Archive for April, 2010
On my way east, I made several stops and detours to visit sites marking sections of the Oregon and California emigrant trail. I’d visited a few on previous trips to the west – but none in Idaho. There are several such sites in and around City of Rocks of which I’ve recently written. After leaving that location, I made my way northeast into Montana, en route to southeast Alberta. Along the Idaho section of interstate, I stopped to visit three such emigraint trail sites. For those who are not familiar with the trails, they are still quite visible in many places — the land cut so deeply by cart tracks that you can still see their route over a 150 years later. The above sign post at a interpretive kiosk reads:
Early California and Oregon trail ruts — left by thousands of emigrant wagons as they ascended this bluff — still are visible below this viewpoint.
In 1859, F. W. Lander’s wagon road builders dug an improved grade that shows more clearly, California traffic, for which Lander constructed a better road, diverged from the Snake River route to Oregon, just below Raft River, 6 miles west of here. When they got up this grade, emigrants were thankful that they had passed 20 miles of bad road, and that a less demanding trail lay ahead.
The above photo shows the spot where cart tracks crest the top of a steep trail. In the background, a truck races by on the nearby interstate. It’s so odd to stand in such a place, imagining oxen or horses struggling to haul a wagon up this grade, while watching cars and trucks fly past. How different it is for us to move from place to place. On my own journey, sometimes I experience strange feelings of being “out of place” because I’ve moved a little too quickly through the landscape and can’t seem to rationalize where I am at a particular point in time. That’s one of the reasons that I make a conscious effort to connect with the geography many times each day as I move from Point A to Point B during my travels. I don’t want to begin to take the earth for granted to the point that I lose that sense of place and movement.
One of my stops along the way was to visit a “register rock”. These were large boulders where travelers on the Oregon and California trails would write their names or messages in axle grease, or if time permitted, even chisel their name into the stone. Such rocks are usually found at those places where people would make camp for awhile to rest, find food, drink good spring water, and allow their animals to graze and recover from arduous days of trekking across difficult sections of the trails. I shot several photos of inscriptions on this rock, which is located along a side road just off of I-30 to the southwest of American Falls, Idaho.
As I studied the inscriptions, it made me think a little about my own eastward journey. About three hundred thousand people made the westward trek along the emigrant trails. They left their homes in the east, in most cases, quite unsure of what they would find the end of the journey. Their expectations probably differed at least somewhat, if not greatly, from reality. I have had the technological benefit of being able to see photos and even small video recordings of the place awaiting me at the eastern end of this trip. Still, how different would it be from the glowing images on my computer screen? Would the property feel as spacious and private? Would the house be better or worse than the condition I supposed it to be?
A short while later the same day, I turned off I-15 to wander a little on the paved paths at Hell’s Half Acre lava field interpretive trail. It’s located by a rest stop near Idaho Falls. It’s difficult to imagine a more inhospitable piece of land to attempt to traverse on foot. When we read accounts written by those who traveled the emigrant trails, they describe an endless string of impassable mountain ranges, rivers, and other geologic features. Today, we are barely fazed by such obstacles. We fly far above in our airplanes, or drive through or over on highways and bridges. In so many ways, our technology has separated us from an awareness of the land. What we have gained in convenience, we have lost in intimacy. I’m not sure if we are better for that exchange.
Update: I wanted to give everyone an update on how things are going. Although this post was about the trip from Arizona to eastern Canada, that leg of my journey has since been completed. I arrived in Ottawa around April 10th, stayed a few days to buy a trailer, load it with a collection of my tools, then headed east to Nova Scotia to take possession of the new-old house that I’ve bought. I’ll try to write more about it soon, but suffice to say that the property is pretty much all that I had hoped for — a stretch of waterfront on a brook, plenty of trees and privacy. Good neighbours. Plenty of nearby trails going out into the forests, or along the Annapolis river. The house itself is, as anticipated, in rough condition and will be quite a challenge. But that’s what I was searching for when I began looking at properties online — a place that would help me to keep my mind and body occupied while I work on moving forward with my life. After just over a week, I can tell you that I love the area around Annapolis Royal.. but more about all of this in another post.. hopefully very soon.
EDIT: For those who would like to take a look, here are photos of the house and land. The first three or so rows of thumbnails are recent — taken within a day or two of arriving. The ones down below are older shots that I got from MLS listings, and/or that were sent to me by may agent, or saved from .vpike searches. Things have already changed since the photos in the first row were taken. The front and back lawns have been mown, I’ve been busy scraping and priming the exterior paneling, and I’ve begun tearing out the plaster and wallpaper in the downstairs room with the “big trucks” and “athletes” wallpaper. There’s a ton of work ahead – both small jobs and some major structural stuff — I’ll be the first to admit that, but it’s a neat property and seems well worth the trouble. Anyhow, here’s the link. Click on any thumbnail photo for a larger view.
Late afternoon on April 4th, and I’m making my way northward out of Utah. It’s the easter weekend. Just over the line into Idaho, I stop at a busy gas bar and find my van among cars and SUVs with out-of-state licence plates, crammed with parents and children on their way to or from family gatherings. I seem to be the only lone driver. The dogs peer through the van windows, puzzled by the frantic activity as people run back and forth between their cars at the pumps, and the convenience store where they are loading up on pop, chocolate bars and bags of chips. We depart and soon turn off the interstate, heading cross country to our destination – City of Rocks National Reserve in the Albion Mountains near Almo, Idaho.
Arriving at the visitor center too late to speak with anyone about the campgrounds, I study the brochures and find my way to the Smoky Mountain campground set among the tree clad slopes at the entrance to City of Rocks. The signboard lists winter rates and informs that there is power at the sites, but the water won’t be turned on for a few more weeks. I drive up and cruise around, looking for a good site. There are several horse camping sites with the best shelter among the juniper on the high side of the campground. Apparently, I’m the only one crazy enough to be up on this snowy mountainside, so decide that no one will object if I choose a site with a corral.
I plug in the extension cord and set up the small heater fan which can occasionally be turned on to warm up the van if it gets too cold during the night. Surprisingly, my blackberry is able to send and receive email notes if I position it just right at a particular spot against a metal strip in the back window frame – a discovery which I made while camped at other more remote areas in northern Ontario. I send a message to my mom that the dogs and I have a nice campsite up in the mountains, and are comfortable, lying in our bed, listening to the first evening calls of a Great Horned Owl. I soon doze off and awake at some point during the night, feeling as though someone may have just driven by on the nearby lane. I check the time and then lie looking out the van window at the million dollar view of the valley and mountains beyond, wondering if I was dreaming, or if someone actually did drive by this lonely place at around 3 a.m. I’m pretty sure it was just one of the odd dreams I have when camped off on my own.
Just before dawn, I awake to the whispering of wind as snow flakes whirl through the juniper. I decide to get us on the move as I’m not sure of the weather. The clouds feel ominous and heavy with precipitation as they scrape over the mountains, trailing a broad veil of snow behind. I want enough time to visit City of Rocks before continuing northward and am not sure if the roads will begin to ice up. On this day, I’m not feeling much like getting stuck or sliding off the shoulder. I follow the roadway to the peculiar granite formations, but stop to photograph the stone ruins of an old house on the bend as the first formations loom into view. It feels particularly forlorn in this place – but that has more to do with my state of mind this morning.
I stop periodically to photograph the granite crags and monolithic boulders rising up out of the silvery sagebrush.
I’ve read enough about this place to know that there are inscriptions on the rocks – many made by those who traveled the California Trail by oxcart in the 1800s. City of Rocks lay at a point where those who traveled west either continued northwest on the Oregon Trail, or turned to the southwest and passed through City of Rocks to follow the California Trail. As many as 200,000 people passed through this region, stopping to camp by springs among the formations. Those who passed through this range sometimes left their mark on the granite, painting their names in tar or wheel grease. Perhaps this inscription on Camp Rock was made by one of these visitors long ago.
On an interpretive sign, I find this little sketchbook entry. For some reason, it speaks to me on this day – here in this snowy landscape surrounded by frozen granite that seems to sap every bit of warmth out of me. My hands are becoming increasingly numb as I fumble with the settings on my camera. J. Goldsborough Bruff wrote:
Night very cold, hardly slept, – on ground, – sick, took laudanum.
No sign yet of my train. Left card in sarcoph cave rock.
Bruff is, no doubt, referring to a cave beneath Sarcophus Rock which was used as a place for travelers to leave mail and messages. See this page for further information on messages and inscriptions.
After spending about an hour alone, listening to the sound of snow sifting between these great rocks, I turn the van around to follow my own tracks back out to the highway. There was plenty more driving to do before we would make that night’s destination in Montana. Before leaving, I altered my campsite receipt to mark the date – April 5th – Don’s 58th birthday. I hope that, in some form or another, his spirit was able to spend a little time at City of Rocks. I know he would have loved being there with us.