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.

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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…

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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:

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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

Alberta and Montana – the Ian Tyson way

We’ve been on the road, heading down through Alberta, then into Montana and eventually beyond, but there’s no hurry. What a pleasant way to spend a couple of days. Empty roads, empty heads, big skies, huge views and Ian Tyson as the soundtrack, with solid support from Paul Brandt. Those boys sure are capable of setting it down in a song when it comes to Alberta and Montana. Take your time…

Highway 2 from Calgary through Lethbridge, and then on to the U.S./Canadian border at Coutts/Sweetgrass is pretty scenic for a fast road. Almost all the way down you have the Rockies on your right, and it takes real willpower for me not to turn west, take a route into the mountains or at least over to the Cowboy Trail, and run parallel to Kananaskis Country and some fine rolling hills. I resisted the temptation, happy in the knowledge we’ll head home that way on the return journey.

Stopping for gas or a cup of coffee is a little like time travel, perhaps to an era grandparents would recognize, but some are still lucky to enjoy. It’s all “yes sir, and thank you ma’am”, to steal a phrase from Paul Brandt. Oh, I know there are real issues and problems with living in small towns and rural communities, but who can begrudge some  hopeful/wishful thinking when you’re on the road, the sun is shining, and you’re welcomed by smiling faces and no guile?

Small towns have their problems…

It isn’t all sunshine and scenery – if you’ve ever crossed at Coutts/Sweetgrass, you know that a first timer there might be forgiven for asking “Why is it called Montana? Where are the mountains?!” Squint hard in the haze and there are a few hills, but in truth, the landscape the road follows is a little desolate, somewhat scorched and wind blown in summer – there are prettier road crossings into Montana – but stick with the interstate (I-15) and by the time Great Falls approaches, it’ll all seem, well, more Montana-like.  More like Montana!

The Lewis and Clark expedition did not enjoy the heat and mosquitoes they experienced along the Missouri in Montana. We stopped and admired the view and the fortitude of the expedition members over two hundred years ago. There wasn’t a proper road between Great Falls and Helena until the 1930s, and today we can zoom through in comfort – so, heat and all, it is no hardship to stop every now and then to snap a picture or two.

Hills and mountains

After Great Falls, I love the I-15, the way the route rises and falls, curves and straightens through gentle hills, rugged mountains, rolling open range, and almost always shadowing rivers. What a wonderful landscape! Sometimes, evidence of human intervention in areas of natural beauty is irritating, yet I can’t help but admire Western trappings across this part of Montana, and wonder at how human endeavour shapes the land. I enjoy the wires strung along telegraph poles, the nodding donkeys of oil pumps, even the variety of fencing employed to keep livestock in or out. I always stare at the giant, insect-like watering contraptions that trundle steadily across arable land, sprinkling precious droplets to maintain growth. These machines remind me of the Wright brothers or Louis Bleriot – spindly yet almost early aeronautical in their design, just missing wings – which is a strange notion given their grounded and slow purpose. 

A lengthy watering contraption (and artfully-framed window photo by Mrs PlaidCamper)

Gazing at the view, taking care not to be too lulled by it (eyes on the road, PlaidCamper), it is easy to understand why the West exerts such a pull on our – my – imagination. The colours aren’t vibrant; ranges of grassland that stretch in yellows from straw gold to dun, and some shades of beige, with a little pale green in the mix every now and then. There are dark greens where stands of trees indicate rivers, streams and trusty water sources, and never far from these you’ll find black patches of cattle, small herds chewing contentedly. (How do I know they’re content? They must be – wouldn’t you chew contentedly with those views?) Acres and acres of grey-green dusty sagebrush, and mauve mountains behind blue mountains, with seemingly infinite ridgelines beyond ridgelines beyond… 

Rolling grasslands

There I go again, admiring a landscape and romanticizing a life I have almost no knowledge of other than in books and movies. I’ve never worked on a ranch, ridden a bull, or been on a cattle drive or roundup; I can barely get comfortable on a horse. This is where Ian Tyson is a compass for the misguided like me. Listen to his album Cowboyography; when you hear him sing Old Cheyenne, you’ll know what I mean. In a few brief verses he captures the bitter yearning love and loathing of being trapped doing something you can’t leave. Other songs on the album are about regret, loss, the wrong kind of pride, outlaws, and mistakes related to drinking and womanizing. I don’t think I’ve sold this very well – there are also songs full of good humour and love (although some of that might be mixed in with the drinking and womanizing…) One favourite is Springtime, an optimistic ranching poem, looking back then forward having “made it through another winter on the northern range.”

A shady picnic spot

This wasn’t meant to be an album review, I was supposed to be sharing a few thoughts about heading down through Alberta and Montana in the summer. Listening to Paul Brandt and Ian Tyson in these settings seems to help unlock these thoughts, ideas and Montana mumblings. Really, all I’m trying to say is that these are amazingly beautiful spaces and places, perfect for emptying your head of all the “important” stuff, and filling it with essentials instead. I’ll leave you with one unrealistic hope I have for this Montana trip, inspired by Ian Tyson singing about Charles Russell; that I’ll truly capture a Montana sunset. (Listen to Tyson singing The Gift, and you’ll get why it is an unrealistic hope!) 

Montana!

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

The Long Beach challenge!

Less of a challenge when you approach it using the PlaidCamper method – although we did double the distance and likely set a new record time… 

 

This beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline is located midway between Ucluelet and Tofino, on the Pacific Rim Highway of Vancouver Island. It’s worth the trek to make the trek.

Worth the trek

From either the Long Beach parking lot, or the Kwisitis visitor centre near Florencia Bay, a willing hiker can walk almost 10km uninterrupted along the Pacific coast. The views up and down the shore are wonderful, and once you have gone further than 20 minutes, you are likely to have the beach almost entirely to yourself. For non human company, there’ll be bald eagles, gulls, ravens, and numerous other shorebirds.

 Keeping an eye on those hikers

Wolves, cougars and black bears are a possibility, as well as potential sightings of whales out in the ocean. We saw the birds, but no mammals. Not too sorry to avoid those encounters, better for all concerned.

Long views
Shore birds! (Marbled Godwits? Not sure…)

On one side you have tussocks of grass and low sand dunes fronting the fringe of rainforest. Huge logs washed up and tossed far onto the shore by the powerful storms that pound the coast later in the year are scattered everywhere. The views change constantly as you walk; the perspective of each bay, in front or behind, the mists and fog drifting in changing the light, concealing then revealing, and then concealing again. In the two days we hiked, the weather was sunny, then misty, then rainy, then sunny again, and often all in the same hour. 

Storm tossed logs

 Misty long views

Underfoot, depending how close you want to walk to the waves crashing ashore, the sand is hard packed and easy to walk on. There are thousands of tiny shells, middling shells and larger shells, all colourful. Pretty rocks and pebbles, shiny and speckled, mottled or plain, and many like little stone eggs, are uncovered as the ocean retreats. Huge lengths of bull kelp glisten in the light, and the occasional jelly fish is strewn across the sand, causing one to jump over and around at the last second as you catch sight of them. 

 Easy walking!

The Long Beach challenge is set up as a time trial for those who wish to try. If we were being timed, we definitely set some kind of record. The number of times we stopped to breathe in all that was surrounding us, the water breaks, the lunch stop perched on a log – yup, certainly a new time record! I can’t imagine wanting to complete the journey as quickly as possible, but that’s because I am OldPlaidCamper, not young PlaidCamper. As far as jogging goes, if you made me, I’d rather jog on Long Beach than do repeated circuits in a city park. 

More shore birds (the most cute least sandpipers? Maybe…)

From our campground near the beach, we were situated about a third of the distance from the Long Beach starting point. So we set off one day heading north to do a there and back again section, and the following day we turned south to go there and back for that section. The Long Beach challenge twice in two days, including lunch picnic stops – not so much of a challenge, it was more like two really delightful days of easy hiking in a wonderful setting. That’s a challenge I’m always up for! (The real challenge was having to leave).

I’m ready for this…

Do you have a favourite hike – or favourite beach? Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Chlorophyll camping in the rain at Green Point…

Summertime camping in a rainforest on the coast of the Canadian Pacific Northwest sounds exactly what it is – simply delightful – but what this old PlaidCamper really didn’t think about when reserving the campground many months ago, was the rain part of rainforest. Green Point campground, situated beautifully on a steep rise overlooking the Pacific, is also nestled in the fringes of a lush green forest – rainforest! 

It’s a rainforest!  

In recent years, most of our summertime camping has been in the deserts of SW USA, and our spring and fall camping at sites on the eastern side of the Rockies in Alberta. Generally, these locations are dry, often hot, and in the case of the Rockies, only an hour or two from home if heavy rain threatens to wash away the tent. (We did once abandon the campground at Lake Louise in early September, when the promised light rain showers became hours and hours of torrential deluge – small rivers were flowing past the tent, and if the grizzlies are paddling two by two, you know it’s time to go home). 

Don’t go home…

When we were approaching Green Point and the first few drops spattered the windshield, we weren’t too concerned. Our stay in the area had been dry and warm up to that point, and a little drizzle wasn’t going to be a problem…(we should have paid attention to the information at the botanical gardens, something along the lines of “autumn is wet, winter very wet, springtime it rains, and summers aren’t dry.” Annually, Tofino gets over three meters of rain! On some measures, two meters annually qualifies for rainforest, so Clayoquot has a super rainforest!) 

Moisture

We weren’t really that unprepared for camping in the rain, it’s just usually rain is a cue for us to not go camping. So the rain that started as we put up the tent, continued as we rigged up a tarp shelter, and did not stop that afternoon when we hiked along the beach, was outside our usual comfort zone. Still, with the tarp, decent waterproof gear in the backpack and a natty new toque, we managed just fine. Although wet, being summer it was not too cold, especially when hiking. 

Overlooking the Pacific (honest)

The trees collect the mist that drifts over from the beach, and all the moisture slowly drips and drops to the forest floor. Your camping soundtrack of rain pattering on the tarp and tent roof is soothing – and it sounds far wetter than it really is, with the dripping continuing long after any actual rainfall. Stepping out from under the tarp, we were surprised again and again by it not raining – or barely raining – when we thought it was! 

Greenery

All the moisture contributes to the creation of absolutely beautiful forests. The shades of green are numerous, and even the humid air seems to have a greenish tint. The air tastes and smells a verdant green, if that doesn’t sound too strange. Chlorophyll! Moss cloaks and hangs from the trees, and lichens cling to trunks. Small bushes, broad leaved plants and fern fronds crowd the forest floor, which itself is a rich decaying mulch, satisfyingly springy underfoot. Water, water, water, and growth, growth, growth in a delicate and unique ecosystem. 

Delicate and intricate

I’ve had to rethink my general dislike of rain, at least in settings as spectacular as the Clayoquot biosphere. At the information level of thinking, it is easy to understand that rain is important, but experiencing the natural wonder, by camping in a rainforest for a few days, has made me appreciate this precious resource in a far more vivid and tangible way. Knowing something is not the same as experiencing and then knowing it a little better. Funny how I sometimes forget the obvious from the comfort and distance of my modern life. Maybe we should all have a rainforest experience – go so far as to insist it is a mandatory part of a child’s education – then serious and real conservation efforts might be mainstream rather than marginal…Enough of that, school’s out and I’m on vacation.

Did I already say “green”?

It didn’t rain the entire time we were camping, and in fact our final day was a beauty – blue skies and an empty beach to wander along just a few minutes from the tent. 

Overlooking the Pacific!

I probably still wouldn’t go camping locally if the forecast calls for rain, but I would certainly camp in a NW rainforest again! 

Rainforest cooled…

Are you a happy camper in the rain – or would it take a rainforest to entice you?! Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.