Harney County Highpoint: Steens Mountain

Waking up early in the desert, Sprocket and I headed for Fields, Oregon. Word on the internet had it that The Fields Station had some of the most killer milkshakes around. I love milkshakes and so it went on The List for this trip.

Fields Station was packed when I arrived; there was an experimental aircraft fly-in and a motorcycle group coming through. I went to go order a milkshake and they warned me it would be at least a half hour. I was resigned to waiting when one of the servers asked what kind I was going to order. My answer, as always, was vanilla. Turns out, they’d made an extra vanilla shake so I got mine really quickly!

The milkshake really was good! I didn’t hang around too long after I’d finished it although seeing the planes coming in was pretty cool. My goal was to drive up Steens Mountain and move on through Burns before evening.

The road was in really really good shape and just when I started to think that this was going to be an easy highpoint on a lovely backcountry byway, I came around a corner just on top of the huge summit plateau and found a gate.

According to my previously mapped route, I was still over eight miles from the summit but it really didn’t seem like it was possible for it to be that far away. I have no idea why I decided to doubt every other resource I had at my disposal and trust just my eyes guessing how far away it was but I did. Sprocket and I headed down the road in the heat of the day at about 2pm. As we went up, we found patches of snow where Sprocket cooled himself down with a good roll.

The road had to wrap way around Big Indian Canyon which totally explains the length of the hike. And on top of it being a long way, we still had to gain almost 3000′ to the summit of Steens! It definitely didn’t appear that way when we left the car.

Finally, we reached the junction where the road to the summit of Steens Mountain went to the south and the northern end of the Mountain Loop Road joined with the southern portion we’d been walking and the summit was still almost 2.4 miles away.

By the time we reached the summit, Sprocket and I were both tired and we still had about nine and a half miles back to the car. The expansive views of so much of the southeastern part of Oregon were really fantastic though!

After the quick summit photos, it was time to start carrying ourselves down to #RuthXJ as fast as our tired legs would carry us.

Whenever we found snow, I noticed Sprocket would get off of the road and walk in it. It started to occur to me that his paws might be starting to hurt a bit but we were still quite far away from the car and I needed him to tough it out as long as he could.

We made it over the last little rise on the way back to the car and I started to jog a bit. We were both done and it didn’t seem to matter how we did it, only that we got back to the car pretty quickly. Sprocket gamely jogged behind me and when we arrived at the Jeep gave me the, “Human, be an elevator please” face that I couldn’t resist.

When we got to the campground at the bottom of the hill, it was abundantly clear I’d asked the old boy to overdo it. His paws were raw and walking on the crushed gravel in the site appeared to be really painful. I fed him and tried to walk him in some pine duff before tucking the tired boy into the tent. Dogs in pain, especially when they’re getting old, is so sad. I felt awful but also a little delighted that he had made the 19 mile jaunt without complaint. (I’m so sorry  Sprockey-boy.)

 

Humboldt County (NV) Highpoint: Granite Peak

Leaving Kingston in the morning, I headed north, cutting through the mountains and had breakfast in Austin and then kept pushing north. Thanks to the long days of summer, even after a leg stretching stop in Winnemucca, Sprocket and I made it to our intended campsite by 2pm. Some quick mountain calculations lead me to decide to tackle Granite Peak right away instead of waiting until morning.

The road up to Hinkey Summit was in really good shape and passable by pretty much anything. Above Hinkey Summit, there were some pretty good water channels in the roadway that probably could have been negotiated in #RuthXJ but with any bad tire placement there would have been trouble so we decided to just park near the communication towers.

While it had been really hot down in the valley the weather on the ridges was great for hiking! Sprocket seemed very happy to be out hiking as we worked our way up the road.

Looking across the valley at Hinkey Summit
Granite Peak in the distance
Almost to the end of the road approach!

The walk up the road felt long but it was pretty easy. There was another set of foot prints going up and coming back down from the peak but we definitely had it all to ourselves! Once we reached the end of the road, we made our way up the sage and grass filled slopes traversing below the eastern knob of the ridge.

From the saddle between that eastern false summit and the much higher actual summit of Granite, we started picking our way up the rocky slopes. I didn’t want to climb too fast because the ridge proper looked like a bit much for Sprocket.

As we climbed, I think I got to perma-grin status. Granite definitely has a low alpine feel which was awesome considering its proximity to lots of desert!

As it turned out, Sprocket wasn’t able to make the last bit of the (super fun) summit scramble so he sat below me and made his displeasure known to the winds. With another hiking buddy I could have totally made this work for him (just like Fish Lake Hightop earlier in the week!) but solo, listening to him be mad was the best thing I could do for him. I snapped a few photos at the top and then downclimbed to him to take a summit selfie.

Since I’m prepared with a headlamp in my pack, I wasn’t too worried about being caught in darkness descending the road but as it turned out I was treated to a glorious golden hour drive down the mountain. Since it was still light, we headed a bit further to the west to find a camping spot in the broad valley.

Sprocket, by this point in the roadtrip was very into his tent cuddles and being tired from a nice hike only made him even more cuddly. Considering that the mosquitos were out in force, I happily crawled into the tent with him to delve further into Owyhee Trails, an older book about the Idaho-Oregon-Nevada territory—perfect regional reading.

Small Town Nevada

I decided that there were too many question marks for my liking so Sprocket and I headed out for a nice training hike around the historic town of Belmont.

We summited a few minor peaks around town before dropping down to check out Belmont Courthouse. Unfortunately, I was not there when the Friends of Belmont Courthouse were doing tours, but the work they’ve done to make the building stand for another hundred years was impressive.

After leaving Belmont, we headed north enjoying the scenery. When I reached Kingston, I saw a sign advertising Jack’s Lucky Spur Saloon. Stopping to check it out was an excellent decision: they had Icky and I made some awesome friends who invited me and Sprocket to their house for dinner! Traveling solo(ish) is fantastic sometimes.

Nevada Is Weird, and I Love It

When school was out for summer, I loaded up Sprocket and all of our gear (and a lot of tools, but more on that later) and we headed for Washington State. The really long way—through Nevada. After leaving Mountain Meadows, I’d planned to hike Washington County, Utah’s highest point, Signal Peak but after our effort on Fish Lake Hightop, I opted to leave it for another time. Instead, I headed west on a dirt road and camped just before crossing the Nevada line.

After a lovely night of listening to coyotes howl just far enough away from camp to be restful, we packed up camp and headed for Nevada. A quick stop for gas in Panaca and then I continued south to Caliente. I had breakfast at a little restaurant called Side Track that had just opened. The décor was adorable, the service was fantastic, and my food was good (and cheap!).

I was kind of in wander mode, so after breakfast and a walk around the historic railroad depot, it was time to wander west again.

I stopped at Oak Springs Trilobite Site and we walked out to the site but it was too hot for me to want to spend much time actually looking for a trilobite fossil. The walking path was really nice though so it was a good stretch for both Sprocket and me.

At Crystal Springs, I continued onto NV-375, The Extraterrestrial Highway. Since I was there, I stopped at the Alien Research Center just off the highway. I wasn’t really into buying alien souvenirs and I’d kinda hoped for some displays of “research” so I didn’t stick around too long.

In Rachel, I couldn’t help but stop for a beer at the Little A’Li’Inn. Again, my server was wonderful and we talked a lot about my road trip. An older woman, she seemed to delight in the idea that I had time to just wander and do what I wanted.

I made a quick gas and leg stretch stop in Tonopah and then continued north to Manhattan. I stopped for a beer and chatted with the locals there who told me that the campground at Belmont was free. I was really on the fence about the Jeep’s ability to do the Mount Jefferson road (and for the ridge to be free enough of snow) and Sprocket’s ability to do the hike if we had to hike from further down the road but I headed that way anyway.

 

The campsite was so perfect! I was really glad that we decided to make camp there. Thunder threatened in the distance but we pretty much stayed out of the storm for a lovely night’s sleep.

Mountain Meadows Massacre Site

While re-reading Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer last fall, I really found myself attracted to the subtitle of the book: A Story of Violent Faith. In support of this Krakauer discusses the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. This historical event has come up in many many accounts of early western history and I feel like I’d always sort of skimmed over the event until that re-reading.

Mountain Meadows was a part of the old Spanish Trail and later part of the California Trail. In 1857, a group of emigrants from Arkansas was attacked by the Mormon militia leading to the murder of 120 emigrants.

When I decided to make my trek to Washington through western Utah, one of the first non-hikes to make it onto my itinerary was a stop at Mountain Meadows (a National Historic Landmark, as of 2015).

Sprocket and I made our way to Mountain Meadows from Cedar City and walked around the cairn monument and then around the field to the west of the monument. My understanding of the event was still sort of superficial but it was still really sobering to be in a spot where over a 100 people had lost their lives.

I didn’t think to order a book focused on the massacre until too close to my departure date so I had Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, and Glen M. Leonard delivered to my mom’s house. I was really glad to delve into a more complete description of the events of the day than I’d had previously so I found the read worthwhile.


But.

All three authors of this account are part of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church. The book admittedly leaves an account of the aftermath of the attack, and what some would call a coverup, “to another day.” It also seems quick to acquit Brigham Young and other church leaders in Salt Lake City.

While I tried to put my finger on what was such a let down about this book, I read through some Goodreads reviews and had to nod heartily when someone suggested that having a single non-Mormon author would have helped address the culpability of the church as a whole.

This book did, however, make me wish I had taken the time to visit the Women & Children’s Memorial Site and the Men’s Memorial Site. When I drove by, I found the separation distasteful but when I finished Massacre at Mountain Meadows, I learned that the separation was historical in nature.

In an attempt to remedy my uneasiness with Massacre at Mountain Meadows,  I ordered a copy of Juanita Brooks’s seminal 1950 book The Mountain Meadows Massacre. Juanita Brooks was also part of the LDS church, however after the publication of her book about the massacre she was estranged from the church (yet not excommunicated).

Brooks’s book feels less readable to me but also feels less willing to simply let LDS leadership off the hook and pin responsibility for the Massacre on those in the southern part of Utah. Brooks does an excellent job in sharing the source material for her research (my copy is a 4th edition) so readers can better draw their own conclusions.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre is a weird chapter in American history. It seems abundantly clear, no matter which account you read, that white people belonging to the LDS church, tried to pin the attack on Native Americans and that innocent victims (who may or may not have poked a stick at the Mormon settlements but definitely didn’t deserve what they got).

Iron County and Kane County Highpoints (UT)

After we left Fish Lake, we headed for Brian Head. Thanks to the long summer days, Sprocket and I had a lot of daylight to play with. We crossed west to US-89 to Panguitch and then onto the very gorgeous UT-143 then up the Forest Service Road to the summit of Brian Head.

Utah had clearly gotten just a little more snow than Colorado but the last lingering snow banks on the way to the summit of Brian Head had already been pushed through leaving Sprocket and I with just a short walk from the parking lot to the true summit of Brian Head, the highpoint of Iron County.

Retracing our path down Brian Head, we headed through Cedar Breaks National Monument. I stopped at the visitor center for a brief visit before continuing down to the highpoint of Kane County.

I wasn’t sure what sort of shape I’d find the road in but it was only a little steep and Ruth XJ made it handily within a quarter mile of the highpoint. Sprocket happily popped out for the short walk to the summit marker.

Quality hiking footwear was used for this forested, not particularly scenic peak:

From the Kane County Highpoint we cruised out to Cedar City and westward!

Sevier County Highpoint: Fish Lake Hightop

This hike kicked my butt. I don’t think it should have been that hard but it was.

Sprocket and I started hiking at Pelican Overlook (where we could totally have stealth camped for free, but, alas).

I tried to stick to my heart rate goals for training and it was taking us a realllllyyyy long time. The canyon wasn’t particularly interesting and just headed up through trees. Somehow, I had missed this key point from the Summit Post page: “Keep heading up the canyon, until you reach a signed junction approximately two miles into the hike. Take a right. Left still goes up to Fish Lake plateau, but goes further west than you want to go.”

That’s the Hightop wayyyy over there:

I definitely went left which lead to a long hike over the top of the plateau. The plateau itself was still pretty evenly covered in 3″ of snow with more in places. Sprocket and I pushed on to the summit area which was covered in boulders in addition to the snow making it slow going for both of us.

We finally made it but that last boulder was a bit much for Sprocket so I left him below me where he made his displeasure very clear. (My mute dog hit some pretty high pitches with that bark-whine.) I signed the trail register, took a selfie and we headed down the hill looking for that elusive right fork…

A look back up at the summit area:

We found it and went on auto pilot for the descent back to the Jeep. Thanks fo the long summer days, we headed on to other goals! Sprocket was tired but he was a champ on our 11+ mile jaunt since it was nice and cool, just like he likes it.

Summer Roadtrip Kickoff: Capitol Reef NP

When school is out, I head out of town. I did it in 2015 with Amanda for an epic Utah and Colorado road trip in Francis Sally Jeep. I begged off work for a couple days in 2016 to acknowledge the beginning of summer. In 2017, I drove to OKC for the Women’s College World Series and had some fun along the way.

This year, I piloted Ruth XJ towards Tacoma to tackle a flooring project for my mom. Since my house is completed, it was time to take care of some family duties. But first: ROADTRIP.

As I planned my route, I had an eye to hitting up some county highpoints. In the interest of expediency, I headed north through Grand Junction before merging onto I-70 and heading west … into a giant rainstorm.

Initially, I’d hoped to hike the Sevier County Highpoint on my departure day but the considering that I could see that weather system had deposited snow at elevations >10,000′, I took full advantage of the fact that I had lots of latitude to do whatever the hell I wanted to. Instead of taking the Forest Service Road cut off from UT-72 to Fish Lake, I continued south to Loa figuring I’d find a coffee shop or something to hang out in before going to make camp. I didn’t really see anything that was striking my fancy.

On top of that, when I hiked the Garfield County, Utah highpoint, Mount Ellen, I’d found myself drawn west to do the highpoint of Wayne County, Boulder Top (sometimes known as Bluebell Knoll), which left me with an eight mile stretch of UT-24 to my west I hadn’t driven. I hate leaving orphan road segments. 

When I’d done Boulder Top, I’d passed through Capitol Reef but not done any exploring so I pointed Ruth east to catch the orphan Loa-Bicknell segment and then cruised on into the Capitol Reef Visitors Center for a little visit. Storms threatened all around but that meant the weather was cool enough for me to leave Sprocket in the car for a little trail run.

I headed up Cohab Canyon for a short adventure. I’d missed the desert. Before I’d left Ridgway, I’d been trying to get out for runs and get in better shape but the going was slow. Instead of fretting about it I soaked in the red rock awesomeness.

After my trail run (or hike or whatever), I headed to Fish Lake. I briefly entertained the idea of having dinner in the adorable vintage lodge but the menu didn’t look particularly alluring (and if I’m totally honest, Utah’s revenge of no liquor license didn’t help) so I headed out to find a camp site.

Word to the wise: the entire Fish Lake area is camping in campgrounds only. I toyed with driving far enough up the basin or back out of the basin far enough to find dispersed camping but instead I decided to suck it up and pay.

It’d been quite awhile since I’d pitched the tent and I think Sprocket had kind of forgotten how cozy it can be.

Bishop Castle

This is one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been.

I was driving along, Colorado Highway 165 and suddenly the speed limit dropped to 35mph at the crest of a hill. Cars were parked along the wide shoulders. A hand-painted sign along the side of an old old truck announced this to be Bishop Castle.

Jim Bishop bought his land in 1959 for $450. He was 15.

In 1969, he built a small stone cottage to live in his wife, Phoebe. About 1971, people began to suggest that Bishop’s ever growing cottage looked a little bit like a castle and he decided to build just that, a castle.

Almost nothing about this place feels safe and everything is bananas. I’ve been on plenty of mountains and in all sorts of precarious places and I don’t usually get vertigo but on the iron pyramid atop of the highest tower in the castle (on the left in the photo below), I felt… not okay.

Cuckoo bananas is the only way I can describe this place. Nothing is finished, most of the windows lack glass, and along the back bit of the grand ballroom where the floor has been exposed to weather, there are missing… bits.

Bishop and his father had owned Bishop Ornamental Iron Works in Pubelo and while the iron work is pretty, in many places it seems a little bit less than secure.

As crazy as this place is, it’s also really cool to see someone really go after something. The Bishops lost their gift shop to a fire this spring and are currently funding the their building effort through donations. Aside from that, however, the castle is totally free to visit.

Greenhorn Mountain: Pueblo County Highpoint

As my EMT class, drew to a close, I went on a mission to have this weekend free of clinicals or of NREMT studying. Although last weekend was mostly obligation free, I did have the Love Your Valley event on the calendar for Saturday. Last weekend, there was nothing I had to do.  I plotted a trip to the east to hike the high points of Pueblo and Las Animas Counties.

Because this spring has been so dry (so dry that some Arizona National Forests and state lands are going to closures already), I didn’t even bother to check the weather. As I drove over Monarch Pass on Friday night, the skies over the Wet Mountains looked black. I was already fairly committed and the weather around Salida didn’t appear to look much better for the next day so I continued on towards Greenhorn Mountain. I headed up Ophir Creek Road about three miles when the driving rain that had started near Westcliffe turned to slushy snow. I decided the wise course of action was to sleep low in case this turned into an epic spring snow since there were 25 miles of gravel between me and the trailhead.

I woke in the morning to partially clearing skies and decided to make a go of it. The gravel road was in really great shape. Any car could make this drive. There were no ruts or large rocks, just a touch of washboard on some steeper sections. In about forty-five minutes, Sprocket and I reached the end of the road and started our hike towards Greenhorn Mountain.

Greenhorn Mountain’s name came from a Comanche warrior named Tabivo Naritgant, “dangerous man,” who was known by Spanish as Cuerno Verde. Tabivo Naritgant’s Spanish name came from the distinctive green horned headdress that he wore in battle. The warrior was killed by forces lead by Juan Bautista de Anza who had been offered the governorship of New Mexico to deal with the raiding Comanches.

With my recent reading about the history of the west percolating, I ascended the Greenhorn Trail cutting north of Greenhorn Mountain towards North Peak. Initially, I’d planned to just hike Greenhorn slowly cutting across the side of the peak but the trail felt like a much easier way to climb, even if it made the total hike a bit longer.

I know I say this frequently, but Sprocket’s joy on the trail is so sustaining for me. He is such a happy pup with new sniffs and places to explore. Every time I start to think the (old) boy is losing the spring in his step, he surprises me.

We made a quick run from the saddle up to the top of North Peak since it was only 200′ of gain from the saddle. after that, turned to navigating our way south along the ridge to Greenhorn proper. It was a pretty straightforward hike with perfect elevation practice up and downs along the way.

While we were up there, the low clouds broke to show off the southern end of the Sangre de Cristos and the Wet Mountain Valley. The clouds started to form the beginnings of baby thunderheads but nothing seemed to threatening until I was well back down the road toward pavement. Greenhorn Mountain has an elevation of 12,347′ but it’s prominence clocks in at 3,767′ thanks to its status as the high point of the Wet Mountains. (I guess their name actually comes from the amount of snow they receive in the winter not from the fact that I almost got rained out.)

Sprocket lead the final charge up to Greenhorn Mountain like a champ. This dog, man, this dog.

After a quick cuddle on the summit, we headed down to stay in front of the building clouds. We had talus filled hike down the southern face of the mountain to reach the Bartlett trail, an old road, that made for an easy walk back to the car.