Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday night, Baker City, Oregon. Yesterday we explored Craters of the Moon, a 75-mile national monument park in Idaho where astronauts once trained because of its moon-like barren environment. At Craters of the Moon, a series of volcanos erupted about 15,000 years ago and have continued to erupt about every 2,000 years. The last eruption was 2,000 years ago, so geologists predict the next eruption could be any time, that is geologic time, any time within 100 or 1,000 years. Not exactly next week.

After Waterton, Glacier, and Yellowstone, I was not prepared to be wowed. But, wow! We learned about the two types of lava, named after Hawaiian lava, aa (rough rocks) and Pahoehoe (smooth stuff). The pahoehoe forms in long ropy lava tubes, some small and some large enough to form caves. We climbed down into Indian Cave, a very large lava tube that extends about 800 hundred feet long and in places 30 feet high and 50 feet wide. The Shoshone used this particular cave to shelter from the severe snowy winters in their travel across the lava expanse; some of the stones inside the cave may have ceremonial significance, though no additional information is available. The trail was not marked through this cave, and we had to scramble over lava rocks about 20 feet high. Two ravens flew through the cave, and parts were dark, but rest assured, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We emerged from the other end to find again no trail back. We hiked now along the top of this gigantic lava tube, using markers for bearings. This was almost too much adventure! We also stood inside a spatter cone, hiked up a cinder cone, and walked around several trails, admiring the tenacity of life, as trees and shrubs somehow find a niche and survive the extremes of temperature and soil.

Today has been the first day of school at Linn-Benton, and I find myself thinking of colleagues and students starting classes for the first time. Instead of teaching, today we spent at the Oregon Trail Discovery Center in Baker City. I have renewed appreciation for those pioneers who headed west in covered wagons. We hiked around the hill outside the Center and stood in the old trail ruts for a moment. All the pictures showed great privation as people mostly walked the 2,000 miles along the Oregon trail. At least I’m back in Oregon, but headed tomorrow for Hell’s Canyon, then north to Spokane. Each day is sunny. May it be so for you! Beth

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday morning, West Yellowstone. These past two days we've hiked Mammoth Hot Springs and the Norris Geyser Basin. It's hard not to realize the interconnectedness of all things in nature, even to the micro level, as the temperature of some of these hot springs affect what can live in any pool as does the mineral content, so colors range from rich orange to purest blue. For example, yellow has more sulphur (smelly eggs) between 140-181 degrees F, while emerald green is mostly algae at below 133 degrees F.

The entire ecosystem is a scientist's dream! Signs everywhere warn people to stay on the trail, for the crust of the earth is very fragile. Every year some people are scalded and some die because they fall through the crust; sometimes the boardwalks themselves must be changed because vents, pools, and mudpots shift. We can see sturdy pine trees growing right to the edge of the basin, and as we walk through, hear the puffs, huffs, and gurgles of different kinds of water and steam pushing up from underneath the ground.
Our absolute favorite at Mammoth Hot Springs was the Orange Mound with its mysterious white, orange and green coloring. Who could forget at Norris Basin the Emerald Pool, the Blue Mud Steam Vent, the Pearl Geyser, or the Steamboat Geyser (it's last eruption of some 300 feet was in 2005, with an unpredictable cycle sometime in the next 40 years or so).
Yes, we continue to see lots of animals everywhere. Yesterday a bison was trying to cross the road, but a river of slow-moving cars prevented him, so he headed down one lane, backing up traffic, while we moved in the opposite direction. I'll try to post more pictures in WEBSHOTS (see link to right), but our connection with internet is tenuous, and starting tomorrow, we'll be on the road again, headed for the Tetons. Ah for the days of comcast! The writing is going reasonably well, but the hills around us as we enter Yellowstone are starting to be dotted with the deep red and brilliant yellow of true fall. That must mean school is soon starting. Make it a good week! Beth

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thursday, September 18, 2007. Last night the weather turned cold, 32 degrees, but Yellowstone is simply overwhelming in its beauty. Formed by a series of three immense volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, the entire park (approximately 35 by 45 miles) is really the caldera of the last ancient volcano. As we travel throughout the park, we see sweeping forest and mountain views, bison, a herd of elk, lots of tourists, and, thankfully, no bears, except Brownie, our gift bear for joining the Yellowstone Association, which preserves the park.

Yellowstone is recovering from the disastrous fire of 1988. We can see evidence of the damage everywhere. Blackened Lodgepole pines spot the forest floor here and there, but the forest floor is crowded with new growth. Apparently, the pinecones of the Lodgepole pine are sealed shut until a fire opens the cone and 50,000 seeds spring out from just one cone. This rich new growth covers the hills, with trees already 6-10 feet high.

Our goal this first day is to hike through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and view its Upper and Lower Falls. This is no small feat at an elevation of about 9,000 feet (breathe deeply!), and drops to the canyon floor of about 300 feet. The views are spectacular, the rock colors white, red, black, orange and brown, all depending on the level of iron and minerals, and all hewn into fantastic shapes by erosion. By the end of the day, our feet are tired, but we are ready to return tomorrow for more exploration. I can't believe these pictures as everywhere I look, I see a postcard view! Beth

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I couldn't resist posting this picture of a mother grizzley bear I took as I struggle to master the digital zoom on this new camera. Yesterday we saw 6 bears, 4 black bears and 2 grizzleys, and the grizzley had 2 cubs with her. Apparently that's when they're most aggressive. Warnings are up for hunters with dogs, but no warnings for hikers. I guess we rank lower than the berries the bears are eating like crazy, getting ready for hibernation. Seeing these bears in their natural habitat is thrilling. Yesterday while driving through Waterton, we saw a brown bear just ambling along a ridge line, several hundred feet from the road, completely alone, nose up, sniffing for food. Later, we saw another black bear sitting in a patch of berries, the last berries before winter. People were stopped everywhere along the road, and the bear was just about 20 feet away, a little too close for me, but he ate unconcernedly, ignoring the cameras and other crunchy snacks.

We're in Fort McLeod now, after collapsing the tent yesterday in Waterton. A fierce wind storm took out one of the tent poles, so after decades, it's time for a new tent. Of course we get hot water, a bathtub and access to internet as part of the motel -- I won't say anything about the continental breakfast as I'm grateful for the granola and yogurt in my breakfast box.

Yesterday we also visited the Smashed-in-Head-Buffalo-Jump Center and were awed by the vista of the plains stretching out east before us for we are now on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies. What a communal effort it was to bring down and butcher these bison and how that work enabled survival. Natives have lived and hunted in this area for more than 5,000 years and new discoveries are being made every year. I liked best the sacred painted buffalo skull, black and white dots pointing to eternity.

Today we go to a Japanese Garden here in Fort McLeod, considered to be the best in the Westsern hemisphere, then we head back to the State and tent-hunting. The sun is shining, all is well with the world. I hope all is well with you and yours. Beth

PS Matt, thanks for the comment. Send me an e-mail!
PS If you want to download a picture of Mother Bear, go to my webshots (see link upper right)

Monday, September 10, 2007

My feet are tired from today's 4 mile hike, but I couldn't resist posting these two pictures of some of the incredible mountains here in Glacier National Park. In 1850 some 150 glaciers decorated the mountains; today, we're down to about 25 throughout the park, with these expected to evaporate by 2030, another testament to the reality of global warming. With the hottest temperatures posted in 2007, rangers are seeing changes in not only in animal habitation and migration, but the dreaded beetle disease that has devastated so many thousands of acres of Canadian forests in appearing here as well. Even so, the mountains are beautiful, and we did see mountain goats up close and personal, even though they are quite wild, and a mother grizzley with two cubs. I was too excited to use the digital zoom, so my pictures of the bears are rather blurry.

It's hard to write about the sense of wonder that we feel as we hike through these mountains. Fall will come quickly. We see the first yellow leaves in quaking aspen and birches, ferns are fading to brown, and flowers are rare, bear grass, wild asters, Indian paintbrush, and fireweed, all seen rarely now. But the mountains soar above all, and after a 3 or 4 hour hike, the world seems more a place of beauty and peace. Beth

Sunday, September 09, 2007

At the same time that dear colleagues are headed back to school for in-service in 90 degree weather, Allen and I are hiking in Glacier National Park. Yesterday snow dusted the mountains, and today the high was in the 70s. Yesterday also brought excitement not found in LBCC hallways. We were taking pictures of a mountain goat along side the road when we spotted a grizzley bear ambling along the hillside. Just for a few moments we could see this magnificant wild creature, surrounded by high mountains.

I also conquered my fear of heights by hiking along the Highline Trail, not difficult in terms of length, only 1.5 miles, but the trail wound along a sheer cliff. One side was rock, the other straight down. Only perseverance and those little iron rings that "real" climbers use kept us going. But the views were magnificent. Altogether the hiking has been spectacular -- as I hope the picture shows.

So do I miss teaching yet? I'm still getting used to the reality of retirement, where each day is entirely open. Tomorrow we'll hike in the upper portion of Glacier National Park and then go on to Canada. I can report that very quickly when we're camping I have renewed appreciation for the small things in life -- like hot water, showers, and access to the internet! For now, I wish you all a very good school year, one filled with the very best of students, good colleagues, and short meetings! And I hope to see you on the road! Beth