Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “climate”

Travels with a Tiny Trailer – Day 2 ( Cont.)

20191017_105635webHow to manage a soaking wet tent and still wet chairs when the back of the Subaru is already full of the bicycles we were not able to load on the bike rack? We put the dry side of the rain fly over the bikes, pile the tent and chairs on top, close up the kitchen, and fire up the GPS.  Thank goodness, just up the highway in Grant’s Pass we find a friendly and well-equipped  Big 5  sporting goods store, where Sis buys new dry walking shoes, and I pick up a couple of igniters. Fortified against all ills we head on to Washington.

Lunchtime arrives, and Sis is eager to try the stove for the hot meal we did not have the night before.  I’m driving, and  I see a sign for “Douglas County Fairgrounds and Museum, Umpqua River Park.”  “Let’s try this,” I say, exiting with care.  “There are bound to be trees, picnic tables, and toilets at a county park with a fair attached, it’ll be nice by the river, and we can pick up some postcards at the museum maybe.”

So we follow the signs and find ourselves in a very large parking lot.  Behind a cyclone fence we see the fairgrounds, abandoned in October.  We climb the berm surrounding the parking lot and find the river, but no sign of a picnic table or a restroom. Our stomachs are rumbling, and at least the parking lot is level and the sun is shining.

douglas-county-museum-entranceThe Douglas County Museum is at the far end of the vast asphalt stretch.   I hike across the expanse, my need becoming more urgent at each step.  Oh happiness – the museum is open and it does have a very clean restroom as well as  indoor  and outdoor displays of mining and farming equipment,  a large collection of natural history items including a stuffed example of Oregon’s state animal (the beaver), and a charming gift shop.

Meanwhile, back at the trailer, Sis is putting together a delectable hot meal of vegetarian tacos.  We set up our chairs (now nearly dry) and our little table on top of the berm where we can see the river, and despite the asphalt we feel we are finally camping in style.

Travels with a Tiny Trailer – Day 2 (cont. again)

20191017_084028webWe get dressed in the confines of the tiny trailer. It’s not easy to pull on trousers without being able to stand up , but we manage it. Our water-resistant jackets are about dry after a night of hanging inside, and our moods improve as we plan on quickly making a hot breakfast on the two-burner stove in the pop-up kitchen in the back of the trailer. Sis fills the water carrier. All we need to do is boil water, and we’ll have coffee and instant oatmeal with fruit and brown sugar mixed in. So much easier than camping with a propane stove – nothing to set up, nothing to connect, just a quick flick of the lighter and….

Uh oh. The list of equipment provided with the trailer clearly lists a butane igniter, with back-up matches. The trailer is a honey-comb of clever contrived storage spaces, and it is quite likely that an igniter and/or matches is hiding in one of them. But we can’t find them. We take apart the under-sink storage, and the over-sink storage, and the behind-the-sink storage. Nope. No sign.

Here, for the first time, I’m really afraid Sis is going to lose it. No coffee? Her face twists in agony. Fortunately, I look beyond our campsite and spot a familiar item on the table in the neighboring camp – a Coleman stove. Where there is a Coleman stove, there will be a lighter or matches. Sure enough, the young man presiding over the stove has a Bic lighter in his pocket, and smilingly lights our burners for us. The day is saved! The coffee is hot and strong, and the oatmeal tastes wonderful!20191017_091418doc

We linger over our coffee, even though we are sitting on the edges of the still-wet camp chairs. We are not looking forward to dumping the water out of our leaky  tent, or loading the mass of wet canvas into the car. What will all that moisture do to the bikes? But we can’t put it into the trailer – the bedding would never dry out.

Somehow we make it happen. We put the dry side of the rainfly over the bikes, pile the tent and chairs on top, close up the kitchen, and break camp.

Will the chairs ever dry out?  Guess what will be our next stop? Stay tuned – And Happy New Year!

Travels in a Tiny Tear-drop Trailer – Day 2

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I have slept beautifully in the cozy confines of the teardrop, lulled by the sound of rain pattering on the roof. It is morning. I prop myself up on one elbow and open the privacy shade on my window. Outside I can see only as far as two campsites over. The fog is low, but fog is drier than rain. Things are looking up.

I sit up and begin to think about finding my clothes. Sis stretches and yawns next to me, so I wish her a good morning.

“I’m sorry if I disturbed you when I got up in the night,” she says.

“I didn’t hear a thing. You must have been real quiet.”

“No, actually, I was afraid you would have heard me swearing.” She props herself up, opens the door into our attached tent shelter, and gestures for me to look over her shoulder.

If we had practiced setting the tent shelter up in advance, or even if we had been able to set it up in daylight, we would surely have noticed that the shelter is not square, nor is the rainfly which is designed to cover it. Unfortunately, if a rectangular rainfly is set on a rectangular tent at a 90-degree angle from the way it is supposed to fit, the two ends of the tent will protrude from under the rainfly.

In the dark, in the rain, we had a 50-50 chance of doing it right. Unfortunately, we lost the toss.

20191017_084044webIn the morning, in daylight, we can see that the un-protected section of the tent roof is quite obviously not rain-proof. However, the bottom of the tent is water-proof, and Sis’s shoes are sitting soggily in a considerable puddle that has collected inside the tent.

“It was a pretty squishy walk to the bathroom,” Sis says.

“Oh, well, you have your hiking shoes to wear while those dry out, right?”

Sis suddenly looks stricken. “I meant to put them in the car. And then we had the fuss with the bikes. I’m not sure…. “

Will Sis find her hiking boots? Will we get the water out of the tent? Will we ever get a hot meal? Stay tuned.

And meanwhile –  MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Travels in a Tiny Teardrop Trailer – Day 1

 

My sister fell in love at first sight when she saw a tiny teardrop trailer on the cover of Sunset magazine. Was this the solution to all the packing and preparation needed for a simple weekend camping trip? Could a trailer provide grab-and-go adventure?

She had done a trial weekend, renting a teardrop with a close friend, whose full-size SUV had no trouble pulling a tiny trailer while carrying a couple of bicycles and duffels in its rear. But would Sis’s little Subaru hatchback be able to tow and stow? She decided to try it out on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, to visit our brother and his wife in their new house. Bro had a trailer already, so we could trailer camp together over the weekend. And so she invited me on a road trip with the object of her passion.

Camping without bicycles, to Sis and her husband, would be like going to Hawaii without swimsuits. They routinely bike 30 miles on Sunday morning for a cup of coffee. Bro assured us that the campsite he had in mind had miles of beautiful bike trails, so Sis rented a trailer equipped with a bike rack on top, and I brought my bike to keep her company.

The trailer rental guy at Sierra Teardrops had shown Sis how to set up the bikes on top of the trailer, but she had not actually tried to do it. It was apparent almost immediately that there was no way she, at barely 5 feet tall, and I, at 5’3”, were going to be able to hoist even her lightweight bike to the top of the trailer, much less get it properly affixed in the rack. But abandoning the bikes was not an option. We pulled all our gear that had been stowed in the Subaru and piled it into the trailer, and then wrestled the two bikes into the back of the Subaru. Not easy. We were both sweating by the time we had managed to make them fit, and we were now an hour past our hoped-for departure time.

Off we go. Just short of Mt. Shasta we stop for gas. Sis can’t find her purse. Is it buried under the hastily stowed stuff in the trailer, or did she set it down in the house while picking up some last-minute items from the fridge? She phones home. Husband is home from work, looks all over, can’t find the purse in any of the places she usually sets it down. We cross fingers that the purse, with Sis’s driver’s license, is in the trailer somewhere. Meanwhile, my credit cards work, and Sis drives carefully.

We had planned to camp at Castle Crags state park north of Mt. Shasta, but even on a Wednesday in October, they were full! So on we go, aiming for Valley of the Rogue State Park just north of Ashland. By the time we arrived and found a  vacant space, near 8PM, it is dark. And it is raining. Hard.

I had been assiduously reading the extensive directions which come with the trailer all the way up Interstate 5. They recommend that you practice backing the trailer up before you actually take it places, as “backing a small trailer is more difficult than backing a large one.” We had not done that. Oh well, we think, we will just pull into the space forward, and deal with backing up tomorrow morning when we can see, and maybe it won’t be raining. Bad idea. We discover as soon as we were headed into the space that all the trailer hookup attachments are conveniently located on the side which would be close if the trailer is backed into the space, but are just too far for the cables to reach if you head in. So Sis has to back out of the space, circle the campground, and then try to back into the space. In the dark. In the rain. I stand outside to give directions, and Sis tries her best, again and again.

Will Sis succeed in positioning the trailer in its slot?  Will we ever get to eat? Will the purse show up? Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Freeway Free in Colorado: The Headwaters Center in Winter Park – a GEM

20190821_101138webThe Headwaters Center in Winter Park, Colorado is a small delight, featuring creative audio, visuals, and interactive displays to immerse the visitor in the history and hazards of water and water management along the Continental Divide.  It opened in July 2019.

As you walk through the museum, you can use your finger along a time line to change the waterflow and scenery along the walls,  You can put yourself into a kayak or onto a mountain bike as you explore the recreation options around the river.  You can fly like an osprey over the Continental Divide, searching out the watersheds of the Fraser, the Colorado, and other major rivers. You can (if you are small) crawl inside a beaver dam and commune with a beaver.

The Center is full of “I never thought of that!” moments.  For example, I kinda knew that most of the rain along the Divide falls on the west side of the Rockies, while most of the people live on the east side.  So massive tunnels have been build to divert water flow from west to east.  (an interactive display allows you to turn a valve wheel to see the impact of this diversion on the ecology of the western slope). An unexplored consequence is that the water that would have run into the Pacific from the western watershed now eventually runs into the Atlantic.  Long-term effects? We’re not sure.

The Center itself is designed to be completely off the grid, with solar panels and a back-up generator providing clean power.  It is, of course, designed for advocacy.  From the souvenir shelf (no full-size gift shop yet) a visitor can buy eco-bricks to lessen the water flow in toilets, re-fillable water bottles to make bottled water unnecessary, and other water-conservation tools.20190821_113644doc

A take-away flyer suggests action items which a visitor can take to become more aware and informed about Western water usage.  The Center is a mind-changing, mind-expanding experiment in the power of information.  Don’t miss it.

Freeway Free in California: Exploring Pt. Reyes Seashore (Day 2)

20190711_120353docWe got the fog we had hoped for on our second day at Point Reyes.  Since we had part of the area south of our home base on our first day, we decided to head north from our base at the Cottages along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.  We stopped at the first trailhead aiming for Abbotts Lagoon, which the Pt Reyes website trail guide recommends as “an easy stroll with good spring wildflowers and excellent birdwatching in fall and winter.” Since we were visiting in summer, we lowered our expectations, but the “easy stroll” part seemed very attractive.

Near the entrance to the trail, a posted sign advised us that a family of river otters might be seen from the bridge across Abbotts Lagoon.  We set off eagerly, as we had not scored any exotic wildlife the previous day.  But we were soon distracted from the possibility of otters by the very real abundance of wildflowers.  I often count how many different sorts of wildflowers I encounter on a hike, but this time I simply lost track.  So many colors and varieties, inhabiting every niche from wetland to sand dune!  What must it have been like in spring?

OK, we struck out with the otter family – they must have been fishing up a different creek.  But we couldn’t feel deprived.

Back at the car we were beginning to feel a bit peckish, and decided to have our picnic lunch at the Historic Pierce Point Ranch at the end of the road before exploring the Tule Elk Reserve at Tomales Point, the northernmost finger of the National Seashore. 20190711_133853web

By early afternoon it was quite windy, and there were no visible picnic tables at the Ranch. Fortunately, we had thrown a couple of folding chairs and a small folding table into the trunk. We set up our small feast in the lee of the raised trunk lid, and managed to feast on crackers, cheese, and fruit without seeing our lunch blown away.

Having missed out on sea lions and river otters, we were not sanguine about the prospects of viewing elk at the Tule Elk Reserve. But we set off on the Tomales Point Trail, and almost as soon as we got past the last of the farm’s outbuildings, W pointed out our first elk, a cow moving slowly across the slope ahead.  W got out the binoculars and cried “There’s another one, a buck with antlers!”  I looked but could see nothing where she pointed but a large sandstone boulder.  Then with the binoculars I was able to make out a dark head and antlers attached – the “rock” was the light tan body of a massive stag. tule-elk

As we continued along the trail, the wind picked up, and the chill factor increased, but every time we thought of turning back, we would come upon another group of elk down in the valley, or trooping across the road ahead.  Finally we reached the point where the sign warned us that the trail ahead was “unmaintained.”  We took that as a turnaround indicator.

Tired but thrilled by our success at elk viewing, we ended our day at a local eatery touted as having “a beautiful location on Tomales Bay”.  Tony’s Seafood Restaurant‘s bayside location was pretty much moot, as the fog was thick and low by dinner time.  Still, we enjoyed the :very good food” and “nice casual atmosphere” as a reward for our wind-blown tenacity at the elk reserve.

Freeway Free in California: Exploring Pt. Reyes Seashore (Day One)

20190710_133631webWe fled the South Bay expecting a foggy few days on the Marin coast.  To our surprise, the fog held off on our arrival, so we took advantage of the sunshine before we even checked into our lodgings.  Our first stop was the Visitors Center at Point Reyes National Seashore, and to clear the cobwebs from our two-hour drive we decided to hike the Earthquake Trail which heads off from the Center parking lot.

20190710_132654webThe Earthquake trail follows the natural escarpment where the San Andreas Fault skirts the edges of the California coastline before disappearing into the sea towards Alaska.  It’s a shady stroll through pastureland and underneath gian twisted bay trees.  Along the trail are interpretive placards explaining earthquake geology, plate tectonics, and the effect of the Fault on California geology.  A line of blue posts marking the center line of the fault marches along the ridge above the trail.  The high point of the walk is a point where two halves of a fence have been offset by almost 15 feet – the result of the ground movement in 1907, when action on the Fault caused the disastrous San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.

After checking in at The Cottages at Pt. Reyes Seashore,  we decided to head for the beach.  The brochure from the Visitors Center promised sea lions hauled out on the spit at the end of Limantour Beach.  We decided to walk on the beach rather than on the Limantour Spit Trail along the ridge, allowing us to admire the endless stretch of almost perfect tubular rollers coming in and breaking in one thundering roar, one after another. 20190710_145316doc

We didn’t make it to the end of the beach, nor did we spot any sea lions (or even hear them.)  But we did enjoy the traces of human artistry in the sand dunes by the beach.

Feeling exhausted by the overwhelming visual and audial of sun and surf, we retreated to our quiet cottage and a supper from the grocery sack.  We somehow could not feel too badly about having missed the fog, though we did regret the sea lions.

Freeway Free in California: Escape to Point Reyes

untitledIt’s summer, and even in a “Mediterranean climate” the thermometer’s are nudging 90. Time to head for the coast, but not the boardwalk-bordered surf beaches of the southern California coastline.  We are heading for the fog on the west coast of Marin County, the relatively empty corner of the Bay Area north west of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Going north on Highway 280 at 10AM, we are basically counter-commuting, as the Young Single Professionals leave their hives in San Francisco to commute down to the massive complexes at Apple, Google, and FaceBook – just the opposite of how it worked fifty years ago when suburban residents trekked north to San Francisco’s financial, commercial, and professional centers.  We skip along 19th Avenue, working our way stop-light by stop-light up the alphabet from Wawona through Irving, then snake through two big patches of greenery – Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, and  finally we are on the bridge.  The cool fog envelops the bridge so that there is only a hint of the City on our right, but we dive into the rainbow-framed tunnel on the other side and emerge into sunshine again, in marvelous Marin.

Google sends us through San Rafael, on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, a twisting 2-4 lane road which passes shopping centers and schools, then winds through pastures full of poster-ready contented cows and finally T’s into Highway 1 at Olema.  There is a parking lot just ahead, and it is about noon, so we start searching Google for a lunch spot that might be open.  We have come up dry (business must be slow in west Marin during the week) when we notice that the parking lot into which we have serendipitously pulled happens to be next to a restaurant called Due West, which is evidently open, and rates four Yelp stars.  Why notgive it a try?20190710_121442web

Four stars turns out to a serious under-rating.  We order two appetizers and a side dish from the interesting menu, and end up doing a fair imitation of the famous scene in “When Harry met Sally”, moaning ecstatically with almost every bite.  The mushroom toast was smothered in exotic varieties of fungus, the sautéed summer squash was delicately flavored, and the sauce on the mussels was so delicious that we ended up scrounging the toasts from under the mushrooms so we could soak up the mussel sauce.

20190711_083914webFeeling very happy with our first meal choice, we turned north up Highway 1 to our hideaway cottage in Inverness.  The Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore again exceeded our expectations.

We had a lovely room with a well-equipped kitchenette, including a hot water kettle as well as a coffee maker, and everything one might need for a light supper prep except for a cutting board.   (Always bring a cutting board.) The cottage included a picnic table on a small patio overlooking a fountain and a couple of actively-patronized bird feeders, so we made our supper from the grocery bags we had brought with us and watched the birds. A perfectly restful ending to our escape.

 

Freeway Free in Texas: The Other Side of Nowhere in the Back of Beyond – Day 2

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I knew the second day at Big Bend Ranch State Park would be long and challenging. W insisted that she could do and I should see the hike from the Chilcothe trailhead to the Fresno Rim, overlooking the flat irons surrounding the collapsed magma dome Calle “El Solitario”. The length of the hike was 5 miles round trip, we had plenty of water, and the high was to be only 80 degrees.

We got off to a later start than we had wanted, finishing breakfast at 8:30, so despite aggressive driving on the long straight stretches of road with no traffic and an 80 mph speed limit posted, and later on the 27 miles of gravel road that leads into Big Bend Ranch State Park, we got to the trailhead at 11:30.

 

In many ways this was a rerun of Tuesday, only with a destination in mind. Beautiful blooming desert cactus: flame tipped ocotillo, barrel cactus with fiery orange, muted brown, or clear yellow blooms, and indeed a marvelous vista from the overlook, down hundreds of feet to the river twisting along the flat brown desert floor, and the remains of a mighty mountain moldering within the jagged circle of flat iron teeth. We picnicked  leaning against a rock, hydrating and energizing with P&D grapefruit, grapes, and replenishing our salt with sardines and flaxseed crackers.

The trail across sandy washes and barren rock was marked by small piles of rocks, put together by earlier hikers with varying degrees of creativity.  As we worked our way back through the desert, these small messages from earlier hikers seemed like silent little cheerleaders, beckoning us on.

 

There was not a speck of shade. W had the idea of dampening our bandanas and tying them around our necks, which helped a lot. (Hooray for stuff that is always in the backpack and seldom gets used!) By the time we sighted the truck again W was moving at maybe 60 steps at a time, then stopping to rest with her head and arms propped on her walking stick. I did not let myself think about what would happen if she fell over- maybe I could have driven the truck at least partway down the path, but getting her into it… Ah well, a bad thing that didn’t happen. She said “I knew I could do it if I just took it a little at a time.” We rewarded ourselves with a shared granola bar.

We had hiked at an average rate of one mile an hour.

Back at the Visitor’s Center, we found that the water supply was under repair due to a leaky pump, so we were directed to the bunkhouse, where we would have stayed if not for the geologists convention. The facility looked quite comfortable, each cubicle with two twin beds, a shelf and plenty of under-bed space for stashing things, and a curtain for privacy. And best of all, showers! I rinsed my feet under cold water and changed to sandals. Bliss!

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If you go (and it IS a marvelous vista!) take PLENTY of water, use PLENTY of sunscreen, and wear sun-proof hat, long sleeves, and long pants. Take your time and look around! We had completely missed these hoodoos on the way in.

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Freeway Free in Texas: The Other Side of Nowhere in the Back of Beyond

20190326_103521docWe had planned to leave at 7AM for Big Bend Ranch State Park, but ended up feeling a bit lazy after our cold evening at McDonald’s Observatory and hit the road in Moby Dick at about 8AM. Two hours and 100+ miles later we arrive at the turnoff – 27 miles of gravel road getting progressively rockier and washboard-y as we go along. 10 miles in is the “Welcome to Big Bend State Park” sign.

20190326_105934webWith a sigh of relief, I spot a privy decorated with a cowboy mural down a little side road.  The Visitors’ Center is 17 miles further on. The gravel road is bordered  with ocotillo (long slender bare dead-looking sticks with flames of bright red flowers blooming at the tips) and Spanish bayonet (giant pompons of green narrow leaves cupping a torch of white and pinkish downward-facing blooms) and lots of bare earth where the cattle have grazed and platinum blonde grasses where they have not.

20190326_115748docAfter about an hour of jouncing over mostly-pretty-good gravel road, we get to the Visitor’s Center, a plain building with a minimal gift shop and a sign saying “Welcome to the Other Side of Nowhere.” The center also offers an up-to-date set of rest rooms with cool running water, and a friendly ranger who supplies us with trails and suggestions.  We decide to eat our lunch at the lone picnic table under the lone bit of shade, and then head out on the Horse-Trap Trail that promises a view out over the central interior of the park, and possible encounters with local wildlife.

We spot a bird nest in an ocotillo bush, but no bird. The blooming cactus lures us on down the trail, and near the end of the hike we do encounter one large deer drinking at the oasis spring, and several even larger cattle with alarmingly long horns.

Not a great pay-off for a 100-mile one way trip, you might object.  Still, we felt we had explored some amazingly alien territory, and we still had dinner at Magical Marfa to look forward to on the way back from the Other Side of Nowhere.

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