Atop Table Rock

Boise is surrounded by mountains. Some are seen in the far distance; others are right next door. One of the nearby outcroppings is a huge, flat-topped butte called Table Rock that is a popular destination for hikers and tourists.

Table Rock is well worth a visit. It gives you a grand view of the Boise valley — that’s the city in the photo above, far below — and it reminds you that Boise gets its name from “bois,” the French word for tree. There are trees along the river, and trees have been planted all over town, but otherwise Boise is surrounded by desert conditions. Look in one direction from Table Rock and you see green; look in another and it’s dusty brown as far as the eye can see.

One other thing about Table Rock — there are no fences or guard rails. If you’re up there on a blustery day, as we were, you don’t want to get too close to the edge or you might just get blown off . . . and it’s a long way down. We maintained a prudent and respectful distance from the edge.

Dawn Over The Strip

I can confirm that the sun does in fact set on Las Vegas — and it rises the next morning, too. When I looked out my hotel window this morning I saw dawn’s first rays striking the garish gold Trump hotel across the street, and learned from one of the huge neon signs for the neighboring Wynn hotel that Paul Anka, of all people, is one of their featured acts. Paul Anka!

Gold buildings, neon, still-performing figures from the ’60s, dusty desert mountains in the distance . . . I’ve definitely arrived in Las Vegas.

New Mexico Up North

When I think of Canada, I don’t typically think of desert — but that’s exactly what the terrain turns into as you head east on the Rocky Mountaineer toward Kamloops, the town that is the destination after day one of the trip.  The locals call the climate “semi-arid,” but it sure seems to be full “arid” to me.  The area looks and feels like New Mexico or Arizona or other parts of the American southwest.  It’s hotter, and a lot drier, with brown-hued topography and scattered plants that resemble sagebrush.

It’s a pretty abrupt change from the farmland and piney forest views we saw during the first part of the trip.  According to our waiter — who seemed a lot more knowledgeable than your average waiter, by the way — it’s because the high Cascade mountains to the west and the equally high Rockies to the east create a climate condition called a “rain shadow,” in which lower, rain-carrying clouds can’t move past the mountain ranges.  Only high-altitude cirrus clouds that aren’t laden with moisture can scrape by.

Tomorrow we’ll move out of this hot zone and up and over the Rockies, but I’ll always remember this amazing taste of New Mexico in the Great White North.  Canada is full of surprises!

On The Trail Of The Lonesome Cactus

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This Midwestern boy can’t help but goggle at the desert plants and scenery — and of course the cactus plants are the most alien to the Midwest, and therefore the most interesting.

For most of my hike up North Mountain the sky was overcast. I appreciated that more and more as I huffed and puffed up the trail, and wondered what it would be like to do so with the sun beating down relentlessly. As I descended with the aid of gravity and passed this solitary cactus sentinel, however, a patch of blue sky appeared on the western horizon.

An American Scene

I love to drive, and I particularly love to drive west.  That is because when you drive west from Ohio you can see the country change — gradually, to be sure, but inexorably.  You roll through the remainder of the Great Lakes region and past the Mississippi River, and you see the land flatten out and dry out.  Then rolling hills arise, and they become rockier and craggier.  The vistas become more sweeping, and the horizon retreats into the far distance.  And then, at some point, the last spots of green are bleached from the landscape, and suddenly you recognize that you are entering the great western American desert.

I love that moment when you realize that you are truly in the west, in the land of browns and buttes, with the ground dessicated and cracked and the outline of the craggy mountains in sharp relief against the blue sky.  I think it is some of the most beautiful country you can find anywhere.  This edge of the desert photo was taken in Wyoming.

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene