Saturday, December 24, 2005

I hope your holidays have lots of Hip Hop Flavor.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Ah.... Melancholy Bend

From the relative comfort of my new base camp I can look out the window and see Bend's beacon, Pilot Butte. It is still layered with the winter's accumulated snow, though the latest heavy rains have both stabilized and decimated the snow pack. Early winter in Bend has been harsh and cold. Returning home has admittedly dampened the energy I put into recalling my adventures. In addition, I have been having notably less grand adventures since committing myself to reconnecting with family and friends and establishing a base camp of sorts. Some genuinely great times have been had in Bend, but I have yet to capture those moments of film or in prose.

My little sister's garage has been transformed into a livable space. With an incredible amount of help from Michelle, and essential help from my sister Alyson, Scotty, Ally Marshall, Alok, and Harvey we created 130 square feet of warm, comfy space. Ten degree temps were the norm the last few weeks, and I have learned the important role fiberglass insulation plays in all our lives. Many thanks to the Habitat for Humanity Restore who kindly under-priced everything from the window to the carpet. Even more thanks should go to Terry Harvey, who's armchair construction and electrical advising helped me at every turn.

I have moved all of my gear out of dusty cold storage and filed it onto shelves and hooks. I have discovered my penchant for making everything in my life look like an REI. Its not that I have a particular liking for the interior design of the retail gear store. Maybe it's my surrogate shopping trip, since I've never had money for extravagant shopping trips if I set my room up like a store display I'll feel like I'm shopping anew before every trip. Another hypothesis I have is that I like to have my gear out and taunting me – I like the uncomfortably motivating guilty pang that you get when sharing an indoor space with a bunch of outdoor toys.

Its hard to motivate and write for IanOutThere when I'm not out there anymore. Being back in Bend has a fairly sedative effect on me but friendly and motivated Bend Natty's have gotten me out to play in the snow. Cross country skiing has made for some fun days and good exercise. Short cross country ski adventures with the Marshall sisters, Michelle, and also Scotty and Kendra have always been more fun than expected as I struggle to keep up on my skinned up telemark skiis. Chasing the sun for a day at Smith Rock with Michelle was a beautiful climbing day, but we unabashedly escaped as soon as we found ourselves in below freezing shade at 3:30. There's always another ski/snowmobile combo adventure that just happened or is in the works. The last one: I remember getting towed into a big kicker, boogie boarding through excellent snow behind a snowmobile, getting stuck in the powder, and Joey's pyrotechnics.

The sun in trying to break through the moist winter clouds just above the apex of Pilot Butte. The high desert is rebounding from the oppressive cold that seemed to hang around for weeks. And since my car broke down, at least I don't have to drive in the icy traffic jam known as Bend for a couple days. Things are looking up.

Photo: My new personal gear store.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Anything for fresh tracks

Snowmobiling and tele turns in Bend's backcountry

I don't think I would ever have gone snowmobiling. If it wasn't for my good friend Josh Harvey's obsession with the fuel munching, high powered beasts, it'd still be skinning my way into Central Oregon's remote backcountry ski terrain. Now instead, and most likely to the dismay of my more holistic friends, I giggle all the way to the summit while sucking the somehow comforting fumes of the 'ol two-stroke. But before any of you send me any hate mail with long attachments outlining the percolation rate of oil-based lubricants in sub-alpine meadows let me first say: slednecking (from now I will use this term and snowmobiling interchangeably) is sooooo fun!

It all started just a year (or two) ago when, during my coincidental pass through Bend, Josh hosted a family-day of slednecking. Buzzing around the trails on sleds like the Ghetto Rocket and ol ' El Tigre confirmed my suspicions that slednecking was a day full of petroleum fumes and generally ear-piercing in nature. On a second trip last winter my doubts in the safety in the sport were confirmed after witnessing Josh and his new sled roll down about 1000 feet of steep mountain terrain all the while losing parts and nearly lighting on fire (I wish I had video to share that spectacular memory with you all). But by those last trips last winter I had gotten on a few more of the newer sleds and realized what kind of machines these boys were riding. Lets just say: to have a car that has the same handling, suspension, and acceleration of of a snowmobile you'd have to give your grandma's inheritance away, and then you couldn't even drive it 'cause there are laws to protect people from that sort of thing. I can't say whether it was my boyish love of machines or the fact that you feel like you're getting away with something that held my attention.

This winter season started out strong when I rolled into Bend from Cali just in time to eat turkey dinner for an entire week. I left snow hungry Tahoe after a beautiful alpine bike ride and got to Bend just a day before early storms would bring Alta-style fluff to the Southern Cascades. After just a day back in town I had a blast sledding with the Harvey brothers and getting back on the Ghetto Rocket. That day finished with Eric Harvey getting air for the camera and a bit of snow beginning to fall. We had know idea what we were in store for. Two days later Josh reported up to two feet of ultra-fluff at Moon Mountain. I went to my mom's house and got my skis.

Sunday morning was patchy in Bend but driving up to the mountain brought the patches of blue closer to us. Before I get going on the beauty of the day, I must extends my thanks for the folks that make these time-consuming and spendy sledneck trips happen. Joey and Josh were generously hookin' everyone up with their sleds, trucks, trailers, and gear. Eric Harvey was kind enough to let me strap my tele boards on his nearly new Ski-doo for the day. No one really understands what it takes to keep so many machines running and Harvey is in the garage every evening keeping the fleet in shape so we can all get out there with him. Don't worry for him much though, the Harvey family garage is a pretty fun pace to hang out.

So back to Sunday – great folks, five sleds, fresh snow on the ground and blue ski above. The highest parking lot is full so we head to lightly used Edison Sno-park on the Sunriver Road and we set our sights on Quall Butte. The small butte just off the SE flank of Mount Bachelor has always caught my eye with its crater-edged, convex summit pitch that dumps into what had always looked liked nicely spaced pines. A long but super fun and fluffy trail ride ended us at the small haggard Quall Butte shelter. The warm fire and log seats were all we needed for a quick break before making a push with the mountain sleds (Ghetto Rocket can't come on this trip) up the backside and into the summit crater. My novice slednecking skill paired with Josh and Joey's expert riding got all three sleds up the the crater rim. Josh shuttled me most of the way up to the far away rim before I had to hope off and boot the last little bit while Josh rallied around the bowl sans passenger to meet me. Deep snow and universally steep terrain made this approach pretty eventful and reminded me of how technical maneuvering a huge machine in deep snow can be, but it all fell away when I unlashed my skis and remembered what those plates extending from my toes were for. Supported by sledneck friends above and below I made three windblown turns and then blissfully entered some of the lightest snow I've ever skied in the Cascades. I stopped once at the trees edge to snap two photos and continued my turns into the perfectly spaced forest dropping my knee and sucking fluff. I tumble stopped at the bottom – ecstatic. Powder turns before November in Bend and the next closest skier on top of Mt. B. Now this is backcountry! Josh met me on the sled track that functioned as a getback, tossed a rope, and pulled me back to the shelter.

So, admittedly yesterday was just a few turns just to tease me and all the trail-riding on that intense mountain sled made me more sore than the skiing. But of course there is more in store and more efficient ways to get some tele turns in on pitches I've been scoping for years. When there are snowmobiles around things start to open up – important for Bend since it doesn't offer much in terms of one-day skin and ski adventures (I might eat that statement someday). Quall Butte is multiple-use Forest Service land with access roads criss-crossing all over it in the summer, these roads offer quick access with a snowmachine. The next slednecking trip might just be a drop-off at the wilderness boundary. Because while the sleds are awesome for the approach, when I dream of steep snow fields I still dream myself making drop-knee turns down their entirety. Josh says it changed for him and it could change for me too. Not anytime soon I tell him.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Winter Bouldering in Tuolumne: A Rare Treat

Unseasonably warm

No snow in the Sierras yet

Who says global warming is all bad

When we now get Tuolumne Meadows all to ourselves in November

Granite knobs, soaring domes, bathed in crisp winter air

The perfect bouldering partner

Riding and driving along the alpine roads of mountains wanting winter

A day to remember

Photo credit: Sarah Durney

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Las Vegas Sample Platter
Red Rocks and a Blue River

I had to get up into the ancient Bristlecone Pine forests of the White Mountains to find enough time to sit down and recall the last few days. But now, warmed by the sun and thinking clearly at 10,000 ft, I can go back over the smattering of outdoor adventures I've been able to eek out of the wildlands around Las Vegas. The orb of metropolitan Las Vegas only extends so far into the desert and in places like Red Rocks and the Colorado River canyon it is easy to forget the monster of Vegas is just over the hill. Even though stucco colored sprawl continues to chomp away at the wild desert and the tentacles of water and power delivery reach around and divide protected areas, there are places I have found that feel like pure wilderness. These places are often not reached in the conventional ways. 'Going on a hike' will not get you to these places. 'In wilderness is my preservation' and so, to get the more full experience I want from the natural world, I go to the cliffs with a rope and onto the river by boat.

Red Rocks National Recreation Area has always been on my list of favorite climbing areas. Every time I return I am reminded of the endless list of long and incredible moderate climbs and am again struck by the grandeur of the canyons and their soaring walls. Without gear and still trying to be tender with my finger I climbed only two days on the sandstone cracks in perfect temperatures. Handfuls of staff from NAL were sharing a group site at edge of the park and evenings were filled with catching up with folks and enjoying spending time with the good people of NAL without having work bothering us. From this base camp some other adventures were launch. While I escaped any adventure into the heart of Sin City I was lucky to fill a vacated spot of a short river trip that Sequoia had put together earlier in the week.

The short stretch of the Colorado River from just below the Hoover dam to the riverside gas and bar spot known as Willow Beach can't be longer than 10 miles. Yet we weren't in it for the distance, floating down the river is only an added bonus to making this float. The magic of the place is found in the geothermally active side canyons - in colorful seeps in cave, roots and vines hanging amongst super heated waterfalls, meandering slot canyons filled with bath water, and of course crystal clear, and of perfect temperature, soaking pools.

I may have said this before but primitive and natural hot spring fed soaking pools are basically the holy grail of outdoor adventurers. Indy was looking for archaeological treasure, I'm looking for deep, red, S carved slot canyons with steamy waterfall slides and another part of Eden around each corner. When I luckily hopped on the last minute trip that I had no hand in organizing little did I realize it would be such a successful dig.

It had to be an early morning wakeup to get from Red Rocks (west) to the shuttle spot (east), yet Las Vegas was a short lived obstacle. There was a lot of prep by Sequoia dealing with permits, rentals, and shuttles – all I did was buy beer and drive to the Hacienda where we were met by two separate guide companies. This section of river (and all of the Colorado for that matter) is a cluster#@*! ff government security permits and use permits and vehicle shuttle paperwork. What it comes down to is that one guys rents us the boats and one guy (a government contractor) shows up to check our ID's and escort us to the foot of the Hoover Dam and watch us intently until we are surely downriver and away from the boom that divided the open river from the massive concrete wall above. Of course I'll be logged on some federal computer somewhere as having used two days of my river permit. We got on the river, whatever the case, we left those worries behind as soon as the dam began to disappear around the corner.

Before we turned the first corner the first slot appeared on river right. The first person on shore confirmed the shimmering outflow was warm. Two rough canyon miles later, using old ropes to ascend slippery boulders our small team trickled into pools. Three nearly flawless soaking pools of varying temperatures, the canyon wider and sunny, boulders strewn about, holding in the water here, letting it flow down into the next there. The tranquil vibe of the canyons of the Colorado were only so often ruffled by the regular scenic helicopter overflights – but the whoap of rotors always drifted off as quickly as the day drifted by. Just a few river miles and many springs and canyons later we made camp at the spring that would bookend our trip. Accessible by trail and closer to the river we had to share this little spot with a few others but as night brought the full moon to bask the canyon the place was all ours.

The whole trip was relaxed and we visited some amazing country. Floating the river was nearly as fun as all the soaking we did. There is so much water moving in the canyon its easy to feel connected to the lands that the drainages of the Colorado bring together. Even filtered and cool, emerging from an unnatural place deep inside a generating shaft one can still tune into the lands that the waters have touched. If I recall correctly, nearly 12 dams have changed the Colorado River into something that it never was before. New plants and animals now live in the water that no longer resembles the pink, murky, and tepid pre-dam river. And while the human hand is strong in using the resource that the Colorado is, we have not erased the natural connection it has with the lands of the West. It is in this river where everything that has changed in the West and everything that remains the same can both be weighed.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Baja Road-tripA provocative vacation across the border

I honestly don't know what I was taking a vacation from (I can only pretend that the American School in Switzerland and Naturalists-At-Large are hard jobs), but where better to get away from the bustle of Ventura and SoCal than Baja California. It must have been the tedious, brain-rotting Internet surfing from the NAL warehouse that pushed me to make a break for the border. The hardest thing about taking a trip to Baja is all the research and subsequent travelogues that scare you about making the simple trip down south. When it came down to it, I needed to get just a handful of things done to ensure a great trip: fetch my passport and snorkel from Joshua Tree, acquire a car (easier than it sounds), insure it, get a good map and a campground guide, get some extra gas and water storage (it's true-I did go to Wal-Mart for that), and point the newly acquired Subaru south.

The day to day story of my adventure is really the least exciting part of the trip. It's true that lounging around Loreto and roaming the Bay of Conception was ridiculously comfortable and the rewards many: the incredible food, fun backroad driving, 70 degree water, cheap margaritas, and easy, fun snorkeling. Though those classic vacation activities were great and memorable, the recompense for the time spent was the enjoyment and change of perspective afforded to me by experiencing the Mexican culture on the home front. In other words, the people were great! from the kindest women at the taco stands to the bar tender with a silly grin and a easy hand; the flirtatious, yet good-hearted and goofy, AK-47 wielding, 18 year old military boys and the talkative and jovial retired ex-pats that have undoubtedly had some Mexican friendliness wear off on them. For every one highway bandit and cranky military official that we at first were always on the lookout for we instead encountered a hundred kind, helpful people. Since neither the bandits or shady military officers actually ever presented themselves to us, I don't know what the ratio would be.

Turns out getting into Mexico is easier than crossing from state to state. I literally turned to Jenna with a quizzical look and asked if we went over the border. The hours long lines for US incoming customs on the other side of the highway were the the answer. I would guess if you weren't committed to reaching the salty sea you'd turn the car around immediately in Tijuana vindicated that Mexico was a hopeless ghetto of broken down buildings and smelling of sewage. I'm still pondering the reason the street fronting the huge concrete and wire wall the separates the US from Mexico is the roughest part of Baja we saw – I'm guessing its the combination of the peso with awful American TV and radio stations leaking over the border. Whatever the case, as soon as you reach the coast you see the honest influences of the American dollar – high-rise condos and cute second-home communities complete with English billboards announcing incomparable prices. After the high quality toll roads along the Pacific, Hwy 1 leaves the cooler ocean coasts and makes a reasonably direct southeastern line for the Bay of Conception and the Sea of Cortez. I will not lie, this is a long leg of the drive (maybe 300 miles), but the roads, while shoulderless and frequented by pushy truck drivers, were in better shape than the Internet logs and AAA would have you imagine. Mexican drivers were no more erratic than Italians and their cars generally don't go as fast. Nearly 50% of the license plates are from the US western States, with a surprisingly large group of British Colombians.

The Baja peninsula is a desert. Fresh water is amazingly scarce, the interior deserts are dry and endless, yet maintain a diversity of desert fauna far exceeding any place I've visited in the Southwest. Diverse forests of saguaro, cerios, yucca, chollas, ocotillo, joshua trees, cresote, smoke bush, and others were often tucked into Joshua Tree NP-esque granite boulders (No climbing, but seemingly lots of bouldering waiting for development in the 100 degree heat). While I'm on the subject once we reached the sea the fauna of the salty waters rivaled the diversity of the desert forests. We saw pelicans, Mexican eagles, osprey, frigate birds, dolphins, and amazing array of reef fish including colorful angles bigger than my head, and what I think was a desert fox. The whole peninsula had no shortage of wild lands and consequently wild life.

Solar-powered and depending on water deliveries the smallest villages string themselves along the desert highway, sometimes just one family's house and taqueria. Pulling off to get coffee or soda was always something of an adventure, some places were clean and we'd decide to stay for fish tacos or a yummy bean and egg breakfast, some just brick and tarp shacks against the side of a windowless house said 'stick to coffee and Coke.' Our own inspection of the eateries must have held some weight as both mine and Jenna's stomach was fine the whole trip (of course our other postulation was the regular supply of tequila the offered a daily purification of our gastrointestinal tracts). Whatever the case, if you went to Mexico with a car-load of Costco snacks you'd be missing my favorite part of Baja: myriad fish tacos and fresh prawns out of a cooler on the street (to later be marinated in tequila and skewered over a driftwood fire).

The front wheel drive Subaru I somehow luckily procured grew up in San Diego – it was yearning for a little off-road adventure. We drove for miles along the shores of the Sea, over salt flats, through sandy washes, down narrow and rutted tracks ending in palm oasis, around headlands with two tires in the sea, with no goal except that perfect swimming spot or shady campsite. Now's my time to brag: free camping 5 out of 6 nights, never used the extra gas or water, never got stuck in the sand, never got a flat tire! I know how much everyone dreams of their perfect Baja-mobile: 4WD super van with a winch, gas cans dangling from the side, sand tracks on the roof – and don't get me wrong surfing Baja Sur on the Pacific side or getting lost for days in the desert interior would diffidently warrant a sand worthy rig but the truth of it is months of adventure could be had along the Sea of Cortez in a 2WD with a couple sea kayaks on top (oh, look at me planning my next trip already). Mulege' and Loreto were undoubtedly our favorites towns and with both we were able to find amazing cooked food and cheap market food and purified ice. They had a feel that American money had spruced up the place, while the locals had both jumped on the band wagon and retained some of their culture (someone with a more intimate experience with these places may argue otherwise). Snorkeling and camping at the Sea beaches above, below, and in-between these towns came easy.

We waited over a hour getting back over the border. I was excited about taking a shower and rinsing the days of salt out of my hair, which I could have easily done in Baja if I paid for camping. We pulled into a shining AM/PM to get gas and pee. SUV's were glistening, a kid with bleach blonde hair was coming out the front door with a half-rack of Bud. I thought, 'I'm back in California.' I immediately recognized the same feeling I have every time I return for Switzerland. How is it that America (ns) can think that 10-lane freeways, cookie-cutter strip malls neighboring cookie-cutter sub-developments, an Applebee's and a Starbucks just a short drive, a TV and Internet browser in every home, and a brand-new car in every paved driveway is something that needs to be exported to every other country in the world? If we continue to blindly pursue the American dream I'm gonna guess the first two things that'll be lost before we can put our finger on it: cuisine and community.

Photos: 1) Forest fire in the palms, 2) Highway 1 through the interior, 3) Amazing beaches below Loreto

Even on the lonliest strech of Mexican highway: the dude abides.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Finally... embarking on a new adventure

Yesterday I bought a Subaru for $1200 in the parking of a Marie Calendar's in Chula Vista, San Diego. Tomorrow morning I am going across the border for a little road trip in Baja. What better way to break in a new car. I promise lots of photos and a full report when I return on the 10th.

Friday, October 28, 2005

NAL logistics – The All-American Canal and 15 MPH through barren desert

Over 80 miles long the All-American Canal is the last great diversion before the remaining water of the Colorado River ripples across the Mexican border. The All-American canal built in the 40's to replace a canal that winded back and forth across the border put the water of the Colorado solely in the hands of America. With the assisstance of the Imperial Dam it now offers irrigation water to 630, 000 acres, helping to replace the arid desert lands with water hungry crops. 98% of the water in the canal is used exclusively for irragtion. A lot a work goes in to the last 2% to make it suitable for drinking. The total length of canals moving water around Imperial Country is over 1600 miles – that's a lot of water moving.

Just miles after crossing to the high side of the canal I wind through ocotillo on rough desert roads. The sun sets a finally feel meet the cool air blowing up of the water and enter Picacho State Rec Area. Canoes full of kids would come in til tomorrow afternoon, I swim, sleep, and wake to flocks of desert quail gurgling about. I chat with the Park Ranger – been livin' in the 200 ft bloody hot desert, generator and solar panels, for 27 years. Not a life I'm planning on pursuing anytime soon.

We'll finish up the NAL trip this morning. Clean some coolers, inventory some equipment, and point the cube truck for Ventura and Joshua Tree. The NAL company Halloween party (aptly named Naloween) is Saturday night. A lot of people who are great friends who never get a chance to hang out all together leads to high energy evening – I'm gonna start saving up on sleep.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Dispatch from Yuma, Arizona – Soaking in Crystal Clean Sierra Hot Springs, Swimming in the Dirty Lower Colorado River

So much for every few days getting a post up. The last few weeks have been a lot of moving around and some rugged SoCal country that is dotted with towns that still have the slightest connection to the electronic world. It's actually good to see that those places still exist out there. None the less I found myself in Kernville last week sitting on the lawn of the county fire department, poaching wireless Internet and checking weather and E-mail. The next week I was downloading pictures to my laptop from my tent sitting in the hot desert sun.

A lot sure has happened since I was last killing time in Ventura: two NAL programs, many careless days at the incredible Remington hot springs south of Kernville, belaying 35 kids to the top of Sentinel Peak under deep blue Sierra-fall skies, a great day of climbing and getting back into it in Joshua Tree NP, a huge all-night party at the 20 acre Seth Pool in the desert north of Joshua Tree town (sponsored by Seth's resoling business Positive Resoles), the drive to the Arizona – California border, and now the sleepy job of supporting a group of 40 on the tired Colorado River.

Lets start from back in Ventura when I was counting the hours 'til someone would come along and rescue out of urbanity and into the mountains. Thinking I'd be sleeping in the parking lot I was lucky enough to have Amy come down from Santa Barbara and leave for a NAL program at Camp Whitsett. I talked her into heading for the mountains at 9pm that night and by 1 we were pulling into Remington. Right a long the Kern River, Remington Hot Springs is one of those remaining gems of the West Coast hot springs – I didn't take any pictures, nor will I give out directions (it's that chill and cool!).

Camp Whitsett is another two hours north into the southern reaches of the Sierras in a region called Domelands. Above the camp rises outstanding granite domes with amazing views into the Needles region and down into the Kern River Valley. Since I was just climbing and working on the ropes course the program went quick (thanks to the fun staff and beautiful setting) and before I knew it I was back at Remington with the whole crew. But this time we had a NAL cube truck full of perishable food that had to get eaten and and great group of folks to share the awesome place with. We played board games and made tons of food, all the while planning to leave at 9am. I didn't get headed towards Jtree until 4pm.

But, as always, Jtree is always welcoming and even arriving late in the evening some folks are around to welcome you and share a beer. The next morning Lizzard was really anxious to get climbing so I just followed her around and offered a belay. Being Liz, she excitedly got on a route I can safely say was too hard for her (Pope's Crack, 5.9) and I can't lie, I was amused catching her falls – after climbing all the time its good to remind yourself how well all this safety gear really does work. Whatever the case, she used her unmatchable stick-to-it-ness and got up the damn thing! Liz's 'get after it' attitude convinced me I should get back to leading myself after not having been seriously on rope since my finger blew apart in Italy. So I lead a couple mellow things (Continuum at Split Rocks is beautiful) and it felt great to be back, roaming around in Josh and climbing.

That night I got word of the 2nd annual Positive Resoles Party out at Seth's. Last year Becca and I had been the first folks out there and ended up patting out burgers for Seth and helping him with all the set-up. This year I got there well after dark and was happy to see so many of my Joshua Tree friends out and about – the best thing about a party like this is that all the old-school climbers are meeting all the young feisty ones. Non-climbing locals, who are the colorful folks that are the heart of Jtree, were all out, some in costumes, and reeking of that L.A. cultural vibe mixed with that touch of desert crazy. Slacklines were set up between telephone poles, the DJ was amazing and had this guy that could human beatbox and play sax on the mic, there was great camping in the desert, and two great fire pits. Seth assures me next year will be just as fun – I have no doubts. And send all your climbing shoe resoles to Positive Resoles!!!

I left the party early morning, stopped at my favorite Joshua Tree eatery (Crossroads, although Country Kitchen comes in a close second) for too rich raspberry stuffed french toast, and connected with J. Rose to get a ride to the middle of nowhere desert along the murky Colorado. Along the way we passed through the gross Palm Springs that during that day was unblessed with intense winds bringing the smog straight in from L.A. The windmill power plants looked eerie and necessary shrouded in the metropolitan smog.

There is little smog in the Cibola Wildlife Refuge along the Colorado. The pollutants here are now suspended in the aqueous medium brought from the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. This land, the Imperial Valley, is the largest lettuce producer in the world. Perfect weather and gallons of water make these SoCal lands, just above the Mexico border perfect for growing everything from cotton to alfalfa – of course that means the chemicals necessary to grow these crops in such large systems goes straight to the river, add the entire outflow from Las Vegas and other river cities, and the innumerable hydroelectric and agricultural dams and the Colorado River is no longer the mighty natural machine that explorers came across 100 years ago. If it were not for the 1.4 million acres feet that Mexico is entitled to under treaty there would not even be a river here for us to play and float on. But for now we are riding the water on its way across the border. I've got to go buy some lettuce.

Photos: Jeff, Amy, and myself atop Sentinel Peak; Liz and I in the JTree sun;
Rob angry at Ragady for her drinking

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Killing time in the NAL warehouse
Ventura, CA

Surrounded by stacks of coolers and endless Rubbermaids, I finally have a chance to get some computer work done and catch up on the business end of life. I'm sure many naturalists would agree the NAL office and warehouse, located in a strip mall right off the 101 in Ventura, is the closest thing to a black hole in California. I pulled my truck out of Joshua Tree this morning and navigated a familiar stretch of I-10 through Hollywood and up into Ventura. The saving grace of leaving the rugged desert and entering the metropolitan mess around LA: wireless internet, a cool sea breeze, and a paycheck in my mailbox.

The weather is what people dream about when they decide to move the whole family to California. Blue sky, perfect days – the fall temps keeping the smog down and making people reasonably friendly. This morning in the desert was unmatched, and the crowds of climbers haven't made the migration from the more Northern venues yet. So, Hidden Valley campground these last few days felt like our private reserve. Supported by NAL road kill, fueled by jam sessions, climbing, and a few beers the team of waiting for work educators fell into the relaxed, family vibe so often emanating from the Joshua Tree campsites.

We made music, food, told stories of old, talked about climbing routes, teased, roamed the sand, stretched to meet the sun, put our hands in cracks, reunited with old friends, made new connections and were reminded of how these years, in jobs like these, have awakened in us a sense of what is truly important. We laugh about how people might think we are missing out, living a fringe, cubical-less life .... when we are truly living it up.

Photos: (1) J. Rose and myself sporting the new NAL hats.
(2) Sunshine - I wanna climb like her!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Naturalists-At-Large Program – Joshua Tree National Park

My second week of program with NAL has brought me to Indian Cove Campground. Nestled at the edge of the park and low in the desert below the forests of the namesake Joshua Trees, Indian Cove sees a lot less visitation than some other area of the park. This is undoubtedly a good thing, since our impact on other users is limited and the remote feel of the site adds to the experience. These 75 students, the school's faculty, and the NAL staff are camped in group sites that overlook an empty desert (across a distant wash one can pick the buildings of the expansive Twentynine Palms Marine Base) – a far cry from the scattered family campsites we were occupying in Yosemite last week.

The best part of this week – NAL friends. There is no question the staff working out here this program is the A team; experienced, long-term, committed, and hysterically funny educators that have all been with the company for at least a few season. Most of folks out here are also Program Coordinators (my role this week) and it is by chance that I am coordinating them and not visa versa. For me that means lots of worry free time in the day while the program hums along like a fine oiled machine.

Temperatures in Joshua Tree these last few days have been a bit cooler than what I remember to be the mid October norm. Winds have kept things on the chilly side morning and evening. The nights have been crystal clear, brisk, and starry. A half moon rises above the the granite buttresses to the south early and makes a late night stroll manageable without a headlamp. Coyotes have been infrequent visitors to camp, the desert tortoise (often spotted by groups this same time last year) has remained elusive.

I am settling easily into my cube truck home. At the same time I am constantly reminded that I don't have a car and to live this lifestyle it sooner or later becomes necessary. For folks working here their car is obviously there home, complete with modifications, decorations, and idiosyncrasies that all homeowner must be used to. It's just out here, the Velcro custom bin of pens and pencils on the dashboard of your Subaru is what makes you feel like your 'coming home' – makes you feel like this is where you live.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Climbing Break - At Home in Hidden Valley, Again

In just a few hours I'll be back at work, loading Costco food into the back of a cube truck from a hot, concrete parking lot in Palm Springs. Just when I felt like I was really back to work in California I found myself departing Ventura for Joshua Tree to fill my interim work-free days with desert sun, old friends, and a tease of climbing.

Naturalist-At-Large staff were in full forced in Hidden Valley campground. It is easy to make a shady, boulder-strewn campground into home when every other site is teeming with friends and co-workers. Life feels comfortable when you find yourself missing a essential camping item and only have to wonder through the desert amongst the kind Joshua Tree to find a helping hand.

Another part of this mid-week weekend was getting back on granite - climbing and playing with climbing gear at Atlantis Wall with friends gave me a needed fix. While I guarded my finger throughout the day, I constantly reminded myself to use technique to sneak through the harder sections and finished the day without further injury. Just having rope and aluminum in my hands made the day worthwhile.

I bet there is no need to guess the theme of these writings are. After just a day back in the desert, Joshua Tree really started to feel like home. Old places, familiar mixed with old friends, new friends, and the heady, euphoric vibe that often tints every Jtree experience: sneaking around behind the backs of the campground rangers, showers at Coyote Corner, friends of friends (and the multitude of crazies) at the Jtree saloon, the enduring internet connection (and meatball sandwiches) at the Beatnik. Why didn't I bring my climbing gear down here again?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Old-fashioned weekend

An Old-fashioned Weekend - Yosemite, into the Central Valley, on to Ventura

The end of my first NAL program. The fun parts of Friday - the end of paperwork and cube truck packing, an afternoon with friends along the Merced River and a very chilly dip with the sun quickly setting behind Glacier Point. Yosemite always reminds you of its grandeur, and if you get caught up working too hard or busying around like in the city its not long before you round a corner in the trail and are reconnected to natural place strictly by the view.

I went to Camp 4 to unload (read 'give away') some extra perishable food from my trip and felt immediately at home. I was also immediately again aware that I haven't climbed for over a month now and my finger continues to heal at a snails pace. After a long work week, it's quite hard to turn down an old friend who is ready to go get on the rock. But, I had to..... go there .... get here ...

Working for NAL is often equivalent to working as a long-haul truck driver. Just when I thought I was going to have a normal free weekend I found myself blasting out of Yosemite, passing through San Jose, up to San Rafael, and then returning to Ventura. All this traveling remember is via a E-350 cube truck that gets about 8 miles a gallon. Today alone I spent over $200 dollars in gas.

Pulling always onto I-5 always makes me feel like a true blooded American – the highway traffic on a Sunday is big trucks, RV's, SUV's, trucks pulling ATV's, boats, and trailers of all sorts. I make a phone call to a couple other Natty's leaving Corvallis, OR just as they pull onto I-5; the concrete connection to my friends across the west coast. Again, I am cursing through the land at 70 MPH, alongside the RV's, as I climb the grapevine and descend into the smoggy basin of L.A. Metro.

I send this post from the new wireless connection at the NAL warehouse - another place that begins to feel like home. Ready to leave the city and head for the desert.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Naturalists-At-Large Program - Yosemite National Park

A week back in the states is just enough to settle back into the fast-food, gas guzzling culture of America. After seeing a culture more concious of consumerism and the environment I want to get right back to outdoor education. Recharged by a post TASIS vacation in France, Ireland, and Italy, and feeling reconnected to the NW by my short trip into the rainforest Wilderness of the Olympic Penninsula, I was excited to get back to work with NAL. So, less than a week after touching down in Bend, I find myself in Yosemite Valley.

Nestled amongst pines and tall granite cliffs it Yosemite all you need to do is look to the sky to see untouched nature. Yet, more easily seen is the huge impact tourism has on our National Parks: campfire smokes settles into the canyons and rivals any small urban city by early evening, trashmen come through the campground daily at 8am (getting an early start carting the daily rubish down out of the valley), the newest construction project blasts out diesel and the rumble of heavy equipment, large trucks pull even larger campers slowly round each tight corner to reach the campsite for the weekend, and the well-signed and paved trails nearly reach grid-lock on a busy afternoon.

I am there too, driving my huge truck freshly filled with gas and food from the strip-malls of Fresno. I am installing the comforts and the nessessities of a camp site than can serve 33 11th graders, 4 teachers, and our 5 staff. What we (I) can only hope for is that the work the naturalists do in educating about the natural history and human impacts in the park can bring around positive change in these students from L.A.. And build an awareness in them they will carry with them into adulthood? It is an equation, a questionable balance, I find myself pondering while noting the inherint consumptive nature of the NAL program.

Lastly, NAL staff always have a way of building an immedite family. Before flying down I was a bit sad not to see any old names I recognized on my staff lists, I'd be working with folks new this fall. My worry was quickly erased when I found myself happily back among the committed educators of the world - professional, thoughtful people that all share a common goal and consequently a common language and an amazing compacity for humor and wit.

Happy to be back with NAL and "at-home" for this short time in Yosemite Valley.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Backcountry Trip - Mildred Lakes via Hamma Hamma trailhead
(Snohomish Mountain Wilderness, bordering Olympic National Park)

After just two days of being back from Europe, barely recovered from jetlag, the weather over SW Washington was something I couldn't pass up. Michelle, starting school in just a few days, quickly agreed to meet at the trailhead. We were both quickly rewarded for the drives. Deserted trails (besdies the hunters) and a lightly used in and out lake trailhead lead us to a series of three crystal lakes ringed by the rugged peaks of the southern Olympic Range.