Sunday, July 27, 2008

Blume's Make Cross-Country Odyssey

The Van at the Badlands

WNMR began a cross country Odyssey by purchasing a used Honda Odyssey minivan and driving it away the very same evening. W drove through the night until 3:30 a.m, eventually reaching just north of St Joseph Missouri where the family took a nap in the van.

Day 1 - Iowa, South Dakota, Corn palace, Badlands, Wall drug

The highlight of the first day was probably the Badlands. The Corn palace proved to be a slight letdown, with everything being a little smaller and less spectacular than expectations.

The promise of Wall Drug was deadened a bit as the family reached the legendary spot in the evening as everything was closing. R still managed to buy a switchblade comb in the small amount of time that he had.

R proved to be a "prairie dog whisperer", using his naturalistic skills to lure multiple prairie dogs to his peanuts.

Shortly after visiting the prairie dogs, the family drove into the Badlands.
It was quite beautiful.

Day 2 - Visit to Mt Rushmore, Harney High Point

It was important to get an early start, so the family arose dutifully at 7:00 a.m for breakfast in their motel. They drove quickly to the Sylvan Lake trailhead, bypassing the lure of the "Mystery Spot" in order to get on the trail before the heavy sun. After circling around the parking lot to get the last parking place, then parking back where some people had saved a place for them, WNMR prepared for the grueling hike ahead. Barely able to contain his enthusiasm, Renny eagerly unpacked the Taiwanese manufactured crossbow he had purchased at the Corn Palace. The first shot was impressive, impaling a beer can against some wood.

WNMR then took the Cathedral Spires trail up from Sylvan Lake. The weather was clear and hot, about 90 degrees.

The trail was beautiful with lots of tall grass. WMR stopped at Cathedral Spires and walked/climbed out to the rocks, finding a geocache there. The grass was very tall and almost felt like a river. R & M enjoyed going out to a sheer dropoff that was a little too hard for W to access, so W just watched as his nimble teenagers clambered up and down heart-attack inducing sheer cliffs. W took a few pictures as Renny made some titanic leaps across a vast chasm, all the while trying to quell his anxiety for R’s safety. Meanwhile N continued ahead, as she knew that M and R would be racing up the trail, leaving old W in the dust.

After reaching the peak, WNMR relaxed with delicious sandwiches that N had graciously made in the morning.

They teased the copious chipmunks with little sandwich tidbits. Chipmunks apparently do not like pickles. The 360 degree view from Harney was outstanding. The descent was uneventful, and NMR relaxed by swimming in Sylvan Lake afterward. R & M risked $100 fines and jumped off a boulder into the water, ignoring their father’s admonishment to the contrary.

Day 4 – Drove to Devil’s Tower in the morning and walked around it. On the access road to the Tower is a huge field completely full of prairie dogs, all peering out from their holes. Devil’s Tower is a very impressive structure, rising rather isolated out of the ground, as if it had just grown there, though geologists’ theories are that the land has eroded away from an ancient volcano to produce the structure. There were many rock climbers ascending and descending the vertical columns. Afterwards N just had to take a few pictures of some beautiful horses. Then driving across Wyoming, which was rather dry and windy. W could see the massive mountains approaching and got excited, though the boys didn’t seem to share the enthusiasm and slept through most of them. The descent was impressive, down through a canyon with rushing river. A large forest fire cast an orange pall over the scenery as the family rolled into Cody, Wyoming. A few miles further brought Buffalo Bill State Park, where the family camped alongside a large reservoir. M & R continued testing the limits of the crossbow, checking if they could shoot a card, and seeing how far a bolt would go across the water. M & R were extremely happy to be able to make a large campfire. Further entertainment was had by building fires on logs and sending them out into the water where they could be bombed with rocks.


Rising early the family dined on oatmeal and breakfast bars. Driving quickly into Yellowstone, a frantic search was made for an available campsite, since they are usually all taken by noon. A marginal campsite was selected, and it was off to the geysers. Many, many geysers. R & M were soon geyser saturated. W decided that it would be a good idea to take a hike to Fairy Falls, since he had read about it in Backpacker magazine. The trail turned out to be rather hot, dusty and about 2 miles farther than anticipated. To make up for the boring hike, the waterfall was spectacular, looking like a storybook. R & M had walked far ahead of their slow lumbering parents so had nothing to do but play hacky-sack. Converted to a hacky sack fanatic by M, R was soon bragging that he had accomplished 22 kicks without a miss. After the hike, W & N were not yet geyser saturated so they walked out to Grand Prismatic Spring, while R & M remained behind. Then it was off to see Old Faithful, the penultimate geyser of the trip. After dinner, still more hot springs and a geyser were observed, and somewhat over-photographed much to the frustration of some in the party. R was shocked to discover how passionate W was about protecting the hot springs when he mischievously tossed a rock into a spring, leading W to explode with a choice expletive and a long lecture. A quick drive and another campfire, then it was off to bed.

Day 6 – Yellowstone and Montana

The next day brought some sightseeing in the grand canyon of Yellowstone. M & R were rather exhausted of sightseeing and were dragged along to see some waterfalls, which were impressive to the tune of maybe 50 photos or so. Then a petrified tree was observed. It looked quite lonely on a hill surrounded by normal trees. Apparently at one time redwoods had flourished in Yellowstone. Then the final sightseeing: Mammoth Hot Springs. W had seen some photos suggesting that the hot springs were very impressive terraces. However, for W it was a little disappointing as there was very little water, most of the terraces were dried up. Wistfully, W gave up on his plans for an extremely strenuous hike in Idaho to Borah Peak, and the family departed Yellowstone northwards, delayed only by a large contingent of elk camping out in downtown Mammoth Hot Springs. M looked up a restaurant in Livingston, Montana, and the family ended their camping fast with an excellent dinner of ribs, steak and pasta. They drove into the night. A long drive later they arrived at Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, eventually finding a room.

Day 7 – Mount Rainier and Seattle

From Coeur d’Alene, the family raced across Idaho and Eastern Washington. At this point it seemed quite possible that Seattle would be reached the same day, so Auntonia needed to be warned of the upcoming inundation. As W chatted distractedly on the cell phone, R saw an unguarded opportunity and quickly brought the minivan up to a cruising speed of 100 mph.
W managed to guide the minivan towards Mt Rainier and was rewarded with beautiful mountain vistas. A gaggle of insane bicyclists were attempting to RAMROD (Race Around Mt Rainier in One Day) the mountain, which looked to be a lot of hill climbing on partially gravel roads. Curvy gravelly roads. Lots of curvy gravelly roads. Approximately 100 miles later, WNMR arrived for a rainy reconnaissance of surprisingly small Evergreen State College. M did not seem particularly interested in going on a retreat to write poetry, which seemed to be one of the classes offered, but perhaps it was because he was extremely hungry. So WNMR headed downtown and found ginormous (i.e. mucho grande) burritos at a rather grungy restaurant called Grand Burrito. The wholesome face of the friendly waitress contrasted with the “Don’t Tread on Me” snake tattooed on her forearm, inducing cognitive dissonance for W

Tonia’s House

WNMR proceeded to Auntonia’s arriving about a half hour before she had to go pick up cousin Stella from the airport. Auntonia’s extremely friendly cats Baxter and Henrietta were also glad to see them. W and Auntonia went to pick up Stella who looked very grown up arriving by herself at the airport. Stella seemed to be very popular, wordlessly receiving/sending text messages as the trio returned to Auntonia’s abode. The next day WNMRS went to the University of Washington to take a campus tour. R & S were left to watch people on University avenue. R was blunt in his assessment: “These are the weirdest people I’ve ever seen”. Meanwhile M was impressed with the Husky campus, getting a good feeling from it, perhaps because it wasn’t raining. In the evening, Auntonia and Jake planned for the teens to see Rocky Votolato at Neumo’s, and W & N took advantage to go out for some excellent melt-in-the-mouth sushi. Rocky was a little on the mellow side for MR&S, but delicious pizza made up for it. There wasn’t really time to see other sights in Seattle and the next morning everybody embarked towards Anacortes and the San Juans. There was plenty of time to make the ferry and enjoy a picnic beforehand, though MRS simply sat in the van and pokemonned to the max.

Mysterious pain bothers Grandma Harriet

Grandma H had rented a nice though sparsely furnished house near the oyster farm. She had already begun baking a large halibut filet. Jake displayed extraordinary gourmet talents, spontaneously whipping up a peach/cherry wondersauce to accompany the fish. He revealed that he kept a list of favorite recipes in micro-sized type in his wallet and brought along his secret spice rub for salmon. The next evening Jake prepared delicious flank steak in lieu of salmon, which had proved to be nearly as expensive as gold. W taught MRS how to play hearts. The concept of playing cards seemed to be a new one for Stella, but she quickly caught on and quietly trounced the males at the first game. Grandma H developed a mysterious pain in her left hip, serious enough that she decided to go to the doctor. Ultrasound eliminated gall or kidney stones, but the doctor was still baffled. Ibuprofen helped with the pain, but H had difficulty sleeping and a loss of appetite. W has been lately overcome with a climbing/hiking bug and insisted that Mt Constitution needed to be climbed, seeing as it was the highest point in the San Juans. So the entire clan transported itself dutifully on the ferry to Orcas island. William, Margaret, and N took up the challenge with W, climbing over 1200 feet to a fantastic view of the Olympic peninsula, Cascades and the San Juans. Grandma H felt good enough to go along on the hike for about a mile and then decided to turn back with Auntonia. R & M continued to avoid exercise and walked back with them to the car, which turned out to be good, as they could drive the car up the mountain to pick up their industrious parents.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wheeler Peak conquered by W & M

W & M climbed Wheeler Peak in New Mexico, as W officially began his "highpointing" quest to climb the highest peaks in the lower 49 (he is going to skip Alaska's Denali).

M and W camped overnight in Twining, arriving after a rainstorm. Arising at 5 a.m for breakfast and breaking camp, they were on trail at 7:15. Hike up was beautiful along a briskly moving mountain stream. They got slightly lost on a ski trail, but quickly recovered with the aid of GPS. As they neared the ridgeline, a descending hiker who W & M referred to as "Grandpa Mark", told them that he had encountered an impassable snow patch and thus had turned around perhaps 10-15 minutes from the summit. "Grandpa Mark" had left at 4 a.m. to try for the summit, and W & M had seen him the previous evening in basecamp, naming him "Grandpa Mark" because of his grey beard and that he was camping alone. W&M were slightly discouraged by the Grandpa Mark report, but decided to proceed anyway and see for themselves. Fortunately, they were able to easily hike up above and around the snow patch. Shortly thereafter they reached the appropriately named Mt Walter, and 10 minutes later Wheeler Peak.

They lingered about 45 minutes at summit, but seeing a thunderstorm approaching decided to descend.

After walking back along the ridge a way, W & M saw hikers descending off the exposed ridgeline to Williams lake, and looking at map, could see that this would be a viable way back. Thus began a downwards scramble through loose rock of about 2000 feet before reaching a trail. On the way they encountered a beautiful big-horn ram who lingered quite close to trail. After reaching the lake they soaked their feet. A mild thunderstorm rolled in, dropping silky dreamlike hail as they continued their descent, eventually reaching and walking on a road for the final 2-3 miles back to Twining.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Philmont HH Backpacking Trip

After over a year and a half of planning, during which W constantly rehashed what equipment to bring, what to expect, how we are going to travel,... etc, the much anticipated Philmont HH backpacking trip was initiated.

It all started at a small rather spartan basecamp in southern New Mexico (the Torsterson Wildlife Center).

There the scouts loaded up with food and group camping gear for the week-long trek.

M and R went on separate crews, W went with R, so W can only relate the experience of his own crew. Each crew had 12 participants plus a guide. W and R's crew went on a somewhat less strenuous expedition. Surprisingly the weather was rather cool, and it rained quite a bit. Most of the time this was no problem, except for one particular thunderstorm that appeared to dump an inch or more in about 15 minutes. In this case, W's crew was slowly trudging up a hill when the thunderstorm came into view. Noticing that the guide was preparing for rain by sheltering himself in a small tree, W did the same. He and a few others shed their packs and put them under a second tree to protect them from the rain. Soon the thunderstorm came on with a vengeance, and R noticed a small trickle of water running beneath him. The small trickle soon turned into a complete flash flood. Suddenly W realized that the backpacks were beginning to float away, and a mad rush ensued to rescue them, resulting in submerged soaking wet boots.

A small creek became a river of mud. Due to the extreme weather and the temporary loss of his camera, W was only able to photograph it much later, so the photo is not very dramatic.

The next day the crew had to trek to Martin Ranch, where black powder riflery and 3D archery were offered. To R's delight, he was allowed to shoot his Class B t-shirt full of holes. Afterwards everybody signed it and left it as a souvenir at the Martin Ranch.

R seemed to discover a horned toad every day.

The weather was unusually wet, which gave the group a chance to catch and observe the rarely seen new mexican spadefoot toad. Other than lots of ants, additional wildlife was not very plentiful, though some distant microscopic elk were sighted on the last evening.

The final day saw unanticipated additional hiking, because the rains had made the roads too muddy, preventing access by vehicles and the group had to awaken at 4:00 a.m. to hike out. For those who got up immediately at the appointed time, the reward was a brief unimpeded view of the starry heavens, which had not been seen during the trip due to the rainy weather. In the end everybody survived with no injuries, but in W's crew, blisters abounded (though W somehow avoided them) due to the soaking of boots.

The route of Crew 709-BB2