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CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - February 2015

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Cloudland Cabin cam, February 28 - 2-3 inches of fresh snow overnight

Print Of The Week Special

02/28/15 note - I have a long post to make from the past couple of days but this month's page has grown long and bloated so I am going to begin the March Journal with the new post, making it less tedious for folks to find and read.

02/02/15(a) I'm on the road today getting some work done to the Bookmobile at the Roadtrek factory in Canada. I drove through the big winter storm that hit Saturday and Sunday across Michigan and Ontario while I drove from southern Minnesota to near Toronto, Canada. Was toasty warm last night in the van at 4 above zero. My lovely bride reports a little dusting of snow at Cloudland. I may bring a little extra home with me...

02/02/15(b) I think Uncle Jim wanted to test my resolve and see just how much winter weather I could stand. He spent his entire life in Minnesota, and had his share of cold and white. I left his funeral early Saturday afternoon and had originally planned to drive a few hours and spend the night in Wisconsin somewhere, then complete the 16-hour drive to the Bookmobile factory near Toronto, Canada by Sunday evening (Roadtrek.com). Predictions of a major winter storm about to hit kept me driving long into the night Saturday, and in fact into the morning hours of Sunday as well.

I'm not a city person. I can handle millions of trees at a time, but not millions of cars. It was peak traffic Saturday night when I crashed through the middle of Chicago. And it began to rain. This would be the beginning of nearly 20 inches of snowfall there. They kept moving the line of the big storm farther north, and so I had to try and stay ahead of it. I drove on for many hours, inching my way north towards the Canadian border. When I finally got out of the snow and north of the predicted path about 2am, I pulled over to sleep for a few hours in a deserted rest area. That turned out to be a bad idea - I should have kept driving all night.

It was really quiet when I awoke. And the landscape all around was white, including the highway. The storm had moved farther north than predicted, and my entire route was in the middle of the path of the biggest winter storm to hit this area in a while (in fact many records were broken). I put chains on and headed out, and spent the next eight hours plowing my way into Canada - almost sliding into the border crossing.

I've been waiting for this Super Bowl game for three years (I'm a Tom Brady fan), but was too cheap to check into a hotel so that I could watch it on TV. We pulled the TV out of the Bookmobile that came with it since we figured we would never need it. But I had at least three different broadcasts on the radio to listen to, so I sat in the van and had my own little party. Actually I was in my snowmobile suit - the temp was 4 degrees with a howling wind and blowing snow - 13" of snow fell overnight. The van has a great propane furnace in it, but I wasn't sure how much propane I had left and didn't want to run out while stranded somewhere up here in the great white north, so I put on the snowmobile suit instead. Sleeping was no problem - I had my big winter down bag plus a down comforter that is always in the van.

The storm was so bad that they closed most of the schools across southern Ontario, including universities! Many people could not get into work on Monday, and some of the van factory staff could not make it in to work. But despite being short-staffed, they were still able to get to work on our van. We are having an engine generator installed in place of the big, heavy, noisy normal generator that was underneath the van (they have removed it). Plus they are adding more "coach" batteries and a larger inverter, which will give us a lot more electrical power while on the road and especially while camping. We hate those RV parks, which usually have electrical hookups, and much prefer to "boondock" and camp by the side of the road without any facilities - but my electrical requirements often quickly drain the van's batteries, hence the need for more power and more storage.

02/03/15 So I spent the night parked outside the Roadtrek factory in Kitchener last night and the temps dropped below zero with high winds, but no additional snow. They are trying to get everything completed with our van and get me back on the road later this afternoon. There is another round of snow headed into southern Canada tonight, and more tomorrow, so I'm going to make a run for the border and try to get ahead of the storm as I run back towards Arkansas - it will be a 20-hour+ drive, but at least it will all be downhill!

Several folks have made comments online about me taking pictures while I'm here. Sorry, but this trip was part funeral, and part van maintenance. I'm not taking any pictures. Doing that sort of thing is rarely a chance event, but rather requires a lot of planning and exploration, and a LOT of time. I have none of those for this trip. But I might be doing another road trip soon to a really scenic location that hopefully will provide a few pictures for you to look at - I'll keep ya posted...

02/06/15 Nice and warm and sunny in Arkansas today - is it really February? YES - we have lots of great days like this in the middle of winter here. I often prefer winter days to summer days for sure. Last night was also pretty warm, almost balmy for February. And that big old moon was up and shining brightly - in fact, I guess there was a thin layer of clouds up there somewhere that diffused the moonlight just a little bit and gave a special FEEL to the light.

A quick recap of my trip home from Canada. It was 6pm before I left the Roadtrek plant for the 20-hour+ drive home. It began to snow almost immediately, but the temp was much warmer than it had been on my entire trip. But the snow started to build up on the road and on the van, and as I approached Detroit the TRAFFIC built up quite a bit too! I knew it was going to be a long night, and would require my full attention to the road, so I put on a pair of blinders and headed south.

The snow and traffic continued to build, and before long the there was only one lane of traffic - right down the middle of the three-lane I-75. There were "packs" of 18-wheelers traveling together, with one or two cars in there with them - everyone driving down that center lane. I had windshield wiper problems, with one wiper getting frozen up every 20-30 minutes, so I had to find a spot to exit where I could safely get out and clean off the wiper and scrape the windshield. Since I don't like traveling in packs anyway, I was able to wait on an on ramp until a pack passed, then I could pull onto the interstate and maintain my speed in between packs. Everyone was going about 40-45mph, and I made slow but steady progress. This lasted until almost Indiana, where I pulled over to nap for a little while. There was a police car at the back door when I work up - I never knew what he wanted, and he moved on a few minutes later.

I drove on through the day and had clear, dry roads until I was approaching Springfield - then the freezing rain began, along with heavy traffic again. I arrived safely back at Cloudland a few hours later - and my lovely bride stood on the front porch and just laughed - almost the entire van was covered with ice, and when I came to a stop in the carport and turned the engine off, sheets of ice came tumbling down and piled up all around the van. It had been a very long and weary trip and I was really glad to be home.

I spent all day Thursday trying to catch up a little bit, and get ready for the next trip. Today I'm in town getting chores done and the van serviced for another long trip - we'll be headed out at 4am tomorrow headed for Arizona where Pam will be in a painting workshop all week. While Pam is in class Lucy and I will head up to the Grand Canyon (maybe) and to a couple of dark-sky places in Utah. I do plan to take a few pictures for an ongoing book project if the weather and light are good. We'll swing back through Scottsdale and pick Pam up at the end of the week and head back home. Our cabin-sitter has already moved in, and while we do expect him to be able to fend off any bear or squirrel attacks, he won't be processing any orders for books, calendar, or prints.

NOTE - any orders placed after midnight tonight (Friday) won't be processed until we return next weekend - and they will ship on the 16th. I don't know if I'll have any internet access and be able to update this Journal or not, but if I do, and I get any good pictures worth sharing, I will try and make a post or two.

Oh yes - I promised my lovely bride a ROMANTIC Valentine's Day dinner this year - it will probably be an old crusty slice of pizza from a truck stop in Armadillo, Texas! At least we will be together, and thats what is most important to us...

02/07/15 We're getting a late start headed west this morning - daylight is fast approaching but we'll be on the road shortly - sunset will find us in New Mexico somewhere, then at a rest stop for the night. I wanted to share a note from the Mother Nature Network web site (which was posted on the Buffalo National River facebook page) that kind of fits a lot of what we are about - I'd never heard of this before, but it makes sense. We've got many long days of driving ahead, but hope to be able to stop and get our "friluftsliv" on a time or two!

The Norwegian word 'friluftsliv' translates directly as "free air life." It is the cultural concept that being outside is good for the body, mind, and spirit. It can include sleeping outside, hiking, taking photographs or meditating, playing or dancing outside, for adults or kids. It doesn't require any special equipment, includes all four seasons, and needn't cost much money. Practicing friluftsliv could be as simple as making a commitment to walking in a natural area five days a week, or doing a day-long hike once a month.

ENJOY!

02/08/15 We just arrived this evening in Scottsdale, Arizona after about 22 hours of driving. We stopped for the night at a little state park campground north of Santa Rosa, New Mexico (on Santa Rosa Lake). It was pretty dark, and when we stepped out of the van the sea of bright stars above nearly knocked us down - they were amazing! New Mexico has some of the darkest skies in the USA, and the darker the skies, the more stars you can see. The Milky Way was directly overhead from East to West, and seemed to be as bright as the summer Milky Way is. An hour later the 3/4 moon rose over the lake and about half the stars disappeared - the ultimate light pollution that moon is! It was a beautiful night for sure - moonlight, stars, and my lovely bride!

Our caretaker reports some visitors to the cabin - a pack of coyotes! Seems without any of our dogs around they got pretty brave and not only came into the yard last night, but stood there and howled at the same moonrise that we had seen in New Mexico. The caretaker only has orders to shoot intruders, not four-legged critters, so he just opened a window and sat and listened to the concert. He said it was quite funny how they yipped and howled, and he swears they were DANCING!

Tomorrow morning I'll leave my bride to attend her workshop and I'll head up into Utah to spend a few days and nights in another one of the darkest parts of the USA - I just LOVE southern Utah!

We hear the puppies are having a grand time back with their furry mom and the breeder back in Springfield (THANKS Jill!). Lucy will spend the week with me and perhaps do a little bit of howling at the rising moon herself...

02/10/15 It is a CRYSTALLINE night outside tonight! And I'm in heaven. SPECTACULAR clear skies with of course ZILLIONS of stars everywhere, and a BRILLIANT Milky Way standing tall directly overhead stretching from horizon to horizon. And as an added special treat for me, in the west an hour after sunset has been a beautiful display of "zodiacal" light - a shaft of bright light that comes from below the horizon and shoots into the heavens.

Lucy and I are sitting in one of the darkest spots in all of the USA - Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah. It was the first location to be designated as an International Dark-Sky Park (there aren't vary many in the world). And it's the oldest national park property in the country, first designated by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908. This is one of those places that I've dreamed of coming to for many moons - and I have NO IDEA what took me so long! It certainly did not disappoint. Kind of funny, but it's quite different from one of my most favorite spots on the planet - Arches National Park which is just up the road a piece. Different in that there are only three natural "bridges" here (as opposed to HUNDREDS of stone arches in Arches National Park); also the bridges are in the bottoms of canyons vs. many in Arches that are on top of rock formations; and there are almost NO PEOPLE HERE!!! Arches has grown so gosh darn crowded since I first started coming to this area more than 20 years so - so much that many places are stacked dozens deep - sometimes hundreds of people - even before sunrise! The campground here at Natural Bridges only has 13 sites, and there are only two folks here tonight. It is just one of those rare locations where everything comes together. Oh, did I mention that the campground is FREE right now?

The park is certainly out of the way, and with only three bridges it probably won't ever attract crowds - YIPPIE! But the dark skies, almost no people, and unique rock formations are a huge draw for me. Again, I have no idea why I've never been here, but I'm here now, and that's all that counts.

After a long 9-hour drive yesterday from Scottsdale, we pulled into Natural Bridges park after sunset. There is a nine-mile loop drive - one way and one lane too - where trails to all three natural bridges begin, so that's where I headed. I kind of had an idea in my head of what I wanted to find and shoot here, but of course had no idea if it would be possible. My plan was to see if one of the big bridges would be lit up by light from the rising moon, a moon that was about half full right now. After a bit of ciphering, and running down to the base of the bridge that looked the most promising (Owachomo Bridge), I set up my camera gear and tried to figure out a plan that had some chance of working.

The van was about a half mile away, and I made several trips for this and that, and finally was happy and set the camera to begin a series of 30-second exposures. It was pretty dark, except of course besides the sky - oh my goodness, the stars and even the winter Milky Way were bright and brilliant and sparkling! And I could not see even a hint of any light pollution along the horizon. It was heaven on earth for me.

So I started the camera and hiked back to the van and spent the next couple of hours setting up and shooting another picture of my favorite winter constellation - Orion, The Hunter. I did a series of 5-8 minute exposures of those stars while Lucy sat in the van and watched. The temp was dropping rapidly so she was a smart puppy for sure.

Right on schedule, the half-moon appeared on the eastern horizon, and the very tops of everything in the park instantly lit up. Since my bridge was in the bottom of the canyon, I wasn't sure when it would get lit up, but I hoped the camera would capture the movement as moonlight moved down and across the bridge and surrounding bluffs and foreground. But it was just a guess if my plan would actually work out or not.

I hiked back down to the camera, being careful not to get in the way of the pictures being taken. Funny, but with the landscape being lit up by that moon, there was actually so much light that it was hard to see where to hike! Problem was that there were a lot of shadows, and making my way down the path proved tricky at times. But I made it without having to use a flashlight.

I was thrilled to discover that the moon had indeed risen at an angle that lit up the face of the big sandstone bridge. There is something really magical about moonlight on sandstone like this - it is another world unlike anything you've ever seen or experienced. I spent the next 2-3 hours exploring the area around the bridge, wondering how many Native Americans had done the very same thing - without flashlights - thousands of years ago. This place is indeed a very special and magical place, and I thank Teddy for making sure it would be protected for future generations like me to visit, explore, and enjoy.

BridgeStarTrail

It was nearly 3:00am when I finally shut the camera down, then I spent another 30 minutes on the other side of the bridge shooting the moon peeking out from under the bridge. I pulled into the campground about 4am, crawled into the back of the van, curled up next to Lucy, and went to bed.

BrigeMoonPano

Since this is national park service land, dogs are not allowed on the trails. Today I drove out of the park to adjacent BLM land and Lucy and I spent an hour or two hiking trails, climbing slickrock, and investigating the surrounding landscape. Lucy and I agree on cactus plants - we don't like them around our feet!

It had grown cloudy by mid-afternoon, which brought an unexpected rain shower - AND a rainbow! In fact the last hour of the day produced some dramatic lightning all around, but I couldn't find any suitable foreground to take pictures of, so I was happy to simply sit and watch, or drive and watch - another magical Utah light show!

I had planned to do a couple of different scenes tonight, but I had run out of gas - the past couple of weeks of driving and more driving and still more driving had taken a toll on me. So we landed at the campground by 7pm and called it a night. Well, not exactly. I did find a spot out there in the juniper forest somewhere nearby to set up my camera to shoot an all-night series of the stars rotating around the North Star. I only hope I remember to go pick up the camera tomorrow before we leave!

The stars tonight are every bit as brilliant and beautiful as they were last night. This really is a dark-sky park, and certainly is one of the darkest spots I've ever been - with the brightest stars! I hope to be able to come back later on when the Galactic Center of the Milky Way are above the horizon. And oh yes, the timelapse sequence of the stars and moonlight at the big sandstone bridge turned out even better than I expected - it is possible you might see this timelapse in our fall slide program series, maybe, perhaps. And I got a nice star circle of the same scene also. I'm a happy camper!

02/13/15 Lucy and I have been hiking around in Papago Park in Tempe, Arizona this morning (very dog friendly) while my lovely bride is at her last workshop day. Cool breezes and lots of trails for Lucy to enjoy have made it a lovely morning, even though we're right in the middle of one of the largest metro areas in the desert.

A couple of days ago we woke up early and left the Natural Bridges park and headed for an area they told us about - a place where we could both hike (Lucy and I) - or should I say bushwhack since there is no trail. It was BLM land between the park and Blanding. After scrambling over a hillside of slickrock, we dropped down in a narrow wash that was filled with trees and brush - it was pretty thick in there. And the floor was covered with a thick layer of some sort of dead plants - kind of like super-large hay stems, most of them bent over and covering the ground.

The canyon twisted and turned and finally we came to a dead end - or actually to a DISCOVERY! There were Native American ruins under the bluff, but not the ones we were looking for - a bonus find! After a bit of exploration, I found that we could scale a very steep rocky hillside over to the left and make it above the bluff, up to the next level. After a bit more hiking - all of it on mostly solid rock this time - we could look up and see the cliffs above and the main Indian ruins that we had been told about. Only problem was that they were about 100' up a solid bluff!

And then I found a way up. It required that I carry Lucy up a little ways, but she seemed just fine with it all, so up, up, and up we went, until we landed on a rock shelf that was at the same level as the ruins. YIPPIE! One of the first things I saw were small indents in the side of the slickrock - not steps really since they were too small, but they were obviously chiseled in there eons ago as places for small feet to get just enough hold to be able to scramble up the rock face - as did Lucy and I.

And then we were in the main ruin area, and the feeling of just being there in the middle of it all, the history, the amazing work these ancient people did, well, it kind of took my breath away. And oh my goodness was a gorgeous location too, with views way off to distant ridges and valleys. The ranger back at Natural Bridges had obviously told many folks about this spot as there were lots of modern footprints, but only those with a little extra UMPH and willingness to explore in the wild would be able to make it up to these ruins.

We spent a while looking carefully at the small buildings and soaking it all in. I realized that when looking at one building in the front, there were actually MANY rooms inside, some of them were room after room after room. Each one carefully constructed with stone and mud mortar. I imagined what it would be like crawling way back up under the hillside via a series of rooms, then look back out towards the daylight. We never entered any of the buildings or rooms though.

Later on we found another overhang with just a single little building in the back. This one had to have been a cooking shelter, as the entire ceiling of the overhang rock was completely black from smoke, Yet the little building was pure and un-smoked. I wondered if perhaps the building was constructed after the overhang had been used for cooking/smoking? (see photo below)

smokehouse

We found more ruins on the way down and out via another route, and I had to carry Lucy down one ledge area, but otherwise she had a blast - and got to drink her fill a couple of times from the tiny stream in the bottom of the wash. There are hundreds - probably thousands - of ruins like these all over the desert southwest, and it was great to get to see some in their natural state that are seldom visited by modern man.

Next we drove over to another International Dark-Sky Park but were told it would be illegal to take pictures in the park at night. What? Really? I was kind of stunned - photography is one of the reasons we have these sorts of parks, and, well, I had better not say any more. It was extremely disappointing. The staff member that I talked to there seemed to be more of a robot than a visitor information person. Oh well. My loss. (The staff at Natural Bridges National Monument were TERRIFIC in all respects - 'tis the difference between a park that does NOT want people to visit vs. one that ENCOURAGES people to visit nd participate.)

We decided to make a run for the Grand Canyon, which had been one of the top two spots on my to-do list for this trip. But I got sidetracked a bit at Mexican Hat and Goosenecks State Park, both right outside of the little town of Mexican Hat on the San Juan River. As soon as I realized that I could drive down close to the interesting rock, I came up with a plan to photograph it both at sunset and also at night (BLM land, so night photography is allowed!).

But first we went over to Goosenecks State Park and ran into another kind of disappointment. I don't mind paying a fee to enter a park, and there was quite a buildup for this one. And I stopped and paid my $5 fee - while four workers sat in the shade of their truck and laughed at me. The road ended 100 yards from the pay station at a scenic view, and I felt like an idiot. While the view was nice, I think in most states this would be a pull-off on the highway and not a view that you had to pay $5 for. There were no facilities at the park - that was it, the road ended. There were a couple tables nearby that I guess was their "campground" - which was more than I needed. Oh well.

Back at Mexican Hat I shot the sunset, then started to head towards the Grand Canyon. I got stopped along the way though as the most brilliant display of Zodiacal Light I'd ever seen lit up the western horizon. This light only lasts for a short while after sunset, and only at this time of the year, but to me it required some sort of foreground to make it interesting. And then I thought - ah ha, MONUMENT VALLEY! But I knew I had to hurry, so dug into the gas pedal a little bit. But all of the land on the eastern side of the park is private, so I would be limited to be by the side of the highway. I managed to find a spot where I had a view of the Monument Valley rocks and the Zodiacal Light beaming up over them and I was one HAPPY CAMPER! (And as a bonus, Venus was setting at the bottom of the Zodiacal Light.)

zodiacallight

But when I got back into the van to head over to Grand Canyon, I decided it might be best if I not try to make that drive at night, then spend much of the night up shooting, then drive down to Scottsdale to pick up Pam and make the long drive back home. So instead I returned to Mexican Hat and set up my camera to do another star circle. I saw recently where someone noted that while photographers love these star circle photos, most normal people don't - I have also found that to be the case. But I certainly enjoy the challenge of finding suitable subject material and perfect skies, and really love how they appear when competed, so what the heck, I shot another star circle - sorry!

MexianHatStarCircles

I also went back to Goosenecks State Park and set up a timelapse that hopefully would capture some of the winter Milky Way moving across the sky and then the "moonstrike" as the rising moon illuminated the "goosenecks" of the San Juan River far below. After all I had already paid my $5. I have no idea how or if this timelapse turned out, since I picked up the camera and headed south back to Arizona the next day (yesterday) and have not had the chance to download or look at any of those photos yet - I'll do that once we get back to Arkansas. Below is a photo of sunrise at Goosenecks along the San Juan River:

goosenecks

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So we'll pick up my lovely bride later today for the long drive east. We expect to be home Saturday night. The caretaker at our cabin (Joseph) has to be on the road Sunday so that will all work out great. He reports no more coyotes in the yard, but said there was an AMAZING sunset yesterday!

One funny food story from Arizona. Pam and I both LOVE Mexican food, especially really good Mexican food. We stopped at a small Mexican restaurant yesterday near the art center and ordered takeout (so we didn't have to leave Lucy in the van alone). Neither of us can eat spicy foods so requested that they not add any heat. We were looking so forward to this dinner - YIPPIE, at last, Mexican food! When we got back to the hotel and started to dig in, we discovered that while the shredded chicken was some of the best we'd ever eaten, the meal was loaded with chopped jalapenos! It was impossible for us to dig them all out, so we had no choice but to toss the $25 meal in the trash. I hiked down the block to Wendys and got a burger and Frosty. Oh well.

Oops, I almost forgot. Lucy and I visited a really neat spot yesterday just outside of Flagstaff - Sunset Crater National Monument. They don't allow dogs, nor can you be in the park at night so no nightscape photos possible (I find that extremely odd, but oh well). But they have some great and extensive lava fields - a lot like what we saw in Maui - cinder cones, and other amazing scenery. I stopped and spent some time photographing young pine trees growing at the base of the main volcano (lone tree shown below), although I was kind of in fear of being ticketed for having a camera - the 911 terrorists continue to terrorize us every day of our lives - so sad we aren't even allowed to take pictures sometimes of the property that all American citizens all own...

volcanopine

02/17/15 Beautiful soft pink color in the sky early this morning and crisp temps - PERFECT for a hike through the woods! The puppies loved it, and didn't seem to even want to return to the cabin. Their heavy fur coats seem perfectly adapted to winter life. We ended up with about 3" of weird snow from the recent storm. I say weird because it just feels odd underfoot. There was a base later of ice and sleet, followed by several inches of really tiny, packed snow - very dense, but soft and dry at the same time.

A couple of nights ago I stepped outside for a moment, and it hit me right smack dab in the face - this INCREDIBLE AROMA! It was the smell of RAIN, something I had not scented in a while. And then it began to drizzle a little, which changed to light rain. That moisture provided the base layer of ice on the landscape, but thankfully it did not stick to the trees. We ha prepared for the power being out, and my lovely bride spent much of Sunday processing orders from while we were gone, including downloading all the credit card and order info, processing each credit card, making up an invoice, and finally making up a mailing label - all of this is done via the internet, so we must have power and an internet connection.

And then overnight the sleet turned to snow, and the landscape was transformed into a winter wonderland, but again, nothing on the trees. Monday was a federal holiday, so no mail pickup or delivery. Pam continued to package the mail, and then UPS business orders - even into late last night - Barnes & Noble usually places two orders on Monday night; and also on Thursday nights.

We went on a family hike yesterday afternoon just as BRILLIANT sunshine broke through the cloudy day. It felt GREAT - nice and warm - that was until we entered the East meadow. Holy iceman, the arctic BLAST hit me in the face really hard and I had to drawn down my hoods until only a small hole of light remained - I could not see straight ahead to hike because the wind was so brutal, so all I could do was bow my head and look through the peep hole to follow Pam's feet - she had bundles up with proper attire before leaving the cabin so had no problems.

The puppies LOVE snow! The more the better, and they ran and played and dug up snow and rolled in snow and just have a grand time. They would make great sled dogs. Hum...Later in the day Pam and Mia shared a little special time on the couch. I do believe they are kindred spirits. Pam's tummy warmer -

PamMia

We have turned the heat down in the cabin and added more clothes - both to help with the heating bill, and to keep the humidity levels a little bit higher. Lots of heat really dries the cabin out. The puppies don't seem to mind a bit!

Back to Arizona for a moment. We left Scottsdale early afternoon on Friday and made it almost to Santa Rosa, New Mexico before I gave out and pulled into a rest area to spend the night. We left about 5am the next morning, but did not make it very far - one of the front tires on the van developed a pair of "boobs" that brought our trip to a halt. The sidewalls separated in two spots, creating a large bubble. I knew instantly there would be no way to repair this tire, so we began the process of trying to change the tire - not an easy task in an 11,000 pound vehicle. In fact it took me nearly an hour and a half just to dig all the stuff out from its hidden locations both inside and outside of the van, then finding suitable material to put underneath the large jack that came with the van (I found a pair of 2x8s in the ditch nearby. It was kind of funny - while laid out under the engine looking for the correct lift point to place the jack, I had trouble with the rising sun that shone directly into my eyes!

Anyway, after I got everything prepared and set up, I was unable to get even a single lug nut loose on the wheel, no matter how hard I tried or what tool I used. So I finally admitted defeat and called for help, which arrived an hour later. The service guy also have trouble jacking the van up and getting the lug nuts loose and off, but 30 minutes later he pocketed $100 ("cash, no receipt"), and we were back on the road again.

We should have STAYED PUT THOUGH! From that point on the next 16 hours were BRUTAL as we drove through an incredible cross wind sweeping down from the north. We finally made it to Harrison around 10pm to pick up our puppies - our puppy-sitter had driven down from Springfield to meet us - Jill is a SAINT! And it was midnight before we made it home, and it was pretty darn terrific to finally get home - more than 5,000 miles of driving for me in two weeks. YIPPIE COYOTE!!!

FYI, our spring photo workshops are filling up - we still have a few spots left in some one-day workshops, so if you know someone who might be interested - here is our workshop info page.

02/18/15 A Cloudland Moment this morning. I was in the loft bushing my teeth, looking out the window at the carpet of fresh snow and long shadows from the first light of day. Kind of chilly outside, toasty warm in. Then some movement caught my eye, far out there in the front yard, coming my direction. I had to squint into the brilliant-white snow, and thought it was a mouse at first. Then I realized it was actually a tumbleleaf. A leaf blowing in from the forest, that had tucked itself into a little ball, and was rolling across the yard with the whim of the breezes.

I spent the rest of the day trying to make two prints, and at 10pm tonight I'm still trying to get one of them completed. That one is more than five feet wide, and is from a photo I took with a little point-and-shoot camera back in 2004. I find it interesting that many of the big prints that folks order are from very old photo files - was I a better photographer back then? It is really important to use the very best shooting techniques for every single shot you take - nothing can make up for poor technique or bad lighting.

While waiting on that last print to print (took about an hour in the printer), I started the final phase of the physical therapy for my shoulder - one last week of twice-daily exercise that is now building up muscle I had lost this past year. The pain is almost completely gone now, and I'm able to do more and more with my arm/shoulder each day. I'd say the operation was a complete success. THANK YOU DOC!

Wilson and I just went over to the print room to get the final big print out of the printer and lay it out to cure overnight. To celebrate, we went on a short hike out into the wilderness. The air was crisp and clean and the sky SO CLEAR, oh my goodness! No moon tonight, only starlight, but that was enough since it reflected off the snow and I was able to move through the forest with ease. There is just something so special about the woods at night, and especially on a cold winter night under the stars, with my new hiking buddy at my side...

02/20/15 We woke up to a chilly cabin and HOWLING winds this morning. Turns out the temporary dog door we have installed on the main floor of the cabin (while the puppies learned how to use a dog door) was standing nearly straight out open into the cabin - the winds were just too strong for the door magnet to keep it closed. The heater could not keep up, so we had to put on an extra layer. We already had lowered the thermostat due to very high heating bills this winter, so this was a double-whammy. My lovely bride is in the process of building an outside cover for the dog door that will block the high winds but still allow access for the dogs through the door. These are some of the strongest winter winds - direct out of the south - that I've ever noticed out here, especially to be lasting so long.

Mia is taking winter all in stride - she loves to go outside and find the largest piece of ice she can, and bring it inside, then lay on the floor and munch it up! We used to give them ice cubes in the summer, so I guess she gained a fondness for ice. The one she brought in this morning was about a foot WIDE!

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Cave Mountain Road remains virtually 100% hard, thin, snow packed, with a solid layer of ice under the snow. I don't recommend anyone travel out to the Crag today, and perhaps not even tomorrow. Sunday might be a real mess after all the rain they are calling for tomorrow, or it may freeze solid and become an ice rink! The highways in this area are clear, but the backroads are NOT. We can sure use moisture, so bring on the RAIN and more SNOW too!

02/24/15 Holy cow, it is almost MARCH already! We awoke to solid snow cover everywhere again this morning - been white for more than a week. Although yesterday we started with only about 25% ground cover being frozen, then it snowed for a while and everything got white. An hour later most of that melted and we have more brown again. Then another snowfall covered the landscape a second time for the day. Then it too all melted. Finally it snowed again during the night and we are back to white.

The roads have been pretty bad this past week - solid snow and ice pack most of last week, then lots of slush over the weekend with the warm temps up in the 50s, but all that did was created ruts in the road, which promptly froze solid Sunday night, as did the entire earth around here. Cave Mountain Road remains pretty bad, although the county grader did blade it off once last week on some of the most difficult spots, but that all froze solid again like all the rest. Supposed to be warmer today and tomorrow so hopefully more of the road will thaw and turn to dirt instead of mud and then ice. We've been able to come and go without too much trouble - been out to meet the UPS truck at the highway several times, and the postlady has been out every day, so no orders have been delayed - we always try to get all orders out ASAP, even if we have to put chains on to go meet the UPS man!

The big storm that rolled through late Saturday night brought some pretty wild weather, including lots of lightning. We were BLASTED awake sometime after midnight by a large bolt that hit somewhere nearby - the cabin shook and rattled for several seconds. I was on the road Sunday doing some research for a guidebook update when I got a frantic e-mail from my lovely bride - the forest was ON FIRE near the cabin!!!!!!! I put on the emergency flashers and raced home as fast as I could. I almost hoped to be pulled over for speeding and be able to reply to the officer that YES, I WAS trying to get to a FIRE!

I found Pam out in the woods building a fire line about the fire, and she already had most of it put out by the time I got there. How good a wife is she anyway - out there fighting a forest fire! The fire was not too large and was easy to contain, but if she had not been there it may have burned a great deal more of the forest. Yes, the forest floor was wet with melted snow, but as the fire spread it dried the earth and had no trouble burning along.

The lightning strike hit a GIANT white oak tree a couple hundred yards from the cabin. The base of this tree was more than four feet across, and it split into a pair of large trunks that reached far up into the sky. The lightning hit near the top of one of the trunks, came all the way down and EXPLODED the base of the tree, sending both trunks in opposite directions, each one knocking down other trees as they came to the ground.

When I got home both trunks were burning, as was the base of the tree - the base of the tree that was left was about ten feet tall. With the immediate danger of spreading fire calmed down, we decided it might be appropriate to get out the dutch oven and make a cobbler inside the base of the tree, in honor of all the pleasure this tree had given us over the past nearly 15 years. This was a very special tree to both of us. Let me explain.

Pam and I first met on a hike I led at Lake Leatherwood in Eureka Springs. It was love at first sight for me, but I never got to develop it much during the hike and Pam left at noon to head back home. It would be another six weeks before we met again, that time being our first actual date here at the cabin. In the meantime I began a series of e-mails trying to woo her to Cloudland. Part of that process was to describe a hike the two of us had taken in my dreams. We stopped at the very same big old white oak tree that blew up, and, well, what can I say - it was a magical time and both of us were very happy. Of course, it would be many weeks before we ever got to see each other, but the fantasy was very real to me - I was IN LOVE!

When she finally made it out to Cloudland we naturally visited the big old white oak from my dreams. Turns out there is a pair of large boulders nearby with a narrow passage between them. I had built a trail through this passage, and the very first time my lovely bride and I hiked to the tree we paused for a kiss in between the boulders. We dubbed them the "kissing rocks" - we have ALWAYS stopped there for a kiss every time, with a glance over to the big old oak. So needless to say we both were saddened to see it literally blown up, but those memories will always remain, and we'll continue the kissing tradition at the boulders as long as I'm able to take her there!

 

smokingtree

We visited the flaming tree the night after the explosion and it was still burning, still burning the next day, and again the next night. In face one of the times we visited some of the flames had been fanned by high winds and caught more of the forest on fire, but we were able to stomp it out with no trouble. We actually could see the flames at night from inside the cabin. The snows from yesterday finally put the smoldering embers out for good, we think.

This particular part of the hillside near our cabin has seen many violent storms over the centuries, as shown by the many "N" trees there. These trees are created when another tree gets knocked down and bends them over, and the surviving tree grows back up towards the light. Eventually the dead tree rots away but the "N" tree continues to grow, yet keeps the "N" shape near the base of the trunk. I know a lot of folks consider these "thong" trees created by early Americans, but really, since the vast majority of those trees are 100 years old or less (1900's), they were most likely caused by storm damage than actual early Americans.

THE DAY BEFORE the big blast, we got out and hiked with all five of our pets for several hours - one of the longest hikes we've ever made with the pups - and the kitties even went along for the first mile or two. This was just after the second snow of the week, which added a couple inches of white stuff to the landscape. We found HUNDREDS of sets of critter tracks in the snow - from just about every wild animal that roams around here other than a bear - we never saw any bear tracks, although they are no doubt up and roaming around these days. It was fun to try and figure out what species each was.

The puppies had a BLAST, and got to explore a lot of new county for them. At one point we came upon sets of GIANT bird tracks - wild turkey tracks - they are HUGE in the snow! And then we heard clucking - from turkey hens down the hillside a ways. Soon that clucking increased, eventually to a fever pitch, and we realized that Mia had discovered the turkeys and she was hot on their trail. Of course, those a very wise old birds, and all they had to was take flight, leaving a confused little dog behind. Wilson and Mia, plus the trail cats...

wilson

mia

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