Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Dam Fish

Animal migration is a remarkable feat that absolutely baffles my mind and exhibits one of the truly beautiful acts of nature.  The fact that seabirds can fly over thousands of miles of open ocean with seemingly no cues or that monarch butterflies can flap their delicate wings for over 2,000 miles without feeding and end up in the same cypress grove as years past is astonishing.  We were fortunate to see the monarch migration in Pismo Beach, California and the thousands of butterflies that were gently gliding around entertaining onlookers in the warm winter air of coastal California.

Steelhead trout appear gray and silver when
they live in the ocean but take on a pronounced
red color when they migrate back to their
spawning grounds.
So fast forward to our location in North-central Idaho where we are surrounded by gorgeous streams and rivers that are bubbling with the mystiful migration of anadramous fish.  This fish tale of the steelhead trout starts way upsteam in the shallow inland waters of the North Fork of the Clearwater River where they are hatched – far away from the Pacific Ocean that they will call "home" for three or four years before swimming back to their birthplace.  (“Anadramous” is the fancy term used to describe fish that are born in fresh water, migrate to salt water, and return as adults to their natal grounds to spawn.)  Nature has provided an enormity of challenges for these creatures to survive a 600-mile journey.  Young fish imprint (through smell of all senses) on the rivers they swim through on their journey to the ocean and undergo physiologic changes allowing them to survive in salt water. 

A few posts ago when I introduced you to the Dworshak Dam and Reservoir (our work camping location for the next two months), I mentioned that the dam was not without controversy.  The Dworshak Dam provides flood protection, hydroelectric power, and recreational opportunities but what it DOES NOT provide is access for native salmon and steelhead trout to reach their historic natural spawning grounds.  The towering 717- foot dam rises from the base of the North Fork of the Clearwater River and, as you can see below, abruptly blocks the migrating fish.  

How would you like to face this dam as you are swimming to your spawning grounds - a journey that takes
 nearly two weeks and in which you don't eat and loose 30-50% of your body weight?

So enter into this interesting environmental picture a multitude of fish hatcheries that replenish juvenile fish that would have been hatched naturally if the dam did not exist.  There are two huge fish hatcheries in our new town of Orofino - The Dworshak National Fish Hatchery (NFH, run by the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nez Perce Tribe) and their sister hatchery - The Clearwater Hatchery (run by the Idaho Game and Fish Dept.).  So last Tuesday during our big day in town, and in between lunch and grocery shopping, we decided to visit the hatcheries.     


We were lucky enough to get a first-hand look at how the egg and sperm collection works from the viewing platform at the Dworshak NFH.  I must confess that I find hatcheries to be fairly boring as it usually just entails walking around outdoor ponds and looking at fish of varying sizes.  But this experience was much different and both hatcheries where a buzz with activity.  At the Clearwater Hatchery young fish were being moved from the hatchery for release into nearby rivers and at Dworshak NFH they were collecting sperm and eggs from returning steelhead trout who came home to spawn. When we visited the Dworshak NFH, they were well on their way to achieving their lofty goal of collecting 2.5 million eggs.

It all starts outside with the fish honing in on the fish ladder (as seen below in the picture) and swimming up it until they reach outdoor holding tanks.


Fish are moved to the processing location via a large basket that dumps the fish onto the sorting table.  Steelhead are sorted according to sex and machine-scanned for implanted microchips that were placed in hatchery-raised fish received as youngsters (that's the blue machine on the left the man in the black shirt is feeding them into). 


Now they are moved down the line for milking of sperm and retrieval of eggs.  


Eggs from females are collected into individual containers and will be mixed with sperm. Remarkably individual steelhead females produce an average of 6,500 eggs.  


Males are milked and the sperm is collected in a small cup.


Eggs and sperm are mixed and placed in these incubation trays for one to three months before being moved to nursery tanks.


In early summer, the young fish will be moved outside to rearing ponds where they will stay for nearly a year.


When juvenile fish are ready to be released they are "vacuumed" up into transport trucks and moved to a nearby river or stream.


Once released, the fish start their migration to the Pacific Ocean which is a much richer and productive feeding ground than the inland rivers and streams.  The journey to the ocean is a difficult one for the young fish.  There are eight dams that must be navigated (or the lucky ones get barged or trucked around the dams) and they must reach the ocean in a timely manner.  Life for the steelhead is difficult and only an estimated 1% of those released make it back to the hatchery.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Working Girls

I don’t want you to think that my blog posts are becoming more infrequent because my new working schedule has overwhelmed my time or that the wilds of Idaho have made me forget about RVAGOGO.  In fact, it is because our 4G’s have shrunk to an abominable 1X and the bars have all but vanished into cyber hell.  There is 3G in Orofino, which is the closest town, but at 45 minutes away we don’t get there but once a week.

Opening day kind of made us sad since
we had to let other people into our wilderness paradise.
We are really getting a kick out of our work camping experience.  The deal is we work 30 hours a week (for the two of us) with four days on and four days off.  When I told my 90-year old Grandma that I was going back to “work” she exclaimed, “You are going to work and are not getting paid…what kind of job is that?”  Now this is coming from a woman who was widowed young with five kids and worked well into her 80’s – she is no stranger to hard work.  When I explained that we are working for in-kind payment in the form of our campsite and hookups, she seemed to approve. 

On our way to clean up a "mini camp" we found more
work that needed to be done in the form of removing an obstacle. 
Our days on are filled with virtually mindless, nonstressful tasks that run the gamut from trail maintenance, checking campsites for occupancy, cleaning fire pits, litter pickup, refurbishing horseshoe pits, cleaning restrooms, raking leaves, and whatever else we see that needs to be done.  There is total freedom as to what we do and when we do it.  Our hours pass by quickly and we frequently laugh at how nice it is to leave work with no stress or responsibility on our shoulders.  (Sorry to say that for all of you who are reading this at your desk.)  This job is certainly not going to add any more gray hairs to my head. 


The reservoir has 80 "mini camps" available for primitive camping.  This one we could drive
to so we set out to clean up the trash and fire pit.  Not a bad office!
So far the campers have been respectful and no trouble.  Well, except for the guy who parked his truck where he was not supposed to and the turkey hunters who were target shooting across the hiking trail.   But these minor infractions are not like the horror stories from years past when a hunter killed a deer and dressed it out in the bathroom…or the man who threatened to shoot his drunk neighbor because he didn't  like where he parked…or the two guys that stole the self check-in lock boxes for the pittance of money that was in it. 

Betsy did a terrific job blowing leaves and dirt from the roads.  Hope the campers appreciate her hard work!
The campground is on a first-come first-serve basis with self-check-in until late May when it will open for reservations.  Then, we will be working in the entrance station and handling the computer reservations.  This means we will have to have “training” and be learning a new skill since neither of us have used the NRRS system.  What a great resume builder!  Betsy can list it right under her PhD.  Let’s hope this system is no trouble because we don’t want any stress in our lives and want to be the cheerful smiling faces that campers see when they first drive into Dent Acres Campground.

Raising the flags at the entrance station - Betsy's soon-to-be new office.

Cleaning the kiosks while sporting my red Army Corp hoody.
Betsy attending a staff meeting with Ranger Brittney (in the green) and Chuck and Linda (the other work campers).
Now this is our kind of staff meeting!
Our work camping job will end in late June and we will be sorry to go...the time is flying by.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dinner Rolls

So what made me decide to bake bread?

Well, our 70-degree days vanished as Old Man Winter temporarily poked his ugly head out of his state of impending torpor.  The wind started howling, the rain began to freeze and we relinquished ourselves to a quiet book reading day in the moho.  And we did not mind our predicament at all!  We both had books we were engrossed in and warm blankets to keep our toes toasty.  The only thing we needed was something baking in the oven to release a smell that would waft through the air and tickle our taste buds.  The day before I made gumbo so dinner was already to go but it was the smell of something baking that I desired to complete our afternoon of wintery warmth. 

We sat inside and watched the snowy slushy
 mix pile up on the windshield wiper.
And that is why I decided to bake bread….more specifically - dinner rolls…slash…hamburger buns...slash…bread for lunch sandwiches…slash…whatever you want to call them.   This is a recipe that I found on one of my favorite cooking blogs (www.thekitchn.com) as I am not very adventurous in the baking arena and do not dare create my own recipes.  Baking is a science with ingredients needing to be in exact proportions and is not very forgiving when it comes to mistakes.

When I was a kid, my dad spoiled us with homemade baked bread.  It would rise in front of the fireplace on a cold winter day and fill the house with a sweet yeasty smell.  He made three kinds – white, wheat and cinnamon raisin and often we would eat the entire loaf right as it came out of the oven.  Along the way he learned a very valuable lesson about baking bread…make sure you take a stick butter sitting out on the counter a couple of hours before the bread was done baking so it was nice and soft for spreading on the hot steamy bread.  And if he forgot to take the butter out of the refrigerator, mom would remind him! 

That lesson was passed on to me and I made sure the butter was softening up nicely before the rolls even went in the oven. 

This recipe is really easy and I mixed all the ingredients and kneaded the dough in my stand mixer (yes, our RV does have a Cuisinart stand mixer – some things I just could not bare to give up).  There is only one rise and you can shape these rolls to whatever size you want.  I made mine larger for sandwiches rolls and hamburger buns and cooked them on a sheet pan.  If you want them to be taller and fluffier, use a deeper baking pan as the recipe calls for.  Oh, and if you space them evenly they will not have the odd shapes that mine did.  

Hope you enjoy!

Ingredients

1 tablespoon active-dry yeast
1/2 cup (4 oz) warm water
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk (whole, 2%, or skim)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups (15 oz) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl, if mixing by hand), stir the yeast into the warm water and let it sit until dissolved (approximately 10 minutes).  In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, oil, sugar, and salt.  Add this to the yeast mixture and stir until combined.  Add all the flour and stir for a minute or two until it forms a shaggy dough.

Knead at low speed with a dough hook (or by hand) for 8-10 minutes, until smooth but slightly tacky.  It should spring back when poked.

Cover the mixing bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.  Meanwhile, line a 9x13 pan with parchment and spray with nonstick coating.

Dust your work surface with a little flour and turn the risen dough out on top.  Divide the dough into 12 pieces with a bench scraper or knife.  To shape into rolls, tuck the edges underneath to form a plump little package, then roll the dough against the counter or between your palms until round.

Arrange the rolls inside the pan spaced a little apart.  Let the rolls rise until they look pillowy and fill the pan roughly 30-40 minutes.

While the rolls are rising, pre-heat the oven to 375°F.

Melt the butter and brush it over the risen dinner rolls. This helps the tops to brown and keeps the crust soft.

Place the rolls in the oven and bake until golden, approximately 15-18 minutes.

Lift the rolls from the pan using the parchment and let the rolls cool on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.  They are best if eaten within a day or two, but will keep in an airtight container on the counter for up to a week.  Rolls can also be frozen for up to 3 months and reheated in a warm oven.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Death at Dworshak

Two days before the big opening of the campground when families were due to arrive for their much anticipated inaugural camping trip of the season, there was some big excitement in the campground.  It was nothing major like a water main break or complete electrical outage; it was just a dead deer behind site #32 that appeared to be killed by a mountain lion.  O.k., so that could be big!  The wildlife biologist (Russ) discovered the deer and alerted us and the other four work campers –  since we all have dogs, he was concerned about their safety.  The bite marks around the neck and missing innards were indications that a carnivore had killed it and was eagerly feeding on it.  This was no natural death by old age.  So now things are getting interesting at Dworshak Dam and Reservoir!

Warning:  the next photo is not for the squeamish.
Betsy and I were totally intrigued with this new development so we leashed up Spirit and ventured over to site #32 to survey the situation.  The kill was fresh and the aura of the site sent Spirit’s hackles up as she approached the area with monumental caution.  Her nose was going crazy with unknown smells and her slinking posture indicated she felt this was not a good place to be. 

Note the campground in the back right of the photo.
So now we were off to find Russ and interrogate him some more about this Wild Kingdom episode that had unfolded.  Mountain lions are fairly common in the area and Russ felt this was more likely to be a mountain lion kill than wolves.   Betsy and I pleaded with Russ to set up a motion-activated wildlife camera near the carcass as we wanted to know more.  It was not good enough for our minds to run wild with possible scenarios, we wanted facts (and pictures).


Russ and Andrew (the Park Ranger and our “boss”) decided it would be a good idea to move the carcass out of the campground and set up a camera at a new location.  After all, they did not want to attract large carnivores in child-filled campgrounds and site #32 was going to really start smelling.  We agreed whole heartedly with that decision.  So the deer was loaded up in the ‘gator’ and relocated about 75 yards away from the campground into the woods.  The plan was to set up a camera and the next morning Betsy and I would retrieve the memory card, download the photos, and report back our findings.  (At this point Spirit was really hoping she was not involved in the plan.  It seems she may have better instincts than us and was not so sure about hanging around a dismembered animal.)

Betsy driving the doe to her final resting place.
The next morning, we awoke with anticipation and headed into the woods to retrieve the memory card and investigate the most exciting campground happening.  And what did we find…


It seems the does friends were coming to pay their final respects.

Yes, we were monumentally disappointed that we did not get to see a majestic mountain lion strolling across the cameras view, but our interest did perk up when Andrew made the comment that the now rank deer may attract bears. 

Russ let us keep the camera to play with so stay tuned for more drama…

Me happily replacing the memory card and Spirit staying close by worried about what might be lurking!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Our Wilderness Paradise in Idaho

Idaho has been treating us very well so far.  The high temps are in the high 60’s - mid 70’s and the nights comfortably settle down to the 40’s.  We were prepared for the cold and freezing with a heated water hose, heat lamp for the sewerage compartment, flannel shirts, and our Pendleton blankets.  But I think the snow, ice, and freezing temperatures disappeared with Old Man Winter who is now in dormancy. Flowers are in bloom…so I guess spring has sprung.

Spirit admiring the flower right before she ate it!
 We have been taking advantage of the cool mornings and familiarizing ourselves with the hiking trails.  From our campground there is a beautiful three-mile hike to the group campground that winds through pine forests and along the reservoir.  There are plenty of old logging roads that make great trails through the woods and offer spectacular views of the reservoir.  We are being spoiled with so much wildlife surrounding us.  Routinely, we see herds of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, osprey, bald eagles and golden eagles.  And we are still keeping our eyes open for a possible wolf, mountain lion, or bear sighting.  The deer don’t hang around us too long as they throw up their white tails and head up through the maze of trees when they hear Spirits thundering paws rapidly approaching.  Spirit is in her glory chasing deer and cooling off in the cold Idaho water.

Sometimes we are walking too slow for Spirits' taste and she decides to be the trail blazer.
Other times, she is nice enough to wait for us.
Other camp hosts and volunteers have arrived so we are no longer alone with the wildlife in our wilderness paradise.  The park does not officially open until the 11th so we have been getting it ready by cleaning out fire pits, cleaning the check-in booth, refurbishing the horseshoe pits, clearing trails, and various other outdoor activities that are far more enjoyable than the many hours spent behind a desk in our previous jobs.  While the pay back at those jobs was significantly more than a free campsite, a red Corps of Engineers hoodie, and steel-toed boots, we are much happier and laugh at the fact that “we could be sitting behind a desk at our old jobs.”  Guess we have really moved on!

The campground has 50 sites that are well-spaced and empty right now.

Not a bad place to hike.
Orofino is the closest town which is about a 45 minute drive so, needless to say, we do not go into town that much.  The rig is well-stocked with food and short of running out of limes for the vodka tonics, we should be just fine.  Oh, and we might need milk.  When there is marginal internet access, no grocery store nearby, and a beautiful setting like this it is becoming easy to settle in to a slow pace. 

Next up…we are going to try our luck fishing and exploring the lake by kayak.



Thursday, April 4, 2013

Settling in to Idaho

We have arrived at Dent Acres campground near Orofino, Idaho and are ready to begin our new jobs as camp hosts.  The campground is part of Dworshak Dam and Reservoir and will be our resting spot for the next three months.  Our first impressions are that we will be quite happy here hiking among the towering pines that fill the hillsides, paddling across the placid blue water, and watching the deer cascading down the meadows.  At least that is what we will be doing on our days off – I almost forgot we are here to work.


The dam was completed in 1973 after seven years
and $327 million.
Before driving to the campground, we stopped off at the visitor center for a tour and to meet some of the park rangers we will be working with.  Brittney, a young and enthusiastic ranger, offered to give us a personal tour of the dam and took us to the depths of the 717-foot dam and at one point we were under the dam.  Dworshak Dam and the resulting reservoir were expected to be a grand destination of Hoover Dam proportions.  It is the third largest dam in the United States and the 54-mile long reservoir is peppered with recreational activities in anticipation of the many thousands of visitors who were expected to come.  There are multiple boat launches, nearly 100 mini-camps, floating docks and restrooms, full service campgrounds, and much more for the outdoor enthusiast.  But the remote location of the reservoir hindered public use and people did not come from far and wide; instead, the recreation areas are mostly used by local folks who come for the fishing and hunting. 

The main purpose of building the dam was flood protection but it has many functions including hydropower, recreational opportunities, natural resource management, and navigation.  The construction and operation of the dam and reservoir is not without controversy among environmental groups and the locals.  While the dam does provide flood protection from the Clearwater River it also cut off migration routes of anadromous fish including steelhead trout and various species of salmon.  (More on this issue in another post.)
                     
The spillway (located at the far left bottom of the picture) discharges water into the North Fork of the Clearwater River.
The three hydroelectric generators are capable of producing enough power to heat, cool, and light a city the size of Boise.  The person on the right is actually a manaquin and not a lazy government employee.
The view from the dam is pretty spectacular.  The dam is approximately 3,300 feet long.
The campground is located about one hour from the visitor center and up 17 miles of very windy, narrow, scary road.  Instead of building a two-lane road they shrunk it to one and a half.  Needless to say the motorhome took up nearly the entire width of the road and we were extremely glad there were no logging trucks headed our way.  Since the campground does not open to the public until April 11th, we are spending the next couple days enjoying the peaceful empty campground and becoming acquainted with our new surroundings.

The reservoir reaches depths of  630-feet and is filled with trout, salmon, and bass.