Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Day Trip Turns Into Overnight Adventure

This adventure ride was done last September but I just finished documenting it.

The day started out cloudy but the forecast was for clear skies, sunny and warm.  I had been planning this adventure ride for a month or so, and today was going to be it. The ride was in what I call the "unknown National Forest" that lies in central Lewis County, Washington. This is an isolated block of the Mt. Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest administered by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. There are no official recreation sites such as campgrounds, trails, or picnic areas in this National Forest.  The area has many interesting features and many mountains above 3,500 feet elevation, such as The Rockies, Lookout Mountain, and Cougar Mountain.  Topo maps reveal deep valleys, steep mountainsides, cliffs and a lot of forest roads in the area. Ideal for an off-road adventure.

About 30 years ago we ventured up into this area on smaller dual sport bikes.  We explored the headwaters of the Deschutes River with little or no challenges. The roads then were all in good condition because there was a lot of active logging going on. As I started to research the area for the upcoming ride I found that there was no information on this area. Searches for National Forest roads returned nothing except that National Forest road 74 (NF74) was washed out in several places (via Flickr and a mountain climbing site). Both Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie and Gifford Pinchot National Forest web sites had no road reports for the area. I checked to see if there was any active logging that might result in closed roads, machinery in the way, or encounters with logging trucks but again nothing. I even tried looking at geo-caching, fishing and hunting web sites - all nada. I was beginning to realize that this area was "not on the grid."

Google Maps shows the area as a maze of roads. When you turned on the satellite view you didn't see the familiar brown look of clearcuts, rather everything looked green.  Now I was getting excited about a great ride through the woods on nice forest roads. So now the task was which roads to explore. I focused on single or double-digit forest road numbers because typically these indicate arterial or major forest roads. Major forest roads lead to spur roads which lead to logging sites. Spur roads are generally three to four digits long. Spur roads are generally dead ends, may be in poor condition, and are not maintained. Whereas major forest roads are generally maintained and in good condition, and often times connect to other roads.

Map of "Day Trip."  Red marks route in. Green marks route out. Yellow marks specific sites.
I programmed the GPS to follow various major forest roads to go from one end of the National Forest block to the other. Starting on NF71 and crossing over to NF74 via a spur road 7415, then on NF74 to NF70 and come out on Washington State Route 7 between the towns of Elbe and Morton. The route was about 55 miles through some high country and the down and out along a river. Figuring that we would be on mostly major forest roads I estimated that we would travel about 20 mph (average), or about three hours including some stops. Traveling to and from this area would be fun too; instead of highways I programmed a back roads route. Looking at the planned routes I saw an easy day trip of five to seven hours. I filed this trip as something we could do before the fall rains came.

Sure enough a beautiful weekend day came to do this day trip. I explained to my wife the route especially the off-road portion. She verified with me that we would be traveling on major forest roads not trails, ORV, or ATV routes. She was a bit skeptical of the connector road 7415 between NF71 and NF74. I assured her that because it connected these two development roads it would be fine. She examined the route and said "lets go."

Saturday morning there were low clouds and some drizzle but the forecast was for clearing, and temperatures in the high 70's. We took our time that morning because of the low clouds and ended up leaving at noon. A bit later than I wanted but still doable. We dressed fairly light but decided to take the liners to our mesh jackets. Also we decided to wear riding pants versus lighter apparel. The only other thing I took was some tools, a tire repair kit and the usual water and snacks. We were on our way.

Soon the clouds broke to a beautiful sunny day. As we made our way we noticed the leaves on the trees we
NF 71 with view of Mt. Rainier
starting to color - fall was coming. Traffic was very light and we were making great time. I had chosen some roads that we had never been on before and so it was fun going through new places. Finally we made it to where we were supposed to turn off to the off-road portion of the trip. My wife commented that the road seemed narrow, rough, and unused. I agreed, but we decided to go on. The switchbacks up the clearcut mountain side were challenging on their own but we made it fine. We stopped and were presented with an incredible view of the Cowlitz River valley. You could clearly see Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens in the distance. We forgot about the rough and narrow road and excitedly motored on. We traveled through several different levels of returning forest and every now and then saw some beautiful scenic mountain views. As we continued to climb up and up and deeper into the forest we started to notice that the road was becoming rougher and narrower. We started to encounter some small road washouts that gave us a challenge, but still nothing insurmountable. Unfortunately road conditions got progressively worse. We went through one particularly challenging washout recognizing that we didn't want to go back that way. Finally we came to that connector road 7415 between NF71 and NF74. It started out fine but soon turned into a nightmare.

Our first challenge on 7415 was that a slide of logging debris crossed the road. Slowly I picked a path through it and shouted for my wife to come through. She made it through - faster and more confident - than I did. Next the road dropped so steeply that it was even hard to stand up on or off the bikes. The dirt on either side of the tracks had washed out leaving deep ruts filled with large gravel and rocks that were brick sized or larger. As we made our way down, at about the same instant but about 40 feet apart we both dumped our bikes. We took a breather and started to notice that we were riding slower than planned and it was getting late in the day. These roads were not what we imagined - smooth gravel - rather rocky trails. Going was slow and we were getting tired. I calculated where we were and noticed that our average speed was not 20 mph as planned but about 12 mph. We were about halfway and decided we didn't want to go back the way we came so onward we went. I worried that it would be getting dark soon.

Rest stop on NF 71 near Rooster Rock.
The "roads" continued to narrow to the point they really were single track trails. You couldn't see farther than 10-15 feet ahead because of the trees and bushes. You also had to watch out for "widow makers" - trees that had fallen and the broken top was just waiting to spear you.  Finally it got to where we were in the dark with many more miles to go. So dark you could barelyt see the road, or the common softball or even basketball sized rocks, or the road intersections even with the high beam on. As in most trips going wrong, we turned right where we should have turned left. We were now on a road so rough, rocky and narrow (and in the dark) that I realized we made a wrong turn. I motored to a place where we could turn around. What I didn't realize in the darkness was that the road barely hung to the side of the mountain. I came around a corner hit some big rocks and started to drift to the left... Luckily I immediately dumped the bike before I careened down the steep mountainside. My wife then passed me and I shouted that I was okay and to pull forward to a flat spot. My bike's two wheels hung on the vegetation and the skid plate was on the edge of the road. I thought, "there is no way we were going to easily right this bike back on to the road."

We attempted to pull the F800GS up on to the road but it was too heavy. I found a couple of day pack straps, tied them together and tried using my wife's G650GS to drag the bike up onto the road. We were able to move the bike about three or four inches until the straps broke under the load. My bike was firmly positioned on the road edge. Too exhausted to try any more fruitless pulling. I said, "we are done with this." We then weighed our options: one of us drive out to get help; we go out two up and return in the morning; we call and get help; or lastly we do any one of the above options tomorrow and stay the night. We quickly decided that we would not leave that night, it was just too dangerous. Also too dangerous for anyone to come up and get us in the dark. We didn't know what kind of roads lie ahead - were they passable or not. We luckily found a spot - only one small spot - where we could get one bar of cell service. We discovered that we could call and/or text out but no one could reach us. I got the exact longitude and latitude of our position and called family and friends telling them that we were okay. A plan was made for friends to attempt a rescue in the morning.

Again we assessed our situation. We had some food, about a half cup of water, toilet paper, pocket knife, tools, first aid kit, some nylon string, and our riding gear. What we didn't have was, a flashlight, matches, sleeping bag, or shelter. I felt like we were on a reality adventure show. Lucky for us the weather was nice, and warm, although rain and thunderstorms were forecast for tomorrow.  I cleared an area beneath some trees as a spot we could lay down. I took the vinyl liners out of our jackets and used them as a ground cloth to keep any moisture from seeping up into us. I contemplated making a fire using my old survival skills but because it was so warm we decided against it. The moon was bright and all the stars were out. We felt comfortable and safe with our decision to spend the night; funny but neither of us were worried about our situation. My wife asked if I knew that these roads were going to be such a challenge? I replied that it was only supposed to be an easy day trip. We cuddled up together and fell asleep.

A few times one or both of us awoke in the night but it wasn't because of any reason. The woods were so quiet. I would position myself to see the stars and fall back asleep again. Surprisingly morning came quickly and I felt refreshed from yesterday. So far an unplanned night in the woods wasn't so bad. A light rain shower passed by but we were dry under the tree I selected as a shelter. I decided to walk farther down the road searching for better cell phone service. I passed a road intersection when I heard a vehicle approach. No, it wasn't our friends but some guys traveling out after camping at a nearby lake. I flagged them down asked if they could help me. Sure enough the five of us were able to pull my bike back onto the road and upright it. They too said I was lucky I didn't end up farther down the mountainside because it would have been impossible to get my bike out. I chatted with them about the best way out. They said they were locals, had logged these woods and knew this area well. Maybe we could've gotten out on the road we were on but it was doubtful. One of our rescuers said, "NF70 doesn't exist anymore. It used to, but not anymore. The only way in and out is NF74." They were quite surprised when I told them where we had come from; their reply was,. "You can't get here from there." One of the guys looked at our bikes and said, "Riding up here on them big, heavy European bikes is foolish. You are city slickers doing that."  Grateful for their help, I reluctantly agreed and everyone laughed.  As they were leaving our friends showed up, but we had already been rescued. What timing.

View to the west from "the pass" on NF 74.
Our friends agreed the only way in was NF74 and it wasn't bad except one spot were it went along a cliff. The road was starting to washout at that location. Instead of two tracks there was one but we made it. After the washout, we stopped at a beautiful pass where you could look down either side into some river valleys. Low clouds and fog obscured the valley bottoms but above dramatic skies - it was beautiful. We sat at this pass enjoying a wonderful breakfast our friends had brought. We told them of our adventure. They asked why would you do such a challenging trip? I replied it was supposed to be an easy day trip. As we followed them down NF74 the road improved greatly to a nice, smooth gravel road. This is what we had originally imagined. We made home safe and sound albeit a day later. We had a great adventure - riding and our unplanned overnight stay.

So what are the lessons learned from this?
  1. Don't be lured on thinking it's going to get better. If it's bad at the start its probably not going to get any better. Know when to say "when."
  2. Even if it's only supposed to be a day trip make sure you have a small emergency kit with at least a flashlight, matches, hats and two space blankets - one for the ground and one for cover. A hat will help you stay warm.
  3. When going remote make sure to bring a tow strap or some good sturdy rope.
  4. Bring more water than you think you will need. You will lose water through perspiration and need to replenish it.
  5. Make sure bring a good GPS that has the appropriate map(s) loaded and that can pinpoint your location. I had a very detailed map on my smartphone which allowed us to exactly determine our location.
  6. Make sure you budget enough time to do your trip. Don't assume that if you leave late that you can make it up.
  7. Print a spare map, mark your route and itinerary and leave it with family or friends.
  8. Don't travel on unfamiliar roads or terrain in the dark.
  9. Make sure your bike is prepared. In hindsight my tires were not the right type for this terrain and didn't have enough tread for these roads.
  10. Be mentally prepared. Even though weather was good we had a good attitude about our decisions and what we were faced with.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A High Desert Essay: The Road of Life

You know what I like about long road trips? You have plenty of time to think; especially when you are traveling in Nevada or southern Idaho. As I am driving through the high desert with really nothing to draw your attention to, I enter the "eyes-open-daylight-dreaming" zone. It's a zone where you have to stay in touch with reality, but only enough to be real and stay real. By that I mean, you still got to focus on the task at hand - driving a car.

A few miles into my “zone” a few past events in my life pop into my head. I try not to think too much about the past because there isn't anything that I can do about it. Been there, done that, it's over, I think. Sure, I think about what if I had done some things differently, but then you get in to the "shoulda, coulda, woulda" game which gets you nowhere. So I tried to focus on the future and make sure that I don't repeat past mistakes. What? Past mistakes? I took some time to think about that, perhaps 50-60 miles. (Time almost becomes irrelevant, but distance is what you are trying to achieve so it becomes the measure.) Again the rule is no worries about what you did back then, but to try and understand how and why you made the mistake so you don’t repeat them. What I discovered was that some past mistakes were just out of my control. Or were they? Although scientists say nothing is truly forgotten from your brain. You somehow only selectively remember certain things and is or was that reality, or did you unwittingly change how you recalled some of the past? These paradoxical questions consumed at least another 50 miles of thought; unfortunately without any resolution. So now I'm at least 100 miles in with nothing accomplished or resolved except miles traveled towards my destination. I am beginning to realize that any thinking of the past is fruitless. However my mind is a big collection of past events and the little mind gremlin in my head keeps on resurrecting past things, events, and thoughts as I drive along.

Again, I try to focus on the scenery but there's really nothing to see and so the little mind-past-times-and-events gremlin in my head returns with more personal history. Out loud I say, "Stop thinking about the past and focus on the future." As if this is going to help? My traveling companion - my dog - looks at me with a look to say, “say what?” He then returns to his blissful sleep.  I then earnestly work on thinking about the future. I ask myself how do I think about the future. The future hasn't happened yet so how can you think about it? An epiphany emerges. I realize that the future is akin to the road I am driving on. I see the Interstate in front of me, for sure a half a mile, sometimes further. Sometimes as I crest a hill I can see the road I'm about to travel on for miles ahead. This is my future. Then it comes to me, I can't really see the past (except in my rear view mirror and it fades fast) - only vaguely remember it, and the farther I drive the more vague the memory of the past becomes. But if I look at the road ahead it is clear, I see it, it's where I am going - it is my future (albeit not too distant future). I'm smiling now starting to believe that all these miles traveled have given me a revelation on life. Woo hoo! I can see my future.

I further realize that I am in full control of my future. I can stop, turn this way or that way, but always looking ahead I see my future. But as other cars pass me I get solemn and realize that they too can affect my future. The guy right next to me can simply choose to swerve without any warning and immediately affect and alter my future, maybe even direly. All I can do is react. Same goes for the poor bastard driving next to me. I exchange a quick glance with my neighboring driver on my right with a Mona Lisa hint of a smile that I, at this instant, control not only my future but yours too, buddy. How do like that? You are truly clueless as to what I can do. All of a sudden to my left is another vehicle passing me probably thinking the same to me.

Hmm? I can see my future. I can control it within reason, but unexpectedly someone or something else can change my future beyond my control. I ponder this for many miles. I look at the bug splatters on my windshield and realize that I have affected their futures too. They didn't affect my future, but something bigger could. A deer or cow could definitely affect my future. What about tumbleweed?  Nah, I would blast right through it.  What about a large rock or some other junk?  Ugh, I shudder;  luckily only bugs for now.

The weather is sunny and clear, so I'm traveling as fast as I can legally go and then some. I can see far in front of me. Right now, at this instant and as I look ahead my future is bright and sunny too. If the weather were different, like foggy, or rainy, or snowy, I would slow down. So would my life. I began to realize that life isn't always as the country song "Sunny And 75." There are times when you are traveling in the dark or limited visibility. There are times when road conditions are not safe; or when you choose roads - other than highways - that force you to drive differently, e.g., slower or more cautiously. I now come to the conclusion that I am truly on the road of life.

So now I adapt my highway future paradigm to my life - now. I've only got a few more miles to go before I stop for the day, so I feel I got to wrap this up. I'm in a zone that's for sure with all these metaphysical prognostications. Oh my, then it hits me, where am I? On this trip I am on my way to a specific destination.  I took the time to plan an itinerary and route. I have a road map. F' me! Do I have a road map, an itinerary for my life? Now I'm totally dismayed. The little thought gremlin in my head is giggling, no, hysterically laughing. Dang! I spy my exit ahead ending today's travels and my eyes-open-daylight-dreaming - back to reality. There's more traveling tomorrow to consider this.

Wow, I just drove about 300 miles and don't remember much about actually driving. Cool.

Please note! Eyes-open-daylight-dreaming-driving is dangerous and is not recommended. Losing focus on driving could lead to an accident.  Stay alert while driving and always focus on safety.  Who knows you could impact and affect my future.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Chanterelle Mushrooms!

I had to take advantage of the last of beautiful fall days. So Rocky (my blue heeler dog) and I decided to go on a deep forest hike and chanterelle mushroom expedition.  I love those golden trumpet shaped mushrooms that are bountiful in the fall.  When cooked in soups, or sauteed, or included in sauces, they impart a nice mellow flavor.  They are forest gold.

Normally I would include a Google My Tracks app map of our hike but then that would show you where my chanterelle mushroom spots are.  Mushroom pickers are notoriously famous for guarding and keeping secret about their mushroom harvesting locations.  So, sorry no map included except to say I found them within a 20 minute drive from my house. Washington is perfect chanterelle mushroom country so just about anywhere there are woods you can find chanterelles.  If you are interested in chanterelle mushroom picking and it is your first time, make sure you take someone who has picked chanterelles before so you make no mistakes in picking the wrong mushrooms.  Also let someone know where you are going.  Wear good warm clothes and sturdy boots for walking over uneven ground.

Chanterelles are typically found in second or third growth Douglas fir forests. I have found them partial to shady areas and where there is a lot of old woody debris, e.g., old fallen trees and limbs.  If you see one chanterelle mushroom you will probably find more since their root system (if you can call it that) is quite extensive underground.  Cut the mushroom low on the stem versus picking it because if you pull it out chances are you will damage the root system and mushrooms will not reappear.

Rocky and I found a nice forest trail and walked along it but the trail was too rocky and open - unlikely finding chanterelles along this trail . As we continued down the trail I spied a game trail that leads up into the woods which seems much more conducive to finding mushrooms.  Sure enough as soon as we get deeper into the woods there are mushrooms everywhere - big ones, brown ones, white ones, small ones, tall ones, all sorts of mushrooms except the mushroom I was seeking - chanterelles. However I take seeing so many different mushrooms to be a good sign.  It is fall so the golden color of maple leaves on the forest floor mimic the color of chanterelles so I find that I have to look hard.  I finally find a chanterelle mushroom about the size of my fist, a good sized one.  It is simply beautiful - golden color, smooth fluted top, nice and round.  As I carefully pick this beautiful mushroom, I see more and more chanterelles that I didn't see a moment ago. I realize I found the chanterelle mushroom motherload. There were so many I am selective on which ones to harvest. I only pick perfect ones - good color and shape, and those that are not too small but then again not too big.  Realizing that I just started my walk, I decide that  I will not pick all of them here but hope of find more farther along.

The game trail continues to go deeper into the woods.  I make sure I am tracking my route using my Google My Tracks app on my smartphone so I will not get lost and can, if necessary, re-trace my route. I notice that this game trail has seen more traffic than just game by the garbage of empty sandwich bags and pop cans left behind. The trail continues to climb up and deeper into the woods and hills.  As I look for mushrooms I also have to keep an eye on where the game trail goes.  I believe I have a lot of experience with following game trails and know that they can easily diverge or slowly fade away.  The game trail winds around windfalls of downed trees and avoids steep draws but continues to climb deeper into the woods. A look at my progress on the My Tracks app shows a twisty this-way then that-way track that I have walked.  I see that if I continue on this game trail that it should intersect farther on with a gravel road - at least I hope so.  As game trails go it is not bad walking but you still have to step over logs and limbs, walk over uneven ground, and through deep brush.  A road will eliminate all that and make walking easier and faster.

Sure enough I spy another chanterelle mushroom just off the game trail, and as before where I spy one I spy many.  Again I am selective in which mushrooms I harvest - only the beautiful shaped golden ones that are medium sized.  There are so many that I say to myself, "Once again you have found the chanterelle mushroom motherload."  Rocky is finally curious in what I am doing.  He sniffs the mushrooms and looks at me quizzically as if to say, "what are you doing with these things?"

Sure enough as I fill my bag with mushrooms I lose sight of the game trail. I am now standing on a very steep slope to the point I could touch the ground with my hands without any sort of bending or stooping. I simply had to lean just a bit, extend my arms and I am doing a three-point or four-point touch with the ground. Another check of the My Tracks app shows that I am less than 100 feet from the gravel road. Good because this is way too steep for me.  I could tell the road was up ahead because the sun was shining through trees from a clearing - the road.  The bag of mushrooms is now very full and heavy.  I estimated that I had picked well over 10 pounds of mushrooms. Climbing the steep slope was difficult itself, but now lugging a heavy bag of mushrooms made it a bit more challenging.  To make my steep climb easier, I fashioned a kind of a rucksack out of the dog leash and the bag so that I could securely transport the bag of mushrooms on my back. I then did a four-point spider type of crawl up the steep slope.  I had about 100 feet of elevation to climb and I did it in 20 foot sections.  Each 20 feet I stopped and caught my breath for a moment.  I believe even Rocky was happy for the rest stops since even he was struggling at climbing up the steep hill.  Finally I reached the top of the hill, waded through some thick salal that was over my head in height and burst out onto the gravel road.  Oof, glad that was over.

The old gravel forest road twisted and wound its way back to where I had started albeit about three
miles farther than my one mile game trail and hill scramble.  I used my improvised bag of mushrooms rucksack all the way on the road too. All told the My Tracks app said that I had traveled 3.9 miles and gained almost 750' of elevation.  The short jaunt back to the house was all smiles in that I had a bag full of mushrooms and Rocky had a great forest adventure. As I walked I began to think about mushroom recipes.

Here are some tasty mushroom recipes that you can try with chanterelles or store bought mushrooms.

Preparing chanterelles... thoroughly wash them to remove forest debris and grit. Let them air dry in a colander. They will keep for several days in a cool, dry place.  I have read that chanterelles should not be eaten raw but only cooked. 

Italian Sausage with mushrooms and rigatoni
This is a long time family favorite. It can be made with shitakes, porcini, button or chanterelle mushrooms.  If using dried mushrooms reserve the mushroom soaking liquid and mix it in with the beef broth.

1 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. Italian sausage (I prefer hot)
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 tsp rosemary
1-2 bay leaves
1 T dried parsely
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup half-n-half
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups Rigatoni, dried pasta then cooked

Heat large pot over medium heat with olive oil.  When oil is hot add chopped onion and saute until onion is soft about 3 minutes.  Add Italian sausage and cook until sausage is no longer pink about 5 minutes.  While sausage is cooking break up sausage into smaller chunks.  Add mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes.  Mushrooms will release water and cook until water is nearly gone.  Add white wine and herbs and cook for about 5 minutes until at least liquid is reduced by half or more.  You want that concentrated mushroom flavor.  Next add the beef broth and simmer uncovered over low heat for 15-20 minutes until the sausage-mushroom mixture gets thick by being reduced.  Meanwhile cook the rigatoni pasta until al dente.

Add the half-n-half to the pot and mix well. Cook for another 5 minutes, but do not burn or scald.  The sauce should be creamy.  Add the pasta to the pot and mix well.  Finally add the grated Parmesan cheese to the pot and mix very well.  Serve with crusty french bread and perhaps a bit more grated Parmesan cheese on top. Enjoy.

Hungarian Wild Mushroom Soup
I love to dip a grilled cheese sandwich into this soup when eating it.  The bread soaks up the soup and the mix of flavors is just wonderful.  It would be a good soup to make after you spent a cold day in the woods.

2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup flour
1 T paprika
1 t dill weed
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream

In a large Dutch oven or pot heat the butter and olive oil together until the butter just starts to sizzle. Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes or until the onion is soft and nearly translucent.  Add the mushrooms and white wine and cook until nearly all the water the mushrooms give off and the wine are gone, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the flour and paprika, mix well, and cook for about another 2 minutes until very fragrant.  Add the broth, water, and dill weed and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes. If the soup gets too thick add a bit of water.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into a bowl and add a dollop of sour cream. Serve with some crusty bread. Sometimes I add a few drops of balsamic vinegar just to add some acid to the soup.  Enjoy.

Simple Chanterelle Mushroom Saute
There are so many things you can do with this mushroom saute - mix it in with scrambled eggs, or add to a brown gravy to make it a "Jaeger Sauce" (Hunter's gravy), or on top of toasted french bread or crostini as an elegant appetizer, or mixed with wild rice, or simply served mixed with pasta.  It's just a wonderful and flavorful mushroom saute.

2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. Chanterelle mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 tsp rosemary.
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add butter and olive oil and when butter just starts to sizzle, add chopped onions.  Cook onions 3-5 minutes until they are soft and translucent.  Add mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes.  When mushrooms have given off most of their water, add white wine and rosemary.  Cook mixture, stirring occasionally, until white wine is cooked off about 5-7 minutes.  Remove from heat, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Exploring Provo - Slate Creek Canyon.

After traveling for so many days it was good to stop and grow temporary roots for a day or two.  It's nice to sleep in and not have to drive any distance except for locally.  My driving now consisted of two trips - (1) the Seven Peaks Ice Arena, and (2) a Provo Parks and Recreation Trailhead.  My routine was pretty simple - eat, sleep, watch ice hockey, and take a walk with Rocky.

The evenings were filled with cheering on the Utah State Aggies ice hockey team as they played Denver University, Boise State University, and Montana State University.  The "Ice Aggies" handily defeated each team so that was a bonus.  Denver University and Boise State University were particularly interesting games with plenty of goals and action.  I love watching live ice hockey.

My first full day without having to drive had me and Rocky interested in taking a walk, not just a walk, but a long walk were he could run free and sniff.  Both of us could work out those three days of "car legs and butt" that we had earned.  I looked at a map and initially it didn't show much.  There was a city park less than a mile away - Bicentennial Park.  So Rocky and I went to Bicentennial Park.  Ugh. This was simply a facility for young mothers to let their young children play.  This was no park for a dog.  Okay, where to now?

As I was traveling to Bicentennial Park I spied a road sign that said, "Lightning Peak."  I traveled the road but saw no other reference to Lightning Peak.  What I did see though is some rocky outcroppings on the Wasatch Mountains that closely bordered Provo to the east.  Hmm? I thought, that rocky peak looks like it could be a Lightning Peak.  As I drove along literally the base edge of the Wasatch Mountains I saw a turn off to a Provo Parks and Recreation site.  I drove up the very rocky and steep grade and decided to park my truck off to the side of the road and go explore further by foot.  What I discovered was that if I would have ventured another 100 yards I would have come to a nice paved parking lot.  Funny, a nice paved parking lot but to get it you need a 4 wheel drive vehicle.  Anyway I surveyed the area and found a nice wide trail - the Bicentennial Trail - that parallels the valley and the base of the Wasatch Mountains.  Rocky and I walked about 1/2 mile out to a promontory to get a view of the Utah Valley.  From this promontory you could see Utah Lake, and the entire Utah Valley north and south.  The city of Provo and Brigham Young University laid at your feet.  Quite spectacular.
Panorama view of Utah Valley from the base from the Bicentennial Trail by Slate Creek Canyon

Looking west up Slate Cr. Canyon
Looking back towards the Wasatch Mountains you could see a steep canyon that rose high up to some lofty, fresh snow covered, mountain tops.  You also got a great view of the rocks which I thought (and still think) are Lightning Peak.  Not satisfied with our short promontory walk, Rocky and I decided to explore Slate Creek Canyon.

Slate Cr. Canyon trail and what I think is Lightning Peak
The trail started out steep, very steep.  I would estimate an 8-10% grade at least.  I had to stop several times to catch my breath.  My thought was that because it was so steep, we would only travel a short distance up and then turn around.  I turned on my Google My Tracks app on my smartphone to record my distance and travel.  What I discovered was that my curiosity was getting the best of me.  I found myself saying, "Okay, just to the next corner and I'll turn around" or "Just to the next flat spot (relatively speaking) and I'll turn around." What happened was that I kept on going up and up the canyon and reveling in the canyon beauty. The leaves were all turning color from yellows to deep reds.  The sky was incredibly blue.  Several times I checked the My Tracks app to see my distance.  My new resolve was to go one mile up the canyon.  I pushed hard as it seemed the trail was getting steeper.  Finally, I spied a somewhat less steep spot which I deemed was a "flat spot" and turned around.  I had traveled farther 1.05 miles but I was panting so hard that I realized it was time to turn around.  Even Rocky's tongue was dragging and he too probably relished going down hill.

The sun shining on the canyon walls intensified the colors.  I kept on going up and up, each panting breath had me taking another step.  I stopped and dropped off my sweatshirt and hat realizing they were not needed and it was useless to lug them up with me when I knew I would be turning around. Several times I stopped and checked the

Going down Slate Cr. Canyon.
Going down hill was not as fun and as easy as I thought it would be.  The steepness required me to ensure that my footing was good with each step so I didn't ski on the gravel and end up on my butt. I noticed that each step was like hard breaking to slow my downward momentum.  I found that not only did I have to stop on my way up, but I had to stop to rest my knees and calves on my way down.  I found my dropped off sweatshirt and hat but realized I had traveled farther than I had thought. As I continued my legs started to get wobbly, my calves and knees were aching from the boom-boom-boom of my body pounding down on the ground to slow my descent. I finding myself wishing I hadn't gone so far.  But despite my whining, all I had to do was look up and around the canyon beauty to quickly and temporarily forget the agonizing descent. My gosh this is just so beautiful.

Finally, I reached the upper parking lot and then the last descent to my parked truck and the walk was over.  I do a lot of walking and felt that with this walk I had truly accomplished something.  Though my legs were aching I felt fully physically and emotionally refreshed.  Wow! What a walk.  If you ever find yourself in the Provo area I would highly recommend this hike.  A USFS sign said that the Slate Creek Canyon trail ventured up for about 3.6 miles where it connected with some other trail.  I believe it would be beautiful in the early spring when the creek would be flowing with water from melting snow.  There are no bridges and in the mile I went the creek was crossed about three times, so you would have to have some good waterproof boots.  The trail would be too hard to hike if there was snow or ice, and way too hot to hike in the middle of summer.

Finally my legs continued to shake and recover for the rest of the day and well into the evening.  I thought I was in fairly good shape by exercising three times a week, but this hike indicated otherwise. My explorations of Provo were otherwise fairly limited - motel-ice rink-motel and Slate Cr. Canyon. Not sure there was much else to see that didn't already look like any other town.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day 3, Elko, Nevada to Provo, Utah via the Mormon Trail

Ugh, Nevada. Beautiful in its own way.
After a quick fast food breakfast I continued on to Interstate 80 and my eastward trek. Pretty much the same as yesterday, scrub-sagebrush and mountain range-valley-mountain range scenery all the way to Wendover. Wendover seems like quite the desert hot spot with all the casinos. I had no interest in stopping at this over-commercialized sin city called Wendover. From what I could tell the place was jumping from all the cars and tour buses.

Today's route was, I 80 to Utah State Route 196 for 183 miles. Then down UT SR 196 for 19 miles and turning left onto UT SR 199 for 22 miles. A right turn at the small town of Rush Valley onto UT SR 36 for 39 miles. UT SR 36 ends and a left
Yellow highlight marks Day 3's travels
turn onto US Hwy 6 for 24 miles going through the towns of Eureka and Santaquinn, Utah. Finally a left onto I 15 N to Provo (19 miles) and my planned stay at the Sleep Inn Motel. I chose this route which avoided Salt Lake City for several reasons. One, was I wanted to avoid Interstate highway driving as much as possible. It is just so boring. Two, I wanted to avoid the high stress driving on Interstate highways when in cities. There's just too many cars and trucks driving, entering, and exiting the freeway. And three, it would get me to Provo too soon - well before check-in time at the motel. What was I supposed to do while waiting in a city that I was unfamiliar with? Sure driving this route was farther and slower but it would meet my objectives and be more interesting.

Driving from Elko to Wendover was, in a word, boring. Endless sagebrush and only very distant mountains. I consumed at least a couple of cups of coffee to stay alert. It was at this point when I started listening to country music radio. There were no rock-n-roll stations that came in clearly. The only other radio stations that seemed to come in clear were religious. Ugh, I decided to take the lesser of two evils - country music. It wasn't long when I, believe it or not, I started to like it. What the? Country music? I found that country music told a story in song. I liked that.

Coming down the hill into Wendover you could see the impressive salt flats stretching for miles. Water
Bonneville salt flats as viewed from I 80
on the salt flats was shimmering in the morning sun. I didn't expect to see so much water. It didn't look deep, only a few inches. Then I thought well duh, that's how the salt flats got there. I was enamored with gawking at the salt flats that I missed the exit to the Bonneville Speedway. Surely I thought there would be another exit but I was wrong. There wasn't another exit for 22 miles. So all I could do was observe from the truck the endless salt flats. There was no highway right-of-way fence preventing you from cutting across the median or driving off the freeway. You could see that several others had done so. I chose not to, because I didn't want to risk getting stuck, so on I drove. I noticed that folks had scribed in the salt-sand-mud things. There was even some primitive artwork of bottles, sticks, and junk stuck into and arranged in various patterns alongside the Interstate highway. I did so want to touch or drive on the salt flats. I guess I'm going to have to come back another time.

Interesting stone arch at the Wild Horse Hills rest area
I pulled over at Wild Horse Hills rest area just on the eastern edge of the salt flats. Rocky and I took a short walk to some rocks in the distance. A sign said, "Beware of rattlesnakes and scorpions" which had me a bit more observant on walking through the rocks and brush.  Rocky enjoyed the romp-about. We saw no snakes or scorpions, nor did we see any wild horses.

We continued on I 80 which was absolutely boring. So at the first chance to get off and take a scenic route I jumped at it. The opportunity came to go south on Utah 196 or Skull Valley Highway. It was just what I needed a narrow two lane road with a beautiful range of mountains that had a fresh topping of snow off to my left. Off to my right was a scrub-sagebrush valley. I saw an interesting road sign that warned me off free range buffalo. I never saw any buffalo but did see some prong horn antelope. The road turned without warning right into the US Army Dugway Weapons Proving Grounds. The only other structure was a large Latter Day Saints church. No other buildings. Weird I thought, but then I am in Utah. Rather than approach the gate I did a U-turn right in the middle of the road. As I completed my turn, I noticed I could go onto Utah 199. Huh? No sign or anything indicating Utah State Route 199.

Utah SR 199 looks like a 'road to no where'
Utah 199 seemed to go straight into a mountain range. I started humming the Talking Heads song, "I'm On A Road To Nowhere." For miles you couldn't see any sign of the road going over the mountains, but the road did. The road went in to a canyon climbing and twisting through a juniper forest until once again you came to pass. Just east of the pass there was a small campground but it was empty. The road steeply and twistedly wound its way down to the valley below. What I didn't realize was that I was on a road called "the Mormon Trail." The road or trail ended in a small town called Rush Valley. 

I turned right on to Utah State Route 36 going towards Vernon, Utah. To my left was another US Army facilty the Tooelle Weapons Storage Dump. It looked very similar to the Army weapons storage dump at Hermiston, Oregon - half underground bunkers arranged in rows. I later found out that Tooelle was not pronounced "too-lee" rather "too-ell-lah." Perhaps the residents didn't want to be known as living in the "too-lees" because it looked like you should pronounce it like that. Highway 36 wound its way past Vernon (a former Pony Express stop) and through sparse sage and juniper country until it came to its end at US Highway 6.

I turned left onto US 6 and once again started a climb up and over a small mountain range. This time at
A pass looking into another valley on the Mormon Trail
the summit was the town of Eureka, a small former mining town. The town proudly displayed some mining equipment to celebrate its history. Curiously there were large gray rocks, about the size of baseballs neatly distributed everywhere - hillsides, along the road, around the school, in tiwn around businesses, and even around homes. I wondered what mining would result in that rock as a tailing? The rock did not resemble the surrounding rock. I pulled into a garishly painted bright yellow and red cafe called the "3 Prospectors Cafe." As I entered there was a vigorous conversation going on about chainsaws, chainsaw chains, and cutting wood. Seems that juniper is tough wood and wears chainsaw chains down rapidly. So, if you are going to cut juniper, bring spare chains. I ordered the special - beef tips, gravy, over noodles. It was quite good and better than a hamburger. I asked about the rocks all over town. They explained that gold, lead, and other metals were mined in Eureka. The mine petered out in the late 60's. Tests showed that the resulting tailings were toxic to people and the environment.  They thought of cleaning all the tailings up, but decided the cheapest thing to do was bury it under rock. Wow, that's a lot of rock. I asked what keeps the town alive now? Hunters and tourists.

After Eureka, US 6 dropped rapidly into the Utah Valley. The seemingly impenetrable Wasatch mountain range towered over and framed the eastern side of the valley. The valley contained Utah Lake as well as several towns and cities, namely Provo my destination. I drove through Santaquinn and turned left onto I 15 headed for Provo. Once again it took me a minute or two of adjustment from traveling two lane roads at 55 mph to four lane roads at 75 mph. Also from no traffic to bustling traffic of cars, trucks, and semis.

I made it to my motel, checked in, and prepared for the next adventure of the day - a collegiate hockey game. I had traveled over 306 miles and once again saw sights and scenery that was all new to me.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day 2, Clyde Holliday State Park, Oregon to Elko, Nevada

Oh my, it got cold, very cold, last night although I am unsure of exactly how cold but for sure in the low 30"s maybe lower. That portable alcohol heater sure did its job of keeping my sleeping area warm. In fact, some time in the night I woke to turn the heater off, only to turn it back on.  This Origo heater is invaluable.  I was so nice and warm I didn't want to get up. I kept on waiting for the sun, but then realized by being in a valley it could be some time before the sun's rays hit my camp.

I warmed up by heating up water for coffee and instant oatmeal. It was so cold I had to put gloves on. I'm sure my neighboring campers were amused watching me as they sat in their big travel trailers all nice and warm. I wished I was too. I wolfed down the coffee and oatmeal. I then heated up the rest of the coffee to boiling hot and re-filled my thermos. Camp was easy to break. Move the stuff from the cab to the back and I was done.

I didn't register or pay for my campsite last night so Rocky and I took a walk to register. Then we walked farther along the John Day River on a nice park trail. Several times we saw deer out feeding. They were probably using the state park as a refuge to keep from being hunted as it was hunting season. I noticed that it definitely got cold because there were many places you could see where water in small puddles, ditches, and ponds had a thin layer of ice. The coffee, oatmeal, and brisk walk were warming me up. When I left Clyde Holliday State Park the truck temperature gauge showed a low of 29 F. Okay, it is officially cold.

After leaving Clyde Holliday State Park shortly after 8 AM, I entered the small town of John Day. I decided to get gas because this was the last town of any size until I got to Winnemucca, Nevada almost 300 miles away. In this distance I only went through three small towns, if you could call them that. Actually they really were a collection of a few houses (less than 10), a grade school, mercantile, and a post office. Lots of vacant buildings which let you know that sometime in their past they were bigger and more significant than they are now. The three towns were Frenchglen, Fields, and Denom. Denom actually straddled the Oregon-Nevada border and was the sorriest looking of the three.  You could tell Frenchglen had some former history to it and still had a thriving elementary school.  Fields seemed to be more of a hunters destination, although the elementary school seemed smaller. Perhaps Frenchglen or Fields had gas but it wasn't obvious. Denom didn't have anything - school, post office, store or bar. In fact, I wonder considering the shape the town was in, why would anyone choose to live there.
Day 2 route is yellow highlighted
Today's route was, US Highway 26 to the town of John Day, about 7 miles. Turn right on to US Highway 395 all the way to just outside of Burns (about 67 miles) to turn off onto OR SR 205, the Frenchglen Highway. Frenchglen being about 60 miles away. Staying on OR SR 205 for 73 miles until the Oregon-Nevada border where OR SR 205 became NV SR 292. Three miles down NV SR 292 where it becomes NV SR 140. Travel 65 miles on NV SR 140 with several very long straight stretches until it hits US Hwy 95. A right turn onto US 95 and 31 miles later you're in Winnemucca, Nevada. A left turn onto Interstate 80 and 124 miles later you are in Elko.
Silvies Ranch country along US 395 heading south

Between John Day and Malheur the scenery was typical of the day before. A winding this-way-that-way road up a canyon until it hit a high point in the woods. Basalt columnar cliffs and large out croppings of basalt rocks mixed in with willows along the canyon creek and Ponderosa pines everywhere else. The Silvies Ranch before I got to Burns, Oregon, seemed to go on for miles. I noticed that the ranch had several huge barns or sheds that always featured three evenly spaced characteristic cupolas on the roof. Also, the gateways to the ranch were stucco arches versus typical log gateways. US 95 bisected at least 12 or more miles of the Silvies Ranch.

Just before Burns, US 95 started dropping out of forested country and into high desert scrub-sagebrush with steppes and buttes. Malheur Lake was shimmering in the morning sunlight. I considered stopping at Malheur Wildlife Area but it was closed due to the government shutdown. Malheur is famous for observing waterfowl. OR SR 205 bisected the western edge of the Malheur reservoir. I slowed down but didn't see any waterfowl. What I did have to stop for was a cattle drive across the road. Now how often does that happen to you?  I was most intrigued how the two Border Collies did all the work to keep the cattle in line. They wandered this way and that way stopping every now and then. The cowboys on horseback simply rode along at the cattle's pace. Wow! Might not seem like much but I found that fascinating and a most welcome diversion.

High desert and mountains. (Photo taken through windshield.)
After Malheur the drive changed from following along a creek and canyon to driving along the edge of shallow lakes and wide valleys. A familiar pattern of mountain range-valley-mountain range became the norm. The road would follow along or slowly cross a valley, then at some point reach the far mountain range before going into the next valley and so on and so forth all the way to Elko, Nevada. Some mountain ranges had big mountains, other ranges the mountains were simply hills. When you would cross a mountain range the road would rise sharply and wind its way up and down and over the range. Driving the valleys consisted of long straight sections with a slight curve just to keep absolute driving boredom at bay.

Off to my left as I headed south to Frenchglen was Steens Mountain. This mountain seems to just rise up out of the steppes. I read that it is its own ecosystem. I observed plenty of snow up on Steens Mountain. Just before Frenchglen there even was a skiff of snow alongside the road; although I was many miles from Steens Mountain. At Frenchglen I saw a turn off to the "Steens Mountain Loop Road." I decided that traveling the Steens Mountain Loop Road was on my bucket list.

SE Oregon on OR SR 205 just outside of Frenchglen
Right out of Frenchglen OR SR 205 steeply climbs with many twists and turns to get out of the valley to get back into that high desert. Once at the summit the road straightens out back to the familiar boring straights. I wished I had stopped in Frenchglen but not sure why I didn't. So I will have to return at some other time.

There was no traffic until I hit Interstate 80 at Winnemucca. Many times I stopped barely pulling off
Sagebrush and empty spaces
the road to either get a picture or take a pee and for the whole time - maybe 10-15 minutes there was no other vehicle. I began to wonder what to do if an unfortunate mechanical issue would arise. You could get old waiting for another car. When you did stop, it was so quiet.  A few stops had some wind blowing, but I heard no birds or other critters. I saw a few Marsh Hawks (you can tell by the white rump patch) and a few Ravens from time to time. I would watch as I drove the Marsh Hawk hover spying some prey below, but never saw the drop for the kill. Hmm? The Ravens were always in pairs. Was I missing something?  Of course there were road signs warning drivers to be on the lookout for wildlife. Oregon had the most boring signs, e.g., Elk, Deer, Livestock, etc. Nevada's road signage seemed to have action images of cows, antelope, and deer.  Come to think of it, I didn't see any bullet holes in Nevada road signs whereas Oregon road signs resembled Swiss cheese.

My traveling of state highways ended when I reached Winnemucca and the end of Nevada 140 which used to be Oregon 205. From Winnemuca on it was even more boring high-speed Interstate freeways. I had to put the pedal-to-the-metal too, from leisurely 55 mph to now blistering Interstate speed of 75 mph. What's more, from never seeing another vehicle to now having multiple vehicles - cars, trucks, and semi-tractor trailer rigs - share the road alongside of you. Wow, I had to stay in my lane. The only positive was having to share the road with other vehicles was your only relief from total boredom of driving in Nevada. All mountains seem to look the same, as well as endless scrub and sagebrush. I don't remember seeing any trees except those planted around houses. Uh, not houses but manufactured homes surrounded by multiple vehicles in various states of disrepair. Used travel trailers (mostly dilapidated) seemed particularly endemic to the Nevada landscape.

Elko is kind of an oasis in the middle of a the high desert scrub-sagebrush. Of course being Nevada there are casinos. Tonight I am moteling it since the overnight forecast was for temperatures in the 20's. Also, Rocky and I prefer a comfortable bed versus the bed of a truck if it's going to get that cold. I pulled into a Motel 6 and got a room for the night. I don't mind the simplicity of Motel 6, but I like them because they are pet friendly and cheap. I ate a quick supper then retired. I was tired, perhaps from driving, perhaps from last night's camping, or whatever but I didn't stay up too late. It was a good day. Traveled over 430 miles and saw lots of places that I had never been to.