The Further Adventures of Smokey

If my battery holds out, I hope to share two more camping anecdotes. Probably won’t be near civilization to post them for at least a couple of days.
I am back in the Kern River Canyon after a 10 day hiatus during which I took some friends who were visiting from Michigan to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and a short trip down the coast. But that is another story…
We got back here the other night and found a campsite to the east of our previous one and much closer to the Kern River. These two anecdotes both concern my 7 year old Blue Heeler, Smokey. I am not neglecting my senior Aussie, Shadow, but she is wise enough not to start fights with rattlesnakes or the other brash (foolhardy?) things which follow. If I were to write camping anecdotes about Shadow they would all be a variation of “we went for a hike, Shadow stayed close and didn’t cause any problems.”
Smokey is a cow dog, when in the car she barks at every cow she sees. Until last month she had never met a cow in person. Since she had adapted so well to our life of travel I decided to let her meet some cows as a reward. So last month I tracked down some cows in the national forest and turned her loose on them. She instantly knew what to do with them, she circled to their far side and gently pushed them to me. I circled away and she nipped at them and they turned to follow. I eventually ran away and called her along (did I mention that I am afraid of cows?)  That is the background for the first anecdote.
This morning the dogs woke me up at about daybreak to let them out of the tent. Which I did and then I lay back down contented, just loving life. It wasn’t long before Shadow started growling…a rumble low down in her chest that tells me she is serious. She is 11 and this was only the forth or fifth time that I’ve heard her do it.
I grab for my glasses and the tent zipper at the same time and i hear a crashing sound from outside. I get the tent open just in time to see a half dozen cows come careening down a 30 foot sand embankment and into camp, with Smokey at their heels. Three cows, two calves and a bull. One cow lets out a bass “mew-oo” that I could feel in my bones. Evidently she had become separated from her calf. I scrambled out of the tent shouting and trying to get them out of camp while scrambling up the embankment away from them. They left out the drive and down the road, the calf-less cow continuing to call out and thankfully Smokey let them go. I am dismayed that Smokey thought it was a good idea to round up a small herd of cattle and run them through camp first thing in the morning. Incidentally, I saw the wayward calf slink around camp to join its mother about 15 minutes later.
I am blown away by how innate this behavior is in Smokey. Shadow, a sheep dog, would herd people when she was young, but without reinforcement, the behavior was extinguished by the time she was 2. The behavior has to be stored in their DNA, what other explanation could there be? It is totally amazing that Smokey would just naturally know what to do with cows. And, while I know that I am anthropomorphizing, I am certain that she had a self satisfied look on her face.
That was a frightening start to the day, but nothing compared to the fear I had for that dog late this afternoon. Like I said earlier, we are much nearer the river in our current camp. So this afternoon we bushwacked our way down to the river. It was difficult to get down to the river because much of it is cut through rock and has a 20 to 30 foot sheer rock embankment. We eventually found a spot that we could get to with about 20 feet of dirt only 2 or 3 feet above the river. Shadow generally likes the water while Smokey avoids it at all costs. I stripped and put my feet in but the river was too cold and fast to get in. Evidently too fast for Shadow too, as both dogs were hanging over the bank getting a drink. Smokey lost her footing and into the river she went. At first I laughed as that dog hates the water. But my schadenfreude was quickly replaced with fear as she was quickly carried down stream. 20 feet and there would be rock faces and she would not be able to get out. While I wasn’t afraid of her drowning, I don’t think dogs drown very easily, I was fearful that it would be difficult to find her or that she might end up on an inaccessible rock or who knows what. I was terrified for that dog. Somehow she ended up on a rock 20 feet from shore. She didn’t stay there long but made a jump for shore and swam strongly to the embankment where she couldn’t get out of the water. I scrambled over the rocks and got a hold of her collar and pulled her out of the river. She was not a happy dog and there was nothing remotely self satisfied on her face. She spent 15 minutes shaking and rolling in the sand before she wanted anything to do with me or Shadow.
I would imagine that she likes the water even less than she did before. Keep in mind that this is the same dog who canoed with me 350 miles down the Missouri River and never once got wet. Coming up from the river we had to traverse a field of poison oak, I can only hope I don’t get a full body dose of itchy rash, both dogs are covered in it and we will sleep in a pile tonight.
I both love and hate Smokey for her bravery. While I admire her heart, I fear that it will be the death of her.

I still hope to write this trip up in depth when I get access to a keyboard, tapping it out on my tablet is a serious drag.

Just to add, I was only gone from here for 10 days but during that time Spring ended and full on Summer started. The flowers are gone and the grasses are dying. It is 15 degrees warmer and we will have to move further up into the mountains soon.
I am coming up on 6 weeks of off and on camping and each day I feel less like returning to the bay area. I am so over traffic and the hectic lifestyle and the opulence and poverty that exist side by side. The chorus for a song that I recently wrote begins: “This concrete ain’t no jungle, it’s a prison don’t you see.”


Camping Anecdote

So I am still camping in Southern California. The Mojave became too hot so I migrated to the Sequoia National Forest East of Bakersfield. I am on the rim of the Kern River canyon, maybe 1200 feet above the river itself. I think these are the Piute Mountains. At some point I when I am near a keyboard I will summarize the trip. As of now I am tapping this out on my tablet, so a short anecdote will have to suffice. Probably won’t be back in civilization to actually post it for 4 or 5 more days.
I took a 4 wheel drive trail off of highway 178 and slowly navigated about 5 miles up to the canyon rim, bumping and scraping my way along. I found a pretty little knoll with gnarly live oaks, wild flowers galore, buckeyes, and not too many cows, and with lots of squirrels for Smoke to chase (my fear being that that dog will chase one off a cliff.)
After setting up camp and making coffee, I kicked back to relax and enjoy the bird songs and the view. Not too long later I hear a motorcycle putting up the hill. As he nears camp I wave and he puts into camp. As he pulls his helmet off, he says, “Dude, you totally ruined my whole day.”
Somewhat takin aback I inquire what I could have done to ruin his day?
And he replies, “I bought this trail bike for Christmas, today is my first real ride. I loaded it on my truck this morning and drove as far as I could up this hill, then I unloaded the bike and continued up the hill. I’m riding along thinking this is really getting away from it all, I’m riding where very few people get to go. Then I come around a bend and what do I see? A f*#king Toyota Yarris. The only way you could have made it worse was if you asked where the nearest Starbucks is.”
I pointed out that I already had coffee or I might have. I offered him a cup, which he accepted, and we talked for maybe half an hour. Then he said he had to get up the hill a ways so that he could at least tell his friends that his new trail bike made it further up the hill than a Toyota Yarris did.
I didn’t see him come back down the mountain so he must have found another way down, or he’s still up there.

Just to add before posting: got 2 or 3 inches of rain Tuesday and Wednesday, it came with 35 mph winds with 75 mph gusts. Holy cow, I think hurricanes sustain 72 mph and above. It was some crazy wind, but the tent withstood it.

Smokey and Nantahala Mountains

Just returned from a trip to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park of Eastern Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest of Western North Carolina.  The trip has been planned for nearly 3 months and with Labor Day finally rolling in to thin out the crowds, it was time to hit the road.  Mike and I, with our cumulative 3 dogs in tow, headed out of Missouri the day before Labor Day.  East on 70 to St. Louis where we jumped on I-64 to pass through Illinois and Indiana.  In Indiana we stopped in a National Forest to hike a cliff area, hell I never even knew that Indiana had cliffs, but it was a beautiful hike.

The remnants of hurrican Lee was blowing into the Smokey Mountains and the weather was promising at least 3 days of continuing rain.  Since it was raining that night, we decided not to camp and ended up sleeping in the truck in Kentucky and finished our drive into the Smokey Mountains early the next morning.  To avoid camping in the rain we got a motel for two nights about 20 miles north of the park, since it was too early to check in we drove into the park to get orientated.  From I-40 South through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to the park (about 20 miles) is one long horrendous tourist trap unlike anything I have ever seen at that scale.  And being Labor Day, traffic was stifling.  It took maybe an hour to get to the park, we checked out the visitor center and did a 4 mile wet hike to see Laurel Falls…a beautiful 60 foot falls that was well worth the hike.  We also took a drive through Cades Cove where we saw numerous turkeys and deer as well as many historical sites from early settlement of the area.  There was a 10 mile long traffic jam to get back to our motel and it took 3 hours….not really the reason I go to check in with nature, but what do you do?

The next day we went back to the park and did another 4 mile hike/scramble up to Chimney Top, the rain was letting up and we didn’t match the 3 inches of the previous day.  We also drove a “motor nature trail” where we had an excellent and prolonged bear encounter.  The next morning we checked out of our motel and headed for the Nantahala National Forest to enjoy some down time.  We stopped in the park on our commute and hiked a few miles of the Appalachian Trail.  The rain and clouds allowed us to do a fair amount of hiking in the park as it was cool enough to leave the dogs in the car, but they were really looking forward to camping in the forest where they were anticipating free run.  We had to track down a forest service office so that we could obtain a map, and found we were near some old growth so we camped beside the road.  Broke camp the next morning and went to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Grove.  If you recall your American literature then you will recall that it was Kilmer who penned the poem Trees.

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Due to the beauty of the poem a memorial grove of old growth poplar and hemlock was set aside.  There is a nice two mile trail that encompasses it and it is well worth the hike.  After this we headed up into the Nantahala Mountains where we camped for 3 days in a nice area with a ton of wild flowers, flowing streams, waterfalls, and numerous hiking opportunities.  After we exhausted what this area had to offer we went further south into the Nantahala Mountains and found another piece of paradise upon which to pitch our tents.  The hiking opportunities were not as plentiful but the beauty of it was enough to just enjoy lounging in camp and driving out to take short hikes to waterfalls. All too soon it was time to head for home, we stopped and camped a night in the Pasqah National Forest near the Tennessee border and continued our journey back to Missouri with a stay in a motel in Paducah Kentucky near the Illinois border…finding our way back to Columbia this afternoon.I’ve posted a few pictures here, and if Mike writes something up I’ll edit this post with a link to it.

Edit: Mike did put up a post, but like mine it is skeletal.