In which we visited Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park lies about an hour east of Ely, NV. I wasn’t sure exactly what this basin was before we found the visitor’s center, but it now know it describes the depression between the Sierra Nevada and Wastach mountains (amongst other geographical things) and looks like this (thanks Wikipedia!):

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(and thanks Great Basin visitor’s center!). This national park not only preserves important landmarks, it also celebrates the unique culture of this desolately beautiful place.

If anyone wonders how we get photos of the two of us - I have a remote for my Nikon D3300. Sometimes it works great. Sometimes you get silly outtakes like this one.

If anyone wonders how we get photos of the two of us – I have a remote for my Nikon D3300. Sometimes it works great. Sometimes you get silly outtakes like this one.

Never mind the previous outtake. This is the real sign at the entrance to the park.

National Park #3! Never mind the previous outtake – that was the visitor’s center. This is the real sign at the entrance to the park. Wheeler Peak is in the background.

I wasn’t planning on hiking in this park, but the main thing I came to see required a short, out-and-back jaunt.

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Bristlecone pines are the longest living non-clonal organisms on Earth and this park is home to several rare groves of them. They can live up to 5,000 years!! You have to specify non-clonal because there is a group of quaking aspens in Utah that is believed to be over 80,000 years old – though the individual trees are only 130 years or so.

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Even when they die, the trees are so hardy that they can last another 1,000 years in the same spot without rotting.

Hiking up to the grove - we wore plenty of sunscreen since the sun was out and we were above 10,000 feet!

Hiking up to the grove – we wore plenty of sunscreen since the sun was out and we were above 10,000 feet!

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At 1.6 miles past the trailhead there was a lovely exhibit teaching you about different trees in the grove.

At 1.6 miles past the trailhead there was a lovely exhibit teaching you about different trees in the grove.

Many had great informative plaques like this one. Hard to believe that some of these trees are contemporaries of the pyramids of Egypt.

Many had great informative plaques like this one. Hard to believe that some of these trees are contemporaries of the pyramids of Egypt.

Jeff pointing out the living part of this tree.

Jeff pointing out the living part of this tree.

View of Wheeler peak from the grove.

View of Wheeler peak (highest summit in the Snake Range: 13,065 ft) from the grove.

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I know they look dead – but I promise they are not. Many had green needles sprouting from their branches that just get lost in these photos.

Beautiful, smooth bark

Beautiful patterns in the smooth bark

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Thankful that someone will indulge my not-so-inner biology nerd.

On the way down we made a small detour to Teresa Lake (in honor of you, Aunt T!):

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Beautiful little alpine lake.

Beautiful little alpine lake.

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It was an unplanned, but lovely 3.2 mile hike. I would definitely love to come back and do more glacier hikes and explore the Lehman Caves. After this we headed down Wheeler Peak, on to Utah:

View of Wheeler Peak

View of Wheeler Peak

State #5!

State #5!

This stretch of road began a long series of beautiful views. I'm convinced there isn't a bad site in Utah.

This stretch of road began a long series of beautiful views. I’m convinced there isn’t a bad site in Utah.

Great Salt Flat in the distance

Great Salt Flat in the distance – you can follow this all the way to the Great Salt Lake

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More Utah through the front windshield

Look at the scenery behind Jeff - it's just breathtaking.

Look at the scenery behind Jeff – it’s just breathtaking.

Better view of that exact spot. This road trip is mostly about seeing national parks, but it has the lovely residual side effect of taking us through some of the prettiest, most unique places in the US.

Better view of that exact spot. This road trip is mostly about seeing national parks, but it has the lovely residual side effect of taking us through some of the prettiest, most remote places in the US.

Our first glimpse of Rim Rock, right outside Capitol Reef National Park and our home for the night.

Our first glimpse of Rim Rock, right outside Capitol Reef National Park and our home for the night.

It looks like we're driving into a painting. Just amazing!

It looks like we’re driving into a painting. Just amazing!

I wasn’t sure what Capitol Reef was going to be like and with this preview I can’t wait to see it tomorrow. We’re settled in for the night in Torrey with Mexican food in our bellies and wi-fi for our devices.

301 miles

Short driving day: 301 miles

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In which we visited Lassen and drove the loneliest highway in America

Remember when I signed off the last post about it being a good night? Bad news: we discovered while rummaging for some lost contact solution (turns out we left it in the hotel in Crescent City) that our boat battery had tipped and spilled all over the back of the Jeep. Good news: baking soda neutralizes the sulfuric acid. Bad news: everything closes after 9pm in Chester, CA so we couldn’t do anything. Good news: The grocery store opens early for the fishermen. We spent the morning scrubbing and neutralizing what we could.

Here’s hoping that the bottom of the Jeep doesn’t fall out anytime soon! Also figured out I’ve developed shingles (am I 80??) – but that is a story for another day. First – on to Lassen!

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National park #2

Lassen Volcanic National Park is like Glacier and Yellowstone had a baby. The peaks reach the sky, but the area is bubbling with geothermal activity. It’s the southern most part of the Cascade Range and its Volcano, Lassen Peak, last erupted 100 years ago. Give that our time was short, we chose to do the Bumpass Hell trail, one because of the name and two, because it gave great views of Lassen’s mountains and showed off the beauty of the Tehama caldera. It’s funny moniker comes from serious incident. Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, a local miner who was exploring the area, broke through the thin mud crust and scalded his leg badly resulting in its eventual amputation. Yikes. thumb_DSC_0695_1024 thumb_DSC_0666_1024

These beautiful purple wildflowers were in bloom along the trail.

These beautiful purple wildflowers were in bloom along the trail.

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I love the color the sulpher, thermophilic algae makes the water.

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Good reason to use the boardwalks (also a federal law).

Good reason to use the boardwalks.

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About 16 acres of hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents) and boiling mud pots

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Beautiful mud and algae above the boiling mud pots. Pictures don’t quite do it justice.

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Our hike didn’t take as long as planned, so we drove around a bit more of the park to take in the scenery:

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View of Brokeoff Mountain

In front of Lassen Peak

In front of Lassen Peak

View to the Cascades beyond

View to the Cascades beyond – this reminds me of the Appalachians outside Asheville.

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The is the highest point on the highest road in the Cascades

We had a long drive before us, so we headed out. I would definitely come back to Lassen again (and hike the Cinder Cone and Lassen Peak!). On the road again:

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Somewhere in California

Crossed the border and drove through Reno - it made me miss all the Burners who would fly in through here to go to Burning Man soon. Our route took us no where near the Black Rock Desert, which was probably for the best. It would make me miss it too much.

Crossed the border and drove through Reno – it made me miss all the Burners who would fly in through here to go to Burning Man soon. Our route took us no where near the Black Rock Desert, which was probably for the best. It would make me miss it too much.

Once through Reno we started driving on Nevada Highway 50. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was named “The Loneliest Road in America” by Life magazine in 1986. I get why: we crossed long stretches of desert valleys punctuated by desolate mountain ranges with little to no sign of civilization for close to sever hours. It was long and hot and I’m very thankful we had a car to do it in (despite its lack of air conditioning) because this is the route the Pony Express took and I can only imagine how hard it was for them.

Beautiful, but lonely.

Beautiful, but lonely.

Desert valley stretch. Note all the bugs we've accumulated.

Desert valley stretch. Note all the bugs we’ve accumulated.

Eventually we pulled into Ely, NV, the biggest settlement we’d seen since leaving Reno. It’s a little modern segment of the Wild West: advertisements for roping lessons, casino-hotels galore with stuffed rattlesnakes decorating the lobby, steakhouses and blackjack dealers smoking cigarettes they bought out of a vending machine.

Downtown Ely, NV

Downtown Ely, NV

We stayed in a hotel-casino that was built on the site of the old jail – so naturally it was called the Jailhouse:

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497 miles

497 miles

Long day, but we survived and we’re getting there – on to Great Basin next!

In which we go to Glacier (Part II)

We’re starting to perfect our camping skills as an offshoot of our “throw two bags in the car and go” skills. This time came the added challenge of sharing our adventure with some toothy wildlife:

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Our campsite had recently had some bear sightings and the Ricky Rangers were out warning everyone to keep their food secure.

We ate all our meals out of the picnic basket that was a wedding present from my grandparents. They have the sweetest tradition that each grandchild is given a picnic basket and a family Bible when they marry. I love that this one is part traditional basket and part cooler on the bottom; we’re certainly getting some miles out of it!

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DSC_0596 One of our favorite camping foods is “drunk fruit” which we invented in Yellowstone and made for this trip. The recipe is a jar of fruit, drain (drink) some of the liquid and then add back in your favorite spirit. Shake occasionally and then enjoy.

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This time it was mangoes, peaches and rum.

For dinner we feasted on hotdogs and baked beans over a pretty darn good fire:

DSC_0607We ended the night sharing some marshmallow roasting techniques with sweet retired man at the campsite next to us. The secret is a good looped wire, focusing on the second mallow and lots of turning. He gifted us his homemade roasting wire as a present before he left. Thanks kind sir! Whenever we make perfectly roasted mallows we’ll think of you and your kind lessons!

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Good morning! Our new snuggle sleeping bags from REI worked great!

The next morning we drove the Going-To-The-Sun Road in reverse:

Saint Mary's Lake

Saint Mary’s Lake

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Saint Mary's Lake with Wild Goose Island in the background.

Saint Mary’s Lake with the small dot of Wild Goose Island in the background.

Jackson Glacier, one of the only glaciers you can see from the Going-To-The-Sun Road (those other things are ice packs).

Jackson Glacier, one of the only glaciers you can see from the Going-To-The-Sun Road (those other white things in the pictures aren’t glaciers, they’re ice and snow packs).

Did you know in 1890 there were a 125 glaciers in GNP? Now there are only 25 and they’re all projected to disappear by 2030. Weird and sad to think I won’t be able to take my grandchildren to see this.

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This road hugs the mountain so intimately

Back down the mountains. This road hugs the mountain so intimately

Jeff loved driving this road - you can see the incredible panoramic views we were treated to.

Jeff loved driving this road – you can see the incredible panoramic views we were treated to.

One last stop at Logan's Pass

One last stop at Logan’s Pass

DSC_0650Thanks Glacier for the chance to come back and see more of your beauty! 

Soon it was time to head back towards the West. As we passed out of Montana we were reminded of how much beauty our untamed neighbor has:

Fields the same shade of yellow highlighters are apparently a flower being grown as an experimental biofuel

Fields the same shade of yellow highlighters are apparently a flower being grown as an experimental biofuel

The vastness is indescribable

The vastness is indescribable

Roads are sweet that lead to home

Roads are sweet that lead to home

We crossed into Eastern Washington which looks for all intensive purposes, like Kansas – flat and agricultural. It’s miles upon miles of peas, Timothy hay, wheat, corn and potatoes:

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Our Jeep is still holding up well, if only a little dusty after this latest jaunt. We’re at 181,143 and counting. You’ve got miles to go little Jeep. Miles to go.

Those are windmills in the background over the Columbia River Gorge

Those are windmills in the background over the Columbia River Gorge

And so ends a road trip that was all at once beautiful, long, refreshing, quick, enlightening and so, so worth it. Until our next adventure!

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In which we go to Glacier (Part I)

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park in June 2012.

The view from our hotel room of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park in June 2012. Doesn’t it make you want more?

Last year on our trip out West, we tried to hit a lot of the highlights on a drive across the northern US. We got to see a lot of cool things: YellowstoneMount Rushmore, the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, etc, but we when we got to Glacier National Park in June the highlight of the park, the Going-To-The-Sun Road was closed for snow. To be fair, it was gorgeous all the same and the folks at the National Park Service would like to let you know there are other things to do, but it just seemed we were missing the whole main experience.

This picture, from the same place as the picture above, is the image on my work computer desktop and iPad  background

This picture, from the same place as the picture above only the next morning, I love so much. It is the image on my work computer desktop and iPad background

Jeff and I were hiking around a cool little urban pocket wilderness, Tiger Mountain State Park outside Issaquah, last week when we started talking about our move last year that had us chasing the ever lapping sun:

Me: You know the only thing I regret about that trip is that we didn’t get to drive the Going-To-The-Sun Road.
Jeff: Well, let’s do it next weekend.
Me: What?
Jeff: Yeah. I mean, we can do it. You’re not on call. It’s possible to get there in a day. We can do it, so we should do it if you want. 

And that’s one of the many reasons I married him. I’m thankful for his spirit of adventure and his insistence that we seize the opportunities we have control of. It’s a nice lesson to be reminded to do things if you can in fact, do them.

So that’s how on Thursday night we found ourselves in the insanely cool REI headquarters downtown, dodging mountain bikers on a tree lined test path and climbing out of the parking garage with its very own waterfall, to buy some sleeping bags:

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Inside REI Headquarters

And then on Friday after work, heading out on yet another Team Sarvas road trip. Just East this time:

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Just a 2 day, 1200 mile road trip. No big deal.

The original plan was to make it to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, just across the Washington state line to spend the night. When we got there though all hotels there and in nearby Spokane were booked. All. Of. Them. A helpful hotel clerk told us that our only real option was to continue driving 40 miles east and hopefully Kellogg, ID would have something. It was approaching midnight, but what could we do? So we kept trucking on, the whole time trying to call ahead, but failing due to losing signal in the mountains. The desk clerk at the almost full Silver Mountain Resort seemed sad that all he had to offer was a studio room, but perked up when I told him that he was my new favorite person and we’d take it! Yay for a bed and a shower after a long day of clinic and an even longer day of driving.

After a goodnight’s sleep and hearty breakfast we set out again and reached Glacier around 1pm. And then we started to climb. I’ll just let the pictures tell the story from here (though they do not begin to do it justice):

Stopping for lunch on the way up.

Stopping for lunch on the way up.

Adult lunchables!

Salami, cheeses, fancy crackers = Adult lunchables!

It's not being in the woods without some good ol' raisins and peanuts (and M&Ms, granola and banana chips..).

It’s not being in the woods without some good ol’ raisins and peanuts (and M&Ms, granola and banana chips..).

The road is carved into the sides of the mountains. Obviously Jeff drove and I tried to keep my fear of heights down to a dull roar.

The road is carved into the sides of the mountains. Obviously Jeff drove and I tried to keep my fear of heights down to a dull roar.

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Rim Rock

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You can see why the road is sometimes closed - they have to clear thousands of pounds of snow each year.

You can see why the road is sometimes closed – they have to clear thousands of cubic feet of snow each year.

It’s crazy the amount of snow they clear each year. The park even employs professional avalanche experts to test things out. Pictures from this year’s clearing can be found here. Check them out – they are indescribable!

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So excited we got to do this!

Logan's Pass Visitor Center

Logan’s Pass Visitor Center

Bighorn sheep just chilling in the sunshine

Bighorn sheep just chilling in the sunshine

Continental Divide - 6646 ft

Continental Divide – 6646 ft

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DSC_0557The entire road is about 50 miles long and once we reached the end of it and therefore the east side of Glacier, we decided to camp for the night and snagged one of 4 camping spots left. We certainly cut the obtaining of nightly lodging thin on this trip, but both nights we were fortunately okay! (But seriously, with two tents AND the Jeep, which we’ve definitely slept in before, are you really ever out of nightly shelter?).

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Perk: The Rising Sun campground was right next to the Rising Sun Motor Inn which meant hot coffee in the morning!

We set up our new (to us) tent to test it out for a camping trip we’re planning later in the summer and started dinner. Just in case the blue one didn’t work we had my favorite small yellow Marmot I’ve had forever in the car as backup.

Not too shabby lodgings

Not too shabby

I feel I've inundated this post with too many pictures already, so more in the next post.

I feel I’ve inundated this post with too many pictures already, so more later.

In which these are the last of the pictures from our trip

I know these are horribly out of order, but at least this completes the last of our pictures from our trip across the US last summer. After leaving Yellowstone we made our way north through Montana, stopping for the night in Helena (pronounced Hel-eh-na, not Hel-lee-na like I’d been saying my entire life in those name the capitol quizzes).

Official border crossing while leaving Yellowstone

More impressive state sign in Gardner, MT

We decided to check out the Lewis and Clark Brewing Company for dinner since 1) it was just down the road from our hotel and 2) like the yuppies we are, we’re fond of local breweries. The reviews online praised their beer and burgers, but when we got there they only had beer – no food except some popcorn and bar nuts. Also as a brewery they had some interesting rules:

Fortunately Helena had a great little pizza place just a block away and we filled up our bellies there instead.

Montana bills itself as one of the last great wildernesses in the contiguous United States and after spending much of the next day driving through it, the claim is pretty accurate. Despite being June it was cold and we spent hours driving without passing another car or building. I can only imagine the solitude here in the depths of winter.

Montana landscape

Our goal was to see Glacier National Park and drive its famous Going-To-The-Sun road as one of our final destinations before Seattle. We should’ve known that wasn’t going to happen when we stopped at a diner in West Glacier for some huckleberry pie and the only people there happened to be us and a park worker that said he started next week “at the beginning of the season”. My entire life I was somehow incorrect in counting June as a summer month – in Montana at least it is more of a late winter/early spring season.

We were some of the only tourists going into the park and one of the only rooms occupied in the Village Inn at Apgar. The Going-To-The-Sun road was closed due to snow and they hadn’t yet finished plowing it. I was pretty disappointed because I was looking forward to driving what has been called one of the most scenic roads in America, but we made the best of the evening and treated ourselves to a delicious meal at the nearby and nearly empty Lake McDonald lodge before retiring to our hotel room to hunker down under several blankets with the heater cranked on high.

View from our hotel window when we first checked into the the Inn

Lake McDonald – getting a glimpse of the peaks as the clouds moved out

 

Our first sighting that Glacier National Park has glaciers..

The next morning brought sunnier, clearer skies

The next morning we decided to drive the 10 miles of the Going-To-The-Sun road that were open to at least see a little of the park that we’d budgeted two days to explore.

Attempt as a self portrait from our hotel patio

The loyal Jeep

Lake McDonald

Since our ability to see more of Glacier was hampered by the snow fall we decided just to go ahead and drive to Seattle that day and end up there two days early.

To round out our road signs:

The day we drove in Washington was characteristically rainy – appropriate I think for our first time together in the Northwest.

Eastern Washington reminds me a lot of Kansas – flat and agricultural.

And that rounds out our trip across the US. If you ever have a chance to do it, go. We have a vast and diverse country. Travel on back roads as often as you can. Eat huckleberry pie from the dingiest diner you can find. Play all your favorite songs and listen to some new books. Pick a good co-pilot. Know that BLTs are best enjoyed at the local gas station/restaurant. Experience the areas you’ve only ever seen in books and on postcards. Do everything you’ve ever wanted – who knows when you’ll make your way there again.

And always keep in mind that the best part of the trip is the journey itself.