Rome’s Colosseum… Where Hippos and Rhinos Once Fought

The Colosseum in Rome

Rome’s Colosseum lit up at night.

This is the third in my series of introducing new followers to what they can expect to find on my blog. This series reflects a trip that Peggy and I took visiting a number of locations in the Mediterranean. Go here and scroll forward or backwards to discover more of the series:  https://wandering-through-time-and-place.com/2013/05/01

 

I first viewed Rome’s grand memorial to gladiators in 1967. I was as impressed with the number of feral cats living in the ruins as I was with the structure. Massive renovations have taken place since then. Today’s Colosseum is crowded with tourists instead of cats. We joined the throngs.

Cat in Colosseum.

This is the one cat I found in the Colosseum. I am sure it had aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, kids, etc. somewhere. But check out the stance… ears back, paw posed to strike. He was ready to take on a gladiator, or at least a camera toting tourist.

Originally the Colosseum was known as the Flavian Amphitheater, after the family of emperors who built it. Nero, who had a bad case of self-adulation, built a huge statue of himself nearby. It was known as the Colossus. At some point, the name was applied to the Colosseum. A later emperor, by the way, removed the head from Nero’s statue and affixed his own stone likeness on top. Why pay for a whole statue? It became the custom with each succeeding emperor. So much for everlasting fame…

When completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum could seat 50,000 screaming people. Some 2000 gladiators killed each other and 9000 animals over the 100 day inauguration.

While their taste in entertainment might be questionable, the Romans’ engineering abilities were superb. The Colosseum is high testament to this. Modern stadiums are still built on a similar model, designed to move large numbers of people in and out quickly. I was amused to learn that the Romans called the entrance/exit passages vomitoria– hence our word, vomit.

Spectators were issued tickets on pottery shards that listed their entrance gate, section, row and seat numbers. The higher your rank, the better your seat. The top rows were saved for slaves, foreigners and women. Some people, such as actors and gravediggers, weren’t allowed in the Colosseum at all. Now we elect actors as presidents and governors. Gravediggers are still gravediggers.

Painting in the Colosseum that illustrated a typical crowd cooking, eating, fighting and drinking.

The early Roman crowds have arrived for their day of entertainment at the Colosseum in this illustration of the upper tier. Cooking, eating, drinking, fighting and betting were all part of a typical day. As was carving graffiti  on the benches. (Illustration from Colosseum exhibit)

The top could be covered for bad weather by a large canvas awning that was put up and taken down by sailors from Rome’s navy. The true gem of engineering was the floor, however, which covered a network of tunnels and cages where wild animals and props were stored. Eighty different elevators operated by pulleys served to bring scenery and wild animals to the surface. You might be in the middle of an African jungle for one scene and a Greek city the next.

This illustration from the Colosseum exhibit shows a cutaway of the floor.

This illustration from the Colosseum shows a cutaway of the floor with its elevators, wild animals and gladiators. (Illustration from Colosseum exhibit)

This illustration shows what the Colosseum would have looked like with it's awning.

Here’s what the Colosseum would have looked like with its awning. (Illustration from Colosseum exhibit)

And you never knew when or where the next wild animal might pop up, which could be bad news for gladiators. Cats at the Colosseum then meant lions and tigers with long claws and sharp teeth, oh my. There were also elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles and even giraffes–although I can’t imagine why or how you would fight a giraffe. I once chased a herd across the Serengeti Plains in a Volkswagen beetle, however.

Gladiators came from the ranks of slaves, poor people, and criminals. (Contrary to legend, there were very few Christians.) The most successful earned fame, fortune and freedom. Rick Steves, in his book on Mediterranean Ports, reports they even gave endorsements. I can see it in neon lights, “Barbarian Bob eats at Papa’s Pizzeria.”

Looking down into the basement of the Colosseum where wild animals, props and scenery were stored.

Looking down into the basement of the Colosseum where wild animals, props and scenery were stored.

This photo, taken from the opposite end of the Colosseum provides a perspective on what the original floor might have looked like.

This photo, taken from the opposite end of the Colosseum provides a perspective on what the floor might have looked like. Only about a third of the original Colosseum remains.  While earthquakes have done their share of damage, much more was done by Romans taking building blocks and iron supports for use in other construction throughout Rome.

A window view out of Rome's Colosseum.

We started our tour on the upper level of the Colosseum. In addition to providing views into the arena, the walkway provided views of the surrounding city and Rome’s ancient Forum. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Peggy took this photo from the lower level looking up at the upper level. (photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Peggy took this photo from the lower level looking up at the upper level. Special tours also take visitors to the lower, basement level. (photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A basement view of Rome's Colosseum.

A close up view of the basement. Imagine it filled with lions, hippos and giraffes.

Roman emperors loved their triumphal arches even more than they loved statues. It provided a very public opportunity to show how great they were. The Arch of Constantine is located right next to the Colosseum.

Roman emperors loved their triumphal arches even more than they loved statues. It provided a very public opportunity to show how great they were. The Arch of Constantine is located right next to the Colosseum.

The Arch of Constantine in Rome.

A second perspective on the Arch of Constantine. This photo was taken earlier in the day.

A final view of Rome's Colosseum at night.

A final view of Rome’s Colosseum at night.

 

 

 

 

 

Kayaking among the Orcas/Killer Whales of British Columbia…

Kayaks belonging to the Sea Kayak Adventure group in the waters of Johnstone Strait, northeastern Vancouver Island.

Our sea kayaks wait patiently for us as we have lunch in a cove off of Johnstone Strait.

This is the first of my series of ‘oldies’ I am reposting from my archives to give new followers a taste of what they can expect to find on my blog. Peggy  and I made a trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 2014 to go kayaking among the orca whales. The next post in the series can be found here:  https://wandering-through-time-and-place.com/2014/10/30/

I was nervous as we drove into the town of Port McNeill on the northeast shore of Vancouver Island in August. Peggy and I had signed up for a six-day sea kayak tour out of Telegraph Cove with Sea Kayak Adventures.We would be searching for orcas, which are also known as killer whales—as our son Tony, the Alaska Coast Guard pilot, reminded us. A little Jaws music, perhaps?

This orca was on display at the Whale Museum in Grove. I named him Smiley and addressed him as sir.

This orca skeleton was on display at the Whale Interpretive Center in Telegraph Grove. I named him Smiley and addressed him as sir.

“Okay, Curt, what have you gotten yourself into this time?” was bouncing around in my skull like a kangaroo on steroids. It’s a question I ask myself often.

I wasn’t nervous about the whales, however. I’ve spent my life communing with nature. Besides, these particular giants are gentle, relatively speaking; they get fat off the salmon in Johnstone Strait. They don’t need to eat people. But sea kayaking would be a first for me. The old dog had to learn new tricks, and that is always a reason to get excitable. Fortunately, Peggy and I had played around a fair amount with inflatable kayaks. We had even ventured out on challenging multi-day lake trips into remote areas such as Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. So how hard could it be?

Aren't I pretty? There was no way I was going to make this skirt look good. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Aren’t I pretty? No? Maybe I wasn’t meant to wear a skirt. This skirt is designed to fit snugly over the cockpit of the kayak and keep out the water.  It’s so snug that you really have to stretch it to fit, which isn’t easy— particularly around the back. My skirt and I had several discussions while I was learning how to make it behave. It learned new words. Ask Peggy. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I confess I was more nervous about the idea of being on a tour. I am not much of a tour group person. This is a strange statement coming from someone who spent over a quarter of a century leading backpacking and bicycle fundraising treks for the American Lung Association. But the truth is— I am an independent cuss. I like to go where I want to go and stop when I want to stop. On an organized tour, I would be expected, even required, to adhere to the group schedule and itinerary. This isn’t a complaint. It has to be that way on group outings. Common sense and liability demand it.

And then there were the people. We’d be living closely with these folks for six days under potentially trying conditions. What would our guides be like? How about our fellow tour group members? Would we get along well? Would they be strange— even stranger than I am?

"Could I interest you in a cracker?" The tour promo promised good food, but it failed to mention the presentation. This is Nick, one of our three group leaders.

“Could I interest you in a cracker?” The tour promo promised good food, but it failed to mention the presentation. This is Nick from New Brunswick, one of our three group leaders. Note the sprig artfully shoved into the cheese.

Quy, another of our guides, is a gentle soul who in his other life works as a computer geek in Vancouver. So what is he doing with this knife?

Quy, another of our guides, is a gentle soul who in his other life works as a computer geek in Vancouver. So what is he doing with this knife?

Julia, our third guide and assigned trip leader, may use Quy's knife on me for this photo of her toes, but I couldn't help myself. And no, I don't have a foot fetish. My fascination was that these bare toes could run over sharp rocks. The last time I had feet that tough I was ten years old.

Julia, our third guide and assigned trip leader, hails from Germany and is quite charming. She may use Quy’s knife on me for this photo of her toes, but I couldn’t help myself. And no, I don’t have a foot fetish. My fascination with her toes was that they could run over anything, including  rocks. The last time I had feet that tough, I was ten years old.

And how about our fellow travelers? David is a psychologist out of LA. How much more strange can you get?

And how about our fellow travelers? David is a psychologist out of LA. How much stranger can you get than creating this mustache? Well maybe someone who kisses fish…

Well, maybe someone who kisses fish??? "But he was so beautiful," Lindy told me. He was dinner, Lindy,. Dinner.

“But he was so beautiful,” Lindy told me. He was dinner, Lindy. Dinner.

Regardless of how nervous I felt, the trip was simply too much of an opportunity to pass up. Like how could I not go on a sea kayaking adventure out among the orcas in beautiful British Columbia? As for Peggy, she is always up for adventure. When our friends Edie and David from Anchorage, Alaska called and asked if we would be interested in going, we gave a resounding yes. It turned out to be great decision. The guides, our fellow tour group members, and the incredible views were delightful. Even the orcas cooperated.

Today marks the beginning of my series on the trip. I’ll start by exploring the quaint town of Port McNeill. In my next post, we will climb in our kayaks and push-off from Telegraph Cove. The orcas are waiting. Let the adventure begin.

Harbor in Port McNeill on northeastern Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

While the main source of employment for the people of Port McNeill is the timber industry, the town also has a charming harbor. Note the yacht in the background. It had its own helicopter.

I loved this guys sense of humor.

In case anyone was wondering. I loved this guy’s sense of humor.

Dolphin statue at Port McNeil on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Peggy, David and Edie pose in front of a dolphin statue that faces the harbor. Edie went to high school with Peggy in Ohio and runs a tax accounting firm in Anchorage. David is an Alaskan bush pilot who works on the North Slope, and is a published poet.

You are looking at Port McNeill's pride and joy: the worlds largest burl. Can you imagine this thing growing on a tree? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

You are looking at Port McNeill’s pride and joy: the worlds largest burl. Can you imagine this thing growing on a tree? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Wicked Campers is now providing inexpensive travel vans and raucous humor in a number of countries.

Tourism is also an important industry for Port McNeill. Wicked Campers caught my attention. The company provides inexpensive travel vans and its raucous brand of  advertising in a number of countries.

We were also amused by Port McNeill's unique way of fund raising where bras are decorated and then auctioned off. Which of the following three would you vote for?

We were also amused by Port McNeill’s unique way of fund-raising where bras are decorated and then auctioned off. Which of the following three would you choose?

Given the ears, I am thinking Mickey Mouse was the inspiration.

Given the ears, I am thinking Minnie Mouse was the inspiration.

Bat woman?

Bat woman? Great eyes.

Dream catcher. Ouch.

Dream catcher? Ouch. This one would leave an impression.

Flowers at Port McNeill on Vancouver Island. photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The flower shop that featured the bras was closed so I couldn’t get inside to photo more of the entries. I did capture this petunia on the outside, however.

Mist in trees on Vancouver Island sea kayak trip. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Mist in the trees. A final photo to whet your appetite. Let the adventure begin.

An Active Volcano and an Interesting Bush… Hiking the PCT through Mt. Lassen National Park

The Pacific Crest Trail wanders along the east side of Lassen National Park and provides limited views of the mountain. I took this photo from the PCT south of the park boundary.

Section N of the PCT includes Mt. Lassen National Park. This series includes portions of the trail leading into and out of the Park as well as the Park. Unfortunately, the PCT passes through the eastern side of Lassen and misses some of the Park’s more impressive features. I was lucky to have Peggy exploring the Park from the road while I hiked the trail, so this post will feature photographs from both of us.

In 1988, I led a backpack trek in Mt. Lassen National Park to honor my old friend Orvis Agee. His family lived near the mountain and he had been working outside on the family ranch when it erupted on May 22, 1915. He was an impressionable 12-year-old. Fifty-eight years later when Orvis joined me on the first hundred-mile backpack trip I led in 1974, the memory was still fresh in his mind.

By the end of that trek, Orvis had become an inspiration for me on what older people can accomplish— and a friend. He proved that an active lifestyle doesn’t have to end at 60, or 70, or even 80, assuming you are healthy. In 1980, Orvis took me to the top of the top of the nearby 14,180 foot Mt. Shasta, a mountain he had climbed many times starting at age 60. He made his 30th and final ascent at 85. He went on his last backpack trek with me at 87! Peggy was along on that week-long expedition. We had just started our relationship and it was her first long distant trek. Given how much I enjoyed backpacking and liked Peggy, I really wanted her to enjoy the experience. I figured that hiking with Orvis would help. It did. As she noted to me later, “It’s really hard to complain when an 87-year-old cheerfully hikes down the trail beside you and sings “Wake Up Little Buttercup” to you in the morning.” Indeed.

Mt. Lassen sits near the southern end of the Cascade Range, a volcanic chain of mountains that reaches from Northern California into British Columbia. It is one of only two mountains that erupted in the contiguous United States during the 20th Century. Mt. St. Helens was the other. (I flew over Mt. St. Helens shortly after it had erupted and was amazed by the devastation.) Lassen, still active, serves as a laboratory for volcanologists and is closely monitored. Oceanic plates diving under the continents and islands around the Pacific Ocean assure continuing volcanic activity, not only for Lassen, but for volcanos all around the Pacific Rim.

Peggy, who was driving along the road through the park, had closer views of the mountain than I did. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
She planned on hiking to the top of the mountain but was concerned that she might miss me coming out at Chester. I promised her we would climb the mountain for her 70th birthday. The trail up is visible on the lower right. I climbed the mountain the year I led the Trek through the park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This photo of the mountain was taken when Peggy and I had visited the park earlier.
As was this impressionistic reflection shot.
I really liked this meadow shot that Peggy caught. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Mt. Lassen sits in the caldera of was once a much larger Mt. Tahama. The large rock points toward what was once the edge of the mountain. Picture a line following the ridge and stretching off to the left. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The power of the 1915 eruption was such that it blew out huge boulders and started a major a avalanche that carried boulders like these far from the volcano. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A number of other geologic features common to volcanic areas, such as this boiling mud pot at the Sulphur Works, are located in the park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This colorful hill was located above the mud pot at the Sulphur Works. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I found the Manzanita roots along the PCT near Mt. Lassen strange enough to feature on my Halloween post. Today, I want to focus on the rest of the plant. I was raised in what is known as the chaparral belt of the Sierra foothills where manzanita is common. As kids, we went on outings to gather the large mushrooms that grew under the bushes in a symbiotic relationship with their roots. It was like a treasure hunt.We’d bring the mushrooms home, slice them up, and then dry them on the woodstove that heated our house. My mother then added them to a number of dishes like spaghetti and beef stroganoff where they contributed their unique flavor and texture.

Our property in Southern Oregon also includes a number of manzanita bushes, but I have yet to find mushrooms under them. One of the bushes grows just outside our backdoor. Deer like to bed down near it, which seems a little strange since it features a deer skull. Peggy had found a dead deer on the road near our house, victim of an unfortunate encounter with a car. She decided that it would be interesting to cut off its head, bring it up to our yard, and let nature (translate maggots) clean it off. (Think of it as a scientific experiment.) When I had appeared reluctant to carry out the chore, she had persuaded a deer-hunting neighbor to do it, paying him with a can of beer and a Peggy-smile.

Our manzanita brush with the deer skull. Note the smooth bark.
The deer I disturbed when I went outside to take a photo of the bush and skull. She was not happy with me interrupting her snooze.
Ripe manzanita berries covered the bush. These are quite edible. (I consumed many as a kid for their sweet taste.) Judging from the berry-filled scat in our neighborhood, the local fox population is enjoying the berries now.
When I hiked the PCT through the Mt. Lassen area, the berries were still green. It’s easy to see how manzanita, which means little apple, got its name.

The plant is sturdy and can be quite beautiful with its entangled limbs and smooth, skin-like bark. It is often used in decorations. I found the dead bushes along the PCT l particularly striking.

A dead bush draped across a boulder rendered in black and white.
A dead bush set off by live manzanita.
I will conclude today’s post with this rather dramatic bush.

Peggy and I are on our way to Mexico for three weeks, so my posts on the trip down the PCT will be put on hold until I return. My plan is to feature some older posts, which will give followers a perspective on the variety of subjects they can find on my blog that I have covered over the past ten years.

Growl! Mmmm. Me Like Carpenter Ants… Bears along the PCT in Mt. Lassen National Park

Peggy was lucky to be on the scene when a large sow tore apart a log searching for carpenter ants in Mt. Lassen National Park. Claws firmly sunk into the rotting log, she used her weight to rip help open the dead tree. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I began seeing a lot of bear sign as I hiked along the Pacific Crest Trail through Mt. Lassen National Park. There were the usual large piles of poop and trees had the tell-tale claw marks of bears chatting with other bears. The trees also provided bears with a great back rub. The effort helps remove winter coats and I’m pretty sure feels as good as it does to us when we get out back rubbed or scratched. It also provides the opportunity to leave a scent mark behind, a sort of personal wilderness want ad. “Large male seeks one night stand with attractive female. Don’t expect me to stick around and help raise the kids. In fact, I might eat them.” Doesn’t seem like the ideal qualities you would want in a mate, but it seems to work.

I also found a number of rotting logs torn apart along the trail. Black bears have a real taste for carpenter ants. “Sweet meat,” like my students of long ago in West Africa used to say about termites. And maybe carpenter ants are sweet. While they are known for tunneling through wood with all the enthusiasm of a chainsaw, they don’t actually eat the wood. They are dairy farmers. They raise and milk aphids for the sugary honey-dew they secrete by stroking them with their antennae.  “Come on sweetie, give it up.” Naturally they eat other things, like dead insects. They will surround the bug, suck out its juices and then return to their nest with full tummies to share. I read that they sometimes carry the head with them. (I can see them marching in and placing it at the feet of the queen. I wonder if they have a trophy room.) Like other ants, they inevitably find the shortest path back to their nest and mark the path with pheromones which other ants can follow. Big bugs can attract lots of ants, which means more pheromones, which means more ants. It can become quite the mob scene.

Carpenter ants build amazing labyrinths in dead trees. (Or possibly your house.) If I had to build a maze, I think I would hire these guys to plan it out.
They don’t eat the wood, however. They carefully dump it outside as the ant on the right is doing. More ants can be seen in the crevice to the left and right of the ant. (My nephew Jay Dallen took this photo on his iPhone when we were hiking from Etna Summit to Castle Crags.)
I found this log torn apart by a bear as I hiked down the PCT through Mt. Lassen National Park. Off to the right you can see a pile of sawdust that the ants have deposited. Normally a pile of sawdust like this would suggest that somebody has been working with a saw. 
Here’s another log I found along the trail that had been opened up by a bear. These guys go after a log like a six-year-old goes after a Christmas present.

But back to the bears. I dearly wanted to see a bear tearing into a carpenter ant nest.  I didn’t even see a bear. Peggy who was driving around the park and checking out hiking trails while I was making my way along the PCT, had much more luck. She not only saw a mom and her cubs, she saw them ripping into a carpenter ant nest and took photos. When the bear and her cubs finished their meal, and started walking toward her, she made a rapid retreat to our small RV! Smart woman.

When mom had finished tearing open the log, she was joined by her two cubs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
One of the cubs snacked on a few ants while mom patiently watched. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
They then let mom have her fill. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
It even appeared that they were standing guard. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
They finished their feast and then started walking toward where Peggy was taking photographs. She decided it was time to get back in the van! (Quick photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

When it comes to food, a black bear is an Omnivore’s omnivore, an opportunistic eater that consumes everything from insects to plants to carrion to any fresh meat it catches— although the latter rarely includes humans. As one of my trekking friends used to say, “If bears wanted to eat people, they’d move into towns where there are lots of people to eat.”  Bears, like other members of the animal kingdom, have learned that puny humans are nasty animals with a penchant for killing; they are best to be avoided. They have developed a taste for human food, however. Trash cans are a frequent target. We know. Our property in Southern Oregon backs up to a million acres of national forest. There are lots bears. Once, one attacked my heavy Weber grill that lives on our back porch and turned it over.  As it came crashing down, my daughter, who was sleeping in the bedroom next to the porch, screamed, “Curtis!” It’s an appeal for help I’d heard before. Bears are also fond of backpacker’s food.

They would occasionally drop by our camp for a bite when I was leading hundred-mile backpack trips up and down the Sierra’s in the 70s, 80s and 90s, especially when I was anywhere in the vicinity of Yosemite. It wasn’t unusual for a trekker to yell my name on his or her first sighting of a bear up close. I spent a lot of time teaching people how to chase bears out of camp and hang their food in trees so the bears wouldn’t get it. We weren’t always successful.  The food bag is supposed to be at least 12 feet up in the air and 9 feet out from the tree hanging from a limb that is just large enough to hold your food. Otherwise, Mom might send her kids up to crawl out the limb and chew through the rope. One food bag is counterbalanced with another food bag and no ropes are left dangling. Bears are smart and I am convinced that they have a university near Yosemite where they teach their cubs how to outsmart backpackers.

Today, there are bear canisters that are made of heavy duty plastic or carbon that are theoretically bear proof. They are tested by filling them with strong smelling goodies and tossing them into the cage of a hungry bear that has developed a taste for backpacking food. If the canister survives for an hour, it is given the seal of approval. Now days, when you backpack through Yosemite National Park or down the John Muir Trail, you are required to carry one. Just recently, the same policy was adopted for Mt. Lassen National Park. So, I was carrying one.

The good news about canisters is that they work. Bears are broken of the habit of eating backpackers’ food and go back to eating much healthier food, like maggots and ants. Backpackers are given the peace of mind of knowing that they will be able to make breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. The bad news is that the canisters are heavy and awkward. They add two to four pounds of weight and are hard to fit into a pack along with other essential equipment. While the folks in charge of protecting our wildlands and their inhabitants would like to see backpackers use canisters all the time, it won’t happen until these problems are addressed.

NEXT POST on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through Mt. Lassen National Park: When the mountain blew its top, there is more to manzanita than scary roots, and a gorgeous lake struts its stuff.

Mt. Lassen National Park— A Spooky Kind of Place along the PCT… Happy Halloween

What’s more scary than a spooky face staring at you from the ground? Imagine your flashlight picking this up at night when you are out in the woods alone? For the more scientifically inclined among you, this is a manzanita root.

I hardly imagined that backpacking through Mt. Lassen National Park on my hike down the Pacific Coast Trail this summer would provide me with inspiration for my annual Halloween post— but I had never had an up-close-and-personal encounter with manzanita roots. Trail crews, rerouting the PCT as it approached the Park from the north, had dug up the roots and left them beside the path. 

I often include photos of faces from nature in my blog. And most of these are a bit on the strange side. (“Like you,” I am sure my wife Peggy would point out.) Maybe. My imagination works overtime when I am out in the woods and I can’t resist pulling out my camera when I spot eyes staring back at me from trees, rocks and clouds. They appeal to the animist in me. Plus they are an excuse to stop on long, tough hiking days.

In addition to the roots, I’ve included a couple of other photos from Lassen with Halloween potential and a few other ‘faces’ from my three month backpack trip. Some of these I have included before. Enjoy!

Imagine, if you will, clawed fingers reaching up from the grave, ready to grab unsuspecting hikers.
Dark, vacant eyes staring at you are stock in trade for horror film flicks.
More eyes. Maybe the skull of that silent killer of the night: The owl.
Scrooge McDuck’s nemesis, the ghost duck of Halloween past.

Dead trees are also mood setters for Halloween and horror movies. Here are a couple of many I captured in Lassen.

A lone. dead tree standing on the horizon with grasping fingers is an excellent place to plant a grave.
Scary music, dark, threatening skies, and dead trees: a perfect combination for Halloween night. What monster lurks in the shadows, prepared to leap out from behind a tree, and carry you off to a world filled with zombies and blood thirsty vampires.

And to conclude today’s post for Halloween, a few photos from other faces along the trail, some of which I have included before.

A large eye and a silent scream suggests I frightened this woodland creature peering out at me while half hidden. Am I that scary?
Not so scary but somehow threatening.
And finally, this rather grotesque character with his pointed head, dark eyes, skinny nose and large jowls. Vey scary indeed!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM PEGGY AND ME.

Next Post: Back to hiking through Lassen National Park on the PCT. 

Fall Colors at Lithia Park in Southern Oregon… and the BSBC

In Southern Oregon, it is hard to beat Ashland’s Lithia Park for fall colors. 

It’s that time when I like to do a post on the fall colors around our home in Southern Oregon. This year, Peggy and I, along with members of the Bigger Sacramento Book Club, drove over to Lithia Park in Ashland for a picnic.

The Bigger Sacramento Book Club at Lithia Park.

The BSBC was created in the late 80s by my friend Ken Lake and was soon composed of five couples. The same couples belong today but ‘Bigger Sacramento’ now includes Southern Oregon, the Bay Area, and France as well as Sacramento! This year marks our 30th Anniversary. Each fall, the BSBC visits our house for a three day retreat. 

We chose to visit Ashland because our book, Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander, is based in the town. Lithia Park, it turns out, was awash in fall colors. After lunch, we walked into town to visit the Mix Bakery in honor of the book and wandered up to the Bloomsbury Bookstore, which is always a delight and makes a pleasant outing for a book club. 

The Duck Pond backs up to the outdoor theater for Ashland’s world famous Shakespeare Festival. The roof can be seen through brightly colored trees.
Reflected fall colors surrounded this duck crossing the pond like an Impressionist painting. Monet would have been jealous.
I think the majority of trees in the park must have been chosen for their fall colors as the following photos illustrate.
A bridge across Lithia Creek.
Looking down into the creek.
The Mix Bakery was used by Ellie Alexander as the model for her Ashland Bakery in her series. I found the reflections in the window fun. 
Mouth watering goodies are found inside…
Along with fresh bread.
The town, as well as Lithia Park, was filled with fall color
Walking up to the Bloomsbury Bookstore took us past the iconic Ashland Hotel, which hosts an annual chocolate festival guaranteed to get Peggy excited.
Walking past a store window, I spotted this cat, apparently fascinated with an insect that had landed on the window…
Which provided the opportunity for this close-up.
I’ll close today with a photo from our front yard. Our white oaks don’t have quite the color of the trees in Lithia park, but they are definitely looking like fall.

NEXT POST: It’s back to my hike down the PCT and a stroll through Lassen National Park.

Backpacking up Mountains in 100 Degree Plus Weather from Castle Crags to Burney Falls on the PCT

I thought a lot about the cool water of Burney Falls as I backpacked the second half of my trip from Castle Crags to the falls. Temperatures were in the 90s and then surpassed 100! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Pacific Crest Trail from Castle Crags to Burney Falls is known for being hot in the summer. I was hoping to avoid such weather. No such luck. At least it waited until my last three days to break 100 F (37.7 C). Then it became a scorcher. Many through-hikers chose to hike early in the morning and late in the evening, hiding out during the hot part of the day. But I trudged on. I needed full days to make it out when I told Peggy I would. Following are a few photos from the trail. 

Having climbed 10-12 miles to get out of the McCloud River Canyon, I was treated to views of Grizzly Peak. Billowing cumulous clouds spoke of the coming heat.
Similar clouds were hanging over Mt. Shasta. This would be one of my last views of the spectacular mountain. I had been enjoying it and photographing it since I had began my trek at Mt. Ashland.
Appropriately, I found some Shasta Daisies beside the trail.
Much of my time over the next three days would be spent hiking ridges with great views into the canyons. This is Devil’s Canyon. My guess is that the person who named it tried to hike out on a 110 degree F day. Don’t let the pretty trees fool you; it’s Dante’s Inferno! (grin)
I was now hiking through the volcanic Cascade Mountain Range that runs from Northern California to the Canadian Border. I would be treated to numerous views of volcanic landscapes, such as this eroded lava.
I was intrigued by these volcanic rocks that were outlined on the ridge.
And these. They looked like a small village.
A fir tree helped set this rock off.
Flowers, such as this Indian Paint Brush, helped take my mind off the heat and long days.
As did  this striking fellow.
I also found some strange manzanita roots to entertain myself with. (There will be a lot more in my next post on Lassen National Park.)
As always, there were interesting through-hikers to stop and chat with. This couple, Smile and Hamster, had found a phone signal and were signing up for fall college courses in Germany.
I’ve already introduced Popcorn! with an exclamation point the end of her trail name. She’s the one who suggested to me that rubbing pine needles all over your clothes made a great deodorant. 
Patch was carrying a message from Peggy, letting me know that she had changed the location where she would meet me. Peggy had bribed him with food. (grin) 12 more through hikers would give me the same message. Peggy was making sure I wouldn’t miss her!
On the third day, I concluded my 15 miles by 2 PM. Peggy was waiting and had as many tales to tell as I did. That evening she shared the photos that she had taken, including this one of Burney Falls. I’ll conclude here. My next post will take us into Lassen National Park.

On Being Exhausted… Hiking along the PCT at 75 between Castle Crags and Burney Falls

We rarely stress about water in our everyday life. If we are thirsty, the nearest faucet is usually a few steps away. It becomes a precious commodity along the PCT, however, where your next source may be 15 miles down the trail and what you have to drink is what you carry. This welcome sight is Squaw Valley Creek, which was my destination on day one out of Castle Crags. I didn’t make it.

Although I am now off the trail and happily settled into our home in Southern Oregon, I have several more posts to put up on my backpack trip this summer. Today, I am covering the first half of my trip between Castle Crags and Burney Falls.

Peggy waved goodbye to me as I started up the PCT east of Castle Crags. I had spent two days in the Dunsmuir area happily stuffing myself and it was time for me to hit the trail again. She was less nervous than she had been in the beginning when her 75-year old husband disappeared into the woods for a week. “If you don’t come out on time, I am coming in after you,” she had declared ferociously. But each time, I had hiked out more or less when and where I said I would after backpacking 70-100 miles. Still…

I knew I had a significant climb ahead. I’d dropped several thousand feet coming down from the Trinity Alps to Interstate 5 and now I had to regain altitude. I also knew that there was limited water along the way, which is par for the course on the PCT. The trail was shaded and well-graded, however, so I started off at a decent pace. I met a fellow out walking a big shaggy dog that wagged his tale vociferously at me and then a number of through hikers hurrying north toward Canada. Or maybe they were hurrying for the good food, cold beer and hot showers that Dunsmuir promised. I suspected the latter.

At one point, I found a number of pinecones beside the trail that had been carefully organized to spell out 1500. Curiosity brought out my camera, and then I realized that the 1500 represented the number of miles that the PCTers had hiked from the Mexican Border. I would have been arranging pinecones too! The hikers were a couple of hundred miles past the half way point. It was all downhill, uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, uphill from here on. You get the point. Which brings me back to my own uphill climb.

I had determined that these pinecones represented how far through hikers had traveled since the Mexican Border.
Not far beyond the pinecones, I came on a tree with another type of marker, this one represented time. Someone, probably the rangers from Castle Crags State Park, had counted the rings in a tree all the way back to 1765. This tree was a baby when the American Revolution was still brewing and when my Mekemson ancestors had only been in the country for 10 years.

After about three hours, I began to run low on energy. This wasn’t surprising considering my age, but it seemed to come sooner and go deeper than usual. It was like I had been hit by the proverbial ton of bricks and I was carrying them all in my backpack. I shifted into granny gear and dug into my mental reserves. “Ok, left leg, move! Good job.” It helped for a while, but Squaw Creek was still several miles away.  I loaded up with five liters of water at Bear Creek. I certainly didn’t need the extra 11 pounds, but a vision of dry-camping on top of the Girard Ridge had insidiously inserted itself into my brain. My map showed that an old, abandoned road provided a flat space.

Eventually I arrived and futzed around for an hour finding the best campsite, setting up my camp, and cooking my dinner. I am not the fastest person in the woods when it comes to camp chores, and being exhausted didn’t help. I’ve already told the story of falling asleep when I was cooking dinner. It was scary. My super-hot, MSR propane stove could have turned the kindling dry forest into a conflagration within minutes had I knocked it over. Three major forest fires that happened afterwards in July and August within 50 miles of where I was camped highlighted the potential danger. They ended up burning over 300,000 acres, and one, the Carr Fire, was one of the worst in California history. I would breathe its smoke for weeks.

I vowed to go to bed as soon as I had done my dishes, reviewed my photos from the day, and completed my journal. But first I had to find a tree, a big one. Nature demanded it. This required getting up, a fact my body was not happy about. It had settled into not-moving. I rolled over onto my knees and pushed up with my arms, glad that no one was around to witness the effort. I wandered through a campsite I had rejected and followed a trail up the hill behind it to find the perfect place for my business. Location, location, location as they say in the real estate business. I like guaranteed privacy and a view. Walking back, I was surprised to discover that a through-hiker had settled into my rejected campsite, unpacked, set up his tent and was boiling water for dinner. “How in the heck did he do this?” I declared to myself. I would have been lucky to unpack in the same amount of time. But, in fairness to myself, I had taken longer than normal up on the hill.

I had found my ‘perfect place’ and dug my cat hole only to discover I was 10 feet away from the trail. Not good. A bird’s eye view of Curt’s naked butt does not meet my definition of privacy. So, whining a bit, I went in search of another location. This time I found a slight hill with a good view. I was unbuckling my belt when a thought crossed my mind. My ‘hill’ was a mound about six feet long and three feet across. It bore a striking resemblance to a grave! Now, I am not overly suspicious, but pooping on a dead person’s home almost guarantees a haunting, a spectral visit in the dark night, if such things exist. And I had met a couple of ghosts in my life. There was no whining this time. Faster than a ghoul can say boo, I had apologized and was 50 yards away digging another hole.

My next day wasn’t much different than the first. My reserves were so low I didn’t bounce back. I still struggled with the uphills and ended up dry camping again. The third day, I added struggling with the flats and downhills as well. I got up early with thoughts of making up for lost time. It wasn’t to be. I arrived at Ash Creek camp on the McCloud River around 10 a.m. and decided that was it for the day. Hiking farther involved a ten-mile climb. It’s a good thing Peggy wasn’t around. I might have bailed for the week. Fortunately, my 22-hour layover provided enough time for my body to recover. I managed the 10-mile uphill climb to Deer Springs in good shape and even stayed awake through dinner! But my dawdling meant that I had 45 miles to hike in the next three days. That’s a story for my next post. Here are photos from my first four days. Enjoy. Tired or not, there was still a lot of beauty along the route.

Hiking along the high ridges of the PCT may mean a lack of water, but it provides terrific views— both of where you are going and where you have been. This is Castle Crags that I had just hiked down with my nephew, Jay.
A closer look at Castle Crags.
I am ever so grateful for the wildflowers like this pine drop that entertained me throughout my journey regardless of how tired I was.
What the wildlife had been up to also entertained me. For example, who had chomped down on this bird and left its feathers behind.
But to a thirsty guy, nothing could quite matches up to the beauty of flowing water. These are small rapids along Squaw Valley creek.
I was fascinated by the large umbrella plants growing along the stream.
Another photo of umbrella plants…
And a final— looking more umbrella-like.
Rock sculptures along the trail are guaranteed to make me pause. This was just above the McCloud River.
The McCloud River and Ash Creek camp provided a welcome respite from hiking for me.
Looking downstream on the McCloud River from a footbridge that was a few yards away from where I was camped.
Hiking up toward Deer Springs after my stay at Ash Creek, I saw a junco fly out of a grassy area. Closer inspection revealed its nest and three babies.
A closer view showed that the baby birds that were filling up the nest and still lacking in feathers.
I liked these heart shaped leaves. Peggy had also taken photos of them in Castle Crag State Park.
This large cedar had been hollowed out by fire. I was surprised that it was still standing.
Especially given its size.
This doe appropriately greeted me when I arrived at Deer Creek Spring. After I rinsed out some clothes and hung them up behind my tent, she repeatedly came over to check them out. It became annoying when she woke me up. I went out around 10 p.m. and retrieved them. They might have been missing in the morning!
I found the butterflies flying around and landing on my pack and gear more interesting than the curious deer. Check out the orange eyes on this one!
I’ll conclude today’s post with these brave souls who were willing to check out my boots. There is no way I would have gotten near those socks. They were banished outside my tent at night.

NEXT POST: I finish my journey to Burney Falls where Peggy has been hanging out taking photos of the falls and bribing through-hikers with food and beer to carry messages to me. 

Lyla the Goldendoodle: I Discover a Dog That Is All Legs

The six-month old, long-legged Lyla checks to see where Mommy (Cammie) has gone. Golden doodles  are known to suffer from separation anxiety. “Leave the radio on” the literature suggests. Had Lyla realized that ‘Mommy’ was going to be gone for five days and that Grandpa was taking over, she would have been even more anxious.

Peggy and I are in Safety Harbor, Florida about 45 minutes north of St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast. We came to visit with our son Tony, his wife Cammie, and our three grandkids: Connor, Chris and Cooper. Part of the reason for our trip was to give Tony and Cammie a short vacation. They had a challenging summer and deserved a break. As you might imagine, Grandma and Grandpa have had their hands full with three rambunctious boys aged 6, 8 and 9. They are great kids— but the comparison with herding cats applies here. I never imagined how difficult it might be to get three boys to put on three pairs of socks before the school bus arrived.

The boys were easy in comparison to the fourth kid, however. Lyla is a six-month old goldendoodle. A goldendoodle, for those of you who don’t recognize the name, is a designer dog, a mix between a golden retriever and a poodle. They come in various sizes, from mini to maxi and Lyla definitely fits the maxi description. I have never met a dog with longer legs! Goldendoodles are known for being bright, easily trainable and super family-friendly. They are also close to shed-free, which is a huge plus for people with allergies. The down-side here is that they require frequent grooming.

Cammie provides Lyla with her nightly brushing. (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)

Lyla fell under my list of responsibilities and I soon found myself following her around outside with a bag in hand. Collecting dog poop is not how I envisioned grandpa duty, but a grandpa has to do what a grandpa has to do. I suspect there was a bit of karma involved. I had opted out of changing diapers when the boys were younger.

Mischief might very well be the puppy’s middle name. I had to persuade her that my hand was not a chew toy and that my shoes were off limits. Earlier today we found her chewing up a a pencil and her poop bags. There is a long list of what Lyla has sunk her teeth into. I was rooting for her on the poop bags.

Then there was the night that I fixed Peggy a large bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate, one of her all-time favorite desserts. She had spent an hour persuading the boys that it was bed time and I felt she deserved a treat. I had left the room for five seconds when I heard the ice cream bowl moving across the table. Ice creams bowls don’t move around on their own, I thought to myself, quickly returning. Let me report that Lyla really likes ice cream and she can eat really fast. She also likes lasagna, bread, salsa, chips, cheese, cereal, chicken, ribs, PB&J, and anything else resembling food that her long legs can reach when no-one is looking. I even caught her slurping down Peggy’s coffee and cream, and worse, licking the top of my beer bottle! Think of me as picky, but there was no way I was going to drink from the same bottle as a dog who eats her own poop bags. 

Still, with all of this, or maybe because of it, I really like the dog. She’s a real character. And she is also photogenic, which is how she made it into my blog. I don’t usually photograph pets, but with Lyla I couldn’t resist. Enjoy.

It’s hard to imagine that the long-legged Lyla started out as this puppy a few short months ago. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Super Pup! (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)
A bit older, Lyla poses in her pre-clipped phase. (Photo by Bailey Bordwell.)
Cammie caught this photo of Lyla with her three boys and Tony in an ice cream cut-out board ad. Connor is on the top, Cooper in the middle, and Chris on the bottom. Lyla is the fuzzy kid with the big nose. Maybe this is where she gained her fondness for ice cream. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
Dirty Dog… after a long romp in the dog park. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
Another furry photo. And a very pink tongue. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
A decision was made to clip the doggy..
Did someone mention food?
While all the boys love Lyla, Connor seems to have a special relationship. Here they are playing who is top dog. (Connor is careful not to put his put full weight on her.) They seem to be evenly matched but Lyla’s teeth are bigger.
We are used to kids today having more toys to play with than we did growing up. But the dog!? Lyla even has her own toy box that she empties out each day. I was playing fetch with her when she got tired and took her ball over to her toy box and dropped it inside. Game over.
I couldn’t get over the length of Lyla’s legs.
Here she looked like she was running full speed. Even her ears look wind-blown.
Her feet matched her legs. Does she look like trouble, or what!
Who? Me? Trouble?
Miss Innocent.
One of my favorite photos. A throw rug comes to mind.
Lyla having a bad hair day?
Peggy says she can identify….
Lyla does have a regal side…
That really came out when she was riding a paddleboard.
Even I was inspired to try my luck. And yes, I  stood up! Just before I fell off. Eventually, I was able to stand up and paddle. (Sort of.)
I’ll conclude with this photo of Tony and Lyla demonstrating how it is supposed to look.

NEXT POST: It’s back to the PCT with the section between Castle Crags and  Burney Falls where I fall asleep while cooking dinner.

The Desolation Wilderness: Hiking on the PCT at 75

Lake Aloha is one of the Desolation Wilderness’s best known landmarks. It was lower this year than I have ever seen it, but still dramatic with its backdrop of the Sierra peaks. 

I ran my first Sierra Trek through the Desolation Wilderness in 1975. The year before, I had created a nine-day, hundred-mile backpack trip as a fundraiser for the American Lung Association in Sacramento. With high hopes of not losing anybody, I had chosen a route across the Sierra Nevada Mountains that was used for a popular horse-endurance race from Squaw Valley to the foothill town of Auburn. Known as the Tevis Cup Trail, it was well marked with yellow ribbons and horse poop.

While the route had been easy to follow, we had been faced with struggling up and down steep canyon trails in 100 degree plus weather (37.7 C) in the Sierra Nevada foothills.  I’d vowed to keep future trips higher in the mountains. My 1975 adventure had zigzagged through the Granite Chief and Desolation Wilderness areas, occasionally touching on what would become the finalized PCT.

When my plan to take my 13-year-old grandson into some of the more remote sections the Desolation Wilderness was cut short by his sprained ankle, I revised my plan and backpacked from Donner Pass to Echo Summit. I’ve already done posts on the Donner Summit through the Granite Chief Wilderness. Today’s photo essay will focus on Desolation.

The Desolation Wilderness is one of the most highly used wilderness areas in America. One reason is because of the numerous lakes. Middle Velma Lake, where I camped, is a popular destination.  Like Lake Aloha, it is filled with small islands.
A view of Middle Velma Lake early in the morning from near my campsite as the sun rose in the east.
Not long afterward, the sun was lighting up the trees that overlooked my campsite.
My morning hike took me to the top of Dick’s Pass which provided a view of Dick’s Lake. More distant views from the pass were limited by smoke from the summer’s fires.
My hike down from the pass took me by these flowers…
These berries…
A very knotty cedar…
And this view of distant mountains.
I found an isolated campsite on Susie Lake. Given the popularity of Desolation Wilderness and the lake’s proximity to a trailhead, it wasn’t easy.
The campsite also provided this view.
Hiking up to Lake Aloha the next morning, I passed by Heather Lake.
One of my first views of Lake Aloha. I once organized a 60 mile cross-country ski trek that included skiing across the lake. That night we had played on the mountains across the lake while skiing under a full moon. The mountain on the far left is Pyramid Peak.
This driftwood had washed up on the shore of Pyramid Lake.
A closer view of Pyramid Peak across Lake Aloha.
Coming out at Echo Lake. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Being greeted by Desolation Wilderness volunteers Maryann Frantz and Charlene Clark.

As most of you are aware, the world famous traveling Bone has been ‘hiking’ with me on this journey. (He rides comfortably in a pouch and urges me to hike faster when I am making my way up steep mountains.) After coming out at Echo Lake, Peggy joined me on a day hike to take Bone back to his origin where my friend Tom Lovering and I found him south of Highway 50 in 1977 beside what is now the PCT. He has been traveling the world ever since.

Tom and I with Bone outside of the Fox and Goose Restaurant in Sacramento. Tom once owned an outdoor/wilderness store that was located in the same building. The goose seems quite interested in Bone.
Over the years, numerous people have carried Bone including Mary Johnson who has taken Bone to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro to the base of Mt. Everest. She also took Bone on an elephant ride.
Many others have simply befriended Bone like Linda and Bob Bray. Bob actually went to First Grade with me and continued on for another 14 years through community college.
Bone was excited to be returning to his home and posed on a PCT sign. “I am going back to my roots” he proudly proclaimed to anyone who would listen.
Including this group of backpackers from Sacramento and San Francisco.
Indisputable proof that Bone has roots.
Always up for adventure, Bone went toadstool surfing on our way to where Tom and I found him.
Snow still covered sections of the trail in 1977. I was following tree blazes when I spotted something strange in a field of young corn lilies. It turned out to be Bone. 
Forty generations of corn lilies have come and gone since and this year’s crop had already grown up. Bone figured they would be good for sunbathing.
We completed our trip to Bone’s home with him regaling Peggy with tales from his childhood.

NEXT POST: Lyla the Dog… NEXT BACKPACKING POST: The trail between Castle Crags State Park and Burney Falls.