Saturday, November 22, 2014

Next Crazy Adventure - Part 1

A few days ago I loaded Kory into the Tahoe, drove a few miles out onto BLM land and explored a large and ancient lava field.
The day was mild.  Foggy.  Misty.  Silent and beautiful.
LC, Kory and I began to wander this lava field one day through the summer.
Climbing out of the truck we crossed a short ways over sage brush and low cacti and then began to climb up and over the volcanic rock.
Quickly we found ourselves in back of the first hill and began to wander through surprisingly lush and green grass - a function of the rich soil that volcanic rock leaves behind after centuries of break down.
And immediately the air temperature rose 10 degrees.
One moment we were walking in hot.  The next moment we were walking in a blast furnace.
We walked all of five more minutes before deciding that it was too damn hot, that this was no damn fun, and that it was damn time to call it quits.
A few months later, this time only with Kory, and this time on a mild day and surrounded by gradually melting snow, I wandered this place again.................
As I crossed the same sage covered and cacti covered section of BLM land I watched Kory as she happily ran in the snow.
Cedar Butte lay clear in front of me a couple of miles away, and a cloud-shrouded Big Butte lay silently to its right ten miles beyond Cedar, partially covered in cold mist.
The site of both of these buttes always pleases me.
They are beautiful and familiar and a permanent and ever present part of the landscape in this desert place.............
The mountains of the Big Lost River Valley to my north were gone.
Disappeared in the cloud cover.
No matter. 
I knew that they were there.  As the buttes were there..............
As I reached the edge of the hill and cautiously began the climb I watched my sweet girl approach, and then effortlessly bound up the hill in four athletic leaps.
Show off.
I smiled up at her as she played Queen of the Castle, surveying her domain with the confidence of the athlete that she was................
There is nothing smooth about ancient volcanic rock.
Molten lava that cooled quickly into tortured shapes.
That cracked and buckled and cooled into permanent waves like an ocean in the sand.
The story of the rocks burning history was hidden beneath the sporadic snow, and I awkwardly maneuvered up and across the hill in pursuit of my dog who was again on the run.................
There are lava rock gardens hidden all over the desert, and we spent a good part of the summer exploring some of them.
This was the biggest one so far, and as I continued to maneuver my way over rock and ice and snow, I was excited to explore.
Kory was excited as well, and I smiled as she continually climbed up and down and over rocks, sticking her nose curiously in small crevices, sticking her nose cautiously into small caves that were buried into the rocks.
It was a great day to be where we were, doing exactly what we were doing...........
Looking back the way we had come.
The rock field was huge.
Much bigger than I had ever imagined and much bigger than it looked from the road.
There were endless hills around me and in front of me, and natural paths between each hill where I could walk............
As I continued to slowly walk the natural path between the hills I looked around me.
The edges of this place were smoother in the winter.
The rough edges and the violence of its history were all lost in the snow, but I stood for a moment looking around me and in awe of it all anyway.
I loved this place.
It felt like another world.
A world different from the flat land, the sage brush, the desert grasses that were my world close to town.
We had only driven six miles and we were in a completely different and prehistoric environment, and I loved it.
Still standing in one place I looked up at Kory, who was again standing at the top of a hill looking out over her world.
I had walked the flat pathway through the rocks and hills, but this dog had run up and down every hill that we had passed.
She was loving it as well, and I relished in the joy of her explorations................
Something caught my attention up on a hill and I stood on the snow covered path wondering what I was looking at.
There were three small rises.
They looked like small rock towers.
They looked man-made.  As if someone had taken the time to actually pile small, square pieces of crumbling lava rock one on top of the other.
I was curious.............
This is what much of the rocks looked like without snow.
Click on any picture and it will enlarge..............
My dog was already at the top of the hill.
Holy Cow.  She made it look easy!
If I had thought about it before I left the house I would have put my Yak Trax on:
I was wearing insulated and waterproof boots.  They were doing exactly what they were intended to do - to keep my feet dry and warm.
But they had a rubber sole and little tread, and wearing them made climbing difficult.
I hadn't even thought about climbing when I left the house, and yet here I was getting ready to climb the second hill of this trip.
Smiling one last time at my dog, I started to climb.  The going was slippery and uneven and I stepped carefully.
Wrong boots, but I was here now, so I would just have to make it work...............
Approaching the rocks I was intrigued.
The three small rock stacks were only a couple of feet tall.  Stacks of square lava pieces piled one on top of the other, and placed in a triangle.
I stood looking at them, glanced around to make sure that Kory was still in view, and then turned my attention back to the piles.
Were these natural?  These stacks?
I was not sure but I didn't think so.
There was nothing that I had seen (and there was nothing that I saw after I left these stacks) that looked just like these.
I remembered the stone stacks that were so predominant in Juneau.  It was almost a past-time for residents to build rock towers while wandering on one of the many beaches up there.
But still...........this was the desert.
The wide open, endless, expansive, abandoned desert.
People did not just wander out here on foot.  OK..........I did.  But most people didn't.
I looked at them again.  Studying them.  Wondering about them.
Eventually deciding that they must be natural, although not entirely convinced of that...............
Standing at the top of the hill beside the small rock towers I looked around me again.
A couple of hundred yards away I smiled when I saw this.
It was a perfect view of the cracked rock on top of a small rise................
Eventually it was time to climb back down the hill and continue wandering the seemingly endless paths between hills................
Throughout our trip I found trees here and there, reaching out from between the cracks in the rocks.
Struggling and succeeding in breaking through the boundaries of the rocks to reach for the sun.
They were naked trees.  The skeletons of trees, and their stark beauty was compelling against a grey and overcast sky.
I have often been in wonderment of some of the trees out in the desert.
They have the ability to find the barest sliver of dirt and survive on the barest amount of water.
Survivors in a sometimes unwelcoming landscape...................
She is beautiful and very strong.
I think that Kory was enjoying this quiet adventure even more than I was.
Certainly she was traveling two or three times the distance that I was....................
I stood looking up at my dog.
She had already climbed to the top of this steep hill once and was on the way back down when she decided to stand on the side of the hill and look out over the entire world.
As I watched her I made the instant decision that I wanted to see the world from up there as well.
Stepping off the natural, snow covered trail I began to climb the hill.
As before, this hill was slippery and steep, only this hill was much steeper and much taller, and I quickly realized that reaching the top was going to be a hand and foot proposition.
Using rocks and limbs as hand holds I slowly scrambled up the hill.
Looking up while still climbing, I realized that my girl had already beat me to the top.............
When I reached the top I looked to my right and realized that the rock ledge was so high that I could not see over it.
Looking straight ahead of me I saw the Big Butte.
For the first time that morning I noticed that the sky was beginning to clear.
On my way up the hill I had thought that I might be able to climb to the top of the hill, and then scramble down the back side of it and pick up a different trail.
But as I reached the top it was immediately obvious that that was not going to happen.
Thick rock lay in a long straight line across the length of the hill, but there was also a HUGE crack in the rock.
In front of me the space was big enough that I could not get over it to reach the opposite wall of the hill top.
The crack was even wider to my right so that was not going to work.
Looking to my left I could not see  how wide the gap was, and so cautiously I worked my way in that direction.............
Wasn't going to work.
There was no way to safely cross over the wide gap in the rocks, and after balancing along the edge of the crack for a hundred feet or so in vain search of a way to get across, I begrudgingly realized that the only way to go was to head back down the hill..................
Heading back down the hill was easier said than done.
I had used rocks for leverage, and sage bushes for hand holds on the way up the hill, but suddenly the prospect of heading back down a steep, rocky, snow covered lava rock hill seemed uninviting at best and dangerous at worst.
Oh geeze.
I stood still for a minute looking over this huge downhill, considering which route looked safest.
Glancing over at my dog I realized that she was already working her way back down.  Good choice Baby Girl.
Good choice for an athletic dog with a low center of gravity as it turned out, and after struggling for a few minutes I decided to stop again and consider again.
And then suddenly I had my answer. 
I may have been wearing slick rubber boots that were doing me no favor, but I was also wearing insulated and waterproof pants.
Insulated.  Waterproof.  Pants.
I squatted and inched my way down over one rock after another, no longer caring about the snow and not needing to try to stay dry.
With low center of gravity, no need for balance checks in an upright position, no worries about my feet sliding out from under me, I easily slid and butt-scooted my way down to the bottom of the hill.
Views of the hill Kory climbed twice and I climbed once...............
You can see the waves and cracks in the rock in this picture....................
Continuing to walk the nice, safe, flat path.
By this time we had been exploring for over an hour and I began to think about how I might get out of this lava rock field and begin circling my way back to the Tahoe.
I was not ready to go home yet, but it was time to stop just blindly heading further away from the truck.
Looking ahead of me I saw what I thought was an end to the field...............
One of many many pits in the ground.............
10 minutes later Kory and I arrived at the end of a very long hill.
The last hill in this section of the lava field.
I had assumed that I would be able to walk around to the back side of this hill and then continue exploring on my way back to the truck.
As we came to the end of this last rise I looked to my left, again admiring the Big Butte.
The silent, stoic, beautiful soldier that stands guard over the Snake River Plain.
On the back side of the hill I stood in place for a moment, looking out over the terrain in front of me admiring the rugged beauty, but also momentarily surprised at what I saw.
On  the back side of the hill was indeed another trail but it led to a dead-end box canyon.
Across from me was the continuation of the lava field..................
The pictures that I snapped do not adequately show how massive this place was, how unexpectedly rugged this place was, nor how suddenly I realized that I was going to have to go around the hills in the picture (below) if I was going to find a way to circle back to the Tahoe and Big Butte Rd where I had started this adventure.
At this point I felt slightly unsettled at this unexpected development, and for a moment was suddenly overwhelmed by the endless vastness of the world around me.
For a moment I felt like a small woman caring for a small dog in a very big world.
I had seen endless coyote tracks ever since we arrived in this place, had neither heard nor seen any signs of coyotes (and believed that Kory would warn me to any danger anyway), but I found myself unconsciously reaching down with my left hand to touch the butt of the 357 I was carrying.
I felt its reassuring hardness and coldness against my hand.
Reaching down into a side pocket of my pants I flipped my phone open.  OK...........I had cell phone coverage.
I could have easily turned and walked back the way I had come but I didn't.
Big Butte was there.  Cedar Butte was over there.  
I knew exactly where I was and in what direction I had to go.
For a split second the phrase "you can't get there from here" came to mind.
And then I swept that phrase from my mind.
Grateful that I had taken a moment to regroup, I called Korys' name and she happily came bouncing back over to me.
C'mon Babe!  Let's go!
She happily bounced ahead of me as we walked towards the next hill..............
What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies..........Jack Kerouac, On The Road

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