Malad Gorge


When I was a student at Boise State University, I didn’t have a car. I lived 4 hours from my parents’ house. (In a Western state, 4 hours away means 4 hours of driving an average of 60 mph on the highway, not 4 hours of sitting in traffic as you go through various urban areas.) So, on holidays, I often found myself ride sharing with other students who were heading towards the eastern part of the state. That meant we took the highway pictured above.

I must have passed over Malad Gorge dozens of times before I noticed it.

As you can see above, the gorge is dramatic and steep, but at the point where it intersects the highway, very narrow. The amount of time the car spends actually crossing the gorge amounts to seconds.

Finally, on one of the car trips I happened to be looking up from my ever-present book (fiction, of course … I wouldn’t be reading a coursebook!) at just the right moment to spot this amazing gorge. After that, I started keeping an eye out for it.

It broadens out to the south.

In the years since, I have learned that you can get off at an exit and find a parking lot, park, and walking trail with a footbridge that takes you across the gorge. It’s from there that we got these pictures.

I’d hate to have been the first person, recklessly galloping along on a horse, who found this thing.

An Abstract Farmland Painting

Gosh, I’m so proud of this one.

I made it quickly, in just two days, on a small square canvas, intending to sell it at a local summer festival. But as of drafting this post, we haven’t had the festival yet, so I don’t know whether it’s going to sell.

It’s basically just the scene from my dining room window, done in a blocky, hurried style. I figure it’s the kind of thing that you would hang in your farm-house-themed kitchen, mostly choosing it for the colors and theme. Its lack of detail means that it wouldn’t overwhelm a decorating scheme. I hope.

Here it is in my studio.

As far as I’m concerned, the scene above is pretty close to paradise … natural light, painting supplies, plants, books, and a cup of coffee.

I’m Painting a Fence

Like, painting a picture of a fence.

Get it?

Here’s the fence that was the inspiration for the painting. See how its flaws show up so picturesquely against the light-colored wheat field in the background? I thought I could do a painting of this fence and I could probably manage to sell it, since it’s the type of decorative farm-themed art that you see for sale in stores. My son, who has been selling his paintings of Galaxy Rabbit at town festivals, has inspired me to become more enterprising.

This is, by the way, actually a terrific photo showing how beautiful our farm country can be. You’ve got the irrigation wheel line in the wheat field behind the fence, the windbreak trees, the mountains in the distance, and look! There’s even a pickup on the road!

I started by covering a long, skinny canvas in yellow-green paint (which is the color the wheat field was when I first got the idea, although by the time I took the photo above, it had ripened some more).

Then I started doing the shapes of the boards. I ran out of brown-grey paint and had to mix another batch, which resulted in the boards on the right being a darker color, but that’s OK because the contrast with the dark boards and bright background was actually what I was going for. I added some smears of the darker color on the lighter boards to suggest shadows.

Next I mixed some dark grey and used a stiff, dry brush to simulate wood grain.

Finally, I added the crosspiece, put wood grain on it, and used light grey paint diluted with water to make the whole thing look a bit sun-bleached. The painting looks good in my dining room — especially with the model just a few feet away out the window — but I sure hope it sells!

We Go to Big Southern Butte

Big Southern Butte is not really a butte, more of a freestanding hill or mountain. But that’s what we call it around here, and in this post it will be abbreviated BSB.

BSB is one of the biggest perks of living in the particular farmhouse where we do. Our house is perched on a rather high spot in the midst of relatively flat farms and desert. Looking north from our yard, you can see 30 miles to Big Southern Butte, and on clear days, to the Sawtooths beyond. It looks best around sunset, when it and the Twin Buttes to east of it are lit dramatically and often attract their own clouds. I have been trying to photograph it since we moved here, usually without much success, but in the picture of our downed tree above, you can see BSB in the distance. And here it is looming over the wheatfields:

A few weeks ago, the explorer to whom I am married expressed a desire to drive up BSB and then hike the last hundred yards to the top. He had read some travel materials that said the road was passable. (bum bum bum) Of course I had to come along, because it has long been my dream to actually go to the butte.

The road leading to BSB from Atomic City is dirt with patches of basalt rock sticking out. We approached our goal from the southeast and drove completely around it, which was satisfying. There are quite a few roads tracks in the area, but all of them are better suited for pickup, jeep, or ATV. Above is a view of the butte from the North, as we were leaving.

The road that supposedly led to the top of the butte enters it via a crack (the “butte crack”) on the northwest side. Here we are approaching it. You can see the terrain, which is basically “high desert,” with rabbitbrush and silver sage.

Here are the butte’s bona fides.

We drove a ways into this crack, but whatever travel articles said the road was good must have been written a season or two ago. My husband did an amazing job maneuvering our sedan over many patches of rock, but at last we reached a point where it was pretty clear we could get high-centered if we were to continue.

Luckily, that point was partway up the side of the butte (past the first turn you see in the photo above) and there was a pull-out place to park. Some of our party hiked a ways farther up the trail, but did not go all the way to the top as it would have been 3 miles from there.

Here are the Sawtooths as seen from our parking spot. My husband says these are not the actual Sawtooths. I understood the whole region was called the Sawtooths, and then there were sub-ranges within the region, so I don’t know. Even with this little bit of height, you can start to see into the ranges. Back here are the Pioneer Mountains and the Lost River Range, among others.

It’s amazing what a difference results from going a mere 30 miles north and attaining just a little bit of height. From our house, it looks as if there is just one large mountain beyond BSB. From BSB itself, you can see that there is a whole range, and we plain-dwellers can just see the tallest.

For now, I’m content with having seen BSB up close. I would like to go to the top some day, but that will have to wait until we have, or borrow, a more suitable vehicle. In the meantime, at least we don’t have to say that we lived near a topographical wonder and never touched it.

Idaho Wildflowers: Plains Prickly Pear

The long spines and flattened, blue-green pads of the plains prickly pear are familiar to anyone who has had the misfortune to step on one. As if the sharp, long spines are not trouble enough, the plants are also armed with a ring of tiny, hairlike barbs (glochids) at the base of the larger spines. These tiny barbs look harmless, but once touched they penetrate the skin and refuse to let go. However, the beautiful flowers of prickly pear more than compensate for the dreaded spines. The flowers are large, up to 3″ or more, with numerous red to yellow petals. The fruit is a pear-shaped berry, dry and very spiny, unlike the juicy “tunas” of some southwestern species of prickly pear.

Habitat/Range: Dry grasslands from the valleys and plains into the foothills, canyons, and montane forests.

Comments: This was the most dreaded plant encountered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804 – 6), because the spines would penetrate the explorers’ moccasins, causing great discomfort. On July 15, 1805, while ascending the Missouri River near the mouth of the Smith River, Lewis noted in his journal: “[T]he prickly pear is now in full blume and forms one of the beauties as well as the greatest pest of the plains.”

Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers, by H. Wayne Phillips, p. 125

Idaho Wildflowers: Ball-Head Gilia (?)

I had a little trouble identifying these, as they are clearly yellow, whereas the Ball-Head Gilia described in my trusty Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Falcon Guide are “white and sometimes flecked with purple” (page 233). But everything else seems to fit.

This is Ipomopsis congesta, from the Phlox family (Polemoniaceae). It grows in “[d]ry, open places from the valleys and plains to the alpine zones” and “[s]everal varieties occur.”

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Really slow.

We had a cold, late Spring, and some things aren’t even up yet.

Meanwhile, I planted dill and yarrow seeds on the actual rows (both plants are supposed to repel pests and support the growth of other veggies), but with the strong winds we had around here, they apparently got carried into the furrows and that is where they are coming up.

I’m just a beginner.

Metroplex Monsters: A Book Review

This one was pure fun.

What, I ask you, could be more of a romp than a book about cryptids, urban legends and paranormal experiences, set in a metro area in which you once lived and even taking place in parks you have walked in?

Almost nothing, expect maybe gifting same on Father’s Day to your husband, who lived in said metro area longer than you did and who knows it even better.

Or, enjoying the fact that the book is illustrated in a retro, pulp-fiction style by the author, who is also a graphic artist.

All of these minor delights are now mine.

The D/FW metro area is not the first place one would think of when hearing the word “Bigfoot,” or the word “spooky.” Even as a city, it is not very attractive. The area is sprawling, and tends to be unwalkable, with wide streets, vast parking lots, hot temperatures, and glaring daylight. It gets lot of Wild West points for its cowtown/railroad/cotton growing local history (all documented in the book), but it gets almost no gothic points.

However, despite being a vast metro area, D/FW is seamed through with green spaces around the Trinity River and its tributaries. As the book points out, the brushy edge of this greenspace is so dense that it could really be called a “green wall.” As is alleged to have happened, surprisingly recently, you could drive by this “green wall” and be unaware that Bigfoot was quietly standing 40 feet from the highway.

The area also has a quite a few large lakes, such as Joe Pool Lake (I’ve been there!) and White Rock Lake (I’ve been there too!). These are man-made, created by damming various tributaries of the Trinity River. They are popular recreational areas, but also big enough and old enough to have spooky urban legends associated with them and to allow people to have hard-to-believe encounters.

Finally, because of the river system and the associated lakes, the D/FW area has a lot of large birds, such as egrets and blue herons. I can confirm that it is very common to see these feathered creatures while simply driving from place to place in the metro area. One really fascinating contention in this book is that some of these “herons” are actually, on a closer look, featherless and are in fact a kind of small pterosaur. A few people have gotten a good enough look to realize that the “heron” looked more like a lizard, but they have understandably kept quiet.

About the Author

Jason McLean, the author of Metroplex Monsters, is the founder of the SIRU papers podcast on YouTube. I found out about him, and his book, when the two of us were on yet another podcast discussing the weirder elements of the Old Testament. So, this book, while I have described it as a romp, is actually in deadly earnest. McLean traces the origins of various Dallas urban legends somewhat in the style of Snopes, though more along the lines of let’s-find-out-the-actual-history rather than whatever-it-is-we-will-debunk-it. Though you can’t tell from Metroplex Monsters alone, he has a worldview that allows for quite a few paranormal phenomena to make sense within a biblical, and entirely rational, framework. If you are interested in that sort of thing, I encourage you to check out SIRU papers (and of course, The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser, Giants: Sons of the gods by Douglas Van Dorn, and The Scattering Trilogy by a distinguished novelist. But SIRU papers is even more hair-raising). If you are not interested in how a Christian could possibly countenance the paranormal, but just want to laugh and shake your head over how even a seemingly banal metro area like D/FW can have cryptids, feel free to read, and enjoy, Metroplex Monsters at face value.