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A long-attention-span kind of thing October 30, 2008

Posted by Jenny in memoir, travel.
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Spend three and a half days driving to get from Gloucester, Mass. to the Rockies, when you could fly?  It’s hard to explain.

After writing my last post, which was about a hike in August 2004, I started feeling nostalgic not only for the Rockies but for the whole road trip experience.  Bob and I have done big road trips together twice, and he also did a six-week solo journey in 2000 that truly deserves the title of “Great American Road Trip.”  The solo trip featured an old red Tercel.  The 2004 trip starred a silver Echo (“Filbert”), and the 2006 trip put the companion red Echo (“Filomena”) through her paces.  In all of these trips, the back seat and trunk were completely filled up with camping and hiking gear.  These undersized road warriors penetrated into places where compact cars with Mass. plates are seldom seen.  For instance, the Cinnamon Pass shelf road near Lake City, Colorado, or the Stevens Gulch road up to Grays and Torreys.  We enjoyed our gas mileage, in the range of 43-45 mpg.  One day, with a persistent tailwind, we got close to 50.  (No, these aren’t hybrids.)

From Gloucester, the goal is to get somewhere near Akron, Ohio, the first night.  The second night is spent somewhere near the 92nd meridian, for instance Stuart, Iowa, or Independence, Missouri.  On the third day the 100th meridian is crossed, and that is when I feel that I am really getting out west.  A mysterious transition occurs somewhere in the middle of the tier of states that are stacked north of Texas.  On the 2004 trip we had spent the night in Missouri and drove for hours across Kansas.  Somewhere out at the west end of the state, near Colby or maybe Oakley, it was time to stop for lunch.  We pulled up to a convenience store and stepped out of the car into hot, dry, swirling winds.  The temperature was in the upper 90s, and grit was flying through the air.  A geezer got out of his dinged-up pickup truck.  He had cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, and it wasn’t a costume.  The air smelled like livestock, and the ditch was full of sunflowers.  I was happy.

We look for where the Queen Anne’s Lace stops and the sunflowers start, for our first prairie dog of the trip and our first antelope.  We go out to the Ponderosa pines, up to the Douglas firs, and down to the red rock canyons.  We admire vast forests of black spruce by Lake Superior, and perpetual-motion black oil rigs in Wyoming.  The transitions happen very gradually, as is enormously appropriate for the gigantic spaces of our huge United States.  We tune into Kansas public radio and hear a feature about deep-fried Snickers bars.  We drive through hailstorms in Pennsylvania and snow squalls in Utah.  We see the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, and use the 11,312′-elevation rest rooms at Monarch Pass, Colorado.

It’s a long-attention-span kind of thing.  Like I said, hard to explain.

The mighty roadster

The mighty roadster

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The valley of Crystal Peak October 28, 2008

Posted by Jenny in Colorado Rockies, hiking, nature.
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Hike distance: 10 miles/ Elevation gain: 3475 feet

Crystal Peak in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range

Crystal Peak in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range

This beautiful place of high silent lakes rimmed by wildflowers represents unfinished business for me.  From our base in Breckenridge, Colorado, Bob and I had climbed Mt. Democrat (14,148′) and Peak 10 (13,633′) on two successive days.  On the third day, Bob went fishing with his friend Lars, and I decided to climb Crystal Peak (13,852′).  We had been very close to it the day before—but this time I would go up by way of the next valley to the south, past the Mohawk Lakes.

The valley presents itself as a series of unfoldings.  In giant stair steps, you climb steeply past a high waterfall, and a large lake unfolds before you.  Climb past a second waterfall, and second lake appears.  Keep going.  More lakes emerge before you in the high meadows as you get up into the harsher, starker end of the valley, a place ruled by wind and cold, surrounded by steep talus slopes.

I knew as I climbed past the first waterfall that something was wrong and that I probably wouldn’t get to the top of the mountain.  I was actually exhausted from the hiking of the two previous days, and I had a rather unpleasant feeling that I can best describe as “nausea of the lungs.”  The altitude hadn’t stopped me the previous two days, but now I was hitting the wall.  The hike distance and elevation gain at the top of the post represent the total for the climb to the summit.  I made it to about 13,000 feet, a climb of 2,600 feet from the trailhead, and sat down beside one of the lakes.  This was a magical place.  The wildflowers seemed to clamor to present their colors: “You think you’ve seen blue before?  Take a look at this!  Yellow over here, the best you’ll ever see! Pink this way—don’t miss it!”

I’ll be back.

The Hercynian forest October 26, 2008

Posted by Jenny in nature, Roman history.
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The Riesengebirge was part of the Hercynian Forest

The Riesengebirge was part of the Hercynian Forest

Among maps of the Roman Empire, I find one that depicts “Germania.”  Across the southern part of that territory, the capital letters “HERCYNIAN FOREST” span the headwaters of the Eder, the Weser, and the Main.  The forest is mentioned in the Germania and the Annals of Tacitus as a place of dark, dense trees and bottomless bogs through which the Roman foot soldiers floundered.

We know from ancient writings, beginning with Aristotle and continuing through Julius Caesar and Pliny the Elder, that the Hercynian Forest was a mysterious realm in which the rivers flowed northward, so vast in its extent that one could not go from one end of it to the other in sixty days’ march.  Gigantic oaks grew there so close together that their mighty branches intertwined, creating a pathless and impenetrable mass.  Antlered elk without joints leaned against the sturdy tree trunks to sleep, and, with diligent searching, unicorns could be found.  The ancient ox called aurochs wandered through the dappled forest glades, and a beautiful bird with feathers that glowed like flames flitted among the numberless emerald leaves.

Only small, scattered tracts remain of this wilderness, the best known being the Schwarzwald (Black Forest).  We do not now think of Europe as a place of forests.