Saturday, May 31, 2014

Pretty Rocks

Last year we built a shed/lapidary shop and so this summer we find ourselves with extra time to saw, grind, polish and wrap cabochons for this summer’s shows. It may not be the most exciting thing to do for some but we both enjoy it. It also gives us a something to do before the streams return to their banks and we can go kayaking and fly fishing.
So I thought I would show the various stages in making our jewelry. Anyone can do what we do, but most buy the finished stones instead of learning the art of lapidary. That’s our advantage, that we can tell the story of each stone and talk about making it and you might be surprised at how many vendors are resellers, people who don’t make what they sell, ( which is ok as it’s a full time task to make a large enough inventory for shows and not enough people have the time).
So any way the first step is to saw the rough rocks into slabs about a quarter of an inch thick. That’s what we do during the winter in Texas. It may sound boring to some but every time you saw open a rock it’s just like opening a Christmas present. You never know what is waiting inside.
The second step is to draw the shapes of the cabochons onto the slabs surface. This step is really critical as you need to decide which side will be the top and bottom, and of course you want the finished top to be the most eye catching.
From there you take the slab to the trim saw and saw out the preforms. These are the slices that have the drawn shape, resembling the finished stone. Sometimes the stone has different ideas however and the preform will break during the grinding. It is what it is and when that happens you must adjust the shape or sadly scrap the pieces.
From there it’s time to grind and polish the stone. You must be careful to not grind off too much as of course you can’t put the dust back onto the stone. You will probably be surprised to learn that we lose about seventy percent of the rock we buy in the sawing and grinding process, (so if I buy a one pound piece of fine Wyoming green jade at eight hundred dollars, about five hundred and sixty dollars will end up as worthless dust, which is why I am hesitant to spend eight hundred dollars on a one pound piece of stone).
You forget all of that however when the finished cabochon gleams in the sunlight. The pieces in this picture are the Mexican Laguna Crazy Lace agate rough that I purchased last winter, (thank you Roy for buying it for us in Tucson). It takes a trained eye to recognize good rough and Roy did a great job when he found this stone for me.
Finally, we wrap the stone in copper, brass, sterling silver or gold filled wire and here I always ask Renita before I select the metal. She has a better sense of color than I do, but I am getting better. This picture is of two finished pendants of dinosaur coprolite, (dinosaur dung) that Renita ground and wrapped. Her work is so beautiful and so unique.

We take a minimalist approach to our wire wrapping as we think the stone should be the highlight of the piece, not overwhelmed by the metal as others often do. The finished piece is a labor of love and that’s what retirement is for us, a chance to do what we love instead of what we have to and we love playing with pretty rocks. Clear skies

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mountain Goats and Meteor Showers

   We took a drive to our son’s house to deliver some Gulf shrimp, and after a nice visit we headed back to Star Valley. The summer traffic is quickly increasing but you still never know when you are going to be presented with a wildlife moment. So after traversing the Hoback Valley we turned down the Snake River Canyon.
     As we passed some of the biggest whitewater rapids on the Snake River, I warned Renita of animals in the road and luckily we missed the nine plus mountain goats that were feeding on the grass alongside the highway. Turning around we were able to safely stop and take some images and it’s the closest we have ever been to wild goats.
     It’s the first time we have seen them in the canyon but we were aware that they were migrating into Wyoming. It’s actually causing concern to the Game and Fish Commission here as they may carry disease that is transmittable to the bighorn sheep, which are struggling, (the sheep here suffer from diseases and parasites from grazing domestic sheep, and don’t do well unless they have sufficient graze).

    So we took some images and watched as the goats retreated up the sheer canyon walls. After arriving back at Star Valley our next goal was to actually stay up for the new meteor shower. Of course I fell asleep but Renita woke me at midnight, (the best time to see meteors is from midnight to an hour before sunrise).
     The skies here are about as perfect as you can get and the Milky Way stood out. The visible magnitude here was so good that we could see all the stars of the constellation Ursa Minor, (the Little Dipper). Writing down the time, 12:14 am, we sat back and watched and waited and waited and waited…… A single meteor crosses the sky in the next fifteen minutes. It wasn’t even from the expected radiant which is the path of the old comets tail.

     Going back inside we waited till 2 am only to see that clouds had moved in and obscured the heavens. Hopefully there was a burst of falling stars visible in others places in North America. Here it was a complete bust. At least for a bit we had clear skies.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Picnic in the Tetons

It was such a nice day that we decided to take a ride to the Tetons. It’s about sixty miles away and so one hour later we were at the park headquarters getting Renita’s Senor Access pass. We spent a little time talking with the rangers only to find out that the road we wanted to check out was closed due to snow. Hiking was also prohibited along another access road due to the presence of a grizzly bear, (It’s a lot easier when you are in Alaska where they don’t close roads as the bears are everywhere).
So we made our usual stops at Teton Point and Glacier view, before heading up Pacific Creek Road. Renita spotted some fresh scat and while we were not sure if it was bear or wolf it was full of hair and a few berries so we are guessing it was bear. Noting the bear closure signs we looked for tracks but only found sign of elk that had crossed the road, (a friend of ours shows pictures of food in her blog but we show scats)..
Next we drove to one of our favorite birding spots, the Oxbow Bend Turnoff just below the Jackson Lake dam. Setting out a blanket we sat down for a picnic with the binoculars ever ready, (after seeing the blog of our friends Jim and Nancy we definitely need a much better camera). Cars and buses came and went and if only the people would take a little more time they might have seen more wildlife.
A river otter entertained us by diving and then returning to the surface with a fresh cutthroat trout and a little later an osprey hovered before crashing into the water and then lifting away with another unfortunate fish. A busy beaver swam back and forth being of course busy.
Several flocks of common mergansers flew by and two western grebes dove and resurfaced as they fed in front of us. A little further up the oxbow two trumpeter swans bobbed for vegetation as a pair of blue teal tried to get to the same food.  Renita asked if I remembered the coyote we had seen hunting for mice on the far bank and while we didn’t see any coyotes today we did find some scat on our side of the river.
Next we drove toward Signal Mountain but the road was also closed, so we stopped for images of Mount Moran and then the Cathedral Group, (the Grand, Teewinot, and Mount Owens). At Jenny Lake the ferry dock was being set up on the far shore and we decided not to hike along the shore to Cascade Canyon.
We did find out about kayaking in the park and now besides having a Wyoming Game and Fish Inspection and ten dollar sticker,(thirty dollars for a nonresident), the park charges an additional ten dollars for their own sticker, (If you drive twenty eight miles further you must pay an additional ten dollars for a Yellowstone Park boat sticker).

Too soon it was time to head back home but now we have a bunch of info for when we return for another day in the park. Maybe next time we will buy all the stickers as we really want to kayak the Oxbow Bend area. Regardless it was a nice day full of wildlife moments which is the reason we are here for the summer. Clear skies

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Busy Week of Unpacking and Building

The first week here has been pretty basic and so I have let the blog slip a bit. It’s not that we haven’t been doing anything; it’s just that for the most part, it is stuff that’s pretty humdrum. Our days have involved unpacking the fifth wheel, readying the lapidary studio, building steps for the fifth wheel and then a little golf along with watching the elk graze on the mountainside behind us.
Building steps and a landing has been a pretty basic task after constructing the studio. I used plans from our friend Jim, (he does lapidary and wire wrapping), and I only had to make a few modifications.  Molly was pretty nervous when she first stepped out on them and still looks for the usual metal stairs but we really like having steady steps.
We stopped at Raven Lunatics Art Store and found out that we had some winter sales. Barbara is one of our greatest fans and so we spent a couple of hours looking at her new art items and her expanding rock collection. We both realized we had better get to work on some pieces as the summer shows will be here before we know it.
I actually took some time out to golf and the altitude is really kicking my rear end. I walk the course and going from sea level to over six thousand feet is probably not the best way to start your exercise program. Regardless I actually am hoping to walk my way into shape, before we head up into the high country. I do enjoy golfing but it’s really about the walking. Today I had an added bonus as a red tailed hawk flew over my head, carrying a shrew which it dispatched and ate as I watched.
So we go through our day and then after dinner turn our attention to the feeding elk. There is a herd of cows on the mountain side and they have been hanging pretty close to the valley and the houses. Its calving season and they know that being close to people protects their calves from wolves and bear.

We have finally finished most of the busy work so tomorrow it’s shopping in Idaho Falls and then we hope to spend some time wildlife watching in Grand Teton National Park. Perhaps we may drive to a place where bears are known to be hunting elk calves, and notice I am not saying the location, Suffice it to say we will not hike into the back country!  Clear skies.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Arriving at Star Valley

It’s really amazing to see how much technology has changed since we became full timers. Now we can use our smart phones and actually access web cameras showing road conditions. So I knew that the Salt Pass would be wet but not icy as we crossed it and drove down into Star Valley.
Using the hourly weather reports we avoided the predicted winds and drove forty miles on interstate eighty before turning towards Kemmerer. Passing Opal, (pronounced Oh- paul, thank you Blain), Renita spotted the burned out stack from the recent natural gas explosion. The fires are out, and three of the gas plants have now returned  to normal operation.
The drive was easy and the traffic was limited to a few trucks and very few cars as tourist season is still weeks away. We made our usual stop for diesel and a break at Cokesville. It still amazes me that you can’t buy a newspaper there and our Verizon smart phones couldn’t connect.
As we drove along the fields were full of sand hill cranes, feeding in the lush green meadows as they have reached their breeding grounds and are preparing their nests. The streams are all flooding and murky and it will be quite a while before they clear enough to cast the first nymph, hoping for a nice Snake River cutthroat trout.
The temperature was only thirty five Fahrenheit as we crossed the path and the truck handled it fine. Stopping on top of the pass I checked the brakes and tires before our descent. It’s still winter here as it is so easy to see. We both wondered if we had arrived too early.
Our spot at Star Valley was wet but the leveling and grading we had done last year provided a firm base for us to park our rig. We barely made a tire track and so now we are parked for the next five months.
Tomorrow we will unload our new rocks and toys, but most importantly we will celebrate Mother’s Day.
Last evening we watched from our rig as a herd of cow elk grazed on the mountainside. We even spotted a cow elk, separated from the heard. She was accompanied by a newborn calf that frolicked around her before stopping to feed. Luckily we saw no wolves or bear who stalk the herds during calving season, but they are there.

 It been about six weeks and over three thousand miles since we left Texas, and we are safely at our summer home, remembering that our home is where we park it. Safe travels to our friends and of course, Clear skies.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Waiting out the Weather in Rock Springs

It’s always the big question, when do we head back to Wyoming? Having lived here for thirty seven years we know all about the spring blizzards and have even been snowed in for a week. Then the storm piled drifts of over eight feet and that much snow would bury us now.
So we always wait till May before we cross the border and the first thing to do is to find out how the travel conditions for the roads and passes, (and not just snow and ice but also landslides which happen here every spring). So we took a circuitous route to Casper and then to Rock Springs, winding our way through the lower passes and missing the high country.
Of course winter threw another winter storm at Wyoming but we were far enough south and so instead of heavy snow we got high winds, lightening and a heavy hail storm with lots of small pea size hail. Taking advantage of this extended stay in Rock Springs allowed us to get Renita’s yearly doctor appointment and lab work done.

Hopefully it will warm up enough that we will be able to cross the Salt Pass and make it to Star Valley on Saturday. The forecast there is for temperatures in the sixties daytime and mid thirties nighttime. That’s a pretty good forecast for early May in the Northern Rockies. Clear skies

Sunday, May 4, 2014

From Grand Isle to Casper, Mile after Windy Mile

We said our goodbyes and left Grand Isle on Friday. Our first stop was at Beaumont, Texas and then on to Livingston where we decided to wait out the passage of a strong low pressure area and its resultant tornados. Walking Molly I noticed a familiar fifth wheel and Mike and Loretta came out to greet us, perhaps as surprised as we were.
That’s what fun about our life style, you never know when you will meet up with fellow full timers. Two days later we headed north to Ardmore, Oklahoma and then off Guthrie where the severe winds made us lay up for two days.
It was Renita’s birthday and so we spent a day antiquing in downtown Guthrie. There were actually some good shops with real antiques, but nothing we really needed, no rocks anyway. One of the stores featured local artists and we met a jewelry designer. She had made a few of her beautiful pieces using Teepee Canyon and Dry head agates and of course we had to tell her of our stone work.
The winds finally eased a little and so our next drive was to Dodge City. It’s a place we have already visited and so it’s a stopping off place where again we will wait for the wind to die down, (two days ago the wind gusts here were over sixty miles per hour and dust and sand storms blew rigs off the road.

Tomorrow the winds will finally let off again and so our goal is tp make the last legs across the plains, leaving the threat of tornadoes behind. We are not really sure where we are going, Rapid City, or Casper, or even Rock Springs. Regardless the roads all will lead to Thayne where we will spend the summer. Clear skies