Making Art in Tuscarora

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Part 4 of 5:

In the Mountains

June 9, 2010

While the Tuscarora art students are busy with projects, I take a day to explore the expanse of mountains I saw from the ridge above town.

Solo route
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Solo route
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527817534

After a hearty breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon and homemade (by necessity, not design) syrup, the Boise students busied themselves with their various artistic pursuits. I hovered for a bit, got a few pictures, and then gave heed to the call of the wild.

Wherever it leads
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Wherever it leads
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527604843

I was determined to get around Mount Blitzen to the unending, uncivilized western mountains I’d seen the day before. I refilled the CamelBak, readied camera equipment and began heading south.

Bed of flowers
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Bed of flowers
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527611263

The tracks south were little used. At times I thought they were about to fade to nothing. But even “nothing” was a pink sympathy bouquet, encouraging loyalty to the road that had been. And so I continued along beds of flowers.

Garland
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Garland
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527617313
More bars
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More bars
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527630943

The nothing turned back into something, adventure ex nihilo, as it merged with a dirt road heading west around Mount Blitzen. Finally. The road fell in along a creek, crossing it back and forth, and cutting through small meadows. Few trees meant a good line of sight and a quick pace, up, down, around, as quick as I could flick the Bavarian platypus. Even if I couldn’t make it into the mountains, it was already worthwhile.

Perfect dirt
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Perfect dirt
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527539315

And then the road suddenly divorced the stream and turned a right angle upward, loyal to a new direction. It was rough at first (divorces are like that), about like the road up to Trinity Lookout,¹ but then the climb relaxed and the road settled down to an easy two-track path.

  1. Trail Image, “Lunch at Trinity Lookout”: trailimage.com/lunch-at-trinity-lookout
Up and away
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Up and away
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527643563

The road soon took up a new mistress, another stream meandering from unknown heights, sustaining a ribbon of vegetation unlike the relatively barren hillsides around. The road and stream intertwined like lovers — I splashed through the water again and again in an adventure ménage à trois. It seemed an ideal ride. I stopped regularly to walk around and savor the place.

Empty square
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Empty square
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527867904

For some reason, the GPS map had a featureless square hole for the hundreds of square miles around Tuscarora. It showed no roads, no contours, no water, nothing, as if the Langoliers had been through. I didn’t know where the road might turn over the next hill. And I liked it. It meant everything I saw was a surprise.

  1. Wikipedia, “The Langoliers”: en.wikipedia.org/…/The_Langoliers
Scales
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Scales
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527656793

The road opened onto a bare hill behind Mount Blitzen. I was gently pushed and pulled by a constant wind as I turned in a circle to the sight of mountains in every direction, no sign of another soul. I felt refreshed.

What I took at first glance to be patches of taller grass on the mountainsides, I realized instead were stands of trees. Things were so much bigger than they seemed. An accurate sense of scale was elusive.

Stop and stop again
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Stop and stop again
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527882144

Taller mountains to the west invited me onward. I wasn’t sure how far I would go, only that I would go. Off mountaintops and ridgelines, the road always took up again with trees and stream, guardians of enthusiastic spring flowers whose hospitality invited many stops to visit.

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mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527890264
Time to walk
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Time to walk
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527680523

The road carried me upward until I was within sight of what seemed to be the tallest peak around (later verified as McCann Creek Mountain). I found a flat area maybe fifty yards from the summit level enough to park and hike the rest.

Look, snow
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Look, snow
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527589935

Steady wind across the peak felt good after climbing in knee-high boots and a coat. It was too high, too early for all the little wildflowers I’d seen a thousand feet lower the day before. But the lichens were just as colorful, contrasting dramatically with green grass and grey rock.

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mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527597935
In the void
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In the void
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527921854
Stacked rocks
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Stacked rocks
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527930684

The joy of these places is for me an elemental sense of timelessness. Ten thousand years ago or ten thousand years hence, it is the same rocks, the same wind, the same quiet sounds of water animated once again as the earth turns its face to the sun. My mind in that moment is expanded so that whatever concerns I held before shrink from perception against that backdrop of the unchanging and always changing elements.

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mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527624735
Burns 1955
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Burns 1955
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527949354
Outcrop to outcrop
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Outcrop to outcrop
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527956614

Atop McCann Creek Mountain, I went happily from outcrop to outcrop, wanting to see the form and view unique to each one. On my fourth or fifth such climb I noticed a pink ribbon amidst a small pile of rocks.

Ladybug town
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Ladybug town
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527744943

Curious to see what the ribbon might signify, I lifted the stone atop the mound. Bugs exploded at me. A moment of alarm was quickly quelled when I saw they were ladybugs awakened from their collective slumber, moving hastily in no particular direction.

Log book
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Log book
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527971414

After apologizing to the ladybugs, I looked to find a small jar at the other end of the ribbon; inside, a small notepad and pencil. Opening and reading, I found a record of others, a name and hometown.

First for 2010
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First for 2010
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527978614

I carefully added my own record — with additional remarks you may read when you visit McCann Creek Mountain in Nevada — closed the lid and returned the jar to its stony nest.

Looking back toward Tuscarora
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Looking back toward Tuscarora
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527768023

From that high vantage point, it appeared the road I’d been on might loop back to Tuscarora. Not wanting to backtrack, I was happy to gamble on the possibility.

First, though, I would have to find a way past a large snowdrift. I thought I could ride off-road around it but as I drew closer I saw the adjacent slope was steep, rocky and wet. I was still tempted but thought better of it. Falling with a heavy motorcycle on a steep hill onto sharp rocks could be more than inconvenient.

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mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527776833

Although I had to backtrack, I stopped to explore different areas and took small side-routes, over to an outcropping or through some trees, as I encountered them. It continued to be an exhilarating ride.

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mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13528005154
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mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527793453
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mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13528023794
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mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527814233
Between aspens
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Between aspens
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13528044894

I made the obvious choice to take the road not travelled when I came to the one intersection I’d passed on the way in. Its state of disrepair suggested it hadn’t been used much this year. It was just technical enough for fun on the big GS.

Not much road left
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Not much road left
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527740565

The little used road connected back to the easy two-track. Rather than turning back across the Mount Blitzen foothills to Tuscarora, the way I’d come, I followed curiosity farther out from the mountains before the road turned past a rustic farm back toward Tuscarora on gravel.

Solo ride
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Solo ride
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/13527750765

It was a fun, invigorating day. Although I never saw another person, I felt like I’d spent the day with old friends. I would love to explore farther into those mountains. It would have to be another trip, though. The following day was our return to Boise.

As night fell, I lay in the tent searching the GPS for interesting routes home. Even on highway, the stormy forecast might mean my daughter and I faced adventure.