Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lookouts and frozen showers!

Living the life of a lookout observer is not that different from the RV boondocking lifestyle.  All my power here is provided with solar panels, and all the heat and cooking is provided with propane.   A 2000w inverter is connected to provide power, and all the lights are LEDs.  There is a backup Honda 2000 generator, but I cannot see it ever being required.


The drinking water and propane is flown in – at least until rainwater collection starts to supplement the water supply.  So the same conservation methods used in boondocking apply here.  The cozy cabin is new, but not much larger than an RV.  Hailey is happy as long as she has her bed by a scenic window.  There is a sink and drain, and an indoor shower stall with a drain, but no other plumbing.  In boondock fashion, I filled a solar heated shower bag with water and left it out in the sun to heat up.  Instead, if froze solid!  When it thaws, it’ll be shower day.


Sometimes, you get to experience a unique view of wildlife in the area.  I spotted these cougar tracks on a trail not far away.


I tried to work some Bayfield Bunch picasa magic on the photos so that the tracks were somewhat visible Winking smile.

Deer come by regularly …IMG_8290


And have no idea that I’m watching them.  Four of them decided to have an afternoon nap right below me.


Nobody jumped out of this plane, but it reminded me of the airshows I got to see while camped on Lake Mead.


It was conducting some sort of geotechnical survey in the area and was usually not much above tree tops and usually below the height of my office cubicle.

There can be some long days in the lookout when the hazard is high, but watching videos of the Quebe Sisters Band can help pass the time.  You will recall that I met them when they were playing in Apache junction.  They are now on tour with Asleep at the Wheel.


After Hailey and I got dropped off out here, we were expecting to stay about 2 weeks until the regular tower staff show up.  Not surprisingly, that changed and our parole was denied, and we were asked to stay even longer.  That meant some imminent shortages of food were about to occur.  Catching mice and trying to lasso a deer did not seem to be workable alternatives, but fortunately we were able to convince a passing fire patrol helicopter to drop us off some additional supplies.


By the end of the month, I should be back to my regular job managing a primary fire base, but hoping some opportunities to fill in at other lookouts around the province may come our way again.  In the meantime, we are envious of Wheeling It and others who are still sitting in the hot springs of eastern California and taking seriously their duty to report on the best breweries in the west!  John & Brenda are now back at Dogpound north with their shivering Arizona horses!  Perhaps when Sassy takes up summer residence in BC, she’ll report on her neighbour Wandering Willy?

Ok, that’s enough name dropping.  We’ve got ‘work’ to do!G0194860

Saturday, April 04, 2015

From one Paradise to another!

My idyllic lifestyle as ‘official’ hot springs photographer at Wild Willy’s hot springs near Mammoth California came to an inevitable end upon hearing about work beckoning back in Alberta ;-(


Reluctantly I packed up, and after one last soak in Hill Top spring, Hailey and I adopted our traveling positions and let the miles start to go by.  We re-traced our route (hate it when that happens) back into Nevada, and onto highway 6 before cutting north to Hawthorne and its munitions bunkers, and up past Walker Lake where we overnighted last year about this time.

But this time, instead of Carson City and Reno and back into northern California and Oregon, we picked up I-80 and headed east for Winnemucca.  I’d always wanted to say I’d been to Winnemucca, and now I can!  There is some pretty isolated country in northern Nevada, but the traveling was good, and if anything we had a tailwind.


One option was to head north on 95 from Winnemucca, but instead we opted to carry on eastbound to Wells and take 93 north.  With the climate getting cooler as we ventured north, there is not much incentive to take it easy and enjoy the camps, so one might as well drive as long as the sun shines and the eyelids stay open.  We pulled over in a little snow squall coming into Jackpot, Nevada, but carried on north and called it a day in the southern edge of Twin Falls, Id where a Walmart lot provided the required amenities.


After that, I don’t seem to have taken any photos as we continued northward.  We stayed on 93 north of Twin Falls, where I ignored Hailey’s meows to go through Hailey, Idaho again, continuing north east past Craters of the Moon NM, then from Arco picking up the Salmon river and following it’s very scenic path eventually through the community of the same name.  Must have been some good fishing happening on the river as some sections had boats anchored bow to stern in the channel while the anglers tried their luck.  With the narrow winding roads, the cameras stayed in their cases Sad smile.

From Salmon, the road climbs in a sometimes winding fashion, eventually reaching the continental divide at Lost Trail Pass where we found ourselves in Montana.  There was snow in the ditches and on the ski runs of Lost Trail ski area, but the roads were bare and dry, and the big GM did it’s work without complaint.

Missoula and the Canadian border was in our sights, but due to some miscalculation of miles/kilometers conversion, or a time warp, an encampment was called for in Whitefish, Montana where a few rain showers also tracked us down.

We ran for the border in the morning and made it through without incident, primarily because we were not concealing any poultry with Avian cholera!  With amazing foresight, I had remembered to donate all remaining firewood as well to a roadside campsite!

Last day on the road provided some temptation as we drove past yet another remote hot springs in British Columbia, but we resisted the temptation, and crossed the continental divide one last time before coasting down the east side, and eventually to home base just as darkness fell.  Unlike last year where I could not even smash through the snow drifts in my driveway in 4 wheel drive, this year although returning earlier, there was not even enough snow in my yard to fill a pail or two.  Looks like I didn’t take any photos of that either (?).

After a day or two to read the 5+ months of mail …

and the occasional Christmas card …


… it was off to save the Alberta forests from burning down!

Before heading out to my own designated tower, I made a trip to another one in the area to help prepare it for opening.  Although the road had been plowed, we still ‘chained up’ to be sure we made it to the top.


Then Hailey and I packed our bags and our favourite mice to fly in to the tower where we will spend the next couple of weeks!  She’s now a helicopter veteran after our long flights last fall in and out of the tower north of Peace River Alberta.  Once again, she took it all in stride.IMG_2040IMG_4470

While some of the photos appear a bit ‘snowy’, rest assured that fire season has truly started around here.  With the gusty winds and dry grass around here, crews have been responding to 5-6 fires a day – mostly started by trees blowing onto power lines.IMG_2041

But today, it has started to snow again, and I don’t have my TV at this tower, so I really had no excuse not to update the blog – finally Winking smile.

For the first time in quite a while, it is right up to date!  While out walking around today, I spotted some fresh cougar tracks, and I expect to see some bear sign any day as at least some of the big griz are already roaming around. 

I see that the Bayfield Bunch have arrived safely back in Ontario, waiting for the summer’s heat to melt the last of their snow, Wheeling It have started their seasonal migration up the wet coast (where I was planning to be about now), and RV Sue looks like she might be in the same campsite south of Ely, Nv that I was in a year ago on my way south.  And Wandering Willy has even started to plan his route south later this fall!  Alex – Runningliner is also back in Ontario and finding it a bit on the cool side so far.

And finally, the required shots of Hailey, checking out the Sierra Nevadas of eastern California, just before we high-tailed it north.


Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Whitmore Hot Tubs

The traffic noise and the lack of waterfowl at the Pahranagat NWR had made the decision to leave early an easy one.  Once again, for forecasts for further north around Ely, Nv did not appear to be too inviting.  The Sierra Nevada mountains of eastern California were also looking cool and Mammoth mountain ski area was still open, but the big attraction there is all the free hot spring pools scattered about the wide open landscape.  It was a fairly long drive over some high mountain passes, but they were all found to be bare and dry and provided no issues. We took the ‘extraterrestrial highway’ without getting abducted by aliens or buzzed by any stealth craft from Area 51.  We did get checked out by California ‘customs’, but had nothing of interest to them.


It didn’t take long to find a very scenic spot not far from Wild Willy’s hot springs.  I don’t think they are related to former blogger Wandering Willy, but you never know!IMG_2009

There are at least a half dozen free hot springs within a few miles, of various sizes and popularity.  So you may be able to choose your favourite type or view, or company.  But most of them are also well known, and within 20 minutes or so from Mammoth Lakes, so they can get rather crowded at times.


Other times, if you are lucky you might have one of them all to yourself.


Other times, you may get forced to be a photographer!


I did find myself alone at a couple of the springs, so I took advantage and took a photosphere picture to add to Google Maps.  You can see them here …

Wild Willy’s       Hilltop

Most of the hot springs are quite natural, but most have a little concrete, and some even have convenient valves so that you can control the water temperature fairly easily.  Nice!  Several also have drains to aid in cleaning.  Several have well maintained walkways to prevent trampling of the sensitive terrain.


I don’t usually plan anything much more than a day or two ahead of time, but with the cooler weather to the north, and about a month before I was to join the forest protection people up in Alberta, I had kind of envisioned a rather relaxed trip up the west coast.  Hey, if I moved slow enough, Wheeling It might even overtake me on their run north from San Diego.  I knew that Wandering Willy was already at home in BC, as well as Jean & Skip.  And the Bayfield Bunch are well on their way north east back to Ontario.

But alas, it was not to be. Fire season is starting much earlier than usual this spring due to a lack of snow cover, much of which has already melted.  So I got a call asking me to show up a month ahead of schedule to sit in a tower for a couple of weeks till the regular lookout observers get back from their winter hangouts.

Reluctantly, everything was packed up and loaded aboard in preparation for a fast run back north to Alberta.