Wanderlust

We have the wandering bug.  When we are on vacation, and especially when we are traveling by ourselves, we tend to explore places that are not always in the mainstream, and we will sometimes do so during seasons and under conditions that might not even be considered favorable for visiting.  We just do it!  Experiencing the unexpected brings with it an additional element of surprise, and an excitement and a joy, that at the end of the day elevates the vacation experience to a different level.  Witness our recent trip to Carson City in Nevada.

We have been quite fortunate to travel far and wide in recent years. For the purposes of this blog I will focus on some lesser-known places that the wanderlust took us to during our trip to Scotland in 2016. We visited at the tail end of the winter season, but the cold weather and the occasional rain did not stop us from enjoying our adventures.

Here we are on the bed of the River Garry at Killiecrankie.  The bed of the river is, for good reasons, not an advertised tourist destination. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese pictures were taken at a remote location on the Isle of Skye where we stayed overnight.  It was getting towards sunset when we walked through open fields and the countryside to a stand of trees next to a mountain ridge.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was raining steadily when we got to Rodel at the southern tip of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a storm underway by the time we got to Hushinish at the southwest corner of the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.  The kids had to climb the far hill in the wind and rain, with only the sheep keeping them company, to try to get a glimpse of the Atlantic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is Dun Carloway Broch.  It is thought to have been a fortification during roman times.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wandered the streets of Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides early one morning before the town came to life.  There is a different perspective of a place that you get when you do something like this.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe hit the northernmost tip of the Outer Herbrides where we wandered through the fields along the cliffs beside the ocean towards the Butt of Lewis lighthouse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack on the mainland we hiked the hill behind the town of Ullapool, the place where we were staying at for the night.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATowards the end of the trip we drove along the remote northern coastline of mainland Scotland from Durness to John O’Groats.  There were many places where we were the only ones present!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can expect the unexpected when the wanderlust hits!

 

Death Valley Views

Ever since the days of my youth,  I used to imagine what the great open expanses of the wild west would look like.  (Some of my visions may have been a result of seeing too many Westerns!)  I felt the urge to visit those places some day.  I was not disappointed during the trip to Death Valley.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

A visit to Death Valley reminds you of the complexity of the natural processes that form this Earth.  This picture of Artist’s Palette, taken as the sun was setting, shows what is possible.  You get a fusion of many different colors all in one place that is quite hard to imagine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(According to the article in Wikipedia – These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals (iron compounds produce red, pink and yellow, decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces purple).)

Death Valley, The White Man Cometh

Death Valley was the home to the Timbisha Shoshone group of Native Americans for a long time (about a thousand years) before the White Man made his appearance.  They called the land Tüpippüh.  It was not an easy place to live in, but the Timbisha did not think of it as a place of death.  They adapted to the region and found a way to live off the land using whatever natural resources were available in a sustainable manner.  Indeed, if you go to the desert, it is not really devoid of life.  There are hardy plants that have found a way to survive in the tough conditions, and even flowers during this spring season which has brought an excess of rain to California.

There is even flowing water in the desert (this picture is from Salt Creek)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand animal life that has found a way to survive.

One of the wonders of this desert is the endangered pupfish,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa fish that can survive in the saline waters of Salt Creek.  You can see literally thousands of these tiny fish in the clear water.

The White Man was the one who named the place Death Valley.  Their initial passage through the desert on their way west in search of gold was not an easy one, and life in the desert has not become that much easier since then.

But the fact that the White People had such a negative impression of the place did not prevent them from eventually trying to exploit the resources of the area.  Borax, talc and silver were mined.  The Harmony Borax Works was known for their 20 mule teamsP3237975.jpgthat were used to transport the Borax out of the valley.  Development in the desert got to the point where they even built a resort (still in operation as a high-end hotel, The Inn at Furnace Creek), and a railroad line to bring people into the area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the only things that survive today in the desert from the non-Native American perspective are for the tourist, a tourist who is interested in experiencing the natural wonder of the place, and perhaps even learn something, while willing at the same time to tolerate the extreme weather conditions.

The only places of commercial operation remaining are at Panamint Springs, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStovepipe Wells,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and Furnace Creek.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe once thriving mining towns are now ghost towns that are only visited by the tourists.  We went to the ghost town of Rhyolite just outside the park boundary across the state border in Nevada.

The National Park Service manages the park out of a location very close to Furnace Creek, with a Visitor Center at Furnace Creek itself.  It is good to note that the Visitor Center has been upgraded over the years to operate in an environmentally conscious manner.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Death Valley was declared a National Monument, i.e., a protected area, in 1933 and became a National Park only in 1994.  While the coming of the White Man and the mining operations in the 19th century began to change the Timbisha’s way of life, the designation of the place as a National Monument actually hastened the loss of their land.  The small numbers that remained finally ended up, unofficially, on a little patch of land near Furnace Creek for many years.  It was only in the 1980s that they finally were officially recognized as a tribe.  They continued to occupy the small space they had near Furnace Creek, but also continued to battle the federal government for more of their land in the courts. It was only in the late 1990s, well after the formation of the park, that they got additional land for their use in the park.  These days the park service has formed a partnership with the tribe when if comes to running of the park to ensure that resources within the park and the Timbisha’s traditional homeland are protected and enhanced.

You can read more about the history of the Timbisha Shoshone here or here.

The struggles of the Native Americans is an ongoing story.  Consider recent news from South Dakota.  I cannot help thinking that because of our greed we are not good at learning our lessons from history.

 

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley

This was the first place we went to in Death Valley. The crater is located well north of the main gathering place for tourists arriving at the park. We had to get off the main road that runs through the park and drive to a more remote section of the valley.  It was well worth the detour!

Ubehebe Crater was formed by a volcanic explosion, but is was an explosion of steam rather than lava. The explosion was caused by the underground magma meeting up with the groundwater and sending the water upwards as steam.

It was extremely windy when we arrived at the crater, and the occasional gusts of wind had you spread your feet to seek some kind of a balance. You were completely exposed to the elements along the rim and there was nothing to support you!  It was extremely hard going, trudging up the hill on the loose sand (which, on the other hand, seemed to have the benefit of anchoring you and preventing you from getting blown away into the crater) as we climbed along the rim to get a view of Little Hebe crater.   When we got to that point, rather than return to the parking lot directly, and in spite of the challenge of hiking under those conditions, we decided to  complete the loop around Ubehebe crater.  I had to work up my nerve to walk along the edge (which under these conditions appears to be narrower than it really is!).  The wind, and the surface of the trail, which looked loose and a little unstable in some parts, did not help.  But if others could do it, why not not us?   And we did it!

We did not try to descend the bottom of the crater.  It is considered an easy hike going down, but strenuous coming back up.  It was an effort I was not prepared to undertake under the conditions, especially considering that there were other destinations we wanted to get to in the park.

Here are some pictures from Ubehebe Crater.

Against the wind!  This is in the parking lot.  You can see the place we climbed to to view Little Hebe in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarly view of Ubehebe crater.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABracing against the wind while climbing towards the viewpoint for Little Hebe.  The parking lot that we have climbed from is in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHikers on the far slope who have gone beyond the stop for Little Hebe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA view of the trail from a lookout.  We had some nice cloud conditions during the hike that lit up different parts of the landscape at different times.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAngela walking back from the far side of Little Hebe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALittle Hebe from a distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe parking lot and trails to the bottom can be seen in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA sandy patch of trail that terminated at the edge of the crater!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVegetation on the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATowards the end of the hike.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Death Valley – Shadows, Lights, Shapes and Colors

Death Valley, located in California, is the largest national park in the United States outside of the parks in Alaska.  It is an absolutely stunning place!

Carson City, NV

The visit to Carson City in Nevada was an afterthought that occurred only after we had already started our vacation, after we had left San Francisco on our multi-day drive through California and Nevada.  Our visit there strengthens my opinion that a vacation experience is not just about going to well known places and looking for the extraordinary.  Sometimes you can enjoy the simple experiences and things that would not be considered noteworthy in the normal course of events.

We had spent the night in Reno and were about to head south in the morning, along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, on our way to Mammoth Lakes for our stopover for that night.  The thought had occurred to me that it would be nice to take a short detour to Carson City if possible just for the heck of it.  After all, Carson City is the capital of the state of  Nevada.  The only other item of note as far as we were concerned was the fact that Mark Twain had spent a few years of his life there.  Still, we were curious. Perhaps there was something new to learn by visiting the town.

But a detour to Carson City from Lake Tahoe would take up additional time just for the driving even though the two places were close by, especially if we wanted to visit the entire eastern shore of the lake (which would involve driving back and forth between the two places).    We could save time visiting just the top half or the bottom half of the east shore of Lake Tahoe, while cutting east-west between the two destinations just once at the half-way mark.

We awoke to threatening skies on the morning of the drive.  This was a view from our hotel room in Reno.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince driving on the winding roads in the area of the lake in the rain was not likely to be fun, we made a quick decision to head straight down to Carson City and to try to get to Lake Tahoe later in the day.

Carson City looked quite underwhelming when we arrived.  It looked small and unimposing.   It did not look like the capital of a state to me!  The city appeared to have one main drag, Carson Street, that went from north to south, with a few smaller streets parallel to it, and others cutting across in a grid.  I could see no big buildings typical of a big town, let alone a capital city.  The houses were modest in size and older.  There was hardly any traffic on the main road.  The place certainly looked laid back, and as if it had seen better times.

It was time for us to learn more about Carson City.  We drove down Carson Street to the Visitor Center to get information.  We learned that Carson City was named after Kit Carson, and that one of the important historical markers in town was the mint which had now been converted into a section of the Nevada State Museum.  We got a map of the city and a description of a walking tour of about 2.5 miles that covered all the noteworthy sights in town.  (Yes, the town was small enough to be covered that easily!)  The path taken during the walk was called the Kit Carson Trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe kind lady at the visitor center told us that we could park almost anywhere, except at the visitor center where the meter lady would make an occasional appearance.  There was ample parking in front of the houses on the side streets.  It was certainly a nice change to be driving in a city where one could relax and not worry about some impatient person who wanted to get in front of you, or about finding a place to park.

We had a choice of going to the museum or taking a walk along parts of the Kit Carson trail.  We started with the walk since it was not raining at that time.  The main drag, Carson Street, was mostly empty of traffic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany storefronts on the street looked like they were shuttered down and in a state of disuse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked past the obligatory casino in town.  It appeared to have seen better days (and this was true of most of the casinos we saw in small towns in Nevada).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can seen the sign for an abandoned casino next to Cactus Jack’s casino in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following building was the only one of note in that section of the strip.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe side streets had an equally empty feel about them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou would have a hard time believing that you were in a capital city.

But in very short order we found ourselves on the grounds of the Nevada State Capitol.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did indeed see a few people in somewhat formal clothes walk in and out of the building, indicating that some sort of business of note was taking place in these offices.  This contrasted with the feel of the rest of the town itself.  It did not seem to take itself that seriously!

Our next stop was on one of the side streets off the main road, at an art gallery that Angela had found in the city guide.  The rain was beginning to fall steadily at this point, but we were OK since we had our rain gear with us.  I saw this other art gallery on the way.  It seemed to blend in well with the “small” nature of the place.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe building pictured below was our destination for this visit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey were having an exhibition of entries from a statewide art competition.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our way out of the exhibition, the lady who was manning the information table (a turn of phrase that might be considered inappropriate by some :-)) noted that she spent a lot of her time giving tours at the museum.  She then gave us a strong recommendation to spend some time there.  Seeing that the rain was not slowing down, we decided that this was indeed what we would do.

We continued our walk along the Kit Carson trail (marked in blue on the sidewalk) on our way to the museum.  The skies began to clear up a little bit (temporarily, as it turned out) as we walked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed the building where Mark Twain had lived for a few years.   (Mark Twain actually followed his brother, Orion Clemens, the first Secretary to the new government of the Territory of Nevada, to Carson City.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The building appeared to be owned by an Insurance Company!

We continued to walk the back roads of the city.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACloser to the museum, on Carson Street, we passed memorials for the Lincoln Highway, the first coast to coast highway, and the old Pony Express, the paths of both of which used to run through Carson City.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at the museum, passing by the old mint building on our way to the entrance. The visit turned out to be quite interesting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey had a big section in the museum about the minting operations that are a part of the history of the city.  This mint worked primarily with silver, and it seems that the minting operations only lasted a few years.  This is a picture of a coin press machine which is still operational and used occasionally.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey had a reconstruction of a mine at the lowest level of the museum.  This covered all aspects of the mining process including the construction of the underground structures, the extraction and supply processes, and the safety elements of the operation.  This is a picture of a slide that was used to move material from one level to another below it within the mine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASilver and gold were mined in these parts, and mining used  to be a significant source of employment for people.

There was a section on natural history, including displays about animals and birds, and the about the geology of the area.  The place has a history of significant volcanic activity. They tackled the more recent history of human settlement in that area.  European arrival in Nevada is actually a very recent happening (in a relative sense).   They had a separate section in the museum put together from the Native American perspective (which can be quite different than the White Man’s way of thinking).  There is some tension even today between the Native Americans and the “modern world” in many regards.  The Native Americans try to live in harmony with their surroundings whereas modern man was (and still is) more intent on taking control over and exploiting their surroundings and resources.  We found out that whereas modern man has no hesitation or compunctions about digging up ancient Indian burial sites to study and try to understand life in olden times, the Native Americans believe that their ancestors are to be left alone in their quest for eternal peace in the afterlife.  Even though I have my own scientific curiosity,  I know where my sympathies lie.

The rain had returned with a vengeance as we prepared to leave the museum.  We headed out to a cafe that had been recommended to us for lunch.  It was called the L. A. Bakery Cafe and Eatery.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe place was a delightful surprise.  The family had opened the cafe in 2012, selling healthy foods with a light Mediterranean touch. The business seemed to have caught on and become a success with the local population.  From the plaques and other hangings on the walls, I gathered that they had received recognition from the local community and accolades from the local business groups for what they was doing.  They were in the process of expanding their business.  The food was really healthy and tasty.  (I wish I had taken a picture of my salad!)

It was still raining after lunch.  Given that we had stayed longer than we had anticipated in town, and since the weather was not really cooperating, we gave up on making the side trip to Lake Tahoe and decided to take the most direct route for Mammoth Lakes.

Since we had some more time on our hands because of the change in plans, I suggested that we visit the railroad museum, one of the two more significant tourist destinations in town noted in the tour guides (the other one was the state museum).  We found out as we were driving towards  the museum that we had arrived in town on the one day of the week that it was closed. We had to satisfy ourselves with a drive past in the rain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was on to Mammoth Lakes for an earlier arrival than originally planned.  The weather kept changing during the drive.  We even saw a rainbow at some point,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbut later on, as we climbed into the mountains, we also ran into a few heavy snowstorms that came out of nowhere and presented some fairly challenging driving conditions every once in a while. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA But I will leave the stories of our further adventures during this trip for another day.