Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Drifting Southeast

I left the Kootenai NF area after a short but pleasant stay in Thompson Falls for groceries, fuel, propane, laundry, etc.

As much as I liked the area and the abundance of wildlife it was time to move. The fire danger is rated "extreme" and although I'm not concerned with personal danger from a fire, the risk of starting one inadvertantly, having to move on short notice or being trapped by road closures was enough to induce me to move toward cooler and moister climes. Strangely, that is toward Wyoming this year. A local in Thompson Falls said it would take three weeks of steady rain to reduce the fire danger.

I have moved about half way to Missoula and expect to spend a day or two there next week to get parts for several projects.

I am several miles into the LoLo National Forest but don't think that this area will have the wildlife activity of my previous location. This will be a week to catch up on financial matters and maintenance so I think any blog entries would be boring at best, unless something unusual happens. After all, most pine trees look alike.

From this point I will try to update each Saturday morning with a location and summary of the week.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Bear in the Woods

This white tail stopped by in the morning to make sure I was leaving and hurry me along.

The move was difficult, frustrating and a story I'll leave for another time but the day did have a single bright spot. On my way out I went to look at a campsite that was occupied previously so I hadn't seen it. Just as I decided that the tree cover was too thick anyway and prepared to leave I saw some movement.

I didn't have my camera, as usual, but she hadn't noticed me so I quietly left and returned with it. At first, looking tail on, I thought it was a small black bear but I think that shoulder hump may mean it was a grizzly.

She still hasn't noticed me but shortly after this I saw her nose go up in the air. I've watched enough nature documentaries to know that she was processing a new scent, in this case probably my Old Spice deodorant which I'm sure was working overtime.

The popperazi has been busted. She looks a lot smaller from directly forward. I was treated to a stand on her hind legs where she looked very large. I wasn't taking pictures at that point but was slowly backing away and trying to look casual. When she got a good look at me she turned and ran. That's how I know it was a female. I seem to have that affect on women.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Last Night in Kootenai

Sitting at my desk I noted some movement. I looked up to see this moose grazing directly in front of me. The picture is poor because of the fading light and window screen. I didn't want to startle her by moving the screen. She noted my movement, watched me for a while and went back to grazing.

"Well there's your problem, buddy!" The tire change went well. Suprisingly the bead wasn't broken. I found a hole, put a plug in it and it held air. I still need new tires.

Tomorrow is moving day. There was a small fire about a mile away so I think it's time to move toward an area where the fire potential isn't so high.

Uh-Oh. No Go. No Tow.

Ahh... there's nothing like taking a cup of coffee outside in the cool morning air to see what's about.

Well, Saturday is the day to clean, organize and repair but I already had a list. This is certainly first priority. The rocky dirt roads are hard on the tires and these are due for replacement anyway. I'll be curious to see if it's repairable.

Let's see...I checked that spare before I left in March...

Friday, July 27, 2007

No Doe for Me?

It's interesting how sights and sounds correlate from unrelated experiences. Several weeks ago a nice lady, a long term forest leaseholder that I met on a hike, lamented the local blight on the "quaking aspen". I knew aspen trees but didn't really know what she meant by "quaking aspen". A couple of weeks later I looked at a grove of trees at a remote campsite and thought: "THOSE are 'quaking aspen'!" It's obvious when you see them.

The last few nights amid the howling winds and lightning I've heard strange shrieks from the forest. I've become familiar with many sounds but couldn't identify this one. It did sound as though something was dying a horrible death.

A few minutes ago I looked out my rear window and saw a white tail doe feeding not far away.

She noticed me as soon as I stepped outside but I froze or moved very slowly. She didn't bolt but nervously stomped her right front hoof intermittantly. When she finally had enough and bolted she let out a short shriek that I immediately indentified.

Now when I hear that shriek late at night I'll know what what animal is making it but I still don't know why.

Moose Peek

I went for a drive about one PM to survey the exit road for a few miles and then take a short hike. It was looking good when I was flagged down by a sedan traveling the opposite direction. You just don't see sedans around here. It was a young man who had been camping at Sylvan Lake, the area that was my backup site the day I arrived. He said the road was closed and it was the only way he knew to get out. He didn't have a map and had to be at work in Spokane by evening. He didn't know if he had enough fuel to make it out or which way to go. Can you count the mistakes in this picture? While thinking that euthanasia may not be such a bad thing after all, I got out my map and gave very clear directions. Blank stare. "OK, follow me." I led him to the highway almost hitting a white tail deer that jumped in front of me. I was rewarded on the way back by seeing a doe with a spotted fawn and a moose cow.

Thinking there wasn't enough time for a serious hike I decided to explore the area around my camp. I followed a game trail up the hill, intercepted an old logging road and discovered several great campsites. Now I like where I am but it lacks one thing: altitude.

This was the first one I found. My current site is down the hill to the front. It's unfortunate but you sometimes discover the best places only after you've been in an area for a while.

Even higher may be the best campsite I've seen. Sorry, GPS coordinates not available. Beautiful views and very secluded. I have to do more reconnaissance tomorrow but this is the first area to which I have considered returning. It has altitude, seclusion, beautiful views and cool breezes.

Of course nothing good comes easily. I would have to clear rocks, branches and stumps. It might take most of a day to get up there. I would have to make sure that I could turn around as I would need engine braking on the way down. I might damage my "home". I couldn't look down. Would it be worth it? Yes.

I took the long way home to do a road survey and contemplate whether I wanted to leave Sunday, resupply and return. I was walking casually looking at the road.

Crash! Boom! Snap! I've startled turkeys, pheasants and even deer but this was my first bull moose. The racket was really something! At first I thought it was a bear since I was up the hill quite a distance and not near any water. He bolted from where he was resting to a clearing. If this were mating season I would be looking for an escape route but it isn't so we started a staring contest. I stared. He stared. I took pictures.

I liked him but he didn't like me. He was curious, bored, annoyed or a combination of the three. After giving me his best "stare and glare" he evidently decided that I wasn't worth his valuable time. I went my way and he went his.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Moose Peak

There was a trail to Moose Peak on my map so I chose that as my afternoon hike. I forgot my GPS in the truck and left the map behind since at it's scale it didn't give much information anyway. I wasn't anticipating that the trail isn't used much if at all and hasn't been maintained for years. It disappeared in several places and was almost impassable in others. I won't forget that GPS again.

A stop at a rock outcropping on the way up.

This area has some of the larger pine trees that I've seen.
The view from near the top.

Looking south on the way down. I eventually lost the trail for good and had to improvise a route. I came out within a quarter mile of where I was parked which, while not GPS accuracy, wasn't too bad.

There aren't many signs out here so I was glad to find this one since I hadn't decided on the best way out. It shows that I'm 17 miles from Montana-200 and 16 miles from US-2. It's all over rocky dirt roads. Once you reach a highway, you then have to find a town.

My internet weather site shows triple digit high temperatures for the nearest town for the next several days. It's 54F inside now and I'm wearing a sweatshirt and a jacket. Hopefully it will be cooler in my location.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Back to the Mountains

I couldn't get out of that RV park fast enough. It helps when I need it but it's just not my idea of camping.

The fuse problem is fixed although with the rough use the wiring gets, I'll have repeats in the future.

The "SERVICE ENGINE SOON" light stayed out but I wasn't convinced until I tried the air conditioning. It came on soon after I turned it on. That is useful troubleshooting information. I have to study the relationship between the air conditioning system and the emission controls.

As planned I went west on US-2. The drive was beautiful and finally I had to stop.

This is McGregor Lake. It had a state campground not far away but it was still too "civilized" for me.
But with clear water like this a little recreational wading was in order.

I wasted a couple of hours after I took a wrong turn on a logging road. I was ready to quit for the day when a couple of Plum Creek Timber employees advised me that although I probably wouldn't be bothered, I was on leased land. Being a taxpayer and former Plum Creek shareholder, I felt free to deliver a short lecture on who really owned the national forests. I didn't really like the spot anyway so I moved on.

This spot on Sylvan Lake was much better but I decided to use it as a backup since pointing the dish would be difficult. It was a free National Forest campground but I would probably have neighbors over the weekend. I decided to look further down the road.

Well, I finally found my spot so I could unhook the pickup. And yes, I washed it yesterday. The first time you start the engine after towing on dirt roads a large cloud of dust blows up from under the hood. And yes, I washed the engine yesteday also...

My site at an abandoned hunting camp. I have my RV, two log cabins and an (inactive) outhouse under my control. Of course I appointed myself Commander, Mayor and Sheriff as soon as I arrived. I'm happier here since water attracts people. The dish got a surprisingly good signal so I am here until Sunday. I plan to continue my foolhardy route on forest roads between US-2 and MT-200.

I am on the border between the Kootenai and Kaniksu National Forests jut east of Moose Peak, my hiking destination for tomorrow. The coordinates I fed the dish were: N47.89 W115.28.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Maintenance Divert

Sunday was the first time that my planned overnight stay fell through. The planned campgrounds were crowded, the turn signal fuse blew again and on my fourth stop I got an engine service light.

Now this light is usually related to the emission control system and isn't cause for serious concern. I have a code reader and got three different codes which didn't seem good. My service manual is on CD-ROM and I was hitting my limit on campsite selection and maintenance issues.

I decided to drive an additional 70 miles into Kalispell, MT and put into an RV park to sort things out. RV parks generally discourage or prohibit maintenance on the grounds but you can do reasonable items if you are discreet. There was a NAPA Auto Parts store down the street and a Ford dealer in town so I had the resources if there was any serious problem.

I laughed when I pulled into my spot as the owner of the unit across from me was busily changing an "O" ring on his power steering pump. They could hardly complain about my discreet repairs with the operation he had going. I immediately offered tools and helped him with flare nut wrenches and teflon tape. He was from Canada with friends attending a hot-rod show and gave me a ride in his Model A coupe when I needed fuses and he needed more fluid.

I set up my computer and of the three codes on my third-party code reader only one was listed in the manual. It indicated a disconnected or leaking hose on the reference side of the DPFE sensor which regulates the EGR valve. That made sense as ironically I had the same issue on my Ford Explorer several years ago. I removed the sensor and tubes, checked for leaks and cleaned everything as well as I could. The work was very discreet as access to the sensor was from inside the vehicle with the engine cowling removed.

I will probably see the light again because I still have two "mystery codes" which may have triggered the third that I was able to check. Since I'm confident it's emission control related I can trouble shoot at my leisure. I checked many of the vacuum lines but haven't located them all.

I think found the loose wire that was causing the fuse to blow. I made up most of the tow wiring but the loose connection I found was in the coiled cable that I purchased.

My plan is to head west on US-2 out of Kalispell then start south on back roads through the Kootenai and Lolo National Forests looking for a quiet place to spend the week. If I have problems I will head for Missoula

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Oh Deer! I Think She Likes Me...

This doe wandered through my site earlier this evening but by the time I got the camera she had moved away. I went outside and stalked her for a while but she wouldn't let me get close. If I don't watch it she'll get a court order like the rest of them.

But she likes me. She came back and posed for a picture didn't she?

Today was a CORE day: cleaning, organization, repair and exercise. Tomorrow is a moving day as I'm trying to transition to a five day work week. That may sound strange but I think the structure will help me get more accomplished. And living here will make it more tolerable.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Hike to Heart Lake

One of the Forest Service workers suggested hiking to Heart Lake. It was a great suggestion.

The lake is in a wilderness area. The only allowable forms of transport are foot and horseback. I don't have a horse with me so on foot it was. My GPS totaled the round trip at eight miles. You can see the condition of the forest in much of the area.

The wildflowers are doing well in the open areas. After a couple of miles the forest was untouched by the fire and very dense.

After a four mile hike and 1,500 foot climb, the lake starts to appear.

Crystal clear water at 6,500 feet. You can't see it in the reduced image but the distant mountain still has patches of snow.

This is one of the most beautiful places I have seen.

The clarity of the water was amazing. Just as in the National Geographic magazines I read as a child. I have wanted to visit places like this ever since.

I had a couple of Fig Newtons and started the hike back to get to work on the RV turn signal and stop light. After checking that the bulb was good and the fuse was good on a chance I checked the fuse for the tow lights. When I saw it was blown I almost jumped for joy! No tedious wire tracing! Of course it blew for a reason and it is likely my tow wiring. It gets pretty rough use. If it blows again I'll have to investigate further. If I had known the fix would be so easy I would have stayed at the lake for a dip.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Forests and Fires

In my few visits to the National Forests I've already discovered that there are two types of forest fires. The first consumes the underbrush and scorches the trees while the second burns everything. There were several areas in the Lewis and Clark that had the first type and the forest appeared healthy and in full recovery. I discovered today that the Helena had the second type four years ago that decimated large tracts. I had almost given up on finding a good place to hike when a forester told me of a trail that would be enjoyable. Since it's a marked trail it won't be challenging but I need a quick trip anyway so I can get back and work on an electrical problem with the RV.

The first thing in the morning I am going to move down the road to the campground. As nice as this spot is it's not conducive to the work I have to do. Because of the fire the campground is almost deserted.

I saw three mule deer today in my travels but didn't have the camera ready. I took my evening walk earlier to try and capture that buck in better light. I encountered only this squirrel that was driven to apoplexia by my presence.

There are several areas along the creek where I am told you can see moose early in the morning. Of course my plan was to be there at the crack of dawn with a camera, binoculars, a stool and a thermos of coffee. Well, that didn't happen. I may try Saturday morning.

The plan for tommorrow: a quick move, a quick hike and hours of frustration trying to find a loose connection.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nightfall in the Forest

It was still a little warm inside so I grabbed the camera and went for a walk. Not a creature was stirring, as usual. Then I stopped and looked left.

It wasn't as dark as the flash makes it seem and the retinal reflection spoils the image. Also the buck was larger and closer that it appears here. The astonishing thing was that he didn't bolt. I took a picture, slowly walked across his field of view, returned and took two more pictures. We stood and looked at each other for some time until something else startled him and he ran off. It was so quiet I could hear his hooves pounding.

Well, that blob represents a very sharp crescent moon. You had to be there. It was nice.

Helena National Forest

I had a commitment to be on the Internet at 0355 this morning so I spent two nights in an RV park that had WiFi for a backup. It was near Canyon Ferry Lake which is primarily of interest to fishermen and boaters. For me it was "hot 'n dusty".

Today I drove through Helena, Montana for supplies and continued across the Continental Divide at Flesher Pass on MT 279. The climb was difficult for the "rig" but it made it. There wasn't much traffic but I pulled over several times to let faster vehicles pass.

My current location under the red star in the Helena National Forest. The various National Forests are very fragmented and saying that you are in a particular one says little about your exact location. If you have a map, I am along an unnamed tributary of Copper Creek, north of Stonewall Mountain and south of the Scapegoat Wilderness Area. Does that help?

My campsite with the back end of my RV framing the right side. I usually jump on the first place that pleases me. There may be a better one just up the road but I won't know that until tomorrow. I look for a solitary site with only one usable spot, no neighbors, and a view of the southeastern sky for the satellite dish. If it comes with pine forests and running water, so much the better.

It's hard to avoid that "pine fresh scent" here! If I open the screen the pine branches come inside. It was a very tight squeeze getting in and took a very long time. I backed down the hill so leaving will be easier. I did tear the roof membrane but have already repaired it with EternaBond roof repair tape and hopefully those scratches will "buff out". That's exactly why I bought a used rig. I won't lose any sleep over a little damage to enjoy a spot like this.

Technology intrudes on the wilderness. The signal is again weaker since I have moved north but the connection is reliable, so far.

Can you find the RV in this picture? This is the way I like it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Moving Day

Another deer walked through the campsite last evening but I didn't have the camera ready. Maybe when I return I'll see that bear.

Moving day usually involves an hour or so of preparation but is mostly routine. After moving into this spot and hearing the sickening crunch of my tow bar digging in my first thought was: "Uh-Oh! How am I going to get out of here?". I even woke up that night thinking about it. But I decided to enjoy the stay and worry about getting out on moving day. Well, today was moving day.

The first problem was backing out between the trees but staying away from the overhead branches that could tear the rubber roof or damage other components on top. This took time and patience moving a foot or less at a time but went without incident.

Approaching the swayle. You can see the furrow I dug with the tow bar. After that I was glad that I bought the heavy duty model. Doesn't look bad so far.

Now the problem is obvious. I had hoped that removing the tow bar would give enough clearance. Not so. With several more inches of uphill, the hitch receiver is about to dig into the soil.

Plastic leveling blocks and 4x4s to the rescue. I would move a few inches and bring blocks to the rear as you would move a heavy object with rollers. The backup plan was to drive to the abandoned mine and borrow some scrap lumber.

Free at last and pointed in the right direction. It was nice to finish packing up and then hop in the shower.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Lewis and Clark National Forest, Day 5, Addendum

The only disappointment with my stay here has been the lack of wildlife sightings. I didn't really want to see a bear close up, just close enough to catch with my camera. I saw signs so I know that they are out there but I'm sure that my heavy foot kept them out of sight. I saw deer sign but no deer.

This has been my view at "quittin' time" for the last five days. I sit under the awning and look across the stream (not visible) and contemplate the universe, human existence and the probability of one of those boulders rolling down to crush me. (Conclusion: possible but highly unlikely.)

Today I was contemplating the lack of wildlife sightings when I saw movement up near the rocks. Nothing identifiable, just movement. I have kept a pair of binoculars handy to "glass" the hills and woods in the evening, so far without success.

This is the rocky area in the upper center of the first picture. Almost on cue, the night before I leave, a young buck with his antlers in velvet walks across the ledge. He's difficult to see in this picture as it's a zoom of a cut from the original. (I'd like to have a telephoto...) But he's there and with the binoculars I was able to watch him feed. He was very wary and looked in my direction for a long time. I had to stay still and let the biting flies have their way with me but it was worth it.

Now, where is that bear?

Neihart, Montana, Day 5

On my way to town I stopped to photograph Long Mountain from ground level. That's the rocky area, on top.
If I had looked at it like this beforehand, I might not have tried it. It always looks so easy on a map.
Neihart has many newer homes but I like the older Victorians. This one is for sale. Hmmm...

I also like the holdovers from its days as a mining town. It's not occupied but has modern electrical service.

The old storefronts always seem small. I imagine that building materials were scarce and expensive.

This log structure could use a new roof and porch but the walls are very well constructed and in excellent condition.

The cemetery uses a recycled service station sign that came complete with numerous bullet holes. I'm happy to report that there aren't any holes in the new wooden sign.

I have seen wooden grave markers before but there were a great many more than usual. Unfortunately many were painted and have no information but some were carved, like this one, and could be read with a "rubbing".

This is a very unusual sheet iron marker. It's in excellent condition and has been painted recently.

The dude in back has the best headstone and iron fence in the cemetery but obviously didn't sign up for perpetual care...or did he? That's why it's cremation for me. I'm not going to have some drifter laughing at my grave a hundred years from now.

Ahhh...nothing like an abandoned mine shaft to attract young, and not so young, men. I can almost hear little Timmy saying: "Go for help, Lassie! Hurry!" Mine shaft continues to fill with water. Lassie:"Woof, Woof!" Timmy: "Good girl!"

I don't know whether this is the mechanical building for a vertical shaft or to run the ventilators and pumps for the horizontal shaft. Time to Google some information on mining techniques.

I've thoroughly enjoyed my stay here but it's time to move on.