Mima mounds are one of those quasi-mysterious landforms that no one really has an explanation for. They occur in various places in North America and elsewhere, but the landform itself is named after the mounds on the Mima Prairie, which happens to be just down the road from where I live (I’m northeast of Olympia, Washington, and the mounds are about 10 miles south of Oly). This area is also one of the few examples of native prairie left in western Washington, as well as a prime example of the mounds. It’s now preserved as a Natural Area Preserve by the state of Washington, and as a Natural National Landmark by the federal government.
I’d been there once before not long after I moved to Washington, then I completely forgot about it. Which is really too bad, actually.
But the real draw for me, especially this time of year, is the flowers. Of course. I saw at least a dozen different kinds. Here are some of them.
And two other non-flower photos.
Oh, and by the way, it’s pronounced like lima bean, not like Lima, Peru.
I always wake up at the crack of dawn when I’m camping. Especially this time of year when it gets light before six in the morning. But that’s okay.
I’m not sure why (am I ever sure why?) I decided to drive up to Lake Chelan this morning, but I never really have before. I stopped in the touristy town of Chelan, at the foot of the lake, to buy batteries for my camera and to stick my head in a quilt shop on the main drag. Whoever their fabric buyer is, her taste does not agree with mine. I’m not a big fan of what I think of as sixties neon, and that was about all that little shop held.
There is no road clear around Lake Chelan. It’s a landlocked fjord, and the upper end of the lake reaches deep into the North Cascades. There are two roads on either side. The one on the north shore of the lake is only about twenty miles long. The one on the south side is about twice that length, so that’s the one I took.
Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in North America at over 1500 feet deep (the bottom is lower than sea level), according to a sign I read at the ferry landing. It’s roughly 55 miles long, and varies from one to two miles wide. It’s also pretty darned gorgeous. I stopped at the Fields Point Landing, a few miles up the lake, to poke around the visitor center and ask about the ferry that runs daily to Stehekin, the tiny settlement at the head of the lake. One of these days I want to take that trip, but the boat had left an hour or so earlier. Next time.
But I saw beautiful views, anyway, and more flowers.
I’d thought about camping at 25 Mile Creek State Park at the end of the road that night, but it wasn’t even noon yet, and I decided I wanted to actually go on up to the Okanogan. So, stopping along the way to make a picnic lunch, I headed up to the town of Omak, where one of my favorite quilt shops (Needlyn Time) is. And, yes, this time I bought fabric, which I needed like a hole in the head, but tough.
After that, I headed up to Conconully, the little town that inspired the ghost town of the same name in my Unearthly Northwest books.
Conconully is one of the few towns I know of with a state park right at the edge of town. But it’s a nice state park, and the campsite I wound up at was right on the lake and pretty secluded. I spent what was left of the afternoon just enjoying the day and reading, and listening to the red-winged blackbirds sawing their courtship cries. Oh, and watching the geese and ducks use the lake as a landing and launch pad. And the deer eating the campground’s mowed grass.
All in all, I drove a bit more than I had intended, but it was well worth it.
It’s no secret that this has been the wettest winter on record in western Washington (almost 45 inches of rain between October 1st and April 30th – our average, for well over a hundred years of record-keeping, is closer to 35 inches for the entire year), and one of the coldest. There’s no argument that it’s been incredibly depressing as well (and personal reasons have made it even more so for me).
So, when the weather forecasters for this past week noted (with great cheer) that it was supposed to get to and over 70dF on the west side of the mountains for the first time this year on Wednesday and Thursday, and even warmer, with lots of sunshine, on the east side, I thought, you know what? Screw it, I’m going camping.
Of course, when I thought about the east side of the mountains, my first idea was to go back to the Okanogan, which almost feels like home after the time I spent there researching my first two Tales of the Unearthly Northwest. I was also hoping it would nudge me back into writing the third Tale, which has sat there a few chapters in whining at me for longer than I want to think about it, due to those personal reasons I mentioned above. That didn’t really happen, but at least I got to spend some time in the sun, in nature, and to see lots of spring wildflowers.
The first place I went for flowers wasn’t on the way to the Okanogan, not in the region proper. At some point in the past I had picked up a flyer titled Wildflower Areas in the Columbia Basin, and one of them was about ten miles southeast of Wenatchee.
That turned out to be something of an adventure, as the photo of the Rock Island Grade Road will show. At my first sight of it, I thought, oh my gosh, I hope that little dirt road climbing up the side of a canyon isn’t the one they’re talking about, but yes, it was.
It wasn’t the steepest, narrowest road I’ve ever driven, but I think it’s the steepest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever driven. The recommended place to stop was about two and a half miles up, and the flyer hinted that there was a parking area. Ha. And what it turned out to be was a place for locals to go up and shoot cans, with all of the attendant garbage. That said, it was also literally carpeted with wildflowers. I managed to park Merlin as close to the edge of the road (not, at that point, hanging over the cliff) as I could, in case someone else came by (no one did, thank goodness), got out, and this is what I saw.
After I made my way cautiously back down to the highway, I headed back to Wenatchee, then north along Hwy. 97, which borders the Columbia River. It was getting fairly late in the afternoon by then, so I stopped at Lincoln Rock State Park, the first of three parks with campgrounds north of Wenatchee. I’d never camped there before. All of the sites are within sight of the river, and it was a peaceful, warm evening. I sat out in my lawn chair and just absorbed it all. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera chose just then to give up the ghost, and apparently I’d forgotten to bring the spares, so I have no photos of that.
And that was my first day east of the mountains this year. More tomorrow.
I woke up this morning to frost on my windshield! Yes, it was in the 50sdF when I went to sleep last night, and yes, I was camped at 9600 feet, but still. It’s June! I had to find my ice scraper, and thank goodness I’d remembered to pull it out of Kestrel’s glove department when I traded him in, and thank goodness I’d thrown it into Merlin’s glove department, too.
So that was kind of an adventure. I went over an 11,000 foot pass this morning, too, and saw two waterfalls, then I came down into the town of Ouray and all of a sudden the land flattened back out again. By the time I reached the city of Montrose (yeah, it’s a city – I passed a big box store conglomeration on my way into town), it was almost 80dF, and by this afternoon it was in the mid-80s. A 50-degree temperature rise in less than four hours.
Then I headed east on U.S. 50 (the same highway I’d crossed Nevada on), and, in spite of being at over 7000 feet, I was back in the desert.
Still, I did have an interesting place to stop along the way. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (for those who are counting, this is my twelfth national park/monument of the trip <g>) is another of those places we went when I was a kid. I think I was nine or ten, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Anyway, I did sort of remember it.
The canyon is over 2000 feet deep, narrow enough to make it feel like you could throw a rock from rim to rim, and made from a very dark rock called gneiss (“nice”) that has a lot of stripes and color in it. It was something to behold. But, as usual for me, the flowers kind of took over the show.
I drove the six mile with lots of viewpoints rim road, ate lunch at the picnic area at the end, and took another gazillion photos. It was well worth the stop, especially since it was right on my way.
Gunnison, Colorado, is about an hour east of the Black Canyon (or it would have been if I hadn’t run into my second bout of road construction of the day – the first was at the 10,000 foot level just south of Ouray), and it’s where I am tonight. It’s also the home of Western Colorado University, where my nephew Mike went to college. I’m not sure how he ended up there, but it’s a nice little campus.
I had it in my brain that Gunnison was going to be a mountain town, but it’s in a valley, and sort of a cross between desert and ranchland. It’s pretty, but it doesn’t look at all like I thought it would.
And as the crowning touch of nostalgia, I’m staying in a KOA campground (for the showers and the wifi, since motels here are expensive) for the first time since my ex and I stayed in one just outside Eugene, Oregon in the early 80s. My folks and I used to stay in one about every third day when we traveled for the same reason I’m here tonight (well, not for the wifi…). Anyway. It’s funny.
As of today, I’ve been on the road for two weeks. Amazing.
First, the rant. I think I need to write Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (my senators) about how our national parks are being priced out of the means of too many Americans. Thirty-two bleeding dollars for a campsite at Mesa Verde is just the tip of the iceberg. It brought back memories of a bunch of other indignities, like the fact that the price of a cabin at Yellowstone has doubled in the last ten years (and never mind that you can’t even camp near Old Faithful anymore, so if you want to be at the geyser basins early or late, you have to pay for lodging), or that the cheapest place to stay in Yosemite is a filthy (and I mean that in the literal sense – the one I stayed in was disgustingly dirty when I was there in 2011) tent cabin for $125 a night. There’s a lot of inequity about entrance fees, too – some very popular parks don’t charge fees, and some charge upwards of $30 just to get in (this is why an annual parks pass for $80 is something I always do – even when I don’t travel it pays for itself just for going to Rainier and Olympic). Anyway, I hate how the parks are letting the concessioners get away with murder. If they really want to walk the walk about getting the younger generations into the parks that they keep talking about, then they need to make sure the younger generations can actually afford to go to the parks. And those of us in the older generations who aren’t rich, too.
Rant over. At least for now.
Other than that, I love Mesa Verde. This is another of those parks that I first visited when I was too young to remember. Almost. The earliest memory I have of traveling with my family is of my sisters holding my hands as I walked along the top of the walls at the Sun Temple here (which is strictly illegal to do these days).
I’ve been to Mesa Verde once as an adult, in 2002, in the immediate aftermath of a huge fire that closed chunks of the park. It’s nice to be back when everything’s open.
The first thing I did was stop at the brand-new (2012) visitor center just inside the park entrance to buy two tickets, one for a tour of Cliff Palace today, and one for a tour of Balcony House tomorrow, then I drove the mesa top loop, which is where Sun Temple is, and where there are other ruins, and where of course I saw more wildflowers.
I went through Cliff Palace in 2002, and it’s an amazing place. The ranger who took us through this time talked mostly about the history of archaeology as it applies to Mesa Verde, and the good things that happened and the bad. It was eye-opening. Did you know that because the first “real” archaeologist who excavated in Mesa Verde was from Sweden, that the largest collection of Mesa Verde artifacts is in a museum there? I knew from my own education that repatriation is a fraught concept, but I hadn’t known this in specific.
Anyway, Cliff Palace is a remarkable place, well worth climbing ladders and squeezing up narrow steps (better than the hand and footholds on the cliffs the residents used) to get in and out of. I understand I’ll have to crawl through a tunnel to get into Balcony House tomorrow. That ought to be interesting.
Given that I refused to pay $32 to camp in the park, finding a campsite last night was interesting. The national forest doesn’t start until almost Durango, so that was out. I ended up in a commercial campground just across the highway from the park entrance. It was $19, which was considerably better. But still. I need to write my senators. Not that it’ll do any good, but it’ll make me feel better. The parks are supposed to be for everyone, dammit.
It was only 70dF when I left Capitol Reef NP at seven this morning <wry g>. I’d have liked to do some hiking, but not with temperatures approaching 100dF in the afternoon. Today was my last real day in the desert, though. It’ll still be warm at Mesa Verde over the next day or two, but after that I’ll be way up in the Colorado Rockies for a few days. Of course, after that I’ll be crossing the Great Plains, but still… I have to take my optimism where I can get it. Part of me is wondering if I should have headed across Canada, turned south when I got to the other ocean, and come back across the middle of the U.S. Oh, well. Too late now <g>.
But here’s two more Capitol Reef photos, anyway.
Today was sort of Monument Valley North. I’m only a hundred miles or so northeast of the real Monument Valley tonight, but I can remember going there when I was a kid, and trust me, what I saw today was plenty. Lots of huge monoliths rising from the ground. And very few places on the narrow two-lane road to pull over and take a photo.
Oh, and the mighty Colorado wasn’t all that mighty. Or at least it didn’t look mighty enough to justify photographing it, apparently.
Natural Bridges National Monument, which preserves three of the largest natural bridges on the planet, was much more photo-worthy. It was the first designated federal property in the state of Utah, which is saying something, and was brought into being by Theodore Roosevelt. Well, the monument was, not the bridges. They’re natural, formed by water over thousands of years. Never mind.
Two of the three bridges were easily viewable. The third one was perpendicular to its viewpoint, and so you really couldn’t tell what it was. But here are the two that actually looked like bridges.
I also saw lizards (I think they were lizards, anyway), and a beautiful prickly pear cactus blossom (along with more other kinds of flowers than should have been blooming in that heat). Pretty nifty.
The rest of the drive over to Cortez, Colorado, where I am now, was mostly through farm and ranch land, and I didn’t see anything really worthy of photographing. But tomorrow is going to be fun. I’m going to Mesa Verde National Park, just ten more miles down the road, and see cliff dwellings.
I have to say, after last night’s incredible stars, that I can believe Great Basin NP’s claim to have some of the least light-polluted skies in the lower 48 of the U.S. Amazing.
This morning I took an hour and a half tour of Lehman Caves, which are one of the high points of this park. I discovered, to my delight, that my new (as of last winter) camera takes much better low-light photos than my old (as in ten years old) camera did. Both of the cave photos in this post were taken sans flash or tripod. Some of the others weren’t so great, but I’d say at least half of them came out well.
I had a little time between changing the ticket I’d bought several days ago via phone from this afternoon to this morning and the start of the tour, so I went for a walk along the nature trail on the surface above the cave, where I saw something really pretty called a cliffrose. I also saw the natural entrance to the cave (which isn’t used for people anymore, but is kept open for the bats), and the entrance and exit used for the tours, which were blasted out by the WPA in the thirties, before people knew better (I suspect this was about the same time the elevator that goes down into Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico was installed, too).
Then I put my sneakers into a (very shallow, only the soles got wet) Lysol bath, to disinfect them and protect the bats that live in the cave from something called white nose syndrome, a fungus brought over from Europe that has killed millions of bats in this country and that they’re trying to keep from spreading. If you’ve worn your shoes into a cave before, you have to have them disinfected. So because I’d been in one of the caves at Lava Beds, my sneakers now smell ever so faintly of Lysol <g>.
The cave tour was cool, and not just because it was 50dF inside, while it was pushing 80dF outside. It was beautiful in there, from teeny-tiny soda straws (they’re long and skinny and hollow) to huge columns, elegant draperies and things called popcorn and shields. We walked through for an hour and a half, and every minute was interesting.
After the tour was over, I headed southeast across yet more lonely highway about 150 miles to the town of Cedar City, Utah (my fifth state of the trip), where I am tonight. One thing I did not expect was the acres and acres of the same desert globe mallow I saw in Oregon, in full bloom. It made the entire landscape orange in places, almost like the California poppies down in the Mojave Desert do, except the globe mallow is a darker orange. Just lovely.
Today was a short drive day. I spent the morning exploring the Painted Hills section of the John Day Fossil Beds, which turned out to be my favorite part. The hills weren’t just multicolored – red from iron, gray from manganese, lavender and yellow from minerals I don’t remember, sorry – they’re textured to look like the skin of some ancient reptile. Nothing grows on them where the soil hasn’t been disturbed, because of the density of the clay and a whole bunch of other things. Where they have been disturbed, even out in that desolate country, there are flowers. I saw three species I had never seen before, and thanks to a lovely identification panel on the kiosk at the picnic area, I now know what their friends call them <g>
Prineville was about an hour’s drive on, and I stopped there for lunch before coming on to Redmond (just north of Bend), where I have taken my first motel of the trip (I had always planned on stopping in motels about every third night – for showers and wifi and easy charging of stuff, if nothing else). I was a bit concerned about finding a motel on the Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend, so I checked in early, then drove over to Sisters, of quilt show fame.
Sisters is sort of the Cannon Beach of central Oregon. Or maybe that crossed with Winthrop? Anyway, lots of tourists, but some really good huckleberry ice cream. And the Stitchin’ Post (the shop that started the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show all those years ago), which was something of a disappointment. For one thing, half the shop is knitting stuff now, and for the other, I don’t know who their fabric buyer is these days, but her taste and mine do not agree. I was looking for fabric that would say, this came from Sisters to me, but mostly what they had was that sixties-looking stuff that does nothing for me, and has nothing to do with where the shop is.
It wasn’t important (having just packed up my entire stash a couple of days ago, I am acutely conscious that I need more fabric like I need a hole in my head), but it was sad to me, anyway.
I did get some spectacular views of the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Three-Fingered Jack, and Mt. Bachelor along the way, but there was no place to pull over and actually take pictures. I promise to try to do better on that front tomorrow.
Having fallen asleep before most children’s bedtime last night, I woke up with the birds this morning. And ended up driving a bit further than I thought I would for one day, but that’s okay.
Down U.S. 12 to Yakima, where I drove five miles of I-82 before I could escape onto U.S. 97, about 60 miles down to the Columbia River. 97 crosses the Yakama (yes, that’s spelled right) Nation Indian Reservation, and for some reason I’d been expecting high desert. What I got was beautiful foothills, and peekaboo glimpses of Mt. Hood, until I got to the little town of Goldendale, where I had gorgeous views of both Hood and Mt. Adams to its north. And a farmers’ market on this Saturday morning, where I bought some strawberries.
Then I went to Stonehenge <g>. No, not that Stonehenge, but the replica built back after WWII as a war memorial, perched over the Columbia River. It’s made of concrete and is seriously surreal.
Then across the wide Columbia River and my first state line of the trip, into Oregon, and on south through miles of wide open countryside, over at least one pass and past several hundred wind turbines (more than I’ve ever seen anywhere including Washington state’s Palouse country, which is saying a lot), along the John Day River, and through some cute towns.
Wasco, where someone’s got a weird sense of humor, and Condon, which I’m really glad isn’t a typo, and Fossil, where I ate lunch in the middle of a motorcycle rally. Well, in a café in the middle of a motorcycle rally, anyway.
I was headed towards John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which I’d been wanting to visit for a long time. The landscape there reminds me in some ways of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Lots of multicolored rock layers. The history was interesting, too. John Day (whose namesake was a fur trapper) was sheep farming country before the fossils were discovered, and the park service has preserved one of the farms, with well-done interpretation.
But the best part was the John Condon Paleontological Center (John Condon was one of the first people to discover the fossils). They don’t do dinosaurs at John Day. They do ancient mammals. The Cenozoic period, to be precise. Fascinating stuff. I spent a good chunk of my afternoon there.
But it was time to find a place to stay for the night. I’m in another forest service campground (I figure on finding a motel or hostel or whatever about every third night), up in the forest above the high desert. It’s nice and cool, and there are wildflowers, and I got the last campsite <g>. Can’t ask for much more than that!
I have just returned from my annual trip to Tyler, Texas, to visit my almost 92-year-old mother, and, this time, to make a short (three-day) jaunt with my sister, who lives down there, too. We planned this several months ago, before all of the problems with my condo made me decide to sell it and take another Long Trip, and the plane tickets were already bought, so I didn’t try to cancel it.
Anyway, Mother is getting more and more fragile. I won’t get into her health issues here except to say how grateful I am that she’s still alive for me to go visit. I stayed with my sister Ann, and that’s only one reason I’m grateful she’s down there nearby for Mother.
Anyway, I’d been wanting to go to Austin and San Antonio and the Hill Country for a long time, and since this time I had to rent a car, anyway, I decided to go, and to invite Ann to go along with me. After a couple of days visiting with my mother, we headed south to San Antonio.
One of the nice things about Tyler is that to go any direction but due east or west, you pretty much have to get off the Interstate. The drive to San Antonio, aside from missing one turn, not realizing we had until we’d gone too far to turn back, and having to reroute ourselves, was fun. Wide open spaces, small towns, and wildflowers scattered all over the roadsides.
We arrived in San Antonio in the late afternoon, and found a hotel within walking distance of the River Walk and the Alamo, and went to eat supper along the River Walk. The River Walk reminded us both a bit of certain parts of Disneyland, but it was still fun (and about 10 degrees cooler than up on the street), and we ate fancy pizza right next to the water.
The next morning, it was raining just a bit. We strolled over to the Alamo under Ann’s umbrellas (she had two).
I liked the Alamo. It was very interesting historically (they did a terrific job with the museum exhibit part of the thing), and the gardens were lovely. The rain was a minor nuisance, but not a big deal. Yes, the Alamo is basically a shrine to Texas, but I knew that going in, and, well, I eat history up with a spoon, so I had no problem with it.
On our way back to the hotel to pack up and check out, we saw a whole bunch of carriages decorated as if for a wedding. Turns out we’d arrived the night before San Antonio’s annual Fiesta began. According to one of the carriage drivers, Fiesta attracts more people every year than New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, and was started when a bunch of ladies got drunk and flung flowers at each other 🙂
In the afternoon, we drove up to the Hill Country, which is sort of legendary for its spring wildflowers. It did not disappoint. After lunch in Fredericksburg, we took some back roads out through the rolling countryside (calling it hilly would have been stretching things, IMHO), and saw whole fields of flowers. Bluebonnets, of course, but also winecups and evening primroses and all sorts of things. Just gorgeous.
We wound up spending the night in the town of San Marcos, just south of Austin, and came in for a rude surprise when we turned on the Weather Channel. A huge storm was headed our way. You might have seen the recent news reports about flooding in Texas? Well, we weren’t in Houston, where it got really bad, but the rest of it? We were right where it was about to hit.
So we decided to cut our trip short by one day and go back to Tyler the next morning.
People think it rains a lot here in western Washington, and we do get a fair amount. But it’s a soft rain. Texas rain is like driving through a bleeding waterfall. I’m not overly fond of thunder and lightning, either. At least we didn’t have any tornado warnings. But we made it back, and my only disappointment was that I didn’t get to go to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Maybe next time, if there is a next time.
Once back in Tyler, the weather cleared up (bad weather seems to go around Tyler a lot of the time, which is really weird), and until I left several days later (having planned the trip with the jaunt in the middle so Mother could rest up while we were gone), I not only spent as much time as I could with my mother, but I got to stroll around a nature trail just down the street from my sister’s house, where there were also lots of wildflowers.
The last day before I left, Mother and I drove out to a place called Love’s Lookout, about fifteen miles south of Tyler, where there’s a nice little bench with a beautiful view, and we sat and talked for a while. It’s kind of our place, and I’m glad she was still able to go out there with me.
And that was my visit to Tyler this year. Every year now I wonder if this will be my last visit with my mother. I hope not.
Otherwise known as Mahonia aquifolium. Playing with the zoom on my new camera this afternoon, out at the Dogwood Scenic Overlook out by Eatonville, where on a clear day you can see Mt. Rainier. Alas that this was not a clear day. But this shot pleased me very much, as I really like the sharpness of the flowers compared to the out-of-focussedness of the background.
I really can’t wait to actually take this camera somewhere, but it probably won’t happen until I go to the Monroe quilt show a week from Friday.
It won’t be officially astronomical autumn until the 22nd, or unofficially autumn until after Labor Day weekend, but still. It’s been feeling like autumn all week, cool and showery (and we had a very autumn-like windstorm on Saturday).
You can also tell because the hardy cyclamen are blooming beside my front door (please excuse the weeds).
So today when I went for my walk along the Nathan Chapman trail, I decided to take my camera and see what I could see.
Here’s a shot of the beginning of the trail.
Here’s some blackberry foliage already beginning to turn color.
I don’t know what kind of berries these are. Currants, perhaps? The foliage does not say pyracantha or serviceberry to me.
The photo below is part of the result of our very hot, dry summer this year. Things are starting to green back up now that we’ve had some rain, but some things won’t be back till next year now.
The vine maple will be flame-colored in a few weeks, but for now it’s still green.
There are even a few flowers left.
I found some blackberries, too, but the only ones that hadn’t been picked and eaten were up high enough to be at an awkward angle for photographing, so I’m not going to inflict my blurry efforts on you.
No Mountain today, either. Mt. Rainier is visible from where I took the picture below when the sky is clear. It should be out when my friend L and I go to Sunrise on Saturday!
My friend Loralee and I went to Mt. Rainier for a wildflower jaunt on Wednesday. This just goes to prove that I have an unending jones for wildflowers, because I’d just seen tons of them on my trip to the Canadian Rockies.
It was hot in the lowlands, our 14th consecutive day above 80 — we tied a record yesterday with another one — so the 70s predicted for Sunrise at 6300 feet (about 1920 meters) on the east side of the Mountain sounded wonderful. (it’s been remedied by the long overdue return of our onshore flow, the wind off the ocean that we often refer to here as our natural air conditioning — so far, today’s high’s been about 70F (about 21C)).
We stopped to pick up what I always think of as an insta-picnic at Subway on our way up, and got to Sunrise around noon. We had a lovely picnic, then I went for my usual jaunt around back behind Sunrise to Shadow Lake while Loralee strolled closer by.
If I hadn’t known for a fact that it was July 8th, I’d have sworn it was the middle of August. There’s usually at least some snow on the ground near or on the trail this early in the season, the pasqueflowers aren’t quite over, and there’s glacier lilies everywhere.
On this July 8th, there was no snow whatsoever except way up on the Mountain, the phlox that normally blooms in late July was all but finished (I found maybe two clumps that hadn’t gone to seed), the lupines were past their prime, and there were August asters everywhere.
It was still gorgeous, as usual, but still.
Here’s some of what I saw today:
All in all, given the lack of winter and a so-far unreasonably hot spring and summer, not bad.
But, as I said to Loralee on our way down the mountain, “Harebells! In early July!”
And so I turned towards home. But I had one more day in the Rockies, driving back down the Icefields Parkway, then west through yet another national park, so while I might have been headed back technically, there was still more than plenty to see.
For some reason I woke up at the crack of dawn, and was on the road by 7:30 in the morning. I wake up a lot earlier than I normally do when I’m traveling, but this was sort of ridiculous. On the bright side, because I was out so early, I got to see some elk alongside the road just south of Jasper townsite.
I’m sort of jaded about elk — I’ve seen so many of them in Yellowstone, and even had one bull in rut bugle under my hotel room window all night there once — but they’re still beautiful animals. I was less enamored of the tourons who were walking right up to them to take photos, but Darwin knows what to do with them.
I arrived at Athabaska Glacier by late morning, and stopped at the Icefields Centre, which I hadn’t done on the way up, just to see what was there. An unfinished (they were still working on the exhibits) big fancy building, mostly, but I did buy my fourth and last magnet of the trip in the gift shop there. I also took some photos from that new vantage point (up the slope on the other side of the valley from the glacier), and when I got home, discovered that among the slides I brought home in January from my mother’s house, there was one I’d taken (my Instamatic took square slides, so that’s how I know it was mine, not my father’s) of the same glacier from a similar viewpoint back in 1970. So here’s what a graphic example of global warming on a human timeline looks like:
Then it was down, down, down into the Bow Valley, with one brief stop to keep from running over another small group of bighorn sheep, to Lake Louise village, where I bought tea and then headed west on the Trans-Canada Highway toward Kicking Horse Pass, my last crossing of the Continental Divide, and Yoho National Park.
Kicking Horse Pass (so named because an early explorer got kicked in the head by his horse there) was a fascinating place. I’m not that much of a railroad buff, although I’ve ridden Amtrak cross-country several times, but I’d never seen a railroad do what this one does before. The grade is so steep that it was all but impossible for trains to make it over the pass. That is, until an engineer got the bright idea to build tunnels in a figure eight configuration, giving more room for the trains to climb more gradually, with the tracks crossing over themselves as they climbed. If the train is long enough, you can see the engines and first cars passing directly over the later cars below them. I was lucky enough to be there when a long train passed through, and actually got to see this happen. It was hard to get good photos, but here’s one.
After I finished marveling at the turn-of-the-last century engineering feat, I drove a bit further west and turned onto the Yoho Valley Road, which winds (including a couple of “I hope Kestrel doesn’t rear-end himself” switchbacks) up the Yoho Valley to Takakkaw Falls, the highest single-drop waterfall in Canada, at 850 feet. There’s a trail right up close enough to feel the mist, of course. It really reminded me of Yosemite Valley, only without the crowds. It was also a great place to picnic.
And I saw another bear on the way up there. My seventh and last of the trip. I’ve never seen that many bears on one trip before.
And more wildflowers, of course.
The visitor centre at the village of Field, back on the Trans-Canada Highway, was my next stop, with its little exhibit about the Burgess Shale, one of the most famous fossil beds in North America. Unfortunately, the site itself is only accessible by guided tour and a long, steep hike, but at least I got to see some of the fossils.
My last side trip of the day was the road to Emerald Lake and the natural bridge along the way. I was more impressed with the natural bridge (and its lovely waterfall) than I was with Emerald Lake. It was still pretty, though.
And another flower along the Trans-Canada Highway which I’d never seen before. Gorgeous red lilies.
Then it was on to the town of Golden, and my hostel for the night, run by a very friendly Scottish woman who fosters cats for the local humane society. First cat fix I’d had since I left home, and very pleasant. She also recommended a restaurant, the Wolf’s Den, which was part historic log cabin and part sports bar, serving an excellent hamburger, salad, and the best onion ring I’ve had since Burgerville perched on top of the burger. The TV was playing the U.S. Open golf tournament, playing this year at Chambers Bay, just down the road from where I live (and part of the reason I timed my trip as I did), which I found rather amusing.
And that was my last day in the Canadian Rockies. For this trip, anyway. I’d love to go back someday. I had a day and a half drive to get home, and a few more things to see along the way, though.
Off to Jasper! By way of the Icefields Parkway, which I’d been thinking of as the big highlight of the trip, and it did not fail me.
First, though, I want to mention a restaurant called Wild Bill’s (Peyto, not Hickok — a local fellow from the early days) in Banff townsite, where I ate the night before. Highly recommended, in an old-fashioned western sort of way. I had three sliders, one each of three different kinds, and a really good salad, and was treated to some boot-stomping music along the way.
Anyway, I was up and out early, checked out of the hostel, and walked to a local McDonalds — in a national park! — for a large hot tea (not even Mickey D’s does a proper unsweet iced tea up here <sigh>) before heading out of town, into enough on and off rain to clean my windshield.
And into a serious surfeit of stupendous mountains. The clouds came and went with the rain, but it was clear enough a good chunk of the time, and the cloud deck high enough when it wasn’t, that I had a good view most of the way. I did run into a bit of road construction just north of Lake Louise, but it wasn’t bad. And, after all, they have the same problem with road construction up there that they do in Yellowstone. A very short season for doing it, that coincides exactly with tourist season. Not much to be done about that.
But the views were absolutely amazing. Mile after mile after mile of amazing. After a certain point I just sort of went on gorgeousness overload.
So here are some highlights of a day that basically was all highlight:
I took a short but steep walk up to a viewpoint over Peyto Lake (named after the same guy as the restaurant — and pronounced PEE-to, not PAY-to), which was a beautiful strip of aquamarine dropped down in the evergreens. Lots of wildflowers, too.
I stopped at another viewpoint just south of Bow Pass (over 2000m/6000 feet) to look back towards the Bow River Valley.
And I hiked about half a mile straight uphill to the foot of the Athabaska Glacier (which feeds off the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains). It provided a graphic example of why living on a moraine as I do results in a garden full of rocks.
It was cold up there. I was so glad for my heavy jeans and my insulated jacket — and the hoodie with the hood up underneath, especially when it started raining on me again on the way back down to my car.
Then I drove down, down, down, into into Jasper National Park and a climate zone that felt much warmer than at Banff townsite even though it’s over a hundred miles farther north (since Jasper townsite’s altitude is 3484 feet, and Banff townsite’s is 4800 feet, it makes a certain amount of sense — 100+ miles distance is negligible in comparison). It was also sunnier, which was pleasant.
I stopped at Sunwapta Falls, where three rivers come together to form the Athabaska River, which flows into the Arctic Ocean, which just flabbergasted me at the time. I knew I was far north, but really? The falls are pretty spectacular, too.
And on to Athabaska Falls. This time of year, with the snowmelt, I was seeing all the waterfalls on my trip at their best. And more wildflowers, too.
Somehow, after I left the parking area at Athabaska Falls, I wound up on a sort of back road (not really another Bow River Parkway, but more like a paved forest service road back home) which wound north and eventually dumped me on the Parkway just south of Jasper townsite.
And so I arrived in Jasper townsite, which really reminded me of Libby. The scenery was different, but the ambiance was very similar. Small and remote (the nearest big city is Edmonton, about 225 miles, compared to Banff’s proximity to Calgary, only 75 miles) and touristy, but in a much more understated way than Banff. Unfortunately, my supper there was the polar opposite of what I’d had in Banff the night before, but even that didn’t dampen my spirits.
The hostel was several miles outside of town, and they assigned me a bed tucked way back in a corner, which was fine by me.
It was an incredible day. I was exhausted, even after just about 120 miles, but wow, was it worth it. And in a couple of days, I was going to do it all over again, in the other direction. After I explored Jasper.
I think it was about three months ago when it was pointed out to me that I’m no farther from the Canadian Rockies than I am from
Yellowstone (about a hundred miles closer, in fact) and I thought, you know, I’ve been to Yellowstone how many times in the 22 years since I moved to western Washington — why have the only trips I’ve made to Canada in that time been a couple of weekends via ferry to Victoria?
So I renewed my passport and started making plans for the trip as soon as the exhibit was finished. That this happened to coincide with the dates the U.S. Open golf tournament was held less than
fifteen miles from my house was just a bonus (I am told the traffic that week was pretty overwhelming).
Anyway. As is normal on any first day of a vacation like this, I spent most of it on the road. Northeast on SR 18, where I began my day with a hawk stooping at prey right beside the road as I drove by, then east on I-90, of course, to the town of Cle Elum, just over Snoqualmie Pass, where I picked up a back road for a few miles to U.S. 97, which stretches north to the Canadian border, and,
incidentally, allowed me to bypass driving up I-5 through the entire
Puget Sound conurbation, plus avoid one of the busiest border crossings between here and Detroit.
I did not, however, go straight up U.S. 97 to the border. I turned east at the little town of Tonasket, in the heart of the Okanogan country, to explore the northeastern part of Washington before I headed on. I’d always been curious about this area, but it was just a bit farther than I’d want to go for an overnight.
I don’t know if anyone familiar with eastern Washington who’s reading this is as surprised as I was to discover how mountainous the northeast corner of the state actually is. I mean, south of here it’s pretty much flat and seriously monotonous all the way from
Ellensburg to Spokane. But SR 20 climbs quickly up from the
Okanogan River valley and enters national forest land. I passed through the “town” (if there were half a dozen buildings, I’d be shocked) of Wauconda, crossed a 4500 foot pass, dropped down to the San Poil River valley at the town of Republic (which could be the twin of Libby, Montana, where I lived briefly a long time ago), then climbed steeply to Sherman Pass, elevation 5500 feet.
The Sherman Pass viewpoint looks out over one of those curvature-of-the-earth views, over mountains that had obviously been burned in the not-too-distant past. An exhibit board said that the fire had taken place in 1988, the same year as the Yellowstone fires, and the landscape looked similar to the park.
East of Sherman Pass were a couple of historic landmarks. The first one was the site of a CCC camp in the 1930s, with some fun
The second one was apparently about logging, but with no sign, it was kind of hard to tell. On the other hand, this is where I saw the first of many, many wild roses in bloom on this trip (photo at top).
I crossed the Columbia River, actually Lake Roosevelt above the Grand Coulee Dam, at the town of Kettle Falls, the namesake of which is now buried under the reservoir.
But it had an interesting little historical museum where I took a break from the road.
And then I drove the last few miles to the county seat of Colville (pronounced CALL-ville, not COAL-ville), where I spent my first night on the road!
This time closer to home. It is that time of year again, after all.
These are all from along the Nathan Chapman trail in Puyallup, Washington, except for the first one, which is from the rainforest trail at the Carbon River entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park.
The next two photos are really blurry, but I’m including them for the sake of completeness. My apologies.
And, no, this isn’t a wildflower, but I’m including it, anyway.
In which I discover I’m not excited about hundred-plus foot dropoffs on single-lane roads with no guardrails, but find the view worth it, anyway.
One of the reasons I decided to visit the Palouse, especially in spring, was because I had hopes of wildflowers. If you read my blog, especially in the summertime, you’ll note that I have a Thing for wildflowers and also for identifying them.
An interesting geological feature of the Palouse is the occasional butte sticking up out of the deep, rolling loess landscape. Two of these buttes are enclosed in parks, and the wildflower book I carried with me said that they were good places to go see wildflowers in the spring because they’re just about the only part of the landscape that isn’t farmed intensely for wheat and lentils.
Kamiak Butte County Park is a few miles north of Pullman, and it was my first stop of the morning. The road into the park approaches the butte from the north, and I was surprised to discover how thickly wooded it was with pines. Not another soul was there at nine in the morning on a weekday, which made me a bit uncomfortable as a woman hiking alone, but I started out on the trail, anyway, and was immediately rewarded by fawn lilies and thimbleberry blossoms scattered thickly among the pine needles.
The trail went pretty much straight up the side of the butte, and I am sort of ashamed to say that I never made it out of the forest to the top before I got pretty winded. I have no trouble hiking the three miles at 6300 feet on the loop back around behind Sunrise on Mt. Rainier every summer, but this trail was just a bit much, for some reason, not just physically. It was also disconcerting to be the only person on the trail except for a runner who nearly mowed me down as I was coming back down the hill.
So on north I went to Steptoe Butte State Park, which, according to Wikipedia, is a protrusion of rock almost 25 times older than the land surrounding it. It’s such an archetype that this sort of geological formation is officially called a steptoe wherever it’s found (the word steptoe itself comes from the name of an army officer in the Indian Wars — Kamiak Butte was named after a local Indian chief, which seems only fair).
Steptoe Butte was similarly deserted, which was a good thing. There’s a road to the top, winding three times around the butte to get there. It’s barely wide enough for a compact car, there is no guard rail until you reach the top but a good many potholes, and the butte goes straight up on one side and drops to the base over 3600 feet below from the top on the other. I did not meet another car either going up or coming down, for which I am extremely grateful, because I’m not sure what I would have done if I had. But the views from the top were spectacular.
I was very pleased with the wildflowers I saw, too.
And a critter.
By the time I white-knuckled my way back down to the bottom, it was getting on towards noon, so reluctantly I started making my way west again. I saw a huge piece of farm machinery plowing along the side of one of those voluptuous curves, which made me wonder if the operator had a hard time keeping it from tipping over.
While I was passing through the town of Colfax, I saw a sign for a quilt shop, and of course I could not resist. The shop, tucked into a turn-of-the-last-century building on the main drag, had some lovely fabric, and I came out with 3/4 of a yard of souvenir.
Then I topped off my gas tank and headed out on U.S. 26, which eventually took me all the way back to I-90 at Vantage and home, crossing the rest of the Palouse, the almost-manmade-looking dividing line between it and the channeled scablands, and the orchard country, before I headed over the mountains again.
It was a lovely two days, and exactly what I needed, even after a winter that wasn’t really a winter this year.