Archive for the ‘The Great Outdoors’ Category

ICBM

Monday, September 9th, 2013

2013-09-07 11.27.45

While riding through the Badlands a couple of days ago, I happened upon a campground that was nestled in a remote area. Upon investigation I discovered it was a free camping area. The map describes it as a primitive campground because there is no water available and no flush toilets. It meets all my needs, however: picnic tables with sun shades over them, oder-free toilets, and trash containers. The only drawback is that it is on a washboardy, dirt road, eight miles from any cell reception. I will probably spend a couple of days here and try one of the hikes the information board lists.

Yesterday, I rode five miles outside the park to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. The site consists of two locations – the underground launch control center and the Minuteman II missile (unarmed) in the silo. This site was part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991 that deactivated over half the ICBM’s in the northern plains. I was disappointed that the elevator was broken and tours down into the command center were canceled. I watched a film and looked over some of the displays and then rode to the actual missile site 16 miles from the command center.

At the missile silo there was a park service volunteer answering questions. The giant 4-feet thick concrete cover is rolled back half-way across the opening and a glass cover was built over the tube to give tourists a view down into the silo where the missile sits.

There is quite a lot to do here in SD. Ellsworth A.F.B. has a air and space museum with a training launch facility, where you can tour an underground missile silo. And, of course, there is Mt. Rushmore, Wind Cave NP, Jewel Cave NM, and the Black Hills to see, so it may be a while before I get into Wyoming.

Pawnee Bluffs

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

I pass several herds of cattle, sometimes standing in the road or very close, and I can’t help but lean out the window and holler “Moooo!”. This is the high plains of Colorado, a sweeping, treeless expanse of rolling hills and prairie grass, broken only by scars of dry river beds. To the north the landscape is painted with tall towers of white windmills, rotating silently and reminding me of the century I live in. If it weren’t for the blur of windmill blades and bob of an occasional oil pump, one could almost imagine a tribe of Pawnee Indian braves, riding across the plains with bows drawn, chasing a herd of buffalo.

There are no Indians roaming the prairie anymore (or herds of buffalo, for that matter), but a section of this land is set aside for future generations to see. The Pawnee National Grasslands is packed with early American history and a diverse multitude of wildlife. Spring or Fall is the best time to visit. It is not the mountains or forests, certainly not lakes or meadows or canyons, but it has a beauty of its own.

I am camped high on a hill, near the trailhead and picnic area for the Pawnee Bluffs. It has been hot in the afternoon, but a steady breeze and a little spritzing keeps the camp bearable. It is always windy here – even throughout the night – and is undoubtedly the reason for the wind farm to the north. I’m not sure how many wind turbines there are, but one person I talked with said they stretch all the way to Nebraska.

I receive several TV stations and get partial internet, so at least my nights are semi-filled with entertainment. As the sun goes down and night settled over the prairie, the windmill tower lights all twinkle like a Christmas display. Off in the distance to the south, several oil wells have pipes that spew out flames twenty-four hours a day. Combine the lights and the flames with a dark, star-filled sky, and I get quite a show each night.

My plan is to stay put through the holiday and then move on north. There are a couple of hikes out to the bluffs, and a little motorcycle exploring to keep me busy, or as busy as I want to be.

RMNP

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

How lucky am I? The day I plan to see Rocky Mountain NP is free to everyone. It seems that the Park is celebrating its birthday, or more precisely, the day it became a national park, and to show appreciation to the public, waived the twenty dollar admission fee. This was good news to droves of tourists swarming the park, but bad news to yours truly, who incidentally, gets in free everyday. I should have waited another day, but I figured how bad could it be. As it turned out, quite bad.

The day was warm and sunny with just a slight chance of afternoon showers. I parked my van at the visitors center in Estes Park and unloaded my motorcycle. I was carefully to take extra clothes for warmth at higher altitude, and I brought a lunch I planned to eat at some picturesque spot in the mountains. Almost immediately I realized it was a mistake to insert myself into what can only be described as a traffic jam on the mountain.

The drive up the mountain highway was not that bad. Some cars would stop in the road to take in a view or watch a herd of elk but mostly keep moving along, but at the scenic pullouts and overlooks, it was impossible to even find a parking spot for a motorcycle. I finally made it to the top of the Trail Ridge Road. At 12,183 feet it is the highest major road in North America. There was still snow in patches and definitely cold. I enjoyed the ride but was glad to turn around and descend to warmer weather. When you are in the mountains it seems like they go on forever.
Tonight I am at a campground in Pawnee National Grasslands. It is pretty hot here but there are nice shade trees to sit under. I spent s lot of time this afternoon spritzing.

Where Are You?

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Where are you? That’s a question I ask myself quite often. When you are using a GPS for navigation, you always know what road you are on and how far it is to the next turn, but to get the big picture, I like to pull out a map several times a day and pretend I’m a castaway lost at sea. I don’t have to pretend all the time, either.

I left Mesa Wednesday, 21st, and headed north on I17 towards Flagstaff. Intermittent rain followed me for most of the way and seemed to cool the air until I reached higher altitude. The ride was uneventful, but a previous restless night caused me to get sleepy, so I made several stops to get out and stretch and resolved to stop early.

I saw signs for Walnut Canyon National Monument and decided to stop. Even though I had been there before I thought the walk down to the cliff dwellings would be good exercise and rouse me from my drowsy state. I’ve always thought it would be neat to live in a cliff dwelling but it would have been a hard life. It would certainly be no place to live if you walked in your sleep!

I only drove a few more miles and pulled on to a forest road in the Coconino National Forest. It was a nice wooded camping spot, but unfortunately located a short distance from a firing range. For about an hour after dinner I could hear the shooting of guns. They would fire off several rounds, then it would be quiet for a while – I’m guessing while they reloaded and examined their targets for damage – then another magazine was emptied, until at last they must have run out of ammo and I heard no more shots.

The next morning I drove I40 to Albuquerque and then I25 to Santa Fe. I was glad not to have hit Albuquerque at rush hour, the traffic was insane even during the early afternoon. It is an easy merge on to the interstate north and I passed through with no problems. Shortly after Santa Fe I saw a sign for Pecos National Historical Park and decided to take a look. The decision to stop at these places is easier when you get in free.

The Pecos Valley was once home to a thriving Pueblo Indian community, with various cultures and tribes trading and building a huge complex of dwellings. When the Spaniards came to the area looking for gold, they were met with uncertainty and fighting often followed. Later on missionaries tried to persuade the natives to turn to Christianity, but the Indians found it difficult to warm to the idea of one God and on one occasion burned down the mission and killed the priest. You walk along a path that winds through ruins and pieces of foundation and read about how they lived centuries ago.

Tonight I am just south of Denver at a Walmart. There were signs posted that said “No RV parking” but I went in and asked them about it and they directed me to a place where it is allowed. I would like to hold up until after the weekend but I need to find someplace more permanent to park. I am very close to Rocky Mountain National Park and it may be calling me to come visit.

JMT Reflections

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

As I ready myself for my next travel adventure, I thought it best to reflect on my hike of the JMT before it becomes a more distant memory. For a complete and thorough account of our hike, tune in to the Trovert’s/Dr. Suuz trail journal and read the story in detail. I like to blog daily when I set about a new experience – sort of a journal or diary of my thoughts – but with no way to contact the outside world for several weeks, I slipped into living the experience and let the chronicling go. For my own sake, I am trying to remember what I felt during that time and record it for the record.

I learned that age is ever creeping up on me. In some ways, 200 miles on the JMT was harder than 2000 miles on the AT, and it is probably true that the AT did things to my body that had not healed and resurfaced as I walked through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I feel lucky that all my aches and pains were not severe enough to end my hike as they did to Dr. Suuz, but I pause to evaluate ever doing a long hike again.

There were differences in hiking the JMT and the AT. On the AT you could usually find civilization within a couple of days. If you needed food, equipment repair, healthcare, internet, phone coverage, or a bed and shower, they were not far away. On the other hand, the JMT is so remote from civilization that a satellite phone and helicopter is sometimes the only way to resolve an emergency. Some of the trail on the AT was harder to negotiate than the JMT, but the extreme altitude of the Sierra mountain passes leaves you gasping for oxygen with each step. The AT is mostly in the woods but the JMT climbs high above treeline and through sparse vegetation where the UV rays beats down relentlessly. I got one of the worst sunburns I have ever had.

I am forever grateful to the Troverts for their excellent planning of our trip. The logistics they meticulously devised allowed us to adjust for gradual altitude acclamation, resupply at reasonable intervals, and organize transportation. The JMT takes a lot of planning and the Troverts and Dr. Suuz worked many hours arranging all the details.

It may seem like I’m complaining about hardships of the trip, but I don’t want to give the impression that my hike was in any way a bad experience. I had a wonderful time. The hardships of a hike like this only add to the satisfaction and enjoyment of the adventure. Sure you work hard to reach that mountain pass, but the views are worth every bit of struggle to get there. Of course you are tired and sore at the end of the day, but it’s a good feeling to know you accomplished your goal. Naturally it’s uncomfortable to sit on a rock and eat your dinner out of a package, but to gaze out from your camp at a glacial lake on a high meadow surrounded by granite, towering peaks, makes it the best place you can imagine.