Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tour of the West: Dinosaur Hunting

When I was a teenager, I too was subjected to a Tour of the West.  We saw many and varied things, but one thing I remember thinking is "We've just driven thousands of miles, and were right in the same neighborhood as Dinosaur National Monument, but didn't go."  Now keep in mind, "right in the same neighborhood" meant "in the same large western state", and I wasn't particularly fascinated by dinosaurs more than anything else, but how can one skip something called Dinosaur National Monument???

Naturally, since I held onto the vague grudge for almost three decades, we had to make sure to hit it on our most recent trip.

Welcome to the monument!  We arrived fairly late in the day, after the dinosaur building closed, so headed straight to our campsite.

Nimue outside the visitor's center the next day.  Apparently it is still ok to pose for a picture as a twelve-year-old if there is a dino sculpture.

Happy peoples on the tram that goes from the visitors center up to the dinosaur gallery.  The tram had little dinosaurs painted on the side, which Nimue thought were cute.

The dinosaur quarry building is built right on top of the main deposit in the sandstone Morrison Formation that contains the dinosaur fossils.  The cool thing about this is that what you can see has been left in situ rather than being fully removed from the rock.

Dinosaurs were sometimes big!

Nim and I doing our best monstersaur impressions outside the building.

We found a trail to walk back down afterwards instead of taking the tram.  We saw clam fossils,

investigated more dinosaur bones,

and saw a few petroglyphs (fodder for a later post).

Now, the Dinosaur Quarry in the monument is not the only place one can find signs of the beasties in these parts, so we kept our eyes open during the rest of the trip too.  We didn't have time so search out the dinosaur trackways around Moab, but did have time later in the trip to go on a wild goose chase when we noticed a "Twenty Mile Wash Dinosaur Track Site" marked on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument map.

After driving down a road that looked like this,

we found a trail register that had some weathered, though helpful, directions left by another traveller.

Following the directions led us up to another parking spot,

from which one could scramble up to a scenic rock bench.

Where are the tracks?

Chad found them eventually.  They are subtle.  Pictured are two large round sauropod footprints just outside of where Chad's feet are.

Here's a whole long sequence of them.

We also spent quite a while studying what looked like three-toed depressions, finally deciding that we couldn't be sure about them, so didn't take any pictures of them.  After doing a little bit of research at home, I'm pretty sure we did indeed see the three-toed theropod prints.  At the end of the day, it is clear that you need a highly trained eye to be sure than your imagination is not getting the best of you!

Denied our obvious three-toed fossil footprints, yet later in the trip we stopped at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery site.  This is a cute little museum built on top of a set of in-situ dinosaur prints that a dude discovered when he was leveling a hill on his property.  Fortunately, the site was preserved; the actual rock deposit makes up a large part of the floor.

Some layers of rock have been peeled up, creating natural casts of the footprints.

We were amused to note that the natural casts showed enough detail to see not only the prints, but also radial cracks in the mud surrounding the footprints from the dino's great weight.  Some footprints were even detailed enough to show signs of the foot skin texture too.

Also perhaps dinosaurs?  We didn't stop...

As is true of any good road trip, there are always things one doesn't have time to see.  Nimue is most put out that we didn't follow the turn towards Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada.  Or maybe she just likes saying "ichthyosaur".  Perhaps it will be fodder for her own trip later!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Let them eat cake

Last weekend Mom was craving cake. So I made one.

After following every instruction to the letter, I pulled the cake out of the oven...

Well, that's never happened before. Even though I've made the recipe countless times? At least the inside is salvageable.

...Sorta. Man, that's ugly. Tastes kinda smoky too... It'll look nicer after we frost it, right?

 After frosting (and sprinkles!), it still looks ugly. At least it tastes good... right? I can't believe the sprinkle treatment didn't work! This goes against all I've ever learned about cake beautification! THE CAKE IS A LIE!!!!! ....Ahem.

Anyway, here's the moral of the story: Next time Mom wants cake, let her wimp out and buy one from Sprouts instead.

Even though you're the best cake baker in the world.

Don't be offended. Please don't. Sprouts is just better than you.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Tour of the West: Critters

Surprisingly, we didn't see a single snake on the trip, despite being in what seemed like prime snake territory for much of the trip.  Lots of lizards, though.  Here are the few that didn't run away too far as I stalked them:

Spiny Lizard of some sort, Hickison Petroglyph area NV

Long-nosed Leopard Lizard, Baker Archaeological site NV

Side-blotched Lizard(?), Hickison Petroglyph Area

My favorite lizard of the trip, the Desert Spiny Lizard that I stalked up the side of Dry Fork Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  He finally posed in the light after I chased him sufficiently.

As far as mammals go, there were lots of these black-tailed jackrabbits that just ran way too fast to get a good picture.

We call this general category of campground menace "Squirrel-rats".  This one appeared to be eating the cottonwood fluff after being shoed away from our breakfast.  Our campsite at Dinosaur National Monument appeared to come with two of these little dudes, which Nim dubbed Pancake-man and Waffle-man, for no apparent reason.

 Sometimes, squirrel-rat are also fast and hard to photograph

 unless they are tired.

 Different species of squirrel-rat, this time at Trumbull Lake in CA

In the category of animals that *aren't* fast is this cow.  It wouldn't move out of the road, no way, now how.  Just gave us the stink-eye.  We finally had to just drive around it.

And cutest of all --

Feral child who hasn't showered in six days, Dinosaur National Monument

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tour of the West: Also Seen in Nevada

Also seen as we crossed Nevada:

Not pictured:  Many many mountain passes going through the Basin and Range province.

Random boulders with petroglyphs (pictured: Great Basin Pecked Style petroglyphs at Grimes Point)

Weird isolated sand dune:  Sand Mountain.  It may look smooth and pristine, but as you get closer, you can see ATV tracks all over it, following unlikely-seeming lines.  People clearly have fun here.

Many ruins of old Pony Express stations.  I was amused to note that the youngest reported rider was only 11 years old.  (Nimue declined to comment.)

 Caves!  There are a bunch in Great Basin NP; we opted to take a tour of Lehman Caves as this was the legal way to access them.

Cave photography is difficult, especially with my puny camera; this difficulty is compounded by the face-making tendencies of the small monster.  Or maybe helped...

Archaeological site near Baker.

Happy silly peoples.

Tour of the West: Wheeler Peak

One of the places we stopped for a couple of nights on our recent trip was Great Basin National Park, just off of I-50 close to where it hits the Nevada-Utah border.  This park contains 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in Nevada, so naturally we needed to climb it :)

The view of the peak from our campground, close to 10,000 feet.  Sleeping this high helps acclimatization, as long as it doesn't make you sick (I've had problems in the past going straight from sea level to sleeping at 11,000 feet in the Sierras...).  We had camped at about 6000 feet the night before, and no one had any problems.

If you get out from under the trees, you can pretty much see the route up -- just follow the ridge up on the right side of the mountain in this picture:

After getting a weather report, we decided to get an early start to avoid any potential afternoon thunderstorms.  The trail started out quite mellow, working its way up through an aspen grove.

Soon we started to get views of the peak, and the Small One thought her goofy parents were funny.

After a gently climb above a lake, we reached a minor saddle, from which you could pretty much see which way to go up to the top.  All very straightforward.

Kid still cheery.

After this point, we were above the tree line, and began to work our way up the rubble along the ridge.  You can see a few parties ahead of us at this point.

We passed them all.  Nim is in pretty good shape from all the running she has had to do in PE.

The view kept opening up, and we could see how much progress we back down the ridge, 

as well as how much further there was to go.

We kept walking,

stopped for a snack,

and continued to mark our progress up the ridge.

After a while, the hiking turned into a bit of a clamber,

so we needed another snack, this time in the snow.  At this point, we were quite a bit higher than the farm fields in the valley we had driven through the day before.

Occasionally, I needed to be a monster, as the small monster started to slow down.  It couldn't have been all that bad, as this parental behavior was still deemed funny.

Ho!  A rock shelter marking the summit log.

It was a room with a view

with a cute little mailbox to protect the log book.

Nim had a snack.  (Sense a trend here?)

Post snack, she once again started making faces.

We explored the flat (ish) area at the top.  There were views in all directions.

Somehow, ladybugs live here.

After a bit, the clouds started to look a bit threatening,

 so we hightailed it down off the summit.

We were somewhat relieved when we got off the steeper part of the rock pile and back onto some semblance of a smooth trail without any weather beyond threatening clouds.

Back down among the trees, Chad looked up and said "I'm putting my coat on."   We followed suit. Not a minute later, a clap of thunder boomed and it started to pour.  Wise dad.

The rain only lasted about five minutes, and by the time we made it back to the campsite, all was clear and sunny again.  

Notice Nim had yet another snack!  A fine day's hike.