Don’t push me! Don’t let me fall either…(this post is not for the faint hearted)

A few weeks ago, we arranged to meet some old friends at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. They have two teenage boys who wanted to ride up and admire the expansive views, at over 8000 feet. So after a very warm morning in the Joshua Tree National Park, we headed to the tramway, looking forward to cooler air and seeing our friends. Being a veteran of many a winter chairlift and gondola, I didn’t give the ride itself much thought – just as well, it turned out. I don’t think I’ll be riding this one again anytime soon…

Did I mention over 8000 feet?
Did I mention over 8000 feet?

It wasn’t a comfortable experience from a space point of view. As a comparison, at Lake Louise the various chairlifts seat between two and six, and the Louise gondolas carry up to six winter padded passengers. Can feel a little crowded with all those layers, but it’s a quick trip, and you’re soon off the chair and hitting the slopes. I can handle it. At Palm Springs, the gondolas are more crowded than a London Underground train at rush hour (that’s more crowded than you’d ever like to experience, and pricier than the Palm Springs tramway – even for a single ticket…) Not too comfortable for me.

It doesn’t help that there is a sign with maximum weight tolerance and maximum number of passengers. I’m sure it was exceeded. It felt like more than eighty passengers. I found myself sitting in the waiting area, trying to average out the mass of bodies. That child and that child combined probably weigh less than the portly gentleman sipping on the gallon of soda, so is that two passengers or three as far as potential cable snapping goes? I know it wouldn’t really be overloaded, right?

That's right! Who'd want to?
That’s right! Good advice. Who’d want to?

We all crammed into the gondola (carriage? conveyance? suspended coffin?), packed tightly, myself about as happy as a sardine in a can. The doors slid shut, I grabbed a handhold, pretending to look nonchalant in front of friends, and the coffin set off. Lurched actually, with a dipping start and collected lift, then slowly spinning and spinning, as we ascended the mountain. Yes! The gondola spins! If you wanted to to hold on, too bad, because the railing you are clinging to is slowly sliding past, and if you don’t let go, you look like you’re propping up a bar, and somewhat worse for wear. Each time the coffin passed under one of the pylons, it dropped alarmingly and caused the entire contraption to wobble and swing from side to side. Cue much laughter and whoops of delight from 99% of the sardines, and ever increasing nausea for OldPlaidCamper.

Big view, lurching stomach
Big view, lurching stomach

I know! OldPlaidCamper, unhappy heading up a mountain? Who’d have thought it? I certainly hadn’t, before we set off. All those other chairlifts and gondola rides on all those other mountains were no kind of preparation for Palm Springs. I tried to take my mind off the drop, the bumps, the screams of delight, (and the sneaky passenger who farted – making a tough to take situation even more difficult – my prime suspect was the portly gentleman…) by letting my thoughts wander.

Treacherous mind. It started thinking about one of my favourite books, “Touching the Void” – which is not one to be considered on such a shaky trip. But that’s how my mind works. Not content with a mountaineering disaster and survival book (a fine read if you enjoy a taut true story), my brain went further AWOL, and conjured up the opening scenes of Sylvester Stallone’s “Cliffhanger” – come on brain, is that really necessary? You’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen it – and if you haven’t, why not? Stallone at his most entertaining, other than “First Blood” (I can’t drive over an iron bridge anywhere without saying “don’t push me!”) That teenage boy never grew up. Sad, I know.

Jelly legs (I've been called worse...)
Jelly legs (I’ve been called worse…)

When the tin can reached the top, I staggered out on jelly legs, grateful for the solid ground and clean air. Oh, was that air ever fresh! Over 8000 feet up, and appreciably cooler than the desert floor below. Far, far below. I continued to pretend I’d really enjoyed the ride, and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours exploring a short trail, the amusingly named Grubb’s Notch Trail. I’ve no idea who Grubb may have been, and won’t Google it, in case the truth is less than the various fictions we came up with. Which can’t be repeated here.

Who was Grubb?
Who was Grubb?

The two teenage boys couldn’t be more different. G is very cautious, very much aware of potential dangers in his immediate surroundings. J is completely opposite, positively revelling in risk, very happy to scamper and frolic as close as he can get away with to edges of rocks and mountainsides – maybe to wind up his older brother? (Yes, it is ok to use the word frolic, particularly after surviving the ride up. You’d frolic too, believe me!) Both boys appreciated the location in their own way, another reminder that young people really do connect with their environment when given the opportunity, and the connecting can be thoughtful or exuberant or both. It was lovely to see.

The views are far reaching...
The views are far reaching…

The promised views were absolutely spectacular, the scenery up top a real delight, and the mild temperature, compared to the summer heat of the desert below, a welcome relief. We were all a little reluctant to leave the summit and make the return trip down. As we chatted on the trail, it turned out most of us were somewhat nervous during the ride up. Apparently, G, the older teenage boy, and a bit of a math whizz, had been calculating our chances of survival as we ascended. He’d come up with a plausible formula. He helpfully shared those increasing survival odds on the way down. Not that helpful, actually. Fortunately, I had an image of Sylvester Stallone, dangling from a rope high on a mountain, and wearing those leather short pants at the start of Cliffhanger, to take my mind off things.

Fresh air and cooler temperatures compared to the desert floor
Fresh air and cooler temperatures compared to the desert floor

A splendid adventure, and I’m so happy we made it back down without incident for all sorts of obvious reasons, but mostly because when I do shuffle off, short pants Stallone is not the last ever thought I want to have…

Quite spectacular!
Quite spectacular!

Oh dear. Magnificent wilderness scenery, an astonishingly beautiful place, and I came up with this. Hmm. Anyway, please do feel free to make a comment or share a story – perhaps about your favourite Stallone movie? (I think I’ve set the bar high!) Have you taken the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway? Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Moraine Lake, early morning – a perfect start to the weekend?

Maybe! It really was rather early, certainly earlier than intended. We’d dashed out to Lake Louise after work last Friday, with fingers crossed that the forecast for Friday evening and Saturday was accurate – sunshine and warm for September temperatures.

Quick, before Fall arrives!
Quick, before Fall arrives!

A chance to have a pleasant night or two in the tent before the chillier Fall nights arrive. The weekend following Labour Day has always been pretty quiet, so we didn’t bother with reservations…Hmm. We should have! Only one night was available, despite our pleading. (Memo to self – always make a reservation, even after Labour Day – and particularly if that has been a rainy holiday – because everyone appears to have the same plan).

Only one night? Oh well...
Only one night? Oh well…

We had hoped to have a lazy Saturday morning, nothing more strenuous than coffee by the fire, followed by a shortish PM hike up to the Lake Agnes tea house. Then get up early on Sunday to paddle on Moraine Lake before heading home. The tea house hike had to be abandoned for another day, and we started early on Saturday, packing up the tent and into the car before the sun had hit the campground. Might as well get to Moraine a little ahead of the bus parties…

Get here early!
Get here early!

Well. No buses, but when we arrived at the parking lot, it was over half full, and before 8am. Huh? High summer, maybe, but into September after the long weekend? This was not good! You can’t rent a canoe before 10am, so we strolled along the lakeshore trail, soon leaving most people back at the lot and near the cafe and store. The relative quiet restored me back to my usual chipper self (it can be hard to tell when I’m chipper, in truth) as we enjoyed the cool autumnal air in the shade of the trees, and marvelled at the clear reflections in the water.

It'll warm up shortly...
It’ll warm up shortly…
Upside down?
Upside down?
Right way up?
Right way up?

It is such a beautiful part of the Canadian Rockies, and well worth getting up early for. Arriving to see the sun come over the top of the peaks is quite wonderful. (Ma PlaidCamper experienced the sun up there a few years ago. She loved it, but has never quite forgotten how cold it was, even on a bright July day. She bought mittens and a toque from the gift store, wore them for an hour or two, and reminds me she hasn’t worn them since returning to the UK. A lovely souvenir, I like to think).

Cold, but clear!
Cold, but clear! You might need mittens…

Being later in the year, we didn’t see the sun crest the peaks in the early morning from the shore, but from our canoe, just after 10am. Pretty much the first canoe onto the water, and away we paddled, back down to where we’d been strolling earlier, but this time in glorious new sunshine, the rays bouncing off the water.

View from a canoe - aim for the sunny patch!
View from a canoe – aim for the sunny patch!

From chilly to warm in scant minutes, and it more than made up for a crowded campground, only one night, and an earlier than planned start to the day. A sunny morning in a canoe makes for a sunny PlaidCamper. A few hours of Canadian outdoor delight to start the weekend – probably the perfect start to a Saturday – and so we have our fingers crossed we can get out there for another weekend or two before the snow flies.

imageThanks for reading. Please feel free to write a comment or share a story about a perfect weekend start, real or imagined, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Saturday mornings should be like this!
Saturday mornings should be like this!

What should a perfect community include? (This is an excuse to show more pictures from Tofino – I’ll admit it!)

What should a perfect community include? This was a question students were attempting to answer this week at school. Discussions and sharing about where they had or hadn’t spent their summer vacation prompted the question. It turned out that a couple of families had visited Tofino over the break. Well, that got the talk moving on…and they couldn’t get me to be quiet. (Let the students get a word in edgeways, OldPlaidcamper!) Anyway, one student shared that her family would love to move to Tofino. Other students asked what was so special about the place? What ought to be special about anywhere they might choose to live? Essentially, I was prompted to write this post after a lesson at school – don’t worry, there won’t be any homework, and I’ll never write a post inspired by a math lesson – I like math, but that’s not for here!

What makes a place special?
What makes a place special?
Students decided they’d love to live somewhere that had beautiful scenery. After a little research online, they agreed that Tofino has a wonderful location. In fact, a field trip to Vancouver Island was suggested. All that enthusiasm. I didn’t have the heart to talk about school budgets…

A beautiful location
A beautiful location
Students felt it was important to be able to connect with nature – see wildlife for real, not just on TV or in books. They were thrilled at the thought of seeing a bear in the wild. Many of the students in this class are new to Canada, with seventeen different home countries represented. Even though they live an hour from the Rockies, not all yet have the material resources to visit and spend time out there. Part of my work is to encourage them to embrace the outdoors in their adopted home.

A West Coast bear
A West Coast bear, healthy and happy near Tofino
The opportunity to be active was considered important. They felt that they would want to live somewhere where being active was part of where they were. Hiking wasn’t a popular notion, but going fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking, cycling and surfing definitely caught their interest.

Sea kayaking appealed
Sea kayaking appealed
Taking a boat out to fish caught their imagination
Taking a fishing trip caught their imagination
Some map work soon taught the students where Tofino and Vancouver Island can be found. The thought of driving from Calgary wasn’t very welcome, but a flight, especially if the last leg was by floatplane? Well…

An exciting way to travel!
An exciting way to travel!
Becoming more thoughtful, students talked about what work they might be able to find, and the skills they’d need to learn. Some wanted to fish, and take others fishing for a living. Several thought that being a pilot would be great. Training to become a chef was suggested, as was owning a hotel. One wanted to work for the Parks Service, and look after the bears. Not one wanted to work in an office, or behind a desk. Fingers crossed they are lucky in life with that.

Maybe they will fish for a living?
Maybe they will fish for a living?
I’m not suggesting for one moment that Tofino offers everything that a person might require. Yet it was interesting to see through the eyes of our next generation, consider what they think is important in and around a community. They did talk about the need for friendly people, schools, a hospital, dentists, and shops and stores. Emergency services got a mention, but nothing about lawyers. You can find some or most of these almost anywhere.

This isn't any old place, too special for that
This isn’t any old place, too special for that
To my mind, it was the outdoors and location that really fired up this group of young people. The need to be in a positive and healthy environment, and connected to nature. Here’s hoping they grow up that way. These were fun discussions, and they had me thinking about the West Coast – plus it provided a gratuitous excuse to trot out some more photos of Tofino from earlier in the summer here. That’s never a bad thing!

Better than a desk?
Better than a desk?
The perfect community? I’m not sure such a place exists, but I’m confident Tofino is pretty close to it, especially for the young, and young at heart!

Someone has to do this work...
Someone has to do this work…
There were two essentials that were missed, so I’ll add them here:

You have to have coffee shops with great coffee...
You have to have coffee shops with great coffee…
…and a microbrewery with great beer!
…and a microbrewery with great beer!
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share a story or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Little Bear…

…cabin! I know, last week it was teddy bear cholla, this week, Little Bear cabin, so next week? Goldilocks?

Three bears would love to live here
Three bears would love to live here

It won’t be about bears, real or otherwise, I promise. But back to this week! Little Bear cabin is where we stayed recently on the return leg of our road trip. Just outside Bozeman, Montana, this cabin has to be about the most perfect cabin imaginable. Or at least, in my imagination. Original, yet in a good state of repair? Yup! Isolated, but not too hard to get to? Certainly! Wonderful views on all sides? Definitely! Less than $35 a night to rent it? Unbelievably, yes!

Isolated yet reachable
Isolated yet reachable

For less than many a campground fee, you can stay in a pretty as a picture cabin. Keep warm by the fire pit in decent evening weather, or remain warm by the wood stove inside during less friendly weather. Does it have modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and wifi? Nope! But if you’re ok with an outhouse, and can make do with a solar shower, and don’t mind your beer being a little warmer towards the end of your stay, then you’ll do just fine up at Little Bear. When we got back, I sent my brother a couple of pictures, and an invite to join us next time. I do understand that places like these aren’t for everybody…

The
The “shower” tree (be honest, isn’t that better than an indoor bathroom? In summertime anyway)

If you’re more like my brother, you might find it a struggle. His definition of outdoors is being more than 30 minutes from pizza delivery, and he’d prefer his bathrooms to be attached to the main building. And for the building to have more than one room, and appliances that require a remote. (I’ve tried several times to get him along on a camping trip, but to no avail. I’d even let him bring a remote or two as a comforter, so he can adjust gently…)

You could easily reheat a pizza
You could easily reheat a pizza

To be fair, he did join me for a few nights in a cabin some years back. We were visiting another brother in WV, and I may have oversold how comfortable the cabin was. It did have an indoor bathroom and a rudimentary kitchen – with a real fridge. Luxury! But I might have skipped over the heat, humidity, bugs and mice part. He was flying in from the UK, so the look on his face when he arrived was priceless. As was the squealing and shoe throwing and interesting vocabulary throughout that first night when he confronted the mouse. And the second night. And third. Happy memories…He’s a really good sport, but has a long memory, and, as brothers should, he holds a grudge. So camping likely won’t be happening any time soon, or a trip to Little Bear. Oh well!

A wood shed is way better than a television!
A wood shed is way better than a television!

We weren’t plagued by mice, the bug count was low, and the beer remained tolerably cool. The days drifted by delightfully – daydreaming, have a beer, reading, have a beer, writing, have a beer, dozing, and daydreaming some more. Maybe even have a beer. Idle and not so idle chit chat; a wonderful chance to while away some time free of any outside influences or concerns.

Maybe even have a beer
Maybe even have a beer

Thank you Little Bear – I honestly do believe that we all should have a Little Bear in our lives, with the chance to truly unwind and breathe deeply. It doesn’t have to be on top of a mountain in Montana, but if it is, well, so much the better!

imageThanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

A desert story about the teddy bear cholla (warning: it’s not cute at all…)

What an irresistible idea and name – a teddy bear cactus! There’s quite a patch of these just off the road in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park. If I remember accurately, it is signposted as the Cholla Garden, and lovely word though cholla is, it’s not as catchy as teddy bear. Imagine! A garden of cacti that resemble teddy bears. Wouldn’t that be cute?

Look at these - aren't they irresistible?
Look at these – aren’t they irresistible?

I’m back to school soon, so maybe I could tell the younger students a story, one with a teddy bear cholla cactus? Yes, a story as told by Mr. OldPlaidCamper…Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:

Not really teddy bears...
Not really teddy bears…

Don’t believe it, kids. Look at this picture of a cholla cactus. Now look at this teddy bear. Do they look anything alike? No. That’s silly. They don’t look like teddy bears. You can’t hug them. Well, you can, but it’ll hurt. Advertising and branding is mainly about peddling a lie, or stretching the truth to breaking point. Why are you crying? Please stop. I’ll be back next week with another story. Please stop crying.

If I’m unlucky, and the principal finds out, maybe I’ll be reprimanded for crushing the imaginations and dreams of young’uns, but – silver lining – I’ll never be asked to teach kindergarten. (To be serious for a moment, I do believe that kindergarten teachers are amazing, and have one of the toughest – and most rewarding – teaching assignments. I would not be able to do it).

A storm is coming!
A storm is coming!

Back to the cacti. We did visit the Cholla Garden one evening a couple of weeks ago. The day had been incredibly hot – even by desert standards – and darkness was falling as we drove through the park. We could see clouds massing, huge and dark; a storm was building. We jumped out of the car to look at the field(?) of cholla cacti. Quite beautiful. Irritatingly, the only mosquito for miles around honed in on me almost immediately. I dealt with it calmly, by leaping about slapping my head and neck, which seemed to work. I think it fell to the floor, weak with laughter. I snapped a few quick pictures, the ones on this post, and jumped back in the car before the storm was upon us. (Alright, before the mosquito recovered).

A field of teddy bears (use your imagination!)
A field of teddy bears (use your imagination!)

The teddy bear cactus really is a beautiful plant; not cute, but beautiful, and to see whole stands of them in the failing desert light was rather wonderful. An almost otherworldly experience. (Just don’t hug them. Those furry little spines are awfully difficult and painful to remove. You’d be like a bear with a sore head. Or arm).

Beautiful
Beautiful

Have you ever wanted to hug a teddy bear cholla? Of course not. That’s silly. Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Montana Evening Sky

A brief post this time (thank you, PlaidCamper) following up on those Montana sunsets painted by Charles Russell I mentioned a couple of weeks back.

image
One night, there was a storm – very dramatic!

Did I manage to capture a sunset like Charlie? Nope! Not even close, but I sure had fun trying…

We were staying at Little Bear cabin, an old ranger station situated high above Bozeman in the Gallatin Forest. A beautiful location with panoramic views in every direction. I’ll write more about the cabin another time. I know, you can’t wait…

image
The views are lovely – you can see a few lights way down in the valley

In almost all the photographs I use in this blog, the only changes I make to the original is an occasional crop (if only you could see the leftovers…oh dear), but I have to be honest and say all the photos in this post have been tweaked and edited. I’ve no idea what I did, but it was entertaining changing the various settings to see what happened. All of which makes me even more appreciative of Charlie Russell’s skills as a painter.

Imagine being skilled enough to paint an evening sky
Imagine being skilled enough to paint an evening sky

As well as the artistic skills, my guess would be you’d have to have one eye open and on the lookout for larger wildlife. There are grizzlies in the area, and we always felt happy to be in the cabin rather than camping.

The big sky was so grand...too large to capture effectively!
The big sky was so grand…too large to capture effectively!

We had a wonderful time sky watching up on the mountain! Time to think, get a sense of perspective, and admire the grandeur of Montana from a mountain top. I’ll leave you with a couple more photos taken from up there:

image

image

Thanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to share a story or a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Route 89 and 89A – north from Flagstaff, AZ to somewhere in Utah

Other than an ocean view, this route pretty much has it all. Mountains, hills, forests, rivers, grasslands, deserts, canyons, plateaus, cliffs, and all in a few hours of driving time. If we’d stopped as often as we wanted to, why we might still be on 89 now. Let’s view it as a swift reconnaissance for future visits…this is a timeless place, and it’ll wait for our return. Here are a few grainy photographs (taken on the move and through a bug splattered windshield) and a few impressions here.

 

It has it all!

 

With all the variety, the weather was changeable – although mostly variations on hot. No complaints though; it’ll be a long winter soon enough above the 49th. The day we travelled, it was pleasantly cool in the early Arizona morning, warmed up across Navajo lands, got rather warm in the open desert, cooled off again on the high plateau, rained on us during and just after our descent, then the heat increased all the way on from there.

 

Blue skies, red cliffs

 

This road is such a colourful route! Sandstone hoodoos and clay soil, cliffs of pink and red strata, coral sands, dark green ponderosa forests, golden hay bales in enormous straw fields, and sluggish muddy rivers at the bottom of deep canyons. The vast skies also played their part in the colour palette. A huge reach from light to deep blue, high trailing wisps of cloud in the upper atmosphere, billowing white puffs gathering over the heights, and ominous heavy greys and hazy purples rushing in from and blotting out distant horizons.

Ominous…

 

Every now and then a few drops would spatter the windshield and you’d look about and up into the blue, wondering where the offending cloud might be. Other times you could see the veils of rain sweeping towards you, almost in touching distance, yet not a drop through the window. There was one mighty downpour that reduced visibility and speed for about five minutes, then bright sunshine soon after. What a joy to be traveling through high country where you can see weather coming – and going.

 

Wonderful setting

 

We had plans, so we couldn’t stop this time and see it all. I had to wrestle with that. Here’s what it sounded like in my head:

Ponderosas! Like them, they’re big.

Mmm, sagebrush.

I wonder what it’s like to be a cliff dweller?

Vermilion. Vermilion. A bit red.

That’s a long way down.

Roadside stalls selling Navajo rugs and jewelry (whisper that to Mrs PlaidCamper – but don’t wake her. Phew, close one!)

Do we have time for Bryce Canyon today? Don’t be silly. Next time.

Is the North Rim higher than the South?

Oh no, we’re in Utah on Sunday – can I get coffee?

Crap! It’s the  I-15 already! Left to Vegas, right to Salt Lake City. There has to be a better way.

No wonder Mrs PlaidCamper has her travel naps…

 

Fresh!

 

Ponderosa pine at 8000 feet smells like, well, ponderosa pine at 8000 feet. Exceptionally good! Deeply refreshing, clean, and as far from those old car air fresheners as can be. Roll down your windows! Sagebrush after the rain is real aromatherapy, and no New Age music, kaftans or essential price tags. The only cost is your time, with a willingness to take the long way round. (I know, gas is expensive, and cars are bad, but don’t be a curmudgeon – I can rain guilt on my own parade later).

It wasn’t open anyway…

 

So if you happen to find yourself in Flagstaff early one morning in summer, and you simply must go for a spin in your lovingly (but not overly) restored vintage pickup, head north on 89, then take 89A towards Vermilion Cliffs. Cross the desert and climb up the winding road to the Kaibab plateau. Carry on into Utah and you could stop off at Bryce Canyon. You won’t be disappointed, and you won’t have enough time to do it all in only a day. But that’s alright; do what we intend to do and make plans for a longer future stay! It’s not going anywhere, and this is a timeless place.

 

Find the time…

 

Who can resist the open road? Have you traveled on 89 and 89A up from Flagstaff? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

 

Just add an old pickup truck – maybe one day