Tuesday, June 6, 2017

RoadTrip 2017 - Getting Ready and Clearing the Mind

We are getting ready to leave on a five-week 5,000 mile road trip to northern national parks and across the country to Wisconsin and return to San Diego.  Last year a did a similar trip solo and I am really looking forward to this first long road trip with Bobbi since her retirement in January.

Camping gear laid out and ready

Road trips are great times to clear the mind and to enter a new routine of observation of life.  Clearing the mind of life's worries and stresses is possible because the road trip gives one time to reflect during long hours driving and relax time spent in nature.  Observations of life in other places gives us insight into our own existence and hopefully some insight into the lives and thoughts of others who live in the places we visit on our travels.

That's what I hope to achieve during the next five weeks, enjoying the moment, enjoying mountains, trees and streams, and enjoying time to reflect.

I hope to post to this blog along the way, to share my experiences with myself and with anyone who wants to join us.
Our route

After a two day drive, our first stop will be Grand Teton National Park.  We will take a wildlife tour with a nature guide and hopefully get a campsite for a few days on Jenny Lake.  We will also do a full day tour of Yellowstone with a wildlife guide starting from our hotel in Jackson, WY.

Then we drive north to a campground west of Yellowstone National Park and spend a few more days exploring that area and park.

After Yellowstone its north to Glacier National Park where we will stay in Glacier Guides Lodge and do a river float (not white water) and explore.  Then we have three nights in a campground on Lake McDonald right in the park.

From there we head east to North Dakota to camp in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  I look forward to exploring that new environment in a less crowded national park.  From there it is on to Wisconsin to spend 4th of July with my sisters and relatives.  After the 4th we take the long drive back to San Diego.

I look forward to sharing my observations on my blog along the way.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Solo Road Trip - San Antonio, The Alamo and What's Wrong With Pokemon

I rolled into San Antonio, TX  on a very hot July afternoon right in the middle of the Pokemon Go game craze. I left Blue in the hot hotel parking garage and walked in the doors of the Hyatt Riverwalk to a blast of welcomed cold air, they really crank up the air conditioning here in Texas!

After settling in, I decided to go out for a walk, hoping the heat might recede after 6 pm, it doesn't.

Pokemon Go (away)
I walked over to the Alamo to re-live my childhood memories of Walt Disney's Davy Crockett TV show and to try to catch a few Pokemon.

I was impressed by the Alamo but not by the Pokemon Go game. After reading about the craze in the news I had to download it just to see what "augmented reality" was all about.

As I walked around the Alamo little creatures kept appearing in my phone camera screen waiting to be captured. The Alamo itself is a Pokemon Gym which I was denied access to because I had not reached level 5. I'll never know what I missed in there.

So what's wrong with augmented reality games like Pokemon? Other than the fact the game will sell all of your information for a profit, it really seems to steal you away from the reality around you. While playing the game I missed experiencing the energy, the beauty and the history of the place I was in.

So go away Pokemon, I would rather not augment my reality. Now back to a few observations about San Antonio.

San Antonio Bike Hike
In the morning before the heat set in, I checked out a bike from a rack in front of my hotel, $12 per hour and set out to explore San Antonio.

The night before I had checked out the RiverWalk behind my hotel and was a bit turned off to it.  It was very crowded and the river walkway was lined with restaurants and bars with tour boats in the river.  It felt a bit like the San Diego Gaslamp on the weekend but with a river instead of Fifth Ave.

My bike ride took me to Pearl Brewery, recommended to me by a Facebook friend.  A short 20 minute ride away, Pearl Brewery was a gem.  It is a restored beer brewery factory of several large buildings now converted to shops and restaurants and some residential and its the home for a Culinary Institute of America school.

Pearl was a great destination for my morning tea at Local, a great little coffee spot that serves special loose leaf brewed teas.  After riding around Pearl I vowed to return in the evening for dinner at Cured.

On the way back to the hotel, I discovered that I could ride the bike along the RiverWalk.  Wow, was that a treat to ride along the river and to see the amazing work that San Antonio has put into this urban park treasure.  

Along the way there were info signs, benches, clean up crews, and boats cleaning the river for another day.  The environment was beautiful with the walkway and great landscaping that went for several miles, very impressive and the ride totally changed the impression I got from the touristy area by the hotel.

San Antonio has a rich history that I was able to glimpse on this bike ride.  On the way back I also went through the main square, a typical Mexican Zocalo square, shaded by trees and cool fountains.  Along the edge there is a beautiful church and other historic buildings like these that I didn't have time to explore.

Remember the Alamo
After a cold shower, it was time to head back to the Alamo, this time without Pokemon.  I was determined to learn the history of this place and started with a guided tour for $15.  

Our rather large group all had remote ear plugs that caught the broadcast of the tour guide's stories of the extensive Alamo battlefield for our one-hour walk around the site.  Well worth the time and money, highly recommended.

I won't go into the story of the 180 Texans and hundreds more Mexican soldiers who lost their lives here.  But I will say that as an historic site, the Alamo was fascinating with excellent signage, artifacts, and restorations.

I was immersed in the Alamo history for about three hours doing both the guided tour and a self-guided audio tour   I really never knew the history of the Republic of Texas, how it was formed and the conflicts with Mexico.  All you history buffs will love your time here.

Let me close by saying the Alamo is much more than the iconic church or sanctuary that we all recognize.  There are extensive grounds, restored structures and gardens to explore.  I enjoyed the shade this 100-year old oak tree in the Covenant Courtyard area.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Zen and the Art of Trout Fishing

Many years ago in my 20's, I read a book call "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".  I don't remember much about it except that I remember it had a big impact on my thinking at the time. 

Remembering back I think the lesson of the book was that no matter what you are involved in, there are lessons to learn and concepts of Zen can help us to enjoy and focus on the present. I probably won't go back to fact check that memory but that seems to work for my thoughts about my trout fishing outing on the White River in Arkansas.

Here are five Zen "P" words about life and trout fishing that came to me as I thought about my day on the river.

Wait for the bite. Don't jerk the rod too soon, be patient and let the trout hit the bait hard after many small bites. 

True in life, true in business, true in trout fishing.

Fishing requires you to be present, to be in the moment. As we left the dock in the morning the river was covered in fog. A great moment I'll never forget. As we began to fish, I quickly learned to be present, to focus on my line and rod because a momentary lack of awareness would cause me to lose the bite.

True in life, true in trout fishing.

There are many fishing holes along the river, much like in life. We were persistent and tried each fishing spot long enough to see if the fish were biting. Our persistence paid off. We worked the good fishing holes from several angles to find our fish.

True in life, true in trout fishing.

This is a hard life one but it is another "P" word.  As I fished this beautiful river I wondered, Is a dam progress? Is clean hydro power worth the impacts to the natural environment?  

Bull Shoals Dam was built in the 1940's and still provides power to a six state region today. Each day the dam's eight generators raise and lower the river by up to 10 feet, far from natural occurance. Before the dam there was flooding and hardship in the White River valley, so flood control is a big benefit. Yet I still wondered what the natural condition of this river would be like without the dam.


In the end, most activities are just as much about the people you enjoy them with as they are about the activity itself.  Here is Marty, my White River guide.

He made my trip with his friendly personality and overall helpfulness. He baited my hook, directed my casts, netted my catch, steered the boat and filleted my dinner. On top of that, we had a wonderful conversation about the river, nature and our families and careers.

I found Marty from Papa Bill's river tours. Papa Bill was busy but he hooked me up with Marty. So if you are ever in Bull Shoals, call Papa Bill and ask for Marty. Tell him Bernie from San Diego sent you. He is good people.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Solo Road Trip - Camping Gear Reviews

Those who have followed me on Facebook and on this blog have seen that I have gotten back into camping on my solo road trip. Years ago before kids, Bobbi and I did a lot of camping in Southern California deserts and mountains and I even did a few Sierra backpacks.

But that was years ago and camping gear has really evolved since then, so for this trip I invested in updating my camping gear. Now after several nights of cross country camping, I am quite pleased with my gear. For those interested in camping or getting into camping, here are my reviews of some must-have gear for car camping adventures.

Much of the joy of camping comes from a freshly cooked meal. To cook a meal in a campsite requires cooking gear that is packable and functional.  I have now cooked several chicken, beef and veggie dishes on my GSI cook set from REI and I love how it works and it's stowaway design. It has everything you need including two pots, a frying pan and lids.

Also from REI, I have a two person plate set including plates, bowls and cups.  The plastic fork, knife and spoon set is another must have.  I also love my GSI cooking utensil set shown below that includes a spatula, flipper, spoon, cutting board, cleaning stuff all in a great carrying case.  To complete my cooking gear I have a larger 14" frying pan, a prep knife and a wine opener.

Oh, I almost forgot, nothing is better than the reliable Coleman two burner propane stove. Same design for years and it can't be beat in my opinion.

Nothing is more important to car camping than having good storage for your gear. In my early days of camping I had a wood foot locker that worked great but I have upgraded to use two plastic storage boxes, one an "Action Packer" box from Rubbermade and another Rubbermade box with a snap lid. I use one for kitchen and camp gear and the other for food. 

The snap tight lids are important to keep out critters like raccoons who may visit your campsite at night. Both are light weight and hold all the gear and food I need. 

Finally for storage you will need a water source, I use a 2.5 gal. Rubbermade water jug that I use for doing dishes, boiling water for tea and coffee and other water needs in camp.

Camping has to be a relaxing endeavor, or don't do it.  But to relax at your camp site come prepared with relax gear.

First you have to have a hammock and not just any hammock.  Look for ENO stuff sack hammocks and the tree saver straps that will allow you to hang it just about anywhere.  I have a two person model rated at 400 lbs so both Bobbi and I can enjoy it together.

Then a good chair and table is another must.  I have a small folding chair and a collapsible table from REI that work well and pack small.

Finally, a good night's sleep is critical to really enjoy the camping experience.  We are not yet into the RV world so I want a good tent, sleeping bag and pad.  My Coleman 4 person tent has worked well and I love my 3" self inflating pad from REI.  I also have a 20 degree bag from REI that has worked well for summer camping.

For sleeping another must have is a head lamp. Head lamps are great for walking around at night and hanging out in your tent.

Well that's my review of camping gear basics.  Go to Adventure 16 or REI and check out the gear and then get you and your family out into nature and start camping.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Solo Road Trip - Breckenridge and Colorado Mountains

My next stop on this journey was Breckenridge, CO, again thanks to Doug and Karen.  They have a small "chalet" they offered as a place to stay, located in a beautiful RV park just north of Breckenridge village.  After a five hour ride filled with podcasts, I pulled into Thunder Run Park and started what was to be the most relaxing three days I can ever remember.

The Chalet

"Blue" (my Outback) was quite happy to pull into this spot for a few days!

This little cabin had everything I needed to enjoy and explore Breckenridge for a few days before I started the long drive across the prairies to Wisconsin. I enjoyed sitting on the deck listening to the river and grilling dinner the first night.

The Hike

Then in the morning, I was determined to conquer a Colorado mountain trail, so I set out early to Spruce Creek Trail ready to climb up to Mohawk Lake.  Wow!  What I hike it was.  It challenged me with a difficult 1,600 elevation gain at 11,000 ft altitude, a real huff and puff on the way up.  But the views were amazing.  This trail was just 15 minutes from town up a dirt road.  I look forward to exploring more trails here next time.

The Golf

On the next day I decided to try some mountain golf.  Breckenridge Golf Club is a 27-hole municipal golf course that is a Jack Nicklaus design gem.  I teed off alone at 7:30 am and enjoyed a fast 9 holes with amazing views and challenging holes.  The second nine I played with a father and son from Kansas City and enjoyed the conversation and the golf.  I actually pared a couple of holes and birdied a Par 5 hole but my bad shots were with me, leading to a 108 for 18.  Overall a fun fun day.

The Town

Breckenridge must be crazy in the winter filled with skiers.  It felt busy in town but not overwhelmingly crowded.  The main street is filled with historic and new buildings with shops and restaurants.  I tried the Canteen Taphouse for lunch after golf and enjoyed the four-cheese grilled cheese and a craft beer on their patio.  Overall I give the restaurant and the town of Breckenridge four stars as a great place to visit in the Colorado mountains.

Solo Road Trip - Santa Fe

Our Santa Fe Family - The Rhinersparks!

From Canyon de Chelly, I buzzed through a short five hour drive to Santa Fe, NM, the home of Karen Sparks and Doug Radtke.  Karen is my son Devin's wife Allison's mother and a totally awesome person.  Karen and Doug have become part of our family that we like to call the Rhinersparks!

Karen and Doug moved to Santa Fe last year and live in a gorgeous home west of the city.  Their hospitality was so appreciated after spending two dusty days in the canyon.

I occupied myself on the drive listening to Blood and Thunder, a great book about Kit Carson and the conquering of the American West.  Thanks to my friend Whitney Benzian for the recommendation.  I heard the story of General Kearny's march into Santa Fe and Kit Carson's march across the country and battles with Indians like the Navajo as I made my drive over the same land they "conquered" 150 years ago.

Doug and Karen gave me a great respite on my trip, catching up with family stories on their patio watching the sun set over the mountains.  But the next day we got active and drove to Bandolier National Monument for some hiking and learning about the ancestral pueblo peoples who lived in cliff dwellings here and across this region.  Here is Doug and Karen on our hike.

We also got to visit the town square of Santa Fe where General Kearny road in from the Santa Fe Trail  for the first ever conquest by the United States of a foreign national capital (Santa Fe was the regional capital for Mexico).  I couldn't help but think what life must have been like here in the 1840's as the Indian, Spanish, Mexican and American cultures mixed and clashed.  Good bye Santa Fe, I look forward to another visit at Thanksgiving with the Rhinersparks family!

Solo Road Trip - Canyon de Chelly

Certainly a highlight of my trip so far is Canyon de Chelly, located in eastern Arizona off the beaten path but well worth a visit.  The canyon is hidden below a high flat mesa that extends for miles.  As you drive toward Chinle, you would never expect such a major canyon to appear, below you.  It's not a mountain canyon but rather a canyon dug out by nature from the mesa.

Chinle is a Navajo town of about 4,000 residents, a good place to stop for groceries, gas and a meal before heading out to the Canyon area.  There are two hotels here, I stayed at the Holiday Inn at the canyon entrance for a night before camping near the canyon for two nights.

The name chelly (or Chelley) is a Spanish borrowing of the Navajo word Tséyiʼ, which means "canyon" (literally "inside the rock" < tsé "rock" + -yiʼ"inside of, within"). I started my visit by driving along the north branch, Canyon del Muerte or canyon of death.

This was my first view of the canyon, the Navajo Fortress, which was used as a refuge throughout the Spanish and American military incursions into Navajo lands. In 1864 hundreds of Navajos hid here from Kit Carson as he attacked and burned villages on the canyon floor.

Camping and Hiking at the Canyon

As you leave Chinle, stop in at the visitor center to get oriented.  The Canyon is operated by the Navajo government as a National Monument and as a sacred place of the Navajo Nation.

Right past the visitor center is the first of two campgrounds, this one in the cottonwoods at the mouth of the canyon.  We went on the south rim drive about 10 miles to Spider Rock Campground, operated by Howard, a Navajo who grew up in the canyon.

I recommend camping to really experience the area, I stayed in a mud hut or Hogan but there are also tent and RV sites at the campground.  Be prepared, the bathrooms here are pretty basic.

After you get settled in, venture out to the Canyon Overview sites along the South Rim Drive and the North Rim Drive.  Each drive will take you 1-2 hours depending on how long you stop at the overlooks.  You cannot go into the canyon without a Navajo guide except for the White House trail that I mention below.

Here is just one of the many spectacular views you will see:

The White House Trail

Be sure to take this hike, down 600 feet into the canyon on easy switch backs.  You will get to walk across the canyon floor to the White House running and see the ancestral pueblo dwellings up close.

Jeep Tour With Navajo Guide

Another must for a visit to the canyon is a jeep tour with a Navajo guide.  We took a 5 hour tour that got us up to the Navajo Fortress in Canyon del Puerto and to Sliding House in Canyon Del Chelly.  The five hour trip with a great guide cost about $60 per person since we had three people.

Our guide Benjamin told us stories of the history of the canyon and how he grew up living in the canyon with his grandfather.  

The images of the history of the Navajo and their ancestors in this canyon was a powerful and memorable experience.  To conclude, here is the Navajo Fortress, the tower that Navajos climbed to escape the attacks of the US Army and Kit Carson in the 1860's.  Also my favorite camping pic ever, thanks to Lori Brooks.