Friday, June 29, 2007

the new balance horseman

The eastern Sierra is a strange place. Desert on the border with Nevada, Arizona. Death Valley lurks lowdown. Volcanoes above. The mountains explode from the brown desert floor seven thousand feet erect, straight up, gathering trees finally at the top. In twenty five minutes you can drive from the desert in Lone Pine to alpine forest and meadow at ten thousand feet. Twenty degrees difference. Shocking the system.

Luckily I started walking at ten thousand feet. Up over Trail Pass in the sunlight that shines poison UV through thin air to sear my face skin red hot and blistery. I actually felt feverish each night going to sleep I think because I was excessively exposed. Up over Trail Pass, descending into Mulkey Meadows. All the “stringers” were dry. Out there, small tributaries are called “stringers.” Only the main stem had water in it. And thousands of Golden Trout. I pulled out a dozen or so. They’re ridiculously easy to catch. Killed one by accident. Hooked him deep. Second fish I‘ve killed this year. Felt pretty bad about that. Hiked down Mulkey and into Bullfrog Meadow and camped there. My water froze that night.

Everything except the meadows, and even those in places, were sandy. It wasn’t really sand, but kind of. Dirt and small rocks. Each step produced a puff of dust. Each step slipped back two inches. Walking in sand is a pain in the ass. Carrying a 40 pound pack in sand is a serious pain in the ass. And all the trails were six inch deep ruts of sand, carved out over the years by cattle and horses. Cow pies everywhere. Crusty gray and light as dried meringue. But I didn’t see any cattle.

I did see horses. Horseshoe tracks and the errant horseshoe itself here and there. Bent tacks rusted tetanus needles on the trail. Keep the horses out and I imagine the trails would be a lot more walkable. But the Golden Trout Wilderness is horse country. Too big to see it all by foot in less than a month. Big wooden corrals in the middle of nowhere. “Horse camps” I suppose. Not much of a wilderness if you ask me.

Leaving Bullfrog Meadow I come upon twenty horses mulling about a small clearing in the woods. No saddles. Just horses hanging around. Their minder probably puts them out at night and collects them (i.e. rounds them up) the next day. I planned to hike up over a small pass and into Tunnel Meadow and down into the Golden Trout Creek watershed. Not a terribly taxing hike, but around four miles. Take close to two hours. And the trail is Sandy, sandy, sandy. This is horse country, eh? Maybe I’ll just borrow a horse.

Tried to approach a pretty palomino but he wasn’t having it. But big brown came right up to me. Bitin’ at my hand. Lookin’ for meal? Tell me Mr. Horse, what is your deal? I put my hand up behind his ears. Stroking his neck. A big, beautiful animal. Rubbed his head on my chest, knocked me back a step. He seemed gentle. I stepped to his middle and stroked his back. Put my arm around his back. Didn’t seem to mind it back. Put my weight on his back, hung there for minute.

He had his head down, nibbling at the sparse, dry grass.

I put both my hands on his back and pushed myself up as if I were climbing out of a pool. Balanced there for a minute. Big brown didn’t care so I hoisted myself up astraddle my new wheels. He didn’t like that too much. Took off at a trot and I fell hard on my pack. Ouch. But there he was. Just standing next to me, nudging me with his giant head. I pulled myself up and gave it another try. He gave me the trot again but I was ready with a handful of mane. He started off down the trail on his own at the trot. It was tough to hang on with the pack on my back but I managed.

We crested the pass and there before me were two men on horses about twenty yards down the hill. “Hey! What are you doin’?” No time for answers. Big brown didn’t seem to like this situation. He took off at a run to the right. I hung on tight, a two cowboy pursuit.

My horse tore down the sandy slope and into a dry stringer bed at tha-da-thump, tha-da-thump, tha-da-thump top speed. I flail around coming completely disconnected for seconds at a time. The cowboys are gaining. John Kinney’s riding up your ass, the balls are flying, the blood goes right to your head. You hear trumpets sound and angels sing a fargin’ hymn. It’s quite a sensation. I was terrified.

I ain’t no Billy the Kid.

We continue through a canyon, a watered stringer now, three horses in a row throw Vs of creek in the air. The closest cowboy’s lynching lariat held up and out in his right hand. He’s going to try and rope me! Like so much calf at the rodeo. He draws out a loop five feet wide and swings it rapidly over his head in rhythm with the gait of the horse, holding himself just off the saddle, all muscles tensed in synchrony with his animal, one big pulsing hunter. He’s within fifteen feet now, lining it up, lining it up, he shoots the loop, it falls below my shoulders, around my pack, he jerks it closed and me off the horse, tying the rope around his saddle horn.

I hit the ground hard, collapsed in two inches of water trying to get my wind back in. He jumps off the horse with a short length of rope and hogties my arms to my right leg with a particular alacrity. I’m not in a good way to say the least. The other cowboy comes up next to me, an older man, short gray hair under his white wide-brim hat. He has on a leather jacket, a denim shirt, and denim pants, otherwise known as jeans. Cowboy boots? No. White New Balance.

So I says to him, I says, “Is it typical for cowboys to where sneakers? What about the boots man? The cowboy boots?”

“Cowboy boots are for Brokeback fags.”

I look over at the lariater and he’s wearing tall black cowboy boots with tall, skinny black hard heels. The older cowboy looks back at me nervously.

Click for bigger little doggy.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

delux burger, delux desert: phoenix is a farce

Ed Abbey is full of shit. The desert isn’t beautiful. It’s harsh and hot and prickly with cacti and snake fangs. Perhaps the Gila isn’t desert, but it’s really close. I saw three types of cactus. Lots of Ponderosa pine on the north facing slopes of the mountains. I saw the cliff dwellings and hiked up over the mountain and into “The Meadows” which is about in the middle of the Gila Wilderness on the middle fork of the Gila River. I went to the Gila to fish for the Gila trout, a sub (?) species of rainbow trout native to the mountains of SW New Mexico and SW Arizona. It has been protected for the last 50 years or so. They were only in a few headwater streams and fishing for them was prohibited. But they’ve been nursed back to health and fishing opens for them on July 1st. When I planned this trip the date was still undecided so I thought I might get to fish for them. But I was early. So I fished for rainbows and smallmouth and hoped to see a Mexican wolf. No dice on the wolf. Or bear. Or mountain lion.

I spent six nights in the Gila, four in the back country. Hiked out nine miles on Thursday and drove six and a half hours to Phoenix where I met up with THE MB Pell at his temporary home The Crystal Meth Suites. Phoenix is a strange city. One big strip mall. 111 degrees. The water’s briny and tastes like chlorine. People shouldn’t live here. But they do. A lot of them. But there’s a cool restaurant here called Delux that serves a mean 9$ hamburger and has a good beer selection. I had an Alaskan Amber, New Belgian Wit, Lost Coast Wit, and a Bridgeport IPA. Good stuff. But the service wasn’t so hot.

The Gila Cliff dwellings. Some Mogollon folks lived here in the 1200s. Also kind of looks like a Planet of Apes Mt. Rushmore. Click for bigger.

The only snake I saw was a Sonoron mountain King snake which was cool.

Tha cacti.

The insects.

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There was a nice hatch of these bugs that the trout were feeding on pretty well. I think it's some sort of caddis. Or maybe even a little stone fly? Click for bigger.

A dobson fly. What hellgramites turn into, I think.

The bane of my existence in the Meadows. These things hurt when they bit and they didn't let go when you stamped your foot.

The clouds were nice in the Gila. Click them for bigger.

The feeshes. In all their glory.

I got a huge carp on a Clouser minnow. Click for bigger.

Don't know what this fish is. He was feeding on the surface like a trout. A chubb maybe? Daniel? Maureen?

Some bronzebacks. Caught most of them on Clousers and a brown wooly bugger.

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And last but not least, the trout. I only caught rainbows. There are supposedly browns higher up, which is kind of weird. I also like to think that some of these rainbows were gila hybrids. But they probably weren't.

Click these three for bigger.

Most of the fish were fairly pale. But I hiked up Indian Creek Canyon one day. It was pretty much bone dry. But towards the bottom there were a couple of very stagnant, algae covered pools. And in one of the biggest ones I saw several fish feeding voraciously on the surface. Who knows how long they can live in that? Either way, I thought this was pretty cool. I liked how the fish from the pool is much darker than the others.

Click for bigger.

Some cool rocks I saw up Indian Creek. Looks vaguely like Mars eating his children. When I told MB Pell that he said "you spent too much time in the desert".

Friday, June 15, 2007

downtown with my pants off, Santa Fe

Or I was. With a towel wrapped turban-style around my wet hair. Pants off until I had to go explore a bit. New Mexico is a lot like Old Mexico. But better roads I guess. And actually, it was mostly Mexico until 1912. Lots of clay or adobe or whatever it is all the buildings are made out of. A little disorienting to be honest. Lots of Mexicanos, or people with some sort of native American genetics I suppose. Mexicans have always struck me as tough. I'm always afraid that they're going to try and push me around. Is that racist? Is that a stereotype? Does the fact that I don't think black people should get reparations for slavery but I'm fine with reservations and tax breaks and legal gambling for natives, does this make me a racist? These are the things I wondered about as I drove around the crooked streets of Santa Fe.

The city center is a bit of a tourist trap, despite its very early colonial charm. I tried to go outside this area, down to the 2nd Street Brewery on Grant's recommendation, but it was packed with dirty hippies and I didn't think I'd fit in.

So I went uptown to the Cowgirl (also on Grant's recommendation) where I ordered food to go and waited at the bar staring at the 37 year old bartender's beautiful ass sheathed in tight, low cut blue jeans. She was very flirty. I tipped well. I'm a sucker. I enjoyed an Odell's Cutthroat Porter (fitting name) and a Steamboat (?) IPA. They were both excellent.

I also chatted with a guy whose making a movie in the area. The 4th Indiana Jones. He's a grip. I asked him what else he worked on and he listed a bunch of movies made when I was still an infant: Blues Brothers, Biggest Little Whorehouse in Texas (one of my grandfather's favorites), 9 to 5 and other Dolly Parton greats. He had a lot of tatoos.

Also, a short but tough looking Mexican man with a skull cap pony tail (a tuft of hair on the top of the skull, the rest shorn clean, descending tightly in braids to the middle of his back) told me to "enjoy your beer man, you earned it." There was only one open seat and his wife sat there and I offered him mine, I only had a wee bit left in the glass. I think he assumed that because of my severe sunburn and two week old beard I was some sort of manual laborer, a landscaper perhaps. I was a landscaper at one or two times in my life, but this beard and burn were accumulated by standing around at 10,000' flinging a little tuft of hair and feathers at rising trout.

But it wasn't all luxury up in Rocky Mountain National Park. Hiking up and down the mountain at altitude can really take it out of you. And the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes and flies were horrendous. Particularly in the woods. It's like Canadian shield of something.

Anyway, I spent five days in the backcountry, fished three different lakes, caught a lot of greenback cutthroats, got some serious sunburn, and generally had a very fine time.

Here are some pictures.

I camped above "the pool" the first night. I thought the pool sounded like good fishing, but it wasn't. This is the pool.

Back when I was paddling whitewater, I could have run this. Fern Falls.

This was posted at Fern Lake. I didn't see anything bigger than a Marmot. Except the elk and deer. But the elk were everywhere in the park. Like squirrels at IU.

The patrol hut at Fern Lake that is "not routinely staffed".

It rained the first day I was there. This is above Fern Lake. Click both to enlarge.

Giant cutthroat eats Rockies.

The greenback cutthroat is a rare subspecies of cutthroat that survives in small, headwater streams and lakes mostly in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is the time they spawn (supposedly) and they all (or just the males?) have on their fancy red color. They always have a little red on their throats, hence the name, but this time of year they are rather spectacular. I've made a mosaic of greenback. Click it for a glorious bigger version. Click to enlarge.

Spruce lake is a couple hundred feet above Fern lake and about a mile to the north. I caught a lot of fish there. I also wanted to get up to an even higher lake, Loomis Lake, but I couldn't find the trail. There was a lot of snow and it was very, very steep. Click to enlarge.

A second giant cutthroat discovered!

Fern lake again. Click to enlarge.

Odessa lake is about a mile to the south of Fern lake and a couple hundred feet higher than Spruce lake. It was very pretty there. Click for bigger.

I really wanted to climb above tree line at least once and this seemed like the best way to go. This was steep, about 45 degrees, but above that, at least looking at the map, it was a fairly easy half mile walk to treeline. Unfortunately, about 1/4 of the way up I broke through the snow and found myself dangling four feet above a pretty serious torrent of runoff. I was lucky I guess that I didn't break through with both feet and get stuck under there. I slid down slowly and carefully.

Odessa lake looking east back down toward Fern lake. Click to enlarge.

The outlet of Odessa lake. There was a lot of snow up there.

Looking down on Fern lake from the trail to Odessa.

Fern lake again.

Did I mention the bugs were bad? They loved my stinky sock liners.

Tomorrow it's off to the Forks of the Gila, the land of Mogollon. The land of Geronimo. The land of Leopold.

The land of many rattlesnakes.

Then onto Phoenix. The temporary land of MB Pell! The blaze of leather.