Get your kicks

En route to Southern California to spend time with my kids and their friends, I passed through Nevada and a slice of Arizona before stopping in Barstow, hard by the Mojave Desert. One of the reasons for my spending a night and part of the next day there is a song by Bill Morrissey, who grew up in a New Hampshire mill town and lived for a spell in California. He wrote poignantly about people on the edge with empty pockets and faded dreams, and only someone who had experienced Barstow for a while could have captured the grit and lost luster of the city that still serves as a hub for the Santa Fe rail line. Much to my pleasant surprise, Barstow also happens to be home to sections of an historic piece of Americana — Route 66, which was completed in 1937 and passed through eight states, while covering some 2,400 miles. Today, most of Route 66 has been replaced by more modern roadways and pockets of development, but you can still get a sense of why that road achieved the colorful reputation it did at the wonderfully kitschy Route 66 Museum, just a few miles from downtown Barstow. The popular Route 66 tv show, which ran from 1960-64, romanticized the road and people whose lives were touched by it. If you recall the names of its co-stars ( answer follows below), polish the chrome trim on your ’57 Chevy and head to Barstow!

Answer: George Maharis and Martin Milner.

The wild west

If some of the pictures you see from southern and south-central Utah look familiar, they probably are, at least if you’re old enough to recall some of those John Wayne westerns and a few of Clint’s when he wasn’t mixing spaghetti with six shooters. Perhaps nothing says “old west” like Utah’s amazing landscape, and it seems that almost every time you turn a corner you’re on another set. I visited Bryce and Zion national parks this week. Bryce is known for its hoodoos, while Zion gets the nod for gorgeous glens and hikes, some requiring holding onto a chain hooked into a rock wall as you traverse a narrow ledge. Both are marvelous. I’ve become particularly enchanted with a tree found here and in other parts of America’s mountain West — the bristlecone pine. These trees grow in harsh environments withstanding wind and cold and thrive despite a lack of water. One I came upon today at Bryce was rooted into the edge of a rock wall and was reported to be “about” 1,600 years old. If the rock doesn’t give way, she could easily go another 1,600.

Of Arches and Goblins

Arches National Park in Utah, just to the north of Moab, is a spectacular landscape of stone outcroppings, desert plants, pinyon and gnarled juniper trees and myriad hues of red, brown, orange, green and yellow. And, of course, arches of rock carved out by wind and water over millions of years. In all, some 2,000 arches exist in the park today; over time some of those will collapse while new ones will form. Credit nature’s relentless handiwork. West of Arches just off Route 24 is Goblin Valley State Park. While perhaps not as awe-inspiring as Arches, it is magnificent in its own right nonetheless. And far less crowded. I went on a 2.5-mile hike yesterday that ended in a wonderful panoramic view of most of the park and didn’t encounter another person on the trail. Beautiful. If you’re in the area and have the time, the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River provides fascinating detail about the area and the man who charted much of this unexplored land in the 1870s.

A wilderness of rock

That’s how a brochure describes Canyonlands, a national park in southeastern Utah which occupies a large and gorgeous chunk of land at the heart of the Colorado Plateau. You don’t have to be a geologist to enjoy the myriad plateaus and rock formations or a botanist to marvel at the abundance — and diversity — of plant life, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. And the colors are spectacular. Canyonlands is reachable from Route 191, via Monticello from the south or Moab from the north, the latter enjoying a relatively short boom period when uranium was discovered in the area back in the 1950s. If you camp in Canyonlands (and some do), you have to take care of your own water. I settled for a nice three-mile hike and, given the temperature of 105 when I started, was quite happy with that.

Mostly photos…

…from the Grand Tetons. Hoping these go through along with a few previous posts. One of the photos below, with houses in the foreground, is of a Mormon settlement dating back to the 1880s. The haze that obscures the mountains in the background is actually smoke from fires to the west. Currently in Pinedale, Wyoming, en route to Utah.

The Grand Tetons — updated

Not sure why, but I’m having trouble uploading photos. Anyway, after I posted yesterday’s blog, I spotted a herd of buffalo, a pelican, three elk, a pronghorn antelope and an osprey feeding her young. One more short hike today and then heading south. Hope these photos make it. I have a bunch more from the GT, which I’ll try to post later.

The Grand Tetons

Grand doesn’t do the Tetons justice, but it’s a start. They are a short crow’s flight from Yellowstone and, while considerably smaller than their sister national park to the north, possessed of a spectacular charm all their own, not to mention a rich and colorful history. One of the Tetons’ gems is Jenny Lake, named after a Shoshone Indian, who helped pioneers explore and settle the area in the late 1800s. She along with her six children died from the smallpox in 1876. You can take a shuttle to the west side of the lake and then hike a number of trails from there. And if you get to the dock by 7 am, which I did, the round trip is only five bucks; after that it’s 15! Wildlife abounds: moose, elk, cheeky marmots, deer, foxes and, of course, grizzly bears. Colorful alpine flowers are seemingly everywhere. A friend from Acton, who grew up in Wyoming and often hiked in the Grand Tetons, recommended a number of hikes. I took his advice on several, and they were all beautiful. Thanks, Don! This is the first time on my trip I’ve spent more than two nights in one place (three). I could have easily stayed here a week!

Pretty cool

Well, during the summer it’s actually pretty hot, but not nearly as hot as it was some 15,000 years ago when volcanic eruptions shattered the earth’s surface and lava started flowing out of a series of deep fissures across what is now southeastern Idaho’s Snake River Plain. The most recent eruption occurred some 2,000 years ago, leaving behind an unearthly landscape that was actually used by astronauts back in the ’60s as they prepared to land on the moon. Today the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is home to spectacular caves, fields of lava fragments, beautiful mesas, spatter cones and craters. All of which you can view from hikes along a loop road that takes you through the park. Given the dry and rocky landscape, there’s also a great diversity of animal and plant life in the park. The town of Arco, Idaho, lies just 20 miles to the east of the park. Its claim to fame? Back in the 1950s it became the first town to be lit by atomic power. Pickles Place, a popular local restaurant, serves “the world famous atomic burger.” I passed.

You bet!

When you stop at a 7-11 for a cold drink and snack and see people playing slot machines, you know you’re in Nevada. Passing by Reno en route to Elko, I saw a sign for the Great Basin NP. That would probably be a good visit some time, but not so much in the heat of summer with temps well into the 100s. Just outside of Elko is the California Trail Interpretive Museum, detailing the westward travels of people seeking a new life in the 1800s. An expression for the challenges and struggles those pioneers faced was “seeing the elephant.” Route 80 parallels a good portion of the trail. It’s a tough drive; I couldn’t imagine making that journey on foot. The Nevada landscape, full of mountains, buttes, sage brush and desert is beautiful but harsh, and I have no idea where they get their water from.

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