South Park Wildlife Habitat Management Area

One of my favorite moments in Jackson was a beautiful early-Summer morning at the South Park Wildlife Habitat Management Area. This tucked away area does not get a lot of traffic compared to the other areas of Jackson Hole, and Loki and I spent several hours by ourselves exploring. The area lies along the Snake River as it enters the Southern canyon and is accessed from US 26/89 about 5 miles South of Jackson.

As green as I've ever seen.
As green as I’ve ever seen.
Lone tree in the morning mist
Lone tree in the morning mist
Sticks
Sticks
A Pond covered in green algae.
A Pond covered in green algae.
Vivid green in the morning light.
Vivid green in the morning light.
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Alongside the Road

I’ve made this trip dozens of times over the last few years. Starting North, traversing Jackson Hole alongside the Tetons, then heading East over Togwotee Pass. Down into the Valley of the Warm Winds and across the plains, now South East, this time hugging the foothills of the Winds, though the reservation and on into Lander. More endless rolling plains, through the unique town of Jeffery City and past it to Split Rock. Muddy Gap and the sagebrush flats before a small hill and into Riverton. Finally to the interstate, this time traversing alongside Semi-trucks and high winds, past Elk Mountain and on into Laramie.

I know every turn of this route, every hill, every turnoff. Every rest stop. I know what kind of mileage to expect with head and tail winds. I know this trip like the back of my hand.

It’s very scenic. I choose this route over the slightly faster one because of the scenery, unique geological roadside attractions, and a pit stop in the lovely town of Lander. There are a lot of photo opportunities if the conditions are right. There is almost always someplace I must stop to take an opportune photo. I have dozens more places along this drive I have yet to stop; they are indexed in my head for the right conditions.

So a week ago or so I packed up and once again set off North to traverse Jackson Hole and amble my way to Laramie. This particular day would prove one of the most abundantly beautiful and striking days I’ve ever had making this trek.

First rays of light strike the Tetons from the vantage of the Buffalo Fork River.
First rays of light strike the Tetons from the vantage of the Buffalo Fork River.

I like to start early if possible. I have a number of sunrise locations for the Tetons in that index I mentioned earlier. This morning I made it to the Buffalo Fork River, just on the border of Grand Teton National Park, and hastily setup for a sunrise photo. Unfortunately, I lack my standard sunrise equipment (my primary landscape lens is out of commission) so I was shooting at 50mm which really didn’t have the width I wanted to incorporate the river into my composition. Still I was able to get some decent results, handheld with my 50-200mm lens.

Not a bad start. But things were about to get very interesting on Togwotee Pass.

Two bruins foraging alongside the highway.
Two bruins foraging alongside the highway.

These two adolescent Grizzlies have become a bit of a staple feature on Togwotee. I’ve talked to numerous folks who have seen them, and in fact I saw these very two bears on my last trip over Togwotee. I believe they separated from their mother this Spring and are part of the fabled 399/610 Grizzly family in GTNP.

Two bruins looking for breakfast.
Two bruins looking for breakfast.

I spotted them at the bottom of a hill along the treeline, about 50 yards from the highway. I stopped a bit down the road and hung out for around 30 minutes, snapping away. I have a few hundred shots of this pair, along with a moose which was a few hundred yards off. They meandered along the hill and crossed the highway, then thought the better of it and returned back down the hill. Above is one of my favorite pictures from the bunch.

A Grizzly bruin crossing the Togwotee highway.
A Grizzly bruin crossing the Togwotee highway.

The 399/610 Grizzly family is known for roaming around very close to the roadside. It is believed this behavior is motivated by the mother’s instincts to keep her offspring safe. Adult male Grizzlies are a huge threat to a mother’s offspring, while also being very solitary and weary of human activity. The mother learned to raise her young near human activity, keeping her and her young safer from an adult male’s presence. These two adolescents, in turn, have learned to forage and mill about near the road. It puts the bear in an interesting situation. While I was hanging out watching them, several vehicles came very close to them along the road, within several feet. The danger now facing them comes not only from another Grizzly, but also from the human presence they were raised around.

On my previous trip when I also saw this pair, they were again crossing the road. I was coming up a hill and around a blind bend when I came upon a car stopped on the road, slightly pulled over on the shoulder but still halfway in the lane. I had to make a pretty sudden stop. The bruins were just crossing the road and running up the hill. Had the other car not been there, I could have come up on the bears with no warning and had little chance to avoid them.

These two bears are on a slippery slope.

Edit: After some reading it seems these might not be 399′s cubs. These two bears are too old to be from her recent litter, so what I said about their learned roadside behavior is probably not accurate.

After my toes started getting cold (I like to drive in sandals), I hopped back in the truck. Before setting off, I turned on my camera to check the shots I just got. The battery had died.

Luckily I had a charged spare in my camera bag. My next stop would be Lander. There were several spots along the Dubois valley where Fall colors were starting to turn, in another week the trees along the Wind River would be alight with yellow. I drove past them for now, pressing on towards my next stop.

In Lander the weather was sunny with deep blue skies but with a cracking chill in the air. I decided to head up above Sinks Canyon and do a quick exploration of the area. As I climbed the wind picked up significantly and once I was to the top there was little to explore as the wind was ferocious. Regardless, it was a very pretty drive and I have a few new places to put in the index.

Once back down in the canyon the temperature picked up and I pulled off to walk along the river. I let Loki out of the truck and we explored the rocky banks, looking for good vantages. I didn’t get anything especially great but the Fall colors always help.

Fall colors along the river.
Fall colors along the river.
Tumbling water.
Tumbling water.
The walls of Sink's Canyon.
The walls of Sinks Canyon.
Loki should probably be on Game of Thrones.
Loki should probably be on Game of Thrones.

Sinkss Canyon is definitely a place worth exploring, but I felt the need to press on. Today would not be our day to explore here.

Pressing on towards Rawlins, I encountered yet another amazing scene as I approached Jeffery City. Animal hides were draped over fence posts along the road, their heads propped up on the posts to stare blankly across the prairie. There were five or six in total. The moment was quite surreal as I drove past. My immediate thought was to stop and take a picture, but I hesitated; the sun was behind the hides and backlit them harshly, I didn’t know if I could get a very good shot with the equipment I had on me. Still their image imposed a mark on my thoughts for the rest of my trip and I regretted not stopping. I hoped they would still be there when I drove back about a week later.

I passed through Jeffrey City (another place in the index) and my next stop would be Split Rock. I wanted to get Loki some exercise so he would be happy that evening in Taylor’s small apartment, and the granite rocks at Split Rock were a great place to hike around and get the blood flowing.

Split Rock
Split Rock

Split Rock would become the Loki show as recent melting snow caused shallow spots in the granite boulders to fill up with water and provide my puppy with one of his favorite past times, splashing about and getting wet.

Magestic
Magestic

loki-split_5197

Could be on the cover of Vogue.
Could be on the cover of Vogue.

loki_5173 loki-big_5173

Just after Split Rock is Muddy Gap, where I turned South towards Rawlins. The melting snows had caused thin ponds along the dense clay and sagebrush flats that run between the two places. Again a few unique photo opportunities presented themselves but I decided against stopping. I wanted to get to Laramie to see my beautiful girlfriend.

Driving back a week later, late in the afternoon, I approached the broad hill where I had seen those animal hides. The clouds hung low across the plains, diffusing the light and creating a flat and cruel landscape. If the hides where still there, slung on their fence posts, sentinels hung over the prairie, this would be the moment to capture them. I slowed and climbed the hill, eyes darting back and forth. I missed them. Wait! There they are. I pulled over. I was late getting back to Jackson and even had to work that night, but I could not just pass this scene again.

deer-hides_5228 deer-hides_5233

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Moonset

“Shoulder season,” that magical time after school starts and before the snow falls en masse over Jackson. The traffic around town slows to a meander, the jackets come out, and encounters on the trail with other residents are few and far between.

It’s probably my favorite season. The weather is incredibly dynamic, from light rain to snow, incredible morning valley fogs, clouds of all types wandering overhead. The golden hue of Aspen leaves contrast against their dark green pine counterparts.

The stillness in the air brings clarity to my mind.

The moon slowly sets over a valley of fog.
The moon slowly sets over a valley of fog.
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The Old Linea

Common sense would dictate that the middle of Summer in Jackson is a terrible time to take on new, unnecessary projects. Common sense can also be boring. With the latter in mind, I setup the old, 1989 La Marzocco Linea 2 group in the Roastery kitchen with the intent on restoring and upgrading it.

1989 Linea
Took a while to realize what was sitting in the warehouse…
1989 Linea
Been sitting unused for at least 5 years
1989 Linea top-down
Another look of the insides
1989 Linea top-down
View from the top

As you can see from the photos, this old bird has been idle for quite some time — with full boilers. Most other epsresso machines would be in disrepair after so much time sitting unused. Scale would build, gaskets would dry out and break. Things would start leaking from every fitting and valve.

But this is a La Marzocco. Certainly one of the top-three espresso machine manufacturers on the planet, and arguably the best. Their reputation for building espresso machine tanks are absolutely true, and this machine would fit the bill as well. It’s a Linea after all — the machine with the best reputation from a company known for its exemplary quality.

Honestly, I was taken aback when I first set this machine up and turned it on. No leaks, no broken gaskets, it fired up and filled and started heating up with the bat of an eye. That’s a Linea for you.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. The pressurestat was set to an absurdly high pressure. I feverishly turned it down as the steam boiler pressure continued to climb. I quickly learned the boiler safety valve worked as a sonic boom erupted from our cozy roasting room and steam shot out the top of the machine and plumed across the ceiling. It popped around 1.6 bar — a little less than I thought it would — but certainly within a safe range. After turning the machine off and opening the steam wand to relieve the rest of the pressure, I set the pressurestat down with an incredible amount of turns.

After the pressurestat was set, I then worked on the temperature setting for the brew boiler and the expansion valve. Both required a little fiddling. My guess is that this machine was last in operation at a decently lower altitude than Jackson — where the boiling point was a bit higher. As it was, I was getting boiling water out of the groupheads. After turning that down and setting the expansion valve to the right pressure, I was ready to start flushing copious amounts of water from the boilers.

5 year old water sitting in a stainless steel boiler is quite brackish, having  dull green color to it. I spent the next several hours flushing it all out of both boilers. Once it turned clear, I did a thorough backflushing of the groupheads over several sessions, and flushed some more.

With no more pressure problems and everything appearing to be in working order, I was confident enough to leave the machine on overnight. The next day I continued to flush water, though I was becoming impatient. I desperately wanted to start pulling shots. So I did.

Although this machine will need to get a complete restore with a descale of the boilers and lines, it is currently in quite good working order and making great drinks:

Cappuccino 3
Cappuccino
Cappuccino 2
Cappuccino 2
Cappuccino
Cappuccino 3

These are all 6oz cappuccinos. The espresso for the brown cups is a single origin Ethiopia Sidama — roasted a bit darker than what we sell. The espresso in the white cup is my special “Pregnancy blend” I’m developing for Hannah, our manager and soon-to-be-mother. I’m still working on the final iteration, but it’s basically 1/2 decaf and 1/2 regular. Currently it uses a light-medium roast Mexico Chiapas as the caffeinated component and our standard decaf offering. Our decaf produces an exceptional crema and I enjoy it as well in the afternoons. 1/2 decaf means I can drink twice as much, right?

I’m still getting used to the fatter, shorter steamwands on the Linea over what I’ve been used to steaming on the CMA/Astoria which used to grace our little kitchen. You can see some small bubbles in the foam but I am getting better with each day.

As for the future of this wonderful machine, I’d really love to put paddle groupheads on it and install a PID. That sentence comes at a significant cost, however — probably as much as the current value of the machine. I would want to buy it from the roastery before doing such a costly upgrade.

In the interim, I’m looking at bypassing the flowmeters to provide a more stable temperature at the grouphead and essentially converting this machine to an “EE” model rather than the “AV” model it currently is. This upgrade would be much more affordable, and would open the door to a PID upgrade which would make much more sense in such a configuration.

For now, this machine will stay as it is — perhaps a descale will come when I have an extra day off. Until then, I have a new brain to install in a La Spaziale, a few single group CMA/Astorias to refurbish, a slew of Bunn brewers to descale and have ready for installs, several Bunn drip grinders and La Marzocco Swift espresso grinders to refurb, A Fetco that needs a new control board after I blew up a resistor on it; and of course, fulfilling my actual job title of Roastmaster. Just another Summer in Jackson!

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