Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Planning for New Mexico

Two years ago, we hiked the Grand Canyon and camp for two nights at Phantom Ranch. Traveling to and from the canyon, we spent some time in New Mexico. We didn't have nearly enough time. So, this winter, we're going to spend ten days just exploring New Mexico.

The first step in planning this adventure was reserving a cave tour at Carlsbad Caverns. Daughter and hubby wanted a wild adventure so they're going through Spider Cave, "a 3-D cave maze." I'll just hang out in the main caverns while they crawl around and get dirt in their ears.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm back

Today is October 17. That means my last blog post was 6.5 months ago. My summer job went nuts in April and it's only now settling. My museum work is very part time over the winter so I again get to focus on writing. I will add to this blog regularly (weekly, I hope.) I've also started a blog for the museum at http://bvheritage.wordpress.com. I hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Skiing St. Elmo

Sunday, I invited my daughter to visit St. Elmo. She surprised me by eagerly accepting. We loaded skis, camera, picnic and selves into the car and headed to the 10,000 foot high ghost town.

I glide through town, searching for an image saturated in the WOW factor. The sky isn’t quite blue enough. Cars litter the historic feel. Wooden cabins hunker beneath the snow, hibernating until summer brings begging rodents and the incessant buzz of hummingbirds.

I snap the Home Comfort Hotel. The hotel rooms were heated by a single stovepipe carrying smoke from kitchen to roof. For guests lodged at the front, away from the kitchen, well, tough luck.

Across the street, the rebuilt town hall preens in isolated splendor while the pristine snow cloaks the remnants of disaster. Fire purifies, vitrifies, galvanizes and hardens. It also destroys, amply illustrated by the barren lots.

As I snap photos, daughter searches for balance on the slick street. With a shriek, she splats into the snow pile that barricades the boardwalk. We share laughter as she flails her 40 inch feet in the air.

We slide out of town and practice turns on the hack road. I force unwieldy skis around the corner, panting with effort and exhilaration. Daughter crashes in a geyser of white. Then, her binding released and refused to capture her boot.

After struggling to the point of chilly boredom, I gave her my skis and sat to analyze the situation. Snow diamonds melt into my jeans and leave me cold. The binding is broken. I clip on her good ski and navigate the slope on one foot. My thigh screams with the added effort. I enjoy several unbalanced runs while daughter masters my ultra-long skis.

Worn out and wet, we pass through the guardians of history and return to the car.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Grand Canyon Experience

Recently, my daughter declared herself ready for another Grand Canyon adventure.
I adore the canyon. I totally understand how some of the First Nations consider it the center of the world. I fell in love with the canyon as a pre-teen when I read Powell's account, "Explorations of the Colorado River" and saw the stunning IMAX movie. The Denver Museum of Natural History had a huge 3-D contour map of the canyon. I was fascinated. And hooked.

A year later, my family visited for the first time. Much to my surprise, my seriously acrophobic mother allowed my best friend and me to hike down, spend the night at Phantom Ranch, and hike out the next day. We were both 14. It was AWESOME! (And, that is the correct useage of the term "awesome" - the Canyon truly is one of the most magnificent places on Earth.)
I spent a fall during college working at the El Tovar Hotel, hiking sections of trails several times a week, and took two solo trip to Phantom.
Last Thanksgiving, after a 16-year absence, I returned! It was the first visit for daughter and hubby. In an effort to save a few dollars, we got a backcountry permit to camp for three nights. Due to a mild illness the day before, and daughter's desire for another Junior Ranger badge, we didn't get on the trail until noon. We reached the inner gorge at sunset and negotiated the last mile in the dark. We had to scramble to arrive in time for the Hikers Stew dinner. Delicious.

We enjoyed our full day lay-over, except for the rain. What a time to discover that our tent was not waterproof. We wrapped the tent in our emergency blankets and double checked that all clothing was secured in trash bags.
Someone cancelled their dinner reservation that day so we got to eat steak. Yes, it's expensive. But, I swear, Phantom Ranch has the best food, anywhere.
That night, it rained and rained. Well before dawn, daughter says, "It's wet over here." Yeah, I know. "No. Really wet." I heard a splash. My fingers reached for the floor and found a lake. Our entire campsite flooded. There were 2-3 inches of standing water inside the tent. It would have been deeper except the sleeping bags, jackets and spare clothes soaked up gallons.
We stumbled out of our new wading pool into a the misty night. A visit to the restroom confirmed that we were not the only victims. Several of us hung out inside and to wring out our clothes in a bizarre 5AM slumber party.
There was no point trying to get back to sleep. We ate granola bars and started packing.
Water is heavy! Our packs were stuffed for the hike down. We each carried slightly more weight than was truly comfortable. Rain doubled the weight we had to lug out, plus the food we'd planned to eat for dinner the night before. We reached Indian Gardens about 3 in the afternoon. Now, we had a choice. Do we set up camp and suffer through a cold, wet night with saturated gear? Or trust to our flashlights and hike out in the dark? I decided I was less tired right then than I would be after an second cold, uncomfortable, disturbed night.
We went on. More than a year later, I'm still not sure it was the best choice. We are experienced night hikers, through early and late starts, unwillingness to turn back, and long hikes after work. On one of our sunset training hikes that summer, nature rewarded us with a shining glowworm on a rock.
In my youth, I hiked out of the Canyon in six hours. This time, it took almost fifteen. Fortunately, the trail stayed wet and muddy, not icy in spite of the snow on the rim. Our flashlights held up. Daughter got out safely, even though she was hiking in the dark for two hours past her bedtime. Good girl!

Next time, we buy a waterproof tent with a sealed bathtub bottom. Yes, it's heavier than our 1980s castoff, but anything would be lighter than the gallons of extra water we hauled up. We estimated our combined packs weighed 60-70 pounds when we started down. At the top, while begging for a hotel room and sizzling by the Bright Angel Lodge fireplace, we tossed the packs on the mule-ride scale. Over 100 pounds.

Hubby coined a new term. Mule-acious - able to carry heavy loads down and up that grueling trail. We all qualified that trip.

We are the Muleacious Family.

Happily, daughter announced she is ready to do it again.

Friday, February 12, 2010

House Mouse

Years ago, I worked in a state park nature center. One of my jobs was feeding the bull snake. There were frozen mice bagged in the freezer, ready to thaw in the microwave. Have you ever smelled nuked mouse? I do not recommend it. Especially while pregnant.

The other option was to live trap the abundant wild mice that lived in the nature center and toss one in with our snake friend. That was my usual method.

One morning, I staggered into my kitchen and popped bread into the toaster. As I fixed tea and packed my lunch, I heard scruffling somewhere in the kitchen. On the counter. Near the toaster. I smelled singed hair.

In the toaster?!?!?!

I opened the kitchen door, ripped the cord from the socket, and hurled that toaster across my yard. Bread flew as the toaster crashed and bounced across the frozen grass. I crept closer and watched one mouse stagger out of the slots. As soon as it regained it's senses, I stomped and hollered and chased that mouse clear across the street.

I soaked the toaster in Clorox, but just couldn't bring myself to use it ever again. After throwing it away, I found deep within myself an unexpected capacity for vengence. Suddenly, feeding the snake became a pleasure.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Red Sky at Dawn

"Red sky at morning, sailor's warning." Typically, here in the central Rockies, deep red sunrises and sunset are not harbingers of weather, fair or foul. They reflect smoke in the atmosphere. Distant volcanic eruptions will color the sky after a day or two. Most often, the glorious reds come from fire. Local controlled burns, larger fires anywhere in Colorado, or since the prevailing winds blow West to East, huge fires in Utah, California or Washington color our dawns and dusks.

This particular red sky seemed anomalous. No major fires. No volcanoes. No severe weather. Just a spectacular sunrise. As the red faded to the east, the snowy peaks to the west glowed cotton-candy pink until the sun cleared the horizon. Every once in a while, even a night owl like myself revels in the dawn.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Maritime Education Initiative

My biggest disappointment on this visit to Seattle was that the Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center had closed. It's under new management, mostly used as a rental facility, and now called the Maritime Events Center. The exhibits are still there, but the museum is only open when they have corporate sponsorship for school visits. They'll be open several Mondays in the spring of 2010, but were closed all of our vacation. Their schedule should be listed at http://maritimeeducationinitiative.org/.

The museum has some of the best interactive exhibits I've ever seen, and as a museum professional, I have seen many. They have a sea kayak with ores. As you move the ores, a video travels across Elliot Bay. They have a model crane to move containers on from the ship to the train. My daughter's favorite is the Water Table with pegs and panels to create your own dams and model locks. I learned more at that museum than at any other pair of museums worldwide, mostly because the information is clear, not overwhelming, and limited to the natural and human specifics of Puget Sound. It's located right next to the aquarium. I highly recommend a visit, if they're open.


Bremerton Ferry

When my best friend moved from Denver to Seattle, I figured I'd only get to see her every few years, and then only when she came to Colorado. Instead, it's worked out that we've visited her several times. Every trip, I make sure to get out on the water.

I've taken the Victoria Clipper to Vancouver Island, a trimiran sailboat up the locks into Lake Washington, and three of the local ferries.

This December, we rode the ferry to Bremerton. Since the point was to get this land-locked Colorado girl on a boat, and time was short, we sailed across, drove off, looped the long block, and drove right back on for a very pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable two hours.

The timing was perfect. We left Seattle in daylight with Mount Rainier barely visible through the haze, and returned to the brightly lit city. The orange sunset reflected in the ferry's wake. Gulls cruised above us. The unique smell of Puget Sound tickled my nose. All three mountain ranges appeared through the mists - Rainier, the Olympics, and the Cascades. And the boat rocked along, simultaneously soothing and stimulating.