Archive for the ‘Family’ Category



Matt and I are seeking to regain some of the activities that brought us so much pleasure before his catastrophic health experience March, 2011.  The Downhill, Downwind, Fair Weather Cycling Club (DDFWCC) we had formed during our Pedal-Paddle adventures (consisting of 2 founding members) seemed a possible platform.  We solicited new members, and Jim, Patti, Abi, Jac and Will agreed to join us for a Rail to Trail multi day adventure, traversing the entire length of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes (Cd’A Trail) in Idaho.  http://friendsofcdatrails.org/CdA_Trail/index.html                                                                                                              The trail is 72 miles, and we hoped to complete it in 4-5 days.

The Players:

Matt had open-heart surgery performed 3/30/2011 but suffered a massive stroke from a blood clot during the procedure.  5 days later a percutaneous stomach tube dislodged and caused peritonitis, so he had emergency abdominal surgery to clean out the mess.  He has had a long and difficult rehab from these disasters.

Matt had begun to ride a recumbent tricycle last fall, but is still limited by endurance and left sided weakness.  His trike is now equipped with an electric assist motor, installed by Ecospeed in Portland.  www.ecospeed.com   If it weren’t for the cooperation and hard work by these men, he would not have been able to participate in this long distance adventure.  Love you guys!

Pam (me) has not been riding for over 1 year but is back on her mountain bike for this event.  I expect to be the slowest and the sorest rider of the group.

Jim (brother-in-law) and Patti(sister) are riding a tandem recumbent tricycle.  This is a new experience for them as they must coordinate pedaling together.  However, they’ve been an awesome team for over 43 years, so I think they will manage just fine.

Abigayle (Jim and Patti’s granddaughter) is 11 years old and has been in training for this ride.  I don’t think she’ll have any problems keeping up with us oldies.

Will (brother-in-law) is by far the most conditioned athlete of us all-a body builder and weight lifter.  No worries there.

Jac (sister-married to Will) bicycles 12 miles weekly from home to office.  Will and she will be our “anchors.”

tasha travels in style

Minor Player: Tasha.  She doesn’t get to run the trail, but she’s a great traveler and buddy.

The Adventure Begins:

Day 1, Aug 14,2012: Matt and I leave Salem ~ 1pm and stop for the first night at a rest area on WA 385 near Colville, WA.  Rest area is above the Interstate on a bluff that overlooks the Palouse country.  It is a lovely panorama of rolling wheat fields, but the highway traffic noise drifts up significantly.  Breakfast next am is in Ritzville at Jake’s-adequate.  We discover our auxiliary battery that supplies electricity to all the RV equipment when the Slipper is not running is dead!

Day 2, Aug 15,2012:  We drive to Spokane and begin the search for a new battery.  I am unable to find a Camping World so I look for anyone that might help us out.  I exit the Interstate in Spokane Valley at a promising area and start at a Les Schwab.  They look at my battery which is located under the chassis and decide it is a specialty battery, and they don’t have one.  They send us to Interstate Battery who look at it and say they don’t have one either but they call the maker (Deka) distribution center another 10 miles down the expressway.  The Deka distributer has the battery, and they will sell to me but they can’t  install it.  Interstate say they can’t either because it requires a lift.  Back to Les Schwab but they have no lift either.  They send me to an RV repair service, but they have no lift either.   They send me to a truck/trailer supply and service center another mile down the road.  Finally we are with the right guys to do the job we need.

Washington Auto Carriage offers to let us spend the night in their parking lot.  They are going to replace the battery first thing in the morning so we can continue our journey to ID.  We start out in their parking lot that night, but that industrial area develops a distinct odor that quickly becomes nauseating.  We move 4 miles down the interstate to Walmart and spend a comfortable night in their huge parking lot.  True to their word, the Washington Auto Service guys get us on the road by 10am Day 3.  Thank you, Terry and others!  I can’t recommend you highly enough. www.wacnw.com

Day 3, Aug 16,2012:  First contact with Jac and Will is made near Coeur d’Alene, ID; and we rendezvous at Old Mission State Park headquarters to obtain Matt’s special permit.  Cd’A Trail does not allow motorized vehicles, so we have arranged for an exception for his electric assisted trike.  From there, we drive to Shadowy St Joe NFS Campground for the night.  We drive into St Maries for great burgers at Salli’s (fondly remembered from our prior trip to the area.)  We spend a lovely calm and quiet night at the small, fairly primitive campground—water and paved pull-ins but no electricity or sewer service.  It sits on the bank of the St Joe River and has a boat put-in ramp and two new floating docks.  Will swims in the river, and Tasha has what I believe is her first experience with water deeper than puddles.  It looked like she was trying to walk on top of the water until she got back to solid ground.

new docks at St Joe River cmpgrnd

Day 4, Aug 17, 2012:  Breakfast at Salli’s then on to Pinehurst to register at By The Way Campground.  We get a back-in site right next to the only cabin, which Jim, Patti and Abi are renting for the next 5 days.  Finally we have our first shower since leaving Salem!  Will and Jac take a look at the minimalist accommodations and opt to move on to Kellogg where they find a good deal on a very nice room at G&H Guesthouse.

By the time we finish showering, the Texans arrive, and the party begins.  Dinner is in Kellogg at a pizza place below the trams moving up the mountain.  Neither Tasha nor I like those trams or their moving shadows overhead.  They are surprisingly threatening.  Tomorrow will begin the quest to ride the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.  Can we do it???

Day 5, Aug 18, 2012:  Up at 545 am so we can be on the trail by 730.  It’s cold!  Temps in 40s, so we’re bundled up in layers.  By the time we finish, temp is 90+.  This first section is Mullan, ID to Pine Creek Trailhead.  Pine Creek is just steps away from our campground, so we are strategically located for the first 2 legs of our journey, at least.  Total distance today: 22.7 miles in a little over 3 hours!  This segment  is the most downhill of them all, but steady pedaling is still necessary.  For someone like me who has not been biking for over 1 year, and for someone like Matt, who has not ridden for more than 1.5 hours at a time on his trike, we feel exhausted but exuberant that we have been able to do it at all. Aching knees and and a painful butt are the consequences of the ride today for me.  Matt says his throttle thumb gets tired (!!).

DDFWCC: front to back: Jim, (Abi is hidden),Patti, Matt, Jac, Pam.
Photo by Will

This first segment of the trail was one I would not ride again.  It parallels the Interstate for much of it, so there is lots of road noise–lots of road noise!  I did see one deer cross the trail but not much else in the way of wildlife.   The pine forest smells grand.

By 3pm, it is hot, hot, hot.  We get back to camp and collapse-Matt in the Slipper; Tasha and me on the shaded grass.  Nobody moves until it begins to cool ~7pm.  Then Jac and Will arrive and the party begins again.  Dinner and a couple bottles of wine later I level the Slipper on blocks for the night—not too gracefully but it is mercifully dark.  We settle in for a good night’s sleep.

Day 6, Aug 19, 2012:  Up again at 545 am for the start of the second leg.  Although I felt terrible yesterday, I have no knee pain this am and my butt is (initially at least) less sore as well.  Plus Jac has loaned me some padded biking shorts!  This section goes from Pine Creek (Pinehurst) to Black Rock Trailhead and is still downhill but a much more gradual grade than yesterday. Total distance: 17.5 miles.

Will’s pic of baby moose

will’s pic of coyotes

We are done in ~ 3.5 hours.  This leg is much more to my liking as it leaves the noisy interstate and winds along the Coeur d’Alene River.  The terrain is delightfully variable; sometimes pine forests and other times open marshy wetlands and shallow lakes.  Patti spotted a moose and calf.  Others saw a fawn.  Matt and Will saw 2 coyotes.  I saw the moose, thanks to Patti’s sharp eyes, osprey, eagles, and a swallowtail butterfly.  Matt left the rest of us in the dust while cruising on his e-assist trike–only Will could keep up!  Good thing he did or Matt would still be going.

The temp starting out is cool but less cold than yesterday.  It still is over 90 by the time we finish around noon.  Although exhausted and painful again (same areas), I recover more quickly this time, especially after a good solid lunch at Salli’s.  Siesta time back at the campground again until dusk when we all regroup and seek dinner in Kellogg.

I believe we are going to achieve our goal!

Jim & Patti, Matt, Will

Matt, Abi, Jac riding the trail

Day 7, Aug 20, 2012:  Early start again, but I totally mess up.  I leave Matt’s electric assist motor’s battery in the Ruby Slipper, which we leave at the terminus of today’s section, Harrison.  I don’t figure it out until we’re ready to take off at the Black Rock Trailhead.  That means Jac and I have to drive all the way back to the day’s finish to retrieve it and return to the start again-over an hour’s delay!  My name is mud for the rest of the morning.  I make amends by buying everybody ice cream at the end of the ride in Harrison.  They take  full advantage with double scoop bowls.

Another mother and baby moose are spotted today, although by the time I see them, mother is looking upset.   Moose are very big up close—and the mothers have a nasty reputation when they think their babies might be in danger.  I move on quickly.

Another 15.9 miles accomplished:  Today’s ride is long and flat and largely open area marshes and wetlands.  I never thought I would see pelicans in ID but there is a large flock on one of the lakes.   Jac and I stop to check out several mysterious fuzzy creamy fast-crawling caterpillars racing across the trail.  I try to capture them on film but they are too fast!  I swear!

following the Coeur d’Alene River

wetlands along the CdA trail for miles

As we near Harrison, on Coeur d’Alene Lake, swathes of pink and white waterlilies abundantly populate the waterways.  They are so thick it appears you could walk across them.  Overwhelmingly gorgeous!

masses of waterlilies

I suffer a small mishap along the way.  Here’s my story and it’s a good one:   I am riding along the trail, and a moose steps out of the brush.   I swerve to miss the moose and hit a bear, tumble down the hillside and into a tree*.

I have bruises, claw and tooth marks as proof, although they are healing fast and will leave only one small scar.  My bike suffers damage to the rear tire (discovered totally flat the next morning).  The moose and the bear are uninjured.  Don’t you just love nature!

Dinner tonight is steak and salad in front of Patti and Jim’s cabin, and I must say it’s the best meal we’ve had yet.  And only a short walk to our bed in the Ruby Slipper afterwards!

*The story is true, but the names and location have been changed.  A Montana news reported an MVA involving the moose, the bear and a woman driving.  All were uninjured.

August 21, Tuesday:  After much discussion and map perusals the night before (fueled with food and wine), we decided to alter our last day of Cd’A Trail riding.  We had originally planned to ride Plummer to Harrison, reversing our original direction of travel from east to west.  Riding west to east would to maintain our downhill philosophy as that route has 2% grade nearly the entire length.  We could then boast that we had ridden the entire Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes from Mullan ID to Plummer ID.  However, because of the limited road access between these two towns, the logistics of drop off and pick up would have required several hours of road driving before and after the 15.3 mile bike ride.  We compromised by riding an equal distance out and back between Harrison and Heyburn State Park on the other side of the lake.  We can say we rode the full distance of the Trail, although we didn’t see the last 7.5 miles between Heyburn and Plummer (I know, I know; that’s my OCD expressing itself.)

This day’s ride begins ominously as we start during a thunderstorm.  As we unload the bikes, mine has a flat tire.  Thanks, Jackie, for demonstrating and performing the daunting task of tube changing a rear tire.  We are finally on our way by 10 am.  The thunderstorm is over, and the trail is ours.  Spirits are high as we know we will finish our desired goal today!

This ride is entirely along the bank of Lake Coeur d’Alene and is as lovely and peaceful a ride as one could imagine.  Because of the unsettled weather, we have the trail all to ourselves.  There are plenty of distractions such as osprey, painted box turtles, and dramatic scenery to entertain us.  Probably the most interesting time passage is Abi’s list of “the stupidest things I’ve ever done.”  The list is quite long, lasting for miles, and usually involves her brother and her, dangerous heights and precarious physical attempts to defy gravity.  I have no doubt she will continue to add to the list in the future!

trestle bridge, southern end of lake

Matt, Pam and Abi on bridge approach
photo by Will

The turnaround point of the today’s ride is Chatcolet Trailhead in Heyburn State Park.  We cross a trestle bridge over the southern end of the lake.  The long undulating approaches on either end are challenging on the uphill and an exhilarating coast down the other side.   Having crossed the bridge once, we merely turn around and cross it again.  It seems a very fitting little climax to our 4 day trip.

view north from trestle bridge


The return ride to Harrison is uneventful, and we have just time enough to load all the bikes and duck into the local restaurant for lunch and victory stories before the next thunderstorm rolls in.  Distance today: 15.6 miles.  Our final evening meal together is steak and salad in front of Patti and Jim’s cabin.  Victory toasts all around!

I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to have been able to return to the outdoor activities we have dearly missed this past 17 months.  It takes a lot more planning, equipment, and support from others for us to be able to do a trip like this, but for us, it’s like stepping back into a real life again, even if only for a short while.  Our heartfelt thanks and love to our family for sharing this “adventure therapy.”


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Thursday, Feb 24, 2011

As usual this time of year, Matt and I have been dreaming of sunshine and warmer temps.  We were intrigued by Death Valley on our last return from the southwest.   Thanks to our great friends, Cathy and Rick, we had read Death Valley in ’49 by William Lewis Manly.   One of our goals this trip was to reconstruct his route as he and the Arcane and Bennett families struggled across Death Valley as gold rush pioneers in 1849.   By the way, Manly’s book is a great read for anyone interested in life as a single male adventurer in our country during the 1800s.

Day one of the trip, or rather, night one, began at 9 p.m. as soon as I got home from work.  We left Salem in driving rain hoping to get to the coast before a predicted late season snow storm decended on the Willamette Valley.  We drove to Bandon, arriving 1am and camped the remainder of the night in a friend’s driveway near Bandon Beach. 

Next morning we had a delightful breakfast at The Minute Café in Old Town Bandon with our dear friend, Bob, and then headed south on 101.  Highway 101 courses through the redwoods in southern OR and northern CA, so it’s a stunning drive even in the rain.  Pushing hard to stay in front of the storm mass close on our heels, we spent our second night in a rest area off Hwy 99 south of Stockton.  The steady rain masked the traffic noise.

Saturday, Feb 26, 2011

We headed east over Tehachapi  Pass with no difficulties, then cut north and east to Ridgecrest along Hwy 14 and Hwy 178 into Panamint Valley.  Our conversations were increasingly about the likely route followed by Manly and Rogers as they hiked out of Death Valley after leaving the Arcane and Bennett families at Furnace Springs.  They promised to return with supplies after finding a route to CA the others  could survive.  Astonishingly, they succeeded and no lives were lost in the Bennett/Arcane party.  Other pioneers in Death Valley at the same time were not so lucky!

 As we entered the southern end of Panamint Valley, we watched a huge sandstorm develop just east of us in Searles Valley.  Its course paralleled ours until we saw the leading edge disappear over a pass through the Slate Range.  As we traveled further north then cut east through the Panamint Valley, the sandstorm reappeared to the south and east of us, funneling up the same valley.  It was an awesome sight as it filled the southern horizon and began to blot out the mountain ranges on each side.

 Fortunately, we were able to stay in front of the growing sandstorm while crossing the Panamint Mountains and descending into Death Valley.  Visibility was poor all around due to the sandstorm behind us, increasing clouds from the west piling up over the Panamints, and clouds moving in from the south over the Amargosa and Grapevine Ranges on our east side.

We settled into Mesquite Springs campground at the north end of Death Valley (not far from Scotty’s Castle). 

mesquite springs campground

scotty's castle in snowstorm

 The winds were quite fierce and cold, and rain began falling sometime in the night.  By morning the rain was alternating with snow and hail.  By the time we got moving from camp, snow was continuous and blanketing the ground.  We drove to Scotty’s Castle for some photos, but, between the cold wind and the slushy snow, we didn’t spend much time out of doors.  Still, it seems very fortuitous that we could see the valley during a snowstorm!

Afterwards, we traveled the highway south to check out Furnace Springs, which is a total geek hole.   We caught some sun in the southernmost part of the valley, and the temps rose to the 50s briefly; but the winds remained so strong that we were either inhibited by the cold or by the dust clouds swirling from the sand dunes.  There would be no hiking today. 

storm edge left and sandstorms valley floor


We circumnavigated the valley in a spectacular drive, coming to rest again at Mesquite Springs.  Although it will be cold tonight, the rain and snow should end.  We have high hopes for hiking tomorrow.

Feb 27, Sunday

awesome view from top ubehebe crater

ubehebe crater from western edge

Our first hike was around Ubehebe crater and Little Hebe crater.  Not really a hike but more of a stroll, yet the scenery was spectacular.  Ubehebe crater is a volcanic pit with impressive colored and crevassed walls.  It is surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides.  The air feels and looks clean and clear, and the remoteness and  the varied topography are both inspiring and soothing to the soul.  I was surprised by my response to Ubehebe as I thought it would be boring.  Quite the contrary, I felt a release of tension  and a calming sense of “peace and tranquility” (it even looked like a moonscape).

From Ubehebe crater, we drove to the Titus Canyon entrance off Scotty’s Castle Road.  Titus Canyon is a popular hike in the Grapevine Mountains of the Amargosa Range on the east side of northern  Death Valley.  Titus Canyon, however, has a one-way dirt road accessible from Beatty NV, (east of Death Valley),  that traverses its entire length.  We felt there was too much potential for overuse.  However, Fall Canyon just north of Titus could also be accessed from the Titus trailhead, so we headed for it. 

Matt entering Fall Canyon

Matt at 18ft dry fall

Our major hiking guide is Hiking Death Valley by Michel Digonnet, and we highly recommend it to anyone interested in Death Valley.  He describes in good detail many hikes, and he has a special interest in the geology and origins of Death Valley.   Reading about the different rock formations and then finding them for real in your surroundings adds another layer of intrigue while hiking.  This is a good thing, because there are practically no animals to distract you and very little vegetation as well.  You have to admire the sturdy plants and critters that do manage to survive these extreme conditions.

The hike into Fall Canyon was mildly arduous but well worth the effort.  Hiking was slowed by the loose gravel of the canyon floor, as well as our poor winter conditioning.   The canyon is nothing less than spectacular with towering rock walls and lots of twisting corridors and overhangs.   The hike seemed long, and just when we were about to falter, the fall for which the canyon is named appeared.    It’s a vertical 18 ft slick rock that looked too technical for us to free climb, but there is a bypass.  The bypass involved a short but easy free climb,  then a traverse over a narrow ledge that rises gradually about 25 feet, and finally a climb down into the wash above the fall.

rock intrusion looks like prehistoric insect

offset intrusions shifted by earthquake movements (?)

Having accomplished our goal of reaching the main fall, we stopped for lunch and a brief rest.   Above the fall is a narrows where the towering walls pinch in towards each other, deeply shading the canyon floor.   Here we found fanciful white stone intrusions in the  base rock that looked almost like hieroglyphics.

The hike back out of Fall Canyon went a lot faster and easier as it’s all downhill.  Although the slope is gradual, the loose gravel took its toll on our quads and calves.  All in all, it was an immensely satisfying first hike in Death Valley.

Monday Feb 28

Today we began by leaving Mesquite Springs campground and driving to Beatty NV to fuel up, do laundry, buy food, and most importantly, shower.   It’s a long way from Death Valley to anywhere.  We breakfasted in Beatty, did our chores, ate a dynamite lunch at KC’s Outpost and returned to DV in time to hike Desolation Canyon.  This hike was only slightly over 3 hours but was incredible! 

entering aptly named Desolation Canyon

climbing a dry fall

The canyon is indeed desolate of vegetation and living creatures (although we did see a small lizard).  But it is composed of sandstone and clay walls that curve and carve a deep channel winding always upward for a couple miles.  The surface was much firmer than Fall Canyon and easier to walk.  There were a few falls to free climb that were fun but not frightening. 

Death Valley view from top of desolation canyon


view south over artist's drive

The real delight was at the end of the trail where we climbed onto a ridge ~1000ft above the valley floor.  The vistas in every direction were indescribable.  This hike only took 3+ hours-just right after yesterday’s 5 hr hike.

Mar 1 Tuesday

matt's looking at waterfall and pool

climbing around the waterfalls

Monarch Canyon was the goal today.  The first hour of the hike is trailess-just head out across the desert, following the advice of our guidebook, Hiking in Death Valley.  It was fun to walk the desert and view the plants, yet easy to avoid the occasional cholla and prickly pear cacti threats.  This hike we saw more wildlife sign than any other hike yet.  Not surprising since the main attraction is a perennial waterfall and spring.  We heard birds we never saw.  We were buzzed by a hummingbird.  We saw several small lizards and one fast little runner we couldn’t identify-a small rabbit or ground squirrel?

massive geologic forces recorded in these rocks


beautifully detailed and rich molten patterns

 As we moved deeper into the canyon, the walls became a veritable mosaic of different rocks, tilted and jumbled and marvelously discordant.  There were two short waterfalls to clamber up, then we came to an impassable 110ft waterfall. 

no, we didn't climb past this one

 It’s like magic to see actual pools of water in the desert.  At the bottom of the lowest pool we could see part of a skeletal backbone and ribs and near the upper pool was a partial skull-clearly a bighorn sheep.  We also saw butterflies.  Lots of anthills and communities of ground holes littered the canyon floor and wash.  We could only guess what occupants resided within–rabbits, ground squirrels, foxes—snakes???

4.5 hours in and out with lunch at the waterfall made for a near perfect day.  Desert hiking is hard on the feet and the knees, I’m finding out.  After our canyon hike, we drove over the Panamint Mountains into Panamint Valley to look at Ballarat ghost town as a possible campsite, but we didn’t like the looks of it.  We returned to Wildrose Campground in Death Valley NP where we could camp for free.  Only one other van was spending the night so we were pretty much alone with a gorgeous view through the pass toward the west and the sun setting behind the Inyo Mountains.

Wed Mar 2

charcoal kilns for producing charcoal from pinyon pines

To my dismay, my left knee developed aching and mild swelling after three days of hiking, so we decided a day off was appropriate.   After a leisurely breakfast, we drove to the charcoal kilns located just a few miles from Wildrose.   Charcoal was used to process silver ore. http://www.flickr.com/photos/8524489@N07/536474600
    The kilns are startlingly odd in their beehive appearance and  isolated location in the pinyon pine forest on Wildrose Mountain.  It was just a gorgeously perfect sunny warm day, and the picture taking opportunities here were great fun.

looking towards Panamint Valley from charcoal kilns

mining equipment at warm springs talc mine

We spent the rest of the day driving the length of Death Valley to the south and then west up Warm Springs Canyon Road.  This dirt road to Warm Springs was 10+miles of very rough gravel and rocks.  The Ruby Slipper valiantly plowed on but, at a pace of 10-12 mph, it seemed forever before we reached the Warm Springs site.  It used to be a talc mining camp, and there were abandoned buildings, a large spring, a neglected nasty swimming pool (nice camp in its day)  and some mining equipment to view.  When we arrived, there were 6 motorcycle guys who left shortly thereafter.  Within 10-15 minutes, a caravan of three 4WD vehicles arrived, clearly intent on spending the night, so we rode the dusty trail back to the main highway and returned to Wildrose Campground.  The distances are so extreme, and the roads (except the main paved ones) so rough, it takes a long time to get anywhere.

Thursday Mar 3

My knee feels much better after the rest, so we picked Darwin Springs for our last hike before leaving DVNP.  So glad we did because it turned out to be the best yet!  Darwin Springs is actually in the Panamint Valley (although still part of DVNP) in the Argus Range.  We had concerns because the access road, although gravel, is relatively short (3 miles), and the hike into the first waterfall and springs is rated as very popular and frequently visited.   Fortunately, we started relatively early, carrying our breakfast with us and reached the first waterfall in solitude. 

1st waterfall, pretty as can be

The first waterfall is only a 1.5-2mile hike on pretty nice surface most of the way.  There are a few short crosses over the creek, but they’re easy to make.  We listened to cactus wrens sing and watched goldfinches bathe in the shallow creekbed.    The sound of water is magical in this desolate country.

The real miracle of Darwin Springs lies up canyon from the first waterfall.  There are a couple of boulder climbs necessary.  They are a little technical but not difficult.  Most people don’t climb them.  They have no idea what they missed.

beautiful discoveries past the first fall

Within a very short distance are two back to back waterfalls that drop between steep slickrock boulders and towering walls– absolutely beautiful.  

60ft of breathtaking grandeur directly above falls 2 & 3


Beyond these two waterfalls, a tiny spray of water barely visible hinted of even a third.  It was necessary to climb about 60 feet up a loose rock talus, then walk around a ledge and down a short series of rocks to arrive at the top of the 2 waterfalls, where the third towering waterfall dominates in all its grandeur.  It is truly mindblowing.

sand dunes near sunset

There remain so many canyons and hikes we didn’t have time for, and many more we couldn’t access without 4WD.   I feel we had a good introduction to this marvelously unique  world, but now it’s time to say “Good-bye Death Valley.”

What is likely living here?

Recognize the partial skull in foreground?

can you name this butterfly?
Enjoy this little quiz.

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Bear with me as this trip (May21-June 4, 2010) encompassed several mini-adventures in one overall fabulous experience.  I’m still flashing back on many of the adorable and intriguing glimpses we caught of this unbelievable country we live in.  Although we travelled the Interstates on the way to TX in order to arrive more quickly, Matt vowed to stay off them whenever possible while travelling home again.  Ergo, from Leakey, TX to Salem, OR, we drove a total of 31 miles of Interstate highways.  The rest were state highways and county roads.  The only qualifier was to remain on pavements in deference to the Bootie being towed. 

Our arrival in Texas, May23, began as usual with a hellacious thunder and hail storm just outside of Fort Stockton.  Highway traffic came to a stop temporarily-for those with prior experience, under overpasses to avoid hail damage.  We weren’t so farsighted but fortunately no obvious damage resulted to our vehicles.  Following this interlude, the fates were kind, and we saw no more storms until after the Memorial weekend/Bird Olympics.

 The Bird Olympics officially began Friday, May 28 as other family members and friends arrive.  Cardboard boat building was the main event at the Bird Olympics this year and was well received -although a lot of work was involved. 

riverside cardboard boat building

matt fixing ears of Frio Fury

Frio Fury red dragon team

competition ready

The races were hilarious!  Most boats lasted 2 races so almost everyone involved got to try.  My team’s boat, The Frio Fury, although beautiful, came in last, sad to say.

 I can’t resist introducing the newest members of the Grummet clan: Layla Jade and Jesinia Lys

jesinia and layla (could be layla and jesinia)

We left Leakey (lay’ key) Monday, May 31 for the Texas panhandle and our planned Rail to Trail excursion at Caprock State Park.  Caprock, or Caprock Escarpment, is used to describe the geographical transition point between the higher and flatter great plains and the lower rolling plains of Texas and New Mexico.  The escarpment stretches almost 200 miles south-southwest from the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle. The escarpment is made of a layer of calcium carbonate (caliche) that resists erosion. In some places the escarpment rises almost  1,000 ft above the rolling Texas plains to the east. The escarpment’s features are formed by erosion from small rivers and streams, creating canyons and arroyos.  The famous Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo is just north of where we rode the old railroad grade off the great plains, down the canyons and onto the rolling plains of Texas. 

It took us ~9 hours to get there and, wouldn’t you know it, we arrived in the middle of another tremendous thunderstorm!  Had to pull off the road again to let the worst of it pass.  The lightning show was unbelievably dramatic and prolonged-beats any 4th of July fireworks I ever saw.  The next a.m. was stormy and windy so we spent the time preparing bikes and selves for an assault on the trail the following morning.  The afternoon was brilliant sun and withering heat; temp in mid-90s and 15-20mph hot winds, so all we could do was hunker down under a shade tree, turn on the fans, undress to bare essentials and wait for sundown.  Good thing I brought lots of books, Sudoku and crossword puzzles! 

Thunderstorms developed that evening again although we didn’t get directly involved.  We did see lightning in the distance and suffered buffeting winds all night long that rocked the Slipper constantly.  Not much sleep that night.  We knew we had to get an early start for the bike trail so we could finish before the brutal heat of the afternoon.  When we got up at 630am, it was drizzly rain but we forged ahead.  So glad we did because the rain stopped, and the clouds helped delay the sun’s intensity through much of the morning.  Fortunately the wind was at our backs as well.  All in all, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions.

1st mile of caprock rail to trail

The trail started rough at South Plains, TX but improved a bit after a couple miles of bumpy cinder surface overrun with grass clumps.  Most of the trail is cinder-only a mountain bike could manage it-but, oh what a magnificent trip down and over the caprock canyons.

matt on one of largest trestle bridges

It was difficult to make any time because every curve and trestle bridge required a picture-taking stop.  There were so many trestle bridges we lost count-probably 12 or so.

 I saw a horned toad dodge my tires, and Matt nearly ran over a rattlesnake-I don’t know who was the more alarmed!

typical course through caprock

so many canyons; so little time

The main attractions to this section of the trail were the transition from the caprock to the plains and a nearly 600 foot long tunnel filled with Mexican bats. 

approaching tunnel entrance

entering the tunnel

The tunnel was an awesome structure to view up close.   The bats were not visible, but as we walked through we could hear little bat voices softly chittering above us.  One could just imagine mother bats gently soothing and calming their babies.  As we exited the far end, we saw 2 great horned owls that had been disturbed by our presence.  I suppose they are nesting in the tunnel as well, but I wonder if they feed on bats??  As for humans, we saw none after the first mile and only 2 houses in the 17 miles of trail we traversed.

We made the trip in ~ 4 hours and finished at 1130am.  Temp was 91-I had said we needed to finish before temps rose above 90 so we were close.   Didn’t feel bad but we were both ready to stop.  We also felt we had done the best part of this trail.  The remaining 40+ miles are flat and through rather monotonous plains with little shade or land formations.    The biggest problem was we had to endure the blistering hot afternoons and could only bike in the mornings.  Every day was forecast to get hotter until highs were into 100s.  We decided to move on.

J.B. Buchanan windmill park

We headed north and west, with a delightful detour to Spearman TX to see the J.B. Buchanan park devoted to restored windmills.  

We were heading for the Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands.  The vistas we had envisioned of endless oceans of native grasses were disappointingly nonexistent.  The land looks to me like mega cattle ranches.  (I suspect a hoax on the American taxpayer).  We did find an unadvertised, little known, poorly marked, cozy little national park hunting camp/campground called the Thompson Grove picnic area.  One would think no one wanted outsiders to find this place-altho it is a federal public park. 

tiny peaceful primitive campground-avoid during hunting season

We had the place to ourselves, and it was a very restful night after the buffeting winds we had at Caprock—that is, until the starlings/grackles started squawking before dawn.  I swear I never heard such noisy birds!  Still, we felt restored and ready to explore Pagosa Springs, Durango and Cortez country in CO.

Pagosa Springs from south

Pagosa Springs-what can I say!  It’s an adorable town.  The mountains and river are spectacular.  We found a small campground, East Fork (San Juan River),  just a few miles out of town that was quiet and practically deserted.  Townsperson assured me that it would likely be full in another day as they were having a bluegrass festival that weekend.

It’s a town devoted to playing-winter skiing/snowshoeing/snowmobiling and summer hiking, kayaking/rafting/dirt biking.  They have even built wave challenges in the river that courses through their downtown for kayakers to test/learn their skills. 

I think I could learn to do that!

Too bad the hot springs are totally and commercially geeked out.  It looked like a great place to vacation, but too much winter for us to live there!   The views of the mountains will stop your breath!

view leaving East Fork primitive campground outside Pagosa Springs

Tooth of Time mountain range outside Pagosa Springs-love the name!

We traveled west  to Durango and tried to connect with the doctor that helped deliver Dan, our son, in AZ (28 years ago)(saved Dan’s life but that’s another story).   Unfortunately he was out of town for the weekend, so we’ll have to try to meet another time.  Durango is big-time city (for this area) with lots of traffic, but the historic downtown is still quite attractive.  Too big for our tastes, we think, so we moved on to Cortez. 

Cortez sits north of Mesa Verde National Park.  We promised a visit there another time as construction issues prevented our little entourage from driving into the park.  At this time we were more interested in the town and surrounding countryside.  The town is small but with the essential amenities for daily living (grocery, fuel, hardware store, restaurant).  Between Cortez and Dolores is a broad river valley with farming-mostly grass and wheat but also beans, corn and squash. 

canyonlands-what more can I say!

breathtaking vistas for miles and miles

West of Cortez lies Utah and the most spectacular country imaginable.  There are surely regions of the world as beautiful, but I wonder if any could be more so than the canyonlands of Utah.  Everyone who lives in the US should drive through southern Utah at least once.   I need weeks to explore and take pictures to my heart’s content


Indian ruins below and left of rock thumb across the Devil's Canyon

best view of Devil's Canyon

We have a favorite campground outside of Blanding, UT called Devil’s Canyon.  We walked the very short trail from the campground to the canyon then bushwhacked a very teeny bit in order to get the best pictures.  We also found out biking on dirt roads is not fun if 4-wheelers use them also!  I’m still spitting dust when I think of it.

looking into Devil's Canyon from my rock outcropping


every curve in the road brings fresh grandeur

rest area in Capitol Reef National Park

 We travelled hwy 95 from Blanding to Hanksville which winds through the heart of the canyonland , then hwy 24 that cuts through Capitol Reef National Park to hwy 50 and into Nevada.

The temptation to stop and hike around this country was overwhelming but each time we tried, tiny biting gnats found us within minutes-very unpleasant unless we were constantly moving.  I felt great sympathy for the wildlife here.

tiny segment of Capitol Reef

Ward Mountain NV

We found a small campground outside of Ely at Ward Mountain where we rested and oohed over a lovely cloud-studded sunset before falling asleep with the surrounding scents of pines and sage and the alluring calls of unknown and unseen birds in the distance.  How sweet moments of life can be!

sunset at Ward Mtn

Next morning we’re on the road again, passing through the tiny but charming town of Eureka (gold!) ,then turning north to Owyhee and Idaho.  

eastern OR country-we're nearly home!

Now we start to see rivers with more water and  greener valleys with larger herds of cattle, sheep, goats and even llamas.  It starts to feel like home again although we are yet in western ID and eastern OR.  Our road more or less follows the Snake River in ID as it becomes a major presence in the landscape, then crosses over to the Malheur River in OR.  Glimpses of potential kayaking excursions begin to dominate our conversations, although we stopped only once for lunch in Nyssa, OR, on the banks of the Snake River.  The river was high and fast and some hatch of insects (nonbiting thank goodness) kept us inside the Slipper.

As we travel west across hwy 20 in OR, we identified an abandoned railroad grade paralleling the highway until disappearing south into Malheur country.  We begin planning/dreaming of a biking/hiking exploration trip along pieces of this abandoned grade as it leaves the highway and winds over the Malheur River.  It could be a stunning rail to trail conversion although the condition of the trestle bridges may be prohibitive.

Our goal for our last night on the road is Crystal Crane Hot Springs between Crane and Burns.  What a luxury to end a day of car travel in a 100 degree hot pond watching nighthawks and swallows in the sky.   A group of women shared the pool with us until one of their beach towels caught fire in their firepit, also poolside.  Quite a blaze it caused.  No harm was done (except for the towel).  The women were entertained; the owners were unfazed.  I marvel at the miracle of alcohol!


Do you know whose eggs these are?

While parking our Slipper for the night, we almost destroyed a ground birdnest, but these same women warned us away in time.  Anyone recognize the eggs?  They are ~2” x 1.5”.  The parents share incubating duties and noisily run around nearby if you approach.  I was told they will even run at you, but I didn’t test that.  Next blog I will show a picture of the parent.  Hint: they are larger than killdeer-and beautiful.

Cascade Mtns from eastern hwy 20

Approaching Bend from the east is a stunning view.  Oregon can certainly hold its own in the natural beauty category!

I can’t begin to tell you how travelling this grand country of ours is affecting my perspective on life, my roles during my little chapter in time, the immensity of the universe-so I won’t bore you further!  Let’s just say I’m looking forward to further adventures with Matt on the road, trails, waterways….




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Boatbuilding in Texas, April 14, 2010

starting the first lay-up

cut and fold lines scored

We started our cardboard boat at 1015 this morning and stopped at 1800. The idea was to figure out what it would actually take to build a boat that would float two people out of five sheets of cardboard.  It took the 4 of us 8 hours to construct this boat and that does not include painting and decorating.  Since paint is the primary protection against water (cardboard and water do mix, which is not in this application a good thing) and we only have one day for building before the race, we quickly realized we need to modify our plans in order to have a waterproof boat ready for the race.  Good thing we built a practice boat!

cut and fold sides

painting contact cement on surfaces

pressure seal contact cement with mallet and board

caulk every seam!

taping seams

gluing in bulkheads

ready for paint and decorations!

We’re now thinking that all teams will be provided with plans for 2 different boats: one similar to our practice boat and one a catamaran that we didn’t have time to build (but think will work).   In the contest, teams will be welcome to build anything they want, but if they haven’t already developed scaled plans of their own, they may not have enough time to complete their design. 

We learned a lot during our practice construction.  Instead of heading up teams, Matt and Jim will be non-competitors available to all teams for support and advice.  The Friday night before the event they will give a hands-on tutorial complete with a card board boat building simulation using paper cut-outs.   All this in anticipation of the real build Saturday morning and the “race” on Sunday.

April 15, 2010

It has been raining since early a.m. and the humidity is so high, we’re afraid to paint.  In fact, we’re not sure if Patti will make it back from work this evening.  If the river rises, their road floods out over 2 low water crossings.  We’re keeping watch, as if that would make a difference.  So far 1.25” of rainfall.  Jim says it’ll take 3-4” to flood the river-unless it’s raining even harder upstream from here.  What a country!  At least (so far) we haven’t had hail like we did the first time we drove Ruby down here 2 years ago.  Hailstones dented her brand new roof and hood!

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April 13, 2010

But here we are at last and after a solid evening meal, we begin planning the Bird Olympics agenda.  Teams are selected: 5 teams of 5 people each (one team has 6).  Today we (Patti, Jim, Matt and I) built model paper boats to test the feasibility of our main event.  Only took us 4 hours to build the paper boats!  That seemed like enough labor that day so actual cardboard boat building will commence tomorrow.  Make note of the aggressive stance of the guy in my boat.

prototype paper boats


Patti and I previewed the river in her paddleboat, laying out the projected course.  We took time afterward to identify the WATERSNAKE hiding under the paddleboat as harmless.  Matt, Patti and I walked down and examined the damsite where repairs look very doable and should raise the river level nicely. 

Frio R at Patti's

downstream Frio R

upstream Frio R

scouting Frio R race course

It’s raining softly today in Leakey, off and on, and the temperature is in the 60s so working in the river is not that interesting.  Not to worry as Jim and Patti’s place is like a camp-always another activity waiting.  Like working on Patti’s 1932 Ford Model B pickup truck she restored.  That truck was the vehicle each of us siblings was allowed to use for transportation during our senior high school year.  It was a great boy attractor.   Right now she has battery issues and we can’t run it but maybe later we can get it out at least for pictures.

Tomorrow- actual construction of a full size cardboard boat….

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April 10, 2010 Texas Excursion

dramatic scenery I-40 New Mexico

This is not a true pedal-paddle adventure because we have not included the Baby Bootie, and our primary goals this trip involve planning and staging for the upcoming Bird Olympics to be held at my sister’s home in the Hill Country over Memorial Weekend.  Bird Olympics is our style of family/friends reunion where we get together and compete (very friendly and casually) in various, usually unpracticed events.  Past Bird Olympics have included sand castle contest in Cannon Beach OR (we won), white water canoe trip in AR, building and racing model boats, water balloon wars, cannonball contest, potato cannon accuracy, horseshoes, rubber duck floats-well, you get the idea.  Of course, all of this is interspersed with eating, drinking, talking, laughing and general good spirits.  Thankfully, my family likes each other! 

Anyway, this year is the first Bird Olympics since 2002 so we’re hoping to make it a memorable one indeed!  Plus we have new family members to welcome: twin babies from Jeremiah (my nephew) and Linda; and Kiki, now wedded to Kat (my niece). 

The seminal event this Olympics is cardboard boat building and racing down the Frio River (my sister’s home sits on a high bank on the river-very nice).  Since none of us have ever done this, we thought perhaps we should have a preliminary trial to assure some quantum of success come Memorial weekend.  I figure if Patti and Jim, Matt and I can construct a successful boat, we can then assure that each team will have one member with some experience, thus leveling the playing field a bit.  The cardboard was ordered on line and delivered, and we are on our way with tape and caulk on board. 

We also have 2 wood forms for constructing concrete posts to mark the boundary of the Bird Sanctuary designated on  Jim and Patti’s property as a family ashes cemetery/repository.   No need to expand on this theme further, but we are thinking of making the building and personalization of these forms as part of the Bird Olympics 2010 experience.  The Bird Sanctuary already has a swift tower constructed, but it has not yet been discovered by the desired Chimney Swifts (hope springs eternal…).  It’s a “no duh” that we have a preponderance of bird themes.

Anyway back to the trip.  It begins like most of our limited time excursions: we hit the road at 10am, after dropping the cats off at Cats Only “luxury lodging” in West Salem.  This is our first time to leave our cats away from home but the accommodations look amazing, and the woman owner/manager is delightful; and I don’t intend to worry about them while we’re gone as I usually do.

We left Salem 10am, headed south.  I personally don’t consider myself on vacation until I have passed the Oregon-California border (unless we stop to see friends in Ashland-that’s always a vacation).  I have personal favorites of the trips south that are “can’t miss” visual experiences:  I-5 just past Sexton Summit when the first view of the Rogue Valley appears;  Then, the landscape from the Siskiyous to Mt Shasta, CA  is a fabulous variety of classic western mountain to the Klamath River valley (gold country!) to rolling pasture and meadows to towering volcanic mountain terrain.  After Mt. Shasta, I-5 winds through Dunsmuir and on, snaking downward through narrowed horizons of pine covered mountainsides; curving left, then right, then left; on and on for miles until culminating in tantalizing glimpses of Lake Shasta and the flooded fingers of three rivers feeding the reservoir, begging for water-based explorations.   After the reservoir, the landscape changes again to parkland meadows punctuated by oak groves preceding and surrounding Redding and on to Red Bluff.  The majestic Sacramento River has its beginnings in this country and peek-a-boo visions of its tortuous youth wend under and adjacent to  I-5 intermittently all the way to Sacramento where it is a dominant force of the landscape.  After Sacramento,  I marvel at the very distant mountain ridges on the horizon, first on the east side, then on the west side that parallel our route, with the opposite view flat to the horizon.  The land initially is pasture in appearance but groves of citrus and then orchards of olives appear as we move ever southward.  California has, indeed, transformed and subjugated its land into service for the maximum benefit of mankind.  I become mesmerized by the mechanized fields, particularly the linear plantings that become evanescent fans sequentially and repetitively capturing my vision from my seat in the Ruby Slipper, until I feel I might become hypnotized.  I choose to move to the back seat to nap.

sandstone bluffs whiz by I-40 in New Mexico

Unfortunately or not, as it turns out, we became aware through NOAA that high winds were expected along our route across southern CA to Arizona.   Matt had been driving, as usual, as he hates to be in a passive position (with rare exceptions) until we get almost to Barstow.  He concedes that he is tiring but we should consider pushing through to Needles, CA.  I volunteered to drive (it was 1am on 4/11, and we’re just west of Barstow, CA).   Much to my surprise, Matt takes me up on my offer.  So I drink a 16oz cup of coffee in order to stay awake.  1.5 hours later, Matt says we can stop for the night as we have covered most of the Mojave desert and should be out of range of the windstorms predicted.  I, of course, look at him as if he is out of his mind.  Those of you who know me, know that I drink at most a single cup of green tea in the mornings as my only caffeine intake.  I am now as buzzed as if I have taken speed and I am not psychologically able to shut down.  Also, I have an IPOD full of music my 27 year old son has downloaded, and I am “in the groove”.  I told Matt (not too gently) to lay down and go to sleep, and I cruise through the rest of CA and into Arizona, listening to a combo of “golden oldies” and more progressive and new driving music.  I didn’t wake him until I became concerned that the road had been turning north for some time and I knew we were supposed to be heading east.  By then dawn had arrived, and a sliver of the waning moon was hovering over the east horizon with Jupitor visible inferiorly.  It was moving and beautiful and, to me , quite calming.  Matt had a slightly differently affect.  We stopped for breakfast and regrouped, and all was well.    Matt regained the helm, and I slept in the back for a couple hours.

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