Friday, July 12, 2013

Day 6: American Basin, and More Adventures...

American Basin is probably the second most famous wildflower destination in the San Juans, so after yesterday's experience at Yankee Boy we just had to check it out.  The flowers there are very nice right now, but definitely second fiddle to Yankee Boy Basin.  The highlight of American Basin was the waterfall at the end of the road (a short walk from the parking); it and the stream were surrounded by gorgeous displays, especially of blue columbine.  When bandwidth allows, I'll upload some photos.

We had some other adventures as well.  There's a ford across Animas River on the road to Burns Gulch, and the dogs just loved that – a perfect swimming hole for them.  It's not too deep, and it's surrounded by gravel so the dogs don't get muddy when loading back up in the truck.  We stopped there on the way in, and on the way out.  On the way out, a tourist truck with maybe a dozen people on it drove out to the ford just to watch the happy dogs.  The tourists loved it – lots of pointing and smiles :)

The “Slightly Loony” sign on the front of the FJ has been getting quite a bit of attention, both on the trail and in town.  Several people have stopped to talk to us after spotting it, and there's always smiles and laughter.  One particularly memorable example of that was a Jeep we passed in American Canyon going the opposite direction.  There was a girl in the back seat who cranked down her window and asked “Are you really slightly loony?” with a 100,000 watt smile going the whole time.  Debbie and I really enjoyed that :)

The dogs also had a great run in the meadows just below Cinnamon Pass, at about 12,500 feet.  We let them run in this same spot two years ago, and it looked to us as though they remembered it.  There was much joyful bounding and splashing in the small streams.  We noted, though, that Miki was slower than his usual energetic self – maybe a little stiff.  Our working theory is that he's stiff and sore from all the running and playing he's been doing.  We'll watch him carefully.

The scenery along this route is classic San Juan Mountains: vistas full of flowers, streams, waterfalls, old mining towns, old mines, and even a few still-active mines.  We've been here often enough that it seems very familiar to us, but I remember when the old mining stuff, in particular, seemed quite exotic to us.

One thing that's made us very happy on this trip: the dogs just love the platform I built for them in the FJ.  Every detail seems to have worked out perfectly.  Being level, with more room to stretch out, and with nice pillows, is very evidently to their liking.  Being high enough to lie down while looking out the window is also something they enjoy, most especially Race, who never seem stop looking around.  Miki dozes intermittently.  He's a spaniel :)

On the way back, between American Basin and Cinnamon Pass, there's a stretch of road that leads to a private cabin.  There's a great view of a long mountain right there, and two years ago Debbie spotted Rocky Mountain goats high on the sides of it.  It still astounds me that she can spot wildlife at such ranges.  I can only see them after she patiently guides me to them; she spots them while the truck is rocking and rolling up the rough road.  This year, of course, we were looking again, but we didn't see any today.  We did see two deer, both does that were browsing on the willow (the deer love those willows).  We suspect both had fawns, but we didn't spot them.

On that same stretch of road, we came across a pair of motorcyclists (a couple) who were backing the girl's motorcycle down a uphill stretch.  We stopped to see if they needed help, and as I walked toward them I spotted something most unlikely in the road in front of me: a tiny chipmunk baby, just sitting stock still.  My first thought was that the poor thing had been hit and was injured, but when I nudged it, it was able to move.  I tried picking it up by the scruff of its neck, to move it off the road, but it immediately flipped over and tried to bite me :)  When it was flipped over, I spotted a plant seed stuck under it's front leg, as though a barb was holding it in.  So I got a leather glove from the FJ and managed to pick it up by the scruff of its neck with my left hand, without being bit, despite the little thing's best efforts.  With my right hand, ungloved, I was able to pull out the little seed, which was indeed barbed.  When I put it back down, the little guy started moving around.  We're hoping he makes it ok.

Everywhere we go in the San Juans, the little chipmunks entertain us.  They come in several sizes here, from tiny ones not much bigger than a house mouse (we're calling them “nano-chippies”) to giant ones the size of a large ground squirrel.  They're all cute, but we enjoy those nano-chippies...

At one stop where we let the dogs swim in a water hole, we saw a large mouse running around near by.  To our surprise, the mouse ran right under Miki into a mouse hole!  Miki never saw a thing; he was too busy being intimidated by the water.  We have backwards dogs.  Race is the border collie, and not supposed to be particuarly enthusiastic about water – but he goes nuts every time we get near a mud puddle  Miki is a field spaniel, bred to fetch ducks from ponds and streams – and it's all we can do to get him to get his feet in the water.

One couple we met on the trail hails from Texas.  We got to talking, and the woman walked over to my window and looked in.  She saw our navigation setup and immediately called her husband over to take a look.  It is a really nice setup: we have a Dual bluetooth GPS sitting on the dashboard, connected to our iPad that is running Gaia topo map software.  The iPad is mounted so that it's in mid-air just to the right of the steering wheel.  The Gaia software is a $20 annual subscription that gives you access to all the topo maps for the entire U.S., usable both online or offline.  Before we left I downloaded all of the San Juan Mountains topos, as well as all of the La Sal Mountains topos.  The Gaia software makes that all look like one giant topo map.  It does the usual stuff of storing tracks, keeping altitude profiles, etc.  It's by far the nicest navigation setup I've ever had, and best of all it sort of disappears from the experience.  Usually when we're offroading in unfamiliar territory, it took quite a bit of fuss just to keep track of where we were, and to get back home.  Not so with this rig; I just glance at the iPad whenever I want to know where we are, and with all the usual touch screen gestures I can zoom and pan about.  I don't have to think about it at all...

We met several people along the trail that were driving FJs.  We figure the ratio of jeeps to FJs is about 300:1, but there are still a few other FJs around.  We passed one fellow going the other way in an off-white FJ who waved us to a stop.  He wanted to know where we found an orange FJ :)  He didn't know it was a new standard color (we've only seen one other orange one on the road).  This same fellow asked us if we were going to the “FJ Summit”.  He could tell from my face that I had no idea what he was talking about, so he explained: for five days starting next week, several hundred FJ owners are going to descend on Ouray for a conference.  What a bizarre coincidence!

On the way up Cinnamon Pass the road gets fairly rough, so it seemed like a good day to try something new for us: “airing down” our tires.  That's a term the offroaders use to describe the practice of lowering your tire pressure to substantially lower than you'd use on the highway.  Our tires are normally at 32 pounds, so I decided to try 25 pounds as an experiment.  I got out to let the air out, and discovered that the tires were at 40 pounds!  It must be the altitude change, because when we left home they were at exactly 32 pounds.  Anyway, I aired down to 25 and then we set out up the pass.  The difference was very noticeable, right away – the ride was softer, and the tires stuck to large rock surfaces like glue.  I'm going to try airing down a little more next time on a rough road.  From my reading, I see that people commonly air down to as low as 10 or 12 pounds – as low as they an go without a danger of the bead breaking loose.  I don't think I'll go quite that low :)

On the way out of American Basin, we stopped for a while near a large talus slope on which we'd seen movement.  In these mountains, anytime there's a talus slope with a meadow near by, there will be marmots and pikas.  At this particular spot, we spotted at least three pikas, all busy collecting “hay” to dry (for their winter forage).  We love to watch those pikas; they're cute and very active.  We also four marmots, the first cute marmots I've ever seen – cute because they were babies, just a little bigger than the pikas darting all around them.  All the other marmots we've seen are big, fat, slow-moving adults, and not cute at all.

So far we've been eating every meal in our cabin, which is very different than on past trips.  It helps that the cabin has a full kitchen, but that's not the only reason.  Partly it's because the cabin is such a pleasant place to be.  We can eat our meal here while looking out over the forest and mountains; far better than eating in a noisy restaurant.  Also, before we got here we stocked up at the great City Market in Montrose – a really nice grocery store staffed with really nice people.  So our refrigerator here is stuffed full of great food to eat.  As I write this, we just finished a delicious breakfast of eggs, sausage, and bacon – with Darjeeling tea for me, and Ethiopian coffee for Debbie.  Ahhhh!  Debbie has been cooking up great breakfasts and light dinners (last night we had an asparagus/potato/onion medley). 

At the waterfall trail in American Basin, I saw something quite unusual: chipmunks catching and eating butterflies!  I came across a drying mud puddle, about which dozens of butterflies had congregated to drink.  Two chipmunks were sitting alongside that spot, catching and eating butterflies.  I saw them eat several as I reached for my camera – and naturally the chipmunks chose that moment to scamper away.  Dang!  On the way back to the FJ, I stopped to take a picture of a particularly attractive thistle bud.  To get at the right height, I sat down on a shoebox sized rock right next to it.  Next thing you know, I'm tumbling over backwards – apparently the rock moved.  As I fell, I held the camera up off the ground to keep it from getting damaged.  A fellow walking along nearby thought this whole scene was quite funny :)
chippies and butterflies

On the covered porch of our cabin there is a nesting bird with at least two babies.  I haven't been able to identify the birds yet; the parents keep out of sight.

The weather has been typical mountain weather: on any given day we're likely to have beautiful sunshine, gloomy clouds, rain, lightning, and even slush if we're high enough.  I won't be surprised if we see some snow.

After seeing how weak the cell phone signal was at the cabin, I ordered a cell phone signal booster from Amazon, hoping that we'd get enough signal to allow me to post on the blog from our cabin.  It arrived today, and I set it up last night.  There's no delivery to the cabin, of course – even out here, the UPS man doesn't drive a four-wheel drive truck!  But the couple who own the Silverton Grocery were happy to receive the package for us; a very nice thing to do for us.  Now that I have the booster installed, we have a much better signal, especially (for some reason that escapes me) early in the morning.  So there is some hope for posting!  This morning I even managed to post some pictures of Day 4.  I'll try to get some more tonight and tomorrow morning...

Day 5: Yankee Boy Basin and More...

Yankee Boy Basin is the most famous wildflower destination in the San Juan Mountains, and with very good reason.  Yesterday we noted that conditions were drier than we'd seen here before, and it looked like the season was a week or two earlier than last year – so we were quite unsure what we'd run into in terms of flowers.  Almost all the snow in the San Juans is already melted.  On our last visit here, two years ago, it was just the opposite – it was unusually wet, streams were running high, and there was still lots of snow at altitude.

On the way up to Yankee Boy, we met a man who was just coming down.  His visage was one of pure happiness.  We talked briefly, and then he said something I was very happy to hear: “The wildflowers are the best in the past ten years!”

Woo hoo!

I can't speak for the past ten years, as this is only my second visit in that period.  But I can tell you that the wildflowers are spectacular this year, right now, from the bottom of Yankee Boy to its very top (well over 12,000 feet).  There was even a pond for the dogs to swim in.  I spent a lot of time just wandering slowly through the fields of flowers, taking pictures here and there.  Poor Debbie – her knee still prevents her from walking on uneven ground, and there's nothing level in Yankee Boy.  But for was pure wildflower heaven!

Here are a few photos :)