Thursday, April 28, 2011

Driving on National Forest Roads

Backroads Information--Driving on National Forest Roads

The state of Washington posts their county roads that have no warning signs.  I find it slightly amusing that they call them "primitive" roads.  The Forest Service goes one step further and removes the warning sign on their roads.  So Forest Service and BLM and other "primitive" roads require a different expectations than driving city or "modern" roads.  Your on your own.  You need to drive slow enough to avoid hazards such as rock, down trees, mud bogs, elk, and other interesting items along these roads.  One of my favorite memories was driving a Forest Service truck high in the mountains of Idaho and having the truck attacked by a badger.  Now there is road hazard never mentioned on a typical driving test.

For years in the Forest Service the Foresters designed and staked the roads.  They were generally then built by logging contractors.  Then somewhere in the 60's the Forest Service started hiring Civil Engineers to build their roads.  Now nature hates straight lines and most Foresters go along with that concept.  However, civil engineers love straight lines and assigning numbering systems to everything.

So the engineers grouped all the roads into three classes:  arterials, collectors, and locals.  Sometimes these are called primary, secondary and local routes.

Primary or arterial routes are assigned a two digit number by the Forest Service.  So Road 39 is primary route suitable for travel by passenger car.  Now these roads generally meet typical county road standards or a little less.  They might be paved, but your speed will still be fairly low compared to roads typically found in urban and rural areas.

Secondary or collector roads are assigned a four digit number.  Here is a picture of the Forest Service road close to my house.

Notice that the truck is parked in a inter-visible turnout.  Read this information on inter-visible turnouts.  Be careful when the sides of the road are wet or have snow on them.  The shoulders are soft and you can easily sink up to your hubcaps.  These roads are generally one lane and mostly gravel.  There is a LOT of variability to the quality of these roads.  So pay attention as you drive.  The road shown above is one of the better roads.

Last but, not least are the local roads.  Now these are generally short spur roads that were used for timber harvest or other management activities.  These are generally marked with a four digit collector number shown horizontally and then a three digit number shown vertically.  Get that.  The four digit number is the collector road from where the local leaves it.  The three digit number is the local road ID number.  These are usually posted on the local road just off the collector road.

These roads are not maintained for public travel and you should expect to encounter downed trees, rocks, washouts and other hazards.  These will also have boondocking sites.  Before I drive a local road I make sure my vehicle will make it out before I enter.  So walk these roads before pulling a trailer into them, unless your totally sure of your destination.

The Forest Service does NOT show all the roads on their recreation maps.  Just the ones they feel are suitable for recreational travel.  If you want a map with ALL the roads you will need to purchase a fireman's or district map.

The current Motor Vehicle Use Map which is free shows all the roads open to vehicle travel.  So it has the road numbers of the open roads.  You can read more on the Motor Vehicle Use Map by clicking HERE.  Be sure to click on the link if you are not familar with the Motor Vehicle Use Map.  It can save you writing a check to the Federal Treasury for using a motor vehicle in a closed area.

A lot of the romance of Forest Service travel went out the window with all those road numbers.  But at least now you know what they mean.  Keep looking for roads like this....they are out there.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How to Fish Good Part One--When

 How to Fish Good Part One--When

Well, since English is my third language I can misuse it, right?  Today's quiz is what do the wildflowers above have to do with fishing?  I fly fish lakes for trout.  My comments might or might not apply to other species or trout in streams.   Since they are generic most of these tips will work with other species.

The keys to fishing are when, where, and how.  Today we will cover when.  This is really the most important fishing skill.  When I moved to a very small town with lots of fishing I asked around to find the best fisherman in town.  It turned out to be the barber.  So I paid my money, settled in the chair and started asking questions.    As most barbers he was talkative and willing to share his secret.  He fished one lake for two months every spring.  That was his secret.  He only fished when the fish were most active and feeding and he got to know his lake real well. 

If you are fishing when fish are feeding.  You will catch fish.  It is as simple as that. 

Fish are cold-blooded creatures.  Their metabolism is regulated by water temperature.  Which really means they eat lots when temperature is just right, and much, much less when water temperature is cold or hot.  This little instrument keeps track not only of water temperature, but everything else that at one time has been thought to influence fishing.

For trout their optinum temperature is around 55 degrees and the fishing should be fairly decent between 50 and 62 degrees.  Once above 62 fishing not only slows down, but at 70 degrees you are pretty much killing every trout you hook!!

For Largemouth Bass their temperature range is between 62 and 75 degrees with optinum at 73 degrees.  Looks like when trout fishing slows down it is time to switch to bass.

There is one other critical factor and that is dissolved oxygen in the water.  However, this is difficult or expensive to measure.  I remember for my project in my college ecology class titrating chemicals while in a small rowboat.  That is not recommended.  I did learn a lot about the relationship between temperature and dissolved oxygen levels.  And it really did help me become a better fisherman.

You can get a dissolved oxygen meter for around $200.  I took a pass on that and use the stream thermometer on the right.  I carry it in my fly vest.

Fish and Wildlife Departments know all about temperature and fish feeding.  They generally schedule "opening" days of fishing season around the lower optimum temperature range.  That way they sell more fishing licenses and the fisherman get to catch more fish.  If you are traveling and unsure of when to fish check the opening dates on regulation page.

For states with "multiple" openers or lakes that open on different months always try to fish close to the opener.  For trout, the lakes have the maximum population and you will catch fish.  So here in eastern Washington I fish the year round lakes just prior to the March 1 opener, then switch to the March 1st lakes.

Another batch of lakes opens April 1.  Switch to fishing those.  Later lakes open on June 1, September 1 and December 1.  Keep following those dates and you will catch plenty of fish.  If you are a beginner fisherman follow the calender and start catching fish!

Oh, those pretty yellow flowers are called Arrowleaf Balsam Root and they bloom just as trout fishing gets really good on the lakes of eastern Washington.  So if  these flowers are out GO FISHING.  Here is more information from the Forest Service Wildflower Site.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011



I have been writing this blog for just over a year now.  So perhaps it is time to introduce myself and talk a little about the blog.  As noted, I am a retired professional Forester.  I have worked for private industry and all the major federal natural resource agencies with the exception of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

One of my complaints while working was the poor job that most agencies do in sharing information with the public.  I remember proposing to redo the reception area so that the public would have access to aerial photographs, topographic maps, and all the other resources available to the agency professionals.  We also proposed a coffee pot where the public can linger and get answers to their questions.  Well, that idea did not go very far.  Fortunately, these days with Google earth and the USGS on-line Store everybody now has access to aerial photographs and topographic maps in their home.   My blog is focused on helping you use these resources to explore your public lands.

Well, my story starts in Valencia, Venezuela where my earliest memory is dragging a small cardboard box on a string and looking up at the snow capped Andes.  We lived on the outskirts of town and our toys were very simple, but there were plenty of "natural" places to explore close to the house.  I started liking wild places.  If your interested in the transition from immigrant to a unhyphenated American click here.

Even when we immigrated to Paterson, New Jersey a couple of blocks away was a park and school.  Half the park was left in weeds and covered with wild vegetation.  That was my playground.  We moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1960's.  Now my parents were not outdoors people.  So my exploration of the outdoors was limited to friends and areas close to home.

However, when I went to junior college (due to my outstanding C average in high school) I got a car to drive to school.  My first class, Calculus, resulted in my dropping Astronomy as a major and my guidance counselor suggested Forestry as a major.  So I said sure, though it meant that I would take calculus as a sophomore not a freshman.  There was a hiking club on campus and with the car I spent the winter months exploring the Sierra foothills, Pt. Reyes, and the Ventana Wilderness south of Montery.

After completing  my science, economics, statistics, math, and general education requirements I transferred to UC Berkeley to enter the professional Forestry school in my junior year.  The California National Guard was there to greet me and they pretty much stayed there until I graduated.  It was a wonderful education.  More or less a liberal arts degree in the natural sciences, with economics and sociology thrown into the mix.  Somebody once said that Forestry was one of the few professional that coupled the challenge and beauty of the outdoors with the rigors of a profession.  For a choice that I made simply because I had to chose a major it was one of the best decisions of my life.

I worked summers for the Forest Service in Idaho and California and then went to graduate school at the University of British Columbia.   Canada and I were not a good fit.  I found a professional job with a consulting firm in the San Francisco Bay Area and for two years traveled throughout northern California working on timber sales, inventories, and completing a map of every last Sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park south of the Mineral King Road.  It was a great time.

I quit the job to go back to graduate school, but this time at UC Berkeley.  Not bad for a C student in high school.  Most of my high school teachers refuse to believe that I even attended college!!

During graduate school I took a job with the National Park Service to determine the recreation carrying capacity of Lake Mohave.  It was on this job that I spent most of my time talking to recreationists on Lake Mohave.  I learned a lot from talking to folks using the lake.

A pernament job offer came from the Forest Service while I was working for the Park Service.  So I moved to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to work for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.  Now this was important for another reason since on my first day at work I met my wife.  Thanks, to the federal personnel papers I can always remember the date and time I first me her.  You can read the story of our first date in this blog entry.  I wrote the St. Joe Wild and Scenic River Management Plan and the Forest Service wanted me to move to Avery, Idaho to implement the plan.  Their reasoning was that Avery was NOT a place for a married man, so since I was single I could live there!!

Well, I decided to stay in Coeur d'Alene instead and took a job with the BLM.  I enjoyed working for the BLM, but since Susie had transferred to the Okanogan National Forest we were now separated by 200 miles.  Well, the Forest Service just had two new jobs on the Colville National Forest.  One for an Economist and another for Public Affairs Specialist.  Now that was a bad career move, since it took 16 years to get a job where I was not tied to a desk.

In July, 1997 I took the Recreation, Wilderness and Trails Program Manager job on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests.  I finally escaped the 100% desk job.   It was a great job, but there is one job that is even better and that is retirement.

With retirement I can finally do ANYTHING I want to do.  So maybe I cannot get that reception area complete with aerial photographs, maps, and a coffee pot.  Through this blog I can get you information on using aerial photographs, maps and public resources.  You will need to provide your own coffee.

I look at this blog as a job.  That is the reason for the Google ads and the Amazon referrals.  You can help support the blog by clicking on the ads that interest you and making your Amazon purchases by entering Amazon by clicking through on of the ads on the blogs.   Thanks.

We are almost through our round of spring-time doctors visits and are ready to hit the road once again in the fifth wheel.  Our plan for this summer is Montana.  Great people, great mountains, and great grasslands.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Omni-Heat Jackets Columbia Sportsware

Backroads Products--Omni Heat Jackets Columbia Sportsware

Last summer I wrote a couple of articles on clothes (Over Garments ) and mentioned my fondness for Columbia Sportsware products.

UPDATE:  Winter 2012.  Well, I am still impressed with the omni-heat jacket.  So much so that on our trip to the southwest we stopped at Columbia store and purchased two more jackets.  So now I have a nice green and grey omni-heat for those occasions when camo just will not do!!  The store also had great omni-heat vest, but unfortunately it only came in the women's sizes and in powdered blue color.  It was the color that kept me from going there.  

The company was kind enough to send me their new jacket line for my review.  It was the Columbia Men's Omni Heat Wader Widgeon Parka for duck hunting.  When I saw the jacket my heart fell since it is a vapor barrier product.

Vapor barrier products have had a long history in the outdoor area.  One company, Warmlite, has made quality vapor barrier products for years.   However, I never did use  their products

Now I have used my "own" vapor barrier products like baggies over wool sock, when working in snow and rain to keep my feet warm, but wet.  And even once or twice I have cut arm holes out of a large garbage bag to wear in a sudden rainstorm.  I have also worn "vapor" barrier rain gear laying out timber sales.  This is sort of like wearing a sauna under your clothes all day long!

So I was a little concerned when the jacket turned out to be a vapor barrier product.  However, this is not the old fashioned vapor barrier jacket of the 60's and 70's.  The Columbia website has additional information on the science behind the product, but be forewarned that the site is heavy on flash so be sure you are on a fast connection.  The jacket is a partial vapor barrier so moisture is wicked away and heat reflected keeping dry and warm.

The jacket came in two pieces.  A inner liner complete with omni-heat zipped into an outer jacket.  The two jackets came in fashionable camo complete with shotshell loops and feeder on the outer jacket. 

I have worn the outer jacket rarely.  It is designed for waterfowl hunting and is great for rainy weather.  Well, in eastern Washington rain is just not on the agenda.  So while I have worn it for brief rain showers,  I have not had a chance to wear in a downpour.  I am not a fan of the shotshell loops, however, the shotshell feed tubes on this jacket are great.  They work!  This is the way to carry shotshells in a jacket.  The jacket comes with an integral cap and hood that is removable.  This works well, and my daughter, the snowboarder, highly recommends this setup for extreme weather.

The inner liner, however, has become my favorite jacket for all conditions under 60 degrees.  I have worn it in 30 degree rain on snow pheasant hunting trip that was miserable.  The jacket stayed warm and dry.  Blowing snow at ZERO degrees was very comfortable.  The jacket cuts the wind and keeps you warm.  It is a great jacket.

If your into the outdoors you should check out the omni-heat products.  I am going to try the gloves and cold weather boots.

If you are one of those people that is ALWAYS cold give one of the omni-heat jackets a try.  You will appreciate finally being warm!!   There are lots of styles available.  So look around for a jacket or style that meets your needs. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Downloading Free Topographic Maps

Backwoods Products-Downloading Free Topographic Maps

I confess I am one of those people that is always cruising the internet looking for maps.  Once you learn to interpret maps it is easier to find information by quickly scanning a map than even looking at aerial photos.  Here is the link to the previous blog entry on learning how to use a map and compass.   As with everything in life, the trick to becoming expert in using a map and compass is using a map and compass as often as possible.  That generally means buying topographic maps or a computer mapping program.

This is the program I use.  Simple interface, easy printing and making notations on maps.  However, it is very expensive to buy a set for all the states! 

Other manufacturers also take the USGS topographic maps and convert them to computer files that you can print and manipulate.   So there are plenty of choices if you prefer using the DeLorme or some other interface.

However, for me the National Geographic interface is the simplest and is the reason I have continued to use them.  All the maps are prepared by the United States Geological Survey so they are identical for ALL the software packages.

So pick the interface you prefer when purchasing.

But you can get the topographic maps for FREE from the USGS at the store.  Here is the link to the USGS store:  USGS Store.  In the upper left hand corner, under the search header is the Map Locator button.  Click on it and a map of the United States should come up in the center of the screen.  It is actually the familar Google map screen.  There should be instructions on how to download instructions to the right of the map.

If you do NOT get this screen it means your browser is blocking the cookies required for downloading the map.  So go into the tools portion of your browser and under the privacy tab there should be options for allowing cookies.  On some browsers you can specify which web sites can download cookies to your machine.  Or you can simply make the change while you downloading maps and then change it back after you are done. 

Click on the state and browse to the topographic map you want to download.  Click on the "information balloon" to get the dialog box to download the map.  Note that the maps are 6 to 10 megs or more in size so you might want to be on a high speed connection prior to downloading. 

The ENTIRE topo map is dowloaded as a PDF file and can be read in Adobe Reader.  I use Adobe Acrobat to clip and resize the maps.  There are some freeware software packages that can also do this, but I have no recommendations since I use Acrobat.  Any suggestions??

Also on this page is the download for GeoPdf program.  Click on the web link to see if you want it.  It does look interesting.

So there it is for a free topographic map anywhere in the United States.  Well, not really free since your tax dollars paid for its development.  However, this is one of those government programs that has allowed private industry to do their work quicker and more efficiently than gathering their own data.

Download the maps.  Cut out the portion your interested in and start using it.  Soon you will be expert with that map and compass.

Check out the other features of the USGS store.  There is lots of good stuff in there.