There and Back Again . . .

As a child, my family had a long standing tradition of driving north every winter holiday to visit the grandparents in west central (Pioche) and northern Nevada (Elko). Several years have passed, and my parents now live up near Elko in Spring Creek, and my wife Amanda and I now make the yearly pilgrimage to visit the folks and my two grandmothers, Grandma Pioche and Grandma Elko (yes, as kids we learned to refer to our grandparents by the town they lived in, not their actual last names Orr and Frantzen.) We have varied the timing a bit, choosing to leave Phoenix at the height of the 100 and teens weather rather than in the winter. We also decided to bring along our pup, Rocher, a 1.5-year old French Bulldog (pictures later).

Our first stop was just up in Flagstaff to see our friends Shane, Ryan and Vanessa. (Amanda and I met up in Flagstaff at NAU and spent several years there together, so we like to go back any chance we get.) Shane had just got a new puppy, a cute and rambunctious mix named Jade. We decided to try out Rocher and Jade together, and there were some very tense moments at first, but soon the two were playing like old pals. Jade actually gave Rocher a run for her money and wore her out, a first!

From Flag it was up to Pioche, NV the next day, about a 7 hour drive.

While visiting Grandma Pioche, we stopped in at Cathedral Gorge State
Park, one of our favorite places. Within the park are ancient lake
deposits that have been whittled and eroded away into castle-like spires, walls and narrow slot canyons.

Many of these slot canyons form a series of roofless caves, that are no wider than your shoulders and snake their way back for hundreds of feet, until you find yourself in a small chamber a few feet wide and 40 or 50 feet below the surface. The temperature is a good 10 degrees cooler and everything is very still. A great place to lose yourself.

After a nice day in Pioche and grilled hamburgers with Grandma, it was on to Spring Creek the next morning, about a 5.5 hour drive.
On the way, we made a detour to the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park near Ely, NV. A series of stone ovens originally built by Swiss-Italian masons still stands here like some ancient monuments to the stars. They were built to burn cords of wood slowly over several days, creating charcoal to be used in ore processing for mines. There are small vent holes around the base and a large hole at the top. The inside of each oven was rich black and the stone looked as if it had fused under the intense heat. The ovens were definitely built to last, and could make pretty decent living quarters.

We arrived in Spring Creek around 5:30pm NV time, much to my dad's happiness (no driving after dark!) and he's right of course. They have a nice 5-acre spread of sagebrush. Here's the view of the Ruby Mountains from their yard.

The next day we spent some much needed time visiting my Grandma Elko at the nursing home. She is 92 and has had a very rough time recently. Still, she was very happy to see us and I think it lifted her spirits.

The following day we made an outing up into the Rubies through Lamoille Canyon. (Last fall we made an outing up Lamoille Canyon with my mom and had a great siting of both Bighorn sheep and Mountain Goats. Dave quickly learned that Bighorn sheep are very territorial and will not hesitate to chase you right off the mountain if you get too close with your camera. Was it worth getting the perfect shot? Maybe.)

A self portrait part way up Lamoille Canyon.

We decided on a hike up to Island Lake, 2 miles of uphill switchbacks, though it was quite easy to forget with all the incredible views and abundant wildflowers. I couldn't help but feel as if we were in the Rockies.

On the way up we crossed a bridge over a waterfall that rushed from Island Lake, hundreds of feet down the mountain to the bottom. A few more switchbacks and we made it! The lake itself was a beautiful emerald green. The water was quite clear as it was fed by snow melt. We dipped our feet in at the edge and had the place to ourselves for an hour or so.

There are some small glaciers up in the Rubies that never melt through the summer. As a kid, I remember the seeing these mountains in December under a solid blanket of white snow, so it is always quite a surprise seeing them in the summer. The name Rubies comes from red garnets that are found in the area.

The hike back down proved equally beautiful. Here is a photo of some intensely colored Penstemon and Paintbrush.

I was determined to find some wildlife this trip. We had spotted Beaver here previously in the winter, but I never got a good photo before they slipped away. We parked the car near some terraced ponds. Amanda watched safely from the car as I tip-toed across a beaver dam to an island of grass near a pond where we had seen one of the creatures swimming. As I stepped forward into the grass, camera and zoom lens in hand, I suddenly plunged up to my thighs in cold water. Instinctively I raised my arm and held the camera up, never mind what happened to my lower extremities. Luckily I remained standing up in the water and was able to pull myself out safely with no damage to the camera.
I figured I blew my cover so it was on to another set of ponds just below. At these ponds we actually saw three beavers swimming around. I crept up and watched their ritual. The beaver would dive under the water for several seconds, then resurface and swim a lazy circle. While it swam, it held what appeared to be a wad of green algae that it enthusiastically clapped and munched on. Then it arched up like Lochness, and dove back under the water again. We spent one more night in Spring Creek with my parents, and then sadly it was already time to begin the journey back home. We left from Spring Creek the next morning, and headed for southern Utah. On the way, we passed through the abandoned ghost town of Frisco, Utah. I've been told that my great grandfather once worked in the mines here, that amassed a total of $60 million dollars during their heyday. It was amazing to see the ruins of what was once a town of 4000 people.

Frisco also had some charcoal ovens, these ones a little more rough hewn,
and unfortunately fairly vandalized over the years.

After Frisco, we headed down toward Beaver, UT, and passed just south of the massive wildfire that was the largest in Utah history and had burned 363,000 acres. This did have an impact on our original choice of campsites so we had decided to head toward Cedar Breaks. The choice was a good one. Cedar Breaks is intensely beautiful, very similar to Bryce Canyon, with several spectacular overlooks.

We took Rocher with us and she was definitely a celebrity with the visitors, many stopping to ask what type of dog she was and giving her a pet. Here are some shots of her hamming it up.

The same day we also took on a small 2-mile roundtrip hike to Cascade Falls, with Rocher in tow. She handled her first hike wonderfully, we were very proud of her!

Cascade Falls is an amazing waterfall that emerges from the rock below the rim. It's source is actually three sinkholes on the rim above that drain Navajo Lake,
which is essentially landlocked by lava flows. After that
it was on to a small ice cave (no photos here, the floor was solid ice and it took all my effort not to fall down!)

The next day it was on down through Kanab, Utah, across the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and then down through Cameron and Flagstaff before returning to the blistering heat of Phoenix. All in all it was a spectacular roadtrip, almost exactly 2000 miles with an incredibly well-behaved dog, and many needed visits with family and friends. Until next year!