Aug 30 '93
After finishing up the edits that the committee wanted on my dissertation and getting all the signatures, I needed to move all my belongings. After much frantic giving-away of stuff and putting stuff in storage and trying to stuff as much as I could in the back of the truck, I finally departed the Tucson environs at 7pm, some 4 hours behind schedule. About the trip from Tucson to Flagstaff, the less said the better. Suffice it to say that the visibility to the back was much better than expected, and the poor truck had a little more trouble with the hills than I thought--some sections of I-19 saw me doing a blinding 45mph.
I finally rolled into Flagstaff at 11pm; found a motel; slept till 7, and was on the road again by 7:45. US89 north of Flagstaff, especially the Painted Desert, is of course very nice. As someone said, Arizona is beautiful, sometimes spectacularly so. And my warm feelings toward the Grand Canyon State were made even warmer by the knowledge inside me that henceforth I would only be a visitor to this fine state.
I stopped for a couple of minutes at Glen Canyon dam. Looking at it from the bridge, I revise my earlier estimate of a couple of Stinger missiles. I think the best bet would be a few shaped charges placed on the far side by Scuba divers.
Southwest Utah was very nice indeed. The Vermillion, Roan, Pink and the White Cliffs, and finally the Hurricane Cliffs--very impressive. Made me want to shoot some cows. And BLM officials.
At Kanab I made my first mistake. I had two choices--through the national forest north to Cedar City, or Utah 9 through Zion to Hurricane. I wanted to see the Hurricane cliffs, so I picked 9. Bad move! Extensive road work reduced speeds to the 30mph range. And then it dawned on me--since it was a National Park, I was going to have to fork over $5!!!! Damn and blast. Well, after only 15 minutes in the queue, I got to the gate, handed over the extortion money and proceeded. In front of me was a huge American car with two dear old ladies in it. After 25 minutes, I would gladly have rammed their car to make them stop, pulled them out and beaten them to a pulp. They had this endearing habit of slowing to 10mph and then pointing up at the canyon walls at some sight, while drifting over the centerline. After about 20 attempts at trying to make them pull over by flashing headlights, they finally relented, and I proceeded.
Zion Canyon is really nice. It would have been truly incredibly spectacular if they hadn't PUT A FUCKING ROAD THROUGH IT! Jesus. And the Park propapganda they handed out hails that road as a ``triumph of modern engineering.''
Well, having lost a little time there, I decided to make the best speed I could. Stopped just outside Cedar City for gas and two cans of Mountain Dew. Total time spent stopped in UT: 10 minutes; total amount spent: $15. Not counting the bloody highway robbery commited by the NPS, of course.
After that, it was 75-85 all the way to the Idaho border. SLC, Provo, Ogden--all just sort of flashed by. At times the traffic was a little exciting... Utahans seem about as good about lane changes, signals, blind spot hugging, and general traffic etiquette as Arizonans, so I felt right at home.
Once in Idaho, I felt I could spend some more money, so I stopped at Malad City, a charming little hamlet of 1,962 souls for gas. I decided to also wash the windshield. After getting all the remains of the sacrificial insects off, I discovered that there was no squeegee on the other side of that thing. Rather like soaping up in the shower, and then the water goes off.
I also discovered all these white dried spots on the hood, a bit like dried paint. Swabbing them off, I noticed a distinctive smell. Too late I remembered that at one point I had been behind a truck carrying chickens or some such foul fowl. Ah, life.
Finally, at 9pm daylight time, I rolled in to Poky. Exactly 12 hours after leaving Flag, and with total stopped time of 30 minutes. Stayed up to watch Dave's Episode #2, and then collapsed in a stupor.
Today was spent in finding my way around campus and settling in and a couple of classes. Since I have tomorrow off, I think I'll go camping toady after classes.
Sep. 1, '93
Last we (or rather, you) heard, I was heading off for the wilds of scenic Idaho (the Gem State) Wednesday evening. A thought occurred to me: since I don't have to be in town for the weekend, I could save on three days of motel prices by going camping. So be it, I decided.
So Wednesday evening after classes I jumped into the truck and set off, stopping only for a brief look at the topos. There seemed to be a nice looking valley of the Snake River near the WY border, unfortunately dammed (and damned) by the Palisades dam. Oh well, I'll go look at it, I thought.
Two hours later, I see the dam. Behind it lies a very pretty valley indeed, or at least (my views on this shouldn't come as a surprise) it was pretty until it was drowned. The road went along the shore of the reservoir. There were a few FS roads leading off, and I selected a likely looking one with the help of the topos, and turned off on it. A dirt road, but in pretty good shape. It went up a little side canyon, and to either side were occasional 4WD vehicles with Large tents pitched alongside. I drove on.
Pretty soon the road started to deteriorate and was turning Abbeyesque. (An Abbey Road is one that Ed Abbey would take a 2WD car on, but no one in their right minds would.) I hadn't seen any parked trucks, and there was a barbed wire fence ahead, and what looked like a decent spot close by, so I decided that was as good a place as any. I pitched the tent (it was already starting to get brisk) and explored. Crossing the fence I found a little sign reading ``ID/WY State Line.'' Hallelujah! I felt like the dreams of a lifetime had come through. Here I was, in the heart of teh Rocky Mountains!
Pretty soon clouds started to gather, and I retreated to the safety of the tent. A bit of rain hit, and I noticed that it was starting to freeze on the tent. Well, it promised to be an interesting night.
Man, I have only been that cold a few times before. With two sweaters and the bag (nominally a 0 degree bag) I still woke up at about 4 am, in bright moonlight and absoultely clear skies. And thanks to the preversion of daylight saving time I knew the sun wouldn't up till about 7. I put on some more clothes, and walked around. These mountains (the Snake River Range) only went up to about 8000, so there wasn't a very impressive view or anything, just the reservoir. And then I thought, if that's the state line right there, Jackson is probably not far. Might as well take a look. So I packed up before sunrise (and it was excruciating, collapsing the tent poles in that temperature without gloves--I couldn't find them. I hadn't been expecting a 25 degree night in August!) and hit the road.
The road from the Palisades to Jackson is splendid. It goes in the Snake River Canyon, which is quite narrow in places, and it's whitewater. Since it was still early (pre 9 am) there were no RVs out yet.
Jackson was--well, Jackson. Lots of touristy BS, ski shops, apres ski shops, etc. No sign of Jim Watt. I drove on to the Tetons. Ah! Beautiful, and I don't have to pay the damn Park Service to look at the mountains. It was still quite cold, so the tourists hadn't yet come out, and I had a very lovely breakfast of fresh fruit at the Snake River Lookout. I was accompanied in this by a bus-load of Frence tourists that pulled up. They inspected the signs, pointed to the range and sniggered. I casually crept a little closer to try and eavesdrop and only heard things like ``la grand téton!!!'' and then sniggering. Well, I guess if I was visiting Borneo and saw a mountain called ``Big Tits'' I might think it funny....
I also bought a topo--the western side of the range is less visited, harder to get to, and less steep than the front (east) side, definitely worth exploring. And it would be closer from home than Jackson is. Ah well, time to head back. Unfortunately the roads were crawling with RVs now, and the going was slow... made it back to Pocatello in 3 hours. Total distance from Pocatello to the Tetons: 150 miles. The west side is a little closer.
It is now Friday, and I have just finished off that last lecture at 3 pm (a lecture, incidentally, that Rich Saunders showed up to--he was in Poky to see a friend, and tracked me down). I dug out the topos--hmm, perhaps spend the night at Craters of the Moon, and leave early for points north into the central mountains--the Sawtooths, the Boulders etc.
The road to Craters of the Moon goes through the Dept. of Energy nuclear reactor site, the Idaho National Engg. Lab. Most of the people who work there actually live in Idaho Falls or in Pocatello, so INEL have this bus service to both cities. As I hit the INEL site around 5, I was rewarded with a wondrous sight: bus upon bus going to Poky. Just as I was thinking about the photo opp. I came across an even more amusing sight: the road I was on meets the INEL/Idaho Falls road at an angle. Therefore to the right, in the distance, the I.F. road was running roughly parallel, and was hidden behind a slight rise; so it looked like this huge string of buses was just driving throught the desert, like some middle eastern caravan (or a science fiction movie). There must have been a total of some 150 buses.
I think someday I'd like to go there and take some pictures of that caravan... but then again, that intersection is on INEL land, and their security teams might not be too kind of they came upon a Foreign National (and a member of several revolutionary left-wing groups like the ACLU and the SUWA) wandering around with a bagful of cameras.
Well, I got to Craters and went in to the ranger station and asked for a backcountry permit. The ranger was most pleasant and understanding-- he said ``here's the permit, there's a topo for sale, camp anywhere in the wilderness.'' And since it was around 5:40, the pillbox had closed, so I didn't even have to fork over the $4! Heaven! My mind went back to a certain time in the Petrified Forest NP, when they wouldn't give us a backcountry permit because we were 5 minutes late, had to pay the gatekeeper, and our plans to just sneak in and camp in the backcountry were thwarted by a truck with flashing lights drove everyone out at 7pm! I headed past the ``improved'' campsites (averting my gaze) made my way to the trailhead, and set off. Earlier, the ranger said that since it was the Labour Day weekend, the backcountry was the most crowded he'd ever seen--including me, there would be 4 people in the 80-odd square miles of the Wilderness. I told him that I was a city kid and could probably hack the crowds.
Armed with the topo, I found lots of little volcanice features that didn't have ``interpretive signs'' to guide me. Like huge trenches, lava trees and tree molds (that form when lava solidifes around a tree, retaining an impression of the bark patterns etc.); looked at cinder cones without having to push squalling brats out of the way, etc. etc. Clear night again, and very nice stars until the moon came up about an hour after sunset. Found a nice patch of cinder clear of sagebrush, and retired.
Early next morning, back out. Consult the topo--hmm, says here ``Borah Peak, 12,669 feet, highest point in Idaho'' and only about 50 miles away. Stopped at a little town called Arco (``first city in the world to be lit by nuclear power'') for breakfast, at the ``Green Pickle'' cafe. Featured item on the menu: ``Atomic Burgers''. Friendly, if crowded; and not mormon, since the woman wore bare-shoulder shirts, etc.
Arco is in the valley that is at the base of Lost River Range, home to Borah Peak. The volcanic flows of CotM are very porous, so no streams flow; and the the river that drains this mountain range, a very large one, drains into the lava flows and disappears. It's called the Big Lost River, for obvious reasons. The valley itself was wide and looked arid, with trees in a little 1000' stripe along the ranges on either side. Lots of potato farms, and lots of cows.
I found the Borah trailhead, couple of other cars parked there. Pack, and set off up the trail. Wait a minute--it's a 4WD track! With fresh tire tracks! Oh well, so much for the wilderness experience. The trail climbed steeply, very steeply. Soon I was in the conifers, and started to pass 4WD things parked along side. Then eureka! the road ends, crosses a large drainage and continues as a trail. Looking better already. Unfortunately, it also became steeper--much steeper. I staggered up it as best as I could, with both the knee and the ankle a veritable duet of protest.
Clouds had also started to form, looking very low and threatening. Rain in the valley, and approaching closer.... let's see, any shelter around? Not really. A couple of close lightning strikes helped me make up my mind--I pitched the tent, threw all the stuff inside, and no sooner had I crawled in that the heavens opened up. Mixed rain and hail, with high winds, and lots more lightning. Very impressive, especially since I was warm and dry. I was reminded of Curt's experiences in the Uncompahgre Nat'l Forest.
When the storms passed, it was getting late, and my knee was starting to swell up. (At this point it had been two weeks since the surgery on that knee.) Perhaps a hard climb isn't (wasn't!) a good idea. I found a flat spot, which took some searching since the trail just goes directly up a steep slope, and settled in for the night.
Sunday dawned nice and clear. Woke up around 6 am, and was ready to leave by 7 or so. Met a few other hikers planning to go all the way up if the weather held up. I headed down, and this was even harder on the knees. Just think of it as a toughening-up exercise, I told myself.
Consult the friendly topos again--it's very convenient, having topos for the whole state in one book--Craters was nice, and there's this other huge section of the wilderness, called the Blue Dragon Flows, that I haven't seen. I can either return the way I came, or continue up this valley to Challis, turn left following the Salmon, and then south through Sun Valley to CotM. The Salmon area and the valleys north of Sun Valley looked very interesting, with the Sawtooth Range. Not a hard choice.
The valley got narrower and higher, and the road got steeper. Still very dry, and close cropped by the bovine menace. Got to the saddle at the head of the valley, pulled off the road. A small BLM sign said that the area was a winter elk refuge and closed to off-road traffic. Well, if that isn't just the most unreasonable thing you ever heard!
I dug out the binoculars and scanned the hillsides for elk but no luck; and I wasn't about to climb for the promise of seeing some. I pressed on.
The next valley was narrower, but nicer--fewer signs of bovine infestation, with healthy looking sagebrush. Still dry, and still very high peaks on either side. Reached Challis, a very sleepy, very small town, even sleepier it being Sunday morning at 9. Turned left at an anonymous street, and once off the highway it started to look decent. Found a small restaurant called the ``Y Inn'' that seemed open for business, since there were pickup trucks (and only pickup trucks) parked outside. I knew I'd feel right at home there. A nice place, and very cheap; I put cholestrol out of my mind and enjoyed a 2-egg breakfast. Read the promo for the Eastern Idaho County Fair, and realised to my chagrin that I wouldn't be able to make it to Blackfoot in time to take it in. Blast!
After a little chat with the waitress I headed for the minor highway that ran along the Salmon. An excellent dry, narrow canyon that reminded me a bit of the lower Tanque Verde canyon [the time Curt, Eric, Rick and I went, spring break of '89]. Pretty soon it started to climb, and the canyon started to get wooded. Pretty soon a sign announced that I was in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and it was a pretty dense conifer forest. The river itself was getting rougher the further upstream we went. Pretty soon raft parties started to appear on the roadsides, putting in for the trip down to Challis. A very pleasant area--although, of course, not as pleasant if you were rafting down the river and had to listen to the traffic just above head level. Still, I don't know why they were going down the river there--just a few miles away is the Frank Church Wilderness. Oh well.
Pretty soon I got to the valley where I was heading south. This one was much narrower than the one below Borah; and the Sawtooths, although much lower than the Lost River Range, looked much more rugged. They had been extensively glaciated so there were lots of natural lakes in the region, including the sole remaining spawning area for the Sockeye Salmon. Lots of little side roads marked ``Sportsman Access.'' Since hunting season started last week, I decided not to explore them. The road then climbs to the head of that valley, to the headwaters of the Salmon. Excellent views looking down the valley from Galena Summit. For once I didn't even mind the hordes enjoying the vista with me.
Over the saddle, into the valley of the Big Wood River. Separating this one from the Lost River valley is the Boulder Range. Again, very rugged, but not as high as the Lost River Range. I think both the Sawtooth and the Boulder ranges would make excellent backcountry trips, esp. now that the campgrounds are closed. Hunting season should be done in about a month.
Well, down the other side, and pretty soon in Ketchum/SunValley. AAAaaa! Like Telluride, Durango and Jackson all rolled into one. Originally I'd planned to stop for lunch, but decided I could wait. Pressed on past Hailey, home of Friedman Memorial Airport, serving the Sun Valley area, the only other place I've seen this many bizjets - Learjets, Citations, Gulfstream Challengers--in one place is Westchester Airport. (Hailey does have an espresso/book shop--I wonder what it is about this Idaho connection between books and coffee! Perhaps it's because they're both Sin to the Mormons so they become a natural thing for normal humans to hang out in.)
I stopped for lunch in Bellevue, pop 1400 (or was 1040? something like that). A grocer-type shop was willing to make me a large veggie sandwich for $2.99. It was a very large sandwich--I was impressed. Got some locally grown plums and apples to complete the meal, and then some more miles of Plains driving to get to CotM. Got the backcountry permit without hassle, apparently the crowds had departed: I was the only one going to the wilderness. Also on duty was this rather attractive looking woman, what Bob Simms might term a ``babe,'' who said ``Oh Arizona? Where from?'' She was from Flagstaff and Phoenix, and we shared some jolly memories of AZ hikes.
Ok, now what? I didn't want to pay the damn entry fee! Waited in the Ranger Station parking lot eating the plums, reading Fahrenheit 451 and waiting for 5:30. Getting bored I walked down to the pillbox and talked to the guy for a while. Back to the truck, and Ray Bradbury. Ok, it's 5:40, let's go. AAAAARRrrrrgh! The pillbox is still occupied! Fuck! Handed over my last $5 and tried to look happy about it, while resisting the temptation to say something like ``haven't you gone home yet?'' while he was giving me the $1 change. So I thought since they got my money, I might as well be a touron for a while, so I looked at the interpretive signs, peered into cones with snow still in them, climbed to the official lookouts and so forth. Quite disgusting, what they've done to the place. When I couldn't take it any more, headed for the trailhead, and headed out.
The Blue Dragon Flows were wonderful, so named because of their irridescent blue colour. Tramped around for a while on the flow, till sunset, then found a patch of cinder, and slept the sleep of the just. The only problem was that the $4 still rankled. Oh well. The next morning I was up at 5, but it was still dark. Damn daylight savings! So I packed up, and since the moon was still very strong, explored around a bit more. The lava flows turned out to be a bad idea, since there was just enough light to do something stupid like fall and break (or badly sprain) an ankle, so I retreated to a cinder cone and explored that for a while, before heading back out.
They do something really stupid with the trail--it sort of loops around a cone, climbing partially up it. Looking at the topo the direct route, by-passing that stupid detour, looked do-able; in fact there was some indication that an old trail went that way. I reconnoitered, and it was an a'a lava field--very rough and jagged lumps of basalt, just about impassable. But on one side was a stretch of smoother flow of pahoehoe, and it turned out to be fine. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone confined to a wheelchair, but hell, if it's supposed to be a backcountry experience, what the hell! Then I found that the map on the sign at the trailhead had been carefully doctored to erase the old trail and the new one had been put in by hand. This reminded me of what had happened earlier at Borah--as I had been coming down, I met a couple who were walking in the rough stuff (mostly sagebrush) off to one side. (Curiously enough, I'd meet these two--Marika and Barry--a few months later at the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Pocatello--which is another story in itself.) They called out to me, so I waited till they could extricate themselves, and wanted to know the way up to the peak. Trying not to look incredulous I pointed back to the way I'd come--a rather wide 4WD road. And they said they'd talked to the ranger who said something about going off to one side from the road. I reassured them that I had met many people who had gone up all the way to the top by just following the trail.
Oh well, on that note of ranger incompetence I think I'll end this chapter. I wish I had some stories about stupid BLM officials, but maybe next time. Please eat more potatoes!