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cotton boll burner or tower drier, Quitaque, TX

This is a tower drier for a cotton gin.  The Texans call them boll burners.  Hot air produced by the “boll burner” was used for this purpose.  Ginning is the process of separating cotton from seeds and waste material.  Moisture provides strength but interferes with cleaning cotton so controlling the moisture is critical in processing.

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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Matt’s writing; my pictures but I can’t resist a few words (in parentheses)
:
Well, our three weeks of work before the next trip to Texas and the Bird Family Olympics is over and tomorrow we are on the road again.  This time, towing the Bootie and carrying mountain bikes.  We’ll need the Bootie to do the bike shuttles when we ride the Caprock Rail to Trail I described in the last entry.  We are going to ride it after the Olympics in Texas.  That will probably be my next post unless I decide to torture you with details of the family reunion (a not unlikely occurrence- so beware). (Don’t worry, I fully intend to share the details so brace yourselves! Pam)  Anyway, before we take off for Texas, I wanted to share a couple of rides we managed to squeeze in recently. 
 
A couple of weeks ago we got a run of nice weather and couldn’t resist taking time away from gardening and landscaping (things that just had to be done before we left for Texas again) (I’m the driving factor there. Pam) to ride the bike trails in Corvallis.  For non-Oregonians, Corvallis is the home of Oregon State University (the Beavers of all things) and as such is an all too hip college town with nice facilities, including beautiful paved bike paths perfect for your hybrid bikes.  We rode the path (Hunsaker Bike Trail) that goes from downtown Corvallis to the small neighboring town of Philomath- about seven miles one way.   Urban bike paths are nice in their own way.  You don’t get the big outdoors feeling you do on rail to trail paths, but it’s fun to glide past backyards, along creeks and through little city parks.  This particular path even had a section that was completely landscaped by a local group as a corridor small tree demonstration garden (The Small Tree Arboretum).  All the trees, many of them exotics, and many of the other plants are numbered to correspond to a guide- pretty and educational (especially if you are trying to redo the landscaping in your yard like we are right now).

lovely rural feel once you leave Corvallis

lovely bridgeview from the trail in Corvallis

beautiful violas in the Small Tree Arboretum

another bridge just outside Corvallis

The second bike trip, a mountain bike run, we tacked onto the tail end of a presentation Matt was doing for REALTORS in Baker, Oregon.  Baker is an historic Oregon Trail town in far eastern Oregon very near the Idaho line.  Just over the Idaho line is Weiser (pronounced weezer), Idaho the terminus of the 84 mile long Weiser River Rail to Trail.  The trail begins in the mountains near New Meadows, Idaho and follows an old railroad grade south toward the Snake River.  Weiser is a river town- in fact the last town before the Snake drops into Hells Canyon.  (Actually, there isn’t that much dropping any more because of the hydo dams, but that’s another story that will have to wait until we can get back and do a full scale pedal/paddle).  The Weiser River trail is all gravel with access points every 20 miles or so.  We decided to scout the trail for ride-ability by riding up the trail along the river from the Presley access point just above Weiser.  It turned out to be a beautiful place (understatement).   And, except for riding into a 20 mile an hour down-canyon wind for the first hour and half, it was a great ride.  ( To be honest, the wind was a definite drag-literally as well as figuratively)  The mountain bikes make all the difference on gravel trails (I (Matt) still have scars from the first gravel rail to trail we tried last year on our skinny tire hybrids).   As you can see from the pictures, the Wieser River trail is not developed.  It certainly isn’t crowded.  We were impressed (awestruck, enthused, ecstatic, etc)  and are planning to ride the whole trail this summer in a full scale pedal/paddle trip that includes tamer parts of the Snake.  (Note: the Weiser River is a tributary of the Snake River).
 

cutest little shade marker at trailhead

trailhead parking; trail is right and follows Weiser River

here we go! What a day!

scenery is spectacular

every bend brings another gorgeous scene

I can't help it, it's just all so beautiful

at last our turn around point in the distancetrestle bridge 7+miles from trailhead-it's a coast back.

FROM MATT TO PAM:  APRIL 29,2010

“Hi dear.  I looked at the blog this evening after teaching all day to see if there was something new.  I remembered you’re working only after I got to blog.  Any way, we’ve left the poor readers hanging in Leakey some 10 or so days ago and need to get them home to Oregon.  I don’t think a big post is necessary, just something about how we left Leakey on a Sunday and arrived at the Caprock that night in shitty weather that stayed that way while we scouted the rail and trial and finally had to give up and flee south to avoid approaching thunderstorms only to end up in Bottomless Lakes, N.M. and then City of Rocks, N.M before dashing home behind the last Pacific storm and in front of the next one in two 15 hour sprints broken by a few hours of restless sleep at a noisy truck stop just north of Bakersfield (Don’t forget the ill advised run from Parker to 29 Palms.) You can carry the story with picture instead of text.  See you tomorrow afternoon.  Love.”

How crazy is this?  My husband is now communicating to me in email.  That’s how our lives have been since our return, and why I have not added to blog recently.  I do have pictures but little to comment on about our return home.  We remain excited about our return to TX in 4 weeks for the Bird Olympics 2010, but life, as usual, is diverting our attentions to work, yard, garden, etc.-you know the drill.  Here are pictures of stunning areas of Texas and New Mexico with lots of potential for little adventures under warmer and sunnier skies-hopefully next trip….

Texas is so vast, and the terrain varies tremendously east to west and north to south.  Hill country is beautiful rolling cedar and live oak hillsides rolling on forever to the horizon.   The river valleys are deep and wide with dramatic vistas.   Huge fenced exotic hunting ranches line the roads on both sides for miles and miles.  Glimpses of African deer can be seen at times-very bizarre.  Bluebonnets were blooming along the roadsides. 

hill country-it doesn't do it justice

roadside bluebonnets

bluebonnets-state flower

The plains are just flat, flat, flat-what more can be said. 

central plains

Still patches of beauty can be found.

hedgehog cactus flower

Texas panhandle

The panhandle is deceptive.  It looks scrubby and slightly rolling but hides beautiful canyons and washes.  They look grand for hiking if only we had had decent weather.  I suspect that’s a real problem there-either too hot or too cold; too stormy or too windy-with few days just right for exploring.  And the red clay/mud was unbelievable after the rain!  All the county roads except main highways are dirt surfaced and were unusable except for the biggest and bravest of the 4-wheelers! 

Caprock state park, TX

Matt at Caprock

We found a stunning state campground at Caprock near Quitaque (see pic for correct pronunciation).  I was dying to hike the canyons but between the cold and the storms and the wet mud, conditions were against a positive experience.  We had the tent campground completely to ourselves which was sooo peaceful. 

canyon hiking-see the mud and water!

entering quitaque

Quitaque is located on a 64 mile rail to trail that we hope to ride during our return next month.  We’ll break it up into three segments 20-22 miles each and take 3 days.  Can’t believe the weather has been so sucky!

rail to trail near Caprock. Tempting?

These small towns, like Quitaque, are delightful to drive through, with the occasional treasure to discover.

The Quitaque Hotel

Do you know what this is?

mackenzie lake reservoir, TX

We made a brief scout of Lake Mackenzie Reservoir for kayaking potential, enough to know it’s not for us.  It’s a relatively small but deep reservoir (when full).  The campgrounds were sad-looking with poor maintenance of bathrooms and showers.  Although the sites on the bluffs overlooking the lake had beautiful views, there was no privacy, except the spacing between was pretty generous.  Worst of all (from our perspective), waterskiing and skidoos are big attractions on the lake, AND ATVs are clearly tearing up the background.   Not what we’re looking for at all!  Time to get out of here.

Bottomless Lakes SP, New Mex

As we travelled into New Mexico, we stopped for one night at a very appealing state park near Roswell:  Bottomless Lakes.  This is a place worth returning to.  No we didn’t see any aliens or even suspicious lights in the sky. 

another bottomless lake

The lakes are a series of sinkholes, large enough to fish and swim in.  Each sinkhole has its own little style, and a few primitive campsites along the edges allow you to have a private little lake of your own. 

campsite with personal canyon wash

Between and beyond the sinkholes are dry wash canyons begging to be explored.  There is a short (1.25mi) flat biking/hiking trail to a larger lake that has RV hookups, protected swimming for kids and a main pavilion for picnics-probably has a concession during the summer.  Lake is too small to be of much kayaking interest altho it could work for wet entry practice and rollovers (!). 

Matt above canyon wash

We did hike a small canyon the next morning, and it was divine. 

I hope to see more of this country.  It’s awesome!

Matt on canyon bottom

my turn down

We drove somewhat leisurely south and west, stopping briefly at parks in Artesia and Las Cruces; Matt to check emails and me to practice photography.

Nice, huh? Too bad he was captive.

They paint murals under their bridges in Las Cruces!

City of Rocks SP, New Mexico

City of Rocks campsite

Next night we pulled into City of Rocks SP, New Mexico.  Picture islands of boulders popping out of a sea of flat desert surrounded by distant mountain ranges on the horizon.  Hard to believe such places exist.  Campsites are nestled in, under and around the boulder patches.  There are a couple short (1-2mi) bike trails (suitable for trail bikes only) around and between the boulder piles.  We were only able to try one of them before dark-I nearly crashed in an arroyo sand bank!  The night brought strong winds, but a bright half-moon allowed a midnight walk among the boulders near our camp.  It was both eery and beautiful to scramble (cautiously) around the rocks, gazing at the distant lights on the horizon at the base of the mountain range to the west and lightning strikes from the storm clouds to the north-life doesn’t get any better than this.  Even though we were sheltered in our campsite, the wind buffeted The Slipper half the night before easing in the early morning.

Hwy 70 near Virden, NM

Sheep Hole Valley, CA, hwy 62

Now we’re headed home for real.  There is so much beautiful country between NM and OR, but we are out of time.  Couple places I want to look into on another trip are  the Gila River area near Virden, NM and Sheep Hole Valley Wilderness Area east of 29 Palms, CA.  So many places; so little time.  We’ll be on the road again the last full week of May headed for Leakey, TX for the 2010 Bird Olympics.  We’re hoping we ‘ll get to do our first ever multiday rail to trail at Caprock after the Olympics!

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!

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….

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.