Friday, August 17, 2012

Dog's and (all the anti-dog) National Parks

I'm a solo hiker and, to help keep me safe, I like to take my dog.  He's pretty sweet, but at well over 100 lbs and as tall as me when he stands up, he's great at deterring unwanted attempts at companionship.  The one thing that I take issue with is that most of the National Parks don't allow dogs.  What that pretty much means is that they don't allow me.  I can't really go for many 50+ mile hikes in the backcountry wilderness alone and expect my family to not balk, object, or flat out refuse to let me go.  For that matter, I even balk a little.  I get the "leave no trace" - I'm a member of the org and a huge proponent! - and I also understand that wildlife can be negatively impacted by dogs that aren't vaccinated or maintained.

You'd think, rather than ban dogs all together, that there'd be some sort of compromise so that girls like me could go for the 50-mile Grand Teton hike they're dying for... or the Glacier hike... or the Great Smoky's hike... or the Yosemite hike... (are you seeing my trend yet?!).  The only national parks that I know are relatively dog friendly are Shenandoah and Grand Canyon (I think - haven't checked on that one recently).  I'd be pleased as pie to bring all my dog's vaccination records in and even sign away my future hiking rights and pay extra fees certifying that I know how to care for - and WILL care for - his waste and behavior, just like I know how I have to take care of my own.


  • There's good reason for the rules... Look at the red wolf reintroduction in the Smoky's, for example... they reintroduce the red wolf... said wolves die off from parvo from a domestic dog.  I get that.  Who wouldn't?  But, of note, the dog wasn't a visitor in the park, likely (since they've had a dog ban there for-freaking-ever).
  • Pet waste on trails.  There's nothing worse than enjoying a view while walking on a trail and *splat* your foot lands in a big pile of poo.  Ironically, this happens often, but it's usually bear, bobcat, raccoon, etc waste.  Regardless, let's say it's from a dog.  Now, I don't want to say that all backcountry users are absolutely the most responsible people in the world... but I WOULD be brave enough to say that the desire to strap things to your back and head into the woods for days on end generally means that you love nature.  As such, you're far more prone to picking up the occasional wrapper that someone drops, etc.  My meaning is that we're a lot more prone to NOT messing up the wilderness than a majority of the front country folks.  
  • Trail degradation.  One footstep may not leave much of a trace... but millions do.  That's why we live by the Tread Lightly mantras.  But really?  His pads do less damage on a trail than my shoes or the millions of trekking pole 'pokes'.  
  • General safety.  I mean, if you get bit by a dog on the trail, that could suck.  Also, when one hikes with their canine companion, they have to pack enough food/water for said pup as well as have a plan if something (snakes, injury) were to happen to their dog.  I had to carry LeiLui out once (thankfully she's only 45 lbs and not 145) when she injured a joint coming off some rocks.


  • I can argue every one of the points made above.  I can talk about how my dog is fully vaccinated and I'd haul his records with us.  I can cover his waste just as easily as my own.  His feet are less damaging than my shoes... and I'd keep him on a leash (not to mention he's an obedient dog). As far as injury, I'd handle it the same way I'd handle an injury to myself that wasn't life threatening.  If it WAS life threatening... well, there's a chance I'd have to report a far-off-trail burial site to the rangers. 
  • Safety:  my dog affords me more safety on the trail than any rules or posted regulations.  I'm not talking about wildlife, either, though he does help deter some.  What I mean is that I'm a 125 lb female out in the woods; because it's federal property, I can't carry a firearm.  So, without my dog or a firearm, my best defense is my bear spray (which I prefer to save for use on bears when necessary).  Know what's great? People who have nefarious intent don't CARE about no gun laws, etc.  Bad people are everywhere (think about junk that has happened on the AT) and he's a better deterrent than any concealed weapon (and far less likely to do me accidental damage).  
  • Responsible dog owners (and irresponsible ones) pay the taxes and fees like everyone else.  Granted, my dog doesn't pay the taxes... but I'd be willing to pay an extra fee on his behalf to have his company.  

I know that there are going to be plenty of people that disagree with me.  Their arguments will range from "grow a set" to "get a hiking buddy" but my point is that I shouldn't have to.  I can and do hike with my dog and leave no trace ALL the time... but I can't visit the places that my country has deemed the most picturesque and magnificent (hence becoming a national park)... I don't have - nor do I care to find - any long-trek hiking buddies.  I LIKE the alone time.  As the unfortunate compromise, it looks like if I want to do it alone, I don't get to hit the major parks.  So I don't care about the naysayers, I will whine to my hearts' content (it is included in my freedom of speech, after all).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Stop "slamming" people you don't know...

You know what just drives me absolutely INSANE?  People who slam other people on the internet without knowing them or without any thought to what their words may do to that person.  There's so many instances of this on the internet that it's sad (and scary) at the lack of general couth that people have these days.  

Case in point: my old bud Donna D'Errico was recently hiking Mt. Ararat in Turkey and she fell. It was a pretty good fall and she hurt herself a bit. If you and I fell while hiking, who notices?  Family.  Friends. Co-workers.  That's about it.  But when someone who has social standing does it, it becomes fodder for the internet.  Not only was the mishap (which could happen to any of us) all over the net, but a few people took perverse pleasure in using this as an opportunity to slam her - for one reason or another (either being on Mt. Ararat or for the fall itself).  Lame, people... really, really lame.  

I get onto people often - on twitter or any other forum - when they start bashing people behind the safety and the anonymity of the internet.  It's childish, rude, and blatantly disrespectful.  I think it's a sign of the lack of respect in our society today and it enrages me.  If I slam someone on the net - I PROMISE you that I have or would say the very same things to their face (and those times are rare because, to me, being rude is a very big offense).  

All that said, for this specific case, I prefer to tell Donna that I'm proud of her for doing what she enjoys and pursuing her dreams... as for her falling, I do that so often I can only say "Sister, I FEEL YOUR PAIN."  

Love ya, D - keep it up and screw the naysayers and critics.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Weekend Jaunt to the Rocky Mountains

The weekend in the Rockies was a little damp but overall it was great; the air was crisp and we had no schedule, no agenda, nothing we HAD to do.  It's the perfect way to spend the weekend. I really enjoy weekDAY trip to national parks a LOT better though... I was amazed at how busy it was.  But, being Funk's first trip, it was still a great one and we were glad to go and sad to leave... yet, as always seems the case unless I'm in Montana, still glad to get home.

Tons of amazing pics of elk, ermine, marmots, and mountains here with a smattering of samples below.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ok. Fine. It was a ghost.

So we have dinner and get to our room around11:30 our time (9:30 local) and we're both exhausted. Prior to coming out here I had read about some the rooms and the only nifty thing I found on my room was windows closing on their own. No kiddin... They are 100 year old windows, doofus. Apparently room 401 is the "really" haunted one... And 217. So we hit the hay and in a few moments Funk is snoring and I am irritatedly awake. A few Mo's later, I swear on my dog's lives I felt the covers get pulled back from my shoulder. Nah. I'm hypersensitive. I was imagining it. I won't even lend it credence by pulling the cover. Not 30 seconds later, the cover gets pulled about 4" down my arm. I admit I freaked. I immediately grabbed Funks arm in a death grip and yanked myself to his side, turning while I was at it so that my back was pressed against his side, put both pillows in line between myself and the edge of the bed, and pulled the covers up over my head. Nothing else happened and I was able to drift off. Later, I got hot and put the covers (sans sheet) down by my knees. I woke up later and they were back up to my neck. I put them down again. Three total times I put them down and they came back up. After funk woke up around 5 local time I asked him what was up with the covers all night and he said only once did he pull them back up because he got cold. Ok, there's no a/c here. I - the drastically cold blooded one between us - was burning up all night while he got cold? Weird. Just sayin.

So at 9:30 am we are scheduled for the "hauntings" ghost tour. Of the whole group, we are the only ones who stayed in a "haunted" room. So one of the 2 tour guides asked what room and, after telling him he says, "ah, the cowboy room." "cowboy room?" I ask. He laughs and asked if I knew about it and I said no. Then he asked if anything happened and I told him and he laughed and said that he couldn't wait for me to hear the other guide tell the story of that room. I was sworn to secrecy from telling the group or the main guide until after. The good news for my group is that all the haunted rooms were booked and, since one was ours, we let our group tour it and everyone loved us for that. After we went through our room the main guide proceeded to tell everyone how women have "cover issues" and how Cowboy is annoyed by snoring men. THEN he asked me what happened.

So... if I don't have a clue of "the usual" for this room, I'm a decent blind sample... And then I'm wigged out by what I find out is "regular fare"? Ok. I admit something out of the ordinary happened.

The Stanley: Cascades and "Haunted Rooms"

Regardless of a few hiccoughs in the original travel arrangement (connected through Chicago instead of Dallas) we finally managed to get to Denver. I had reserved a convertible Mustang, the prior renters had wrecked one and the other just didn't bother to bring theirs back (yet?), so we got the faithful charger. We checked into the historic Stanley Hotel a few hours later - where we immediately decided we were goin to eat at the Cascades. Funk's drink was called the Millionaire's cocktail and had 107 proof bourbon, absinthe bitters, and a few other potent liquids. I opted for the black orchid... Mainly because it has something called "elderflower liqueur" and that sounded way too nifty to not try. Mine was smooth and floral. I'm pretty sure Funks drink picked him up, slapped him around, called him a few choice names, AND had its way with him. It was the first time in 10 years I have heard him say, "I may not be able to finish this". Which he followed with, "well, I CAN finish it... But I don't know if it's wise.". That, my friends, is a helluva drink.. He had these meatball things that were amazing and I had a short rib that was fantabulous. Tomorrow: RMNP!!!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stanley Hotel, Haunted History?

I decided I needed a weekend away - away from our ancient and worn mountains and the stifling heat and humidity of the Southeast to somewhere with jagged peaks of a younger range, snow still capping mountains, and a potential to see the Milky Way without the hazy blur of water saturated air.  So, I booked myself (and Funkdubie) a weekend in Colorado.  It's Funkdubie's first trip to the Rockies, so I rented a convertible and booked our stay in a historic (built in 1909 by F.O. Stanley of Stanley Steamer/Engine fame) lodge known as the Stanley Hotel.  The Lodge is historic - a love of mine and an insurmountable call when nestled in the grandeur of mountains - and boasts guests such as The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Theodore Roosevelt, and Japanese royalty.

Built in 1909, The historic Stanley Hotel of Estes Park, CO.
It was only after booking our flights, hotel, car, etc - about the time when the confirmation emails all start pouring in - that I noticed 2 little words on the "things to do" at the lodge:

"Haunted Tours".  

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a science geek with a penchant for wishing cryptic things exist. It's an interest that I have because I'm a very logical person with an eclectic past* and a very open mind.  So, I clicked it.  Low-and-behold, I seem to have booked a hotel with history.  Stephen King even stayed this hotel which inspired the setting for the book The Shining.  He did also allow his room, room 217, to show up in the work and there are other influences from the hotel, but I promise you he wasn't a casual traveler who stayed here and "boom" - idea for book due to experiences.  (It's worthy to note that he already had the idea for the Shining in his mind, hence the 'up and move the family' to Boulder, Colorado - also the setting for much of The Stand.) Beyond that, there's a menagerie of "weird" things that happen here.  There are certain rooms reported to be more haunted than others but, in general, the 4th floor is a hotbed of 'paranormal activity'.  So, of course, I called the hotel and requested a room on the 4th floor (which I was granted for 1 of the 2 nights I am staying).

I was advised that for the first night I would be allowed to stay in room 428.  I jokingly asked the very personable receptionist if it was haunted and she said "enough where you can google it and get a lot of information."  I told her I liked that idea and also told her to sign me and Funk up for the ghost tour.  I was hesitant to look up any history on room 428 - or on the hotel in general.  I think that one's mind can easily deceive, especially if it has preconceived notions on what to 'expect'.  For 2 weeks I haven't looked anything up.  This morning, however, additional logic set it and I decided I already had preconceived expectations because I wasn't going into the experience unknowingly.  That being said, I'm already an invalid data sample and may as well read more.  "Research" is easier done than said in this case, there are HUNDREDS of "fo' real paranormal investigators, we promise we're legit cuz we use acronyms!" that claim to have conducted scientific research at the hotel.  I love this stuff, not for it's scientific credibility but more for a comedic appreciation. Anyhow, here's some of the rumors... err, I mean facts. (Of note, I have color-coded REAL facts in purple.)

Hotel: The Rocky Mountain Paranormal Team have created a stellar ensemble of history about the hotel here and their investigation included the now famous "TAPS Ghost Hunters". Most of the 'tales' from the haunted hotel are very similar and echo the mundane experiences that I can't really give logical credence to.  Floating orbs in pictures are far too explainable through dust particles, the "feeling" of someone being in a room can be completely self-wrought if that is what you're expecting.  The sounds of children play in halls is decent (rumors abound that S. King saw a little girl who called to his nanny in a hall) but if it was that frequent, wouldn't we have some audio proof?  I mean, the hotel was built in 1909,... that seems like a long enough time for someone to have nabbed some audio?!

Room 428: Room 428 is "google-able".  Whether the information is credible is a different story.  The "Paranormal Outcast Team" stayed in my room and reported window slamming, strange noises and items relocating (of note, only 1 of the 4 mentioned the items disappearing or ending up in the other's bag).  The Missouri Ghost Hunter's Society also appeared to land my room and a few others on the 4th floor. They report doors opening, shadows, feelings of not being alone, etc etc.  The "Spirit Seekers" said there was writing on a mirror (and also provided inaccurate history regarding King's inspiration for the Shining as being the ghosts of the hotel).

4th Floor: The "Colorado Ghosts" states the hot bed for activity is room 418, alas, not mine.  They say that this is the most active room according to the employees who have reported noises, 'imprints' on the bed, etc.  They are also one of the many who state that the essence of the owner's wife (Flora Stanley) is also very well known to still play the piano.  Spooky Mountain News and The Coloradoan (unverified) supposedly also talk about the piano, staff experiences, etc.

Room 217:  Room 217 is the room that Stephen King stayed in during his brief visit.  He and his family were - literally - the only guests in the hotel that night as it was the last night before the hotel closed for the season.  I should state here that I adore Stephen King and he is my favorite author - I've traveled hundreds of miles just to see him play bass in his band (yes, he's in a band).  I have an autograph from his son (also an author).  But the moment that I trust Stephen King's late night escapades into a deserted, historic hotel is likely the same day that feral, winged pigs fly out of my tookey.  I mean... it's Stephen King... have you read his stuff?  That man has an imagination like no one else; horrors rattle around in his head that could strip the paint off a wall or the shine off of silver! Love him! Anyhow, room 217's history doesn't entail death, just a chambermaid who was in an "explosion" accident and suffered 2 broken ankles as a result.

So, essentially I'm going into my stay with three thoughts:

  1. I am not valid sample data.  I can't rely on a single "feeling" that I may have that someone's in the room, blah blah blah.  I'm already predisposed to 'look' for something where there's nothing simply because it's what I'm virtually expecting due to exposure.  I do wish to hear piano playing, if Ms. Stanley is talented with it.  On the flip side, I hope not to hear children playing in the hall at all hours of the night.  Unlike other visitors who 'check out early' or those that just get 'creeped out'... I'm far more inclined to throw open a door and start cussing like a sea-jaded sailor.  I do like my sleep, after all. 
  2. It would take a ghost literally challenging me to a pudding-wresting contest and then beating me in that contest for me to depart the Stanley with claims of haunting.  I'm not one of "those" people who see things in the dark (I mean, I camp alone on the side of mountains... the only thing I'm afraid of are trolling men).  
  3. I hope the weather is decent so I can take Funk through the mountains with the top down and, because the Stanley is historic, it doesn't have air conditioning.  
If, by some odd chance that the solar systems are aligned and I were to mud-wrestle a ghost, I'll be sure and let you all know.... 

*Once, Funk and I were staying in a historic B&B in Gettysburg and couldn't sleep b/c of the racket from the room above us.  Over breakfast the following morning we told the B&B owners that we either needed a new room or they needed to tell whomever in the room above us that moving chairs on hardwood floors made it impossible for us to sleep and was very rude of them at all hours of the night.  The B&B owners looked at us in a peculiar manner - like we were a strange breed of insect - while we ranted.  Then they told us there was no one booked in the room above us.  Ghost? Maybe.  Raccoon or Opossum? Maybe... it was December, perhaps it was just wildlife taking refuge from the cold?

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Enigma of Us

Her heart is broke, her head is numb
Pressure of memories like a black abyss
Seams of her mind pulling, tearing, coming undone
Youthful innocence stolen before it could be missed.

She’s beautiful despite the tragic fray
Can such bad damage ever be fixed?
She’s lost her love of color, lives in shades of grey
Black Widow… deadly beauty and toxicity mix.

I tell her each day and in my rituals at night
Like a child reciting a repetitive prayer
Keep your strength, you have that right
But she slips into the abyss out of reach of my care.

A black widow? Yes.  But an enigma it seems
I spend every day in her webbed domain.
Because I know this girl… she’s the same one who haunts my dreams.
The web… the black glossy fa├žade … I know is feigned.

Come hide with me, the real you, by the way
Not the widow, but the butterfly with scarred wings.
I’ll shelter you, even keeping the shadows at bay
Because… like you… I understand malevolent things.

I know the real you, I know who you are
Because we are one in the same, can’t you see?
The shadows can’t hurt us anymore
Because I have you… and you have me.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Lions, Tigers, Bears, Salmoni, and DiCaprio

Some days I like to take a break from thinking about homework or work or hockey and do my very best to think about why I do some of the things I do.  I mean, I don't have much of a 'voice' per say - as far as a public platform - but yet I do all these little things in my life to attempt to "make a difference" surrounding things that matter very deeply to me.  I recycle.  I try to conserve water.  I "tread lightly" and love my planet.  I'm not a tree-hugger in the fanatical sense but yet my friends would stereotype me with that label.  Today, as I do on many days,  I think about the things I so desperately want changed that I seem to have so little impact on:

  • Saving wildlife and animals in general 
  • Decrease natural resource exploitation and overuse 
  • Impact the anthropogenic mindset
But, honestly... what can I do when I'm just one girl?  
It's moments like that that I try to retain perspective.  Sure, I'm just one girl, but I'm still doing my part.  I tell my friends and acquaintances to do the same things and I hope that my influence means something.  I support philanthropic organizations that I believe in with both monetary contributions that I can afford and time.  I continue to educate myself to, one day, have a career in a field that I think I will love just due to inherent passion.  I try to surround myself with like minds.  I don't want my life to 'mean nothing' in the sense that I don't want the things that I'm passionate about to not have benefited from me in some way.

I am secretly jealous of people that have the ability to influence so many but yet my jealousy is a friendly version. I have great respect for Leonardo DiCaprio, not because he's a great actor (though I feel he is) but because he has a passion for tigers - my favorite - and that passion drives me to like him more.  He founded the Save Tigers Now foundation and I'm very vocal in my support of it.  I very loosely call Dave Salmoni "friend" because he is a very public (Animal Planet, Discovery, etc) animal activist and zoologist who loves the same apex predators that I love. I feel a sense of camaraderie with him due to common interests and education. But yes, I desperately desire the social platform they have and their increased opportunity to support our shared causes.  Would it make me feel like I'm doing more?  Would it make me feel like I'm having a bigger impact?  I don't know.  

In the end does my lack of social platform make me less of an influence?  Meh, "yes" in some ways but "not really" in others.  I may not have the ability to 'speak as visibly'; however, when I do speak, I know that the people around me listen because they have grown to respect my knowledge, logic, and passion regarding certain things.  They see my actions and know that I am genuine, which helps them to almost tangibly feel my obsession for things.  I think the people I do impact are more likely to support my passions because they believe in them and me... Is that better than those that take part in a cause hoping to garner some potential 'celebrity attention'.  Again: yes and no.  I don't much care why people support things I'm passionate about as long as they do so when there's no ulterior motive or chance for 'fringe benefits' as well.  

So while I may be small and have nary a 'public platform' I am still an important champion of my causes and that makes me just as important to the beneficiaries of my causes.  That's my drive.  That's my ambition.  Because, in the end, the animals and the planet have my support and support of others because of me... that's what's important.