Snowbirding 2017: Two Days at the Dunes

With a note about why loneliness doesn’t exist for people who don’t need the company of others.

On Friday afternoon, I took a right turn off a two-lane road in San Bernardino County, California. A historical marker indicated that I’d found the “Harry Wade Exit Route,” a route a man and his family had taken to escape a particularly deadly desert valley in 1849.

Thus I began a long trek down a series of washboarded single-lane roads into the Mohave Desert. I was on a quest to visit some sand dunes in the farthest reaches of a National Park that gets nearly a million visitors a year but there wasn’t a single vehicle on the road with me. After bumping along on one road and then making a right turn onto another, the only indication I had that I’d entered the park was a weathered sign with the park name followed by a similarly weathered sign warning that off-road travel was prohibited.

Map
My map of the area was very detailed.

I crossed a few dry washes, recalling quite clearly that my detailed map warned “River crossing dangerous in flood.” I had seen water flowing earlier in the day and suspected the meandering river might enter the valley, but it certainly didn’t seem as if the water had made it this far. Until a healthy stream trickled across the road a few hundred yards ahead. Surely my big pickup with its beefy tires could cross this sandy stream? Even with my big camper on back? I knew that a slow crossing was not advised, so I gave it a bit more gas and surged forward. The tires started to bog down on the far side of the stream, but by then momentum had carried us through. On the way back, I’d use 4WD.

Saratoga Springs
This was supposed to be a photo of the ponds by the springs but it’s a better picture of the dreary weather. Apparently, it was pouring in the main park area.

I followed signs to a spring where another sign that I suspected might be there said “No Camping.” There were no people in the parking area, although there was a weather station that I later found on Weather Underground. I never saw the source of the spring, but I did see the huge reed-fringed ponds that had formed in a desert well-known for its lack of water. I heard water fowl and frogs and, after retrieving my binoculars from the camper, saw a few dark colored birds floating on one of the ponds. I also saw what I think was burro (AKA donkey) dung along the trail.

I was tempted to park there for the night despite the sign, but didn’t want to get in trouble in the unlikely event of a park ranger stopping by this remote spot during the night. My camper is pretty much zero-impact; it’s fully equipped to haul what I need — fresh water, fuel for cooking, food — in and what I don’t need — waste water and garbage — out. A campfire isn’t necessary for cooking. All I need is a relatively level place to park, preferably with a view. But rules are not meant to be broken and if this spot wasn’t protected by the “No Camping” rule, it would likely be overrun with motorhomes and people bathing in the springs as soon as word got out about what a great spot it was.

We are our own worst enemies.

The goal, I reminded myself, was the dunes. It would be better if I could find a place closer to them to park for the night. Although the weather was degrading and rain was in the forecast, a hike to the dunes from my campsite was a possibility, either that evening or in the morning. So I came away from the spring and turned left on the washboard road, continuing north and mindful of the sign that warned about deep sand 4 miles up the road. I didn’t plan on going that far.

I found what I think was a parking area for the dunes about a mile up the road and turned in. There was a sign about it being a wilderness area that allowed foot and horse traffic only. There was space between the sign and the road for my rig, so I pulled out, turned around, and backed in with my camper’s back door facing the dunes. I killed the engine, fetched a few things from the truck, and opened up the camper. After spending about 10 minutes putting out the slide and picking up the things that had fallen during the bumpy ride, I was settled in.

The dunes, over a mile away without a clear trail to them, taunted me under a darkening sky.

Parking for the Dunes
Parking for the dunes — the view out my camper’s back door.

I fed Penny.

I checked my cell phone, fully expecting to see No Service in the area where there are usually dots representing signal strength. I was shocked to see three dots and LTE. That had to be wrong. I ran SpeedTest and was even more shocked to see that not only did I have Internet service, but it was the fastest service I’d had since leaving home.

I checked in on social media. I admit that part of me wished I didn’t have an Internet connection so that I could fully disconnect. But, at the same time, I’m a realist and know that if anything goes wrong, it’s nice to be able to call for help — even if help would likely take hours to find me. (My dead starter was still fresh in my mind, which also explains why I always back into a campsite now.)

I found a classic rock station on the radio that actually played good music. I listened for about 15 minutes before realizing I preferred silence.

And it was silent. No sound of cars or trucks or planes. I could hear the wind coming through the greasewood (AKA creosote) bushes before it reached me. I occasionally heard a bird.

From my parking spot, I could see for miles in almost every direction; nothing moved.

I looked again with my binoculars. Nothing.

I sat at the table, writing a blog post on my laptop (that I might never publish), finishing the last of the ice tea from my late breakfast in Boulder City. Occasionally, I’d glance outside to see if Mother Nature would surprise me with a ray of sunshine highlighting the dunes or mountains behind them. I heard a few raindrops on the roof. It got dark out without the pleasure of a nice sunset.

Despite the full moon that had risen behind the clouds at around sunset, it got very dark.

I made some dinner and sat up in bed eating it while I did a crossword puzzle. I debated watching a movie but decided against it.

I realized I was exhausted. I’d started the day with a 4-1/2 mile hike on the Historic Railroad Trail near Hoover Dam, which would have been nothing if I was still in shape. But I’d been letting exercise opportunities pass me by and it was starting to really make a difference. Which is why I’d done the hike.

So I went to bed early.

As I slept, I was very aware of the persistent rain on the roof. I thought about that little stream I’d crossed and wondered whether it would be a bigger stream.

Later, I was also aware of the wind loudly snapping the ratchet tie-down strap holding my old rotor blades in place on the roof. There was no way to stop the sound without going outside and climbing a ladder, so I tried to ignore it. Eventually, the wind — and the noise — stopped.

I slept well after that, waking enough just a few times to notice that it wasn’t dark anymore. The clouds had thinned enough to bathe the desert around me in faint moonlight.

I’d slept until after 5:30 AM, which was actually quite late for me.

No surprise that it was dead quiet when I woke up. It was still cloudy. The sky was brightening from the coming sunrise. The dunes taunted me.

I had some coffee and breakfast, fed Penny again, and caught up on social media. The world is going nuts, but you don’t really feel it when you’re disconnected. Sadly, I was not disconnected and can feel it. It makes me sad.

I looked out at the dunes. It wasn’t worth the mile plus walk to get out there with bad light and I definitely didn’t want to spend the day out there waiting for the light to get good.

But I didn’t mind waiting in my camper for the light to get good. There was no place else I had to be. Heck, I had enough food, water, and fuel to last me at least a week and didn’t need to be at my next destination, which was only 536 miles away for six days.

And I really liked the solitude of this roadside campsite in the middle of nowhere.

So I pulled out my portable solar panels and set them up on the south side of the camper. There was enough blue sky that I knew they’d eventually generate some power. I certainly didn’t want to run my generator and break the silence.

And that’s how I spent the day: writing, relaxing, reading, and shooting the occasional photo.

A park ranger stopped by around 10 AM. We chatted for a while and he gave me some advice about road closures and campsites over the next few days of my stay in the park. A while later, two guys in a pickup stopped, wanting to know what the road was like up ahead. I told them I didn’t know, but mentioned the deep sand sign, which they’d also seen. I told them not to get stuck because I didn’t want to pull them out. We laughed.

Much later in the day, two SUVs parked near me and two men and a woman got out. By then the wind was really howling and visibility had dropped due to blowing dust. It was also cloudy and threatened rain. They told me they’d been much farther north in the park and it had poured on them all day. I asked them if they were going to hike to the dunes and they said that they’d come this far so they had to go all the way. I watched them bundle up against the wind — the temperature had dropped to the 60s — and head northeast. It rained while they were gone, but not enough to make anything wet. Around sunset, when they still hadn’t returned, I took out my binoculars and saw them at the base of one of the dunes. I guess they were doing some photography; it was too far away to really tell. I wondered if they’d taken camping gear with them; I hadn’t really paid attention to their departure.

A few other pickups and SUVs drove by but didn’t stop. It was actually a lot more activity than I expected.

The sun finally made an afternoon appearance about a half hour before sunset, illuminating the dunes and the mountains behind them and making deep shadows. It was too late to walk out there — and besides, the wind was still blowing pretty good — so I satisfied my urge to document the moment using my 70-300mm lens from the roof of the camper. The light was constantly changing and I took quite a few photos. The one below, which I obviously cropped, is one of my favorites.

Sunset at the Dunes
Sunset at the dunes.

When the sunset show was over, I started making dinner: chicken cordon bleu with fresh creamed spinach and chanterelle mushrooms (from the freezer). It got dark quickly. I kept checking out the back windows for the moonrise, which was expected just north of due west at about 6:30. There were clouds out there on the horizon and I wondered it they’d clear out enough for me the see the moon coming over the mountains. Overhead, stars started appearing one-by-one with Venus leading the way.

My dinner was almost ready and it was dark when the sand dune hikers returned. I turned on one of my outside lights for them. Soon their engines were running and I saw taillights down the road. I didn’t envy their drive back to pavement in the dark.

Moon Rise
Moon rise through the clouds.

My friend Bob called and we chatted for a while. It had snowed quite a bit at home and he’d spent the weekend in his shop, working on a Moto Guzzi motorcycle he’d owned for more than 20 years, getting it back into pristine condition. Unfortunately, the work he needed to do on the engine required him to keep the door open to the cold so he wouldn’t be overcome with fumes. While we talked, the moon rose just where I expected it to, making the clouds around it glow. Overhead, the stars faded away, unable to compete with the moon’s brightness.

I went to bed with a book I’d downloaded from the library, Time and Again by Jack Finney. I originally read it not long after it was first published in 1970 and it seemed brand new to me. I recommend it.

I slept great until about midnight, then woke for a while, then slept again until after 6:30. The sound of rain that was nearly forecasted nor on radar got me out of bed. It was overcast (again).

Outside, the dunes taunted me.

The hourly forecast said it would clear up around 10 AM. It would be my last chance to hike to the dunes; I really did need to get on my way if I wanted to see other remote parts of the park. So, after coffee and breakfast, I did the dishes and dressed, getting the camper prepped as much as I could for departure. The sun finally made an appearance as the clouds fled west, faster than the sun could climb into the sky.

Two pickups drove by. I started wondering why vehicles nearly always came by in pairs.

It was just after 9 AM when I started my hike to the dunes. Although satellite images had shown the remnants of a road that went that way, I couldn’t find it. So I just cut as straight as I could through the desert. Halfway there, I stripped off my flannel shirt and faced the sun in a tank top. The shade temperature was below 60°F, but I was not in the shade. The sun felt amazing on my skin and the light breeze kept me cool.

I looked back every once in a while. Although I thought the route was pretty flat, we apparently descended into a dip; I couldn’t see the camper when we were about halfway to the dunes. I later saw it again and made a note of the knob on the mountaintop behind it so I could easily navigate back in the unlikely event that my phone’s GPS tracker failed and I couldn’t see my rig.

Desert Mushroom
I saw three of these within a half mile radius of each other. They were about an inch and a half tall.

The walk took about a half hour, with stops along the way to look at interesting plants, including mushrooms (!), and rocks.

The dunes are large and I felt small beside them. Penny went nuts running up and down the sand. She loves the beach and I suspect that to her, there was nothing better than a beach without water.

Ibex Dunes
A closeup shot of part of the dunes.

Dune Ridge
I didn’t get very far trying to climb up this ridge.

I took a bunch of photos. Unfortunately, although I might have been in the right place, I was definitely not there at the right time. The dunes were in full sun and the golden hour was long gone. Shadows were relatively small. The light was bright and harsh. A more serious photographer would have arrived at dawn — and gotten rained on along the way.

I tried to climb one of the ridges, but when I got to the point where every step forward slid me a half step back, I quit.

It was windy there — windy enough for my footprints to disappear within seconds of me laying them down.

We stayed about a half hour, then turned around and headed back. By this time, it was almost cloudless. The sun still felt good on my skin and I never really worked up a heavy sweat. Halfway back, my path intersected with the old road and I saw the footprints of the previous day’s visitors. I almost lost the trail when a wide wash ran through it, but I picked it up on the other side and was almost surprised to see that it delivered me almost right back to the door of my camper.

Behind me, the dunes smiled and winked.

After a bathroom break and something cold to drink, I finished up this blog post. I want to get back on the road before noon and I suspect I won’t have as good an Internet connection as I have here for a few days.

I know a lot of people will read this and be amazed that I spent two days alone in such a remote place. Wasn’t I scared? Wasn’t I lonely? How could I stand to be so completely alone for so long?

First of all, no, I wasn’t scared. I come to places like this very prepared. Why would I be scared when help is a phone call away, phone service is excellent, and I have everything I need on hand to survive for at least a week without skipping a meal?

Second, no, I wasn’t lonely. I don’t get lonely. Loneliness is a feeling suffered by people who need to be around other people to be happy. While I wouldn’t call myself anti-social, I’m also not dependent on other people to keep me — well, what? What is it that people need other people for? Conversation? Sex? Companionship while watching television? Am I that unusual in that I can go for more than two days without any of that?

I love my friends, but I don’t need to be with them all of the time.

And third, not only can I stand to be alone, but I rather like it. I’ve always needed a certain amount of alone time. Time to think and reflect without having to keep someone else entertained. Time to read and write and do photography without someone interrupting me, demanding my attention. Time to do whatever I want to do without someone else making judgements about how I spend that time.

When I was in a relationship, every year my future wasband used to ask me what I wanted for my birthday. In the later years, I told him that all I wanted was to have the day to do what I wanted to do. I wanted alone time.

I finally have as much of it as I want.

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: Arizona Hot Springs

I need to start off by saying that these hot springs were, by far, the absolute best hot springs I have ever visited in my life.

Tucked away in a slot canyon less than a half a mile from the Colorado River, Arizona — or, more properly, Ringbolt — Hot Springs consist of three “tubs” created by using sandbags as dams between the canyon walls. Hot water emerges from cracks in the walls to fill the first tub with very hot water — so hot I couldn’t sit in it. The water cascades over the sandbag dam to the next tub, which is cooler. The same happens to fill the third tub with even cooler water. (According to one regular, water temperatures are 102 to 115 degrees F.) Each tub had a gravelly sand floor and various depths, the deepest part being perfect for submerging up to your neck while sitting on the ground. The water was clean and algae free. There was no slime or nasty sulphuric smell. Although there may have been as many as a dozen people there at a time, it was never what I would call crowded.

This Hot Spring is accessible by a long, 2 mile hike down a trail from route 93 or by a much shorter hike up from the Colorado River. This physical limitation in access is likely what keeps it so pristine; there was absolutely no litter.  I choose the river route and rented a boat to make the 10 mile river trip up from Willow Beach. The boat trip was beautiful with many interesting spots along the way — I’ll save that for another set of postcards.

Here are a few pictures that I took along the hike to the hot spring and at the spring itself. The hike started on a dry beach and soon entered a narrow slot canyon with ever-growing trickles of warm water. There was a bit of scrambling up rocky cascades, some of which were slippery. The trickiest part of the whole trip was getting Penny up the 20 foot ladder to where the tubs were.

Along the trail to the hot spring.


There were a few places where we had to scramble up Cascades of warm water.


This 20-foot ladder was securely fastened to the canyon walls.


The third, coolest tub was the first one we reached.


The shallow end of the third tub had very warm water from the second tub.

Penny watches from the dam at the end of the third tub. She did swim twice in that tub, although she didn’t like it.


The first and hottest of the tubs was the last one I reached. I didn’t soak in it at all.


Our lunch spot just downstream from the tubs.


We spent more than two hours at the springs. I soaked mostly in the deep ends of the second and third tubs. The first tub was simply too hot for me and just about everyone else. The people who were there were mostly young and outdoorsy — I might have been the oldest one there! I very much enjoyed the company of three medical students from Syracuse who were making the most of their trip to Vegas for a convention. I also had a great conversation with a local who told me about another hot spring I might pass near in my travels later this week.

Home Made Trail Mix

The best way to get a mix with everything you like — and just that.

I like trail mix as a snack food, especially on a long drive or hike. But I’m also pretty picky about what’s in my trail mix. This leads me to a never-ending search for the right blend — and often paying a premium to get it.

The solution, of course, is to make my own trail mix with just the ingredients I like. With that in mind, I went shopping at Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s is a good source of dried fruits and nuts. Although they also have a bunch of different pre-formulated trail mixes, I don’t really like any of them. Instead, I bought the following and made my own:

  • Dried apples
  • Pitted dates
  • Dried tangerines
  • Dried (slightly sweetened) coconut strips
  • Honey roasted peanuts
  • Raw almonds

Trail Mix
My custom blend trail mix.

I chopped a bunch of it up — except the peanuts, which I left whole — and mixed it in a yogurt container I had a cover for. I had some chocolate chips and thought I might add them, but the mix turned out to be sweet enough without them. Also, I knew I’d be spending some time in warm weather and I didn’t want melted chocolate in my trail mix.

The result: perfection — at least as far as I’m concerned.

Best of all, I have enough ingredients to keep me in trail mix for the rest of my winter travel season.

If you like trail mix, give it a try with your favorite ingredients. I think it’s a good, budget-conscious way to get plenty of trail mix just for your taste.

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: The Las Vegas Strip Walk

One of my very favorite things to do when I come to Las Vegas is to take a very brisk walk along the Strip, walking through hotels and their shopping areas. I start at one end — normally Mandalay Bay or Luxor — and walk along the west side of Las Vegas Boulevard northbound. If I’m feeling very energetic, I can usually get up to Treasure Island. Then I cross the street and I take an equally brisk walk down the other side. This is not a straight line walk; sometimes I’m on the sidewalk, sometimes I’m on a casino floor, sometimes I’m in a shopping area. I zigzag my way north and then south. I do this early in the day, always before noon, and I usually start around 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning. That’s when Las Vegas is just starting to wake up but not yet fully engaged.

I did that walk today, although I only got as far as Caesars Palace. I like Caesars, although I’ve never stayed there. I always visit it when I come to town. It was kind of neat to see sashes over the statuary proclaiming Caesars 50th anniversary. It’s really an historic hotel casino, mostly because it’s one of the first on the strip. It used to be a very classy joint inside, but now not quite as much. Everything gets tacky over time in Las Vegas.

One of the reasons I didn’t get any further than Caesars is because of time constraints — I was supposed to meet some friends for lunch. The other reason is that I’m simply out of shape and couldn’t keep up that brisk pace for more than what turned out to be a total of 5 miles. Who says hiking needs to be done in the woods?

I did do some shopping in Caesars Forum Shops. I bought a couple of pairs of jeans and a sweater. I also bought dark chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the Hershey’s store in another casino.  As I mentioned on Twitter, it was a real pleasure to be able to walk through a shopping area without having to stop at every single watch shop or men’s shoe store. That’s one thing about my wasband that I don’t miss it all.

Anyway, these are some of the photos I took along the walk. One of the things I love about Las Vegas is how surreal it is; I think some of these photos illustrate that.

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: Blitzen Creek Hike

Went for a short 1.5 mile hike on the Blitzen Creek trail. The trailhead was about 100 feet from our campsite at the far end of the Page Springs Campground. The trail winds along Blitzen creek through mostly tall grasses with lots of side trails the take you right to the waters edge. The canyon was still pretty much in the shade when we got started with the sun had reached rhe opposite canyon wall by the time we were on our way back. It was a short hike just to get my blood going before today’s long drive.

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The First Mushroom Hunt of Autumn 2016

Limited success and a bunch of new mushrooming resources.

Cooler weather is upon us and that means the chanterelle mushrooms are coming into season.

Last Friday morning I went out for a hike/mushroom hunt with my hiking friend, Sue. Sue knows all kinds of things about plants and animals and even rocks, so going on a hike with her is a great learning experience. And although she doesn’t eat mushrooms, her husband does and she’s always game to go hunting with me.

The Hike

We chose a trail we both like up Icicle Creek beyond Leavenworth, WA. It’s a bit of a drive — about 50 miles from my home, including more than 10 on gravel. Another mushrooming friend of mine claimed she’d found chanterelles right on the trail. I was doubtful and I think Sue was, too. So as we hiked, we took occasional forays into the forest on one side of the trail or the other, right where we thought chanterelles might grow. I did find a very nice coral-type fungus that we believe is edible; I took it with me to examine more closely later.

Then it happened: Sue found a golden chanterelle mushroom growing right alongside the trail. While she harvested it, I combed the area looking for more. She joined me. We came up empty.

I should mention here that chanterelles are pretty easy to identify. They normally have sort of misshapen caps and the gills on the underside are more like ridges or wrinkles than regular mushroom gills. They normally extend down the mushroom’s stem. You can find photos on WikiMedia. There are some “false” chanterelles and a similar looking poisonous variety called Jack O’Lantern, but it’s pretty easy to distinguish these from real chanterelles, which are prized as tasty mushrooms. If you’re interested in hunting for chanterelles, study up first and make sure you know what you’re looking for and where you might find them.

We got to a point in the trail where we were within a quarter mile of a place I’d found chanterelles the previous year and took a little detour to check it out. I walked us over to where I found them and we searched the ground. It seemed too dry. I gave up quickly and moved off to another nearby spot, but Sue stuck with it. Soon she called out “I found one!”

I hurried back. She pointed it out and I took a photo. Then we saw one nearby that was just poking out of the forest duff.

And that’s when I started seeing little mounds all over the place. Lots of young chanterelles just popping out of the ground.

Young Chanterelle
A young chanterelle mushroom, just poking out of the ground.

I used my new pocketknife — I bought one with a bright orange handle so I wouldn’t lose it while mushroom hunting — to dig a few out and put them in my bag. They were all a yellowish white color with a relatively regular looking cap. I showed one to Sue and she confirmed that they were chanterelles.

We continued to hunt in that area before getting back on the trail. Sue found some other mushrooms in various stages of decay — russulas. None of them were worth keeping, even if they were of edible varieties.

We finished our hike and headed home, stopping in Leavenworth for lunch and to buy smoked meats (Cured), wine (Ryan Patrick), and cheese (Cheesemonger).

Uncertainty

If there’s a golden rule to hunting for edible mushrooms, it’s this: never eat a mushroom you find unless you are certain that it’s edible.

side of mushroom

top of mushroom

mushroom gills

inside mushroom
Several views of one of the mushrooms I harvested on Friday. When trying to get help with identification, it’s important to show as much detail as possible.

When I got home, I took a closer look at the five chanterelles I’d found. They were all smaller and much more “perfect” looking than any chanterelle I’d ever seen. What if Sue was wrong? What if they weren’t chanterelles and I ate them?

I combed through my mushroom books. None of the pictures matched what I had. I started to write Sue a warning email.

I posted some photos on Facebook, trying to see if any of my friends could advise me. Then I looked for and found three different mushroom identification groups on Facebook and signed up for each of them. I couldn’t post photos until I was approved for membership, though.

Then, as usual, I got sidetracked by something else and didn’t give it another thought until morning.

On Saturday morning, I was thinking about a chanterelle mushroom omelet. So I took my morning coffee to the computer and began searching the internet. I knew there was something called a false chanterelle, and I looked it up. That’s where I learned that false chanterelles have normal fin-like gills while real chanterelles have the wrinkle- or ridge-like gills. There was another chanterelle look-alike called a jack o’lantern that was definitely poisonous, but what I’d picked had very little in common with that. (Keep in mind that although I’m linking primarily to Wikipedia articles here, I consulted many sources.)

I finished the email to Sue and sent it. Then I kept researching. I wanted so badly to eat my mushrooms but I didn’t want to get sick. I’d been approved for all three mushroom identification groups on Facebook so I took and sent photos, including the ones you see here. I kept researching while I waited to hear back.

Around that time, I found a trio of photos on the Mushroom Forager website’s page about Hedgehog Mushrooms. It illustrated three similar mushrooms. The middle photo was almost identical to what I had.

Mushroom Gills
This image, which can be found at The Mushroom Forager website, helped convince me I had chanterelles.

I started cutting up my chanterelles for an omelet.

Then I checked back with Facebook. The mushroom identification group members were starting to chime in. The first few were pretty sure that it wasn’t chanterelles. I put the mushrooms away in a container in the fridge and had an omelet without mushrooms.

Throughout the day, more responses trickled in. And this is where the group dynamics really come into play. Some were sure that they weren’t chanterelles. Some were sure that they were. So I really wasn’t any better off than I’d been before consulting the groups.

Finally, late in the day, some folks who obviously knew a lot about mushrooms started responding. They identified the type of chanterelle with its genius and species: cantharellus subalbidus. While some group members argued with them, they were firm. They provided additional information about the area in which they grow: old growth forests like the one I’d been in. One even provided a link to a page that illustrated it.

I should mention here that of the three groups I joined, the Mushroom Identification Page group seemed to have the most knowledgeable participants, although none of them were free of people who offered incorrect information based on limited facts. (I really need to do a blog post about Facebook group dynamics.)

I should mention that by this time, Sue had also responded to my email. She was certain it was a cantharellus subalbidus, too. She has some resources where she looked them up. I guess she didn’t want to poison her husband!

Feasting on My Find

That evening, I sautéed some thinly sliced veal and prepared a chanterelle cream sauce for it. I had it with a side of fresh steamed green beans from my garden and glass of sauvignon blanc. Delicious.

I finished up the mushrooms the next day by cooking them into an omelet with some scallions and buckboard bacon. Very tasty.

This was my fourth mushroom hunting trip and the second for chanterelles. (I hunted twice for morels this spring.) I marked the GPS coordinates for my find and plan to return this week. Although it hasn’t rained, I’m hoping that cool, shady area of the forest is damp enough for the chanterelles to grow.

I really enjoy collecting my own food, whether it’s foraging in the forest for seasonal mushrooms, gleaning from an orchard after harvest, tending my own garden, or collecting eggs from my chickens. There’s something very special about having that kind of connection with your food.

But best of all, you can’t beat it for freshness.

Summer 2016 Road Trip, Day 7: Hozomeen to Copper Creek

A few short hikes and a sweet creekside campsite.

I slept with the camper’s door open (and screen door closed, of course) for the first time. Unlike my other overnight stops, I suspected it would stay warm enough overnight and it did.

I slept really well until around midnight when I woke up with a weird allergy attack. I read until the faucet in my nose turned itself off. Even then, it wasn’t easy to get back to sleep. The frogs were really croaking! I didn’t mind being kept up for that, though. It’s desertlike where I live and there aren’t any frogs.

It was getting light when I woke up. I worked on a blog post, getting it ready to publish, while I had my coffee with some cereal and the last of the blueberries I’d picked a full week before. (It’s amazing how long they stay fresh when you pick them yourself.) By the time I was ready to emerge from the Turtleback for the day, the lake was glassy smooth. I grabbed my camera and shot a few photos of the reflections with the morning sun shining on the opposite shore.

Hozomeen Dock at Ross Lake
One of the boat docks at Winebago Flats. Ross Lake was glassy smooth in the morning.

Meanwhile, the folks who had held my campsite for me were packing up to leave. I thought that odd — they had a canoe on the roof of their car. Surely they didn’t drive all the way down to Hozomeen to just to camp for one night. I said goodbye and thanked them again as they climbed into their car. They turned right instead of left when they left — maybe they were going to put that canoe in the water after all.

I’d already packed up my campsite the night before — it’s important to keep a clean campsite when there are bears in the area — so there wasn’t anything else to do before leaving.

Except take a hike, of course.

The Lakeside Trail

Penny and I set off on the same trail we’d taken to the campground the afternoon before, this time heading downlake. It was wonderfully cool — even the shoreline was in the shade — and quiet. I walked at a good pace, stopping every now and then to look around me and maybe take a photo. I admit that I spent more than my fair share of time wondering if the local bear would put in an appearance; I did see some relatively fresh bear scat along the lake.

Ross Lake near Hozomeen
Along the trail from Winnebago Flats to the Hozomeen Campground boat ramp.

Fork in the Trail
A fork in the lakeside trail at Hozomeen.

I could hear the rushing of Hozomeen Creek long before I got to where the trail split. I knew from the previous day’s hike that the left fork would take us up to the road near Ranger Housing. Where would the right fork take us? To the lake, I assumed. But would there be a bridge across the creek?

Log Bridge
The shorter of two split log bridges across Hozomeen Creek near Ross Lake.

The answer was yes. There were actually two bridges, each of which were created by splitting a log so it had a flat walking surface and then attaching a handrail to it. I was impressed by the first one, but the second one, which had to be close to 100 feet long, blew me away. Had the logs fallen there naturally and then been turned into bridges? Or did someone actually put them in place? I couldn’t imagine getting any heavy equipment in there.

After the bridges, the trail wound down to the boat ramp. And that’s where I saw my two camping neighbors. They were at the ramp with their canoe upside down. The woman was fanning the bottom of the canoe with a foam pad while the man stood by, waiting. Their gear, in dry bags, was neatly organized nearby.

We got to talking (of course). It seems that when they launched the canoe, it began taking on water. They were repairing the bottom with duct tape. Neither of these things surprised me. The canoe looked old and very well used. It had other signs of patches in its fiberglas bottom. And duct tape — well, you use what you’ve got. They were cleaning and drying each area before applying the tape and putting multiple layers on. They seemed pretty confident that their repairs would hold. Then they’d be out for an overnight camping trip along the lake.

We chatted while the woman made the repairs. We talked about the north and south ends of the lake and how Americans had to come all the way up to Canada to launch a boat. We talked about hiking trails in the North Cascades National Park and how US parks had better trails than Canadian parks (their opinion; I didn’t have enough data to come to any conclusion). The conversation inevitably turned to politics. Seriously: Canadians are very worried about Donald Trump becoming president. Even when I tried to steer the conversation somewhere else, it led back. I learned a little more about Canadian politics, too.

Finally, their boat was patched sufficiently and we were all ready to move on. We said our goodbyes and I continued hiking, now up the road to the boat ramp. The previous day, I’d noticed a trail that continued down toward the lake. Maps showed that it went down to a point of land — you can see it in the photo above. So Penny and I plunged back into the forest, in the strip of land between the campground we’d first parked in and the lake.

Pissed Off Squirrel
This was one very pissed off squirrel.

At one point, Penny saw a squirrel and chased it up a tree. It ran up 20 or more feet, then turned and started making really weird little noises at us. I had to record a video. (I just played it and Penny went nuts.)


I’ve never heard a sound like this out of an animal.

We went off the trail briefly to walk down to the lake’s edge. The water was deep right off the shore there with a series of rock shelves that would make a great point for getting in and out of the water. A perfect swimming hole on a hot day.

In the distance, I could see my canoeing friends paddling toward us on the glassy smooth water. I envied them, in a way. It was an absolutely perfect day for paddling and I wished I could be out there, too. I expected them to continue right past me with a wave and final goodbye, but they paddled right up to where I was standing. Then they proceeded to tell me about other places along my route of travel that might interest me: the Othello Tunnels, the wildflower meadow at Manning Park, and the mine tour at Hedley. I committed all of this to memory (somehow), including driving directions and other tips.

Canoeing on Ross Lake
Nice day for a paddle, eh?

At one point, the woman reached down into the water and exclaimed “It’s so warm! Like bathwater! Feel it!” I had my doubts — after all, this was a mountain lake on the Canadian border — but I did as she asked and dipped a hand in. She was right: it was very warm. Seeing people in the water at Winnebago Flats the previous afternoon no longer surprised me.

We chatted a while longer, then all got on our way.

The trail ended at a bench overlooking the lake. Well, kind of overlooking the lake — there were enough trees in front of the bench that sitting at it wouldn’t give you much of a view. I got a last look at my canoeing friends far down the lake, paddling a few hundred feet out from the shoreline.

Penny and I turned around and headed back the way we’d come. Total distance hiked was 2.8 miles. Not bad for an easy morning hike. Interested in a track log with photos? Here you go: Hozomeen Lakeside.

The Othello Tunnels

The Border
The border between the US and Canada is easily visible as a clearing between the two countries. It’s all ready for Donald Trump’s northern wall. Or, more likely, the wall the Canadians would put up to keep out Americans if Trump were elected.

Since we were already all packed up, all I had to do was visit my tiny bathroom — the pit toilets at Winnebago Flats were not something I was willing to face — and close up the Turtleback’s slide. Then we were back in the truck and heading north. I made one stop at the border and that was to take two photos. One was the border sign I showed in the previous day’s blog post. The other was of the actual border, which you can see as a clearing that stretches as far as the eye can see in either direction.

The road north started out smooth and became progressively rougher as I continued north. The more use it got for Canadian parks along its length, the rougher it became. I was glad to reach that sorry excuse for pavement and even gladder to reach the main road in Hope an hour after leaving the park.

I stopped alongside the road and uploaded two blog posts and a handful of track logs. I didn’t bother checking email — nothing of interest had arrived the last time I’d checked. Besides, I was rather enjoying the illusion of being off-the-grid even when I technically wasn’t. Like most connected people, I spend far too much time looking at a computer.

I eventually got on the main road and found my way to Route 3. Then I took the exit for Route 5, looking for the Othello Tunnels. It wasn’t far off my route. I steered my way along a side road and into a very tight parking lot. I was immediately glad again that I’d shed my Mobile Mansion for the Turtleback — I could park in a regular spot. There’s no way I could have parked anywhere nearby towing a virtual house behind me.

The place was crowded with families and people walking dogs — it was a Saturday, after all. It was after noon and I was hungry and not at all in a hurry so Penny and I climbed into the Turtleback and I made myself a nice lunch: sardines I’d bought at Trader Joe’s the previous week with some diced onion on some of that multigrain bread I’d bought my first day in Canada. (It never seemed to go stale.) Then I gathered together my camera and a water bottle and climbed back down into the parking lot with Penny on a leash and headed for the trailhead.

Othello Tunnels Map
Here’s a map of the trail. It actually extended quite a bit past Tunnel 5. You can download the entire map from the park website.

The Othello Tunnels are a series of five old railroad tunnels built into the side of Coquihalla Canyon, a 300-foot deep channel cut in solid granite by the Coquihalla River. They were (and are) an engineering marvel that combined tunnels and bridges, making it possible for the railroad to get through a difficult area instead of having to go around it.

First Othello Tunnel
Penny looked eager to go into the first of the five tunnels.

Although there were a lot of people on the trail, it was plenty wide. It descended at a gentle grade — after all, it had been a train route once — through the woods with plenty of places to look down at the roaring river beside it. The first tunnel began not long after the river entered the gorge it had created. The longest of the tunnels, it got very dark in the middle. A few hikers had flashlights. Penny walked along with me, a tiny shadow at the end of her leash.

On the other end, it was bright and sunny and the river roared through the gorge beside us. The next tunnel started almost immediately. It was a lot shorter and never got very dark. Then there was a bridge and tunnels 3 and 4, which really didn’t have any space between them. Another bridge over the river and then the final tunnel, which had a bend to it.

We walked along at a good pace, stopping between tunnels to look out over the river and gorge. It was a really beautiful place and I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be on a train going along this route. Terrifying, likely, to a passenger.

Between the Tunnels A look into the Gorge
I stopped to take photos between the tunnels — it made no sense to take photos inside them. The gorge was actually quite beautiful. The water gets its color from glacial “flour” — silt in melting glaciers.

Railroad Trail
The trail beyond the last tunnel is mostly in a cut in the granite walls.

We kept walking past the last tunnel. The trail continues on, mostly in a cut that’s canopied, in some places, by fallen, moss-covered trees. Fewer people were on this part of the trail; most seemed to walk through the tunnels and back. We walked as far as another gate, which was also open, and then turned back. The tunnels were darker on the way back because of the direction of the sun, especially that long first tunnel.

Want a track log for this little hike? My GPS said we did more than 3 miles, but I’m not sure how accurate that is since it likely lost contact with satellites inside the tunnels and there are some odd-looking elevation spikes in the track log graph. But here’s what I uploaded, with photos: Othello Tunnels.

In Manning Park

Back in the truck, I headed out, taking a few minutes to chat with my sister (via the trucks’s bluetooth audio) along the way. I like to check in periodically to make sure I’m not missing anything important. I wasn’t.

I lost the cell connection as I headed eastbound on Route 3, the so-called Crowsnest Highway. This road runs a zigzag course through the south end of British Columbia, winding around heavily trees mountains and through valleys. It wasn’t long before the road passed into EC Manning Provincial Park, which must be one of the larger parks in British Columbia. It has lots of trails and campgrounds, and points of interest. It even has a ski resort.

I saw the sign for the Wildflower Meadow and turned left. The narrow road immediately began climbing steeply up the side of a mountain. It went on for a few miles before there was a view point. I was one of about five vehicles that turned in. I let Penny out, leashless, and she immediately began chasing chipmunks that hid in the drainage openings of the curb. It was pretty entertaining for onlookers. The view from up there, at least 2,000 feet above the valley floor, was amazing. A sign pointed out the names of various peaks, including Hozomeen Mountain (which looked very close) and Mount Winthrop, both of which are in the US. Far below us, I could see the resort area for the park, with its restaurant, lodging, and other amenities.

From Manning Park
The view from the overlook on the road to the Wildflower Meadow at Manning Park.

Penny and I continued the climb. There was a trailhead parking area and we kept going. Then the road ended at another trailhead. Parking was tough, but I found a spot alongside the road. I put Penny on a leash and we set out to explore the Paintbrush Trail.

Wildflower Meadow Sans Wildflowers
There weren’t many wildflowers at Wildflower Meadow, but there was a massive antenna installation and an even better view. This is looking southeast.

The trail likely gets its name from the only flower still blooming: Indian Paintbrush. But even those had already faded. Between the cold nights at that elevation — over 6,000 feet — and the lack of rainfall, the flowers were already gone. I imagine it must be something in spring or early summer, but at the end of the first week in August, it’s a bust. (My canoeing friends warned me that it might be too late in the season for flowers.) We did a short hike anyway — maybe a mile — and admired both the view and the massive antenna array that guaranteed me a cell signal. Then we went back to the truck and retraced our route down the mountain.

Copper Creek

By this time, it was after 5 PM and I was starting to think about a place to spend the night. My trip planning had pretty much ended the day before and now I was making up everything as I went along. So I started by driving into the resort area, following a sign to Lightning Lake campground. That was full, but there was a ranger at the booth and I asked her about camping possibilities. She told me that camping in the park is only allowed in designated sites and that there might be a few available in other campgrounds. She gave me a map and circled three of them, two of which were on my route east. I thanked her, turned around, and headed back out to Route 3.

I skipped the first campground, mostly because it was right on the main road, and pulled into the second one, which was about 10 kilometers from the resort turn. This one was almost full. There were two sites that weren’t reserved or taken and both were on the main road. The idea of paying $25 to camp in such a full campground so close to a highway really bugged me. So I left and we continued on our way.

We passed out of the park. I looked for camping possibilities. I suspected I’d have to go off on a side road, but I had no idea where to try. A bunch of signs warned about road work and flagmen up ahead so I slowed down. I got to a bend in the road where a woman was turning around a truck at an intersection where a gravel road went off to the right. There were lots of road work signs. I stopped beside her and rolled down my window. “Are you a pilot car?” I asked.

She looked surprised. “No,” she replied.

I pointed down the road beside us. “Where does that go?”

She gave me a huge shrug. “I don’t know, but Copper Creek is down there.”

“Any camping?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

I thanked her and let her pull away. Then I turned right down the road toward Copper Creek.

The road was obviously a logging road — signs at the beginning provided information about radio calls and warned, “No seatbelt, no job.” I proceeded cautiously. I didn’t have far to go. About a quarter mile down the road was a bridge over a creek. And right before the bridge was a clearing with a picnic table and fire pit. No, two picnic tables with firepits. I slowed to a stop and looked at the sign: Copper Creek Recreation Area. I turned in.

It was a tiny campground with 5 sites, three of which were right on the creek, and a pit toilet. No one else was there. The $12 fee would be collected by “an attendant.”

At Copper Creek
My campsite at Copper Creek. The creek is right beyond the trees to the right of the Turtleback.

After scouting the area — including some minor road damage from erosion — I chose a campsite and backed into it. I had trouble getting the Turtleback level and wound up backing up almost all the way to the picnic table. When I was satisfied with what the level said, I put the truck in park and shut it off. (Unfortunately, I misread the level and we were camped on a bit of an angle for the night. I have since ordered leveling blocks.) I let Penny out and went about setting up my grill to make dinner: sausages with salad and garden tomatoes.

The site, which was about 10 feet from the creek, was extremely pleasant with the sound of flowing water. If the road was for logging, either the loggers were done for the day or had the weekend off. No other campers showed up. No attendant showed up, either. I had dinner outside at the picnic table, and then, when the sun dipped below the trees, I went in for the evening.

I didn’t realize it then, but it would be my last night on vacation.