Portland, Oregon

We were fortunate to have enough time to head further north up the coast after leaving our little home on the beach. Along the way, we abruptly stopped in a town when we could see the waves crashing above the street.

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We had just happened to have driven through at high tide. Our cameras, clothing and the car were all covered with salt spray which was fun but led us to stop and drive through a carwash a little later. Janie and I know how to have fun!

The views along the coast were gorgeous. The sun sparkled on the water where rocks met the sea. We had to pass on visiting the sea lion rocks and the devil’s punchbowl with its swirling water but we did stop for a final view of the Pacific- gorgeous.

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As we drove further inland, we were in more familiar New England like vegetation with deciduous trees in various flaming colors. The crops were different however, as we drove through Oregon wine country with vineyard signs on either side of the road, enticing us to try their wares. Under a time deadline, we passed on those opportunities and followed our directions to my friend,Jim’s house in suburban Portland.

Janie and I made our quick, but no less tearless goodbyes, as Jim welcomed me to his home. Jim and I sang together in a chorale in Brattleboro before he moved west over 10 years ago.
His daughter was an infant the last time I saw her. Now she is an active 11 year old on an undefeated soccer team (I got to see the last part of the last game of the season). How come we don’t look (or feel) any older?

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On Friday, Jim and I drove to the Columbia River Gorge to take advantage of a rare, rainless Oregon day. We did a hike up Eagle Creek, enjoying the fall colors. Anyone with a fear of heights would not have enjoyed the views from the bridges that crossed the creek many feet above, nor the trail with places cut out from the rock,only 18 inches or so wide.

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There were a few waterfalls along the way on a different scale than Yosemite but no less beautiful.

On the way back, we stopped for smoked salmon, sold by “Indian Joe” from a cooler near a bridge over the Columbia. It was delicious in scrambled eggs the next morning. Jim drove me to a REI store where I spent a lot of time finding just the right lightweight hiking boots for me to take to Nepal next year. The salesclerks were very knowledgable and I hope I found just the right shoes for my oddly shaped feet.

Now, I’m writing in my equivalent of a grownup’s version of the North Pole- Powell’s bookstore in downtown Portland. I believe it is the largest bookstore in the world. You get a map when you enter and the many rooms are color-coded by different categories of books. Used books are filed in with new ones. There are cases with recommended books in all areas of the store as well as shelves of interesting gifts like beautiful journals and calendars. The last time I was here I left with an armload of books at the end of a trip. This time I’m heading to the airport in the morning and would love not to have to check any bags. It will take great restraint to be limited in my purchases.

My room at the Hotel Lucia (found at a major discount online) is not yet ready but I’m willing to spend the rest of the afternoon here on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Now, how many books can I read before I leave here today?!

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The Oregon Coast

I’ve had several firsts in my time here on the coast. I have done my first ever 5 mile barefoot hike, had a latte handed to me every morning, found fossil rocks and sand dollars on the beach, saw sea stars and anemones in tide pools at sunset, walked on a tightrope between tall buildings without falling and ski jumped 96 meters. Ok, so the last two were done on a wii (or wii wii, as Patti calls it). I have laughed so hard my stomach hurt and spent 4 days looking out on the Pacific Ocean from a cute A frame right on the edge of the dunes. In other words, I’ve been completely spoiled.

So no one is jealous, we also had our challenges. The first fall down a ski jump isn’t much fun and seeing Janie fly down the ski slope where I just crashed through the gates is a bit humbling. The only real pain was on our hike at Sweet Creek. Pat (who we first met on a hike in the North Cascades in 2000) and Patti (who we met on a bike trip to PEI), Janie and I drove from Eugene toward the coast. On the way, we drove through New England style roads, along streams on twisty roads alight with fall foliage colors. The plan was to do a short hike en route to see some waterfalls. Just as Patti was telling us that something had stung her through her jeans on her backside, I felt her pain, quite literally, on my wrist. Janie joined the party with a sting to match Patti’s and that’s all it took for us to start running back to the cars. It was a short, and memorable, hike as our bites became swollen and continue to cause us some surreptitious scratching moments.

We’ve had a great time exploring the various beaches and towns along the coast. We’ve also enjoyed great seafood meals in nearby Florence and Newport. In Newport, the sea lions lounge on the docks and rocks in the harbor. We watched as they negotiated space, barking at each other and falling asleep in piles.

Yesterday, we did my first Lawrence of Arabia hike, walking first along the beach and then up into the dunes. For our snack stop by a tidal river, we had to descend a wall of sand, feeling very much like descending in deep snow powder.

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We swapped stories and trail mix, seated in the sand with heron and cougar tracks nearby. Climbing back up onto the dunes was another challenge but we eventually made it to the top.

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I had a continual sense of disbelief as we crossed the dunes, a kind of hiking that is very grounding, literally with bare toes grasping the sand and the sensation of pine needles under your feet in the forest islands.

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Today, the road trip with Janie ends in Portland. Patti has offered to ship my hiking boots and new pinecone collection back to Vermont. I have decided to skip going north to Washington as the timing didn’t work out well with my friends there. That was the risk I took to be flexible with my traveling. I’ll spend a few days in Portland before heading south again.

I’ve never been good at goodbyes and today will be a hard one. I get teary just writing about saying goodbye to these dear friends who live on the other side of the country from me. Instead, I’m trying to focus again at how lucky I am to be on this journey,seeing the amazing variety of sights,spending time with friends and enjoying the beauty of the ocean right outside the window as I write. I mistakenly deleted a bunch of photos the other night, but I’ll add a couple here for you to enjoy.

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Crater Lake to Eugene, Oregon

I always used to say blue was my favorite color. When my students asked me about my favorite color, depending on the day, I might say purple or green. Once I caught a glimpse of Crater Lake, I have to go back to blue. It’s an understatement to say that the lake is a beautiful blue. It’s the kind of intense blue that literally takes your breath away.

Crater Lake is the result of a volcano that blew about 7000 years ago. The top of the mountain caved in, resulting in this unique, very deep lake with 1000 foot embankments on all sides. In the lake, there is a conical island called Wizard Island. The water was entirely still and we could see the reflections of the surrounding mountains and clouds clearly in the water.

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The usual way to see this national park is to drive around the rim and stop at one of the many pullouts to look from different directions. Because Crater Lake gets over 400 feet of snow every year (673 inches last year), by the middle of October the road is usually closed (and we lucked out because there was snow here a couple of weeks ago that has mostly melted). The visitor center was all shuttered but we walked through a cavelike entrance to get in to see the video. We’ve been very impressed by the quality of the national park videos, giving us information about the history of the parks before we head out to explore.

There we found that the signs around the park had all been removed so we would be navigating a little blindly. Along the roads were the tallest snow poles I have ever seen, rising about 24 feet. Sometime in the spring, the road crew will be out looking for the road.

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We drove down the road to find a good place to eat our leftovers for lunch and sit for awhile to write and reflect on this gorgeous place. We found a beautiful spot, climbed up a bluff and settled in. We were startled by the sound of hiking feet and four backpackers came by, doing a section of the Pacific Crest Trail that goes through the park. We traded cameras for a photo op near the lake.

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As the day wore on, it was time to take a quick peek from the other side of the lake before we left for Eugene. We headed over to Cleetwood Cove, the only place on the lake where you can get down to the water, 1000 feet below. Earlier we had talked about hiking down to the water but with the warnings about climbing back up being the equivalent of 65 flights of stairs, we had decided to just hang out on top. Now that we were there though, it was 4:30 and the sun was headed down, it seemed like we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see the lake from another perspective. Once again, without water or hiking boots, we headed down the trail.

Sometimes impulsive decisions are the best. The trail down was easy with lots of switchbacks and the views and colors changed as we descended. Undeterred by the few people we saw coming back up, sweating and breathing heavily, we continued downhill.

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The water was really cold. There was a young man standing in the water who later told us that he had made a mistake getting wet. At least we didn’t make that mistake! With the sun sinking down the horizon, we started back up. I didn’t need to touch my neck to feel my pulse after the first switchback,but soon we settled into a nice climbing rhythm and were back at the top in no time. No regrets about doing that hike!

We stopped one more time on the way out of the park. It was a golden moment.

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It was a two hour drive to Eugene. We were in the dark most of the way so we missed the views over another pass. It was a disorienting drive as Janie insisted we were driving downhill when we were actually going up. We found our way to our friend Patti’s house without a glitch, settled in with a glass of wine and stayed up late telling stories and reminiscing about our bike trip to Prince Edward Island in 2005. Patti told us she had rented a little cottage at the Oregon shore for a girls getaway with our mutual friend,Pat. Many years ago, Pat had organized a hike on the Rogue River that Janie and I had done with Oregon hiking friends. On our way into Crater Lake, we had seen the headwaters of the Rogue, crashing through a beautiful gorge.

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Time to head back to the Pacific, this time to dip my toes instead of a bike tire.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

“We took up the line of march with Mr. K.V. Bumpass as guide…On touring the ridge, all the wonders of Hell were suddenly before us.” Editor Red Bluff Independent 1865

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Yesterday, we explored one of the least visited national parks. With geothermal features, all four kinds of volcanoes and views that take your breath away, it’s a shame more people don’t get to see this gem of a park. On our hike, Janie was climbing up through the snow one minute and being steamed just a few minutes later.

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This summer, I rode into Niagara Falls with someone who had never been there before and got to experience it as a new experience all over again. One of the reasons I love working with small children, is that chance to see things through a fresh set of eyes. Although I had explored the steaming fissures of hot sulphuric gases and mud pots at Yellowstone, Janie had never seen such things before which made our descent into Bumpass’ Hell all the more thrilling.

We arrived at the park early in the day under a brilliant blue sky. As we were up in the mountains, the day started with some frost on the car, but by the time we arrived at the visitor center, it was a perfect day, sunny and in the low 70’s. Since there were only 2 other people there, we got an almost private showing of the movie explaining the features of the park. What a gorgeous place! We learned about the different kinds of volcanoes and how they shaped the park and then set out to explore them.

Once again,we were driving up twisty mountain roads, marking off the elevation signs (up to over 8000 feet) We chose our hike for the day to be the trail to Bumpass Hell, named after Mr. Bumpass, a guide who lost a leg when he fell through the thin crust of mud in that area. We headed out along a ridge trail up a mile or so with views that, once again, gave us continual pause.

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As we descended into “hell”, the smell of sulphur was very strong. We could hear the roar of the steam as it made its ascent from the magma about 6 miles below us. The stream we crossed was grey with clay and still lukewarm. On the boardwalk, we stared at the bubbling mud pots,marveled at the colors of the water and listened to the gurgles and whistles from just below the fragile crust.

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Not yet content to head back, we continued on the trail further uphill to follow the winding trail around the next few curves. We chose another ledge for our lunch stop, this time doing the descent first (it’s always easier for me to go up than down). We enjoyed the views as we munched our trail mix and felt the gratitude for having the chance to be in such an amazing place on such a perfect day and without seeing another person on the whole stretch of trail.

As we climbed back up out past “hell”, I could feel the effect of the altitude. I’m glad we hadn’t chosen to hike to the top of the volcanoes. Reluctantly, we got back into the car for our drive through the park. We stopped several times to see the views of alpine lakes, streams, volcanoes and views back down the valley.

As we left the park, we started our descent back into California civilization. The altitude numbers descended by thousands and before we knew it, we were back down to under 1000 feet and on an interstate highway heading north into Oregon. It wasn’t my usual experience of an interstate,though, once we passed through the usual mall sprall. The road climbed and descended through beautiful mountains (lots more altitude signs), then range land and then through more passes. We caught a glimpse of Mt. Shasta, one of the gorgeous volcanic mountains always covered in snow that you can see in the Pacific Northwest.

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It was just dark as we found our home for the night in Medford, Oregon. I just keep counting my blessings for days such as these – gorgeous scenery, incredible weather, good company and a chance to explore.

Lake Tahoe

When Janie and I got to the top of the pass and down into the basin of Lake Tahoe, we passed several casinos on the Nevada side of the lake. Within a couple of miles, we were back in California and arriving at the doorstep of my mother’s best friend, Joyce. Her smile, when she saw me, lit up and her first words were that I look just like my mother. Joyce and Mom were best friends from their early 20s and the distance between them for many of the intervening years never dulled their kinship. When Joyce visited Mom in 2008, I watched my mother beam and laugh and the years fell away.

Mom died just 2 years ago in October and it was a gift for me to spend a few days with her best friend, hearing new stories from long ago about my parents and basking a bit in the glow of someone who remembers me from my earliest days. “Did you know Ellen could recite the pledge of allegiance flawlessly when she was just 4 years old?”, she asked Janie. Joyce also looks a lot like my mom. Her hair is much the same, her eyes crinkle when she smiles, her jeans hang a little big on her. Her sense of humor is always at the ready and just a bit sarcastic. She is generous and thoughtful and very fun to be around. I wasn’t surprised to dream of Mom that night, seeing her smile at me from somewhere. Joyce’s husband, Marty, is kind as well, and takes good care to make sure that Joyce hears everything with her cochlear implant, enunciating slowly and carefully and letting me know when she missed something.

Coincidentally, Janie’s mother also had a friend in the same area, down the pass in Nevada, so after a conversational filled evening, she left in the morning for a couple of days of reminiscing of her own.

Joyce’s health is challenging her, especially with breathing problems, so Marty took me down to Carson City to run errands and see the sights the next day. When I heard where we were going, I got excited as it just happened to be my cycling friend Jean Jacob’s 72nd birthday and her son has a bicycling shop in Carson City. I had a nice chat with Jean, who had just finished a celebratory bike ride in high winds in Tennessee, and later got to visit with her son.

The next day Joyce and Marty took me around the Lake for a tour. It is a huge and beautiful lake. The water is clear and has a bluish-green tinge, especially in Emerald Bay. There are 12 ski areas around it and homes from little vacation cabins to huge mansions by the water. At the northern end,we stopped for lunch where I had green eggs and ham (I’ll add a picture at the end). Marty took me into a casino where the California and Nevada side come together. The line runs right through the fireplace.

After the tour, I took a little walk on the forest trails near their house. Marty armed me with a golf club in case I ran into one of the many coyotes and bears that live there. The bears often frequent their neighborhood and even stole the fudgiscles from their neighbor’s garage freezer.

Janie joined us for a huge waffle, egg and bacon breakfast before we headed north. We made a stop in Reno where we discovered the Sierra Trading Post outlet, a treasure for those of us who like active clothing. I got a pair of pants to take with me on my international trip at a good price. During lunch there at a Whole Foods, we chose our route to Lassen National Park and booked a motel room in Chester, California. Back up in the mountains, we have a little knotty pine room near the park. The owner left our room open and a note on the office door as she was attending her son’s homecoming football game.

There were two young men at our door as we pulled in. It turns out that they had a flat tire and were looking for a ride back into town to inflate their spare tire. We gave them a ride back and heard their stories before returning to town for one more diner dinner. This was the Cotton Candy diner and we shared some pink, spun sugar for desert. It feels like we are back in time again here in the mountains. These few days it has been a pleasure to live in the present and the past all at once.

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Down the mountain and up the mountain

One of the stories I tell in kindergarten is about Mr. Wiggle and Mr. Waggle who spend their time going down the mountain and up the mountain visiting each other. In the last few days, that’s what I have felt like going up and down 7000 foot passes on my way from here to there. First, it was up and down into Sequoia Park, then up and down into Yosemite and then up and down into the Yosemite Valley. On our last day in the park, the ups and downs got even larger as we went up into the park, down into the valley and then way up all the way across the ridge of the Sierras that crosses from the west to the east to Tioga Pass which is at almost 10,000 feet. The ride through the park was all way up high, with snow on the edge of the road from the storms that came through a week or so before. We were lucky to be able to take that road at all as it is open for such a short part of the year. But lucky we were to see the views of Half Dome from the other side, alpine lakes and meadows and breath-taking views down the valley on the other side of the pass. The aspens were in full foliage yellow and with the sun behind them, they shimmered in the kind of gold that sent the prospectors west.

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The visitor’s center was closed on the east side so Janie and I got creative with our hiking for the day. We chose a huge rock face across a meadow, scrambled up like a couple of monkeys and ate our lunch and did some writing on a ledge quite a ways up. The sun was shining and the views were great but I think we both spent a little too much of our energy there wondering if we would be able to get down again!

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At the bottom of the pass, we headed north to South Lake Tahoe. The views across the valley were dominated by the Sierras to our west. We saw our first cattle in days and the yellow aspens were still visible along the way. Like Mr. Wiggle and Mr. Waggle, we went up the mountain one more time up the Kingman grade climbing up over another 8000 foot pass and down the other side into South Lake Tahoe to visit my mother’s best friend for a few days. My ears should be done popping for a bit!

Yosemite

Therefore I decided to visit California for a year or two to see its wonderful flora and the famous Yosemite Valley. All the world was before me and every day was a holiday, so it did not seem important to which one of the world’s wildernesses I first should wander. John Muir

Before I left home, I downloaded a free copy of John Muir’s Yosemite.

After spending an afternoon hiking through the giant sequoia groves in the park yesterday, I came back to the motel room and started reading through some of John Muir’s book. Today, after spending the day exploring more of the park, from Glacial Point to Vernal Falls, I have even more respect and gratitude for the efforts Muir made to create this amazing park for future generations. When it takes a sequoia tree 2000 years to reach its full height, our sense of time and size gets put into a different category.

Everyone is familiar with Yosemite to some degree. Most have heard of El Capitaine, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. I had seen Ansel Adams’ photographs and Bierstadt’s paintings of Yosemite. But being here is a different experience all together. It wasn’t until we drove up 5000 feet or so to reach the park and then down another 3000 feet to the valley floor that I understood that the sheer granite cliffs and waterfalls surround a lush valley meadow. It wasn’t until I stood under one of the many waterfalls that I understood the sheer volume and size of the falls (and this is one of the times when they run the least). It wasn’t until we climbed up to the top of Vernal Falls that I understood how high up they are. Looking down from Glacial Point this morning as one of only a couple of people, was a sort of spiritual experience. Seeing Half Dome, Nevada and Vernal Falls and the valley below was truly awesome. Spotting two climbers at the end of the day, half way up the face of El Capitaine left me breathless. Hiking up to the top of the Mariposa Grove, again, with no other people in sight,amongst the giant trees (and giant pinecones) was an amazing gift. You hear that Yosemite is one of the most visited and crowded parks, but seeing it at the end of the season was truly special.

Tomorrow, we’ll drive through a less familiar part of the park on our way north. Those images will be added to those that I collected today and will share with you here. Enjoy and I hope you can all experince them in person sometime.

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Sequoia National Park

With Rani Arbo cranked up on the CD player, we headed south and west out of Ridgecrest to drive about 200 miles up to Sequoia National Park. A young Swedish couple had advised us as to the best route around the mountains and I’m glad we took their advice. We drove through the California version of Red Rock Canyon on the highway and then up through another pass. We could see trains driving through tunnels. One train had cars in 4 tunnels at once!

South of Bakersfield, the road suddenly flattened out and became the farm country of the San Joaquin Valley where 90 percent of the raisins in our country come from. We also saw walnut and pistachio trees, apple, orange and lemon trees and many fields of grape vines covered in plastic which,I assume, were drying raisins.

We stopped at a farm stand filled with families choosing their Halloween pumpkins, doing hay rides, face painting and other seasonal activities. We wandered about trying out the samples of fresh fruit including apples, pluots, pomegranates, citrus, peaches and plums. There were lots of dried fruits for sale as well as packages of nuts. I bought a most delicious strawberry yogurt parfait for my lunch and Janie tried a local fry pie filled with spicy ground beef. We restocked our cooler with fresh fruit and headed up the road.

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The entrance to Sequoia is about 1000 feet above sea level. Our first stop was at about 6000
feet. The road up was as twisty as I’ve ever experienced with hairpin turns and 10 mph speed limits most of the way up. Our views were hidden with all of the trees with occasional awesome moments where we could glimpse the rocky peaks. There were no scenic pullouts as the road was tucked into the hillside. The reward came at our first stop – Arno’s rock. There were more than 600 steps creatively cut into a rock for us to climb.

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The views were worth the effort.

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Down below we could see the road.

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Our next stop was to see the giant Sequoia trees. The largest tree in the world is the General Sherman tree. I read that looking up at it for us is like a mouse looking up at a person. It stands in a grove of other giants and the hike to see it was like being in a giant chapel, the trees commanding our respect. Maybe it was also that at 7000 feet, people are gasping for breath and quieter.

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We continued on the General’s highway, winding in and twisting our way out toward the other end of the park which is part of King’s Canyon. As it was getting late, we decided that it was time to finish our tour and head back down. Little did we know how lucky we would be to experience, yet again, a national park at dusk. The views to the west on the way down were mother nature at her best.

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It was late by the time we got to Clovis. A quick burger at the diner across the street (do we have another theme here?) and I was ready to sleep. Time to rest up for Yosemite, our next destination.

Red Rock Canyon and Death Valley

It’s hard to describe the scenery that we have been going through the last couple of days. It is big sky country but different than Montana, it’s mountains but different than the Green Mountains, it’s desert but not like west Texas and it’s sand but not like Hampton Beach. As we traveled through Death Valley today, we crossed two sets of mountains over 4000 feet, going up and down long straight stretches and the windy, twisty roads where you don’t want to look down. We were below sea level and above 5000 feet all within a couple of hours.

Yesterday, we drove out of Las Vegas north and west to Red Rock Canyon. The views were amazing as we entered park land.

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We chose what looked like a moderate hike that turned out to be much longer, harder and steeper than we had originally planned but I think we were both happy that it turned out that way. The temps were in the 90’s as we headed uphill on a gravel road into the canyon. We hiked through some scrub until we reached the top where we had great views.

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We ended up hiking over 6 miles all around White Rock (which is distinguished from all the red rock around the area). Near the end, we passed some ancient petroglyphs of hand prints on the red rock walls. Our feet were tired but our spirits were high as we got back into our car for the drive to Death Valley..

Our drive through the southern part of the park to our destination of Beatty,Nevada was at the end of the day. We lucked out with our timing, driving past Zubriskie Point just as the sun was setting. The light over the Badlands lit up the contrasting black and white colors (borax was mined here with the 20 mule teams pulling it out) and the light on the mountains behind us was magical.

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The last 30 miles or so, we had only the dim light for us to see the jagged peaks we were passing. The colors in the night sky ranged from pink to blues and yellows.

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This morning we headed back across the park to our destination here in Ridgecrest, California. We stopped at Rhyolite, a ghost town first and then headed across the flats which are below sea level. We hiked in the sand dunes, finding tracks of the sidewinder rattlesnakes.

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Last night in Las Vegas

On our last night in Las Vegas, we had a couple of things left to do to complete our Vegas experience. The first was to experience the casinos. Having heard on the raft trip that the best odds on the machines were on the video poker games, we sat down with a few one dollar bills to play. It took us, a couple of rusty daughters of poker pros, awhile to remember the rules but we figured it out. We got ahead at times, not for long, but long enough to have some fun with the game.

I had had some experience winning at blackjack many years ago but didn’t dare brave the tables where the minimum bet was $10.00. We had seen a man in the morning playing at a $100 table. When we walked by a few hours later, he was still sitting there. He was nowhere to be seen that night. Was he out celebrating or drowning his sorrows? Fortunately for us, there are also blackjack machines, less intimidating than a real dealer (also less sympathetic to newbe players) but with $1.00 bets. Like the poker games, we did pretty well where some ability helps the odds but not surprisingly, we won’t be able to live off our earnings or even buy ourselves a celebratory drink (Vegas drink prices are high!).

The other experience I wanted to have was to see a Cirque de Soleil show. We waited in a line at a discount ticket booth in the morning under umbrellas from the sun but scored two seats for the Mystere show that night. It was amazing. The show was entertaining from the start with a clown, dressed in a tuxedo, wandering about the audience making us laugh with his antics. What was really impressive was the gymnastics. There were were dancers, trapeze acts, human pyramids, trampolines, and ball balancing that took your breath away. With the lights, the smoke machines, the music and drumming, brilliant costumes and amazing talent, it was a true spectacle.

As we walked back to our motel under a full moon, almost camouflaged in the lights of the city, we knew we were ready to leave Vegas. Time to get back to nature.

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