Sunday, August 8, 2010


After exploring the North Cascades along scenic Hwy 20 in Washington, we headed for Montana to Glacier National Park. This place is so beautiful. The campgrounds were filled with vacationers, but we didn’t have to go far to experience solitude and quiet. Sitting next to the lakes in the early morning, drinking coffee, was a daily routine. There were a few hardy people swimming in the glacial fed waters but I would only go in so far to cool off. From the campground we’d walk or ride bikes on paved trails to West Glacier or Apgar Village. 
While on the West side of the park, Dick went on a solo backpacking trip for six days and covered nearly 80 miles. PICTURES OF DICK'S HIKE He always hikes alone. I’m used to that, but in this wilderness it concerns me. In the 16 days we were at Glacier, we heard of several grizzly bluff charges, including Jack Hanna - the zoo man JACK HANNA STORY (we were told later this was a young cub just trying to get past him to his mama). We also heard about the grizzly killing near Yellowstone. GRIZZLY NEWS Not only can the bears be a threat, but moose and landslides and glacier crossings etc... Dick says, “any bear pub is good pub because it keeps people out of the backcountry.”
There was an abundance of wildflowers and huckleberries. I’m sure there are more bear encounters when the thimbleberries are ripe. The woods are thick with  thimbleberry bushes lining both sides of the trails. We never saw a grizzly the whole time we were in the park - only scat. In the campground areas I did see some black bears along the trail and on the hillsides. Up at Logan Pass we loved watching the goats and sheep. We were very excited when a fisher ambled across the trail on the way to Avalanche Lake. Everyone else saw moose but us.
The morning we planned to move to Two Medicine on the East side of the park, I woke to find the window screen open about six inches. I sat up and counted cat heads. One was missing! Sheba had decided to go on a morning hunt. The squirrels and birds were always teasing her at the end of her leash and I think she was determined to get one. I was frantic when I remembered I had taken her collar with I.D. tag off the night before. We searched for about an hour and then as I passed the woods two loops down, I heard a bird making irritated noises at something. I decided to call for Sheba and heard this tiny meow saying, “go away, I almost got him.” She was crouched under a bush. It was still early enough to move to Two Medicine, but then we couldn’t get the motorhome started. So we stayed at Apgar another day while the solar panel charged the battery. 
You’re lucky if you get a camping space this time of year. We arrived at Two Medicine the next morning and got a beautiful spot overlooking the lake with Mt. Sinopah in the background. The aroma from the spruce and balsam was wonderful. 
Last year when Dick hiked I went to Pat Hagan’s Ranger Program. It was so good. We were lucky enough to attend two of his programs. He is a riot. Very humorous while teaching us about the mountain goat and birds of the park. You have to see it to believe it. We bought his book Seasonal Disorder. INFO ON PAT HAGAN'S BOOK
A couple times, at the evening campfire programs, we heard members from the Blackfeet and Kootenai tribe share information about their culture, traditions, and personal connection to Glacier National Park and really enjoyed Blackfeet singer and story teller, Jack Gladstone. 
Dick hiked another two days in the Southeast part of the park. I drove him 40 miles to the Nyack trailhead where he would need to cross the Flathead River. He was advised not to try crossing this time of year due to high and fast water. He would be hiking through woods to the first river crossing. He didn’t want me waiting around to see if he crossed. He said if he couldn’t make it across he would hitchhike back to the campground. It was raining when I dropped him off and it rained all night. I was all snug and dry in the motorhome. The next morning I sat up in bed and looked out the window and there was a perfect full rainbow across the lake. I grabbed my jacket and camera and took pictures. What a beautiful morning, so quiet and peaceful. Almost everyone was still asleep in the campground. When Dick made it back to me late that day, he said the river was a “three crotch crossing.”  Sounds like so much fun doesn’t it?
I enjoyed hiking with groups on Ranger led hikes. No bear sightings, but claw marks on trees and fur where they scratch their backs. BEAR SCRATCHING BACK ON TREE  I enjoyed hiking with groups that didn’t wear bear bells and holler “hey Bear” or clap their hands every five minutes. The ranger tells people bells don’t work and the way you can tell black bear scat from grizzly scat is the grizzly scat has bells in it. Hiking with a group is safe enough that you don’t need to worry about making noise to warn the bears. On one of the walks we watched a beaver carry a tree branch downriver. Amazing creatures.
It was difficult to leave this beautiful place but we knew it was time. My parents are camped at the Ole’ E Ranch in Acme, and Maggie is in Traverse City now. If we didn’t have those two main reasons to head east, we would have probably inquired about being the campground hosts for the rest of the season. 

Friday, July 16, 2010


“You can get so used to certain luxuries that you start to thinking they’re necessities, but when you have to forgo them, you come to see that you don’t need them after all. There is a big difference between needing things and wanting things - though many people have trouble telling the two apart.” - Anonymous
After leaving northern California, we took our time traveling up beautiful Hwy 101 through Oregon and Washington. Spectacular views of the rocky coastline, sea stacks, lighthouses, wildflowers, surfers, kite flyers (the Oregonians love their state), sea life and sunsets. The Oregon State parks are beautiful with trails leading to the beaches. One of my favorite areas was north of Florence. The beautiful Heceta Head Lighthouse, the one you see on so many calendars, and the famous sea lion caves. What interesting creatures. It was fun looking down on them basking in the sun on the rocky ledges from the scenic overlooks (that’s them on the rocks in the slideshow). Also, Cannon Beach with the famous, 235 ft high, Haystack Rock jutting out of the ocean. 
Our last stop, before crossing the four mile bridge across the Columbia River into Washington, was Lewis & Clark National Park Fort Clatsop. Crossing this bridge reminded us of the straits of Mackinaw and the Mackinaw Bridge in Michigan.
 In 1978, when we first traveled this route, we stayed at a free campground called “The Promise Land”. We remember driving through the coastal fog and being relieved to find a place to get off the road for the night. It was the perfect haven with free electric hookup. It truly was “the promise land”. We hoped to camp there this trip. It was not at all like we remembered, so we kept on truckin’ north to Kalaloch Beach, in Olympic National Park, where we had the best of two worlds, the beach on one side and the spruce forest on the other. 
We passed through the now famous town of Forks on our way to the northern part of the National Park. All you Twilighters know what I’m talking about.  There was “twilight” coffee, twilight tours, twilight you name it. Dick said he planned to stop for some “twilight” gas. The Lincoln Theatre (in downtown Port Angeles) was the one used in New Moon. Days before the showing of Eclipse, third in the series, there were fans lined up and camped in tents all along the sidewalk.
We camped at Heart of the Hills Campground near Port Angeles. This area has always been a favorite to us after living and working in Port Angeles thirty-two years ago. The town has grown a bit, with even a Walmart, but the downtown still has its charm. Dick had hoped to do an overnight hike in the high country, but the trails were impassable because of too much snow. We did several day hikes and especially enjoyed hiking up at Hurricane Ridge in the subalpine meadows; walking among wildflowers with beautiful glacier filled mountain peaks surrounding us. It’s how I imagine the Swiss Alps. I kept belting out the Sound of Music.
I was pleased to hear the park was removing two dams on the Elwha River that have stood since the early 1900s. This will restore salmon to the river and bring the area back to the natural.
We were on our way to visit Maggie in Anacortes. We took the ferry from Port Townsend over to Whidbey Island and north to Washington Park, a city park not too far from her. We would be there over July 4. A total of ten days altogether. Our friend Chuck Woodbury drove up from Edmonds to visit us. We are friends from the newspaper days. He was publishing Outwest Magazine the same years we published The Dick E. Bird News. He and Dick have a lot in common and we had a great day catching up. Chuck now has a website for RVers and has added Dick’s RV Shrink column 
Washington Park has spectacular views when you walk out to the water’s edge. We loved walking by the water at dusk when the sky was saturated with reds and oranges and the seals were playing and fishing off shore. It was magical. Away from the water’s edge it is thickly wooded. We were experiencing grim skies and the sun rarely showed its face for the first five days we were there. Having no sunshine for several days can be a major factor in determining my moods. Getting out of the forested campground helped. Everyone commented that summer doesn’t officially arrive until July 5th. They were absolutely correct. On the 5th it was sunny and summer temps set in, the dark gray waters turned to sparkling blues and you could see the beautiful mountain tops with snow covered Mt. Baker in the distance. 
We visited Maggie, in Anacortes, last September when she was working and living at the Shiphouse Bed & Breakfast. So now we had several more people we were looking forward to seeing again. I’m sure most of you know Maggie moved out to Washington, a little over a year ago, on a whim. During the slow season at the B & B she had another part-time job working at a little lingerie boutique downtown Anacortes. She has loved this area and made so many good friends, but recently made the decision to move back to Michigan. She flew back two days after we left Anacortes. We are happy that we made the decision to visit her again before she moved back home. We enjoyed a couple of campfire picnics with her and her friends. The three of us took an early morning ferry ride through the beautiful San Juan Islands, stopping at Orcas and Shaw Islands. We visited Oggie and Betty, Captain and First mate of the Shiphouse B & B, a few times over the ten days, and on our last day Oggie invited us and several friends over for a wonderful seafood dinner out on his patio overlooking the islands. 
Fortunately, I travel with a man of all trades. The motorhome has given us trouble twice since we left California. Dick had to replace the solenoid in Oregon and the starter in Washington. Towing a car comes in very handy when the motorhome won’t move. We just unhook and drive to the nearest auto parts store. We’ve also been fortunate that both times we were stranded within ten miles of a store and they just happened to have the part we needed, for a 1989 Ford Econoline 350, in stock. 
We are both looking forward to heading east to North Cascades and Glacier National Parks after almost eight months on the road. We first want to explore these beautiful places and Dick wants to do some long distance trips. Our ETA is around mid-August. We’ve been told our neighbor is mowing the lawn. We owe him big time! I’m wondering what my perennial gardens look like. I had a good friend help me get them started and then I abandon them. I have someone checking the house now and then and she says everything looks great and there has been no “mousecapades.” All is well. See you in a month!!
People in the campfire/picnic pictures:
KELLY SITEK (Maggie graduated with her and they were roommates in college and then Kelly moved out to Anacortes last September and they lived together at the B & B).
IAN FEATHERSTONE - Kelly’s boyfriend who is also from Traverse City and moved to Anacortes in February.
KRISTIE RAINCHILD - Maggie worked with her at the boutique and also lived with her for a few weeks before moving back to Traverse City.
LOGAN RAINCHILD - Kristie’s 3 yrs old son. What a cutie. As you can see by the pictures we had loads of fun with him. 

Monday, June 28, 2010


“Treat your family like friends and your friends like family.” - Proverb
After Yosemite we headed for Foresthill, California and parked our motor home in my sister, Kathy's, yard. This was the first time Dick had been here in 13 years. Our original plan was to stay for only five days, but two weeks later we finally left. Kathy and her husband, Pat, spoiled us. We commented that their place was the best campground we’d stayed at in six months. Great company, delicious food, hot-tubbing under the stars, great spot surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees. (Kathy got the green thumb in the family, it’s not among my talents). We played card games and they taught us to play Cribbage which will keep our brains sharp.
Pat manufactures booster pump systems. Dick went to work with him one day. I don’t think he helped much or made them any money. He played with the plasma cutter and came home with his name tag cut out of steel.  
My brother, Joel, and his family live about 30 miles from Kathy and my parents were visiting from Arizona and staying at his place. We were planning to camp at his place at some point, but there wasn’t a space large enough for the motor home. On Memorial Day, Kathy invited everyone for a family reunion. I am the oldest of five. Kathy is five years younger, and Joel is 14 years younger. I have two other brothers who live in Indiana. Unfortunately, we have never been all together in at least forty years. 
The following weekend most of the family went on a camping trip. My parents opted out because they had been down the road that lead to the lake and campground before and said they would never do it again. My brother assured us it was fine and led the way. The motor home was mostly in 2nd gear. There were many curves with several climbs and steep grades and then about 3 miles of potholes. We took it slow and it took us almost three hours to go the 50 miles to the campground. It was worth the effort in getting there. We had the campground all to ourselves and the lake was beautiful with several runoffs from snowmelt. We had three days of more family time - fishing, hiking, campfires and great food and conversation. (We have been sworn to secrecy on giving out info on the campground).
After returning from our camping trip, we took a drive over to wine-country in our Saturn and looked up some friends we hadn’t seen in several years. First stop was Healdsburg to visit Valerie Hansen who we hadn’t seen since 1981. We met her in 1979 when we lived in Port Angeles, WA. I worked with her for a short time. Through the years we have kept in touch. It was great seeing her again and meeting her husband, Larry. Then we visited Becky Gulick. She and her husband, Steve (picture in video of him with the boat he built, and two small children live in Vallejo. We know Becky from Ocala, Florida where we spent several winters beginning in 1978. We worked for her dad at Ocala Breeders Sales (a thoroughbred horse auction). He invited us to meet his family and we were adopted by them and included in on every occasion. They were so good to us. Becky is the youngest of seven kids. We had the best time. What a great family. Lots going on at her house with children, chickens, cats and a dog. She fed us a wonderful meal and it was great catching up and reminiscing. 
It was time to move on up the coast of California and visit Redwoods National Park. My 13 year old nephew, Cameron, went with us for a week. I mentioned in my last blog that he was at Yosemite the same time we were. It was the first time Dick had seen him since he was born. He and Dick got along great. They drove me a little crazy at times but it was good to spend time with Cameron. They went on an overnight backpacking trip, rode bikes, played the guitar etc... We enjoyed exploring the big tree forests and the ocean beaches and tide pools. My brother drove north to pick him up and camped with us for a couple days. It was a long drive, but he had always wanted to experience the area too. He did most of the cooking and made sure we had a campfire every night. It was great to spend time with him. I just wish we lived closer. 
So now we are back to some alone time and heading up the coast of Oregon and Washington, and planning to see Maggie soon. Even though the state has its beauty and we will miss family and friends, we are happy to be out of California. It is a very congested state and it's having a rough time. Homeless people in the cities and even at the backcountry campsites. The price of gas was high because of an added tax, and campgrounds were more expensive than we have ever paid, and in disrepair. Arnold, it turns out, really is the terminator. 

Monday, June 7, 2010


“For me and for thousands with similar inclinations, the most important passion of life is the
overpowering desire to escape periodically from the clutches of a mechanistic civilization. To us the enjoyment of solitude, complete independence, and the beauty of undefiled panoramas is absolutely essential to happiness.” - Bob Marshall

We are so fortunate to have such a variety of natural places in the US. Last December, we visited Padre Island and Goose Island in Texas and it breaks my heart to see what is happening to the Gulf. I can’t listen or watch the news.
We just spent ten days in beautiful Yosemite National Park, which is, understandably, one of the most visited parks in the system and it was already crowded in late May. We could easily get away from the crowds by riding our bikes or hiking. We learned fast to never drive the car. We used the shuttle, walked, or rode our bikes on all the fantastic bike trails. We met so many fun people, all having a good time and enjoying themselves in nature. I was pleased at how quiet the campground was even though they were always full. Everyone seemed respectful of quiet hours except for our first morning in the campground when Dick woke everyone up. (Click here for DICK'S BLOG) I take that back. It wasn’t always quiet at night. There is a Bear Patrol that drives through the campgrounds, shining bright lights into campsites and vehicles, making sure there are no coolers or anything that would draw bears into the area. We were woken a couple times by the patrol shining their lights in our windows and another time around 12:30 a.m. knocking on our motorhome door because we had a cooler in the backseat of the Saturn. There was nothing in it, but the bears don’t know that.
May was a good time to see the park. The rivers and waterfalls were even more spectacular because of the snowmelt. It wasn’t peak snow melt yet and they were monitoring the rivers in case they might have to close part of the campgrounds that were along the river banks. The one hike that was challenging but enjoyable was the hike to Vernal Falls. There is a picture looking down at people at the top of the falls. The steps were cut out of the rock and very steep. Dick went on an overnight hike and climbed Half Dome. That’s challenging enough when the poles that hold the chains are up, but it was too early for that. He did it with just the chain. In the meantime, I’m down at the park library reading Death in Yosemite. Not a good idea. I was concerned after reading the numerous stories about people who had fallen off Half Dome. He made it back just fine, but still is hurting from the strain of pulling on the chain. He was thankful for the power grip gloves left behind by a previous climber. 
Speaking of climbers. Yosemite is a climbers paradise. El Capitan is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers. We watched several of them scaling the wall face. While we were in the park a young man fell 60 feet landing on a ledge. He lay unconscious until morning when he could be rescued by helicopter. We haven’t heard if he is still alive or not.
We also visited the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias because I wanted to see the famous Wawona Tunnel Tree. A picture of this tree has hung on my parent’s wall for years. In the late 1880‘s, this tree and the California Tunnel Tree were cut to allow horse-drawn stages to pass through. Stories and pictures of this gentle giant traveled around the world. This tree had a larger cavity and could be driven through by all visitors until it fell in the snowy winter of 1969.
My 13 year old nephew just happened to be at Yosemite on a class trip the same week we were. I hadn’t seen him in a couple years but Dick hadn’t seen him since he was a baby. It was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack. We couldn’t believe it when, out of four different campgrounds, we found him in our campground (which had 238 spaces), in the loop next to ours. 
We left Yosemite to go visit my sister and brother and their families for a couple of weeks. To get there we traveled Hwy 49 thru all the cute little Gold Rush towns and Calaveras County where Mark Twain once lived.
I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying the pictures. It’s a good way to show you the beauty of each place we visit.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


“When I entered this sublime wilderness the day was nearly done. The trees with rosy, glowing countenances seemed to be hushed and thoughtful, as if waiting in conscious religious dependence on the sun, and one naturally walked softly and awestricken among them.” - John Muir

Getting to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks was not easy. Not only because we had to go out of our way, but because we had to drive through a lot of California traffic to get there. We have always wanted to see these two parks when we traveled through California in the past, but there were always too many obstacles. This time we didn’t let that stop us. Dick gets very uptight driving on expressways and through cities. Being blind in one eye, he has no depth perception and depends on me to help with changing lanes, backing up, etc... I keep telling him to let me drive but that rarely happens. He loves to yell and call people names. The problem is, I’m the one who has to listen to him. Once we arrive and get parked, he is a happy camper - most of the time. I know how much he needs solitude and he is the happiest in the backcountry.
The big trees are amazing. In all the world sequoias grow naturally only on the West slope of the Sierra Nevada, most often between 5,000 and 7,000 feet of elevation. We took several pictures, but it’s hard to capture their immenseness. Kings Canyon is where the Grant Tree (the nation’s Christmas tree) is located. Sequoia National Park has the General Sherman Tree which is the largest living tree in the world, estimated at 2,300 years old. Of course we did several day hikes, exploring the canyons among the big trees. Dick wanted to do an overnight hike but there was too much snow in the high country. As you will see in the pictures there is still quite a bit of snow because of the high elevation, but the springtime weather was beautiful. I will keep this short because a picture is worth a thousand words. 
(the background music for the video is printed below the video)

The Mummers' Dance by Loreena McKinnett

When in the springtime of the year
When the trees are crowned with leaves
When the ash and oak, and the birch and yew
Are dressed in ribbons fair
When owls call the breathless moon
In the blue veil of the night
The shadows of the trees appear
Amidst the lantern light
We've been rambling all the night
And some time of this day
Now returning back again
we bring a garland gay
Who will go down to those shady groves
And summon the shadows there
And tie a ribbon on those sheltering arms
In the springtime of the year
The songs of birds seem to fill the wood
That when the fiddler plays
All their voices can be heard
Long past their woodland days
And so they linked their hands and danced
Round in circles and in rows
And so the journey of the night descends
When all the shades are gone
"A garland gay we bring you here
And at your door we stand
It is a sprout well budded out
The work of Our Lord's hand" 

Monday, May 17, 2010


Zion National Park is an incredible place. We loved Zion when we visited 30 years ago and enjoyed it just as much this time. It has changed a bit because of the increase in the number of visitors, but the natural beauty is still the same. I read the journal from our May 1979 visit, and I noted there were only a few people camping in the campground. Not so this time. They closed one of the canyon roads to vehicles and now have a shuttle bus system in that area because of the increasing numbers of visitors each year. A great idea and many of the busier parks are doing this. The campground was full of Summer Tanagers and Yellow Warblers. You could spot them easily by their bright colors and beautiful song, and the black-chinned hummingbirds were out in full force. It was a very relaxing six days. We hiked and biked and attended all the evening programs at the outdoor amphitheater under the stars. 
Several of you have asked how the cats are doing. They are both still with us and great travelers. Funny Face never goes near the door when it is open. After escaping a couple of times, it scared her enough to tell her that is not where she wants to go. She doesn’t want to lose her happy home. We have definitely bonded on this trip. Sheba does real well on a leash and even knows how to untangle herself sometimes. She’s been traveling since she was a kitten. (The ravens do intimidate her). We tried putting Funny Face on a leash but she freaked out. It was like having a fish on the end of your line, running out the real. 
We left Zion and headed for Death Valley, but not before checking the temps first. We timed it perfectly, arriving in the late afternoon when it was around 82 degrees and it cooled off through the night. We hiked around dusk watching the bats and poor-wills swooping around us. We left the next morning around 6 a.m., beginning at 190 feet below sea level, we slowly climbed to 4,000 ft, stopping along the way to take in the views. We hit this area at a good time. Along the road, as we drove to higher elevations, the wildflowers were beautiful. All colors of the rainbow. We did have one problem along the way. Our refrigerator wouldn’t start and everything thawed. We had to buy an ice chest and put everything on ice to save our food. The next morning it started up again and everything is working great. Interestingly enough, when we were in Death Valley in 1981 our refrigerator quit working then too. We were pulling a 1963, 28 foot Avion Travel Trailer with a 1964 Chevy Suburban. That time we weren’t so lucky. Dick had to drag the refrigerator outside and roll it three times. It worked! Then if that wasn’t bad enough, the carrier bearing went out on the suburban. So this time it was not so bad compared to all that. John Denver had it right when he said, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.”

Below is a photo of our home on wheels (our Avion), taken in 1979 when we last visited the Utah canyonlands.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Because I had no reservation, I was expecting a long and frustrating wait for a permit to hike into the Grand Canyon. The National Park System is beginning to implode on itself from the impact of over visitation, lack of funding (they do not keep all the revenue they generate), and increasing attitude degradation on the part of park rangers who become fed up with visitors earlier and earlier in the season. I have always said, “Multiply Numbers/Divide Resources.” That little Dick E. Bird wisdom becomes more profound every year from my perspective. The problem with becoming an old fart is that your hard drive is full of the memories of “How it used to be.”
To my surprise, I was allowed into “The Canyon” on my fourth day in the park. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and I immediately scooted over to the backcountry office. I was fortunate enough to get a peach of a ranger. She was knowledgeable, personable, friendly and helpful. I’m to a point now where I am grading rangers. Only about 50% make the grade, and I’m grading on a curve.
I told her I didn’t have a reservation and that I would like to spend about four days in the backcountry (which would give Gaila a much needed sabbatical from me). I added that I would take whatever I could get. Beggars can’t be choosers. I said I would go to any areas that she could find openings. She did her magic on the computer and in five minutes I had an awesome permit. 
It had me going half way down the Kaibab Trail then east along the Tonto Plateau for 6 miles, back the next day to Kaibab and descending to Bright Angel campground near Phantom Ranch. The next day up the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens and the fourth day out. I’m still finding that amazing as this is the Primo time to be hiking in the Grand Canyon and yet I snared a decent permit. 
Actually, I was a little suspect when I noticed my first night campsite was “Cremation Canyon.” Maybe they’ve heard of me. Maybe they know I’ve become “Oscar the Grouch” of park service policy. I was warned, “No water on the Kaibab and no water in Cremation.” No problem, I’m part camel. I just drank until my hump was swollen and headed down into the Big Amazing Ditch. 
I don’t know how people do this in July. At least I don’t know how they can enjoy it. I left the rim on a day they were calling for snow, high winds and a high of 41 degrees. I never carry more than 2 quarts of water, but on this trip I carried a gallon. Yes, I have read the book, Death in the Canyon.
The switchback Kaibab trail and the incredible landscape it traverses seemed limitless. The morning light changing the shading every second. A half hour down the steep trail I was shedding layers. I like to hike fast and hard and long. I found myself stopping to take pictures every five minutes. I’m no photographer, blind in one eye and have no depth perception, but what the heck, film is history. This isn’t costing me a dime and I might even get lucky and take a decent picture. It’s more to show Gaila where I have been. I don’t give a rip about pictures. I keep all of mine on my hard drive, the one whirling around between my ears. 
I get bored easily. I made it to Cremation Canyon by late morning. I could have stayed. I had a couple quarts of water left for dinner, breakfast and the next leg of the hike to Bright Angel campground. My map showed it was only a few more miles to another canyon called Lone Tree. My permit allowed me anywhere along this section of the plateau. I was cozy in a nice little “Man Cave” rock overhang with plenty of shade. Beyond that blazed full sun and temps in the mid-eighties. The trail was faint in many areas. It seemed to hug the South Rim Canyon wall and drop in and out of dry side canyons. I was told I would still find water in Lone Tree canyon. I decided to hike there. Sure enough there was still water pooled in canyon pockets, shade in rock overhangs, and the canyon floor was alive with spring. Wildflowers, blooming cactus, singing frogs, busy hummingbirds, and my favorite, aerial acrobatic ravens, gliding along the canyon thermals, creating drag by raising and lowering their feet, like small aircraft landing gear. 
I usually do not filter water. Gaila says one day it will kill me. My theory is that I am building immunity to water borne disease. If you drink water in Mexico you get the screamers, but do you ever see Mexicans with the screamers? Anyway, I have not yet picked up giardia or any other nasty water borne bug, and I have consumed some nasty water. If I do, I’ve saved myself 50 years of filtering water so far. I still had several hours of daylight so I explored the canyon and decided to filter water using my “filter bulb.” I’ve been carrying it for years and have never tried it. It’s about the size of a fishing bobber and has a small charcoal filter as it’s core. I always wondered how fast it would work. It’s a gravity flow procedure. The Canyon Tree Frogs were loving the pools. It was like dying and going to heaven for them. They had been patiently waiting all winter for this bath. To me the water smelled a bit foul, contained a lot of algae, and well populated by pollywogs and the next generation of Canyon Tree Frog song, which sounds like bleating sheep. 
I thought I was going to set up an IV and go hiking, thinking this water filter bulb was going to be a slow drip. To my pleasant surprise, it worked faster than a fancy, heavy, expensive filter pump. I filled my platypus water bladder, hung it upside-down from a tree branch and it filled my quart Gator Aid bottles in less than five minutes.
I didn’t have a watch. I just go to bed when it gets dark and get up and hike when it gets light. How simple is that?
In the morning I hiked five miles back toward the Kaibab before eating breakfast. It was raining pretty hard and cold. I had my poncho and down mittens (doubles as my pillow) on. My poncho is also the ground cloth for my tent. I have a big one that covers me and my pack. To keep it from blowing wildly in the fierce wind, I used a long pack strap as a poncho belt. Works great. My goal was to get back to the rock outcropping (Man Cave) I settled into near Cremation. I knew I could get out of the rain, fire up my Zip Ztove and enjoy my freeze dried bacon and eggs. The rain soon stopped, sun was shinning, birds were singing, flowers were growing. I sat looking across the Grand Canyon at the snow covered, 8,000 ft. North rim. I was nursing a hot cup of coffee. This is “Sucking the Juice out of Life.”
By noon I had crossed the Colorado and set up camp in Bright Angel Campground. It was a great site bordered by the canyon wall on one side and loud, rushing Phantom Creek on the other.
This is a little utopia just downstream from the Phantom Ranch. You will hear me in later blogs grousing about National Park Ranger attitudes, but here at Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground I found some of the best. They were young with the ranger quality of old. It’s all about attitude. Even though the place was filled to capacity, the water pipe that supplies the valley was broken and the weather turned windy and rainy, the two rangers managing the area were cheerful, knowledgeable, instructive, interesting and interested. 
I’m still waiting to hear if I have secured a backcountry job in North Cascades, but if it happens, I’m taking my lead from these two. 
We were all conserving water, but by law, the Park Service has to provide water, even if it means flying it into the canyon. Plus, it’s probably cheaper than flying dried up bodies out. I left at first light the next morning to try my hand (feet) at conquering the switchbacks of Bright Angel trail. It was promising to be a hot day but by leaving early you enjoy a shaded trail until almost noon. I had less than five miles to Indian Garden. I decided I would wait and have breakfast there. It is a beautiful little oasis half way up the Bright Angel. The Ranger there was suspiciously looking at my Zip Ztove as I cooked breakfast. It burns ground litter so it could be considered an open fire, which is not permitted in the Canyon. The stove, which requires carrying no fuel, is approved by the National Park and Forest Service. Unfortunately, few Rangers are familiar with that fact. Gaila says I just love conflict and debate, but I feel it is my duty to educate the less enlightened. The Park Service has a manual full of rules as thick as the postal service's “Domestic Mail Manual.” And like similar government tomes, few have ever read them--besides me.  And, like the Bible, those who have done the reading interpret differently the convoluted doublespeak they contain and are all of a different religion. 
I was bored again. I decided it was only nine o’clock in the morning. I lifted my pack and started up the trail. I took my time and ended up my trip a day early. I called Gaila from the rim at noon and said, “I’m Baaaccck!” I just wanted to give her some warning in case she had a Ranger in the motorhome. I think she rates them differently than I do.  --Keep Smilin’


"You can see the way the whole world is put together, by looking at how it's been cut away millennium after millennium, and then you'd feel just like what you really are - a grain of sand in all this creation." - Katie Lee, Singer Songwriter

While Dick went backpacking for a few days, I stayed behind and enjoyed hiking along the Rim Trail each day. When he told me the route he was taking climbed 4500 ft in 9.3 miles one way, it did not sound like my idea of fun! A trip to this park can be a vacation or a challenge, a revelation or an ordeal. I opted for the revelation. Over 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year. One ranger said an average of six people a year fall into the canyon. While we were there a man drove his car off the south rim. 
The Mather Campground is within walking distance to just about everything. If I would rather ride, there is a shuttle bus system. I love reading the history of the area we’re visiting. I was thrilled that the library let me check out books and dvds on the honor system. Learning about the Kolb brothers, Mary Jane Colter, Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls, John Wesley Powell, Edward Abbey etc..., made my visit more interesting. Reading a book on “Women of the Canyon” gave me some idea what it’s like to ride the Colorado River or hike in and out of the canyon. I also attended ranger programs and learned about the incredible geology of this area and the California Condor. I was lucky to see a condor in flight and then perch below the Lookout Studio. It was #89.
The Grand Canyon has over 4 million visitors a year. It is an amazing place - one of earth's most powerful inspiring landscapes and it overwhelms the senses. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010


The thoughts of the earth are my thoughts. The voice of the earth is my voice. All that belongs to the earth belongs to me. All that surrounds the earth surrounds me. It is lovely indeed, it is lovely indeed.    - Navajo Proverb

After several months exploring New Mexico we crossed over into northeastern Arizona to visit Canyon de Chelly and Navajo National Monuments on our way to the Grand Canyon.
One of the reasons we couldn’t go back to Michigan right now is because we wanted to visit places in the West that we had never seen before and places we hadn’t been to in over 30 years. We knew we had made the right decision when we saw the beauty surrounding us. Amazing colors and spectacular views - canyons, mesas, mountains and rivers. New Mexico is interesting and has its own beauty, but Arizona is awesome! This is what traveling is all about. 
I’m sure it helps that it’s spring and finally warming up and beginning to bud and turn green. The green desert floor against the red rock formations and blue skies brought many oohs and aahs, and I love the sweet aroma of the desert sage and the desert in bloom. The land of the Navajo is lovely indeed. 
We enjoyed hikes into areas at both monuments where you aren’t allowed unless with a guide. Our guides were Navajo (Dine’) which made it even better. We sometimes had to wade across rivers to visit the preserved cliff dwellings of the Anasazi (ancient ones).**
We also took a day trip to Utah to see Monument Valley. Huge rock formations jut up from the desert floor. A backdrop for many car commercials and many of the early westerns.  
We were in the Navajo Nation; 27,000 sq. miles extending into Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. It is a sovereign nation with its own tribal government established in 1923. Most have kept their traditional customs and values and most speak the Navajo language and it is taught in the schools. They make exquisite jewelry, rugs and pottery and often sell their artwork along the roads.

Many appear to not have much but they are richly blessed with the beauty surrounding them. It’s a whole different way of life. To get to the beautiful protected areas we drove through many communities where the living conditions are very poor, but everyone has a Hogan, a sacred shelter where the family can be together.
There are stray dogs everywhere. It was the same in New Mexico. Most of these dogs are homeless but very friendly. They hang around outside restaurants, gas stations and stores and beg. I fed some when I could. I saw one lift his paw to every person that passed by. It must be the norm here because people don’t even pay attention. It’s hard for me because I want to take all of them home. I was shocked when Dick asked me if I wanted to take a little puppy with us that I had stopped to pet. It was so sweet, and I was torn, but decided it would not be wise. It needed a bath and would need to see a vet before I brought it in with the cats. 
There were so many dead dogs along the roads and we even passed a dead horse. It’s open range for horses, as well as cattle. There is a shortage of water and we wondered how anyone or anything can live in some of these dry desert areas. Right now things are turning green but it must not last long.

We are now in Grand Canyon National Park and Dick just returned from a 3 day backpacking trip into the canyon. We will update you on our experiences soon. The adventure continues!

**History:  It is believed that the Navajo first migrated to the area from the north - possibly the area of Central Canada - around the year 1000 C.E. At that time, the area was occupied by the ancestors of today's Hopi, Tewa and other pueblo peoples.  The Navajo tended to be aggressive with their neighbors, stealing and raiding, and forced the Hopi into the tight, protective villages that still exist today.
Traditional Navajo society was very loosely organized, with little or no centralized governmental or religious structures.  With the arrival of first the Spanish and later European-American settlers, the Navajos began a period of violent clashes that eventually resulted in an incredibly violent campaign against the Navajo by the US Army.  Government forces killed or captured all of the Navajo they could find, including women and children.  The captives were transported to a desolate army base in Redondo Bosque, New Mexico, where many people starved or died of disease in the horrible conditions there.  As part of the campaign, the Army burned everything they could - hogans, crops, looms, and household belongings.  Over 8,000 men, women and children were marched the 400 miles from Navajoland to Bosque Redondo in the winter of 1864, in what is known as the Long Walk.After several years, even US government officials were appalled and embarrassed by the conditions in Bosque Redondo.  A treaty was concluded recognizing the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation and allowing the Navajo to return home to their ancestral land.  In exchange, the Navajo pledged not to take up arms against their neighbors. The Navajo are one of the few Native American groups who managed to hang on to a significant portion of their historical lands.

Friday, April 16, 2010


LOST PART II            
Well, Gaila has done it again. She is such a bad influence on me. We were headed home to Michigan and almost made it out of New Mexico. I mean, we were so close to Oklahoma we could have spit on an Okie and hit two Texans. I just casually mentioned we should turn around and head back across New Mexico and Northern Arizona, then go home by way of Nevada, then California, then up the Oregon and Washington coast and over to Montana. Most women would be more responsible and say, “No, we are going home.” Not Gaila. She said, “Okay!” She is sooooo bad!
It’s not such a crazy idea when you think about it. We are already all the way out here. We could hike in the Grand Canyon, Zion and maybe even parts of Yosemite National Parks. You can’t do that in Michigan. We weighed all the options. Go home and mow the yard or stay out here and hike the Zion Narrows. It was a tough decision but we are tonight camped at Eagle Nest, New Mexico just outside of Taos and headed west again. Another thing that this extended trip will prove is just how accurate the Discover Channel is. I watched that program where they pretend Man is wiped off the planet and nature takes over. They show buildings being eaten by vines and crumbling to ruins. I’m just curious if that will really happen if I don’t mow my lawn for the next seven years. Just kidding. That’s how long we were gone the last time Gaila started this irresponsible behavior. I’m almost sure it won’t get that bad again. 
When you get to be my age you start looking into your bucket list. There are things I have never done yet and this might be the time to do some of them. Also, my wife says I have to have a job before I retire. So I have applied for one. I decided if I was going to be crazy wild, and get a job, I should get a Government Job. They never run out of money as long as they have ink. So I applied to North Cascades National Park as a backcountry ranger. A recent communication from them said I was at the top of the list of qualified applicants. It was kind of a “no-brainer” decision. They want to pay me $21,000.00 to backpack for six months. If it looks like they might give the job to someone else I might have to tell them I will do it for half price. I hope it doesn’t come down to that. With a 20 zillion trillion budget deficit, who’s going to miss a measly twenty-one grand that’s going to a good cause like backpacking. If it doesn’t happen, no big deal. If I die and never have a job, history will show that at least I tried. 
If we do hear from North Cascades we will have to put our foot in the carburetor and head up there. If we do not hear from them, we plan to visit a lot of places we love and places we have never been.  It will give us a chance to spend some more time with Gaila’s family in Arizona and California and Maggie in Washington. We haven’t told the two cats yet. They may mutiny. There are many pluses to this decision. One is that most people have done the responsible thing and gone home to mow. That has left all the great camping places empty and quiet. I think it might even be safe to head back into Arizona next week. 
The toughest part for Gaila was having to give up her On-Call position at Urgent Care. They were kind enough to put it on hold for her this winter. After she hung up, I don’t know if she was crying because she was happy or sad. I don’t ask too many questions when she gets emotional. I find If I hike about five miles it cures her. 
We put hours of thought into this decision. We made a list of reasons to stay out west and reasons to go home. The “stay list” just kept getting longer. Lists are a lot like casino odds, they can be fixed. So maybe we left a few things off the “go home list” but it’s not like we are never going home again. I think who ever said, “You can never go home again” was wrong. We intend to prove it, but not right away.   --Keep Smilin’ Dick   Carpe Diem!
Looking back your greatest regrets will be of things you didn’t do not the things you did do.”