Thursday, July 31, 2008

So we went to the Tetons

where if we didn't have jobs we would be still. In the meantime, we're going to have to exist on memories and retirement plans of being campground hosts at Jenny Lake. (We saw the hosts, an elderly couple, chugging around in their golf cart collecting fees and bickering: "You did not read the instruction book, did you? If you had read the book, you would know . . ." And I though: We can totally do that. Wrangle me up one Airstream and we're set.)

As we expected, Jenny Lake campground was full when we arrived in the afternoon. The other campgrounds are nice, but this is the truly the holy grail of campgrounds: near the lake and right at the base of those mountains. 

Husband (needing to redeem himself after the truck-in-the-mud disaster) got up at 5:30 the next morning to go grab us the best campsite of the bunch (privacy, shade, near bathrooms but not too near). Perfecto!

We could leave our canoe in the water a short walk from our site and ride bikes to the nature center—all part of our car-use reduction plan. It doesn't get any better than that!

We had two full days that we filled with excellent outings.

First up was a paddle across Jenny Lake (bypassing the ferry that shuttles people across) to the base of the mountains. We quickly hiked through the nearby trail littered with tourists in inappropriate footwear (thanks to my girlfriend Diana, a self-proclaimed tourist of tourists, for alerting us to this invasive species) into Cascade Canyon, which runs behind the mountains you see from the lake.

For our lunch stop, we took a detour up this scree field to visit a some leftover snow.

Two knuckleheads decided the run off looked like a good place to strip down and take a shower. I wasn't one of them.

As you can see, I'm still dry.

After lunch, we hiked as far as the Cascade Canyon Fork, which meant that Sophie bagged her first nine mile hike! And that's not counting the scree climb, the paddle, or the to and fro between campsite and canoe. Thank goodness for kumquats, which were our only source of fluid after we drained our CamelBacks.

Along the way we saw a showshoe hare,

a big bull moose (right beside the trail munching on some water plants),

and some wildflowers.

The second full day was a paddle day. We put in the canoe at String Lake, paddled up that, and then portaged over to Leigh Lake. Our friends who loaned us the canoe did this portage without the nifty little wheels I purchased on their recommendation at REI. Best $70 I have ever spent. Plus, I have earned free canoe use for life.

Sophie had a major girl victory when we arrived at Leigh Lake. Two older boys were just getting out of their boat and informed her that the water was too cold for swimming but that they had just had a really rad water fight (one had on a wetsuit). She said she didn't mind cold water; they dared her. Big mistake on their part. At the word "dare," she dropped her clothes, jumped in,  and swam across to a small island, where we picked her up once we had the canoe in the water. I had to admit, the boys were gracious in their humiliation, giving her a three cheer salute from the beach.

All good stuff, but a visit to a National Park would not be a proper visit without someone completing the Junior Ranger program. Here's Sophie taking the pledge.

She earned a very nice patch, and we've made much hay out of it to get her to help with camp chores, pack out trash she sees on hikes, and identify wildflowers, which are all things rangers do.

We loved, loved, loved the Tetons, and leaving was hard. But Yellowstone was between us and the Montana ranch we were expected at in less than a week, so it was onward for the Figs.

Reports from Yellowstone coming up!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A protest! In Berkeley!

Can you imagine? We've got the Code Pink grannies protesting the Marine recruiting station (pretty bright, putting one of those in Berkeley) and a bunch of yahoos living in oak trees and pouring urine down on people so the university won't cut down the trees to build a sports complex (I don't think it's going to work).

And yesterday there were picketers in front of MacDonald's protesting that store's layoffs of several employees, some of whom are disabled. Fine thing, but why not broaden the scope a little to include selling food that is basically poisonous, marketing it aggressively and insidiously to children? 

They even had the nerve to market it to my kid. A few years ago, Sophie and I were riding on my motorscooter through downtown Berkeley when we were stopped by a red light in front of this very MacDonald's. "Mama!" she exclaimed, "What is that amazing smell?" And instead of arguing with her over the merits of that brainwashing smell or whether we were going to eat there, I lied: "I have absolutely no idea!" And stepped on the gas to gun us out of there. And no, she's never eaten there.

I  know people in Berkeley have a reputation for being ridiculous and intolerant, but I like to think I'm just ridiculous. Guess not when it comes to this subject.

Yep—I'm still working on those vacation pictures. But I just had to get that off my chest.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What else there is to do in Nevada besides gamble

Because we're cheap but apparently not very smart.

There are some holidays I like (Thanksgiving! Christmas!) and some I don't (New Years, Fourth of July). Holidays that involve food are good, but ones that involve mass highway travel, crowds of yahoos, and unreasonable expectations of merriment and hilarity are ones I can easily leave behind. For New Years, I'd rather hunker down in a mountain cabin with a few friends and pray for snow. For the Fourth, a group of us have often gone camping to places generally devoid of humanity, like the eastern Sierras. In my mind, best to ignore certain holidays other than to take advantage of the time off work they offer.

Along this line of thinking, we decided to make this July 4th a driving day. We would leave early in the morning, drive our asses off all day, and camp at a wild hot spring if we could find it. And we did just that, landing ourselves in Elko, Nevada about dinner time and realizing with a car sick kid who had eaten too much dried fruit with too little water that we were too late to make it to the hot spring to camp for dinner. We would eat in town. Have you ever tried to find an open restaurant in a small town on a national holiday? Not easy, but we did. The streets were mostly empty, but we found out where all the locals were hanging out having their dinner before the fireworks: the Nevada Dinner House, a local Basque restaurant, where Husband could enjoy a steak Fred Flintstone would have appreciated and I could have an entire dinner of side dishes (seriously, that was what it was called: Just the Sides). The barfy kid was revived by Basque soup (a sort of chicken noodle vegetable) and the kindness of various waitresses would brought her 7Up and saltines.

After dinner we stood on the sidewalk and watched the fireworks with the waitresses until they had to go back inside to finish off their tables and we had to search for a remote hot spring in the dark ten miles outside the next town up the highway.

It was veeeerrryyyy late by the time we plopped down our bags beside the truck and fell asleep under the most amazing starry sky I have seen in years. I fell asleep with my glasses on my face so I could see it.

The next morning after breakfast, we set out up the road for the spring. So far, so good. Until Husband got cross with me for gasping and clutching the dash as we crashed through mud holes. And until WE GOT STUCK.

That's me behind him with my best "I told you so" smirk on my face. Not that I was happy about it. (If you're wondering how we ended up in this position, we got stuck in the mud, and then Genius Driver gunned the truck in reverse, hanging up the rear axle and differential on this rock.)

Fast forward after SEVERAL HOURS of trying to jack up the back of the truck, cram pieces of wood under the back tire, etc. I ordered Husband to take his bike off and ride back to the ranch we passed to get help.

He did, and a very helpful man who runs a slick little side business pulling stupid people like us out of the mud appeared with a very big truck and a lot of chains. He got us out, but not before I was able to snap this lovely shot, where I honestly thought the truck was going to go over on its side in the mud.

We then decided to LEAVE THE TRUCK WHERE IT WAS and WALK TO THE HOT SPRING, where we all enjoyed a lovely soak.

This natural spring is in the ruins of an old swimming pool, not far from the ghost town of Metropolis, which was once home to a large Mormon agricultural community. Legend is that they used this pool for full-immersion baptisms. And that's all I'm going to say about that because the last time I blogged about Mormons (bottom of post, please) I got all kinds of hits from Google searches and at least one person was not at all amused by the humor I found in the resemblance between a certain temple and a certain cake.

Tomorrow: The Tetons!

p.s. Many thanks for the kind words and virtual hugs in response to my last post. I've gone through cycles of being mad, confused, insulted, and sad . . . finally settling, I think, on just plain sad. Oh well.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The easiest Thai dish ever:
Chile beef with fragrant herbs

For some reason when I come home from camping I always crave Thai food. Most of the Thai recipes I make at home are pretty easy, but the wok just won't fit on the camp stove. When I get home, this is often the first thing I make.


1 lb. tender lean beef, sliced thinly across the grain (I like flank steak)
2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar (regular sugar will do)

1/2 cup shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh basil leaves

Combine fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar and set aside.

Heat wok over high heat. When pan is hot, swirl to coat with oil and add shallot. Stir fry for about a minute. Add garlic and stir fry for about 30 seconds. Add beef and stir fry until just barely done.

Add sauce and leaves, cooking until leaves are just wilted.

And where is the chile? Right here!

I use this product, Thai chile sauce, instead of fresh chiles so I can better control the heat. Since Sophie is sensitive to heat, I portion off her serving and then add this to the rest. And since Husband likes food hotter than I, I put some on the table for him to add to his plate.
For sides I served coconut jasmine rice, which is just rice cooked in coconut milk instead of water. I use Trader Joe's lite coconut milk for this (for a curry I wouldn't use the lite version: too watery).

We also had steamed seasoned broccoli. To save washing a pan and season the broccoli, dish the chile beef into a serving dish and add about a cup of water to the wok—don't wipe it out. When the water is boiling, add the broccoli and cover. Cook until done. Season with a bit of soy sauce or Vietnamese table sauce. Here's the recipe for the latter.


1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons rice or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
one clove of garlic, minced
carrot, shredded

Combine and stir to dissolve sugar. This will keep in the refrigerator for several days and is just the thing to perk up any Asian leftovers.
And it wouldn't be a dinner at the Fig house if we didn't end with this:

And cleanup is so easy! Hot water comes right out of the tap—presto! No need to heat on camp stove! Do we live in luxury or what? Not that a view of the Tetons from my camp kitchen wasn't a form of luxury.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Back from vacation:
Reentering the atmosphere

It's hard, you know? We've been on the road, our little unit of three, and it's been tough to give up our vacation routine for our everyday home one. I love to sleep in a tent (and sometimes under the stars), cook on my Coleman stove, go to bed early and wake with the sun, and spend days hiking and teaching my daughter about the outdoors.

Thank goodness I had Husband to engineer such a disastrous last night that I was thankful for a roof over my head and my own bed. I was going to write a post titled something like "My husband is an idiot: Parts 1 and 2," but I'll try to be gracious and spin this in a positive way. After I finish describing the horror. Since Part 2 happened most recently, we'll start there.

We were on the last night of our two and a half day run home from Montana and stopped where we had spent our first night, at a wild hot spring outside Wells, Nevada. The springs are about 10 miles out of town, and the rancher who owns the land is pretty generous about allowing access to and camping on his land. In spite of the fact that this is one of the best wild hot springs I've ever been to (no sulfur stink, clean, uncrowded), I was dubious given that we had been driving through thunder storms much of the afternoon, and the sky over the canyon were we were headed looked ominous. Sure enough, we had barely driven in and picked our site before the rain began. Figuring we might as well keep warm and not worry about whether we were dry, we headed up the canyon on foot to wait out the storm soaking in the spring. So far, fine. The water felt great, and it was fun to be out in driving rain, watching the lightening and counting until the thunder boomed through the rocky canyon.

But here's where the problem began. Husband insisted "This is a thunderstorm! It will blow through! And maybe rain just a little bit more." I countered with "These are not thunderheads. Do you notice that the sky is black in three of four directions? It will stop, but then it will continue to storm." Guess who was right?

The rain did stop, and we took advantage of the break to make dinner. I mean I took advantage the break to make dinner, the wind blowing up my skirt with every gust (be glad I'm not showing you a picture of that!).

It did not get any better. Do I look happy?

Husband at least had the sense to place that beer in my hands. 

As usual, at least someone had a good time. The water in the creek that ran past our campsite was heated from the spring, and the current provided endless amusement for Sophie.

By the time we finished dinner, Husband and I were polarized. I preferred the idea of getting a room in town, reasoning that we could always put sleeping bags on the bed if the rooms were not up to snuff. At the least, we should get the tent up before the next downpour began. Husband insisted on staying in the canyon, refusing to put up the tent because he is an asshole he thought it would not hold in the wind (yes, we had stakes and line). He said he had an idea, which was to stake down overlapping tarps over our bags. In a moment of genius, I insisted he blow up the air mattress, not for comfort but to keep us off the ground and perhaps drier. I was pretty pissed, and he knew he had to give me at least this. 

I have to admit, his timing was good. Not a minute after we staked the tarps and squirmed in the thunder exploded and the rain hammered down on us. All night long. Not amusing. I don't consider myself claustrophobic, but having a tarp two inches from my face and pinned down on all sides had me on the brink of a panic attack half the night, especially when a hot flash struck. The only thing remotely amusing was the the one person who got wet when Husband's little system failed was Husband himself. Ha! At about three in the morning he announced "We're leaving! When the rain breaks next, we're out of here!" I pointed out that Sophie and I were at least dry, that we were not going to try to drive out of the canyon in the dark, and that we were not going anywhere. We stayed.

And in spite of how crappy I felt from an almost completely sleepless night, I couldn't argue with the beauty of the next morning.

Pictures of the spring itself in a later post because Part 1 of Husband's idiocy takes place remarkably at the same place. 

Did I say I was going to spin this in a positive way? I did. We were happy to arrive home, the horrible night dulling the pain of reentry into our home life. And Sophie was the first to spot this welcome sign:


More vacation blathering later, featuring the Tetons, Yellowstone, and Montana and including wild flowers, various wildlife, and a very proud national park Junior Ranger.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Figs have left the state

Have a great long weekend!

I'll probably be able to post when I get to Montana if I haven't been eaten by a bear. Until then . . .


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dude, I'm going to a ranch

Except what we're supposed to call it is a guest ranch. But yesiree, that's where I'm going. Right here.

My family went to this ranch several decades ago to celebrate my grandparent's fiftieth wedding anniversary. We're going there in a couple of weeks to celebrate my parents' fiftieth. It's near the cabin my grandparents built and owned on the Boulder River for many years. My father spend summers there as a child, from their sheep and cattle ranch near Ismay, and we spent many summer vacations there as well. After my grandparents sold their ranch and retired, they lived half the year in their cabin on the Boulder and the other half in their Airstream trailer, touring Mexico, Central American, and the West. This part of Montana is a place that has a lot of sentimental meaning to me. The last time I was near, to visit the cabin and the people who had owned it for so many years they thought it part of their family, I cried so hard I could hardly see. I thought I would never be back to this place that I loved even more as an adult than I had as a child.

But I'll be there in just a couple of weeks, with my own family.

First, though, I'll go here.

In the Grand Tetons, we'll camp at Jenny Lake.

Then, we'll go to Yellowstone.

I've done considerable research on the options for camping in Yellowstone. What I'm looking for is no hook-ups, no generators allowed, no flush toilets. Not that I don't like flush; I just want to be away from people who insist on flush. We'll spend a couple of nights in the south part of the park, but then we're headed to a camp site called Slough Creek, which sounds like just what we want. Funny thing: My father remembers backpacking from their cabin to this site as a boy. Bet it looks just the same.

I've run myself ragged tying things down at work (almost all my projects are with authors, typesetters, or printers, all due to land back on my desk the minute I return), planning and preparing my camp kitchen and our food, and washing and packing everyone's clothes. I can't wait for the moment we pull away in that truck with the canoe on top. Just the three of us. Unplugged. On the road.