Posts Tagged ‘national_parks’


Last weekend, with Bo and his brother off to New Mexico for an earthen building event, I decided it was time to see more of this state that is fairly new to me.  So, I packed Joda and a bunch of stuff into the car and drove south.  And drove, and drove, and drove, and then drove some more.

The destination was Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, a place I don’t think I was even aware of before a few months ago, when a native Coloradan friend of mine said it’s “really cool” and that I should see it sometime (of course, my parents reminded me that they visited it in 1992 while on a massive cross-country family road trip, which I missed because I was working.  So, I must have heard of it before now but then forgot.  See how old and forgetful I’m getting?).

At any rate, the 200+ mile drive took more than 5 hours and it was nearly 4:00 in the afternoon before we arrived.  The wind was roaring, the sand surface was 101 degrees fahrenheit, and the campground was full– almost.  A cub scout troop had abandoned their group site a day early, so I shared it with a few other women and a couple.  Of course, I forgot to bring tent stakes.  Since I had a backpacking tent that only stands up if the stakes are in, this was a bit of a challenge.  Luckily, I was able to improvise with rocks, sticks, a towstrap attached to a tree, and a couple of screwdrivers I found in the car.  I imagine I looked pretty comical, however, working on one side of the tent while the other side pulled its makeshift stake out and started to blow away.  Finally I put some heavy stuff inside the tent and felt confident that it would stay put while Joda and I hiked the nature trail, which had the virtue of being between two walls of thick shrubbery that blocked the wind and kept the trail cool.  When we got back from this excursion, there was a law enforcement officer at my campsite.  He said my tent was out of bounds and that it needed to be above the rock border.  To be fair, he was nice about it, and there were actually signs informing people of this rule, but they were only noticeable if you were standing above the rock border, which I failed to do as I plotted out my tree-rock-sticks strategy while trying to stay as close to the car as possible.  Since Joda is not a very good tent companion, she always stays in the car when we camp.  I put the back seats down and make a giant bed space for her, and she is always eager to get into the car for the night– though that is probably because she’s getting to be so fuddy-duddy and routine-fixated, and the car is the only familiar part of her environment when we are camping.

In the evening, the wind died down and it was dead calm.  Ahh!  Joda and I walked into the dunes area, and the sand was a pleasant temperature for both of us.  I enjoyed the fact that this is one of the few national park areas that allows people relatively unfettered access to the primary resource it preserves.  Instead of a trail to see the dunes, there is a trail-less dunes area.  Medano Creek, which brings the sandy sediments down from the Sangre de Cristo mountains (eventually the Medano sort of trickles away, and the sand is left behind to be blown back toward the mountains, thereby forming the dunes) is a popular place for families to hang out.  I saw a few plastic beach buckets and pails laying by the entry to the dunes area.  When it seems like so many popular visiting spots are covered with signs saying “No <this>” and “No <that>”, it’s nice to visit a place where that is less the case.

After our early morning dip in the creek, we got in the car to head home.  Yes, dear readers, the wind was starting to howl again, and even though we’d only been in the park for 15 hours of our ultimately 26 hour trip, it was time to head north.  This time we took a different route from the one we’d taken the day before.  Both drives were spectacular.  I traveled through the Rocky mountains, along the headwaters areas of the Arkansas and Platte rivers, and through countless level valleys ringed by majestic mountains, and I saw rocks that are red, pink, white, grey, brown, and black.We stopped at the Royal Gorge just to see what it looks like.  The viewpoint area was packed with tourists buying expensive tickets to ride the aerial tram across, ride the scenic railroad, and even just to walk across the bridge.  Tucked way off to the side was a worn out path down to a viewpoint where one could just marvel at the expanse of the gorge.

When we got home in mid-afternoon, Joda bounded out of the car and happily resumed her place in wherever it is that she usually spends the afternoon.  Exhausted from having her routine so interrupted, she slept soundly for most of the rest of the day.  I guess for her, the weekend was just a tedious series of hours inside the car for no apparent reason, wind blowing sand up her nose (she is still snuffling and weezing), and a few different smells.  I, on the other hand, was dazzled by the variety and grandeur of our new home.


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…Or at least it seems that way lately.  First it was watching the movie Thunderheart, which I seem to get a hankering to see every few years: all that footage of the South Dakota badlands reminds me so sharply of my days there as a seasonal park ranger in my early 20’s.

Badlands NP, 1993

Then there was the NY Times interview with Beverly Cleary that took me back even further, to 4th grade visits to the school library, where our librarian, Mrs. B. (I can’t remember her full name, but she was probably about 26 years old at the time), read us stories of Henry and Beezus and Ramona.  The Times book review staffer who did the interview reminisced about Cleary’s books as well as those of Judy Blume, saying that she could still remember exactly where they were located in her school library.  Amazing! those two authors are tightly associated with my 4th-5th-6th grade years– and with Mrs. B., who probably introduced them both to us.

a few years and a few series before Beverly Cleary

Finally, while driving around on Saturday morning, I caught this story on NPR, about Nirvana and the 20th anniversary of the beginnings of grunge music.  I didn’t live in the Pacific Northwest until the end of the 1990s, but I can still remember hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” pounding through the walls of my seasonal apartment in the Badlands during the summer of 1993.  I had never paid much attention to grunge before, but I walked next door and asked my neighbor for a grunge mix tape.

Seattle 2007, UW Arboretum

Of course, by the time I lived in Seattle in 2007, the era of grunge was long over.  This was a main point of the NPR story, which pointed out the irony that it was in part the fame and notoriety of bands like Nirvana that brought attention to Seattle and environs, and that this contributed to its renewed popularity, stronger economy, higher rents, and the end of cheap nightlife venues… thereby eliminating grunge’s natural habitat.

Nostalgia has been defined as “sadness without an object”.  It’s also associated with the Greek words for pain (algia) and with the idea of home (nostos).  In my case, it probably just means that I’ve been away from my comfort zone in Oregon long enough that my unconscious is panicking a bit at my apparently unmoored state.  Suddenly I am in the mindset to reminisce, to long for the past, to feel utterly clearly how I felt on that day I first drove into the Badlands, the thrill of that distorted guitar sound through the apartment wall, the eagerness of my friends and me as we waited for Mrs. B to read the next installment of the kids on Klickitat Street to us.

When almost every experience and every setting is suddenly new, I seem to develop the need to grasp at something familiar, a known quantity.  What is more familiar than my memories, especially the ones I’ve gone over many times?  So yes, the past is always there.  It’s just waiting for the moment when I need to summon it up, and it comes flooding back.

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Golden Dome CaveAbout 45 minutes south of Klamath Falls, just over the California border,  is Lava Beds National Monument.  It’s a strange, flat landscape dotted with cinder cones and littered with dark brown basalt rock.  When you look a little closer, you realize that it is also littered with lava tube caves.

In my opinion, the caves are a nice thing to have around here, where daytime temperatures often reach 100+ in the summer and any given day is likely to be marked by unpredictable high winds, clouds of tiny midges or buzzing mosquitoes, rain, or snow.  The caves, for the most part, provide respite from all these elements, while still offering a change to explore and have fun doing something particular to the area.

The photo above is the entrance to Golden Dome cave, which didn’t seem very special at first, but once we had walked in about 1,000 feet– very slowly, as our eyes adjusted to the minimal light coming from our headlamps and our feet got used to the jagged, rocky floor– we saw the reason for the cave’s name.  The ceiling and walls of the cave are colonized by hydrophobic yellow bacteria, and when rainwater drips down through cracks in the ground, they shine like veins of gold.

Sunshine CaveWe explored Sunshine Cave, in which the roof has collapsed in a few places, letting in sunlight and allowing vegetation to grow.  I think my favorite cave of the day, that I hope to go back to again, was Valentine Cave.  It was discovered on Valentine’s Day in 1933, and is younger than the other caves we explored.  Most of it is very large, with smooth floors.  Right at the entrance is a huge round column connecting the floor and the ceiling, where the lava flow went completely around the rock.  Here’s a photo, though it might be hard to see the giant rock column.Valentine Cave

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