Monthly Archives: March 2021

The World’s Worst Town?

If you asked me to name the most forgettable town I have ever been in I would respond, “Halls Creek”. This town of about 1,500 is in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. It’s so isolated that the nearest town to it, Fitzroy Crossing, is 181 miles to the east. Turkey Creek, a largely Aboriginal community also called Warmun, is 162 miles north. Only about 320 people live in Turkey Creek. Ruth & I were in Halls Creek because we were on our way to see a sensational mountain range called The Bungle Bungles and had to spend the night somewhere. The Bungle Bungles are in Purnululu National Park east of Halls Creek. To get there we had to drive up the Spring Creek Track, easily the most awful road I have ever been on, but it was worth enduring it to see the Bungle Bungles shown above and below.

Halls Creek is on Australia’s Great Northern Highway. It exists because Charlie Hall found a huge 28 ounce gold nugget near where this town is now 136 years ago on Christmas Day. This event that occurred about 10 miles from the present town is still talked about as if it was recent. Herds of miners came to Halls Creek hoping to find their own gold, but many of them died and are buried in the town’s cemetery. Life is never easy here. We saw the gold strike site but not the cemetery. The place where the nugget was found was forgettable like the town, but we heard a great story about a man called Russian Jack while there. Russian Jack carried an injured mate for about 150 miles in a wheelbarrow to get medical attention for the man’s injuries. I often wonder if either of them returned to Halls Creek after treatment.

Halls Creek is at the northern end of the Canning Stock Route. Cowboys used to drive cattle up this 1,200 mile trail that crossed the Great Sandy Desert, so this town became and remains a hub for vast cattle stations. There is a visitors center in Halls Creek with a statue of Russian Jack outside.

The staff at the visitor center might recommend that travelers see about the only attraction near this town called The China Wall. This is not a brilliant idea. We saw this sub-vertical quartz vein and it was fairly forgettable like the town. Many come to Halls Creek to see this vein and the Wolfe Creek Crater between May and October when the road to it is fairly decent. It takes about 3 hours to drive to the meteor impact site from Halls Creek where a big rock from space made a giant crater in the Earth. This happened about 120,000 years ago but was not discovered until 1947 because this event that was not uncommon in Australia occurred so far away from everything. We did not see the Wolfe Creek Crater.

Between June and September the Tanami Road to this giant hole in the ground might be difficult because this part of Australia receives about 22.5 inches of rain during this period. This part of the world is also known for high winds and extreme heat, a high suicide rate, enforced alcohol restrictions, and indigenous art. Ruth & I don’t plan to return to Halls Creek.


John Muir, Traveler

John Muir took a thousand mile walk in his very late 20s. It changed his life and gave him direction. Before this hike that basically took him from Louisville, KY to Savannah, GA where he took a boat to Fernandina, FL and continued walking to the west coast of that still undeveloped state. It was here that he decided not to continue on to South America and go instead to California. He also had contracted malaria.

Before this long walk John Muir tried several careers. He had enrolled in a university but dropped out without earning a degree, lived on a farm in Wisconsin, and tried working as a businessman/inventor in Indianapolis until an industrial accident almost destroyed his eyesight. His decision to go to California profoundly affected his future.

John Muir married in California when he was 42. He and his wife, who was called Louie, had 2 daughters. Learning how to finally focus his interests, Muir began to write. During the 25 years he lived in his father-in-law’s house, Muir maintained an office on the 2nd floor and wrote more than 300 articles and 12 books. The desk that he sat at has been returned to this house that is currently closed because of COVID. All of the 12 books that he wrote are still in print and include stories about his trips to Alaska where Muir studied glaciers and had one named for him and a book called A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. Before he died in 1914 at the age of 76, Muir had moved his family into this mansion, influenced the formation of 5 National Parks and 23 National Monuments, and befriended fellow traveler Teddy Roosevelt. He called his work area in his father-in-law’s Italianate mansion his “scribble den”. Far more than 12 books have been written about John Muir including A Passion for Nature, the book I am currently reading and immensely enjoying. Louie was busy too. She played the piano and managed the fruit ranch on her father’s property where her husband grafted pears to quince rootstock to make the fruit more disease-resistant.

A visit to the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, CA is a good idea despite the fact that entry to the scribble den is currently not possible. Ruth and I admired the many fruit trees and other flora thriving on the property, enjoyed seeing the Vicente Martinez Adobe ranch house, and liked talking to the staff.

To be continued for certain.


John Muir, A Little Rowdy

I relearned an important lesson on Tuesday, March 9 this year. Ruth and I were visiting the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, CA. We spoke at length to a ranger named Eric who was very informed about John Muir and the house where he lived for 25 years. When I’m in this situation and want to learn more, I ask the well-prepared ranger or authoritative person I am speaking to if there is a book he or she might recommend that I read about the subject. Eric said I should read A Passion for Nature by Donald Worster.

Later that day I tracked this book down and ordered it. A Passion for Nature is one of those books that I can’t put down. It was published by the Oxford University Press in 2008. I have only read a little over 100 pages of it and have already learned a lot about John Muir, one of the unheralded founders of our National Park Service. He was largely responsible for Yosemite National Park and others being part of the system. I have not yet gotten to the part of the book that talks about this.

What I have read so far is about John Muir’s early life. I did not know that he was born in Scotland. Muir grew up in a town called Dunbar that was far more important when he lived there. I had a hard time finding out where it is because it has receded in stature since he lived there. Dunbar is not too far from Edinburgh on Scotland’s eastern shore. This town is just south of the entrance to the Firth of Forth. At the time Glasgow was a far more important place than Edinburgh, and a Scotsman named James Watt was making great improvements to the steam engine. I thought James Watt was an American. John Muir was the 3rd oldest of 8 children born to Daniel and Ann. Seven of the 8 were born in Dunbar and all survived to become adults, which was unusual in this era. When John was 11, his father decided that the family needed to emigrate to the United States.

The unspoken message at this point in the book is that parents have far more influence on their children than the children realize. As Worster says. “…Ann is almost invisible in Muir’s autobiography…in contrast to her husband”. Daniel had far more influence on his son than either of them realized. They were not much alike and had conflicts. Worster talks about Daniel’s “…conservative approach to fatherhood.” Daniel was a successful grain merchant who shocked the family when he announced that they were moving to the new United States. Muir is described as “..a quarrelsome little rowdy”. One of the many significant passions that father and son shared was a deep pride in growing things. Daniel loved his garden. John Muir later in life became a noted and passionate botanist who loved to grow and crossbreed fruit trees, but early on he seemed to be far more influenced by the Scottish poet Robert Burns than his father who built his own violin and learned to play it well. Daniel bonded with neighbors and played old Scottish airs.

Shortly after they landed in the United States the Muir family traveled to Wisconsin, where they settled. Daniel became a frontier farmer. John Muir eventually got educated and tried to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Disappointing his father, he only lasted for 2 terms.

to be continued probably.


We Saw No Cascades

Meet Bodhi. Bodhi is a barred owl. He was blown from his nest in a Texas storm and broke his right wing. For now he is a resident of the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, OR. Ruth & I learned about this little-known-outside-of -Eugene raptor center last year. On our way to California on our first post-pandemic adventure, we stopped to see it and really liked it despite a few negatives. Seeing Bodhi was not one of them.

For more than 25 years this unassuming raptor center with no major affiliation to other centers of its type has rehabilitated a couple of thousand wounded birds. The Cascades Raptor Center is one of the Northwest’s largest collection of native raptors. Its current collection, which we saw in many spread-out cages in basically 2 compact areas, contained eagles, hawks, vultures, owls like Bodhi, falcons, Northern Harriers, kites, and more. This non-profit, woodsy center outside Eugene that has an entry fee maintains a wildlife hospital that specializes in birds of prey. Its summer hours that begin in April will see it opening at 10 am and closing at 6 pm.

Ruth and I also enjoyed seeing Jake. Jake is the Cascades Raptor Center’s newest display bird. He’s a peregrine falcon from Montana where he was in a facility that breeds raptors for the sport of falconry. We saw the peregrine falcon and vulture pictured above and below on this blog, however, in Boise Idaho’s excellent World Center for Birds of Prey that is not associated with Cascades in any way.

Cascades’ negatives include the temporary lack of toilet facilities. COVID has made it necessary to leave it and go down the hill to a Porta Potty also used by other travelers. It’s in a hilly location that makes climbing to see inside the cages sometimes difficult. The birds are behind wire that makes it often hard to see them. Other negatives are temporary. I do not recommend seeing Cascades on a rainy day that make photography difficult. We got lost trying to find and then get away from the Cascades Raptor Center due to its out-of-the city, hillside location. Other than these, a visit to Cascades is a joyous travel experience. If you like looking at birds of prey is a protected environment, this is a place for you to experience if in the Eugene area.


There Are Dips and Curves Everywhere

The trip we just took to California was not the adventure Ruth & I set out to have. Travel plans undergo changes for many reasons. The year with COVID has made this truer than ever. On the trip just mentioned, for example, we underestimated the difficulty of traversing the mountains in southern Oregon and northern California in mid-March, the big increase in traffic on I-5 and especially the exploding number of Amazon Prime trucks on this route, the big increase in recently reopened attractions, and the availability of food. These and other unexpected conditions made travel changes inevitable.

We did manage to achieve 3 scenic drives–Mount Diablo, Highway 46, and much of Highway One, but we had to delay 2 others, Highway 395 and Moki Dugway, until I don’t know when. Highway One was difficult because of a 2021 winter storm that destroyed a small section half way down this fabled highway along the Pacific Ocean in California. This led to major, time-consuming rerouting.

Getting through the mountains of southwest Oregon and past Mount Shasta in California also proved difficult. Rain and fog made Oregon a slow go, and Shasta snow caused unanticipated delays. Ruth and I planned to drive home via Highway 395, which we have never experienced. It’s marked as scenic almost all the way from near Tehachapi, CA to near Reno, NV. It passes Manzanar NHS, which we would both like to see, and pauses in a town that someone whose travel instinct is similar to mine admires greatly. Sounds like a go. However, we had to abandon our plan to return home via this route due to circumstances. Scenic Highway 395 passes close to Mount Whitney, the highest point in California and taller than Shasta. We worried about further delays on our way home and expecting 2 important deliveries there. Moreover, Bishop, CA, a town Bob much admired and highly recommended but Ruth & I have never experienced, had few reasonable accommodations due to its remote location. We decided to save this route that goes through another remote town we really like, Susanville, CA and surprising Reno for another trip in the summer.

We will probably not make it to Moki Dugway in the still very remote southeast corner of Utah that we hoped to see on our upcoming trip to Arizona, but we will get to drive a scenic route that a Tucson native recently told me about called Gates Pass Road.

Travel is unpredictable. Our daughter Lisa and her husband Stan, who have always been dedicated travelers, are in Zion National Park now. They just sent us pictures of their day spent negotiating the famous Angel’s Landing Trail. One of the most difficult hikes in the National Park system, Angel’s Landing is a very popular but challenging route. However, our kin only raved about seeing 2 condors in a distant tree while on this trail.

I hope I never lose the desire to find out what’s beyond the next bend in the road. That’s what brought Ruth & me to Mount Diablo, Highway One, and hopefully Gates Pass Road soon.