The Rain Was No Barrier

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November 26, 2022, Grapevine- We walked through the mist, which reminded me more of Honolulu than Dallas. After three days of more or less being housebound, we set out for Re:defined Coffee House, a popular hangout, at the edge of downtown Grapevine. There, we sat for nearly an hour, and discussed a game plan for the rest of the day, over coffee and small donuts.

The next stage was to go and watch the film, “Spirited”, a sit was a musical comedy, which appealed more to Yunhee. Basically, it is loosely-based on “A Christmas Carol”, by way of “Scrooged” and “Oliver!”,with a bit of time travel thrown in-because, spirits can do that. It was entertaining, but alas, would have been more meaningful to DIL, had there been Korean subtitles. In time, that will be available via streaming.

Next, was a rare mid-afternoon meal-this one at Mom’s Cafe, a Korean restaurant, in Carrollton. This was a throwback to days in the motherland, Hankook. Here were Bibimbap: Chicken and egg, with sliced spinach, carrot and mushroom, on a bed of steamed rice, served in a hot stone bowl and dressed with gochujang (hot pepper sauce); a Korean pancake, with scallion, squid meat and garlic; side dishes, such as cabbage and scallion kimchi, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, sliced fishcake;and bori cha (hot barley water). My meal came with miso, the wondrous Japanese soup that serves as a soothing digestive aid.

Finally, on the way back to Home Base II, we happened by Rockledge Park, Grapevine’s taste of the Great Lakes. It had stopped raining, so we headed out along North Shore Trail, being careful to steer clear of the slippery caliche. We walked past a small, intrepid wedding party, up along short, but well-defined sandstone ledges, reminiscent of some of the shore front I encountered, years ago, on the north side of Lake Superior. (Photos by Aram will be available for a later post, and we may return there tomorrow, in which case I will have my own camera at the ready.)

Nonetheless, Lake Grapevine, impressive when approaching DFW International Airport from the northwest, is equally fascinating on the ground. The rain did not keep us housebound.

Cactus Flower to Yellow Rose

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November 22, 2022, Grapevine- A 1:45 a.m. wake-up, for a 3:15 shuttle, leading to a 7:15 flight from Phoenix to Dallas-Fort Worth, is not on my frequent travel schedule. It is also far from the hardest of itineraries, as I imagine any veteran of a Belem to Manaus to Leticia packet boat trip along the Amazon, or a joyride from Punta Arenas to the Ross Peninsula, or even a trek to the summit of one of the great peaks of the Himalaya, Andes or Northern Rockies, would attest.

It is, however, something I have mastered, along with nine other travelers, who joined me in packing a van that made it in perfect time, from the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (where a twenty-minute search of three stops yielded the two travelers sought.) There was scant traffic, once two more passengers boarded the shuttle, in Prescott Valley and Groome’s driver got us to Sky Harbor on time.

Other than a few uptight, suspicious people in an airport coffee shop, and in my row on the plane itself, there were no hiccups between Phoenix and my secondary home. I retrieved my luggage fairly quickly and took my first ride in a Tesla. The car is not quirky; I’ll say that much, and the time may well come when the brand has no more association with Fascism than does a Volkswagen. It rides very smoothly.

Now it’s time to relax, get rid of the rest of the cold that has bothered me-along with 3/4 of the people I know in Arizona- and bask in my little family’s presence.

An Off-road Caravan

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November 14, 2022, Cortez, CO- As I approached the small community of Tonalea, AZ, en route to Monument Valley, a man in an orange vest held up a sign that said “Emergency ahead”. I came to a line of stopped traffic, and waited patiently for about twenty minutes, as it slowly inched forward, every so often.

Then, I noticed more and more people were taking an alternative, rough dirt route, which I figured would take us past the stalled traffic. So, once close enough to the entry to that of-road track, I joined the somewhat more steadily-moving queue. This brought back memories of visiting various traditional Dineh families, by taking similar tracks, up mesas or through sage-laden deserts.

Every so often,as the caravan inched along, a Navajo policeman or local volunteer would reassure us that we were on the right path. At one point, we encountered people coming the other way. Some of the caravaners opted to go up a somewhat steep bank of soft sand. That did not work for Sportage, so the oncoming vehicles backed up, until the five vehicles behind me, and I, had passed through.

When we got to a gravel church access road, 5 miles along and an hour later, the emergency had cleared and we were all back on the highway. Sportage was no worse for the wear, and I got to Monument Valley around 3:15, which allowed for a short, but satisfying stop near The Mittens, and other nearby formations. It was still a bit nippy, so a short visit was all that I was up for, anyway.

Here are some scenes from that stop.

Sentinel Mesa, west of The Mittens
West Mitten
East Mitten and Elephant Butte
Spearhead Mesa
The Mittens and Elephant Butte

The upshot is that I will surely return at some point in the relatively near future, to hike Navajo Trail, which goes near various of the formations.

Duty called, though, and as the saying goes “Responsibility never takes a vacation.” I delivered a box of Baha’i materials to a Dineh friend, in Aneth, about an hour east of Monument Valley, then stopped for the night at Tomahawk Inn, in this Four Corners hub, so as to have the WiFi needed to host a Zoom meeting. Life, even with challenges such as the off-road experience is very sweet.

Peace of Mind

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November 6, 2022- With “permission” from Phoenix, I put my bags in the Sportage, bid farewell to the housekeeper and left Casa Remuda for Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park, a scant 1.9 miles to the northeast . Entrance to the park is free of charge, and indeed, it is connected by trails, to the Thunder Mountain Trail system. Thus, it is maintained by donations.

The Stupa, or dome-shaped shrine, is 30 feet high and was erected, for the purpose of bringing benefit to all living beings, in 1988. Jetsunma Akhon Lamo is the person responsible for its establishment and has remained the driving force behind its growth as a meditation and healing site. I felt its calming influence, during the hour or so that I spent there-and for the rest of the afternoon. I will certainly return there again, hopefully with others.

Here are some scenes of the Great Stupa and its surroundings.

Entrance to Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park
Prayer flags, adorning a juniper.
Prayer wheels, in which devotions and supplications may be inserted.
Amitabha Stupa
I could not say it better.
Two Stupas, in alignment.
Juniper, that is the eastern boundary of the Peace Park.

I walked a bit along the periphery of the park, finding its trails which link to Thunder Mountain Trail. A couple of ladies, hiking along Thunder Mountain Trail looked confused, so I mentioned that the trail I was about to take led to the Peace Park. As they felt a need for peace in their lives, they followed me to the Stupa.

It was a wonderful appendix to my stay at Casa Remuda. I will return to both, again.

Casa Remuda

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November 5, 2022, Sedona- About two months ago, I encountered an effusive lady from New York, who was living and working, at the time, in a relaxed and well-appointed Bed & Breakfast, close to several trails on the Near West Side of town. She told me it would be a lovely, if a bit pricey, place to stay overnight, if I wanted to hike a trail early or to stay late at Synergy Cafe, where I have sometimes joined impromptu musical sessions with my had-held drum.

I have had hot-cold relationships with the owner and manager of Synergy. Presently, things are in a cool phase, and while I spent a couple of hours there tonight, I did not stay long, once the manager showed up. That is a digression, though. Casa Remuda is an amazing place, nestled in a residential neighbourhood, near Thunder Mountain and Chimney Rock. The couple who own and operate the Bed and Breakfast live on the premises and have given their all to the comfort and well-being of their guests, a swell as being kind employers. The 2 or 3 workers, two housekeepers and a maintenance man, live on the premises as well.

It was a quiet stay, bookended by two virtual Baha’i meetings, for which Walter and Vivian graciously let me use a small table, right off the kitchen, as it had the strongest WiFi. I used their massage bed, twice, which also helped me relax and sleep-the Queen-sized in the Lower Guest Room also had a heated mattress pad, even furthering the quality of the rest.

Then, there were the cats-Vivian’s joy. Cleopatra, Merlin and Phoenix are basically gentle creatures and like all cats, have the run of the house-and much of the property during the day. Coyotes and mountain lions being what they are, the trio are called in as night falls. Phoenix chose to play with me a bit, and engaged in “stalk and catch”-the feline version of “hide and seek”. In the end, Phoenix gave me permission to finish packing my bag. She is gracious in that way.

Phoenix the Cat, at Casa Remuda, Sedona

Here are some other scenes of the various scenes, both inside and out, at Casa Remuda.

A crystal throne
A ceramic “Jar Couple”
The Servant Cats
Swedish Ivy, in bloom
Soaring Eagle (Walter’s Spiritual Name)
Reflection Room and Study

Here is the perfect place for taking in and processing all the energy, both positive and negative, that comes with a Sedona visit. The former can be channeled and the latter, left at the gate. Walter and Vivian have left that gate open for me, in the future. I will be sure to take them up on that, either solo or with another friend or two, in the time to come.

I think Phoenix would agree.

The Carson Loop, Day 6: A Few Dirt Roads Lead to Rome

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October 20, 2022, Winnemucca, NV- The flustered housekeeper felt she was behind schedule and would be on the outs with her motel’s exacting owner. She had mopped the floor in the room, and had moved a large table “temporarily” over the HVAC unit. She then moved on to the next room, leaving table over HVAC.

Evening guest is delighted with the large table, but can only see the cooling part of the unit. Since many motels have separate heating and cooling units, guest thinks that maybe the owner will seek to save money, by putting a space heater in, but just hasn’t put it in yet, as it’s not that cold.

The desk clerk, making the rounds to get a morning check-out count, explains the situation to the guest, who is no worse for the wear, after a mild night. Guest checks out and housekeeper sheepishly goes in to move the table to its rightful place.

So started a day that brought me to downtown Boise, including a welcoming State Capitol and very pleasant pedestrian mall. Security in the Capitol building is adequate and not overbearing. There were few other visitors today, so my walk around and visits to all five floors were unhurried and allowed for focused reading of the various panels on Idaho’s history and its governmental organization-which is similar to that of most states.

All public building tours start with the garden.

The gardens here are touted as being low maintenance. The flower beds are small, but varied in colour- if understatedlly so.

The building itself is majestic, if smaller than some state capitols.

Idaho State Capitol, north view
Idaho State Capitol, south view
Statue of Nike, Idaho State Capitol
George Washington, Idaho State Capitol
Interior dome, Idaho State Capitol

This is only the third state capitol I’ve ever toured on the inside. The other two were Massachusetts’-in 1964, and Texas’, in 2012. It was reassuring that there was not a wall of security regarded as necessary.

Boise’s 8th Street pedestrian mall features dozens of shops and restaurants, along two long blocks.

It was lunchtime, and I opted for a couple of slices, from the indelicately-named Pie Hole, which nonetheless turned out innovative, but tasty, vegetarian pizza. A nice touch is that kids, having the week off, for Fall Break, were safely walking around and enjoying the mall-much as we did as children. After pizza, I opted for a cup of sheep’s milk ice cream, from Negranti Creamery, which is actually a California import. The fare is not as creamy as cow’s milk, but does please the palate.

It is a nice touch that the most impressive large building in downtown Boise, after the government facilities, is an innovative apartment building: Idanha. It used to be the rail station area’s hotel.

Moderate housing in downtown Boise

Once out of the urban precincts, it was time to look, however briefly, at the Owyhee region’s stark beauty. Thus, as the title of this post indicates, I followed a dirt road to the Pillars of Rome. Settlers named it so, as the canyon walls reminded them of Roman temple architecture. It was too hot when I got to Jordan Valley, and so I passed on a climb up Pharmacy Hill. A brief view of the impressive canyon walls, north of Rome, OR, 20 miles further west,was a fine surprise stand-in.

Here are a couple of shots of the eastern section of the Pillars.

East Rim of the Pillars of Rome
East Rim, Pillars of Rome

Others have posted more detailed accounts of this area, so I would be glad to spend more time here, on a future journey this way.

The Carson Loop, Day 5: Swimming through Chaos

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October 19, 2022, Garden City, ID- I bid farewell to the wonderful family at Three Bears Inn, around 10 a.m., after hearing of their evening at an indoor water park, followed by star gazing. Being with a large and well-grounded family is always a delight. I look forward to the same experience in Carson City, with a longtime extended clan, in a few days. This, more than scenery and interesting buildings, is the bedrock of travel.

Three Bears Inn, St. Anthony, ID

Several years ago, an unfortunate incident took place, in Rexburg, just down the road. I decided that, one day, I was going to stop in Rexburg and give love from my heart, to the people who acted out, because they felt forgotten by the country at large.

It was a quieter visit than I had intended, but I did get a view of foliage, near the city’s hospital, before moving along, towards the towns along Idaho’s southern tier. Me

Douglas firs, in Rexburg city park
Red oaks, downtown Rexburg, ID

That, as it turned out, was about the extent of the camera’s work for the day. I dealt largely with chaos, both a momentary internal state- trying to make sense of the route westward, with my phone’s internet being on the blink, most of the day, and of that which stems from a region faced with growing pains, as Idaho’s southern tier is now experiencing.

Idaho Falls is the home of Melaleuca Corporation, the original purveyor of essential oils, in modern times. It’s entrance is right next to the on-ramp to I-15 south, so I was momentarily off-track. Then, in Blackfoot, 20 miles south, there is a rather large Sonic-type mom and pop drive-in burger shop, at which half of the ordering speakers happen to be on the passenger side of the parking space. A Shoshone woman, parked next to me, looked at me, then at the speaker, and shook her head. I think the idea was to have two speakers on the same stand, but it just doesn’t work, at least for a solo traveler. I left without ordering, which was okay, as breakfast at Three Bears was enough to get me through the day.

I located the westward route in Pocatello, home of Idaho State University, going through more heavy traffic which, once I was out of town, almost completely dissipated. On along I-86/84 I continued, stopping for a stretch and photograph at Oregon Trail Rest Area.

Oregon Trail Rest Stop, near Massacre Rock, ID

I drove into Massacre Rocks State Park, only to find it closed at 3:30. The site of one of Idaho’s more unfortunate events, a battle between westward-bound emigrants and a band of Shoshone people, resulting in the deaths of 8 emigrants and 20 First Nations people, Massacre Rocks also tells the story of Lake Bonneville and its feeder rivers, one of which had four times the flow of the Amazon River.

Twin Falls, an hour further west, brought dinner at Sizzler, an old standby. A personable and attentive server, named Jessica, took good care of me, and of a large group of hearing-impaired people, who were on a group outing. TF is reached by crossing a wide gorge of the Snake River, which would be a fine place to investigate further, should I come this way again.

As it was, the time had come to get to Boise for the night. I happened upon 7 K Motel, in this suburb called Garden City, around 8 p.m., too late for another Zoom meeting, but safely nonetheless.

The Carson Loop, Day 4: Shakespeare and Sand Dunes

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October 18, 2022, St. Anthony, ID- The best thing about hiking on a sand dune is returning the sand to its spot on the ground, by emptying the shoes. There is no better feeling in the world, than “giving back” in this way.

Also right up there is seeing the lights in several children’s eyes shine, as they learn of things like rhymed couplets and iambic pentameter-taught by one who knows them best, their mother. Home Schooling makes sense for some children, and I witnessed such a group today. I needed to be with other kids, so it would not have been good for me. The three boys and their sister were able to dive into the mechanics of poetry, and read Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, with each person selecting a part, and Mom taking up the slack. Math, mythology, science and Physical Education rounded out their day, later on.

By then, I was off to St. Anthony Sand Dunes, another surprising aspect of the Snake River Plain. The dunes are twelve miles northwest of town, beyond the potato fields that are so synonymous with this swath of central and eastern Idaho. They were the result, it is said, of the shrinkage of several large lakes in the area, as the climate warmed, towards the end of the last Ice Age. The smaller lakes exposed fine sand, which stopped and began to pile up at the foot of the extinct volcanoes known as Juniper Buttes, as well as at older, longitudinal dunes from previous climate shifts. Today, the Dunes range in height from 10 ft. to 500 ft. Those off to the west tend to be higher, and are given names like Choke Cherry and Dead Horse Bowl. As one might expect, ATV users are given paths to follow, through the fine, white sand. The season for ATV use is essentially from April or May to November. The dunes are mostly closed from January to April or May-to allow for dune regeneration and to give the area’s wildlife a rest.

Here are some scenes of the foliage around Egin Lake and of the dunes themselves.

The oaks in transition, at Egin Lake, St. Anthony Sand Dunes
Egin Lake, with oaks across the way
Egin Lake, with both oaks and grass in fall splendor
Eastern dunes
Sage, oaks and sand
High dune, off Red Road (northern sector of the Preserve)
Dunes up against Juniper Buttes, Red Road sector
Up close with high butte, Red Road sector

Once back in town, I stopped at Chrissy’s, a family restaurant a few blocks from Three Bear Inn. They are well into the Halloween spirit. If you look closely, a skeletal parrot and donkey are in the lower background.

Halloween display at Chrissy’s Restaurant, St. Anthony

I got back to Three Bears in time to keep the ducklings company, while the clan went off to a physical education session. It’s been a rejuvenating 1 1/2 days.

The Carson Loop, Day 3: Sea of Lava

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October 17, 2022, St. Anthony, ID- The boys noted a white ball cap, at the bottom of the small crater. One of them asked if he might shimmy down and retrieve it-which of course brought his father’s gentle but firm negative response. The presence of the family of five was a delightful addition to one of the most impressive flows of lava rock in the continental United States: Craters of the Moon.

This was my main draw to eastern Idaho, with Three Bears Inn, a cozy family home here in St. Anthony, a very close second. Three Bears is a serendipitous find, coming about when someone at Hotels.com misinterpreted my request for a room in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, last June. I was offered a room here, as compensation, for the charge that was incurred then.

The day started, somewhat chilly, in Jordan Valley, with a convenience store breakfast sandwich the only morning meal option. After a fashion, I headed off towards Idaho’s Owyhee Region. The name is a corruption of “Hawai’i”, coming from fur trappers having brought a crew of Native Hawaiians to the area, in 1819. Three of the Hawaiians embarked on an exploration of the Owyhee River’s canyonlands, but never returned to the base camp. The name Owyhee has been bestowed on the area, spanning parts of Oregon, Idaho and Nevada, in their honour.

Owyhee Overlook, Idaho
Owyhee Overlook, Idaho
Owyhee Overlook, Idaho

I continued past Boise, which will be a stop on the way back to Carson City, and found Little Camas Valley, where some of Idaho’s fall foliage was on view.

Oaks of the Little Camas, south central Idaho
Basalt outcropping, Little Camas
Basalt promontory, Little Camas

The presence of so much basalt, all along Highway 20, interrupts the constant presence of sage brush, as does the large presence of agriculture-both corporate and small scale. The Snake River Plain, from Fairfield in the west to Ashton in the east, is a prime potato growing region. Just shy of Arco, however, Craters of the Moon’s lava fields interrupts the farmlands, as much as the soil itself was created and enriched by the flow. This is the bounty of the Great Idaho Rift.

Here are some scenes, north of the actual monument grounds, and along Idaho Route 20.

Lava beds, north and west of North Crater, which is the central point of the Monument.
Lava bed, along Rte. 20

Pioneer Mountains, above the lava beds

Entering the Monument, which focuses on North Crater and its nearby flows, I encountered a family of four, joyfully coming back from a short walk in the lava field across from the Visitor Center. Here is what they saw.

A determined and lonely pine rises above sage and stone.
Older lava flow, at base of North Crater
Dwarf buckwheat is one of the more prolific flowering plants that has adapted to the lava beds.
Inferno Peak, a hikeable cinder cone.

I made the hike to the top of Inferno Peak in ten minutes. There, to greet me, was the Leaning Juniper of the Craters.

Lone juniper, atop Inferno Peak
Resilient sage and mature buckwheat, Inferno Peak summit
Big Craters, from the summit of Inferno Peak

Red cinder, Inferno Peak summit

The last focus of this visit was on the Spatter Cones, small volcanoes-or as one of the little girls present called, “Baby Volcanoes”.

Here was the place where I encountered the family mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Lastly, I stopped at Devil’s Orchard, an otherworldly group of standing lava rock. The place was so named by a visiting Christian preacher, in the early twentieth century.

Basalt standing in Devil’s Orchard

The scope of Craters of the Moon surpasses Arizona’s Sunset Crater, and rivals Lassen. It will be a stop along the way to future visits to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. For now, I settle in for a day or so, with new friends at Three Bears Inn: A strong couple, three sons and a daughter, two cats and two ducklings. Everything is just right.

The Carson Loop, Day 2: New Salt and Old Boulders

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October 16, 2022, Jordan Valley, OR- William Least Heat Moon would probably find a wealth of interesting things to say about the vast expanse of sagebrush that occupies the Great Basin, from central Nevada, through eastern Oregon, southern Idaho and down into western Utah and parts of Wyoming. Going along U.S. 95, I find the towns and mountains interesting, but the flatlands are just part of the woodwork, so to speak. Were I to camp out in them, for several days, I might feel differently, and come up with detailed descriptions, such as the great man has done with the Kansas grasslands, in his fascinating tome, “Prairy Erth”. Yet, as another great man once wrote, “I have miles to go, before I sleep.”

About a third of the way between Tonopah and Hawthorne, in western Nevada’s outback, there lie the remains of what was likely a mining camp. The foundations of the buildings, easily accessible to all, became for a time the hangout of a group of teens-from either of the two towns mentioned above, or from the small villages of Mina and Luling, which lie a bit north of the ruins. In any event, the colourful graffiti adds an odd splotch of brightness to the monochrome of sagebrush.

Ruins of old camp, near Mina, NV
Ruins of old camp, near Mina, NV

The other, and somewhat more disturbing, element that breaks the sameness (not monotony) of the landscape is salt. Saline licks and flats have proliferated across the Basin, since I was last through the area in July, 2021. They are larger, in an area south of these ruins, and newly-established along the shores off Walker Lake, to the north of Hawthorne.

Salt flat, north of Tonopah, NV
Salt flat, north of Tonopah, NV
Salt lick, on south shore of Walker Lake

This type of salinity is toxic to birds and beasts, in its concentrated form. It is also not conducive to a nice day at the beach. It is, moreover, one of the consequences of the current drought and shrinkage affecting many bodies of water, throughout the planet-not just in the American West.

In the end, it was Oregon, not California, which became part of my route. Going north, from Winnemucca, I found myself tooling along the Beaver State’s share of Great Basin sagebrush. Then, just shy of the Idaho state line, lies this tiny community, which once had two motels and a cafe. One of the motels is shuttered and the cafe was locked and empty, but Basque Station and its adjuncts-Jim’s Sinclair and Mrs. Z’s Store are open and they’re glad to see you, even if their outer demeanour is world weary. Jordan Valley is a proud exurb of Boise, 1 1/2 hours away.

Pharmacy Hill, Jordan Valley, OR at dusk
Pharmacy Hill, at daybreak

Pharmacy Hill’s topography is of the ancient rocks that covered our continent in the Pre-Cambrian Era, as life itself was taking root, in the surrounding oceans. It reminds me a lot of the area between Kingman and Las Vegas, the first rocks thrust upwards by the actions of wind and water, which have cast the Grand Canyon. Here, though, the promontory stands by itself, oddly majestic above Jordan Valley. I will have more time, coming back this way in a few days, and may just hike up the Hill.

May mountain and hamlet long thrive.