Tuesday, September 29, 2015

John Day Fossils and the Painted Hills

Day 12 Boise, Idaho - Bend, Oregon

Mileage  342 miles  States – Idaho, Oregon

Today we had a choice - we could shoot straight for Bend, Oregan along Hwy 20 and be there in 5.5 hours or go on hwy 26, adding an extra hour to our drive but taking in the John Day Fossil Beds and The Painted Hills (no... not the Lassie movie!)- aka the John Day Nation Monument. The choice was obvious - gotta do the National Monument!

This felt really off the beaten path. Hwy 26 was just a normal two-lane road that even had bends in it as it snaked between onion fields.

We felt like explorers which was pretty apt since we were going to "John Day" an explorer from the 1800. The story goes that he and a fellow trapper/explorer while in this area were set upon by thieves who stole their clothes. John Day and his friend lived to tell the tale. Every time they passed that bend on the river, John Day pointed out where they'd been robbed, until eventually the river came to be called the John Day River. 
An attractive information stand along the road.
I can just imagine John Day doing that. My father used to always point out bits of the road between Armagh and Dublin where he'd had things happen to him. Fortunately, none so bad as being robbed, but there was the place where he discovered that the cap for the gas tank on his lorry was missing - N2, Collon, Co Louth - I can see it in my minds eye even now! Or the place just north of Dublin, outside the airport, where the cyclist behind him ended up in the back of his pick-up truck! Funny though, no part of the road to Dublin is called after him... maybe you need a near death experience for anyone else to take notice, though I'm sure that cyclist might qualify! Anyways,  like my father, it seems John Day was quite the character.

Such excitement in the car when we came across this sign. Time travelers as well as explorers!
We found this little series of messages  so nice. Such good manners! Not sure if we were in Idaho or Oregan at this stage.
 Okay...Wonder why?
Oh! Thanks for letting us know! Will you be long?
Grand so, we can wait!

The driver was grinning when he pulled in off to the side and we passed him waving frantically. We were the only car on the road. The only vehicle we'd needed to pass was his!

And waiting for us around the corner - his mate with this message series flashing

We passed this herd of cattle and wondered at the strangeness of humans who stop their cars to watch herds of bison but not their distant cousins, from who they get so much, milk, meat, even clothing. They did look pretty cool out their doing their thing, we thought. We wondered if we stopped and took pictures would other cars stop too.
We never found out. There were no other cars! In the distance, we did see a truck come out from a huge cleft in the rocks and realized with excitement that our road was taking us through it.
It was like traveling through a magical portal to a land that time forgot. The hills around us had basalt rocks that reminded us of the Giant's Causeway on the North Coast of Ireland (though not as good - obviously!)
And these green rocks...could it be huge deposits of malachite, copper carbonate deposits?
I'd taught this in chemistry in my old life as a science teacher, back, what feels like, a hundred years ago!

At the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center (Aka the John Day Fossil Beds visitor center) I learned that the green rocks were not malachite. In fact, they were a celadonite, but the ranger said everyone asked that question and she had a nifty poster to explain. Here's the science...
The fossils we would see here were those of ancient mammals. Oh my god, I love all this stuff - My Husband... he's kind of "meh" about it, but it feeds my imagination. I just yearn to have a time machine so I could go back and witness it for myself - but still be home in time for tea, of course!
I thought they did a great job with the art work!

I sure hope they had a good dental plan back then!
 Don't think I'd have liked to be the dentist though.
 Our next pet will be a Toy Sabre-tooth Cat. Meow! How cute would that be?
Come to think of it though My Mum's cat, Cheekyboots, might just be one! (Little monster.)

Even the insects that got smooshed on our car here were like palaeomegalithic (okay, I did just make that word up!) creatures, providing a meal for the local carnivorous wasps. By now, our car qualified as the dirtiest car in the USA. It was getting hard to see out the windows!
Next stop - the Painted Hills. Layers of iron compounds laid down as the earth's climate changed from very wet to very dry resulted in the iron ions forming different colors. Red is the rust we are most familiar with but there are greens and yellows too. The black may be manganese compounds, concentrated by manganese-fixing plants that were around at the time (apparently there are similar plant now that do this same thing.)

The only way to present the painted hills is to show you...

 And in case you were wondering, as were we, why nothing grows here...
 A long way out of our way today but so worth it! As we were still heading west we got to watch sunset through a bug-bleary windscreen as we drove.

 Byddi Lee

Monday, September 28, 2015

Heading West Again

Day 12 West Yellowstone - Boise, Idaho

Mileage  367 miles  States – Montana, Idaho  
Technically it was "Head for home" Day, but we had many miles to go to get home and lots more National Parks to check off our list.

Cozy at it was, I was happy to leave our self catering apartment in West Yellow - the exorbitantly priced accommodation that meant we'd have to stay in two-star motels for the rest of the trip if we wanted to balance our budget!

My Husband and I must have gypsy blood in us. We felt great being back on the road again.
Gentle green (well greenish - not green by Irish standards but green by Californian drought standards) pastures rolled out all the way to the hills in the distance. We weren't sure what those hills were, but they were pretty. I though this scene could have been from any good Western!
We'd adjusted our route today to take in another National Park...
The lava that produced this 750,000 acre park welled up from what is known as the Great Rift as recently ago as 2000 years. Geologist believe that future events are likely. As the Europeans pushed into this area in search of farm lands or gold, they mostly avoided this place. It's not hard to see why, in an age where life was already harsh who would seek out such extremes?
Spatter cones
They even went so far as to name an area the devils orchard. Limber Pines did eventually grow here but they became infected with dwarf mistletoe, a parasitic plant, that  caused the branches to distort into grotesque tangles called witches broom.
Early caretakers of the park mistakenly cut down all these trees thinking they were saving other trees from future infection without realizing that this was a natural and long standing relationship between the two species. Bad judgement based on what they considered unsightly!

The lava fields are bleak and foreboding yet, still hold a stark beauty all of it's own. I wish I could have stood with the Shoshone, way before the Europeans arrived, and witnessed the eruptions that sparked the stories passed down in their oral tradition that indicates they had front row seats to the event.

In saying that, it is worth mentioning that it must be a bit like watching the volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii as it oozes lava today. I wonder what explanations the Shoshone had for it.

Surprisingly at the top if this giant cinder cone there was  beautiful tree, almost magical in it's existence.  Very Roald Dahl!
It wouldn't have surprised me if a strange creature or a huge piece of fruit engaged me in conversation as I sat in it's shade, looking for miles out across Idaho.
With another park ticked off our list, we headed for Boise, Idaho where we were lucky to find a great deal at the Cotton Wood Suites down by the Boise River, just in time to watch these geese at sunset.

Byddi Lee

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bear With Me!

Day 11 Yellowstone

Mileage  0* miles  States – Wyoming, Montana 

Today we explored the northern loop of Yellowstone's figure 8. We drove east from West Yellowstone turning left to go north at Madison, passing our local bison herd on the way.
The morning sparkled with brittle Fall warmth and promised us a beautiful day. We didn't stop at Norris, the "town" at the waist of the figure 8. There is a visitors centers and a museum here, but we aren't really museum folk, so we motored on up the road, north towards Mammoth Hot Springs. This road is in the middle of improvements and as such there were delays. We were fine with that, knowing that we'd be returning along the waist of the 8 and not coming this way again.

Even thought we'd decided that yesterday we'd seen plenty of geothermal attractions to last us a lifetime we couldn't help ourselves, and before we knew it, we were marveling at more geothermal features in the upper and lower terraces area just outside Mammoth Hot Springs...Well, when in Rome etc.

We stopped in Mammoth Hot Springs for a lovely lunch at the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, very posh setting but without costing an arm and a leg. The food was excellent - really fresh, healthy fare - a nice change from diner food.

Obviously the word of the nice food available in Mammoth Hot Springs had spread. A herd of Elk munched on the the grass in the village green.
Rather than watch elk from our dining table, we headed east, following the Yellowstone River seeking out the Lamar Valley, which was, we'd been told the North American equivalent to the Serengeti.
Just before we got to the Lamar Valley,we stopped off to visit the Petrified Tree - an ancient redwood tree that got buried in ash 50 millions years ago! Silica from the ash and lava plugged up the cells and turned the tree to stone.
As it turned out the Lamar Valley did have herds of Bison sprinkled about it.
We were thrilled to add a new animal to our list -The Pronghorn deer - technically an antelope...making the Lamer Valley only more Serengeti-like. We couldn't get him to turn around though he has a cute butt too!
And then, just as we were coming out of the Lamar Valley, back onto the figure 8 it happened  - the thing we'd been hoping to see (next to wolves which we never did see!). A black bear! 

And not just a bear, a Mummy bear and her two Baby bears! How cute is this little guy?

The other one hid but after we got our photos we just watched for a while as they foraged and snuffled about the place. We felt extremely lucky and blessed to have seen these guys. Its just so special.

We were a very content couple heading south towards the Dunraven Pass when it happened again! This time a bear on his own, so we decided it must be the Daddy bear (of course!) He was a very handsome fellow!
A crowd gathered to watch, and I made sure there were plenty of folk between me and him, including a selection of folk I was sure I could out-run. Well, it would mean I wouldn't have to out-run the bear should things turn ugly!
It was especially cool when he seemed to sense something behind him. He stood up to take a look, drawing a collective gasp from the crowd. He ignored us, and I couldn't help what on earth had grabbed his attention in the midst of this pantomime!
We watched for about another half hour and then he wandered off out of sight. We got back in the car and decided to end our last last day in Yellowstone with what we thought of as "our elk herd" that hung out near Madison.
I'd made us sandwiches.We laid out a foam camping mat and just watched from a nice vantage point as the magnificent stag keep his herd of lovely ladies in line.
The chill crept back into the Autumn evening as the sun settled itself behind the hills and we looked back on another beautiful and eventful day in Yellowstone.

Byddi Lee

* Technically we didn't cover any addition miles on our forward journey as we just did loops of Yellowstone Park - approximately about 100miles per day.