Friday, August 23, 2019

Out of the Woods for a Birthday Dinner; Back to the Woods; Beavers; Wildflowers; Sporting Clays; Astro-Photography; A Really Big Truck!

After my most enjoyable Sawtooths backpacking trip, I needed a shower. Well, at least that's what My Lovely Bride told me, but Rudy and Gretchen didn't complain one bit about my smell. After using a couple of hundred gallons of water and two bars of soap, I got cleaned up and dressed for our date... we were celebrating Suzanne's birthday a few days early, and we dined at The Ram, one of the best restaurants in Sun Valley (and also the oldest, operating since 1937). The food was amazing! Suzanne had the tuna stack appetizer and Alaskan halibut; I had the artichoke tart and Idaho ruby trout. As you can see, she got all dolled up for our special dinner!

Here are some photos and comments from two hikes we made in the Pioneer Mountains near Hailey, Idaho... this aspen (Populus tremuloides) along Hyndman Creek has been felled by a North American beaver (Castor canadensis), for food and dam-building. Since my years as a Boy Scout, I have admired beavers, both for their industriousness and engineering skills. They work only at night, and can rebuild a damaged/destroyed dam overnight. Ponds created by their dams help isolate their lodges, which they cover with mud so that the mud freezes as hard as stone in winter, keeping the beavers safe from attack by wolves and wolverines. Lodges typically will hold a max of four adults and six to eight youngsters.

Hyndman Peak (12,009 ft) was a bit too far to reach, but the trail to its base along Hyndman Creek was beautiful. As for wildlife, I saw a few mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) but nothing larger.

The creek itself was running strongly, but upstream we found a small bridge that allowed us to keep our boots dry.

Suzanne made one of these hikes with me; the other was solo. It's certainly nicer hiking together, but her work schedule was quite busy, so what's a guy to do but go for a hike?

My turning point on the solo hike was this ledge with a pleasantly noisy cascade to lull me to sleep, had I had been so inclined. 

Wildflowers were both beautiful and abundant, mostly in meadows along the trail, but also scattered on the mountainsides; here are just a few...

This modest memorial in Sun Valley is to Ernest Hemingway, another of my favorite authors. He spent his last years in Ketchum, Idaho, close to Sun Valley. In visiting his memorial and researching his life, I found that a genetic disease, hemochromitosis, which causes an inability to metabolize iron, results in mental and physical deterioration. It was evidently the cause of his 1961 suicide, as well as the suicides of his father, sister and brother. He had been treated at the Mayo Clinic before his death, and received 15 electroconvulsive treatments six months before his death. Better treatments exist today, but the disease was not well understood 50-60 years ago.

This plaque reflects Hemingway's love of the outdoors, and I would be hard pressed to improve on it were I looking for words for a similar purpose...

Speaking of the outdoors, while in Idaho our 42 ft motor coach needed two new steer tires; in the shop at the same time was a truck from the Sacramento Hotshots, elite wilderness firefighters who are supremely fit, brave and well-trained. They are assigned to the most dangerous wildfires. I immediately thought of our good friends Brad Bernardy and Leslie Morgan, who are senior level firefighters with the US Forest Service. In fact, Leslie had just spent a month in Alaska coordinating firefighting efforts in that state, and only recently returned to North Carolina. Brad is heading to West Texas to oversee aviation fire fighting assets there. (Sounds like the Navy as far as conflicting schedules making it hard to have dinner together...) 

While on the subject of maintenance, I must commend the guy in a nearby RV who convinced his wife/girlfriend to climb onto the roof and scrub down the topsides... "Suzanne, look at this wonderful woman on the roof of that RV! She must be very special!" SMACK!!!

From Idaho, we traveled to Montana to visit our friends Dick and Alis Arrowood. Wine aficionados may recognize Dick as the long-time winemaker at Chateau St Jean who put that vineyard on the map, so to speak. He then started Arrowood Vineyards, ran it for years, and sold it. Now he and Alis own Amapola Creek Vineyard (see my blog post from July 8th 2019). We drove to the Arrowood's ranch and had a fabulous 3 day visit. Dick is a top-level competitive sporting clays shooter, and tried to teach me to shoot sporting clays, like trap and skeet but for serious upland bird shotgunners. 

Alis is by far the prettiest clay puller I've ever met! Alis is holding a transmitter that "pulls" the clay thrower and fires the target clay into the air at speeds and angles mimicking quail, pheasant, partridge and grouse, but PETA would be happy that only clay targets are fired upon. 
(And then if I'm shooting, the bird population is pretty safe...)

Alis is also a gourmet cook, and Dick personally selected some old vintages (that he personally made!!!) for our dinners. It was like going to a five star resort and being treated like royalty... thank you, Dick and Alis, for an unforgettable experience!

I almost forgot to mention the Arrowoods' dogs, two adorable Brittanies... they are self-trained to open doors! Rudy and Gretchen were a bit too old to run with these much younger retrievers. 

From Condon, we headed north to Polson, Montana, where we kayaked on Flathead Lake. The largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River, this beautiful lake has many vacation homes on its shores, but we enjoyed this rocky scenery and crystal clear water. 

Here we have a very tenacious tree with its roots gripping these rocks with amazing strength.

We recently heard from Christine and Randy Smith, formerly of The Villages, FL. Christine was the Flute Choir Director, and Randy was a professional oboist. Now they live in Arizona, and Randy has become an astro-photographer. In his own words, Randy provides some background for his amazing photos:  "During the summer of 2018, I decided to add a new retirement activity and astronomy was the choice despite it involving two things I like to avoid – staying up late and being cold.  Tucson is a mecca for astronomy and astrophotography with its generally clear skies and designation as a “dark skies” community.  Fortunately, the Starizona astronomy store is nearby and I’ve spent many hours there absorbing their help and training. I quickly decided that while looking through a telescope is good, making photographic images is better.  I took my first pictures in December 2018 and have spent many a night in my backyard pointing to my eastern dark sky view. My telescope is an 8” Celestron  Schmidt Cassegrain on an equatorial mount, specialized color imaging cameras along with some special lenses and filters."

"This image is the Andromeda galaxy, the closest neighbor galaxy to our own Milky Way –  a mere 2.5 million light years away from us.  It can be seen with binoculars and even the naked eye on a clear, dark night rising in the east starting in late summer and until fall."

"The second image is the Orion nebula (visible from early winter until spring) located in the constellation of Orion.   The nebula is found near the bottom of Orion’s sword hanging from his three star belt.  The brightest center part can be seen with binoculars.   The object also includes the “Running Man” reflection nebula with its blue gas cloud.  With visual viewing through binoculars or telescope, most objects appear in grey scale because our eyes do not see color in the dark but the camera with its ability to keep its “eye” wide open for many seconds or minutes, can detect and record the color.  The colors are real and indicate the gases and dust left over from star explosions with color indicating the type of gas with hydrogen being the most abundant.  These two images are the result of keeping the camera eye open for about 30 minutes.  With so many celestial objects to be seen and photographed, this is a hobby without out end particularly when you start at my age.  Now, if I can just stay up late enough and stay warm!"  Randy, thanks for your amazing photos and description of your new hobby!

Speaking of keeping warm, while the rest of the country suffered through heat waves, we headed into a much cooler climate - here we are in Sparwood, British Columbia, on the west slope of the Canadian Rockies. Our campsite was on the edge of the woods where bears forage for berries this time of year. My Lovely Bride is snugged up with down jacket, tights, hot tea and a warm blanket, and of course a nice toasty campfire built in Boy Scout tradition by Your Faithful Correspondent! (Yes, Brad, when we went to bed, I made sure the fire was DEAD OUT!)

In closing, I would like all my male readers to see me standing by my new truck, the Titan 33-19. This was on display in Sparwood, and I am negotiating to get it delivered to our new house in South Carolina. Our builders are still trying to figure out how to adjust the garage door to fit it in..... okay, it is really huge, with a 350 ton capacity. Built for Kaiser Steel, it operated at the Eagle Mountain Mine in Southern California until being moved to Sparwood for coal mining in 1978. The bed of this truck will hold two buses and two pickup trucks!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Boise, Idaho; River Surfing! Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho; Hell Roaring Lake and Creek; A Very Expensive Rainbow Trout

Have I mentioned before that I used to be a surfer? I think my form here is pretty good, considering my age... (My Lovely Bride is laughing hysterically and saying, "In your dreams, Dude!") Okay, so maybe that's not me, but whoever he is, I was impressed! This photo was taken near our campground on the Boise River. A fabuloso bike path runs for about 25 miles along the Boise Greenbelt, with many lovely homes and parks along the way.

Boise is one of our favorite places, and while Suzanne was teaching back east in DC, I was racking up bike miles on the Greenbelt. But what is a hungry and thirsty cyclist to do on a hot day, except stop at Joe's Crab Shack and have some fried catfish, gumbo, garlic bread and a Fat Tire beer?

This is the Boise River in repose... it was actually running faster than I had hoped, because I wanted to do some fly fishing. I went out twice, returning fishless, but the locals said that the 1,500 cfs (cubic feet per second) flow rate was too high. Sigh... the story of my life, "You should come back in a few weeks; the fishing will be great then!"

I passed this sign on a telephone pole that provided some sobering information... it stood about 15 feet above the current river level. The 1,500 cfs that day was piddling compared to the 21,000 cfs on April 20, 1943, and that was before "deplorables" were driving SUVs and pickup trucks... (must have been Russian weather interference...) but I digress.

This guy is well-prepared for the next flood. He has his Jeep and boat towed behind his RV. I'll bet he has a shotgun, .30-.30 Winchester and fishing rod ready for living off the land... and probably no kale in the fridge!

While in Boise, we met up with Teresa Stella, a friend from Palm Springs, CA, who had just moved here. Teresa and her fur baby Sparky were happy to arrive in their new home - especially Sparky, who now has a big yard to run around. 

From Boise, it was a 3 hour drive up to Ketchum, Idaho, adjacent to Sun Valley, one of the premier ski resorts in the US. The country here is beautiful - this was the early morning view from our coach...

Hiking here in the Sawtooth Mountains is fabulous, and we wanted to let Rudy and Gretchen enjoy the scenery, so we took them on a 5 mile hike in our special doggie backpacks. Here is My Lovely Bride with Gretchen, now 13, who is her normal subdued self... keeping an eye around the area for squirrels, but otherwise not commenting on much. Rudy simply sleeps a lot when we're hiking - at 14, he's slowing down a bit, like his Dog Dad. But both our babies would rather be with us than back in the coach.

I took the opportunity while in Sun Valley to drive farther north to backpack in the Sawtooth Wilderness, which is a famous destination for hikers and fly fishermen.

My destination was Hell Roaring Lake; the trail parallels Hell Roaring Creek, and climbs up a glacial moraine, remnants of the massive movement of boulders and rocks that occurred during the last Ice Age, part of the Pleistocene period, from about 2.6 million years until about 11,600 years ago. (Yep, they had climate change back then as well.)

Arriving at the lake, I was greeted by this stunning scene... in the foreground is the lake's outlet, the start of Hell Roaring Creek. The water is crystal clear and a bit chilly. I filled my water bottles right here, far nicer than a faucet.

I found a flat spot for my tent in a grove of pines and spruce trees. I was close enough to the creek to enjoy the white noise of the stream tumbling over the rocks, but not loud enough to keep me awake at night. My tent door opened toward the lake, which I could enjoy while in my sleeping bag. Bugs weren't bad, just a few mosquitoes that visited around sunset for an hour or so. I hoisted my food bag into a tree about 100 feet away, just in case an Ursus americanus (black bear) came looking for a midnight snack. (Actually the bigger threat to my food was squirrels and chipmunks, but they are rarely aggressive.)

Sunset and the long shadows gave the lake and surrounding mountains a totally different look... I had expected to encounter at least a half dozen other backpackers here, but I had the entire lake and campsite area to myself for 24 hours... what a blessing. 

After a decent night's sleep (that means you see every hour on your watch, but go right back to sleep), and only having to get up once to pump bilges, dawn's early light gently woke me. I fixed a cup of coffee on my tiny gas stove and walked down to the shore to observe one of Nature's greatest light shows... with absolutely zero wind, the reflections of the trees on the lake were flawless.

I enjoy my solitude while backpacking in the wilderness, but I always miss Suzanne, Rudy and Gretchen. On the way back to the trailhead, I stopped to fly fish in Hell Roaring Creek. I did catch a small rainbow trout (Oncorhyncus mykiss) on an olive midge wet fly, but released him (her?) immediately without a photo, because (1) I didn't want to stress the fish by taking the time for a photo, and (2) I was standing in the middle of the creek on some small rocks, and getting my phone out of its plastic bag while holding my rod and a flipping fish (literal meaning, not figurative) makes for a clumsy and potentially wet spectacle. MLB reminded me when I told her of my rainbow that the per capita cost of my fly fishing is now down to about $200 per fish, after instruction, waders, river boots, trout net, rod and reel, leaders, tippets, nippers, hemostat, flies, and miscellaneous accessories are included... sigh...