Eclipse from the Ruby Mountains

Scouting over maps of the path of October 14’s annular eclipse, I spotted a potentially nice area to view it in the lovely Ruby Mountains of central Nevada (south of Elko) – an area I had never explored before. Darlene was off to visit Maine with her sister and Hera had been having more health issues but she seemed to have stabilized again when I decided to go ahead and pack up my bike and telescopes in the van and head out a couple days in advance to secure a nice spot.

I found a spot with a gorgeous panoramic view on Harrison Pass that was somewhat isolated from the access road – and the soon-to-be-gathering small crowd of vehicles and campers.  I set up and tested my cameras and telescopes the day before the eclipse and also did a bit of exploring by mountain bike on what turned out to be some nasty steep ATV roads.

Two-minute video of the annular eclipse

The sky started out fairly clear as the eclipse began but unfortunately the cooling air seemed to form more and more clouds as the time of max eclipse approached.  It looked like we were going to be completely overcast and I could see and hear lots of folks jumping in their cars and driving down the highway to try to find some open sky.  As it turned out though, the clouds thinned enough to give a filtered view of the full annular “ring of fire”.  And sure enough, the clouds dissipated as the moon began to uncover the sun again.  Maybe a mountain ridge viewing point wasn’t such a great idea given that mountains tend to attract cloud cover even without the cooling effect of an eclipse.  At any rate, the eclipse viewing was a success.

 

I decided to cut the trip short due to Hera’s deteriorating health but then the van broke down as I got to Elko: check engine light on and lots of codes saying half the cylinders were misfiring – and on a Sunday when all the repair shops are closed.  I eventually got a 24/7 mobile mechanic service to check it out but they recommended taking it to the one Ford dealer in town as it was going to be an extensive diagnosis and repair, and should be under warranty anyway.  (Only 21,000 miles on the van.)  Apparently driving it too far in this state could cause serious engine damage so I spent two nights in the Ford service parking lot.  First waiting for them to open on Monday morning and then waiting most of Monday for a technician to become available. Something’s failed with the VCT (variable camshaft timing) system and it’s going to be a multi-day repair job (engine take-apart) but they can’t even locate parts right now due to the UAW strike including closures of many parts warehouses across the country.  So I decided to rent a minivan, transfer everything out and head home with Hera.  Once again, the van is kaput and in a shop far away.


Update (11/10/2023): It took three weeks but eventually the UAW strike ended and they repaired the engine over three days.  Darlene and I drove out in my car (with Hera) to pick it up.

Before heading out of Elko, I noticed the fresh water tank was empty – which seemed very weird.  Why would they go to the trouble to find and open the dump valve?  We found a place to refill and it was nearly full before I stepped out and noticed all the water draining through the side door of the van.  Turns out the water pump filter/strainer had burst.  I should’ve emptied the tanks and pipes before leaving it because it apparently got cold enough to freeze and bust things.  I didn’t think about it before I left the van there amidst all the worry about the engine failure, my sick cat and being stranded in Elko for who knows how long.

The scary thing was that the water was flooding the electrical compartment.  It was right on the edge of submerging the fuse box.  It was dumb luck I caught it when I did.  I don’t know what would’ve happened – shorted out, started a fire?  Anyway, I stopped the fill and we sat there for a while letting things drain before moving the van for fear of shifting the water and making contact and then who knows what.

When we got home I investigated further and found that I was able to replace the little $10 pump filter part and there were no other leaks.
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Carson/Ebbetts Passes

One year after the camper van was rear-ended and a very long time at a body ship plus several more months getting rebuilt and outfitted, Darlene and I (and Hera) were finally able to head out in the van again for some exploration. We ended up camping out in four different dispersed spots we found over not quite two weeks in an area of the Sierra Nevada between Carson and Ebbetts Passes (often near the Pacific Crest Trail), going exploring by mountain biking, hiking and geocaching.

 

We had nice weather the whole time except for some wildfire smoke that started to blow in on the last couple of days.  We cut the trip a couple days short to avoid getting caught out in a bit of snow forecast for the higher elevations.

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A Tahoe Layover

Heading out in the newly restored camper van, Darlene and I had a bit of an unexpected layover in Tahoe as several house maintenance and repair chores ended up taking a lot more time and Hera developed a new health issue.  We did take a few days off for some mountain biking including some of the trails from the house near Brockway Summit and taking the Emigrant Trail out to Stampede Reservoir from Prosser Creek.

We also joined Mike and Nanci on the Flume Trail (a well known trail that overlooks Lake Tahoe along the east shore).  We started at Spooner Lake, climbed up to Marlette Lake where Mike went for a brief swim and we took a snack break:

We then joined the Flume Trail where Mike promptly tumbled off trail somehow and tangled himself in his bike frame. Happily no one chose to tumble off the steep slopes of the Flume Trail proper but then Nanci had a nasty fall on the ride down the Tunnel Creek Road.  With help from several others, we ended up waiting for emergency services to drive a buggy up to treat her with pain meds and move her down to a waiting ambulance.  At the Truckee hospital, she was found to have broken a clavicle and a rib.  Ouch, not the most fun way to end the day!

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Summer Board Gaming

This is a gallery of pictures from another summer season of board gaming, including: 49, Flamecraft, Plague Inc., Thunder Road: Vendetta, Yedo, Merv, Atlantic Star, Eclipse, Middle Earth Quest, Chinatown, Quacks of Quedlinburg, Dominant Species, Dead by Daylight, Camel Up!, Hegemony, Clank! Catacombs, Evolution: Climate, Cosmic Encounter, Brian Boru: High King of Ireland, Horrified, Heroes of Land, Air & Sea, Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers, Game of Thrones, Bus, The Networks, Thunderstone Quest, Campaign Trail and Heat.

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Darlene’s Family Visit

Darlene’s mom Alice and her sisters Kathy and Shel came out for a visit to Santa Cruz.  They hit up the Monterey Bay Aquarium, stayed overnight at the Monterey Zoo, visited the Santa Cruz boardwalk, visited Alice’s sister Betty, did a few laps of indoor go cart racing, experienced a drone flight over the bay, a little virtual reality and a bit of video gaming.

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In Memory of Pan

 

I’m writing this four months later… we lost Pan on July 3rd after an attempt to treat a reoccurrence of his heart failure.  This was really hard to take. He was my best buddy.  Whatever I was doing, he was always nearby.  He would follow me from room to room, hang out with me while I was on my computer, be in the midst of whatever project I was working on or in my lap while reading or watching TV.  He just had to be on the table with us when we were playing board games.  He’d run to join me if I went out to the garage or in the yard and cry and pout in the litter box if I couldn’t take him with me when I was going out.

On road trips, he insisted on being in my lap or on the countertop behind my shoulder in the camper van.   He was up on the bathroom counter sink to watch me and wait while I brushed my teeth and then get his drink from the tap. Then he’d immediately leap to the bed to join me on my pillow when I went to sleep. He slept curled up against my face, under my chin or on my head every night – as close as possible.  His signature greeting was his head butt to the face and nose-to-nose rubs – the same initial greeting he gave me when I got down on my knees at the animal shelter way back in March of 2009 and he picked me out.  He’s been a near constant, joyful presence ever since.  Darlene and I miss him terribly.

 

 

In June, he started refusing his meds and not eating enough to get his meds that way.  Over a few weeks it became clear that his breathing was starting to become more labored again.  The last time this happened, a couple of years ago, the vet was able to tap and drain the fluid from his chest, start him on some medications and he bounced right back.  He did just fine over the next couple of years despite their warning at the time that he probably only had limited months left.  So when I brought him on the Friday ahead of the 4th of July weekend to request a repeat of the chest tap, I totally expected that it would go like before.

He was happy and active when I brought him in for the procedure on Friday and it seemed to go well but his health deteriorated over the subsequent 48 hours. By Monday morning, it was clear he was in serious trouble and we took him to the emergency hospital in Santa Cruz.  On a phone call a few hours later, we were told he was in a terrible state with three opposing conditions – the treatment for any one of them would exacerbate the other two.  It would apparently take many days of intensive care with a highly unlikely probability for success.  To avoid putting him through all that, we made the decision to go with their recommendation to euthanize.

Here’s a gallery of selected pictures and videos from my 14 years with him:

Spring Skiing in Tahoe

Tahoe got just a little bit more snow in the first week of May, but Darlene and I couldn’t make it up until this past week – just as the temperatures climbed back into the high 50’s and low 60’s.  We got in three short days at Alpine and Palisades – bailing mid-day each day as the snow started getting grabby.  I got to try my new X-Wing pilot costume and Darlene borrowed my Marvin the Martian outfit:

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Nacho & Adriana’s Fiesta en España

As a follow-up to their “Not-A-Wedding” in Costa Rica last August, Nacho and Adriana hosted another party in late April – this time in Palencia, Spain so that more friends and family could join in the celebration.  Darlene and I were able to join and we made an extended trip out of it with a coastal hiking trip in Portugal and a multi-city tour through Spain before joining everyone in Palencia.

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An Intrepid Tour of Spain

Upon completion of our hiking trip in Portugal, Darlene and I flew to Madrid and immediately joined the guided group tour we booked with Intrepid Travel.  We met our guide, Sergi, who quickly proved to be both quite enthusiastic and entertaining, along with our nine fellow travelers (mostly Aussies) and David, a guide-in-training preparing for his upcoming first tour.

Here’s the link to all the galleries from the trip.

Day 2: Toledo

Our first full day was a day tour to Toledo from Madrid to explore the old walled city – and for Darlene to buy boxes of marzipan from the nuns at the convent.

Days 3-4: Seville

We were then off by high-speed train to Seville where we spent two days and nights to see the city.  We lucked out at the normally very crowded Plaza de España as it was being cordoned off in preparation for a concert and we swung by the replica of the Victoria, the only ship to return from Magellan’s circumnavigation voyage.  We skirted around Seville’s bullfighting ring, Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza and wandered through the shopping district.  We had a wonderful local guide show us around the amazing royal palace and gardens, Real Alcázar de Sevilla (also home to scenes of Dorne from the Game of Thrones tv series) and we wandered around the immense Seville Cathedral (one of the largest in the world), which was originally a grand mosque.  Lastly, we attended a flamenco performance on our final evening.

 

Day 5: Córdoba

Our next overnight stop was Córdoba, home to an amazing and incredible grand mosque – a mosque so large that a huge cathedral could be built within the center of it.  Our walking tour continued around the old town and that evening we got to see an Andalusian equestrian show.  (No pics or video allowed during the performance.) The following day, on the road to Granada, we stopped in at a olive oil mill and learned first-hand how olive oils are taste-tested.

Days 6-7: Granada

We stayed two nights in Granada whose star attraction is The Alhambra, a medieval fortress and series of palaces chiefly built by the Moorish monarchs of Granada.  We enjoyed a walking tour through various parts of the old city and there was also much shopping.  For the Alhambra, we had a daytime tour of the fortress (or Alcazaba) and the Generalife palace and gardens but then we were able to return after dark for a mesmerizing tour of the Comares Palace grounds and a quick peek into the more recent Palace of Charles V.

Days 8-9: Valencia

On the way to Valencia, we had a short stopover in Elche as a break for the long drive, where we saw a couple of renditions of the “Lady of Elche”.  Unfortunately our bus broke down and we had to wait for a replacement to come and get us.  We made it to Valencia eventually and the following day we walked around the impressive structures making up the City of Arts and Sciences – a substantial public space including science and art museums, opera house, planetarium and aquarium.  Would’ve been fun to check it out in more detail but our day was already filled with a trip out to and boat ride on Albufera Lake with a lunch of traditional Spanish paella and then a walking tour around the older quarter of Valencia.

Days 10-11: Barcelona

We had a long drive from Valencia to Barcelona and our group tour with Intrepid Travel came to a close in Barcelona, but not after a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter including La Rambla, the Mercat de La Boqueria (a popular marketplace), the Barcelona Cathedral and a farewell dinner.  We stayed on an extra night and took a tour of one of Gaudi’s amazing architectural and design wonders, the Casa Batló – so very worth the admission and the crowds.  We also explored the Gothic Quarter a bit more on our own and went through the Maritime Museum of Barcelona – before Darlene collapsed asleep on a bench.

 

Days 12-13: Madrid

The Intrepid Travel trip actually started in Madrid and some folks took in some of the sights ahead of the trip start but we didn’t have time between our Portugal trip and this one, so we flew back to Madrid after Barcelona for a day and a half of sightseeing with Jennifer before we all boarded a train for the upcoming party in Palencia.  We managed to get in a Segway tour of the huge El Retiro Park and visit the Prado Museum, the Cathedral of Santa Maria and take in the full royal palace tour (Palacio Real de Madrid) – mostly no pics allowed in the palace though.

Click through for the full gallery of our Spain tour!

Also, here’s a flyover I recorded in VR in MS Flight Simulator of several of the cities we visited:

Hiking Coastal Portugal

Darlene and I joined Glenn and Michele for a weeklong trip with BikeHike Adventures in Portugal and our wonderful local guide Pedro and driver Filipa.  Our trip started with a day tour of Lisbon and continued with hiking days along various portions of the Portuguese coast as we worked our way south, including portions of the Vicentina Trail (or Rota Vicentina). We visited a tile workshop to see how Portugal’s azulejo tiles are created and got to try our hand at painting our own tiles.  Our trip ended with a visit to our guide’s mountain home town and enjoying a home-cooked meal from his mom at his uncle’s distillery before the return all the way back to Lisbon.

Unfortunately, Darlene came into the trip with a lingering respiratory illness and we didn’t think she was still infectious until I started getting symptoms – sore throat, congestion and eventually frequent coughing fits.  Darlene sat out one day’s hiking and we both took a day off to try to sleep and recover, the two of us missing out on the hike to Cabo San Vicente, the southwestern-most point in Europe.  We all masked up once it became clear I was getting sick, but Glenn and Michele ended up getting infected by the end of the trip anyway.  And we all had to deal with it for our ongoing travel – Darlene and I on to Spain and Glenn and Michele continuing on in northern Portugal, Spain and the Azores.

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Winter Board Gaming

Pictures from another winter season of board gaming, including Paris, Lost Ruins of Arnak, CloudAge, The Great Wall, Dead Reckoning, Flamme Rouge, Just One, Spirit Island, Quacks of Quedlinburg, Crazy Karts, Star Wars Risk, Bohnanza, Finger Guns at High Noon, The Hunger, Master Labyrinth, Aquatica, Spy Alley, Sushi Go Party, Ready Set Bet, Captain Sonar, Rocketmen, Heat: Pedal to the Metal, Roll Camera, Ark Nova, Quadropolis, Dinosaur Island, Great Western Trail: Argentina, Mountain Goats and CuBirds.

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Even Greater Gobs of Snow

Darlene and I headed back up to Tahoe at the end of February to meet up with Jon, Stan and Bill for our annual weeklong group ski trip. Storm after storm is continuing to dump massive amounts of snow in the Sierra Nevada – 53 feet over the season at Palisades so far.  We were able to come up in a slight break in the back-to-back storms hitting Tahoe (and all of California), but we had to take the long way out because highway 17 (through the low elevation, coastal Santa Cruz mountains) was actually closed due to snow – a very rare occurrence.

There were travel troubles all around with Jon’s flight cancelled and Stan coming up early to try to beat the storm.  We were joined by Resi and Aiden on Saturday before they had to rush back ahead of the next incoming storm.  We spend the day trying to clear some of the snow and ice from the deck, roof and stairs.  So much ice keeps building up on the deck and the stairs below from the ice-melting heat trace on the roof above – it actually was overflowing the threshold of the sliding doors below, freezing them in place and leaking water into the house.

Geof and Jennifer were also able to come up and stay for the week through the storms.  Unfortunately, Geof got seriously ill and ended up quarantined in a room for much of the week.  But then even the resorts had difficulties: closing early Monday, remaining closed Tuesday and only partially open the following day due to the massive amounts of new snow in such a short period. We did still manage to get multiple days of skiing in over our stay.

4.5 minute video montage of our week of Tahoe skiing

I joined Troy at Homewood on Sunday and then Jon, Stan and Bill at Northstar on Monday (until they closed early).  The resorts remained closed Tuesday and were still trying to dig out on Wednesday when I joined Troy again for the one lift that Homewood was able to get running.  Darlene joined me, Jon, Stan and Bill at Alpine and Palisades for much of Thursday and Friday, while Geof and Jennifer hit up the same resorts separately and Kat joined us for board gaming Friday night.  Darlene and I returned to Palisades and Northstar the following Monday and Tuesday before we had to make our way home again ahead of the next wave of storms – this time bringing warm temps and rain.

A drone flyover of the house to survey the current snow load as of early March.

There’s something like over 10 feet of ice and compacted snow on the roof right now.  Hopefully it will sustain the load and the incoming heavy snow and rain until our roof is scheduled to get at least partially cleared of snow late next week!

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Great Gobs of Snow

Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada are known for huge amounts of snow but it’s still fun to enjoy great gobs of it as records are broken.  The Tahoe area has been running over 200% of average since December and it has kept on coming.  We’ve already exceeded the total season average here of 400 inches (as has Mammoth Mountain, further south in the Sierra) and it’s only early February!

I posted some pics and video in early January, then we were off to Vail for a previously-planned week-long ski trip.  So this gallery is catching up on pictures and video from mid-January as well as a rush back up to join Troy and Aiden for another nice storm in early February.  We hit up Northstar, Alpine Meadows and of course lots of Homewood on powder days:

3.5-minute video montage from mid-January to early February

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Snow in Tahoe Again

We’re off to a strong snow season in the Sierra this year with over 200% of average already and some big 24-hour dumps like 35 inches just over New Year’s Eve!  (That storm we actually missed as we went home to Santa Cruz for the weekend.)  Darlene and I spent a few weeks in Tahoe starting in mid-December and then I came back for more through early January as she went to visit her family.  We hit up Palisades, Northstar, Heavenly and Homewood and were joined at times by Resi, Troy and Aiden over the past month.

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