Camping, Off-Roading

The Slot is Quite a Spot

Day 14

Altitude: 635 ft.  Stoke level: 6 Temperature: 84 to 60 degrees  Conditions: sunny, clear, no wind

Today I was in a foul mood for some reason. I was having problems with glitches on my WordPress app when I was writing up my blog this morning. I use a Bluetooth keyboard and for the most part it works all right. Today my page kept scrolling up and down constantly as I’d type. It took a lot longer to do than usual.

I did get a text from Home Depot saying that they had my solar panel for pickup! It wasn’t due until the 11th, so this is amazing news. If my other gear comes in on time, I’ll be sporting 200 volts of solar panel power by this weekend! This news lifted my spirits a bit. I then went to town and got a bunch of groceries, refilled my water supply, and did gas/garbage. The whole time I was annoyed by everything around me. I thought I might be hangry, so I made a turkey sandwich and that helped somewhat.

I had in mind to head towards this place called Hawk Valley. It was right next to The Slot, so I’d be right in striking range to hit it tomorrow. I made my way over to the spot, but my navigation app directed me to The Slot for some reason. At least I know where it is now! I found the turn-off about a mile back down the road and turned towards the campground. Around this time. I was horsing around with my vent mount for my cell phone when I broke off one of the supporting clamps. I’ve broken it in this spot 3 times already, so hopefully I can superglue it for the 4th time.

The sand on the road was really deep, deeper than it had been over at Font’s Point the other day. I kept it in 4 wheel drive but didn’t bother deflating the tires, and I made it through just fine. I went up this tight canyon and came upon the spot. It wasn’t very big, only a couple hundred yards across. It could accomodate 6 groups of campers, max. There was one group there already, I saw with disappointment. I would have liked to have such a small campground to myself, but I can’t be lucky every time!

My tube of Gorilla Glue was dried up in my center console, so I had to drag everything out of the camper to get at my stash of super glue in the off-road bin. I applied it to my broken part and it refused to bond. I might have to find a new mount if I can’t glue it back together. As I was trying to fix it, the dudes over at the other camp started whooping and blaring classic rock. This really got me on edge and I almost lost it. I got ahold of myself, popped a beer and mellowed out. I wasn’t sure why I was so pissed off all day, it’s probably just expedition fatigue.

It’s happened before around this time in my journeys. I get frazzled a bit by always having to troubleshoot, strategize and plan the trip. Not to mention the constant driving and exposure to the elements. It passes pretty quickly, I’ve learned I have to ride it out and not dwell in it too much. Even on pretty successful trips it can strike without warning.

It’s actually a pretty cool little canyon. It’s probably the most protected from wind than any other campsite so far. Once in a while there will be a slight puff of wind, but that’s all. Since I’m surrounded by steep canyon walls, the sky view is greatly limited. It’s pretty protected from the sun as well, the sun set around 4:30 and it will probably be around 9 o’clock before it shines in here again.

I’ll be out of here as early as possible to hit The Slot. It looks like a really cool place to explore. I drove right on up to the parking lot earlier and didn’t come across any crazy hills like I heard about. There’s a loop I’m on that goes all the way around the loop and approaches The Slot from the other side, so maybe that’s where it is. I kind of would like to drive it, it’s on my OnX app as a 5/10 difficulty road. I only do 4/10 and under trails, so maybe I’ll pass. I’ll see how I feel once I’m done going through the slot canyon.

Day 15

Altitude: 321 ft.  Stoke level: 9 Temperature: 91-70 degrees       Conditions: clear, no clouds, no wind

I got up today feeling super stoked about taking on the slot canyon. I headed over there around 11. I was hoping the sunlight being somewhat overhead around that time would make better lighting for photos. I arrived at the trailhead, which I knew the location of since I had been there the day before. I had heard that the trail down to the canyon wasn’t obvious, so I did a little bit of scouting around. The trail wasn’t that hard to find, but I can see how someone could miss it. I turned down into the ravine and hiked down into the slot canyon.

From the top, it doesn’t look very impressive.

As I made my way down the canyon got narrower and narrower. It was exciting knowing what was to come next! At first the way was pretty wide open and clear.

It was pretty wide open at the beginning.

Starting to close up a bit!

I walked on, and the walls gradually got closer together until it was almost like I was in a cave! The sides narrowed until I had to start going through sideways for some parts. I loved it! The rocks were really cool looking, since they’ve been worn smooth by eons of water. It’s not really colorful, (unlike Antelope Canyon in Arizona) but it has some really interesting geological features. It’s great fun to go through one of these slot canyons.

My favorite shot. There’s a big stone pillar that has wedged itself in above the canyon. It’ll really junk up the canyon when it falls, hopefully not on anybody!

The trail through where the canyon is very short, maybe around a quarter of a mile. After I navigated this stretch, it opened back up again. The trail went on for a ways further before hitting the main road and you could walk that back to the parking lot. There was a path to go the other way which made a loop that involved climbing out of the canyon somehow. I elected to do that, as I was wanting to spend more time in the canyon and not be hiking down a dusty road.

It started opening back up again on the other side.

The canyon was pretty well done by this point.

I doubled back and looked for another way up out of the canyon I might have missed. I walked back up the way I came and found another trail off to the side. It looked pretty well traveled judging from the footprints. I decided to give it a shot and see where I wound up. At first it was pretty wide without many obstacles. Soon however, it started heading upwards pretty sharply. It began to get pretty challenging to traverse as well. I was definitely off the beaten path!

The trail started to get to places like this where you had to pretty much crawl through.

I soon caught up to a couple of guys walking ahead of me. I asked them if this route took you back to the parking lot, they had no idea. They were just exploring and hoping like myself! I referenced my trail app and it showed I was going in the direction I wanted to go in. It also appeared that the trail I was on dead-ended in a contour line. I was getting close to the top, so maybe I could scramble up the rest of the way if I ran out of trail. Sure enough, about 30 feet from the top the trail went kaput. At first I was bummed that I’d have to go all the way back down, but after inspecting the cliff, I reckoned I could indeed climb up to the top. I scrambled up the hill, and I made it up sucessfully! There was a great view from up there. I could see back down into the canyon, and I could see the parking lot on the other side of the ravine about a quarter mile away.

Really great views from up top.

I could look down into The Slot at this point.

There was no way I was going to get across to where The Beast was parked from where I was at. I set off overland on some trails heading back the way I needed to go. I didn’t have to go far to arrive back at the point where I first went down to the canyon. What a great experience that was! I’m hooked on slot canyons now. I briefly thought about maybe heading up to Antelope Canyon in northern Arizona for my birthday on Sunday.

I had talked to a group of hikers while I was admiring the collasped pillar who were from Arizona, and they told me it was like a 7-8 hour drive from where I was at. It was tempting, but it would cost me money and more importantly, time. It’d be a day there and back, plus a day or two there. My main mission was to explore the California desert, and besides that I was itching to pick up my solar gear in Yucca Valley as soon as I could. It would be a really cool thing to do though!

I drove back into Borrego Springs to pick up some Gorilla Glue, then went back down the same road that went to The Slot. My goal was to get to the trailhead of Fish Creek Wash/Sandstone Canyon and spend the night at a campground there. It was late in the day, and I didn’t want to traverse the canyon at this hour. My destination was the Mud Caves, only reachable by this route. I had heard that the canyon was pretty easy to navigate, but there were some tight spaces that might not work for driving The Beast through. I wanted to do my research before possibly getting myself into a hairy situation.

I got to the Fish Creek Primitive Campground and I was in luck! The campground was small, only six spaces, but it was deserted! Not only that, but I got strong 5G signal being on the Salton Sea side of the mountain, and I had a good view to boot! It turned out to be one of the best campsites I’ve had so far on the trip. For dinner I made some carne asada I bought from the market. It didn’t come pre-cut, so after I cooked the steaks I tore them in half and stuffed them in my tortillas. It was so good, nothing better than tacos in the desert!

I love an empty campground!

I could almost see the Salton Sea from here.

Desert tacos rule!

It was another great day out in the desert. The Slot Canyon definitely lived up to the hype, and ending the day at a great camp with tacos was the cherry on top. Now I’ve got to decide if I want to take on this trail or not. I’ll do my research tonight and decide in the morning. I do want to see those mud caves for sure!

Day 16

Altitude: 2689 ft.  Stoke level: 7 Temperature: 97-45 degrees  Conditions: clear, sunny, light wind

After a morning doing research, I decided to not take the trail to the mud caves. There were a lot of videos on YouTube of people running the canyon and the narrow parts looked like they would be trouble for The Beast. Jeeps could get through fine, and 4 Runners and Tacomas could get through just barely with a spotter. I didn’t feel like tearing up my truck, so I made the decision to abort the mission. I really hate to not go through with plans, but I’ve learned from past disasters that sometimes it’s just not worth it. There are plenty other trails that will work fine for me in other places.

Since I wasn’t going to go to the mud caves, I was done with Anza-Borrego. I was ready for some new desert to explore, and I was itching to pick up my items in Yucca Valley. I got packed up and headed over to Ocotillo Wells campground where I heard they had pay showers. I haven’t showered in over two weeks, so it was time! On the way, I passed this huge community where everyone lived in RV’s and storage containers. It looked like a real tweaker nest! I’m not used to seeing places like this in California, it looked more like something you’d see in Nevada. Pretty place for a tweaker camp, they picked a good spot for it I guess.

For over a mile, it was tweaker central.

I made my way over to the campground with the showers. I was expecting the worst, but found that not only did the showers work, but they were spotless as well. They worked on quarters, you got around a minute a quarter. The water was hot and good pressure also. I took an incredible shower, it’s good to wash all the grime off when you get a chance on an expedition! I usually take baby-wipe baths every 2-3 days or so and that works pretty well. I have a camp shower but I hardly ever use it. It just takes a lot of water to use, and the spray isn’t that great. Still, it is good in a pinch!

After I took a shower, I was ready to make the 2 and a half hour run up to Joshua Tree. I orginally had planned on circling the Salton Sea, but I wanted to be up there by four so I’d have to pass on that. The banana museum I wanted to check out on the north shore was closed anyways. I did however get off the highway at Salton City and drive down as close as I could to the water. It’s a pretty sad town. You can tell where they laid out the streets and subdivisions thinking all these people were going to come live there. There’s maybe like one house per block in the desert, and they all look pretty run down. Every once in a while there is a nice house, but they are few and far between. This place has definitely seen better days.

I got down to the beach, and you can see where the water used to be and where it is now. The water has receded something like a quarter mile from where it originally was. I hear on the other side of the lake the water has receded even further than this. It was pretty desolate, but the view wasn’t bad. There were some paragliders flying around to the north, so it looks like some people are still having a good time down here.

These cats are having a good time though!

As I started driving north along the Salton Sea, I started getting into the Coachella Valley. I started seeing massive orchards of date palms, yet another thing I don’t think I’ve ever seen in California. I’ve never come up through Indio and Palm Desert before, so I was looking forward to the scenery. There must be a reason why they have the Coachella festival here every year. It’s a pretty lush region for the desert actually. The whole area seems like one big oasis.

I made my way into Palm Springs and saw a sign for Popeye’s, so I had to stop and grab a fried chicken sandwich and a big cup of sweet tea. That really hit the spot! A little bit of driving on I-10 later, I came to the Highway 62 turnoff for the Morongo Valley, and now I was in familiar territory. It’s been 3 years since I’ve been here, and I was glad to be back. However, I started feeling a bit nauseous and anxious. I don’t know if it was the caffeine from the tea, a hangover from last night’s beers, being stressed over picking up my gear, or trepidation over getting to my destination later than I wanted, but it definitely knocked some of the stoke off of my day.

I got to Yucca Valley and tracked down all my gear. Everything was as I ordered, and picking it up went without issue. In addition to the things I got delivered, I picked up a small step ladder so I can reach my roof to work on things up there. I’m so glad I could have all this sent to me on the road! I figured I’d be dealing with this electrical issue until I got back to Santa Cruz, but through the magic of the Internet I’ve got everything I need to be truly self-sufficient power-wise now. I’ve just got to get this panel installed on my camper roof. It’ll take a day for my mounting tape to set, so I need to find a good spot I can hang out for a bit and get this panel put on.

My destination was a BLM campsite about a half hour’s drive north of Yucca Valley to a place I’ve never been. I was hoping being so far out of town would give me a better chance at having some privacy. I arrived at the place about an hour before dark, which is way later than I like to arrive at my camp for the evening. The camping place is this flat sandy area that used to be an ancient lake bed, I think. My nearest neighbors were about a quarter mile away so I thought I was all good.

It seemed like a decent campsite at first.

Unfortunately, after a few minutes of hanging out at the site, I realized I was in one of those damn SRVA areas! My neighbors were cruising around on four-wheelers and motorcycles making a hellish racket. It wasn’t just them, it seemed that I’d landed right in a thicket of motorized campers. Drat my luck! As it was so late, I was pretty much stuck were I was at for the night. I resigned myself to the aggravation and set up camp.

I got unpacked for the night while the crew next door zipped around all over the place. I don’t like to hate on people who are trying to have a good time out in the wilderness, but it just twists my guts into knots having to listen to all the racket when I’m out here to find peace and quiet. They also cranked up their sound system and what do you know, here’s another group that likes to listen to crappy classic rock. They’d probably be good buddies with the crew from the other night at Hawk Canyon! At one point they even started shooting off fireworks. That actually was pretty cool, at least they’re getting their kicks that way and not discharging firearms in every random direction. That’s one good thing I can say about them.

Looks like this campsite is chock-full of my old desert friends, the kangaroo rats! As I was cooking dinner, I looked down and saw a rat right next to my foot. I kicked at him and he ran away, only to come back a few seconds later. His buddy came at me from the other side, when I’d shoo one away, I’d look over to the other side and the other would be sitting right next to my foot. A couple of times they even ran up on my feet! I think they were trying to climb my legs to get at my food.

The little bastards were everywhere! They actually are pretty cool little creatures. Their tails are long with a little tuft of fur on the end, and they have great big back feet. They don’t scurry, instead they hop around like little kangaroos! They’re pretty entertaining little jokers. I didn’t see any of these critters down in the Colorado Desert, maybe they are only native to the Mojave. I remember the first time I camped in Joshua Tree they would climb all over my truck. I spent all night trying to keep them out of my camper, I’ve never seen a place so infested with vermin! This is nothing compared to that, as long as they stay out of my space I won’t mess with them.

Oh well, I guess this camp is a wash. I definitely don’t want to install my panel here tomorrow and have to spend another night, so in the morning I’ll have to hunt for a better location. There’s another BLM parcel next to this one, so I’ll scout it out tomorrow. I’ll let my new panel adhere for a day, then head into Joshua Tree Park proper on Saturday. I know this trail that runs north to south across the park. I’ve never gone that route so it’ll be something new to experience. I’m sure that there will be some good dispersed camping along that route. Hopefully the weekend warriors won’t be clogging things up too badly. I have my doubts though, this is peak season for visiting this area and there was so much traffic on the way in. I imagine it’ll be a complete clusterfuck until Monday. Oh well, at least I made it up here! I’ll make the best of it.

Camping, Off-Roading

Good Times in the Bad Lands

Day 10

Altitude: 322 ft.  Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 98-70 degrees        Conditions: sunny, light wind

I finally managed to pry myself away from my campsite in Arroyo Salado. I needed to go into town to reload on supplies and upload my blog, but first I wanted to check out this BLM campsite about five miles down the road in the direction of Salton City. I knew that this campsite would have a nice view of the Salton Sea, and I wanted to see that sea for the first time. I drove down the road and located the spot without a problem. Like most BLM land, it was wide open and there was quite a vast area there with many places to camp.

Sure enough, the site had a great view of the Salton Sea! I had always thought of it as this dying, shrinking inland sea (and it is) but it still stretches from horizon to horizon. I was still 10-15 miles away and I could smell the faint odor of rotten fish on the breeze however. The water has retreated so fast in such a short amount of time. I’ve seen documentaries and pictures of all the dead fish everywhere as a result. The Salton Sea is not a natural feature, it was created artifically. Back in the 50’s developers planned a ‘California Riviera’ type community around the lake, and for a while it went pretty well. Lots of people bought homes and businesses there.

Unfortunately, over the years it has dried up and created a blighted community. The legendary ‘Slab City’ is located at the southeast end of the sea next to a military gunnery range. It’s a lawless, Mad-Max style tweaker community that I hear actually has a little art and music scene going on there. I’d like to check it out, but if something went wrong with The Beast and I broke down there I’m sure those bastards would strip my truck. Dealing with suspicious tweakers is not on my desert agenda at all. I’ll probably at least go check out Salton City and Bombay Beach though. There’s supposedly a banana museum over there, that sounds pretty interesting. I’ll have to get around to that next week sometime.

The gully behind my campsite on BLM land. The Salton Sea can be seen in the background.

Amazingly, at this spot I got almost full bars of 5G data! I was able to upload my blog and my UFO & fox videos to YouTube without a problem. That saved me a trip into town. Of course, I still needed fuel and supplies, but that could wait another day. The BLM spot was pretty wide-open, but the highway ran only about a quarter mile away so it definitely wasn’t quiet. Also, there were a lot of OHV trails in the area so there were dune buggies and motorcycles constantly zipping back and forth. Still, it was reasonably private and I had good signal, so I would stick with it for the night.

I had been meaning to get to Font’s Point all week, so since I was only about a 15 minute drive from the trailhead I headed that way. I found the trail to be in a wash with deep sand, definitely only accessible by 4 wheel drive. I deflated my tires and locked my hubs for the 4 mile trip to the location. It’s always amazing how good The Beast can handle bad trail conditions with my all-terrain tires. A couple of times it threatened to bog me down, but I just kept steady throttle and managed to get through the deep desert sand.

Deep sand was no problem for The Beast to plow through! I really liked the wide trail on the way to Font’s Point as well.

I arrived at Font’s Point to find that I was the only one there! It’s the most popular view in the whole park and I was to have it all to myself. What a stroke of luck! I got out and walked up to the vista point, and I was completely blown away. I had heard the place was called ‘California’s Grand Canyon’ and I can see why. I’ve seen a lot of cool formations out in the desert, but nothing like this. This is a proper canyon for sure! I mean, it’s no Grand Canyon, but it has a similar feel of space and awe.

It’s a photographer’s dream, and I hear sunset and sunrise are the best times to take photos. There’s just so much texture in the landscape, as well as color. I had learned from the Visitor Center what each level of the canyon corresponded to in geologic time. Since at one point this all used to be a sea (and then the Colorado River came through and carved it out, same as the Grand Canyon) you can tell by the sediment colors whether they were from land or ocean strata.

Looking towards Borrego Springs.

Panorama of Font’s Point, south to west.

Font’s Point towards the northwest. Behind that mountain in the middle of the shot (Coyote Mountain) is a valley called Coyote Canyon, where I camped at when I first got here.

I was very impressed with Font’s Point. I was glad I had made the trek out there. I’m a sucker for any kind of novel geologic formation! It was incredible to have experienced it without anyone else around as well. Font’s Point, like the Grand Canyon, doesn’t translate as well to film as it does to the naked eye. Pictures don’t do places like this justice. Just being there, looking out into this huge void makes one feel insignificant. I’ll be forever amazed by what nature can accomplish!

I made my way back to the BLM land around 3 o’clock. Some group of RV’s had claimed my spot, but there was plenty open land with good views of the Salton Sea. There was also a nice canyon behind my campspot, I could just pull up right to the edge. It was a sort of mini-Font’s Point in itself! I set up camp and enjoyed the view.

Great camp, noisy location though.

When night fell, it was very lit up and lively! It was totally unlike my previous spot on the other side of the ridge. For starters, the lights of Salton City filled the horizon to the east. From the northeast to the south I saw the lights of cities, from Palm Springs, to Indio & the Coachella Valley, to Joshua Tree, on down to Calexico and Mexicali. I love being out here in the desert, you can see for miles! There were all kinds of lights everywhere, it’s neat to look at but I hate the light pollution overall.

In addition to this, the lights and noise from the highway took off some love I had for the place. There were also a lot of people out on their buggies and dirtbikes at all hours of the night. I definitely don’t need to camp near an SVRA any more! (SVRA is State Vehicle Recreation Area by the way. These are places where it’s legal to take your off-highway vehicle to tear up dirt to your heart’s content.)

I’m still having issues with my 12 volt cooler. It uses just a bit more power than my 100 watt panel can provide for a day. The voltage has been getting lower and lower every night. Last night it was at 12.0 which is very bad. I can’t risk ruining my battery over a few cheap foodstuffs, so what I think I’m going to have to do is go to town tomorrow and find a cheap cooler of some type and some ice. I hate to do it, but if I don’t give the battery time to recharge, I could mess it up. The way it looks is that I’m going to have to ice my perishables down one day out of every 4-5. I’m still saving money, but it is a huge hassle.

Unless I’m on the move, the cooler will have to stay off. That sucks because I mostly use it to keep beer, Powerade, green tea and water cold. It’s been sweltering out here the last couple of days so cold drinks are almost a necessity. I’m definitely going to order another solar panel, one with tilting brackets so I can change the angle of it with the sun. I’ve still got room space to expand, so I think that will be the easiest, cheapest way out of my solar predicament.

Day 11

Altitude: 1449 ft.  Stoke level: 8.5 Temperature: 91-61 degrees        Conditions: sunny, light clouds, light to moderate wind

When I got up this morning, my battery was at 11.8. This simply will not do. As much as I hate to do it, I need to go get myself a cooler and some ice. I can’t let my battery be damaged trying to keep ten dollars worth of food cold. I got back on the road and headed to Borrego Springs. I went to the market and got a few items, most importantly a small styrofoam cooler and a 7 lb. bag of ice. I did the usual gas/garbage dump pit stop and planned out my day.

Borrego Springs is known for all the metal sculptures in and around town. I looked up on Google Maps where the biggest concentration was at and headed that way. The one I was looking most forward to was this dragon sculpture that appears to undulate under the sand on either side of the highway. I drove over to see that one first. I drove up to it and it didn’t disappoint! It’s pretty famous around town, you’ll see representations of the dragon all around Borrego Springs. There were a few people around, so I waited until there was a gap in the crowds for a few moments and took some pictures.

Very impressive dragon! Note how it’s designed to look as if it’s going underneath the road.

The tail of the dragon looking back the other way.

On the other side of the road about a half mile down from the dragon were a whole bunch more animal sculptures. I drove over there to go check them out. It is really bizarre seeing life-sized amimals standing still and not moving around! I guess this is the appeal of such sculptures.

Other than the dragon, this one was my favorite. It think it’s supposed to be a giant ground sloth.

After I looked at all the sculptures, I decided to go south out of town and check out that part of the park. So far I have checked out the northwest and northeast parts of the top 1/3rd of the park. Now I wanted to go check out the southeast and south parts of the north 1/3. This place is so vast, I’ve been here a bit more than a week and I’ve seen less than a third of the park!

My destination for the day was a dispersed campground called Yaqui Wells. As I headed out of town on the highway south, I saw another area filled with metal sculpture! I had to stop and check it out. First there was an eagle sitting by itself, then across the road were a lot of saber-toothed cats attacking wild horses. Such great art, you could imagine these very same animals out here living their lives so long ago.

I made my down to the campground up in a place in the mountains called Lizard Canyon. The turn-off was easy to miss, so I passed it and had to double back a couple of times to find it. I was pleasantly surprised to find the place deserted other than a handful of other people. I was nervous about trying to find a new camp on a Saturday, but it really worked out. It’s designed where no one has to camp within a couple hundred yards of one another, which I really like. Like every camping spot I’ve been to here though, it’s close by a road and the noise is continual. I can’t wait until I get up to the Mojave and be truly out in the remote desert. No noise or traffic, and a lot less people await me.

I had a really great dinner. I made some dirty rice along with Glory Southern-Style Butter Beans. I was impressed by the southern food selection of the small market in Borrego Springs. They had all kinds of Louisiana brand fish fry and a few canned vegetables like the Glory Brand. I can get the Glory Brand mustard & turnip greens in the Santa Cruz area, but not the butterbeans. It was a real score! I’ll have to stock up before I leave town.

The only better butter beans you’ll have is if your mama cooks them!

Getting ready to cook up dirty rice with help from The Beast’s doors in order to help combat mean dinner-depriving winds.

As I was cooking dinner, the sun began to go behind the mountains. There were enough clouds in the sky to promise a great sunset, and I was not let down.

I could tell that it was going to be a great sunset!

Best sunset of the expedition so far.

Today was a pretty good day, all things considered. Other than the issues I’m having with my battery and the 12-volt cooler, everything went pretty well. I’ve made all the arrangements I need to fly back to Louisiana on the 18th of November, so the expedition has a deadline now. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what exactly I want to do in the short and long term on this expedition. Tomorrow I’ll either go to this cool slot canyon or this place called Blair Valley. After I see these places I want to go see these mud caves that they have here.

When I’m through with these places I’ll be pretty much done with all I want to see here. I’m wanting to go check out the Salton Sea, then drive this trail I’ve never been on in Joshua Tree National Park. After that, I’ll go spend some time up in the Mojave National Preserve. That’ll pretty much fill up the next couple weeks. I’ve still got things to see here in Anza-Borrego before I leave though! I figure I’ll head out around mid-week.

Day 12

Altitude: 2570 ft. Stoke Meter: 9 Temperature: 86 to 61 degrees Conditions: sunny, light clouds, moderate wind

After a night off from having to keep my cooler charged, my voltimeter was at 12.4 this morning. It was a bit less than I had hoped for, but anything is better than the readings I’ve been recording the last few days! It was actually pretty chilly when I woke up, the temps at 7:30 AM were only at 61, but it was around 50% humidity which is really rare for the desert. I guess it’s the effect that Lizard Canyon has on the local micro-climate. It sure made the air a lot more chilly than usual!

I figured I’d take my time on getting into the day so the weekend warriors could filter out a bit. I was going back and forth on whether or not I should go to Blair Valley or The Slot today. After much thought, I decided that the slot canyon would be much better experienced away from the weekend crowds, so I decided to put that off until the upcoming week. Blair Valley would be my destination for the day!

I wanted to be in a cool spot for Halloween. Blair Valley made me think about The Blair Witch Project and Linda Blair from The Exorcist, so that sounded like a good place for me to wind up for the evening. Since I had no signal for Google Maps to work with, I left the campsite in the general direction of where I wanted to go. Unfortunately, after almost an hour of driving, I realized I was heading in completely the wrong direction. After a string of cussing, I managed to catch myself and get back on track.

I still did really good though, and managed to find the entrance to Blair Valley 3 hours before the sun went down. I charged down a really nice stretch of off-road towards some land that was marked on my map as being a dispersed camping area. After trying out a couple of potential spots, I finally found my camp for the night. The cove in the mountain only had one other camper within a quarter mile vicinity, so I felt that it was ok. Incredibly, somehow I had almost full 5G connection here as well! This camp was going to be a good one! I got set up for the night, and put my phone to work downloading and uploading the many files needed to keep this expedition on the rails.

This place is just gorgeous. I had a nice little fire-pit spot about twenty yards away from where the land was flat enough for me to park, so I got my campfire kit out in preparation for my upcoming Halloween bonfire. While I was doing this, I had to take time out to take pictures of the sunset. While the mountains in front of me blocked out a lot of the lightshow, there still was enough sunset to light the sky up real pretty.

Blair Valley sunset.

It was around this time when things started to get a little weird. I heard a single gunshot from my next-door neighbors. Normally I wouldn’t trip out about it too much, as people out here in the middle of nowhere sometimes like to shoot rounds off for shits and giggles. I’ve been known to do this occasionally! Nevertheless, it stuck me as weird that there was only one round fired from what sounded like a big caliber handgun and nothing else after that. I started to get a bit nervous, so for the first time on this trip I got my shotgun out and loaded up a few shells. Better safe than sorry!

I actually just made a nice upgrade to my stock Mossberg 88 12 gauge shotgun. I got a magazine mounting bracket for a light to put on the thing. For the light, I shelled out 120 bucks for a Streamlight high-intensity tactical flashlight that is designed for firearms. It was the most expensive light I’ve ever bought, but man oh man, is that thing bright! The way I think about it, the light is just as much of a defensive weapon as the shotgun. It can burn your eyes out at night if you’re looking at it from the wrong end. In addition to this new light, I added a clip-on fiber optic bead to my barrel which is a huge improvement to my aim.

My new Streamlight and enhanced fiber-optic bead.

By my fire, I had set up my new Kaito survival radio so I could listen to Coast to Coast live on the air. I’ve stopped subscribing to the show since I’ve don’t like the direction that it is going in these days, but on Halloween I’ve got to tune in for old time’s sake! The reception here is pretty crappy, but after winding my 25 foot antenna in the top of a nearby creosote bush I got a decent signal from AM 600 out of San Diego. It wasn’t the best show, but I felt good that I followed tradition and listened in along with the C2C nationwide audience.

Everything I need, all close at hand.

All things considered, it was a good place to spend Halloween. I’m going to make the Blair Valley & Little Blair Valley loop tomorrow, looking forward to seeing more of this spectacular place!

Day 13

Altitude: 2560 ft. Stoke meter: 7 Temperature: 82-60 degrees Conditions: partly cloudy, light wind

I was up until dawn writing, and only got about 3 hours sleep. I was feeling pretty haggard and hung over. I’m at the point in the expedition where I can’t waste days any more, so I got myself together and prepared to break camp.

The sunrise was breathtaking this morning.

I actually was feeling pretty proud of myself. Since I had such a good signal last night, I got online and managed to track down the parts I need to expand my solar capacity. I ordered my wiring and mounting brackets on Amazon and had them shipped to a Amazon box up in Yucca Valley, which is up by Joshua Tree. They couldn’t send the actual 100 watt solar panel there due to the size, so I did an in-store pickup order at Home Depot also in Yucca Valley. I searched and searched all over for a place I could go pick this stuff up, I was even willing to drive the hour to San Diego. This is the only way to go about it unfortunately. I’ll be up there around Joshua Tree in a few days so I that’s why I ordered ahead. The parts will be in on Thursday but the panel will come in sometime next week. My expedition will almost be over by then! Oh well, I’ve been long needing an upgrade for my setup, I’ll think of it as a birthday present for myself!

I hit the road around 11 and started making my way around the loop. The Blair Valley trail makes its way through Blair Valley and loops around the other side of the mountain through what is called Little Blair Valley. The road is in good condition, and this being Monday, there was no traffic at all. I was glad for this, as the road was only one lane and it would have been an aggravation having to find a place to pull over to let people by.

The road was about as good as it gets for off-roading.

After a short distance, I came up on a kiosk that told me about the interesting hikes that were located right off the trail. I remember reading about them beforehand but I had completely spaced it. I was barely in good enough shape to drive, not to mention hiking in the desert sun! If I would have remembered, I might would have taken the extra day to recover. I didn’t want to miss these trails however.

There were three trails to consider. One was to an old homestead where this anthropologist lived at in the early 1900’s, and the other two were of native people’s pictographs and villages. I decided to skip the homestead trail for another day and just focus on the native people’s trails. I was tired and kind of shaky, but sometimes you’ve just got to force yourself to do things…especially if you know you’ll regret not doing it later.

I soon came across the trailhead for the first spot called the ‘Ehmuu-Morteros trail. ‘Ehmuu means “bedrock hole” in Kumeyaay, the local tribe that lived in these parts. Morteros means “mortar” in Spanish. The Kumeyaay had a village down here, and there are mortar holes in the rocks where they used to pound grain, hence the name. As I set out on the trail, I began to feel the magic of the place. I can totally see why they settled here, the place is just incredibly beautiful. The terrain is really interesting as well with big boulders everywhere. My hangover soon disappeared from the excitement I felt from being in such an interesting spot. There was a healing energy about the place.

Looking back from the way I came in on the ‘Ehmuu Morteros trail. This place is the definition of desert solitude!

There was a handy pamphlet at the trailhead that gave the history of the place, as well as explained the meaning of the numbered sites along the trail. First thing I noticed was the different species of desert plants up here. There were yuccas, juniper, and agave all over the place. Since I’m at around 3000 ft. elevation, different species grow here than down in Borrego Valley. I also saw some different species of cholla and cactus I hadn’t seen before.

The All-Stars of the high desert. Agave in front, cholla in the middle and a yucca in the back.

The little map in the pamphlet wasn’t the best, so I had trouble finding the sites. I just kind of blundered into most of them. I really wanted to see the mortar holes and pictographs, so those were what I was keeping an eye out for. While I was taking pictures of big rocks, I just stumbled into the first site. It was pretty neat! The holes were pretty deep and perfectly round. The natives must have pounded on these rocks for a very long time to make holes like this. I spent some time there just wondering what it was like for the native peoples that lived here. Thanks to the park service for preserving the place to be like it was a 1000 years ago. I felt the energy of the place, I almost expected to run into a Kumeyaay ghost at any moment! I love historical places, it’s almost like time travel in a way.

I was overjoyed at finding the morteros, so now it was time to go find the pictograph. I set off down the trail. I walked and walked, and soon my feet began to kill me. I had stupidly worn my off-road Crocs, which are not good at all for rock-hopping and desert work. I finally reached a point where I had enough. Regrettably, I turned around and headed back up the trail.

The point where I turned around. Nice view though!

I was really sad about not finding the pictograph. On my way back however, I noticed a small directional sign I had overlooked. I followed it, and what do you know, I found the pictograph! It was in really good shape, it looked like it had been freshly painted. Who knows how many years it had been there?

Mission success! I stood there for a while just wondering what it meant. No one will ever know except the artist themselves.

After I got my fill of enjoying the pictograph, I turned and headed back up the trail. I was distracted by thinking about the pictograph, and I didn’t pay attention to where my body was in relation to the many prickly things along the trail. Suddenly, I got a poke on my right calf. An agave plant had stabbed me, and left a nice wound. Blood immediately started gushing out. It soon started pooling in my Crocs, so I made the hike back to The Beast with pain in my leg and sticky blood in my shoe. I guess that was the price that the trail demanded for seeing the sites, a blood sacrifice was in order! I somehow got lost on the way out and hit the main road a quarter mile away from my truck. I knew where I was at so I wasn’t truly lost, but it was good to find The Beast where I had left him.

No expedition would be complete without a wound or two.

Fortunately, I have first aid gear in my truck so I got cleaned and patched up from my injury. Those agave plants are as sharp as cactus, I’ve got to watch out for them in the future. I was ready to go check out the other trail, so I drove a mile and a half to the next trailhead. This trail called ‘The Pictograph Trail’ promised more pictographs after a mile hike in. My leg hurt a bit from the poke, but not enough to keep me from hiking. This trail was a lot wider and easier to navigate, but it was a lot longer than the other hike. It took around 40 minutes to get to the end.

The trail appeared to dead end in this box canyon. This must be where the pictographs are at!

I followed the trail through the end of the box canyon where it abruptly ended in a 40 foot cliff with an incredible view. I looked everywhere for the pictographs but couldn’t find them anywhere. I hoped to stumble across them like I did before, but no luck this time. I did find another mortero site though. I really liked the place however, it was worth the hike even though I didn’t find what I was looking for.

End of the trail. No pictographs anywhere!

I did find these as a consolation prize however.

On my way back, I ran into a couple of old guys hiking up the trail. I told them I couldn’t find the pictographs for the life of me, but I wished them luck on their search. I got back to my truck and as it was getting later on in the day, I decided to finish the loop and camp somewhere near where I had camped the night before. I started up the east side of the loop which ran through Little Blair Valley. It was just as beautiful as the other side, most of it consisting of a dry lake bed. It was almost like a savannah instead of a desert.

I returned to the dispersed campground on the other side of the mountain once I finished my loop. I found a site close by where I camped the night before. I was too tired to write, so I made some mac and cheese and watched The Man in the High Castle for a while. What a day it was! Tomorrow is going to be a writing and provisioning day. I’m going to get set up to take on this slot canyon that I’ve been hearing so much about. It’ll probably be Wednesday before I tackle that. I hear there’s a pretty hairy hill to go down, it might be a problem for The Beast. I need to gather info about the best way to tackle it. We’ll see how it goes!

Camping, Off-Roading

UFO’s, Foxes, and a Damn Good Campsite

Day 7

Altitude: 855 ft. Stoke level: 10 Temperature: 79-64 degrees Conditions: sunny, clear, calm

Today was probably one of the finest days I’ve ever had out exploring the desert wastes of California. I finally managed to get the motivation to pack up my campsite and head to town. I had some shopping to do as well as to upload my blog. As cellular signal in town is lacking, I needed to find a place with wifi to upload. I was craving a cheeseburger, so I found this place named Carlee’s that had both wifi and burgers! They had green chilie cheeseburgers (my favorite) so I ordered one. I ordered mine medium-rare and it came out pretty rare, but that was fine by me! It was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, and the beer-battered fries were top-notch as well.

I managed to get my blog uploaded, got a few groceries and topped off my tank before heading out of town towards the east side of the park. I wanted to find a place to camp close to Font’s Point so I found a dispersed campground called Arroyo Salado close by. I found the campground completely deserted, which is a big reason I love exploring during the week! I followed a trail off to the side which led to a little nook which contained a couple of campsites with fire pits. I knew that this was the camp for me so I parked and set up shop.

Looking west back towards Borrego Springs. The mountains in the background were where I saw the weird light flying around later that evening.

I made a fire and got prepared to grill a steak over the coals. It was a calm clear evening with only the slightest bit of wind blowing. The temperature was perfect, I didn’t need the fire for warmth but it was nice to make a fire for the first time on this trip. It’s a pretty busy air corridor as I’m pretty close to San Diego and a few military bases, so there were a lot of aircraft flying around the sky. They are pretty easy to identify, with their red & green lights blinking and straight flight paths.

Nothing better than making a nice fire out in the desert.

As I was grilling my steak, I saw a light appear over the mountains to the west. At first I thought it was a plane, even though I didn’t see any navigation lights on it. It was flying south to north in a straight line when suddenly it started to make huge loops and move in really odd ways. The speed at which it was making these maneuvers was impossible for a normal aircraft to make. I must have watched it for a minute when I realized I needed to be recording what I was seeing, so I pushed record and filmed what I saw.

It was an incredible thing to witness! It was easy to see with the naked eye but when I reviewed the film, the results were inconclusive. The mountains were set in relief by the light pollution coming from San Diego, so I had a visual reference to see the erratic motions of the craft. In watching the video though, you just see a light in the darkness. The camera can’t pick up enough light to show the mountain range in relation to the unidentified light. As I’m tracking the object with the camera, you can’t see the relative motion. I got on Google Photos and applied image stabilization which helped, but it blurred the light too much with visual artifacts. I then processed it with full brightness which helped see the motion of the object somewhat.

I can see it move around in loops and odd directions, but I don’t know if anyone else will be able to. Still, I saw what I saw, and this is the evidence I gathered. If I see something like this again I’ll stay zoomed out and not follow the light with my phone. It was a really cool thing to witness, that’s why I like stargazing out in the desert, you never know what you’ll see! The lack of light pollution results in an amazing display of stars & the Milky Way at night, so even without UAP’s flying around there is so much to see out here in the darkness.

At the end of the video, I stopped recording and tried to reacquire the light again with my naked eye. Within moments it just vanished, never to appear again. What it was, I’ll never know. I’ve never seen anything so brightly lit up move with such agility. It must have been moving hundreds of feet in the blink of an eye, moving at high rates of speed. There’s no way it was a manned craft to move so fast. The closest thing I can compare it to is an insect flying around a light source at night. Its movements were just so random! Plus it was lit up as bright as an airplane, so who knows what it was? It certainly was an exciting thing to see!

As I was trying to come to terms with what had happened, I saw movement from around the front of my truck. I shone my headlamp on the visitor to find a desert fox staring at me! It turned tail and ran away, I chased after it to look at it better. Every now and then my headlamp would illuminate its eyes with a blue reflection. It would have been pretty spooky if I didn’t know what I was looking at! With the UFO and now the fox sighting, I felt incredibly blessed by my choice in campsites. That, along with the delicious cheeseburger I had earlier and the perfect conditions gave today a 10 on the Stoke Meter without question. Days like this are why I go through so much trouble and expense to do trips such as these. So far this expedition has really delivered, I hope it keeps going this way!

Day 8

Altitude: 855 ft. Stoke level: 9 Temperature: 84-70 degrees Conditions: sunny, clear, calm

I woke up late after staying up most of the night hoping the UFO/UAP would make another appearance. I orginally had intended to go explore Font’s Point while the crowds were away, but I didn’t want to take a chance on having someone claim this excellent spot while I was away…so I stayed put. I drank many beers while watching the video I made the night before. I did everything I could to try and show what I saw with my naked eye on video, but no matter what I did I wasn’t impressed with the results. With brightness cranked to 100% you can see the grain behind the image and that kind of gives perspective to the motion of the craft. In the end I was disappointed that it didn’t show what I saw with my eyes exactly, but it’s better than not having a video at all.

I made my first big blunder of the expedition so far. I noticed that my cooler was having trouble staying below 40 degrees during the heat of the day (it’s set at 32 degrees, actual temperature is 5-7 degrees above what the display reads). This is on ‘Eco’, which is the most energy-efficient setting. Usually this is fine at night and uses very little power, so it’s my go-to setting. I decided to set it to ‘Max’ setting to see how that worked out. At first, it worked out great, the temperature started to drop back down into the 30’s. I then made the critical error of passing out most of the afternoon. When I woke up around sunset, my energy meter showed I had way overblown my energy budget for the day. My solar battery was dangerously discharged. I had used more power than I had taken in during sunlight hours. I have to be careful about discharging my battery more than 50% in a day, it’s harmful to it if I dip below 12.2 volts. I got right to 12.2 at the low point last night because of my flub, that can’t happen again. I’ll have to take my chances at the ‘Eco’ setting and hope that nothing gets too warm & I get food poisoning.

It turned out to be another perfect night condition-wise. I made a big batch of Mi Goreng Indonesian noodles with snow pea pods, mini corn and fried spam. It takes a lot of prep to make such a meal, but it was worth it. As I cooked, I’d occasionally drop bits of food in the sand which I would throw away towards the perimeter of my campsite. At one point I thought I saw movement and shone my light in that direction. It was the fox, it had returned!

This time it showed no fear of me, and I got good film of him. He was running around gobbling up all the bits of food I had dropped making my noodles. At one point it got within 5 feet of me! I had never been so close to a fox before. At one point I thought he might possibly try and bite me, even though he showed no aggressive behavior and wasn’t foaming at the mouth or anything. He was just a brave little fox. I was honored to be visited by this desert animal. The desert appears to be barren but obviously there’s a lot of life out there running around. I take care on where I walk because I know there’s sidewinders and scorpions out here roaming around at night as well. Still, seeing some wildlife so close was a real treat. As I say in the video, it was a real ‘National Geographic’ kind of moment!

As far as sighting any mysterious crafts, I did witness a strange blinking red light going back and forth across the mountain in roughly the same spot as the object the night before. It would jump around a bit, but nothing like the object did the night before. I made a video, but it really didn’t show that much. I reckoned it could have been maybe a search-and-rescue helicopter looking for someone. I stayed out until around 10 o’clock but didn’t see anything else. There were little moths flying around everywhere, they constantly would fly into my eyes & ears. Eventually I got fed up with the bugs and decided to retreat into the relatively bug-free environment of my camper for the remainder of the evening.

As for tomorrow, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. The week is starting to wind down once again and the weekend warriors will soon be back. I really want to explore Font’s Point before the crowds show back up, but when I’ve found such a quality campsite I’m super hesitant to leave. I want to explore new places, but finding new campsites day after day is sort of a ‘hit-or-miss’ proposition. My main reason for coming down here is desert solitude, and not having to drive around having to burn expensive gas is a huge plus. Wherever I’m at on Friday is where I’ll have to spend the weekend though. I’m in no hurry to go anywhere, but if someone shows up at the other campsite here (weekend warriors love to get up in your space) it’s going to totally ruin this spot. It’s such a lovely campsite, free from the human stain. If a bunch of loudmouth yakkers show up it’ll piss all over my solitude. So I’ll see how it goes. It’s great not having a schedule and being able to do as much or as little as I want!

Day 9

Altitude: 855 ft. Stoke Meter: 9 Temperature: 90-70 degrees Conditions: sunny, clear, slight wind

Nothing really happened today. No foxes or UFO’S made an appearance. It was a real hot day, and I was just completely drained. Still in high sprits though! I’ve always wanted to watch Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle so I started watching episodes of that show today. I’m pretty impressed with it so far. I’ll definitely be leaving my camp tomorrow. It’s been a great camp, one of my all time favorite places actually. It’s time to make tracks however. I need to let my solar battery recharge, I had another low voltage situation last night. When I’ve got the 12 volt cooler plugged in all day it can’t recharge properly under load. A few hours running off the starting battery should remedy that.

I’ve got a full plate planned for tomorrow. As it is Friday already again, (can’t believe I’ve been here a week!) the weekend warrior plague will be drifting back into town. I need to go do town stuff, as well as upload this blog, check out Font’s Point, and scout out another campsite. It’s going to be a busy day!

Camping, Off-Roading

Operation Desert Solitude Begins

Day One of Operation Desert Solitude

Altitude: 2905 ft.  Stoke level: 10 Temperature: 71-56 degrees        Conditions: partly cloudy, light wind

It was such a huge relief to finally hit the road at long last! I managed to get out ahead of a run of bad weather hitting the Monterey Bay, which was nice. For at least the next 3 weeks or so I’ll try my best to outrun Autumn weather by heading south. I left town on a good note, actually. I had a great conversation with a captain Bethan referred me to up in Anchorage, a fellow named Thor. Captain Thor told me he’d be glad to take me on as deckhand for the next summer season. The season would run April to August, so at least I’ve got employment locked down for that point in the future. I’m looking forward to getting in some good commercial fishing experience. It’s going to be a long cold winter in the meantime. Oh well, best think about that later.

It was so good to hop on Highway 25 and make the run down into San Benito county. When I hit Tres Pinos I know I’m home, it’s always such a welcome feeling. The trip was uneventful, and it was a nice day weather-wise. I got really lucky on my arrival to the campground, my favorite spot was available! There’s only 6 camping spots up at Laguna Mountain, and my favorite spot has the best views in my opinion. It kind of has its own secluded driveway as well, so it’s the most private. When I’ve got my spot locked down I know I’m gonna have a real good time! I got my camp set up, which took quite a bit of time since I had a lot of new gear to integrate into my camp plan.

Out of all my new kit, my 12 volt cooler has been of particular interest to me. I love the thing, it’s got enough room to fit a couple gallon jugs of water with room to spare. It’s a miracle how something can just sip current, yet still be able to keep ice cold temperatures at the same time. Even though it sips power, it still is a steady drain on my power systems. I can power it by the main truck battery when I’m on the road, so no problem there. The issue is whether or not I can keep it going all day with just the solar battery. With the sun so low in the sky this time of year, it’s hard to get a good charge. Together with partly cloudy skies, it’s gonna be difficult to keep it going. I wanted to make this upgrade in tandem with upgrading my electrical system, being able to charge my house battery via the alternator would be a huge help right now. I had to choose one or the other so I chose to have the 12 volt cooler. We’ll definitely see if this was a wise decision on my part. So far so good though.

Another upgrade I’m really appreciating is basing all my propane needs off of a 20 lb tank. No more having to deal with those little 1 lb propane canisters! Now I can power my in-camper catalytic heater, my new stove, and this neat little gadget called a ‘Mister Heater’ by merely swapping out hoses. It’s a much better way to do things than the way I was doing it before. The Mister Heater is a infrared heating element that threads on top of my propane tank. Once it is installed, you just light it up and it makes a great heater! I got this for occasions when I want heat at night but can’t make a fire due to restrictions.

I’m really loving my new Coleman camp stove. I’ve always wanted a proper two-burner. Got a new T-Fal 12 inch non-stick skillet to use on it as well!

I had a really good first night out here at Laguna Mountain. I stayed up till probably 4 AM drinking wine and enjoying the nice clear evening. At one point I turned on my new survival radio to run through all the available bands. About the only thing on was really maniac strange Mexican music and Christian rock. Radio around here really sucks, ha ha! It’s fun to play around on my new Kaito radio. I’ve got a 25 foot wire antenna to put on the thing, so maybe after I do that I’ll pull in some interesting stations, who knows.

Day Two

Altitude: 2905 ft.  Stoke level: 7 Temperature: 72-59 degrees  Conditions: partly cloudy, moderate breeze

My stoke meter slid 3 points due to a massive hangover. I’m still in really good spirits though. The cooler ran like clockwork all night and into the day. I don’t know what kind of charge I’m going to have left come sundown. I might have to pull the plug tonight, only time will tell. I’ve got only some ham, cheese and mayo that can spoil. I kind of saw this thing coming so I intentionally left out a lot of fresh food until I can see how this cooler situation pans out.

Not really doing too much today at all. Before I left, I downloaded ‘Squid Game’ off of Netflix and have been watching that all day. It’s a pretty messed up series, but wildly entertaining! I’ve got to get up early for the journey down south tomorrow, so no partying tonight. It’s going to be a 8 hour run down my least favorite stretch of road in all of California…I-5. Plus I’ll have to skirt nasty LA traffic, I’m not really looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to being at my destination however!

Day Three

Altitude: 3292 ft. Stoke meter: 6 Temperature: 73-61 degrees Conditions: mostly sunny, clear, windy

Well, the cooler barely used any power at all last night, and it held barely above freezing the whole time. I don’t think I’m going to have any problems keeping it on 24/7, especially now that I have arrived down at Anza-Borrego. The forecast is for clear sunny skies the next few days. I should be able to get a pretty decent charge for my battery on a daily basis while I’m down here. Gotta love that desert sun!

It was a taxing trip down from San Benito county. I left a couple hours later than I would have liked, for starters. It was a pretty good trip until I got to LA county. From Pasadena to Temecula it was nasty. I spent 4 hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic, it was pretty rotten. I took the most direct route, but next time I think I will drive out of my way to completely bypass the outskirts of LA. Other than the insane traffic, it was a good drive. It’s been a while since I’ve driven such a distance. It feels good to get some miles under my tires!

Since I left so late, my arrival time here in Anza-Borrego was due to be right around sundown. My cardinal rule about desert camping is to set up camp no later than two hours before the sun sets, so I was nervous about my late arrival. As I made my way into the home stretch of the park, I remarked on how similar it is here to Joshua Tree. The rocks are smaller (but still have that Joshua Tree look to them) and there’s no Joshua Trees, but other than that the scenery and vibe is the same.

The sun fell behind the mountains a good 30 minutes before I arrived, so there was barely any light when I got to the campground. I chose to camp at one of the free dispersed campgrounds since I wouldn’t have time to scout out a place in the desert. Anza-Borrego has miles of off-road you can camp off of, the only limitations are that you can’t park more than a car’s length off the road and can’t set up camp 100 feet from a water source. After this first night I plan to camp well away from the public, but for now I’ll have to deal with being around people.

This being a Friday night, I was well aware that the weekend warriors would probably be infesting my chosen campground. Indeed they were doing so, I found out upon my arrival. All the spots were taken, but I managed to find a little nook that had been overlooked. I had enough room to back up my truck to a private space, and that’s all I needed. I set up my stove and heated up some canned menudo for dinner. The wind was gusting and made setting up camp difficult, but I’ve been through worse out in the desert. I’m surrounded by people, this seems to be a pretty popular campground. I want to be far away from people as possible, for tonight I’ll just have to deal with it though. 

Tomorrow I plan to hit up the visitor center and see what they have there. I’ll probably focus on finding a good remote camping spot way off of the beaten path. I can wait until Sunday or Monday to actually start seeing the sights. With so many people around, I imagine a lot of the good spots to go check out will be totally inundated this weekend. I don’t mind staying out of the way until the crowds have passed. I’ve liked what I have seen so far, can’t wait to fully explore this place!

Day 4

Altitude: 1013 ft.  Stoke level: 7.5 Temperature: 82-64 degrees      Conditions: clear, sunny, strong winds

After a good night of sleep, I got up around 9 AM and broke camp. My mission today was to check out the town of Borrego Springs and get myself acquainted with the place. I also wanted to see what the park vistor center had to offer. I had to descend from the top of the mountain down to the valley floor where the town and the rest of the park was located. The winds continued to blow unabated. I got to a vista point and took a couple of pictures, the winds were so strong I had to hold my phone with both hands to keep it from blowing out of my grasp!

Great views of Borrego Springs and of Anza-Borrego from the highway vista point.

When I got down into town, I saw that they were having a small festival going on called ‘Borrego Days’. It was set up inside a small park in the middle of the town’s only roundabout. It looked pretty fun, they had all kinds of festival food stands and live music. I had a lot to do so I didn’t stop to check it out. The first thing I went and did was get gas. Gas is extremely expensive here, I put in 50 bucks worth and it gave me a little more than a quarter tank. Now I remember why it costs so much money to explore the desert! I checked out a few shops for various items and they were just as expensive as the gas. Things are even more expensive here than they are in Alaska! Cellular internet was pretty crummy so I got a 10 dollar margarita at a local Mexican restaurant to use their wi-fi. It wasn’t much better than cellular, but I was able to take care of internet stuff.

It’s good that I don’t use diesel! Eight dollars a gallon is insane!

After I got fueled up, I made my way over to the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center. I was pretty impressed with it, they had some nice exhibits. Probably the highlight was the mammoth skulls and fossils they had on display, as well as a replica of a tortoise shell that was the size of a 4-wheeler. I guess back in the day the desert was more like a savanna. There were many species that lived here, including sloths, saber-toothed tigers, mammoths, camels, and zebras. Before all the megafauna existed there was an inland sea here so there were a lot of ocean fossils on display as well.

I asked a ranger where a good place to get away from crowds would be, and he told me to head up to the north end of the park to a place called Coyote Canyon. As it was getting rather late in the day I finished my business in town and proceeded to head that way. I only made it about 45 minutes up the road when I saw an inviting turn-out that looked to be a good place to camp for the night. I didn’t want to be fumbling around in the dark for a campsite so I decided to stop for the day. I’m right off the road (which is the only legal place to camp) so it’s not as private as I would like. Still, it’s a far better spot than I was at last night. Other than the occasional Jeep roaring by it’s pretty isolated. I even have a bit of 4g Internet here which is a bonus. The wind keeps on blowing steadily however. All night long my truck keeps rocking back and forth. It’s warm though, and inside my camper shell it’s pretty cozy.

Tomorrow I plan on driving further up the canyon and check out what’s further up the road. There’s a 55% chance of rain on Monday so I need to keep an eye on these washes to make sure I don’t get stuck in a bad spot anywhere around here. Flash floods can get pretty crazy out here in the desert. After Monday the weather’s going to be nice so I’ll start checking out some of the more popular spots then. As for now I’m going to continue my exploration of this canyon and hope a lot of the weekend warriors start filtering out tomorrow.

Day 5

Altitude: 1013 ft.  Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 84-60 degrees  Conditions: sunny, light clouds, light wind

All morning, traffic streamed out of the canyon. I didn’t leave my spot until around 11 as I wanted to give the weekend warriors time to filter out. I set a course on my new OnX off-road app and headed up the canyon. I made it up a couple of miles, and in that time I had to pull over to let traffic by several times. The road narrowed quite a bit once I got past my camping spot so it was really aggravating having to let people pass. Not only was the road narrowing an annoyance, but the road became really rocky and sandy. Even with deflated tires and 4 wheel drive engaged it started to get challenging to drive. If I didn’t constantly have to dodge traffic it would have been fine but with so many other vehicles coming the opposite way it got really annoying really fast. Driving a big truck like The Beast off-road is hard enough without having other people to dodge! After a couple of miles, I got fed up with the situation and returned to my camp of the previous evening.

This was mounted to a rock at my campsite. Turns out back in 1775 this spot was the route used by Lt.Col. Juan Bautista de Anza to deliver settlers through this region.

Since I wouldn’t be going anywhere, I decided to get uproariously drunk. I decided to assemble this grill I got so I could build a fire in it, but never got around to making the fire due to wind. I felt like talking to somebody so I gave my nephew a call and had a really nice conversation with him. During the call I fell out of my chair and dumped a full Solo cup of wine all over me. I got pretty scraped up from this, all in good fun though. The last thing I remember is flopping into my bed sometime around midnight and I passed clean out.

Sunset of my wine-soaked evening.

Day 6

Altitude: 1013 ft. Stoke meter: 7 Temperature: 77-59 degrees Conditions: sunny early/rain late, strong wind

Another morning, another hangover. This one was pretty rotten. I woke up and couldn’t find my glasses anywhere. I looked for like 3 hours and couldn’t find them for the life of me. After searching all over my camper and cab, I decided to check my campsite. I found them buried in the sand a few feet from my camper door. I must have been wrecked to not have noticed that they fell off of my face last night! I washed them off and they were fine, no scratches on them or anything. No harm, no foul! I was pretty banged up from falling over last night though, my elbow and knee were scraped up pretty badly. All par for the course when I’m out on expedition!

I had a decision to make. Should I stay and rest up from my debauch the previous evening, or should I hit the road and start seeing more of the park? I was torn, as I wanted to do both things equally. After much debate, I decided to take it easy and not deal with the aggravation of packing up camp and rolling back through town. I would need to stop at the market in Borrego Springs and I just couldn’t handle the thought of grappling with civilization today. I’m not in a huge hurry, but weekday time is precious to me. The time outside the weekends are prime exploratory time. I don’t like to contend with the weekend warrior crowd so I prefer to roam around during the week.

The weather was another factor to take into consideration. The remnants of the storms that pummeled Northern California were making their way down to the desert in the evening and I wanted to be in a good spot in case it got bad. So the rest of the day I just recovered and waited for the rain to arrive.

Storm clouds rolling in.

The winds kept picking up as the evening wore on. Soon my truck was rocking and rolling from the gusts. The temperature dropped and I started up my heater. Rain started to fall eventually, but it never got too heavy. Eventually the storm blew through but the wind never died. It’s been steady the whole time I’ve been here actually. It makes building a fire or even using my stove almost impossible. Hopefully I can find a spot with more protection, this wind keeps things cool but is a huge annoyance.

I’m going into town tomorrow to resupply and then go to this place called ‘Font’s Point’ that has been called “California’s Grand Canyon.” It’s the most popular view in the park. Hopefully there will be some good spots over there for camping. The road over there has been rated a 3 out of 10 on the difficulty scale, so The Beast should be able to handle it without issue. It’s been nice hanging out in Coyote Canyon but the show must go on!


Return to Civilization

In regards to my featured photo, I wanted to show the joy I experienced being at the end of the rainbow! A perfect rainbow was formed right over the lodge in the last week we were there. I’ve seen a lot of pretty rainbows at Yes Bay, but this one is the best. I just wanted ya’ll to see me experiencing it.

Well, I finally did it! The season is over, and I’ve returned from the bush. The way it worked out, I left three days earlier than expected due to our last couple of groups canceling. The coho run ended suddenly, and that along with really bad weather finished our season. At first, I was pretty annoyed at losing out on the extra pay I would have made. Also having to reschedule my flights and the extra money that would cost was another aggravation I wasn’t really keen on experiencing. After thinking about it though, I decided I was glad to leave early. I was just completely done with the whole thing. Instead of changing my flights around I opted to stay the extra three nights in Ketchikan and ease my way back into civilization. This really worked out well and I’m glad I did it.

Before we all made our escape, we had a wedding to attend. Captain Pack Rat and his lady Party Wolf were going to tie the knot out at the lodge. Everybody pitched in to make the hitching a success. My task was to clean and cook a whole bunch of Dungeness crab for the reception, so one last time I got the ‘ol crab pot out and boiled up a mess ‘o crab. We had the wedding down on the dock, and one of the office girls made a nice little wedding arch placed on our fish-hanging rack. Captain Snapper officiated the ceremony, and it was a great success. It was raining and cold that day, we were all in our raingear and Xtra Tough boots. I must say it was the most unique wedding I’ve ever attended! After the ceremony, we had really nice reception/final dinner with the crew. The boss gave us some great compliments on having a stellar season and said that he’d hire any of us back. It really made us all feel pretty good, and was a great way to end things.

The happy couple.

The next day was our departure day. I was initially supposed to head out by boat, but at the last minute I got bumped to the plane for which I was glad. All season long I had daydreamed what it would be like to finally leave, and when the moment came I was ecstatic! Climbing into the back seat and taking off was one of the finest moments of my life. It was a really nice plane ride into town, the weather was perfect and you could see for miles. The boss had left a little before us in the Water-Horse, transporting some of the crew and all our baggage. Trevor got down to about fifty feet over the water and we buzzed the boat on the way in, that was fun!

When we got back to town, Trevor took us around in the company van to run errands. I mailed off a box of gear at the post office and then a bunch of us got dropped at a hotel in town. We all made plans to meet up later that night at the local Moose Lodge for drinks and I checked myself in. It was absolutely decadent having a nice hotel room to myself, with a great view of Ketchikan harbor.

Nice view from my room. A bit noisy from the traffic however.

Fortunately, there was a dispensary right next door so I didn’t have to go far to get myself some smoke. Afterwards, I had a crazy appetite so I treated myself to a nice seafood platter at the best restaurant in town. It was an awesome first meal back in civilization! When I was finished eating, I met up with some crew members and we made the rounds of the bars downtown. At some point I made it to the Moose Lodge where almost everybody showed up and we got sauced! I don’t remember too much about the rest of the night but I know we all had a real good time. It was a great last hurrah with the crew.

Almost everyone flew out the next day, and I moved from the hotel to a nearby Airb&b I had rented out. The Airb&b was right on Ketchikan Creek about a quarter mile from downtown. Supposedly the writer Richard Bach had stayed there before, it was in a really cool 100 year old house. Being so close to the creek there was constant white noise which I really loved. It was ironic that my waterfall white noise app on my phone helped me sleep while at the lodge, and now I had the real life version! It worked out great as a base of operations the next three days I was in town. My co-worker Mary Ann was flying out the same day as me, so we hit the bars and hung out in the interm. The weather was pretty bad the whole time so I mostly stayed indoors. I did a bit of walking around checking out the sights though. I managed to make it to the town museum and check out the exhibits. I’ll never pass up a good museum!

A view of Ketchikan Creek from my Airb&b window.

The day finally arrived for my departure from Ketchikan, and I hopped on my flight bound for Anchorage. I had been really looking forward to seeing Bethan again, but a day before I left Ketchikan she told me she was sick! She didn’t know if she had COVID or not, but she didn’t want to spread whatever she had to me. I was really bummed about this development but decided to go anyway. I told her we’d just play it by ear, if she felt better we could get together. I figured that in the worst case scenario I’d just take it easy and rest up. I was still super exhausted from the season and laying around doing nothing sounded like a good time to me!

I arrived back into Anchorage and took an Uber to my Airb&b. It was in a pretty good spot close to a liquor store and good restaurants, so for the first couple of days I just laid in bed drinking whiskey and started to get caught up on all my shows I’d missed while out at the lodge. On the third day I had booked a night at the Historic Anchorage Hotel downtown. It’s known to be haunted and I got the room that was said to be the most haunted in the hotel. I love staying in haunted hotels so I was interested in seeing if I could experience any paranormal phenomena while I was there. Fortunately, Bethan wound up not having COVID and was feeling well enough to hang out. She wanted to see if any ghosts were around as well, so she came over and we had a nice reunion. She recommended we walk this trail that went from downtown to the shore of the Knik Arm that lies to the north of the city. We went and had a good little hike with some really pretty views. Everyone says that Anchorage is an ugly city, but the views around town are incredible I think.

Looking west/northwest towards the Knik Arm.

The Chugach Mountains to the south and east of the city are magnificent.

The Historic Anchorage Hotel. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Alaska, and one of the few to survive the destruction of downtown Anchorage back in the earthquake of ’64. This place has a lot of history (and ghosts).

We came back to the hotel and settled in, but no ghosts made an appearance that night unfortunately. It was still really cool to be in such an historic building, and the room was pretty nice as well. I definitely recommend the place. The next day was my last day in town, and I really wanted to hit up the museum before I left. After a seafood Benedict breakfast (I needed to get my Eggs Benedict fix after a long while without) we made our way to the museum. I was really impressed with it, it took around 3-4 hours to see everything. They had all kinds of cool exhibits and art. Bethan and I had fun playing on all the interactive exhibits meant for kids. There was even some live animals in there. I really connected with this little black rockfish that was hanging out in the tank with a king crab. I emailed the museum after my visit to see if the fish had a name but they never got back to me…so I guess I’ll refer to him as Blackie! They also had a snapping turtle in there for some reason and a nice tide pool tank. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the museum and I’m glad I got to check it out with such lovely company.

After the museum, Bethan suggested we go to this place called ‘The Crow’s Nest’. It’s at the top of The Hotel Captain Cook which is the tallest building in Anchorage I think. She warned that it was pretty pricey but the views were amazing. The hotel itself was set up like a sailing vessel with a lot of dark wood paneling and was sort of a tribute to Captain Cook himself. There were a lot of portraits around showing his travels around the Pacific. When I lived in Hawaii I actually went to the place where he was killed by the natives. It was a haunted place for sure. What a bad end he came to! Anyways, we went up to the restaurant and had some food and drinks. She was right, the views were incredible! It was a little pricey, but it was definitely worth it in my opinion.

After we were done eating and drinking, we tried to go to this native museum but it was closed unfortunately. It was getting dark, so at a lack of things to do we got some pizza and headed back to my Airb&b to hang out for a while. Unfortunately, when we got back to where I was staying, the lady of the house yelled at me for having guests (I guess there was a no-guest policy, I wound up getting my first negative Airb&b review because of it) so Bethan couldn’t stay. As it was late anyway and I had to get up early for my flight back to the lower 48 we said goodbye to each other. I hated we couldn’t have spent more time together, but sickness can really throw a monkey wrench into things. Oh well. We still had a real good time.

I really miss Alaska. Hopefully I can get a job doing deckhand stuff up there next season. I hope it works out. I thought I’d post a couple more videos from Alaska. One is of my first (and only) bear sighting. Needless to say I was excited about it. The other is of a school of salmon coming real close to me by the dock. Enjoy!

So I’ve been back in California for the past few days getting geared up for my next adventure. It’s been really difficult getting back into society down here. While it’s been great being reunited with The Beast, I just feel overwhelmed. All the traffic and people everywhere has me crazed. Also the whole society seems to be crumbling around me. When I left back in June things seemed to be getting better, but now it’s just chaos. I’ve not really had time to clear my head and think about what I just went through. This being the case, I’m heading out to the desert for peace and quiet in the desolation. I’ll name this upcoming expedition ‘Operation Desert Solitude’ I think. It’s gonna be a good one. I’ve invested a couple grand in truck repairs and gear so I’m ready to go.

In the morning I plan to go out to one of my favorite places, Laguna Mountain down in San Benito county. Since I’ve got a lot of new gear I want to have a familiar place to stay and test everything out before I head down south. I’m going to check out Anza Borrego, which is a huge park down close to the border, about an hour east of San Diego. I’ve long wanted to go exploring down there. After that I’ll probably head up to Joshua Tree and the Mojave National Preserve. After that, who knows? I’ll figure it out after I get down there. Anyways, really looking forward to getting off road and in the backcountry. It’s all I could think about when I was stuck up at the lodge. It’s going to be a great expedition, I can’t wait to be on the road!

Alaska, Fishing, lodge life

The Dogfish Meets a Ratfish

This past week, the strangest fish I’ve seen yet here was caught off the dock. Jon, my fellow dock-monkey, has been towing out a line with the skiff all summer to the middle of the bay trying to catch a big halibut. He’s been pretty persistent, it’s a shame he’s come up empty-handed thus far. A couple days ago, however, he caught this weird looking fish. It looked like something you’d find in the deep ocean. The glowing green eyes on the thing were pretty creepy. We were at a loss trying to figure out what it was. The body definitely had some shark-like characteristics, but the face and mouth didn’t resemble anything I was acquainted with.

It wasn’t until Captain Johnny showed up that we learned the identity of this strange beast. He said it was a ratfish, and that they were pretty common around here. I was a little bummed out that it didn’t turn out to be some creature from the abyss that took a wrong turn and wound up in the shallow waters of the bay. We took some photographs and Jon released it to get back to whatever ratfish do. I’ve seen some amazing fish come out of these waters big and small, but I’d have to say the ratfish wins the award for weirdness!

Things are beginning to wind down here at the lodge. We’ve got two weeks left and everyone is itching to finish off this season. Equipment is breaking down, and all of us are completely worn out. I have a nagging pain in my left hand that probably is a repetitive strain injury from doing the same tasks over and over. I was reaching for a boat to tie up to the dock about a month ago and something snapped in my palm, followed by intense pain. Since that incident it keeps on happening at random, and for a day or so I can’t make a fist or really flex my fingers without pain. It’s getting more and more frequent, I hope I haven’t done any permanent damage to it.

We’ve had one captain quit and another got fired in a dramatic fashion since last I wrote. The guy who got fired got drunk and cursed at a guest, then threated another captain who tried to intervene. I won’t go into detail as I don’t like to talk about lodge drama, but needless to say his behavior got him immediately fired. The number one rule here is to not piss off or insult the guests, and the second rule is to not get drunkenly out of control when spending time with the guests. Well, he broke both of those rules so he was sent packing.

The upshot of the captain getting fired is that I got to take his room! It is like staying at the Ritz-Carlton compared to my previous lodgings. Not only am I 50 feet away from the main hallway used by the crew (it’s much quieter), I have an 8 inch memory foam mattress and I actually get Wi-Fi in here! It’s the same crappy internet as everywhere else, but at least I can get on the Internet without having to be out in one of the public areas. The joy I feel at finally having a room to myself is immense. These last couple of months having a roommate was agony for me. My sleep was awful and the lack of privacy was driving me insane. Now I feel like I can finally relax and recharge from the rigors of my daily grind.

Anyways, we are down 2 captains at the most critical time in the whole season. Silvers are thick out in the Inside Passage and guests are limiting out every day. A couple of days ago we set a new record for catching around 1000 lbs of salmon in a single day. We processed 533 lbs of fillets from that haul. Having two less people is having a great impact on our processing capability. Also, the weather is just lousy every day. We’ve  had one sunny day in the past two weeks, it’s been non-stop rainy and cold.

We’ve also been having a lot of trouble getting guests in and out. A couple of groups have had to stay overnight in Ketchikan because the weather was too bad to fly in or take a boat out in. Along with the constant bad weather, the temps are starting to get down into the 40’s at night. It’s incredible how short the summers are here. It’s wild watching football on TV and seeing people still running around in shorts and T-shirts. I’ve been having to wear three layers of clothes down on the dock every day and I’m still chilled!

In fishing news, I have little to report. Two weeks ago on my day off I went back to the spot where I caught the silver. The water was thick with pinks, and I got a fish or a bite with almost every cast. I caught 13 at that spot, 3/4 of them foul hooked. I wasn’t even trying to snag them, but it was impossible to avoid hooking them. Most were miserable-looking specimens. It was fun for a while, but I got tired of catching them. They were having a rough enough time without me embedding treble hooks in them. The water was clear and the day was sunny, for the first time I got to witness the fish actually in the process of spawning. The male salmon do this little herky-jerk motion on the bottom of the stream when they fertilize the eggs. Until then I’ve only seen salmon do that in documentaries. The biologist in me really enjoyed seeing that part of their life-cycle up close and personal.

The past couple of days I have had off I’ve had the weather and the flow of water from the creek stymie my attempts at fishing. I’ve only got two more days off before I’m out of here so the pressure is on. I’ve got a fish box I want to fill and take back with me, so I hope to get on a boat this week or the next and get me a limit on some silvers. If I do, I’m going to try and smoke a good part of it. It’s so good, it’ll make you slap your pappy!

That’s all for this week. Sorry for the lack of output. I’ve been just consumed by work lately. It just drives the will to write out of me. I’ve been doing a lot of planning on my upcoming expedition in my down-time. I think ya’ll will all be entertained by what I get into in the coming month or two. I certainly am very excited about it! There’s nothing better than planning an expedition, especially one that will be as well funded as this one. It’ll be the perfect time of the year to hit the road also. I think the lifestyle of working hard for months and then being free for months suits me well. That’s how I’m going to proceed from this point forward. The next couple years will be critical, but once I pay my dues I’ll be set. “Live to fish, fish to live” will be my new creed!

Alaska, Fishing

The Creek Takes Revenge

The title I gave to the featured image this week is ‘Sad Dog’. The sad dog in question is Nico. This past Sunday, the boss and his wife went out fishing, taking Ty and Juneau with them. Nico was left behind, and he was not happy about it. He howled, cried and carried on in a rather pitiful manner all day. It was a headache for us all, particularly for me down on the dock where most of his anguish was broadcast to the world. He was inconsolable, and kept it up until his people came back in the afternoon. Nico is usually a very reserved dog, but I guess he’s capable of having his feelings hurt. Ty gets left behind all the time and you never hear him carrying on so!

This week was just a real downer in more ways than one. With news of the debacle in Afghanistan, COVID’s relentless march and horrible fires in California dominating the headlines, I was in low spirits. Also I have been completely run down and feeling like I was on the verge of getting sick most of the week. My sleep was even more ragged than it usually is. I just can’t sleep well with someone else in the room, no matter what sedatives, white noise or eye-masks I use. My roommate leaves in 3 weeks and I’m counting the days. He’s a good fellow but it will be amazing to have that small bit of privacy back. I’m just utterly burned out, more than I ever thought I could be about anything.

A bright spot has been that my departure date has been given to me. I leave on October 1st, the same day as about 2/3 of the crew. A few folks will remain another 4 days after that to get the lodge ready for winter. I’ve already made all my travel arrangements, I’ll be heading back to Anchorage to see Bethan for 3 days before I head back to the madhouse of the lower 48. Hopefully the weather and plague co-operates with my travel plans, I got insurance on my flight out of Ketchikan in case anything should go awry. I want to get a jump on getting The Beast road-ready, as a few of us here are planning a meetup at Zion National Park in Utah sometime in October. I’ve got a lot of gear to get and preparations to make before I head out that way.

In reference to the title of this post, the creek had its vengeance on me this week in another example of “Alaska Giveth, Alaska Taketh Away.” For my day off this week, I decided to go fish the spot called ‘S-Turn’. You’ll recall that’s the spot I fished the first time I went up the creek. Earlier in the day Gabe (our chef) and myself fished at the mouth of the creek by the lodge where it empties into the bay. Sockeye salmon have started to be caught there and we wanted to try for those. Also, Captain Jimmy was planning to go out fishing for salmon sharks the next day and had put in a request for pink salmon to use for chum & shark bait. We wanted to help out with that if we could.

I didn’t catch anything while fishing the mouth, and lost a couple lures. Gabe caught a pink, but sliced up his hand pretty good on some low-tide barnacles in subduing the fish. I couldn’t help but feel that this set a bit of a bad-luck precedent for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, after lunch I headed up to the S-turn to try my luck.

Last week, Gabe had been fishing at the S-Turn and had a big black bear come close. While less of a concern than a brown bear, I decided to take some bear spray with me as a precaution. I’d have preferred to take a firearm but there’s no way the boss would allow me to borrow one of his. Knowing him, if I asked, he’d probably call me a pussy and laugh! Bear mace is better than nothing, I suppose. Anyways, I headed up there wary of bears but saw no trace of any. The weather was partly cloudy and no rain was falling, which was nice. Also, the bugs were few and the river was down. As I set up my rod I was startled by a bald eagle swooping in close. He hangs out there, from what I hear. It never gets old seeing them, especially at such close range.

I began to cast and started getting snagged almost immediately. It’s a tricky spot to fish. You have to use a heavy 1 oz spoon to get it down to depth quickly as the current flows pretty rapidly there. The stream goes from a depth of two feet down into a 15 foot hole. First, you have to cast upstream where it’s shallow, then keep your rod tip up to keep from snagging until it gets over the hole. Then you dip your lure down, drift it through the hole and out the other side. If you do it correctly, you’re bound to hook one of the big salmon down there in the trench.

I lost a couple lures until I hooked up with a fierce fish! It ran up and down the creek, my drag screaming all the while. It was a great fight, it made some good jumps and I could see that it was a big male pink. Actually, after I successfully landed it, I realized that it was probably the biggest one I’d ever caught. It was going to make good shark bait! I tossed it up into a depression higher up on the bank and continued fishing. Not long after, I caught another small pink for the chum bucket. I continued on fishing, losing lure after lure. Occasionally I’d catch pinks but returned the rest to the creek. Two is all I was willing to have to carry back to the lodge.

I caught 5 fish and lost 6 lures at this spot. The last snagged lure is what led to disaster. So my rod has 4 sections as I’ve stated before. It has been a good rod so far, except for one critical flaw. After 10-15 casts, the last section of the rod has a tendency to detach from the rest of the rod. Usually I get a head’s up before the last section detaches, as the rod guides will suddenly rotate out of alignment before it completely comes off. I’ll just mash it back down firmly and continue fishing. A lot of times I’ll preemptively press it together to keep it from happening at all.

Now, so I get this snag and without warning the last rod section flies off and slides down the line into the water. I knew I was screwed at this point unless I cleared the snag without losing the lure. I did have a swivel connecting a leader of mono to my braided mainline, but I was pretty sure it was too small to catch in the rod tip at the end of the section. Basically, if I had to pop the line it would detach and there would be nothing to catch the end section. My rod would be then be rendered useless. For the next half hour I did everything in my power to free the snag, walking up and down the bank yanking on the line to no avail. It wouldn’t budge for anything! Finally, I gave in and popped the line at the lack of any other option. As I predicted, the line came back sans rod section.

I cursed and hollered, the damned creek had claimed another rod! There went 80 bucks down the drain. Unlike last time, this damage was not repairable. My rod was junked as if I’d snapped it. I had only got to use it 3 times! Worse, I realized after the fact that I could have swam across the creek and probably freed the snag by pulling it in the other direction. The current was pretty strong, and the water pretty deep, but I probably could have made it across without issue. It just didn’t occur to me as an option at the time. I felt like an idiot for not thinking of doing that.

Defeated, I gathered up my gear and went to pick up my fish. To my surprise, the big fish was there but the smaller fish was gone! There was no place it could have gone off to, it was as if something had came and grabbed it. The creek had really came after me this day with all the lost lures, rod section, and now my fish had vanished! What rotten luck! I bagged up my one fish and headed back to the lodge. At least I had something to show for my efforts.

When I got back to the lodge and told people my story, I got a lot of sympathy. There’s been a lot of loss and destruction of my co-worker’s fishing gear on the creek & trail. As to theories of what grabbed my missing fish, people suggested mink, bears or Sasquatch as some possible culprits. I only had my back turned to the spot where my fish were at briefly when I went up and down the bank trying to free the snag. My theory is that the resident bald eagle swooped down and snatched it. I would have thought I’d have seen something so large come down and grab it, but I wouldn’t have put it past him to do so! I’m sure he had his eye on me the whole time I was there, just waiting for his opportunity. They are smart like that.

I filed a claim for a replacement rod with Shakespeare. I don’t see any reason that they wouldn’t replace my rod. I just got it last month and it’s still under warranty. It was a defect in the rod that caused it to fail and not anything I did wrong. Nevertheless, I don’t know how long it’ll take to get a replacement sent out to me. It took almost two weeks to get it in the first place and the peak of the run is happening now! I’m only here five more weeks anyway. It’s just another frustration to add to my ever-growing list. Oh well, it’s not the first time my fishing efforts have been thwarted. It certainly won’t be the last, that’s for sure. Things always go wrong when you’re in the pursuit of fish!

In the meantime, Captain Packrat has offered to sell me one of his extra 6 foot rods for 20 bucks. I’ll have something to take up the trail until I get a replacement for my rod at least. I don’t want to risk taking my Shimano rod up there again and wrecking it further. I liked having my pack rod as it freed up my hands to keep my balance while walking the trail, since it broke down into 18 inch sections that were easy to fit in my backpack. Having to maneuver while only having one hand free is definitely a handicap, plus the rod will catch on brush and whatnot. Oh well, it is what it is. There’s always hardships to overcome when fishing in Alaska, this place is hell on gear! Hopefully my luck will be better the next time I go fishing up the creek. I’m staying away from the S-Turn from now on, that place is cursed for me!

Alaska, Fishing

In Search of Silver (Salmon, That Is!)

I’m back after a week break from this blog. I didn’t have enough material or pictures for a quality post last week. So there have been a couple of things that have affected operations here at the lodge since my last post. The first is that there was a floatplane crash south of Ketchikan a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately all 6 aboard died. It involved a company operating out of Ketchikan running sight-seeing tours for people on the cruise ships. Apparently the pilot took off in really nasty weather and flew into a mountain due to the poor visibility. It shook a lot of us up as it hit pretty close to home. I think the boss knew the pilot involved.

Since then, we’ve been a lot more careful with our flight scheduling with our guests and cargo runs. If the weather is in any way questionable our plane stays grounded. This has led to a lot more boat pickups of guests in town. We had a party of big money Hollywood producers and lawyers last week who for the most part flatly refused to travel to the lodge by floatplane, so they took the boat ride in. It was the day after the crash and it was all over the news, so they were freaked out about flying.

The journey by boat actually isn’t a bad ride at all, it takes a little more than an hour in good weather. The floatplane ride in is truly spectacular however, they really missed out on that one. Actually the best time to fly is right after a crash because everyone is going to be super cautious. I mean, someone probably had a wreck on the highway that day they drove to the airport, it’s not like you won’t drive that road to get to where you are going. Some people’s sense of risk-assessment is pretty illogical at times.

The other thing that has greatly impacted our operations is the rise of COVID up here in Alaska. Resorts left and right have been having to close due to outbreaks. This large resort called Waterfalls had a major outbreak and not only did they have to close down, they had to completely quarantine. No one could go there and no one could leave. Supposedly some state senators and congressmen got caught up in it, as the place tended to cater to high-end people. I think they had over 100 staff that are all out of work, it sounded like a real mess. What’s crazy is that they had a real strong protocol to keep out COVID, they even had a coordinator hired just to enforce said protocol. It all came to naught however.

In response to this, we instituted a new policy for guests. They have to show a negative COVID test before they arrive. The state hasn’t issued any kind of directives concerning this so it’s up to the individual lodges to proceed how they want to. We’ve got six weeks left in the season and all of us need for the show to keep going on here. This last part of the season is when the big money (and big tip) people start rolling in so we all want some of that action. I know the boss sure needs all that revenue to keep rolling in. I think he’s all in on keeping this lodge going, there’s no way he can afford the loss if we did have to shut down. So fingers crossed we can stay open. All it takes is one person to get sick and everyone will have it. It’s like living on a ship here, social distancing is impossible.

Well, last week I went up the trail to my usual spot to find the water was high and the water was flowing really fast. I lost 2 lures in 10 casts so I came to the conclusion that the creek was unfishable that day. Plus it was raining and pretty nasty so it was an easy call to pull the plug on the excursion. This week on my day off however, the weather was nice and I heard that the river was down somewhat. Armed with a resupply of lures and my new collaspible fishing net, I was ready to hit the creek. A couple of my co-workers who braved the trail all the way to the end past the lake had been catching coho at this particular spot, so I headed up there to check it out.

I have gone all the way up the trail once before earlier this season, and it was a punishing hike. I didn’t have a backpack full of beers, fishing equipment, sandwiches and rain gear on that occasion, so this time having all that stuff made the hike more difficult. It’s only a couple of miles up there to the spot, but it takes an hour to traverse. It’s hell on the ankles, as Xtra Tough boots don’t have much support there. You’ve got to have those boots on however, as mud is a foot deep in places and you need the traction Xtra Toughs provide. I got a good night’s sleep for once the night before, so I had plenty of energy for the hike which was nice.

After a pretty arduous hike, I found myself at the fishing spot. Right before I got there, I ran across a couple from Missouri that were staying up at the Forest Service cabin further up the trail on Lake McDonald. They showed me pictures of coho that they had caught at the spot I was heading to the day before, so that was very encouraging. I had never been to this spot before, but it was pretty easy to find. I had pretty good directions from co-workers that had been there.

It’s actually a couple of big rocks on the bank of the creek where you have a pretty good casting arc. The tree branches hang pretty low overhead so you’ve got to do side-arm casting to get your lure out where you would like it to be. Two different streams intersect at this point so it is a big intersection full of fish. There’s a big log jam to the right that fish love to race towards after they’ve been hooked. Salmon are pretty smart, they know if they can get tangled up in that they can get free. The featured picture at the top of this post is a panorama shot of this spot.

Like the other spot I frequent, there were massive amounts of fish in the water here. Every few seconds a fish would break surface or jump, some would get a couple feet in the air! I could see that there were a lot of pinks around, almost all that I could see looked pretty far gone. They were pretty much zombied out with big white patches on them. I assembled my rod and slapped on one of my Blue Fox Lil’Pixie 7/8 oz. lures that are probably the #1 lure used up here for salmon. At ten bucks apiece, I almost didn’t want to use them. The water looked pretty deep and not too snaggy. I did have three to burn through, so I decided to go for it and use one to start out with.

Well, wouldn’t you know, after 5 casts I get hung up and have to break off my lure. Oh well, there went 10 bucks out the window. I switched to my good ol’ reliable 1/2 oz Kastmaster clone lures I got off Amazon. These are like a buck apiece, about as much as I want to spend on a lure. They come with weak little #10 trebles that I replaced with #2 Gamakatsu trebles. The hook is almost as big as the lure, but the motion of the lure makes it look like a tail I think. These are the ones I have painted with pink nail polish to make them more attractive to salmon. They catch fish like crazy, they’d probably work for just about anything I’d want to fish for. I start casting and immediately get a fish on. After getting it to the bank, it reveals itself to be a pink and helpfully spits out the lure before I have to land it. A couple of casts later, another pink gets on and this time I successfully land it.

I returned the fish to the water and kept casting. After I caught and released another pink, I finally hooked into something altogether different. The way the fish fought I knew it had to be a silver! It fought with tremendous power, I didn’t know if my 15 lb braid with a 12 lb mono leader could handle it. When it began making huge leaps into the air my suspicions were confirmed. Nothing but beautiful chrome at the end of my line! After a few runs I muscled it to shore. It took quite an effort to get it in the net due to the size of the fish. Finally, in he went and I had him!

I took the fish high up the bank so it wouldn’t flop its way back into the water, as salmon seem to be really good at doing that. As I bent to free the hook, the lure popped out of the net without a hook on it. Puzzled, I found the hook still in the fish’s mouth but the split ring joining the hook to the lure was nowhere to be found. I finally found it at the bottom of the net completely mangled. What a tough fish to do that to a piece of metal! I had landed the fish just in the nick of time. Luck was with me this day!

I bled the fish and put a length of fishing line through its gills, tying that off to a branch. Then I put the fish back in the water so it would stay cool in the chilly waters of the creek. I continued to fish another couple of hours. I caught another 3 pinks and lost probably a dozen more. I knew it was going to rain later in the afternoon making an already miserable trail even worse, so I called it quits a couple hours before I had to be back. I pulled the silver out of the water and put it into a garbage bag I had brought just for this purpose. The hike back was rough, my balance was off-kilter due to carrying the fish in one hand and I wiped out a couple of times. I managed to make it back with my gear and person intact however.

The cook said he would cook my fish up for the crew to eat the next day, so I filleted it up and handed it over to him. He made this teriyaki marinade for it and served it up the next night. It was incredible, I didn’t think anything could top Monterey Bay king salmon but I think Alaskan coho just might do so. It’s definitely on par. Devin had caught a coho as well the day before so the cook made a Parmesan breading for his catch and served it as well. It was a feast, we all ate well that night!

So this week marked a couple of milestones. On the 18th was the one year anniversary of the CZU fire that swept through Last Chance which almost burned up my friends and I. It was definitely a day of heavy introspection and rememberance. It’ll definitely be a day I’ll never forget. The second milestone was that I am now officially 2/3 of the way through the season. Only six weeks left to go! The time is definitely going by faster than it was earlier in the season. There is a dim light at the end of the tunnel.

We had our first guy quit, one of my closest friends here actually. He was our freshwater guide but worked with me on the dock a lot. It was a bummer to see him go, but he was wanting to get back home to Idaho in time for sheep hunting season. He made the decision that worked best for him, so I wish him well. Soon we’ll all be making our arrangements to leave. I’ve got a lot of plans for where I want to go for sure. October and November will be busy travel months for The Dogfish. I can’t wait to be alone finally, out in the desert and other places in the Great American West I so dearly love. I’m looking forward to sharing my adventures with all of ya’ll! I can’t wait to get out there with The Beast on the open road!

Alaska, Fishing

Fire Comes to Yes Bay

Well, another summer, another fire. It’s almost a year ago that I fled for my life from the CZU Fire. That was an experience that I hoped to not have to go through again. Unfortunately, I very nearly had it happen once more. I’m starting to think that fire has it in for me or something!

It all went down this past Saturday night. It was around 8:30 and I was in the laundry room, accessing the Internet. It’s directly underneath the wi-fi hotspot in the office and only a few steps away from my room so I go there sometimes in the evenings to get online. It’s one of three spots where I can get a somewhat decent connection. While I was persuing the web, my co-worker Brianna ran by yelling something about a fire. Alarmed, I raced upstairs to see what was going on. I ran into some of my co-workers and they filled me in.

It seemed that the boys that take out the swill (food scraps and fish carcasses) to the back bay spied smoke and flame coming from the forest behind the lodge. They take the swill back there so the local bear population doesn’t equate the lodge with food. Lucky for us they took it back there that day instead of out in front of the lodge like they sometimes do. The winds were blowing the smoke the opposite direction from the lodge and we couldn’t see the flames because it was around the point right out front. Speaking of the wind, it had been really breezy all day. Also we had several days of warm dry weather, so the conditions were ripe for fire.

We heard that the fire was burning up on the boundary line between the lodge and Tongass National Forest land. There is a trail that led right up to the fire site, it’s the one that I cleared the second week I was here actually. Since I knew the way I led a contingent up there. As we made our way up the trail, the smell of smoke began to fill the air. Right at the end of the trail, big clouds of smoke started to billow out ahead of us. Suddenly, we found ourselves confronted with the fire! We were on the edge of a 200 foot cliff and the fire looked as if it had started down at the waterline and burned all the way up to where the canopy shaded the mossy ground. It seemed that there was enough moisture there to stop the leading advance of the fire.

The fire was still a huge danger, as trees were burning down the slope and several big stumps were smoking from ground level. The fire was down in the roots. By this point the wind had stilled which was a good thing. All it would take is for the wind to blow in from the west and there would be nothing stopping it from burning its way to the lodge. The generator with several hundred gallons of diesel was only about 500 yards away and if it hit that, it would be disasterous! We needed to contain the fire and do it fast, as night was falling and who knows how much time we would have before we got wind from the wrong direction. Time was of the essence.

We saw that we needed more than the shovels we had brought to contain the fire, so we went back to the lodge to rustle up some fire extinguishers. What we really needed was water but there was no way to get it there. Back at the lodge, we ran into the boss and informed him of the situation. He and some of the captains gathered up all the water hoses they could and headed down to the Waterhorse to try and fight the fire from the water. He was going to try and hook the hoses up to the boat’s spigot and see if that would work. Meanwhile the rest of us on hand grabbed every extinguisher we could find and headed back up the trail.

The sun had already slipped below the horizon when we returned to the fire site. We began to hit every spot that had visible embers and flames. While we did this, a couple of guys deployed a rope they grabbed off a shrimp trap that was long enough to reach the water. They slung it off the cliff to land next to the Waterhorse and the guys below tied the hose to it. We then pulled it up towards us, and after some wrangling managed to get it all the way to the top. Down below they turned on the water, and nothing happened. The water pressure from the boat was insufficient to reach all the way up to us. Even if it had, it would have been like pissing on a housefire. We needed serious water flow.

It was around 10:30 when we decided to pull out. It was too dark to see and we were in grizzly territory. Not to mention the aforementioned cliff we were on the edge of was even more of a risk when we couldn’t even see where we were stepping. None of us knew what we were doing, but out here in the bush, help is a long ways away. We had a full house of guests we needed to protect, so we did the best we could with what we had but it wasn’t enough. We hoped what we had done was enough to contain the fire until we could get professional help the following day. Three guys volunteered to take shifts to watch the fire and to radio back if it started to spread again.

Back at the lodge, the boss took out this big pump from storage along with a few hundred feet of firehose he had stored for just such an occasion. He got it running, but as it was so dark he decided to postpone loading it on the boat and fighting the fire until first light the following morning. We all decided to call it a night and to get some shut-eye. I didn’t get to sleep until very late, and had bad dreams about fires and fleeing flame. I slept very poorly, all the anxieties from the past came rushing back and I kept waking up in a panic.

The next morning I got up and went down to the dock to see how things were progressing. The boss and a few guys were down there and the news wasn’t good. The attempt to hose down the fire from the boat had failed when the hose (that wasn’t built for pressure but for volume) blew up when they turned on the pump. It was the only kind of hose we had so the boss was on the horn to the Forest Service to come out and fight the fire. They were dicking around and weren’t getting back to him, so he was on the verge of hiring a private helicopter to come drop buckets of water on the thing. Right as he was about to do that, the Forest Service finally got back to him and said they’d send out some people. What a relief! Finally we had the cavalry on the way.

A couple hours later a couple cutters arrived with several firemen. I volunteered to take the captain of the crew up the trail to the fire site. When we got there things looked a lot better then they had yesterday. It was still smokin’ up pretty good, but it hadn’t spread. In the daylight, I could see that the fire’s footprint was probably about 60-70 yards wide and most of it was inaccessible due to the steep cliff. The day was overcast with more moisture in the air and the winds were still which helped out a lot. Still, the remains of the fire needed to be dealt with as it was still very much a danger as long as even one ember remained.

The firefighters ran a hose from a beach down below the cliff and worked on it all afternoon. I wasn’t able to see the efforts in person as I still had my job to do, but I got reports that things were going well. Finally, the firefighters came over to tell us that they were pretty certain they got it put out completely and that we were in the clear. What a relief!

There had been a lot of speculation as to what had caused the fire, some thought it was from an earlier garbage burning on the other side of the bay, some thought it was arson. According to the firefighters, the fire was caused by a lightning strike. Now, the day the fire started was hot and sunny, and no one heard any thunder. The boss said that he saw a lone black cloud pass overhead around the time the fire must have started (I saw it as well) that could have been capable of sending out bolts. Supposedly lightning can strike without thunder, it is rare but can happen. I guess this is what happened in this case. Just one of those ‘Acts of God’ I reckon.

Anyways, it was a joy to see people win the war against fire this time. It was pretty touch-and-go there for a while, but I was really proud of the work we did as a crew to band together and do our best to save the day. It was a real bonding experience. For not having any idea what we were doing we did pretty damn good. I think the firefighters were pretty impressed at our containment job. I never thought I’d be doing volunteer firefighting work at this job, but you never know what to expect around here. Anything can happen out in the Alaskan bush!

So after all the fire business was handled, my day off arrived. I was anticipating my return to the honey hole for my rematch with Team Salmon. This time I had my new collapsible pole to take with me to give me an edge. Unfortunately, my new net that I had ordered hadn’t come in yet. Devin let me borrow his however, so I was set! The day before, my co-worker who does freshwater guiding told me the stream and lake was teeming with fish even more than last week so I was stoked. I headed up there looking forward to getting into some good fishing.

I arrived at my spot and got all set up. There was a little bit of drizzle going on, but it wasn’t anything my foul-weather gear couldn’t handle. I noticed that the water was quite a bit lower and there were many more fish there than last time. There wasn’t a place in the stream you couldn’t see fish actually! On my very first cast I caught a big cutthroat trout. He was a fiesty little joker. He leaped all over the place like he was a bass when caught! It would have been good eating, but I was looking for sockeye or coho (silver) salmon. Back into the creek he went.

My second cast, I hooked up. This time it was a salmon! It gave me a merry fight, but after a few jumps and runs I managed to land it. Having the net was a game-changer, but there was enough of a beach there from the low water that I almost didn’t need it. Unfortunately, the salmon was a pink, the least desirable of the salmon species. Don’t get me wrong, pinks aren’t bad or anything. The pale, pink fillets are nothing compared to the taste and the look of the deep red of the sockeye and silver fillets. They’re best for smoking (or dog food, as they say around here). Also, the pinks are undergoing the change they go through when they start to spawn. They get this zombie sort of look and are pretty funky-looking. Not something I’d want to eat. The males also get this hooked mouth and hump on their back that makes them look even more weird.

I revived the salmon after the landing and it swam off to rejoin its buddies. My third cast hooked a salmon, but it broke off. “Hot damn!” I thought. It’s on today!” Indeed it was. Never in my life had I been in such a target-rich environment with such large fish. I actually kept missing fish once they got on. I solved this by swapping the tiny treble hooks my lures came with the big trebles that my new 1 oz Crocodile lures came with. Then I was able to get better hooksets in the hard mouths of the salmon. My second salmon was similar to the first, but the third was a real beauty. It looked like the ones they catch out on the boats out to sea. It was yet another pink but it was the biggest one I’d catch all day.

It was around this point I was actually starting to get tired of catching fish! Since the water was so low, I was constantly getting snagged and had lost a couple lures. It seemed like there were nothing but pinks out there. Plus, the drag on my new Daiwa reel was getting quite a workout and I hate to stress my gear out for no reason. I’ll have to admit that it was super fun and impossible to walk away from the aggressive bite! So I kept on until I had landed & released 6 fish and probably lost a dozen more. It was getting time for me to get back to the lodge in time for dinner so I got packed up and headed back down the trail.

Well, I have to say that I got my revenge on the salmon! I built upon the skills I learned last week and got in some good practice on salmon angling this time around. These skills will come in handy when the sockeye and silvers start running hard. In the next week or two we’ll start seeing dead salmon start to wash down the creek, their spawning done. They’ll pile up at the mouth of the creek and the bears will start coming into sight of the lodge to feast. I suppose I’ll have to be really on alert at that time going up to my fishing hole. Since the bears will be full of salmon I doubt they’ll pay me much mind, I’m not worried about it. I look forward to seeing the bears! I’ve been here two months and I’ve not seen any. I’m ready to remedy this situation!

This week marks the halfway mark of my time here. It’s all downhill from this point. Actually the longer I’m here the faster the days seem to fly by. Now I’m looking forward to things like seeing the sockeye and silver salmon run and the start of the king salmon season on the 15th. The end is not yet in sight, but I’m a good ways down the road.

We’ve arrived at what the lodge vets call ‘Angry August’. It’s when you’re at the point that everyone is starting to crack up and the end is still too far away to be of much use to one’s sanity. The cracks are beginning to show, there’s definitely a lot more bitching and complaining going on in the crew than previous. I’m actually doing pretty good, I’m actually no more at my wit’s end than I was before so I guess I’m in a good spot! I’ve still got a lot of fishing to do and money to make first. I’m real glad to mark this milestone in my stay here though. There’s still a lot of Dogfish Tales yet to come I’m sure! Till next time!

Alaska, Fishing

Alaska Giveth, Alaska Taketh Away

The big news of the week is that we have a new halibut record catch! After a couple weeks of pretty small halibut coming in, a guest landed a halibut that weighed an amazing 160 lbs! Not only was it a colossal fish, the story of how it was caught was a true “This could only happen in Alaska” kind of thing. So the halibut was brought in to the dock with much fanfare and pics taken. When it came time to process the fish, in its belly was found a half-digested salmon and a big silver-gray rockfish! The rockfish was still alive, it had been swallowed by the halibut and still had the fishing rig in its mouth! The lead had disappeared, but the rest was still in there.

So what happened was the guest was bottom fishing for halibut when the rockfish got on. The halibut, seeing the struggling silver-gray, swallowed the fish whole and that’s how it was caught! Somehow the fish was lodged in there good enough to bring the halibut to the surface. Seems like the halibut would have thrown it up, but for some reason it didn’t. The kicker was that the silver-gray still had the bait in its mouth! We had a fish-within-a-fish-within-a-fish kind of situation! I have fished all of my life and this was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. Halibut are some damn greedy fish! They’ll eat anything that will fit in their mouth.

The elderly gentleman who caught the enormous fish will have one hell of a fish story to tell back home, that’s for sure! The best part is that the fish was 74 inches, which is two inches above what is a illegal fish to take. Halibut from 50 to 72 inches aren’t legal to take unless you buy a GAF permit that’s like 450 dollars. He got 73 lbs of fillets off the thing, at market rate that’s around 2200 dollars worth of fish without having to pay extra. Job well done!

Alright, on to my experiences of the past week. I really would have liked to start this blog post with a picture of some beautiful creek-caught salmon. Unfortunately, the wily salmon got the best of me! Not only me, but my beloved Shimano Clarus rod as well. I’ll explain, but check out the massive Dungeness crab that was caught earlier this week by some guests in my featured picture. It’s the biggest one I’ve seen so far this season, probably one of the biggest I’ve ever seen actually. Naturally I had to pose with it. I hope the guest appreciated it!

The night before my day off, I had a huge evening doing fish-boxes. The whole lodge checked out all at once, so I was responsible for boxing up over 600 lbs of fish split up between 25 people. I treated it like a military operation and my crew nailed it. I was so proud of the work me and my boys had done. I went to grab my vape for some celebration puffs and I noticed it was gone. We tore apart the fish-cleaning shed, but it was nowhere to be found. I even popped open the last 4 boxes I sealed and repacked them thinking it might have fallen in to no avail. I hope it didn’t wind up in one of the ones I didn’t check. It would probably not go over well for me. I do have a backup vape so all good, but it was a downer to lose something so key to my well-being.

Now, as I mentioned last week, I had ordered a new backpacking rod for my trips upstream. I was really hoping it would arrive before my day off so I would have it to use. Unfortunately, after the first couple of plane loads of cargo arrived it was a no-show. I resigned myself to using my nice expensive Shimano rod for the day. I broke it down, put some rubber bands around it to keep the halves together and headed up the trail.

It was a really nice day, bright and full of sunshine. It was a 98% chance of rain in the forecast, so I felt really fortunate. Not that the fish would have cared, if anything the bite seems better when it rains. I had heard that the salmon were everywhere in the lake at the head of the creek so that was my destination for the day. After about a half hour of hiking I found a small trail to the side I hadn’t noticed the last time I had been down there. I could see disturbance in the undergrowth that others had been down that way so I went down to check it out. Lo and behold I hit the jackpot! I found a still stretch of water that was LOADED with salmon! I could see swarms of them all over the place. They were jumping everywhere as well!

I was only about halfway to my destination, but I figured that this was a good of a spot as any and proceeded to get my rod set up. I’m using these lures I got off of Amazon, I got 20 of these Kastmaster knock-offs for like 20 bucks. A pretty good deal, they are a quality product. A trick that Devin told me about is to paint one side with pink fingernail polish. Any color of pink, red or orange (but particularly pink) really gets the strikes. The reason being is that these colors look like salmon roe, which is like crack to these fish. The color might resemble baitfish they like to eat as well, not sure about that though.

I began casting, and didn’t have a lot of luck at first. I had a couple of trout on for a second but they jumped up and cast the hook immediately. I fished for another hour and started to think that they just weren’t going to bite at all. I could literally cast right in front of them and they would ignore it! Just when I was about to lose all hope, BAM! I had one on! It came off almost as fast due to my drag being set too heavy. Still, now I knew that they would bite and sent a stream of casts to the same spot. I finally got another one on and this time it stuck. I didn’t have a net so I played it for a while until it got tired out and brought it in. I got it up to my feet and tried to grab for it but it did one crazy flop and got away. I almost had it!

I tried again, undaunted. Probably another hour went by and several fish were hooked but came off immediately. Finally, another one managed to stay on and I played it carefully. After several runs and wild leaps I brought it to the shore and got my hands on it. I threw it up on the shore, and thought I finally landed my first shore salmon! Then, the salmon somehow got a last burst of energy and threw the hook at the same time it splashed back into the creek.

Well, it seems that a net would have been really helpful for me at this point. I was beyond exasperated, but having nothing better to do, I continued casting. It finally got time for me to head back, so I made one of my last casts of the evening. I had the last-cast luck, and got another fish on! This one I really took my time in fighting and tired him out until he seemed to have all the fight out of him. I propped my rod up on my right shoulder as I held the leader in one hand and tried to gill him with the other. Just as I slid my fingers into the fish’s gills, he jumped straight up. On the way down I heard a snap and the last six inches of my rod had broken clean off. Enraged, I lunged for the fish with everything I had and in one motion he wiggled right out of my hands, spat the hook, and swam away.

You could have probably heard me cussing a mile away back at the lodge. I was furious! Six hours of fishing and I had not only lost 3 nice silver or sockeye salmon right at the bank, I had broken my favorite rod in the process. Damn my rotten luck! I hiked back to the lodge defeated, covered in horsefly bites, and with nothing to show for almost a whole day fishing. When I got back and told my tale of woe to everyone, my new roommate informed me that I had received a package and he had laid it on my bed. Guess what was inside? My new rod! If only I had waited another hour or so, I would have had been able to take it with me and my Shimano would have been spared. Oh well, that’s how it goes sometimes. You break a rod, you get a rod I suppose.

One of the captains is pretty good at fixing rods, and he had a spare rod tip he glued onto the end of my rod. Now it is usable again, but it doesn’t quite have the same zip in the casts that the extra six inches provided. It’ll do for the rest of the time I am here. I’ll probably wind up buying another one when I get back to the world. So yeah, Team Salmon: 1, Dogfish: 0. I immediately placed an order for a collapsible net so this won’t happen again. Next week I will return to the salmon spot with my new rod and net and hopefully I can get my revenge. Tune in next week to see how it goes!