Friday, July 11, 2014

Short Trip To The Desert

Even though we live in a tiny desert community that is surrounded in every direction by vast swaths of empty BLM land, the residents of Atomic City have found ways to make their personal spaces comfortable.
Green, cool, flower filled, vegetable filled spaces amid the barren emptiness that surrounds it.
Most residents tend to both flower gardens and vegetable gardens, and they curse the deer who eventually wander into town to graze on anything that is not safely secured behind a deer-proof barrier.
They meticulously water lawns, and plant trees as a hedge against the unrelenting summer sun.
In small and large ways they quietly build their own personal oasis in the desert.
We have begun to do that as well - watering lawns and trimming trees and transplanting flowers and even half heartedly getting a late start on pitiful looking pepper and tomato plants.
Our own makeshift oasis in the middle of nowhere.
Atomic City doesn't feel like a desert town through the winter.
But when summer eventually does find its way to this forgotten corner of the world there is suddenly (seemingly overnight) a startling reminder that we live in the high desert of Idaho................

A few days ago LC and I decided late in the afternoon to go for a short drive out onto BLM land.
I had the cabin fever.
The kind that one can only get when the fans and swamp cooler are humming endlessly and when the front curtains are still closed against the unrelenting sun.
It was too early to venture too far outside.
I knew that.  
But the sun had surprisingly disappeared behind cloud cover and I thought "I need to get out of this house".
And so we went.
Driving down the gravel road and past the BLM Fire Station (that is now manned for the summer), we turned right onto Big Butte Rd.
If we had stayed on this road we would have eventually circled around the back side of Big Butte (18 slow and bumpy miles away) until we arrived at the trail head that is the start of the epic climb up to the top of this huge and lone behemoth in the desert.
Instead we drove for 10 minutes and pulled the truck off the road and onto the grassy and sage-filled shoulder.
We have slowly been exploring an expansive lave field, and stopped on this trip to explore one more section.
As I climbed out of the truck I looked around me.
We may have left our small and personal oasis, but 10 minutes drive out of town and there was no doubt that this land had not ever been touched by man.
A hugely interesting environment when viewed alongside the comforting knowledge that the air conditioned truck was right behind us, we had plenty of water, and our cool and comfortable house was right down the road.
A deathly brutal environment at any other time.
There have been people who have died out here.  
And certainly there has been much animal life that has perished in this unforgiving place.................
The top of Big Butte barely visible over the rise.
Our last two trips out to this lava field over the past month had been exceptional adventures filled with unexpectedly lush plant life, unique rock formations, beautiful views, and rises, nooks and crannies for both curious humans and energetic dogs to explore.
I had noticed this section of the lava field many times as we drove out to Cedar Butte or Big Butte in the past.
Always curious about the tall rises and the long fissures in the rocks, but always seeming to be heading someplace else instead.
So I was excited to finally be able to explore this place...............
LC and Kory on top of a rise, while I held back and snapped pictures...........
As we were slowly driving out to the lava field the sun reappeared from behind the clouds.
In the air conditioned comfort of the truck I thought nothing of that observation at the time, but as soon as I climbed out of the truck the heat hit me like a ton of bricks.
What the hell was I thinking?  
I hadn't been thinking, obviously.
Nobody - neither man nor beast nor woman - had any business climbing around on lava rocks in the middle of the desert in the middle of the afternoon in July, and yet here we were.
The wind was strong, but even the wind was hot.
Since we were already there I willed myself to ignore the heat, and instead turned my attention to the rock that was laying in front of me.
Whenever I see these kinds of rocks I always find myself instantly traveling back in time in my mind.
Trying to picture the explosions, the heat, the violence, the flowing lava, the decimation of every living thing in its path.
The complete and utter transformation of an entire region of the country.
It is stunning to consider.  Stunning to imagine.............
For a brief while a month or two ago, the desert was
Already the bright greens and the dusty greens of plant life in the Snake River Plain region are slowly but surely beginning to give way to beige.
Browns and yellows and goldens and the ever present beige.
Concerned about the heat I glanced over at Kory, trying to monitor how she was faring.
So far so good................
Playing Queen Of The Castle I climbed to the top of the first rocky-rise we had come to, and stood there royally surveying my kingdom.
Actually I stood on the rise wondering for the 20th time in just the brief time we had been at this place, just what the heck we were doing here.
I had seen the long rock wall from a distance many times as we passed over the railroad tracks on the way to one butte or another in the past, but had never seen it from this perspective.
There was magic and mystery in this place, and even though I was hot I was eager to see it..............
A few weeks ago the lush vegetation found growing in the wide cracks in the rocks was bright green.
It is still green but the heat and dryness are beginning to take their toll..............
LC and Kory had already climbed down from the first rocky hill - first climbing to the top then making their way to the right (along the crest) until they eventually worked their way down and around to the back side.
These pictures were all snapped quickly as I followed suit.............
As soon as I got to the back side of the first rise I stopped moving for a few moments, surprised at the change.
It had been hot walking from the truck across BLM land, and then climbing to the top of the first rise.
On the back side of that rise was a meandering path that began wide open but which quickly narrowed.
With lava rock rises on both sides of me the air temperature had immediately risen another 10 degrees.
I had felt the startling difference as soon as I rounded the back side of the rock wall.
My first reaction was complete surprise at the change in temperature.
My second reaction was "we need to go home".
By the time I found LC around a bend in the grassy path, he was sitting on a rock looking very overheated.
I had no doubt that I looked about the same.
Worried, I looked down at my sweet dog, and was reassured with bright, happy eyes and a wagging tail.
She was fine.
We were not.
It was time to go.
Disappointed that I did not get to see the rest of this section of the lava field, LC and I both knew that we would be back again soon...............
It was the farthest she had ever been from home, not only in miles but in feeling. The vastness of the desert frightened her. Everything looked too far away, even the cloudless sky. There was nowhere you could hide in such emptiness................James Carlos Blake, The Rules of Wolfe: A Border Noir, 2013

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