Category Archives: Culture

Montreal: In Search of Poutine

When in Rome…One dish keeps coming up in conversations about Montreal’s cuisine: Poutine (pronounced putsin). And, of course, the best way to find the best dish is to ask the locals.

The adorable shopkeeper at Rokoko Vintage recommended I ask the bartender at Sparrow who recommended a “casse-croûtes” (greasy spoon) called Chez Claudette adding, “Don’t mind the decor, you’re there for the food.” The waitress at Chez Claudette recommended we ask the chef who stepped away from the kitchen for a moment to recommend le Italienne and Vege. “Une petit plaque de chaque.”

Poutine, according to the chef, originated at a truck stop somewhere in Quebec. A traditional plate included a side of fries, a side of gravy and a side of cheese curds until one eve a particularly rushed driver asked that the sides all be tossed together. “Hence, poutine or, put together.” The popularity of poutine began to grow from there and additional ingredients were added to make any number of variations.

How much of his story I believe I’m not sure (see the wikipedia link below), but Chez Claudette was mentioned in the New Yorker and is a favorite after hours of local bartenders. That, at least, lends cred to the recipe. My take? Surprisingly good, but poutine will probably remain a once-a-year indulgence.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poutine


Traveling through Montreal

Traveling through Montreal for the next few days. First task – learn the proper pronunciation: http://www.facebook.com/vasyfille


Know: Fourteen New National Monuments

Here at Vas-y Fille I’ve decided to mix things up by adding some “know” to the “do”. Because that’s what being curious ultimately boils down to right? Here’s some news that’s continued to catch my eye for some time: 14 potential new national monuments are in the works courtesy of the Obama Administration.

Despite the draft status of the list and its need for further, more serious review, it has managed to incite a backlash among conservatives; particularly the state of Utah in which two of the proposed national monuments are located. But the point here is not to argue politics. I did a little research on each of these to understand why they’ve been nominated. Here’s your chance to learn about these places and maybe put them on your list for summer adventures before the crowds descend.

The San Rafael Swell

The San Rafael Swell. Only one paved road crosses the approximately 600,000 acres. Source: Sanrafaelswell.org

San Rafael Swell, UT

Located in South-Central Utah, the swell is a 75 by 40 mile weather-worn outcropping of sandstone, shale and limestone. Surrounded by the canyons, gorges and mesas that make Utah famous for outlaws and painters the swell holds residence for eight rare plan species alongside ancient rock art.

The Northern Prairie, MT

Few opportunities exist to conserve invaluable grassland ecosystems and their native plant and animal life. If selected, the Northern Prairie would become more than 2.5 million acres of grassland that borders Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area and Grasslands National Park in Canada. The cross-boundary conservation would provide a new bison range and preserve habitat for endangered species like the sage grouse and black-footed ferret.

Northern Montana Prairie

In Montana, the greatest threat to native prairie has been conversion to cropland. Source: Nature.org

Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve, NM

Inhabited by the lesser prairie chicken (more than 30 percent of the population) and the sand dune lizard, the 58,000-acre preserve is a mecca of sand dunes and bluestern grasses. Placing the preserve in monument status is considered the best opportunity to avoid listing the lesser prairie chicken and the sand dune lizard as threatened or endangered.

Berryessa Snow Mountains, CA

In California, this region stretches from the lowlands of Putah Creek, through the remote areas of Cache Creek and up into Goat and Snow Mountains. Nearly 500,000 acres, it sits in the center of California’s inner Coast Ranges and is a prime corridor for migrations and habitats of an expansive list of wildlife. It’s also an unusually rich part of the California Floristic Province, considered by many to be a biological hotspot.
Heart of the Great Basin, NV
The Heart of the Great Basin centers on three mountain ranges that stand from 10,000 to 12,000 feet – the Monitor, the Toquima and the Toiyabe. Vast quantities of petroglyphs and stone artifacts allude to the area’s inhabitants almost 12,000 years ago. The region is also the center of climate change scientific research, notably in relation to the Great Basin Pika (read an article from the Journal of Biogeography on the Great Basin Pika). It includes alpine tundra, aspen groves, numerous rushing creeks and plays home to high desert sage grouse.
Otero Mesa, NM
Deep into southern New Mexico, the 1.2 million-acre mesa is a vast landscape of rolling hills covered with grasslands. Stuck in constant battle between environmental groups and oil and gas developers, the area is one of the largest intact grasslands in the Chihuahuan Desert. Summertime monsoons turn the grasslands vivid greens making fall the ideal time to visit. It also plays host to more than 1,000 native wildlife spieces including the only genetically pure herd of pronghorn antelope in New Mexico. Unfortunatly much of the grasslands area has disappeared or reduced to small patches barely able to support native wildlife.
Northwest Sonoran Desert, AZ
West of Phoenix, the Sonoran Desert is largely remote and undeveloped, featuring potential for up to 500,000 acres of new wilderness. The existing Sonoran Desert National Monument protects 487,000 acres – the proposed new monument would protect additional desert to the West. Mostly broad, flat valleys with widely-scattered, small mountain ranges contribute to the landscape including the Pinacate volcanic field. Two visually dominant plants distinguish the Sonoran Desert from other North American deserts: Legume trees and columnar cacti.
OwyheeDesert

Volcanic rock, sagebrush and grass cover an arid region of canyons approximately 14,000 square miles.

Owyhee Desert, OR/NV

Named after the native Hawaiians who accompanied Donald McKenzie on his 1818 exploration into the Idaho, Oregon and Nevada region, the Idaho portion (Owyhee Canyonlands) was designated wilderness in 2009. The proposed monument status would extend protection into Oregon and Nevada. The Owyhee Desert is considered one of the most remote areas in the lower U.S. with natural arches, juniper covered mountains and ancient lava flows. Many of the branching forks of the Owyhee River are pursued by river runners from around the world. The region is also home to the world’s largest heard of California bighorn sheep.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, CA (expansion)
In 2000 the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was created to protect an extraordinarily diverse range of vegetation found in southwestern Oregon. Political constraints established the southern boundary at the California State line so it does not currently include the Klamath River tributaries. More than 50 inches of rain each year creates mountainous slopes forested with conifers – host to rare species such as the Northern Spotted Owl. The most accessible part of the existing monument is the Hyatt Lake area in Oregon.
Vermillion Basin, CO
LIke the Otero Mesa, the Vermillion Basin is also under threat of oil and gas development. Whitewater rivers flowing through petroglyph-filled canyons establish a critical migration corridor and wintering ground for big game. The petroglyphs feature bow hunting, religious figures, footprints and wildlife. One in particular rises over six feet high on a ledge 40 feet above the canyon floor. The region’s name comes from maze of sandstone cliffs and canyons that glow with red-orange rocks
Bodie Hills, CA
The town of Bodie, Calif. is one of the most famous ghost towns in the West. With a population that once reached 10,000 residents its weathered wood buildings are now preserved as part of Bodie State Historic Park. Valued for their mineral wealth, the surrounding hills are now saught for bird-watching and hiking. Uniquely, the establishment of Bodie Hills as a monument provides an opportunity to link both cultural tourism and ecotourism which would benefit the surrounding communities.  
San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands Scenic Byway is unique - its the only state byway that inclludes a marine highway. Source: ExperienceWa.com

San Juan Islands, WA

The San Juan Islands feature 750 islands located along the U.S. / Canada border create deep channels and reef-studded bays that are home to myriad marine species. They also support major migratory routes for Orcas. Currently, 83 of the islands are preserved as part of the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge and many are off-limits to visitors. The San Juan Islands are part of the San Juan Archipelago split into two groups defined by national sovereignty – the San Juan Islands belong to the U.S. and the Gulf Islands belong to the Canadian province of British Columbia. The islands are part of the traditional area of the Central Coast Salish or Flathead Nation.

The Modoc Plateau, CA

Spanning close to three million acres of public land, the Modoc Plateau is tucked into California’s northeast corner and extends into Oregon and Nevada. The plateau is thought to have been formed nearly 25 million years ago and now supports several heards of wild horses. It features the Skedaddle Mountains which cover close to a half-million acres between California and Nevada. The California portion alone is considered the second largest area of unprotected wilderness in the state. Lava Bed National Monument sits at the Western edge of the plateau.
Cedar Mesa region, UT
Southwest of Blanding, Utah, the 410,000-acre area of Cedar Mesa sits just south of Natural Bridges National Monument. It also features an impressive 800-year-old ancestral Pueblan village one of thoughsands of prehistoric and historic sites from Paleo-Indian big game hunters to Mormon settlers. Edward Abbey afficionados will recognize the area as the setting for the unforgettable chase scene in The Monkey Wrench Gang.Creating a National Monument
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the President of the United States to declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government to be national monuments. Its purpose was to allow the president to quickly preserve public land without need to wait for legislation. The end goal is to protect all historic and prehistoric sites on U.S. federal lands.

 

 


Do: Hike Up! Modern Dog Sledding

Harnessed TEam

The team harnessed and ready to go.

I’m standing in a snow-filled clearing in central Washington watching as one dog’s bark becomes a fervor, spreading until 20 plus dogs are howling, whining and tugging on leashes, clawing excitedly at the snow. Across the clearing two sleds are anchored – eight dogs are harnessed to one, seven to the other – and each time someone begins to walk toward a sled, the howling grows louder and more frenetic. Today we’re going dog sledding and it’s very, very clear the teams are just itching to run.

For more than 6,000 years dog sledding was done by the Mahlemiut Eskimos of northern Alaska and the Chuckchi people of northeastern Siberia. The Mahlemiut used the Alaskan Malamute for hauling food to villages and the Chuckchi employed the Siberian Husky for pulling loads or herding reindeer among other responsibilities. Many of the native communities in northern Alaska still rely on dog sled teams for transportation and its modern adaptation into the sport of racing has spread as far as Northern Europe, U.K. and Japan. The breed of dogs used has also expanded to include even the Standard Poodle who competed from 1988 to 1991 in the famous Iditarod. Today, the teams we’re running are comprised of Malamutes, Huskies and Hokkaidokens.

On the Trail

The team takes to the trail. Note the blue bed bag and the wagging tails of the wheel dogs.

Gingerly I step over the railings, slide into the cargo bed and zip myself in. It’s me and my musher, Tim, on this run. I can’t help but think ‘I’m the cargo’ but the bed is surprisingly comfy and, in the thick waterproof canvas, I start to warm up. Tim grabs the anchor, places it in my lap and steps onto the runners with a curt shout: “Hike up!”

“Hike up!” Not “Mush!” It’s a common misconception, thank you Jack London, that the term mush is like saying giddyup to a horse when, in fact, its pronunciation is useless to dog ears. It’s too soft. Instead, ‘Hike up!’ gets the teams moving. The term mush originates from the French word marche meaning ‘to march.’ During the gold rush anyone traveling north was a musher, no matter their method, but the name stuck with those who traveled by dog sled and fed their dogs “mush.” Hence why my driver, Tim, is a musher.

Our team of eight have already anticipated his call and we begin to cover ground at a jogger’s pace. Sled dogs are known for two things, endurance and speed. Tim tells me the team I’m traveling with has been clocked at close to 20 mph but they’re a recreational team and not used to holding speeds for extended periods. Racing dogs can clock an average of 20 miles an hour for up to 25 miles but over longer distances the average speed drops to about 14 mph. Tim calls ‘Hike up!’ to the team twice more and with each shout their pace increases until I feel a noticeable breeze hitting my face. The path ahead is straight but I can feel Tim’s weight shifting subtly on the rails below me to either keep in line with the wheel dogs or find the smoothest areas of the trail – probably both. Ahead, it’s obvious the dogs are thrilled.

The team keeps this pace until a bend appears in the trail ahead. “Easy!” Tim calls out. Slowing somewhat the lead dog maintains the middle of the trail and the sled begins to swing to the outside. To counteract, Tim shifts his weight into the inside of the corner and the sled straightens, gliding cleanly through. The motion reminds me of countless hours riding a toboggan through the snow behind my parent’s truck.

Constructing a Sled

Though materials have changed from bone, sinew and rawhide to plastics, carbon fiber and Kevlar, modern dog sleds aren’t much different from their traditional predecessors. Two basic types of sled are in use today: The basket sled features a woven cargo bed raised approximately six inches off runners to prevent basket drag on fresh powder; and the toboggan sled which consists of a thick, solid plastic sheet acting as the cargo bed and attached directly to the top of the runners. Typically used in races such as the Iditarod, the toboggan sled’s lower center of gravity helps it float atop deep, unpacked snow. A hybrid style does exist, which we’re running today: A raised toboggan which has a solid plastic bed suspended around four inches above the runners.

All sleds consist of six major components – the primary being the runners and the cargo bed. Runners are the skis that slide along the snow and the cargo bed carries the load atop the runners. At the front of the cargo bed a brushbow acts as a sort of bumper, semi-circular in shape, which deflects brush. A handlebar for the musher is attached behind the cargo bed and footboards are mounted on the back ends of the runners. This is where the musher stands. Finally, a brake is attached to the back of the cargo bed. It’s an aluminum or steel u-shaped bar which, when stepped on, drops two metal claws into the snow to stop or slow the team. Most sleds have a few other items: A snow hook – a metal anchor that is angled to dig deeper into the snow if, say, an excited team suddenly takes off; and a track or drag – a rubber mat that, placed between the runners, acts as a second braking mechanism and applies more uniform resistance than the claws.

Assembling a Team

Roles of a dog sled team
Roles and responsibilities of a dog sled team.

Sled teams are selected and assembled with great care and training usually begins when the dogs are around six months old. The number of dogs that comprise a team varies from just two to upwards of 22 but they’re divided into four roles. At the front are the lead dogs. As the term implies, they set the pace and follow the musher’s commands. Swing dogs travel directly behind the leaders, helping to maintain the pace and aiding in turning the team. Team dogs, next in line, are the horsepower and have the simple task of “follow that tail!” Wheel dogs are the two directly in front of the sled. They assist in steering the sled itself and initiating that first tug to get a stationary sled moving. It’s best for a team if each dog is capable of switching positions, though not all dogs are the powerhouse needed to get a sled moving and not all dogs want to run in front. Of course, the final member of the team is the sled’s driver, the musher.

Dogs are harnessed to the sled using a system called a towline which is composed of five major parts: Starting at the sled, a shock cord – or bungee – is placed between the sled and the towline. If the sled stops suddenly, it absorbs the impact and prevents it from jarring the dogs. The shock cord is connected to a mainline which runs the length of the team to the leader. Each dog’s body harness is connected to the mainline by a tugline. This works in tandem with a neckline which connects a dog’s collar to the mainline. The tugline and the neckline form a triangle of sorts and necklines keep a dog from going the wrong way around an obstacle. The mainline ends at the swing dogs’ necklines. From there, two distinct tuglines connect the leaders who drive without necklines.Basic Mushing Commands

Haw and Gee!

Sleds perform effortlessly on straight, flat trails. But no steering system exists for corners as I quickly learned. Instead, the musher leans from side to side, taking care to lean into the corners as sleds tend to slip to the outside. The brake and track also assist – by applying the brake or stepping onto a track, the sled slows and is pulled to the inside of a turn. Understandable, though not obvious at first, the more strain placed on the dogs, the more control a musher has over the sled. Breaking while descending a hill maintains resistance, keeping the team and sled under control.

From this angle, tucked snugly into the bed bag, resting just six inches off the ground, the forest whips by and the running of the dogs takes on a wave-like rhythm. Their earthy, wet scent mixes with pine and fresh snow and the runners settle into a quiet shhhh skimming along the trail. I’m sure, if my musher looked down, he’d see a smile of bliss creeping at the corners of my mouth.

Where to Find Dog Sledding in Washington

Three main companies offer full day tours or rides by the hour:

Malamute Express | (509) 997-6402
Scenic dog sled adventures through the upper Twisp River Valley

Enchanted Mountain Tours | (509) 763-2975
Guided dog sled tours through the Cascades

Alaska Dreamin’ Sled Dog Co. | (509) 763-8017
Dog sled rides and lessons for children


Know: Blue, Blue Moon

Blue Moon

Once in a blue moon: This year on New Year's Eve, December 31 makes a rare date with the mistress of the night sky.


As you’re well aware, the Vas-y Fille blog (though still in her early years) was created to incite and ponder exploration and the stories behind the scene. They’re a little nudge to look around, down, behind and certainly up. Which brings us to the perfect topic of this post. Though certainly not adventurous (out the door is as far as you’ll need to go), I promise you’ll find it fraught with rocks, biting cold temperatures, stunning high altitude views and ages upon ages of lore, science and mystic measures. And it’s even interactive!

Our topic: The Blue Moon.

This December 31 New Year’s Eve will be celebrated under what is popularly referred to as a Blue Moon. Quickly – what is a Blue Moon besides an Elvis musing or a brewing company in Golden, Colorado? Popular opinion refers to it as the time when a full moon appears twice in a calendar month; the second appearance is called a Blue Moon. It happens every 2.5 years on average but it’s even more rare that it falls on New Year’s Eve – the last was in 1990 and the next will be in 2028. The occurence has been widely publicized over the past few days but the best comes from NASA (I’ve inserted a link to it below).

Feel free to save that read for later. For now whether in or out at some point in the night on the 31st make sure you find the moon and smile. Right now the Vas-y Fille blog community is rather small and I know a fair number of us are denizens of the moonlight, blue or not, so this is also a little herald to each of you. Happy New Year and vas-y.

Read the NASA Release by Dr. Tony Philips

With any story of lore, there are a few naysayers and discrepancies. Sky & Telescope Magazine reviews the origins of the phrase Blue Moon (it’s not old, it was started in the late 1930’s) and whether it’s month or season-based.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.