Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wildlife Viewing Area

Yeah, We Know
Yeah, We Know
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
“It's a deer,” my mother blurts out. She sounds excited. This encounter with wild life in a national park is a treat to be savored, a special part of the camping experience.

Aeron barely looks up to note calmly, “Mule deer.”

“What?” Mom glances over her shoulder. She stands posed at the edge of our camp site, straining to see better without taking the National Park Service forbidden step towards the ambling herbivore. She can barely contain herself, fingers itching to take a picture or touch the hide.

“Mule deer,” repeats my youngest, her head back in her coloring book. She explains without looking up again, “See the long ears and the markings on the coat?”

Mom checks the deer and sounds somewhat awed as she breathes, “Mule deer.” I'm not sure if it's the 8 year old naturalist or the two beautiful animals now striding slowly in our direction followed by a hyperventilating photographer from the Netherlands who clearly hasn't read the park rules.

Probably both. Aeron and Mera are now officially sworn Junior Park Rangers in nine national parks: Petrified Forest, Bandalier, Aztec Ruins, Navajo National Monument, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Devil's Post Pile, and Yosemite. They can recite chapter and verse regarding park protection and maintenance procedure, distinguish between a sparrow and a white breasted nut hatch, report on the history and cultural significance of the ancestral Pueblan peoples, and talk intelligently about the geological formation of the Colorado River Plateau. The one-two punch of a year on a cruising sailboat followed by a month in our nation's best and perhaps most important cultural export has producd accomplished amateur naturalists with a respectful but rather casual view towards wild life. It's fair to say that if there is a polar opposite to nature deficit disorder, my girls are the poster children.

I'm proud of Mera and Aeron for all their work on their ranger patches. We started the program initially as an alternative to doing school on the road. However, the accrual of badges, patches, and parks soon took on a life of its own. They now actively seek out the Junior Ranger programs in each park and complete the activities without fuss or argument. My mother promised to make them Ranger vests on which they can sew all their awards and stick all their buttons. Both girls have expressed an interest in becoming rangers themselves when they grow up. They could surely do worse as a career.

Yet More Information
Yet More Information
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I highly recommend to all parents that you look into the educational programs available through our nation's parks and forests. Even when you can't visit a park, there are usually many learning opportunities online. My only suggestion to the folks at the National Park Service is that they develop a comparable curriculum for the high school age groups. Jaime was, unfortunately, somewhat left out of the fun this summer. And unlike her mother, she's too old to just roll with it and do the “little kid work” to young to not lose her dignity in coloring animal pairs.

“And what's that?” Grandma Sue asks pointing at the black shape flitting through the dusk darkened boughs of Zion's campground.

“Bat, of course,” Aeron informs my mother. “They see by echo-location and eat mosquitoes so you have to like them.”

Okay, Junior Ranger Aeron. We have to like them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hit the Road Jack

Now contrary to the casual, relaxed look and feel of this blog, generally I'm a thoughtful, forward thinking blogger and put articles in the queue when I plan to travel away from good bandwidth for any significant length of time. This road trip, however, is proving the exception that proves the rule. This road trip started with weeks of decommissioning the boat in heinous heat, proceeded with the van from hell on the road to nowhere, and now continues in the back of friggin' beyond where "free wifi" consists of a router attached to a dial-up connection.

So no pictures. No well thought out funny stories. No electricity, no showers, no running water, and lukewarm beer.

We traded the sleek sailing catamaran Don Quixote for the lumbering van Rucio on July 22 and headed north. Mera, Aeron and I made our way with alacrity from Santa Rosalia to the border, pausing overnight in El Rosario and Ensenada. Traveling with a car instead of a boat inspired me to write at length about speed. See future post for that subject. Dulcinea adjusted rapidly and readily to van life. The girls spread out into every crack and crevice of the van. We had crap piled to the ceiling which made it difficult to see out the back.

We crossed the border in Tecate. The American Border Control folks are very very scary. The Mexicans very very polite. We then drove through southern Arizona, stopping briefly to take in the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert before heading into New Mexico to meet up with DrC and Jaime. Then up to Abiqui, NM for a lovely wedding at the Ghost Ranch. Horrid campground. Absolutely the driest most horrible campground I have ever stayed in. Back down to Albuquerque to pick up Grandma Sue this time.

Now this is where things went to shit. First, I got the date wrong and sent DrC to the airport to pick up Grandma Sue a day early. Better than a day late, right? DrC wasn't impressed with that logic. Second, DrC got clever with the hood of the van so it decided to flip up and smash the front windshield. Another story or maybe just an appendix for my treatise on the many ways in which Land Sucks. We couldn't initially get it fixed since the van is so damn old that the safety glass folks wouldn't replace it. But! We found a Mexican -would- fix it. I love Mexicans. I love Mexico. I want to go home.

Then the cat ran away.

Okay, technically Dulcinea didn't run away. Technically, she went exploring across a gulch which the New Mexico water control folks decided to fill while she was on the other side. Unfortunately, Dulci doesn't carry a cell phone and couldn't let us know where she was so we thought she'd been eaten, carried away by aliens, or found a more comfortable van to stay in. Let's be clear, every van in the western states is a more comfortable van so it wouldn't have been a great challenge. After waiting a full day, we went to bed completely and utterly depressed, certain we'd leave the next day cat-less. At about 3 AM the wind shifted, carrying her rather annoyed meows and bell ringing back to us in our tents across the high, rushing river of a gulch. DrC went swimming and mud-wrangling and got her back on our side.

So off we go with Grandma Sue, DrC, the cat, three children, two tents, six sleeping bags, and enough food, electronics, and miscellaneous sundries to stock a small WalMart. We've managed to successfully visit the following (in basically chronological order): Albuquerque Natural History Museum, Los Alamos Science Museum, Don Quixote Distillery, Bandalier National Park (NP), Navajo Lake State Park, Aztec Ruins NP, Navajo National Monument NP, and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We stayed at the Desert View Campground on the South Rim and did an endless series of ranger led activities. We've been hiking everywhere. Jaime, DrC and I even dropped halfway down into the canyon on the South Kaibab trail. Jaime tried to lose me, but I'm stronger than I look.

We're now hunkered down at a KOA Campground near Bryce/Zion trying to scrape off a week of accumulated dirt and stink. I'm surprised they let us in. I'm not surprised they stuck us on a tent site 10 feet from about a 1000 pounds of horse shit.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

What I Did At School Today

[Editor's Note: Written while we were still in Rosalia.]

Sand Studies
Sand Studies
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I didn't know that the cold could make you sleepy. Well, okay... we've all read the books or seen the movies where extreme cold makes people fall asleep. But this isn't extreme. I'm in the single air conditioned room accessible to the crew of Don Quixote at the Singlar Marina in Santa Rosalia. It's only 22C in here which is actually rather warm when you get right to it.

The girls and I worked hard all morning cleaning and purging and organizing, then moved to the Cool Room for a few hours of school. Whereupon, the three of us promptly fell asleep.

Not literally. We keep nudging one another to preserve a semblance of awareness. But there is something about finally escaping the unrelenting heat and humidity for even a few minutes that shuts the body down. Cold. We spent 20 consecutive hours growing weaker, more dehydrated, and more tired, then when we moved into this ice box, our bodies seem to have taken it as permission to finally relax and fall asleep.

I want the kids to complete some schoolwork. I want to correct that schoolwork. I want to write you a nice article about everything we are doing. I have ambitions to get the pictures on the hard drive organized, start learning how to record podcasts, update the map, pull down some Geocache sites.

*yawn* Um... update iGTD. Uh... *blink* write a letter to DrC and Jaime... … um... zzz .zzzzzzzz z

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cooking Tip: Cold Pasta Salad Variations

Here We Are!
Here We Are!
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It is so hot, humid, and unpleasant that our appetites have fled. Turning on the stove is an instant trip to a sweat lodge, beads of liquid pooling at the small of your back as you stir and chop and sauté. To entice the children and myself to eat something other than Fresca, beer, and slushies, I've had to get creative. My new motto is: “Cook once, eat five times.” Every time I turn on the stove, I have an array of dishes to prepare, a strategy for their preparation, and a menu plan for the next six meals. When we are not subsisting on fresh bakery rolls, cheeses, fruits, and raw sliced vegies, I throw together creative pasta salads.

The beauty of pasta salad is that it can be anything. The form is perfect for mixing and matching miscellaneous bits of this and that, found objects in your refrigerator and pantry, delicious seasonal vegies found on a foray to the abbarotes. A pasta salad can be sweet with fruit and a lime sour cream dressing or it can be savory with grilled meats and sautéed vegetables. You can explore culture themes with your salad simply by your selection of oils, vinegars and vegies: for Chinese add soy sauce and sesame oil with blanched greens, for Italian add caramelized onions, bacon, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

The bottom line is that if you are sufficiently creative, your family will get a complete meal in a cold bowl: protein, starch/carbo, vegetables/roughage, and small amounts of flavorful fats. You can make these salads in enormous batches which last for days in the refrigerator. Dinner consists of pulling out the bowls, pouring some juice, and getting out the latest pasta salad offering. Below is a variation I stumbled on when clearing the basil out of the freezer. Since several boats have already asked for it, I thought I'd share it online.

Chicken Basil Pasta Salad
Cook to al dente two pounds of a thick noodle pasta, preferably something in the rotelli or bow tie family. Drain and set aside in your large salad bowl.

In a skillet, sauté:
2 tbs olive oil
1 large onion sliced very thinly
1 cp minced fresh basil (fresh frozen works fine but dried is just wrong so don't even try it)
1 diced green pepper
1/3 cp pine nuts

You're going to sauté these slowly and for a long time until the onions are caramel colored and sweet to the taste. If you haven't caramelized before, look this technique up in a cooking book. It's an important skill. Add the vegies to your pasta and without cleaning the pan, fry the following:

½ cube of butter
2 lg diced chicken breasts
pepper to taste

Don't overcook the chicken. When it's done, throw it on top of the pasta and vegies. Stir all ingredients together with:

1 cp good Caesar salad dressing
1 cp Parmesan cheese

I don't make the dressing myself, but I also don't recommend a cheap brand. The cheap stuff is too sweet. Either make it or get a higher end brand where the first five ingredients are not a variation of corn syrup. At this point, you have a really good pasta dish which you can eat either hot or cold. If you want to stretch the dish even further, chill and add any combination of the following:

diced tomatoes
diced peppers, any color
minced green onion
marinated artichokes
shredded romaine
sliced avocado

Serves about 12.