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.
Found in two places on Earth, Western Utah (the Wah Wah Mountains and the Thomas Range) and the Black Range of New Mexico, bixbite is among the rarest gemstones on Earth.
Born to a store keeper and his wife in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania 1853, Maynard Bixby would go down in geological lore. Maynard graduated from Lafayette College in 1876 where he studied law and later moved to Wilkes Barre with his siblings and worked as a bookkeeper. On a what seems to be a whim, Maynard packed up and started travelling the American Southwest. He mined ore in Colorado and Arizona for a couple years, moved to Chicago, and later New York, while working for Western Electric. In 1884 Maynard hopped on a ship and set sail for London where he went rock hounding in Europe for six months or so. After marrying in 1888 Maynard again set sail to gather minerals in Europe and upon his return to the states found himself in Denver by 1890, and then Salt Lake City a few months later.
Maynard Bixby started prospecting and exploring the Thomas Range of Utah staking the infamous “Maynard Claim” which is still worked to this day for beautiful specimens of topaz. Bixby is credited with two discoveries there: bixbyite and bixbite. Bixbyite is a black, shiny cubic mineral that consists of manganese and iron; it in itself is rare, but the stone we care about is the simarly named bixbite.
In 1904 Bixby discovered tinny little crystals embedded in the matrix of ancient, chalky rhyolite on his topaz claim. He figured it might be a form of beryl (other forms of beryl include: emerald, aquamarine, and morganite), but he wasn’t too sure. Bixby sent some specemins to W.F. Hillebrand, a geochemist at National College in Washington DC, for identification. Hillebrand confirmed Bixby’s suspicions and declared that the mineral was indeed a beryl and was also a new discovery and named it “bixbite”.
Bixbite is a usually very tiny; a red colored beryl that often looks like an itty-bitty stop sign. It only forms in silica-rich rhyolite. The red color comes from manganese substituting for the normal aluminum found in the crystal structure of other beryl varieties. Some believe that the manganese is the result of high concentrations of water in the rhyolite that may have come from the Earth or from the lava erupting under surface water like a lake or inland sea. Water breaks down manganese very easily. You can see the evidence of this if you go through Southern Utah and through Redlands or Bryce Canyon. On the shear red cliffs of the canyon walls you will see black metallic streaks staining the rock. This is manganese leaching from the sand stone via rain water leaking through the fissures of Earth.
When molten Earth is left to ooze and cool at its own pace there is plenty time for like minerals to find each other and crystallize. The size of the crystals will often depend on many conditions ranging from the actual amount of the molecules in the host rock, to the time the magma/lava is allowed to cool, to whether cracks or spaces form allowing for the exchange of gasses and water. Decent-sized gem quality examples of bixbite are really only found in one place at the Ruby Violet Mine that lies in the Wah Wah Mountains to the West of Milford, UT. Bixbite is so rare that it is estimated that for every 150,000 gem-quality diamonds that are discovered only one bixbite is found (and it is not very likely that it is even gem-quality at that!). When it comes to gem-quality stones only one is three million women on Earth will ever be able to own a quality stone larger than 0.8ct. That works out to about 11,000 stones total. Ever.
Hey, ladies, I own two! *wink*
The first question I am asked by someone when I tell them about a mineral is “how much is it worth?” Well, let’s start small and work our way up. A micro-sized specimen, something stop sign shaped and about 1mm across will net you about $50. That same crystal still in the matrix of the host rhyolite and you may find yourself getting a $100 from collectors. IF you are fortunate to find a chunk of rock with several small crystals you may get hundreds of dollars. When it comes to large crystals with good habit (the hexagonal shape for which they are known) thousands of dollars is to be expected. Gem quality stones are another animal entirely. Finding an eye-clean stone is next to impossible so don’t even think about ever seeing a flawless example anywhere, but a stone that is nice and gemmy, kind of Jolly Rancher looking, rough will get about $500-$1000 per carat, that same stone when cut will demand over $6,000 per carat. The largest bixbite ever found is 54cts and butt-ugly, the largest cut stone is from the Ruby Violet claim and is right around 8cts and worth more than your house (a faceted stone’s value often climbs almost logarithmically with the size of the stone; imagine this stone being worth somewhere around $50,000 per carat due to its size and rarity).
In 2010 I traveled through the Thomas Range and the Wah Wahs and found some very small examples of bixbite and a boatload of topaz. I have my suspicions that in a neighboring range in Western Utah lies virgin rock that is ideal for the formation of one of the Earth’s rarest minerals. Maybe sometime next year I’ll be able to detonate some TNT in my chosen mountain and see if all my research pays off!
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!
This is being written utilizing a phone, thumbs, and no spellcheck; please bear with me…
Last night I was attacked by flying ants. They like my hair a lot, but at least I got to sleep on a Futon!
I awoke about 7:30, grabbed a much needed shower, and then chatted with my brother about life. Boulder is a pretty cool place and I need to spend more than two days there. Especially since Loch made Dave and I waffles and I got to have some deliscious agave syrup on mine!
We had a nice morning at the Wade compound. Our bellies were full, Mud was thuroughly humped by Loch’s dog Ralph, and it was time to push on.
We got back on SR-12 and headed North this time. The first leg of today’s journey was going over Boulder Mountain. The trucks didn’t have much oomph this morning but after an hour we cleared the highest summit of our trip to date at 9600ft. The view from the top was spectacular (as to be expected). The drive down was quicker and at the bottom we turned East onto SR-24. This road is beautiful. We descended through Capitol Reef National Park and the reds exploded all over the place. Narrow Canyons, red rivers, lush trees; a sight to behold. The only issue were the terrible drivers towing boats back from Lake Powell. They like to drive in both lanes.
As we exited Capitol Reef, we entered the Moon! Erie gray mounds of eroded soil. No vegitation or signs of life save for the road we were on. Eventually we came to a really rad ghost stone building. I don’t know why it was there or what it had been used for, but it was nice to look at.
We went through Hanksville where we crossed Dirt Devil Creek and headed North through the San Rafael Desert. After the landscape we just saw everything was just boring… And hot.
We got to I-70 and went East into Colorado where the temperature was 99 degrees. Mud was quite the panter. About 50 miles into Colorado US50 splits off into Grand Junction. I had heard things about the disgusting sprawl that is Grand Junction. Those rumors were not fair. Grand Junction is much worse. If I could give an award for the shittiest, most poorly planned city in America the award would be called “The Grand Junction Award for Never Meeting a Stripmall We Didn’t Like.”
Why on Earth did my hometown of Bainbridge Island hire as our city planner the former planner for Grand Junction? Was the planner for Houston, TX or Stockton, CA not available?
Outside of that shithole we drove through some more thundershowers and entered the Rockies. A restful stop at Blue Mesa Lake where Mud chased sticks and stones into the water we climbed all 11,300ft of Monarch Pass (what may be the highest pass of the entire trip). After Monarch we made our last push to our campsite outside of Canon City, CO.
Tonight I am sleeping in my truck because of lightning. I still have flying ants ambushing my head. I dislike flying ants.
After I posted last night’s entry I headed West out of town to look for a spot to lay my head by the road. I found a nice gravel pit right by the “Welcome to Ely” sign. I was too tired to setup my cot so I slept in the passenger seat of the truck.
There is a big open pit mine up the hill and I could see the lights of the giant Caterpillars hauling ore all over the mine site. It was hard to hear, but I could feel when one of these huge machines would dump their load of processed ore adding to the man-made mountains that the tailing piles began to resemble. Ten minutes would pass and I would feel a rumble through the body of my truck. Another load down. Another day closer to the depletion of the ore body.
Mines are like a kitchen timer. Once the claim is staked it is only a matter of time until they have gotten every last drop. Ding! Put a fork in it, this turkey is done.
All these ghost towns I have been visiting were so abrupt and seemingly spontaneous in the origin and boom times. Two years later the thousands of people who live there are gone onto the next big thing. Unionville played out? Go to Virginia City. The Comstock load run dry? I hear there’s a stike up on the Colville Reservation in the Washington Territory. Colville all done? Word is the Canucks found gold on the Frasier. And so it goes…
It is mind boggling to think that if every single ghost town in Nevada had it’s peak population today the state would have somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty million residents and be the second most populous state in the union. The fact is Nevada never had that many unique residents. The people from Goldfield, moved to Elko. The people in Elko, moved to Pioche. The people in Pioche were probably murdered, since that is what Pioche did best back then; kill new comers.
Night of dreaming about these has-been mining towns came to an abrupt halt with a loud knock on my window. Freaked out and startled, I awoke and my eyes saw nothing, just inky blackness. Then I realized I still had my sleeping mask on (yes, I sleep with a sleeping mask, because I am a weirdo; and when I fall asleep my eyes open up, ok?) so I removed it and saw Dave’s smiling face and his big brown dog named Mud. I opened the door and gave Dave a hug from the confines of my car seat, only then realizing that Dave may be the first man I have ever hugged while technically not wearing any pants…
It was early, not even 7am. Gross. I threw on some shorts and our new caravan of two vehicles drove into Ely in search of some breakfast. We found it at the Silver State Cafe and dove in. The waitress, who I don’t think was too bright, but nice, informed us that there was a tire shop called, “The ‘Super 8’ or something,” just down the road.
By 8am Dave, Mud, and I were waiting outside the “Big 8 Tire” for the lads who would make the Honey Badger’s gimp knee ready for the playoff drive. The mechanics wasted no time beating the holy hell out of the trailer’s tire with various sized sledge hammers until the biggest sledge I have ever seen finally got the rusty rim off the wheel hub. Why didn’t they just start with the biggest sledge first? Why work their way toward the inevitable and take the long route?
Whatever. An hour later the Honey Badger was holding 40psi and was ready to roll. Away we drove. See ya later, Navada; we’re Utah men today! A couple more mountain passes and desert valleys (aka hundreds of miles) and we arrived in Delta, UT. We made a stop at the Thriftway for ice to refresh our coolers and studied a map of the state. I decided we should head South to Boulder, UT and pay my brother Loch and his wife Kelly a visit.
While ironing out the details of our route we heard girls yell “HELLO!” and turned around to see the sliding window of the drive-through SnoCone stand slide shut. Delta is very Mormon; they don’t do drive-through espresso here. After our brief distraction we returned to our geography lesson. “We like your dog!” A quick turn to see the window shut again.
If the ladies running that SnoCone stand want some of the these lads, who are we to argue with their marketing genius? We went to get a SnoCone. The window slid open and there were two 12 year olds. Lame.
What’s the deal with child labor laws in Utah anyway? In Washington when you approach a drive through stand their is a young lady (of legal age!), wearing a bikini ready to serve coffee. In Utah, it’s the over sugared middle schoolers serving SnoCones. Oh well, I ordered a 16oz blackberry/mango, and it was only $2.50. I tipped the girls two bucks and the look on their faces was that of two young people who not only had never seen a tip before, but that of naivety to the fact that tips even exist at all.
Dave, and I sat in the shade of the a tree while I enjoyed my flavored ice and the two young ladies bounced around and did laps in their little hut. Dave pointed out that these girls were probably doing shots of syrup all day long and were wired beyond control. I think you’d have to be. It seemed like I was their only customer all week. Come on, Delta, it’s 94 degrees outside, get a dang SnoCone!
Dave and I headed back to our to our little gypsy caravan and the girls slid open their window to thank us. Then a few more steps and they slid open their window to wish a good trip. As I was getting into the truck the window slid open again and the wished us a fun adventure. As I was pulling out of the parking lot one of the girls ran out of the SnoCone hut to wave and wish me safe travels…
They need a YMCA in Delta or something.
Delta, may have been 94 and bluebird, but 30 miles South was the beginning of some monsoon. The temperature plummeted into the 70s and sporadic downpours were making Dave’s clothes wet (they are strapped to the top of his Jeep). We took US50 to I-15, to SR-20, to US89, to SR-12. The weather was rumbly and awesome. Once on SR-12 we entered Canyon Country and were on the doorstep of Bryce Canyon National Park. The rocks were bright red and spectacular. SR-12 is one of the most beautiful drives in existence; especially when thunderheads and sunshine are mixed in equal parts!
We drove through Tropic and a beige canyon that will live on in infamy in my mind. Two years ago I was passing through the same narrow canyon when a huge mountain lion ran in front of my truck. That was exciting enough, but around the next bend I saw Him. Standing next to a shiny red Ford Focus rental car was a short, fat man with a waxy bald head, no teeth and a $3000 suit on. He looked me in the eyes and stroked his huge .50 caliber sniper rifle as I passed by. Terrified that this wack-a-doodle was going to snipe me in the face as the road followed the river bend back around for a picture perfect shot, I drove the next 400 yards blind, since I was crouched under the dashboard of my truck.
This time around I wasn’t terrified of the fat man in the expensive suit holding a six foot military-grade weapon. I wanted him to be there. I wanted Dave to see this reality. I wanted so desperatley to not feel like the crazy one, when I know fat-sniper-rifle-guy must be the crazy one!
As we drove out of the canyon and into a high valley my disappointment abated and gave way to sweeping views of the terrain below. Canyons just look so good. Good job, Nature. After we made it through the burg of Escalante the real awesome part began: Hell’s Backbone! We were in for a treat, just as we made it to the top of the ridgeline the thunderheads had just passed leaving a hole in the sky for the sun to shine through on the canyoned Earth below us. The light reflected off the fresh streams of water now cascading off the smooth rocks of the mesas and canyon walls. It looked as though someone had poured quicksilver over the whole of Southern Utah just to watch it shine! It may have been the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. I will take that view with me to the grave.
Coming off of Hell’s Backbone we arrived at our destination of Boulder. Home to 200 residents and two members of the Wade family. Only I didn’t know where they lived. They had moved since the last time I was here. Dave and I killed time by eating all fancy-like at the Hell’s Backbone Grill. We both got filet mignon and enjoyed the thunderstorm and out meals. Our waitress happened to be friends with my sister in law Kelly and told us where to find her. Instead, she found us!
Once we arrived at the new Wade Family compound on three gorgeous acres, Loch showed us the garden and his plans for the amazing water wheel grist mill that will run off the irrigation water from Boulder Creek. construction is slated for next year. Loch and Kelly took Dave, Myself and all the dogs to the top of the hill in the back yard to view the valley and watch the thunder storms surrounding us. A good monsoon indeed.
Tomorrow Dave and I head to Colorado. I am not sure if or when I will be able to update next. I will try to get something written at soon, but internet connectivity may prove elusive. Stay tuned!
I’m hitting the road again to meet up with my merry band of neardowells. I’ll first be poking through Nevada and getting my fill of ghost towns where I will eventually meet up with my old roommate Dave (my first friend in Hawaii when I moved there); in Elko maybe?
Thent Dave and I will mosey through the rest of Nevada, Utah and Colorado, where on the 23rd we meet up with Aren, Erik, and probably Aren’s brother Lars in Denver. We go North from Denver to Fort Collins where my cousin Sam just might be waiting for us–then it’s the push into the wild where our diamond mining begins!
Stay tuned for the trials and tribulations of the gang and see if we get significatly more diamonds than we did last year. Come on “retirement stone”!
This update comes from a tent hidden in the mountains in Central Wyoming, and is as far as i could get before departing once more into the world of no data signal.
Starting on the 14th of July, Houston and I departed Portland to take the long drive down to California. This was the inaugural leg of the longest overland journey I have ever taken. We left Portland in the morning and headed towards Drain, Oregon to visit the farmstead of Steve and Karrina O’neal. Their house, built by a shipwright homesteader during the eighteen hundreds, was solid and creaky. The farmstead was an impressive swath of land abutting a creek and mountain forest reserve. Their garden, healthy and beautiful and the lunch they treated us too was delicious. The conversation was lively ranging from astronomy, through modern fiction, to theories of evolution and creation. The downside of the stop at the O’neal farmstead was that the stop was limited to two hours of visitation time before We had to hit the road again. The same day, we needed to reach the Armadillo Mining shop in Grant’s Pass Oregon. Armadillo, one of the best supplied mining shops in America. Our goal was to get there before the shop closed to by a three inch dredge hose.
After successfully equipping ourselves with an impressive amount of hose, we blasted along the I-101 until Leggett. We decided for visual appeal to follow highway 1 along the northern coast of California. Somewhere between eleven pm and midnight we reached the coast, finally. Our trip between Leggett and the coast was a slow winding affair. The compass in the Truck, swung from Northeast to South, and back again. every half mile. But Houston managed the trip safely, and we found a nice pullover spot above a large sea cliff at which to pitch our cots. We slept soundly, ignoring the mist rolling off the Coastal cliffs above us.
July 15th. The Journey down Highway 1 was visually stunning. Sea cliffs, beaches of all colors and winding road filled with giant trucks pulling sleeper trailers. Our ultimate goal was Sebastopol, in Sonoma County. Upon reaching Sebastopol we promptly located D’s Diner, a local eatery featured on an album by Les Claypol, lead member of the band Primus. “Who wants to go to D’s diner? I Do!” We enjoyed well executed and delicious diner food and ventured onward. Our goals in shopping that day were to pick up a few kitchen utensils, towels, two weeks of clean underwear for myself, and a bag of stick on googly eyeballs.
On the evenings of July 15th and 16th, we lodged at the home of Wayne and Nancy Honeycutt in Sevastopol. On the 16th we attended the wedding of Lauren Klopp, who is now Lauren Williams. The weather was superb, and the ceremony an was a heartfelt with a mixture of comedy, involving a forgotten wedding ring on the part of Matt’s best man. The family and friends of the newly-weds were gracious and welcoming to all. The reception, held in a grove of Redwoods on the family vineyard, had delicious assortment of food. The selections of wine were even more impressive. Though this is unsurprising considering Klopp Ranch Vineyards, owned by the Father of the bride, produces Award Winning Pinot Noir. After dinner, Houston, Aren, and their cohorts from Seattle, Nick Heppenstall and Sarah Knights, managed to kick up the quality of the reception via superb and entertaining dancing skills. (warning, previous statement may have slight bias/been fueled by alcohol clouded memories.) The night, in short, was a great celebration of Lauren and Matt’s marriage.
July 17th saw a late start. Where the original plan had been to depart early, dancing to the wee hours of the 16th prevented the seven am departure time originally scheduled. After rising late, and enjoying what could potentially be our last hot showers in two weeks, Houston and I got onto the road by the crack of 10am. We had around 740 miles to cover, and a plane to meet in Salt Lake City at nine am on the morning of the 18th. The drive through California was relatively uneventful. The MLRU mining vehicle, a 4×4 Ford truck pulling a $200 dollar trailer crafted from the camper covered bed of a Ford Courier. Maintained a low but higher than expected gass milage. The only real problem was that the GPS/Music System in the truck decided that, of the 5000+ songs it contained, it would play the same 200, on repeat shuffel. California otherwise was a series of dry highways, flanked by vineyards, and jokes about decidedly unhappy looking cows. This was untill we climed over the Sierras. Scenery which one can observe taking the I-80 into Nevada was gorgious. Many of the mountain peaks still held snow, and our weather was glorious. My only complaint, and it would become a regular one on the trip, was that my Camear is incapable of capturing the sense of scale which, in many cases, is more impressive than any independent part of the landscape. Now it could be that my my childhood on an island minuscule in comparison to North America has left me with an odd sense of appreciation. Whatever the reason, I left many nose marks on the passenger side window as we wound our way through the Sierras.
The decent into Nevada was impressive in its own right. The heat and the scale of the desert was impressive in its own right. Though it made me glad to be blasting across the salt flats at 75mph instead of trying to wagon train through. Once we left Reno in our dust we decided to stop and have a little fun. This is where the googly eyes purchased in Sebastopol re-enter the story. Nevada, it turns out, has cattle crossing signs which are just begging to have googly eyes attached to them. Well begging in their stationary metal, ten-foot-off-the-ground-need-to-stand-on-a-truck-to-reach-them, sort of way. We made as many signs as we could find, look very surprised. Eventually, we crossed out of Nevada into Utah, leaving the cow signs safe for the time being.
By around 11pm we had been in contact with Erik Small, and Jonathan Groelz. The plan had changed in our favor, for Jon to fetch Erik from the airport and meet us for a much needed breakfast of pancakes bacon, and eggs in Salt Lake City. Fortified by this knowledge, Houston and I pulled off the highway 60 miles from SLC, and pitched our cots in the 80 degree desert. Where we had initially worried about the temperature in the desert dropping drastically, the cloud cover obliged to help keep us warm all evening long. It also obliged to throw sheets of the fattest raindrops I have ever felt. The only saving grace for our lack of tent, was the fact that the rain was sporadic enough, that only the outside layer of our sleeping bags remained wet. Otherwise we remained dry, if not a little overheated from needing to use sleeping bags as rain coats in 80 degree weather.
July 18th. Bleary eyed and dusty, we packed up and drove the last hour too breakfast in Salt Lake. Over breakfast, there was much discussion of the up and coming foray into central Wyoming to look for Opals. We managed to convince Jon that it might be a fun trip and possibly pay out in Opals.
After parting ways, and taking Erik through the local REI to get supplies, we were back on the road by noon. That day we drove for ten hours, from Utah into the eternal Wyoming Highlands. In route, Jon called, to let us know he and his family were also driving up from Salt Lake. We located the dirt road which we’d planned on taking into the opal fields, only to venture in for about two miles before realizing that doing the drive with our trailer on would be a pain. We also discovered that the front window in the trailers camper had been shattered out by a jarring impact, or perhaps a rock kicked up by our truck. We drove another few miles north to attempt shorter and more direct route into the hills. Unfortunately we were warned away by obviously placed private property and no trespassing signs. The combination of this legal roadblock and the realization that we needed a gas refill, led to a quick trip to the nearest town, and another evening camping off the side of a highway. Wise to our last experience, and warned by great clouds and lightning on the horizon, this time, we pitched a tent.
(Note, This entry was written in notepad, any spelling and grammatical errors are my own for being lazy and updating via a tethered cell phone)