Tuesday, April 26, 2016

usbackroads destination-Highway 78 and CJ Strike Reservoir, Idaho

usbackroads destination-Idaho Highway 78 and CJ Strike Reservoir, Idaho

Just out of Mountain Home there was also CJ Strike Reservoir. In 1973 I got to know a United States Air Force couple stationed in Mountain Home.  They were the ones that introduced me to Bruneau Sand Dunes and also this spot CJ Strike Reservoir. In 1973, Boise had a population of about 30,000 people.  Today, the metro Boise area is 616,561 people. Places in southwest Idaho that were at the ends of the earth in 1970 have now more in common with Seattle and San Francisco than Idaho!

There are signs, signs, signs, everywhere saying mostly don't do this!  It is still a special spot. One just has to realize that you are sharing it with LOTS of people.

The CJ Strike is a wildlife management area. You will be sharing it lots of duck and upland bird hunters in the fall. And if you like hiking and walking without a gun there is a short window when the area is open to human entry and prior to the hunters arriving. Of course, you can always get a dog, blaze orange vest, and a shotgun and go for a walk that way.  Trust me, I have done lots of great walks with a shotgun.  At the end of those days, Bugaboo's eyes always ask "tell me again, why you thought this would be a good area for a bird hunt?". Notice that the area is closed for human entry until July 31st.

Outside of hunting season CJ Strike is popular for fishing. I forgot to mention that prior to fishing season it is bird watching season (with binoculars, not guns). Several these folks were out and about when I came through in late March. I almost asked if they would like Bugaboo to "point" some birds for them, but decided to let them find them on their own. Here is the link for CJ Strike on the Idaho Birding trail.

There are lots of campgrounds.  Including fancy campgrounds from Idaho Power to simple BLM campground. Here is the link to the BLM facilities in the area: Cove Area Recreation Facilities. The area is close to the BLM managed Birds of  Prey Conservation Area.  Be sure to download the PDF file on the Birds of Prey area. There is a link for the download on the Cove Area Recreation Facilities web site.

Idaho Power has provided several campgrounds in the area that have docks and other amenities for those people fishing. There are boat docks directly behind this campsite at Cottonwood Campground.

This is what the campground looks like.  A bit raw, but plenty of room.

And, of course, signs signs everywhere.  Did you notice that quiet hours start at 11:00 pm??  Must be a party spot in the summer. As always, click on the picture to enlarge.

Leaving CJ Strike I was heading west on Highway 78. Pretty soon, I saw BLM trailheads for trails heading out to the Owyhee desert and ,of course, the turn-off to Silver City.  After all these years I still have not made it to Silver City!  It looks like the town is growing again.  I pretty sure nobody was living there in 1973, but now it has FOUR businesses. Here is the link to Silver City, Idaho.

The Owyhee Mountains are full of stories. Here is a song written and sung by Ian Tyson: Claude Dallas.  And a link to a summary of the whole incident: https://thebluereview.org/claude-dallas-myth-comes-life/.  Lots of  interviews, tv shows, and other stuff if you search Claude Dallas on the net.

For natural resource agencies the killing of  Bill Pogue and Conley Elms was a wake up call.  Throughout the west there are lots of folks like Claude and they were always assumed to be harmless. The attitude was that the "wilderness" was a safe place far from the mayhem of the cities.  Here is a link to FS Law Enforcement killed in line of duty. The Fish and Wildlife law enforcement employees. The National Park Service law enforcement employees.  I didn't find any listings for BLM. Hopefully, this is not an oversight, but that BLM has been blessed.

The manslaughter verdict instead of murder did surprise and dismay many in the natural resource fields.

It is an interesting part of  the west.  These days it is right outside the third largest metro area in the Pacific Northwest. This corner of Idaho, Oregon and Nevada remains as it was for a hundred years or more.

Idaho in the 1970's ran a advertising campaign that "Idaho is what America was".  There are portions of  Highway 78 that remind of "Idaho before it became part of today's America".  

An interesting drive. I hurried through the area since the forecast was for snow in the Blues by nightfall. So my schedule was set so I hit Pendleton before the snowfall. Next time your in the Boise area, instead of I-84 try Idaho 78.

Last note.  I found this link to a western states travel map. It shows web cams, accidents, traffic advisories including the verbage on those yellow electronic signs, remote weather stations along the road, google traffic flows, and even mountain passes that currently require chains. The site is well designed.  You just hover over the symbol and a pop-up comes up showing the webcam or traffic advisory. Once you leave the symbol, the pop-up disappears.  

Great website.  It is non-commercial in nature.  Not sure who runs it....but thanks.  Invaluable resource for anybody that drives a road.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

usbackroads destination-Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park, Idaho

usbackroads destination-Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park, Idaho

In the spring of 1973 I accepted a summer job on the Mountain Home Ranger District, Boise National Forest. Bruneau Sand Dunes at that time was an undeveloped area just south of Mountain Home.  I do remember a couple of great day trips to the dunes for fishing.  The ponds had crappie and bluegill in them and even at the ripe of age of 22 it was still great fun to watch a red and white bobber go down when the fish took the worm.

Since those days the Sand Dunes have always been on my list for a return trip. I did know that the Boise Astronomical Society put in a large observatory and that campsites, paved roads, and visitor centers have all shown up in the intervening years.

Heading north from Arizona I put this on my list to spend the night and following day once again exploring the area.  Has it really been 43 years??

When I arrived at the visitor center I had the choice of three campgrounds.  The regular campground which was almost booked solid.

The RV campground which was pretty much empty. The difference between these two campgrounds seemed to be the size of the shade trees! It was spring break so the "regular" campground was full of families.

However, the staff gently steered me to the equestrian campground which was empty. Not sure why? But it was me and Bugaboo and the stars over the the desert.  It was expensive at $22/ night, and I was worried that I was going to have to share the campground. As it turned out I had the campground to myself, but did have to watch where I walked since it was a horse campground. For some reason, Bugaboo who normally finds horse poop a treat ignored it.  Maybe he doesn't like Idaho horses??

It was fairly cold and windy as the moon and Jupiter rose in the east. Morning found the wind gone and sunny skies that were fairly warm. I looked at the green hills above the campground and spotted something that was moving. My first thought, was that it was a coyote.  But it turns out to be a pronghorn antelope. Even at this distance he was wary of my presence. Must have been a tough hunting season for him.  Even for an antelope it is tough to outrun a high powered rifle.

Here are the rules and regulations for the state park. You can click and read them if you like or go to the Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park website.

This is a picture of the observatory and adjacent visitor center for it.  The observatory is a rather unique design. I believe it has a 25 inch diameter telescope in it on a Dobsonian mount.  The design is a clever adaption for that style of mount. Observatories are usually placed on mountain tops. So I understand why this would not work on the top of the dune.  But why was it located down in the hollow next to the pond? Someday, I might get an answer to the question.

It is interesting that the ponds were the reason people came here in 1973.  Nowadays, it looks like most of the recreational activity is around the dunes. This picture shows the layout of the dune system. The ponds are at the base of the two closes dunes.

I thnk it is an unwritten law that all dune photography must be done in black and white. In color, these dunes just do not have the visual impact.

For kids there is something magical about sand dunes. There are even pretty special if  "the kid in you" is no longer visible.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

usbackroads trip--Benson, Arizona to Wenatchee, Washington

usbackroads trip--Benson, Arizona to Wenatchee, Washington.

travel dates: March 20-24th, 2016

The trip down to Benson was along the mother road known as I-5.  It took five and half days and was not fun.  The return trip was routed through central Nevada on Highway 93. Total travel time was four and half days and it could have been easily done in four days, but I did want to stop at Bruneau Sand Dunes and take Highway 82 south of the Snake River in Idaho.

As typical the expected departure time of 8:00 am ended up being closer to 10:00.  The objective for the first night was Blake Ranch RV Park.  This meant driving through Tucson, by passing Phoenix by taking I-8 all the way to Gila Bend and then heading north to Wickenburg and finally stopping this side of Kingman. The late start was bad enough, then TWO wrecks west of Tucson.  The second wreck was caused by first wreck and driver inattention.  So it took well over an hour to get around that wreck. I thought about going through Phoenix, but decided I had enough of traffic.

Heading north on 93 to Kingman there was a steady stream of traffic from Las Vegas headed back to Phoenix after the weekend. I was good and tired when I pulled into the RV Park.

The objective on the second day was to by-pass Las Vegas. After crossing Boulder Dam you turn past the Lake Mead Visitor Center and continue past Boulder Beach campground. You can camp at the campground or head north for dispersed camping at Las Vegas Wash. I headed north wanting to see the Overton Arm. It was a small, lovely Morman town in 1977. Not quite the small town these days.  There were some campsites just as you left the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and also at a Nevada Fish and Wildlife site just south of town.

The Valley of Fire State Park is just off the road and worth the visit. The drive through the National Recreation Area was very pleasant with the 45 mph speed limit and very light traffic.  I highly recommend this by-pass of Las Vegas. The desert wildflowers were just starting to bloom. It was in late April 1978, when I quit the National Park Service at Lake Mead and headed north to the Forest Service in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.  April, 1978 was a great desert wildflower show.

From Overton it was a fairly short drive to Alamo, Nevada. You can camp at Pahranagat National Wildlife Area. Note, you cannot run your generator at this site.  Here is the official site for the wildlife area;  Pahrannagat National Wildlife Area. We have stayed in Alamo, and if you like ice cream or "city" services this campground is ok.

If this is your first time in Alamo, Nevada it is worth stopping at the hot springs just north of town.  Ash Springs is a pretty special BLM site, and very popular for being in the middle of somewhere.  There is a Shell Station DIRECTLY across the highway from the hot springs.  Don't drive into the parking area with a trailer, just park at the Shell Station or on the highway shoulder.

My objective for the night, however, was the Ward Mountain Campground located just outside of Ely, Nevada on the Humboldt National Forest.  We stopped here on the way down last September.  Nice campground, with a 4 bar signal from Verizon and 23 stations on the antenna!! Since this was Nevada I was hopeful that the campground would not be gated.  The back up plan was the trailhead across the highway.  No gate. Campground toilets locked and water turned off, but it was perfect for me with the Casita.
I was the only person camping there that night. Somebody did drive in and took one look at Bugaboo and me and decided to camp elsewhere.

The National Weather Service promised snow in the higher elevations by mid-morning and rain in the valley floors. When I woke up at 5:00 am it was snowing. Towing in the snow is never fun, so I quickly packed up and headed down to Ely and hopefully that valley rain.

The picture doesn't show it well, but the Casita was caked with mud and ice kicked up from the road in fairly short order.

That predicted rain never did show up.  It was snow showers, sometimes heavy, all the way from Ely to Twin Falls. Finally broke out of the snow showers just south of Twin Falls.  The fortunate part was the termperature had been warm for several days before the snow so the road remained clear as all the snow melted as soon as it fell. Once the truck threw it up in the air, with an air temperature in the 20's, it quickly froze once it hit the Casita.

For Bugaboo, I reminded him that we would stop and visit his friend the Pony Express rider.  The previous two times the Pony Express Rider was riding through sunny weather.  This time, he was earning his paycheck.

Notice the snow on the horses back and tail. The rider seems to have accumulated some blowing snow.  This was the alternative campsite to Ward Mountain. It was calm at Ward Mountain during the night.  Looked a bit more interesting down here.

This nights campground was at Bruneau Sand Dunes State park.  That is the picture at the top of the blog posting. The "rush" north slowed down significantly at this point. Next posting will be Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park.

Friday, April 8, 2016

usbackroads destination-Coronado National Memorial, Arizona

 usbackroads destination-Coronado National Memorial and Coronado National Forest, Arizona

On the Arizona state highway map around Sierra Vista there is a odd National Park Service unit called the Coronado National Memorial.  It was a cool, windy day in Benson and there was loose talk about visiting a German restaurant in Sierra Vista for pastries.  So I looked on the map and searched for a "southern" destination around Sierra Vista.

There it  was the Coronado National Memorial.  There was also a part of the Coronado National Forest in the area for Snowpatch and Bugaboo to experience the freedom of the hills.

I was curious about how the Memorial came to be so the first question at the visitor center from me was "why are you here". The answer was quite simple.  A rancher couple died and in their will left the land to the National Park Service. The Park Service does not know if Coronado was in the memorial area.  There are NO artifacts from his expedition. It did prompt the Park Service to try and establish a National Park in the area but that effort failed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronado_National_Memorial.

Now Coronada and his expedition was pretty impressive.  You can read the facts about the expedition here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_V%C3%A1zquez_de_Coronado. It is worth reading.

The American west is known for its "youth", but if you read the link you will notice Coronado's expedition took place in 1540. Now remember your American history??  The Pilgrims showed up in 1620. Coronado was a "northbird" EIGHTY years BEFORE the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

The area is rather ordinary as the picture above illustrates. The Memorial does have a very nice, but small visitor center.  Actually, it is the perfect size for a visitor center.  Worth the stop.

We drove the road up to the pass and the junction with the Coronado National Forest.  It was raining and snowing so we decided to turn around at the pass. This is the view from up in the pass area.

At the pass in the snowstorm I did notice the NPS had pavement while the FS had dirt. In truth, the road to the pass is dirt also on the NPS side, it is just the parking area that is paved.

And it was snowing. Pretty hard. Go all the way to the Mexican border to sit in a snowstorm!! As always, when traveling in the disputed territories of the southwest these folks are always around. I am sure they really enjoyed the weather this day.

The Memorial has a cave a short 1/2 hike from the trailhead. I would do the hike.  Be sure to bring a flashlight.  No make that one for each person and a couple of spares.  It is very rare that the NPS trusts the public enough to let them wander on their own on the public's land.  I am sure in a few years, there will be a fee and a uniform to make sure you walk between the lines and be quiet.

Our problem was the blatant species discrimination that is practiced on NPS managed land. Yes, a couple members of our family are never welcomed on NPS trails and barely tolerated inside the NPS managed land.

The cave will have to wait for another day. So we headed for the freedom of the National Forests.  Both Bugaboo and Snowpatch got excited as soon as we turned off the highway and started in on the dirt road inside the National Forest managed lands. Snowpatch was so excited that he promptly wandered off to explore HIS PUBLIC LANDS. You will notice that Bugaboo is wearing his good citizenship collar, but Snowpatch was not. He did reappear after about ten minutes with a scratch or bite!

The National Forests are pretty cool.  The roads and facilities are a bit more "raw" than on NPS managed lands, but you can actually hike, bike, camp, without big brother looking over your shoulder. The scenery was actually nicer than the Memorial.

This part of the National Forest is just north of the road as your heading back into Sierra Vista.  It is not signed at all. But looking on a map you can see where the National Forest managed land meets the road.  Take that road.

The end of the road is the trailhead for the Miller Peak Wilderness.  Lots of trails in the Wilderness.

As we were heading back into Sierra Vista we were treated to sights one only sees on America's southern border. Yeah, these guys were in Key West, Florida last year. Years ago, I thought they were up in the air and run by the Border Patrol. Nope, they are there to protect us from a missile attack from Mexico!! Here is the scoop on the blimp: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JLENS

Sierra Vista is host to Fort Huachuca. Worth visiting. The Fort deals with military intelligence. I tried to visit their museum, but there was a sign saying that the museum was closed to the public due to a military meeting. I didn't believe the sign and opened the door and 100 of America's finest turned to look at me.  Oops, I guess the sign was right.

The folks in the military do know authentic foreign food.  And there lots of restaurants in Sierra Vista.  A couple of years ago we went to a real Korean restaurant. The food....well, a friend that served a couple of years in Korea stated "great people, horrible food verging on inedible". I concur.

So German food. Well, I am not a fan. But never say never and hold your fire until after eating. We stopped and ate at the German Cafe. Pretty good food. Well worth the stop. Those TripAdvisor reviews are not wrong. We heard good things also about the Breadbasket. for German food.

Let me see. Fort Huachuca is a army military intelligence base. There are lots of great foreign restaurants in town. I would bet that there are also some great life stories. The world, first came to Sierra Vista in 1540. Explore the restaurants in town. Hmm, maybe one of these days there will be a Ukrainian restaurant in town.  Hey, Wenatchee has one and that story is interesting.