The sun hasn't yet risen over the West Elk Mountains when the mornings stillness is broken by a sound that is kind of like a train trying to blow its horn. It starts and stops and wheezes and starts again, finally ending in a series of resounding hehaws. Its Dulcemia, Vals donkey, waking eceryone up as it greets the morning sun. As you step outside you see a herd of ten large mule deer bucks, grazing in one of Georges hayfields. Each one is in full velevet and one is a truely spectacular buck with a wide spread and with thick beams. Its early but its time to get up for morning coffee and to plan the days schedule, today its a float down the Gunnison, yesterday was antiquing and then a four wheel drive ride in George's 1972 two tone Bronco. That was a ride along two deeply rutted tracks on Black Ridge. We bounced along and tried to spot wildlife but they were hiding from the sound of the engine. Each day is full of surprises as we enjoy the area, truely a little known destination that is empty of all the tourists places we have been. Its kind of surprising that it hasn't been develpoped as beautiful as it is. The rains have been heavy and the fields are green, which really isn't the usual case as the area gets less then ten inches of rain a year. The only occupations here are raising irrigated hay and trying to cash in on the fall hunting season as nonresidents flock to the area for its elk and deer. The Black Canyon of the Gunnsion is the one place really known outside the area but there are so many other places too enjoy. We have picked service berries at Kebler Pass, drove through the Crested Butte ski area, enjoyed the scenry of Blue Mesa and picniced along the North fork of the Gunnison. Its been an really enjoyably week and I would write more but its coffee time at the ranch and time to plan the float trip. I am sure that will be another adventure worth writing so I need to go out for my morning chores,(which involves walking Molly and Dulcie). Its no wonder that George and Val love it here. Clear skies.
From a distance the Black Canyon of the Gunnison looks out of place. You see the green treeless landscape, and it is so green because of the unusual rains. Against it or really across it runs a obvious canyon with cliffs, but its only as you near the rim that you get any idea of its depth. The canyon ranges in depths from 1700 feet at the narrows, to 2700 feet at Warner Point, over half a mile. It seems deceiving as you look down it, you have nothing for scale, so you have to compare it to something you know well. For me Devils Tower was the obvious choice. The narrows is three times as deep as the vertical height of Devils Tower and four and a half times the height at its deepest. As I looked down into the depths, I felt the desire to feel the rock, the same feeling I got at Yosemite. There were many vertical lines and one that sat in a dihedral looked like such a clean and beautiful route. I am nearing sixty years of age and yet I still feel the same as when I was younger and climbed the hard rock, pounding iron into cracks. I suppose the desire and longing for the rocks touch and the need to dance on a vertical rock dance floor, will never cease, never leave. Or at least I hope it never does. Looking down we went from place to place, the Narrows, The Leaning Camel, Balancing Rock. The river far below was a series of whitewater pools and George told me how he had heard that it was full of big trout that had rarely seen a fly. Across the gorge the south rim was busier, and we only shared the north rim with another couple, oh and a coyote. He seemed unconcerned with our presence and even trotted right past us, as close to a wild coyote as we have ever been. Stopping, he lapped water from a puddle on the granites surface. What could taste better or be cleaner then fresh rainwater on hard rock, high on the Colorado Plateau? We both enjoyed the north rim and its solitude. It was so nice to share with our friends George and Val as they guided us to a place only 15 minutes from their ranch. Fifteen minutes and yet so far back in time then most of the tourist places we have been. I thought again of the rock and the gorge and how hard it would be to climb out. The verticality of the rock still causes me to pause as I think of the gorges sheer walls and stunning depth. However such an attempt will have to wait for another time as this journey is really one in which we are merely sampling the area, and the area and its beauty is definitely a do over. Climb on, oh and Clear skies!
It was time to go to Colorado and visit our friends George and Val. They have a hay ranch on Fruitland Mesa, near Crawford, Colorado and it looked like an easy drive with a mountain pass or two but no problem, right? After all the truckers atlas showed the route aa a truckers route and it had some squiggles on the map but still no problemo. However the first pass on US 191 wasn't quite the pass I expected and when we saw the sign stating ten switchbacks and an eight to nine percent downgrade I started to wonder about my wisdom. I shifted into low gear and prepared ourselves for the descent. After all we had been over lots of passes before and this couldn't be too bad, right? Notice my second use of the word right. The pass was so steep that I actually had to use our brakes more then the usual two or three times as the truck kept wanting to pick up speed down the pass, The state of Utah had actually put up signs at each switchback telling drivers how many remained. I wasn't quite as careful as I should have been and the transmission heated up. I actually had to pull over, luckily there was a place big enough for our rig, and let it cool down for awhile. It was something I hadn't done in quite a while the last time during our first year on the road when I misjudged our speed going down South Pass in the Wyoming Wind Rivers. We finally made the last switchback and everything was cool so I relaxed as we arrived in Vernal Utah. From there we turned east on 40 and then south onto Colorado 139. We both relaxed, whew. A sign appeared that said open range and we braked to keep some cows from causing permanent damage to our rig. Soon the narrow road started to gain in elevation as we took the first switchback and then another and another. Rocks lay strewn alongside the road as we passed signs warning of rock fall and in one place huge towers of sandstone stood ready to end someones journey, or at least block the road. Renita keep telling me how beautiful it was as I kept my eyes glued to the road. Theres nothing more disgusting then your navigator telling about the beautiful scenry as you use all your wit and skill to keep your rig from hurtling over a thousand foot drop. Its not a road for flatlanders or first time mountain drivers and I took hairpin after hairpin, some as slow as fifteen miles per hour, the posted speed! Trucks passed, all going in the opposite way, and so we knew the road was ok for us as if a truck can travel it we can and so we finally reached the top of Douglas Pass and started down the other side towards Grand Junction, Colorado. The road snaked down the mountainside, reminding me of our drive as we crossed the Sierras and drove to Yosemite Valley. Switchback after switchback after switchback, some so sharp that I watched trucks go wide to miss the rocks and keep from wiping out another vehicle going the other way. Again I babied our rig down the mountain and we soon gave up any attempt to count the number of switchbacks. I felt pretty good about it all as I kept the temperature down enough so we didn't have to stop for cooling and we finally reached the bottom of the pass and then Grand Junction. The rest of the drive to George and Vals was uneventful. I told myself that any pass I would see in the future couldn't possible be any more fun to drive then Douglas Pass. It was a beautiful drive through gorgeous scenery but it definitely is not for the faint of heart. Would I take it again? To that I would probably say yes, but not this year as we will find another way to head back to the Bighorns, our next goal. Clear skies.
"You shouldn't have any problem, just be sure to hit the chute straight down the middle. Its a class two rapids, oh and you will hit another rapids when you reach the water plant." I asked myself if I really wanted to do this, but I was determined to float a short stretch of the Green River of Wyoming. After all, John Wesley Powell had started from Expedition Island in Green River Wyoming and so I needed to at least float a little of his journey,(in case you don't know his expedition was the first to travel down the Grand Canyon and a movie I used in class was called, Ninety Nine Days To Survival) A strong current quickly took me downstream and I readied myself for my first test, floating past the cranes that were constructing some new whitewater for kayaks and tubers to enjoy. The current picked up speed and the river narrowed as I shot past the working equipment and into a broader stretch of the river. The north shore was all white cliffs and there were spots along the south bank where the water was shallow. I scraped bottom in one place as I paddled through a small set of ripples. I reminded myself of what the local expert had told me, keep the boat straight and you should be ok. The first rapids approached, the only warning being the noise. It dropped over a ridge of rock and I couldn't see the drop. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor I rowed over to the south shore and stepped out of the canoe to look the rapids over. Maybe next time I thought as I used my rope to drift the canoe past the rapids. A little further I floated under a railroad bridge and the current picked up speed again. Two signs warned of the approaching white water park at expedition island and further stated that all floaters need to be wearing life jackets. No problem here as I had mine on from the start! I passed some people swimming along a sand beach and paddled to the north bank as I had already decided not to shoot the chute, at least not this time. Renita appeared on the shore and we talked about how the canoe would float past the rapids. She had been talking with a man on shore who had told her about the drowning that had occurred there a few weeks earlier,(the person who drowned hadn't been wearing a life jacket). The rest of the float went too quickly although the current slowed below the highway bridge. I passed a flock of Canadian geese who seemed displeased about my intrusion and a mule deer raised his head and watched me float by his island. His velvet antlers were still growing and he was completely unconcerned about my presence, just another one of those stupid people. Another bend and I passed a gauging station. It looked to be in disrepair, which kind of surprised me as the water rights and water claims on the Green are tightly monitored. I thought about the idiot who wanted to take water from the Green and pipe it over the continental divide, to be used by Denver and Colorado cities on the front range. It reminded me of the Mono Lake diversion, how sad it would be if it happened here. Keep the Green flowing! I spotted Renita at the take out point and she waved as I neared. She had decided to be my support crew and photographer for my short float and I couldn't ask for anyone better. It had been a fun float of the Green and I actually stayed dry. It was a definite do over, next time with my photographer in the boat! Clear skies.
Three weeks after a rock smashed our back window, the lady from DJ's Glass called and sad the glaziers were coming out to replace our broken back window. Soon their white van arrived and in no time at all the old window was out! I was kind of surprised at how easy it was to remove. They just took out the interior frame screws and then pushed on the window. Broken glass fell all over the ground, thank goodness it was tempered glass. and the glaziers quickly disassembled the frame. In less then an hour they had the broken glass replaced with the new double pane and the window reinstalled in our fifth wheel. They made the job look easy but that's what professionals are supposed to do. The glass tint matched perfectly and we are now ready to hit the road again! It was perfect timing as we had hoped to head to our friends George and Val and the Black Canyon of the Gunnision, Colorado here we come!
The dust was absent, for once. usually a trip down a road in the Red desert causes billowing clouds of fine white dust and sand and the dust seems to get in everywhere. The road we were on was surprisingly good gravel with only a short stretch of dirt. Still we would watch for a developing rain thunderstorm. I kept my eyes on the odometer while Renita watched for landmarks. We were looking for grey and brown piles of shale, left by collectors, and yes thieves, who had pillaged the Farson Fish Beds,(It is against the law to collect any vertebrate fossil on public land). Just after we had drove eleven miles the piles of rock appeared alongside the road and stretched to a low rolling sagebrush covered ridge. We saw the BLM warning signs and we were at our destination, the Farson Fish Beds! Knowing we couldn't collect anything but pictures we pulled over at a fork on the four wheel drive track. The ever present aroma of sage assailed our nostrils as we started to search the nearest piles of rock. At first we only found fish scales where the fish had exploded as they decomposed but Renita suggested we look further from the truck and I found my first fish fossil! Soon the fish fossils seemed to jump out at us and I took images of them. I was pretty happy really as they were the first complete fish fossils I had ever found in thirty plus years of field trips with my geology classes. We left the fossils where they lay, before the temptation overpowered our good sides. I don't think either one of us would do time well, and the real purpose of the trip was to find some opalized wood from Big Sandy. The book said to turn around and head south until we found a four wheel drive track that headed west and Renita spotted it before me. I really doubted that it was the right path, but I turned off the main road and soon a stock dam and low ridge lay to the northeast. As soon as I got out I spotted some petrified wood and we both were soon busy scouring the spaces between the sage. Beautiful quartzite slicks were everywhere, they are actually called ventifacts, which are rocks polished by the desert winds, but the days hunt was for opalized wood and it didn't take long before we both were near our twenty five pound daily limit. Dropping the tailgate of the truck we shared a water bottle and handed each other our finds. We returned most of the quartzite to the desert after making sure they weren't jade slicks. I told Renita how I had almost stepped on a horny toad and she expressed her wish that she had seen it, of course she had the camera. Backtracking we reached the main road, our next destination Big Sandy Reservoir and the agatized algae beds. The road skirted the south side of Eden Reservoir and we reached the Big Sandy Road and turned north. The dam appeared and we could see a highway, 191, in the distance. There were campers parked on both sides of the lake and so we drove to the nearest campground where we parked. Renita showed me the pictures in the guidebook and I could see that the cliffs alongside the lake were the same ones pictured, we were there! Renita found the first piece of agatized algae, but when I hit it with my rock hammer, the Eastwing easily fractured the rock and we both knew it was too soft and too fractured to work on the lapidary machines. Never the less we both found some interesting chalcedony, interlaced with opal, and so we added these to our days finds, more rocks for the fifth wheel! The drive back to the campground was a lot easier as we weer able to cross the dam and reach the highway. I took some pictures and gps coordinates to submit to Days End, as the short bit of gravel road led to some nice boondocking spots.(Days End is an Escapee listing of free places to camp). We had just joined it and part of the price of admission is the requirement to add to the list of free or cheap spots. Molly greeted us at the door, her tail wagging with happiness as the pack had returned! We had left her home as she had been sick and we thought that a day in air conditioning would be better for her then a day in the hot desert sun. We were both tired from hauling rocks under a hot desert sun and so we left the rocks in the back of the truck. it was time for a siesta! Clear skies.
A few weeks ago we got an email from Mike and Loretta,(Mike and Loretta are fulltimers who have been on the road for ten years), saying they would be passing through Wyoming and wondering where we were at. So it was really nice when we heard their air horn and saw their mdt and fifth wheel out our side window. Their original plan was to go to Frontier Days but they had changed them and weren't sure where they were going and so they spent a couple nights parked across from us at Buckbosrd Crossing Campground. We actually were able to grill fresh caught salmon over a wood pit fire. Loretta made a pasta salad and we also had wood fire baked potatoes and French bread. It was a real challenge as storms roared past us and we were just able to cook the salmon and eat during a lull between the storms. The plan for the next day was to go for a boat ride up Flaming Gorge, and to maybe catch some smallmouth bass for dinner. The next morning we loaded up and went to the boat ramp. The game and fish inspector actually walked to the campground road head to make sure we got our mussel inspection done and after the usual questions she okayed us and we launched the boat. It didn't take long before we were heading up the lake, with our destination being Firehole and Chimmney Rock. The trip was nice and we chatted about the gorge, John Wesley Powell and the numerous boondocking sites along the shore. We stopped at the mouth of the Black River and pointed out the road called Lost Dog. There was a large fifth wheel there, here you are allowed to boondock for sixteen days and so many haul their campers out and simply leave them for the entire time. They then come out on weekends and days off and no one sems to mind although they are supposed to be occupied! From there we raced up to Firehole and Chimney rock. I wasn't really sure which rock was chimney rock as there are two large towers or pillars of rock that dominate the landscape. Renita pointed out a window on one of the buttes and of course we took more pictures. We headed further up the canyon and the gorge narrowed with the water becoming muddy. A couple of boats passed by and I kept my eyes on the depth finder as it sh allowed. We stopped at a point which was the futherest we have ever run up the Green,(the river that fills Flaming Gorge), and Mike suggested we use our gps to find the location on Google Earth, duh! Heading back down lake we stopped and cast crankbaits and do nothing rigs but no smallmouths volunteered to be part of a fish fry. It didn't matter as we had plenty of cornbread for the nights meal. As we neared Buckboard Marina we pulled into a sheltered cove foe a bite of lunch. It was a pretty sheltered spot and someone actually had a boat dock parked in one of the arms of the cove,(the rules for a dock permit are that anyone can use your dock). The dock wasn't attached to the shore however so we went past it before beaching the boat. I looked for fish fossils but didn't find any. Cumulonimbus clouds were forming over the Uintas and so we finished lunch and headed back to the boat ramp. Renita drove the boat on to the trailer and hit it perfectly on the first try. She is really good at it and I know she is secretly pleased as others watch her load the boat as they are meant to be loaded. It was a fun day and right on schedule the wind rose and began rocking our fifth wheel. The mountain and valley breezes here are almost like clockwork. Loretts said that she could understand why we like it here, not meaning that they were desert fans, but what do you expect from people who lived their lives in a place with trees. It was a nice and pleasant time with Mike and Loretta and we waved goodbye as they fired up the Freightliner and headed east. They didn't know where they were heading and that's what you can do when you are fulltimers, just mosey on down the road. Clear skies.
The sun had set but it was still light and the campground and surrounding sagebrush desert were filled with a soft yellow-red glow. The mountain breeze had died and it was as still as the desert solitude can be. Far different than the afternoons when we have been buffeted by strong winds or dry thunderstorms that seem to spring out of the Unintas. I thought about the fishing and quietly shook my head.The fishing has been mixed, one day seven fish including salmon, rainbow, and lake trout and the next day only a small kokeenee. We tried our hand at fishing smallmouth and also have had mixed success. On days when the wind blows too strong to go out we go down to the nearby bay and cast crankbaits for smallies. One day we actually caught three and I kept one for a fried fish dinner, to go along with a leftover walleye from Boysen. We heard the salmon were at the pipeline and so we drove down to Anvil Draw. The first day was good, seven salmon but the second day we were stormed off in less then an hour and the third day we only boated a small shaker,(A kokeenee too small to keep and so you shake it off). Sure enough we talked with our friend Steve from Lander, and he was catching fish at the cliffs, a spot only a few miles from our campground, but it is the weekend and we don't fish on weekends, too many boats and people. You get spoiled in Wyoming, after the crush of fellow fisherman in Texas. We still have a couple more weeks and we aren't going anyplace till our house is fixed. The campground mower threw a rock into out back window and shattered it. Still time for more fishing and hopefully better catching as we have been releasing most of the salmon. Clear skies.
Horse shoes is really a simple game, unless you have a German Shepard who insists on playing! Everytime Matt would throw a shoe his female German Shepard, Thunder, would walk over, grab the shoe and bring it back. We were spending the day at Matt and Pattys, not their house in Rock Springs but their boondocking spot on Flaming Gorge. It was a great spot right on the lake and a spot that we could easily reach with our fifth wheel and truck. Patty had called us on Friday night to let us know they were going to spend the weekend at Anvil Draw and to invite us out for fishing, horseshoes and barbecue. So we got up early the next morning, hooked up the boat and took the short drive to lake access road number 1, Anvil Draw. We didn't see them at first, too many hills, and so we launched the boat and decided to look for their spot from the water. The first bay was full of fifth wheels and motor homes but no Matt and Patty. It even had a race course set up for jet skis. Heading south we went round the bend from the boat dock and there they were. We pulled up to shore and beeped the horn several times before they came out, still sleeping? The hugs and hellos were the first order of business and we visited for a bit, but I was getting antsy to go fishing. So we got into the boat and headed to our first spot. There were quite a few boats fishing other places but I wanted to check out the place where we had caught so many fish the past two years. It didn't take long to reach my secret fishing hole and quickly a pole wiggled and then released. As it was my turn I grabbed the pole and fought the fish too the boat where it fell off the hook before we could net it, hmmmmmm. Almost immediately the other pole released and I lost another fish, this seems like a familiar story. We reset the poles and dwonriggers and soon had another bite. This time Renita fought the fish to the boat and the waiting net. It was a kokenee, but a small one and so we released it. Trolling out deeper we caught two more fish, both small, and I decided it was time to head to another spot. There were quite a few boats fishing across from the boat ramp and so we got into the trolling pattern and watched as two of the boats caught fish. One was a really nice salmon and the fisherman hooted and hollered as the netted their catch. We caught a nice fish ourselves and wanted to fish more but it lightened in the distance and so we headed in. Having had some scares from lightening we are the first boat in when weather threatens. We loaded the boat and drove over to their camp. It was a great site, huge, with an easy turn around, and a view to die for. What could be better? We sat around the camp fire and talked about rving and life in general. Patty has a great sense of humor and entertained us with her quips. We tried to play horseshoes but the dogs would always join us and Thunder would pick up the heavy iron shoe in her mouth! Deciding horseshoes would not be a good idea we looked for rocks and of course we found some. Agate was everywhere, along with some petrified wood, it was the usual story of trying to be selective. Matt and Patty grilled some steaks, corn on the cob, and hobo potatoes. It was as fine a meal as you could ask for and we both dove into our food. After dinner we told the kids about retirement and I tried to keep a straight face as I told them that we would have worked more but that our health had caused us to decide to retire early, Renita of course burst into laughter and I had to join her. We both were meant for the retirement lifestyle! It was also obvious that I couldn't fib the kids and keep a straight face. Too soon the sun neared the horizon and Molly kept going to the truck, time to go home. We had had soooooo much fun and we thanked Matt and Patty for sharing the day. Everyone had a great time,(Molly included)! Clear skies.
Last year we met David and Nancy, two full timers who camped next to us and who were also rock hounds. They were interested in finding agates and so we showed them our guidebook, Rockhounding Wyoming, and they decided to check out a couple of sites on the southeast face of Cedar Mountain. That night Nancy came over and showed us the beautiful agate that she had found! She excitedly told us it was the best agate she had ever found and thanked us for heading them in the right direction. Of course we were as jealous as you could be and so all winter we talked about going to the southeast face of Cedar Mountain. Now the guidebook tells about finding red jasper on Cedar Mountain and also about the banded flint of Mckinnon and as both are on the same road, we packed our lunch and headed out for a day looking for more rocks. Turning on Sweetwater county road 1 I forgot to check my mileage and so things were already kind of shaky, but luckily there are very few roads off the blacktop and so we found the right gravel road. It was actually a pretty good road for the Red Desert, thank goodness it was dry, and we soon started seeing nodules of red and black cert everywhere. Stopping we walked the first spot and both had quite a bit of red chert. Being selective we threw most of it away, keeping some for a closer inspection at camp, and continued down the road. Badlands topography appeared, caused by eroded horizontal rock layers forming a dendritic pattern, and as the book talked of finding fossil turtle shell, we had to stop and look. In the distance we could see a lonely ranch house and we both wondered at the toughness of the people that had homesteaded such a remote spot. I parked the truck and headed to the badlands while Renita looked near the parking spot. Of course red jasper was everywhere and I lifted a ten pound boulder that showed some promise. The question was, did I really want to carry it all the way back? Deciding it wasn't that impressive I left it and continued on looking for the elusive turtle shell. I crossed several ridges and walked draws looking for small pieces of shell. See one way to find fossils if to walk the draws and look for small fragments and then to follow their trail, looking for the in situ site,(the place where the main shell was still embedded in the rock). No fragments and no shells jumped out in front of me and so I made a loop and walked back to the truck. Of course Renita had a pile of rocks on the back bumper, but nothing spectacular and so we released them and headed to the main road. Our next goal was to find the high line and the banded flint of Mckinnon. It was pretty easy spot to locate and I didn't have to use four wheel drive as we turned off the main road by driving into the steep ditch and down the two track path. Stopping at the first hillside we parked the truck and found the hillside covered with banded flint. Black chert, with swirls of yellow were everywhere and it became a question of looking for the perfect piece. See we pick first and then only take the best pieces back to Texas and the lapidary shop. Even then we end up hauling a lot of, "Junk", as our friend Dick Cline, kindly descibes it. Black storm clouds began to threaten and so we left the site heading for Mckinnon and Manila, Utah. A forest service road beckoned but there was no way we were going to travel it with a storm and heavy rains approaching. We have heard too many stories of friends who took such roads and ended uo being ,mired in mud, sometimes even for days! It was a pretty drive, Mckinnon actually has a school, and we found another road to Spirit Lake. We arrived back at Buckboard crossing and looked at the samples we had collected. It really wasn't an impressive haul for a day and we agreed that the road to Butcherknife Draw had the same rocks and more promise. Still, just about any day in the field is a good day and so we were glad we had traveled the southeast face of Cedar Mountain. While we wouldn't go back to the sites we picked, the four wheel drive road near Mckinnon is another question. Is it worth the return drive or should we go next to the Blue Forest? Clear skies.
Our son and his wife, Matt and Patty, have been among our biggest supporters of our lifestyle and so it was no surprise when we heard that they had purchased their own rv, a 22 foot toy hauler. Having three german shepards, two of which are rescue dogs, and having a four wheeler made their selection of a toy hauler easy. Now they can boondock in the Red Desert and the dogs can go up and down the ramp! We hadn't ever looked at many toy haulers before and we really like what they have chosen. Their pride in their new second home was evident and their stories were so familiar, going out and sitting in the camper and enjoying the peace and quiet. It was obvious that they got a new toy that they really needed. Matt showed us around while Patsy sat and listened and of course telling us her insights and happiness with the rv. They have a tv but don't use it and its such a nice escape from their busy lifestyle. We talked about diesel trucks versus gas engines and gave them some pointers from our experience. We gave them some items for their new house, a set of Bal chocks and a clear sleeve for their dumping. Ah yes and of course we talked about dumping and other fun aspects of live on the road. Now we just have to plan a weekend of camping together,(maybe we can suggest a spot near some petrified wood or a place where we can prospect for gold or diamonds)? Regardless of the spot we are happy for them and like their new home. Clear skies.