Visit to Nevada, Tracking Movies, Lizards- July 2012

22 July 2012

We are back from another trip during our busy summer of travel. The latest trip took us to central Nevada where we enjoyed the relatively cool temperatures for the most part, cooler than the Front Range of Colorado at least. And without the smell of smoke. There were no great plans for this trip (meaning no long walks or survival exercises), just the usual visit home- some birding at Stillwater and a few other locations in the valley, a visit to the Churchill County museum and the Grimes Point petroglyphs, and a visit to the jet crash site that we wrote about 2 years back . We took a look at the crash site to see what kind of changes occurred over the last 2 years since it happened. If we didn’t know what had transpired at that location, we would never have guessed that a jet crashed and burned up where it did. For more about what to do in and around the town of Fallon, see the Desert Explorer Nevada Pages.

jet crash site, fallon nevada. photo by gerald trainor.

Jet crash site, two years later. Fill dirt is still visibly different. Burn scarring in field is no longer visible, at least from a distance. There were still a few small pieces of aluminum and plastic to be found here and there on the ground surface.

The tree apparently hit by the wing tip. the scar is still visible, but only after pulling aside branches covering it up.

Outside of Fallon we made a trip to the state capital, Carson City where we visited the Nevada State Museum. The museum is housed in the historic Carson City Mint building. The history of the mint in itself is fascinating, being privately financed while waiting years for government funds. Local businessmen and politicians felt it was necessary that a mint be built so that coinage could be made from the millions in gold and silver that were coming out of the Comstock mining district at Virginia City.

The historic courthouse in Virginia City, Nevada. Phot by Gerald Trainor.

The historic courthouse in Virginia City, Nevada.

Another highlight of our trip, especially for Nicolai, was our visit to the Silver State Peace Officers Museum in Virginia City. It is housed inside the still operating courthouse in the actual jails cells. The museum features not only Nevada law enforcement history, but stories, photos, and artifacts from across the United States. The museum is only a couple of years old, but takes you back through law enforcement history for the last hundred years or more. When the courthouse and jail were built, Virginia City was  the richest city in the entire world, hosting world-class entertainers and the visiting rich and famous from around the world . A visit to both Carson City and Virginia City will leave you with a clear understanding of the history of Nevada. We ended our visit with an afternoon at Lake Tahoe, a welcome reprieve from the heat of the valleys below.

Nico cautiously entering the cold waters of Lake Tahoe- very different from the waters we are used to in the silty San Juan and Green Rivers.

Tracking Movies
Although two years of change is probably outside what a tracker might need to understand, change over time is important for a tracker, and anyone serious about nature observation, to understand. We haven’t done any tracking since our recent Dirty Devil trip, but I did watch a couple of movies I found on Netflix on the subject (they weren’t suitable for Nicolai’s viewing). One movie was called “The Tracker”, the other just “Tracker”. They are set in Australia and New Zealand respectively, early in the last century. While neither were specifically about tracking per se, both were about trackers, and those being tracked, and the relationships that develop between them. Both movies are studies of human values, empathy, commentaries on colonialism and war (the Boer war specifically), and so on. The scenery alone makes them worth watching, and you can find a reference here or there to tracking specifically. The main character in one of the movies is played by the same actor that played the tracker in the movie “Rabbitproof Fence”, another period movie set in the same part of the world and well worth watching.

I have added a few lizard photos and basic data, along with a correction to the identification of a photo, to the Lizard Pages  on the Desert Explorer website. I added information about the Longnose Leopard Lizard and the Tree Lizard, both of which I now have photos of. I mentioned in my last post an email I received from Utah state biologist who commented on the lizards and my Escalante Trek pages. Besides correcting one of my lizard identifications, he sent me information on the fish of the Escalante River drainage. The paper is quite long and detailed, and is essentially an inventory of the different species found in the Escalante and select tributaries, done in 2003 and 2004. I will ask if I can post the paper on my site for access by the general public, in case anyone is interested in it.

Next Up…
We have been experimenting with different configurations for rigging our new Cutthroat 2 from Jack’s Plastic Welding. I think the configuration is just about finalised. we are very excited to try out the boat, and especially to take advantage of all the room for gear. It will be quite a different float and camp experience than what we are used to, being so limited in cargo capacity in our 2 person inflatables. Now, as long as we have water in the Green River in a few weeks, we will be all set. Look for a trip report on that float in a month or so. If you have time, take a look at the report on the Jack’s website about the recent crossing of Lake Powell using solar power.

For more on our adventures in the Utah desert and across the west, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Keeping a Trip Book- Our Approach to Visual Journaling

11 March 2012

We do a lot of travelling during the warmer months, much of it as a family. On every trip we take along an empty journal- a book to be filled by all of us. We have been keeping “trip books” for years now and have a shelf full of them. The advantage of a trip book over a regular photo album is in the additional content- you have written journal entries explaining the photos, drawings and paintings to go along with them, other “artifacts” glued in (maps, receipts, parts of museum brochures, and so on), all in the context of one single journey. One book becomes a group journal, travelogue, sketch book, water color canvas, scrap book, and photo album.

Choosing a Book Style and Format
We make our own journals; we have a format worked out that fits our journaling style well. Over the years we have used many different styles of books: Medieval leather journals, basic Coptic style journals, codex style, pamphlet stitch, Japanese stab, and accordion fold. Our current favorite is the Medieval leather longstitch journal. Our covers are soft leather and inside we use a variety of papers including Mohawk, Arches, and Stonehenge, each having different qualities and thickness. Differing the pages throughout allows us to use pastels, watercolors, gouache, pencil, or glue in artifacts or photos from our trips. Our page size allows for two photos vertically or one horizontal. We also use accordion fold journals on some trips. Both of these styles allow for glueing in lots of photos. Since most of our trips are at least a couple of weeks in length, we often end up with 60 or 80 photos to go in the book, so it is important to have a book style that will accept a stack of photos 3/4 of an inch thick!

Another style of book we use specifically for backpacking is what I call a Backpack Journal. It is essentially a single signature from a codex style journal covered in Tyvek. (A signature is simply a number of sheets of paper folded in half.) The signature and its cover are held together by a simple stitch pattern. When enough of these are filled they are then stitched into a leather cover, along with empty signatures in between each one for photos relating to the backpack trips. A detailed explanation of the Backpack Journal can be found in a Desert Explorer blog post from April, 2009.

Various travel journals in different formats and book styles.

Keeping a trip book requires discipline. On our trips, each of us writes or sketches or paints in the book every day. If this doesn’t happen, the book eventually has “gaps” in it that detract from the story of our journey. We add to the book whenever one of us feels like it, but usually it is in the mornings and evenings. On river trips, sitting on the river’s edge with a cup of tea, watching the sun rise over the desert is a very motivating scene, and always easy to capture in words, sketches, or paintings. Evenings on the river, at a campsite, or in a hotel are another time we work on our books, and then often as a family.

Just as important as adding content to the book daily is finishing the book once you get home. Choosing photos and having them printed needs to be done as soon as possible. We dug out an unfinished book recently from a river trip two years back. The photos were missing. The book is nearly done now, but it took much longer to finish after the fact.

Accordion fold journal with extra pages stitched in.

Accordion fold journal with extra pages stitched in.

What We Record
We write, draw, paint, glue and otherwise add to the journal in whatever way strikes us along our journey. We all write notes nearly every day, sometimes just a page, sometimes many pages each day. Our son Nicolai likes to draw; he fills many pages of our books with his sketches and paintings, often in panoramic views across multiple pages. We all make lists: we keep track of our campsites and travel times on river trips or drives, the weather, plants or birds or animals we have spotted, and even meals we have made. Each of these can include photos as well. Often we add decorative borders to a page as a highlight. There is a series of books carried at Two Hands Paperie called Zentangle, introducing various forms of “doodling” that can make a page jump out.

As we fill a book we leave empty pages for photographs. We always note in pencil “photo”, so no one else will use our page. Others pages will have more specific notes: “photo of cairn on top of Bowknot Ridge” for example.

Some of the foods we ate on our trip.

Some of the foods we ate on our trip to Utah.

Art Materials We Carry
Depending on the trip and how we get to where we are going- driving, flying, floating, or walking, we might take along a sampling of every different medium available in our travel kit, or nothing more than a pencil, eraser, and a single .5 black Micron pen. On most trips other than a backpack we carry at least a selection of Faber Pitt Pens, a set of watercolor pencils, a set of Micron pens- colors, and all five sizes in black, a set of graphite pencils, and a set of gouache half pans. Those are our basic tools, and along with them goes brushes, eraser, pencil sharpener, glue stick, a roll or two of Washi tape, small pair of scissors, and stamp pad with date stamp. We also have a new addition: a Polaroid POGO printer. It makes small, sticker-backed prints that are great for sticking in amongst the pages. A full review of the POGO will be in an upcoming post. Even on days when we are feeling not-too-artisitc, with a kit like that at our disposal, it’s easy to add something to the book.

Photograph with associated watercolor and text.

Photograph with associated watercolor and text.

More Information
There are many books available these days on visual journaling and related journaling techniques. Our favorite is called The Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory. If you are wondering exactly what a visual journal looks like, take a look at Gregory’s book. You’ll be ready to start your own on the spot. For basic book structures and bookbinding techniques, we recommend Cover to Cover by Shereen LaPlantz. It discusses and has directions for all of the book styles mentioned in this post. Both of these titles, along with the Zentangle series and many other motivating works, are available at Two Hands Paperie. For those in the Boulder area, we still have classes on many of the book styles, as well as classes on visual journaling, scheduled over the next couple of months. Visit the Two Hands Paperie website for more information.

Part two is forthcoming: more about art materials and techniques.

A Few Days in Southern Arizona

23 April 2011

We had the chance to head south for the week in mid-April for a few days of business and a few of exploring. While we really didn’t make it out for any hikes in the bush, we did visit two museums worth writing about.

Navajo Weavings
In Phoenix we visited the Heard Museum, spending the morning learning about the Native American boarding school experience, enjoying the Heard’s stellar collection of Hopi Katsinas, and looking at still more Navajo textiles.

The current exhibit of weavings is titled A Turning Point: Navajo Weaving in the Late 20th Century. This exhibit is on display through May 22nd. It features contemporary weavings and highlights the change taking place in Navajo weaving- what was once considered a craft is now being viewed by the weavers themselves as an art form. Until relatively recently a rug was woven, sold to a trading post or gallery, and that would be the end of the weaver’s connection to their work. Navajo weavers are now proudly taking credit for their creations, even naming them.

Today many weavings even come with a photo and name and location of the weaver attached along with the price tag. Here in Colorado we are fortunate to have lectures about Navajo textiles at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and we have attended the fund-raising rug auctions arranged by the Toh-Atin Gallery in Durango for the university’s Henderson Museum. The auction takes place every fall with the proceeds supporting the care and maintenance of the extensive collection of weavings at the Henderson Museum. One of our recent acquisitions at the auction came complete with the photo and info about the weaver who we hope to meet in our travels one day.

A Ganado Red in the Heard museum by the Navajo artist Genevieve Shirley.

The next exhibit of textiles at the Heard Museum is titled Navajo Textiles: 100 Years of Weaving and opens June 11th. It will feature weavings from the Heard’s own collection dating from the late 19th century to the present day.

And finally, if you happen to fly into Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, you must see the collection of Two Grey Hills weavings on display there. There are four cases highlighting the work of a number of weaving families. The rugs, with their rich earth tones, are a welcome and grounding sight after a morning of air travel.

The Katsinas
One of the Heard’s permanent exhibits is titled Home: Native People in the Southwest, and features artifacts from prehistoric times through the present. It covers the local indigenous cultures as well as other cultures throughout the southwest. The highlight of the exhibit for us was the collection of Katsinas, also called “Kachinas”, although the Hopi language apparently has no “ch” in it, and Katsina is the correct term. Two large cases are filled with figures, some older, but many newer. Many of them came from private collections with a wide range of figures done by individual artists. Nicolai’s  favorites by far were the Koshare or clown Katsinas, one of which is represented having fallen on his stomach and reaching out for a rooster he is chasing.

Boarding Schools
If you plan to visit the Heard any time soon- I am not sure how long the exhibit runs- be sure to see Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience. Walking through this exhibit takes you along on the journey of the reservation child to the assimilated, “productive member of society” that the boarding school was meant to create. There are many recorded reminiscences of experiences, photographs, and recreated dorm and school rooms where you will get a feel for the drab, militaristic experience the children were forced to endure. This period in our country seems largely unknown to many people. Many know that it happened in Australia for example, as presented in the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, but most people are unaware that the same thing happened here as well.

Tucson- the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a singular reason to visit Arizona. Although the brochure says to allow 2 hours for a visit, I feel you can make a weekend trip out of a visit there. We spent about 4 hours there and it felt rushed. We did not even step inside any of the museum buildings- all our time was outside. The museum is nothing short of incredible, covering 21 acres where you will see over 1200 native plants and 300 animal species. The trails through the grounds are 2 miles in length with interpretive signs, covered exhibits, and volunteers answering questions and offering information on various topics along the way.

View of the Sonoran desert landscape.

Since the museum is largely outdoors, come prepared with water, hat, sunscreen, and so on, and try to visit in the cooler months. There are plenty of shady places to sit and enjoy the views or spend time identifying Sonoran desert flora, and of course indoor galleries and gift shop as well.

For more on our adventures, hiking, primitive skills, and desert gear, visit the Desert Explorer website.

A Week in Central Nevada, Part 2

10 September 2010

This is a follow-up post to our recent “Trip Report- Back From a Week in Central Nevada“. In this post I will cover some new dining options in the town of Fallon, a quick visit to the town of Yerington, and what to expect at the Lahontan State Recreation Area.

Breakfast In Fallon
There are a couple of new and notable dining options in Fallon. Both serve breakfast and lunch, both are open from about 6:30 to 2:30 pm, and both are closed on Sunday. You will find the best breakfasts and baked goods in Fallon at either one of these cafes. Both restaurants are clean and new inside and out and are comfortable dining environments.

The Courtyard Cafe and Bakery is located on the northeast corner of Maine Street and Williams Avenue, where Highway 50 and Highway 95 cross. They have fresh-baked muffins, scones, croissants, and other goods daily, serve hearty breakfasts, and offer a full lunch menu. They only serve drip coffee, but do have a selection of loose-leaf teas. We stopped in for coffee and a scone, and found the cafe to be quite a popular place.

The Maine Street Cafe, south on Maine Street about 5 blocks at 810 South Maine, has much the same fare. They do have espresso drinks, and do a good job at making them. We had breakfast there- just eggs, potatoes, and toast- and were surprised at the quality of the meal. After so many greasy casino breakfasts the Maine Street Cafe is a welcome change in the town. I have to say that I am partial to this cafe as they have a very nice outdoor seating area.

I was pleased to find both of these restaurants in Fallon and recommend them both. Fallon really needs quality places like them. Please visit them if you are in the area.

The local coffee shop, formerly Mojo, now The Daily Grind, has changed ownership. Nothing else has changed. The coffee drinks are still tasty and the prices good. The Daily Grind is now the only true coffee shop in Fallon. They open early, around 6 am, and have a drive through window.

Yerington is another small, rural community. The town of about 4000 people is located on Highway 95A south of Silver Springs, towards the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest and Mono Lake in California. The town is located east of the highway and if you are just driving through you might miss it. Be sure to take one of the exits east towards the town. We made a random visit to Yerington one day after camping nearby. The small, neat town has many well-maintained parks that are great places for a lunch break. Stop at the visitor’s center for more information on what to do in the area. They might be able to tell you about local mines, and the mining history of the area. There are many dirt roads close by that will take you to ghost towns and old mining sites if you are interested in site seeing.

The town has a number of restaurants, but our chosen brunch location was Briana’s Taqueria located at the municipal airport. The food is tasty, served quickly, and is a great value. Be sure to ask about their daily specials. They are open 9-4 Monday through Friday and 9-3 on weekends. Outside the restaurant you can see a couple of decommissioned aircraft in front of the airport. We weren’t certain of the models, but both are twin engine, one definitely a civilian craft, and the other more interesting one looks like it may have been a military craft at one time.

There is a new drive through coffee shop in Yerington. If you are heading south and take the second exit into town, you will pass right by it on the corner of Bridge Street and Mountain View. Sundance Coffee serves your typical coffee drinks and does a good job with their espresso machine- my Americano was a strong one.

Lahontan State Recreation Area
Lahontan reservoir was created with the completion of Lahontan dam in 1905. The dam and reservoir became a state recreation area in 1971. The reservoir has two entrances, one on the Fallon side off Highway 50 and one on the Silver Springs side off Highway 95A. Either entrance will get you to potentially quiet, sandy beaches where you can sit next to cool water for the day. Be careful on holiday weekends as the beaches may be filled with campers and the water filled with boats and skiers. Depending on the time of year, the water’s edge may be a walk from where you park your car. Later in the summer the reservoir tends to get low as water is used up on local fields.

There are a number policy issues that the Division of State Parks still needs to get under control at the reservoir. One of these is dogs at the reservoir. Dogs are allowed, but only on leashes. I saw plenty of dogs, but not one leash. And in part because of this, the beaches were covered with dog waste- picking up after your dog is apparently not required at the reservoir.

Additionally, the beaches were covered with litter. This was not only the expected beer bottles and cans, but all kinds of trash left behind by campers. Finally, fires are allowed on the beaches, but there is not a requirement to use a fire pan, or even clean up your fire area. The beaches were covered with old fires, some right on the surface, some partially buried, and some with rock rings.  All were filled with trash, broken and melted bottles, half-burned aluminum cans, and other trash. The worst part were the older fires where broken bottles, screws, nails, and various pieces of hardware were strewn across the sand all along the beaches. In all my travels around the southwest I can honestly say that I have not found a dirtier recreation area.

These issues impact not only the beauty and usability of the recreation area, but public health and safety. The State of Nevada needs to address these issues sooner than later. New policies for the reservoir, including basic Leave No Trace policies, must be discussed and implemented. In the meantime, if you visit Lahontan be sure to keep your shoes on.

For more information on Lahontan State Recreation Area visit the State of Nevada website.

For more on visiting central Nevada, see the Desert Explorer Nevada pages.

Trip Report- Back From a Week in Central Nevada

14 August 2010

We have just returned from another visit to central Nevada, specifically the Lahontan Valley in Nevada’s Great Basin. The town of Fallon, where I grew up, sits in the middle of the valley. This is always our base camp, and we do day trips and overnights from there. On this trip we visited Lake Lahontan for some swimming, Grimes Point to view petroglyphs and to run, the town of Yerington, Stillwater Marsh and many irrigation ditches for birding, and we watched fighter jets and helicopters fly all around the valley. We also visited the site of a recent jet crash near the navy base southeast of Fallon- this was one of Nicolai’s favorite parts of the trip.

Jet Crash
The local news outlet, the Lahontan Valley News, reported on 08 July, 2010 that an A-4 Skyhawk jet had crashed just north of the Fallon Naval Air Station. The pilot ejected safely, bringing the jet down in a field just outside the base. No one was hurt, and no property was damaged. Had the pilot not brought the jet down where he did, the situation could have been much worse. The news report stated that the jet was  contractor-owned and the pilot a civilian, tasked to simulate enemy aircraft for training purposes.

The point of impact, the bank of a ditch flanking a field. Fill dirt was brought in to rebuild the ditch bank. The photo is taken in the direction of the debris scatter and ensuing fire.

A tree on the right side of the point of impact, possibly clipped by the jet's wing. Note debris still embedded in the tree.

Nicolai was fascinated by the crash site, and we approached it as crash investigators might. We spent a couple of hours at the site, with Nicolai photographing and drawing the point of impact, the burn scar, debris field, and the bits of debris still at the site.

A piece of debris at the crash site. There were many small fragment of aluminum lying around the field. Most were missing all the rivets that held the aircraft together, torn out upon impact.

Jet crashes are unfortunately not uncommon for the area, with the Fallon Naval Air Station being a primary training center for pilots. Most of the crashes I am aware of have occurred on the bombing ranges, and not in inhabited areas, as this one did.

Grimes Point
Every visit to Fallon requires a trip to Grimes Point Archaeological Area. The Grimes Point Petroglyph Trail is a short walk, maybe 1/2 mile, that takes you by at least 25 boulders bearing rock art that is as much as 7000 years old. Nearby caves hold clues to the ancient past and were used for storage, living, and burial. The more important caves have been secured, but there are tours available of Hidden Cave. You can visit the Churchill County Museum for more information regarding the cave tour and the history of Fallon and the Lahontan Valley. Also see their PDF on the Hidden Cave tour and Grimes Point. See our June 2008 blog post on Grimes Point for more information on archaeological research at the site and on the prehistory of the area.

For runners and mountain bikers, Grimes Point is an excellent choice for long runs or rides. I usually manage to get in a couple of easy 2 or 3 hours runs on the dirt roads in the area. You can ride or run for hours on the endless dirt roads and tracks throughout the area.

Grimes Point, Fallon, Nevada. Petroglyphs on basalt boulder.

Grimes Point- petroglyphs on basalt boulder. Curvilinear forms represent snakes, circles, rainbow, and circle and line elements.

Grimes Point petroglyphs and basalt boulder, Fallon, Nevada.

Later style petroglyph, possible atlatl or human form. Vandalism at top of boulder caused by gunfire.

Birding in the Lahontan Valley
The area around Fallon has great birding- the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge east of Fallon is known internationally for its water and shore bird populations. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service web page for the refuge, over 280 species of birds have been seen there. This may seem like an unlikely number of species for an arid, high desert region. But the Carson Sink, the location of the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and the adjacent Fallon National Wildlife Refuge, marks the end point of the Carson River. It is here that water travelling through the Lahontan Valley forms the Stillwater Marsh. On this visit within the first half hour we had seen flocks of White-faced ibis, American avocets, American white pelicans, Great blue herons, various egrets, a few Golden eagles, and gulls and coots. If you are looking to fill out the shore birds on your life list, this is the place to do it.

For more on Fallon, Grimes Point, the Lahontan Valley, visit the Desert Explorer Nevada page. For more on desert hiking, backpacking, survival, and equipment visit the Desert Explorer website.

Check back in a few days for the second part of our Nevada Trip Report. We will cover new dining options in Fallon, visiting Lake Lahontan, and visiting the town of Yerington.

Summer Visit to Nevada

7 August 2010

This will be a very brief blog post, with more details to follow once we are back home. Nicolai and I are currently in Fallon, in Nevada’s Great Basin. We have been watching birds, jets and helicopters from the local Naval Air Station, and enjoying the hot and dry desert air- it has been in the high 90’s here.

We spent a couple of days at and around Lake Lahontan, the local reservoir created by the damming of the Carson River early in the 20th century. I will give more details on visiting Lake Lahontan in our end of trip blog post.

We still have a few days here and plan to visit some of our local favorite locations including Stillwater Marsh for more birding, and Grimes Point to have  a look at the petroglyphs. Our trip back to Colorado will be via Amtrak; we have talked about taking the train for years now and Nicolai is very excited about seeing some of our campsites in Utah from the train. We will try to get some photos along the way as we travel through Utah.

For more on our trips to Nevada, Utah, and other western locations visit the Desert Explorer website.