Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cold front and tumbleweed

We went to bed last night in Utah with all the hatches and windows open so that the breeze would blow through and cool us off. It must have been in the 80s at Brigham City even with the gusty wind. But early in the morning before it got light the cold front blew through and the temperature dropped about 40 degrees F. Then it began to rain. It's a major shift in the weather. We left this morning in the pouring rain and headed up the pass into Idaho. This was a beautiful drive once the rain stopped. There was a dusting of white on the peaks and wide empty grasslands on either side.

It was surprising how many abandoned farms we passed in this area. It looks like nobody wanted to continue this way of life here.

Once over the pass, the front came at us with a vengeance--cross winds gusting to 60 mph forced us to drop our speed to under 40 miles per hour. Tumbleweeds were rolling across the road like popcorn.

We didn't make it to Oregon today--it was tense enough just getting to Boise. We de-stressed in a sweet little cafe near the university with lattes and cookies and good music and wifi. It seems we're more at home here than in the rough and tumble coffee shops of the agricultural heartland. I admit it--we're coffee snobs or espresso addicts. In any case, it's nice to be back in Cascadia and out of the empty quarter. Tomorrow we'll be in Oregon and that much closer to home.

Across the Great Divide Basin

I'm posting yesterday's notes at noon today (on the road) since we had no internet last night.  No time to put in other photos.  I'll catch up tonight when we're in Boise.

If you look at a detailed map of Wyoming, one that shows the continental divide, you’ll see something interesting.  Between the northern and southern sections of the Rocky Mountains, there is an area that is circled by the lines of the continental divide.  In this area the line of the continental divide separates and goes around a great basin at the top of the continent.  This is the great divide basin, an area of high grassland at an altitude of about 7,000 feet.  In this basin the water would not run to the edges of the continent but would pool somewhere in the centre of the circle.  Of course, because this is desert here no lake is formed.  There’s really not much there at all except for herds of prong horn antelope and part of Interstate 80.  We traveled through a corridor of about 30 miles of this area today along with many big trucks.  This is what it looked like.

After we crested the divide line on the west side at about 6,500 feet the land sloped down and we entered the red desert.  I think the name comes from a variety of red-stemmed sage that gives a crimson colour in places,

or perhaps it’s from the red rock beneath.

As we descended into a canyon the red rock showed itself in gorgeous cliffs and pillars.

Eventually we descended to the Great Salt Lake, the area settled by Mormons who crossed the continent on foot and came over the continental divide at south pass, just north of the basin.

It’s still very windy in this area and it makes driving difficult, especially on the winding sections of the road.  We happened on an accident where a motor home about the size of ours had flipped over and its two occupants were being taken away by ambulance.   This kind of accident can happen so easily if you’re traveling just a few kilometers more than is safe.  We can only hope that the older couple driving that little motor home aren’t badly injured.  It certainly made us more aware of our speed on the corners.

We stopped early this afternoon and picked up some fruit at a stand near Brigham City, Utah before finding a place to camp.

Tomorrow we’ll start early again with the goal of driving through Idaho and into Oregon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Windy Wyoming

We left Kearney this morning just after 7:00 and drove west with the sun at our back for many hours.  We're taking a different route home, following Interstate 80 through southern Wyoming and into Utah. This is the route that the Mormons took en route to Salt Lake. 

Southern Wyoming is more cattle country than sage brush desert.  It's also very windy.  In several places there were big power-generating windmills, and in many spots they've built fences to keep the snow from drifting over the road. 

What else is there in southern Wyoming?  Oil wells and Black Angus cattle.

We crossed the continental divide at Laramie at just over 8,600 feet.  That's probably the highest altitude we'll see on our way home.  These are the rock formations at the top.

We're planning to start early every day on our return trip so as to avoid overheating in the afternoon.  The sunrise across the prairie was beautiful this morning and I expect to see another beauty tomorrow.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Leaving Buffalo County

We had a great weekend of flyball racing here in Kearney and we're all tired out. This championship event was attended by teams from about 15 different states from Alabama to Minnesota and from Virginia to California...and many in between. We met some wonderful people who share our passion for flyball. The dogs did well and so did the handlers. We won nearly every race we ran and everyone had fun.

Our plan was to head out and get a couple of hours of driving in on the homeward journey, but the weather has foiled us. It's sunny and clear but there are winds gusting to 45 mph and that's just too much for our motorhome. So we'll be staying here tonight and getting an early start tomorrow morning. We'll be taking a slightly different route home, mostly along interstate 80 so it won't be as interesting a trip but hopefully it'll get us home a bit faster. After being away from home for 12 days now we're starting to feel the need to reconnect. But there are still 1700 miles to travel so the adventure isn't over yet.

That's my Maggie and me in the top photo and Laura and her dog Chianna underneath.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How to race flyball

Flyball, if you haven’t heard about it, is a fast-paced relay race for four dogs and four handlers.  The dogs are trained to run on their own down a 50 foot lane, pick up a tennis ball from the flyball box and bring it back up the lane to the handler.  As soon as the first dog is over the start/finish line the next dog goes.  It’s crazy but the dogs love it and because there’s competition, so do the people.
So just in case you’re ever asked to run a dog in a flyball race, here the lowdown on what to do.
1.     Check the race numbers and keep track of them.  Usually we race between six and ten races, each consisting of between three and five heats.  Make sure you know which lane you’re racing in (right or left).
2.     When it’s close to racing time, take your dog out for a pee and maybe a little play.

3.     Find your teammates and take your dogs inside the barn.  Take with you your tug or other motivator (sometimes food) to get your dog to run back faster.

4.     Make sure you have a ball shagger to pick up the bouncing tennis balls the dogs bring back.

5.     Wait until your race number comes up on the display.

6.     Take your dog down to the box for a warm-up run if required.  Seasoned dogs don’t always need this, as they know their jobs very well.
7.     Make sure you know your running order so you know which dog you’ll be passing. Find your line (that is the measurement that you’re going to start your dog from).

8.     Get your dog’s attention.

9.     Watch for the judge’s signals that the race is on.

10. When the dog before you in the race goes, get your dog into the racing lane and let it go at the right time.
11. Move up to the start-finish line as your dog runs down to the flyball box and gets the ball.
12. Run like hell, calling your dog so he’ll come back at full speed, play with him with your tug.

13. Wait to see which team won the race.
14. Shake hands with your opponents and then bring your dog out of the barn and give it a big drink of water, a well-deserved treat and cool-down walk around.
15.  Talk over the race with your friends.

I’ve actually left out a few things like false starts, bad passes, reruns, interference, lineups, and perhaps more.  But I’m sure your team mates can fill you in.
I wasn't able to get action photos of the dogs racing in the barn because of the low light levels, so you'll have to use your imagination for that aspect.
We raced flyball today in Kearney, Nebraska and had a great day. The dogs ran well, the sun shone, and everyone was having fun. Tomorrow we have another day of racing.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Across the Great Plains

Hidden behind the cornfields of Nebraska there are glimpses of the Great Plains, which covered the Dakotas, Wyoming and Nebraska.  For the past three days we’ve been following part of the Oregon Trail--the route that people took in the 1840s to get from the settled eastern US into the raw west.   And I’ve been thinking about those people in the covered wagons, pulled by oxen or even in hand pulled carts, crossing these lands.

When I was little I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about the Little House on the Prairie and I imagined myself in that life but I’d never seen any evidence of what it was like—until now.  There are places where the ruts from the wagon trains can be seen and today we visited a museum with a little house made of sod.

Life was so much harder and people were so brave to go forward into the unknown. I think about how soft we are now—needing our lattes and our internet connections and our heated RVs for camping. 
It’s not until you actually drive across this huge expanse of prairie country that you get a sense of just how vast it is. We took three or four days to cross it; they took months.

But I have to say that it’s an incredibly beautiful part of the world.  The sky is huge and the land goes on forever.  Along the rivers the cottonwoods grow, and on the plains the herds roam.  We don’t see buffalo now but I know that in the past they were there.  Apparently Kearney Nebraska was where the wagon trains first encountered herds of buffalo.

Today we’re here at the Buffalo County Fairgrounds getting ready for a weekend of flyball.  Our teammates are racing today but we’re not up until tomorrow so we’re going to do a little sight seeing. 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Into Nebraska

Yesterday we crossed over from Wyoming to Nebraska and the change was quite dramatic.  Within a few miles the scenery changed from western (sage and rolling hills and horse corrals) to agricultural (fields, cows, and barns).   We've moved from the empty quarter into the bread basket.  Here we have fields of corn and wheat and sugar beets, little towns with green grass and church spires, and along the highway acres of used farm equipment.

But like Wyoming the skies here are huge--because the land is so level and there are no mountains to impede the view. Shortly after our arrival we drove through some dark clouds and rain storms.  The setting sun created some quite dramatic vistas.

It's cool again.  Feels almost like Victoria.  But it sure doesn't look like Victoria.

We should be in Kearney this afternoon.  We'll be camping at the Buffalo County Fairgrounds.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The deer and the antelope

After all these years I now know what the “home on the range” song was all about.  When I was a kid I thought the song was crazy because antelope were African animals.  I’d never heard of antelopes on this continent.  But boy oh boy they’re here for sure.

For two days we’ve been driving through the sagebrush prairie and I’ve seen huge herds of pronghorn antelope and quite a few deer as well.  The antelope are new to me.  They are really beautiful with distinctive brown and white markings and long expressive ears.  The males have spiky horns that give them their name.  The herds are wild and they seem to be doing really well in Wyoming.  Apparently the sagebrush prairie is their natural habitat, along with the cottontail rabbits, which we saw in bunches at our campsite last night.

We had a great time at the hot springs in Thermopolis.  The pools were ceded to the state by the natives over 100 years ago with the proviso that they would be accessible for free.  So we were able to go into the lovely state operated hot spring at 105degrees F outdoor pool at no cost.  Then we took the dogs over the swinging bridge to see the terraces formed by the calcified water.

Today we headed into Nebraska and tomorrow I’ll post some of the dramatic photos from the rainstorm over the prairie.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

From the mountians to the prairies

Yesterday we descended over 4,000 feet along the Shoshone River through some stunning rock formations to the rolling Wyoming grasslands.  It was a beautiful drive and we stopped for a picnic at the most beautiful spot in Wapiti.  Not another soul was there and the dogs had a wonderful time playing in the river. This morning it's our turn to play in the Thermopolis hot springs.  Then we'll head off across the rolling grasslands into Nebraska. 

Monday, September 21, 2009

Brilliant Yellowstone

All my life I've wanted to visit Yellowstone Park and finally I did--and it didn't disappoint. It was everything I thought it would be and more. One thing that surprised me was the altitude. The caldera where all the geothermic activity takes place lies at around 7,000 feet so the air is cool and clear. We arrived yesterday and once we'd set up camp we drove straight to Old Faithful, which spouted on schedule just as we got to the boardwalk.

We visited several sites where there are geysers and fumaroles and boiling pools and mud holes dotting the ground. 

The colours are really astounding, like in this turquoise pool.  And the colour of the water in the Firehole River is even more brilliant.

But for me the most thrilling was to see the wildlife in the park.  We saw a grizzly bear, a herd of elk, some pronghorn antelope and many, many buffalo.  I'd never seen these creatures before and they are very imposing.  Apparently they can run at 30 miles an hour so you don't mess with them.   I loved seeing the herd grazing on the beautiful golden grass with the steam from the geysers in the background.

This fellow was by himself though, far from others.  We saw him at the summit of the pass exiting the east side of the park.  He was slowly trotting up the road at about 8600 feet.  I sure hope he made it where he was heading.

Tonight we made it where we were heading--a little town called Thermopolis, which boasts the largest hot springs in the world.  We'll take a look tomorrow.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Butte and beyond

This morning we took a little tour of Butte and this place has a fascinating history.  It began as a gold rush town in the 1870s but its main claim to fame is copper.  It’s known as the richest hill on earth and at its height it s populations was 125,000.  Butte’ s historic district contains literally thousands of 19th and early 20th century buildings as well as the steel head frames from the many mines that dotted the landscape.  These machines lowered miners to a network of more than 2,000 miles of tunnels under the hill. The city has a rich history including strikes and disasters.  It was dominated by the Anaconda Copper Company whose owners built mansions and theatres and banks in Butte.  We took a little tour around the old buildings and up to the big open pit where copper was mined from 1955 to the present day.  We saw elaborate buildings, rooming houses and the remains of little shacks.  One of the things we remembered on this tour was just how difficult life was for most people back then. 
Butte's population now is only about 33,000 and many buildings have been torn down but there still remain many fascinating vacant buildings.  It has the feeling of a living ghost town. These are a few of the buildings we saw.

This afternoon we headed off for a short trip of 75 miles to Bozeman, but it seems that Miss Mohita has ongoing issues with heat and hills.  She had another “hot flash” episode about 10 miles past the continental divide.

We sat by the side of the road for an hour waiting for the engine to cool down so we could start her up again. It seems she is prone to vapour lock at certain temperatures and especially at higher altitudes.  We're still wanting to head into Yellowstone Park which has mountains but we've decided to travel early in the day when it's hopefully a little cooler.