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 trail head (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 trail head. 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

Sunday, June 8, 2014

B-29 Superfortress

The last flying B-29 Superfortress flew just to the south of my house a few minutes ago. My wife and I were sitting in the shade of the backyard when we saw it approach. The WWII bomber was headed in a northeasterly direction. It's based out of Addison Airport near Dallas and was at Mather Field in Sacramento for a show.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

So Few Go Here Nowadays

Climbing out of a steep canyon in hot weather is the very definition of insanity, so with summer approaching, today I made perhaps my last hike on Euchre Bar Trail, until cooler temperatures return.

I wanted to try a new spot, about 0.25 mile upriver from where I panned last week. Google Earth shows a large rock outcrop along the North Fork American River. It looked promising for gold.

This hike being exploratory, I traveled light, my only panning gear a plastic pan and a trowel, inside my Osprey pack. The Home Depot five gallon bucket, folding shovel, and other gear remained at home.

The trail upstream beyond the footbridge at Euchre Bar is in need of maintenance. It's impossible not to brush against the poison oak. (I got poison oak on my hands from last week's hike.) In one spot, three trees had fallen across the trail, in close proximity, but it was easy to climb over them and continue. I think maintenance is done by volunteers, and that may be a long time coming.

I reached a terrace overlooking the rock outcrop. A terrace is a level spot carved into a hillside by the Forty Niners to make their camps. The outcrop and river were some fifty feet below, and the descent was steep. The place looked inviting for gold and I wanted to get down there. I poked about but found no safe route. During the Gold Rush I'm sure there was a simple trail from the terrace to the river, but now the area is overgrown with vegetation. Should I try to make it to the river? Absolutely not. Few hikers starting from Iron Point travel beyond the bridge at Euchre Bar. I could very well be the only person on this section of the trail today. The hillsides are tall (over 2000 feet above the river) and steep, and should trouble come there is no cell phone reception down here. Even getting a Personal Locator Beacon signal out is questionable. The more hiking partners you have, the more risks you can take. When you hike alone, you have to use common sense.

Before turning around, I stood for a few minutes looking at the river. At my feet was an iron pipe, built of plates and rivets, some 12 inches in diameter and several feet long. It likely dated to the late 1800s. Nearby was a water ditch used for mining operations.

So few go here nowadays, but the canyon was once busy with activity. The Nisenan of course were here, for centuries, and in the rock outcrops by the river one can easily find concave holes where the women ground seeds for meal. I don't think the fur trappers working the Sacramento Valley made it this far upriver, so the first non-natives here were likely the Forty Niners. They made their camps up and down the river, and scooped gold from the gravels with tin cups and whatever else was handy. They cut the trees on the hillsides and built large flumes through which they diverted the river, so they could reach the gravels at bedrock. The period of placer mining ended, and next came the hard rock mines, the Pioneer and the Southern Cross and the American Eagle, to name a few. The mine operators built dams and installed electrical generators. They slid stamp mills on skids down the steep hillsides and set them up by the river. There were telephones down here!

So much activity. In the September 12, 1896 San Francisco Call newspaper is a letter from a Mr. Muller, regarding trout fishing here. "The scenery along this route is grand, and the American is about the finest in the State for trout." He talks of anglers intending to spend a month on the river. He complains about mine employees illegally using explosives to get fish.

And then the mines shut down, some 100 years ago, and the people left. Equipment too large and heavy to carry out of the canyon remained in place. Fires destroyed the buildings. The trees grew back.

The iron pipes and generators and stamp mill parts, and the terraces and water ditches, remain to tell of the past activity. As I walk about these, I think about how hard it is to get to the river nowadays, there are so few access points. Yet, people once just went up and down it.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gold Panning near Euchre Bar

Today I hiked to my favorite gold panning spot, near Euchre Bar on the North Fork American River. I saw only two other people on the trail, and they were not going to the river. I met them just above the serpentinite belt, about fifteen minutes from the trail head at Iron Point. They were about to leave the trail and go east into the woods, in search of an old mine and cabin site. I spoke with them for some ten minutes, and then I continued my walk to the river. I saw no others the rest of the day. I'm sure I was the only person on the river in this section of the canyon.

The river was very low for this time of the year, attesting to our drought. The river should have been four or five feet higher, with the current fatal to enter. But today I could safely enter the river to reach the gravels.

A boulder protruded from the water near the bank. I worked the down current side of the boulder, thinking that this would be a good spot for gold to collect. And I was right. The gravels I classified filled in total a five gallon bucket. Each pan had a small amount of gold. When my day was complete, I was pleased with the gold I found.

Then followed the return hike to my truck at Iron Point, a distance of two miles, with a net ascent of about 2000 feet.  I had spent 4.5 hours working the gravels, and the temperature was warm, about 85 degrees. The physical labor and warm weather took a toll on me. I took several rest breaks. I reached my truck in 2.5 hours, and normally the return hike takes less than two hours.