Monday, July 29, 2013

Fire on the Mountain

Monday July 29 2013

There are soooo many reasons I do not like summer, but if I list them all this will be a Whine-Fest blog entry. So I will only list one.


I've been here in Owyhee for 6 years now, and up until the last 2 years, fire never crossed my mind.

Then there was that summer day 2 years ago where lightning started a fire 4.5 miles away up on the sagebrush flats, while we were away at City of Rocks. Fortunately the gusting wind was blowing the other way, and the BLM fire crews were on it in a flash.

Last year, there was the night heavy smoke woke me up.

Now, anytime a blue thunderstorm cloud appears, instead of rejoicing (well - as long as I'm indoors watching, and not caught out in it!) in the few degrees of coolness it lends for a spell, an undercurrent of fear keeps that delight at bay. Wildfires are getting worse by the year out West, as it gets drier and drier.

Yesterday a cloud came over, giving blessed relief from the heat. But then the cloud turned blue and thunderstormy, rumbling loudly enough that even *I* heard the thunder. It dropped a little rain down here, and did its lightning and thundering in the Owyhee mountains.

I did not even SEE this smoke until this afternoon, but it was surely lightning that started it. It's 7 miles away, straight up our canyon. The BLM already knew about it, and was letting it burn… then later in the day they sent helicopters with buckets to it.

The only good thing about being in a drought is that it's been so dry, there's hardly any fuel to burn - stunted sagebrush and rabbitbrush, no cheat grass at all.

By evening it looked like most of the fire was out, though it's so hazy it's difficult to tell, even with binoculars. There's still a spiral of smoke (still, fortunately, no wind to speak of), and I might be seeing a layer of fire retardant on the hill.

I'm sure hoping that's the closest and biggest fire we'll have here this year.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

2013 Tevis Cup

Saturday July 20 2013

75 of the 160 horse/rider pairs finished this year's hot Tevis Cup across the Sierra Nevada mountains. The finishing rate is usually around 50% for this tough 100-mile ride; this year's heat - the canyons were rumored to be 118°F - had a hand in this year's below-average rate.

5th place finisher Kevin Myers, riding Auli Farwa, called the ride "hellishly hot and humid."

Even as a reporter for, the heat fried my brain, especially since I had a cold (! - ridiculous!) to boot. I erased all my photos, from TWO cameras, that I took at Robinson Flat, the first hour hold vet check at 36 miles, and I don't remember doing it. Alas.

But here are some photos from Foresthill, the second hour-hold at 68 miles.

Up top:
Eventual 13th place finisher Willemina De Boer and Frisia Mameluk leave Foresthill.

The 'Two Jennies,' Jennifer Waitte riding M Dash Czoe, and Jenni Smith riding M Dash Stellar (both mares owned by Waitte), arrive in first place at Foresthill. The two would end up finishing 2nd and 3rd in Auburn at 10:29 PM, 17 minutes after the winner.

Amanda and Leslie crewing Kevin Myers' Auli Farwa at Foresthill. They finished 5th, at 10:58 PM.

Auli Farwa has such an expressive face!

Winners Rusty Toth and Take a Break trotting out for the vets at Foresthill.

Eventual 2nd place finisher Jennifer Waitte and M Dash Czoe trotting through 'downtown' Foresthill in first place on the last third of the Tevis trail.

Rusty Toth and Take a Break, and Kevin Myers and Auli Farwa canter out of 'downtown' Foresthill in 2nd and 3rd place, 2 minutes behind Waitte.

Karen Donley (with her son John, not pictured) canter out of 'downtown' Foresthill in 5th and 6th place, 8 minutes behind Waitte.

Eventual 8th place finishers - and Haggin Cup (Best Condition) winners - Sue Hedgecock and LZP Julioslastchance wait to leave Foresthill.

I love this picture of Karen Chaton (34,000+ endurance miles) and her horse Probono D at Foresthill vet check. Karen is always smiling. They finished in 25th place at 4:26 AM, for Karen's 5th Tevis buckle and Bo's 3rd.

An exciting sign: If you see this from the back of your horse, that means you have completed 2/3 of the Tevis trail, and are heading out of Foresthill on your last third!

The Magic Tevis Dust, which nobody ever seems to want to wash off their vehicles. (including me! it's still on there)

For the full Tevis stories, see:

Part I

Part 2:

For more photos and eventual videos, see:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013 Tevis Cup: Vet In Day

Tuesday July 23 2013

It's that time of year again: the 100 Miles in 1 Day Tevis Cup that goes from near Lake Tahoe, Nevada, to Auburn, California, over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

This year was Hot and Dusty, as opposed to almost every other Hot and Dusty Tevis Cups. (Though this year, it was really hot.)

It was the usual frenetic, chaotic, amazing, insane ride albeit with about 50 fewer riders than normal (160 started).

Here are a few pictures from Friday's vet in day at Robie park at approximately 7500' in the Sierra Nevadas. More photos, and stories can be seen soon at

Up top:
A veterinarian watches Gabrielle Mann trot out her horse Tiki Chaps Ku. Gabrielle and Tiki would finish 22nd, at 2:34 AM.

Karen Chaton (34,000+ AERC miles) and Bo (Pro Bono D) take a warm-up ride. They would finish 25th this year, at 2:46 AM, for Karen's 5th Tevis and Bo's 3rd.

Dave Rabe (56,000+ AERC miles) is holding a Tevis Angel that Karen Chaton got to give to another rider. Karen gave me a Tevis Angel for my 2009 Tevis ride, and it got me through. I will pass my Tevis Angel on to another rider one day! Dave has recovered from a severe head injury (fell off a horse, hit his helmet-less head). He has returned to the endurance trails riding, and he came to crew at this year's Tevis. So good to see him back!

The incomparable Barbara White (32 Tevis Buckles) trotting out Djubilee. Alas, they pulled at Foresthill (68 miles) for 'surface factors'. Barbara had a wreck on Monday that hurt her knee and bruised some ribs, which affected her seat, which affected Djubilee's back. They'll both be fine, and I'm sure Barbara is already thinking ahead to next year's Tevis!

Bev Gray (18,000 AERC miles) and Jolly Sickle warming up. They finished 9th, and Jolly Sickle is now 38 for 38 and has his second Tevis buckle.

The incomparable Joyce Sousa and LV Integrity. In short: Joyce has over 22,000 AERC miles. "Ritzy" has over 8000 miles. This was their 4th Tevis together. Ritzy is 20 years old. (To see more on this amazing pair, see .) They finished in 35th place at 3:35 AM. Just. Wow.

Stablemates Far and Quake. Far (with Kevin Myers) finished 5th. Quake (with Rusty Toth) won!

Rusty Toth trotting out Take a Break (Quake). They won! (And Rusty won the Haggin Cup last year on Stoner).

Kevin Myers (9000 AERC+ AERC miles) trotting out Auli Farwa (Far). This horse recovered from a near career-ending ankle injury when he was just starting his endurance career at age 5. He's now completed 51 of 51 rides, and 11 of 11 100-milers. Wow.

Juniors had fun, though only 3 of the 12 starting juniors finished. Sanoma Blakeley (the bottom one), finished in 42nd place at 3:55 AM with her parents, riding Taii Myr. Alas, her junior brother Barrak pulled, or the whole family would have finished!

More to come!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

More Old Bones

Tuesday July 16 2013

About 5 years after we stumbled across some old horse bones in one of our random desert Owyhee home gullies, a rare super gully washer recently exposed a new layer of them.

More teeth, and a weathered jawbone emerged from the slope by the trail.

We bet they are from a cavalry remount station in this Owyhee desert canyon. The US Army Remount Service was officially activated in 1908 (Boise, Idaho was an official Purchasing Board site) and lasted as long as 1945.

Thoroughbreds were the primary breed, followed by Arabians, then Morgans, Saddlebreds, Anglo-Arabs, and Cleveland Bays. A remount supply farm is rumored to have been up our creek, but I haven't found further information on it.

These old bones remind me to keep snooping, as they continue to slowly emerge from hiding!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pacific Mist

Friday July 12 2013

Horses and riders emerge from the mist of the Pacific Ocean on the shores of Long Beach, Washington.

One of these must have been a draft horse, his hoof prints dwarfing the rest.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Smoke on the Water

Tuesday July 9 2013

It is a regular presence near the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, where Lewis and Clark camped in November of 1805, near the end of their 2+ year expedition across the newly-purchased Louisiana Territory, over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

It is also the interpreted name ("smoke on the water") of Skamokawa, the chief of the Wahkiakum band of Tsinuk Native American Indians, whom Lewis and Clark met while wintering on the ocean at Fort Clatsop in December of 1805. This was back in the days when whites and Native Americans had friendly relations, and when the land was still wild: road-less territory, undammed rivers, untouched old growth forests, wild and prolific wildlife.

It is also a small town on the Columbia river near the Pacific (the Columbia river bar is "the most dangerous in the world to navigate"), and the site of 1 of my marbled murrelet surveys.

As I observe, the fresh-water tide falls down from the sandy beach, a fog bank floats along the upper reaches of the forested hills; bald eagles cavort, and great blue herons rove, and ospreys fish, in this Smoke-On-The-Water Lewis and Clark trail.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Oh-Dark Stupid

Saturday July 6 2013

In the darkness before dawn, the forest wakes in layers. Aside from the occasional hoot of a great horned owl or barred owl and the creaking and cracking from something… large… cruising through the brush, there is a bank of silence between the night creatures and the day creatures.

The robins and Swainson's thrushes wake first, the chirping and the spiraling twitters reaching over the hills and spinning out above the canopy. When the winter wrens start up, they jump right in, all feet and feathers first, enthusiastically, a non-stop loud chatter that drowns out everything else within earshot. Others follow in time as dawn creeps up, slowly painting the blackness discernible shades of green: varied thrushes, chickadees, and a myriad of other LBJ's (Little Brown Jobs) I don't know.

This time of darkness, this Oh-Dark Stupid, is a no-man's land-time. It's way too late to still be awake and way too early to be up.

But I'm out here, listening to the waking forest.

To get here, one dark morning I follow fresh bear tracks from the previous day; another morning I tunnel through close and claustrophobic brush; another I wade through a stream and slip and slide up the slick bank. Devil's clubs bite me when I grab wildly for something for balance. Blackberry bushes grab my legs and try to trip me. I hope I'm avoiding poison ivy but the dark ground cover looks all the same in my narrow headlamp beam piercing a tiny hole in the blackness. Moss-covered fallen trees are a slippery bridge over black holes.

On all mornings, mosquitoes, also early risers, threaten to suck me dry of blood. On all mornings, despite being half asleep, my senses are on full-blown alert, particularly in close brush, and most particularly when I hear big cracks and snaps in the darkness.

Nesting marbled murrelet by Tom Hamer
All this to search for a cryptic, chunky robin-sized bird in the forest: the endangered, mysterious marbled murrelet, who lives on the sea and nests in the forest.

They don't make it easy on themselves. Built for life on the ocean, they choose to nest inland in primarily old growth forests - up to 40 miles inland. Not every year, the female lays a single egg on a platform with a slight depression (usually, a thick moss-covered branch) in an old growth tree, up to 200 feet above the ground - not a nest; the male and female take turns sitting on, and turning the egg up to 11 times a day (no nest cup to keep it from rolling off the branch!), and once it hatches, the parents fly back and forth to the ocean, fetching the single chick a single fish each time. When and if the chick fledges at about 35 days of age, the parents stop visiting with food, and the chick eventually makes its way, under cover of darkness, to the ocean - or not.

Adults are eaten by hawks and owls; eggs and nestlings are predated by crows and Ravens, jays, and flying squirrels. Some murrelets are caught in gill-nets and drown; it is thought that murrelet food (fish) may be adversely affected by trending warmer ocean currents.

These birds don't make it easy for observers: the marbled murrelet can fly up to 100 mph with very rapid wingbeats (think: 'flying raisin'), and it may approach its nest in the forest stealthily, so if you're looking for one, and you blink at the wrong time, or if it decides not to call, your chances are not great for seeing or hearing it.

But we try.