August 1st – September 10th, 2018
From Duvall, WA to Santa Fe, NM and back at a whopping 6,873 miles of driving. From Palouse Falls in southeastern Washington, to Four Strong Winds Kennel in Potlach, ID, our many adventures, both planned and unplanned, offer some wonderful memories to share.
One of our hightlits on the journey was hunting fossils at a famous deposit near Kemmerer, WY. At American Fossil, you can dig all day for a fee, and keep what you find, though there are some rare exceptions. Bernard and I loved our first planned dig so much, we decided on our way back to Washington, that we would go a second time.
We were armature geologists with a passion for all things crust related, which helped focus our planning in the big drive. Though our destination was Santa Fe, NM, we wanted to take our time getting too and from the southwest, enjoying the topography as we traveled, as that was what we were going to be seeing most of anyway, and it was truly a pleasure to “enjoy the scenery”.
Near Vernal UT, we tracked down the most amazing petroglyphs and petrographs at a place stewarded by McConkie Ranch. I’d ever seen (though I am sure I’ve seen little out there). These culturally rich stories in pictorial language -vague gestures, stark shape, sending a message to all who gaze; my mind searching for understanding, always wondering. The art sprawled across over a mile of canyon wall, and that was only what we had access to at the ranch. The family who allows public contact with their precious artifacts, are very generous indeed, and they say the land will continue to be open to the public (with a small parking fee of $5 for continued maintenance of the trail), so long as the pictures are left undisturbed.
In Idaho, we encountered a forest on fire, and so, spent the evening at Arrowrock Reservoir outside Boise, ID. There, a swarm of mormon crickets Anabrus simplex, gave us a warm welcome as we watched an orange sun set in a red sky. Fire is part of forest ecology, but with the complete disruption of natural cycles by human development (lack of enough elk to brows down forest under-story, keeping tinderbox environments to a minimum for example), conflagrations can happen, always threatening human life because we are building into these self-cultivated hot zones. We also noted how low the reservoir was, as with growing population, growing demand consumes more natural resources, though those resources remain finite. When will too much become not enough?
In New Mexico, we met with family and enjoyed many excursions into the surrounding public land available in the southwest. Tsankawi Prehistoric Sites was one such place, and if you are anywhere near Bandelier National Monument, please go. This site is a chance to see the homes of early N. America Peoples. The rock cliffs were fortifications for villages who made there homes in the rock. The homes were no so much caves in the rock, but wooden lean-to structures against the rock. Below is a photo of a foot path carved deep into the stone paired with the tourist path above, as the more worn trail is really too narrow for people of today. It was possibly also a way to catch water, channeling down the rock faces into catchment basins below. When drought hit in the late 16th century, the people were forced to abandon their well loved home. Climate change has been shifting populations since the beginning of time. I wonder how long the people held out before finally getting the message and move on?
If you visit the southwest today during August, you might experience the monsoon season. Rains do come to a lot of the desert, and we happened to time our visit to hit New Mexico’s mushroom spring! Bernard and I scoured the hillsides of nearby mountain forests and found an abundance of wonderful fungi. The basket below shows the diversity of edible shrooms we collected in only a few hours of walking around. It was a truly magical time in the mountains, and we were so lucky to witness the rains. I also found my first white king bolete Boletus barrowsii, a rare treat in foraging circles.
We also continued our search for petroglyphs and found one site that had the most Kokopelli depictions available to the public. This too was a wonderful rock moment, climbing a cliff of basalt above The Rio Grande and finding a concentration of prehistoric art like nothing I’d ever seen. Studying the art, I often found that moving back and forth across the space from different directions revealed new pictures, depending on where I stood. I wondered how important stance along the rock canvas mattered, also how much had changed since the original rock was carved. It was evident that some of the stones had fallen down, causing a shift in perspective. This site, because of it’s ease of access, had a lot of modern graffiti on top of the original art, making it hard at times to sort copies from original work. It was great to walk right up to the face of the rock, experiencing these forms so freely, yet sad to also see how people had misused the space, carving into what was probably quite sacred and unique stories. We carve the earth in much the same way throughout civilization, never truly looking into the soil and stone we turn in the name of progress.
Protected open space, where plants, animals, and people can enjoy the natural cycle of each season uninterrupted, is near to impossible today. The topography of the landscape has been altered so drematically by human hands, it is sometimes hard to see, but even in the picture below, Valles Caldera seems like prestine wilderness, and it is now in protection, but it will take many more generations of stewardship to let this habitat return to her own. For hundreds of years, settlers grazed cattle and sheep in this valley, cutting all the trees back and driving out wild animals like the elk, who once roamed here in the tens of thousands. In recent years, forest fires have wrought havoc on the surrounding mountain tops, leaving a reminder of nature’s ability to quickly change the environment. If you take another look, you can see even more powerful energies of the earth at work; the very rim of this caldera reminds us of the extrema geology right under our feet. Many millions of years ago, this area was home to many large volcanoes, spilling ash and lava across the landscape, an impossible place for any life to survive.
The beauty of nature can be short lived, but in our short stint on earth, we struggle to see the bigger ecological picture. On our trip, I sometimes struggled with feeling outside of the natural world, usually looking at it from within a truck at 60mph. We spent a lot of time out in nature, camping, hiking, sitting, watching, melting in, but still, gas stations, grocery stores, and the scope of man’s intrusion into natural cycles through industrial and commercial activity were impossible to ignore.
Even in more remote spots of National Forest, where we drove several hours to get into back country, we came upon cattle guards, fencing, and a lot of cows. Most of the National Forest in the US rents out the land to loggers, miners, frackers, ranchers, and other takers of our public natural resources. Those materials turn into fast food burgers, unleaded fuel for the truck, paper in a journal, jewelry, even parts of a cell phone, all of our materials come from nature. We must consume, to live, but our consumption is left unchecked, and our population keeps growing, therefor demanding more. How many more cows can we put in the shrinking forests? How many more of those forests have to be cut down. What if wildfires keep growing? Where will we get our resources then?
Even in the picture above, burned forest is the backdrop now for grazing cattle. Ranchers take advantage of new growth within the national forest surrounding Valles Caldera. Forest fires do renew the soil, but they should not be hot enough to burn all the trees like this. Then new growth begins, but if you run cattle on that new growth, it will be very hard to get trees to regrow. For ranchers, that’s just fine, because open pastures are better for grazing than forests, which shade out grasses below. Without proper recovery management for burned forests, those forests may be lost forever.
In Colorado, Bernard and I took time to visit my old stomping ground near South Park, in The Lost Creek Wilderness. This is a place which is cultivated as wilderness, yet still allows cattle to graze. At leas we could enjoy the grand nature without too many cow patties where we camped. Wilderness is supposed to be left to its own, with access for people to enjoy primitive pursuits in a more intact back country. On this night, we woke to below freezing temperatures and realized summer was coming to an end. This site was also the highest place we camped, at about 10,000 feet above sea level.
Fire was a constant companion on the road, for better or worse. We did enjoy taking the time to design safe and warming campfire ovens in some places where fire danger was high. At this site in Puma Hills Colorado, we camped in a boulder field and were able to make a wonderful rock oven. This charming evening scene with our two camp chairs was a nightly occurrence for many days, and we grew quite fond of the ritual. Our first night back in Duvall, we sat in the living room and felt a little less connected without fire. Luckily, in a few months the woods stove will be back on, and fire will become a routine once again in our day to day living.
Our second quarry dig took place in Florissant, CO. The dig site was known for it’s insect fossils, and though they were very small, we managed to find a few in the soft shale. Millions of years can be traced in only a few thin layers of rock, spanning time, climate change, evolution, and endless other signs of the change our planet has seen through its creation. All the small things, microscopic things that make up our world, the endless learning as we delve deeper into the bones of the earth, how enriching!
We did take a second trip to Kemmerer, WY, and dug ourselves a few more cool fish from the shale beds. Bernard enjoys driving with his fish against the backdrop of shallow sea sholes now rolling with grasslands instead of ocean waves. As we spent more time interpreting the landscapes around us on our travels, we began to see extinct volcanoes all around, incredible upheaval in the earth’s crust. We wondered at how stable and calm the land is now, and has remained through human history in our little blip on the earths history as a whole. Mother nature could flip on her tectonic plate shuffle and turn us all head over heel overnight if she likes, and we are helpless to even comprehend such destructive force.
We had the pleasure of spending a few days in Teton Valley Idaho, on the other side of The Teton Mountains from Jackson Hole, WY. The Teton Range is the youngest mountain range in America. The tectonic plates working their magic here are the same faults shared by Yellowstone National Park. In the picture above, we spent the night in an old shepard’s wagon, enjoying a more rustic night on the range. On Labor Day, we were invited to join friends on The Teton River for a float. I even purchased a two day fishing license and caught some tasty trout while we lazily meandered down the river with breathtaking views of the mountains. We also saw 3 moose.
In Yellowstone, we took time to appreciate the geothermal activities of the area. We spent 2 nights in Norris Camp Ground, taking day trips into the surrounding park to see wildlife, geysers, and a lot more. While touring Norris Geyser Basin, we happened to bare witness to the awesome power of Steamboat Geyser. Above is a picture of the geyser before eruption, below, behold the awesome power of nature!
We watched this explosive action for a while, the realized the truck was getting covered in silica across the parking lot from the eruption, and took our leave to save the windshield from micro scratches. It was still a great experience, and we have lots of great footage of the eruption. WordPress is not very friendly with video content, so I will share a link to You Tube instead.
Yellowstone National Park is an epic place, and I’d like to go back to spend more time there exploring, especially in less popular seasons like winter to avoid crowds. We hung out a lot in Lamar Valley, hoping to see wolves. We didn’t but buffalo behavior was all around, and we spent an enjoyable amount of time roaming with them across the glacially formed valleys beyond the thermal activity of the caldera. Recognizing when something was volcanic, versus ice flow in form, was a great lesson from the park.
In our final driving, we stopped off in Potlach Idaho to meet the momma dog of my next puppy. Bill is an old world mountain man with a passion for good hunting dogs. I’ve been talking with him via email for many months now and already put down a payment for a Large Munsterlander puppy in 2019. I’ve chosen this breed for temperament, drive, and the challenge of training a good hunting dog. My old pup Indo, who died in 2017, was such amazingly trained dog, I can’t take all the credit, but I want to see if the training was really partly my gift, by trying a more formal breed with the intention of hunting grouse and truffles. It was a pleasure to finally meet the breeder n person, see his dogs, and watch them work a field as we took a stroll.
Finally, after 40 days of driving, we headed back into Washington and made the long eastern crossing back to The Cascades. In coming over Snoqualmie Pass on I90, we were greeted by rising clouds and forming rain. Truly, the Pacific Northwest, the temperate rain-forest, this special place is where we call home. Though Bernard and I talked a few times about why we might move to a particular place we visited, we always came back to our beloved western Washington as the ideal, even while picking some epic mushrooms in New Mexico. The great thing about this trip, is we learned how close some of these amazing places really are. Yellowstone is less than 12 hours from our doorstep, that’s a day or two of beautiful driving to enjoy. We’ll continue to plan more trips into the field, but also want to take more time to appreciate what’s already in our backyard. Washington state is truly a lifetime of exploring, and we’re well on our way!