July 23rd, 2016, City of Rocks National Monument, Idaho
Dried wild onion with our camping pass.
Having the first moment for myself for a couple of days, I am breaking the breezy evening peace with country music played over my flat-sounding phone speakers. But after a day spent in the car, making the endless considerations for the road trip partners’ happiness, this is perfect.
We are camped in the aptly named City of Rocks National monument, and Dana has gone off to “look at rocks,” which, after a day staring at the road, sounded wholly unappealing.
Stock photo of City of Rocks, because my camera is not that good. Dana “looking at rocks.”
Occasionally the lowing of cows rolls beneath Brad Paisley’s drawl. Open range, or a rather extensive ranch, is only about thirty yards from our campsite. The cows’ bellowing sounds desperate, but maybe that’s just how they sound up close and half-wild.
Our campsite is a grove of young aspen and elegantly curved piñon, and a stand of papery-barked juniper around the tent pad. The path to the site is flanked by the most voluptuously fruitful wax current bushes I have ever seen (and I have seen a lot of wax currents). I cannot go directly anywhere from the tent or the picnic table without stopping to gobble a few fat berries.
They are precisely the color of my new down puffer, which I am wearing against the evening breeze. Dana says it makes me look like “a front-range biddie,” which makes me regret teaching him the word “biddie.”
After this long summer, it is gratifying to be stretched out on a picnic table on my belly, the westering sun bright upon an utterly unknown landscape, writing something that has NOTHING to do with ancient Ireland. Though I do admit, every time the cattle bawl, I look around for Maev or Brida, then remember that they only exist in my brain.
So far, our road trip has been a pleasure. We did have a fight in the Ridley’s supermarket in Malta because we forgot our camp pots. This was a mutual failure, but each felt the other one at least marginally more responsible, which ended with me having to take a bit of a walk while he ate his sandwich, and tell an abandon oil company payroll office all about the incident.
Driving into Idaho/Bear Reservoir in Garden City, Utah/a poor panorama of City of Rocks, an outlook at several formations in City of Rocks- Parking Lot Rock, Morning Glory Spire, The Anthill.
This part of Idaho is drier than I remember it being, so we must have passed through earlier in the summer when we drove it with dad years ago. The wild roses have neither blossoms nor hips currently. The cattle and cowboy trucks with robust racks rather than beds are plentiful.
The wind whistles in the throat of my beer bottle. I am going to take a walk and focus on finishing it before dark.
A pale-pink kind of flax (I think) that is very common here. Blue flax, the periwinkle-hued one common in Colorado, is nowhere to be seen.
July 24th, 2016, City of Rocks National Monument, Idaho
City of Rocks Scenic byway is apparently a branch of the California Trail. We met the evidence as we drove in: one of the rock formations shows the carefully graven names of thousands of wagon-train pioneers. Their handwriting reminded me of the deliberate way that my great-grandmother Willa Dee Hooper used to label photographs, formal lettering in all capitals. The name MACALLISTER dominated the spread, MINNIE-SCOTT-JAMES piled upon one another, covering the bottom ten feet of a fifty-foot boulder.
Again, not my photo. The largest wall of signatures.
Pioneers rejoiced when they reached this destination. I could just picture a cheerful campfire flickering against the signatures on the wall, grateful folk sharing coffee and stories of the road. Surely they exclaimed as the sunset fell across the magnificent Pre-Cambrian formations around them, which they referred to as a “Silent City of Rocks.” One journaler, the excitingly named Wakeman Bryarly, wrote:
[The] road continued between . . . & around these rocky piles but the road itself was good. You can imagine among these massive piles, church domes, spires, pyramids, &c., in fact, with a little fancying you can see [anything] from the Capitol at Washington to a lovely thatched cottage.
I “fancied” them giant prehistoric or alien beasts grazing in green fields, or magnified dust mites. One boulder really did look just like a tardigrade, the microscopic subject of an article in National Geographic. Dana found this obvservation underwhelming, in my opinion.
They bore names like Elephant Rock, Bath Rock and The Breadloaves. The park was well-trafficked, but quiet for the number of travelers. We climbed two 5.8 routes on Elephant Rock, mostly flake-systems of cracks. Dana climbed a steep 5.10 on The Breadloaves dubbed “Bloody fingers,” but that was hyperbolic. There was a wildly difficult start and a “scary” part at the top, but he ascended peacefully and with no blood whatsoever.
Dana climbed #3, both lead and TR.
I tried it also, but flailed about at the bottom and found no strength to even aid up it. After this, I needed to redeem myself, so we climbed “_____? Rasmussen” 5.8 a little ways along. It was a properly torturous crack: not dangerous or long, but demanding crack-climbing techniques, which are painful and harmless and thrilling. It has the honor of being the first route that I got my foot legitimately stuck in, and had to be lowered a few feet in order to free it. I can assure you that I ascended cursing and shouting, which is how you can tell how good a crack climb it is. I disturbed many a fellow climber and more than a few rock pigeons. This one was excellent.
Final route was the crack labelled ‘J,’ 5.8.
I felt satisfied after that, and we scrambled down to the old-fashioned hand-pump for water. It was icy cold as it was sucked up from the depths of the earth, and I rinsed my hair and feet, exultant.
Then we turned left out of the Emory Picnic grounds parking lot. It was eleven miles on a dirt road to Oakley and another thirty to Burley, Idaho. I think that is the town Granddad declares the halfway point to Oregon, but that must be based on leaving Pueblo. In any case, these pioneers headed onward, to Glenn’s Ferry.
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