Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

In the Line of Fire

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Left, Journeyman Lineman Scott Davies has been with Anza Electric Cooperative for 14 years. He grew up in Anza. Right, Journeyman Lineman Sandy King has been with Anza Electric Cooperative for more than four years. He grew up in Hemet, not far from where the fire started.
Photos by Phillip Elgie

Inside the early days of the Cranston Fire and the race to restore power with Anza Electric linemen

It was around noon July 25 when Sandy King first saw smoke. High above the Southern California desert in the bucket of a hydraulic lift, the lineman from Anza Electric Cooperative was hooking up a new transformer when he looked north and saw a massive smoke plume billowing up from beyond the next ridge.

“Oh my God,” Sandy said, yelling down to fellow lineman Scott Davies. “Look at that.”

Scott looked in the direction Sandy was pointing, and his eyes widened behind his sunglasses. He couldn’t be sure, but it appeared the area burning in the distance was the same area through which a vast network of power poles carried power to Anza’s 5,000 customers. The stocky, thickly bearded Anza native suppressed the anxiety bubbling up around one thought: This could be really bad.

Around the same time, law enforcement officials started receiving calls from several eyewitnesses claiming to have seen a man in a white Honda starting fires in the Hemet area. A crime bulletin was issued, and around 1 p.m.—less than two hours after the fire started—members of the Hemet/San Jacinto Valley Gang Task Force pulled over a late-model, white Honda sedan and arrested Brandon N. McGlover on suspicion of setting multiple fires.

By about 2 p.m., Scott and his foreman, Ben Wallace, had reached the Mountain Center switch station—the point where Southern California Edison’s lines connect to and feed Anza’s. The linemen were now just 3 miles from the fire, which Scott thought he could see moving away from Anza’s service area.

He tried to maintain a positive mindset, hoping the situation would blow over.

He pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of the blaze. Within 24 hours, the spot where he was standing would be charred black and burnt to ash.

The linemen knew that even if they didn’t lose any power poles—and that was a big if—SCE would have to de-energize Anza’s line for safety reasons. By 6 p.m., Anza’s residents were without power.

To the high-desert community nestled just south of the San Jacinto National Forest, no electricity meant no way to pump water from the wells that give life to the area’s people and livestock, no refrigeration, no air conditioning, no lights. Estimates for how long the outage could last ranged from one or two days to several weeks.

At Anza’s headquarters, General Manager Kevin Short reached out to the Generation and Transmission Cooperatives of Arizona—the wholesale power supply cooperative that generates Anza’s power. He explained the gravity of the situation. The G&T mobilized to provide the support Anza needed to get the power back on.

“Kevin made the decision from the get-go that we were going to give our customers power no matter the cost,” Scott says. “That clear directive from the top really set the tone for everyone’s response, and I think that’s a testament to not just his leadership but the commitment we all have to our members.”

The next morning, July 26, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.

The first flatbed truck from the G&T kicked up dusty plumes as they lumbered to a halt outside Anza’s headquarters. Hydraulic brakes squealed and whooshed, and Anza had its lifeline: the first of six massive, 2,600-horsepower generators.

The sense of relief that came with the generator’s arrival was quickly eclipsed by the realization that no one on staff had any experience with the equipment.

The linemen knew electricity. They knew their system. But they never had to run Anza’s grid on 2-megawatt generators. They hunkered down and got to work, reading manuals and learning on the fly how to get the generators up and running.

Initially, the factory default settings prevented the generators from even operating. The vendor’s engineers had to step in and adjust the machines’ output to 1.6 or 1.7 megawatts.

“It took most of Thursday to figure out how to hook them up into our main feed and run some circuits so people could fill up wells or do what they needed to do,” Sandy says.

While Anza’s members waited for power, the co-op’s staff set up huge pallets of water in their lobby so members who needed water could get it there. They deployed several smaller generators into town, setting up a resource center and emergency shelter at the community hall.

Working with local Lions Club members, Anza’s staff set up another resource center at the local rodeo arena, where people could get water for their animals or have some of the food from a barbecue run by volunteers.

As everyone worked to provide essential services, Scott and Sandy thought ahead to the next phase. Firefighters still weren’t allowing anyone into the fire zone. The linemen feared what they might find once they were allowed to assess the damage to their lines.

“We have three guys on our crew, and it takes us about a half-day to a day just to repair one pole,” Sandy says. “In the past 13 years, the most we’ve ever lost in a fire was 15 poles, and all of those were on a roadway.”

Based on the fire’s size and location, the linemen were expecting more than that. To make things worse, all the poles they expected to lose were 60 to 80 feet tall and either up on a mountain, in a canyon or on a ridge.

The geography and logistics were a lineman’s nightmare. They were told to expect to work throughout August on repairing the damage.

The linemen had averaged 18 hours on Wednesday, and Thursday was looking no better.

By Friday, Anza had six of the RV-sized generators from Quinn Power Systems, but even with those hooked up and burning an average of 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel each day, they simply couldn’t generate enough power to keep the system running at 100 percent.

Anza’s team came up with a plan to rotate circuits. Not all customers would have power all the time. Every four hours, crews had to be at different points in the system at the same time to rotate power through circuits so all customers had power for at least part of the day.

The co-op was able to provide about 75 percent of the system’s regular load with 90 percent reliability, according to Kevin.

“Everyone in the company stepped out of their comfort zone to do things they don’t usually do,” Sandy says about the race to get power back on for members. “Fiber (optic cable) guys worked with the ground crews and rallied to help with anything we needed. The extra manpower really saved us.”

Just when everything seemed to be going smoothly with the generators, Murphy’s Law kicked in. Lights flickered, and staff could see smoke coming out of the substation.

A very unlucky rodent had entered the main switch gear, causing a fire that melted all the conductors and switch gear.

Anza’s staff quickly put out the fire and rushed to make repairs and get the generator back up. Luckily, the generator provider had left the parts needed to fix the damage, and Anza’s staff got all generation back up and running within an hour.

By Friday afternoon, when generator power was finally flowing to Pinyon Pines, Scott headed out to check breakers—a time-consuming job. Pinyon Pines was a ghost town. The streets were empty. Scott half-expected to see a tumbleweed roll through.

He was surprised when he saw an old man flagging him down with a shaky arm upraised.

Already running on fumes from the endless long hours and limited sleep, Scott braced himself to field the standard questions and complaints from another frustrated, anxious customer.

He stopped and rolled down the truck’s window.

“I just want to shake your hand,” the man said, extending his arm.

The gesture fueled Scott’s resolve even more.

Late that night, Scott drug himself home. He had about three hours before he had to be back at work, making sure the generators supplying the Anza community were running smoothly. Seeing his own house, still in the dark, made his feet trudge a little bit slower.

Three hours before I’m back at it, he thought.

Inside Scott’s house, the smell of rotting food hit him. His fridge had been out for almost two days. Instead of immediately shucking off his work clothes and getting a few precious minutes of sleep, Scott cleaned out his fridge.

His three-hour window of sleep turned into two.

On Saturday, fire crews finally let Anza’s staff into the burn zone to inspect the damage. The fire in some places was still smoldering.

Scott’s lone utility truck crept through the crowd of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles toward the highway. Some rails were still on fire.

Driving up the highway toward the switch station at Mountain Center, Scott saw occasional chunks of burnt trees rolling down hills. The tops of some hollowed-out trees still burned like giant torches. Everything was ash-covered and gray or burned black.

“It looked like the apocalypse,” he says.

Eventually, he came across the first burnt-out power pole, and his fear spiked.

If this pole is burned, how many others are there? he thought to himself.

What he found once he was able to survey the entire area was that Anza’s poles had mostly been spared. The fire had claimed 126 of SCE’s poles and just three of Anza’s.

The Cranston Fire ultimately destroyed 12 buildings and devoured more than 13,000 acres.

Southern California Edison led the repair and rebuilding phase. The effort took 40 line-construction crews, 40 civil crews, 38 vegetation crews, 13 traffic-control crews, 16 damage assessment crews and three helicopters to deliver replacement poles to all the remote locations and difficult terrain.

Scott and Sandy averaged from 16 to 20 hours a day as they raced to get the power back on and keep it on as Anza rebuilt its system.

“It was stressful,” Sandy says. “We never had enough time to get everything done. Most days we didn’t have time to eat. But I enjoyed learning a lot of new skills, and the days seemed to fly by.”

Scott says that while the days were exhausting and the work was never-ending, he can look back on it now with fondness.

“I managed to enjoy every bit of it,” he says. “Because, from our GM all the way to our front-office gals, everyone on our team stepped up and came together. It was pretty amazing, and I’m glad I was a part of it.”


Of Clouds and Dreams

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Cloud formations are endlessly fascinating and never the same, filled with animals and armies, chariots and spaceships.
Photo by David LaBelle

I spent many wonder-filled afternoons lying on my back in spring pastures or early summer hayfields watching cotton clouds lumber across blue skies. It was a magical, entertaining, curiosity-filled time, my dreams floating upward, attaching to slow-moving shapes before disappearing to faraway lands.

I often wondered where the clouds went after they left my view. Perhaps they dropped my dreams in the lap of another boy far away.

I imagined riding on a cloud and seeing where it took me. Years later, looking out of jet windows above mushrooming clouds, I still wished I could push past the plexiglass and ride a cloud.
Sometimes, I even imagined the sky was the ocean and clouds were whitecaps.

Straddling worlds of reality and fantasy, my siblings and I spent hours spotting animals and figures in the ever-changing sky.

“There’s a woodpecker; see his pointed head?” Another would holler, “I see a dog or a lion, or a scary monster face.”

Gazing into the heavens or across the plains, we feel a range of emotions—from delight to gratitude to fear—from the different formations: fluffy cumulus; layered stratus meandering across the horizon; thin, feathery cirrus, like streaking white fireflies; tall, billowing, intimidating several-mile-high cumulonimbus formations that climb into the heavens so powerfully.

How could we be bored as long as we have eyes to see or a camera to record a unique cloud-filled tapestry?

Whatever your emotions, never stop being amazed or grow indifferent seeing our creator’s handiwork.

As you try to record the beauty of cloud-filled heavens:

  • Use foreground to create scale and depth. As with photographing most large things, scale helps us understand size. Choosing a contrasting or complimentary foreground is often the difference between a so-so image and a compelling, even breathtaking, one.
  • Notice how time of day changes the direction of light, color and mood. Though I talk a lot about using early morning or late afternoon light and avoiding high noon light, using mid-day sunlight to photograph clouds is often best because the sun bleaches the tops, which creates lovely contrasts to azure blue skies. The bottoms of the clouds, hidden from direct sunlight, are darker and grayer, reflecting light from the earth or ocean.
    Watch how landscapes change as clouds pass before the sun. This creates shadows, which, in turn, create beautiful layers of tones and depth on the land or water.
  • Capitalize on sunrise and sunset. As children, most of us heard the weather forecast: Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. I watch the sky during the day. When I see opaque clouds beginning to gather in the early afternoon, I know a beautiful, colorful sunset is possible. I begin considering what foreground might work best and scout at least an hour before sunset. Sunrises require more planning to be in position before the clouds explode in color before actual sunrise. Sunsets develop gradually. Sunrises happen quickly. Color fades and changes in seconds.
  • Look above and below. The angle from which we view anything can change our perception and our feelings. Get a window seat and put your phone on airplane mode.

I never tire of documenting God’s handiwork. Full of beauty, tension and unending surprises, each cloud-filled sky is a unique, complex masterpiece never to be seen again.

Internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer David LaBelle has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He spent his magical boyhood years taking photos. For more information, visit

The Plastic Herd

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Christine DiCurti cuddles with a young colt she has not yet fully rehabilitated. The restoration process starts with Christine stripping off the old paint and applying a white basecoat.
Photos by Mike Teegarden

Rescued horses find new life, thanks to artistic owner

Christine DiCurti keeps an unusual stable of livestock at her Ester, Alaska, home. Among them are a zebra, an appaloosa and a clown fish horse—named Nemo, of course. These are not your typical thoroughbreds, though.

Christine creates colorful yard art from old plastic rocking horses, transforming them into whimsical expressions of her mood using paint and a lot of creativity.

“I love horses,” she says. “That’s what it comes down to. I’ve always kept that love of horses, and ridden off and on over the years. This is just a continuation of that love.”

Christine and her husband, Erik Hansen, live a few miles outside of Fairbanks. Three years ago, she became enamored with an old plastic child’s rocking horse in a neighbor’s yard.

“In the neighborhood we walk, it’s about a 2-mile loop,” Christine says. “For quite a few years, there was a swingset with a horse on it, an old one. The person who lives there lives in Hawaii and only comes back once every two or three years. I’ve always said, ‘Oh, I’d like to save that horse, paint it, make a zebra out of it.’ I really didn’t have any hope that we would ever get the horse.

“But Eric knew the guy, and when I was gone he happened to be walking. The guy was there and redoing a lot of stuff, taking down stuff. Eric asked him if he would sell the horse, and the guy said, ‘You can just have it.’ That was sort of the start of things.”

Christine took that first horse and stripped the old paint, repainted it with a white basecoat and turned it into a zebra. Erik added a pole to mount it in the yard.

“And then it was like, ‘Hmm, I wonder if we could find anymore,’” Christine says.

That was the beginning of her quest for toy horses mounted on bases with springs or on swingsets. Christine hasn’t looked back. Her herd now includes eight horses, with three more in the works.

She and Erik found some of the horses on Craigslist. Others were discovered as they cruised around town on their bikes. Family and friends have also contributed. The farthest one—brought back by Erik’s son—came from Buffalo, New York.

The horse art is a summer project.

“All winter long I weave,” Christine says. “I weave rugs and scarves. I do tie-dying with my girlfriend in Oregon to sell at bazaars. By the time summer comes, I really am tired of it. It’s too nice. We’re outside biking. So this is something different I can do. I set up in my loom room with my paint table and just sit up there. I can have the door open and just sort of figure out what I want to do with each horse.”

Most of the horses have arrived in good condition, but Erik had to manufacture a new part for one abused steed.

“We got one recently that was a little more broken,” Christine says. “None of these have been broken in any form, but recently this summer we got one that the saddle had a little break in it. Erik made a new tail for that one.”

“Out of resin and fiberglass,” Erik adds.

Erik is supportive of Christine’s latest passion, but has his limits. She says he told her, “I refuse to make a carousel. You can mount them in the garden, but don’t ask for a carousel.”

A Formula to Grow Your Photo-Storytelling Skills

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

One of the cool things about barbershops is the abundance of mirrors and details. In the image, Walden’s Barbershop in Hartville, Ohio, Ray Walsh, 68, in the chair at left, gets a haircut and beard trim from Theresa Walden while her husband, Tony, prepares to work on college student Matthias Miles. Photos by David LaBelle

Each year, I give dozens of assignments designed to help students grow their narrative storytelling skills. I have found one exercise that best challenges and strengthens the skills of beginner documentary photographers: documenting a local barbershop.

Like finding a physical workout to strengthen muscles, this photo assignment helps strengthen observational, listening, interpersonal, organizational, artistic, interpretive and technical skills while building the beginner’s confidence—a key ingredient for successful storytellers.

Success builds success, so it is important for beginners to tackle something they can achieve. Initially, I thought a hair salon would also work, but they have never produced the same results.

Here is why this works:

  • It is a contained spot. A lot of sports photographers are lousy documentary storytellers. They are great at covering a planned event in a self-contained location, but often fail when they have to “find” stories on their own. Researching, talking to strangers, and coming up with a storyline or point of view is not their strength. Like a sporting venue, the barbershop allows the action and interactions to be witnessed and experienced in a pre-determined, self-contained environment.
  • It forces shy, introverted people to work and interact in close spaces. For many of my students with solid technical skills, approaching strangers or speaking in a public forum is a difficult challenge. Those who know me find it hard to believe I was once a terribly shy, insecure young man terrified to speak publicly. But I felt I had important things to say, so I kept facing my fears and stumbling until public speaking became comfortable. Working in close spaces with people you do not know stretches your comfort zone, forcing you to interact with fellow human beings. This requires you to make initial contact to ask permission. Maybe get your hair cut first?
  • It is a place to observe, listen and learn. Sitting quietly, preferably with a notepad, will teach you to observe and listen. This must be done without the destructive distraction of a cellphone or laptop screen. I remember stepping off a plane onto Alaska’s North Slope and feeling I had been dropped on the moon. I was there to photograph wildlife, but saw nothing but spongy, frozen emptiness. As I sat staring and listening, the tundra began to move, and I heard a variety of animals. Many are so blinded by their devices they fail to see the subtle beauty around them. Sitting quietly in a barbershop, you will see important, relevant, storytelling details you have never noticed. Listen. Pay attention to colorful quotes, the cantor or speech, names. First, observe without the camera at your face or eye. Watch, gather and experience the smells and the sounds.

Visit several times, until you and they feel comfortable. The more you show up, the quicker people will quit performing and see you as part of the furniture—and you will feel more comfortable, which will make shooting pictures easier.

Show appreciation to the people who have given you access to them, and their precious time and trust, by offering to give them pictures.

Don’t risk forgetting to follow up or losing business cards or scraps of paper containing their names. Instead, give them your email and put the onus on them to contact you. It is easy to ask for pictures, but many won’t make the effort to follow up. If they do, be sure to deliver. People will judge others and the profession by your actions.

Internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer David LaBelle has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. For more information, visit

Famous Farmhouse Lost in Flames

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

It’s become a common warm-weather sight in the Northwest: acre upon acre ravaged by fire.

The summer of 2018 has been no exception.

The Substation Fire started on private land southeast of The Dalles, Oregon, on Tuesday, July 17. By the evening of July 22, the fire had covered 78,425 acres.

Among the destruction was the Charles E. Nelson farmhouse in Dufur, a farming community of 607 people as of 2014.

The clapboard Queen Anne Victorian dated back to the late 1800s. It was named for Charles Nelson, the building’s last occupant. He and his wife, Orma, lived there from 1927 to 1949.

Although the house was dilapidated and abandoned—left vacant for nearly 80 years—it was thought to be one of the most photographed farmhouses in the state.

The top photo, taken by Leon Burkholder of Boring, Oregon, was captured July 7. Leon returned to the spot July 18. Only a few scorched trees and an unused windmill remain.

Allemande, Do-Si-Do, Swing

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

Dancing lifts the spirits while twirling to live music

With a few gentle strokes of a rosined bow, fiddle strings come to life, and another contra dance begins in Eugene, Oregon. Dancers move under the direction of caller Woody Lane, who guides them through the flowing dance as they travel up and down the dance hall in lines, greeting other dancers with big smiles.

Woody, from Roseburg, Oregon, calls out the next move as the powerful and rhythmic music performed by Chico Schwall and Friends fuels the dancers through the steps. As the music builds to a crescendo, the dancers feed off the energy and their enthusiasm rises. Some whoop or cheer, sensing the end of the tune is near, and work to add one last flourish before the dance ends.

“I’m of the philosophy that this is a big party,” Woody says. “People are having a good time together in a safe, supporting place.”

Many dancers say they cannot have a bad time contra dancing. With the uplifting music, the social interaction and endorphins released from exercise, the dance hall is full of positive energy.

Between sets, the room buzzes with conversation as old friends catch up and new friends get acquainted.

What is Contra Dancing?
Contra dancing is an American folk dance with roots in France, England and Scotland. Contra roughly means “oppo-site” in French. Dancers are often oppo-site their partners in long lines up and down the dance hall.

With moves you might find in square dancing—such as do-si-do, swing and circle left—new dancers catch on quickly. A caller walks dancers through each dance before it begins and keeps them on track.

No fancy footwork is required. Anyone who can count to eight and walk a straight line can master the basics.

“It is easy,” says Christine Cormac, a dancer at the bimonthly Eugene dance sponsored by the Eugene Folklore Society. “It is fun. People are friendly and super forgiving.”

“It’s a fun way to exercise,” says Karen Olsen, who drove more than 100 miles to attend the dance. “It’s always live music. It’s like being a kid again, running around and being silly.”

Part of the magic of contra dancing is that while you have a partner, you also dance with everyone else in your line. A series of moves is performed with another couple next to you in your line. At the end of that series, each couple progresses in the line and repeats the pat-tern with a new couple.

Part of the contra culture is that experienced dancers pair up with beginners. By doing so, new dancers learn quickly, and the experience for everyone improves.

Another custom is changing partners after each dance. When the music stops, partners grab a drink of water and look for their next partner. Anyone can ask anyone to dance.

Each dance set lasts about 15 minutes.

What is the Music Like?
A live band plays jigs and reels with a lively beat, but it is not limited to those genres.

The melody is often carried by a fiddler but can trade off with other instruments. The band might consist only of a fiddle and piano player, but most often  has three to five musicians. Other common instruments include guitar, banjo, mandolin, bodhran (an Irish drum), accordion or concertina, string bass and penny whistle.

As the dancing heats up, stomping feet and clapping hands at key moments in the music adds another dimension to the sound.

One dance in Portland, Oregon, plays techno music.

What Should I Wear?
Contra dancing is a good workout, so dress accordingly. Unlike its more formal cousin, square dancing, puffy skirts and bolo ties are rarely seen at a contra dance.

Men often wear shorts and T-shirts, and women wear skirts long enough that they are comfortable when they twirl. Many wear shoes with a leather sole, which facilitates twirling on the floor, but any comfortable pair of nonmarking shoes is fine. Some dancers find bowling shoes work well. Avoid high heels or boots. The best shoes allow dancers to slide on their toes as they maneuver around the room.

If You Go
New dancers are always welcome and a partner is not required—singles will haveno trouble finding a partner. Most dances are family-friendly and have a 30-min-ute lesson for beginners before the first dance. The caller reviews the basic moves and offers tips. By the end of the evening, the new dancers blend right in with the veterans.

Woody offers a simple tip for first-time dancers.

“Smile and just have a good time,” he says. “Try to dance with people who know how to dance.”

Want more? Check out the video from the dance at

Venturing Outside the Lines

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

A good map is essential when venturing off the beaten path. Above, a father and daughter take a break to check their location on a map of the area. They are using the stream as a linear topographical feature to follow, in lieu of a trail. © iStock/Kerkez

Remember when you learned to color in school? You were taught to stay within the lines.
Yet there was always that kid who couldn’t resist the temptation to color outside the lines.

For some of us, that tendency is inherent in the way we explore the outdoors. We prefer to get off the beaten path. It’s a great way to avoid crowds, discover new vistas and see more wildlife.

Whatever your favorite means of experiencing the outdoors—backpacking, hiking, mountain biking or canoeing—here are a few tips to help you enjoy your excursions outside the lines.

  • Master basic navigation skills. At a minimum, that includes knowing how to read a map, identify terrain features, orient a map to terrain, track pace count, and take and follow a compass bearing.
  • Don’t go it alone. Traveling with friends is always more enjoyable, not to mention safer.
  • Bring along a good map. Bring a hardcopy or digital map downloaded to your GPS or phone. Better yet, carry both. Don’t rely on maps that require internet access, since cell signals may be weak or nonexistent in remote areas.
  • Avoid fragile vegetation and terrain. Always obey stay-on-the-trail signs. Even in areas not posted, whenever possible, stay on dirt, sand, rocks or other durable surfaces.
  • Let someone know where you are going. Have a plan and share it with friends or family. Give them a copy of the map showing your intended route.

App of the Month:Gaia GPS
A good map app is useful for wilderness travel, and Gaia GPS is well worth consideration. It offers all of the features one expects to find in a first-rate map app, and exceeds expectations.

One feature that sets it apart is the ability to download lots of maps—not just one type, but many different formats. Maps can be viewed singly or in layers.

A free, bare-bones version of Gaia GPS is available, but the best value is the member-level annual subscription. Some people might consider it expensive—$19.95 a year—but it is well worth the price.

Think Like Bait
It’s simple: Locate bait and you will find fish. To do that, you have to know where naturally occurring bait will be found. Obviously, time of year, water temperature and habitat should be assessed. But you also can take your cues from observations. Watch for bait fish skimming the surface or schooling in open water. Birds circling or feeding on the water is also a good indication of bait—and fish.

Special September Days
September 16, Collect Rocks Day.
September 22, National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use. Remember to identify people and pets in photos. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Happenings Out West

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

Benton REA welcomes visitors to National Night Out in West Richland, Washington.
Photo courtesy of Benton REA

Planning a final hurrah before summer ends? Check out the following events as you hit the road throughout Ruralite territory


Friday, August 3, through Saturday, August 11
Tanana Valley State Fair, Fairbanks
The Tanana Valley State Fair is the oldest fair in the state. The event features family fun, including livestock, games, rides, an amusement park, horse shows, art and crafts, competitive exhibits, quilt shows, giant cabbages, contests, special events, and two outdoor stages with free entertainment.


Friday, August 17
Denali Blueberry Festival, Healy
This fun family event at Otto Lake features carnival games, face painting, live music, a barbecue and Frisbee golf on the water.


August 2-5, 9-12
Festival at Sandpoint
Don’t miss eight nights of music under the stars on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint. Since 1983, the festival has hosted a summer concert series in at Memorial Field in Sandpoint. This year’s lineup includes Big Head Todd and The Monsters, ZZ Top, Amos Lee, Spokane Symphony and others.


Friday, August 24, and Saturday, August 25
Hot August Nights, Lewiston
The Friday Night Car Cruise and the Saturday Show Shine take place in conjunction with Lewiston’s Hot August Nights concert at Boomers’ Garden. The event draws local, regional and national car enthusiasts to Lewiston each year. Participants are encouraged to take advantage of the growing business and cultural scene by spending time at the town’s restaurants, shops, museums and entertainment venues.



Saturday, August 25
Western Heritage Day, Wells
The Society for the Preservation of Western Heritage welcomes visitors to Trail 49 Museum to relive the past through lectures and entertainment.
Call (775) 752-3540 for details.


Saturday, August 4
Frenchglen Jamboree, Frenchglen
The day includes dummy roping, a boot race, a stick horse barrel race, a potato race and musical grain sacks for children up to age 14. Team branding follows morning events. The jamboree also includes horseshoe and cribbage tournaments at Frenchglen Hotel.


Saturday, August 4
Oregon’s 66th annual East West Shrine All-Star Football Game, Baker City
Once a year, Oregon’s best senior football players from 1A to 4A high schools play an all-star football game to support Portland Shriners Hospital for Children. The day begins with a parade.


Saturday, August 7, through Saturday, August 11
Douglas County Fair, Roseburg
The midway features rides, food vendors, commercial vendors and livestock. Top-name musical entertainment is free with fair admission.


Wednesday, August 8, through Saturday, August 11
Tillamook County Fair, Tillamook
The fair includes live horse racing, world-famous Pig-N-Ford races, a carnival and a wide variety of vendors. This year’s theme is “There’s Magic in the Air, With a Country Flair!”
Entertainment includes Sawyer Brown, Jerrod Niemann and The Blues Traveler. There is a demolition derby Saturday.


Thursdays, August 9 and August 23
Music in the Pines, La Pine
This free concert series includes a great lineup of bands, food and craft vendors. Bring lawn chairs, blankets and the entire family.


Friday, August 31, through Monday, September 3
Sumpter Flea Market, Sumpter
More than 150 booths and vendors make this one of the largest flea markets in Oregon. Visitors can ride the Sumpter Valley Railroad, visit the Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge and explore the region’s gold rush history at local museums.
Call (541) 894-231 for more details.



Tuesday, August 7
National Night Out, West Richland
Neighborhoods throughout West Richland join forces for the 33rd annual National Night Out crime and drug prevention event at Flat Top Park. Visit with police officers, play games, and enjoy hamburgers and hot dogs as you learn more about crime prevention.
Other National Night Out events are planned throughout the U.S.
For more information, call (509) 967-0521.


Thursday, August 9
Downtown Sip & Stroll, Walla Walla
The Downtown Walla Walla Foundation and local merchants invite visitors to an evening of shopping and wine tasting while strolling downtown. Enjoy local wines, snacks, and access to special sales and giveaways. Tickets include six wine tastings at participating wineries.


Thursday, August 23, through Sunday, August 26
Klickitat County Fair and Rodeo, County Fairgrounds, Goldendale
The event celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Events include a Northwest Pro Rodeo Association rodeo on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.


Friday, August 31, through Sunday, September 2
Maryhill Windwalk Gravity Games, Historic Maryhill Loops Road south of Goldendale
The event showcases standup skateboarders, street luge and classic luge on the first paved road in Washington. 

How to Outdoor-Proof Your Smartphone

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

Water is one of a smartphone’s worst enemies, especially saltwater. Even if your phone is in a waterproof case, manufacturers don’t recommend allowing the case to come in contact with saltwater or briny beaches. If that happens, rinse it with tap water and dry it with a soft cloth. Avoid pushing any of the buttons while rinsing or when the case is still wet.
© iStock/tuaindeed

Let’s face it. Your smartphone is a tenderfoot outdoors. Dangers abound, ready at any moment to turn it into a handful of worthless e-scrap.

To protect your phone, consider these five tips to safeguard it from moisture, dirt, sand, sunlight and heat.

  • Cover it. Invest in a waterproof case, which also protects the phone from dirt and sand getting inside. Even something as simple and cheap as a zip baggie or freezer bag provides a basic level of protection.
  • Up-armor it. For a few dollars more than a mid-range waterproof case, you can get one that also protects the phone from drops. Stick with name brands, such as Pelican, Lifeproof and Otterbox.
  • Hide it. The sun and extreme heat can wreck havoc on the screen and inner workings of your phone. Keep it out of direct sunlight and off of the ground—such as in your pocket or backpack—to avoid these hazards. Better yet, a dry area in a cooler provides the perfect refuge for a phone with a waterproof case.
  • Love it. A little TLC goes a long way. Use screen protectors to avoid scratches. Perform regular maintenance, such as cleaning the outside of the phone and blowing out hard-to-reach places with canned air.
  • Leave it. Do you really need to take your phone? Only you can make that determination. If the answer is no, leave it at home and avoid the hazards that lurk outdoors.

Get the Mud Out
Ever notice how catfish caught in summer have a somewhat muddy taste? The best way to eliminate the taste is to cut out the band of reddish dark meat—often called the mud vein—that runs through catfish filets. Then, soak the white meat of the filets overnight in the refrigerator in water and a little lemon juice or vinegar to remove any residual mud taste before cooking.

Three Tent Camping Comfort Hacks

  • Take a cue from RVers: Pack an old carpet to roll out in front of your tent or where you congregate. Consider bringing a second one for inside your tent. Your feet will thank you.
  • Bring toilet paper from home. It is sure to be softer than the sandpaper-quality TP found at most campgrounds.
  • If you sleep on the ground, put a closed-cell sleeping pad under your egg crate or air mattress. It will insulate you from the ground better, keep you warmer and inhibit condensation on your mattress.

Special Days in August

  • August 1, National Mountain Climbing Day
  • August 4, Campfire Day
  • August 4, U.S. Coast Guard Day
  • August 10, National S’mores Day
  • August 18, National Honey Bee Awareness Day
  • August 20, World Mosquito Day
  • August 31, National Trail Mix Day

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use. Tell us the story behind the picture, and remember to identify people and pets. Email your submission to moc.stnerrucadirolfnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird-watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

The People’s Creamery

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

At 42,000 square feet, the new Tillamook Creamery is more than 50 percent larger than Tillamook’s previous visitor experience.

With its storied history and long legacy of producing premium dairy products, the Tillamook County Creamery Association is one of Oregon’s most beloved institutions.

Shannon Lourenzo loves cows.

For the farmer-owner and board chairman of the Tillamook County Creamery Association, his roughly 600 dairy cows are like extended family.

Ask Shannon about his cows, and his mood livens. He’ll tell you how they all have unique personalities and endearing quirks that make the stress of dairy farming worthwhile. He’ll tell you about Holstein cows (black and white fur) and Jersey cows (brown fur) and how Jerseys, which are generally smaller than Holsteins and produce less milk, have a higher yield of butter fat and protein—the components used to make cheese and other dairy products.

“I was born and raised in the dairy business, and I love it,” Shannon says with a subtle drawl. “To do this, you really have to love it. It’s a seven-day-a-week job, and I mean it when I say I can’t wait to wake up every morning and do it all again.”

While the tedium of business management commands much of his time, Shannon wakes every morning before dawn to feed his cows. He prefers to handle his own veterinary work and is always making time for his true passion: cows.

You could say cows are sacred in Tillamook County.

Shannon and his family are one of almost 90 farming families who comprise the Tillamook County Creamery Association. Their motto, “Dairy done right,” is a sort of gospel they live by. The TCCA’s farmer-owners are stewards of a 109-year-old legacy of producing premium dairy products.

“As a co-op, we’re here to serve our members, which are the suppliers of the milk,” says TCCA President and CEO Patrick Criteser. “The owners of our company are farming families who think in generational terms rather than quarterly or annual projections.

“We’re always thinking about the whole big picture, and it motivates us to think about stewardship. We uphold that value of stewardship, which we define as doing the right thing for all stakeholders for the long term.”

Since its inception, TCCA has maintained its core values and traditions. The co-op has used the same cheddar-cheese recipe since 1894 when renowned cheesemaker Peter McIntosh brought his recipe to Tillamook County. He eventually earned the nickname “Cheese King of the Coast.”

Over the years, Tillamook dairy products have won close to 700 awards, including a win for World’s Best Medium Cheddar Cheese at the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest.

Loved by Oregonians all over the state, the Tillamook brand is a revered institution intricately woven into Oregon’s cultural DNA.

“We’re a Tillamook-only household,” says 15-year-old Matthew Manske of Albany, Oregon. “Tillamook cheese is what my great-grandparents and grandparents always had. It’s what my parents love. It’s a family tradition that’s been passed on through the generations.”

TCCA officially formed in 1909 when several small creameries came together to ensure all cheese made in the region met the same standard of quality. But the Tillamook legacy dates to 1851 when the Tillamook Valley’s first settlers saw opportunity in the area’s wet, coastal climate. With lush, green grass as far as the eye could see, Tillamook was ideal for raising dairy cows, and dairy farming quickly became a prevalent trade.

Tillamook County is on the Oregon Coast, just south of the state’s northernmost county. In the 1850s, getting products to market in Portland and other more populous areas presented a major logistical challenge. In addition to having no means of refrigeration to preserve milk, navigating the rough wagon trails through the mountains and dense forest took far too long.

Farmers turned to cheese making as a matter of necessity and delivered their products to Portland by river on a schooner called the Morning Star. Today, the schooner features prominently on the cooperative’s logo, and Tillamook’s products carry the Morning Star to markets all over the world.

“In my visits to Asia, I got to see Tillamook cheese not only in Beijing, but I saw it in Japan,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said June 19, addressing a crowd gathered for the new Tillamook Creamery’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I’m hoping on my next trip to Vietnam that I will see it there as well.”

Against the backdrop of a clear, blue sky, with a Jersey cow’s massive portrait staring out wide-eyed above the creamery entrance, Brown praised the Tillamook Creamery and cooperative for being “proudly and uniquely Oregon.”

Designed by Seattle-based architecture firm Olson Kundig and built by Portland-based Precision Construction, the new 42,000-square-foot creamery is more than 50 percent larger than the previous facility, which attracted more than 1.3 million visitors each year. Now that the new creamery is open, that number appears to be growing.

“The response to this new visitor experience has been overwhelming,” Patrick says. “Opening those doors at 8 a.m. the first day and seeing the line all the way out to the parking lot was so thrilling, but also a little panic-inducing. And we have not seen it let up.”

Patrick says since its official opening June 20, the new creamery has been jam-packed with between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors daily.

Adjacent to the company’s flagship manufacturing facility and headquarters, the new creamery features a larger indoor dining area and outdoor covered patio, a new menu created in partnership with Portland chef Sarah Schafer of Irving Street Kitchen, an expanded ice cream counter featuring every flavor of Tillamook Ice Cream, a coffee and yogurt bar, an enhanced viewing experience of Tillamook’s cheese production and packaging operations, a small theater that features videos about how Tillamook products are made, and an in-depth farm exhibit where visitors can learn about cows, dairy technology and farm life.

“This new visitor experience is one of the most exciting things that’s happened for us in years,” says Shannon. “Consumers want to know what’s in their food and where it comes from, and to have the opportunity to tell our story and share what makes us so unique and special—that’s what I’m most excited about. When people come and experience the creamery, they walk away Tillamook fans.”

Matthew Manske and his father, Kevin, say they’re a testament to the creamery’s fan-making effects. Summer visits to the old Tillamook Cheese Factory were a family tradition when Kevin was growing up—one he was sure to pass on to his kids.

“We had a beach house in Rockaway Beach, and we always stopped at the cheese factory along the way,” Kevin says.

Kevin has made the same summer trips with his kids, so Matthew has his own share of cherished Tillamook experiences.

“We always go for Tillamook because it’s a special brand that we have so many memories with, and because it truly is great cheese,” Matthew says.

As a sixth-generation Oregonian, Patrick says the brand is in his blood too. He has many cherished memories from visiting the factory, but his favorite happened in the summer of 2012.

Excited by an opportunity to join the company, Patrick visited the factory with his family to ponder being part of the organization.

“There were a couple of guys out front, standing near their Harley Davidson motorcycles, with their leather jackets and big beards,” Patrick says, recalling the scene with a chuckle. “One of them was holding up a block of cheese with a big smile, and the other was taking his picture. Looking around at all the families with young kids and grandparents who were bringing their kids and younger couples and Harley Davidson guys, I was just thinking how this company and the brand sort of transcend all of these different demographics in such an exciting way. And it just feels like such a happy place to be for everyone.”

Shannon shares Patrick’s affinity for the co-op and the deep sense of pride that comes with membership.

“For small farmers in the dairy business, it’s hard to compete against modern-day agriculture,” Shannon says. “Where we’re unique is we have this brand that enables us to continue to be small farms and thrive going forward.

“To have a co-op that is truly here for us that can provide so many programs and services that help the farmer-owners—it’s really special. There’s just no place like it. Every time I walk into a supermarket and see our products everywhere, I feel so much pride.”

The new Tillamook Creamery is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Labor Day and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Labor Day through mid-June. Go to for more information. And check out this video to learn more about the Tillamook story.