Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fishing the Salt in a Pontoon Boat

Several years ago, I purchased a pontoon fishing boat, with the intention of floating the Salt River. I fish the Salt each year but can’t afford to hire a guide, (475 a day). Now there are some public access spots, where you can cast a fly but they are often busy places with swimmers, floaters, and fisherman who hit the fish hard.
So, I floated the Salt that day, but I was trying to keep up with my non-fishing friends and it really wasn’t a day of fishing verses a day of staying with the group. Talking with my friend Dave we decided to get the pontoons out of storage and float a small section of the Salt, from the Narrows to the first bridge.
Launching the boats went well but I soon found myself spinning like a top. Narrowly avoiding some steel girders under the bridge, I finally figured out how to steer, (kind of). Dave meanwhile was an old pro at this and quickly maneuvered his boat to a nice-looking spot.
I finally stopped at a likely looking cut bank and cast into the willows. It was my first stop and just as quick I broke off my flies. Tying on two more, I was using a fly called a parachute with a nymph on a dropper, I made several casts and felt a small cut throat take the nymph.
Fighting the fish in I felt pretty good and when he passed, I told Dave I had caught a fish. He mentioned that he had lost one and it seemed an auspicious beginning to the day. We passed an anchored drift boat, and were passed by two women in a drift boat who looked like professional fly fisherwomen.
I watched as one cast a large streamer/grasshopper/whatever as the other expertly rowed the boat with perfection. I continued to fish the two-fly combination and continued to get hits but they were small fish. Meanwhile Dave was starting to catch fish as we leap frogged each other from hole to hole.
I decided to put on a large stimulator and I missed several large fish that rose, slapped the water, but didn’t take my fly. Dave had also switched to a larger dry and had a huge cut on which pulled the hook.

Before we knew it four hours had passed and Renita was waiting for us at the take-out point. It had been a fun four hours and I had gotten somewhat used to the pontoon. I hope to float again but next time I will try another stretch that isn’t as pressured. Notice how I can always come up with an excuse?  Clear skies

Friday, August 11, 2017

I am an Umbraphile, Anxiously Awaiting this years Total Eclipse

I am an umbraphile, I finally found the word that describes me, or at least one aspect of me. The first time I saw the word was when I read an article describing other umbraphiles experiences during a total eclipse of the sun.
My first total eclipse was in March of 1979. I was a high school teacher at the time and read of the eclipse in Star and Telescope. As I read the article I learned that the umbra’s shadow, the path of totality, would pass just one hundred and fifty miles north of where we lived.
So, I looked at my atlas and noticed that the central part of the shadow passed near the town of Jordan, Montana. I asked my brother in law Phil, who was living with us at the time, if he would like to join me as I drove up north and attempted to take images of the event.
Now if I could just get the school to give me a couple of days off, which of course they didn’t. I ended up taking the days off by using my precious convenience days, (we could take two days off per year, for any reason).
Driving to Jordon was a real eye opener. North of Miles City, wheat fields stretched across the horizon, and there was only one tree that dotted the landscape. Some wag had put up a sign declaring it a national forest, but at least we wouldn’t have to worry about trees blocking the eclipse.
Checking into a motel we spent an anxious night. We were the only ones there but the weather forecast came on and they were predicting cloudy skies for Billings. The next morning the motel was packed! There were some clouds in the west and so after talking with some other umbraphiles we took off chasing after a patch of blue sky, (we later heard that the clouds passed and Jordan had great skies for the eclipse).
Setting up our cameras on a remote and snow-covered hillside, we sat down and waited for the eclipse to start. I had purchased an optical solar filter for the two cameras and sure enough the sun started to be eclipsed by the moon.
I really didn’t know what exactly to expect and for the first hour very little happened. It finally got dusky and then we saw shadows racing across the snow. They were shadows of the mountains of the moon!
 In the distance coyotes started to howl, as the total eclipse started. As the moon eclipsed the sun the first sight was called the diamond ring effect. A small part of the sun’s surface showed, the photosphere hence the diamond, and the solar chromosphere burst into a ring of fire, the gold band.
I almost forgot to take a picture and so I almost missed it. I became busy, switching cameras, as the solar corona appeared and the starts came out. It was night time in the middle of the day. Glancing north and south we could see that it was still daytime. Anyone who thinks that ninety-eight or ninety-nine percent is enough is wrong. You must be in the path of Totality!
The eclipse lasted for nearly nine minutes. In that time, I took nearly two rolls of film and almost missed the diamond ring effect when the suns photosphere started to reappear. We sat there as the moon finally passed from view and without saying much tore down our equipment.  As we drove away we saw a lone tree filled with roosting sage grouse.
Seeing a total eclipse certainly changed me. While it was happening, several cars passed by and I was amazed that people were so busy that they wouldn’t pull over and view the eclipse. I vowed that I would spend my life taking the time to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.
Now I am anxiously awaiting this year’s t total eclipse. We are only twenty miles from the edge of the umbra, but we plan on driving further. Fifty thousand people will descend near us but we know a place where a rocky road will take us to a special place where we often rock hound.

However, we are ready to chase a patch of clear skies. Forest fire smoke threatens to cloud the view, so if we must we will fight the crowded roadway. I haven’t decided if I will take a few images or just simply sit and watch, mesmerized by the events. Clear skies, oh please let there be clear skies!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Mining for Opals at the Spencer, Idaho Opal Mine

Last year Renita and I started to work opal rough, some of which were opals from Spenser, Idaho. We needed to make a trip to Idaho Falls to pick up my new prescriptions and so we decided we would also drive a little further and hunt opals at the Spenser Opal Mine.
Looking up the tools we needed, we found that we already had our boots, rocks hammers, safety goggles, and water spray bottles. We also needed good gardening hand rakes for sorting thought the opal scree. This tool turned out to be the one tool we needed the most and luckily, we found good ones at the Fred Meyer Store, (if you have ever been to Alaska you know how great the Fred Meyer Stores are).
It was about sixty miles to the small town of Spenser, and pulling off at the exit, we easily found the signs leading us to the mine. Now it’s not really the actual mine, (they don’t let you in there anymore), but it’s a huge pile of opal bearing rock hauled and dumped behind the one cafe in town.
Going inside the cafe/rock shop we went through the safety talk and signed the liability waiver form, before heading out to the scree pile. There were already people working through the material, including an expert mine employee who showed us what the opal looked like.
Finding a spot, we started to rake the loose scree, looking for the fiery gems. After moving about a hundred pounds of rock I found my first good opal! Renita also found lots of opal, but it took her a bit to find any with fire. After a while of digging and more digging the guide showed her an opal he had found by scanning the surface. He gave her the rough piece and after a bit walked over and handed me another piece he had just found.
A young man, the son of the rock shop owner came by and gave us both further advice on finding the precious stones.  It was quite easy to find common opal material but finding some good workable rough is a skill that it takes a while to acquire.
He told me I was working in the old scree pile and that the actual mine owner brought a new pile of material every two to three days. As it had been three days since the last truck load, the material had been pretty picked over, but we still ended up with quite a few opal specimens, (an opal specimen is a piece of fiery opal that is too small to work but can be submerged in a water filled glass vial and admired).
After three hours of raking material, we had both created quite a few small shallow pits and piles of rock. It reminded me of the movie about blood diamonds in which prisoners were being guarded at gunpoint as they hunted for gems.
The difference of course was that we had paid for the pleasure and that we got to keep what we found! We learned several things that would be helpful when we return. These were to bring a foam pad to sit on, knee pads, or perhaps a small low folding chair as the opal scree was sharp and painful.

It was almost comical as we left when I slipped on the scree slope and nearly dumped my opal finds. However, I was just able to keep my bucket upright, and saved what I had found. Renita and I both had fun and we do plan on returning to the mine this summer. After all, how often can you go someplace nearby and find fire opals? Clear skies

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Caribou City, Visiting a Ghost Town

Not far from us lies an old ghost town named Caribou City. It was named for Caribou Jack, the prospector that discovered gold in 1897 on the mountain top. At one time, it boasted a population of about two thousand people and had thirty-two brothels, gambling dens and saloons.
We have wanted to visit it, but we were hesitant to drive our tuck as we didn’t know the condition of the roads. George and Val have a ford Bronco that has been customized for rock crawling and so they offered to drive us up there.
It turned out that it was an easy drive. The road we took wound along the south side of Palisades Reservoir, (McCoy Creek Road), and then followed McCoy Creek. All along the way mining claim signs dotted the trees and white pvc stakes marked the boundaries of current claim holders.
The road next followed Iowa Creek, another area still mined, before turning up a good gravel road that ended at Cariboo City. WE stopped and read the information signs but you really can’t see much. Much of the city burned down and many left soon after.
Today you must walk around to find a few caved in log buildings. Piles of talus and rusted out pipes is about all you can find as the forest has reclaimed the land. There are still claim stakes and signs so there must be some gold left but at one time there were seven hundred Chinese miners and their ability to recover almost all the gold mean there is little easy gold left.
We collected some dirt from several areas and panned it in a small stream but as usual we didn’t find any gold. We have collected samples in the past from many different areas and except for panning in Alaska. Have never even found any color, (gold dust).

On the way, back we passed two prospectors staking a new claim. To us, the challenging work of mining must be a labor of love and making and selling our jewelry is a heck of an easier way to make money. Still it was a fun day and perhaps someday we will return. Clear skies

Friday, July 28, 2017

Fishing the Grey, July 2017

The rivers here have finally cleared and retreated back into their banks. This means that fly fishing is in full swing. George and Val asked us if we wanted to fish the Grey and looking at our busy schedule, we readily agreed.
The next day we got off to an early start, eight thirty am, and made the short drive to Alpine, turning up the Grey River Road. The first miles were easy, and thanks to some road work relatively dust free. However, as we continued up the road we drove through clouds of dust as camper after camper pulled by us, heading home from the holiday weekend, (it’s Pioneer Day weekend, a holiday celebrated by the Latter Day Saints).
Reaching one of our favorite spots we saw that the river, while clear was still flowing too fast for us to be able to ford it. The Grey is a beautiful River that has a steep gradient and so shallow water still has enough force to sweep you off your feet!
Still we decided we could fish the edges and tying on our favorite flies we spread out. Casting one of my favorite patterns I set the hook on a small Snake river cut throat. The fish here are all wild, native fish and so we carefully release them.  Moving a bit upstream I caught two more cuts, one of which was an especially nice fish.
I noticed the others had gone back to the truck and so I returned to check on how they had done. No one else had caught anything or even had a fish make a pass! When I told them about my success, they all quickly tied on the same dry fly.
Heading further upstream we moved from spot to spot and everyone caught fish. It’s always a good day when everyone catches fish and it didn’t take long before I heard Renita yell, “Fish on”. By the time I got there she had landed the fish and I quickly took a picture of the fish before she safely released it back into the river

Lunch time found us sitting under a large ponderosa pine and as we ate our lunch, two rafts floated by. The people were throwing large flies and one said that they had caught two nice fish! The large fish run up the river, from the Snake, and so it’s possible to catch a twenty plus inch spawner!
We stopped at two more spots and now it was Val’s turn as she caught three fish in a row. The fish seemed to sense something was wrong with my offerings and they would rise before pulling back from my fly.

While it was frustrating, It really didn’t matter. It was time to return home and we had all caught and released nice fish. Finally, some good fishing!  Clear skies

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kayaking the Salt River Arm of Palisades

The rivers here are still high from the snow melt and runoff. They have cleared some but they are fast and dangerous. It’s almost August and we hadn’t kayaked yet, so we finally had a calm day and launched our yaks near the mouth of Salt River.
Situated between three mountain ranges, Palisades Reservoir is fed by three main rivers. The Snake River flows from Jackson, the Salt from Star Valley and McCoy Creek from the Cariboo. The reservoir was still over one hundred percent full and so the willows, normally the home for moose, were flooded.
American white Pelicans, numerous ducks, and even a flock of cedar waxwings had taken up a home on the little islands and were even raising their fledglings among the flooded landscape. Ospreys flew by clutching cut throat trout, it’s is a common sight here, as they carry food to their hungry young.
Now it’s rare to have a calm day here as the area is dominated by mountain and valley breezes, but today the water was so calm that Renita captured an image of me with the Cariboo Mountains in the background.
We headed up the Salt River Arm, and were surprised to feel the strong flow from the river emptying into the lake. It quickly carried us back into the main lake and as we drifted an adult bald eagle flew by calling to its nest.
Occasionally, a fish would rise and take a floating insect but for the most part they were feeding on the small fry and minnows hiding among the flooded trees. We drifted some more until the current slackened and we finally stopped.

It was an amazing morning, with incredible calm waters and it felt great to finally launch the boats. The water in the Snake itself is way above our skill level and so we talked of catching a raft ride with one of the professional rafting guides. Clear skies

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Strawberry Creek Road and Strawberry Lake, above Bedford, Wyoming

We had never been to Strawberry lake, located up Strawberry Creek Road, and so when George and Val invited us, we quickly jumped at the chance. The next morning, they picked us up in their four-wheel drive Bronco. It’s a nineteen sixty-eight and has been modified to be a rock crawler so it will go virtually anywhere on any road.
The road is narrow and rocky and so while we could drive it in our truck, I sure wouldn’t want to meet anyone as there were few places to pull over. If you have ever been four wheeling on a rocky mountain road you know enough to have your seat belts tight as you bounce around as the vehicle crawls over every rock.
Arriving at the end of the road George walked down to the edge of the stream and found a set of bear prints. They were small and he thought they might have been from a yearling cub. They kind of looked like grizzly prints and so we nervously looked around for the sow but the bears weren’t visible.
Donning our fly fishing gear George and Val headed up stream as I decided to fish the lake. Renita meanwhile opted to take photos of the lake and so as I cast and cast she wandered around doing the photographer thing. She did spot a beautiful western tanager which turned out to be the bird of the day!
I showed her some of the large fish in the lake and just as George had told me they just wouldn’t bite. The lake is a put and take lake where the game and fish stalk trout for people to catch and eat. This mean the fish have been heavily fished and the survivors are extremely hard to catch.
I did get them to look at my nymphs but they all decided that something just looked fishy. No problem as it was a delightful day to be in Wyoming’s Salt Mountains. Giving up on the fishing we looked for rocks and for more bear tracks but didn’t find any.
Val returned and said they hadn’t had any luck fishing either. I decided to head up the trail looking for George as its always a joy watching a master angler fish his nymphs. When I met him, he told me that there just weren’t any fish and that he had lost a plethora of nymphs in flooded willows.

Hiking back to the Bronco, we met the girls and had a lunch in a shaded spot. It’s such a beautiful spot and one we will return to another day. We enjoyed the return ride down the mountain road and were soon back to our base camp. Clear skies