Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Desert Destination: Utah State Railroad Museum and a Real Train Ride

Desert Boy still loves trains, so we decided to make the Utah State Railroad Museum in Ogden, Utah one of our destinations on Memorial Day weekend. 
 The museum is part of Union Station, a beautiful building with an impressive main hall. We stopped briefly in the train store and then got our tickets for the museum.

 For the entrance, we walked under trestles from the very long Lucin cutoff, which was built in 1903 across the Great Salt Lake to shorten the train route. It was quite an engineering feat. In the 1950s the trestle was replaced with a causeway, which separates the lake into a northern and southern section with very different salinities, which support different lifeforms and thus cause the lake to be different colors.

I spotted a golden spike in a vault--the golden spike used for the bicentennial celebration of the meeting of the Transcontinental Railroad (coming soon to a Desert Survivor blog near you!).

I was excited to see this Gandy Dancer handcar, as I recently read Frank Wendall Call's book Gandydancer's Children: A Railroad Memoir. It talks about life on the railroad in rural Nevada and Utah during the Great Depression and is fascinating.

We got up on the handcar for a family photo. We still have troubles getting everyone to smile at the same time, but at least we're all looking in the same direction!

 Desert Boy found toy wooden trains in a corner and happily played for a few minutes. To my surprise, he didn't protest much when I said it was time to keep going.

 Maybe because he could go into a real train car and pretend to drive it.

 Then we went out in the hallway and found the model trains. The kids kept running to figure out where it had gone once it had entered a tunnel. The train was running towards us, against traffic flow, so we spent quite a bit of time in the hallway.

 All the detail that went into the scenery surrounding the model trains was amazing.

 Union Station not only houses the Utah State Railroad Museum, it also holds the John M. Brown Firearms Museum, which my husband found fascinating. The kid weren't too excited, so I took them to the next museum.

 We went right next door to the Browning-Kimball Classic Car Museum. All three museums are included in the ticket price, so we had to check them out! The classic cars were stunning. I particularly liked the hood ornaments--much more elaborate than today's!

We still had a little time, so the kids wanted to go back to the train museum. Desert Girl was so excited that she could climb up and down to the cupola in the old caboose.
 She also had a turn "driving" a train.

 The trains outside were quite a sight, with the massive machines exuding power.

We really enjoyed looking at the trains. While we were there, a FrontRunner commuter train passed by. I had picked up a schedule inside and glanced at it. Then I looked at it a little more carefully. An idea was forming--perhaps we could actually ride a real train. The commuter train doesn't run on Sundays or big holidays, like Memorial Day, so if we were going to ride it, we had to ride it that day. We made a plan: we could take the 5:16 train from Ogden to three stops away, at Layton. We would get off, wait 15 minutes, then get back on. Total time: about one hour.

So we bought our tickets ($7.40 each for the older three, Desert Girl was free, so this wasn't the cheapest diversion around, but the kids really wanted to do it). We boarded the train and the kids got to pick where they wanted to sit.

 Desert Boy was all ready for this grand adventure.

 Desert Girl didn't look so sure.

 The Front Runner is relatively new. It's clean, shiny, and has double-decker cars.

 The weather was perfect for a short wait at the station. Plus the kids then had the anticipation of waiting for the returning train. I'm a big fan of making them wait--it's a good life skill!

We got back to Ogden just fine. A twenty minute ride each direction was just the right amount of time for them.

So if you're in the Salt Lake area, you could easily make a trip up to Ogden, walk two blocks to Union Station and see three museums. There's also a great cafe nearby, Karen's Cafe on 25th Street, just a couple blocks from Union Station. A nice lady on the train had suggested it, and we were very glad--great food, reasonably priced, and a great way to finish our train adventures for the day.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Last Day of School

 Last Thursday was the last day of school for the kids. They were all in good spirits. They have learned so much this year!

Just for contrast, here's a photo from the first day of school at the bus stop:

You can see the hesitation on their faces as they set off unto the unknown. They all did great.

And of course I have to get a photo of my little fashionista, who has informed me that her name is now "Sophia the First."
 She still has two years before she starts kindergarten, so plenty of time to be a princess. And tell her brother what to do this summer!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Desert Hot Springs: Diana's Punch Bowl and Spencer's

During our recent trip out to the Toquima Range in central Nevada, we had the chance to visit a couple of hot springs. Did you know that Nevada has more thermal springs than any other state in the U.S.? That's right, just one of the surprises Nevada holds! (And that one might be a little more exciting than knowing that Nevada is the #1 driest state in the nation.)

First, meet Diana's Punchbowl.
 Out in the middle of Monitor Valley lies a slight rise in the terrain, with a road leading up to it. I had read about this feature years ago in Geology Underfoot in Central Nevada, and have wanted to visit it since.

Although a road goes to the top, we parked at the gate and walked up. I wanted to have the experience of suddenly reaching the top and then looking down into the 30 foot deep cauldron. Plus, I have to admit, I wanted to check out the wildflowers on the way, and there were some beautiful ones that I still need to look up as I haven't seen them elsewhere.

 We got to the top and approached the edge of the 50-foot wide pit cautiously. I had the kids lie down, as I had read warnings about keeping pets and children closely under control.

 This is what we saw: nearly vertical limestone walls with a steaming pool of water at the bottom. The water was dark blue, and some vegetation in it was swirling around slowly, indicating currents. The temperature is reported to be 200 degrees F, so we didn't want to fall in.

 The kids were very good about listening and staying still. I told them to stay put while I walked around and took photos from different angles.

 Diana's Punch Bowl is certainly an unexpected feature. It is literally out in the middle of the valley. It must have taken some time to form, travertine layers slowly rising as the calcite-laden water emerged from deep within the earth and the calcite precipitated out.

Some plants grow down in the bowl, but you would need a rope to get down there. I should note that although the photos I've selected make this geologic wonder look almost pristine, some bozo sprayed graffiti on part of the inner punch bowl, greatly marring its beauty.

From the top we had a great view towards the Alta Toquima Wilderness, another place I'd like to visit some day. We could also see a little creek at the base of the hill on the east and south sides. We decided that we should go down and check it out, as I had read that the creek was a suitable temperature for soaking.

Desert Girl is becoming a very good hiker over uneven terrain, and she made it quickly down the hill.

 We checked out the water, and sure enough it was really pleasant. However, we didn't get in, as we had other hot spring plans for that evening. (But I hope to return some day here, it was so interesting. I've seen a couple photos from winter, and the rising steam looks so impressive! Also, not too far away is Pott's Hot Springs, which we didn't visit this trip.)

Next, meet Spencer's Hot Springs.
 On the other side of the Toquima Range, in Big Smoky Valley, lies Spencer's Hot Springs, a popular attraction, especially on a Saturday night. Even though they're remote, they aren't as remote as Diana's Punch Bowl, and they are within an hour's drive of Austin, Nevada. Several RVs and tents dotted the area, as well as a large contingent of teenagers, as well as our restoration group.

 Spencer's Hot Springs consists of three pools, two of which have been improved for soaking. We started with the middle one, which has a nice deck.

 The amount of hot water flowing in from the adjacent hot spring source can be adjusted via a valve. When we got there, the pool was in the upper 90's, perfect for the kids.

 After a long soak, we got out and went for a walk to the lower spring, where we heard there were fish.

 A trough at the lower hot spring also has a way to adjust how much hot water is flowing into it via moving a pipe. It was too hot for all of us, so we went on to the overflow ponds and quickly spotted the gold fish.
It was definitely strange and even unsettling seeing goldfish out there. The kids had fun hopping along the berms and getting just a little muddy. They had a great time and didn't want to leave.

Nevada has so many secret places! Las Vegas is often the image people get when they think of Nevada, but there really is so much more to the state. I'm looking forward to even more explorations!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Camping Strategies for the Single Parent

Hi! Today I have a guest post over at Tales of a Mountain Mama about Camping Strategies for the Single Parent. I'm not single, but with my husband's work schedule, I'm often taking the kids camping alone. I write about a few tips to make it a good time for everyone.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Camping in the Toquima Range

Last weekend I bundled up the kids and a mountain of camping gear and headed to the middle of Nevada to join a US Forest Service Restoration Project. I had never explored that area and was happy to have an excuse to look around more.

We met the group at the Toquima campground, which we reached after about 1.5 hour drive time after leaving the pavement of US 50. (By the way, if you're going through Eureka, check out the indoor public swimming pool, it has a climbing wall above the deep end, which makes it so much fun to climb and fall!).

I'd like to say the trip was uneventful, but we shredded a tire on the Monitor Valley road. As I was getting out the instruction manual of how to change it (it's been awhile!), a Jeep with two very helpful gentlemen from Las Vegas came along and changed the tire quickly. A nearby rancher filled up the low spare tire. Thank you, thank you!

We got to camp late enough that we just had time to set up the tent, eat, and head to bed, but the next morning we had time to play. Our friends had brought their kids, so Desert Girl and Desert Boy were delighted to have some friends to play with!

The four little ones--sort of looking at the camera!

We listened to the safety briefing and then divided up into groups. I was with the kid group, and our first order of the day was a short hike to nearby Toquima Cave.

 Actually, Desert Boy had some time to practice throwing atlatls, digging piles in the dirt, and shooting off some stomp rockets. Desert Girl and Rose repeatedly climbed the same miniature pinyon pine that was the perfect size for them. And I couldn't resist taking photos of the multitude of flowers in the area (but I limited myself to just two for this blog post).

 Shockley's buckwheat--most of the year a nondescript looking plant, but for a few weeks the bright blooms make it look so voluptuous.

 Even though it was mid-May, the spring parsley was already putting out seeds, nearly finished with its flowering phase. It, too, will rest in obscurity until late next April.

 With the kids dressed and fed, it was time to take the quarter-mile trail to Toquima Cave. On the way, the girls couldn't help but share a few secrets.

 Before long, we were in front of the huge gate that protects Toquima Cave, a well-known rock shelter in archeological circles. The gate helps protect the cave from vandals. Fortunately, you can still get good photos through the chain link.

 Propitiously, the other parent with us was a Forest Service archeologist who knew lots about the cave, so we learned a lot. If you don't happen to be there with an archeologist, check out this nice brochure about the cave.

The pictographs were made between 1,500 and 3,000 years ago. The Western Shoshone have an important relationship with the cave, and some still come to leave prayer offerings, which may be feathers tucked into cracks, packets of sticks tied to the gate, and more.

The site has lots of pictographs--more than 300, and they include four colors: red, white, black, and yellow. I found the yellow especially striking. Whenever I'm in a place with rock art, I try to feel what it was like when the art was made thousands of years ago. I still have never quite been able to capture even a small portion of that, and I'm left wondering who was there--young or old, men or women, hungry or well-fed, happy or distraught? The view from the rock shelter entrance is quite calming to me; perhaps it was also for long-ago visitors.

 Western Fence Lizard near the entrance

Then it was time to pack up and head to another cave for some restoration work. This other cave (which I won't name to help protect it) is remote, but used to be shown on maps. Over the years, many people have written their names in it. Names that are older than 50 years are considered to be historic graffiti and are protected, but any writing from the last 50 years is considered nuisance graffiti and our goal was to remove it. 

 In the middle of the photo above is the graffiti "R. Maxwell 1998." I'm guessing that R. Maxwell didn't know about the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988, which states that anyone who destroys, disturbs, defaces, mars, alters, removes, or harms any significant cave can be imprisoned for up to a year and/or fined.

We didn't have the materials to remove the etching in the calcite formation, so we used some mud to obscure the illegal writing. Here's the after photo:
What do you think?

 Volunteers were also using spray bottles, toothbrushes, and rags to remove some obnoxious spray paint from the cave. Given that you have to belly crawl through pack rat feces to get into the cave, I was surprised by the amount of graffiti in the cave.

 Desert Boy came into the cave with me, and we took a little trip to the back of the cave, which was longer than the map indicated. On the way, we saw some really interesting bedding planes.

 We also saw some impressive aragonite formations.

 Desert Boy led the way out of the cave, easily slipping through the narrow squeezes that had us adults squirming to fit through.

 Back at the spike camp, the girls had taken a break from their outside pursuits and were enjoying a video (with Desert Boy taking a peek--he looks a little worn out from all the caving!).

We next had a couple adventures at hot springs, which I will save for a separate post.

Then it was time for dinner...

...and hot chocolate! 

Soon the kids were asking to go to bed, and I bundled them into their sleeping bags (they somehow squirm out more times than not), put some extra blankets on top, put in my ear plugs (I find I sleep better!), and went to bed.
There's nothing like a good day of outside fun to make for a deep sleep!

Our brief taste of the Toquima Range has me yearning for more. We saw so many canyons, so many snow-covered peaks, and great valleys on either side. We will have to go back--but with two spare tires next time!
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