Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Girard Ridge Lookout Tower

There is no room with a view that can top a fire lookout tower. We have quite a few of them around Oregon available for rent through the Forest Service that I have enjoyed over the years, but I had never visited one in another state. When we started planning our trip down to Yosemite, we found one in California that seemed like a good stopping point for the drive back. I had never really explored the Mt. Shasta area at all, and this seemed like a good introduction. My Mountain Man found one not far off of I5 near Shasta and the Castle Crags, and booked it for our adventure. This was shaping up to be an epic family vacation.

After all our fun in Yosemite backpacking and camping, it was nice knowing we had these accommodations waiting for us down the road. By this point in our trip had been on the road for some long days, and the lookout being only 7.5 miles off the freeway was a huge convenience. I will note that it was a steep 7.5 miles, but nothing unusual for a forest service road up to a lookout tower. We arrived at sunset, ready to be out of the car and cooking some dinner (this was definitely the recurring theme of our trip) and were immediately blown away by the amazing views of the Castle Crags and Mt. Shasta.

This was a more basic lookout with no cooking amenities or lights, but we happily sat out on the picnic table while the stars came out, and enjoyed beans and rice bowls made with a combo of leftover dehydrated goods and some fresh groceries we had picked up along our drive at the Sacramento Food Co-op. It's always fun to visit other co-ops when you're traveling through, and fresh guacamole will change your life after a couple days of backpacking meals. Seriously.

We woke up in the morning to Mt. Shasta turning pink and purple with the sunrise. 

Really what it comes down to as far as these lookout towers go, is going to sleep and waking up to these views. 

I could say more, but I think the views speak for themselves.

Here is a little bit of info on this fire lookout tower:

Monday, August 15, 2016

Backpacking Ostrander Lake

When visiting National Parks, I have found that spending some time in the backcountry is the way to go for many reasons. Having heard all kinds of things about Yosemite's crowds and campgrounds you need to reserve a year or more ahead,  I planned our time in the park around backpacking. Even though I made the backcountry reservation several months ahead, things were already pretty filled up for a weekend in July, but we got our second choice, Ostrander Lake. 

The hike was about 6 miles with the elevation gain mostly in the last half, so we got our bear canisters from the ranger station and hit the trail after lunch. The first three miles were easy, with a very flat trail winding through wildflower meadows, and went by before we knew it. The last three, not quite so much. My 14-year-olds were troopers and with some water and Powerade breaks, made the whole thing look like cake. I, on the other hand, had my first experience with altitude sickness. After backpacking my entire life, 8600 feet got the best of me, but I still made it and that 6 miles felt like way more of an accomplishment than it would have otherwise!

One of the things I am most proud of as a parent is raising a couple of hardy backpackers. There was a definite stage of complaining on every hike we did between age 8 and 13, but we've made it over that mountain so to speak, and these two really know how to enjoy themselves in the backcountry. I think it will serve them well in their adult lives.

The elevation gain offered some spectacular views along the way of Half Dome and the peaks of Yosemite. Words can't even touch how impressive it was, and it *almost* helped me forget about my struggles with the elevation!

Not only were the views along the trail amazing, the view at the end of the trail was equally amazing. When arrived at Ostrander lake just before sunset, and managed to find a great campsite at the far edge of the backpacker camping area. We were surprised to learn that campfires were allowed in designated fire pits, so we cooked up our backpacking burritos and enjoyed the fire before turning in for the night.

We pretty much spent the next day swimming, exploring and just hanging out.

There were all these great boulders just perfect for sitting on and enjoying life. Sometimes that's just what you need.

My adventurous mountain man decided to climb up to the ridge above the lake to see the views and my daughter was up for the scramble. My son and I were loving the lake too much and just stayed there hanging out for a while.

It was a really good feeling to just put my feet up and relax.

From our backcountry campsite at Ostrander Lake, we really got to experience Yosemite in a little more depth than we would have from the car and a paved campsite. We enjoyed some peace and quiet, amazing sunsets, scenic views and appreciated it just a little bit more because we had to work hard to get there. Our backcountry reservation allowed us to stay the night before and the night after in backpacker camping areas around the park, so we were able to take in the rest of the sights we wanted to see like Glacier Point and the Yosemite Valley when we hiked out, and stay the night in Tuolumne meadows without the hassle of a campground reservation farther ahead than I could really plan for. It couldn't have worked out more perfectly.

Here's a little more info about the Ostrander Lake hike:

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Flower's Roots

The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure. D. H. Lawrence
Read more at:
"The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure."

~D.H. Lawrence

The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure. D. H. Lawrence
Read more at:
The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure. D. H. Lawrence
Read more at:
The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure. D. H. Lawrence
Read more at:

"Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light."

~Theodore Roethke

"All things must come to the soul from its roots, from where it is planted."

~St. Teresa of Avila

"Wear a crown of flowers on your head, let it's roots reach your heart."


Tuesday, August 9, 2016


One day I woke up and realized my kids had become teenagers before my very eyes, and we were long overdue for a family vacation. When I asked them where they wanted to go, they said "Yosemite", and since I hadn't been there in about 30 years, it seemed like I was long overdue for a trip there. We picked out a few other things we wanted to do between here and California, like visit a fire lookout tower in the Mt. Shasta area and see Hamlet at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and we made a backcountry reservation to backpack a couple of nights in the park. With a little planning, we had a legitimate family vacation to look forward to in the summer.

Driving to California took all of a day, and we made it to a state park near Yosemite just after dark. The next morning we made it into the park and caught our first glimpses of El Capitan and Half Dome. I had seen pictures and watched all kinds of Ken Burns documentaries, but I really had no concept of the scale of these peaks. I have seen a lot of mountain ranges, but this was impressive on a different level. Having grown up by the Olympic Mountains and now living in the Oregon Cascades, I'm used to layers of mountains building up to high peaks and rolling on as far as you can see. Here, the mountains rise out of the valley floor like towering giants out of nowhere. It's quite a humbling perspective. We enjoyed the views from the car on our way out to Glacier Point Road and our trailhead, and backpacked in to Ostrander Lake the first night (more on that in the next post.) 

After two days in the backcountry, we hiked out and visited Glacier Point since we were so close already, and took in some breathtaking views before heading down to drive the loop through the main valley. Nothing could have prepared me for the enormity of the mountains from the valley floor, nor for the standstill traffic jam that ensued for the next 3 hours. Both were memorable in their own right.

We saw some pretty amazing things while we were sitting in the Great Yosemite Summer Traffic Jam, so all in all that was a good experience. The rangers told us we could stay in any backpacker's camp in the park for one night following the dates of our backcountry permit, so we made the drive out to Tuolumne Meadows and arrived right at dusk. It seems that rolling into campsites late was the theme of our trip, but to be fair, we had a lot of ground to cover. Tuolumne Meadows was a great place to wake up and enjoy the morning before heading out of the park, and we got to meet some interesting people heading off on their own backpacking adventures on the PCT, John Muir Trail, and other nearby trails. That backpacker's camp was a happening place!

Although our time in Yosemite National Park was brief, I saw enough amazing things in three days to know I need to make another trip back. The kids were equally impressed, which I consider a great accomplishment where teenagers are involved, and I think their interest was sparked to return to Yosemite for more backcountry explorations. All the writings of John Muir about the majestic mountains and valleys of Yosemite make sense to me in a much more concrete way now, and I love imagining what it must have been like coming across the valley for the first time. We are extremely lucky to have all of our National Parks, but this one is a gem.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Just Peaches!

After all these years of homesteading, I finally grew a peach tree!

 And it finally grew some peaches!

And I finally got to eat them!

Everything is just peaches.

Homebrewing Sparkling Rose Petal Wine

I don't know what it was about this spring, but it was all about the flowers. A friend mentioned to me that she was wanting everything flowery and colorful in her culinary endeavors, and I was right there with her on that. From lavender syrups, to rose petal jelly, to lilac wine, to calendula petals in my salad every day, I just wanted to infuse my life with flowers. After trying out a rose petal jelly recipe in June, I decided I didn't want to stop there, and tackled a sparkling rose petal wine recipe that caught my eye. I came across this recipe on the And Here We Are blog (which is great by the way) and went for it on a flowery whim:

First, I had to pick rose petals. A lot of rose petals. This worked out, because we have quite a few old climbing roses growing around this homestead.

Basically this is like a tea wine, where the plant is boiled and strained off leaving the remaining liquid to add sugar and yeast to. The rose petals faded considerably while they were boiling, which would have been really disappointing if I hadn't read about the surprise involved in the recipe. (Yes, there is a surprise!!!) When the lemon juice was added in, it was nothing short of impressive to watch the reaction of the pale pink liquid bursting into bright pink. At this stage the wine was beautiful to look at, but I felt like it didn't smell rosey enough. My variety of rose was likely less of a fragrant one, so I added in a little rosewater that I keep in the cabinet for cooking tasty desserts. This made a huge difference in the aroma flavor. This wine was definitely smelling like a rose!

To get the sparkling part to happen, I bottled the wine in flip top bottles after only a couple of weeks to let it keep fermenting and retain it's bubbly personality. The bottles need to be stored in a cool place (our root cellar in this case) and "burped" periodically to avoid explosion. It's a little high maintenance, but that sparkling aspect is completely worth it.

I have to say, this is my favorite thing I have ever brewed. It's light and refreshing, tastes like a summer garden and the bubbles make it feel like you're celebrating with something extra fancy. In fact, I think I will need to have a garden party in this wine's honor! Summer is fleeting, but the flowers don't have to be, so if you have an inclination to preserve or brew things for the winter, this will definitely keep summer going in your wineglass!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Homebrewing French Lilac Wine

In the continuing saga of my wild botanical homebrewing endeavors, I was enjoying the lilac flowers a while back, and decided to brew something with them. I looked through a few lilac cordial recipes before finding this French lilac wine recipe from Leslieland that was exactly what I was looking for:

Her description was impressive, especially following her opinion that homemade wine is usually awful; "It was sweet and not sweet at the same time, full-bodied but not cloying, wonderfully aromatic of lilacs, sort of like – well, not like anything." If this homebrew non-believer had been converted by this wine, I clearly needed to make it.

One of the things I liked about the recipe was the primary fermentation occurring in a crock. I had been meaning to get a crock for fermenting sauerkraut for some time (I had just been doing it in the quart jars) and this was the perfect excuse. Once I brought it home, there was just something very comforting about having a crock sitting on the counter. The Montrachet yeast was very active, and it made little fizzing sounds out from under the piece of loose foil I put over the top.

 I got it siphoned into the carboy after a week of bubbling away in the crock, and let it ferment about three months until activity ceased.

Since I failed to taste the wine when I was putting it into the carboy to ferment, bottling day was filled with anticipation. I was not disappointed, and the wine has an amazing floral flavor different from any other I've tried. It's close to a white dessert wine, but that flowery lilac essence is very distinctive. From what I hear, this wine gets better and better with age, so I'm going to wait a year before I open a bottle to give it another taste. 

Lilacs are fleeting, they bloom for a few weeks and then you have to wait another year to enjoy them, but I think I've figured out a great way to enjoy the lilacs all year round. I won't lie, I'm feeling pretty darn pleased with myself as a botanical homebrewer right now.