Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dry Days

splash

Uplift.

California is evaporating. Continued drought combined with collective denial have spurred the loss of 63 trillion gallons of the states reserve waters. You can see for yourself what this looks like in satellite images from NASA here. Hetch Hetchy, the reservoir famously protected by John Muir that provides the majority of water to San Fransisco, is at 63 percent its normal level. The loss of this massive volume of water has been large enough to initiate a rebound effect in the Earths crust; California is also rising, to the tune of more than half an inch in less than a decade.

According to the State of California, close to half of many residents water use is for outdoor urban areas.

Drain the pools. Turn off the misters. Let the lawns go brown. Get it together people.

https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/severe-drought-causing-western-us-rise
photograph courtesy of Science@NASA

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Great Wide Open V- Tunnel Vision


Freeze.

Lava tubes are one of my favorite things. Formed as a result of cooling during an active flow, lave tunnels are a testament to the inherent lazy nature of the world. Even lava, if given a chance with take the easiest route, sometimes not even bothering to craft a new tunnel, instead flowing through a tunnel formed by a previous flow, using it as a means of easy travel and transport. When cooled, these caves become underground conduits that lead directly into the belly of the volcano. Cool.

Literally. Basalt is an amazingly efficient insulator and most caves stay close to freezing all year long, even in the desert. In eastern Oregon these caves were the first source of refrigeration for settlers eager to beat the heat. Early entrepreneurs made good money harvesting the ice from these caves and hauling it back to town in blocks for sale. Now, the caves are overrun with tourists, largely unprepared for the experience. Although it may seem to go without saying, these caves, like an others, are really dark, really cold, and offer questionable footing. Most people forget these things and find themselves shivering along in the dark with frozen toes. But it's worth it, even if it's just for the Lord of the Rings style ambiance. 

There's a whole world down there... 

Friday, August 22, 2014

It Doesn't Have to Be a Circus


Kids.

We've all seen it. The family outdoor adventure gone terribly wrong. Exhausted, crabby parents dragging kids, sometimes in complete meltdown mode, down trails, coaxing them, in vain, to come out of tents, or generally having to pander to them to get them to go outside at all. I know a lot of parents that fear these scenarios, a lot that have lived through them, and a couple that pretty much have no idea what I'm talking about. Michael Lanza and his wife Penny fall into the latter category.

Ask the elder Lanza's about hiking or backpacking with kids, even with infants, and they pretty much shrug and say, "Yeah, what's the big deal?" Talk to them about taking their kids backpacking in some of the most spectacular parts of the National Parks, and rather than recount mishaps, tantrums, and parenting fails, they talk about how proud they are of their kids, how they are always exceeding expectations. Michael even wrote a book about it, using his year of backpacking with his kids in the National Parks to highlight climate change and the urgent need to show our children the best of these wild lands before they disappear.  

Along the way he does a pretty great job of demonstrating that kids can be treated just like anyone else outside, as long as you are willing to accommodate them. Kids need more sleep and more stimulation than us. They can't carry as much and they aren't as good at catching dehydration or hunger before it takes a turn towards grumpy. But they are game, resilient, and have a lot to teach us about ourselves and the world around us.

It IS possible to get outside with your kids, minus the meltdowns. And it's important that you do if we want them to be stewards in the future. So be brave, plan well, keep a positive attitude, load up the clown car, and get yourselves outside.

To read some of Michael's blog or buy his book:

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Great Wide Open IV- Some Like it Wet


Rain.

It doesn't matter how many people tell you about it, or how emphatic or dramatic their telling of it may be, until you witness half an inch of rain in less than an hour in what is usually a dry-as-bone desert, you can't really believe it.

Observations:
There are more low areas on a seemingly flat property than one may think. 
The low areas can hold more than four inches of standing water.
This is important as the door starts at 4.5 inches.
Metal roofs make lightning more exciting.
Continuous lightning and thunder really do mean the storm is centered above you.
The neighbors house is the same color as rain, or close enough to disappear into it.
Frogs, like humans, think the carport is a great place to stay dry. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Thru Hiker


Appalachia.

In case you have been away from media in the past year or so, Cheryl Strayed wrote a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The short version is that she goes out unprepared, with no previous experience, in part to detox from a heroin habit and in part to get over a breakup and find herself. She eventually triumphs, after facing cold weather, blisters, and the consequences of her lack of preparation. And there's a lot of men, nice guys that repack her pack for her, pass along tips and gear, and generally make things go more smoothly for her. And love interests. They're making it into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. 

Wild is a great story about personal transformation. It's well written and compelling. But it's a terrible example for anyone considering taking on a thru hike. It makes the PCT seem pretty scary and inaccessible. It also makes it seem like maybe men are better suited to such thing or that maybe women can't do it without the help of men. But there are plenty of hiking memoirs and guides that are good examples while still being compelling stories. And some of them are written by women. The one I am reading these days is “The Appalachian Trail Girl’s Guide: Part Memoir, Part Manifesto”.  

What's great about the Girl's Guide is that she keeps it real and practical. You get an easy read with some great stories from her more than six month long hike of the Appalachian trail but you also get a ton of great advice from what kind of tent to use to how (and when) to swap out your winter clothes. And if you are thinking of taking on the AT, she lists some of the prettiest places and best section hikes of the trail to get you started. Books like these are great escapes and good fuel for our creative wanderlust. Check it out. 

To Read Megan's Blog, Appalachian Trail Girl:

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Burning Of the West


Smoke.

It is easy, I think, to forget that the west is burning. It has been for some time now. California never closed last years fire season and Washington has lost more houses and seen more fire, still early in the typical season, than it ever has. Oregon too, is burning. 

But there are barbecues and fireworks and concerts and long lazy days swimming in the now warm waters of our abundant lakes and rivers. It is easy to pay no mind to the helicopters practicing their low passes over the lakes, readying to bring water if the fires get too close. And the sunsets are lovely.

For the first few days, it is easy to relish those sunsets, take pictures, and share a glass of wine with friends. But then the days turn hazy, a false layer of clouds holds the heat into the valley. It is smoke, we are reminded. The cost of those sunsets is the burning of the west.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Great Wide Open III - Hot Stuff


Soak.

Some days go as planned, others, not so much. On this day, we decided to take the scenic route from our campsite in the foothills of the Jefferson Wilderness to the high lava lands east of the Cascades. The mission was to scout hikes for an upcoming field trip, most of which I had already seen. The only new hike looked and sounded from the description pretty easy. No big deal we thought. Yeah.

First, we decided to make an extra stop at an old-growth grove, which turned out to be neither a .25 mile loop nor particularly packed with old growth. A couple of miles later we emerge scratching our heads, wondering how such a nice trail got put in such a strange and remote place.

Two hours and one delicious roadside lunch later, we reach our real destination, get out, and start to hike. Uphill. Like really, really uphill. It's one of the few downsides to studying volcanoes, the hikes are almost always brutal climbs. So up we go to the beautiful viewpoint, planning to continue down and around the lake. But we miss the trail marker and an hour of hard hiking later, land right back at the car. 

Take two. We skip the cinder cone the second time instead walking through one of the largest and longest campgrounds either of us have ever seen. Eventually, we reach the juncture we should have been at almost two hours ago. We hike on past, towards the promise of an obsidian flow and hot springs. The sign at the trail head states that the hot springs will be about 1.25 miles past the flow, on a WELL MARKED spur trail (their emphasis, not mine). We find the flow. It is, in fact, obsidian. We hike on. And on. And on. We turn back at the halfway point, obviously having gone miles too far. Less than a mile beyond the flow, there is a side trail, entirely unlabeled, that leads to the hot springs.

Oh joy, oh rapture, hot springs! We are tired, dusty, and about four miles past what we were prepared to hike. We are ready for a soak. But. But the springs, being natural as they are, are blazing-lava hot. And also about five inches deep. Apparently, the winter snows and high lake levels are what locals use to fill the dug out tubs and cool the water. In midsummer, the best you can hope for is some dangerously hot splashing in muddy puddles. Which we do. For about four minutes. And then we start the long hike back.

Finally, after an accidental eight mile day, we load up and out, finding a cool place with a view to drink a somewhat cold beer dug from the bottom of our cooler. 

And so it goes.