Sunday, August 30, 2020

City of Rocks National Preserve, ID: Rockin' the California Trail

Continuing the "Out-of-the-Way 2020 Tour," we headed to City of Rocks National Reserve, a little-known, but super-fascinating, far-southern Idaho destination.

Between 1843 and 1882, a staggering 240,000 emigrants passed through City of Rocks along the California Trail, in search of riches ("there's gold in them thar hills!") and a better life.

City of Rocks, with its main drag following the route of this mass migration, is the most intact and authentic setting of the California Trail anywhere in the country.

Families packed relatives, tools, books, family heirlooms, clothes, furniture and everything they could squeeze into their wagons.

It was a rough journey, filled with hunger, thirst, disease, accidents and more.  Peril notwithstanding, the 300-person Indian massacre memorialized on this plaque probably never happened, as historians can find no evidence whatsover of its existence.  Fake News!

Many of the emigrants recorded their names and messages on Camp Rock.

Unlike similar rock-based diaries we've seen in places like El Morro, New Mexico, these emigrants recorded their presence using axle grease, instead of candle smoke. 

Many would leave messages for friends or family coming after them, or see prior messages from people they knew who had preceded them through this place ... a very slow form of social media!

Arriving here was like reaching nirvana.  It was a place to rest and prepare for the most difficult passage ahead, over the Sierra Nevada mountains.  With stunning landscapes, good water, and grass for their animals to graze, surely many wished to stay forever.

Before heading on, they had to lighten their loads to take the most dangerous part of their trek over the Sierra Nevadas.  Imagine trying to decide what to leave behind!  (whiny children?  domineering mother-in-laws?  that stupid kazoo your husband won't stop playing?) A few of them couldn't decide, and so established homesteads whose ruins remain behind in the reserve today.   

What dreams must J.H.H. have had for his family when he erected the touchstone above his door in 1909?

Today, many come for the excellent rock climbing, with over 700 creatively named routes such as Scream Cheese, and Crack of Doom.  Looking up from the road, tiny specks of fit humans are barely visible on the huge rock faces.

If staying on terra firma is more your style, a network of hiking trails winds through the rocks.  

Of course, there's the obligatory "Fat Man's Pass," a staple of every great hiking adventure!

I "see" you Fat Man's Pass, and "raise" you one Window Rock!  All we need is a Bridal Veil Falls and we'd have the trifecta of most-used names all covered. 

If you don't want to hike OR climb, you can still appreciate the beauty of this place via an auto tour along the main road ....


... viewing multiple named formations, like Elephant Rock.  Do you see it?

Nope?  Well, don't feel bad, we didn't either, at first.
Lemme help you!

The gateway town to City of Rocks is tiny, historic Almo. Tracy General Store is the oldest general store in all of Idaho, since 1894.

Besides a daily hot lunch special (enjoyed by all those tent-camping climbers who are sick of their granola bars and warm beer), it's also the town post office, with these beautiful antique post office boxes still serving residents today. 

Though City of Rocks has sites for tent camping and just a couple smaller RV sites (25 feet or less), a more developed campground with hookups and reservable sites is just adjacent to the reserve, in Castle Rocks State Park's Smoky Mountain Campground.

The countryside surrounding Almo is a beautiful, bucolic community of cattle-ranching families.  The 49-mile City of Rocks Back Country Byway highlights the unspoiled rural landscape.

A stroll through the local cemetery proves the rancher pride of the area, with multiple headstones sporting Western appointments and shaped like the great state of Idaho.

PEEK into history with a visit to the "Silent City" of Rocks!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Baker, NV: Great Basin National Park

  It's the Grate Basin!  OK, not that Grate Basin.  Of course this is not the National Park Service approved sign, nor the proper spelling.

Let's try this one instead!  That looks better.

We're headed out for 2 months in Idaho and California, including 5 new (to us) National Parks.  On the way north, a quick overnight "camping" ... Las Vegas style!

Great Basin NP is about 300 miles north of Vegas, in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  It's "gateway" town of Baker, NV is a tiny but highly entertaining postage stamp of a town.

Yup!  That's the entire town.  But what they lack in amenities, they make up for in sense of humor.  

Great Basin NP is a newer national park, primarily in place to protect access to the Lehman Caves, a singular cave that doesn't explain the "s" on the end.  But, the cave/caves were closed and no tours being given, thanks for nothing, Stupid Covid.  We'll just have to make our own entertainment!

The other thing Great Basin is known for is its groves of ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees.  Born before Jesus ... to be here long after you!

Bristlecones live high up where the air is thin and nutrients are sparse, 'cause they're fighters like that.  To get to where they live, you gotta go up, up, up, via a 15-mile long scenic road that takes you to 10,500 feet elev. 

 I thought upgrade was something you get when you check in to a Reno hotel, but no, it's the other kind of upgrade, that takes you from 96 degrees F at the bottom to 69 degrees F at the top, a digit transposition to get excited about in the middle of summer.

Is that snow in the distance?  Yup!  It's the middle of August, but in Great Basin, that's to be expected.  Hiking trails are only open for a few months during summer because of thick snow the rest of the year.

In fact, Great Basin NP has its very own glacier, at least for the next 20 years or so.  After that, it will probably go the way of N*Sync's fame ... bye, bye, bye.

This screenshot shows the "basin" of Great Basin and how Wheeler Peak, its highest point at 13,063 feet elevation, is smack dab in the middle, rising from the desert floor.

There are just a few hiking trails here (compared to, say Zion or Arches), but they include a difficult 8.2 miles to the of Wheeler Peak; a moderate 4.6 miles leading to a bristlecone pine grove and then on to a view of the glacier;

and another moderate 2.7 miles looping you by two alpine lakes, Stella and Teresa.

Local wildlife generally consists of furry little low-riders.

But signs of REALLY wild local wildlife also exist here.  Don't ask who .... just ask why .... ?!

You know that Great Basin gets far fewer visitors than other National Parks, when the shared telescopes haven't even been wrapped in crime scene tape to keep the Covid cooties away.

Even the mountains in the background are giving Covid the finger.

Being far-far-far from everything and everyone, Great Basin is a terrific Dark Sky locale.

The road leading from Baker to Great Basin is lined with hilarious and clever art installations.

Pop quiz:  What is the tallest mountain in this area?  
It's "Wheeler Peek" .... get it??

Too esoteric?  Okay.
Try this one instead.  

Back in town, more artistic wonders await.  
Baker reminds us of a smaller, simpler version of a few artsy, quirky towns we've visited before, including Madrid, NM and Terlingua, TX.

Even their rain gutters are artistically installed!

Forget about the Tiny Houses movement ... who wants to join the Pullman Train Car Houses movement with me!

But back to that Baker sense of humor .......

Two town strays dogs, Snowball and Waffles, claim to be Mayor and Sheriff, respectively ...

but everyone here knows those titles actually belong to Bob Wire ...

... and his wife, Barb Wire.

Though it may seem like a crappy little outpost, Baker clearly has its finger on the pulse of America, asking the question we all want to know right now!

We only had a couple days here, but Baker and Great Basin, we wuvvvvv you!

On to Idaho!