Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My New Desk in McCone!

Today I feel like its official that I transferred to the Earth & Planetary Science Dept from Mechanical Engineering at Berkeley because I moved to my new desk! I was really excited to move because my old desk was in Etcheverry Hall, where there used to be a nuclear reactor in the 60s. My desk was in the center of the building and had no windows, just foot-thick concrete walls and recirculated air. Gross. My new desk is a corner room in McCone Hall and has 4 large windows that you could open to let fresh air in. I have natural light as opposed to flickering fluorescent lighting.

My New DeskMy new desk and personal window! I had to close the shade so that the picture would come out.

I have to gloat about this because I've been sitting in a crappy room over the past year or so. Now I have an awesome view - check out the next pictures which I took out my window and the other nearest windows:

View From My WindowThis is the view from my window. You can see Memorial Glade and the big library. I can also see the bay partially off to the right and the northern part of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

View From West Window
This is a view of a redwood tree out the west window closest to me. I like redwoods.

View From My Window
This is the view from the south window to the left of my desk. You can see the clock tower and the Oakland Hills.

I hope that I don't find myself looking out the windows more than doing the work that I have to get done!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some Videos to Share

While we were on our trip with Nicole and Marcel, they had a camera that took short video clips. Some of them were pretty good, so I thought I would share them.

Here is a video of Nicole and Marcel driving off road in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in central Idaho. They were following us and we were going to Sheephorn Lookout Tower which a little higher than 8,000 ft. I thought that the forest and mountains in this part of Idaho were absolutely beautiful and I want to go back again!

The next video is of Romy chopping wood at the Peel Tree A-Frame, the cabin we rented from the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho. There were a bunch of cut pieces of wood that needed to be split so that we could make a campfire. Romy was having a bunch of fun doing it.

The final video is the funniest! We were in Idaho (again) but this time near Lava Hot Springs in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. We were looking for a camping spot and along the gravel road, there was a huge pick-up truck that was stuck in the mud. People kept passing him without helping (which we didn't know) but we stopped! He was so desperate that he accepted our offer to try and help tow him out with a VW Beetle! We tried it, if only for shits and giggles. We didn't really think we could tow him out anyways. . .

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Our Time Back in Berwyn

Here are some pictures from our time back in Berwyn:

Baby Robins
A Robin couple made a nest above the outdoor light and had three babies. They barely fit in the nest. Before we left to go back in California, the three baby birds flew out of the nest! I sometimes wonder how birds make such perfect nests. They look comfy.

Romy and his 1970 Buick which was originally bought by his grandma. It still needs a vinyl roof put on, and some of the chrome trim.

Jenn Romy Nicole Marcel 7.11.2010
My mom hosted a BBQ and invited a bunch of family and friends!

Mike's Blueberry Farm
We went blueberry picking at Mike's Blueberry Farm in New Buffalo, Michigan. They sold the u-pick berries for $1.50/lb.

Mike's Blueberry Farm
Romy, Marcel and Nicole picking blueberries. It was really hot that day! Romy and I picked 13 pounds and then called it quits to hit the beach again because we were soooooo hot in the sun!

Jenn 7.16.2010
I met my friend Kali for breakfast one morning. We hadn't seen each other since high school when we were both in marching band!

Romy 7.13.2010
Romy and his parents in the backyard. We had a White Castle picnic with sliders, onion rings, and chocolate milk shakes.

Jenn 7.13.2010
We also visited Jim and Antonia, who are getting married this August! They live in Chicago near the field where the White Sox play.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Our Way Back to Berwyn

When I finally realized it in my head, that we were now on our way home, a little sadness crept over me. You know how it is, realizing that a great adventure is coming to an end? Well, that thought hung over my head the whole time we drove back home. Luckily, the way we chose to drive home was filled with things to see, as we were trying to maximize our time that we had left. Firstly, we planned on driving north through Yellowstone National Park, then to Cody Wyoming and up over the Bighorn Mountains. Then we planned on seeing Devil's Tower before we left Wyoming. In South Dakota, we wanted to drive through the Black Hills, before we hit the flat-ish plains of Iowa and definitely flat plains of Illinois.

Yellowstone NP
Thermal pools at Yellowstone National Park.

Driving across Yellowstone really made us realize how HUGE the park really is. It took us literally the whole day, with a few stops of course to see the hot thermal pools and geysers. We also stopped for about 2 hours at Old Faithful to see it erupt. Nicole and Marcel went on the boardwalk around the thermal pools and springs, while Romy and I looked for a nice spot to watch Old Faithful erupt. We found the gigantic Old Faithful Inn, a hotel made out of wood which sits right next to the geyser its named after. We saw that there was a viewing platform on the top of the hotel so we tried to get to it. We climbed three stories of stairs until we hit a blockade which locked the rest of the stairs up to the crow's nest viewing platform. Damn! Well, during our search inside the Inn, we found a smaller balcony lower down on the second floor where we decided to sit and watch the eruption away from all the people. It was perfect! And another bonus we found was that the Inn had hostel style bathrooms, with showers! We helped ourselves to a nice hot shower while N&M were still walking around the thermal pools trail/boardwalk. We already saw it the last time we visited Yellowstone, and a hot shower after many days of camping sounded nice (and it had to be a stealth shower so that the hotel staff wouldn't catch us - Shhhhhhh don't tell anyone)!

Yellowstone NP
Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone National Park.

The road out of the park towards Cody took us out of the mountainous interior and onto the rolling plains, near Yellowstone Lake. There we saw buffalo everywhere! And with the wild animals, of course, came the back up in traffic, with everybody and their mom stopping their cars in the middle of the road to look at the wildlife. It really seemed like these were the type of people who have never seen a deer before, or something. Once there was a bear on the side of the road off in a wooded area, and so many people just stopped their car to take pictures that it caused a back up for half a mile down the road. People even got out of their cars while leaving the engine idling. So many people were mobbing the poor bear that it promptly left. In fact, most people seemed to 'hog' the opportunity to see the wildlife. Instead of taking a quick look and leaving the animal alone, people swarmed it with their cameras, approaching it and yelling, "Hey look!" to their brothers or sisters. So annoying!!!!!

A resting buffalo in the prairie grass at Yellowstone.

When we finally got out of Yellowstone (which we all decided would be a lot better to visit in September when all the people were gone) we had to start looking for a camping spot since it was getting late. We found a whole string of National Forest campgrounds along the road to Cody, so we just picked one. It was getting pretty cold outside and clouding over. Romy went to go talk to the campground host, and he said that they were predicting snow for any location above 6,000 ft. That meant we might be getting snowed upon in the middle of July! And Yellowstone was going to get snow for sure. I secretly hoped that we would wake up under a couple inches of snow, but it didn't happen. Instead we got a little cold drizzle overnight and then a good rain in the morning. Romy and I packed up our tent before the downpour started, but N&M were a little slower and got their tent soaked!

After the rain hurried us out of the campground, we started the drive to Cody Wyoming where we filled up for gas and coffee. But as N&M pulled up into the gas station, we noticed a bunch of oil under their rear end. Uh oh! Oil was literally squirting out like a fountain out of their oil cooler when the engine was running. Crap! Luckily there was an auto parts store across the street from the gas station, so we filled it up with more oil and drove quickly to the parts store. There we asked if they would happen to know a VW joint nearby, but of course, those don't exist in these parts. The man behind the counter said we just tripled the VW population of Cody by driving through (apparently there was only one other VW in the whole town). But he pointed us to some guy he knew of that might have VW parts lying around, so we took the info and hoped for the best.

Joe's Auto in Powell, WY
A hand painted VW Beetle at Joe's Auto in Cody, Wyoming.

Romy and Marcel dropped me and Nicole in downtown Cody while they took care of the VW. We didn't know it, but this was the first of many breakdowns we would have with N&M's baja on the way home! Nicole and I walked around the downtown area while Romy and Marcel drove around in the working baja to find parts. Their first stop was Joe's Auto in Cody, who referred them to some crazy old man a few miles down the highway. Apparently this man had a shop with a bunch of parts. Romy told me he has suffered a few strokes in his age, and also farted audibly without noticing or caring at all. They were looking for an oil cooler, which they finally found. Then a couple hours after they dropped us off, Romy and Marcel picked us up again. We went back to look at the oil leak, only to discover that it wasn't the oil cooler at all upon closer inspection! It was the oil pressure switch sender which was busted, and that was connected to the oil cooler. So the search for parts that Romy and Marcel went on was kind of pointless, but they did buy some cheap other random parts for the bajas while there. What we ended up doing was switching out their broken oil pressure sender for ours (since we actually had two on ours - weird coincidence). Literally in five minutes the problem was fixed and we were on our way again.

Bighorn mtns, WY
9,000 ft in the sky at the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming.

Since we spent most of the day unexpectedly in Cody, we needed to really get going back on the road. I hoped that we would make it to the Bighorn Mountains while it was still light out because I remembered from our last road trip in the bus that they were really cool. We took a small road (14A) from Cody to the foot of the mountains, and then the road just started climbing up - 10% grades! We were gaining elevation fast and before we knew it we were at over 9,000 ft in just half an hour or so! At the top we stopped for a rest, but quickly continued so that we could see the rest of the mountains along the road before sunset. Romy got really excited and proclaimed that it was his favorite mountains. They were like an island in the Wyoming high desert! We saw elk, moose, aspens, and pines. Forested areas gave way to rolling grasslands and creeks covered by willows. The mountain range, once you got on top of it, was kind of like a big plateau, mostly above 8,000 ft. We drove through for about an hour before we crossed it and descended back down to the grassy plains of eastern Wyoming.

Rest Stop Sleeping
Our sleeping arrangement at a Wyoming rest stop.

We drove deep into the night, but at midnight we were so tired that we decided to stop at the next rest stop which was just outside of Moorcroft. We were so exhausted that we just wanted to go to sleep, but of course, there is no camping at rest stops allowed. And N&Ms bug decided to die and not start again as they pulled off I90. We had to push their bug into the rest stop, about 1/4 of a mile! But we made it, and N&M decided to sleep in the front seats of their baja. Romy and I didn't like the sound or feel of that, so we got out our army camo sleeping bags and slept on the grass under a cottonwood tree. We were pretty hidden I guess because nobody bothered us all night. We woke up to the sun hitting us which started to warm up the bags to an uncomfortable temperature. I guess it was time to hit the road anyways!

Broken Down in Moorcroft
N&M's baja broken down in Moorcroft Wyoming.

We drove out to Moorcroft to get coffee and fill up on gas before hitting the road to see Devil's Tower. But again, there was something wrong with N&M's baja! This time a crazy noise was coming out of the engine, like a hammer hitting on metal. Sometimes it was in time with the engine rpm, as if it was a problem in the valve train, but other times it was completely random. We decided to check the valves, but first we had to wait for the engine to cool. The valves were pretty mal-adjusted so Marcel fixed that, but the noise didn't go away. After listening to it for a bit, we decided that it must of been a rock in the fan shroud that was being thrown around. That's what we hoped anyways, and hit the road again. Unfortunately we ate the time that we planned to see Devil's Tower. I guess there's always next time!

Wind Cave NP
The ranger demonstrating the wind coming out of Wind Cave, South Dakota.

Instead of continuing on I-90, we decided to get off and take Route 20 all the way back to Chicago. But to get to Route 20, we had to go through the Black Hills and found ourselves passing through Wind Cave National Park. Since we were there, we thought we might as well try to take a tour of the cave! We arrived a little late, but just in time to make it on the last tour of the day. The cave is known for its boxwork, a type of formation that creates honeycomb-like features on the walls and ceiling of the cave. Supposedly it was formed when the rock of the Black Hills area was uplifted and cracked in the process. The cracks were filled in by a harder mineral mix then the rock itself. When the cave eroded out the rock, it left the crack-filling, which formed into the boxwork. We also saw cave popcorn! When we came out of the cave, the sun was already low in the horizon, so we knew we had to hit the road again soon. We drove south out of the Black Hills and South Dakota, into Nebraska to join Route 20. When it got dark, we found a wayside with a picnic bench, like a mini rest stop but more personal sized since it was route 20 and not I-80. We decided that nobody would bother us if we pitched our tents there, so that's what we did and went to sleep. The only thing that bothered us was when the semi trucks zoomed by in the middle of the night, which didn't happen often, but when it did, they sounded like freight trains!

The next morning, Route 20 took us through the rolling hills of northern Nebraska, which used to be sand dunes, once deposited on the shore of an ancient sea. Romy's dad told us a story about how the area was settled long ago. He said that cattle ranchers had their cows in the central part of the state, which bordered the sand dunes. Once in a while a cow would wander off into the grass covered dunes. They are a bit like an endless wavy sea of grass, so the cows usually got lost. A year later the cow was found, all fat! So the ranchers realized that the grass covered dunes were actually ideal for ranching, and that's pretty much all we saw as we drove through northern Nebraska (cows). I liked the dunes, though. We also stopped for some Oreo Blizzards at a DQ.

Stopping for a DQ treat in Nebraska - Oreo Blizzards!

Soon we were out of Nebraska and into Iowa. About an hour in, N&M pulled over on the side of the road. Now what, we thought? They described a similar problem like when the CV joint popped out, the wheels didn't want to turn anymore. So we looked at the back wheel to see what was going on when a cop pulled up behind us. He was in a uniform that didn't quite fit him, and kept asking us what we planned to do. We asked him if we could tow them with our tow strap like we did in Idaho to the nearest town. The cop told us that the nearest town was less than a mile away, called Early, Iowa. So we hooked up N&M's baja with the strap and pulled them into town, even though it was completely illegal (but the cop told us we could, which was so nice of him). We needed a concrete pad so that we could jack up the car easier. We found one right off the road in the middle of town which I think was an old gas station (the building and pumps were torn out and all that was left was the concrete pad and piping). That would do, so we started to investigate.

Broken Down in Early
Taking the brake drum off in Early, Iowa.

Well, after some inspection, we ruled out that the CV joint popped out again. Instead, we thought that the brake drum splines must have stripped (similar to what had happened with the CV joint, but now it was the brake drum which connected to the axles). Since the brake drum splines were stripped, the wheel was effectively no longer connected to the axles, so the transmission couldn't spin the wheels anymore. So Marcel and Romy pulled the brake drum off and confirmed that the splines were completely stripped! What to do now!? As if on cue, an overly enthusiastic man drove up and asked us what we were doing and if we needed help. We told him the situation, and he let us know that the father in-law of the woman who owned the restaurant which was across the street owned a few VW Beetles. Maybe he could help us find a new brake drum? So Marcel went into the restaurant and talked to the owner, who was also the bartender. She called her father in-law and soon he was on his way (he only lived 5 blocks away). He drove up in a Smart car, and he was about 85 years old and retired. He took a look at what we discovered, and decided he would help us get a new brake drum. He figured he'd pull one off of one of his Beetles that were laying around in his shop.

N&M were sure lucky to be breaking down in towns which all seemed to have some old man with a shop that had VWs in it! 20 minutes later, Marcel, Romy, and the old man returned with a brake drum from his shop, and they started replacing it. While Marcel and Romy worked, the old man told us old man stories. He said he visited Hiroshima 5 years after the atomic bomb was dropped there. He described how the center of the city was still destroyed, and how he went by the marble front stairs of a bank that was in the blast zone. The exposed marble was greatly damaged from the bomb's shockwave, but the freaky thing he described was where people were sitting on the stairs, the marble was completely undamaged because their bodies protected it. He could literally see the imprint of where people were on the stairs because the marble was left undamaged there in an outline of a person. Kind of freaky!

Anyways, after the brake drum was replaced and the wheel put back on, we decided to go have a beer at his daughter in-law's restaurant/bar. She had Sam Adams on tap, so we each had a glass. The old man was with us, joking how he was the supervisor of the whole operation (the brake drum event) and that next time he wanted us to provide him with a better chair to sit on, one with a back rest! Then another guy came into the bar and sat down and ordered a drink. The old man told us it was the mayor of the town, but we thought he was joking with us again. No, actually it was the mayor of the town that sat down for a drink! What a small town. I liked it.

We wanted to stay for more beer, but we had to keep driving. The owner of the restaurant charged us $5 for all four of our beers. We were absolutely in disbelief but she insisted so we just gave her a big tip. The rest of our drive was uneventful. We spent another night in the sleeping bags on the grass, this time at a Pilot truck stop near the Illinois border (maybe the weirdest place I've ever slept, on a lawn in front of a gas station, basically). But it was okay. We managed only because we knew the next day we would be home in Berwyn! Finally!

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Grand Tetons

Victor, ID Poppies
Red poppies in Victor, ID.

Victor, ID Poppies
Close up of the red poppies in Victor, ID.

The last segment of our trip was to visit the Grand Tetons National Park. We wanted to hike the Teton Crest Trail, which runs along the crest of the Teton mountain range. It doesn't go to any of the peaks, but meanders through the mountain range, mostly behind the east faces which make up the famous view of the Tetons. But first we had to get there, from where we last camped near Dillon Montana. It took us the better part of a day just to reach the Wyoming border. Before we did, we took a pit stop in Victor Idaho, where we saw the biggest red poppies I've ever encountered. And there were soooo many growing in various places! After we got out of Victor, we had to drive up the backside of the Teton range, just to the south of the park. Our baja was climbing a lot faster than N&M's, so we parked and waited for them at the top, where we had a nice view of Jackson Hole, the valley along the east side of the Teton range.

Jackson Hole, WY
Me and Nicole above Jackson Hole, WY.

Looking at the map, we needed a place to camp that was nearby the national park. We needed to get up super early the next morning so that we could reserve our permit to hike up into the Tetons. The visitor center opened at 8am, and we wanted to be there at least half hour or so earlier so that we could wait outside in case other people wanted to reserve permits also. There is a limit on how many people could sleep up in the mountains, and since it was July 4th weekend, we thought it might be a popular thing to do. So we found some national forest land just across the valley from the park, and headed there for the evening to set up camp.

Grand Tetons NP
Setting up camp near Grand Tetons National Park.

As we drove across the valley and up into the mountains on the other side, the view of the Tetons was spectacular! The road turned to dirt, and soon we found a campsite. It was on the tip of a long ridge that extended towards the valley. As we were carrying our tents and stuff, we saw a fox run along the ridge! I hoped that it wouldn't steal our shoes in the night (foxes are known to do that kind of stuff). We were just in awe of the great view from the campsite we chose that we relaxed and all we did was watch the sunset. When it got dark, we hit the sleeping bags because we had to wake up so early the next morning!

Grand Tetons NP
View of the Tetons from our campsite the next morning at 6am.

We were ready in half an hour after the alarm went off. But we were pretty tired! We made our way into the park and took our place in line at the visitor center doors. We were the first ones there at about 45 minutes before the visitor center opened. So Romy and I got coffee for everyone while N&M waited. When we got back with the coffees, about 15 minutes later, a few more people were waiting. When it was about 5 minutes before opening time, two women, one of them pregnant, came up to the door and also waited. We assumed that they realized that there were about 5 other people waiting in line before them, but apparently they were so oblivious they just walked right in front of us as the ranger opened the door finally at 8am! The whole group of us went to the permit desk, and to our disbelief, the two women who showed up 5 minutes ago just cut in front of everybody in line! Marcel let them know what they had just done and the stupid pregnant bimbo (who knew very well what she and her friend just did) just gave him a "I'm a stupid bimbo" stare. After they were done, we talked to the permit ranger to get our permits for the trail and sometime before the pregnant bimbo left, she apologized to us. Whatever! Is that what she is going to teach her child? How to cut in line and then look like a retard? I hope not!

When we talked to the ranger, she told us that she couldn't give us any permits for most of the Teton Crest Trail because there was still a lot of snow up there. Since we didn't have ice axes or crampons, we couldn't go. But she let us know of other one-night options that we could do instead, so we decided to do a hike up the Cascade Canyon, and then camp up in it's south fork, which is just behind the Grand Teton peaks. Then for the second night, we reserved a back country campsite (one of only two) on the shore of Spaulding Bay. It was the only back country site you could drive to! We were lucky that we got that spot. So off we were, a little disappointed that we couldn't do the whole trail, but still excited to get going. And anyways, since there was still so much snow up there, like the ranger said, we wouldn't see anything anyways. Most of the alpine lakes up there were still frozen and covered in a couple feet of snow, and this was the 4th of July weekend!

Grand Tetons NP
Starting our hike into Cascade Canyon

When we got to the trailhead, we parked and packed up the backpacks with only the bare essentials. Since we were only spending one night up there, we didn't need much stuff. We had a bear canister which we packed with instant oatmeal, power bars, beef jerky, cheese, and noodles. We took a water bottle with our water filter, extra warm cloths, tent, thermarests, and sleeping bags. Oh yeah, and the camera! That was about it. We had about 7 miles to hike to our campsite, and a couple thousand feet of elevation gain. We left the trailhead at about 10:30am. After about an hour into the hike, we entered the canyon, with towering mountains to either side, and a creek flowing down between. We hiked along the creek most of the time.

Grand Tetons NP
Nicole and I pausing for a picture along the Cascade Canyon trail.

Grand Tetons NP
View down the Cascade Canyon

Before we knew it, we reached the point where the canyon split into its north and south fork, about 5 miles or so up the canyon. There we paused for a rest and then headed up the south fork. The trail got really steep for a while as we ascended into the south fork, making a sharp turn, heading up and behind the Teton peaks. Along the next couple miles into the south fork were various campsites that we were allowed to camp in. About half of the were snow free (the ones at lower elevation). We picked the third campsite up the trail. We were so tired by then that we all just plopped down in the ground and sat for a while. We were at nearly 9,000ft and just hiked 7 miles all the way up! We were pooped!

Grand Tetons NP
View up the south fork of Cascade Canyon.

Grand Tetons NP
Our campsite in the south fork of Cascade Canyon.

After we settled in, we ate a snack before getting our boots back on and taking a hike without our big packs on further up the trail to see this snow that the ranger was talking about. We walked for another 2 miles or so, and then Romy and I decided to stop. Along the way there were actually big patches of snow that we started to see which became more and more frequent. N&M wanted to keep going towards Hurricane Pass, which was supposedly all under a couple feet of snow. They went on while we sat next to a waterfall in the sun. After about 30 minutes, we headed back to camp. They arrived back in camp just a little while after us and told us that the trail was completely covered in deep snow just a little bit farther up from where we stopped. The snow just continued as far as the eye could see they told us! So hiking the Teton Crest Trail would be a little difficult, with no actual trail visible!

Grand Tetons NP
View up the north fork of Cascade Canyon as we were hiking out the next morning.

When we got back, we had dinner, but it started to get really cold outside, probably in the mid 40s. We barely could stand washing our pots and pans from dinner in the ice cold stream, but we did it because we didn't want any bears visiting our campsite. A young male mule deer was circling our campsite, munching on the foliage. It munched all evening, and really wasn't very afraid of us.

Grand Tetons NP
A mule deer that visited our campsite many times during the evening.

We hit the tents early that night because we wanted to keep warm! We spent the last minutes of daylight reading the park newspaper and brochure which we brought with us. Then when it got dark, we fell asleep. The next morning we woke up almost 12 hours from when we fell asleep (9pm to 9am)! We must of been really tired! We still had plenty of time to pack things up that morning, and the sun was starting to warm everything back up. After coffee and breakfast, we started heading back down the mountain. There were soooo many people hiking that day. We saw somebody every couple minutes for the whole way down! Sometimes it required a lot of skill to go pee so that nobody would see you. That's how many people were on the trail! We finally reached the trailhead in the afternoon. It took us almost the same amount of time to hike down than it did to hike up! I thought that was weird, but I guess we were kind of slow on the way back.

Grand Tetons NP
Our campsite at Spaulding Bay.

After so much hiking, we went into town for a beer. We found a small microbrewery called Snake River Brewing and tried a couple of their beers along with some calzones for dinner. Mmmm, the beer was excellent. After the refreshing beverages and huge dinner, we headed back into the park to Spaulding Bay for our second camping permit. We arrived kind of late, but that was ok with us. All night we heard grouses thumping their deep calls. They are birds similar to chickens, but more quail-looking. Their call sounds like somebody is thumping into the ground with a hammer at a fast rate. But we never saw them, just heard them. I think they lived in the forest. We also saw a male elk in the forest on our way to the campsite.

The next morning, we headed out of the park to the north. We were now officially on our way home (booooooooo). But in order to extend the vacation for as long as we could, we decided to drive home through Yellowstone. It wasn't exactly on the way, but it wasn't too far off either. . .

Grand Tetons
Driving out of the park.

Grand Tetons NP
A view of the Teton range and Jackson Lake.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Big Hole and Elkhorn Hot Springs

Big Hole National Battlefield

The trail to the Nez Perce camp at Big Hole National Battlefield.

We still had to make our way towards Dillon, MT to pick up the carb that we had sent to the KOA Kampground there. On the way we wanted to stop to see Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana. The Big Hole Basin and the surrounding high peaks make you really feel like you’re entering a big hole going down into the basin. Near the northwest end of the valley is the battlefield, so we stopped at the visitor center, where they showed us a movie which took 5 years to research and explained what happened at Big Hole. A few tribes of Nez Perce Native Americans set up camp there for the summer of 1877. They were being chased out of their home in Idaho (I think) by the US army, which at that time was a mix of professional soldiers and volunteers from the countryside. Basically, the army was in charge of enforcing that the Nez Perce were sent to a reservation, however, some refused and were chased by the army. The tribes of the Nez Perce decided to camp in what is now the Big Hole Basin. There they hoped to be joined by the Crow, an ally tribe in Montana. But it didn’t work out because the army and a bunch of volunteers decided to ambush them at their camp instead, and basically kill them since they refused to go to the reservation like the other tribes. What happened at the battlefield in August of 1877 was so sad. The tribes were camped out near a river, which had tall willow bushes growing at its banks. The Indians built 89 tipis at their camp, and the army and a bunch of volunteers snuck up on them one night hiding behind the willow bushes across the small river from their camp. When the sun came up the next morning, one of the Indians went to the river to get water. An anxious volunteer soldier shot at the Indian out of excitement and stupidity, which set off the battle. The army just rampaged the whole camp, killing anything they saw, and set fire to some of the tipis. Mostly it was the women and children who died because they had no means of defense. The warrior Indians fought back and actually drove the soldiers off, wounding many. But it was too late because a lot of the Indians already lay dead in the camp. We took a short hike to the camp, where the bodies of the dead Indians still lay on the grounds. They didn’t even have a chance to bury the dead. Shortly after the battle, the Indians who were still alive fled and headed north into Canada. Some successfully escaped across the border but many didn’t. One of the Indians who was at the battle returned shortly after and was able to record what happened.

Big Hole National Battlefield

The Nez Perce camp near a river. Tipi poles now stand where their actual tipis once were.

When we visited the site of the camp, there were some tipis placed there, with the Indian cheifs’ tipis marked. The locations I assume were estimated by the record of the Indian who returned after the battle, but I’m not sure. It was very sad to walk through the camp. And it was a very awakening visit, because I remember in grade school when the teachers who taught us about early American history talked of the Indian wars like it was okay or something. The events were never put into a negative light, and boys playing cowboys and Indians in the school yard was completely normal and most of the kids were rooting for the cowboy. The national monument was pretty empty with few visitors. I guess not many people care to visit places like these and learn about the past. Our visit made us think of that dark time in American history and how screwed up it was. It also reminded me of the grade school a few blocks away from our house in Berwyn. It used to be called Custer school, after General Custer. However, before we moved out to California, the name was changed to Prairie School (or something like that) because it was no longer politically correct to name a school after a general who really should not be so praised. Kind of like having a school called Hitler school or something I guess.

Big Hole National Battlefield

Driving by a farm with a traditional wood fence in the Big Hole Basin.

Our mood started to lighten a little as we drove on through the Big Hole Basin, and then over the pass at the southeastern end. We were getting closer and closer to Dillon, and the sun was starting to make its way westward. As we entered the Grasshopper Valley, we saw a brown sign that read Elkhorn Hot Springs 14 miles. So we turned at the sign and headed towards the hot springs to check them out. If it was cool, we figured, we would stay and camp near the springs. If they sucked, we would turn around and go back towards Dillon to camp at the KOA which had our carb waiting for us (this time the correct one we hoped). Well, we drove up along the Grasshopper Valley and then up some switchbacks and into a small resort which was looked over by the National Forest. The hot springs were completely natural, but piped into two big swimming pools next to a bathhouse operated by a private resort. The pools looked very low-key, not fancy at all, and only a small group of people were there. We recognized them as one of the only other people we saw earlier that day at the Big Hole Battlefield! The pools were hot, and we needed to bathe after camping for a few days without a shower or anything and it was only $6 per person. So we got our bathing suits on and hopped in.

Elkhorn Hot Springs

Me and Nicole swimming in the hot pool at Elkhorn Hot Springs.

To our surprise, alcohol was allowed as long as you drank it in a plastic bottle or plastic cup (no glass allowed), so we got out our box of Vella cabernet sauvignon wine and plastic party cups and brought them to the poolside. Half of the pool was very deep, so deep you could swim normally, but of course, after some wine we decided to stick with the shallow end! The mosquitoes were out in force, so we ended up having to keep our bodies mostly submerged and dunked our heads under the water periodically to drive them off. What a nice treat to be soaking in some hot springs! After we had enough (due to the heat and alcohol) we showered and were on our way to find a campsite. The springs were in the National Forest already so we just found a dirt road a mile or so away from the resort and started driving down it. Eventually we found a section of the road that leveled out (we were deep in the mountains by now) and also had a small clearing. We found that somebody already made a firepit so we collected wood and tried to smoke out the mosquitoes. This was the only place so far where we had to deal with any bugs, and I guess we were pretty spoiled. But after starting the fire and trying to make it really hot, most of the mosquitoes stayed away. As the sun went down and the air cooled off, the rest of the mosquitoes left us alone.

Beaverhead NF

A campfire to drive the mosquitoes away in the Beaverhead National Forest.