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.