Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Let me get this straight...

Let me get this straight...  Perfect!

San Juan Mountains Trip of 2014...

San Juan Mountains Trip of 2014...  I'm publishing the day-by-day posts (slowly), and you can see them all here.  There's a link on the right hand column, down under “Filtered Views” that will let you see these posts any time you want to...

This is an actual flower garden...

This is an actual flower garden...  It's not a painting.  It's located in Japan...

Another great optical illusion...

Another great optical illusion...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Purely coincidence...

Purely coincidence...  According to a poll I read this morning, 73% of the American public thinks it's “obviously false” that all these IRS officials had their hard disks crash at around the same time.  That poll leads to this obvious question: what the hell is wrong with the other 27%???

Works for me every time!

Works for me every time!  Via friend and reader Simon M...

What comes after ObamaCare?

What comes after ObamaCare?  ObamaGolf, of course!  Via my lovely bride:
(Receptionist) Hello, Welcome to ObamaGolf.  My name is Trina. How can I help you?

(Customer) Hello, I received an email from Golfsmith stating that my Pro V1 order has been canceled and I should go to your exchange to reorder it.  I tried your web site, but it seems like it is not working. So I am calling the 800 number.

(Receptionist) Yes, I am sorry about the web site. It should be fixed by the end of 2014. But I can help you.

(Customer) Thanks, I ordered some Pro V1 balls.

(Receptionist) Sir, Pro V1's do not meet our minimum standards, I will be happy to provide you with a choice of Pinnacle, TopFlite , or Callaway Blue.

(Customer) But I have played Pro V1 for years.

(Receptionist) The government has determined that Pro V1s are no longer acceptable, so we have instructed Titleist to stop making them.  TopFlites are better, sir, I am sure you will love them.

(Customer) But I like the Pro V1.  Why are TopFlites better?

(Receptionist) That is all spelled out in the 2700 page "Affordable Golf Ball Act" passed by Congress.

(Customer) Well, how much are these TopFlites ?

(Receptionist) It depends sir, do you want our Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum package?

(Customer) What's the difference?

(Receptionist) 12, 24, 36 or 48 balls.

(Customer) The Silver package may be okay; how much is it?

(Receptionist) It depends, sir; what is your monthly income?

(Customer) What does that have to do with anything?

(Receptionist) I need that to determine your government Golf Ball subsidy; then I can determine how much your out-of-pocket cost will be.  But if your income is below the poverty level, you might qualify for a subsidy. In that case, I can refer you to our BallAid department.

(Customer) BallAid ?

(Receptionist) Yes, golf balls are a right, everyone has a right to golf balls.  So, if you can't afford them, then the government will supply them free of charge.

(Customer) Who said they were a right?

(Receptionist) Congress passed it, the President signed it and the Supreme Court found it Constitutional.

(Customer) Whoa.....I don't remember seeing anything in the Constitution regarding golf balls as a right.

(Receptionist) There's no explicit mention of golf balls in the Constitution, but President Obama is a former constitutional scholar and he believes it would have been included if the Constitution had not been drafted by a bunch of slave-owning white men.  The Democrats in the Congress and the Supreme Court agree with the President that golf balls are now a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

(Customer) I don't believe this...

(Receptionist) It's the law of the land sir. Now, we anticipated most people would go for the Silver Package, so what is your monthly income sir?

(Customer) Forget it, I think I will forgo the balls this year.

(Receptionist) In that case, sir, I will still need your monthly income.

(Customer) Why?

(Receptionist) To determine what your 'non-participation' cost would be.

(Customer) WHAT? You can't charge me for NOT buying golf balls.

(Receptionist) It's the law of the land, sir, approved by the Supreme Court. It's $49.50 or 1% of your monthly income.....

(Customer)(interrupting) This is ridiculous, I'll pay the $49.50.

(Receptionist) Sir, it is the $49.50 or 1% of your monthly income, whichever is greater.

(Customer) ARE YOU KIDDING ME? What a ripoff!!

(Receptionist) Actually sir, it is a good deal. Next year it will be 2%.

(Customer) Look, I'm going to call my Congressman to find out what's going on here. This is ridiculous. I'm not going to pay it.

(Receptionist) Sorry to hear that sir, that's why I had the NSA track this call and obtain the make and model of the cell phone you are using.

(Customer) Why does the NSA need to know what kind of CELL PHONE I AM USING?

(Receptionist) So they get your GPS coordinates, sir.

(Door Bell rings followed immediately by a loud knock on the door)

(Receptionist) That would be the IRS, sir. Thanks for calling ObamaGolf, have a nice day...and God Bless the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

Dog alarm clocks...

Dog alarm clocks...  We got this a lot on our vacation.  We made the dogs sleep out in the living room (in their own beds).  Every morning between 4 am and 6 am, they'd push the bedroom door open and leap on us, barking for the sheer joy of it, waking us up with enormous enthusiasm...

Texas Attitude...

Texas Attitude...  Via reader Jim M.  I do believe I've met this little old lady:
One day, a very gentle Texas lady was driving across a high bridge in Austin.

As she neared the top of the bridge, she noticed a young man fixin’ to jump. ("fixin" in Texas means: has the means or abilities to take action)

She stopped her car, rolled down the window and said, "Please don't jump! Think of your dear mother and father."

He replied, "My mom and dad are both dead; I'm going to jump."

She said, "Well, think of your sweet wife and precious children."

He replied, "I'm not married, and I don't have any kids."

She said, "Well, then you just remember the Alamo."

He replied, ''What's the Alamo?''

She replied, ‘’Well, bless your heart! - You just go ahead and jump.. you little Yankee Democrat Bastard... You’re holding up traffic.”

We're back in Paradise...

We're back in Paradise...  Utah, that is, at our new home.  It's still a mess from all the remodeling going on.  Debbie and I are “camped” in the TV room, which is mostly finished.  We'll be busy today with all sorts of remodeling-related stuff, but in between I will try to find some time to post about our vacation, including photos...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Near-zero blogging alert...

Near-zero blogging alert...  Things in Silverton, Colorado have changed – we basically have no Internet connection at all.  At the moment we're sitting in a restaurant in Lake City which just happens to have free WiFi, so I can post this.  I don't know when (or even if) we'll have a connection again while we're on vacation.

Speaking of which, it's been grand so far!  Lots of flowers, beautiful weather, happy dogs, and a gorgeous cabin to stay in.  More when we can...

Stony Pass to Lake City, Cinnamon Pass to Silverton...

Stony Pass to Lake City, Cinnamon Pass to Silverton...  Today's trip was a reprise of our favorite trip of last year – up and over Stony Pass, and thence to Lake City. There are two ways back to Silverton from Lake City (one via Cinnamon Pass, the other via Engineer Pass), and today we chose Cinnamon Pass. We chose to take this trip today partly because we hoped to avoid the heavy holiday trail traffic, and for the Stony Pass segment of the trip that worked very well – we only met a few people until we got to the Rio Grande Reservoir around noon. The segment from Lake City over Cinnamon Pass and back to Silverton was another story altogether – all sorts of people and vehicles there! We left at the crack of dawn and returned just before dark – a long day, but awfully nice.

The flower situation was … glorious. We're definitely a little earlier in the flower season, by a week or two, compared with last year. One of my goals was to see the irises on the south side of Stony Pass, and we did – but a week earlier yet would have been even better. We saw orange columbine in the forests just north of the Rio Grande reservoir, which we'd never seen there before. On the trip up and over Cinnamon Pass, we saw more Parry's Primrose than we'd ever seen before – basically every wet place over 10,500' was chock full of it. We apparently hit the season for them absolutely perfectly. We were too early to see sheep and shepherds, though – we're hoping we'll see them toward the end of our visit here.

A few miles south of the Stony Pass summit, the trail crosses Pole Creek on a ford across some gravel. We've made this traverse quite a few times before, and once (several visits back) we were turned around here by high water – something we were afraid might happen today, as the streams are running high compared with most of our experience. The creek was indeed running high, about 18” or 20” deep in the fast center channel – but the FJ took it just fine, with no water leaking inside the cab and the engine never sputtering at all. We haven't modified our FJ to handle deep water, but the manual says anything up to about 40” should be fine – so long as you don't mind water flowing in the cab :) We didn't come anywhere near that depth, and had no problem at all.

The dogs had a wonderful time playing in the snow near Stony Pass. We took several minutes of video with the two of them madly chasing a ball across the snow fields. By the time we put them back in the truck, we had two very tired puppies :)

After we crossed Pole Creek, we headed through the beautiful scenery of the Rio Grande valley, past the Rio Grande Reservoir (and several others), through some fire-damaged areas (from last year's fires that we saw the immediate aftermath of), and thence up through Slugmullion Pass (on paved roads) up to Lake City. There's a favorite destination of ours there: the Sportsman's Club. We like the people there (the owner's are Texans who come up to run the place in season), and most of all we like the food – most especially the pull-pork sandwiches. If your memory is particularly good, you may remember the tragedy of last year, wherein we ordered pulled-pork sandwiches and they only had enough meat for one (I took it). The same damned thing happened again this year – but this time, Debbie got the pulled-pork sandwich, and I opted for a sliced brisket sandwich – also delicious. The owner/cook came out to apologize for both the horrible pulled-pork shortage and the long delay (the place was very busy) – and insisted on giving us the sliced brisket sandwich for free. We actually hadn't minded the delay at all, because there was free WiFi there, and we had the first real connectivity of our trip. We both spent some time catching up on email and what was happening in the world. Afterwards we stopped by at Debbie's favorite Lake City coffee joint (she has one in every city, trust me): Jean's Beans. We both had some coffee, to perk ourselves up for the trip up and over Cinnamon Pass to get back to our cabin in Silverton.

There was very little snow, even at altitudes over 12,000' – the least snow we've ever seen up here at this time of year. This jibes with our host's assertions of very light snowfall this past winter. That's bad for everything and everybody depending on the water from the snow melt making it into the streams...

The wildlife wasn't as abundant in the morning as in our past experiences here. Possibly we're too early in the season. We saw a dozen or so deer, but no fawns. Lots of pikas and (especially) marmots, along with innumerable chipmunks and squirrels. We saw quite a few flickers (especially north of the Rio Grande Reservoir), as well as a few woodpeckers.

We had a bit of rain, just enough to wet down the dust, as we passed the Rio Grande Reservoir. There was no sign of any rain around our cabin when we got home, dang it.

At the top of Cinnamon Pass, we met a couple in a Jeep with their dog. They said they'd seen us earlier in the day, going the opposite way from us at Stony Pass. They recognized the orange FJ with the “Slightly Loony” sign on the front. Turns out they were camping at the Rio Grande Reservoir, and were making the exact same trip we were, but in the opposite direction. By a strange coincidence, the two times we passed them were at the tops of the two passes on the trip. Weird!

Just below Cinnamon Pass, on the Silverton side, we stopped near a stream and marsh that was chock-a-block full of allysium and Parry's Primrose. We let the dogs out to play and chase the ball there, and they had a great time as usual – and I got some nice video of them. Race had a great time biting at the fast-flowing stream. We don't know why he does this, but he seems to think it's great fun. At one point Debbie threw the ball over the stream to the opposite bank, and that made for some unexpected fun. First Race (easily) traversed the stream and went looking for the ball – but failed. Then Miki (less easily) waded across the stream and went looking – and succeeded, after following Debbie's verbal command to turn right. Then Miki wanted to come back to our side of the stream, but for some reason he didn't want to wade over this time. Instead, he wiggled around on the other side and then suddenly made a heroic leap – which didn't quite make it to the other side. He made an awful-looking full-belly-flop landing, half in the water and half out. We were afraid that he'd hurt himself, but nope, he was just fine.

After coming down off Cinnamon Pass, we just headed for home, our little cabin on Blair Mountain. It was very attractive after such a long day :)

Tundra Hymenoxys
Rosy and sulfur paintbrushes
Parry's Primrose
Alpine Avens
Unidentified, uncommon
Parry's Primrose
Unidentified, common early season
Colorado Columbine (bud)
Parry's Primrose
Big patch of Parry's Primrose
Purple Fringe
Western Iris
Unknown flower bud
Seep Monkeyflower
Spearleaf stonecrop
Some sort of beardtongue?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Shakedown Drive – Corkscrew Gulch, Copper Gulch, Cement Creek...

Shakedown Drive – Corkscrew Gulch, Copper Gulch, Cement Creek...  We got up at daybreak this morning, and I spent the first part of the day rigging the FJ for off-roading. This mainly consisted of loading all the tools, winch accessories, rope, etc. into the storage boxes under the dog platform, and mounting the hi-lift jack, spare gas cans, Pull Pal, and shovel up on the roof rack. There were a few other details, too (like dismounting the trailer hitch), but those were very little work in total. It took me a couple hours to do all this, partly because I was so full of Debbie's wonderful bacon and eggs breakfast that I could hardly move!

On the way down from our cabin, we spotted some orange columbine (a favorite of mine). This was good news for me, as it proved that we had succeeded in arriving here earlier in the flower season than we did last year. As we discovered later in the day, the next time we make this trip we're going to want to be even earlier, by another week or so, as many flowers are now past prime – or even in seed – below about 9,000 feet. This varies a bit by exposure, water, etc., so we can still find many of our favorites in bloom – but a little earlier would be mo' bettah.

The first thing we noticed when we got out on the trail up Corkscrew Gulch, is that everything looks dry and dusty compared with our experiences in past years. Our host at the cabin tells us that the “monsoons” haven't arrived yet this year, and they're overdue. On the other hand, we immediately noticed that the rate of flow in most streams is considerably more than what we saw last year. I suspect this has more to do with snow melt than anything else, and it's very obvious that the snow levels at altitude are lower than they were last year (when we arrived a week later in the season).

Because we got a late start, the trail was full of jeeps, ATVs, motorcycles, and tour trucks – just the sort of thing we try very hard to avoid. We also didn't see much in the way of wildlife, for the same reason. The traffic problem is likely exacerbated by this being a holiday weekend, and there are people here on vacation as well. On the 7th, after the July 4th holiday is over, we expect trail traffic levels to go way down. We'll also start doing our usual early morning starts, and that means we'll rarely seen anyone on the trail, and we will see wildlife.

One of the tasks for me on today's trip was to re-learn how to use my camera (a FujiFilm X100). I haven't used it at all in the past year, mainly because the camera on my iPhone isn't bad at all – and is always at hand. The X100 is remarkably easy to use, given its SLR-like capabilities – but there's still enough complexity to it that I needed to work up a little familiarity.

When we got to the top of Corkscrew Gulch, the two ponds at the pass were nice and full of water – so we launched the dogs into them for some fun. They immediately got into the spirit of things, madly chasing the ball on land and at sea. Race, as usual, played so hard that he bloodied his paws on the rocks. It will take some time for him to build up his paw-calluses.

After collecting some rocks for Gracie (our Paradise neighbor's daughter who loves rocks), we headed down off the pass and back up into Copper Gulch. This is an area we know well from past years. Even though it's a dead-end road, it passes through such beautiful scenery that we can never pass it up. This year we were a bit early for flowers (it's nearly 12,000 feet high), but the snow was mostly melted, and the ponds were full and the streams flowing. In a set of terraced ponds set in some lush meadows, we let the dogs run and play and swim. A grand time was had by all, in a setting that is heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Despite being early in the flower season at high altitude, we still saw plenty of flowers. One we noted especially: Parry's Primrose, in more abundance than we've seen before. We're not sure if it was our earlier arrival that accounted for this, or perhaps it's because there's more water in this area (update: experience on later days makes us think it's the timing, not the water).

After we finished playing around with the dogs, we headed further down Copper Gulch – but not very far, as we went down a steep slope and slid for 20 feet or so, right down a mud-covered embankment. At that point, worried about whether we could get out again, I turned the FJ (which we've nicknamed “Fajita”) around and headed back up. I needn't have worried. The “A-Track” feature took the muddy slope with no work on my part – whenever a wheel started slipping, the “A-Track” system instantly applied the brakes to that wheel so that the other, non-slipping wheels still got power. We went straight up that slippery slope and back onto the dry road. Whew!

After that, we headed down Cement Creek (the high-speed route back to Silverton) and then back to the cabin. The shake-down was a success – no rattles, no gear falling off, nothing malfunctioning. We are ready for some serious off-roading!

An orange columbine blossom
Pond in Copper Gulch
Rosy paintbrush
Red Mountain #2 from the
top of Copper Gulch
Closer to Red Mountain #2
Happy dogs playing around the ponds
Debbie and Fajita

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Paradise, Utah to Blair Cabin in Silverton, Colorado...

Paradise, Utah to Blair Cabin in Silverton, Colorado...  We left at about 4:30 am, hoping to make it to Blair Cabin before dark – even after grocery shopping in Montrose at our favorite area grocery store (City Market). This worked, as we made it into the cabin at around 6 pm, with plenty of light left.

The route we took was a brand-new one to us, at least partly because we left from Paradise, Utah instead of southern California. But we also deliberately selected a route that avoided Interstate highways as much as we could. Our route took us to Ogden via I-15, then east on I-84/I-80 until we reached US 40. After that, we took US 40 east through the Ute mountains until just over the Colorado border, then south on Colorado 139 to I-70, briefly on I-70 to US 50, then south on US 50/US 550 to Silverton. Overall, this route was vastly more interesting and less ugly than the desert crossing further south on I-70. Google Maps claims that the southerly route is only about an hour faster; that's an hour we'd gladly invest to avoid that long, long desert passage.

Along the way we saw lots and lots of ranches and horses; the entire length of the trip was through “cowboy country”. Often these ranches were quite beautiful, with broad green pastures in various stages of mowing, baling, and growing. Several times we saw postcard scenes of horses in green pastures with tall grass, alongside brooks and ponds. Of course there were also lots and lots of cows, too, but they're just not as much fun to look at.

We also saw a lot of deer, but unfortunately most of the deer we saw were dead – victims of collisions with cars. We didn't count, but I suspect we saw at least two dozen of their broken bodies along the road. There were also, for some reason, a lot of dead racoons, especially on the western segment of the trip.

What we looked like on the way
from Jamul to Paradise
One stop on the trip really stands out in our mind. We were driving through Naples, Utah (just east of Vernal) when Debbie spotted an espresso stand – after I'd passed it, of course :) We turned around and pulled into the drive-through window. Debbie ordered an espresso drink (of course!) and I ordered a “triple raspberry” smoothie. Both were outstanding. But the best part wasn't even the drinks – it was the two baggies of dog treats that the lady in the coffee stand handed out for our two pooches. She is now their favorite coffee stand lady, and you can bet we'll be stopping there on the way home :)

Before buying the trailer, I was a bit worried about towing it behind our FJ – the FJ is a relatively small vehicle, and the trailer is 8' long, 5' wide, and 6' high (it's a Wells Cargo Road Force trailer). I needn't have worried, as the trailer was barely noticeable when driving. Even on rough paved roads it handled flawlessly, and in particular it never bounced around like so many trailers I've been behind. The real test, though, was the final 2 mile drive up a very rugged 4WD road to the cabin we rented. The road is steep, filled with large rocks and deep holes, and parts are made of loose rock. I drove up that road very slowly, and for the most part we never even knew the trailer was behind us. There were a couple of steep spots with loose rock where the FJ lost traction on one or two wheels, but the “A-Track” automatic traction system took care of that with zero effort on my part. In the end we pulled the trailer down the steep driveway to the cabin and parked it without incident. When I opened up the trailer to unload the groceries we'd purchased on the way through Montrose, I discovered that none of them had even jostled out of the position I'd loaded them with. With that discovery, I declared the great trailer experiment a resounding success – with it we can carry far more in the way of supplies and creature comforts than we can with the overhead rack, and with far less effort. If it can handle the road to this cabin, it can handle anything we're ever likely to throw at it...