Picturesque – and then some

We hit road construction soon after we left Steamboat Springs. Still, the scenery as we climbed through the mountains and across northern Colorado was inspiring. By mid-afternoon we arrived at Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, created to provide a habitat for nesting migratory birds.

We drove the 6-mile auto tour route to see birds but were surprised to be greeted by unfamiliar animals.

It took asking around (where we got incorrect guesses) and a bit of research online to discover the animals were black-tailed prairie dogs.

It turns out there are 5 distinct species of prairie dogs: black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison’s, Utah, and Mexico. We saw a number of the black-tailed prairie dogs as we drove through the refuge, but that number didn’t compare to a town in Texas “reported to cover 25,000 sq mi (64,000 km2) and included 400,000,000 individuals” that we read about on Wikipedia.

We took off in the late afternoon for our lodging that night, an AirBnB in Woods Landing-Jelm, Wyoming (population 97 in the 2010 census).

Judy and Dennis greeted us warmly and welcomed us to their hand-built house.

Over the years they’ve collected lots of old furniture and architectural features like this door.

Our favorites were the furniture built by Dennis himself.

We enjoyed this creative and hard-working couple, wonderful AirBnB hosts. We were sorry to leave after just one night, but we needed to get to little Centennial, population 270, to meet our friends.

DeAnne and John (with Beth in the photo) met us last year for camping and hiking in Utah.  This time we’d all stay at the historic Mountain View Hotel in Centennial (behind us).

We consulted guidebooks for the most scenic hike in the area: the Lakes Trail, with the trailhead starting near Lake Marie.

We hiked on the trail which meandered past many lakes – Marie, Mirror, Lookout, Lewis as well as a number of unnamed ponds.

We stopped often just to enjoy the view and of course, to observe the wildflowers and birds.  This was the first time we had all seen a pine grosbeak, which dutifully posed for us and seemed in no hurry to fly away.

We first camped near Medicine Bow 40 years ago and have returned many times since.

We’ve hiked in many, many places and think the combination of scenery and hiking in the Snowy Range is amongst our favorite. (It’s also closer than our other favorites: Iceland, Switzerland, and New Zealand.) It was time for another visit to get in a few hikes, and we discovered that it was as good as we remembered.


August 2018

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Photography in Steamboat Springs

Last time we visited Steamboat Springs, Colorado we skied and played in the snow.

Family joined us in this beautiful winter wonderland.

What would we do on a summer visit by ourselves?  We counted on wonderful hiking…

…but the “high point” of this mountain town for us was the Yampa River Botanic Park.

We visited three times during our week in Steamboat Springs – partly because it was conveniently located on the walking path that winds along the Yampa River but also because it was one of the best botanical gardens we’ve ever visited.

The first plant we photographed was Miss Willmott’s Ghost (Eryngium gigantism).  The white-tinged-with-green color contrasted so beautifully with all the other plants around it.

Photography was more challenging than we expected. Light on the flowers was variable: deep shade under trees, bright sunlight, finding just the right blossom in peak condition…

The garden looked perfectly maintained and when we rounded a corner we knew why.

We’d never heard of a crevice garden, which formally began in the Czech Republic.  A placard explained that crevice gardens “literally turn rock gardens on their side and place flat stones pushed into the soil vertically.”

After photographing flowers, we turned the camera to a faster shutter speed as we started to notice just how many winged creatures were in the garden.

What are these butterflies? They flitted around the garden in great numbers, but, in endless searches, we couldn’t find their identity.

The Botanic Park had a chalkboard at the entrance and told us to look for the white-lined sphinx moth.  It took awhile to get a photo that we found acceptable since the lines on the moth are a bit “fuzzy.”

We sat on a bench to watch the three species of hummingbirds (broad-billed, calliope, and rufous-sided) flit around some favorite flowers.  It took awhile before we realized a black-capped chickadee was right beside us at a feeder.

On our last visit to the garden – and toward the end of that visit – we were rewarded with three little Woodland skippers moving quickly and rarely stopping.  We trailed them for a while and, finally, one landed on a flower.  Got you!

So many of our travel photos have required no more than putting the camera up, make an adjustment or two, and clicking.  We discovered that photography in the Botanic Park took more effort and thought than we expected.   Conditions kept changing.  It was time consuming.

As with many places on our travels, there wasn’t enough time to see all the plants (let alone butterflies and birds who visit) and to do all the photography we would have liked.  Still, the memory of the Yampa River Botanic Park will stay with us – aided by all of our photos.


August 2018

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Camping in 102 degree heat

What is our limit for camping in the heat?  We can now say we have reached it.  In a week of camping we jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

When we camped at Great Basin National Park in Nevada, the temperatures topped out at 97 degrees F (36 degrees C).  Fortunately, our tent was nestled in a shady spot.  An overarching tree partially shaded the picnic table.  Not so bad, we thought, as we sipped a cold drink at the café in the Visitor Center.

We took off next for Dinosaur National Monument and looked forward to setting up our tent in a shady campground on the Green River in Utah.  We were dismayed to discover that the trees and bushes didn’t throw shade on where the actual tent would sit in the afternoon hours.  We found a very nice site close to the river that was shady only in the cooler morning hours.  What a disappointment!

Early morning was relatively comfortable.  By 10:45am the temperature was pretty uncomfortable and by late afternoon it hit between the high 90’s and 102 degrees F (36-39 degrees C).  The landscape around us was open and arid – offering little protection from the intense sun.

We really needed to beat the heat.  So, how did we do it?  Here were our 4 solutions for those unbearably hot afternoons.


#1 – Take a shady walk

We noted that in this whole huge park of 210,844 acres (853 sq. km), there was one place that had two shady walks: the ranch of Josie Bassett Morris.

The Morris Homestead was settled in 1914, the house rebuilt in 1935 (with no water or electricity), and Josie lived there by herself until 1964 when she broke her hip.  She died later that year at the age of 89.

The two shady walks were wooded box canyons near her cabin where she grazed her livestock.


#2 – Spend time at the (air-conditioned) Visitor Center and the Quarry Visitor Center

The first day we headed for the prime attraction at Dinosaur National Monument: the Quarry Visitor Center.

We spent a good long time at the quarry exhibit which was actually a real quarry with dinosaur bones exposed.   The exhibit building was constructed to encompass the quarry wall, with some the many dinosaur bones intact that have been discovered since 1909.


#3 – Take an auto tour of Cub Creek Road

When the heat became unbearable, we headed for the air-conditioned car and toured one of the park’s roads with a $1 auto tour booklet picked up at the Visitor Center.

Some of the petroglyphs in Dinosaur National Monument were visible from the road.  In reading more about the Monument, we discovered that there are many more petroglyphs not listed on park maps due to risk of vandalism.  


#4 – Drive east for a tasty treat in Dinosaur, Colorado

We took off east and headed for the nearest town 31 miles away (18 km).  Dinosaur is a very small town with only a few businesses.  How lucky for us to find the perfect place to have lunch and spend a few hours.

Bedrock Depot may not look like much but what a great place to eat!  The food was fresh, high quality and very tasty.  The owner told us she makes the burger buns herself as well as the ice cream.

Definitely plan to stop to have some of her luscious chocolate-cinnamon ice cream if you’re ever in Dinosaur, Colorado.


#5 – Drive west for the library in Vernal, Utah

We solved our problem of needing a cool place to sit and access to the internet by a trip to the wonderful county library – an 18 mile (10.8 km) drive from our campsite.

An impressive entrance encouraged us…

…and the magazine room with overstuffed chairs became a comfortable place to spend a delightful afternoon reading.

We managed the heat better than we ever thought we could have. But, when we saw the forecast for the 4th day was going to be just as hot AGAIN, we decided enough was enough and took off for the high Rocky Mountains to the east. The temperatures there were 15 degrees lower. That sounded appealing to us.


July 2018

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A trip to see dinosaurs

Did you know that there is a U.S. national monument devoted to dinosaurs? Dinosaur National Monument spans across northeast Utah and northwest Colorado where the Yampa River joins the Green River.

In a major excavation in 1909, paleontologists discovered a dinosaur fossil bed in Utah that contained thousands of fossils of a wide range of dinosaurs.

Some of those dinosaurs were depicted in a little exhibit to show the scale of a 6’ tall park ranger against the size of a Ceratosaurus, Camptosaurus, and a Camarasaurus.

The display of dinosaur bones is one of the most impressive displays we’ve seen in a national park and the quarry had so many fossils it was able to supply many well known institutions, like the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC.

Earl Douglass, a paleontologist from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, discovered the first dinosaurs in the quarry.  Imagine the thrill of discovering so many bones of so many different dinosaurs in such a small area?

He encouraged the federal government to preserve the quarry wall for all future visitors.  Six years after its discovery, President Woodrow Wilson created Dinosaur National Monument.

Today, visitors can see the actual preserved quarry and even touch the dinosaur bones.

Word must have spread very quickly after the discovery as it was literally just a few days later that people started to visit the quarry to see for themselves.

A few miles from the Quarry Visitor Center we viewed the colorful rocks in the distance. They are part of the Morrison Formation. Paleontologists have found dinosaur bones here as well.

The Morrison formation started as mud and sand by ancient rivers.  Dinosaurs were plentiful when the area thrived but as soon as the rivers dried up, many died and their bones were preservedin the old river beds.  At some later time the rains returned and the dinosaur bones became buried in mud and sand.

Dinosaurs captivated us as children, and we find ourselves still fascinated by them.  Dinosaur National Monument has so many more interesting things to see, but it would take a lot to top our first view of the quarry.


July 2018

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Celebrating another national park

When choosing a travel destination – we’ve never been disappointed by visiting a national park.  The scenery is spectacular, and we always take advantage of the good interpretive programs to understand its many wonders.

Our first visit to a national park on this trip was Great Basin, one of the least well known of the parks.  We had never heard of Great Basin before, and that might be because it has so few visitors. Compared to Yosemite, to its west, which gets 4,340,000 visitors annually, Great Basin gets about 90,000 visitors each year.

We assembled a few photos from our 4-day visit, camping at the Baker Creek campground and taking modest hikes each day to explore the park.

We hiked from our campsite along the creek and were quite surprised that the terrain by the water was so lush and green.  Great Basin is one of four major desert areas in the US, and the desert extends well beyond the park.

We saw an extensive expanse of dry sagebrush at the base of the mountains.  As we climbed in the mountains, the flora changed to include many tree species.

We heard that years ago wild turkeys were purchased and released at a lower elevation outside the national park for hunting purposes.  The turkeys preferred higher elevations, and all moved up into the mountains in the national park, putting them out of the hunters’ range.  They have flourished in their new home.

On a stroll through the campsite, we found a large bird’s feather.  Someone suggested it was a wild turkey’s, but we’re not sure.  We tucked it into Joe’s hatband to preserve it until we got back to the campsite.

We saw hundreds of the appropriately named Great Basin Wood Nymphs flitting around these flowers.

We’re sure this was our first sighting of the very small flower of the thorn skeletonweed (Pleiacanthus spinosus).

After a ranger talk on bird songs, we all walked over to a tree behind the visitor center to see 3 common nighthawks resting on branches a few feet apart in one the trees. How’s that for camouflage?

On one of our hikes up to mountain meadows we never saw another person – an unusual experience for a day hiking trail in a national park.

We like to photograph wildflowers and then identify them (if we can) from the photo.  Bugs help in remembering the size of the flower.  This image was ID’d using the app, PlantSnap, as spineless horsebrush (Tetradymia canescens).

Maybe one reason Great Basin National Park is so little known and visited is its remote location and hot summer temperatures. Still, we enjoyed getting to know the park and were grateful for its many treasures.


July 2018

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Outdoors in the desert rain

We did not expect rain on our 4-day camping trip in a desert national park.  The rain began our first night as we washed up after dinner.

The forecast for the next day called for rain later in the afternoon.  So, in the morning, we headed out for a hike to see wildflowers in a distant meadow in Great Basin National Park.  We cautiously stuffed our rain jackets into Joe’s pack in case we were gone too long.

The rain surprised us with an early appearance – not long after we had started down the trail.  It began with just a few drops, a pause, then a few more.  The rhythm picked up very slowly.  Finally, we had no choice.  We pulled the rain jackets out of the pack.

Joe tried to be positive.  He noted that photos of leaves and flowers usually look better after a rain.

We walked through tall, wet grasses.  Every bit of moisture seemed to be wicked up by our pants as we walked through.

By the time that rain ended, we were wet but hardly noticed as we became happily engrossed with so many things to see. We’d arrived at a meadow with wildflowers and six green-tailed towhees on the path ahead.

No, these were not giant ants but very small flowers.

With the rain gone, butterflies and moths appeared.  Anyone know the name of this one?

It sprinkled later that day.  The next day was dry, but very hot.

We arose at daybreak to hike on a trail from 9,400’ to 10,000’ (3,048 m) to see the bristlecone pine forest.

What are bristlecone pines?  They are the oldest living individuals on the planet. The oldest known bristlecone pines are about 5,000 years old and found in the White Mountains of California.

Bristlecone pines grow very slowly, just under tree line, and in soil almost nothing else will grow in.  The wood is fine grained and resistant to decay. The interpretive sign read “instead of rotting, these trees are eroded and polished by the elements. After death, they may remain standing for thousands of years.”

This living tree was born in 1230 BCE, making it 3,248 years old.

A core taken of this tree indicates it was 4’ (1.2 m) tall in the year 1126 BCE and it may have taken up to 200 years to grow that tall.   The tree is between 3,160 and 3,300 years old.

When we started our descent we saw a black tailed mule deer on the path ahead. We stood quietly and watched the deer eat.

When we finally started to move slowly forward, the deer bounded off, and we took our photo.

We expect to remember our hikes in Great Basin National Park for the wonderful scenery, wildflowers, butterflies, bristlecone pines – and the unexpected rain in the desert.


July 2018

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Road + arts trip across Nevada (really!)

When we planned our road trip across the US and Canada, we settled on a dozen or so places that we definitely wanted to visit.  To get us from one key point to the next required many hours of driving and a choice of routes.  How did we finally connect the dots and choose the routes? That’s what travel planning is all about.

A road trip through Nevada was never in our original plan.  Somewhere along the way, we discovered a few places worth visiting in Nevada, particularly a national park tucked away on the far eastern side of the state off the “loneliest road in America.”  All of a sudden, Nevada seemed like a fine choice.

We started with two days in Reno and a visit to our #1 destination: the Nevada Museum of Art.

Familiar pieces of art graced the walls, like these marvelous slices of cake by Wayne Thiebaud, but we also found the exhibits featuring James Turrell and a local artist, Hans Meyer-Kassel, quite interesting.

We visited the Wilbur D. May Center for a look at the life of a prominent local resident.  May was a larger-than-life figure from the first half of the 20thcentury: a philanthropist, songwriter, hunter, rancher, and pilot.  Some of the interpretive panels at the museum appear to have been written at that time and not updated.

We appreciated the detailed fabric art on special exhibit, New Directions: 2018.

While we decided that Reno was not our kind of town, we took advantage of being there to pick up supplies before our camping trip and stop at the Patagonia outlet store where Joe found a pair of jeans he needed at a deep discount (making him very happy).

Back on the road we headed east through sagebrush country with no place to stop for a break until we arrived at tiny Austin, Nevada.  The town was so small it didn’t surprise us that we saw only one café open.

It may have looked funky, but the International Café & Bar turned out to have absolutely delicious, homemade apple pie – and a clean bathroom.

The landscape in the American southwest from the windows of our car was extraordinarily beautiful.

When we reached Eureka, Nevada, we parked and took a walk down the main street.  Almost all the stores were boarded up and closed – a depressing sight.  An empty lot had machinery parked haphazardly and an abandoned white folding table. Beyond was a wall mural on the side of a store.

The mural was a poignant glimpse of life in that area of Nevada.  We read that “sheep ranching has had its boom and bust eras”.   Since the 1970’s, the sheep industry has declined 40% in the state.

Back on the road, the weather deteriorated.  This was NOT what we had expected.

Yes, Nevada had a few surprises for us.  We greatly enjoyed our glimpses of art and landscapes.  But, what’s with the rain?  The Great Basin desert is one of four deserts in the US.  We never expected rain on our upcoming camping trip….

…to be continued with “outdoors in the desert rain”


July 2018

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