The Questionable Tastes of Bighorn Sheep… Plus Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley

Our house is in the final stages of being sold. We signed off on it today. The buyers will complete their part by the end of the month. “We’re homeless,” Peggy declared. “No,” I suggested. “our home is wherever we happen to be.” So what if it happens to be 22 feet long and is pulled by a F-150 pickup.

Right now we are in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s a lovely community filled with friendly people, great restaurants, a fascinating culture, and bookstores. The Grand Canyon is an hour’s drive north. Sedona is an hour’s drive south. A five minute trip out of town yesterday found us scrambling up and down steep canyon walls searching for thousand year old petroglyphs left behind by the Anasazi, ancestors of our modern Southwestern Native Americans. There are certainly worse places we could be.

But as delightful as this area is, we will be out of here this week. We are modern day gypsies, full-timers as they say in the RV world. The freedom of the open road is ours. We aren’t rookies at this. Once Peggy and I wandered around North America for a year. Another time it was for three years. We don’t know how long we will be this time. Our goal is something like ‘as long as we can get away with it.’ Given our combined age of 151, who knows...

Our focus will be on the wild areas of North America. Once again this will include the National Parks of the US and Canada. We’ve been to most of them, but this time we want to explore places we haven’t been, places where the vast majority of tourists aren’t. Today’s post on Mosaic Canyon is an example.

Mosaic Canyon is easy to get to. It’s just above Stove Pipe Wells, one of Death Valley’s main tourist watering holes. And it’s quite beautiful, as this photo by Peggy shows. But it isn’t advertised as one of the “must see tourists sites,” like Zabriskie Point for example. When Peggy and I visited Zabriskie, there must have been a hundred people there. We ran into a half dozen or so at Mosaic Canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
On our way over to Mosaic Canyon, we passed by the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which are always worth a photo. The sand dunes are located next to Stove Pipe Wells and are easily accessible for a hike. Note the person on top. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Here is the road up to Mosaic Canyon. It’s gravel and dirt and a bit bumpy but short. (photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The entrance to the canyon is a wide wash. It quickly narrows down! You can see two of the six people we shared the canyon with. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I captured this shot of the narrows.
Another example. The smooth walls on the left are marble made from Noonday Dolomite.
The national park site recommended walking carefully when crossing the marble because of its slickness. Peggy solved the problem by sliding down. Her shadow makes it looks like she was levitating. “I’m Mary Poppins,” she declared when she saw the photo. But where’s the umbrella?
This breccia is another common rock found in Mosaic Canyon. You can see why it gives the canyon its name.
We were excited to find these flowers growing in the canyon. We had missed the profusion of flowers that sometimes appear in Death Valley after a rare spring rainstorm. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I took a close up. As you can see it’s pretty. But what’s with the hairy leaves. Turns out that this is a desert rock nettle, eucnide urens. If you have ever had a close encounter with nettles, you’ll know that means: ‘don’t touch!’
It’s a message that bighorn sheep ignore. Apparently they love the flowers. I caught this statue of a bighorn at the visitors’ center. I could see where its metal mouth might come in handy!
Eventually, we returned to the exit. Death Valley stretched out before us. We had lunch at Stove Pipe Wells and then returned to our parking lot campsite.

I’m not a huge fan of Sunset Campground at Furnace Creek. It’s a huge parking lot. The advantage is that it rarely fills up, which is not the case for the more desirable sites in the valley. I’ve used it three times over the years, mainly because my trips are never planned months in advance when registration opens up. When Peggy and I arrived, I expected that most of its 270 sites would be full. It was Easter weekend. What we quickly learned was that the campground closed for the season in four days. There were a half a dozen other vehicles in the huge area. When we left, there were two. In addition to normally being available, there are two other plusses: its close proximity to all of the services at Furnace Creek— and the views.

This was the view from our campsite.
Peggy took a close up.
One night we sat outside and watched the sun set in the west…
…and the moon rise. I’ll end my Death Valley posts with this photo. Next, we are off to Zion National Park.

What Color Would a Death Valley Artist Paint a Pupfish in Love?

The rocks at Death Valley’s Artist’s Palette are world famous for their color.

Geology is up close and personal at Death Valley. The Valley floor and sides, stripped free of most vegetation, can’t help but show their true colors. The most colorful place to check out these colors is along the paved one-way Artist’s Palette’s drive, which is near the Devil’s Golf Course, Gold Canyon, and Bad Water basin, other treasures of the Valley.

The colors you see are the result of oxidation of various metals. One example of oxidation that everyone is familiar with is the formation of rust on iron. Along Artist’s Drive, iron compounds create the red, pink and yellow you see. Mica derived from tuff, produces the green. Manganese produces the purple. (Tuff is a light, porous rock created from volcanic ash.)

A close up of the rocks at Artist’s Palette.

While visiting the Artist’s Palette overlook is the objective, the drive itself is worth the trip. I took the following photos while Peggy was driving. (It was her turn.) In addition to the scenery, there were fun curves and roller coaster ups and downs!

Road shot one.
Road shot two.
Road shot number three featuring the nose of Iorek the truck.

Of course the fun road also has beautiful scenery along it. Artist’s Palate has hardly cornered the market on color, as Peggy’s photos demonstrate.

Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.

Now, let’s get back to the question raised in the Headline: Assuming an artist is in Death Valley has a full palette of colors, which one would he choose to paint a pupfish in love? Enquiring minds want to know.

But first, some background. You’ve probably heard of pupfish. There are several species scattered in locations around the National Park. Once upon a time they were happy residents of a huge lake that filled Death Valley. Lake Manly was a result of the Glacial Age. When the glaciers retreated to the far north and mountain tops 10,000 years ago, the lake was left to dry up and the pupfish were left scrambling for any remaining bits of water left, like individual springs. Lack of any contact created a number of subspecies.

The ones I will feature today live in Salt Creek. Their much more famous cousins live outside of the the Valley proper in what is known as Devil’s Hole, a 430 foot deep hole in the ground filled with water. What makes them so famous is that they are a critically endangered species. Today, there are less than 100 left. There were more in the 1960s but even then they were rare enough to be declared an endangered species, one of the first species to be so, seven years before the bipartisan passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Environmentalists the world over were ecstatic. The business people not so much. Nearby ranchers were limited in how much water they could pump out of the ground and developers in what land they could sell. Profits would be reduced. All that to save a tiny fish from extinction. A “Kill the Pupfish,” “Save the Pupfish” bumper sticker war ensued. National headlines were created and people across the country became aware of the pupfish. It is still a symbol of the ongoing battle between those who see objects primarily in terms of money and those who see them primarily in terms of inherent value. Being a lifelong environmentalist, I come down on the side of the pupfish, but I feel empathy for those whose livelihood was impacted.

Now join Peggy and me as we go in search of the ‘illusive’ pupfish of salt creek, whose males turn bright blue when they are in love, or is that lust. Either way, I’m glad that isn’t an infliction of human males.

A road sign some 15 minutes west of the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center points you down a short, but bumpy dirt road to Salt Creek. The first thing you notice is that there is indeed a creek, which is a rare site in Death Valley. We were lucky to be there in April when it was still flowing. The second thing we noticed was that a well-built board walk followed along the creek.We eagerly set out with our eyes pealed on the water, searching. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

No fish here. But I enjoyed the dapples of bright sunlight…

Again, no fish. I was stuck with admiring the ripple patterns caught by the sun. But where were the pupfish?

Again, nice riparian habitat, but for what. And then…
There they were. Busy male pupfish protecting their territory and looking for love! They didn’t appear blue to us, however. Maybe they weren’t ready for prime time. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Right next to it was a pool absolutely teeming with the little fellows. Apparently they hadn’t received the message about being endangered. We learned that the word prolific hardly fit when describing the baby producing capacity of the females. And the males were more than willing to do their share. The literature used the word ‘millions’ when describing a season’s production. Unfortunately, when the creek dries up most of these offspring are lost. Only those that live near the spring in year around water survive— and wait for the next year so they can one again start their frenzy of propagating. (Photo buy Peggy Mekemson.)
An information panel gave an artist’s rendition of a happy couple. “But where’s the blue?” went dashing through my head. Remember the old “Where’s the beef?” commercials. Okay, I admit that there is some blue, and it is on the male. The panel described the mating process. And it isn’t even R-rated. A female arrives in the males territory, swims over to him, and snuggles up to his side. They start shivering in anticipation, and zoom, she’s pregnant. Just like that. I’d say something about being premature but apparently, that’s how it’s done. “Was it good for you, honey?”

When you watch pupfish for a while they appear to be playful, dashing around, chasing each other, and plowing up the dirt with their noses. That’s where they get the name pupfish. We wished this year’s crop good luck and I took a final photo of the creek as we headed off for out next adventure: exploring Mosaic Canyon, which will be our next post.

Water is precious in the desert and the pupfish is only one of a number of animals and birds that take advantage of Salt Creek as is makes its way out into the desert to disappear into the sand.

MacKerricher State Park… and Moving On

Peggy and I were ‘getting the look’ when she snapped this photo at MacKerricher State Park just north of Fort Brag, California. The concern the seal had was whether we would come closer and disturb his snooze in the warm sun, i.e. would he have to get up and jump in the icy ocean? The answer was ‘of course not.’ I’m not happy when someone disturbs my afternoon siesta. So why should I disturb his. You know, “do unto others…”

This is the last post from our not-so-recent trip to the North Coast of California last November. Tempus Fugit. Indeed. My posts have been so rare lately they are close to being put on the endangered species list. But more on that later. MacKerricher State Park begins 3 miles north of Fort Bragg, California and continues for 9 miles up the coast. It features a wide variety of habitats ranging from sandy beaches to rocky headlands. There are tide pools, wetlands, a fresh water lake, and even a sea-glass beach. The ocean took an ugly dump and ground the glass up into attractive baubles that people like to collect. Our daughter-in-law Cammie used to turn sea glass she gathered in Alaska into beautiful jewelry.

We were at the park for a couple of hours and only walked a mile or two along the 9 mile beach. We were impressed, however. The area deserves much more of our time. I’ll let the photos that Peggy and I took speak for it. I included some of the these in an earlier post.

Looking south and capturing the sun reflecting off of the incoming tide.
There was plenty of action as the waves rolled in.
The bright green moss captured our attention…
As did this tide pool outlined in green
The ever-present ice plants continued the green-theme as they climbed up the ancient sand dunes in their unceasing effort to replace native plants. And be pretty.
Plus there was seaweed to admire and wonder about. I’m thinking that this would make a great whip for the Devil.
I wondered why someone had trimmed the roots off of this gorgeous driftwood.
All too soon, it was time for us to leave. For a brief moment, my footprints were captured by the sand before the next wave rolled in. I was amused to see how they wandered, never traveling in a straight line, always willing to detour toward anything that was of interest, always ready for a new adventure— wherever it might lead. Like Peggy and I are. And that’s my next subject.

MOVING ON

As you may recall, Peggy and I are preparing to hit the road full-time in mid to late March. That’s one reason why my posts have been so few and far between. But there is more. We are also selling our house and moving East. Our daughter has an empty apartment in Virginia that we will be using for our base as we travel North America. She and her husband Clay have been lobbying for years that we should move closer to them. The apartment is small, however. We are using it as a reason to seriously downsize. It’s called donate, give away and toss. If we haven’t touched something in a couple of years, it goes. (Books and heirlooms are the exception— and even they are subject to scrutiny.) A moving pod sits outside our backdoor to collect what remains. In a few weeks it will arrive on our kid’s doorstep. We’ll take three months to get there.

We will miss our cozy home with its great views and entertaining wildlife. No doubt about it. Living out in the woods had always been a dream of mine. But it is time to move on. I turn 79 in a couple of weeks. While not necessarily old (from my perspective), it is definitely not young. My sense of humor on doing all of the work involved in maintaining five acres isn’t what it once was. And, there are more serious reminders of our age: the passing of family members and friends.

My sister died a couple of weeks ago, leaving me with a thousand happy memories and a large blank spot. She was my first baby sitter and forever friend. While we didn’t see each other often, we were always close. You may recall the posts I did on our annual pumpkin carving contests. They started in the late 90s and went on for 15 years. And you may also remember my blog on Nancy Jo and the Attack of the Graveyard Ghost, a prank my brother Marshall and I played on her when we were kids. Marsh passed away couple of years ago while staying in his RV at our house. I was with him when he died. I am now the last living member of our family. It’s a strange feeling.

A number of friends have passed on as well over the past few years. I attended a memorial/life celebration in Sacramento last weekend for one of my early backpacking Trekkers, Don Augustine. I first met Don in 1981 when he went on a hundred mile trek I was leading through the Sierras. It was a tough year with lots of snow still on the ground. I was kicking footsteps in it over a steep pass leading into the Granite Chief Wilderness when he hustled up to where I was working and offered to help. He would continue to offer a hand whenever needed for the next 40 years as both a trekker and as a volunteer. His generosity was close to legendary. His specialty was encouraging newbies as they struggled to meet the challenges of long distance backpacking and bicycling. I told a story about it to the some 200 people who had gathered to wish Don goodbye.

At the time, I had gone to Alaska as the Executive Director of the Alaska Lung Association. Don and a couple of other good friends had come up to join me on a backpacking trek I was leading across the Alaska Range. We had a particularly difficult young woman along who was always last getting into camp and whined a lot. It was the unpleasant job of our trail sweep/rear guard to walk with her and bring her in. I took my turn and by the end of the day my patience was running thin. That’s when she threw her pack on the ground and declared, “I am not going another step. I am camping right here!” I responded, “Do you see that hill crest? “Yes,” she pouted. It was maybe a quarter of a mile away. “The Trekkers are setting up camp on the other side. We can be there in 15 minutes.” “I don’t care,” she answered. “Okay,” I said, “pull out your whistle.” (We required that all of our trekkers carry one.) “I have to hike over the hill and check on the group. I saw a grizzly bear about a mile back. If you see him heading your way, blow loudly on your whistle three times and I’ll come back.” She was up in a flash, had thrown her pack on, and was leading me over the hill at a hefty pace.

I took Don aside in camp and asked if he couldn’t use a bit of his magic on the young woman. “I’ve got you covered, Curt,” he said. “I’ve got candy.” He reached into his pack and pulled out a gallon ziplock filled to the brim. (There were reasons why Don always had the heaviest pack in the group.) And Don was right. On being introduced to Don’s ziplock and his charm, the girl’s attitude improved immensely and she started hiking faster to keep up with him and his candy. It was a much better solution than my making up grizzly bear stories.

Don playing his guitar on one of our Sierra Treks. He often carried his guitar and the camp chair he is seated in. And Pop Tarts. Nancy Pape, lying down and listening, was also at the memorial.

It’s always hard to lose a family member or friend, and even more so when he or she has been close. It is like closing a chapter in your life— the laughter and good times, the tears, the adventures and so much more. But it is also an important reminder that life is short, whether you are 79 or 29. Life should be lived to the fullest whatever your age. Peggy and I believe this totally. That’s why we moved to Oregon and that’s why we are now moving on now, doing what we love to do, wandering to our hearts content. Until it is time to do something else.

We will be sharing our adventures on this blog. As always, you are invited to join us. We hope you do.

My next post on Friday will be different: It will serve as a detailed description of our house, property and the surrounding region for those who may be interested in having their own ‘home in the woods.’ –Curt and Peggy

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, a Poet, and a Bookstore Cat

Most people love lighthouses. And what’s not to love? They are usually found in beautiful locations, feature attractive buildings, and include an element of romance. Their location is part of the romance, but even more so, I find the life of lighthouse keepers romantic. I picture them living on the edge of the ocean, facing ferocious storms with towering waves, and working heroically to save lives in areas that are often remote, far removed from the lives most of us lead. While such a life might not seem attractive to most, I like remote. I’m not so sure about the long hours, repetitious work, and being tethered to a 24/7 job.

I’ll never have the opportunity to find out, however.

The possibility of being a lighthouse keeper in the US today is close to zero. Of the 700 lighthouses presently functioning in the country, only one has a lighthouse keeper. It is located on Little Brewster Island overlooking Boston Harbor and has been in operation since being repaired after the British blew it up during the Revolutionary War. It had originally been built in 1716 on a pile of rubble stone with candles providing the light.

The rest of America’s lighthouses have become automated. When our son, Tony, was flying helicopters for the Coast Guard off of Kodiak Island in Alaska, one of his jobs was servicing the lighthouse in Cordova. As I recall, the salmon fishing was great in the area. He loved the assignment. And we benefited at Christmas with yummy halibut and salmon. (BTW… this past week he was flying a helicopter over Antartica in his new job.)

Today, many of the original lighthouses have been turned into museums. That’s the situation with the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse which is now part of the California State Park system. The lighthouse got its official start with a party in 1909. The head lighthouse keeper invited all of the neighbors within a mile over for its official opening at midnight. It was a pea soup night with the fog so thick that the light couldn’t escape. That wasn’t a problem for the loud new fog horns that started blasting out their warning on the dot at 12, probably waking up everyone who lived further away and wasn’t invited to the party. The lighthouse operated happily until 1961 when one of the towering waves I mentioned above rolled over the top. The third order Fresnel lens wasn’t damaged, however, and the lighthouse was returned to working order until 1973 when the US Coast Guard replaced it with a rotating beacon on a metal stand and the original lens was covered.

It was volunteers that brought the lighthouse back to life. With permission from the state and approval from the Coast Guard, they rebuilt the lighthouse and other structures including the homes of the lighthouse keeper and the assistant back to their 1930 condition when electricity was brought in. The Fresnel lens was cleaned, updated, and returned to service, being one of 70 that still operate in the US.

An attractive trail leads from the right side of the parking lot to the Lighthouse. You can also hike the road, but why would you? This is a view of wind-sculpted brush along the way.
Our first view of the Lighthouse. A bit of morning fog still hung over it. The Fresnel lens was shining. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
It didn’t last long. A few minutes later the sun came out and burned the fog away. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The trail took us over to the ocean on our way to the Lighthouse. Sun lit up the waves.
The Pacific Ocean crashed into an inlet. Can you spot the Cormorant?
It was hiding down among the rocks. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
We wandered around the lighthouse, admiring it.
A side view included the fog horns located on the back. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Peggy focused in on the lens. It can be seen 22 nautical miles out to sea. The third order Fresnel lens is made up of four panels which contain 90 lead glass prisms and weighs 6800 pounds. It is maintained by the volunteer Point Cabrillo Lighthouse Keepers’ Association. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We entered the small store and museum at the lighthouse and found this. Do you know what it is? It is whale baleen that whales use to strain their food out of ocean water.
We followed the road out since it led by the attractively refurbished lighthouse keepers’ homes. One serves as a museum. Visitors can rent the other for an overnight stay.

And this brings us to the bookstore cat. The attractive, historic town of Mendocino is located a mile and a half south of Point Cabrillo. It is another one of our favorite coastal towns. One of the reasons is its excellent bookstore: The Gallery Bookshop. The store’s logo is a cat reading a book. We went there to buy books, meet friends, and visit with the cat.

Every nook and cranny of the bookstore is filled with quality books. We could spend hours there.
The owner’s philosophy was posted in the window…
We hadn’t seen our friend David McElroy for quite some time. David is an Alaska bush pilot and a talented poet, a combination that has always fascinated me. He was traveling with his friend Susan, who among her many accomplishments, had been the first director of the Nature Conservancy in Alaska. They originally met in 1979 when Susan had hired David to fly her while she filmed the Iditarod, the first film of the event to ever be televised nationally. They met again after David’s wife of many years (and one of Peggy’s best friends from high school, Edith Barrowclough) passed away from cancer. Susan and David were on their way to Paris and then Portugal for a few months.
This sign greeted us at the bookstore door.
Catsby was sitting on the counter next to the cash register when I snapped his photo.

As I have noted before when I have blogged about my favorite independent bookstores, many of them have cats. I think that they all should. Here’s what the Gallery Bookshop’s website has to say about Catsby:

“The Great Catsby joined Gallery Bookshop in the fall of 2012. He was seen wandering on the streets of a neighboring town, darting in and out of businesses. One day, he found a car with an open window and hitchhiked (without the driver’s knowledge) to the village of Mendocino. There, he was picked up by a friend of the bookshop and offered the job of bookstore cat. His duties include sleeping atop card racks, greeting dogs with a glare and a flick of his tail, and occasionally allowing customers to scratch him behind the ears. He can usually be found sitting in the window, warming himself in a patch of sunlight.”

That does it for today. My next post will be on MacKerricher State Park, which is located just north of Fort Bragg. I should note: When I find time to do it. Our life continues to be insane as we rush into creating a new lifestyle for ourselves. More on that after the post on MacKerricher.

Is It Pomo Bluff— or Chicken Point… Fort Bragg, California

I see a massive wave like this and I remember the wise advice of old sailors: Never turn your back to the ocean. Even now when I look at this photo, I think, run! Fortunately, I was happily ensconced on a high cliff at Pomo Bluff when this big fellow came rolling in.

I laughed when I read the information sign posted up on Pomo Bluff in Fort Bragg. Sailors, fisherman, and other boaters of yore making their way out of Noyo Harbor would go out on the overlook to check how the Pacific Ocean was behaving. It could be calm and welcoming or it could be ferocious and dangerous. Checking was an opportunity to chicken out, to remember there was a cold beer that required quaffing at the local pub. Thus the name. Modern technology and weather forecasting have reduced the need to do a visual check.

We wandered around on the Bluff, admiring the ocean, checking out ice plants, watching rowdy crows, and wondering who owned the mansion hidden behind a tall fence.

In spite of the big waves, it was a beautiful day on the ocean. We watched as the charter boat, the Telstar, made its way back into Noyo Harbor. It’s available for sport fishing and whale watching. Apparently some folks had been out to try their luck. We didn’t wonder about what they caught or saw, we wondered how their stomachs had tolerated the rolling sea. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Looking back toward the entry into the protected Noyo Harbor.
A close up of the sea stack seen above.
Looking out to sea from Pomo Bluff. Go far enough and you will end up in Asia.
Peggy captures a photo.
And then goes in search of another. The sign is a common one along the coast, warning of the dire consequences of getting too close to a cliff’s sheer drop. But does this woman casually strolling along seem worried?
How can one resist when the best photos are often on the edge?
Such as this. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Ice plants provide an attractive foreground for photos on the coast. But there is a problem. It is an invasive species that replaces native plants.
I was surprised to find that the ice plant had adopted fall colors, something that I had never noticed before.
This crow took a break from its aerial display of chasing other crows to steal their food, to rest among the ice plants.
Peggy captured one carrying something delectable, like a long dead snail. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
From her perch out on the point, Peggy was also able to catch a photo of this mansion. Otherwise, it was hidden behind a tall fence.
So I took a photo of it through a knothole.
A seagull showed us the way. I liked its feet. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And finally we came to the end. It was time to head on to our next adventure and my next post: The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse.

Going on a -.-. — .– Walk at Pt. Reyes… Plus: Peggy Snuggles up to a Police Horse

The cows had a hungry look in their eyes. We were thankful they were vegetarians.

Peggy and I had decided to revisit an old favorite of ours, the Palomarin Trail that enters Pt. Reyes National Seashore from the south. We had driven down to Bolinas and were on our way out the narrow, pothole-filled road that leads to the trailhead when we saw a series of poles, lined up like they were standing at attention in ranks. I knew immediately what they were. 

The poles were part of the historic Marconi wireless radio station near Bolinas. At one point, they had been connected by wires.

In 1914, decades before the likes of Elon Musk and his techie cohorts started working on worldwide wireless technology, Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the wireless radio, had built a huge, wireless radio station near Bolinas to send Morse Code messages flying across the Pacific Ocean, setting up the first-ever communication system between ships at sea and land. A small parking lot was connected to a walking trail that wound its way past the historic poles and toward the ocean. We were easily diverted from our original intent of hiking the Palomarin Trail.  

The pole-filled field was doing double-duty as a cow pasture and a herd of cattle insisted on checking us out— up close and personal. It was lunch time and they may have thought we were sneaking alfalfa past them. The Morse Code in the title, BTW, spells C -.-. O —, W .–, in case you were wondering. And boy, that takes me back to my Boy Scout days in the 50s when memorizing Morse Code was essential to working your way up through the ranks.

We checked out the poles, talked with the cattle, and had a pleasant walk out to the coast with both Peggy and me taking photos. 

Not quite Mt. Everest, but I was still willing to pose for Peggy. We found large cement blocks throughout the area. At first, I though they might have been part of the coastal fortifications the US built along the Pacific Coast in WW II. Then we decided they were used to anchor the poles and wires. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A whole herd of cattle was lined up along the road. They remained on the road, not budging as we walked by.
I thought this young fellow munching on grass was quite handsome.
Peggy stopped to admire a lone tree on our walk. The brush had a soft, welcoming look to it. But looks can be deceiving!
It was close to impenetrable.
As we approached the coast, the Pacific Ocean stretched off into the distance. The Farallon Islands can be seen as bumps on the horizon. They were once known at ‘The Devil’s Teeth’ for their ability to rip the bottoms out of sailing ships. In the 1800s, millions of birds’ eggs were taken from the islands to feed San Francisco’s growing population. Today the islands are a designated wilderness area and are part of a marine sanctuary. The birds no longer have to worry about their babies being stolen.
Looking north, we saw some of the towering cliffs found along the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Sir Frances Drake, the renowned English hero and buccaneer (fancy name for pirate), apparently admired these cliffs on his visit to the area in 1579. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Looking south we could see the giant Sutro Tower that dominates the San Francisco skyline. Herb Caen, the well known and beloved columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle, once described the tower as a “giant erector” that was stalking and planning to eat the Golden Gate Bridge. I read Caen religiously when I was growing up. It was back when newspapers still had a sense of humor, before they adopted their Doomsday, Penny Henny view of the world. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Afterwards, we stopped off in Bolinas for lunch. It’s another favorite coastal town of mine. One reason is the fact that the locals refuse to have signs leading into the town from Highway 1 for tourists to follow. Whenever Cal Trans puts one up, it’s torn down. I think that Cal Trans has finally given up. At least I didn’t see any signs. It has always been a fun, quirky town with its own unique cast of characters. Last time when Peggy and I visited with our friends Ken and Leslie Lake, we came on a bookstore without staff. A sign said “Take any book you want and leave whatever you think the book is worth to you in the cash box.” It was a very Bolinas type of thing.

While I’m on Bolinas stories, I’ll mention that it was also the site of my first ‘Hippie’ experience. I’d stopped in the town in 1968/69 and decided to do a little sunbathing on its infamous nude beach, which I had read about in the San Francisco Chronicle. It was a time before Google listed “The Best Nude Beaches in Marin County,” a time when the Protestant ethic still reigned supreme among America’s middle class. I confess I was a little nervous about getting naked, but it was the sunburn that left a lasting memory!

A sign of the times in Bolinas. As we were walking through the town in search of lunch, we came across a car with a ladder on top that included a sign that set me to laughing. I could identify with it.

Having featured cattle today, it is only right that I should feature a horse as well. It’s a requirement of the Old West. The day after our Bolinas walk found Peggy and I hoofing it along the Bear Valley Trail. It connects the Visitor’s Center with the ocean in an 8-mile round trip. We were feeling our oats, so to speak, when we came across a pair of real hoofers, i.e. horses. A woman was walking one and stopped to chat. As it turns out the horses were part of ‘San Francisco’s Finest.’ It was a police horse, a proud member of the mounted patrol that can often be found patrolling Golden Gate Park. They’ve been at it continuously since 1864. The horses were out for a play day on the Bear Valley Trail. 

Peggy, who likes horses, insisted on snuggling up to it and I dutifully snapped a photo on our iPhone. I, on the other hand, am not a horse person. It isn’t their size, their looks, or their personality, all of which I find pleasing. It’s their smell, and the fact that they often leave prodigious piles of poop along hiking trails. Have you ever seen a sign that says “Clean up after your horse?” I’m not sure what it is about their smell, but it clings to you. I wonder if cowgirls and cowboys think of it as perfume? 

Peggy snuggles up with the horse along the Bear Valley trail.

That does it for today. I’ll wrap up our recent visit to Pt. Reyes in my next post. Then it will be off to Fort Bragg and Mendocino.

Are Your Ducks in a Row? Are You Ready for Prime Time? Or Are You Rudderless?

Are your ducks in a row? Peggy and I just returned from a trip to the small town of Waldport on the Oregon Coast. While there, we kayaked up Beaver Creek in Brian Booth State Park. It’s a beautiful area known for its wildlife. Mainly, we saw lots of ducks. Peggy, who was sitting in the front of our two person kayak, was the prime photographer. She captured these ducks behaving in a fashion that even Miss Manners would approve.
Or maybe an even more important question: Are you ready for prime time? We came on this duck who wasn’t quite sure as she checked out her tail feathers.
She quickly preened (oiled her feathers)as we approached.
And then said, “Okay, I’m beautiful. Take my photo.”
A nearby mallard duck said, “Ha”… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
“I’m the prettiest duck on the river!” (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This duck absolutely refused to allow us to take a close up. I understood. Say you were standing in the creek with your head under the water and your butt up in the air. Would you want your photo taken?
Most of the ducks we approached were trying to hide their heads under their wings. We assumed that it had something to do with the state of the world. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Another example. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Normally we paddle our 12 foot inflatable Innova kayak with a rudder attached. This time, we were up the creek without a rudder. We were rudderless. While Beaver Creek looks perfectly calm, there was a current accompanied by an occasional gust of wind. Big Green enjoyed the freedom while we paddled like mad to keep her going where we wanted. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
There were those perfect moments, however, where we could simply relax and enjoy the gorgeous scenery, which was in abundance.
Including impressive wood sculptures, such as this. Peggy insisted that we kayak around it.
She thought climbing off the kayak and on to the sculpture would be a great photo op. Something to send the grandkids. Then, she thought better of it. There was a significant chance that she would fall in the water, which I would have considered an amusing photo. Peggy? Not so much.
Peggy, who is quite tactile, decided feeling the wood was enough.
Circling the driftwood provided several different views, including this garden growing on one side.
I decided it would be interesting to depict the driftwood in black and white. It looks a bit ominous.
Not as ominous as this old dead tree hanging out over the water, however. I thought it might reach out and grab us and we wisely gave it a wide berth.
The riparian habitat next to the river made a fun contrast to the the surrounding forest.
Peggy even found some early fall-colored leaves.
As we paddled back toward our starting point, mist from the ocean added a magical element to our journey. Peggy and I will be back.

This is one my occasional blogs I am posting as I have taken a break from blogging over the summer. Next up, I will do a post on the impressive Alsea Bridge across Alsea Bay in Waldport. Let me just say here, Oregon takes its bridges seriously. After that I’ll touch on what Peggy and I have decided over the summer. It will include our being on the road much more exploring North America. Change is in the wind.

Hail, Hail, the Gangs All Here… Plus More Baby Fawn Photos

I looked out our door and this young fellow was staring through the glass panel at me.

They’re back.

For about three weeks all we saw around here on our property in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon were the two does that hang out here and their four fawns. We wondered about the absence of other deer. Maybe the does turn into ‘mama bears’ when their babies are so young and the other does, bucks, and youngsters find it wise to be elsewhere. That all changed this week. Four or five other does and a couple of bucks had come by to drink water and decided to hang around.

The young buck had certainly made himself at home. Our cement pad is relatively cool in the shade plus I had watered it down earlier. With temperatures climbing above 110° F, both wildlife and humans were suffering.
I had noted something strange about the pad earlier in the day. It was covered with new scratch marks, some going fairly deep. I called Peggy out to take a look. Had something big been using our patio to sharpen its claws. That was our first thought. The small buck sleeping there provided the likely answer, however. Deer like to make a bed before lying down. They use their hoofs to scratch out a shallow hole in the ground. Apparently, the young buck, or one of his cohorts had been trying to scratch a more comfortable place to sleep on the cement. Good luck with that…
His larger companion satisfied himself with a long, cool drink out of the birdbath, aka, local spring.
Misty, otherwise known as Top Doe, could have told the buck that the small stones we use in the patio are much easier to rearrange. I’m forever raking the stones out flat it seems. I had just sprayed Misty with cool water and her look seemed to be saying ‘more.’ Note; She still has to regain her girlish figure from having her twins.
Misty gives me her “You wouldn’t happen to have an apple, would you?” look. One of her fawns is in the back
Some of the gang. I took this photo from my writing chair in our library.

But enough on the adults. I know that the real reason you are here is to see the babies. The following photos are of Misty’s kids. Her daughter’s fawns were born a couple of weeks after Misty’s and are still too small to hang out with the adults. We tend to see them later in the evening.

What’s cuter than a fawn using mom as an obstacle course?
Answer: A baby snuggling up to mom. The tangle of legs in the background is pretty amusing as well.
Dinner time! BTW, I don’t know if you have ever watched fawns feed. It’s cute, but hardly gentle. As I noted in my last post, there’s a reason why does encourage their kids to start feeding themselves ASAP!
Like these flowers. Mmmm, mmmm good. Except…
“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a dozen times, you do not eat fake flowers! They will make you sick. Plus ‘The Peggy’ will be out here and give you a lecture. Believe me, you don’t want a lecture from her.”
“Okay, I’ll just eat these yucky old dry leaves.” Actually, all of the deer chow down on the Madrone leaves. The tree drops its leaves twice a year, including once in the summer. Eating the leaves is thirsty work, however….
“Hey, look at me, I’m tall enough to drink out of the big deer spring!”
“Big deal.”

“I’ve had it with you. I am going to talk to the all-knowing rooster…”
“Whoa, he told me if I walked up on the porch and looked in the window, I could see the Man. You need to get over and see this, Brother.”
“This is scary. I’m going to tip toe…”
“Do I dare look up?”
“OMG!”
“I’m out of here!”

And to finish off today’s post, a few more cute fawn photos…

And finally, Misty’s daughter brings her fawns by our living room window each evening. Eventually, they will grow into their ears.
And that’s it for the fawn photos this season. Maybe…

Other notes: The fox came by recently, trotting across our deck. A pair of California quail have been hanging around. Three days ago we spotted them with their family of tiny babies, maybe an inch tall. Our lavender is in full bloom, attracting hundreds of honey bees and dozens of bumble bees. We had a population explosion of ground squirrels. I’ve caught 86 so far and transported them across the river to Squirrel Village. They can be quite verbal in what they think about the relocation program. I’ve never heard such fowl language. Not even Rooster can match them.

Peggy celebrated her birthday today. Her brother and his wife Frances drop by tomorrow and we are off to Florida on Thursday to join our son, Tony, in celebrating his retirement from serving as a helicopter pilot for the Coast Guard. As you likely know, I am taking a break from regularly posting this summer. –Curt

Oh Deer! There’s a Fawn Sleeping on Our Porch

“Come quickly, Curt,” Peggy had urged, “There’s a fawn sleeping on our porch.” Sure enough, nestled between a chair, our outdoor shoe rack and Peggy’s walking pole was the cute little fellow above. We were inside and took the photo through our glass paneled door.
This photo provides a perspective on where the fawn was located. Sunday evening, Father’s Day, two fawns were sleeping on the porch. It was quite a treat.

It’s that time of the year. Two weeks ago, Peggy and I made a trip to Sacramento to catch up with friends and relatives, some of whom we hadn’t seen for over a year due to Covid. We returned home to find that our two resident does (Misty and her daughter)had both dropped their babies. Two sets of twins were cavorting about our yard and kicking up their heels. It’s an annual event that Peggy and I look forward to eagerly.

Fawns sleeping on our porch was a totally new experience for us, however. Mama deer usually insist that their babies sleep hidden away down in the canyon. The fact that they are camouflaged by their spots and more or less odorless keeps them safe from predators. I think the coolness of the cement and nearby water was more than they could resist on a 100° F day. I am going to water down the area late this afternoon to make it even cooler this evening.

The twins of Misty’s daughter came by Monday afternoon looking for water and a break from the heat under our large Madrone tree next to our porch.
We keep a bird bath filled with water year round for birds, deer, tree squirrels, and other wildlife. It serves as a local watering hole. During our hot, dry summers, we add a five gallon bucket with water. The fawns like the bucket since it is easy for them to reach.
Mmmm, mmmm, good. Nothing like a cool drink on a hot day. Note the water dripping off the fawn’s chin.
Mom, Misty’s daughter, stares in the window at me with a disgusted look because the bird bath is close to empty.
While one fawn was drinking, the other rested in the shade of the Madrone tree.
This is an example of where fawns normally sleep. Note how they blend into the dry grass.
One of them heard me and poked its head up with what seemed like an “Are you looking at me!” challenge.

Naturally, we take lots of photos when the babies are around. Here are a few more.

This is Misty and her twins. She basically hangs out around our property and has been for the ten years we have been living here. Each year she brings her kids by to introduce them.
Both moms showed up with their twins at the same time last week. Here are three of them. They weren’t quite sure what to do with each other.
Like all youngsters, fawns are curious about their surroundings. Mom is insisting that the youngsters begin the process of finding out what tastes good. One hint is what mom’s breath smells like. She encourages them to search for food by limiting their milk supply.
This kid ignored the iris leaves and focused on the grass. If deer liked iris, those leaves would have long since disappeared.
I thought this fawn looked quite elegant.
Here’s a fawn that is pretty much all legs. My short legs are jealous.
Here’s something that the long legs are good for: Scratching an itch.
I’ll conclude today with this series… “Mom says you are going in the wrong direction.”
“Really?”
“She says we have to cross this deck.”
“I don’t think so.” (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
“Follow me.”
“Maybe, but my tail is up for a reason!” (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.) And no, I hadn’t told them that this is the same deck that a cougar came bounding across a few weeks earlier in pursuit of a deer in the middle of the night. Note the ears. Back says I’m concerned. Forward suggests both curiosity and caution.
“Okay, but my tail is still up in the air!” (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A close up that I took. Both black tail deer (which these are) and white tail deer, raise their tails and run when startled. Tail up means ‘Get the heck out of here!’

I’m out of here, too. Hope you’ve enjoyed the fawns. This is one of the occasional blogs I will be posting this summer during my break.

Abbots Lagoon and Pt. Reyes Station… A Trail Hike Plus a Favorite Small Town

Abbot’s Lagoon is a great place for bird watchers. Or people watchers. This great blue heron with its neck stretched out like a rubber band had a wary eye on Peggy. Wisely so. She was stalking it with her camera. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It’s a wrap on my Pt. Reyes series today. Peggy and I will take you for a hike out to Abbot’s Lagoon and a visit to Pt. Reyes Station, a favorite town of mine.

The hike is suitable for almost anyone. We even watched a mom and dad pushing their baby along in a stroller. How much easier can it get? The baby seemed quite happy as did the parents. Visitors can turn around whenever they want, hike out to the Lagoon, or go on a leisurely stroll all the way to the ocean. We chose the latter.

The Abbot’s Lagoon trailhead leading out from the parking lot. The Lagoon can be seen in the distance. The Pacific Ocean is out beyond the Lagoon. The narrow strip you can see on the left is the continuation of the trail.
The red marker shows the location of Abbot’s Lagoon on the Google map. Down to the right you can see Pt. Reyes Station next to the Highway 1 marker. Highway 1, BTW, follows the San Andreas fault through this area. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake shot what is now the National Seashore over 20 feet northward. San Francisco is 30 miles to the south.
Another photo of Peggy’s great blue heron. This time he was back at work catching fish. I liked the slight hint of a reflection. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I was impressed with the red eye on this coot. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
We crossed a small bridge and looked back up the Lagoon toward the parking lot.
There was a drift wood structure along the trail on the beach out near the ocean. It had been cleverly woven together with kelp.
Finally we arrived at the Pacific Ocean.

The North Pacific Coast Railroad had arrived in the area 146 years earlier in 1875 and let passengers off in a cow pasture to make their way to nearby Olema and dairy ranches out on the peninsula. The cow pasture soon added a hotel and the town of Pt. Reyes station was born. It’s a story told over and over in the West. The railroad arrives and a community springs up, making land barons/developers happy and rich. This time it was a dentist in San Francisco. The railroad was making its way north to retrieve redwoods that were being cut down to build the city. Many a giant redwood gave its life to the cause.

I first arrived at Pt. Reyes Station in the late 1960s and I’ve returned again and again. The town has become somewhat yuppified and more expensive since then due to its close vicinity to San Francisco, but it still retains much of its charm. The following photos reflect some of what makes it charming.

The Pt. Reyes Book Store is one of the best small, independent bookstores we have ever been in, and we’ve been in a lot. Peggy told me to go in and spend $200 for my birthday. Boy, does she know me…
The Bovine Bakery is on one side of the book store. The buttermilk scones are to die for! I never leave town without one, or two, or three, or four.
Feeling Horsey? A saddlery is on the other side of the bookstore.
If your horse is hungry, Toby’s Feed Barn is across the street.
But what feed barn do you know that also serves gourmet coffee and freshly baked, large chocolate chip cookies. Now, that’s what I call charm!
A walk behind the the bookstore building brought us to the Cowgirl Creamery, famous for its cheeses, and I might add, its grilled cheese sandwiches. I’ve never been a fan of grilled cheese, but one bite of its aged white cheddar on sourdough bread and I was hooked. Peggy and I were back for another one the next day, which we took out and ate at the Abbot’s Lagoon parking lot.
Our view from where we chowed down on our grilled cheese sandwiches in the Abbot’s Lagoon parking lot.
A bit of living history. Cheda’s Garage is the oldest contract Triple A garage in the nation.
This was the view inside Cheda’s Garage. Putting two and two together and thinking roadside pickup of wrecked cars, I couldn’t help but irreverently think “Roadkill.” Just kidding. Old Cheda must have been one heck of a hunter.
A photo of early Pt. Reyes Station…
The building today.
The mural on the front of the building capturing some of the activities and wildlife of the area.
Just around the corner we found a sign that made us smile. A No Parking Sign had been cleverly modified to become a No Barking sign. Several cars were lined up in the no parking zone. Not one had a barking dog. A law-abiding town, for sure.
I’ll conclude my Pt. Reyes series with a historic photo of the train that gave the town its name. Join me next Friday on my travel blog as I take you on a spring walk around our property.

MONDAY’s BLOG-A-BOOK POST from Its 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me: I decide that doing an inventory of the local skunk population is ever so much better than being conked on the head by a Little League hardball. But have you ever faced a skunk standing on its front legs with its tail pointed toward you— ready to spray?