Thursday, November 17, 2016

Zion's Angels Landing...FINALLY!

We've done a lot of hiking on the outskirts of Zion National Park, but never made any of the iconic hikes inside the park. One of the reasons is that we just don't like hiking with crowds. Another reason is that we find it insulting to pay a $30 fee to enter "public" lands. Yeah, yeah, we know that those fees pay for cool stuff like flush toilets at every trail head, paved trails, fancy lodges, and overpriced gift shops, but in our opinion, those things all ruin a natural area rather than improve it.

However, on Friday, November 11, 2016, there was a rare enter the National Parks for free day. We decided to take advantage of it and see what all of the fuss about Zion's trails was all about.

Our primary goal was to hit the Angels Landing trail. This hike is always described as the most dramatic in the park. It's supposed to be strenuous and challenging in that there are some pretty dramatic drop-offs as you climb to the top. It's a hike we have often talked about doing since we hit the road in 2012. 

Now we almost never do the usual RV "travel blog" posting. There's enough of that out there already, but this was such an unique day, we couldn't resist posting. Someday, this blog post will help us remember this hike even better.

Anyone who has hiked in Zion will tell you the crowds can be a real hassle. We decided to get an early start to try and get ahead of the crowds. We arrived at the visitor center at 7:30 AM and were shocked to see a parking lot that was only 1/4 full. Taking the park shuttle to the trail head put us at the start of the Angels Landing hike at 8 AM. It was 52 degrees and sunny, the weather was perfect,

The trail starts off along the Virgin River and you get a nice view of the top of Angels Landing, dominating the center of the valley. Just 1,500 feet up to go!

A series of switchbacks carved into the cliffs by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1920's carries you up about half way. We've seen work done in the 1920's by the CCC from Maine to California. It's always amazing work that blends in nicely with the surrounding geology. You can't really see the switchbacks in this photo.

We soon had a feeling this might turn out to be a unique day. We were virtually all alone on the hike. Anyone who has done this hike will tell you that is basically unheard of. This is supposed to be one of the most crowded hikes in Zion. We stopped now and then to look back down the Wiggles. No other hikers!

Well, one hiker....

The last half mile of the hike is the famous portion. It features narrow trails with 1,000+ foot drop-offs, sometimes on both sides. There is a nice flat area before the start of the last half mile. The sign at this point warns you about the six people who have fallen and died on this part of the trail since 2004. Susan didn't appreciate it when I wondered out loud "who will be lucky number seven?" This point is known as both Observation Point and as Chicken Out Point. It's your last chance to turn around before the awesome part begins!

We've heard stories about people taking anywhere from 60-90 minutes to make the last half mile to the top of Angels Landing. It's narrow and largely single file. The combination of crowds and fear of heights will really slow you down. On this day, we were able to do it in about 35 minutes with plenty of time to stop, take pictures, and admire the view.

Susan wanted to focus on her foot/handholds, so I went ahead to take the pictures.

Staring up at narrow spine to be crossed/climbed.

Susan on the edge of a cliff somewhere in there.

All the strategically placed chains and notches in the sandstone actually made the climb a lot of fun.

Finally, across the spine to a relatively wide and flat spot!

Even when we arrived at the top....

We were all alone on top for about 10 minutes before two hikers behind us caught up!

Staring over the edge down into the canyon.

1,500 feet straight down to the Big Bend in the Virgin River canyon floor. One of the double section shuttle buses can barely be seen on the road below on the left.

The highest point on Angels Landing.

OK, time to head back down and cross that narrow spine again. Surprisingly, going down seemed a lot less "scary" than going up. 

It became a little more crowded on the way down as some of the later starting groups began making their way up. We ran into a lot of teenagers and 20-somethings having real problems with this hike. Either terrified of the heights or just physically exhausted and sweating like they were in front of a firing squad. It took us about 45 minutes to make it down the scary half mile.

After Angels Landing we were able to ride the shuttles to a few other hikes (The Narrows, Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools). Overall we cobbled together about 12 miles of hiking for the day. These other hikes were interesting for their water features, but nothing as off the charts fun as Angels Landing.

Susan at the Upper Emerald Pool.

I doubt we could ever hike Angels Landing again after this. The weather was perfect (we barely broke a sweat at any point) and there were few other people. I can't remember the last time I was on a hike where there was a grin on my face the entire time. The best parts of the trail were like an adult jungle gym. The other parts were amazing for their engineering, geological, and botanical value. Sure there are some vertiginous cliffs, but the reality is you would be more likely to be hurt on the Tea Cup ride at Disney than you would be making this hike. For us, this was the ideal Angels Landing experience. That's the way we'll always want to remember it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

And So It Begins

Here we are less than a week from the election and we already have President-Elect Trump vacillating on some key issues on which he based his campaign. Some of the changes are for the better. For example, keeping some of the key provisions of the ACA such as coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and coverage of children under their parents' plan until age 26. In addition, it looks like that wall may not get built on 100% of the border (some of it may be just a fence or an "electronic" wall), and the level of proposed deportations probably won't happen. 

However, there are several campaign platform changes that are for the worse. These are items that made a Trump presidency somewhat interesting.

First, he is backing off on his pledge to go for congressional term limits. This would have been the most direct way to "drain the swamp" that is Washington DC and basically render the Citizens United ruling obsolete. Since Democrats love to rail against Citizens United, term limits may have held the potential for bipartisan reform. According to Trump and Republican leadership statements since the election, this issue seems dead.

Second, and most significantly, Trump's campaign platform:

5. Require price transparency from all healthcare providers, especially doctors and healthcare organizations like clinics and hospitals.Individuals should be able to shop to find the best prices for procedures, exams or any other medical-related procedure.
7. Remove barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products. Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America. Though the pharmaceutical industry is in the private sector, drug companies provide a public service. Allowing consumers access to imported, safe and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers.

These two platform proposals have now been removed. This is critical because these two items, more than any other proposals from either party, would have made a real impact on reducing medical costs in this country. 

If escalating medical costs are not addressed with real change, they will expand and destroy the federal budget (and the ability of the government to raise funds in the bond market) within the next five years and possibly before the next Presidential election cycle. This would have occurred regardless of who won the 2016 election.

If you dislike Trump and the Republicans, this is good news. It could be a Hoover-level destruction of the Republican brand. If you are a citizen of the United States, be very afraid. Especially if you receive any benefits whatsoever from the federal government, are receiving a pension, or pay income taxes. Prepare accordingly.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Will We Burn on Tuesday?

Election day is finally upon us. Thankfully, it will soon be over and we can get back to our long, slow decline as a nation. Each side will say that their candidate will reverse the decline, but if you look through clear, non-partisan glasses, it's easy to see the country has already crossed the Rubicon with regard to our finances and any semblance of the rule of law.

What's interesting this year is that we have two very different candidates. One a status quo, consummate insider and the other an outsider who claims he will "drain the swamp" and pass congressional term limits. One has successfully branded his opponent as "crooked" and the other has successfully branded her opponent as "the second coming of Hitler". As usual, the truth is hidden in between there somewhere.

There has been a lot of talk about the chaos that will ensue following this election. Will democrats riot in the streets and turn our cities into debris if Trump wins? Will republicans form militias and talk about armed revolution if Clinton wins? Both sides have already fanned the flames by citing "proof" of potential election rigging.

The news tells us there have been polling irregularities in the past. Even President Obama talked about them in his 2012 stump speeches (especially in Ohio). But they were not supposed to have been significant enough to affect the outcome of an election (with the possible exceptions of Kennedy Vs. Nixon and Bush Vs. Gore). With the huge upside of winning and the low odds and cost of getting caught, this is an election ripe for shenanigans.

Hopefully the losing Trump or Clinton supporters will keep their cool. If not, we're happy to be watching the next several days from a remote boondocking site in Southern Utah.

Have fun and stay safe on Tuesday!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Tails from the Back Seat: Let Sleeping Dogs...Fly

Here we are in Sidney, Montana for the 2016 Sugar Beet Harvest.  John and Susan work the night shift so we end up sleeping all day when they sleep and all night when they work.  

Most of our canine pals would love this life but we are more adventurous than most--always "Searchin' for a Rainbow".

For us, about the only thing Sidney has going for it is it's right across the border from North Dakota and North Dakota is where our Phab Philadelphia Eagles QB, Carson Wentz, is from.  So when we sport our latest Eagles swag from Aunt Sharon in the municipal park, we are as much a local favorite as the Philadelphia Eagles...that doesn't happen in too many places in the US!

Oooooo, he's even got good taste in dogs!

Coming off a win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, John was more than excited to showcase his Philly pride by taking us to the park bedecked in our new Eagles bandanas.  He promised some ball throwing, Susan wanted some photo ops.  
Not to let either down....

We scrimmaged....

We tackled....

We rushed upfield.... 

And down.... 

We intimidated....

And we spotted too....

Then we posed....A LOT!!

 Until Karly...

You think this photo session is almost done?

Committed a personal foul....

Sorry, I couldn't wait

   Ooooo,that stinks!!
Really?  I feel good!

And Jake punted...Game Over!!

 Phew, I'm outta here!!

It was a Super Bowl of outings, hope our Eagles continue to fare as well!!

 Fly, Eagles Fly!
On the road to victory!
Fly, Eagles Fly!
Score a touchdown
1, 2, 3!

Hit 'em low,
Hit 'em high,
And watch our Eagles fly!
Fly, Eagles, Fly!
On the road to victory!


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What lurks in the woods? Only the game cam knows!

We tend to run into interesting game up here once or twice a year. The occasional moose or a black bear trying as hard as possible to get away from us. We thought it would be fun to put up a few game cams to see what we were missing.

How many mountain lions are in this picture?

How many grizzlies are in this one?

This young buck did some nice posing.

The mountain lions and grizzlies were a nice thing to see. Usually the photos are all deer with the occasional coyote sneaking by.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Welcome to the American Banana Republic

The result was never in question. Especially after the President endorsed her a week earlier and the Attorney General had a private meeting with her husband on the tarmac in Phoenix. Of course the laws don't apply to the privileged class. They only apply to us serfs. We knew this when there were no prosecutions of Wall Street Bankers for violations of black letter laws during the financial crisis. Direct SEC rules were violated, Sarbanes-Oxley was ignored, GAAP rules violated, and yet our Justice Department had the nerve to tell us there were no grounds for prosecutions....of anyone for anything.

Now we see it most recently with Hillary Clinton. 

The FBI's announcement that it won't recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton is yet another repudiation of the rule of law. What's so noteworthy is how far the FBI went out of its way to make it clear that while Hillary Clinton is above the law, the rest of us remain very much at its mercy (like serfs in a kingdom or a Banana Republic).

The American implementation of the rule of law has several principles, including:

1. because the law is supreme, no one is above the law;
2. there isn't one set of rules for some people and a different set of rules for other people; and
3. because the same laws must be applied equally in all cases, factually identical cases from the past determine how the law applies in future cases.

The FBI's announcement openly mocks all three rule of law principles, as FBI Director James Comey made clear. In each and every instance, Comey bends the law around Hillary Clinton, exactly as a dutiful civil servant of the king, due to receive their full government pension benefits in 2017, would do.

Destroying the principles one at a time:

1. No one but, in this case, Hillary Clinton is above the law

FBI Director James Comey made out a clear case that Hillary Clinton violated 18 U.S.C. 793(f):
For those who want to review the full law themselves

2. Gross negligence is the Legal Standard for Ordinary People; for Hillary Clinton, the Legal Standard is "Intent to Violate Laws."

By the express terms of 18 U.S.C. 793(f), criminal culpability exists where there is a finding of "gross negligence." However, James Comey informed us that the legal standard is different for Hillary Clinton and her coterie. "we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information".

(sarcasm on) Gee wiz officer, I didn't know the speed limit was 35 mph when I was driving 45 mph. Gee wiz ATF official, I didn't know the barrel on my shotgun was 1/8" shorter than allowed by law.  Hey guys, how about giving me a waiver based on the Clinton Rule? (sarcasm off)

3. Precedent be dammed, Hillary Clinton is free to break national security laws because she's special, you aren't.

James Comey: "To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who is engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now."

Maybe this is what we get and deserve as a nation for failing to teach civics in our schools. Anyone who votes for Hillary Clinton is shameless partisan (i.e., a moron). Anyone who votes in a national election, period, is a moron. Your vote does not matter. Not voting is a legitimate choice. It is a form of civil disobedience and a vote of no confidence in a system that has failed. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Everything is Growing

"In this world you're either growing or you're dying"
   Lou Holtz

Luckily for many, growth comes in assorted shapes and sizes. Growth can occur throughout the year, but now is the prime season.

The plum and cherry trees are going like gangbusters (planted just two years ago). 

So are the peach and the fig trees (who says you can't grow peaches and figs in Northern Idaho!).

The strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries always seem to grow and set a good crop.
We're getting a bucket a day out of the little strawberry patch.

The one year old blackberries will give their first fruit this year

The two year old raspberries are getting a little too aggressive.

The mushroom harvests has been unusually "growthy" this year.
Morel Mushrooms

Puffball Mushroom (texture like mozzarella cheese, slice thin and saute in butter with salt and pepper)

The Kootenai Tribe has been busy for decades trying to get the sturgeon population growing again. We helped to release the this season's yearlings. These one-year-olds won't be sexually mature for 30 years and they'll live to be over 100 years old. A truly prehistoric ocean fish trapped by glacial dams and converted to an inland fish. They grow slowly, but they're still growing.

The most beautiful conifer in the world is the Idaho White Pine. It was nearly wiped out by a disease introduced from Europe in the early 1900's called Blister Rust, Disease resistant trees are making a comeback in Northern Idaho. We keep planting a few hundred seedlings every year to see if we can reintroduce them to our property. They are growing fast and putting on long leaders.

Even the size of the tractors is growing.

And in a classic example of burying the lede, our boondocking forestland paradise is growing.

We seized the opportunity to buy a neighbor's adjoining parcel this spring, increasing our preserve to a robust 120 acres.

This gives us some new elevations and views, forest habitat types, soil types, more privacy, and another convenient easement in and out of the property. There will be some forest restoration to do and a funky/rustic old home site to resurrect. All of those University of Idaho forestry classes will come in handy (and a tractor).

Western Red Cedar and Larch trees  don't usually co-habitate, but they seem to enjoy each other's company on this parcel.