7,000 Year Old Rock Art… And Wile-e-Coyote

Are these vacant eyes staring at you from the ancient past? Probably not since these two 7,000 year old pecked indentations are merely two out of many that cover a rock at the Grimes Point Archeological Area.

I took a detour on my trip down Highway 395 from Reno to Mt. Whitney last summer to drive east on Highway 50 to the town of Fallon, Nevada. I was excited to visit the Grimes Point Archeological Area with its ancient rock art five miles east of the town. They represent some of the oldest petroglyphs in America. The oldest are located approximately 60 miles away at Pyramid Lake.

This sign greeted me at the entrance to the site. The strange lines on the left represent one of the petroglyphs found at the site.
Highway 50 stretching off into the east from Grimes Point across Nevada claims to be the loneliest road in the US. The grooves you see on the right are to wake up motorists who fall asleep while driving the road.
The circles and wavy lines represent some of the oldest petroglyphs found at the site. Rock art is made by using a rock to peck away the dark, desert varnish that covers rocks exposing the lighter colors underneath. You’ve seen many examples on my posts over the last three weeks. These petroglyphs are almost the color of the rock, which means that the desert varnish has had time to cover the rock art, literally thousands of years.
This is another example of pits, this time with grooves connecting them. It almost appears to be horns on a steer-like head, but who knows.
One of the pit covered rocks. Peggy and I found similar petroglyphs on the Big Island of Hawaii. Information at that site said that the pits had been used to place umbilical cords in.
This is what the countryside looks like at Grimes Point. A pickup hauling a trailer can be seen on Highway 50. Having ridden my bike across Nevada on my 10,000 mile bicycle trek and driven across the state numerous times, I can attest to its lonely, wide-open spaces. No problem with social-distancing out here!
Lichens added some fun color to the rocks.
There were some discernible figures such as this leaping or dancing stick figure. Is it “Come to me sweetie,” or “Gads, look at the size of that snake!”
I wonder if this asterisk-like petroglyph represents the sun.
Those with an overactive imagination might see a UFO landing!
The most mysterious to me was this horse-like figure. Horses went extinct in North America around 11,000 BCE and weren’t reintroduced until the 1500s CE. Petroglyphs at nearby Pyramid Lake date back to 10,000-14,000 BCE, however, so horses could have been around then. Maybe we are looking at a dog, coyote or wolf. Or maybe none-of-the-above.
Here we have a much more recent petroglyph from Canyon de Chelly showing Navajo hunters in pursuit of a deer. Note how light the petroglyphs are in comparison to Grimes Point.
I’ll close my coverage of Grimes Point with another pit covered rock. We can only wonder why.

I’ve enjoyed sharing petroglyphs with you. I can guarantee there will be more if for no other reason than the fact that Peggy and I enjoy them and are always searching for new sites. There are thousands throughout the Western United States. I can’t resist a few more from the Petrified Wood National Park and Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

This interesting collection of petroglyphs is from Canyon de Chelly. Check out the top. You’ve heard of having your ducks in a row? So, apparently, did the early Americans…
But how about having your turkeys in a row? These are pictographs at Canyon de Chelly, painted instead of pecked. The figure on the far right is Kokopelli playing his flute.
The ‘newspaper rock’ in Petrified Wood National Park is one of my favorites. Check out the figure to the right of the nudes. Could it be? Is it possible…
Yes! It’s Wile-e-Coyote! That does it for the day. Grin.

NEXT POST: I’ll take you on a visit to Crater Lake National Park.

A Bit of Humor Among the Rocks… The Petroglyphs of Three Rivers

Who would have ever thought that we would find a cow on a pedestal giving us ‘the look’ at the Three Rivers petroglyph site in New Mexico! Wait, there weren’t any cattle in North America when this petroglyph was made and the ‘cow’ isn’t standing on a pedestal, it is standing on its tail. And a big tail it is!

My blogging friend Cindy Knoke, who also likes petroglyphs, commented on my Sego Canyon post that it is “fun to try and interpret” rock art. And she’s right. Rock art can range from being a few hundred to several thousands of years old. The best we can do is make educated guesses about what the petroglyphs mean— and this, in turn, gives us a lot of room to use our imagination. Today I am going to take even more liberties in my interpretation and go looking for humor among the rocks. Hopefully the shamans won’t zap me.

I know that some of you are punctuation geeks. Obviously, I’m not. But I depend on Peggy to catch some of my more glaring errors. For example, I am constantly adding an apostrophe to “its” when none is needed. I know the difference, but apparently my fingers don’t. I ask all of you, however, do you think an apostrophe is required here?
I had to look twice, and maybe even three times. These shamans have created an imaginary bus for their journey into the other world— and imaginary seats.
This woman (or girl) is having a bad hair day. “I recognize that, ” Peggy says.
Speaking of having a bad day, I’d say that this Bighorn sheep qualifies. And that’s definitely a ‘why me’ expression on its face.
The problem for the guy with arrows is minimal comparison to this fellow who had turned around to see why his front legs are missing and discovered a badger draped across his body eating his back legs as well. The expression here is more like ‘What the…!”
The only solution is to get out while the getting is good, as fast as you can.
If you think your life is complicated… The rabbit is keeping its distance while the stick figures throw up their hands in dismay. Meanwhile a lizard uses its laser eyes to avoid the confusion. Don’t you just hate it when your day starts like this one.
A sure sign that big foot was here.
Bigfoot’s big feet.
Lest there be any doubt, a really big Bigfoot. The turkey can only look on with awe. But just how big ?
Cat Woman has an idea. And check out her expression.
I kid you not. And I certainly wouldn’t pull your tail. Ouch!
Okay, it appears that this frog has learned how to juggle. But sitting on a pointy thing while juggling? It brings the art form to a whole new level! Forget your flagpole sitters. This is the real thing.
It seems like Kilroy was here. With that thought, I’ll conclude today’s post.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: I have been working on my backpacking book, “It’s Five AM and a Bear Is Standing on Me.” I’m to the point now where I am writing the section on the 750 mile backpack trip I did two summers ago down the PCT to celebrate my 75th birthday. I’ve been going through my photos of the journey for inspiration and as a reminder. I decided it would be fun to rerun some of the photos in categories: trees, flowers, rocks, streams and lakes, etc. The should keep us busy for a few Wednesdays.

FRIDAY’S POST: I’ll do a wrap on Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreation Area.

The Grand Canyon: Celebrating 100 Years

I have journeyed into the Grand Canyon several times over the years: on foot, by raft, and by helicopter. The first was by mule in the late 60s. That’s me, second from the top on Charlie. I was sore for a week afterwards. I was a pound over the weight limit, so Charlie kept trying to bite me, plus walk as close to the edge as he could!

The Grand Canyon is truly one of the world’s great natural wonders. It’s celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year and I am quite pleased— and a little proud— that I have been returning there on a regular basis for 50 of those years. I’ve posted on my trips into the Canyon by foot and boat many times. Today, since I am still working on Burning Man photos and don’t have another Pacific Crest Trail post ready yet, I decided to reach back into my WordPress archives and put up some Grand Canyon photos. Happy 100th Grand Canyon!

Sunsets in the Canyon are always spectacular, whether you are on the outside looking in or the inside looking out. This was from an 18 day rafting trip Peggy and I took down the Colorado River with a group of friends.
Peggy and I are sitting above the Colorado River near an ancient Native American site.
Sunset at Zoroaster Campsite on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. (Photo by Don Green.)
You don’t have to hike or backpack, or raft, or fly, or ride grouchy mules to enjoy the beauty of the Canyon. You can drive up, and enjoy numerous pull-offs that give you incredible views.
The mouth of Havasu Creek is a common stop for rafters in the Grand Canyon. Our rafts look small beside the large tour boat. Our trip was based on a lottery that I won for an 18-day private trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Fortunately, I have friends with the expertise necessary to raft the Canyon.
While a veteran crew of boatmen handled the more dangerous parts of our 18 day journey through the Grand Canyon, I was allowed near oars on some of the tamer sections.
A morning view from out tent.. One of the fascinating things about the Grand Canyon is how it changes in the light.
Numerous side trips away from the river provided opportunities to explore other parts of the Canyon.
We were treated to views like this.
Waterfalls along Deer Creek.
This was a delightful waterfall, but I didn’t realize we were expected to jump off!
Jamie Wilson demonstrates.
This huge cavern is found along the river and is known as Redwall Cavern.
Another river view.
Looking up the Little Colorado River just above where it flows into the Colorado River. Note the water color and the mineral deposits.
With Steve at the oars, Peggy and I enter the infamous Lava Falls on the Colorado River, a perfect ten… that’s 10 as in rapids don’t get any more serious. There was a point where we disappeared under the water. (Photo by Don Green)
Bone, of course, went along on the raft trip and had his own life vest. Here, he decided that it was time for a photo op on the edge of a Sotar Raft.
Here he enjoys a perch on top of a barrel cactus. Don’t try this at home, kids. Or anywhere else.
Peggy stands next to Deer Creek Falls, a short walk from the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
I’ll conclude with a final sunset view from one of our campsites.

NEXT POST: Either on Burning Man or the Pacific Crest Trail. Depends on what I get done. (grin)

A ‘Ghost Mill’ at the Southern Entrance to Death Valley

Old, abandoned towns of the West are given the name of ghost towns. While Ashford Mill hardly meets the requirements of being a town, I decided we could at least think of it as a ‘ghost mill.’

Abandoned mines litter Death Valley’s history. In my last post, I featured one of the most successful mines in the area, the Harmony Borax Works. It was so successful that the twenty-mule team responsible for hauling its ore across the desert served as a logo for the long running TV show, Death Valley Days. The show was hosted by none other than Ronald Reagan in the 1964/65 season when I was a student at Berkeley. It’s possible I even watched an episode or two while avoiding the baton-wielding police sent to campus by Edwin Meese, Oakland’s District Attorney at the time— and Reagan’s future Attorney General.

Mercury, talc, gold, silver, sodium chloride, Epson salts, tungsten, and copper were some of the other minerals that miners pursued with visions of wealth dancing in their heads. Few were successful. Some 2000 mine ruins were left behind as their legacy. Ashford Mill is one such ruin. It was built by the Ashford brothers to process ore from their Golden Treasure Mine located 5 miles to the east in the Armargosa Range. The brothers alternated working the mine and leasing it out to various companies for over 30 years until they finally gave up in the early 40s. A lot of money, work and heartache was devoted to the effort, but the ‘golden treasure’ was not to be found. Today, all that remains of the mill are the cement walls of what was the office and a few remnants.

A view of the office as it now looks. I decided in would be fun to photograph the surrounding desert using the various openings as frames.
Looking out toward the Panamint Range.
The Golden Treasure Mine is located up in the mountains.
While there was little left of the old mill, I found this timber beam rather impressive.
Here’s Peggy looking cool in her shades while standing next to our red Toyota Tacoma. The Amargosa Range is in the background.

For all of our trips into Death Valley over the years, Peggy and I have never entered from the south end of the park. We remedied that this time by heading over to Pahrump from Las Vegas following Highway 160 and then cutting over to the remote town of Shoshone on 178 and on into Death Valley. Following are some of the photos that Peggy and I took illustrating this route.

Looking east from the southern entrance to Death Valley, Mt. Charleston dominates the view. A ski area for Las Vegas is located up in the mountains. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The road worked its way around this rock. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Climbing up toward the pass into Death Valley provided views like this. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And this.
Once over the top we began to make our way down into Death Valley.
The Panamint Range can be seen stretching across the horizon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I liked the contrast here.
Rocks made up of different minerals and laid down under differing geological conditions provide the color for which Death Valley is famous. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Check out this mountain as an example.
I’ll wrap up our trip into Death Valley with this photo that demonstrates just how flat things can get. I loved the perspective of the road disappearing into the distance. It seems like everything was converging.

NEXT POST: A bit of Las Vegas and the road north to Reno.

The 20 Mule Team Canyon… Death Valley Interlude

Our Toyota Tacoma pickup makes its way down a road that was once traveled by 20 mule teams hauling borax.

The red hood of our truck reflects a desert scene from the Twenty Mule Team Canyon in Death Valley. The short 2 1/2 mile side trip is one of our favorites in the National Park. Imagine, if you will, driving an 18 mule/2horse team hauling 10 tons of borax over 160 miles of desert. The total weight including wagons was 36 tons and the livestock and wagons stretched for over 180 feet! I asked my 278 horse power truck if it would like to pull such a load through Death Valley. The answer was a resounding no. Having struggled with hauling only myself and gear over the hills and mountains of the Park on my bicycle during my 10,000 mile bike trek, I heartily agreed.

This photo of the road suggests your team would be going right, then left, and then right— all at the same time. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This early, unattributed photo in the public domain, provides a view of the team with its Death Valley backdrop.

The real treat in driving over the short distance is the almost unreal beauty. Peggy and I stopped the truck several times along the road to get out and take photos. I’ve posted before on the canyon but we took all of these photos on Sunday.

The golden rock working its way up the hill from left to right caught my attention.
Peggy captured this ridge, which is one of the dominant features of the drive. Two people, not shown here, were making their way along the top. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I took a similar photo and rendered it in black and white.
This hill, which seems to stand alone, was actually the start of the ridge.
Erosion creates very interesting rock structures in the canyon and throughout Death Valley.
This photo provides another example.Various colors reflect different types of rock laid down over millions of years through times when the area was covered by oceans, lakes, sand dunes and volcanos. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I took a closer look at the sensuous landscape..
Three different types of rock are quite clear here. I should note that different rocks have different hardness and erode at different rates, which also adds to the interest of desert landscapes.(Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A view looking out toward Death Valley.
Almost out, I’ll conclude with this rock and a peak rising in the background.

NEXT POST: I’ll conclude our journey through Death Valley National Park.

The Devil’s Golf Course in Death Valley… An Interlude

The sun beats down on the Devil’s Golf Course in Death Valley.

Only the Devil could play golf here.” 1934 National Park guide book.

Peggy and I are playing hooky, extending our seemingly endless time away from home. One would think that backpacking the PCT, visiting Puerto Vallarta, and spending over a month with our kids in Florida and North Carolina would satisfy our wandering needs for a while. But no, here we are in Las Vegas, or Lost Wages, as I like to call it, ensconced in a comfortable suite at the very southern tip of Las Vegas Boulevard, the infamous Strip. Or is that famous?

Few people who visit this city venture outside of its mecca of gambling and entertainment pleasure palaces. Peggy and I always do. There is much to see and do. There is a desert on its doorstep, and it is a desert of rare beauty. Death Valley National Park is a prime example. It is a mere two hours away and Peggy and I drove out there on Sunday. To us, it’s like seeing an old friend; we have been there many times.

It is a geologist’s dream— there are rocks everywhere, and the rocks all have stories to tell. It’s a story of ancient seas and lakes and volcanic activities and clashing, mountain-building plates. Death Valley is a rift valley, or a graben in technical terms, formed along a fault zone between two mountain ranges. As the mountains were thrust up by tectonic forces, the valley dropped between them, several thousand feet. The two mountain ranges have since filled the valley up with eroded debris.

The shallow Lake Manly filled the basin a few thousand years ago. As the climate of the area changed and became more desert like, the lake dried up. Its briny waters left a deep deposit of salt behind, which brings us to today’s post. The Devil’s Golf Course is located a short 10 miles away from Bad Water Basin, which, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point on the North American continent. Water that drains into the Basin melts the salt and becomes undrinkable, thus the name. The Devil’s Golf Course is several feet higher and avoids the melting water. Instead, capillary action pulls salty subsurface water up creating the crystalline structures that the area is famous for.

Peggy and I caught the area at a particularly good time for photography, which surprised me, given the location of the overhead sun. Anyway, here are the results.

This close up provides a view of the crystalline structures developed by the capillary action. BTW, they are composed of 95% table salt. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I took this photo looking east toward the Amargosa Range.
Looking southwest along the Panamint Range.
Peggy photographing the Devil’s Golf Course provides a perspective on the size of the crystalline structures.
A final shot of the Devil’s Golf Course backed up by the Panamint Range. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

NEXT POST: A ghostly reminder of Death Valley’s past, and more.

A Beautiful Lake, Fires and Trees… The PCT though Mt. Lassen National Park

Hiking the PCT is tough, no question about it. But the rewards are numerous. Lower Twin Lake was one such reward. I camped beside it on my hike through Mt. Lassen National Park.

Today, I continue my ramble along the PCT. This time I will finish off my hike through Mt. Lassen National Park. I’ve been posting on our recent trip to Puerto Vallarta. There’s plenty more there, and lots left on the PCT. I intend to continue to mix my posts to provide a variety. And, of course, I am hard at work on my book about this past summer’s adventures and other tales from my 50 years of backpacking. My goal is to have something in hand when I attend the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in mid-February. 

Lower Twin Lake was one of those places you don’t want to leave. I was fortunate to arrive in the afternoon and experience its evening and morning beauty before having to hike on. 

Late afternoon. I came back to camp after this photo and found a chickaree sitting on my journal. I suspect he was more interested in my food than in reading what I had to say. He scurried up a tree and proceeded to scold me for interfering with his search.
Early morning.
The sun comes up. Note the mist rising off the lake where the sun was hitting it. I felt it was almost magical.

Forest fires had devastated the east side of the park and I hiked for miles through the burned out area, which isn’t unusual for the PCT in these times. Global warming and draught has taken its toll on the west from California, through Oregon and on into Washington, making forests vulnerable. The horrendous Campfire that just caused so much loss of life and property in Paradise, California is one more example. 

Mile after mile of land looked like this on the east side of the park. Not all is bad news, however. Nature is powerful and new growth is beginning to cover the area. This growth supports a substantial wildlife population.
I found this scene beautiful in a threatening sort of way. Dark thunder clouds hovered above drought killed trees. Thunder was rolling across the sky and lightning was striking a nearby mountain. I counted, 1001, 1002…Reaching 1007 means the lightning is a mile away. Once I barely made it through 1001. There is good reason to fear being hit by lightning. There is even more reason to fear that it may cause a fire. These trees would light up like kindling.
I often here the argument that thinning the trees, i.e. logging, is the solution to forest fires. Mainly it is used as an excuse for more logging. But the Collins Pine Company may actually have a solution. For one, it is committed to selective cutting, leaving a  healthy forest filled with a variety of trees. It also cleans out dead debris lying on the ground and uses the wood to create energy. The debris under the trees is one of the major reasons for devastating forest fires. A group of 50 or so forestry students from the University of California was in the area studying the company’s forest management practices when I hiked through.

I love trees. Who doesn’t. Here are some of the beauties I found on my backpack trip through Lassen.

I had lunch under this magnificent Jeffrey Pine.
It’s bark resembles puzzle pieces. If you put your nose next to the bark on a warm day, you will be rewarded with a delightful smell of vanilla, or possibly pineapple.
This is one of its gorgeous cones. An easy way to tell the difference between a Jeffrey Pine and a Ponderosa pine is you can pick up a Jeffrey pinecone without pricking you hand. Not so with a Ponderosa pinecone.
The king of pinecones grows on the the sugar pine. Some of these giants were approaching 20 inches in length. You don’t want to be standing under a sugar pine when a squirrel is harvesting its cones! Pine nuts from a sugar pine are delicious, however, and easily cracked. Ask the squirrel.
Sugar pines reach high into the sky and have wonderfully wild limbs.
Unlike these two fir trees that were practicing close to perfect symmetry.
Cedars also provide forest giants.
Here’s a view looking up at the same tree. 

I met lots of through hikers in Lassen Park. The halfway point between Mexico and Canada is just south of the park. Hikers needed to be in the area or through it when I was there if they hoped to complete their hike during the 2018 season.

A stone left behind by Bohemian Jess near the town of Chester marked the halfway point on the PCT.
I met Hillbilly when Peggy dropped me off at the trailhead. She enticed him over with an apple. He lived in North Carolina near the Appalachian Mountains that gave birth to the hillbilly name, but he was far from being one. His name was Bill and he lived in Chapel Hill. Thus the name. He owned a company that installed solar farms. Bill had already hiked the Appalachian and Colorado Mountain Trails. Like me, he preferred to camp alone, away from the noise and partying of younger hikers.
There was no chance of escaping from trekkers at Boundary Springs. (So named because it is located on the southern boundary of the Park.) It was a major source of water. These three camped next to me, so Bone came out to visit with them. They were quite amused. From left to right their trail names were Too Slippery, Bottomless, and Bodhi. Slippery and Bottomless were friends from Truckee, CA. Bodhi was a meditating type of fellow.
Shrek, Pepper, Bessie (the cow) and Chewy were also camped within about 30 feet. So, Bone had to visit them as well. I’d found Chewy looking for a lake where there wasn’t one, even though her map and a ranger had said there was. She had followed me down to the spring to get water.

Here are a few other photos to wrap up my trip through this section of the PCT.

A snag and a thunderhead.
A closer look at the thunderhead.
I found this fungus growing on a sawed log interesting.
What the fungus looked like up close.
A bee hung out among some thistles.
A bear left his claw sign for me to see…
You know you are in a National or State Park when walkways are built across swampy areas.
This meadow reminded me that summer was nearing its end. So I will stop here for the day.

NEXT POST: A very strange pelican. And some iguanas.

The Natchez Trace: A Bicyclist’s Paradise… The 10,000 Mile North American Bicycle Tour

The Natchez Trace between Natchez and Jackson Mississippi.

I don’t think there is a place along the Natchez Trace that isn’t beautiful. I traveled on it for 370 miles of its 450 mile length.

This is my fourth post introducing new followers to the type of tales they can find in my blog. Way back in 1989, I did a solo 10,000 mile bicycle tour of North America. While the journey predated blogging, Peggy and I retraced my route three years ago. Traveling out of California, we crossed the US following a southern route, went up the east coast into Canada, headed back west through Canada to Minnesota, and then finished our tour following a northern route back to California. This is a chance to visit much of North America and hear tales about my bike trek. Want more: Here’s a post from Canada. Scroll forward or backward for the rest of the story:  https://wandering-through-time-and-place.com/2016/09/28/

A large, yellow mutt came wagging his way into my camp. I’d unpacked my gear, set up my tent, and taken off my shoes and socks. My toes were celebrating their freedom.

“Well hello big fellow,” I said to the dog, glad for the company. He sat down beside me and worked his head under my hand, demanding that I scratch behind his ears. Then I was required to pet the rest of him. I had just worked my way down to his tail when he rolled over and insisted on equal treatment for his tummy.

I provided an initial scratch but my coffee water had started boiling. “Priorities,” I told him, “the petting zoo is closed.” Apparently this meant it was play time. He leapt up, grabbed one of my socks, and bounced off about 15 feet.  “Hey! Bring that back,” I urged. Fat chance. He put the sock down, backed off a couple of feet, and started barking.

I finished pouring the hot water into my coffee filter and got up, tiredly, to retrieve my sock. It had been an 80-mile day and I really didn’t want to play ‘chase the dog around the yard.’ I pretended that I didn’t care, that I wasn’t going for the sock, and that I was terribly interested in a large bullfrog that had taken up residence in the swimming pool. The pool hadn’t been cleaned since the previous summer. It made a great pond.

The dog didn’t buy it. He dashed in, grabbed the sock and ran off across the yard. “Okay, you win,” I declared while picking up a stick. “How about a game of chase the stick?” The dog cocked his head and increased his wags per second. I tossed the stick and off he dashed, leaving my sock behind. I quickly bare-footed it across the lawn and grabbed my sock.

“Ha, ha, Mr. Dog,” I called after him while waving the sock about enticingly. To compensate my new friend for his loss, I played tug-of-war with the stick. We growled at each other appropriately, all in good fun.

It was early to bed. I had completed my trip from Alexandria by biking through the city of Natchez and was now camped about a mile from the beginning of the Natchez Trace.  I was eager to get up the next morning and start my 370-mile journey up the fabled Parkway through Mississippi and Alabama into Tennessee. As I zipped up my tent, the big yellow mutt did three dog turns outside the door and plopped down, making me wonder where his home was. I was hardly in a position to adopt a pet. Besides, he was well fed and wearing a dog tag.

My last memory before going to sleep was of the bullfrog singing to his lady-love. “Chug-a-rum, chug-a-rum, chug-a-rum.”

Downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

Peggy and I drove through Natchez on a Sunday morning and pretty much had the historic section of the downtown to ourselves.

Historic building with balcony in Natchez, Mississippi.

This historic building in Natchez came with an attractive balcony.

Downtown Natchez, Mississippi on a quiet Sunday.

The colors captured my attention here.

Old lamp posts adorn the historic part of Natchez.

Old lamp posts adorn the historic part of Natchez.

The city is known for its antebellum mansions.

The city is known for its antebellum mansions.

St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was busy with its Sunday service so I didn’t go inside.

St. Mary's Catholic Church is located in downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

It was quite impressive from the outside, however.

Natchez has an interesting history. Once the site of a major Native American village, its initial contact with Europeans goes all the way back to Hernando de Soto in the mid 1500s. He wandered through the area searching for gold to steal, the primary occupation of Spanish Conquistadores. By the 1700s the French had entered the area followed by the British, the Spanish again, and finally, in 1795, the Americans. Native groups in the region included the Natchez, Chickasaw, Yazoo, Cherokee, and Creek, as well as the Choctaw further to the north.

As for the Natchez Trace, its beginning goes back 10,000 years and was probably tied to buffalo travelling along ridges doing buffalo things. Since these broad, heavy animals make good trails (think of them as early day bulldozers), Native Americans were soon using the routes for trade and travel between large communities.

The next stage in the Trace’s evolution was brought about by river trade in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Kaintucks, boatmen from the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys, loaded flatboats with merchandise and paddled downstream to Natchez or New Orleans where they made handsome profits for their goods. The challenge was that you don’t row a boat up the mighty Mississippi. The boatmen had to hike or ride horses home. They sold their boats as lumber and made their way back to Nashville via the Natchez Trace

It was an adventure. There is a reason why the Trace became known as The Devil’s Backbone. It was crawling with highway men eager to separate the Kaintucks from their newly earned wealth. And that assumes that they could even get their money out of Natchez where cheap whiskey cost a fortune, hot love was based on cold cash, and cut-throats came by the bushel.

The development of steamboats in the 1820s changed things dramatically. These boats with their large, steam-driven paddle wheels could travel upriver. Boatman no longer had to hike or ride horses back to Nashville while fighting off thieves.  Gradually, people stopped using the Trace and it faded from memory.  But not totally.

In 1903, the Mississippi chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution took on a project of placing markers along the original route. In 1918 the precursor to the Natchez Trace Association was created with the rallying cry of “Pave the Trace!” Work on the Parkway was started in 1937 and in 1938 it became a unit of the National Park system.

When I rode my bike out of Natchez in the spring of 1989, the Trace was mainly complete and had become something of a bicyclists’ paradise. (Today it is considered one of the top ten bike rides in America.)   To start with, there was no commercial traffic. No 18 wheelers would be whizzing by me. Nor were there any commercial properties or billboards, just lots of beautiful woods and small farms. Campgrounds and restrooms were located conveniently along the way.  Frequent rest stops featured local history. I was free to ride along and enjoy the scenery.

But I did have two responsibilities. The first was to persuade the large, yellow mutt that he wasn’t going with me. It started with a discussion in camp that I thought he had understood. Where I was going was dangerous for doggies. It was dangerous enough for me. About a mile from camp I chanced to look back, there he was, about 50 yards back. I stopped and waited for him to catch up, all a waggle. “No!” I said forcefully. “You cannot go. Go Home!” The tail stopped wagging. Two sad brown eyes accused me of horrendous deeds. Ever so slowly, he turned around and started back, tail between his legs. I felt terrible.

The second chore was more pleasant— rescuing baby turtles. Bunches were migrating across the Trace outside of Natchez. Each time I came on a crowd, I would stop, climb off my bike, and give the little tykes a lift across the pavement. I knew that there would be more coming along behind but I must have transported at least a hundred,undoubtedly saving them from being run over.

Following are several photos of the Trace from Natchez to Jackson, Mississippi that I took during the route review Peggy and I did this past spring.  In my next blog we will make a slight detour to the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi where a good friend lives and then head up the Trace to Tupelo and visit with Elvis.

Views along the Trace were constantly changing from being forested to open.

Views along the Trace were constantly changing from being forested to open.

Pine trees became common around Jackson, Mississippi.

Pine trees became common around Jackson, Mississippi.

Rich farmlands border some of the Trace.

Rich farmlands border some of the Trace.

There are a number of barns.

There are a number of barns.

These trees had yet to leaf out.

These trees were just beginning to leaf out. I enjoyed the silhouettes they created.

Numerous exhibits featuring the history of the Trace provide interesting breaks along the way.

Numerous exhibits featuring the history of the Trace provide interesting breaks along the way.

A number of the stops, like this one, include original sections of the trail.

A number of the stops, like this one, include original sections of the trail.

The Park has also rebuilt traditional fences that the pioneers who lived along the Trace would have built.

The Park has also rebuilt traditional fences similar to ones that the pioneers who lived along the Trace would have built.

A final view of the Trace for today. Many more will be included in my next three blogs.

A final view of the Trace for today. Many more will be included in my next three blogs.



An Active Volcano and an Interesting Bush… Hiking the PCT through Mt. Lassen National Park

The Pacific Crest Trail wanders along the east side of Lassen National Park and provides limited views of the mountain. I took this photo from the PCT south of the park boundary.

Section N of the PCT includes Mt. Lassen National Park. This series includes portions of the trail leading into and out of the Park as well as the Park. Unfortunately, the PCT passes through the eastern side of Lassen and misses some of the Park’s more impressive features. I was lucky to have Peggy exploring the Park from the road while I hiked the trail, so this post will feature photographs from both of us.

In 1988, I led a backpack trek in Mt. Lassen National Park to honor my old friend Orvis Agee. His family lived near the mountain and he had been working outside on the family ranch when it erupted on May 22, 1915. He was an impressionable 12-year-old. Fifty-eight years later when Orvis joined me on the first hundred-mile backpack trip I led in 1974, the memory was still fresh in his mind.

By the end of that trek, Orvis had become an inspiration for me on what older people can accomplish— and a friend. He proved that an active lifestyle doesn’t have to end at 60, or 70, or even 80, assuming you are healthy. In 1980, Orvis took me to the top of the top of the nearby 14,180 foot Mt. Shasta, a mountain he had climbed many times starting at age 60. He made his 30th and final ascent at 85. He went on his last backpack trek with me at 87! Peggy was along on that week-long expedition. We had just started our relationship and it was her first long distant trek. Given how much I enjoyed backpacking and liked Peggy, I really wanted her to enjoy the experience. I figured that hiking with Orvis would help. It did. As she noted to me later, “It’s really hard to complain when an 87-year-old cheerfully hikes down the trail beside you and sings “Wake Up Little Buttercup” to you in the morning.” Indeed.

Mt. Lassen sits near the southern end of the Cascade Range, a volcanic chain of mountains that reaches from Northern California into British Columbia. It is one of only two mountains that erupted in the contiguous United States during the 20th Century. Mt. St. Helens was the other. (I flew over Mt. St. Helens shortly after it had erupted and was amazed by the devastation.) Lassen, still active, serves as a laboratory for volcanologists and is closely monitored. Oceanic plates diving under the continents and islands around the Pacific Ocean assure continuing volcanic activity, not only for Lassen, but for volcanos all around the Pacific Rim.

Peggy, who was driving along the road through the park, had closer views of the mountain than I did. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
She planned on hiking to the top of the mountain but was concerned that she might miss me coming out at Chester. I promised her we would climb the mountain for her 70th birthday. The trail up is visible on the lower right. I climbed the mountain the year I led the Trek through the park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This photo of the mountain was taken when Peggy and I had visited the park earlier.
As was this impressionistic reflection shot.
I really liked this meadow shot that Peggy caught. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Mt. Lassen sits in the caldera of was once a much larger Mt. Tahama. The large rock points toward what was once the edge of the mountain. Picture a line following the ridge and stretching off to the left. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The power of the 1915 eruption was such that it blew out huge boulders and started a major a avalanche that carried boulders like these far from the volcano. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A number of other geologic features common to volcanic areas, such as this boiling mud pot at the Sulphur Works, are located in the park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This colorful hill was located above the mud pot at the Sulphur Works. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I found the Manzanita roots along the PCT near Mt. Lassen strange enough to feature on my Halloween post. Today, I want to focus on the rest of the plant. I was raised in what is known as the chaparral belt of the Sierra foothills where manzanita is common. As kids, we went on outings to gather the large mushrooms that grew under the bushes in a symbiotic relationship with their roots. It was like a treasure hunt.We’d bring the mushrooms home, slice them up, and then dry them on the woodstove that heated our house. My mother then added them to a number of dishes like spaghetti and beef stroganoff where they contributed their unique flavor and texture.

Our property in Southern Oregon also includes a number of manzanita bushes, but I have yet to find mushrooms under them. One of the bushes grows just outside our backdoor. Deer like to bed down near it, which seems a little strange since it features a deer skull. Peggy had found a dead deer on the road near our house, victim of an unfortunate encounter with a car. She decided that it would be interesting to cut off its head, bring it up to our yard, and let nature (translate maggots) clean it off. (Think of it as a scientific experiment.) When I had appeared reluctant to carry out the chore, she had persuaded a deer-hunting neighbor to do it, paying him with a can of beer and a Peggy-smile.

Our manzanita brush with the deer skull. Note the smooth bark.
The deer I disturbed when I went outside to take a photo of the bush and skull. She was not happy with me interrupting her snooze.
Ripe manzanita berries covered the bush. These are quite edible. (I consumed many as a kid for their sweet taste.) Judging from the berry-filled scat in our neighborhood, the local fox population is enjoying the berries now.
When I hiked the PCT through the Mt. Lassen area, the berries were still green. It’s easy to see how manzanita, which means little apple, got its name.

The plant is sturdy and can be quite beautiful with its entangled limbs and smooth, skin-like bark. It is often used in decorations. I found the dead bushes along the PCT l particularly striking.

A dead bush draped across a boulder rendered in black and white.
A dead bush set off by live manzanita.
I will conclude today’s post with this rather dramatic bush.

Peggy and I are on our way to Mexico for three weeks, so my posts on the trip down the PCT will be put on hold until I return. My plan is to feature some older posts, which will give followers a perspective on the variety of subjects they can find on my blog that I have covered over the past ten years.

Growl! Mmmm. Me Like Carpenter Ants… Bears along the PCT in Mt. Lassen National Park

Peggy was lucky to be on the scene when a large sow tore apart a log searching for carpenter ants in Mt. Lassen National Park. Claws firmly sunk into the rotting log, she used her weight to rip help open the dead tree. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I began seeing a lot of bear sign as I hiked along the Pacific Crest Trail through Mt. Lassen National Park. There were the usual large piles of poop and trees had the tell-tale claw marks of bears chatting with other bears. The trees also provided bears with a great back rub. The effort helps remove winter coats and I’m pretty sure feels as good as it does to us when we get out back rubbed or scratched. It also provides the opportunity to leave a scent mark behind, a sort of personal wilderness want ad. “Large male seeks one night stand with attractive female. Don’t expect me to stick around and help raise the kids. In fact, I might eat them.” Doesn’t seem like the ideal qualities you would want in a mate, but it seems to work.

I also found a number of rotting logs torn apart along the trail. Black bears have a real taste for carpenter ants. “Sweet meat,” like my students of long ago in West Africa used to say about termites. And maybe carpenter ants are sweet. While they are known for tunneling through wood with all the enthusiasm of a chainsaw, they don’t actually eat the wood. They are dairy farmers. They raise and milk aphids for the sugary honey-dew they secrete by stroking them with their antennae.  “Come on sweetie, give it up.” Naturally they eat other things, like dead insects. They will surround the bug, suck out its juices and then return to their nest with full tummies to share. I read that they sometimes carry the head with them. (I can see them marching in and placing it at the feet of the queen. I wonder if they have a trophy room.) Like other ants, they inevitably find the shortest path back to their nest and mark the path with pheromones which other ants can follow. Big bugs can attract lots of ants, which means more pheromones, which means more ants. It can become quite the mob scene.

Carpenter ants build amazing labyrinths in dead trees. (Or possibly your house.) If I had to build a maze, I think I would hire these guys to plan it out.
They don’t eat the wood, however. They carefully dump it outside as the ant on the right is doing. More ants can be seen in the crevice to the left and right of the ant. (My nephew Jay Dallen took this photo on his iPhone when we were hiking from Etna Summit to Castle Crags.)
I found this log torn apart by a bear as I hiked down the PCT through Mt. Lassen National Park. Off to the right you can see a pile of sawdust that the ants have deposited. Normally a pile of sawdust like this would suggest that somebody has been working with a saw. 
Here’s another log I found along the trail that had been opened up by a bear. These guys go after a log like a six-year-old goes after a Christmas present.

But back to the bears. I dearly wanted to see a bear tearing into a carpenter ant nest.  I didn’t even see a bear. Peggy who was driving around the park and checking out hiking trails while I was making my way along the PCT, had much more luck. She not only saw a mom and her cubs, she saw them ripping into a carpenter ant nest and took photos. When the bear and her cubs finished their meal, and started walking toward her, she made a rapid retreat to our small RV! Smart woman.

When mom had finished tearing open the log, she was joined by her two cubs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
One of the cubs snacked on a few ants while mom patiently watched. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
They then let mom have her fill. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
It even appeared that they were standing guard. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
They finished their feast and then started walking toward where Peggy was taking photographs. She decided it was time to get back in the van! (Quick photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

When it comes to food, a black bear is an Omnivore’s omnivore,an opportunistic eater that consumes everything from insects to plants to carrion to any fresh meat it catches— although the latter rarely includes humans. As one of my trekking friends used to say, “If bears wanted to eat people, they’d move into towns where there are lots of people to eat.”  Bears, like other members of the animal kingdom, have learned that puny humans are nasty animals with a penchant for killing; they are best to be avoided. They have developed a taste for human food, however. Trash cans are a frequent target. We know. Our property in Southern Oregon backs up to a million acres of national forest. There are lots of bears. Once, one attacked the heavy Weber grill that lives on our back porch and turned it over.  As it came crashing down, my daughter, who was sleeping in the bedroom next to the porch, screamed,“Curtis!” It’s an appeal for help I’d heard before. Bears are also fond of backpacker’s food.

They would occasionally drop by our camp for a bite when I was leading hundred-mile backpack trips up and down the Sierra’s in the 70s, 80s and 90s, especially when I was any where in the vicinity of Yosemite. It wasn’t unusual for a trekker to yell my name on his or her first sighting of a bear up close. I spent a lot of time teaching people how to chase bears out of camp and hang their food in trees so the bears wouldn’t get it. We weren’t always successful.  The food bag is supposed to be at least 12 feet up in the air and 9 feet out from the tree hanging from a limb that is just large enough to hold your food. Otherwise, Mom might send her kids up to crawl out the limb and chew through the rope. One food bag is counterbalanced with another food bag and no ropes are left dangling. Bears are smart and I am convinced that they have a university near Yosemite where they teach their cubs how to outsmart backpackers.

Today, there are bear canisters that are made of heavy duty plastic or carbon that are theoretically bear proof. They are tested by filling them with strong smelling goodies and tossing them into the cage of a hungry bear that has developed a taste for backpacking food. If the canister survives for an hour, it is given the seal of approval. Now days, when you backpack through Yosemite National Park or down the John Muir Trail, you are required to carry one. Just recently, the same policy was adopted for Mt. Lassen National Park. So, I was carrying one.

The good news about canisters is that they work. Bears are broken of the habit of eating backpackers’ food and go back to eating much healthier food, like maggots and ants. Backpackers are given the peace of mind of knowing that they will be able to make breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. The bad news is that the canisters are heavy and awkward. They add two to four pounds of weight and are hard to fit into a pack along with other essential equipment. While the folks in charge of protecting our wildlands and their inhabitants would like to see backpackers use canisters all the time, it won’t happen until these problems are addressed.

NEXT POST on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through Mt. Lassen National Park: When the mountain blew its top, there is more to manzanita than scary roots, and a gorgeous lake struts its stuff.