Thursday, October 29, 2015

Red Rock Country

So we drove from Fruita to Moab without further mishap, the new car brakes seeming to work pretty normally.  We planned to spend a month there and were expecting Ruth and Paul (from Washington) to join us after a couple of weeks.

Moab is a little town that got rich off uranium in the 1950s.  It's one of the only places on earth that lamented the end of the cold war.  But it had a few other things going for it.  Starting with John Ford's "Wagonmaster", the area has provided the back drop for numerous motion pictures.  It has also been raking in a lot of tourist dollars in the past 20 or so years as a mecca for off road vehicles, mountain biking, hiking, base jumping, canyoneering and other sports that verge on the insane.  It is also the most logical base camp for visiting Canyonlands and Arches national parks.  Vicki was sure we would be able to find plenty of stuff to keep us busy for four weeks, I was somewhat less convinced.

Our first exploration was up the colorado river, which crosses the main highway  just north of town.  This was a largely visual experience, so I'll turn this into a photo piece from here on out.

 Here is the Colorado River just above where you turn off Hwy 191.  It carries a LOT of silt and red rock runoff, resulting in the name.  These red rock cliffs run for miles and are visually stunning.

 The rock was built up in layers from the numerous times the great inland sea inundated the area over the last hundred million years, then erosion carved it into interesting shapes.

 Here is something I just couldn't figure out.  If you're going to spend several hours of your afternoon floating down the river, why on earth would you choose to do it standing up?  Give me a nice raft or canoe any day.

 Around every corner is another magnificent panorama.  You feel obligated to photograph them all, but after a while you begin to feel like your whole SD card is filled with the same picture.

 The little houses you can see in the middle of this shot are where the crew stayed when this part of the Colorado was substituted for the Rio Grande while making the movie of the same name with John Wayne and Maureen O'hara.

 Rafters picnicking on the shore.

 If this looks familiar it is because Fisher Towers have been a popular movie backdrop for decades.

Red rock hoodoos reminded us of Monument Valley

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


On Sept 10th we had more guests scheduled to stay at our property in Lead, SD so we had to pack up and move on.  We drove from Lead to Lusk, Wyoming.  What, you've never heard of Lusk?  Don't worry, neither has anyone else outside the city boundaries.  This little town offered nothing in the way of entertainment and we had a plenty long enough pull through, so we didn't even unhook the car.  Just fixed dinner in the coach and entertained ourselves through the evening.

The next day we drove to Cheyenne where we discovered the car would not start.  We had not remembered to remove the ignition key and the RPI automatic braking system had gradually drained the battery.  We did have a battery charger.  We don't travel completely unprepared.  But it was in the hatch back area and, when the battery is dead, there is no way to open the hatchback door.  Fortunately, the RV park we were staying in had heard this story before and kept a battery charger/starter on hand.  They hooked us up, got the car started and we were back in business. 

Colorado River from our campground at Gypsum
Over the next couple of days we drove down to Denver, then turned west and crossed the Rocky mountains.  It was a lovely drive and our Cummins engine took us over the 11,000 ft. summit with no problems.  We ended up staying near the little town of Gypsum, about halfway between Denver and Grand Junction at a motor home park right on the Colorado River, which at this point in its journey to the sea looks more like a creek.  Again, there was little to see in the way of sights and we left the car attached to the rig.  Not to get fooled twice, Vicki went back and got the key and while she was at it, set the parking brake.

The next morning we got up and got ready to go.  While I warmed up the diesel engine, Vicki went back and put the key back in the car and set it to Acc.  What she did not do was release the brake.  Our 500 HP Cummins was completely unconcerned by a little extra drag and off we roared, dragging our new Forester just over 120 miles at 65 MPH with the parking brake on.  We had no inkling until we unhooked the car at our campground in Fruita.  The parking brake had no "bite" whatsoever, but otherwise the car seemed to function okay as we drove off to find some lunch.  For the first mile that is.  Then it started making horrific grinding noises and we were forced to pull off the road and call triple A. 

The Grand Junction Subaru dealer was very nice but could not get it into their schedule that day.  The next morning when they took a look at it they said the pads were just gone and the rotors had melted.  Surprisingly, neither the wheels nor the tires appeared damaged.  The bad news was that they did not have the parts to fix it.  We paid extra to have the stuff shipped "overnight", which apparently translates to 2 days.  Then they could start working on it.  So we had three extra days in Fruita to consider our sins.

We were staying at Robb Colorado State Park and were able to extend our stay up to the weekend but no longer.  The park is a very nice facility right on the Colorado River.  It had long pull through parking pads running parallel to the campground road, a set up very similar to Rifle Gap State Park where we stayed a few years ago, and with full hook-ups.  We went to Sears and rented a car to use.  We were stuck, but at least the conditions were nice.
Balanced Rock at Colorado Nat Mon. from below
We took a day to explore Colorado National Monument which sits up in the canyons above Grand Junction.  We had been there before but that didn't make it any less beautiful. as the few pictures will demonstrate.  Unfortunately, once you have seen the National Monument, the entertainment possibilities of Grand Junction are largely used up.  We did a little more sight seeing and some grocery shopping but mostly spent the next two days in the coach.

We were concerned that we were going to be stuck over the weekend with no place to park, but at about 4:00 PM on Thursday the Subaru Dealer called to say the car was ready.  For only $1300 dollars n repairs and $200 for car rental it was good as new.  We hope.  We will see how it holds up over the next 3 months.  So Friday morning we packed up and cleared out of our camping spot so the weekenders could move in and we hit the road again headed for Moab, Utah.  Before we left, I checked to make sure the brake was off.

Balanced Rock from above.

Loking back down the canyon toward Grand Junction

Independence Monument

The Coke Ovens

Colorado River from Robb State Park campground

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Homestead and Homestake

We drove across Montana without any major mishaps and reached the Black Hills the last week of August.  There were still renters in our house, so we spent a few days in Rapid City doing chores like getting our car re-registered and talking to a lawyer about a South Dakota living trust, then we moved on to Lead (just south of Deadwood) where the house sits.

The South Dakota house with motorhome and dumpster
The major purpose of this visit (besides checking to see that the place was still standing) was to finally clear out enough of the detritus from our former lives to allow guests to actually park cars in the garage and fill the closets with their own clothes instead of ours.  As boring as this sounds, the reality was even worse, so we are not going to cover that at all except to note that Vicki ended up donating (I kid you not) about 300 lbs of clothes to charity.  The homeless females in Rapid City that can wear her size are going to be ecstatic. (We won't go into exactly what that size is.)

We had continued to drive through smoke all the way across Montana but when we got to the Black Hills a couple of things happened.  After a couple of windy days and a  thunder storm, the smoke and haze mostly cleared out, and in the last 50 miles or so we apparently drove out of the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains and the landscape turned green and beautiful.  This encouraged us to take a few days off from our labors to enjoy the Hills.

Meet Stan
Meet Stan.  He is the star attraction of the Black Hills Institute of Geologic Research, at their small museum in Hill City, dedicated to all things fossil.  They do real research but aren't directly connected to any university or foundation.  They apparently fund their activities by being world class experts in the preparation and reconstruction of fossils which are eventually displayed in other museums throughout the world.  They have a display room with several hundred fossils crammed into it.  And most of them ARE fossils. About two thirds of the specimens on display are actual rocks, not casts or reproductions.  That in itself is fairly unusual.

Stan is one of the best known T. Rex specimens ever collected.  He comes from the Hell's Creek formation in South Dakota (the same deposits where "Sue" was found) and was originally excavated by the Black Hills Institute
A bevy of T. Rexes
beginning in 1992.  They have sold about 30 copies to various museums around the world (and one to Disney World) at $100,000 apiece and the specimen has been used in mechanical studies to elucidate tyrannosaur physiology.  The BHI also has copies of a half dozen other T. Rex skulls on display for comparison.  They are impressive.

One of the paleontologists on staff is an expert on Ammonites, the ancestors of the modern day Nautalus, so the museum has a fair number of high grade Ammonite fossils.  I don't know what they looked like originally, but some of these have been polished to a fine opalescent finish and look pretty cool.  Overall, it is a great collection, if you have any interest in that sort of thing.  The only problem is that they could really use another 5000 sq. ft. to display all their stuff in a little more organized and relaxed setting.
Fat and happy fish fossil
Vicki and Big Al the Allosaurus

They could use a little more space
Where the buffalo roam and the antelope play
Donkey begging for handouts
One of our favorite places is Custer State Park in the southern Black Hills and we took a day off to go drive through this area again even though we have been there a few times before.  We went around the wildlife loop and saw more bison and pronghorns.  They also have a herd of feral donkeys in the park that are descendants of animals that were once used to haul tourists over the hills.  When motorized conveyances took over that job, they just let the animals go and they have apparently thrived.  They seem to make up a good portion of their living begging from tourists and the
Prairie dog
park administrators don't seem to mind.  It is strictly forbidden to feed the "wild" animals but feeding these feral donkeys is not only allowed but encouraged.  We also drove through a prairie dog town that we did not remember from previous visits, though we must have driven past it.

The Homestake Mine in Lead, SD has been called the richest 100 sq miles on earth.  It was actively mined for gold and silver for 126
Homestake Mine pit, just out the back door of the museum
years, closing in 2002.  It was aquired early on, using less than honest means, by George Hearst (father of William Randolph) who
had learned how to mine and process quartz veins in California. 
The result of processing one ton of gold ore.
The ore at Homestake was not rich, but there was a lot of it.  The little nugget shown in the picture shows how much gold they got for processing a ton of Homestake ore.  But underground the mine extended over a 100 sq mile area and went over 8000 feet deep, the largest, deepest mine in the western hemisphere.

In the 1960s an abandoned part of the mine was used by Raymond Davis Jr. to build a laboratory for studying neutrinos emitted from the sun.  The 8000 feet of rock covering were needed to filter out cosmic rays that contaminated such experiments.  He found solar neutrinos but not enough of them, leading to major rethinking of solar physics and elementary particles.  The problem was finally solved in the 1990s.  The site has more recently been taken over by Sanford Labs. as a research center for detecting dark matter and ongoing study of neutrinos.  They built administrative offices and a small museum in town at the edge of the old mine pit. These weren't there when we came last year. We visited the museum but a tour down the mine shaft wasn't in our schedule and will have to be put off until another visit.  That's OK.  Well need to keep coming back anyway to check on our minuscule real estate holdings.