Early June 2017. We had been at the ranch a few days and Cannonball and Larry had been on the periphery, the ranch’s latest inhabitants. My sister-in-law knew them from school bus stop mornings on the Denio route, where she is the substitute bus driver and otherwise helps carry that school along. They accompanied two children of a farm worker to the stop, but when the family pulled up stakes the dogs were left orphaned and my sister-in-law took them in.
It was the big water year and we had taken advantage, floating on the Black Rock Playa and the Quinn River. Places water flows only rarely, ephemerally. It was a year since Coco had gone on, and Dusty three. Cannonball and Larry, orphans, were a little adrift at the ranch, in limbo, and with a day free we decided to take them out, but with the caveat that we weren’t going to get too attached. They were a pair, had never lived inside, we weren’t ready.
We went out to Elephant Mountain. We’d hiked its flanks many times before, but never gone up to the summit and so we continued past our usual parking place on Paiute Creek farther up the road that bisects the wildernesses. Larry who then went by Yo-yo, and no one had ever learned Cannonball’s name, so she went by Girl (a name she is still known by in some quarters), and they were very nervous in the front of the pickup with us, they had never or rarely ridden in the front before and they didn’t know how to behave themselves, or exactly what to do.
We stopped and started to climb. The day was overcast and Cannonball and Larry kept us good company. From the north, Elephant Mountain looks just like it sounds, like an elephant charging toward you. We climbed between its ears and up the back side of its skull. It was not a long hike to the top, steep but mostly just a nice desert walk. We stopped for a break and got to know each other well. Cannonball launched herself into us and Larry climbed up on my lap finally and settled in. With him there, I had a chance to see if he had his male parts, which he did, but not for long, after we told my mom. Then we headed onward, up the mountain.
At the summit there was a marker stone and a wide view of the desert and mountains. We sat comfortably in shadow of the harri mutil, the stone boy, that lonely pile of rock that separated range lines, or was made by lonely Basque boys dreaming of their green home, or, who knows? Yo-yo informed us in his kind and wise way that his name was not Yo-yo, but Larry. Cannonball richocheted. Renee hand-stood. When we started down we drifted apart, as we often do in trackless desert, and Cannonball and Larry accompanied Renee on the way down—fortuitously because I crossed paths with a small rattlesnake among the wind-carved rim rocks.
We arrived back at the truck in good spirits and parted on friendly terms. Us back to Reno. Larry and Girl to stay at the ranch.
Soon thereafter we came back to the ranch and met Larry at the door of our little studio there. Cannonball had dumped him for my mom, and, especially, her four-wheeler. In no uncertain terms Larry let us know he was going with us.
After my mom’s surgery, Cannonball, still Girl then, was lost again. With plenty of time at the ranch to acclimate to living indoors, she has fully joined the crew. She and Larry are back to being soulmates. And now they are here, sleeping alongside me while I write this and nurse a bit of a gimpy foot, looking forward to our next explorations!
by Dan Montero
I've embarked on a project for 2019. One of grand, nay, epic dimensions. What is this mighty endeavor, you ask. Well, I decided back at the beginning of the year that I want to write a haiku for every day of 2019. Every single day ... even the ones we don't get out to play!
Why haikus? I don't know exactly, I am very attracted to the conciseness, the strictness, and I seek to convey in the short lines a complete story or image. Haikus probably don't need too much explanation, but the article on them at the Poetry Foundation is a nice entryway. However, I have just been interested in the form for a while in my usual not-very-regimented way. (Indeed, after reading the article I find mine to be more narrative based and probably not very haiku-like.)
The project does have a bit of genesis, however. Last year I set as my goal to write a journal entry for every day. That was an interesting experience, but not one I wanted to repeat. The repetition of journal entries sort of became rote and I was pretty glad to see that over. But I wanted to do something, and I struck upon haikus. I had gotten interested in them more deeply in 2018, and had also found a simple little app called Haiku that helps draft them. This isn't to say it was planned, however, and in fact the first haiku written for the year isn't January 1, but January 7. That was the day I had the idea to do this, and so then I worked backward to 1 before moving ahead. The goal isn't necessarily to write the haiku on the specific day (although as I learned very well last year, if you let it go too far it becomes very hard to reconstruct), nor do I expect them all to be perfect or unchangeable. I just want to capture the flow of time in this way.
Please let me know if you find this project interesting and if you'd like to see more examples. I don't want to clutter my feeds too much with this, but if there is interest I could figure out some sharing options. Also, if you want to share a haiku (or anything) please do!
Another beautiful little stroll on one of our Reno backyard trails, Huffaker Hills. Reno is surrounded by fun trails of various lengths and difficulty. It’s one of the things we love about this area!
We hope you are are able to get out this weekend and enjoy some trails!
Job’s Sister, the name is enigmatic, the terrain exotic, the form sinuous. At 10,8233 feet elevation, it is the second highest peak in the Lake Tahoe Basin, only sixty feet lower than Freel Peak, its nearest neighbor. It has spectacular views of Lake Tahoe, the desert mountains to the east, and the Sierras to the south. But none of these are the reason why I love the place so much.
The first time I visited her was November 23, 2005. Less than a month earlier we had learned that my father had brain cancer, he had already had surgery to remove the tumor and while he hung on to life, he was a husk now, lost, slipping away quickly into the ether. It was the day before I would go to the ranch for Thanksgiving--the first in my life when I would be there and he wouldn’t—and I had some free time so I decided to explore.
Earlier in the summer, before the news about my dad, I had camped near Markleeville and the Freel/Job’s Sister/Job’s area had caught my eye. I had little idea about it, about the names of the peaks or their elevations or their trails or anything, but something about the white wind-whipped summits called to me. So, on that pre-Thanksgiving day, I set off with Dusty and Coco to explore. I didn’t start early. When I found a dirt road from Luther Pass that seemed to go toward the mountains, I pulled over and stopped. It didn’t look like my Honda Civic would make the first steep rocky grade, so I parked at the turn and started walking up the road toward the mountains. (It turns out the steepest and rockiest part of the road is the very beginning, but I had no way of knowing that then, nor was I sure the Honda would have liked it much anyway.)
My companions were in fine spirits, and it was a beautiful clear late fall morning. We climbed up along the road through pine forest and leafless aspen groves and then left it behind as we cut up past mountainside springs and through steep pine forest. It had snowed that year and there were drifts in places among the trees, but for the most part it was still a dry year and the way was clear. An advantage of walking with no plan and little forethought is that each turn, vista, path, et cetera is a revelation and a leap into the unknown. And the unknown was what I was leaping into: the unknown of helping to care for my father, the greater unknown of what life would be like when he was gone. He had been the rock and the support for everything in my life and it simply had never occurred to me that I might lose him. I, recently back from the East Coast, more or less new to walking alone, more or less tethered in Nevada, more or less employed, seemed much more like a balloon ready to float away than my father who, other than a stint at UNR and the Korean War, had never been away from the ranch for more than two weeks at a time in his life. I couldn’t even begin to imagine losing him. And yet the reality was that I was going to lose him, had in fact already lost him. He was still breathing, but he was gone.
I don’t remember the exact route we followed, it definitely wasn’t a trail, but I know that we climbed, straight up the big ridge toward the treeline and the big rock escarpments jutting from the otherwise coarse ground slope. One step at a time, up, up, up. Climbing becomes hypnotizing in a way, moving a step forward when going up a steep slope becomes the sum total of reality and existence for me, and in the midst of a big climb there is no future or past, no advance or retreat—there is only climbing. So much so that it was almost a surprise when I crested the ridge at what I now know is the crest summit between Freel Peak and Job’s Sister that I call the Dragon Spine, but that doesn’t have a name on any map I know.
Just as suddenly, the world transformed. Light seemed to pour from the granite sand, shining through wind-sculpted drifts pressed against the lines of the mountain and the wind-shaped junipers across the slope. And, from there, looking like nothing so much as a giant ramp, an exorbitant jumping off point into the future was Job’s Sister, pointed east, toward the desert, toward my home. It seemed a place both out of time, and also the launching point for time.
I didn’t climb Job’s Sister that day, I didn’t stand at its summit until the next summer. The day was late, we were tired and we had a long walk all the way back to the highway, but I went down in good spirits, the future seemingly just a little bit more manageable than it had been at the beginning of the day. I have carried Job’s Sister with me since that day when I walked toward it as I walked into the unknown and returned just a little bit more confident in my own ability to handle what was coming, whether I wanted it to or not. That was the beginning of my love affair with Job’s Sister (and with Freel, and with Job’s), an affair that I hope will never end as long as I continue to make my way along the unknowable path that is the course of a life.
Welcome to RaD photo bombs! We decided to try a little experiment. We picked a photo at random (above) from a recent adventure (our Labor Day exploration of Mount Moriah Wilderness), and then we each wrote about it for 5 minutes. The results are this post. We hope you enjoy. This was a super fun way for us to interact with our explorations in a new way and so there might be more photo story bombs in the future. Create some yourself and share them with us!
Through the field we walk, climbing higher into these distant mountains, a place we’ve dreamed about since before Larry joined our crew, but he cheerfully agreed and comes along smiling with us as we pass through the canyon bottom pines. Going up. Toward Moriah. It is a sparkling morning and we have no hurry and have no need to rush through a day, just to be in it, now, in this moment neither past nor future.
Little dog on the trail. Winding, walking, exploring this Earth. Little puffy clouds floating effortlessly in the soft blue ocean of sky. Life and death engulf us as we pass by. Tall ancient trees tower above, dwarfing us in both space and time. This is where I love to be.
Sometimes the best and most fruitful explorations are close to home. Photos from Rattlesnake Mountain and Huffaker Hills regional
by Daniel Montero
We have made a little spot alongside Pyramid Lake’s Monument Rock. The water level is very high now. there is almost no beach, and we have spread out our picnic in the shade of some trees along the shore underneath the bulbous northernmost of the two monument tufa structures. We settle in and Renee reads from Michael Branch's new book, How to Cuss in Western, to me.
We have been sick all weekend, irritable, if not grumpy, and the apartment a little too small but the states of ourselves a little too degraded to want to be outside. So we’ve hung on, but then, not sure if we’re feeling better or not, but not really caring either way because we are stir crazy, we decided to excursion out to Monument Rock on Pyramid Lake. It is one of our favorite Pyramid Lake places, high up on the northeast side with great views of the whole span of the lake from the Pyramid and Anaho Island, up to Tohakum, and the Needles up on the north end catch the light. Not only is it a beautiful place, it has a rich personal history for us as well, we’ve camped here many times, on bike tour or just for a night escape from Reno. We saw Perseids here one year with a group of friends, lying in our sleeping bags on the (much larger then) beach watching flares of space rock trace across the sky all night long.
But for one reason or another we haven’t stopped for a few years and it was a great pleasure to see the lake up high and the dry tree skeletons in the water again. There was a car when we arrived but the people left immediately and we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. We had our picnic and then left our things in the shade and wandered down along the shore, walking more in the lake than out.
Tufa is for me an extraordinary structure. It is hard, but appears soft. Fully mineral, but with a sense of movement to it that seems organic. It has geometric structure, but geometric structure as imagined by Gaudí, not by Euclid. Speaking of, I don’t know if Gaudí ever saw tufa, but if he had, I bet he would have loved it. The water was clear and the lake almost entirely still on a windless afternoon and so walking in the water with the tufa below was textural overload, a sense of walking in a dreamscape. We stopped out near the favorite of the tree skeletons that have been in that place for years, high up on the sand when I last walked by, but now protruding appendages from an otherwise still water. I've found a child's swimming kickboard along the shore, almost new despite its journey here, and when I resolve to go out to my favorite of the skeletons, Renee tells me I should use it. I don't think the water will get deep, but it does, and I do end up following Renee's directions and kicking myself out to the tree where i climb up onto its bone white truck and balance on its smooth surface. Pyramid is like that, a place whose very austereness is a sort of sensory overload when the mind tries to make sense of it. The whole overwhelms the particular almost completely. At least until you start to see the detail, and then you realize that all of this giant landscape is equally overloaded and you are just a little part of if, tiny, nothing.
We wandered among the afternoon, read in the shade and generally played on a Sunday afternoon. Toward sunset we climbed up on the tufa mounds and watched shadows ascend, filling the places the light had left for the day. Just another play, another day. From away the Monument Rocks look like full masses, but both of them have open spaces on their tops. Up over the lake, under a dome of open sky with the lake ranges as the audiences to our play in the amphitheaters, we are consecrated, ethereal.
The sun gone but our spirits balmed we started back toward Reno, toward our conceptions of the future, while behind us the lake slid into night.
It's so fun to come across interesting and beautiful rocks while out exploring the great, wide open west! We love our public lands!!!
Dan and I have been to this area several times looking for petroglyphs and have found some here and there, but mostly few and far between. We went back last weekend and found a bunch. We were so giddy to find them. If you go exploring for and find petroglyphs please, please, please treat them with respect. Here is a link for some types on how to be responsible in these areas: https://www.basinandrange.org/archeological-sites.html
by Daniel Montero
Going through some old things tonight I came across the phone pictured above and was reminded of how it wandered into our lives.
Bicycling along an apparently endless Arizona highway with just a bit of an uncomfortably narrow shoulder and way too much heavy traffic through a cacti-forested rolling countryside did not make for a day of idle landscape appreciation. But one of my favorite things about riding a bike is that it speeds us beyond the limits of our body, but slows us to a manageable speed. Fast enough to feel movement; slow enough to be in the world. One of my ways of being in the world on a bike, especially on a busy highway, is to look at what is discarded or lost in the reckless pursuit of the future and headlong flight from the past that is such a great part of modern human existence. Odd things, banal things, disgusting things, precious things, they all find themselves lost along the concrete ribbons that tie, some might say bind, most lives into intricate bows and byzantine knots. Roads crash lives of strangers violently into one another on occasion and carry some people away from all they have loved. And a zillion things in between. So it was with some triumph that I spotted the little leather lump that became, once I'd recognized it as something worth a second look, the phone pictured above. Its power was nearly dead and service gone, but there was a message open, in Spanish, something to the effect of, “she knows!” And then the phone ended up here, alongside the road, I imagine as the revenge of the one who learned, or an act of the contrition of one of those who did the thing of which knowledge was news. Or something else. But it ended up here, along a highway, in the company of the fringes. Rubbish. Litter. Or the things we find.
Related somehow to this post if you’d like to read more.
This blog is dedicated to stories and ideas from our explorations. We hope you enjoy!
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