Flaming Gorge to Craters of the Moon National Monument

My current plan was to go from Dinosaur National Monument to Crater’s of the Moon national Monument which would involve a hefty drive from the western Utah, taking the scenic routes and avoiding at all costs going through Salt Lake City. The rock formations of Flaming Gorge Reservoir and Recreation Area were of an unbelievable intense hue of red-orange. Every day I am astonished and am as much in awe of the scenery as I was on day one. I must sound like a broken record. But it is such a deep feeling of childlike awe that I continually experience. This land is magnificent and I pray we don’t keep destroying it. Every time I read about opening up National Forest lands for logging or areas for more oil exploration I cringe. As always I enjoyed the drive, made good time and appreciate that there are almost no advertising signs except on the rare occasion that I am approaching a small town that still has a thriving business. There may be one or two advertising billboards on approach but that is it. On so many highways, especially the interstates, I feel assaulted by so much advertisement all of he time.

Much of the land appears quite arid and what farming there is along the route is usually grasslands with stacks and stacks of bales. The rest is ranch land but very few cows appeared to be grazing in the fields. Miles and miles of rolling hills and rock outcropping dotted with sagebrush and juniper primarily. I think what disturbed me most was the polluted air, the SMAZE that was hovering across the land. I first noticed it at an Overlook in Dinosaur National Monument which sees significant SMAZE from the urban air pollution of Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, coal and oil-fired powered plant in Utah and southern Colorado, and oil refineries and oil fields in the area. It seemed to be growing denser across that landscape as the day wore on. It felt almost eerie as if the distance scene was a stage and a scrim had been lowered in front of the lands on the horizon. I can remember when I did an Outward Bound in Utah about 25years ago and being so dismayed upon summiting my first mountain to see this same SMAZE across the mountains and later desert horizon then. It saddened me then and does now. To me, the loss of clear blue skies is another environmental disaster.

As it was getting late I was feeling concerned about getting a campsite but a call to the ranger revealed they rarely fill up during the week. So I arrived there around 5;00 and there were numerous sites available. It was quite a strange sight though, as they were all in the midst of a field of lave and the sites were often very small, close together, with very little privacy and NO shade. I selected one I thought would be great given the circumstances, and it was the highest one in the campground. I could see my tent perch on this flat area atop the site overlooking the black rugged lava rock field. Well, my tent, myself and the wind, wind, wind had quite the fight. I was going to win and I finally got it staked down and up. But I could tell it was going to be a battle I would not win in the long run as the wind was buffeting it constantly, so I pulled it up and set it down in a much more sheltered area backing up to my car. The family next door saw my plight and they all came over and they helped me finally get it settled. With the set up, dinner, and walk of the campground, before I knew it the sun was setting. So i climbed into my bag which was dotted with cinders (as well as the floor of the tent). I somehow can’t seem to get the dogs to shake of the dust, sand, dirt and cinders and wipe their feet before entering the tent and plopping down on my bag.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven rising early I could feel the day heating up and with no shade and anticipated temps in the 90’s I decided not to stay the second night I had intended. Broke camp (the usual 1:15) and did a driving tour of the monument. Black lava and the arid sagebrush abound but for some reason I had a difficult time getting enthused during the seven mile loop drive. I did the .4 mile steep walk up the Inferno Cinder Cone and from the top the bleakness of the surrounds was even more accentuated. It was quite eerie with the the many cinder cones lined up in the distance and the thunderheads looming over the area. I have so many good and bad memories of lava fields. Riding through the lava fields during the Kona Ironman World Championship is a good memory, though very hot and windy memory. Hiking to the top of the Mauna Loa in Hawaii is the bad one. I started at 10,000 feet, I was not acclimated and I struggled the entire way. Two memories strike me most. I never saw anything living the entire hike up (plant, animal, insect or another human. The other is getting hypothermic at the end of the hike and barely able to warm myself up. I was scared. But this current adventure was not holding any joy for me so I opted to head on out.

I was heading towards Bend, Oregon and decided to search out dog friendly motels. Any motel that was reasonable was SOLD OUT and LaQuinta want $289.00 for a room. Feeling tired and having no real idea about campgrounds, and layered with 3 days of filth I decided to make a reservation at a Super 8 in Ontario OR – about a three hour drive. I got a dog-friendly room at the Super 8 just over the Idaho border in Ontario, Oregon. The last Super 8 I had stayed in Longmont Colorado was very nice so I gave it another go, For expediency I opted to take the Interstate for about 90 miles. I had already forgotten how much I hate interstates but was very quickly reminded of the heavy truck use, high speeds, high volume of traffic and not to forget the piggy back trucks.

When I exited the interstate and right there was the Super 8. Well, though the room was adequate and clean, the surroundings were quite remarkable – in a negative way. It was right next door to a Pilot Gas and Truck stop and there seemed to be a lot of people just hanging around in the parking lot. Lots of smokers and butts around. There was no close place to take the dogs except a trash strewn strip of burned out grass and weeds across the parking lot. Old box springs, furniture and an old dryer were stacked in a corner at end of walkway. My furniture was quaint and old and decor “early ugly”. I just about tripped on a machine being used to repair the dry pond in front of my room. But I had a good shower, good bed and a needed break. I spent quite a bit of time searching out campground around Bend in the Dechutes National Forest and I was not surprised to see that most of them were all ready sold out. I found a couple that had walk-in sites that can’t be reserved ahead and thought I would see if I could get a spot the next day and if not head on through to Tasia’s. It’s almost impossible to get campsites in the National Parks and Monument or National Forest at the spur of the moment anymore now that most sites can be reserved ahead of time. Anyhow the dogs were quite pleased with the digs and i did not hear any complaints from them.

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