Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Own Desert Places

A few days ago LC and I went for a drive on BLM land behind the house.
Atomic City is a tiny speck in the desert.  Little more than a grain of sand in the Snake River Plain.  Located in a 70 mile wide bowl that is surrounded in every direction by mountains.
It takes all of 60 seconds to drive from our house in Atomic City to the edge of town.  
Beyond the edge of town is that vast expanse of nothingness.
Only it's not really nothingness.
Just like the endless seeming-emptiness of BLM outside Cody, if you look - really look - there is much to see.
On this particular day (one more cool and sunny fall day), LC and I headed down the flat dirt and gravel road, with no particular destination or agenda in mind.
Just to........move........explore........quietly be with each other in the safety of each others' company.
When I look at the picture above I see a lot of things.
The dry and sun scorched earth.  All the grasses are now brown.  So are the sage brushes that were blooming bright green with bright yellow flowers only a few weeks ago but which are now dormant for the year.
In the background of the picture I see the Table Top butte that we explored last month:
In the foreground I see a small rocky hill - one of a series of seven that we did not know about but quickly found not long after leaving the house.
The sheer vastness of the land makes height and distance deceiving, and as we approached the series of small hills thought little about them.
Up close they were hundreds of feet high, each one separated by a few hundred feet.
And we spent a long time exploring this unexpected series of rises before continuing further.
Finally I see the sky.
When I look at some of my desert pictures the sky always seems to stand out for me.  It speaks to me in ways that I don't understand and contains secrets that I also don't understand.
But it is compelling and it is beautiful...............
We stay to ourselves most of the time in Atomic City.
Actually, most people who live there stay to themselves most of the time.
But people stop and talk when they see us outside, and we do the same when we see them, and everyone is friendly and helpful.
Many have been surprisingly successful in their lives - INL (Secret Squirrel Lab) workers, a renowned chef who owned restaurants both in Idaho and Utah, a California transplant who is still closing up his life there and will soon be here full-time and who installed sound systems into the homes of entertainment stars, others.
No-one had mentioned this series of rocky hills, and so they caught us off guard.
Only 10 minutes from the house we stopped the truck in the middle of the dusty and sandy trail we had been slowly driving, and climbed out curious to see what we had found.
A view of the mountain chain to our west.
They say that there are enough of these dirt roads throughout this area that we could reach Aberdeen, Craters of the Moon, Arco, all without every hitting pavement.
I've looked at the Google maps and I believe them...............
This entire part of the country is filled with lava rock.
Endless amounts of scorched black, quickly cooled and air pocket filled lava rock.
The contrast of jet black rock and brown, dried sage brush was pleasing to me and I snapped a number of quick pictures before moving on to the first hill............ 
Looking south(ish) at the mountains that were still covered in mist.
Somewhere in the mist was the town of Blackfoot, but you can still see occasional hints of farms close to town.
Heading south from Atomic City the first 15 miles towards Blackfoot is nothing but what you see in pictures likes these.  Sage and rock and desert grasses and total emptiness.
For the next 10 miles you find yourself surrounded on both sides of the highway by very huge farms that grow hay and potatoes and cattle and other cash crops.
The last five miles before reaching town are increasing numbers of homes and light industrial businesses............ 
Looking north towards Arco............. 
West towards Cedar Butte and the taller Big Southern Butte.
LC and I have committed to walk Big Butte early in November.
The weather will be cool, the rattlesnakes will be gone, and both of us will have mustered enough courage to be able to tackle the five mile trek up to the top.
But as we stood on top of one of the seven small hills on this day and looked over towards the two buttes, we suddenly decided on a goal for this trip after all.
From where we were standing we could see trees on Cedar Butte and wanted to explore it more closely.
Right after having a good look around the hills we were currently surrounded by............ 
One of the Twin Buttes............
Can you see what I mean about the sky?
I don't know if the sky is truly different in this region of the country, or if it is a perceptual observation that is influenced by the emptiness and flatness of so much of the land, or what exactly causes that.
Or if it's just me.
I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is something about the sky that enthralls me............ 
Cedar Butte in front.  Big Butte in back.
We ended up hiking much of Cedar Butte during this same trip.
From where we stood looking at it, Cedar Butte didn't look like it would be very interesting or very demanding, but we were wrong on both counts.
It looks NOTHING up close like it looks from a distance (a blog for another day).
But we decided while standing on the rocky hills to go see it.  Because there were trees.  We had heard that there were elk and deer.  We would go see what we could find.............
LC at the top of one of the seven hills...........
Twin Buttes..............
If you click on this picture it will enlarge. 
Barely visible (in the center of the picture) is Atomic City..............
A closer look at the porous rock that completely filled this area............
I have noticed this plant all over the desert and all over town during the past few months.
It grows in large clumps just like these, is a combination of light green and white in summer, turns purple and white in early fall, and then fades into beige (as does the entire world around us) in late fall.
I like it very much but have no idea what it is...............
Satisfied after exploring each of the hills, and with a goal now to explore Cedar Butte, LC and I headed back to the truck.
I don't know how we missed it the first time, but close the truck on the way back, I stopped for a few moments to take pictures of these animal bones.
A common sight in Wyoming.  A less-common but still regular sight in the desert in Idaho............

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces between stars -- on stars where no human race is. I have it in me so much nearer home to scare myself with my own desert places...........Robert Frost


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