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Showing posts from October, 2011

Boneyards in the Badlands

The Uncompahgre River valley, southwestern Colorado, a couple Halloweens ago. In answer to my question, the boys at the public lands office said, "Mancos shale." What a cool name. It was Eastwood's name in his second Spaghetti Western. It was this rock that made the western Colorado Badlands bad . Mancos shale results from silt. It suffocates the roots of plants; thus few plants grow out here, and hardly any critters. Not even crypto -biotic soil. Only an occasional prairie dog or scavenger would try to make a living here. It's not like I'm complaining. Instead of standard tourist scenery, I prefer scenery that has a strong flavor of any kind, even the horrific. There is more drama in it. It is more evocative of life and death struggles. Maybe I've bought too many postcards from Nietzsche, over the years.  Well this is the place for it -- the Badlands between Montrose, CO, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The complexion of the ground

EmmyLou on a Windy Night

An RVing friend surprised me recently when he confessed that he and his wife just hate camping in wind. It is strange how some flavors of hardship discourage you, while others bring out the best in you. For whatever reason, I rather like rocking and rolling in my trailer in the wind. All RVs, even a cheap cracker box like mine, come with some sort of stabilizing jacks; but years ago I got rid of mine. Cliffs are certainly good places to experience wind. Wind results from a difference in air pressure, which is connected with sudden altitude changes, or one cliff-face facing the sun while another is in the shadow. One night I went to sleep listening to EmmyLou Harris singing some of her classics. Ahh dear, a female singer is always at her best when she is wailing about her wounds, be they real or imagined. Can you imagine anything more boring than a country-western diva, a Puccini heroine, or a Celtic lass singing about how reasonably content she was with the universe? I woke up

Nearing the Top

Most hikers are probably fond of that moment in a hike when you're starting to wonder if you're ever going to get to the top. But of course the experience would be boring without the voluntary suffering of it all. Then you see some blue sky peaking through, so you must be getting ready to crest. Recently Coffee Girl and I finally made it over the top of Book Cliffs, which my little poodle valiantly surmounted four years ago. I can't be sure that he used this trail, but it's the only one. It was 1600 feet of altitude gain. It's counter-intuitive how the high-altitude side of a cliff ramps up the edge, and then falls precipitously. The Mogollon Rim (in Arizona) does this as well. The top of Book Cliffs was fun to explore; it was crossed by more ravines than I thought; it wasn't just a flat mesa-top.

Urban (Parking Lot) Boondocking

You have to admire the constitution of campers who can actually sleep in a noisy parking lot in town. Do engines ever get shut off? You get to enjoy trains, boom cars, loudspeakers on the pole lights, semi-trucks pulling up in the middle of the night, and perhaps worst of all, predatory strafing of your RV by the parking lot Zamboni. So why do it? There are practical advantages such as minimizing driving while accomplishing shopping errands. And there are plenty of $30 per night RV parks that are half as loud as a free parking lot. There are tricks in parking lots that will get you a few hours of sleep: 1) It is surprising how quiet a semi-truck can be if you are parked aft of its trailer, rather than sideways-adjacent to the engine and Thermo-King refrigerator. 2) It's also surprising how restful it can be to sleep next to a busy freeway, since the sound is so steady. 3) White noise helps quite a bit too. You can use music, a DVD movie, or whatever. 4) Stay up late at night an

Shopping at Cabela's

Several times now, somebody expressed surprise at learning that I was an NFL football fan. They usually say something like,"You don't seem the type," whatever that means. The same people would probably be surprised that I was excited to learn that Grand Junction CO had a Cabela's store. Soon I was there, poring over the latest and greatest multi-tools and LED flashlights. It's odd that, with so many items in such a gigantic store, it's only these two items that interest me. Besides, I already have a high-end Leatherman multi-tool and never bring it along, because of its weight. Imagine how easy it would be to criticize female shoppers fawning and coo-ing over some expensive and useless trinket just because it was kyooooooot! The sidewalks of Ouray CO are full of such shoppers. But one Sunday morning Coffee Girl and I went on a nice hike on that remarkable network of trails than emanates from the town of Ouray. Afterwards I finally found a restaurant that

Heroes, Emergencies, and Second Chances

It's hard to believe we were returning to the scene of the crime, to the foot of Book Cliffs north of Grand Junction CO, where, four years ago, my little poodle ran away in panic from noisy target-practice shooters, and disappeared for fourteen days before he trotted up to an elk hunter's pickup truck. The full story is on the tab, Sad Story at Book Cliffs, at the top of the blog. His extended life has been a good one. Would he remember this awful place? He seems to remember people and places from one year back, but not four. And besides, he's mostly deaf and blind now. I stopped the rig about a quarter mile short of the camping turnaround that I remembered all too well, since I wallowed in angst and guilt there for a week, hoping for his return four years ago. At the end of the week I accepted defeat, went to the Grand Junction animal shelter, and adopted Coffee Girl. We walked the rest of the way in order to inspect the road condition. As we approached Book Cliffs,

Another Under-rated Pleasure of Camping

Having just gotten camped in a new location, it was time to do something that I hadn't done in a long time: pop the outer door open, while letting the screen door face right at the southern sun. At this time of the year, the sun is getting quite a bit lower; we're only two months from the winter solstice. I'd forgotten how glorious it is feel the Southwest's sun through solar screen. (Years ago, I'd replaced regular RV industry screen with 85% blocking solar screen.) It's easy to under-estimate how pleasant it is to feel, simultaneously, cool autumn air and warm, moderated sunlight through that solar screen. This might seem like a trivial experience to people who are not familiar with the Southwestern sun, or who spend all summer in air-conditioned domiciles or cars. It might also seem like nothing is accomplished by suffering heat in the summer, without an air-conditioner, only to get the pleasure back in autumn; you could argue that it averages out, over a f

Time to Head Down River

Oops. In considering where to go when, I overlooked that I would be camping higher and cooler than the cities in the valley. So it was time to leave the upper Uncompahgre River, "conflow" with the Gunnison River -- isn't conflow what you do at the confluence of two rivers? -- and then "float" down to the Grand River. What a marvelous experience I owe to the Johnsons over at Box Canyon Blog!

Wrinkles of the Western Slope

Contrast is probably the quality that most people value highest in a landscape, since prettiness per se is insipid. Badlands, eroded from Mancos shale, are quite a contrast from the volcanic extrusions in the San Juan mountains. I get to admire both from my campsite on a mesa outside Montrose CO. Sigh, I really don't look forward to flowing downriver this Friday.  

Squished by Mountain Weather

Somebody needs to come up with an old saying analogous to 'you can't see the forest for the trees' about mountains. It's hard to appreciate what is happening to a mountain range if you are right in the middle of one and your view is blocked by a mountain. On my little mesa near Montrose CO, I am 25 miles from the edge of the San Juan mountains, so I can appreciate the big picture. During storms the entire mountain range disappears in minutes. The tiny bright speck in the center is the morning sun reflecting off a building.

Natural Migration Paths in Autumn

How many times have you smiled at a school bus? But I did yesterday. It was labelled as "Gunnison Watershed Something-or-Other". It's rare to see something labelled as XYZ Watershed, but in a state like Colorado it should be common. To finally see "justice" done was a delightful surprise. I smiled myself into a nostalgic fit over it. So many American rivers start here, although the Colorado River, ironically, isn't one of them. But we needn't rehash the sorry history of that bit of political chicanery, perpetrated in 1922; you can read on it at Wikipedia. When RVing in Colorado for the first time, many years ago, it was difficult to memorize the names and locations of individual mountain peaks; there are too many of them and the names are not always interesting. So the brain aims at unifying this clutter of details: it groups them into mountain ranges , or studies up on the geology and orogeny of the area, seeking order from the chaos of individual

A Morning Cup of Joe for the Batteries

When a person starts off on round two of their traveling life, they need to stay open-minded and flexible so they can do a better job than in round one, not that round one really needed much improvement. But without improvement and progress, what are we to do with ourselves? It's easy to become bored and jaded with the progress in gadgets: thinner, lighter, more gigabytes, etc. How about some progress in some other field? In the traveling biz there has been remarkable progress, back around 2000, when Honda brought out that remarkable line of alternator/ inverter-based generators. Quiet and fuel-sipping. Of course a chain is no stronger than its weakest link: I'm not sure whether the RV industry has modernized their converter/chargers; they used to just put out 13.6 volts, which can not fully or quickly charge a battery. But there has been remarkable progress in bringing the cost down of real, three stage, battery chargers that put out 14.X volts DC, and twiddle the "

Another Chilly Dawn

I step out of the rig before dawn to let my little poodle do his old-man duties. I stand close, guarding him. Off in the distance the sagebrush stands out slightly from the surrounding grass; under the full moon, it looks like a patient, lurking, coyote-sized predator. A full moon does a fine job on a high, lonesome, and wind-less mesa. But all of this had little effect on me. It was the temperature that mattered. It was chilly of course, but to just the right intensity. It's funny how certain "hardships" stimulate a person. The hardship must be of the right kind and adjusted to the proper intensity. For the first time in several days, the chilliness left me feeling confident as I braced against it. Perhaps I should celebrate the occasion by rereading Toynbee's chapters on "Challenge and Response." What he described about several societies in different eras -- he was gloriously time-agnostic -- applies just as well to an individual's life. It is the

South So Soon?

It might just be a fluke of a small data set, but it seems that RV travelers are already too far south this October. "There he goes again, running down people who have different tastes than himself," say a few readers. But actually, I'm not talking about tastes at all; I'm talking about geography. North America is 10-20 times smaller in winter than in summer, after taking into account what most travelers desire. This causes two problems: 1) a noticeable population compression in the places that are desirable in winter, and 2) you run out of places to go in the winter. You get tired of the same old places. Population compression (#1) does not enhance the camping experience unless you enjoy lines, crowds, generators, or higher prices and reservations at RV parks. Problem #2 is real, but not severe. I like the places that I've gone to, in winters past. Still, there is a limit to how long I can stay interested in places like the Mojave Desert or windy southern N

Escaping from Blog Prison

The challenge for me as a blogger has always been to gradually migrate my readership away from the pure travel genre and towards the topics that I'm interested in enough to write about, as given in the subtitle at the top of the blog. Somehow I have to do this without knowing much about my readers or where they come from; most readers probably still come from RV travel blogs. A cross-category blog is inherently difficult to match with readers. Perhaps that's why most blogs are "pure-breeds", such as news, politics, financial, vacation-like travel, sports, friends and family, etc. Imagine the disappointment of a the standard armchair traveler/RV wannabee who stumbles onto my blog. He wants escapist dreams and pretty pictures to help numb the pain of having four more years to go, in his cubicle prison; there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not what I do here. Offering anything but sugary fantasies will come off as being overly-earnest at best, or neg

Back Home on BLM Land

I was given fair warning when I started the driveway-guarding gig in Ouray that the late sunrises and early sunsets would take their toll on me. But it's beneficial to experience voluntary, short-term suffering when traveling. It just whips up your appetite for the next thing, and it adds drama. Even Mark, of Box Canyon Blog , had to buy a new and more mobile rig just so he can escape to Arizona in the winter and receive self-administered emergency "heliotherapy treatments". Near the end of the gig, the dogs were becoming despondent. In fact the sun was perverse on the last day. After a day or two of clouds and rain, the sky finally cracked open. Here's how things looked from Mark's driveway: Impressive indeed. That was at 2:30 p.m. By 2:38 the sun went behind the western cliff. That did it! I'm outa' here. I love being back on spacious BLM land. I'd forgotten how much pleasure you can get from small aspects of boondocking, such as orienting yo

Just a Bit of Elevation and Light

It's Dawn now. From this cold and lonely mesa in western Colorado I see the city lights, below. I'm surprised how gorgeous they look from this vantage point of only a couple hundred feet above the valley floor. How could so much be gained by so little? I shouldn't avert my eyes from the ugliness of Montrose, a rather standard sprawling noisy American city, completely dependent on automobiles for transportation. Much of the beauty of those lights comes, not from their color or faint flickering, but from the contrast with the unpleasantness of city life, and from my own detachment from it on this mesa. There's just enough light to judge the type and extent of the clouds. Day seems real again and full of promise.

Foraging Versus Sightseeing

It hardly seems intuitive to begin an autumn migration by going north, but that is what we did yesterday. Latitude does matter, at least 400 mile chunks of it, and especially at this time of year, but altitude still matters more. The Uncompahgre River drains to the north. A cynic might argue that half the appeal of a reverse migration is just the feeling that one isn't supposed to do it. Actually, one of the sweetest pleasures can be gotten by noble and voluntary suffering in the Cold before finally relenting and moving towards the Warm. (We all know certain Sybarites of the Road who would never believe this.) When the dogs and I got out of the van in Montrose CO, the sun felt delicious; but it was the rareness of this pleasure that was most appreciated. How many times does the driver of an un-air-conditioned cargo van actually enjoy warm sun coming through that big windshield? Normally I loathe it, and worry about the heat harming my dogs. I can't imagine bathers in fam

Colorado Tourism Promotional Postcard

The San Juan Mountains still have plenty of tourists here for the fall color season. I wonder if this is what they had in mind. Wasn't it Arthur Koestler's Act of Creation that discussed the usefulness of inversion in creativity? Maybe he was on to something. For instance, every windshield tourist is running around the mountains trying to take "breathtakingly beautiful" postcards of autumn colors. Since digital cameras are so good, most of these postcards look pretty much the same, and the world's supply of pixels is depleted for nothing. A yellow leaf is just a yellow leaf. What if, instead of joining the leaf-peeping hordes, we asked, "What is the ugliest thing we could photograph at this time of year?" Or is that negative thinking? Well at least it is thinking, and a difficult type of thinking it truly is. For instance I thought wet, disgusting snow coming down in early October might be a suitably perverse subject. But being anti-beautiful i

Tolstoy as a Traveler?

I got on this "What is Art" kick because it seemed that I might find something in the general subject of art that I could apply advantageously to the Art of Travel, which is part of my job . Remember that this blog is not aimed at sight-seeing vacationers or RV newbies. I used to feel a bit disappointed that art, that is, beauty, had so little effect on me. But rereading Tolstoy's essay puts my mind at rest. Perhaps beauty is over-rated. If Tolstoy was correct there is a completely different way to approach the subject of art. Finally in Chapter 5 Tolstoy's What is Art? (Google books) gets to the affirmative side of the question. What is art, if we put aside the conception of beauty, which confuses the whole matter? But first, one last exclusion: A man may express his emotions by lines, colors, sounds, or words, and yet may not act on others by such expression; and then the manifestation of his emotions is not art. The peculiarity of [art], distinguishing it

Bambi Unbothered

Several times my little poodle has made a bad situation worse by not barking when he was in danger, so when I heard him bark outside my trailer today, I was both relieved and alarmed. Sure enough, it was the deer that likes to munch on the suckers of a dead stump on the Johnsons' driveway. She has two half-grown offspring who travel with her. Since the little poodle can barely see, his interaction with mama Bambi was probably accidental. I charged out of the trailer and saw Mama "facing off" with the little poodle. She wasn't particularly afraid of me. Actually, I think it's in the interests of any wildlife to stay frightened of Man; otherwise, they will hang around too much and eventually get run over by a car. So I thought I was doing the deer a favor by sending my 40 pound Australian kelpie, Coffee Girl, to chase the threesome out of the yard. But mama deer was completely fearless. She faced Coffee Girl head on, and wouldn't yield an inch. Coffee Girl