Saturday, December 27, 2008

I'm the one horse in the open sleigh

In the summer, Eva and I walk to Albertsons with her little red wagon. In the winter, after a good snow, we take a sled. It's always a rugged outdoor adventure, on sidewalks, through icy parking lots, and across an arroyo and a busy street.

On Christmas Eve eve, Isobel, Eva and I took turns pulling the sled across the new foot(ish) of snow to pick up some milk and eggs for Christmas eggnog. Well, they took a couple of quick turns pulling, but they preferred riding in their open sleigh - hey! - singing sleighing songs all night, oh...

They squealed on the downhill sections and got out to help on the steep parts. They hung on tight on the banks and when I'd pull them over the snowbanks on the curbs, Eva would make a very cute, clenched-teeth grimace just before dropping over the precipice.

We ditched our sled in some bushes just outside the store and Eva said, "Someone will take our sled!" and I said, "I hope not."

When we came out of the store, my arms full of milk and Eva's arms full of 18 eggs -- a guy at the door saw all those eggs in her little arms and said, "Wow, you're brave," but he meant something else, probably what you're thinking right now -- we saw a car with a trunk open and a woman dragging OUR SLED toward it. It never would have made it into that car; it wasn't even a hatchback. But she never got a chance to find out; she dropped it on my second hey-that's-our-sled and moseyed into the store without another glance in my direction. Merry Christmas to you too.

So Eva carried the eggs. Then Isobel carried the eggs. Then, after they were rather forcefully tossed there when it was Isobel's turn to ride, the bouncy sled carried the eggs. I guess we got a carton with extra thick shells, because they all made it home. I'm saving one of those for Isobel's 7th grade egg-drop physics experiment. Man, I hope that hard shell holds up.

Anyway, I probably had as much fun sledding to the grocery store as I had sledding for real the next day. So there you go.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Nambe Lake, almost (Isobel's first backpacking trip)

Cute girl.

Cute pack.

I promised Isobel I'd take her backpacking before school started. We got rained out once. Then I ordered a new tent and we had to wait for that to arrive. So Monday and Tuesday we went backpacking. And Isobel started school Wednesday.

When I first brought up the idea of backpacking, Isobel said, "Dad, I don't know if I want to go. You can hike faster than me, and I'll be alone." After I promised her I'd stop when she stopped, and that she could stop when she wanted, she was all for it.

Our destination was Nambe Lake, three miles away. The first half-mile was very steep, and Isobel stopped a lot. After almost an hour on that half-mile, I started prodding her a bit. So she reminded me that she could stop when she wanted and I had to stop, too.

We made it up that hill, and the next 1.5 miles was a gentle downhill and we moved quickly. Starting then and about four times an hour for the rest of the trip, Isobel said something like, "Thanks for taking me backpacking, Dad! This is the most fun thing I've ever done!"

I heard it was not legal to camp near the lake, so we planned to look for a spot along the one-mile spur that leads from the main trail to the lake. We got to the spur, I said it was OK to start looking for a spot and Isobel found one immediately, right by this creek.

We pitched the tent, and I talked her into trying for the lake that afternoon. We didn't have our packs, but this one-mile hike was insanely steep. It rose about 1,300 feet in the mile, so that's an average 25 percent grade if my math's right. Anyway, it was steep, ask Isobel. We stopped a lot, and munched on granola bars and trail mix, and cheesy crackers filled with peanut butter.

Pretty soon, Isobel was stopping every three or four steps to say, "Dad, I think I wanna go back to camp now." Or, "This is my favorite thing I've ever done! Thanks Dad."

Her pleas to go back became more insistent and about 100 feet from where we could first see the lake (that's only an estimate, but I'm sure it was just over that next rise), we had this conversation:

"Isobel, I've got to see that lake."
"You mean you 'have' to see that lake?"
"Sure. I have to see the lake."
"You don't have to see the lake. You just want to see the lake."

Then we walked back to camp.

(On the way down, Isobel said, "Wow! That's a big piece of cow pie.")

(The next morning, when we were about to start the hike out, Isobel - who's becoming quite adept at peeing in the woods - said, "I've already gone potty twice today, so I should be good -- wait! I have to go again.")

Rio Grande cutthroat

Since I moved to New Mexico a year ago, my friend, the artist who created my Issa fly rod, has been after me to get a photo of the rod with one of New Mexico's native trout. Well, he's been kinda after me. I think he knows I'm not really a fisherman.

I've been eyeing Peralta Creek for a while now. The Rio Grande cutthroat trout - native only to New Mexico and southern Colorado, and now found in only about 10-20 percent of their historic range - are still there and still pure, according to "Fly Fishing in Northern New Mexico." The book said it's a 4-mile hike to the creek, which is 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep at the most and holds tiny trout - "8 inches is a great fish, 10 inches is a monster" - that will "strike at almost anything that drifts by with a natural float."

My kind of creek. After all, who would hike 4 miles to a 4-foot-wide creek with nothing in it larger than 10 inches? Nobody but me, I hoped.

The four-mile hike ended up being a rough, four-mile drive. But there was still no one there on this Saturday before Labor Day.

So I walked along this tiny creek thinking, "There are no fish in here. No way. At least nothing larger than my thumb." And, "Devin should be here; he'd catch something." Really, this is more his kind of creek than mine. He taught me to appreciate these little trickles.

I looked in every tiny hole, trying to spook a fish to prove there was anything there. Couldn't see a thing. Then, from downstream, I saw this hole.

I crept up toward the hole, put my rod together, tied on a little caddis-style attractor fly, and cast to the head of the hole. The fly drifted a little, then was slurped under. Here's the fish:

This monster is 11 inches - a new Peralta Creek record! Unfortunately for Mr. Issa, the camera was in video mode and I didn't notice until the fish had been swimming in the creek again for about an hour.

Just wait'll next year.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Partying 'til 3 a.m. in Cloudcroft

Last Friday, we had a beautiful afternoon in Deerhead Campground near Cloudcroft, NM. Nice and cool at 9,000-feet. That evening, we had a fabulous lightning show in White Sands until well after dark. That night, we crammed the four of us into our 3.5-man tent, with Eva and I on the outside soaking up the rain. The little girls slept just fine. Me not so much. Bettie not at all.

The next day, the temperature at White Sands topped out at 80 degrees. It averages about 100 at this time of year. So that was very nice, even though there was no sign of the fabled White Sands full moon. There are tons of great White Sands photos on Katie's blog. Isobel had so much fun sledding that she couldn't take a dinner break until about 8 p.m. Bettie had so much fun sledding that she didn't stop until her legs looked like this. We left at 10 p.m., after the wind picked up and whipped sand so hard that it actually drew Jake's (Bettie's brother's wife's sister's husband, a very funny guy and master of snowboarding on a round sled) blood.

There's the background. Here's my story:

Saturday we set up a huge tent, courtesy of Jake and Sarah, just for an all-girl party for Lily, Isobel, Lyla, Mckayla, Eva and Eve -- six girls between the ages of almost-four and seven. Despite all the White Sand distractions, Isobel remained super excited about that party. That made getting her into her PJs at 10 p.m. at White Sands very difficult: the realization that she and everyone else would be sleeping through the all-girl party was too much for the exhausted girl. I told her they'd have fun in the morning, but the party would start much sooner than I expected.

On the 45-minute drive back to camp, my windshield wipers stayed at high speed. As expected, our tent had only a small, semi-dry island in the middle. Worse, the dry spots in the party tent were few and small. With a little creativity -- we packed four girls onto two cots and found dry-ish, stable spots for the other two -- we became fairly confident that no one would float away.

But with the thunder from the rain on the tent-roofs (not to mention the thunder from the thunder), I was pretty nervous that my little girls would wake up in a lake not knowing where they were or where we were, and have to sink or learn to swim.

So I prayed, 'Please let me be able to help them if they need help.'

At 2 a.m., my prayer was answered. The rain had subsided enough that Eva's screaming could wake Bettie up, and Bettie could wake me up, and I could wade out there in flip flops and pajamas that were way too long for the conditions, and take Eva and Isobel, then Lyla and Mckayla (with Bettie's help), to the bathroom -- a short, wet, muddy walk down the road.

When they were all safely back in the tent, and I had just snuggled my wet-from-the-knees-down pajamas into my soaked-at-the-feet sleeping bag, the party started.

It sounded awesome. Laughing, screeching, singing. Maybe a pillow (or water) fight broke out. I don't really know. I just laid there, listening, waiting for them to settle down or for someone else to settle them down. My turn was over, I hoped.

Katie, whose daughter had been kept awake for most of the night before by the folks in the next campsite, let them party hard for a good 15 minutes. Presumably that's the point where her desire for sleep overrode her desire for revenge. The party then paused for a few hours, resuming at about 6 a.m.

I slept until 8. Viva la party tent!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Little things

Yesterday, the girls went to Minnetonka Cave where their Uncle Devin works. I wasn't there. Their grandmas have been taking turns with the girls for the last couple of weeks. I miss them, so I called them this morning. Here are their observations from the trip:

Eva: "I found a big butterfly, and it was alive. And Isobel found a little butterfly, and it wasn't alive. And we picked them up."
"You picked up a live butterfly?"
"Yeah, and Isobel did, too."

Isobel: "We went into three rooms in the cave and then we came out. And then we got some Snickers bars. And I got to drink banana milk. And Eva got orange creme."

Neither of them mentioned this:

It was the same at the Redwoods. On the trails lined with 350-foot, 500-year-old trees, Isobel's favorite things there were the shamrocks. Eva preferred the slugs and the centipedes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Distance makes the heart grow fonder

I was about 8 years old when I first saw a tide pool. I was 33 when I found out what it was called.

My mom and dad might challenge this a bit, but as I remember it, my first tide pool was a blind and random stop along the coast of northern Oregon during one of our visits to Kennewick, Wash., where we lived for the first four years of my life.

We stopped randomly to stretch our legs and look at the ocean, climbed down a steep slope to the seashore, walked over to some rocks towering out of the ocean. And there were starfish! And these plants that grab on and collapse around if you poke them with a stick! And all this other stuff that I thought you only saw if you were scuba diving, if I'd ever thought about them at all.

A couple of weeks ago, Shonda and her friends took Eva, Isobel and I from Concord, Calif., Shonda's (old) home to the Redwoods. Her friend knew where some tide pools were and when low tide would expose them.

Low tide! I'd driven along the Oregon and Washington coasts a thousand times since that first day, wishing I could see starfish and those collapsing things -- I had no idea that they were called sea anemones, these didn't look much like Nemo's home -- again, but I'd never once thought that maybe they would only be visible at low tide.

So we camped in one of the Redwood state parks that border Redwoods National Park and headed north to the tide pools the next morning. After breakfast and an hour drive, we didn't get to the tide pools until about 10 a.m., 1.5 hours after low tide. So the water was coming in, but we found the spot.

Eva and Isobel needed a hand to leap from the sand, over the water, to the rocks. But there they were: Tons of starfish (I hear it's more correct to call them sea stars, since they aren't fish) and sea anemones that tried to swallow the sticks we pressed against them. Isobel was very excited. Eva looked mostly at the waves crashing on the rocks around our feet.

We poked around out there for a few minutes while the waves crashed around us, then decided we better get back on shore before the gap got too wide and stranded us there.

On the way back, Eva clenched her fist tightly around my finger, and kept saying, "Dad, let's go up there."

So we went up away from the ocean. "Let's go up there." Then up onto the next sandy shelf. "Let's go higher." Then the shelf of gravel.

At one point, I saw a big crab shell that I wanted to look at, so I broke free and dropped down a bit toward it. Eva said, "Dad. Dad, come back."

When I did and she had fastened herself back onto my hand, she said, "I didn't want the ocean to take you away." I was never closer than 20 yards to the nearest wave.

Soon she said, "Let's go back to the trail." At that point, I was kind of disappointed. That little tide pool experience 25 years before was one of my fondest vacation memories from childhood, and Eva just couldn't wait to leave.

But as soon as we got on solid ground, with brush and trees on either side of us and no sand or waves in sight, Eva woke up.

"We saw the SEA! Me and Isobel saw the sea! We never seen the sea before. That was super cool! And we saw starfish, too!"

Then she talked about it, just like that, for most of the 20 minute hike back to the car.

(Note: To see a tide pool, go at low tide, and look for exposed rocks near the waterline -- unlike sand, the rocks hold water so these sedentary sea creatures can stay there through all tide levels.)

(Note II: I left my camera at camp that day.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Planes, trains and automobiles


The girls and I flew to San Francisco to visit my sister Shonda last week. The plane from Albuquerque to Salt Lake City was a small one, three seats across with an aisle in the middle. So Isobel and Eva both got a window seat, and Eva even got the aisle as a buffer between her and me. Both of them wanted that buffer, but Isobel is in a very unselfish phase.

Before we took off, Eva noticed something.

"Dad. We're in a jet! This is a jet!"
"How can you tell?"
"Because the wings stick up. See?"

It was a jet, an ExpressJet.

Eva kept looking out the window, then looking over at me with wide eyes, a little shiver of excitement and a small smile.

While we were on the plane, Isobel drew an airplane and wrote me this note:

"Dad. Thanks for taking us on this trip. The airplane is so fun!"


We were eating in Chinatown the night we arrived and Isobel asked Shonda, "What did I say that was cute when I was little?"

Shonda remembered sitting downstairs in her mom's house in Hyrum, during a summer between BYU accounting classes, trying to work on the Scenic Canyons books, and hearing Isobel chant from the top of the stairs, "shon...DA, shon...DA, shon...DA."

"And then you would come down and say, 'Shonda, you don't really need to work today, do you?' And I would say, 'No, I guess not; I can take a break.' "

At 7:45 a.m. the next day, we were all on the BART, Shonda's commuter train. She was headed to work. The two small girls and I were off for a fun-filled day on the buses, trains and light rail of San Francisco.

As we neared Shonda's stop, Isobel said, "I wish I was little so I could say, 'Shonda, you don't really need to work today, do you?' "

4 p.m.

We had seen Golden Gate Park, with plants from all over the world, and turtles in a pond, and millions of roses;

(these are called Betty Boop roses)

and the Golden Gate Bridge, walking halfway across while a guy surfed the bay below and a sea lion popped up every now and again;

and the Exploratorium, with endless exhibits featuring big magnets and little tornados and floating beach balls and meditation chambers;

and were now headed to the sea lions at Pier 39. I got a bit turned around and we did a little extra walking before finding the bus stop we needed. In the meantime, we'd gone through all of our snacks and lunch was long gone.

We were tired. Luckily, we passed a grocery store with fresh strawberries out front. I paid a buck-fifty, found the bus stop and the girls chowed down. I gave them a bit of distance, until I noticed a funky looking little woman eyeing them, then walked back toward them.

"Are those your little girls?"
Oh boy.
"It is really dangerous to let them eat those strawberries without washing them. And you should know that. I know it's hard to say 'no' - and maybe it's not my place -but that is really dangerous."

Then she said, "Uh oh. It looks like I made your daddy mad."

And Eva, who has seen me do a lot more than glare silently, said, "No. He's fine."

So I snatched the strawberries away (to protests) and we walked back to the grocery store to have them fill our empty water bottle. Then I walked back to the bus stop, sprinkled a little water over the strawberries and handed them back to the girls.

The woman said, "Oh good, now you can have a feast," and Eva promptly dropped the basket and spilled the strawberries all over the dirty, oily sidewalk. So I sprinkled the strawberries one more time and handed them back to the girls. The woman walked away and never looked at us again.

(This is Eva, just before I got scolded again, this time for letting her climb the fence.)

Public transportation was free that day, the one day of the year, on the one day in our lives we had to visit downtown San Francisco. I'm pretty cheap, so I was excited about it at first. But so was everybody else. The line was this long for the light rail, I swear - one train had already filled up and left us there, and another had zoomed right by without even stopping, and we had been waiting for almost an hour - by the time this guy started prancing up and down in front of everyone shouting, "LIMO. BART stations, downtown hotels, MARKET STREET. $5 per person. LIMO RIDE. BART stations ... "

Unfortunately, I'd burned through the last of our cash at dinner, and on horsie rides and other gizmos at the Musee Mechanique, and I'm sure this guy didn't take credit cards. So I watched 15 other people pile in -- including three on the front seat with the driver -- and drive away. It was 9:45 p.m. (that's 10:45 p.m. in Santa Fe), Isobel was sagging on a bench, and even Eva was starting to slow down.

Those two were incredible that day, though, I'll tell you what. They were pretty pleasant all day, even at the end. And a train eventually did come. I sharpened my elbows and got us all on. We started the 45 minute BART ride to Concord between 10:30 and 11 p.m. If you're counting, that's 16 hours of public transport; the girls snuggled in and spent the last 44 minutes just like this:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


A weird, natural log flume we found.

Isobel: A flying caterpillar?

But dad, my legs are so tired. I'm so tired of walking.

Not me!

Eva loves bridges. She loves driving on overpasses, walking on these. And tomorrow, she'll see the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh man.

Me: What's that?
Eva: It's a beaver's house.
Me: Where does the beaver live?
Eva: In the top part, above the water.
Me: Where does it go in?
Eva: It swims under the water.
Me: What's that?
Eva: It's a beaver!
Me: Where did it go?
Eva: It swam under and went into its home.

Here's a picture of Isobel not catching a fish.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fishing was good, catching wasn't

    Isobel's collected a few fishing stories over the last two summers. Here are a couple of samples:
    "We went fishing and Grandpa caught a tiger trout and killed it. We ate it and it was so yummy."
    "We went fishing on the ice, and Uncle Devin pulled me on the sled. It was fun."

    The common threads with all of the stories are a) that the trip was a success and b) that neither she nor I has landed a fish. She's a very sweet, positive girl, so she rarely mentions the latter, at least not when I can hear.

    Last week, for instance, we got schooled by the Thompsons. Gordon called me up for a bare-minimum shopping list for participation in free-fishing day; he checked off the list and, with the help of the Sportsman's Warehouse salesperson, improved it; then he, Katie and Lily fished right next to Isobel, Eva and I, and (while we were getting skunked) all caught their first fish in 20 or so years (well Lily's seven, so it'd been way longer than 20 years for her).
    Isobel and Eva got sunburned, threw rocks, tangled a few lines. The next day, Isobel told everyone at church that she got to go fishing and that it was so cool that Lily (a 7-year-old!) caught a fish and Isobel got to eat it, because fish is so yummy.

    Friday, I asked her and Eva if they wanted to go camping and fishing with me, or stay home and play and go swimming with their Mom. I admit there was a part of me hoping to leave the girls and the Powerbait at home, take my fly rod (not very kid compatible) and go after some big browns in the Cimarron River. That part of me vanished without a whisper of protest when both girls immediately chose to go fishing with their Dad. They didn't even have to think about it.

    We left at about 3:00 and took almost five hours to make the three-hour drive northeast into the mountains east of Taos. The extra time was mostly spent on a "short-cut" on a dirt road, over an 11,000-foot peak to see a mountain bluebird, a shocked cow elk and learn what a cattleguard is and why it makes that alarming sound under the tires (we actually stopped, got out and looked at the third one).
    At about 7:30, almost at our campsite, we passed a small fishing pond and I asked them if we should stop and fish or find the camp.
    We stopped.

    We had to cross a small creek to get to the pond and while the girls were distracted on one side, I hopped across and tossed a spinner into the pond. On the second cast, believe me or don't, I reeled in a 13-inch rainbow. The girls were not only too far away to hand the pole to, they were too far away to even witness the feat.
    After I let it go, I helped them across the creek and told them about it.

    "Where is it?"
    "I tossed it back."
    "Aww. I wanted to eat it."

    So we fished for a while with no luck. The spinners never worked again and nothing went for the bait. When we couldn't see the clear bubble out on the water anymore, we decided to call it. So Isobel reeled in. Three-quarters of the way in, she said, "Why is my bubble moving like that?"
    Fish on!
    She horsed it to within about 3 feet of the shore before the line broke.

    I wanted to swear.
    "I wanna tell Mommy and Katie and Lily and Uncle Gordon and Grandpa Bryce. That's SO COOL! I caught a fish."

    "I wish I would've got to see it, though. But that was REALLY cool."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Waiting for the Bus (or, Adventures of the Unprepared MMVIII)

Eva just turned 4 years old. She's not in preschool right now, but don't tell her that. Lately, when Isobel arrives home from school, Eva often tells about her day:

"At my school, I played with my friends on the playground and we built sandcastles, and we did jumping jacks and somersaults in the gym, and we went on a field trip on our bus; it has windows all over it and it's really tall, and it goes really really fast, faster than every car in the whole wide world."

One day, she got me to walk her to the bus stop, to wait for that school bus. She rode her bike down to the corner. She got off her bike and stood next to the curb, waiting, watching for the bus. We waited for about 15 minutes, while she told me more about the bus and her friends and her school. During that time, she rarely took her eyes off the street where her bus was about to arrive. I don't know how long she would have waited there -- maybe until kindergarten 2009 -- but eventually I proposed that perhaps her bus wasn't coming.

She was furious; she wasn't leaving until that bus came. Then I told her we should go home, get some money and ride the city bus downtown. We didn't do it that day, but she had a new story to tell her sister that day after school.

"Isobel! Me and daddy are gonna ride the city bus!"
"The one with all the people on the side?" (Pictures of lots of smiling people adorn the Santa Fe buses.)

On Thursday, I had to buy a fishing license and talk to the guy in the downtown fly shop, so we got on that city bus. We walked to the bus stop at almost 1 p.m. It was a nice, cool spring day; a few clouds drifted by and Eva fidgeted around in a cute red dress, "We never rode on the city bus before, huh Dad." "When is that bus gonna get here?"

It arrived, and we began the simple plan: Ride the bus to within a block of the fly shop, walk there and back, ride the bus home.

The first two segments of that plan worked perfectly. We rode by Isobel's dentist office, paused at the hospital, saw Albertson's and even Isobel's school. We got off on the right stop and found the fly shop. I bought the fishing license and talked with the guy about all the water waiting in the mountains, ready to rush down any day.

While I was talking, my phone rang. I let it.

We walked back to the bus stop and only then did it occur to me that since we had been driving on a one-way street for the last mile or so, there was no bus stop going the way I wanted to go. I hadn't looked at the map close enough to know which direction the bus looped around. So we walked back up the one-way street until it became a two way street and waited for the bus.

The nice spring day was now a little breezy and Eva and I were wishing we had a jacket or a hat or something to go over our short sleeved shirts. That's when I remembered the phone call and listened to this omen from Gordon:

"Hey Petersens, I was just wondering what the weather is like up there. It's pretty crazy here in 'querque."

Uh oh.

Twenty minutes later, Eva was pretty chilly. So I was holding her. A woman walked her dog around where we stood, a nice little tree-lined plaza of sorts, three or four times. It was a pleasant time, holding my little girl, talking about the big labrador in the fly shop and the city bus and our jackets at home.

Then, a blast of wind. The woman with the dog turned around immediately and ran. Five seconds later, pea-sized hail. We hid behind a tree trunk about as wide as my own trunk, Eva sunk her head into my chest, I called for backup -- Bettie was working at home -- and Eva cried.

I talked her out of crying and looked at the buildings behind us for shelter. They were far away and didn't have much, so we hunkered down. A woman in a slicker hustled by and directed us to a huge pine tree (it was in sight the whole time) that, as it turns out, was blocking all of the wind and almost all of the rain and hail.

I held Eva there and we tried to keep warm. It felt very nice under that tree, actually, and Eva, still pretty cold, was fine again, knowing that her mother was on the way.

That's when a car stopped, a window rolled down, and an umbrella poked out.

"Do you want this?"
"No, actually this tree is blocking most of it."
"OK... Are you sure?... Free umbrella... She looks pretty wet."
"Alright. Thank you very much."

We opened the umbrella and Eva stood next to me, beaming. She wasn't cold anymore. Then she said, "When is he gonna come back?"

"Never. He just gave it to us."

That guy will never read this, and we'll never see him again, but he turned a cold, uncomfortable minute into a warm and fuzzy moment for my astounded little daughter. I think she got the message, even if this is how she told the story to her mom a few minutes later:

"It's our umbrella now. He's never gonna come back for it."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Top 10 Utah sites

Some fan of Utah (the state) asked Bettie to ask me to tell her Utah's 10 best spots. So I made one up.

Now, while you're looking at this, keep in mind that I think Snowbird and Lake Powell and the Uintas and Delicate Arch and Dead Horse Point are fabulous. These might not be the most beautiful spots in the whole state. They're just spots that I was stoked! to find. They're listed in the order that they popped into my head.

If you've been to any of these, tell me.

1. Drive the LaSal Mountain Loop Road, from Fisher Towers (11 miles east of Moab along the Colorado River) area up into the LaSal mountains and back down to the highway just south of Moab. Starts in red rock towers, climbs to the shadow of a couple of 12,000-foot peaks and descends to some sweet views of Canyonlands.

2. Cassidy Arch, 1.75-mile hike in Capitol Reef National Park. You can walk right on top of this huge arch, and it's a little spooky.

3. Egypt 3, a short slot canyon (not technical) off the Hole in the Rock Road just east of Escalante (in Grand Staircase). Lots of variety -- narrow section; twisty, plunging section; deep section.

4. Cable Arch, aka Funnel Arch, a fun little hike off the Kane Creek Road near Moab. It's not on any of the regular hiking maps. Take the Kane Creek Road (it starts between McDonald's and Burger King) west from Moab. There's a rock full of petroglyphs on the right (a sign points you to it from the road), then the road bends to the left and there's a pullout on the left. Stop there. Hike up the wash, scramble up to the top and bear right. You'll find it eventually from there. Nice arch, named for a cable attached to a nearby fin. Good luck.

5. Hovenweep, for nice clifftop dwellings that you can walk right up to. When I was a kid, there were no signs saying, "Please keep your distance" or whatever. But now the signs are like 2 feet from the walls, so it's still great.

6. Pine Creek Canyon in Zion, if you're up for a technical slot canyon with several nice, kinda scary rappels.

7. Swazys Leap, San Rafael Swell. Get a good map and take I-70 to Exit 131 west of Green River. This would be a fun little mountain bike (if you're into that sort of thing) to the Little Black Box section of the San Rafael River. I walked it. Cool local legend -- Sid Swasey won a bet by leaping over this very rugged, pretty wide gap over a 100-foot or so drop on a horse. You can actually cross the river near there, so you can wade the river or climb up and look down from the leap.

8. Thistle Slide Overlook. Just a really cool geologic event that happened in my lifetime. HUGE natural mudslide wiped out a little town in 1983. You can almost see it happen from this overlook. On US 6/89 just north of where 6 and 89 join (about 15 miles southeast of Spanish Fork).

9. Burr Trail East of Boulder, west of Capitol Reef. Everything's great in there. And I'm not going to tell you what. OK, I'll give you one spot. It's awesome. Strike Valley Overlook. It's actually after the road crosses into Capitol Reef National Park. Short hike to a gigantic, I don't know, amphitheater, half a conk shell standing on its end.

10. Meadow Hot Springs Just off I-15, central Utah, exit 158 at the town of Meadow, 4 miles south of Fillmore. Drive 2 miles south, turn west drive OVER the freeway on a gravel road (never seen that before) follow that to this very deep hot springs. (It gets pretty hick-wild on Saturday nights, though.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dirt-eating hiker

The little girls and I camped Bandelier National Monument Friday and hiked to a couple of waterfalls Saturday. I didn't bring a camera but here are some highlights:

Isobel: "Those two waterfalls are hugging." (Can you picture it?)

Isobel: "That rock is a castle, and the sun is the flag." (How about that one?)

Eva, very excited after I handed her a fruit snack she dropped: "I like to eat dirt."

Eva: "I hear a monkey." (Isobel heard it, too, but I never heard anything; so as far as I know, it was a monkey.)

"Look! I see the Queen." Isobel, three feet from a sign that had a photo of six animals that live in the area, including the Queen butterfly. (It really was.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Another one for Bettie's fridge - illustrated

"Dad, what if we stuck grapes on that walking stick cholla?"

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Top

I'm one of those guys who has to get to the top, if I possibly can.

But I really respect those who don't.

I'm going to get to an Ireland story, but first ...

The Pines

My cousins and I have a favorite camping spot near Silver Glance Lake just below the ridge that separates American Fork Canyon from Cottonwood Canyon in Northern Utah. I am pretty sure a group led by a cousin has been up there a couple of times a year for going on 15 years. And I'm pretty sure that every trip has included a hike to top of one of the Twin Peaks.

It's a beautiful view from there. You can see the three Silver lakes, Utah Lake, the Great Salt Lake, another AF lake and two Cottonwood lakes from that spot. You can see dozens of peaks, including Timpanogos, the other Twin and Mount Superior along with the fabulous views of two gorgeous canyons. (More than one lucky group of tourists has gotten a great view of a three- or four-moon salute from the top of Snowbird's summer tram, but that's another story.)

Those trips to the Pines, as we call that spot, are some of the best we've ever had. Grandpa Joe showed us the place, of course, and someone could weave a fantastic tale on its tapestry, featuring the lives of all the varied characters who've showed up there since.

The Stag Years

As we grew older and began making the trip without the stabilizing influence of Grandpa, the trips got a little wilder. The nights got later, the dips in Silver Glance got colder and the trundling got more thunderous. During these heady years, even the latest night was followed by a cleansing splash in Silver Glance and a trip to the top -- always right to the top -- of the Twin Peak.

One incident to characterize those trips: We all stayed up late, but one guy outdid us all. We were awakened occasionally by a shout or a splash (a tiny creek runs through the camp) all night, but we never paid much attention until he said, "Come on. Let's go. It's already nine o'clock." Well, it wasn't 9, it was 6:30. But by the time we'd figured that out, the water was already boiling for breakfast. So off we went, even Dave, who hadn't slept a wink.

It was an amazing display. Dave, laboring up the mountain, would land his foot on a loose boulder, lurch backward and fall -- straight as a board -- about 120 degrees backward. In that moment, his body seemed completely at rest. There was no attempt to break the fall or protect the vital organs or shield the head. But that was the only break he got. As soon as he landed he would fight for his feet, let out a stream of curses, and struggle on.

Still, after a 35-degree dose of Silver Glance, Dave regained a bit of his balance and punished himself all the way to the top of the Twin Peak, where he let out the most harrowing victory cry of his long and storied peak-bagging career, took a nap, and descended.

A New Element

A few years passed and we entered the next stage. This involved the introduction of estrogen -- with its strange mix of sense and insensibility -- into the camp. The first girl never made it -- she just shouted at her companion from the middle of the rockpile approach (the farthest she would go) until he said goodbye to us and headed for home.

But she and others eventually made it to the camp, to the lake and to the top, and on the way they reminded us - me at least - that it did get better than watching a sofa-sized boulder crash endlessly, mindlessly down a debris field.

The hike to the Pines is a short, steep, hop over lots of big boulders. The hike to Silver Glance is a battle with scrubby brush. The hike to the ridge is a very steep scree field. The ridge to the top is a knife-edge scramble. And what I never noticed until Des hiked up there with us that day was:

The view from the saddle, where you first hit the ridge, is virtually identical to the one from the peak, and it can be had without the last knee-buckling moves.

The View, Fellas, The View

That day, Des outhiked us all the way to the ridge. She's fit, strong, agile and she just motored past us to the top. Well, almost the top. When she hit the ridge -- first, I might add -- she stopped. When Aaron caught up, he couldn't believe it.

"You made it all the way up here and you're not going to THE TOP?"
"No. I don't want to hike along that ridge, and I like the view from here."

It was simple, and she would not be moved. So she sat there in that spot, looked at eight lakes, a bunch of peaks, two canyons -- some of the most beautiful scenery on earth -- while we struggled to the top, shouted at the top of our lungs, saluted the tourists, rolled a rock or two and hustled back down.

Slieve Elva, The Burren, 2008

All that said, this is me, at what I thought was the top, as seen by Bettie, who'd already had enough. She's thinking, "Can I go down now?" And I'm thinking, "How do I tell her, through this whipping wind and rain, that this isn't the top and I CANNOT turn around now?"

Slieve Elva, 1,139 feet, is the Burren's highest, well, not peak, not point ... maybe roll. The Burren, Ireland's rocky west-coast peninsula, is known for its bleak, exposed limestone seashore, endless stone fences and high sea-cliffs (see a previous post). We went looking for a nice walk with a constant view of the ocean. And it brought is within a half-mile or so of Slieve Elva, which is not rocky, not bleak, not exposed, not steep, not high. But it's the highest spot in this little corner of Ireland.

So I looked at the map, stopped where the trail got me nearest and pointed them at this altar that I was sure marked the top. Bettie looked at the map, too, and drew my attention to the word "Bog" typed several times all around Slieve Elva's dot.

Look at that picture again. I looked at that scene, pointed it out to Bettie. Piece of cake. Rolling, grassy hills. Even a few dry tufts of grass. No bog. Bettie came with me anyway.

Let me tell you about bogs, now that I know what a bog is. They look like that. But even the highest points hold water. Even relatively steep hills. There are thick mats of vegetation clumped on top of the water. But slip off the clumps -- or step squarely on one of the false ones -- and you drop a foot-and-a-half and fill your shoe with water.

That's where Bettie stopped. I said, "Maybe on top of that ridge there's a better way down." She said, "Well, you let me know."

I marched off. At the top, there was obviously no better way down. But it was obviously not the top. The hill nudged upwards almost imperceptibly to another vague hump on the horizon. The wind was too loud to discuss, but finally Bettie belted out: "Well, is there a better way down?" "No." She turned around, picking her way toward the trail.

I turned around and headed for the horizon. Now, I'm running, dunking a foot on every third step and the horizon is unfolding in front of me. I'm moving toward it, although the incline is so gradual it's difficult to tell the quickest way to the highest visible spot. It keeps inching left, then right and I'm stumbling onward. Finally, I hit a strange ridge. Almost like an ancient berm, raised to divide fiefdoms or something. That was a little easier going, so I got out my level, decided which way was up, and climbed.

Soon I came to a concrete pillar that nothing, not even my own two eyes, could convince me did not mark Slieve Elva, one of the lowest, shallowest peaks even in Ireland. A little plaque had been removed from the top of the pillar. And though the hill looked like it might have continued to slope upward in as many as 110 degrees to the south and west, I decided that marked Slieve Elva and not an ancient legendary battle (which did take place near there) and turned around.

Not wanting to keep Bettie waiting, I kicked it up another notch and made it down very quickly, wet up to each calf and shoes filled with water.

She was relatively dry, had no twisted ankles and was humming a Simon and Garfunkel tune in the soft Irish rain.

I am pretty sure I found the top.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wish you were here, girls

On our way to Carlow, where my great great etc grandparents met and were married in the early 1840s, we saw this on the side of the road and had to stop.

It was Sunday afternoon so lots of families were there. There are ruins like this all over, but this was a fun one. Called the Rock of Dunamase. There were no entrance fees and, this is rare, no barriers keeping you off the highest walls.

I missed my two little climbers. Eva and Isobel would have dragged me into there. Or to the top of this.

Bonus pic of the view. The church at the bottom there is still in use.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Keeping your feet clean

Isobel, Eva, Devin and I took a trip to the Sandia man-cave near Albuquerque today. Despite the name, girls - even princesses - are welcome. The trail was a little muddy, with islands of rock and ice. Isobel hopped from island to island, then said this:

"The rocks make your shoes clean, and the snow makes your shoes shiny. When you're a Royal, you have to walk on the rocks and snow."

Isobel is my kind of princess.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Santa Claus is dead

"Is that Jesus' tomb?"

"No, but they say Santa Claus is buried near there."

"Santa Claus DIED?"


Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Burren - Ireland part I

Back from Ireland.

Our first stop was the Burren is a rocky, cliffy part of Ireland's west coast.

These fences wind everywhere. They gotta put the rocks somewhere, I guess.

The nice thing about them is that it makes it easy to herd the cows. Our second day in the area, we took a hike along an ancient road that is still used by farmers. We had to pause occasionally to wait for the traffic to clear.

The most popular spot in the Burren is the Cliffs of Moher. It's crowded, but beautiful.

Here's Bettie and the view south from the main tourist view from the cliffs.

Look behind her. That's the way to escape the crowds. Choose a windy day, then hike five miles beyond the large, wordy signs that basically say, Don't Do It. The first half was just scary. I was crawling. My advice, Don't Do It.

But Bettie liked it. This is her foot and a 230-meter drop to the ocean. Maybe not 230 meters, that's the highest point and it's further north. We'll go conservative and say 500 feet.

Look a few feet to her left and you'll see me, clinging to the rock walls that keep the cows out of the ocean. The last half of the hike, pictured below, wasn't quite as bad. The wind mellowed a little and I got to enjoy some of it.

At the tower in the distance, we headed inland and walked along country roads to the car. That's what kept me moving, knowing it was a one-way trip.

Hey Bryce. Look behind you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I've decided to occasionally explain some of the choices of favorite books, movies, music in my profile. Especially the books, since most of you will probably never read any of them. (In fact, I did NOT put them on there as recommendations. I put them on there because I like them, and because they all involve some kind of odd adventure by unlikely adventurers. There's not a Harry Potter, John Grisham or The Work and the Glory in the bunch.)

First on the list, Molloy, a Samuel Beckett novel, half of which is taken up by an 83-page paragraph. That paragraph is written in the voice of an old man with one leg that is completely stiff and shrinking while his "good" leg is in pain and stiffening quickly. Instead of eating, he sucks on smooth stones. He has no teeth, no social skills, cannot speak intelligibly. But still he pedals his bicycle - one-legged - to the sea, through deep forest and large city, toward his mother, who is even older and more decrepit than he. He dodges philanthropists who would save him, hermits who would befriend him and police officers who would detain him.

One great quote: "I waited until dawn to move, because I was sure I would be seen by a police officer during the night, and that he would ask me what I was doing, a question for which I have never been able to find the correct response." (I haven't either.)

He loses his bicycle, but then uses crutches and finally crawls. And (not to give away the ending, but) he never finds his mother.

Later we find out, through the eyes of a social worker sent to find him, that this epic adventure he's been on has taken place in a tiny village, a small grove of trees and on the banks of a small impoundment where the village stores its water.

There's a lot of deep stuff in the book - it's a treatise on dying and living, it explores bare existence by stripping away all social mores - but what I get out of it is this: Anyone can have an epic adventure. You don't have to go far and you don't have to compete in a 100-mile ultra-triathlon. But sometimes it helps to have a demon or two to chase.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cliffs Notes

Here are some photos and quotes from my trip with Isobel to Tent Rocks, the condensed version of the Bravado post.

"Hey, that looks like a weak woman."
"A weak woman?"
"Well, she's kind of sad. She has a line under her eye. And she has a haircut like Eva's."

"But Dad, I like climbing more than hiking."

"Whoa, we can see the WHOLE WORLD, it looks like."

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Here's a PS about that hike with my Grandpa Joe.

I remembered it wrong. We didn't even bring any water. That drink from the spring was my first of the hike, too, but I was dying for it. He was just taking his medicine.

On the question of whether to ever drink untamed (wild, unfiltered) water, here's my opinion. I try to always purify water in the woods. Unless I can see it bursting right out from under its first rock. Or unless I miscalculated how much water I'd need, didn't bring a purifier and there is a small, cold, bubbling stream staring me down.

I never stay thirsty in the presence of a clear, cold stream. I'd drink from a lake if I were hallucinating or something. But to drink from a big houseboat-covered reservoir, I'd have to be staring into the gates of hell and feel sure that that was my fate if I didn't take a swig.

The first time I get giardia, the clear-stream/spring policy may change.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I have always been a bit skeptical of technology's role in the woods. Compasses, for instance, and first aid kits, and the principle of hydration. You know, the If-you-get-thirsty-you-will-die mentality. A good friend of mine took the "clear and copious" doctrine so far as to tell me, "If you don't need to pee, you're not drinking enough." I said, Well, sure, if you don't need to pee for a whole day or something, you're probably not drinking enough, but he said, No, if you don't need to pee RIGHT NOW you are dehydrated. He told me this just after relieving himself and just before guzzling half a liter of purified water and dancing along the ridge for a hundred yards or so to the next bush.

Another favorite rule of the hydration-obsessed is, No caffeine, no carbonation. But there's very little I like better than downing a can of Coke, the ultimate dehydrator, just before descending from a high peak. I drink it for a treat, a boost, not for hydration. I also drink water on the trail, but only when I'm thirsty. I still drink a lot more water than my Grandpa Joe. I remember huffing, puffing and guzzling along behind him one day about four miles to a spring, where he stopped for his first drink (right from the source, by the way, with only a passing, snickering reference to giardia).

"I take water like medicine," he said. "My doctor said I need to drink water, so I try to remember."

I once asked a wilderness survival type for some suggestions for being out in the winter. He said, "Number one rule, no cotton." But I still wear a cotton T-shirt on every hike, every backcountry ski trip, and Levis on all but the wettest and coldest.

Maps and a GPS are fabulous tools. I consult them to find out roughly where I am and where I'm heading. But more than a tool for getting found or not getting lost, I use them to find out where I want to go and remember where I've been. A compass does neither of those things and the imperfect measure of the position of the sun is all I've needed, so far.

All this could get me into real trouble sometime. But it hasn't yet. (And you could make a good argument that if it hasn't gotten me into real trouble yet, then you'd have to be either miraculously unlucky or monumentally incompetent -- because I am a good bit of both -- to get into real trouble on the kind of mildly adventurous trips I take).

Today, Isobel and I went to Tent Rocks National Monument. I decided to turn it into a winter hiking story for a local newspaper, so I found a group of Sierra Club members that were headed there and kind of tagged along. "Kind of tagged along" means I met them at their office at 8 a.m., when it was 8 degrees, talked to them about the place and whether we should expect snow and ice in the bottom of the deep, narrow slot canyon, told them I'd probably see them down there and went home to get Isobel.

I did see them down there. They were almost back to the trailhead. I asked how the trail was. A 50-year-old lady with trekking poles said, "Spectacular, a little icy near the top." And the trip leader said, "You won't make it in those sneakers. You need some boots with gripping soles like these," then brandished his $200 hiking boots.

That's when I thought of Devin forgetting his Sorels and wearing Vans to near the top of a snowy peak last winter. And Devin scrambling in his Vans up a steep off-trail boulder field to a 13,000-foot pass in the Wind Rivers. And Devin's old, shredded, treadless Vans skiing down a snowy slope toward Logan Canyon during a recent deer hunt. (Thankfully, he wasn't hunting and, you know, carrying a gun.) I thought of Devin's recent geology field trips and his complete disregard for the "mandatory sturdy hiking boots" rule.

I said, "I guess we'll just go as far as we can."

Isobel did slip once, then spent the rest of the trip warning folks we passed. "Be careful," she said. "It's a little slippery up there. You might fall." ("I'm being a good helper, aren't I, Dad.") But she didn't tell anyone to turn back. In fact, she said, "This was SO FUN. I'm going to tell Mom and Eva that they should have been here. We have to bring them with us next time."

Like I said, I know there is a chance that my disregard for sensible advice could get me into trouble someday.

A friend of mine told me of a 30-mile hike into Yosemite with a guy in running shoes (the wisdom of which my friend questioned at the trailhead), followed by a 30-mile hike out with a guy with a broken ankle. Vince once rock-crawled off a rugged dirt road in a beat-up pickup and gave a bit of advice to a couple of hot shots in a brand new Toyota -- "It's a little rough," he said, and the hot shots laughed -- then Vince heard gears grinding and metal crunching for a few minutes before watching the hot shots belly-crawl by with heads down and eyes averted.

This has never happened to me. When I ignore advice, nothing but good ever comes of it. For instance when Bettie said, "I think we should stop for gas here before we drive into that secluded forest," I ignored her. And when we ran out of gas after dark with a 10-month-old girl in the back seat, it wasn't five minutes before a car came along and drove us all to the next little dingy hotel.

It always turns out OK in the end.

Knock on wood.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Gunsight Peak reprise

This blog's first-ever post (see it here) should have had this photo in it, but the light when we started the drive toward it (at 1 a.m. in a rainstorm) just wasn't quite right.

Devin sent me this photo later.

This is the view of Gunsight Peak I saw growing up, the little volcano across the valley.

Out one day with you, hallelujah ... Moab part IV

On the fourth day of Moab, Eva sang to me ...

That song is why I take those girls out into the wilds (whether they like it or not). Once again, they learned this from driving around with their mom, not from listening to their dad. I don't even remember the name of the artist, but it's very sweet. (We heard it on a great mix from Bettie's friend, Jayna.)

While I like to think she was singing to me, Isobel's definitely her favorite climbing partner.

This was our last day in Moab. We spent the morning on a short hike at Mill Creek; it's in town near the Slickrock trailhead. Follow the creek, take the north fork and soon you come to a pretty little waterfall and a large pool that I hear is great for swimming in the middle of the summer. March, not so much, especially at 9 a.m.

Then we went back to the spot we saw the first day, along Onion Creek near Fisher Towers. We went up the next canyon and looked hundreds of feet straight up at the spot we'd sat a few days before looking hundreds of feet straight down. On the way up, Eva started singing again and kept it up for the rest of the day. And once again, Isobel joined in.

I love my girls.

On the way back, Eva got hold of Devin's hat and backpack, dipped the hat in the creek to keep her head cool and marched down the trail saying, "Look at me. I'm Devin." For about 20 minutes, she would correct anyone who got her name wrong.

I, for one, think Devin is pretty darn cute.

I'll end with this great picture Devin took of Isobel on Mill Creek. This is like a photo from Harry Potter -- I can see her happy little strut like it's a video.

Hallelujah, I love my girls.