Just returned from the annual five-day camping trip with about a dozen other families. This is a photo of a fully mature male Western fence lizard, also known as a blue belly because of the blue spot under the male’s throat (my youngest daughter is the hand model). The spot is used to impress the ladies and as a warning to other guys trying to horn in. It only works for lizards, young male Gristmill readers, so don’t get any ideas.

The propensity for chickens, lizards and alligators to fall asleep when you turn them on their backs and rub their bellies is a bug in their evolutionary programming. It’s an operating envelope rarely encountered in nature, which may explain why they go off line when it happens.

For me, camping without kids would be a pretty dull affair. Snakes were a little scarce this year. Only five were sited, and of those five, three were caught and paraded around the campground for all kids to see, hold, or touch (two gopher snakes spotted within minutes of one another and one racer found in a night foray). Below we see a grasshopper with red lower hind legs and one with yellow. By my count, the kids found seven species of grasshoppers.

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Spotted for us by our resident birder were the usual assortment of gold finches, catbirds, and the like. A golden eagle was also seen along with a smaller unidentified raptor, which buzzed the campsite chasing said songbirds. We found a neat pile of feathers on a trail indicating that it had been successful. These small raptors will pluck the feathers off their prey before consuming them. Owls tend to swallow smaller birds whole and head first like they do rodents.

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Roadkill spotted on the way out included a few deer, one skunk (phew) and a coyote pup.

This is the second year we have taken a Prius instead of a Cherokee. We completed a 566-mile round trip at 40.3 mpg, consuming $62 of gas. We hauled the following:

  1. Four person tent
  2. Two person tent
  3. Two lawn chairs
  4. Three sleeping bags
  5. Two coolers
  6. Two blow up mattresses
  7. One fold out two person bed
  8. Three pillows
  9. Ten gallons of Seattle water
  10. One laptop computer
  11. One video camera with tripod
  12. Three suitcases
  13. A back pack
  14. Three bug cages
  15. Three people and assorted miscellaneous items.

Observations on human nature

There were two groups in this campground: the Christian home schooled camp and the secular liberal camp. For reasons unknown, all of the vehicles owned by the liberals were Japanese made and all of the vehicles in the other camp were American made. Other than the children, the two groups didn’t mix much socially. Snippets of conversation overheard from the other camp; “…ozone was worse a thousand years ago” as one camper confused the ozone myth with the global warming one, and “…you know where liars go!”

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The Prius stuck out like a sore thumb among the sea of SUVs. Subliminal fashion messages were exchanged that will surface in future car purchases in the next few years as the SUV fad fades.

Technical notes

I came down a 5000-foot pass without hitting my brakes once thanks to the transmission’s compression braking mode. Going over the pass I took the Prius batteries to their limit. No appreciable change in performance was noted but I suspect gas mileage and acceleration both went down the toilet while the batteries were off line.