Category Archives: Trip Report

Stay in the damned ruts!

A pretty close to last minute super drive to Wyoming and back was an adventure to be sure. I left Friday morning, April 22nd, from Seattle and returned Tuesday afternoon.  Not too shabby to do 2,500 miles of driving, a 6 mile hike… and almost being lost forever on the top of a ridge surrounded by snow hours from anywhere… all in less than five days!

The reason for the trip is still a little top secret at the moment.  Let’s just say that I had to take some pictures of opals for a PowerPoint presentation I have to give to some very important people, and I didn’t have any good photographs.  The last time I had been to my claim I was too excited finding stones to stop, take a breath, and then take the camera out of my pocket.

I left Seattle under gray skies and the gray continued through to Montana, but it was warm. 60s and 70s the entire way.  Idaho and Montana were especially in the bloom of spring.  Everything was so lush and green.  Leaves popping, grass growing as fast as it can….  This time of year the Rockies look like Seattle does most of the time!

I stayed at a Motel 6 in Missoula.  What a rip off.  Someone hot boxed the entire third floor (my floor) and about the time I was climbing into my rock-hard bed the police we raiding my neighbor’s room.  Montana does not share Washington State’s marijuana laws to be sure.

I woke early, made my way to the Cracker Barrel next door for breakfast because I had never been to one before.  For those of you left coast, latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, diploma-having, elites, let me paint a picture as to what Cracker Barrel is for you: It’s Pier 1 Imports for people with aesthetically questionable taste who also happen to like NASCAR… with a Denny’s inside.  Rather than name their breakfasts things like “French Toast” they will call it “Uncle Earl’s Morning Favorite” or something.  The food was OK, at least they gave me real maple syrup, but the inside of their restaurant smelled like a potpourri of a thousand scented candles. Not really my thing.

I had another 600 miles of driving ahead of me so it was road time. Earlier when I stated that Montana was so lush and green, this is not true.  All of Montana is so lush and green except for Butte.  Butte is brown and depressing.  It is brown and depressing in August, it is probably brown and depressing all winter, and it is brown and depressing at the height of spring. I blasted passed the Berkeley Pit, over the Continental Divide for the umpteenth time, through thunder showers in Bozeman, passed Livingston (without stopping; so sorry, Josh and Jennie!), and through the most ironically named Montana town “Big Timber” which is in the grasslands of the plains and has about five trees all shorter than any of the houses in the area.  Finally I made it to Laurel, Montana where I left I-90 and turned South onto US310, this took me through some farming country and tiny little towns like Bridger and Fromberg (which I assume is named this because this is where people come ‘from’ but do not move ‘to’).  I peeled off US310 onto state highway 72 which quickly become Wyoming State Highway 296 (ominously named the “Black and White Road” whatever that means) complete with thunder showers galore.

I reached Cody, Wyoming for the first time since I was a child, it seems to have boomed quite a bit since then.  The town still plays up the Buffalo Bill Cody theme and has built civic centers and museums all over the place to celebrate the cowboy way of life.  Every time I am on one of these trips I wish I could stop and smell the roses and visit a little more with each little burg I come to, but alas, I am on a schedule.  On my way out of Cody I noticed that the entire Southern portion of the town is build around four circular/oval lakes.  Each of these little lakes was full of birds and reeds, but also had what looked like to be white salt deposits on the shore lines and no substantially sized trees surrounding the lakes.  Interesting… I decided that I would have to investigate this further at a later date as this could means billions of dollars to the people of Cody, and drove on.

Alkali lakes of Cody, WY
Alkali lakes of Cody, WY

At the lakes I turned South onto State Highway 120 and that takes me over lots of broken and cracked hills exposing many of layers of rock; as I drove further South past the little town of Meeteese these scarps started to reveal thin bands of coal seams.  The bands are not thick enough for anyone to commercially exploit, but evidence none-the-less that Wyoming is rich in everything.

Coal seems of central Wyoming
Coal seems of central Wyoming

The tan rocks and bands of coal began to give way to red rocks and what looked to be layers of gray/green ash resting atop of it.  If I had been blindfolded and dropped here I would have though that I had appeared in Southern Utah.  The landscape looks almost identical to the Red Navajo Sandstone and gray/green ash of the Monitor Butte formation of the area (with my brother Loch we made an awesome discovery of metallic petrified wood in this layer just outside of Boulder, Utah).  In the heart of the red rocks is Thermopolis, Wyoming.  Supposedly home to the largest mineral hot spring in the world.  It’s dinosaur museum is also home to the only archaeopteryx fossil outside of Europe.  I really need to take my time through here someday… Stupid schedules!

The highway ends and becomes US20 and then the drive gets awesome.  A hop over the Bighorn River which instantly becomes the Wind River the moment you enter one of the coolest canyons in the world.  Wind River Canyon isn’t just beautiful, but it is also a mind fuck.  As you travel up hill you have the feeling as though you are continually going downhill.  Your brain cannot accept the fact that the water is flowing in the wrong direction the entire time.  This comes from the way the entire Owl Creek Mountains have been uplifted. Coming from the North the block of sandstone slopes up gently from Thermopolis, so as you enter the canyon you have the feeling of going deeper into it as the cliffs grow larger and larger off in the distance making for the illusion that you are traveling down hill.  It will wrinkle your brain.

The Nothern mouth of Wind River Canyon looking toward Thermopolis
The Nothern mouth of Wind River Canyon looking toward Thermopolis

The canyon is fairly unique in that the river is much older than mountains are.  The river was there first, the Owl Creeks formed after.  So as the rock began to slowly uplift millions of years ago the river would slowly and steadily cut through the rising hills leaving the scar of the canyon.  At one point the cliffs are over 2,500 feet tall to either side of the river with giant boulders the size of homes strewn about the canyon floor.  If you look up you can see above you where the near-perfect cubes of rock broke out of the cliffs and came crashing down to the canyon floor below.  It must be stupefying to witness such a cataclysmic avalanche of rock.

Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon

Towards the head waters of the canyon you get a treat: some of the oldest rock visible on Earth, some 2.9 billion year old precambrian metamorphic rock, makes an impressive display.  This black stone is twisted and gnarled and provides for some dramatic scenery as both the highway, and the train tracks on the other side of the river, cut through antiquated, dripping black tunnels in the jagged cliffs.  As the Owl Creeks uplifted they finally cracked and pulled up this most ancient rock exposing it for the first time in billions of years.  If there are any minerals to be found here, this well cooked rock would be the place as it is seeping rust of all colors, and cross cut with countless quartz veins.

2.9 billion year old rock in Wind River Canyon
2.9 billion year old rock in Wind River Canyon
Ancient gnarly rock
Ancient gnarly rock
These tunnels are the blackest of the black.
These tunnels are the blackest of the black.

At the beginning of the canyon you will find the Boysen Dam and the Boysen Reservoir which is as alien a landscape as any.  The first town south of the canyon is Shoshone.  Sad to say, it’s a shithole in the middle of a desert.  The only nice building in the town is the school, everything else is collapsing and in disrepair, including the numerous motels all named “The Desert Inn” or some facsimile there-of (sometimes I wonder about people from these towns and if they will ever stumble upon my blog and think, “Screw that guy, I’m from Shoshone and it’s really nice there!”… and then I realize they would have to have the Internet to do that.  Zing!).  The highway gives another weird mental funk as the road makes you feel like you are descending into Riverton (my destination) when, in fact, you re gaining elevation as you reach Riverton.  It’s weird out here.  It’s as if physics doesn’t exist.

I rolled into Riverton about 8pm and headed for the Wind River Casino to get a room. It was Saturday night and they were booked. So, I settled on the Days Inn.  It was cheap, and the rooms were new. I dropped off my dinner and went looking for “The Bull”. The concierge (can you call the desk person at a Days Inn that?) said that it was the best restaurant in town and it was only a block away. Sweet.

Inside “The Bull” on one side of the room resided stragglers from a wedding party in pink chiffon gowns and in tuxes with pink chiffon vests, on the other side of the room were dozens of high schoolers dressed to the nines because it was obviously some fancy school dance that evening.  Word. If high school boys are trying to impress girls by spending their meager earnings on this strip mall restaurant then I came to the right place! I ordered a ribeye, split pea soup, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies, and anything else I could fit in me.  It was OK at best, bummer.  At least I was in the Rockies so I was able to gorge myself for like $20.

I went back to the motel and turned in for the night.  There were two other cars in the parking lot and I think those were my two neighbors.  The neighbor to the right was playing Adel’s “Hello” on repeat on some tinny stereo.  The neighbors to the left were going at it like pigs in heat.  Paper thin walls, oh joy.  When the sex couple was done, the man did give Mel Gibson’s speech from “Braveheart” word for world in a terrible Scottish accent: “…just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies, they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… Our Freedom!!”

Coitus and Braveheart I can understand.  Adel on and endless loop I cannot. I cranked the air conditioner and was able to drown her out and shivered myself to sleep.  Sunday was the big day!

I awoke, filled myself with continental breakfast, and drove into the hills.  On the drive out my hear sank.  For a week each day I would check the forecast and it would say repeatedly that it was going to be 70 degrees and sunny on Sunday, April 24th.  Well, it snowed. Riverton was in the 40s and raining, and I could see the huge escarpment rising off in the distance with its fresh dusting of snow. Gah!

Snow, oh the horror!
Snow, oh the horror!

Riverton sits at just about 5000ft elevation, my claim is at 7,200 feet.  Lame.  The moment I got above 6,500ft there was snow everywhere.  Where I turned off the highway is a dirt road at about 7,000ft.  It was covered in snow.  Not much, maybe four inches, but I knew that the dirt underneath was going to be slick and awful.  I paused there and had a thought.  It was time to weigh the risk and reward: the amount of time and money this trip cost me, and wondering when I would be able to repeat this long-ass drive again; verses the time-frame I need to get the PowerPoint made and impress some investors before the mining season is in full swing in the Summer; verses being trapped in the snow-covered high desert mountains… alone… until I die…

This way there be a certain chance of dying.
This way there be a certain chance of dying.

Fuck it, if my previous adventures are any indicator, I am indestructible apparently.  I drove on.  Holy cow was this road slippery! When I had driven in the past I just remember a rather long, flat drive along this plateau out to the oil fields where the opals were.  Well, snow makes you realize how many hills there actually are in a place. Each time I was at the base of hill I hopped the truck could make it up to the top.  Each time I was at the top of hill I would hope that I wouldn’t come spinning down like a hockey puck across the ice.  My one hope was that my truck’s tires would find some good ruts and stay in them.  Ruts are like train tracks.  As is the case with trains, they are fine so long as it stays on the rails.

Making ruts.
Making ruts.

Huge waves of mud would wash over my truck as it kersplunked into a deep hidden puddle.  My wipers were going like mad as I crawled along at 5-10 mph for then next hour. What had been fresh, white snow in front of me had become a poopy brown swath of destruction behind me.  I finally reached a point I recognized where a cattle pen was but I could no longer see the road.  The oil wells of my intended goal were still miles away off in the distance and I was not prepared for a snow hike. I did a lot of cussing.  I had to cut my losses and drive back and regroup… Well, as much as one man alone in the wold can “regroup”.

The view from the captain's chair.
The view from the captain’s chair.

The drive back was now just a mud mess. Down the teensiest little hill my tires broke with the trusty ruts and I did a donut.  I’ll admit, this scared the piss out of me… or almost did.  When I righted the truck, I got out and took a piss so as not to accidentally do so in the cab on the next 360 spin.  I felt better and made it back to the highway without further trouble.  I used some of my emergency water to wash off my headlights, and windows because I could not see a thing!  My thinking at the highway was this: I’ll hire a helicopter. It will fly me right there for a few hundred bucks, I’ll snap a few photos and then fly back.

I hauled ass back to town, parked in the lot of the Days Inn for their free Internet, searched for a helicopter service, and then drove to the airport.  When I walked in the person behind the Great Lakes Airlines counter looked at me like I did not belong there and asked how they could help me. I replied, “I need to hire a helicopter.” She looked at the security guard/TSA guy and and he said, “Darrel went out of business last summer.”  Well, shit.

I drove back to the Days Inn and sat again using their internet.  I located a phone number for helicopter charter and the friendly fellow on the other end of the line said that they would have to fly a chopper in 300 miles from Jackson that that it would only cost me $5,500 for three hours of flight time.  Well, fuck that idea.  I can sacrifice another 2000 F150 for much less.

I drove to the sports store, geared up for a snow hike, and then went to the Wind Rivers Casino Hotel and this time was able to get a room.  It was sublime! It was about 1:30pm, and I decided that I would do the drive and hike the next morning… until I checked the weather forecast: Snow in frustrating quantities was expected by 10pm.  Welp, It was 2pm, sunset was at 8:07pm, I had six hours to get to photograph some opals and get out.  Let’s do this!

This is what my truck looked like in the Casino parking lot.
This is what my truck looked like in the Casino parking lot.

I put on my new long-johns and wool socks, threw on a new nit cap, pulled on my Oakley Special Forces combat boots, and jumped back into my muddy beast.  When I reached the summit with the turnoff to the oil fields I was pleased to see that my mud tracks from earlier had managed to melt all the snow!  I settled the track back into the ruts and began run number two. After about 45 minutes this time I reached the cattle pen and the snow had melted enough here that I could see the road out to the oil fields where my claim is.

This part of the road was a clay-filled nightmare.  There really wasn’t much in the way of ruts for my tires to follow as it is my guess that no one had been out here since before the winter.  It’s hard to grip a steering wheel and cross your fingers at the same time.  I made it to the first oil wells and the road dropped maybe a hundred feet off the mesa.  This was covered in snow. I could drive no further.

I figured I was about a mile from my claim at this point (turns out it was more like two to three miles… Amazing how a lack of trees makes distances seem shorter).  I made for a quick pace, almost running. I wanted to get to the opals, snap some photos, and be back to the truck by 7pm at the latest so that I could get out of this god-forsaken place before sunset and before the snow showers began again.  By about 4:45 I had made it to the far oil wells where the boulders live. I poked around, snapped some photos and high tailed it back to the truck.  Round trip I was back to the truck by about 5:30.  I was beat.  I basically ran miles and miles over hills, post holing in the snow much of the way in about two hours.  The War Rig and I did a celebratory donut in the muddy parking lot of the oil field and headed back out.

The War Rig says, "Let's do some donuts in the muddy parking lot." "OK,' I replied.
The War Rig says, “Let’s do some donuts in the muddy parking lot.”
“OK,’ I replied.

This drive was a lot of me cursing at the mud and the truck. “Stay in the ruts, you SOB!” and such.  I had to stay in the ruts because the road had a ditch to either side.  If I popped out of said ruts I would lose all control of the direction the truck traveled and was subject to the whims of hydroplaning, mud-filled tires. So, of course, my tires popped out of the ruts and I spun into the ditch.  At first just the driver’s side tires were in the ditch and I was too far leaned over to try and steer back up onto the road surface, thus I concluded that the expansive desert was my best option. Before I could make my attempt the truck spun and all of a sudden my rear tires were in the ditch and my front tires were almost out of it.  It’s a wide ditch.  The truck would go no where.

Well, shit.
Well, shit.

I couldn’t back out because the trailer hitch would dig into the road, and I couldn’t go forward because, well, the mud wouldn’t let me.  The tires just spun.  I beat the steering wheel and cursed, as one is prone to do in such a situation.  I had achieved my goal, and now I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, 10-15 miles from a paved road, with darkness and snow on the way.  If I didn’t get out of this ditch life was going to suuuuuuuuck.

I stepped out and took out a shovel and the 128 feet of 2×2 claim stakes that live in the back of my truck.  I first tried to dig out the road behind my trailer hitch and then wedge the stakes under the wheels to see if I could back out.  Nope.  I then spent the next hour digging under the tires and wedging the claim stakes under them so that I could drive out and into the desert. This method go me about two feet of success and my front tires were now out of the ditch and my back tires were no longer at the bottom of the ditch.  Another 45 minutes and I was still stuck like this.

Well, shit.
Well, shit.
Shiiiiiiiiiit.
Shiiiiiiiiiit.

My brain decided on one last feat of engineering; I spun the tires deep into the mud (sounds stupid, but hear me out). I then dug out a little behind each tire with my pick and shovel and back the truck up about 6 inches.  This gave me a deep little channel in front of each tire.  I started laying claim stakes across the ditch and jumping on them breaking them in two.  I then laid these stakes perpendicular to the front of the tires about 1-2 inches apart and build little ladders of wood for the tires to climb.

Once my contraption was built I hopped into the truck and gunned it. With the greatest of ease the truck climbed out of the ditch like it was never stuck.  Asshole.

What success looks like.
What success looks like.
Sadly, also what success looks like.
Sadly, also what success looks like.

The entire cab of the War Rig was now caked in mud.  I decided that the road could suck it, I drove the most of the rest of the way back next to the road using sage brush for traction.  I made it to the highway at 7:59pm.  I had beaten sunset by 8 minutes!

Forget the road, just smush the sagebrush. It has better traction.
Forget the road, just smush the sagebrush. It has better traction.

I washed off the windows and headlights again, drove back to the casino, took a shower, and then went to the restaurant labeled “fancy dining” and ordered a filet mignon.  It was the size of a baby and could be cut with a spoon. “The Bull” had nothing on this lonely 10pm steak. I have never had a filet that big.  This must have come from some freak GMO cow and it was amazing!

My room was comfy, the bed sublime, the soaps and shampoos to steal from the bathroom were top-notch.  Wind Rivers Casino Hotel, you have earned yourself 4 stars! I checked out at about 9 am, went to the Wagon Wheel Family Restaurant, sat at the bar and ate an omelet, and then reversed my road trip.

My original plan had been to be out of Riverton by noon on Sunday and then take the leisurely drive back through Utah and Nevada, go back to the scene of my rollover to see if I could find any more of my belongings in the desert and then hit some hots springs.  The snow ruined these plans.  So the reversal of my original drive out had to be done; back through the canyon, and back to Cody.  I used this opportunity to stop at the lakes at the South of Cody and walked to theshore of one of them and poured some hydrochloric acid solution on the “salts” and just as I suspected the “salt” bubbled and hissed.  Cody is built on a giant kimberlite formation.  After reviewing satellite photos I can see at least three kimberlite pipes in and around Cody. Several more may be obscured by farming activity.

Wyoming always perplexes me.  They will gladly chew up their countryside for coal.  Destroy their ground water via fracking for oil and gas, but won’t do a thing when gemstones worth more than any of their dirty fuel sources are more easily obtainable and less damaging to the environment.  It boggles the mind.  Literally trillions of dollars of gems are in Wyoming: diamonds, rubies, sapphires, opal, emeralds, aquamarine, iolite, peridot, etc… and no one digs for them. Instead they spend all this energy on oil and coal and dirty everything up in the process.

I blew through Livingston again (Sorry for not stopping again, Josh and Jennie!), through Bozeman, through Butte (it still sucks) and stayed the night again in Missoula at the Best Western.  The room they gave me smelled like someone cleaned a fish in there, had no wifi signal, and was across from the elevators and next to the ice machine.  Lucky me.  I asked for a new room and they gladly complied. Slept hard, and was back on the road to Seattle by 9am and in Seattle by 4pm.  Got home, washed the truck, washed my Subaru, and washed my roommate’s car, ate a salmon enchilada, watched the Mariners crush the Astros on TV and went to bed.  A productive day!

The loss sets in.

Day 4, August 27th, When I awoke in my hotel room I found messages.  Lots and lots of messages. From family, friends, insurance agents, claims adjusters, sheriff’s deputies…  It took a while to respond to them all, then again I awoke about 5am so I had hours to kill until the tow company could make its way out to the wreck.  USAA ordered me a rental car from Enterprise (they pick you up!), so after I showered again and picked more glass shards out of my back and shoulders, I dragged what meager belongings I had with me down to the hotel lobby and waited there for the rental company.  I just wanted to scream into everyone’s face who passed by, “I’m fucking alive, isn’t it incredible!?!”

I was even still shaking a bit a day later.  I don’t know if it was shock, adrenaline, or enjoyment from not being dead or grievously injured.  regardless my body had a little hum to it.  When my rental lady came I loaded my belongings into a teensy little Kia and I resigned myself to this itty bitty K-car as the ride I would have to stuff all of my broken shit into to.  When we got to the Elko airport the girl kept apologizing for how slow the computers were and how long everything was taking.  I didn’t care.  I was alive.  Take as long as you want, honey; I’m not dead.  Slow computers are at the bottom of my give a shit list.

When she gave me the keys they were to a Chevy.  “So the Kia isn’t mine?”

“Nope, I got you a Malibu.”

“Sweet, Consumer Reports gave the Malibu 99/100, and it’s big!”

We unloaded my shredded bags from the Kia and into the Malibu and I was on my way.  Man, fuck Consumer Reports.  This Malibu is the most uncomfortable ride I have ever experienced.  I swear I am more injured from the poorly designed head rest of this P.O.S. than I am from pulling 12 Gs dancing through the desert in my truck.  If the head rest is low, it sticks out and will poke you in the back of the neck.  Or, in my case, in the only part of my neck that was stiff from the accident.  If the headrest is high and you sit back it leans out so far over the back of the seat that it forces your head into your chin so all you can do is look at your lap.  There is no way for me to drive while sitting back resting my sore neck and shoulders.  The lumbar in the seat back is up around my shoulder blades so my back was arched in two directions, one over the weird lumbar position, the other forward trying to avoid the headrest.

To add to my new mid-size, pseudo luxury car misery, the bottom third of the steering wheel is solid with nowhere to grip the wheel.  How the hell is someone supposed to drive 2,200 miles and not be able to rest their arms in their lap on a long, flat stretch of desert road and still control the wheel?  A few days later when I was on the ferry boat returning home I was talking to a friend about the Malibu and they had rented one once.  He noted that the steering wheel doesn’t match up with the seat, it is off center.  Holy shit, he was totally right!  The entire steering column is 1″ to the right of the center of the driver’s seat.  Who designs this garbage?! Moreover, who at Consumer Reports tested this garbage and gave it a rating equal to the Tesla S?

It will have to do.
It will have to do.

My first stop with the rental car was Albertsons for fruit boxes and some bags with which to store all of my detritus from the wreck.  Then I called the tow company who the previous evening had informed me they would be ready to head up into the mountains to claim my beast by this morning.  It turns out that they had to turn the job down because their own truck just broken down.  It took a while and a few calls to tow yards and USAA to discover who the new tow company was, American Towing.  I called them and the woman on the line said that the truck had left a little while ago to the site.  I headed out hoping to meet up with them and find my glasses.  Honestly I can see ok, I just can’t read anything.  I can tell there is another car in front of me, or that there are trees, just don’t expect me to be aware of the road sign notifying me of the exit I need or if a woman is truly attractive at 100ft or just an old lady or a dude with long hair.

The drive up Nevada 225 was dangerous simply because the comfortable zone for my foot on the gas pedal of the Malibu was at a cruising speed of about 100MPH and I really had to focus on not driving that fast.  The car really wanted to go that fast, constantly.  I was missing my truck already.  It couldn’t even go 100MPH, it just poked along at a comfortable pace, with a comfortable seat, and a comfortable headrest…

There are a couple large gold mines up NV225, most notable is the Jerritt Canyon Mine.  It’s huge, a producer in the ten million ounce range by now.  The mine extends over five miles of the independence Range and includes perhaps as many as ten open pits as deep as a 1,000ft.  Since 1993 the mining operations have been mostly underground as miners follow the veins of gold deep into the Earth.  Jerritt’s website states that, “Gold was first discovered there in 1972,” but the BLM’s claims records for this range, and where the Jerritt pit exists today, date back to 1918 and probably even before that.  What their website should read is, “Gold was first rediscovered there in 1972.”

For miles and miles of NV225 there are crews grooming the hillsides just to the west of the road and some miles North of Elko is a large transfer station.  Brandon had told me the day before that this was an extension of a natural gas line that was coming all the way from Minnesota on its way to California.  Whoa, that’s a lot of mountain ranges to wind around and through with pipes.

After about an hour I reached the turnoff for 746 and immediately I could feel how terrible this sport sedan was on dirt.  The speed limit is 45MPH and I could go maybe 15 without spinning around.  This car blows.  I am one day removed from a gnarly roll over in a sturdy truck designed for these conditions and now I feel like this Chevy garbage can is going to finish the job.  About four miles up the road I meet the tow truck making its way out.  I waved them down and they told me to follow them to the tow yard.  I turn around and follow suit.

It felt like a funeral precession. Staring into the now one-eyed, toothless, “aw shucks” grin, of my trusty steed as she rides to her final resting place I come to the conclusion that I will never love, nor be indebted to, an inanimate object more for the rest of my life. It is because of her I have a “rest of my life.” I am locked in on the completely crushed passenger side of my stallion.  How was all the energy of my impact focused on where I wasn’t?  If I had a passenger they would be dead right now.  I feel sick.  The only people who ride shotgun in my truck are loved.  If one of my dearest friends had died while I walked away unscathed I couldn’t live with myself.  I want to puke.  Instead I cry like a baby the entire hour back to the tow yard in Elko.

20150827_161324

That truck was my way of life. It saved my stupid ass more times than anything should. Some of my happiest, and my most exciting, and my most terrifying, and my most hilarious moments were made possible by that noble beast.  I even devoted two whole pages of my photo book I passed out to VIPs at Banff to her.

“My truck has sheet metal because I do not” was my philosophy.  I feel that a truck is tool.  So long as the mechanics are in great maintenance, what do I care how it looks?  To me each scratch, every ding, and all the beautiful dents on her metal body represented a story, an adventure, and a dear memory.

The first scratches down her sides were from some over grown bushes at Gazzam lake when I drove my brother and nephews into the neglected parking lot.  My brother looked at me like a fool as the long “screeeeeeeaaaach” sound of the branches dragged down her sides.  I shrugged and kept going.

The first dent in the rear tailgate was from a tree trunk in The Cove at Topaz mountain as I tried to k-turn in a little flat spot between cliffs.  I didn’t see the little stump as I backed up.

The dozens of dents in the tailgate were from when I purchased the “Honey Badger” a little trailer made out of the bed of a 1976 Ford Currier pick up truck.  The man who sold it me for $200 attached the trailer to Dentasaurus and waved me on my way.  He attached it poorly.  A few miles later at a stop light it felt like I was being jackhammered into the intersection and I looked in my rearview mirror to see the tongue of the trailer standing high in the air.  The hitch had popped off because the dude never tightened it down on the knob.  the safety chains then did their job like giant metallic rubber bands and used up all the trailer’s momentum by repeatedly smashing the newly free hitch into the tailgate again and again.

The giant dent on the passenger side was from crossing  Cornelius Creek in northern Colorado. I had to enter the creek at an angle and the turn sharply in the stream bed and around some trees on the bank.  After some frustration of trying to thread this needle I just used the trunk to the tree to pivot the truck around it and out to the other side of the stream.

A year later Dentasaurus fell off a cliff and into a small canyon.  As the truck fell the 6+ ft into the river below I resigned myself to my death acknowledging that I was about to die upside down drowned in a mountain stream, alone, with no one knowing where I was.  instead I landed upright, the only damage was to the running boards which became dented and cracked.  I managed to drive the rest of the river down and over water falls thanks to my spectacular truck.  It had saved my life.  I owed my truck my life.

“My truck has sheet metal because I do not.”  I lived by it from the moment I bought her.  It was August 2008 and I needed a big, dependable 4×4 to haul dredging equipment deep into the mountains.  I didn’t care if it was a Chevy, a Dodge, or a Ford; old or newer.  I just wanted an extra cab, an 8ft bed, 4wd, and a diesel engine.  To begin my search I had decided to drive up to Everett in my sporty “Space SHOttle”, my sleeper white Ford Taurus with a Yamaha Formula One engine in it, and work my way down US99 and all the dozens of dealerships located between there and Seattle.

The first dealership I found had several big trucks, one was a white late ’80s 3500 GMC that caught my eye.  The salesman came out, you know the type, the kind of guy that immediately tries to make the sale via emasculating you and achieving a position of power and authority then pressuring you into a sale for something you don’t want.  He asked, “How can I help you?” I told him I was looking for a big diesel 4×4 with an 8ft bed and mentioned that this truck caught my eye.  His response was an incredulous and slightly disgusted, “Do you think you can handle that much truck?”

My response: “Hey, fuck you, buddy!”  I reached in to my pocket and pulled out thousands of dollars in cash along with my middle finger and walked back to my car.

“Hey, I didn’t mean it.  It was a joke.  I wasn’t serious!  Come back!” I got into my car and drove away.  The next dozen lots had no trucks what-so-ever.  I couldn’t find anything.  Being that it was August ’08 and the economy was on the brink of total collapse, and gas had just hit $4 a gallon for the first time ever… I guess no one was keeping large trucks in stock.  What ones I did find were such garbage that I wanted nothing to do with them. With most of the morning gone I hopped on  the Bremerton ferry and decided to head to Port Orchard and work my way back North through all the dealerships on my side of the water.  My first stop was Grey Chevrolet.  I told them my requirements and the senior sales-bro on duty passed me off to the most junior douche-nozzle of the crew who talked my ear off about what a wonderful, amazing truck he had for me as we walked for what felt like miles and miles out to the far reaches of the continent.  Finally we reach a 1988 lowered, 2wd, single cab, shortbed, Chevy CK pickup.

I inform Dingus that this truck cannot drive off road.

“No, bro.  This truck is solid.  It can go anywhere.  It’s really solid.”  He tells me as he tries to open the door, but can’t. “Trust me, take it for a spin and you’ll agree.” He still couldn’t get the door open.

“No, I’m out.”  I walk away and he shrugs at his failure to try to put me into what I don’t want and stays behind trying to figure out how to open the door.

I drive into Bremerton and exit the highway where all the mega autoplexes reside and make my first stop Parr Ford Used Cars.  The first person to greet me is John Hart and I tell him what I want.  He ruffles his brow.

“To be honest, we have been shipping everything used that doesn’t get at least 30MPG far away.  We haven’t sold a full-sized truck in over a month!”  He now wrinkles his face and rubs his chin, “But I do have a 2000 F150 extra cab 4×4 with the off road package this gentleman over here is trading in right now as we speak.  I’m sorry, but it is a gas engine and a short bed… Want to check it out anyway?”

“Sure, this is farther than I have made it with anyone else so far.”  I appreciate his blunt honesty.  We meet the man trading in his truck, he is in is early fifties and a contractor.  He proceeds to inform me how much he loves the truck, how perfect it is, how much of a baby it is, how many upgrades he has done to it.  He doesn’t want to get rid of it but his business requires an even bigger monster of a truck, an F450, to get the job done.  He gives us the key to the green F150.

Outside is the truck.  It’s shiny.  It’s green.  It has Flowmaster pipes. It has rear airbags that can be filled or deflated according to the load requirements…  I climb in, it’s comfortable and the interior is very familiar and similar to my Taurus.  We drive around the block and up a hill.  I find a big pile of dirt and John asks me, “What are you doing?”

“Seeing what kind of shape the transfer case is in…” I shift it into 4wd and climb over the pile of dirt.  She goes.

We drive back to the dealership and John asks me how I like it.  I admit I like it, but that it is not exactly what I’m looking for.  John asks how if he were to give me a screaming deal could the tuck become what I was looking for.

“What kind of deal?”

“This is where I go over to my manager and actually ask him a relevant question.  Here, sit at my desk.”  He walks off and leaves me to stare at over ten years of “salesman of the month” awards lining his cubicle.  Since 1997 John Hart has won salesman of the month every single month.  Every. Last. One.  He has each plaque lining the walls of his cubicle along with his honorable discharge from the Navy dated just a couple months before his first award. There are no other awards in any of the other cubicles.  John comes back a few minutes later, “…Because we haven’t even entered the truck into inventory, and because we are probably just going to ship it off to an auction house or second tier dealership any way, we’ll give it to you for $6,600.”

This truck’s blue book is over $12,000.  Fuck it, I see now how John has won all those awards; he’s just made a sale.  John tells me that they need to detail it and go over the mechanics before they can release it to me and to come by and pick it up tomorrow.  I give them the money and sign the papers.  On my way out I meet the truck’s former owner once more as he is standing outside admiring his new giant shiny black train engine of an F450.  “Thank you for the truck, I hate to tell you this, because it’s your baby and all, but inside a month it is going to be completely unrecognizable, dented and scratched.  She’s a beaut, but now it’s time to go to work.”

The next day I swing by to retrieve my new ride and John is apologetic. “I can’t give you the truck today, we discovered that the brakes were completely shot so we are replacing them for you.  I am so sorry, but you have to wait an extra day.  Here, for the inconvenience.” He hands me a check for $2,200.  So, now I am getting a $1,500 brake job, and a mint $12,000 F150 for $4,400… Forget salesman of the month, John Hart deserves “Salesman of the Infinity”.

I sold my fast car as the truck was too great.  I added my own upgrades: a CB radio, antenna amplifier, canopy, navigation system, power inverter, a bed shelf, a larger alternator, big tires, etc…

As I drive in my uncomfortable rental car now staring at the dead/dying husk of a former powerful beast on the back of a tow truck I thank it for all the good times.  I could have died, but I didn’t.  She has saved my life one last time. It is the only truck in Valhalla. I know it.

When we got to the tow yard near the airport the tow truck driver and his copilot unloaded Dentasaurus off the flatbed.  When they were done they walked over me and could tell I had tears welling in my eyes.  They both wanted to meet and shake hands with the “Indestructible Man”.

In 20 years on the job the driver had never towed a rollover like mine that wasn’t bathed in blood. They couldn’t figure out how it was even possible that I am not hurt.

I quickly unload everything that is recoverable from the truck. Books, maps, loose change, shoes, shovels, rock picks, gad pry bars, tri-folding futon, blankets, gold sluices, bear spray, sunscreen, hydrochloric acid, tool kit, road kit… I finally find my eyeglasses under the passenger side floor mat.  They are ok!  I stuff everything I can into the Malibu, I take note of what I am missing or is destroyed:

  1. Both Thermarest pads are not there when they were yesterday.
  2. The piece of shit gas can I had to buy because Grace still has my good one is gone.  That garbage is someone else’s problem now.
  3. My crevice sucker is obliterated.
  4. The cooler is done.
  5. I cannot find the awesome pocket knife my dearest friends Nick and Sarah gave me.
  6. I have lost a few pounds of gold concentrates in the buckets that were in the back of my truck.  Obviously dumped all over the Nevada desert.
  7. About 1,000 carats of peridot from Black Rock, WY I had in my map holder is gone.
  8. Several cool pieces of obsidian from Oregon I kept in various cup holders are out there returned to the wild…

I stuff what I can into bags and boxes and the shove these into the Malibu.  I thank the drivers for everything they have done for me and give the beautiful smashed green sheet metal a kiss and say goodbye.

That truck was my Old Yeller, and just like the end of that movie I am in tears.

The Queen is dead, long live the Queen!

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Get Your Rocks Off With Houston Wade pilot television episode by Merwin Productions

Get Your Rocks Off With Houston Wade pilot television episode by Merwin Productions Get Your Rocks Off With Houston Wade pilot television episode by Merwin Productions

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Get Your Rocks Off With Houston Wade pilot television episode by Merwin Productions OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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It has sheet metal because I do not.

Day 3, August 26th, Today became a big day where a lot happened.  A lot.  Stay with me, this is a long one, but a good read.

I had bedded down for the night next to the Shoofly Oolites in southern Idaho, because, well, what an awesome name!  These chunks of rocks are the limestone remnants of a giant fresh water lake that extended across the valley of what is now pretty much the bulk of Idaho about 11-13 million years ago.  The Oolites are bits of limestone formed from tiny sealife particles which settled on the lake bottom.

Shoofly Oolites of Idaho. Fun to say.
Shoofly Oolites of Idaho. Fun to say.

The rare chemical properties of these oolites support five endemic plant species and are pretty rad to look at up close.  Not too much time available to spend staring at such blocks of rock, I have to make up for all the progress I lost by being stuck in the middle of nowhere. I am hundreds of miles behind schedule and missed out on three desired stops yesterday.  No Leslie Gulch, and no ghost towns of Silver City, and DeLorme, ID in the Owyhee Mountains.  Nuts.

I stop at a hardware store and obtain a new water jug and fill it at a Shell Station while I grab some fuel.

I then drive down the long, flat, hot Three Creek Rd south of Bruneau, ID.  This road is an eternity in a long straight line.  I pass the captain obvious sign for the Saylor Creek Bombing Range I am about to traverse. Really? Things fall from planes on a bombing range?

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the road is lined by two things: beautiful little sunflowers, and Stupid Little Birds (SLBs) who like to jump out in front of my truck as if I am a preditor seeking their eggs.  Their goal is to draw me after them and away from their nests.  My goal is to drive a straight line.  Our goals collide.  Often.  My estimate is that one in 25 of these SLBs finds itself under my carriage.  It wouldn’t be an adventure in the desert if my modern technology wasn’t a tool of natural selection changing the evolutionary outcomes of the previous few million years one Stupid Little Bird at a time.

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Air Force A-10s were making bombing runs around me during my drive.  Ironically I passed a sign that read, “Only you can prevent wild fires,” while bombers dropped 25lb incendiaries on dry grass around me…

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The little dots are A-10s making bombing runs. They are faster than my ability to turn my camera into a phone and snap a worthwhile photo.
The little dots are A-10s making bombing runs. They are faster than my ability to turn my camera into a phone and snap a worthwhile photo.
Crews working on the powerlines above Fast Fork of the Jarbidge River before reaching Murphy Hot Springs.
Crews working on the powerlines above Fast Fork of the Jarbidge River before reaching Murphy Hot Springs.

After maybe 60 miles of such roads I finally begin to dip into the canyon where the “resort” town of Murphy Hot Springs, ID resides.  The spring was known to local tribes prior to the white man, but the first recorded owner of the spring was Kittie Wilkins who was a well educated woman from Walla Walla, WA.  She became world famous for her horse breeding and traded her horses around the planet.  She was widely regarded as the “Horse Queen of Idaho.  Kittie made a pool for the spring to fill out of rocks so that the ranch hands and locals could rest their weary bones.  The pool became known as “Kittie’s Hot Hole”.  I shit you not.  I found out about this after I passed through town, otherwise I would have taken a dip in Kittie’s Hot Hole just to say I did.

A glimpse up river as I cross the bridge in Murphy Hot Springs
A glimpse up river as I cross the bridge in Murphy Hot Springs

Today the town is rustic resort where locals gather to vacation in the summer.  The resort was built by a gentleman named Patrick Murphy who renamed Kittie’s Hot Hole to “Murphy Hot Springs” (boring).  I got word that the Mexican food there is to die for.  Should have stopped for a dip and a lunch… next time.

Looking down on Murphy
Looking down on Murphy

Since this is a trip of adventure and challenge I decided to climb the canyon opposite Murphy and head up the mountain.  I wanted to descend into the town of Jarbidge, quite possibly the most remote settlement in the lower 48, via a road that goes down the canyon wall right into town.  It is a road that is somewhat a legend for how steep, unkempt, and stupid it is to drive.  Jarbidge self promotes as the “Off Road Capitol of America” and this wisp of dirt is its king.  I passed several trucks with ATV trailers on my way to my wisp of a road.  I also went by my second powerline crew of the day working on the walls of the canyon.  They looked at me and my truck like I was either a stud or an idiot.  I prefer to think of myself as a little of both.

The road down started steep and narrow right off the bat, but the view was spectacular.

The canyon road above Jarbidge, NV
The beginnings of something beautiful

I descended slowly and in 4-low.  The rocks started small and crumbly but the road go steep in a hurry.  The only tracks I saw were from something tracked like a bulldozer.  I couldn’t understand why a bulldozer would go down such a route and not grade it.  Weird.  The boulders started to get huge and my truck was plodding at a crawl over them.  I got to a little flat spot tucked into the canyon wall where I came face to face with a dude on a bulldozer on the opposite side of downed power lines.  Ah, there he is.

The look on his face was one of surprise. “What are you doing?” He asked.

“I’m heading down into Jarbidge”

“This road is not really that kind of road.” He incredulously put to me while pushing his orange hard hat back on his head.

“I know, that’s why I’m doing it.”

“Well, it’s going to be three hours until they pull these lines up so you are either going to have to wait or go around.”

Fuck, I am pressed for time, go around it is.  “Guess I’m going back around. Nuts.”

“I am surprised you even made it down here.  It’s not much of a road, more a bunch of rocks.  Why didn’t anyone up there tell you we had downed lines down here?”

“Beats me.  They just looked at me like I was a fool.”

“Jeeze… Good luck backing back up!”

And that is where I met my big challenge, taking a quarter mile of cliff face backwards and in four wheel drive.  There is a lot of torque in reverse, let me tell you.  I made it a couple hundred yards back up the slope, it took a while because I had to keep getting out to see what the rocks looked like behind me.  Eventually I opted to just climb the rear end of the truck up the slope so that I was probably face down close to a 100% grade (45 degrees) and pivoted the nose of my truck and proceeded to do an Austin Powers multi-point turn around pirouette on the slopes of the canyon and get my truck facing forward.  It worked.  I’d rather see my impending doom coming than fall backwards off of it.

I made it to the top and passed the line crew again.  This time they were all smiling at me.  I wanted to shout, “The road didn’t defeat me, your stupid power lines did!” 45 minutes later I was back in Murphy and back on Three Creek Rd heading along the canyon into Jarbidge.

I got stuck behind another truck hauling ATVs and it was just blowing dust everywhere.  I hate being the one behind someone on a dirt road.  I don’t need to die of consumption because I had to drive behind someone.  I decided to pull over and throw a whiz and kill a little time staring at a map of the canyon.  Once I was sure I was clear of the dust machine I continued.  The road is only 15 miles long or so, but takes a while as the fastest you will travel is maybe 20 MPH, but most of the time you’ll be doing 10-15 MPH.  It is really winding.

Today Jarbidge is a town that is waiting.  It is always waiting. Waiting for someone, anyone, to come along and provide something interesting and new to do.  Every person enthusiastically waved at me with a gleam in their eye as if it is possible I could be their savior, or at the very least, their next round of entertainment

Jarbidge is a gold mining boom town through and through.  it was the site of the last gold rush of the Old West in 1909.  Exaggerations of gold discoveries brought thousands of prospectors that Winter and most had their fill by Spring of 1910.  These genius prospectors tried driving claimstakes into drifts of snow and discovered that digging for gold is darn near impossible when you have to make it through 18ft of snow first.  When gold was actually discovered after the snow melt (duh), the town swelled again to perhaps 2000 by 1911. Teddy Roosevelt had created the Humboldt National Forrest in 1908 and a ranger station was built near where Jarbidge is today.  A year later, upon news of the gold strike, President Taft exempted the Jarbidge Canyon from the national forest so that people could own land and settle there.

Shortly after the town boomed a second time it began it’s slow decline once again.  Mechanization and consolidation of the mining operations dwindled the population to just those required to do the job for the Elkoro Mining Company by 1918 when Guggenheim purchased most of the mining interests.

The only connection Jarbidge had to the outside world prior to The Elkoro was via stagecoach to Rogerson, ID.  This meant that Jarbidge was the site of the very last stagecoach robbery ever December 5th, 1916 by one Ben Kuhl.  The coach was supposed to arrive into town with over $4,000 in pay for the miners.  When the coach didn’t arrive on time everyone logically assumed the 4ft of snow which had fallen that day had delayed the arrival.  A search party was assembled to find the rig.  A phone call up the canyon to Rose Dexter informed the men that the coach had passed her home and she waved at, but driver Fred Searcy didn’t wave back but was bundled in his coat at the front of the coach.

The search party found the coach hidden behind a tree with a frozen, dead Searcy slumped in his seat with a close range bullet hole in his head complete with powder burns and singed hairs.  Next to the coach was a mail bag, but missing was a second bag with the $4,000.  The next day the group set out to follow a set of dog prints and foot prints in the snow that lead away from the crime scene.  A stray dog began following the group started pawing the snow along tracks to reveal the missing bag, minus the $4,000.  The dog’s paws matched the paw prints in the snow the group had been tracking.  The party concluded that the dog had been at the crime scene and that it was mostly attached to Kuhl, a convicted horse thief.  Regardless of who killed Searcy, the killer’s hands had been covered in the blood of the driver and then the same blood smeared the letters and envelopes leaving bloody palm and fingerprints behind.

The subsequent trial was the first time in US history fingerprints were admissible in court and two forensic scientists from California determined that the palm prints were an exact match to Kuhl resulting in his conviction and that of two associates.  Kuhl was sentenced to death but his sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

The $4,000 was never recovered and to this day is the most substantiated buried treasure legend in the United States.

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I had about 1/3 of a tank of gas in Dentasaurus, so a top off was to my benefit.  The gas pump was different.  One diesel, one unleaded and no one around.  Just a sign informing me that if I can’t get my payment to work then that I need to go to the saloon next door and use their phone to call Dennis.  Of course this weird gas pump attached to a dialup modem didn’t work.  I had to call Dennis.  A woman, I presume was his wife or girlfriend answered. “He’s on his way over.”

A few minutes later an angry white haired man on a four wheeler pulled up.  “What’s the problem?”

I can’t get my payment to work.

“For Chrissakes, you have to wait until it clears!”

“I did, It just–”

“No you didn’t, Goddamnit! Give it to me.”  Dennis is like Oscar the Grouch, if Oscar the Grouch wasn’t a children’s character.  He slides my card into the gray machine and lifts his sunglasses off his face and onto the top of his head and squints at the little screen that looks sort of like a Speak&Spell.  “You just have to wait… See, there it… wait, huh? ‘Rejected by Host’?… Your card doesn’t work,” and he tosses it at me nonchalantly and starts to walk away.  It lands at my feet.

“I have cash if that will work.”

“I hate this fucking place.  I hate everything about this fucking place.  It’s not even my gas station.  I cannot wait for them to fucking sell it.”  I look at the Coldwell Banker sign with some portly woman with short hair smiling “FOR SALE” it reads.  Sure ’nuff, the place is for sale.  “Yeah, cash will work,” he sighs, and fumbles with a set of keys on the flimsy door of the dilapidated service station and walks inside a building that appears as though twenty different owners over the past century had begun a restoration project of the building before calling it quits and selling out to the next sucker.

Dennis lifts his glasses off his face again and squints at a little old school cash register like it’s the monolith at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  He fumbles with the keys and the cash drawer opens from which he withdraws a little white card and then storms passed me and my forty outstretched dollars.

He slides the little white card into the machine and does some more squinting and button pushing.  “OK, pump the fucker.”  I lift the nozzle and flip the handle up, the meter resets to zero.  I pull the trigger.  Nothing.  “I FUCKING HATE THIS PLACE!” Dennis screams.  “GOD DAMNIT, DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!”  More fumbling, more screaming at me, at the ‘confound’ machine, and at “This forsaken shit hole!”

Five minute later the pumps starts chugging.  I try to get it to stop around $37 so that I can get $3 change to give to Dennis as a tip for the show he put on.  I hand him the $40 and tell him to keep the rest.  “Fuck you.  I told you this isn’t my damned station.  I’m going to give you your fucking change and then fucking kill myself.”   Dennis must be a legend in this town.  By now a dust-covered Toyota 4-Runner has pulled up to the pump, “GOD DAMNIT!”  I hop into my rig and pull away and out of town and watch Dennis hate everything with his new audience from my side mirror.

At the end of town began the steep switchbacks that lead up the wall of the canyon and is the start of the road to Elko.  I drove by a forest ranger conducting a census along the laid lines of a transect, she would be the last person I see for the next few hours, and climbed and climbed until I could look out at the old mines high on the walls of the canyon.

Jarbidge mines
Mines high up on the slopes. New permits were issued in 2013 and these derelict old claims are going through a rejuvenation.

The road continues up until and I passed through gorgeous stands of fir trees and aspens and I found myself at the top of a high peak about 8,500ft up.  I could see al the way into Idaho and up along a gorgeous mountain valley.

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From the summit of the pass into Jarbidge
From the summit of the pass into Jarbidge

The drive through the mountains afforded me cool observations of contact points between basalt flows and older sedimentary layers, metamorphic slates, quartz intrusions, hoodoos, and sweeping peaks.

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I had to drive slowly through the mountains.  The road is well groomed but the terrain is steep and gnarly.  There is no way into Jarbidge if it is raining; this path would just be a muddy death chute to the valley floor below.

I hear the sound of metal clanging behind my truck like I am dragging something.  I am.

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I couldn’t break it off, the last strand of metal connected to the muffler had too much integrity.  Well, add “new exhaust system” to the list for Dentasaurus Rex.   I also notice that I had obliterated my two package the day before was well… another item for the “list”.  Why doesn’t Ford attach the tow package to a cutout in the bumper so that every time I go off road it doesn’t destroy that damned dangly little fucker? As far as the pipe is concerned?  Fuck it, I’ll just drive until I stop hearing the sound.  A few miles later, that worked just fine.

About an hour down the road and on the South side of the slopes I pass a few abandoned mines and come to a ghost hotel outside the ghost town of Charlston, NV.  I don’t know the history of this place, but it must have been 1950s swanky in its heyday!

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The road forks, and I head West along Elko County Road 746 (the Charleston-Mountain City Road).  It’s like any gravel road I have traveled tens of thousands of miles before.  I am traversing the southern foothills of the mountain range as it works up and down the undulations as long ridges give out at the base of the range.  For the most part the road is boring and flat with a few curves.  It has been nearly three hours since I have seen another vehicle or person.  Regardless on blind turns and hills I give up my middle of the road to the off chance someone else is coming the other way.  The last thing I need is to be surprised by a wayward hunter or family on a camping trip.

My aim is to make my way to Elko, fill up on fuel and then dirt road it South deep into Nevada to investigate a quintet of ghost towns surrounding silver mines in the White Pine Range southeast of Eureka.  I don’t make it.

I am about to round a blind, off-camber turn (a turn which slopes away to the outside making the vehicle want to pull to away from the turn, the opposite of a “banked” turn) on ECO 746.  I am doing about 45MPH, the speed limit, but slow down to about 40MPH as I approach the turn.  Rather that take the outside of the turn like I normally would on such a curve when I have a long site-line I play it safe and take the high side of this curve to the right on the offchance that the rare fellow traveler happens upon this turn as well.

The road rises a little bit right before the turn and just as I begin the curve my front tires dip into a rut or pothole and pops the front of my truck up.  When the weight of my truck resettles on the road my tires find themselves pushing into a deep pile of gravel or silt built up on the road.  My already turned wheels crank hard to the right as they sink into this plush, loose, material.  It whips the rear end of my truck around and to begins to slide through the corner. I crank hard on the wheel to steer into the turn and hopefully drift the truck around the corner fore something bad happens.  Too late.

My front tires just stop in the fluff of material and I basically pull a quadruple toe loop with a 5,000 lbs truck.  I have spent many an hour contemplating what I would do in the event of a roll over accident.  With the thousands of miles I have travel on dirt roads it is almost an inevitability.  These thought experiments are the best kind of practice I can conduct without actually flipping my truck.  As I begin to tilt over I go through the motions I have worked through my head a thousand times before.  I grip the wheel tight and push it hard away from me and into the dash.  As a result this forces my body back into my seat and I push my head back with all my might into the head rest and flex every muscle in my body.  I don’t want to go anywhere.  I have seen too many videos of rollovers where arms and torsos flop out the door window as a result of centripetal force and arms and heads are severed as the vehicle rolls over them.  The roof might crush me, but I am not going to lose an arm in the process.

Over I go.  I have what feels like a thousand thoughts in just a few seconds:

Hold with everything you got. Count the rolls. There’s one. You’re an asshole for dying on your way to see Angie.  How is she supposed to feel finding out days after you were supposed to arrive in Santa Fe that you died alone in the desert?  I guess now this is what your last sensation of being decapitation feels like.  Two.  Keep your eyes closed tight, glass is exploding everywhere.  I don’t want to get a new truck.  Keep flexing. Three.  You are at least a two hour hike to a paved road; remember to assess your supplies.  Am I dead yet?  I really wanted to see Angie, she’s the best.  I don’t want to die yet.  I want to go to Santa Fe.  I think I just rotated entirely without touching the ground.  Four...

I land upright and open my eyes.  My hands immediately move to the top of my head to seek out any splits in my scalp.  At first I am surprised that my hands are moving and that my eyes are watching my hands move.  My brain was almost certain that I would send the signals through my arms and only bloody stumps would respond.  No blood, coming from my head.  I can’t even feel that my head hit anything.  I cannot accept this, maybe the bleeding hasn’t started yet.  I run my hands over my head again and again.  Nothing, no blood.  Next I run my hands around my torso looking for any shrapnel, large bruises, broken ribs, punctures.  Again, nothing.  I look at my knees and move my feet and toes.  I stare at my fingers and wiggle all ten of them.  My neck hurts.  Oh no, I slashed my jugular, this is how it ends. I slide my palm along the left side of my neck where it hurts.  Nothing, no blood yet again. This is fucked up, how am I not injured.  I must be injured.

The stereo is still playing Sisters of Mercy “This Corrosion”, but the engine is no longer running.  I turn the ignition off.  The battery obviously works, use the CB radio and your very illegal antenna amplifier that can broadcast your signal over 100 miles.  This is what you bought it for!  I reach out and pull the microphone out of its cradle.  The power swtich is damaged but it turns on.  I turn to the emergency channel and just get a blare of static.  I look out through the bashed in windscreen see that my antenna is no longer there.  Shit.

I undue my seatbelt and open my door.  Holy shit, my door opens!  I then look at the steering wheel, no airbag has gone off.  I look to the passenger side.  It is completely flattened.  Had I a passenger they would have been popped like a melon at a Gallagher show, no airbag either.  What the fuck, no airbag?  I should have a bloody nose and black eyes by now, damnit!

I step out of the truck and triage myself one more time.  Nothing, no blood outside a few nicks from broken glass, one scratch on my right shin, and the abrasion on the left side of my neck from my seatbelt I thought was a slash to my throat.  I’m OK! Holy shit, I’m OK!

Now is not the time to celebrate, you’re still tens of miles, if not a hundred miles from Elko. Time to start assembling supplies.  I start walking around the truck, the canopy is 100ft away, all of my prospecting gear, bedding, books, clothes, food, electronics (everything!) is smeared along a debris field perhaps 150-200ft long.  All my windows are broken out. The passenger side of the truck is pushed in like a thumb through play-doh.  Holy shit my brain keeps repeating.  Pull these things off the road so someone else doesn’t hit it.  The truck is in the road and I can’t move this.  I don’t want someone else to come around this blind corner and hit this or wreck trying to avoid it.

I begin piling items either in the bed of the truck or in the upside down canopy.  I found my compass, good.  I find my brand new water jug and half the water is gone trough a tear in the plastic, argh!  There’s the piece of shit gas can, Oh look at that, the first time that hunk of garbage didn’t spill everywhere was when it was launched 50ft into the air during a heinous wreck.  Asshole.  I find one can of cola that wasn’t destroyed.  Every other liquid is obliterated.  Milk gone.  Mexican Cokes gone.  The Seattle beer I was bringing to Angie’s brother who is a beer blogger to review?  Gone too.  Cheerios are everywhere.  Sandwiches are nowhere to be found.  I can’t find my glasses and I can’t find my cellphone.  I find my computer, clothes, various shoes, sleeping bag… all go into piles.

At this moment, it is probably only five minutes since the accident, I hear a truck approaching from the West and look up to see a cloud of dust.  I walk out into the middle of the road and start waving my arms back and forth.  The Toyota Tundra slows and the driver leans out the window, “Are you alive?… are you hurt?”

“I am alive, and no, miraculously I am not hurt!”

He pulls his truck to the side of the road and gets out to inspect me and make sure I am not just in shock and have entrails dangling out from behind me or an open wound on my scalp.  “Holy shit,” he declares, “How on Earth are you alive?”

“I don’t know… Thank you for stopping.  Thank you so much for stopping.  Pretty much all my supplies are obliterated.  It was going to be a pretty shitty hike back to the highway.

We introduce ourselves to each other.  His name is Brandon.  He is my hero.  I can taste the metallic telltale of adrenaline pumping through my veins.  My hands shake.  He asks if I have a tow line so he can pull my truck off the road.  I search through the debris and find both tow cables and open the plastic packaging and hookup the front tow hooks and hand him the other end which he attaches to his trailer hitch and drags my giant booby trap off the road.

Brandon then begins helping clear all of my belongings and putting them into the bed of the truck.  “Is there anything you need right now?”

“Yes, I can’t find my cellphone or my glasses.”  The thing about looking for glasses, is that without wearing them, it is really hard to find them.  I immediately flash back to my last baseball practice at Lewis & Clark. T he coaches decided to have a scrimmage and a little fun where the only rule was you could not play a position you had played throughout the season.    Shortstops pitching, Catchers at third base, pitcher patrolling the outfield…  The winning team got to have all the meal money for our last travel game of the season; losing got jack.

The team captains chose the teams, I was picked last because it was assumed that the skinny awkward knuckleballer would be the worst athlete on the team.  I played left field and had the game of my life.  I went four for six with 6 RBIs, four runs scored, a bases loaded double, and the play of the year.  A long drive down the line and I gave chase.  The shortstop kept yelling, “You have plenty of room!  You have plenty of room!” over and over letting me know that I had a ways until I would crash into the fence so that I needn’t fear; I can get the ball.  I chased and chased and just as the ball was about to land I leapt and discovered the fence was only a foot from me.  I exploded into the fence, ball in glove.  It hurt.  I picked myself up off the ground and threw the ball into third to cheers of my teammates who never expected such athleticism from the weirdo nerd-pitcher.

The real pitcher for this game returned to the mound and got ready to throw to the next batter. “Time out!” I yelled, “I can’t find my glasses!” I dropped to all fours feeling along the grass searching for my specs.  Everysingle one of my teammates also fell to the ground, but in laughter, as I blindly searched for my eyes with the palms of my hands patting along the ground.  I hadn’t worn my contacts because I had assumed that this practice would be like every other one; I throw a bullpen, go for a jog, and then get out of the “real” ball players way.  Game of my life and I can’t see shit. I eventually discovered that I fractured two fingers on my pitching hand on that play too…

I snap back to the present and find myself doing the same thing once more, this time instead of grass, I am on my knees crawling over an endless stretch of desert patting the ground with my hands hoping to come up with my sweet Oakley Metal Plate eyeglasses.  Brandon and I search for twenty minutes or so.  Brandon finds my phone.  I give up the glasses search and decide to document the accident instead for myself, for the sheriff, for the insurance company, for this blog, and for my friends and family so that every one can know that once again I have proof that I am once again miraculously indestructible.

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Roll over accident survivor!
As you can see the passenger side is death, the driver’s side is life. My truck has saved my life one last time. I love you, Dentasaurus!

Brandon gave me and the important possessions we could find a ride into Elko.  He was the best person to come along and discover my wreck.  Calm, helpful, and kept me from descending into shock by conversing about everything under the Sun to keep my brain occupied.  He is a mine tech for Barrick Gold and was out searching for elk as he has a tag for hunting.  He was raised in Eureka and skis the local slopes in the winter by skinning up.  His grandfather worked the big Ruby mine and was murdered by men who thought he was a different man of the same name who had wronged one of them.  I love Brandon, he is wonderful.

Brandon drives me to the Sheriff’s office so I can report the accident and patiently waits for half an hour as the dispatch has to call in deputy.  The deputy is also patient with me as I am still kind of vibrating from the accident.  He asks me to email him pictures of the crash, they are already receiving calls from people who have happened upon the wreck.  Just then he gets a word that a boat is sinking on the lake and has to go.  He’ll be in touch.  I go back to Brandon’s truck and he gives me a ride to the High Desert Inn so I can check in somewhere for the night and start figuring this shit out.  He even helps me lug everything up to my room and gives me his number incase I need anything.  I thank him a thousand times.  All I want to do is shower and sleep.

I dump my belongings inside the door and call USAA to report the accident.  The claims agent is wonderful.  He asks about my health a dozen times, orders me a rental car, informs me of how awesome the coverage I have is, and starts ordering a tow truck to haul Dentasaurus Rex out of the wild.  I upload the picture of me standing in front of the wreck and let the Internet know I am alive.  I text my agent and let her know that I am alive.  I call my mother and let her know I am alive.  Before I can call my dad, he calls me.  Every friend and family member is calling, instant messaging, and texting to see if I need any help.  Everyone is so wonderful; I love my circle, everyone of them is magnificent.  I shower and sleep.  I sleep hard.

Fuck you, gas can.
Fuck you, gas can.

 

Things to remember when trying not to die alone in the desert.

(Editor’s note: Many of you know already know what happened on this year’s ghost town trip.  This article was written prior to the ‘Event’ but I did not have Internet access to update the blog before my laptop was destroyed.  My hope is to maintain the feeling and emotions of the adventure at the time this was originally written and not taint it by adding to it my thoughts after my, yet another, near-death experience)

Range land in a plateau of the Ochoco Mountains.
Range land in a plateau of the Ochoco Mountains.

Day two, August 25th, Sleeping at the trailhead for Lookout Mountain was so peaceful.  Not a single bug.  Not one!  It was so quiet, the only sound was some hooved animal snorting every so often, and an owl in the distance from time to time.  The night sky was not like anything I have ever seen (and I’m an astronomer!).  The intense fire smoke filling the entire region had turned all the stars red. ALL OF THEM. Trippy…  Well, I guess it could have been all the gasoline fumes I was huffing due to my EPA certified “no spill” gas can spilling all over the place (thanks again, Grace).  Who can tell? All I know is that I slept well and forgot most of third grade in the process.

I awoke with the Sun and consulted my maps.  I decided to traverse the Ochoco Mountains to Pauline and gas up missing out on the Mother Lode Mine atop Lookout Mountain, nuts.  Shortly along my path I encountered a little derelict gold mill and an abandoned bunk house.  I have no clue what this place was named.  Nothing in my maps tells me.  It was beautiful in the amber morning light though.

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An old mill and bunkhouse
The remains of some mine in the Ochoco Mountains of Oregon, the name I have yet to discover

The drive to Pauline, OR was an example in the National Forest Services interesting choices in road construction and maintenance .  You go from dirt to paved.  Then back to dirt, then on to beautiful two lane with large shoulders… then to unmaintained gravel…  I don’t get it.  I got to Paulina about 8:30am to find one gas pump and four cute little cattle dogs climbing all over me.  I had about half a tank, but I wanted to be sure to have it topped off for the dirt drive to Burns.  I didn’t know it, but those dogs were in on the con; while I scratched and patted the flurry of fur and wagging tails, the lady pumping my gas (yes, Oregon does not trust average citizens with the responsibility of putting a nozzle into a hole and pulling a trigger) was ripping me off.  She exclaimed, “Wow, were you empty or something?”

“No, not even close.” I replied.  I then look up to see that somehow 11 gallons of gasoline has become 23 gallons.  My tank only holds 21.  What am I going to do about it?  She’s the only game in town and I pull no weight out here in the sticks.  I just bought 23 gallons of gas. at twice the market rate.  Lame.  Note to self, do not buy gas in Paulina, OR.

Back into the mountains I have a nice long drive through a boring pine forest.  I realized while turning the wheel and staring out the windscreen, that I really don’t care for pine trees.  They suck.  They are not pretty, they cover the ground in acidic needles that thwart undergrowth, and all of them looked like depressed trees just going through the motions.  They wish they had the rainfall and clout of a Pacific forest, but they don’t.  Instead every pine tree just looks like it is ready to die in a raging forest fire.  Like it WANTS to die in a raging fire.  The skeletons of charred pines look so much more at peace than the living ones.  Pine trees are like the emo kids of the tree world.  I can just imagine them chain smoking stolen cigarettes, listening the Sunny Day Real Estate on repeat, and writing poetry about how much they hate their parents.

Happy on the left, sad on the right.
Happy on the left, sad on the right.

In Burns I go to a McDonalds to steal their Wi-Fi only to discover that my laptop now wants to spend an hour “installing updates”.  cap this off, it is low on battery and the McDonalds doesn’t have outlets anywhere.  isn’t this a violation of some sort of building code? I hate everything.  Fuck it, I’ll drive.  I cross the street to the Shell station and top off the tank.  The attendants are talking about how Canyon City just to the north is no more, destroyed by fire. Shame, Canyon City and its neighbor, the famous John Day, make up a marvelous part of the old mining west.  Fire is everywhere this year.  History and the Earth are burning.

I leave Burns about noon and am off to bucket list #3, Leslie Gulch and the mysterious blue landslide I want to touch.  To get there traditionally I would have to drive around and around for hundreds of miles, or I could just off road and cut out the circuitous travel.  I leave Burns heading east towards Crane.  This stretch of Oregon is the absolute worst.  One giant, salty, flat, treeless, sun-baked, wasteland.  Everywhere along the route is half-finished ideas, and crumbling dreams.  Broken trailers here, roofless barns there…  Anyone thinking of living in this uninhabitable hell-scape needs to just fill their tank and drive until it runs out of gas.  Wherever you end up will be better than here.

At the end of the Pavement is Crane, OR.  Crane is a town, apparently, but all that seems to be there is a high school (“Home of the Mustangs!”), even the highway leading to there is sponsored by the “Crane Teachers Association”  There are no businesses, just a Post Office and a high school.  Weird.

Passed Crane the road is gravel and really nicely maintained.  Those who know me are aware that I drive like a grandma.  Dirt roads are no different (Editor’s note: yes, I am aware about how ironic the entire following piece is considering what happens the next day).  It may seem to the outside observer that I am driving like an asshole, but there is great strategy in this.  First rule of mountain or country driving: stay in the middle of the road except when going around blind turns or over hills with no visibility of oncoming traffic.  This way you are less likely to hit large animals like deer and cows as they are more likely to be on the sides of the road eating than they are just standing agape in the middle of the lane (the boys and I once drove for a hundred miles in the middle of a highway as we passed millions of deer on migration in the Oregon Outback east of La Pine for what seemed like hours in the middle of the night, surreal experience).  Rule two, if your rear wheels start to drift behind you, steer into the slide, this is to prevent a rollover (Editor’s note: yes, I am aware how fucking ironic this is, shut up).

I am driving through the “Stinkingwater Mountains”.  Like the salty flatness before them, they too are not that great.  More like long flat turds drying in the Sun.  Not even mountains really,  more hills of nothing worth noting.  Just basalt and some ash.  Boring!

Bombing the Crane-Vernator Rd, I eventually take Swamp Creek to the Crowley-Riverside Rd.  This road kind of sucks and after 20 bumpy miles I come to a locked gate.  Oof.  I consult the map and turn around and go back a ways, then head northeast on McEwen Rd, then East on the stupidly named Granite Creek Rd (there isn’t any granite within 100 miles of here, maybe more), then Shumway Cutoff Rd, to the singular Crowley Rd, to Antelope Flat Rd, to Unnamed road, to Unnamed road, to Unnamed rd, to no road at all… a horse trail really.  Everything in the bed of the truck is back to ping pong balls.

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This is a tame part of the road. Stupid wide angle cameraphone lense does not do it justice.

Driving such a 4×4 road requires intense concentration on what is 10 feet in front of you.  It is a good thing the surroundings were lame, otherwise I would have popped my tires and died like a raison in the hot Sun.

There is no one out here.  Every so often I find tagged cattle, but not much else.  This last dirt road I am on is requiring me to open and close barbed wire gates like crazy.  My hands are now full of splinters from these old, weathered gates.  I am chugging up this last hill, jarring large basalt rocks pop my truck back and forth and at the crest of the hill one of the most beautiful desert formations I have ever seen.  I see Red Bluff, the Owyhee River, and the crazy outcrops of the mineral-rich mountains surrounding Leslie Gulch.  I take it in.  So beautiful.  One last gate to open and then close behind me and then I descend down closure to bucket list item #3 of the trip.

Oywhee Lake.
Red Bluff, the Owyhee River, and the outcrops surrounding Leslie Gulch. I really wish my camera could capture how deep these reds are. Someday I will invest in a real camera.

Fuck me, this road is not a road.  It is a scar of dirt, large boulders, and one giant rut descending a couple thousand feet to the valley below. 4-low, 1st gear, and my white knuckles clinging to the steering wheel for life and I make my way down hoping not to die ricocheting about the cabin of my truck as it goes end over end to a place no one has tread for perhaps a decade, or more.  Once I make it 20 feet down there is no going back.  This is a one way trip, no truck is going to make it UP this thing as gravity will ensure it goes DOWN one way or another.  I am leaning out over my dashboard trying to get any look at what is about to pass under my tires.  This is fucked up.  I’m an idiot.

I don't know if you can tell from this image, but that is a 2+ft deep gouge between my tires as I descend a 25% grade down an unknown path, with unknown conditions below.
I don’t know if you can tell from this image, but that is a 2+ft deep gouge in the “road” between my tires as I descend a 25% grade down an unknown path, with unknown conditions below. Cameraphones never show how fucked up the situation really is.

An hour later I finally am out of the awful basalt layer and into the sweet softness of the ash.  The road is smooth as butter… for about a half mile.  Then it takes a turn from going straight down to a long traverse parallel to the ridge.  Who does that?  Now I have deeply carved dry wash after dry wash.  Going back up isn’t an option and driving over a 6ft deep gorge is not that much better.  This is fucked up.  I’m an idiot.

A road?
A road, or “erode”?

The third gulch in my path is deep.  Like really deep.  I put the truck in park and get out to survey the terrain.  I take pictures too, because this is what one does before doing something stupid, and plan my route.  The key to crossing a crack, crevasse, slot, or creek, is to take it at an angle.  The goal is to have at least three tires in contact with the ground at all times.  It is also much smoother.  I back the truck up so that I can approached this monster at as much of an angle as I can, shift it back into low gear and creep forward. The truck falls forward with a giant *crunch!* and I am no longer moving.  The front clip is now firmly impacted into the opposite bank and my rear passenger tire is now about 3ft off the ground.  I managed to achieve goal number one:  have three tires in contact with the Earth!  I can’t back up because the soft ash the front tires are in at the bottom of the gulch floor provides no traction, just puffs of dust, and the rear differential means that the passenger side tire in the air spins wildly while the rear tire sits locked in place.  This is fucked up. I really am an idiot.

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Where are you going? Fuckin’ nowhere!

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I am seventy miles from the nearest human, It is 3pm and approaching 100 degrees outside.  What I have going for me: gallons of water, food, extra fuel, rock tools.

I check my supplies:  Food: Soggy and warm, because I forgot to drain my cooler and get more ice. Way to go, moron.  Water: punctured while bouncing around in the back of my truck. Dipshit.  Fuel: The top popped off my leak-proof can and now there are gallons of fuel soaking most everything in my truck. Thanks, Grace.  Rock Tools: A little slimy with gasoline but ready to lever, pick, and dig.

The first thing I do is dig out the front end of the truck and give her a go.  Nope.  I them cram rocks under the front tires for traction. Nuh-uh…  I sit down, sweat already dripping from me even though I haven’t really done any work yet, and drink what little water I have left and start to engineer a plan.  I begin by rolling big boulders down the hill and into the gulch.  I make a several foot high pile of these rocks under the tire that is high in the air.  My god, it is hot outside.

Next I take one boulder and put it under the drive train of the front driver’s side.  I place my crappy little jack on top of this rock and start lifting the truck.  Unlike Lookout Mountain there are bugs here, and they love me.  The flies are buzzing and biting while I lay on my back, shirtless, under my truck spinning the jack a hundred time to watch it raise an inch.  Just like stuffing some coasters under the opposite corner of a wobbly table leg, I am now stuffing a jack under the opposite corner of my tire that is three feet in the air.  As the driver’s side front tire lifts off the ground the rear passenger side begins the settle on the pile of rocks I made.  Once I get the jack as high as it can go I stuff rocks under the now raised driver’s side front tire.  Along with these rocks I take a piece of plywood that makes up the shelf in the bed of my truck under this as well; like a ramp going up the embankment.  Once everything is in place I lower the jack and everything settles.  All four tires are now making contact and three of these tires are on rocks and not ash.

Two hours have gone by.  I am very eager to see how my engineering has fared and I climb back into the cab and turn the key, put it back in gear, this time 4-low and 2nd gear so as not to have too much torque and press the pedal down.  The engine growls and like a bolt of lightning the truck is up and on the top of the bank.  Smooth like butter.  I am no longer an idiot.  I am now a 4×4 god and genius engineer.  I dance while I throw my tools and plywood back in the truck.  I realize I forgot to document my genius with pictures.  Oops.  I don’t care that my bedding smells like a fuel dump.  I’m not going to die alone in the desert!

I drive forward 100ft and there is another gulch.  FUCK!

This time I am proactive and fill the gulch with boulders.  I drive over them, another gulch, another fill of boulders… another gulch, and so on, and so on. Finally, four hors have progressed from when I reached the bottom of the valley and began driving on the ash, I get reach the Owyhee River and to where I am going to cross, and the water level is high.  Too high.  There is no way I can get across (I knew I should have built a snorkel for my intake).  I have managed to find the only river in the West that is at a normal water level.  So much for planning.  Well, back to my maps because there is no way I am getting out the way I got in…

I find a trail that runs up the opposite side of the canyon (the East side) from where I came down, the trail sucks, but not as bad as the previous one.  Only two gulches need to be filled with boulder.  hooray.  The shadows are growing long, and now I am really driving like an asshole up a shitty road with one goal in mind: Get to cellphone coverage before my mother makes me a news story by reporting me missing in the Oregon Outback.  I promise her I will check in everyday I am doing stupid stuff alone in the toolies.  As she is fully aware that I have no sense and exhibit pretty much no fear when attempting morinic things in the name of exploration.  She witnessed my childhood.  She’s seen my medical files.

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I finally make it to US20 by 9pm.  That is about 60 miles of terrible “roads” in two hours (with two ditch fillings).  These roads should be treated at a crawl.  Again I am the most fortunate of idiots.  Also, thank you, Les Schwab tires for not exploding on me in the dark.20150825_192023

After placing a call to mi madre, the next goal was gasoline not in Oregon, but Idaho, please. I want to pump my own gas like a dignified human being.  Now here I sit in a Denny’s to use their Wi-Fi and then after 30 minutes they kicked me off the Wi-Fi and won’t let me log back in.  My shitty fucking meal hasn’t even arrived yet.  Kiss my butt, Denny’s!

Note, things I need for the truck:

  1. a high lift Jack
  2. somewhere outside of my tuck I can store a gas can, for the love of god!
  3. portable ramps… will add to list as I go.

Smoke is all I see

(Editor’s note: Many of you know already know what happened on this year’s ghost town trip.  This article was written prior to the ‘Event’ but I did not have Internet access to update the blog before my laptop was destroyed.  My hope is to maintain the feeling and emotions of the adventure at the time this was originally written and not taint it by adding to it my thoughts after my, yet another, near-death experience)

Pack your paper, your maps, and your books when you adventure to the land of no service.
A little slice of the analog data required to mount an expedition out into the wild.

August 24th, Today I began a trip just to visit ghost towns.  I have never set out to only visit ghost towns, usually these relics are left as side trips to one of my larger prospecting outings.  I wanted to dive into the history first hand and leave the geology as the side trip this time.

I got my best start on a solo adventure in years; I left the house only an hour late!… part of this was due to the fact that I couldn’t find my main gas can anywhere.  One cannot go on an 1800 mile off road adventure where one finds one’s self up to 300 miles or more between fuel stations.  Then it occurred to me, I lent my gas can to my friend Grace so she could fuel up the little motor on her sailboat.  She never gave it back.  She’s like the female version of Dagwood Bumstead’s neighbor/best friend Herb.

After a stop at Ace for a new can, I finally got out on the road.  South through the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and then I had to snake around I-5 as one of my goals on this trip is to not set tire to Interstate the entire way down to Santa Fe.  Some wiggling through Tacoma I managed to get onto highway 7, and then I got to witness full on Spanaway right up in my face.  If you have never been to Spanaway  imagine all the abandoned towns in “The Walking Dead” just with even worse lawns, and instead of Zombies looking for brains, it’s skinny people aging too quickly looking for meth.

Dead Porcupine on the side of State Highway 7
My first Porcupine, his last human.

South of Spanaway the road turns beautiful and winding.  The draw back to all this nature is about 30 miles of the most roadkill I have ever seen.  There were hundreds of raccoons, dozens of deer, bunnies, opossums, and even my first porcupine laying by the wayside.  It was as if it had rained animal carcasses from above and snowplows had to clear the road for us drivers leaving drifts of carnage like so much snow on the side of the road. It was metal.  Every so often their would be a break in the trees and I would be afforded a majestic view of the Northwest’s most dominant land feature.

Smokey Rainier
Mount Rainier through the smoke.

I drove along the Nisqually River and along Alder Lake I was pleased to find the river valley ablaze.  How quaint.  I have a feeling that forest and wild fires are going to be a running theme on this journey.

The Nisqually River valley burns and adds to the clean air
The valley is on fire and and no one seems to care. Notice the nearly empty reservoir juxtaposed with the smoke rising behind it.

A turn onto Highway 12 towards White Pass and then a jig to the right down Forest Service Road 23 and I finally found myself in my element; on a shit road.  For the next 50 miles I got to watch all of my mining equipment, fuel, water, clothing, and bedding bounce around like ping pong balls at a Lotto drawing.  Here is an interesting fact: my brand new EPA certified “leak-proof” fuel can I was forced to buy (thanks, Grace) leaks like the mother of twelve after a sneezing fit.  Well, Erik, it is my turn to have to trippy gas fume dreams as I sleep in a cocoon soaked in cancer.

How about that year round snowpack on Mt Adams this year?
How about that year round snowpack on Mt Adams this year?

Further down NF23 on the way to the Columbia I saw an arm waving about from the side of the road.  I slowed because I thought it was someone in distress, but the fact that I was in the sun and they were in the shade of a tree played tricks on me.  It was just a couple of bearded trustifarians in about $1,000 in hiking gear looking for a ride.  I told them the truth, “Sorry, guys, I don’t have the room.” Which is totally true; I am packed to the gills and I move the Box of Knowledge for no man (except Aren), and especially not for two strangers with B.O.  Then I told them a lie, “Don’t worry though, there are two more trucks coming up right behind me!”  Then they sat back down in the shade and I floored it.  Why did I do this?  Because I’m a dick… Well, it might not be a lie ultimately.  It’s a mountain road.  There will always be two trucks behind me.  Eventually.

Crossing into the Columbia Gorge the vast scenery was so hazy as to be not even real. Almost everything looked like a distant memory bathed in blue hues and amber Sun.  One thing that cannot be missed in The Gorge is the towering cliffs of basalt.  16 million years ago Eastern Washington and Oregon sat above the what is today the Yellowstone hotspot.  Back then the hotspot only had to worry about oceanic basalts that like to get all melty and flowy and not the herky-jerky continental stuff that forces it to have apocalyptic eruptions every few million years like today.  No, back then it was downright diuretic.  Every 8,000 years or so it would lay down a free flowing layer of lava that would cover thousands of square miles, just pouring over everything like a glass of water spilled onto your kitchen floor.  The Columbia Flood Basalts cover in the neighborhood of 100,000 square miles up to 2,000 feet thick.  That is enough lava to cover the surface of our entire planet in a foot of hot lava.  Be impressed by this.

Haze dominates the view of the remnants of one of the largest flood basalts ever.
The Gorge filled with the smoke of a thousand forest fires.
Hey look! Basalt!
Hey look! Basalt!

I finally made it to Washington’s Stonehenge in Maryhill over-looking the Columbia.  It has always been on my list of things to do before I die.  Though technically checked off, my bucket list check was forever ruined by a loud obnoxious family who couldn’t read any of the markers to themselves but had to share each plaque with someone 200ft away.  I hate people.

The Maryhilll Stonhenge WWI memorial. It's quite moving so long as there aren't really annoying loud people with annoying loud children screaming at each other.
The Maryhilll Stonehenge WWI memorial. It’s quite moving so long as there aren’t really annoying loud people with annoying loud children screaming at each other.

Across the river in Oregon I refilled my tank and decided not to get a sandwich since hundreds of children from some summer camp unloaded off their buses and into my way. I concluded that it would be better to starve to death than wait in a line while these whippersnappers played tinny sounding YouTube videos to each other.

Heading South on US97 I passed by two towns that are not listed as ghost towns, but they are.  They are so dead.  Both Grass Valley and Kent, Oregon have nothing left in the tank.  Between the mechanization of farms, consolidation of family spreads by larger outfits, and the fact that no one in their right mind would want to live in such a desolate, sun-baked shit hole, ensures that both towns are crumbling shells of their former glorious selves.  The general store in Grass Valley advertised they were the last stop for groceries for the next 67 miles.  It was closed.  For good.

The first ghost town on my list was Shaniko mainly because someone renovated the grand hotel there.  The town consisted of the hotel, a guy sitting on a bench in front of what looked like a knickknack store catering to a tourist who would have to be lost to end up in there, and one gas pump on a hill.  Quaint, but not what warms my heart.  I prefer more desolate.  More broken.  In the past this was the case.  Shaniko was the name the natives gave a german immigrant with whom they trusted and did business.  They couldn’t pronounce his actual name, Herr August Scherneckau, so “Shaniko” would have to do.  The town got its start as a railroad hub for the newly minted Columbia Southern Railroad as a way for large sheep ranchers to get their wool to market.

Shaniko, OR
Shaniko’s grand hotel

At its peak, Shaniko had the Grand Hotel, a large two story firehouse and 13 brothels, or “sporting houses” as the locals referred to them, catering to the needs of the thousands of sheepherders and railroad men who would make their way into town for supplies and nookie to stave off the loneliness of the Oregon high desert.

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I broke off US97 at Shiniko and headed toward Antelope on a winding highway 218.  Antelope was about as lively as the three previous burgs I passed.  It did have a green ghost school though and someone actively filling their U-Haul with their worldly possessions in a real-time GTFO. Cool, not too often you get to witness the act of the actual abandonment of a ghost town.

Antelope, OR
The abandoned school of Antelope, OR

Antelope was the main stagecoach supply point between The Dalles on the Columbia River and the important gold mining town of Canyon City.  After the mines slowed, and highway were built, the need to a weigh station like Antelope ceased to be exist.  Thus another town bites the dust!  Side note: In the early to mid 1980s a religious cult established their headquarters just outside of the town replete with corruption, paranoia, and the largest biological terrorism attack in US history.  Let’s just say jailarity eventually ensued.  I want to save this story for another blog post because it’s a doozy, so please bear with me!

A few miles east of Antelope I turned onto a dirt road and worked my way into some mountains.  A note to the National Forest Service: the BLM is better at roads than you.

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Each turn yielded more spectacular scenery.  Golden hills, steep canyons, derelict ranches… My goal for this stretch of my day’s jaunt was to make my way toward Horse Heaven, a dead mining town high in the hills.  After about an hour I found it and it was buried under tailings from, well, a mine.  It appeared as though someone open pitted most of the town and dumped the workings on the rest sometime in the last 40 years or so.  Pity, as of 1971 it still had a bunch of standing buildings.

Horse Heaven got its start when a couple of high schools kids, Ray R. Whiting Jr and Harry Hoy, were shown how to pan cinnabar out of a local stream (Cinnabar is an ore of mercury, mercury sulfide to be exact).  In the summer of 1933 the boys decided to start tunneling into rock where their cinnabar pannings vanished upstream assuming this was where it was coming from.  They managed to dig more than 60ft through solid rock into the side of the mountain using nothing but hand tools (badass for some kids) and couldn’t find anything… That is until Ray kicked a rock over that was wet on the bottom and the bright red tell of cinnabar was blazed across the stone.  They had managed to remove hundreds of tons of ore not realizing that it had to be wet to be able to see the red tones of the cinnabar!

The boys sold out to a large mining outfit for 11% of the proceeds of the mine each and instantly became rich.  Ray turned his wealth into a famous Hollywood restaurant frequented by the stars, I don’t know what became of Harry.  When Ray’s luck with money ran out he was back up at Horse Heaven in the Summer of 1971 searching for another lode of mercury near the site of the original mine.  From the looks of the remnants of the old mining town I’d say he found it.

Horse Heaven, OR
What is left of Horse Heaven, OR an old mercury mining town.

As I continued down these mountains from Horse Heaven I passed through the most glorious private ranch I may ever lay eyes on.  It was complete with signs threatening to castrate me and more if I stopped my truck.  I wanted to stop and take pictures of the amazing canyon and the painted hills, but I want my testicles more.  Sorry to fail you all.

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After some time my dirt road turned to pavement and a sign directing me to the Painted Hills fossil site made me take a right.  Bucket list item #2 of the day complete.  The Painted hills are remarkable erosion features consisting of millions of years of volcanic ash and fills the entire horizon with vivid colors.  Yellows bleed onto grays who then melt into deep crimsons.  These ashes house the remains of lots mammals and plants.  Don’t climb on the hills or dig for fossils though or else some bored park ranger is going to fuck you up.  He’s just waiting for you to be an asshole so he can disappear you in a little spot in the Oregon Outback somewhere he picked out just for you to become a fossil yourself.

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Layers of ash make the hills come alive
Painted Hills, OR is one of the most breathtaking geological features in the Pacific Northwest.

Driving further South my goal was now to make it to the summit of Lookout Mountain for the night.  I didn’t make it.  The old road that leads to the top is now a foot trail and I am not strong enough to hike my F150 up 2,000ft of vertical.  Thus, tonight I spend in the parking lot of the trailhead.

Day one is pretty pleasant, day two on the otherhand…

Soon we will have millions of you captivated!

The Kickstarter was a resounding success!  We raised over $27,000 and are set to begin filming episode 1 of “Get Your Rocks Off With Houston” September 5th!

In celebration, I figured it was high-time to set up a fancy Facebook page for everyone to “like” and “follow” here: https://www.facebook.com/get.your.rocks.off.with.Houston

Starting the on the 5th (September 5th that is) the trip reports begin anew.  So, bring your eyeballs back to this here blog for all the latest and greatest from your lovable cast of party animals desanctifying nature at every turn.  There are big, big things on our horizon, and I am ready to shamelessly exploit every one of those things for personal profit and gratification.

Kickstarter Me Up! Bring my exploits to your living room.

I have launched a Kickstarter to fund a pilot for a new television program “Get Your Rocks Off With Houston”!

Follow a merry band or ne’er do wells into the wilds of America as they test their metal against Mother Nature for the treasure she’s got buried below!

The concept for the show is different from any other mining show on television.  It is an educational program that highlights the adventure of prospecting for gemstones.  Each episode will focus on a particular gemstone found in North America.  It will begin with the science of the stone itself; how the Earth created, what its’ properties are, where it is found, and what famous ones exist.  Then we travel to wherever I think we can find it and go looking.  In the process we’ll explore old ghost towns and abandoned mines, and party down with the locals.  Upon finding the stone(s) we’ll then show you how to cut and polish it, or make it into a sculpture or jewelry.

I will be setting world records with some of the stones we find!

It’s going to be fun and hilarious, and you just might learn something!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/117761696/get-your-rocks-off-with-Houston

We need so much more on television than fat stupid people breaking equipment and yelling at each other, while simultaneously raping the Earth and polluting our environment with mercury.  Just say “no” to stupid television, and “yes” to smart, fun TV.  Lowest common denominator be damned!

Sometimes You have to Go Home Just So You can Come Back Again!

Saturday was my last full day in the Black Hills.  Jesse and I cleaned some of the cabins at the lodge and then plopped ourselves poolside at the rec center in Spearfish.  I love that freaking pool.  Every community and neighborhood in America should have a rec center like Spearfish’s.  After some unhealthy amounts of sun it was time for some burritos at Barbacoa’s (freaking delicious!) where we happened into Jesse’s cousin Micheala who was grabbing a last bite to eat before she headed to California for camping.  I was glad to have the chance to say goodbye.

Inside Barbacoa’s also just happened to be Micheala’s mother who did not know her daughter was in the parking lot.  Strange coincidences.  Micheala’s mother is hilarious and Jesse and I had a nice lunch chatting with her.

From there we hoped into the grandmamobile and drove out beyond a the cowboy town of Belle Fouche to catch the last day of The Stone House Saloon.  This is a little joint operated by a rancher and his family that is only open one week a year during Rally.  It’s an old, bombed-out homesteader’s stone cabin.  Inside the cabin is pealing and covered in “was heres” graffiti.  Outside there is a BBQ and bar and about 50 giant wood cable spools for tables.  Suspended above the spools is jungle netting like MASH unit might have had during ‘Nam for shade.

Jesse purchased a bloody mary and I got a Sprite and we went about investigating the place.  I immediately noticed an older woman and her energetic little jack russell terrier seated on a log bench, so I moseyed over to pet the dog and strike up a conversation.  She was the wife of a rancher from Montana and always came down for Rally.  The dog was six months old and just stupid with energy, bouncing around like an idiot trying to eat every bug within snapping distance.  Our conversation didn’t make it very far through pleasantries before she wanted to be sure I was one of the “good ones”.

Upon learning that I was a prospector and geologist she was keen to know if I was going to vote the “right way” in November.  I told her delicately that I was confident that I was going to vote the “right way”, but that she and I probably had different views as to what the “right way” was.  Then she started making me a little uncomfortable after a diatribe on the Keystone XL pipeline started getting racist when she began complaining about how all those “other people” were ruining a pure Norwegian population up in the Bakken.  The Bakken is the area where there is thought to be upwards of 400 billion barrels of oil trapped in ultra-tough dolomite in Northwestern North Dakota; thousands of Americans of all races in need of work have been flooding the state in recent years.  I was going to brush away a fly I observed that was having dinner on a scabbed over cut on her forearm, but I decided against it and viewed the little bug as a soldier in the ongoing war against assholes.  Eat and grow fat on the evil racist woman, little fly!

I excused myself from the racist and her little dog just as a thundershower started to move in.  The camo-netting did not hide me from the rain so I investigated the dilapidated stone ruins which still had a roof.  Before I had the chance to go far inside Jesse texted and asked me to meet her at the back of the house.  She was seated with her feet dangling out of the second floor window and wanted me to take a photograph of her.  It’s a good picture.  Then I got to go inside.  In Seattle such a ruin as this would smell damp with pee.  In the dry clime of South Dakota we could only, and barely, detect the slightest aged pee.  One one of the tagged walls I found a tag that was circled on the slope of the ceiling of an upstairs bedroom that read, “Jim and Maryanne, Sturgis 1998”.  Inside the circle was every year since (except 2009) written in different ink.  That is a cute way to mark a tradition.  I like that.  The missing year got me thinking and I imagined what may have happened in 2009 that resulted in missing rally.  Financial hardship, a death in the family, their daughter’s wedding, or perhaps a car accident…  They had been so consistent before and since 2009 that whatever it was to cause them to miss that one year must have been really life changing and important for them to miss their tradition.

The thunder and lightning stared getting scary-close so Jesse and I left the stone house for her car before we all were zapped for being in the only thing taller than the grass for a mile in any direction.  We drove back to Belle Fouche and stopped at the thrift store.

Last year we perused the isles of the store and I found that someone had donated the largest collection of kitsch asftershaves I had ever seen.  There were bottles shaped like colt .45s, sports cars, cats, stage coaches, hot rods, cattle, Odie, and more.  Almost all of them had their original box and almost all of them were from the 1970s.  On the boxes would read something like, “Custom vans have become very popular in recent years. Acme Brand would like to celebrate this uniquely American sub-culture with this limited edition bottle of our exclusive Bedroom Eyes Aftershave.”  There is another thing all of these glorious bottles of aftershave had in common:  they all smelled like mustachio’d pornstar in a rainstorm; butterfly collar, polyester, lube and all.  The first place I laser beamed to when we entered the thrift shop was the aftershave isle.  All my old friends were still there waiting for someone with awful taste to purchase and take them all to a wonderful new home with the appropriate amount of wood veneer paneling and faded shag carpet.

Another thing to note about the Belle Fouche thrift store is that I have never seen so many wedding dresses in a second hand store in all my years.  For something that at one time represented and consumed the thoughts of so many little girls for the majority of their lives, and was worn on what was probably then, the happiest day of their lives to be discarded and priced for $70 at a used clothing store is tragic.  There were probably a hundred dresses on one rack and another dozen in giant fancy boxes on the shelf above glowing through the cellophane windows pleading, “Pick me! I am better luck the second time around!”

I purchased a couple of fantastic elaborately patterned shirts for my ever-growing collection and we drove back toward Spearfish.  The rain was hammering the car and the wipers could not keep up.  To our West we could see the front of this storm trying desperately to touch down in a tornado, but fortunately for the ranch it was teasing below, the danger never materialized.  The “buh-blams” I said with every lightning strike did not seem to amuse Jesse as much as it does the boys when I do it, but I kept saying it anyway because, most importantly, it amused me even more!

We napped at the lodge for a few hours and drove to Deadwood for dinner at the Social Club above The Saloon 10… again!  I ate a wild boar pasta and was so happy.  The band downstairs played Nickelback for the 10,000th fucking time.

An early night and we went back to the lodge.  Sunday morning I packed the truck and collected all the things the boys left behind.  Judging from the amount of clothes I found Dave must have driven back to California naked.  Jesse and I had a late goodbye breakfast at some oldpeople restaurant by I-90.  The french toast was a definite and hearty bon voyage for me.  I drove away already missing the place and not wanting to wait until next year to have the time of my life again.

I drive all day.  First was West on I-90 to Buffalo, WY, then South on I-25 to Casper, WY.  I then drove through Casper and passed the Albertsons and the Safeway where last year Aren, Erik and I made the grocery checker very concerned when all we purchased was role duct tape, a 24 pack of water, and a box of condoms.  These are the things that should sound warning sirens inside a store when three dirty men purchase them together.  These three items made complete sense to us, but the look on our checker’s face said that he had a dirty imagination.

I then drove South on SR789 through South central Wyoming.  On the furthest edge of Red Rock Desert I passed what must have been hundreds of kimberlite pipes.  Here in one of the most desolate and dry places in North America probably housed billions, if not trillions of dollars in precious diamonds.  I will be returning soon to my new “Diamond Highway”.  In Rawlins I merged onto I-80 and continued West only stopping for gas and mini donettes (or as like to call them “roadnuts”).  I exited the freeway in Point of Rocks, WY and drove North for 20 miles on “9 Mile Road”.  Yeah, that statement hurts my brain too.

I drove past the Jim Bridger Power Plant, a gigantic coal fire plant that is fed directly by one of Wyoming’s vast coal deposits right next door.  On the Southwest side of the power plant is the Jim Bridger Recreation Area.  Rad, you can breathe the sharp sulferous fart smell of coal-fire exhaust, and go fishing in the toxic retention pond at the same time.  Wunderbar!  But “No Overnight Camping!” reads the sign at the entrance.  Don’t worry, bro, I’m not going to spend my night sleeping under the brain-tingling buzz of high-tension powerlines anytime soon.

The sun set just as the power plant came into view and I had a stunning twilight drive to Black Rock at the North end of the Lucite Hills.  The Lucite Hills are named for the rare mineral found in the rocks there, lucite of course!  About 900,000 years ago a very rare volcanic eruption flooded the area in lamproite lava, quite possibly the rarest rock on Earth.  Lamproite is believed to be burped up from somewhere deep in the Earth’s belly and is rich in minerals like peridot, garnets, lucite, wyomingite, and…. Diamonds!  Lamporite has only been found in a few locations on Earth one of which is the Argyle mine in Australia that produces some 45 million carats of diamonds per year and is the only significant source of pink and ultra-rare red diamonds in the world.

I made camp and set up my cot next to my truck about a mile North of Black Rock.  I had a hell of a time getting any solid sleep as the coyotes were making a racket all around me, and every now and then, made their racket a stone’s throw from my bed (literally, I threw stones at them to get them to go away).  I slept in later than I realized and was greeted by a cool overcast sky.  I ate some donuts and drove toward Black Rock.  I passed the remnants of an old ranchers cabin and took some photos.  I find if fascinating that someone built a home out using the nearby rock, lived in this desolate place herding cattle, and never had enough curiosity to look at the shiny flecks in the rock of their home and wonder what all that green stuff was.

I parked the Honey Badger in a drywash and continued on with just the truck as the road was getting hairy.  When I got close to Black Rock I marveled.  From any distance beyond fifty feet or more any geologist would probably think Black Rock is just a weathered basalt mesa, replete with octagonal columns and all.  Black Rock isn’t black though.  It’s covered in lichens that give it a darker appearance but the rock is actually khaki in color.  It is also very light and not dense like basalt that is found in crystallized columns can be.  There are a lot of gas bubbles and strangely suspended minerals; most of which I could not identify.

My target this day were anthills.  Ants, particularly red ants, are nature’s gem miners.  They pull out anything pebbly and pile them outside their homes making the familiar cone of an anthill.  They do this so that the stones act like shingles and rainwater would runoff and not into their elaborate colony.  Fortunately, when red ants live in the soil of eroded, gem-rich rock, the pebbles they use to coat their hills are often valuable gemstones.  I was going to steal their shingles like a meth-head steals copper wire, like I owned it.

The clouds started to clear and it got hot in a hurry.  There were also no cattle for miles and the local biting fly population got to biting me, a lot.  I probably could have gone for the full glory and just destroyed every anthill in my path with a shovel and classifier screens but one hundred thousand pissed off ants kind of gave me the willies.  Instead, I opted to just crouch next to hill and pick the gems off the top and move on.  Out of a dozen or so anthills I managed to gather around 200 carats of peridot, a few red pyrope garnets, and several diamond candidates.  I was no mach for the flies and bailed about noon and drove for Nevada.

The drive was a breeze, and then it was a gale, and then it was a hurricane.  In the salt flats of Utah my truck was being blown all over the road.  Semi trucks were at a crawl for fear of tipping over, and visibility was minimal.  I was in my first salt storm.  Salt was blasting me at near 100mph and I have never had such a hard time staying on a road that goes more than fifty miles straight without one single turn.

When I got into the lee of the mountains surrounding Wendover I could see again.  What I saw was thousands of awesome race cars, hot roads, rat rods, and drag bikes.  It was speed trials week at the Bonneville Salt Flats and anyone worth their salt (yuck, yuck) were there to try and break speed records.  I snapped a couple of photos of a salt encrusted ’80s mustang at a gas station and drove West.  I reached Elko, NV about sundown and got a room at a Motel 6 ($48 a night was too much… I never thought I would think that about a motel room).  I ate dinner at the Golden Nugget Casino where a very nice meth addict repeated her memorized lines to me over and over but at least she got my order right.  I think she introduced herself to me as “Jennifer” on at least four separate occasions.  I asked if I could have a Sprite and she said they only had Sierra Mist and I did my cliche’d mocking shocked-and-disappointed face.  She thought I was seriously hurt that they didn’t have Sprite and kept apologizing to me for the duration of my meal.  Meth will make you retarded, my friends.  Don’t do it.

The next morning I poked along through Elko trying to find my friend Angie’s mom.  Angie told me to stop and say “hello” her only clue to me was that her mother was named Yvonne and she worked at a general store or small grocery on the same side of the street as the Best Western.  Well, she didn’t work at Roy’s Grocery, nor Elko General Merchandise.  Inside Elko General Merchandise I saw a woman that could believably be Angie’s mother, they looked possibly related, and I asked her if her name was Yvonne.  She told me no, “But a a gril named ‘Hannah’ works here, does that help?”  Sigh.

I was chowing on some pancakes at a diner when Angie texted me: “I’m and idiot! She lives in Carlin, oops. It’s 25 miles away.”

To Carlin, where I found Yvonne just finishing her shift at Scott’s Grocery.  She is a lovely woman and I think, at first, thought I was going to serve her with papers when I asked if her name was Yvonne.

West of Carlin I crisscrossed I-80 on the dirt access roads that orbit it and saw a lot of desert and hot, dry hills and mountains.  I had a fun time hauling ass up a dirt road over a 6,000ft pass watching the Honey Badger shake his money maker in my side mirrors.  I also passed a geothermal plant and wondered if it was the one local Bainbridge pariah Gary Tripp lost his shirt on.  I hoped so.  In my opinion convicted felons who talk endlessly about their alien abduction experiences and past lives, and who also lie about being PhDs, just shouldn’t try to be morally superior to everyone else; and it doesn’t make me a bad person to take joy in their financial demise when they have been terrorizing the poor for decades.

I wanted to hug the Humboldt River when I got outside of Battle Mountain so I drove Izzenhood Rd to a dead end… well, to The Izzenhood Ranch where I they would not let me drive the 300ft passed their home to the other rest of the road.  I double back, with four gallons of fuel wasted.  I got onto I-80 and exited again at exit 205.  The road was fine dust, then it was dirt and graded, then the road vanished.  My map said showed a road, I found the Union Pacific Railroad instead.  Every now and and then as I blazed my new trail some frozen ruts in the mud would appear.  It only occurred to me as I was driving through neck-deep grass (something you should never, ever, never do, by the way, as you might burn an entire state down with the hot engine and transmission!  I had to do it because I couldn’t backup the Honey Badger for ten miles.  I am not that skilled) that I was probably smushing the historic 160 year old wagon ruts of The California Trail.  Oops.

After twenty miles of blazing my own trail I found an actual ranch road and made the turn around the north end of the Iron Range along the Humboldt.  I could see the perfectly sculpted remains of the old Union Pacific Railroad and some of the old trestles even.  I turned onto the Midas Highway and drove into Golconda passing several dozen mine buses.  The mines are so far out into the toolies that no one lives near them so the mining companies have giant buses pick up the workers for their four-day-on shifts.

I breezed into Winnemucca by evening and got a room at Super 8 (only slightly better than Motel 6); I needed Internet to write these awesome trip reports you love so much.  That is when I noticed yet another set of magnetic tail lights bit the dust (No really, they dragged in the dust for hours, and bit it).

Wednesday morning I got new tail lights and made a marathon run home.  The minute I crossed the border into the Oregon Outback everything was dead.  For a hundred miles I drove and every single hill side from horizon to horizon was a charred.  By my estimate 1,000sq miles or more had burned.  No one noticed, it didn’t make the news, and no one seemed to care since this is the least populated region in the whole of the continental United States.  Yet another reason all the air in the Western United States was blue with smoke.  I sped through Burns, OR and savored the daylight drive through Divinity Canyon.  I made a stop to pan some gold out of the John Day River and got a taco from the cuties at the Shell station.  I entered Fossil Beds National Monument and was in awe of Picture Canyon.  The diverse terrain of the the Mountains of central Oregon are always overlooked.  This thinly populated region is the most beautiful in the United States.  Period.  Big mountains, badlands, rainbow-colored ash layers, ancient forests, high plains, green pastures, ambling rivers, old west mining towns, cowboys, hill folk, and tons of animals dodging traffic.  Just gorgeous!

I made it to the dry hay fields of Condon, OR as the sun set.  A few miles later on my decent towards the Columbia River I was startled by the sight of the entire horizon blinking like red Christmas lights.  Some clever person made all of the thousands of wind turbines blink on and off in unison.  It’s hilarious.

Night time, it’s dark, I didn’t see anything, I got home at 3am.  The End!

Until next time…

And Then There Were Two…

Tuesday morning the rest of the mining crew of Aren and Erik had to run on home.  Jesse and I drove them to the airport in rapid City so that they could pick up their rental car.  The boys had to drive to Denver to catch their respective flights.  Aren’s brother Lars was supposed to come to Deadwood from Denver for the rally, and could also give them a ride back down, but he was a weenie and never showed (Lars, you’re not really a weenie, please don’t hurt me!).

After seeing my friends off, Jesse and I drove back to Sturgis to melt in the sun and take in the custom bike building world championships.  The bikes were intricate and impressive. My two personal favorites were the steam punk cafe racer bikes.  I like brass.  There was also a gigantic bike that no rear axle.  Weird.

The plan was to peruse downtown and then head out to the Full Throttle Saloon to see Sebastion Bach and Cinderella headbang away.  Jenny and her posse were going to join us from One Eyed Jack’s.  Rad.

Both Jesse and I wilted in the heat.  Jesse decided not to go to the show and left me in Sturgis.  I swung by One Eyed Jack’s to gather up Jenny et al and had some cola and about seven glasses of water.  Jenny had to do her books so I hung out at the end of one of the bars and stared off into space slurping on my water.  After about twenty minutes a haggard young(?) bartender came up to me.  After studying me for a moment she took a long drag on her cigarette and said, “You can feel free to join the rest of us if you like.  We are all here to have fun, after all.”

My zen-like, heatstroke trance was broken.  I explained my drained state and asked for more water.  Jenny was taking forever.  The bartender that took over her station sucked at life.  While deeply engrossed in inane conversation with two dudes the rest of her clientele went thirsty and ignored.  They started clanging their empty beer bottles together making a racket in an attempt to get her attention.  She didn’t notice.  They left.  Looking good in a bikini will only get you so far, but if you don’t have people buying beer from you then you aren’t going to make the $1000 in tips the other bartenders rake in.

I guess evening time is when everyone decides to start doing body shots.  Body shots might be hot if it was two attractive people involved and one of them didn’t disinfect their bellies with rubbing alcohol afterwards.  Instead what I witnessed was fat, old, gross, graybeards slobbering all over the tight stomachs of petite twenty-one year olds.  The girls would put on their best fake smile, lay down on the bar top, fill their belly button with whipped cream, and stick a plastic shot glass to it.  The girls probably could have put a shot of maple syrup in the glass and the customers wouldn’t even have noticed by that point; this was the closest they had been to a young woman in forty years!

After being made acutely aware of my surroundings by the spectacle before me I began to regain some stamina and felt my second wind coming.  The girls behind the bar where I was sitting were hula-hooping.  If there is one thing I am sure of it is that I can hula-hoop for days on end.  I felt re-energized, so I informed my haggard bartender that I was in fact a better hula-hooper than everyone in this bar!  She said, “you’re on,” and pulled me behind the bar were I was to face off against their best.  She was tiny, tan, and smiley.  All she had on were a pair of neon orange booty shorts and a Jack Daniels bandanna tied around her chest as a “shirt”.  I crushed her.

I am a man.  I do not have girlish hips.  They do not sway, rock, or hubba hubba like lady hips do.  I beat this seductress the only way I know how: by pelvic thrusting the shit out of that hula-hoop.  Anyone who has been to a party at my friend Geno’s house knows about my amazing perpetual pelvic thrusting hula-hoop domination.  Now this young lady knew it too.  To add to her embarrassment was the indignity of her hula-hoop yanking that Jack Daniels bandanna off he chest like it was caught in a wheat thresher.  It appears that I may have won twice.

Jenny was finally through doing the days books and we sat so she could eat for the first time since 6am.  Three different reality TV shows had managed to interview her while I was hula-hooping.  There were about twenty reality TV shows being filmed on every corner at Sturgis.  Jenny’s sister, who also bartends at One Eyed, had no more voice and ditched u s to recover.  Her other friends she traveled with ditched us too.  We didn’t make it to the Sebastion Bach show and instead wandered Sturgis very slowly.  Every fifteen seconds there was another request from some gentleman for a picture of Marilyn Monroe.  We’d stop, and she would put on a tired smile, *click*.  Then we’d walk twenty more feet, “Hey, Marilyn, how about a photo?”  She was wearing her work attire.

I had no ride home.  This meant that I was the luckiest boy in the whole wide world!  Jenny put me on the back of her V-Star motorcycle and gave me a ride to the canyon.  We’d pull up at a stoplight where there would be all these old guys on their $50,000 choppers with nothing but a little tractor seat where they sat all alone looking tough and mean.  Meanwhile, I am on the back of a Japanese v-twin gabbing on to the hottest chick in town.  Big, tough, biker man was instantly jealous and I was beaming like an idiot.  It was in this moment that I realized that men have been doing it all wrong for 80 years–the girls should do the driving!

The drive out to the canyon was chilly and Jenny did not have much on.  I literally gave her the shirt off my back for the return ride back to Sturgis.  Jenny, if you’re reading this, send my shirt to me anytime you’d like.  I look really good in that one, you know.

Wednesday was… did we do anything on Wednesday?  Uhh… We went to the Rec center pool, puttered around Deadwood, and went to The Saloon No. 10 where we got a late dinner with our tiny friend Robyn at “The Social Club” upstairs.  As we sat at the bar munching on flatbread pizza-type things Jesse’s cousin Troy brought over a disgusting bottle of white zinfandel and asked if we wanted it.  No we did not.  He opened it anyway.

Apparently there were two tables outside who were trying to outdo each other by purchasing more worse and worse drinks for the other table.  The white zinfandel had won the contest and no one wanted it.  Somehow the three of us ended up with it.  I don’t drink, Robyn was done drinking as she was “fuckered”, so that left Jesse as the champ stuck with an entire bottle of sugary headache.

She sat starring at the sip of migraine poured into the glass before her with a disgusted raised lip.  A suave gentleman with perfect young-gray hair in an expensive suit made the mistake of coming to the bar and striking up a conversation with us.  He incredulously asked Jesse if she was drinking that entire bottle herself.  This gave us the opportunity to try and get rid of some of this liquid garbage.

Jesse tried the hard sell, “This is a lovely bottle of Black Pine Vinyards white zinfadel.”  She stroked the bottle.  “Would you like to try a glass?”

He wasn’t biting.  After a couple of jokes he returned to his table behind us.  I then just grabbed the bottle and got a couple of glasses from the bartender and walked over to the man and his guests and plopped the whole setup in front of them.  The man, named Pete, is the gaming director at Cadillac Jack’s, a casino down the road.  His two guests happened to be Penthouse Pets; Ms. January: Jenna Rose, and Ms. June: Alexis Ford.  Jenna loved the wine–then again, she is only 21 and probably likes anything that has alcohol in it.

The Penthouse Pets raved over Jesse’s wild big hair and caressed it while I tried to be hilarious and memorable.  I had never met Penthouse models before, I figured my best bet was to treat them like normal people.

Pete was entertained by us and told us to swing by Cadillac Jack’s and he would buy us drinks.  We agreed.  Downstairs the cover band was at it again and they played Nickelback, again.  Gross.

Thursday Jesse and I made a noon-time stop at Cadillac Jack’s to take Pete up on his offer but we saw him leaving in his Mercedes just as we were getting out of the car.  Some other time then.  we went inside the casino anyway to see what was going on.  Inside sat our two new pornographic friends from the evening before.  They were at a table signing photographs so we strolled on up and shot the breeze with them.  I asked how the rest of their evening went and they thanked us again for the wine.  They really liked it and were genuinely grateful that we gave it to them.  Go figure.  They each signed a photo for me.

Jenna wrote:

“Houston, you are so fuckin’ SEXY! 😉 / P.S thanks 4 the wine! 😉 / XOXO, / -Jenna Rose”

Alexis wrote:

“Houston / Blow a big load for me / Thanks for the wine at Saloon 10 / *heart sign* Alexis Ford”

Penthouse Pets are hilarious, who knew?

We headed back to our usual joint, The Saloon No. 10, where Jesse’s beautiful cousins Micheala and Charlie were signing their rally posters for charity.  I had them sign my poster as follows:

“Erik, Aren, Dave & Lars are weak little girly men who are not man enough to stay for all of Rally!  Houston is so much better!

*heart sign* Micheala and Charlie”

I am in love.

Inside we had some drinks with Wild Bill Hickock.  Our friend Travis is literally the face of Deadwood.  He plays the legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickcock in all the reinactments around town and gets paid to be shot in the back of the head twice a day.  Rally is Travis’ week off and he has shaved off his required mustache for the first time in a long time.  Travis has been invited backstage to that evening’s Jakyl show at the Full Throttle because he was featured on the Full Throttle’s reality TV show earlier in the week.  I am jealous, but will be seeing Jakyl too!  Or so I thought.

Jesse couldn’t make the show so I drove out to Sturgis to pick up Jenny, her sister, and anyone else who wants to go see a band that has chainsaw solos in their songs.  I didn’t know where the ladies were staying so I had to wait to hear from them as to where to pick them up.  Hours passed.  I played a lot of solitaire on my phone.  I got a text reply that just said, “11 miles.”  What the hell does that mean?

Later I receive a text that says, “in the shops.” Que?

I wander Sturgis looking through the shops trying to find the prettiest needle in the haystack.  I lose this game.  By the time my frustration go the better of me it was midnight and I went back to the canyon.  I missed Jakyl *sad face*.

The next morning I get a flood of texts from Jenny.  She was already at the Full throttle the entire time and didn’t need the ride.  So lame!  The previous evening’s confusion started to make a whole lot of sense as I got a plethora of communique that had been digitally sent fourteen hours before, but the series of tubes that guide our lives decided not to pass them on to me until it was far too late.

That afternoon Jesse, Travis, and I went driving deep into the Black Hills.  We grabbed burgers at the 100 year old Moonshine Gulch Saloon in Rochford.  We dirt roaded to Hill City for drinks and a great southern rock cover band.  We then headed back North and were stopped by an insane hail storm.  The hail pounded the car for half an hour with stones the size of quarters.  Motorcyclists were cowering under trees as several inches of hail covered the ground in places.  I put my hand out the window.  That was stupid; it hurt a lot.

After the hail moved on we continued our return to Deadwood for a second lunch at The Saloon No. 10.  We made plans for going into Sturgis that night to whoop it up and gathered Jesse’s friend Lori who works the casino cage at The 10.  The four of us made a go of it and moseyed into the Loud American Bar where we saw an awesome bad named “Judd Hoos”.  The lead singer had pipes.  The lead guitarist, who I am pretty sure was 15, shredded.  Good times.

A swing through One Eyed Jack’s meant Travis was now to the point where he could belt the lyrics to every hair band song that blared on the loudspeaker.  Behind one of the bars stood this plump middle-aged bartender who seemed totally out of place among the young skin that were the regular employees.  There is a reason for this.  It is because she is sofa king awesome!

These geezers would come behind the bar and she would just humilate and abuse them.  They’ed get smart and she would put them in had cuffs and dunk them in the jockey box full of ice water and beer.  She had the strength to pick these dudes up like t’weren’t no thang.  She would rip their shirts off and paint effete and humiliating things on their chests.  She would squirt whip cream on her boobs and set shots in her cleavage and wouldn’t let them have their shot until she was satisfied.  I want this woman as part of my posse wherever I go from now on!

We returned to The Dungeon Bar when I heard from Jenny and her sister so I left Jesse, Travis, and Lori to go gather the temptresses.  I found them in a vendor tent purchasing special insoles for their tired feet.  We walked a few blocks and met up with the others at Easyriders Saloon and got a late dinner.  The dinner of champions; fried pickles, fried cheese curds, and cheesecake (when I got back to Seattle my mother’s first comment to me when I saw her was, “you look like you’ve lost weight.”  I don’t know how I do it).

The drive back to Deadwood to offload Travis and Lori was hilarious.  Travis was completely overserved and was just being randy.  He kept telling me to drift the corners so he could innocently fall into Lori’s cleavage.  I heard no words from Lori the entire drive, just belly laughs.  As we came into Deadwood I got pulled over by South Dakota’s finest.  The breaklight was out.  This was Jesse’s car so it was Jesse’s fault we got pulled over.  Officer friendly had me leave my car and sit in his passenger seat while he wrote me a warning.  I think he and his partner were very disappointed in me.  They pulled us over and smelled booze just pour out of the car when I rolled down the window and they probably though, “jackpot.”  Sorry to rain on your parade, fellas, but I am a designated driver doing the right thing driving my intoxicated friends home.

That night back at the lodge the Thunder, wind and lightning was intense and I slept hard.

The trip is close to recounted.  Until next time!

Young Bucks in a Sea of Grey. I Also Saw a Cat Ride a Dog.

The time for entering Sturgis was upon us.  It was Sunday, the holy day of sinning… Wait, I think I got that backwards.  Whatever.

By the time we found a place to park the car it was already a bajillion degrees outside.  I made the mistake of bringing the wrong flip flops on this trip. Any water, sweat, or spilled drink and I am sliding around like a goof.  I end up having to walk like an old man using all his concentration and energy to avoid breaking a hip.  This day my feet are a bit sweaty and I am a goof.

A brief stroll through some of the bike builder tents, we take some pictures, and an agreement among us forms; fairings and giant windscreens on hog motorcycles are for old people. Fat, slow, not very limber, old people.  I say this with my extremely abundant experience with motorcycles.  After we cruise the bikes we go to a “little joint” called One Eyed Jack’s.  There are easily twenty bars inside this one bar.  Every single bartender is a young woman dressed to give the crowd overflowing with graying old men one giant collective heart attack.  These old men won’t die though; thanks to all the Viagra lowering their blood pressure, but raising the randy factor by factors of ten.

The first bar top we stop at is OK.  The ladies were OK.  The service was OK.  We moved deeper in and found another bartender who was OK.  After about ten minutes Jesse turns and points and says, “We need to go over there!”

We look up and over to the furthest, most hidden, corner of the establishment and see this blond vision beckoning us over.  On top of the bar is a crosslegged and nearly topless Marilyn Monroe.  We do as she commands and go to her.  She is funny, beautiful, and flirty.  We all fall in love.  Jesse and I decide that I need my picture with her to send to our friend Ben who was supposed to join us in Sturgis but wussed out.  The photo is of me looking smug, and Marilyn looking amazing.  The message to Ben was short and as follows: “We found you a wife!”

Ben then apparently used this photograph to convince everyone he met that this woman was, in fact, his wife.

We didn’t want to overstay our welcome with our voluptuous hostess so we ambled on.  We saw shops, topless young woman, topless old women, lots of motorcycles… and bars!  We went down the steps to The Dungeon.  Dark, brutal, vandalized, and pounding with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”– The Dungeon is my kind of place!  Aren and I had to duck our heads as we stumbled in.  The walls are covered with evidence that thousands of customers were indeed “was here” at some point.  The ceiling was awash in the panties of the ladies who felt that people like Aren and I like to have their dirty underthings hit us in the eye.  We do.

We had no pens.  Jesse was not about to drop trow and staple her ungies to the ceiling.  I had to leave my “was here”.  I felt that the panties-thing was a little to sexist, so I unraveled a condom and tied it around the neon Budweiser sign.  Oh yeah.

We left The Dungeon and went to The Oasis for some karaoke.  Some good singing before a crowd of hundreds was taking place.  Dave was the first to up and wooed the assembled mass with Hank Williams Jr.  A few songs later I was easily bringing down the house pelvic thrusting the faces of strangers and giving it my all through a healthy rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine” when the song just ended.  I hadn’t even gotten to the “Where do we go now?” part.  The “Where do we go now?” part is the entire reason to do that song!  The crowd was as disappointed and confused as I was.  The lady running the show took the mic from me .  My moment in the sun was over.  Jesse then made everyone fall in love by morphing into Tina Turner before our very eyes.  Her voice was spot on, and the hair was definitely big enough!

By this time it was two o’clock and four out of five of us were drunk.  Good job, Sturgis!  We visited Jesse’s uncle Jeff were he was selling his line of clothing “Celtic Roar.”  Then we ended up next door and Big Bertha’s Biker Bar.  Free peanuts and girls with their boobs spilling out serving drinks.  Perfect.  Jesse was excited and started spanking me with her new Celtic Roar bandana, so I naturally stuck out my rump for some more abuse.  Aren kicked me in the balls.  My day was now ruined.  Hunched over, I rested my hand on Aren’s shoulder and punched him square in the nuts.  Aren’s day was now ruined.

For the next several hours Aren and I bitched about our lasting, throbbing pain.  No one else cared.  This was something only Aren and I would share together.

We crossed the ally to The Knuckle Saloon where the server never brought us our drinks.  There is a radio station inside The Knuckle that broadcasts commercials.  We sat there waiting for our drinks for half an hour and I am pretty sure I heard half an hour of spots for Ford Trucks and Budweiser.  Since our server vanished, so did we.  The troop stumbled on and went into some… place.  It was empty and the bartenders were total babes.  This was new.  On a stage outside was the worst freak show I have ever seen.  The crew was wasted and my balls were still smarting.  I watched the most boring “Torture King” I have ever seen.  He stood on glass! Yawn.  He laid down on a bed of nails! Snooze.  I wanted out of this place!

It was 5pm and everyone was wrecked.  We kept losing Dave, the only member of our posse without a cellphone.  I am pretty sure Dave took 11,000 photographs and I am also pretty sure that every single one of them was magnificent.

Water, lemonade, anything to hydrate.  We bounced off the crowd and searched for something to revive us.  The car was still blocks away and it was 97 degrees outside.  My flip flops were useless.

The drive back to Deadwood was so hot.  The back seat was nattering nonsense.  Food was coming.  We ate Mexican at a casino and Dave I think lost $80k in the slot machines.  Once fed, over to The Saloon No. 10 we went.  The evening is as blurry as the pictures.  I do know that we ate chicken balls and the band played Nickleback, again.

I got everybody safely home and to bed.  Monday morning Dave had to return to Trinity, California.  Our constant buttcrack and our mascot (Mud) were leaving us.  Sadness.

Since I believe the remaining gang was hung over, naps at the Spearfish Rec Center were in order.  After powering up, using the Sun like the Supermen and Superwoman we are, we returned to Sturgis and made a stop at One Eyed Jacks to visit the only bartender we liked from the day before.  There she was, a ray of light in a sea of leather Harley embroidered vests.  Marilyn!

Aren and I did the flirting because he was upset that I got a photo with her and he didn’t. Marilyn, who we learned was actually named Jenny agreed to a photo with our Giant.  She hopped up on the bar and wrapped herself around a beaming Aren.  I told Jenny that she should come out to Deadwood–she asked me for my phone number.  She asked me for my phone number?  SHE ASKED ME FOR MY PHONE NUMBER!!!

uhh… umm… Do you have a pen? oh… uh…. mutter… Wait, I have a business card!

We left jenny and drove out to The Buffalo Chip to visit Jesse’s friend Molly who bartends there.  We did not find Molly, but we did find a bar that overlooked a bikini bike wash.  This would do.  Aren and I were sitting on a bench staring at girls bedning over putting sponges on gas tanks when this giant man from Alabama sat down beside us.  He was enormous.  A head the size of a beach ball and no neck.  He told dirty jokes and was a typical good-ol-boy.  He thought we were cool.  Jesse wanted a photo of Aren and I relaxing, so naturally, I rested my head on Aren’s shoulder and he, in turn, rested his head on mine.  The perfect photo.  The good-ol-boy didn’t think we were cool anymore.

We gave up on finding Molly and made our way back to Rim Rock because it was the night for the annual BBQ at Rim Rock Lodge.  It took a while because just outside The Buffalo Chip a kid hit a motorcyclist and the police and aid crews were at work.  Once back to the canyon the boys showered, sobered, played Uno, ate fancy steak, and were pleased.  Then we went to Deadwood and the old time photo place.  Jesse was not happy about this; the rest of were.  Jesse’s ‘tude made for magnificent photos.  Erik in a sombrero made for magnificent photos. Aren and I were along for the ride.

Hey look over there!  Is that The Saloon No. 10.  I see?  The evening was rad.  Jenny actually texted me.  Holy crap.  I received a text message from Marilyn Monroe!   We danced, the band played Nickleback yet again.  We ate chicken balls, and we may have put the nails into the coffin that housed Aren’s liver.

The party is not over.  Stay tuned for more blow by blows!