To Pahrump and Beyond

Saturday, March 11
We left Death Valley on Saturday (the 11th), and headed to Pahrump, Nevada to restock and repair. The Best Western there also runs a decent RV park and it was centrally located to make things easier. My first order of business was to get new tires I bought while in Death Valley installed. The Big-O tire shop was just a mile away and not too busy. They found my tires and installed them with no problems, and by the time I got back, Mary had most of the laundry done and was soon out to grocery shop while I cleaned the RV. By now the day was gone and we just enjoyed dinner as Pahrump cooled.

Valley of Fire State Park
Sunday, March 12
We left Pahrump mid-morning, heading for Valley of Fire State Park about 50 miles north of Las Vegas. VOF has 2 campgrounds that are 1st come 1st served and a number of water/electric sites. It’s getting pretty hot here. Mid to high 80’s for the next week. 80-85 is tolerable in the RV but pretty uncomfortable, so being able to use the air conditioner would be a great amenity.

We avoided most of Vegas by driving around the southern outskirts, just stopping once for gas, then north through the Lake Mead Recreation Area. My newish geezer pass saved us $20 for the drive. I don’t remember this road at all. Mary tells me we drove this once on an earlier trip, but it seemed new to me. The hills and mountains around were pretty impressive and we thought we might do a day trip back this way again later.Turns out I didn’t need to worry about getting a hook-up site. The campgrounds were completely full. The ranger said only 3 sites had opened up this morning so her advice, look elsewhere. Our choices were dispersed camping 9 miles north near Overton on BLM land, or at Stewart Point 9 miles south, or the Recreation Area campground at Echo Bay 25 miles south. We didn’t want to be around a bunch of OVH’er at Overton, and Stewart was maybe 5 miles down a rough road off the highway and there was some confusion whether it was still dispersed.

Echo Bay turned out to be a very nice choice. It was lightly populated with just a handful of rigs and we found a nicely shaded site overlooking where the lake level used to be. Yes, we could see the lake out there, probably 2 miles away, but our view was still nice. It was hot and we were tired of driving, so we just set out the chairs and enjoyed another cooling evening.

Valley of Fire
Monday, March 13We were up and out early this morning ready to hike around the colorful rocks of Valley of Fire. Early is the best medicine for hiking in the heat as well as avoiding the crowds – and they are here in force. The main attraction for us here is the Rainbow Vista road that runs through the park to the White Dome trail head. Even this early the light was harsh. The light clouds overhead didn’t help soften the sun so finding an angle without using a polarizer or getting my own shadow in the frame was difficult. Working around the technical issues is part of the challenge of making photographs that I enjoy. I keep working until things begin to come together. Sometime it takes a while before that happens. Eventually those things drop away and I can just focus on form. We stopped at a few locations along the road, but wanted to get to the White Dome hike before it got too crowded. Trails like this, were there is lots to photograph can take us several hours to complete. The parking lot for the 1.25 mile loop hike was nearly full when we got there, but we seemed to be in a bit of a lull between people actually walking the trail.The first part descends sharply into a canyon of orange sandstone. It’s a good well-traveled trail with stairs made from the colorful rock in a couple of places. There is a bit of an old movie set at the bottom of the canyon and this is where the trail turns right into a nice little slot canyon. The entrance has rock walls that transition from yellow to pink sandstone and narrows quickly.It is short passage and on the other side there are several fascinating areas of striated sandstone and rock to photograph – and lovely shade if it is early. At this point we could branch off the trail to walk up a nearby wash, but in previous trips we found it too hot and of less interest photographically to want to do it again. We chose to just follow the main trail back to the trailhead. It is a fairly gentle rise up through more sandstone of many shades. We found some nice little caves and windows with amazing layers and fanciful formations to keep us busy. After hiking, we returned to camp for the day.

Tuesday, March 14Today is the hottest yet with temps up to 89. We decided to hang out in the morning, enjoying the cool air and catching up on our blogging. Later in the afternoon, we took an air-conditioned drive along the rec area. But first we drove to the actual lake whose namesake we are staying. We passed one long abandoned boat ramp, then another before finally reaching the current ramp. The lake level has been dropping for many years now, the high water mark clearly visible as a bathtub ring. Hard to judge how far down it is, but it seems like maybe 50 ft. Locals tell us it has actually risen this year. Of course it is dependent on water releases upriver from the other dams. We lingered here only a short time. This place is kind of disturbing to me. It seems so out of balance with nature, and knowing a little about water history in the west, makes especially concerned.We set out to do a drive down the North Shore road we drove in on. Not all the way, but just back to the place where the coloring in the hills got good. We stopped first at a rest stop that boasted some nice sandstone, and attempted a hike, but this afternoon was intensely hot, so we cut it short and just continued our drive. We are moving on to Kanab, Utah tomorrow. We’ve been through this area many times and each time we find new things to do. While here, we will probably try for a permit to hike to the Wave – a unique sandstone formation. Chances are slim with only 10 people allowed for this first-come-first-served lottery. 120 people is the average the past week. Lots of other things to do though.

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The Southern Valley

Tuesday, March 7Tuesday morning we drove the 30 miles down to Furnace Creek. There are 3 campgrounds to choose from here. Furnace Creek Campground has hook-ups and trees and is usually booked until forever. Texas Springs is set back in the hills somewhat, has some trees, but does not allow generator use at all. The sites are mostly pretty close together and offer little privacy. The hills are nice though. It is mostly for tent and small vehicle camping, but anyone can use it if you can fit in the space. This campground was also full. So we are in Sunset campground. It is basically a parking lot with a view, but we won’t spend many daylight hours here so we can live with it for a few days.The days are still very warm – in the 80’s. It works out well to do things early and late in the day to take advantage of cooler conditions. We hung around our site until it cooled off in the late afternoon, then took the short drive out to Salt Creek. This spring fed creek is home to the ancient but diminutive Pupfish. When water is flowing, the Pupfish bloom (or hatch) and make hay while it lasts. We walked the boardwalks that allow easy access to this marshy area enjoying the nice air and peaceful location. On the way back to camp, we decided to do the short Mustard Canyon drive to check out the colorful hills there. By now, high clouds had knocked out any sunlight and the formations we drove through lost their appeal. We drove the route without making a single image, then headed back to camp.After dinner, we sat outside as an unexpected show began to form in the sky. The clouds that had previously blocked out the sun were beginning to catch the light and glow orange, and then red. The mountain horizon became a silhouette under the fiery fluff of clouds and sky, so we grabbed the cameras once more. Here are my favorites once again from the evening.

Golden Canyon
Tuesday, March 8We woke right about dawn to get a cool early jump on our favorite hike in Death Valley. The 4.5 mile canyon loop trail is one that seems to always reveal new surprises. My first surprise this morning though, was walking out to load the car and discovering a completely flat rear tire. I quickly found a metal shard sticking out right near the edge of the tread. Nothing to do but put on the spare and move on. We still made it to Golden Canyon by 8:30 and it was still nice and cool with a slight cool breeze.I prefer starting from the Golden Canyon trailhead and doing a loop down Gower Gulch, then out along the foot of the mountains back to the parking area. It could also be accessed from Zabriskie Point. The trail starts off winding up the canyon wash. This early there are still nice shadows that offer both shade and interesting patterns to work with. It is a gradual rise and easy walk.The trail soon branched off from the wash and we found ourselves walking up and alongside badlands mud hills of pale gold, peach and green. The trail narrows quite a bit and rises more sharply alongside what is actually the base of Manly Beacon, best seen from Zabriskie Point. It looks a little scary, but up close it’s quite easy. Just remember to turn around once and a while to watch the changing view. From the high saddle point, looking back down toward the canyon, for me is the closest I ever seen to a Georgia O’Keefe painted landscape in the way the lines of mountain and mineral veins combine. We lingered here over an early lunch and just observed the landscape for a time. Doing this, new compositions begin to appear. Some so abstract that scale comes into question and what it actually is, seems less important. People traffic was increasing by now with more and larger groups making their way up the trail. This was a good time to continue on.The trail down the other side wiggles around more mud hills before coming to a junction. At this point hikers can either turn left and walk up to Zabriskie Point via a new Badlands loop, or turn right down to Gower Gulch for the return trip to the trailhead.The Gower leg is all downhill to the exit point of the gulch. It starts as a wide wash, but soon narrows and winds through multi colored hills. I’d somehow forgotten how nice this portion of the walk was. It seemed that after each bend in the wash, another wonderful scene was revealed. But the fun did have to end sometime. At the exit from the gulch, the trail is kind of a slog back about 1/3 mile to the car. The hills we passed on the way back were actually very nice, but the harsh early afternoon light was doing glaring things to them, and we were ready for a rest and cool drink.But first, I went over to the local service station to find out if my flat tire could be repaired. It could not. Too close to the sidewall. Tim the mechanic said if I called into Big-O Tires in Pahrump and bought what I wanted, he’d pick it up in the morning and install it later tomorrow. Sounded good to me. Unfortunately in the morning he called in sick with a bad tooth. Which was true. I could see how much pain he was in when we talked earlier. Still no problem. We were here for a few more days.

Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View
Wednesday, March 9I didn’t find out until mid-morning that our tire would not be in today because Tim would not be in, so we kind of blew off doing anything this morning – getting too hot already. Instead, we waited till late afternoon for a trek up to Dante’s View, via a stop at Zabriskie Point. The warm afternoon light really highlighted the yellow in the hills. The new Badlands loop trail runs down from here, but that will wait for another time. Then it was up to Dante’s View, about 15 miles from camp. The views from the parking lot are pretty grand, but I like to walk down the rocky trail to several other overlooks along the ridge. From this high up, around 5476 feet, the land takes on a very differ feel – especially in this foreign terrain. It almost felt like I was in orbit, or at least flying high overhead. We stayed well after sunset hoping for a fiery sky, but tonight was a sunset dud with the cloud cover snuffing out any chance of a big finish. Can’t win em’ all.

Badwater and Ashford Mill
Thursday, March 10
Tim was out again. Our tires remain in Pahrump. For our last foray in Death Valley, we decided to drive down to Badwater and the Harmony Borax Works ruins. I was a little nervous about traveling without a spare, but it’s all paved road so I take this chance. From up on Dante’s View last night, I could see a tiny object in the vast salt pan next to Badwater. I had no idea what it was. Today as we drove down, I got a better look. From the road it look like either a boat or a vehicle of some sort but still too far away to know for sure.From the parking area at Badwater, we walked over a well trodden salt pan, now completely flattered. Along the way I stopped for detail images of undisturbed formations along the edges. As we walked out further, we could see that the object was indeed a vehicle stuck in the salt pan. We decided to hike out to it. Apparently it was someone on a joyride who, once stuck, abandoned the van and fled. Up close, we could see attempts to un-stuck it. The crust of the salt is very thin and fragile. It is amazing the van made it this far out. It looked to be in pretty good shape. A 4-wheel drive van just abandoned. Wow. We continued down to the borax works, stopping from time to time for view photographs. I never get tired of the long, vast views. We’d hoped for some nice wildflower views as well, but it is just too early and we won’t be around for any of the bloom. There are lots of plants, especially in the Ashford Mill area, but almost no blooms yet. We did find some creasote bushes with their small yellow flowers.Few flowers at Ashford either. Just single examples of Desert Gold and Sand Verbena.
Finishing up our day at Ashford, we headed back to camp. Our tires were still not in – Tim couldn’t get a dental appointment until today, but promised he’d be in tomorrow. Instead I arranged to get them myself since we would be stopping in Pahrump on our way out for wash and restocking anyway. It’s a nice service to have if it works, but not in this case.

Overall, it was a great stay in Death Valley – the exception being the sandstorm and aftermath. Time to move on again. We’ve decided that on the way to New Mexico, we should stop at a few of our favorite spots for a day or two here and there. Tomorrow we head to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada for a brief visit.

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3 More Days in Death Valley

Darwin Falls
Saturday, March 4
Temperature in the valley is supposed to be in the mid-80’s today so we thought it prudent to head for the hills. There is a new-to-us hike, known as Darwin Falls. It’s also at around 3000’ so should be substantially cooler. Darwin Falls is actually 30 miles outside the valley itself, but still in the park technically. It is just west of the Panamint Springs Resort 2 miles off Highway 190 at the end of an unmarked dirt road that we eventually found.To start off, it is a bit of a trudge up a dry open wash, but for only about a quarter mile. The wash narrows to a canyon and it is here we began seeing water flowing. Trees and grasses shade the banks and small pools of water with reeds offer pleasant shadey stops. The waterfall is spring fed further up the canyon and the stream it creates flows year round.There really isn’t an established trail up the canyon and we had to scramble over several slippery rock obstacles.There were also 5 or 6 stream crossings over very wobbly impromptu branch bridges to negotiate. It took us a couple of hours of careful walking to get to the lower falls. Here the fall runs down a rock face and splits towards the bottom to flow into a nice little pool. Because this is the sole water source for the resort on 190, swimming is not allowed, nor are pets.From here, the trail, if you could call it that, climbs up and over the rock face off to the left of the waterfall. We actually could see no trail, but listened to some other folks describing to another hiker how to follow the zig-zag of the ledge to get over the top to get to the upper falls. The talk was that upper falls is way better. After the stumbely hike to this point, we really weren’t up to scaling the cliff, so turned back after a nice lunch next to the pool. All in all, a pleasant little hike to an unusual place. Photographically, not that interesting to me, but a nice hike.

Driving back through the Panamint Valley, I was dismayed to see a dust storm throwing grit hundreds of feet into the air. High winds were forecast for tomorrow in Death Valley, but I was very surprised to see it here now. I joked to Mary that it was just in this valley. Our valley would still be calm – which, strangely enough turned out to be the case.

Titus Canyon
Sunday, March 5
The high wind warnings predicted for the valley today are between 8 AM and 10 PM with gusts to 40 mph. There is really nothing to do in the actual valley when it is like this. The grit and unrelenting blowing really takes away doing anything much outside. We decided to find a canyon that might be somewhat protected from the blowing, so headed out to Titus Canyon.At 8:15 the wind began picking up. By the time we left the campground at 10, we could see dust being blown even higher into the sky than yesterdays blow in Panamint Valley. It looked to be blowing north, right up the valley. Our campground seemed to be protected from the worst of it, so I cracked a couple of vents and a window to keep the place cool while we were away. Yes, that was a mistake.Driving the 20 or so miles toward Titus Canyon, I could see the dust didn’t seem to be too bad on the canyon side where we wanted to hike. I was hoping the canyon itself would be protected from the worst of the blowing and we could get in a nice hike. A dirt road that runs through the canyon  can be driven on a wide loop that starts outside the park near Ryolite, but because of recent storm damage, that road is closed. We could still walk in though, and so drove up the alluvial fan created by the outflow of eons of flash floods, to the entrance of the canyon.

At the entrance to Titus looking into the valley.

The air was fairly clear here, but still very very windy. The canyon walls are very narrow and high at this point. We started walking in, and as hoped, the wind did begin to lessen somewhat. By about midway up the section we intended to walk, the wind actually started blowing the other way – and much harder. It was blowing up AND down the canyon. We kept going, photographing all the way, but the wind really commanded attention and made picture making less interesting. it didn’t seem dusty although our eyes were saying otherwise and we could see it in the sky high over the canyon walls in the distance. We stopped for lunch after a couple of hours in a little eddy of calm air. As we sat, another couple came down the canyon telling us that in another quarter mile where the canyon really opens up, the wind was blowing furiously – too much to continue. We didn’t need to hear more than that. We finished lunch and turned back. The going was a little rough as we came back down the canyon. We experienced frequent sustained gusts of what felt like 30-40 mph that went on for easily 20 seconds at a time. At times, the wind blew us to a stop and walking forward was actually difficult – and this was all down hill. Mary had to hang on to me a couple of times to stay upright. Grit got in mouth and eyes and was not fun.We finally got back to the car and really enjoyed a treat of coffee and cookies while watching the storm blow over the valley. We headed back to camp, but it was soon clear that our campground was now well involved in the dust storm. I knew what awaited us inside the rig. The only question was how bad. Bad! The wind had yanked the vents I had cracked wide open, but that part wasn’t so bad because I had reversed the airflow before leaving so the fans were blowing air out of the rig. The problem was the bathroom and kitchen window I left open a little. We now had indoor dunes in both locations and a thin layer of dust everywhere else. Even if everything was closed up as tight a possible, the fine dust would still have gotten in, but the extra sand blown in made for several hours of cleanup. Won’t do that again. The upside to all this wind is that our next dune walk tomorrow morning should be on completely smooth sand with no footprints. Looking forward to that!

Mesquite Flat Dune Walk #2
Monday, March 6We woke at 5 AM this morning to get out to the dunes a little earlier. I wanted to be further into the dunes than we got during our first visit and sunrise is a littler earlier as well. The sandstorm yesterday really erased most of the previous weeks traffic so almost everywhere we looked we saw smooth sinewy lines and clean expanses of sand. A few others had beaten us out there so we walked to an area well into the field to get some separation. We still had a little time before sunrise to photograph in low flatter light. This sometimes can make for very subtle studies. When dawn arrived, the same scene can take on a very different look.While it was calm when we started out, a breeze soon did come up. Nothing like yesterdays blowing, but getting up too high in the dune field and close to edges meant getting pelted a little with sand blowing off those edges. If one wasn’t careful, one would get a sand shower. And it’s not too great for the cameras either. From here, Mary and I went separate ways as I went looking for different angles and new dunes deeper in the field. It was so nice to be able to point anywhere to find interesting compositions, all with no footprints. We worked the dunes for a couple of hours, then met-up again and headed back to camp. Our two days on the dunes has already made the trip worthwhile.We broke camp a little later and moved down the valley to Furnace Creek where we will camp for the next 5-6 days. Sunset campground at Furnace Creek is for RV’s and is essentially just a big parking lot with amenities, but it gets the job done. The Texas Springs campground nearby is for tenters and RV’s and is much nicer, but no generators can be used there. There is a reservation only campground but it is always full. Looking forward to our days in this section. We were treated to our campground namesake that evening as we watched the clouds in the sky catch fire.

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First Day in Death Valley

Friday, March 36618-landsharkWe traveled from Fresno to Bakersfield where we overnighted in order to stock up for the next 10 days or so. Thursday morning we made our way over the Grapevine and into high desert country. It was an easy drive into Death Valley, with only one stop to visit the Land Sharks of Trona, a rock pile painted to resemble sharks or perhaps moray eels. By late afternoon, we were well ensconced in the Stovepipe Wells campground – basically a gravel parking lot with spectacular views. A happy hour was called for as we watched the shadows grow long across the valley.6679-dvduneThe valley has gotten more rain than usual this year, but it still far less than last year and not really at the right times for a banner wildflower bloom. There is nothing much blooming in this portion of the park and only sparse blooms at this point in the southern sections, but there is still so much more to do here. Friday morning we were up pre-dawn to take advantage of the calm sunny conditions to walk and photograph the dunes. Somewhat cloudy skies are predicted for Saturday, and high winds on Sunday, so getting out today was important. Certainly don’t want to be on the dunes in the wind.6638-dvduneThe disadvantage to calm weather is that hundreds of footprint paths don’t get blown away. Sometimes this can work in my favor, but usually they just serve to distract from the composition. It means hiking further into the dunes to find less traveled areas.6652-dvdune 6643-dvduneMary and I split up to roam in our own directions. Eventually I found some really nice areas to explore. As the sun rose, new areas became more interesting as shadow and light began playing with the  contours of sand forms.
6665-dvdune 6666-dvdune 6674-dvduneI’ve been on these dunes so often over the past 40 years, I tend to worry a little that I won’t find the place inspiring anymore. So not true. Once the first image is made, all worries are put to rest. It becomes an exercise in discipline to slow down, make careful compositions and really experience the place again. The images come easily, with the only constraint being the light becoming too harsh to continue.6693-dvduneAs I was framing my final image of the morning (above), I slowly became aware of the jet noise that was at first faint, but now getting louder. It is not uncommon to hear jets over the valley. Mostly it is military on joyrides over the valley in fighters, or high altitude airliners crossing over the state. I pretty much ignored it until the increasing loudness became annoying. Looking around, I couldn’t at first locate it until I looked directly overhead. It was a stealth bomber slowly cruising along accompanied by a jumbo jet sized aircraft! It was low enough for me see the markings on it’s underside. Swinging my camera up, I realized I had on my super wide-angle lens. By the time I’d gotten lenses switched, the jets were flying into the sun and far away. All I got was a bomber dot. But it was quite an experience to see it so close.
That seemed like a good ending point for the morning. I eventually found Mary in the dunes again and we returned to camp.

Later in the afternoon, we hiked a couple of miles into Mosaic Canyon – another nearby location. The smooth polished walls of marble and the slotty nature of several sections, are the real attraction here. One can only imagine the forces that created all of this. Photographically, perhaps not the most interesting of hikes, but we alway enjoy seeing and hiking this canyon.6722-mosaic6725-mosaicComing out of the canyon after the hike, we were treated with a last bit of light. The sun had found a crack between clouds and treated us to a little show.6784-mosaicStill later, back in camp, we enjoyed the last bit of sun as it set behind the Panamints. Tomorrow we hike the new-to-us Darwin Falls trail. Waterfalls in Death Valley? Stay tuned.6793-mosaic

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Back on the Road

Monday, February 27
Merced6499-mercedAfter a leisurely load up over the weekend, Mary and I left Monday on a new 2 month road trip. Our first real stopover will be Death Valley for a week or so. Then we will make a quick crossing of Arizona so we can spend much of the rest of our time in New Mexico.  The Bisti Wilderness, aka Bisti Badlands, has been of interest to us for some time, but we’ve never planned it into a trip until now. Located near Chaco Canyon, it will be a first look and we hope to spend an extended time there if weather permits. The rock formations there are quite different from anywhere else I’ve seen so I am hoping for some great days.6487-merced6491-mercedOur good friends, Jeff & Betty invited us to spend the evening at their home in Merced before we got going in earnest. It’s just 100 miles from home, so we got there early enough to have a good visit. Our other close friends, Rick & Mary were also going to be staying the night at J & B’s place, so it was an especially nice evening for us all.6492-mercedWe got to Merced by mid-afternoon and after a brief visit,  J & B took us on a tour of the backroads of Merced. It is almost shocking how much water in laying around in vernal ponds and fields. Signs of flooding were everywhere in this flat valley – damaged and closed roads, with water in every low-lying depression. Everything is green in the extreme already. Winter? Not here. The almond, walnut and various fruit trees so in abundance here are well into their spring blooms.6506-merced6512-mercedRiding out there took us to an emerald landscape punctuated by white and pink blossoms. I hadn’t seen this in many years. The rains let up this week, at least temporarily, and the bright light and cool air was a wonderful way to start a trip. It is a bit too early for abundant wildflowers, but conditions look good for a very good year. Wish we could hang here for a while, but we have an itinerary and want to keep on track. To top off the afternoon, we got a far away, but nice view of a couple of bald eagles.6503-mercedA little later, Mary & Rick arrived and we spent a great evening of food, drink and noisy conversation. After a seam busting breakfast in the morning, we said our goodbyes – Betty giving us an awesome lemon cake and Jeff, a bottle of his homemade lemoncello. I think an evening on the dunes with this combo might just be the trick. Thanks so much you guys. You’re the best!

February 28
We didn’t have far to go for our Tuesday drive. Just around 40 miles to Fresno so we could drive and photograph on the Blossom Trail that runs around the orchards all through the area. While there are no wildflowers to speak of yet, the orchards are a different story. Especially the almond trees. We got ourselves situated in a really crummy, but cheap, RV park and set out to drive the trail. We’re only here for the night, so accommodations are no big deal.6520-fresno6525-fresno6533-fresnoThe Central Valley area has for decades been home to these orchards. Mile after mile of walnut, almond, orange and plum trees are quite a striking impression of an altered landscape – a theme I am exploring. It is a huge cash crop for growers, but requires huge amounts of water to keep them in production.6569-fresno6546-fresno6580-fresno6600-fresno6605-fresnoIn drought years, the trees still must be watered. This is difficult or impossible when water allotments are cut. Farmers cannot just let the fields go fallow – the trees die. They believe they should get whatever amount they want no matter the water situation. Questions remain as to whether growing such water demanding crops is a sound idea in a time of dwindling supplies. Even with the aquifers that exist throughout the valley beginning to collapse due to over-pumping for irrigation, the orchards continue to be planted – even as others are left to die due to water cutbacks. The signs on the highways say it all. “Food grows where water flows.”6593-fresno


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Walla Walla and Beyond

5786-wallawalla1We ran into a little rain on the way to Walla Walla, but otherwise had a pleasant drive in. We found the RV park we stayed at during our last visit and played around with some of their enhanced amenities. A wet day is also forecast for tomorrow so we plan to stay here until Tuesday. It would also be getting wet at John Day where we are headed, so we decided to stick around and have a town day. We went to see “The Girl on the Train” at the local theater and later had a late lunch in town. We almost never do this while on the road, so it was a fun change.img_4186John Day Fossil Beds – Painted Hills
Tuesday, October 175967-redhills23aAfter a long 220 mile drive, made longer by our GPS picking a slightly different route than the one we planned to take, we arrived in Mitchell. Towns don’t get much smaller than Mitchell. A few dilapidated/abandoned buildings, a couple of operating businesses and a bunch of wild turkeys. But they do have a municipal park with 4 spaces – 2 of which are 30 amp. Water is available nearby, but no dump. There are a couple of dispersed sites very near the Fossil Beds, but with all the rain, they were a little soggy so we opted for Mitchell.5810-redhills4It’s best to have a partly cloudy day here to take advantage of constantly changing light. There is a chance of afternoon clearing tomorrow and we are hoping to capitalize by spending the entire day there.5805-redhills2 5806-redhills3It was very cloudy in the morning and looked like it would not be clearing soon. We didn’t rush to get out, but by mid-morning we were rolling up the road to the monument. The evening rain had soaked the badland-like mud hills, darkening them considerably.5796-redhills1Previous visits here, the hills were very yellow with deep red streaks through them. This morning they had a distinctly greenish tint. The clouds made the scene very dim, but it should be better later. We drove the short access road to the main overlook and made some images, but will put off the rim hike till later when we hopefully have more sun.5812-redhills5 5822-redhills6 5831-redhills7 5832-redhills8Instead, we drove out to two other sites with short hikes around them. We first stopped at the Red Hill Trail and walked the 1/4 mile path out around a big red hill. Sounds a little dull, but this landscape is quite interesting.5885-redhills11Other hills along the dirt road were worth stopping and spending some time.5855-redhills10 5845-redhills9 5901-redhills12 5906-redhills13We also stopped at the Fossil Leaf trail which moves around a large mound of fossilized leaf imprints on rocks. We didn’t find any though.

By now the skies were beginning to lighten up some. We went back to the main overlook for lunch, but it was still another hour before breaks began emerging between clouds. It seemed a good time to go for a walk.5913-redhills14It is an easy, if windy, uphill walk along the rim of the monument. We could see the light breaks coming from the west, but they seemed to close up just as they arrived. We kept working our way up trail – taking time to hang-out and observe the landsape. It was a great chance to really look at the valley a good long time.5918-redhills15 5919-redhills16 5923-redhills17 5925-redhills18The even lighting, while kind of flat, did bring out a multitude of coloration. It is so distinctive –  I’ve never seen patterns and colors anywhere quite like here. We moved up the trail, and found new perspectives.5941-redhills21 5948-redhills22 5950-redhills23From here, the streaked hills took on an almost blurred effect. Looking closely at the original, it is actually completely sharp. A cool effect.5969-redhills23At the top of the trail, there is more of a panoramic view. We’d been looking toward the valley hills most of the way up, but turning around now, breaks of sun were splashed over the banded hills and headed our way.5984-redhills24More sun finally started reaching us and sweeping across the valley. Large areas would become spotlit – but just for a moment. The fast moving clouds were wreaking havoc with composing images. Try to anticipate – always get it wrong, or the light doesn’t quite hit the spot needed.5991-redhills25 6008-redhills26 6028-redhills27 6039-redhills28 6060-redhills29It began looking like another wave of rain coming in and we still wanted to see the Painted Cove area of the monument. The drive out goes through smaller, but no less scenic hill areas.6063-redhills30The Painted Cove Trail is a mostly boardwalk 1/4 mile loop through cracked, red and gold mud hills. There is also a short branch to an overlook where nice views of the area can be seen.6071-redhills31 6081-redhills32 6090-redhills33It was clouding up again and seemed like it might rain. We finished our walk and headed home, stoping one last time before leaving the park for a few last images.5926-redhills19 5929-redhills20 6098-redhills34Tomorrow, we move on to Bend for a few days. Then a rather slow dash home by next Friday.

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A Final Day in the Hills of the Palouse

Friday, October 145696-palouse4-2As predicted, rain arrived early on Thursday. It was rarely heavy but was steady all day. We could have gone out on another backroad excursion, but the thought of driving those now muddy dirt roads did not appeal. We were ready for a down day anyway and used the time to catch up on image editing and blogging. Yesterdays weather forecast said steady rain for the next four days, so we were thinking we would leave the Palouse tomorrow (Friday) and head south. The latest forecast said partly cloudy morning, cloudy and windy later.5693-palouse4-1I convinced Mary to leave open the possibility of it being just the kind of morning light we would most like to have, and be willing to go out for the morning and stay one last night in Colfax. It turned out just that way. We woke to a partly clearing sky and calm winds. One more time we ventured out.

The steady rain restricted where we were willing to go. Some of the best roads for views are little more than dirt paths cut into the landscape. The are mostly used by the wheat farmers to access their fields and are often steep and, when wet, very slippery.5706-palouse4-5We drove back out to an area northwest of Colfax where we left off Wednesday. On the way to our turnoff, we passed an overturned big rig on the side of the road. It looked like it had just happened. Just a couple of state troopers, a few flares and an extremely dejected guy sitting on a rear wheel. Might have been a combination of speed, a curve and last nights heavy winds.5698-palouse4-3We managed to create a route that stayed primarily on the better graveled roads that wind through the hills here. We came acreoss a few muddy areas, but not enough to turn us back. We found more winter wheat sprouting in strips here that traced the contours of the hills.5703-palouse4-4The light through the clouds was really great. Sometimes it would break through and illuminate individual hills. It constantly changed. It just took some patience to get nicely lit compositions.5708-palouse4-6 5713-palouse4-7 5714-palouse4-8I found myself including much more sky in my compositions. The presence of these clouds have allowed me to widen the scene. The images become less abstract, but the fields now are seen a little more in scale and context. I still made abstract images, but kept making the sky a larger part of the picture.5727-palouse4-9 5730-palouse4-10 5746-palouse4-11 5767-palouse4-12We finished our morning at the crest of one of the many rolling hills that define this place. During our time out, it had gradually gotten so windy we could barely hold cameras still. We sat and watched while the wind-blown clouds raced across the land. In the distance, Steptoe Butte rose over everything.5776-palouse4-13

Returning to our fairground campsite, we noticed it had gotten much more populated. There were at least 15 rigs now, We speculated that it could be the Washington Cougar homecoming game in Pullman – they come from miles around to attend – or perhaps hunters. I noticed it was mostly men, some in camo, then Mary asked one women what was up, and was told this was the only weekend for deer hunting in the Palouse. On our way south, we saw a few little orange dots out in the fields – hunters in their vests. We also saw several bucks tied to roof racks, and one strung up by it’s hind legs being “dressed”, out behind a shack along the highway. A good time to leave.

We are heading out to Walla Walla tomorrow. The forecast days of rain ahead mean the Palouse probably won’t dry out anytime soon. We wanted to stay a few days longer, but decided to start heading toward John Day to visit the Painted Hills section of the John Day Fossil Beds there. We will stop in Walla Walla for a day for chores, or maybe longer if the weather gets bad.

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