Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Oregon's John Day Fossil Beds


I could have made this about Oregon's Crater Lake National Park, of course.  Or the Oregon Coast, or Olympic National Park, where I did some memorable hikes in the 1980s.  But I want to highlight the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (even if it's not as good a fit for the letter) because until recently I didn't even know they were there.  

We stopped for just a few hours last summer on our drive from the Canadian Rockies back to California, and even in the middle of the day (truly a rotten time for photography) they were spectacular.  Not only were the museum and Visitor's Center great, but the geology and paleontology--wow!  Take a quick tour.

There are four or five small sections in the National Monument, and we visited only two, though perhaps the two main sections.  First was the Sheep Rock Unit, where the museum etc. are, as well as some of the fossil-bearing formations.
That green-looking clay stuff was really green, and puddles were green, and the mud left to dry up after a rain was green.
 Our second stop was the Painted Hills Unit.  Wonder how it got that name, huh?
I can't imagine how great this would be at sunrise.
 There were lots of signs asking people not to go walk on the hills.  Some morons did anyway, and it is clear that the footprints stay for a long time.  Not cool.  These hills were farther from the road so fairly untouched.
If my memory serves, red is iron, but I can't remember what's yellow or the black streaks.
Even in midsummer, some flowers insist on blooming in the most unlikely places.
And there it is--if you are ever traveling through eastern Oregon, make the time to stop and look.  Granted, US Route 26 through John Day, though a "main" road from Bend to the Idaho border, isn't really an obvious route.  But sometimes it's worth going out of your way to see something most people never will.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for. . . Nebraska!

My review today is a book that might be set in Nebraska.  The author never says exactly where the book is set, but to me a sod house will always mean Nebraska, thanks to my family having come from a soddy in that state.  It is also one of my "Middle Grade Classics" reviews.  To make life more exciting, this is also the day for the Kid Lit Blog Hop.
Check out the cool new KLBH Logo!

Here's the book, though the cover doesn't match the one I read (nor does the title) :

Title: Sod House Adventure (Later retitled The Children Who Stayed Alone).
Author: Bonnie Bess Worline
Publisher: Longmans, Green & Co, 1956.  147 pages. 
Source: I got this as an ebook from Open Library; it is a scanned copy of a book with a blank library binding.

The initial episode, and the one that kicks off the other adventures, is a period of several days when the seven Dawson children, ranging in age from Phoebe, who appears to be about 12 down to the baby, are left alone. From there we go on to other events in a year on their homestead.  Neither the place nor the year is specified, but I choose to believe it is Nebraska (see above), and the year would be sometime in the second half of the 1800s, not long after the "Indian troubles" were over.  This is the story of pioneer children who work hard, and take their pleasure where they find it.

The book is undeniably dated, and bears that "goody-two-shoes" feel that many from the era (and earlier) have.  But it does capture life on the farming frontier in a vivid way, and shows the area filling up with people (I kept expecting them to pull up stakes and move farther west--but that was just the influence of Pa from The Little House on the Prairie).  The children, though too good to be believable, are engaging, and the story is a quick and pleasant read, though nothing more than that. There are better stories of the period--like the Little House books.

Recommended for anyone who likes historical stories about the settlement of the West and doesn't mind some unrealistically well-behaved children.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Sod House Adventure  from my (digital)  library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for. . . The John Muir Wilderness


Of course, M is always for Mountains, but that was a little generic.  Fortunately, the John Muir Wilderness encompasses some of my favorite mountains, and a number of great mountain experiences.

The USFS web site summarizes it thus:
The John Muir Wilderness stretches for 100 miles along the crest of the Sierra. It is a land of lofty snow-capped mountains, deep canyons and vast expanses of glacially carved terrain. The John Muir Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1964. It covers 650,000 acres. 299,000 acres are managed by the Inyo National Forest, while the remainder is managed by the Sierra National Forest.
    The wilderness was named in honor of John Muir, who once described himself as a "self-styled poetico-tramp-geologist-bot. and ornith-natural, etc.!!!” Muir spent his life advocating for the protection of the wild parts of the Sierra Nevada.

My first hikes into the Sierra (in fact, the majority of them) were into the John Muir wilderness.  On the summer solstice in 1993, I had the magical experience of seeing my shadow on the snow--by starlight.  That's right--just stars, bright enough to give one a ghostly shadow on the snow. That was a few hours after the altitude had caused me to toss my cookies, also on the snow.

And in 2009, we had one of our most memorable family backpacks, from Pine Creek (near Bishop) over two passes and across country to connect a loop via some amazing backcountry lakes.  Our boys were only 10 and 11, and we experienced everything from mild altitude sickness to high winds and a 17-degree morning.  It's a trip none of us will forget.

Upper Pine Lake--just the first stop
One camp had a firepit and an abandoned grill--so we learned you can grill pizza!
I seem to keep ending up with pizza instead of ice cream!

The next several days were spent in the alpine, and had their ups and downs (pun fully intended).  First off, Eldest Son experienced simultaneous altitude issues and Asperger's issues, as the weather also went bad on us.  I was beginning to doubt our wisdom!  But even an 11-year-old with Asperger's can't keep sulking when you encounter things like this:
Can you see the ptarmigan?
Or especially great boulders to scramble over.  He took particular pleasure in showing his more timid Mom the best route ("Don't go where Daddy went.").
Descending to Black Bear Lakes
And, finally, there was the incredible morning in Granite Park, with frozen socks but stunning scenery:
Just a nice time in camp among the granite!

You have to be tough to get up and get these shots, when all is frosty and coffee has to wait!

We're nowhere near as tough as John Muir, who roamed these mountains with just an overcoat and a loaf of bread, but I thank Muir for inspiring people like Teddy Roosevelt to preserve areas like this!  And if you've never read My First Summer in the Sierra--go get a copy.