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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Giving it My Best Shot

If you've ever camped, you know the feeling: It's getting late, the fire's burning low, you and your friends have pretty much talked each other out and you all now just sit there, watching the last glowing embers, relaxed under a vault of bright stars that look like you could reach up and touch them. 

It's time to go to bed, but you're reluctant to leave the warmth of the fire and the rare moment of sheer contentment (or maybe you've just had too much wine and aren't sure you can walk that far). In some ways, it's the apex of camping and a moment when one can almost feel a direct link with our early hunter-gatherer ancestors who lived this way every day. 

I've been camping in the desert with two very special friends, and though we didn't have a fire, we did share some great conversation. But when one of my friends asked if I were content, I had to answer no, in spite of the moment's ambiance. 

"There's always another book out there, waiting to be written," was my reply.

Rowdy says he'd be content if he just had more catnip.

I'm now back in Colorado for a couple of days and will soon return for a more extended desert stay, and my friend's question keeps coming back to me: "Are you content?" It seems to match well with another question I've been asked, "What are you running from, and what are you running to?"

I don't have any answers, but I do think that, in general, we're about as happy as we make up our minds to be. Our mindsets are the result of many factors, all the way from how we're taught to view the world as children to refusing to change because we're more comfortable with the devil we know. 

I seemed to be more content in my youth when I hung out in places like this.

For me, true contentment comes with sitting in a camp chair watching the dogs sleep and thinking of nothing except where our next camp will be or what's for dinner. Maybe that's getting pretty elemental in the grand scheme of things, but so be it. I make no claims to being a great thinker, or even any kind of thinker. 

And so, with that, I think I'm going to go on back out there and see how long I can be content before making myself unhappy again. I'm going to give it my best shot and really try for it. I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, but there's no stress or expectations. It will all equal out, and I have no reason to not be content, as I have everything I need.

Callie's pretty content to watch birds out the window, though she'd be even more content to catch them.
And, as part of my new goal to do absolutely nothing but be content, I won't be blogging for awhile. I think it's a fine enough goal, one that might even rid me of my cultural expectations of accomplishing something and doing something with my life, as if it's a big piece of Playdough to be molded and shaped into something significant. 

But actually, if you think in geologic time, it doesn't really matter if I write a book or cook a hotdog or watch the clouds or sleep or contemplate my existence.

So, if you see someone in the outback who looks very content, it might just be me—I may even decide to just stay out there. 

Happy trails and may you find your own path to contentment.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Claustrophobia and Growing Up in a Garage

I spent a lot of time here once during my two-week tenure as a grad student in film at Montana State—the classrooms made me claustrophobic.

When I was a kid of about three years, my dad and grandfather went together on a piece of land on the outskirts of Craig, Colorado. It was a large parcel, about a city block square, and my grandfather, being a game warden, promptly set to building himself and my grandmother a log cabin on the lower part of the land (game wardens and log cabins go together, I guess).

My dad, being a HAM radio buff and of a mechanical bent, began building our house on the upper part of the land. 

What does being a HAM and being mechanical have to do with building a house? Well, normally not much, except in this case, he followed his interests and forgot the house part and instead built a big garage. I think he had plans for a house, but back then, one built using cash, and I think maybe he ran out of money before winter hit.

In any case, coming to his senses (probably with my mom's help), he soon converted the garage into a living room and two bedrooms and then added on another wing with a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, and his HAM radio shack. He later built a garage which was even bigger than the original one.

The view from my front window when I lived in Green River, Utah. This old Athena missile was placed in the park in honor of the nearby missile base, which was used in the Cold War for test shots to White Sands. It was a comfort seeing it when I lived there, as it always reminded me that there was more than one way to get out of town.
With two older sisters, I was relegated to sleeping on the fold-out couch in the living room while they got the bedroom. I didn't mind—in fact, I preferred it, as it gave me ready access to the front door and daring night adventures with my best friend, Karen (I was by then about seven, and we eventually got busted by my mom).

A few years ago, I bought this new Tundra and Lance camper. I lasted about three weeks in the camper, as it made me claustrophobic, then sold it. I soon sold the Tundra, too.
Anyway, sleeping in the living room of this long building that was supposed to be a garage gave me a very different perspective on life, I think, as I still prefer sleeping on a couch in a living room to being in a bedroom. Bedrooms make me claustrophobic, and I usually end up on a couch, no matter where I am. This has made for some interesting scenarios. Sometimes, if a couch isn't available, I'll go sleep in the back of my car.

(I recall migrating to the couch in a B&B in Scotland, and the man of the house tripping over me in the dark as he made his way to the kitchen for coffee at dawn. He took it all in stride, so maybe I wasn't the first couch surfer they'd had. Many B&Bs there are actually private homes that rent out a room or two for extra income.)

I think I could sleep just fine here, as long as the wheels were well chocked and the end doors were open. It's kind of long, like a small garage.
When we had company, my sisters got the couch and I got relegated to a cot in the kitchen. I didn't mind, as it gave me ready access to the back door and more adventures with my cousins, who lived next door (we never did get busted and had many fun times wandering the hills at night, playing stealth games).

The moral of all this is that I think my claustrophobia is the result of sleeping in a wide open space with lots of windows. Even when camping, I will often kick the door (car, tent, trailer) open and sleep half outside. I love my tent with the mesh roof. Incidentally, this feeling of being closed in is what doomed my cargo trailer to a new home. And even when I'm in a large bedroom with lots of windows, I want to sleep in the living room.

I don't know, maybe it wasn't growing up in a garage that did it, but it's instead the result of wanting to know I can get away quickly if I need to. Most couches aren't that far from doors.

Having two older sisters can do that to you, especially when you have a penchant for borrowing their stuff without permission. (I remember my oldest sister chasing me the mile to my grandparents' house one time after I borrowed her blue suede shoes and ruined them. I think she still holds it against me.)

In any case, it's left an indelible mark on my sleeping habits.

Maybe I should buy this old shop in Moab. I think I could be quite happy there if I could somehow remove the roof so I could see out better.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Uncle Joe Comes By and More Bears

The house I'm currently in (Glenwood Springs, CO) overlooks the Roaring Fork River, and just on the other side of that is Highway 82, the road to Aspen (about 40 miles away). Since my bedroom has big floor to ceiling windows, I have a good view of the endless traffic of worker bees commuting to what some here call "Tony Town" for work. 

The stream starts around 4 a.m. and continues non-stop up-valley until mid morning, then starts up again late afternoon, going the other direction, down-valley, then tapers off around 6 or 7 p.m.

The view off my deck—bear country.

It's kind of mind-boggling to me that so many people work in the small town, though I would suspect a lot of the cars carry only one person. Some of them commute from as far as Grand Junction (140 miles to Aspen one-way). There is also a free bus system, and I see plenty of those going by (the Roaring Fork Transit Authority, also called Veloci-RFTA).

Anyway, one evening I noticed a lot of police cars going by. After about a dozen, I began to wonder what was up. I then saw a strange sight—more police cars, all with lights flashing, but intermixed with a few cars, and all going about 50. It looked like a cavalcade.

Sure enough, I found out the next day it was who a friend calls "Uncle Joe," or Vice President Joe Biden. His jet (Air Force Two) was too big to land at the Aspen airport, so he landed in Eagle and drove. 

Shortly thereafter, an article appeared in the Aspen paper:

"Sheriffs miffed about Biden’s impact on local communities."

Why not travel incognito and avoid all the hoopla? I think Uncle Joe would look great dressed up as a pizza delivery guy. He could even drive himself. No self-respecting terrorist would ever deign to shoot a lowly pizza guy, as there's just no glory in it. He could even say he was working for the local pizza shop, Uncle Pizza. They might even name a pizza in his honor.

This isn't a political blog, so consider this more a statement about current goings-on than anything more, and nothing personal against Joe Biden. I do admire the sheriffs, though, as I think most of us are tired of seeing such waste, which seems to be pretty much a non-partisan issue. Shoots, whole interstates are shut down for presidential visits.

Weezee playing in the Roaring Fork River. She considers politicians much less tasty than bears, and bears are pretty bad.
Anyway, back to my current obsession—bears. The other night, the dogs were acting funny. I opened the window and looked outside, and there, not more than 10 feet away, was a big black bear. He/she looked at me for a long time, then shuffled away. It was an amazing experience to see one so close and yet not worry about anything. What a beautiful animal.

Recent research using hair traps and DNA are showing that Colorado's bear population is over twice what biologists formerly thought. 

The next day, I was driving out of the subdivision (which sets on the edge of a lot of wild country), and I saw a couple taking photos in their yard of what my brain said was a very realistic bear statue. I just couldn't process a bear standing that close to humans and posing for them, which is what it seemed to be doing. 

The couple went inside, and the bear (a yearling) began eating leaves off one of their shrubs. The dogs and I watched it for some time as it casually meandered through the subdivision, then disappeared along the riverway.

Charlie and Cubs

There has been some real ground-breaking research on human-bear interactions by people such as Canadian Charlie Russell (and no, he's not another Timothy Treadwell). Read more and be amazed. Bears are really very cool critters.

And I'd much rather see a bear out my window than a politician.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Few Mellow Days at Washtub Camp

Washtub Camp—smack dab in the middle of blooming matchweed with lots of antelope. The Wasatch Plateau is in the distance.

I never stay in campgrounds, which means I need a system for referring to various camps, since I can’t just say something like “Sasquatch Provincial Park” (which really does exist and is up near Chilliwack, British Columbia).

The system I use to come up with names is probably similar to the one the old-timers used—name your camp after something unique there. That makes it easy to remember.

And so thus was born Washtub Camp, named after an old washtub I found in a nearby draw, a tub probably from the 1950s and not too effective any more, given the number of bullet holes in it (maybe some old-timer's statement about baths). 

My time there was perfect—no bugs, no people, no internet, but plenty of coyotes and stars and antelope and time to think about nothing. (And no bears nor Sasquatch, which can be distracting when one's trying to think about nothing.)

This isn't at Washtub, but is instead up Gordon Creek near Price. Joe was there in 1921, and these white rocks can be seen for miles and miles.

This is a Toreva block, which is the result of a type of landslide where the lower layers are softer than the overlying layers. This results in rockfalls that twist and turn away from the parent cliff, which in this case is above and to the left (where a groove can be seen). Toreva blocks are great for geologists as the layers are still intact, showing what's above, which sometimes isn't above anymore and thereby hard to determine. This block is not far from "Joe 1921."

A zoomed-out photo of the Toreva block.

Where exactly is Washtub? Well, that’s part of the problem of my naming system, all I can tell you is it’s somewhere southeast of Price, Utah, and there’s an old washtub down in a nearby draw. 

In other words, it's hard to tell people where you camped. But I think that the best part of my kind of camping is the exploration that goes with finding a good camp, and I sure wouldn’t want to deny you that fun.

Anyway, I’m now back in Colorado for a few days or even weeks. I find that this time of year being in a house makes me feel claustrophobic, so I'm going to head out again as soon as I get over a bad cold I caught. 

(And I'm going to re-enable comments and see if the spammers are still out there...)

Balanced Rock near Helper, which is near Price. If you have a good monitor and even better eyes, you can see the American flag on top. How did it get there? Local rumor has it that patriotic space aliens did it, however that works.

Layers of Castle Gate Sandstone near Helper. The namesake for this formation is just around the corner, a huge gate of sandstone, though one half of the gate was blasted away to make the highway fit. If you know the ways of Butch Cassidy, Castle Gate might ring a bell, as it was the location of one of his big railroad heists. Butch and I have that one thing in common—we both like(d) trains—though his reasons differed from mine.

Looking towards Cedar Mountain from Washtub Camp. This is the type locality for the Cedar Mesa Sandstone, home of many big dino finds (both big finds and big dinos). Rabbitbrush and matchweed in bloom give the landscape the colors of a desert autumn.

Cranes flying above camp, on their way to wherever cranes go.

A subtle but glowing sunset. Mt. Elliot is the highest peak in this section of the Bookcliffs.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Ice House Cafe

Some people watch TV in their free time, some walk the dog or cook or even play tiddly winks. What do I do? As little as possible...except when I get the urge to write, then all bets are off.

So, here's another in the Bud Shumway Mystery Series, Number 6 to be exact, and I hope you enjoy it. It's called The Ice House Cafe. Print and audio versions will soon also be available.

When ex-sheriff  Bud Shumway and his wife, Wilma Jean, decide to vacation in a scenic Colorado town near Aspen, they never guess they’ll soon be immersed in solving the murder of a famous country-western singer. And even though Bud’s bumbling replacement, Sheriff Howie, is far away over in the small town of Green River, Utah, he still manages to play havoc with everyone’s peace of mind when his sheriff’s vehicle is stolen and he finds out he’s on the wanted list of Utah’s FBI.

Set in the historic Ice House Cafe in the village of Redstone, also known as the Ruby of the Rockies, this mystery will have you mystified and on edge as you follow Bud through the mysterious shadows of the Redstone Castle, dodging ghosts, half-wild hound dogs, bears, an eccentric waitress, and a suspicious silver miner, all while rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, as he tries to figure out why everyone thinks Wilma Jean’s a zombie.

Add an ice-cream truck that plays the theme from the Godfather, a cryptic diary, man-eating quicksand, enigmatic infrasound, and a giant marble icicle, as well as Bud’s skill at lock picking, and you’ll soon see why Bud wishes he’d never seen the town of Redstone, much less the Ice House Cafe.

In any case, you’ll find out who really killed the famous singer, Calico Callie, and it may not be who you think. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ah, Canada...

(Note: These photos aren't in any particular order, going north or south or anything like that, for if I were to get that organized, I would need to find a map to figure out where I was in Canada and it's too much trouble, plus I kind of like the blurry mental images I have of the country as a composite, as they kind of match the blurry mindset I was in from a sinus infection caused by all the wildfire smoke, one I'm still kind of in and that makes me want to write non-stop run-on sentences—and sleep a lot.)

One thing about traveling without a map is you never know what's going to come up, and you also sometimes end up seeing places you really didn't intend to see. 

This can add a few dollars to your gas budget, but it's usually well worth it. But, since we're talking about Canada, I should say it adds a few loonies to the budget, not dollars, which reminds me of a story...

Another trip, a couple of years back, I'd been in Canada for awhile and never yet seen any Canadian currency. That was because I was paying for everything in American dollars, which Canadians are usually happy to take, since the exchange rate isn't in their favor. (It's currently .92, so .92 of a Canadian dollar = one American dollar, meaning they effectively make eight cents every time you hand them a bill and don't get change. And if that doesn't make sense, it's not you, but my sinus infection.)

I was in Drumheller, northeast a bit of Calgary, when I decided it was time for a real shower. (I'd been boondocking with a hoard of mosquitoes that followed me all over Alberta.) I stopped at a big RV park and asked if I could shower and was told sure, it's three loonies.

"What's a loonie?" I asked in cinema-star-quality Ignorant American fashion.

The proprietor just shook his head, asked for three dollars, and gave me three coins in exchange—loonies. And should you ever need to know, a "toonie" is a coin worth two loonies.

(This trip, knowing better, I stopped in Kalispell, Montana at a bank and got some Canadian cash.)

Anyway, I haven't been blogging much, as the closest internet's not very close, and I also broke my camera. But I did manage to get a few photos while in Canada that I'll share, but I broke my camera around Prince George and haven't yet fixed/replaced it. And I still have comments disabled, as I seem to be on every spam list in the universe (1,000 spam comments in a week). I do value your comments and miss them, but the spammers have won for now. More later...

Oh, and I almost forgot. I applied to camp host in Alberta or B.C. next summer and the response was very favorable, so we'll see...

Sometimes Canada is considerate enough to post maps by the road for those of us who travel without such. I took several of the routes on the above map in an attempt to see the lay of the land, adding a few loonies to my gas expenditures. I was somewhere on British Columbia's Fishing Highway when I took this photo. It was beautiful (the country, not the sign), but I'm still not real sure where exactly it was, in spite of the note saying "You Are Here." But then, the roads were a bit squiggly...
Every time I saw one of these, I thought of Al Bossance. I was soon caught in the same addiction he has (along with most of the Western world, that is, coffee), though maybe worse, because if I couldn't find a Tim Horton's in whichever town I was currently in, I would actually stop and ask, something I rarely do. I spent a half-hour driving around the town of Jasper, looking for a Tim Horton's I'd been told was there, only to find I hadn't noticed it because it wasn't a drive through. Note to other travelers: the Tim Horton's in Jasper is NOT a good representative of the others, as it's too bombarded by tourists to do a good job. The line was about 30 people deep when I was there.

Evening in Banff National Park, Alberta. The park was crowded, and I ended up sleeping in my car in a parking lot, more worried about bears than rangers. Saw neither. Was on the Icefields Highway by 6 a.m. and saw almost no one else. I did see a few bears, including one cub. In the meantime, back home in Colorado there was a momma bear and her two cubs hanging out in my back yard. (Word must've gotten out I wanted to see some bears.)

Mt. Robson, Canada's highest peak at 12,972 feet. This is actually lower than Mt. Sopris, which I can see out my window in Colorado and isn't considered anything spectacular by Colorado standards. But Robson has a prominence of 9,281 feet, which dwarfs most of the mountains in the Colorado Rockies for rise from base and makes it a sight to behold, looking like it was dropped from the sky.

Somewhere in the Canadian Rockies, probably Jasper National Park. The Rockies are sedimentary and have many twisted and tilted layers, as seen in the photo below.

Part of the region around the Columbian Glacial Fields in Jasper National Park. I'm glad I don't have to shovel the snow off that roof.

I like simple signs like this, as they make life easy. Just go left or right, nothing more, nothing less.

Part of the Columbian Glacial Fields. The photo below shows what's below the bottom of the above photo. The waterfalls were truly immense.

Since I love trains, I had to hang around the rail yards in Jasper. Easy to do since they're right downtown. I would've hopped one if I could've figured out how to get the dogs on board.

Fireweed near Prince George

I really like the way Canada does their mountain signs. They point upwards to the peak itself, not just in the general direction.
This is kind of hard to make out, but it was too stuffy to sleep in my car with the back closed, yet there were too many moskies with it open, so I conjured up this moskie net across the back, held over the open window with bungee cords and duct tape. Worked great.

The smoke started when I hit Missoula, Montana, and continued all the way to Prince George. I counted the number of fires in the U.S. and B.C. and estimated over 600,000 acres were burning to the west of me, all the smoke floating my way, it seemed. This was taken near Lac La Hache Provincial Park in B.C., where my little Blue Heeler, Cassie, and I sat up late listening to the loons. I've heard them in Montana, but this one was distant and at first we thought it was a wolf. It and its mate woke us at 4 a.m. on the lake right below our camp.

A lake along B.C.'s Fishing Highway

The best parts of the trip for me were when I could find some little logging road like this and get into the backcountry. British Columbia is a wild and beautiful place.

I took this for my little cat, Rowdy. It's in Missoula.

Somewhere near Salmon, Idaho

The Canadians have some real long-legged skiers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Memories of a Better time

Cool house in Field, Canada, in Yoho National Park 
I'm finally on the road, or at least I will be as of tomorrow morning. My car struts have been repaired, I'm almost finished packing, and all I have to do now is throw a few things in, stop in Grand Junction for vet certificates, and then hit the trail. 

It's been stormy and rainy and almost feels like an early autumn. The tent camper across the river has moved on, and my brother arrived this afternoon to petsit for me while I'm gone. 

Autumn on the flanks of Mt. Sneffels in Colorado's San Juan Mountains
 My brother and I had dinner together, and I confessed that I was thinking of going to Maine instead of Alaska, sort of a last minute reconsideration—in fact, the idea occurred to me mere minutes before I said it.

He, in his infinite patience, said that would be a nice trip, but why not Alaska? I told him I'd been having trouble sleeping ever since I'd decided to go. 

Of course, we had to analyze this, and it came down to the fact that I don't find sleeping in my car very comfortable, nor do I relish the thought of driving so many miles (3200 one way).

But none of this really made sense, as I've never let a few miles or mere hardships stop me before, so, in true amateur shrink fashion, we delved further into my lack of confidence. 

There was a time (not all that long ago) when I never questioned anything that had to do with possible adventure. But it seems that after fracturing several vertebrae two years ago my confidence has taken a beating, and perhaps rightfully so.

And so, maybe I really need to take this trip just to prove to myself I'm still kicking, though some days I'm not sure I really am.

In any case, I'm heading out on the road less gravelled. Happy trails until we meet again.

Update: Morning brings a new wave of enthusiasm, and I'm off to Alaska!

Second update: After one week, I've had over 1,000 new comments, all spam, so I decided to turn commenting off for now. I also won't be blogging much for awhile, as there's no internet where I'm staying. Here's hoping you all have a great autumn!