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Showing posts from June, 2013

A Lesson on Where NOT to Camp

South Fork, CO. There is a quiet, but profound, satisfaction when using a mountain bike for "foraging" and reconnaissance, rather than mere entertainment or exercise. The more business-like camping and exercise become, the more authentic they feel. That's what makes this a job, rather than a vacation.

It's an under-rated pleasure to mountain bike on a perfect forest road; one that is smooth, graded, hard, and relentlessly, mercilessly uphill. The shade held up well, and it kept getting cooler. The forest changed into thick, overgrown spruce at 10,000 feet. Other than the shade over the road there isn't a single good thing to say about spruce forests.

Finally I got an open view of the neighborhood mountain. Alas there was probably no way to hike above tree-line from this road without bushwhacking through that disgusting spruce forest. Finding this out was why I was there.



Some automatic mechanisms clicked into place when I found the best dispersed campsite on this ro…

Gotterdammerung on the Upper Rio Grande

How I Remember this Devastated Land

It is always fun to visit a dispersed camping area that you haven't seen in quite a few years. I went back to the higher country, just uphill of where I've been camping the last few days, because the fire has become less dramatic. In fact, I now see it as a make-work project for government-sector employees and crony-capitalists.


Well, that's how the upper Rio Grande valley still looks at the ingress of the San Juan mountains in southwestern Colorado.

And forest fire or not, there are still many wild roses in bloom. I need a break from the smell of smoke, haze, and destruction.


So life goes on.

The Bleak Part of the Battle Begins

South Fork, CO.  What's it like to be a refugee family trying to kill time in a high school gymnasium, while hiding from the forest fire? It was probably an adventure the first day. But after several days? And the authorities are careful not to give the refugees a specific date when they can return to their homes. 

Sometimes I wonder about the sluice-gate of federal (FEMA) dollars that starts flowing once a crisis reaches a certain threshold, and whether authorities and crony capitalists try to over-extend the crisis just to suck every last dollar out of the ol' cash cow. In that sense, a naive trust of authorities will just turn you into a captive/hostage. That -- and not reckless overconfidence or thrill-seeking -- is probably the real reason why some non-sheeplike people won't evacuate when the authorities order them to.

Seeing the kindly neighbor-woman drop in on me several times -- yesterday she wanted to know if I needed water -- brought several out-of-date and laughab…

Cecil B. DeMille in the San Juans: Going Pyro-Cumular!

Noon MDT, South Fork CO: In order to burnish my credentials for employment in the responsible mainstream media, I was going to entitle this, "West Fork Wildfire Goes Thermonuclear." 


But that might have caused unnecessary worry. And "pyro-cumular" sounds much more positive and friendly than "thermonuclear."  Besides, I don't really know if this is due to a sudden flare-up (intensification), or whether calm winds are allowing a chimney-column to form. But what happened to the pall of smoke that was blocking this view? Did it blow away suddenly, just before this column developed?


Consider all the history books a history buff can read over the course of a lifetime. The historian loves playing Monday morning quarterback, based on a collection of papers and documents known to the historian, decades after the battle. But what was known to the commanding general at the time of the decision? The fog of war is something I will appreciate more because of this exp…

Becoming an Adrenaline Junkie after a Fire

It appears that the forest fire crisis just missed South Fork CO and is moving towards Creede. Please don't let me move towards Creede! It was the direction I was heading before all this nonsense started. But the real draw is that now I know what it's like to be a "storm chaser", or some other adrenaline junkie.


I wonder how the firefighters adapt to the psychological let-down of off-duty normalcy. Even before this experience I appreciated some things written in "War" by Sebastian Junger. (And I hope the reader appreciates how rarely a modern book gets a plug from me.)

Recall that the book was based on Junger's experiences as an "embedded" journalist with American troops in one of the dodgiest valleys of eastern Afghanistan, close to the mountainous border with Pakistan. His object was to avoid politics and write about the experiences of the combat soldiers from their perspective.

page 144: War is a lot of things and it's useless to pretend …

Smoke, but no Flames for South Fork

Update 2000 MDT: the sheriff came to check on a forest road gate. We had a nice chat. He said the fluctuations of the wind are fooling everybody: it looks like the evacuation is "long term." He confirmed that the flames had come within 2 miles of South Fork yesterday. (And therefore 4 miles from me.) Old Sol looks pretty battered and bloodied:


Update 1245 MDT: Whoa baby! The high wind has chased the intervening and obstructing smoke out of the upper valley of the South Fork of the Rio Grande. And now for the first time I can see where the action is, up by Wolf Creek Pass, the continental divide.





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Update 1153 MDT: The wind recently kicked up to 30-40 mph. But it's blowing the smoke to the north. Everything around South Fork is clearing up. I can't believe how quickly the air cleared up over such a large area (many square miles). It looks so good to see the mountains again!
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Update 1000 MDT: a recent…

Mandatory Evacuation! (with updates)

Update 1925 MDT: It bothers me that the town of South Fork is visually disappearing because of the smoke. It's only 1.5 miles away. Nor can I see the Verizon tower on the nearby mountain.

But I can't see any flames. Maybe that will have to wait until sunset. Will house lights and street lights be visible tonight?

The town is so quiet, so empty.



Update 1644 MDT: Are they serious? The fire is supposed to only be 2-3 miles west of South Fork, CO), which means 3-4 miles from me! It was 20 miles away this morning. There are so many government emergency workers these days, and so many weather websites and cable news channels. It makes sense that there would be exaggeration. But I don't want to be complacent, either.

Anyway, when I read this latest news it reminded me of the shock of people in Atlanta, in "Gone With the Wind": first they couldn't believe "Yankees in Georgia!" Then they couldn't believe that Atlanta would be taken and burned down.


By the wa…

Modern Mother Nature as a Wrathful Old Testament God

At one time or another, most people have wished that they had more imagination. But recall the old proverb about 'being careful what you wish for.' Too much imagination can actually kill you if it creates panic in the water, and causes you to drown. In other situations it can at least cause you to worry more than you should. 
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South Fork, CO. It was the smell that I noticed first. Oh sure, we've all smelled smoke before, but wasn't the forest fire supposed to be over 20 miles to the west -- off in some useless, dreary Wilderness Area that nobody really cares about?

Doesn't a sudden change in odor imply that danger is close? And when the edge of the fire-storm-cloud is sharp, doesn't that imply that the danger is close? Otherwise, it would be smeared out, wouldn't it?








And why did I feel heat against my body, when there was darkness at noon?



It seemed as though the heat was coming from just over the ridge to the west, the di…

Liking One Style of Traveling/Camping, But Not Others

Recently I was camped with a non-self-contained van camper. It was remarkable how much fine cooking she could do just with a Coleman stove, ice chest, and picnic table. Mind you, her creations were done in the face of New Mexican "horizontal gravity," the wind. Unlike me, she was also organized with packing and unpacking her van. Clearly she should just go on doing what she has become good at.

Then there's the rest of us. I never liked camping when I was young. How ironic that I became a full time RVer who emphasizes dispersed RV camping.

If I had to do it all over again, I would. But how did I manage to do it in the first place?! It was just dumb luck that I managed to distinguish some outdoor activities from others. You can love walking or bicycling in the outdoors, and dislike housekeeping, cooking, or reading in the outdoors. You can like living in a small, hard-walled box and dislike tent camping.

Don't let me or anybody else oversell the Great Outdoors. There'…

Nostalgia on a Shore Line

It seemed like a pretty hopeless place to enjoy water sports: a New Mexico state park. (Heron Lake.) The lake looked like somebody pulled the cork out of the bottom. And yet, the 6 or 8 paddlers, sailors, and fishermen seemed to be enjoying themselves.


I personally never had great success with water sports, despite a fair bit of effort. But the two sailboaters here were putting the New Mexican wind to good use.  Overnight they camped right down by the water, in their small rigs. Even after a night of relative aeolian quiescence, the waves were still making a pleasant music against the shoreline at sunrise.

Isn't that great!? State park bureaucrats actually allow people the freedom to have fun, here. Don't ask me how they reconcile such behavior with Patriotism and America's security needs. 

And speaking of fun. The next morning Kurumi Ted took Chaco, the Labrador retriever, and my kelpie, Coffee Girl, down to a stream that actually had flowing water in it. The lab gave his im…

The Sandman Finally Comes for the RVer

Some time ago I joked about RVers who have been diagnosed with the Early Bedtime Syndrome. But actually, sleep is too serious a matter to joke about. If the problem were merely one of rising too early in the morning, that wouldn't be so bad.  But the real issue is that going to bed too early also detracts from the depth and quality of sleep. 


This problem becomes even worse if you need to camp in some noisy campground or city; there  you need to stay up as late as possible, so that the din has a chance to die down some.  

Currently I'm basking in a week of success at overcoming this dreadful scourge, so perhaps it's time for an update. The long days of June are certainly the time of year to get serious about beating this sucker. 

My earlier theory was that the Early Bedtime Syndrome was brought on by not running enough lights at night. The good news is that the LED lighting revolution has come to our rescue  -- even for late adopters! Unfortunately I've found the benefit…

Wanted: An App for Adding Value to Reading

(Trying to see the Big Picture, while camping at the edge of a cliff, halfway up Mt. Taylor near Grants NM.) 



With all the progress in our Information Age, it might seem ungrateful and spoiled to merely shrug it off as being over-rated. But I can't help it. Most of this "progress" comes down to building a bigger mountain of useless crap.

What we really need is qualitative improvement, not mere quantitative enlargement. And how much of that have you ever run into, in this techno-narcissistic society? Having eBook gadgets might offer some conveniences; and in principle they should lower the price of books. But it doesn't add much to the effectiveness or impact of reading books. Gadgets don't help you find books that are worth reading.

The other day I reread "Gone with the Wind", for whatever reason. I never cared that much for the movie or the book; they were too easy to shrug off as being "for women."The main character, Scarlett O'Hara, just w…

Imagination Is Needed After a Forest Fire

My work was cut out for me. In order to enjoy all the goodies of the Mogollon Rim and the White Mountains of east-central Arizona, it is necessary to overcome a natural revulsion of burned forests. If you haven't seen a burnt forest...


...you might underestimate the strength of your reaction. Human nature recoils from fire damage, be it a house or a forest, unless you're like Civil War general, William T. Sherman. It's a primal and fundamental reaction.

How, then, do you get any pleasure from a mountain bike ride through all this ghastly destruction? In the summer, heat and aridity are always a challenge. I rode up an old ATV trail, climbing, and climbing some more. The air got cooler sooner than it should have, which is another way of saying that there was more breeze than is normal, no doubt due to the denuded state of the burned forest. Refreshing air was no small advantage of an open (albeit devastated) canopy.

It was possible to look between the ugly spars to see sky and…

Fully Living Partly Outdoors

A traveler who prefers open country and big skies is wise to extend his stay in high grasslands into late April and early May.  Silver City, NM, is an excellent place to play that game because it is at the boundary of grassland and ponderosa forests. Typically, in the second half of May, the oven door opens up, and it's time to flee to the forest. This year it was the wind that drove me into the ponderosa forests.

But it took a certain amount of fist-making and teeth-clenching. I admit that forests do have certain advantages, such as shade and cooler temperatures, and that they make good wind-breaks. But they will never be my favorite places. Still, I've been getting better at it.

Something quite wonderful happened during the first sunset, back in the forest. A patch of yellow sunlight appeared opposite a window, and ABOVE it. It was a stolen sunlight, seemingly from below the horizon. 

It's just the opposite of what you expect in a forest  -- normally the trees would clip o…