USGS GPS Survey--September, 2006


Tuesday, 2006-09-26: Alkali Lake, OR

I had a bit of a problem with the receiver today. The "down" button wasn't working, so I couldn't adjust the contrast to see the display. Fortunately, by lunchtime, the contrast had adjusted itself.

World's dumbest bug

World's dumbest bug

So I'm out here in the middle of nowhere. There is not a cloud in the sky. But it starts to rain and then it starts to hail. At least it sounded like it. It turns out to be the World's Dumbest Bug. You might argue that all bugs are dumb as they just have enough neurons to connect their legs, wings, and eyes. But these bugs are dumb as bugs go. In contrast, the flies--and there are dozens of them hanging out on my windshield at any one time--seem to have some purpose. They can land, walk about, and take off or find the window if I shoo them away while the Dumb Bugs crash on the roof or windshield (or worse, inside the car where they are trapped forever), and slide down the windshield moving their legs frantically as if they were drowning. When they try to take off, they hit something overhead and crash, they roll over and crash, or they fly in an inverted U pattern and crash again. They need at least a half dozen tries before they can actually fly away. They look a little like water beetles, and given that there isn't any water for hundreds of miles, it sort of proves my point that these are Dumb Bugs. As I write this, I've tossed out at least 20 of them which have crashed inside the car.

Meanwhile, about 100 flies have come to the back deck of the car to die. Interesting evolutional behavior.

Alkali Lake from the scarp; note my car in the lower left-hand corner

Alkali Lake from the scarp; note my car in the lower left-hand corner

Once the data was collected and the gear stowed, I set about to climb the nearby scarp. I thought it would make for some good exercise, and it would be interesting to take the handheld GPS to see how accurate my height estimate was. But, it was a lot harder than it looked. It got much steeper, and worse, the ground was extremely loose and treacherous. So, I cut bait 140 m or about two thirds of the way up, and came back down. I had seen a DOT truck stop at my car and then pull into the maintenance station up the road. I dropped by to check in. As it turned out, the driver had radioed the police about an abandoned car. He thanked me and called the police to belay that report.

Hoss runs the restaurant back at the motel, called Buckaroo Cafe. He's a one-man show: chef, server, cashier, and entertainment. There is no menu at this restaurant. Oh, there are a couple of handwritten notes on the wall, like Rattlesnake Jack Stew, or Kickass Cowboy Stew (with real cowboy). But generally, Hoss just yells, "Supper's ready!" and tosses a hearty dish in front of you once you sit at the bar.

Wednesday, 2006-09-27: Alkali Lake, OR

This desert is complete with sand dunes

This desert is complete with sand dunes

This desert is complete with sand dunes

Sand shadows

Early this morning, I was treated to a symphony of howling coyotes--in two-part harmony even. One group crooned from the scarp in front of me, while another group completed the chorus from the direction of the dried lakebed behind me. They were all hidden from sight by the sagebrush.


ALKI bayonet height

ALKI bayonet height

Hiding in the sagebrush

Hiding in the sagebrush

Otherwise, it was a hot, clear and uneventful day. The car got too hot for the first time, so I set up the beach chair and umbrella. It was perfect, unless you're trying to use a laptop--it's too bright!


All packed up and ready to go

All packed up and ready to go

For the past 10 days, I've been turning on the power to the GPS receiver at 0900 (Pacific) and shutting it off at 1530. It was with some sadness that I switched it off and packed up the gear for the last time this afternoon. I had seen some beautiful country, done some interesting things, and seen the wacky places that people put these survey marks. Just one more night to see what surprise that Hoss has in store for me (dinner-wise), and then I'm off early tomorrow morning to try to make it all the way home to Palo Alto in one day.

And so now, some closing shots showing the equipment and procedure.

Thursday, 2006-09-28: Alkali Lake, OR to Palo Alto, CA

With the heater blasting at 0700 to fight off the low 30s chill, I could not hear the wail of the coyotes. But this morning, a half dozen crossed the road in front of me. All but one immediately disappeared into the brush; the last turned his head and looked curiously at me, much as I was with him.

Down 395 I went. As I hung a right on 299, the high desert gave way to fir and pine and great views of the distant Mt. Shasta. I entered Redding with the familiar oak grasslands and got gas and ate lunch on a picnic bench at the station (under an oak tree). I closed my eyes for five minutes, and then hit highway 5 and the San Joaquin Valley. I turned on the radio for the first time in days and rocked on with BTO, BOC, Styx, and REO Speedwagon.

520 miles and 10 hours later, I'm home. Total mileage: 2035 miles.

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