Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Underachiever

Even though we are only in mid-February I am beginning to get the sense that winter is slowly receding.
Only a week ago the temperatures were freezing and we had much snow.
By the end of this week (that is forecasted to be filled with some snow and mostly rain) temperatures are supposed to reach the upper 40's.
Maybe it is only my hope that winter is beginning to leave but I don't think so.
The weather is very changeable now - constantly on the move - varying wildly in that way that it does when winter is not deep-winter but hanging-on-by-its-fingernails-winter.
In November LC and I got our "join the Arbor Foundation and receive 10 free trees" trees.
I had expected bigger and was disgusted when I tore open the bag and saw the size of the tiny and fragile spruce trees.
After planting them in the green house, covering them with inches of saw dust and wood chips to protect them from the cold, I watered them regularly throughout these past months, wondering if I could nurture tiny single-strand spruce trees into decent sized trees that could eventually be planted in the yard.
It turns out that I can't.
Yesterday, as I hauled a jug full of water out to the greenhouse I looked at the sorry little half brown, half green, needle-losing saplings and resigned myself to the fact that they were a done deal.
I should have known better.  Actually I did know better but thought I'd give it a shot anyway................

A couple of days ago LC, Kory and I drove out to Cedar Butte.
Only the day before, we had woken up to a few inches of new snow on the ground, but I saw that much of it had already melted in the above freezing temperatures we received, as we headed towards the butte.
We had talked about driving all the way around Cedar Butte, and decided that on this mild and very beautiful day, we would stop talking about it and finally do it.
Cedar Butte is located about 8 miles from Atomic City and can only be accessed by driving dirt and gravel and mud and snow covered road through BLM land.
Cedar lies in the shadow of its younger brother Big Butte.
Unlike Big Butte, which proudly towers over the desert and silently surveys the entire Snake River Plain for a hundred miles in every direction, Cedar is the overlooked brother.
From a distance Cedar Butte looks like nothing more than an inconsequential rise on the desert floor.
From the top of Big Butte, Cedar looks like nothing more than a dark spot in the barren desert.
As though a giant child took great pleasure in building a sand castle, and then took even greater pleasure in smashing his work down to the ground again with his giant, chubby hand.
While sitting on top of Big Butte eating a ham and cheese sandwich and looking out over forever, I could even hear his giant boy-child laughter in the wind.
Compared to Big Butte that is located 10 miles further into the desert, Cedar is the underachiever.  The overlooked.  The one who took the year book editor instead of the head cheerleader to the prom.
But as you drive closer to any of the multiple dirt roads that lead up into the hills, you realize that Cedar Butte is an often overlooked gem.
It is used extensively by four wheelers and dirt bikers.  It is known regionally as a great hunting spot.  LC and I have (both together and separately) explored this butte a number of times in the past, each time seeing a different portion of it.  
Even with those trips and even with us taking the time to drive the entire circumference the other day, there is still much to see................

These pictures were taken early into the trip.
As with previous trips with Kory, we had full intentions of letting her run off leash so that she could also freely explore.
As with previous trips, LC and I kept her on leash.
We have heard large coyote packs barking and howling on this butte throughout the winter, and keep hesitating to free our pup because of it
As we slowly made our way around this first portion of the base of the butte, we also saw tracks that were as large as Korys.  Large coyote?  Wolf?  We weren't sure................
If we had simply driven around the butte without stopping, we would have completed the trip in about an hour.  
On this very beautiful and warm day in early February though, we stopped frequently.
Stops to take pictures.  Stops to allow Kory to sniff animal tracks that criss crossed in every direction in the snow.  To check out the short, stocky cedar trees that are unpretty but abundant in the harsh desert environment where Cedar Butte lives and breathes.................
Looking north towards the Big Lost River Valley.............
The top of Big Butte visible through the trees................
Early into our trip the road was narrow, slowly climbed, and was covered in snow.
As we found our way to the backside of Cedar Butte the horizon suddenly and unexpectedly opened up to us.  
The road was in poor shape.  Deeply rutted out as a result of careless four wheeling.  The partially frozen and partially mud floor of a desert in the earliest stages of spring.
As expected, LC's truck was beginning to get very dirty and that was fine.
As we climbed out of the truck LC grabbed for Korys leash and began to hike his way up to the top of a small hill. I watched him hike for a moment with Kory happily in tow, and then turned my attention back to the silence of the desert.
I looked to my right and saw trails on Cedar that we would not get to on this day.
I looked up ahead of me and saw a snow covered Big Butte, and then looked further, absently trying to judge just how many miles of empty desert I could see.
Too many to judge.
The truck was turned off.  Kory wasn't barking.  We weren't talking.  The snow wasn't crunching.  Birds weren't singing and wind wasn't blowing and jets weren't jetting overhead.
There was just silence.  For a moment I continued to look out into the distance, trying to see all the things that I couldn't see.
Surprisingly, for a moment, I was in no hurry to follow my guy and my dog.
Finally, after carelessly snapping pictures rapid fire in all directions, I turned and headed up the hill.............
For 90 minutes we three explorers had seen endless trails, desert, trees, mountains, blue sky, as we slowly made our way on the rutted out, snowy and muddy road we had picked up to drive around Cedar Butte.
As we came around a bend though, both of us were surprised to see these his very big, very sturdy, metal fence.
Sitting alone in the snow, it was obvious that no man and no beast had been to this place all winter.
Parking the truck, we eagerly climbed out..............
We had seen a number of wooden corrals on BLM land close to home over the past six months, but this was the first made of metal, and I was instantly curious about it.
As LC and Kory wandered off trail in one direction I blindly snapped a few quick pictures.
The sun was now so bright that I could see nothing but a black screen through my camera view finder.
I could hear noise behind me and realized that LC was digging through a pile of...........what?
Curious, I headed in his direction to see what he had found..................
By the time I walked up the deeply snowy hill, LC was on the way back down to his truck, on a mission to retrieve tools.
There were huge piles of burned cans in a couple of different piles.  Other piles contained old palettes and old lumber, much of it wrapped up in endless yards of tangled electrical and barbed wire.
Looking at the wood I could see that some of it was still holding aged hinges and rusty..........stuff..........other metal things that LC would surely love to have and add to his growing collection of rusty discards................
In between the old burned piles of cans, and the tangled piles of old wood and old lumber, I smiled at the sight of the old rusted cans complete with bullet holes.
One of them came home with us on this day, and now sits in LC's garage................
A couple of hours after we had first pulled off the road, picked up a trail and wound our way around Cedar Butte, we again saw the Borah Mountain Range to the north.
We had seen multiple tracks but no animals.  We had seen beautiful, endless views, and found trails that we still want to explore in the future.  We had decided that when the weather finally does break we will camp up here for a day or so, take our time on foot and explore further.
A trip on Cedar Butte with LC in November:
A trip with Kory in November:
A trip for all three of us in November:
Every trip has brought new sights and different adventures, and they have all been special for different reasons...........

As we pulled back onto the dirt road where our journey had begun I fully expected LC to turn right and begin our journey back towards the house.
Instead, he asked me if I wanted to drive up to Big Butte.
Looking at my pup sitting in the seat between LC and me, and who was obviously beginning to tire, I suggested we head in that direction for a while and see what we would see.  
Maybe we would get as far as Big Butte and maybe we would not, but on this quiet day when we were both up for quiet adventures, it didn't really matter how far we got.
We headed in the direction of big brother..............

I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found................John Muir

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