massive gray pile of rock rubble. (And I mean really massive. - like two or three stories high above the trail in some places.) But as you walk through, veins of red and black obsidian begin to show amongst the dramatic upthrusts of frozen lava. 

In some places you can see the flow lines of the lava.

Here are some of the interesting varieties of obsidian.

Almost nothing has grown on the whole mountain,
but in places along the edge a few evergreen trees have taken root.

It was a really unique experience, very other-worldly.  Here's Ms. Subaru waiting patiently for my return. You can see how high the piles of rock are just here at the edge of the flow. 

Being an Easterner originally, I really had no idea how much of the west is volcanic in origin. Aside from the obvious volcanoes that everyone has heard of: Mounts Shasta, Lassen, Hood, St, Helens and Rainier, there are so many others, plus the shield volcanoes, and countless lava flows across the northwest. What a different landscape all this volcanic activity has created compared to the granite of the northeast, the limestone of the midwest and the sandstone of the southwest. What incredible variety of landscapes North America offers up. I guess that's why we're on the road in this vast and wonderful country.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hot Rocks: Lava Beds National Monument

Our week's stay at Eagles' Nest RV Park in Tionesta, CA started with a surprise. As we pulled in, our hosts met us at the entrance and confided that they were expected "The Burners" to be showing up that evening.  It turns out that Burning Man was starting the next day, and although Tionesta is about as far off the beaten track as any RV park we've ever been to, it's close enough to the main route from Portland, Seattle, Bend, (and other hip alternative-culture PNW communities) to the Black Desert. It seems the Burners (participants in Burning Man) know all about Eagles' Nest RV Park and hundreds were expected to be camping all around us by nightfall. Barbara, our host, made it sound like it would be a major inundation, but after a moment's thought we decided it all sounded interesting, so we stayed.

About 15 miles from the campground is the entrance to Lava Beds National Monument, which covers only about 10 percent of the 700 square mile Medicine Lake shield volcano.  A shield volcano, in contrast to more mountainous others, like nearby Mt. Shasta, is a slowly erupting and widely spreading volcano. Within the National Monument there are volcanic buttes (below), cinder and splatter cones, massive lava flows and almost 700 lava tube caves!   They are all the remains of some very hot rocks.

Rick is not so into caves, so this was a park for Lenore the explorer. With my Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), two headlamps, lots of water and my walking stick I headed to the caves.  The rangers at the Visitors' Center suggested starting with the Mushpot cave, as it is the only lighted one in the park and a good place to figure out if you even want to go further.  

In addition to lights, Mushpots has stairs at the cave entrance, hand rails...

and paved walkways... 

These caves are also much cooler and more humid than the hot sun and parched desert air above. 
 So I guess in this case the rocks were pretty cool (rather than hot). 

The walk to the end of the lava tube and back took just a few minutes and was easy going all the way.

Lava tubes are made by the fast passage of very hot liquid lava flowing gently downhill. The floor and walls of the tube harden first as the outside contacts earth and air, cooling while the inside still flows, eventually flowing right out at the bottom of the hill, leaving the hollow tube behind. Many have collapsed, or partially collapsed, and their openings can be seen all over the park.  About 20 are maintained and open to the public.  The park provides an excellent brochure describing each one and their level of difficulty.  It also offers ranger led tours of some of the caves.

For my next lava tube encounter I chose the Sentinel Cave (above), also at the ranger's suggestion. It's rated as easy, with wide and tall passages, so no crawling is necessary. Below is what it looked like from the mouth of the cave.

Oh, did I mention that it has no lights? But I had my trusty headlamps so I thought I'd be OK.  Well, here is a picture of how far I got, looking back out to the entrance of the cave.  It was just too creepy for me, by myself. With a group I'd be fine, but as I tippy-toed into the darkness with my suddenly very inadequate headlamp, it was easy to decide that this adventure was not for me. 

OK. Not to be defeated, I drove on to two more caves, at the entrances of which there were reportedly pictographs to be found. If I didn't have to go deep inside the cave that sounded good to me. A 1.5 mile hike was required to get to their entrances.  At the first one I couldn't even see the trail down, let alone walk it, so I passed that one by. 

At the second one, Symbol Bridge Cave, I had better luck. The way down was evident, looked manageable, and wasn't dark.  In fact it was lighted by a collapsed section just a short way in, creating what I assume must have been the bridge referred to in its name.

And right at the entrance were the clearly visible pictographs, if you took the time to look. 

Pictographs are not carved, scratched or chipped into rock, but rather are created using liquid or powdered minerals, usually applied with fingers or other parts of the hand, or in some cases blown on. 

So, cave adventures complete enough, I headed to the northern sections of the Monument, passing some Giant Blazing Stars along the roadside. 

Of interest to history buffs is Captain Jack's Stronghold, another one of the Monument's easy access popular roadside attractions. 

Along the trail through the Stronghold there were many places where Mt. Shasta was visible in the distance.  There were actually two trails - a short and a long loop. (I opted for the short trial because of the heat and midday sun.)

Captain Jack was the war leader of the local Modoc people in the mid-late 1800's. The Stronghold is a complex of lava formations with caves and fissures used by as many as 150 members of the Modoc tribe in the defense of their land against US troops in 1872-3 for 5-6 months.  In the photo below you can see Tule Lake in the distance. It used to come right up to the Stronghold before it was drained for farm land. It was the source of water for the Modoc during the siege.

The Modoc Wars are described in detail here, for those interested. (Like most conflicts between Native Americans and the US government - it's complicated - so I won't attempt it here.) 

It seems the Stronghold was an especially effective location to defend because of its complexity, and the dangers of unexpected holes and sharp lava rock for those unfamiliar with it.  The brochure and trail markers throughout the area explain how parts of it were used by the Modoc, for living, storage, defense, gatherings, even ceremonial dancing during the siege. 

Walking through, it's easy to imagine their temporary life here during the siege and the related battles.  The location and the significance of the historic Modoc medicine flag is noted in the brochure, and there is also what seems to be a contemporary medicine flag mounted on a nearby highpoint within the Stronghold. (No explanation provided.)

After the Stronghold I pushed northward to the edge of the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge, and saw lots of white pelicans, Canada geese, white egrets, coots and black necked stilts.  My final stop was in the small town of Tulelake for some chicken tacos at a local burger stand before heading back to Tionesta.

BTW, we were not inundated with Burners, there was no late night pre-Burning Man celebration, 
we all got along, and we all slept well.