A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

2000 Miles in Twenty Two Days: Taking The Long Way

The Beauty of the American West: Sand Surfing, Western Landscapes, Elk, From Moorcroft to New Castle, The Black Hills

Over the course of one day, I came to the realization that the first part of my trip was over. It had been a great first week meandering slowly through the hinterlands of central Idaho. However, I realized there was more to this journey then indulging in my own self-satisfaction. It was time to reconnect with some good folks I had not seen in a long while. I was missing my people.

To get to my people, I had four days of steady driving to enjoy, and I made a fairly straight forward approach to the road back to the Midwest. To me, “fairly straight forward” is dictated a lot by general direction and roads I had not driven before. If I fail at finding new roads, then I settle for new parks and places I haven’t explored before, or roads I haven‘t traveled in some time.

I love driving. I love Marvin (my van) and making steady progress with her across the spacious lands of the American west. The following photos are from my journey east. I am often distracted by magnificent scenery, and if I see something that interested me, I stopped to enjoy it. My stops usually vary from five minutes to five hours and sometimes five days. I usually let spontaneity rule the day, and I’ve yet to be disappointed.

Sand Surfing at Bruneau Dunes
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The dunes of Bruneau rise 470 feet above the valley floor. In years past, I have thoroughly explored the many charms of this small park in South Central Idaho. However, despite all my efforts, I had never taken a board to the top of the dunes to attempt surfing them. Over the last two years, I thought about this every time I would review my pictures from these explorations.

I returned to the dunes to give it a try. After all, it was practically on my way (which is dangerous logic), and I had a long board that would probably work very well for the attempt. On my first day at the park, it was very windy, and looking up at the dune through binoculars, I could see a long cloud of sand blowing over the crest of the dune. I would have to wait it out. I spent the time taking my long board apart, reading, slack lining, and staring up the dunes.

The next morning, my alarm went off at 6:25 a.m., and by some miracle, I got out of bed and onto the trail well before dawn. The sky was pale pink with golden bands to the east as I began trekking toward the tall dune. It was over a mile away, and I saw the crack of dawn just as I rounded the lake. I stopped to smell the fragrant leaves of fresh mountain sage (“Ahhhhh”). Everybody should start their day like this.

I began to climb. Walking up a sand dune is not easy. The slope steadily became steeper and the sand harder to walk through. With every step I took, I lost six inches sinking into the sand. However, I made it most of the way to the top before I had to stop and take a breather, I was pleased with my efforts.
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I made it to the crest and stopped to appreciate the panoramic view of the high desert plain all around me. It was splendid. The breeze was picking up a bit, but not too bad. I sat in the cold sand and ate a small breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and an orange with tea. The sun was still low to the horizon in the east, and I welcomed its warmth. It is funny how such a simple thing as breakfast in a beautiful place can make such a difference in one’s day.
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I spent the morning attempting to find the right combination of sand, slope, and gravity to allow me go surf down the dunes. At first, it was a complete failure, the sand was too wet, and I barely slid more than a foot. Eventually as the day warmed and the sand dried, I was able to make a go of it, and had fun surfing the sand. In truth, it was not as epic as I imagined it, but I had fun, and caught a couple of fun rides. The best one was the last one, when I rode down the dune from the top, some 400 feet, to the valley below.

Idaho Road Scenes

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Mountain Lake Scene, US 20, Idaho

Craters of the Moon, Idaho
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This black, barren landscape was once an active lava flow from several volcanoes that once erupted here. I spent the afternoon hiking through it, and exploring several lava tubes.

Craters Along US 20, west of Idaho Falls
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The clouds began rolling in from the north in the mid afternoon. I had just finished my explorations of Craters of the Moon, and this scene opened up before me. The thick clouds held snow, but I wouldn’t find that out until I passed over the rocky passes in northwestern Wyoming.

Elk In Winter Pasture
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This was a quick roadside scene that I stopped to enjoy. These elk just north of Jackson, Wyoming spend the winter down low in the flat grassy meadows. I’d never seen so many elk in one place, and stopped to take a few pictures. Those heavy clouds I saw earlier had caught up with me, and the temperature dropped into the twenties. It began to snow as it always does when I drive this section of Hwy 26, and I made it up and over the pass before any accumulation made the driving hazardous.

Wyoming Road Scene
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This road is somewhere south of Thermopolis, Wyoming. This road headed into the mountains and into a rugged river canyon. The western US is full of views just like this one. I can’t seem to get enough of them. There is something soulful in being surrounded by grandeur. My life seems to slow down and I like to take it easy.

Driving these long roads of the American west, I find myself day dreaming a lot. To be fair, I am not only daydreaming, but also thinking about events from the past, some from the future. I like to try to stay in the present, but it’s not always possible. I’ll be listening to my book, then as the narrator drones on and I’ve just passed my 200th mile for the day, my mind wanders off and I’ll be lost in my head. “I wonder what it was like to travel these plains by wagon. Wyoming… Why not, Whyoming? Wyoming’s Motto should be: Up, Down, and Brown…” And so it goes.

From Moorcroft to New Castle

To some, the hinterlands of Middle America are a never-ending hell of monotonous driving. Picture an endless day of straight roads, and billboards; the roar of passing semis, sticky fast food, chain-smoked cigarettes and boredom. I feel sorry for these people, they just don’t get it. Like any landform, the plains have a beauty all their own. They have landscapes that you will see nowhere else on the planet, and though I may not make the plains a destination, I love driving through them. My advice? Appreciate where you are at, while you are there. I can find good things to say about almost every place I have traveled to.

There is one stretch of road that runs from the small town of Moorcroft, Wyoming southward to the charming town of New Castle, Wyoming. It is a wide two-lane highway, driven fast by almost everyone who uses it (except me). I had left Moorcroft just as the sun was beginning its final show for the day. The grasslands were lit up by that magical light of late evening, which lasted roughly an hour before the sun finally set.

I pulled over numerous times, sometimes turning around to go back to view the scene again. It’s hard to appreciate something you only get to see for a hundredth of a second before you have cruised past it at 67 miles an hour. I have never regretted stopping along side of the road to watch something beautiful happening.
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The larger of these two pronghorn antelope was chasing a smaller one across the prairie. It was obviously some act of male dominance, a show of force to prove to the young buck that he ought to leave town before things became ugly. I watched it all happen just on side of the road. I was hoping the antelope would try to cross a fence. I was told by Tommy and Dal (see Beginnings and Central Idaho) that antelope will not jump over a fence, but will dive under it. I wanted to see if it was true. They didn’t cross the fence. Ah well, perhaps another time.

The Red Horse
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This was another roadside picture. I turned around to see if I could get a nice picture of this horse. I was lucky, and I shot this picture just before the sun past below the western hills. This was the last light of the day, and it made this horse glow. Simply gorgeous.

The Black Hills
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Many people hold the black hills of South Dakota sacred, and I am one of them. The Lakota have always held these lands as sacred, and I can see why; there is a powerful peace to these lands.
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I don’t know where to begin in giving a historical description of the black hills. There is too much to tell, and I’m not an expert on its history. I will say that this region has been a very contested piece of real estate between our Native Americans and those that wanted to take the land from them (and did). In truth, it is a very ugly history, and not one of our bright spots in our nation’s promise of “liberty and justice for all.”
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With that being said, I am going to focus on more positive themes for this narrative. Namely, my expedition into the heart of the hills. I pulled into Custer State Park at mid-morning in mid April. I was the only car in the lot. I pulled on my hiking boots, grabbed some food, camera, the usual, and set off. I walked around Sylvan Lake. Sylvan Lake is a beautiful mountain lake, flat and serene, with giant boulders bathing in the shallows of the north side. I walked around to the north side, and climbed up on one of the giant granite islands that make up a lot of the scenery of the hills.
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A red wing black bird sat on a branch high above me, and sang a pretty song. I took it as a welcome. I set off with visions of tagging the top of South Dakota’s highest point known as Harney Peak (elevation 7,244 ft). I figured this would be easy enough, and a good way to get a feel for the land.
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The land was powerful. It consisted of a pine forest that grew around a changing landscape of steep rolling hills, ridges and valleys. From these hills, jut giant granite islands into the sky, some of them hundreds of feet high. Over time, they eroded, and formed massive twisted phalluses and sharp spires of intricate shape and delicacy. In and around these wonderful lands are crystalline rivers and small mountain lakes, water for birds, beasts, and man. Beyond these great hills is a sea of grassland that stretches far to the east and west. Immediately to the north and south lie the badlands, a region of great beauty and hard passage. See High Plains Drifting from March 2010 for my adventures in the badlands.

The ground on which I walked was covered in shiny metallic wafers. I don’t know what mineral it was I was looking at, but walking into the sun made the ground glitter as if there were thousands of tiny diamonds scattered about. I marveled at the giant rock formations. They were amazing, and I could feel the solemn power of the place just by sitting with my back to them for a while.

As I climbed higher onto the ridge, I saw a spur trail leading off to Little Devil’s Tower, and I decided that was where I wanted to go. I figured the high point would probably be a well-visited place, and I was looking for some solitude to sort out my thoughts concerning these sacred lands I was trekking through.

It didn’t take me long to make my way to the top, and I knew I had made the right choice. In every direction, the hills spread out before me, with the twisted spires and rock formations in the near distance, the endless plains far in the background. It was magnificent.
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I spent a lot of time up on that tower of rock. I was really digging the vibe of the place, and the views were superb. I sat down to take it all in. I had found the perfect perch, with my legs dangling over the edge of the cliff. I opened a can of almonds and peeled and orange. It was time for lunch. It wasn’t long before I realized I had a guest. A small chipmunk began to silently scale the rock wall near where I was sitting. I wondered if it would be interested in sharing an almond with me, and I held one between my fingers. It climbed cautiously, testing for trouble, scurrying close, and then retreating. Finally, sensing no danger, it climbed up on my hand and began to eat.
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I smiled and asked if it was the “Little Devil” and if this was its tower. I complimented the chipmunk on its choice of homes, it seemed a palace. It was a fun lunch, and I ate my food, and admired the view with the chipmunk. It’s not everyday you get to share your lunch with a chipmunk.
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Then as we digested our meal, an elk bugled somewhere far below in the valley. An elk bugle is a shrill high-pitched snooty sounding blow. I had heard them before in other magical places (the south rim of the Grand Canyon), and this made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It was really cool.

Then, a Red Tailed Hawk soared by not more than fifty feet away. It was level with where I was sitting, and it streaked by so fast and so effortlessly, I almost missed it. Given the fact I was perched up high on one of the best mountain views I have seen in such a sacred place, I couldn’t help but feel humbled. I am a very fortunate man.

After awhile, I moseyed on, saying thanks. I still had a long way to go if I was going to make it to Minnesota any time soon.

Stay Tuned!

Posted by Rhombus 21:21 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes mountains lakes wildlife hiking roads sunrise sunsets sand photography dunes Comments (1)

Two Thousand Miles in 22 Days: On The Path Of Sacred Pools

The Road to the Hot Springs, Enjoyment of the Canyon, and The Sacred Pools

semi-overcast 49 °F

On the Path of the Sacred Pools

I awoke at dawn to the smells of cold dew covering the ground of a wet pine forest, and of robins singing their sweet morning songs. I looked out and saw three deer foraging not more than fifty feet away, the pickings were good.
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After rising, I underwent some of the fundamental routines that all mankind embraces in the morning. I set about to French press some coffee, to accompany my breakfast. I thoughtfully watched the deer munching grass, and noticed the light had intensified the colors of the forest around me. I thought about the hot spring that I was going to visit that morning. I vaguely remembered it from a brief visit two years ago. All I could remember was a pool on the far side of the bluff down near the river. The pool had a hot waterfall that dropped about 25 feet into it. This hot spring has haunted me ever since.
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I wanted to take a morning soak. I finished my morning chores, and slid into the driver’s seat and headed east along the valley road. My visual senses were keen. I am usually perceptive to interesting light, and I had not driven very far through the valley before I started to recognize the unique qualities of the day. The sun was still low in the sky, occasionally blocked by the valley walls, and sometimes shining down into it. There were many fast moving clouds in the sky that played with the sunlight. At times, they totally blotted out the intense rays, or partially dulled down the light creating fantastic light on the valley below. There were occasional pockets of mists that would rise through up from the river added to the scene. Finally, the rugged river canyon was very interesting. It was a mix of tall mountain meadows, gigantic boulders, steep rocky cliffs, and the surging river running swiftly at the bottom.
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I saw a scene stretch out before me that I had to stop and take in. Luckily, as this was a scenic byway, there was a small pull off on side the road. I stopped parked, hopped out of Marvin and climbed up to the top of a giant boulder for a better vantage point. I looked down at the river and saw the roaring white water of rapids rolling along side the cliffs. High above the river, the road I had been traveling was bathed in light that Ansel Adams would have loved. Hell, any photographer would have loved the crisp intensity and changing dynamics of that morning’s light. I chose sepia for these images because I liked the warmth the brownish hues added, compared to shooting in true black and white.
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I jumped back in my van and started up the road again, only to pull over at the next spot that I could. I began to see a pattern forming, and since I wasn’t in a hurry, I embraced the beautiful morning. I don’t think the Middle Fork of the Payette ever looked better. Surrounded by tall pines and towering rock cliffs the gorgeous light made the river shine.
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At one point, I looked up river and saw my destination. The billowing clouds of steam from the hot spring rose up along the canyon wall, and I knew I was not far from soaking in that haunting pool. I drove on to the trailhead, parked, and packed a daypack. The air was cool, somewhere around fifty degrees (F), the trail was worn, covered in a layer of pine needles. It felt good on my feet, and I set off down the path to the sacred pools.
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I walked along side of the river, and the sights, sounds and smells were that of a robust river in spring. It was a pleasant walk through the pines. I found the spring area as I remembered it. The hot spring seeps from an exposed rock cliff on the side of the canyon. It runs down the rock in a series of small waterfalls, and is collected into pools made by rearranging rocks and damming up the flow.

As I neared the toe of the cliff, I saw another American Dipper sitting on a rock head high rock singing its morning song to me. I think Dippers and I are kindred spirits. We appreciate beautiful rivers, and we spend a lot of time around them. I took this as a good sign that I had chosen my day’s path correctly and began to look for a pool to immerse myself. There were shallow pools at the base of the cliff, but they weren’t what I was looking for. I started climbing the cliff, and found the best route was up the waterfall that ran down the rocks.
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About thirty feet up, I found what I was looking for. A beautiful pool of crystal clear water, hot, and wonderful. At this point, I figured that this would be a two soak morning. I would spend quality time in this pool, and then move on to the waterfall pool when I tired of this one. It sounds like a rough morning, I know. I stripped down (a bit), and eased my body into the hot water. It was perfect. The builders of this pool had done well for themselves. It was about 15 inches deep, maybe 12 feet long in an oval. It sat above the river on the cliff by about thirty feet or so. The river rushed along below rounding a small bend and giving me a pleasant white noise to listen to. I shut my eyes and relaxed. This was better than I could have imagined, and I was enjoying this moment to its fullest.

I went in search of the second pool. I had climbed across the top of the bluff where the springs originated and looked down on the far side of the cliff. I could see faint tracks of other hikers that descended a talus slope and I knew that was where I wanted to go. I made my way along the edge of bluff, it was precarious, but I was careful and I made it to the trail with little difficulty. I made my descent, and the waterfall and pool grew larger as I grew closer.

It looked incredible. The water collected in a large pool perhaps 15 feet long and 10 feet wide. It was about 15 inches deep and was fed by an amazing waterfall. It was a hot water waterfall. I felt it and started laughing aloud. I eased my body under the waterfall. The deluge of hot water massaged me. It was the best hot spring experience of my life. It felt incredible. I felt like that Irish Spring dude who took his bath under a cold-water waterfall, except I knew mine was better.
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The thing about waterfalls is they are very powerful. It’s hard to open your eyes when you are under one, and I kept mine closed. I eventually sat back against the cliff and looked out and the gorgeous river canyon around me. What a moment. Have I told you I am haunted by hot springs? I could not have dreamed a more sublime experience than what I was living.

After awhile, I knew it was time to prove my meddle. I gingerly made my way down the rocks to the river. I found a spot out of the current that I knew I could get in and out of in a hurry. The air temperature was about fifty degrees. The temperature of the water was much colder. This was winter snowmelt rolling by. Without thinking about it, I stepped into the ICY water, waded to a spot I knew I could submerge myself and lowered myself to my knees. My body went into a spasm and I began to try to negotiate with myself, but before I gained any sense, I dunked my body underneath the surface of the river. I came up fast, clutching myself and speaking in some high-pitched language that only dolphins would understand. I remember thinking to myself, “Do it again. Prove it.” So I dunked myself again, and came up croaking, “Proven.” Then I hustled my way out onto the rocks and scampered back up to the waterfall to soak again in hot water. I’m weird like that.

I spent a couple of hours in that spring. I even dunked myself in the river twice more to cool off between hot soaks. I was purified, and I was cleansed. I don’t think I have ever been cleaner in my life. It felt amazing. My body tingled, and felt wonderful for the rest of the day.

“It is said that if you go to a sacred spot, you yourself become sacred." ~Bear Heart

I felt sacred.

Posted by Rhombus 07:54 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls trees rivers canyons photography hotsprings idaho roadtrips Comments (0)

Two Thousand Miles in 22 Days: Beginnings and Central Idaho

Morning Bliss, Road Trips, Chasing Spring, River Roads, and Fine Hiking

semi-overcast 60 °F

Do you know how good it feels to wake up to the sounds of birds chirping all around you? Do you know how luxurious it feels to be bathed in fresh air all night long after a year and a half of the dank air of a ship? Do you know how intoxicating the smell of fresh green grass is, laced with the earthy potpourri of the nearby river chuckling steadily over the rocks? Do you know how pleasant it is to open your eyes and look in any direction, and see charismatic trees standing about you, almost waiting for you to awaken to appreciate them? Do you know the pleasure I feel in preparing a leisurely breakfast, making coffee in my small percolator, unpeeling the hard boiled eggs, slicing the aromatic oranges, and undressing the lemon poppy seed muffin?

These questions epitomize my ideals of waking up in this world, and let me say that I have almost reached the apex of morning serenity. The only thing lacking is a sweet soulful lady to share it with, but nine out of ten is good enough for me.

I am in Idaho once again, a state that calls me back time and time again. As it is April, I’m chasing spring around the state from north to south. The trip so far has been going very well, so far, and I am embracing my freedom, my emancipation from the clock, and my newly reacquainted love affair of traveling across the US by van. Things are good around these parts.

After stocking up in Coeur d’Alene on food, gasoline, sunglasses, and meeting my landlady, I was ready to head out onto that open highway and get this trip underway. However, since it was near lunchtime, and I was a bit hungry, I decided to stop in at the Moon Time for a Lamb burger and a Mac and Jacks. I didn’t know when I would be back, and I couldn’t pass up the lamb burger. After polishing it off in under five minutes, a new record, usually I have it gone in three, I told my waitress, “As you can see, I could barely choke it down.” She laughed and complimented me on my vacuum like skills.

I paid, jumped in my van and headed down the road. I didn’t make it too far, before I started to get very sleepy. It was as if they put a knock out drug in my burger. I pulled off the highway onto a little roadside park I knew about and hopped on my mattress to catch a siesta. The trip was off to a great start!
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I should mention that I drive a GMC Safari van named Marvin. Marvin is a she, and a very good van. I have custom designed and built the back of her to where I can comfortably travel out of it. I have a feather mattress, storage for food, clothing, water, computer, banjo, grill, a wok, a frying pan, a cooler, a book box, toolbox, utensil box and a tent. Organization is the key, there is a place for everything and everything goes in its place.

After awhile, my sleepiness wore off, and I got up. It was a beautiful spring day, well into the upper sixties with the sun shining bright on the land. I pulled out my banjo and set down to have a go with it. My fingers were working well, and I was thumping my way through one of my favorite songs when a big old’ diesel truck rolled down and parked. A dude got out and walked over to me. He introduced himself and his friend (Tommy and Dal) and told me to keep playing.

I played, and we chatted, it turns out they had specifically stopped because they wanted to hear me play. They cracked beers, didn’t offer me any, and we talked of Idaho, fishing, hunting, antelope, the banjo, the mandolin, and northern pike. I liked them. Dal was a bit negative, and he was packing a gun. Tommy was pretty chill and a big fan of the banjo. When they left, we wished each other well, and he said I had made his day, just by playing the banjo. I smiled. The banjo has that affect on people.
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I rolled on. I set a book going on my mp3 player and settled into my seat. This was more like it! I watched the miles of pines, small meadows, weathered mountaintops, small towns, and ranches roll by. It was getting on toward evening, and I still didn’t know where I was going to be staying that night. Part of the fun of vanning is figuring out where to camp. It gets tricky in early spring, because some of the forest campgrounds are still closed for the season. So, even though there is a tent sign on my map, it does not necessarily mean it’s going to be open. I had already struck out twice, driving off into the forest, only to be denied by snow, mud, or gates. I eye balled my map, and decided I wasn’t far away from Hells Gate State Park, just outside of Lewiston. I had stayed there on a previous trip and remembered it was a nice place. I aimed the van that way passing down into the Clearwater River valley. I passed through towns like Kendrick and Jullieta before catching Hwy 12 west to Lewiston. I noted that it looked like the good people of Kendrick and Jullieta had put in a nice asphalt trail that looked like it would be fun to ride my long board on.

I pulled into the park just after sundown. In the gloam, I set about to make some food, that being my favorite food of chili, for dinner, and some hard-boiled eggs for breakfast. It was well past dark by the time I finished cooking, eating, and cleaning up. I settled in for the night, with my windows wide open listening to the river, feeling the fresh air roll over me, and I was out.

My morning routines have been returning. I like to wake up to the birds, as there is no better alarm clock. I figure if the birds are late, than that is reason enough for me to be “late” in getting up. If I am hungry, I’ll make breakfast, if I’m not, I’ll do some yoga. After that, I’ll read or get my slack line set up and work on my balance.
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Eventually, I packed up and headed back east to Kendrick. I wanted to go long boarding, and so, I did. I love long boarding in springtime. There is a feel of complete freedom to be gliding through the warm fresh scented air in the sunshine. Everyone about me was at work or on some mission, but I felt like I was playing hooky from school. I soaked in the springtime sensations, and smiled. It was a good trail that followed a rushing river. Fresh grass grew along side of it, and the trees were budding. It was warm in the sun, and pleasant on the board. I felt great.
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I moved on, not making particularly good time. I kept pulling over at many of the roadside dirt “pull offs” that frequent the river roads in Idaho. Pull offs are usually just a small section of gravel large enough to park a couple of cars. They are frequented by fishermen, drivers who want to catch a break, or myself, who likes to take their sweet ass time getting anywhere. Idaho’s roads mainly follow rivers, as they are the easiest places to build roads in this mountainous state. I love both rivers and roads, and so I was constantly following my urges to stop and admire the river, or to keep going and enjoying the twists and turns of the road. The roads I’ve followed through this state have ran along the St. Maries, an unknown branch of the Clearwater, the Clearwater, the Salmon, the South Fork of the Salmon (I think), the Rapid, the North Fork of the Payette, the Middle Fork of the Payette, the Payette, and the Snake Rivers. I’ve loved all of them. The spring melt is causing them to run high and fast. They are surging, and gushing, roaring their way over rapids, rocks and bedrock. It is impressive!
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Along the Salmon River are numerous anglers’ campgrounds and access areas. I pulled into one of these sites, found a beautiful site right along the banks of the river with seven big Red pines to keep me company.
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The next day I left in the morning and made my way down to Riggins, ID. I was on the lookout for either a ranger’s station or a outfitter’s store to get some information on hiking in the area. Instead, I spied the city park. It was covered and green grass and had nicely spaced maple trees growing there. I pulled over and executed a U-turn. My other plans would have to wait, it was time to get my slack line out, and have a morning session.
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After that, I found my outfitter’s store, it was one of those little bit of everything places that sold rafting trips, t-shirts, espresso, a little bit of camping gear, and ice cream. They didn’t have anything I was looking for, so I asked for a dirty chai to go. The barista looked at me quizzically. “What is that?” She asked. I told her it was a chai latte with a shot of espresso, and she said she had not heard of that before. I told here it was good, and she ought to try one. I paid and thanked her, and went on down to the ranger’s station for some hiking info.
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About my only option for hiking that was open was the Rapid River trail, and since it sounded good, I opted to go. I was not disappointed. I went on a 8 mile day hike following the banks of the beautiful river into the mountain canyon. The river was roaring, and the steep canyon walls had limestone cliffs that towered above me. I wondered if there were any caves in them and it looked like there were.
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Young spring flowers had begun to bloom all along the path, and I saw many different kinds of flutterbys out enjoying the spring warmth, and sweet smelling flowers.
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I had stopped to take a break, and had sat down on two logs that lay across the river. I was sitting midstream enjoying the gushing river and sipping some tea when I heard the beautiful song of a Dipper not far away. I watched it jump from a low stone into the river, diving deep to pluck out a worm. Then it hopped back on to a rock, fluttered to a small waterfall, and ate it.
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Why do Dipper’s keep showing up wherever I am? I am beginning to think it is more than mere coincidence. This isn’t the last time I was to see a Dipper on this trip. More on that later. I enjoyed the show, and after resting for awhile, I decided to make my way back to the van. I had decided where I wanted to camp that night, and I had some distance to go before I was going to get there. As I walked down the canyon, a terrific wind kicked up and began gusting through the canyon. With it, came some rain. I could not remember the last time I had seen rain, and I laughed at the novelty of it.

I ate a late lunch at the van, and changed out of my dirty clothes. I hopped in the van, and pointed it south heading for a campsite east of Banks. I was heading into hot springs country, and this particular campground had a beautiful hot spring pool right across the road from it. I don’t even have to say this, but the first thing I did upon parking in my spot was to grab my towel and march off to the spring for a good long soak. It was awesome.

Little did I realize just how good the hot springs were going to be the next day…

There’s more to come from this adventure!
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Thanks for reading.

Posted by Rhombus 20:27 Archived in USA Tagged rivers hiking roads camping spring photography idaho vans longboarding roadtrips Comments (0)

The Fortunes of a Vagabond

An Unforgettable Two Weeks In Mexico: Whales, Dolphins, Landscapes, Friends, and the Best 24 Hours of my Life

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I have just lived two weeks of my life I shall never forget. I apologize for the delay since my last entry, but life has been too full of late to take time to document it beyond photos and journal entries, and it is better to live then to be a slave to documentation.

That being said, I want to share with you some of my experiences of the last days that are burned into my soul. They include mega pods of dolphins, close encounters with whales, an amazing flock of birds at dawn, sleeping outside under starry skies and awakening to a beautiful sunrise. I‘ve enjoyed amazing hikes in a desert paradise through powerful landscapes. I’ve shared these experiences with some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and I look forward to many more.

I wonder why I am so blessed.

Whale Encounters

Picture a fiberglass panga full of crewmembers speeding into the protected waters of San Ignacio Bay. The bay is a major nursery for California Gray Whales, and our timing was good. The Gray whales were still here preparing for their long journey north, and we were seeing spouts all around us. The water was choppy, and the breeze was fresh off the pacific. We were bundled up in windbreakers, and looking out for a whale that wanted to come say hello. We found one, and as mom watched nearby, the calf swam right next to the boat and began to spin in slow circles allowing us to pet her on all sides. It was beautiful. We smiled all day.
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I had never seen a pod of pilot whales so close to the ship. Pilot whales look like a cross between a dolphin and a whale. It looks like a really big dolphin with a flat face, and acts like a very small whale. We watched a pod of them for several hours just after dawn. The cool thing about Pilot whales is they usually have a pod of bottlenose dolphins that hang around them as well. Nobody really knows why. I like to think that the dolphins and whales are in harmony somehow, and in truth, they appear to be.
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Towards the end of the two week photo trip we were on we were far north in the Midriff Islands of the Sea of Cortez. The water is a lot colder up here, and very deep. It is squid country, and Sperm Whale territory. We came on several sperm whales right as the sun was setting, and I watched them breathe surrounded by the golden light of sunset. Then having readied their lungs they would arc their backs and dive deep leaving us with a fluking tail to remember it by.
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On my last day of actual work, we came upon a small humpback whale that seemed to be teasing us. We would watch it for a while, and it would dive and breathe, as whales do. It was nice, but we had to move on. So as the captain was starting to pull away, the whale would start breeching right next to us, and we’d slow down, turn around and watch it some more. Of course, the whale would go back to diving and breathing again. This went on for a half hour before the powers that be decided to finally say farewell.

Dolphin Mega Pods
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I have seen many dolphin pods down here in Mexico, but there was one this week that offered behavior I had never seen before. For one thing, it was a huge pod with hundreds of members. They were very active, very acrobatic, and the air was filled with flying dolphins. It was awesome. The air was filled with a cacophony of their squeaks, cliques and whistles, and the sound large splashes from lots of mammals. We watched them for twenty minutes, sailing along side of the main pod. It offered many photographers their dream shots of dolphins. As for me, I mostly watched them, I sat on the fantail with my feet kicked up on the rail drinking ice water, and eating Italian bread, as the machine gun clicks of photographers shot pictures without thinking. Eventually, I got up and grabbed my camera. I thought it better to enjoy them first before freezing them electronically.
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Then it happened. It was as if somebody flipped a switch under the water. En masse, the dolphins turned around and swam as quickly as I’d ever seen dolphins swim in the other direction in an organized, purposeful action. They took off. There was no way to keep up with them, and it was in the wrong direction. In the distance, I saw a white line from their wake receding into the distance. Awesome.

Birds of a Feather
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I was taking in the sunrise when a flock of sea birds began to circle the ship flying low to the surface of the waves. It was so cool. As the sun rose, I was able to time a few pictures of the birds whipping around in golden glow of the sun and waters. What a gift! It was so very beautiful.
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We visited Isla Rasa on morning. Isla Rasa is one of the more unique islands in the Midriffs as it is home to a huge colony of terns and gulls, with a population of well over a half a million birds. It is amazing to see, hear, smell, and watch that amount of birds in one place. Though I had to work that day, I was able to get close to shore for ten minutes to appreciate that experience. The one thing I noticed was that the terns seem to fly in pairs. Despite the chaos of hundreds of identical birds in the air at any one time, they were able to stay close and follow one another to their destinations. I was hoping to see the mating flights of the terns that I saw last year, but it was not to be.

Landscapes
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In my time in Mexico, I have seen some of the best desert scenes of my life. In my last days here, I was able to walk through some of these masterpieces one last time, exploring some new areas, and appreciating some I have already seen. I took these walks with some good friends from the boat, and these shared experiences of paradise will be long remembered.
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San Juanico remains one of my favorite landscapes in Mexico. I remember last year when I first explored it, I kept thinking to myself that it really would be great to meet some beautiful senoritas down on the secluded beach. This year I am a year wiser and invited two along to come for the hike. We hiked high above the sea, and the rocky spires, points, and islands stretched out before us in the aquamarine blue of the sea. It was beautiful.
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There is an arroyo on the west side of Isla Partida that could be the most magical place I have ever visited. I like the word magic. When I use “magic”, I’m more referring to a combination of my feelings about a particular location, and the energy of the location itself. As I’ve written about before, there are places in this world that hold dear to me, and I can pick up on the strong currents of energy that emanate there. Now if you think I am a crackpot, hippie influenced nature man, I stand guilty as charged. However, before you judge, I think you should go on this hike.

I went on this scramble with one of my favorite compatriots in the world. The day was sizzling. The sun beat down mercilessly. We were sweating after the first steps. The hike began with some boulder climbing and scaling some small dry waterfalls. We found several lizards doing “push ups” on the hot rocks. I’m not sure what makes them work out so hard in the hot sun, but I think I heard the theme music to Rocky, on a tiny lizard Ipod.

The arroyo was beautiful. The canyon’s rock was very porous and hollow and there were many caves carved into the rock. Some of them were large enough for us to stand in, and we rested in the shade and gulped down water. We held quiet, and let the desert speak. It was silent, save for the hot breeze curling around the arroyo walls. However, deserts speak not so much in sound, as in vibration, and sitting under that rock, we were feeling its power. We shivered, we smiled, we laughed and said thank you.

We moved on, climbing higher and higher, we had no destination in mind, but were hiking for the joy of it. Eventually we realized we were nearing the top, and decided to go all the way up. The last one hundred yards was covered with small cantaloupe sized boulders and we walked over them and to the top of the ridge.

It was gorgeous. We caught our breath and took in the sweeping views of the green water far below, the rugged mountain ridges, and blue skies. Turkey vultures silently soared by, not 30 feet away, each time I saw one, it felt like a gift. We stood on top of rock statues, yet to be carved, and I yodeled. I’m always nervous about yodeling in front of other people, because sometimes my voice cracks badly and I sound like a howling teenager in English class. At other times, it comes out beautifully. Luck was with me, and it sounded good.
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A hummingbird zipped by. It poked around the sparse desert plants that were blooming this time of year and moved on. We smiled at our fortune, and smiled wider when the humming bird returned. The desert was buzzing with good energy. It rather felt what I would imagine Ray Kinsella’s “Field of Dreams” would feel like. The desert provided a spiritual calming, a feeling of happiness that you just can’t quite put to words. It was beautiful. The composition of the desert was perfect, as if some giant had been cultivating a perfect cactus garden high up on the mountain. We were fortunate, and we knew it.

Alas, that magical afternoon came to an end, and we made our way back down the arroyo. We were tired, and very thirsty. We were longing for ice water, and to jump into the ocean. We found both the ocean and the ice water very refreshing. We smiled again, thanked each other for the marvelous afternoon and I went off in search of my bunk.

Moonlight Sonata

I recently enjoyed perhaps the best twenty-four hours of my life (so far). It began on the lido deck, sipping drinks, watching the bright moon overhead light up the balmy ocean night. There were five of us chatting amiably, sharing stories, laughing and dreaming. I don’t know who had the idea, but a friend and I both had the day off the next day, so we decided to sleep out under the stars.

I had always wanted to do this, but for some reason, never had. Fool I am. However, it is better to do things late, then never, so I set about building us a bunk of bench cushions, wool blankets and pillows. Not too shabby if I do say so myself. I went in for some clothes, another drink, and then we went up to settle in for the night. And what a night it was. We laughed, we giggled, we talked, we dreamed, and it felt like we were camping. Eventually, we fell asleep.

We woke up just as the sunrise cracked the horizon. The sun was a bright orange disk rising and getting brighter by the second. It completely lit up the rugged peaks of Isla Danzante and the Sierra de la Giganta in a crescendo of reds, oranges, and rich browns. Words fail to describe the beauty, and stirring feelings of grandeur in front of us. We held one another, and laughed. I laugh a lot. Laughter it seems, is my only answer to the question I keep asking myself, “How can you be so lucky?”

I’m still laughing.
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The day consisted of an easy stroll on the north shore of the Isle of the Dancer, a spot I’d never explored before as often the swells are too big to walk the shoreline. We picked up some of the ever-present litter on the beach, and swam in the cold clear water. It reminded me of Lake Superior, though salty.

After our hike, we decided to snorkel. The ship had picked up a giant circular air mattress with a pirate on it. It was dubbed the pirate raft, and we had taken it to shore. Well, we were going to use it as a swimming platform, but once we were on it, we realized how comfortable it was just to lay in the sun floating around in the small bay. It was great. Soon, our staff was buzzing by us on the zodiacs, and we bobbed in their wake.
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I think we made a lot of people smile that day. We must have floated around for about an hour when the expedition leader and the wellness specialist swam up and climbed aboard. They had plans for tipping us, but soon realized it was a great place to chill out and lay around in the sun. So, there I was, floating around on a raft with three beautiful women to keep me company. I laughed. If you would have told me the morning that I would be on a pirate raft with the EL, wellness specialist, and my favorite steward, I’d have told said you were probably dilusional. Then as a finishing touch, someone brought up a tray of iced limewater and cookies. I think it made a good picture.
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That evening, the sun set and the full moon rose within 20 minutes of one another. It was a good night to be outside sipping good wine, and taking in the aerial show. Both events were gorgeous, but the winner was the moonrise over Isla San Jose. The moon was gigantic, and bathed us in a gorgeous orange light as it rose into the sky.

To cap off our amazing day, we had dinner outside on the sun deck. The moon bathed us in white gold, and we ate like royalty, and felt like it too. We had fresh bread and butter, delicious rib eye steaks on Caesar salad, a touch of ice cream, and good wine throughout. We talked, we laughed, we dreamed, and “carped the de-em.”

Eventually all good things must transform into other good things, and we had to call it a day. The day was seized, throttled, hugged, embraced, and squeezed of all of its splendor, and we still couldn’t get all of it out.
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The next day, I packed and left the SeaBird, saying farewell to many of my good friends and crew. They will be missed, but other adventures are afoot. At this moment, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Coeur d’Alene Idaho with a full tank of gas, a weeks worth of food, and the open road sixty feet away. I have two thousand miles to travel and twenty days to do it.

I’m laughing.

Posted by Rhombus 11:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged islands hiking whales deserts friends dolphins photography philosophy grandeur Comments (2)

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