Road Trip 2018: Wyoming Dinosaur Center

After the family reunion wrapped up, we headed up to Provo for Jess’ brother’s wedding.  Then we drove up in to Wyoming to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis.  We thought this would be a fun and unique experience in light of Heather’s long and continuing interest in paleontology.

We signed up for a “Dig for a Day” package where we got to go out to one of their active dig sites, work on the site, tour the nearby Sundance formation, work in the lab, and have a personal tour of the museum.

We were a little concerned with how well it would work out given the girls’ ages, but it was a blast.  Our guides, Seth and Emily, were fantastic with the girls.  They found age-appropriate tasks for them both and kept them engaged and excited about the trip.  The only downside is just how far out in the middle of nowhere Thermopolis is; but if you’ve got kids interested in paleontology and you happen to be anywhere in the vicinity, I highly recommend the experience.

We got to work on Foot Site which has been active for ~20 years yielding over 550 fossils so far.  One primarily finds diplodocus bones there.

Here come a lot of pictures:

 

Heather found a fossil!  When found, fossils are marked with white-out and an identifier is written on the white-out.  So the white-splotch she’s pointing at is the white-out.  In this formation, the fossils are a dark grey color among the light tan of the surrounding rock.

As the discoverer of the fossil, she got to put her name in the site tracking book on the entry for the fossil.  This information will follow the fossil through its scientific life cycle.

 

I found a fossil too!  One of our guides made an initial determination that it’s a chevron from the tail of a diplodocus.  That will validated once fully excavated.  It’s fully embedded in stone, so I spent quite a while carefully chiseling away stone.  After being encouraged to be a little more aggressive I managed to break the fossil twice.  But that was no big deal, some super-glue and were back in business.

My approach to finding the fossil was to estimate the depth of the existing fossils on the site and then simply move a few feet over and work my way down to that same level.  And it worked!

 

Kyle’s Fossil.  This is about 4 inches of exposed fossil and the guides estimate it’s probably about half of the bone.

 

We had lunch at Foot Site and did a little more excavating.  Then we drove out to the Sundance Formation.  Which is the shores of an ancient sea.  Here fossils of clams and other sea creatures are just littered all over.  At Foot Site they catalog all the fossils and return them to the lab for scientific evaluation.  At Sundance, anything you can find you can keep.  We have a 1-gallon bag of fossil-containing rocks from here.

 

It was hot out on Sundance, so we shortly returned to the air-conditioning of the lab and learned a bit about specimen cleaning.  I believe the guides said that for every hour on the dig site you end up spending about 6 hours in the lab.  We used dental picks, toothbrushes, and pneumatic chisels to carefully remove the rock surrounding some vertebra.

 

Once we finished up in the lab, Seth and Emily gave us a personal tour of the museum.

 

A maiasaura nest:

After our great day of paleontology we piled back up in the van to head out toward Grand Teton National Park.

Road Trip 2018: Dickerson Family Reunion – Glen Canyon Dam, Antelope Canyon, & Old Paria

On August 1 we had a reservation to visit Antelope Canyon outside of Page, Arizona.

Glen Canyon Dam

So I, Jess, and the girls headed off early to visit Glen Canyon Dam on our way.

In this picture, Corinne refuses to look at the camera and Jess has just poked Heather in the eye with her sunglasses, but doesn’t realize it yet:

Antelope Canyon

After our dam tour we headed in to Page for lunch and ice-cream at Slackers.  Then it was out to the staging area for our Antelope Canyon tour.  We got there, the rest of the family arrived, and then it started pouring, thundering, and lightning-ing.  Then, after we all got flash-flood warning alerts on our phones, they canceled the tour.  So no Antelope Canyon for us.  Which was frustrating as I had booked it something like 6 months ago and was looking forward to it.

Old Paria

After being rained out at Antelope Canyon we needed to come up with something else to do.  We decided to take a look at what’s left of Old Paria–a ghost town that my family visited when I was growing up that has since been burned down by vandals.  On the drive back up in to Utah we stopped at Big Water Visitor Center to let the girls out for a bit. It was closed, but had some outdoors exhibits we could still look at about dinosaurs and the geological history of the area.

We got to the trailhead for Old Paria just as the rest of the group was heading in, so we joined up with the back of the caravan.

 

The dirt road was in decent shape most of the way out to a picnic area.  We did have to cross one wash, but it was manageable even with 2-wheel-drive minivans, but then the road crosses the river bed which was not going to happen in our vehicles.  So we parked there and walked.

(The guy in the green shirt isn’t with our group.)

 

Here’s us sort of recreating an old picture from when my family visited the same Paria Cemetery when I was growing up.  If someone gets me that picture I’ll put it up too, but I don’t have it.

 

It started raining with some thunder while we were at the cemetery.  So we turned around to head back to the vehicles.

Kyle’s Weekend of Solitude

Jess, Heather, and Corinne went down to Texas to visit with her family for about a week.  This left me in the unprecedented situation of having a weekend with no one home.  I decided to take the opportunity to go do something that no one else in the family would want to do with me.  So I drove up in to the forest and hiked a mountain.

There are a handful of old fire lookouts scattered across the American West that you can rent out.  I thought that’d be fun to do, but when I was making these plans a couple months ago everything was already booked.  So I thought it would still be fun to hike up to one anyways.  Turns out the one I was looking at is closed for repairs so I could hike up and not bother anyone.  I found a little hidden gem of a cabin nearby.  I wasn’t sure it really existed as I could find no information about it except the one Recreation.gov information page.

Hirz Cabin

I’m a bit reluctant to share my find because right now it’s basically unused and easily booked.  But that runs the risk of it being closed down due to inactivity and it could use a few repairs.  So, here it is: Hirz Cabin on Shasta Lake.

It is fully off grid with solar panels and a battery bank to provide electricity.  It has a propane tank for heat, hot water, and refrigerator.  I had never seen a propane refrigerator before; didn’t know they even existed.

It has two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining table, living area, and deck.  Nothing else around it with a private gated driveway.  The introvert’s dream.

Finding it is not easy–even with directions.  So I’ll help out with that.  Here are the geo-coordinates of the cabin: 40.868194, -122.255826.

Here are some pictures.  You should find all these same pictures on the Recreation.gov page (once they’re approved) as I uploaded them all to their site as well.

Driveway and gate, coordinates 40.86750, -122.25534
Front of cabin. 2 picnic tables. Grill.
Back of cabin. Deck with Adirondack chairs.
1 of 2 bathrooms. Mirror images of each other. Shower stall, toilet, sink, heater.
Kitchen
Dining / Living Area
Downstairs bedroom
Upstairs Bedroom 1
Upstairs Bedroom 2

I arrived Friday evening and hiked along the lake for a couple of hours before heading to bed.  On Saturday I slept in, ate breakfast, and swept and mopped the floors downstairs as they really needed it.  I did some reading and preparing of my gear.  I cooked myself a nice dinner to load up for my hike.

The Hike to Hirz Mountain Lookout

As sunset approached it was time to head up the mountain.  Since the day was about 109F my plan to was to take off in time to reach the top before sunset and then hang out and cool down before returning after dark.  The location of this lookout was also not entirely clear.  Some Google-maps sleuthing led me to correct location of the trailhead, but I wasn’t able to identify the location of the lookout.

So, here’s the geo-coordinates of the trailhead: 40.873803, -122.292095.  You can drive up the dirt access road using a 2-wheel-drive vehicle until you reach 40.886311, -122.287697.  At that point the road becomes 4-wheel-drive / high-clearance only.  The lookout itself is at 40.897022, -122.245674.

Trailhead to Hirz Mountain Lookout

I drastically underestimated how long it would take me to get up the mountain (5 miles with a 36-pound backpack) so I did not make it up in time for sunset.  I took a picture with my phone along the way, but it does not do it justice, it was a really nice sunset:

I did, however, get up in time to catch moonset–which was awesome:

Moonset from Hirz Lookout. July 14, 2018.

Venus, I believe, was hanging out with the Moon that evening:

Venus and the Moon from Hirz Lookout. July 14, 2018.

Since it was dark I wasn’t able to get a picture of the lookout itself, but here’s the plaque at the base as proof I did make it up:

Hirz Mountain Lookout Plaque

And the last full view of the moon before it slipped below the mountains:

I had originally intended to hang out at the lookout past sunset and take some pictures of the stars.  But, I discovered that during my 3-hour hike up I had drunk all but a cup of my 100 ounces of water.  So I figured I better start heading down again while that water was still in my system as I had no way to replenish it.

2 hours and 40 minutes later I was back down the mountain and my legs ready to collapse.  I drove back to the cabin and dropped in to bed.

Shasta Dam

Eventually I got up the next morning and while my legs were not happy about it, they did support me.  I packed up my car and locked up the cabin and headed in to Redding to find a whole pile of food to eat.  Pancakes, bacon, eggs, and hash browns from a Country waffles made for a nice breakfast (and lunch).

After filling up I drove out to Shasta Dam to catch a tour.

You can catch the resident ospreys in one the nests near the visitor’s center:

I like this sign because it reminds of something that would have appeared in a late-1990s / early-2000s video game set in the future.  And now we live in the future:

Shasta Dam is one of the largest in the country.  Not as tall as Hoover, but larger overall.

On this tour you do get to go through the generator room.

After my tour I loaded back up in the Civic and drove back home.  It was a fun little trip.  I think we’ll have to take a family trip up to the cabin some fall when it’s not too hot and maybe rent a 4WD vehicle to drive everyone up to the fire lookout to watch sunset.

 

Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean

To celebrate our anniversary this year Jess and I went out to Sea Ranch Lodge while our friend Sarah watched Heather and Corinne.

It’s out on the coast near nothing and away from everything.  Pretty much perfect.  There are several signs warning of the danger of the ocean and the constant threat of sudden erosion of the cliffs.  These were headlined with “Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean,” hence the title of this post.  Sadly, we didn’t take a picture of the signs.

Jess found this fire hydrant humorous:

On our way home we stopped at this bakery/shop for breakfast (cinnamon roll and sticky bun) and lunch (ham & cheese biscuit and BLT).  It was really good.

And here’s a snapshot of a section of highway 1 you have to drive:

Out to Fort Bragg

During Heather’s Spring Break we took a short trip out to the Mendocino coast at Fort Bragg.  We drove out on April 1st after our Easter Egg Hunt.

We stayed at a hotel right on the beach, so we were able to walk down and play until tired or cold and then walk back and get cleaned up and warm.  It worked out well for casual beaching.

It was also right next to the Pudding Creek Trestle Bridge which is kind of neat.  It used to have logging trains drive over it, but it’s since been converted to a pedestrian bridge.

I went out to take some pictures as night.  None of them came out amazingly well, but they’re interesting as they are.

On Monday, April 2nd we rode the Skunk Train (so named because of the smell the old coal-powered, oil-heated trains used to make).  It runs up in to the hills from the coast and back.  The station has a large model train display which we enjoyed looking at.  I’m not convinced the people running it completely believed us when we reported a derailment but said we had nothing to do with it.  But we really didn’t, the girls were a good 10 feet away when we saw it happen.

On Tuesday April 3 we went to Point Cabrillo Light Station.  This old, though still functioning, lighthouse has a few buildings on the property.  You can actually rent the 3 keepers’ houses (keeper and assistants) to stay in.  It looks quite well maintained.  Unlike at Battery Point, however, you can’t go up into the light room.

It was actually rather busy there.  I had to wait a fair while to snap the above picture with no one in it.  I managed to snap it in a short window of just a few minutes before people wandered through the shot again.

On our last day, before heading back, we went to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens which worked out better than our trip to the Sonoma Horticultural Gardens (of Doom) back in 2011.

 

3 Deer
Corinne watches as Heather enters the light.
The girls hatching some giant eggs.
Heather found a comfortable place to grow.

Then it was back in the van for the drive home.