Chapter 9 -- Nevada to Sausalito

Left Yellowstone, and got into Idaho, just west of the Grand Tetons. The roadside sign said the Tetons are visible from here; in fact, they were named by french settlers in this valley. However, I can't see them because of the rainclouds.

I found a nice county park at the north end of Rigby Idaho. Camping is only $3.00 here, the cheapest spot (except the free ones) I've found. I pretty much have the place to myself; I think I'm the only overnighter, but there are a few people driving through every once in awhile.

Sept 19, 1997

I started the morning by walking around the lake in this county park. It seems to be the popular thing to do, as lots of locals have joined me. As I saw Rigby, Idaho in the day, I noticed that it was home of Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of TV. This dubious honor seems to be Rigby's only claim to worldwide fame. I remember seeing a special about Mr. Farnsworth awhile back. He said he doesn't watch much TV himself. The Rigby billboard said:

Rigby, Idaho, birthplace of TV
easy on -- easy off
I think it was referring to the TV set; not the access to Rigby from the Interstate, but perhaps I'm mistaken. Perhaps the pun is intentional.

Went through Idaho falls and Pocatello. Wasn't impressed.

Went on to Wells, Nevada, where I spent the night. The cold weather and rain have followed me here to the desert. There's a guy nearby who's crossing Nevada in a couple of tiny covered wagons pulled by some burros. Pepper likes the burros.

Sept 20, 1997

Headed west from Wells through heavy rainstorms. I didn't think rain was so common here in the desert. At Elko, stopped to check out some more hot springs. They were fenced off with big NO TRESSPASSING signs, which I honored. There was lots of steam coming from them, though. Just west of Carlin, the Interstate goes through a tunnel, and when we came out of the tunnel, the rain suddenly and completely stopped.

When we stopped at a rest area at Golconda, Pepper got thorns in her paws. I'm not sure of the type of plant it was, but they had very thorny seeds, which stuck to her paws, and made her limp pitifully. I noticed an older man walking a small dog at the same spot, and I warned him about the thorns. He stopped and talked to me, asking what I do for a living, and saying he was trying to learn computers, but found it hard to find expertise to show him the ropes where he lives, between Idaho Falls and Pocatello. He was extremely talkative.

When I reached Winnemucca, I knew I was an easy day's drive from home, since I've done the drive several times. Since it's only Sept 20th, and I don't really want to get back before the 24th or so, It's time to be lazy for awhile. I turn northward toward Paradise Valley and the Santa Rosa Mountains.

For a Nevada Highway, the road to Paradise Valley seems to have quite a bit of traffic. When I reach the town of Paradise Valley, I'm surprised to see lots and lots of people milling about in the street (the only paved street in this town). My only choices are to blast through the crowds or to pull over and see what's going on. I pull over, and enjoy the Paradise Valley Annual Miner's Chilli Cook-off. It's quite an event, with everybody from miles around attending. There were probably 40 booths showing off their chilli. I didn't partake in any of it, since chilli cook-off's tend to be a competition to see who can get the highest concentration of the hottest spices into their recipie. The pepper plants evolved their hot spicy chemicals because they're toxic, so they protect the plants from being eaten by normal animals.

I take a walk through the area and take in the tiny-town ambiance. Most of the booths are sponsored by mining companies. I see a bumper sticker that says Earth First!, and below that, in smaller print, I'll mine the other planets later. I notice that, despite the fact that this town is bursting at the seams, with people camped out everwhere, mine is the only out-of-state license plate in evidence.

I head up Hinkey Summit, and enjoy some nice views of Paradise Valley. If you look really closely, you can see the town down there, with the chilli cook-off going on. Well, maybe you can't see it, but I'm sure it was down there somewhere.

I make camp at Lye Creek Campground, a beautiful place in a large grove of Aspen trees high on an otherwise fairly barren mountain range. The aspens are starting to turn orange.

The next morning, I woke up without a lot of ambition. I could stay here another day, or I could head over toward Buckeye Hot springs. Or I could go to Kyle hot springs or go exploring.

Finally, around 1:30pm, After hiking and reading, I break camp and leave.

The drive out was great. I went north/northwest out via Buckskin Canyon. The scenery compared favorably with any national park, but there was only one other vehicle I saw on the drive. No NPBS this time! Here in America's Great Basin you can see plenty of geology relatively unobscured by biology. I was impressed by the colorful rocks. The dark patch of red rocks on the left of this picture looked like lava, and there were trails of the red rocks flowing down the hill. I came across many springs everywhere; I felt several of them, but none were hot, and none were marked on my map as hot. Still, it was interesting and beautiful to see the changing vegetation indicating the presence of water. There really is lots of water here in the desert, you just have to look for it.

I finally got to Winnemucca at 4:30 or so, too late to go too far. I ate at a nice Basque/Mexican restaurant, and then headed for Kyle Hot Springs. When I got here, there was a German couple, camping in their van. They had a full-sized Chevyvan with high clearance, and a hardtop raised roof. They were going across Nevada and headed for Idaho, with the intention of never driving on a paved road. They were a fun and interesting couple. Can you imagine enjoying this view for a thousand miles or more? By the way, that's the road to Kyle Hot Springs. The spring is the light colored area on the hill to the left of the road, just after the road makes a right turn. What, you say you don't see the road turning right? Drive about 45 minutes; you can't miss it.

I took a soak in the spring. While I was in the pool, Pepper found a four-inch long tarantula, and wanted to chase it around. I had to restrain her, but she was very, very interested in it. It circled around us, and finally headed off to the northeast, slowly and deliberately.

Then I got out the telescope. At sunset, I saw Venus, almost exactly half illuminated. Then Jupiter and his moons. Moved on to Albireo, and then tried Iota Casseopea that had frustrated me so much in Yellowstone. This time, it was very easy to find (I had checked the finder alignment first), and I could resolve all three stars right away! Saw several other new objects including the Swan nebula, M17, in Saggitarius; great cluster M13 in Hercules, then found the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51 for the first time. It was dim, but visible at low power. Invisible at high power, though, because of the dimness. Also peered at some old favorites, M22 in Saggitarius; M7 in Scorpio, Dumbell nebula in Vulpecula; The Andromeda Galaxy, M31. Finally, as I was getting ready to pack things up for the night, I wondered if Saturn might be up yet. Rather than getting out a chart, I used Jupiter's moons to tell me the plane of the ecliptic, and followed them toward the horizon, where there was a low yellow bright star. I looked at it through the binoculars, and couldn't tell for sure if it was a planet, but in the telescope, Saturns rings shone as a spectacularly beautiful sight! Very bright, sharp, and distinct, surpassing my expectations. All in all, a great end to a great night of observing.

A herd of cattle kept coming to the hot springs to drink at night, and Pepper was keeping a close eye on them as I was watching the telescope. Every once in awhile she'd woof in hushed tones.

Later that night, a bunch of coyotes were yipping about, and just before sunrise, they were howling (at the moon?). Pepper, safe in bed, didn't pay nearly as much attention to the coyotes as I did, nor did she care about them as much as she did the cows or tarantula earlier.

September, 22, 1997

The German couple arose and left early, headed off into the dust. I got up and went for a sulfury soak, and headed over to explore the city of Unionville, Nevada. According to the historical marker, Unionville was founded in 1861, but its original name was Dixie. As political sentiments changed, it was renamed to Unionville. I guess everybody loves a winner. Anyway, it was the county seat of Humboldt county, and apparently a very happening place. It's located deep in a canyon, with a good year-round water supply, so it's still the most happening place for about 20 or 30 miles. They've got a gravel road, 20 or so houses, and even a small bed & breakfast. There's an old church that looks like it's from the 1800's, but it's fenced in, with "private property -- no tresspassing" signs all around. Amazingly enough, deep in Unionville, there are a couple of very nice homes. One is a mansion, with probably two dozen rooms, a huge green (irrigated) lawn, with plenty of willows for shade trees, and a large swimming pool and hot tub. There's a shiny (but dusty) new Mercedes parked out in front of another house. I guess "thar's gold in them thar hills".

I head west on I-80, going through the outskirts of Reno, and heading for Carson City. At Carson City, I see the signs for Virginia City, the boom town of the Mother Lode. I decide, against my better judgement, to see what it's like. Virginia City is now a parody of an old west mining town converted to tourism, complete with See the Suicide Table! billboards plastered along the road into town, RV parking lots, souvenier shops, lots of museums, etc. The surrounding hillsides are covered with old mining tailings, leaching heavy metals into the water supply.

For some reason, Pepper keeps changing her favorite location in the van. For the first few weeks, she preferred sitting on the passenger seat, where I kept her blanket. When we got to Montana and Wyoming, she started preferring to sit up high in the back of the van, up on top of the luggage and my comforter. She can see outside while she's lying down up there, although she's farther from me. But now that we're in Nevada, she's started to beg to get up in my lap. I consistently refuse her request, and when she's rebuffed, she lies down on the floor of the van, to my right, in between the driver and passenger seats. That's as hard a location as anywhere, and there's no view, so I really don't understand why she wants to be there. I put her up on her blanket in the passenger seat, but she returns to the floor. Maybe it's because there are typically books, papers, maps, and computer cords cluttering up the narrow space between the seats, and she wants to get in there and mess things up.

Since I'm nearly in the neighborhood, I decide to head for my old favorite, Buckeye Hot Springs again. I go for a soak, meeting a couple from Bend, OR, and some people who just graduated from UC-Davis and are trying to figure out what to do with life. I finish soaking around dusk, and look for a place to camp, and notice that my favorite spots are already taken. It's hunting season, deer I believe, and there are lots of rednecks in camouflage gear. I find a spot, and make camp.

September 23, 1997

I decide to do nothing today. I'm camped about a mile and a half from the spring, so I hike over there for awhile. Then I go back. Every time I leave the road, even if it's just to find the "gentlemen's washroom", I make sure I'm wearing my brightest clothes, so as not to look like a deer. And every time I get out of sight of the road, I scare up a couple of deer, getting quite close to them. I saw three at the hot springs. I don't see how a deer hunter could take more than an hour to find and kill a deer around here. But for two and a half days, I see the same three noisy unmuffled Blazer/Bronco's full of the same rednecks in hunting outfits, driving up and down the road, with field glasses, looking for deer from within the steel cocoon of their vehicles. They never saw one; or at least I never heard any of them fire a shot and I never saw a deer on their vehicles.

The deer are terribly overpopulated in this area since the demise of their natural predators, so I can see why they ought to be hunted. But it seems their population won't be reduced with this set of hunters, unless a poor deer is unfortunate enough to dart out in front of a speeding Chevy Blazer filled with overweight beer-saturated men in camouflage outfits.

I'm far enough south now that the weather is finally warm, with temps in the 80's during the day. I start out at night without a sleeping bag, but the chill gets to me and I get it out when Orion is up high, around 4:00 am.

September 24, 1997

I head over to Travertine Hot Springs. I meet the same couple from Bend, Oregon that I've been seeing at Buckeye the past two days. He's an electrician, and she teaches Yoga. We have an interesting conversation about environmentalism, logging, Ed Abbey, Oregon's hatred of Californians, etc.

I decide to head toward Yosemite. At the junction of 395 and 120 near Lee Vining, I pick up two girls hitchiking to Touwolumne meadows. They've been backpacking for three months, and have that eau de trail. They're hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico. Their standing joke is that they're using an aluminum pan to cook with, so they've got Alzheimer's disease and can't remember much about their trip. One just graduated from nursing school, and the other is between semesters. They're exceedingly pleasant company, but we soon reach their trailhead, and they depart.

I head for the Foresta area of Yosemite, where I spent a week last year pulling out bull thistle. I don't see any thistle there, but I admit I'm not looking very hard. I notice some evidence of damage from last winter's record-breaking flood; the swimming hole where we took a break from the heat is changed. It's not so big anymore, and the nearby road bridge is washed out. Also, there's a large debris pile, filled with rocks and dirt that have been hauled in from somewhere else, probably Yosemite Valley.

I head toward Yosemite Valley to survey where most of the flood damage happened. I'm amazed at how little evidence of the flood I see. There are signs at various points, showing the level of the Jan 2, 1997 waterline. The lines are typically about 6 feet above ground level. The campsite where I stayed last summer is still there, unchanged, but two of the major campgrounds, upper and lower river, are completely washed out and closed, still filled with debris. There's a lot of downed timber and flood debris near the office we used, the old Park Director's Residence. But the real attractions of Yosemite Valley, its granite monuments and waterfalls, are completely unaffected by the flood. The trees also seem to be just fine.

The ranger told me I couldn't take Pepper on any trails, nor could I leave her unattended at all while I was in the Park. I decide to leave Yosemite, and head back to Sausalito for the evening. I arrive around 8:00pm, find the apartment just as I had left it, and go to bed early.

The next morning, I drop off film, pick up mail, and pay bills.

I check my internet e-mail, and also looked at the astronomy newsgroups on usenet. I find that my congresscritter, Lynn Woolsey, is trying to score points by campaigning against NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn, due to launch next month. She says it's too expensive, and there's a concern about the radioisotopes used to power the spacecraft, so it should be cancelled and redesigned from scratch now, a month before launch, after the spacecraft has been designed, built, and paid for! If nothing else, her plans would certainly increase the cost which she complains so much about.

I call her office, expressing my support for the mission, and I write a carefully crafted, short, polite letter. I don't harbor any illusion that she'll ever understand the issues, but it still feels good to participate in democracy.

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©1997 Richard Cochran
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