Thursday, October 10, 2013

Rocky Mountain High: A Family Story

I hadn't done anything significant with my brothers for 40 years, since we all went antelope hunting in Wyoming with our father in 1973.  Our brother Bill was with us then, when we were four, but Bill passed away twenty years ago. We miss him terribly.

I grew up in a wonderful family:  mom & dad, my sister Judy, three years younger, then Bill, Jim, Tony, Mardie.  I was the oldest.  My career in the National Park Service took me to Wyoming, then Alaska for 32 years.  Jim lived in Los Alamos, Tony in Salt Lake, so logistically it was difficult for us to get together except for our annual family reunion.

This summer brother Jim and his wife Teri and brother Tony and wife Shelly planed to climb Mount Elbert, at 14,440' the highest peak in Colorado, and they invited Nori and me along.  We agreed to meet at Jim and Teri's new retirement palace in Salida, Colorado, a few miles from Mount Elbert.  Nori had met Tony and Shelly, and now she would meet Jim and Teri.

We drove the three hours from Ridgway on US-50, the loneliest road in America, up out of Montrose, past the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, along the Blue Mesa Reservoir, through the small college town of Gunnison, over Monarch summit, and down to Salida.  It's another world from Ridgway and the San Juan mountains.

When we arrived, Tony and Shelly fresh from Salt Lake City were walking around the yard.  We hugged, and immediately Jim and Teri drove in.  Their house sits west of the town in an open vista surrounded by 14,000' peaks whose rounded summits crenellate the skyline.  It is a Southwest adobe style home held together with huge pine logs exposed on the interior.  Teri had decorated each bedroom with a quilt motif; we had the bear room giving onto a southern exposure.  As I walked through the house I saw through the open window a bird feeder in the front yard.  Pine grossbeaks, a Western tanager, yellow-headed blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and Brewer's blackbirds fought with ground squirrels for the sunflower seeds.

Dinner was a renewal brotherly friendship and an eye-opening introduction for Nori as we sat around a long table passing bowls of a variety of salads that Teri had made for the occasion.

We were up early in the morning, grabbed a quick cold breakfast, and were off, driving north to the start of the hike.  Jim drove the highway, then turned onto a small dirt road which wound up the mountain side to a small parking area in the trees.  Our team, wearing shorts, running shirts, cool ball caps and bright colors readied the light packs and headed uphill.  We had 4,000' and about 4 miles to go to the summit, so I started off slowly letting the younger rabbits take off
 Shelly, Nori (hiding), Tony, Teri, Jim at the trailhead
 We take off up the trail
Nori and I set our own pace

The first part of the hike winds up switchbacks through an evergreen and aspen forest for a couple of miles.  All summer I had been working at re-learning the Rocky Mountain wildflowers, so I stopped from time to time to take a photograph hoping to key it later.  The morning was cool, and we were excited to break out and see the big mountains.  
Columbines, the Colorado state flower

Once out in the open the trail eased up and we could see our goal ahead.  It looked close and distant at the same time.  In miles we were about half way, but we still had a couple of thousand feet of elevation, and we were already at about 12,500'.  
The crew with the peak in the distance

Breathing and exertion came harder the higher we climbed.  Nori and I told the runners to hike on ahead and we would catch them at the summit, taking the pressure off us to keep up their pace.  Teri is a marathon runner, Jim is a masters swimmer and runner, and Tony and Shelly have been bagging summits, putting them all in the 'Expert' category.  We pushed on up the long gentle slope, watching it steepen until it again turned to switchbacks.  In an unkind turn, the trail rounded the peak on the left and showed us that we still had another thousand feet to climb to the summit.
 Nori headed up the final switchbacks

Near the top we get "Summit Fever" and continue pushing our bodies to the top where all the pain is forgotten as we see the family, several others, and a vast panorama of the Rocky Mountain high points.
 Our crew on the summit: l to r, Jim, Teri, Shelly, Nori,Tony, Ralph
 The view from the top

We dive into our packs, hide behind some rock walls that cut the wind, and dig out our lunch.  I'm having a blast and scurry around taking photos of everyone and everything.  The view goes forever; after the morning rains all the dust and pollution has been washed from the air and the sky is flawless.  I mentally plan a hundred more trips into the mountains.  

We hug, talk about the lowpoints and highpoints of the climb.  It feels good to be here with Nori, my brothers and sisters-in-law.  
 Teri & Jim

Nori and Yours Truly

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Twenty years ago my good friend Paul Haertel gave me an old Chestnut canoe, made in Canada.  After many years, Paul and his wife Margo were leaving Alaska.  He had been a role model for me: the first superintendent of the newly created Lake Clark National Park, (likely the most beautiful park in America), and later the Associate Regional Director for Resources in the Alaska region.  Everything Paul did was first class.

So, now I had this lovely old canoe.  I paddled it a few times around lakes near Anchorage, but the canvas was old, and I knew it needed work, so it hung in my garage for the next ten years always intending to fix it up.  In 2005 I tore the old canvas off, removed hundreds of tiny brass tacks, unscrewed the gunwales and keel, kept the little bronze screws in jars and the old rotted wood on wood racks.  However the bare bones of the old wood and canvas canoe hung from the top of the garage for another six years, until one day in September, 2011, I lowered it down and carried it into my shop for a make-over.  It is a delicate structure out of the water and not protected by its canvas cover, so I constructed two sawhorses and covered them with carpet strips to protect the wood.

The bare spruce slats on the outside were nailed with tiny brass tacks that had colored the wood green around them.  Inside, the varnish had cracked in places, and there were several large holes in the bottom from rough handling during an ice storm one winter.  The bow and stern had gray rotted wood that needed replacing.  Both gunwales and keel had seen a lot of use and need to be reconstructed.

I unscrewed the gunwales to measure them and see how much I could salvage and how much I would have to make anew.  In the end it seemed like the best course was to build new gunwales and a keel out of nice hardwood.  Anchorage has a wonderful hardwood supply, Hardwood Specialties, so I chose a nice long board of straight ash and brought it home.  The 16' canoe filled the 20' shop, so  I could barely work.  I wrestled the board around, positioned my table saw catty corner, and ripped the ash on the saw into long thin gunwale-sized strips.

The first area to repair was the hull of the canoe, full of holes, and some of them fairly good sized.  I sawed some straight-grained spruce into the proper thickness: 3/16 "for the hull and 1/2" for the ribs.  Cutting out the broken wood was a delicate job.  I tried to angle the cut so that I could fit in a new piece like a plug.  I tacked it from the bottom so nothing would show on the inside, glued the seams, and matched the wood exactly.
The new patch was white, white, white, so I realized I would have to stain it to match the darker wood of the rest of the boat.

Next I rebuilt the bow and stern.  Like a dentist I had to cut the decayed wood out, and rather than completely disassembling the end and risk having it fall apart, I cut out the rotted parts and spliced in new spruce, reusing every piece I could.

The old varnish had cracked and weathered over the years; some areas had worn away, so I decided to strip the varnish completely.  I bought a very fine liquid varnish remover designed for antique wood.  I brushed it on and waited....nothing happened.  So I went to the hardware store and bought a pink slime paint remover.  It worked, but slowly.  What I had envisioned as a two-week project now seemed like a long term labor of love.  Over the next two weeks I brushed on the pink goop, waited, scraped with metal scrapers, brushes, and knives, sandpaper....anything to get the old finish off.  It appeared that the original spar varnish had been redone with Urethane varnish, and the paint removers were having a tough time cracking its surface.  Being retired helped, because I seemed to spend most of my time chiseling out the old finish, and it was fighting my best efforts.

I dragged the canoe out into the yard for more sanding, more crust removal, and to avoid the fumes of the chemicals.  This thing was not going to get the best of me; I would remove every drop of varnish.  Finally it was bare wood.  I cleaned it up with mineral spirits to keep all the wood the same finish. 

The boat now went back into the shop for varnishing.  It was completely patched, the rotted wood replaced, and should serve another 50 years.  Marine spar varnish has been the standard for boats forever.  It also has a beautiful golden gloss finish, so I kept with that, rather than a new urethane coating.  Four coats seemed to do the job: one sealed the wood, a second covered most of the drier spots, a third really started to shine, and the fourth made it look beautiful!
Time to stretch on a new canvas.  So far I had operated within the limits of my knowledge of woodworking, but stretching the canvas was a challenge.  I ordered the canvas and the gallon of goop to waterproof it from Jerry Stelmok of Island Falls Canoe Company in Maine, along with a book,
"The Wood and Canvas Canoe".  It showed how to stretch the canvas over the canoe, the part I had been curious about.  To build the canvas stretcher, I screwed a large 3/8" eye-screw into the front and back walls of my shop and attached a come-along puller to each one.  Then, I bolted two 2" x 3" boards to each end of the 20' piece of canvas, folded in half lengthwise, and hung them from the ceiling by the top end.  These strips acted like a vise to hold the ends of the canvas while the come-alongs pulled it tight.

Next, I set the canoe in the fold of the canvas.  The canoe is about 16' 6" long, and it nestled in the big fold easily.  As I cranked on the arms of the come-alongs at each end, the canoe lifted slowly in the air, I pushed the canoe into the bottom of the canvas and pulled it tight, so that the canvas formed a form-fitting shell around the canoe.  To make it even tighter all around, I thought of putting weight in the canoe, but instead put two long 2 x 4's in the canoe and wedged them against the ceiling as I cranked the canvas tighter.  It worked like a miracle.  The canvas was stretched over the canoe!
The little brass tacks I had saved now looked bent and unusable, so I decided to staple the canvas onto the canoe with my air-powered crown stapler.  The local art supply store sold me a canvas stretcher, a sort of pliers, with which I could grab the canvas and pull it tight over the inwales, then hit it with the stapler.  It made short work of the job, and in the end would be a very strong connection.
Once the sides were tacked on, I cut the bow and stern canvas to fit and tacked it on with copper tacks. I tried the staple gun, but the thin wood at the end needed a softer touch. Then I cut and trimmed the remaining canvas so it was flush with the bowline. 
The canoe was now ready for a coat of goop, a secret mixture of silica and linseed oil I had bought seven years ago.  As it sat in my shop it had turned to a rock-hard sludge on the bottom of the can.  It took hours of stirring with a power drill to restore it to the emulsion ready for the boat.  I painted it on with a brush in several coats.  I made a glove out of the canvas scraps and rubbed the goop until it was smooth, letting each coat dry for a day before the next application.  Now, the long wait:  the boat sat in the shop and cured from January to March before it had completely hardened and was ready for the next step.
First, it needed a fine sanding until the surface was smooth and ready for painting.  Although the canoe was originally a light powder blue, I had a hard time finding a match.  West Marine makes a beautiful red lacquer.  Hmmmm Red!  The red would be striking.  I cut the lacquer with a thinner called "333" so it went on smoothly.  This old canoe was teaching me new techniques as I proceeded step by step in the restoration.  Daily I watched the dull gray of the silica become a glossy red.
It is now March 1, 2012.  The canoe is almost done.  But it must wait.  I had lived in Alaska for the past  32 years; it was my home.  But... I woke up one morning and decided the canoe and I would move south to Ouray County, Colorado, to be closer to both my kids and my close climbing & skiing friends.  Selling the house required a remodeling, so I threw my efforts into replacing both bathrooms, the downstairs flooring, painting, electrical, and whatever else would make the house appeal to a buyer.  I had hoped to sell the house by the end of the summer, giving me time to hike, climb, sew up my affairs and enjoy a last glorious summer in the arctic...and finish the canoe.  I put the house on the market mid-April, had three offers the first day, and closed a month later.  That month might have been the most furious of my life: my brother Tony came up and helped me pack and drive the huge moving van down the Alaska Highway to Colorado.  On top of the load sat the vintage Chestnut canoe.
Tony at the wheel of the Jumbo JH U-Haul van

It took longer to buy a home than I planned, so the canoe sat in storage.  By October I had a house, but it needed new floors, so I spent the next month on my knees cleaning old odors and laying flooring.  The garage became a shop, but it was unheated and not conducive to work in the Colorado winter.  Last week I looked at the old canoe, lowered it from it's berth on the ceiling and set to work finishing the job.

I started making the gunwales from the long ash strips I had cut and carried from Alaska. I had just made a new router table for my Porter-Cable 3-1/2 HP router, and I used it to cut a 1/4" rabbet lengthwise out of the wood to make the gunwales. Then I routed a rounded edge to the top and bottom.

In order to bend newly routed gunwales and a keel, I needed a steamer.  A steamer is used to heat the wood and impregnate it with moisture so it would be pliable enough to bend into the shapes I need to wrap around the canoe.  There are lots of ways to make a steamer: I resurrected my old National pressure cooker, a vintage 1940's model.  I filled it half-full of water and set it on my big propane camp stove.  A high-pressure hose was attached to a nipple I screwed into the top of the cooker;  the hose went to a nipple inserted in the end of a 4" PVC pipe 16 feet long and capped at both ends.  The long strips of ash went into the pipe and steamed for an hour making them soft and pliable.  
 The pressure cooker and hose
The steamer at work

As soon as I took the long piece of ash/gunwale out of the steamer, I clamped it onto the side of the canoe so that it would form to the proper shape.  Then I drilled and countersunk holes for the brass screws to hold it on.  I was frustrated as three screws in a row broke off in the wood.  I couldn't risk any more broken screws, so I switched to square-head stainless steel screws, and not a one broke.  They won't ever rust or break!
The new wood looked beautiful, if a little on the light-colored side for a vintage canoe with golden wood.  The sun and varnish would cure that.  Four coats of marine spar varnish gave them a shine; then they dried for four days before I turned the canoe over for the end brass bumpers and the keel.

Long half-round brass strips are screwed onto the the bow and stern.  They serve as a bumper to protect the canvas hull from rocks and gravel when the canoe hits the shore.  They had become almost black with corrosion over the years, so I put them on the buffing wheel and made them shine like gold.
Now that the brass strips were in place, the keel was the final replacement part to be made.  I had originally cut a piece of the ash blank for an exact replacement for the flat keel on the original.  However it seemed like a lot of additional weight, so I ripped a long strip of alder, a softer and lighter wood.  I made it 7/8" thick and 1-1/8" wide to be a better rudder on a lake where I would be doing most of my canoeing.  It is screwed onto the hull through the floor of the canoe with square-head brass screws, which I polished on the buffing wheel.
The final job was to clean and re-varnish the maple seats and bolt them back in place.  They hang from the gunwales with 3/16" long carriage bolts, adjusted with 3/4" round oak spacers, cut to fit.
Now the boat needed to rest for four days in the shop while the varnish hardened.  I worried that water might get in through the screw holes in the hull, so I took off the keel, squirted plumbers' silicone in each hole and reattached the keel.

Ridgway has been windy this spring; the wind picks up by 10 am, so a trial run at the local reservoir needed to be early in the morning.  Nori and I loaded the canoe on the Thule rack atop her Volvo, but it was a struggle.  Since I was young, I've picked up canoes, flipped them onto my shoulders and portaged them through the forest between lakes.  But, this time it seemed heavier at 85 pounds; maybe being 70 has something to do with it.  Most of my other canoes have been a bit lighter.  The Blue Hole canoe had a Royalex hull, and seemed much lighter.  The Sawyer was 18-1/2' long, but made of Kevlar and only 44 pounds.  The old 17' Grumman lightweight, although aluminum, was only 66 pounds.
The old Blue Hole canoe
However, I gave a great grunt, hoisted it onto my shoulders...with a bit of pain on the neck and Nori's help...laid it on the rack on top of the car.  We cinched it down with webbing, tied the bow and stern to the front and rear of the car, and made sure it wouldn't shift in the wind.   Nori loaded the paddles and life preservers, and we headed to Ridgway Reservoir.  A nice young couple with cute kids took our picture beside the restored old Chestnut.
Nori climbed into the bow, I pushed us off, hopped onto my knee and crawled into my seat as the old girl glided onto the lake.  We couldn't call it a maiden voyage, maybe a second honeymoon, as we paddled the western shore close in, making sure there were no leaks or other defugalties.  A brisk wind hit us at the point, so we turned the canoe to the east, paddled down south and up the inlet to the Uncompaghre river, past a great blue heron perched on a rock watching us paddle by. 
Not a drop of water seeped into the canoe, and we remained dry and happy as we circled the lake.  It bucked the waves, quartering across them easily.  Now it's time to dream of a long canoe trip in the north, probably Canada.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The First Hummingbird

This morning I hung a hummingbird feeder on my porch. 
The house I bought is on the edge of a newer development in Ridgway, a small town, formerly a railroad stop and ranching community.  The original "True Grit" was filmed here.  But my house is just north of town where the trees are small, so I didn't expect to see much wildlife here because it is more open grassland.  Maybe some cattle in the distance. 

However every day has been a surprise.  To the west is a pasture with about 60 black yaks.  At night I see deer in the yard, on the road, in the fields.  During the winter about 40 elk fed and slept in the neighborhood.  A few weeks ago a fox crossed the fields, and I watched for several minutes from my balcony as it made its way up the hill.  Yesterday as I drove up to Elk Meadows, a cinnamon colored black bear ran up the road ahead of me, dove off the side and stopped.  I got out and we stared at each other for a minute. 

But, back to the birds.  All winter long bald eagles live along the Uncompaghre river close to the house.  I'd watch for them on my river walks, and the only other birds were ravens and magpies.  With the advent of spring bluebirds flocked in by the score.  There were small houses built for them along the roadside.  Then came the meadowlarks, robins, warblers, sparrows, and hawks.  My sterile- looking neighborhood was alive with birds. 

A few days ago I had coffee at with my good friend Angela at her home up the canyon.  Hummingbirds were at her feeder, and I remember from past years how many there were.  So, I decided to hang a feeder on my front porch, but I didn't have much hope that the birds would stop by.  Within minutes, I had several vying for a perch on the feeder, so I ran in and grabbed my camera.  Although I am my cat were sitting within ten feet of the feeder, they didn't seem to mind.  I brought out my coffee and cereal, sat down and enjoyed the show.

 It's good to have more than one feeder, because hummingbirds are very territorial.  They are solitary birds that keep a small territory and aggressively chase intruders out.  If a bird comes to the feeder it will drink for quite a while unless another bird comes along, dives down and chases it away.  Then the fleeing bird will return and pester the newer one and drive it away.  Some species are worse than others.  When the Rufus Hummingbirds come, they are the worst.  The little wars are very brutal.  I've seen them try to spear or grab each other with their bills, and they often smack right into each other hard. 

The females are as bad as the males, and are aggressive in keeping other birds away from their nests.  The males try to keep others away, so they can monopolize the female for breeding.  I was amazed at how many birds seemed to be attracted to the little feeder.  I put in 1 part cane sugar to 4 parts water, and no coloring.  This is the recommended concentration for hummingbirds.  Other chemicals and colorings are hard on their internal organs.   The birds seem to recognized it instantly and move right in.

While I was sitting on the porch, one bird tried to land on my red ball cap.  It does look somewhat like a red flower or the feeder, I guess.  I had just planted red geraniums around the yard, so the place is looking more enticing every day.

 Hovering above the feeder, the bird checks it out, then comes in to feed

The Black-chinned hummingbird is easy to identify.  
The black head & chin and white collar of the male are distinctive

So far I've seen the Black-chinned hummingbird, males and females, and the Broad-winged hummingbird.  The Broad-winged males have beautiful iridescent red chins and are sometimes mistaken for the Ruby-throated hummingbird.  With the rapid wingbeats, it's often hard to keep your eye on the bird, and it's gone in an instant.  The most common sound comes from the wingbeats, but they often make a little chirp as they battle their way at the feeder.

The birds are extremely intelligent and have the largest brain for their size of any bird.  Watching them, I've seen them observe each other, preen and spread oil from a gland in the rear over their feathers.  After feeding, they will fly up and clean their bills on the branches of the big tree in the front yard. Then they fly back for another drink of the sugar water.  

My next chore is to build a bird bath.  They love a fountain, sprinklers, and water in general.  The house came with a big ugly pile of sandstone boulders.  I've thought of pounding them to bits and hauling it all away, but I've decided to keep them and turn them into a home for creeping plants, moss, and a fountain.  It will be a nice summer project, and I can add some pools, other rocks, and parts to make it beautiful.  Now I've got to find a little electric pump, some cement, and a bit of imagination.  It's amazing how much work these tiny hummingbirds are going to cause me.

Hiking Rancho La Laguna

My last full day in Santa Barbara, and Nori had arranged for us to go on a hike with her hiking club, a wonderful group of friends whom she wanted me to meet.  Steven Sharpe, General Director of Opera Santa Barbara had organized the outing and arranged for us to meet downtown at 6:45 and carpool up to the ranch for the hike.
Looking back down the trail on the Preserve
Rancho La Laguna, nowdays called the Sedgwick ranch for the previous owner, sits in a valley northeast of the little town of Los Olivos, and abuts Michael Jackson's "Neverland" ranch.  The property dates from a land grant from the mid-1800's before California was a state.  However, today it is a research facility for the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Duke Sedgwick willed the property to the university on his death.  Fairly large at 6,000 acres, it is full of deer, bear, coyotes, and mountain lions.  The country driving in was dry and brown, but as we ascended the canyons, pines, junipers, and other trees greened up the scenery.  Living in the sub-Arctic most of my life, I don't relish hot days, and as the thermometer climbed to 97 F., I wondered what I'd gotten myself into.

We met our guide for the day, Kate McCurdy, director of the UCSB Sedgwick Reserve in Santa Ynez. I might not have been the oldest hiker in the group, but most weren't kids, so I thought I'd be in good company.  Steven was full of energy, made introductions, and herded us to the start, a dirt road through dry June grass, the stuff that sticks in you shoes and socks.  We walked single file uphill, dripping sweat and chatting.  Most of the folks were in fine shape and kept the pace brisk. 
Heading uphill
I honed in on Kate to see what kind of research was done there, so I hustled to the front of the line.  Surprise, Kate had been a National Park Service researcher in Glacier National Park, Yosemite, and Santa Monica Mountains.  She talked about her grizzly bear research in Glacier, and I remembered attending a conference where Kate Kendall, presented the results of their research on grizzly DNA.  She pointed out the great fault dividing the rocks and soil types: the Paso Robles alluvium and serpentine rocks from the Franciscan formation.  The vegetation uphill from the fault are composed of native species, because the soil in not as hospitable to the invasive species, so the geology is often studied at the preserve.  Kate and I reminisced about our days in the National Park Service, mutual friends, and the research at the preserve.  But, I felt I was monopolizing her brief time with the group, so I dropped back to sweat with the rest of the gang.
Kate educates the group
I had thought we would be taking a leisurely walk with educational talks, so I brought heavy binoculars for birding, and my SLR camera...and a bottle of water.  The gear hang heavily around my neck, so after taking a few photos of the group I put it in my pack so I could hike at a brisk pace.  

 Nori tops out on the grassy hillside
We had gone a couple of miles through the forest and canyon, finally emerging on a grass-covered ridge overlooking the ranch.  The trail had disappeared, so our feet scuffed through the grass picking up prickers and chaff.  At the top an outcropping of rock gave a great view of the area.  I thought of the coyotes that scouted from here while digesting dinner.  Ravens were the only birds out in this heat.
Nori and I stand on top of the rock overlooking the ranch
Down, down, down the steep slope to the canyon.  At the forks near our cars some of the group who had prior engagements split off, but we followed Kate for a few more miles back up another canyon, over a divide, and through more canyons and forests before returning the the cars.  

The gang had planned a potluck lunch, and I stuffed myself more than usual sampling every dish.  I sat next to Dr. Peter Nickel and his wife Carrie Garner who had invited us to dinner the previous week.  It's a small world: he knew my friend Dr. Debbie Wheeler, an anesthesiologist living here in Ridgway and a ski partner for the past several years.  They had worked together in Denver years before.  

Sitting under the 400-year old oak tree I thought of what this country might have looked like a couple of hundred years before when the Chumash natives lived here and the trees were larger, the vegetation all native, and very few people.  Tomorrow we would drive through L.A. and deposit me at the airport.  It is truly another world out there.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Biking & Wine

There are hundreds of fine bicycle tours through California wine country.  Some are organized; some, like ours are spur of the moment, seat of the pants tours.  Nori suggested riding the roads from Solvang to Los Olivos, so we squeezed our bikes into the back of her Volvo and headed up Hwy 154 from Santa Barbara to Solvang.  The coastal ecology changed radically as we powered up the curves out of Santa Barbara.  Looking back on the red tile roofs, whitewashed adobe, and misty ocean, I noticed how quickly the climate and vegetation changed to the tinder-dry grass and shrubs of the inland.  I remembered reading E.O. Wilson's "Biodiversity".  He told that the most threatened ecosystems in the world were those along the California coastline.  Almost every plant is an exotic brought from Africa, Asia, and beyond. The local plants are almost all gone.

It was a chilly 54 degrees, so we walked around the little Danish-motif town like tourists, peering into a dozen stores: pastries, bamboo clothing, antiques, restaurants...  I'd lived in resort towns and national parks most of my life, so it seemed a bit too much for me, but fun for a tourist.

Once on the bikes we pedaled up towards Los Olivos into the heart of the wine country. 

Or should I say, wine tasting country.  Every driveway we passed advertised wine tasting.  Once in the little town we tied our bikes to a sign and walked the streets.  Almost every store, home, or building had been converted into a wine-tasting bar. 

Nori strolls by the Byron tasting room

A well-fed calico cat soaks up the sun in the window
We popped our heads in several small shops but decided riding a bike on the highway while tipsy might not be the best idea.  However we noticed a number of gold medals hanging on one shop, so we decided to do a 3-wine tasting at Daniel Gehrs.  The proprietor poured three whites: The Chardonnay was delicious, and as I sipped the drops, the fellow explained that Mr. Gehrs ferments the grapes in stainless steel vats, not in oak barrels, so the taste is clean and bright.  Thinking back on my beloved Bordeaux wines, I'm probably a romantic who cherishes the subtle flavors of the oak.  Wine should have heart and soul, a bit of magic, so the chemically pure taste seemed to be missing something.  He described the Chenin Blanc as "buttery", and I agreed.  It swirled in my mouth not unlike a fine olive oil.  We learned that Gehrs does not own any vineyards but buys the grapes and makes boutique wines.  Not sure what to make of this, I lifted the Riesling to my lips.  Much sweeter, like the German wines I love.  If I want a Riesling, I always buy the German ones, but this gave me a very sharp, clean vision of a fine wine.  We left the shop after about an ounce of wine and didn't feel a thing.  Perfect!

On around the block to a little nursery and yard ornament shop, full of Buddhas, ferns, flowers, vases, and odd stuff that I'd be unlikely to find anywhere else.  The over-stuffed clutter gave me some ideas for landscaping my new yard. 

Right now it's mostly mud and weeds, no lawn, no grass, and a pile of sandstone rocks the builder left in the front yard.  I've been thinking of making them into a fountain for the birds.  However, I couldn't see a contemplating Buddha staring up my walk.

We took off out of town on the bikes, rode on some backroads, then down into Solvang.  I had originally thought of the bike ride as physical exercise, but up till now it had been a cultural experience.  With the breeze on my face and my leg muscles pumping, it felt good to be back on the bike and exercising.  I thought ahead to home and getting on my bike again now that spring had come to the Rockies.

Nori suggested we have lunch at the "Cold Spring Tavern", an old stage coach stop near the top of the pass.  She promised a beer, fine food, and another cultural experience.  Since 1865 The Cold Spring Tavern has been serving travelers over San Marcos pass.  It was on a little side road, originally the main road from Santa Barbara to the high country.  Huge trees shaded the tavern.  A busload of tourists stopped just as we did, so we sprinted for the door.  Just in time, since it closed at 3pm. 

One waitress did everything, and we were impressed at her efficiency.  She brought us a pile of home-made onion rings that Nori had recommended; then Nori ordered the salad, I opted for the hamburger and a pint of Hoppy Poppy IPA. 
By now we were the only people in the tavern, so I looked around a bit and took a few photos of the dusty old fireplace and memorabilia on the walls.

I managed to force down the entire burger, the large IPA, the onion rings, and a potato salad along with Nori's bread.  I waddled to the car and lapsed into a food coma as Nori drove down the hill to home. So much for a day of exercise on the bike.