Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “women trekkers”

Hiking Boots to Buzzards’ Roost

Having nothing scheduled, we sleep until 6:30, when we both wake with the same need, scrambling for our camp shoes so we can hustle off to the nearby loo.  If we were at home, we would have stayed upright, made coffee, and begun the day.  But in camp, it seems still too dark to do anything serious, so M curls up for an additional doze, while I pull out my iPad to churn out another 1500 words of my latest imaginary adventure.

After a lovely camp breakfast of Raisin Bran, blueberries, raspberries and oranges, washed down with French pressed coffee, and milk, I do the washing up while M puts together a portable lunch in preparation for our hike to Buzzard’s Roost.  We intend to leave by 10, but what with one thing and another it’s 11:15 by the time we set our feet on the path toward the Buzzard’s Roost trailhead.

It’s a lovely walk under the Highway One overpass, up through stands of redwoods terribly scorched by the Basin Complex fire of 2008, but still bravely pushing out green shoots of new growth.  Then we’re in ceanothus and scrub oak country, then manzanita, and finally barren red rock with a vantage point that looks over to Mount Manuel landward and to the brilliant blue Pacific to seaward.  We spread our unneeded extra layers of shirts over the red dirt and set out a lavish lunch of hard-boiled eggs, carrots, hummus, crackers, string cheese, grapes, apples, and prunes – all finger food, no grease.  We stay looking out to sea until our spines begin to protest against sitting unsupported on the hard ground, then round up the eggshells and cheese wrappers with other leftovers and set off on the return loop.

One of my perennial games on a hike is to count how many different kinds of wildflowers Ican spot.  In Edgewood Park near where I live, I have counted as many as forty in the spring, due to the many different micro-biomes there.  On this day at Big Sur we tally twenty one, including columbine, native iris, wild strawberry, dandelion, buttercup, trillium, and others of which I do not know the names.  Counting varieties is a great way of forcing yourself to be on the lookout and to really notice what is around you.

Our plan after returning to our campsite had been to hop in the car, take care of a couple of small purchases at the general store down the road, and then to drive down to Pfeiffer Beach.  But after our purchases M turns to me and asks “Do you mind if we don’t go to the beach?  I just want to veg.”

Instead we drive to the end of the road on the side of the river opposite our campground, just to see what is there. We watch a family playing softball on the weedy field for a while, and I want to check out the “seasonal footbridge” that the map shows opposite our campground (See the dotted line crossing the river at the end of Day Use Lot 4 on the above map?) M drops me off at the end of Parking lot 4 and drives away, while I follow the trail from the sign that says “Footbridge.”

Guess what.  No footbridge. Must not be the season yet.  I debate wading across the shallowest portion of the Big Sur River as it ripples past where the bridge should have been. I’m wearing my water shoes, and my cargo pants with the roll up option, and the water looks shallow.  On the other hand, the bottom of the river is paved with rounded stones of varied sizes which could be very unstable and slippery, the water is so clear that it’s hard to gauge how deep it really is, and getting up the steep bank on the opposite side looks chancy. So I opt for the half-mile walk around to the far bridge at the end of the campground.  (It would have been shorter, but the most direct route was “authorized vehicles only,” and a ranger directed me in a friendly but definitive way to the trail around, not through.)

By the time I make it to our campsite, M has gotten worried and set out in search of me.  By the time we reunite the sun is definitely over the yardarm. She lights the portable campfire, I run cold water from the camp faucet over my tired feet, and we settle to reading, phoning, and munching the last of the crackers and hummus.

Dinner is experimental but turns out well. A vegetable medley cooked in Frying Pan #1, sliced parboiled potatoes with onions sautéed in frying pan #2, and lamb chops sauteed in Frying Pan #1 after the veggie medley had been evacuated, along with a nice Pinot Noir, dessert of shortbread and chocolate squares, and some sisterly discussion ranging from “Do you think Mom resented me?” to “Have you smoked marijuana?” to “I have this genetic deformity. Do you have it too?”

And by 9PM we are snuggled in our teardrop cocoon once more.

Coming next: The Beach! .

Freeway Free at Pfeiffer Big Sur

Day One:

We had had a rare rainfall two days earlier, and nothing could have been a fresher, more electric green than the hills of the Santa Clara Valley as we headed down toward Monterey. We went off the freeway at Lamplighter Drive to take advantage of relatively cheap gas near the Army base, and otherwise sailed uneventfully down Highway 1, slowed only by roadwork as crews narrowed the road to one lane periodically as they constructed subterranean aqueducts to prevent washouts and landslides along the perennially unstable coastline.

After setting up, as it was only 3PM, we decided to walk to Pfeiffer Falls, as we had seen the trailhead as we were entering the park.  The trail to Pfeiffer Falls had been closed due to fire damage and landslides the last couple of time I had been there.  It has now been reopened thanks to extensive reconstruction efforts by a team of conservation groups, and the trail is now a cascade of bridges and staircases crafted of thick wood beam designed to resist erosion, vandalism, earthquakes, and storms. (Fires, maybe not so much). It’s a challenging climb, but there are plenty of landings, and the final destination is a lovely fern-draped hollow with a spring-fed cascade shooting down a rock face, and a couple of wide benches suitable for catching your breath and resting your quads after the staircases.

Downhill was faster.  We took a shortcut back to camp, and M brought out a bottle of wine, snap peas and carrots, and minted yogurt and hummus.  We polished off the peas and i put together the pre-cooked meal that my PTA had provided – 20 minutes to assemble and cook in a single skillet (recipe below) .  We finished off the wine with the casserole, while for entertainment we  watched a fellow camper maneuver a HUGE trailer backwards into the campsite across the way. (Trailers seem to come in two sizes, either tiny teardrops like M’s or humongous, with pop outs and canopies and rooftop patios.)

A quick washing up and cleanup of the camp, and we tucked ourselves into the trailer.  Everything is as carefully arranged as in a well-crafted yacht, with no nook or cranny left without a purpose and a content, and the aluminum sides and insulation making it much cozier than a tent. We have a plan for tomorrow involving a hike to a viewpoint, a couple of bag lunches, and maybe a trip down to the beach. But nothing scheduled.

Next: Hiking Boots to Buzzards’ Roost and Beyond

Freeway Free in CA: Travels with @rchy

My sister M has christened her teardrop trailer “@rchy” a triple pun referencing its curvilinear shape, the name of the manufacturer (t@g) and its resemblance to a classic VW bug, hence the association with Don Marquis’ classic literary cockroach.  The Subaru Forester which tows the trailer is, of course, “Mehitabel”.

For my Christmas present this year M promised me two expeditions with @rchy, one short, to a local state park, and one longer, to visit our brother in the Northwest. We set a tentative date in March, and then let it drift, until M went online in January and discovered that there were  NO open campsites anywhere within 100 miles of us in the month of March.  It seem that everyone in California at the same time got sick of staying indoors fearing Covid-19 and decided that outdoor camping is the logical healthy alternative – outdoors, campsites socially distanced – suddenly this is the hot thing to do.

Fortunately, M is tech savvy, and found an app which would alert her to any cancellations at her desired locations in the desired time frame.  So in the third week of March we found ourselves outward bound for Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground – not our first choice destination, but within easy striking distance of my house as a base.

Of course, my Personal Travel Agent was quite discomfited at being left out of this ladies’ outing (@rchy only sleeps two) but he made himself as useful as possible by suggesting menus, precooking our dinner for the first night, and providing maps, hiking suggestions, and special cooking utensils.

If Martha Stewart were camping…

We pulled into our camp site just after 2PM, the earliest we could check in. It took less than an hour to set up camp, complete with a carpeted “kitchen” with two work surfaces and a storage cupboard, a carpeted “living room” with mini-fireplace, chairs, and snack table,and a “dining room” with tablecloth, matching dinnerware, and a candle.  M does not believe in roughing it.

Besides the many advantages of having your tent, clothing storage, and kitchen all self-contained in one aluminum cocoon, @rchy offers the additional benefit of being a social magnet. There were at least three other t@g trailers within a few campsites of ours, and fellow t@ggers needed no encouragement to give a tour of the modifications and special storage features each had added to their tow-along pet.

We had been a bit wary of Pfeiffer Big Sur for camping as several years ago a major wildfire had burned through the park, closing many trails and destroying many vistas. But the latest news from the site had assured us that trails were open and recovery from the fires is well under way.

Coming next: Freeway Free in our Hiking Boots!

Freeway Free around Tahoe: Settling Into a New Nest

Reno Airport is a small and manageable transport hub full of flashing slot machines and empty kiosks for souvenirs and food.  I meet my travel-mate C at baggage claim, my suitcase arrives promptly, a big red Nissan SUV is waiting for us at Hertz, (to be christened “the Cherry-ot”) and off we go, south and west into the setting sun (glare almost blinding me at the wheel as the sun is directly ahead).

We stop at Safeway before stopping at the condo – C doesn’t drink coffee, but guzzles quarts of soda; doesn’t eat breakfast, but eats salami and bacon.  (Modified keto diet.) We run up a bill of around $120, of which about $25 is stuff I won’t touch, and $30 is stuff she won’t touch. But we won’t starve.

I’ve not stayed in a great many timeshares. Worldmark  by Wyndham is not as ritzy as some. The decor is standard house-staging tones of white, gray, and wood tones with granite counters and neutral upholstery and carpeting designed to hide stains.  The highlight is a big walk-in shower with a sit-down stool (I think I landed the handicapped room again). The view out the sliding door to the balcony is of other condos, with lots of icicles dripping down – the big snow was a week ago, and the ice has thawed and frozen more than once.

My magic suitcase and backpack are like Hermione Granger’s infinite evening bag – I just kept stuffing more in, everything from my mother’s handed-down snowsuit to my least thread-bare swimsuit for the spa. I had retrieved some Japanese slippers from a long-ago trip for getting to the spa, but counted on a bathrobe at the condo as a coverup. Nope. 

That’s $120 worth of groceries on the counter.

The kitchen is surprisingly well-appointed, even with small packets of useful spices next to the measuring spoons. I prepare my reliable camping casserole as a Welcome dinner, hoping that C will not pick out the corn and pasta. No problem, and enough left for another dinner for one after I’m gone.

After dinner we attempt to watch TV together, but los interest, and I take up my novel as C knits. I had only downloaded a couple of novels, and one I finished almost immediately. Now on my iPad I only have Washington Black to read for my book club and one copy of the Economist which I ‘d better save for the shuttle ride back to the airport on Sunday.  Oh wait. Worst case, there is a copy of The Brothers Karamazov on my iPad, one of those “always meant to read” downloads.

The next morning I realize the advantage of having a housemate on a completely different schedule. I slept beautifully, got up at 7, had a decadent shower, dressed, fixed breakfast for myself of fruit and coffee (neither of which is on C’s diet), ate leisurely, set up an expense spreadsheet for the trip, reviewed 20 pp of notes for the on-line class I’m taking, and when C finally appears after 9AM I already feel I’ve accomplished a day’s worth of productivity and I deserve to play.

Coming Next: Adventures on the Ice

Risk

My friend called me, her voice tinged with panic.  “Do you think we should do this, with the Delta variant and all?”  We were planning to fly together to a women’s fitness camp on the western slope of the Rockies that we both had attended several times in past years.   

I reassured my friend.  “We are all responsible adults.  The people are all women we’ve known for years now.  We’ll be outside most of the time.”   

“Ok, I just needed to hear that.”  We continued with our plan that she would drive to my house the night before our trip, meeting me and my sister, and the three of us would be driven to the airport early the next morning by my Personal Travel Consultant, AKA husband. 

It happened that my son came down for an overnight visit the evening before the other women arrived, and he stayed working from our upstairs “office” for the day until joining us for happy hour and dinner the eve of our departure. 

“You’re going to be sharing eating space with a bunch of people you don’t know?  And just taking their word that they’ve been vaccinated?”  My son was so upset that he jumped to his feet and had to walk up and down on the street outside for several minutes to settle down.  He and his family had been to a party a couple of weeks earlier where “everyone was supposed to have been vaccinated, but the hostess called us the next day to let us know that a guy who left just ten or fifteen minutes after we arrived had just reported testing positive for COVID-19. So we were all exposed.”  His faith in folks’ “word of honor” is badly shaken. 

But I need to go.  I need to look at something different out the window, preferably something more than 30 feet away.  I need to hear some different voices.  I need to vary my diet from the familiar favorite offerings of my Personal Chef (AKA husband.) I need to stop reading about chaos in Afghanistan, earthquakes in Haiti, flooding in Tennessee, overwhelmed hospitals in Florida, hurricanes in Louisiana, wildfires in the Sierras, and attempts to overthrow the governments in Washington DC and California.  

When he returned to our back patio, I tried to reassure my son in the same way I had reassured my friend.  He listened, and then smiled with resignation. 

“Mom, I have just one thing to say to you,” he said.  “Make wise choices.” 

Arizona Highways: Some worthwhile stops

In Phoenix:  The Heard Museum of Native American Art.  This museum is fascinating, exhaustive, instructive and almost overwhelming in the size of its collection and the detail in which it explains the many culuture of Native Americans of Arizona.  Fortunately, we had a time limit.  We focused first on a special exhibit of Georgia O’Keefe paintings of the Southwest.  This was on its last day, but if it is a sample of the quality of special exhibits at the Heard, I would suggest you pay attention to whatever is being featured on your visti.

Of the Heard collection I was most fascinated by the collection of kachina dolls donated by the late Senator Barry Goldwater, maybe because as a child I was given a Kachina doll by a visiting relative.  Learning the stories and symbology of these artifacts could have enthralled me for the entire afternoon.Tribal Dance

Another bonus which lured us back outside was the  Annual Indian Market and Fair, featuring Indian dancers in elaborate Hopi feather costumes and juried Indian art.

If you go to the Heard and need a break from all that culture, I can recommend their lunch restaurant.  We ate  tacos and Mexican salad in the plaza – a lovely, lively setting.

Along Higway 17 to Sedona –

Rock Springs Famous PiesAbout half-way to Sedona you’ll need a rest stop.  The Rock Springs Café offers deservedly famous pie: a killer lemon meringue, pecan pie made with Jim Beam, plus serviceable salads, burgers, and homey fare.  And a stuffed polar bear in the gift shop.

Montezuma’s Castle National Monument  – this small but fascinating park features a  5 story cliff dwelling, positioned high on a cliff overlooking a lovely sycamore-lined creek.  The visitor’s center is a fine introduction to the site, and the stroll on the loop trail looking up at the mysteriously abandoned structure is a welcome break to the highway.  Montezuma's Castle

Once you get to Sedona, you’ll need to get in tune with the New Age vibe, so you better seek out a good Vegan restaurant.  I can recommend Chocolatree, an unpretentious combination restaurant and chocolateria along the road west from the main Y intersection.  My less-adventurous companion  was dubious bout the tarot cards on the table, but  ate every bit of her black bean chili. My Meatless Mushroom Medley was gray but yummy. The Mediterranean Madness ordered by my other fellow traveler  -quinoa, almonds, raisins, sunflower seeds, coconut milk, and more- was too rich to finish.  Still we managed to share a Chocolate Ganache of dates, raisins, macadamia nuts, coconut milk, and raw cacao, but we had enough leavings to share the next night with a table of 8 and it went around twice.

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Arizona Highways: Sedona Sucks You In

Sedona outcroppingSedona started as a Mormon mission; then came the miners, whose main remnant is the picturesque semi-ghost town of Jerome dangling from a bluff across the valley. Then came the New Agers, with their crystals, their ethnic garb, their peculiar dietary restrictions, and their talk of mystical vortexes of energy to be found among the red rocks. With the skyrocketing prices of precious metals, there is a current threat that old mines will be opened and subjected to new tech hydraulic mining, starting the cycle over again. But meanwhile, visitors continue to be magnetically attracted to Sedona, whether it is vertical energy or simply the stunning scenery and space.

Jeff, the ex-lawyerI am part of a group of nineteen who have signed up for five days of hiking in the Sedona back country. Our hike leader is a former lawyer who was involved in environmental cases and must have asked himself the Big Questions: WHY am I doing this legal work which I don’t t enjoy? WHAT IF I quit and went to work for Roads Scholar? HOW can I make it work? He found a niche as a faculty member at Northern Arizona State University solely employed in facilitating hikes, conventions, bonding sessions, and so on for the U. Is this a cool job or what?

The three guides also include one immigrant, from the Caucasus. He had emigrated from Russia to Latvia at age 16. His mother saw him off at the railway station. She asked, “Will you be coming back?” He answered, as the train pulled out, “No.” After a second life in Latvia, he joined the merchant marine and traveled the world, living on ship. “Wherever we docked, the purser would give us a passport that would let us ashore without trouble.” I missed the story of how he came to Sedona. I did hear him say “Sedona is my 4th life.” He is a firm believer in the positive energy of the vortexes. “They changed my life.”

A second guide is also a strong believer in the power of vortexes. We stood in the center of a natural amphitheater in the rocks, purportedly a vortex site, and he told us of meeting a Native American at this site where he was meditating. The Indian pulled out a conch shell from his pack and, after asking permission blew a deep note. The sound traveled in a circle around them as it echoed from one wall to another, a truly mystical moment.

We tried to believe, but we could not reproduce any mysterious effects of the vortexes. We ate delicious food in a vegan restaurant, and felt just as stuffed and no healthier than if we had over-indulged at McDonald’s. However, the drama of the soaring rocks, the rippling streams, and the blue sky soaring to forever was enough to energize me without benefit of crystals or magnetic fields. Just being with beauty makes you more aware of what being means.Sedona view from the trail

 

Arizona Highways: Scottsdale – not just Carmel with Cactus

Scottsdale gardenVisiting Scottsdale had not been high on my list.  After all, I grew up only an hour from Carmel, the West Coast apogee of artsy quaintness-by-the-sea.  What was Scottsdale with its art galleries but Carmel with cactus instead of ocean?  As usual, once I had visited, I knew once again how wrong preconceptions can be. Scottsdale is to Carmel as meaty BBQ ribs are to seared sea scallops – both wonderful, but incomparable.

Scottsdale mustangWe visited on a Sunday morning, so the galleries along the Art Walk were closed.  We were more relieved than disappointed:  the galleries would have seduced us into dallying inside, while on a temperate and sunny morning there was plenty to see in the sculptures that lined the sidewalk and rose from the median. At first I noted the proliferation of horses frozen in wood, ceramic, steel, and bronze, galloping, rearing, bareback in herds or straddled by cowboys, cowgirls, or the Original Inhabitants. [Note:  We met several locals with red-brown skin and aquiline noses, who told us to “Relax.  We call ourselves Indians.  It’s easier.”  I will follow this advice hereon.]  But there were also bronze children, artists, and unmounted Indian maidens both nude and clothed.  Also  various vaguely humanoid shapes, and a giant green head which might have been Buddha.Enigmatic head

We left the Art Walk and meandered toward the center of town, a meander made easy by a grass-lined pathway going beside and over a dry creek and eventually leading us to the central plaza, bordered by the City Hall, Art Museum, and Performing Arts Center, all impressive and interestingly designed modern buildings.  The plaza was full of activity:  a craft fair was just setting up, with tents offering Indian artifacts, jewelry, clothing, and food.  A stage at one end promised music to come, and some families were already staking a claim with blankets on the sloping lawn in front of the bandstand.  And at the other side of the plaza I found an old friend, one I had first met in Philadelphia, then encountered again in Tokyo and Taipei.  I was delighted to see again Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture.LOVE in Scottsdale

On the way back to our car we walked through Old Town Scottsdale, and found the tourist gift shops beginning to open.  I bought a silver-and-turquoise earcuff to replace a much nicer one I had been given and lost years ago, hoping to combine old and new memories.Old Town kitsch

 

 

Arizona Highways: Phoenix’s Desert Garden

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I thought of Phoenix as an airport stop on our way to hiking in the red rock country, but my friend B was more curious.  “Let’s stay a day in Phoenix and explore!”  So M, our travel organizer, found an affordable motel in Scottsdale. (“There are art galleries!  Let’s stay close!” B enthused.) We raided the local AAA for maps and guides, and off we went.

M was arriving first, so she rented the car. All the car rental offices for the Phoenix Airport are combined in a single large building at the edge of the airport, along with a food court, rest rooms, and a travel office – an amazingly good idea! B and I had flight delays, so we connected with M too late to do the auto tour we had planned for the afternoon.  But there was still time to walk in the Phoenix Botanical Garden, which was featuring an outdoor exhibit of glassware by the well-known artist/craftsman Dale Chihuly.Entrance-Chihuly exhibit

The Chihuly glass exhibit blended beautifully with the otherworldly colors and shapes of the cacti and succulents which are the backbone of the PBG, and glowed against a stormy evening sky. We strolled and pointed and admired as  lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and then came the deluge. We were close to the gift shop by then, which exhibited an amazing collection of small Chihuly pieces, also beautifully illuminated. (see below)   We  waited out the worst of the rain, then strolled a bit further armed with umbrellas. But soon there were too many puddles, too many  flooded paths, and we took refuge again, this time at Gertrude’s, the charming modern restaurant adjacent to the Garden. The tables were full of other soggy visitors, so we snuggled up to the bar watching mysterious cocktails being mixed as we sipped our staid beer and wine and downed excellent sandwiches.  I can recommend the pulled pork sandwich with chili dipping sauce, paired with a Mexica Model Negro beer.

The exhibit continues until May 18th (2014) so you still have time.  Evening viewing is wonderful.

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In the Company of Women (LATC September 2013)

Camp skit - sisters of a certain age

Traveling with a woman friend, she will offer the window seat.

She will refuse the airline snack, but offer to give you hers.

If you do not eat your airline snack after all, she will take it in case of future need.

She will offer to watch your carry-on bags while you go to the rest room.

She will offer to refill your water bottle if she is going to refill hers.

If she is driving, and she takes a wrong turn out of the airport, she will blame herself.

If she is the shotgun rider, she will apologize for not paying attention to the signs.

If her memory of the route disagrees with the GPS, she will go along with the GPS  – up to a point.

If she is one of three passengers in the back seat, she will offer to sit in the middle.

Though she has never met you before,  she may tell you all about the latest activities, vagaries, and eccentricities of her father, her late husband, her late husband’s first wife,  her second husband’s ex-wife, her son, his wife, her son’s wife’s first husband, and her  stepson’s  mother-in-law.

She will show you pictures of her grandchildren.

She will solicit reading suggestions for her book group.

If you are going for a walk she will remind you to put on sunscreen.

She will offer to loan you sunscreen.

If she is a houseguest, she will offer to help peel vegetables, set the table, or entertain any small children underfoot.

If she is the hostess and there are small children underfoot, she will be the one to eat at the children’s table in the kitchen.

*    *     *

I had written the above about halfway through a week at a women’s camp in the Rockies, mostly with  women of about my own age.  The women in the group were largely teachers or former teachers. They were mostly white. They had gone to Girl Scout camps.  They knew all the camp songs.

Then I had an opportunity to spend some time with a couple of women a generation younger. I realized that the above list of “typical women’s behaviors” is perhaps not typical at all, except when applied to women of a certain age and up-bringing.

The youngest woman in the group had no first or second husband, no children or grandchildren, no smartphone filled with pictures to show, had never been to camp.  She didn’t belong to a book group.  She didn’t know the words to “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” or “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” or “Kumbaya”.  She was at the camp with her mother.  In two months she planned to begin a tour of duty with the Air Force.  She will probably go to Afghanistan.

I’ll bet she won’t volunteer for the middle of the back seat in the jet.

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