Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gear Updates from Real-Life PCTers

PCT Above Drakesbad
"The nalgene bottle is dead. At least to the thru-hikers." Such was the bold statement made by Pot, one of a group of 'grey-hair" PCT thru-hikers we meet up with at Drakesbad (see previous post). In addition to being a welcome haven for car-campers, Drakesbad is a welcome stop for thru-hikers. Not only do they making their showers, laundry and pool available, the ranch accepts and holds mail, provides free phone charging and serves their awesome meals at half price.

It was while waiting for our laundry to finish that we sat down with some of the thru-hikers. There were 5 of them and since they were the only non twenty-something thru-hikers we'd seen (and we've seen over 168 by now), we just had to buy them a glass of wine and ask them how it was going.

All in all they said it was going fine. They certainly weren't making the same time as 'the kids' but then again, they said, they were on the luxury tour, refusing to go without hot drinks, and warm meals. Apparently the twenty-somethings are mainly eating pop tarts, cold ramen noodles, cold instant potatoes, and trail mix. They don't have the time and spare weight for stoves, fuel, and pots.

But back to the death of the naglene bottle. S.D. and I had noted that almost all the thru-hikers were

In other trail-technology news hydration bladders have been relegated to backup reservoirs used only when hiking a particularly dry section, and the best tents are now being made out of high-tech sail cloth and use trekking poles for support. They're really light weight, practically indestructible, and being made to hold up in the wind, are also extremely water proof. They're also all being hand crafted at this point and are really expensive so we'll have to wait a while to get back into 'sailing' or...get one of our sailmaking friends interested in a new line of products?

We also learned that trail magic goes both ways. After sharing the wine and driving their packs from Drakesbad to the campsite, the thru-hikers were extremely happy. After listening to their stories and learning about life on the trail, both S.D. and I felt pretty great too!
View of Boiling Springs Lake from the PCT
Lassen in the distance
carrying their water in old soda and Gatorade bottles with a filter at the top. As Pot explained, nalgene bottles were too heavy, while disposable plastic bottles were much lighter and rather than having to try and clean them all they had to do was buy a new one every week or so and put the old one in the recycling bin. Additionally they didn't need to stop and filter water, just fill up the bottle attach the filtering straw/lid, and they were off. How cool is that!?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Drakesbad & Lassen Volcanic National Park

A recent article in The New Yorker magazine has everyone suddenly alarmed about the seismic and volcanic potential of the Pacific Northwest. We haven't been in the area long but it's been long enough that our reaction to the article, like that of many locals, was "duh!"  For instance, this week we've been hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The park surrounds the Lassen Volcano that last erupted in 1915. They've got the pictures, and devastated areas to prove it.

Bumpass Hell
In addition to a recently erupted volcano there is so much evidence out here of recent Ring of Fire activity that it seems hard not to know this place is on the move. There are lava beds, cinder cones, fumaroles, boiling hot springs, and mud pots everywhere.

A great hike in the Park to emphasize this point is the one we took to Bumpass Hell.  It's a three mile hike off the main park road that climbs a short ridge and then, after a sign warning you to stay on the boardwalk (the pioneer (Bumpass) who originally found the place burned his leg off by stepping in the wrong place) sends you off across a boardwalk over bubbling mud pots, stinky sulfur vents and boiling pools.

Another hot, but not as crowded geothermal hike is to the Devil's Kitchen.  The trail head for this hike is in the Warner Valley section of Lassen. And that's where we come to Drakesbad.

Warner Valley - Home of the Devil's Kitchen
and Drakesbad

In the late nineteenth century a professed relative of Sir Francis, Edward Drake, acquired "400 acres of land which he opened up to campers and weary travelers that came seeking his “hot waters”." " On June 20, 1900 the Siffords took possession of Drake’s Hot Spring Valley which was renamed Drakesbad (Drake’s baths) in 1908 by the Siffords in honor of Drake".

Soon after Lassen Volcanic National Park was established. Over time Drakesbad Guest Ranch was acquired by the Park Service, who runs it today. The Ranch, advertised as open to guests only, has cabins, a thermal heated pool, massage, archery, horseback ride and very nice meals. What initially attracted S.D. and I was that we heard it also had showers and a laundry! We were camped a half mile down the road from Drakesbad at the Warner Valley Campground. A small, nice campground that had water but no other facilities. It had been over week since we'd done laundry, and the drive to town was over 15 miles of rough gravel roads. Personal hygiene was also lacking as cleaning up in camp is a poor second to a hot shower.  The campground host told us about Drakesbad and said that if we were lucky enough to get reservations to eat we would also be able to take a shower, use the pool and the laundry.

A Drake, doing what we like to do best -
Hanging out in awesome places
And so it was that on our third morning at the Warner Valley Campground, the day after a particularly long, hot hike, we wandered up the road to Drakesbad to see if this oasis in the wilderness was really real. And it was! Not only was it real, with real showers and laundry facilities but they also had two available dinner seats!  With barely contained joy we made our reservations and then headed back off into the wilderness to the Devil's Kitchen with dreams of future showers, clean laundry and lamp chops to come. We might be in the middle of wilderness, it might even be a seismologically ticking time bomb of a wilderness, but we were there and we were going to have another great day of hiking followed by clean clothes, clean bodies and an awesome meal. It really doesn't get any better than that. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

What Makes a Hike Awesome: Deadfall Lakes and Mt. Eddy

Any day on the trail is a good day. Still some days, and some of the hikes do stand out as better than others, and it's made us wonder, what makes a hike awesome.

1. The trail has got to be long enough to really stretch the legs.
2. Wildflowers and big trees
3. Lakes and streams
5. Micro-climates and ecosystem variations
6. Cool, considerate hikers
7. Moderate weather

All the trails we've hiked have had some combination of these elements but so far only one hike has had them all in spades: the hike to Mt. Eddy, past the Deadfall Lakes in the Shasta-Trinity Forest of Northern California.

Sure, there have been great wildflowers hikes like the Teton Canyon Trail in Idaho and the Manzanita Creek Trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park, hikes to awesome vistas, again in Lassen to Chaos Crags, as well as the Tetons and Elk Ridge in the Smith River Recreation Area. The cirque at Devil's Punchbowl can't be beat as an awesome mountain lake.

But the hike to Mt. Eddy? 10 miles and 3000 ft of elevation gain through multiple ecosystems, wildflower meadows, alpine meadows, mountain lakes, and awesome views in almost every direction. All our encounters with hikers, lots of thru-hikers on the PCT, other day hikers like ourselves, were fun and informative.  It is always nice to stop for a minute or two to chat about the trail, where they were going, etc.

The pictures will tell the rest of the story.

Discombobulation: Mt Shasta Region

Smokey the Bear says Sage Burning Can
Also Start Forest Fires
 July 13, 2015

We're starting to realize that the transition day between house living and car camping is a hard one. You wake up in the morning with information, food, hygiene, and housing all within easy reach. By nightfall you've had to pack up enough food (but not too much) to last a week or so, get water (potable), figure our where the good hiking trails are, find a place to set up a tent, carry stuff out of and back into the car a few times, and adjust to having no data connection of any kind.

Our first day out after a lovely weekend in Ashland, was no exception. Our goal had been to do some hiking and car camping in the Mt. Shasta area of Northern California. The Fifth Season was a great outdoor shop in Mt. Shasta City and the guy there made some excellent hike recommendations. For camping he thought any of the three sites on the mountain should work, or if not then we could try disbursed camping anywhere along the South Fork of the Sacramento River. The first campground we tried on Mt Shasta didn't have any water, so we drove back down to town, checked in with the Ranger station on where to get water. We were directed to the spring at the Mt. Shasta park where I was reprimanded for standing in the sacred headwaters of the Sacramento River, despite the fact that there were plenty of people doing the same thing, and honestly, standing under the spring and in the stream was the only way to get the water. (Did I mention that there was also a guy meditating, and burning sage in the spring?). Have I also mentioned that the first person who spoke to us in Mt. Shasta City informed us, without provocation, that "those are camera trails, not contrails"? 

Water obtained, the Sacramento profaned, interesting encounters had, we headed back up the mountain and passed the first water-less campground since it was not only dry, but also really dirty. I'll cut the rest of this short and just say that regarding the other campsites, nudity is prohibited, sage-burning, guitar-playing and drumming were very popular, hiking wasn't really an option and the sites were extremely close together. It just wasn't resonating with S.D. and I.

We felt pretty much the same disconnect with the folks camping along the suggested camping spots on the river. After a good two hours, and with evening approaching we settled on a site on a side road. After bagging up some garbage left by previous campers we set up the tent.This turned out to be a good site where we spent a restful night.  Hopefully the trail we'd hike the next day, to the Deadfall Lakes and Mt. Eddy would change the uneasy feelings we were having about the area and end that feeling of discombobulation.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Cascade Canal: a Twelve Mile Eight Mile Hike

July 9, 2015

The day after our blistering twelve mile hike (pun intended) we drove us back to REI for new boots.
PCT on the Eastern Slope of Mt. McLoughlin
(All apologies to my friends at EMS. I do love EMS, their dedication to mountain life and their quality products,'s a long drive from here to try out their stuff and especially to get boot fittings). S.D. needed something bigger, and I needed something more supportive. After two hours of trying shoes and boots we left with each of us getting a new pair of hiking boots and ready to hit the trail again.

To break in the boots the plan was to hike a short eight mile loop. We'd leave the tent site, head back west to the PCT, where we had left off the previous day, continuing hiking south, turn east when we reached the intersection with the Mt. McLaughlin trail. Once we reached that trailhead, rather than take the road back north to the tent, we'd follow the Cascade Canal for the three miles back to Fourmile Lake and the tent.

According to Wikipedia the Cascade Canal "The Cascade Canal begins at Fourmile Lake, located 5,748 feet (1,752 m) above sea level.[4] It travels southeast, around a ridge named Rye Spur (sometimes known as Aye Spur). We'd seen the outlet at Fourmile Lake and knew it was close to our tent. We'd also seen the canal alongside the road to the tent site and, near the Mt. McLoughlin trailhead. We hadn't, however looked too closely at the map, nor had we read the Wikipedia entry about it curving around a ridge named Rye Spur. A detour that would add significant mileage to our planned hike.

The Cascade Canal
Up until the Cascade Canal leg of the hike, the plan was going well. We'd met and talked with four different thru hikers, some section hikers and two guys "out for the weekend". Oregonians really do have a great outdoor culture and everyone seems to get outdoors in some way or another. It's not hard to see why, Oregon is beautiful. On this hike alone we'd had several stunning views of Mt. McLoughlin, hiked along a glacial moraine, walked beneath towering pine trees and through wildflower meadows. And we were looking forward to the three miles along a clear running canal. And then half an hour into that section the trail turned southeast when it should have been going north. 15 minutes later it turned east which was slightly better. 30 minutes later we were still going east and thats when we noticed a large lake to the south and below us. From the outline we identified it as Lake of the Woods. A lake and a woods we should have been no where near.

The View We Shouldn't Have Been Seeing
A minute later we'd booted up google maps on the phone and it found us. North of Lake of the Woods, and waaaay south of Four Mile Lake. Further away then we'd been at the Mt. McLoughlin trailhead. By now we'd been hiking for over four hours and it looked like one way or another we'd be hiking for a few more. The question, or should I say the discussion, was about to continue or turn back. We could do the sure thing, turn around and hike back to the Mt. McLoughlin trailhead and hike the three miles up the road. Or we could trust that we were indeed hiking beside the canal that went back to Four Mile Lake and that it would do so sooner than the sure thing option. I mean how many canals are there running through the Oregon wilderness? And since we had been hiking up along the canal, with the water running down, and the total elevation gain between the trailhead and the lake about 1200ft how long could the canal possibly run? Four miles, five miles?

Turns out it was seven. Yup. Seven miles. Our eight mile hike turned into a twelve mile hike and by the time we wandered back into the tent site, our 'dogs' were tired, but blisterless. Our new boots were broken in. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Twelve Mile Circumnatigation of Fourmile Lake

Mt McLoughlin
Tuesday, it was back to Phase Two training after two town days. We were now camping at Fourmile Lake in the Sky Lakes Wilderness between Medford and Klamath Falls, Oregon. It was time from some speed work. Time to pick a relatively flat trail and cover it as fast as possible. From our tent site at Fourmile Lake it was easy to find just the right loop trail.

Leaving a little late (8:30am) we set off hiking east on the Badger Lake/Long Lake trail and soon ran into our first problem. The east side of Fourmile Lake has some awesome views across the lake to Mt. McLoughlin. It would ruin our time but we had to stop (often) and admire the perfect volcano form and view.

But we soon found more than adequate encouragement to keep a good hiking pace. Mosquitoes! Lots and lots of mosquitoes! At first it was only mildly annoying and S.D. started making jokes about 'our entourage' but when we tried to stop to admire Long Lake, or get a snack, they'd attack. The next four trail miles to the intersection of the Long Lake trail and the PCT flew by.

Once we were heading west on the PCT, and on higher and drier terrain, the entourage left. There were no hike-stopping views and we were able to make some serious time on the trail, stop at Christie's Spring, even chat with a southbound thru-hiker and stop to have lunch.

We were still making decent time and with five miles left to hike, our legs and lungs were feeling good. Our feet however, were starting to feel a bit different. One of the chores we did on town day was getting me a new pair of hiking shoes. So far on this hike there was no sign of any blisters but the ball of my foot was starting to burn. Meanwhile S.D. who has been hiking in a pair of five year old Merrill Moabs was starting to feel blisters forming, and toes bumping on his right foot.

The Tent Site on Fourmile Lake
At mile 10, we turned east off the PCT for the last stretch back to the tent site. Our mosquito entourage had returned to provide encouragement but as S.D. put it "our dogs were barking." My right foot was burning and his was blistering. We made it back to the tent in relatively good time by focusing on the cool swim we'd take and the thought of resting our dogs for the night.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Night on Mt Ashland

After a week camping at the Panther Flats Campground and hiking in Northern California it was time to head back to Ashland to catch up on 'regular' things, or as I'm beginning to think of it, it was time for a 'town day'. There was a month's worth of mail to sort and reply to, emails to catch up on, gear to update, birthday packages to send,laundry to wash, and grocery shopping to do.

Leaving the campground early Sunday morning we reached Amy's house around 1:00 and within seconds had our mail scattered all over the living room floor and our computers connected. Thank you Amy and Nick!! While they escaped to go swimming we worked on things for an hour or so, went to get lunch and then headed up Mt. Ashland to camp for the night. Ashland had been suffering through a week long heatwave, which we did not want to participate in, and we knew temperatures 3000 ft higher would be significantly lower. Such is one of the joys of living out of your car. If the weather is bad, you just do somewhere better...or you wait in the car for it to blow over.

Which is exactly what we were doing two hours later. While driving up the mountain a light rain had started to fall. By the time we reached the summit there were ground strikes a little to the southeast. Slowly driving along the forest service road that follows just under the ridge we had to stop briefly to let four fire fighting trucks go by. "There's a lot of smokes starting to show up" one of the guys told us. We drove a little further and pulled off to wait out the storm in the van. We'd selected a low saddle called Grouse Gap where there was a good level tent site, a side road to a little shelter and where the PCT crossed the road.

(Cue  Rimsky-Korsakov's "Night on Bald Mountain")

And then the storm started. First just lightening and heavy rain, then small hail, then large hail, then some really close lighten strikes. Meanwhile the temperature was dropping. It had been 95 degrees in Ashland. When we first got to the summit it was 72. It was now 58 degrees. Looking up we saw a PCT thru hiker with a full rain suit and pack cover come out of the woods, cross the road and disappear down the trail. He went so fast, and the rain was falling so hard on the windshield it was almost like he was never there. Then two other figures emerged from the woods. The shorter one in the rear, no rain gear and completely soaked. The taller hiker raced over to the car, before I could even get the window down he was saying something about his grandfather being soaked, cold, and shaking, their car being three miles down the road. Could we give them a lift? The grandfather was now closer to the car and he was indeed shaking. Getting him into the front seat it was easy to see he was actually hypothermic. S.D. started the car, and blasted the heat. We dried him off a bit, threw some dry coats over him and wrapped him in one of the sleeping bags.  I pushed aside enough gear so that the grandson and I could crawl into the back of Bruce.  We sat for a while warming him up, then headed back down the mountain to their car. With promises from the grandson that he's stop at the hospital and with the grandfather's condition starting to improve we left them and drove back up to Grouse Gap to wait out another round of storms.

View from the tent site (Mt. Shasta)
Around 8:00pm the clouds cleared off, and the sun came out. We set up the tent. It was one of the many spots on this trip where I'm just amazing and honored to be able to camp. To see the sun set reflected off Mt. Shasta and a few hours later to watch the sunrise glowing on the same peak. In a few hours we'd head down to Ashland to finish up business, laundry, and shopping but for now I was too happy to sit back in my Kelty Loveseat, sip my morning coffee and enjoy the moment.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Serpentine Soils: Craig's Creek, Myrtle Creek and the Elk Ridge Trail

The Smith River
Micro-climates are fascinating. One minute you are hiking along in a open forest and 90 degree heat, then you turn a bend and into the shade of small hillside waterfall. The temperature drops 10 degrees, the plants change to ferns, sorrel and thick pines.

Hiking in Northern California and Southern Oregon, in our continuing effort to prepare for serious backpacking,  we've discovered a whole other kind of micro-climate. One minute you'll be hiking along in the open forest and, without turning any corners, the trees will become stunted, or change entirely, the ground cover will thin, unusual plants will appear and the soil will turn a dusty red and the rocks, of which there are suddenly many, will be greenish black and shiny. This we've learned is Serpentine soil and it supports entirely different vegetation from other soils and rock types, thereby creating it's own soil-climate.

We first noticed the serpentine 'soil-climate' on the hike after the Devil's Punchbowl. Wanting a hike
Serpentine Soil
that was a little less strenuous, and hopefully cooler we'd selected the Craig's Creek Trail, a 8 mile, mostly level walk along and above the South Fork of the Smith River. The trail wound into small waterfall valleys hosting coastal redwoods and then out to sunnier hillside of Lodgepole and Sugar Pine. At one point however the trail briefly turned red, the trees and plants all thinned out, some changing entirely and we were walking in almost full sun. A few more feet and we were back in the shade. "That was weird" I said to S.D., and we walked on. On the way back it was S.D. who commented, "Here's that place that was so different". Hmmm.

The mystery about that spot was solved that very afternoon. Since the Craig's Creek hike had turned out a little too easy for our Phase Two training program we elected to take another small hike. The Myrtle Creek trail was listed as a two mile interpretive trail explaining both the natural and mining history of the area in 15 interpretive stops. We couldn't resist!
The Ridge
It was at stop #6, in an area with red dirt, and unusual plants that we learned about serpentine soils. Ah! That explained the 'wierd' spot on the Craig's Creek Trail.

Apparently however, these two encounters did not fulfill our need for serpentine soil. The following day we decided to hike the Elk Ridge Trail. The description promised a moderately strenuous hike with over 2500 ft of elevation gain over 5 miles, along with fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean (20 miles to the west), and the Siskiyou Mountains (to the east). And the description was correct. What it failed to spell out was that the hike was almost entirely in serpentine soils, leaving the ridge exposed with little tree cover...and probably not the best hike for a cloudless, 90+ degree day.

But the views were certainly worth it. Standing on the ridge huddled under a stunted bristlecone pine,
red dust completely covering us from the waist down, blazing sun overhead, we gazed east toward massive mountain peaks. Looking west, our gaze more covetous than awed, we looked down over the canopy of the redwoods, imagining the cool shade below, and then further east to the massive fogbank that hung cooly over the coast. Not only did we learn about serpentine soils, we also now had a good idea of when they would, and would not make for the best hiking trips.

Devil's Punchbowl: A Phase Two Progress Report

I've got blisters. An inch-long blister on the right heel, and an inch high blister on my second toe. And a bit of heat exhaustion. S.D. is tired too, we just slept for a solid ten hours. I'm also a bit rattled after our first bear encounter. The good part, however is that, we're not too sore! Phase Two, the phase of our plan where we are getting in shape to go backpacking is a bit more difficult than expected. It's fun, and the scenery, bicycle riding, and hikes have been great but the bodies and minds are just taking a bit longer to get into the spirit of this phase.

Redwoods and the Smith River
Our current base camp is Panther Creek campground. It's in the Smith River Recreation Area, in far Northern California, just a few miles north and east of the Jedidiah Smith Redwood Park. The weather for late June / early July has been unexpected hot; 90's in the daytime, 60's at night. But "it's a dry heat" the locals tell us, so it's not bad.

Walking through the redwoods two days ago, it really wasn't. They grow about 10 miles from the

coast so the temperature was about 15 degrees cooler. Additionally they provide shade. We hiked along the Mill Creek for 8 miles, marveling at one awesome tree after another. Following that I went for a swim in the Smith River and that's when I noticed the toe blister. It was huge! That night I drained and bandaged it. We figured the shoes had been the main source of the problem and planned to switch them out with my old North Face 940s for the following day's hike to... the Devil's Punchbowl.

"Gentle" Switchbacks up to the Punchbowl
The Devil, or Satan, if you prefer, tends to be the namesake for nasty, inhospitable places. From the photo's we'd seen of the Punchbowl however, it looked like he'd finally gotten a good one. The Punchbowl is a glacial cirque lake high in the Siskiyou mountains. God's country. And we were really looking forward to the roughly 8-10 mile hike. With the 940s I wasn't worried about the blister, and we figured we were ready for a more difficult trail. 

I say, 8-10 miles when describing the hike because while the trail is the same no matter where you read about it, the mileage does vary. As does the difficulty rating concerning the last mile of switchbacks that climb 1000 feet. Our original trail description noted then as 'gently switch backs which made the trail possible for the average hiker'. The one I read today called them "serious and demanding." We took a photo, you make the call.

Anyway we set off early in the morning. Temperatures in the valley were again forecasted in the 90's. Up in the higher elevations we'd figure they'd be a good 10-15 degrees cooler. The forest service road that took us to the trail head, certainly took us up in elevation also - along a 15 mile, single lane road where one shoulder was a cliff and the other a rock face. Half way up that, we scared a mother bear and her cub, who then ran up the road ahead of us.

Bear spray double-checked and loaded into S.D.'s pack, we set off on the trail at about 9:00am. At about 10:00 we stopped for a snack and had our first out-of-car bear experience. We heard a branch snap up the mountain and to the right.  S.D. said it was a squirrel. Then another branch snap. Slightly closer. S.D. said it was a deer. I asked where? S.D. stood up and said, "it's a bear." Waved his arms and said  "Go away bear." It turned out to be a sow and cub foraging.  I informed the bears that 'we have bear spray'. And they did run away, sort of. They paralleled the trail about 300 yards away and then turned to go further up the mountain. S.D. asked if I really thought they understood "bear spray"? Hey, bears are smart.

After that little bit of fun we continued on, and soon up. The temperature was also going up. When we came out of the tree line, about 3/4 of a mile from the punchbowl it must have been 90 something degrees. Between the heat and the adrenaline from the bear encounter, I was beat. (or beat and bitchy if S.D. was telling the story). But we could see the outer rim of the punchbowl, across the dark, hot, exposed rock, from where I collapsed and slowly we made our way. First over a sweet little creek, then around the first pond, and then up the final climb to the punch bowl.

While I managed to take a photo, S.D. realized that I was not so much bitchie as dealing with heat
exhaustion. He soaked a rag in the water and used that to cool me off. Then I soaked some more in the lake and really began to appreciate the Devil's Punchbowl. Sure I was beat, and we still had a long way back to get to the car, but this place was amazing. Don't get me wrong all the exposed rock made it hotter than hell (reference intended) but it was beautiful. On the way back we talked with two backpackers who were planning to camp there. They'd heard it was even more amazing in a full moon. I can only imagine.

The hike back to the trail head was long and hot, and with me whacking bushes so the bears could hear us and S.D. getting tired, we were more than glad when we reached the van. It had been a hard hike, both physically and mentally. We'd had plenty of warning that there would be bears. Seeing them, and seeing how quietly they travel through the woods, it's just taking some getting used to. Hopefully the blisters will heal quickly, a lay day will help us recover from the heat, and I'll get used to the bears. Black bears, that is. Grizzlies, I'm still not sure of.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

In Search of the White Headed Woodpecker

This post refers to June 16, 2015
White Headed Woodpecker Habitat

Box of Baby Birds
When we read that the Idlewild Campround in Burns, Oregon is the place to go to see the rare White Headed Woodpecker, we knew we'd be going. Or rather stopping, Burns was already on our route from Boston to Ashland, Oregon, we just hadn't planned to stop there. Nor are we 'birders' in the sense that we'd go anywhere and everywhere to see particular birds it just that woodpeckers are special.

Back in Beverly having the woodpeckers come to the feeder was always an event. We'd had three different types, the Downy, the Hairy (both whom look very similar) and the Red Bellied (whom I called 'the Big Guy'). When we were camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes, or rather when we were repacking the van at Sleeping Bear Dunes Campground we'd been startled by the loud drilling of another woodpecker. Even bigger that the Red Bellied, this woodpecker was also redder. I tried to get a photo but wasn't very successful, and I'm now sure what kind he even was. Still it was cool to see him.

The White Headed Woodpecker is smaller that all four of the previous mentioned birds. The males also have a small red spot on their head, but irregardless, on Monday, June 16th, we pulled into the Idlewild Campground. Having just driven four hours from our night in Boise, Idaho through some very dry, but hilly county.  We restocked our food supply in Burns, a dry and flat town, we'd turned North up RT 395 into the Malheur National Forest. Climbing up through Divine Canyon we quickly left the plain and entered a high desert Ponderosa Pine Forest. Nearing 5000ft we took the turn into the campground and picked a quiet spot on the outer ring. (Actually any spot would have been quiet as we were the only campers there.) 

3:00 pm on an 80 degree day probably isn't prime bird watching time but we wanted to go for a hike so we set off on the Idlewild Loop Trail through the giant pine forest. The White Headed Woodpecker prefers the ponderosa pine for its habitat, and that's about the only tree up here. However, these are all very healthy, some impressively so, not many are dead and obvious homes for the bugs woodpeckers

Tonight, when it cools down to 50 degrees, or maybe tomorrow morning before the temperature warms up we'll take a little walk again. Maybe this time we'll see our woodpecker.

prefer. Needless to say, we didn't see or hear any woodpeckers. We did see an amazing forest, a deer, a Stellar Blue Jay, some crows, and in a box that was supposed to contain a trail map, a nest of some type of baby birds.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Top Ten Things We Saw in Idaho

Lava Tub at Craters of the Moon National Monument
June 14, 2015

It's a long way across the southern end of Idaho. From Driggs to Boise, mostly on I-80 is 353 miles as the interstate follows the curve of the Snake River. From Driggs to Boise on state road 20 is only 329 miles, straight across the state. According to google, the driving time is roughly equal at 5 hours. We choose RT 20. Driving 85 mph and seeing nothing but trucks and billboards had lost it's appeal. Besides the speed limit on the 'backroad' was still 65!  We figured there was more to see of Idaho and we wanted to see it.

Wildflowers blooming on a cinder cone
And here is what we saw:

1. The straightest stretch of road yet. (and I learned that driving a straight road for an hour is really difficult)
2. Volcanic butte's
3. Atomic City, the first city powered entirely by atomic energy.
4. Some weird government facility behind miles of barbed wire fencing with only one road in, and one road out.
5. Craters of the Moon National Monument! Not a volcano but an area where lava flowed out and around making lots of serious lava structures in the middle of no-where. Some of the lava caves were large enough to walk through. It was 90 degrees outside, but only 70 inside the cool dark lava tube.
6. A hamburger restaurant. The one restaurant in 160 miles. It was packed and the burgers were good.
7. Irrigation. Lots and lots of irrigation structures and equipment.
8. Mountains, tall, dry mountains. Always to the North of the road. According to the map there were several different ranges but they all looked tall and dry.
9. Cows. Almost 95% black Angus beef cows.
10. There were probably 29 trees. They all had cows underneath them. 

After a full day of driving we stopped for the night just North of Boise. Tomorrow we'd drive into Oregon.

Driggs, Idaho: The Tetons are Always Greener from the Other Side of the Range

A Ranger at the Jenny Lake Campground had explained to us that the Grand Tetons were formed when a giant North South fault suddenly rose straight up 9000 feet creating the massive range that exists today. Due to the nature of the uplift, the Eastern slopes were practically vertical, but the western slope was more gradual, "almost so gentle you could almost walk right up", she said.

We left the campground in the Tetons Park early in morning with the idea of driving down to Jackson Hole, getting some coffee and an internet connection, and then driving west, seeing just how gradual the other side of the Tetons really were.  If it were nice enough, camping and hiking there for a few days.
Coincidentally our plan also took us out of Wyoming into Idaho, a state about which we knew very little. Basically, they grow potatoes there and the B52's sang a song about 'living in your own private Idaho", a statement I considered some type of insult to non-potato-loving people's everywhere.

And sure enough, as soon as we descended the pass into Idaho, we started seeing potatoes. We even
saw giant potatoes and the "Spud Drive-In" which is apparently run by potato people. But the amazement didn't stop there. Driving north, along the western foothills of the Grand Tetons we came to Driggs, Idaho.

Driggs is a small town and while it doesn't have a bookstore, it does have a library with a great selection of used books for sale. It also has a great coffee shop and Broulim's grocery store was stocked with the best produce and wine. Driggs is also 100% bike friendly and has a number of wilderness outfitters, for both hiking, biking, fishing; adventured both in the Tetons and the Snake River. But best of all, Driggs is the town you pass through on your way east to Teton Canyon.

Driving up Teton Canyon you find the National Forest Service Teton Canyon Campsite and trail. Fully stocked from our visit in Driggs, we set up camp and set off up the trail to the Grand Tetons once again. Just as the Ranger described however, this was almost a totally different mountain range. Instead of hiking underneath towering clifts and scrambling up granite mountain sides, we strolled along a gentle brook and then into a broad wildflower covered valley with hanging waterfalls on every side. While we had been hiking on the Wyoming side we rarely had the trail to ourselves, and most of the people who would pass would hardly acknowledge your presence. Here, the Idahoians were incredibly considerate, fit, friendly and obviously as in love with the mountains as we were. They would stop, talk about the wildflowers, suggest other trails that we 'really need to hike', and tells us about their favorite places in Idaho.

After two days of camping and hiking it was time to continue on. Driving west I realized that I'd be happy to live in my 'own private Idaho' provided it was in Driggs, at the western foot of the Grand Tetons.