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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Car Camping Fail

Much suffering is caused by ignorance.  —Quoth, the Raven

After buying a few things, rearranging a few things, and thinking about a few things, I decided it was time to head out and test my "new" rig (the back of my FJ Cruiser). 

I loaded the dogs (four for this trip) and headed west towards Utah, the Land of Milk and Beehives. Storms were coming in, so I had a small window of opportunity. I didn't give it much thought—storms have long been the plague of all adventurers (and also a number of us pseudo-adventurers, I might add). 

You should set goals beyond your reach so you always have something to live for.  —Ted Turner

I'll admit that this trip was not one I looked forward to with my usual enthusiasm, having slept in my car before, but I'd upgraded a few things this time (better mattress, screens for the windows, etc.) and thereby expected better results. After all, sleeping only requires a certain level of comfort, right?

I hadn't slept in my car since last summer, and even though I know I have a short memory, I didn't remember it as being all that bad. And I knew my new extra long memory-foam mattress would take care of everything.

I had my backup gear in my car carrier, just in case my plan failed. I could go to Plan B, known as "Sleeping in Tent on Ground." No problem.

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge —Stephen Hawking

We got to the Big Empty, that big desert east of Green River, Utah, and found a little side road, heading to points unknown. I felt great, and I could tell the dogs did, too. We were back in the desert, land of freedom to scratch and howl and do whatever strikes you at the moment.

There was only one problem—scratching howling winds. I knew immediately that Plan B could not be implemented, so we had to make Plan A (Sleep in Car) work. No problem, we'd done it before, and that's why we were here, to test out the new updated version.

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.  —Moliere

After trying to go for a hike, in which we felt like Lawrence of Arabia in clouds of swirling sand and marveled at some ravens flying backwards, I finally gave up on doing much. 

As the dogs kind of hunched up like camels against the car, I wondered if Lawrence had been forced to eat cold soup, the desert winds making it impossible to light a propane stove. It was then I remembered I'd bought some cheese crackers at the gas station. The dogs fared better, as they don't mind eating their food cold from cans.

A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.  —Albert Einstein

Finally, as the winds got even more fierce, I decided it was time for bed. I laid out the comfy sleeping bags, and we all crawled into the back. I, as official Dog Master, showed everyone where to sleep (kind of like Ward Bond circled the wagons in Wagon Master, which had been filmed not too far away as the raven flies and wind blows).

It wasn't to be. Unlike Ward Bond, I held no authority (you howl with the dogs, you die with the dogs, and they think you're one of them). They had other plans, which was namely to all sleep in the back in a nice warm doggie dogpile. 

I tried sleeping with them, but it got too hot and I couldn't roll over and I started dreaming I was eating cold dog food out of a can. So, I ended up tilting the front seat back and tried to sleep there while the winds rocked the car and blew away my futile dreams (like I said, sleeping requires a certain level of comfort). 

I'm happy to report the dogs slept like babies on my new memory-foam mattress and they highly recommend it, as well as car-camping in general (they don't get much canned food at home, mostly just kibble with occasional leftovers...OK, and a hamburger once in awhile when we see a fast-food place).

Dogs rule!  —Sheila at WolfSongBlog.com

Before I took off on this little "experiment," my personal barista (or at least she must feel that way) at Deja Brew asked if I wasn't afraid of the dark.

I kind of laughed until I realized she was serious. I told her I wasn't afraid of the dark, just things that come out in the dark.

Like mosquitos. How in hellsbells can there be mosquitos in the middle of the desert in high winds? So much for the screens.

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.  —Dalai Lama

It wouldn't surprise me if they'd blown in from Alaska.

Anyone can make up a quote, and the whole world will believe it.  —Mark Twain
Just as the sun always rises, so we will try again. As the great Winston Churchill said, "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."

Friday, May 8, 2015

Seeing the World Through a Lens

The Beehive Geyser in Yellowstone via webcam

When I was a kid (well, even when I wasn't a kid), I always remember my dad having a camera in front of him. Sometimes it was a video camera, but more often than not it was his old Pentax SLR. If you wanted to guarantee he would like your present, you just got him a lens or some camera accessory, and he was happy.

After he passed away a few years ago, it was my fortune to go through all his old slides and videos, and there were a lot. It was an exercise in nostalgia, as I had often been along for the ride when the photos had been originally taken. 

Webcams let you check out the snowpack and see if you'll be able to pitch a tent before you actually go.

Having once been a photography nut like my dad, I always feel a sense of camaraderie with those who like to view the world through the lens of a camera. But I have to admit wondering later if I ever really saw things for what they were, being focused more on getting a good shot.

I've slowed down on taking photos, but sometimes, when I want to travel but can't (due to bad weather, laziness, etc.), I'll check out webcams on the internet. In a sense, it's seeing the world through a lens, but it takes it to new heights—you can now watch the world without even having to actually be there.

And sometimes you see really neat things on webcams, like this fleeting rainbow over in eastern Utah's Castle Country.

One of my favorite webcams is Old Faithful in Yellowstone. Early in the season, when no one's there, you kind of get the feeling that you have it all to yourself, even though you may be a thousand miles away. And if you tune in at the right time, you can sometimes watch incredible sunsets, as the camera is pointed west.

Some webcams are live streaming, and some just show you the picture at the moment you tuned in, like the one at Banff's Lake Louise

Sometimes it's more fun to watch the people on the webcam than the actual scenery. For example, there was the time a fellow came into the scene at Old Faithful and took a tablet from his pocket. He then started hamming it up in front of the camera, watching himself. A number of other people were there and were soon also hamming it up with him.

Checking out the snowpack above Moab

Webcams aren't as much fun as actually being there, but it's a cheap way to travel, and you can go wherever you want, pretty much. You can even check out the road conditions on the various DOT webcams for whatever state you're interested in.

But other than for entertainment purposes, webcams are great for checking out the current weather and for even watching the snowpack or ice melt, like this one at Dawson City, where you can look to see if there's still ice on the Yukon River if you're on your way to Alaska (i.e., will the ferry be running).

As I get older, I no longer have the urge to take photos of everything, and I instead would rather just take it all in, enjoying the moment. I can always check out the webcam later if I forget what something looked like, assuming there is one.

If not, I'll just have to try to remember, and sometimes fading memory makes things seem even better than they were.

Old Faithful brings out the cameras...
...as well as my brother's goofy sense of humor.

A beautiful sunset from a distance of a thousand miles...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why I Hate Pulling A Trailer

I've never let things bother me much, and those who know me would say I'm generally pretty laid back, kind of like the main character (Bud Shumway) in my mystery series. It takes a lot to get me going, I guess, unless it has "vanilla bean ice cream" on the label.

You can take off on roads like this in BC when you're not pulling a trailer, knowing you probably won't get stuck, eh?

For example, when I was younger, I taught at the University of Colorado in Boulder for awhile as an adjunct prof while getting my graduate degree. I taught graduate-level classes, which should have been stressful in itself, but it never bothered me, even though I was younger than some of my students. In fact, I maybe should've worried more about that job—I recall walking across campus one day when one of my students stopped me:

Student (with concern): "Hey, what happened with class yesterday?"

Me (puzzled): "What do you mean?"

Student: "Well, we waited and waited, but you never showed up."

Me (stumbling): "Um, er, I had something come up and couldn't make it. Didn't have time to get word to everyone. I'm really sorry."

Student: "No problem, see you tomorrow."

Another intriguing BC backroad (along the Fishing Highway)
The "little problem" was that I forgot all about it. I don't know what I was doing, but it must've been really important—maybe something along the lines of riding my bike or hiking some trail. But I was careful to never forget about class again, and my students forgave me, but I also didn't worry about it much, if at all. I suspected they were probably happy to get the unexpected break.

Tenting it in Utah—nice and simple

Anyway, my point here is that it takes a lot to get me flustered, but pulling a trailer has been right up there at the top of things that can get to me, even above things like letters from the IRS and broken promises from Ed McMahon.

I've owned seven trailers to date (in seven years), and I've really liked each one, but I always get frustrated (usually while trying to back up or get into an isolated place) and decide I'll never pull a trailer again and sell them. I've been fortunate that I've never lost money, and I've actually made a pretty good profit on a few. My "friends" call me a trailer junkie and say I should join TOA (Trailer Owners Anonymous).

Getting solar installed on my first trailer

But I apparently have a short memory (my former students would vouch for that), and after I forget all about the pain, I go buy another to give it another shot. This is primarily because trailers work so well in so many ways—you can leave them and have a base camp while driving your rig to get groceries, explore, etc., and it's hard to find anything that works as well when you boondock (except a pickup camper). I'm also an optimist.

But I think I may have reached my limit last fall while I was trying to find a boondocking place near Hurricane, Utah. I don't have some of the tools others use to find spots, like Google Earth and maps, and I generally just wing it, which had worked well until then.

Weezee and Cassie looking for good camp spots where we won't get stuck

I took off on a sandy two-track road that headed up a hill, sure that there would be a spot on up there a ways that I could pull over into and spend a few nights. The sand was deep and kept getting deeper, but I knew if I just kept going (fast) there was sure to be a place...and it didn't look like many people came out that way, so I knew it would probably be a nice quiet spot...

The sand got deeper and I kept going faster and now the road itself was deep enough that there was no way I could pull off and turn around, plus there were now mesquite trees everywhere, and I would have had to cut down a small forest even if I could get out of the deep roadbed. 

Winter camping near Green River, Utah

Finally, after a mile or so of this, I came to a small road (even tighter and sandier) that seemed to go on up along the side of a small nearby mountain, and I knew there had to be boondocking spots on up there. A smarter person would have turned around right there, but I was determined—determined to get stuck, which is exactly what happened, as the road soon turned into a steep ATV track going right up the side of the mountain. 

Apparently the good boondocking spots near Hurricane aren't so easily found (unless your name is kaBLOONie Boonster or Mark and Bobbie, anyway). I prefer not to relive the gory details of how I got out, but let's just say it took over an hour, and the air was pretty blue around the scene of the crime for some time afterwards. I kind of amazed myself at how many cuss words I had stored in my deep memory, some I didn't even know I knew until that day. At least I didn't have to cut down any trees.

Camping in Snow Canyon, Utah

After I got out, I vowed to sell the trailer and return to a life of simplicity, where I could go wherever I want when I want. This would mean buying a truck and camper or car camping. As soon as I got back to civilization, the trailer was sold to a nice gentleman from Tillamook, Oregon, who I knew would give it a much better and more loving home than I could (I knew I must've traumatized it with threats of abandonment, and I later felt bad about this). The only emotion I felt on seeing its tail lights going down the road was relief, and I swore it would be my last trailer.

So, now I'm outfitting my car for camping, which I've done before, but not to this extent. I now have screens I can put on the windows and have modified it so I can get out the back from inside—no more having to crawl over the front seats (Toyota forgot to put a door handle on the inside of the back door). I also just bought one of these (and highly recommend it), to make camping with skeeters more palatable:

Wish me luck, because a beautiful Airstream just came on the market, and it's in the town where I currently am, and I WILL NOT go look at it...will not...will not... 

Winter sunset on Mt. Tuk, Utah

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Where You Been?

This little guy/gal came for a visit one morning.

I've never understood people who talk a lot, being somewhat of an introvert myself, but also because it seems like you already know all that stuff you're saying to others. So generally, I feel that it's best to let them talk and tell you something different. You might learn a few things you didn't know.

Not too long after, this guy/gal showed up.

It's been awhile since I posted—around six months—and as I sit drinking my morning coffee, it seems really quiet here in Western Colorado, and I'm wondering where you've all been. I know where I've been, but that seems rather mundane in comparison to some of the places and things you've all been doing. (I do hope to rectify that in the near future with another trip into what the early Spaniards called the "Northern Mystery," AKA the Northern Rockies and Canada.)

Rowdy found it all rather interesting, but since bears make me nervous, we decided to leave Colorado and head south.

To stave off the winter blues, I've been busy outfitting myself for another trip, and my car is now moski proof (or so I hope). I ordered a custom screen for the back window, so no more getting wound up in mosquito netting while trying to drape it across the back window. I've also jury rigged some "moski socks," which are giant socks made of netting that fit over my two front windows. You open the door and set them across the door frame then close the door, allowing you to open and close your side windows at will and not worry about bugs. (If you think I'm being a bit paranoid about all this, just read this.) 

Saying goodbye to the fall colors near Glenwood Springs, Colorado

I also bought a nice fold-up mattress and a few other items that would make car-camping easier, like this little tent that goes off the back door.

We actually first headed west, camping in the Big Empty north of Green River, Utah. I waved, wanting to stop the train and ask everyone where they were going, but the engineer just honked.

Anyway, here are a few photos to kind of catch up on what I've been doing. Let me know where you've been and what adventures have found you, and I hope a few find me in the days to come.

We did some exploring around the big country south of Price, Utah. Lots of neat stuff and no people anywhere.
With views like this.

We then headed over to Moab country and camped near Klondike Bluffs.

Out in the middle of nowhere and yet everywhere.

When I started seeing people, I fled further south, hanging around near the tiny town of Gunlock. The Virgin River is between the shrubs in the foreground and the cottonwoods. Not much water, and it's hard to believe it's actually carried houses away not far downriver in St. George. Parts of Utah are in a historic drought almost as bad as California's, and some towns, such as East Carbon/Sunnyside, have severe water restrictions (no outside watering of any kind, not even your trees or garden). 

Just enough water to get wet and then take a nice sand bath, Weezee's favorite.

Off to Snow Canyon near St. George for awhile. This served as a basecamp while I explored...

The remote and wonderful Arizona Strip...

The fascinating Beaver Dam Mountains (more to the eye than one might guess)...
The Beaver Dam Mountains near St. George, Utah

With no maps (I like to actually explore, not just drive around), I wondered where this went and was a bit hesitant to find out, as it was a late afternoon in November. It turned out to be a fun drive, eventually turning into a one-lane and somewhat rough road that circled through the mountains and into the Paiute Reservation.

And of course, I had to visit beautiful Zion.

Finally, I headed back to Colorado, trying to outrun a big storm. Late evening, heading into a campground in the Tusher Mountains near Richfield, Utah, with no idea what I would find. 
Dawn revealed these cool palisades and hoodoos. There was nary a soul around, and I'll never forget the stars that clear night, hanging in the sky like crystals, so big you could almost touch them and burn your fingertips. And it was cold, dropping to 20 degrees.
Sunset over the Big Empty. After returning to my temporary base camp in Colorado, I sold my trailer, deciding it was keeping me from getting into the real back country. I'll tent camp for awhile, then maybe get a truck and camper. I hope to head out next week for parts unknown, following whatever wandering star I happen to notice in the sky.

So, enough of my rambling (I already knew all this stuff)—just what the heck have you been up to?

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. 

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.

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. 

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.