I though I had some show pictures but I can’t find them. You can see some fun videos on our Gypsy Carpenter’s Facebook page. It’s public. Sue made us two gorgeous rugs. Chava vomited on one the first night. Sue said, Yay! Rugs ar emade for using.
Random pictures from the last week.
Five of us, two humans and three dogs, fled Montana ahead of a record breaking blizzard 10 days ago. Montana got a lot of snow, we hit a lot of places. Portal Irish Music Week attendees gather on Wednesday night. It’s Monday night and as much as we’d like to see people in Portal and catch up before camp we’re hanging out in the high country. There’s no fence at our campsite and Portal temperatures have been a little too high to use the truck as a kennel so we’ve spent the week on public lands where people are few and the weather is balmy. The weather is predicted to cool off by Saturday so that will make canine management slightly easier but with fifty people and my dad and his girlfriend all descending on Portal at the same time the dogs are going to be a pain in the tookus no matter how you look at it.
Here’s where we’ve been: Camas National Wildlife Refuge, Curlew National Wildlife Refuge, the Golden Spike National Historic Site, the Hawk Watch Site in the Goshutes, Cathedral Gorge State Park, Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Zion National Park, the Pariah River BLM area, Wupatki National Cultural Area, Sunset Crater, Meteor Crater National Landmark, and San Francisco Hot Springs.
Curlew NWR isn’t worth a visit but the road it’s on is worth driving. Cathedral Gorge State Park is a lovely site with a few fun and easy trails, plus hot water. Pahranagat NWR is worth a visit and a few days, especially if you have a canoe and some time. Boating season is restricted so check ahead. Zion we just drove through. That was really a fun thing. More below. Wupatki was hot so I stayed with the dogs. Felonies are best avoided unless you are a siting president. If you’re president I guess you can do whatever the fuck you want. Leave your dog in a hot car Mr. Trump and we’ll see how long you last. Oh, you don’t have a dog. Oops, I lost my train of thought. Sunset Crater is a forested area with interesting volcanic formations but you can’t walk the crater. Meh. Meteor Crater is mind blowing because it stands as a monument to one guy’s scientific discovery. More below.
So Zion. Zion National Park is a postage stamp sized park compared to Yellowstone. It straddles two sides of a highway. To gain access to the heart of the park you must park (English, so fun) and take a shuttle. There was no parking in the park on that day but the drive through is gape worthy. Our gNash trailer is a mere 2″oversized for a highway tunnel on the route through the park but for $15 the National Park Service Stops traffic and lets you drive the tunnel down the middle of the road. Not wanting to be a nuisance we wondered if we should just drive around but we’d burn way more than $15 in fuel to skip the tight tunnel. Here’s the simple system to prevent head-ons in the tunnel. An oversized vehicle (us) arrives at a kiosk at one end of the tunnel. The attendent calls ahead to the other side and says, “Stop the traffic” or “wide load” or “road hog”. The attendant on the other end gives a white baton to the last car through from his direction and halts traffic. The baton holder travels the tunnel and as they exit they give the baton to the attendant on our side. The road hog is given the all clear to enter the tunnel. With lights on they straddle the yellow line for a mile and a half. There are view windows along the route. This was fun and worth every cent.
Meteor Crater National Monument has been on my do list since circa 1986 when we passed by on a western US rock climbing trip. I’ve always been intrigued by photos of the enormous blast crater. The meteor conveniently struck on I-40 just east of Flagstaff. Well, it was before I-40 but what a nice coincidence. I’ve probably driven in the vicinity 20 times. I think it’s either been too expensive or inconvenient on previous outings. The monument is privately owned so it’s not eligible for a free pass under our Senior Access Permit but I made Burt take me. A few years back we visited a meteor crater in Texas and it was such a let down I just had to see this one. If you’re passing through I say 5 stars. This site was discovered a long time back but interestingly at the time scientists believed it was just another volcanic crater. One guy, A. Foote, in 1891 said it was a meteor crater. Nobody believed him, but he was correct. Then another guy, Daniel Barringer, came to the same conclusion. He was so confident he bought the site. Still nobody believed him. All that volcanic stuff was obfuscating the situation. It wasn’t until 1960 that the scientific community caught up. Finally. Red meat anyone? The area has been protected and marketed by the Barringer family for several generations. They have built a fun and interesting interpretation center. It was too hot to leave the dogs for long so I didn’t get to play with as many of the toys as I wanted but I was satisfied with our visit. Thumbs up. Read more HERE or HERE. And they have a dog kennel for hot days. Our dogs would have filled the place if we’d opted to use it.
There’s evidence in these photos that we did enjoy a day, or moment, of lovely weather at the Camas National Wildlife Refuge. Camas was established in 1937 to provide resting and feeding habitat during spring and fall migrations. The refuge is located right next to I-15 and I am embarrassed to admit I’d never stopped in 30 years of passing it by. Burt and I finally pulled in last spring and now it’s on the do not pass without stopping list. It’s up there with our favorite pizza and ice cream joints now. So easy, so lovely, so many birds. Oddly, there are never any official humans there. There’s an office, some maintenance shops, and houses but we haven’t met a person responsible for protecting or interpreting the area.
We spotted some trumpeter swans and I snuck through the grasses to get a bit closer. I wanted a shot of the swan’s visible, green, numbered tag. I knew people out there are monitoring the tagged birds. I sent the photos in to the Trumpeter Swan Society and received word that they were excited to have the documentation. I learned that R32 is a male that has been seen at Camas before. These birds summer in the arctic and winter in the south. R32 likely was just recently arrived in Idaho. I also learned that he hasn’t had much luck procreating. They were happy to hear and see evidence of a companion. These enormous birds migrate in family groups.
Tundra swans were nearly obliterated at the turn of the last century. There were only 69 known individuals in 1935. Feathers and whatnot. Now they are one of the great conservation success stories. They have rebounded to over 35,000 individuals but threats remain. These gorgeous birds, like so many, are losing vast tracts of important range to climate change. They are being flooded out. Just like humans.
We’ve fled Montana. A massive snow storm was coming our way and it was time to leave. That was Friday. Today is the first mostly sunny day we’ve seen. Trailer life is so mush nicer when it’s dry outside. But what’s a little discomfort when we’ve had so much more drama. The last two weeks: Three bears, front wheel bearings went out, the clutch linkage went out, Chava projectile vomited the wasabi peas he stole in the cab during a rain storm while moving, it rained and snowed so much that the inside walls were dripping, the Heat Buddy stopped working, we got stuck in the mud, and a trailer tire blew out.
On the upside Burt made mac and cheese, the bears didn’t eat me, all repairs were easily made if expensive, my spider egg hatched, and we had a nice turn around Camas National Wildlife Refuge. So here we are.
Yesterday we pulled up a sketchy road towards the Hawk Watch trailhead. This was after the vomiting, two truck repairs, and wet Olive scowls. Actual humans had told us it would be easy to pull our trailer in and camp. They suggested the Hawk Watch volunteers would love us if we brought chocolate and adult beverages. We had such happy thoughts of seeing eagles and hawks getting tagged and released. We stocked up on adult beverages and chocolate. The actual humans might not have been aware that a spring had hatched on the road and that there was a new steep, slick detour to avoid the morass. We arrived at the bottleneck and faced a risky attempt at trying the steep detour or a quarter mile back-up on a muddy but flat double track road. We parked and ate mac and cheese. There was vigorous but not heated discussion of our options. To get to sleep we deluded ourselves with the hope of roads drying or freezing enough to allow our passage. Of course, neither happened. In fact it all seemed wetter and more hopeless in the morning. This morning.
Burt made biscuits. We slathered them in butter and Todd’s homemade marmalade. I love Todd’s marmalade. I think we were carbo loading so we had the strength to face the agonizing reversal. While I was snoozing Burt had come to grips with the 1/4 mile backup. It wasn’t so bad once he got started. A little swiggly wiggly back and forth and he kept the trailer in the path. It took about 20 minutes. I walked along outside and minded my business. The day was looking up even if we did have to miss the birds.
Burt pulled off the highway just north of Ely, Nevada so we could eat lunch. He exited the vehicle looked at the trailer and said, “Holy Fuck.” We might be a bit to free with the F-bombs around here but Burt’s ashen face told me something really bad was about to become known to me. My thoughts immediately went to we clipped a cyclist and didn’t notice. Burt says I’m watching too many zombie shows. The situation was much less terrible but very scary. We’d blown out a tire on the trailer. Who knows when? The rim was shot and the tire shredded. How had we not wrecked? Could we change it? Well, yes we could. I Googled how to change a dualie tire. Drive up on a platform instead of a jack. So Burt got to building a series of platforms and we inched our way higher and higher. Then our knights in shining armor arrived. A tow truck guy out of Cedar City and his four year old son rolled up and offered to help. They had one of those super jacks.
Burt and our nameless superhero had the old tire off and the spare on in less that 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Chapman(?) and I laughed at Burt’s butt crack and examined our surroundings. Chapman wasn’t big on enunciation so I’m not confident I got his name correct. He offered me a piece of gum and was stunned when I declined. I told him he’d enjoy it more than me. Then he said (in earshot of his dad) don’t tell my dad. I’m not certain what I wasn’t supposed to tell his dad. That he had gum? That I didn’t like gum? I showed him our dogs, a dead deer leg, and a painted rock. He had to pee. I promised not to look. The job was done just like that and they refused payment. We motored into Ely and bought a new tire. While Burt waited on the tire I walked the dogs and found a domestic rabbit on the loose. A small, well groomed terrier was barking at the black and white floppy bunny. Back at the tire shop a heavily tattooed older woman was yelling loudly that the tire guys though she was a dumb bitch. Tire guys couldn’t find a leak in her tire. Somehow this was them trying to scam her. I didn’t like this scene since the two females were yelling about the men thinking they were stupid bitches and I was afraid I’d be asked to take sides. I decided to go back to the bunny and try to find the bunny’s home. I went back and snapped a picture. I walked around looking for a hutch in a yard or a sad lost bunny sign. No luck but the dissatisfied customers had left when I returned.
We are safe and dry and fed and warm. All is well. Burt was a super human today. XOXO Burt.
Burt went off on his annual backpack in Yellowstone with his lifelong buddy and I stayed home with the canine troop this weekend. It was a wet and cold time for all parties. The gNash furnace died last year and so now we use a Mr. Heater Buddy, a portable propane heater. Buddy is not a very reliable friend. He gives off an hour of heat and then the super sensitive oxygen monitor cuts off the burn. Day one was in the low thirties and I had only an hour of heat at bedtime and an hour in the morning. I stayed warm with dog sleeping companions and a steady stream of cooking.
Day two Sue and I met up for an afternoon hike during a gap in the rain. We had a glorious walk across the plateau west of Daley Lake. That evening me and the dogs piled into bed together again and kept our spirits up with rumors of a break in the rain the next day.
Today the reprieve showed up around 11:00 AM. I ate some egg salad and gathered everyone up for a hike. Before Burt left I joked I was going to stay warm boiling one egg at a time, all day long. It was almost that bad but it was tea, spaghetti, toast…and eggs. The day’s hike was also suggested by Burt before he left. He thought I should follow the trail off Jardine Road down to the confluence of Bear Creek and the Yellowstone River. His idea was that the trail passes through wide open country and I should be able to see any bears from a long distance. The down side is it is a hike into a hole. A deep hole.
With afib I try to avoid hikes into holes. The advantage to an uphill start is if I run into trouble I can always turn around and head down. If I have an afib attack and the only way home is up, I could be in a bit of trouble. Funny thing about how the world is laid out but most hikes start up hill. At least in the places we hang. So I weighed bears and holes and decided to take my chance with the hole. A also decided to give super-Elvis a chance to show the world he’s still tough. It all worked out great. No weird heart beats and Elvis made it up down without incident. We did 1500′ in 4.5 miles in about 2.5 hours. And more wonderful weather. I’m feeling hopeful that I can make it up to the Goshutes bird viewing area. That’s 2000′ in 2 miles up to 10,000′. It will be tough. Here’s the stuff we saw.
Burt is back safe and sound. They stayed warm and dry on their three day camp.
The hills around Jardine are prime grizzly country but this summer there’s been hardly a sign these giant beasts that live amongst us. Bears are on the increase all over western Montana and with that there are more reports of bear/human contact. Nearly every walk beyond the confines of our yard I strap on the orange and black canister of bear spray. I admit on a couple of occasions I have absentmindedly left it at home and it always made me queasy when I realized it was just me and the small dogs if we had a chance encounter with Bruno. The bear thoughts were there on every walk despite only one scat and two footprints for scores of hikes. I had those dreadfully lovely feelings of wanting to see a bear but only far away or from in the car. I’d started to feel like I wasn’t getting the full Yellowstone experience if I didn’t see at least one fuzzy butt running away from me before we left.
Proper self-defense requires physical skills and mental preparation. Even though I no longer actively participate in a martial art or self-defense training I still frequently think of the things I’ve learned. Many skills are hard wired like riding a bike. Knee to groin, fist to face…those will come out without thought. I also had the privilege of some hand gun training from a federal law enforcement instructor when I ran in law enforcement circles. For a few years I practiced drawing, aiming, shooting even though I never owned or carried a hand gun. Gun safety when there are guns around is important and so I was given the knowledge. So pepper spray…as a fairly knowledgeable person on these matters it always troubled me that we’re just supposed to pick up a can of spray and know how to use it properly. Since I couldn’t spray without wasting my expensive gas and, most likely, causing myself great physical discomfort (I have been hit by both a leaky canister and a ditz with mace in a restaurant, so I know) the only way to prepare was read and visualize. So I did and do. Remove safety. Wait until the bear is very close. Fire. I practiced removing the safety. It’s tricky with my arthritic fingers. My friend Sue had the chance to practice at one of MT FWP’s training seminars. Faux charging bear and all. I watched the video. That bear moves fast. She told me she learned this helpful hint: Aim for the feet because the gas rises. Also bring soap to clean yourself up afterwards. Because you will get it on you. I’m not going to carry soap. I’ll suffer. Of course, before any of this you want to try to avoid meeting a bear and failing that try to scare the bear away.
Yesterday Burt decided to walk with me. We’ve only shared a handful of walks this summer. Burt’s been very busy working. So it was unusual to have him and Elvis along. Normally it’s just me and the Chalive. The three of us alone are no good at making peremptory noise to give bears the chance to leave and Burt added to the equation is no better. When Burt and I hike we are usually a quarter mile apart. And Burt talks everywhere but on a walk. He’s a creeper in the forest. We try to talk but we just can’t sustain it. We’re natural hunters. So there we were: Olive and Chava twenty feet ahead of me, Burt and Elvis a few hundred yards behind. We were only 10 minutes from the trail head, 15 minutes from the gNash. The trail is a persistent but not steep uphill cut into a steep hillside. The land drops away on one side and the other side is a steep upwards slope. Passing other travelers (horses, anyone?) can be awkward because there’s little land to move. Generally there are no other travelers. It’s very quiet up here.
I rounded a curve in the trail with the Chalive and heard some gentle rustling. There’s a lot of gentle rustling up here. Juncos and ground squirrels are the norm. Not yesterday. Just ahead and slightly above me, maybe 40 to 50 feet away was a great grizzly. A superb grizzled silvery sow was right before my eyes. The dogs didn’t see her but she saw them and she saw me. And then I saw her two yearling cubs. Yearlings are nearly as big as mom this time of year. I was face to face with three big bears. I was relieved to see the cubs were on the same side of the trail as momma bear. We were not caught in the most dangerous situation between mom and cubs. As the sow turned to look over her shoulder to see where her cubs were I began yelling and that canister of spray was in my hand with the safety off aimed right at her. I did not pull the trigger. I knew she was too far away and that she would likely flee. She turned her ginormous moon face back at me and gave me a good bye glance and headed up hill with the kids on her ass. It was so steep they hardly got a start before the dogs realized they were there. With the bears’ sudden movements Olive and Chava caught on and took off in pursuit. I switched from yelling from BEAR BEAR BEAR BEAR to NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. And I thought why did Burt have to tell me about dogs turning bears around and leading them back to their screaming owners? What was going to happen?
Burt quickly arrived and I was still screaming. The bears had just ducked over a small flattish area above our heads. The threesome was heading in the direction we had come. Olive and Chava were just reaching the spot where the bears had disappeared from view. Would it be an ambush? Was this the moment the bears would turn and come back our way? Now Burt and I were both yelling NONONONONONO. The dynamic duo stopped at the edge. There was a dramatic pause and then they came back to us with no bears in tow. What changed their minds? Was momma on the other side of the lip glaring at them? Or was the hill too steep and they too lazy? They aren’t talking.
With the bears headed towards town we decided to continue our walk only now we walked as a compact noisy quintet. I sang songs loudly and poorly. If the volume didn’t ward off the bears the missed notes would. While I was not scared during the face-off, the walk home through the area where we knew the bears to be was nerve wracking. I jumped out of my skin when a junco flew out of some grass at my feet. In fact, nearly 24 hours later, Olive scared me just by rearranging herself on the bed as I write this. No walk today. I’m telling myself it’s because its 40 and raining.
It was thrilling to see the bears. I can leave this area satisfied. It was also thrilling to remove the canister and have that safety off without a conscious thought. Be prepared. And, no, there are no pictures. All eyes were on the bears. All hands were on the weapon.
Jardine never provided us with summer. The cool and rainy season we enjoyed up here was spring and now fall. A cool, smoke-free season. It reminded me of the early 90s in Helena when we couldn’t plan outdoor trips before the 4th of July and it snowed regularly in August. It used to rain in June. Summer was an idea. We always had a winter coat within reach. Thank you Jardine for the reminder.
The Gypsy Carpenters are pulling out of Montana at the end of next week. We’re planning a trip to the Goshute Mountains for raptor migration as we make our way down to Portal for the 9th Annual Portal Irish Music Week. You can read about the raptor migration HERE. Burt with very little help from me has nudged our client’s project further than he committed to back in early July. When we arrived here the simple remodel we were expecting had morphed into a high end upgrade: beverage fridge, two sinks in the kitchen, a hot tub, tile through out, etc. I always counsel clients that costs and times are driven by the finishes. Tile and tongue and groove walls are way more costly than laminate and sheet rock. More time consuming, too. This job was now out of reach for the two months we had planned because client dream of their dream home. Everyone does it. Add to the dreamy dreams that we are in Jardine. Jardine is a full hour from hardware and lumber. Subs do not want to come to Jardine. They charge a Jardine tax. Things get drawn out even when everyone shows up for work. Day one we gave them the bad news. We could not tile. We could not install subfloor heating. We could not finish in the time alloted. We offered to leave so they could hire someone else. Given the scarcity of workers in the neighborhood the clients did not want us to leave. Everyone regrouped and Burt proposed to frame and dry-in the addition. That included the foundation for the addition. The clients took what they could get. Burt did what he promised and a whole lot more. At the cusp of departure the siding, walls, ceiling, and cabinetry are in plus a floor lift. All of that more than promised. Roofing, tile, finish plumbing, and finish electric remain.
Apologies to those following along on Facebook. Life in the gNash is a rural life. Mostly woods and weeds. We stay with clients that have room for us to park. Over the last nearly 10 years we’ve picked up a few creatures along the way. There was a gecko that made it from Mexico to Montana. Presently there is a yellow spider egg sac incubating on our ceiling. Something died in the truck vents once. The aroma took years to clear.
This month we’ve had a momentous family event. Some dear little field mouse boarded the truck and made a nest in the glove box (Compartment?). In NJ we said compartment. Somewhere, I think the south, I picked up box. I digress. Up at the Dearborn campout a few weeks ago I discovered the empty nest of shredded napkin and Elvis hair. Only Elvis sheds. It was empty and there was no sign of droppings. Being an optimist I removed the nest and didn’t give it another thought. I presumed the nest was made but we’d left the occupant behind. A week later I opened the box again and found a new nest. Still no sign of the critters. No droppings. Just a ball of shredded napkins and more Elvis fur.
Mice are a hazard. They do not creep me out. If I could I’d say, “The more the merrier.” But mice have diseases. Mice eat wires. Mice attract rattlers. Mice must disembark. So Burt got serious this week. He caught six mice in 24 hours. The last a two-fer. These two ate their trapped sibling so no sympathies there. One pup was flash crushed in the box door. Mom was trapped. A third pup was trapped and eaten as mentioned above. The fourth a pup also flash crushed by Burt’s lightening quick reflexes while its siblings scurried from the canibalistic buffet. And now these two. Are we done? No we were not. Two more caught over two more days. Grand total: 8 mice in the glove box. Three days and a few hundred miles have passed with no new victims. Perhaps this episode is over.
In other news I got a lifer bird the other day. I spotted a three-toed woodpecker. I wondered why the three-toed name? Silly me. It has only three toes. Most birds have four. You can see in the photo above there are only three toes. This was one of the easier IDs for me. I’m jokingly called it Burt’s spirit animal since he’s short a toe and woodpeckers are called carpenter birds in Mexico. He wasn’t amused. It’s better than the three-toed sloth, I lobbied. Still not amused.
Also in the news, get your skin checked. This is your annual reminder. I had two biopsies this year. Both bad but not cancer. This style of biopsy is a punch. They drill out a cylinder of skin. Sadly, even after two solid weeks in stitches my wound did not close. It’s a nuisance but it beats cancer. I try to remember these little pains are life saving interventions. Each one is removing something that might someday cross the line. Perhaps the skin cancer I was going to get is already gone? Maybe we’ll catch it early if I do develop a melanoma. Chances are extremely high. Melanoma in the family and a blue eyed, moley skin with waaaaaaay too much childhood exposure. I remember trying to get tan. Year after year. Ahhhhh…
The kennel our three dogs let us share with them is on the move. We are out of work while the electrician and insulators get down to business. If those subs finish before we head south fo rthe winter we’ll move back to Jardine to advance the project but we will not finish. Our clients had a case of mission creep and the job was too big for us to do in one season so they’ll be on their own to get it done over the winter. Day one a couple months back Burt said, “I can’t do it all. I’ll get you started or we can leave.” They opted for us to get them started. So it’s framed and we are on the road.
First up was three days on the Beartooth Plateau. We are all suitably worn out by our high elevation hiking, fishing, and bird seeking. Olive and her puny heart did very well. Elvis managed a 5 mile day. Chava was a poop finding, dead animal eating machine. Free on the range and all he did was eat whatever he found. It came out as fast as it went in. One day we observed 8 defecations. I have to wonder how many we missed. He also seems to have grown a few more inches over night. His teen rage is subsiding. He recalled on command and is dropping food is we catch him in time. Yesterday I got him to expel a maggot filled rodent the size of a NYC rat. Chava is even considering heeling. He thinks about it but after about ten steps he rejects the idea. Soon, Chava, soon.
Today we’ve landed in Columbus for the fiddler’s weekend. We’ll head over to Town Pump for showers soon and then settle in for five days of tunes. We’re on the banks of the Yellowstone, under the cottonwoods. Swing on in and join us if you’re in the area.