Mono Lake Dip

monosunrise-1When I was a young man I had the opportunity to visit a dear friend who lived in the countryside of Santa Cruz County. I had brought my new family, which included my two year old daughter Katie. As we were engaged in thoughtful conversation, I noticed the young one at the living room window sill, eating flies from a small spider web. A jaw dropping experience for my wife, our hosts did not flinch, as they had raised a small brood on the ranch. They had seen this before, and maybe worse. As my wife screamed in horror, I was drawn into deep contemplation on the subject. I recalled that the indigenous peoples of the Mono Lake basin, in the Eastern Sierras of California, had made a dish of this same ingredient. Well , maybe not whole dead flies, but alkali fly pupae from the lake’s shore.

The alkali fly was an important source of food for the Kutzadika’a tribe during the summer months in the norther Owens Valley. Somewhat related to the Northern Paiute peoples, the Kutzadika’a (pronounced Kootz-a’-di-ka-a’) lived part of the year in the Mono Basin hunting and gathering fly pupae, or anything else they could get their hands on.
The pupal stage of the alkali fly was collected in shallow water along the lake shore. Since the pupae are rich in fat and protein, they were an excellent source of food that were dried and used in stews, or just eaten on the spot.No catch and release here my friend!

The Kutzadika’a even traded this delicacy with neighboring peoples.
Kind of like Jack and the beanstalk to the neighboring peoples. Trade some venison or the family cow for a handful of maggots.
Kutzadika’a means “fly eater” in their native language. People have been called worse.
To acquire said delicacy, just travel to Mono Lake in summer and scoop the pupae from the shore. Be wary of State Rangers, as they frown on poaching, and do not like to share natures bounty. Just try hunting in Yosemite!

Mono Lake Dip

Ingredients:

Handful of Alkali fly pupae

Blend pupae in a inexpensive food processor or blender. Why inexpensive? If your spouse finds out what you are up to, she will throw blender or food processor out after only one batch! You could go “Old School”, and simply crush in a mortar.
Serve with your favorite chip or cracker. Enjoy!

So, when you host your next soiree or Superbowl party, a guest exclaims, “This dip is fantastic! Where can I get the recipe?”. You just look proud, and point to the window sill, “Why, it’s right over there”.

College Chili and Corn Bread

College Chili and Corn Bread

My daughter Katie asked me the other day for a good recipe that can be made without any high highfalutin culinary equipment . Such as a can opener.
This is a recipe that can be made with the minimum of effort and skill, something that all college students and graduates can appreciate.
When you present this oven fresh dish from the oven, all your dinner guests will be in awe. Some in shock and awe.
You will need an oven and a frying pan.

dishes
Pick the cleanest all metal pan from your “science experiment gone wrong” sink. A cast iron skillet is the weapon of choice!
This will be the baking pan, and serving tray for this elegant meal. Make sure the pan has no plastic or rubber parts, as they will alter the flavor when they melt or ignite in the oven. Wipe off all preexisting debris from said pan.

Ingredients; Purchased with parents hard earned money

Two packages of instant Cornbread (one with add water only, god knows what happened to the milk in your fridge)
One can of Chili. (select one with a pop-top, why use a can opener?) Also, makes sure it’s a tin can, not some anodized can which may emit toxic fumes when heated.

Line skillet with foil. (less, if any clean up when your mom visits)
spray with canned oil.

Pre-heat oven to  400 degrees. Put skillet in oven to pre-heat it also for even baking temp.
In an adequate sized bowl, mix cornbread with required ingredients mentioned on the box.

At pre heat time, remove skillet, set can of chili in center, pour cornbread mix all around can, bake for 22 minutes or until your smoke alarm gives out.

Remove from oven, set on a towel on dining room table (unless you do not care about the table’s finish)

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Wa La! Dig in!
(use spoon used to mix cornbread, less to have your mom to wash, share with roommates)

Zion

When I thought of Zion before this trip, images of biblical times or the subterranean city in the Matrix movie came to mind. I now have a more extensive visual library on the name.

Zion National Park is located in southern Utah. Our expedition included myself, my Travel Agent (wife Carrie) and trusted guard dog/emotional service animal “Mini,” featured on the masthead photo for this site. Besides, “Mini” is one of the family, and she needed to broaden her travel horizons beyond our backyard.

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Our trip would take us from hotel to hotel, Zion to Monument Valley, Arches, and Canyonlands to Bryce Canyon and back to Zion. The full loop visiting some of the most amazing Parks in the western United States. We did not know it, but this time of year (late May) the deserts and canyons were ablaze with color from flowering plants.

Michael McCollum 5/20/14 Close-up of bevertail cactus flowers.zion0005zion0002zion0003

Our first stay, and last stay, was at the Driftwood Lodge in Springdale, just west of the entrance to the park. Wonderful dog-friendly accommodations.

I would highly recommend this place. After a day of hiking/sightseeing or whatever, you rest on your own back porch with an unbelievable view. They are at http://www.driftwoodlodge.net

The photos on the website are what you see out your window. Just incredible.

 

Time for a hike!

After securing Mini at a pet babysitter  (“Krista’s Pet Care” 435-260-2040, and yes they have them for a reason, no dogs allowed in Zion National Park) we took the shuttle from our hotel in Springdale to “The Narrows” trail head. This is a favorite of non-strenuous hiking trails in the park. The shuttle was packed with foreigners speaking in their native tongue as loud as possible to drown out the bus guides super loudspeaker system describing the natural wonders around in his native tongue. Native tongue vs. native tongue. Busman won when the passengers disembarked.

 

We walked along an easy path for a mile or so, and then started walking in the Virgin River. I was glad there was no moss growing on the rounded boulders that made up the riverbed, as that would have been a deal breaker for the hike. After a while, the riverbed turned into sand, and the going was a lot easier. We did not make it all the way to what was said to be the best part of The Narrows, but we went far enough to enjoy some great scenery.

 

On the way down the trail from The Narrows, we encountered a pair of hikers approaching from the inbound direction. The young woman was wearing appropriate hiking gear from the waist down; her top was however more belonging to a renaissance fair costume. One wrong move and she was out!

I immediately averted by eyes from her to see her handsome male companion smiling at me with not a lot of teeth. He was also covered in tattoos and looking very fit. I surmised he could be a professional hockey player, as they also do not have a lot of front teeth. I came close to complementing him on his quantity and variety of tattoos with the expression “Hey, nice tats!” However, I instantly realized this could be mistaken for another expression, and instead said “Howdy, Nice Day!”

We passed without incident.zion0006

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Another point of interest on this trail was the fair amount of people armed with what appeared to be fighting sticks. Almost everyone had one. I speculated there might be a marshal arts festival we had overlooked in the park brochure scheduled for that day. As it turned out, some shop was renting them to river waders to keep their balance. I did see a few waders that are more frugal with small logs used for the same purpose. I approved of the cheaper method.

 

Bryce Canyon

Our travels took us to Bryce Canyon National Park, a series of huge natural amphitheaters carved into sedimentary rocks by streams and the Paria River over a period of time believed to be much more than a few years. Members of The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) settled in the area soon after removing the original indigenous people.The park is named after Ebenezer Bryce, one of those settlers who lived closest to it.

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Erosion has shaped colorful limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into an array of spires, fins, and pinnacles known as “hoodoos.”

Another possible scenario was told on a sign at Inspiration Point, “An elderly man named Indian Dick describes how Bryce Canyon was formed: Before there were any Indians, The Legend People lived in this place. They were of many kinds-birds, animals, lizards and such things-but they had the power to make themselves look like people. For some reason, the Legend People were bad, so Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now, all turned into rocks; some standing in rows, some sitting down, some holding onto others. You can see their faces with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks.” I would go with Indian Dick, please, no puns or comments.

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We stayed at the celebrated Ruby’s Inn just outside of the park. As we arrived late, we ordered a pizza to pick up from one of the local food purveyors. Upon fetching the order, I was surprised of the size and quality of the pie. I did ask the service representative who filled the order if it was made of gold, as they charged $25.00 per pizza. It was not one of my pizzas. (please see Pizza Posts) Complaining aside, there was none left the next morning.

This was another dog friendly hotel, and as such, mini made herself right at home. My wife Carrie had inherited a large collection of postcards from her grandma Ida. Before our trip, she had discovered a card from this hotel, written in 1971 by the owner Carl Syrett (who has since passed away) Carl had written to Ida about a tapestry she had wanted to purchase. The tapestry was probably a Navajo rug, and Carl would sell it for $20.00 including shipping. This was a fair price for the time. A Navajo napkin can go for hundreds if not thousands of dollars nowadays. Carrie brought the postcard and gave it to the present owners (still family) who would pass it on to the sites historian. Were they ever happy about that!

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On our way out to one of the overlooks at Bryce Canyon, we spotted a couple of Pronghorn Antelope grazing beside the road. Home on the Range came to mind, although they were not playing with deer, just eating breakfast. After being inspired at inspiration point, a magnificent view of the thousands of Hoodoo formations, we passed the same meadow. I noticed one of the Antelope right beside the car looking in the passenger window with a wild expression, like an outdoorsman (homeless) person at a city stoplight. It was close enough to reach out and pet it. As we were doing the posted speed limit of 40 mph, this was a very unusual sight indeed to see. I guess that our car had blocked its path, and he was pacing us in hopes we sped up or slowed down. We could only gape at the spectacle.