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  • From the Loneliest Highway to the Most Populous State

    Great Basin National Park sits on the eastern side of Nevada. To get to Califonia from there requires driving route 50, which is called the “Loneliest Highway.” I assumed that loneliest also meant desolate, but I was wrong. 

    If I could paint, this is what the highway would look like.

    The drive was quite beautiful and traversed many green mountains and wide valleys with the occasional small town. But it was long—over 400 miles to get to Lake Tahoe. 

    A sunbow through the sun roof.

    After almost three weeks on the road, it was wonderful to pull up to the Resort at Squaw Creek and check into place with a comfortable king-sized bed and a fabulous view of the mountains.

    Looking from the lobby across to the ski area.

    The resort is just a 10-minute walk through the woods to Olympic Valley, the site of the 1960 winter Olympics. I was surprised at the small size of Olympic Valley. The Olympics are such a huge commercial operation these days that Olympic Valley would not be able to handle the crowds. I found out that is is the smallest resort area to have hosted a winter Olympics.  

    Hydroponics at the resort.

    We didn’t do much here except to chill-ax, eat, and enjoy the view. It was the perfect place to decompress from an active road trip. On our first night there was a spectacular sunset.

  • Ancient Trees

    Great Basin National Park is one of the few areas where you can find the bristlecone pine. A short hike (2.8 miles round trip) with some elevation gain is all it takes to commune with these longed lived trees—many of then thousands of years old. Unlike me, they thrive in harsh weather, dry soil, cold temperatures, and at elevations of up to 11,200 feet.  The trunks appear warped and twisted. Their needles are, as their name suggests, form a bristle, much like a bottle brush. 

    The stand of trees has a nature trail through the forest with informative signs about the trees posted along the way. The trees are amazing. i especially enjoyed looking at the coloration and striation of the wood, the broadness of the trunks, and the twisted shapes.

    On the way back we took a short detour to Lake Teresa, a beautiful alpiine lake with no one there. I think most people pass it by to get to the bristlecones.

  • Caving and Gazing at Great Basin

    Great Basin became a National Park in 1986. Its relatively isolated location attracts only 200,000 visitors per year. That’s approximately 95% fewer visitors than what Yellowstone gets. Perhap that is why this park does not collect a fee, although there is an optional donation box in the visitor center.

    There are three not-to-be-missed features in the park: Lehman cave, the bristlecone forest (see next post), and the night sky. We planned ahead, so we arrived at the park with tickets for the Lehman cave tour. It's a good thing, because the tours were sold out. 

    I’ve been to a number of caves, but Lehman is my favorite that’s available for public tour. It is loaded with formations, many of them are rare (shields, helictites, anthodites). During the tour, the ranger turns out the lights so you can experience total darkness. It’s awesome! 

    Baker, Nevada has temperatures typically in the 90's F. during the summer. The cave is a cool 50 degrees or so, making it the place to be midday. 

    The Lehman Caves visitor center is the start of the cave tour, but it is also the location of the astronomy program that runs a few nights a week.  Great Basin National Park is a declared dark sky site. The park doesn’t have any upward pointing white lights that can wash out the stars, so the Milky Way is easy to see. On astronmy nights, one of the rangers gives a talk outdoors while the sun sets. After the talk, a group of the pull out the telescopes and aim them at such things as Jupiter and Saturn. Everyone gets a turn to look through the scopes. Even without the telescope, you can use your naked eye to see the Milky Way and search for the shapes of the constellations.

  • Learning Something Unexpected: 1p36 Deletion Syndrome

    When I went to Snowbird I expected to learn about the wildflowers and animals in that area. Indeed I did. The pot gut squirrel (Uinta ground squrirel) and moose are two of the furry species there. The wildflowers were amazing. I hiked through fields and fields of color—Indian paintbrush, lupines,primrose, moutain bluebells, gentian, and many, many more whose names I don’t know. What I didn’t expect was to learn about a rare disease—one that was identified in 1981—1p36 deletion syndrome. 

    Ski Resorts like Snowbird keep themselves busy in the summer by hosting conferences. It’s easy to spot attendees associated with each sort of conference, as attendees have their own “look.”  The Ichtyologist and Herpetologist  Conference had an almost equal mix of male and female attendees. They travelled in groups of 3 to 5, had animated conversations, and could be heard talking about fish and snakes. They sat on the comfy couches in the lounge and ate together in the restaurant. The attendess for another conference, whose name I didn’t catch, had primarily male attendess, dressed in collared shirts, and hung out lined up at the bar as they waited for a conference-related party to begin. I heard one of them complaining that the party was starting at 6:00 PM, far too early for a party in his opinion.

    One day I saw a lot of women with kids, and at least one of the kids in each group “looked different” and behaved a bit differently from what you’d expect. How different? Just enough to conclude that these women and their children must be here for a purpose. While in the lounge one night, one of the women struck up a converstaion and said she was there for a conference on 1p36 deletion syndrome.  She said that although there were technical presentations that most families were there to network with other families and provide each other with moral support.  There were some Dad’s there too, but one night all the women went out together and ended up in the lounge with a drink. They looked happy, the conversation was animated, and I got the sense that they were getting a well deserved night out without their children.  

    So what is it?  Deletion syndrome happens with a bit of DNA is missing from from chromosome 1, location p36. First noticed in 1981, it wasn’t until 1997 that the symptoms were established. Scientists haven’t gathered enough data to predict life expectancy, but it is clear that every individual is individual in the symptoms they get and in the severity of those symptoms. It depends on how much DNA material is missing. There is no cure, just strategies for managing symptoms. 

    The symptoms can be changes in facial structure, learning disabilities, problems communicating, heart, eye, muscle, and breathing issues. For more specifics see the http://www.1p36dsa.org/what-is-1p36-deletion-syndrome/

    On another night, we ran into the woman who spoke to us earlier. She was impressed that we took the time to find out (on the web) more about 1p36 deletion syndrome. She was so delighted that she brought over another Mom to meet us. She said,  “These people actually found out what deletion syndrome is.” It lifted their spirits to see that others cared. 

  • Hiking in Snowbird

    When most people think of Snowbird, they imagine skiing downhill. For me, it means hiking downhill. After getting off the tram at the top of Hidden Peak (11,000 feet elevation), I started my 3,000 foot descent on the Cirque trail. The first section of the Cirque is a ridge with 360 degree views. This hiking-only trail warns skiers not to enter. With sharp drop offs on either side, I can see why skiing—and mountain biking—aren’t recommended. 

    The tram, where the trail begins, is in the distance.

    The ridge is dry, windy, and rocky with the sort of rocks that roll underneath hiking boots. The Cirque trail ends with a few gentle switchbacks that connect to the Peruvian gulch trail. I heard reports of moose sightings in this area, but didn’t encounter any while traversing it. The one constant on the entire hike was the wildflowers. As the elevation changed, so did the mix of flowers. 

    These flowers were espcially aromatic. 

    The lower part of the Peruvian was closed for repair, so we were detoured to a dirt road that, in winter, was an easy ski trail. By the time I got back down to 8,000 feet I was ready to rest my downhill muscles even though I had hiked only 3.5 miles.

    View from the lower part of the trail.

  • Riding a Mountain Coaster

    The first thing most ski resorts turn to when trying to attract a summer crowd is mountain biking. Not all of us mountbain bike. Even if I did, I doubt I’d have the nerve or skill to bike a trail that loses 3,000 feet in 3 miles. So I was happy to see that Snowbird had non-biking activites that suited me. My favorite is the mountain coaster. Each car holds one person, and that person has the power use the brake—or not. 

    The track looks like a conventional roller coaster—lots of twists and sharp turns, but no loops. The first part is a haul uphill, like most coasters, to give the car the potential energy it will need to complete the course. At the top, the coaster begins to wind its way through the woods, coming what appears to be dangerously close to the trees. The last section is a downhill spiral, at the end of which the rider must apply the brakes to prevent the car from a sudden, and complete, stop.

    The last section of the mountain coaster.

    The first time I rode the coaster, I had just come from riding the summer version of the bobsled. On that ride, using the brakes were mandatory to prevent tipping at the curves. But the coaster is attached to the track in such a way that it will not tip regardless of speed. I was assured that the idea on the coaster was NOT to use the break except at the end.  

    Braking at the end.

    Most people ride the coaster without using the brakes, but a few get scared and slow down on the curves. They try to leave enough space between each rider to account for that, because if someone does slow, the car behind is obligated to slow down to prevent a crash. 

    I rode many times over two days—brake free! Lots of fun.

    Stopped at the bottom of the "summer bobsled."

  • The Largest Concentration of Hoodoos on the Planet

    Bryce Canyon National Park claims to have the largest concentration of hoodoos found anywhere on the planet. Hoodoos are columns of rock, the top of which is harder than the material lower on the column. It’s the hard top that protects the formations. From Fairyland Viewpoint, located just before the official park entrance, to Rainbow Point, the park is full of orange-cream colored rocky columns. Some of them evoke images of animals or people.  

    Bryce Point is perhaps the most famous viewpoint due to the high concentration of formations and the expansive view, but I also enjoyed Fairyland Point because it was more serene that Bryce Point and a smaller version of it. 

    The farther you drive in the park, the less crowded it gets (although the park really isn’t that crowded compared to Yosemite or Yellowstone). Rainbow Point at the end of the park didn’t have that many people, but the parking lot is so small that I was turned away the first time I drove there/ Yovimpa Point, just up the road, has far few visitors and a beauty and charm of its own. After spending some time at Yovimpa, I went back to Rainbow and found plenty of parking.

    Thunderstorms were a daily occurence when I was there. Around 3:00 PM each day, the skies let loose with rain and thunder. But by 6:00 PM, conditions were good for viewing the park. Except for the skies. The clouds never cleared at night to give a great view, although Bryce is known for its dark skies and astronomy program. 

    There are a number of good hikes in the park, some on the rim and some into the canyon. Canyon hikes provide a great “looking up” view of the formations.

    After seeing so many hoodoos, the trees start to have faces!

  • Death Valley at 117º F

    Looking at this image it’s impossible to tell that it’s 117º F outside. Yet if you had been in the hotel room when I placed my bare foot on the threshold of the door to the balcony, you would have seen me jump and yell because of the hot metal. Shoes are a must outdoors in this heat.

    Driving here in a modern car allowed me to enjoy the scenery without noticing that the temperature had been steadily rising from 80º F in Lone Pine to what it is now at the aptly named Furnace Creek. I feel lucky because the weather prediction a few days ago had been for 126º F. A few clouds rolled in to keep down the heat. 

    You might think that the only reason to come to Death Valley in July is to prepare for global climate change. That might be a great reason, but for me Death Valley is a stop on the way from Mammoth Lakes to Bryce Canyon. I could have motored through, but I was curious to experience what it feels like to be in a burning hot place. I found that standing in the naturally heated, spring fed pool is key to survival. And so is having an air conditioned room.

  • Mammoth, Mines, and a Mountain Lake

    As beautiful as Yosemite is, at this time of year I prefer drving through the park, over Mono pass, and heading for the Mammoth Lakes area. Tamarack Lodge is several miles outside the developed Mammoth area and situation on a Twin Lakes. Although there were lots of people camping and staying in the area, it was serene and uncrowded compared to Yosmite. 

    View of Twin Lakes from Tamarack Lodge.

    With only one full day to stay in the area, we hiked the Duck Pass trail to Emerald Lake and then upwards to a view point at about 9.800 feet elevation. The lake was small but beautiful and quite peaceful until the teenagers on a day camp adventure bolted onto the scene. There were about three different groups of kids hiking that day, all having a great time. 

    Later that day, we took the short hike to the ruins of the Consolidated Mining Company. I learned that not all natural things are good for you!

    There were  a few bunkhouses that were standing, several company buildings that were partially or completely fallen, and lots of mining equipment.

    The mine had a lower entrance (called an adit) and an upper one. Each was closed with a barred door to keep humans out and preserve the bat habitat.  The upper Adit had an amazing view of the mountains, although I suspect the men working there were too busy to enjoy it as much as I did.

    Upper mine entrance on the left.

    Detail of old building.

    Detail of bunkhouse.

  • Embracing Seattle in February

    Most people would agree that August is the best time to visit Seattle, when the temperature can get as high as 77 °F and chances of rain fall to near 0%. It’s true. Riding a ferry under blue skies, walking the waterfront, and eating outdoors in August is glorious. But if you want a more authentic Seattle experience, visit in the winter. In February, I set out to embrace Seattle. Fortunately, it was one week after a debilitating snow storm. I was prepared for rain and cold, but not snow.

    The Pike Place Market is one of the most iconic Seattle sites, so I booked The Inn at The Market with a view of Puget Sound. When I arrived, the sun was shining and the Olympic mountains revealed their snow-capped splendor. But within 24 hours, the scenery disappeared and I found myself pressing into a bitter cold head wind and pelted by rain. This was not the day to hang out in Myrtle Edwards Park. I headed back to the Market for an indoor walk.

    The main arcade of the market is covered and sheltered from wind. There are not too many people out on a nasty day in February, which makes it possible to stroll through the market without fighting crowds. Seeking warmth, I explored the levels below the arcade. I’ve been to the market on many visits to Seattle, but only on this visit did I discover a level lower than I’ve ever been. From the looks of the shops, I’d guess the rent decreases proportional to the level. 

    Shops included:  a flea-market full of things not likely to sell, several budding artists’ studios, a sous-vide culinary school, a few collectibles shops, and a book publisher. The market provided benches in the center of the floor, with signs stating that proper behavior is required at all times. These benches were popular with some of Seattle’s homeless. I was happy to see a place where people can get a brief respite from the winter weather. When I finally made my way to an upper level, I ended up popping out of an unmarked door next to a restroom. I have no idea whether I will be able to find that lower level again! 

    Now I was hungry. I grabbed some butter from De Laurenti’s, ginger beer from Rachel’s, a loaf of bread from Three Girls Bakery, and a crab from one of the seafood stalls. I devoured this feast in my hotel room, watching the ferries cross Puget Sound. Winter IS a good time to visit Seattle.