Friday, September 22, 2017

The Sawtooths, Rainier, and the Sierras: August, 2017 -- Part I (The Eclipse)

(Remember that you can click on the photos to see a slideshow, and then hit "escape" to get back to the text. Also, a note on the photo credits: as always, both Felice and I took these shots, and many of my shots resulted from her suggestions.  I do the photo editing using Lightroom; my goal is to reproduce just what we saw, as faithfully as possible.)

Friday, August 11:  We left home at midmorning and were in Alamo, Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas, by evening.  Northbound 93 was a surprisingly pretty drive -- green and hilly, rather than flat desert.  That night, we took a walk and watched a lightning storm, far away over the hills.

Saturday, August 12:  Just before it was time to hitch up, two loud military jets zoomed overhead and one of them came to a complete stop and hovered, several miles up in the sky.  I didn't know that jets could hover in mid-flight -- cool!  On the way from Alamo to Twin Falls, we took the Highway 318 cutoff, saving quite a bit of time.

Sunday, August 13: In the morning, we took a bike ride along the rim of the Snake River Canyon on a paved bike path -- the safety vests were probably unnecessary, but they are so photogenic:

Young daredevils with parasails were getting ready to jump off that bridge – I guess it's legal.  (Does anyone say "daredevil" these days?)  We didn't stick around to watch them.

That afternoon, we got to Elk Mountain RV Park near Stanley, Idaho, and had time to scout some potential boondocking sites in the hills above Stanley.  We were surprised to see how many RVs were still out in the boonies on a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, August 14: We again went out scouting for campsites and found a terrific place near Basin Butte Road, with a fine view of the Sawtooth Range.  I had marked this boondocking site at home using various mapping tools; my expectations were exceeded:

We left some chairs at the campsite and went back to the RV Park to do some laundry and other chores.  We then hitched up and took the trailer to our new site.  (The road was rough and slow, with big waterbars, like speedbumps on steroids.  Don’t try this with a low-clearance tow vehicle or trailer.)   

Along the way, we were excited to see a lone pronghorn antelope, not realizing that we would see herds of them later in the week.  Believe it or not, this shot was taken with Felice’s iPhone 6:

 As soon as we set up the trailer at our new campsite, we convened the "snacking circle:"

 This turned out to be a really good (although not perfect) boondocking site.  It had a great view, with a cool breeze out of the West coming up the canyon.  It was at about 7000 feet (night-time temps around 50), and it was very quiet.  Virtually no mosquitoes, even though there was a stream nearby.  

The campsite was only about 4 miles away from Highway 21, so we didn't have to make a long "commute" in order to get back to pavement.  The only hitch was that once in a while, small groups of four-wheel ATVs would come chugging up the fire road, not far away.  Fortunately, they only traveled during the day, and there were just a few of them, every hour or two.

Tuesday, August 15:   We had coffee with the Sawtooths (Sawteeth?):

We drove to Stanley Lake, which was just a few miles away on the other side of the highway:

We then hiked to Lady Face Falls.  The hike was pleasant, following Stanley Lake Creek.  (Shouldn't it be just Stanley Creek and Stanley Lake?)  We came across a big pine tree recently felled by a very determined beaver:

This shot shows a detail of the gouges left by the beaver's teeth:

Someday, maybe we will see a beaver in the wild, rather than just the chewed-up trees.

After a hot hike, we got to Lady Face Falls and found that the the guidebook was somewhat misleading – the falls were inaccessible to anybody without advanced boulder climbing skills.  Oh, well.  We went back to the shady campsite, to enjoy the cool afternoon breeze:

Wednesday, August 16:  I got up before dawn and stepped outside.  The moon (which was only a thin sliver) had just come up and was illuminating the mountains without washing out the stars:

That morning, we decided to salute the mountains from the comfort of the breakfast table:

We hiked the Boundary Creek trail, which was very steep.  But it did provide some great views of the Sawtooths south of Stanley:

 After a hot hike, we found a good swimming hole in the chilly Salmon River, near the Stanley Ranger Station:

On the way back to the trailer, we stopped at the livestock gate across our access road.  Although the road was nominally open to the public, everyone passing through the gate had to close it, sort of an Old West Theme Park feature:

Thursday, August 17:  Felice greeted the mountains in her pajamas.  (That is ambiguous; for the record, there are no mountains in her pajamas.)

We decided to drive up our forest road to the Basin Butte Lookout, which was further away than we thought it was (about a 45 minute drive, each way, and very rough and narrow).  But as we climbed the hill, we got a great view of the campsite from above – our trailer is on the far left side of this photo:

I would not take that road again --  the view from the top was good, but the whole forest near the lookout had recently burned.

Later that day, we rode for a while on the Harriman Trail, which parallels Highway 75 south of Galena Summit.  But the trail itself was pretty close to the road, and it was hot and gravelly.  Serendipitously, we turned off on Baker Creek Road, which was much more pleasant, winding slowly uphill next to the creek.  On the way back down, we had terrific views of the Boulder Mountains:

Friday, August 18:  We took the Fishhook Creek Trail out of Redfish Lake.  The maintained portion of the trail ended in a lush meadow:

The guidebook, which was once again inaccurate, said that there was a trail beyond the meadow.  We spent a fun hour climbing over downed logs; we gained a renewed appreciation of Lewis and Clark's perseverance.  To cool off, we went swimming back at Redfish Lake, which was surprisingly pleasant – the water was very clear and not terribly cold:

On our way back to the trailer, we passed a very large herd of antelope.  These looked like deer, but they weren't:

Saturday, August 19:  On our way to the Goat Falls trailhead at Stanley Lake, Felice snapped this archetypical Western scene with her iPhone:

We hiked the Goat Lake trail, almost to Goat Falls.  I say "almost" because, once again, the guidebook was inaccurate, failing to disclose that the final access to the falls required a very tricky traverse across a steep slope of decomposing granite.  But the hike was pleasant enough; near the streams, there were clusters of dwarf purple monkeyflower:

Sunday, August 20:   In the morning, we scouted "viewing sites" for the next day's eclipse.  (As it turns out, we stayed right at the trailer.)  From a nearby hillside, Felice took a wide shot of our campsite -- this is another in a series of "this is boondocking" photos:

Here is a zoomed-in version:

That day, we rode our mountain bikes for a while on some forest roads on the valley floor, but they were sandy and too heavily washboarded.  So we rode instead on the Bridal Veil Falls trail, as far as we could, and then parked the bikes and hiked for a while:

In case anyone is wondering about the yoga mats, we brought them along so we would have someplace to sit when we needed to change into our bathing suits.  (Doesn’t every serious mountain biker carry a yoga mat?)

Back at the "snacking circle," we decided to take a sock shot, instead of our usual boot shot:

The sunset that evening was one of the better ones we saw on this trip:

Monday, August 21:  Eclipse Day -- long-awaited, and finally here!

One of our concerns about the eclipse was that there would be hordes of people and that we would be jammed in with them cheek by jowl.  That may have been true elsewhere, such as in Oregon, but not in the hills above Stanley – no jowly hordes, as far as the eye could see.  (Which wasn't actually very far, since it was a very smoky morning – we could hardly see the mountains across the valley, although the sky itself was clear.)  Our nearest neighbor was a quarter of a mile up the road, and there was essentially no one else around.

We spent the morning packing up, intending to leave right after the eclipse.  We had hoped to go from Idaho up into Western Montana.  But the fires all around Missoula were at their height, and the Bitterroot area was filled with smoke.  So we decided to head for the state of Washington, either to Mount Rainier or to Mount Baker -- to be decided while we were on the road.  

As we packed all of our gear, we used our eclipse classes to monitor the progress of the moon's shadow, which we could very clearly see.  Here we are, in our formal eclipse outfits:

As totality approached, it got really chilly – the temperature dropped from about 80 degrees to about 50 degrees in just a few minutes.  We had to put on sweatshirts.  Darkness came fast.  The corona was beautiful:

 Although we didn't realize it at the time, if you study that photo, you can see reddish areas in three places around the circumference of the moon's shadow.  After much research, I am stumped.  I am not sure if these are "Bailey's Beads," caused by the sun shining through the canyons and valleys on the edge of the moon.  They don't look bright enough to be the "beads."

Or they might be prominences, big gas flares -- but they are not the right flame-like shape for that.  Or they are part of the "chromosphere" of the sun, a red layer in the sun's atmosphere that is not visible except during eclipses.

Strangely, even though we could not see the mountains during full daylight because of the smoke, we could see them clearly during totality – I think that's because of a phenomenon called "backscattering."  When the sun is out and shining on the smoke, the smoke reflects the light back at the viewer and is almost opaque.  When the sun is eclipsed, the smoke is translucent -- we could see "sunset" all around us:

The little sparkles in that shot are probably dust particles in the air, reflecting the flash (which went off automatically in the darkness).

During the eclipse, we could see Venus (although I yelled out, "There's Jupiter!).  I tried to take a movie of our reactions to the eclipse; unfortunately, I botched the settings, and we got a time-lapse instead.  It's mercifully brief, and it's pretty funny --  we look like unsuccessful mimes (which would be a good name for a rock band).

(And profound thanks to our resident IT genius, who rescued that video!)

Prior to totality, the insects and birds around our trailer had been very active.  Our campsite was in the middle of an active grasshopper flight training area, in which they would take short flights while noisily snapping their wings.  But as soon as totality hit, it was absolutely silent.  The bugs and the birds didn't move.

We were wondering how the shadow of the moon could move from west to east, since everything else seems to move from east to west, due to the earth's rotation.  It turns out that the moon actually orbits the earth from west to east -- very counterintuitive.  So the path of the moon's shadow moves the same way.  (I have not been able to find out why the moon orbits the earth from west to east.)

On the whole, the eclipse was very exciting, absolutely worth driving a thousand miles to see.  But we didn't think it was "life-changing," as many commentators have said.  It was simply one of the most amazing things we've ever seen.  And it was over fast.  Two minutes of darkness is a very short time.

Very shortly after the eclipse, we hitched up and left, hoping to avoid the hordes of eclipse tourists crowding the highways.  Once again, our fears were wildly overblown.  We drove down to Boise on Highway 21 with absolutely no traffic at all.  That night, we made it all the way to Fruitland, Idaho, on the Oregon border, and stayed in a rather rundown RV park -- there were no vacancies at the nicer parks because of the eclipse.

Next:  Part II – Mt. Rainier


Ski3pin said...

Oh, how we love the Sawtooth area! Thank you for taking us back. Your trips are so much fun to follow. The time lapse video was indeed fun! Happy travels!

Mitch said...

Wonderful report and pictures, as usual! I was just in that area last year!!