The magical forest

Today marked my return to the Wallow fire burn area in east central Arizona, just over the state line from New Mexico. I have wanted to shoot (with my camera) the burned trees in the snow for a year, and haven’t had an opportunity to do so until now. So, I braved the far-below-freezing temperatures to return to get the shots.

This should be interesting, I thought as I left home. I’ve been freezing for the last two days here at home, and now I’m going someplace even colder?? I must be crazy! Or I really want those photos! It’s mostly the latter, but I suppose it’s a little bit of both.

Up on the Rim, Hal and I, traveling together, saw the depth of the snow and got a little worried. Maybe this was a stupid idea, to do it now. But I think you have to go in winter to get snow shots, so that was the logic behind it. Fortunately, after leaving Heber and Show Low there was less snow, and it was a beautiful, nearly cloudless day, the road was warm, and almost before I knew it, we were nearing the last leg of the journey. We stopped so I could shoot the area that I have been working on since the progression began in July of 2011. A lot of the trees are gone now, bulldozed, but enough still remain to illustrate what it looks like in snow. I spent some time there, shooting those same trees, but the sun was still too high and in the wrong position. I will try again on the way home. When we continued, that’s when the road got treacherous.

The last 10 miles or so toward our destination were driven slowly. The road is not plowed often, but fortunately had been plowed recently. However, there were places where the snow had drifted, and it was still a bit thick on the road. It was mostly slushy, and we took it easy. We caught a glimpse of some elk running across the road far in front of us, but by the time we saw them, they were already halfway across, so I was unable to get a photo of them.

I am fascinated with the dream world that is the forest in snow. Even if I get only a few photographs that I like out of this experience, it will be worth it. I am having to learn (quickly) about how to shoot winter photos, and as usual with photography, that requires some trial-and-error, and hands-on learning.

A few hours later, I went out in 10° F. temperatures so I could get a shot of the moonlit, snow-covered forest. It was magical! I even got a shot from behind an icicle, looking out toward the snowy, frozen world.

Tomorrow we are planning on going cross-country skiing to get a few more photographs. If nothing else, it will quench my thirst for being in the snow, in the glittery, amazing world of a winter forest.

(Pics to come later, when I get home!)

Photo recap

Here is the recap in photos of my weekend in the Alpine, AZ area:

We got on the road early on Friday. As early as a schedule dictated to by work would allow:

I watched the sun go down too quickly:

Climbing the Mogollon Rim:

We drove into the blackest night, no moon shone at all as I snapped this blurry (moving) photo of Springerville:

Towns always seem to look bigger and more significant at night.

Saturday we rode on the forest roads, saw more evidence of continuing salvaging/logging:

I am glad they are able to salvage some of this wood before it is too late, in other words, before it starts to break down and be unusable:

The fortunate thing is that with the big pines gone, the Aspens that were waiting for fire to wake them up, have begun to proliferate:

We rode down into a tunnel of trees toward a beautiful little campground:

When we reached the bottom, we came out into this sun-gilded meadow. At its center was a mirror-like pond, a perfect pool to quench the thirst of resident elk:

Here is the idyllic setting of the campground:

There is nothing better than seeing the world via dirtbike:

One of many incinerated trees:

The slender shoots of greenery in front of that cinder are Aspen. Did you know that all the Aspen in that general area share the same huge root system? I did not know it either until the forest service workers told me. It was another amazing fact in the evolution of the forest.

New greenery rises out of the ash:

The highest point of ridges and mountains were the hardest hit, they were the most devastated. The fire ran up, driven by the wind, to create a charring firestorm. In some places, the road had scorch marks right after the fire. There were many areas like this, especially the area where I spent the most time on the hillside shooting the skeletons of former trees. It was an amazing, powerful sight.

The next series I hope to shoot of the Wallow fire area is of the trees in snow. I hope to return right after a big snowstorm hits. I hope that I can have the opportunity to snowmobile or cross-country ski deep into the area if I cannot ride one of my motorbikes. We’ll see!

Going home, already

The night was very cold last night. In my small bed, I was wrapped up like a burrito in the blanket I’d brought from home, brought just in case it was this cold. I was glad I had it. I crawled out, quickly dressed, then went with Hal down to breakfast, for the last time at the beloved lodge, at least for this trip. I cried when I hugged them good-bye, but hoped I’d be back when the snow came.

Soon we were on the way home, our goal to shoot photos of golden Aspens near the Greer, AZ area. We thought we’d missed it, but we were pleasantly surprised to see many of them still golden in the sun, their leaves turning and sparkling. I took several photos, and here are a couple of them:

On the way home, I was very tired, the last couple of months of non-stop work and activity, the return to a relaxing place, made me finally relax and want to sleep. I slept a bit in the car as Hal drove. Pinetop, Show Low, and Heber disappeared as we went through them as I dozed. I was dreaming a bit, dreaming, of course, of fire-blackened trees. They haunt me.

We were planning on stopping in Payson for a cup of coffee and pie at Crosswinds, and as we dropped down off the Rim, I saw smoke! The farther up the road we got, the more it was apparent that more trees were burning. Here is what it looked like near Christopher Creek:

Later I found out it is a real wildfire. Called the Big Canyon fire, it has already grown to 100 acres! We don’t need any more wildfires!

At the restaurant, I ate too much dessert, and after an hour or so, we continued toward home. As usual, we asked ourselves “where did the time go?” It was 48 hours that passed much too quickly. But then it usually does.

I shot almost 300 photos on this trip, so sometime this week I will post more of them so you can get more information about this trip. It takes me a little while to go through them all, especially this time since there are so many, and at a quick glance, I like a lot of them from last night’s shoot on the hillside. The autumn color photos look good, too, even some of them that I thought wouldn’t work in the available light.

Anyway, I am home safely, but as always, looking forward to the next adventure.

On the road again

In the absence of an internet connection late last night, I am filing my report today.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Today was a very long day, and here it is, tomorrow already, and I am still up! If that seems a little cryptic, know that I am writing this at 12:34 a.m.

The kids were good today, it was their last “half day” before fall break. I had a pizza party for them because they’ve been so good this first quarter. They were polite and didn’t “pig out” on too much pizza, and a couple of kids brought cupcakes. Saturday is one boy’s birthday and we sang the birthday song. We had a fun time, and then they left me for a week and a half. I kind of miss them already.

But then, after I finished up grades, I went home, packed, and at 4 o’clock, my riding partner picked up me, and my dirt bike, to go up to the Alpine, AZ area for another 48 hours of dirt riding, and shooting photos. It is too far away to make it a day trip.

As we got going in the car, it already seemed like it took us forever to get out of town, and forever to get to Payson, and by the time we were headed east on 260, I thought it would be questionable because of the fading light whether I would get any golden Aspen shots at the Young Rd. turnoff. I managed to get some shots, but I don’t know, they seemed less than spectacular, even though the low light did not stop that wonderful Canon camera from making the most of what was there.

We stopped at Red Onion in Heber around 7, and I realized that it was going to be late when we finally got to where we were going. It was between Heber and Show Low that I remembered what it felt like to be driving in the dark, to be absorbed into the bottomless night that is out there. I felt more than saw the tall trees standing beyond the hemisphere of light thrown by the headlights of the car, shoulder to shoulder, in the wild loneliness. The temperature dropped into the 30s, and I had a sense of the cold isolation that I hadn’t felt for a long time, since I left Wisconsin, where I grew up. I could vividly imagine being stranded in the cold and dark.

I forgot how many stars there are, and how much light they project when there is no moon, and when we are away from the city lights. There were millions of them in the canopy of black sky, glittering like ice, including that one elusive constellation that has a vague kite shape. I could see it in my peripheral vision, but when I looked directly at it, it disappeared.

Soon we came to the deep forest where the blackness was complete. We drove slowly through the tunnel of trees, some burned, some alive, as we scanned for elk and deer. I saw two, first, a deer, I think, and then farther up the road, a great big bull elk with a giant rack. I caught him in the far reaches of my peripheral vision, and turned just in time to see him in the last glimmer of the car’s headlights. He was in a clearing to the right of the road, in an area lower than the built-up roadbed. The bull elk showed white in the light, a split second of negative film. Hal slowed the car down even more after that, but we didn’t see any more animals.

We arrived at the lodge very late, and when I took my main clothes bag from the car, I saw the beginnings of frost already sparkling on the grass in the one feeble yard light. We crept into the main room of the lodge, and there was a fire burning in the grate. In the cozy, deserted room, it was warm and welcoming. Fortunately I had packed so I could get my warm clothes out quickly, and I was not cold. To go from 90° F. temperatures to the low 30s is a drastic temperature change, particularly when I am not used to it.

The lodge is full, but it was silent when we arrived. The keys were on the counter, and we’d have to wait until morning to officially check in, but it felt like we were home. I left this place with deep sadness in late July after five days of feeling like I was in heaven, and in my heart, I never left it.

At last, I’m really here.

The land of enchantment

I was all set to do a “rally recap” post today. But then I realized I had already said all the obvious things about going to Taos, NM. The fact is that for me it is a mystical place, a place where my imagination runs wild, and where I can believe that maybe someday the things I dream about just might come true.

It’s not that I think if I move there, everything will turn out neatly and happily, like in a made for TV movie. It has more to do with the state of mind than the state of being. All I have to do is look at the Cimarron mountain range in its purple gray majesty far in the distance, and the always-present rain as I cross the Taos Plateau, and I know I am in what is my idea of heaven.

My riding partner and I have talked about going to New Mexico, Taos mainly, for an extended stay during one of the vacations, but it won’t be the same. I love the fall weather, the cool or cold weather, and the strong possibility of rain. Then, there is the rally, and of course, all of the spectacular riding in the area.

The only solution is to have extra time to stay longer on this trip. That is the goal for next year, along with other, unrelated goals that I hope will change my life for the better. I hope all these things together will make next year’s trip a long and memorable one. I want to go, and stay longer in the Land of Enchantment.

Taos 2012, Day 4, part 2

Continued from yesterday …

We rode into Española, then onto a divided 4-lane highway that would take us to the Santa Fe “relief route,” and ultimately to I-25. Once we got there, I knew we would be on the interstate for the next few hours. Just before Albuquerque, we made another fuel stop, which would get us through Albuquerque, onto I-40 and almost to Gallup. We try to stop after 120-160 miles, depending on what kind of ride it is. We find we have to stop more often when it’s the boring interstate, just to stay alert and stretch a bit.

As we went through Albuquerque, I glanced to my left at the top of the Sandia Crest. I had once been on the tramway, way back in the 70s. If I could have seen into the future then, I would have been amazed that I would pass through here so often, and on a motorcycle yet! At the time, I was a young girl, and I was in town showing Arabian horses at the Nationals. I remember hanging out and having fun with the older couple who were looking after me, I was actually the rider for the horse that they owned, and we ate at Furr’s Cafeteria every night. We had traveled there all the way from Wisconsin, where I lived at the time. Little did I know …

We were through Albuquerque by 9:30. I always say if we get through there by 10 o’clock, we are doing great. Because we had left so early, we were far ahead of schedule. The next leg of the journey, though, was the longest at about 134 miles. We then rode to our next stop, which was just before Gallup. I refuse to stop in Gallup for anything, much less gas. So, we stopped at a Pilot truck stop and fueled up again. I noticed that my bike was getting around 80 mpg, which is not unusual for it. This bike, my F800ST is really efficient to run and to maintain, in addition to being a perfect fit. I am so glad BMW designed and made it.

At the truck stop, I made the decision to leave my Gerbings heated jacket liner on because it was still a little cool. This is the first time I’d left my warm gear on this long, but it was surprisingly cool. It was partly cloudy, but I had seen a rainstorm to the right of the interstate a short distance back. At that time I wondered if I was going to have to put the rain gear back on, but the road turned south and away from the rain.

After we got back on the bikes, I kept noticing signs about Gallup having “world-class mountain biking.” I would like to know where that is because I’ve never heard anyone mention it as a mountain biking destination. If it’s true, maybe Gallup does have a redeeming quality after all!

The next thing I knew, we were cruising down the off-ramp in Holbrook! I was so amazed because it was only 1 o’clock! We got some coffee and more fuel at a gas station there, then the three of us – Hal, Bill and I, conferred about where our lunch stop would be. We decided it would be at the Red Onion in Heber, as Bill wasn’t as familiar with it as Hal and I were. I took off my warm gear in Holbrook, and we continued toward Heber on the 277/377. I should have known better because as we climbed in elevation, I started to get cool again.

De-gearing in Heber:

Soon we were in Heber, where we ate a wonderful lunch that included mushroom burgers at the Red Onion. We ended up sitting there for quite some time, talking about bikes, telling riding stories. It was the highlight of the day.

I put another layer back on for the trip down to Payson on the 260. This is the stretch of road that I always think is so beautiful and enjoyable. However, we are usually riding it Monday morning, dragging our feet to get home. I still didn’t want the trip to end, but there was going to be no “foot dragging” this time. I started to think about getting home, unpacked, doing laundry, getting ready for Monday.

Near Thompson Draw, my F800ST hit 60,000 miles on the odometer, a real milestone, literally and figuratively. I thought she ran really well throughout this trip, despite being on the far end of a maintenance interval. There is so much to love about this bike.

I was still none too warm as we came down the 87 toward home, which was amazing to me.  There were plenty of clouds to keep the sun away, and the air was surprisingly cool. I would say I didn’t get warm until I got all the way to Fountain Hills, where we stopped one last time to fuel up and say good-bye. It had been a good ride, we got home reasonably early for as many miles as we had to ride (total of about 550), and pleasant company as a bonus.

We parted ways about 10 miles down the road as the guys went on into Phoenix proper, and I went home. The trip was much too short, and I wished I could have the last four days to relive. I am already scheming how to elongate the weekend next year, but we’ll see. A year from now I hope to have a better job and be able to take more time when I want, not when they want “vacations” to be.

Another great trip gets put into the books, a total of 1350 miles. The next trip should be in October, when I hope to ride another “color tour,” as in fall color. I have been tentatively planning on going back to the Alpine/Hannagan Meadow area. When we were there in summer, we saw some great, off-the-beaten-path places to shoot photos of the changing leaves on the trees.

Should be fun!

Taos 2012, Day 4 (part 1)

Fueling up in Taos before we left


This morning I woke up for the last time this year in Taos, in the sweet little room that is where I “live” for two days out of the 365 that make up a year. I laid there in the depths of the comfortable bed and felt as I had every other year. I didn’t want to move, and I didn’t want to leave. I finally pulled myself out of the depths of relaxation and comfort, and got myself dressed. I had already mostly packed the night before because I knew I had to get going early, and as we know, that is not my forte. We had to get on the road quickly. Due to work, I had to ride all the way home today, about 550 miles. Not that I couldn’t, I just didn’t want to.

We went to breakfast and there was almost no one in the restaurant. We ordered, then we waited for our food, listening to the cook in the nearby kitchen sing along with the radio. Other customers came in. An older guy and a young guy came in, they were obviously golfers, and the older one went over to the spigot that dispensed hot water, and filled his coffee cup. “I’m warming my cup!” he announced to the whole restaurant. I felt like saying, “wow, did you want an award for that, for being so ‘clever’?”

A tall skinny guy came in and put down a duffel bag on a chair. Then he moved it to another chair. He moved it three times before he sat down and started reading a book that he’d brought. Mr. Fussy, I thought. Then he ordered from the regular menu, not from the menu of free choices the people who are staying at the hotel get.

Meanwhile, another guy walked in and went into the kitchen. He started to talk with the singing cook, and the conversation was really funny, about how he was on a “see food” diet. The funniest thing, though, was when the waitress walked past him with the the tall skinny guy’s food, I heard the man in the kitchen ask, “what is that???” and when I saw it, I knew why. It looked like a greasy blob of nondescript food, and I started laughing. I was laughing so hard, it was one of those laugh attacks that makes your eyes squeeze shut and the tears flow out of the corners of your eyes. Later, I laughed all day about that, but I guess you had to be there to think it was funny. That and me not being a morning person amplified the hilarity disproportionately.

We finished breakfast then packed the bikes. We met up with Bill, whose riding buddies apparently ditched him. He wanted to ride back to the Phoenix area, and asked the day before if we could mind if he joined us. Of course we didn’t mind! It was nice to have a third rider with us for a change, especially since he has a really cool bike! We met at the gas station, talked about the route, and then we got underway.

As we left Taos, I silently said goodbye to everything there that I love, looked at the beautiful mountains, wished I could stay forever. It was 46° and, despite dire predictions of constant rain, the sky was clear. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sky so clear as I left Taos, and it was cold. I had my heated jacket liner plugged in and on, and I felt great. Pearl, my F800ST, felt good, too, even though she was due for a major service before we left, and since Friday has been without a low beam headlamp.

We wove our way south on the serpentine road paralleling the Rio Grande. I knew after 30 miles we would leave the nice roads and most of the beauty behind until we got to Heber later in the day. I tried  from the start not to have any muscles tensed. If the day began that way, I reasoned, it was going to be a l-o-n-g one. After all, I had about 550 miles to ride.

Tomorrow: our day of travel, and Pearl reaches a milestone (literally).