Sunday, October 19, 2014

Stevens Trail with Grinding Rocks and Ladybugs

With the wildfires extinguished and the air free of smoke, I returned to Colfax to hike Stevens Trail to the North Fork American River. Few vehicles were in the trailhead parking lot when I arrived around 10 AM. Not a cloud was in the sky and the temperature would climb to the low 70s - a perfect day for a hike. The distance to the river is 4.5 miles and the slope is gentle. Stevens Trail was built in 1870 as a toll foot path between the railroad stop of Colfax and the mining community of Iowa Hill.

I encountered a few people on my descent: two Japanese men around age 60; three young adults of I think Indian heritage; and two pairs of joggers. I took videos as I walked in some sections, being careful of my footing as I looked at the LCD screen, for in places to the side of the trail there are sheer drops of ten feet or more, followed by a steep grade. Two men in one section of river were in search of gold, shoveling the gravels onto screens atop buckets, their sluice boxes nearby. This is Bureau of Land Management land and permits are not needed for this activity.

I arrived at the river by Secret Ravine at 11:45 AM. With the drought, the water was at the lowest level I've seen. The low water has attracted people in search of gold. I've come to this spot a few times with shovel and pan, alone or with another person, and have taken out small amounts of gold. The activity over the past summer was on a larger scale, suggesting people had spent long periods on the river. The gravels were worked to bedrock and moved around to divert water flow through sluice boxes. Assuming a decent amount of snowfall in the mountains this winter, the rushing waters from the spring melt will move the gravels about, erasing signs of mining activity and replenishing the gold.

I sat on a slate outcrop by the river and ate a lunch of two handfuls of almonds. The Japanese men were having lunch a short distance downriver. The three young adults had continued hiking upriver a bit. This slate outcrop contained several grinding holes made by Nisenan women over the centuries. I suppose they sat here and ground acorns and other nuts into meal when their group came to the river for the salmon runs. Today, the two dams downriver prevent any salmon from reaching this spot.

I left the river at 12:30 PM. After walking a few minutes I passed a large blackberry patch where ladybugs were converging to hibernate for the winter. In the few spots I looked, they must have numbered in the thousands, This entire patch may have had hundreds of thousands of them. I watched my step to avoid crushing them.

Walking uphill, I thought of the impact of the Transcontinental Railroad on travel in these parts. In the 1870s, a Chinese miner could have theoretically left Iowa Hill in the early morning, walked Stevens Trail to Colfax, caught the train to Oakland, boarded the ferry to San Francisco, and been on a ship to China before midnight.

I reached the trailhead at 2:30 PM. Another great day in the Sierra.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Scratch That Hike

Mid-September usually marks the start of the hiking season in the Sierra foothills for me. Although the hills are still bone dry, the miserably hot temperatures have passed, allowing tolerable ascents from the canyons at the end of the day. And so, I looked forward to today's planned hike to the North Fork American River, on Stevens Trail near Colfax.

The smoke from the King Fire turned me around.

The King Fire started on September 13 near Pollock Pines in El Dorado County. It has burned 82,018 acres and is 10% contained.

Traveling this morning up Interstate 80, there was a slight smoke haze starting at Auburn, elevation just over 1000 feet. By the 2000 foot mark, the smoke was such that some people had their headlights on. I knew a hike today was out of the question, so I stopped at Colfax for some photos, and then returned to the Sacramento Valley.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Work took me to Memphis for a few days in early September. It was easier adjusting to the two hour time difference than the humidity, summers in my Sacramento Valley being bone dry. Here's what I saw in Memphis.


Dead since 1977, Elvis still brings in money. Opposite Graceland on Elvis Presley Boulevard, tourists were in line to board the small bus that would take them to the estate grounds. There were many visitors at this early hour of ten o'clock on Labor Day. My money stayed in my wallet, so I could only stand outside the large entry gates and look from afar up the winding roadway to the house. Countless people have scrawled graffiti over the years on the stone and brick wall along the front of the grounds.

Elmwood Cemetery

From the small Confederate flags and the inscriptions on headstones and monuments, I'd say the Confederate States of America still lives in this historic cemetery.

Lorraine Motel

The photographs taken of the motel balcony immediately after Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot are committed to memory, so seeing the balcony itself, preserved as it was on the day of the assassination, sent a chill up my spine.

Jacqueline Smith objects to money being spent on the memorial site. She holds her protest vigil at her booth across from the motel, telling all who will listen that the money used to operate and maintain the National Civil Rights Museum would be better spent on the poor residents of Memphis. I asked her if it was not proper to keep this site, so as to remember what happened here, and she said no. I didn't think of asking her about how the money spent by the many visitors helps the local economy. Only later did I learn that she had been an employee of the motel, and also its last resident after it closed.

Peabody Hotel Ducks

Wild Mallard ducks spend a few hours swimming about the fountain of the lobby of this historic hotel in downtown Memphis. At five o'clock each day, as they have been trained, the five ducks are led out of the fountain by the hotel's Duckmaster; and then, to the tune of John Philip Sousa's King Cotton March, with spectators filling the lobby, they march together along a red carpet to the elevator, to be taken up to their quarters on the penthouse.


I went to Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken for lunch at the recommendation of a friend. The place was filled with customers and I was fortunate to get a table so quickly.

Memphis is renowned for its barbecued ribs. I ate ribs at three restaurants. Central BBQ by the Lorraine Motel had the best ribs of the three. The other restaurants were Corky's BBQ on Union Avenue and Rendezvous in downtown Memphis.

I returned to California a few pounds heavier from my short stay in Memphis.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Panama Canal Centennial

Me (right) with bomb dog Sam, during
President Carter's visit in 1978

The first official transit of the Panama Canal was on August 15, 1914, by the SS Ancon. While the Canal was one of the major engineering feats of history, the rising carnage in Europe reduced the grand opening to a subdued local affair.

The centennial went largely unnoticed in the United States. Ask an American under thirty which country built the Panama Canal and you'll likely get a blank stare. But Tampa, Florida with its port has an economic link to Panama. Reporter Veronica Cintron of Bay News 9 in Tampa asked my permission to use a portion of my YouTube video Panama City Fish Market for her feature on the centennial. While her video is not online, her articles and the link to my video are found here.

On August 14, 1977, I drove past the Balboa Theater in the Canal Zone shortly after a Canal anniversary event had ended. Outside were a large number of people, including old men white and black. Those old men helped build the Panama Canal.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

March 2004 Journal Entry Concerning Iraq

Work took me to the home of a Chaldean Christian family in the Dearborn, Michigan area in March 2004. The current ISIS atrocities bring to mind my talk with the homeowner's son, who predicted for Iraq the rise of the fundamentalists and the persecution of the Christians. When we talked it had been a year since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Here's an excerpt from my March 2004 journal:
I met the son (in his thirties) and he welcomed me and asked me to sit and talk a few minutes. I couldn't say no, so I sat on the couch next to him. He asked his mother to get me some coffee. I couldn't refuse. He was as polite and as generous as he was talkative... He said they were from Iraq, and had come to the United States about twenty years earlier. He said they were Chaldeans, and gave me a quick history of these people. The talk quickly turned to the war. He said it was a mistake for the United States to invade Iraq. The danger in Iraq is from radical Muslims and Saddam kept these people under control (Iraq under Hussein was a secular state). As we talked the wife set a small plate of pastries in front of me, a date wrapped in some type of dough. I thanked her and took one to eat... The son said Saddam should have been allowed to keep Kuwait, as historically that was Iraqi land, and having occupied Kuwait Hussein would have kept the oil flowing to the West. He said Saddam kept Christians in his cabinet ... Since Saddam had fallen from power, the Muslims are now persecuting the Christians. The son said his family loved the United States but it was wrong to topple Hussein...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fire Prevention Goats

Drought or not, much of California is a tinderbox is the summertime, as months go by without significant rainfall. Some communities are going low tech in their fire prevention efforts, using goats to reduce the tall dead grasses in fields near neighborhoods. Here's a herd of these goats near my house.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hike to Tinker Knob

To mark the tenth anniversary of my open heart surgery, I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Donner Summit to Tinker Knob, a round trip of 15 miles.

I departed the trailhead (elevation 7,063 feet) at nine o'clock. A pair of runners took off ahead of me. This is a popular trail. I would see a few runners, and many hikers, including a few people walking the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail, from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada.

I've lost count of the number of times I've ascended the steep granodiorite face just beyond the trailhead. Sometimes I went to Donner Peak, other times to Mount Judah. A few times I went to Tinker Knob, elevation 8,949 feet. I know I've stood atop Tinker Knob twice. Maybe I've been atop it three times. I'd have to go through my journals to be certain. One thing I know - the camera has not been invented that captures the grandeur seen from the crest of the Sierra Nevada.

The trail in places is literally on the crest of the Sierra, rain on the west side of the trail flowing to the Pacific Ocean, rain on the east side flowing into the Great Basin.

Today I spoke with two women on solo hikes of the entire length of the trail. The first was an American, in her early thirties. Later I met a woman in her early fifties who spoke English with an accent, possibly Danish or Swedish. She said hiking the trail was the most incredible experience of her life. Over the years I've spoken with several women making a solo hike of the entire trail. I wonder how many were inspired by the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

I met a group of three men in their fifties, and spoke at length with one, a ham radio operator who inquired about the Kenwood TH-F6 radio attached to my Osprey pack. He said that this was the first day of a three week hike for his friends and him. They were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Donner Summit to Yosemite. They were from Oregon and go on many long hikes throughout the Western United States.

Most of my hike was spent alone, my thoughts going here and there, while I took in the views around me.

I reached Tinker Knob around 12:30 PM. Tinker Knob is the core of an ancient volcano. I spoke briefly with a couple coming down from the summit. There is no marked route to the top. I tried to follow the couple's path to the top, but could not find a safe route. I looked about. Nothing looked certain. This is not a good place to suffer an injury. I decided it best to turn around.

I made two 2-meter contacts with my Kenwood radio from the crest, both with 5 watts of power. The first transmission was on the west side of Anderson Peak. I was just above the headwaters of the North Fork American River, and my signal bounced down the canyon walls to the W6EK repeater in Auburn, a distance of about 50 miles. I spoke with a man in Foresthill, and he said I was his first ham radio contact. I regret not writing down his call sign, but perhaps we will talk again. Later, between Tinker Knob and Anderson Peak, I again reached the W6EK repeater, this time talking with a fellow member of the Sierra Foothills Amateur Radio Club. We switched to a simplex frequency, and my 5-watt signal made it some 75 miles to his house in Sacramento.

A strong breeze blew over the crest on the return hike, and the sun beat down, with the temperature about 85 degrees. (It was about 105 degrees in the Sacramento Valley). I was well-hydrated at the start of the hike. During the hike I went through 2.5 liters of water and 1 liter of Gatorade. Still, I was very thirsty on the last mile of the hike, and my thoughts turned to the cold beer in my refrigerator. I reached my vehicle at 4:45 PM, downed a half-liter of warm Gatorade, and headed home.

Approach to Tinker Knob, from the north

View from the east slope of Tinker Knob, to the south shore of Lake Tahoe

View west from the crest of the Sierra, between Tinker Knob and
Anderson Peak, to the canyons of the North Fork American River