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Showing posts from May, 2010

Unfriendly full moon

The Theater of Fear

Perhaps we should believe the Media occasionally, but it's hard not to be skeptical. These days we are hearing about a crisis brewing in Korea. Don't touch that channel button, folks; you need to find out if that wacko in North Korea is going to start lobbing some nukes! The Media always portrays Kim Jong-Il, the leader of Stalinist North Korea, as mentally unbalanced and dangerous.
Korea, Iran, etc., have actually become franchises in the crisis industry. As the crisis du jour, it's a great opportunity for the American secretary of state or president to look like a hero by defusing the crisis at the last moment. Later, we learn that Kim Jong-il quietly managed to get a few billion dollars as part of the deal, for "agricultural development" or whatever.
The timing of the most recent crisis in Korea is somewhat curious. It was starting to look like the American taxpayer was going to get stuck bailing out Europe. After all, it's the End of Europe, folks!!! Perhap…

New Grasses in the Field

There were times when it didn't seem like anything was going to grow this spring. The field was nothing but worn-out grasses left over from last autumn. I stopped bringing my camera to the field. But finally some new grass has appeared overnight.

Let's see if Blogger is working right. A click should enlarge the photo.

Geologic Time

Normally I only have a bit of success in getting anything out of geology books. It's not the geologist-author's fault (ahem) necessarily--it's the nature of the subject to have lots of jargon and memorization in it.

On a mountain bike ride the other day, my little poodle and I headed up the Uncompahgre Plateau on a smooth dirt road. It was pleasant but unexciting, and since there was no special scenery along the way it seemed like the ride might be a little disappointing.

But then the magic started happening; I started to lose self-consciousness and melt into the landscape. There is a trance-like quality to one's state of mind at times like this. Perhaps because of that, or because of the congruity of the bicycle's speed and the gradual changes up the plateau, I was able to imagine the grandeur of geologic time. "Imagine" or "appreciate?" I'm not sure. But in either case it would have been impossible for me to experience this any …

Editing Versus Writing

While editing my RV travel posts as I migrate the old blog to the new, it occurred to me that my interests had changed somewhat. I was less interested in spouting off on a topic, and more interested in savoring tasty and memorable morsels of experience. That's not to say that spouting off doesn't have a positive value: it sometimes provides the impetus that is needed to overcome natural laziness.

Curved bill thrasher

My camera is still fond of the curved bill thrasher. Here's a photo of curves on curves. But personally my favorite bird is the raven, with its playful flight patterns.

The Sinking Balloon of Real Estate

Montrose, CO. From the point of view of the valley, the Uncompahgre Plateau is a ramp that climbs to the west. Looking upward and westward from the valley on these frigid autumn mornings, you can see the Plateau being lit by the sunrise. It warms the Plateau until it becomes pyroclastic, and then it flows back into town. It is the fastest sunrise I've ever seen.

It's the time of year for rising and falling, for balloons and festivals. In Montrose,CO, three balloons took advantage of this cold calm morning to practice for the main event in Albuquerque. One of them looked like he was going to crash onto the roof of a forlorn strip mall, being offered by none other than Remax:

How fitting and proper it is that the balloon chose to crash onto the real estate company that uses a rising balloon as its symbol of success. Alas, over the last few years real estate has flown a bit too high, like Icarus of Greek myth:

The Vast Wasteland of RV Culture

One of the oddities of RV culture is its schizophrenia: it bandies romantic cliches about adventures, dreams, and the freedom of the open road, while it harps on practical matters. Why so?

RV wannabees and newbies are so insecure that they can never get enough  'how-to' tips. Commercial blogs target these naifs because they have the greatest number of purchase decisions still to be made. And they believe ads. The same is true of individual RVer's blogs that make the reader's eyes run a gauntlet of google ads.
RV clubs think of themselves as being on the side of the rank and file RVer instead of the side of RV manufacturers. This is largely true. Still, RV clubs are in the business of selling memberships and dues. And they too aim their practical tips at wannabees and newbies because it's what makes them cough up the dues. All of this is as it should be. People need to make a living and newbies need advice.

But after a couple years in RV organizations y…

Back Home in Plateau Country

When people see somebody head off to go full time RVing they probably think that the traveler will settle down in a couple years. (They can only be going through a phase, you know.)  In my case this phase has lasted ten years. But in a metaphorical sense, they were right. There is a place I feel at home at--not a zip code, but a topographic form, a physiographic region.

We're roaming free-range again in plateau/mesa/canyon country. Specifically we're in the unpronounceable uncomparable Uncompahgre, west of Montrose, CO.

Why should mesas and canyons be one's favorite topography? Perhaps it's the balance and contrast between flatness and sharp declivities, between grassy foregrounds and distant mountains, or the ease of accessibility to an RV and a mountain bike.

From our current RV boondocking campsite on a small mesa we can see the San Juan mountains, the Uncompahgre Plateau, and the unmatchable Grand Mesa.
After having forests block my foreground since …

True Grit in the San Juans

Western Colorado. As much as I love afternoon clouds during the monsoons, autumn rains are completely different. So I fled the upper Gunnison River valley for the torrid lowlands of Montrose (6000 feet) and the Uncompaghre River Valley. But it was stormy down here, too. East of the river there are shale badlands which turn into a quagmire when it rains.

I have written before of how much the right book or movie can combine with the right location. With the San Juan Mountains in the background, this seemed like the time to watch "True Grit."  Soon I found a low BLM mesa to camp on, about thirty miles from where much of the mountain scenery of True Grit was shot. At a couple times during the movie, I stepped out of my trailer to admire specific mountains and rocks that were prominent in scenes in the movie.

A couple days later another autumn storm blasted the San Juans, as seen from my RV boondocking campsite:

The next day they were snow capped. I must admit a …

The End of Europe?

Lately we've been hearing that if the euro currency fails, Europe fails. Shame on me for not losing any sleep over this.

What exactly do they mean 'Europe?' A historian might say that 'Europe' began with Charlemagne. It had barely beaten off an attack from Muslims from North Africa, by way of the Iberian Peninsula. The way Islam was growing, it seemed like it was going to take over the world. Then Europe had to face the depredations of the Northmen. It survived, and even converted those barbarians to its civilization.

Next was the Little Ice Age, and the rise of the Ottoman Turks, who threatened the south and east of Europe for hundreds of years. Let's not forget the Black Death which killed a fourth of Europe.

The religious wars hit hard in the 1500s and early 1600s. Yet Europe survived. It also survived the French Revolution and the Marxist irruption. To top it all off, Europe survived two World Wars over a thirty year time span in the early twentieth century.


Tour of SilVURKistan

As yet, I haven't been able to convince any of the local cyclists of the charms of Sil-VURK-istan, which is what I call the high desert and grasslands to the south of the Little Pueblo. It really does remind me of photos that I've seen of the Stans of central Asia. I find it refreshing to look across a landscape and see no houses or buildings. Just land and plants, dominated by texture.

This isn't an area that explodes with flowers in the spring, following a wet winter. Our plants are cautious; they wait until the end of the monsoon season in September. So I appreciated the flowers that did show themselves on today's ride.

These days cellphone towers must be disguised as trees to escape the strictures of the local planning busybodies. Well then, perhaps RV parks should require the nearly-universal TV dish to be disguised. What's this? Somebody's already thought of that.

As usual, most flowers grow right alongside the road. Blogger seems to be having problems u…

Living with a Laccolith

North of Gunnison, CO. My little poodle and I hiked up the small "mountain" behind the camper. There was no real trail. We kept traversing the slope so it wouldn't be too steep. Eventually we found a game trail to follow. Then we'd lose it, or at least, it seemed so. This became a game, far more interesting than following a real hiking trail.

We found a large spherical mushroom, with a crack. It made me thick of that scene in "Jurassic Park" when they watch the dinosaur egg hatching.

The little "mountain" was not tall and we were soon at the top. It proved to be quite flat on top--maybe just a little tipped or domed. Geologists would call this a "laccolith," formed by igneous material intercalating sedimentary stratifications, followed can see why reading geology books is about as much fun as conjugating verbs in Latin. What the geologists would say if someone taught them English is that hot lava under pressure sque…

Real Reason for RV Boondocking Exposed!

If a normal RV camper asks an RV boondocker, Why? The answer might be:

The usual answers about crowding, high prices, unneeded facilities, highway noise, etc., are all true, but something is still missing.

But let's reverse the perspective: what do non-boondockers think of boondockers? They are probably too polite to say what they really think: that we are half-destitute low-lifes, loners, Thoreau wannabees, etc. Heck I even feel that way sometimes--especially when camping close to half-crazed desert rats, or old guys in the forest who wear camo.

A recent comment from a reader got me thinking along a certain line that perhaps leads to the real reason for RV boondocking. Someone, perhaps Chesterton, once said that an adventure is nothing more than an inconvenience rightly considered. By 'rightly' he meant romanticized.

There are RVers who think that the conventional RV lifestyle is fine, as far as it goes, but it is too tame and antiseptic.  In order to feel inspir…

The Modern Lighthouse

Lighthouses in a landlocked state? Well yes, if you look at it right.

I'm probably not the only one who sometimes dawdles or procrastinates when they arrive in a new town. Sometimes there are so many choices, and they seem like such big projects, that you do nothing. That's why it helps to work for a dog. They have more sense than we do sometimes. They just want to get out there, and without thinking about it too hard. 

So we hike to the first cell tower or radio antenna site. These are more than the source of cellphone and wireless internet signals; they are navigational aids to the entire lifestyle of an RV boondocker. They are to me what an old-fashioned lighthouse was to a seamen. They don't look like each other, exactly, but they have other similarities. Both are tall edifices that stand out and emit powerful signals of electromagnetic radiation. The main difference between their respective "lights" is the wavelength, which is a million times longer for the…

River Walking

If you follow the financial news you hear a lot about liquidity crises. I've always had my own form of "liquidity" crisis: an inability to connect with water, despite consistent success in having great experiences with outdoor life, in general.

All summer I've noticed how special it was to see the little dog walk down to the stream behind our RV boondocking site and drink from it. It has been years since he had a chance to do that. Just think!--liquid water, actuallyrunning--not just a dry wash or arroyo! How exotic!

After wearying of just looking at the mountain stream next to camp, near Silverton CO, the frustration boiled over one day. I put on a pair of old shoes and took my little poodle out to the mountain stream; we waded out into the foot-deep river. He is no Labrador retriever and doesn't really care for water, but it was a warm afternoon and he seemed to enjoy it. It's been years since I touched the water myself, except for taking a shower…

Colorado's San Juans

Clearly, the San Juans are Colorado's best eye candy, in the usual postcard sense. The San Juans are newer than the other ranges and are volcanic, rather than folded or fault block ranges. Here was our first route in the San Juans:

Stratified sedimentary layers I'm used to--but a green layer? How could a wind-blown seed find purchase on a slope like this?

A motorist stopped when he saw my little dog in the BOB trailer behind the mountain bike. He was a serious amateur photographer and was studied up on nature. He thought the seeds would have been dropped by birds into the cracks or holes that even a steep slope must have. Probably so, but how did these plants or bushes propagate up there?

We finished our ride and returned to find a Silverton couple saddling up two llamas, for an overnight trek up to an alpine lake. 

They are members of the camel family, but don't have humps. Their hooves are more like a hard pad, with two-toes and funny toe nails. How would t…

The Bunk House of Silverton

Now that I finally knew the route to the old Bunk House (or Boarding House) on the cliff at the 12,000 foot mine, it was time to do it! I drove up a road that was really meant for ATVs or small jeeps, but the odds were pretty good that I wouldn't pass any other motor vehicles. Vacationers don't like early starts or dead end roads, and Labor Day was over.

Maybe this is why they invented ATVs and Jeep Wranglers!

I parked below treeline in order to enjoy hiking through it and into the open. We hiked the narrow footpath that presumably was used to build the tramway that sent ore down from the mine, and supplies and men up to the Bunk House.

It was no mystery how miners chose a spot to start digging: they looked for quartz veins at the surface. Gold dissolves in quartz at high temperature. Indeed you can still see such quartz veins.

This was the steepest face we have hiked on, this summer. My little dog enjoys scaring me by scampering by me, on the outside of course, and…


Labor Day weekend in Silverton, CO. There is always some excitement in the middle of the day in Silverton, when the tourist train arrives from Durango, and disgorges the suckers and marks. The economy of the town depends on them. I've come to appreciate this daily ritual.

But part of the credit for the festive mood this weekend must go to the Harley riders. Even if you dislike their hobby -- and I do -- they really do bring a sense of visceral excitement to town, like a Biblical plague of flying insect pests.

Do Harley people really deserve the disdain they so often get? Sure, most of us hate their noise and other features shall I say it... their over-studied affectation of a commercially-prepackaged faux rebelliousness.

But to their credit, they've found a partial remedy for the pathological over-earnestness of middle-age, and the joylessness of old age. What is so bad about a matron feeling like a hot young chick in her over-priced leather fashions? Or i…

Bloggers of the World, Unite!

Reading an email from a friend and fellow blogger, I got fired up. He complimented me on editing some of my old posts. In part I am doing that because they will be obliterated when I drop the old blog hosting service in mid-June. Since the old and new sites won't easily switch the old posts to the new, I must use brute force, which in fact is fun.
But I was worried about alienating readers. Would they think it was cheating to recycle old stuff? Actually, some probably do, but so what? Why do amateur bloggers like me think they need to be popular? Why do we think it's our job to give readers a free morning newspaper to read, full of Breaking News? A blogger should write for his own benefit, mostly.

A Box Canyon that Opened Possibilities

Today's ride was in a "gulch." That's an ignominious name for a beautiful U-shaped box canyon/valley, scooped out by glaciers.

This little house on the prairie was cute, especially the broom.

It was parked by a corral with horses. This little trailer was meant to be a repositionable cottage or boarding house, not an RV, but for whom? If only a Basque shepherd or vaquero would have stepped out of it.

Soon we came to the high end of the "gulch", and saw large waterfalls. The dirt road devolved into foot trails that climbed over the top of the surrounding, U-shaped massif.

On the return trip I stopped to chat with a fly fisherman, a likable guy, but I usually like fly fishermen. Close to the Continental Divide the streams are only a foot deep, and are fast. A fish must be desperate to make a living if it swims in this stream all day. Once again I toyed with the possibility of taking up fly fishing, but wasn't sure why. It certainly wasn'…

Camping Close to Water

Silverton, CO. Since I am camping close to a small mountain river, and since it looks like the front cover of a glossy RV magazine extolling the RV Dream, there were other campers nearby. What an odd feeling. Initially it seemed like a luxury to have people to chat with. But then I started noticing and recalling how narrow the RV demographic is.

I refrained from taking one of these  RV dream-sites, in part so that those whose really wanted one could get it.

But the selfish motivation was that I dislike camping close to others. One night, one of the blockheads was running a generator the entire night, probably to run an electric heater. It's only late August but it has frosted here already. 

It is amazing how tourists and campers are drawn to water, despite the fact that most of them don't do anything in the water besides sit there and look at it. Having to choose between lakes and rivers I prefer the rivers. They seem more alive.

Once I camped with other RVers …

A Practical Philosopher

It was time for one last ride near Leadville, CO. It was my first time here and I have sort of fallen in love with the place. I chose to mountain bike up a dead end road; they are unpopular with weekenders. Heck, they were even unpopular with me during the first couple years of full time RV boondocking. It took some real effort to break away from the nearly universal preference for a loop road.

On the ride we passed a fine old cabin. Apparently somebody lived in it, at least seasonally. It had a marvelous view back to Mt. Elbert. When I hike or bike uphill I never turn around, per Satchel Paige's classic advice. But in this case I'm glad I did. Although it was only mid-morning Mt. Elbert already had a canopy of threatening clouds. We explored a bit more before returning.  Coming down was such a glide!

At one point I went to check out a spur road that went up an exposed ridge, my favorite topographic form. The freshening breeze was so delightful, on a day when most…


While slaving away on editing my old blog posts I was distracted by the most boisterous musicality of some bird in the area. His tail was about as long as his body, proper, and the tail had white bars, I think. His topside was grey. I get a lot of satisfaction catching a "greedy little songbird" (recall the movie, "Amadeus") in the act.

As usual click to enlarge, or go to my Picasa web albums by clicking the Photo Albums link near the top of the home page.

Experiencing a Book, While Traveling

When traveling I try to experience a book, rather than merely read it. With some luck a traveler's location can add something chemical and explosive to the book.

This happened to me recently in Leadville, CO. I was camped by a national forest road that was on the race course of two separate races that featured the most amazing athletes. My mind drifted off to Greek Olympic athletes. I picked up a book on Greek mythology, and was amazed to find myself actually interested in that silly nonsense, for the first time.

Other things contributed to this chemical reaction, such as monsoon clouds accumulating before their mid-afternoon schedule, and lightning strikes so close to my trailer that they sounded like a shotgun blast outside the trailer door. So I was willing to play along with reading about Zeus the Cloud-Gatherer and Thunderbolt-Thrower. If this seems too whimsical for the reader, remember that your mind and body are the same as the homo sapiens of a few thousan…

Extreme Exercise

Since arriving in Colorado I have been extolling its outdoors exercise cult to the point of boosterism. It's time for a little balance.

This weekend Leadville had a 100 mile Run! Runners had 30 hours to complete it. I'm not sure of all the rules, but apparently they could walk or rest whenever they needed to. But they had to make intermediate cutoff points by the deadline or be disqualified.

The 100 miles had its share of climbs of course. The altitude varied between 9500 and 12000 feet. In the afternoon the runners had to contend with rain and lightning. I saw some of the survivors crawling in on Sunday morning. Some hobbled in, looking very sore.

Why is there this obsession in running, biking, etc., with enormous distances? Why not shorten the distance, increase the speed and intensity of the race, and make it more interesting by some other angle? My best efforts at amateur psychoanalysis is that these people have a drastic self-esteem problem that can only be …

Alpine Mushrooms

West of Leadville CO a couple summers ago. We started on the dirt road that leaves the Turquoise Lake paved road.

What better way to start a day than to find yourself on a smooth, well-maintained road that ascends mildly but relentlessly to a high mountain pass! A mountain biker notices road texture more than scenery, no matter how "breathtakingly beautiful" the postcard scenery might be. This road seemed determined to give us a perfectly balanced ride. In particular I loved the variety ofviewscapes.

As the ride developed I felt an overarching sense of gratitude. Perhaps because the object of my gratitude was so nebulous, the gratitude seemed more transcendent than the alpine vistas themselves.

Only a few gasoline athletes passed us. Do they resent us?  In their minds they are adventuring with mighty jeeps, big 'tars,' winches, fancy GPS gadgets, and all. Sometimes they even caravan--there's safety in numbers, you know. Then they pass a little "fo…

RV Snowbird Plans Winter

My favorite seasons as a full time RVer are the shoulder seasons, when I have to form some sort of plan for the upcoming migration. In autumn the most fundamental question is whether you want to travel in the winter or hibernate in "townie" mode.

The case could easily be made that an RVer needs some balance over the course of a year. From a travel point of view, North America shrinks in the winter, so it might be preferable to go into "townie" mode in the winter, if townie mode one must go. The biggest advantage of townie mode is that you get to know people. In contrast, when I'm in travel mode I make Thoreau at Walden Pond look like a social butterfly. And he only lived there two years!

If only I actually liked one of the warm spots of Arizona! The large cities are just smaller versions of LA. There are few medium sized cities in the snowbird  areas of the Southwest. Yuma is so crowded, and it's hardly a bargain anymore. And the small towns are dus…

A Puppet on a String

There's cute and then there's...

She's a yorkie-poo, two months old. Click photo to enlarge, or click the (blue) "photo albums" link at the top of home page.

Orogeny and Erosion

We are camped in the national forest right on the route of the recently completed Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. The other day we rode a forest road up to the foot of Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado. The most pleasant surprise was the marvelous, hard-packed, sandy texture of that particular forest road.

I couldn't get the word 'orogeny' out of my mind. What a beautiful word. It means mountain-building. Of course the opposite of orogeny is just as important. Erosion is one way to look at it. As detritus is swept down the side of a mountain, to the valley, the small stuff should drop out last, at lower altitude. Indeed we were benefiting from that today on the ride.

The forest was a lodgepole pine monoculture. If ever a tree was aptly named, it is the lodgepole pine. The forest was as bland as you can imagine, but it wasn't as dark and depressing as a spruce/fir forest. When I stopped pedaling and held my breath, I could hear nothing--no wind…

A Jack and a Jill Went up the Hill

This was only the second festival weekend for me this summer. Previously I gave up on the game plan of visiting one summer festival after another. I'm glad Leadville's Boom Days is one of my successes. Some people fit in so well with the historical look, you have to wonder what they do the rest of the year. I could live without the Doc Holliday and saloon girl schlock. Ahh, now this is better:

How resplendent she had been in the parade! Afterwards at a food booth, she dropped something and a man came running up to pick it up for her. I was fumbling with the camera, and didn't see it, but let's hope she repaid him with a little curtsy.  What a sap I am for anything archaic! What a loss it is to civilization that women no longer "wear" parasols. I'll bet they used to be as expressive with them as a dog is with its tail.

On Sunday it was time for the crowd-pleaser: the burro race up to Mosquito Pass. Just imagine running, walking, and pulling on …

It's Only a Dry Heat

Eighty percent of the discomfort felt by a full time RV boondocker occurs during summer. It needn't be so. Step One is to stop going north in summer, as counter-intuitive as that is. Going north will only keep you cool during the shoulder seasons. Would that they lasted longer than a couple weeks!

Shame on me for taking so long to realize that latitude is a secondary variable and that altitude is preeminent. Through a geographical accident, most of the high altitude towns are in the Southwest.

It's easy to underestimate the pleasantness of the southwestern monsoon season, from early July to mid-September. Even before the afternoon sky-and-cloud show, the higher humidity mutes the sun. By noon cumulus clouds have formed foamy white tops and darkling bottoms. Their bottoms darken as the vertical development continues. Finally they flocculate into a thundershower -- transient, local, and topographic.

This praise of clouds and rain must seem surreal to those of the Pacific No…

The Pilgrims of Mosquito Pass

Leadville, CO. The Benchmark Atlas labeled nearby Mosquito Pass, elevation 13,186 feet, as the "highest auto (jeep) pass in the US." Which of my four bicycles would be best?

I smiled thinking of the beginning of the Spaghetti Western, "For a Few Dollars More." The bounty hunter, Lee Van Cleef, has only a few seconds to shoot the bad guy who is getting away. The bounty hunter pulls a string on his saddle, and a leather rack of four guns rolls down the side of the horse: his tools of the trade, for every occasion.

The road started smooth and steep, which is my favorite kind of road. It wasn't long before I saw something unusual: a large group of fully-loaded backpackers, who would coalesce and then disperse.It was a church group from Texas, on its way over the pass. We caught up with them at the last mining tower, near tree-line, where you can faintly see the two thousand feet of switchbacks that await these hikers from sea-level homes. Faith can mov…


To the casual observer, a full time RVer might seem to be wandering at random, at least on a daily basis. But on a seasonal basis that is certainly not true. As the summer progresses he moves upriver to higher altitudes. Doing so, all roads lead to Leadville, CO. This is the end of the road, altitude-wise. The city is at 10,150 feet.

I had never been to Leadville before. A woman in the torrid lowlands downriver (at 7000 feet) told me it was ugly. But I sized her up as a fussy-female type, and consider her comment a positive recommendation. Indeed, approaching the city limits of Leadville there were mine tailings and dilapidated shacks with the windows boarded up with plywood. I was hooked.

The first surprise was to see a large Mexican-American population. Apparently they work in construction in the ski resort, condo, and McMansion towns. They live in Leadville because they can.

Are we really only a couple generations from the hardy men who mined around Leadville? The modern Am…

Good Tourist, Bad Tourist

Isn't it odd how the word, tourist, is almost universally applied as a pejorative, a slur? This is true even though most people look forward to vacations and holidays, during which they typically are tourists. In America it is even said that many people vacation as long as fourteen days, almost every year.

The T word is used most negatively by those whose livelihoods depend most on tourism. The local yokels of a popular tourist area leave their own area, full of scenic wonders which they have become bored with, and vacation in other tourist areas that might be inferior to their home turf.

Here in the upper Arkansas River valley I am, for the first time in my life, seeing tourism as a positive thing. Perhaps the key distinction is mass tourism versus outdoorsy, specialized  tourism. Consider for a  moment the mass tourist -- that motor-bound chowhound who tries to enjoy the wonders of nature by staring through his vehicle's window glass. Say what they will, touri…