A Special Auction

Amishman & Son

My favorite day of the year is always the Third Saturday of September: Auction Day! On this day, every year for the past 24 years, the Amish and Mennonite communities of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania have held a spectacular benefit auction for my parents’ non-profit medical clinic, the Clinic For Special Children.

The Clinic For Special Children was founded in 1989 by my parents, Holmes and Caroline Morton, to care for Amish and Mennonite children with rare genetic disorders. When I was seven years old, the Clinic’s traditional post and beam building was built by volunteers in the style and spirit of an Amish barn raising well off a country road, on the edge of a donated cornfield, in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Home sweet home: Strasburg, Pennsylvania

Most of my childhood was spent at the Clinic, playing in the lab, in the halls, in the surrounding fields and woods. Throughout college, I worked in the Clinic’s busy lab, running a gene sequencer, searching for the elusive single point gene mutations underlying the rare genetic diseases that affect the Plain people.

The Amish are especially susceptible to genetic disorders because of their small gene pool. Everybody in the modern Amish community is descended from a dozen couples that first came to America from northern Europe in the 1700’s. In genetics, this is known as a population bottleneck. The common misconception is that inbreeding is the cause, but in such a limited gene pool, even if two people aren’t first cousins (a union frowned upon in the Amish church) they are still genetically very closely related, greatly increasing the chances that carriers of rare, recessive gene mutations will meet, marry and have children.

Mennonite girls & miniature ponies

To date, the Clinic has defined 108 different genetic disorders within the Amish and Mennonite communities. Most of these disorders are also found the general population, whom the Amish call “the English,” but at a much lower frequency. For example, one recessive metabolic disorder known as glutaric aciduria occurs in 1 in 200,000 “English” births; in the Amish it’s 1 in 200.

Some people see a stark contrast between modern medicine and Plain culture and I can attest that running a gene sequencer while watching our neighbor plow his field with a team of mules outside my window was a surreal experience. But the Clinic exists because of the Plain people and their beliefs, not in spite of them. The Amish are practical people who demand practical medicine and the Clinic specializes in delivering cutting edge, efficient, personalized, affordable medicine. The Clinic is a microcosm of what healthcare can be and should be.

Horse & Buggies

Clinic costs are extremely low because almost everything is done in house: genetic testing, ultrasounds, electrocardiograms, amino acid levels, blood and urine tests. A third of the Clinic’s budget comes from modest patient fees, a third from donations and a third from the auction.

The Amish self-insure through a program they call “Amish Aid”. Families pay bills out of pocket, in cash. When a sick child has to be admitted to a major medical hospital and the family cannot cover the bill, a collection plate is passed around at church and every family donates as much as they can.

Blue Bonnet Girls

The annual benefit auction is an astonishing community-wide version of Amish-Aid. Everything is donated: handmade quilts, farm equipment, furniture, toys, ponies, buggies and harnesses, food, services; there are too many items to list. The sheer scale of the auction is probably best conveyed in the amount of food: in 2010, 15,000 donuts, 3,000 pounds of BBQ chicken, 2,3000 subs, and 500 gallons of ice cream all sold out before 2 o’clock. In this one incredible day, tens of thousands of Plain people and English supporters turn out and raise a third of the Clinic’s annual operating budget. This is community supported medicine at its best.

Amish boys & auction quilt

This will be my 23rd auction; I’ve lived all over the country and have only ever missed one. No matter where I am, I always come home to witness this outpouring of support for my parents’ work. For my family, this day is much more important than Christmas.

My parents have given so much of themselves to the Clinic. Every year on auction day the community gives back. Because of this day, thousands of children have suffered less and led longer and more fulfilling lives. My parents are heroes of medicine and on this day, as every other, I am tremendously proud of them.

Dr. Morton’s speech at last year’s auction

Click here to read more about the Clinic and here to see more photos from last year’s auction. My booklet, Plain Genetics, about genomic medicine at the Clinic can be purchased here. All proceeds go to the Clinic. The auction will be held this Saturday 9/20 from 8 to 4 at the Leola Produce Auction grounds in Leola, Pennsylvania. Donations to the Clinic can be made at www.clinicforspecialchildren.org.

Posted in Photography, Science Writing, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

My 500th Post!

"Cirque Dreams" by Craig Muderlak

Up front: “Cirque Dreams” a  print of an ink and watercolor portrait of the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming’s Wild River Range by Craig Muderlak

Drum roll, please… this is my 500th post on the Blonde Coyote! A look back at my very first post from June 2011:

Until very recently, I resisted starting a blog. I already make my living at the keyboard as a freelance science and travel writer and I didn’t want to commit to spending any more of my time staring at a computer screen. But lately, friends have been asking me for travel tips, especially road tripping advice and since I’ve been living on the road for the past six years, I have a lot to share.

Traveling is more than a hobby for me; it’s a way of life. Everything I own, including my two dogs, fits neatly in my car and I am ready to pack up and hit the road anywhere at anytime. In the past six years my dogs and I have crossed the country ten times, taken countless regional road trips, hiked thousands of miles in the lower 48 states and lived in nine states on both coasts: PA, OR, MD, VA, NM, MT, MI, WV, and ME. I have seen a lot of the world and have no plans to settle down any time soon.

I know not everybody is willing or able to convert to full time vagabonding, but traveling doesn’t have to be exotic or expensive. All you really need is time and a good pair of shoes. I would love for my friends to see more of the world, whether they are exploring their own home towns, a neighboring state, crossing the country or heading overseas. Stay tuned to The Blonde Coyote for travel tips, updates from my adventures on the road and lots more!

A new form of transport for the Teardrop: the Rattler's first ferry boat ride out of the Olympic Peninsula!

A new form of transport for the Teardrop: the Rattler’s first ferry boat ride out to the Olympic Peninsula!

Now, just over three years later, the intent of the Blonde Coyote has remained the same but my own mode of travel has evolved quite a bit. I bought my rolling home on the road in March 2012, as a 30th birthday present to myself. After living out of my car between housesitting gigs for six years, I was craving some personal space but I wasn’t willing to settle down in one place. The trailer has given me exactly that and after my third summer living in it, I have it decorated just so with an eclectic mix of micro-art and mementos from my journey. In celebration of my 500th post, I thought you all might enjoy seeing some updated pix of my dream home on the road.

My work station, where I write most of my posts, surrounded by some of my favorite images and an original painting by my sister.

My work station, where I write most of my posts, surrounded by some of my favorite images and an original painting by my sister.

The painting at lower left was sent to me by a reader who based it off one of my photos of Mount Elbert. The drawing above the window

The painting at lower left was sent to me by a reader who based it off one of my photos of Mount Elbert. Other mementos from Key West, the Rio Grande Gorge, Vedauwoo, Wyoming and the Grand Canyon.

The best Art of all, out the door

The best Art of all…out the door

Stay tuned for 500 more posts! :)

Posted in Appalachian Trail, Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 17 Comments

Oregon Cascades: Mount Thielsen!

Mount Thielsen

Mount Thielsen at first light

For a few years now, I’ve been calling the Pedernal in New Mexico my favorite mountain. The seemingly insurmountable flat-topped peak, made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe, was one of the first big mountains I onsighted and soloed. I first saw it in one of O’Keeffe’s paintings and said “I want to go up there” and then I drove up to northern New Mexico on my 27th birthday and climbed it. Now I might have a new favorite: Mount Thielsen in the Oregon Cascades!

Selfie with Mount Thielsen. I want to go up there! Three hours later, I was standing on the spire.

Selfie with Mount Thielsen. I want to go up there! Three hours later, I was standing on the spire.

I first saw Thielsen in 2005 on my very first road trip from Pennsylvania to Oregon. The spire is visible from Crater Lake but I’m sure it did not occur to me at the time that I might be able to go up there. In the 9 years since that first road trip, I have evolved from a woman who looks up at the mountains to one who climbs them.

The approach followed a moderately steep trail for 3 miles until it crossed over the Pacific Crest Trail and then followed a ridge up class 2 and 3 talus to the class 4 spire.

The approach followed a moderately steep trail for 3 miles until it crossed over the Pacific Crest Trail and then followed a ridge up class 2 and 3 talus to the class 4 summit spire. The trail runs up to the right of that tree around the right side of the hunk of rock.

Even now, with several years of mountaineering experience under my belt, I didn’t believe I could climb Thielsen until I was actually standing on top of it. That crazy witches hat of a peak is even more intimidating in person! But I’ve learned over the years how to draw power from a mountain, to let it reel me in, pulling me upwards and onwards until there’s no more up to go.

Dio negotiating the class 3 scramble to the summit spire. Diamond Lake and Mount Bailey in the background.

Dio negotiating the class 3 scramble to the summit spire. Diamond Lake and Mount Bailey in the background.

Dio just below Chicken Ledge, where the trail goes from steep class 3 to vertical class 4.

Dio just below Chicken Ledge, where the trail goes from steep class 3 to vertical class 4. I poured out some water for him and laid down my jacket and he waited for me at the base of the spire.  We were the first ones on the trail and the first up the mountain.

Selfie at the base of the summit spire

Selfie at the base of the summit spire. Easy climbing over an exposed, x-rated drop.

The Top!

Self portrait with Norman Thomas just below the top!

USGS marker on the summit

USGS marker on the summit, placed in 1955

Fulgerites aka petrified lightning on the summit spire. Thielsen is nicknamed the Lightning Rod of the Cascades. Glad I was up here on a clear day!

Fulgerites aka petrified lightning on the summit spire. Thielsen is nicknamed the Lightning Rod of the Cascades. Glad I was up here on a clear day!

The sheer 2,000 foot drop down to the Lathrop Glacier

The sheer 2,000 foot drop down to what’s left of the Lathrop Glacier

Self portrait with Diamond Lake

Self portrait with Diamond Lake and Mount Bailey

Hello Crater Lake! On clear days, supposedly uou can see down into the supernaturally blue waters , but there was too much smoke this day.

Hello Crater Lake! On clear days, supposedly you can see down into the supernaturally blue waters from the summit of Thielsen , but there was too much smoke from fires burning in northern CA.

After a month in Oregon, I’m remembering why I ended up living here for a year and a half. I love this state! I’m due in Washington to pick up a friend at the airport for a few days in the Olympics! Stay tuned…

Before heading north, I ran down the steep Cleetwood Cove trail to touch the blue waters of Crater Lake.

Walking on water over one of the Earth’s greatest cataclysms. Before heading north, I ran down the steep Cleetwood Cove trail to touch the blue waters of Crater Lake.

For more on Crater Lake, check out the Travels in Geology feature I wrote for EARTH magazine on Oregon’s only National Park.

 

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Mortons At Mary’s Peak

Sisters I

Sisters

My brother, sister and I are all pretty scattered. Sarah lives in Germany, Paul has been in California but is moving to NYC and I’m all over the place. Still, we’re close – we all make our living as freelance artists, a bonding lifestyle to say the least – and every now and then we make an effort to meet up in the same place at the same time. Recently, Sarah and her husband Nik flew into San Francisco and drove north with Paul to Oregon, where we rendezvoused at my aunt and uncle’s farm in Philomath for a few days.

Siblings at Work: Paul playing, Sarah sketching, me documenting

Siblings at Work: Paul playing, Sarah sketching, me documenting

We were together on our parents’ 35th wedding anniversary and since they couldn’t make the trip West, we kids headed up Mary’s Peak in the Oregon Coast Range – one of my all time favorite hikes – and took some photos to send them to celebrate the day. Thanks to Nik for the shots with me in them!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARead about some of our previous family rendezvous in San FranciscoGermany and Scotland and check out Sarah’s art here. Paul’s about to move to NYC to start the Historical Performance program at Juilliard! Thanks, as always, to our amazing parents who have always encouraged our pursuits of the arts in every way possible. Much family Love!

 

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Supermoon, Supertide

Good morning, Cape Perpetua!

Good morning, Cape Perpetua!

Overlooking the tide pools at Cape Perpetua

Overlooking the tide pools at Cape Perpetua

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Karen at the Ends of the Earth

Tide Pool D.O.G.

Tide Pool D.O.G.

Starfish Party

Starfish Party

Drama

Seastar

Huge mussels

Huge Mussels!

Anemone Pool

Anemone Pool

Anemone Self Portrait

Anemone Self Portrait

Sand & Fog

Sand & Fog

Scattered Light

Scattered Light

Rays

Ring of Bright Water

Seaweed Palms

Seaweed Palms

Superlow tide at Cook's Chasm

Superlow tide at Cook’s Chasm

Seaspray Salt

Seaspray Salt

Seaweed

Seaweed

Bridge over Cook's Chasm

Bridge over Cook’s Chasm

Dio on the Edge

Dio on the Edge

Psychedelic Anenome

Psychedelic Anemone*

Urchin

Urchin*

Slug

Slug*

* These last three shots were taken in the touch me tide pools at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon.

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

The Oregon Cascades: South Sister!

Middle Sister and North Sister volcanoes from the summit of South Sister

Middle Sister and North Sister volcanoes from the summit of South Sister

The first really big mountain I ever summited was a stratovolcano – Ecuador’s 19,347-foot Cotopaxi – and I’ve had a thing for climbing them ever since. Stratovolcanoes boast the classic volcanic profile – a lone, cone-shaped summit, usually snowcapped. Some of the world’s most famous and dangerous volcanoes are stratos including Mount Fuji, Kilimanjaro, Rainier and Mount Saint Helens.

Getting closer...

The approach to South Sister, Oregon’s third highest mountain after Hood and Jefferson

Climbing stratovolcanoes is steep and relentless. The rock is loose, crumbly and dusty and as the slope gets steeper near the top, you slide dishearteningly back down with each upwards step. It’s grueling work but totally worth it for the view: the summit is almost always visible, the route up straightforward, seldom hidden behind trees or jagged shoulders of rock. Looking up at an seemingly impossible objective all day is both intimidating and empowering. It’s always hard to believe you’ll be standing on top until you’re up there and then you realize you’re only halfway home.

Yep, that's the trail

Yep, that’s the trail

First snowfield

Steep snowfield

Oregon’s Cascade volcanoes are all stratovolcanoes, but until just recently, I had never climbed any of them. After a delightful layover in Bend with a couple of Blonde Coyote readers who offered to host me for the weekend (thanks Talia and Duncan!), I headed to the foot of the Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters are three 10,000-foot stratovolcanoes clustered together just west of Bend. The Middle and North Sisters require some technical climbing, but the tallest, South Sister is simply a class 2/3 slog: 12.5 miles out and back up 5,000 feet of elevation to 10,358-feet. South Sister is the easiest of the Cascades: Class 2 and 3 calls for lots of scree scrambling up loose rock, but no vertical climbing.

Lewis Lake at the foot of Lewis Glacier. The trail runs along the left ridge, but the summit isn't visible here. It's on the other side of the caldera.

Lewis Lake at the foot of Lewis Glacier. The trail runs along the left ridge at the edge of the snowline, but the summit isn’t visible here. It’s on the other side of the caldera.

The final climb over red rhyolite- very crumbly rock

The final climb over red rhyolite- very crumbly rock. You can see the trail angling up to the left.

Almost up! Me & Dio on the edge of the caldera

Almost up! Me & Dio on the edge of the caldera

Dio celebrating with Mount Bachelor in the background

Dio celebrating with Mount Bachelor in the background

Final snowfield to the top!

Crossing the final snowfield to the top!

Looking down at the caldera from the summit

Looking down at the caldera from the summit. Those are two tiny hikers cutting across the snowfield. Teardrop Lake, the highest lake in Oregon, is hidden at the foot of the brown patch on the right.

South Sister Summit D.O.G.

South Sister Summit D.O.G.

 

Me & Dio on the summit, taken by fellow summiteer

Me & Dio on the summit, taken by fellow summiteer

Following Joe down the mountain

Skiing down loose cree on the descent. Lewis Lake below with Devil’s Lake and Mount Bachelor in the distance.

Climbing in the Cascades just gets steeper, longer and more technical from here. I’m game for a few more though! Next up: Mount Thielsen!

Leaving Bend, the Rover hit 200,000! It's officially prehistoric! :)

Leaving Bend, the Rover hit 200,000! It’s officially prehistoric! :)

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Ask the Blonde Coyote: Tips For Traveling With Dogs

Dio on the summit of South Sister in Oregon, Mount Bachelor and Devils Lake in the background

Dio on the summit of South Sister in Oregon, Mount Bachelor and Devils Lake in the background

I’ve been getting so many lovely, thoughtful, inquisitive emails from people and I’m sorry to say it’s become impossible for me to answer all of them. Most of you want to hit the road – for a long weekend, for a few weeks or months and some of you want to go full nomad. I’d love to help each and every one of you set yourselves free, but if I spent that much time at the keyboard answering emails, I wouldn’t be living the kind of life I want to be living. Selfish, yes, but therein lies part of the secret to my free living success. My solution to this ridiculously flattering conundrum is to start answering some of these queries on the Blonde Coyote:

You obviously have a great time traveling with your dogs but I’m wondering whether you ever feel like they slow you down or limit the places you can go. 

My dogs on Comb Ridge in Utah

My dogs on Comb Ridge in Utah

In some ways, traveling with dogs can be a pain – national parks don’t allow dogs and summer can be a very challenging time to be on the road with an animal – but dogs really are the best travel companions: they’ll go anywhere at anytime with no questions or complaints and they always say yes, to everything. My travels really began when I adopted Bowie and started taking him for long walks everyday. And then right when Bowie and I were starting to get a little bit lazy, the universe sent us a wild rez puppy to keep us on our toes. Quite simply, I would not be the traveler that I am if I didn’t have dogs in my life.

Bowie’s now 11 and while he’s in excellent shape and spirits for his age, he just isn’t up for long hikes anymore. His limits have been cramping my style this summer – I so wanted to go backpacking in the Wind River range! – but he’s been my constant companion for a decade and the least I can do is give him a graceful retirement. As a compromise, I’ve been taking Bowie on easy walks in the cool mornings and evenings and leaving him in the trailer while Dio and I set off on epic double digit day hikes.

Bowie's seen it all and he's pretty happy to chill out in the trailer.

Bowie’s seen it all and these days, he’s pretty happy just to chill out in the trailer.

Even though he’s slowing me down, I hope I will have many more years of traveling with Bowie. I know losing him will be wrenching, but I’ll find solace in knowing we’ve been everywhere (he’s been hiking in 49 states! all but Hawaii) and done everything together. He’s had the bets possible life for a dog and I’m a better person and a more worldly person having traveled with him.

Bowie photobombing me at the Grand Canyon of the San Rafael

Bowie photobombing me at the Grand Canyon of the San Rafael

Hi,  I just bought a teardrop this summer and am planning a trip to Utah in October and want to take my dog.  I know dogs can’t hike in the national parks and not sure how to go about it.  I have a well behaved dog that waits in my car when I ski in the winter and loves being with me.  My trailer is a used ’09 with an old fan system in the cabinets. I thought about putting a new one in the roof to keep it cooler in the teardrop. Do you have any ideas and suggestions to my situation and how to go about it. I know she would love to be with me!

You should definitely take your dog to Utah with you! In October the weather should be cooling down enough that you can leave her in the trailer in the mornings and evenings for national park hikes. Also keep in mind there is a TON of non-National park hiking in Utah where your dog will be welcome on trails. I’ve been traveling in Utah just about every spring and fall for years and I’m still discovering incredible new places, many dog-friendly.

Corona Arch is a dog-friendly hike near Moab, outside of Arches National Park

Corona Arch is a dog-friendly hike near Moab, outside of Arches National Park

I’m not sure how well ventilated your trailer is, but mine stays cool  inside even on hot days. It’s insulated and I have a pop-up on the roof that provides great ventilation. I have a battery powered fan that I often leave on for the dogs to keep the air circulating and I always leave them plenty of water in the trailer. I feel good about leaving my dogs in the trailer for a few hours while I hike and they don’t seem to mind. I usually leave a note on the door saying my dogs are cool and comfy in their rolling dog house with my phone number and the number of a trusted friend, just in case somebody gets concerned about them (or something happens to me while I’m gone), but I’ve never had any problems with it.

My rolling dog house at the Tetons

My rolling dog house at the Tetons

In August, my cousin and I will be leaving to go on a (at least) 6 month roadtrip around the US and I’m wondering what do you feed your dogs?  I’ll have my 6 year old lab mix with me, and when I’ve taken her on trips in the past, I’ve just fed her the normal, store-bought stuff.  However, I’m worried that, for the long-haul, it might be a bit much to have a 25 lb bag in the trunk.  Any suggestions?

I feed my dogs Iams because it’s affordable and reasonably healthy (I am aware there are lots of options out there) but I mainly feed Iams because I can find it everywhere and I like to keep their diet consistent. I’ve only once not been able to find it – when I was in the Yukon – and they had to settle for Kibbles and Bits, which they loved, like kids love Lucky Charms. I buy a 15 pound bag about every 2 weeks and keep it in a plastic bin on the back floorboards of the Rover. The top of the bin lines up with the edge of the seats, giving them a few extra inches of room to spread out. I also give Bowie glucosamine/ chondroitin supplements that I buy from Trader Joe’s, which has the best price for the dosage. One bottle ($10) lasts about a month so I usually buy a couple anytime I’m in a major city with a TJ’s.

Bowie's preferred diet: dead things

Bowie’s preferred diet.

I understand if you are too busy to answer this, but my wife and I are planning a camping trip to New Mexico from our home north of Seattle bringing our dog. I never had a dog in New Mexico–although I lived there many years. I am concerned about several things:

1. Ticks–I read about a man who had over a hundred ticks on his dog after a hike in eastern Washington and the CDC website has a huge list of tick-borne diseases. I am planning on getting a tick collar from our vet–she says the kind she recommends is safe for dogs and humans–unlike some flea collars which aren’t.

At certain times in certain places, ticks have been a huge problem and both my dogs have tested positive for lyme disease. Bowie is also allergic to fleas. A couple of summers ago, after a long day hike through tall grass on the Lost Coast of California, I pulled hundreds of ticks off both dogs. It was disgusting. Topical flea and tick treatments like Frontline and Advantage have never really worked for us. I’m not sure if it’s because both my dogs are so furry or if it’s because they like to swim a lot but in the places I’ve lived where ticks are common (especially Virginia and Maine) it never seemed to make a difference whether they were on tick preventative or not. If I’m going to put ridiculously expensive poison on my dogs, it better work, so I don’t do it unless we’re having an outbreak.

Tall grass is tick territory

Tall grass is tick territory

Because both my dogs have long, black fur, manually checking for ticks is a task, but one that I’m pretty diligent about. Being on the move seems to help a lot: I haven’t found a single flea or tick all summer this year and I’m hoping it stays that way. My advice: check your dog manually for ticks every evening and know the symptoms of tick-born diseases, especially lyme.

Bowie recovered from his bout with lyme very well. I got him checked (summer 2009) because he was acting lethargic and unenthusiastic and seemed to have some mysterious soreness and sure enough his test came back positive for lyme. After a few days on antibiotics he was back to his bouncy self and has been healthy ever since. Dio never showed any symptoms of lyme but I had him tested when I was in Maine (winter 2010) and it came back positive so we put him on a course of antibiotics. A former starving rez dog, he’s as tough as they come and he’s never had an off day in his life.

Dio on the summit of South Sister, ready to keep on hiking down the other side

Dio on the summit of South Sister, ready to keep on hiking down the other side and up the next volcano.

2. Heat. I remember many days over a 100 degrees in Albuquerque. I survived many years there driving ’64 Volvo with no air conditioning. But I have read that dogs begin to suffer the effects of heat when it gets over 80 to 85 degrees. Although our truck has air conditioning, obviously we can’t keep the dog that cool all the time. We are planning on giving him a haircut.

Heat is always a major issue for us. My big black furry dog Bowie has zero tolerance for heat. He always needs access to shade and lots of water, even on mild days. Dio, on the other hand, will lay out on a hot day and sun bathe. The best way I’ve found to cope with heat is to schedule our day around the hottest hours. In the summers, we’re active in the mornings and evenings and during the heat of the day we’re either driving or hanging out in the shade. I also tend to go north in the summer and gain altitude. Winters are for deserts, summers are for mountains.

I always carry at least a gallon of water per dog, per day and I keep a tupperware container of water in the back of the Rover for them at all times. On bumpy roads, I snap on the lid but otherwise it’s always available to them. A windshield screen can make a huge difference in the inside temperature of your car, as can tinted windows. My dogs are trained not to get out of the car unless I tell them to (which you should definitely plan on teaching your dog before you travel so they don’t bolt and get lost or hurt) so if it’s hot, I often leave all the windows all the way down for them while I run inside a store. Dio is very protective of my stuff so I don’t worry about people stealing things out of my car. Obviously, it should go without saying that you should never leave your dog trapped in a car on a hot day. This has been one of the biggest benefits of traveling with the trailer; it doesn’t get hot the way the car does. If you don’t have your very own insulated rolling dog house, you can also seek out parking garages. Parking in the shade helps, but keep in mind, shade moves!

Winter in the desert

Winter in the desert

3. Giardia. I note that your dogs drink from streams with no apparent ill effect. A long time ago on a hike in the Sandias, I drank directly from a stream and lived to tell about it. But everywhere one reads of the risk to humans and animals of Giardia. Having had dogs in the past (but not in New Mexico), I know that they love to jump in the water and probably end up drinking it as well.

My dogs drink out of streams and puddles all the time and have never gotten giardia or any other water-borne illness. Once on a backpacking trip in Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks my friend Sarah’s little dog Oliver started having bloody diarrhea and we carried him out and got him to an emergency vet who diagnosed the dreaded giardia. A course of antibiotics and some fluids fixed him up and he was fine. My dogs had been drinking the same water but never showed any symptoms. I’m sure their sheer size helped as they both significantly outweigh 12-pound Oliver. I try to keep them out of stagnant puddles or obviously polluted streams, but their immune systems seem to deal with most water sources just fine.

With Sarah and Oliver on the summit of Mount Yale

With Sarah and Oliver on the summit of Mount Yale

How do you handle vet issues when you’re traveling with your dogs

Overall, both my dogs have both been very healthy and accident-free, but I’ve had to seek out new vets a few times while I’m on the road for various illnesses and accidents. I keep copies of their records in my car and the trailer and it’s not usually a problem to find a vet who will take on a new client. Thankfully, I’ve never had to take my dogs to an emergency vet clinic. Only once has a vet given me a hard time about traveling with my dogs: I had them checked in Oregon just before crossing into Canada and the vet was very discouraging about the border crossing and even suggested I was a bad pet owner to be dragging them all over the place with me. I shrugged her off (I don’t dwell on the opinions of negative people) and had no problems at the border entering Canada or coming back into the US (they’ve never even asked me for any papers on any of my six border crossings in and out of Canada).

Dio on Mount Rundle near  Banff

Dio on Mount Rundle near Banff

My best vet resource on the road is a woman in Madrid, New Mexico (where I often spend winters) who runs her own independent vet practice out of her home. Unlike the Oregon vet, Nan is very encouraging about traveling with dogs and she helped me put together a first aid kit with bandages and a few medications like emergency pain meds and antibiotics. I carry a book on emergency first aid for dogs and I’ve doctored them myself a few times and Nan has told me to call her anytime with problems or questions.

Ok, that’s enough for now – after traveling with dogs for nine years, through 49 states and most of Canada, I could write a whole book about it: Travels With Bowie & D.O.G.! If you have any more questions about traveling with dogs, or just traveling in general, email me at theblondecoyote@gmail.com.

Posted in Beyond the USA, Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 5 Comments

The Steens Mountains: A Round Barn & U-Shaped Gorges

The Peter French Round Barn

The Peter French Round Barn

Having grown up around horses and in Amish country, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful barns in my life, but this round barn in southeast Oregon, built in 1880 to train and exercise horses through the winter, just might take the cake. I stumbled upon this place on my way into the Steens Mountains south of Burns, an unusual glacially-carved basalt landscape that I’ve long wanted to visit.

The round barn is essentially a covered round pen with an inner and an outer ring. Round arenas are best for training young horses as it keeps them moving forward.

The round barn is essentially a covered round pen with an inner ring and an outer track.

The inner circle

The inner circle

The center post is a huge juniper tree that was carted in from 40 miles way. Trees don't grow this tall and straight around here.

The center post is a huge juniper tree that was carted in from 60 miles way. Trees don’t grow this tall and straight around here.

Notice the nest in the middle

Notice the nest in the middle

Beautiful beams

Beautiful beams. This place was built to last. The Round Barn is no longer in use, but it’s preserved as a historical building in the National Register of Historic Places.

Windows encircle the inner ring, bringing light and ventilation into the arena.

Windows encircle the inner ring, bringing light and ventilation into the arena.

The inner ring is built out of basalt, very common in this region.

The inner ring is built out of volcanic basalt, very common in this region.

Gathering storm

Gathering storm

Eyes peeled! I'm back in rattler country!

Eyes peeled! I’m back in rattler country!

The Rattler & the Round Barn

The Rattler & the Round Barn

Rovering in the Steens!

Rovering in the Steens past Big Indian Gorge. I left the Rattler at camp to drive the 60-mile Steens loop road.

The terrain in the Steens Mountains is made up of basalt lava flows stacked hundreds of feet thick that erupted between 17 and 14 million years ago in a series of voluminous eruptions. Four massive U-shaped gorges were then carved out of the basalt by glaciers during the last ice age, creating a uniquely beautiful landscape shaped by fire and ice.

A textbook U-shaped glacially-carved valley. River carve V-shaped valleys but glaciers carve U-shapes.

A textbook U-shaped glacially-carved valley. Rivers carve V-shaped valleys but glaciers carve U-shapes.

Behind this sign: Wilderness!

Behind this sign: Wilderness!

One of the U-valleys end on

One of the gorges, end on

The Kiger Gorge

The Kiger Gorge. The notch in the opposite ridge was carved by two glaciers meeting on either side of the ridgeline.

Wild Horse Lake D.O.G. Remains of a glacial lake, left suspended in a hanging valley as the ice retreated.

Wild Horse Lake D.O.G. Remains of a glacial lake, left suspended in a hanging valley as the ice retreated down the canyon on the left.

Hiking up to the summit of Steens Mountain. There's a weather station on top so a rough road goes all the way up.

Hiking up to the summit of Steens Mountain. There’s a weather station on top so a rough road goes all the way up.

Steens Mountain summit marker placed in 1935.

Steens Mountain summit marker placed in 1935.

Unopened can of beer on the summit. Oh Bubba.

Unopened can of beer on the summit. Oh Bubba.

From the summit of Steens Mountain at 9,733 feet. This mountain is a classic fault block where a chunk of the Earth's crust gets uplifted high above the surrounding terrain. The Alvord Desert is just visible on the far right.

From the summit of Steens Mountain at 9,733 feet. This mountain is a classic fault block where a chunk of the Earth’s crust gets uplifted high above the surrounding terrain by tectonic movement. The Alvord Desert is visible on the far right below the steep, rugged east face.

The Steens!

The Steens!

I think it’s about time I climbed one of those Cascade volcanoes! Stay tuned…

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 12 Comments

My Own Private Idaho

Into the Sawtooths!

If this country has a hidden gem it must be Idaho

I have this theory that hiking uphill isn’t any more tiring than hiking on flat ground. Uphill takes a different set of muscles, but once your “ups” are in shape, you should be able to climb as readily as strolling. I’ve been trying to convince myself of this idea for years and after a decade of daily hikes, I’m beginning to believe it. Driving west from the Tetons through Victor and Driggs, I decided to test my theory on Borah Peak, the highest mountain in Idaho and one of the steepest hikes around.

Home sweet home at Borah Peak

Home sweet home at Borah Peak

The trail up Borah Peak gains over 5,300 feet of elevation in under 3.5 miles up to the summit at 12,662 feet. That’s steeeeeeeep! No switchbacks. The narrow, rocky path just arrows straight up the mountain. I camped at the trailhead the night before and got some disappointing beta from a woman coming down the mountain with her golden retriever: the crux at Chicken Out Ridge wasn’t passable to dogs. Having left Dio in the camper for my last big hike at Death Canyon (which is in Tetons National Park, no dogs allowed) I didn’t want to leave him behind again. So I decided to do it anyway, with Dio, and deal with the dog unfriendly obstacle when I got up there. If I couldn’t summit, then oh well, I’d still enjoy the hike.

The way up Borah Peak gains 5,300 feet of elevation in under 3.5 miles. That's steeeeeep!

The way up Borah Peak.

At 4am, I was awoken by a gaggle of boy scouts assembling right outside my trailer, getting ready to head up the mountain. When I got up at 6 another gaggle of women was gathered at the trailhead. Apparently Borah is a popular group hike. The ladies invited me to join them but I declined. I’m not one for hiking in herds. I took Bowie for an easy stroll around the base of the mountain, fed him breakfast, got him settled back in the trailer (he’s not a morning dog and he’s usually more than happy to go back to bed) and Dio and I headed up by 6:30.

Right from the start, the trail was steep and I spent the first half mile visualizing away the dull early morning ache out of my legs, the burn sifting down to my feet and out my soles, leaving an invisible trail of fatigued particles in my wake. My legs felt stronger with every step and soon I was cruising. I’m not really a fast hiker, just a smooth and steady one; I seldom need to rest. The path was so steep that my heels rarely touched the ground, my toes and arches carrying all my weight up the mountain, a precarious position, and yet it felt so good. I soon caught up to the group of women and left them behind, puffing in my wake. Not everybody subscribes to my uphill theory.

Dio chickening out on Chicken Out Ridge

Dio chickening out on Chicken Out Ridge

We passed maybe a dozen straggling boyscouts on the way up the flank of the mountain and then caught the whole troop just below Chicken Out Ridge, a steep, narrow class 3 section just before the final ridge line to the summit. The kids were nervous and the ridge reeked of fear. Dio caught the scent and started fretting and shaking, despite the warming sun. I scouted out the class 3 section above and found it hand-over-foot steep, with deadly drop offs on both sides. I can handle exposure but I wasn’t going to make Dio do it if he didn’t want to. Looking back at him, crouched nervously on a ledge, I said, “Do you want to go down?” and he turned back down the trail, tail wagging in relief, decision made. Dogs don’t get summit fever. To them, the sides of mountains are just as intriguing as the tops.

On our way back down Borah

On our way back down Borah

If the ridge had been quiet, I could have laid down my jacket and poured a bowl of water and told Dio to wait there for me – he’s very used to waiting for me at the bottom of rock walls while I’m climbing – but I wasn’t going to leave him untended with so many people coming up the mountain. So I took a good long look at the final half-mile to the summit, savoring the enticing upward pull and then turned downhill. Once I was safely past the scouts I started skating down the mountain, giving in to gravity, balancing on the outside edges of my heels like a downhill skier, my stabilizers pushed to their limits, my legs strong and sure. Uphill I cruise, downhill I fly.

The Lost River Range from the flank of Borah Peak

The Lost River Range from the flank of Borah Peak

Borah Peak isn’t going anywhere and I’m sure I’ll take another dog-free crack at it someday. Ultimately, I think it was a good exercise for me to turn back from a summit I knew I had in the bag. Dio’s right: To really love the mountains you have to love the sides too, not just the tops.

First look at the Sawtooths coming into Stanley, ID

First look at the Sawtooths coming into Stanley, ID

From Borah I headed west into the Sawtooth Mountains. I camped near Stanley at a sweet free site and took an easy evening stroll with both dogs up Iron Creek to the wilderness boundary. The next morning was drizzly and misty, but I’m a firm believer that there’s no bad weather, only bad gear. I suited up in my raingear and Dio and I hiked up Iron Creek to Sawtooth Lake. I had my eye on Alpine Peak, a class 2-3 scramble, but I wasn’t going to tackle that much loose scree in the rain. Sometimes, in the mountains, you have to be satisfied to just look up at the summits and scheme for another day.

Heading into the Sawtooth Wilderness on the Iron Creek trail

Heading into the Sawtooth Wilderness on the Iron Creek trail

The Sawtooths! I see how they got the name.

The Sawtooths! I see how they got the name.

Spring melt along the trail to Sawtooth Lake

Spring melt along the trail to Sawtooth Lake

Thirsty D.O.G.

Thirsty D.O.G.

Nice backcountry campsite at Sawtooth Lake

Nice backcountry campsite at Sawtooth Lake

All raingeared up! Remember, there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.

All raingeared up! Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. That’s Alpine Peak behind me.

Sawtooth Lake, Alpine Peak & Wildflowers

Sawtooth Lake, Alpine Peak & Wildflowers

Self Portrait at Sawtooth Lake

Sawtooth Self Portrait

On to Oregon!

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 10 Comments

With A Name Like Death Canyon…

With a name like Death Canyon

Death Canyon in the Grand Tetons

Park rangers are one of my favorite resources for hiking tips when I’m on the road. At the Climbing Festival in Lander I met a ranger from the Grand Tetons and asked him to name his favorite hike. Death Canyon, he said, “Don’t let the name scare you away.” So when I rolled back through Jackson after my two week long loop through the Wind Rivers, I parked the dogs in the trailer for the morning and headed up Death Canyon to the Alaskan Basin.

Exactly what you want to see at the start of a hike into Death Canyon. I had my bear spray handy and made plenty of noise as I hiked.

Exactly what you want to see at the start of a hike into Death Canyon.

Oh boy.

Oh boy.

Phelps Lake

Phelps Lake

The trail lost about 1,000 feet of elevation down to Phelps Lake and then began climbing back up into the canyon.

The trail lost about 1,000 feet of elevation down to Phelps Lake and then began climbing back up into the canyon along Fox Creek.

Trail running along a narrow rocky ledge

Trail running along a narrow rocky ledge

Nice Gneiss!

Nice Gneiss!

Gneissic bands underfoot. Formed under high temp and pressure during metamorphosis.

Gneissic bands underfoot. Formed under high temp and pressure during metamorphosis.

Fox Creek

Fox Creek

If I were a moose I'd live here.

If I were a moose I’d live here.

Sure enough, a moose! Most polite moose I've ever seen. She stayed on her side of the river and I stayed on mine.

Sure enough, a moose! Most polite moose I’ve ever seen. She stayed on her side of the river and I stayed on mine.

Another moose! This place is lousy with them.

Another moose! This place is lousy with them.

Old forest service cabin at the junction of the Fox Creek and Alaska Basin trails

Old forest service cabin at the junction of the Fox Creek and Alaska Basin trails

Charming.

Charming. Please Leave No Trace! 

U.S.N.P.S.

U.S.N.P.S.

Death Canyon, indeed. Part of a rock squirrel/ marmot-type creature.

Death Canyon, indeed. Part of a rock squirrel/ marmot-type creature.

The Snag Crag, where a couple of friends of mine were climbing. I tried to find them up on the wall, but couldn't spot them.

The Snaz, where a couple of friends of mine were climbing. I tried to find them up on the wall, but couldn’t spot them. That’s a lotta rock up there.

This guy was upside down on the trail and I assumed dead, but I picked him up and he flapped his wings a bit and dusted himself off and flew away.

This guy was upside down on the trail and I assumed dead, but I picked him up and he flapped his wings a bit and dusted himself off and flew away.

This was my second hike in the Tetons. To see pix from my trek up Casacade Canyon click here. Now, on to Idaho!

Posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 14 Comments