Posted by: stacylynn12 | June 10, 2012

In the Land of Water

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Water.

When it comes right down to it, on planet Earth, water is really the boss. One could argue the sun is top dog but life depends on both and well, the sun has a much more impressive track record for reliability. Water, not so much.

The earth is comprised of approximately 71 % water. The human body is up to 60 % water.

Significant lack of water has contributed to catastrophic drought and famine throughout history that has killed millions of people worldwide. For example, though statistics on human life loss in recent African famines is difficult to find, several sources estimate that 29,000 children under the age of 5 died last year in the Horn of Africa famine and over a million people died in the Ethiopian famine in the 1980’s.

In India, I once saw a woman walking across the desert carrying two buckets of water. I was told her water source was over a mile away. Those two buckets had to meet her family’s need for water for a whole day. My family probably uses that much water before breakfast.

In 2004 in southeast Asia, an enormous wall of water or more correctly known as a tsunami, killed an estimated 228,000 people.

If climate change scientists are to be believed, rising sea levels threaten an estimated 600 million people living in coastal areas of the world.

Out of our estimated global population of 7 billion people, 884 million of us lack access to clean water.

One could argue that water, in the form of ice, glaciers and floods has been a more significant force in shaping the 4+ billion years of the earth’s history than anything else.

That’s a powerful force.

In our recent travels in the western US we have had the unique experience of observing the relationship of water to land. In the desert, the lack of precipitation has caused the plant and animal kingdoms to evolve with unique adaptations that deal with the minimal amount of water available. We came to count on being dry. Our rain jackets were buried in the recesses of our van. We did not even consider taking them on hikes… an unthinkable mistake where we are from. The one time in 4 weeks when dark clouds rolled by overhead, dropped exactly 7 sprinkles of rain on us and caused us to abort our slot canyon hike, I felt incensed. How dare it rain on us?

Dry can be really nice but it has it’s downsides too. Scaly, cracked skin; perpetual, dusty conditions; landscapes that occasionally feel desolate and the need to always make sure you have enough water in your possession for the adventure at hand. You can never be sure there will be water available in the desert.

After a month of feeling the effects of the lack of water, we emerged in a new land. The Land of Water. We drove north out of Utah and into Wyoming. We’d decided to visit the Wind River Range, a range of the Rocky Mountains. In “the Winds” towering granitic peaks and serene, crystal clear alpine lakes form the backdrop for the healthy populations of grizzlies, black bear, moose, elk and pronghorn who live there. I’d visited the Winds twice before, once with Randy and once with my friend Becky. Both were climbing trips. The Winds are famous for spectacular alpine rock climbing.

We camped our first night in a beautiful site overlooking Fremont Lake. It was here I started thinking about water. The lake rippled gently under a soft breeze. There was so much green vegetation. The land felt alive.

We decided to do a backpacking trip into the northern Winds. We geared up with maps and food and drove a horrible washboarded, potholed, dirt road for almost two hours to the trailhead. Upon arrival we found the campground closed. Shit. I mean, shoot. The kids have been busting us on this one recently. We were forced to camp in the parking lot at the trailhead, which really wasn’t so bad. We had an incredible view into the mountains where we would be hiking the next morning. Everyone was excited.

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Green River Lake and the Wind River mountains. We’d planned to camp in the valley near Flat Top mountain.

As the sun sank, the temperature dropped. Unlike in the desert where sunset is a welcome transition, in northern Wyoming at 8,000 feet it becomes freak’in cold. Everyone snuggled into their sleeping bags and went to sleep.

Sometime around 3am is when I heard it. The high pitched tink, tink, tinkling of raindrops on the roof of our van. Shhi-oot. I hoped it would pass… just a shower… but we woke up to dark skies. It wasn’t raining but it was bitter cold – close to freezing – and the forecast was for it to get colder. We thought we could deal with cold but the threatening skies and the possible combination of rain or snow and cold was more than we wanted to subject ourselves to. We packed up the van and feeling a bit dejected, bumped our way back down that horrible road to the town of Pinedale where we wallowed a bit in some yummy pizza and beer.

As we drove towards Jackson Hole, snow flurries swirled around the van reminding us that we were no longer in the desert. We discussed what to do. Our days on the road were dwindling and we wanted to make the most of our time. We couldn’t afford to sit in a hotel room waiting for the weather to improve. I discovered that we could rent a tent-cabin in Grand Teton National Park… basically a canvas tent with two solid walls and the key selling point…a wood stove inside.

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It may not look like much but it was warm inside!

As I cooked dinner on our camp stove outside the cabin, snowflakes continued to fall. Mostly light and intermittent but occasionally picking up in intensity to a full fledged flurry. I woke up that night, climbed out of my bunk and stoked the fire, thankful for the warmth and reminded once again that we were no longer in the desert.

In the morning not much had changed. We gave up hoping for a backpacking trip and decided instead to make our way through Yellowstone. Things got even more wintery as we drove north. The park had received a few inches of new snow that morning.

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Yellowstone National Park

We stopped to learn a bit about the park’s geysers and volcanic activity and to watch Old Faithful do her thing. It continued to rain. We searched for wildlife as we drove – for grizzlies, elk and bison and remembering the abundant wildlife we had seen during our 2 months in Alaska. Most of the animals seemed to be hiding from the cold as well.

We did see a nice herd of elk across a river and were treated to some bison, up close and personal, who literally walked around our van as we were parked in a pull out. A lot of fuzzy, cute babies and mamas. Bodhi counted 22 animals.

After the bison sighting, we drove northwest out of the park with our sights set on a warm, wind and rain-free environment near Butte, Montana. We would be camping in a hotel room tonight.

Thankfully, the morning dawned warm and clear. We drove as far as Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and camped for the night. The next day we crossed the state line into Washington. We would have celebrated with a little honk and a cheer but Bessie’s horn is broken. It all started back in Missouri when at the most inopportune times, she’d spontaneously start loudly and uncontrollably toot-tooting. Like the night we pulled in to a campground late and everyone else was asleep. At least they were until the Earlywines showed up in their crazy honking van. Then there was the small town we drove through and just as we were passing a soccer field filled with pint sized players and their adoring family fans, Bessie decides to go on another honking rampage. You’d think the Queen of England was driving by the way everyone stopped and stared. After that Randy cut the wires.

Anyway… we’re home. Back in Leavenworth, Washington at 8 mile campground. The opening photo of this post is the Icicle Creek which is currently raging wildly. It’s not officially home I guess. We’ve got another 120 miles to be officially “home”. But Randy and I have spent enough time in the Icicle – rock climbing, backpacking, teaching classes with the Washington Alpine Club and camping with our kids that it feels like home.

The truth is, I felt at home in almost every place we traveled to. I think maybe this is one of the indicators they use when diagnosing the wanderlust affliction.

Tomorrow we will pack up the van one last time and head over Steven’s Pass. We’ll hit I-5 and head south until we get to the 145th St. exit. We will wind our way through the neighborhoods until we pull into our driveway. And then, my friends, it will all be over. Or maybe… it will be just the beginning.

Sources and interesting articles on water related issues…

http://www.economist.com/node/21524864
http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/2012/jmp_report/en/index.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Current_sea_level_rise#Effects_of_sea_level_rise
http://water.org/water-crisis/water-facts/water/
http://thewaterproject.org/water_stats.asp
http://www.co.washoe.nv.us/water/wtrconservation/water_facts
http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2011/09/what-you-need-know-about-famine-horn-africa-backgrounder

A few more photos…

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Joshua at Fremont Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming

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Wildflowers in the Winds

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Randy and Josh fly a kite in the Winds

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Old Faithful

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Bodhi launches a ship in the Green River at Dinosaur National Monument. The boys made a whole fleet.

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Bison in Yellowstone National Park

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Junior Ranger badges.

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Travel amulets… a family project to reflect on and remind us of our “Year in the World”.

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Responses

  1. Bienvenidos! Y muy bien hecho, amigos!

  2. Love you guys. Welcome “home.”


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