Kalamazoo

A series of unfortunate events has kept me away from my blog, but I am finally back from my unintentional hiatus. About a month ago I sprained my ankle pretty bad (not by doing anything fun, either- just carrying in the groceries). A week or so later our computer unexpectedly died on us. The following week we went on a quick weekend trip to Utah and I lost my camera. The three things I need for my blog (healthy legs, a computer, and a camera) all disappeared in a matter of weeks. My ankle is finally almost back to normal and we replaced the equipment so now I can get back to sharing about our little explorations.

Last weekend it was forecasted to be near 90 degrees in town so we decided to escape the heat in the mountains. We headed out to Kalamazoo Summit, which is in the same vicinity as Success Summit in the Humboldt- Toiyabe National Forest. After the pavement ended we continued on the pretty steep gravel road up to the summit, at an elevation of 8,950 feet. The sky was partly cloudy, there was a light breeze and the temperature was perfect for taking a hike.

Aug. 26 Kalamazoo Summit (1)

I know I say this about almost everywhere I go in Nevada, but the views were just amazing. At various points in the hike we had to stop and admire this granite monolith at different angles and as the sunshine reflected off of the different ridges.

Aug. 26 Kalamazoo Summit (28)

Aug. 26 Kalamazoo Summit (35)

My favorite thing about the Kalamazoo Summit area (besides the fun- sounding name) was the abundance of red rocks scattered across the landscape. Much of the afternoon was overcast, but when the sun peaked out from behind the clouds, the crimson hue of the rocks brilliantly sprung to life.

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The hike became a bit rugged and I was taking my time to prevent re-injuring my ankle so we got a nice long look at this interesting hillside. (My eyes were fixed on the trail as we walked to make sure I wouldn’t trip on anything. Every few steps I glanced up and I saw the exact same view. That’s how slow I was going.) Along the slope of the mountain you can see strips of soil that are reddish and light green and we wondered what caused the different colorations. That is just one example of what makes this state so exciting. There is very little that is monotonous here- every mountain, rock, and even bit of soil has its own character to it.

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As we drove back down the mountain in the late afternoon we were lucky enough to spot some wildlife. We saw numerous mule deer throughout the day, but watching this pretty doe and her fawns quietly grazing was a special experience.

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We also enjoyed seeing this jackrabbit. The ears and hind legs on this animal are incredible. When he was moving and his legs were outstretched, he looked taller than I thought any rabbit could look. And those ears, just- wow!

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We thoroughly enjoyed our day out as a family, taking in all the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. I know you can find beauty anywhere, but there is something special about Nevada. The sparse, rugged landscape truly showcases God’s majesty and creativity. I feel fortunate to be able to call this little forgotten corner of the country my home.

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The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3:19

Abandoned Dreams in the Sagebrush

On our latest outing we visited our first ghost town in Nevada. From Ely we traveled roughly 30 miles west on US 50, known as the “loneliest road in America”. We then left the pavement behind and traveled the rest of the way on dirt forest roads. Less than two miles from the highway we made our first stop and had a warm, but pleasant picnic at the picturesque Illipah Reservoir. We were surprised to not have the place to ourselves;  there was a fair amount of campers and fishermen also enjoying this small desert lake.

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After our picnic we continued on the dirt road another 10 miles as it wound its way up and around the mountainside until we reached the ghost town of Hamilton, sitting at an elevation of 8,000 feet. Along the way we passed many patches of these pretty white flowers, which, based on my best identification efforts, are desert poppies.

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There is not much left of Hamilton. It first became a town in 1868 when silver was found in the area. It was originally called Cave City because of the numerous natural caves in the area, some of which were used as shelters by early settlers.

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By 1869, the population swelled to 12,000 people. In it’s heyday, Hamilton boasted 200 different mining companies, 60 general stores, and almost 100 saloons. This remote town in the mountains was even the first county seat of White Pine County.

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Just one year later, it was discovered that the silver ore deposits were shallow. People abandoned their ambitions and fled their newly- created town. The population quickly dropped to less than 4,000. In 1873, a large fire swept through Hamilton and most of the businesses chose not to rebuild as the town was already dying.

Looking at the place now, it is hard to imagine that thousands of people once lived here. It was not an especially smooth drive getting to the town site today. I wonder what the access road was like in the 1800’s. Now all that is left to see are the crumbling remains of a very short- lived boom town nestled in the timeless sand and sagebrush.

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After driving by some of the ruins, we parked the car and set out for a little hike. The first several minutes were spent unintentionally chasing a sage grouse family down the trail. The mom and her babies didn’t like to fly and lacked the good sense to just move off the trail. I felt bad about wasting their energy, but we kept walking forward. They were moving pretty slow so we quickly gained on them and at the last moment they finally did some sort of awkward run/ fly combination and scattered into the sagebrush. Their moving abilities weren’t that impressive, so it is a good thing that their camouflage was spot on; you could hardly tell them apart from the sandy dirt.

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We followed the path for a while and then headed off- trail up to a rocky ridge. The view on the other side was, of course, more mountains.

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July 22 Hamilton (55)

Did you know that Nevada is home to the largest number of wild horses in the country? We were fortunate enough to spot a herd of them grazing on the side of this mountain. The scene was perfection- the wild horses truly highlighting the wild beauty of the area.

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I just can’t get enough of the Nevada landscape. Over every mountain is another mountain or valley that is different from the last. There may be a cave or rock formation or interesting plant to discover. Then add in a bit of history and wildlife to the mix. This land is so rich and varied, there is no limit of what there is to explore.

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Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.
~John Muir

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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“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

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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).

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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.

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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

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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

~Marie Curie

Living Waters

When scientists are collecting data on other planets, one of the factors they are most interested in is the presence of water. Where water is present, the potential for life is also present. This truth is also especially evident in a desert landscape.

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On a cool and breezy spring day we visited the W. E. Kirch Wildlife Management Area, which is comprised of small lakes and marshes. It is a pleasant oasis surrounded by  miles of dry sagebrush desert and it was teeming with life.

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We saw hawks, cranes, geese, ducks, and many other smaller birds that are harder to identify. On the drive into the park we even witnessed a coyote darting through a maze of sagebrush. My favorite moments, though, were spent watching a hawk expertly gliding through the wind, swooping low and high looking for a meal.

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Animals will travel vast distances to reach sources of water because they know it’s life- giving power. It is no wonder that water imagery and metaphors are used numerous times throughout the Bible.  Life can feel very akin to wandering through the desert, but it is not just our mouths that get dry- our souls also become parched. Disappointments and just the daily grind wear us down and there is nothing on this planet that will fully satisfy us. Water is essential for our earthly existence, but we need Jesus for eternal life. Being in nature and watching animals thrive near cool, clear water is a beautiful reminder of how our souls should be ever longing for Jesus and our heavenly home.

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John 4: 13- 14

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Green Pastures and Still Waters

Schoolcraft State Park is a secluded, quiet place and it actually became the inspiration for this blog. The scenery was not particularly spectacular, but the peace I felt there is unmatched. We hiked an easy two miles through 300- year- old pine trees and along the Mississippi River, without ever meeting another person on the trail.

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On this outing, we were unusually lucky with wildlife sightings. We typically do not see much in the way of wildlife when we go out hiking. We don’t start our hikes until the afternoon, which is not when animals are most active and, with our three- year- old son, we are definitely not in sleuth- mode. However, on this day we managed a glimpse of a porcupine high up in a tree. Porcupines are adept tree- climbers and actually use their stiff quills to help them climb. Before moving to Minnesota, I had never seen a wild porcupine, but I have already seen three in the five months I have lived here. Now whenever I am walking around in the woods I am constantly scanning the tree branches for a moving ball of spikes. I think their natural defenses must make them less skittish than some other animals. Once you spot one, they don’t run away immediately, giving you a chance to enjoy watching them a bit.

Roland found this baby snapping turtle all by himself. I did not realize Minnesota even had snapping turtles and this one seemed especially out of place on the forest floor.

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Roland took this opportunity to practice his letters on the hiking sign.

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On the banks of the Mississippi River we spotted numerous frogs hopping around. That is one of the great things about nature- you never know what you will find. Some days all you get are trees and fresh air and other days you come face to face with some of the critters God created to share this world with us. sep-7-schoolcraft-sp-12

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The serenity of this park was like a breath of fresh air for my soul and brought to mind Psalm 23:

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.