Arkansas and Dakotas Trip

My lease ended May 1st and instead of renewing, we decided to move out and spend the summer travelling. There was quite a bit of preparation needed to give up the apartment and live in the car for the summer. This post describes some of the prep and the first trip we took to Arkansas and the Dakotas.

Here are the photos

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Sandhill Cranes

We took a trip to Bosque del Apache to see the Sandhill cranes which winter in the marshes around the Rio Grande river in New Mexico.

Each night the cranes fly in from the surrounding area and sleep in a shallow flooded ‘lake’. In the morning, they fly out to find food. They move at dawn and dusk and it takes about an hour for all the birds to arrive and depart.

Along with the cranes, there were lots of snow geese, ducks and a variety of smaller birds. We saw one roadrunner.

Along with watching the birds, we did a couple hikes. One up to Chupadera mountain which had a small but interesting canyon of hard volcanic rock. The second was to Mount Baldy where we saw a small tarantula.

Check out the photo gallery.

Redwoods and Coastlines

We took a trip to Northern California to see the redwoods. We drove out through Salt Lake City and spent two weeks exploring the Redwoods State parks and the beaches at the very north end of California. We mostly camped in the car, but there were a couple nights in a tent on the beach and a few night inside.

It is a beautiful area – wet and lush with mosses and mushrooms everywhere. The redwoods are stunningly huge trees that change the whole ecosystem around them and create a unique environment. The coast there is rugged and dramatic with lots of beaches and rocks in the water.

While we were there it rained a lot and we got wet a few times, but it also made for pretty fog and low clouds. On one night car camping in the forest, it was so dark that we literally could not see our hands in front of our face or the outlines of the trees against the sky. The moon hadn’t risen yet, the clouds were thick and the trees were tall and dense and it was pitch black. You couldn’t tell if your eyes were open or closed.

It was a really good trip and we took a ton of pictures. I’ve finally sorted through them and posted a gallery here.

Family Trip

I took a trip with Mom and Dad to see Ryan and family in Pennsylvania. We all stayed at Ryan’s place near Stroudsburg. It was my first time seeing my brother, niece and nephew since COVID. It was very nice to see everyone again and catch up with the kids.

The area around my brother’s place is wooded and quiet. While we were there we went swimming, kayaking and for a couple hikes. We also played a lot of board games and outdoor games with the kids.

More photos for family in the password protected gallery.

Working again

I started a full time job last November. I’m a UCAR employee working for USGS. The job is 100% remote. I’m working on a project to modernize and replace legacy water use tracking and reporting software. The stack is PostgreSQL, Node.js, Nest.js, Vue.js. All deployed on Amazon web services.

I wasn’t able to get them to hire me as a contractor, but I’ve had very little interaction with UCAR outside of timecards and benefits. UCAR has good benefits and seem to be a good company. My only complaint is that the base salary is a bit below market.

This has been a large change from touch game development in many ways:

  • Working 9-5. There is certainly a lot of flexibility in my schedule, but much less than before. This took a while to get used to again and I’m still not thrilled with needing to be up at particular times for meetings and needing to coordinate vacations around work.
  • Javascript. The backend is typescript, but this has still been a big change from working in C#. Modern javascript/typescript is much better than it was in 2007 when I last worked with it. However, it is still a downgrade from C# and Linq. I do have to admit that it is a useful skill to improve.
  • Working with other people
  • Getting paid

The difference between this job and my last full time job is also significant:

  • Not having to dress up, pack a lunch, commute, and be trapped at the office makes the work so much nicer.
  • When I want to take a break, I can do something that I really enjoy instead of wandering around at the office.
  • It is harder to leave work behind at the end of the day, and I’m using my own hardware and A/C.
  • Zoom meetings are less frustrating than in-person. If they start on a topic I don’t care about, I can get some other work done.
  • I also feel like this job is doing something useful for the world. I’m more motivated by making a system for scientists than I was creating software at Raytheon. Even when I was working on the GPS project (which I though was going to feel useful), I was working on such a tiny component and the pace was so slow that it still didn’t seem like a good use of time.

Overall, the job is going well. I tentatively plan to stick with it for a while. I’d like to work fewer hours and have more flexibility on time off. I hope they will be OK with some leave without pay for the occasional long trip.

Trips to Silver City and the Wheeler Geologic area

I took a vacation and met Kira in Silver City NM on her bike tour. We spent several days in town while I worked and then went camping in the Gila forest. We hiked in and camped one night near the Jordan Hot Springs. The town of Silver City was fun and we saw lots of galleries and a local museum. The hike was nice with lots of river crossings. The hot springs was almost exactly body temperature and was very clear. We saw lots of tadpole and young frogs and all the stages in between. Photos.

In July we went to the Wheeler Geologic area near Creede CO. Again we just stayed one night in the area and camped a second night at the trail headed before I headed home. Kira continued on hiking and camping in the La Garita area. The geologic area was very impressive. It is made up of Hoodoos formed by soft volcanic ash underneath hard volcanic rock. The hard rock protects the soft rock from erosion causing pillars and other interesting rock formations. The trail takes you all the way around the geologic area. We also scrambled up a little canyon in the interior of the formation. Overall I was very impressed with the hoodoos and would definitely recommend the hike. Doing it in one day is possible, but would be a bit rushed. Photos.

Trip to Grand Canyon

We went to the Grand Canyon for a hiking and camping trip. This trip was delayed by COVID and had originally been planned for early April 2020. We almost made it in 2020, but they closed the Grand Canyon a few days before we were supposed to arrive.

We hiked down the Tanner Trail and camped for three nights at the river. The second day we hiked west along the Beamer trail and the third day we hiked east along the Escalante trail. The Tanner trail is about nine miles and the elevation change is almost one mile. It is steep at the beginning and at the end. On the way down my legs got really tired and I was glad to have hiking poles to keep myself upright. The way back out was more of a workout, but much easier on the legs. Hiking up and down both took about 9 hours.

The weather was nice while we were there, though it was pretty hot down in the canyon. I usually think of climbing up and it getting colder, but dropping a mile into the canyon meant that it was 17 degrees warmer at the river than the rim.

Here are a couple of the best photos. The rest are available here.

Silent Meditation Retreat

I’ve wanted to do a meditation retreat, but between the cost and the time commitment, I’ve never gone. So I decided that I’d try to recreate the retreat experience in my home. I settled on a period of three days and, with lots of help from a friend, made up a schedule and ground rules.

Overall it was a good experience. I definitely had some trouble with distractions. Staying in my home made it easier to be tempted by the internet and books. Even cleaning was looking like a fun activity. But it was good to spend a lot of time meditating. I didn’t have any “breakthroughs” or anything, but I did have some productive journaling and introspection.

The main type of meditation that I did was a mindfulness meditation. I’ve been doing mindfulness meditation regularly but not daily for several years and typically do a 30 minute session. One of my goals was to find out what a longer mindfulness session felt like. In my original schedule, I planed to start at 60 minutes and then two 90 minute sessions, a 120, and finally a 180.

That first 60 minute session felt really long. The first 90 minute session was also on the first day and I was not able to complete it. I just couldn’t stay focused and it felt like my “attention” muscle was worn out. After that I changed the schedule to have 60 minute sessions. That worked better, but it was still difficult if I wasn’t fully awake at the beginning of the session.

On the third day, my second hour long mindfulness meditation went really well. I was able to stay focused and my mind was mostly clear. After most sessions, my mind feels a bit more clear and relaxed, both tired and energized. This session had that same feel, but to a much greater degree. I also felt a new sensation of being extremely focused and present. All my actions and even physical movements felt like I was doing them with 100% intention and I had no distracting thoughts. That effect lasted for about 10 minutes and was very cool.

Something that I didn’t like were the noises of my apartment. I’d like to try another day of meditation somewhere with no distractions and no noise.

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Wind River Range

We went to Wind River range for a hiking and camping trip right before Labor Day. The weather was great and we even had mostly smoke-free skies.

We spent the first two nights in the car at the trailhead. The first night was planned, the second night was because it took a full day to fix the two flat tires we got on the drive up. Then we spent five days and four nights hiking and camping around the Cirque of Towers area.

The plan was to hike this route: https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/wyoming/cirque-of-towers-big-sandy

I’ve also posted a gallery of photos.

Utah Trip

We had made reservations to camp at the bottom of the Grand Canyon in early April. As COVID became more serious and stay-at-home orders started coming out, we decided to leave Denver before it’s stay-at-home took effect.

It was still a couple weeks before our reservation at the Grand Canyon, so we started by going to Grand Junction and doing some hikes in Monument Canyon and a bike ride near Gateway.

After that hiked some of the Paradox trail.

At the end of March, Colorado issued a state wide stay-at-home and so we moved on to Utah. In Utah we did some biking and hiking near Blanding and Lake Powell.

Eventually the area of Utah we were in closed to out of county visitors and we moved over to Capitol Reef National Park.

Finally, we found out that the Grand Canyon was closed and we wouldn’t be able to do our planned hike. We headed back to Colorado, did one more hike in Monument Canyon and returned back to Denver to join the quarantine.

We’d horded enough food prior to the trip that we didn’t have to stop at an grocery stores on the way and we slept in the car or a tent. Our only contact with the world during the trip was at gas stations. Even there we only had to go inside a few times to restock water.