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

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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Colorado's Ruby of the Rockies

My latest mystery (The Ice House Cafe, not yet finished) is set in the little village of Redstone, Colorado, about 40 miles from where I'm staying in Glenwood Springs. Redstone is known as the Ruby of the Rockies and has lots of fascinating history

A view of Chair Mountain above Redstone.
I practically lived in Redstone for a number of years, going there on my almost daily bike ride from the town of Carbondale, so I have lots of fond memories. I haven't been there for some time, so decided to go today.  

Further up the Crystal River Valley from Redstone is the tiny town of Marble, which was my actual destination, but my progress was thwarted by a truck that appeared to have gotten itself high-centered at the Marble turnoff, blocking both lanes.

The Redstone coke ovens are currently being restored. They once supplied a high grade of coke to the smelters in Pueblo, Colorado.
As I drove around the tiny village, I recalled lots of fun times—riding sleighs in the winter, staying at the nearby Avalanche Ranch, and walking the Redstone Boulevard in the magical summer and winter evenings, even seeing a bobcat once. I had many fine cups of coffee at the Ice House Cafe there, once the old ice house, as its name suggests.

But one of my fonder memories is of my mom and the Redstone Castle (it's an amazing place). The story has two parts:

Part 1: Once upon a time my mom and I were in Scotland and found a castle not on the map (my Mom loved old castles). The gate was open, so we drove up the long driveway, then got out and toured the extensive and beautiful gardens. 

It wasn't until we knocked on the big castle doors, hoping to tour the interior, that we realized it was a private residence. The owners were very kind to us, but I bet they still tell the story about cheeky Americans walking around their private grounds.

A peek through the trees at part of the Redstone Castle. It has 42 rooms.
Part 2: With the previous incident in mind, you can understand why my mom protested the entire time I drove us down the private road to the Redstone Castle. I kept assuring her it was OK, that nobody would notice us and we would get away with it this time.

I pulled up right in front of the castle and got out and opened her door, practically pulling her out, telling her, "Look, Mom, the door's open, let's just go take a peek."

I can't believe I actually persuaded her to go inside the open door. (In retrospect, I think maybe she was too lenient of a parent.)

My mom in Scotland. She was 60 at the time.
Of course, the castle was at that time a fine restaurant, but she didn't know that. When we walked inside and the hostess asked if we had reservations and I said yes, I think my mom was about ready to kill me. But she was a great sport and didn't, probably because it might look bad on her record to kill her kid on Mother's Day.

The Crystal River is aptly named.
Cottages in the old manor style on up-valley.

Anyway, back to today—after some exploration and letting the dogs get out, it was time to leave Redstone and head back to the house in Glenwood Springs.

I'm still having trouble adjusting to being in such a big space and tend to spend most of my time in one room. At least that one room has beautiful views, and I often see 
bald eagles and blue herons flying by. 

The cats are loving being able to run around inside, and I have a couple of bears who try to raid my trash cans every night. I actually saw one of the rascals yesterday.

I went from my 70 sq. ft. cargo trailer to this 2500 sq. ft. house above the Roaring Fork River. The river is about 50 feet straight below.

I'm not sure how long I'll indulge in this luxury, but maybe all summer, if I stay as lazy as I seem to have become. I think entropy is winning...and I will admit that living in this small castle has been nice, though I do miss the Big Empty and will eventually have to heed its call. 
The Redstone Castle

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Deluge of Rascals

Quoth the Raven

I noticed a high of 70 degrees was forecast for Moab, so I made a quick trip over the other day to get my mail and check up on Broken Feather and Quoth. I had my usual fare with me—nuts, fruit, some lunchmeat, and dog biscuits—but I was woefully unprepared for the deluge that awaited.

Evening in Paradise

As I drove by the campground, I could see there was hardly anyone camping, only two tents with no one around—well, no humans around, I should say. I caught a glimpse of something black hopping around on the picnic table where the campers had foolishly left their food box, probably thinking it would be safe from critters there. You can guess what was going on...

As I drove by, the rascals spotted me and the chase was on. I drove about a half-mile away to a spot where I like to let the dogs out, and the nearby juniper tree was soon filled with the little black bodies of Broken Feather, Quoth, and their offspring—three young ravens! You can tell it was their offspring because they were in that phase where they follow the parents around squawking and demanding to be fed. A pretty raucous bunch.

Little hoodlums in training (the photo’s a bit fuzzy, not the birds).

I’ve known Quoth and Broken Feather for about four years now, and this is the first year I’ve seen more than one baby. The birds aren’t small anymore by this time of year, but still have that svelte look that the young of most species have (including humans, when we don’t feed our kids too much corn syrup).

Biologists say that some species have large numbers of offspring when times are hard, as this helps ensure the survival of the species. Kind of the opposite of what one would expect. I hope my raven friends aren’t having hard times, though I suspect they might be from the drought. If so, they had a little respite when I showed up.

I threw out some goodies, then decided to take the dogs to another spot over the hill for a hike. When I arrived, Quoth and Broken Feather had left the youngsters and taken a shortcut and were waiting in a nearby tree, cooing to each other. 

I could almost hear them talking about how nice it was to ditch the kids for once. Maybe it was my imagination, but that tree seemed to have the same kind of ambiance a fine restaurant would have when couples are out for a night without the kids and waiting for the food to show up.

I threw out more goodies, then took the dogs down the wash for a walk. When we got back, the goodies were gone, but the birds were still in the tree. I knew they’d cached everything—I’ve watched them bury food just like a dog does.

We all got into the car (excluding the birds), and as we left, I threw out more goodies. They didn’t even wait for the car door to close before they were filling their craws to go cache some more—saving for a rainy day, which we should have plenty of this summer, as we’re now in an El Nino cycle.

Not a good photo, but the view out my window of Mount Sopris, almost 13,000 feet, near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. I managed to climb it back in my better days.

The weather was beautiful, and I hated to leave, but we were soon on our way back to Colorado, leaving our raven friends to fend on their own in Paradise.

(And those tenters owe me for saving their food box, though I may have already been too late.)

Sunset in Paradise