Thursday, September 29, 2016

Currently: September

Currently living/working in: Teaching kids environmental education at Fenton Ranch in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. We've finished up the fifth and fourth graders and have moved onto our last unit with second graders! This season goes lightening-fast! 
I’ve taken the kids wading in our backyard creek about 15 times this season! This is a shallow area, but it gets up over my knees in some parts. 

Current mood: Happy, although sick (see “not excited about”).

Currently excited about: I mentioned that J & I accepted the position of caretakers for Fenton Ranch through the winter. So starting Nov. 1, I am diving into full-time book-writing!!! I am hopeful I will be able to finish the writing process of my book by Christmas! 

Currently not excited about: Kids’ germs. I’ve been told that working around kids means constantly fighting off their fierce germs. I typically have a rock-solid immune system, but it has been seriously compromised! I even had to get on an antibiotic, something I haven’t done in 10 years! 

Currently worried about: Our newfound cat, Mrs. Gibbles. She is the sweetest “barn” cat, and we are trying to domesticate her since we live in such a wild area. We are afraid she will be eaten by a coyote, owl or something bigger since she spends the majority of her time outside and she already came home with a bitten tail. We are working on getting her to a vet, but living in a remote area and working from sun up to sun down makes that a bit challenging. 

Currently thankful for:  Our van is currently taking a rest, but I still can’t believe we put about 10,000 miles on it across 18 states in less than 2 months. Can't wait to do it again next summer and add more states. 
Currently proud of: I love all these side writing projects I obtain writing on different blogs. In one of the latest on Cloudline’s blog, I was able to feature our oldest nephew and our Alaskan adventure with him. 

Currently amazed by: These kids we are teaching. We don’t really have a comparison to teaching in a public school setting, but this group of private school kids blows our mind with their knowledge and integrity. 

Current guilty pleasure: Justin purchased an antenna to put on our roof to be able to watch football. Yes, they still make antennas. However, we are so shrouded among the mountains that we can only receive Fox and a static-filled NBC. Better than driving 45 minutes to a small town bar that has one single TV with a cracked screen, I suppose. 

Currently reading: Just finished Thru Hiking Will Break Your Heart: An Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail by Carrot Quinn. At first, this book was a little slow to get into. Just the mundane details of a PCT hike. But then, it picked up with more emotions and I really admire Carrot’s honest writing style.  

Currently watching on Netflix: We still have the Netflix DVD plan, but we’ve been watching the 11-22-63 mini series. This 8-part DVD is based on Stephen King’s book, 11-22-63, one of our favorite books. They definitely altered the TV show from the book—in some ways we dislike—but it is still good. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Fall Scenes From Fenton Ranch

Sorry for the radio silence around here! Turns out this working thing is really, really time-consuming. I know you just cursed my name since we typically only work 6 months out of the year, but my defense is that our environmental educator role at Fenton Ranch has us going pretty much nonstop from Monday at 9am until Friday at 1pm and kids are freakin exhausting.

Enough of my excuses. We are loving fall at Fenton Ranch. There is still a good bit of wildflower ecstasy around the property, and the temps are crisp with late-afternoon thunderstorms that leave smoke rising from the valley above the Jemez Mountains and fiery evening skies. I am eternally grateful that our wandering souls find jobs in such gorgeous locations.

The other news is we are staying all winter! The school hired us to be winter caretakers and I am ecstatic to see what winter is like at Fenton Ranch. Could it be more beautiful than the spring and fall we've experienced? I will be sure to let you know.

Last spring when we worked as environmental educators at Fenton, we lived in a staff cabin. It was very cozy quarters, but it had no bathroom. Now that we are officially the caretakers, we get our very own cabin with a bathroom and kitchen!

Anyway, just thought I'd check in and give you a short snippet of life lately. We have fifth, fourth and then second graders this session, which runs through October. We have completed the fifth grade program, which we both loved immensely. It was all about the seven principles of Leave No Trace. Very fitting since J and I are Leave No Trace Master Educators and in fact, met our Fenton boss Jamie while taking that weeklong course. Our environment needs more protection and if the fifth graders can put just one principle into practice, than we've done our part as stewards of the planet!

Friday, September 9, 2016

High Point #40: Wheeler Peak, New Mexico

We bagged our 40th state high point this past weekend: New Mexico's Wheeler Peak at 13,161 feet.

We had planned to do this one last spring when we were living and working here, but the trail was snow-covered through May. With that in mind, we didn't want to wait too long this fall, as winter could hit the mountains at any time. So even though we knew it would be crowded, Labor Day weekend seemed like the best fit.

Long holiday weekend aside, Wheeler Peak is always a popular hike that draw in the crowds, especially given the trailhead's location right at the Taos Ski Valley.

New Mexico only has 5 mountains over 13,000 feet, with this being the tallest. There are 2 routes up Wheeler: Bull of the Woods and Williams Lake. It used to be that the Williams Lake route was treacherous without an established trail. But that has changed in recent years and now there is a very well trodden path of switchbacks leading to the peak.
You can see Taos Ski Area in the background.
We chose the Williams Lake route because it makes for a very nice--albeit short--overnight backpacking trip into the Wheeler Peak Wilderness of the Carson National Forest. I wanted to backpack so we could camp at 11,000 feet to give me a little more acclimatization, but also because alpine lakes are just so awesome. Williams Lake sits in a beautiful cirque nestled at the foot of Wheeler.

The Williams Lake trailhead is only 2 miles uphill from the Bull of the Woods trailhead, but we parked at the Bull of the Woods trailhead in the lower lot of the ski valley and walked the extra 2 miles on the road to save The Wanderer from climbing any more steep and hairpin hills. Even from the Bull of the Woods parking area, our total roundtrip mileage for the trip was still only 9 miles!

From Williams Lake on Sunday morning, our summit day was just about 5 miles roundtrip. We left early to avoid the typical afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains. Lightening was not a problem though; the wind was. As we climbed higher and higher, it got blustery. Our estimate was gusts up to 40 mph! I had to put every layer on me.
Also, roaming bighorn sheep and tremendous 360-degree views are supposed to be synonymous with Wheeler. You can see the Rio Grand canyon to the west, Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Range to the north and so on. All we saw was the inside of a ping pong ball! There might have been a bighorn sheep next to me, but I wouldn't have known.
Still, it was a successful summit. Though it was 13,161 feet, my lungs did fine. I'm guessing living at 8,000 feet, acclimating by sleeping at Williams Lake and the fact that the hike itself was relatively easy contributed to my success, but I just think the effects of altitude are erratic. I never know what I am going to get.

That concludes our 2016 summer of highpointing. Four successful summits (King's, White Butte, Elbert and Wheeler) and one attempt (Denali) to mark 40 highpoints before 40 years!