Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tips for Climbing Photographers

Picture Perfect: 10 Tips to Take Better Expedition Photos

Turtle Antics

I've always been a turtle fan, but until Millie my only pet turtle had been a rather slow moving tortoise (land turtle). I didn't expect much different when I inherited Millie, a red eared slider, from my niece (originally a temporary thing, but it seems to be becoming more permanent). But Millie (originally Milton, until we decided it was a female) turned out to be quite entertaining. I'm not sure if this is true of all red eared sliders or whether Millie has more "character" than usual. She is definitely energetic - spending large amounts of her day swimming, digging, climbing, trying to lever the filter off the side of the tank, etc. She's quite attentive to what's going on outside as well. When she sees me get out her blue feeding tub she goes nuts swimming and splashing and trying to get to the food. Of course, she also spends a fair bit of time sunning and sleeping, but even that can be entertaining because of her goofy poses. As I was eating breakfast yesterday she settled to the bottom in this pose:

She stayed in this pose long enough for me to go and get my camera. At first she appeared to be sleeping (eyes closed) but as I moved around taking pictures she opened her eyes and gave me a look as if to say "What?"

The cute 1" baby turtles you see in pet stores are also red eared sliders. What many people don't realize is that they live a long time (30 years?) and get quite large - up to about 12". Millie has grown noticeably over the few years I've had her and she's probably 8" or 9" long now. (I know, I should be metric!) She was originally in a 20 gal tank which I quite soon replaced with a 50 gal. Now that's started to seem small for her and I've been looking at 90 gal tanks (or bigger). One downside of these turtles is that they should probably be renamed "turd-les" since they produce quite large quantities of crap, usually shortly after you clean the tank. Keeping the tank clean requires a fair bit of work.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A "Suggestion" to MEC

This has been bugging me for a while and I finally got around to sending them an email:
It would be REALLY nice if MEC would start carrying smaller pants sizes. You used to carry 28" waist, now the smallest you normally carry is 30" which is what used to be called 32" - but unlike much of the population I haven't added 4" to my waist.

I realize the population is getting fatter, and MEC is catering to a wider audience, but surely to goodness I'm not the only skinny MEC customer!

I could understand not stocking many of the smaller sizes, but not offering them at all seems plain wrong.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ice Climbing Trip

We haven't been out ice climbing for a few years so we decided to head out. The first day we went to King Creek in Kananaskis where there are three short, easy ice climbs to warm up on. It was a beautiful day - about -6c and no wind. We had rented some newer ice tools to try out - Black Diamond Vipers. It was the first time we had gone "leashless". The tools and being leashless were great, although the thought of dropping a tool still makes me a little nervous!

The next day we did a longer route - Sinatra Falls, also in Kananaskis. It was nice and sunny and we were expecting similar temperatures as the day before. We were a little shocked when it turned out to be closer to -30c. It's actually not too bad if you can keep moving but standing belaying gets chilly, even with a down jacket.

Unfortunately, part way through the climb my left wrist got extremely painful. I wasn't sure what had happened, just assumed I had tweaked it somehow, perhaps not noticing because of the cold. The next day it was just as painful and swollen so we stopped in at emergency in Canmore. We arrived with coffees and books ready for the kind of wait we would have in Saskatoon, but we were the only ones there and got in right away. They figured it was tendinitis, although it was a bit unusual to appear so suddenly. So now I'm in a half cast and on anti-inflamatories for two weeks, and that was the end of my ice climbing for this trip.

I finally decided to take the plunge and on our way through Calgary I picked up a Pentax K10D digital SLR with a Tamron 18-250mm lens (35mm equivalent to 27-375mm). I chose the K10D for a variety of reasons - weatherproof sealed body, anti-shake, and raw DNG format. From the reviews it seemed to be good quality for the price. Having the anti-shake in the body means it works with any lens, not just expensive image stabilized lenses. The lens is relatively new - you may have seen recent ads for it. It's almost a 14 x range. It's fairly slow (f/3.5-6.3) but gets decent reviews for quality. Since my current shooting style doesn't include carrying or switching to different lenses, this gives me the same flexibility I've come to count on with my Canon S3 IS.

I can't believe how many separate buttons and controls there are! It's definitely going to take some getting used to, as will the size and weight. But I'm looking forward to shooting raw and having more room to adjust in Lightroom. After being away from SLR's for so long, there's something very satisfying about that solid "clunk" as the mirror flips up when you take a shot. And it's really nice to have a much shorter lag when you press the shutter release. Here a couple of photos taken with it:

I'm looking forward to using it on our trip to Ecuador and Galapagos in January.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cypress Hills for the Prairie Pitch

I just got back from 6 days in the Cypress Hills, checking it out as a possible location for a future Prairie Pitch Adventure Race.

On the way down I stopped in Swift Current to gas up and asked if there was a coffee shop in town with espresso and lattes. The attendant said there was but he couldn't remember the name or where it was exactly. He gave me general directions and I headed downtown. When I got there I realized this was the same place where I'd been told the best they had was Tim Hortons (when I was on my way back from Colorado). Which was correct? I was just about to give up when I saw the Urban Ground Coffeehouse, which turned out to be quite a classy place with hardwood floors and black leather couches. I'm not the only one excited! In case you're looking for it, it's at 167 Central Avenue North. It was busy when I stopped there about 3pm - I grabbed the only remaining chair (a single spot in the window). Several people turned away when they found it was full. Obviously there is sufficient demand at the moment. I was annoyed that I hadn't found the place on my way back from Colorado, but it turned out they have only been open for a few weeks. I stopped here a second time and they had sushi for their lunch special (they don't serve much food otherwise). I had the veggie rolls and they were tasty. My only complaint was that they were closed on Sunday when I was heading back to Saskatoon. Too bad, but it appeared the whole of downtown was shut down, not just them. (It was also Remembrance Day, which may have had something to do with it.)

I also discovered a very nice little restaurant in Maple Creek of all places. Nothing against Maple Creek but it's pretty small and not where you'd expect to find a classy restaurant. When I drove by I noticed the white table cloths and wine glasses and figured it was worth checking out. It's called The Star Cafe and Grill (not sure how long this link will be valid). The chef has recently moved here from Rome (yes, Italy). You have to wonder why anyone would move from Rome to Maple Creek, but I'm not complaining. It's in an old turn of the century building and they have done a great job of the interior. I liked the huge abstract landscape painting that one of the partners painted. They didn't have a lot of vegetarian choices but the pasta I had was very tasty. We even tried a bottle of wine from the nearby Cypress Hills Winery (the only winery in Saskatchewan). If you're looking for a nice meal in the Maple Creek area I'd definitely recommend it.

Lots of people had told me how great the Cypress Hills are but I'd never been there. I wasn't disappointed, but I wasn't overwhelmed either. I guess I imagined a bunch of "hills" and instead there's really just one big "hill" or plateau that's been eroded into several pieces and into big gullies. It is a pretty big hill for Saskatchewan - about 200 m (600 ft) high, but not exactly mountainous. The lodgepole pines are a contrast to the usual prairie vegetation, but not all that different from up north.

One issue for the Prairie Pitch is that the area is pretty spread out. Most of the facilities (camping, lodging, etc.) on the Saskatchewan side are in the Center block. But the more interesting terrain seems to be in the West block (and in the adjacent Fort Walsh). And the only decent sized lake is outside the park entirely. So a race here will probably require a fair bit of cycling to get between the areas, although on the positive side, there are fairly interesting off-road routes to use.

So the resort is in the Center block and the West block straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. But where is the "east" block? According to Wikipedia: "The "east block" of the Cypress Hills, situated near Eastend, Saskatchewan, is not part of the park." Strange.

I covered quite a lot of the area and I came up with a reasonable plan for a race. But ... then it turned out that the resort is all booked up for the weekends in September. That's bad news since I'm not sure if there's anywhere else out there with a hall for roughly 200 people.

I was a little disappointed to find that the park is used for grazing cattle. I'm afraid a bunch of dumb cows is not my idea of the great outdoors. (I was going to say "wilderness" but that would be a stretch!) According to the signs the reason for the cattle is to take the place of the buffalo. If you ask me, I'd rather re-introduce buffalo. No doubt there are a million reasons why that's "impossible". (Although they've done it at Old Man on His Back)

I was also disappointed to find "Designated Hunting Trail" signs everywhere. It always seems strange to me that hunting is allowed in provincial parks. I have been told that they "have to" because hunting isn't allowed on much private land. As you can imagine, I don't find that a very convincing argument. There were also signs up for the "Elk Management Hunt". Maybe we could leave the "excess" elk and let them do the grazing instead of cattle. Why do people think they have to "manage" nature? Things worked for a very long time without people "managing" them. A common justification is that we've screwed things up so badly that we have to work to "fix" them. But our track record at "managing" such things is pretty dismal; I suspect in most cases things would have been better off without our meddling. (Along these lines, I just finished The World Without Us - quite an interested read.)

On a more positive note, there were signs for a "Reptile Conservatory". Another somewhat incongruous thing to find in Maple Creek. I didn't have time to check it out and I wasn't even sure they were open but being a reptile fan, I'll have to stop in next time I'm in the area.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thoughts from the Banff Mountain Festival

For the last 10 years or so Shelley and I have made an annual pilgrimage to the Banff Mountain Book and Film Festivals. We like the book festival best. There are talks by authors, panel discussions, and interviews. It's more personal and interactive than just watching films.

You'd think it would be relaxing to sit and listen and watch for four days, but it gets a bit tiring. We usually make it through all the sessions of the book festival for the first two days but often end up skipping a few of the films in the next two days just to get a chance to stretch our legs and grab a coffee.

One of the presentations was by Ian McAllister, the author of The Last Wild Wolves: Ghosts of the Rain Forest The Great Bear Rain Forest is on the west coast of British Columbia and is the largest remaining temperate rain forest. He had fantastic pictures of wolves and bears and rugged coast. But he also had stories of lumber companies clear-cutting swaths of land and trophy hunters slaughtering wolves and bears. These stories always raise a flood of emotion in me, a mix of anger, guilt, anguish, sadness. Part of me wants to kill myself just to escape being a member of such a human race. I start to understand the monks who immolate themselves in protest over the foul actions of mankind. Another part of me wants to lash out, take action, fight, get revenge. I want to join Edward Abbey's monkey wrench gang and sabotage the clear-cutting machinery. Or take up hunting myself. Hunting seems to be a good way to wipe out species. Maybe we could hunt the trophy hunters and endanger their kind. According to Ian, roughly 80% of people agree with stopping trophy hunting. What happened to democracy?

Geoff Powter's interview was supposed to be with Jim Bridwell but apparently they wouldn't let him into Canada. But I enjoyed Krzysztof Wielicki instead. I've always been amazed by the winter Himalayan climbs by the Polish. 8000 m climbs are hard enough in the summer; I find it hard to imagine what it must be like in the cold dark depths of winter. The Poles are known for "the art of suffering". But it's "good" suffering, "enjoyable" suffering, according to Krzysztof. Later, in a panel discussion, Barry Blanchard voiced a similar sentiment, saying "it doesn't have to be fun to be fun". Shelley and I often joke that you can't really be having "fun" unless you're "miserable". Krzysztof is 57 and still climbing hard. He says he has to keep tackling the winter Himalayan ascents because he can't find anyone else to take over. The "kids" these days don't care so much for the "art of suffering".

One of our favorite films was about 24 hour solo mountain bike racing. Again, I find it hard to imagine biking for 24 hours straight, let alone racing hard. Another favorite was a film about Chris Sharma. He is one of the best rock climbers in the world but it doesn't seem to have gone to his head and he comes across as quite humble and likable. It's hard not to be envious of his lifestyle of traveling and climbing full time.

We also really enjoyed Steph Davis's talk. We bought her recent book - High Infatuation. A film about her husband, Dean Potter was also good. Dean especially, but Steph also, do hard rock climbs solo, with no ropes. Scary stuff. In a film about Dean he describes how he struggles to differentiate fear from premonition - are visions of your broken body simply fear that you should overcome, or are they "intuition" that you should respect. This resonated with me. I still struggle with memories of being overwhelmed by fear on Manaslu. When I talk about it, people assume it must have been a premonition that I was "wise" to obey. But it's hard to believe that when others in the team continued and summited with no problems. I can't help but think it was just plain fear that I should have overcome. I still wonder why it overwhelmed me on that particular climb so much more than any other. You can always find rational reasons not to go up - there really are legitimate dangers - if you really wanted to be rational you wouldn't be there in the first place. When Krzysztof was asked if it was true that Polish climbers were crazy his reply was that all climbing/climbers are crazy when you get right down to it.

Although the festival always gets me psyched up to go climbing, it's also a little depressing to see how minor my own accomplishments are in comparison. I know it's all relative and that it's irrelevant what other people are doing. No matter how good you are at something there's likely someone out there who's better. And I know that to many people, Shelley and my accomplishments are impressive. But I can't help but feel twinges of envy and inferiority.

Of course, the friends I run into at the festival want to know what my next big project is. I've been thinking about Gasherbrum 2 next summer and it seems to have firmed up enough in my mind that I started telling people that's what I was planning. It's another one of the "easy" 8000 m peaks. It would be my 6th 8000 m trip. If I managed to summit it would make my record 3 out of 6. I know it smacks of ego (and insecurity), but I can't help wonder how many Canadians have summited three 8000 peaks (or even two for that matter). I wish Shelley was still able to go to high altitude with me. I do have one possible partner for the trip, but if he falls through I'll go solo again. It seemed to work well for me on Cho Oyu. The political turmoil in Pakistan is a question mark but the risk of a few days passing through Islamabad seems relatively small, especially compared to climbing an 8000m peak!

Shelley and I had been talking about going to Vancouver for a week for our anniversary in early December, but after getting revved up by the festival I suggested maybe we should go to Kananaskis Lodge and ice climb instead. For some reason it's been several years since we've been ice climbing. Part of the reason is that there are only so many moderate ice climbs we're willing to do "off the couch" and it was hard to get excited about climbing them again. But it's been long enough that it seems attractive once more. And it's a fitting anniversary since we stayed at Kananaskis Lodge and ice climbed (at -30c!) for our honeymoon.

And we're still hoping to get to Ecuador in January to climb and to go to Galapagos. We had originally planned to go in November but Shelley had things for work that conflicted. I'm lucky to be in a situation where I can take off pretty much whenever I want.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Colorado Rockies Road Trip

This is catch up, now that I've described the drive home I'll go back and cover the trip down and the climbing itself. Should have done it at the time, but camping and climbing don't leave much time/opportunity for blogging!

Sept. 11 - Saskatoon to Gillette, WY

Not much to report. The only campground we could find in Gillette was one in the middle of town, but it actually turned out to be reasonably quiet and clean. Getting in late and leaving early we never did manage to register or even find out the rates. We dropped $20 in the slot, hopefully that covered it!

Sept. 12 - Gillette, WY to Estes Park, CO

Stopped in Laramie, WY for lunch. It seemed like a nice little university town - bookshops and good places to eat. We ate at Jeffrey's Bistro - a good choice, lots of vegetarian options and a pleasant atmosphere. Picked up a copy of Blessed Unrest at the Chickering Bookstore. Driving through busy Fort Collins was a bit of a shock after so many hours of deserted prairie roads. Luckily we got out of the traffic before too long and headed into the mountains. Quite a narrow canyon road up to Estes Park. We camped at Estes Park Campground (recommended by one of the climbing guidebooks). It was fairly empty and quiet.

We stopped in at Trailridge Outfitters to try to get a climbing guidebook but they were out of the ones they recommended. We picked up a guide to the Colorado peaks over 14,000 feet (4267 m) and they were good enough to recommend some rock climbs and photocopy a few pages out of their store copy of a guidebook.

Ate at Sweet Basilico Cafe, it was recommended to us but wasn't anything special.

Sept. 13

Climbed an easy route on the Pear at Lumpy Ridge to get a feel for the rock. (Gina's Surprise
5.4) Interesting descent down into a notch on the back of the Pear. A short day so we could get ready to climb Longs Peak the next day.

Coffee at Coffee on the Rocks just outside town. Good coffee and next to a pond with ducks.

Supper at Dunraven Inn - quite nice.

Sept. 14

Got up at 4:30 am, left the Longs Peak trail head at 5:40 in the dark by headlamp. It got light by about 6:30. We did the Loft route above Chasm Lake, a "classic" Class 3 scramble. Once we left the trail at the shelter below Chasm Lake the route was fairly well cairned and quite straightforward. The ledge that is the key to getting through the cliff band was pretty obvious. It had some icy patches but luckily you could work around them. The morning started out clear but got cloudier. It was increasingly windier as we got higher and more exposed. From the Loft (a large saddle/plateau between Meeker and Longs) you drop down a bit on the far side. Cairns led to the gully where you descend, but after that it was unclear where to start traversing. I think we went a bit too low. According to the guide you should see "Carver's Arrow" painted on the rock but we didn't see it. We passed a ranger a little farther on and asked him about it, but he'd never heard of it! You traverse a bit and then ascend again up to join the standard Keyhole route at the "Homestretch". We reached the summit around 10:40. We were happy enough with 5 hours for 5000 feet of ascent. The summit is large and flat. We had a bite to eat and took a few pictures but didn't hang around too long since it was cold and windy. There were quite a lot of people coming up the Keyhole route but we didn't see anyone on the Loft route other than the ranger. We decided to descend the Keyhole route since we thought it would be faster. Although it's a longer route we were imagining more of a trail than a scramble. But it was actually quite a bit of scrambling, fairly exposed and fairly steep in parts. In retrospect I think it would have been quicker to descend the loft route, but it was interesting to check out another route. We made it back to the car at 14:40 for a round trip of 9 hours, with sore feet after 14 miles (23 km) and a lot of up and down.

Had supper at Mama Rose's - pretty good.

Sept. 15

We drove the spectacular road through Rocky Mountain Park and then south down to Dillon. Stopped for lunch in Grand Lake. We had gotten directions to a "climbing store" in Dillon but it turned out to be a "sport mart" type of place that didn't have any maps or guidebooks. But the mall it was in had a Borders which luckily did have them. We picked up a copy of Rock Climbing in Colorado, which at least gave us an idea what was around.

While we were at the mall we saw a sign across the parking lot that said "Malbec". Since we visited Chile and Argentina (to climb Aconcagua) we've become fans of Malbec wine so it caught our eye. We went over to see what it was. It turned out to be a wine bar/restaurant but it looked like it wasn't finished yet. As we were standing there a women (one of the owners I assume) came out and invited us in. They were planning to open the next day and were having a private celebration. So we had a glass of Malbec wine and hors d'oeuvres. They even gave us a recommendation for where to eat that evening. (The Boatyard in Frisco.) It was a pleasant surprise.

The campgrounds around Dillon were all closed for the season so we stayed at the Holiday Inn in Frisco. (after driving as far a Breckenridge in the dark searching)

Sept. 16

We originally intended to climb four adjacent fourteeners (Lincoln, Cameron, Bross, Democrat) that you can do all in one day. But when we looked at the map there was a note that said access was closed. After trying several phone numbers we managed to find an open wireless connection to the internet and found out that access was indeed still closed. So instead we climbed Quandary, ascending by the West ridge, another "classic" Class 3 scramble. The day started out nice but soon after we started big dark clouds rolled in and it started to rain quite hard. We put on rain gear and very nearly turned around but then we saw some patches of blue sky and continued on. The weather continued to threaten but it didn't rain (and snow) till our descent. The final stretch of ridge was a fun scramble that traverses left and right to circumvent the steep towers. Car to car it took us about 5 hours (only 2600 ft of ascent)

After our pleasant surprise at Malbec the evening before we figured we'd better go back for supper on their opening day. We stayed at the Comfort Inn next door which was handy since we could walk across the parking lot to the restaurant. Supper was very good and quite inexpensive for a "fancier" place. We had a bottle of Zamba Malbec for only $15 - pretty rare to get a bottle of wine so cheap in a restaurant, let alone a decent one.

Sept. 17

Drove south past Breckenridge to Fairplay and then west to Denver which we bypassed to get to Boulder. The rain turned into heavy snow going over one of the passes.

For some reason my image of Boulder was as a small mountain town, but it's actually quite a large place which makes sense considering it's university and it's popularity. One frustration is that there are virtually no campgrounds anywhere around Boulder. I guess land is too valuable. Luckily the information booth in the Pearl Street Mall pointed us to Boulder Canyon Lodge - a small motel with half a dozen campsites. It was perfect for us - close to Boulder, yet quiet and secluded. Luckily it was off season or we probably wouldn't have got in.

Tapas for supper at the Mediterranean - nice.

Sept. 18

Climbed the East Face of the Third Flatiron, an 8 pitch 5.4 "superb classic". The book talked so much about crowds and lineups that we set out early, just as it got light. But we never saw any other climbers - either because of our early start or because it's off season. It was another easy but fun climb. We were down by noon, in time for coffee at the Fulsom Street Coffee Company (free internet). Picked up a copy of Serious Play - An Anotated Guide to Traditional Front Range Classics at the Boulder Book Store, as much for it's hand drawn illustrations and quirky climbing advice as for it's routes.

Supper at Antica Roma - good.

Sept. 19

Climbed East Slab (2 pitches 5.5) and Cozy Hang (3 pitches 5.7+) on the Dome in Boulder Canyon. We need more practice on crack climbs! (don't get much of that in the Canadian Rockies)

Visited the Neptune Mountaineering store. Gary Neptune and his store are somewhat famous in climbing circles and the store is huge and lined with climbing memorabilia. Definitely worth the visit.

Ate supper at Bacaro Venetian Taverna - good.

Sept. 20

To round out our tour of Boulder area rock climbing we went to Eldorado Canyon and climbed Calypso (4 pitches 5.6) on Wind Tower and Clementine (2 pitches 5.5) on Whale's Tail. Unfortunately, we had dressed for the cool of early morning in long pants and long sleeves, but by the time we were done it was +28 and we were sweating!

After climbing we drove in to Denver to the Adam's Mark Hotel where Shelley's International Women in Policing conference was starting the next day. After visiting the Wilderness Exchange store we drove out to Cherry Hills to visit an old high school friend of mine.

And that catches up to where I started describing my trip home.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog

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No Starbucks in Livingston, but Google pointed me to the Coffee Crossing which was even better - a quirky little coffee shop that made me an excellent latte to hit the road with.

RV's towing cars are fairly common, but you don't see too many large RV's towing a large SUV towing a trailer with two large ATV's. Having no personal experience with this sort of combo, I can only guess at the usage. I imagine it as a bit like a multi-stage rocket. First you blast down the interstate burning huge amounts of fuel to make your lift-off. You jettison the RV stage at an RV park (for most of them, "parking lot" would seem more appropriate). Then you head out on the secondary roads with the SUV. Reaching the end of the roads you launch the final stage ATV's. But the purpose of this complex mission is not to stand on the moon. Not even to see seldom traveled wilderness. No, the purpose is to reach some semi-wild corner of America where there is something left to kill. Ah, the noble hunter.

But enough sarcasm and bitterness. I figured the last days driving would go quicker as I left the interesting scenery and reached the long miles of prairie. But I still found a few things to take pictures of. Considering my techie geekness (check out my computer blog), it's a little disconcerting finding myself getting enraptured by early morning patterns of light and dark on the hillsides.

Or more fall colors:

This wind power installation was a ray of sunshine through the dark clouds of all our environmental problems.

And while I was taking pictures of the wind generators some pronghorn antelope ran by. They are beautiful animals, one of my favorites.

With all the hours of driving this trip I was very grateful for my iPod (hooked up to the car audio). My favorite new music for the trip was Jesse Cook's Frontiers. I had loaded up a variety of podcasts, mostly technology, but I ended up mostly listening to the Social Innovation Conversations.

I managed to find another decent coffee shop in Harlowten, but only a mediocre lunch in Lewiston. I thought for sure I'd find some kind of coffee shop in Swift Current, but Tim Hortons seemed to be best they could offer :-(

Despite all the driving, I'm glad we took our car instead of flying and renting. I would have to say the Prius is my favorite of the cars I've driven. Partly because, regardless of the significance of the fuel savings, it's a way of "voting" that you care about such things. Some people think it's ugly, but I don't mind it. The size and shape are definitely functional. Or people complain it doesn't have enough power, but it's ok for me. (But then, I don't drive like I'm practicing for the race track.) The car performed well with no problems. Probably a good thing, I'd hate to have to try to get it fixed in some small town in the middle of nowhere. It wouldn't have been a problem in Boulder - I've never seen so many Prius's in one place! The only minor drawback was on long uphill sections on the mountain roads. Once the battery runs out the relatively small gas engine has a bit of a struggle on its own.

* The title of this post has a history. When I was small my mother would often say "Home again, home again, jiggity jog." The last few years when I would drive her somewhere and we got back to her seniors residence it became a routine for one of us to say "home again, home again", to which the other would reply "jiggity jog". I never really thought about where this saying came from until I used it for this post and did a Google search out of curiosity and found it came from a Mother Goose nursery rhyme.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tetons and Yellowstone

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Unfortunately, I couldn't see much of the Tetons as storm clouds boiled, thunder crashed, and rain showers poured down. I did do my good deed for the day by picking up a woman hitching a ride with her bicycle. I thought she might have bike problems but she was just trying to escape the storm. She was working ferrying cars for fly fisherman.

Thankfully the rain stopped for at least part of the drive through Yellowstone.

The animals don't seem too bothered by people.

Except for this large elk that started to get excited after I took this picture. I drove away (slowly) but he then proceeded to charge the tourists standing around taking pictures. I couldn't see what happened but hopefully no one was hurt.

Yellowstone is beautiful but it's also slow driving with speed limits of 45 mph and less. I just made it out of the park as it started to get dark. By the time I got to Livingston, Montana it was pitch black and pouring rain. After feeling guilty about the hotel the night before I had been determined to camp tonight. But I gave up looking for campgrounds pretty quickly since I couldn't even see the road signs. I saw a Best Western with a restaurant and gave in. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed at 8 pm and it was 8 pm by the time I checked in so I was forced back out into the rain. I passed a Pizza Hut but decided I wanted something other than pizza. The lady at the hotel had recommended the 2nd Avenue Bistro and I managed to find it. It was a nice looking place, but after being seated I was told it was pizza night! So much for something other than pizza! But they brought around a variety of different pizzas and they were all excellent. I'd definitely recommend this restaurant if you're ever in the area.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

More of the (long) Way Home

The world is a marvelously strange place. For me, nature makes up most of the marvelous part and human beings the strange part.

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I got away about 8am. One advantage of being on my own is that I can stop whenever I get the urge to take a picture, like here:

The funny part is that I didn't even realize I was getting the car in the background!

I stopped at the Dinosaur Monument visitor center and decided to drive in to Harper's Corner even though it would add several hours of driving. I was glad I did because the views of the canyons of the Green and Yampo rivers were great.

This canyon was the site of a famous conservation victory where a proposed dam that would have flooded the canyon was blocked. The sad part is that they simply built the dam 100 km up stream at Flaming Gorge (below). And to add insult to injury, although the canyons in Dinosaur Monument aren't flooded, the ecosystem has still been destroyed. Because the spring floods and the silt are blocked by the upstream dam, the original plants and fish are being lost.

I ended up skipping lunch, but I stopped at the Bedrock Cafe (in the town of Dinosaur) for a homemade ice cream and a latte. Both were excellent and the coffee was even fair trade! I sat outside to eat the ice cream where I was serenaded with Christmas music! (I can't stand Christmas music at Christmas, let alone in September!) There was a huge mud coated 4x4 truck parked outside. The "good old boys" were busy inside using a change counting machine to empty their piggy bank jar. Like I said, human beings are strange!

I stopped at Sheep Creek to see what the signs were about and found the creek had Kokanee salmon that were imported to the reservoir and spawn in the streams. It's hard to see through the water but they are strange looking creatures when they're spawning, with their bright orange bodies and strange green jaws.

I love the fall colors. It's hard to capture the brilliance:

Unfortunately, the nice sunny weather turned to pouring rain for the last two hours of driving and I was really wimpy and decadent and checked into the Holiday Inn in Evanston. (Which is why I was able to do this post.)

I had supper at the restaurant next to the hotel. Someone from the restaurant (I'm guessing the owner) had a Lamborghini parked outside and drove off in it! One way to (very publicly) spend your money, I guess. I don't imagine there are too many cars like that around here!

With my canyon tour I didn't make a lot of distance today. Tomorrow I'll go through the Tetons and Yellowstone and after that it should be faster the rest of the way.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Way Home

I know this is out of order, I'll try to go back and write up the climbing from the last week, but wireless in the campground seemed too good an opportunity to pass up for some stream-of-consciousness blogging.

I left Shelley this morning to start her conference in Denver. After a few round-the-block maneuvers (I hate driving in big cities!) I spent the morning at the zoo. As with any zoo it was a mixture of awe and fascination and pity. Some animals I'm sure never notice the difference between zoo life and a life in the wild. But others are not so lucky. What must it be like for the snow leopards confined to a cage no bugger than a hotel room? Pacing, pacing, pacing, nowhere to go. The Denver Zoo seems to be trying. They are building bigger, more natural exhibits and have plans for more. My love-hate relationship with zoos continues. (As usual I bough a family membership to help support them.) The zoo was filled with mothers and their children (and the occasional father). Children are so fascinated with animals. Why do most people lose that? I haven't!

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I made it out of Denver with no wrong turns and rode the fast stream of traffic out the I-70 - the easiest way to put some distance between me and the city and get back into the mountains. A messy accident in the opposite lanes were a sobering reminder to pay attention.

I planned to stop for coffee after a couple of hours of driving but couldn't find a coffee shop when I needed one! I stopped for gas and pressed on. Finally, Steamboat Springs offered a Starbucks with chairs outside in the gorgeous fall sun. I finished Of Wolves and Men by Gary Lopez. I found the final chapters of the book on the mythology of the wolf a little slow, but the book is definitely worth reading.

There was a state park with a campsite marked on the map at Yampa River, but it turned out to be a rather unattractive open field so I pressed on. Luckily, there was a KOA campground just outside Craig, CO that was a little more attractive. I asked the woman in the office for restaurant recommendations. Her eyes lit up and she asked "do you like steak?". No doubt she did! I didn't have the heart to tell her I was mostly vegetarian. I suspect it would have baffled her. Luckily the other women in the office suggested alternatives, including an Italian place. That piqued my curiosity - Craig hardly seemed big enough (population 9189 as of 2000) for an Italian restaurant. It was called Carelli's and it looked more like a pizza joint than an Italian place. It was decorated with skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding memorabilia! But they did have wine on the menu and the Pinot Noir wasn't bad. And the spinach lasagna was vegetarian and quite tasty. The Tiramisu was not so great, but I didn't really need dessert in the first place.

I started reading Mexican Days by Tony Cohan. I had an impulse to point the car south. But it also struck me that in many ways traveling through rural America can be just as "foreign" as another country. Every male customer was wearing blue jeans, t-shirt, and ball cap. I find it odd in India or Moslem countries where everyone dresses the same, but I guess we're not so far from that here. I also couldn't help but notice (here and elsewhere) how large a percentage of the people were obese or at least overweight. A sad state of affairs in North America and spreading further.

It's a little bizarre that I can be sitting here at picnic table next to my tent site, with my MacBook and a wireless connection. Soon the internet will be everywhere. In the Apple Store in Boulder I played with the new iPod that has a touch screen similar to the iPhone with wireless built in. Very sleek, slick, and thin. As I wrote this there were fireworks in the distance - some kind of town celebration, I guess.

It was an interesting transition. Last night I was visiting an old friend (David Solsberg) in his neighborhood of multi-million dollar mansions and staying in a fancy downtown Denver hotel. Tonight I'm tenting outside a small town in the countryside. And you know what? I bet I'll sleep better tonight :-)

It's almost 9pm - time to hit the sack and read for a little bit before sleep. It looks like Dinosaur National Monument might make an interesting stop tomorrow morning ...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Formerly Known as Tadpoles

Quite a change from the tadpoles they came from. Surprisingly long back toes.

I'm pretty sure these came from the tadpoles I released since I had never seen frogs in this pond previously. I spotted about half a dozen and I'm assuming there are more hiding that I didn't see. Nice to know some of them have made it this far. It'll be interested to see if they survive the winter and are around next spring.