Sunday, 1 September 2013

Farewell Road Trip (1): Phantom bears, icy caves and a real life Jurassic Park

A car does not encourage you to travel light
8 weeks, 12,000km, six US states, three Canadian national parks, and fifty nights under canvas: the spreadsheet for our final farewell road trip alone took six months to finalise. But it was well worth it...

Getting lost on the outskirts of Vancouver was not a good start, but things got more scenic as we travelled over the Cascade mountains and through the baking plains of Washington and Oregon to our first stop in Idaho.  Idaho has the largest area of wilderness (i.e. no roads or buildings) in the lower 48 states and two and a half hours on dirt roads took us just into its edge.

Night one campsite, OR, too hot for the fly-sheet at 39c
We'd picked the hike in the Frank Church wilderness as the guidebook said it would be 'less busy'. When we arrived at the deserted campground, with picnic tables still upturned and no water, we realised what that meant in the least populated state in the US. Slightly spooked by its emptiness, it's fair to say we over-reacted to the midnight snuffling outside our tent by spending night two sleeplessly in the car, watching for bears.  

Next day we picked a different mountain range to hike in; the jagged Sawtooths. Short, sharp, afternoon mountain thunderstorms would become a feature of the trip, but our first one caught us out and, despite still being 35 degrees, we chilled down pretty quickly.  Once we had them figured out though, it was pretty much the last inconvenient rain of the entire trip.

Suzie Q (the Subaru) spent a lot of the trip looking like this
Our next state was one of our favourite from last year: Utah.  Mainly desert, with incredible rock formations and weird wildlife, our first stop did not disappoint: the Craters of the Moon national monument. 618 square miles of spiky black laval rock formed during eight huge volcanic eruptions. It was an unexpected National Park service gem including hikes up an ancient cinder cone, into an underground desert cave with permanent ice and our first sighting of bats.

Mark touching a real life dinosaur bone
Our next national monument had been a must on the itinerary ever since I'd read its single name in the guidebook: Dinosaur.  In 1909, the Carnegie Musueum in Pittsburgh had an empty Dinosaur Hall and, in the mission to fill it, they found one of the worlds biggest fossil beds from the era of the huge Jurassic dinosaurs.  They extracted dozens of complete skeletons and then left an entire quarry face filled with bones for the public to enjoy.  The exhibit hall was gob smacking; complete stegosaurus, diplodocus and allosaurus skeletons still embedded in the rock which you could even touch. My 8 year old geeky, dinosaur obsessed self would have been stunned.  If our car hadn't already been packed to the gills, I would have insisted on the full size allosaurus bronze head...

It was time to wave the desert goodbye for a few weeks and head east, to Colorado...

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