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!