What I’ve been reading: October, 2023

What I’ve been reading: September, 2023

  • The High Sierra: A Love Story

    Really enjoyed this side of Kim Stanley Robinson. I grew up hiking around Mammoth Lakes and did some time in / around Yosemite and Tahoe and have dreamed about backpacking around above the tree line. Some day. Should be required reading for anyone doing hiking in the High Sierra.

    (tags: nonfiction geology mountains hiking walking backpacking glaciers yosemite naming )

  • Behind the Bears Ears: Exploring the Cultural and Natural Histories of a Sacred Landscape

    Picked up our Southwest roadtrip, 400 pages of what could have been dry reading but is really well done. Quotes:

    • Page 15: "Although this never stops journalists from trotting out the ‘rewrite history’ meme every time a new one is found. In following with Betterridge’s Law, anytime you see the clickbait-y headline ‘blank could rewrite history’, put your money on ‘but probably not.’ Footnote: Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by teh word ‘no’. It’s named for British tech journalist Ian Betteridge, although the observation that egregious editorizliating should not be taken at face value is about as old as journalism itself."
    • Page 317: "And here’s where the local community has good reason to despise the legacy of Cerberus. Meth addiction – drug and alcohol abuse in general, for that matter, is a big problem in any impoverished community in the United States, regardless of the dominating ethnicity or presence of churches or whatever all else, because the root problem is socioeconomic. It’s the same in rural communities as it is in inner cities. Substance abuse and base violence are more strongly linked to economic distress and disparity than to any extraneous variable, like skin tone or local culture, because in our country we teach people that poverty is deplorable. In addition to brown air and burning rivers, that’s another fun spinoff from the legacy of consumerism."
    • Page 389-390: "This type of community is a scary idea to some people. It’s often the basis of what nowadays is called identity politics, where people vote or otherwise get political in sole accordance with perceptions of their own and/or favored candidates’ cultural identity, and it’s almost always a defensive reaction against manufactured illusions of invasion. At best, that’s how you get segregation. At worst, fascism and genocide. The thing is, being members of a community doesn’t require a whole lot of scarifice, and it doesn’t require sacrificing one’s own cultural identify. On the contrary, a diverse array of individual and cultural contributions is exactly what makes a community great in the first place. The alternative is like a stew with just one ingredient."

    (tags: history nonfiction utah southwest native-americans arizona colorado bearsears )

What I’ve been reading: August, 2023

  • Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition

    Fascinating / great book. Highly recommended for anyone that lives in the Western United States to understand where your water comes from, who’s using it, and maybe most importantly, who decided who gets to use it.


    • Page 29, loved the description of the rivers from the past: "Soap Creek Rapids, Badger Creek Rapids, Crystal creek Rapids, Lava Falls. Nearly all of the time, the creeks that plunge down the ravine of the Grand Canyon will barely float a walnut shell, but the flash floods resulting from a desert downpour can dislodge boulders as big as a jitney bus. Tumbled by gravity, the boulders carom into the main river and sit there, creating a dam, which doesn’t so much stop the river as make it mad. Except for the rapids of the Susitna, the Niagra, and perhaps a couple of rivers in Canada, the modern Colorado’s rapids are the biggest on the continent. Before the dams were built, however, the Colorado’s rapids were really big. At Lava Falls, where huge chunks of basalt dumped in the main river create a thirty-foot drop, waves at flood stage were as high as three-story houses. There was a cycling wave at the bottom that, every frew seconds, would burst apart with the retort of a sixteen-inch gun, drenching anyone on either bank of the river – two hundred feet apart."
    • Page 212: fascinating to know that there was a possibility of diverting water from the Columbia to the Southwest. "Fifty million here, eighty million there, a hundred million here, and soon one was talking about real money. In the 1960s, Dos Rios Dam could have been built for $400 million; today it might cost $3 billion or more. A diversion from the Columbia River to the Southwest could have been built for $6 billion or so in the sixties, and there was so much surplus energy in the Northwest that a few million acre-feet of water removed from a river that dumps 140 million acre-feet into the sea might not have been missed. Today the cost seems utterly prohbitive, and Washington and Oregon would probably resist the engineers with tanks. The opportunity was there. But the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau squandered their political capital and billions in taxpayers’ money on vainglorious rivalry, with the result that much of what they really wanted to build does not now exist, and probably never will."
    • Page 332, on California: "Everyone knows that there is a desert somewhere in California, but many people believe it is off in some remote corner of the state – the Mojave Desert, Palm Springs, the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. But inhabited California, most of it, is, by strict definition, a semidesert. Los Angeles is drier than Beirut; Sacramento is as dry as the Sahel; San Francisco is just slightly rainier than Chihuahua. About 65 percent of the state receives under 20 inches of precipitation a year. California, which fools visitors into believing it is "lush", is a beautiful fraud…. There was hardly a single tree growing in San Francisco when the fist Spanish arrived; it was too dry and wind-blown for trees to take hold. Today, Golden Gate Park looks as if Virginia had mated with Borneo, thanks to water brought nearly two hundred miles by tunnel. The same applies to Bel Air, to Pacific Palisades, to the manicured lawns of La Jolla, where the water comes from three directions, and from a quarter of a continent away."
    • On ownership of the farmland in California… this was a big theme in the book and it’s eye opening to say the least: "In August of 1981, the California Institute for Rural Studies released a report on property ownership in five water districts within the service area of the State Project. Most of the districts are in Kern County; most of the farms are neighbors of the McCarthy Ranch… The CIRS report corroborated what the Department of Water Resources had taken unusual pains to point out: that the majority fo the farmers receivering project water were small farmers…. but those farms owned less than a third of the total acreage; the other two-thirds, which amounted to 227,545 acres, was owned by eight companies. The largest of the farmers was Chevon USA, the main subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company of California… In second place, with 35,897 acres, was the Tejon Ranch, one of the great land empires of California. The principal stockholders of the Tejon Ranch are members of the Chandler family, which owns the Los Angeles Times — the strongest voice for water development in California for the past eighty years. In third and fourth place were two more oil companies, Getty and Shell… The presence of Getty (and Chevron USA) in the service area of the California Water Project again pointed up the architectural brilliance with which the project was conceived. They pay a severance tax to California on oil they pump off Long Beach, which is immediately put into a fund that makes annual interest-free "loans" of $25 million a year to the State Water Project, which delivers doubly subsidized irrigation water to their formerly worthless land."
    • Page 434 on the Bureau: "The Bureau is like one of these crooks with money earning interest in twenty different banks – it has to spend the money on something. It is all borrowed money – it belongs to the people of the United States – but the people of the United States don’t know that. The whole thing is a machine, a perpetual-motion machine that keeps churning out dams, which the politicians and most westerners are reflexively in favor of, and the whole business is running the country into the ground. The people who support these boondoggle projects are always talking about the vision and principles that made this country great. Our forefathers would have built these projects!, they say. They had vision! That’s pure nonsense. It wasn’t the vision and principles of our forefathers that made this country great. It was the huge unused bonanza they found here. One wave of immigrants after another could occupy new land, new land, new land. There was topsoil, water – there was gold, sliver, and iron ore lying right on top of the earth. We picked our way through a ripe orchard and made it bare. The new generations are going to go down, down, down. With projects like the Narrows, we’re trying to pretend that things are as they always were. "Let’s just go out and find some money and build a dam and we’ll all be richer and be better off." We’ve been so busy spending money and reaping the fruits that we’re blind to the fact that there are no more fruits. By trying to make things better, we’re making them worse and worse."

    (tags: history wyoming southwest rivers california geography water arizona desert oregon colorado )

What I’ve been reading: June, 2023

What I’ve been reading: February, 2023

  • Wind River Adventures: My Life in Frontier Wyoming
    Found in a random used bookstore in Nevada, am planning on backpacking in the Wind River Range this summer. Fun book and the author painted a very respectful picture of the Native Americans he spent so much time with. Quotes:
    • Page 78, an Indian chief after meeting the POTUS: “Washakie no good talk. Washakie’s heart talks to great white chief. Washakie’s heart says he is glad, and asked Great Spirit to bless white chief and make his heart good toward the Indian.”
    • Page 227: “The Indian, when I first knew him, was far different than he is today. They they were proud, haughty, and independent; kings in their own domain with an empire for their hunting grounds. And until the white man said stop, they knew no ruler. The Indian, as a race, never knew what it was to be despised. Far from aspiring to be like the white man, he has looked forward with a feeling of dread to the coming of the day when he would lose his ethnic individuality.”
    • Page 229: His reflections on the American Indians, after being asked by an audience member if it was “… better that the white man has taken this country from the Indians” as he could “… see clearly the hand of God in the setting aside of the American Indian and the establishing thereon a higher and better religion and civilization.” His answer: “Friend, that is a pretty big question to answer. I do not know whether I can answer it or not but I will say this. If you look at it from a commercial standpoint there is no doubt but that the white man has made greater and more intensive use of this country than the Indian would perhaps in a thousand years. But if you look at it from the standpoint of right and justice and honesty and fair dealing, it takes on an entirely different appearance. Suppose there came from the west a race of people as much more numerous and powerful as we were over the American India and they swept us back into the Atlantic Ocean, setting our remnants aside on reservations here and there and establishing on the continent a higher and better civilization and religion — from their point of view. Do you still see the hand of God as clearly as you did before?”
    • Page 235, his concluding paragraph: “I believe I know the Indian and believe the Indian was a man before outrage and oppression made of him a savage. I have known him as a savage and as a fighting man in the pride and insolence of his strength. I have known him as a monarch whipped into submission…. I have smoked with him the pipe of peace and I have sat with him at his feasts and in his councils. And when I compare them all – the red and white race – calmly in my own mind, their vices and virtues, their sterling worth and their shortcomings, the Indian does not suffer by comparison. When you see an Indian sitting on a curb or standing on the corner with that faraway expression upon his countenance, indifferent to the fate or progress of the world, remember that the white man has taken his country and made him what he is today – a nation conquered and a people dispossessed. His pride is humbled, and his spirit is subdued. His heart is broken. As a race his sun is set.”

    (tags: history wind-river wyoming )

What I’ve been reading: October, 2022

  • Coming into the Country

    Bought sometime after the Alaska trip last year. Took a couple months to complete, it’s slow, but good if you want to learn about some of the recent history of Alaska. Random quotes from the end of the book:

    “… Death is as much a part of life as breathing. People in cities seem to want life and death to remain at a standstill… They seem to think the animals up here are smelling the flowers. They use the word ‘ecology’ for everything but what it means. It means who’s eating whom, and when… Uncontrolled fear and deep respect are two different things.”

    (tags: history travel nature alaska )

2021 Canada & Alaska Road Trip: The Way Back

You can see part 1 here.

Day 9 – Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

Up early because the plan called for us to get from Anchorage to Whitehorse, a little more than 700 miles and about 13 hours, in a single day. We blew past a bunch of glaciers in Wrangell-St Elias National Park, slowed down for wildlife:

made it into Canada encountering zero hostility, and many many hours later, arrived at the same Whitehorse campground that we stayed at on the way up.

Day 10 – Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

According to the aurora forecast, both the evening of the 24th and the evening of the 25th were going to be good nights to get a glimpse of the northern lights. Greg caught a glimpse one morning on the way up (that I missed) but I was determined to see the green glow and so I set an alarm for 3am on both nights… and I set up my GoPro to take a timelapse from the top of the truck, which both nights, captured a couple of glimpses:

in both Whitehorse and the next night in Fort Nelson. The drive from Whitehorse to Fort Nelson was remarkable again for the scenery through Muncho Lake Provincial Park and Stone Mountain Provincial Park (both closer to Fort Nelson) but we didn’t stop anywhere to enjoy the views.

Day 11 – Thursday, August 26th, 2021

Up early to get on the road so that we could get through the 615 miles / ~11 hours of driving to our hotel in Jasper. Lunched on the tailgate of the truck in Dawson Creek, snapped some pictures of Mile 0 and the World’s Largest Beaver, and finally made it to our hotel in Jasper:

Day 12 – Friday, August 27th, 2021

Up early, gassed up, got coffee, and hit the road for the longest day of the trip (we drove almost 800 miles and made it home Saturday morning at about 2am). The drive through Jasper and Banff is called the Icefields Parkway and we easily could have spent a week or longer driving and camping through this part of the trip:

After driving for a couple hours… and here’s a horrible timelapse of said drive:

we got off the main highway and did a short 6 mile hike up to the Wilcox Viewpoint, which had views of the Athabasca Glacier, some bighorn sheep, and a number of other mountains that I’m going to come back and climb some day:

We originally had talked about trying to get to Canmore (near Banff) then spending the night somewhere in Washington, and driving home the rest of the way on Saturday but as so often happens on long roadtrips, we were exhausted and just wanted to hightail it home, so we did.

No regrets, I’d do the trip again in a heartbeat. Next time I’m going to have a tricked out Tundra (minus the dorkel) and take a couple months, spending extra time in Yukon / Kluane, Alaska, and Jasper / Banff, probably taking the ferry up, and then driving back.

2021 Canada & Alaska Road Trip: The Drive Up

On July 26th, while talking with some friends about life, work, families, and road trips, my friend Greg mentioned that he was thinking about a road trip to Alaska (about 2800 miles from Portland, which is ~= to a drive from San Francisco to New York City), but didn’t know if his wife and kid would want to go.

On August 9th, the border between the United States and Canada opened up for the first time in over 16 months.

On August 16th, at about 1:30pm, Greg and I drove through the Canadian border crossing on our way up to Alaska. The plan:

Alaska Roadtrip on Roadtrippers

came together pretty quickly. We wanted to drive all the way to Fairbanks, hit Denali & Anchorage, drive back through Jasper and Banff, doing as many hikes along the way as we could.

We originally planned on going up the westernmost route (Vancouver to Prince George to Prince Rupert to Dease Lake) so that we could see some of the Canadian coastline but after looking more closely at the route above Prince Rupert, we decided to head up to Whitehorse through Fort Nelson.

We got back home a little after 1am on Saturday, August 28th. We drove about 5800 miles in 12 days. Here’s a day by day recap with pictures and video.

Trip Planning

We collaborated on a Google doc that had sections for “Crossing the borders” (lots to plan for here because of Covid, example 1 & 2), “Personal Items”, “Food and water”, “Vehicle”, “Sleeping gear”, and “Other” (things like binoculars, camp chair, etc). The REI camping checklist is pretty similar, minus the things we thought about for driving more than 5,000 miles on super remote highways.

The plan was to car camp as much as possible with hotels as a backup, which we were definitely prepared to do. We both had tents, coolers (with only dry stuff until we got past the Canadian border), drinking water (these are great), hiking backpacks with the ten essentials, and maybe most crucially, the 2020 version of The Milepost.

We both scheduled our molecular Covid test (can’t do the antigen tests) for the day or two before departure. I got my results pretty quickly but Greg’s didn’t come back until after we got through the Canadian border, more on that later. I luckily had gotten new tires on the truck a couple weeks previous and had a recent service / oil change.

Online tools that were helpful:

  1. https://www.gi.alaska.edu/monitors/aurora-forecast – a great website that can help you see where and when you’ll be able to see the Northern Lights
  2. ArrivCan – technically not a website… an app, but crucial for getting into Canada
  3. Roadtrippers.com – I’ve used this app more than a couple times, it’s really helpful for finding (and remembering) places that you want to see, and for sketching out various scenarios.
  4. AllTrails – we’re both subscribers, we found some great hikes, more on those later.
  5. Alaska Marine Highway System – kidding, this is actually a horrible website that makes it impossible really really hard to figure out how to travel along the Alaska coastline. We thought about trying to take the ferry back from Anchorage but abandoned the idea after a couple of hours of trying out various routes and schedules.

Day 1 – Monday, August 16th, 2021

Gassed up at 7:30am, arrived at Greg’s house shortly after, made it to Bellingham by 12:30pm, got lunch, and then an hour later got in line at the US / Canada border. Up until this point everything had gone very smoothly. Greg’s molecular test results from Sunday hadn’t been emailed to him yet (and we both had to have negative tests before hitting the border) so he found a place near SeaTac that had a 1 hour turnaround on Covid tests and while it did take more than an hour, he got the negative result that he needed. But then we met with the most friendly Canadian Border Services agent. I thought we said all the right things (no alcohol, no fresh fruits, no weapons) but we apparently gave the wrong answers to the “what is your quarantine plan?” We both had just received negative tests and figured that this portion of the ArrivCan app questionnaire and the agent interview was perfunctory, something that someone would have to have who tested positive. Either way, the first bump in the road. The agent handed us 2 Covid test boxes and told us to pull over about 50 yards ahead to take yet another Covid test, whose results we’d get somewhere between 24 and 36 hours later, and most importantly, if positive, would require us to quarantine somewhere in Canada (he said it was a federal crime to go back to the US if we tested positive and didn’t quarantine), without moving, for 2 weeks. So that was stressful.

We made it through though, got groceries for the next week in Vancouver, and headed up to Whistler, where we intended to camp for the night before a hike the next morning. Speed bump number #2: they were doing road maintenance on the Sea to Sky highway, which added 2 hours of bumper to bumper traffic.

Speed bump #3: while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic and looking at The Milepost to figure out the camping spot for the night, the sky opened up and poured giant buckets of rain down, which put a damper on our camping plans. We finally got into Whistler, had dinner at La Cantina – Urban Taco Bar, and hoped that the weather would change, which it didn’t. So on the first night, after hoping to camp most nights, we ended up in a hotel called the Blackcomb Lodge. So ended day 1.

Day 2 – Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

A hike and a drive day, so up at 6:30am, at the trailhead by 7:15am, hike starts at 7:38am. The first 3 miles are effectively straight up hill, without much scenery, you’re in the trees for the most part. But then the trees opened up near the top of the climb to views of the west like this:

and then after you crest the last hill, you get views of at least 4, maybe 5 different glaciers that all feed into Wedgemount Lake.

There are a bunch of great campsites for backpackers (in some places with wooden decks), and a couple of bear bag hangs, which I’ve never seen in the US. We had lunch at the lake, hiked to the eastern side to see how close we could get to the glacier, and then hiked back down to the car. Total time: almost 7 hours.

After the hike we drove north and east on Highway 99 for a couple hours until we hit Highway 97 and then hightailed it to Prince George, hoping to score a tent site somewhere on the outskirts of the city. This was the only part of the drive that we hit smoke on, as there were fires to the east of us. The drive on Highway 97 felt eerily similar to a drive on Highway 97 through Oregon: very dry, small trees, high desert.

Speed bump #4: driving late at night in places that have lots of “Watch for Moose” signs and no other cars on the road is spooky and it turns out, arriving at 10:30pm means none of the campgrounds were open. We made a decision to not drive after dark for the rest of the trip and lucked into the last room at a brand new Best Western, ending day 2.

Day 3 – Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

We got up, we drove all day on Highway 97 east and then turned north, arriving in Fort Nelson about 515 miles later. We got a tent spot at the Triple “G” Hideaway RV Park & Campground, had a run down main street to stretch our legs, had dinner outside at the onsite restaurant, and then hit the hay to get ready for another long day of driving.

Day 4 – Thursday, August 19th, 2021

Up early for a longer day of driving, this time almost 600 miles. I finally got the GoPro time-lapse going for this part of the drive, but you have to deal with the bugs and the rain:

which didn’t do the scenery justice. I think we both agreed that the prettiest part of the entire drive was through Stone Mountain Provincial Park, which had a bunch of potential hikes and camping spots, but wasn’t in the cards for us with our timeline. The wildlife and scenery were amazing:

I really wanted the Northern Lights Centre in Watson Lake to be fun but it was either a 1 hour movie… or a gift shop. Could be so much more!

600 miles later, we made it to Whitehorse, a great little city bisected by a gorgeous river. We stretched our legs on a walk around said river, had an amazing dinner at Klondike Rib & Salmon, and then camped at Hi Country RV Park.

Day 5 – Friday, August 20th, 2021

Friday, early start, Greg said he saw the aurora just before the sun was coming up. Breakfast at Tim Horton’s, 2 hours later we arrive at our second hike of the trip, this one called Sheep Creek Trail, which is supposedly teaming with bears. We didn’t see any sheep or bears.

On a clear day, you can see for miles, deep into the Kluane National Park & Reserve… but it wasn’t clear. Either way, we had a great hike, spending the first half of the hike letting the bears know that we were there.

The drive from Whitehorse to the hike, and then all the way to Fairbanks, was gorgeous in the morning and then monotonous for the last couple hours:

but we made it and crashed at a Best Western near the airport in Fairbanks. Next time it’d be great to spend a couple days exploring Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Reserve and more of Kluane National Park, but of which look to be covered in glaciers and tall peaks.

Day 6 – Saturday, August 21th, 2021

Later start (time change), target for the day was Denali National Park. The guidebook did say that Denali was kind of a crapshoot in terms of being able to see, you know, the actual mountain, but we tried anyway. The park is similar to Glacier or Yosemite in that there’s a drive in to see the sights, but different in that in order to actually see the sights, you need to get on a bus for anything past the initial 15 miles that you can drive, which is substantial as the non-drivable part is almost 80 miles long.

The combination of the cloudy / rainy weather and Covid (not going to ride on a bus with 20 other people for 4 hours) meant that we got in a nice hike (half of the Savage Alpine Trail and the entire Savage River Loop Trail) at the very end of the 15 miles that you can drive, broke out the binoculars and spotting scope to look at the mountains and wildlife, and decided to make haste for Anchorage, only a couple hours south. I’d love to explore Denali again, but I’d bring a bike or ride the bus to get into the backcountry.

Day 7 – Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

Made it to Anchorage on Saturday night, “camped” at a hotel again. Up early for a 2.5 hour drive from Anchorage south and east, on the Seward Highway, which hugs the shorelines of Turnagain Arm, “…arguably one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America”.

Our goal for the day was to hike what looked on paper / mobile devices to be a breathtaking hike alongside a glacier, up to the originating ice field (“… a large area of interconnected glaciers”), on a trail called the Harding Ice Field Trail in Kenai Fjords National Park. We finally go to the trailhead at about 10am, started up about 25 minutes later, and then after 5 hours later, and almost 10 miles and 4k feet of vertical gain, we were back in the parking lot. The trail is surreal: the first couple miles feels (at least in August) like you’re in a rain forest. You’re only at a couple hundred feet above sea level, it’s humid, and the trail is surrounded not conifers, but by cottonwood trees and then higher up by taller shrub bushes that aren’t dissimilar to plants you’d see on a hike in Kauai. But then you get above tree line and the plants disappear and it turns into a moonscape, an ice field that stretches north, west, and south for miles. We had a quick lunch at the top, descended down on some sketchy loose rock to get closer to the glacier, and then headed back out for the descent. Definitely a top 10 hike for me even though it was, yet again, overcast.

After the hike we had a nice drive through Seward, ate an entire pizza at Klondike Pizzeria, and drove back to Anchorage. Notably, on the way back, I’m 99% sure that we saw beluga whales in Turnagain Arm and spotted my favorite overlanding blog / instagram / youtube peeps (actually their amazing Tundra rig) from Bound For Nowhere, who are simultaneously on a trip through Alaska.

Day 8 – Monday, August 23rd, 2021

We’re starting to think about heading back and in order to get back through Canada to the United States, we again have to get a negative molecular Covid test. Reservations procured a couple days earlier at Walgreens, we showed up on time, did the nostril swab dance, and had our negative results with an hour. We took got some quarters to do laundry at the hotel, got the laundry done, and then did a long trek from the hotel into downtown and back, procuring gifts for the family back home. I had dinner with an old highschool / college friend I hadn’t seen in years, and then before we knew it, it was time to start heading back, which is posted here.

Now with 50% less caffeine!