For the love of Bruce

I have been meaning to post on our latest adventures, but most are unfinished due to circumstances beyond our control, namely the fact that our family dog of nearly 15 years has been on a steady decline over the last year, and in particular these last two months. We thought we might be able to get him to pull out of his downward spiral, but alas such was not the case. While his body was super fit, his mind deteriorated to the point of no return, and required us to end his suffering and therefore “put him down” in the most compassionate way we could. Knowing it was the right thing to do didn’t make it any easier. In simple terms. It SUCKED! It has been a little over two weeks since his passing, and while we knew this day would come, it was not an easy decision for our family. He was our daughter’s first and longest living pet ( if you don’t count the hairless mouse “Rufus”, a hummingbird, two fighting hamsters, a rooster “Leonard”, and a herd of snails in a shoe box). We had to put our first dog (4 year old 125 lb Doberman Pincher) down when our daughter was less than 6 months old, due to an accident he had jumping down an embankment at full speed, Paul swore we would never have another dog.Along comes this runt of the litter, who had been adopted and then returned, and then adopted once more by my wily, and convincing daughter. She was 10 years old at the time, and had decided at the age of 8 to become a Veterinarian (she is now a VetTech). Having gone through a plethora of “pets”, she convinced Paul to allow the adoption of a brown 2lb, 8 week old Rat Terrier/Chihuahua mix into our household, by pleading, “How am I ever going to become a Vet if I have never had a pet!” While he reminded her of the assortment of “pets” she had brought into the house over the years, she confidently replied, that those “didn’t count”. The puppy, who our daughter named ‘Bruce’, was allowed on the condition that Paul would have nothing to do with the dog, to include: petting, feeding, or cleaning up after him.  As evidence of the picture below…that didn’t happen.IMG_20170624_181513299_HDR

Anyhoo…The “deal” brokered, Bruce entered our family. It is amazing how such a little dog, who failed to realize, or behave as a small statured dog can have such an impact on our family.  He was a burly and fit dog.

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He also was quite the ornery dog, having outlived his cancer diagnosis by nearly 6 months. What started out as bladder cancer moved to his brain, and thus began his “sundowners” (doggie alzheimers) and endless Zoolander imitation of only right turns and similar expressions. We wrestled with the decision for probably longer than we should have, for obvious selfish reasons, of false hope in a miraculous recovery, as the rest of his body was completely fit. Sadly “Elvis” had left the building several weeks ago, as he failed to respond to his name, rarely wagged his tail, and when not sleeping, eating or drinking would spin himself in ever tightening circles till he fell over or ran into something. To let this go on any longer would have just been cruel, so we set a date (still hoping for a miracle), and the day came. We spent it together as a family in tears, laughter and simple silence as we remembered the events that made Bruce, Bruce Almighty…and “Brucifer”

IMG_20171013_140411699While Bruce barely stood 10 inches tall and was 10 lbs sopping wet, he honestly believed he was, and therefore acted like, a BIG dog. He was large and In-Charge. So much so that he “ran” the street we lived on. Our neighbors referred to him as “The Mayor”. Often, he would squeeze through each neighbor’s front gate and inspect (and ”mark”) their yards on his daily, (and often, unaccompanied) “walks” from our yard, having escaped through and/or under our fence when we were not home. Our previous dog (a 125lb Doberman) would have been proud of Bruce and his Houdini talents. (Our Doberman had figured out how to open the latch on our front gate in order to make his “rounds” when we were out. Later when he was relegated to the garage, when we’d leave for work, he not only figured out how to open the garage door, but also how to close it. As such, he would be home “sitting pretty”, and “angelic” when we returned home.) He was too smart for his own good. Bruce was the same, which makes me wonder if a dog’s soul gets recycled. Now Bruce couldn’t reach the latch, nor squeeze through slats on the gate, or back fencing (after we shored that up), but somehow he figured out how to leap and climb the 2ft tall chicken wire to squeeze through the bars of the fence, so that he could still make his “rounds”. He took his “mayorship” seriously. He had a neighborhood to patrol, and “homebound” friends to visit. When we raised the height of the caged barrier, he tunneled under it, cleverly disguising his hole by rolling a tennis ball into the indentation of dirt, when he left, and upon his return. It was only when our daughter was home sick from school one day, that we discovered his craftiness. While moaning on the couch and wondering where her dog, that was supposed to be comforting her, was, she spied Bruce as he appeared in the neighbors yard. She watched, as he calmly shimmied under the fence and then rolled an adjacent tennis ball into the “hole”, and then trotted triumphantly back inside the house for a drink and a snack. As well as being an escape artist he was a ball chasing maniac. He would chase and retrieve a full sized tennis ball till his paws bled (if you let him). He would torment and literally mock our neighbor’s Yellow Lab (Jake) when his owner (Russ) would throw Jake’s giant tennis ball down the street. Once Bruce heard the wet “thump” of Jake’s ball on the pavement, Bruce would scratch and bark at the gate till we could “release the hound”. He would follow after Jake “smack-barking” in his face as Jake returned the ball to be thrown again. We imagined his “smack-barking” going something like this…”Dude, how you letting a little old dog beat you to the ball? Didn’t eat your kibble this morning, huh? Your big ol paws too sore? What kind of retriever are you?”. As “The Mayor” he had quite the influence on the neighborhood dogs. He even “talked” Jadie, another neighborhood Lab to pull marinating steaks off the counter of our next door neighbors (and eat them), in order to teach them (our neighbors) a lesson about keeping their garage door open. When the kids were younger and the neighborhood was filled with young families and kids, we would often play “home run derby” in front of our house. Bruce was always on the batter’s team, for once he got the ball, he would run like the wind, weaving with superior agility between every fielder (child and adult) as his “teammate” would run the bases. Often we would need to have three whiffle balls just to be able to play the game without serious interruption from Bruce and his superior fielding. Our Doberman was known to do the same thing, except the kids weren’t brave enough to chase him. Like our Doberman, he took particular delight in making male teenagers scream like “girls”, especially if they were on a skateboard. They both hated skateboarders, and made it their duty to ensure the CCRs of no skateboarding allowed, was enforced to it’s fullest. Nothing like having a furry “missile” racing toward your feet, barking ferociously for you to get off your skateboard, post haste. He was also not particularly fond of German Shepherds (with the exception of Desi, with whom he was in “love” with) or smushed faced dogs, and he let them know it. Most of all, Bruce was a great companion. When our daughter went to college, he essentially became “our” dog, a duty he took seriously as well. He insisted on sleeping in our bed (with us), as he was athletic enough to leap up onto our raised bed (no matter how many times we kicked him off). For the life of us, we could not figure out how this 10lb marvel could manage to take up so much space that we would awake at the respective edges of our bed. Interestingly enough, our Doberman would do the same thing, which further lends to my theory of “recycled” (family specific) dog souls. During the last year of his life, his athleticism declined to the point that he slept most of the day, and in the evening, on an old down blanket at the foot of our bed. When both our kids were in college, Bruce joined us on most of our outings. Although he was small, he was able to walk 6 miles-a-day, requiring only a nap, before insisting on a round of ball chasing.

He insisted on checking his neighborhood “pee-mail” each morning once I had my morning cup of coffee.

He loved road trips.IMG_20171024_152056552_HDRHe was a well loved, and traveled dog.

He was fearless. On our hunting trip to Wyoming, he took it upon himself to “shoo” away a lone cow who had wandered into our camp. Suddenly this massive bovine (compared to Bruce) was running in a serpentine pattern to escape the “wrath” of a LBD (Little Brown Dog) who was barking and nipping at its hooves as I followed (laugh-crying) in an effort to intercept Bruce before the cow could turn and stomp him to death. As luck would have it, the cow came to an abrupt stop, and the two met nose to nose. And, to my amazement, they sniffed at each other. Having caught up, I quickly picked up Bruce, as the cow turned and walked away up over the knoll, where its “friends” had been watching.

He was enamored by elk, deer and pronghorn. He was the family “sentry”. He was a remarkable dog that has left a lasting impression on us, and our family was better for having him in our lives.IMG_20170626_194939_431Rest in Peace our furry friend.

Posted in Family Dog, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Potato Chip Rock

So this post is a little past due, but relevant all the same. Walking/hiking adventures don’t have to be lengthy in distance or time, but preferably purposeful and memorable.

This “short” little jaunt checked all the boxes, especially having been shared with near “life-long” friends. It was the “brain-child” of my friend Sandy (aka. “Pole Dancer” of Half Dome “fame”). While she is not truly a fan of long distance hiking, she is a fan of challenges and adventures.

Potato Chip Rock located on Mt. Woodson summit, in Poway California, with an ascent of 2130 ft. from Lake Poway, which then puts you at around 2846 ft. in elevation once you get to Potato Chip Rock.  This was “bucket list” item of sorts. Potato Chip Rock is a fractured rock formation that creates an illusion of being suspended over an abyss whilst standing on a giant “potato chip” (no flavor specified). It is the apex of a series of trails in and around Lake Poway, with tremendous popularity for both the “locals” and “curiosity” hikers, of which we fell into. After much “negotiation” within our “Vintage” women’s water polo group/team of schedules and availability, an early Friday morning in December was selected wherein, sadly, only 5 of our group could attend. Having researched several other blog posts that succinctly describe this hike, we knew that setting out rather early in the morning would insure a higher probability of less “congestion” on the trail and specifically at our destination. Also, an early morning ascent would provide for more favorable temperature(s) to hike in, as this area of Poway is significantly drier and warmer than hiking in/near San Clemente.

Up and early we rally at Pole Dancer’s abode and make the nearly 60 mile drive to Lake Poway as the sun is beginning to rise. Within the hour, we pull into the parking lot of Lake Poway (14644 Lake Poway Rd., Poway CA 92064) and are pleasantly surprised there is no one to collect a fee for parking at this early hour. As this trail is “dog friendly”, our friend Erin has brought her dog to accompany us.  A “potty break”, to off-load the morning’s ritual consumption of coffee, is in order.  As with all trails, we begin this trek (leaving from the restroom) with an uphill, that then leads to a downhill, to the trail, and then an ever-climbing uphill to Potato Chip Rock.  The air is brisk, for our So-Cal standards, but we are thankful that, although it will warm up, it will not be a scorching hot day.

 

As we march up the wide, well-maintained dirt trail we break off into cascading conversations, and admire the unobstructed views of the surrounding hillsides and Pacific Ocean in the near distance. We wonder why in college we never ventured here, but then realize that most of our recreation involved alcohol or aquatic related activities. Soon the trail narrows and stair-steps upwards, leaving us at times breathless with thighs-a-burning.

When we reach Potato Chip Rock we are relieved that there is not a crowd. Each of us make our way up and onto the “edge” of the rock with varied degrees of required effort, both physically and mentally.

One’s choice of ascent and/or descent is either a “squeeze/shimmy” between two boulders, or a “short” leap, of sorts, from atop the adjacent boulder onto the bottom edge of Potato Chip rock (and visa versa).

My fear of heights and self-constrained “leaping” ability required I squeeze/shimmy and literally crawl to the rock’s edge, all the while with concentrated breathing and encouragement from the now growing crowd waiting “patiently” for me to succeed.

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Some did better than others.img_1293-1

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Once photo-ops are taken, we have a snack and admire the view from another vantage point slightly down the trail, before heading back to our vehicles and the rest of our Friday.

This of course, was not without a 2moremiles “obligatory”, and unintended, detour that required us to retrace our steps, which we chalked up to inattention and just plain jabbering, thus rounding out our 7 mile trek to an “even” 8 miles.

I will say, unequivocally, that I am blessed to have such good friends who are willing to join me (occasionally) on my adventures, however “misguided” they may be.  In fact, planning for the next adventure has already begun…we just need it to “dry out” a bit!

 

Posted in Day Hikes, fun with friends, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Weather much? (Final installment of November, Wyoming pheasant hunt)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Things got a little hectic and busy when we got back from our Wyoming trip, so here’s the last installment of that adventure.  In fact, I have at least two others from last year to post, which I will do next week.  In any event, I expect 2019 to be filled with many “mini” adventures, and if all goes well, 2020 will see us hiking the CDT (Continental Divide Trail).

So on with our story…

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If you don’t like the weather, wait a day…it might get worse (or better). Each day we spent in South Dakota, the weather presented us with the exact opposite of the day before. Our first day in South Dakota was grey, cold, wet and windy. Our second day was windy and cold, but clear sunny skies. Day three gave us no wind, with bright warm sunshine to take the edge off the cold. Day four we awoke to snow on the ground. I think the only constant for us was the fact that it was COLD everyday…compared, of course, to San Clemente’s balmy average of 72 degrees year round. Traveling cross country and recreating in different states of our diverse and great nation always serves to put things into perspective and increase the appreciation factor for the hardships (and frankly the sheer grit) the pioneers who settled this land had. AND, an even greater appreciation for the ancient Native Peoples way of life. Throughout this trip I looked in earnest for, and couldn’t help but imagine the hundreds of thousands of buffalo that once thundered across these vast parries of South Dakota, now essentially replaced by cattle. I asked Roy why more people don’t raise buffalo, seeing as it is a rising trend in red meat consumption for those wanting leaner meats. “Fences” was his answer. For cattle, the three wire fences are demarcation walls as to where they can “roam”. For buffalo, they are not even “suggestions”. If you want to understand the essence of roaming, think buffalo. They are big, strong, and will go where they please, fence or no fence. Electric fencing seems to be the only way to contain them…temporarily, and that is not cost effective for most ranchers who often have thousands of acres of fencing to maintain. While on this trip I also came to a better appreciation of those hearty souls who choose to grow our food and raise the cattle we consume. It’s a hard life. It won’t necessarily make you financially wealthy (by SoCal, or even “big city” standards), but it is certainly purposeful and fulfilling for those I talked with. These people are “salt of the earth”.

With our hunting adventure “over”, we packed up, said our goodbyes, and hit the road…slowly. We were gonna hunt every edge of South Dakota we could, in a blizzard if we had to. As snow fell lightly all around us, we made our way down the county roads, and eventually to pavement and highways, where creeping along at 20 mph is frowned upon. We, are sad to report that we were not successful in our “road hunting”. Turns out though, that our slow perusal may have saved us from disaster. Before we left the county roads and soon lost cell signal, we failed to check where the nearest/next gas station would be. We are used to one every 5 -20 miles or so, and therefore thought nothing of it. This is not the case when you are traveling across South Dakota, and thus, we had set ourselves up for abject failure. By the time we noticed our fuel gauge, it was at less than 1/4 tank, and we were driving into a hearty headwind through the now immensely rolling hills of South Dakota. Paul reduced our speed to 55mph, which got us some strange looks from those who passed us on a roadway posted 70mph. I’m sure they saw the California plates and thought…”Well that explains everything”. We did the math in our heads, and made rough estimates as to how much fuel we still had and its possible range, give or take 5 – 10 miles with the headwind (using an average of 17-22 mpg). By the time we got cell service and could map our next gas station, the needle had just entered the reserve zone, (of which we had no idea, actually how much of the 19.3 gallons of fuel remained, via our analog fuel gauge).  This meant we had either 2 gallons or 5 gallons remaining, as for when the needle “rests” on reserve, it has been known to sit there for quite some time without moving.

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By now, we were at the point of no return for we surely didn’t have enough fuel to go back to Faith (60 miles), and neither were we confident we had sufficient fuel to make it to Newell, let alone get picked up hitch-hiking to and from a gas station on this sparsely traveled highway. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we had no choice but to deal with whatever was going to happen, and began to pray (a lot) for at least a mini “miracle”…wherein we could coast within 2 -5 miles of the gas station. 35 miles to go, the fuel gauge was at the “empty” end of the reserve marker. 25 miles to go, it read “empty”. 15 miles to go, we were sure we were on “fumes”, and would soon be getting more than enough exercise. 9 miles and we are still rolling. 7, and we can see the outskirts of a town. 5 miles, and our prayers for a miracle have evolved into ones of thanksgiving. 2 miles and we creep into town and make the left turn towards the town’s only two gas stations. With the gas station in sight, our tank has been on “empty” for at least 25 miles, and our car has yet to sputter to stop. We are more than relieved and overjoyed. Our prayers had been answered. I’m not just saying this, but this was truly a miracle, for even without a headwind and rolling hills, we should have run out of gas miles ago. Paul pulls into the first gas station and checks the fuel price (like it should matter at this point!).  The one across the way is 3 cents cheaper per gallon, and to my amazement he continues to the next gas station.  I fully expect the car to die in the middle of the road, having now truly pushed our luck, but thankfully it doesn’t.  We fill the tank. 19.3 gallons. Bone dry! From here we zero out the “trip gauge”, and enter into “nerd zone”. Math will be done. Physics formulas will be utilized. Theories will be tested. We have another 1200 miles till we’re home. We should have a more than educated guess as to what constitutes a half/quarter and what even the “reserve” tank means, fuel and mileage wise. South Dakota turns into Wyoming, and as we enter Wyoming and head south along the I-85 we are treated (and tormented) by giant sized mule deer peacefully grazing in enourmous herds…on PRIVATE land! We pull to the side of the road and admire them from afar with our binoculars. Our destination is Cheyenne, Wyoming, or there abouts. Prior to reaching the outskirts of Cheyenne, I spy what I think is an elk standing majestically in full view on the opposite side of the road from us, as if it was a fullsize trophy mount you’d see in Cabela’s or Bass Pro. As we look closer and pass the animal, it is NOT an elk but the largest (monster) mule deer we have ever seen…including Cabela’s. We pull to the side of the road and turn around, hoping to get a better look and ideally take a picture. he, however, had turned tail and headed into a draw and out of camera view. We watched mournfully as he shepherded his herd back into the folds of the prairie, in awe of what we had seen.

Seeing as my father had turned us onto a discount camping membership, Passport America, we decided to price check the campgrounds in that area, as our normal option to camp on Forest Service or BLM land was really not much of an option by then. We chose the Terry Bison Ranch RV park . The price was good, we should see buffalo…finally, and it had a famous resturant, where Teddy Roosevelt is said to have dined.

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The food was good, but a little pricey…for our tastes. As the check-in office was closed we wandered the camping facility, that was remarkably packed with what appeared to be long term RV campers. We found a “secluded” campsite in which to pitch our tent, and ended up with a bit of frostnip on our fingers by the time we were done. Paul placed the packages of our pheasant on the roof of our car to ensure that they would remain frozen for the next leg of our trip home. Scrunched down into our co-joined sleeping bags (the beauty of having Western Moutaineering bags, one right zip and the other left zip) we listened to an oldtime radio drama, about some man who felt the need to “escape” his wife who was too “adoring” and “needy”, only later to drown her and marry this other gal, who was just as “needy” but then discovered that the spirit of the wife he drowned had assumed the body of the woman he had recently married…bum, bum, bummm. Of course this led to fantastical dreams that oddly enough included a train.

As light invaded our tent, so too did the sounds of the freeway and hordes of geese. What is it with Wyoming and geese? We unzip our tent and now realize we are within 100 yards of the freeway, and imagine that…railroad tracks (that explains the train). At least 100 geese patter about less than 25 yards from us, with more coming in. Our breath clouds before us as we exhale. Our tent, the pheasants on our roof, and our picnic table are coated in a crystaline frost. We pack up quickly and head to the shower room to thaw out and dress. We pay our fee ($25), at the now open office, staffed by California ex-pats who will be experiencing their first Wyoming winter…(good luck with that), and are on our way. Soon we exit Wyoming, and with the appearance of Fort Collins, Colorado, civilization in a concentrated and polished form smacks us in the face. Starbucks, Costco, Macy’s, REI, with all manner of strip malls and fancy big box stores, and people. Lots of people, and lots of cars. What a difference 15 miles makes.

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We continue from the I-25 to I-70 as we weave through a portion of the Rocky’s and drool over the ski areas we pass. We initially were headed to Moab, Utah where we were to meet up with a friend of ours from our 2014 PCT adventure, “Hemlock”, who is now a National Park Interpretive Ranger. Unfortunately we got our signals crossed, and she is headed on a 2-day backpack trip, so we vow to reschedule a visit with her. From the I-70 we decide to take a road, certainly less traveled on our way to Panguitch Utah, via the I-72. We have the road to ourselves and with daylight dimming we pull off the road at Forsyth Reservior and have the campground (with a USFS pit toilet) all to ourselves, complete with a plethra of perfectly aged/dried wood for a warming campfire to dine beside and “warm-up” before turning in. The skies are absent any clouds as day melts into night. Here there is no “light pollution” to mask the brilliance of Milky Way and bright white stars above us. It is perfectly quiet, save for our voices, as we speak in hushed tones. In no time the temperature drops wherein warmth of the fire is worthless, unless of course you are standing directly in it. How did the pioneers survive this?

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Morning comes in brisk fashion. Our FJ’s outisde temperature guage registers 17 degrees. Of that we would concur. The still frozen birds atop our roof are retrieved and replaced in our cooler. Hot coffee and slightly frozen day old donuts are this morning’s breakfast. Panguitch Lake, and a Forest Service dirt road (Horse Valley Rd) to the Red Creek Reservior to survey the previous season’s fire damage are this day’s goal. Once again we have the highway to ourselves. Wildlife, with the exception of cattle is sparse. Open pastures turn into narrow canyons accompanied by even narrower streams and abandonned homesteader cabins in various degrees of decay. Prior to Panguitch we come upon the Robert Leroy Parker family homestead. Robert Parker, you ask? What’s the significance, and why would the Park service make this a landmark Historical site? Robert Parker, was more famously known as BUTCH CASSIDY of southwest OUTLAW fame, and the memorable highly embellished movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid“.

It is a small historical park, in the process of renovation, complete with a restroom. Old pictures on site show that this area was once lush with vegetation, which helps answer ‘who the hell would decide to live/homestead here’ for goodness sake. A quick wander about the premises and voyeristic gander at the the one-room house and out-barn, and we are on our way once more. It is interesting to see from where this notorious outlaw hailed, and begs to question, at what point in ones life does one turn from a cute little kid with smiles and wonderment to a life of crime.

We stop at the only open diner in Panguitch, who’s coffee was horrible, but their buttermilk biscuts more than made up for it! From Panguitch lake we turn off onto Horse Valley road make the bumpy run to Red Creek, where we normally deer hunt out of. In 2017 a massive fire, sparked from a knucklehead burning trash on private property…on a windy day. It consumed 72 square miles, to include a good portion of the area we hunt in. We wanted to scout it out, and survey the remaining habitat to see if putting in for the next year’s draw would be worthwhile. This fire was hot and vicious as the fuel levels where at a historic high, as conservancies that “oversaw” the area(s) had failed to properly maintain the forest (as it had been done in the past) and remove/thin the trees and the thick underbrush, believing (mistakenly) that it was “better” for the wildlife for the area to stay “natural”. The thick underbrush ensured that trees that would normally survive a forest fire, for the most part, didn’t. Vast swaths of once healthy trees were transformed into groves of “widow-makers”, with the soil beneath them sterilized by the intense heat leaving the ground still barren of vegetation over one year later. We were, however, happy to see that the area we normally hike into had escaped being ravaged by the fire. We had thought we would camp a Red Creek, but the day was still “young” and the wind had just started to howl, so we pushed on toward home. We wrestled with the idea of driving all the way home, but thought better of it, so just outside of St. George we decided to try our luck at Quail Creek State Park, as opposed to Sand Hallow State Park where we had camped the first night out on this hunting roadtrip.

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It was nice pulling into a spot early for a change, and setting up with actual daylight and warmth. We had brought the rest of the wood from the previous night with us, and were further supplemented by a “neighbor” who was pulling up stakes to avoid the coming wind event/storm(50-70mph) forecasted for early afternoon the next day. We wondered if we should do the same, but elected not to as we would be on the road fairly early anyways, and we didn’t have a trailer to contend with.

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The evening’s air was blissfully “warm”, which allowed us to actually enjoy our evening’s campfire and the remainder of our adult beverages in improvised “cups”.

As the sun rose the next morning, we were further awakened by the intermittent shudder of our tent and banging of the vestibule door. It appears that the wind event was arriving a bit earlier than expected. By the time we packed up and were on the road, a red haze had filled the air. In the distance we can see Sand Hallow state park where we had considered camping, and are immensely glad we listened to that “little voice” prompting us to pull into Quail Creek in the first place. In the near distance, a gritty red “fog” hovers over Sand Hallow State Park. We could only imagine what it would have been like in a tent…at 4 in the morning. We head west bound on the I-15 with a hearty head-wind, reminiscent of “Windyoming“, reducing our gas mileage significantly. As we exit Las Vegas and cross into California, the winds continue. “Arson weather”, we remark to each other, not knowing that two significant and historically devestating fires are currently raging in their second day of chaos; the “Camp Fire” that wiped out the town of Paradise (killing 86 people, and leaving many more homeless), and the Woolsey Fire in the Simi Valley area that would later reach into Malibu and race toward the Pacific Ocean consuming practically everything in its way.

We arrived home to hazy skies and the acrid smell of smoke in the air. A bitter-sweet return from a memorable trip, thankful that our family was safe and free from harm’s way, yet knowing that hundreds, if not thousands, of people’s lives had now been turned upside down whilst we were out recreating.

A reminder to Count your blessings…daily.

 

Posted in Car camping, Exploring Utah, Hunting Adventures, Mini Adventures, Road Trips, South Dakota, Uncategorized, Utah, Wyoming | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pheasants gone Wild!

Sleep came quickly, and the beauty of sleeping in allowed Jody to cook up some pancakes before we were to brave this day’s brisk 17 degrees!  Unlike the day before, the wind is mostly absent, and the sun is bright with skies clear of foreboding clouds.  img_20181107_101653099We bundle up, and even though it has “warmed” up to 19 degrees, it feels significantly warmer than the day before.  Most of us are surprised to find ourselves somewhat sore in the “groinal” area, and tops of our thighs.  It feels like we did a 10,000 yard swim set, all of which was kicking.  Apparently wading through thick vegetation for a couple miles will do that to ya.

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We load up in our vehicles and follow “Chuck” and his dog “Sam” to this morning’s hunt location.  Chuck tells us that in South Dakota (during hunting season) we can have our shotguns in the passenger seat with rounds in the magazine (NOT in the chamber) just in case we spy a bird along the way to our field.  Awesome!  In earnest we all scan the edges of the roadway as we drive.  On the way we bag one bird, standing on the roadside.

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We arrive at one of Roy’s fields (he has 12,000 acres as a 5th generation “Homesteader”) and pile out of our vehicles.  This walk will be about a mile.  Once vehicles are shuttled to the end of the row, we begin.  No sooner does Chuck release his dog and give her the command, “find the bird, Sam”, Sam flushes one up and it is taken down quickly. We miss the next two that are flushed and then the next three, Sam catches herself and brings them back to us.  I’m a little annoyed, but then I think, ‘this dog is smarter than all of us’.  In her dog brain she must be thinking, “it’s f@$^%$g cold out, and if these numbskulls keep missing, I’m gonna freeze my nuts off, if I had them”.  Hence the capture of the next three.  Back on track, we take down another 4 birds, one of which includes a perfect shot…mine.

img_20181112_185344All head, no body.  No pellets to pick out of the meat.

img_20181107_114538736_hdrPaul is the first one with a limit, and the rest of us quickly follow.  Within an hour and having only to walk a mile, we all have our limit.

It is 1130 am!  Now what to do?  We head back, clean the birds and have lunch.  The boys are going to try their luck with varmits…coyotes to be exact.  Even though they are a “nuisance” animal, I won’t shoot anything I won’t eat…unless it tries to kill me or my dog. Jody and I on the other hand, will go back to yesterday’s field and try our luck at grouse and partridge in the lower cut area of the field.

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Can you find the pheasant in the picture?

We kick up, and are startled by a dozen “flying footballs” (Hungarian Partridges), with no time to get a shot off.  Those things fly a zillion miles an hour…away from you, land a tenth of a mile away from you and then run another 100 yards away.  We (I) discover that without a dog, this is futile, but it is better than sitting on our butts at the Lodge.  We then take on the task of finding and stalking as many pheasant as we can.  With mild success.

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Often it is a “Where’s Waldo” kind of event.

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Find the bird…

Even though we have our limit, nothing says that I can’t shoot pictures of them.  Eventually one “poses” for us.

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This occupies the bulk of the afternoon, and we somewhat fullfill our most daunting and ridiculous task…take a “selfie” with a live, and uncooperative, lone pheasant.

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This was the best we could do.

After more than enough fun and laughter in the quickly “cooling” afternoon, we return to the lodge to catch the boys returning empty handed,

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and, a marvelous sunset.

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Pretty birds…and tasty too!

Now we originally were supposed to have a guide and his dog for the two days of pheasant hunting, however this morning is Election Day (we mailed in our ballots) and our guide is working in Minnesota as voting “officer”. This however will not prevent or hinder this morning’s hunt. We’ll do it the “old fashioned way” and walk as a line in the partially mowed millet fields we have driven to. There are 4-5 strips of standing millet nearly a mile long each. We will walk into the wind, that is blowing 20-25 mph. img_20181106_102418296_hdrWhen we stepped out of our car, the temperature read 26 degrees, so with windchill it had to be a brisk -4 degrees. Good thing we’ve been in worse and are actually going to be moving as opposed to sitting in these conditions.

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Roy drops us at the east end of the crop rows where we spread out 5 yards apart and begin to wade westward into the wind through the mostly thigh high dried vegetation.

Who needs a dog when you’ve got the five of us. In no time, Paul literally kicks up a pheasant and brings it down with ease. Okay we think, at least we won’t be skunked. I run into the next two, who refuse to fly, so I take them where they sit. 15 more and we will all have our limit for the day. In South Dakota your daily bag limit is 3 pheasant, all of which must be roosters (males). As we are from out of state, we are allowed a total of 10 days of which we can hunt, divided into two 5 consecutive day periods during the season. The most we can have in our possession for this 5 day period would be 15 birds, but then we’d have to hunt here for 5 days. At the price we are being charged, that is NOT going to happen. Besides we don’t have that much freezer space. We finish the first row, with everyone having bagged at least one pheasant. Matt’s bird is actually 1/2 of one.  When the bird flushed, it got caught up in a gust of wind that pushed it directly up and over the top of Matt.  His shot (the pellets) had no time to disperse, and as such, literally blew the bird in half, the remains of which then rained down on my face.  Thank goodness I was wearing shooting glasses!  Once at the end of the row, Roy picks us up and transports us back to the east end once more for us to walk the next row. From the bed of the truck, the boys spy two more pheasant, which now completes Paul’s limit. Matt now has an intact bird.  I spy another and fill my limit.

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The next row, Kenny, Paul and I are the “bird dogs” and attempt to spot and flush birds for Matt and Brian. Brian fills his limit.  On the drive back down to the next row, Matt got his last bird.

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Not bad for 4 hours and about 3 miles of walking through millet fields.

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Now time for Roy to go back to Ranch work and us (the boys) to clean the birds and bag them for the freezer.

Birds in the freezer, and time for us to thaw out…with some celebratory Whisky! Tomorrow’s hunt will include a guide and his dog, and even colder temperatures.

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South Dakota

Alright, continued from Windyoming…

So staying in a hotel was a good idea. It rained all night and got down way below 20 degrees, which is what my bag is rated to, so that and hot shower made it an even better decision. After our complementary hot breakfast with “endless” coffee, we were on our way. “Martha” our directions app, failed to alert us to our first option that would take us to Faith, South Dakota, and from there to the hunting “lodge” (Grand River Lodge) where we would be hunting pheasant out of for the next two days. I think it had to do with the fact Paul had “muted” her when she insisted on re-routing us each time we made a turn out of the Cabela’s parking lot (in Rapid City, SD) on our way to the hotel last night. She had been unmuted, but to spite us failed to “speak up”.

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Thus having missed our initial turn, we were relegated to her “alternate route”. We have found that back-tracking to take the “original” route usually results in a few “dead–ends” just to remind us that “she/Martha” often holds our fate. As such, “she” took us on an alternate route over well maintained, yet unpaved, and now muddy, county roads. While I’m sure this was the “longer” route, it was by far the most scenic for us. We passed through wide ranging ranch land, most of which having been staked out as homesteads during the push of civilization to the West in the late 1800’s. Rolls of hay and fields of smaller faced sunflowers (used for oil and harvested once they reach below 15% moisture) bracket our moistened roadway.

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Rivers/streams carve whimsical ribbons in the landscape.

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White butts scamper away, knowing full well they are within our range. Lucky for them, this is strickly a Pheasant hunt.

White butts of mule deer with massive racks taunt us whilst in the folds of the landscape where it seems the remaining trees survive or flourish. The wind is more than brisk, and nothing less than bone chilling. Eventually we arrive in Faith where we do our grocery shopping for this hunting adventure.

This mural is adjacent the LynnMart (Grocery store)…and where the liquor store is located

The distinct smell of 8000 cattle and the echo of an auctioneer can be heard over the roar of the wind. We complete our shopping, and looked for a liquor store in order to complete our resupply. Here, liquor is sold separately from food items, and next door to the market is the town’s liquor store, “Package Liquor”. I walk to the store’s door while Paul loads our groceries. The door is locked. It is well past noon, on a Monday, so I’m a little perplexed. Then I read the sign. “Monday – Thursday 8-4, call this number”. Of course the area code is not listed, but I have 4G and can look it up. I call the number, and the woman on the end of the line answers, “Faith City Hall”. I tell her I’m from outta town and the sign on the liquor store said to call this number. “Oh, you’re at Package Liquor, we’ll send someone down to open it up for you”. 10 min later “Patti” arrives. Paul being the comedian, asks her if she is the Mayor, seeing she was coming from City Hall. She chuckles, “No, I just work at City Hall.” Having selected our “poison” we make our purchase and continue to talk. We ask about the area and its industry, and of course…hunting. She graciously offers us names of local ranchers, including her and her husband that allow hunters on their property…some for a fee, others for none. Once done, we call and check in with our friends to see where they are. We are all within an hour or so of each other and plan on meeting at “Flat Creek Rd.”, which according to Martha does not exist. Not to worry, we have no problem talking to “strangers” and asking directions. We drive over a bridge called “Flat Creek” and figure the road must be somewhere close. In actuality it is, but it takes us several passes of said road to figure that out, as it has no road sign posted. “Martha” eventually points the way. We wait in an icy wind, and talk with local ranchers who pass by, asking if we are okay…or lost, considering our California plates. One particular rancher, Gary, stops and spends considerable time helping us figure out where we are supposed to go. We talk hunting, and he tells us that the pheasant population is down nearly 90%, due to the drought conditions they have been experiencing the past few years. Uh Oh! This explains why Brian’s friends told them they recently came back with nothing from their North Dakota pheasant trip. Gary talked of times when they’d get 200 birds a season…each! Heck, we only want 15 between the two of us. Gary assures us that we’ll be able to come home with something, as he is familiar with the Grand River Lodge, and Roy the property owner. img_20181105_153048729

With the sun beginning to set, and proper directions, we “saddle up” and “wagon train” it to the Grand River Lodge. (Turns out that the website directions are correct, Kenny had transposed the numbers on the address, hence our befuddlement and “Martha’s” crazy directions)

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Through a gate or two and a half an hour later we pull up to a compound with three separate houses, one of which is the “Lodge” we will be staying at for the next three nights. A sign on the door asks that we remove our boots.  How’d they know our boots would be muddy?! We enter the building and find it sparsely appointed, but not lacking in necessities. The seven of us have the place (which sleeps 12) to ourselves. Excellent! We pick our rooms complete with twin (think dorm room) beds with RealTree camo comforters and pillows. Yup. This is a lodge for hunters. Once unloaded we make our dinner (we have chosen the “no frills” package). Roy comes by after finishing his Ranch chores, saying he’ll come by around 10am and take us out to where we are going to hunt for pheasant. 10 am? Could this get any better? Normally we are up at the ungodly hour of 4am to prepare for the day’s hunt. I could get used to this hunting hour, and then I learn that you can’t hunt the pheasant here until after 10am. Either way, it’s a morning “win” for me. Hopefully it will “warm” up a bit by then, cause it’s 19 degrees now!

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Windyoming (Wyoming)

You know when you are in the mountains gaining elevation because your ears “pop”. You know you’re in Wyoming when you open your car door and it nearly rips out of your grasp. The wind, like taxes and death is a truism here. A Conoco gas station, with an obvious sense of humor had banners posted, “Free Wind”, which we thought odd at first…and then we got out of the car! As such, we were treated to as much “Free Wind” as we could take, while fueling up and stretching our legs, before we retreated back to the still air of our car’s interior. We are on our way to South Dakota for a pheasant hunting trip with our deer hunting clan, a 3-plus days drive. Normally we would be deer hunting, but alas we were not successful in our draws for the opportunity to hunt in either Utah or Wyoming. Being the cheap SOB’s that we are, we camped the night before in Utah at Sand Hollow State Park, an OHV and fishing park. We lucked out and arrived just before the entrance gates closed (and are locked) at 9pm. We were directed by the Ranger (after paying the $25 “primative”camping fee) to “camp anywhere on the sand” to our left, after the “three flags”. Just after the flags, we drove off-road onto the rust colored red sand dunes crisscrossed with narrow ATV tracks, and thought better of setting up in this area. Upon returning to the park road we consulted the park map and meandered further down the now dirt road where we made a hopeful left turn onto a sandy, brush flanked, path that we hoped led to the water’s edge. A maze of paths carved into the sand and brush appeared before us. A left turn, a right turn, another left and a right. Watch us get ourselves lost we laughed, and suddenly the soft, rutted, sandy path opens to a flat opening with a shiny aluminum picnic table and the water’s edge. We took this as a sign, that we had “arrived”, and set up camp. In the near distance we could hear the sound of ATVs motoring about, and see their headlights where we had originally pulled off, and were pleased with our decision.

After an “okay” nights sleep, we pack up and hit the road. Wyoming is this day’s destination. Just after night fall we make it to the North Platte River, famous for it’s rainbow trout fly fishing. We find a BLM campground called Pete’s Draw. The campsites are gianormous and flat…like most of Wyoming. The North Platte River meanders below us.

We set up underneath the permanent awning just in case the approaching storm arrives a little earlier, as would be our luck. The temperature guage of my FJ read 38°…and because our truck is “broken” we, as the night before, are relegated to tent camping. Joy. Joy. We, however, are prepared for cold weather… mostly. We set up quickly, then fire up the JetBoil for a steaming hot Mountain House meal. It is pitch dark, and ironically, we have 4G reception…go figure. We listen to a radio app on Paul’s phone as we eat, and notice that there is not a breath of wind. Ah yes, the calm before the storm. It appears that there will now be a high probability of no fishing for me tomorrow morning. Grrr. We crawl into our tent as the temperature drops to freezing. As is customary, and inevitable, at my age, I soon awake uncomfortably cold, and realize it’s time to pee. Clumbsly I exit the tent and am treated to a clear sky full of stars, milky way and all. Once my bladder is relieved, I gaze skyward and drink in the splendor of the night’s twinkling tapestry until literally frozen with delight. Back into “bed” I crawl, where sleep returns once I thaw out. I awake once more near 4am to the vestibule door, that we failed to stake down, flapping violently against my head. Yup, no fly fishing today I confirm to myself, and fall back to sleep.

Those little “dots” are geese

Soon the morning’s sunrise, and the incessant honking of geese beckons us to arise. The wind gusts through our campsite, reminding us that, yes, we are in Wyoming. For us, it is bitter cold. It is near freezing with the wind chill, and our exposed fingers are rendered near useless as we fumble to take down our tent and pack up. A hot cup of coffee, a day old donut and a freezing splash of water on our faces, and we are on our way once more, taking note to return earlier next year and fish to our hearts delight. As we head towards Casper, we check to see if we can make the Sunday morning mass. We arrive at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, just in time for the 830 service. We find it ironic that we have driven all this way and end up at an Our Lady of Fatima, of which we too have in our town. After church, we scan the church bulletin, and take notice of the Knights of Columbus “Annual Gun-A-Week raffle”, and chuckle. For the briefist of moments we imagine moving here. Nope! Too much wind. It makes my hair all staticy…drives me nuts. We remark to each other how different the recreational culture is between here and our home. Our Parrish’s Knights of Columbus raffle giant TV’s and surfboards. Back on the road once more, we traverse the wide open countryside dotted with oil rigs and pronghorn. Periodically, at intersections, rail crossing style gate arms stand tall biding their time till the winter snows call them into action and their purpose as road sentries.

Blonde rolling plains of knee high grass eventually morph into jutting rust red plateaus and soon black dirt and the forested knolls of the Black Hills of South Dakota appear. Signs for Devil’s Tower National Park alert us to a possible side trip, but for us it is too cold and the skies are too grey and dreary to make that an enjoyable side trip, at least for now. A rain/snow storm is a-coming and once we reach Rapid City South Dakota hotel points will be redeemed.

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