Full Circle D.O.G.

On January 14th, 2009, I pulled my car over on a random desert road and met one of the great loves of my life. From the moment I laid eyes on that shy, skinny, matted puppy, I knew we were destined to see the world together.

In nearly 13 years, D.O.G. aka Dio followed me all over North America, for thousands of miles, up hundreds of summits, across 47 states and Canada, missing only Minnesota, Wisconsin and Hawaii. He went from being a scraggly, half-wild pup to a strikingly handsome coal black chow-wolf who would make soul-searching eye contact with anybody, before backing up into their legs, jonesing for a butt scratch. 

This spring, I sold my house and moved the dogs and myself back into our RV, nomads once again. As it often has over the years, the open road took us through Monument Valley. Of all the times I’ve been back since finding Dio, only once did I stop at the same spot where I found him; he wouldn’t get out of the car, with a look that said, I’m staying with you. This time, I stopped at a random spot, and snapped a photo of a majestic Dio sniffing the winds of his homelands. I posted the picture, alongside the shot I took of the scraggly puppy the day I found him. Little did I know at the time, these would be the first and last photos I ever took of Dio. 

As I drove away, I reached behind me, where Dio always rode within arm’s reach and ran my fingers through his fluffy chow-mix lion’s mane and said, “Thanks for coming with me, D.O.G.” The next day, on our daily walk, Dio was slow but steady and regal as ever. But by the next morning, he was lethargic and unsteady and by the end of the day, had no interest in standing or eating, not even sardines. He didn’t seem to be in distress or pain, just deeply tired. I laid on the ground with him for hours and told him, if you’re ready, I’m ready. The next morning, I took him to the emergency vet in Durango and she agreed that he was on his way to the other side so we set him free. 

In my experience working at a vet hospital in college, old animals don’t fear or fight death and I’ve always been determined to honor their path once they’ve decided to take it. Of course it breaks my heart to say goodbye to my best friends (RIP Bowie) but I know in my heart, just as I knew the moment I saw Dio, that our journey continues. I miss my fluffy dog but I’m also thrilled for him to be free of his tired old body and I feel both him and Bowie running around me on every walk. Their spirits also live on in Vida, who is very happy to have all my attention, although I’m sure she misses her friend too. 

I donated Dio’s throne of dog beds to the dog shelter in Durango, embracing the floor space in my 100 square feet and spent the week in town with friends, waiting for Dio’s ashes to be ready; god bless that dog for leaving me in a place where I am loved. And then me, Vida and Dio’s ashes went backpacking. 

Over the next month, we hiked over 200 miles of the Continental Divide Trail in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. One hundred of those miles were spent solo, on my longest solo backpacking trip yet. I loved every mile of the week-long trip. I relished calling all the shots and setting the pace, which turned out to be closer to 15 miles a day than my usual ten. After 15-years of backpacking, it felt incredible to raise my own bar and then clear it with gusto.

When we got to the Rio Chama outside of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, a raft of riverpeople gifted me the biggest, juiciest slice of watermelon I’ve ever had. After enjoying every bite, I jumped in the river to wash off the mess and then did a yoga session by the river. Afterwards, as I stepped away to pee, a rattlesnake warned me from a pile of rocks not ten feet away from my mat. Vida looked at the rattler, looked at me, and didn’t move from her spot by my backpack, wagging her tail slightly to say, “Yes, I know better”. Dio survived being bitten by a rattlesnake and I swear, he passed his hard-earned snake wisdom onto Vida.

I am blessed by the best dogs, living and spirit. Today would have been Dio’s 13th birthday. Happy Birthday, D.O.G. Thanks for coming with me. Onwards and upwards, forever, my friend!

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My Fairytale Coppertop Cottage

On April 1st, 2019 I bought a house (no foolin’!). Located in the southern Sierra, in a tiny town I’d never heard of, populated by 131 people I’d never met, the place captured my heart immediately. The house wanted me as much as I wanted it. As the realtor fumbled for the keys, I put my hand on the antique latch on the front door, polished by 160 years of thumbs, and found it unlocked. As the door swung open, I knew I was home and said, “I’ll take it” before I even stepped inside. Two years later, I still fall in love all over again every time I walk through the door, but the road is calling and I’ve decided to pass this historic property on to its next caretaker.

Welcome Home
Perfect Light, Perfect Space

The Coppertop Cottage is the oldest house in Glennville, California. It was built in 1860, near the junction of two ancient Indigenous trading routes that run inland into the Sierra and out to the coast. The two bedroom house served as the town library from 1920-1950 and in the 1990’s, it was completely renovated down to the studs with the intention of turning it into a museum and antique emporium. Two of the walls in the front bedroom (which I use as my office and affectionately call “the Ghost Room”) were left partially original to showcase the newspaper wallpaper that dates to the late 1800’s.

Preserved original wallpaper and two signs that used to hang out front.
The bottom sign says Kern County Branch Library 1920-1950.

I added a new copper metal roof to the house, watertower and pumphouse in 2019 and three patios and three raised garden beds in the backyard last spring. Despite its age, the house is not a fixer upper. All the work was done in the 90’s and then the house was only used as a guest house and to display the previous owner’s antiques until I moved in.

I also added this 1940’s antique Wedgewood stove. It’s fully functional and has cooked me two Thanksgiving turkeys!
Backyard showing the deck, three patios, raised garden beds, the two-storey watertower, the pumphouse, shed and barn. And Vida! The backyard is fenced for dogs.

I’ve loved having this place as a basecamp. Sequoia National Forest is a 7-mile drive away and my lovely neighbors are used to seeing me walking my dogs on the quiet country roads and fields around town. The High Sierra is a 2-hour drive away and I’ve gone for many backpacking trips in the Domelands, Golden Trout and Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks, and Sequoia and Inyo National Forests in my two years here. But once a gypsy, always a gypsy it seems. The Road is calling… and I must go!

Long-time readers will recognize my Teardrop trailer the Rattler!

For more photos and info, check out the listing on Zillow. For those of you more interested in my travels than real estate, I’ll be back on the road soon! Stay tuned!

 

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Living in Geologic Time: The New River Gorge: Ancient River, Old Mines, New National Park

The New River from the Endless Wall Trail

Last year, I started a new feature column for Eos magazine called Living in Geologic Time, “a series of personal accounts that highlight the past, present, and future of famous landmarks on geologic timescales.

My latest column features a place very near and dear to my heart: West Virginia’s New River Gorge, which just became our country’s 63rd national park!

My family history runs deep in these New River coal mining towns: The town of Caperton was named for one of my relatives, my maternal great-grandmother was born in Fire Creek, and my paternal grandparents lived and worked in Ames, where New River Gorge Bridge pylons now stand on the east side of the gorge. When my dad was 2 years old, the family moved to Fayetteville, on the west side of the gorge, where my uncle still lives in the family home.

Karmoor Mine was closed and the town was abandoned by the 1960’s

I spent the summers of my childhood exploring the woods and creeks around the New River Gorge, hunting for salamanders and seashell fossils from a long-gone ocean that predates the ancient Appalachians. Every time I visit the New, I feel like a salmon returning to its home stream; I imagine my great-grandmother’s mitochondria in my cells vibrating in tune with one of the world’s oldest rivers. I’ve hiked all over the New River Gorge, visiting the overgrown sites and ruins of Ames, Kaymoor, and Nuttallburg, but I have not yet made it farther upriver to Caperton or Fire Creek. Someday an anadromous upriver backpacking trip awaits (although I have no plans to spawn).

The New River Gorge Bridge

To read the rest of the story, visit Eos.org.

My cousin Elizabeth at Long Point
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Living in Geologic Time: Cape Cod’s Shipwrecks, Dune Shacks and Shifting Sands

My Dune Shack

Last year, I started a new feature column for Eos magazine called Living in Geologic Time, “a series of personal accounts that highlight the past, present, and future of famous landmarks on geologic timescales.

The latest feature—Cape Cod: Shipwrecks, Dune Shacks, and Shifting Sands—was inspired by a week I spent in a dune shack in Cape Cod National Seashore.

Dune Walk

Provincetown is taking progressive steps to protect itself from future flooding, but the Cape Cod National Seashore, located on the other side of the peninsula on the Outer Cape, subscribes to a very different, hands-off approach, Waldo said. “The philosophy of the national seashore is to leave it alone and let nature take its course.”

This is the wilder side of Cape Cod that I am most familiar with, having spent time in a historic dune shack on the national seashore. In the late 1800s, when shipwrecks were still common on the shoals and sandbars off the coast of Cape Cod, a series of shacks was built along the Outer Cape to provide shelter and supplies to shipwrecked survivors. With better mapping and navigation, shipwrecks became less common, and the shacks began attracting writers and artists, including Henry David ThoreauJack Kerouac, and Jackson Pollock.

In 1961, when the Outer Cape became the Cape Cod National Seashore, the dune shacks, many in disrepair, were slated to be destroyed in an effort to return the seashore to its natural state. But the Massachusetts Historical Commission stepped in and recommended that the shacks be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the National Park Service owns 18 out of the 19 surviving dune shacks, several of which are available for artist residencies and long-term leases.

Provincetown Harbor

Go to Eos.org to read the rest of the JMT story. I’m delighted that the Living in Geologic Time series was named part of “The Best of Eos in 2020”! Links to my other Living in Geologic Time columns on places like the Grand Canyon, the Cascade Volcanoes and Arches National Park can be found here. Stay tuned for more in 2021!

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My Top 30 Adventures of 2020

The grand finale of our 27-day John Muir Trail hike on Cloud’s Rest, overlooking Half Dome. We finished our hike the next day in Yosemite Valley.

It was the best of years, it was the worst of years. Like everybody, my 2020 did not go as planned. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in 15 years of traveling, it’s that plans are nothing; planning is everything. No matter how drastically plans derail, the key to moving forward is to keep making them. Here are 30 photos from my favorite adventures of 2020.

Best New Rig: Roxanne. I’ve been wanting a highway machine/ stealth camper and this 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan is the best pavement queen I’ve ever had. Don’t worry, I still have the RV! You’ll see him below.
Best Ski Day: skiing fourteen inches of fresh off the ridge at Taos, New Mexico with Walli.
Best Social Distancing: Domelands Wilderness. In the heart of quarantine, I radically tightened my travel radius, but still managed to go hiking every day and log half a dozen completely self-supported backpacking trips within a 3-hour drive of my homebase.
Best New Obscure Skillset: Swimming across the Kern River, floating our backpacks in trash bags so we could explore a little-seen corner of the Domelands Wilderness. In two weeks out there, we only saw one person at a distance. Now that’s quarantining.
Best New Ridge: Stegosaurus Ridge in the Domelands Wilderness
Best New Boulder: Balanced Ball Rock AKA ball-crazy Vida’s favorite rock in the Domelands Wilderness. Bart Dome in the background.
Best Emergency Evac: On our third multiday trip into the Domelands Wilderness Vida ran into a barbed wire fence and tore a nasty gash in her upper right leg. To keep it clean, we put her in a backpack and I carried her out. Dan packed out all our gear. We both called our 35-pound packs training weight for the JMT. After 5 stitches and $500 at the emergency vet, she was fine. I’m thankful that the first dog I’ve had to carry out of the wilderness was my smallest.
Best Quarantine Project: We built three patios and three raised garden beds with automatic drip irrigation in my backyard.
Best Artifact: Half an obsidian spearhead found in the Golden Trout Wilderness. This area burned in the devastating Sequoia Complex Fire in September 2020.
Best Big Tree Backpack: We made a loop from the Golden Trout Wilderness to the Upper Thule River Sequoia Grove. This grove burned in the Sequoia Complex Fire in September 2020.
Best Foreshadowing: Backpacking through a 20 year old burn in Sequoia National Monument. This area burned again in the Sequoia Complex Fire in 2020.
Best Temporary Dog: I’ve always wanted to try fostering a dog and had the best possible experience hosting Mr. Eddie Spaghetti for three weeks before he went to his perfect home. He arrived skinny and scared and left a completely different dog. Vida wanted to keep him but two dogs is really the perfect number.
Best Makeover: We also used our quarantine time to renovate our 1990 Toyota camper Jerry Odyssey Americano. We rebuilt his smashed bumper, installed LED tail lights, resealed the windows, fiberglassed a bunch of his holes and painted the outside with exterior house paint. Happy 30th, Jerry!
Best Clown Camper: Jerry Odyssey Americano!
Best Holiday Weekend Plan B: We aborted our 4th of July plans in the Sawtooth Wilderness because the trailhead was way too busy. We ended up backpacking in the next mountain range over in the White Clouds Wilderness. We only saw one mule train all weekend and heard no fireworks. My still gun-shy D.O.G. is now 12.5 and still hiking.
Best Sunrise: The first rays hitting me and Langley Peak, on top of Mount Whitney on day 3 of our 27-day backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail. We started south of Whitney and hiked 270 miles north to Yosemite Valley.
Best Resupply: Three of our friends met us at the Onion Valley Trailhead a week into our JMT with a resupply of food for the next leg of the trip. They also brought our dogs and all the fixings for homemade campfire pizza. I’ve never felt so full.
Best Side Mission: An overnight side loop off the JMT up to the Minarets.
Best JMT Campsite: Waking up to Mount Banner and Thousand Island Lake
Best Adventure Buddies: Aloha and Oola on day 26 of our trek, still besties. Dan hiked north for another week on the Pacific Crest Trail, intending to hike to Oregon but he was derailed by widespread fires in the Sierras.
Best Post-JMT Plan: After finishing the JMT I cooled my heels on a 4 day whitewater rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho. After hiking a long-distance trail, re-entry to civilization can be brutal. I much prefer river world to the real world.
Best New Black Diamond Backpacking Loop: Brooke said she’d follow me anywhere so we did a 4-day 25-mile loop in the Steens Mountains, connecting Big Indian Gorge to Little Blitzen Gorge by scrambling up a class 3-4 headwall and lowering our packs and Vida down a cliff band. Mission accomplished, in style.
Best New Montana Summit: Trapper Peak, highest point in the Bitterroot Range.
Best New Oregon Summit: Paulina Peak overlooking the Big Obsidian Flow and Paulina Lakes
Best New National Park Summit: Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley.
Best Backyard Summit: Bohna Peak in Sequoia National Forest, CA
Best Coyote Sign
Best International Trip of 2020: Wading across the Rio Grande to touch Mexico.
Best New Year’s Surprise: Waking up to nearly two feet of snow in Big Bend National Park. Not many people can say they’ve skied Texas!

Onwards and upwards! Stay tuned for more miles and more summits in 2021!

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Aerial Geology Teacher Giveaway!

Carrying my book up my home mountain. Lone Peak in Big Sky, MT appears in Aerial Geology on page 200.

A long-time reader recently bought three copies of my book Aerial Geology: A High Altitude Tour of North America’s Spectacular Volcanoes, Canyons, Glaciers, Lakes, Craters and Peaks with instructions to donate them to three teachers/ educators/ classrooms/ libraries. “I hope your book sparks some exploratory desires in future travelers,” he said.

Aerial Geology is a coffee-table style book that takes a bird’s eye view of 100 geologic features all over North America through NASA satellite photos, aerial photos from airplanes and my own shots and explains their geology on a grand scale. 

The book features 100 geological wonders including this winter aerial shot of Lone Peak by Ryan Turner.

The book is written for a general audience and while kids might gloss over some of the geologic terms, they really seem to connect with the aerial images and the big picture explanations of how the Earth changes over very long time scales. I once presented my book to a classroom of kindergarteners and they knew all about satellites and loved the concept of looking down on the Earth from above. With 100 sites all over North America, there’s sure to be somewhere they’ve been, somewhere they want to go, and somewhere they’ve never heard of that ignites their curiosity.

Each entry offers aerial or satellite photos of a geological feature and explains the natural history of the site.

The first three teachers/ educators/ librarians to email me at theblondecoyote@gmail.com will get a signed copy for their students! If you love this idea and want to pay it forward, please send me an email. The Paypal link to order signed copies is below. Thanks again to Kenneth for the inspiration! Cheers, M

Aerial Geology

One hardcover copy of Aerial Geology, signed by the author Mary Caperton Morton aka the Blonde Coyote. Price includes shipping.

$40.00

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Living in Geologic Time: Backpacking through the past, present, and future of fire on the John Muir Trail

I’ve been writing a lot for Eos magazine and last year, I started a new feature column called Living in Geologic Time, “a series of personal accounts that highlight the past, present, and future of famous landmarks on geologic timescales.

The latest feature—Traversing the High Sierra on the People’s Paths—was inspired by my 27 day backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail in August:

Mile for mile, the John Muir Trail is one of the most scenic hikes on Earth. The footpath—never actually hiked by John Muir—starts in Ahwahnee (Yosemite Valley) and follows a series of lush meadows, granite lake basins, and high alpine mountain passes for over 200 miles along the spine of the Sierra Nevada to the top of Tumanguya (Mount Whitney), the highest peak in the lower 48 states.

Construction of the John Muir Trail began in 1915, the year after the conservationist’s death. But Indigenous people had already been traveling throughout the Sierra for thousands of years on a network of trails known as Nüümü Poyo, or People’s Paths. Long before the National Park Service began blasting out trails with dynamite, the Paiute and other tribes etched them out of the wilderness with bare feet and kept them open by setting fires.

Go to Eos.org to read the rest of the JMT story. I’m delighted that the Living in Geologic Time series was named part of “The Best of Eos in 2020”! Links to my other Living in Geologic Time columns on places like the Grand Canyon, the Cascade Volcanoes and Arches National Park can be found here. Stay tuned for more in 2021!

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New Feature Column in Eos: Climbing the Occasionally Cataclysmic Cascades

On the summit of Mount Saint Helens with “The Breach” and Mount Rainier in the background.

I’ve been writing a lot for Eos magazine and last fall, I talked my editors into starting a new feature column called Living in Geologic Time, “a series of personal accounts that highlight the past, present, and future of famous landmarks on geologic timescales.

The first installment, on the past, present and future of the Grand Canyon: Will Earth’s Grandest Canyon Keep Getting Grander? was published in November. The story was based on my experience on a 20-day rafting trip on the Colorado that I took in September and October, as well as discussions with USGS geologists about the future of the Grand Canyon.

The second installment—Climbing the Occasionally Cataclysmic Cascades—is out today:

So far, I’ve stood on top of about half of the major high points of the Cascades, and I intend to keep climbing. This spring I’m aiming to ski Mount Shasta! After all, there’s no telling how long the Cascade volcanoes will be gracious hosts. “The eight volcanoes that are considered to be the highest threat have all erupted in the [past] 7,000 years, and we would expect them all to erupt again within that kind of time frame,” says Cascades Volcano Observatory researcher Seth Moran.

The author stands on South Sister (3,158 meters), the tallest and youngest of the Three Sisters volcanoes in central Oregon. From the summit, Middle Sister, North Sister, and Mount Washington appear in a line to the north, with Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood also visible on clear days. 

Stay tuned for the next installment in April! Any guesses where it might be? Any requests for future columns?

Miss EARTH magazine? Me too! RIP. I’ve been writing for Eos since EARTH shuttered last winter. Here are link to some of my recent Eos stories on the Fluid Pressure Changes Grease Cascadia’s Slow Aseismic Earthquakes and Tracking the Grand Canyon’s Mysterious Springs. You can also search for Mary Caperton Morton at Eos.org to see all my stories from 2019 to the present. Thanks for reading!

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Adventure Rigs Should Go On Adventures!

Ultimate Adventure Rig? Or Lawn Ornament?

For the past three years I’ve been traveling spring, summer and fall in a 1990 Toyota camper truck named Jerry Odyssey Americano. This whole time, with a few weekend camping trip exceptions, my beloved Teardrop trailer “The Rattler” has been hanging out in a storage unit in Bozeman, Montana.

I’m happy to tell you, the Teardrop is free of the storage unit and once again outside, where it belongs, basking in sunshine and starlight. But it’s currently more of a lawn ornament than an adventure rig and that just doesn’t sit right with me.

I moved almost everything out of the trailer and gave it a very thorough cleaning. I left the vintage National Park postcards across the front. On the left is the charge controller for the roof top solar panel. See the link below for more info on that system.

I’ve always said I’ll never sell the Teadrop and part of me wants to keep it in the yard just so I can keep falling in love with it every time I look at it. But adventure rigs should go on adventures and if I’m being completely honest with myself, I just really don’t want to tow anymore. I much prefer the Toyota, which can go much deeper into the landscape than the Rattler.

It’s been a long, emotional road getting to this point. After I bought the Teardrop for my 30th birthday I lived and worked in it for three years and saw a lot of North America while getting to sleep in my own bed every night. I towed the Rattler all the way to Alaska and back with a Subaru Impreza and all over the mountain west with a Land Rover Discovery and then a Honda Element. And beyond. In fact, the Rattler has been to over 30 states. It’s actually a dream to tow, as far as towing goes. I just like to explore rough forest roads too much.

The craftsman’s stamp on one of the handmade drawers. The table against the far wall folds up and down. Lots of storage room under the bed. Parquet wood laminate flooring.

As much as I love having it as a lawn ornament, it’s a rolling work of Art, and it’s most beautiful in motion, in the rearview of somebody with dreams to see more of the World. The time has come to hand the Rattler off to somebody else.

The kitchen lives under the bed and slides out the back. It has one propane burner (a green gas canister screws into the left hand cabinet), a few feet of counter space, storage and LED lights. On the right is a rock climbing crash pad that I used as a couch.

The Rattler is a one of kind, homemade Teardrop trailer made by a master craftsman from his own design and specifications. It is used but loved. I’ve made a series of upgrades and repairs to it over the years, the nuts and bolts of which I’m happy to discuss. It just recently journeyed 1,000 miles from Montana to California and is road worthy. You’ll need a new deep cycle battery for the solar power system, a new memory foam mattress and a car with at least a 1,000 pound towing capacity (It weighs well under that probably 600-700 pounds empty but I haven’t weighed it since I put the solar panel on or the upgraded springs).

The Rattler is 5 feet wide and 13 feet long. With the top open you have 69 inches of standing room, with it closed 58 inches. The bed is 75 inches long and 55 inches wide. I lived in it very comfortably with two large dogs. I have shared it with another person and it’s doable but cozy for two.

The roof popped open. I’m just over 5 feet tall and it’s perfect for me. Much over 5′ 8″ and you’ll be ducking. You can see the screen door rolled up to the right of the door here too.

I’ve fielded a lot of emails over the years from people interested in the Rattler. Here’s your chance! Who wants it? Make me an offer! It’s not free… it has been appraised in the low five digits… but I want it to go to the right person, not necessarily the highest bidder.

If you’re interested, send me an email at theblondecoyote@gmail.com and tell me what the Rattler is worth to you and how you plan to use it. I’ve added a bunch of hot links here to posts with background on the Rattler and our story. Please do some research and soul searching before you email me. I’m not in a rush. I’m not selling it first come, first served. This is a rolling work of art that deserves to go to the best possible home!

Of course, Home is where you park it! Kicking it on the Lost Coast of California.
Home sweet home on the edge of the Salmon Glacier near the border of British Columbia and Alaska

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Win A Copy of Aerial Geology!

My fabulous publisher is giving away a copy of Aerial Geology today! To enter, go here: http://www.timberpress.com/12days.

With its stunning photos, accessible geology and widespread reach all over North America, Aerial Geology makes a great gift for everybody on your Christmas list from kids to grandparents to geologists! You can pick up a copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your local independent bookseller. As of yesterday, I am currently sold out of copies and won’t be fulfilling orders for signed books until the New Year! Happy Holidays!

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