Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sunglasses and Driving Glasses

Backroads Product:  Sunglasses and Driving Glasses

Out on the backroads, products need to be functional rather than fashionable.  For years I went through cheap sunglasses, expensive sunglasses, scratched sunglasses, broken sunglasses, lost sunglasses and never felt like I found one I liked.

Then one day I was in an equipment rental place and saw a pair of safety glasses.  Now the safety glasses I remember from the 1970's were rather pathetic with blurry, poor glass.  It felt like you were really taking a chance rather than gaining safety, since you could not see anything with them on your eyes.

I am picky about optical quality.  All my telescopes and camera lenses have taught me there is no substitute for good optics.  And anything you place in front of your eye is an optic! 

So there on the counter were a pair of polarized safety glasses for about $30.  I hunt birds and fly fish and believe shot or hooks in the eyeball can ruin your day.  So safety glasses have become very important to me.  No, I do not hunt or fly fish with Dick Cheney, though I understand he is a much better fly fisherman than bird hunter.  But, you never know when you are going to need eyeglass protection and my feeling is it's better to wear it, than regret it.

These are the ones I wear.  Not bad for twenty-five dollars, and they are polarized to cut the glare.  They also do not look too bad if you are into fashion.  Well, maybe the fashion statement is that of a highway worker.

Here is the link to the complete line of Edge safety glasses.  Edge Safety Glasses

There are plenty to choose from with different frames and lenses.  For outdoors use, I definitely need polarized lenses.

I wear contacts corrected to 20/15.  So you can tell I am particular about my vision.  These safety glasses work great since they are wrap-arounds and cut the wind keeping my contacts from drying out.

There might be other brands of safety glasses out there, but these are the ones I found first and use.

The other glasses I use are yellow shooting glasses for cloudy days.  These are very inexpensive and you can find them at Amazon, Wal-Mart, and other stores.  Take a look in the sporting goods section for a pair.  

For years I went without glasses in the field.  I just felt like my luck might be running out, so started wearing them whenever I am fishing, hunting, or working in the woods.

Shooting glasses will definitely make your driving easier on cloudy days.  For the price, it is cheap insurance for working outside.

Safety glasses are one of those things that are much, much better now than in the past.  Put on a pair to save your eyes.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Forest Service Boondock Locations

Backroads Information:  Forest Service Boondocks

The good news is that the Forest Service is publishing maps showing ALL the boondocking locations on National Forest land.  The maps are/will be FREE.

The bad news is that these will be the only locations you can disperse camp (boondock) in the National Forests.

In 2006 the Forest Service wrote a regulatory rule requiring each National Forest to designate those roads, trails and areas open to motor vehicles.  The rule was really focused on these guys.

But notice that the rule included areas.  Areas are where you camp.  And since an RV is by definition a motorized vehicle it will limit your boondocking to designated areas.  The good news is that most National Forests are simply designating existing camping areas as open.

So it appears that all the camping areas currently open will more or less stay open.

It is doubtful, however, that new areas will be designated any time in the future.  The  good news is that the maps will be free and they will be updated on an annual basis.  The bad news is that you will be cited if you are camped in a area that is designated closed to motor vehicles on the map.  There will NOT be posting on the ground.  You are expected to know how to read a map.  So you might want to revisit this link and brush up on your map reading skills.  Map and Compass

You will still need to review the landforms section since many of the boondock locations are used by hunters.  Remember you generally want to be up on top or along the valley bottom.  Those mid-slope locations are generally for hunters only in the fall.  They are generally very small.  Re-read the sections on finding boondock locations.  Now you can use them for judging the quality of the campsite as you look at the map and google earth!  Finding Boondock Locations-Part 1

So where do I find these maps?  Well, all Forest Service offices will have free copies of the maps.  Or you can see where your favorite National Forest is in the process by Searching MOTOR VEHICLE USE MAP & the name of the National Forest.  In most cases, this will give you a PDF copy of the map that you can store on your hard drive.

Those Forests still in the process have also developed maps.  If they have not yet completed the EIS they will be called proposed action maps.  These are worthwhile since they will give you a clue as to what the future will hold.  In many cases these also show current boondocking locations.  Here check out this link for the Methow Ranger District on the Okanogan & Wenatchee National Forests.  Notice those "splats" or * on the map?  Those are all the dispersed camping areas.  Here is the link to the Methow map.  Methow Valley Proposed Vehicle Use Map.    Warning it is a 6 meg file so make sure your connection speed is adequate.

So there you go....boondocking locations mapped and given out for free by YOUR National Forests.  Good luck exploring your public lands.  And if you don't want to learn how to read a map you can always join these folks in the campgrounds!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Swakane Fire final update

This is the only structure lost during the fire.  The old barn was a gathering spot for many folks.  In fact, just after I took this picture a senior lady drove past the road closure to see if the barn was still standing.  Not the typical person that I expected  to see violating a road closure!

Sometimes you just get lucky.  The fire blew down the canyon pushed by high winds.  This is the Washington State Fish and Wildlilfe headquarters for the Swakane Wildlife Area.  The wildlife area did allow camping with the fish and wildlife parking permit, but it looks like next year before I would want to camp here.  The fire perimeter is 20,000 acres.

I was tired after working ten days at 13 hours a day just dealing with the media and public.  Most of the job was doing interviews and answering questions and updating the InciWeb site.  The fire crews work 12 hours straight for 14 days before getting a break.  Ah, to be young again.

It is a tough, dirty, dangerous job.  Check out the pack and the size of the chainsaw that he packs around on the job.  The fire crews have lots of college students that are paying for their higher education by fighting forest fires.  As noted in a previous blog the Forest Service has probably financed more college educations in the past hundred years than any other federal agency (excluding the Department of Defense, of course).    I was impressed with the professionalism, hard work, and attitude of today's fire crews.  Those of us "older types" on the fire remarked on how much "better" todays firefighters are in some many categories.

On many fires it really does not matter if you shoot photos in black or white or color they still come out in black and white!  This hillside looks the same in color! 

Fires have a horrible beauty of their own.  Everything changes.  The hardest part for me is the smell.  The smoke is bad enough, but you know it will go away after a couple of months at the longest.  The smell of charcoal or if you prefer burned wood just hangs in the air.   I know a lot of people like the smell of a campfire, but trust me the smell of charcoal is pretty yucky on a large scale.

There Swakane Wildlife Area is grass and shrub in the lower elevations and it will recover fairly quickly.  The large fires that burn in the timber take decades if not centuries to recover.   But there is always hope for the future.  The seeds of renewal will soon spread on the wind.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Swakane Wildfire

It has been a couple of busy days around the homestead.  The Swakane Wildfire started about Saturday noon and four miles north of our house.  High winds have pushed the fire mainly east, but also to south towards our house.  So I have set out sprinklers on the east side of the house that is in native vegetation primarily sage and grass.

The National Weather Service has a Red Flag Watch out for today and continued high winds tomorrow.

The Redmond and Prineville Hotshot crews did a burn out just above the house last night to create a black line off the Burch Mountain Road.  It appears to be holding in the 40 mile winds we are currently experiencing.   Hopefully, all lines will hold the next two days.

I just got a call to report to the Incident Command post tomorrow morning.   So the blog postings will be temporarily suspended until the fire is controlled.  Hopefully, I will be able to start posting again in a week or so.

It has been a wet spring in many parts of the country.  Please be careful with any sort of fire.  It is still July and this fire shows that fire season has once again arrived in the west. 

If you want to keep track of the fire situation nationwide see the post on the Thirty-Mile Memorial  Thirty-Mile Memorial.  There are links there. 

The Swakane Fire is listed in the inciweb site:  InciWeb.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Part 2: Camera's for Backroads

Backroads Product:  Pentax k-x

This is my original review of the Pentax k-x camera.   Pentax k-x review 

Here is my hands-on review of the same camera.  First the camera is smaller than the typical DSLR camera.  It is slightly larger than my Olympus OM-1 which I thought was the perfect size.  For backroads and hiking the camera is perfect.  Controls are easily accessible.

I am spoiled with the use of AA batteries.  It is handy to slip in another set of AA batteries and not worry about having recharged batteries or finding plugs to recharge them.  I was using standard alkaline batteries with the Pentax 100d.  The k-x appears to use more power than my old Pentax 100d.  However, the original set of alkalines are still in the camera after several weeks.   For longer lasting batteries you might want to replace the alkalines with lithium batteries.  They are about ten dollars for a set of four at Wal-Mart.  If you are a heavy user of flash you might want to insert a set of the lithium batteries prior to shooting lots of flash pictures.

I was concerned about not having top LCD panel which shows shutter speed and f-stop.  In the k-x model these are shown on the large LCD display on the back of the camera.  This is a nice display.  Pressing menu gives you all the controls and important settings on one screen.  Shutter speed, f-stop, ISO setting, battery charge state, auto focus setting, white balance, picture meg setting, anti-shake setting, exposure compensation setting and number of pictures left on the SD card.  You can then change the setting on that screen.  Simple, and it works well.  It will help make you a better photographer since all the parameters are visible at one time.  I don't miss that LCD panel at all.

Pressing the info button.  Brings up the control panel screen where you can change settings quickly.  There are 19 controls displayed and by clicking on the icon you can change the setting.  No more going to layers and layers of menu's to change settings on the camera.  Great idea. 

Between the INFO and MENU displays you will not have to search to change parameters. 

The link on the left is for the kit with the standard lens and the 55-300mm zoom telephoto.  If you do not have extra lenses this is a great price.  One advantage of a zoom camera is that you can zoom in and crop the image such that it has much more visual appeal.  Probably the one thing that will improve you photographs more than any other technique.  So consider getting the camera with the extra lens. 

There is one issue I did have with the camera.  You can customize the camera is so many ways and so easily that you get carried away.  My recommendation is to stick to the factory defaults and slowly explore the settings. 

A 4GB SD card will take almost 600 photos at the highest JPEG quality setting of 12 megs.  That is a lot of pictures for the money!

The camera also has a auto-picture mode for those without a photography background.  Just point and shoot and the camera will take care of everything.  It also has built-in body anti-shake which means those slow exposures will come out much sharper.  Don't forget high def video!

For the price an amazing camera.  If you have lenses and a photography system from another company stick with their line of camera's.   All DSLR's are good.  But if you are starting out and cannot afford to spend much money take a look at the Pentax k-x. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Waterfront Boondocks

Waterfront Boondocks

So if you are looking for waterfront boondocking locations where do you look?  Well, the answer to that one is easy.  Check out fishing guidebooks.

My rule of thumb is the more local the guidebook the better the information.  So look for guides to specific areas or state fishing guides.  Pick up the guide and start paying attention to camping information.  You can ignore the fishing information for now.

This copy of Washington Fishing by Terry Rudnick has good fishing information and great information on boondocking and camping opportunities.   For example, here is what it says for Blue Lake:  "Although not an official campgrounds, lots of people camp at primitive sites around the lake.  The nearest campground and other amenities are in and around Conconully, 10.5 miles to the south".

The guide also covers boat ramps, but neglects to mention that many boat ramps in eastern Washington are open for boondocking.  By using a guidebook like this you can find out of the way spots with waterfront camping.  Also, if you are into fishing, it is a a great way to find good fishing spots!

Don't worry about finding the latest guidebook.  Most of the fishing and camping information does not go out of style!  It has been years since new campgrounds have been built on most public lands, so even books 10 to 20 years old still provide good, relatively accurate advice.

For those of you with large rigs, central Oregon is the place to go.  You will find lots of flat ground on the Deschutes National Forest, with a network of paved roads that allows access to plenty of boondocking locations.  This book on Central Oregon fishing has color photos showing the scenery of different location.  If you are from out of the area, books like this with good photos will have you steering your rig towards these spectacular high mountain lakes.

I always recommend you cross-reference this information with the Forest Service and BLM personnel to get the most accurate up-to-date information.  Remember, when boondocking you can spend 21 days on most Forest Service lands and 14 days on BLM lands.  Find your perfect boondock location and stay a while.  While in the area, explore and find your next boondocking locations.   It is unusual to find the perfect boondock the first time, and generally you will find that the more time you spend in an area, the better your experiences.

If you are traveling in Canada, be sure to pick up one of these Backroad Mapbook.  These are primarily fishing information guides expanded to included camping, trails, paddling routes and other outdoor recreation information.

The books include detailed maps that are very good.  Pay attention as you travel and orient yourself with these maps and you should be able to easily find your destination and not get lost!

Pick one of the Mapbooks  and find a campsite smack in the middle of the area.  You will have enough land to explore until the snow flies, and your thinking about Quartzsite.

Most Canadian provinces have outstanding tourist information centers, so be sure to stop at one of these.  Sometimes, you get lucky and find good boondocking information in some of the brochures and and handouts.

Another information source is local fishing and hunting magazines.  Northwest Fly Fishing magazine has great local information, including camping locations in their issues.  They also have editions for the Southwest and Eastern United States.

I stop and pick up local information whenever traveling.  I have found some great spots this way.  If your looking for waterfront boondocking, check the local fishing guides!

Friday, July 2, 2010

On Becoming an Unhyphenated American.....

Boondock Destination:  America

I wrote an article on becoming an  American.

It was published but as a shortened version.

Here is the link to the short version:

I still prefer the long version, but nobody will publish it at 2500 words.   So I decided to publish it here.  If you want to find out how a kid named Vladimir ends up a Bob Wills and Grateful Dead fan it is all here.  More importantly, it tells how that kid became an American and why.

Feel free to share this link with your friends and family.  

We will be back to exploring out public lands in the next posting.  Sorry the the slight detour.

On becoming an Unhyphenated American

I was right in the middle of a report for work which I had to complete this day. I was not pleased with the interruption - two computer spreadsheets were open and reference documents strewn around. I escaped to the cabin to avoid the phone calls and drop-in visitors that are the daily routine in the office.

But, by the cadence of the knock I knew this was not a social call, so I answered.It was the United States Census. "Do you live here?"

"No, actually it is a place of business. I rent this home for vacation use. I filled out the census form at home."

"No matter," he said. "What is your name?"

As soon as I said it, a gleam came into his eye. Then he asked, "Are you a Russian- or Ukrainian-American?"

It wasn't always like this. When we moved from Venezuela to America in 1956, the United States government was concerned that I become an American without ethnicity attached.

My mother told me that the immigration agent at LaGuardia Airport wanted to change my name to Walter from Vladimir. He gently explained that it would be easier for me not to have a name that sounded foreign as I grew up American.

My mother refused.

The government did not give up so easily. In school, Spanish and Ukrainian were not accepted languages. I needed to learn English as quickly as possible.

I still remember my second-grade teacher in Patterson, N.J. God bless Mrs. Darben. She took time to help this poor little foreign boy and equipped him to be successful on his journey to becoming an American. She needed to start with the basics, as she helped my transition from rural Venezuela to urban America.

It was the library's summer reading program after fourth grade that really helped me. The library had a simple program: Read a book and receive a prize. For a poor child, that was all the incentive I needed. Every day I would troop to the library and read a complete book and gather my prize. At the beginning of the summer, it was the prize that I wanted. By the end of summer, it was the books that I craved.

Many of the books I read were about American history - the Swamp Fox and his role in the American Revolution; books on Jefferson, Washington, and Lincoln; the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans.

Other teachers filled in. A fifth-grade teacher gave me the complete works of O. Henry and made me promise I would read them when I got older. A sixth-grade teacher noticed I could not pronounce the "TH" sound and sent me to speech therapy for two years to learn how to place my tongue on my teeth to pronounce "the" just like the native-born Americans. The speech therapist also taught me to speak English without the Spanish cadence.

By high school, I spoke English like a native. The only giveaway that I was not native-born was my name.

As I became more and more American, more and more Americans insisted that I really was an ethnic American. So much so, that by 1968 I was not sure who I really was or to which country I belonged.

My mother once said, "There are only two things wrong with Americans. One, they are incredibly naïve about the world and two, they do not realize how lucky they are." American friends kept insisting the Soviet Union was just like America. America's luck and naiveté were to be tested in the late 1960s.

In 1968 our family watched in disbelief and horror, as we saw the only country that offered hope and a future for planet Earth rip itself apart. We saw an unpopular war, political assassinations, riots. We saw freedoms fall once again behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia and an America too preoccupied with its own troubles to even protest.

It was during these turbulent times that I turned 18 and began the process of becoming an American citizen. But I was still unsure if this was my country. The government employee administering the test noticed. He kept me giving harder and harder questions on American history, values, and the Constitution. Those books I read in the summer so many years before came in handy. So did the ninth-grade year-long class on the Constitution, along with high school courses in American history and political science.

The test examiner finally threw in the towel when I answered my last citizenship question: "What was the role of the Jacksonian movement and its ramifications on the American political system?" It might have been the most difficult oral citizenship test in American history.

Shortly after becoming an American citizen, I started my junior year at the University of California, Berkeley. At that time it was probably ground zero for the native anti-American movement. It was unbelievable to see American college students carrying the red flags of communism. To my parents, the hammer and sickle on the Soviet flag symbolized death and famine.

I was still unsure if I was an American, but I was quite sure that the solution to America's problems was not socialism. Canada started to become attractive.

Foresters always have a strong attraction to blank places on a map. Canada had a lot of blank places. Canada felt like the frontier country that America use to be. Friends who had moved to Canada to go to school all spoke well of the country.

Confused and unsure of America's future and my own, I decided to move to Canada to attend graduate school.

Canada, while appearing to be similar to the United States, is a very different country. The first clue was when I changed my greenback dollars to the multicolor Canadian bills. There on the front was a picture of her, the Queen of the Commonwealth. When I went to the post office, there she was again beaming down behind the postal clerks. I remember thinking, "Who elected her queen?"

I was thinking like an American.

In response to the kidnapping of government ministers, the Liberal government in Ottawa imposed press censorship throughout the country. I read the Vancouver Sun with big white spaces on the front page where articles had been pulled.

Nobody complained or demonstrated. It dawned on me the First Amendment did not apply north of the border.

I had a hard time adapting to Canadian society and even a harder time with Canadian higher education. As I walked into a seminar on forestry research, little did I know this presentation would change my life.

A graduate student spent 10 minutes talking about the historical differences between Canada and the United States. He pointed out that Canada was founded by a corporation - the Hudson's Bay Company. There was no revolution in Canada and its independence was at Britain's insistence, rather than Canada's. He joked that the reason Canadians have socialized medicine is it began as a corporate benefit. Like most businesses, the emphasis is on fitting in with the corporate culture. Creativity and individualism are not encouraged, but solid contributions to the existing state are.

This is why Canadian research is focused on practical application and also why scientific breakthroughs tend happen in the United States.

An individual will take more risks than groups or committees.

The United States was founded by revolution, brought on by the overriding principle of individual rights. People of this "new world" feared government would impinge on their rights as individuals. So the United States became a country where people felt pride in their government, but also kept guns to use against that same government if their individual rights were trampled. When people became fed up with their government, they headed for the frontier to live their lives as they saw fit.

During that brief lecture, I realized I was never going to fit in Canada. Being born in one country, raised in another culture, and educated in a third, you are always sure of being different. I needed to live in a country where individuals are valued and given the opportunity to make a difference.

America requires only that you believe in the social experiment that was started over 200 years ago. As a naturalized American once said, "I could live in France for a lifetime and never become a Frenchman. But here in America, after five years I can become an American complete with a accent."

You just have to believe in America and the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Shortly after that lecture, I packed my truck, stuck Allman Brothers into the tape deck and left Canada playing "Southbound" at maximum volume.

When I hit the border at Blaine, the immigration agent asked why I was entering the United States. With a grin, I said, "I'm coming home.".

He said, "Over to the side, kid, and start unpacking the truck."

Even that request did not change my mood. America might have been going to hell in a handbasket during the early 1970s, but I realized that I was going to go along for the ride. There was still not a better country in the world for me. For better or worse, this is my country, but I was still a hyphenated American.

More importantly, I still viewed myself as a hyphenated American.

Change came in 1976. I got accepted to graduate school at Berkeley, so I quit my job, bought a bicycle in England and started pedaling through Europe. The highlight of the trip for me was not Western Europe, but two weeks behind the Iron Curtain.

The Polish border guards were incredulous and wanted to see this American with a Ukrainian name. The Soviets did not have an immigration and customs service. Their entry was controlled by the Soviet Army. I had a brief conversation with a Soviet officer exactly my age. He could not believe there were Americans who spoke Ukrainian and traveled under an American passport. He was very envious.

While traveling through the Russian and Ukrainian republics I noticed that people identified me as an American, or as an American with Ukrainian parents. There was no ethnicity attached. I was starting to realize that I was not hyphenated.

I took a Soviet ship from Finland to England. On all cruise lines, even Soviet ones, passing the time at sea is very important. To help, the ship's crew organized a chess tournament. At the registration desk a young, attractive Soviet woman asked my name and nationality. "Vladimir Ivanovich Steblina, Ukrainian-American" I answered. Her reply, in the best icy commissar style, was, "No such thing." She quickly wrote American on my tournament card.

I was paired with a young British lad for the first round. In 15 moves I was out of the tournament and had plenty of time to ponder her comment:  There is no such thing as a Ukrainian-American.

The reason we were in America was the family farm in the Ukraine was confiscated, my grandmother shot, and my father made homeless and an orphan before his teens. My family escaped the Ukraine into Nazi Germany, from post-war Germany to Venezuela, and then to America.

The Ukraine was part of my family's history, but not filled with pleasant memories. America, on the other hand, gave us not only one opportunity, but second and third chances.

I realized I owed America everything.

I was not born an American - English is my third language - but I take pride in the ideals, values, and achievements of this country. I cheapen the value of America and give credit to a sorry chapter in our family's history by insisting on hyphenating my nationality.

Unfortunately, the American government now thinks differently.

The census taker repeated his question., "Well, are you a Russian- or Ukrainian-American?"

I replied, "I would rather be just an American; but I suppose technically I am a Latino of European origin."

"I do not have a box for Latinos of European origin," he said.

I just shrugged.

The census taker then continued the interview "Your wife, is she a Latino of European origin?"

"No, she's as American as they come. Came from Scottish, English and German stock from well over 150 years ago. I doubt she is a hyphenated American."

He replied, "And your daughter, that makes her a Latino of European origin?"

I just shook my head. "No, no you just don't understand. The reason we came to this country was so she could be an American."

And she is a good one, too. She has the poise, the confidence, the sense of fair play, the optimism, the drive to succeed, and the tolerance that marks America."

I am disappointed my own government wants to hyphenate me. At least my daughter is un-hyphenated. I hope she realizes how lucky she is to be just an American.