Mid-Ohio Trip – Chicago

Day 7 – Friday, May 31

The weather guy on TV said the sky today would be “milky”. That’s not a description I recall hearing before. Turned out to be fairly apt.

When picking a hotel for my stay in Chicago my first consideration was to be roughly half way between downtown and Autobahn. That meant a western suburb. Next consideration was proximity to a train station. Without knowing anything about Chicago mass transit I had to ask around. Bob suggested the best way to go was on the Metra. This is an entirely different train system than the “L” operated by the Chicago Transit Authority. With this in mind, I picked a hotel just a few miles from the Naperville Metra station.

I didn’t want to have to get to the station early enough to find a parking spot, so I grabbed a Lyft. At the station, I was expecting to buy tickets from a machine. That’s how it works for the BART in San Francisco and the Metro in D.C. It works differently for Denver’s train system, at least the one I’ve ridden. There are no turnstiles but you still get your ticket from a machine. At the Metra station, you actually go to a ticket window and buy from a person. How quaint.

The train cars are tall double-decker affairs. The lower level is two seats on each side of the aisle. The upper level is one seat each side, with some seats facing forward and others that are jump seats that fold down, and you face the aisle. Up there, you’re on one side or the other as there’s no floor in the center. A conductor comes through and checks tickets, and from the lower level he can collect from the folks above.

The train deposits you in Union Station. The trains are below ground level and there are many platforms. Not knowing where to go I just let myself be carried along by the crowd, turning right and left, going up escalators, I finally was deposited on Adams St on the bank of the Chicago River. The general plan was to wander the public spaces by the Lake, then spend some time at the art museum and go to the observation deck at either the Willis Tower or the Hancock Tower. I could either find dinner downtown or head back to Naperville.

So finding myself on Adams St at the river was a good starting place. All I needed to do was walk a few blocks east and I’d be at the museum. It wouldn’t open for a while, so I’d have time to wander through the parks and gawp at the skyline.

Bean There, Done That

I didn’t have a clear sense of how the place is laid out, so I just started at the northwest corner and went around clockwise. This meant I’d start in Millennium Park. The big attraction here is “the bean,” which is actually called Cloud Gate. When I arrived there were only a few people. Great luck, I thought. I can get some pictures without a huge crowd. I managed to take one or two photos before a busload of kids showed up. Ah, well, so it goes.

A few yards south of Cloud Gate is the Crown Fountain. I don’t think I’d heard of this before. I’m pretty sure I’d remember it. There are two sort of obelisks that face each other with water cascading down the sides. And I literally mean “face each other.” They have human faces on them. The faces are animated. That is, they slowly change their expressions. Periodically, they purse their lips and streams of water pour from their “mouths”.

Heading toward the lake you come across the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an interesting open-air venue, obviously designed by Frank Gehry. From there you can take a pedestrian bridge across Columbus Drive to Maggie Daley Park. It has all sorts of little nooks and crannies for kids to explore: forts and pirate ships, hall-of-mirrors gardens, sculptures, and so on. Heading south along Lake Shore Drive eventually takes you to Buckingham Fountain.

From here I crossed Lake Shore Drive and walked along the water’s edge. To the north you can see Navy Pier, to the south the planetarium, aquarium, and the Field Museum. Heading back west takes you through the south end of Grant Park. Before you get to Michigan Avenue you’ll find the loop’s railroad tracks below grade, out of sight. I skipped some of these little parks and worked my way back to the art museum, the Art Institute of Chicago.

It’s a big museum. I didn’t make it through the entire place, but I got close. I’m not the biggest art fan. That is, I like art, but there are some types that don’t appeal to me. So I was perfectly willing to skip various exhibits. As it turned out, I don’t think I skipped much. I’m not an expert on art or art museums by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d suggest that this is one of the top art museums in the world. Perhaps not “top ten” material, but not far from it. I was surprised how many of the works I recognized, and how many works by artists I recognized.

American Gothic on the left and Nighthawks through the doorway on the right

Among the exhibits that didn’t appeal to me are some of the works of modern art. This would include Jackson Pollack, who I suspect just sold his drop cloths. Another one was just a set of colored panels: a block of blue next to a block of red next to a block of green next to a block of white, or things to that effect. I don’t understand this stuff. Picasso may not be my cup of tea, but some effort obviously went into it. It’s a different view of reality, but there’s a viewpoint there, even if it doesn’t speak to me. A series of paint swatches seems like they’re just trying to pull one over on me.

The rest of the exhibits are amazing in one way or another. The miniature rooms were incredible. A woman did a series of rooms either based on real houses or her imagination that represented a place and time. Furnishings, art, lighting, rugs, views into adjoining rooms. I almost skipped that one and I’m glad I didn’t. I really liked the impressionists, too. The American art included quite a lot of furniture. “They don’t make them like that anymore” is an understatement. The level of craftsmanship is insane. The several rooms with armor and arms was great, too.

I did get a bit of a kick out of all the people taking pictures of the art. I’ve done this on occasion myself, to be honest. But these days I’m more interested in the room as a whole, or the people looking at the art. Because I can go on-line and find a much better picture than I can take of that Picasso.

The admission ticket that I bought for the art museum included a trip up to the Skydeck attraction at the Willis Tower. That’s the observation deck on the 103rd floor. I entered the building through the wrong entrance. A doorman there immediately asked if I was looking for the Skydeck. I jokingly asked him if he thought I looked like a tourist (because I obviously did: Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and a camera around my neck).

Other than the views, the attraction is The Ledge. They basically took out four windows and made bay windows with transparent floors. Groups of three or fewer people get sixty seconds, four or more get ninety. Everybody does it, so the line is long: maybe 20 minutes. I got to chatting with a group there where one of the guys wanted to do a handstand. He said he’s been doing handstands all over Chicago. Here, he was reluctant because he’s afraid of heights. I said, “Hey, don’t worry: nobody has fallen out the entire time I’ve been waiting here!”

I have a problem with heights, but this didn’t bother me

By now I was done. I’d been walking all day and I was looking forward to sitting down on the train. I managed to find the correct train without looking too much like a rube. I sat on the upper level this time, thinking there might be a view. There wasn’t. After some time, my phone rang. It was Bob. After chatting for a couple minutes I couldn’t help but notice that several people were giving me the evil eye for talking on my phone. I told Bob I’d call him back. Once off the train, I got the phone out and started to call a Lyft. As soon as it asked where I wanted to go, it told me I was down to 3% charge and shut itself off. (I left the hotel with a fully charged phone. Most days, it’s down to 55-60% by the end of the day. Some days it gets happy and goes through 90% by bed time. This day, it must have been positively ecstatic, to use 100% in 10 hours. And I hardly even used it.)

That’s just great. Not only can’t I call a car, I can’t even bring up a map to tell me which way to hoof it. I didn’t even really know how far it was. I was hoping it was closer to four miles than seven. On the way to the station I didn’t really pay attention to where we were going, but I did have a general direction. So off I went, expecting that I’d be able to stop at any number of places to ask for directions. I passed a Little Caesar’s Pizza place and a DQ. I considered going to the pizza place and ordering a pizza for delivery to my hotel, then catching a ride with the driver. But the line was out the door, as was the line at DQ. After that, I was in a residential area whose few businesses were all closed.

There were no other pedestrians and when a hippyish bicyclist came by I stopped him to ask directions. He told me I was going in the right way and that if I got to the highway I’d gone too far. I found the street I was looking for and soon found my hotel. The last hurdle to jump was the lack of a crosswalk across a multi-lane road with a high speed limit. As you may have guessed, I managed to cross without getting run over. Back in my room, I plugged in to recharge. I checked how far it was: less than three miles.

I had dinner at a brew pub next to the hotel and had a large beer.

More photos here.

Today’s miles: 0 road Total miles: 1,729 road, 407 track

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 13 – Henderson to Bayfield, CO

Wednesday, July 20

Today is a “zero day” in Henderson with Chris. A corollary to “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is “Nothing happens in Henderson.”

Thursday, July 21

In a feeble attempt to exit Vegas before it gets hot, I was out the door by 7:30.

Google wants to take me west to go east; it will suggest I make four turns or have me on a dirt road in Death Valley to save a quarter mile but will take me miles out of my way to put me on the interstate. Chris gave me a different recommendation: Boulder Highway to Nellis to Las Vegas Blvd to I-15. I take Chris’s route and for fun leave Navigator running to see how long before it reroutes me to my current path. It gave up about half way up Nellis after recommending about thirty left turns. This, perhaps, is a ploy by the Las Vegas chamber of commerce to keep me on the Interstate rather than driving through their town. Either that, or Google is still messing with me.

I’m not a particular fan of Vegas. I’ve only visited the place a few times, but it strikes me as a crummy little town. Every place I’ve seen off the Strip is run down, somewhat dilapidated, desiccated. I don’t like the weather there, and even when it’s not baking hot I find nothing appealing about it. If it weren’t for the gambling, this place wouldn’t exist, it would be just another Great Basin valley, an isolated Air Force Base.

My Vegas escape route takes me by the speedway and the location of the proposed Tesla giga-factory before depositing me on I-15. I take the interstate a few miles past St. George, Utah. In order to get Navigator to take me on my desired path, I had to give an intermediate destination. That’s St. George. So it got me off the highway and sent me left and right and left again until I was in front of the local college’s football stadium. “You’ve arrived at your destination!” Maybe I should have looked for that Starbucks instead. Actually, if I wouldn’t have wanted to top off the gas tank, I’d never have gotten off the interstate here. I get back on I-15 for a few more miles before heading east, ending the trip’s last Rule #1 violation.

This is the road to Page, Glen Canyon Dam, and Lake Powell. I’ve never seen so many boats on the road before. Boats outnumber RVs. Big boats, pulled by dueller diesel pickup trucks. Big, shiny, black pick up trucks.

I often say of Wyoming that all the interesting bits are around the edges. I’ve decided that Nevada has it worse. It has no interesting bits. Pretty much as soon as you leave Nevada the terrain gets much more interesting. Nevada, in my experience, is like a wrinkled table cloth – just one valley after another. Sameness followed by sameness, with minor variations in vegetation. Back in Utah, the wrinkles are replaced by layers. At St. George you enter red rock canyon country. We’re at the western end of the Grand Escalante Staircase (even if we’re not in that particular park). We can see different kinds and colors of rock, interesting formations. I’m happy to be leaving the Great Basin in my rear view mirror.

Not long after St. George the road takes me through Colorado City. There’s a Colorado City in Colorado but this one is bigger. It’s one of those places I’d heard of in the news over the years but never bothered to figure out where it was. It was in the news because it’s where a splinter sect of fundamentalist Mormons live. These Mormons are polygamous; believing that their god wants their leaders to marry as many fourteen year old girls as possible. In all the small towns through here, I see women in the old style garb. These dresses strike me as not far removed from the bee keeper suits women are made to wear in parts of the Middle East.

Not only are there a lot of boats on the highway, approaching Lake Powell there are lots of places to store your boat, so you don’t have to tow it up and down the highway. Lake Powell appears, side roads lead to marinas. When I see a sign for Wahweap Overlook, I stopped to look it over.


Lake Powell from Wahweap Overlook

The next obvious stop was the Glen Canyon Dam’s visitor center, followed by a walk part way across the bridge.

Glen Canyon dam and bridge

Glen Canyon dam and bridge

Navigator’s penchant for short cuts kicks in again in Page, with the result that I drive by the lumber yard instead of any restaurants. I need to eat in Page as there’s nothing available until Kayenta, still quite a way down the road. The Maverick station has a store with a grill offering burgers and Navajo tacos. I grabbed a burger and ate it at a picnic table outside. I share the table with a young French couple. Seating was limited to two picnic tables. The other was occupied by a family. Guns were not welcome here, they were encouraged. Show your gun and a permit, get a 10% discount (not good on fuel). You can also get the discount by showing ID that says you served in the military. I wonder if that includes the military of other countries? I wonder what the French couple thought of the gun discount.

Just after Page the road passes parking lots for Antelope Canyon tours. This will have to go on the list of places to visit. We’ll certainly have to come back here and explore the place in more detail.

I’m taking AZ 98 from Page to a junction with US 160. This junction is about 30 miles from Kayenta. This is my least busy road for the day, a relaxing drive. From then on, it’s familiar roads for me – Four Corners and the oddly named Teec Nos Pos, through Cortez, past Mesa Verde, and skirting Durango. When I got to about Mancos the place looked and smelled right: I’m back in Colorado.

To top off the day, I had dinner at the Seven Rivers Restaurant at the Sky Ute Casino in Ignacio. I had the petit filet mignon, jalapeño mashed potatoes and the corn dish. Yum.

Grace and Greg kindly put me up for the night. Grace was a good sport, suffering through the modern equivalent of getting out the slide projector: going through the photos on the laptop.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 11 – Monterey to Henderson

Tuesday, July 19

Now we enter the phase of the trip where things are a bit more free-form. So far, everything has been pretty well planned – the route is known (even if not perfectly followed), activities defined, lodging reservations made. Now, though, things are more like ideas than plans. The idea is to visit Yosemite, but it’s not well enough defined to call it a plan: drive through the park, stop at the visitors center, chat with a ranger to determine a hike for tomorrow, perhaps take in a short hike, then off to the Inyo National Forest to search for camping.

With that in mind, I want to do a little trip preparation. The internet in the motel room is nearly worthless and isn’t connecting so I figure I can go to a Starbuck’s, grab a bagel and some internet. I use the Google Navigator app on my phone: find Starbucks. It thinks about it for a few seconds and presents me with a choice: which Starbucks would I like to visit? There’s one in St. George, UT, and a couple near home in Arvada. I know I passed one within a few blocks of the motel and might guess there’d be about thirty in a five mile radius of my position. Why does Google want to send me to St. George?

No matter, I find the Starbucks. It’s in a Safeway. I grab the laptop and head inside. Get the laptop booted up and search for wi-fi. None of them seem to be Starbucks, but Safeway has an open network. Get connected to that only to find it doesn’t have internet. So no further planning for me at this point. I’ll rely on the phone app for navigation.

This goes well enough. The drive from Monterey to the approaches of Yosemite is pleasant; scenic but not particularly noteworthy. Well, except one bit: Google has me make a turn onto Road 9. This is a farm road, paved sometime in the last century and barely maintained. I’m taken through the farms of the central valley – some sort of nut orchards, corn eleven feet tall, olive orchards, various other crops. Next is a right turn on Sandy Mush Road. It’s in only slightly better shape. Why is Google sending me on these odd roads?

I arrive at Yosemite around 11. If our national parks were named for their most prominent feature, RMNP would still be RMNP. Bryce would be Hoodoo. Yosemite would be Granite Slabs. As soon as you see the first giant slab of granite that forms a cliff wall you see the entrance station.

At the gate I ask for the visitors center and am directed to Yosemite Valley, the most crowded part of the park. Here, people have parked cars at every available turn out or wide spot. I find a place to pull over and consult the park map. I see that I passed the turn off for the tunnel view, so I decide to check that out before hitting the visitor center.

I get lucky here. I imagined the parking lot to be bigger. It’s not very big, and it’s crowded. The three cars in front of me are waiting for spots and blocking ingress and egress. But they didn’t notice that a car behind them wants out, so I snag a spot before those folks. I take the opportunity to snack here; I’m starting to get hungry what with having skipped breakfast.


Part of the Yosemite crowd

The view here is pretty magnificent. The car normally draws a lot of attention. But here I’m mobbed by comments and questions. Nearly as many people take pictures of the car as they do of the view. I’m used to the car getting such attention. Even when there’s another Elise people like the green and yellow. But I’ve never seen anything like this. I have my snack, snap a few pictures, and am back on my way back downhill into the valley.

Yosemite Valley tunnel view

There’s a trailhead! I should stop here and take a short hike. I pull into the lot. Sort of: I can’t actually get into the lot because not only are all the spots full but there’s a long line of cars hoping to get a spot. I make about a 9 point turn to get out and note that cars are parked along the road below the parking lot, too. Clearly, I’m too optimistic. I’m going to have trouble parking anywhere in this place.

I decided to skip the visitors center and head to Tioga Pass. There are pullouts up and down all the roads in the park. I find one here with a view of the valley and park the car. I did a quick u-turn and park so that I can try to get a picture with the car in the foreground and climb a few feet up the hillside across from where I’m parked. I missed the opportunity for a quick shot. Other cars and people are arriving and they all seem to want to get a shot of the valley while standing by my car. I wait patiently and eventually get the shot.

IMG_2268sNow a tour bus pulls up. Because I’m parked where I am, he can’t get in. The ass end of his bus is blocking traffic. The driver sees me; I point to my car and to me, run across the road and hop into the car to move it down far enough for him to get parked. No key in my pocket. Where the heck is it? It’s not in the ignition, not in the seat. How the hell could I lose my car key? I need to move it downhill, so I just take it out of gear and let it roll. The bus gets parked and the driver gives me a thumbs up. I’m in a bit of panic, though. I finally find the key in the wrong pocket (I never put keys in that pocket). I make a pantomime of “cant’ find my keys” for the bus driver, then show that I found them. He laughs.

I continue up Tioga Pass, stopping at most of the pullouts. Early on, we get a view to the east and see damage from a recent forest fire. The road continues to climb and turns back to the west. Overlook after overlook is crowded. All the trailheads have full parking lots plus lines of cars on both sides of the road in both directions. Doesn’t look like I’ll be hiking today.

But, frankly, for the last few hours I’ve been considering just heading directly to Vegas. The congestion here is just an additional factor. Perhaps the deciding factor, but just one factor. I continue to take my time through the park, seeing what sights I can (and answering questions about the car at every stop). When I was looking at the map earlier, I saw there’s another visitor center at Tuolomne Meadows, so when I get there I make a quick stop. This is not the visitors center I’m looking for; it doesn’t have much to offer. And it offers me no reason not to head to Vegas. I decide to table my decision until I reach Lee Vining for a late lunch/early dinner.

Over my meal I call Chris to make sure it won’t be a problem arriving at his door two days early. This done, I call home and let Genae know the change in plans. I let Google Navigator select the quickest route to Vegas and hit the road. Now, up until now the idea was that I’d drive a somewhat longer route and see what Death Valley looks like. Yes, I’m probably insane for wanting to go through Death Valley in July in a convertible with English air conditioning (probably works great in London, cooling from 80 to 75, but it’s certainly not good for desert southwest climes). With the updated itinerary I’ll be skipping Death Valley.

The first bit of the next part of the trip is CA 120. What a fabulous road. I’ve seen a road built like this before, near Joshua Tree. The road was built using no cut-and-fill. It looks like they drove a road grader to clear the weeds, then just poured asphalt right on the ground. I didn’t see a single culvert and the only shaping of the roadbed they did was to bank the road enough to prevent any cases of negative camber. The road lies directly on the terrain, unlike most roads. If the ground falls two feet, so does the road.

This is actually quite fun. You can’t go terribly fast, but you don’t need to. It has more curves per mile than you’d expect, and it rolls up and down so much you generally can’t see more than a few hundred yards. One section descends through a gully not much wider than the road. It’s a series of S-curves a few miles long. Tightening, loosening, getting steeper then not so steep. Next comes a sign: “Dips Next 5 Miles”. This section is a straight line but the road goes through depression after depression. Again, you can’t see very far, so it’s strictly no passing. But the road goes up and down like mad. The dips come in combinations: one, then three quick ones, then a big one, then a double. Sometimes the dips are so steep you feel like you’re going straight down. None are more than perhaps thirty or forty or fifty feet deep, but they’re big enough to give you that “light stomach roller coaster” feeling, followed by some serious compression at the bottom. I was having so much fun, I laughed out loud several times. What a great Lotus road.

After this fun section, I was directed through a couple of navigation points. By now I notice that the map doesn’t show my route in a blue line. In fact, the map is empty save for the pointer that indicates my location. But it’s still telling me where to turn. Okay, I must be out of cell range. I’m sure it loaded the required info when I started and I’ll be okay. Remember, I lack an atlas.

I also use the phone as a speedometer. I notice that as I speed up or slow down, the reading doesn’t change, and the compass heading is stuck. I arrive at a T-intersection but Navigator is silent. The phone has locked up. I cycle the power and relaunch Navigator. The phone actually says “No Sim” before it says “No Service”. In any event, Navigator will be no help here.

Last gas, of course, was Lee Vining. I’d seen one sign indicating how far I’d have to drive to get gas. The signs here told me that town was to the right. I need to go southeast, and it’s south to the right, north to the left. I go south. It isn’t long before I see this is the wrong way to go. The road makes a right turn and heads directly into the sun. Yes – directly: we’re climbing a steep pass, the road still poured directly onto the terrain. I know I can get gas in about 25 miles this way, I have no idea how far I need to go the other way. The safest course is to proceed to the known gas station.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

This is all a big adventure. The road I’m on is not quite as fun as CA 120, but it’s still a gas. It climbs steeply, twisting and turning all the time. Like the other road, the surface is good. Near the top of the pass the little canyon we’re going through is so narrow as to support only a single lane. “Yield to Oncoming Traffic.” Like the other road, it’s not heavily traveled: occasional cars but not a single truck. I’m having fun, it’s all good. Another fun Lotus road.

In the next town I gas up, get connected with Navigator, and answer more questions about the car. Navigator wants me to retrace my steps, but I see that the route through Death Valley is only 20 minutes longer from here. I’m not a big fan of repeating routes when I have so many to choose from, and as it’s only 20 minutes, what the heck? Perhaps I’m fated to go through Death Valley.

A few miles down the road, Navigator gives me a new message: Shorter route available. Do you want to take it? It can’t be the one I’ve already been on, can it? I’ve been going 20 minutes already, and turning around here would be longer, wouldn’t it? I accept the change. Of course, it wants me to make a u-turn. I cancel and reselect the Death Valley route.

Passing through the next town I can’t help but notice a bunch of runners. They’re scattered along the road side in pairs or pairs of pairs. I think the guys at the edge of town are stragglers, but after making a turn to the east I see they’re running along here, too. They’re coming my way, running on the foot-wide shoulder. There’s not much traffic, so I can almost always give them the full lane. Along the other side of the road, spaced irregularly, are vehicles deployed to assist the runners, always in pairs. I’m guessing one of the pair is the competitor, the other is providing support or assistance.

By the time I’ve gone sixty or seventy miles I’m really curious. The sun went below the mountains to the west some time ago; dusk is turning to dark. How long will I need to keep an eye out for runners in my lane? There’s a pullout ahead, so I pull off and ask the crew there. “How far are we running?” “One hundred and thirty five miles.”  This isn’t just a 135 mile run, it’s the Badwater Ultramarathon. It’s a 135 mile run out of Death Valley to the Mt. Whitney portal, which means it includes over 8,500 feet of climbing. The things people do.

The road here starts a serious descent: tight turns and steep grades. Drop offs on one side. And still there are runners. I pretty much have to crawl down the mountain to be sure I don’t run into somebody around a blind corner. By the time it’s fully dark I haven’t seen a runner in fifteen minutes, but there’s one final straggler.

The road is now clear of runners, but with the dusk and dark other critters are appearing. A coyote is ambling down the road toward me, following the center stripe. Rabbits occasionally make a dash across the road, or sit and watch me go by. It would not be fun to clobber one of these guys. Are there really as many rabbits as I’m seeing, or is my imagination getting the best of me? Now, instead of a 9:30 arrival in Vegas it’s more like 11:30. I have a couple more hours of night driving.

Shortly after Stovepipe Wells, Navigator directs me to take a left on Scotty’s Castle Road, followed by a right on Daylight Pass Road. I’m not happy that it’s taking me onto named roads. I much prefer numbered routes. After a few miles of Daylight Pass Road I enter Nevada and Navigator tells me I’m back on a numbered route, a Nevada state highway. All is well again! Except that it’s not. Now Google says to make a right turn on Airport Road. This is a dirt road. Does Google want to kill me, have me dispose of my own body in the desert? Why is it taking me this way? Should I rebel? In the dark, with no map, I follow directions. It turns out that the road is dirt only two miles, which doesn’t take long, even at 15 mph. Shortly after regaining pavement I arrive at an intersection with US 95 which will take me right to downtown Vegas.

I have survived the various tests Google as presented me: I found a Starbucks in Monterey, I overcame resetting the phone in the middle of nowhere with no service, I was not left for dead in Death Valley. And one final minor annoyance: Navigator left me at the end of Chris’s street rather than in front of his house.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 9 – Danville to Monterey

Sunday, July 17

I wanted to find a place to hand wash the car this morning, so Rod came with me as navigator. Just exiting their neighborhood I spotted a red M100 ahead of us. Rod said, “Catch him!” He made his green light, we got stopped by a red. He was out of sight, but Rod suggested he might be going to the auto parts store. Sure enough, when we were gassing up Rod spotted him. Naturally, I had to go introduce myself. I met Mel, who would be taking his other Lotus to Laguna Seca tomorrow. What are the chances?

We found the car wash, but they weren’t washing cars because of a compressor problem. Not sure what they need a compressor for to do a hand wash, but so it goes. Back at the house, Rod helped me wash it in their driveway. I didn’t put a lot of effort into it, but managed to get about eight pounds of bugs off of it. She’s presentable now.

After lunch I packed up the car and was on the road by 2:20. Went over the San Mateo bridge and then to Half Moon Bay. Traffic crawled along slowly most of the way. South on PCH, steady stream of traffic headed northbound, nearly as much as going my way. Just south of Half Moon Bay I saw Bo’s car parked by the road. He wasn’t in it. I should have stopped. My plan was to stop a little farther along, but soon all the parking areas were filled. I ended up not stopping until I got to the hotel. Google navigation had me take an alternate route due to long delays.

At Thunderhill Bo said he might try to make it to Laguna Seca. So when I saw his car, I thought he was going to be there.

Checked in at the hotel and unpacked the car. Spent some time on the phone, then set off in search of dinner. Found the Alvorado Street Brewery and Grill. Had a pilsner and a patty melt. Started up the car to head back to the motel and got a check engine light. I checked the codes when I got back: 1302 and 0128. A 0128 indicates a bad thermostat. The phone app didn’t know what a 1302 was so, naturally, it directed me to the internet. I cleared the codes and will drive it to the track and seek professional advice.

It turns out that the next night the internet in the motel didn’t work properly. It would have saved me a lot of stress had it been this night instead. I made the mistake of reading a few pages of a Lotus Talk thread. Evidently there was a common problem, codes 1302 and 0303 (or 0302 or 0301 or 0304) that was terminal for a number of people. Limp mode, five thousand dollar repairs. Cam problems.

I shut off the laptop. If I have a terminal problem, what do I do? How do I get the car to a shop? If the repair will be expensive, I may want to have it shipped home and park it until I can afford that large of a repair. I have more stuff than I can take on an airplane. How do I get it all home? How do I get me home?

It’s going to be a long night.

Planes fly really low over my motel.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 6 – Lassen to Willows, CA

Thursday, July 14

Today will be an easy day. It’s only about three hours to the motel in Willows. So I took my time getting packed up. Chatted with a fellow from Huntington Beach who used to own a Porsche Speedster. The car gets a lot of attention on the road, but very few people approached me to talk about it in the campground.

With some time to kill in the park, I decided to hike to Terrace Lake. There are actually two lakes here, almost adjacent, the other being Shadow Lake. On the map, Shadow Lake looks pretty big and the trail goes right along the shore. Should be tough to miss. I head down the trail, encountering quite a bit of snow. At times it’s a little tough finding the route. A few minutes later I arrive at a trail sign: Terrace Lake is .3 miles down the trail to the right.

I head down the trail to the right. I hike quite a long way without seeing any lakes at all. Before long I figured I’d gone a mile but I decided to carry on. I soon reach another trail junction. This one says Terrace Lake is 1.7 miles up the trail I’ve just come down. Clearly, somebody moved these lakes. You’d think somebody capable of finding more than eighty lakes in RMNP should be able to follow a trail to a couple of lakes here. How can both signs be wrong?

Shortly after turning around my mind wandered back to the question of “what if it erupts now?” This time it would take me an hour to get back to the car, but everything is in the car, so that’s good. I’m amused that I went down this line of thought once, let alone twice. The chances of this thing going off are orders of magnitude less than of me getting hit by lightning or getting in an auto accident. I never ponder those things.

There’s a large down tree that crosses the path; a section has been sawn out. The diameter of this tree trunk is four and a half or five feet. I was curious how old it was but the cut was old and rough so I couldn’t tell. Gave it a good look both times I passed it; it may have been the most interesting sight on the hike.

I arrived back at the trailhead just as a guy is starting down. He had spent the night at the same campground, but Loop A instead of Loop B. He hiked as far as Cliff Lake yesterday, said it was the best hike he’d been on. He asked me what I thought of Terrace Lake. I told him I couldn’t find it. He aborted his hike. I’m sure he’ll find it eventually, as he lives in Red Bluff, only about an hour away.

I stopped at the visitor center on my way out and bought a shirt. Still no cell service here, but another text message arrives. I’ve heard quite a few odd accents and foreign languages so far on this trip. A German family was in line in front of me. I’ve heard Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Polish, Korean, Japanese and probably a couple more.

On the road again, I turn right on CA 36. Very quickly, two motorcycles and a giant truck catch me. I’m only doing 5 over. The bikes pass me on double yellow. They pull off at a country store a few miles later so the road in front of me is clear. The big truck is getting big in the mirrors. I pull over and let him pass. It’s a big timber truck, with no cargo. He’s carrying his rear wheels rather than pulling them. Before long he’s out of sight. We hit a series of increasingly tight turns: 35mph, 30mph, 25 mph. I finally catch him but when the road straightens out, he’s pulling away again. At an intersection he pulls off to the right and waves at me as I pass, then he makes a left turn (where a fully loaded timber truck is arriving).

By now the road has fallen about a mile. The high point, at the summit parking lot, is about 8,500’. Now we’re around 3,000. No longer in subalpine forest we’re in widely dispersed scrub oak and yellow grasses. Still falling, we drop through vineyards. In the end, we fall to almond orchards and olive orchards fifty feet above sea level. We may as well have fallen all the way to hell: the sun is harsh here, and hot. And the air is hot. I’ve been cold quite a bit so far on this trip; I haven’t complained because I knew I’d remember it fondly.

I have lunch at the Applebee’s in Red Bluff. I sat at the bar. Everybody knows the bartender and waitress; they’re all locals.

It’s hotter than hell here. My phone says it’s 87, but it’s gotta be more like 100. I have 45 miles of Interstate to deal with next. I-5 is heavily traveled and carries lots of trucks. Most of the cars are left-laniacs, never getting out of the left lane. Before long we arrive at a construction zone. Right lane closed, I think it said, but there was only one sign. I’m in the right lane. I figure I’ll do a zipper merge when the lane is actually closed. Only a few of us attempt this; we pass about a half mile of cars.

Check in at the Motel 6. No carpet, no shampoo in the bathroom but no worries, I brought my own. First on the agenda is a cool shower. Need to wash off several layers of bug spray, sunscreen, and sweat. Next is laundry. Somehow I manage to forget to wash any of my shorts, but the shirts, socks, and underwear clean. Except one pair of hiking socks cleverly hiding in my hiking shoes. Dang.

This is the closest motel to the track. There are two or three more within a quarter-mile, but this is the cheapest one. I took a short walk, not much to see. There’s a State Trooper office and two restaurants that appear to be closed in addition to the other motels. When I got back I took a look at the cars in the parking lot. A couple of nice Audis, a Corvette, an old Mitsubishi with some stickers on it. I would likely see all these cars tomorrow.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to see Bumpass Hell. That was number one on my list. I understand they’ve been working on it quite a while, and still have a way to go before they’re finished. Comparing Lassen to Bryce or RMNP, it’s more like Bryce. It’s all about the volcano. It encompasses the volcano and a few surrounding features. The road probably couldn’t have been better sited to allow access to all the interesting features of the park. This has the effect of making many of the hikes “upside down”. Many of the trails descend from the road – you hike down when you’re fresh and it’s cool, you do all the work after you’ve walked quite a way and it’s hotter. All the Bryce hikes were upside down, too.

There are 150 miles of trail in the park, 17 of which Pacific Crest Trail. Based on the amount of hiking I log in RMNP, I’d be able to hike every mile of the Lassen trail system in two summers. I really enjoyed my short stay, and I’d still like to see Bumpass Hell.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 5 – Lassen Volcanic National Park

Wednesday, July 13

I awoke about 5:30 but didn’t want to get out of the warm bag. By 6:15, rising was mandatory. The campground was quite still, no one was moving, no one was making any noise. My breakfast is in the bear box, and I was never able to open it without quite a clang so I was an early noisemaker. I had my usual camp breakfast, an apple and protein bar. Then off to hike.

I started with Kings Creek Falls. The guys I talked to last night said I could get there from the South part of our camp or I could take the easy way from the Kings Creek Falls trailhead. I elected for the easy way. It’s marked as 1.4 miles each way. Before starting, I was going to take a picture of the map at the trailhead. Figures, the SLR isn’t working today.

The trail descends from the road. Early on there are signs of recent trail maintenance. Then we get to a broad meadow. There’s a nice view of Lassen Peak from here, when you’re on the return trip. After a half mile there’s junction. Proceed down the cascade section of the trail or take the longer, less steep horse route. But there’s no choice – the cascade section is closed for trail maintenance. Two tenths of a mile from the falls there’s another junction, this one to Bench Lake.

At the falls they’ve built a viewing platform. I poked around a bit, looked at it from the platform and from creekside, but there wasn’t much there to hold my attention. I headed back to the last junction and took the trail to Bench Lake. It was a nice walk, but the lake is more of a puddle, snow fed, with no inlet or outlet stream. It’s surrounded by trees and lacks a view. It also lacks an comfy place to sit and relax, so it was back to the car. Nearly back to the trailhead the work crew, five guys, passed me heading to work. When I first arrived at the trailhead, there was only one other car parked here. Now it’s starting to get crowded – several cars there, with corresponding groups of people heading down to the falls. I reckon this hike to be 4.8 miles total.

Next was Cold Boiling Lake. The guys last night said I shouldn’t bother. I went anyway. First, it’s not like I had a full day of hiking planned. Second, the Bumpass Hell trail is closed. That was definitely on the list but has to be scrubbed. There’s a trail from Cold Boiling Lake to Bumpass Hell. I wondered how far up that trail you can get. So I went to find out.

Cold Boiling Lake is as the guys said, not really worth the bother. And the Bumpass Hell trail from this end is closed a hundred yards above the lake. But the trickle of gasses bubbling out of Cold Boiling Lake is the first sign I see of active volcanic processes. This hike amounted to 1.4 miles round trip.

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How big is it?

As expected, there is a rich insect life in the area. The bug spray was definitely a sound investment. Here at this rather drab little lake there was an abundance of dragon flies. Walking along the shore the hiker generates a cloud of dragon flies, like Pigpen from Peanuts. All around you for a short radius is a riot of dragon flies. I’m used to seeing maybe a handful of dragonflies in one spot at home. Here they were countless.

I continued south on the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, stopped at the Lassen Peak trailhead and again at Lake Helen and Emerald Lake. I briefly considered hiking to the summit. It’s 2.5 miles and about 2000 vertical feet. Difficult, but doable. I made up two reasons not to do it. There’s a lot of snow on the mountain and I didn’t have any spikes. Plus, I could do it tomorrow morning if I want to change my mind.

Just below the peak trailhead are Helen and Emerald lakes. Helen is still half frozen, deep blue water. Emerald is, well, emerald colored. I stopped at the Bumpass Hell trailhead hoping the overlook actually overlooked the place but it doesn’t. You have to hike down the canyon and around a bend to actually get to the place.

Next stop is Sulphur Works. There used to be a spa and sulfur mine here. The road goes a sidewalk’s width away from a fumerole. You park in the lot and take the sidewalk up a few yards to view it. It’s not just a view – you get a lungful of steam and sulfur. The parking lot is also the trailhead for Ridge Lakes.

After finding a shady spot to snack on my trail mix, I put my hiking shoes back on and headed up the trail. Not far from the trailhead I ran into a couple from Denmark. I asked if the trail is this steep all the way. They had only gone a short distance farther to view another bubbler. We discussed where there were hikes that yielded views. I told him that so far, the best views seem to be from the road. The answer to my question, “does it stay this steep” is “No, it gets steeper.”

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Ridge Lakes

It seemed to take a long time. I stopped quite often. Even so, I was maintaining a two mile per hour pace and caught up to a family very near the lake. At first I saw just the two boys, the older, bigger one chasing the younger with a stick. As I entered the shade they were resting in they were getting ready to continue. “Do you think it’s much farther?” Mom asks. I tell them I think it’s just over this next rise. She’s skeptical; they thought that two rises ago.

I was right, the lake was just over the rise. It was a quite gratifying hike, 2.2 miles round trip, climbing 1,045 vertical feet. Quite steep, but short and surprisingly free of people. I’m accustomed to hiking ten miles to see only six people over a three hour span. The family didn’t stop at the outlet but went in search of a nice place to sit. They took perhaps the prime spot. That’s okay, I wandered around a little.

The lake was quite scenic. Clear water, fed from melting snow. By now I was wishing I had more water. I considered getting water (and using the Steri-Pen) at the lake’s outlet. I was thinking this water would be some of the best water you could get. But I was concerned about it. The Steri-Pen will handle the biological problems, but are there chemical problems? Frankly, it troubled me how clear the water was. A few tufts of healthy looking grass grew with an inch or two of water over them, but I saw nothing growing or swimming in the water. I’d hate to ingest a bunch of arsenic or something. If I was going to fill the bottle, though, it would certainly be here, before it flows through the sulfur canyon below.

2016-07-13 13.32.24sI sat at the lake nearly an hour. A few interesting things: I saw some dirt tubes. I’ll call one a negative, one a positive. The positive are like small speed bumps, solid mounds of loose dirt. The negatives, I think, may have been tunnels but are now trenches. Are they the paths of melt water running underneath the snowbanks? Or did some creature have a network of tunnels under the snow?

I could stay as long as I wanted, thirty minutes or until dusk. Sitting, watching the world go by, sometimes the mind wanders. I pondered the emergency of an eruption. Here at the lake, I could be back at the car in thirty minutes. Quickest way off the mountain is to continue south. I’d have to abandon everything at the campsite, leaving with only the car, the electronics, and the clothes on my back.

In a gross sense, the trees and ground cover are similar to what I see at home, a mountainous pine forest with networks of streams and lakes. The trail is much smoother, though, with far fewer roots and rocks. Much of the ground cover is different. I saw no ferns and lots of Mule’s Ear, a broad leaf flower.

The family outlasted me; I headed down the trail after an hour, more or less my usual visit to an alpine lake. From Sulphur Works I continue downhill to the visitor center at the southern entrance. I got water there, washed my face and hands. I took a quick look at their terrain model of the park but didn’t browse the gift shop.

Heading back to the car I see that a guy is unloading a pallet of freight eight or ten spots downhill from where I parked. No big deal to walk the slope, but not so fun to pull a pallet jack up. I had a pull through spot, saved me the trouble of backing in to a spot. If I’d parked somewhere else, this guy would have had an easier time of it. “Don’t they let you use the loading dock?” The truck entrance is a few yards north of the parking lot entrance. “There’s already another truck there, and besides, my trailer is too long.”

One thing I wanted to do was see if I could get cell service. I almost forgot. I was about to start the car when I remembered. No cell service, but somehow I was able to receive and send text messages. Done with what communication I could perform I retraced my steps back to the campground, getting there just after three.

A lazy evening in camp, being off the trail so early. I relaxed for a while, read some of my book. For dinner I had one of the freeze-dried meals I brought: Chana Masala. The package says it serves two, but the guy at REI said it’s a decent meal after hiking all day. Whereas the rice and tuna was just short of a meal, this was more generous.

Last night we had a few bats chasing flying insects through the campground at dusk. No bats tonight. The only notable guest I had in my spot was a pretty little bird – red head, black and yellow body. Didn’t sit still long enough for a picture.

While looking for bats, a car pulled into the spot across the lane from me. A Mitsubishi Eclipse, a sporty coupe. She was the driver, blonde, skinny. He was the passenger, tall, lanky, with long dirty hair, scraggly Van Dyke beard. Not your stereotypical campers.

They got about eight big grocery sacks of stuff out of their car and spent some time trying to figure out the bear box. Their neighbor seemed to be giving them advice. I kept thinking I’d be putting the tent up if I were in their shoes. Turns out they didn’t have a tent, slept in the car. They built the biggest fire in the park. At one point, they had flames standing eight feet tall. I wondered what the heck they were going to do with all that food.

What with all the light and smoke from campers fires and the growing moon, it didn’t look to be a good night for stargazing. No matter, what else do I have to do? I wanted to listen to Holst’s The Planets but I don’t have a version of that loaded on the iPod. I do have Manfred Mann’s Solar Fire, which is partly based on Holst, so I listened to that. To cap the evening’s program off, it was Astronomy Domine by Pink Floyd.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 4 – Ruby to Lassen Volcanic Nat’l Park

Tuesday, July 12

When I awoke, I noticed that the neighboring SUV never got anything set up. All they had accomplished was to lay out a large tarp. They spent the night in the car. That made it easy for them to leave – they were gone before I even started packing up.

I was on the road by 7:45. The town of Lemoille butts up against the wilderness area. Before seeing it, I imagined more high desert. Instead, it’s more or less a bedroom community for Elko, houses on one acre lots. A much nicer place than I imagined.

After yesterday’s events, we can add a new rule to cross country drives: Rule #3: Never pass a gas station in Nevada without topping off. I don’t care if I just filled the tank two blocks back on the other side of town – stop again anyway. So I gassed up at the last gas station in Elko before getting on I-80. There was a group of motorcyclists at this station. One said his son-in-law in Denver just sold his silver Lotus. I asked what his name was but didn’t recognize it. I’m guessing he wasn’t a LoCo member.

Today is another massive drive day – 537 miles if I don’t make any more navigational errors. First is an eighteen mile blast west on I-80, to the junction with NV 278. I take this south to junction with US 50, which I’ll take more or less to Reno. After that, US 395 to Susanville, then a couple of CA state routes to Lassen.

This first section, I-80 and the first miles of NV 278, is fairly mountainous. I-80 navigates a bridge/tunnel complex here. These miles of I-80 are out of character for rest of the road, an interminable drive that makes I-80 through Nebraska look short in comparison. It’s apt that it happens here, so close to the Ruby Mountains, which is also out of character for Nevada.

There are a number of ranches along the northern miles of NV 278, but not much traffic. Eventually the road straightens and levels, quickly leaving the ranches behind. We’re headed south through one of the many north/south valleys. About ninety miles south of I-80 we get to US 50, America’s Loneliest Road. Ironically, it gets more traffic than the road I used to get here.

The junction with US 50 is a few miles west of Eureka. There’s a mine there called the Fad Shaft. This is the site of the second richest mine, behind the Comstock Lode. The Fad Shaft was started later, went down 2,465′ where it flooded. The Fad Shaft never produced any ore. Today the site is an operating heap mine. Gold bearing rock is crushed into pebbles and piled onto a thick plastic liner. Cyanide dissolves the microscopic gold which leaches into collection tanks.

It’s already clear that Rule #3 is a good policy. The last gas station I saw was the one I filled up at. That was a hundred miles ago. There have been no signs indicating how far to the next services, and no signs directing me to any services which might exist. I’m a few miles west of Eureka. I assume there’s a gas station there, but that assumption isn’t backed up by any signage.

US 50 cuts across these many north/south valleys one after another. This is the Basin and Range province of the Great Basin. The floor of each valley is a few feet lower than the previous. Eventually, we come to a pass between these valleys that is more like a true mountain pass. The economy of signs is evident here: at the foot of the pass, there’s a sign: Curves ahead, 30mph next three miles. This is repeated at the summit. In those three miles there might be three curves that slow, but you never know when they’ll appear.

At the summit I pass two bicyclists headed the other way. These guys are nuts. There’s nothing but nothing until Eureka. I assume they’re doing this for fun. I’m not sure how fun it sounds. They didn’t seem to be carrying much gear and no support vehicle was evident. I wouldn’t even want to cover this ground on a motorcycle.

Half way down the other side is the small town of Austin. A billboard fifty miles or so back says “What happens in Austin gets bragged about.” I apply Rule #3 here, but it’s too early to eat. At the gas station, I ask how far to the west before I get to a town with a restaurant. 112 miles. That town is Fallon.

Between Austin and Fallon, we continue to traverse the valleys. The plant life varies from valley to valley – generally the pale green sage dominates. Sometimes it’s dry yellow grass. In some places, the ridges look like a sort of biological Neapolitan ice cream: yellow layer on the bottom, green pine forest in the middle, pale grass on the tops.

Later on, the vegetation on the valley floors disappears entirely to be replaced with alkali flats or salt flats, not sure which. Nothing grows there, and there are some sort of mining operations in places, working the surface.

There are occasional rest stops, but in keeping with the signless theme of the state, they are unmarked. At 75 mph they’re hard to see, blink and you’re past. They’d be invisible in the dark. They’re just rest stops, no latrines, no water. A place to sleep if you can’t make it the 100 miles to the next motel.

This route is the old Pony Express route. How far can a horse run? That’s how close together the stations need to be – about ten miles apart. There’s no evidence of water anywhere, with the exception of one spring I saw several miles from the road (a clump of trees at a gash in the ridge.) One of the old Pony Express stations is called Sand Springs. My mental image was a spring that seeps sand rather than water. Turns out there’s a large dune there.

Just like Utah, Nevada is largely federal land. In Utah, it’s largely parks and wilderness. In Nevada, big chunks of it are military. A few miles before reaching Fallon I pass a sign: US Navy Centroid Facility. A two track dirt road on the right leads a short distance to a small structure surrounded by a chain link fence. A few minutes later I see signs on the left for B-17 Range, another US Navy property. Finally, a sign that ties it all together: US Naval Air Station Fallon. This is the TOPGUN school.

Fallon marks the return to civilization. There are cultivated fields here: corn, alfalfa, hay. You go through several miles of this before actually getting to town. I stopped here for lunch at Julio’s Mexican and Italian Restaurant. I found it a little odd to have chips and salsa placed at your table in an Italian restaurant.

From Fallon to Fernley much of US 50 is four lane divided highway, heavily traveled. I get back on I-80 for 33 miles, then take US 395 north out of Reno, again a four lane divided highway for quite a way. Eventually we arrive in California. All traffic is stopped for “inspection”. Most vehicles were just getting waved through, including me. Would they have confiscated my apples?

I gassed up in Susanville. I didn’t realize at the time, but this was the last time I’d have cell service for a couple days. This town is on the cusp between desert and mountain. Leaving town, the road rises immediately into fragrant pine forest. I pulled over here to finally take the top off the car.


First sight of Lassen Peak, 10,457′

Remembering the mosquitoes, I stopped at a small gas station/general store just outside the park to get some bug spray. There were a couple of guys there with backpacks. Perhaps hiking the PCT, I decide in retrospect. I should have asked them. This is another case of not doing my homework – I didn’t realize at the time that the PCT went through here, although it should have been obvious.

The park entrance was unmanned, and the visitor center was closed. A sign at the entrance announced that one of the trails I want to take, Bumpass Hell, is closed. Stopped for a wander through the Devastated Area. This is the path the eruption took back in 1915. This is what the area around Mt St Helens may look like in another 70 years or so. Lassen and Mt St Helens are the only two volcanoes in the 48 states to erupt in the 20th century.

I arrived at the campground, navigated to my spot, and got set up fairly quickly. The campground has bear boxes for every campsite. My site is right next to the bathrooms. Probably not the best choice, but so it goes. The place is pretty crowded – tents and RVs large and small. Being next to the bathrooms, lots of traffic passes by. Surprisingly, very few people approach me about the car.

I walked a lap of the campground to check it out. One site had two small tents and some hiking shirts laid out on the hood of an SUV. Two young guys were there. I asked them if they were local, or knew the area. We chatted for a few minutes. They’re disappointed that Bumpass Hell is closed and believe the boardwalk is being rebuilt. They recommended a substitute hike, King’s Creek Falls. The also said not to bother with Cold Boiling Lake.

For dinner tonight I tried the four cheese rice with the lemon pepper salmon. Not bad, but reinforces my thought that it’s not sufficient after a long day of hiking. I mixed up some trail mix for tomorrow. I don’t know exactly where I’ll go, but I should be able to hit a number of short hikes.

Didn’t listen to music tonight. Lots more activity in this campground than either of the other two. Ruby was very quiet. Here, many people sat around their little campfires talking. Many of the RV people retired indoors but there was still quite a bit of noise. Plus there’s the bathroom traffic.

The campground is in a forest of tall pine trees so the stargazing is not good. I found a place where I could see the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn all at the same time. That one spot was near the right rear tire of the car. By the time I retired, it had moved to a few feet left of the driver’s door. The other direction, I found a place where I could hang the big dipper from the top of a tall tree. I’m sure I looked odd, in gray sweats, gray hoodie, standing in the dark next to my car.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 3 – Bryce to Ruby Mountains Wilderness

Monday, July 11

Another good night’s sleep: I woke up a bit before 6 but managed to stay in the sack until 6:15. Got everything packed up and was on the road by 8:15 or so.

Red Canyon is the first stretch of road; half a dozen miles or so from the summit (where the campground was) to the floor of the Sevier River valley. Made my way to UT 21. Left a small town with about 3 or 3.5 gallons left in the tank, saw a sign that said “No services next 83 miles”. I can easily make 100 miles, so onward!

The road goes generally east-west. The valleys it goes through generally north south. The Sevier River valley has a river (obviously). The next several had no rivers, not even sign of flowing water – no gullies, the road has no culverts. The valleys are shallow and wide – the road goes straight across. At the top, a couple of curves then straight road nearly to the top of the other side, then a few curves again. Repeat several times.

It’s tempting to put the hammer down and go like mad. But the road isn’t exactly billiard table smooth, and there are cattle guards periodically. I didn’t want to hit any of them at more than 30 or so. Not much traffic on this road, and most of it passed me.

These are valleys of theoretical cattle. Plenty of cattle infrastructure: there are cattle guards and signs warning of free range cattle, even a holding pen and well. But no sign of any actual cattle, valley after valley. No deer or antelope warning signs, either, so one would think there’d be fewer of them than cattle. If that’s possible.

Not much plant life here. In many places it doesn’t reach more than a few inches off the ground. But the terrain does seem to support a healthy rodent and rabbit population, judging by the roadkill. Based on how little traffic seems to use this road, it must mean a fair probability of hitting an animal.

It has been a while since I passed that sign, “No services next 83 miles.” In fact, it’s been about a hundred miles and still no sign of an an open gas station. Needless to say, I was feeling quite anxious. I passed through two towns, both looked like ghost towns. Either I missed the gas station or the sign was wrong. When the fuel warning light had been on for 30 miles or so, I went from anxiety to resignation. I no longer had any doubt I’d run out of gas.

This would not be a happy experience, but I was thinking it wouldn’t be much more serious than a delay of a couple hours. Although not heavily traveled, there were cars passing in both directions so I shouldn’t have to wait long. Also, I was confident that the car gets so much attention nobody would fail to stop if I was out there waving my arms.

Topping the next ridge, the road was quite steep on the down side: 8% grade next 5 miles. I shut off the ignition and coasted at speeds sometimes over 80mph. Probably coasted 4 miles. Going up the other side of the valley I see a billboard in the distance. Perhaps there’s a gas station there? By now I was thinking I wouldn’t even make it that far. I did manage to get there, to find a country store. Only it wasn’t a store, it was a bar. A sign next to the door said “Plan your next party here!” This place is 50 miles from nowhere. I stopped and went inside. It’s dark as night; a bar with a pool table. A gal comes out of the back room, dour and smile-free.

“How far is the nearest gas station?”

“25 miles.”

“I’m not going to make it.”

“He can sell you some gas, 5 gallons for $40.”

“Take a credit card?”

“He prefers cash.”

I have no idea who “he” is, but it doesn’t matter. Eight bucks a gallon is a bit much but I’m not really in a position to bargain. Not the most expensive gas I’ve ever bought, but close to it. She tells me to pull up to the pump and exits the back. The pump is on one of two white tanks on stilts, without labels. Hopefully, one is gas and the other is diesel. “Can I buy two and a half gallons for twenty bucks?” “No.”

Her dog, penned nearby, is excited and barking. “Oh, shut up! You’ll get the goats excited!” Sure enough, a drove of goats arrives to see what the dog is all excited about. She’s pumping gas, but the meter isn’t running. She’s clearly done this enough to know how long it takes to pump five gallons and when I start the car, the gas gauge reads as close to half a tank as you can imagine. I’m soon back on the road, anxiety in the rear-view mirror.

I find Ely the described twenty five miles up the road and stop for fuel and food. Here I leave US 50 until tomorrow and head up US 93. When I arrive at the junction of US 93 and ALT 93 confusion sets in. I seem to remember needing to take an ALT route. Memory tells me I want to keep going straight, which ALT 93 does here, but it’s not in my notes. I stop here and fire up Navigator, but of course there’s no cell coverage. I throw the dice and take ALT 93. This turns out to be wrong – I end up in Wendover. I get a nice view of the salt flats, but I’m farther from my destination.

No big deal, hop on I-80 and head to Elko. This eliminates the need to use the offline maps I downloaded last night as I easily get service in Elko and have navigation right to my camp site.

Snow Lake Peak, 11,142'

Snow Lake Peak, 11,142′

Ruby Mountain Wilderness is a neat little hidden gem, shall we say. When I was researching camp sites I found this oasis of green on an otherwise drab and barren map of Nevada. Alpine, snow capped, and glacial, it’s out of character for the area.

I get camp set up. It seems I’m not in a tent site but one for an RV. There’s room for a small camper and a short, steep path to a concrete pad where a picnic table and fire ring stand. I have no suitable place to pitch the tent. I make do, but I’m on a bit of a slope. We’ll see in the morning how it worked out.

I hiked up to a little lake. Pond, really, or perhaps Puddle. It’s two miles each way. I’m almost always starting my hikes in early morning so it feels a bit odd to be starting a hike at about 5pm. I’m usually done hiking by then. This little glacial valley is oriented north-south, so it’s already partly in shadow. By the time I get to the lake (surrounded by vegetation, no suitable place to sit and take a break) it’s fully in shadow and starting to get a bit cool. I turn right around and head back.

I was back in camp by 7:15. Now I finally get to try my camp cooking. I grab a package of Basmati rice and Spicy and Sweet tuna. This dang stove heats up so quickly, I burn a layer of rice to the bottom. It’s not a bad meal, though. Even though it’s two servings of rice, it might be on the light side after a strenuous day of hiking.

It’s 8:20 and the sun has basically set. Still too light for stars, but a bit different than the last two nights. Here, we’re on the eastern side of the Pacific time zone while in Bryce we were on the western edge of the Mountain zone. Should be getting dark soon. Time to select some tunes and get ready for the show.

Settled on Ronin for sunset. But it was getting too cold for me to sit in my chair, so I retreated to the tent. Through the flap I had a view of the sunset. An SUV pulled into the next spot and four people piled out – mom, dad, two teen-aged daughters. I thought they were getting set up; they made a fair amount of noise. One of the girls walked up the slope behind their site, not realizing she ended up right next to my fire ring and picnic table. Once she saw me she sheepishly said “hello” before retreating.

Not being a camper, mosquitoes were not much on my mind when planning this trip. It wasn’t until tonight that I gave them any thought at all. They were a minor nuisance here, but I guessed I might want to stop somewhere before pitching the tent tomorrow for some bug repellent.

I turned in, expecting an uncomfortable night.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 2 – Bryce Canyon

It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow. — Ebenezer Bryce, 1875

Sunday, July 10

I woke up about 6:15. I’m surprised I managed to sleep that long, being my first time sleeping on the ground in living memory. I had an apple and a protein bar for breakfast and went back to the park to hike.

I’ve been having intermittent problems with the SLR and managed to charge one battery yesterday while writing up my notes. With the freshly charged battery, the camera still refused to work. I played around with the battery pack, swapping positions of the batteries, even tried to use it without the pack. No joy. Eventually, I somehow invoked the proper magic spell for it began working again. It doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. For much of the day, I supplemented the SLR with the cell phone.

The turnoff for the Fairyland Canyon parking lot is before you get to the entrance station. Amusingly, it is only signed for people exiting the park. So I missed the turn and had to flip a u-turn just before the entrance station.

The parking lot holds about 15 cars. I arrived a bit after 8 and was on the trail by 8:15. The trail descends through a few layers of hoodoos then makes its way around the prominence that is called Boat Mesa.

On the way down, the faces of the hoodoos in front of me are in shadow. It’s common that these hoodoos are like giant fins, long and thin. In places, some of the hoodoos seem to be glowing. In fact, the shaded face of one hoodoo is illuminated by the sunny face of the one next to it, giving it an unusual glow.


Translucent hoodoos

There are quite a few ground squirrels along the rim. I saw one family, a mother and three children, cross the path in front of me. I don’t recall seeing a group like that before. As you descend, the squirrels disappear and are replaced by lizards. One of the birds in these parts is a familiar friend from RMNP – Steller’s Jay. I also saw a small dark blue bird, but she didn’t sit still long enough for me to get a picture.

This is a dry hike. I saw no flowing or standing water. Most of the erosion is due to the freeze/thaw cycle. Water gets in the cracks and when it freezes acts as a wedge. About 200 days a year are both above and below the freezing point. The ground is limestone which is normally white. Here it is tinted different colors by various minerals.

After descending about six hundred feet we get to the bottom of Fairyland Canyon and the base of Boat Mesa. Although water doesn’t normally flow anywhere around here, it clearly does on occasion with enough force to carry a fair amount of material out of the canyon. The ground is like an un-cohesive concrete with too much gravel, seemingly held in place by gravity and friction. Flowing water undercuts it easily.

Dozens of ridges radiate away from the base of Boat Mesa and the trail works its way past a number of them. Here, the trail is visible for a fair distance both ahead and behind. The trail alternates between rising and falling, but looking at the trail from the adjacent ridge, it seems they’ve made it as level as feasible.

I can’t help but notice that, traveling the loop clockwise, I can see more of the trail behind me than I can ahead of me. In that way, it’s like real life: we know our past better than we know our future. It must be interesting taking the trail the opposite way, having a clear view of a significant portion of trail ahead.

I met three couples hiking the opposite direction. The first looked to be in a hurry; we just exchanged greetings. A few minutes later, I chatted briefly with a second couple. They said they’d left the parking lot at about the same time I did. I failed to think to ask which parking lot. The ranger suggested I start at Fairyland Canyon and go clockwise, so I was thinking it was the “normal” way. You can start there and go counter-clockwise. Or, you could start at Sunrise Point and go either clockwise or counterclockwise. You could also take advantage of the shuttle and skip the 2.5 miles of Rim Trail that connects the two parking lots.


Spur pano

I found myself at a point where there’s a spur on the ridge. A line of rocks discourages hikers from following the trail to the point, but clearly it’s often visited. This point gives a beautiful panoramic view of the curving canyon below. I could also see the trail drop steeply below, to what is perhaps the low point of the trail below Sunrise Point. At the bottom there’s a group of signs. Tower Bridge is 200 yards downhill and Sunrise Point is 1.7 miles above.


Tower Bridge (right)

I went down to a spot with a nice view the Tower Bridge and took a short break here. Munched my tail mix and meant to slather on a second coat of SPF. I got distracted by the view and made my way a quarter-mile up the trail before I remembered to apply more sunscreen.

This truly is a fantastic landscape. It’s only human nature to see things in these formations. There’s the Queen, of course. But I saw a Buddha on an altar, a fat chef with a big floppy hat, busts of forgotten ancient Roman senators. There are castles and cathedrals, too, if you care to see them.


China Wall

Near here I ran into four twenty-somethings coming down. “Are you starting or finishing?” they asked. I told them I’d started at Fairyland Canyon. They said that’s where they were headed. They wanted to get an earlier start, but one of them works in the park and had to work late yesterday; “So it goes,” they said. When I started this morning it was sunny and cool with brilliant cloudless blue skies. Now, it was sunny and on the hot side, the sun relentless and sky still cloudless. At least we had a nice breeze to take the edge off. I’m glad I got an early start.


Rim view

On the section of Rim Trail between the two parking lots I ran into the couples from earlier. The first, the ones I didn’t chat with, I asked, “Didn’t we pass each other down below?” “Yeah, we remember you. We’re doing the loop, too.” When I came upon the second couple, they laughed as soon as they saw me. Some time ago they realized neither of us had asked where the other had started. They assumed I’d started where they did; I assumed they’d started where I did. The two couples were still only a few minutes apart – although not together, they managed to keep up almost identical paces.

The Rim Trail isn’t that spectacular, compared to the rest of the hike. This trail gives a few views much like many of the places you can drive to but much of the trail has a view to the west instead. Campgrounds instead of hoodoos.

I arrived back at my starting point at 12:30, having covered 8 miles and 2,309′ gross elevation change in four and a quarter hours. Net elevation change looks to be more like 900′, with a 400′ climb between the two lowest points and the usual ups and downs. I felt like I was taking my time; didn’t feel rushed to have kept that pace. I made it a point to pause often to take a good look around, enjoy the moment.

I stopped here for a rest, snacked on some more trail mix and drank plenty of water. Two liters turned out to be plenty; I’d barely had more than one, which matched the ranger’s prediction. The third couple I met down below came by when I was resting. I said “Hello again” but they didn’t seem to recognize me.

I was back in the car by 1:00. I decided to enter the park, take the road to the very end, then stop at each of the overlooks on the way back. By now, many of the views were beginning to look the same. Inspiration Point stands out, though. It is above perhaps the densest collection of hoodoos in the Park. On the west side of the road is a short stretch of area burned by recent forest fires. Research tells me this fire was in 2009.


Natural Bridge

This survey of all the scenic overlooks took me until about 3pm. About this time I decided that instead of eating my camp food, I’d grab a bite in one of the restaurants. A bit early for dinner, but I’ll have the remainder of the day’s trail mix ration for a late snack.

We had a bit of high cloud cover last night. The moon will set even later tonight, so no Milky Way (unless I decide to set an alarm in the middle of the night) but perhaps things will be marginally better without clouds. As of 5:15, still not a cloud in the sky.

I’m a bit concerned about navigation on tomorrow’s drive. Yesterday, when I wanted to see if I’d missed the junction with UT 12, I had no cell service and thus had no maps. I suspect a similar fate may befall me tomorrow, so I’ve downloaded that section of maps to the phone. We’ll see how off-line navigation works.

Took a shower just before dark, then sat watching the sky change. Listened to Dhafer Youssef while the sun set, Phillip Glass as the stars lit up. Saw a satellite pass over, even saw a shooting star. Hit the sack by 10:40. Campsites on my row faced the highway, maybe forty yards away. You’d be surprised how many motorists hit those rumble strips.

Bryce Canyon National Park is an interesting place, but it’s a bit of a one-trick pony. It’s all about the hoodoos, and although you see a few hoodoos in other places, Bryce has the fantastic concentration of them. That’s all BCNP is about and this concentration is not vast, so the park is pretty compact. From the entrance station to the southernmost overlook, the road is only 17 miles long. The Park isn’t very wide; just some of the plateau above and not far below the hoodoos. I think you could hike every mile of trail here in two or three visits. It’s not a place I would want to visit often, but I’d certainly come back here again. I’d hike Navajo trail again with pleasure. I’d like to spend some time in the other parks in the area, so passing through here again is fairly likely.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 1 – Denver to Bryce Canyon

Back in December I was working in San Francisco. I reached out to a few Golden Gate Lotus Club members in an attempt to get together for dinner or adult beverages. For one reason or another I was never able to visit with anybody. In the course of these emails and phone calls I learned GGLC would be having a track day at Laguna Seca in July.

I started planning almost immediately. The plans changed many times, but the central idea of the trip was lapping at Laguna Seca. In its final form, the trip would include several National Parks, three race tracks, visits to six states, and driving something like 3,500 miles.

Saturday, July 9

It’s here, it’s finally time to hit the road. I will be covering a lot of ground, literally, in the next two weeks. We start off with a big mileage day, and we start by violating Rule #1: No Interstate Highways. I’m on I-70 westbound until some miles after Green River, UT.

If you’re going to drive on the interstate, I-70 west of Denver is as good a place as any to do it. It’s quite scenic, as interstates go, what with the climb to the Eisenhower Tunnel, Vail Pass, and Glenwood Canyon. I left the house at 5:40, so it was still quite cool at high elevations. I wanted to run Glenwood Canyon topless but I waited until Avon to pull over and take the top off. It only took a few minutes for me to turn the heat on full blast. I kept thinking, as I was shivering, that this chill would be a fond memory in the heat I expected later in the trip. I didn’t complain about the cold.

The short canyon between Debeque and Palisade is a preview of what the Colorado River does a few hundred miles down stream.  Here the canyon is not deep but it has a bit of the character of the Grand Canyon and what I might see when I cross it again in a couple of weeks near Page, Arizona. This canyon section is only a few miles long and dumps us in Palisade where the almost otherworldly cliffs on the north side of the road contrast with the precise grid of the peach orchards on the south.

I gassed up in Fruita, last gas in Colorado. Most of the exits between the state line and Green River offered no services. At Green River there’s a sign that said “No services on I-70 next 106 miles.” I only had to go a short distance longer before exiting, but even on UT 24 there was nothing until Hanksville where I stopped for lunch. Utah has long stretches of desolation. Between I-70 and Hanksville I saw one small red outcropping of hoodoos, a foreshadowing of things to come.

It was now the heat of the day in the high desert – I put the top back on at my lunch break.

At Hanksville the character of the road changes from high desert to mesa and canyon. The road goes along the Fremont River; the bottom of the canyon is green and the canyon walls vary from nearly white to dun to red. There’s even a layer of green that almost matches the color of the sage brush. This is iconic old-Western landscape, the stuff John Ford movies are made of.

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When planning the route, I was so focused on Bryce Canyon I didn’t notice that I’d be passing through Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. There are no entrance stations for these parks, just drive right through. I didn’t even know I was in Grand Staircase-Escalante until I met a ranger who gave me a map after I answered questions about my car.

Capital Reef is red sandstone, carved by water. It supported the Fremont people as much as two thousand years ago. They lived in pit houses (dug into the ground, with thatch roofs) and natural rock shelters. Several petroglyphs can be viewed just a few yards from the road. The park is much bigger north-to-south than east-to-west; the road passes through only a few miles of the park and certainly gives only a brief glimpse of what’s to offer.

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Chimney Rock (extreme right)

A few miles after leaving Capital Reef we arrive at the junction with UT 12. Here we turn south and enter Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. When I was eating lunch back in Hanksville, I overheard a couple at the next table talking about this road – they didn’t like the drop offs. A bad road for an RV might be a good road for a Lotus. The road starts off quite pleasant, running through a section of the Dixie National Forest, with scenic overlooks every few miles.

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Grand Staircase-Escalante

After a while I get to the stretch of road the couple was talking about. The road goes along the spine of a narrow ridge, just a bit wider than the road itself, with steep drops off both sides. I stop here to take the top back off; it has cooled down a bit. We’ve climbed to over 9,000’ above sea level.


Lotus road!

Utah is a bit of a geological marvel. Pretty much the whole place is interesting. I always joke that Wyoming is only interesting around the edges, and that about half of Colorado is interesting. In the last few miles I’ve passed through two National Parks and a National Monument. What isn’t park or monument is Indian Nation or Bureau of Land Management land. Just about all of southern Utah is federal land in one form or another, and it contains many wonderful views.

I get to Bryce Canyon Pines by 5:30, get checked in, assemble the tent, empty the car by 6:00. Then I head into the park to scout it for tomorrow. It’s a short drive from the campground. In the visitor center, I chat with a ranger about which trails he recommends from my list.

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Hiking in the hoodoos

He says I have plenty of time to do Queen’s Garden and directs me to Sunset Point (not to be confused with Sunrise Point). I have a couple of hours of sunlight left so I head down the Queen’s Garden trail. It’s a fun little trail. Queen’s Garden, it turns out, has a hoodoo that looks, in silhouette, like a famous statue of Queen Victoria. Near here the trail connects with a trail to the Navajo Loop. This was recommended by the ranger, so rather than return the way I came, I follow the Navajo Loop trail. I could have gone left or right at the junction; my choice to go left turns out to be the correct choice.

It’s 1.4 miles back to Sunset Point. The trail is very narrow in places, squeezing through the hoodoos. Before long I find myself standing at the foot of dozens of switchbacks heading up, up, up. I was back to the top and in the car by 8:15.

There are some high clouds; not sure what sort of sky we’ll have tonight. In any event, I won’t try any astrophotography.

Plan tomorrow is to hike the Fairyland Loop – 8 miles, 2300’ elevation change. That shouldn’t take more than 5 hours, I’m guessing. I’ll need to ask at the visitor center for another short hike now that I’ve already done the one that was suggested.

Back at the tent, it was quite late and I didn’t want to bother with trying to figure out the camp stove in the dark, so my first camp meal will have to wait. I did mix a batch of trail mix for the morning and had a small sample of it as a late snack. The sun doesn’t fully set until after 9:30, and with the waxing crescent moon the Milky Way was not visible. I hit the hay a bit after 10:30. One problem – I neglected to scout the bathroom situation before it got dark. They’re porta-potties, not actual bathrooms. I made a half-hearted search for one in the dark. It wasn’t until morning that I found out the map has the one nearest to me on the wrong side of the road.


The camp site