Saturday, August 4, 2018

Saloon Girls and Hard Bodies; Beware the Wolf! South Fork; Beavers; Creede; Rocky Mountain National Park; Cutthroats!!!

My last post ended with a photo of me flirting with a saloon girl (actually just a mannequin) in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. I received an email from a friend (who shall remain anonymous for his personal safety) saying that there were some benefits to mannequins - they had hard bodies, could be taken anywhere and never complained. I don't think I'll share that email with My Lovely Bride...

We departed Pagosa Springs (7,126 ft) on US Highway 160, and immediately started on the steepest long climb the coach has ever made. We topped out at Wolf Creek Pass (10,850 ft), after an average 6.8% grade that had a few short sections of 7%+. We were averaging only 25 mph, still passing some loaded semis, and our coolant temps were edging close to the red line at times. The Colorado Dept. of Transportation (CoDot) web site has this warning sign for "The Wolf" and Hwy. 160, which has seen many fatal accidents, mostly on the way down from Wolf Creek Pass. 

Our next stop after clearing "The Wolf" was South Fork, CO, where we spent several days catching our breath from some long driving days. The whole area was blanketed with smoke from two major forest fires, one to the north and one to the east. The latter would result in closing our route to the east, but that was yet to come. On our second day, the smoke cleared a bit, and we went for a hike in a beautiful valley.

This lake near South Fork was my first attempt at Colorado trout fishing. It was more a gear-testing afternoon, with new waders, boots, rod, reel, line, leader, tippet, and flies being worked out, along with my less than expert casting techniques being "refined". As any fly fisherman will tell you, it's easier casting on a lake because there aren't trees and bushes around on which to hang up your fly. (The totality of the preceding sentences is fisherman-speak for "I didn't catch anything that day.")

I also tried some trout fishing on the south fork of the Rio Grande River, for which the town is named, but high water temperatures made the fishing very slow. I spoke to two fisherman downstream of me, and none of us caught anything in the two hours before noon. The river was basically closed in the afternoon because the trout would die if they were hooked and landed - being catch and release guys, none of us fished after 12 PM. Locals said that we should come back in October or May-June, when the fishing was much better. It's the Angler's Lament... "But Sweetheart, the weather was too hot in July... I have to fly back to Colorado in October and try again..."

So what do you do when the fishing's bad? "Go for a hike!" Suzanne had a reading to give, and some other work to do, so I took a few hours and hiked the Deep Creek Trail near the tiny town of Creede (8,700 ft). The first thing I saw at the trailhead was this small marker; it reads, "Here lies a small girl who died of a sickness on the wagon train west. In memory of all the children who died going west." Typically, 6-7% of the people traveling west died enroute, with typhus, diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever, Rocky Mountain fever, and violent interactions with locals being the principal causes, but even simple accidents like falling off a wagon or underneath an ox or wagon wheel could easily be fatal, since there was precious little medical care available on the Oregon, Emigrant, Mormon, Santa Fe, or Overland Trails.

The Deep Creek Trail follows Deep Creek (isn't that a surprise?) for 9 miles into the Rio Grande National Forest, but I made this a 7 mile day hike (round trip). A beaver dam and pond along the way made a pleasant place to stop for lunch. The beavers' lodge was on the other side of the pond, and I purposely didn't go near it so as not to disturb them. The beaver is  probably my favorite wilderness animal.

The beavers (Castor canadensis) must have heard me coming, because none were to be seen or heard. I include this web photo for those who have lived sheltered lives and never experienced seeing these delightful critters in person. They were trapped extensively in the 19th Century, mainly for their pelts, which were made into men's hats. As of 1988, their US population was estimated at 6-12 million, compared to 60 million at its peak. Being herbivores, their diet is principally aspen, alder, cottonwood and willow. Their flat tails are used for swimming and as alarms - they slap them hard on the surface of a pond or stream to alert other beavers nearby. When alarmed, they can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes. Adults can weigh up to 55 lbs, and their teeth are self-sharpening and keep growing so they don't wear down as they chew on trees and branches. 

This photo shows why the trail follows Deep Creek through its canyon - the walls are steep and rocky, with many rockslides and avalanche chutes that make climbing up from the creek trail, well, problematic... not to mention difficult, dangerous and dumb... (oh, it would then be a 3-D trail!) I can hear the bighorn sheep  booing - or is that baaaahhhhing -now.

From South Fork, we had to detour about 100 miles out of the way because of the forest fire near La Veta Pass (9,413 ft), which had forced the closure of Highway 160 through the Sangre de Christo mountains. Our destination that day was Buckley AFB, where we spent one night. Our goal was to meet with our dear friends Jeff and Lynn Hollahan, and we enjoyed a delightful dinner at their house in Denver. We had last seen Jeff and Lynn in Scottsdale, but they are such fun that we are trying to get them to move to the East Coast... wishful thinking, but we can try!

Rocky Mountain National Park - our next stop, and one of our favorite destinations in Colorado - is a hikers' dream. We stayed in a commercial campground right outside Estes Park, a typical crowded tourist town, but close to the park entrance. I went on a two day backpack in the high country, and had a ball. It was a 13 mile loop trail that started at one of the park's most popular destinations, Bear Lake (9,450 ft), where Suzanne dropped me off. There were several hundred people here, because there is parking and a shuttle stop, but once I left Bear Lake, I only saw a handful of people over two days. 

It was a couple of hours hike up through aspens, spruce and pines, then over a pass and around Joe Mills Mountain (11,078 ft) to Odessa Lake, where I stopped for lunch. The spur trail to the lake is uphill alongside this gorgeous stream... 

Odessa Lake is another of what Suzanne and I refer to, tongue in cheek, as "Hateful Places"... It was very crowded, though; I think I saw three people in the distance. The lake is surrounded by several 11,000 - 12,000 ft peaks, including Flattop, Notchtop, Little Matterhorn (the sharp one over my thumb), Knobtop, Gabletop, and The Gable. It's a climber's paradise.

Another few miles along was my destination for the night, Fern Lake. (Yes, another Hateful Place...) I chose Fern for my campsite because I would be getting the best campsite there - a "group camp" with four campsites, but because I was the only person asking for it, I would have my pick of the four, with no one else around. "It don't get better no better than this!"

I set up camp in a grove of spruce and pines, with my tent on a relatively flat spot with few rocks. There was a requirement to carry bear canisters for food and smelly stuff like toothpaste, so I didn't have to hoist my food into the trees; the down side is that the bear canister (hard plastic, cylindrical, heavy) weighs 2.2 lbs. This added a lot to my pack, and made the total about 33 lbs. And there was no spare weight for even a small bottle of wine... what a bummer!

I didn't encounter any bears (so I could have replaced the bear canister with a small cask of Zinfandel, but I digress), but I had a visit from this attractive young local female late afternoon as I was prepping my gourmet dinner - freeze-dried Spanish rice and chicken... Emeril would not have been impressed, and neither was Ms. Doe; she walked calmly through my camp, as I stood stock still, and started browsing in a nearby meadow. It was a delightful encounter... mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are the predominant species here. 

At dusk, I swatted away only a couple of mosquitoes, and crawled into my sleeping bag, and because rain wasn't forecast, I hadn't rigged a rain fly over my tent. This was my view as I contemplated my good fortune in being in one of Mother Nature's most beautiful places. I fell asleep with an owl hooting in the distance...

The next day, after coffee, freeze-dried eggs and hash browns, I got to fishing; Fern Lake is famous for its Greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii stomias), one of the prettiest fish in the world. It is a threatened species, so it's all catch and release, which I was happy to do anyway. Cleaning fish in bear country can be... well, problematic... The cutthroats here are all small, about 10-13 inches, but they put up a good fight on a fly rod. I caught three in an hour or so, one on a black and yellow spider fly and two on a caddis pattern. (For those of you have followed my blog, my success at fishing has been... well... spotty. For the record, this day's catch was no Fisherman's Tale!

I have mentioned that my meditative time comes most often on hikes. This photo may give you an idea of why... It was a joy to be on a pristine mountain lake, surrounded by sawtoothed peaks, with only two other people in sight, far away on the other side of the lake. Life is Good!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Boise (Boy-see), Idaho; Subdued but Tasteless? Table Rock; A Cemetery Message; Cedar Breaks; Spring Creek Slot Canyon; Four Corners; A Colorado Cowgirl

Frequent readers of this blog may recall our previous visit to a great American city, Boise, Idaho, and that the locals pronounce it "Boy-see", with the inflection on the first syllable. Boise never fails to impress us. I could easily live here... the people are very friendly (they are much like Southerners), the rivers here are legendary for great fishing, stunning mountains are nearby, there are miles of bike trails... well, you get the idea. We spent a week here, with the coach set up at Gowen Field, an Army and Air Force National Guard facility right near the airport. 

While taking a bike ride on the outskirts of town, we came across this interesting casual patio design, complete with a Disney-themed mannequin... how would I tactfully describe this setup? Subdued, but tasteless???

Of course, I also did some hiking in Boise; this image shows some of the rocks just below the rim of the Table Rock trail. The main trail was crowded, but on this side trail I met only one other hiker. 

Visitors to Boise may recognize the Idaho State Capitol Building. Built starting in 1905, it is in Renaissance Revival style, and is built of sandstone quarried at the Table Rock quarry where I had just hiked.

From Boise, we dropped back down to Utah. Suzanne had a scheduled radio show, so we parked next to a school just off the highway, and I went out for a walk. As I passed a cemetery, I wandered through and saw this tombstone with an interesting plaque attached. Was it just coincidence that I walked past this spot while Suzanne was doing her radio show, Messages of Hope??? Hmmmm....

Our next stop was Cedar Breaks National Monument, in Utah. Just the drive in/up to Cedar Breaks was spectacular. There wouldn't be a place to launch our kayaks, since the monument is above 10,000 feet, but we would find a great hike awaiting us...

The scenery was stunning. There were lots of hoodoos, reminiscent of Bryce Canyon, only 50 miles or so from here. The Southern Paiute called this area u-map-wich, "the place where rocks are always sliding down". Early settlers mistook the ubiquitous junipers to be cedars, and called the steep, broken terrain breaks, hence the name Cedar Breaks.

We followed the four mile Ramparts Trail along the rim to Spectra Point and Ramparts Overlook. This stately bristlecone pine (Pinus longavea) is the longest living species on earth, with one specimen having been dated to more than 5,000 years of age. It only lives in alkaline soil that is also high in calcium and magnesium but low in phosphorus, attributes which do not allow the growth of other species. 

While staying in Cedar City, Utah, we visited a beautiful slot canyon at Spring Creek. A nearby river had a waterfall, where 90% of the turistas gather, but this relatively unknown trail was almost deserted. The rock formations were gorgeous! (Sorry, I couldn't help myself for the pun...)

Sandstone can be sculpted in an infinite manner, in this case mostly by water, but wind can have similar effects.

Suzanne found a perfectly-formed small cave where she could do a short meditation. 

My meditative time comes while hiking, sailing or even sitting in a camp chair with a glass of Zinfandel... and sometimes, I can even convince MLB to join me. (I must note, however, than she tends to fade after a very small glass of vin... what in the Navy we call a "short ball hitter"...) 

Okay, this one is for the guys... I am thinking about a new vehicle... a M1117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicle, 4x4, four wheeled, 260 hp Cummins diesel, 15 tons GVW, top speed 62 mph, modular expandable mine resistant armor (important for driving to dinner in urban areas like San Francisco, Detroit or Chicago), 40 mm grenade launcher, .50 and .30 caliber machine guns, and 4 seats... list price $800,000, but the Army cancelled the program, and I think I can get one for $30,000 on eBay... but I may have to redesign the garage for the high clearance.

June 29th was a great day... I surprised My Lovely Bride with an anniversary gift and a nice dinner out. Lest you ladies out there think that I am a total barbarian, I will have you know that I (myself) selected the outfit that Suzanne is wearing. And it even fit! Not bad for a simple Cajun boy, huh? Suzanne has put up with me for 22 years now... and please, no snide comments about her lack of judgment!

On our way to Colorado, we passed through Four Corners, where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado meet. The landscape is pretty desolate, but there are many rock formations, mesas and buttes that catch your eye... this is just one of them. Just don't look for a gas station, coffee shop or lutefisk stand here. (But you might find fry bread, a local delicacy...)

Eastward to Colorado! We drove through Durango and Pagosa Springs, two delightful towns, but marred by heavy smoke from nearby forest fires.While walking around Durango, I met this cute local girl. She wasn't very talkative, though, even after I offered to buy her a sarsaparilla... maybe it was because MLB was with me... (note to self... don't chat up finicky saloon girls wearing fishnet stockings).

Friday, June 22, 2018

Las Vegas Friends; Zion National Park; Provo; "Sorry, Rudy!"; Attacked by Loose Dogs; Fly Fishing; Winston and Jean; "Poop Gold"???

Welcome back to Life As Ty Sees It! It's been a few weeks since my last blog post, and we've been doing a lot of driving. Distances out West are a lot longer than back East. We've been catching up with friends, hiking, fishing, and of course Suzanne, also known as My Lovely Bride (MLB) has been working long hours doing her spiritual work. We're glad you're back with us and keeping up with our journey, both the earthly and metaphysical sides.

From Flagstaff, we drove to Las Vegas for a brief stop to visit friends. Jill Chambers is a retired Army colonel, and her husband Michael Peterson,a Grammy-winning country singer, had us over for dinner, and of course Michael treated us to a private concert!

We also got together for dinner with Jerry and Karen Facciani at two fabulous restaurants, Lotus of Siam and Table 34. The former is one of the 10 best Thai restaurants in the US, and the latter has great New American cuisine. We are always impressed by Jerry and Karen's choices of dining opportunities (and of course his impeccable taste in wine!).

Our travels next took us to Zion National Park, one of the most stunning places on the planet, and one of my favorites. This photo was taken on the drive to Zion; we are still miles from the National Park, where semis aren't allowed!

About 75% of the visitors staying in our campground were from overseas, bearing witness to the awesome scenery here in southern Utah.

This was moonrise over the escarpment near our campground...

During our visit, we got out for a couple of hikes - the Hidden Canyon trail had a couple of areas with significant "exposure" - this means that if you're looking at your smart phone instead of the trail, you might fall a hundred feet or more, usually to very hard rocks far below... this is NOT the place to take a "close to the edge selfie".

In another section, park rangers had rigged steel chains to hold onto as you make your way over a very narrow trail; after awhile it got to be unremarkable... well, almost. Some hikers were acting frivolously...

... while others were more focused on the trail, rather than skylarking! By the way, did you know that "skylarking" is a nautical term, meaning to play or frolic about the masts and rigging of a sailing ship? The skysails were the topmost sails on a square rigged ship, and youngsters would run up the rigging and slide down on backstays from the tops of the masts to the deck far below. (Your Faithful Correspondent has judged that he a bit old for skylarking, at least here...)

We were also able to do a bike ride up the Virgin River canyon close to sunset, when there was almost no one around. Private cars are verboten, unless you are staying at the park lodge way up the canyon. The ride upstream (AKA "uphill") was a tad slower than the exhilarating 25-30 mph ride downhill. 

Zion is also known for many "slot canyons", which are very narrow canyons formed by rushing water. They are usually much deeper than they are wide. You would not want to be here during a flash flood, which can occur even on sunny days, if the water source is many miles away where a thunderstorm might be dropping several inches of water. The water piles up in the slot and can hit with incredible force and speed. Nine hikers died in 2017 in a slot canyon flash flood in the Tonto National Forest in northern Arizona. Eleven hikers were killed in 1997 in Lower Antelope Canyon when a 40 foot high wall of water hit them.

Road trips out west can leave a motor home pretty dirty and dusty. Campgrounds don't allow car washing, much less coach washes, so we took advantage of a Blue Beacon truck and RV wash facility. This of course is the semi in front of us; the six kids working there did a decent job, but minus the detailed waxing I would do myself. (But then it only took them 15 minutes to my 3 hours...)

Next stop: Provo, Utah. Suzanne flew out from nearby Salt Lake City to Manchester, United Kingdom, to meet with her colleague, Mavis Pittilla, in preparation for her next book, Mavis' biography. While Suzanne was packing, Rudy recognized that she was leaving, and decided that he was going along with her... "Sorry, Rudy, you can't go to England; they have a six month quarantine!"

While MLB was on travel, I had a week in Utah to hike and take a fly fishing class. Hard to say which was more fun, but after taking the class, buying some waders, boots, fish-friendly wooden hand net with sampling seine net, dry and wet flies, leader material, tippets, locking hemostat, etc., etc., I set up my six-piece backpacking fly rod which MLB had given me for my birthday last year and went fishing. 

I found a nice-looking spot on the Provo River and started studying the bugs suspended in the current. I picked out a tiny caddis nymph, and on my second cast, caught a brown trout, which I released. He wasn't huge, but he was pretty, and it certainly was a decent start to my new (and very expensive, compared to traditional spin casting) hobby of dry and wet fly trout fishing. Unfortunately, the sun was setting, and I had to be satisfied with that one trout and the joy of being on a beautiful white water river in a forested canyon. (To My Good Friend Bob: "Eat your heart out, Bud!")

We had a couple of dog problems in the campground - two loose dogs burst from a trailer and attacked Rudy and Gretchen. Before I could kick them, one had bitten Rudy, but fortunately Gretchen was unhurt. A trip to the vet was required, and of course the people responsible left town as soon as possible, before I could give them the bill. The very next day, a loose Chihuahua ran up to me, jumped up and bit me on the hand - fortunately he didn't break the skin. Now I'm carrying my hiking stick for self-defense.

On Suzanne's return flight from the UK, she had a three hour layover in Orlando, close to our home in The Villages. Bev Garlipp was kind enough to drive Suzanne's Lovely Mom Ruthie to the airport so that they could spend some time with Suzanne. Needless to say, Suzanne and Ruthie were very grateful for Bev's generosity.

When Suzanne returned to Salt Lake City, she brought a Very Special Prezzie to me from Jean Else, Mavis' partner. I was stunned - out of a very carefully wrapped package came... My Hero... Winston Churchill... well, at least a porcelain facsimile thereof, which pleased me to no end. This original Royal Doulton figurine had been Jean's treasure for 20 years; she and Winston share the same birthday, November 30 (1874 for Winston, a lot later for Jean!), and Winston was a Member of Parliament for Oldham, Jean's home town. I had mentioned to Jean when we met that I was a Churchill fan, and had been to the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.  (Historical trivia note: this is where, in 1946, former Prime Minister Churchill gave his famous "Iron Curtain" speech, stating that "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent." He also advised that with the Soviets there was nothing they admired more than strength, and nothing for which they have less respect for than military weakness. (Things haven't changed much, have they??? Hopefully, we have remembered some of the lessons from Winston Churchill's era.) Thank you, Jean, from the bottom of my heart!!!

When Suzanne returned, we went for a hike up to a waterfall near Mount Timpanagos (11,752 ft), along the Alpine Loop in Utah's Wasatch Mountains. The exposed rock here is primarily limestone and dolomite from the Pennsylvanian Period, about 300 million years old. 

The mountain and surrounding valleys are heavily glaciated, and are very reminiscent of the Alps in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.

Along the waterfall trail we encountered this impressive rockslide/avalanche chute. You wouldn't want to be here when the rocks are moving downhill!

Finally, during our stop at Hill AFB, this advertisement on the side of a mobile kitchen truck serving authentic Korean BBQ and rice (AKA "bop") caught Suzanne's eye... but not her appetite, for some reason. Come on, really? "Poop gold"??? Actually, it means good luck - in Korea, people eat this meal and go out and buy lottery tickets. (Sorry, but I don't think the slogan will do well here in the USA, although these Air Force guys seem to be quite ready to enjoy this traditional Korean food.)