Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

August 16, 2013

Monsoon on the Conejos (3) Pagosa Springs & Assorted Mushroom Thoughts

Boletus edulis in the Wet Mountains
Saturday the 10th was our last full day of the camping trip. I put away the fly rods and picked more mushrooms (and wild strawberries) on Cumbres Pass, then drove on west through Chama, N.M, to Pagosa Springs.

I had planned to be in Pagosa the previous weekend for a state-sponsored fire class, but it was cancelled, so this was sort of a consolation visit.

In Pagosa, the weather was warm, and the San Juan River was running high and brown. Tubing outfitters were busy shuttling their customers to the east side of town so that they could ride down past the city park and the mineral springs, where the terraces were crowded with bathers.

In the midst of this "rubber hatch," I saw one guy casting a spinning rod. I thought of congratulating him for upholding the archetype of the always-optimistic fisherman, but he gave up and walked away.

We visited a couple of thrift stores—nothing exciting—where does all the outdoor gear go?—and then had a late lunch/early supper at the Riff-Raff brew pub ("Hoppy people. Hoppy earth").

I reckoned that my cabrito burger with Hatch green chiles was sort of quasi-locavore-ish.

It rained steadily most of the way back to the campground.

The next morning I observed a mulie doe moving strangely through the woods. She had her nose down like a dog following a scent trail.

Was she eating mushrooms? I had picked a few in that area, mostly Suillis  ("slippery jacks"). I tried to follow, but I could not get too close without spooking her, and there were a lot of spruce boughs in the way.

I did see some Suillis that had been scraped by what looked like a deer's lower incisors (Deer don't have upper incisors.) Were there fewer mushrooms than before? Not sure.

Two days later, having done well on a mushroom hunt closer to home, M. and I were easing down a rough forest road in the Jeep when we saw a squirrel wrestling — or something — in the road. It turned out to be trying to carry the stem of a Boletus edulis ("king bolete"), which was nearly as big as it was.

Yesterday M. was walking Fisher on lead down the driveway when he dashed into the oak brush, dragging her along. He had scented another bolete, one unfortunately past its prime. It was probably another Boletus chrysenteron, which grows under oaks, like the one he snarfed off the kitchen counter a few days ago.

Does this mean that he might have a talent for finding good mushrooms? If the French have truffle-sniffing dogs, could we have a Southern Rockies bolete-sniffing dog? Further research is required.

August 12, 2013

The So-Called Romance of Steam

Cumbres & Toltec train on Cumbres Pass. The white cloud is steam from the whistle.
I like trains and take Amtrak rather than an airplane whenever possible, but I do not partake of the "romance of steam."

Ride one of these steam-powered trains, and you quickly understand why nineteenth-century people wore a lot of black. Once they put glass in the car windows, people then had a choice between no ventilation and breathing sooty smoke while wearing cinders too.

But maybe the fascination with steam comes from its being almost as understandable as animals.

Combine fire and water and you have steam, and then it works those big external pistons, and chuff chuff chuff, the locomotive goes down the track.

M. and I were driving up Colorado 17 on Saturday, and despite the two hours of rain at our nearby campsite the night before, she suddenly stiffened: "Is that a fire?"

No, it was the excursion train puffing away as it sat on the pass, one of the stops on its scenic interstate route.

To recreate nineteenth-century industry even better, find yourself in downtown Durango on a wintry day with a thermal inversion as that steam train leaves the station, filling street after street with coal smoke. Then multiply times fifty.

September 09, 2012

On the Road: Glenwood Springs, 2

Footbridge at right crosses Colorado River, I-70.
Another historic hotel in Glenwood Springs is the Hotel Denver, which as the advantage of being right across the street from the Amtrak station. And next door to the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company, which pairs good microbrews that is, well, hearty.

I like the compactness of central Glenwood. It looks like you could hike right out of down — or soak at the hot springs, catch the train,  dodge bears while geocaching (a frequent occurrence according to one cache log), or just dream that you were having a whiskey with Teddy Roosevelt.

September 08, 2012

On the Road: Glenwood Springs, 1

Despite the fact that they are thoroughly modern businesses where you make your reservation online, some old hotels manage to retain the feeling of being an eddy in the stream of time. The Plaza in Las Vegas, New Mexico, is one — but then the whole old plaza might be a major eddy in itself. (So is the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, NM.)

Another one is the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs, which is only slightly more expensive than staying in some plastic-and-OSB-board Quality Inn or the like.
Hotel Colorado on left, Hot Springs Lodge on the right.
Teddy Roosevelt slept here, as did President Taft, Molly Brown and to my surprise, Al Capone and some of his pals. (I thought Capone had his R&R in the Upper Midwest or maybe Florida—but the hot springs here have long been famous.)

Shady courtyard, Hotel Colorado

Reception desk. The taxidermied bear cub is original.

Part of the lobby at night.

TR slept here.

Wing of the ground floor, looking on to the courtyard.

Teddy Roosevelt cartoons.

June 25, 2012

Route 66 Still Attracts Travelers

Your tax dollars at work: there is federal money available for restoring businesses along the "mother road."

And you can still trace U.S. 66 when no one steals the signs. There are tips for driving it.

And then there was that television show with the two guys in the Corvette. Wounded veterans ...

I plan to hit the part around Joplin and Springfield, Mo., later this fall.

April 18, 2012

Levitating Ghost Trains of Pueblo

Sitting quietly in an old industrial area of Pueblo, Colorado, on West D Street, one of the "gee-whiz" technologies of the 1970s quietly rusts away.

Here, behind a chain-link fence and some fading signage, rest the prototype Rohr Industries Aerotrain and the Grumman TACRV (Tracked Levitated Research Vehicle).

When I visit Pueblo, I often stop at a coffeehouse about three blocks away, but had it not been for a geocache, I would never have known of their existence. Here is how they came to be there.

Nose of the Rohr Industries Aerotrain. No windshield—the "pilot" watched a video screen. Skirting kept in the compressed air under the train, while the vertical monorail kept it on the track.
Finding them was like driving to the airport by a different route and suddenly discovering a derelict zeppelin hangar. What is that

Both "tracked air-cushion vehicles" were designed to float on cushions of compressed air rather than wheels, which potentially offered speeds as high as 300 mph. In the 1970s, both underwent testing at the Transport Technology Center northeast of Pueblo.

The Rohr Aerotrain was a single, streamlined unit with a pilot compartment in front and passenger seating toward the rear. See it and other similar vehicles on this Aerotrain website.

It was a sort of monorail, to be powered by electricity from its track.
Grumman TACRV. You can see the turbine engine air intakes to the rear. The look reminds me of its contemporary, the Space Shuttle.
The Grumman vehicle, in contrast, would run in a sort of concrete trench, pulling hovercraft-style passenger cars, and propelled by gas-turbine engines.
The "pads" on the bottom and sides were where compressed air was forced out to "float" the vehicle.

Grumman TACRV testing at Pueblo (Aerotrain website).

Why did this technology die? The Aerotrain website offers several issues that could not be overcome.

1. Each train would have required a new, expensive sort of track, for which rights of way would have had to be acquired.

2. The Aerotrain's electric induction motors required their own power infrastructure and a lot of electricity.

3. The air compressors, turbines, etc., made these "hovercraft" trains incredibly loud.

4.The Aerotrain's engine built up a static electric charge that had to be grounded before anyone could get on or off.

5. The fans generating the compressed-air cushion also kicked up sand, gravel, etc., like a traveling sandstorm in arid climates. Every part of the train had to be levitated on compressed air, which mean lots of machinery to move air.

For all their City of Tomorrow flavor, they were less practical than improving conventional trains, which are still more energy-efficient on a passenger-mile basis than aircraft or buses.

My next business trip to Chicago will involve steel wheels on steel rails.

December 12, 2011

Preparing for the SHOT Show

Call me un-American if you like, but I have never visited Las Vegas, Nevada — as opposed to Las Vegas, New Mexico, many times. This is true even though I worked in the "gaming" industry at one time as a slot-machine repairman—in Oregon. (Yes, legally, mostly.)

The conventions that I usually attend do not meet there, and my short time in the industry cured me of any delusions of glamor about gambling.

But my old friend Galen Geer, a long-time outdoor writer and editor, has persuaded me to go to Las Vegas for the 2012 SHOT Show next month.

The Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trades Show is enormous. People say it takes days to see all the exhibitors' booths. It is so big that there are applications to help you plan your time and routes in the exhibit halls.

Its sponsoring organization, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, recognized bloggers as news media several years ago, leading to much more mention in the blogosphere of new products and developments in those industries.

And while I am not a shooting-sports blogger like Michael Bane or a hunting blogger like Holly Heyser, NSSF extended me the same credentials. Maybe it helped that I agreed to lend my illustrious name to The Pines Review's masthead as associate editor as well.

So free admission to a "trade-only" event + relatively cheap hotel rooms + the chance to gawk at the entertainment machine that is Las Vegas means that this year I'm going to do it.

There ought to be something to blog about.

November 26, 2011

Amtrak, Raccoons, and the California Zephyr

The California Zephyr climbs the Big 10 curve west of Denver
M. and I are home from a week-long trip to San Francisco -- mostly business for me, but she got to spend time with family.

We took the California Zephyr west from Denver, "mountains and rivers without end."

And we got where we needed to go, although there was one rough patch at the beginning.

As usual, click the photos to enlarge them.

You usually end up dining with strangers but can always talk about the trains.

We woke up at dawn in our Denver hotel, checked the Amtrak train-status page, and oh no, the westbound train was six hours behind schedule. Later we would learn that it had been held up waiting for work crews to repair some damaged track somewhere in Iowa or Nebraska.

So we went out to breakfast, read exotic magazines at the Tattered Cover's LoDo store, and eventually got a lift in the hotel's town car to the temporary station that Amtrak is using while Denver Union Station is being renovated.

In the photo, two guys who just met through the dining steward's command to "Sit there" are getting acquainted.

Passengers ("Pax" in train-speak) on the platform at Fraser, Colo.
The first "fresh air stop" after Denver is Fraser/Winter Park, immediately after you come out of the long darkness of the Moffat Tunnel through the Continental Divide.
The station in Glenwood Springs, Colo., right in the center of town.
After Fraser, the railroad follows a roadless area of the Fraser River Canyon, breaks out into Middle Park, and then enters roadless Gore Canyon, where the river is already freezing over in spots. It then passes a few isolated spots like Radium, State Bridge, and Bond, before rejoining I-70 at Dotsero and continuing on down Glenwood Canyon.

Western terminus of the Zephyr: Emeryville, Calif.
And a bus ride over the Bay Bridge, a taxi to the hotel, and we're there, only three hours late at the end.

We left Wednesday the 23rd for home. Everything started well: up through the across the Delta, up through the eucalyptus, cypresses, and palms of Roseville, then into the Sierras, with cedar, manazanita, firs, and other conifers.

Into Reno on time. Through basin and range -- Winnemucca in the late afternoon, Ely after dark, then salt flats and Salt Lake City. The "gray desert" around Green River, Utah. Into Grand Junction on time, and we saw a bald eagle sitting in a snag along the Colorado River somewhere between Dotsero and State Bridge.

Through Middle Park and the Moffat Tunnel, everything tickety-tock, running even a bit ahead of schedule.

Then Conductor Renée comes on the p.a. system: the westbound Zephyr hit a "herd of raccoons" in Iowa the previous evening, had to wait for a replacement locomotive, and has now limped into Denver many hours late. We must wait for it to clear the wye at the station before we in turn can back in. So we wait, somewhere in Arvada, and eventually arrive an hour behind schedule. No problem. 

But a "herd of raccoons"? Since when do coons come in herds, as opposed to small family groups? And how big a herd does it take to damage (air hoses, etc., she said) a full-size locomotive?

You know Amtrak does not put out news releases about such incidents, so it must remain a mystery of rail travel.

UPDATE: Here is a posting on a train-fan web site, which gives a location and speaks of a "pack of raccoons."

November 29, 2010

The Emperor Norton Grape

The Hermanoff winery tasting room and delicatessen occupy this building.
A long time ago—three dogs ago—M. and I passed through Hermann, Missouri, after visiting my sister's farm in southeastern Missouri. We bought some white wine—most of the local wines were whites—and had a picnic.

Later, after the same sister moved up to Little Dixie (Randolph County), she took Dad and me to Les Bourgeois winery, and I discovered that Missouri did offer some drinkable reds (although it is indicative that Les Bourgeois' best-selling red, Riverboat Red, is described as "a tantalizing blend of raspberry and cherry aromas, this chilled sweet red dazzles the palate with rich layers of ripe fruit."

Cherry ... sweet ... ripe fruit. Uh, no thanks.

Last week, M. and I visited three Missouri wineries: Les Bourgeois, Adam Puchta, and Hermannhof, the latter two in the German immigrant-founded town of Hermann, whose wine-making history goes back to the first half of the 19th century. We also had a bottle of Stone Hill's Norton varietal wine one night at dinner.

All of these wineries' dry red wines rely on the Norton grape, grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and introduced to Missouri around 1860.
Well adapted to sweltering Midwestern summers, the grape became very popular in the [Missouri] area. Several nurseries along the Mississippi River began selling seedlings, especially in and around the tiny town of Bushberg, just east of Pevely. Catalogs from 1870 proudly advertised Norton, which by that time had already become one of Missouri’s most popular grapes. 

In the 1920s, prohibition shut down the entire American wine industry. European wines regained preeminence on the world stage, a position they have been loath to relinquish ever since. But now, with American wine making a comeback, Norton is gaining momentum. “It has made a remarkable recovery,” noted Laszlo Kovacs of the Mid-America Viticulture and Enology Center, located in Mountain Grove, Mo. He specifically praised Norton as an “American grape that can be made into a premium-quality wine.” He’s not the only one in on this secret – today, Norton is the most widely planted red grape in the state.

We tasted Norton-based wines at all of these vineyards, and they all have a family resemblance. I lack the fancy vocabulary of a wine writer, but compared to the California wines that I am used to, the Nortons tasted "grape-ier" (My favorite was Adam Puchta's "Legacy.") It's not a bad taste, just different from the "big" California reds that I am used to.

We brought a few bottles home and will try them out on our wine-loving friends.

This post's title invokes the real Emperor Norton.

November 28, 2010

Across the Wide Missouri (2)

Faced with a big river, I keep trying to get a good photo of it. Visiting the Les Bourgeois winery at Rocheport, Missouri, for the first time in several years, I discovered that they had built a new restaurant.


If you walk down to the edge of the bluff past the building and look upstream, you see this:

If that view doesn't make you feel like you want to be in a boat heading upstream (or down), I don't know what would.

Next, a few thoughts on the wines.

November 23, 2010

Motel of the Admonishments

If you did not already feel like a person of low moral character before checking in to the Cowboy Cabins Motel in Scott City, Kansas, you will feel like such a person after a few minutes in your room.

First, there was the sign by the office: "5 MPH THIS MEANS YOU." Ok, fine, no speeding in the parking lot.

Once in the room, however, lists of rules blossom on every wall, including such casually spelled admonishments as "Do not leave doors open with air conditines on. It freezes them up and burn's compressers out."

Likewise, the cold-weather guest is cautioned against leaving the door open while carrying items to or from a vehicle, lest the entire Great Plains become unwontedly warm.

A surveillance camera is mentioned. And there is one in the parking lot, pointed at the owner's pickup truck, from what I can see.

It all comes down to this: "Do not clean pheasants in the room or we will put you out."

November 19, 2010

Off to the Boone's Lick Country

M. and I are packing for a trip to the Boone's Lick Country. For the next week, this may be a cross-country photo blog.

Some small business related to my late sister's estate remains in Little Dixie, but I don't think that I need to see Moberly, Huntsville, or for that matter Clifton Hill, again.

To put ourselves in the mood, we watched Winter's Bone. Of course, that is southwestern Missouri, not the central part. No similarities, nope, not at all, no sir.

But in addition to family, we intend to focus more on historic hotels, sightseeing, and wineries.

September 24, 2010

Self-Advertisement in the Nebraska Sandhills

The faint type reads "Best Cow Country in the World."
A photo from Nebraska Highway 2 in the Sandhills. I had not realized that CBS News' Charles Kuralt once called Highway 2 "one of America's 10 most beautiful highways."

He was right. Highway 2 is to the prairie what California 1 is to the Pacific Coast.

Only instead of a sports car or motorcycle you want a big crew-cab pickup truck, full of BNSF railroad workers out to the job site on the double-tracking project near Mullen.

The empty road curves gently, the hills roll away, the native prairie grasses ripple in the wind.  Everyone talks about "climax forest," but the Sandhills (map here) are one of few places were you can still see huge pieces of "climax prairie." (They just lack buffalo in large numbers.)

Yet the Sandhills are best comprehended from the air. Then you can see that unlike typical uplifted and/or eroded hills, they actually are sand dunes. They line up in rows, as though placed sequentially by a gigantic dump truck.

This must have been awfully raw country when the ice had just melted and the winds blew off the Rockies and the grasses had not yet covered and softened the dunes.

Crossing the Great Divide

We Coloradans tend to be obsessed with the Continental Divide. We speak of being on the Eastern Slope or the Western Slope. We name businesses etc. after it.

It runs through other parts of North America as well—see the red line on the map below.
(I am told that the divide was supposed to be the border between Idaho and Montana, but someone screwed up the survey in the 19th century, hence the narrow Idaho panhandle.)

Homeward bound from a recent trip to North Dakota, I paid tribute to another divide as I crossed from the Arctic back into the Atlantic (Gulf of Mexico) watersheds by visiting a geocache placed to mark it.

Here is a closeup of that area. I was right where the medium brown meets the light brown in southeastern North Dakota.

And here is the view from the divide, looking to the southwest, a typical scene of soybean field and slough full of waterfowl:

September 19, 2010

On the Road

US 85, going up the western edge of the Black Hills in eastern Wyoming.

July 25, 2010

Waiting for a Train

Waiting for Amtrak's Southwest Chief, La Junta, Colorado.

July 21, 2010

Right about Now ...

... M. and I should be boarding the big silver snake on our way to the Mysterious East, where I plan to harass the pickerel, perch, and trout of southern Vermont, check out some of the Green Mountain National Forest, and (this is for the geocachers out there), drop off some travel bugs, etc., that I have been hoarding since June.

I will try to blog if I find anything truly mysterious.

June 19, 2010

Blog Stew with Water Droplets

• A gardener's myth destroyed: Watering plants in mid-day does not cause water droplets to focus the Sun's rays and burn the leaves.

• At Smart Dogs: how dogs react to perfume. (One word: vetiver.)

•  Field & Stream columnist and hunting writer Tom McIntyre now writes a blog (yes, the technology has reached northern Wyoming). I liked this entry on old, hunter-friendly hotels. Back in its day, the Fairplay Hotel in South Park (Colorado) was one of them.

• Galen Geer is thinking that Amtrak could still be more hunter-friendly too. It's a creature of the federal government, so how come it gets to make such arbitrary rules?

June 16, 2010

An Adventure Tale That Assigns No Blame

"Art [Moffett] took us to a place of peace, and ever since--during these last fifty-three years--I have been trying to rediscover it," writes George James Grinnell in Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic.

Much outdoor-expedition writing seems to be about placing blame when things go wrong. Jon Krakauer writes Into Thin Air about a 1996 expedition to Mount Everest that ends in catastrophe, and then mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev, insulted by Krakauer's account, writes The Climb, with his own perspective on the tragedy.

And so it goes.

Death on the Barrens is an "old man's book,"a genre unto itself. Grinnell was seventy when he finished the revision that was published. In that it reminds me of Norman Maclean's posthumously published Young Men and Fire, which while trying to determine what went wrong on the Mann Gulch Fire back in 1949 also stops at times to patiently reflect that there are times when the universe is just against you.

In Grinnell's case, six twenty-something men, with a slightly older leader, set off in 1955 to spent a summer canoeing and portaging through hundreds of miles of northern Canada. Their leader, Art Moffatt, an experienced wilderness canoeist, died of hypothermia after a disastrous spill in cold rapids, and the others came close to dying before finally reaching the Hudson's Bay Company post that was their goal.

While the canoeists' trip could be critiqued—inadequate food, too many days  spent relaxing during good traveling weather—Grinnell does not place blame. Instead, he remembers how their leader took them "to a place of peace" and "a time when my fears had been elevated through beauty into awe, when my vanity had been transformed by awe into love, and when love had bathed my soul in the waters of eternal peace."

For that he experienced starvation, frostbite, and near-drowning.

After Grinnell himself had become a university professor, two of his sons died on a canoe trip down northern Ontario's Albany River, along with two of their friends: "The four of them embarked down the longest wilderness river in Northern Ontario in quest of peace, harmony, and reconciliation. Forty days later, they were all dead."

"Canoe trip as spiritual pilgrimage" is a trope in Canadian literature. You can even take deliberately designed "contemplative" canoe trips. No doubt the survival rate is higher than on Grinnell's more extreme canoe trip.

Yet though Grinnell admits being lost in despair at times, this is a book of recovery and acceptance.

Farley Mowat writes in a cover blurb that Death on Barrens records the inner process of "looking for an explanation where perhaps none exists." That too reminds me of Young Men and Fire. Sometimes what happens cannot be explained. Sometimes blame cannot be assigned.

April 25, 2010

Mountain Community Photo Gallery

If you can't get enough of pictures of people telemarking down the Great Sand Dunes and the like, visit Mountain Gazette's Community Photo Gallery, where you can upload your own shots.