Friday, July 29, 2016

Nevada Beyond the Neon: The Ruby Crest Trail

          Remember the "word association" game?  If I say the word "Desert", for example, you might say "Cactus" or "Sahara".  (Or Nevada.)
         Now let's try the game with the word "Alps".  What word or place did you think of—Switzerland perhaps?  It might take some time before someone would say "Eastern Nevada".  But that's just where the mountains called "America's Alps" are found.

         The Ruby Crest Trail is a 32 mile-long hiking, backpacking and equestrian route across the Ruby Mountains.  I've hiked only a few miles of it but those beginning miles gave an outstanding glimpse of what this trail has to offer: alpine lakes, rocky summits, aspen-lined creeks and wildflower meadows.

The trail begins in the open meadow of Lower Lamoille Canyon.

The trail passes rushing Lamoille Creek.
Views downstream of Lamoille Canyon grow more
impressive with each step.

Switchbacks along the mountainside lead to
Lamoille Lake.

Lamoille Lake is cradled in a deep snow-filled gouge in the
West edge of Upper Lamoille Canyon.

         The next time you're socializing with friends on your deck—playing word association or a similar game—impress them with your knowledge of names and places associated with the word "alps" by mentioning Nevada's Ruby Mountains; you can't lose.

         Note:  Global climate change is affecting mountain ranges worldwide and the Rubies are no exception.  Snow no longer dominates the ridge lines in July as it did in this collection of photos from 1999.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Nevada Beyond the Neon: Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge


         Can you tell a ruby from a garnet?  I can't, and neither could early settlers who inhabited this sweeping valley in Northeastern Nevada.  This case of misidentification was responsible for the places now called Ruby Valley, Ruby Mountains, and Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

         More than 200 springs feed Ruby Lake's 37,632 acres, supplemented by snowmelt from the mountains bordering the refuge.  The marshes are host to nesting sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, and white-faced ibis, egrets and herons.  Songbirds inhabit the brushy areas around the springs, and raptors patrol the marshes and upland meadows in search of a meal.  The refuge serves both the Pacific and the Central migration corridors and thousands of ducks fly through during spring and fall.
         Dikes around the marshes support monster trout from the state run fish hatchery.

Tim fly-fishes the dikes around the marsh.

A Yellow-headed Blackbird sings from the reeds.

Snowy Egret.

A Great Blue Heron,  hoping to catch a fish.

White-faced Ibis stroll the marsh.

         The red stones found here were actually garnets and some of them still exist in the area.  If you go in search of the precious stones be aware that most of them are only a few millimeters in diameter.  But whether you're seeking garnets—or just one of the loveliest spots in North America—don't miss this gem of a place.

South Ruby Campground, nestled at the base of the
Ruby Mountains, is the perfect base camp for exploration
of the surrounding area.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Nevada Beyond the Neon: Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

         I nominate Berlin-Ichthyosaur for America’s oddest-named state park.  However, considering that many state parks are named to celebrate either history or scenery—Fremont Indian and Kodachrome Basin State Parks in Utah, for instance—perhaps this remote Nevada state park’s appellation suits it perfectly.

         Let’s break down the park’s unusual hyphenated name and unearth the linkage between the two.  

First, Berlin: 
         Given the chance to strike it rich from precious metals mining in the late 1800s, a town and all its infrastructure materialized before you could say “failed gold and silver mine”.  The town of Berlin, with it’s less-than-successful production, was born and died in little more than a decade between the late 1890s and early 1900s.  
         The townsite remained largely ignored for 50 years before being established as a state park in 1957.  Today the park service maintains Berlin in a state of “arrested decay”.  

         The Berlin ghost town tour is a self-guided journey into the past, through old mill sites and homesteads.
         The miners left in a hurry when the mills closed, without looking back or taking the time to pack.  Furniture, bottles, canned goods, cooking utensils, tools—even a jar of rattlesnake tails—all were left behind in their cabins.  Only in a state as dry and sparsely populated as Nevada could these treasures be preserved for visitors to enjoy and discover decades later.

Berlin Townsite.  The buildings from over 100 years ago are
well-preserved.  Notice the long and lonely entrance to the park.

The townspeople even left their cars intact!

Second, Ichthyosaur:
         A vast inland sea once covered most of the state of Nevada.  Inhabiting this sea were giant creatures, part fish and part lizard.  The sea lizards hung around for 160 million years or so, through the Mesozoic and Jurassic periods, becoming extinct during the late Cretaceous period.  
         Their bones were covered by thousands of feet of mud and slime, which later hardened into shale and then uplifted.  For tens of millions of years the shale eroded, exposing the prehistoric fossilized bones.  

         Enter those gold and silver miners, a few of whom discovered "rocks" shaped surprisingly like bowls.  You guessed it.  The peculiar rocks, used by miners as water dishes for their dogs, were later identified as vertebrae from the long-ago fish-lizards. 

         Dozens of fossilized ichthyosaur skeletons have been excavated near Berlin and thus these two historic sites—one of them 100 years old and the other 100 million years old—are explicitly linked.

The 60-foot long Ichthyosaurs were abundant and were the
largest animals of their time.

         Odd name or not, Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is well off the beaten path but worth a visit if you’re traveling through central Nevada.

Up the road from Berlin townsite the park
provides fourteen delightful campsites
with sheltered picnic tables.
A quarter mile nature trail leads to the fossil quarry.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Nevada Beyond the Neon: Great Basin National Park

         Mention Nevada and most people think of Las Vegas, that pulsing, energetic disco ball of a city.  By contrast, Nevada’s backcountry is relaxed and quiet, a place where the pace is not feverish disco but leisurely waltz, where light is provided not by pulsating strobes but by the soft glow of the sun and the moon.

         One Day in America’s most recent post introduced readers to US Highway 50 in Nevada, called the “loneliest road in America”.   
         This post begins a series highlighting places to go and things to see and do when you leave the highway and enter the spaces in between, those landscapes of sweeping views, endless skies, and room to breathe.

         We’ll begin our tour of Nevada with Great Basin National Park.  If it’s solitude you crave, then this is the national park for you.  Located near the tiny town of Baker, the park is little-visited.  I’ll prove it to you by quoting this statistic, which divides annual visitation by the number of days in a year:  

Average # of visitors per day to Yellowstone National Park:  11,000
Average # of visitors per day to  Great Basin National Park:        250

         Don’t get me wrong, Yellowstone is a great park—especially in the off-season.  But Great Basin holds many treasures of its own, including:  

1)  Lehman Caves.  This geological wonder of highly decorated marble and limestone formations may be explored with a guided park service tour.  
2)  Wheeler Peak.  At 13,063’, this is the second highest mountain in Nevada.  An 8.6 mile round trip hike will take you to the summit and back.
3)  Bristlecone Pines.  These ancient trees, several thousands of years old, stand proudly along the 2.8 mile Bristlecone trail.
4)  Lexington Arch.  An uphill climb of 1.5 miles leads to this six-story limestone arch.

Classic basin and range territory.
View from the road to Great Basin National Park.

Close-up of Wheeler Peak on an autumn day.

View from the Glacier Trail, a continuation of the
Bristlecone Pine Trail.

A magnificent Bristlecone Pine.
This tree could be 3000-5000 years old.

Lexington Arch as seen from the trail on a snowy
November day.

Have I convinced you to explore Nevada beyond the neon?  I hope so.  This summer the national park service celebrates its 100th birthday.  If you have a must-see list of national parks, put Great Basin near the top of that list.  You won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Two Lonely Highways: US 50 in Nevada and US 40 in Colorado

         Highway 50 undulates through a continuous landscape of basin and range in Nevada—our most mountainous state.  And everywhere, in the distance, the ridges and peaks and long spreading valleys in hues of lavender, cornflower, cinnamon, goldenrod and slate.  Thirty years ago a Life magazine reporter christened this highway the “Loneliest Road in America”.

         But is it?

         Several hundred miles to the east another road vies for the title of America's “Loneliest”.

         In northwestern Colorado a stretch of US Highway 40 winds its way for 90 miles through high plains and past the tiny towns of Elk Springs, Massadona, and Blue Mountain, each town possessing perhaps a hunting camp and a home or two.  Northwestern Colorado may lack citizenry, but it provides an abundance of wildlife.  Herds of antelope, elk and mule deer roam the plains;  caramel-colored prairie dog colonies pop up from the earth;  birds of prey soar the skies and sit on fence posts, hoping to score a meal of ground squirrel or rabbit.  

         Have a look at these two lonesome ribbons of road:

Mid-day in August along Hwy 50 in Nevada.

Hwy 40 in northwestern Colorado on a weekday afternoon.

          Both highways are rather uncrowded, aren't they?  To compare these two roads for their loneliness quotient I used the somewhat unscientific method of setting the cruise control at 65mph, driving for an hour and counting cars coming in the opposite direction.  I drove Nevada’s Hwy 50 in August and Colorado’s Hwy 40 in September.  To add a bit more authenticity to my study I used the same day—Wednesday, and the same hour— 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.—for both drives.  
         And the result?  
         The number of cars which passed me by during my hour in Nevada: 52.  And in Colorado: 45   So which road is the loneliest?  I conclude the question needs more studying, but both roads more-than-qualify!

         Two-lane highways like these are what driving should be:  fun, entertaining, surprising.  And they remind us of what we’ve lost as our exploding population requires multi-lane super highways with their attendant miles of big box stores and parking lots.  The lonely highways focus our attention not on shopping and traffic but on landscape, wildlife, weather.

          More views from these two remote roadways:

An expanse of uninhabited Nevada.

Abandoned cabin in Northwestern Colorado.

A short-eared owl rests on a fence post while searching for a
meal in Colorado.

         Take the lonely highway challenge:  Find a span of uncrowded two-lane highway where you live.  Focus on your surroundings, whether its the hawk soaring overhead, the farmer driving his tractor through the fields with his dog running alongside, or a hillside blooming with spring flowers.  Oh, and don’t forget to focus on the roadway as well, maybe while conducting your own survey of passing vehicles.  Let me know what you discover.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Five Years: Five Favorite Posts

Five years ago, in March of 2011, 'One Day in America' was launched.  My blogging class instructor commanded us to include a mission statement for our blog.  Mine—shown above—promised to transport readers into the American experience and to inspire them with the joy of travel.  I like to think that with every post I am accomplishing my goal.

To commemorate this blog's 5th anniversary I've chosen five of my favorite posts for re-sharing.


1)  The California Redwood Forests:
Perhaps no other vacation in memory had the transformative effect of my trip to the Redwoods State and National Parks.  A grove of Redwood trees is a reverent place, one of soul-stirring wonder.  As I replied to a commenter:  "If you want to feel small and insignificant—but in the best possible way—visit a Redwood forest."

Unsurpassed grandeur of an old-growth Redwood Grove.

Read about walking among the Redwoods here.


2)  Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge:
Many years ago I spent several days in January at this New Mexico Wildlife Refuge.  The bird life was incredible but the daily sunrises and sunsets were astounding.  I should point out that the photos included in this post—on Kodak slide film—were not altered in any way.

Sandhill Cranes at sunrise.

Click here to view the remarkable dusks and dawns in Bosque Del Apache NWR.


3)  Coyote Buttes on the Utah/Arizona border:
For eons desert winds, along with gravity and water, have been eroding and carving Navajo Sandstone in the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs wilderness area.  The buttes are a stunning example of earth's natural forces at work.  To protect this fragile area, visitation is limited and permits required.  It takes a bit of work to get there, but I highly recommend a visit to this unique geologic wonder.

One of nature's masterpieces in the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs wilderness.

Re-visit the Coyote Buttes by clicking here.


4)  The Hungry Bear Cafe:
Many of my posts deal with travels and experiences in the natural world.
This post, detailing a spontaneous stop along a lonely highway in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, is one of my favorites because I love Halloween, and because it stands as an example of an unplanned stop becoming an unexpected thrill.  To me, this post epitomizes the fun of serendipitous travel.

A little shop of horrors waits within.

Click here to enjoy the offerings of The Hungry Bear Cafe.


5)  Bighorn Sheep in Colorado  (Swept Away on Henson Creek):
I saved the best for last.  I don't know if this is my best-written post, but it still stands as my most memorable outdoor experience.  Why?  For one thing, although I have no children of my own, I felt a remarkable connection to those ewes crying out for their lost lambs.  And for another, I believe I witnessed a miracle that day.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ewe and Lamb, safe along the banks of Henson Creek.

Re-live the drama and the miracle of the Big Horn Sheep along Henson Creek by clicking here.


This month Blogger has added something new.  It's called "Featured Post" and I've displayed my featured post in the upper righthand corner of my blog.  During March, to celebrate spring and the return of the baseball season, I have chosen to feature "Florida's Spring Training Baseball".  Check it out.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Colorado

Cheyenne and Arapaho still return here to pay tribute to
ancestors who both perished and survived the 1864 massacre.

          Many of our national parks inspire awe, motivating visitors to look outward and be wowed by scenic splendor.  Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, established in April of 2007, is not one of those parks.  It asks the visitor to look inward and contemplate man’s inhumanity to man, to absorb the silence and reflect on the lessons to be learned there. 


          A great American tragedy occurred in late November of 1864.  This tragedy is part of our history, but it's not one we schoolchildren learned while studying the European conquest of North America. 

          During the early 1800s the US government signed treaties with Indian nations promising them much of the land on the Great Plains in exchange for safe passage for whites.  After the discovery of gold and other valuable minerals in the area, those treaties were no longer considered convenient (read, profitable). So Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans proclaimed that a new policy take effect in 1864, its mission “... to kill and destroy, as enemies of the country, wherever they may be found, all such hostile Indians”.

          United States volunteer cavalry soldiers such as Colonel John Chivington took that message to heart, and to mean “all Indians, hostile or otherwise”.  On November 28, 1864 Colonel Chivington led a surprise attack on the peaceful Indian settlement of predominately women and children camped at Sand Creek. 

          Two captains with the US Volunteer Cavalry, Joseph Cramer and Silas Soule, refused to take part in the massacre and had their regiments stand down, all the while witnessing this horrific tragedy.  The passage below is taken from letters detailing the eye-witness accounts of captains Cramer and Soule.

“The massacre lasted six or eight hours.  I tell you it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized.  One squaw was wounded and a fellow took a hatchet to finish her, she held her arms up to defend her, and he cut one arm off and held the other with one hand and dashed the hatchet through her brain.  Some tried to escape on the prairie, but most of them were run down by horsemen.  They were all scalped, and as high as half a dozen taken from one head.  They were all horribly mutilated.  One woman was cut open and a child taken out of her, and scalped.”
                                                                                                           --Captain Silas Soule

          After the massacre soldiers paraded the streets of Denver holding body parts in their hands, cheered on by some in the crowd.

          If not for the bravery of Captains Soule and Cramer, the acts described above may have continued unabated.  As it was, these accounts of the massacre led to congressional hearings in 1865 and a new method of dealing with the “Indian problem” was launched.  From this point on our government’s old policy of extermination was replaced by a new policy of assimilation.  This assimilation attempt would be only partially "successful", due to the resilience of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people.


          I should mention that Colonel Chivington has his apologists as does Governor Evans.  I’ve read that the US Cavalry was only doing onto the Indians what was done onto them, that Captains Soule and Cramer had hidden agendas when they wrote their damning accounts of this massacre.  And we’ve all heard this argument:  “All was not peace and love on native lands, you know.  Tribes continually warred with one another.”

          Well, yes.  Humans are a warring species. 

          But, no.  The “everybody’s doing it” excuse CAN NOT justify what happened here. 

          See for yourself.  Travel to Sand Creek, near the town of Chivington—named in "honor" of the savage colonel—in southeastern Colorado.   

          Visit the high plains site where the massacre occurred.  Listen as the breeze rustles the thistles and grasses.  View the meadow below the escarpment, the willowy trees lining the banks of what once was a small stream.  Imagine the camp there, the place where several hundred women, children and retired warriors were promised safe haven by Colorado territory officials.  Remember the atrocities which occurred there, atrocities for which Colonel Chivington and his men were never held accountable.   Then, take heed as the park’s rangers remind you that this place was established with the belief that we’re a better people now, that what happened here could never happen again.

          I would like to believe that too.

Meadow below the escarpment; site of the 1864 Cheyenne and Arapaho
temporary settlement.

Colonel Chivington has a town named for him.
In 1895 the Colorado state legislature re-named a prominent Colorado
mountain peak in honor of the esteemed and murderous Governor Evans.

The least we could do for Cheyenne Chief White Antelope—who raised the white
surrender flag when the US Cavalry approached Sand Creek and who
was mutilated and killed in the attack—was to name this dirt road after him.