Friday, July 29, 2011

Empire of the Summer Moon - book review

We often mention books in our posts, but we've never devoted a post to a single book. We both just finished reading this title and it definately seems worthy.

Empire of the Summer Moon (S.C. Gwynne) is the story of Quanah Parker and the Comanches, the notorious tribe that terrified Texans and pioneers in surrounding regions in the mid 1800's. Thoroughly documented, yet written in a fresh exciting style, the book includes the origins of the Comanche reputation as supreme horsemen and warriors, the history leading up to the young Quanah's rapid rise in power, and follows the war chief 's life to his his eventual death.

Quanaha's mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was kidnapped by the Comanche as a young girl and as much as can be known about her life as the wife as a Comanche chief are included, revealing some little known facts about the Comanche culture. The impact of seemingly unrelated events, such as the Civil War, on the Comanche and the settlers in the region draw a well-knit picture of the nation's history.  It's fascinating reading, and there's much here that should inform our dealings with tribal cultures today.

A great read any time, but especially while traveling in the Texas and Oklahoma areas, where you'll recognize so many of the place names and geographic features described in the narrative. If you tend to avoid historic non-fiction thinking it's dry and boring, this book will change your mind in a hurry!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands, UT

Lots of gnats.
And a few mosquitoes thrown in just for variety.
Thank heavens we have a screen room tent! And there is a lesson learned. We ditched our old, heavy screen tent and bought a new, lighter weight one just before we left. 'Got it on sale for a super great price at a camping store. When we arrived here and decided it would be a good time to set it up, what with all the bugs and all, we laid the bag on the picnic table and unzipped it. Taking the posts out we suddenly were covered with a shower of beach sand. We are nowhere near a beach. It seems the tent had been used before, but not marked "returned". We just count ourselves lucky that there was no damage and no missing parts. Next time we should look as soon as we get home with something like that. . . but of course, we'll forget this lesson by then and do the same thing all over again!

We're camped in Dead Horse Point State Park, high up, with a bit of a view of the canyon edge.

The campground has no water, but there is electricity, and the sites are for the most part quite wide and well arranged. Ours is huge, with two tent pads and a picnic table that would seat 16 easily. All the table shelters have two-sided windbreaks with little cabinets built in. I think that's to protect things from the crows here that seem to be notorious for getting in to things.

We hit the visitor's center the afternoon we arrived so we'd have an overview of the area. At the  visitor's center viewpoint one is treated to the shocking sight of two huge swimming pool blue ponds at the bottom of the canyon.

These are solar evaporation ponds that are part of a potash solution mining process, explained in detail on the placard near the viewpoint. The blue color is due to cobalt that is added to the solution to speed the evaporation process. Once the brine has evaporated the consolidated minerals are collected and trucked out.

The next day we hit all the overlooks and a few short trails. The heat again slowed us down a bit, but we still got some great photos!

This is an amazing place. We're back to the multi-colored wedding cake layers we saw in Nine Mile Canyon, only this time we're on top, looking down, instead of standing in the canyon looking up.

The depth of the canyon and intricate loops in the Colorado River below are absolutely amazing.  For those interested in geology, here's a great diagram of the layers and their ages. It's hard to absorb how very old the landscape is, and what forces were at work over the ten million years it took the river to sculpt it into the wonder we see now.

Dead Horse Point is state property adjoining the much larger National Park, Canyonlands, which has the same geology, but also contains the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers.

A tour of the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands occupied our second full day. The road travels the edge of the canyon on a fairly level mesa, with multiple pull-outs and short trails to view points. There seemed to be a raven perched by the trail to meet us at every stop, and I began to feel we were being followed!

If you think this area resembles the Grand Canyon you are right! It's a bit more photogenic actually, due to being wider and not as deep. The movie industry has taken advantage of that feature and used this area as a stand-in for the Grand Canyon in several movies. The list of movies filmed in the greater Moab area is quite extensive, and a tour to some of the sites is great fun for movie buffs.

Both parks are much less crowded than Arches was, probably due to their greater distance from a major highway - tour buses don't want to swing this far afield.

With plenty of electricity available we've been able to run the air conditioning a bit and get a little respite from the heat. Yesterday clouds started to form, which made for some nice photographs, and by late afternoon we were getting thunder and a few sprinkles. It rained quite a bit overnight, filling up all the little potholes that support those cute little gnats, and fluffing up the cactus. The clouds continued to sit down in the canyon all day, looking like wet cotton, so it's a good thing we did our sightseeing previously as there's not much to see now.

The park name, Dead Horse Point has some history to it, but it's hard to track down any real facts. The naming of the area is always attributed to a "legend" with no dates and no human source. There seem to be three slightly different versions of the legend that are repeated everywhere. One version is, "The point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa. Cowboys rounded up these horses and herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point.

The neck of the plateau that forms the point, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush, creating a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and left the other horses corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below." A second version says the cowboys accidentally left the corral closed off. A third version says that the cowboys left the corral open, but for some inexplicable reason the horses just stayed in the corral.

Sorry, but I don't buy any of them.  This is, I think, another example of sanitizing history. I do believe a herd of horses died out there on the point. But I don't believe it was accidental. During the late 1800's, when the event supposedly happened, the area was filling up with sheep and cattle ranchers. Everyone has heard about the range wars that were waged between the sheep ranchers and the cattlemen. What isn't usually discussed is the attitudes toward the herds of wild horses that ran the range at the time, competing for forage and tempting thoroughbred horses away from their corrals. Ranchers at the time put wild horses in the same category as a farmer does wild rabbits. They were a nuisance, and a drain on the system, so "get rid of 'em!" The wild horses were shot, poisoned, and worse. Some were rounded up and sold for a variety of purposes, but in those days, when a saddle cost $40, and a good horse $120 or more, a wild horse brought maybe $5. I think the herd in this "legend" was rounded up and killed on purpose. But that's too hard for people to hear, best to change history so it is easier to hear.

There's a display in the visitor's center that does the same thing, saying "horses originally developed in North America", uh sort of, but not exactly. It's true the Dawn Horse developed in the northern hemisphere, several million years ago, before the continents separated! There was no "North America", then. And the Dawn Horse is about the size of a dog, with toes, and looked more like a tapir than a horse.The Hagerman Horse also roamed the plains in this general area, several million years ago, but it is much closer to a  zebra than today's horse. All facts that the display conveniently skips over, probably because emotionally it's easier to bond with a "horse" than a tapir. There were never any true horses (as we know them now) here until the Spaniards brought them.

There's a great book on the subject, much of which is available online. The Wild Horse of the West (Walker D. Wyman -1963) Devoid of the emotion that colors the topic currently, Wyman recounts the history of feral horses and the attitudes and reasoning behind the actions of ranchers and farmers. It's interesting to note that the same arguments going on now regarding the wild horse herds have been repeated many times in the past. (I'll get down off the soap box now!)

For a tour of the canyon check out the album.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Moab, UT

We're camped just outside Moab, in the Goose Island campground on hwy. 128. With the back of our site right at the river's edge, and a towering sandstone cliff on the opposite shore, we've got the perfect place to relax and soak up the atmosphere.

As the crow flies, we're only about 200  miles from the multicolored wedding cake layers of Nine Mile Canyon, but here everything is red sandstone. And I do mean RED - the color is so intense that anything green seems even more so, and the result is some pretty breathtaking scenery.

We've scheduled four days here, filling in until our reservations at the next stop open up, and we are really enjoying the relaxing pace of staying put for a bit. It's a good chance to get caught up on reading, blogging and phone calls as we have really good connections at our site.

On the first full day here we went in to Moab and checked out the visitor's center, picked up a few publications and sort of got oriented to the area. Moab is an interesting town. Picture your standard ski resort, but substitute red sand and cliffs for the snow, and river rafting, jeeping and rock climbing for the skiing.... you pretty well have it. There's a pub or coffee shop on every corner, just about everybody sells souvenir T-shirts, and vehicles for rent? Just name it. If it floats or has tires, you can rent it here.

We spent the next day exploring Arches National Park, just a short hop up the road. The park isn't large compare to some. There's a driving tour up through the middle of the park with multiple short trails for exploring the actual named arches, and a few longer trails for those who want to push deeper into the desert.

Everywhere you look there's a new shape, new colors, and shadows shifting across the eroded surfaces. Such a wide expanse is really hard to capture in still photography.

The predominant material in the landscape here is sandstone. Each type of sandstone has a different way of weathering, so there are horizontal layers, arches, caves, and spires everywhere. The landscape is predominantly red sandstone, with a little pale cream colored sandstone thrown in for contrast. Here and there though, you'll see splashes of color, soft sedimentary layers that were once horizontal, but then became broken as the earth moved, tipped sideways, and then eroded to a colorful powdery splash in an otherwise red field.

Arches is a wonderful place to witness the powerful effects of geologic forces, and to think about the millions of years that have lapsed in the making of this landscape. Patches of "desert varnish", millions of years old, look black in one light, and then reflect the brilliant blue of the sky as the sun and shadows shift.

Though the geology of the area is what it's most famous for there's human history here too. Like this little cabin that was home for many years to a civil war veteran who moved to the area to take up ranching. The Ranch was settled in the late 1800's by John Wesley Wolfe and his son.

John moved west from Ohio looking for a drier climate, hoping it would improve the leg injury he received in the Civil War. John choose a tract of 100 acres of land along Salt Wash for its water and grassland - enough for a few cattle.

Wolfe ranch is certainly a modest abode compared to what we call a ranch nowadays. Just behind the cabin is a little panel of petroglyphs, a link to an even older human history.

Though the scenery in the park is breathtaking, I have to confess we couldn't resist doing a bit of people watching.

On the one hand, I'm really glad people are attending our National Parks. There are people here from all over the world, enjoying a landscape that is really unique.  On the other hand, there are so many of them!!! I felt like we were in Disneyland! There are huge tour buses, large rental RVs, vans and cars everywhere. The parking lots at all the trail heads were usually overflowing. The shot at left shows only part of the parking lot at Pine Tree Arch. Parked cars and tour buses lined the road on the other side too. And I've never seen so many shiny aluminum, collapsible hiking sticks, so many brand new back packs, serious hiking boots, and big floppy hats, all the correct equipment for "hiking" on trails that have been so carefully manicured you could easily take a stroller or wheel chair down 80% of them. I wish I had stock in L.L. Bean!

We did enjoy the day, in spite of the crowds. The landforms here are fantastic, and with the shifting light, they keep changing so there's always something new to see.

The days have been reaching 100 degrees or better, so we finally called it a day and retired under the tree at the back of our campsite with a cold one. It's refreshing to watch the rafts go by, and the boulder across the river from us makes just enough noise in the flow of the water to sound like a small, and very cool, waterfall.

Our next adventure was a drive upriver to check out the other BLM campgrounds. They are all more suited for tents and really small RVs, and none have the degree of shade we have here, thanks to the tall cliff at the back of our site, so we decided we did well to select this site, the first we came across.
We also checked out the one campground in Arches, and it's nice, but small - small spaces, tight curves, and no shade at all. All the spaces are reservable and it usually fills up fast. 

A little further upriver we came upon the restored historic Dewey Bridge. They've restored the top part, but not the roadbed. . . probably afraid it will be too hard to keep people off, or not within the budget.

We had read in one of the travel brochures about a western movie museum at a lodge upriver so targeted that as a stop.

The museum is housed in the Red Cliffs Lodge, which is an absolutely beautiful place to spend a few days. They have several cabins, all situated right on the river with private views, as well as hotel type accommodations. A vineyard and winery is also attached to the lodge property, and they have a huge horseback riding stable. They have a full schedule of activities available for guests, and one of them is the movie museum.

The museum includes displays on many of the films made in the area, westerns as well as others. There are set models, costumes, props, some old ranching items, and a lot of art work pertaining to the films. As fans of the old westerns, we thoroughly enjoyed it. It's worth a trip to the lodge even if you aren't staying there. We were a bit early, but they have a restaurant too, so perhaps a good place for lunch!

We headed out late yesterday to see if we could locate some of the sites listed in a self-guided rock art brochure. The heat cut our trip short, but we did find a few. Here's my favorite. That must have been one enormous bear!

After four days here we've had a real chance to observe the campground and the area. We've met some nice folks, neighboring campers, like the young woman who is a professional photographer (here's her site) and some I'd rather do without.... like those cute little mice that have been running around our site. They are so brave they don't even wait for sundown! Molly finds chasing them quite entertaining, but she's slowed down a bit and I don't think there's much chance of her catching one. Other wildlife here include less objectionable wild turkeys, birds and chipmunks. A cute brown weasel met us the day we pulled in, but we haven't seen him since. 'Guess he's bashful, or doesn't trust Molly!

It's been hot, hot, hot here so rather than cooking in the house we've taken to cooking everything on the Weber Baby-Q. It's been a sort of challenge figuring out the timing and all the other strategies of cooking by a new method, but so far, so good! We've done pot roast, a loaf of bread, baked potatoes and crispy chicken... all with success, and a relatively cool RV!

There are a few more shots of Arches National Park and environs in the album. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Green River, UT

Our neighboring camper at Nine Mile Ranch invited us to share his campfire one evening and as we got acquainted we discovered we had a lot of interests in common. An experienced desert rat himself, he suggested several sites he thought we'd enjoy visiting. One, Sego Canyon, was easy to fit into the schedule as it's only 25 miles east of Green River, where we'd planned to spend the next couple of days.

We arrived at Green River State Park just about lunch time and were quite surprised to find it completely empty, except for a handful of rafters milling around the put-in area. The campground is really nice, and so green it seems merely an extension of the golf course that is attached. There are no hook-ups, but water is available and as long as there are sunny days our solar panel keeps cranking out the the electrons so we're in good shape. The restrooms here are really nice too, which I'm sure the tent campers appreciate.

Evening brought a classic thunderstorm. The air went from totally still to blustery and wet, with some amazing lightening. The storm produced quite a bit of water, as we saw the next day when we were out touring. When they warn about flash floods in this country, pay attention!

Thompson Springs Motel
We left right after breakfast for Sego Canyon. It's east on Interstate 70,  about 25 miles to the Thompson Springs exit. Thompson Springs was an active railroad town at one time but now, like many railroad towns, it's now pretty much abandoned. The brick building that was a cafe still has the counter and other furniture inside, and there an old metal chair outside the hotel, looking as if someone just got up and went inside.

To get to the rock art, go north past the old Thompson Springs school. It's about 3 miles to the rock art site. There's a restroom there, and a picnic table with no shade.

This site is fantastic! Plenty of interpretive signs if you aren't knowledgeable about the subject, and easy to navigate trails for good viewing angles. Everything is near the road so hiking isn't a requirement.

Panel at the old corral
These examples of Ute, Fremont, and Barrier style rock art are amazing, some of them dating back thousands of years. The site itself is beautiful. The drawings cover towering cliffs that have fascinating shapes and mineral stains that look almost like paintings. When I noticed the area is an alcove it reminded me of research done by Steven J. Waller on the acoustics of rock art sites. He has done considerable research on the acoustic effects of rock art sites, and theorizes that some of the sites may have been chosen specifically because of the echos produced there.

Panel at the picnic areaa

Unfortunately there's been a good deal of vandalism here. I'm glad we were able to see these areas before there's even more destruction.

If you aren't into rock art, how about a couple of ghost towns?

Oven at the old homestead
Drive on up past the rock art site taking the left fork in the road into Thompson Canyon, where you'll find the remains of two dug-outs and a brick oven with a roof over it.

This was a cozy little enclave in early days, known as the Stortini farm, and they used the oven to bake bread, storing food and other items in the stone dugout according to reminiscences of their granddaughter.

The Thompson Canyon road doesn't go much past the farm, so turn  around and go back to the fork you passed on the way up, it will take you to the town of Sego. You'll pass the cemetery soon after the fork. We found mention of the Stortini family in the graveyard. There may have been more than one grave belonging to the family as many aren't marked. Someone has tended the graves recently, forming crosses of stone and leaving artificial flowers. Actually, only a few graves are identified, and several look like the classing "cowboy grave", just mounds of dirt and rocks.

All that's left of Sego
Travel a bit further on past the cemetery to the ruins of the town of Sego. There's not much left now, just a couple of stone buildings and the collapsed wooden boarding house. There's a nice big cottonwood to picnic under, and plenty of chunky black coal drifting down the hillsides to demonstrate why the town was here in the first place. Coal mining provided jobs for a good many people in the canyons from 1911 to the early 1940's. A special rail line was built up to the mine to accommodate shipping of the coal, but when water and other expenses started to become an issue the mine was shut down. It opened up again a couple of times but due to labor costs and other issues the owners really struggled to make a profit.

When the railroad line to the mine was abandoned in 1950, the owners of the mine owners constructed a truck ramp in Thompson to load coal directly into the railroad cars. The ramp and much of the grade still exists, as well as a couple of the trestles, but they trestles are in a dangerous condition and cannot be crossed.

There's more about the ghost town of Sego in Wikipedia, and Kathy Weiser's article here. Link to a topo map of the area here.

What a day! Hard to fit in the blogging when there's so much adventuring to do! Before we left Green River we had one more stop to make - Ray's Tavern, also recommended by our camper friend.
'Best burger and brew we've had in a long time! If you're in Green River, stop in!

Check the album for more photos.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nine Mile Canyon, UT - Part II

Granary high up on a cliff
Nine Mile Canyon must have been a comfortable place to live a thousand or more years ago. There is evidence of good hunting, grain storage, and multiple tribal cultures over the centuries.

So called “Fremont Culture” that once populated this area actually includes several different tribes and cultures spanning hundreds of years. There are several places where evidence of their occupation can be seen, such as granaries and stone foundations for pit houses, and other primitive structures.

If you care to hike the hillsides, guides available on the web (see below) will direct you to the stone rings that identify the location of pit houses and watch towers built by the first inhabitants. Granaries where provisions were stored are still visible, and some were found with grain still stored inside.  It's fascinating to view these ruins and wonder at how they were built in the first place. The big draw of the canyon for visitors today, however, is the petroglyphs.

Most of the petroglyphs were created approximately 1,000 years ago, and considering these are pecked into or painted on relatively soft sandstone it is a wonder they are as well preserved as they are.

Many still appear crisp and clear, others have suffered the ravages of vandalism and weather. Still, there is much to admire, whether for the art, or for the challenge of attempting to decipher the message intended in the drawings. 

Some of the panels and areas with a lot of rock art are named for the pioneers that lived in the area. Daddy Canyon (presumably named for ranch owner Katherine Nutter's nickname for her husband), and Rasmussen's Cave, for instance.

These two sites are actually right next to each other, and just across the road is a gas processing plant, as well as the ruins of a small stone building, partially buried in the sagebrush.
Stone house ruins

Sixty three of the rock art panels are listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, and many of the panels and motifs have been replicated in museums as being among the finest examples of specific styles and eras in American rock art.

Visit our album to see a few of the photos we've selected as being the most outstanding examples. We had to be selective, considering the number of shots we took, and it was hard making those decisions!

We used the Climb Utah guide and the Utah Outdoors guide. There's also good information available from the BLM on this site.

These self-guided tour publications help identify these sites, but you'll have to do a lot of searching too as landmarks are hard to come by and everyone's mileage varies a bit. The guides will provide you with invaluable information about each specific site, far more than we can include here. You’ll need to drive slowly, get out and walk, do a lot of looking at the cliffs with binoculars, and always turn around and look behind you, as often glyphs are pecked in all sides of a cliff or boulder. Shifting light can also obscure or display carvings you didn't notice before. I really think you could visit this canyon many times and see something different on each visit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nine Mile Canyon, UT - Part I

Nine Mile Canyon had been on my "bucket list" for quite a while, as it is an area known for some great rock art, and since it was "on the way" after leaving Park City we planned a few days in the area.

The canyon is truly a study in contrasts. Here, you can experience the very old and the very new, the quiet of narrow canyons and small gurgling streams, and the hustle and bustle of the natural gas industry and ranching.

Formed by layers of lake mud compressed over the eons, the sides of Nine Mile Canyon are built of layer upon layer of mudstone, shale and sandstone. Richly colored and sculpted by erosion, they are fascinating scenery and would be the perfect backdrop for a western movie. The towering sides rise to over 7,000 feet, more than 1,200 feet above the valley floor. The dramatic and awe inspiring  view alone is worth a trip to the canyon.

Over a span of about 8,000 years many successive cultures have called this area home. The earlier are grouped together under the term “Fremont Culture”, later the Utes roamed the hillsides. Following closely after them were pioneer settlers and a few world-famous cowboys and “bad guys” like Butch Cassidy and the “Wild Bunch”, as well as the U.S. 9th Calvary (Buffalo Soldiers). Truly a microcosm of western history, there's a lot to explore in this narrow canyon.

Early ranchers established grazing areas for their cattle and judging by the ruins we can still see today they built some pretty impressive buildings and holding pens. Many of the homesteads were built up against the rocky cliffs, for a bit of wind protection perhaps. Most of those  old ranches now stand forlorn and forgotten, roofs caved in and doors hanging ajar, but nonetheless protected by law from destruction, as is the rest of the canyon.

The canyon doesn't seem lonely, however, as the various pipeline operations and working ranches generate a considerable amount of traffic, in addition to the tourists moseying along the road checking out the petroglyphs and scenery just as we were. There are still a few working ranches here, and cattle seem to think they own the road, but the picturesque abandoned ranches far outnumber the occupied ones.

You might say Nine Mile canyon is remote, if you consider its lack of services, and the approximately 22 miles one must drive to find a store of any kind.

There is no cell service here, no mail boxes, no newspaper delivery, but there are deer and a rushing creek, and those fantastic sandstone spires contrasting with billowy clouds, petroglyphs and Fremont culture ruins and pioneer cabins provide enough entertainment for us.

Nine Mile Canyon is actually about 40 miles long, the name coming from early days when John Wesley Powell was exploring the area. There are several side canyons worth exploring if you have the time and inclination, but plan for several days here in order to do so. The tour guides say you can “do it in a day”, but it took us two, and we didn’t get to everything we had intended to see, much less any of the inviting gravel roads leading off into the narrow side canyons.

Natural gas plant on the left
Several petroleum companies have been operating in the canyon for many years, and there have been some emotionally charged conflicts between them and the conservationists who seek to protect the petroglyphs, Indian ruins and historic pioneer buildings from the ravages of the dust and fumes produced by vehicular traffic. Dust, which damages the petroglyphs, is the major complaint.  Some compromises have been reached.  There are paved sections in some areas, and in others magnesium chloride is sprayed on the road as a dust inhibitor, though experience and research is now showing there are drawbacks to this treatment too.

Some sections of the road have been routed further away from petroglyph panels to give them a little more protection from dust and fumes.  As usual with compromises, probably neither side is totally happy but all the final ends are accomplished. . . jobs, energy, preservation, and access for the public.  We are just grateful for the opportunity to visit the area and appreciate both the need for energy and the need to preserve historic areas. We also noted that the roads used by the petroleum companies tend to be better maintained than in other areas, another bonus for travelers.

This canyon is famous largely for the petroglyphs, the number as well as the style. We'll share more about those in the next blog post. The younger, pioneer history is important too, and definitely worth experiencing.

The ghost town of Harper, as well as Nutter Ranch, are both locations with a number of standing buildings. Harper once had a stage coach stop, inn, school and postoffice. Now, mere shells of those buildings remain.

Much of the property along the canyon is privately owned, so watch for signs and respect them. It’s easy to get good photographs without trespassing (or annoying the cows).

Gate Canyon intersects Nine Mile Canyon at about the halfway point. Named for a stone arch that went over the road back in stagecoach days, the arch was demolished because of fears it would fall and crush the stagecoach or other travelers who passed beneath it.

Outlaw Point
Gate Canyon is also the location of “outlaw point”-
"Outlaw Point" is the sharp bend in the road where a group of outlaws intended to ambush the soldiers escorting the army payroll and Indian annuities.  The plan was to kill all 20 soldiers in the escort and leave no living witness.  While some members of the "Wild Bunch" allegedly participated in the scheme, Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid and Elza Lay did not.  They knew the army would hunt them relentlessly for such a bloodbath.  The army was told of the plan by an informant and the guard was double to 40 soldiers.  The Outlaws hiding on the ledges hastily called off the ambush as the heavy escort rode through.  There is speculation that Butch Cassidy was the informant when he realized that he would be blamed for the crime, whether he participated or not.

If you follow Gate Canyon to the summit you’ll be rewarded with a view back, north, to the snow capped Uinta Mountains. As you climb the canyon you'll be following the face of the Badland Cliffs, skirting the edge of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.  The road eventurally joins Hwy. 40, near Myton, but we turned around at the summit and went back down to Nine Mile Canyon.

Along Gate Canyon road you’ll see signs of the road build by the 9th Calvary. The names of many of the soldiers are painted in black axle grease at the base of a cliff near where the road crosses a creek. They also installed a telegraph line in the canyon and many of the slim metal poles are still in place.The cabins that served as the telegraph office, and their bunk house, are still standing at Nutter's Ranch, down in the main canyon.
Telegraph pole

If you plan to visit Nine Mile Canyon do your research ahead of time as you’ll have no Internet service once you enter the canyon proper. Try to obtain at least two guides. We used three, one from Utah Outdoors and Climb Utah  as well as one the folks at Nine Mile Ranch handed us, produced by the Carbon County Travel Bureau and others. There's also good information available from the BLM on this site.  Each offers a bit of different information so you need to cross-reference. Mileages and gps readings vary and the road is constantly being altered, so take all the directions with a grain of salt.

The only camping in the canyon is at Nine Mile Ranch. The ranch has a few small cabins if you want to go that route. Everything here is rustic, but comfortable.

There are two camping areas and we chose the lower one, Cottonwood Hollow, as it accommodated the length of our rig a bit more comfortably. You can see a bit of white between the trees in this photo - that's us!
Nestled up to the creek we had a nice view, and privacy from the other sites. We stayed three nights, which gave us time to really soak up and enjoy the area. We celebrated our visit to the canyon the first night with a great stew and a new Dutch oven biscuit recipe, named in honor of the canyon. Check it out at The Cookhouse.

Our excursions kept us away from camp 4-5 hours each day, and though we did have to cover some of the same ground on the second day to get to the area we had designated as "day 2" it proved to be a good plan. There's no way we could have covered it all in only one day. The last day we were barely back in camp when a big (but brief) thunderstorm hit.  Trail weary but happy to have seen all that we did over the last two days, we relaxed over a nice steak dinner and prepared to break camp.

There are more pictures from the canyon here. . . . next post, the petroglyphs!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Starvation Lake, UT

Our camp site

 This is what it's all about - vistas, peace and quiet, and surprises along the trail.

Steve randomly selected Starvation Lake as a stopover on our way south. 'Guess he just liked the name.

The lower campground
It's a few graveled miles off the highway, so away from any traffic noise, and since we selected the upper campground, with a better view, we had very little boat noise.

The campground itself is nice  but not luxurious - permanent table shelters with windbreaks, BBQs, showers, and water is available. We had excellent cell service, and though we didn't take time to explore the area this time, the nearby town of Duchesne looks interesting and is worth a return visit.

The name "Starvation Lake" definitely conjures up visions of pioneers and the tough times they faced.
 According to Wikipedia: "The unusual name has been explained in local folklore. The area around the lake, prior to being developed, was used primarily for hunting and trapping. It has been said that a hunter was setting traps near the water’s edge when he got trapped in one himself. Before help could arrive he had died from starvation. Another story is that criminals were hiding out in the area, there was a snow fall and couldn't make it to town so they were stranded there and died from starvation."

The Wagon Master does like a vista view, and this place met his criteria with a five star rating.

Regular visitors to this blog may have noticed a preoccupation with sunsets - we love to watch the changing light, the shifting shapes in the clouds, the "weather" as it hits the landscape in the distance.

Starvation Lake on this particular day made for excellent sky watching.

From the snowy peaks in the far distance that caught our attention when we first arrived, then clouds that shaded to pinks and purples in the distance . . .

. . .   to the last golden rays of sunset, we could hardly take our eyes of the sky for fear of missing something.


We took our time getting loaded up this morning, then followed hwy. 191 out of Duchesne into Indian Canyon. This is Butch Cassidy country - narrow canyons, rim rock, steep cliffs, and ranches both new and old scattered here and there up the side canyons. We're heading for Nine Mile Canyon Ranch, 24 miles into Nine Mile Canyon. This canyon is famous for some of the most outstanding petroglyphs in this part of the country, as well as containing pioneer sites.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Park City, Utah, and environs

Leaving Gardnerville, we went north to Rye Patch Recreation Area, one of our favorite places to stop on the way out of Nevada. We found our favorite site, right near a loop in the river was available, so settled in and spent the afternoon sipping cold drinks and watching birds on the river. Many of the sites have been re-graveled, and the park is in good shape. The staff all seemed friendlier than last year, too. New management?

Our ultimate destination on this leg of the trip is Park City, Utah, to visit family. It's a long haul from Rye Patch, so we made another quick overnight stop in the parking lot of the Rainbow Casino, in West Wendover, NV.  A unique experience I must say. We aren't "casino campers" as a rule, but when the teeny tiny asphalt spaces they call an RV park at the Nugget are renting for $35 dollars a night, why not stay for free in a casino lot? We had a nice dinner in the casino, and then were serenaded all night by the casino's theme music. I can't quite figure out why they need it in the parking lot, but it wasn't loud enough to be a problem, so we just considered it "white noise".

We made reservations at Jordanelle State Park so we'd have a home base while visiting Park City. The park is beautiful, with spaces nicely oriented, and as it's built on a slope pretty much everyone has a nice view of the lake.
The dark storm clouds that build up every day around 2:30 make a striking backdrop for the many trees and wildflowers, and look even darker in contrast with all the white RVs.

We really enjoyed sitting out in the afternoons and watching the waves of crested wheat and other native grasses ripple in the wind. The iridescent squirrel tail grass is especially pretty as reflects the light and really does look like a squirrel's tail!

 A couple of really blustery storms materialized out of all those dark clouds, but never lasted long. They did dump a fair amount of water, and a little hail. It's that moisture that keeps everything here looking like spring. The wind does take some accommodating. Awnings need to be secure, light weight chairs need to be stowed, and nothing loose left about the camp. One evening after being in town for dinner we came home late to find an entire roll of paper towels had been fluttering in the wind that came through the kitchen window and was unrolled all over the floor!

The park has really nice day-use facilities for boating and fishing, and the camping space are large.The lake is populated by ducks and geese, who float happily around the edges, no doubt enjoying lost bait and other goodies the visitors offer them.

Talking to one of the summer volunteer employees we learned how many it takes to keep things running smoothly. The park has about 20 people volunteering, and they seem to keep them busy, building new cabins and walkways to make the park even more welcoming.

Sites have water and electric, and tent pads, and there's a laundry available, conveniently placed next to a play area so Mom can do the wash and watch the kids a the same time. There are also showers and restrooms, and for those who don't have an RV, they have a few cabins. For a park so near a large city we found this to be especially enjoyable - well cared for and uncrowded.

We took advantage of the warm weather and had the family out to our site for a BBQ. The afternoon was ended rather abruptly when the chilly winds came up, but it was nice to visit and enjoy the view. Another night we enjoyed a lovely dinner party in Park City and met several really nice people, including another Duck fan!

Sculpture by the stream
On our last day we took a short trip up the mountain to Robert Redford's Sundance for lunch. What a beautiful area! Snow still decorates the top of the rocky cliffs, and the stream that runs through the middle of the resort was rushing at the high water mark with all the snow run-off.  It's a beautiful resort, with cabins tucked here and here among the trees, and a really nice restaurant.

Our four days here has seemed short, as days fly by when there's lots of visiting to do. Time to head south. . . watch for reports on that part of Utah.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lagomarsino Petroglyph Site, Nevada

Our annual 4th of July BBQ and reunion with friends from "the old days" brings us to Gardnerville, Nevada, every year. As usual we had a terrific time - and ate way too much! It is always wonderful to catch up with old friends, and this year almost everyone's children, and in some cases their grand children, were able to attend so it was a particularly historic year.

There was also an additional treat this year. Our hosts, knowing of our interest in rock art, asked if we were interested in seeing the largest petroglyph site in the state. It took about 10 seconds of serious deliberation to answer that question!

Plans for the trip were interrupted by a thunderstorm - not only NOT a good time to be up on a mountain top, but also not a good time to go exploring on primitive roads. A sunny day followed, so cameras and lunch loaded up, my guide, Grant, and I took off for Logomarsino Canyon. (Steve unfortunately had been committed to another activity that day.)

Grant had warned us the road was narrow and rough, and it wasn't an exaggeration. Heading out to the suburbs of Virginia City we followed an organized pile of rocks that passes fairly well for a road, wandered through the canyons, and admired the scenery along the way.

One striking feature of the landscape is the number of rock walls - remnants of the early sheep ranching era. Miles and miles of wall run up and over the rolling foothills. Some of the stones used to build these walls are amazingly large, and one has to wonder at the technique and pure brute strength needed to construct them.

There are no sheep to speak of now, but there are herds of wild horses everywhere. Presumably they've either learned to jump the low walls or have knocked paths through them, as the horses seem to go pretty much where they please. There are also springs and a free flowing creek available, so water is easily available for the wildlife.
Wild horses rest near one of the stone walls

Though the drive from Virginia City is only a few miles, it takes about an hour and a half. A high clearance vehicle with 4WD and low range is recommended. Some of the springs make lovely mud holes and getting stuck wouldn't add to the enjoyment of one's trip. Grant's previous trips to the area had him well prepared and thanks to his driving skills we didn't have any difficulties.

The entrance to the site is protected by a locked steel gate, but it's only a few yards from the parking area to the first of the glyphs. Looking up from the trail at the bottom of the slope for the first time can only elicit a "Wow!", or something similar.

Note the crack in this boulder.
 The area is packed with petroglyphs, over 2,000 panels, and obviously of varying ages. The range of symbols, the varying styles, and the size of the area involved are all very impressive.

We hiked around for about three hours, trying to avoid stepping on any of the glyphs, but anxious to gather all the photos we could. (We took over 400 between the two of us.) Many of the motifs clearly relate to hunting and fishing, others feature humans, water symbols, and others could be maps of some kind. It is fun to try to interpret them, even though putting yourself in the mindset of someone hundreds of years ago is not really possible. The area was undoubtedly different then too. We know from geologic records this area was much wetter then, and what is a creek now may very well have been a river then.

Many of the boulders at the bottom of the slope have been abraded by the horses tromping on them, others are fractured and the weight of a horse may eventually complete the process of breaking the rock. The droppings in the area indicate it's horses doing this, not cows, but keeping them out might be difficult as the whole wild horse issue has become a real point of contention in the state. It's become quite emotional, and much of the problem comes from the use of the term "mustang". These horses should more properly be called "feral horses", as they do not have the bloodline of the historic Spanish Mustang.

It's obvious because of missing pieces in designs that many boulders have broken off and fallen to their current location, leaving us to wonder at their original placement, as well as what's under those other boulders? And where did the boulder fall from? Location is important in interpreting the meaning, and hard to do once it has been relocated.

Three hours in the sun at 5,000 feet will work up a good appetite, so we found a shaded spot by the creek on the way out and munched while we watched birds flutter around and a chubby marmot give us the evil eye. I don't think he likes trespassers on his nice little green creek.

If planning a trip to the site: There's plenty of parking at the site, but no restrooms or drinking water so be prepared. A couple of interpretive signs provide specific facts about the glyphs, which enriches the visit. A recent survey identified over 2,000 panels at the site - enough to keep us rock art lovers busy for quite some time so do have your camera battery charged!

There's an extensive report on how the most recent survey was done and a nice summary of their findings on the  Nevada Rock Art Foundation website.
The report also delves into the importance of the first survey done on the site, in research done by Heizer and Baumhoff  in the 1950's.

There research at this site was responsible for the development of their theories of rock art interpretation related to hunting activities and hunting magic. The report also delves into other interpretations, and is definitely worth reading.
Vandalism - someone attempted to cut out this petroglyph

The Nevada Rock Art Foundation conducts field trips throughout the year to various rock art sites and encourages their preservation. For information about upcoming tours check their site or contact them at

For a few more select photos of the site visit the album.