Tom’s Last Summer

And here’s a link you can copy to reach Tom’s obituary in The Durango Herald:

Deso-Grey Canyon

Here are some photos of my recent Deso-Grey Canyon trip.  A really troubled turkey spent a day with us.

Another photo of the really deep canyon.

(click here to expand)

Good friends at the BBQ, Mike and John.

What happens when you forget your glasses in your tent.



We kept at the trails until we’d hiked everything along the east side of the road between Rockwood and Purgatory Trail in three different trips last week.  Most of those days were bushwhacking and discovering old abandoned trails no longer in use. Finding old power lines high above the railroad tracks in the canyon below the trails, is a good example.

Another example of old technology in the canyon is an old seemingly abandoned power plant, but still keeps running on.  The Tacoma Power Plant is only accessible by railroad and not a normal stop on that line, so the only way to access this remote location is by hiking down into the Animas Valley canyon.

We’d seen the power plant on a number of hikes down Sawmill Canyon, but never thought to ask about a tour, until we’d seen a presentation at an annual meeting of our local electrical coop, which was even more dry than my typing about it.  The featured speaker was a fellow from that power plant and his talk was just about as dry, but we were determined to learn now than he gave out at the annual meeting.

We got a personal tour and it was well worth an extended look. The history, the improvements, past and future, is something to behold. For a little hydro plant this has quite a bit going for it. He was far more animated in his home territory than speaking in front of 300 people.

We got the full story of an event eleven years ago, when one of the generators got a vibration alarm on Halloween night, and the remote operator in the Denver area choose to silence the alarm.  2,400 signals later the generator blew up sending shrapnel thought the roof and took the several ton generator off it’s base destroying just about everything.

In order to repair it they needed a whole litany of thing before they could replace it.  For example, the bridge to deliver improvements from the train needed replacing, and then the cribbing for a embankment needed replacing, then the transformers as well.  Eleven years later they are just now ready to start on replacing the generator.

It’s an amazing part of our local history hidden down a canyon, now only accessible by a pop-car or a specially commissioned flat car delivery equipment to the power plant. This power plant only delivers about 5 MegaWatts of power to the local grid, but is enough to keep it on line and have two employees commute via that pop-car up the train tracks.

Really interesting is the fact that the lead engineer for this project came from the American Ski Area tram industry. He’s only been at Tacoma for 12 years and his last job was building a ski lift for Silverton Mountain for Aaron Brill.  He’s very quickly found a niche that suits him well, as he’s got an old abandoned tram out back of the power plant that used to take employees and kids up and down the mountain. He’s got permission to restore the tram wheel house in his spare time.

Small world, this mountain country.


61 Downed Trees

One of the problems with spring hiking in our area is when does the snow melt?  Generally it’s on the southern exposures first, so we pick trails that are south facing and tend to be below the snow line.

One thing I forget each year is that just because it’s on the south side and below the snow line, it doesn’t mean that it’s smooth hiking.

Winter conditions have persisted in Durango and Colorado in general above 10,000 feet so we’re limited mostly to out and back trails. We hiked, however, on Monday, a loop trail leading up to Missionary Ridge and three miles across, to come down another trail back to the car.

In 11.3 miles we photographed (documented for a trail crew with waypoints on GaiaGPS) 61 trees blocking the trail.  Hikers never have a problem with downed trees, but the US Forest Service likes to keep these trails open for horseback riders.

In the five years I’ve been a WIS volunteer, we’ve never seen so many downed trees.  It’s primarily a factor of the 2001 forest fire which killed most of the trees in several sections of the trail, but the new growth is now coming up splendidly, as you can see in the background.  We also do a little erosion control, but without an ultralight shovel we can’t do much.











My favorite photo of the day was finding the trail marker for the return trip laying on it’s side at the top of the ridge.

In trying to figure which trails are open already this year, we find that we are recording trail conditions rather than giving advice on the Wilderness.

And for Public Lands Day I volunteered on the Sky Steps Project placing 500+ steps from City of Durango to Fort Lewis College, a 250-foot rise from the valley floor to the college rim. It’s a Trails 2000 project that will take several months to complete.

There has been a hillside trail for almost 25 years in this area, but this is the first time someone has endeavored to put in a bona fide stairway.  It goes fairly slowly as they are using 6×6″ rough cut beams for the construction, with rebar anchors and 12″ screws between the timbers.  Volunteers are doing all the work, which amounts to surveying the route, clearing the trail, cutting the steps, filling the voids with rocks before adding road-base filler, and then grooming the edges.  Our efforts were able to fill in about 60′ of rocks and road-base, plus add 3 small sections of stairway totaling about 30′. Believe it or not, this took almost 30 people, carrying timbers to the site, foraging for stone filler, “fire lining” buckets of gravel to fill the stairs, and grooming the hillside.  They have still another 200′ of stairway to build and all the filler to make it usable. (Photos courtesy of Trails 2000 – I forgot my phone)


Two Days in the Bears Ears

Mike and I made it over to the Bears Ears region to see first hand some of the wonders that may or may not be a National Monument.  The panorama above is a small glimpse of the glorious territory between Canyonlands and the San Juan River.  Certainly not as deep as the Grand Canyon, but no less spectacular, as it’s close up and personal in it views.  This canyon shown is only about 3,000′ deep but looking straight down and across will give you pause, for more reasons than catching your breathe.

We spent a couple days down in the  Hammond Canyon, which unlike many of our hikes, starts out down and finishes with a very steep climb out.  Had we known more about this area we’d have gone in from Posey Trail and hiked out Hammond Canyon which is more gradual and a little less elevation.  But the “stashed” mountain bike at the top of Posey Trail made for an easy looped hike.

One of the features made the adventure even more delightful, besides the views, the freshly blooming Lupine, double waterfall and original growth trees, was a ruin.  An older trail guide mentioned a ruin visible from just below a waterfall, we missed from the first waterfall we found.  It wasn’t until we’d taken a 45 minute bushwhack and returned to the creek a quarter mile downstream that we could clearly see the ruin.

This photo was taken about 2/3’s the way up a mostly animal trail to the ruin.  See if you can pick it out when you enlarge it.  Only about 700′ above the valley, but a third of a mile away it’s hard to see.

Once you’ve scrambled up to it, it’s quite impressive with it’s five rooms and very large hidden alcove behind it, littered with corn cob husks.  These remote and hard to find, let alone hard to access, ruins remain remarkably intact for being 1300 or more years old.  Well worth the effort, once you know where to look and climb.


It’s called “Three Finger Ruin” which is named from the eastern view of these three towers visible from the down stream view.  Coming in from the west these signature towers are distinctive enough to locate the ruin. One thing we realized just as we climbed out of the canyon floor was that this hidden micro-climate was almost the same elevation as Durango.

Camp was more than comfortable, and came with the waterfall ambient noise as a backdrop.

And in case you wondered what the solar barn raising scene in Durango was, here a 36 panel 11.2kW system we put up just before leaving for the Bears Ears.





It must be the season for Warmshower’s guests as we’ve had 3 in one week.  It was nice to see our first one come with a somewhat light load on his bike, compared to the two Korean boys that came within 5 days later.

The Korean’s, as with most foreign cross-country cyclists, don’t know what to expect, so the plan for the worst, meaning they have everything except the kitchen sink loaded on their bikes.

Age must have something to do with your load, as the lightweight fellow was over 65 and the younger ones in their 20’s had loads that I’d find hard to manage around the block.

Everyone was having the same amount of fun, however, so it’s all must be relative to your strength and tolerance.  Every time we have a cycling guest we learn something and we’re happy to show off Durango.

Speaking of which, we took our first WIS day hike just above the Animas Valley.  If you click on the photo you should be able to see the valley below greening up.  This was the only photo worth showing as the others were of downed trees, which is the purpose of us hiking the trails in Spring as a volunteer for the Forest Service.  It’ll be many more weeks before we can venture much further into the local mountains, so if we want to get warm we’ll have to go to the desert, or hang out in this new shower.

For those who never get to see Rocky Mountain Sheep up close here’s a drive-by photo taken on our way back from Silverton this week.  The sheep are licking the salt off the highway.  Clicking on this photo will show them starting to shed their winter coats.

And for those who’ve helped or kept up with the bathroom remodel, I was able to install the sink countertop and faucets after only a few hiccups.  The old sink top was put down with Liquid Nails, and that took over an hour. It still got cracked in the removal.  Once the new top was installed, all went well until I turned the water back on.  The cold supply only allowed a dribble.  After a short trip to the hardware store, and two trips under the condo to turn on and off the water supply, the stuck (26 year-old) closet valve was replaced and all was well again. The chipped shower door side glass has been replaced, at the installers expense, as well.

Now it’s only a matter of waiting for the new wallpaper to arrive, and then we’ll have a completely new bathroom.

Busy April

Suddenly, all the things on your to-do list are lined off and it’s time to start thinking about a new list. But you want to take a pause and not add anything right away so that you can relax in the lull.  That’s where we are just now.

Except for a small chip in the left-hand glass panel the shower is completed.  Without Joe’s help I’d still be in there laying tile.  Replacement glass will take another couple of weeks, but at least we can enjoy the shower now.

Five days of April were reserved for a Canyonland’s hike with UltraLIght friend Will and his Montana friends. The Utah desert is a place that you’d want to visit only a couple times in a year and April is one of them.  Day temps in the 70’s and nighttime in the mid-30’s made for a 50-mile exploration of some of the park’s hinterlands. Discovering new routes to link up trails is one of Will’s passions and we lucked out this time with two new routes confirmed.

Easter week is the busiest time of the year in this National Park with backcountry permits reserved months in advance.  However if you’re lucky enough to get one, the crowds completely disappear once you get beyond the day-hiking range.  We spent four days without seeing a soul, and only a two sets of footprints. Water is the big concern, and we were fortunate to have Will’s experience to tell us where to find those water holes.

The day after our return from the desert, I was scheduled to give a talk on GaiaGPS for the San Juan Mountain Association.  Gaia is a smartphone GPS mapping application that I’ve been using for four years, most recently on this Utah desert trip.

Will typically doesn’t need a map to orient himself in the backcountry, but confirming his location sure saves some misadventures into unknown side canyons.

Just like our UltraLIght talk a month earlier, we’d underestimated the attendance by 200%.  The Ultralight talk was standing room only and the Gaia talk had 60 people if you include me and the director.  As with all technical presentations, even though all the folks had the app in the class, they still needed practical experience.  So Saturday morning we took 20 of them on a “hands-on” hike to hone their skills.  One fact I brought out in the talk was that of the hikers our Search and Rescue group has searched for in the last two years, 9 of the 12 were day-hikers from Durango. Even locals get lost, and one testimony from a county native was that he got disoriented this winter only a mile from the road in the snowy hills near Andrews Lake at Molas Pass.  He wanted to have Gaia so that didn’t happen again.

GaiaGPS works everywhere, you might consider adding that app to your smartphone if you’re apt to venture away from the highway.

Still almost 10 days left in April and summer hasn’t even begun.


Cruiser Reunion

Really fortunate to have so many folks who were involved come to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Paradox’s loss and the rescue of the crew. Deja Vu came into town first, followed by Dragonfly, then Marion D and finally Kira (formerly Neaptide, and before that Galadriel).

It was such a popular event that we’re trying to plan a winter meet-up in Mexico next season, albeit on the hard. Finding a place that sleeps 10 shouldn’t be too hard down there.

Joe spearheaded a shower remodel while waiting for the crews to show up.  He’s probably the only land cruiser to travel with all his tools. We were almost finished by the time Al & Jill showed up so the only thing Al got to help with was discovering why we couldn’t get any water out of the shower once it was hooked up.


We had plenty of time for eating, catching up, eating, and hiking. Everyone brought or cooked a favorite dinner and dessert so the meals were outstanding.

Helen, Joe and Al joined us at the Durango Rec Center for several days of spinning and pickle ball.  Jill walked the river trail multiple times.


Finding a hiking spot when the local area is still covered with snow was no problem.  Stanna chose Bisti Wilderness area south of Farmington where all 10 of us hiked thru the Cracked Eggs, hoodoos and giant petrified logs.



Most interesting was the night we each recalled our roles in helping the Paradox crew get back to land. We played the short video of the rescue, which several had never seen.  Stanna and I remain grateful to all the cruisers, various ham radio nets, and the US Coast Guard men and women who were involved in our rescue.

Thanks to all who came.


Shower Time

Postponed for over 5 years, the condo shower is finally getting the attention it needed.  It must run in the family, because an Aunt let her shower go for so long we had to rebuild the sub-floor and replace the entire shower pan.  Ours could have been that bad, and I was expecting the worst, but it turns out the tile issues were only grout deep.

However, that wasn’t determined until the entire shower door was removed and the first floor tiles lifted.  At this point we’d already ordered all new tiles, plumbing fixtures and fancied a new glass door, so there was no going back.

Originally we’d planned to do the demolition and install after our Cruiser Reunion and our out-of-town friends had departed, but an email from Joe & Helen saying they’d like to arrive early from California spurred other thoughts.  Joe’s speciality, among many other talents and professions, is remodeling kitchens and bathrooms. And best of all he, like most our friends, would rather work on a project than sit around jawing about old times or, in this day, Trump.

The shower stall was totally demolished before Joe arrived and in two days we were ready for tile.  I’d envisioned a much more complicated shower pan, however Joe determined that our curb-less shower stall wouldn’t need floor surgery, because the gipcrete floor (part of in-floor heating was removed to expose the subfloor) provided enough depth for our new design.

New plumbing was a snap with the deployment of Shark Bite connectors and PEX tubbing, so that Stanna will have that extra hand-held shower she’s envied every time we visit a Swiss hotel.  We even remembered to place nailer blocks in the studs for that grab rail we will soon be needing.

Insulation and vapor barrier went in before the vinyl pan liner and the DuraBoard walls.


The bench and wall niche rounded out the pre-tile chores so that all remaining was the sloped cement shower pan.  Joe decided we should knock the pan out, allowing it to dry overnight so in the advent of the tile arriving on-time on Monday  we could carry on this rapid remodel. Two days in, we’re ready for tile and the reunion.



Wish we were doing something special

It’s hard to admit that we’ve not been doing anything special since our return from Thailand. Taxes was the big thing. The pile of mail was less owing to more online payments, efficiency of my sister trashing junk mail, and being gone only 3 months. One thing that took more time than usual was overcoming jet lag.  Jumping back into the Durango routine only goes so far when trying to make up for 13 hours of time difference.  Staying up until 9 PM is our primary goal, but we’re still waking at 3 AM for the first 5 or more days.

The only fun item waiting in Durango was a Thunderbolt Display I purchased from Janet while I was gone.  Overkill for sure, but I’ve always coveted a second 27″ monitor and now I get to try one. The biggest benefit besides have two screens of origami screensaver to show off our 20,000-photo library, is that I’ve started editing that photo library.

The only person I know that’s meticulous about organizing his photos is Don Pole, and we’ve never gotten close to his surgical precision. A second display isn’t mandatory to accomplish sorting, editing and trashing photos in your photo library, but it makes it more fun. As of this posting I’ve eliminated 5,000 of 25,000 and probably have another 5K to go.

The other motivation was to put my photo library in iCloud Photo Library, so that I could have all my photos on all my Apple devices.  In Thailand this year I kept wanting to show a particular photo of home or our travels and it wasn’t on my iPad, iPhone or Stanna’s MacBook.  Now they are.

I‘ve also been prepping for a reprise of two separate San Juan Mountain Association talks given last spring: UltraLight Backpacking Gear and Using GaiaGPS. Just talking or a PowerPoint doesn’t cut it for me, so designing displays, and a live demo of what’s in your pack, needed preparation. The display on the left shows shoe weights and that 6# water bottle demonstrates how much 1 Pound extra on your feet feels like on your back.  There are 10 different displays of various gear choices including food choices.  The GaiaGPS smartphone GPS mapping app talk will introduce hikers, bikers and trail riders to the app, using a large screen TV  display of my iPhone so that folks can visualize better than on a 4.7″ screen.

One habit that’s been hard to break is photographing all our meals, so since we’re back in the Southwest here is just one smothered burrito.

And for those wondering about cycling: Spin class has been there for burning calories three times a week and Durango weather was perfect last weekend for a 38-mile ride.

Our 33rd anniversary dinner, thanks to David & Pam’s belatedly-used gift certificate.  Hard not to take that food porn, but the meal was delicious.



Night Life

One of the favorite tourist attractions in Thailand is a Night Market: an evolution of food stalls for those pre-cooked foods, like pad Thai, soups, meats, fish and sweets, or ingredients for cooking your own meals like noodles, rice, eggs, raw meats and fish, and now combined with clothing, arts and crafts.  Heavy emphasis on the clothing and souvenirs.

The other kind of Thai night market is one that starts about midnight and peaks between 3 AM and 5 AM. One that takes place in that seemingly-abandoned-in-the-daytime open air market with a shambles of rickety tables that mid-morning has only a few tables selling vegetables  to housewives.

Trang, being the provincial (state) capital, has the regional market that supplies all the mom and pop neighborhood stands as well as other smaller, but lesser. open air markets.  It all starts at 2 AM where the wholesale vendors of fish, pork, chicken, a cornucopia of vegetables, pre-packaged meals, drinks and snacks, display their overflowing bounty on those rickety tables.  Bundles and bags of goods are quickly shuffled out to triple-parked trucks and three-wheeled scooters, where they’re off to the next stage in the distribution channel.

This market consolidates fish trucked-in in 150-gallon plastic coolers, meat slaughtered the evening before (and butchered on site), pre-plucked chickens (also butchered insitu  into all the salable parts), pick-up loads of one type of leafy vegetables {unknown to us) or another (bagged in 5 and 10-kg bundles), heaps of pineapples, bananas, and fruits, plus all the home-made banana-leaf-wrapped snacks of sticky rice with meats or sweets by the hundreds.

Some foods and snacks are prepared in the stalls, assembly-line style.  They are deep frying Thai donuts, other sesame dough-balls with sweets inside, coconut covered treats with fresh coconut meat ground on-site. Still other stalls, countless of them, bag liquid drinks like coffee, coconut milk concoctions, and soups for resale.  Green noodle and coconut milk desserts are bagged individually and assembled together for last-minute enjoyment with ice in a bowl at a roadside restaurant or as a home treat.

Cycling thru the countryside I see scooter-up roadside stands with tables of plastic boxes of pre-packaged foods for breakfasts and lunches. Mom’s or dad’s take their kids (helmet-less) on the back or stuffed in between their legs on the family scooter to school each day, stopping at the neighborhood stand for a school lunch. [Easily 70% of Thai families’ only vehicle is a scooter.] Now I know where these lunches come from.  I’d always assumed the family in the house behind had prepared the goods.  Maybe they do, but I’ve learned they can be purchased wholesale along with the chicken that gets deep-fried at that same stand each day.  Everyone in Thailand has a job.

We’d asked about the Mu Yang (roast pork) that is famous in Trang, where was it sold? So half-way thru our early morning tour, we rushed off on our scooters to see one of the in-town families that slaughters and roasts their pork each day for sale and consumption. I’d seen the process before in a rural setting, Stanna hadn’t.  This operation was an urban business only minutes from the train station.

SunSern let himself in thru a front gate and on to the backyard business of a family that prepares six or more whole pigs for roasting each night. Permission secured (Thai folks always say yes to your viewing how they make or do things), we arrived just in time to see them lower three of their pork carcasses down into the in-ground oven.  Wooden staves are burned to charcoal and pushed from a keyhole slot to the bottom of the brick-lined vertical oven.

The top is then covered with corrugated tin roofing panels and checked for bubbling of the meat that has been coated with the secret family sauce. One hour later, after numerous flashlight inspections and listening for crackling, the roast pork is hauled out and cooled for sectioning and sale at dawn. Trang’s roast pork is the most delicious meat I’ve ever tasted and we got to pick some off the cooling carcasses.

Back to the market, by 4 AM the place was hopping with buyers picking up their pre-arranged orders or selecting baskets full of goods for resale at their own stalls or stands.




Wang PubPa Mek

Top of the Southwestern Thai peninsula would be my translation of Wang PubPa Mek. As per usual, I don’t know where I’m going until I get there, and in this case I still don’t know. What I do know is that we left with some 100-plus cyclists with our camping gear Saturday afternoon from the Tourist Authority and a film crew, and cycled some 40-km northwest above the town of Sikao, Trang Province.

Southern Thailand is trying to promote destinations other than the underwater weddings, caves, beaches, islands and national parks.  Last year I went with a group of cyclists to promote the Seven Dragon Spines of the Andaman Sea (narrow rocky shoals that are only visible off the coast with full moon low tides – seeing all of which will bring a person good luck).  Access to these off-shore Dragon Spines is limited to traveling down long mangrove-strewn roads to small fishing villages.

I was told toward the end of the ride that I wouldn’t be able to go all the way on my bike because it was too steep and too rough a road, and that I should snag a ride in a pickup. Sounded like a challenge. If this is to become a tourist attraction, like the Dragon Spines, it can’t be a challenge.

We were rewarded, however, with an exclusive look and outstanding view of a new “attraction,” not quite ready for prime time, a little over an hour’s automobile drive from Trang.  Interesting to note that once we arrived at the saddle between the new mountain top vista points, I’d realized that I’d been there 5 years earlier with a band of only 10 cyclists and a lady on a rented motor scooter (Stanna). We didn’t camp, nor were any of the improvements developed such as the cement stairway to a mid-level “sala” (gazebo) to gaze West over the inland karsts and those out in the Andaman Sea known as islands. It was easy to see their enthusiasm for the locale, but there still lies a road improvement ahead.

What was unique about this ride, was that once the cyclists reached the top of the mountain (and only about half of those were able to make the last kilometer under their own power, many hitched rides with officials and families who came to join the riders) those “adventurers” camped and pre-dawn next day scaled a  mountain, many camping for the first time in their lives, as evidenced by their quandary of setting up brand new tents.

Thai camping isn’t much different than RV camping in the States, or a camping platz in Germany, along the Mediterranean, or in New Zealand for that matter.  Cheek by jowl, only you don’t often have to pay for the privilege. It’s a true social event with talking between tents well after most have retired and are trying to get to sleep. This outdoor adventure had the added feature of a catered dinner: three kinds of fish dishes, vegetables and giant caldrons of steamed white rice.  And in the new multi-purpose sala (outdoor hall) they trucked in a stage and karaoke set-up for those needing to caterwaul into the wee hours.

At 4:30 am a truck PA system repeatedly entreated us to rise and start climbing the mountain, which I’d failed to notice was inland from the two vistas I’d enjoyed the late afternoon previous. Like an alpine start for some snow-covered peak, some 100 adventurers snaked thru the jungle and up a lightly trodden ridge line like a rhumba-line of ants with headlamps and bike lights. These climbers weren’t Outward Bound instructors showing off climbing in their flip-flop and thongs, but cyclists and their families, trying to maneuver the rocky, rooty, viney and dead-leaf-strewn slope with the shoes they brought for camping or the cleats they’d ridden in.  The going was slow. [photo was going down two hours later in the daylight – still tough]

Spectacular it was.  A 270° view of the entire Western coastline and far out to the karst islands dotting the horizon.  Even looking inland, watching the dawn break over the mountain range that forms the divide of this narrow Thai peninsula was worth the challenge.

The film crew staged and surreptitiously took endless photos, and the one I liked best was the crew standing on the rickety “only 10 person at a time” overlook composing the stragglers after sunrise for a last mountain photo in that special light.

BTW my skinny-tire, 26 -year-old road bike was the first to reach the top followed by a 19-year-old on a mountain bike. A fun time, good people and an adventure for everyone.  I learned later that they plan to only do guided trips up that ridgeline for 100 Baht a head.