Gillette, Wyo., to Chamberlain, S.D.

We got a late start (again), so this will be a short post.

Heading east from Gillette, Wyo., we left the Far West behind and entered the Great Plains. It’s still spring, so the grasslands were brilliant green. As we entered the Black Hills of South Dakota, we saw how they got their name: in contrast to the grasslands, the hills covered with conifers appear black.

The Black Hills of South Dakota as seen across the grasslands

Carol asked a pleasant man at the visitor center just over the South Dakota border if there was anything we should see. He recommended the auto tour route through Badlands National Park. The more popular viewpoints were pretty crowded, with many overweight tourists. We decided to hike part of the Castle Trail. Within a half mile from the trailhead parking lot, there were no other people. It took an hour to go two miles, because I kept stopping to take photos of flowers (Plains Pricklypear, Sego Lily, several flowers in the legume family, etc.) and birds (Rock Wren, Say’s Phoebe, Red-winged Blackbird, etc.) and even a few photos of the dramatic landscape.

Along Castle Trail, Badlands National Park

By the time we got to the Saddle Pass Trail, the sky was looking pretty dark. Lightning flashed in the distance.

Dark clouds from Saddle Pass

We headed back as quickly as we could; the return trip took a little less than half an hour. A few drops of rain starting falling as we got into our car.

Light rain continued most of the way from Badlands National Park to Chamberlain, S.D. And right now, the rain is coming down in buckets, pounding on the roof of the motel. “We got here just in time,” Carol just said. “It would not have been fun driving in that.”

Rock Springs to Gillette, Wyo.

After driving for about 80 miles, I decided I needed to stretch my legs, so we took Exit 184, Continental Divide Road, and turned right onto a dirt road that led to some wayside markers. One of the signs explained how Henry Bourne had an idea for a cross-country auto road. But, as usual, I was looking at flowers, and I followed my gaze down a dry wash. By chance I looked up, and there was a Pronghorn Antelope staring at me. I got out my super-zoom camera in time to catch a blurry photo of the antelope running away from me.

Pronghorn Antelope running away

Our next stop was Rawlins. Carol wanted to go to the library there for an online meeting she had scheduled at two o’clock. We arrived early, and walked around the downtown. Carol stopped to admire a piano on the sidewalk that was painted with a Van Gogh design. A friendly woman came along and said, “Play something for us!” It turned out she was the economic development director for downtown Rawlins, and she told us about some of the city’s accomplishments. I noticed that she often spoke about involving children and teens in city projects, and asked if she used Search Institute’s Developmental Assets model for supporting the healthy development of children and teens. She said that she did indeed use that model.

After Carol’s meeting was over, we headed to Gillette. While Carol drove, I got out my laptop and worked on a PowerPoint presentation that was due today. The slide deck was hosted on Google Drive, so I used my phone as a hotspot as we drove across the high plains of Wyoming. Working remotely has become so easy that you can do it on a cross-country trip. I’m not sure this is a good thing.

We stopped at Independence Rock Historic Site. Independence Rock is a huge outcropping of granite that served as a landmark for the Oregon Trail. We walked around the base — me looking for flowers as usual — and then we climbed partway up the rock.

Carol on Independence Rock

It was so windy that we decided not to climb to the top of the rock. We walked all the way around Independence Rock, and as every tourist does we admired the nineteenth century grafitti scratched into it.

But for me, the highlight of our stop at Independence Rock was seeing a Plain Pricklypear (Opuntia polyacantha) in full bloom.

Opuntia polyacantha in bloom

We arrived in Gillette after dark. We’re both pretty tired. It’s time for bed.

(Random facts from today’s trip: We crossed the continental divide three times today. The highest point of our trip was when we crossed the continental divide on U.S. Highway 237, at an elevation of 7,174 feet above sea level. Our gas mileage for the second half of the day was over 36 miles per gallon, even with the canoe on the car — this afternoon’s gas mileage was higher than usual because we were driving downhill from the continental divide.)

My iNaturalist feed

Wendover to Rock Springs, Wyo.

Our room in Wendover looked out onto a rock outcropping which rose up a hundred feet or more behind the motel. After a quick breakfast, I went out and followed an ATV trail up the outcropping. Soon I was fifty feet above the motel, on a level area below the summit of the outcropping. From there I could see the Union Pacific rail lines heading east. A long train squealed slowly around a loop of rail, heading towards the main line. The main line was a straight line across miles of white salt flats, paralleling the interstate highway, both disappearing into the distance. I spent a quarter of an hour on the level area looking at the desert plants there — ephedra, with no leaves to speak of, just stems with chlorophyll; prickly-pear cactus, with a red blossom just gone by; saltbush; sagebrush; and so on. Once again on this trip, I spent far more time looking at the world at my feet, rather than looking up at the awe-inspiring landscape around me.

Prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia sp.)

We stopped in Salt Lake City to meet Sandy, an old friend of Carol’s, for lunch. I was fascinated to hear them reminiscing about their days in middle school and high school: the hierarchies of their schools; the track coach who years later would be arrested for molesting his step-daughter; a favorite English teacher, Miss Mountford; the differences between their two families; and so on. I felt they both must have been nice teenagers.

I drove as we left Salt Lake. Carol dislikes twisty mountain roads, and the road from Utah into Wyoming is definitely a twisty mountain road. We pulled over at a rest stop at about mile 170 on I-80 for a mid-afternoon snack. There were picnic tables up a steep paved sidewalk, and up another even steeper paved sidewalk was an observation platform. Behind the rest area, a plain dotted with sagebrush sloped up to peaks above.

A sign on a fence said that this land was a wildlife management area. I walked through the fence, and out onto that sagebrush-dotted slope. There were flowers everywhere. I spent a happy half hour looking at flowers and taking photographs, until my cell phone rang. It was Carol asking where I was. “You don’t have to hurry back,” she said, “I just wanted to know where you were.” I took her at her word, and spent another quarter of an hour looking at flowers. My favorite was the Sego Lily: three white petals marked with yellow and deep red at their bases, over three cream colored sepals.

Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii)

When we got to Rock Springs, we followed the signs to the “Historic Downtown” area, parked the car, and walked around. We saw some people cooking something outdoors. “Want to go over?” Carol said. At first I said no, but I realized I was hungry, so then I said yes. A talkative woman greeted us, and pointed to a whiteboard with the menu: hot dogs, Kronski’s, and funnel cakes. We asked what “Kronski’s” were, and the woman told us that they were sausages that were made here in Rock City, in fact they were made in the building that we were all standing in front of.

I ordered a Kronski, and Carol ordered a hot dog. A man — who, as it turned out, was the woman’s brother — cooked the sausage and hot dog for us, and the woman gestured to the tray of condiments. We both put sauerkraut on our meat. The man invited us to sit at some tables behind him, and offered to turn off the Ozzy Osborne he’d been listening to, but we said we liked Ozzy. We had a long chat with the two of them. They had just started out this new business, and were trying to figure out how to make it work.

When we finished eating, we thanked them, and finished our walk around the historic district. It was getting dark, so then we drove back to the motel.

My iNaturalist feed

Fernley, Nev., to Wendover, Utah

We drove past dramatic scenery today: the Forty-Mile Desert, the green Humboldt River valley in between sagebrush plains, towering 11,000 foot mountains…. But what stays in my mind are the flowers we saw blooming near Pequop Summit.

We parked in the Pequop Summit rest area, elevation 6,967 feet above sea level. We walked over the cattle guard to a dirt road cut into the side of the hill, and then I saw a flower up a fairly steep embankment. I scrambled up to look at it. There was a small Single-leaf Pinyon Pine (Pinus monophylla) just beyond it, then a pale yellow Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) above that, and then some purple Hooker’s Onions (Alium acuminatum) above that. “Be careful coming down,” said Carol from the dirt road twenty feet below me. I decided that going up was easier than trying to slide down, so I scrambled up to the top of road cut. By now, I was more than thirty feet above the highway, so I must have been over seven thousand feet.

It was beautiful up there. At seven thousand feet above sea level, it was still springtime. Flowers were blooming everywhere. In some places you couldn’t move without stepping on a flower. In among the pungent-smelling sagebrush (Artemisia sp.), sprightly yellow Groundsels (Packera sp.), like tiny little yellow daisies, grew next to low-growing Lava Asters (?) (Ionactis alpina). The Mule’s Ears (Wyethia sp.), with their leaves like the ears of mules and their flowers like little sunflowers, were mostly past their prime, but in the shade of some big sagebrush bushes a few sheltered plants were still in full bloom.

The yellow flowers are Hawksbeard (Crepis sp.), the red ones are Paintbrushes (Castilleja sp.), and the small purple ones are Hooker’s Onion (Allium acuminatum)

In addition to the flowers, small grasshoppers were buzzing and jumping all through the scrubby growth. Birds sang throughout the sagebrush, and as I approached them were apparently surprised that a human was walking through their territories.

All this was happening within sight and sound of Interstate 80. Most of this was happening below the level of my waist. I was so fascinated by the sights, sounds, and smells that I never even looked up to admire the view from Pequop Summit, if there was indeed a view.

Eriogonum sp.

Earlier in the day, we had stopped for a rest break near Oreana, Nev. This was at a much lower elevation, and I didn’t expect to find any flowers in bloom. But I walked a little way down a dry wash, and there found two or three clumps of Desert Prince’s Plume (Stanleya pinnata) blooming. Pollinators swarmed around these flowers, including a Western Pygmy Blue butterfly.

Western Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis)

In Oreana as at Pequop Summit, I barely noticed the grand landscape scenery around me: my attention was on the small, intimate landscape at my feet.

My iNaturalist feed

San Mateo to Fernley, Nev.

We got up early, and kept working from six thirty to twelve thirty. We put a few last items in the moving container, tied the canoe on the car, did some more last minute cleaning, loaded up the car, argued about little things, did a walk-through of the house with Kathy the cemetery superintendent and Joe from the cemetery’s board of trustees. The truck came by at about 9:30 to pick up the moving containers — what a relief that was. The car was packed by noon. It was a “Spare the Air” day, and the smog was unpleasant. We were ready to go.

Thank goodness it was a holiday, the new federal holiday to commemorate Juneteenth. A holiday reduced the traffic from intensely unpleasant to merely horrible. We drove out through the inner Coast Range and into the Central Valley. We stopped at Dixon Fruit Stand, but they had mediocre fruit and durly clerks. We kept driving. Just past Davis, I said, “Let’s get off at Yolo Bypass.” “Where?” said Carol. “Right here, this exit,” I said. Carol zipped off the freeway at the last minute, saying she was willing to do something I wanted to do; meaning I should be nice to her when there was something she wanted to do later in the trip.

We drove to Parking Lot B, three quarters of a mile into Yolo Bypass Wildlife Management Area. Carol stayed in the car to take care of some business on her phone. I got out into the Central Valley heat, into the intense sunlight. I walked down a road. Yellow Star Thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) lined the road, but just a yard or two from the road, there was a band of tall Bisnaga (Visnaga daucoides), the white umbrels of flowers waving above the feathery green foliage. Beyond that, bulrushes (Schoenoplectus sp.?) grew where the road dropped off into marshlands. Off to my right, green rice fields stretched into the distance. A large flock of White-faced Ibis circled overhead, then settled into the rice fields.

Ibis in a rice field

I felt different. I felt sane. Packing up and emptying out the house had felt strange, not completely moored in reality. The first two hours driving in the car still felt a little detached from reality. But the brilliant sunlight, the flowers, the pollinators, the birds, the jackrabbit loping lazily across the road — it felt like I was reconnecting with reality.

While I was photographing a flower, a man pulled up in his car, and spoke through the open window. “Um, I was just curious what you’re doing there. Not that you have to tell me, but…”

“Do you know this social media app iNaturalist?” I said. He didn’t. I explained that you could take a photo of a plant or animal, upload it, and get an identification. “I got into flowers recently,” I said, “and that’s how I’m learning them.” He asked me a few questions, then got ready to move on. “I’m Thomas, by the way,” he said. I introduced myself, then he drove off.

I walked slowly back to the car. Carol got out to take a short walk with me, but we agreed it was too hot, so we started riving again.

We stopped again at the Donner Pass rest area, and walked the little half mile loop next to the parking lot. It was already summer in the Central Valley, but it was still spring in the High Sierras. I saw a manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) still in bloom. We came to a small pond, and on the opposite shore there was still some unmelted snow.

Unmelted snow near Donner Pass

Then down the eastern slope of the Sierras into Nevada. Now we were in the dramatic landscape of the Great Basin. I noticed the canoe on top of the car cast an odd shadow as we drove.

Near Reno, on I-80

As sublime and awe-inspiring as the landscape was, it had been permanently marked by humankind. The philosopher Martin Heidegger, Nazi sympathizer though he was, had a useful insight with his concept of “Enframing”: part of the logic of modern human technology is to exclude all other ways of thinking about the world.

Patrick, Nev.

That sublime Nevada landscape is completely surveyed, marked out with roads and power lines, dotted with trash and effluvia; the habitats of plants and territories of birds must fit into the interstices of that human framework.

We drove on under the awe-full evening sky, and checked into our motel in Fernley, Nev.

My iNaturalist feed

San Mateo

The day before a road trip is usually busy. When you’re taking a road trip to move across the continent, the day before a road trip is especially busy.

Tomorrow we start driving to Massachusetts. We spent the day packing up the last of our belongings into moving containers. In the morning, we felt a bit frantic thinking of all we had to do today. Fortunately, Nancy and van came over to help out. They also brought food and, best of all, conversation. We had a pretty cheerful day.

While I was packing the moving container, half a dozen neighbors stopped by to ask us where we were moving to. Two of those neighbors were people I had never seen before. We’ve had a hard time meeting people in the neighborhood; I guess we should have moved out sooner, we would have met more people.

We face a busy day tomorrow. I’m going to crawl into bed — no, I take that back, I’m going to crawl into my sleeping bag. I’m so tired I’ll probably fall asleep immediately, even though I will be sleeping on the floor.

Moving by the numbers

We’re getting ready to move to Massachusetts, some 3,150 miles away (give or take a couple of hundred miles).

Right now, we’re packing all our belongings into four moving containers that are approximately 8 feet deep, 5 feet wide, and 7 feet high, or 1120 cubic feet. When we moved to California in 2009, we fit everything into a moving container that was 8 feet by 8 feet by 12 feet, or 768 cubic feet. Somehow in the last 13 years we’ve accumulated another 352 cubic feet of belongings. We would be poster children for consumer capitalism, except that many of our belongings have been scrounged or otherwise obtained outside of consumer capitalism.

We’re using a lot of cardboard boxes to pack up all these belongings. I find myself astonished at the number of cardboard boxes we’re packing up, and schlepping out to the moving containers, and then stacking up. After a week of this, my muscles feel a little sore. I don’t like owning all this stuff. But I have enjoyed spending this past week not sitting at a desk, or logging onto videoconference meetings, but instead engaging in constant physical activity. I’ve lost an inch around my waist, and I feel fit and strong.

We’ve also been giving lots of stuff away. Carol is part of the local Buy Nothing group, and they’ve taken some of the stuff we don’t want to move. One woman just came up and mostly filled the back of her small SUV with things she wanted to take away, including a Tree Mallow (Lavatera sp.) we had growing in a galvanized metal washtub. Another of Carol’s friends is coming up this afternoon to take away an eight foot high potted bamboo plant. Carol has also sold some clothes on Poshmark, and we’ve taken other things to Goodwill. There is a thriving network of exchange that exists partly within the dominant capitalist economy (Poshmark, Goodwill), and partly as a non-capitalist parallel economy (the Buy Nothing Project).

Time to get back to working, putting cardboard boxes into moving containers. Watch this space for further updates….

Far too many cardboard boxes inside a moving container

View from Grizzly Peaks

In the 2003-2004 school year, I drove to work every day from Oakland to Kensington along Grizzly Peaks Boulevard. The road winds through the Berkely Hills, rising to almost 1,500 feet above the level of San Francisco Bay, just a few miles away. That commute had the most spectacular views of any commute I’ve ever driven. On my way home from work, I could stop at a number of roadside pullouts, and admire a spectacular view of the Bay, the Golden Gate, and the Pacific Ocean beyond.

Today we went to visit my cousin Nancy, who lives in North Berkeley. Nancy suggested we drive home via Grizzly Peaks. We wound up on the highest point of the road right after sunset. The city has blocked off the roadside pullouts and posted No Parking signs everywhere, but scores of people parked along the road anyway to enjoy the last red-gold light of the setting sun over the Pacific Ocean. We pulled over (right in front of a No Parking sign) to enjoy one of our last views of the sun setting in the ocean. In another month, we’ll be in New England, on the other side of the continent, watching the sun rising up out of the ocean….

Foreground: Slopes of the Berkeley Hills. Near distance: University of California and downtown Berkeley. Middle distance: San Francisco Bay with (l-r) the lights of the Port of Oakland, the Bay Bridge, Yerba Buena Island, Treasure Island. Opposite side of the Bay (l-r) part of San Bruno Mt., San Francisco; the Golden Gate is just out of the picture to the right.

Two Oaks to Coe State Park HQ via Poverty Flats

At 5 a.m., I got up to make breakfast. The temperature was about 45 degrees — cool enough for a sweater, a jacket, and a warm hat. After eating breakfast and packing up, I spent some time looking at the huge mistletoes growing on a nearby oak tree. Two of them must have been more than fifteen feet long, huge dark masses hanging among the branches of the oak.

I started hiking at 6:25, climbing up and then turning right to hike down the Middle Ridge Trail. In about three quarters of an hour, I passed the junction with Fish Trail, then went up a little knob through a stand of Bigberry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca). The dramatic contrast between the rich green leaves and dark-red twisted trunks of the manzanitas was quite beautiful. More visual drama was to come. As the trail wound down Middle Ridge, every so often I’d catch sight of a huge bank of white fog filling the valleys beyond Poverty Flats.

Fog in the distance from Middle Ridge Trail, Coe State Park

Walking through such a landscape didn’t leave much room for other thoughts, which was fine with me. I looked at flowers, and walked, and that’s about it.

At about twenty past eight, suddenly I heard the sound of running water, and then rounding a bend I could see the Middle Fork of Coyote Creek. After crossing the creek, I dropped my pack, and spent half an hour resting. An Anna’s Hummingbird buzzed close to my head, and lots of other birds were singing in the brush along the water. A female Wood Duck was startled when I walked too close to her, and flew low along the water to another hiding place.

Middle Fork of Coyote Creek, looking back up at the Middle Ridge Trail

Poverty Flats Road climbs fairly steeply up from Coyote Creek, rising about 800 feet in a mile and a half. I took my time, pausing frequently to look at flowers, or to admire the view of Middle Ridge across the valley of the Little Fork of Coyote Creek. A couple of state park trucks drove down the road; those were the only two people I saw for most of the morning. Then once I got to the junction of Forest Trail and Corral Trail, at about 11:45, I passed several groups of people — dayhikers and backpackers starting the Memorial Day weekend early.

At ten past noon, I arrived back at park headquarters. While I ate my lunch, I talked with one of the park rangers. Then it was time to head home before the Memorial Day traffic got bad. And as I drove north up Highway 101 to San Jose, I could see that it was already stop-and-go traffic headed south.

Coe State Park HQ to Two Oaks

Coe State Park is a magical place, and I decided to return there one last time before we move to Massachusetts. I left the park headquarters at 11:50 a.m., and began hiking up Monument Trail. It was slow going with a full pack, but even at my slow pace I overtook an amateur herpetologist who showed my a Southern Alligator Lizard he was photographing. Naturalists walk even more slowly than old backpackers.

Southern Alligator Lizard

After four-tenths of a mile, I turned onto Hobbs Road. As I passed the Frog Lake campsite, I stopped for a moment to talk with a parent and child who were just setting up camp there. I asked the child if they enjoyed Frog Lake, and they told me they liked throwing rocks at the sunfish to “bonk them on the head.” I explained that the Bluegills were probably close to shore guarding nesting sites, and that it wasn’t a good idea to throw rocks at them when they were trying to raise the next generation of fish. The child was not fully convinced, but their parent, sotto voce, thanked me for reinforcing that message.

I climbed up to Middle Ridge Trail, for a total elevation gain of 800 feet in about 2 miles, turned right on the Middle Ridge Trail, and walked down to the Two Oaks campsite. I laid out my ground cloth and sleeping bag, emptied my pack of everything except food and water, then went back up to Hobbs Road. As I walked down the switchbacks of Hobbs Road, I admired the view of Blue Ridge rising steeply up on the other side of the Middle Fork of Coyote Creek.

Blue Ridge, as seen from Hobbs Road, Coe State Park

Although it’s late in the season, there were still quite a few flowers in bloom. Patches of Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) made a faint pink wash on some steep hillsides. Yellow Mariposa Lily (Calochortus luteus), Butterfly Mariposa Lily (Calochortus venustus), and Globe Lily (Calochortus albus) stood out in the dry brown grasses. Dramatic white clusters of flowers covered California Buckeye trees (Aesculus californica). I had hoped to hike all the way down to Coyote Creek, but it was getting late and my legs were tired. Discretion being the better part of valor, about two thirds of the way to the creek I decided to turn around.

Back at the campsite, I could hear Wild Turkeys gobbling up the hillside above, and down towards Frog Lake. One got louder and louder, and a big tom walked within 50 feet of the campsite, stalking angrily along, presumably looking for a rival to confront. I made dinner, walked down to Pajahuello Spring to fill up my water bottles, and then sat and enjoyed the evening. I was in my sleeping bag before dark. I awoke later in the evening to see the Big Dipper overhead, but fell back asleep almost immediately.