Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Polar Express, A Christmas Trip

Christmas Day 2018, my wife had to work her RN job four days in a row. That was ok since she had Thanksgiving off for our 40th Turkey Day camping trip in a row, and that is my most important trip of the year. But working all those days at Christmas gave me the chance to slip away with the dogs for a week.

There hadn't been much snow in Boise and surrounding areas up until Christmas, just one storm a few weeks before. What little snow was left was probably mud and I tend to hate mud, but it has become a fact of driving and 4wheeling to camp in winter. With freezing temps you can sometimes get in and out before the late morning warm up but, well, there's the issue with sleeping in hah. 

Sure enough, getting to the road I wanted...mud.

I love the open grasslands and canyons of western Idaho and eastern Oregon. Long stretches of grass dotted with huge rocks busting out of the ground. I don't know if the rocks are fighting for their right to be out in the open or the grass is fighting to cover those rocks with dirt and root.

Using Google Earth I had found an area to hike with the dogs that I thought I'd like, but there were 35 miles or so of dirt, er, mud to get there. Not killer mud right, just graveled mud. I got to a point where I could see the last 10 miles, including a nice descent off a hill, and stopped to ponder going on.

I had been sliding a bit even on the slight downhill to get to where I stopped. The road on down being lower in altitude and warmer was, mas mud. I did something I don't like to do and changed my mind. I had seen no-one and didn't like the thought of such a long walk out if stuck. Hey, a guy has to be fluid with plans every now and then, even an old stick in the mud like me.

I decided to keep going west to a canyon I knew about but had never seen, taking photos as I drove.

I knew the government was closed down and had the thought as I drove by an official looking gate, what if they closed it with me on the downhill side?

It was one of those kind of days, again, with sun and clouds fighting for dominion of the sky. Not like living in Phoenix where the sun never seemed to relent. I prefer the changing weather, and the cold temps.
Down in the canyon a short bit I found a fabulous spot to camp and hike. Hiking was big on my list this trip. I was trying to drop a few pounds due to holidays. Are we any different? He asked with a hefty grin.

An evening walk into the hills showed me the colors of the area and where I'd hike the next day.

Morning pictures showed a sky painted with a Photoshop brush, 50% opacity. No, I wouldn't do it yet they sometimes look as if Nature is duplicating Photoshop. Just sayin...

It was a great day for a hike. We started off walking up a road past a closed gate, slowing my gait for photos.

My topo showed the location of an old cabin so off on an old two track we went.

Duke helped look for the missing cabin.

We never did find a cabin, but we did find what was left of the bathroom. And I wondered, who would take a bath out here and where does the hot water come from?

Stopped for lunch I thanked the inventors of Pringles. Without them my chips would all be chipletts in my pack.

That night Duke was dog tired. Ok, I'm tired of using that one, but what else is there? To say he was canine tired doesn't have quite the impact.

Driving down canyon looking for another place to camp, and more pictures to take.

With a few other roads closed to driving and camping, thank you so much BLM, I stopped at a campground. If you have to stop in a campground it should be beautiful and empty.

Not to mention being able to hike right out the back door.

Alien seed pods decorated the shrubbery.

It looked like this in the evening...

 and this in the morning. No wonder the dogs were sleeping together.

Those seed pods, a kind of thistle I think, were now wearing their winter white hoodies.

I took several pix of this rock, because I don't know a good picture when I see one, but only when it's mine. In other words, I know a good picture when I see it of someone else's, but not my own. Ok, they have doctors for that. Luckily...I only posted this one. I had been using a Tamron 18-400 lens with my Canon 80D and was never very happy with it. I switched to the 18-135 kit lens and the quality jumped quite a bit. I could tell by chimping after every pic. Chimping? No I wasn't acting like a monkey...right then. It means looking at your camera monitor after every shot, in case you didn't know.

Ok ok, this trip report is mainly a picture dump for me. I guess mainly to remind me why I like snow so much after living and working outside in Phoenix over 20 years.

I had a full set of chains for the truck and snow shoes for me but there wasn't quite enough snow to use them, just enough to add gorgeous visuals to the scenery and cold temps to the atmosphere. It wouldn't get over the freezing mark for the rest of the trip.

It was a good place to park for another hike.

Looking for Yeti's

Duke must have found one.

Driving out of the canyon I went back to that previously muddy spot to spend the night. After being down in a canyon a couple of nights I felt the need for a longer view.

I still passed on driving that road, I'll go back when it's dry to get to know it.

I had my newly updated super-computer with me, the Hal 9000 from the movie 2001. 

Next morning we hit the road, there were more places to see. Was that a groan?

Boy, it always amazes me how much moisture can be dropped over such large areas in the form of snow. Yet that storm had been only one night and a light snow at that.

I made a short stop to check out the Pillars of Rome. Hah, I'd seen some pix and read about them yet was fairly disappointed to see them in person, I mean in Pillar. Plus, they were behind barbed wire with No Trespassing signs posted.

As we drove away on the graded dirt road, I graded the Pillars of Rome with a C minus.

Ah but the next stop was supreme. Gasing up in Nevada I headed for southern Oregon by way of a 50 mile or so dirt road. Half way down that road was Nirvana.

Yeah doggies, hot springs. When I first got there I parked a short bit away from them, then decided to claim them as my own since there was no one else around but lil ol me.

After all, this was the middle of nowhere.

Sorry Duke, no dog slobber in the hot tub.

It was hard to leave that little slice of heaven in the sage but I had more places to see.

Pulling up to this dry lake bed I was afraid it would be a mud bog. Since it was below freezing I was pleasantly surprised to walk on a frozen dry lake. If only I had my ice skates. The truck and camper are in the far right as a small speck, left there to make my exploratory walk.

The frozen surface had a polished look to it, being frozen and all, and reminded me of Venetian plaster.

After taking a camera selfie I had Bailey check the aperture and ISO on the camera. Ok ok, she photobombed the pic, you didn't really believe me did you? Well, I bet her pictures would be better than mine anyway.

Up off the lake bed, I found this picture. I had to wonder, why did that tree grow in the rock when it had perfect dirt a few feet away?

Driving away from the valley of the dry lake I had another smaller dry lake I wanted to check out, passing some cows that were obviously trying to blend in with the snow so I wouldn't see them.

I had a marker on my topo app map, map app, but must have made a mistake while at home using Google Earth. I ended up going in the back way, which was definitely the best way.

Getting out of the hills and driving on flat ground I spotted smoke, no, steam. It was windy and bitter cold so I drove on, to come back the next day.

Camp was just a spot of dirt, but the sky made up for the lack of color on the ground.

Duke and Bailey could care less, Bailey was dogging me for dinner. See what I'm saying? If she was canining me for dinner well, it just doesn't work.

That other small lake bed was just off the starboard side. That's right.

Morning, cold and windy.

It was pretty tough, roughing it and all. Heat going, Amazon Prime movie on iPad and a small breakfast. Yes, roughing it.

I am old, and I did get to see all the cool bands.

Growing up in Southern California in the day, we'd get bored on a Friday night, nothing to do.
We'd drive to the Englewood Forum, pay 12 bucks and go see Led Zeppelin...again. Bored...

Driving back to where I'd seen the smoke, this big ol cow crossed right in front of me causing me to steer clear. Though I would like those horns on my hood, hmmm.

A short drive and short walk took us to where I'd seen smoke, now understanding.

Hot dog, more hot springs. It's amazing how these springs pop up thru the crust in places like this.

That pool was bottomless to my eyes, and all were too hot to sit in. Ask me how I know, he said rubbing his bum and temp gauge.

I was able to warm the freezing hands in pockets of hot steam as the earth let out a little breath.

 So many roads in the grasslands look as if going on into infinity, like this trip report.

Map? Who needs a map when you can see where you're going for maybe fifty miles?

Make no mistake, I have more maps than Map World and use them all as well as my topo app. A guy can never have too many maps, there's no telling where that road goes.

If I told you those were coyote tracks I'd be off by a hare.

Actually, do you see an emoji in those tracks?

I'll be dammed, was that a spillway?

In three letters, yes. With a hand hewn canal between two very large cow pond catchments. Boy that canal must have been work. Cattlemen in the west have typically had a hard time of it, fighting to get and hold water for both cattle and to grow feed. And I wondered, did they enjoy the view as much as I do?

On Frozen Lake, starring the Duke.

Evening was gorgeous, how do I get so lucky time after time?

I didn't know it at the time but that was my last night. I had more time and more places to see  but the wind had been non-stop every day and vicious at night. I was, and could tell we all were, very cold. 17º that evening and windy, down to 6º that night.

Those temps are very bearable with no wind, I told myself as I wimped out in the camper, watching a movie.

Funny how those Costco margaritas have a golden glow.

There it was, like a deer in the headlights, with a golden glow.

It was so bloody cold that night I had my two catalytic heaters plus the furnace going. Duke made use of all three, giving up his bed to do so.

Next morning I made short work of a short bridge.

I wanted to get over to an empty lake to throw the ball for Duke.

It was in fact too cold to throw the ball, and too cold to get it and bring it back. Duke has never been so unhappy to get the ball. Bailey was cold too but never misses a chance to nag Duke.

I think even the truck shivered that morning.

After driving back to blacktop and wondering where to go next it hit me...home, it was New Years Day.

There are several things I love about winter camping. Fewer people, on this trip not another soul but me and my dogs. The fridge runs less due to ambient temps and so uses less juice, it's a compressor unit and runs on electricity.
No sweat involved, after 20 pus years living in Phoenix I like no sweat.
And, the ice lasts a lot longer. This time eight days without needing more and still having plenty when getting home. Very cool!

Thanks for reading. Time to fly, maybe glide to the next trip.

Dave, Duke & Bailey

Well, ok a couple of outtakes, since you asked...

Duke, who you waving at, ain't no body over there.

"What do you mean Dad, look at the camera? What's a camera?"