Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Boondocking and Birding Trails

Backroads Information:  Boondocking on Birding Trails

I started bird watching in my late teens and continue to enjoy it.

The Duck Stamp program started in the 1930's to buy up marshes and manage them for duck hunting.  Hunters and fishermen lobbied Congress to pass the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937 which levied an 11% tax on all fishing and hunting equipment for management of wildlife species.

This act has resulted in millions of acres of land being purchased and made available for camping and exploring.  These are some of my favorite haunting grounds.  Hunting and fishing have fallen in popularity for the past 50 years, so it is more difficult to find information on many of these sites.  However, in recent years these areas have become popular with bird watchers; and they have started to publish guides on many areas.

These guides are generally called birding trails.   They give a set of directions, descriptions, and amenities offered on these lands.  The have become the "scenic byways guides to wildlife areas"!  They even include some state parks camping information in the guides.  Some of them are free, while others have a small fee associated with them.  Nearly all of them are published by non-profit organizations.

It appears that every state is in the process of completing birding trail guides.  Just do a Google search and use the following format:  STATE NAME birding trail guides.

Almost all guides give specific directions, information on whether camping is allowed and notes on both campgrounds and dispersed areas close by with agency contacts and phone numbers so you can obtain additional information.

Here is the link to the guides in Oregon.  You can download these and use them for exploring.     Oregon Birding Trail Guide Site

They can be used as guided tours to the natural areas of the states.  Drive from site to site and you will get an appreciation of the natural history of these areas and insight about how these areas came to be.   You will find great boondocking locations, fishing, and canoeing or kayaking sites.  Oh yeah, there is also some great birdwatching around!

I spend quite a bit of time bird watching in the fall when I take a special friend out with me.  He POINTS out all the interesting birds in the area.  And in the evening, we have pheasant cooked French style with sauce and wild rice.  All of it washed down with some of the famous Eastern Washington wine.  Red, thank you and the more robust the better.  Give me a couple of weeks of boondocking in October with my shotgun and my bird dog.  It doesn't get any better than that!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Icicle Creek, Leavenworth, Washington

This weeks post is on Icicle Creek which is just a couple of ridges over from the Chiwawa River Valley.  It is just outside the tourist town of Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth is a tourist town with high peaks all round and a Bavarian village theme.  We look at Leavenworth as a unique "resort town boondock".  Great mountain scenery, close to great shopping, dinning, music and arts productions.  Where else can you camp in a Forest Service campground and be minutes away from dinner at a fancy restaurant and later watch a live production of the Sound of Music in an outdoor setting complete with snow capped peaks in the background?

As mentioned there are lots of Forest Service campgrounds in the Icicle Valley.  These sites are popular during the summer months with residents of western Washington so reservation might be a good idea.  Check with the Wenatchee River Ranger District for information on campgrounds:  Wenatchee River Ranger District Campgrounds   The campground spurs are rather short in most cases.  If you have a large rig you might want to look at the group campgrounds or the private campgrounds.

There are a couple of group campgrounds that are well worth booking if they are available.  Bring along some friends and stay in the group campgrounds.  They are the best deal in public land camping.  Again, check with the Ranger District.  There is ONE small boondocking location in Icicle Creek.  You must stay in a campground otherwise.  This area is just east of Johnny Creek Campground.  That is the Icicle Creek Road on the left.  NO campfires at this spot.

There are several private campgrounds in Leavenworth if you need more services.  We think Thousand Trails in the nicest, but we have not stayed there only came by for a visit.

The hiking is great in the Icicle Valley particularly if you do not mind UP.  The Icicle Gorge Trail is a gentle stroll for those that do not want to scale the heights!  A discount pass or the Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at trailheads.  Fishing is allowed in Icicle Creek above the fish hatchery, but it is all for small fish.  If you are a rock climber there are some great climbing areas. Drive up the Icicle Creek Road and bicycle down while gravity provides the locomotion for your bicycle.

Visit the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery outside of town for a interesting free stop.
Here is the web site:  Leavenworth Fish Hatchery.  If you are in Leavenworth in late September be sure to visit the Salmon Festival.  Grab a kid to take with you.  It is a great event and FREE.  Wenatchee River Salmon Festival  Oh, the Fish Hatchery has an interesting gift shop that helps support the hatchery and is well worth the visit.

The Leavenworth area has a unique summer theater.  Leavenworth Summer Music Theater  The shows tend to get sold out early.  So visit the web site and get tickets early.  However, for those last minute folks patron tickets are resold the day before the performance.  Those are actually the best seats and we have managed to get tickets on several occasions.  It does cool down quickly at night, so bring some warmer clothes for later at night.  Camping and music theater, not many places where you can do both!

A new addition to Leavenworth is the Wineries.  They are not yet in the class of the Walla Walla Valley, but getting closer to the Napa Valley in quality.  Guide to Leavenworth Area Wineries

For that all important dinner out we recommend Visconti's in downtown Leavenworth Visconti's Italian Restaurant  They were selected as one of the top 100 restaurants by the Wine Spectator.  We actually prefer their Wenatchee location since it is quieter than the Leavenworth restaurant, but the food is outstanding in both locations.  My favorite is the Applewood Shrimp dish.

For lunch we recommend Gustav's.  Gustavs  Their onion domes above their building always make me feel like I am going to be attending the Orthodox Church of my youth.  However, on a warm sunny day grab one of the tables upstairs and watch the snow covered peaks while drinking a cold beer.  They serve primarily bar food, but after a long backpack burgers and fries are mandatory to replenish the body.

Leavenworth is also home to Woody Goomsba the world's most famous nutcraker.  Here is Woody in his hit perfomance of Gitcha Goomsba Up.  He also stars in Woody Falls in Love and Woody at Der Spa.  There is a Nutcracker museum in Leavenworth and I am sure that they will be selling your "own" personal Woody Goomsba nutcracker soon.  Go now before you have to wait in line to get into the Nutcracker Museum.

Lots more to do and see in town.  Be sure to explore the town's web site:   Leavenworth, Washington

This is a web site with current events and a slightly different format than the Chamber site above.  It is more user friendly than the chamber site:  Accidental Bavarian

Leavenworth, Washington a resort town for campers.  If your not into camping rent our vacation home just outside of Leavenworth.  Camas Meadows Lodge.  Be sure to click on the Almost Live webcam link to see Camas Meadows at different times of the year. 

For keeping track of friends and family while exploring Icicle Creek and Leavenworth check out the review of these radios.

 US Backroads Review of Handheld Radio's

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cool, clear, clean water.

Backroads Product:  Katadyn Base Camp Water Filter

Cool, clear, clean water is important in the backroads.

For the first ten years of my career as a Forester, I actually spent most of my days in the woods.  I drank water straight from the streams then and never got sick.  

I have friends that drank from streams and got so sick they thought they were going to die!!  Worse yet, it made them very sensitive to any bugs that might be present in the water.  They were forced to filter water for the rest of their days.

Now in retirement, I on occasion still drink untreated water from a stream.  However, the joy is gone as I feel like I am playing at a roulette table in Vegas.  Sooner or later I am going to lose.

Even a perfect system for delivering water is subject to contamination without constant monitoring and cleaning.  I did quit using the storage tank in my tent camper for drinking water.  It was too difficult to keep sterile.  Even hauling water in containers is subject to contamination.

So when in backroad areas I tend to buy drinking water in two gallon containers from the nearest grocery store.  I haul water in containers for showering and washing dishes or fill from clear, cold streams.

In areas where I spend a long time away from stores, I borrow tricks from my backpacking days.  I use a water filter.  I have used pump water filters and those were enough to make me bag it.  I confess that I have used my pump water filter more traveling in areas of the world where water treatment is suspect than in the backcountry of America.

So here is my water filter of choice.  It is gravity fed.  No more pumping until your arms fall off!!  Notice that it is light enough to pack in a backpack.

One of the major complaints about ALL water filters is that they can clog and need to be cleaned regularly.  I just carry an extra filter so that I can clean the clogged filter when I want to do it.  Think about it.  Anytime a water filter clogs is probably a bad time!  So here is the link for the replacement filter:  Katadyn Hiker PRO Replacement Cartridge.

The price of the replacement filter is half the price of the base camp model.  But remember the filter is the expensive part.  The rest is just a waterproof bag and plastic hose.

The backroads are one of the joys of living in this country.  But you do have to be healthy to enjoy them.  So use the filter.  Don't play the tables.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rules...Who Needs Stinking Rules!!

Rules for boondocking on federal lands are found in the Code of Federal Regulations, also fondly known as the CFR's.  CFR's 36 Part 200 TO END.   Way back in the 1990's you could buy a paper copy from the Government Printing Office for a mere $48.00.

The good news is they are also on-line at the following link:  36 CFR Electronic Copy.  In the 1996 version the Forest Service rules were ONLY 404 pages!  I did not want to look at the 2010 version.

So there you are.  If you want to argue with the rangers, read the entire copy.  It's highly unlikely they have! Now the good news is each National Forest and Park also gets to write their own regulations based on the 36 CFR.  Those should be available at the Supervisor's Office, but I cannot remember if they are posted on-line. It most likely depends on how each local manager uses their website.

The CFR"s and local additions provide a long list of DON'Ts. 

So what rules did this guy break?  Well, it was not dog off-leash.  That is perfectly legal on most National Forests' boondock locations, unless the dog is not under voice control.  Dogs do have to be    on a six foot leash in campgrounds.  Just read the 400+ pages.  There has to be something in there somewhere.

You will not get cited, if you simply follow these two simple rules.  One:  Please take care of the public land you own.  It means do not damage the land.  Two:  The way you know rule one is followed is  there is no trace of you being there.  Here is a web site to help you with rule two.  It did start with Wilderness areas, but it can be applied anywhere.  Leave no trace, what a wonderful concept!  Leave No Trace.

Ok, here are some things to watch out for.  First, do not cut green vegetation.  If you cut firewood for a campsite do it outside the camping area and bring it in to your campsite.  Yes, you can gather wood for a campfire without a permit.  Do not re-engineer your campsite by moving large rocks.  They might have been placed there for a reason.  Do not dump the black tank in the woods or into the campground toilet!!

Fire.  Fire is always a special concern in the West.  During dry conditions do not start a fire, particularly if it is windy.  Remember that boondock sites or dispersed campsites are always closed to campfires before developed campgrounds.  So if you see a fire in a campground, it does not mean it is ok for you to have a fire.  Check with the local ranger station or BLM office.

If your campfire escapes and starts a wildfire, you will probably be billed for fire suppression costs.  If air tankers and helicopters start flying you might as well file for bankruptcy that day.  Campfires, I only enjoy them in the pouring rain since being on fire assignments and seeing the daily costs of the fire suppression activities.

You readers are the folks land agencies love to see enjoying public lands.  Don't worry about breaking rules or regulations.  Just follow the simple rule of Leave No Trace.

The public lands of the United States are a national treasure that belong to all of us.  Take care of them and be sure to take the time to enjoy them.  There are few places on Earth like the American public lands.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chiwawa River, Plain, Washington

 Twin Lakes, Glacier Peak Wilderness

 Backroads Destination:  Chiwawa River Valley

The Chiwawa River on the Wenatchee National Forest is one of those areas that harken back to the days when National Forests were uncrowded, with small campgrounds and lots of trails for hiking and exploring.   There are plenty of boondock campsites for those that prefer the privacy of a dispersed campsite.

The Chiwawa River is closed to fishing to protect endangered fish.  The recreation use in the drainage is probably less today than it was 25 years ago.  The attractions are still there.  The great scenery and the trails are there and the camping is just as fine or better than 25 years ago.  If you are a fisherman there are probably other places to explore.

The trails take center stage in the Chiwawa River Valley, but camping is a close second.  Download the trails map below for directions on how to get to the valley.

The hiking trails lead in the Glacier Peak Wilderness established in 1964.  This a world class Wilderness Area with many spectacular hikes.

Our recommendation is to take the short five mile hike to Spider Meadows.  Here in a fairly short hike with little elevation gain that takes you right into the heart of the Cascades.  Be sure to hike through the meadow and up to Spider Glacier.  There are several stream crossing that could be "interesting" in early season.  If you are not a seasoned hiker it might be well worth to wait until August to attempt this hike.  A Northwest Forest Pass or one of the discount passes is required to park at the trailheads.

Another hike is to Twin Lakes.  The trail from the Chiwawa River side is fairly flat and a easy hike.  You can also hike into Twin Lakes from the White River side.

If you prefer some assistance in your trail travels this area offers world class horse, mountain biking, and single track motorcycle trails.  The mountain bike and motorcycle trails are, of course, outside the Glacier Peak Wilderness.  These trails are also popular with hikers and horse users.   Here is the link to the Forest Service brochure on trails in the area:  Chiwawa River Trails Brochure .  If you are a mountain biker or ORV rider, you owe it to yourself to ride the trails in the area.

The access road starts out as two lane paved, shift to one lane paved with inter-visible turnouts, and finally becomes just plain dirt.  Here is the information on  inter-visible turnouts:  Driving backroads and inter-visible turnouts.

There are plenty of boondock locations and campgrounds in the Chiwawa River area.  The campgrounds are all $10/ night.  Most are limited to trailers less than 30 foot, with the exception of Goose Creek, Grouse Creek Group Camp and Chiwawa Horse Camp.  Goose Creek is popular with the ORV crowd, so if you do not like motorcycles take a pass on this one.  The only sites with water are Goose Creek, Finner Creek and the Chiwawa Horse Camp.

Here is the Forest Service web page with the campground information:  Chiwawa River Campground Information.

Now the Chiwawa River is somewhat remote, but that all important dinner out while camping can be found nearby.  In this case, we recommend that you switch from dinner to Sunday brunch.  The Mountain Spring Lodge serves a great Sunday brunch.  Here is their menu:  Mountain Spring Lodge Menu.

The Chiwawa River area of the Wenatchee National Forest.  One great boondock destination.

photo courtesy USDA Forest Service.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Summer Time and the Living is Easy

Backroads Product:  LaFuma Recliners

We first ran into the LaFuma recliners at an RV show in Spokane.  The lady demonstrated the recliner and then told us a story.  It seems one of her customers had purchased the LaFuma recliner and called her on how to clean the recliner.  She brightly said, " Just take a garden hose and use the water spray to clean the recliner".   There was silence at the other end and then the woman said "But won't that get my living room wet?"

We have purchased other brands, but found out they are not as well made as the LaFuma recliners.  They tend to wear out after a year or two.  The LaFuma's are still going strong after seven years.  The cords that hold the seat in place do have to be replaced.  However, the rewebbing kit is nominal in price and is easy to replace the original webbing.

The LaFuma recliner is comfortable enough to use in a living room and small enough to pack on that camping trip.  I use it to watch meteor showers as well as for those all important afternoon naps!  

If you are tall, you should get the extra large model which is larger and longer in size. 

A recliner while camping?  Yes, it will make your camping much more comfortable.  The biggest issue is that most folks just do not recognize how comfortable these chairs are until they use one.  They are just like those fancy ZERO GRAVITY CHAIRS sold by those expensive furniture stores.  Try one on for size.

Yes, the dog and others are going to be jealous of you when your settled into the LaFuma with that glass of wine.  The good things in life are best enjoyed in the boondocks.

There are fancier models for sale, but this is the basic model we prefer.  We have six of these for camping and using on the deck of our house.  There is a small cottage industry of supplying accessories for the LaFuma such as cup holders, magazine racks, laptop desks, and the all important sun umbrella that clips to the chair.

Here is the link to those accessories:  LaFuma Accessories

And here is the link for that all important umbrella: Clamp Umbrella for Lafuma Recliners / Chairs - Outdoor Color.

The LaFuma recliners are making the boondocks into your living room!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How Long Can I Camp?

Backroads Information:  Stay Limits

This is some of the stuff you probably haven't really thought about, but someting you do need to know.  Stay limits!  The rules (CFR's) are set-up so you cannot live full-time on public land.  Yes, the Homestead Act is one of the very few laws that Congress has repealed.

The stay limits differ between the various federal land management agencies.  State agencies also set stay limits.  In some areas with high demand for boondocking, the agencies set shorter stay limits.  When in doubt, check with the local office. The most common stay limit is 14 days.

Stay limits on BLM lands are set by national BLM regulations at 14 days.  Unless a different stay limit is posted, you can assume it is fourteen days.  There are areas where the stay limit has been reduced to 10 or even 7 days, and these limita are usually posted on the bulletin boards. 

On National Forests, the stay limit is set by each individual National Forest.  Many times these are NOT posted.  So you should contact the forest you are boondocking on for the exact stay limits.  Generally, the stay limits will range between 14 and 21 days.  There is usually one additional wrinkle, and that is you cannot stay more than 30 days a year on an individual National Forest. But don't be discouraged by this regulation. There are well over a hundred National Forests in the US, so it always possible to move to another great spot.   The stay limit on National Forest campgrounds is usually 14 days.  Fourteen is a popular number.

Lands managed by the Army Corp of Engineers generally have a stay limit of 14 days!!  But this can also vary from unit to unit.  Again, call the local office and ask about dispersed camping limits.

For state resource agencies and Fish and Wildlife sites the limits can vary from ZERO to over 14 days.  On some sites, due to party crowds and resulting law enforcement issues there is no boondocking, while on other similar sites you may be welcome to stay well over a week.

The Park Service is generally not boondock friendly, so check with the individual units for their stay limits.  Their campgrounds are generally at 14 days.  Lake Mead, which does allow boondocking, has a 15 day stay limit.  I guess 14 was just too short a stay for them.

As a general rule, you can probably assume the limit is 14 days unless it is posted otherwise.

The best way to camp is like the picture on top.  A clean camp with most stuff securely put away.  No litter or disorganized equipment thrown about the campsite.

Now this will get you noticed!  Do not look like your filing a claim under the repealed Homestead Act.  Notice the dog.  Notice the dog food out in the open.  Notice all the junk tossed around the campsite.  Notice the wine glass.  Yes, alcohol and firearms will get you noticed.  According to BLM they really notice a full size refrigerator running off a generator parked next to an RV.   Do not make your campsite look like a garage sale and DO NOT put up a GARAGE SALE sign whatever you do!! That's illegal.

Keep a clean site.  Keep your garbage out of sight and neatly stored.  Remember ALL boondock locations are now pack-it-in pack-it-out.   So, if you brought it with you, you are expected to take it with you when you leave. 

On that note, I have to finish with a story from fairly early in my career.  I was doing a recreational carrying capacity study at a National Recreation Area that featured a large lake with water skiing, boat camping, fishing, and houseboats.  At our initial planning meeting with the rangers, I asked if there were any questions outside the study they were curious about and would like answered.

Yes, replied one ranger, "I want to know why some members of the public go to all the trouble of bagging their garbage and then leave it on the beach when they leave?  Then the coyotes come down to the beach and tear open the garbage bags and garbage is up and down the beach and when the lake level comes up it floats and is generally disgusting". 

I was well into the study when, after completing an interview, I asked a gentleman if there was anything he wanted me to put in the notes to forward to the Park Service.

"Why yes, he said, we were told by the Rangers to bag our garbage and leave it on the beach.  They would come by and pick it up.  Then the coyotes come down to the beach and tear open the garbage bags and garbage is up and down the beach and then when the lake level comes up it floats and is generally disgusting".

It turns out that particular Ranger transferred out ten years earlier, but the new message had not gone out to the public using the lake about pack-it-in then pack-it-out.

Just pack it out.  Ranger Rick is no longer there on garbage duty.

Monday, June 14, 2010

30 Mile Fire Memorial, Chewuch River, Washington


Backroads Destinatioin:  The 30 Mile Fire Memorial, Chewuch River, Washington

Summer in the rural west is forest fire season.   It is a part of the ecosystem and a reality for the communities around Forest Service lands.  It has been that way for 100 years.  

As a forestry student working summers for the Forest Service, I looked forward to the wildfires as a break in the routine work of  laying out timber sales and surveying for roads.  The excitement of a forest fire was just what a 20 year old craves.  The overtime and hazard pay made a significant boost in take home pay for college expenses.  The Forest Service has probably paid for more college degrees by employing students through its summer hiring program than any other employer in the United States.

There is a reason why the government pays a premium for work fighting a forest fire.  It is called hazard pay for a reason.  It is dangerous work.  Exciting, and when your twenty you have a different perception of what is truly dangerous. 

In 1910, the Big Burn consumed three million acres and 78 firefighters died.  The Forest Service was under attack and was uncertain if the agency would survive the 1910 fires.  It did survive, and go on to become one of the more successful federal agencies through the 1970's.   This book by Timothy Egan is worth the read, especially if you are traveling in northern Idaho and western Montana.  He gets into the political aspects of the fire, but it is always tempered by what the firefighters and communities did to survive and fight the fires.  These huge fires are a part of history that is still visible in the landscape of Idaho.  Early in my career, I wrote the National Recreation Trail nomination for the Big Creek drainage on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.  The cedar snags give testimony to how dangerous that fire was in 1978.  You can feel the presence of the ghosts of firefighters as you ride the trails.  And a hundred years later the impact of the fire is still visible.

In 1949, 13 firefighters died fighting Mann Gulch Fire in Montana.  The title of the book by Norman Maclean is Young Men and Fire.  Prior to these deaths, injuries and fatalities were accepted as a part of firefighting.  Suddenly, perceptions changed and a new attitude of concern and safety emerged within the agency. After that, the Forest Service focused on investigating why fatalities occurred and what could be done to prevent future fatalities.  Working for the Forest Service in the 1970's, I found an agency obsessed with safety.  The Park Service and BLM were merely concerned.  In 1979, while in my 20's, I visited Mann Gulch and was sure that the things learned from this devastating fire would keep it from happening again.  But, it did happen again.  In 1994, the South Canyon Fire resulted in the loss of 14 firefighters.  But these were fires that occurred elsewhere.  Even though the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests had large, dangerous fires, few fatalities occurred from the 1970's forward.  This all changed on July 10, 2001.

The fire started as a campfire where people were roasting hot dogs and the fire escaped.  They were never found.  It was a small fire.  A large fire was burning in Libby Creek, on the other side of the Methow Valley.  It ceased being a small fire in the late afternoon when it blew up and claimed the lives of four firefighters.  Reading the fire reviews, and later investigations, I learned that it is not one big mistake that takes your life, but a series of small mistakes that snowball until it is too late to reverse course.  We work harder and harder on safety, but the human element and those little mistakes can often result in disaster.  These books are worth reading to see how firefighting has changed over the years.  As you travel around the west this summer and see or smell smoke or hear local newscasts about wildfires in the area, think about and appreciate the risks that our firefighters take every summer.
The songwriter,  James Keelaghan, wrote a song about the Mann Gulch fire.  Here is a You Tube link to the version by Cry, Cry, Cry:  Cold Missouri Waters.  Great pictures  Be sure to read the comments on the video.  It is like sharing lunch or a beer with firefighters when they ask the question.  Why?

As you travel to the 30-Memorial site, the effects of the fire gradually start to appear.  As you travel up road you can see how the fire intensified as the day went on.  This is the view from the burn over site 10 years later.

Firefighters throughout the country have come to the 30-Mile Memorial to reflect on that day in 2001.  They leave items that are important to them and firefighters throughout the country.  It is worth visiting and reflecting on what happened that July day.

Read the books.  These are available at most libraries and used book stores.  The set of three will give you a understanding of fire and the young men and women that fight them today.

The Memorial site is easily visited if you are staying in the Chewuch River area.  
See our previous blog entry:  Chewuch River .  The Memorial site is a short drive from the camping area.

Fire Outlook for 2010.  This is the outlook for this coming year.  It looks like above normal conditions for northern Idaho and western Montana.  

During Fire Season the SIT Report:  Incident Management Situation Report  gives a National overview of current fire situation throughout the United States.  Incident management teams respond to more than just fires.  Notice on the SIT report that teams are starting to be deployed to the spill and the flash flood in Arkansas.  

Update June 19th, 2010.  The Forest Service has set up a web site on the 1910 fires since this year is the 100 year anniversary of the fires.  Here is the link:  Forest Service 1910 Web Site .  Great site with photos and written reports from that time.  If you are going to be in north Idaho or western Montana this summer click on the events listings.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Camera's for Backroads

Backroads Product:  DSLR Camera

We all take pictures of our travels.  Having a good camera to take pictures does improve the quality of your photography.

Now this is NOT a recommendation for the best DSLR camera.  It is the best camera for use in the back-country or on backroads. 

Any DSLR camera on the market today will improve the quality of your pictures over a simple point and shoot camera.  This is because the chip is much larger on a DSLR.  The size of the chip is more important than the number of pixels.  As always the camera is less important than the photographer.   

Concentrate on the pictures not the equipment and you will become a better photographer sooner rather than later.

If you already have a 35mm or DSLR camera with lenses.  Stick with it if the lenses will work on the newer cameras.  All the DSLR cameras out there are good.  The differences are minor for most photographers.  It does make good copy comparing one camera to another to find that perfect camera!    There are good and bad points to all cameras, but in the long run you will probably be happier with a DSLR than any other camera.  And today's DSLR's can be used just like a point and shoot.

Many a camera has been sold on its "cool" factor.  This guy has got cool down.  He does not need a "cool" camera.

The pictures in this blog were taken with a Pentax 100D.  This camera is over four years old.  I intended to keep using it, but my daughter needs a DSLR for her European trip so I am replacing it with this model.

The Pentax K-X.  For backroad use I prefer a camera that runs on AA batteries.  This camera has received raved reviews for the quality and low price.  A rare combination these days. You can save some money by buying it in white through Amazon.

This is one of the last DSLR cameras that uses AA batteries.  With the new lithium  batteries this camera can run a long, long time on a set of four batteries.  It will also take regular alkaline and nickle-hydride rechargeable batteries.  Use of the flash is what really drags down the battery life.  My 100D runs for months on a single set of AA alkaline batteries.  If you use lots of flash the battery life will be much less.

The Pentax K-X also has great low light capability.  My astronomy and wildlife pictures can really use the boost when it is barely light.  The camera can bring out those early morning wildlife pictures that will be missed by other camera's. 

Pentax accessories are fairly inexpensive and you can use all the Pentax lenses in manual mode ever made!  Since Pentax was one of the most popular film cameras made looking around in garage sales can provide many of your photographic accessories fairly cheap.

This camera also has some newer features such as high definition video recording (720p) and high dynamic range (HDR) still shooting.  The video recording feature is nice, but for it and the HDR you will want to have a tripod.  These options were unavailable at any price just a couple of years ago.

Check our previous blog entry on telescopes to see how you can couple this camera to your telescope.  The same lens accessories work for all Pentax camera's:  Telescopes and more.  This camera has live view which is really helpful for focusing when the camera is attached to a telescope or manual lens.

Here is the link for a detailed review of the camera for camera buffs:  DP Review Pentax k-x.

This review is geared more to the average photographer:  Pentax k-x review .

A camera for backroads.   Great value for a cheap price.  Yes, there are better, more expensive camera's out there and if you already have a set of lenses you should consider sticking with that brand.  But for somebody starting out new to photography the price and value of the Pentax k-x is great.

As always, click on photo to enlarge to full screen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Free Fishing Spots

Backroads Information:  Free Fishing Spots

There are lots of places and times where you can fish without a fishing license.  Now, fishing licenses are great for providing monies to protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.  So I am a proponent of buying a license, but understand sometimes that is not financially feasible.  If you can afford it buy a license, do so.  But if not here are some tips on finding places that do not require a state resident fishing license.

There are several types of free fishing places, as well as others with lower cost or places where a resident license is not required.

The first is private lakes and property.  Many states do not require a license IF the fishing is on private property.  I have stayed at several places where camping or lodging included the fishing.

The state of Texas took it one step further.  If you camp inside a Texas State Park you do not need a license to fish within park boundaries.  Here is the link on this wonderful program:  Texas Parks Fishing.  Sounds like more states need to expand this program!

California has public piers where a fishing license is not required.
The complete list can be found here:  California Free Fishing Public Piers

The second is National Parks that were established prior to the states.  Here is a list of National Parks for which a fishing license is not required:

Denali Wilderness (Alaska). This is the original park boundaries of Mt. McKinley NP.
Ft. Pulaski National Monument (Georgia)
Pu’uhonau O Honaunau National Historical Park (Hawaii)
Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)
Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland)
Isle Royale National Park (Michigan), excludes Lake Superior
Glacier National Park (Montana)
Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)
Big Bend National Park (Texas)
Virgin Islands National Park (Virgin Islands)
Olympic National Park (Washington)

Always check a park brochure or ask a Ranger for the fishing regulations.  It just might be free!

The third is free fishing days offered by almost all states.  To encourage fishing many states have started to offer free fishing days.  These are usually in the form of a free fishing weekend or two dates during the year when fishing is free for both residents and non-residents.

Here is the blog spot that lists all the free fishing dates:   US Free Fishing Days.

Oops, forgot about free fishing for specific fish species.  For example, in Washington you do not need a fishing license to fish for albacore, tuna, carp, or smelt.   Now fly-fishing for carp has gotten very popular, so it could be a smart idea to print out this page to give to the warden!!Washington State Fishing Questions.  Check with other states to see which species you can fish for without a license.

Now, moving on to the category of places where you do not need a resident fishing license.  The most obvious example of this is Yellowstone National Park.  If you are a fly-fisherman you will sooner or later fish Yellowstone.  The Park Service now requires a park fishing license.  It is priced much less than a resident license, but is still a cost.

Tribal lands often sell fishing licenses for much less than resident licenses.  Some offer good fishing.  Those that offer good fly-fishing generally charge "market prices".   Check to make sure you ONLY NEED the tribal license.  If you are traveling near an Indian Reservation this is worth checking out.

The last category is cheap, non-resident fishing licenses.  The state of Washington charges $48.00 for a non-resident freshwater fishing license.  This is cheaper than some states residents licenses!!  Plus you get the $14 free parking and camping pass.  So for $34 a fishing license!!  What a deal.  Buy now, I am not sure how long deals like this will exist given the current state revenue crises!

Check and ask around as you travel.  You might be surprised at how cheaply you can fish when away from home.  Of course, you can always take this guy with you.  He does not need a fishing license.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Highway 20, Twisp, Washington

 Backroad Destination:  Highway 20, Lower Methow River Valley, Washington

This weeks backroads adventure is the lower Methow River from where it joins the Columbia River up to the town of Winthrop.  See previous blog for Winthrop and Chewuch River country:  Winthrop and Chewuch River .

Highway 20 is one of the scenic highways of Washington state.  Everybody exploring the northwest should drive the highway.  The portion downstream of Winthrop has limited public opportunities, yet most people will have to drive this area.  So here are some of the boondocking and things to do!

The first site is right on the mouth of the Methow River.  It is managed by Douglas County Public Utility District.  It is right on the road and you are wedged between the river and the highway.  However, it is free and there are toilets,  When we were there is was crowded with a amateur ham radio group all camped together.  Normally the site is lightly used until October when the steelhead fishing season opens.

Heading west you will shortly hit the turnoff to Alta Lake State Park.  This lake has good fishing, a campground, and a nice golf course.  Here is the link to the state park site:  Alta Lake State Park .
Max size for trailer is 38 feet.  At the end of the road is a horse packer that offers rides right from that area.

Further west you will run into the bustling little town of Methow.  The Methow Cafe or Kim's  is a good stop for breakfast.  We had Sunday dinner there complete with a live band playing string acoustic jazz music of the 1930's Paris, France.  Nice stop.

Rafting is a popular activity during spring run-off in the Methow Valley.   Right above this put-in site is a Department of Fish and Wildlife Camping area.  Remember for these camping area you need a parking pass from the Department.  Here is the link for those rules:  Parking Pass for WDFW

Here is the view of the camping area.

Not the best design, but it is functional.  I suppose this is what a Wal-Mart parking lot would look like if they used rocks instead of paint!  Here are the co-ordinates for this spot:  48 09 04.08 N 120 03 25.74 W
Yes, if you zoom in on the spot with Google you will see the rocks in the parking area.

After passing through Methow you reach the town of Carlton complete with its own mall!  The mall might have fallen on hard times and is probably still closed.  Just to show the Carton has not forgotten its past it still has its General Store.  The Fish and Wildlife access at this time allows camping in the site, but it is a crowded spot right in town.  Co-ordinates are: 48 14 45.68 N 120 07 04.82 W

As you head further upriver you will see the sign for BlackPine Campground.  This is a small, very tight Forest Service Campground not suitable for trailers.  Here is a picture of the campground on a rainy day.  For tent campers it is a nice place particularly if they have kids.

The road then heads into Twisp and Winthrop,  Twisp is a nice town.  Here is a link to a newspaper article on the town and its attractions:  Twisp Information .

Our favorite place in Twisp is the Twisp River Pub.  Good food, good brews, good art, good music.  What more do you want in stop for lunch or dinner?  Twisp River Pub website

This area of Highway 20 is one that people tend to drive through.  If you find you want to linger awhile in the area we recommend camping at Alta Lake or one of the private campgrounds in the lower valley.

We will cover the Twisp River area managed by the Forest Service in the near future.  It is just south of the town of Twisp.  It is complete with campgrounds, boondock areas, and hiking trails.  Nice area.  It merits its own blog entry.  It is only about 20 miles outside of town.  You could also stay there and "commute" into town.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Map and Compass

 Backroads Product:  Map and Compass

Ducks always know where they are and can find their way around the planet fairly easily.  You, on the other hand, have to learn how to read a map to travel around the planet.

The first quarter of the professional Forestry program at UC Berkeley takes place during the summer after the sophmore and before the junior year.  It takes place in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Meadow Valley.   The Forestry school calls it summer camp, but it really is about field forestry in ten short weeks.

When I picked up my books at camp most were fairly thick.  A California Flora by Munz was a good four inches thick.   But there nestled among all the thick books was a rather thin paperback titled "Be Expert with Map and Compass".  Next to the book was a compass.

Professional Foresters are taught to interpret maps, aerial photographs, satellites photos and even multi-spectural images.  Those classes came later, but they all built on that first little book on how to interpret topographic maps and use a compass to navigate.

That little paperback book is in its 15th printing.  It starts out on how to interpret topographic maps and continues into using a compass.  In these days of GPS units, why use a compass?

The same reason the Coast Guard and US Navy teach their officers to sail.  By knowing the basics you have a firm foundation for the new technology.  A map is always there.  On a GPS once the batteries drain your map disappears!!  Likewise, a compass will always work.

The book is inexpensive and current editions include information on the sport of Orienteering.  Now I never did get into Orienteering, but running property lines and doing the basic forestry work with map and compass was always fun and interesting.

That compass is still sold and available.  It was the compass I used in my 40 year career as a professional Forester.  I have them scattered around the house and still always carry one on hikes and hunting trips.  With a compass and map you can always find your location.

Over those 40 years I have been "lost" three times where I needed to pull out the compass and run a "line" back to the truck or trail.  After an hour of hiking through the woods with the compass it is a good feeling to hit the truck dead on!

One day I was thinking about alarm clocks and working in the back-country beyond the roads and trails.  Back in the early 70's there were not alarm clocks on your wrist.  Back in those primitive days I used the compass to set my alarm.  I noted the azimuth that the sun rose in the morning and then at night picked my camping spot by running a back azimuth to where the sun was going to rise in the morning.  Like clockwork in the morning, the sun would stream over the ridge and warm my sleeping bag waking me up.  A compass used as an alarm clock!

Get a copy of the book and a decent compass.   Use maps and compasses as you travel and soon you will be an expert in their use.  It will make you much more comfortable traveling in the back-country.  You will also be able to interpret maps and find those special places by simply looking at a map filled with squiggly lines.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How to Find Boondock Locations-Part 3

view from Junior Point, Wenatchee National Forest

Boondock Information- How to Find Boondock Locations- Part 3

Talk to everyone about possible boondock locations.  As you can see from this picture, even when scoping out an area from above, boondock locations are difficult to find.  However, there are many folks who will help point out those special locations if you are willing to investigate.

Talk to everybody, the Forest Service, BLM and local residents.  Talk to people camped next to you in campgrounds.  Most people will share locations they find special and off the beaten track once you strike up a conversation.

Learn to read, and more importantly "interpret" maps.  If you ask a Forest Service or  BLM employee about cool places to camp and give them a map from an area a thousand miles away, they will quickly circle the areas that look "interesting".  You can learn that skill easily.  In this blog, I have tried to give some clues on how to interpret maps.  But, the way to get really good at it takes practice.  Look where you are camping and see if you can learn what makes it special by studying the map.  Compare the map to what your seeing.  Soon you will be able to spot cool spots easily.

Each BLM and Forest Service office has a map of Visual Management Inventory.  See if they will share those areas with you.  The Landscape Architect, Outdoor Recreation Planner or Recreation Staff will know what your asking about.   Ask them to explain the map.  Circle those areas on the Forest Service or BLM map and explore those areas to learn what makes them special.

Many people are afraid of getting stuck on Forest Service or BLM lands.  Here is one way to avoid this fate.  Get a good map.  Fill your gas tank.  Contact the Forest Service and find a "safe" place to land in an area that looks interesting.  This can be a Forest Service campground or a location you know.  Then get a Forest Service map.  Drive the PAVED roads.  There are lots of boondock locations off the paved roads.  This will get your started.

As you get more experienced, start traveling the gravel roads and then onto the dirt!

When bird hunting, I always spend the morning hunting an area I know.  In the afternoon, I drive around with my maps and look for new areas to hunt.  You can use the same strategy with looking for boondocking locations.

My favorite boondock locations have good fishing, good bird hunting, or good viewing with my telescope.  Your interests may vary.  Your boondock locations may feature ghost towns, hot springs, rock hounding areas, and even bird watching areas.

In a later chapter, I will explore bird watching areas and the unique boondocking opportunities they provide.  Next, I will talk about free fishing areas throughout the United States.  Yes, there are many places where you do not need a fishing license.

These folks found this boondocking location for the motorcycle and jeep trails in the area.  What are your interests??