Showing posts with label animals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label animals. Show all posts

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Authenticity Surrounded by Taos Tourism

If you want to lose confidence in your own judgement, just try visiting the famous plaza in Taos, NM. First you will have to fight traffic and struggle for a place to park. Then you will walk around, visit a shop or two, and put up with aggressive store workers and high prices.

Then a seditious thought lays hold of you: that there is nothing "famous" about the place. A visit to the downtown area in any small city in Mexico (or any place with a Mediterranean culture) is more interesting, chaotic, free, colorful, and authentic than Taos, NM.

But if that's true, what are all the tourists doing here? There are a hundred of them for every one of you. Are you going to claim that you are so much smarter or have such superior taste to the hundred?

Perhaps one reason that some of the suckers are there is that the previous president abused the Antiquities Act to declare a gigantic area nearby a national monument. The Antiquities Act is not should not be a way for a presidential signature to bypass Congress's responsibility in declaring a national park. But mass-tourists from the big city don't care about legal fine points like that. You have to crawl into their heads to see this.  I thought I did a pretty good job of that in my favorite post in all these years of blogging, on a tab at the top of the screen, entitled "Shopping at the Nature Mall."

But it is too easy to walk around Taos and feel superior to dumbshit tourists from the big city. It is also too easy to feel discouraged. Instead, let's see if we can find something authentic near all this phoniness. I was lucky...

Considering how much traveling and camping I have done, it is strange that I have drunk water from nature only once. I was camped at nearly 9000 feet at Cuba, NM. A little spring was gushing water. I asked somebody in a nearby campground, and learned that it was safe.

What a shame! What could be more important and more real than water, especially in the Southwest. While camped in the Rio Grande gorge close to Taos, my dog and I went on a mountain bike ride along a dirt road. We saw a surprising sign about, "Caution, Water Hauling Trucks." Then we came upon a pickup truck with a giant water tank being filled from a hose coming from a spring.

Just think of this experience from a qualitative point of view, rather than the usual touristic one. Yes the gorge cut into the lava is impressive. 

But the scenery isn't world-class, as it is at Moab or in the San Juan mountains. I'm afraid the tourists are going to find a certain devaluing in the spectacular-ness of the scenery as presidents declare places to be national park wannabees. That is, they are running out of truly spectacular scenery.

But, thinking about that fellow filling his tank with spring water, it makes you think of this solid-looking volcanic lava differently. Maybe it is filled with cracks, and is rather permeable. I have seen ponderosa pines sink roots through the cracks of lava that come right to the surface along the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

It was gratifying to see some bighorn sheep.

This is only the second time I have seen a large number of them, so it should have been special. Oddly though, it was disappointing. Perhaps that is because I held my dog back, now that this is a national monument. That took all the drama out of it. It makes the sheep seem too placid and cyootsie-wootsie. Wildlife doesn't seem authentic unless it functions as prey or predator.

Outside of an over-regulated tourist trap, we have had more authentic experiences:

Wow, this guy thinks he's fast. But watch this, Pops!

Hot dang, this is fun, this 'being in harmony with nature' stuff.

 Isn't real nature supposed to be 'red in tooth and claw'?

Alexander the Great would have been pleased with the phalanx formed by these Bighorns in fending off the 'big bad wolf,' aka, Coffee Girl.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Lone Rider of Chinatown Wash

My dog was giving off an unusual bark at the screen door. Although it wasn't such a great idea, I let her charge out towards whatever or whoever was bothering her. It was a pretty, half-white horse and its human 'operator.' They were moving towards us on a mountain bike single-track trail. (Actually it is for other non-motorized users, too.)

I apologized to the horseman for my dog's barking, but neither he nor his horse seemed concerned. I guess they'd seen a dog or two in their day. They walked up to about one body-length from me, and calmly 'parked' themselves.

Just to put the reader into a Western mood.

I felt an instant affinity for the man and horse, perhaps because I too am a lone rider on the same trails, albeit with a dog and mountain bike, instead of a horse.

I watch DVDs of TV westerns these days; "The Virginian" in particular. Horses always look so big in the show. But here the horse looked smaller. His eyes were even with mine. Of course they were three or four times as large. The horse stared calmly at me the whole time.

People are always getting thrown from their horses in western shows, caught in the stirrups, and then dragged. Looking at the rider and horse in front of me, I wondered why modern horsemen didn't have a stirrup "safety release," like a mountain biker or skier.

The rider didn't even look that high in the saddle. Recently the ride looked so high when Jena Engstrom mounted the horse in an episode of the Virginian. I fell in love with her riding. She even did her own stunts, once falling off the horse. (And you could see her face -- it was no stunt-girl.) She had to lift her foot up to shoulder height to get on her horse. I almost laughed when comparing it to long-legged Chuck Connors's style of mounting a horse.

Then I peppered the rider with questions about saddle-making, bits, reins, etc. He didn't roll his eyes at my city-slickerish ignorance. He patiently answered the questions, and really seemed to enjoy it. He even gave a demonstration of his horse-handling techniques.

It was late afternoon, getting towards dusk. Finally he needed to get going. His wife was waiting on the main gravel road with the horse trailer and pickup truck. His wife didn't ride with him anymore. She had been thrown twice in one year, and she was, after all, 80 years old. He was 84. Something about that fact was soothing. America seemed basically OK if there were people like them still around.

Moments like this bring on nostalgia for a West that has mostly passed, but not completely. Recall the ending of Jack Schaefer's "Shane:"
"...the man who rode into our little valley out of the heart of the great glowing West and when his work was done rode back whence he had come and he was Shane."
But even better than his evanescence into western myth, look at this photo of Chinatown Wash, just as it hits a high, dry waterfall. Thenceforth the canyon is dark and vertical. The slow trickling-down of the Present abruptly becomes fatality and the Past...

And "what was corporeal, vanished, as breath into the wind..."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Clumsy Coatimundi

Sometimes I think my dog, Coffee Girl, is too cosseted. For instance I usually let her off-leash on mountain bike rides unless the road has faster traffic, or she is bothering free-range cattle. On the return trips later in the morning, she also gets snapped back on, since she doesn't care by then. When it is over 75 F and the rattlesnake risk is higher, she also gets snapped on, whether she likes it or not.

(By the way, the best way to control a dog when mountain biking, is to put a carabiner on the end of her lease, and snap it to a belt around your waist.)

A couple mornings ago, we were riding and running on an enjoyable, recently-graded road. Then a long-tailed animal darted across the road about 50 yards ahead of us. I recognized it as a coatimundi, a type of raccoon with a long monkey-tail. It was only the second one that I've ever seen. Naturally Coffee Girl threw all caution to the wind and took off after the coatimundi.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on the coati. Not surprisingly, this coatimundi climbed up the first tree it could find. Not surprisingly Coffee Girl had her hackles out at 90 degrees and was whimpering/barking with the strangest sounds she has ever made.

A long-tailed coatimundi. I never realized how difficult it is to take a photo when the brightness of the sky drowns the subject of the photograph.
The tree-ed coatimundi was behaving oddly, too. It was about 15 feet up in the tree, but it kept trying to climb higher. The branches kept getting weaker like that; and for a moment I thought the crazy animal was going to fall out of the tree and land right on the barking fool dog's head.

Then things really took a bizarre turn. The beastie starting climbing down the tree! What was it thinking? That some referee was going to blow the whistle for a 'time-out', and that my 44 pound dog was just going to grant a 20 pound prey 'safe passage' to the next tree?

The coatimundi looking down on the damn fool dog, barking her head off.

The damn fool coatimundi descending the tree, where my dog was waiting for it.
A few seconds before we could find out, I let out a "Come here!", the likes of which my dog has never heard before, and she came back to me to get snapped back on her leash. The coatimundi then scrambled over to the next tree.

What was going on with that creature? They are supposed to be excellent at tree climbing. Perhaps it had never been chased by a dog before, and thought the dog could climb as well; and that it needed to climb higher to get safe?

At any rate, no harm was done to anybody. And the coatimundi now understands dogs a little better. Gee, do you think when Trump gets his wall built, that coatimundis will stop sneaking up from Central America to invade the USA?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sometimes, Only a Pretty Girl Will Do

Early summer seems to be the time of year to notice butterflies on my mountain bike rides. So often, they seem to tag along, as if they are requesting membership in our bicycle club. It is physically challenging to focus on them as they flutter along, a step or two from the bike, and at the same speed as the bike. Whenever my eyes manage to freeze them in motion, they seem transformed, somehow.

The other day a large yellow butterfly fluttered in from the side, perpendicular to the direction of the bike and my dog. In fact, the butterfly collided with the head of my dog. But she didn't react snappishly, as she would to a normal insect nuisance, such as a fly or a sweat bee. She playfully -- and yet, gently--pushed the butterfly away from her head, and La Mariposa flew off, uninjured.

What is it with dogs and butterflies?

A strange rapport between dog and butterfly
Seen close up, they seem cartoonish and Disney-like.
We are having great luck in northern New Mexico, right now, finding high, semi-flat land to dispersed-camp on and mountain bike on. The other day I stopped in the middle of a thinned pondersosa forest just to let it soak in: 8000 feet, cool, open enough to see sky and mountains in the background, and smooth and flat enough to enjoy pedalling in a variety of gears. It has taken me so long to liberate myself from the childishness of tourist-thinking, but the rewards are certainly there. 

Yesterday we did a long climb up a forest service road: smooth, relentlessly upward, and without a single motor vehicle on the road. There was a nice view at the turnaround spot. My dog and I needed a cool rest and a drink of water. Perhaps she was feeling appreciative and sentimental about nature. At any rate she surprised me by walking over to some delicious shade and laying down in a bed of wildflowers. Did she make the flowers and shade more beautiful, or did they add to her?

Monday, December 29, 2014


One of the uses of old age is to develop the "muscles" that can actually improve with age. By that I mean developing the capabilities and habits of Appreciation, Gratitude, and Admiration. Today's focus is on Admiration.

I once used an inspiring speech by an anti-hero, "The Hustler," in the 1962 black-and-white film noir movie starring Paul Newman, George C. Scott, and Jackie Gleason. But before re-quoting it, let's first ask why it inspired at all. Art, according to Tolstoy's "What is Art", is not really about "beauty," as most people mistakenly suppose; rather, Art is the infecting of the viewer/reader with the emotional experience of the artist, by words, pictures, or sounds. And the makers of "The Hustler" certainly did that to me. 

Maybe their trick was to exploit the inherent advantages of an anti-hero. (Does that trick also apply in the blogosphere?) If a goodie-two-shoes, follow-the-rules, smiley-face had made the same speech, I would have merely discounted it as a routine pep-talk, better off inside a Hallmark card or stuck to somebody's bumper.

Most of the scenes were dark and grim and interior, except one: the Hustler (Newman) and his girlfriend leave the urban grit of New York City and head off for a picnic on a slope above a lake. They relaxed on a blanket and took in the view.
The Hustler to his girlfriend: Do you think I'm a loser?
He had been told that he was by the Gambler (George C. Scott), who recognized the young man's talent at pool, but also saw his character flaws. The Hustler started to wonder if it might be true, as he recounted a string of recent mistakes.

Girlfriend: Does it bother you what he said? Hustler: Yea. Yea, it bothers me a lot.
One of his mistakes was showing how good he was and winning a lot of money from some second-rate players, instead of disguising his ability, as a good hustler should. It got him beaten up.

Hustler: I could have beaten those creeps and punks cold, and they never would have known. I just had to show 'em what the game is like when it's really great. Anything can be great. Bricklaying can be great, as long as the guy knows what he's doing, and why, and if he can make it come off.

And when I'm going, when I'm really goin', I feel like a jockey must feel. He's sittin' on his horse, he's got all that speed and power underneath him, and he's coming into the stretch and the pressure's on him. He just knows when to let it go and by how much, because he's got everything working for him, timing, touch... that's a great feeling.

It's like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue is part of me. It's a piece of wood, with nerves in it. You can feel the roll of those balls. You don't have to look -- you just know. You make shots that nobody's ever made before. Ya play that game like nobody's ever played it before.

Girlfriend: You're not a loser, you're a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything.
I then ended my sermon with a rhetorical question: why don't travelers seem to care whether they are good at travel? Why don't they 'raise the high jump bar,' instead of settling for imitating other losers?

Well, there is at least a partial answer to that. But let's ignore it today and focus on the rare winners that can be found from time to time.

Recall, last episode, I was romanticizing the Eurasian steppe and its way of life, and promising to find a bicycle touring blog that went through the steppe. As it turned out, this was pretty easy. Consider this post and photo, by Terry Ward, on :

Click here for a larger version of the picture
(Eyelashes fluttering...swoon.)

This photo by Mr. Ward shows how I would like to live, if transported by some magic carpet or time machine. The Lone Rider of the Eurasian steppe. Off-the-leash. Rampaging and marauding for thousands of miles, sacking the cities of decadent civilizations, with his loyal War Dog at his side. (Of course, I would be on a mountain bike instead of a horse. But the principle is the same.)

In this post, Mr. Ward showed what a great traveler is capable of:

The herds were always carefully watched by herders who were mounted on magnificent large horses. The horses are a wonderful feature of this region as everyone, including men, women and children ride easily on the tallest of horses. I saw a father lift a tiny girl who was possibly as young as three years old onto the back of a long-legged horse and then he smacked the horse on the rump. The girl sat easily in the saddle and held the reins expertly in her tiny hands. When they arrived at her yurt the horse stopped next to a tall pile of dirt, at which place the toddler slid off the saddle onto the top of the mound of dirt and then hopped down its side and entered her home.

I stopped breathing when I read that paragraph.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Time Travel in Utah's High Country

On a recent mountain bike ride near Richfield UT, they caught me sleeping. I was focusing on choosing a path between the rocks, when my herding group dog, Coffee Girl, took after a herd of sheep that we had almost stumbled into. But she was eventually scolded into returning to me, and the sheep weren't too rattled.

Hey wait a minute, weren't we only a couple seconds from an ambush by giant white dogs, screaming out of the sagebrush to protect their herd?

But none came. As we sidled up the ridge, the size of the herd became more apparent.

Where were the dogs and the human shepherd? Eventually we spotted him. But he seemed to only have a couple border collies to help him.

I waved at him so he'd notice that my dog was now on a leash, but he didn't respond. Maybe he didn't speak English, or even Spanish. Maybe he was a Vasco, that is, a Euskal from the Basque country. I'm a bit skeptical about Great Pyrenees dogs being hostile to humans, but I wasn't so sure what they would think of my "coyote," Coffee Girl, even on her leash. So we kept our distance from the shepherd, and he was spared a dozen questions from me.

We kept climbing on this rocky ATV trail. Half the time I had to dismount and push the mountain bike. You don't want to be naive about ridges. Why are they ridges in the first place? Because they are erosion-resistant volcanic rock, surrounded by easier-eroding sedimentary layers.

I was feeling inspired by the romance of the Basque High Country, and made a rare decision: to go for a loop route instead of the more typical out-and-back. Yes, loop routes are 10 times more likely to get you into trouble, especially since I don't bring a GPS or maps, or even study maps at home all that much.

We were helped by being on the Paiute ATV trail of central Utah. And I did find a loop back home, although it took 5 hours. But along the way there were those moments of Doubt and Foreboding Doom that make an outing interesting. I'm not being facetious. False summit after false summit. I yearned to hear a noisy ATV or to see the dusty contrail of a pickup truck, because that would signify that we had finally succeeded at finding the quick road back home!

Back at camp around sunset, my dog and I heard the tinkling of a single bell. Sure enough, out on the road in front of camp, the herd of sheep was moving along, and rather briskly at that. I thought there were about 300 sheep in the herd, but was later to learn it was 1200! The herd moved almost noise-lessly as a dense pack, with barely a baah out of them. 

Was the bell on an "alpha" sheep? Was it meant to help the herd, shepherd, or the dogs follow the herd? Or was it meant to help on foggy nights?

Once again we saw the shepherd. Instead of only two border collies he had a small herd of border collies and blue heelers. Is that a walking stick in his hand? He certainly needs one. I guess they don't use those long shepherd's staffs with the rounded crook at the end, anymore.

And yes, three Great Pyrenees. How noble of Purpose they are!

This pastoral experience enriched a wonderful and difficult day of mountain biking. It made it about more than just eye-candy and aerobic exercise. It helped me appreciate, what?, 8000 years of anthropological changes: our development from hunter/gatherers to a pastoral phase with domesticated herds, to agriculture and settlements, then to cities and long-distance sea trade, to industry, and finally to our current phase, such as it is.  


Let's do a movie quote from Sydney Pollack's 1994 remake of Bill Wilder's "Sabrina": the money-man, Linus (Harrison Ford), has taken Sabrina (Julia Ormond) to his "cottage" on Martha's Vineyard. They take in the view from the oceanside window. Sabrina hands Linus her camera:

Sabrina: "Don't take a picture. Just look."

Linus looks through the view finder and describes what he sees, "Ocean (yawn), ocean, ocean, quaint little fishing village...lighthouse. A guy is going into a lighthouse. There's a job for you. What must that be like? What kind of guy takes a job keeping a lighthouse?"

What kind of man, indeed. And what kind of man becomes a shepherd in the modern age? Is our shepherd (in the photo) out there all night? In the past they must have been. Imagine how cold it must have been, and how solitary. It is easy to see why there was a link between the religious and the poetical imaginations.

After a night of shivering, the shepherd awoke in the mountain fog upon hearing the tinkling of a single sheep's bell. He knew the herd was close and safe.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Unusual Camping Neighbor

Durango, CO. The reader might have noticed that I have been on a horse kick lately. A cynic would say that this is just a temporary romantic escapist fantasy by somebody who doesn't know what he is talking about. At any rate, it is time to recall the old saying about, 'be careful what you wish for.'

When my kelpie and I came home the other day we found the area taken over by huge horse trailers and their occupants. Some kind of event/competition was taking place nearby. That was good news. 

What wasn't such great news was that I couldn't really go inside my trailer.

The first thing I thought about was what a horseman told me some time ago: "There is such a thing as horse sense, but it's not necessarily the horse that's got it." That would be a pretty tight fit for me and the dog between the action end of the horse and the door. Since I know nothing of the do's and don'ts around horses, it seemed like a good idea to find the horse's owner first, to find a new parking space for their beast.

That happened pretty quickly, and soon I was able to enjoy the competition. Most of the horse-persons were actually women. And I must say that it's kind of fun to watch women riding horses. (ahem)  I'm referring, of course, to their long hair waving romantically in the wind, along with the horse's tail and mane.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Scottish Highlands of Colorado

It's easy to miss opportunities in Colorado because it is just too easy to be sucked into the stereotypical postcards, such as an alpine lake at the foot of mountains. Such things are nice of course, but when you've seen 'em, you've seen 'em.

To enjoy landscapes for any length of time you need to branch out into new directions -- something that takes more imagination on your part.  Besides simple laziness, a middle-class traveler has the additional problem that his entire mindset is geared towards being a mass-consumer; and scenery tourism is just one more form of bar-coded  "consumption" to him.

Most people, like me, also need to fight against a complacent surrender to "the medium is the message."  The three-dimensional attractions of the desert (or grasslands or ridgey hills) do not show up so well in a two-dimensional medium like photography.
The reward for this kind of cantankerous independence is a greater appreciation for what is on the western edge of the San Luis Valley. A normal windshield tourist might easily think, "Not bad. But it will never make the front cover of a glossy travel magazine. Therefore I must go to XYZ National Park in order to consume a more upscale brand of scenery."  But a horseman -- or his modern reincarnation, the mountain biker -- will fall in love with this topography. Even more, in a rainy spell, the decomposed granite geology keeps you free of ooze and muck.


One morning Coffee Girl and I were exploring the high BLM valley when I heard the screams of a coyote. Then it sounded like a dog. Can a coyote really be so polyphonous? Why wasn't I willing to consider the possibility of the eerie sounds coming from two separate animals?

The sounds came from fog-enshrouded cliffs. A low ridge in the foreground blocked the view towards the bottom of those cliffs.  But the setting affected me strongly, just as many movie viewers are probably affected by the scene in Rob Roy (1995), when the English soldiers, led by the villain, hunted down Rob Roy and his clan in the foggy highlands of Scotland.

I've hardly known any RVers in my 16 years in this racket who had any interest in bicycling, so the exceptions are worth bragging about. When one RV/cycling friend was taking a cycling tour of Scotland he said that the place would be jammed with tourists if it just didn't have such dreadful weather. Colorado, of all places, has been having Scottish weather the last few weeks. 

It hardly seems possible to feel a connection with Scotland from the vantage point of Colorado BLM hills. There is sagebrush here, not heather. But what matters is what James Boswell called 'the rude grandeur of Nature': the treeless openness, the unpopularity, and the fog.

Travel has changed so much the last couple centuries that you might be interested in what it used to be like. Consider the short and easy-to-read book by Samuel Johnson, Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, free from Gutenberg.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Danger Stalks a Ridgeline

Gunnison, CO. There were two pairs of those beady eyes. I had turned back just to see how much work it would be to climb back up the edge of the severely eroded laccolith. And there they were: two coyotes, with their acute powers of observation. They moved down the rocky edge as I did. Were they following -- stalking -- Coffee Girl and me? Surprisingly, she didn't sense the two coyotes up the ledge.

Coyotes are just 35-40 pound dogs, with the same weapons that a domestic dog has. But I have learned the hard way what kind of damage they can do, with their sneakiness. Even worse, they were hunting as a pair; I almost always see solo coyotes.

An instinct of extreme protectiveness kicks in, at times like this -- protectiveness for my kelpie, Coffee Girl, that is.  They might have some tricks up their sleeves by acting as a pair of killers. Recall the fate of the Australian hunter in the original "Jurassic Park." Remember when he took his hunting rifle out to match wits with the dinosaurs that hunted as pairs -- or was it triples? "Clever girl..."

The coyotes had the speed and the fangs, but I had a vast arsenal of baseball-sized rocks to throw. The rest of the armory consisted of a hunting knife and a small cartridge of pepper spray. I clipped Coffee Girl on her leash so that the pair of coyotes couldn't play any mind-games on her.

One of the coyotes was larger and bolder than the other. Wikipedia claims they typically hunt in pairs, sometimes as a mother and a yearling.

I almost wished for them to come in for the kill. I wanted revenge for what one almost accomplished on my little poodle a few years ago. Remember "The Last of the Mohicans."

Magua (the fierce Huron who hated the English): "The Grey Hair's (an English colonel) children were under Magua's knife. They escaped. They will be under it, again."

French general: "Why do you hate the Grey Hair, Magua?"

Magua: "When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart."

There is something threatening and dangerous about any predator moving along a ridgeline, especially if it is silhouetted.  Years ago, there was a best-seller named, "Lonesome Dove." I read it, just to see what all the fuss was about. I never really did understand why it was popular. But there was one memorable scene between the two main characters: one of them warned the other that there were safer ways to go around hills than straight over the top of them. You were too likely to be unpleasantly surprised by what you found when you reached the top.

So it has always seemed to me. There is always a little tension when surmounting a small rise in hilly or ridge-y country. You are the landlubber equivalent of a sea kayaker, wallowing in the trough of a wave which obscures his view. But his imagination can reach out past the crest of the nearest wave, out to the enormity of danger on all sides -- Danger that can swallow him in one gulp.

 These images popped into mind in just a few seconds after seeing the two ghouls on the rocky ledge.  It made for quite an interesting experience. (I said "interesting" -- not "nice" or "pretty.") Of course I soon realized that my imagination was getting carried away. But maybe people who have watched Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" will never be able to get the image at the end of the movie completely out of their minds.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kissing a Butterfly in Colorado's San Juans

Silverton, Colorado. A classic hike up to a glacial lake and cirque sounded good. We used a road rather than a hiking trail in order to get a more open view in the forest. Although there are a lot of motorheads in the San Juans, the ones we encountered were all polite adults.

We got a start still early enough to experience something that should not be interesting, but was: when walking into the morning sun, all of the flying insects were backlighted. They zinged across the glare, like a video game.

But they didn't all zing away. A small, orange butterfly remained on a rock in the middle of the road. Maybe it was too frightened to move; maybe it was just sunning. Then the little poodle quite amazed me by slowly lowering his muzzle to the butterfly, until he and La Mariposa shared a gentle nose kiss.

On the way up to the lake we saw scenery like this:

But since this is the kind of scenery you expect in the San Juan Mountains, it didn't have much effect on me. I was enjoying myself immensely, but the pleasure was coming mainly from the exercise, not from the scenery.

Something about that interaction between dog and butterfly was magical, as if they were in an old fairy tale; the butterfly was a forest nymph or wood sprite in disguise; she whispered some secret suggestion to my unsuspecting dog; and it turned out to be a mischievous trick.

Whatever the explanation is, a year from now I won't remember the San Juan scenery and the perfect weather. But I will remember that serendipitous dalliance of dog and butterfly for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lord of the Flies

WARNING! Animals were harmed in the making of this post.

At my late dispersed campsite, there were so few bugs that I could have almost left the screen door open. It almost seemed too good to be true. And you know what they say about...

Moving over to Alpine, AZ, I went out searching for a dispersed campsite and good places to mountain bike, helped by Jim & Gayle's advice.  Much to my surprise I stumbled upon a place where the Mogollon Rim fell precipitously into a canyon. I say 'stumbled' because I was NOT out there looking for scenery -- I was looking for a side road to camp on. The long-suffering reader knows that I'm going to argue that 90% of this pleasure wasn't really from the scenery per se, but rather, from the surprise.

How strange that some folks want to be told -- exactly -- where to camp, as if finding it isn't half the fun. Despite the lucky break with the scenery, there was no place to camp. So I went back into the travel trailer for a second.

What the ...!  There were at least 50 flies buzzing away inside my travel trailer. But they hadn't been noticeable in the forest. Was some food spilled inside? Something dead under the bed? It was a disgusting experience! At least they were ordinary house flies, rather than those peanut-sized deer flies of last year.

Fortunately I had a fly swatter and the flies cooperated by gravitating to screens. At first the carnage took effort, aim, and timing. Soon my arm tired. It's a wonder that the fly-swatter didn't break.

But soon I learned to relax, like in the movies, when the apprentice is mastering one of the martial arts, and his master tells him, "Too much mind!", or "Just feeeeel the Force, Luke." The fly-swatter became to me what the light sabre was to Luke Skywalker. I stopped aiming and started killing quickly, repeatedly, effortlessly. The Buddha would not have approved.

At some point in the carnage the kill-rate fell to two flies per minute. Steady-state. Flies were coming into my trailer at a rate of two flies per minute. But where? And why hadn't this ever happened before? I didn't know what to do because I had no explanation for any of this.

It's true, there was a wet, soggy creek-bottom a couple hundred yards away. But like I said, flies were not particularly noticeable outside the trailer. Only inside. I needed an idea.

When I was a lad, my school teacher father once told me that if an educated man was killing time in an airport, waiting for an airplane, he would find something interesting to think about. This example never really impressed me all that much at the time. But for some reason, this fly fiasco made me think about how badly I was doing just by thinking, and that something else needed to enter the picture.

Recall that some of the most historically important documents every written about human thinking were those of Francis Bacon. He argued that unaided human reason was a pitiful and weak thing, prone to numerous errors. He advertised in favor of observations, demonstrations, and instruments.

So, with that in mind, I renounced sterile theorizing and went outside to look for clues. It wasn't hard to spot. Their malevolent sibilance was concentrated near the broken cap of the grey-water vent on the roof of the travel trailer. At any given time there were about 20 flies in the gaggle. Some couldn't resist the siren-smell of the vent: they flew down into the abyss, presumably never to return. 

I could put my ear to the vent pipe, which was like a musical instrument in using sound-resonances. I could hear the grisly, resonant buzzing of the doomed.

Silver City, NM. "" watches his doppelganger falling through the Net of Doom, into the abyss.
Indeed, there was a strong odor coming out of that vent. Also flies were crawling through cracks between the vent tube and the roof, proper. 

So that was it, eh? I replaced the cap on the vent and filled the gaps. The fly problem disappeared. Later I dumped some of the bacterial treatment made by Roebic into the grey tank.


There was something satisfying about this experience. When you camp alone you are aware of your own puniness and isolation from society. You are also undistracted by the trivial busy-ness of city living. The mind naturally gravitates to the timeless and fundamental. In thinking about Bacon and the problem of unaided human thinking, I was connecting with History and Civilization. My school teacher father would have approved. 

I was like the thin layer of life on the outside diameter of these huge ponderosa pines in the forest where this experience took place. The inside of the tree trunk might be "dead", but its strength supports the living annulus on the periphery. 

How many of the blogs that I read will be thought of as fundamental when looked back on, from the future? What is the shelf life of most of the trivial junk on the internet? It's probably not even as long as 24 hours.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Strange Animal Urges

Silver City, NM. People who don't walk or mountain bike with dogs might not realize that they can be an asset in finding wildlife. They might think the dog would just chase off the wildlife or scare them away. But it's easy to forget the power of a canine's olfactory. They know something is up, when the human is oblivious.

Coffee Girl disports with a Pronghorn Antelope, on sagebrush hills near Gunnison, CO

Yesterday Coffee Girl, my kelpie, took off like a maniac. Soon I heard her barking in an uncharacteristic style. Actually that's a misnomer. Dogs bark in different styles for different prey. I was alarmed by this particular bark, so I ran over to her. 

She had treed something. She had her front paws on a tall pinyon pine. (This area is full of the tallest pinyons I've ever seen.) She looked rather triumphant about it.

I had to look carefully, but there it finally was: a coatimundi, the first I've ever seen. Interesting creatures.


Another strange thing happened yesterday. The blog's hit-count tripled for some reason. I was foolishly curious about the website that was sending all the eyeballs over to me. It turned out to be a raunchy porn site. Now what  were the keywords in my most recent post that were latched on to by the search engine? Good heavens, the post was about welding a cracked aluminum mountain bike frame.

Ah ha. I had mentioned the bicycle shop, named after prominent mountain peaks in this area. Twin Sisters. Oh good grief!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Wet Deserts and Creepie Crawlies

Yuma, AZ. I saw two of these creatures in a sandy desert on a rainy day. The body is 0.25--0.35 inches long. But the color really leaps out at you. Any guesses?

The photo above shows the color as too burnt red. In reality it was more scarlet red, such as this:

That's the head coming to get the cameraman. This thing, or rather, its color really amused me.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sniggering at a Cervine

It's rare to get a chance to smile at animals, aside from our domestic pets. The best shots at this occur when a normally boring or stupid animal suddenly becomes clever. For instance, ungulates don't seem like the brightest bulbs on Mother Earth, but under the right circumstances...

Going down a road in the Socorro NM area I was surprised at the number of "hunters" parked along the road. Which season is it now? But then again, maybe they were joy-riding four-wheelers, rather than hunters.

The "lower" Rio Grande starts at Socorro by my estimate. It is reminiscent of the Mojave Desert, even though it is the Chihuahuan Desert, officially. Although I postpone "winter" locations in order to keep North America from shrinking too soon, it was fun to start walking arroyos again, which is something I only do in the winter.

What really makes walking these arroyos delicious is the cold, dry air.

On today's walk there were some cows. That's hardly a novelty on BLM land. But there was something halting and static about the cows' behavior.

A few minutes later I spotted another large animal, so out came the snooper scope. The creature was standing stationary on the arroyo-side of a small ridge. No leaping and bounding over barbed wire fences, no gamboling over steep hills like they were table flat, no nothin'; just standing there and weighing its options. Suddenly sentient. On the other side of that ridge was a large gang of hunters and their vehicles. The creature gave me a funny look as if to say, "Oh hell, not another one!", or maybe, "I thought those clowns were on the other side."

All of a sudden we had walked out of an arroyo near Socorro, NM, and into a Saturday morning Looney Tunes cartoon. It was all I could do to resist laughing out loud and shaking the camera as I took the sly cervine's photo:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Livestock Security Services in New Mexico's "Basque" Country

Abiquiu, NM. On a day of ooze and muck, it is time that I came clean. Much as I love to debunk four-wheel-drive vehicles and brag about how well my rear-wheel-drive van pulls the trailer through the mountains, I sing a different tune when the dirt roads become wet. When I learn there is clay in the road, the tune stops altogether. Fortunately a Forest Service guy gave me fair warning.

He also explained why these high ridges north of Abiquiu are so attractive: they burned 100 years ago and the trees haven't been able to get reestablished, resulting in a balanced combination of pastures and forests. It never gets better than this.

I was experiencing a great success primarily due to telling the internet where to go. This allowed me to expand, almost euphorically, into new ground. Nothing makes western North America get BIGGER than kissing off the internet. So I'm exploring the northern counties of New Mexico contained in the highway loops formed by US-285 on the east, US-84 on the west, and Abiquiu/Espanola on the south. Actually it's not really internet-free, but it's almost Verizon-free. Fortunately Verizon allows roaming here (the so-called Global Access network), which is working quite well along the highways.

On the mountain bike ride I saw and heard the largest and noisiest herd of ovine-Americans that I've ever seen. Perhaps 200. I was surprised at how rampaging and "army-like" a large herd of sheep can seem, and how quickly they move along the pastoral ridgelines at 9500 feet. 

On the return trip they waylaid me right on the dirt road. Hey wait a minute. What about that warning about the "livestock protection dogs" of a couple posts ago? I stopped and watched the sheep herd for ten minutes, but saw no giant man-eating sheepdogs. How disappointing!

The next morning the herd was right outside my front door. Coffee Girl was excited. She has learned not to harass cattle; maybe it's time to do the same with sheep. But just in case, I left her inside the van and went to check for giant sheep dogs.

There were two of them, a matched pair. They saw me before I saw them. They don't really stand out since they're the same color and size as the sheep.

They walked toward me, but then stopped. They wouldn't leave the herd. They didn't look so scary. I didn't want to push my luck but government agencies love to, uhh, cry wolf; that is, they give exaggerated warnings to citizens who they see as their dumb sheep.

In fact the two sheep dogs seemed amazingly professional. I watched them for a few minutes to see if they would stay in the center of the herd, try to lead it, or go back to round up stragglers. I swear that somebody had a bell around their neck. 

Which breed do you think they belong to? (As usual, click to enlarge.)

For such a reputed curmudgeon and cynic I find the romance of high pastures, Basque shepherds, sheep dogs, and cougars to be irresistible. Guess which DVD movie I'll fall asleep to tonight? Hint: made in Australia in the 1990's, and features a lot of talking animals.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The "Hustler" in Sidewinder Canyon

"Tawniness" is the perfect camouflage on BLM land, and yet the beast's tawny color was so bright in the morning light that I could see him more than a half mile away. The bright tawniness doesn't come through in the photograph, but let's hope the reader won't claim that he can't see the mountain lion in the photograph: its ears erect and alert, waiting and warming in the morning sun, perching on a ridge, ready to leap down on its unsuspecting prey and grab its neck. Soon this mountain biker would be on the trail right in front of nature's most magnificent predator, and below him. 

But as it turned out, the morning was a little less disastrous than all of that. Nature's most magnificent predator turned out to be a broken tree, with prongs that made it look like ears. I claimed to be disappointed.

How silly! This is what happens when you read Jack London's White Fang the night before an outing. Early in White Fang's puppyhood his mother and he had an epic battle with a lynx. That was a great chapter or two in the book. London did a fine job imagining what the world looked like to a curious wolf pup who had just left the safety of the den. Since I had a puppyish dog along on the ride, running off leash, it was easy to imagine myself being moved into London's book even though I was doing a most unbookish activity, riding a mountain bike on deserted BLM land near Del Norte, CO. What would be the wolf pup's next adventure?

It didn't take long to find out. My dog, Coffee Girl, has a strange obsession with flying birds. It probably goes back to her days being harassed by ravens. An unusually large red-tailed hawk was flying low to the ground, so off Coffee Girl went, with everything she had.

Other than the size I would barely have noticed the hawk. But with Coffee Girl's antics my imagination was pulled back to White Fang's first close-call out of his den: a hawk had nearly attacked him, but it chose the ptarmigan mother instead. (She had been valiantly defending her chicks against White Fang.)

There was something else, as that mostly-black dog streaked toward her unlikely prey. She seemed less like a dog than an arrow or javelin or some other extension of my arm. Hmmm...

I hope the reader has seen the classic movie, The Hustler, starring Paul Newman, George C. Scott, and Jackie Gleason. Just think: they still made black-and-white film noir in 1962. Most of the scenes were dark and grim, except one, in which the Hustler (Newman) and his girlfriend leave the urban grit of New York City and head off for a picnic on a slope above a lake. They relax on a blanket and take in the view.
The Hustler to his girlfriend: Do you think I'm a loser?
He had been told that he was by the Gambler (George C. Scott), despite enormous talent playing pool. It was because of his character flaws. The Hustler started to admit that it might be true, as he recounted a string of recent mistakes.
Girlfriend: Does it bother you what he said?
Hustler: Yea. Yea, it bothers me a lot.
One of his mistakes was showing how good he was and winning a lot of money from some second-rate players, instead of disguising his ability as a good hustler should. It got him beaten up.
Hustler: I could have beaten those creeps and punks cold, and they never would have known. I just had to show 'em what the game is like when it's really great. Anything can be great. Bricklaying can be great, as long as the guy knows what he's doing, and why, and if he can make it come off.

And when I'm going, when I'm really goin', I feel like a jockey must feel. He's sittin' on his horse, he's got all that speed and power underneath him, and he's coming into the stretch and the pressure's on him. He just knows when to let it go and by how much, because he's got everything working for him, timing, touch... that's a great feeling.

It's like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue is part of me. It's a piece of wood, with nerves in it. You can feel the roll of those balls. You don't have to look -- you just know. You make shots that nobody's ever made before. Ya play that game like nobody's ever played it before.

Girlfriend: You're not a loser, you're a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything.

"Anything can be great." I think we can all learn something from the Hustler. How many RV travelers really try to make their lifestyle great? Or are they content to pleasantly while away their waning years doing the standard, expected things?; the boring RV parks with organized and stereotypical "activities", the endless hours of satellite television, the innumerable potlucks, the routine windshield tourism and sightseeing. Are they being "men of low intent", as the Mobile Kodger put it?

For my part I'm going to keep pushing on the mountain bike pedals, and watch my wild girl chase prey over spacious empty BLM land. The bike, the dog, and the land -- they seem like extensions of me. That's the game. It can be really great.