Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

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DAY 36 – Winnemucca, NV

November 3, 2012

We arrived in Winnemucca from Virgin Valley at dinnertime. As we filled up with gas, I searched my phone for a good place to eat, reading Yelp and other sites. I discovered a piece of history that was new to me. Many Basques, in the 19th century, moved to Nevada to raise sheep and feed the miners and prospectors. Some of their descendants operate restaurants today. Winnemucca has three Basque eateries. The Martin Hotel received the highest accolades online so we headed there.

It was Saturday night and we waited about 20 minutes to be seated. Later I found out that people often wait a couple hours to get in. The waiting area is also a saloon-style bar and a lively group crowded the counter. The most striking customers were the cowboys.

The cowboys were all decked out in their dress clothes for a special night on the town. The outfit invariably included: 1) a large, full mustache with the outside ends twirled into long upturned points, 2) a cowboy hat, light or dark, curved brim or flat, 3) a long-sleeved, button-down shirt, usually plaid, occasionally a solid color, 4) jeans, 5) cowboy boots, 6) and my favorite accessory, a silk or cotton scarf wrapped around the neck and tied in a knot to the side. The only other men I remember regularly wearing scarves as adornment were the French tourists I saw in Southeast Asia.

The national rodeo finals were in Winnemucca that weekend and some of the men were  contestants. Their identification number were still safety pinned to their backs. The lethal looking spurs were still attached to their boots. The women at the restaurant looked like women anywhere.

Meals were served family-style and we were seated at a table for nine. The couple to my left live in southern Idaho but had originally been from the Reno area. They raise natural beef and were on their biannual trip delivering frozen meat to their regular customers in northern Nevada. They always eat at The Martin on these trips. The other five were a family who turned out, by chance, to be acquaintances with the Idaho couple. The patriarch of that group was dressed as described above. I kept wondering how he got those firm, sharp points on his mustache. Gel? Spit? Brylcreem?

A series of courses were delivered to our table in large bowls or on platters. Carafes of red wine were also included – my first alcohol of the trip. You pay a set fee for your chosen entree and then eat as much or as little of the rest as you want. Warning! This meal description is not for vegetarians. Basques are big meat eaters.

Course 1: Minestrone-style soup and bread. Delicious.
Course 2: Salad and beans. The beans looked like Boston baked beans but had different flavoring. The Basque style is to pile the beans on top of the lettuce salad and we obliged and enjoyed it. Later I bought some of The Martin Hotel salad dressing at a local store.
Course 3: Green beans, smashed garlic potatoes, a chicken and tomato dish. Yum.
Course 4: The entree! Yes, after all the above, your specific entree choice was served. Plus platters of french fries. My entree was the famed lamb shank (touted in the New York Times!) and Chris had a steak. Both were liberally piled with chopped raw garlic.
Course 5: Bread pudding. I passed on this because I’m not eating gluten but I had no room left anyway. I did take a small taste of Chris’ and it was quite good.

They also served a few less common dishes. The man from Idaho got sweetbreads (brain) and apparently often a tongue dish is included (but not this night.) I thought of the evening as practice for Thanksgiving. We took leftovers with us and had an additional meal the next day.

It was late and we went to a rest stop off I-80 for a free night’s lodging. As we set up the camper for sleep, I felt in between two worlds. On one side was the continuous rumble of tractor-trailer traffic from the cross-continental freeway, on the other side, coyotes howled their goodnight.

DAY 36 – Shelton National Wildlife Refuge, NV


November 3, 2012
The next morning, it is glowing pink outside the camper window; I quickly leave my warm bed to catch the vivid sunrise. It was 31 degrees, 18 degrees warmer than the day before. I looked for burros because during the night we heard them braying, a desperate, wheezy hee-haw along with other strange snorts and yelps. But they are gone.

I am surprised to see a male California quail perched on a nearby picnic table, seemingly surveying the scene while sunning himself. King of the Quail. I take several photo of him and some of his subjects.

For years, I have wanted to get a good photo of a quail. I have seen many of them, always scurrying by in a group on their incredibly fast tiny legs as if late for a very important date. By the time I raise my camera, they are gone or, if photographed, are only a blur in the image. The male quail looks so crisply attire, like a portly well-dressed bon vivant wearing a jaunty plumed cap. The female, also portly, is much more conservatively dressed as is the custom in the bird world. I think evolution has a sense of humor.

Later, when returning to our campsite after washing the breakfast dishes in deliciously warm spring water, Chris urgently pointed for me to look at something. A large bobcat was slowly and silently walking across the small paddock near us, through the corral with three horses. The horses did not seem to notice. Several jack rabbits sunny themselves in the pasture sat stock-still. One, unable to keep its cool any longer, bolted off in the opposite direction. I got a few out-of-focus photos of the bobcat, but you can still see its markings, more spotty and leopard-like than others I’ve seen.

We are so glad we stumbled into this place. We might have known about it ahead of time if I hadn’t left behind our Hot Springs of the West Guidebook. Driving away from there, we passed a road with the intriguing name “Bog Hot”. Later we find out that down that road is Bog Hot Springs, an isolated premier natural hot springs with pools and a hot running stream. We hope to get back someday. Nevada has the most hot springs in the country, numbering 312.


This gallery contains 6 photos

DAY 35 -Shelton National Wildlife Refuge, NV

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November 2, 2012

I do my morning before-breakfast wandering, a kind of meditation. And I see that the other animals, especially the jackrabbits, were also looking cold at 13 degrees. Thick steam rose from the pool. Gradually, the sun warmed the day back to 60 degrees.

Small hoofed tracks cover the camp along with piles of horse-like dung. I assumed these were from burros. Jackrabbits and cottontails are the primary animals seen, along with robins, flickers, starlings, ravens, and quail. An occasional hawk, duck or heron appeared briefly. The jackrabbits here are noticeably smaller in overall size and ear size than their cousins in central California. The ones in CA are huge, like coyotes with small upended canoes for ears. Chris theorized that the Nevada jackrabbits ears are smaller because, with all the wind there, big ears would cause them to sail away. (Later I find out that these are black-tailed jackrabbits and the ones in central CA are white-tailed jackrabbits.)

I have another glorious swim in the warm pool with the small fish darting about and the frogs sitting still on the leaf matter at the edge.

Later, I walk between the sagebrush toward red rock formations jutting out of the nearest hilltop. Trails created by many hooves appear and die out and reappear. The view is vast, across a broad valley bordered by hills and mountains of many shapes and colors. Long, sinuous dirt roads vanish into the distance. The campground is small below.

It is still and silent. An occasional breeze rustled against my ears and through the low shrubs. But that is the only sound. No airplanes overhead. Birds are silent too. (I am working on a short essay about silence that was going to go here but since it isn’t complete, I will post it later.)

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DAY 34 – Shelton National Wildlife Refuge, NV


November 1, 2012

After the Night of the Wind, we drive the remaining few miles to Nevada. Grand, unpopulated landscapes. Geology laid bare. There were unusual clouds, blue sky and rainbows. At the border, we entered Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. What wildlife is this desiccated landscape a refuge for? We guessed hoofed animals. We soon see a few wild horses and then a small band of feral burros. But it’s really a refuge for pronghorn antelope.

The gray, tan and brown burros watched us with wariness and curiosity. At least one of the pack members always kept an eye on us, sometimes all of them stared in our direction. The wild horses we saw earlier did not pay any attention to us. Both the feral horses and burros are often relocated to keep their numbers down.

I love burros. There is something whimsical and appealing about them, their big ears, white muzzles and round white bellies, their torsos highlighted by back and shoulder stripes. But burros are also strong and tough, small and powerful. Their reported willful nature only adds to their charm. Even when domesticated, they seems to retained some of the independence of the wild. I had a small stuffed burro as a child which I liked very much.

We picked up a brochure at an information board and discovered there were primitive campgrounds throughout the park. I am learning that national wildlife refuges often have free campgrounds and these are not marked on most maps. At least, in Nevada. We decide, rather than stop here, to instead “make some miles” and go beyond the refuge. Down the road a piece, still in the refuge, we pass large signs for “Wholesale Opals Direct from the Mine”. Being a jewelry maker and a want-to-be rockhound, we decided to check it out and turned down a dirt road. The two opal mines were closed for the season but the diversion led us to the Virgin Valley Campground.

By then it was sunny, warmer and the wind was less aggressive. We were both immediately attracted to the place. No one else was there, always a big plus. It opened in all directions to vistas of hills, rock formations and mesas.  Along the dirt road were wetlands and several ponds. Part ghost town, the campground had abandoned buildings made of pink sandstone blocks and a free-standing chimney. One old homestead dwelling is built into the hillside with a sod roof.

To our complete surprise, it also had a pool! Partly natural, partly enhanced by “The Friends of the Refuge”, it was clear, sparkling and emerald green, beautiful against the browns and golds of the desert. I assumed it was very cold and stuck my hand in to determine just how cold. But – oh my god – it was warm, fed by a naturally heated spring! Not hot, mind you, but pleasantly warm, about 80-90 degrees. The old building abutting the pool (possibly an old spring house?) had been renovated into a changing room. This all seemed like luxury in a remote, primitive (free) campground.

We choose to stay the night and take advantage of the bright sun, the drier air and the wind. All of them allies in drying out clothes, sleeping bags, pillows and the camper interior after our week of wet weather in Oregon. Swimming in the pool in the afternoon was heavenly.

As night descended, the temperature plummeted from the day’s high of 60. We burrowed deep into our sleeping bags and woke up with frost on the inside walls and an outside temperature of 13 degrees. We were warm at night except for our only exposed heads. Chris calls having a cold head when camping a “popsicle head” or more succinctly, a “headsicle”. This can be taken care of by having a proper sleeping hat, but the one I have doesn’t stay on when asleep.

This gallery contains 13 photos

DAY 33 – Night of the Wind

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October 31, 2012. Somewhere on Route 140 in Oregon.

Today is Halloween.

After a phenomenally early start for us (on the road before 7 AM), we continue to follow our plan to find sunnier, hopefully warmer, weather. Our compass bearing is basically east and south toward Nevada and beyond. Today, we aim for Lakeview, OR, because just north of town is a hot springs where we might clean up, freshen up and possibly stay the night. During the 200 miles it takes to get there, the winds increase and sudden gusts blow hard against the truck as we drive. In Lakeview, the wind is so strong, doors are hard to open and after opened, violently blow shut. They talk about a storm coming that night adding rain to the wind. We decide to try to outrun it and continue our route toward Nevada.

The landscape has completely transformed from the lush forest of the coastal region into severe and attractively desolate desert. We cross small mountain ranges and wide valleys and keep hoping we will leave the ominous clouds and persistent, almost frightening, wind behind. The dust in the valleys is whipped up into a high flying frenzy. It looks like smoke.

We need to stop for the night and look for a sheltered spot where we can wait out the storm. The mountains, in contrast to the valleys, seem to slightly block and redirect the force of the wind. We come to a treeless, concave area surrounded by small peaks with a dried lake at its center. Several dirt roads fan out through the scrub grass. We park on a flat gravel pull-out. To minimize the truck’s profile, we point its nose into the oncoming wind. We have some concern about the camper’s ability to withstand the force of this storm. Could an exceptionally powerful gust tear off the roof or even knock us over?

So what was that night like? It was like for 12 hours of turbulence on a plane.  At least, we were already on the ground. The truck and camper shuddered and shook; it was jostled side to side. The roaring wind pushed and pounded the walls, and anything that was loose, rattled and banged. The wind came in waves, dying down and bringing hope that the worst had passed, only to resume its assault, as it it had just taken a few quiet moments to regather its strength.

It also reminded me of sailing on the Atlantic when a big storm hits. You must set anchor or tie up to a mooring to wait it out, hoping everything holds against the fierce winds. Hunkered down in the small boat cabin, I remember nervously sitting tight as the boat vibrated and rocked and the wind howled against the mast and hull, the lines straining against the force.

We signed up for this adventure. (Whenever one of us complains about something, the other one says, “Well, you signed up for this!”) An adventure by definition entails risk and uncertainty. It opens the door to serendipity, discovery and excitement. Fresh vision and moments of wonder. The same door also opens anxiety, doubt and indecision, not to mention potential hazard and harm.

Do we keep going? When do we stop? Will there be a more protected place just ahead? What is ahead? Are we making the right decision? Should we have stayed in Lakeview? Is this dangerous? Will it get worse? Will there be snow and ice? Are we safe?

Just being alive is, of course, the most obvious adventure we are on. Life by definition entails risk and uncertainty. Every moment we are on the precipice of the unknown, whether we acknowledge it or not. Only the past seems to lose its uncertainty. But that is an illusion of memory.

It was Halloween so maybe it was appropriate to spend the night with uneasy and fearful feelings. No ghosts here but it was a dark, lonely, isolated place. Adding some incongruity to the experience, we watched on computer the very early, very silly Woody Allen movie, “Take the Money and Run.” Chris picks up DVDs here and there and occasionally he or both of us will watch one.

Later, lying awake in the dark, I thought about all the 19th century settlers who had crossed similar land, possibly over the mountain pass just ahead of us on this road. I envisioned the conditions of their journey in the deserts of the west, so unlike traveling today. We go on trips for pleasure, for adventure, for education, sometimes for relaxation and rest. But the settlers experienced ongoing hardship and danger. While I find this landscape to be dramatic and starkly beautiful, it may have seemed frightening, threatening and unwelcoming to them. What would it have been like for them in this storm? The wind tearing at the canvas wagon covers, rain entering any small opening, cold and wet penetrating wool blankets. These thoughts help bring perspective and I feel empathy for all creatures who migrate.

In the middle of the night, rain began periodically pelting violently against the sides, the droplets propelled by the intense winds. Eventually there were longer periods with less wind and I was able to sleep the remaining few hours of the night. In the morning, in cold rain and heavy skies, we packed up and hit the road. Although this was our windiest night so far, we will likely run into more hard blows as we travel. We survived this one without any real problems.

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DAY 24 – Lava Beds to Klamath Falls


October 22, 2012
During our last morning at Lava Beds, the sky created a particularly vivid, contrasting display. The view morphed from intensely blue space to enormous white dollops of cumulus clouds to dark stormy clouds, threatening and then delivering either rain and snow. I have often considered creating a series of cloudscape paintings. The photos below may give you a taste of their stunning beauty. Each sky scene ephemeral and unique.

After steady rain the night before, the intense fragrance of sage and juniper filled the air. It was a dose of powerful invigorating natural aromatherapy; you couldn’t help but breathe deeply and feel better. I also saw a new bird (to me) that morning, a varied thrush, drinking from a new puddle (Thanks, Allen!).

Driving north through the park, we passed the main lava flow spread out across the desert, a stark jumble of black, tan, gray and red rock. Some of it is only 11,000 years old, just yesterday in geologic terms. Although a few shrubs and trees are making headway into the flow, even after eleven millennia, it has remained mostly barren stone.

One surprising resident in these boulder fields is the Pacific Tree Frog, usually found in the coastal redwood forest. It lives here, without trees, in the damp crevices of this rocky landscape. (Have you seen my earlier blog post about the Pacific Tree Frog?)

There are two sad events in American history associated with this place. In the 19th century, conflicts arose between the Modoc Indians who had lived in this area for thousands of years and the settlers coming from the East. Eventually, the Modocs were moved by the U.S. Army to a reservation with the Klamath Indians in Oregon. Because of disharmony between the tribes and a wish to be on their homeland, a group of Modoc led by Chief Kintpuash, called Captain Jack by the army, moved back to the north end of what is now Lava Beds Monument at Tule Lake. The army was ordered to remove them and The Modoc War broke out. In a maze of lava formations, now called Captain Jack’s Stronghold, 60 Modoc warriors with 150 women and children, held back the 600 soldiers of the U.S. Army for five months. Eventually, the Modocs’ supplies ran too low and they surrendered. They were relocated to Oklahoma.

We visited this area and saw the lava mounds, caves and narrow passageways of the stronghold from which the Modoc lived and fought, seeking to keep their freedom, way of life and ancestral home. It was not a larger area. A sad place of many deaths and much hardship, now quiet and beautiful. A prayer pole decorated with sacred objects, commemorates the dead and the events of 1873.

Also in the area, was the largest relocation camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII. This land needs prayers, apologies, blessings, and forgiveness.

Much of Tule Lake was drained in 1920’s to create more farmland. What is left is used for farming, hunting and as a wildlife refuge. An uneasy balance, I would think. We stopped at two wildlife viewing turnouts to see the lake with its migrating waterfowl. This is the time of year that snow geese, pelicans, pintails, ruddy ducks and many more birds move from their summer to winter homes. Hundred of thousands of birds alight here. My binoculars and telephoto lens were too weak to reveal much detail. The most obvious birds were the large, constantly honking Canada geese, but many other waterfowl were floating nearby.

We also made a detour to a small separate part of LBNM called Petroglyph Point. Over thousands of years Modocs came to inscribe markings on a tall vertical cliff face. (Petroglyphs are carved into stone while pictographs are painted on stone.) Few, if any people, including modern Modocs know the meaning of these designs. They are unique to this area and this tribe.

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Comment about Blogging . . .

November 7, 2012

Yeah, Obama!

Now on to my comments:
My intention was to give equal attention to the Travelogue section of this blog as to the Reflections section. However, I have discovered just how labor intensive it is to keep a blog up-to-date. Especially when faced with interruptions in the technology needed (like running out of battery power, no wifi, slow wifi, exasperating wifi, etc.) Plus, there is the challenge of finding the time to write and then transcribe it to the computer and then sufficiently edit it for global consumption on the internet. And there are all the steps needed to take, download, organize, prepare, and select photos. Whew.

The tasks of traveling and camping are also time consuming. Cooking, cleaning, reorganizing (endlessly), planning, driving, getting supplies, finding gas, looking for cell reception, navigating Super Walmarts and the like. Chris is constantly engaged in “home improvement” projects. Plus, we want to relax, go slowly, take it easy, do nothing, meditate, practice qigong and yoga and just gaze into space some of the time. And maybe hike, bike and kayak, too. Being on sabbatical is a busy life!

The upshot of this is I may need to downsize my own expectations. Maybe for now the Travelogue is enough. It is disciplining me into writing regularly and giving me practice at playing with language and developing my writing voice. Writing descriptively about the “outer” experiences of the senses is much easier than writing about ones “inner” world, about feelings, subtle perceptions, ideas, insights, about wisdom and meaning. Spiritual experience is notoriously difficult to write about with clarity and without cliche.

I will no doubt drop in reflective comments here and there.

Also, I appreciate getting your comments and I read them all (there haven’t been that many yet!)

Lastly, I have previously posted the Travelogue in chronological order. I may occasionally go out of order; I hope that doesn’t confuse anyone too much.