When Arches Isn’t About Arches— plus Strange Times

Impressive pinnacles with ‘unique’ personalities are found throughout Arches National Park.

Outer Banks, North Carolina: We have been on the road for a month now— zig zagging across the country— climbing over mountains, crossing rivers, traveling through deserts and forests, zipping through urban areas and moving more slowly through rural. We’ve traveled from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and driven through 13 states so far.

Let me report: It’s strange out there when it comes to the pandemic. Some states are doing everything possible to reduce the the number of people catching Covid-19 and the resultant deaths. Others are like, whatever. Or they feel that restarting the economy takes precedence. Sadly, had they aggressively fought the pandemic to start with, we would now be in a much better position to get people back to work.

We drove through Atlanta a few days ago where the governor of the state was suing the mayor of the city because she wanted to implement a city-wide mask ordinance. Thankfully, more and more people are voluntarily wearing face coverings. Even the President is declaring it patriotic. My sense is if wearing a mask can save just one life, it’s worth it.

It isn’t strange, however, that Arches National Park has a lot more than arches to ooh and aww over. In fact, I find the fins and pinnacles located throughout the park equally awe-inspiring. I’ll provide some of my favorite examples over the next two to three posts. My last post on the park will be dedicated to arches.

This is a close up of the pinnacle I featured at the top of the post.
And this knobby guy— with my help— provides a perspective of just how large the pinnacles can get. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A different view.
These would-be/will-be pinnacles are known as the Three Gossips.
A different perspective suggests that one of the gossips might have dinosaur blood. Gossiping about it might lead to getting your head chomped off.
This is one of the views that greets you when you when you enter the park. If you look to the right, you can see a precariously balanced rock.
I think it is more impressive than Balanced Rock if only judged on its odds of teetering over. But who knows? Maybe it will hang out up there for another thousand years. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This is another view that welcomes visitors to the park.
This fin is known as Wall Street. In other words, some person at some time thought that these eroded rocks had a skyscraper look.
Here’s another view of Wall Street
Most of the major landmarks have names given to them over the years. I find it more fun to look at them for the impressive monuments to nature and geology that they are.
Or provide your own names. Peggy saw this as The Hand.
Here, she demonstrates why.
Here’s one I can easily see, the Sheep. Its nose was once part of an arch. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
We found this interesting. “Petrified” sand dunes frozen through chemical reactions in ancient times. The La Sal Mountains serve as a colorful backdrop.
I’ll conclude with a couple of scenic views Peggy and I found at the beginning of the park.

NEXT POST: Peggy and I travel farther into Arches.

Off to a Rocky Start: Arches NP… The Backroads Series

It looked a bit like Snoopy at first glance, making a sarcastic comment to Woodstock. But it wasn’t Snoopy. It was the famous Balanced Rock of Arches National Park. Someday it will come tumbling down. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We’ve started our journey around America traveling over the country’s backroads while wearing masks like bandits. The beginning of the trip was in Fallon, Nevada, which might seem strange given that we live in Oregon. Getting to Fallon, however, involved traveling over I-5 and I-80, two of Americas busiest freeways. Freeways are to be avoided and ignored in this series— even though Peggy and I have to use them on occasion.

It’s scary out here in America’s hinterland as Covid-19 makes its way from state to state. The lack of a clear national policy is apparent. Peggy and I, as well as our traveling companions, Bone and Eeyore, are all wearing our masks. So far, we seem to be the exception. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

In Fallon, we climbed on Highway 50. Its claim to being the ‘loneliest road in America,’ gives it genuine backroad credentials. I’ll get back to it. There is much to tell about the legendary highway I grew up near. But given Covid-19, our two to three month backroads exploration is off to a rocky start— and there are few places in America rockier than Arches National Park. Peggy and I know. We took 572 photos of rocks there. Peggy promises you won’t have to look at all of them. But there will be quite a few. Grin. I love red rock country.

Today, I am going to start with just one, the famous Balanced Rock. Its total height is 128 feet. The boulder on top makes up 55 feet of its height and weighs in at 3500 tons. If you have been to Arches, the odds are you have a photo. Millions of tourists have stood and stared up at it in awe.

It stands as a testament to the fact that there is much more to see in Arches than just arches. A lot more. Geology is the reason for the park’s unique look. The rocks that make up Arches have been layed down over hundreds of millions of years under a wide range of circumstances ranging from deserts to seas. Their different makeup impacts how fast they erode and that leads to the fantastic rock sculptures and monuments seen through the park. There will be more on the geology in coming posts.

In addition to its unique look and geology, the thing that fascinates me about Balanced Rock is how its look changes drastically from different angles as you walk around it. And that is the subject of today’s photos.

The mushroom look.
A more traditional look of Balanced Rock with a companion. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A modified ‘Snoopy’ look.
Side view.
A long view including Peggy. She’s safe, but is she balanced. (Grin) Another rock stands behind.
A more human look. Possibly a thumbs up with a thumb ring? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I’ll conclude with this view of looking up at Balanced Rock from its base. It gives a perspective on how massive the sculpture is.

NEXT POST: We’ll start at the beginning of the park with Wall Street, the Organ, and the Sheep.

Earth Day 1: 50 Years Ago… It Changed My Life

Sand dunes in Death Valley. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.
The world is full of incredible beauty that is worthy of our love and protection. These are sand dunes in Death Valley National Park.

I was recruiting for Peace Corps on the Davis Campus of the University of California on April 22, 1970, 50 years ago. For those of you not familiar with the date, it was Earth Day I. At the time, I was running the Peace Corps’ Public Affairs office for Northern California and Nevada out of Sacramento. Curiosity pulled me away from my recruiting duties to check out the event.

UC Davis puts on great fairs. It probably has to do with an event it calls Picnic Day, a rite of spring with roots as deep as humankind. The birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and the snow is melting in the mountains; let’s have a party! All of the departments become involved, put on shows, put up displays, and do silly things.

The flowers were blooming.

Earth Day at Davis was similar, but it incorporated a vitally important message.

Somehow we had forgotten where we had come from in our rush toward progress and the good life— and in the desire to maximize profits. As a result, we were chopping down our forests, polluting our streams, poisoning our air, destroying our last remaining wilderness areas, and saying goodbye forever to innumerable species whose only evolutionary mistake was to get in our way.

We had forgotten that birds can make music as beautifully as any symphony, that peace and balance can be found in the wilderness, and that somehow, in some yet unfathomable way, our fate might be tied to that of the pup fish. It seemed okay that the last brown pelican was about to fly off into the sunset forever so we could squeeze one more bushel of wheat from our crops, and that it was appropriate for the great redwoods, silent sentinels who had maintained their vigilance for over 4000 years, to die for our patio with a lifespan of 20-30 years.

Brown pelicans, once near extinction because of DDT used on crops, have made a dramatic comeback since the use of DDT was banned. I took this photo south of Santa Barbara, California.

Rachel Carson, in her landmark book Silent Spring, had sounded a clarion call to a Holy Crusade: saving the earth. Others, too, were raising the alarm. Earth Day I was an expression of growing concern. Its message struck a deep chord with me. The years I had spent wandering in the woods while growing up, my exploration of the rainforest around Gbarnga, Liberia during my Peace Corps assignment, and my hiking in the wilderness as a backpacker, all came together in a desire to join the environmental movement and help protect the wilderness I had come to love.

Some of my happiest moments as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa were spent exploring the rain forest surrounding where I lived.

I wandered between booths on campus, talking to the representatives of various organizations and picking up materials. There was information about the redwoods, over-population, water and air pollution, land-use planning, mass transit and the protection of valuable farm lands. I learned about all the species that had become extinct because of our activities— and that many more were threatened.

Giant redwood tree at Redwoods National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.
How could one not feel awe when confronted by giant redwoods in their cathedral like setting at Redwood National Park. It seemed terribly wrong to me that the life of a 2000 plus year old giant should be ended with a chainsaw to meet our short-termed demand for wood products.

I went home that night inspired, concerned, and more than a little frightened about what we were doing to our planet— the only home we have. Three weeks later, I had left the Peace Corps and become Executive Director of Sacramento’s first Ecology Education/Environmental Action Center, working 50-60 hours a week for one hundred dollars a month. I would continue to devote a significant amount of my time to supporting environmental causes for the next 20 years of my life, working beside some of the most dedicated, selfless and talented individuals I have ever known.

Our efforts, and those of hundreds, even thousands of others, made a difference. The majority of people in the US as well as in numerous other countries around the world became convinced that protecting the environment was a worthwhile endeavor. Air pollution was reduced, waterways were cleaned up, wilderness areas were saved, and a number of endangered species were brought back from near extinction. Once again, eagles soared, buffalos roamed and wolves howled.

But the progress has never been easy and the war is far from won. Nothing represents this better than our present battle against global warming, a reality that was dramatically brought home to me two years ago as I hiked down the Pacific Crest Trail dodging huge fires in Oregon and California. A drought created by climate change had killed millions of trees and those trees were burning.

The massive Carr Fire near Redding sent fire tornadoes shooting into the air, reduced visibility to close to zero, and filled the air with choking smoke for hundreds of square miles. This was the view I faced on the PCT near Chester, California.

The 50th Anniversary of Earth Day 1 is an excellent time to take stock of where we are in our efforts to protect the environment. The news is not good. Over the past three years we have seen our national government withdraw from international efforts to combat global warming, eliminate many of the protections that we have fought so hard to put in place over the last 50 years, back away from using science designed to measure the impact of pollution, and systematically dismantle the EPA. Continuing down this path will once again lead to air filled with pollution, waterways poisoned, wilderness areas eliminated, and species exterminated. This isn’t an exaggeration; it is reality.

But it doesn’t have to be. The time to renew our commitment to the environment is today. Each of us can take action on the personal level to reduce our negative impact on the environment, support positive efforts on the local, state, national and world level, and insist that our political leaders do the same. The future of our children, grandchildren and future generations depend on it.

Grand Tetons National Park photo by Curtis Mekemson.
A final reminder of the beauty that exists in our world. This are the Grand Tetons. Happy Earth Day. May we have 50 more!

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.