WELCOME TO SPOTTED DOG RANCH, WHERE ROLLING STONES KEEP ROLLING. THANKS FOR VISITING!

With the smoke and the fire and the stars at night

Up again in the morning bright

With nothing but road and sky in sight

And nothing to do but go...

—old hobo poem

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Change in Direction



I've been very fortunate to be able to spend a lot of my life wandering and exploring, dogs following along, living in the moment and enjoying the place where I feel happiest—the wilderness. I've never had much money, but then I don't need much. 




But there's always a nagging feeling that I need to be doing something—probably a remnant of past brainwashing, which is hard to ditch. So, I sometimes post on this blog or work on a book or take a road trip somewhere new, if I have the money, or take a class here and there, and it seems to satisfy the itch for awhile—maybe a week or two.



My past education was primarily in anthropology and linguistics, but I've found myself returning to my first love—geology. My grandfather had a huge pile of rocks in his yard—as a game warden, he was out and about a lot, finding cool stuff. 




He inspired me to start my own collection when I was just a wee lass, and I've had numerous rock collections through the years, including some beautiful rocks I "collected" at various gem and rock shows in Tucson. 



I always end up giving them away or donating them to some museum or college, as owning rocks and fossils is kind of the antithesis to traveling light. For example, the Museum of Western Colorado has a nice collection of insect fossils I collected from the Green River Formation, one of only a few places in the world where ancient insects have been preserved.



Anyway, I've been working on a degree in geology and now have a minor in it. I love science and find I'm happiest when I'm out doing fieldwork of some kind, which combines my love of the wilds with a sense of purpose. 



So, on that note, I'm now going off into a whole new direction and will be doing some actual geology fieldwork in southeast Utah. This will take me into places with no internet signals, so I may not be posting on this blog very often, though I still hope to keep it going with an occasional post. 

So, I'm off on a new kind of adventure—wish me luck!




Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Finding Time to do Very Little

When I had a house in Moab, I used to get up in the morning, have a cup of mud, pack a lunch, then head out to points unknown and just wander with the dogs. 

I worked part-time for the local newspaper, and since I was always out and about, I managed to find lots of news stories the editor wasn't aware of. 


Sometimes a story would consist of interviewing some old timer, and other times it would be "real" news, since I covered the crime beat (such that it was), as well as search and rescue (SAR). The SAR beat could keep me pretty busy, as Grand County has one of the most active SAR groups in the country.

I covered lots of stories of base jumpers falling into the rocks, ATV drivers going over cliffs, hikers getting lost, rafters disappearing in the big rapids, bicyclists breaking legs—the kinds of things that always happen in an active outdoors area. 

The emergency room at the local hospital actually has a chart showing the number of accidents for the season at each mountain biking trail.

But sometimes my day would include dropping by the office to listen to Sam Taylor, third-generation owner of the paper, relate stories about the early canyon country, some that I knew were tall tales—Sam's been gone a number of years now. Those were good days.

I explored a lot of the area in an intimate way, looking at every nook and cranny, which is really the way to get to understand an ecosystem. 

There were places I knew so well I could tell you what grew where and when. I was always finding something of interest, whether it be an old sheepherder's stove, lithic scatter, or a rare penstemon.

I had several books on the flora and fauna and could tell you what everything was called, an art I've partially forgotten at this point. I knew where the jackrabbits holed up and where the bullsnakes lived and even could walk you to a coyote den or two. I have no idea how many miles I walked each day—sometimes not even one and other times a lot.

It was the best of times and in some ways the worst, as I had very little money and many bills to pay. This improved after I decided to sell the house, freeing me from a house payment and associated costs.


I've had some hard times camping, especially in inclement weather, but nothing can beat hearing coyotes yipping in the middle of the night or getting up to a stunning sunrise. 

I'm currently in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, one of the nicest towns anywhere, with cool nights and days and stunning scenery, but the canyon country tugs at my heart and I'll be going back over there when it cools off, probably mid-September.

Moab's been discovered, but there are still lots of places where one can hide out and explore and watch the full moon rise over the distant mountains. 

And there is lots of big desert close to Moab that the tourists aren't even aware of—places over by Price and Green River. Plenty of country for everyone.


As much as I love my home state of Colorado, maybe I'll give up the wandering life and move back over to the canyons one of these days. I guess that if I do, I'll still be wandering, but in a smaller way.



Monday, July 6, 2015

Hot, Dry, and Broken Down


Leaving the shade of the tall larch trees at my camp near Kalispell, I head south, but not until I buy a bottle of Glacier Huckleberry Wine for back home.

I take the wrong exit in Missoula and find myself at the smokejumpers' headquarters at the airport. After taking a break from the sweltering heat by sitting in the shade with the dogs (my car thermometer reads 100 degrees), I flee. The heat is setting records, and it feels like if you lit a match the atmosphere would catch on fire. 

Having lived on gorp for most of my trip, I suddenly have a hankering for good Mexican food. I turn south at Butte, heading for Dillon.

For some reason, I really like Dillon, Montana, and the food at the Mexican bus is actually some of the best I've ever had. But there's a bicycle race that day, and the town is so packed it's hard to drive around. 

I take the dogs out to the fairgrounds for a walk, then brave the crowd and get some enchiladas. It's evening, and I had hoped to camp there, but it's still too hot, so I continue south, ending up camping on a back road near Pocatello, Idaho. 


I should turn east to go to Yellowstone, but I decide I want to go visit Logan, Utah, where I spent some time last year. I'll cut back north from there, camping at Bear Lake.

Seeing a sign that says Soda Springs, I turn off the freeway and go east, thinking this cutoff will take me to Logan. Before long, I'm at a small lake with picnic tables, and I stop and make coffee while the dogs swim. 


We have the whole place to ourselves, and it's paradise with the cool water and distant mountains—and even an occasional nearby train, as this is where they cut through the mountains of southern Idaho. A sign points out ruts from the Oregon Trail, but the grass is too tall to really make out much.

I'm soon in Soda Springs, a small town on the old Oregon Trail with historical signs everywhere. I find the springs and wait, as it erupts every hour on the hour, and it doesn't disappoint. Gulls love the water, which is carbonated and supposedly tastes like a mild beer, and they bathe in the geyser.


I spend some time driving around the town, then decide to head on over to Star Valley, which is near the Tetons. Taking a back road that winds through the mountains, I stop after an hour to take a break.

It's then that my battery light comes on. I call my brother, but soon lose the cell signal. I check for loose wires, finding none. 

After a moment of panic, knowing it's probably my alternator, I decide to head back the way I came. Going forward would take me to Jackson, where it's expensive to even breathe, but maybe I can make it back to the Wasatch Front and the Salt Lake City area.

I manage to drive the 70 or so miles back to the freeway, then head south, soon going up Malad Pass. Just as I'm being passed by a truck, my car begins acting like it's possessed—all the dash lights come on and the speedometer starts jumping around. I limp the car into a nearby rest stop at the top of the pass, wondering how I could be so lucky. The car completely dies under the only shade tree there.

I ask a man and his wife in a nearby pickup if they can give me a jumpstart, and they kindly help me limp 10 miles into the nearest town of Malad, Idaho, population 2,000. We have to jump my car several times to get it there. I pull into the first motel and get a room, marveling at how seedy it is, but happy to be there, as they allow dogs and have air conditioning. It's 102 degrees.

After two days in Malad, the local shop has my car fixed for the exorbitant sum of $300. It was indeed the alternator, and I feel fortunate that their prices are so reasonable. I do have roadside service with Geico, and they said they would tow me to the nearest Toyota dealer in Logan, who told me they would charge $500 to fix the car.

While walking the dogs, I meet a Marine on his way home from Iraq, and he asks if I've seen any bedbugs. I'm kind of puzzled until he tells me he's staying at the same seedy motel and that the Trip Advisor ratings say it's infested with the little beasts, though he thinks the complaints are from the wing we're not in. 

My love of motels grows, and I decide to buy another trailer when I get home—at least if you break down, you still have a place to stay. When in motels, I always sleep in my sleeping bag with a sheet covering the bed, and I've seen no signs of bedbugs, but I end up washing everything in hot water at a laundromat on down the road. I'd been lucky again, as none seem to have come along.

I'm happy I didn't break down in the Yukon, where just the tow alone would have cost thousands of dollars. I feel very fortunate and celebrate by spending the night in the desert, howling with the coyotes, happy to be home. 


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Finding Another Piece of My Home

An old army truck used to build the Alaska Highway during WWII. The 1500 mile highway was built in eight months by over 30,000 military men and civilians.


After spending some time with my family near Fairbanks at Harding Lake, I decided to head on down the road.



I immediately started getting into smoke, and before long, it was so thick I couldn't see any of the countryside. I drove through this for over 60 miles, wondering if just ahead the highway would be closed.



I kept thinking I would soon see flames jumping through the sky, but the smoke lifted a little after Delta Junction. At the time of this writing, Alaska has over 240 wildfires burning.

Budget police presence in the town of Teslin, Yukon,  home of the Tlingit people. I wonder if this guy is related to Lucky the Dumb Cop in Lakeside, Montana.








I had intended to drive the Top of the World Highway, then go on up the Dempster to Inuvik (site of the Ice Truckers show), but I was told by a station attendant that the smoke was thick that way. 


No point in driving a long ways to see nothing but smoke—it seemed I was already doing that. I decided to continue down the Alaska Highway.



I stopped to let the dogs out for awhile, and it was then that I realized we were all getting road weary (I ended up putting over 8,000 miles on my car). 


I was missing the desert, and I'll be the first to admit that camping alone in the vast and truly wild country of Alaska and Canada wasn't quite as carefree as camping in the deserts of Utah in my regular hangouts. 









I decided it was time to head home. I could come back anytime I wanted, but I suspected I would fly next time.


A young black bear keeps an eye on two scary and possibly very dangerous sandhill cranes near Fort Nelson.







It took five days to reach the U.S. Border, and I was quite surprised when I saw the sign that said "You'll soon reach the U.S. Border" (or something like that—I was pretty tired). 


Muncho Lake in B.C.

I had cut from Calgary over Crowsnest Pass to the ski town of Fernie and had no idea where the border actually was, having never come that way. 


Crowsnest Mountain at the top of Crowsnest Pass.

I went that way because I wanted to see the Frank Slide, which wiped out an entire town in 1903 and was Alberta's worst landslide in history. It was a grim sight, seeing all the massive rock.



I was feeling sleep deprived again, and I have to admit that I felt a sense of relief when I saw that the border was a mere 20 or so miles away. 




When one visits the Nuxalt people of Bella Coola, they'll remind you that the entire earth is our shared home. They say, "Coming here as you have, you've found yet another piece of your home."


RVs at Dawson Creek, B.C., the start of the Alaska Highway.

Even though we all share one planet, most of us feel more at home in some places than in others, and for me, it's where I was born and raised—the high desert of the Colorado Plateau.

As much as I love Canada, and as similar as the culture there is to ours, the comfort and familiarity of being in your own home country can't really be described. I had seen many pieces of my home, but I was ready to go back to the desert.



What started it all, near Calgary.
Being home gives you a sense of relief, knowing that you understand how things work and know the rules, even if you choose not to follow them.


Failing to find a suitable camp spot in Kalispell, Montana, I bent the rules and drove down this road across from Costco, finding peace and quiet.

I spent the night in Kalispell, marveling at the lack of mosquitoes. The next day, I drove to Lakeshore State Park on Flathead Lake, one of my favorite campsites.



I set up my tent and slept the afternoon away, the dogs snuggled up to me on my cot. They seemed happy to take a break from driving. When we left and I took down the tent, the main pole broke, making me feel grateful it hadn't happened in the Land of the Midnight Mosquitoes.


In Bigfork, Montana

We would spend several days at the state park, resting up and revisiting some of my favorite haunts around the lake, then continue south. 




We were only a mere 1,000 miles from home, but I was getting a second wind and decided to go see Yellowstone, the Tetons, and drive over Beartooth Pass.

But as the novels say—alas, it was not to be. 



Flathead Lake