Friday, December 31, 2010

Shasta At Dawn

We arrived back from Los Angeles yesterday evening to a nice surprise of snow in Mill Creek. After leaving our friends’ house on the Rancho Palos Verdes peninsula, we bounced North and West along the coastal beach towns all the way to Santa Barbara, then passed through Solvang on our way towards San Jose. A gigantic storm system was hurtling itself at Sacramento and we started running into showers about the time we saw the artichoke and garlic fields around Gilroy. By the time we crossed the Martinez Straits, we were being rocked by 30 mph side winds and pelted by solid sheets of rain. In Walnut Grove I still felt alert enough to make it to Redding so I called our favorite place there to reserve a room. After 14 hours of driving, a bed never looked so good. We left Redding early. Dawn was breaking over Lake Shasta as we passed by Turntable Bay. Scattered remnants of the overnight storm were nestled in the valleys like giant rolls of cotton candy, pierced by the tips of giant evergreen trees. As we descended the Gilman Grade we soon found ourselves under the rolls of fog, and were rewarded by the occasional ray from the sun, still low in the sky, blazing along a canyon floor and lighting the hanging clouds from the inside. Fresh snow blanketed the higher peaks. When I told my colleagues at work that we were planning on driving to LA and back over Christmas, they asked why we just didn’t fly. The answer, my friends, is in the experiencing, first hand, of the power and the beauty and the grandeur wrought by a Force far greater than we.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Miatas In Moab IV, Part Three

The road had tumbled down off the La Sal Mountains in steep drops, hair-pin curves, and the occasional off-camber sweeper, and I was having a great time – when I could ignore Marilyn’s screams, that is, as she “enjoyed” the stunning vistas with the crystal clarity that comes with the absence of any guard rails! Bedrock is in the flat bottom lands and from there you can see back to the La Sal’s, and you start to get a hint that you are in for a treat. A couple arrived in separate SUV’s, each with a bike and a kayak on the top and a large dog inside – It was time to take our leave – Bedrock was about to be overrun!

We made the turn at Naturita and headed North again towards Gateway and Grand Junction. This part of the trip is through the Dolores River Canyon – a road neither of us had ever been on before. It was easily the prettiest part of our trip, with a twisty road, spectacular rock formations, a clear river, and even some historical sights. Back in the late 1800’s someone found some gold and had the bright idea of forming a company to build a set of “hanging flumes” to bring water five miles along the canyon wall to the placer deposit. The flume is hung from a shear vertical canyon wall, and was such a feat of engineering that it is listed on the register of historical places. Much of the flume structure is still there, and can be viewed from several pullouts along the road. In the end, the gold company went bankrupt from the cost of building the flume, and the lack of gold; the deposit played out too quickly to even break even.

Along with the usual metal and minerals, some “yellow cake” (low-grade Uranium ore) was also mined in small scale operations in the canyon, and the tailings can be seen as you drive along. I have a friend whose family was involved in Uranium mining near this area of Colorado. When he had to get a Secret Clearance, the case worker had to go talk to all his past neighbors. He told the case worker that his town had so much radiation from the miners tracking it back that the EPA dug up the entire town site and buried everything, and then covered it over. There would be nothing left of his home town. During the follow-up, the case worker told him he was right – he had never seen anything like that before – an entire town literally wiped off the map!

But don’t let that stop you from visiting the Dolores River Canyon – the entire area is headed for Wilderness designation, and is covered with miles of hiking trails. Just out of the canyon proper is the little town of Gateway. The story we heard is that the town was built by the founder of The Discovery Channel to house his automobile collection, and to provide a destination in a beautiful spot. It is all modern and new, and we had a light lunch but could not stay because we were running low on time and we still wanted to stop at my step mothers’ house. I called her and explained we were running late and would not be able to stay long, but she told us she was glad we got to see the Dolores canyon – it was one of her favorite spots and she has spent most of her life on the “Western Slope”, as this area of Colorado is known.

We had a too-short visit and then we were off back to the Red Rock Inn for the closing banquet. Mazda had done themselves proud and we all got a goodie bag with a nice coffee table book on the history of the MX-5 Miata, a coffee cup that changes color with heat, bottled water, Miata pins and stickers, and so forth. They sent six pallets of stuff to the gathering, and the Utah Miata Club, Salt Lake Chapter, made the trek down in March, tops down!, to take delivery and separate it out. The winery at Red Rocks Inn let them use their loading dock, and stored the goodies until we all arrived to cart them away. Nice people, both at Mazda, and at Red Rocks Inn.

We ended up sharing a table and bottle of excellent wine with a couple from the other Puget Sound area Miata club, but their names escape me. Once dinner was done, we headed back towards Moab along the river, filled with lots of memories and good food.

The drive home was “fastest time, shortest distance” and we made the 900 mile drive to Richland in just under 18 hours, where we decided that trying to make it the last 4 hours to home was not worth it. Google Maps and Susie-Q, our Garmin Nuvi 660 navigation unit, said we should do it in about 14 hours, but we stop for meals and soft drinks fairly often and don’t over do it. I did all the driving and can say with certainty that the “NC” model, the third generation, is much more comfortable than the “NB”. I loved our 10th Anniversary Special Miata, but Miss Daisy is a whole other level of comfort. The NC is a little harder to get in and out of due to the increased safety afforded by the steel beams in the door and door sills. It is a bit like sitting in a pan, like many other modern cars. However, once I get in, I have support in all the right places. I can drive for hours before I need to get out to stretch, then I can get right back in and drive for more hours. I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures. See you along the road!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Miatas In Moab IV, Part Two

The red jeeps were sitting outside a convenience store just out of town the last time I saw them, but now they became rapidly growing red dots in my rear-view mirror as we headed up the narrow canyon. Construction equipment, towering walls of red-rock on the right, drop offs to the Colorado River below on the left – none of that deterred the testosterone fueled rent-a-jeep jockeys as they whipped back and forth through and around our small Miata caravan. A small cry of relief escaped Marilyn’s lips as the last of them barely squeezed between the lead Miata and an oncoming diesel pickup towing a trailer full of river rafts – and then they flew up the canyon and were out of sight in a blink. We were on Day One ( Friday ) of Miatas In Moab IV, on our way to a very special group of arches in BLM land just outside of Arches National Park. Bow Tie Arch and Corona Arch are reachable via a short drive out of Moab and then a 1.5 mile trail, most of it over “slick rock”. The lower part of the trail is fairly easy, the way marked by rock cairns, but the upper part is reachable only by a climb up a ladder set vertically into the rock and a scramble over uneven surfaces before it smoothes out again. The arches are visible from the end of the lower trail, but for the full impact, it is well worth the climb and scramble to reach the weeping garden wall kept moist from the slow seep below Bow Tie and the magnificent spectacle of Corona. I recommend you take the following link to get a feel for this very special place. These were the only arches we saw this trip, as we had hiked extensively in Arches National Park during our previous visit four years ago when we attended Miatas In Moab, The Sequel.

This time we wanted to take a drive by ourselves to see my step-mother and step-sister who live in Grand Junction, Colorado. There was to be a drive called “Run Round the Mountains” on Sunday morning, but we were planning on leaving that day, so we hatched our own plan – and that is exactly what the planners of MiM-IV had in mind, as there were not a lot of planned drives – this time you were encouraged to amuse yourselves. We decided to take this one planned drive and hike because it is nice to go with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic leader. On the way back he stopped to point out petroglyphs along side the road – which we surely would have missed had we been on our own.

We went back to the Canyonlands Inn to change clothes, and to buy some Miata goodies. Thompson Automotive showed up with Miata Hawaiian Shirts, and those were easily the most popular of all the Miata-themed merchandise. The first time I wore mine at a PSMC event, I was inundated with questions as to where I got it. Here’s a link to where you can get your own:

Then it was off to a good lunch at the Moab Brewery and then a visit to “Hole in the Rock, a tourist trap which was originally the 5000 sq. ft. home hollowed out of a huge rock formation by a hard rock miner for his wife. The tour was short but interesting, and the grounds were filled with interesting things to pose by and take pictures of. We stayed longer than we had planned, and had a great time for being somewhere so tacky!

That evening the storm clouds rolled in and the Western Show and Gun Fight complete with a rubber chicken being shot out of the sky, just barely ended before the wind calmed and the rain started. We were at the Bar-M Chuckwagon, where you are served cowboy-style on tin plates and cups, over a gravel floor, and on rows of picnic tables. It was all good fun, and the food was OK, but in my opinion, the musical show after dinner was the best part. All four of the principals are accomplished musicians, and it shows. The music was Cowboy, the ambiance was Country, and the jokes were Corny. When they played and sang “Cool Water”, they encouraged audience participation by breaking out Super-Soaker water pistols and soaking down anyone not singing along to the refrain, “Cool, Clear, Wa-ter”! As the night progressed we found that the owner, who played the marshal in the opening gun fight, plays lead guitar, is also the lead vocalist, and is camp cook, as well. The other three are equally adept at various roles, and it was a treat to be part of their dream living the Western Way. The Bar-M Chuckwagon – check it out here:

The next day we enjoyed a very good breakfast at Canyonlands – they have really done a nice job of turning a small meeting room and open area into a kitchen and eating area, and the food was great, especially considering it was part of your room. Then we headed South out of town towards the La Sal Mountains. We had heard about a cute General Store in Bedrock just over the border in Colorado, so stopped there – it may have been cute and bustling once, but the store was for sale, and it has clearly seen its better days. Still, we were glad we stopped to take a few pictures and spend a little cash, because these little stores are fast disappearing from the landscape.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Miatas In Moab IV, Part One

They don’t call Hwy 50 through Nevada “The Loneliest Highway in The US” without good reason, and we are six miles off that road on a jeep track. Miss Daisy, our 2009 Competition Yellow MX5 Miata doesn’t even have 2000 miles on her odometer, and I don’t think she is too happy with my taking her out in the rough. I’m hoping she doesn’t get even with me by having a flat – It’s a long way from where we are to anywhere and I think the buzzards have taken an interest in us… The sign back at the highway (if you can call two-lane blacktop a “highway” – that’s as good as Hwy 50 gets) said we could see earthquake faults just six miles away. Well, heck, we are on day three of our journey, behind schedule (our usual state of affairs on road trips), and Miatas are not known for off-road capability – “Sure, I’d like to see them, too”, I had replied to Marilyn’s request. This area near Fairview Peak had experienced a magnitude 7.1 earthquake on December 16th, 1954. The area we are in has some of the largest and best preserved fault scarps I have ever seen. While the average displacement in this extensive system of faults had been 1.2 meters, here they are over 5 meters. We would like to hike up to the area showing the greatest displacement, but we choose to take some pictures and point Miss Daisy back towards the highway – we have a lot of miles still to go before we reach our destination in Moab.

It all started some months ago when I decided to try to get a room for “Miatas In Moab IV”, to be held May 14-16, the fourth in what has become a bi-yearly event put on by the Utah Miata Club. We had enjoyed “Miatas In Moab, the Sequel” (it was the second time they had put on this event), and wanted to find some dry roads and sunshine, and introduce Miss Daisy to about 225 of her kin folk. Now for those of you who have gone on one of our drives know, if there is a back road between Point A and Point B, even if that road takes you through Points C, D, E, and F, that’s probably the route we will take. In our case, the “points” were Bend Oregon and Virginia City, Fallon, and Ely Nevada. If you put those towns in Google Maps you will see that instead of the nice straight diagonal between Seattle and Moab, you will have the “other two” sides of the triangle, with the turn at Virginia City.

The first day was mostly a shake down; it was the first long trip in Miss Daisy, and we had left directly from work – it was late when we got into Bend, and early when we left. Day two took us along Hwy 97 through the “Oregon Outback” – which is a very apt description. We made sure we kept the tank topped off, as there are several long stretches of road without operating gas stations. Just after entering California we found a place making plum wine like my grandfather used to make, so we stopped for a tasting and of course a few bottles to take back. We hit Reno at rush hour and were glad to escape the traffic to turn up the steep and winding narrow road into Virginia City. Even though many shops had closed, there were enough still open to give us a chance to stretch our legs as we poked about the old antique mining gear, sundries, clothes, and tools from a bygone era. Everyone we asked about restaurants mentioned the same place and so we had a wonderful dinner of Mexican Fried Pork, Chile-smothered Burritos, and Margaritas. Heading East down off the pass, it is only another 60 miles until we reach our motel room in Fallon. Fallon is home to one of our “Top Gun” fighter schools. Exhausted but amused, we can only wonder what maneuvers our “Top Guns” have performed in this room, where every wall is covered with mirrors…

Breakfast the next day is at a wonderful 50’s style diner. It’s got fast service, good food, and has a menu and d├ęcor, and jukebox, that transport us back to simpler days. We finally realize that we on a vacation, however short, and we are looking forward to some of the stops we have planned along Hwy 50. We noticed an espresso shop and gas station next door to the diner, so we get some high octane for Miss Daisy and high test for us, wipe the bugs off the windshield, and take Hwy 50 East out of town. Tonight we have reservations in Moab.

The plan is to stop at each of the towns between Fallon and Ely, and see the charcoal ovens outside of Ely before continuing on into Utah where we will eventually catch the I-15 and I-70 Superslabs – we figure we should get to Moab in time to get registered for MiM-IV. Now, we’ve done some research and so we can pick out points of interest, like the huge sand dune where folks play with their jeeps and sand rails. We’re buzzing right along and I start figuring the distance to Middleton when Marilyn points out the sign to the earthquake faults. Now I’m a sucker for geological features, and six miles doesn’t sound too bad, and the jeep track looks pretty good, and that’s how we ended up outside of Fallon, Nevada, six miles off the highway, on a jeep track, in our new Miata, with a blown schedule.

Besides being “Lonely”, Hwy 50 is interesting for two other reasons. First, a large portion of it was an alignment of the Lincoln Highway, which was the first coast-to-coast highway in America. There are several original or replica Lincoln Highway sign posts along Hwy 50. The Lincoln Highway, in turn, followed several popular emigrant trails, including the Oregon Trail, the Pony Express Route, and the Mormon Trail. Middleton is an original Pony Express stop. Second, this area of the country is known as the “Basin and Range”, because it consists of North-South valleys, or basins, separated by steep and high mountain ranges. Each range seems to have some little town built around one or another mining operation.

Middleton, however, is in the middle of a “basin”, and was situated here because a spring nearby provided water for the horses used by the Pony Express Riders. We stop for a soft drink and are amazed by the dollar bills, each with a name or names written on them, covering the ceiling of the only building in Middleton, which serves as gas station, restaurant, general store, rest stop, and tourist attraction. There are buggies, old car parts, and old tools and mining equipment strewn about, and across the road is what appears to be an original Lincoln Highway sign. We would have liked to stay longer, but the siren call of the road calls to us. Zoom-zoom and off we go.

And zoom-zoom we do, as most of the road in the basins is arrow-straight and there is no one else out there. At one point I saw the speedo was indicating, well, pretty darn fast, OK?, before Marilyn noticed and started “talking” to me. Like most men, I would rather eat broken glass than be “talked to”, so I dropped Miss Daisy well back into double digits and we enjoyed the rest of the ride into Ely; along the way we made brief stops in the several mining towns and dodged the weather we could see off in the distance. Outside of Ely we saw the signs to the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Site, but alas, it was too far off the road and we did not have enough time. Likewise with Great Basin National Park. And the site we heard about where you can collect your very own garnets. We will have to come this way again.

It was dark when we reached the Interstate. We stopped at the last restaurant before Green River, a stretch of 200 no-services miles, then turned south and arrived in Moab just before midnight, local time. The entire parking lot was full of Miatas – Miss Daisy sighed contentedly and we all went to sleep. Next up: Arches, Gun Fights, Hanging Flumes, Pallets of Goodies, and Grand Junction.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pre-dawn run, Miatas in Moab II

You briefly take your eyes off the black ribbon of asphalt unwinding before you to exchange silly grins with your well-bundled co-pilot -- words are just whipped away by the icy-cold wind. Your Sapphire Blue Miata is near the end of a long line of speeding Miatas, tops down, heaters blasting, in the darkest hour before dawn, and a crescent moon and billions of stars twinkle in the cold desert sky. You see the line of nimble roadsters stretching into the distance, their head and tail lights painting a moving, twisting undulating line in the night as they gracefully crest hills, swoop through turns, and disappear briefly in the hollows, only to reappear already turning over the top of the next rise, and all the while being bathed in a crescendo of richly varied exhaust notes and alternating heat and cold as the slipstream holds, then releases, your little bubble of warm air. Mile after mile, turn after turn, this mob of Miatas swarms through the night; straight-aways, when encountered, are taken at eye-watering speeds to close the gaps, then a flurry of fast shifts makes your tach needle bounce toward the red, a stab of brakes to set the suspension and then you zoom-zoom through the turn and into the next set of twisties. Time seems to stand still on this ancient track as you and your passenger follow a leader somewhere far ahead and lost to sight towards some mysterious destination; then you notice the hectic pace slowing and there they are. You see fifty or more Miatas packing a small car park, spilling out along the road, taking refuge where they can in the gray pre-dawn, all is hushed now but for the tinking and clinking of hot engines beginning to cool, muffled sounds of doors shutting, quiet conversation, and now the steady tread of drivers and navigators turned pedestrian walking quickly yet quietly towards the goal, arriving just as the sun starts it's climb out of the canyon depths framed against the glowing purple dawn by magnificent Mesa Arch.

That's the way it happened, during the second Miatas in Moab tour, 14 May 2005.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Some corrections, and an addition

Back when I was talking about the Wagon Wheel Ruts in Wyoming, I miss-stated the name of the cliff where past travelers carved their names. It was not "Record Cliff", it was "Register Cliff". In looking for some pictures of what we saw, I came across the following site, which I will also add to the affected posting. Thanks to Daniel for his permission to link to his site.

The site includes pictures of both Register Cliff name carvings, and the ruts cut in stone.

I think I have all the other typos out, now, too.