Friday, September 13, 2019

A Busy Week of Opals, Doctors, and Boat Repairs

It’s been an extremely busy week! Besides working on some of the opals we recently purchased, (there are three types of types on the plate, Welo, Spencer and Virgin Valley), we also took a quick trip down to Flaming Gorge. If that wasn’t enough, we also had to go see my cardiologist in Riverton, Wyoming.
There is actually quite a bit of work/joy in working opals. It’s a multi-step process. Once you have found the best color/fire we next saw and grind the rock down to the opal layer. Then very carefully grind until the fire shows, (yes, I have ground too deep and destroyed the opal).
The next step is to glue the opal on a black slab to highlight the color, (we use black Wyoming jade as we have a lot of it). Once the glue hardens, we next saw the excess off and then grind the flat surface down till its extremely thin. This highlights the opal’s fire against the black jade.
Next we glue the piece to a flat piece of glass. We purchased some glass chunks from a store that specializes in glass for stained glass windows. Finally, we return to the trim saw removing the excess jade and glass.
The final step is to return to our grinding wheels, our machine has six diamond coated wheels, and grind and shape the finished opal. This process is used to make opal triplets and its used when the opal layer is thin. It also protects the soft opal and magnifies the fire. Whew!
A trip to Flaming Gorge was in order so we could prepare our boat for the winter. Loading our pickup camper, we headed down to Buckboard Crossing Campground. It’s a two hundred- and forty-miles drive. Arriving at the campground, we were lucky and found a space that had electricity.

After setting out our chairs we drove to the marina. Signing out a key for the secure area, the Marina owner casually mentioned that they had sold the marina and we needed to remove our boat by October first. Talk about a shock and a complete lack of warning!
Returning to our campsite, we first got out our new air compressor and then added air to all four of the tires. As we hadn’t repacked the bearings in a few years, the next step was to jack up each tire and spin it listening for any noise from a worn bearing/race.  All four wheels sounded fine and so we added a few shots of grease to each hub.
Tired, we ate dinner and watched as deer moved into the campground. The area is surrounded by the Red Desert and the deer love the watered grass. At one point there were ten deer and three fawns who took turns watching uncontrolled kids as they chased the deer away. At one point their black lab got loose and ran the deer for a little bit, (running wildlife is a crime here and anyone seeing it is allowed to shoot the dog/dogs. The people were lucky there was no game warden around.
The next morning arrived with rain and we did a light check requiring a continuity check. After cleaning all the contacts and replacing several bulbs the light worked and we left for home. Heavy rains plagued us for much of the drive, but we arrived home four hours later.
Tired we crashed for an early evening knowing that on Monday, (it was Saturday), the cardiologist awaited me in Riverton, Wyoming. Its two hundred and fifty miles east of us and out course the first snowstorm of the year moved in!
Driving over Towgotee Pass, elevation 9658 feet, was kind of pretty as huge snowflakes coated the hillsides. Making it to Riverton, we both cringed at the thought of driving back over the mountains, but we had forgotten our medicine and so return that night we must!
Our appointment was for two fifteen and the doctor was one and a half hours late. The good news was my heart was fine and after sitting patiently, the doctor said I was too fat and needed to lose weight, like I didn’t know it.
We were in such a hurry to head home we forgot to get gas and barely made it the hundred miles to Dubois, Wyoming. Filling up, we could have made it forty more miles, we headed overt the pass. It was a pretty drive and the melted snow had not yet froze, so there was no black ice. We did let a car pass us, they were in a hurry, and it allowed us to watch and see if they went into a skid.
Safely crossing the pass, we watched as the sun set on the Tetons. A crazy driver in a red pickup almost ran us off the road as we drove down the Snake River Canyon, (there is a reason I do not carry a gun). Nothing else happened for the rest of the drive and we arrived back home after driving almost five hundred miles in a day, that may not seem like a lot to some of you, but it’s way too far for us.
Today we are resting and trying to find a place to store our boat. It has to be inside as the snow here is too deep. Only one more doctor and dentist trip and we will be ready to head south. We plan on leaving about mid-October. The trees here are just starting to change color so we are in no hurry, (Oh, and the doctor told me to eat lots of fruit so I baked a blueberry pie)! Clear skies

Friday, September 6, 2019

Looking for Bears in Grand Teton National Park

George and Val finally arrived back in Star Valley and after they rested for a few days, we all decided to look for bears and other wildlife at Grand Teton National Park.
They picked us up, it was their turn to drive, and we first drove to Jackson and then took our favorite bear and moose road into the park.
Shortly after we entered the park two cars ahead of us flashed their brakes and then stopped, could it be a bear? Sure enough, I saw the bushes move and then a black bear showed itself as it hunted for berries. It quickly moved through the berry bushes searching each bush, and quickly gleaning any berries it held.
It reached a large pine tree and looked up, (were there cubs above?), before knocking over a large service berry bush, eating the berries and then pushing over another and another. It moved closer to the road and somewhat behind us and so we left it confident that we would see more bears. It was the last bear we saw that day.
We continued up the road to the ponds which is a place that often draws moose but there were no moose present. Arming ourselves with bear spray, we hiked along a trial, stopping to glass each forest glade.
Usual we find lots of bear sign, claw sharpened trees and scat filled with seeds, but not this time.
Paying special attention to the spots we had seen bears last week we stopped, and Renita listened, but she didn’t hear any branches breaking.
At one point a squirrel became extremely upset at our presence in its territory and gave us a loud chewing out. Luckily, we didn’t have to use the bear spray.
Having seen recent images of grizzly bears near Towgotee Pass we drove that way.
The fall foliage was starting to turn, and the high meadows were touched with a crimson red and shades of brown.
No bears made their grand entrance, nor moose, deer or elk.
We next headed into the park and drove to one of our usual picnic spots and after lunch decided to rive to the Gros Ventre campground.
The campground had signs warning of moose on the road, but it was nearly full of campers and people. The moose had apparently decided to move elsewhere.
It was time to head back to Star Valley and even though we offered to give George a break he insisted he was ok to drive. It was a nice day in the park with friends and we got to see a bear, which always adds a bonus to a day. Clear skies.

Ps if you ever come out here you may spot a bear anytime, but the best time to see a bear, grizzly or black, is in May or September.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Friends, Fishing, Shopping, and Bears, What a Great Week!

Renita motioned me to stop as she watched the brush below us. She asked me, “Can you hear the brush breaking?” At first, I couldn’t but then I heard the snap of a larger branch, (thanks hearing aids), there was definitely something in the brush below. Sure enough, she spotted and pointed out the black bear’s head as it poked through the top of the berry bushes.
It was a great week. Our friends Bob and Nancy had driven from Kansas to visit us. Bob and I taught Science together and Nancy was a guidance counselor which meant that Renita would have to hear too many school stories.
The first night they arrived we had them over for dinner and ended up staying up late as we sat around the fire pit and talked of what we could do while they were here. Bob, of course wanted to go fly fishing. Nancy did want to go shopping and so a trip to Jackson and Alpine was in order. We also wanted to see if any bears were feasting on berries in Grand Teton National Park.
The next morning, I drove over to their motel room and picked up Bob. We headed to one of my favorite creeks where we hoped to have Bob catch a Bonneville cutthroat trout It didn’t’ take long before he caught his first ever, and after the obligatory picture and safe release we continued up the creek.
We hopped from hole to hole letting each other have a shot of having the first cast and we ended up having a great day. Nancy and Renita had spent the day crafting as Nancy had brought her materials from Kansas. She graduated from high school in 1969 and was in charge of making the decorations.
The next day Bob and I decided to fish the Greys River. We first fished the Little Grey and we ended up releasing eleven Fine Spotted cutthroat trout, (it’s another of the four native cutthroats in Wyoming. We then decided to fish the Grey River and stopping at an easy hole to fish, we spread out and begin to cast.
At first nothing hit but then I made a long cast upstream. I missed a nice fish and casting again a big fish rose and took my dry fly. I set the hook and knew that it was a large cut! Slowly fighting it in. I kept the fish in the water as Bob got my camera ready. Lifting the fish up he snapped several images of the eighteen-inch fish.
After the release we waded back, and it seemed like I could do no wrong! I caught and released four more nice cuts with an even bigger one measuring nineteen inches in length. I had called to Bob and suggested that he fish where I was at and as he did, he had several large fish rise to his fly.
The fish quit taking, so we headed up stream to several more holes. It was a bad decision as we never did catch any more fish. Hindsight is always better than foresight, but we had had a great day releasing eighteen fish.
Returning back to the ranch we learned that the ladies had had a great day shopping in Alpine. Renita had delivered a jewelry piece I had wrapped for our friend Barbara and she had picked up a shell for another custom order! They both did find some art items they could not live without!
On the last day of their visit we drove to Jackson and headed to our favorite bear viewing spot. There weren’t any along the road and I checked several berry patches. While there were berries, they weren’t quite ripe, and we wondered if we were too early.
Driving to the ponds, I got out the bear spry and we hiked in a way, looking for bear sign. We didn’t see many berries and we did not spot any bear scat. Renita walked to a clearing and suddenly waved for me to come over. She had spotted a grizzly bear walking across a meadow and I was so excited I forgot to turn my camera on, (later we talked with a park volunteer who stated that we had to be wrong as there were no grizzly bears in the area, I trust Renita's spotting as she has had years of experience watching black and grizzly bears).
The bear disappeared into a thick copse of trees and so we hiked further before Renita again stopped and told me to be quiet as she could hear branches breaking. I was getting nervous as it was the second bear in a short distance and so I started to watch behind us as we didn’t want to be surprised by any more bears.
The black bear seemed unconcerned as it was in berry heaven and we and watched it feed. The bears go into a feeding frenzy before hibernation and berries are a big part of their diet. Bob arrived and also watched the bear; Nancy had decided not to hike with us.
Lunch time arrived and we headed back to the car, where Nancy had been bird watching. We did not see any moose, kind of unusual in the area we were at, but perhaps the numerous bears had scared the moose and they were hiding in the forest.
We ended the day shopping in Jackson, after a nice lunch at our favorite brew pub. It had been another great day and a great week. Time with friends, fishing, and bear watching! Clear 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Busy Times in Star Valley, Golfing with Matt

The past few weeks have been a really busy time. One of my goals this summer was to work on my techniques for making better opal triplets and they are finally coming around. One of our new and expensive purchases has been a small of piece of Virgin Valley Opalized Wood. I have finally finished the first piece and it’s a stunner!
We have also spent quite a few days with our son Matt as he and I have started to golf on a regular basis. Our scores were dropping, which is good, so we decided to try golfing at Cedar Creek Golf Course. It’s a beautiful course nestled between houses and lined with trees and unforgiving rough.
I ended up losing a record number of golf balls, eight putted a green that was designed by Satan, (the first four putts went up the hill and then rolled back down past where I was standing), and set a record high score! Suffice it to say that we do plan on golfing there again, as it’s a beautiful course right at the foot of the mountains. The score is secondary.
The sunsets here have been spectacular, which is pretty typical this time of year. With all the western forest fires the clouds colors are brilliant. Luckily there have been no fires near us, and our skies remain smoke free and clear.
We sit out at night and enjoy the cool air as Jupiter and Saturn wheel across the sky. The Milky Way is visible in all its glory and the only downside has been the bright moon which blocked out this year’s Perseid Meteor shower.
We also wanted to share a picture of our fifth wheel that was taken by our neighbor Jo. She took the image before they left for the season and its really an image of why we love Star Valley and have made it our home. Thanks Jo! Clear skies

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

McDougal Gap: Crossing the Wyoming Range

There are three ways to bypass/cross the Wyoming Mountain Range. One is to head north to Alpine Wyoming and then drive up the Snake River Canyon. From Hoback Junction you can head south to Big Piney. Another way is to take the Smith Fork Road, (four-wheel drive for a bit), and then take the TriCounty road, again to Big Piney. The third way is to go to Alpine and then drive up the Greys River road till you reach Sheep Creek. There you take the McDougal Gap road to Daniel, Wyoming.
We have always wanted to drive to McDougal Gap and our son Matt told us that he had driven across the Gap on his off-road bike. He told us it was a good road and that we would have no problems driving the road.
Still we have been hesitant as unknown gravel mountain roads can often turn into muddy/rocky messes and are no place to break down. Our concern was unwarranted! Loading up the truck, (Renita did not want to take the new car we could have taken the car), we drove to Alpine and headed up the Greys.
Of course, the road was its usual washboard self and we bumped and bounced up the wide but rough gravel road. It was thirty-one mules from Alpine and the road did finally get better. Reaching Forest service road 10125, the McDougal Gap Road, we turned up it. It was only about nine miles up the road to the pass and while the road did narrow down a bit it still remained a good gravel road.
As we neared the Gap we drove between huge cliffs and reached a series of switchbacks. More rocks and less gravel caused us some concern, but it was still an easy but steep drive. Reaching the McDougal Gap, we passed through it and stopped at McDougal Pass. Mt McDougal stood to the north.
The Wildflowers were blooming, and we stopped to take some images before continuing down the east side of the pass.
A sign said that the distance to Daniel was only thirty-three miles and even though it would be longer we decided to continue.
A small steam appeared. The North Fork of Cottonwood Creek, and as it grew larger, we stopped to see if there were any fish. Of course, I had brought my fly rod, one should never travel without a fishing pole and I tied on my favorite dry fly. I climbed down to the stream and carefully avoiding beaver runs, (holes dug by beavers to break fly fisherman’s legs and ankles) I made several casts before a nice fish hit the fly.
Trying to set the hook, I missed the fish and then another. The fish were pretty small, and I continued to miss more fish until a larger fish hooked itself. Fighting in the fish I saw it was a cutthroat trout and after snapping several images, I safely released the fish. It quickly swam back to its hiding place.
Now I needed a Colorado Cutthroat Trout for my Wyoming Cut Slam application and we were in the Green River drainage so I hoped it would turn out to be a Colorado Cutthroat. Continuing to miss more hits, I finally set the hook on another fish but this time it was a small brook trout. The brook trout here are an invasive species that have displaced the cutthroats and so I considered myself lucky to catch a cut.
As we had no cell service I couldn’t check online to see if it was a Colorado Cut until we got back home and it turned out it was. So now I have my third fish of the award. Renita meanwhile had been taking more flower and scenery images and returning to the truck we headed further down the road.
As we reached the Red Desert, the ditches of the road were filled with purple lupines. We passed herds of antelopes and spotted the largest buck antelope we have ever seen. The antelope ran before I could get the camera ready and so we didn’t get a great image. The antelope had better keep running as hunting season is fast approaching and with its massive horns it will be lucky to survive this fall.
Reaching Daniel, Wyoming we looked for the walk-in fishing area on the Green River, but we couldn’t see the signs. It was too bad as we had hoped Renita could fish a bit and perhaps catch her third fish of the cut award, (the area where I had fished was solid willows and not an east place to fly fish).
After eating lunch on the Green River, we decided to head back home. It was an uneventful drive back with the only excitement being seeing the landslides that had closed the Snake River Canyon.
They had happened last week after a heavy rain and hailstorm and had even trapped cars but luckily no one was injured.
Today is a good day to rest as tomorrow its off to the periodontist…… Clear skies

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Renita's First Bonneville Cutthroat Trout!

Renita had yet to catch a Bonneville Cutthroat trout and so we decided to head to one of our favorite streams and concentrate on her adding one to her cut slam quest, ( the Wyoming Game and Fish Department awards anglers a cut slam award to anyone who catches all four of the cutthroat species in the state of Wyoming).
It was a short one-hour drive as we crossed Salt Pass and after parking the car we donned our waders, fly fishing vests, deer fly proof hats, and tied on our favorite dry fly. I told Renita that I would not make a cast until she had successfully caught and safely released a Bonneville cutthroat trout.
Reaching the first hole she made her first cast and a nice cutthroat tried to inhale the fly. She was a little late and so she missed the fish. It would have been too easy for her to catch one right away. The fish did not attempt to take her fly and so we moved upstream.
I explained to her how I always tried to go after active fish, fish that were feeding and easy to fool with a fly. This meant that I was somewhat impatient and so we moved and moved again. She missed another fish but I don’t think that fish had really tried to take the fly and instead had merely bumped it.
Moving again several small trout chased her fly but they were so small hat they couldn’t take the large fly in their mouth. We continued to move, and Renita was almost in a Zen like state as she cast and cast, each time concentrating on the fly. A dimple happened, (you don’t always watch the fly but often set the hook upon seeing any rising fish), and she successfully set the hook!
Fighting the fish in I netted he fish and then quickly snapped several images before returning the fish to its home. It flipped its tail and swam back to its refuge. She had a successful release of her first Bonneville cutthroat trout!
Now it was my turn to fish, and we leapfrogged each other so we both had virgin water to fish. I set the hook on a nice fish, a fourteen inch and also was able to release a healthy fish. Renita moved to the next hole and unfortunately got into a snag. She pulled on her rod and her rod snapped in two.
The break wasn’t on the tip but was on the piece of rod just above the butt section.
A rod should not break there and we always keep our rods in fly rod cases, so it wasn’t her fault, ( I have a cousin who shall remain nameless who use to have lots of rod misfortunes). We decided to keep on fishing and take turns using my fly rod.
More trout rose to our offerings and we ended up catching and releasing six fish. We also missed more fish and too soon it was time to hike back to the car. Returning home, we talked of the day and how we now both had two of the four species. Now we both have to attempt to catch and release a Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout and a Colorado Cutthroat.
The award was meant to be a lifetime achievement so there is no hurry. That’s good as the two types of fish require us to drive over the Wind Rivers and perhaps fish Wiggins Fork and to drive to the Green River and hope for a Colorado Cutthroat. Clear skies