Monday, March 31, 2014

Alaska: Artic Valley Ski area



Didn’t have much day left today so I made the short drive up to Arctic Valley and hung around a while.  This is a ski slope just to the Northeast of Anchorage and is hard up against the border of Chugach State Park. I paid to go up one of the chair lifts and then walked around a bit before ambling back downhill to the car.

Not a terribly inspiring day but better than nothing.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Alaska: Hatcher Pass


Drove up to Independence Mine and over Hatcher pass today.  I’m sure there’s more than one Independence mine in all of Alaska, but to get to this one you drive SR1 north out of Anchorage until you get to Palmer, then hang a left on Palmer Fishhook Rd which eventually turns into Fishhook Willow Rd. For a bit the road follows Little Susitna River then suddenly takes a hard left up a switchback and starts climbing up the mountain. The Independence Mine historical park is up here a little ways. There's a good walking tour of the mine with several possible side trips around the alpine bowl the mine is located in.

Or, if the road conditions are right, you can keep climbing up through Hatcher Pass, passing the impossibly blue Summit Lake, though the first time you spot the lake you are quite a ways above it so it’s not quite at the summit, before coasting down along Willow Creek and eventually coming out on SR3. Turn left on 3 and it will take you back to SR1 just south of Palmer. 

I once just barely made it through the pass with a 4wheel drive Ford Taurus (Yep, they had them and they were popular with the rent-car companies up here.) with snow-banks towering above my head. On other trips I’ve pulled over along here and just sat down in alpine fields of blooming plants. Whatever the season this is a great place to see.

So it was no surprise that the drive over the pass today was spectacular, but it was also a little crowded.  I didn’t know until I got there but it happened to be the day of an annual foot race that goes up and over the pass. Of course crowed in Boston during the marathon and crowded up here in Hatcher Pass during the Hatcher Pass Marathon and Relay race are two separate things and it wasn't too difficult to make the drive weaving between the widely scattered runners and their supporters.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Alaska: Railroads and boats



Did the rail-geek/tourist thing today.  Got on a train in Anchorage at 6:30 this morning, (a pair of Bud rail-diesel-cars) and rode it down to Seward.

I can see why the road doesn't use the same pass as the railroad through the Kenai Peninsula.  Once rounding the upper end of Turnagain Arm the road and railroad part ways with the railroad, which was there first, going up Placer River and through Placer River Gorge following the course of the Iditarod Trail.  Unlike the trail which can get away with lots of steep ups and down, the railroad had to follow a more consistent grade and in the gorge the rail bed is cut out of rock far above the river and goes through 5 separate tunnels before coming out in the upper valley where, in the days of steam, there used to be a series of loop trestles winding back up over top of themselves to get the trains up that last climb to the pass before starting down along Trail Creek on the other side.  A road could handle the grades, but there’s just no room for it through the gorge so when the road came along it moved over to the next valley where it makes the much steeper climb to Turnagain Pass.


Once in Seward, I went on a dinner cruise of Resurrection Bay which included the north end of Kenai Fiords National Park.  We got up close to several bird rookeries, including a puffin rookery. Puffins are really strange looking birds that fly surprisingly fast for their squat-fat shape.  We also saw sea otters, eagles, a few mountain goats, and, back in the harbor, a sea lion that had decided one of the finger piers was his.

The weather turned out to be great, but once clear of the protection of Resurrection Bay, the boat turned back because of the swells left over from previous weather.  I thought the water was pretty flat myself, the swells were only 2 or 3 feet, (ok, maybe 4) but then again I’m used to slamming though waves at 20 knots on a chase vessel and doing ship-to-ship transfers out in open ocean when servicing data centers on some of the company vessels.
Back on dry land in Seward, I re-boarded the train for the trip back to Anchorage.  We got into the station at 10:30 that night after spotting some black bears along the way.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Alaska: Homer


Drove down to Homer today to wander around the harbor. At 225 miles one way it makes for a long day but the harbor is even bigger than Seward’s and driving out on Homer spit is quite interesting. There’s even a campground right out at the end of the spit, not that I did any camping but it’s good to know I could if I had the right gear.

On the way there I was tempted to take a side trip up Hope highway to the small communities of Sunrise and Hope on the south side of Turnagain Arm. The village of Hope, the last time I was there anyway, had a single commercial enterprise that was cafĂ©, hardware, autoparts and grocery store combined. You might be sitting there eating a hamburger and have someone reach over your head for a can of beans on the self behind you.

At the very end of the road, just beyond Hope, is the trailhead for Gull Rock trail that hugs the coastline weaving through an old-growth forest. Gull Rock itself sticks out into the water at the junction of Cook Inlet and Turnagain arm and if you look hard you can find three different geological survey markers cemented into the rock here. One was placed there because the original, still in place, shifted many feet to the southwest during the 1964 earthquake and I can’t remember what the third one is all about.

But Homer and back in a day is more than enough so I reluctantly gave Sunrise and Hope a pass.

On the way down I stopped for gas in Soldotna, right on the Kenai River, and commented on the number of people around.  The woman at the gas station told me that this was nothing.  That King Salmon season ended on July 31st and up until then it was wall to wall people!  They call it combat fishing because there are so many people, literally shoulder to shoulder, trying to cast lines into the river that only the strongest and meanest can actually catch fish. Glad I missed that.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Alaska: McHugh Creek to Rainbow Creek


Went out to McHugh Creek and hiked towards Rainbow Creek.  From this trailhead you can either take a very rugged hike up McHugh Creek or you can stick to the Old Johnson trail paralleling Turnagain Arm.

The trail up the McHugh creek, besides being a challenge, is very pretty and remote and there are even, or were a few years ago, the moss covered remains of a log cabin up there on a small bench beside the creek. If you make it all the way up you find a small lake that is the headwaters of the creek tucked right up beneath Suicide Peaks. If you make it that far it's a fairly easy bushwhack across a low saddle to the bigger lake that forms the headwaters of Rabbit Creek which flows off towards Anchorage before turning the corner around McHugh Mountain and ending up emptying into Turnagain Arm on the other side (the Anchorage side) of Potter.

But today I was sticking to the other trail. This is another section of the Old Johnson Trail. It's relatively flat as far as elevation gain/loss but is plastered against the steep slope of a ridge that eventually climbs to form Suicide Peaks. This ridge drops almost straight down into Turnagain Arm in a couple places, which is why there is a Crow Creek Pass Cutoff that allowed bypassing this section. In fact this is the trail where I tried to fall off the mountain on a previous trip.

Some sections of the trail are a little more cliff-like than others and I once tried falling off one of these spots and discovered, believe me it was by accident, that clumsily dislodging boulders and sending them crashing downward is a good way to lure in eagles as they check to see if their next dinner is now lying at the bottom of the cliff!   I managed to avoid that little escapade this time but that is still one fairly hairy spot to negotiate!

I almost walked right by a Dall Sheep lamb out there today.  He was standing about twenty five yards below the trail in full view when I first saw him.  He looked at me for a moment then decided that it might be a good idea to go find mom.  Mom was just over the edge of the cliff below the trail and as the two of them moved around down there I could get glimpses of them, so I stayed to watch.

The next thing I knew, Mom was standing right in front of me and still coming my way!  Now Dall Sheep aren't the biggest thing out here, somewhere in the range of 100-150 pounds, but she looked plenty big enough to me with horns the size of telephone poles on her head!

Not being quite as agile on cliffs as the sheep, I did the only reasonable thing; I held out my empty hands and said, 'Whoa lady, I don't have anything to eat so there's no reason to climb all the way up here.'  I don't know if it was the sincerity in my voice or my empty hands, but she believed me and stopped about fifteen feet below me.

Her lamb followed and the two of them stood there looking at me.  The lamb soon got bored with this and began poking around for something else to do.  But mom kept watching me in case I did whatever it is you can do to piss off a Dall Sheep.

After careful consideration, I decided that sitting down, if done properly, would be within the bounds of good sheep etiquette.  After all, I was on a steep, rocky trail with a cliff to both sides and a mother with horns in front of me, so it wasn't like I would have been able to go anywhere in a hurry anyway, certainly not fast enough to outpace something that could walk up the side of a building if it wanted to!  So sitting on my butt seemed just as safe as standing on feet that had already covered about six miles that day.

Mom stood there flapping her mouth at me for what seemed like a very long time.  I doubt she was telling me all the gossip about the ewe on the next cliff that was courting two rams at the same time, so it's probably a good thing I don't understand sheep or I might have been insulted by some of the things she was calling me.

Even moms get bored though, and she finally hopped her way back down the cliff to where the eating was better.  Her lamb, trying to look nonchalant in the presence of this funny looking, clumsy, two legged, hornless creature, stuck around until his mom, like all moms, finally had to tell him to stop dawdling and get his butt down here.

So my advice to hikers is, keep an eye out for bears and stomping moose, but don't forget those attack sheep!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Alaska: Glen Alps



I was really feeling yesterday’s hike when I drug myself to work this morning but still went up to Glen Alps as soon as I could get away. This spot is just barely out of the city but, once you’re a few steps from the trailhead, can’t be described as anything other than wilderness

The end of Glen Alps road is the trailhead for Flattop Mountain and  Powerline Pass trails. When I first started coming up here Glen Alps road was pretty iffy and if you met someone going the other way one of you had to find a spot to pull off. (Officially the up-bound traffic has the right of way but you have to be reasonable about it.) Now the road is much nicer and there’s a proper parking area up here and even a quarter mile wheel-chair accessible loop overlooking the city.

I’ve been told Flattop Mountain is the most climbed mountain in Alaska and I’m sure that’s in large part because it’s so close to Anchorage. In fact there’s houses just below the trailhead with Anchorage mailing addresses and, if the clouds don't roll in, the view of the city is great from up here.

But, I didn't do much hiking up there this time.  I pulled into the parking area, which, true to the theme of this trip, contained several other cars already, got out, humped myself into my backpack,  turned around, and discovered that I was being observed from the far edge of the gravel lot, by a bear standing right there beside the trail sign!

Without taking my eyes off the bear I reached down to open the rear door so I could return my pack to the back seat. Only problem was I had already locked the car and pulling repeatedly, and desperately, on the handle didn’t do a damn thing to change that! Of course the keys were buried deep in my cargo pants, safely secured by a buttoned flap. . . Once I remembered that as a mammal I have to breathe, I somehow managed to make my muscles work in a somewhat coordinated manor and eventually got that issue resolved, but it sure is difficult to drive when your pack, the one you didn’t take the time to remove, has you crammed up hard against the steering wheel!

Years ago I was up here with several other people from the Anchorage office and we hiked up to the first of two knobs that lead up to Flattop. It was sometime in the spring or fall and there was a couple of feet of snow on the ground.  Tree line is only a few feet above the trailhead up here and when we got tired of freezing our butts in the snow on top of a bald and windy knob, instead of coming back down the trail we went over the side, more or less sledding on our butts in a direct line for the car.  All went well until we got back down to the tree line. There we found bear tracks ambling along just above the trees. Opting for prudence, we too stayed above the trees where we could at least see more than a few feet, (I don't have to outrun the bear, I only have to run faster than you!) and headed across the slope to intersect the trail again.  The tracks happened to be going in the same direction, but as long they kept going it was ok.

When we eventually intersected the main trail we made an unsettling discovery. When it came to the trail the bear had hung a right and followed it uphill, which was alright with us because we needed to go left to get back to the car.  The unsettling thing was that the bear's tracks were on top of the tracks we had made on our way up!

Anyway, I ended up not doing any hiking today, instead I spent my afternoon scrubbing the skid-marks out of my underwear!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Alaska: Eagle River

Hiked up Eagle River today on a piece of the Iditarod trail called the Crow Pass cutoff
 Eagle River, the town and the river, are less than 20 miles north of Anchorage. The entire length of Eagle River River made up a section of the Iditarod trail which cut through the Chugach Mountains over Crow Pass, bypassing the flats where Anchorage now sits. If conditions permitted you could cross over Crow Pass by turning right at Girdwood and climbing up between Raggedtop and Barns Mountains along Crow Creek then over the pass to the headwaters of Eagle River and down the river to rejoin the trail near at Knik Arm.
Today Girdwood is a ski town and, road conditions permitting, you can drive Crow Creek Rd up alongside the old trail to about 1200 feet then hike 3 or 4 miles up to the talus slopes in the pass at about 3600 feet before turning around to beat the dark back to your car.
Then from the other end you can hike up Eagle River towards the same pass, but you’d have to be really committed to make it all the way to the pass on a day hike since it’s 14 miles away from the trailhead on that end!!
However far you go from the Eagle River trailhead, this is a great hike through some beautiful terrain.
Today I shared the trail with some kayakers for a while.  They hauled their kayaks about three miles up before putting into the river and leaving me to go on by myself.  The river was high, probably normal for summertime, but I'm used to seeing it during seasons where several channels braid their way through gravel bars.  This time it was wall to wall water and moving fast!  It wasn't something I would want to try kayaking without some significant paddle time first.
I didn’t make it all the way to the pass but I think I pushed it a little farther than I should have and  covered about 20 miles all told by the time I dragged myself back to the car. That’s too far to hike in a day, no matter what your conditioning!!   
Besides the kayakers there were several other hiking parties on the trail and a park service helicopter came by twice checking thing out.
Boy!  It sure is crowded up here.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Alaska: Potter to McHugh Creek

The weather has closed in and it’s been raining hard. Hard for Anchorage anyway, which means a whole half inch fell during the night.  I hiked the Old Johnson Trail from Potter to McHugh Creek and back today. (Update 2014: I see from my map they have renamed this trail the Turnagain Arm trail, wiping out all trace of the accomplishments of one more of this country’s true pioneers.)  This is normally the first hike I take when I get up here. It’s relatively tame yet with enough ups and downs to check out my conditioning, but there just wasn’t enough time left yesterday to do it. Today I made a point of finishing up my paid work early.
The Old Johnson Trail runs the full length of the north side off Turnagain arm, but so does SR1, so there are several trailheads spaced out along the trail making it just right for someone on their own who has to hike each segment out and back.
The Potter Creek trailhead is right where the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, the Chugach mountains and Turnagain Arm all come together. In fact you can look back and see the taller buildings of Anchorage from here, but the closeness of 'civilization' didn't keep me from being a little spooked.  Yesterday two black bears were shot and killed in separate incidents in neighborhoods just to the north of here and the people around here tell me that they have never seen so many bears.
So, of course, when I get to go out and take my first real hike of the trip, the first thing I find a piece of paper stapled to the sign at the trailhead saying that a grizzly sow and her cub had been spotted on the trail two weeks ago!
Because of the rain overnight, any tracks I found on the trail had to have been made this morning and sure enough, mixed in with the moose and sheep track, I found bear!  The tracks were  headed in the opposite direction as me, which meant by the time I found them I had already passed the bear.  (Of course I had to go back that way to get to my car!)
If it was a grizzly it wasn't the sow that had been spotted earlier.  The tracks showed only the one bear and it was small, (small means that the tracks were slightly smaller than my hand!) either a full grown black bear (150-200 lbs) or a two or three year old grizzly, and I'm not near good enough to tell the difference from tracks. (How do you tell the difference between black bear tracks and grizzly tracks?  Just follow them.  If you find something black and pissed they were black bear tracks, if it's brown and pissed they were grizzly!) Even though black bears are smaller than grizzlies it's better to go by color and not size because, and I know this from experience, anytime you're out on a trail and run across something that's furry, has four legs and is pissed, that sucker is going to look BIG!
The vegetation is in full summer growth so it's hard to see very far and the trail gets pretty closed in at times. The flies were thick in some spots, especially where the vegetation closes in on the trail, but the mosquitoes haven't been a problem.
Anyway, I made it out and back without collapsing with exhaustion, getting lost or getting eaten. All in all, a good hike!


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Alaska: Thunderbird Falls



By the time I finished work today it was getting late but I drove north past Eagle River to Thunderbird Falls anyway. This is one of those highly developed and short trails that attracts tourists. Since it was raining I didn't think there would be much of a crowd out there, but I was wrong!  I ran into about a dozen people on the two mile round trip.  That just about equals the number of people I’ve come across on all my previous hikes in Alaska put together!  Summer in Alaska isn't all good!

The trail is relatively flat, a good first hike to get your feet under you, as it climbs along Thunderbird Creek to a falls overlook with a side trail going down to the base of the falls

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Alaska: Down to Seward


I got up early today and drove down to Seward, a port on Resurrection Bay some 125 road miles south of Anchorage.  About 30 miles out of Anchorage, along the steep slopes of Turnagain Arm I passed some Dall Sheep.  The first ones I saw were up on the cliffs above the road, where I’ve seen them before, and once even climbed the steep ridge and found their beds still warm, and a bit pungent, but just a mile or so farther down the road I started passing sheep right down on the road itself.

Just before getting to Girdwood, I saw some hikers on the railroad tracks far in front of me. (The tracks parallel the road along Turnagain Arm.) As I got closer my hikers turned into a moose cow and calf running down the tracks. The cow was swinging her huge head from side to side so she could keep an eye on her calf which was following behind.  Just as I got up next to them mom let the calf pass her then she swung out into the road in front of me.  After several false starts the pair finally crossed the road, their gangly legs seeming to go every which way, and headed up a valley. That's the second time up here in Alaska I've had to slam on my brakes and stop in the middle of the road because of a moose that didn't know how to signal a left turn!

The southbound traffic, my direction, was very light, but as I made the turn around the end of Turnagain Arm and started climbing into the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula tour buses, lots of tour buses, started passing me going the other direction.  When I got to Seward I found out that a Holland America cruise ship had landed there the night before and the passengers were being scattered around on various 'excursions'.

Seward is a pretty small town but the harbor is always interesting to wander around in The beach along the head end of Resurrection bay was full of campers and a lot of boats were moving around in the harbor but shore-side it wasn't crowded enough to be a problem.  I spent the day wandering the harbor, and town waiting for the tide to go out far enough for me to walk the freshly exposed beach down to Lowell Point where the remains of a bunker left over from WWII sits. Tides are high and fast around here so you have to time it right and keep an eye on the water or you just might get stranded out there. There’s talk of making an improved trail up above tide line but there’s been talk of that for years.

About 10 miles east of Seward down a gravel road that runs right alongside Resurrection River is Exit Glacier National Park and, like every other time I’ve visited Seward, I made my way out there. This is a spot where you can actually walk up to the base of a glacier with relative ease and touch ice that has been buried in the Harding ice field for thousands of years. Pretty cool

The traffic on the drive back to Anchorage was, as expected, heavier than I have seen on any of my previous trips but moved along much better than I had been led to believe it would.  In fact, the traffic on this two lane mountain road moved along much better than southbound I75 in Michigan, crammed with weekend campers heading home, ever thought about moving on a summer Sunday afternoon.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Alaska: Getting settled


Jim and Jane have finally left and I’m set up in their house with a couple of pieces of rented furniture and the company car.  Maybe now I can start my Alaska trip.

The last few days have been a kind of limbo. Living in the hotel with all the Blue Hairs, driving a raged out rent car, eating in restaurants, and running around, with and without Jim, getting things organized.  Anchorage is a nice town, but town is town and I haven't had a chance to get out of it yet.



Saturday, March 15, 2014

Alaska: Back in Anchorage


Back in Alaska.

In the past Jim’s fly-outs were always in the off seasons so this is the first time is eleven years of coming up here that I’ve made it during the summer.  I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but it sure is crowded compared to what I'm used to. 

'Blue Hair' season in full swing!
'Blue Hair' refers to the swarms of 'packaged' tourists that descend on Alaska between 'school's out!' and Labor Day.  The packaged tours up here are expensive and consist primarily of older couples with their free time and savings accounts.  This means that about fifty percent of the people climbing down off the Gray Lines tour buses are older females and a good number of them sport brilliant 'blue hair rinses'.  Hence 'Blue Hair' season.  (I have been unable to find anybody that can explain why these people, for the most part free of jobs and children, so faithfully vacation during the summer break when families with children have to be out the despite the fact that good weather lasts much longer than that.)

I have found that if you time things wrong at the hotel you get caught in a 'drop off'.  A drop off is what happens when lots of blue and grey buses, returning from wherever it is blue and grey buses go every morning, all line up to unload their chattering cargo at the lobby door.

When that happens the best thing to do is make a break for a quiet corner, otherwise you risk things like huge, lethal purses, or old men, half crippled with 'bus seat rash' blindly stumbling along with cam-corders stuck to their eyes right at head banging level, or the worst, getting stopped by ‘Oh,-what-nice-hair-you-have.-My- niece’s-son's-former-neighbor's-boy-has-long-hair-just-like- yours-and-I-always-though-he-looked-good-with-it.-I-think-I- have-a-picture-of-my-niece-in-here-somewhere’. If this happens the only thing to do is throw yourself into the nearest cam-corder in the hope that you will get knocked back into the crowd where, if you're fast enough, you stand a chance of escaping before the nice-hair-lady's good friend Mildred notices that you’re wearing the same shirt that she once bought for her grandson on his birthday.

If you manage to escape all that then you have three choices when it comes to getting up to your room, and simply getting onto the elevator isn't one of them.  Elevators don't hold near as many people as the blue and grey buses do, so now there's a considerable line waiting for the one available elevator to make it's anemic rounds; and half of these people, not trusting the other half to do it right, are elbowing their way through the crowd in order to punch at the already lit 'up' button. (Why is it housekeeping always seems to pick this time to tie up the other elevator with bins of laundry and carts of ice-buckets?)

Your three choices are, find a spot to sit and wait out the noisy exodus, hoping that the line isn't recharged by more blue and grey buses, or use the stairs, (but of course your room is on the eleventh floor,) or go down to the basement and sneak onto the elevator there (but then it will stop at the lobby level on its way up and you risk the nice-hair-lady and her good friend Mildred again.).

Friday, March 14, 2014

Alaska: Forward

Through the 80’s and into the first couple years of the 90’s the company I worked for maintained a main-frame computer processing center for a major oil company in Anchorage Alaska. Even though it was technically within the US, working in that center was considered an expat assignment. That meant that along with other incentives for taking the assignment, such as a housing and car allowance, you also received a 6 week fly-out every year where the company paid all your travel expenses to and from your point of origin.

Every year, when Jim, the computer engineer stationed up there made, his travel plans, I would bravely and selflessly step forward and volunteer to go babysit the site, and his house, while he was gone. It was a great hardship but someone had to do it!

Of course, as a troubleshooter traveling to any and all of the company’s domestic and international data centers (Something like just over 40 of them at one point.) whenever the local engineer was stumped or needed extra help for an install, I was on the road or on the fly a lot, and 6 weeks in one spot was a novel break. And 6 weeks in Alaska where the small computer room took all of a couple hours a day of my time, was just pure gravy!

Over the years I hit every trail within a day’s drive of Anchorage, most more than once, and some weekends went further afield. With the exception of one year out of eleven, I was always up there on my own and hiking by myself in such remote places raised some eyebrows, but it was either that or sit in Jim’s house every afternoon watching Andy Griffith reruns. Which would you do??

But the good times came to an end in 1992 when the oil company moved its Alaska operations down to its California office. That year my trip to Alaska was for the purpose of closing down the center and shipping all the gear to California while the engineer and his wife left early in order to get themselves relocated back in the lower 48.

I wrote journals of my trips but this was before the days of affordable personal computers and the journals were hardcopy, typed on fanfold paper at the mainframe computer terminal/printer, and have long since disappeared.
Except for one year.
While trolling through old documents on my computer the other day I came across a journal of that last trip I made up there. It was a little different than the other trips, shorter and I was pretty busy with the work I was getting paid to do, but I still managed to get out and about a little.
Those were also the days when I lugged an SLR camera body and three different lenses with me. I shot 35mm color slides because I could process them myself without needing an expensive enlarger and the associated darkroom to create the finished product. Unfortunately those slides also seem to have gone the way of the hardcopy journals.

So; I have no photos to go along with the journal entries but thought someone might find them interesting anyway.

Friday, March 7, 2014

US50 Phase 1: Wrapping up the last couple days of the trip

Nov 1 Headed south.

I went south out of Amarillo this morning down I27 which starts in Amarillo and only runs the 100 or so miles down to Lubbock. The terrain was as flat as any I have been through so far until I got south of Lubbock on US84 and around the Mountain Fork of the Brazos River where bluffs and mesas started to show up again.

I stopped in Abilene for the night at a campground that didn’t bother to mention the fact that they are redoing the bathrooms and the only open facility is a single unisex unit.

But all is good. My wife put her sisters, who just delivered their dad to the Texas coast for the winter fishing season, on the plane this morning so there’s room at the house for me and I am headed home.

Nov 2 Still southbound

I checked Abilene out a little this morning before hitting the road. It really is an industrialized town, at least the parts I was in.


Even though it's closed for the season I also ran the 12 or so miles south down FM89 (FM = farm to market) to a town with the great name of Buffalo Gap where there's a small recreation of an 1850’s era town. I saw what I could from the wrong side of the fence and I don’t know, maybe Cow Town in Wichita spoiled me, but I wasn’t too disappointed it was closed. It didn’t look too bad, but not fantastic either.

I headed back up to Abilene, stopped at the Abilene Mall just because it was right there and picked up a pretzel to snack on. from there it was south of US84. 

I ran 84 on down to Lampasas for my last night out on this trip. Things are a bit warm around here and I would rather be driving in the cool. Driving in the heat seems to be wearing me out today. I’m going to have to get acclimated again.

I stopped for the night at a campground I’ve been in before but I don’t remember the road noise being so bad. Oh well, at least the bathrooms here are great. Each one is private and includes sink, toilet and shower.


Nov 3 And home

I’m getting ready to have breakfast this morning then run the last few familiar miles home. The last days of this trip have been pretty melancholy and I'm ready to see our driveway!

The plan is to pick up US50 where I left off next fall and complete the coast to coast journey.
The trip stats for phase 1 of the trip:
45 days
6723.5 Miles
149.5 miles average per day
338.7 Gallons of fuel
19.86 average miles per gallon

Thursday, March 6, 2014

US50 Phase 1: A couple more days in and around Amarillo

Oct 30 Museum day

Today was all about the Panhandle Prairie Historical Museum located at the West Texas A&M University in Canyon,  a town south of Amarillo not far from Palo Duro Canyon.
This is a pretty big place covering three floors and a variety of subjects. Being associated with the university it contains a number of eclectic collections donated by alumni. Of course there’s a lot about the history of the area but there are also various art collections, a car museum, a CCC museum and even a textile museum that focuses on children’s clothes. This one had a very interesting bit about the whole boy/girl –  blue/pink thing, which at one point not so long ago was the other way around since pink is a more active color than the calmer blue therefor more appropriate for boys. Apparently it’s only since 1940 that girl-pink/boy-blue has been the standard.

All told I was in this place for something like 6 hours and missed lunch!

One thing to note. Do not drive a large rig to this museum. It's obvious that the university does not have anywhere near adequate parking and as a consequence the residential streets for three or four blocks to the south of the university are lined with parked cars. There are a handful of nearby parallel parking slots reserved for museum visitors but these are only suitable for small to mid-sized vehicles.


Oct 31 Chillin’ in Amarillo

It was a pretty lazy day in and around Amarillo today. I wandered through a section of little shops along the original Route 66 on the west side of downtown, hiked 5 or so miles of city park trails and checked out the arboretum. The arboretum was pretty small and this isn’t the best season, but was nice anyway.
Winding the trip down now with one last stop planned to check out Abilene before heading home.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

US50 Phase 1: Palo Duro Canyon

Oct 29 Palo Duro

The trip is starting to wind down and I'm feeling it.  Quite a bit of disappointment that the trip will soon be over but also enough anticipation of getting back home again that I'm not tempted to turn around and keep going.
Today was all about Palo Duro Canyon. The land south of Amarillo is basically flat, but if you are traveling SR217 east out of the town of Canyon the ground suddenly it drops away into the 120 mile long, 800' deep Palo Duro Canyon. The upper end of the canyon is state park with a road hacked out of the walls that gets you down into the bottom of the canyon.
Partway down this road, pretty much hanging over the edge, is a visitor center which is part information kiosk, part museum/interpretive center and part gift store. After stopping there, picking up some trail maps, enjoying the interpretive center, and resisting the gift store, I continued on down to the bottom of the canyon.
I spent pretty much all day hiking around down there in the canyon. There's hike and bike and horse trails all over the place down there. The longest single hike I took was on the lighthouse trail which wraps around the backside of a ridge to go up the side  canyon behind it to a couple of adjacent hoodoos, one of which is called Lighthouse. The last three tenths of a mile of the trail climb very steeply, as in some significant rock scrambling, to get up to the base of the hoodoos and I wasn’t comfortable attempting that while hiking on my own so satisfied myself with seeing them from a distance.
If you take your time to pay attention to the details there is a lot of diversity and beauty down here in the stark canyon, but it seemed like I was the only one taking the time today. Not that the park was crowded, but I ran into a half dozen or so hikers today, and most of them twice. Once as they overtook me heading out the trail and again as they hot-footed it past me going back the other way.

I have to admit, I used to have that bag-the-trail mentality too. In the boy scouts we got some of our merit badges based on the length of our hikes and it might have taken hold then, but now I've outgrown that and have an experience-the-trail approach. Where I used to knock off a 5 mile trail in two hours or less, today I can easily spend those two hours ambling a one mile loop.

A fellow hiker on the trail


Monday, March 3, 2014

US50 Phase 1: Heading east, I think. . .

Oct 27 Twisted plans, again.

Well today didn’t start out as planned. After making a phone call this morning and confirming that the gallery I located yesterday when I was on foot was the one I was looking for, (The gallery that The Orchid Tree has an affiliation with.) the plan was to break camp, drive downtown, now that I knew where I was going, and stop in for a quick look-see before I headed out of Santa Fe today. . . Turns out knowing where you are going in Santa Fe and getting there are two different things. After spending an hour (Seemed like lots more!) painfully worming my way around down there I gave up and escaped.

Or at least I thought I escaped. I got myself on one of the main roads radiating out from the city center that would get me down to I25 but turns out I picked a freeway interchange was being reconstructed, so there was some more messing around though neighborhoods and roads that ended before getting where I needed them to, (It didn’t help that I25 north, which is what I wanted, is actually going south at this point! Very disorienting.) before I managed to sort out that little hiccup.

After finally working all that out and getting myself onto I25 I climbed back up out of the valley Santa Fe sits in , getting up over 7000 feet again, and then turned south on US285. Initially this road climbs but soon drops down, to about 6400 feet, into the Galisteo Basin which drains into the Rio Grande and is high plains ranchland like that I found in eastern New Mexico.

285 intersects I40 at Cline’s Corners which should really be called Cline’s Corner, since there is only one combination fuel station/store taking up a single corner of the intersection.

Heading east on I40 I slowly started to loose altitude (Got the best fuel mileage of the trip along here.) and noticed an interesting variation in the terrain for the first 15 miles or so out of Cline’s Corners. It was still the same rolling land that makes up this high western edge of the Great Plains, but instead of the Juniper being confined to the mesa tops and the steep slopes below the ridges, they covered everything, including the valleys. But I soon ran out of that and the valleys became treeless again.

Santa Rosa, where I stopped for the night, sits on the Pecos River (Yep, same Pecos River) and was a major stop-over on route 66 before the 1970’s when Interstate 40 was put over top of it, literally, right on top of route 66 through  here. This made the run from Amarillo to Albuquerque do-able in a day’s drive, ending the heyday of towns like Santa Rosa and Tucumcari.
I lost some significant altitude driving in here. Santa Rosa is at 4600 feet and I haven’t been this low since leaving La Junta Colorado.

I’m in a private campground on the east edge of town tonight. There is a state campground 11 miles north of here but being a weekend I thought it might be more prudent to make a day trip out of it tomorrow rather than counting on getting one of the limited campsites. I’m not sure if that was a good call or not but HOLY CRAP! When I pulled in here around 3 in the afternoon I was one of 5 occupied campsites and for the next hour it stayed that way. Since then there has been a steady stream of monster rigs filling the place up, all with two people and maybe a dog or two in 40 feet of triple-slide units jockeying around trying to get themselves parked and then fiddling and fiddling some more as they get themselves sorted out and set up.

Time and again I am so glad I have a compact little rig that fits in the same parking slot as a car, and, with no jacks, blocks, hoses, hitches, slides, etc, it takes me less than two minutes to park and set up, (Put it in park, turn the key off, put the covers in the front windows and unsnap the swing-up counter extension) 4 minutes if I take the time to hook up the electric.
I discovered, too far down the road to go back and return it in person, that the battery I bought yesterday for my camera doesn't seem to want to charge, so there will be no photos until I can find another one. This is not good! I may have to buy a bag full of disposable cameras in the mean time.!
Oct 28 Definitely headed east now

 After talking to a couple of locals who said the lake levels at the state park are way down and many of the trails are closed to protect the stressed environment, I decided to give the Santa Rosa State Park a pass this trip. But before leaving the area today I drove down the Pecos River valley about 10 miles to the remains of a town called Puerto de Luna. Before the railroad made Santa Rosa the place to be Puerto de Luna was that place. Apparently the Spanish built a bridge across the river here some 500 years ago. The valley is very pretty down through here.

Back in Santa Rosa I stopped and watched some scuba divers go down into what they call the Blue Hole. This is a sinkhole about 80 feet across and really deep. The water is pretty clear and fed by a natural spring. There are a half dozen of these natural pools right here in town but this is apparently the deepest.
I also drove a short piece of the pre-1938 route of Route 66 but instead of the turnaround shown on the map the road just kept on going and getting smaller and smaller until I found myself passing a no trespassing sign. So I had to back up and get out of there before I pissed someone off. There is supposed to be a couple of the original bill-boards painted on rock back in there somewhere but I didn’t see them.
Some 50 miles east of Santa Rosa is Tucumcari, another iconic route 66 town. I got off the freeway and cruised through town where I saw some obviously original buildings of that era and some that may or may not be original but have the look. Brochures seem to hint that at night there is a lot of old neon to be seen in town, but it wasn’t dark and I wasn’t stopping for the night so I don’t know.
My target for the day was Amarillo and the further east I went the lower I got (I’m now below 4000 feet.) and I saw a distinct difference in the vegetation. The lower I got the more lush the grasslands without the bare dirt and rock between clumps that you find at the higher elevations. The mesas that break up the horizon further west have also disappeared.
After all the open land I have been driving through for the last three weeks or so it was a bit of a shock passing a huge mall, and all that goes with it, as I got to the west side of Amarillo, such as 6 lane expressways and exits every mile or so. It's only 40 miles to the west of here that ranch driveways come through gates and right out on the expressway with rusty, bullet riddled stop signs and no on/off ramps.
But the good thing about being in a large town (Population 200,000) is that I was able to find another camera battery, in fact they had three and bought them all! The shop-keeper even called the manufacture and got me an RMA number so I could return the faulty battery for a refund.
I'm camped tonight, and for the next few nights, in a campground within spitting distance of I40, but it's a nice place and I'm only going to be using it as a base camp, though I won't be using the shuttle service to run over to The Big Texan Steak House where you can get a 72oz steak with all the fixings for free - if you can eat all of it within an hour. . .