The futility of photography

Proof that this is starting to wear on me: I’m sitting on the bed watching HGTV, about as mindless as one can get.  There is  a show, no kidding, about house hunting for people who have won the lottery.  This is the first time I’ve turned on a TV the whole trip. That’s how tired I am.

My room at the Cody Hotel had a personal porch (overlooking the parking lot, but beyond that, the wonderful hills).  Calli sat on the bench and kept watch while I packed the car.

Calli on her personal porch at the Cody Hotel

We didn’t leave Cody until about 10 (Calli got some more equipment at STP, because, well, why not?). The way out of town took us dangerously close to the dog park, and the back seat driver noticed.

The drive was, as usual, strikingly different from yesterday. Almost every day has provided a different scene out the windscreen, but one thing has remained the same: it’s impossible to capture what I am seeing. Even if I pull over, what I can see just doesn’t digitally translate. It’s frustrating. I want to bring it all home with me. I drove through hills, rocks, desert, mountain, forests. Although I was on a secondary road (14), there was no place to pull over; photos, therefore, are sporadic.This is route 14, completely flat with the mountains in the way distance.  Yes, it looks big, but it’s so big it’s hard to really absorb.

It’s bigger in real life

Closer to the hills the roadside got more green:

The road from Cody to Gillette

Further on the big rocks of the Big Horn National  Forest start to appear

But up close, they just can’t be absorbed:

This was probably a dumb idea to take a picture on a mountain while driving

I pulled over on the top of the pass. There were several hikers getting ready to climb these peaks!  Calli was all over them, wanting either to escape the car or climb the cliffs:

There are trails up and over these cliffs!

With my back to the cliffs, here is Tensleep Canyon

Tensleep Canyon (cliffs of previous photo at my back)

Tensleep Canyon is so gorgeous that I couldn’t choose which photo to post, so….

Tensleep Canyon

Can’t have a canyon without a river:

More Tensleep Canyon

So beautiful

Further on
Further on past Tensleep

I had put Meadow lark Lake in the GPS but google took me up a private dirt road so I gave up. Then I passed it five miles later on the other side of the road. Go figure.  This is from the highway but very pretty:

Meadowlark Lake

I crossed a pass even higher than Tensleep Canyon and finally descended into Buffalo Wyoming

Very high pass whose name is long gone

At Buffalo I got on 90 East, which is a non-highway highway. With few exits and ZERO facilities. Just desert and hills and buttes and scrub. Fortunately there was a decent gas station in Buffalo.

Gillette is not exciting: coal town with lots of big box stores.  But it also has a great dog park. I met the woman who spearheaded the whole park. It’s named after her dog Oso, who was killed in the area. They raised over 20,000 dollars.  Sounds like it was a bit of a headache but worth it.  Calli wasn’t too crazy about the dogs there, but she was out in the air, which is something. I met a guy with a bloodhound who uses her to hunt mountain lions.  He was not pleasant. Neither was the bloodhound.

Tomorrow I will regain my energy! Mt. Rushmore will have to be viewed from the car (not at all dog friendly, although I read a blog by a woman who just ignored that because her dog is special. My dog is just a dog. She plays by the rules, mostly). Badlands also not dog friendly.  I’ll be handing a lot of treats to the back seat.  Too bad I can’t just give her my ipad and tell her to watch a movie.

Cody Wyoming: Sierra Trading Post, Dog Park, Blantons

As soon as we were settled in at the overpriced but pretty nice Cody Hotel (I’m spoiled after last night, which was $20.00 cheaper with nicer staff), I put Calli back in the car and headed for the dog park.  I had forgotten–until I saw it–that Cody boasts a brick-and-mortar Sierra Trading Post.  Over the course of many many years, I have spent a small fortune at Sierra Trading Post.  In fact, and I should be really embarrassed to admit this, but (and I didn’t plan it this way) everything I have on today except my underwear came from STP.  That’s pretty pathetic. So, sorry, dog. Your Mecca must wait. This one is mine.

Sierra Trading Post

And! It’s dog friendly–so I went out to the car (windows open, and not hot, remember) and got the dog.

The store itself was a big letdown.  They did have a newer version of a leash that I love but is now not so functional. So Calli got a present.  But the cute clothes were all huge. I saw almost nothing small, at least nothing I’d ever put on my back.  And the shoes were all small. Or ugly. Or both. Oh well.  Just as well since I don’t need anything. It was fun to go.

On to the dog park.  The Cody Dog Park is amazing. Three areas, one for little dogs (with the kind of height marker you see for rides at amusement parks: if your dog is taller than this, keep out), one for the general population and one that leads right to the river. I took a lot of great pictures, but except for these two they are all mostly of my finger (sunglasses and iphone don’t mix):

Cody Dog Park
Calli no longer whining

Calli had a blast. We stayed over an hour.  She ran around as if she hadn’t run in weeks. Oh. Yeah. Right. She hasn’t had much of a chance to run in weeks. But we were just in Downieville and she did get to play there… She was filthy and needed a real scrubbing when we got back. And now she is racked.

Next stop, Albertson’s for some fruit, veggies and a microwave organic frozen Sriracha Chicken (hey, I have a microwave, so …).  It was not bad.

Final Stop: the dog park recommended Libations, reputed to have the best selection of whisky.  (After I filled my flask, Jon got the rest of the last bottle, not that I have to tell you that, but still.) They had Blantons:

Score. Asked at the dog park for best place to find Bourbon.

So Calli had her romp, I have dinner and a bourbon, and all is well with the world.


The peaceful side of Yellowstone

I woke up in the middle of the night–I was toasty warm under the duvet but it was cold!  That and the sound of the river rushing by my little porch was heaven. Less heavenly was taking the dog for a walk in the morning.  When I arrived I had seen these signs about ice that I thought they had just not taken down for the summer:

They were not, in fact, kidding

And then I almost slipped on the ice. It was 33 degrees at 7 am. And me in my Tevas.  Gave Calli a quick walk (after which she got  immediately on the bed to warm  up and get her $40 worth)

Brrr….wake me when the sun warms things up

and went into a wonderful breakfast (making up for the uck at the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls). Fresh fruit, real oatmeal, good yogurt, cheesy scrambled eggs and bagels. Yum.

My idea of breakfast

We were on the road by 7:45 and Calli started whining almost immediately.  I pulled over as soon as I could and walked her around the turnout.  It wasn’t that. She was sick of the car. I would have walked her up past the lodge before I left, as I did last night, but I wanted to get on the road AND we had encountered this sign warning us of grizzlies:

Yeah, I’m so turning around right now

Black bears are one thing, but grizzlies? We turned around, but I did take yet another picture of the river:

Gallatin River from the bridge at the lodge near sunset

The woman at the front desk said they rarely see grizzlies.  Another woman told me there was one under her window at another hotel a half hour away. I kept thinking of the sign in the cabin Annie and I rented over Fall Break–it had a joke about carrying bells and bear spray. You could tell grizzly poop from regular bear because it had bells in it and smelled of bear spray. I don’t have much of a sense of humor when it comes to bears.

Back to Whining Calliope.  She kept up her tune all the way to Yellowstone, even though I stopped to let her sniff around a few times. It was 9 by the time we got to the west entrance, and already there was a line.  But I had decided nothing was going to ruffle me today. And it all went great.  There were a couple of turnouts to see heralded sites (e.g. Artists Paint Pots), but they were so jammed with cars I just drove through the craziness and got back on the road. We almost turned off to take the northen loop, but a bison sighting had caused a traffic jam worthy of LA.

So I kept going–perfect decision.  There was a turnout overlooking the flats, the river, the hills. No cars. We pulled in and got out. There was a beam marking the end of the parking and I sat on it. And watched a bison graze in the distance, the ducks swim in the river, the different shades of green and blue. And did nothing.  Calli lay at my feet, maybe dreaming of mutiny, but she was good. Until she caught a whiff of bison. Then she voiced her opinion, loud and clear. But the bison never caught a whiff of her.  She hushed. The whole world was hushed. In the same park as yesterday. It was great.

There is a bison in there somewhere
My bison, in the middle
Same view different direction

More cars started showing up after about 10 minutes. Soon the tiny lot in the turnout was full but I didn’t care.  It was so lovely.  One family with a passel of kids, all of whom had binoculars except the baby who sat on the ground and inspected the dirt with gleeful concentration (and bravo to the parents who were thought this was just fine). Dad gave them things to look for and helped them.  It was great. For once I kept my mouth shut.  That was great, too. I pretty much do know when, in case you were wondering.

At some point (I need to take voice notes or something) we went to the large Yellowstone Canyon Village so I could walk the dog and look for Suzanne’s request. (Nada, sorry, my dear, but I did try.)  There was a pile of residual snow for Calli to roll in and eat, and she got a bit of people time in (I don’t think I count as people).

I took a wrong turn at one point (not knowing I had–no GPS) and wound up at a lake  (Pumice Point) that Calli very much wanted to swim in.

Pumice Point

I asked a woman there if she knew where we were. She didn’t but they had a hired guide, a woman in maybe her early 40s, a beautiful outdoors woman tending to the van in which she carried her passengers. I approached her and said “Excuse me, but rumor has it you know what you are about around here.” She turned around, smiled broadly, HUGGED ME, and said “are you lost?” ” Well, not really since I have loads of time to get to Cody.”  She came over to my car, showed me where I had gone wrong on the map, and smiled her way back to the van.  Bless every fiber of her being.

We were making our leisurely way to Cody, stopping occasionally.  We stopped to smell a sulphur spring, just long enough to take a photo.

Think people would find these so fascinating if they knew what supervolcanoes were?

I spend a lot of time in Yellowstone trying not to think of Vesuvius.  Yellowstone is a supervolcano.  I don’t like even the sound of that word.

We stopped at Fishing Bridge and Calli clearly wanted to try her luck in the water.  A couple of grandparents and their three grandsons (teenagers) were on the bridge and the boys climed down to the water.  Well, heck. I asked them to keep a lookout and let Calli wade in. “Will she go in? It’s so cold!” On cue, Calli lay down in the water. But not for long. It was COLD.

As we meandered out, we drove past a huge lake.  There were several turnouts, but I hoped something better was ahead. And it was.  A pebble beach with parking spaces and a view of the vastness of Yellowstone lake with the mountains in the background.  Calli expressed no interest in swimming. I think the Fishing Bridge did her in.

Families skipping stones on the beach
Our beach with snow-capped mountains in the background
Another one

We spent an hour there.  Just sitting for most of it. Then I wrote a couple of postcards at a picnic table and a couple from Florida sat down to join me. They were very nice, but I wasn’t feeling conversational so it was a bit of an effort.  We had a nice chat and then I left.  And drove, happy and satisified with Yellowstone at last, out of the park. (Not quite so easy, as it involved climbing–and descending–Sylvan Pass, impassable for six months of the year.) But before we leave, here are some more pictures from my day, this one from the river beneath some falls that I surely would not forget:

Yellowstone. Somewhere

And this one near another volcanic sulphur pool, identifiable only by the smoke rising from the green (and the handy sign behind Calli’s head saying don’t come further):

Calli (reluctantly) posing in front of sulphur pools

The drive to Cody was stark and startling.  I could (should?) have taken many more photos.  These will have to do:

Car for scale
On the way to Cody
More Pit Stops for Rocks
Rocks and River

Then on to The Cody Hotel and a whole nother adventure.

Museum-itis in God’s Wonderland

Uncle. You win, God. It’s just too many visions of supreme beauty in one day and I couldn’t take any more.  My brain is fried.  I fled Yellowstone, and now I find myself outside of Big Sky Montana at the unbelieveable Rainbow Ranch Lodge (there was soft music already playing when I walked into my room; it has a stone fireplace and a little porch right on the river–is there no pity for the wow weary?)  But I get ahead of myself.

About three lifetimes ago I took Calliope for a walk along the snake river after an incredibly mediocre breakfast.

The view of the hotel from the river:

Shilo Inn

She made friends with a horse, and didn’t even bark

Calli makes friends with a horse

We went to the falls, again, so you get a picture, again:

Idaho Falls

The boxer and it’s owner were very nice by the way.   We chatted, of course.

The scenery in Idaho continued to be ridiculously great:

Idaho Rest Area
Idaho Fields

This picture doesn’t adequately show the juxaposition of the yellow green against the deep green, but it was an image I hope I carry forever.

I have to ‘fess up to some windscreen photos throughout the day. I could not begin to help myself.

I pulled over for this one:

Drive to Wyoming

And then we were in Wyoming and I was praying  my way up the twists and turns of the Teton Pass…

We pulled over, got out, and made our way along the narrow track to get some pictures, and so Calli could roll in the snow some more.

Teton Pass
Teton Pass

There was a Japanese family whose children were playing in the snow. Few things break the language barrier better than a dog breaking up a snowball throwing contest by wallowing in the snow at their feet. Suddenly we were all friends, albeit confined to smiles and laughter.

I’ve always wanted to see Jackson Hole Wyoming.  And for a half-hour or so, I saw it. Now I’ve seen it. I don’t feel the need to go back. Adorablely rugged outdoorsy artsy whatevery shops.  Lots of people.  Well-heeled heaven, mostly.  It was impressive.  I could have spent a lot of money there, which, I assume, is the point.  I made Calli pose at a few junctures:

Calli and the Moose (elk?)

She didn’t bark at the Elk. I will admit to being   just a tad disappointed. Nor was she impressed by Big Antler Gate:

Big Antler Gate Jackson Hole

And took random photos to prove I had been there. But none of them seem really worth posting.

By now it was noonish, and I wanted to get moving to Grand Tetons Park.  I was unprepared.

Seriously Gorgeous

I think it did me in.  Had to facetime Conor again (Jon you really need to have them put in cell service in Sequoia) to show him just how gorgeous it was. The mountains against the green.

Grand Tetons

Of course I thought about Horace’s Soracte Ode.  What would he have done with the Grand Tetons?

Grand Tetons

I pulled over less than I wanted to, more than you might have wished.  I did not photograph all the incredible sites.  And I didn’t go to see them all, either.  At the visitor’s center in Jackson Hole (no chapstick, Suzanne), the ranger suggested I see Jenny Lake.  I pulled into the visitor center at Jenny Lake and felt a little like the way I felt when Sean and I went to Toys R’ Us to find a stroller for as-yet-unborn Jon.  As those shelves were filled to the sky with kid junk that went on aisle after aisle, the visitor center lot was…well, just substitute RVs and cars and SUVs and wow.  The road was one way around the lake, one goes more north to catch it, and I thought, yeah, no, not THIS girl. This one didn’t sign up for Woodstock Wyoming.  See ya.

I spent a couple of hours driving though the Grand Tetons and then, I  was at Yellowstone. I get a huge kick  out of handing over my senior citizen pass.  But by now I was starting to get the first pallor of that feeling I get by the time I’ve adored my way through the first side of the Uffizi.  It always happens at the same Pontormo painting. The Madonna with the Long Neck (or, as I think of her in my more museum moments ‘giraffe girl’).  Maybe it’s reflex by now.  Here it was at the first ‘OMG that is gorgeous’ view of Yellowstone. Still happy, still excited, but just a wee bit of tired-eye, over-excited-wearing-off, wow there are really a lot of people here droop.

In retrospect there weren’t as many people as I had thought.  Or rather, there weren’t as many as there would be when I compared it to the masses at Old Faithful. Not that I wanted the geiser to myself (far from it–I read this morning that there have been dozens of earthquakes in Yellowstone in the past couple of weeks–I think I read hundreds, but I’ll underestimate for my own sanity).

There is a HUGE parking lot at Old Faithful, and a VisitorsCenter, an Inn and Yellowstone Shops.  I found a parking space by the Inn and went to the visitors center, where I waited on line for 10 minutes to pee.  And listened to the inane conversations of people in the rest room.  I had the privilege of listening to the woman in the next stall discuss the particulars of her day in marvelous hyperbole.  At least I save my hyperbole for here.

I asked about Calli and we could watch from a respectful distance, but all the other dogs were really unfriendly and Calli was dispondent: car-despondent and now dog-friend-despondent.  The people, however, were many and  excited:

Old Faithul does his act for quite a while.

Old Faithful

We didn’t stay to the end, but tried to leave the theatre before the end of the concert to beat the crowds. We almost did but I took a wrong turn.

I would have photographed the huge herd of bison grazing at the side of the road, but there was a traffic jam of cars photographing the huge herd of bison grazing at the side of the road and it was a mess and I began to think definitely un-zen-nature like thoughts and pressed on and let the ^%$$# bison graze (yes, that’s where I was-and overheard a guy at the lodge later say he was stuck forever going the other way trying to get by the bison–the joys of being in the further lane).

I made the wonderful mistake of following my GPS, which took me, instead of through the northwestern part of the park, out the West Entrance.  This meant that last half hour or so of our time in Yellowstone was driving by rivers with people fishing, forested hillsides sloping down to truly babbling streams…just gorgeous. But I thought I was headed to the construction (half-hour wait max, they promised) so I didn’t stop. And then–I was out of the park on highway 191 headed toward Rainbow Ranch Lodge.  I could have turned around to see the NW part of the park but I was seriously done.  

Out of the park, yes. Out of beauty overload, nope.  Back to the Uffizi. Remember when they put in all the extra galleries downstairs? I don’t remember when but I’ve been going to the Uffizi for over 40 years, so…but that extra gallery, with it’s incredible paintings, well, you can’t…it’s too much.  Ditto the modern art galleries at the end of the Vatican.  Pick one or two. But then it’s just too much. Well, highway 191 is just like that. Jaw-gaping spectacular.

Windscreen Montana

I drove by the lodge and had to ask directions at a bbq place (no cell service, can’t call).  Checked in, got a zillion dog-instructions (Calli is costing me $40.00 extra), my key to Wolverine (a luxury room at the end of a small row of rooms), and opened the door to a room I could just live in indefinitely. Right on the River. It’s own little porch with chairs and a table.  Big. Fireplace. High-end toiletries. Jacuzzi tub (yes, I am definitely using that). Couch in front of the fireplace.  Rustic chic furnishings.

Rainbow Ranch Lodge

Calli getting her $40.oo worth

This beats the back of the car!
The view from the porch of my room

And a happy hour.  Half-price appetizers and drinks.  That’s where I type this. On the porch outside the bar while a wedding party (how perfect is that? from North Dakota and Montana) yuk it up inside. The wedding party includes a 5-year-old strawberry blonde pack of cuteness who loves Calliope.  Has been here three times to visit her and each time brings out other members of the wedding party to admire her.

So exhausted and depleted (in a happy kind of way) that I ate a hamburger topped with (? ham? taylor ham? bacon? ). Proof.

This was listed as an APPETIZER. It was good.

So much for the veggi-holic.  Some days call for drastic measures. I almost got the bison, but feared it would come off as revenge.

Ok. Off to walk the dog.  Tomorrow: rush back to the beat the hoards at Yellowstone or just stay here and go to Cody? Hmmm….


P.S. to Idaho Falls: The Burley Bunch

There was so much I left out of yesterday through sheer weariness. But I can’t leave out the gang from Burley High School. Burley is about two hours south west of Idaho Falls and grooming the next era of political operatives.  As I was walking Calli along the river, two girls came up to me with big smiles and wanted to pet her.  One was a rising high school first year, the other a second year.  They had Burley Student Council on their matching tee shirts, matching braces, matching blond neat hair. They were adorable, the textbook definition of bubbly, and full of questions.  Fun to chat with but even I, rapidly becoming that weird intrusive rambler who chats with everyone,  thought they were a bit too friendly for their own good.  “Well, nice chatting with you. Have a great student government conference.”  And I moved along.  Five minutes later and here comes another contingent from Burley.  Four of them this time, three girls, one boy.  Again! “Can we pet your dog?” Again! Instant chattiness.  Lots of people are attracted to the ever-smiling Calliope, but this was something special. Idaho must be not only pristinely gorgeous, but supremely safe. A few minutes into the conversation, the boy revealed, in the mostly charmingly guileless way, that the group at the conference had been instructed to walk along the river and talk to people.  Respect my control: I did not burst out laughing.  I have now officially contributed to the socialization of the next generation of Idaho leaders.

We went for another walk along the river after dinner (the weather was too perfect not to) and met the usual run of dogs, walkers, cyclists…but the Burley Bunch must have been securely huddled in some conference room, plotting their next conquests.

I’m moving to Idaho

There is not much in Elko Nevada.  My hotel was fairly worn and tired, but it had the key amenities (microwave, fridge with a freezer, places to walk the dog) plus a surprise: a comfortable window bench.  So I was happy.   And not unhappy to be out of there. I would have been itching had I known what a great day I was in for.  Better to be surprised.

The Nevada I drove through  was a series   of plains bordered by elevations ranging from hills to snow-capped mountains:


Both Flat and grand, all in view at once:

Gas station with Mountains

The gas station above was the start of the “I love this” part of the day.  I had turned off 80 onto 93, a two-lane road that cuts through ranch after ranch.

Route 93

The road was long, straight, beautiful. It probably would be boring if I had driven it many times, but I hadn’t and it wasn’t.  It developed character in the form of great heaps of rock.  Had I been able to stop the car to take a photo of the cows wandering on hillsides grown golden dotted with rock outcroppings, I would have.  There were a lot of spontaneous “oh, wow” cries from the front seat (and a lot of “are we there yet” sighs from the back).

Settled in the midst of even bigger rocks was a great little rest area by Salmon Creek:

Salmon Creek Rest Stop
Marsh by Salmon Creek

Ok. It wasn’t much, really.  A small parking lot with huge outcroppings on one side perpendicular to Salmon Creek, into which Calli immediately waded, an outhouse type restroom, and a bunch of dogs for Calli to say hi to.  I talked to two sets of people who always stop there.  I would too.  Primitive but still inviting.  And HOT.  It was ridiculously hot and it’s going to stay hot so I won’t talk about it.

After 93, my gps told me to get off and take a bunch of  secondary (really secondary) roads that didn’t even have names (“turn right on 3500 E”; “turn left on 2700 N”).  These roads took me along side of horse and cattle ranches and farms and it was GREAT.

Cow Heaven
Horse Heaven

Calli thought it was great too. I thought she would expire from barking.  These roads were so secondary I kept hoping that Google Maps didn’t have a sick sense of humor.  Eventually, however, we turned onto a main road, and then a highway that took us into Idaho. If nothing else had happened along the drive, I would have been happy. But the fun was just beginning.

I got off 86 at a rest stop on top of a rise.  Clean and well maintained.  A sign pointed to a “historical marker” so Calli and I headed that way.  The marker was for a place where the wheel ruts for the Oregon Trail were still visible.

Trail overlooking Snake River
Photo overkill?  Maybe
Path to Oregon Trail

While I was reading the sign at the head of a path that led down to an enclosure, a truck pulled up and the couple inside asked how far in was the trail.  I’ve been in Idaho all of a hour or so.  We walked down the trail chatting, and indeed you could see wheel marks. The man of the couple showed me a photo from Oregon where wheel marks are visible worn into rocks.  In the information hut was a reference to Massacre Rock.  The guy said they were going to Massacre Rock Park.  “Whose massacre?” I asked, and received a look plainly suggesting that I need to read a history book (which I probably do). “The Clark family. We are Clarks. They were our ancestors.”  Whew. I don’t feel bad not knowing what happened to great-granddad.  I googled Massacre Rock Park, and dogs are allowed. Next stop Massacre Rock Park, where the entrance fee is on the honor system: you take an envelope, put $5.00 in and fill out your car info, tearing off a flap and putting it on the dashboard:

Serious Honor System

The people at the visitor center were lovely, but they expressed surprise at the Clark family being a part of the massacre.  They rattled off the list of names of families who were killed as they moved west, and showed me the the handwritten diary of a woman whose name I will never recall. Her diary described the  landscape on the hard road west.

Visitor Center: Massacre Rocks State Park

We drove down to the river and hiked around, helped a bit by a couple who were camping and knew the park well.  It was gorgeous beyond imagining, better (much) than the many photos which follow:

Massacre Rock Park
Cool rock: Massacre Rock Park
Snake River: Massacre Rock Park
Snake River
Calli at Snake River

I had to FaceTime Conor to share the beauty.  It was wonderful. It made me so happy. Calli was happy on the bluff and in the river. Otherwise she was just hot.

We drove to Register Rock, a large rock behind gating on which settlers had inscribed their names and the dates (of course, you can’t see anything behind the bars)

Register Rock

I had every intention of researching the rock and the event that led to the name massacre rock, but I can barely keep my eyes open. So it’s beautiful photos and no history.

Then off to Idaho Falls, where I am staying at an older convention hotel right on the river.  My room is huge, but, unfortunately, not on the side that faces the Snake River.  Calli and I went for a walk along the river:

Snake River in Idaho Falls

Just as I was wondering where the Falls are, we came upon them:

Idaho Falls

There is nothing really protecting people from the falls if they want to be dumb about it. You can climb right down to the river’s edge. We did not, much to Calli’s disappointment. But I did document her presence there:

Idaho Falls

We stuck to the riverwalk, where there are beautiful flowers:

Beautiful flowers along the river walk

And a friendly rattlesnake

The only rattle snake we’ve seen so far

On the way back to the hotel, Calli took her second dip in the Snake River, but in Idaho Falls, the river by the banks left her really really filthy. Srubbing with shampoo filthy:

She came out of the river just black. There followed serious scrubbing

The photos you won’t see, because I couldn’t take them

My drive from Downieville (and its sad farewell) to Elko Nevada began with the scenic route (to Truckee CA), absolutely gorgeous if you could take your eyes off the road long enought to appreciate it.  I left at 7:45 and, since I was driving east, the slanting sun often created blind spots when I drove in and out of the shade.  A bit anxiety-provoking but not too bad.  I’ve become quite the automatic transmission shifter, even though I really  miss my manual transmission. There are plenty of turn-offs to allow locals to pass (if you live there long enough, I guess the twisting and turning become second nature). I drove through the Tahoe National Forest, over the Yuba Pass, through the magnificient Sierra Valley and then back into the hills. All the places I would have loved to take pictures had no turn offs, so I tried to memorize them.  I took one last windscreen photo (but I don’t remember exactly where):

Goodbye California

At Truckee I met Interstate 80.  Faster traffic, straighter road, but still amazing scenery. But at 75 or 80 I was not taking pictures. I did pull over to take   this:

Welcome to Nevada

But don’t ask me exactly where it is!  I also stopped at a rest stop to walk the poor dog (where are Reddie and Keelie? why are we back in the car?) and took a few photos of the sheer expanse of the Nevada basin we were driving through:

Nevada Rest Stop
Toward a different horizon, same view

We finally got to the Quality Inn in Elko Nevada around 2:30.  Out back is a fairly pitiful dog run (100 ft x 25) but it’s a nice gesture.  Calli sniffed around while I took a picture of the neighboring RV park toward the hills:

View from back of the Quality Inn, Elko

The alien spaceship in the upper right-hand corner is, of course, my finger.  I have deleted many a photo because of that offending finger.  It’s actually a wonder that so many of my photos shot outside turn out ok, since I am ‘looking’ into an iPhone screen wearing sunglasses, so I often can’t see what I’m photographing. That same sky is no longer blue, but getting blacker, with a promise/threat of thunderstorms around 6pm.  Promise: maybe it will cool things off? Threat: I had scouted out what looked like a good restaurant with a patio that welcomed dogs and thunderstorms will surely put an end to that idea. It may be ramen noodles.  I’ll have to content myself with remembering the fabulous dinner Liz made last night (pork ribs and salmon and a wonderful couscous dish and a cucumber/cauliflower/basil salad and I’m forgettng something).  So ramen won’t kill me.

My back hurts. But it won’t tomorrow. Right?

Downieville California

It appears that the gloriously mild weather I’ve had so far is gone, at least for a while.  It’s 97 degrees outside  (and we are at 3000 ft).  The river helps to keep things somewhat cool:

Downie River from Liz and Mark’s porch

And this is what you have to hear: the video to give you the sound!

River Rushing by

Not too hot for Calli and Reddie, obviously

Calli and Reddie at tug of war

Liz and I braved the blistering heat to go into town. Tiny now, Downieville was once a real contender for state capitol of California.  Instead it has to content itself with being the county seat of Sierra County.

Whence such cachet for a little  hamlet?  Gold. Discovered here at the junction of the Yuba River and the ‘Downie’ River in 1849 by Major Wm. Downie, gold birthed a boomtown with hotels and saloons enough for 5000 men within two or three years.  In 1894 a prospector might choose to live in the newly renovated St. Charles Hotel (now the post office) for $16.00 a week (board and lodging).  A ‘first class bed’ was $1.00 a night, ‘second class bed’ $.50.  I’m not sure that was actually cheap.

Great location, but I’m guessing the junction of the Yuba and the Downie look a bit different now 🙂

Confluence of Downie (left) and Yuba (right) rivers

In 1852, it was ten votes shy of becoming state capitol. Within about five years only four other towns in California were larger than Downieville.  All this glory was pretty short-lived, according to the doom-saying website ‘ghosttowns.’ By 1865 most of the gold had been found and people started leaving Downieville.

Boom towns came with trouble.  James O’Neal murdered his former employer over the termination of his employment and back pay.  O’Neal claimed the gun went off in a struggle with his former boss.  He was hanged. But the reason this incident merits mention (other than the current fad of getting back at one’s former employer when fired) is the following invitation to O’Neal’s hanging, sent out by the sheriff:

Office of the

MR. R.H. Squires

You are respectfully invited to be present at the
official execution of


which will take place in the Jail Yard at
Downieville, Cal., on Friday, November
27th, 1885, at 2 o’clock P.M.

Sheriff of Sierra County

Can you imagine getting a personalized invitation to a hanging? No, I thought not.

Downieville also has the dubious distinction of being the first town in California to hang a woman. Juanita, a pretty young Mexican woman who lived with her husband Jose, was accused of knifing a massive Australian miner who, drunk, had kicked down the door of their tiny cabin in the kind of good fun that drunks might enjoy.  According to accounts, he went back to apologize the next morning and stood blocking the door like a cyclops (that’s me, not the accounts) apologizing to Jose in Spanish, when Juanita lept out and put a Bowie knife in his heart. No motive is offered. Juanita got a hasty trial and was hanged. Allegedly she ascended the gallows, pulled up her long hair, put the noose over her neck, smoothed her dress and said Adios Senores, Adios Amigos.

My information on Downieville comes from the Sierra County website and “Downieville: Gold Town on the Yuba” published in 1991 by James J. Sinnott (very limited publication, I’m guessing, but super interesting).  Mr. Sinnott concerns himself far more in determining from which of Downieville’s four bridges Juanita was hanged than in what her murderous motive might have been.  So let’s try this one: massive white guy and buddies comes to tiny hut of young Mexican and his pretty young wife and, drunk, kicks in the door.  Next day he comes back and stands in the frame of the erstwhile door, allegedly apologizing.  You are a 24 year old, pretty, Mexican woman. What are you afraid he has come back for?  Everyone says he was an amiable guy.  Maybe he was a sweetheart.  But suddenly a young woman who took in washing for a living turns into a murderer.  Sigh.

The town itself, as I wrote yesterday, flourishes again as a destination for mountain bikers, kayakers,  hikers.  It now has a Downieville Outfitters (we didn’t go in–my money is on spiffy outdoorsy clothes), and the grocery store has become more of a snack and bottle of wine store.

Main Street and the grocery store

More main street photos:

More Main Street
And more Main Street
Main Street and the Mountains

Liz is friends with the owner of the art gallery (Liz is friends with just about everyone in Downieville!), who opened up the Yuba Theatre next door and gave us a tour.  The theater presents movies as well as plays and has an enormous 1940s film projector and an original Voice of the Theatre in the front walls.  Apparently the Voice is valued by collectors.  That was very cool, but the chairs are amazing.

Juba Theater
Wonderful old theater seat
The painted side of the aisle seats

Clearly, I was impressed.

Also impressive, in a different way, was the museum, where of course Liz was friends with the woman behind the front desk

Downieville Museum

The small museum is packed with memorabilia of Downieville’s mining heyday and after.  There is a display of gold nuggets, which must be replicas (i.e. fake) since they would be worth a fortune and are protected by a charming but flimsy antique case:

Gold nuggets (surely fake)

I was also delighted to know that the California mountain lion that I was sure was waiting to eat me on my way to Weaver Lake resides safely (and stuffed) in the museum instead:

Stuffed Mountain Lion

I heard a mom telling her child that this was a small one.  Big enough, I should think. Big enough.

But for sheer ‘dear god, give the child something to do’ brilliance, I loved the charm string:

1000 buttons collected for a charm string, 999 by a young woman thinking about marriage, plus one from the man who proposes

Girls starting to  think about marriage collected the most beautiful buttons they could find. It was best to get them as gifts or to trade for them with other button collectors. Worth zooming the image to read the placard.  The last one is given to her by her future husband. If anything makes history live, this one does for me. Imagine these young girls and their buttons.  I’m a big fan of buttons, I really am.  But this might be taking buttons a mite far.

One more, I’m done for today. Here is the front of Liz’s house

Front of the house


Cousin Elizabeth

My trip’s cross-continental pivot point* is Downieville California, where my cousin Elizabeth lives. After this, it’s all EAST.  When I was a senior in college and studying in Florence, I went to visit Liz, who was [a] pretty newly married [b] living in Paris and [c] pretty pregnant.  She calmly drove me around the Arc d’Triumph and showed me Paris.  So of course it makes sense that she now lives in the mountains above Sacramento in a tiny town? As I drove up the mountain, I got it. I can be a bit slow.  This place is gorgeous.  Downieville is a tiny town that got discovered by kayak-enthusiasts and bikers.  Sports heaven.  Their home is between two rivers, the Downey and Pauley Creek. So on one side is a water fall, on the other a fast flowing river:

Pauley Falls–the ‘little falls’

Their home is built where everyone thought no one could build, a ‘rock pile’ above the river.  It’s amazing, and includes an upper deck and a lower, sort of ‘secret’ deck right on the river, where the temperature is measurably lower.  The river is running too high and fast to bring the dogs down, but is marvelous. And the sound of it is loud in the house, in the best possible way.

View of the house from the back deck: river to the left and down

Liz and Mark have two dogs, both goldens, one Calli’s age, one a very spry 13, Keeley Blue (a Gaelic name) and Reddey.  Calli is really happy to have puppy buddies:

Keeley welcomes cousin Calli
Calli and 13 year old Reddey

Keeley and Calli had a slumber party last night going from room to room, inhibiting everyone else’s sleep.

This morning, Liz and I walked over to the waterfall and then drove around Downieville.  Then we went on a “view drive” that was just stunning.  The Sierra Buttes are (oh god, surely there can be more variety to these adjectives than SPECTACULAR) well they are:

Sierra Buttes
Sierra Buttes with a happy Jeanne and a dog sick of the car

We drove through all the little towns in the area and saw enough mountain lakes to more than make up for my not seeing Weaver Lake in Kings Canyon: Sardine Lake, Salmon Lake, Packer Lake, and Gold Lake.

Sardine Lake
Packer Lake
Gold Lake

We drove to Frazier falls

On the way to Frazier Falls
Frazier Falls

Here’s the video, which gives you the wonderful sound:

Frazier Falls

Then had lunch in Graeagle (Grey-eagle) in the shady back garden of a cafe with a view of pasturing cows and horses. We  had yummy gazpacho and salad and incredible iced tea:

Liz and Calli at lunch
Calli posing patiently at the lunch cafe
Main Street Graeagle

Finally, we drove through the Sierra Valley and over the Yuba Pass that divides the Sierra Valley into Eastern and Western parts.

Sierra Valley
At Yuba Pass

It was less a day than a series of dazzling glimpses of natural beauty. Plus a day of catching up (I’ve always loved Liz and it’s so good to fill in the past too many years).  We solved many of the world’s problems in a day.

*with thanks to Richy for the better word choice!

Last Day at Sequoia

I’m a fan of auspicious moments.  As I drove into Sequoia, the woman who checks passes said “Welcome Back!”  I was floored. “You remember me?”  “Of course, you and your dog–you make a great team.”  Auspicious. As was the weather:

Early morning at Sequoia
Earl Morning Sequoia Muntains

I decided we should start at the sort of top.  Stopped at  Lodgepole and asked for a better map of Converse Basin, but they had the same not great one I had gotten from Mr. Shouldn’t Work in a Vistor Center.   Drove past Big Meadows and stopped at Grove Village, where I met a  lovely  family–the parents both work at the park service in Virginia and their two adorable children loved and loved on Calliope.  “Mom, can we get a dog just like this one?  This dog?” Told them all about where Calli came from and found out all about what they do for the Park Service.  I always want to take pictures of the people I talk to, but that’s intrusive. So I don’t.

Not too far to Grant’s Tree, a major draw (translate: not enough parking spaces and frustating finding them).  Finally found a place in the shade, put down the windows and left Calli (it’s in the park so no dogs).  Took lots of photos of Grant’s Tree. Best I think is the “panoramic video”

Panoramic Video

But there are photos too:

Grants Tree
Grant’s Tree from further off

Grant’s Tree is pretty far up in Sequoia.  My ultimate goal, Converse Basin, is even further. But on the way is the Chicago Stump, so called because in the 19th century folks didn’t think other folks would believe trees could grow as big as Sequoias. So, they chopped down a 3200 year old tree so they could reassemble it for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.  They really did.  But! It was so big and impressive the folks at the Chicago Worlds Fair thought the tree was a hoax.  What a waste.

Unlike Sherman’s tree and Grant’s tree and Sentinel, the Chicago stump lives down a long Forest Road (read: thank God I have a Subaru):

Forest Road to the stump

I parked the car about 3/4 of a mile away and walked. At the end of the forest road was a Trail Head sign right next to the trail. Life as it should be:

A Trail Head sign actually next to the trail head!

The open sun turned to a shady forest path with a beautiful meadow

Meadow by Chicago Stump
Forest Path near the meadow

The stump itself sits by itself in a little clearing. I wanted it to have more fanfair.  But you have to really want to see the stump and search it out, make it the object of a pilgrimage, just to appreciate how big it is:

Chicago Stump: big

Big, indeed. But to get an idea of HOW big, here’s a bit of scale

Calli for scale next to Chicago stump

Don’t you think this fallen warrior needs a bit of fanfare more glorious than a trailhead sign right next to the trail?  (Esp. since you need to drive a mile along a dirt road to see the trailhead sign).  On the other hand, you get to hang out with Mr. Stump all by yourself for as long as you want in a peaceful little clearing.

No one tells the story of Mr. Stump’s friend in the same little clearing:

Mr.. Stump’s stumpy neighbor

Big, but next to Mr. Stump, not really big.

Well, we’ve come this far, so, sure, we’ll drive to Converse Basin, a three mile hike through Giant Sequoias, including the Boole Tree.  We have, at this point, driven more than two hours into the park (not counting stops) all UP, to get to the recommended easy enough for the lady with dog trail, a trail which, it turns out, is chiuso.

Road Closed

If you zoom in, you will see my road IS CLOSED.  Inauspicious? Nah. The math was clear: got to the park at 8:15, it’s now almost noon; three mile hike will not be  a quick one in the forest; then two hours down, another hour to Visalia.  So I turned back.  (I did, however, make sure I stopped on the way out to tell my buddy from the Vistor Center that the recommended trail was closed.  Excuse: Forest Service’s problem: they tell us nothing)

On the way out I stopped at Lodgepole again to walk Calli and “support the park” (i.e. buy souvenirs). Stopped at the Forest Museum (glorified gift shop), leaving Calli in the car.  The gift shop is in the midst of giant trees:

Giant Forest Museum with giants looming over

Including the Sentinel:one of the largest of the Sequoias (more than 250 feet high).

All in all, a bit of a weird day.  Lots of driving, back a bit tetchy. Dog mopey and not eating.  Didn’t get to see the Boole Tree or the grove of giant sequoias.  But still very cool.  Plus, I have really mastered the art of downshifing an automatic car on ridiculous downhill grades with hairpin turns and no guardrails before you tumble to oblivion. Not that I thought of tumbling to oblivion.

I have also mastered the art of tire-freak-out. My air pressure was low yesterday and a guy at the air pump in Three Rivers put air in my tires (at my request–I fear I’ll overfill).  He didn’t use my gauge–he did it by sound and kicking the tires (they make a different sound, I guess). Well today at a high elevation the tire pressure light went on–not the ‘low pressure’ light but the ‘you have a issue light’, the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system).   I stopped at the gas station in the park and a guy told me that pressure lights always go off at high elevations. Not to worry, it would go off as soon as I wasn’t at 7000 feet.  But all the way to Visalia the light stayed on. Called Subaru Roadside service; called a Subaru dealer in Fresno.  Asked Jon to look at them. The guy yesterday had over-filled them. Jon took some air out and they are fine. Whew.  Next time, I’ll do it myself and not be such a weenie.

On the way out got a shot of Bald Dome:

Bald Dome

Just outside of the park is Kaweah Lake, fed by the Kaweah River that runs through the park.  These are not the most spectacular shots of a very spectacular lake surrounded by golden (right, Annie? not parched) hills. But they were the shots I could get:

Recreation area at Kaweah Lake
You’ll have to trust me that the lake is spectacular

Jon came to Visalia and we had Japanese food and then came back to the hotel so he could submit his paper.  It’s been a lot of fun–kind of like taking a kid to college.  Sad to leave…