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, 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!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Not Much Strutting About

Maybe my next rig, though it would take some work...but the price is right.

My plans to head north have been stymied for a week, due to the fact that my struts are shot—given the roads I drive, I'm not a bit surprised.

I knew this when originally planning to leave, but after reading a few accounts of people broken down on the Alaska Highway from suspension problems, I decided to go ahead and get them fixed, which means a departure date of next Wednesday. 

In the meantime, knowing that I'll soon be car camping (which means I'll have a tent but will probably sleep in my car in bear country) has added to my appreciation of having a nice bed and shower and all the accoutrements of civilization. Hearing that it snowed in Yellowstone the other day has also made me appreciative of being inside.

What adds even more to my heightened sense of luxury is the fact that I have a new neighbor. The dogs alerted me to his presence a couple of evenings ago. I could tell they were watching something across the river, but it took me awhile to figure out what it was.

Someone set up a tent between the river and the steep bank below the highway. Even though they're in the shrubs and trees, they're in full view of the houses on the opposite high bank, yet are very hard to see if one isn't already aware of them. 

It's the kind of place you camp only in desperation, or if you have a service job in a town with expensive rent, like Glenwood Springs, Colorado. And the fact that the monsoons have started makes things pretty wet. 

But back to my trip to Alaska. I've read that a lot of the services along the Alcan shut down in early September, so maybe I'll get lucky and get stuck up there.

They also say that visitors to the north country leave a little bit of themselves there, and I hope it's true, since I wouldn't mind losing a few pounds. 

But I'm just anxious to get going. That wanderer's gene just won't let me be. (Maybe I should write a country western tune while I'm waiting...)

My first trailer, a brand-new Casita

Desert Sweetpea near Moab

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It's Now or Never—Heading to the North Country

(Photos in this blog are by Alaska's Jason Grove.)

Tomorrow I head north. How far north? Maybe Point Barrow, if I'm lucky. It's rare that I can find a pet sitter, so it's now or never. I was going to just head for Montana, but life's short and the road goes ever on and on...or as someone once said, enjoy life and don't die before you're dead.

I did a graduate geology course a year or so ago where I had to analyze the geology of Alaska's Brooks Range, and it would be cool to see it in real life. But, my main destination is Fairbanks, where I have an aunt and uncle and tons of cousins. I'll then hopefully head for the Kenai area, where I have even more cousins.

I had three sets of aunts and uncles and their families head north from Colorado many moons ago to work in the oil patch and to attend the University of Alaska (geology). One uncle was one of the first drillers on the North Slope, and one aunt started a travel agency in Fairbanks. 

Of course, my real goal is to see the venerable brown bears, of which the grizzly is a subspecies. My uncle tells me they occasionally see the grizz at their cabin outside Fairbanks, so I'll start there, unless I'm lucky enough to see some in Canada on the way. 

One cousin built a cabin with her husband in the Brooks Range that could only be accessed by float plane (she was a bush pilot). They built it with windows high off the ground so bears couldn't get in, and yet still had many wild stories to tell. They've since sold it, but I'm not sure I would've wanted to stay there anyway, being the chicken that I am.

I'll be car-camping and taking only two dogs, Weezee and Cassie. Moki has elected to stay home with my brother, who will be watching the cats for me. It's over 3,000 miles, and I'm leaving in the morning, so I'd better start getting ready. (Still looking for my passport.)

The wilderness is calling....

The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see." 
—Ed Abbey

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Zen of Bears

Brown bears in Katmai National Park, Alaska. You can watch them live here. The sockeye salmon are running in July, so the bears congregate at Brooks Falls and put on quite a show, which I can watch for hours. Don't miss it.

Spending my teen years living near Colorado's San Juan Mountains, I have many fond memories of exploring with my dad, who was a railroad buff and liked to go check out the old narrow-gauge tracks and trestles. He also just enjoyed being in the high country, and that's where we saw what I truly believe was one of Colorado's last grizzly bears.

These are screen shots I took while bear watching.

We'd driven up the rough road that followed the west fork of the Cimarron River, then got out and leaned against my dad's old truck, enjoying the wildflowers and skunk bush and the rippling sound of the river, not to mention the spectacular mountains.

We were very close to where my favorite photographer, Jack Brauer of Ouray, Colorado, took the photo below.
 Cimarrons,Colorado,San Juan Mountains, Redcliff, Coxcomb, West Fork, sunset, photo

My dad caught a glimpse of movement in the meadow across the river and got out his binoculars, and we took turns watching a beautiful cinnamon-colored bear foraging in the grasses. We watched it for some time, long enough to take note of its huge size, thick muscle hump on its shoulders, and dished face (all characteristics of the grizzly). 

My dad had been to Alaska, where I have numerous relatives, and he knew what a Brown bear was (the grizzly is a subspecies of the Brown). He didn't say much, and we eventually turned around and headed back down the road.

I don't know why, but neither of us ever really mentioned that sighting to anyone. Grizzly bears supposedly didn't exist in Colorado, and the last known one was killed in 1979 in the San Juans not terribly far from where we were, by bear standards. Our sighting was in the early 1970s.

The grizzly killed in 1979 was a sow that had birthed two cubs, according to an autopsy by wildlife biologists. Where was the father? 

Others have since seen grizzlies in Colorado, but the bears remain elusive and are called "ghost bears" by those who believe they may actually exist but have no real proof.

Eating sockeye salmon

I've since had several other close encounters with bears, but never a grizzly, which is fine by me. But I've always been fascinated by them. 

They seem like the perfect combination of skill, intelligence, and size, all working together to make one aware that humans really aren't the apex predators. Fortunately, most bears steer clear of us.

Grizzly bears teach one humility, and those who go into their territory with hubris are sometimes set straight, as in the case of a man killed in Yellowstone who refused to listen to the rangers, telling them he knew all about bears.

If you're wondering what the range of the grizzly in the U.S. is, this site has some interesting information, including a few accounts of grizzlies sighted in Colorado and Utah not all that long ago.

Anyway, I've read everything I can find on bears, including meeting Doug Peacock, author of Grizzly Years (an excellent book) and seeing the videos he took in Glacier National Park.

I'll be heading out next week to camp first in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, then on up into Montana, hoping to see the grizz (but only from a distance).

But you can be assured I'll be sleeping in my car, not my tent, as I still haven't bought another rig. But no worries, as I won't be feeling any hubris, and I always carry bear spray, which statistically has a higher percentage of effectiveness on bears than a gun, as the bear can still charge even if shot but the spray makes them run away. Anyway, wish me luck, though I'm not sure if the luck would be in seeing one or in not seeing one.

Cimarrons,Colorado,San Juan Mountains, Redcliff, Coxcomb, West Fork, sunset