Category Archives: Adventures

“America is wasted on a lot of Americans.”

Earlier this week Kirsten and I were on our way from Cooke City, MT to Red Lodge via the incomparable Bear Tooth highway. A cold front had come through several days before and clouds were still hanging low and cold over the peaks. For two days, in the second week in June, the just opened high mountain road was closed again for blowing snow and ice.

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Sudden drop from the top

I was in line waiting to use a Forest Service restroom when I asked a woman waiting in line with me if she had come from over the summit. With abundant animation she replied in the affirmative. “I am from Manitoba where it is so flat you can watch your dog run away from home for three days,” she said. “I know flat and let me tell you, this place is NOT flat! Add to that you can’t see twenty feet in the fog up there and I mean it when I tell you I need to use a rest room.” Continue reading

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Have chairs will travel

zero-gravity-massage-chair-4Except I left the chairs home. We have some great Zero Gravity camp chairs and I left them in the garage on our trip to the west desert and Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge yesterday. Kirsten and I want to take the chairs to some of the iconic view sheds in the West and hang for awhile. We have never gone outside less often than now that we are running a land oriented publishing house. We want to remedy that. Utah sits at a triangular apex of the best scenery there is, the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin. Next time we will take the chairs.

Yesterday was in the Great Basin. I have heard a number of times that only two percent of charitable giving goes to conservation. Yet here we live in a state that can easily be described as 98 percent scenic landscape. The disconnect from urban to open scene is sudden. Just south of Point of the Mountain on I-15 while still in the midst of the Wasatch Front urban corridor, turn west, go through a slight pass into Cedar Valley and the population density drops 90 percent. Ten more miles west of that and the population density is zero. Continue reading

San Juan River minus two

That's funny, when we went to bed last night there were four boats.

That’s funny, when we went to bed last night there were four boats.

It is not an adventure until something you would rather not happen happens. And you always want a good adventure. So it was good of two of our boat owners to oblige.

On a Thursday in mid June Kirsten and I drove from Torrey to the Sand Island campground in Bluff to meet up with a gang of pals from Durango. We arrived in the evening before the others and happily found plenty of camp sites available. Kirsten had her usual picnic feast ready and we sat at a table by the river noticing above all else a lot of water. Everything was damp and the river was swollen above its banks. We have had a wet May and June in the Southwest and the San Juan Mountains still had a lot of snow. Add the recent unseasonal rains and the river that in mid May had been running at 1800 cubic feet per second was now at 8,000 cfs. In fact we had experienced two separate pulses of moisture from tropical storms already by mid June, an unprecedented event for so early in the year. Global weirding.

Ronni and Mark

Ronni and Mark

Not wanting to take any chances I brought our camp stove and coffee pot for the first morning even though it was planned that a grab and go breakfast would be ready. The grab and go food was great but our coffee pot was mysteriously popular. I went with Ronni, our venerable boat captain, down to her camper to get her crew sized coffee pot but we seemed a tad slow in getting coffee going in it. We never did.

With the river high it was also fast. We only floated five miles the first day but stopped often to visit several terrific petroglyph panels including Butler Wash and another massive wall near our camp site. During the day the two adult sons, Sean and Casey, joked with their dad Mark about his paranoia about losing his boat. The next morning on the river Sean woke us up early saying we needed to get going. Their dad’s boat had disappeared during the night, “no joke.”  Minus one.

Breezy camp dinner.

Breezy camp dinner.

Rose and Sean

Rose and Sean

We hustled to get going but still lined up eagerly for coffee at the well stocked camp kitchen. Tristen offered Kirsten some tea. Kirsten said no thanks, I’ll have coffee. Without missing a beat Tristen said, “The coffee went down the river. Would you like some tea?” Ah, missing a boat is no problem, kinda fun in fact, assuming we find it. But no coffee? Minus two.
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Casey, a young man born for action and endurance was already headed downstream on a paddle-board by 6:30AM when we got up. We were on the river by nine and floated the remaining 22 miles to our planned takeout for the next day at Mexican Hat. It was a fast and beautiful trip. When we got to Mexican Hat Casey was there waiting for us. Besides one oar tangled in the flooded brush there had been no sign of the boat. We pulled all but one of the boats out while Mark and Casey took that boat on down the next 55 miles to the next and last takeout before the river runs a waterfall and meets its doom at Lake Powell.

Jeff and Tristen

Jeff and Tristen

Back in Torrey we learned they found the boat tied up another seven miles down the river. We had Ronni, who coincidentally has recently moved to Teasdale, over for dinner in Torrey. We only found out then from Ronni that the chief menu planner, who’s name I omit to protect the guilty, had forgotten to pack the coffee. Totally minus two. Adventure indeed. A regular bullet past the head. Was the lost boat a mere ruse to cover up? Be careful what you wish for. Good times. Thanks to all who made it happen.

Admiring the empty beach.

Admiring the empty beach.

Tegan

Tegan

The Caineville Wash west of Hanksville on our way back to Torrey. The wash is normally dry. More signs of weird weather.

The Caineville Wash west of Hanksville on the way back to Torrey, normally dry. More signs of weird weather.

Sky Islands and Writers

Kirsten at Ramsey CanyonKirsten soared in the stiff breeze on a floating sky island, 1500 feet above the surrounding mile high mesquite desert, smiling as always.  We had been invited to run some publisher workshops for the Cochise College Creative Writing Celebration the last weekend in March.  Finished with our duties, we said good-bye to some great new friends and went out exploring the local environs.  Cochise County sits on the Mexican border of Arizona in the southeast corner of the state.  It is a thriving county of about 100,000 folks, all of them obviously happy to be there.  The terrain from Phoenix and Tuscon has climbed back up to around 5,000 feet, is about 20 degrees cooler on average, and is dotted with these sky islands above the mesquite flats.  It had been a little hard to believe, but we had been promised running surface water, migrating humming birds, forests of pine, fir, sycamore and locust trees at the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve.

We were met at the visitor center by uber-friendly Debbie Arbenz who, without drawing a breath, welcomed us and talked us into a discount from the already low entrance fee.  We did promise to re-up our membership with TNC, I think.  The visitor center is a gift and book shop, well stocked save any titles, yet, from Torrey House Press.  The preserve was as promised and more.  By the time we hiked to the overlook that Kirsten is pictured in here, she was wishing that maybe she had worn her hiking boots instead of her Chacos, but she only says so if you ask.   We saw humming birds, running water, riparian areas, birds of prey soaring the surrounding cliffs, numerous deer and a restoration pond trying to save the endangered Chiricahua leopard frogs.

I may be a bit of a curmudgeon, some say, but I was  surprised by Cochise County and the college there.  Our hosts, including our own Jay Treiber, author of soon to be released Spirit Walk,  were generous and universally effusive about their home.  Spirit Walk is beautifully set and portrayed in Cochise County and northern Mexico and I was eager to see this landscape for myself.  I see why everyone loves it.  The desert is always beautiful and enticing and dangerous and menacing.  To see a black jaguar in such a place would be life amplifying.  It was for Jay’s characters, some of whom even put their guns down after sighting such a creature.  The allure and danger of the place is captured too in Erec Toro’s Zero to the BoneErec was one of the conference presenters and tells in this memoir of how his life was permanently altered after being struck and massively poisoned by a rattle snake.  I had a chance to chat with Erec just long enough to know he gets the wild thing, as in it is the preservation of the world.  As Erec says, he got a taste of wild snake when it got a taste of him.   Erec and I are going to have to talk some more.

While talking about the amazing people we met I must mention Cecelia “Ceci” Lewis.  Ceci is an instructor at the college’s English department.  She is a year older than me, Latino, and always gorgeously attired in southwest clothing and turquoise.   We had a chance to talk to Ceci about modern life and I mentioned how the white, male, Utah Taliban-Republican politicos are spending millions of dollars to “take the state back.”  Ceci’s immediate response was, “From?”  For the first time I heard the phrase, “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.”  We spoke a bit about her experience and her family.  As she pronounced her siblings’ names it struck both Kirsten and me that she was singing.  I remain smitten and charmed.

A final hello to Beth Colburn Oroxco and her pal and fellow author  and presenter, Ann Wertz Galvin.  Check out Ann’s latest novel and her upcoming one, A Dog Year.  Beth, fabulous conference, hope to see you soon, and write on.  You all looked great in the land of the sky islands.

Mark