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 of bears. Once, one attacked the 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 any where 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.

A Break from Hiking… The Magic of Chihuly: Part 3

The Chihuly exhibit at the Seattle Center includes a number of smaller blown glass pieces including these shown above.

While I normally picture large glass sculptures when I think of Chihuly, he also has a number of smaller pieces on display at the Seattle Center exhibit. The gift shop actually has several for sale. Had I had an extra six or seven thousand dollars lying around, I would have brought one home.

This photo of a younger Chihuly at the Seattle Center, shows Chihuly working on one of his larger pieces. The paddles are used to shape the still fluid glass while his assistant turns the sculpture that is affixed to the pipe used to blow the glass. The expression on the face of the assistant suggests the weight of the sculpture.

Peggy really liked the nesting glass sculptures.

Another example.

And another. The pine shelving really served to emphasize the beauty of these pieces. This was my favorite among this type of nesting bowls.

Several more nesting bowls of a different type were for sale in the gift shop.

Chihuly had a fascination with Native American crafts including baskets and blankets. A number of pieces were shown with Indian baskets including the three below.

Chihuly’s interest in ocean creatures led to a realistic depiction of sea creatures in glass.

Squid…

Sea turtles…

An octopus…

Hermit crabs.

And eels.

I’ll conclude my Seattle Center Chihuly series with several more colorful and creative sculptures from the gift shop.

NEXT POST: It’s back to the Pacific Crest Trail with a hike through the Desolation Wilderness.

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A Break from Hiking… The Magic of Chihuly: Part 2

The Seattle exhibition of Dale Chihuly has a number of chandeliers and brightly colored glass balls that will be the focus of today’s post.

In my last post, I featured sculptures created by Dale Chihuly and his team of artists that are located in a permanent exhibition at the base of Seattle’s Space Needle. (The Space Needle was built at the Seattle Center for the 1962 World’s Fair.) Peggy and I visited the exhibit two weeks ago when we were wandering around Washington at the conclusion of my hike down the PCT. Today, I am going to show several chandeliers and brightly colored glass balls included in the exhibition.

The room containing the orange chandelier shown at the top included three others. This red chandelier…

A green chandelier…

Close up.

And a blue chandelier.

Another look at the chandelier at the top of the post.

This white sculpture was the centerpiece of the room featuring the four chandeliers.

When I included two of the chandeliers, I felt an ‘alien’ presence. (grin)

Outside, Chihuly presented what he called a chandelier walkway of chandeliers highlighting  different colors and forms.

The chandelier walkway.

The’ sunset’ chandelier.

The ’emerald’ chandelier.

‘Royal Jo’ Chandelier.

Olympic blue and turquoise’ chandelier.

‘Alfa red’ chandelier.

‘Fly yellow’ chandelier.

In my last post, I introduced several of Chihuly’s brightly colored glass balls, which he displays in a variety of settings. As I mentioned, my favorite was the boat.

Another view of the Chihuly boat.

Balls are strategically placed inside and outside with colorful backdrops.

The garden surrounding the Glasshouse and exhibit building features a number of balls including these five in a row.

A blue sculpture and green plants set off these glass balls.

I discovered a selfie in the ball.

The plants around the glass ball helped highlight the green in the ball.

A red sculpture provided a dramatic backdrop for this ball.

Black with swirls of yellow. Trees and leaves are reflected on the surface of this ball.

A  blue glass ball with veins.

This ‘alien’ sculpture in the garden caught my attention.

As did this one.

I’ll conclude today with this blue sculpture that was artfully entangled in the flowers.

Next Post: I’ll finish my Chihuly series with smaller pieces included in the Seattle exhibit. Then it will be back to the Desolation Wilderness!

 

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A Break from Hiking… The Magic of Chihuly: Part 1

This boat with its brightly colored and patterned balls may be my favorite piece in Chihuly’s collection. I say ‘maybe’ because how do you choose? I also love the reflection.

I missed my annual art-fix at Burning Man this year since I was out on the trail. Peggy and I made up for it when we traveled to Washington and Northern Oregon after we came out from our 50-mile backpack trip in the Three Sisters Wilderness. In addition to checking out the Colombia Gorge, disappearing into Powell’s Bookstore in Portland for three hours, visiting with our niece Christina and her partner Dustin in Tumwater, and driving through Cascades National Park, we stopped off at the permanent Dale Chihuly exhibit in Seattle. We both love his inspired glass work. The exhibit, located at the base of the Space Needle, has been on our bucket list for several years.

The Seattle Space Needle provides a backdrop for Chihuly’s sun sculpture.

I decided to provide a quick break from my Pacific Crest Trail series today to focus in on Chihuly’s art. He has been designing and producing blown-glass sculptures since the 60s and is known for his creativity and large pieces. He has also produced some lovely smaller work. Being blind in one eye and limited by an old shoulder injury, he now works with a team in producing his magic. For the most part, I’ll let his art speak for itself in this 2-3 part series. When I am finished, I’ll return to featuring my PCT adventure.

Peggy poses in front of the sun sculpture. Given her often wild, curly hair, she related well to this piece.

Here, the sun sculpture sets off Chihuly’s Glasshouse.

The Glasshouse contains this magnificent sculpture.

It is one of the largest hanging sculptures in the world. I’d love to see it at night.

A close up of the flowers in Chihuly’s Glasshouse.

A number of large sculptures are featured in the exhibit. This one, located inside, reflects the ocean and includes sea life.

A closeup of the sea life.

Outside, Peggy and I found this tall green sculpture…

Another perspective.

A red sculpture spouting what looked like horns to me.

Here, the ‘horns’ are shown more clearly. I could imagine them playing beautiful music!

A purple sculpture reminded me of sugar crystals forming on a stick.

Sweet.

Chihuly vowed to use every color available to him in his Macchia series.

A close up I felt was ‘artsy.’ (grin)

Three other pieces in the Macchia series.

One room was devoted to what I consider a sculpture of a riotous garden. Or maybe it was an altar to the yellow and red creature. Chihuly often repurposes his art in various exhibitions, recombining it in creative ways to fit into the environment. I liked the way he uses reflections to enhance his work. The boat at the top is an excellent example.

Another view of the ‘garden’ from the side.

And from the opposite end.

Starting with a glass ceiling lit from above and then placing his art on top of the glass, Chihuly created what he calls his Persian glass ceiling. The results were stunning.

A whole room was covered by the celling done in segments.

This fun piece was created by standing on a step-ladder and blowing glass. When the glass reached the floor it created the globular bottoms for the forest of glass. Once again, reflection is used to magnify the effect.

I’ll conclude today with another boat sculpture. This one backed up to the boat sculpture I featured at the beginning. I don’t think that Chihuly could have fit anymore into this boat.

NEXT POST: Some really incredible chandeliers plus more of Chihuly’s colorful ball sculptures.