Monday, July 28, 2008

John Gets to Play in the Dirt

Today John used a back hoe to dig a trench. Our first week here at White River Wildlife Area, he drove the tractor with a front loader and back hoe, but he only used the front bucket. We had both done that with a smaller tractor at Gnat Creek. This was his first time to drive a full-size tractor.

Today we were installing a large sign board near the entrance to the wildlife area. Last week Aimee and Ed put the sign board together. Today Aimee, John and I set it up. That called for digging two holes three feet deep to put the legs in. After Aimee used the front bucket to smooth out the area, she set up the tractor to dig with the back hoe, then she dug one shovel full. Next she asked John if he wanted to do it. Did he ever!

He worked slowly and methodically to learn how each lever operated, then started digging. Everything went well, except he couldn't stop giggling. Then there was a problem, two feet down he hit rock. We don't know if it is a full rock layer or several large rocks. But he couldn't dig any deeper. So Aimee said, just dig a trench all the way across.

For nine years we owned a funeral home in Castle Rock, Colorado, which had been in John's family for 38 years when we bought it. We often hired a back hoe operator to dig graves at the cemeteries in the surrounding area. But not until today did John get a chance to practice what he had seen them doing back then. What a kick!

Digging a trench 9 to 10 feet long is the way big boys play in the dirt.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Trip to Mt. Hood

When we walk out our front door, we can see Mt. Hood. It dominates the western horizon (unless there are clouds or haze). Yesterday we drove to Timberline Lodge at the base of Mt. Hood. The mountain became even more impressive as we drew closer.

It was truly an amazing trip.

Our trailer is at 2218 feet above sea level. The elevation of Timberline Lodge is 6,000 feet. And yet, 18 miles (as the crow flies) from our trailer, they are skiing and snowboarding. Who would have thought?

Timberline Lodge was built by the Works Progress Administration and dedicated in 1937 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Unlike many of the grand old lodges in our national parks, which often were built by the Union Pacific Railroad in a rustic western style, Timberline is done in art deco (I think).

We had a delightful lunch in the Ram's Head Bar, overlooking the lodge entrance and a hazy view north toward Mt. Adams in Washington.

We could see people in shorts and t-shirts walking past others in ski togs. What a contrast!

Found a ride on the ski lift up the face of the mountain costs $15. A ski ticket for the day costs $49. John asked a couple of sno-boarders what the conditions on the mountain were like. They said icy in the morning, slushy the rest of the day. And sometimes it gets very windy. I'm sure it is interesting to ski in late July. But why would anyone pay that much for one or two runs on bad snow? And yet we saw the US ski team, Chinese visitors, and people from major Utah ski areas all doing that.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Back in May we were somewhat impressed with The Mother That Wouldn't Give Up," the mouse that kept rebuilding her nest in our storage shed. The only real trouble that caused was to make us rearrange what we stored in the shed and what we stored in the RV basement. (See Blog entry for May 11.)

This week we are downright mad at the mice that have found their way into our trailer. Tuesday I opened the drawer where I keep measuring cups, spatulas and other cooking equipment and found mouse droppings! We have been through this in the past and it isn't any fun. It means washing with Clorox water everything they might have touched, then finding somewhere else to store everything they have access to. That means silverware, cooking implements, plastic storage bags, pots and pans, oils and cooking sauces that are stored under the sink. You get the picture.

Now that we have cleaned everything and emptied the drawers and cupboards the mice can get into, our dining room table is covered with everything we pulled out. We found the beginnings of a mouse nest under the cupboard. They had the nerve to use hair from our cats to build the nest. They had gone into our trash and pulled out that nice soft fur we had brushed out of PC. John searched all over for any holes under the cupboard where the mice might get inside. Any holes are filled with steel wool, which the mice can't chew through. We had done the same thing three years ago, but travel and time had left some space around the steel wool we used. He also found a hole we had missed before. The goal is to prevent them from getting into our living area. We also baited the mouse traps again.

Each of the last two mornings, John has found a dead mouse in one of our mouse traps. We will leave everything out till we have gone two nights without catching one. They I can put everything away.

These mice are not cute.

Forest Fire

Tuesday we worked again clearing the trail along the ditch. Then, as we returned to the trailer, driving up from Tygh to Wamic, we saw a large plume of white smoke coming from the direction of our part of the wildlife area. As Ie drove the next 6 to 7 miles, it looked more and more like the smoke could be near our home. John kept saying "kick it in the butt," but I was on a washboard gravel road and couldn't drive any faster. The tension in the truck kept growing. We drove right by the office and up to the trailer. We were relieved to see the fire was some distance over the ridge west of the trailer. So we went back to the office to find out what had happened.

Josh, manager of the area, had spent the day working around headquarters, so he saw the early smoke and watched the forest service firefighters come to fight the blaze. He learned that it was started by a campfire—no burning is allowed in Oregon at this time of year without a burn permit. Very early three fire investigators were on the scene, working to find who was responsible. If that can be determined, those people will be charged with the expense of fighting the fire. That could be significant.

The fire was largely out by dark after several helicopters and a large tanker plane had been dumping water on the fire for hours. For a while we watched the helicopters coming in with buckets of water to dump on the fire. It is only three miles over the hill. Wednesday morning there was very little visible smoke. We went off to again work on the ditch. At the end of the day we could see a few wisps of smoke from that area as we returned to the trailer. It must take a long time to put a fire completely out.

This is the first time we have been working this close to a forest fire. This part of Oregon is very dry and we might experience this again before the end of August. We hope not, but can't count on that.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Views at White River Wildlife Area

This is our view of Mt. Hood out our front door. Click on each photo for a better view.

An American Goldfinch comes to the feeder almost every day.

This is the male California Quail that is raising a family near our trailer.

Last weekend we drove over to the White River Falls, not far from the wildlife area. Aren't these three falls great? As you drive through the nearby farm fields, you never expect to see something like this. We were glad Aimee brought us here during our orientation.

From the falls, we drove along the Deschutes River to Sherar Falls. Members of the nearby Warm Springs Indian Reservation have exclusive fishing rights at this point on the river. You can see the platforms they have built for their use.

Upstream a little distance, rafting is a major activity on the Deschutes. We saw numerous rafts riding the rapids. It looks like a lot of fun on a hot day. The float trips begin at the town of Maupin.
This week we clear one mile of trail next to an irrigation ditch used by White River Wildlife Area. This shows one section as John begins cutting down the brush.
Thirty minutes later this how the same section or trail looked.

No Ranch in Our Future

John would like to live on a ranch that someone else takes care of. He has decided he doesn't want to own one. Wasn't it just two weeks ago I was saying this what he had always wanted? We spent three days this week cutting brush on the path next to an irrigation ditch that is nearly 100 years old. That meant clipping off plants near ground level—bending, stopping, trying to find the stem of a 6 to 12 inch high plant that grows on a very flexible wire-thin stem. John cut off small pine trees and I threw them down the hillside. We cleaned pine needles, twigs and branches out of the ditch, which hasn't had water running in it for five years.

Where huge trees had fallen across the ditch and trail, we broke off enough branches to make it possible to climb over the tree and walk on down the trail. All of this is backbreaking work—not because it is heavy work, just because of the angle at which we have to work.

By Wednesday afternoon we were feeling pretty good. Our minds and bodies are getting used to doing physical work all day. We weren't nearly as tired as on Monday. We are glad we can see what we've accomplished, clearing more than a mile of the trail. But we wouldn't want to do it every day, week after week. If there is still any land available to homestead in the US, we won't apply.

We are impressed with what it took to develop this land and other lands all over this country. Our ancestors who settled virgin land—in Oregon, Colorado, Kansas or Virginia—worked incredibly hard. The rights for the water that flows through the ditch we worked on were acquired in 1909. The owner had three years to build the ditch to use the water. The entire six or seven miles of the ditch were dug by hand. And we think its hard work just to clean it.

A VERY Hard Day's Work

Monday we spent six hours clearing a trail next to an irrigation ditch on the wildlife area. Last year a forest fire in the area destroyed a flume on the ditch. In addition, a landslide at another point completely knocked out the ditch. The wildlife area has not used their water rights from Tygh Creek for nearly five years. If they don't use it this summer, they will lose those rights. Rebuilding the flume, repairing the ditch and clearing the trail along the ditch is a big job. In addition to three of the area's employees and John and me—their trusty volunteers—two employees from elsewhere in the fish and wildlife region were recruited to do the work.

We met the two people coming from The Dalles at 8 a.m. Monday in the parking lot of the store in Tygh Valley. When we arrived at the work site, everyone helped carry lumber and tools to the flume location. The young employees each carried one or two of the 2" X 8" X 12' pressure-treated boards. I struggled about half way with one of the boards, then gave up and let someone else take it. I did carry in some 2" X 6" X 8' pine boards. Then John and I picked up the loppers and water and started clearing the trail.

Four of the other workers are in their 20s. One is in his late 40s. We are 65. At lunch one of the young men repairing the washout commented, "I'm going to be sore tomorrow." At the end of the day the other young fellow working on that job said his hands were tired and sore.

Let me tell you, we were stiff, sore and exhausted. We did pretty well in the morning. A lot of our work was stoop labor—bending down to cut off plants at ground-level so it is easier to walk along the ditch. By lunch our backs were beginning to protest. By 3 p.m., when we quit work, they were sore and really protesting every bend. But did we say anything? Absolutely not! Everyone else is younger and full-time paid employees who have to be there. They can complain. We are volunteers and really old, compared to them. If they thought our job was a problem for us, we would be sent home in a heartbeat. So we didn't say a word.

We run 3 miles, three times a week. We weight train three times a week. We do lots of physical work. But we're not used to working all day. We came back to the RV, showered, had a drink, then I staggered up to fix dinner. We were tired and didn't want to do another thing. Thank heavens we are not working for a living any more.

You couldn't pay me to do this work. There are easier ways to earn money, if that is our goal. But we are volunteering to accomplish something, to help out. So we do things we'd never do if we were working for a paycheck. The reward of helping out makes it worth our while. No amount of money would.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Birds and Cows

I enjoy bird watching—if I don't have to walk through the woods with a pair of binoculars and stand quietly for long periods of time. Here we can sit in our RV and look out the window or sit out under the awning and watch all kinds of birds. I have identified several I've not seen before, as well as being able to observe carefully many familiar birds. It is special to watch the American Goldfinches at the feeder and the Western Bluebirds coming and going from their nest in one of the bird boxes out back. Mama and Daddy Bluebird are darting in and out of the birdhouse to feed their family—usually 4-6 young.

The biggest treat has been the family of California Quail. First I saw the adult pair outside the door at dusk. The next night I observed them near dark with their family of babies—so many little balls of feathers I wasn't able to count them in the half-dark. Another day I watched the adults walking along the fence rail on the pasture—probably near their nest. Last night we watched the mom and dad quail walk 8 or 9 babies along the edge of the pasture to eat. Some of them flew from one clump of grass to the next. What fun!

We have so many hummingbirds I must refill the feeders every couple of days. And we watch the Rufous Hummingbird try to claim and protect his territory by driving the others away from each of the three feeders. Why can't he share?

A good way to learn to relax and just enjoy life is to watch cows grazing. Why hurry? they seem to say. The herd slowly ambles from one part of the pasture to another. One cow with take off and in a while the whole herd has followed. Sometimes one cow or calf doesn't follow right away. Then they will take off bawling till they find the rest.

Some of the calves are young enough they are really playful. The other evening I watched two black calves run after each other full speed across the field. They reminded me of horses running. Later the two, probably males, were butting heads like a pair of bull elk, practicing how to fight.

We don't have a very good internet connection here, so I can't upload photos. When we get somewhere I can do it, you will be able to see some of our animal friends.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

White River Wildlife Area

John has always wanted to live on a ranch. He grew up in Castle Rock, Colorado, a small town south of Denver that then had about 350 residents. Many of his friends lived on ranches. This year we are spending July and August volunteering at the White River Wildlife Area in Central Oregon and expect we will really like it here. We feel like we are living on our own ranch. There is a field just outside the fence in front of our site where a local rancher grazes his cattle. We can hear them mooing and watch the calves cavorting. The wildlife manager, Josh, and family are the only other people living on the 29,760 acres Oregon owns here. Their house is nearly one-half mile away.

After two months at the hatchery where there was constantly running water, as well as US Highway 30 very close, we spent five nights at a lovely RV park in White Salmon, WA, near Hood River, OR. The only downside to that spot was the very busy railroad track. Now we are living in incredible peace and quiet with a view of Mt. Hood out the front door.

And did I mention, it's warm and dry here? No more rain forest. We passed the invisible north-south line than runs somewhere between Hood River and The Dalles where you move from the rainy western part of Oregon into the desert eastern high plains.

We have three hummingbird feeders out in addition to the birdseed feeder which was provided by the wildlife area. We are enjoying watching American Goldfinch at the feeder and several hummers fighting and drinking.

When we arrived on Thursday we were very fortunate to turn a corner just behind a pickup with an ATV in the bed. When we stopped to look at our directions, the truck driver stopped and backed up. I got out and asked him, "Do we look like we're lost? We're looking for the White River Wildlife Area." He said, "Follow me." After following him for maybe 2 miles we were at the volunteer host sites. The driver hopped out, said, "Hi, I'm Ed." We introduced ourselves and thanked him profusely for helping.

A few minutes later Aimee, the volunteer coordinator and assistant manager, drove up to welcome us. She said we should come down to the office after we were settled.

In addition to the orientation materials Aimee gave us and a tour of the headquarters area, she outfitted us with work shirts, a hat, work gloves and a windbreaker. Some places we volunteer give us nothing but a hat. Other locations, like here and Hot Springs National Park, outfit us completely.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hood River

We've moved into Central Oregon, spending five nights at Hood River. Really, we are in White Salmon, Washington, at the Bridge RV Park, just across the Columbia from Hood River. This is a great place, spacious sites, green lawns, wonderfully clean and new restrooms, quiet—except for the railroad track about 100 feet south and down the hill. It is very busy, but John loves watching the freight and Amtrak trains go by and it doesn't wake us up at night.

Two things stand out about Hood River. There is a lot of wind on the Columbia River and many people come here to wind surf and kite board. Others enjoy bike riding. It seems the majority of cars have these surf boards on the roof or bike racks, like this one on our truck.

Monday morning we biked for 9 miles on the Old Columbia River Road Trail, through the Mosier Twin Tunnels. The trail is along the original narrow auto road along the river. We had a great ride. As we looked out a viewpoint in the middle of the tunnels, we were told this island is called Chicken Charlie's Island. Apparently, Tom Sellak once thought of buying the island, but realized anyone who wished could boat to his island and come for a visit. He decided not to make the purchase.

As we left the trailhead parking lot, we saw a young man carrying his bike. We stopped to see if he wanted a lift down the hill. He was grateful and on the way down to a lower parking lot said he was in Hood River as part of the national wind surfing team. When not training for that, he practices for cyclecross racing—a type of cycling that combines road and mountain biking, with light bikes featuring slightly knobby tires that grip the dirt. In that sport, participants mountain bike, then dismount and carry their bikes over and around obstacles.

Sweet cherries are among the many fruits grown in this part of the country. Both Washington and Oregon are dotted with orchards. The cherry harvest is in full swing, so we visited a local fruit farm to pick up a quart. This wagon, pulled by a vegetative horse, decorated their sales area.

Along the road and next to the railroad tracks we see huge stacks of fruit crates. These are labeled "Del Monte." Maybe you will eat some of the fruit grown here in the coming months.

As we prepared to cross the Columbia to return to our RV park, we pulled off to watch sail boarding and kite boarding. The sail boards are colorful and really zipped back and forth on the river. It was impressive to see people flying the kites in the (to us) high winds, preparing to hop on their surf board and be pulled across the water and, at times, up into the air. It really looked like fun—if I were 30 or 40 years younger. However, we were told the boards cost about $600 each, the kites around $1,000, and you need three kites to use in different kinds of wind. Not a sport for penny-pinching 20-somethings.

On our way to Hood River from Gnat Creek, we visited the Army Corps of Engineers Visitor Center at Bonneville Dam. The dam was the first major dam on the Columbia River. Probably the most interesting feature is the fish ladder, where fish can swim upriver without being shredded in the power plant's turbines.

This window is where fish counters sit day and night, counting how many of what kinds of fish use the ladder. They have been counting the fish since 938 and the 20-year average is 619,867 Chinook Salmon, 323,817 Steelhead Trout, 60,188 Sockeye Salmon, 94,180 Coho Salmon, 2,846,882 Shad, and 47,024 Lamprey. I can't imagine sitting and staring at the window for even an hour. I don't know how many hours a counter works each day.

Getting to and from the visitor center in an RV can be exciting. The narrow roadway curves next to the building and really raises the driver's heart rate as vehicles go the opposite direction.