Friday, August 31, 2012

Yellowstone 5- The Old Faithful Basin

Last post closed with the eruption of Old Faithful, the presumptive "must see" of Yellowstone National Park. Yea, I guess. But there is so much more that is even more fascinating in one way or another that gathering in the great outdoor amphitheater with as many as a thousand people to await its timely eruption was almost a bit of a letdown. To us, it felt much better to get off by ourselves as much as possible to investigate the far reaching features of the park. The park is enormous, and even on a day when thousands and thousands of people are roaming the park along with the buffalo, it is possible to find solitude to enjoy the grandeur of our nation.......

with one exception!

And Marilyn commented on it one day as we drove endlessly through the park. You see, we have been at this game for a long time. We can spot wildlife be it large or small, with the best of them. In fact we often make it a competitive sport on a drive. First one to spot each roadside animal wins that round and so on. And in the park, this was no exception- we spotted much of what we saw. BUT- there is no escaping the fact that if you are driving along and come upon a bunch of cars and people yielding binoculars and cameras, you can pretty much rest assured that they have spotted something that you have not yet seen, and so, like the eagle, you swoop in to see what you may be missing. This works to help more people see more stuff, and I have no problem with that. But on a few days this became a bit of a problem in its own right. To wit: One day we watched as the guy up in front of us pulled over to the side of the road. Before we got there, there were nearly 25 vehicles pulled over to see what he was seeing. But as we cruised by slowly so as not to miss a special opportunity ourselves, we realized that there was actually nothing at all there to see except the side of the road. We chuckled about that....and as I continued down the road toward the next sighting, Marilyn said: That poor guy probably just pulled over to take a leak and there were 25 tourists with cameras pointed right at him...."

This post reveals what is out and about in the Old Faithful Basin- way more good stuff than Old Faithful itself. And seeing the area makes for a long hike. Too long for us perhaps, but we did it anyway and found it almost impossible to put one foot in front of the other by the time we made it back to the Inn and the parking lot. Tired puppies! But worth it as I hope you will see here....

Yellowstone 4: Journey To The Center Of The Earth

They say the center of the earth is still a ball of molten lava which churns constantly and tries despite its constraints to reach the surface if for no other reason than to cool off a little. Well, Yellowstone provides at least a glimpse of what lies deep below our feet as we walk this earth for the whatever time we are allotted. I was tempted to say that visiting the geo-thermal features of the park is like standing on the rim of an active volcano and peering down at the bottom of it. But the reality is that when you are in Yellowstone you are standing ON TOP OF the caldera that once was an active volcano, and you are taking a tour in essentially what will again become an active volcano at some point. Moreover, the Yellowstone Volcanic activity area is one of, if not THE largest area of such activity in the world. Simply put: in the future, this could well be the source of the site of the largest active volcano on planet earth. You get a sense of that here. You are not afraid. But you take the signs that tell you to stay on the marked trails very seriously....because you can see the boiling water and mud and steam just below the surface and in fact coming to the surface all around you- all the time. It is impressive to say the least.

So in this post and with the images today, I would like to share our look into the earth below us....

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Yellowstone 3 - Wolf and Bear Discovery Park

It's a tough time of year to see bears in the park. Mostly they are way off in the wilderness seeking food far off the beaten path. Same with the wolves. But it's easy to see them both up close and personal at Discovery park- a non-profit organization and facility where animals that cannot survive in the wild are given a home. A happy home. A healthy home. We totally enjoyed visiting and since admission includes a second day in the park at no charge, we just may be going back in again real soon.

Be sure to watch the slide show, especially for the last shot of Marilyn in a Teddy Bear......OOO lala.... Has ya curious, doesn't it???

Yellowstone 2- The Great American Buffalo Hunt

Lots to see in Yellowstone National Park. But this day was for hunting buffalo. And hunt the buffalo we did. Most all day we found lone bulls- off by themselves, because they WANT to be off by themselves. We found 28 in all; 27 more than the day before so we were feeling good. But during the day- no large herds, no cows, no calves. Until we had put well over 200 miles on the car in the great and earnest search and then there they were, just over the hill, near the north entrance to the park. Herds. Large herds. Herds of perhaps thousands. Certainly too many to count. Love it when a plan comes together.

But, incidentally, where were all the elk. A stray elk here or there, but no herds of them either. Until, again, near the end of the day when we pulled into the village of Mammoth Hot Springs...and there they were as well. Not out in the wilds. On the front lawns of the village homes and offices and churches. Munching on nicely cut green lawns and laying in the shade of the buildings. Safe. Secure. Comfortable. So pictures we took. Not the photo of raw nature you hope for, but the picture as nature presented on this day.

 And then there were the two coyotes who hunted in the grasses beside our roadway on the way back to camp after a long, long day. Special.

Today, we focused on wildlife. But there are always the geo-thermal features of this park to remind you that this is not an ordinary place in any way.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Yellowstone 1

We did what we always do on our first full day in a place where there is a lot to do and see- we headed off to the visitor's centers for maps and an overview of the place. Since the ranger station is only a few miles into the park, we decided not to lug all the big camera gear, choosing instead to take Marilyn's Lumix point and shoot and my Android phone camera. I knew it was a mistake when we decided that, and sure enough it turned out to be a big one. Just inside the park on the far edge of a large marsh was a lone bull bison, too far off for any picture worth having with the equipment we were toting, but fun to watch in the binoculars.

We traveled the rest of the way to the info center and ranger station without any sightings other than the admittedly awesome scenery. So maybe not having the cameras wouldn't bite us too hard. Wrong again. Elk. Cows on the side of the river and one little calf stuck in mid stream trying to figure out what his next move needed to be. At least the camera caught some of that and the cell phone got a respectable video clip which I'll embed later in the post. Not what we could have done with the big guns (you know I mean cameras, right?), but not too bad either. Then a short distance down the road we came upon not one but two bald eagles sitting by the side of the river, seemingly not doing anything but chillin' and hanging out together. Sure was wishing for the telephoto lens. Didn't even try with my phone. Marilyn caught a few shots with her camera.

But then out of the clear blue sky, one of these eagles drops into the water and then starts trying to swim back to shore in the swift current. Huh? Was he drowning? Nope, he had caught a big trout- heavy enough that he could not take to flight from the current so had to head for stiller waters. Back on shore he made short work of that fish, much to our wonderment. No video. No closeups. What are the chances I will ever see this again? If I do though, I WILL have a camera at the ready. No shortcuts!

On The Move...

I got sick and tired of taking photographs of mobile repair techs and diesel repair facilities and writing about breakdowns along the way. There have been far too many of them along the way. Enough already. So- just a few lines to say that the trip from Washington to Yellowstone National where we find ourselves for the next ten days was rotten. No pictures. I refuse. We had two slide issues- came out fine but wouldn't go back in. A leak in the black tank valve- that by itself can ruin your day! And tire sensor alarms, that turned out to be false alarms, happened on desolate roads with no shoulder where once again we had to stop dead in our tracks and deal with the situation right smack dab in the middle of the road.

So here I sit four blocks outside of Yellowstone, with three slides out and one that the guy finally got to come in- still in and refusing to go out. Not hard to understand since we had to cut the wires to it and hot wire it to a battery to get it to come in so we could keep going to this destination. Hopefully Monday morning hooks us up with yet another mechanic who can resolve the issue, because we've just about had it "up to here."

Exploring Yellowstone should be fun, provided we can get matters back to normal and ready to head back east after one last stop in Wyoming to visit our friends Bob and Polly. And that's the name of that tune!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Day With Derek

What a day. Clear. Warm. And complete with a chance to spend some time with Derek and to spend some of that time out on the oyster beds and clam flats doing what we like to do- harvest the sea. It was a family-hunter-gatherer kind of day.

We started by gathering and shucking some oysters on the outgoing tide, giving the clams a chance to run, ....make that DIG and hide.

Once we had the oysters shucked and on ice we headed back out after the clams. We found little necks, manilas, and cockles for the most part, although we found a few eastern soft shell clams as well. The tide was not enough of a drain to find any geoducks, so we put that on the target list for next year, and I'm already looking forward to that.

While we were picking clams, Derek came across a Northern Kelp Crab (the first I have ever seen other than on my ID chart) who had captured and was in the process of wolfing down a sand worm.

The area we were working adjacent to today is one of the coastal shellfish farming areas belonging to the Taylor Shellfish Farm we had visited the day before. Here, oyster shells are washed and "sterilized" before being seeded and returned to the beds where the oysters begin a next generation.

After our outing on the flats we stopped into a local cafe and grabbed a bite before heading back to our respective home bases. On the way home, Marilyn and I stopped along the roadside by Hood Canal and picked a mess of berries. What a day!

What The Heck Is A Geoduck?

Let's get started. It is NOT pronounced geo-duck. Nope. That would be too easy. It is pronounced gooey duck, from an Indian word that looked more like "GWEDUC," which is loosely translated as "dig deep." Anyway, time and spelling changed as it has a way of doing and we wind up with the absolutely awesome, positively enormous clam they call the geoduck (gooeyduck). Remember the old line about "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" Well, at Taylor Shellfish headquarters in Shelton, Washington, the wall of the retail store is graced by a picture of the stars of the TV show DIRTY JOBS, which asks the question:"Is that a geoduck in your pocket, or are you just 'happy sashimi'?" It is often used in sushi, sashimi and other fine and Asian dining situations or you can just make a chowder, but considering how hard they are to get, or how expensive they are to buy, why would you?

Want some averages? OK. The average farmed geoduck is raised for 5 years, weighs 2 1/2 pounds and costs, are you ready, about 15 dollars a pound, give or take a little. So a thirty dollar bill will buy you ONE geoduck clam at Taylor Shellfish. Man, that's a lot of clams for just one clam. Especially for one that is just plain, well, a tad on the obscene side- hence the 'happy sashimi' line above works pretty well. Wanna see what I mean?

So if you have never seen or heard of these before, now you get the idea, huh? Above, a single geoduck and then a case of them.  From the very beginning, this type of clam is too big for its shell- and it only gets worse with ensuing years of growth. Even the siphons you see on these clams can extend for about three feet- which helps to explain why the clam is named the way it is- it literally lives 3 or more feet deep in the mud flat and at the very edge of the low-water tide range. So a person who wants to try to capture a wild geoduck must wait for a drain tide, then dig a deep hole and dig it fast. If you are a YouTube user, there are some pretty hysterical videos on line about people out trying to dig these clams up. And I would especially like to recommend that you visit Taylor website and then click on the video page and see the great videos they have to offer for your viewing pleasure. Here is a link: Just click on it to visit their site....and check out those videos.

In the wild, these clams can grow as large as 15 pounds! 15 pounds! I have dug just about every kind of clam this great land has to offer, but I never did find one of these. But I will. Sooner or later.  Now where did I put that bucket list?

But Taylor's is not just about the geoducks. They also farm blue mussels, manila clams, and a whole host of different oysters. On this visit we did not see the mud flats where these delicacies are farmed, we visited the headquarters and saw the processing and shipping facilities. We enjoyed the tour so much that we actually went through a second time. Owing to the nature of the work, the plant is largely damp, quite cold, and has low light, making it hard to photograph fast moving objects- like say the hands of the oyster shuckers. Those individuals can shuck an oyster and move on to the next one faster than I could even focus the lens! Some of them were incredibly skilled at the process.

One thing we found interesting about both Washington and Taylor Shellfish is the ownership rights permitted in this state that are most assuredly not available in other states. Here, an individual or a company can actually own the tidal lands- meaning that they can own the land below the water, and they can own that land all the way out to the dead low water line. Like mineral rights ownership, you may own a property and NOT own the tidal land in front of it...or vice versa. But the very idea that someone can come out from their house on the shore and tell you to "get off my land" a half mile out on the mud flat in front of their place is odd. Especially since they explained at the farm that a lot of individuals think they own the tidal rights in front of them, but may well not. Good to know! Here are some images from the day:

Oh, did I mention you have to wear a hair net in the plant? Just wondering....

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Beating The Heat In Washington

We hadn't had the high temps across the rest of the country while working our way up what I like to call The Left Coast. The heartland it ain't! It had been beautiful temp wise, even if foggy quite a bit, in Northern California and Oregon, but we started to hit the mid to high 90's of late here in Washington- The state, not the D.C. We have done our first-as-always exploring what is around us and then started to do some of the things we love to do- found some oyster beds, some clam flats, and took a look up and down the waterways from our base in Potlatch, WA. It's a beautiful area and we especially like life on the Hood Canal so far and are looking to come back again next summer- late summer or early fall.

But hot is hot. And since the oyster bed right in front of our camp site is seasonally closed right now to oyster harvesting, I took out the 3 mil wet suit and did a little free diving on the bed to see what I could see. That will cool you off in a hurry. But it was very interesting. You certainly see things on the beds when they are under water that you will not see while they are exposed by the low tide- tiny little snails crawling all over the oysters and a few of the oysters open to the point where you can take a peak inside at those juicy little morsels that close up tighter than a drum once the water heads back out to sea on the outgoing tide. The underwater camera that I was using is merely a point and shoot uw camera- nothing real high tech- just water proof to 15 feet. Apparently, though I didn't think so at the time, I dove a little deeper than that because I did have a bit of water invasion into the camera, but nothing that a warm fresh water bath and a blow dry wouldn't fix- lucky for me. You will see some fuzziness in a number of the shots. Keep in mind that water, though it may look crystal clear to the naked eye, is seldom that. Add to that the loss of light at depth and the thermoclines- the layers of relatively warm and cooler water that overlap each other- create almost a wavy vision of the underwater world, especially increased the further you are from the object, or in this case, the bottom of the sea floor. In this dive location there was an ice cold stream entering on one side and a river that had been warmed by a power source nearby, so the water was especially perplexed.

Slide show will introduce you to the surroundings and then under we go......

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tillamook County Fair

So far the only real advantage I can figure out to being in the "senior" range of life is that I get a discount on entertainment- like at the movies and the county fair. Here in Oregon our senior status earned us a 6 dollar ticket to the big show instead of of a 10 dollar ticket. Since I've not yet been able to settle on any other advantages to this stage of life...I'll take it, thank you very much!

So in today's slide show you will see much in the way of what makes county fairs county fairs: carnival, midway, good but not good for you eats, animals, tractors, horse races. But Tillamook throws in a specialty- The Great Pigs N Fords Race! This is a variation of the little pigs that run around a tiny track much to the delight of everyone- well, me anyhow. I love pig races! In this race, there is a "barn" full of 20 pound pigs beside the race track. The big race track. And there are 5 or more stripped down old Model T Fords which hand crank start only. Each driver must grab a pig from the barn, tuck it under one arm, then crank his engine, hop in and race around the track one time, whereupon he returns to the barn, exchanges pigs, restarts his model-t, and goes around again. Two heats a day. Finale on Saturday. Well, this race has been going on since 1925 and its popularity is demonstrated by the fact that the bleacher stands fill up more than an hour before the race. With the start of a gun, the race is off to the roar of the crowd....and squeal of the pigs. What a riot!

Now there was a cultural aspect to this fair as well. We learned lots more about local vegetation, methods and identifiers for clamming and fishing and farming techniques. But let's be honest here- in the end, it really is all about the pigs.

Here is a video clip of the beginning of the second heat of the race. You'll get the idea!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sea-food And Eat It

A day after the Great American Chinook Adventure with Bill and Kay, we headed out early with our other neighbors at Paradise Cove on Nehalem Bay, Joe and Diane, to do a training run with Joe who was anxious to try his hand at clamming. We all limited out on our clams, got dirty and wet, and had a blast. We found both softshell steamer clams and Purple Varnish clams. By the time we got home, the caviar I had started the day before was ready and so we gave it a try. Excellento! Then we prepared some salmon fillet trimmings, collars and salmon belly for the smoker while we soaked the clams in cold water to get some of the grit out. When the salmon bits came out of the smoker about an hour and a half later we all got together and sampled them and they were, in my humble opinion, superb! We are having absolutely the best of times here and the company we are sharing the activities with is a grand part of all the fun.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

King For A Day- Nehalem, Oregon

Mother always said, "Good things come to those who wait." And while the show from the 50's may have been Father Knows Best- we all know that should have been Mother Knows Best all along. And so it came to pass that a guy (that would be me) who has been trying to score a King Salmon since his first trip to Alaska in 2007 and who had gone zero for whatever in the attempts to capture the gold (it IS after all an Olympic year) finally "broke the skunk" with a little help (make that a lot of help) from his friends on the Nehalem River In Oregon on this very day. Halleluiah! Can I get an Amen?

Good neighbors. It's sorta what RV-ing is all about. Common interests, common experiences, good people trying to do pretty much what YOU are trying to do. We met such folks withing seconds, literally, of pulling into Paradise Cove on the Nehalem Bay. Yes, they were instantly good people. Who just happened to have a son-in-law, Russ Morrow at who guides on the Nehalem River for salmon, sturgeon, and a few other things. Not only did we get to hook up with Russ, but Bill and Kay Schantin came along for the day's outing and hooked several of the fish that the rest of got to "tag team" on for the victory of the day. Remember "It takes a village"? Apparently that is not only true, but it is true for what it takes for me to catch my first (and second) king salmon. Chinook, if you prefer. Either way, they fight hard, they look good, they have a black mouth, and they taste as good as it gets in the world of fish. The boat had four fish on the day: a 25 pounder, a 15 pounder, a 10 pounder, and another one a bit smaller than the 10. Works for me!

On today's slide show, you'll get a look at the surrounding area where we found excellent fishing, clamming, crabbing opportunities. Some good eats. Some spectacular scenery. And a whole lot more- but that will just be the overview leading up the the day on the water and if you don't mind the capital letters (with caveats)--- MY FISH . If there could have been a more perfect day- I have no idea how it could have come to pass. Mother was right again. She always (well, make that almost always), is.....

Don't you just love captions like this : The author, with his first two king salmon, 15 and 10 pounds respectively....

One more note- at the end of the slide show, you will see the roe from my two "hen" kings in a dish. That roe is, as you read this, soaking in a salt brine to do do dooooooooo...caviar! Amen!

Pssst! Did you notice the shameless promotion of including the logo for Chicken Gold Camp, Alaska on my hat in the final shot of the slide show???