Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Circle of Life

In 2003, the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest first experienced an outbreak of Mountain Pine Beetles (bark beetles), which in the nine years since the infestation began have killed thousands of trees.  According to the Forest Service, in some areas along the north slope of the Uinta Mountains, these beetles have killed up to 90% of the trees.

The Forest Service’s priority in treating this epidemic has been focused on the health and safety of people and the protection of critical infrastructure.  This means reducing falling tree hazards at high use recreation areas, trails, roads, and power lines; and reducing wildfire hazards.
I have not seen an actual Mountain Pine Beetle, but I’ve seen the damage they cause.  This current outbreak has resulted in extensive stands of red and dead trees that will be visible for a long duration.  When the outbreak first began, the Forest Service attempted to spray trees, to remove beetle-infected trees from the impacted campgrounds, and to salvage trees killed by the bark beetles through timber sales.  Since then they have decided no longer to intervene and to allow nature to take its course.

This is the circle of life in the forest.  Mature trees are dying, and the infestation is a natural part of this life span.  Seeds from these trees will produce the next forest.  Indeed, it has already begun.  The photo shows that beneath the red boughs of a dying tree, three new trees have sprung up.  And the forest will go on. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


About three times, when I’ve taken Ty for his morning walk across the dam, I’ve seen fresh moose tracks.  Last Friday I finally saw the moose – at least, one of them – on the other side of the lake near the horse camp.  A group of campers there told me they had seen three moose, which makes sense with the patterns of the tracks.  I guessed that there were at least two.

The moose are by far the largest of our wildlife neighbors.  We’ve seen several antelope on the road leading to the campground, but so far none have ventured within our boundaries. The only other mammals we’ve seen in the campground were chipmunks, squirrels and potguts (the Utah nickname for the Uinta ground squirrel – they look like fat rats with short tails.) 
We have a robin and a couple of hummingbirds that hang out around our campsight.  There is also a pair of bald eagles – they look pretty young – that we’ve seen flying overhead.  They seem to be camera-shy; twice I’ve aimed the camera at one of them perched in a tree, and both times she or he flew away before I could get the shot. 
The Forest Service has re-introduced Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep to this area.  I know this because there are signs posted – but I have yet to see them.  We’ve seen them in the Flaming Gorge area and they are quite beautiful, but quite aloof. 
The Uinta Mountains are also home to black bears.  Again, I know this because there are not only signs posted – one on every bulletin board and one in each restroom at the proper eye level for normal usage of the facility – but we also give a bear brochure to each camper as they come in.  We’re told there has never been a bear in the Hoop Lake campground, but just this year one was spotted about two miles away and another about four miles away.  Like most wildlife, bears tend to leave humans alone.  But we’re encouraging our campers not to tempt them by leaving food out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Camp Host Routine

When people asked me what I would do all day in the mountains, I told them I would run every day, write every day, and scrapbook every day – and somewhere in there I would do the camp host job.  Our job as camp hosts includes ensuring that the campground is clean, the pit toilets are clean, and the campground fees are paid. 

In the three weeks since we arrived we’ve established our routine.  We are still early risers – even without the benefit of an alarm clock.  We watch the sun rise over the lake. We linger over coffee.  I walk our dog, Ty.  I get my run in before we start “work.”  Then we change into our uniforms (yes, we have uniforms), hop on the ATV, and make the rounds to the bathrooms.  We check campsites that we know were occupied and clean out any excess ash from the fire pits.  Sadly, we’ve also had to pick up trash from several sites.  The worst was the group that left beer bottles and three dirty diapers in the fire pit.  Seriously, who does this?
As new campers arrive, I put Ty on his leash, sling my backpack over my head, and go out to meet them. Ty is a great icebreaker – he loves kids and kids can always tell.  I reach into my backpack for the information packet (including the fee envelope).  Do you have a dog?  I have dog biscuits.  May the kids have some candy?  Meeting the people is the most fun part of the camp host job.  A few days ago I got a big hug from a little camper who told me she would miss me.

Once we’ve made our rounds our time is our own.  This is when I write.  This is when I work on the digital scrapbook.  The dog gets at least two more walks around the campground. We sit on our makeshift patio and watch the campground kids fishing from the dam. We listen to satellite radio.  We didn’t bring a television – nobody bothered to run cable into the Uinta Mountains – so we watch videos on my laptop.  It actually works pretty well.
I’m thinking I like this retirement gig J

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Incredible Shrinking Kitchen

The kitchen in the fifth wheel is 5’ x 10’.  My kitchen at home is, well, significantly larger.  So how do I make sure I get all the right stuff into the “coach kitchen” and not exceed the weight limit of the truck?  Here’s how we did it:

Dishes:  Two words – lightweight and unbreakable.  I brought acrylic glasses and plastic tumblers.  Service for four only – if there are more than four people we’ll be outside using paper.
Pots and Pans:  Paul didn’t think I needed anything that isn’t cast iron.  Hmm – can you cook a stir fry in a dutch oven?  I convinced him to let me bring a muffin pan and a teakettle.  I also brought my double boiler – which “doubles” as two saucepans.  I learned I should have brought a small cookie sheet when we tried to bake pizzas. The workaround was aluminum foil on top of the muffin pan. 
Utensils:  Once again, lightweight and unbreakable, with preference to those items that do double duty. I brought a can opener, a wine opener, a cheese grater, and a spatula.  I forgot a serrated knife and serving spoons.
Appliances:  We don’t have much counter space for appliances.  I can live without a toaster.  I can live without a blender.  I can even live without a crock pot and a rice cooker.  I can’t live without a coffee pot.  I bought a new percolator model because it could be put away after we use it, and because we thought the power from the solar panels and the inverter would be enough to run it.  So far we’ve been wrong – the batteries have been too drained from running the furnace to power the percolator.  Can you say “Coleman Stovetop Coffee Pot?”
Staples:  What about those big containers of sugar, flour, oatmeal, rice – you get the idea.  I downsized to ZipLoc containers.  Of course, rice is going to the Minute variety since the rice cooker isn’t invited.
Spices:  I know – they’re small.  But why bring something I’m not going to use?  We started with the basics – if I buy it at Costco, it came with me.  If I bought it for one recipe that I didn’t end up liking (think Hungarian Paprika), it stayed home.
Cookbooks:  I have 26 cookbooks – not counting the small Pampered Chef booklets and the purple folder where I throw recipes I’ve pulled from newspapers, magazines and the internet.  I also had two recipe card files, plus the Betty Crocker Recipe card file box that everybody had to have in the 70’s.  And with very few exceptions I use 2 – 3 recipes out of each book.  The exceptions are those books where I use 0 – 1.   Let’s face it – if I’m looking for a recipe, I’m looking online.  I brought the “Dutch Oven Cookbook” and the purple folder.  I’m working on typing up the 2 – 3 (or 1) recipe out of each cookbook that I regularly use.  As to the two card files – they’re down to one.  I was brutal.  If I’d never made the recipe, it went into the recycle bin – no matter how good the picture looked. 
The biggest challenge was organizing.  The good news – there’s plenty of storage space in the fifth wheel kitchen.  The bad news – most of it is WAAAYYYY over my head.  There’s only one shelf that I can reach without a stepstool – which I forgot to bring with me!