Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 2011 Road Trip IV: Crystal Crane Hot Springs to Painted Hills

5 am. Almost dawn, and it sounded as if the bull finally had gotten access to one of the cows. Well, at least they were at the far end of the paddock. I lay in my tent and thought for a while. Eventually, it was time to get up and run. Rt. 78 had looked promising the previous evening. I thought I’d trot from the Hot Springs east to the town of Crane, which seemed like about my scheduled four miles. I layered up and set out. A straight road into the sun, a turn to the south, feeling pretty good. As I approached Crane, another runner came towards me; good to see that I was not the only self propelled item on the road so early. I’d been passed by an equal ratio of cars and trucks, about one every half mile. Everyone had waved to me.

All of my time thus far in Oregon has been in Harney County, which makes up a large chunk of the southeastern part of the state. It’s rural and isolated, and the friendliest place I’ve been in the States in years. I’ve had pleasant, helpful conversations in gas stations, stores, tourist spots, just everywhere. Almost every time Trixy and I have intersected an oncoming vehicle, the driver has waved. The locals, based on the vehicle type – trucks for preference – always do, even to Trixy, who has to shout tourist to anyone observant. These brief experiences have enriched the trip. Before setting out, I had said that one of my goals was to talk to no one for five days. I am glad to have failed. I trust these connections genuinely reflect the people I’ve met; maybe I’m more open too. 

I reached the outskirts of Crane: a dilapidated house with a couple of rusting Detroit hulks in the yard. Turning around, I discovered why the run had felt so good; my tailwind instantly became a stiff headwind. I was warmed up now, so I pushed my pace a little and headed back to the Hot Springs. Couldn’t be any worse than running across the Golden Gate Bridge in about ten days.

Back at camp, I warmed down with another soak.

On the road, to Burns. A pause to blog in a café (no wireless?) and give Trixy a much needed bath. The density of insect carcasses on her front quarters, not to mention the dust of the Alvord and Steens everywhere, required attention. 

North on Rt. 395. Good bye to the Basin and Range. Up Devine Canyon, down the Silvies Valley. Across Bear Valley and over The Aldrich and Strawberry Mountains. These are part of a set of a series of NNW-SSE trending ranges; I think these are largely compressional in origin, related to the formation of the Cascade Volcanic Arc further to the west. Also adios to sagebrush, and greetings to ponderosa pine forest. Dropping into the Canyon Creek drainage, passing through Canyon City, and into John Day.

Tired by winding roads, and wanting lunch, I followed the signs to Kam Wah Chung State Park. Another guidebook recco; this small historical site illuminates a bit of the Chinese history of the John Day area. Intrigued, I decided to do more than sit in the Visitor Center parking lot and eat an apple with peanut butter. The VC was outstanding. It told the general history of John Day and Canyon City (a syn-Civil War gold rush), the subsequent arrival of Chinese immigrants, and the often intense racism they faced. Like many recent museum exhibits I’ve seen, this was told directly. This history set the stage for the story of Kam Wah Chung; a store/doctors office/gambling den/bunkhouse run by a pair of Chinese men – an entrepreneur and an oriental medicine doctor. They initially set up shop to serve the Asian community. As the ore faded and the racisim waxed, most of the Chinese left. These guys stayed, seeming to become accepted and important members of the community. A moving story of spirit. I was impressed at imagining the bravery and ambition of men crossing the Pacific from Southern China in search of what – I don’t know – but persisting and ultimately living significant lives in this remote part of North America. 

The core of the park is the Kam Wah Chung building itself. It was locked up in the 1950s when the second of the Chinese guys died. It was given to the city in the following decade, passed the county, and finally the state. When opened, the building proved to be a time capsule. All of their stuff – store inventory, boxes of herbs, personal belongings, furniture, massive iron stove, was still there. It has all been curated, restored, and carefully arranged to a “working” appearance. I took the ranger-led tour; necessary to see the inside. This turned out to be recorded oral history. I was touched to see such abundant evidence of a slice of past culture and life, now gone, except for this museum. I did ask the ranger; there’s been no continuity in Chinese culture in the area.

Another reason for my pause in John Day was the sky. Dark, cloudy, a profound promise of rain. Sprinkles in John Day turned into brief showers as I headed west through Mt .Vernon and Dayville and on Rt. 26 towards my next destination, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I’d been here before in 2005, and particularly wanted to return and both enjoy and photograph the Painted Hills Unit. 

I stopped at the park John Day VC to get water and look at the fossil exhibits. I chatted up the ranger. At some point I told him I’d worked for NPS at Grand Canyon. A casual bonding experience: when I told him I was camping, he told me about a secret spot on BLM land that was dead close to the Painted Hills. An excellent steer.

On through Mitchell, and north to Painted Hills. This is a little area, a number of overlapping hills on the side of a broad valley, which are profoundly colorful. They’re composed of lake bed sediments and volcanic ash, which have both altered into clay. This material is so hydrophilic that plants can’t survive on it. The resulting barren hillsides are colored by the trace minerals in the clays: rust red, buff orange, olive green, blue-black, but in spectacularly, jaw-droppingly beautiful layers. I have never been any place as stunning. 

Late afternoon, mostly cloudy, but clearing. A rim trail along the edge of the main Painted Hills vista was the right spot to be for the light. I poked along; so many compelling mixtures of color angle, and texture. I passed another photographer with a full kit of gear; he’d staked his spot, based on the tripod and accessories laid out. I preferred to bounce around. The sky cleared tantalizingly as sunset neared. The sun peaked out. A brief moment of warm light suggested that persisting in the cold wind and camping in the dark was going to be worth it. A cluster of visitors waited with me, huddle on a bench to break the wind. 

7:50 pm, 25 minutes to dark, the sun came out. The glow on the hills became almost other worldly. One hundred and thirty pictures later (I bracket exposures) it was dark and time to camp. The secret BLM spot was just fine.

July 2011 Road Trp III: Alvord Desert to Crystal Crane Hot Springs

I woke suddenly – crap, it was already light! I had trouble falling asleep last night; some one turned the moon on. Bugger, I’d wanted to commute a couple miles back south to Alvord Hot Springs to enjoy a syn-dawn soak. I’d passed the Springs yesterday; a shack enclosing a couple 10’ by 10’ basins, fed by a conglomeration of jammed together pipe from the geothermal vents, which were just below the road. Homemade, unattended, free, and with a killer view of the Alvord Desert.
Well, I got there quickly, still plenty of magic dawn light time. Then time for a solitary soak. OK, two pools, what was the difference? Whoa, the outdoor one is a good 120 degrees! Better start in the sheltered pool. 

Properly boiled, I headed back south, continuing to contemplate the Alvord Desert. It didn’t look right. I had enjoyed watching it turn into a mirage-like expanse of water yesterday evening, but this morning, the mirage was still there. Moreover, the far mountains were reflected in it. Hmm, it’s news to me that mirages do this. I kept glancing out the window. Ripples on the desert surface. And all that health green vegetation. I suddenly realized with some embarrassment that I’d assumed Alvord was dry because that’s how it was described, but really, this July, it was still a bloody lake! I confirmed this by finding the turn-off for putatively driving onto the playa. It vanished in a series of tiny waves, lapping on the shoreline. A single wading bird confirmed my realization.
South, back to paved road, and a sharp right north on Rt. 202 towards Steens Mountain. Steens has intrigued me for years. I almost made it here in 2005, but was distracted by the John Day Fossil Beds. I hoped to get close to its summit; from the looks of the east side, there was still plenty of snow up there above 9,000 feet. 

The east side of Steens Mountain, where I’d been on the Alvord Desert, is the Basin and Range fault bounded side. It’s thus steep and dramatic. The west side is the hinge zone if you wll; no major fault per se. Instead the strata tilt up to the east, forming a gradual slope. I drove north along the base of this inflection. To the west, the Basin and Range continued. The basins were quite flat. Along their margins, the alluvium was eroded into a series of benches; ancient shorelines, from the time of the last glacial epoch, when this was all one big lake. 

Trixy eventually took me to Frenchglen, a small historic community on the west side of Steens, and the access point for the BLM scenic loop up and down the mountain. Oh boy, more gravel. Well, I was getting used to navigating in a Trixy-preserving way on this surface, as well as living in and breathing a constant layer of dust. I commenced a gradual assent. Hmm, not a lot of rock exposed, but the gradually changing biotic zones – five according to my information – more than kept me observant. I tried not to swerve too much as I tried to note places for flower photography later in the day. 

The road ascended consistently, winding between a pair of large streams draining the east side of Steens Mountain. Progressive turns, higher and higher. I watched the road carefully, twitchy for anything hazardous, but it continued in good nick. I began to wander how far I could drive. The signage had indicated that the road was open up to Gate 2, which was somewhere near the first campground on the Mountain. I figured I could walk from the gate to the first good overlook, if necessary. I passed a six-pack pickup truck parked by the side of the road. A pair of arms holding a camera projected on the scenic side. Oops, I went by fast, hope I didn’t dust them! 

I continued past small clusters of ponderosa pine (out of place), stands of aspen, and several enticing patches of wildflowers. Snow appeared above me; exciting – I’d seen it from the Alvord the day before, now it looked like I would reach that high. A turn, and a muddy road cut – through five feet of snow. Yeah. More switches, more snow, often tinged red by algae. The first campground and gate came and went. The road continued: no gates, more snow, a persistent subalpine plant community amid the chocolate-gray rubbly basaltic outcrops. I stopped to look at a potential afternoon light photo spot. The six-pack came past. We waved at each other. Back in Trixy, who was sounding a bit weasy at 9,000 feet. No fear. The turn off to the Kiger Gorge Scenic Viewpoint appeared. Alright, this was further than I expected to get on four wheels. I turned left, drove in, and parked.

Kiger Gorge is a glacial valley, carved into the side of Steens Mountain during the last glacial epoch. It shows the truly classic U-shaped cross-section that alpine glaciers create. Quite distinctive from the effects of running, liquid water. I stood on a snow bank and contemplated. The Gorge walls were cut into lava flows; a distinctive subhorizontal banding, layered with green banks of vegetation. Quite fetching. A notch cut into the east Gorge wall indicated where a subglacier must have flowed, cutting a channel. Geez, the ice cap on Steens must have been quite thick: maybe thousands of feet. 

I joined the crew from the six-pack; apparently an extended family on holiday, at least three generations by my estimate. They all had pocket sized digital cameras. We chatted; they were from the Bend area. The woman I’d labeled as “Mom” refused to go close to the Gorge rim, and wouldn’t let anyone else near it either. Except me; I did make her promise to close her eyes when I went up to the edge for a super-wide angle photo. 

The road continued upward. Not much further to reach the summit ridge. Blitzen Gorge, another U-shaped valley, dropped off to the southwest. Finally, a “Road Closed” sign, with the cloud of a road grader at work in the distance. But this at junction: a left turn into the East Rim Scenic Viewpoint. Awesome; the second highest point on the Mountain. Parking, I felt satisfied that I’d driven my little car up here. I’d only seen trucks and SUVs on the road. Until the parking lot, where a pair of Prius hybrids were parked. Deflate, haw. 

The edge of Steens Mountain. A hazy but still impressive late morning view to the east over the Basin and Range. A respectable 25 miles, based on my maps. And a downward look onto the Alvord Desert; my campsite and Alvord Hot Springs were almost visible. I stood at about 9,500’. I have not been this high in quite a while, and had forgotten the clarity of the air: the colors a bit sharper, the sky above slightly darker. As I wandered south along the rim, another reminder occurred. I was quickly out of breath and lightheaded. Too high, too fast for my physiology. If I’d been really hard core, I suppose I could have tried a run, but then my shoes would have been dusty.

The fault-bounded east side of Steens Mountain featured badly fractured craggy outcrops descending the steep drop to the Alvord. The lavas here had been further sculpted by erosion, no doubt including the effects of ice, wind, rain, and small persistent plants. Yes, the ground was covered with small spreading alpine vegetation. I didn’t want to step on any of them. They looked simultaneously fragile and hardy. I thus hopped from rock to rock, trying to keep my balance as I got dizzy.

I came to a narrow scalloped cove in the rim. The massive parts of several lava beds lined its sides. They were delineated by recessive bands; I assume that these were the flow margins, which erosive forces had attacked more successfully. A remnant patch of snow lined the bottom of the cove. I could hear the drip, drip of water as it melted in the now-high sun. Hard to photograph: either the lava textures were visible and the snow overexposed, or vice versa. 

Descent, more dust, with frequent wildflower stops. The Frenchglen Hotel provided a chocolate chip cookie; my gluten indulgence for the day. Crunchy but a good afternoon boost for the next phase: north and east to the Diamond Volcanic Field.

The Diamond Field is designated as an “Outstanding Natural Area” by the BLM. Since it was geology and on my way, I had to take a poke at it. Diamond is a small complex of basaltic volcanoes – a mixture of petite shield volcanoes (broad piles of lava flows) and maars – explosion craters formed when underground magma flashes groundwater into steam (boom). Well. It was late afternoon, hot, and my head hurt. I dutifully followed the BLM guide, but I was too tired to stare productively at grass-covered volcanoes, however outstanding. I pushed on. 

Diamond would be a good place to bring a class. The variety of volcanoes, as well as eruptive products – lava, bombs of various types, and ash would teach a lot in a small area. Maybe I was paying attention after all.

My guidebook had recommended a camp at Crystal Crane Hot Springs, north of the Diamond Volcanic Field, and to the east of Burns, Oregon. I drove up Rt. 78, letting the hot air blow through Trixy, hoping to remove some of the Steens Mountain dust, hoping to clear my painful sinuses. I turned west onto a flat agricultural plain – another Basin. A sign at a rise in the road: Crystal Crane Hot Springs. A large pod of RVs in the foreground, little cover anywhere, a moderate westerly wind. Bugger, could I camp at such an open place? Sure, I was tired. It was a hot spring. I turned in. The owner was welcoming and delighted to direct me to the empty dry camping area at the rear of the property, which I had all to myself, other than the bull in a paddock on other side of the north fence. He seemed more interested in the nearby cows.  

Camp, dinner, and a long soak. Not as close to boiling as Alvord Hot Springs, more than sufficient.
During post-soak ablutions, I looked at myself in a mirror for the first time since Winnemucca. I was startled to see that the left side of my face peppered in little red spots. They did not itch, weren’t sensitive. I then remembered my camp on the east side of Steens Mountain. Curled up in my bivy sack, drifting off to dreamtime, I had suddenly heard the tinny sound of numerous mosquito wings. I zipped up right away, but I guess a bunch had bitten me first. Well, aspirations to beauty are not a goal of this trip, tidak apa apa.

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 2011 Road Trip II: Winnemucca to Alvord Desert

A good night’s rest. A bed after the long commute was wise.

Since I’m running a marathon at the end of the month, training must continue. Thus at 6:55 am, I parked Trixy (my reliable 2005 Toyota Matrix) at the east end of 2nd Street: the edge of town. Running through the quiet town early on a Sunday felt right. I set off into a moderate headwind, past old solid looking houses; a two story apartment was signed, “Built in 1912”. Past the town hall, the county field office, Winnemucca Junior High. Eventually the west end of town appeared, so I turned south, uphill and over the railroad lines. More vehicles on this road; mostly large American pickups. Putrid diesel breath. The road took me into new Winnemucca; cheaper-looking modern houses, apartments. I passed a woman walking her dog, talking on a cell phone. She mouthed “good morning” as did I. Turnaround and return via 4th Street 3rd Street, and 2nd Street. Many barking dogs, all toy-sized. 3.3 miles in 28 minutes. Not bad for this altitude.

Breakfast and departure, leaving I-80 for Rt. 95 N. Winnemucca vanished quickly: back into the Basin and Range. I drove north up the Pueblo Valley, turning west on Rt. 140. Again, out of town, but not out of civilization; the valley margins were sparsely dotted with ranches, the homesteads marked by clusters of cottonwood and Italian cypress trees. The valleys are high enough here for limited agriculture, evidenced by industrial-scale irrigation systems spraying water in the still cool morning. No cattle – too little water? Over a low pass, and the next basin dropped into semi-desert. A return to sagebrush.

A right-hand, northward turn at Denio and I was in Oregon. Good bye to wide road striping. Over a rise, and there was Steens Mountain. I swerved at the sight of 5,000 feet of craggy ridge, the top still bearing snow, the effects of glaciers (long melted) clearly visible. This is the biggest and highest mountain in the Northern Basin and Range Province – upwards of 30 miles long.

I’ve been itching to write about the Basin and Range. As I wrote earlier this physiographic province includes much of Arizona, Utah and Nevada, and bits of Mexico, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Canada, and yes, Oregon. This geographic definition keeps expanding; New Mexico and Montana weren’t on the list when I was in grad school. I first became aware of the region while in college, from staring at a geologic map of North America. On it, the north trending, colored ranges looked like a fleet of aligned caterpillars amid the yellow tan colored alluvial basins.

Of course, this geography is controlled by the underlying geology, just the way I like it. The Basin and Range is clearly an area of major extension – widening – of the North American plate. Imagine stretching the bellows of an accordion, and you’ll get the idea. The amount of extension is crazy – 50% to maybe 200% - and is way beyond normal for the Earth’s plates. The geologic origin of Basin and Range extension is controversial. Given that it involves large-scale tectonics and structural geology, it’s way beyond my expertise. Not that this will stop me from making a shot at an explanation.

For much of the past 450 million years, the western edge of the North American plate – what’s now Mexico through California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia – was a convergent plate boundary, similar to the current west coast of South America. This was a zone of overall compression, as the plate overrode the oceanic crust to the west. This long-lasting process made the North American crust relatively thick. At the same time, subduction of the oceanic crust created the granites and other igneous rocks of the Sierra Nevada, among many others along the boundary. However, starting about 20 million years ago, a divergent plate boundary – a mid ocean ridge – began to be subducted under North America. Divergent plate boundaries are areas where two plates spread –extend – way from each other. It’s weird for one to be subducted. As the mid ocean ridge was forced under North America, subduction apparently slowed and stopped. This lead to creation of the modern plate boundary, the San Andreas Fault System, but that is another story I barely understand.

On to the Basin and Range. So, no more subduction; this may have allowed relaxation of the compression western North America had been enjoying for so long. It’s possible that this allowed the crust to spread from its thickened state back towards “normal” (a poorly defined term). This sort of extension certainly happens and has happened elsewhere on the Earth, but as far as I know, there’s still only one Basin and Range. The joker in the deck might be the subduction of the mid ocean ridge. Divergent plate boundaries are also sites of active igneous rock formation – seafloor volcanoes and intrusive rocks. In other words, they’re hot. When the ridge went under North America. this heat, formerly concentrated along the plate boundary, must have begun to warm the overlying crust of North America. Warmer rocks are softer and more prone to flow; this may have aided the relaxation of compression I described. Or vice versa, or simultaneously. There are more ideas, but this should be enough to give a sense of the large scale forces involved. I always get shivers when I think about what happened, over millions of years. It’s awesome. Having any understanding is a humbling and ultimately spiritual thing; it’s one of the key things that drew me to geology.

The geography of the Basin and Range is the surface expression of this extension, plus the effects of erosion. As the plate pulled apart, the upper, brittle part of it was complexly faulted, such that large blocks of real estate dropped down – forming the basins – while other rose and/or were left high – the ranges. The precise geometry of the faults is massively variable and complicated. Accompanying this spreading was intermittent volcanism – magma leaking up along cracks, lots of mineralization, and to this day, abundant geothermal activity; hot springs. I’m hoping to see all of these on this road trip.

The 140 brought me to the micro-town of Fields. Every Oregon travel guide that I read truly raved about the milkshakes at Fields Station – the local motel/campground/store/gas station/restaurant. It was 11 am. I entered the store; the milkshake bar called to me. Chatting up the owner, she recommended a coffee caramel shake, one of her creations. I order one, and sat and talked to her granddaughter and grandson (he had topped up Trixy’s gas tank, not bad for a nine-year old). The boy pointed out a can of rattlesnake meat on the bar, and said, pick it up. When touched, it immediately began to vibrate. He began to proudly tell me how he’d wired up a motor inside to fool customers, but was called away to the gas pump. Not to be outdone, his sister gave me a tour of the pictures that covered every vertical surface in the store. This is hunting country; they all featured men, guns, and their quarry. And a few pictures of local rattlesnakes. The shake more than exceeded its publicity, but at 24 oz., I was wired; more dairy and sugar than I eat in a week. Well, this is vacation, right?

I’d come to Fields in hopes of visiting the Alvord Desert, a particularly low basin that’s filled with a very large dry lake. It’s just to the east of Steens Mountain, and sounded scenic as hell. My BLM pamphlet was ambiguous about road quality, but Grandma assured me that the road was good.

Onto gravel, at a stately 25 mph. I’ve driven Trixy on gravel before, but this was a new road in a new state, and I vigilantly wanted to avoid any car trauma. Sigh, this is the one time of year I’d truly love to have a good 4WD Landcruiser. No fear. The Alvord Desert appeared to the east, just off the road. A bright buff expanse, already cooking in the midday sun. I really wanted to get out on the playa, but wanted to complete some recon first.
My guidebook made vague reference to an informal camping area about 25 miles into the Desert. I eventually found the track, and crept up it, climbing the alluvial fan of Pike Creek, which drains the east side of Steens Mountain. I gingerly dodged the cobbles and boulders protruding through the gravel, all to save Trixy’s tires and delicate underbelly, eventually reaching a point of bouldery steepness that scared me. I backed down the road, pulling into a campsite I’d noted on the way up.

1:30. I wandered up the track to Pike Canyon, and found a nice flat boulder of volcanic rock to sit on at the base of the Mountain. It was time to break the pattern of motion and action, and contemplate. A strong southerly wind blew along the range, at times overwhelming the buzz of locusts in the brush. I liked the rushing noise it makes blowing through the sage. The rock was warm; matching the intensity of the summer sun; I was glad for my SPF 70.

Alvord Desert continued to glow buff-white in the distance. Intermittent dust devils spun up the east side. I’m glad I wasn’t out there; some of them must have been a couple thousand feet high. The Alvord is collared by a band of green; I presume there’s enough shallow groundwater to sustain a decent plant cover. And animals; I eventually heard a solitary moo, indicating that the dots I’d been watching were actually cattle.

My mind still rushed with thoughts of the past, present, and future, but sitting helped, as I began detachment from the factors in my life that aren’t here. My shadow gradually lengthened; time to wander downhill and use the afternoon light for photography.

Back to Trixy, dinner, a spit bath, and sleep.

July 2011 Road Trip I: Walnut Creek to Winnemucca


I’m on a short anticlockwise road trip from the Bay Area through SE Oregon, then onto Portland, Eugene, and south to home. This comes in the two week lapse between ending my work at JFKU and beginning a new job at The Wilderness Society. I needed some desert time with rocks to look at and close and far scenery to photograph.
Transition: Walnut Creek to Winnemucca

Eastward over the Sierra Nevada, a mid-morning departure tempered by a cascade of last instant tasks: desuckering the pomegranate tree, pulling the inevitable weeds, cleaning the kitchen sink. Finally the road, freeway time on Interstate 80, the familiar route out of the Bay Area into the Central Valley: over Carquinez Straits, then Green Valley, Fairfield, Dixon, Davis, and Sacramento. Beginning the climb; Rocklin, Auburn, and Colfax. 1000 feet, 2000 feet, 3000 feet. Road cuts appear, a vaguely familiar sequence of foothill metamorphic rocks (platy greens, browns, and blacks), trending uphill into white quartzose stream gravels and the core salt and pepper granites of the Sierra. Exchanging abundant oaks for conifers. Higher, above 5000 feet, approaching Donner Lake, breaking out near treeline, with broad views over the range crest; luscious barren granite, still plenty of snow. Descent towards Truckee, then chasing the river down, quickly falling towards Reno.

Entering a different land. The Sierran rainshadow; no trees, welcome to the semidesert. I’ve left the plate boundary-dominated California Coast – lots of NNW-SEE trending hills – for the Basin and Range, the swath of alternating sharp mountains and dry lakes that runs northern Mexico to Oregon and east as far as Montana, Utah and Texas. I’ve made this translation before. It’s abrupt, whether I’m on the ground or flying high overhead.

But Reno dominates Nevada first, the casino towers demanding attention. I need a break; the Nevada Museum of Art seems right. With some searching (the directions from the NMA website were not quite right) I arrive with time for a good hour visit. The parking lot is surprisingly full. Oh, there’s an Egyptian exhibit, lots of families are there. No fear, I am here to see the several small galleries: Ansel Adams, Chris Jordan, David Farnsworth. I’m glazed from the road. I stare at paintings, photographs, and other media, and it takes a while for any perception to occur. An Americano and blondie break at the café help. This is a really good small museum. Presently I come to an Adams photograph that gets through; not one I remember, but a geometry of clouds and mountains that reminds me of one of the main reasons why I’m here, not at home.

Satisfied, I travel the sprawl in search of fuel. Once the car is fed, it’s further east on the interstate. I like Nevada’s version better than California’s: wider lane paint, rumble strips on the verge for when I get distracted by the geology. For east of Sparks I am into what passes for undeveloped America. I am never out of site of a side road, building, gas station, industrial facility, or small town, but the urban world is thankfully gone for a few days.

Back to the Basin and Range desert. I move along at 70 mph plus, dropping down between the Trinity and Humboldt Ranges along the edge of Carson Sink – the last real dry lake. A dirty white expanse to the east, punctuated by small lakes and pools. I wonder if these are spring-fed or remnant evidence of the wet winter. Sparse grasses and shrubs densely dot the rubbly soil. Each range is different. I’m commuting too fast to do much identification, but I can pick out hills of recent volcanic rock (red and black, relatively flat-lying layers), jagged cliffs of older sedimentary rock (the distinctive grays of desert limestones), occasional veneers of recent lake sediments from the last glacial period. It’s satisfying enough. The regional geology here is so complex that I don’t need to fully get my head around it. A far cry from Australia.

The road turns northeast, now between the Eugene and East Ranges. I’m tired, dried out, and stiff. Winnemucca better come into sight promptly. Eventually, a curve to the east, and Exit 176. I find the Quality Inn were I’d booked a first night-long drive room. Buggerall, it’s masquerading as the Model T Casino and Resort. Well, the room seems OK, I can’t hear the casino, and there’s a grocery store across the street. The place is full of buzz cut guys wearing baseball caps, many with attendant women, both heavily tattooed. I ask at the desk: they are part of a 44 hour baseball tournament.

Shopping, dinner at a local barbeque joint, and time to write.