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I Tawt I Taw a Pootie-Tat

What would happen if I encountered a pootie-tat on a mountain bike ride? Would my dog be foolish enough to run towards or away from the mountain lion? (She chased a black bear once.) But I've never seen a mountain lion in the wild. That's not to say that one hasn't seen me. I do carry a knife. 

Would I have time to take a photo of it? Can't you see me calmly fumbling with getting the camera out of the handlebar bag, removing the lens cap, turning the camera on, and stepping down through the menu system, while the bright sun makes the screen illegible? Then I would have to remind the cat to smile. 

In the meantime, this photograph is the best I can do. Can you spot the head and face of the cat?


The kitty is looking at something in the reef. Reefs are indeed one of most wonderful geological and topographic features of Utah, despite what the tourism industry says about those stupid arches.

The Best Camera in the World...

...is the one that you actually brought along. I experienced both sides of that double-edged sword, today.

Is it the miracle of moisture that has brought Mother Nature back to life in this godforsaken hot arid wasteland? Lately a Western Tanager seems to have established residence in my campground. And for the first time, I met the "Mrs." as well.

What a little lens-tease he was! He would light upon a bush right next to the road Coffee Girl and I were mountain biking on. Since I take my new camera in a handlebar bar, it is easy to grab it. But there are still a few more steps to fumble through -- do you remember that classic scene in "The Unforgiven", when Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) tells the hack western writer, "Being quick with the draw don't do no harm, but a man who stays cool will kill ya..." or something like that.

And I just barely missed photographing him four times. He would move down the road ahead of us another 50 feet, and I would pa…

Finding a Way to Get Interested in Nature

This part of Arizona is crawling (literally) with caterpillars and poppies. Some moisture in the winter certainly has done this place some good.

There seems to be a caterpillar monoculture right now.


They are not particularly fun to look at; except for one thing. They crawl surprisingly fast across the roads and driveways. It's a good thing they do: it's a dangerous way to make a living! 

Perhaps because of their high speed, dogs notice these caterpillars, and come up to investigate. The dogs do not harm the caterpillars; they just come up slowly and sniff at them.

It's odd the way the caterpillar slams on the brakes and becomes completely motionless. In the past I've noticed rabbits playing the same trick on dogs.

After 10 minutes or so, the caterpillar shifted into 'Drive' again. It was a close call for this little critter. Humble though they be, there is a drama to the situation. It seems that there must be some sort of drama, or at least motion, for me to get in…

Crossing Pathes with Pepe Le Pew

Perhaps I should have expected one more strange thing to happen today. For the first time in who-knows-how-many mountain bike rides, I got cold. Or rather, I returned cold. 

It seems to be against some fundamental law of nature to experience anything other than cold mornings and hot mid-days. The day seemed sunny, so I under-dressed. Then it played a strange trick and clouded over. So I was cold all the way back down the mountain.

When pulling into the "driveway" of our camp, I saw a small, strange animal running away. My dog saw it too. Was I ever glad that she was leashed!


But it wasn't quite Pepe le Pew of Loony Toons fame. Rather, it was a western spotted skunk, an animal that I had never seen before. Of course skunks like to stay unseen.


He couldn't have weighed more than 2 or 3 pounds, and dare I say it, almost cute! He wasn't about to hang around while I fumbled with a camera.

For those who are interested in the etymology of words, consider Pepe le Pew of Loony…

Why Did the Rattlesnake Cross the Road?

This time last year, I had a rather grisly encounter with the first snake of the season. I felt rather bad about killing one of the good guys, a bull snake.

While mountain biking this morning, I got a momentary glimpse of something looking out of its hole in ground, but I laughed this off as excessive cowardice.

Later in the day, a short 18" rattlesnake slithered his way across the dirt road in front of a couple campers. The rattles were clearly visible, but the snake didn't make any noise with them. Maybe it was too immature to rattle?


At any rate, I called the campers over to have a look and take a photo.  As usual, my dog doesn't seem to even notice snakes. 

Campground hosts get asked questions that I don't have a perfect answer for. Imagine a tourist from, say, Wichita Falls, Texas. They walk up to the host, and ask, "Do you got any buh-buh-b-b-b-bears here?"

Meanwhile, back home in Wichita Falls, they had an F4 tornado rip through a trailer park, the week be…

Sinking into a Surprise

Of all the advantages of a fatter tire on a mountain bike, not the least is being able to go down dry washes, arroyos. Arroyos are the most natural highways, with ridgelines coming in for second prize.

I was doing so, the other day. Thank goodness I chose a route that descended that arroyo, and finished the loop by coming back on a smoother dirt road.

What was it about this arroyo? It certainly wasn't pretty. But it was impressive on some level, if only I could figure out what that level was. The arroyo had gotten a small bit of ATV traffic; thus the gravel was packed down just enough for me to keep moving on the mountain bike.  So neglected -- and yet it was only a couple miles from where masses of RVers hang out in the winter.

Downward it went, always sinking closer to the Colorado River. There is something creepy about that, in the pit of the stomach, and not just because I had to dig out of the hole on the second half of the loop.

Maybe it was analogous to aging and death. At any …

Authenticity Surrounded by Taos Tourism

If you want to lose confidence in your own judgement, just try visiting the famous plaza in Taos, NM. First you will have to fight traffic and struggle for a place to park. Then you will walk around, visit a shop or two, and put up with aggressive store workers and high prices.

Then a seditious thought lays hold of you: that there is nothing "famous" about the place. A visit to the downtown area in any small city in Mexico (or any place with a Mediterranean culture) is more interesting, chaotic, free, colorful, and authentic than Taos, NM.

But if that's true, what are all the tourists doing here? There are a hundred of them for every one of you. Are you going to claim that you are so much smarter or have such superior taste to the hundred?

Perhaps one reason that some of the suckers are there is that the previous president abused the Antiquities Act to declare a gigantic area nearby a national monument. The Antiquities Act is not should not be a way for a presidential signa…

The Lone Rider of Chinatown Wash

My dog was giving off an unusual bark at the screen door. Although it wasn't such a great idea, I let her charge out towards whatever or whoever was bothering her. It was a pretty, half-white horse and its human 'operator.' They were moving towards us on a mountain bike single-track trail. (Actually it is for other non-motorized users, too.)

I apologized to the horseman for my dog's barking, but neither he nor his horse seemed concerned. I guess they'd seen a dog or two in their day. They walked up to about one body-length from me, and calmly 'parked' themselves.


I felt an instant affinity for the man and horse, perhaps because I too am a lone rider on the same trails, albeit with a dog and mountain bike, instead of a horse.

I watch DVDs of TV westerns these days; "The Virginian" in particular. Horses always look so big in the show. But here the horse looked smaller. His eyes were even with mine. Of course they were three or four times as large. The …

The Clumsy Coatimundi

Sometimes I think my dog, Coffee Girl, is too cosseted. For instance I usually let her off-leash on mountain bike rides unless the road has faster traffic, or she is bothering free-range cattle. On the return trips later in the morning, she also gets snapped back on, since she doesn't care by then. When it is over 75 F and the rattlesnake risk is higher, she also gets snapped on, whether she likes it or not.

(By the way, the best way to control a dog when mountain biking, is to put a carabiner on the end of her lease, and snap it to a belt around your waist.)

A couple mornings ago, we were riding and running on an enjoyable, recently-graded road. Then a long-tailed animal darted across the road about 50 yards ahead of us. I recognized it as a coatimundi, a type of raccoon with a long monkey-tail. It was only the second one that I've ever seen. Naturally Coffee Girl threw all caution to the wind and took off after the coatimundi.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on the coati. …

Sometimes, Only a Pretty Girl Will Do

Early summer seems to be the time of year to notice butterflies on my mountain bike rides. So often, they seem to tag along, as if they are requesting membership in our bicycle club. It is physically challenging to focus on them as they flutter along, a step or two from the bike, and at the same speed as the bike. Whenever my eyes manage to freeze them in motion, they seem transformed, somehow.

The other day a large yellow butterfly fluttered in from the side, perpendicular to the direction of the bike and my dog. In fact, the butterfly collided with the head of my dog. But she didn't react snappishly, as she would to a normal insect nuisance, such as a fly or a sweat bee. She playfully -- and yet, gently--pushed the butterfly away from her head, and La Mariposa flew off, uninjured.

What is it with dogs and butterflies?

We are having great luck in northern New Mexico, right now, finding high, semi-flat land to dispersed-camp on and mountain bike on. The other day I stopped in the mid…

Admiration

One of the uses of old age is to develop the "muscles" that can actually improve with age. By that I mean developing the capabilities and habits of Appreciation, Gratitude, and Admiration. Today's focus is on Admiration.

I once used an inspiring speech by an anti-hero, "The Hustler," in the 1962 black-and-white film noir movie starring Paul Newman, George C. Scott, and Jackie Gleason. But before re-quoting it, let's first ask why it inspired at all. Art, according to Tolstoy's "What is Art", is not really about "beauty," as most people mistakenly suppose; rather, Art is the infecting of the viewer/reader with the emotional experience of the artist, by words, pictures, or sounds. And the makers of "The Hustler" certainly did that to me. 

Maybe their trick was to exploit the inherent advantages of an anti-hero. (Does that trick also apply in the blogosphere?) If a goodie-two-shoes, follow-the-rules, smiley-face had made the sam…

Time Travel in Utah's High Country

On a recent mountain bike ride near Richfield UT, they caught me sleeping. I was focusing on choosing a path between the rocks, when my herding group dog, Coffee Girl, took after a herd of sheep that we had almost stumbled into. But she was eventually scolded into returning to me, and the sheep weren't too rattled.

Hey wait a minute, weren't we only a couple seconds from an ambush by giant white dogs, screaming out of the sagebrush to protect their herd?

But none came. As we sidled up the ridge, the size of the herd became more apparent.


Where were the dogs and the human shepherd? Eventually we spotted him. But he seemed to only have a couple border collies to help him.


I waved at him so he'd notice that my dog was now on a leash, but he didn't respond. Maybe he didn't speak English, or even Spanish. Maybe he was a Vasco, that is, a Euskal from the Basque country. I'm a bit skeptical about Great Pyrenees dogs being hostile to humans, but I wasn't so sure what t…

Unusual Camping Neighbor

Durango, CO. The reader might have noticed that I have been on a horse kick lately. A cynic would say that this is just a temporary romantic escapist fantasy by somebody who doesn't know what he is talking about. At any rate, it is time to recall the old saying about, 'be careful what you wish for.'

When my kelpie and I came home the other day we found the area taken over by huge horse trailers and their occupants. Some kind of event/competition was taking place nearby. That was good news. 

What wasn't such great news was that I couldn't really go inside my trailer.



The first thing I thought about was what a horseman told me some time ago: "There is such a thing as horse sense, but it's not necessarily the horse that's got it." That would be a pretty tight fit for me and the dog between the action end of the horse and the door. Since I know nothing of the do's and don'ts around horses, it seemed like a good idea to find the horse's owner …

The Scottish Highlands of Colorado

It's easy to miss opportunities in Colorado because it is just too easy to be sucked into the stereotypical postcards, such as an alpine lake at the foot of mountains. Such things are nice of course, but when you've seen 'em, you've seen 'em.

To enjoy landscapes for any length of time you need to branch out into new directions -- something that takes more imagination on your part.  Besides simple laziness, a middle-class traveler has the additional problem that his entire mindset is geared towards being a mass-consumer; and scenery tourism is just one more form of bar-coded  "consumption" to him.

Most people, like me, also need to fight against a complacent surrender to "the medium is the message."  The three-dimensional attractions of the desert (or grasslands or ridgey hills) do not show up so well in a two-dimensional medium like photography.
The reward for this kind of cantankerous independence is a greater appreciation for what is on the west…

Danger Stalks a Ridgeline

Gunnison, CO. There were two pairs of those beady eyes. I had turned back just to see how much work it would be to climb back up the edge of the severely eroded laccolith. And there they were: two coyotes, with their acute powers of observation. They moved down the rocky edge as I did. Were they following -- stalking -- Coffee Girl and me? Surprisingly, she didn't sense the two coyotes up the ledge.


Coyotes are just 35-40 pound dogs, with the same weapons that a domestic dog has. But I have learned the hard way what kind of damage they can do, with their sneakiness. Even worse, they were hunting as a pair; I almost always see solo coyotes.

An instinct of extreme protectiveness kicks in, at times like this -- protectiveness for my kelpie, Coffee Girl, that is.  They might have some tricks up their sleeves by acting as a pair of killers. Recall the fate of the Australian hunter in the original "Jurassic Park." Remember when he took his hunting rifle out to match wits with th…

Kissing a Butterfly in Colorado's San Juans

Silverton, Colorado. A classic hike up to a glacial lake and cirque sounded good. We used a road rather than a hiking trail in order to get a more open view in the forest. Although there are a lot of motorheads in the San Juans, the ones we encountered were all polite adults.

We got a start still early enough to experience something that should not be interesting, but was: when walking into the morning sun, all of the flying insects were backlighted. They zinged across the glare, like a video game.

But they didn't all zing away. A small, orange butterfly remained on a rock in the middle of the road. Maybe it was too frightened to move; maybe it was just sunning. Then the little poodle quite amazed me by slowly lowering his muzzle to the butterfly, until he and La Mariposa shared a gentle nose kiss.

On the way up to the lake we saw scenery like this:




But since this is the kind of scenery you expect in the San Juan Mountains, it didn't have much effect on me. I was enjo…

Lord of the Flies

WARNING! Animals were harmed in the making of this post.

At my late dispersed campsite, there were so few bugs that I could have almost left the screen door open. It almost seemed too good to be true. And you know what they say about...

Moving over to Alpine, AZ, I went out searching for a dispersed campsite and good places to mountain bike, helped by Jim & Gayle's advice.  Much to my surprise I stumbled upon a place where the Mogollon Rim fell precipitously into a canyon. I say 'stumbled' because I was NOT out there looking for scenery -- I was looking for a side road to camp on. The long-suffering reader knows that I'm going to argue that 90% of this pleasure wasn't really from the scenery per se, but rather, from the surprise.

How strange that some folks want to be told -- exactly -- where to camp, as if finding it isn't half the fun. Despite the lucky break with the scenery, there was no place to camp. So I went back into the travel trailer for a second.

Wh…