Time for a new house

Time for a new house
Time for a new house

Thursday, September 30, 2010

September 30 The Loneliest Road in America

Ely to Reservoir (3) In July of 1986, Life Magazine described Nevada’s Highway 50 from Ely to Fernley as the “Loneliest Road in America”.  Life said that there were no attractions or points of interest along the 287 mile stretch of road and recommended that drivers have “survival skills” to travel the route.

Things have changed a bit, but not much.  The biggest change is in the vehicles we drive along these roads rather than the roads themselves.  I remember desert driving and the days of vapor lock, overheated engines, flat tires, and no air conditioning.  Cars seem to be made better these days, and we cruise along at 70 miles per hour without a thought about our survival. There really is quite a lot to see in Ely, and we plan to return, especially to visit the Great Basin National Park on the eastern edge of Nevada.  We also want to come back to check out Ely’s treasure: The Nevada Northern Railway Museum,  touted by the Smithsonian as the most complete authentic railroad complex in the country.

Ely to Reservoir (6) That is what we are doing today, cruising along, covering the distance on US 50 instead of I-80, enjoying the eyeball stretching vistas of the high Nevada desert.  There are a couple of towns between Ely and Fernley where we will turn north toward the Black Rock Desert.  Eureka and Austin are both historic mining towns from the heyday of Nevada history in the late 19th century. We will stop and take photos, enjoy the stories, and the time travel provided at these outposts before moving on down the road.  At Gerlach, we will pass the sandy roads leading to the Black Rock Desert where the wild ones have their Burning Man festival every year.

Ely to Reservoir (21)Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we saw a large group of road bikers pedaling up the long grades, supported by a couple of vans in pursuit.  At the same time, we saw a lonely man walking in the opposite direction up another grade with some sort of walk.com sign on his back.  Then nothing again but low sage and rabbitbrush and the distant hills. The air again is smoky, not in the concentrated way that it was yesterday in Utah, but high hazy widespread smoke that extends as far west and north as we can see, even from the summits.  We are traveling west again through basin and range, so the MoHo is climbing the ranges and dropping into the basins repeatedly shifting gears as we go up, then down, then up, then more down.  Glad I am not on a bike!

Ely to Reservoir (37) This morning in our full hookup park, I took the time to cook a good breakfast and clean the house a bit.  In the process of cleaning the toilet, adding extra water to help with the black water flush to come, I suddenly dropped the large cleaning washcloth right down into the holding tank.  Ugh!  I freaked out, but Mo patiently bent a hanger, fished around in there, and got the thing out of the tank before anything got terribly clogged up. Kind of amazing that we actually had one simple wire hangar in the closet among all the fancy lightweight things I have for our clothes. I got all teary and realized that the stress of dropping a washcloth into the sewage holding tank shouldn’t be THAT bad, and thought, gee, maybe I am sad about the trip coming to a close. 

Today and tomorrow we will continue our trek across the deserts and over the Warners into the Klamath Basin, to the base of the Cascade Mountains.  Home.  I am sure it will take a bit of settling in to really appreciate being there and not here, traveling along some highway with ever changing views out the windows. 

There are a some more photos for this day linked here>

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September 29 To the basins and ranges of Nevada

DuckCreek to Ely (1) I woke this morning to the amazing smell of aspen leaves that are sending out their last breath before they fall.  Sweetened by high mountain air and spruce it was one of the better fragrances on the planet, maybe only surpassed by rain on dry dust in the desert. As we drove west, however, the skies were darkened by smoke from the huge fires in the mountains of central Utah.

Today was another travel day, as the rest of the trip will be until we are back in Rocky Point on Friday.  Again we took back road, avoiding the major interstates and trying to manage a blue dotted road at every opportunity.  Our route today took us through Cedar City and rather than the fast route north on I 15, we went farther west to the Scenic Highway 93.

 DuckCreek to Ely (10) The landscape of Nevada and several other states is the west is dominated by alternating basins and ranges formed by tectonic processes that trend generally northwest.  When traveling directly west, as we did a few years ago when returning to California from Utah, the road was a continuous grade, either up or down, with just a bit of basin between the mountain ranges.  These Nevada mountains aren’t small, either, and the grades can be dramatic. 

Highway 93, however, follows a dominantly northern track through the state, and as a result the grades are few because the road usually follows the edge of the basins.  We took time to stop and enjoy a surprise state park, Cathedral DuckCreek to Ely (17)Gorge, and met some interesting travelers from England who have traveled 49 states in our country, and were showing the west to another couple from England. We took a side road to explore the historic mining hamlet of Pioche, sitting high on a fan above the wide open basin. 

We reached Ely in early afternoon, partly due to the change to Pacific time, gaining an extra hour.  We decided that electricity was on the list of desires for this night with the possibility of cable seductive enough to pay a ridiculous high price for the Ely KOA.  Our pull- through site was too short to keep the baby car hooked up and still reach the utilities, but once I quite grumbling, and we settled inside with the air going, I felt better about it. 

DuckCreek to Ely (53) Before supper we took a little tour of the area, checking out the Ward Charcoal Ovens about 18 miles southwest of Ely on a long gravel road.  It was worth the trip, and the ovens are some of the best preserved we have seen.  The story of converting huge amounts off local wood to charcoal is interesting.  It took 35 cords of wood to fill each huge oven, and then it was burned for 12 days to provide charcoal for the smelters in the nearby mining towns. Until the coming of the railroad and the availability of coke for smelting, the surrounding hills were nearly completely denuded of timber.

Once back home, I poached a chicken breast in spices and chilis, and made quesadillas for supper.  Yum. I was happy for unlimited water for cooking and dishes, and the thought of a hot shower this evening is enticing.  Boondocking and dry camping are great, but it’s fun to hook up and forget about conserving every little drop of water for a night here and there.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here>

 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 28 Highway 12

A LOT of photos for this day of traveling Highway 12 are linked here>

Torrey to DuckCreek (15) Today was a driving day.  We weren’t sure where we would end up, and only knew that the route would follow Scenic Highway 12, one of the most dramatically beautiful drives in the west.  I have traveled this route before, on other trips, but each time it is a new experience.  Each time the aspens on Boulder Mountain are a different shade of green or yellow, the canyons varying shades of clarity, red or hazy.  Today there was a lot of haze and smoke and I wondered if possibly there were forest fires going on somewhere.  We haven’t watched TV or listened to a radio in many days now, so I really have no idea what is going on out there.

Torrey to DuckCreek (22) When we left Torrey this morning it was windy and chilly enough for long pants and sweatshirts.  Gasoline cost a staggering 3.29 per gallon, with the advertised 3.09 per gallon only for 85 octane ethanol, not something we want to put in the MoHo.  We never would have made it up all those grades!

The road is two lane, very rough along much of the way, with many steep grades and curves, including the hair-raising 14 percent downgrade off the hogback.  We thought we might like to hike Calf Creek Falls, both the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls have trailheads not far south of Boulder.  But it was hot, much too hot to leave the cat in the MoHo Torrey to DuckCreek (30) without air conditioning even if we could take the dog.  The white hot heat made hiking seem much less attractive to us anyway, so we decided instead to make it a looking and driving day instead of a hiking day.

Bryce Canyon National Park is on this route as well, a few miles south of the highway ,and we decided against braving the crowds to be tourists at the overlooks.  We both have hiked Bryce in the past, and most of the trails are steep and hot, even though gorgeous. Even outside the park, however, the colors of the hoodoos are every possible shade of orange sherbet, pink, cream, white, and red.  It’s pretty to look at, but not inviting to hike because the rocks are soft red claystone, crumbly and shifting underfoot.  My soul love is slickrock, and solid cliffs of Wingate, so I am content to enjoy the colors and the hoodoos and move on.

 Torrey to DuckCreek (67)I spent part of the drive reading aloud to Mo about 90 different hikes in Canyon Country in the WOW hiking guidebook I bought back at the Capital Reef Inn.  So many of the truly great hikes in this part of the plateau involve many miles of rough driving down the Hole in the Rock Road just north of Escalante.  The road is the gateway for many famous slot canyons and the canyons of the Escalante River, but they will have to wait for another time for us.  I read about backpacking the 38 miles through Pariah Canyon and wondered if I have a trip like that still in me.  It’s all downhill, mostly on the canyon floor wading in the river, with slots so narrow you have to carry your pack in front of you to slide through.  Maybe someday.  It could be a lifetime trip like my Cataract Canyon raft trip turned out to be.  Who knows.  But today, driving highway 12, I added it to my bucket list.

Torrey to DuckCreek (81) After a short break and walk at Red Canyon, we turned south on Utah 89 toward Kanab, and then turned west on Highway 14 toward Cedar Breaks National Monument and Cedar City.  At the top of the pass, again at 10,000 feet of so, is the lovely Navajo Lake where I camped a bazillion years ago when my kids were just little.  It was a different time of year, with the green aspen I remember so clearly all now fiery yellow, gold, red, and peach.  We stopped for the night at Duck Creek Campground in the Dixie National Forest since the Navajo Lakes camps were closed for the season.  Tonight we had our last campfire in the mountains to accompany a card game before we watched the night sky darken.

I am amazed at how quickly the landscape shifts as we travel.  It often isn’t a gradual change, suddenly we are in desert, then in spruce aspen high mountains, back to sage, red rocks to cream and buff clays, and back again.  Tomorrow we will leave the mountains behind as we enter the Great Basin landscape of the west.  Once over this last mountain, the basin and range will meet us on the way through Nevada and finally home to Klamath Falls where Basin and Range meets the Cascade Range.

Torrey to DuckCreek (108) A favorite book in my library is “Basin and Range’ by John McPhee.  It’s the Sand Creek Almanac of the west, only better.  If you ever read it, the wild spaces of Nevada will never bore you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

September 27 Hiking in Capital Reef

The rest of the photos for this hiking day are here>

Capital Reef (1) The wind blew most of the night, bringing fresh, cool, dry air with it.  The humidity must be under ten percent and the moon was brilliant even though it is now less than full.  I couldn’t sleep last night, in spite of the fresh breezes, and stayed up writing and looking at photos.  For some crazy reason, the wireless connection that didn’t work at all earlier managed to work fine after midnight.  Now, at 8 or so in the evening, I still have no wireless.  I don’t plan to stay up till midnight again tonight posting photos, believe me!

Morning was cool and breezy, perfect for a hiking day.  Our camp hostess gave us the number of a dog groomer who was also willing to board Abby for the day so we could hike without worry.  In spite of the cool morning, we turned on the air conditioner for Jeremy, left behind safely in the MoHo. 

Capital Reef (28) Breakfast at the Capital Reef Inn and Cafe was light and perfect and we traveled back along highway 24 east to the park entrance. One of the first park trails after entering the park is the Chimney Rock Trail, and as many times as I have been here, I never bothered to hike this one.  However, a great hiking guide book I found at the cafe this morning discussed Spring Canyon, just beyond the Chimney Rock Loop trail, and we decided that it would be a perfect days hike.

I have too many photos of this canyon.  Photographers far better than me with equipment far finer than mine still can’t capture the grandeur and majesty of these canyon walls.  We hiked about 4 miles into Spring Canyon, through narrows with walls 400 feet tall on both sides.  It certainly didn’t qualify as a slot canyon, with the narrowest corridor maybe 50 yards wide, but it filled my heart’s desire to walk between massive walls of Wingate sandstone and feel the color red.  You don’t see red in these canyons, you feel it.

Capital Reef (67) Of course, after eight miles and less water than I should have carried, I was feeling red in a different way, and climbing out of the fairly easy hike into the canyon just about did me in.  It was only in the mid 80’s but the sun was intense and the breezes were sporadic.  When we finally reached the switchbacks half a mile from the trailhead, I looked down and wondered how in the world we actually climbed up that that thing!  I was glad for my hiking sticks, believe me, and my knees were grateful, too.

Capital Reef (74)

 

Eating in Torrey, Utah

When Mo and I traveled through Torrey in 2007, we discovered a great restaurant just across the street from our RV Campground west of town.  Cafe Diablo boasts “southwestern cuisine”, and the first time we went there, it was a quiet place, fairly new, and nearly empty.  Our meal was a fabulous treat, completely unexpected in a place like Torrey, and we were excited about eating there again on this trip.

Blanding to Torrey (67) Blanding to Torrey (70)

Cafe Diablo is open seven days a week, and since we wanted to eat in the patio, I called for reservations just after five.  Even that early, on a Sunday night, the place filled up before we even placed our order.  The gardens were gorgeous, the menu was filled with fabulous creations, and the wine list was huge. 

Blanding to Torrey (68) Blanding to Torrey (72)

A special treat included complimentary tapas, fresh vegetables from the garden, marinated in various delectable flavors, presented beautifully.  As the evening wore on, however, and the place filled to capacity, our server was too busy with larger tables of four to pay attention to us. 

Blanding to Torrey (74) Blanding to Torrey (75)

Our meal took forever to arrive, behind other diners who arrived much later than we did. When it did arrive, it was great, actually a fascinating piece of edible art, but then again, we were ignored for much too long. Considering the price range for entrees, we did expect better service.  It took more than an hour to get our after dinner coffee, and when Mo asked for the check, the waitress basically ignored her. 

We had looked forward to this particular dinner, so were pretty disappointed with the service.  We won’t go back.

Capital Reef Capital Reef (77)

In contrast, another place in Torrey, just a half mile or so down the road, is the Capital Reef Inn and Cafe.  I first found this place in the early 90’s, and always manage to stop in at least once when I am in Capital Reef.  There is a small motel adjacent to the restaurant, and beautiful stone paved gardens filled with native and non native plants.  The small store in the restaurant has canyon stuff, including maps, guidebooks, tee shirts and sweat shirts, the usual, but it is all so much fun to look through.  In the dining room is a large mural of red canyons, and my favorite little treat is a display of dozens of vials of various colored sands collected from throughout canyon country.

Capital Reef (55) Capital Reef (66)

What makes all this even more worthwhile is the fabulous, fresh, healthy tasty food, all at completely reasonable prices.  I have had breakfast and lunch at this great inn, and last night I wished I had tried dinner there as well! The service was fast and efficient, and usually friendly. 

There are other restaurants cropping up in Torrey, and some smaller establishments associated with newer hotels are appearing. But for me, the Capital Reef Inn is the perfect compliment to my time in Torrey.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

September 26 Blanding to Torrey, the scenic route

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here>

Blanding to Torrey (8) After gassing up in Blanding, to the tune of 3.09 per gallon, our route led us across one of the most scenic roads in America.  Highway 95 crosses the great canyons of the Colorado River dropping to Lake Powell at Hite Crossing, and rising again on the east side of the Henry Mountains to Hanksville, Utah.  We took our time, stopping along the way for photos, and I cooked breakfast for us while we parked in a wide spot at a canyon trailhead.  Again, one of my favorite parts of MoHo travel, the ability to stop and rest, or cook, or eat, just about anywhere we want to do so.

I first drove this road on a wintry February day after traveling to Santa Fe in 1991 alone in my little red Ranger.  I fell in love with Canyon Country then and have loved it ever since.  In 1993 I spent six days in a small paddleboat with five other women and two river guides rafting Cataract Canyon of the Colorado River. 

Blanding to Torrey (29)Today we crossed Hite Bridge at Lake Powell and I remembered how it felt to see that bridge rise up into view after so many days in the canyons. It was where we put out and then flew back to Moab in less than 30 minutes.  It was a trip of a lifetime.  I stood above Hite today, and thought again with amazement about John Wesley Powell, who adventured through these wild unknown canyons in a wooden dory, all the way to the Gulf of California.

Blanding to Torrey (48)It was a perfect day and a gorgeous drive, and after leaving Hanksville on route 24 we stopped along the Fremont River in Capital Reef National Park so that Abby could go for a swim.  The park was busy with fall visitors, and we decided to bypass the visitor center altogether and go directly to our campsite at the Sand Creek RV Campground. 

Sand Creek is an unassuming little place, a bit tattered, but the proprietress is a sweetheart and had saved number 11 for us.  We are at the end of the park, with nothing to obstruct our view of the red mountains north of us except a bit of debris and some old ramshackle outbuildings.  Twenty bucks with full hookups and the quiet and privacy make this a better choice for us than the fancy and more crowded Ten Thousand Lakes RV Resort just half a mile down the road.

Blanding to Torrey (57)

 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

September 25 The rest of the Rockies

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here

Rockies to Utah (54) Today lived up to my expectations of what the Colorado Rockies would be.  I spent much of the time wondering if I couldn’t breathe because we were at 10,000 feet or because the views were just so breathtaking.  Again, we spontaneously rerouted and after visiting Ouray decided to go south to Telluride and then take the San Juan Scenic highway south to Dolores and into Utah at Monticello.

What a great choice.  Mo had camped in Ouray in the late 60’s and we stopped and walked through town to see if we could find the campground where she stayed.  No luck on the old campground, but the town was delightful, with galleries and shops filled with truly amazing art and some very expensive wonders. 

TRockies to Utah (74)he aspens lit the mountains like yellow flame, accented perfectly by the dark green spruce.  I took a ridiculous number of photos, and with a small point and shoot with a normal lens it is impossible to capture that light and those vistas.  Of course, I tried, and my photos will help me remember what it felt like to be in this part of the Rockies. 

After Telluride, and the last pass, the road followed the Dolores River, and within a very short distance we were over the mountains and on the Colorado Plateau, approaching Monticello from the east.  I knew of a small RV park in Blanding, a simple overnight stop when necessary, so we though maybe that would do if the state parks were full.

Just beyond Monticello however, on highway 191, Mo caught a sign on the west side of the road for the Devils Canyon Forest Service camp and the road even looked paved.  It took a mile or two to turn around, but it was worth it.  This campground has 42 sites, all spaced well, with campfire rings and water available.  After cruising the nearly empty campground, we settled on a pull through spot, and paid our five dollar fee for another night of dry camping. 

Rockies to Utah (98) We walked a couple of miles through the rest of the campground before settling in to supper and a quiet evening.  One more walk around the loop took us past an RV all set up with  a solar oven, TV antennas, satellite dish, the works.  I saw a woman at the window and asked if she was getting TV.  She laughed, and said, “No, I just saw all the other people had theirs up so thought I would try it”.  We laughed too, saying that is exactly what we had done!

Kate was friendly and fun, and jumped right out of her motorhome to come and share with us all sorts of information, including her great solar oven, some nice small lightweight chairs she got from WalMart, and her blog, Cholulared.blogspot.com.  Being a full timer, she knew all the full time bloggers, and we laughed about what a small world it is.  Made for a fun evening.

Rockies to Utah (99)

 

Friday, September 24, 2010

September 24 Over the Rockies

Chatfield to Gunnison (9) We headed west over the Rockies today, no more agenda, no more visiting or guests, just homeward bound.  Of course, between here and home lie the red canyons of Capitol Reef, my heart home and sweet spot on the planet.  Before we slip into canyon country, however, I thought it might be fun to wander west via a different route than the fast, winding interstate across the mountains out of Denver.

We chose Highway 285 south from Littleton, across Kenosha Pass, famous for its mountain bike trails, turning west on US 50, the road that crosses the US from coast to coast.  Another climb, Monarch Pass, looked challenging on the map.  How in the world do we haul the baby car over 11.300 feet?! The best part of the day was going to be the ability to drive as long as we felt like it, and then stop wherever we wanted to stop.

Chatfield to Gunnison (31) The passes were a piece of cake, really, most of the way had two lanes and the steepest grade was maybe 6 percent.  The MoHo has an automatic transmission downshift, so that  makes the downhill sides of the passes easy and safe as well, even though we don’t have any extra brakes on the car.  The aspens are turning at the higher elevations, and the colors were backlit by the afternoon sun.

The only problem with this plan is that it all went by much too quickly.  We saw two forest service campgrounds on highway 50, just before 1pm, and thought it was way too early to stop.  Once over Monarch Pass, however, the west slope of the Rockies opens up into big wide ranching country, and by the time we found a place to stop around 3, the landscape was as barren as any we have seen in Nevada.

Chatfield to Gunnison (20) Don’t get me wrong, I love the desert.  Rabbitbrush and sage are familiar to me and camping in the wide open spaces is something we actually seek.  But on this day, somehow, I thought I would be camping in the Colorado Rockies, among spruce and aspen.  Instead I am at the Stevens Creek BLM campground on a reservoir of the Arkansas River, surrounded by sage and silence.  The skies are clear, and at 7600 feet, I am sure the stars will be breathtaking. 

Not far north is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a dramatic National Park, and yet the drive there looks tortuous and we have decided to continue west on 50 tomorrow morning and camp tomorrow night in Canyonlands, at the Island in the Sky, at Horse Thief BLM campground.  Canyon country calls, red canyons, not black ones, and I am a bit like a horse heading for the barn.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here>

September 22 and 23 Two days with family

The rest of the photos for these days are linked here. and here

DSCN4263 Most of this trip has been about traveling and seeing new sights and new  places.  However, along the route, we had several stops planned to visit friends and family.  Mo’s sister lives in the Denver area, with her two daughters close by.  In addition, Edna and her husband recently purchased a new (to them) motorhome and decided that a group camp would be a great way to check out all the bells and whistles.

Edna made reservations for both of us at Chatfield State Park, near Littleton, Colorado, a site only a few miles from their home and we both pulled in yesterday within a few minutes of each other.  The skies were heavy and gray and even though they looked scary, the rain that fell was just a spit here and there.  Tom and Edna were happy to have “experienced” RV’rs nearby to help with all the little details of setting up a motorhome and we enjoyed helping out,  and remembering when we were new at all this as well.

to Colorado (2) After setup, we brought out some snacks and wine, and because of the weather, snuggled into the MoHo for some catching up time.  As the evening wore on and cleared up a bit, Mo and I took an opportunity to try out the great bike trails that surround this very lovely, open park. 

Edna was excited about cooking supper for all of us and did a great job of grilled dogs and all the fixings.  The night was just cool enough to turn on the little electric heater and sleep comfortably.  I did a big breakfast for all of us in the morning while we listened to their happy tales about their successful first night sleeping in their new RV.  We all settled in to a peaceful day, with Tom and Edna hanging out and Mo and I driving to their home to visit Tom’s mother, who is a precious lady over 100 years old.  It was great to see her again. Later in the afternoon Edna’s daughters appeared, even in the midst of their busy schedules, and we visited some more and caught up with all the family newss.  Susan’s newest son is just 12 weeks old, so of course everyone had to ooh and ahh over the baby.

DSCN4254 Edna’s dog, Abby, and Jeremy all got along just fine.  Jeremy especially liked this camp, with the open space and the many critters than must have been scooting around in the grass.  He spent a lot of the time out on his leash today while we sat around not doing much else.  The skies were gorgeous, blue and brilliant with no smog or haze anywhere.  Evening was perfect with a steak supper provided by Tom and Edna and a great full harvest moon to light the evening.  Tomorrow we will be on our way to explore the Colorado Rockies as we wind our way to my heart home at Capital Reff.  Soon, very soon, I will again be in my red world that speaks to me so deeply.  My kids keep saying, mark the spt with gps or something, Mom, how in the heck are we supposed to find this place. (the one where my ashes go!)  LOL

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 21 The Santa Fe Trail to Las Animas, CO

The rest of the photos for today are linked here>

Dodge to JohnMartin (12) I saw a different picture of the west today, and now I have added William Bent to my list of western heroes. I learned about his life and his story today as we toured Bent's Old Fort this afternoon. This morning as we continued west from Kansas into Colorado, I kept seeing signs for the “Santa Fe Trail”. What we hadn’t known before is that we were traveling along the route, now an official National Historic Trail administered by the National Park Service, with a history that predates Coronado’s historic search for the Cities of Gold in 1540.

Dodge to JohnMartin (5) In the small town of Lamar, Colorado, we stopped at the excellent Colorado Visitor Center to get information on the trail, the history, and the towns along the way.  Once again, the visitor center was staffed with a great volunteer, who gave me all sorts of brochures about the Trail, and suggestions of what would be the best way to spend our time today.  In addition, with the simple exchange of my email address to the state of Colorado, I became the proud owner of a “colorful Colorado” baseball cap.  I know, I know, but I can always delete the email when it comes in, telling me all the great things about visiting Colorado.

Dodge to JohnMartin (39) Our campsite destination was another state park, the John Martin Reservoir SP, built by the Corps of Engineers in conjunction with the dam, but now operated by the state.  We drove in to an almost completely empty, very large and open campground, situated below the dam among huge old cottonwoods and locust trees, with half a football field between sites along the small overflow lake. Electric, but no water or sewer, but a dump station and a threaded water spigot nearby made it just fine.  We settled Abby into her crate, safe in the MoHo with the air conditioner going and set out to explore.

Just 30 miles to the west was the site of Old Bent’s Fort, the highlight of the day.  Dodge to JohnMartin (28)The actual fort burned down in 1849, was carefully excavated and reconstructed  by the National Park Service in  1976 based on original drawings, historical accounts, and archeological evidence and is a faithful reproduction. The fort sits alone on a terrace above the Arkansas River, surrounded by natural grasslands and wetlands, and framed by the winding course of the cottonwoods along the river.  It feels silent, and as we walked from the parking lot on the 1/4 mile trail to the fort, I felt as if I had stepped back in time. This spot was a significant center of fur trade in the 1840’s on the Santa Fe Trail, influencing economies around the world. It was a trade fort, not an army fort, and William Bent married a Cheyenne woman and was considered part of the tribe. 

Dodge to JohnMartin (20)The fort in 1840 was constructed with adobe bricks, when William Bent brought in 150 Mexican workers because he so admired the adobe buildings he had seen in the Mexican Territories.  The reconstruction in 1976 was built exactly the same way. We walked through the fort gates into the dusty courtyard, surrounded with rooms cooled by the thick adobe walls.  It was quiet except for a very few visitors.  I felt the era so thoroughly in this place, it was an amazing experience.  The National Park Service is to be commended for this treasure.

DSCN4228 After our visit, we continued to the town of La Junta, also on the trail, and then home through Las Animas to our campsite on the lake. Our travel time was short enough that even after our road tour, we had time to unload the kayaks for a spin on the lake.  There were white pelicans, reminding me of home, and at least ten blue herons on the shoreline as we paddled by.  The moon was rising, nearly full, in the early evening sunset, and the breeze was just enough to keep us refreshed.  Perfect way to end a perfect travel day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

September 20 Kansas winds and Dodge City

Missouri_to Kansas (14) Kansas is windy.  We knew that, right?! After all, Dorothy was from Kansas and she ended up in Oz, which I think is now called Australia.  :)  This is the first time we have driven across Kansas in the MoHo.  In 2007, on another trip, we left John’s place and drove along the Kansas eastern border, which was green and lovely.  Our route today was route 400, suggested by John as a much easier way to travel than our original plan to take a more southern route. 

When we left Missouri this morning the skies were still a murky grayish brown from the horizon to about midway up.  The highest part of the sky was blue, or something that looked a bit like blue.  I have experienced Blue on this trip, capital letter kind of blue sky in Minnesota, so the murkiness of Missouri was a bit sad. I thought maybe as we traveled west it would lighten up.  Instead, it got murkier.

Missouri_to Kansas (18)



No theme, no clue what this crazy collection of wind driven art along Highway 400 in Kansas was all about.  It stretched for a quarter mile along the highway, and provided a bit of entertainment on the Kansas landscape

The landscape of the part of Kansas that we crossed wasn’t the dead flat prairies that make Kansas so famous.  There were gentle rises and falls, locust trees and willows along the waterways, sections when the road would rise up enough to see a very long way.  But the skies were definitely tan and pale, and the closer we got to Wichita, the browner the “haze” turned.  Long straight roads near the city allowed a moment of internet access with the phone, and I researched Wichita air quality and found out that it has been on the list of the most badly polluted cities in the country.  I hoped that maybe as we drove west, the skies would clear.

Missouri_to Kansas (29) It was not to be, and whether from blowing dust, or the millions of cattle in feed lots all around Dodge City, the murkiness continued. The winds were high in eastern Kansas, and as the day progressed, the prognosis was dire for high profile vehicles.  Guess that’s us.  The average wind speed was 30 plus miles per hour, with gusts to 47 mph, and the direction was from the south, directly perpendicular to our western line of travel.  It made for a harrowing day, with Mo hanging on the wheel and me hanging on to the grip bar for dear life.  We didn’t see much, and with temperatures in the mid 90’s, I didn’t have a great desire to stop and explore the few little towns that we passed.

I saw a large area of trees all stripped of leaves and broken apart, and remembered vaguely the horrific tornado that blew through Kansas recently.  Sure enough, we were passing Greensburg, Kansas, site of the devastating tornado of 2007 that flattened the city.

Missouri_to Kansas (41) We continued west through the wind to arrive at Dodge City around 4pm and set up camp at the Gunsmoke RV Park, one of only a couple of RV Parks in the vicinity. Full hookups with a nice laundry that wasn’t ridiculously expensive was a nice perk.  As a kid, I was a huge Wyatt Earp fan, and in addition to watching the old TV series, I voraciously read all things Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holiday, the Santa Fe Trail, and later I loved the series Gunsmoke. I wanted to see Dodge.

By the time we drove back the 2 miles or so to town, the visitor center was ready to close. I learned that the majority of the attractions in Dodge City only run through the summer, and that most of them are Disneyesque gunfights, a fake Front Street, a piece of what was left of Boot Hill inside the closed museum gates, and other sorts of contrived western adventures.  Instead, I picked up the one small walking tour guide and we walked a few streets of Dodge City, including the infamous Front Street.

Missouri_to Kansas (43) Throughout this part of town, there were several very well done plaques describing the history of Dodge, a bronze statue of Wyatt Earp, and the Trail of Fame, which consisted of a few seals in the sidewalks naming some of the famous historic figures of the era.  The train depot was reconstructed, but a small part of the original building still stands.  The buildings of Front Street had burned a few times, and were no longer the same.  What I learned that was new, however, is that Dodge City is on the 100th parallel, a line that John Wesley Powell ( another of my heroes), set at the arbitrary break between the arable east and the arid west. 

Missouri_to Kansas (36) A few of the buildings remained from the late 1800’s but most of the historic buildings still in existence were from the early 20th century, during the heyday of railroading and the wealth that came along with it.  I knew that Dodge City was central to the history of the west, but I didn’t realize until today that it was also central to the devastation of the huge bison herds that roamed our country.  It was to Dodge that the hunters brought their hides, leaving behind literally millions of carcasses rotting on the plains.  It only took from 1872 to 1875 for the herds to be completely decimated., with an estimated 1.5 million hides shipped to the east. Later, poor homesteaders would gather the bones from the fields and sell them at 6 to 8 dollars a ton to be used in the manufacture of fertilizer and china. Half a century later, wheat crazed farmers would strip the thick deep sod from the plains as well, an ecosystem that cannot be replaced in a thousand years.  It’s a sad story of destruction that is only surpassed by the stories of what happened to the First Nations people in our country. As I walked along the old Front Street, I felt the weight of this history in my heart, as well as the romantic dreams of the west that I had as a ten year old.