Monday, December 30, 2013

Finding not the spiritual inner being, but your current location on Earth.

usbackroads information--Finding yourself on Earth.

Above is the view from the back door of our vacation rental cabin outside Leavenworth (Camas Meadows Lodge).   Last spring, we decided to expand our customer base by advertising with a couple of high tech oriented services.  Since we are off-grid and green by definition we also started advertising ourselves as Camas Meadows Eco-Lodge.

We have been blessed by increased bookings.  However, I am suspecting that when kids say they are computer savvy it only means a high score in some computer game!!  Definitely, not a game that requires mapping or any outdoor skills.  In the world of high tech youth every location has a physical address and all roads are paved.

So it sometimes comes as a shock when they are driving around with marginal cell service and totally lost.

Here is a handy little trick for finding yourself on Earth and more importantly being able to tell someone where exactly you are on the planet.  Trust me this comes in very handy in a medical or vehicle emergency.

I found this out the hard way when I had my near death experience about a decade ago.  I clearly read the 911 operator my township, range, and section number of my location.  AND for a 911 service that serves a rural area, she had no clue what I was talking about.

I doubt she even knew that the Forest Service made maps for the public to use.

Everything is Latitude and Longitude these days.  Fortunately, it is easy to find on your cell phone if you know where to look.

Right there is the Apple Compass app.  It even looks like a compass.  If it does not show up on your IPHONE or Android device you can download from their respective services.  They are free!!  Not a bad price for saving somebody's life.

Tap on the compass app.

Apple is a little vague about whether they use a magnet, cell towers, or GPS satellites to find the correct bearing.  It looks like it might be all three at different times.  The only real thing is to make sure that the compass read TRUE rather than MAGNETIC NORTH.

I suspect that you won't be running property lines with your IPHONE.  What you really need are those little numbers at the bottom on the screen.  You can enlarge the photo, but the numbers are in this format:  47 degrees 29 minutes 19 seconds N   120 degrees 20 minutes 4 seconds W.

Here is how you write it in the Google Earth search bar:  47 29 21 N   120 20 14 W   Be sure not to put a period after the W since it will want to send you to the Phillipines.

Give it a try with your smartphone.  Get the coordinates and then load them into Google earth or Google maps.  Press enter and your current position should come up in program.  You can also use this with handheld and automotive GPS units.

Practice it a few times unless times until it becomes second nature.  Your kids will tell you that you can easily find their location using Google earth, but remember you want to tell somebody else where you are located.  Don't forget you can take a screen shot of your map location and mail it.

Myself, I would just rather give the coordinates to 911.

In a non-emergency like trying to find Camas Meadows Lodge this method comes in real handy if your lost in the middle of somewhere.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pheasant Hunting on the Snake River--15 years of Removing Invasive Bird Species from Wildland Ecosystems.

usbackroads destination--Pheasant Hunting on the Snake River--15 years of Removing Invasive Bird Species from Wildland Ecosystems.

It was 15 years ago that I was invited to my first Snake River Ecosystem Restoration Project.  The first year was interesting as we spent four or five days camping in a 21 foot boat whose cover was held together with duct tape.  The days were foggy with temperatures in the low 30's.  Three adults and three dogs in a rather small space.  The next year we switched to camping in my tent trailer and used the boat to access hunting area.

For the next few years it the three of us camping in the tent trailer.  We were then joined by three boys and one wife.  That meant four adults, three boys, and four dogs in the tent trailer and add-a-room.  It was warm and cozy.

Slowly the camping equipment was upgraded so by this year  the tent trailer was joined by a Class C motorhome and a 5th wheel trailer.  And for accessing hunting areas a SLED!!  Ah, the lap of luxury for our camping.

Given the near desert conditions of the Snake River region we have in the past had rain, cold weather, and hurricane winds.  Now that we have some great RV's to wait out the bad weather we ended up with 10 days of sunny, warm weather with nary a breeze.  It clouded up on departure day.

Our ecosystem restoration project appears to be successful as the pheasant population continues to drop year after year.  I suspect it has more to do with habitat change and rainy spring weather than our hunting abilities.  So the shooting was the worse ever, the hunting was as always, great.  But we did have one day when we took an awful long hike while carrying shotguns for no particular reason.  Final count was a dismal 17 pheasants and one hun.  Eight of those pheasants were provided by the wildlife mitigation program for the Snake River dams.

With little excitement hunting or the weather we had to generate our own.

Fortunately, Bugaboo was up to the task. First, Bugaboo decided to go over a barb wire fence.  He caught his leg on the top wire and did a complete flip landing on his back!   This was opening day leaving the truck.  Ouch.  For an encore he decided that next time he would go through the barb wire fence.  This left a puncture wound plus a rather long scar on his belly.  For some reason, two days before season the vet gave me some antibiotic and steroids in case he hurt himself.

Pheasant and deer season overlap by two days.  There are plenty of gut piles out and about for Bugaboo to sample while hunting.  Last winter, he ate something in the desert and we thought he might not make the night.  That small intestine from a deer was just to yummy to pass up.  So he ended up with intestinal issue AND a wound at the same time.

He stayed in the back of the truck and ignored his food.

On Wednesday, we decided on a ZERO day.  No hunting.  Bugaboo laid in the sunshine and ignored his food once again.

On Thursday, we got ready to go hunting and he immediately perked up.  Hunted for three days, before he ate any food.  Priorities.  The German Longhair Pointers live to hunt and they will not miss one outing!!  Yoho had a mini-stroke at age 13 so I gave her an aspirin and left her in the truck.  She quickly notified everybody within earshot that it was not acceptable to be left behind.

We did go ahead and try catching those elusive steelheads.  This year, however, nobody was catching many steelheads.

The neighbor was fishing for sturgeon and Paul decided to try our hand at it.  First, Paul took out the canoe and dropped the sturgeon bait in the middle of the river.  He then returned to shore.

The sturgeon bait was left out all day while we were hunting.  The boys minded the rod.  One of the advantages of being home schooled is that you can being going to school and fishing at the same time.  It seems that right in the middle of a math problem the sturgeon rod started screaming for attention.

When we came back from hunting that day the story was told.

It was six feet long and math class had to be cancelled for over an hour as he fought the fish.  They got it close to shore, but nets for six foot fish are hard to find.  I suspect the sturgeon took one look at the crew and decided to part company as quickly as possible.  Sturgeon on the Snake River are within a slot limit, so the fish might have been too large to become sturgeon steaks.  We are looking forward to listening to the story in future years to see if the fish grows in size.  The neighbor did catch and release a nine foot fish a couple of days before so there is plenty of room for the fish to grow in future years.  We will see if the boys are really fishermen.

More excitement due to the new SLED that was a present for Paul from his wife.  I must say that we were rather proud that after years of dropping hints to her she finally gave him that special gift.

Bugaboo quickly claimed a seat and asserted ownership therefore banishing the German Short-Hairs to various parts of the boat.

He even ignored the only female on the boat and left her on the rear deck.  Not acting like a good guest, but I guess once your neutered the interest in woman does go down.

We left one foggy morning to hunt a wildllife management area downstream from Little Goose Dam.  That gave us a trip through the locks.

Once in the lock we could look up at the lock gates.  Yep, we figured there was a 100 feet of water in there.

At the east end of the lock is the famous Little Goose Dam waterfall.  We wondered if the lock failed how quickly we would be flushed to Portland??  It is a nice touch to have a waterfall within the lock, but it does remind how much water is ABOVE you.

We motored downstream to start hunting.  One of the advantages of a sled is you can beach it anywhere and quickly get out of the boat if needed.

We did see several pheasants piling into a small brush patch next to the river.  Everybody hunts ducks from a boat, but we felt we had a unique opportunity to hunt pheasants from a boat.  Well, the dogs jumped from the boat and WAITED for us.  We kept telling them to find the birds and finally they got the drift.  Well, the comedy of errors resulted in one shot fired and seven roosters slinking away in the grass laughing their heads off.

The German Vacumn Cleaning company kept hunting.  We started out with Bugaboo and one short-hair. As the days past without many birds we kept adding short-hairs to the mix and by the end of the 10 days every dog was running around trying to find the missing birds.

There were enough birds for the traditional pheasant dinner with fine red wine from eastern Washington.  We are, wondering if our job is over on the Snake River.  Maybe next year it is time to head for the Dakota's and find a spot with more invasive pheasants that we can hunt from a sled.  

Do all traditions come to an end??  

So far this is the best use we have found for the fishing bobbers in 15 years.  Foreground object in a photo.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

usbackroads destination--Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Timing is everything on a cruise ship.  It is worthwhile to careful look at your itinerary to decide your personal schedule on the ship.  There are times to look at the scenery, times to explore on land, and lots of times to read books, watch movies, and eat food.  You don't want to waste scenery and exploring time eating food.  It is a day and overnight trip at the start and a similar schedule at the end of the trip.

There were only four hours in Ketchikan and the next stop after an afternoon, a night, a full day of cruising a four hour stop in Victoria, BC.  The ship then leaves Victoria for Seattle at midnight arriving in Seattle the following morning.  AND it must go real SLOW to take so long to make the short journey.

Passports required for entry in Canada and we had to show them for the cruise.  However, as all the cruise ship passengers left the boat in Victoria, the Canadian authorities just waved everyone through in massive waves of humanity.  There is a bike/pedestrian path from the harbor to downtown.

I lived in Vancouver, Canada in the early 1970's so was looking forward to seeing Victoria again after more than 30 years.  I do owe a debt to Canada for making me realize that I really was an American.  Complete story is found HERE.  Living in Vancouver, I would wake up every morning to Newfie Jokes and jokes about the little old English ladies living in Victoria.

Then to no one's surprise Census Canada officially reported that the largest "ethnic" group in Victoria was little old English ladies who moved there after living at all ends of the earth managing the Empire.  They would all gather for afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel.  I was fortunate to have tea with "ladies" back in those days.

These days the English ladies have joined the Russian babuska's in the next life.  Victoria is now a young, vibrant city complete with with cranes and condo's everywhere.  Afternoon tea is probably now a tourist event, rather than a social event.

I am not quite sure why MicroSoft couldn't make it in Victoria.  Maybe all those "young" folks are too busy with IOS7 to bother with "office".

Even though the old English ladies are gone, there is plenty to do and see in Victoria.  The Parliament Building reminds you that Canada really is a foreign country.

Butchart Gardens are always worth a visit.  Hey, all those little old ladies are into gardens, eh.  Then there is the Royal BC Museum which should not be missed.

And after all that city stuff......there are the Canadian backroads of Vancouver Island.

Victoria is worth exploring for a weekend or more.  Vancouver Island is worth exploring for a month or more.  Is was nice to see Victoria again, and we will be back again.

The cruise ship left at midnight and by morning we were back in Seattle.  The disembarkation is an event.  As one group of 2500 passengers leave, the ship starts boarding the next set of passengers.  It is a pretty amazing event scripted so that people can leave, board, while rooms are cleaned and supplies refreshed all in the span of five hours or so.  Pretty impressive stuff.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ketchikan, Alaska

usbackroads destination-Ketchikan, Alaska

The ship left Glacier Bay in bright sunshine in the late afternoon.  We traveled through the night and morning found us in Ketchikan, Alaska under more typical south-east Alaska skies.  Foggy and rainy.  The ship is heading south at a rapid clip so we have only four hours in Ketchikan.

The view from the ship of Ketchikan shows different sides of Ketchikan.  There are the cruise ships parked next to each other just steps from downtown.

And downtown you look down on downtown.

So Alex and I decided to jump ship for the four hours and wander aimlessly throughout Ketchikan.  Heidi Muller has a great song about Ketchikan and if you can find the CD it is a great song that will forever color your view of foggy Ketchikan town: Cassiopeia.

So we started walking the streets of Ketchikan in the rain.

We found a totem pole.

We then saw some shops clustered around a rushing stream.  And there were signs about salmon spawning areas in the creek.

So we wandered upstream to see if we could find any spawning salmon.  Just above the stores we hit a section of stream and carefully looked over the side to see if we could see any spawning salmon.  It took a second to notice that the creek bed was covered in spawning salmon.  Click on photo to enlarge.

As we kept heading upstream we noticed more and more fish.  There were more fish than water it seemed.

We continued to walk through the neighborhood in the vicinity of the stream  Yep, this is Alaska from the bumper stickers to the boat parked next to apartment buildings.

On the way back to downtown we found the Forest Service boat and a view of the cruise ship.  Now it would be worth it to spend some work time in south-east Alaska just to get a ride on the Forest Service boat.  However, I am not sure I could handle the constant rain!!

Soon our four hour stroll through town was over and we watched the harbor activity from the ship.

And then it was time to leave for Victoria for a stop the following evening.  This was our last view of foggy, Ketchikan town.  A four hour stroll full of adventure and new discoveries.  The best part of travel are those unexpected perfect days when you were expecting nothing special.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Glacier Bay, Alaska

usbackroads destination-Glacier Bay, Alaska.

Glacier Bay was one of those lifetime destinations for me.  I could do without Paris, but Glacier Bay was on the list for a long, long time.  So the only requirement for the Alaska cruise, was that we needed to go to Glacier Bay.  The Park Service has put limits on the number of cruise ships per day that are allowed into the park at two per day.  So check your Alaska cruise itinerary carefully to make sure it includes Glacier Bay.

Glacier Bay was once totally filled with glacier all the way to Icy Strait in 1750 when it was first discovered. The glaciers have been in retreat since that time.  The National Park Service brochure is quite good and shows the extent of the glaciers during the past 250 years.

There are copies on the cruise ship, but I would download a copy here prior to your trip:

John Muir wrote the definitive story on Glacier Bay and you can download a public domain copy for your Kindle from Amazon for free:

If you do not have a Kindle or the app on your IPAD you can still do a search for John Muir Travels in Alaska public domain and get a version that will work on your ebook reader or laptop.

The glaciers are in retreat and Glacier Bay is totally different than it was just 150 years ago.  So go now. Don't wait another 150 years!!  You will miss it.

I made the mistake of NOT having my camera with me for the morning cruise up to Glacier Bay since it was cloudy.  However, in the afternoon the light was not as good.  The other issue with photography in Glacier Bay is there is no sense of scale.  Here is a picture of the famous John Hopkins Glacier from FIVE miles away.

This is as close as the cruise ships can come to this glacier.  Even at five miles what a spectacular site.

The ship does spend more time at Margerie Glacier.  Though once again that issue of scale comes into play. I do recommend that you take binoculars with you to explore the glaciers up close and personal.

The Margerie Glacier is where the "calving" takes place.  That is the glacier ice dumping directly into the salt water.  This is really what most folks want to see on the trip to Glacier Bay.

Be forewarned it is crowded on the ship railing when viewing the glaciers.  And it is easy to miss a front row seat by being late to the party.

The views up and down the bay are very interesting and I would remain above ship for the entire trip up and down Glacier Bay and through Icy Strait.  It is the most interesting part of the entire cruise visible from the ship.

This is the view of the Grand Pacific Glacier moraine.  As recently as the early 20th century the glacier dumped directly into salt water  Moraine's are interesting and all you that have hiked in alpine country out west have experienced them.  On many alpine lakes, that last steep pitch of trail to the lake is usually crossing a glacial moraine.  Right on top of the moraine is Canada.  I suspect the border crossing is unmanned.

This is the NPS map of the cruise up Glacier Bay with times as you past certain landmarks.  The National Park Service provided interpreters that clambered up a rope ladder to reach the cruise ship and then they provided running commentary on the area and set-up interpretive tables in the lobby of the cruise ship.  Get the route and times to make your trip up Glacier Bay more rewarding.

The cruise ship will announce when the interpreters are boarding the ship.  The cruise lines pay a fee for entering the Park and the use of the interpreters services.  This must be one of those profit centers for the National Park Service.

As we were leaving John Hopkins Glacier I spied this fellow leaving the area.  Enlarge the photos and you can see that the top of the ship has rafts and kayaks.  Wait, I would trade our swimming pool for those rafts and kayaks.  It was at this moment that I realized that National Geographic also runs cruise trips to Glacier Bay.

Here is a link to their trips:  Much more expensive but they spend more time on the Tongass National Forest so it must be a better trip!!  Oh, check to see if shore excursions are included.  The price is spendy, but if it includes all those day excursions it is might only be slightly more expensive than Princess.  So if you would rather have a smaller cruise ship there is one alternative.

There are other small cruises to Alaska and you can find a brief summary of them here:

The important thing is to go visit south-east Alaska by boat.  The only way you can really do it.  A camper on a truck and passage on the Alaska Ferry system will get you back into some destinations rarely visited by the average traveler.  But no matter how you go you will enjoy your trip.  Just match your interests to the various offerings.