Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I Know You Rider!

Wednesday August 26 2015

We got to go on a road trip to southwest Wyoming for the I Know You Rider endurance ride, and The Raven and I got to ride Dudley on the 50 miler on Day 1, over pretty Western country around Evanston.

The ride story is here:

Here are a few pictures from the ride, and photo up top is by Deb and Paschal Karl. Thanks Deb and Paschal!

The Raven is ready to ride Dudley!

A post-trailer ride stroll around ridecamp

On the trail in the morning, up on top

Well, the views would be great, if not for the smoke from the burning West.

Crossing a wide valley

That's the Bear River

Pretty Bear River!

I photobombed my own photo!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Road Trip: The Good Kind

Wednesday August 19 2015

Fortunately, this road trip is not the evacuation kind. With the Soda fire 95% contained, and therefore not having to worry about moving horses to safety, we are off to the I Know You Rider endurance ride, "The Best Endurance Horse Ride in Wyoming."

As you can see, The Raven is ready to go! He's never ridden in Wyoming before. (He's sitting in the middle of the saddles there.)

Thanks for everybody's concern and prayers during the (unwanted) excitement of the Soda fire - keep those thoughts and prayers going for all the others threatened by wildfires, and for the families of 3 firefighters who were killed today battling a wildfire near Twisp, Washington.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sleepless in Owyhee

Saturday August 15 2015

It seemed a bit surreal that we were making an emergency evacuation plan. We didn't need it yet, but, we made plans. Sure, over the years, I've cringed during lightning storms, and watched the summer wildfires, and felt stabs of empathy and horror for friends who have dealt with fire and evacuations. Just yesterday near Baker City, Oregon, endurance friends Naomi and Lee had to evacuate, but with fire on their doorstep, the wind changed at the last minute and spared their house. But now we're actually dealing with it ourselves.

When the Soda fire started over in Jordan Valley over on the other side Owyhee mountains on Monday, we noticed. We took more notice when the 'pyrocumulus' clouds started becoming visible  from down in our canyon when an edge of the fire was (rather suddenly) 20 miles away.

driving into Murphy

When on Thursday this fire had become the biggest fire in the country, and our endurance friend Karen was on notice for possible evacuation near Murphy, we decided we'd better have a plan to get all the crick critters out of here. It's pretty much a 5-mile one-way-out road for horse trailers. Murphy is 12 miles away as the Raven flies. There's a LOT of cheat grass on the Owyhee Front between here and there, which can burn in a flash, if the fire reached down onto the flats.

the road to Silver City is closed

We've got 13 horses here to move. Neighbors, who happen to be gone at the moment, have 9. Linda, further down has 1 horse and a whole 'nother assortment of 4-legged things. We've got a place to move the animals, some 12 miles or so down the highway to a pretty safe place. We've got all the horse trailers up and down the crick hitched up and ready to roll. It would take roughly an hour round trip, catching, loading, driving, unloading, driving back. It would take 2 loads with all four trailers = roughly 2 hours. (And we wouldn't shave it that closely!)

behind Murphy

When we got the news that Karen was on standby to evacuate yesterday evening, Regina and I drove to Murphy. The fire and smoke was boggling - I mean, I've ridden out there; I know some of that country. And now it's burned!? And when you saw how long the line of fire and smoke was, and understood how huge this fire is, like 40 miles long and 30 miles wide - and you realized Murphy is just one small corner of this fire - it's almost incomprehensible. Fortunately, so far, no loss of human life, but it's sad to think of all the ranchers' cattle, and the wild horses in the fire's path.

A large contingency of firefighters were re-grouping at Murphy at sunset. Despite the 'cold front' predicted to blow in with strong north winds (in our direction) overnight, Murphy was not under evacuation orders, and fire crews seemed to think they could halt southern expansion.

looking back at Murphy from the other side

Around 11 PM, the wind kicked up here at home, the acrid smoke blew in, the temperatures took a dive, and the wind kept up howling much of the night. Not much sleep was had. (Nor the night before, as a lightning storm moved through to the east of us).

By morning, we were socked in with smoke. My lungs hurt from breathing it all night.

This morning's sunrise over Bates Creek

Inciweb had not been updated, so we drove back out to Murphy this morning. They're socked in with smoke too, but it appeared the fire line had indeed held, and we saw bulldozers and a plane out there working, and fire trucks headed out various roads toward the mountains where the heavy smoke was. So even with a strong north wind today, and the fire up to 277,000 acres (and only 15% contained), we're still in a safe spot, even with the closest moving fire edge 12-14 miles away as the Raven flies.

night view from west of Murphy… blurry from hand-held telephoto

It is somewhat maddening in this day and age of technology not to get updates (as of 2 PM, Inciweb said it was current, but the fire map had not been updated, and the news updates are old), but even more so for those nearest the fire and on the edge of evacuating.

We've been offered help in the form of trailers, help moving and driving, and places to board horses by so many people, and for that we are grateful. Now - we just sit and wait.

smoky day up the crick. eyes and lungs burn just standing or sitting around! good day not to ride

Here's a slideshow of pix from last night:

or a link to the album.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Owyhee's On Fire

Wednesday August 12 2015

First a flash flood; now a fire.

Those aren't pretty fluffy clouds that turn into dragons or pigs or wizards.

Those are smoke clouds, bubbling up from the Soda fire raging in Owyhee County, the closest edge of the fire being 20-25 miles away from us as the Raven flies.

Lightning is expected to have ignited the fire on Monday along the Oregon/Owyhee county Idaho border, and in the last 24 hours, with gnarly winds buffeting the fire across drought-dry, cheatgrass-rich desert and grazing lands, the fire has quickly exploded in all directions, covering over 200,000 acres now (it was 100,000 yesterday!). At one point it grew 1.5 miles in 8 minutes.

As anxious Owyhee-uns (and Oregoni-uns) are keeping an eye on its progress, social media is buzzing and chattering with offers of horse trailers, and places to evacuate horses if necessary.

We are directly east of the lower edge of the fire (in fact slightly to the south), and with hot temperatures and wind forecast for the next couple of days (which is what helped the fire explode rapidly), I'm watching that forecast every hour. For the fire to spread here though, wind would have to come from the north at some point; but so far, winds are predicted to shift between southeast and southwest, up to 15 mph. Lucky for us, but not so much for those to the north, east and west of the fire.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Owyhee Flash Flood!

Wednesday August 5 2015

I did not like the looks of the glowering dark blue storm cloud that was headed this way. It had to be heavy with lightning, and if it was, I prayed it would also drop some rain.

As it moved closer, menacing thunder rumbled - loud enough for me to hear. I saw a ground bolt or two over the ridge, saw sheet flashes and whirling sky bolts. And then began the lovely sound of raindrops. Which became a steady drum, and quickly a pounding rain - faster and harder, the wild torrent plummeted until a level of awe was reached and surpassed. It thundered raindrops, a curtain of water, a cataract from the heavens. The clouds turned from a deep blue to white, as the water roared down from the sky. And when it could not have possibly rained any heavier - it did rain harder!

The only other time I have witnessed such an astonishingly hard downpour was in Malaysia, but I was indoors for that one. I had to get out in this desert monsoonal rainstorm. So I did. Cold, pounding, amazing, gorgeous desert rain! I was soaked in a second, cold in two. I splashed through the downpour, sloshed through the new river flowing down the driveway over the creek - then jumped up on the house porch when lightning and thunder cracked pretty closely, and I stood dripping and shivering, gaping in utter amazement from the porch as the rain continued thundering down. The mountains had disappeared behind a curtain of water. The arena was under water. Everything was under water.

still pouring, even as the sun is chasing the rainstorm away

For some thirty minutes, the battering rain hurtled downward and flooded, then it finally eased off as the cloud moved northward. I squelched out into the arena, which was running off heavily into Pickett Crick - which had been completely dry for the last week. Turbulent water and silt gushed into it from both sides, and the crick churned and boiled brown as it rowdily cascaded downstream.

The sun came out, and the horses started to do what they usually do after a rain - they started to paw and then roll. But they were a little uneasy. Only one horse at a time would roll, then he'd stand and stare up Pickett Crick canyon. A great deal of water was rushing noisily down, making noises the horses hadn't heard before.

Batman is on alert, looking up the canyon. That's the receding rainstorm behind him

Jose is looking up-canyon, on high alert!

But there was something else. They started milling together in a tight circle, turning and stopping to stare up-canyon. One or two of them would give the big loud Deer Snort Warning, then whirl around to bolt away, sending the herd in a tight flight up a hill then spinning back together in a tight uneasy circle, charging back down the hill, swirling and stopping, staring with heads high, ears pricked forward.


bolting away

sprinting back

staring, snorting, agitated!

And then it came: rumbling, crackling, a slow-moving thing making its way down Bates Crick behind the horses, shoving everything not anchored deep out of its way: a flash flood! It arrived 30 minutes after the downpour had stopped. The horses ran away in terror to the far end of the pasture. I didn't run away from the flash flood, I ran towards it, a must-see magnificent spectacle.

Tree branches and debris shoved up against the driveway and the two drainage pipes were quickly overwhelmed, and the water shoved up and over the driveway. (Steph got this awesome video of it! - posted here on Facebook)

I was in utter awe, sloshing through very cold water (at safe spots), taking pictures and videos. The water rolled over the driveway like a wave; and a spilling roar of white-water (brown, actually) followed, cascading like class five rapids back down into the creek. It tore out a chunk of the driveway, and took part of a pipe fencing down as easily if it had been string.
Bates Crick was just 12 inches wide an hour earlier

It roared along, joining high-flowing Pickett Crick, and continued tearing on down-canyon. Bates Crick, which just had a light flow that you could step over an hour earlier, was now 4 feet deep, 15 feet wide at places, scouring everything in its way - Mother Nature's way of cleaning out her plumbing system.

Bates Crick, scoured clean of underbrush and tree parts! you can see how high the water rose (clear to the right edge of the picture). note how brown the water still is, an hour later!

After another half hour, the rushing water subsided, and some of the flooded areas had drained off back into the creeks, leaving behind a thick slimy muddy clay that sucked your shoes off. Sand-foam was left behind in places, such as where high water got caught and churned around in sagebrush before finding its way downhill.

Quail were out soon after, happily chirping away, in search of newly stunned and exposed bugs and worms.

The horses, meanwhile, were still on higher ground at a safe corner of the fence - and there they stayed until the next morning. Days later, the herd still doesn't want anything to do with Pickett Crick, even though it didn't get the flash flood, only high water. They probably won't cross it on their own for another 3 months!

on high ground, not budging for the next 12 hours!

It was a treat and a blessing to witness this rare, violent, awesome act of nature. As a neighbor Matt aptly said, "I love it when nature grabs us and gives us a shake - as long as we're safe!"

*This was particularly thrilling to be a part of, since I missed out on the last flash flood 3 years ago. I saw the cloud that hit, but I was on my way to City of Rocks!
Here are five videos I posted on Youtube of the flash flood: