Monday, July 13, 2015

Mount Rainier

Nisqually River
My work rarely gets me away from Puget Sound, topically or geographically, so it was fun to spend the day working our way down the Nisqually, learning about everything from the geology of aggrading rivers downstream of melting glaciers to the restoration of small streams in the Ohop Valley. We began in the National Park and ended at the Nisqually Delta.

Alder Dam

Fortunately, the mountain was well above the heavy smoke that filled the Puget Sound region (from forest fires in BC) much of last week so the views were clear, but it became more evident as we headed downstream. But still nothing as bad as it was farther north.


This spring my five-year old Sony laptop gradually ground to a halt, leaving me scrambling to make sure files and photos were backed up and that I'd be able to transfer everything over to a new computer. I picked up my new iMac just before leaving on the trip so I arrived home to the task of setting up the new system (and learning how to use it).

The new iMac forced a long overdue update to my weather station and I've now got a Davis VantageVue on the roof (it's running off third party software - Davis does instruments well, but their software is prehistoric). One cool thing about the upgrade is that my station is now part of the Weather Underground network.

You can find out what's happening at our house at:

So far, it's had little to do but record unseasonably warm temperatures. There hasn't been a drop of rain, so I don't really know if the rain gauge even works yet!


As we have for many years now, we watched the fireworks from the middle of Wallingford Avenue. We didn't walk down quite so far as some years (maybe only to 39th this year?).  I'm not sure if that's why they didn't seem as good as other years, or whether the show itself has been cut back.


We left M in San Francisco for the week and D and I drove home in one long day. This 840-mile day was the longest of the trip and brought my 18-day total to 7402 miles. Not counting the excursion to the car wash after I got back to rinse off the dirt and the bugs.

The quick, fuzzy, glary iPhone photo of the map above doesn't do it justice, but I really love Dave Imus' Essential Geography of the United States map above my desk. It replaces an old Raven physiographic map which I had for many years (and still like), but when I decided to create a real pin map, I decided I wanted something with more information content. The red flags capture the highlights of the most recent trip and underscore the somewhat indirect routes we took between Seattle and Minnesota. It would make more sense if we had been driving between San Francisco and Chicago.

I've labeled all the posts from the trip with "Road Trip 2015." There are almost 30 in all, which is probably too many, but gives me a great record of the journey and some way to distinguish this particular trip from all the other trips when I look back someday.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

San Francisco

The final check-in before completing our cross-country rally was San Francisco. We arrived Friday night and D and I drove back to Seattle on Sunday. We left M with her mom to set up a computer and touch bases with friends.

I spent a few hours Saturday driving around the city, checking out the shoreline at Crissy Field and Baker Beach, and waiting in very long lines of slow-moving traffic working my way past the bridge and through the Presidio. As usual, the farther west, the cooler and the foggier it was.


We passed through Reno midday on Friday, stopping first in Sparks and then in downtown Reno, largely to indulge D's desire to play blackjack at tables with favorable rules (which he had researched carefully). Much to our bemusement, he seems to know what he's doing. I lost money - buying coffee at establishments that don't offer any possibility of winning. M pretty much broke even playing low-stakes video poker. But he walked away having leveraged his small stack of Benjies into a larger one.

Virginia Street was closed to traffic for a big beer festival, so M and I wandered past booths selling crafts, and t-shirts, and food, periodically ducking into casinos to cool off.

There's a lot of construction at the south end of the strip - it looks like maybe there are plans to redevelop the area around the river, which could actually be pretty neat. Though the geologist in me always wonders what a flash flood would look like in one of these urban channels. The other thing that I noticed was that the railroad no longer crosses Virginia at grade - waiting for trains to pass was almost as iconic as the "Biggest Little City in the World" sign.


We were passing through Elko around dinner time and M's iPhone search for restaurants pointed us to the Star. Which was fun for me, since I'd been introduced to family-style Basque dining in Elko way back in 1980, at the Star (I think the physical location has changed in the interim). It's really best to do with a larger group, because there is simply way too much food, and it's also best to do when you're heading somewhere with a refrigerator, since everyone leaves with a box of leftovers.

The crowded lobby of the Star was lined with posters from past years of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Elko's changed in some ways since I spent a week flying in and out of here in a helicopter 35 years ago. There's even a Starbucks. Which was good, since I needed something for the late evening drive to Winnemucca.

Salt Flats

D wanted to drive the long, hot straight stretch across the bottom of Lake Bonneville, probably thinking it gave him license to drive the family station wagon 100 mph. Which it didn't, if only because Dad had visions of the rocket box getting ripped off the top of the car at about the same time the all-season radials disintegrated beneath it. But it was a good place to learn how Subaru's cruise control worked - albeit at a more modest 80 mph.

We drove across here 15 or so years ago, on a marathon day from Salt Lake City to San Francisco. This time, our day stretched from Rawlins to Winnemucca.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Snowy Range

Another place we diverged from I-80 was west of Laramie, where we swung south through the Snowy Range before reconnecting with the Interstate farther west. I was here less than a year ago, the week before George died (Snowy Range: August 2014). I guess this was a way of coming back to visit.

The Snowy Range offers mountains, when Interstate 80 across Wyoming offers only high desert, so this will always be a welcome detour.

Panorama Point

Our trip west was pretty simple. Madison to Des Moines. And then Interstate 80 pretty much the whole way to the Bay Bridge. One of the few places we left it was on the west edge of Nebraska, where we took a series of zigzagging gravel farm roads to Panorama Point.

Panorama Point (5424') lies just a short hop from the corner where Nebraska runs up against Wyoming and Colorado. Nebraska, like Kansas, slopes gradually upward so its highest point inevitably lies near its western border.

The monument marking Nebraska's high point is a bit more conventional than the one on top of Mt. Sunflower, but both lie on private land atop broad hills that would be hard to mistake for mountains. This marker was placed by the Kimball Chamber of Commerce, apparently allowing them to refer to their town as the high point of Nebraska! (Although Kimball itself lies in a valley 25 miles away). The thing that looks like a grill is actually an old metal drafting table with the summit register tucked inside.

We could make out the snow-capped front range of Colorado in the distance below the clouds. I hadn't been sure whether we'd actually be able to see the mountains from Nebraska or not, although I recalled that they were visible from Pawnee Buttes just south of here in Colorado (one of which I had climbed back in either 1980 or 1983).

The sign warned of ranging bison, but they were nowhere to be seen. We did pass the old schoolhouse, several miles away, but it didn't look like it had been used in a very long time.


From Northfield, we drove east to Wisconsin, figuring it would be a good chance for us to all check out Madison before D's move in September. It would have been nice to have a little more time to explore the area but it looks like maybe we'll get that in the next couple of years.

I got very few photos of Madison during our brief trip, but I did get some shots of Epic's expanding corporate campus in the farmlands on the west side of Verona.

Carleton 2015

We drove through here on a very hot, muggy July afternoon in 2010 (Northfield: July 2010) on our way back from the east coast. It was too late in the day to get a formal tour, but we wandered around, scurrying between air conditioned buildings. Given our family's general reaction to hot weather - and D's experience with the heat in Hanover just a week or two earlier - you'd think that would have ruled this place out. But less than a year later, he arrived for "accepted students" weekend. We delivered him and his stuff the next September (2011) and now, all of a sudden, he's graduating.

Graduation got under way under a light drizzle and behind a wall of umbrellas, but by the time the graduates were going up for their handshakes, the rain had stopped and the view of the stage had been restored. It's a small school, so all of the students could be called by name and given their diplomas, and all within a relatively bearable length of time.

I'm not sure how much we'll see of Northfield from here out, but it looks like trips back to the midwest may continue, albeit to Wisconsin, not Minnesota.


According to Google Maps, it should have taken me just under 24 hours to drive the roughly 1700 miles from Seattle to Northfield (I-90 and its I-94 alternate are almost exactly the same). But I didn't use Google Maps.

Instead, I arrived in Northfield late in the afternoon of my 8th day, having driven 3600 miles. That just seems to be the way I do things.

I had pizza with D that evening. The next day I did a laundry, changed the oil, shipped some stuff home (making room in the car for more of his stuff), and took the rocket box off the car so I could park at the airport. Then D and I headed up to MSP to pick up M and her mom.

Friday was gorgeous. We walked around campus and along the river in town, much as we have many times in the last 4 years. We met a bunch of D's friends and even some of his profs. We kept our fingers crossed that the weather would be just as nice for the next day's graduation ceremonies!

Wednesday, July 08, 2015


I avoided I-35 north of Des Moines and headed up towards Boone, before rejoining the interstate near Ames a couple of hours later. I'm combining two different places in this post: Ledges State Park southwest of town and the railroad bridges across the river to the northwest.

Ledges was cool, literally, and clearly where folks head on hot summer days for shade and water to play in.  The road winds through the canyon, crisscrossing the stream several times. At two of the fords, there were groups of kids urging me to spray them with my tires as I drove past. Do I have to explain why it's so important to get off the Interstate now and then?

Ledges State Park was completely unplanned (the 'accidents' are often the best parts of road trips), but my intended destination in Boone was the Kate Shelley High Bridge over the Des Moines River. There are actually now two trestles carrying the Union Pacific across the valley - I'm not sure if both are used, or if the concrete bridge replaces the older one. As often happens, I waited for a train, but it only showed up after I had driven away.

This bridge is not as spectacular as the one in Lethbridge, but was still very impressive and also yet another reminder of the neat things you can find if you wander aimlessly around the country long enough!