USGS GPS Survey--September, 2006


Monday, 2006-09-18: Palo Alto, CA to McDermitt, NV

The entire town of McDermitt--my motel is behind the gas station

The entire town of McDermitt--my motel is behind the gas station

Earlier this summer, I attended the USGS Open House for two reasons: there is a lot of interesting stuff to see, and I wanted to network with the geologists and see what sort of opportunities would be available to a software engineer like me. I ended up meeting with several of the geologists over a two week period. I found their work fascinating, and I saw many areas in which I could contribute. Plus, a 15-minute walk to work would make for an ideal commute! Since there weren't any requisitions for someone with my skills, I submitted a proposal.

But I never heard back.

However, one of the geologists with whom I spoke forwarded to me a request for volunteers to participate in a GPS survey they perform every four to five years. And I volunteered. Maybe I might learn something. For sure, I'd get to see a bit of our country.

Where horses can say, "Fill 'er up!"

Where horses can say, "Fill 'er up!"

So here I am, sitting in a hotel room in the McDermitt Motel in McDermitt, NV, only a day after finishing second in the last race of the Rolex Big Boat Series racing on Bullet.

I hit the road this morning not quite so early as I intended, but it was early enough. I emerged, unscathed, from the Bay Area in the reverse commute. Through Sacramento, over the Sierras blanketed with Ponderosa pine, and past Donner Lake I went. Once I got past Reno, the hills got browner and the radio stations died out like the shrubbery.

Except for three religious stations.

Seems this town has seen more active days

Seems this town has seen more active days

So I listened for awhile. I heard this:

The differences between Christianity and Islam are insurmountable and irreconcilable so the only solution is for Muslims to accept Jesus Christ as their savior.

Actually, I can think of another solution. As I was listening, I saw this billboard: Jesus Lives.

Welcome to Oregon!

Welcome to Oregon!

When the radio's scan button happened across a country station, I was ecstatic. There was even an ad for eharmony.com. I was truly saved. And I don't even like country.

View out my window--the trucks line up for the night

View out my window--the trucks line up for the night

I continued past Winnemucca, NV and turned north up 95 past the tall hills, through the wide valleys where dust devils threw up funnels of dust and garbage alongside the road, until I reached the state's border where I paused for the night.

Tuesday, 2006-09-19: McDermitt, NV to New Meadows, ID

Pavement changes at the Oregon/Idaho border

Pavement changes at the Oregon/Idaho border

Dawn.

As the sun rises, I set off across the straight roads which divide the high desert to the horizon.

I am alone.

There isn't even a radio station to keep me company for over an hour; so I play games to pass the time like guessing how far the end of the world is. Unlike the Australian outback which is truly flat, the land here undulates gently so the answer isn't always 20 miles. Ten to twenty minutes later I see how close I came.

A single headlight in the distance twinkles like a star.

There is time to take in details. The bluffs and hills are pockmarked with interesting geology. How were the rocks formed? How long ago? How did they get here? In this state? I wish I knew. It is this curiosity which explains why I am here in the first place, volunteering for the USGS.

Trees, grasses, and dramatic cliffs

Trees, grasses, and dramatic cliffs

Meanwhile, crows pick at carrion. A coyote crosses the highway--leisurely--as he knows the limit in Oregon is only 55 MPH compared to the more libertarian 70 in Nevada (75 on the freeway).

I also observe that piles of rocks support fenceposts at corners and at gates to provide extra stability. This is cattle grazing land, so the ranchers aren't doing this to get rid of the rocks, as you see back east where farmers built rock walls as a way to get rid of the rocks in their fields.

The cars are so few and the visibility is so good I'm able to jot down these notes on my Treo while driving. It occurs to me that the Darwin awards have already been given out this year so the effort is wasted.

Because a little bit of foreground adds interest to a landscape

Because a little bit of foreground adds interest to a landscape

The terrain becomes flatter. I see brown grass, sagebrush, and rain clouds over the hills in the distance.

And then I drop like a rock into an arroyo. An oasis.

Later I pass a sign to Charbonneau's grave site. Not of Toussaint Charbonneau who was hired as a translator for the Lewis and Clark expedition but of his son Jean Baptiste who was dragged along shortly after his birth.

The Owyhee Valley

The Owyhee Valley

Got Home Depot?

Got Home Depot?

Then again, I drop like an even bigger rock into the Owyhee Valley. I start to pass farms, ranches, Boise suburbs with strip malls. I missed the city proper as I turned north just shy of Boise.

Then the rain started as I followed a river up an increasingly deeper valley with pines and firs once again blanketing the landscape. Then down into a valley with tall grasses, a wide meandering river, and maybe even a lake, where I landed in New Meadows, ID.

The Hartland Inn

The Hartland Inn

I had reservations at the Hartland Inn. I was given a small room which did feature a refrigerator, a microwave, and a coffee machine (and coffee), but sadly, it reeked of cigarette smoke. This probably doesn't bother most of the folks around here where smoking is still allowed in restaurants. Yuck. The owner, Keven Truesdell, who is extremely friendly and helpful, commiserated with me. He told me that all of his rooms had been non-smoking since he took over six months ago, but that particular unit still retained the odor, especially when it was wet. And it was wet. So, for a few dollars more, he bumped me up into one of the newer carriage house suites. And for that, I am most thankful to him.

From basic...

From basic...

...to beautiful!

...to beautiful!

Surprisingly, my cell phone works, although I had expected that it wouldn't. And the inn offers wireless Internet too (most hotels seem to these days). So, I'm connected for better or worse.

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