Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vegas Hikes

Sunday morning we headed out to climb. The forecast was for rain but supposedly not till the afternoon. We climbed Man's Best Friend at Sandstone Quarry as a warm up, planning to head to Ragged Edges afterwards, but it was already starting to rain so we bailed.

Monday morning we awoke to snow on the ground! Snow in Vegas, who'd a thunk it! We decided to visit Clark County Wetlands Park. Unfortunately, it's on the opposite side of town from Red Rocks so it was a bit of a drive. It was cold and windy, but we had a nice walk and enjoyed seeing rabbits and various birds. The nature center was nice as well.

Stratosphere with snowy peaks behind

Gambel's Quail

rabbit

Greater Roadrunner

Since we were over on the west side of town we decided to continue on to Valley of Fire State Park. It was getting later in the afternoon so we just did the short hike into Mouses Tank (and a bit beyond). Unfortunately, with the cold weather there weren't any lizards or even insects around. The rain will likely trigger some good wildflowers but not till after we're gone.

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Tuesday was sunny and a bit warmer, but we still couldn't climb because we had to wait for the snow to melt and the rock to dry out (the sandstone gets soft when wet). We decided to do the hike around the Calico Hills, starting at Red Springs. There was a bit of easy scrambling to keep it interesting. When we got around to Sandstone Quarry we were amazed to find the parking lot empty. We later find out they had closed the road for the morning. Not sure why, but probably related to the snow and rain causing problems. I didn't take too many photos on the first half of the hike. That may have had something to do with stupidly whacking my knee on a rock hard enough to trigger an instant of nausea and a limp for the rest of the day. Luckily I don't seem to have done any lasting damage! It was a change to find so much water in the desert.

water in the desert

sandstone

stark

We finished the hike by early afternoon so afterwards we wandered around the Downtown Summerlin mall. The only place of much interest was the Apple Store, but since there are no new products even that wasn't too exciting. I did manage to find a few things to take photos of, including a few reflections :-)

reflections

Hopefully tomorrow we'll be able to get back to climbing.

See all 31 photos as a slideshow or overview

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Springs Preserve

It's too bad that Red Rocks, one of our favorite climbing areas, is right beside Las Vegas, one of our less favorite places. But even Vegas has some redeeming features, and for us one of them is Springs Preserve. On our rest day from climbing we spent the morning there. One of the best parts of buying a membership (apart from supporting a good cause) is that you get to enter the gardens and trails early, at 8am, instead of waiting till 10am when they open. It's great to wander around when it's quiet and peaceful.

Here are a few of the photos I took. It still seems quite early spring here, so not as many flowers or birds or insects as I might have liked, but it's still a far cry from arctic Saskatoon.

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As we entered the trails I noticed something on top of the water tower. I quickly swapped lenses on my camera (from my usual 18-250 to my 150-500 telephoto). It turned out it was a pair of American Kestrels, North America's smallest falcon. Thankfully they stayed there long enough to get a few photos. The angle and distance made it hard to get good shots but it was still nice to see such beautiful birds. They flew away, but a bit later, from a distance I could see they were back on their perch. Probably a good spot to hunt from.

American Kestrel on tower

American Kestrel

There were also a few hummingbirds around, despite the shortage of flowers.

hummingbird

Thanks to Shelley, here's one of me busy taking photos (Sigma 150-500 lens, Jobu Designs monopod, Really Right Stuff monopod head)

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See all 36 photos as a slideshow or overview

Friday, February 20, 2015

Red Rocks

We're three days into climbing at Red Rocks. The first day we warmed up on bolted sport climbs at first pullout (Panty Wall and Hamlet). The next day we did a longer multi-pitch trad route called Johnny Vegas. And today we did more sport climbs at Meeting Wall at the second pullout, including a few (for us) harder ones. We usually alternate days of sport climbing and multi-pitch trad routes. If you come to Red Rocks and only sport climb you're really missing out. The longer trad routes are great, and even if you're not that confident trad climbing there are lots of good moderate routes.

It's always hard to take climbing photos when there's only the two of us. Here are a couple from Johnny Vegas.

Shelley starting Johnny Vegas
Shelley starting to lead the first pitch

Shelley following pitch 2 of Johnny Vegas
Shelley following the second pitch

After three days of climbing I'm starting to feel a little worn out. Tomorrow we're planning to take a rest day and go to Springs Preserve (recommended).

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tonopah to Pahrump

At Mizpah we had Cline wine with our supper. We normally try to drink local wine when we're traveling but the Clines own the Mizpah so we figured we might as well drink their wine. Especially since they had a Lady in Red blend specifically made for the hotel (named after a famous murder!) And we knew we'd get some Nevada wine later (see below)

From our hotel window we could catch a glimpse of the Solar Reserve project. It didn't look too far away so in the morning we decided to check it out. It's hard to get a good view of it. You'd either need to get an aerial view or to walk amongst the mirrors (heliostats). The mirrors focus the sun onto a tower where it heats molten salt which is the used to run steam generators. There are a number of nice features of this technology. First, mirrors are a lot easier to manufacture than photovoltaic panels. (Although the aiming is trickier.) Second, the molten salt allows short term storage of power so it will be able to produce power 24 hours a day and easily ramp up or down depending on demand. (Something wind power can't easily do.)

Solar Reserve

Solar Reserve

Driving south from Tonopah it wasn't long before we started seeing Joshua Trees, one of my desert favourites. A few of them were flowering, usually a sign of recent rain. Like other yuccas, they are actually a member of the lily family. They were named by early Mormons who thought it looked like the upraised arms of Joshua placating God. It's interesting how there can be so many of them in certain places and none in others. One theory is that they were spread by giant ground sloths, which of course no longer exist. (One of many animals that "mysteriously" disappeared right about the same time that humans arrived in North America.). Joshua Trees are also quite sensitive to climate and its predicted that they will die out as the climate changes. Sadly, Joshua Tree National Park may soon lose its namesake trees.

For a number of years we've been trying to get to the Pahrump winery. It worked out well this time - coming from Tonopah we could easily skirt Las Vegas and stop at the winery for lunch. The town of Pahrump isn't anything special but the winery is in a nice setting with its small vineyards, trees, and flowers. They only grow grapes for red wines since the summers are too hot for white wine grapes. The grapes near the winery were mostly Zinfandel.

wine glass reflections

The willow trees were just starting to get their leaves. From a distance it looked like they were dusted with green. Apparently that's a sign that it's time to prune the grape vines since they will also get their leaves soon.

willow trees

From Pahrump we could take the road past Red Rocks and in on Charleston Avenue, one of the few ways to get into Vegas without freeway hell. As usual, we're staying at the La Quinta in Summerlin, well away from the circus of the strip, and close to the Red Rocks side of town. Given that Saskatoon is still deep in winter it is a real treat to see the flowering trees here.

flowering tree

Monday, February 16, 2015

Roads, Caves, and Hikes

As planned we headed to Great Basin National Park.

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We managed a tour of the Lehman cave which we enjoyed. Such bizarre shapes!

Lehman Cave

We camped overnight and the next day did a hike up Pole Canyon and back down Baker Creek.

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There was quite a bit of snow in spots and we did a certain amount of post-holing, but it was nice to get out and stretch our legs for half a day.

When we were at the Sacajawea Hotel they had a book of historic hotels and I noticed the Mizpah Hotel in the old mining town Tonopah, Nevada. It was a bit off our route but we decided to check it out. Interestingly there is a big solar energy project near Tonopah - the Solar Reserve Crescent Dunes project. There were quite a few people associated with the project staying at the hotel.

See all 12 photos in this set as a slideshow or overview

Saturday, February 14, 2015

On the Road Again

We're heading south on another road trip. To stay on better roads through the snowy north we drove to Lethbridge and then south from there. The roads were actually in great condition so we probably could have taken a more direct route, but you never know.

In Lethbridge we enjoyed a nice supper at Miro Bistro and a great coffee on the way out of town from The Penny Coffee House.

As usual, we're avoiding the interstates - I hate them with a passion. We stopped for lunch in Helena (at Bernie's Bistro). After lunch we wandered up their nice pedestrian shopping street. It was the first time we'd stopped here and it seems like a nice town.

We try to limit our driving to 6 hours or so per day. That leaves time for coffee and lunch and a walk somewhere.

We ended up in Three Forks Montana (near Bozeman) at the end of our first day in the US. Lacking internet we looked at the list of accommodation in our car GPS. It's always tough choosing solely by name. We picked the Willow Creek Inn but when we arrived where the GPS said it should be, there was nothing there. We drove back into Three Forks and pulled into the gas station to fill up. Across the street was a nice looking historic hotel - the Sacajawea (named after Lewis and Clark's native guide). While Shelley bought gas I went over to see if they had any rooms. It was Valentines and a long weekend so it was a long shot, but we were lucky enough to get the very last room.

Supper was a challenge since the restaurant was completely booked up with Valentines. The one opening was at 4:30pm, about 5 minutes after we arrived. But we managed to reserve a couple of seats at the bar for 6pm which gave us time to go for a walk and to relax on the outdoor veranda. The temperature was only +16c but it was quite pleasant in the last of the sun. I don't think it's normally that warm here at this time of the year, but we certainly weren't complaining. We had a great supper and drank one too many glasses of wine. (Blodgett Canyon Cellars from Montana) If you're in the area and like this kind of hotel we'd definitely recommend the Sacajawea.

We haven't seen a lot of wildlife - a few snowy owls, some deer, a couple of pronghorn, a few hawks, a ring-necked pheasant, and a bald eagle.

Today we continued south to Twin Falls with a short stop and hike at Craters of the Moon National Monument. We knew supper would be a challenge again so we headed out early. We were hoping to eat at a place we'd really enjoyed last time - Canyon Crest but they were completely booked, even in the lounge, due to Valentines. We ended up at River Rock Grill which was decent although nothing special. (Only one glass of wine tonight, Sawtooth Winery from Idaho.)

Tomorrow we're headed for Great Basin National Park, one of the less well known national parks and one we haven't visited before. There's not much around there for towns so we'll probably be camping, assuming the weather stays nice.

Hard to believe, but I haven't taken a single photograph yet! No doubt I will catch up at some point :-)

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Running Geek

Warning: If you're not into running or techie measurements you might want to skip this post :-)

I recently bought an Suunto Ambit3 Peak to replace my old Suunto Observer that I gave as a gift to our guide from our recent Kanchenjunga trek. I had the Observer for many years. It was a pretty simple altimeter watch. The Ambit3 is a different beast - with GPS and heart rate monitor and bluetooth connection to a phone app. It even has apps!

I wasn't really looking for a heart rate monitor, but it was included in the package I got, and of course I couldn't resist using it. Mostly what I found is that I probably wasn't getting my heart rate high enough.

I mostly run on the treadmill in the winter. If it warms up I'll get outside, but when it's really cold I'd rather stay indoors. But I find running on a treadmill pretty boring and tedious so I tend to run intervals, partly to break it up, and partly to get more benefit from a shorter time. But that only works if the intervals are pretty hard.

Back in my early twenties my friend Ian talked me into entering my one and only "race" (more fun run) with him and some friends. We ran the first part together as a group. Then he asked me if I thought I could go faster. I said probably, but I was happy running with the group. He told me if I could go faster I should and to get going. So I pulled ahead of the group and continued by myself. Of course, I was motivated to keep up my pace since I didn't want the embarrassment of the group overtaking me. A few hundred yards from the finish Ian appeared beside me. He had been following me to see how fast I'd go. He then proceeded to pass me and sprint to beat me to the finish. I cursed him and pushed to catch up. I just barely managed to beat him.

That run is one of the few benchmarks I have of my running when I was younger. I did that 10k in just over 40 minutes, not a competitive time, but I was happy enough with it.

These days that pace (15km/hr or 4min/km) feels pretty fast. I can run intervals at that pace, but I'm pretty certain I couldn't keep it up for 40 minutes. I fantasize that if I worked at it I might manage a 20 minute 5k.

The other benchmark from earlier days is that prior to our Cho Oyu expedition (when I would have been 37) I had a fitness test and managed a VO2 max of just under 70. Again, nothing earth shaking, but respectable. These days, according to the Ambit's estimates I'm lucky to hit 30 :-(

I remember my father saying he didn't really feel a lot different than when he was younger, which I found hard to believe since he had obviously aged! Now I'm in his shoes. Running doesn't feel that different to me than my memories of younger days. But obviously I have slowed down.

One of the big questions when you're using a heart rate monitor is what your max is. The old formula of 220 - age would put me around 165, but more recent estimation methods would give more like 175. Since getting the Ambit the highest I've seen is 167 and that wasn't flat out, so 175 seems feasible. (My resting heart rate is somewhere in the low 50's)

I've been running my treadmill intervals at 9 km/hr and 14 km/hr. (The only reason for those particular numbers is that our treadmill has preset buttons for those paces.) Previously I was doing 5 minute intervals but I switched to 4 minutes. 14 km/hr doesn't seem to push my heart rate enough so I've been adding a 3 % incline. Even that doesn't seem to be quite enough since it only gets my heart rate to around 155. Doing more intervals would be better, if I could get motivated to stay on the treadmill longer!

For even more numbers check out the record of a recent workout.


See also my last Running post.