Day 3 to Mission Pine Basin: Charred Forest, Big Cones and Bear Prints

I woke shivering about an hour after going to bed. The winds were blowing and my bag that was rated to 27F wasn’t working for some reason. The 40F winds must be stripping the heat away. I was using my down jacket as a pillow and moved the hood to my shoulder and the rest of the jacket covered my side to past my hips. I stayed warm after that, but I didn’t sleep well for the rest of the night.

The third day was our only relaxing day where we didn’t have to move camp. Instead of hauling a 30+ pound pack around, we did a good day hike with a possibly 10lb pack. We still hiked for four hours to get back and forth from Mission Pine Basin. On our hike through the forest, we saw some amazing charred pine trees. The trunks of the charred trees looked like modern sculptures that very few people get to see. We didn’t see anyone on day 3 or day 4 of the hike. The Los Padres is so rarely visited that I just don’t see anyone after just a few miles out. It’s a good place to practice extreme social distancing.

This charred tree trunk looked like a modern art sculpture.
Here’s a closer version of charred remains.
One more angle that shows the shiny surface reflecting the blue sky.

We got to see a few bear tracks on the hike. The bears like to use the same trails that we do and the tracks looked pretty fresh.

Chip pointing at a bear track. A raccoon or other critter track can be seen below the bear print.

When we finally got to our destination after hiking in and out and up and down some ridges, the forest was mainly burnt down. The devastating 2007 Zaca Fire had torn through this valley to devastating effect. The Zaca Fire started about 20 miles away from the basin, but it found plenty of fuel here. Thirteen years later, a thick set of trees had grown to about 8′ tall. The Friars who came to harvest the trees about 220 years ago would have had to gone to another grove to get the lumber for the missions.

This Ponderosa Pine is one of the few remaining trees in the area.
This pine has been pecked to death after it was already dead.
Here’s a close-up of some of the holes that have been filled with acorns.
Here’s a massive coulter pine cone – the largest cone of any species that can weigh over 10 pounds.
Tall sandstone formations rose above our campground.
A near full moon was rising above this decaying stump.
Chip surveying the high country of Santa Barbara. The forest had been burnt down around here.

We got back to camp at about 3:00 and I had a cup of coffee and laid around in the meadow near the natural spring. We knew a storm was coming, but there was no wind. We made a nice fire and we stayed up till 9:30 this night. We planned to get up early and head out at about 7:30am to ride the storm out.

Here’s a video from day 3.

Day 2 Mission Pine Springs: Migrating Butterflies, Snow and Sugar Pines

Day 2 started well after an 11-hour sleep. After being exhausted from hauling my pack through the fallen trees and up the mountain, I’d gone to sleep at 8:30 and gotten up about 7:30am. We took about an hour to get out of camp and had a 1,400′ elevation gain in the first 1.2 miles. That climb works out to over a 22% grade. That’s steep!

Here’s a highlight reel of the day of hiking.
Day 1’s hike is shown by the light white line. Day 2 is the light blue line and I gained 2,700′ going from Big Cone Spruce Camp to the top of San Rafael Mountain.

The trail was clear and we hiked up the steep grade without much difficulty. When we got to the top, I dropped off my bear container in the bushes and some extra things since we didn’t think we’d run into any bears – we were wrong…

When we got to the road, we saw quite a bit of snow in the shadows at about a mile high. As we climbed more, we saw more and more snow. By the time we were over 6,000′, we were hiking more in the snow than on dirt. The snow remained because we were hiking in some shade on the north face of San Rafael Mountain – the second highest peak in Santa Barbara county at 6,593′. Only Big Pine Mountain is taller and we could see to the east at 6,827′.

Deep snow near the top of San Rafael Mountain. The pine trees in the distance are where we were headed.

The snow slowed us down quite a bit because we didn’t want to slide down the mountain. Hiking poles helped to keep us on the mountain.

As we were walking along the ridge, I kept seeing many butterflies rise over the ridge and fly down the other side. They just kept coming and coming for an hour as we walked along the ridge. Thousands of painted lady butterflies were migrating across the ridge for who knows how many hours. They looked like small monarch butterflies. I couldn’t get a picture of them because they would fly away when I got near, but I found a pic of one on the Internet.

Here’s a painted lady butterfly like the ones that were migrating over the ridge.

We summited San Rafael Peak and had great views to the Channel Islands about 60 miles away. I thought how Amy would be looking at the Channel Islands from our apartment and thought of her. If only I could contact her way out in what seemed to be nowhere. I turned airplane mode off and got a signal. I called her from on top of the mountain and we had a nice chat while she was making some crema de lemoncello. She was just a phone call away, but still a long ways away. I called my Aunt Marilyn later too.

We had another 1.9 miles away to our campsite from the top of San Rafael Mountain. We started hiking and got into the pine forest really quickly. While most people think of oak trees or the Moreton Bay Fig tree when they think of Santa Barbara, I think of the pine trees that grow on the tops of our mountains. Below you’ll see a picture of a 100′ tall mature cedar. Chip is dwarfed by it.

Here’s a lovely cedar tree.

The tree I like even better in this forest is the beautiful Sugar Pine. They grow over one hundred feet tall and have long graceful limbs. The limbs reach out and hold foot long pine cones on the end that dangle like a woman holding a handkerchief. I haven’t seen it happen, but they say that a strong wind can fling the pine cones hundreds of feet from the base of the tree. Since it usually grows in the mountains, the cone might bounce and roll hundreds of more feet to spread it’s seed.

That’s a sugar pine’s long, lovely arm that are probably 50′ long.
Here’s an unopened sugar pine cone and an opened one. These are fairly small, but can grow over a foot long.
Chip signing in at the registration desk.
From the top of the ridge, I could see the Channel Islands off of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara lies beyond the Santa Ynez Mountains that rise above the green fields. Lake Cachuma lies at the bottom of the Santa Ynez valley and supplies most of the water for Santa Barbara. It was pretty easy to see Lake Cachuma in person, but it might be hard to see in this picture.
When we made it to Mission Pine Basin Camp, someone had left a broken spork. I carved out a notch in a stick and put the spoon on it. Then I duct taped it and it worked pretty good until the tape got wet. I had to use my wooden spoon after that because I couldn’t get it to stay together.

We made 6 miles to camp in 6 hours after being slowed down by the snow and the steep climb. The wind was blowing and it was cold up at 5,863′. Chip made a fire, but the wind blew the heat away, so I went to sleep at 8:30 again.

Mission Pine Basin in 4 miles. That’s where we went the next day.

Day 1 Mission Pine Springs: Poison Oak, Broken Glasses and No Spoon

Poison Oak in the spring – nothing I hate more.
Here’s a video with a lot of captured videos about the first day on the trail.

My old college friend Chip Buckingham and I love to look at topographical maps of Los Padres National Forest and plan long backpacking trips. Santa Barbara county has extensive trails and some amazing mountains that rise above snowline. At about 4,000’, the forest supports large groves of pine trees that resemble the Sierra mountains. One of the most historic groves is Mission Pine Basin where pines were harvested around 1800 for constructing the Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Missions. We would need to hike almost forty miles in four days to get to the Mission Pines. We created a four-day itinerary to do just that.

On our first day, we started hiking at Nira Campground and had about nine miles to hike to Big Cone Spruce camp. The first seven miles were up Manzana Creek and pretty easy because it is a heavily used trail. The trails are maintained by the Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA) and I volunteer to help make the trails better. The LPFA scheduled trail maintenance on the trail to Big Cone Spruce Camp where we were, but it was canceled because of the coronavirus. So when we left the main trail, the Big Cone Spruce Trail was drastically overgrown.

One of the first things we ran into was big patches of poison oak. My nemesis was thick and growing everywhere this spring! I was usually able to dodge the dreaded weed, but it was unavoidable in places – especially where some trees had blown down.  The blowndowns were one on top of the other and it was a struggle climbing through the limbs. I was already tired from the 8 miles of hiking, so climbing under, over and through the downed trees was exhausting. I grunted and groaned while climbing through the tangle of limbs and got caught on them many times. I found out later that the limbs ripped my pack and Chip’s in several places.

The worst part of the blowdowns is that there was no way around the downed trees because the undergrowth was so thick around the trees. At one point, I climbed on my hands and knees under the trunk of a fallen tree and came out in a patch of poison oak. I was exhausted and looking right at fresh poison oak sprouts. I used my hiking poles to push the poison oak away and did an army crawl over the poisonous plant. I managed to keep it off my face, but I got some on oak on my wrists and figured the oils were on my clothes and pack. When we finally made it to camp, I used Campsuds soap to wash my wrists and poles. I couldn’t wash my clothes and pack and have probably gotten the oils all over me. It would take a few days before the rash started.

Our camp at Big Cone Spruce was in an amazing grove of Douglas Firs, red firs and other big trees. Several creeks converge at out campsite and the creeks were flowing well from the recent rains. The wind was blowing the trees and the forest offered great shade. Check out some of my pictures of these massive trees.

Here’s my shadow in front of a tall pine tree that’s about 6′ in diameter.
I like how the sunlight lit up the grass here.
Chip balancing on rocks to get across Manzana Creek.
A sycamore holding a big rock.
Some massive acorns. It was odd that there weren’t any squirrels in this remote forest.

Then the problems really started. I took off my sunglasses and found out my normal glasses had broken in half – right at the nose piece. Not much of a problem for the MacGyver in me. I got out my duct tape and quickly repaired them.  I was officially a nerd! 

Then I go to make dinner and find out that I didn’t pack a spoon or anything to eat my dehydrated meals with. No problem, I’ll carve one out of a stick. First I tried to carve a big stick down, but I quickly realized that it would take a few hours to make something that worked. 

I had to find the perfect stick that was already spoon like.  Tons of branches and fallen trees were all over camp. I don’t know why so many downed trees were in the valley, but it looked like a major windstorm and landslides had blown many of the trees down. I scrounged around and found a broken limb with a knot in it.  All I had to do was carve out the knot and I would have a spoon.  After fifteen minutes with my swiss army knife, I had my spoon.

My wooden spoon came in handy.
The backside of my spoon looked like a face. The red color that looks like a mouth was naturally in the wood. The eye was made when I carved out a lump in the knot on the outside of the knot.

I made my chicken teriyaki dinner and had to open wide to get the big spoon in my big mouth. It went down well and we relaxed by the fire. I was exhausted and went to sleep at 8:30 when I usually go to bed at 11.  I slept for 11 hours and woke up feeling good for the second day. The second day was looking to be even harder with a 2,600’ elevation gain.  That’s my next story.

There’s a Moose in My Hot Spring!

You never know what you’re going to get when you go into the high Rockies. After a seven hour bushwhack through the most beautifully flowered mountains I’ve ever seen, we made it to Conundrum Hot Springs. I love hot springs and the bubbling hot spring felt amazing on my tired bones and body. After dinner, we were ready to get into the spring until the stars came out when a bull moose walked right into one of the three hot spring pools.

The bull moose was in the upper hot spring pool that was far enough away from us that we felt safe. Then he came closer.

Everyone in camp stopped to watch the moose. His legs were amazingly long and he waded into and drank from the hot spring pool. The upper pool was about 50 yards from the hottest, main pool where we were. We gawked at the huge beast and calmly took pictures from afar. After soaking his ankles for a good ten minutes, the bull walked right into a seemingly impenetrable patch of willows. The tall moose had no problem plowing through the dense vegetation and eating any willows that got in his way.

He’s got a mouthful of willow leaves here.

We made dinner in a clump of trees near the hot spring because our camp was almost a mile downstream. The moose continued eating in the willows and worked his way right into our picnic area where I took this picture.

He stared me down, but I felt pretty safe because I knew I could run around the trees faster than he could.

He eventually came out of the willows while happily chowing some leaves. Then he walked toward the main hot spring and out into the open. My friend Frank in the red jacket was initially behind me, but then the moose walked around us so that Frank was in between me and the moose. I took some video while Frank chewed gum and stared him down. The moose just kept meandering and got many warm drinks from the hot creek that flowed out of the pools.

This bull was a little close, but Frank kept his cool and had an escape plan. We thought the bull was a little more than a year old but it could have been two. His horns should start growing beyond the stubs in the next year or two. This is a Shiras’ Moose that were reintroduced to Colorado in 1978. They’re the smallest species of moose and have done well and about 1,000 live in Colorado now.

The moose had our full attention, but I felt relaxed enough to sit down and continue taking video. After 30 minutes, I started to get a little bored watching him nibble on grass and lick the mineral-encrusted rocks near the hot pools. I started doing time-lapse videos to speed his ramblings up. The problem was that he was starting to eat into our soaking time. We wanted to get in the tub, but we didn’t want to startle the moose either.

Dean was the first to break down and sneak into the main pool. Dean got into the hot pool and was looking right up at the bull. Dean was soaking a good ten minutes before Frank and Dean’s wife Amy joined him in the pool. They got in a good soak before the moose finally wandered back up the trail and right in front of the three soakers. I made this two-minute video of the whole experience.

Here’s the moose as he’s walking by the three soakers. Dean is on the left and his wife Amy is looking to the left between the moose’s legs. You can see Frank’s tan hat in front of the moose’s front legs.

The moose came back the next morning and got another soak. He seems to like the soothing waters as much as I did!

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Logistics – if you want to know more.

This trip started for me when I reached out to my ultimate buddy Frank. Frank and I played on the Cal Poly Ultimate team and we reconnected when I ran the Cal Poly Alumni Association in Denver. I told Frank how I had a couple of weekends in August open for a backpacking trip. We tried to recruit some old ultimate buddies, but that failed. Then he reached out to his canyoneering friend Dean and he said we could join his party of four on this backpacking trip to Conundrum Hot Springs.

We didn’t have a permit at the very popular hot spring at first, but Frank ran across one in his office and Dean persisted and got one on the website. So we had, and needed, two campsites for the six of us because the sites turned out to be pretty small.

We met on a Friday at Dean and Amy’s house in Crested Butte. They had beds and bikes for each of us and we hit it off well. CB is a lovely ski/mountain biking town that I immediately fell in love with. Check out all the bikes in CB!

Crested Butte is full of bikes and has a great downtown. Budweiser painted the town blue for an advertisement and then painted it whatever color people wanted after that. They went for colorful.

We had a lovely dinner in downtown Crested Butte, got a good sleep and packed up the next morning. We had a long, late breakfast and then we shuttled Dean’s truck to Gothic where we would hike out. All six of us got in Amy’s truck and we drove to the Teocalli mountain bike trailhead. The road was a wreck of a 4WD road, but we made it to the trailhead around 1pm.

The six of us were a tight fit in the 4Runner, but Cameron sat on Rick’s lap on the bumpy 4WD road. From right to left, Scott, Cameron, Rick, Frank, Amy and Dean.

I like to hike in the afternoon and evening, so I was glad for the late start. We had trail for the first mile, but it faded to what Dean called a social trail. Most of the time it was a bushwhack up and through the flowery fields. It was usually easy going, but we’d run into a ravine like this several times.

We bushwhacked through this little gorge on the way up to Coffeepot Pass.

Without a trail, I had to watch each step and it took five hours to go four miles and up 1,400′ to get to a high camp above treeline at about 11,600′. We stayed up until the stars came out and the Milky Way swirled in the dark sky. The next morning we left camp about 9am and had to hike another 1,100′ up to Coffeepot Pass. The story is that some miner left his coffee pot up there and people are still searching for it.

Coffeepot Pass was pretty easy until we ran into some snow on the north side of the pass. Dean led us through a pretty loose talus field and across a little snowfield to get down the other side. The snow would have been a problem if we had gone even a few weeks earlier. The pass was probably snowed in for most of July. We went cross country without trail for another half a mile before catching the trail from Triangle Pass. From there, it was smooth hiking on the trail for another hour to the hot springs. Altogether, it took about seven hours of bushwhacking and an hour on the trail to get to Conundrum from the south. People usually hike to Conundrum via an 8-mile hike from the Aspen side of the mountain.

We were soon soaking in the hot spring and I slept well after the tough hikes on the first two days.

Here’s a view from the spring. Imagine seeing the moose from his knees up and looking down at this hot spring.

To get back to Crested Butte, we hiked over Triangle Pass that peaks out at 13,000′. We had to climb about 1,750′ with lighter packs after eating most of our food. Frank and I started at 10am while Dean, Amy Cameron and Rick started at 11. Frank and I took a casual walk and relaxed in the flower-filled meadows while waiting for them to catch up. It was another gorgeous day.

I think these are blue bells in full bloom.

Once they caught up, I had to pick up my pace. The winds picked up and we were rather exposed high above tree line on the thin, little goat trail that is rated a double black diamond because of the steep mountainsides that we hiked on. Everyone was strong hikers and we worked our way through some massive rubble fields and down a long hill. We got to the trailhead near Gothic after a seven hour hike that was mostly downhill. We got in the truck and went back to CB for pizza, beer and margaritas. Food and drink never tastes so good as after a great backpack!

After another night in CB and a good breakfast, Frank and I headed back to Salida. Dean had orchestrated a superbly executed trip with no drama and maximum fun! Dean and Amy liked it so much that they are doing it again this weekend!

Here are some other pics from the hike. The flowers were in full bloom in late August. Spring was still in the air up there, but it will soon start snowing. It’s a tough, but amazing life they live up there above tree-line.

Amy photobombed Frank and I in front of the voluminous lupine on the first day.
Cameron and Rick are newlyweds from Salt Lake City. They love canyoneering with Dean and Amy. Two fourteeners are directly behind them – Castle Peak at 14,265′ and Conundrum Peak at 14,022.
Dean was an excellent guide and told us all about the mountains and peaks around. Rick and him are pointing at some ridges on the way down from Coffeepot Pass that’s about 12,700′ high.
Here are some flowers in front of Dean and Amy’s garage in CB. The purple plant is lupine and you can see several poppies and a yellow lily in the background.
Dean is tending his prolific flower basket. I sat in that red chair quite a bit and enjoyed their garden and hot tub.

Youth Voting in Battleground States

Check out the data in Table 1 on the youth vote in battleground states in 20161. The average voter turnout for 18-24 year olds was a dismal 43%.  Almost two million youth from 18-34 years old didn’t vote in the close election.  As discussed in a previous blog, the Democrats should have gained about 22 votes for every 100 new youth votes. The youth vote could have easily swung these swing states if they voted.

Table 1: Youth Vote Turnout in 2016

State 18-24 Year Old
Voter Turnout
Total Voter
18-34 Year Olds
That Didn’t Vote
Michigan 37.8% 64.3% 1,104,000
Wisconsin 47.1 % 70.5% 589,000
Pennsylvania 51.4% 62.6% 1,237,000
Florida 37.3% 59.9% 1,974,000
Arizona 40.2% 60.4% 743,000
US Total 43.0% 61.4% 15,353,000

Only 43% of youth from 18-24 voted in 2016.  Over fifteen million youth didn’t vote and Hillary still got almost 3 million more votes than Trump.

If a Get out the Vote effort got 20% more youth to vote, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania would have swung Democratic. Hillary would have won the Electoral College by 278-260.  Getting 20% of the youth to vote could be a challenge, but little differences add up in a close race.

Table 2: Results With 20% More Youth Vote

State 20% of 18-34
Democratic Votes
Clinton Lost By
Michigan 220,800 48,000 10,704
Wisconsin 117,800 25,900 22,748
Pennsylvania 247,400 54,000 44,292
Florida 394,800 87,000 112,911
Arizona 148,600 32,000 91,234
US 3,070,000 1,465,000 -2,868,519

This table shows that if 20% more of the youth would have voted in 2016, then Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania would have flipped to Clinton.

In 2020, there will be 19 million more Gen Z voters than in 20162.  Gen Z eligible voters are more liberal than older generations and 45% non-white4. Gen Z will outnumber everyone born before the Baby Boomers as shown in Figure 2.  The problem is that youth are under-voters.  Under-voters are groups of people that vote less than their peers.  Older voters are over-voters because they outvote their peers.  Figure 1 shows how they youth vote have under-voted over the decades. 

Figure 1: Under And Over-Voting by Age

This figure shows how the youth usually under-vote by about 5% while elderly voters over-vote by 3-4%.  The difference decreased in 2016.

In 2016, the youth vote of 18-24 year olds made up 12% of the voting population, but they only voted like they were 8.4%.  That means they under-voted by 3.6% and that’s a lot in close elections.  Figure 1 used different age ranges and got different results than what were available from the Census Bureau. It’s a shame that the youth vote doesn’t turn out when they have the most to win or lose from government policies over their lifetimes.

Table 3: Under-voting in the 2016 Election (Populations in thousands)

Age Range Total Citizen
% of
% Who
Total 224,059 137,537
18 to 24 26,913 11,560 12.0% 8.4% 3.6%
25 to 34 38,283 20,332 17.1% 14.8% 2.3%
35 to 44 34,327 20,662 15.3% 15.0% 0.3%
45 to 64 77,544 51,668 34.6% 37.6% -3.0%
65+ 46,993 33,314 21.0% 24.2% -3.2%

This table shows how youth under-vote by about 3% while the elderly over-vote by about 3%.

If the youth would vote, they would be better represented in government.  It’s that simple and they need to get the message.  The hard part is getting them the message and voting!  That will be a topic in a later blog.

Figure 2: 2020 Electorate

This figure shows how the elderly generations are declining while the younger generations are gaining potential voters from coming of age and immigration3.

Figure 3: Generations Defined

This Pew graphic shows how the generations are defined.  The term Post-Millennial is now replaced by Gen Z.

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Gen Z Voters Will Change the 2020 Election

Every year, over four million US citizens turn eighteen and gain the right to vote. These new Gen Z voters were born after 1996 and will amount to over 24 million possible voters or 10% of the electorate in 20201. With young people voting Democratic by wide margins, they could easily swing the election if they vote and are targeted. The Democratic Party and political action committees (PACs) should target these young voters to win the 2020 election.

Millennial and Gen Z generations will be from 18-39 years old in 2020 and these young voters typically vote the least of any generation. Even though their future will be influenced the most by government policies over their lifetimes, their voter turnout in the 2016 election was only 51%2. The 2018 midterm elections show that these young voters are considerably interested in voting and their voter turnout reached the highest levels in over two decades as seen in Figure 1. If Gen Z would vote at the rate of Boomers, the 2020 election could easily be shifted towards the Democratic party.

Figure 1. Over the last twenty years, young voters have barely turned out in mid-term elections. In 2018, all age groups showed their highest level of interest in two decades, yet not even one third voted. This chart clearly shows how older voters vote at higher levels than the young.

In 2016, Millennials, or Generation Y, voted on the national average of 55% Democratic and 33% Republican2. For each one hundred new, young voters, 22 additional democratic votes will be counted if this trend holds. Nineteen million additional Gen Z voters will be eligible to vote in 2020 since five million Gen Zers were already eligible for the 2016 election.  If Gen Z voted in a similar pattern to Millennials in 2016, there would be an additional 2.1 million votes for Democrats (19 M additional Gen Z voters * 51% turnout rate *22 Democratic Votes over Republicans per 100 voters). These 2.1 million more Democratic votes have a huge impact on already tight elections.

Figure 2. Only 51% of Millennials voted in the 2016 election and Pew Research didn’t offer a turnout rate for Gen Z in 2016.
Figure 3. Less than a third of Gen Z voters turned out in the 2018 midterm elections, but that is historically high for young voters in recent midterms.

An interesting analysis shows how an additional 2.7 million Democratic votes would have influenced the 2016 election.  Trump won the 2016 election by 77,744 votes by flipping the rust belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.  If these 2.7 million new Democratic votes were spread evenly across the US based on population, then the results would be much different. If these hypothetical Gen Z voters turning out at 51% and yielded 22 more Democratic votes per one hundred, they would have easily flipped these three states and Florida! 

Table 1: Additional Gen Z Voters Swing the Election in Four States

State Votes Trump Won By Additional Gen Z Democratic Votes
Michigan -16 10,704 67,480
Wisconsin – 10 22,748 38,967
Pennsylvania – 20 44,292 113,307
Florida – 29 112,911 132,776

Table 1 shows how four more years of Gen Z voters could have swung the election in favor of Hillary Clinton if national averages applied to these states. Hillary would have won the election 307-231 in the Electoral College.

This flip in the 2016 election due to new Gen Z voters is based a few assumptions and here are some comments about how the 2020 election might pan out:

  1. 51% of the new Gen Z voters vote – I’m pretty optimistic that this assumption will be surpassed in 2020 because Trump is so dividing that he motivates people to vote.
  2. 55 out of every 100 new voter vote Democratic and 33 vote Republican – This is much more up in the air and problematic to determine.  With 45% of Gen Z being of color, the demographics favors the Democrats.  If the Democrats play to the younger crowd, then they have a better chance.
  3. Battleground states vote like the nation did in 2016 – Of course this is a major leap and I’ll look into this in more detail in a later blog. 
  4. Nothing else changes – Of course many things will change in the 2020 election.  From the Democratic candidate to trade wars, many things will change in 2020 and I’ll look at these individually as they come up.

To conclude, Gen Z voters will add 19 million new voters and make up 10% of the electorate in 2020. While Boomers and older generations decline,  Gen X and Millennials  will grow by about 2.5 million voters or 1% of the electorate from immigrants naturalizing and getting the right to vote3. These demographic shifts favor the Democrats and these younger X, Y and Z generations are now the majority of voters and should be targeted.  Most older voters are already set in their ways. The future belongs to the young and those who court them.

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6 Trips to Machu Picchu

We made it! Amy and I reached Machu Picchu after hiking all day long for four days. Huayna Picchu is the peak above my head and the clouds. I climbed it the next day.

It’s been over a month since I last posted because I’ve been busy having fun, traveling and celebrating my 53rd birthday! Amy and I have done six overnight trips since I last wrote in March. Some of the trips were designed as training for the Inca Trail and some were all about having a great time and seeing new places. So while I posted a few things to Facebook, I have been neglecting this website. I have been doing so many things that I haven’t had time to write. It’s still hard to tell you what’s been going on, but here’s an overview of the trips and some pics.

We took 10 overnight trips from Cusco from February 25-May 9th. March was still the rainy season, so we stayed in the lower elevations (under 14,000′) during this month. In April, we started going to higher elevations with hikes over 16,000′ and peaks over 20,000′.

Trip 5 (the other 4 trips were before my last blog) was one of the most beautiful and it was highest trip that we took. We spent a day with the ancient Chari people who showed us how they make yarn out of wool and weave them into socks and sweaters. This sweet girl went to some ruins with us.

Fanny accompanied us to some Incan ruins and posed for this pic.
From Cusco, we went south to the Chari Community for a night. Then we took a long ride up to rainbow mountain. The dirt road was very bumpy and windy and went to over 15,000′. Then we had to climb over a thousand feet to a lookout with a thousand people on top.
Amy and I are overlooking Rainbow mountain that is over 17,000′ high. It’s too bad the sun wasn’t shining on the vertical layers or rock or they would have really popped. This picture does a good job of blocking out the hundreds of people who were on top of the mountain. You can see the steady stream of people coming up on the right.
These two girls dress up in their traditional clothes and get suckers like me to pay them for photos. It took a few shots before I got this one to smile. They ran sure-footedly by me and many others going down the mountain after they got enough money for the day.

The sixth trip we took from Cusco was to Ausangate mountain that towers to 6,384 meters or 20,940′. That’s pretty high so this mountain has some major glaciers on it. We stayed at a lodge in Pacchanta at over 14,000′. It’s pretty cold up there at night, but the hot springs there were superb! Check out this picture of my toes and the mountain.

Hot springs and cold mountains! This place was unbelievable and I’m going to write a blog just about this trip and the alpaca herder and Jesuit priest that we drank some wine with.
The red line shows the six hour bus ride to Tinki. Then we took an hour taxi to Pacchanta where we found a hotel and the hot springs. From there, we hiked the purple line to the foot of Ausangate mountain. The elevation here is extreme and was a great acclimatization for Machu Picchu.
Amy really liked this place and we couldn’t get enough pictures of it. We’d constantly look up at this beauty of a mountain and want to take its picture.

Trip 7 was to the trailhead of the classic Salkantay trek. This trek isn’t regulated like the Inca Trail, so companies are building lodges all along this trek. We stayed at a the trailhead of Soraypampa that enabled us to hike to Lake Humantay and then up to the pass at over 15,000′ in the rain. The rainy season hadn’t quite left the upper elevations in April.

That’s Salkantay mountain from my hammock in the lodge. The lodge was very shoddy and major drafts poured in through long cracks in the particle board walls.
We took a long, winding bus ride to Mollepata (the red and orange lines) and then a 4WD taxi (green line) to the trailhead of the Salkantay Trail where we stayed for 3 nights. This let us hike to the beautiful Lake Humantay that has a deep, glacier green color. The glaciers melt and cascade down cliffs into the lake. The next day we hiked to the pass below Salkantay Peak (see the longer purple line), but it was raining the whole time.
A better picture of Mount Salkantay at sunset.
Lake Humantay was amazing. The color of the lake was more apparent when we hiked on the ridge to our left.
The dappled sunlight makes the lake a variety of colors.

The 8th trip was to the ancient Incan city of Ollantaytambo. This ancient Incan city is the only inhabited one that features the original layout of the city. Massive stones were used throughout the complex. Channels of water run down several of the streets and the old town looks over the ruins that are built into the side of the mountain.

Here’s an example of the rock constructions of the old town. The bush with legs down the alley is a guy carrying a load of brush. There are no cars in this section of town so people have to carry everything in by hand.
These students walk the ancient Incan trails that run through Ollantaytambo. The house we stayed in is above the wall on the right. These are the original Incan walls and one of the many channels of water that run through town can be seen at the right of this path.
Amy is hiking to the Colcas or storage units that the Incas built high above the town of Ollantaytambo. They had massive storage for their corn and potatoes and I pity the laborer who had to haul bushels of corn and potatoes up these steep hills.
We took a private taxi and it only took us 1 hour to get to the ancient city of Ollantaytambo when he took the new road that follows the train tracks.

For my birthday, I wanted to get to some warm weather and some hot springs that are downriver from Machu Picchu. I picked Santa Teresa without knowing what a pain in the ass it would be to get there. We took an excruciating 8 hour bus ride to the small outpost that sits at the convergence of three rivers.

Here’s Amy tempting fate for a cheap thrill. She said she zipped for my birthday. Now that’s love!
On this zip across the rive gorge, they wanted us to hang upside down, so I did.
Santa Teresa is a very remote place and we had to take the worst bus ride yet to get here. This was the only bus ride where I was ready to heave. I did survive the ride to zipline across one of the many gorges – 4 times!

We returned to Cusco for a few days after my birthday expedition and then embarked on our climactic journey to Machu Picchu. I’ll write a whole blog about this 5 day trek, but here are a few pics.

This picture was taken on top of Huayna Picchu that overlooks Machu Picchu. Huayna Picchu means young mountain while Machu Picchu means old mountain. Machu Picchu is the light green colored area above the bushes on the right. The 1,500′ dropoff around Huayna Picchu is amazing and the reason why they built this secure location in the clouds.
The Inca Trail snakes through some of the steepest country I’ve ever been in. The trail went up and down these amazing ridges in endless series of steps. These are some typical ruins behind us.
Our guide Elias is telling us about the ancient ruin of Patallacta that is visible in the valley below us. Here are six of the people traveling with us – two Koreans sushi chefs on the right, two Aussies behind them and two Durango Coloradans on each side of Elias.
The purple line shows where we hiked for four days. The red line is the bus going up and down some switchbacks to the small town of Agua Caliente. The yellow line is the train that follows the deep gorge carved by the Urubamba river.

That’s a recap of what’s been going on. We’ve already been to Lake Titicaca and are now in the city of Arequipa. Tomorrow we leave on another journey to the deepest canyon in the world to see some condors.

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Building with Geometry

I’ve always been interested in geometry. The world is made of it and it combines with math in amazing ways. Amy and I took a class in Sacred Geometry in Pisac, Peru where the Incans used to live. We had a great time tying a bunch of straws together with fishing line to make some killer platonic solids.

You might wonder what platonic solids are. They were actually known before Plato and Pythagorus was probably the one who discovered it, but Plato gets the credit for it since he wrote about them in 350BC!

I’m going to keep this post short so that hopefully you’ll look at the attached presentation that shows how we made this cool structure. Here is the powerpoint file that shows how we made this monster.

Here I am with the finished creation- an octahedron inside a tetrahedron inside a cube inside a dodecahedron inside a Great Icosahedron inside a icosahedron inside a small triambic icosahedron. Now that’s a mouthfull!
Amy is holding the first three platonic solids that are tied together. It’s a octahedron inside a tetrahedron inside a cube.

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Incan Ruins Near Cusco

This wall in Sacsaywaman has the form of a snake built into it.

The Incans were prolific builders and were masters at building things of stone that would last. They built roads, temples, palaces, fortifications, and terraces on top of prominent mountains in the Andes. The amazing aspect of the structures is the precision stonework that has lasted for over 500 years and shows minimal signs of decay. They didn’t use mortar or concrete between the stones and built them to resist earthquakes and water erosion so that they last.

Many of the stone, Incan foundations can still be seen in Cusco. Most of the buildings have been destroyed, but the foundations made of tons of stones still exist. Many of the walking alleys in the old town are lined with amazing boulders that are stacked on top of each other like sardines. The stones are composed of hard rocks like granite or andesite and are custom carved to fit the surrounding stones. Custom building each stone must have taken patience and hard work that is very uncommon anymore.

Many of the ruins are located in the mountains above Cusco and in the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley is a gorge carved out of the Andes by the Urubamba River. The gorge is spectacularly deep and over sixty miles long between Pisac to Machu Picchu.  Everyone knows about Machu Picchu and the dramatic ridge that it sits on. We are going to backpack their starting May 2nd as the climax of our time in Peru. I’m going to tell you about some of the other ruins that we’ve seen now.

To see the ruins in the mountains above Pisac, we had to buy one ticket for over $40 that got us into sixteen ruins or museums. Being the spendthrifts that Amy and I are, we decided to get our money’s worth and go to all sixteen sites. Here is the list of some of the worst and best:

Worst –  Centro Cusco De Arte Nativo – Native dancers twisted back and forth to make their skirts go up and down for an hour. It was very repetitive with similar costumes and weak dancing. I saw better dancing and better costumes on the streets of Cusco.

Museo Historico Regional – This historic museum had broken pots and arrowheads from pre-Incan times.  They also have a few dioramas that look like a high schoolers made.

Puka Pukara – Some old, overgrown Incan walls that were prominent on a little ridge. Skip this one.

Moray – The Incans built this jewel of a site around a sinkhole – basically a lake that drains underground through some caverns. The Incans filled the caverns with rocks and then made a flat, circular terrace on top of it. They built concentric terraces around the bottom of the sinkhole that climb up the ridge. See the pictures for a better explanation.

Moray is very photogenic. I wish I could see it during a big rainstorm when the water cascades down to the bottom.

My favorite tour guide/author Peter Frost reports that crops were not grown on the terraces because the soil wasn’t good and there wasn’t irrigation to the site. He thinks the Inca rulers probably built this on a whim to celebrate the inverted mountain that the sinkhole made. The Incans seemed to direct many things like this to make sites sacred and interesting. They worshipped many beautiful places with rockwork and buildings.

Pisaq or Pisac Ruins – This ruin is extensive and we had to hike for over 2 miles from the top to the bottom. The ruins overlook the Sacred Valley and the temples have exquisite stonework and running water.

Amy is looking out from the temples at Pisac.

Ollantaytambo – This ruin was mainly a fortification and is the location where the Incans actually repelled the Spanish in a battle. The Spanish were on their horses and they flooded the roads leading into the town so that the calvary got bogged down and could be shot with arrows.  The site also has some storehouses with thatched roofs so that I could see what the old buildings looked like when they were in use.

The terraces were fortifications here on a steep ridge.

Saqsaywaman – This site, that is roughly pronounced “Sexy woman”, overlooks Cusco and has some of the most massive stone works I’ve seen yet.  Only 20% of the original site is left, but it is still impressive.  The largest stone is 28 feet high and weighs 361 tons!  It seems like an impossible task to work with such stones.

That’s the 361 ton rock behind us.

One rebellion against the Spaniards was headquartered here and it tuned into the site of a major battle.  I read a few accounts and the most dramatic said that about fifty Spanish Calvary killed about 1,500 Incan soldiers.  It seems more like a massacre where the Spanish were rather invincible in their armor and weaponry.  The dead were not buried for a long time and many Andean Condors came and ate the dead bodies.  The Spanish made the Cusco coat of arms with 8 condors around an Incan tower to commemorate the Battle of Saqsaywaman.  The coat was used until the 1990s when an indigenous movement replaced it with a feline design.

We saw many more ruins that are on and off the ticket.  Check out these pictures and videos to get a feel for some more of the Incan remnants.

Here is a fast-action video clip of many of the Incan sites.
At an Incan gateway in Ollantaytambo. I guess they were quite a bit shorter than me.
Amy in a niche.
Some fountains in Tipon.
Some ponds that capture the salt from the spring on the left.

Second Anniversary of Grace’s Passing

Two years ago, my wife of almost nineteen years took her last, gasping breath and passed into the other world.  She had succumbed to pancreatic cancer that had spread into her liver.  She had been sick for almost nine months, but had been rather healthy for the previous forty-six years.  She had run marathons, hiked up mountains, traveled the world and cooked many great meals before passing into the next realm. 

So is she really gone? 

I don’t think so.  As long as people remember her and think of her, she is still alive in our hearts.  The movie Coco said that we don’t really pass as long as someone on Earth still holds them in their heart.

This was Grace at her last Christmas being a clown.

I was in a deep meditative state last week and I felt Grace’s presence. She was on my left side with her head resting peacefully on my chest.  This is how we both loved to be.  To rest in each other’s arms and feel each other.  We did this almost every morning when we would say, “Every Morning!” to each other.  If one of us got up early, the last one to get up would call them back to bed with “Every Morning!” so that we would have our affectionate moment together and wake up on a loving note. 

Grace and I would take this to an extreme sometimes and call out wildly for the other.  We’d throw a temper tantrum and kick our legs up and down and scream like a baby for the other’s love.  We always had fun doing this and the other would always oblige by dropping whatever they were doing and come back for the other.

These intimate moments are what I miss the most.  I also miss traveling with her, having a great meal, having a bottle of wine, going on a long hike in the mountains or an urban hike to Franceschi Park.  We did many great things together and gave each other freedom to do our own things as well.

After Grace laid by my side, I missed her and sat up and cried.  I knew that I didn’t have her anymore, but I did have her family still.  I immediately thought of Grace’s niece Mei Lan who was with me the day Grace passed.  When I sat and watched Grace who was completely still, I started sobbing. Mei Lan came and comforted me.  My love was gone, but I was still here. 

How does anyone deal with or comprehend a loss of someone so close.  There is no one answer.  My heart physically hurt for months after her passing.  I read an article months later that found how the hearts of people who lost someone are very vulnerable to heart attacks and other heart problems.  I felt like damaged goods.  The loss was so profound that it took months before the hole in my heart began to feel. 

Eventually, I resumed some of my hobbies like travel and bought an RV that was very similar to the one Grace and I had and lived in for a year.  The first place I took it was to Faria Beach Park on the coast north of Ventura. I had never been there, but dreamed of going there for many of the months when Grace was sick.  It was my dream of paradise and I found comfort there.  I was going to take Grace there, but we never got to fly back to America.  After the beach, I took the RV to the mountains.  I was alone most of the time, but my sister, brother and David and Mianne Sell did come and visit me there.  I came to some level of peace by then and my brother helped me move on by signing me up for  Nothing ever came of my search there, but I did find Amy through my friend Phil. 

Now Amy and I are traveling the world for a year.  We are currently in the Sacred Valley of Peru and have been to Columbia and will go to Chile.  Amy and I are very close and we are both very happy to have each other.  Our relationship is unique and we both love to take photographs of new places and we are ready to pay the price to get there.  The price is not only time, but the effort to go to remote places on long days on buses, taxis, trains, planes and mostly our feet.  I’m trying to document my trips on my website and facebook.  I hope you can follow along and keep up.

Grace is still with me in my heart and in my thoughts.  I know she inspired me to do more with my life.  I’m still here and moving on with my life the best I can.  I hope you do the same and know that Grace would want that of you.



PS. My niece had a reading with a psychic last week, and Grace was the first one who came to her.  The medium said Grace wanted us to know that she was fine and that she wants me to be OK.  Grace was happy that I found Amy and that she sent me Amy to find happiness and joy.  Grace was cooking something in a bowl and I think it is appropriate since she was always cooking something up.