Monday, July 30, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #26: The Old Cabin Trail

Old Cabin Trail - 020I went out early on Sunday to do my weekly hike. I arrived at the trailhead around 7:30 and headed out to the Old Cabin Site. The clouds were thick and low but they burned off relatively quickly.

The trail goes through a couple of landscapes varying from meadows to wooded forests to canyons and valleys. The hike starts in a meadow along the Wendy and Satwiwa Trails, drops down a little before climbing up to the top of a wooded canyon. Along the way to see an old windmill. At the top of the canyon you meet up with the Boney Mountain trail/Danielson Fire road from which you will have views of Boney Mountain.

The trail drops down and enters the Point Mugu State park. At the bottom of the canyon you cross a riverbed – it was dry this year and so was the river bed – before heading back up the other side of the canyon. At the bottom of the canyon I took a spur trail to a waterfall site. This year, being so dry, it is more of a watertrickle. The rock formations were impressive and I can imagine that it would be spectacular with running water after a good rain. I looked, but did not find, the “Fern Gully 2 ” geocache located past the top of the falls. After e-mailing the hider, I think I was looking in the wrong spot. I will have a chance to search again in November when I do the Old Boney Trail hike.

After leaving the falls area I headed up the side of the canyon. Trees offered a lot of shade which made the climb bearable. The views of the canyon from this trail are beautiful.

At the high point of the hike you can either continue on the Boney Trail or follow the Old Cabin Trail spur. I followed the Old Cabin Spur until I reached the remains of the Old Cabin – a stone chimney. Not as impressive as Knapp's Castle but nice enough. Nearby is a monument to Richard Ely Danielson who donated the ranch to the National Park Service. Mr. Danielson is buried under the monument. The monument is made of stone and there is a metal arch over it that reads “Peace Love Joy.” I can see why he built the cabin in this valley. The setting is beautiful and tranquil.

As I was looking for a cache in the area (“Rancho Sierra Vista - Old Cabin Site” where I dropped The Commander's Caches Movers Geocoin #6 geocoin and picked up the chaosmanor's Torn Yellow Mailer #3 geocoin) I came across a trail leading up. The cache wasn’t there so I headed back down to the memorial where I found a fellow hiker. He said that he saw me going up the other trail and said that it was a very difficult hike up that trail to Old Boney. I explained that I wasn’t planning to take the trail and that I knew my limitations. He smiled at that and we chatted awhile while I ate some lunch. For this hike I packed a sandwich and apple – much better then those nasty protein bars.

As I left the Old Cabin site I passed quite a few hikers who were walking the trail today (There were a dozen cars at the trailhead when I arrived). The rest of the hike was going back the way that I came. At the top of the canyon I headed across a meadow to the Satwiwa Indian cultural center. I was tired and dirty so I didn’t go in. I did dump some trash that I picked up on the trail. I will have a chance to visit it next time I’m in the area.

Along the trail I found four more caches: “Fill In The Blanks”, “Boundary”, “Boney Hairpin”, and “Peace, Love and Joy”. I had 16 caches programmed into my GPS but most of them were on other nearby trails that I will get some other hike.

The total distance hikes was only 6.69 miles – less then the 7 miles that it was supposed to be. Also the elevation gain that was advertised as 1,200 feet turned out to be only 764 feet. This made the whole hike feel easy. The lack of challenge was made up for by the views along the trail. Some pictures can be found here. My next hike is to Sandstone Peak where I hope to see Old Boney from another angle.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Past Vacations #19: Peru 2006 - Part Eight - Lake Titicaca

Peru 2006-516When I think of Peru I think of three things: Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, and Lake Titicaca. I have always had a mild, underground fascination with the lake even though I knew very little about it. I basically knew two things. The first thing is that Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. That seem cool to me for some obscure reason. The second thing is the name. I know of no one who can hear the name Titicaca without being transformed, even briefly, into Beavis and Butthead. Our guide said that there was a joke that Peru got the Titi side of the lake and Bolivia got the caca side. My lack of true knowledge of the lake meant that anything I learned would be a bonus.

We started early in the morning. I looked out the hotel window and saw the sun rising over the lake and the reeds. We joined the group down by the boat dock to board out boat that would take us out to the Uros Islands and Taquile Island. Two of the tour group did not make it as the altitude was doing a number on them. A doctor would visit them twice by the end of the day.

The boat left the dock and we made our way to the floating islands of the Uros. The Uros tribe live on large reed rafts made of Totora Reeds. They harvest the root block from the bottom of the lake. The root block floats like a cork. The squares of root block are attached together to make a large island. They then layer cut reeds in a criss-cross manner in multiple layers until the raft is close to six feet thick. Each island is occupied by one extended family. The Uros live their entire life on the islands living on the reeds and fishing. They trade fish and crafts for other need supplies with the mainland. The islands last about 50 years before they need to be replaced.

We arrived at one of the islands and got out of the boat. Walking on the islands felt like walking on a mattress - a little springy and bouncy. We sat down and the chief explained the history of the islands. The chief did not speak Spanish and our tour guide translated. As we sat and listened, a bird slowly made its way toward a bowl of fish that the chief was using to show the type of fish that they ate. He slowly crept up to the bowl, snatched a fish and was shushed away by the chief's wife. Turns out the Heron was a family pet.

After the demonstration it was time for dress up. The women were all taken into huts where they were dressed as native Uros. The men were given shirts, vests, and hats to wear. The women skirts, blouses, jackets and funny little hats. We all had a fun time laughing at how we all looked. We got our pictures taken. ( Ours was included in out Christmas card that year.) The Uros women then brought our their crafts so we could do some more shopping. The wife purchase a few things that are now decorating our family room. A few of us took a boat ride on one of the reed boats. As departing gifts, we were each given a small reed boat. I really enjoyed the Uros Islands. This was the high point of the day.Peru 2006-552

The boat then headed out to the island of Taquile. After what seemed to be a long time we arrived and we followed a path up the island past terraces. In the hazy distance you could see the mountains of Bolivia. The path lead to a house where we had lunch. While the house seemed primitive, I noticed they had a small solar panel charging a car battery so that they would have light and possibly radio at night. Taquile Island was a little disappointing in that we saw very little of it. We saw some houses but we didn't see any village. The people are known for their weaving and cloth but we had very little chance to see very much of that. This was probably the only disappointing part of this vacation.

After lunch we went back to the boat and mostly slept on the way back to Puno. A few of us went into Puno with our guide to do some more shopping before calling it a night.

Here ends Chapter Eight. Pictures can be found here. Coming up in the Last chapter: The return Home and the things I learned.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Wife ... The Celebrity

OK, The wife and the Godson have been attending a couple of teacher workshops for the last couple of weeks. Last week was in Spartanburg, South Carolina. While she was there a local news crew taped a story about the teachers attending the revolutionary war battlefields. Who got an interview and appeared twice in the report? The Wife.

This week they are in Hartford, Connecticut. They are at the Mark Twain House and museum. Who shows up there with the Secretary of Education and the head of the National Endowment for the Humanities in tow? First Lady Laura Bush! The wife and Godson get their pictures taken with the First Lady!

How will I live with the wife now that she's a celebrity and moves around in Presidential Circles? I feel so insignificant.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sweet Tooth ... No More

The "J" came by last night bearing a plate of birthday Brownies - Ghiradellis Brownies no less. I had been thinking of sweet stuff and the pantry was empty and the brownies hit the spot. Three were consumed that very night. Today I was reintroduced to the joy of brownies for breakfast - Yummy. At this rate the plate will be empty by Monday ... maybe Tuesday.

THANK YOU "J" !!!!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #25: Foothill Trail

Foothill Trail - 005I did not want to get up this morning. I drug myself out of bed and headed to Denny's to eat some breakfast of the way to Ojai. I stopped at the Pratt trailhead. The trails heads up the foothills past homes and ranches. The hike even passes through the back garden of one house. A plaque commemorates Shawney who tended the garden until her death in 2006. She liked talking to the hikers that passed through her garden. She sounds like she was a wonderful woman.

The trail splits. The right hand trail is the foothill trail. It climbs up and down over the hills. I was hurting a bit on this trail. I don't think I completely recovered from last weeks hike and I have been sick the last week (still a little horse). This portion of the trail had nice views of the Ojai Valley, forests, meadows, and chaparral. The breeze up here kept me cool. I scared a group of deer along this part of the trail. No pictures of the deer but I did get a picture of a bunny. The trail hits some private property and the trail goes around to the left.

I came across another memorial to a fallen biker. I found a similar one on the Cozy Dell Trail not too far from this trail. I guess if you have to go, go doing something you enjoy.

After I got around the private property I missed a turn. Somewhere there is a path that takes you to Gridley road. I missed it. I was now down in the canyons and the breeze disappeared and it got really hot. Eventually I realized my mistake. I looked at the GPS map and found a trail/fire road that headed in the right direction. The road took me by homes (big homes) being built up in the hills. I eventually made it to Hermitage Lane. This road passes through nice houses, ranches, and irrigation ponds surrounded with cattails. As I left Hermitage Lane, through an open gate (gated community) past the no-trail-access-for-hikers sign (oops), the road connects up with Gridley road and I was back on track.

From Gridley Road I connected with Shelf Road (also known as Valley View Road). There are some interesting views of Ojai Valley along this road. I found two geocaches along this road (and did not find another): "Shelf Road #1" and "Shelf Road #2: The Road Less Traveled". Along the road there were several cairns, also known as ducks. On one of these, I saw another rabbit.

When I made it back to the car I was really tired. The hike was 8.31 miles. 1.31 miles longer then I had planned. I am starting to doubt that I can keep up the one hike a week pace - especially since the hikes are getting longer. We'll see.

Pictures are here. I took them with my new camera. I didn't use it that much this hike as the views, while nice, were nothing super spectacular. I liked the camera though.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Another Birthday Almost Gone

Today was my birthday. I usually don't celebrate my birthdays much - they kind of depress me - but today I celebrated. I slept in a little. I vacuumed the dog hair (How is that dog not bald?!? I have never seen so much hair) off the downstairs floor. I ate lunch at Arbys. Had some birthday cake ice cream with chocolate chip cookie dough at Marble Slab Creamery. I went to the laundromat to wash our comforter. I mowed the lawn, pulled some weeds, and fixed a sprinkler. I brushed the dog - God! He's loosing more hair! Where is it coming from?!?

I think I'll spend the rest of my birthday planted in front of the boob tube and then go to bed. Woo Hoo!

I want to thank the wife, my Mom, my Mother-In-Law, and my Favorite Uncle and Aunt for sending cards and gifts. I will enjoy them all. The wife helped pay for part of my new camera. Thanks Honey!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Book: Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near

My latest read was "The Singularity Is Near" by Ray Kurzweil. A very interesting read. In this book the concept of the singularity, usually a point where mathematics and the laws of physics break down and are undefined, is applied to technological progression. Kurzweil suggests that as our technology becomes more advanced, growing exponentially, computers will eventually surpass humans in intelligence. These computers will then design better computers which will design better computers which will design better computer, ad infinitum until they reach god-like proportions. The technological progress will accelerate until humans will not be able to predict or even comprehend how it will progress. He doesn't believe that these god-like computers will take over the world - He sees human merging with their technology until the biological portion is gone. Humans will progressively incorporate more sophisticated devices in our bodies to cure disease and to enhance our capabilities. As the devices become more advanced they will replace more and more of the brain and body’s function until what is left is non-biological. The human personality, memories, experience, all that makes us who we are will live on in the machine. Not only live on but it will be enhanced by the speed and knowledge of the technology. This will be the next phase of human evolution. The human race will live both in reality in sophisticated artificial bodies or in unlimited virtual reality worlds. How does it end? A Universe-spanning (or even Multiverse-spanning) computer with all of us a part of it.


As I read this book I found the world it created fascinating and attractive on one hand - repulsive and disheartening on the other. As I read about the replacement of body parts, the Borg were not far from my thoughts. When I read about civilization living on in a virtual reality how could I not think about the Matrix. Every technology driven apocalypse was there.

In the earlier chapters Kurzweil attempts to explain to the skeptics how the singularity will come about explaining the fallacy of linear progression and the wonder of exponential growth. He goes into detail how the study of the human brain is progressing and how with just a little more study we will be able to reverse engineer the brain and duplicate the functions in a computer. He writes about each of the technological revolutions leading the way (He calls them Genetics – Nanotech – Robotics (GNR) meaning biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence.). He discusses why he thinks we are alone in the Universe since we have not been overrun by super advanced civilizations that have already passed through the singularity (basically the Fermi Paradox). The last couple of chapters Kurzweil examines the critics who poo-poo the singularity. The last chapter he takes on each major area of criticism one at a time.

My main criticism is that Kurzweil approaches the singularity with unwavering optimism. His belief is almost a religious fervor. All his counter arguments to the critics are blue sky optimistic that disregards the critics as lacking vision. He acknowledges that many of these new technologies could also be used to destroy human civilization but thinks that good will always triumph over evil. Unfortunately that is not always the case. All you need in one out of control self replicating nanobot to turn the whole planet into gray goo. Only one artificial intelligence more advanced then humans deciding that humans are not needed to bring on the Terminator scenario. He is gambling that the sophisticated artificial intelligence will be a knight in shining armor arriving just in time to rescue us from destroying ourselves and whisk us to the Promised Land. I am concerned that once we achieve this perfect virtual world we will stagnate as there will be nothing we don’t already know. A world without learning and wonder is no world I want to live in.

Kurzweil seems to think that there will be no significant opposition to this technological transformation. Augustine's Second Law of Socioscience (and engineering) states:

"For every scientific (or engineering) action, there is an equal and opposite social reaction."

The opposition from religions alone should be hard to overcome. We live in a society that can hardly handle cloning. How will we handle transferring our selves into a machine.

So, when will the singularity occur? Kurzweil thinks it will be around 2040. A mere 33 years from now. Many of us will be alive to see it. Do I think it will happen? I’m not sure. I am definitely not as optimistic as Kurzweil but I have such a fascination with technology that I want to believe in all the good that could come of this. I am just not an apostle … yet.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Day Of Downs And Ups

Monday was a day of downs and ups. I didn't sleep well. My dreams were weird and were more hallucination than dreams. I didn't feel that great when I got up but went into work anyway. I only made if there for two hours before I gave up and went home. I've been laying around all day on the couch with Homer watching Man vs. Wild and Survivorman. My calves are killing me from my Knapp's Castle hike, my nose is running despite the Claratin-D, and I feel like a washed out rag. Then I checked my e-mail. I received a message via Flickr. The writer (not sure if it's a he or a she) was investigating the Potrero John hike and came across my Homer's Travels post. They said:
"I have to say that it is the best description out there of the hike, and arguably the best I've seen of any hike because of its detail."
They go on to say that the post was useful and thanked me. What a morale booster. It always feels good to help someone and to be appreciated. I know my writing runs hot and cold and it's nice to know when I get it right. To top it off, I received my new camera today - a Canon Powershot S5 IS. My first "real" camera. Can't wait to try it out.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #24: Snyder Trail, Knapp's Castle, And Fremont Trail

Snyder - Fremont Trails - 026On Friday, I woke up with a sore throat which got worse as the day went by. I wasn't sure I would be hiking on Saturday. I woke up on Saturday after a restless sleep. I felt a little better but my throat was still sore. I drank some Emergen-C and headed for the Snyder trailhead. The hike went well until the last couple of miles. Before I tell you what happened, let's talk about the good things about this hike.

As I topped the San Marcos Pass I saw a low layer of fog or maybe smoke lying over the Santa Ynez valley. There was definitely a smell of smoke in the air. It was clear over the trailhead. The first leg of this hike climbs from Paradise Road (1,067 feet) to Knapp's Castle (2,936 feet). The trail climbs relentlessly and I put the 20 minutes walking - 5 minutes resting method into practice. It worked pretty well. The 5 minutes of rest was hard to do when I was still fresh - antsy to keep moving but as the hike went on the 5 minutes didn't seem enough.

This part of the trail is a favorite for mountain bikers and you have to keep your ears open for the sound of oncoming bikes. Many of them had bells that made it easier. I was impressed that nearly every biker thanked me for stepping aside and many told me if there were more behind them. None of the bikers I encountered were rude at all.

The trail went in and out of the shade. Views of the Santa Ynez Valley and Lake Cachuma were around every corner. As I approached Knapp's Castle I took a short detour to do the "Snide Hide" cache. I then made my way to the Castle. I found "Knapps Cache" in the lower part of the ruins. I walked around and took some pictures. The only thing standing are three fireplaces and some stone arches. The views from the castle ruins are just amazing. You could also see the ominous plume of smoke from the Zaca fire. I found a shaded place in one of the arches where a light breeze could be felt and sat down to rest. A protein bar and an apple hit the spot.

After a good rest, I considered my options. I could go back down the way I came or I could make my way to the Fremont Trail as an alternate way back down to Paradise Road. I felt pretty good but I was only a third of the way around the loop. I decided to do the Fremont trail. I hiked the short distance to E. Camino Cielo road. From there I climbed up Burro Hill to do the "Burro Hill" cache. I dropped of the Buster Baxter TB that I picked up in Minnesota. The Cache was at the high point of the hike at about 3,050 feet. I followed the trail back down to E. Camino Cielo and followed the road to the Fremont trailhead. Fortunately, the sun went under some wispy clouds during this part which kept the temperature down.

It's amazing how two trails so near to each other can be so different. The Fremont trail starts with a pine forest before moving into rocky terrain. The first part of the trail goes up and down which didn't help much but the views made up for the extra effort. There were great views of the Cold Spring Bridge and Lake Cachuma. Near one of the Edison power poles I found the last cache of the day - "Road To Nowhere." I continued done the trail that switchbacked down the mountain. The trail was steep in places and the gravel and fine dust made walking precarious in spots. Then the hike turned sour.

The trail enters a meadow - a very nice meadow with long grass and trees. I also say a tent and a canopy. I thought this was strange since I doubted that camping was allowed up here. As I approached, I saw nobody. The tent, made of insect netting, was full of supplies - bottles of water, etc. I didn't think much of it and I started looking for the path exiting the meadow. After several false trails, I ran into the last thing that I ever wanted to see - not a rattle snake - not a mountain lion - not a bear. I ran into marijuana plants. At this point my mind went into panic mode. Where there is marijuana, there is often men with guns. I started to look for the exit in earnest now. I ran into another group of marijuana plants and that was enough. I started making my own trail through the forest. I must have looked like a loon hacking my way through the trees. I probably used up three miles worth of hiking energy trying to find a way out of there. After many false starts due to thick impassable growth I made it to a path which turned out to be the one I was looking for. I followed the trail and took a shortcut through some guys yard to get back to Paradise road.

I was pretty much exhausted and paranoid as I walked back to the car. I emptied my camelbak and had to open a bottle that I carried just in case. When I got back home I called the Santa Barbara crime stoppers tip line and told them what I saw. I was told that it had already been reported by someone else and that the information had been forwarded to the Narcotics devision.

Despite the little run in at the meadow, which could have turned out a lot worse, the hike was pretty good. The total distance was 9.43 miles with an elevation gain of about 1,983 feet. Pictures of the good parts of the hike can be found here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Past Vacation #19 - Peru 2006 - Part Seven - Driving South To Puno

Peru 2006-488On day eight we got back on the bus and headed south to Puno. The drive was pleasant and we had a chance to see the Andes countryside. Our first stop was in the town of Andahuaylillas. The bus weaved its way through narrow streets, making some of us cringe, on the way to a 16th century church often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of the Americas. The church was worth the harrowing drive. It is incredible. This was one of the wife's favorite places. Unfortunately, due to the age of the artwork, we were not allowed to take pictures. We were told that some art thieves would take pictures to show to their clients before stealing the actual art. Several paintings were stolen from the cathedral in Cuzco and only blank spots are displayed. Sad.

Next stop on our trek south was Racqui, a pre-Incan ruin with 46 foot walls. It was pretty neat - something else I had never heard of. Further down the road we stopped for lunch. The selection was a little limited but it was enough to get me by. After we left one of our group realized she didn't have her purse. The bus was turned around, almost getting stuck in some soft sand in the process, and returned to the restaurant. The owner was standing outside with the purse in his hand when we pulled in.

The road eventually peaks at a light headed 14,222 feet. The bus stopped at the pass where there were vendors selling handicrafts. Our stop was short as we were on a schedule. The road headed down through the busy city of Juliaca.

Next stop was Sillustani. Just before we arrived, there was a foul odor on the bus. One of the members of our tour group, a particularly whiny one, had come out of the bus' bathroom. She was suffering from intestinal distress. The toilet had reverse flushed on her. I felt sorry for her ... sort of.

Sillustani is the location of the most perfectly preserved Chullpas. Here we met up with a new guide. He gave us a tour and a history lesson about the cylindrical funeral monuments in which mummified remains have been recovered. In a nearby lake we saw an island where a Vicuña reserve is located. Vicuña are endangered as their wool is prized by many.

We left Sillustani and stopped at a local farmers home. They showed us around their humble home, showing us what a typical meal is and sold some crafts they made - We bought a rug shown in this picture. Peru is famous for the huge number of potato species consumed. They supplement their diet with a thin mud soup that provides needed minerals. Their little daughter, dressed in brightly colored clothes, was a delight and showed off for the cameras. This visit was a treat and a great way to end the trip south.

The day ended with the bus arriving at the Libertador Lake Titicaca Puno Hotel. The elevator wasn't working very well so many of us took the stairs to our rooms, not an easy feat at 13,200 feet. The lady who had been reverse flushed on took the elevator - the elevator got stuck - the alarm sounded for over 20 minutes before someone realized what the noise was. OK, now I really felt sorry for her.

We enjoyed dinner at the hotel in preparation for our adventure on Lake Titicaca tomorrow.

Here ends Chapter Seven. Pictures can be found here. Coming up in the next chapter: Lake Titicaca, the Floating Islands of the Uros, and Taquile Island.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Happy Anniversary Baby ... Got You On My MMMIIINNNDDD!

Today is our 10th wedding anniversary. It feels weird in this house. I am home in Oxnard and the wonderful wife is in New York with the Godson. Next week they will be attending a seminar in Spartansburg, North Carolina and the week after another seminar in Hartford, Connecticut. All together we will be apart for 20 days - the longest we have been apart in the last 10 years. I miss her but the one consolation is that I know the wife is having a great time. Besides, now Homer doesn't hog the bed as much.

Our anniversary gift for each other will be a weekend in Catalina later in the year.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Minnesota Bug Droppings

While I was visiting Minnesota for the Altar Boy’s wedding I had some spare time so I did some geocaching. I ended up doing more then I expected.

On Thursday I started off with some caches near Stillwater, MN. I was a little rushed as we had to get back to have dinner with Aunt D but I managed to do four caches. Caches are a little different in Minnesota. In California caches are usually near the trail and a minimal amount of bushwhacking is necessary. Hiders try to minimize the potential impact to the environment near the cache. Three of the four that I did in Stillwater were completely off trail and required some bushwhacking. The first cache, “Tre-sure 2”, was located near the St. Croix Lake shore. I approached it from the wrong direction and ended up all muddy – sandals are not good to slog marshy ground in. There were no travel bugs here as there were supposed to be. I noticed while preparing for this trip that several TBs have vanished in the area. I skipped the next cache since I couldn’t find any parking. The second cache I found, “1893 Tamarack House”, was near the sign commemorating the Tamarack house, one of the earliest settlements near Stillwater. I then drove through town and hit two caches in the Valley View Park: “Valley View Cache” and “Prairie Resto”. I made a wrong turn in the park and ended up walking an extra quarter mile or so. The heat and humidity made it harder then it should have been. It is a really nice park with forest, prairie, and marsh lands. I picked up the Buster Baxter TB (It’s been to Kyrgyzstan and back - 12,647 miles in all) and dropped off a new bug that I made called the Polar Explorer. I found this penguin attached to a parachute in Rocky Peak Park. Before I returned home on Sunday, Polar Explorer had been picked up, dropped off, and picked up again. COOL! Another cache was in Teddy Bear Park in Stillwater but there were too many people around to search for – something weird about a grown man with a GPS and a camera searching around playground equipment full of little kids. I did take some pictures of the large Teddy Bear figures in the park.

On Friday, before the wedding rehearsal, I did some caches in the Rochester area. I did the “Golf Course TB Hotel” which was a really neat hide – a fake birdhouse on a tree. I left the Dainty Hat TB that I picked up in Rocky Peak Park and took the Traffic Cone TB. The Dainty Hat had been picked up by the end of the day. I was quite surprised how fast TBs move in Minneslowta – a lot faster than the traffic. The other cache, “Pill Hill” is located on a hill overlooking St Mary’s Hospital, now part of the Mayo Clinic.

I did two more caches on Saturday morning before the wedding. The first cache was on a very nice bike path along the Zumbro River called “Zum Cache”. I picked up The Commander's Caches Movers Geocoin #6. I then drove to Quarry Hill Park to find “Quarry Hill”. This is a really cool park. It is huge and the trails are a little chaotic which made it hard to follow. The park was full of flowers, wild raspberries (Yum) and I even scared some deer. As I navigated my way through the jumble of trails up and down hills I started to sweat. It was dripping off the end of my nose. I have never sweated so much in my life. By the time I found the cache and returned to the car my shirt and blue jeans were soaked. Yes, my jeans were wet from sweat. Someday I hope to return to this park to explore it some more.

I ended up doing a total of eight caches in Minnesota, dropping two TBs and picking up two TBs and a geocoin. A nice three days of caching before celebrating the Altar Boy’s big day. Photos are here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Minneslowta - The Land Of A Thousand Lakes

Minnesota 2007 - 028We flew back to Minneapolis on the long fourth on July weekend to attend the Altar Boy’s wedding. The flight east was uneventful but it felt way too long. We rented a car and drove to the Best Man and Matron Of Honor’s (The Altar Boy’s Parents) place.

On the way I displayed my lack of knowledge of State Mottos. We passed a lake and I said there’s one of the one thousand lakes of Minnesota. The wife, practically rolling her eyes, said “It’s Ten Thousand lakes and you’d better not tell the Best Man and Matron Of Honor or they’ll smack you” or something in that vein. We were amazed that most of the traffic was driving the speed limit. Later in the trip I coined the name Minneslowta. We told the Godson (The Altar Boy’s brother) and he was indignant. Oh well, the fact is I was driving on LA Time and everyone was driving on Minneslowta time. It was irritating though it made it easy to merge into traffic.

We were taken out to eat by the Best Man, Matron Of Honor, and Godson. As we were leaving there condo, the Best Man said “He had to put on his shoes.” We took this to mean that he was passing gas. From that point on, everyone was putting on their shoes. Dinner was followed by our customary hours of family, religion, and politics. We always have interesting conversation with them. We don’t always agree but we always have a good time. The Godson broke it up at about 1:30 am and we went to bed. The next day the conversation continued until the Matron Of Honor got back from doing errands – then it was all “Are you ready yet?” “What were you doing while I was out?” “I’m ready; He’s the one who’s not ready."

The wife and I parted company with the Best Man, Matron Of Honor, and Godson as they were heading to Rochester to prepare for the wedding. The wife and I headed out to Stillwater, a really cool town on the banks of the St. Croix Lake (formally the St. Croix River before the Mississippi silted up one end). The town is full of old buildings, restaurants, pubs, and quaint little shops. I dropped off the wife so she could walk the shops and I went geocaching. (More about my geocaching in my next post.)

After caching, I met up with the wife in a pub. We had something to drink to cool us off and re-hydrate. The wife picked up some cool Thoreau posters for the Godson and the Altar Boy (They’re both teachers and will use them). We left Stillwater and drove to Aunt D’s place. She is the Altar Boy and Godson’s Grandmother and a wonderful woman. We took her out to dinner and had a great time.

The next day, Friday, we ate breakfast and lounged around the Best Man and Matron Of Honor’s condo changing our shoes before we picked up Aunt D and drove down to Rochester. We were going to attend the rehearsal (The wife was a reader). There was a little time before we had to go so I went to do a couple of geocaches in the area. The rehearsal went well. We left the rehearsal and, driving LA fast, were the first to arrive at the rehearsal dinner. The rehearsal dinner, at a Rochester Italian Restaurant, was delicious and awesome all rolled up into one.

On Saturday – the Altar boy’s BIG day – 07/07/07 – I went out in the morning to do two more geocaches. I returned to the hotel, took a shower and got ready for the wedding. We showed up a little early and sat in the cool church waiting for the ceremony to start. The church in Chatfield is beautiful - a great setting for a wedding. The Father officiating at the wedding, born in Kenya, was ordained just two months before the wedding and it was his first. He seemed like a very nice man – great sense of humor. The ceremony went on without any major hitches. The flower girls were cute and ornery as expected. The wife managed to say “On their wedding night…” and “Lust” without giggling. Everyone applauded for Mr. and Mrs. Altar Boy.

After the wedding we sped (LA Speed) to the reception hall in Eyota, MN to get good tables for the wife’s clan. We were one of the first to arrive. Aunt C brought "The Book"that the Matron Of Honor had bought her in Stillwater a few years ago. She dog-eared a few pages and wrote comments next to interesting pages. It was passed around the group so that others could write in it before it was added to the wedding gift pile. That Aunt C – what a pistol!

The reception was fun. The wife bought shots for the ushers (She had threatened them if they were late for the ceremony – they were not so she rewarded them. Good guys. They started calling her the Candy Lady.). The bride drank beer out of the wife’s shoe – an old tradition … or is it a new one? Not sure. We all sang the Schnitzelbunk – more like we sang La La while the Altar Boy sang since we don’t know German. The Altar Boy and his fellow college friends all dropped trow during Billy Joel’s Piano Man, another new tradition for our family weddings. I have to say that I married into a fun party-hardy family. Since I don’t drink, I indulged myself with white wedding cake. Only five pieces, at the wife’s encouragement, I might add.

After the reception we drove back to our hotel and a few of us went across the street to Perkins for some early morning breakfast at 12:30 am.

The next morning – actually the same day … whatever, I’m confused – We said our goodbyes and the wife took me to the Minneapolis airport. I flew home while the wife drove to Nebraska to visit some friends and further adventures. Since I try to keep Homer's Travels anonymous, I can't link to any pictures of the wedding and reception except for the Corn Water tower in Rochester.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Past Vacations #19: Peru 2006 - Part Six - Return To Cuzco

On the afternoon of day six we met up with the rest of the tour group at the Aguas Calientes train station and boarded our train to Cuzco. During the train ride you see a lot of the Sacred Valley. The Andes are beautiful and covered in snow and glaciers. The train staff put on folkloric dances up and down the aisle. The dances were followed by a fashion show. I feel sorry for the male purser/model as there was an unruly group of women near the end of our car that hooted and hollered whenever he did his walk down the aisle. At the end, the passengers could purchase the clothes that were modeled.

Peru 2006-461We got off the train one stop before Cuzco and got on a bus to complete the trip to our hotel. The station we got off was closer to the hotel then the Cuzco station. We checked into the Libertador Palacio del Inka Cusco Hotel. It was a nice hotel. We enjoyed Dinner at the hotel before going to bed.

The next morning, day seven, we had the morning free. It was Sunday so the wife and I went to the Plaza de Armas, the central square, and went to mass at the cathedral. The mass was a very typical mass until they started playing the Battle Hymn Of The Republic. We asked our guide about it later in the day and she was surprised to learn about it's origin as an American Civil War hymn. She thought of it as any other church hymn.

At the end of mass we stood on the steps of the cathedral and watched a parade. The parade started with a military band followed by children ranging from kindergarten age up to the teens. A lady, noticing our delight in seeing the cute little kids, asked me in Spanish if our children walked in parades where we came from. I said no, not like this. The parade ended with a couple of interesting banners: one praising the relationship between Peru and Cuba and the other praising the Marxist revolutionary Che Guavara.

After the parade, we saw three girls in native costume, one holding a cute little lamb. We took their picture and then ... I screwed up. I had three coins. Instead of giving one coin to each girl, I gave all three coins to the oldest girl. What a mistake. The littlest one followed us asking for money. She was relentless. She kept getting in our way. Even the Peruvian people on the street were telling her not to harass us. I finally gave in and gave her the little change I had left - she had won. Sigh.

Peru 2006-453We walked around the neighborhood looking for shops to browse in. We ended up in the Hotel Monasterio where we were planning to have lunch. It turned out that the restaurant, the best in Cuzco, would not be open for a while and we were hungry so we decided not to wait. We headed back to our hotel. On the way back to the hotel we passed this delightful establishment. In Peru, Guinea Pig is served on special occasions such as birthdays. My real concern was the fact that soup and laundry were in the same establishment. I wouldn't trust the soup.

By the time we got back to the hotel we were tired. Cuzco is a little hilly and the altitude, 11,000 feet, really saps the strength. We ate at the hotel restaurant and went to the room to rest before our afternoon tour.

We boarded the bus which took us back to the Plaza de Armas and the cathedral where we received a formal tour (no photography allowed though). The rainbow flag that flies over the Plaza de Armas is the Cuzco Flag. Our guide was aware that the flag means something quite different in the States. She also pointed out that the order of the colors are a little different for the two flags.

After the cathedral, we left the city and visited several nearby Incan and pre-Incan Ruins. The first were the ruins of Tambomachay, location of natural springs and aqueducts. We asked our guide if the water was drinkable. She said Yes - for her. No - for us. We knew what she meant. The second set of ruins we went to was Kenko, a religious center. Here we saw altars dedicated to the Sun. Finally, the third site was Sacsayhuaman (sounds like Sexy Woman). The zig-zag ruins are build with huge stones. The Spaniards raided the site for stones to build the cathedral in Cuzco.

We returned to the city, stopping at an overlook on the way, and ended up at an orphanage. General Tours tries to add a visit such as this on all their tours. They want to give back to the country where they are conducting their tours. We watched the orphans dance and sing and listened to the Sisters who ran the facility. Some of the tour members had brought gifts for the children and others provided a donation. I wasn't sure about this part of the tour but it turned out to be a nice change of pace and we all enjoyed the visit.

That evening we ate at the Tunupa restaurant located on the Plaza de Armas. The buffet was good and the music and dancing was entertaining. We bought a CD from the band that was performing - they were pretty good. The deserts at the buffet where yummy delicious.

Here ends Chapter Six. Pictures can be found here. Coming up in the next chapter: The Road To Puno.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #23: Horn Canyon

Horn Canyon - 014This week’s hike was to Horn Canyon in the Ojai Valley. The hike is an Up-Down There-And-Back. The Ventura County Star entry said it was 3 miles to The Pines Campground, which matches the sign at the trailhead, but I found a couple sources that said it was closer to 2.5 Miles. My GPS said it was closer to 2.29 miles.

The trail starts near the grounds of the Thacher School, a very exclusive school, located in the north-east corner of the Ojai Valley. On the way to the trailhead I stopped at the first stop of a two stage Multi-Cache called “Thach-A-Cache”. The first stage is a bridge over Thacher Creek where a set of coordinates are written on the back of the guardrail. The second stage of the cache is on the trail itself.

The trail starts out at about 1,390 feet in altitude and starts climbing immediately. The trail changes from dirt road to rough, narrow dirt road to single trail. There are four creek crossings. The first crossing was dry and I was worried it would be a dry hike. The second crossing dispelled that worry as there was a lot of water. Red dragonflies, bees, and wasps were enjoying the water. (There is a dragonfly in the middle of this picture - trust me.) The second part of the cache is between the second and third river crossings. I reached the cache location and worked up a sweat looking for it. I had no luck so I decided to try again on the way back.

The fourth creek crossing is the coolest. The creek is surrounded by trees that reminded me of the woods I played in when I was young. I stopped and rested here briefly before tackling what I think is the hardest part of this hike.

The trail leaves the creek and steeply switchbacks up, and along, the canyon wall. Parts of the trail use railroad ties to prevent erosion. These ties form steps on the trail – some quite tall. The trail leaves the shade of the trees and enters the pounding of the sun. It was only 9:00 but the temperature was in the upper 80s.

My heart was pounding from the exertion as I climbed and I had to rest often. Part way up I found a lone tree with branches that form a perfect seat to rest on. While I forced myself to rest 10 minutes, I decide to implement a strategy that I came up with while doing the Scenic point hike at Glacier National Park. I set the countdown timer of my watch to 25 minutes and started to walk. When the alarm sounds I find a place to sit down, hopefully in the shade, and restart the timer. When the timer has counted down to 20 minutes, I start walking again. This results in 5 minutes of rest for every 20 minutes of walking. Why it took me so long to use this strategy, I don’t know. When I do this I usually can go farther and feel less exhausted. Now that my hikes involve more elevation gain, I will be using this method more often. The hardest part is finding a place to sit – some trails just don’t have rocks or stumps to sit on. When I’m tired the idea of sitting on the ground is a bad one – I might not be able to get back up – my creaky bones and sore muscles often try to stop me.

Ojai ValleyI made it to the top and approached Pine Camp. The views from near the camp were sensational. You could see most of the Ojai Valley all the way to Lake Casitas. The little haze there was obscured the Channel Islands. The Pines Campground is named after the stand of Pine trees planted by Thacher students after a fire in the area back in 1948. The trees give welcome shade. There is also a water trough (I presume for horses) made of a hot water heater tank cut down the middle. The trough is fed from a black hose that feeds water from a spring higher in the hills. There were a couple of mountain bikers resting at the camp. They had biked down from Topatopa ridge. They said that the trail was pretty rocky and overgrown further ahead.

I rested briefly after they left. My GPS said I was only about 2.3 miles from the trailhead and I thought about doing an additional 0.7 miles up the trail to make it a total of 3 miles (6 miles round trip). I started up the trail and it immediately became overgrown and very narrow. The plastic hose ran along the trail. The trail entered a creek bed surrounded by trees and the trail degenerated some more. The trail must not be traveled much as the soil is not packed and slants down toward a creek bed. Walking was difficult as my feet kept sliding down hill on the soft soil. In some places the trail faded into oblivion, the hose the only marker I had . After about 200 yards of this I decided to turn around and headed back to the camp. The elevation at my turn around point was 3,379 feet. At the camp I sat down and ate a protein bar, an orange, and drank some water. The food energized me. I seriously thought about tackling the trail again but wimped out. If I had eaten the food before attempting to push on I probably would have been more successful. I picked up some trash at the campsite (why do campers/hikers smoke? I don't understand it) and headed back down the trail.

The hike back down was a breeze … literally. Out of nowhere there was a cool breeze. I must have made record time on the way down. I reached the cache site and resumed my search. This time I found it. The last time it had been found was January 2006. I guess it’s too remote for most casual cachers.

When I got back to the car, my GPS said 4.82 Miles. It was a short hike compared to the last few I’ve done but the elevation gain of almost 1,988 feet more then compensated for the lack of distance. I have to remember that I am not on a forced march and that stopping to rest periodically is allowed and desired. Pictures can be found here.

Next weekend I will be in Minneapolis attending the Altar Boy’s wedding so I won’t be hiking (The first weekend I’ve missed since I started in February). The week after I will be hiking to Knapp’s Castle another hike with a lot of elevation gain.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Hollywood Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Music

Sound Of Music Sing Along - 105Saturday evening we went down to the Hollywood Bowl for the Sound Of Music Sing-A-Long. What a hoot.

We left at 3:00 pm to drive down to the L.A. Zoo where we would take a shuttle to the Bowl. On the way down, the wife practiced her Harmonic. What you say? The Harmonica? Here's the story. When she teaches the Grapes Of Wrath, the wife talks about the harmonica to her students. One student, who happens to have a dad who plays the harmonica, gave her an harmonica and a lesson book. The wife was determine to learn how to play "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria" by the time we got down to the Bowl. By the time we got to the parking lot my ears were bleeding ... Just kidding!!! She actually was pretty good for someone who had never played before and did not have the sheet music for the song she was trying to learn. Unfortunately she hasn't got the breathing thing down yet and had a headache by the time we arrived. The harmonica didn't make an appearance at the bowl.

We arrived at the Bowl and the wife got in her nun outfit with her glow in the dark rosary (I don't dress up - against my religion). Before we reached the ticket takers she was asked by a lady and a camera man if she would give an interview. Great way to start the evening! Whoo Hoo! The lady turned out to be an Austrian Documentarian. She was doing a documentary on the Sound Of Music phenomenon and how the movie, filmed in Austria, is hardly known there at all. She gave us a postcard with a Blog address but the address was wrong or hasn't been set up yet. I googled the site and found the correct address Here.

We went in and sat at our box seat. We were right near the stage. A large movie screen was set up in the mouth of the Bowl. We ate some supper and I went around taking pictures. You could see the Hollywood sign from the bowl. At 6:00 pm sharp they started with some organ music and the Master of Ceremonies, Melissa Peterman, came out and started the ball rolling. She went through the goodie bag that was distributed to everyone when that entered the bowl. You had the Edelweiss you waved when the Edelweiss was sung, the piece of curtain material that you waved when Maria was trying to find material to make play clothes for the children, and a party popper that seem to be set off whenever Julie Andrews was kissed. The popper was by far the funniest as some of the audience had excellent timing. There were also gestures to make when singing Doe A Deer.

Next, the MC introduced a German band from Georgia who were pretty good though their attempts at humor were a little corny. Then again, we were at a Sound Of Music Sing-A-Long - how much more corny could they be.

Sound Of Music Sing Along - 003After the music they started the costume parade. The MC was joined on stage by Charmain Carr - the actress who played Liesl von Trapp in the movie. The wife got in line before realizing that it wasn't just a parade and that they would actually talk to her ... in front of 16,570 people (The official count). Her costume went from Mother Superior to Nun on vow of silence. I know exactly how she feels. I couldn't talk in front of a crowd that size either (I used to clam up in front of my class just reading book reports). The other parade participants were hard core. You had the pine cone on the chair, the "My Favorite Things", and many more. Unfortunately the majority of the pictures I took didn't come out due to lack of lighting and lack of image stabilization. My next camera will have image stabilization. Prizes were given out. First place was a cruise. The winner's costume was a giant hand catching a moonbeam (From the song, "Maria"). My picture of him did not come out - dang nab it.

After the parade the movie started. When there was a song being sung, the lyrics were subtitled. Everyone joined in. It was hilarious. When the Baroness appeared, everyone Hissed. When the Nazis appeared everyone booed. When cute little Gretal appeared everyone said "aaaawwwww". Eventually people brought out their laser pointers and zapped the Baroness and the Nazis - often in the ear, nose, or crotch. There was commentary and yelling at the screen from a lot of the audience. The coolest part was when the Captain Von Trapp sang Edelweiss (The song we danced to at our wedding). Everyone flipped open their cell phones and waved them in the air. The image of all those lights was really cool.

Overall, a wacky fun time. I was almost sorry to see it end. The only down side is that the day after I have the songs stuck in my head. Pictures are here. Thanks to the "J" for suggesting this to us.