Unexpected Mountaintop Experience

We don’t always have a precise plan for our outings. Sometimes I just look at a map and pick out a forest service road we haven’t been down yet and we head out and see what there is to see. Usually we drive down the road until it gets too rough or we find a place we want to get out and start hiking.

On this outing we decided to start hiking down the road when it got too rutted and rocky to comfortably continue by car. When we set out we did not know we would eventually end up standing on top of the mountain seen in the picture below. It started out as an easy uphill walk and when we reached a fork in the road we thought we chose the path that would lead us through a meadow. We were wrong- 1.5 miles and 900 feet of elevation gain later we were standing on top of a mountain.

July 1 NF 440 (66)

As I said before, the first part of the hike was pretty easy, but the second leg of the hike up the mountain became quite strenuous. The picture below doesn’t really show it, but the path became very steep. It was so steep that it was hard to even balance myself while standing still. My feet and calves became fatigued from the sharp incline and the loose gravel made my steps unsteady, but the summit was in our sights, urging us upward.

July 1 NF 440 (18)

We had our sights set on a rocky outcrop that we thought was the top, but when we reached it we realized the mountain kept on going. By this time we were so close so we continued to trudge on, one slow, steep, rocky step at a time. When we finally reached the summit, we were rewarded with a fantastic view of Steptoe Valley and the surrounding mountains.

The reddish area in the middle and the adjacent pond are part of the Robinson Mine. It is a major open- pit copper mine that employs many people in the town that we live.

July 1 NF 440 (26)

On the right side of the picture below you can just barely make out the town of Ely. From this vantage point, it really looked like such an isolated little community, surrounded by endless miles of rugged mountains and desert. It is accurate that our town is remote- our nearest real city is a 4 hour drive away.

July 1 NF 440 (42)

July 1 NF 440 (47)

After we soaked in the views and had a snack, we started the slow descent. Going down was even harder than going up because the steep grade of the trail and the loose gravel made it hard to keep traction underfoot.

July 1 NF 440 (50)

Taking our time going down the mountain gave us an opportunity to savor the views.

July 1 NF 440 (52)

After some time we made it down the steep, open and grassy mountainside and continued on the more leisurely walk through the juniper and pinyon pines.

July 1 NF 440 (8)

In one section of the trail there were clusters of these pretty purple flowers that attracted swarms of butterflies.

July 1 NF 440 (10)

As we headed back to our car we chatted about how we had no plans of hiking up a mountain that day, but we ended up on the top of one that offered us some amazing scenery. Sometimes it is fun to just head out without much of a plan and see where the road takes you.

July 1 NF 440 (4)

“All journeys have a secret in which the traveler is unaware.”

~Martin Buber

My Hometown National Park

I have lived in various towns in seven different states, but I have not lived within two hours of a national park since my childhood in Miami, FL (Everglades NP). National parks have always been travel destinations for us while state parks and national forests sufficed for day trips throughout the year. We enjoy those areas (especially because they are usually less crowded), but there is always something special about visiting a national park.

The entrance to Great Basin National Park is only a little over an hour from our house and we have been eagerly waiting to visit it since we first moved to Nevada in March. However, the mountains here received a healthy snowfall last winter and Great Basin NP does not plow the park road so we had to delay our first visit until mid- June (and it turned out even that was a bit too early).

June 17 Great Basin (6)

The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is only 12 miles long, but it swiftly rises over 3,000 feet in elevation. We crossed numerous ecological zones as we wound our way up the mountain. By the end of the road we had reached an ecosystem similar to that found in northern Canada, even though we had only driven a few miles. At each turn in the road, our view of Mt. Wheeler (the second highest mountain in Nevada) became more grand and impressive.

June 17 Great Basin (9)

The road ended at an elevation of 10, 000 feet and that is where we began our hike to see the bristlecone pines. The trail started off relatively easy in a pretty pine forest with only a patch of snow here and there. However, as we continued to hike uphill, the snow patches on the trail became larger and harder to navigate. In some places we only had a sliver of rocky trail to walk on between the snowy areas and other places there was no option but to walk over the slippery, melting snow.

We felt that we had the trail to ourselves at the beginning, but the groups of hikers seemed to bottleneck near the top as the hiking conditions grew trickier and everybody was going at different paces. We definitely enjoyed hiking in the cooler weather up on the mountain, but the price we had to pay for it was navigating a snow- covered trail.

June 17 Great Basin (24)

June 17 Great Basin (22)

After hiking 1.5 miles and gaining 600 feet in elevation we reached the bristlecone pine grove.  These twisted, gnarly- looking trees can live for thousands of years in severely harsh conditions. Interestingly enough, the harsher the conditions, the longer they can live. These trees are one of the few living things that truly thrive on adversity.

June 17 Great Basin (35)

June 17 Great Basin (38)

After spending some time admiring those ancient and resilient trees, we headed back down the trail. The hike took a little longer than we had expected and it was approaching evening by this time, but the amazing views of the Snake Range and Valley kept us from rushing back to our car.

June 17 Great Basin (57)

June 17 Great Basin (62)

We enjoyed our first experience in Great Basin and look forward to becoming frequent visitors, although next year we will probably wait until July before attempting to walk amongst the bristlecones.

 

“I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.”

~Willa Cather

Success Summit

Just east of the town of Ely lies the Schell Creek Range, which is mostly encompassed by the Humboldt- Toiyabe National Forest. We spent an afternoon driving Success Loop, a dirt road that winds its way up through the mountains until reaching Success Summit and then descends into Duck Creek Valley on the other side. This road provided easy access to amazing mountain views, as well as much- appreciated cooler weather.

On the way up toward the summit, we passed large fields of bright yellow flowers, which really brightened the otherwise dark green and gray landscape.

June 6 Success Loop (4)

After leaving the valley, we gained elevation quickly through several sharp switchbacks up the mountain until we finally arrived at Success Summit (elevation 9,000 feet). The gorgeous views urged us to park the car and get out and explore. There was a network of dirt ATV trails covering the summit area that were perfect for meandering on foot.

June 6 Success Loop (22)

June 6 Success Loop (25)

June 6 Success Loop (13)

My pictures really don’t do the area justice. The rugged mountains in the distance surrounding the more rounded and green mountains near Success Summit created a stunning landscape. It was not possible to look upon this special place and not have my thoughts directed toward the One who created it. Not only did God give us the breath of life, but he also created such a beautiful world for us to live in.

June 6 Success Loop (31)

Psalm 8: 3- 9

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 

June 6 Success Loop (7)

Our drive home was a little more eventful than we would have liked. As we descended the mountain we drove through a pretty aspen forest before entering back into the sagebrush desert. We had seen no other people the entire afternoon until out of nowhere a car recklessly zoomed by us. The car was going too fast and lost control on the gravel road. It got fairly close to whacking into our own car before sliding off the road into the sagebrush (and almost flipping over in the process).  The car was stuck and pretty banged up, but thankfully nobody got hurt. There was no cell service so we drove until we came across a forest ranger who used his radio to call for help.

This was a good reminder that caution and common sense are essential while recreating outdoors. The fun ends pretty quickly when you are stranded or injured. Let’s all try to be safe out there this summer, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of the other people out there with you.

Bristlecone Wilderness

On Memorial Day we set out to explore a bit of the Bristlecone Wilderness. These 14, 000 acres of designated wilderness are a part of the Egan Range, just north of Ely. Since it is a wilderness area, there are no roads entering it.

May 29 Bristlecone Wilderness (14)

We drove as far as we felt comfortable on a dirt road that leads to the wilderness area boundary. It was not long before the “road” began to deteriorate and became more narrow and rocky. We parked the car, grabbed our backpack, slathered ourselves in sunscreen and headed out on foot. We started out in a sagebrush valley and hiked steadily uphill toward the base of the mountains.

May 29 Bristlecone Wilderness (19)

May 29 Bristlecone Wilderness (32)

As we quickly gained elevation, the pine trees grew taller. We were eager for the shade, but the higher elevation was also home to unwelcomed residents- mosquitoes. This was our first encounter with mosquitoes in Nevada so we didn’t pack any bug spray. The uphill hike became pretty uncomfortable since the mosquitoes wouldn’t let us stand still long enough to catch our breath. We kept moving until we finally reached the sign marking the border of the Bristlecone Wilderness. By that time we were getting pretty close to the mountains and we would have liked to go farther, but we were already covered in itchy bites so we retreated (and the persistent mosquitoes followed us all the way down until we were out in the open sagebrush again).

May 29 Bristlecone Wilderness (28)

On the drive home through Steptoe Valley we enjoyed lovely views of both the Egan and Duck Creek Mountain Ranges. The snow is gone from all but the highest peaks now, but I believe these mountains will continue to amaze me in any season.

May 29 Bristlecone Wilderness (36)

We also came across another pronghorn herd. They are so fun to watch. Even though they are herd animals, you can tell each one has it’s own personality. When we stopped to watch, one pronghorn immediately started running away. Then he realized his herd wasn’t following him so he turned around and dashed right back to join them. All the while the others just kept a steady, watchful eye on us.

May 29 Bristlecone Wilderness (3)

It may sound trite, but I want to finish by saying I feel immensely grateful to live in a country where we have the freedom, security and luxury to spend an afternoon out exploring the countryside. We were able to freely roam our great land without threat of persecution or attack. I am thankful to everyone who has served and scarified for our nation to ensure our opportunity for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

May 29 Bristlecone Wilderness (34)

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt

Mountain Initiation

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

-John Muir

Throughout the spring we have been lingering in the lower elevations in order to avoid snow, but this week we finally made our maiden hiking trip up into the mountains. We tried out a trail in a nearby part of the Humboldt- Toiyabe National Forest. The name is a bit of a mouthful. Humboldt was a German geographer and naturalist and Toiyabe is a Shoshone word for “mountain”. The Humboldt- Toiyabe is the largest national forest in America (outside of Alaska). However, it seems a bit less impressive when you look at a map of Nevada. The Humboldt- Toiyabe contains 6 million acres of land, but the forest is split up into relatively small segments scattered across the state, mostly where the mountain ranges are (which makes sense because anything resembling a forest in Nevada occurs only in the higher elevations). Other states, such as Idaho and Montana, have more total national forest land, but it is managed by several different national forests.

 We headed out on the Ranger Trail, which began in a fairly lush, green valley by Bird Creek. It was a warm day in late May and the creek was flowing full and fast with snow melt from the nearby mountains.

May 22 Bird Creek (38)

The trail quickly gained elevation as it wound its way around the side of a mountain. It was definitely a workout, but the anticipation of what view lay around the next corner gave us ample motivation. One of the things I love most about Nevada is that the trees are short and sparsely placed, allowing for vast, unobstructed mountain views.

May 22 Bird Creek (31)

May 22 Bird Creek (23)

Ahhh….rest break rock. There is nothing more inviting on a mountain hike than taking a break on a sun- warmed rock, enjoying the cool breeze and lovely view. If you know our son Roland, you know he truly is a fountain of energy and that fountain almost never goes dry. However, the steep ups and downs of this trail actually wore him out. This was only the second hike that has ever put a damper on his energy (the first one was the waterfall hike we took in Minnesota). Sometimes Roland will feign fatigue when he is bored or otherwise cranky, but it takes a lot to genuinely wear him down.

May 22 Bird Creek (27)

This challenging, but exhilarating hike was a great way to start the season and I look forward to spending many summer days exploring these beautiful mountains.

May 22 Bird Creek (13)

Mother’s Day

It was a chilly and gloomy day for a Mother’s Day hike at Cave Lake State Park. We put on all the layers of clothes we brought (and wished we had brought more) and headed out into the cool misty air, intermittent drizzly rain, and gusty winds. The scenery was still beautiful even though the highest peaks were shrouded by the clouds.

May 15 Cave Lake (14)

We have had bad luck the two times we visited this park. Our first visit, two months ago, was sunny and warm, but the trail was hidden under snow so we had to turn around. The trail was clear this visit, but the weather was much less enjoyable.

May 15 Cave Lake (19)

We were lucky enough to spot this pretty mule deer standing up on a hill. She just stood there and watched us instead of running away so we got to enjoy looking at her, too.

May 15 Cave Lake (25)

The skies began to clear by the time we reached Cave Lake. We took one layer of clothing off and enjoyed the gorgeous view.

May 15 Cave Lake (36)

It didn’t matter if it was cold and dreary or warm and mild. Our family was together, unplugged from all screens and distractions, making memories out in nature. What better way is there to spend Mother’s Day?

It should be apparent by looking at our pictures that our family was not created in the usual way. Our family was forged together through pain, loss, trials, and miracles. The endless waiting and financial hardships tested our faith and perverseness almost to the breaking point. The three of us endured so much before we were united together and I think we are now the stronger for it. I know my faith is stronger and deeper than it ever could have been if I had not pursued this adoption. The adoption started out as a leap of faith because we couldn’t really afford it, and then the situation became even worse as Roland was stuck in Congo for years longer than he should have been. However, God was with us every step of the way and brought us out of a seemingly impossible situation. It was a hard fight just to become a family and every day we are together is precious.

May 15 Cave Lake (33)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:2-4, 17

Steptoe Valley

The landscape of Nevada is made up of over 150 different mountain ranges, most of which run in a North- South direction. Nevada is actually considered the most mountainous state because it contains the highest number of individually named mountain ranges (outside of Alaska). In between these linear mountain ranges lay long and mostly dry valleys. The town of Ely rests in Steptoe Valley and we spent a bright, sunny spring afternoon exploring the area.

May 1 Steptoe Valley (5)

The Steptoe Valley Wildlife Management Area is a wet meadow that was historically used for farming (if there is a drop of natural water in Nevada, people are going to use it). There are no hiking trails here so we set out on our own. It was a very pleasant walk at first;  there was enough dry ground for us to walk to a couple of the shallow lakes and ponds. We admired the bird life and how the bright sun reflected brilliantly on the clear water and snowy peaks.

May 1 Steptoe Valley (10)

After we had walked a ways through the meadow we decided we wanted to head straight to the road instead of backtracking the way we came. As we set off in a new direction, we discovered that hidden low in the grass was actually a maze of riverlets meandering their way through the entire meadow. The first few we encountered were narrow enough for us to jump over, but eventually we approached a stream that was too large to cross. We were pretty close to the road at that point and we could see our car, but there was no way to get to it from where we were. We weren’t out in the “wilds” and we had plenty of provisions, but still the sinking feeling of being stranded rushed over me. Our route did not work and our destination was just out of reach. There was no choice but to turn around and go back the way we came from. Luckily Roland was in a good mood as we jumped over all those same riverlets (plus a few more) and wound our way around the larger streams and ponds. Every time we thought we could walk a straight line back to the car, another body of water popped into view and we either had to jump over or walk around it. Finding solid ground to walk on was a continual challenge and we ended up trekking for much longer than we had planned, but we eventually made it back to the car unscathed. I guess our experience is pretty much what you would expect to get when hiking through a wet meadow with no trail system.

May 1 Steptoe Valley (29)

After we made our way out of the meadow maze, we drove to the nearby Comins Lake. It was a picturesque setting-  a long, narrow lake with a mountain backdrop.  We took a short stroll by the shoreline and watched (and tried to identify) the large variety of waterfowl that made their home in this beautiful oasis in the desert.

May 1 Steptoe Valley (35)

How I wish I could be as carefree and  happy as a four- year- old running through a meadow on a sunny day. I think this picture perfectly embodies the spirit of Nevada, and The West as a whole- the freedom and the beauty and the pure fun of wide open spaces. I thank God that these wild, untamed places still exist and that I live in a place that I can easily access them.

May 1 Steptoe Valley (25)

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is society, where none intrudes,

By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:

I love not Man the less, but Nature more.

~Lord Byron

Ancient Paths

On a mild, overcast Spring day we headed two hours south to the White River Narrows Archaeological District. It is a part of the newly created Basin and Range National Monument, 700,000 acres of remote land in southeastern Nevada. A backdrop of mountains, canyons and rolling desert is home to many different petroglyph sites, some dating back as far as 4,000 years. This park was pretty undeveloped; there were no signs, markers or maps showing us the way. It made for a pretty cool experience because it almost felt like we were discovering the petroglyphs for the first time.

April 24 White River Narrows (12)

Admiring the ancient rock art led me to reflect on the lives of the people who made it. After we enjoyed our day out in the desert, we drove our car back to our house, which is outfitted with electricity and indoor plumbing and has a fridge full of food that I bought at the grocery store. There was no going back to a comfy home at the end of the day for those native people. They carved out an existence in this harsh desert day- to- day and season- to- season. It must have been a tough life, to say the least. It gave me the opportunity to be grateful for my “everyday luxuries”- things I hardly even notice, yet millions of people in the world today still lack them. Technological advances sure have come a long way from the time these rocks were carved. I am continually surrounded by these advances living my average (or even below- average) life here in America. It was a good reminder that my standard of living was definitely not the historical norm and sadly still is not the worldwide norm.

**********

It was not long into our hike that we encountered this big guy. Look at those crazy long yellow toes. He was interesting. He didn’t scurry away like the other smaller lizards we saw. I don’t know if he was poisonous, or sick, or just very confident.

April 24 White River Narrows (6)

Late April turned out to be the perfect time to visit this area. It wasn’t hot yet and all the spring wildflowers were blooming. I was surprised to see so many different types of flowers growing in this dry landscape. We saw flowers in an array of hues: purple, blue, yellow, white, orange and red. They added lively bursts of color to the otherwise gray, brown, and muted green desert.

April 24 White River Narrows (33)

We started out hiking through open country until we reached the entrance to this canyon, which looks ordinary enough from here.

April 24 White River Narrows (39)

However, as we continued walking, the canyon quickly narrowed and the red rock walls closed in on us on both sides. It was an incredible area, but we also got an eerie feeling that little monsters were spying on us through all the nooks and crannies in the rocks or a group of bandits would ride up and attack us from the top of the canyon walls. (Yes, maybe we have seen too many movies).

April 24 White River Narrows (54)

Even with the petroglyphs, lizards and flowers to enjoy, the most striking feature of this area was the endless variety of rock formations. The shallow caves, the mountains comprised of boulders and the sculpted towering rocks all provided boundless fascination.

April 24 White River Narrows (31)

April 24 White River Narrows (57)

April 24 White River Narrows (49)

As our boots became covered in dust along the same ancient paths that were used by people thousands of years ago, we marveled at the timeless beauty of the desert and we were humbled by the the sheer vastness of geologic time, or God- time. Our lives are but one speck of the whole story.

“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”

~Edward Abbey

My Backyard

I have been having so much fun exploring all the amazing places within a two- hour- radius of our house on our weekend outings. However, one of the things I enjoy most about living in Ely is that I am able to go for a hike right from my doorstep. Just a five minute walk from my house is a vast network of ATV trails that wind their way up into the mountains. Roland, Copper and I head out there almost every day. It provides great exercise, great mountain views, and I could not ask for anything more convenient. I love being able to get my daily dose of fresh air, sunshine, and mountains without driving an hour to do so.

April 12 (4)

March 17 (9)

Roland, my budding geologist. He never takes a step outside without a rock in his hand. It does get a bit annoying, though, when I am trying to make some distance on our walk and he stops to look at every single rock, flower, and tree. However, one of the best gifts my parents gave me is my deep appreciation for nature and it makes me glad to see some of that may be rubbing off on my son, too.

March 17 (8)

As Easter approaches it is timely to be mindful of God’s sacrifice, forgiveness and everlasting love for us. The signs of Spring all around us are symbols of hope and new life. My family has been in a state of flux for the past several years due to the adoption, health issues, job changes, and frequent moves. We have lived through the good and the bad and through it all I have learned the importance of being thankful for what I have. I am choosing to celebrate Easter this year with a grateful heart so I am taking this opportunity to reflect on the many other blessings in my life:

*My family is healthy and relatively happy (we still have some difficult times with Roland, but we are making it through).

*I live in a place where I am continually in awe of God’s majesty through His Creation.

* We are settling in nicely to our new home and we are excited to see what the future holds with Matt’s new career and our new lives in Nevada.

I wish you all a Joyful Easter and some beautiful, quiet moments outside this Spring.

April 5 (1)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Revelation 21: 3-7

Ovens & Pronghorn

We live in a small town in Middle of Nowhere Nevada. Maybe some people would get bored here, but this area fills me with excitement every time I step outside. Our town is completely surrounded by national forest, state parks and BLM land comprised of such diverse landscapes that I could never get bored. With millions of acres of unique and varied public land, Nevada really is one big playground.

April 4 Charcoal Ovens (32)

On our latest family outing we visited Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park. It is an area set aside to preserve six  30- foot- high beehive- shaped ovens. They were in operation for only three years in the 1870’s to create charcoal from the local pinyon pine and juniper trees. After the silver boom ended, these abandoned, but large and sturdy ovens became shelters for travelers and hideouts for bandits. (We also discovered they are fun to holler in to as their shape makes for a great echo.)

April 4 Charcoal Ovens (57)

Even though the main purpose of the park is to highlight the history of the area, the scenery was also stunning. We meandered through sagebrush lowlands before hiking up a ridge to the pinyon and juniper forest. Just a month ago we were living in northern Minnesota where we were completely enveloped by large trees, but after spending some time in the desert, walking amongst these almost full- sized trees was a pleasant treat. After making our way through the forest, we descended to a pretty and lively riparian area that was home to many birds and mule deer. The stream was flowing with fresh snow melt, the spring flowers were just blooming and everything was brimming with beauty and life.  Just another gorgeous day out in God’s Creation.

April 4 Charcoal Ovens (54)

On the way to and from the park we passed a herd of pronghorn. They are the fastest land animals in the Western Hemisphere, but their impressive speed is now unnecessary as their historical predators are long extinct.  They are often (and incorrectly) called antelope, but the mistake is easy to understand. Even though they are native to America, their closest relatives are giraffes and okapi and they do look like they belong on the African Savanna. We frequently spot them as we whiz by in our car, but this time we had the opportunity to slow down and admire these sleek and elegant creatures.

April 4 Charcoal Ovens (2)

 

“All my life through, the new sights of nature made me rejoice like a child.”

~Marie Curie