Monthly Archives: July 2013

Day 375 – Back in the Pacific Northwest!

After 3 solid driving days, we were all thrilled to spend a little time in one place…Bend, OR.  And a wonderful place it is!  We spent 5 nights camping in the mountains outside town, near a wonderfully cool lake.  Since temperatures hit the 90s during the day, we made ample use of the lake.  The best part of our stay was camping with some friends who drove down from Seattle to welcome us home!  We hung out and did as little as possible during their visit, a welcome break from our usual intrepid exploring.  We all really enjoyed their company.

After they headed home, we spent 2 days exploring Bend’s awesome network of mountain bike trails.  I was too busy riding to take any pictures, but the riding was so fun that we’ll definitely be back.

After leaving Bend, we headed to the Columbia River Gorge for a couple of nights.  It’s hard to believe that we’re only a few hundred miles from home!  Starting tomorrow, we’ll be staying with family until we roll into our driveway on the 31st.  Tonight is our last night of camping!  In fact, today was probably our last day of official intrepid exploring.  So we had to make it a good one.

We’re camped in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, home of Mt. St. Helens and all sorts of cool volcanic geology.  We came here because we’d read about a cave that has ice formations even in the middle of summer.  Because the cave is relatively small and we had a map, we decided to explore as much of it as possible.  We grabbed our flashlights, packed lots of extra batteries, dressed in our grubbiest clothes, and donned our bike helmets since we don’t have proper caving hard-hats.  The first part of the cave was fairly open and easy to avoid the icy rocks.  But as we worked our way into the deeper, narrower passages, we found that ice covered almost everything.  Not only would we have to shimmy on our bellies along the ice, but we risked being unable to come back up the icy inclines.

Robbie looks for a way around the ice

Robbie looks for a way around the ice

We went as far as we felt comfortable, then decided to head back and explore the warmer, easier part of the cave.  We’ll return another time with ropes and better gear!

The warmer, easier part of the cave

The warmer, easier part of the cave

While we set up camp, our campground host told us about the Cheese Cave, an unmarked cave not far from the Ice Cave, so we headed there next.  This place was well off the marked path, and we had it to ourselves!  After climbing a precarious ladder and scrambling down a huge rockfall, we entered the cavernous lava tube.

Can you find Robbie and C scrambling the rockfall?

Can you find Robbie and C scrambling the rockfall?

We could see where the surface of the tube had melted during the lava flow and seemed to be dripping from the ceiling.

Melty basalt

Melty basalt

The cave is allegedly named for a cheese making outfit that used the cave to ripen bleu cheese in the30s.  Toward the end, we found the decaying remains of the shelves that must have held the cheese and a giant staircase leading to the now-locked underside of the abandoned cheese house built directly over a natural cave entrance!

You can see the remains of the cheese shelves on the right

You can see the remains of the cheese shelves on the right

C really enjoyed exploring a cave all on our own, and we all had a great time.

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Day 370 – A whole lotta nuthin’

Want to know what’s between the Black Hills of South Dakota and Bend, Oregon?

A monolithic rock:

Doing schoolwork in the shadow of Devil's Tower National Monument

Doing schoolwork in the shadow of Devil’s Tower National Monument

A bunch of hilarious prairie dogs:

A bunch of hilarious prairie dogs

You lookin’ at me?

A giant coal mine:

That's a LOT of coal

That’s a LOT of coal

And a whole lotta nuthin’!

After a fun day at Devil’s Tower, we began the long slog back to the Pacific Northwest.  Along the way we stopped in Gillette, WY for a free tour of a coal strip-mine.  Despite the fact that I think coal is a really bad way to make electricity, the coal mine tour was totally cool.  We all boarded a little bus, and our driver (a former driver of one of those massive coal hauling trucks) took us onto the mine property for a close up look at the equipment used in the mine.  I never cease to be amazed at what humans can engineer!

From there, we drove and drove and drove some more.  With a few short exceptions (notably an overnight in Teton National Park), the drive was – in a word – BORING.  There simply isn’t much to see in this part of the world.  One might argue that the scrubby desert is beautiful in it’s own way, but to me it was just hot and dry.  The fact that we were driving 6+ hours a day probably didn’t help my state of mind.

The truck doesn’t seem to like all of this driving, either.  On our drive over Teton Pass we thought we might have to get out and push the truck over the 10% grade!  We were poking along at 20mph in 1st gear!  The A/C has been intermittently pooping out.  Of course it performed perfectly for the mechanic, but a couple of times it refused to actually cool the air during a long drive on a 95 degree day.  Unpleasant.  And lately the engine has been stuttering during high temperature and high altitude.  I’m afraid to even mention the thick coat of bugs on the radiator!

But we’re making good time, and we’ll be home in just over a week!

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Day 364 – To boldly go where no 8-year-old has gone before

C has found her calling…cave exploration!  We’ve visited quite a few caves on this trip, but after visiting Jewel Cave and Wind Cave she realized just how much she’s cut out for spelunking.  Caving combines her loves of climbing, exploring, getting dirty, and squeezing into tight spaces.  She especially likes the idea of finding surprises at every turn.  When she learned from a ranger that cavers are still discovering cave passages that have never before been seen by humans, that sealed the deal.  She so impressed the ranger with her knowledge of geology and National Parks, that he let her wear his “flat hat” and lead the way on the tour.

Ranger C

Ranger C

We also took a lantern tour of the historic part of Jewel Cave.  It’s amazing how different the cave looks without electric light!

It's a little dark in here

It’s a little dark in here

The Black Hills are surprisingly beautiful.  I had no idea they’d be so cool!  We did a great hike in Custer State Park through The Needles area.  Luckily we got there early and had the mountain to ourselves.  On the hike back down, the trail was packed!

The Needles

The Needles

After our hike, we visited the Crazy Horse monument which is a GIGANTIC, incomplete mountainside carving.  The original sculptor has long since died, but his family carries on the carving tradition.  Seeing the monument in progress is pretty impressive.  But the visitor center was just weird.  It’s a hodge-podge of poorly curated Native American artifacts and memorabilia from the original sculptor in a building that made me wonder if they bothered to pull permits!  But we got to watch a Sioux dancer perform, and we all enjoyed that.

That's the monument in the background

That’s the monument in the background

Of course we visited the most important road trip destination in the whole of the United States…

Mount Rushmore!

Mount Rushmore!

It’s more impressive up-close than in photographs.  The best part was seeing the underlying geology of the rock from which it’s carved.  We stayed for the insanely patriotic and surprisingly moving evening program.   As the sun sets behind Mt. Rushmore, a thousand people gather in what is arguably the largest amphitheater in the NPS.  A ranger shares the story of the writing of our national anthem, then shows a short movie about the presidents honored on the mountain.  As “America the Beautiful” plays, the mountain is gradually illuminated and the faces gaze majestically over the patriotism-infused crowd. 

It was a good way to end our visit to the Black Hills.

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T-20 days!

I’ve recovered from my end-of-trip meltdown last month, and I’m getting really excited to be home!  I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’m looking forward to:

My very own bathroom – For a whole year I’ve used public restrooms with the occasional break to use the bathroom in someone else’s home.  I’m not sure I can express just how excited I am to use my own bathroom with an actual door and thick, fluffy, soft toilet paper.  I’m also really excited to take a shower with reliable hot water, constant water pressure and a showerhead that neither spritzes nor pressure-washes and doesn’t require quarters or a button push every 30 seconds!

Crystal clear, cold, chlorine-free water – We’ve imbibed brown water, salty water, swimming-pool-levels-of-chlorine water, hot water, slimy water and potentially toxic water that ran through questionable RV park plumbing.  Sometimes I actually dream about having a cool glass of filtered water from my refrigerator.

Dishwasher – After a year of living with only one plate, bowl, cup, fork, spoon and knife for each of us, I’m looking forward to not only having a cupboard full of dishes, but the magic machine that makes them sparkly clean at the touch of a button.  I’ve decided that I will put EVERYTHING in the dishwasher from here on out.  No more hand washing for me.  Well…maybe not wooden spoons.

Kitties – Robbie and I have both been caught chasing reluctant cats through RV parks in an attempt to earn a little feline love.  This energy must be more healthfully channeled toward our own crazy kitties.  I wonder if they’ll remember us!

PCC and a fully stocked kitchen – In the absence of reliable, fresh, organic food, we’ve opted to stick with a few simple basics.  Oh, how I long for a little culinary diversity.  It might be years before I can purchase anything canned!

And last, but not least… friends and family! – It’s hard to believe we’ve been away a whole year.  I remember so clearly the day we drove away from our home.  The closer we get, the more excited I am to see everyone!

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Day 348 – Feeling bad in the Badlands

Plan A: For the last few days I’ve been battling an annoying cold.  Our first day in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park I decided to hang out in the Twinkie and rest while C and Robbie did a junior ranger program and a short hike.

The Notch Trail

The Notch Trail

I wanted to save my energy for a big hike the next day.  Temperatures were in the low 90s, and the single pane windows in the Twinkie offer little protection from the scorching sun.  So I stuffed most of our pillows into the windows and secured them with binder clips to the curtains.  Voila!  Instant insulation.  I managed to rest a little in the toasty Twinkie, but when C and Robbie returned, C had a sore throat.  We had another severe storm warning that night, but thankfully it passed us by and gave us a spectacular light show.

Storm's a brewin'

Storm’s a brewin’ (note the pillows in the window)

Plan B: We decided to put the hike off for a day and take a low-key tour of Minuteman Missile National Historical Site.  Robbie got up early to get tour tickets and we spent the morning hanging out in the Twinkie, avoiding the heat.  Mid-morning, C said she felt a little weird and proceeded to barf all over the table.  So much for our tour tickets.  Since she was running a fever and outside temps were in the mid-90s, we stuffed the remaining pillows in the windows and cranked the A/C in an effort to make her more comfortable in her misery.  We’d only used the A/C twice before, and then only for a couple of minutes to cool the Twinkie off before bed.  It’s REALLY loud, and by the end of the day I felt like I’d been on a transcontinental flight!  But I’m so glad we had it.  Thankfully C’s fever broke shortly before bedtime.

Plan C: After being unable to keep down food or water for a day, we knew there was no way C would be up for a long hike anytime soon.  Since she was feeling much better, we once again got tickets for Minuteman.  It turned out to be an incredibly cool tour of the underground bunker that housed the Air Force personnel responsible for launching nuclear missiles during the Cold War.  Though many have been decommissioned due to the START Treaty, identical ones still exist for the nuclear missiles that remain.  Seeing the place where total Armageddon might have started was a powerful experience.  But in true Intrepid Explorer style, we had to do a little goofing off.

Who gave Robbie the key?!?

Who gave Robbie the key?!?

Since a long hike was out of the question, we decided to hit the road.  Being unable to get out into the park made me appreciate just how much I’m not a “vista point” traveler.  Though we got to see much of the beauty of Badlands during the scenic drive,  I feel like I didn’t really experience the park.  It makes me all the more grateful for the other experiences we’ve had so far!

 

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