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Basking in the Winter Sun

I did something yesterday that I hadn't done all summer: I sat outdoors in a chair. Some people do this all the time, but I don't know how or why. But it was cold yesterday at over 8000 feet of altitude. Wyoming doesn't mess around with winter. It felt so good to have the trailer's door facing south towards the sun and to finally be able to open that door in the afternoon.  Sitting in the chair was even better. My clothing was dark. I placed the chair between the white van and the sun. It felt like a solar cooker. I felt like the Australian shepherd pup, photographed on his bicycle in Quartzsite one winter: How was that for a look of pure snowbird-contentment! I cooked up some potatoes in the pressure cooker -- something I seldom look forward to, in summer. Then I dragged the winter-sleeping-bag out of the van. If only my dog liked snuggling in the bed with me! Some people might think that such things are too trivial to write about. Long-suffering readers of this blog k

A High, Lonesome Trail to Oregon and Californee

One of the most admirable sounds in the right sort of place is that of a train: its rumble and whistle. The "right sort of place" is likely to be an isolated rural or backwoods area. From my blissfully lonely camp I hear a busy train track that parallels the Old Lincoln Highway, which was built over the Oregon/California Trail, as it hooks around a small mountain range. If you can actually see the train, its aura and mystique erode. A modern road just blasts right through the mountains. Such is the power of the diesel engine, caterpillar treads, and Blaise Pascal's hydraulics. Old routes follow the contours of the land instead of trying to annihilate them. I learned just yesterday how rugged this small range of mountains was, as I mountain biked through them. It has been several years since the sounds of trains have affected me so much. How do you explain the mood that overtakes the hearer of train rumbles and whistles? A look at the Merriam-Webster's might give a cl

A Compliment

A quarter inch of rain the other night sufficed to get my van stuck in the mud. How refreshing! Seriously, think what a luxury it is to get enough rain to get stuck in. It has been a long time. With no need to go anywhere I waited patiently for the sun to do its job. And it did so, in about 3 hours. A person in a hurry can cause so much trouble for themselves. I hope the reader prefers to hear about time and patience solving a problem rather than how-to details and ads for traction boards, etc. ______________________________ It has turned chilly at night and in the morning. What a wonderful month September is! Better sleeping at night. Afternoons are still warm but they are mercifully shorter.  Even better, my trailer door is facing east. Is there a better way to start the day than to anticipate sunrise on a chilly morning; and when it comes, to open the door to that warming sunlight and cold air, and to feel the impulse of each, simultaneously, on your skin? __________________________

Forest Malpractice

  'Busy as a beaver' is not an expression you hear often these days. Perhaps it is just as well. Actually I am not sure I've ever seen evidence of beaver-work as much as I did recently. There wasn't just a dam -- there was a system of dams. I never would have believed such a thing was possible in the modern age. Surely, by now, beavers have learned to just sit in cubicles and dick around all day on the computer, optimizing dam design; while the actual physical construction of the dams is outsourced to a construction crew of Mexican beavers.  Perhaps every now and then, the American beavers get involved in "field work." And here is the result. The photo plays it down, but water was pouring over from the pond onto the forest road. The road was actually eroding. My bike was slopped up with mud. Moral of the story: this is what happens when there is an over-reliance on computer models in engineering work.

Regime Change for the Seasonal Calendar

  Recall that my Noble Quest for this summer was to learn to actually enjoy summer. It was bad luck that this summer turned out hot and smoky. Still, I did make quite a bit of progress, if not in actually liking summer, then at least in not hating it. It wasn't so much a matter of coming up with brilliant ideas as it was of developing improved habits. And now the calendar/seasons are going through "regime change." Thermal collapse. It was 90 F around here yesterday, and brutally sunny, but I just looked at the sky and said, "Is that the best you can do?"  It was good luck that I ran into my first fresh produce of the summer, yesterday, on the last day of real summer. Wyoming wasn't such a great place to buy fresh produce. Oh they do raise food in Wyoming -- beef. Every year I appreciate locally grown food more and more. Walking around the growers, you are lit up by a reflected glow from them. And why shouldn't they be proud and pleased with their work:

Advice from a Real Traveler

This part of Idaho was certainly making me regret not getting a cargo trailer with interior wheel wells. The gravel road through the canyon was about 1.5 lanes wide, and there were few wide-spots or turn-arounds. So how do you play a messy situation like this? I wanted to go along with it to a certain extent without getting reckless. But remember, you don't quite know you have pushed your luck too far until it is too late. So I started playing "leapfrog" with the canyon: stopping at the wide spots, and walking until I found the next wide spot. Doing all these round trips soon adds up to a lot of walking. But my dog, Coffee Girl, thought this was quite fun. It is funny how your confidence grows as you punch your way through a canyon. I found a small field where I could camp for the night. It was perfectly solitary and quiet. The lack of an internet signal probably helped as a mood-enhancer. A raptor of some kind flew along the wall of the V-shaped canyon. The canyon held

The Destiny of a Little Mighty One

 I heard somebody whimpering while sitting inside my van while parked in a town on the old Oregon/California Trail. Then I heard it again. It seemed to be coming from a large pickup truck parked next to me. Inside, an eight-week-old puppy jumped around on the front seats. He saw me immediately and held my gaze, as if he needed something. He looked to be a cross between a blue heeler and an Australian shepherd. His pickup truck was labelled Something-Or-Other Cattle Ranch, somewhere in Idaho. Why did this affect me so much? It was more than cuteness -- many young animals are cute. Hell, even baby javelinas are a little bit cute. Perhaps I have run across a biography once or twice when the story starts off "in the crib" and contrasts the helplessness of the baby with the man's reputation and accomplishments or even crimes in mature life. Sheer contrast of that type can leave an impression that lasts. In a couple years this puppy will be a serious professional ranch dawg, ex

Learning a New Outdoor/Camping Habit

Humans do seem to have stubborn predispositions. Children would rather eat dessert before their vegetables. Adolescents have difficulty thinking that something is more important about a potential sweetheart than their physical appearance. And outdoorsmen have their stubborn inclinations. A beginner wants loop routes instead of out-and-backs. Sheer necessity made me adapt to an out-and-back mindset. After all, most spur roads deadend halfway up a mountain, while the loop routes are full of motor-crazed yahoos. I am still surprised (and happy) that I was able to make that transition. But one predisposition remained: beginning a trip by pedaling uphill, getting the required dosage, enjoying the view at the top, and then coasting back down. This pattern worked so well because the sweaty ascents were in the cool of the morning, and the descents were in warmer air. And there is something pleasing about looking forward to 'eating your dessert' after you have finished the hard work fir

Cool, Clear Water in a Dry, Desolate Land

There was supposed to be a spring on the ride today. I certainly hoped so, since I had biked downhill from my ridgetop aerie to creek level. It would be quite a grunt to get back to camp. The creek was turning into a pretty good sized tributary of the Green River, in western Wyoming. The forest service is wonderful here. There was virtually no signage. When I finally got to a little parking lot for the spring, nobody was there. You had to want to find it -- you couldn't just be a tourist rushing to their next scenic delight. That might sound like a little thing, but it feeds a mood that you can love. I left my mountain bike in the parking lot, unguarded, unlocked, and walked to the spring.  It actually seemed like a mountain stream at first. Quite noisy.  But all that water was coming from one crack in the mountain side, where the water gushed out without any moiling riffles:  I am almost glad -- I said "almost" -- for the ghastly drought, and for admitting how horrible i

Lassoing Authenticity in the Wyoming High Country

The delicious rain had ended by morning. It had been replaced by fog. The drought had gone on so long, that I had forgotten what fog was like. It had become almost exotic. Out of that fog rode a man on horseback. He cut quite an impressive figure. Playing a hunch I said "only one dog today," in Spanish. He understood. But my Spanish has weakened over the years since I have stopped going to Mexico in my RV. Indeed he was a pastor, a shepherd, and was from Peru. He was here for cinco meses, five months. A previous summer he had worked near Elko, Nevada. But he wasn't just visiting me on a social call. He pulled out several batteries that needed recharging. How ironic! This hombre lived in a tent for those five months, rather primitively, in a manner reminiscent of the 1800s; perhaps as primitive as the pioneers who traveled the valley a few miles from this ridge, on their way to Oregon or California. Yet he had two Samsung smartphones that needed recharging. He also had

The Life of A Peruvian 'Pastor'?

  Would it be necessary to go out to the van and dig out the Mr. Heater BigBuddy -- in August? Maybe so. I have adapted to brutal sunlight and aridity. Hopeless drought has become normal. And now it was foggy and cold. Did it even reach 50F today? Late in the afternoon, after a day of much needed rain, the sky brightened up a bit. The best way of avoiding cabin fever is to take advantage of these little breaks in the weather by going out for a walk. Coffee Girl certainly appreciated that. I heard a human voice close to my trailer. Who could be in this neighborhood, now ? Outside a man was walking by with three dogs: two Australian shepherds and a Great Pyrenees. He said something about "caballos," Spanish for horses. But it seemed like some of his words were English. He, five horses, and three dogs overlapped our walk a couple times. We were too far away to talk, but we exchanged friendly waves of the hand.  One of the horses had a bell, un cencerro, which made quite a bit

Hollywood Wagon Trains Versus the Real Thing

I've graduated from parrot videos to oxen videos. This is progress. Seriously. I started reading an excellent book, "The Best Land Under Heaven," by Michael Wallis. It's about the infamous Donner Party of 1846 and their misadventures on the way to California. It is easier to relate to some of this because I have camped on the old wagon trails this summer. At the moment I am stranded in the rain while camping above Cokeville, WY. Will it even reach 50 F today? The book shocked me when it said that virtually all of the wagons were pulled by a single yoke of oxen, that is, two oxen side by side. That isn't what they show on "Wagon Train," starring Ward Bond. I should sue his ass. Ward Bond, screen shot from Imdb.com Of course horses are pretty and they move faster than plodding oxen, so they look good on camera. But I was feeling pretty stupid. What is an ox, exactly? I always thought it was a breed or sub-species of bovine that was quite distinct from a st

A Whole Herd-Full of Darlin's

  It is too bad these little guys don't look too road-worthy. I'd like to travel in one just to see people's reactions. These would really put those young van nomads (with the Sprinters) in their place! Why would there be a whole herd of them in one place? Is there such a thing as a broker for sheepherder's huts? Notice that a couple of them have solar panels. But the broom fixed to the outside, near the rear door, is standard equipment.

Global Schadenfreude Over the Fall of Kabul?

It is hard to know how much schadenfreude was felt around the world  yesterday. Washington DC has become virtually a rogue government, always at war somewhere, always bombing some weak country with its high-tech weapons, while hypocritically preaching democracy and human rights. And it was humiliated by low-budget religious fanatics out of the Middle Ages.  If the Taliban were a more sympathetic group, there might have been dancing in the streets around the world. I wonder if this will reduce bloodshed around the world, or whether the world will get even more dangerous. When a champion boxer loses his title, he starts dreaming of making a comeback. Will Washington DC do this? It might become more selective about its future victims. It needs to "win" for a change in order to reclaim some of its lost prestige. Charlie Chaplin in "The Great Dictator" Washington DC should not take on a large country like Iran. Iraq has already been destroyed, so there won't be any g

Wildlife Week

  There is something a little scary about a badger. Maybe it is the weird flatness of their bodies. Anyway, I won't take my old sweetheart on her morning or evening walks in that direction again! It was only the second time I've seen a badger. This has been a great week for wildlife: two bull mooses, uncountable antelopes, two noisy deranged geese, cows that jumped over a barbed wire fence when scared by the mountain bike, grouses the size of pheasants, and my favorite, a kestrel. There is no mountain biking better than climbing a ridge into the unknown. I had just started the return back down the ridge. The north faces of the ravines were forested, while the rest was sagebrush. And just then I noticed a small bird hovering, levitating. That is, it was flying with zero ground speed, and 15-20 mph air speed. It must have been a kestrel or sparrow hawk. Any bird that plays with 'ridge lift' is a soulmate of mine. That sounds like something a hang glider would say, instead

Rematch with the Canine Marriage Brokers

  Since my old sweetheart will be headed for doggie heaven in a few months, I started to look into getting my third -- and probably last -- dog. My goodness, it is discouraging. Go to the usual websites and all you will see is pit bull mixes, huskies, Great Pyrenees, German shepherds, etc.  Of course, their inventory is dominated by dogs that people don't want -- the desirable dogs practically sell themselves. I wonder if they even make a new entry in the website when a dog comes in that will "sell" in 24 hours?  It is difficult to think without making generalizations about breeds. You do have to start somewhere. As the process goes on, you have to remind yourself that you are adopting a specific individual, not a statistical generalization. A visitor to my camp once upon a time, who was an extreme example of the difference between an individual and a breed-stereotype. This time around I won't spend much effort researching dog breeds. I did the first time around, b

Over the Top

Once again I was on a old Wagon Trail in southwestern Wyoming, and there was no signage. And once again, I appreciated the lack of signage. Previously, crossing the ridge on mountain bike had proved too difficult -- this time, walking would have to do. After parking the van and starting off, these guys immediately showed themselves.  Naturally there was water nearby to attract these two bull mooses. (And I refuse to leave off the 's' for plurals when referring to deer, elk, moose, sheep, etc.) It was surprising to see how black they were -- I thought mooses were dark brown. They were wary of me and kept an eye on me. I froze, and let them walk off. The trail in the background is not the old Wagon Trail, as I first thought. It seemed right to demand a refund from Ward Bond. Still, the real trail was steeper than any pioneer wanted. But it wasn't the steepness that was so bad -- it was the 170 years of erosion on the trail! There were only short sections that could be biked.

Making the Best of What Mother Nature Gives You

  Ahh dear, I was so looking forward to getting back to the north for my second summer in a row. Does southwestern Wyoming count as "north"? The air will just get worse towards Idaho, since it is in the "smoke shadow" of northern California fires, as well as Idaho fires.   Next summer I won't be campground hosting, so I will go to the Northwest about 15 May, and leave 10 July or whenever the wildfire season kicks up. That way I will avoid the fire season (early summer) in the Southwest and the fire season in the Northwest. After leaving the smokey Northwest, I will head south, very slowly.  On the internet, travelers tend to say disparaging things about Wyoming. They probably hang out on Interstate 80 too much. Or they complain about the wind, which is understandable. But the wind dies down in late summer. A breeze is a nice thing -- it means you can camp out in direct sunlight, without trees, and you will stay reasonably comfortable.  There is always a great d

Ignored But Glorious

  This was the place where the old Wagon Trail was supposed to cross the road. The word "Gap" on a map has a certain attraction. Some government agency had done a good job with a plaque. But that was it -- there was no other signage. It is possible to learn to like that. Of course it means that you are not quite sure where you are going. I biked in the direction that the plaque suggested. Maybe. Without any signs spilling out the answer, all I could do was look at the land. I was trapped between two high ridges, both of which went north/south -- bad luck for the pioneers who were headed west. But the geography was so lucky. There really was a smooth, gentle, green gap through the ridge -- almost like a swale. Their stock animals could graze through the gap. A trickle of water flowed. This is not tourist scenery. You can only appreciate its "beauty" when you are struggling to cross the land under your own (or an animal's) power, and when you are looking for grass

Bliss at Last

Despite my paean to gravel roads in the last post, it seemed prudent to pull off onto a dry spot when hard rain started. I chose a flat area at the top of a hill, since it seemed well drained and grassy. Further on, I might have gotten suckered into crossing a creek, like those fools in the videos of AZ floods. So I just sat in the van and gawked with astonishment at the hard rain. I had forgotten how scary lightning can be. The next morning it was mostly sunny, but the air was still damp. The nearby ridge was visible now -- and green and lovely. The wind and sun were doing their best to dry the ground, so I probably wouldn't get stuck trying to leave. Memory of that morning will probably last for the rest of my life. It was fine. 

What Makes a Road Interesting

  Rain at last. It felt strange, like I was experiencing it for the first time. Seriously I couldn't remember the last time it rained more than a sprinkle or two.  I was acting like a house cat who is let outside for the first time, after a half inch of snow. What about driving to town in this crazy stuff? People who live in cities and towns take 'road' and 'pavement' as synonymous. Rain and dirt roads are frustrating and even a bit scary. Try driving around Moab UT sometime after a rain. The road looks like red sandstone, but it isn't; it has some clay mixed in. You can't judge the firmness of wet ground just by looking out the windshield. It is better to have a pair of rubber-soled boots and jump out of the vehicle frequently to probe the ground. In olden times mud must have caused more 'cabin fever' than snow and hard-frozen ground. Spring must have been a terrible season. Our ancestors must have looked forward to May more than anything in the yea

Howls

I couldn't recognize the howls yesterday. Wolves?  But they were too high in pitch. The cows grazing nearby appeared unconcerned. These days I seem to go to You Tube when I want quick information on something, rather than Wikipedia. I wanted to hear sounds of coyotes and wolves, rather than move my eyeballs over a pile of verbiage, or worse yet, jargon. The You Tube recordings of coyotes did sound similar to what I heard here. It was howl-like rather than the high pitched yipping that I am used to. Do Wyoming or northern coyotes sound different than the scrawny coyotes of the Southwest?  Northern coyotes seems less famished and bushier than those of the southwest, but would they sound different? I don't get it.

Bouncing Back From Fire

What is the history of this forest/sagebrush boundary that I'm camping in? There was a fire semi-recently. I can hear the chainsaws of local firewood gatherers a couple times per week.  For some reason, burned forests don't scare me off. For one thing, the breeze blows through them better than for a normal tangled forest. And the view opens up. I wouldn't even say burned forests are ugly. There are lots of fuchsia flowers between the burned spars. Rather pretty.  It is true that my road would never make it onto "America's Top Ten Wildflower Auto Tour" package deals. Maybe that is why one field worker drives by per day, instead of heavy traffic from Jeep Wranglers and RAZR side-by-sides. So what do I do: just gawk at the fuchsia flowers for three minutes and then leave? That sounds too easy. Maybe the local forest has something better to offer than eye candy -- such as drama. Forest fires are no joke. I camped right across the road from one once. It was right o

Plants and Face-Plants

Yesterday I enjoyed running across a large herd of antelope at the same time as a herd of black cows. And they say cows are stupid! At least cows make plenty of noise for communicating with their fellow herd-persons. As far as I can tell, antelope are mute. And cows make trails useful for human walking. The pasture was relatively free of sagebrush. The grass was green and lush. Imagine that -- something that was actually green!  It was good to be walking again. The terrain and road situation just didn't lend themselves to mountain biking. The edge of the ridgeline extended for miles. It was blessed with a merciful breeze, so no insects were noticeable. It might sound perverse but I rather liked the haze from distant forest fires. It moderated the sun, ordinarily my arch-enemy.   It was satisfying to adapt to the land: to take it for what it is and make the best of it. After all, what is the point of traveling if you drag yourself and your sacred preferences around with you?  ______

A Noble Landscape

This morning inaccuracies in my map confused the bike ride but I rather enjoyed it, anyway. After all, perfect information would destroy the process of exploring by reducing it to mere consumption. It will necessary to walk to the top of the ridge -- maybe that is a good thing since I try to bike everywhere. The camera doesn't do too badly at capturing the glorious nature of this ridge. But they have their limits: cameras thrive on verticalities and that is not what is admirable about this terrain. The uppermost mile of this ridge brought gradual changes in its personality. The ridge morphed into a proud headland, defying the western wind as it stood steadfast in Wyoming's sky-sea. It could only be experienced through the skin or through the pressure between the feet and a pedal. So noble and grand! This must be what a sailor experiences on the bow of his ship.

Easy and Hard to Please

I had seen that truck pulling the horse trailer, before. It was a flatbed pickup truck with a goose neck style horse trailer attached to it. The rancher would let the horses out onto a green swale, for a tasty snack. In the bed of the truck a large border collie would pop out to the edge. Somehow he found a grip and didn't fall off. What a noble creature! So enthusiastic and full of purpose and meaning. The dog looked around in all directions, so eager to get down to work. He was a Waaaahomn ranch dawg, and prawd of it -- Yippee I Oh, baby! And yet I laughed at myself for being such a simpleton, so easy to please. What sight could be more common in ranch country than a contented dog or two in the bed of a pickup truck? But it was so classic.  I t was impossible to see something like this and not go away with a persistent afterglow: all was right with the world. __________________________________  Most afternoons the ritual of torture plays out. The clouds build up. Rain really lo

Finding a Castle in the Sky

  Some mornings I am not in the mood for the mountain bike, and am not sure why. There might be several small reasons but they don't seem to add up to a real excuse to be lazy. So I talk myself down about the difficulty of the ride -- just take it easy, find something a little interesting, and go. There was in fact a two track road at the top of the ridge that seemed worth checking out. I had no great expectations. Perhaps that is why the flowers were enjoyable up there -- and it was 10,000 feet. I guess that was going to be the big excitement of the day. There was only one set of tire tread marks on this dirt two-track. The forest map said no camping on this section -- I wondered why. The top of the ridge was coming up. I knew there was a potentially grand view, but forest fire smoke would probably ruin it. But I was here, and might as well give it a chance. What's this doing here? An old fire watch tower turned into a solar powered weather station? I was surprised it wasn'

The Armchair Admiral of the Black Sea

I have been amazed at the restraint that Russia has shown towards the reckless provocation from Washington DC, in the Black Sea recently, through its flunkies in NATO. What a relief it is to think that some countries have grown-ups in charge! You could belittle Russia's restraint and say that they are just sensible enough to know that NATO is provoking them deliberately and hopes to gain something from it.  Therefore Russia shouldn't fall for the trap.  Intellectually everybody understands that. But all countries have hotheads who want to respond rather than think. Politicians in any country are going to feel pressure to 'do something' about the 'bad guys.' How far will NATO's provocations go? Can Russia resist responding forever? I hope they respond in a limited way by blocking or damaging NATO ships, rather than sending them to the bottom of the Black Sea. NATO needs Russia to be an enemy of course to justify its budget. I almost wish I didn't avoid wa

Summer Breeze

The mosquitoes are merciful at my Wyoming camp. Although there are lots of sweat-bees and giant flies in mid-day, they don't bite. So I have no real complaint against the insects, and yet, how nice it is when a breeze blows them away.   Remember that this summer's project is to learn to like summer. So I took an extra moment to appreciate the breeze we had the other day. It is a little bit warm in the afternoon, but the breeze also took care of that. It is true that breezes taper off as summer progresses, but let's hope the breezes survive. What a difference there is between a winter breeze and a summer breeze!  There is hardly anything good to say about wind in winter, but in the summer, a breeze makes it close to the top of the list.  

Penetrating a Continent

  It was delightful and even a bit funny that I stumbled onto one of the old wagon routes that people went west on. After all, I have my needs and they had theirs, and the overlap is only partial. And yet here I am. This experience was exciting because it had some authenticity -- it wasn't just scenery tourism. Let's back up a step. I spend my time on continental land, land that some would call "landlocked." That word isn't really accurate, but it used to be. A continent was hard to cross -- it was just a tangle of obstacles. The sea was easier to cross. Sometimes continents are easier to cross than you might first think. Look at the riverways of European Russia: you can use them to go from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea or the Caspian Sea, with only short portages. The Scandinavians did just that back in the Viking days, and founded Russia. Likewise North America was penetrated in the 1600s thanks to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system. Much of the