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Showing posts from September, 2011

San Juan Postcard with an Excuse

Ouray, CO. So why would a reputed curmudgeon, who typically belittles postcard scenery, bother with this postcard, taken today on a hike with both of my dogs? The key word is 'both'. My little poodle is acting older now that he is almost 16 and a half years old. That's like a person in their eighties. So I haven't been taking him on hikes with my younger dog, Coffee Girl. Today we actually drove (blush) the van up to a trailhead. The little poodle was so frisky that he wouldn't stay in the van and sleep like I expected. He insisted on going on the hike. I had to improvise a leash, since his collar wasn't even installed. Instead of tiring in five minutes, he charged the leash, and acted like he could go for hours. This isn't the first time that I've underestimated him. By the time we crossed the creek and got back in the van, I was getting pretty misty-eyed just thinking about the wonderful life we've had together and how, miraculously, there

Tablet philia or phobia?

It's rare for me to experience gadget lust. Normally all the sex appeal has gone flat for the boring ol' gadget by the time this late adopter gets one. But recently I've gone crazy reading about Tablets; not the iShackle line of products made by Apple, of course. Their gadgets are for aspirational consumers, whereas I am a maximum bang-for-the-buck, no-nonsense type of customer. This is about the Toshiba Thrive tablet, 10 inches, with the Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) operating system. The Thrive is distinguished from all the other Android tablets by its user-removable battery and its ports: it has a full-sized USB port, a slot for a full-sized SD card, and a full-sized HDMI port. Thus, the Toshiba Thrive tablet is the one most suitable for functioning as a substitute for a mini-notebook computer. So you can see why I got excited. Then I searched for Android versions of the programs that I use now on my Paleozoic laptop: Firefox with AdBlock, Picasa on disk (not in the cloud)

Count Tolstoy Versus the Colorado Arts Scene

Artists, artists everywhere! From the northern Rio Grande Valley, Sante Fe, Taos, Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, and into Colorado, the whole region is infested with artists. I'm even squatting on the driveway providing driveway security services at the home of a couple Colorado artists. You'd think that art was a major part of the economy. Since when did Americans become so arts-oriented? If a traveler takes travel seriously -- that is, if travel is more than trivial sightseeing and generating digital postcards -- he needs to ask: what is this place good for? What is special about it? Then he needs to do some thinking about a topic that the location brings up. I reread Tolstoy's What is Art? (*) Before showing some juicy quotes from that book, let's first try to imagine an elderly Tolstoy -- with his beard and earnestness, now an ex-novelist, working to reform Christianity, and totally outside the intellectual mainstream of Europe -- walking through an art festival in

He Came to the Mountains, in His 57th Year...

...comin' home, to a place he'd never been before. Or something like that. Being back on the road I am mindful of doing things better; hence all the preaching about being flexible and avoiding rigid habits when traveling. There is a fair bit of adaptation necessary here in Ouray, although the deck was stacked in my favor by the generosity of my "clients", Mark and Bobbie Johnson, over at Box Canyon Blog . When walking the sidewalks in downtown Ouray, it is fun to imagine what various people like best about a scenic mountain town. I almost feel sorry for the bourgeois matrons from a big city; they must be bored to tears with nature and scenery, after a few minutes. When I watch them it is always with an impish smirk on my face. Think of the classic Disney movie, Homeward Bound (The Incredible Journey) , in which a cat, Sassie (voiced over by Sally Fields), and two male dogs try to make a long distance journey over the mountains to get back to their people. At o

Rounding the Bend

On the trail to Upper Cascade Falls, Ouray CO. Unlike my little poodle, who would pose for the camera at the slightest suggestion, Coffee Girl is difficult to photograph. Her mostly black color restricts the photographs to silhouettes. Even worse, the second she hears the camera click on, she obediently runs back to Daddy to see if she can help. Herding dogs are so attentive!

When Night's Candles Burned Out

It was a rough night. Once again I fell asleep to a DVD movie, Roman Polanski's MacBeth . No director understands cold rain, mud, and peasant agriculture as well as Polanski, perhaps because of his early life in Poland. Watching this movie is a great thing to do when you want to glory in the misery of unpleasant weather. Around 1 in the morning I awoke to find the electricity off in the RV. I was curious, so I walked out to the edge of the rocky shelf that serves as a driveway here and saw -- not just another hateful night of cold, stygian rain and gloom -- but the entire town of Ouray CO pitch black. Another Colorado summer: Out, out, brief candle. Against this visual emptiness, the noise from the Uncompahgre River stood out alarmingly, enraged as it was by a night's rain. The movie overwhelms the viewer with oppressive rain, mud, and cold. Remember that special efforts were required in that pre-CGI era to make rain register on a movie screen. Just before MacBeth had his

Last Dance for a Laptop?

My circa 2004 Toshiba laptop doesn't like to boot up on cold mornings, and I thought that was the problem today. But instead, it gave a message about a hard drive crash being imminent. I wonder if it meant it. I have mixed feelings about this. It's nice being the Second Chance Store for the surplus gadgets of an RV friend, and this laptop has been a winner. But I've been impatient waiting for the oldie to die so I could get something modern. Unless somebody knows of a stupendous deal, I will probably go with a 12 inch Asus mini-laptop, with an AMD E350 processor, Windows 7 Home Premium, 2 GB of RAM, $440. I couldn't care less about how big the hard drive is; in fact, I wish it didn't have one. The 12 inch size should be just perfect for easy reading plus portability; after all, I will need to cart it into a wi-fi spot on occasion, and I hate dragging in a larger laptop since they're like a patio flagstone. I wish that the gadget write-ups mentioned how man

Colorado Outdoor Culture

This driveway in Ouray CO is crawling with milkweed tussock caterpillars. Earlier I tried to photograph how "punk" they look. Today I followed it around for a couple minutes and photographed it showing off its technical climbing skills. And this little bugger was fast! He seemed so intelligent: he'd look (?) at one angle of attack, feint towards it, and then change his mind to an alternative route. I won't be here in winter when the ice climbers show off their death-defying skills in the Uncompahgre gorge, so this caterpillar will have to serve as substitute.

The "My Way or the Highway" Syndrome

In their heart's heart, don't most professional travelers know they are spoiled brats? The idea used to gnaw away at me, quietly and in the background. In the real world there are many things about the job, family, weather, etc., that people wish were better; but they're not , and an individual is usually powerless to change them, at least in the short term. All he can do is try to keep them from bothering him by using some mental discipline and creativity. Most adults accept platitudes like this, but practicing them isn't so easy. For instance I currently enjoy a rare driveway-sitting gig in a uniquely beautiful area, Ouray CO, while enjoying house amenities. Most travelers would consider themselves extremely lucky to have an opportunity like this. But the weather has turned against Ouray, for about ten days now. Remember that most people yearn all year for September and October, since autumn is usually the best time of the year. But this year, I'm missing it

On Perfecting the Human Sole

There is supposed to be at least a grain of truth in old adages and proverbs. Take, as an example, 'Invent a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.' Sigh. I'm still waiting for Nike or some other big shoe company to beat a path to my door and offer a six-figure buy-out for my invention of the ultimate bicycle footwear . Cycling footwear is better at its job than hiking footwear. You'd think it would be just the opposite, since feet are far more likely to be problems for hikers than for cyclists. (A certain blogger claims that the weak link is about halfway down the body, for cyclists.) But since the situation is upside down, perhaps the hiking footwear industry could learn something from the cycling footwear industry. For instance look at these upscale cycling shoes carefully: We can laugh off the toeless innovation as being inappropriate to hiking. But look at the ratchet-strap. What a marvelous device for footwear: you could build shoes

The Plastic Art of Travel

Ouray CO has an "Art Walk" on a certain evening, once per month. Many boutique towns do something like that. But I didn't go. Why not? Wouldn't it be to my advantage -- especially as a traveler -- to make my life a little more varied and pleasurable by taking advantage of all the talent that is offering its wares to the general public?

Art and Travel

People who have experienced little sickness or injury in their lives should be expected to over-react to some bad luck. The other night I felt dizzy and nauseous, and am still not sure what it was about. The next day I felt better by the hour, but was still unnerved by being sick for a change. During the afternoon siesta I grabbed the mp3 music player and punched in some of Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack music. It was so medicinal to have something for the mind to focus on, besides discomfort. Some music must be hoarded and rationed, lest repetition destroy its power. It was strange how this familiar piece of music had a different and more powerful effect on this particular day.

Oddities of Ouray

The long hours of dawn and dusk would be the hardest thing about living in Ouray long term. Should we call it "sunrise" when the morning sun finally clears the mountains that are 2000 feet over the town, or should we call it "cliff-set"? I follow the trail information left to me by Box Canyon Blog . On the approach, it always seems like there has been a mistake: there's no way that a hiking trail could go up that cliff . Surely only a serious rock climber with all the equipment could do it. But the trail does make it up. Yet, a hiking trail is so simple: it's just a triangle cut transversely to a steep slope. How could it work as well as it does?! If the trail wasn't there you would never bushwhack it; it would be too daunting. How was the trail built in the first place? They didn't look up the terrain on Google Earth and run a software program that told them to put a switchback right here or right there. As usual, I feel humbled by the hardin


  You'd think that the caterpillar I showed a couple days ago would turn into a moth like this instead of a boring moth. If there's any justice in the world today's polyphemus moth started off as a plain ugly caterpillar. This photo (click to enlarge) was taken by my nature consultant in the American Midwest who saw the moth out by the mailbox at the street, walked back to the house to get a camera, and returned to the mailbox to find the moth still there. Then the nature consultant tickled the moth with a blade of grass, he/she claimed, to open its wings.

Sole Brothers

It's fun to meet other bloggers and I've been lucky enough to do a lot of it lately. I learned of Ed Frey from the Bayfield Bunch when the latter when through Silver City; but Ed, I missed. He came through Ouray CO recently, where we had breakfast together. Ed walks 4-5 miles early every morning and usually has breakfast along the way. He certainly has a powerful and graceful stride, no doubt because of his methodical walking.

Punked Out

I was laboring in the dirt under the hot sun like a peasant in the fields: shoveling, jerking weeds, carting them away without a burro to help. Geesh, the sort of things a guy has to do to get world class scenery, ideal weather, and eye-popping hiking trails, with free camping and amenities in Ouray CO. But my back-breaking toil and suffering momentarily abated when I saw this little guy in the newly disturbed ground. I've never seen such a spiked, punk caterpillar before. Even more than his interesting appearance was his attitude: he was frisky. It's not exaggerating to say that he was a sentient being, instead of the usual slug-like personality. When I brought the camera in, he seemed to look (?) at it: who the hell are you and what's your problem, the look seemed to say. Then again, maybe it was the other end that was aiming.