Sunday, September 24, 2017


Boise was the last stop - or at least the last night - of our road trip. We've heard that Boise is a neat small city to explore, but this visit was pretty short. We checked into a nice, but generic, hotel out near the Interstate, and headed to Luciano's for dinner (which was good). We drove a little bit around downtown and Boise State.

The next morning, I drove back down to the river with my bike and rode up and downstream on the nice system of bike paths. Just like all the other early morning rides on this trip, it was an awfully pleasant way to get some exercise.

Downstream from Boise itself, Garden City seems to be positioning itself as a destination for recreation and entertainment along the river, although it looks much of that may still be in the future. The highlight on this early Sunday morning was the line up of guys with surf boards waiting to take their turn surfing the standing wave below the small dam! Only a couple that I saw were even able to get up - most washed out as soon as they tried to enter the treadmill.

From here, it's just a long 500-mile day from Seattle - we pulled up to the house around 5:30. This is the final post from "Road Trip 2017," unless I decide to pull together some sort of summary (25 blog posts, 21 days, 6200 miles, 10 bike rides, and so forth).

Shoshone Falls

Five years ago, I paddled up to the base of Shoshone Falls in a kayak (hshipman: June 2012). But I never got up to the viewpoint to see them from above. This trip offered the chance to do that and I thought M find them sort of neat, too. Flows were incredibly low, even lower than my earlier visit, and a trickle compared to full flood conditions.

Shoshone Falls is a little over 200' high - more than Niagara -- although even at high flow it can't really compare in volume. But in terms of some combination of height and volume, it must be among the largest in the American West.  Celilo Falls on the Columbia (now drowned behind the Dalles Dam) had huge flows, but was no where near as high. The Great Falls of the Missouri may have been impressive, but weren't of this scale. Willamette Falls near Portland and Kootenai Falls in Montana are larger in terms of average volume, but again, not as high. The kayaks below the falls provide some sense of scale.

Promontory Point

In the spring of 1869, the Central Pacific was building east, the Union Pacific was building west, and I guess it was pretty clear they were going to meet somewhere in northern Utah. They both had built railroad grade well past the other - creating parallel roadbed for 250 miles from Wells, Nevada, to Echo Summit, Utah. Each was laying track as fast on the new roadbed as it could. On May 10th, they connected their track work at the summit north of Promontory Point, completing the first transcontinental railroad in North America.

I had been more focused on getting out to the Spiral Jetty, so we didn't spend much time at the Golden Spike Historic Site. We did catch the tail end of a staged reenactment of the ceremony, although I wish they could have had the whole scene recreated, including the face to face steam locomotives. But they keep those safely tucked away in a nearby engine house -- I suspect they still bring them out for special occasions.

The twin rail grades wind down the hill to the east. Neither has any track as the railroad long ago shifted its route farther south, skirting the southern tip of Promontory Point, and across the Great Salt Lake itself. But the 19th century hand-built grades present a technological contrast to the massive Orbital ATK Aerospace complex, which sprawls across the desert mountainside above the old railroad

I guess this is where they test rocket engines and other propulsion systems. Orbital ATK, which was just acquired by Northrop Grumman, builds rockets, missiles, satellite components, and apparently an awful lot of regular ammunition, too. Sort of your ultimate arms merchant - defense contractor. Unfortunately, I don't have any shots of their complex and the old railroad lines running by it, but the facility shows up well on Google Earth - the railroad a little less so.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Spiral Jetty

The northern edge of Great Salt Lake is pretty desolate. Promontory Point is little more than mountains and rocks and sagebrush extending down to the salt flats that rim the lake. The edge of the lake is marked by a rocky beach and salt-encrusted sand. The north arm of the lake is cut off from the rest of Great Salt Lake by a railroad causeway and is much saltier than the rest of the lake. The high salinity supports purplish bacteria that tint the entire arm of the lake red.

This is the obvious place to create public art.

The Spiral Jetty was created by Robert Smithson in 1970 (he died in an airplane crash a few years later while scouting out another land art site) and has become a pretty iconic example of this kind of sculpture. It disappeared for a couple of decades when lake levels rose in the 1980s and 1990s, but has since re-emerged. As matter of fact, the lake has now fallen well below the sculpture and there is some question as to whether it will ever rise this high again. The site itself is owned by the Dia Art Foundation. Everything else around here is pretty sparse public and private rangeland.

Dia Art Foundation: Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty

I wasn't sure M would be very excited about yet another gravel road in the middle of nowhere - and this was quite a bit nearer the middle of nowhere than some of our previous forays. It turns out it was only16 miles of gravel beyond the end of pavement (at the Golden Spike National Historic Site) and the road was both easier to follow and in better condition than I had feared. It still wouldn't be a good place to learn that your engine cooling fans weren't working right.

I had hesitated to mention this idea to M, but was prompted to do so two evenings earlier when I discovered I could order a Spiral Jetty IPA (Epic Brewing, Salt Lake City) at the Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder.

Bryce Canyon

Originally, Bryce wasn't on the itinerary. Leaving Boulder, we had three days to get back to Seattle and I figured maybe we would have to start driving northwest, not farther south. But at breakfast, we decided it didn't make that much difference and that Bryce would be worth a few extra miles. Plus, I wanted to drive that road south to Escalante anyway.

Dark clouds and rain threatened, and I guess there were a few drops, but when the sun came out, Bryce just lit up. There were crowds - no surprise. The tour buses and the guide books routinely include Zion and Bryce - which is one thing that makes Capital Reef and Grand Staircase-Escalante a little less crazy.

Bryce Canyon is a bit of a misnomer - since it's sort of a one-sided canyon. The bulk of the red rock hoodoos are around the edge of large bowls in the side of a high ridge. I think this might be better referred to around here as a break (as in Cedar Breaks National Monument, nearby), although the Visitor's Center also referred to the bowls as amphitheaters. But whatever you call it, the red and orange and white sedimentary rocks of the Claron Formation (old lake beds - limestones, silts, sands) weather to form a fantastic landscape of pinnacles and fins and narrow slot canyons.

The Colorado Plateau is basically a thick stack of rock layers - these are pretty much at the top of the stack. The precambrian metamorphic rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon are the basement. Zion and Capitol Reef and Canyonlands are all in the middle.

Boulder UT

Boulder (a couple hundred people and a sharp bend in Utah Hwy 12) is located between the Aquarius Plateau on the west and the canyon country to the east. It and Escalante to the south are caught in the political battles between folks wanting more federal management in this region and those wanting less. Both towns are capitalizing on outdoor recreation and a lot more tourists looking for alternatives to the traditional suite of National Parks in southern Utah, but there are also those who believe that more traditional resource based industries would be better for the local communities (or simply begrudge outside "control" over their lands).

The Boulder Mountain Lodge was a nice contrast to the isolation of the lower parts of the Burr Trail. It would have been nice to hang out longer, but a bit pricey, too. The next morning, I rode my bike several miles back down the Burr Trail. Pretty much had it to myself. And added yet another wonderful sunrise bike ride to my trip's highlights. Breakfast, and dinner the night before, were at the Hell's Backbone Grill.

The road from Boulder to Escalante is one of the country's most touted scenic byways. For good reason. And freshly repaved, too! And at the bottom of the hill, where the road crosses the Escalante, there's the Kiva Koffeehouse. Nice morning.

Burr Trail

The Burr Trail winds its way up from Glen Canyon (Lake Powell) to Boulder through Utah's southern canyon country and what is now the southern portion of Capital Reef National Park and northern portions of Grand Staircase-Escalante NM.

It began as a cattle trail, but is now a relatively good, albeit lightly traveled road. A central section remains unpaved, including its famous switchbacks up through the Waterpocket Fold, but with the Subaru's clearance and dry weather was no problem. The paved sections are fine - though they cross a couple of low washes where heavy rains might present a challenge (and a danger).

The whole road is very isolated, however, so I was glad we'd fixed the slow leak in the tire while back in Taos. We passed only two cars in the first fifty miles or so - a few more when we got back to the paved section nearer to Boulder itself. Of course, as we headed away from the Lake, we noticed the AC was fading in and out. Not a big deal in itself - the temperatures were cooling as we climbed anyway - but I learned two weeks later back in Seattle, it was a secondary consequence of the engine cooling fans having given out -- glad I didn't realize that at the time!

Lake Powell

Our route across southern Utah took us from Blanding, west to Natural Bridges National Monument, and then on UT 276 down to Hall's Crossing on Lake Powell. The temperatures rose as we dropped down to lake level (below 4000' and the first time we'd been anywhere this near sea level since somewhere in western Nebraska). It was well into the 90s at the lake.

We lined up (with two other cars and two motorcycles) on the big paved ramp and got on the 2PM boat. It's a 30-minute crossing to Bullfrog and the westward continuation of UT 276. We stopped at the marina and I walked out and picked up some more water and drinks at the store, anticipating the long, isolated drive we still had in front of us that afternoon. It was partly the heat and partly the remote location, but there was something sort of surreal about the Bullfrog Marina. A little hub of activity, all centered on houseboats and jet skis and other pleasure craft, on a floating terminal in the middle of the desert.

The ferry's not a big one, but certainly far too big to pull in on a trailer. I assume they must have had to assemble it down here - it's not like they could sail it in from some shipyard somewhere.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mesa Verde

We spent two nights at the Far View Lodge inside the Park, which made our sightseeing easier and gave us a little more time to decompress - the drive in and out of the park is great, but winding and long. I didn't want to have to do it more than once each direction.  The Lodge was fine, although these Park concessionaire operations always leave a little to be desired. Ditto with the dining room and the cafeteria.

The highlight was the cliff dwellings, as it should be. We headed down early and signed up for back to back walking tours of both the Cliff Palace and Balcony House. Which were great. They require a little dexterity - big ladders and small openings - but nothing we couldn't handle.

Like the other ancient Pueblo sites, it's difficult not to be impressed by their age and what they say of southwestern culture almost 1000 years ago. But the cliff dwellings have their own aesthetic character, too, with their striking positions on the canyon walls.