Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Adventure Wagon, "salamandering," and other maiden voyage stuff

Saturday, 19 February 2011, was a big day. Kelly and I went to trade in her worn out old Chevy Malibu for a 2011 Subaru Outback... unfortunately, not an even trade. After spending a couple hours at the dealership negotiating the final deal, we (really Kelly) had our (really her) new car.

It was actually a big three day weekend. First, we got the car Saturday. Then we headed off to Birmingham, Alabama in the new adventure wagon on Sunday morning. Our reason for traveling to Birmingham was Kelly's interview with a professor for graduate school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) on Monday. Along the way we stopped at a very interesting natural landmark in Alabama. Interesting in part because it is not a public (state or national) park. It is privately owned and very quaint.

If they say it's the longest, I guess it must be.

Kelly striking a pose... sort of.

The Alabama Natural Bridge... admission $2.50.

The Natural Bridge park is also home to another geological attraction... or oddity?

The Indian Face... do you see it?

While we were at the Natural Bridge site we also did a little salamander searching. We found a few Spotted Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus conanti), and a bonus Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris), but they weren't what I was hoping to find.

Two amphibians under one rock... score!

I admittedly didn't see the frog sitting there motionless until after I had snapped about three photos of the salamander... that camouflage actually works.

We arrived in Birmingham around 1 PM and drove around the UAB campus. We decided it was time for lunch, so I introduced Kelly to a local eatery popular with UAB students. My friend Don (Birmingham native and UAB alumnus) took me to The Purple Onion for the first time over 10 years ago. It's still good.

The new Outback takes a break at The Purple Onion.

Of course, being the "outdoorsy" couple we are, we camped at Oak Mountain State Park just outside of the city instead of staying in a hotel. We arrived at Oak Mountain on Sunday afternoon a little after 2 PM and quickly set up our tent so we could begin enjoying our limited time in the outdoors. Actually getting to set up our tent in daylight was a rare treat for us. We've done a lot of late Friday night trips to the river to camp so we could get an early start on Saturday morning fishing.

After we got our campsite set up, we went to look for these...

Salamander of the genus Eurycea, Oak Mountain State Park

Kelly demonstrates careful rock turning technique to find salamanders.

I'll be writing a lot more about salamanders in an upcoming post... so, if you would like to know more, I'll get to it soon enough. At this point I'll just say I needed a few photos to support this forthcoming piece, so we went "salamandering" where I knew I could find the species I was looking for.

The Outback near the salamander stream at Oak Mountain.

So, I know all five of my readers are wondering if we did any fishing on this trip. Well, we did some fishing. Casting practice would be a better description of it. (I like to think I got something positive out of it.) We certainly didn't do much catching.

The deceptively named "Lunker Lake" at Oak Mountain.

While Kelly was at UAB for her meeting, I went off to find a place to fish. I ended up on the upper Cahaba River in the town of Trussville. The river was really too shallow at that point to offer much fishing, but I had fun exploring. I caught one 3" sunfish, but the best thing I captured was probably this photo of the river... which isn't saying much.

After I picked Kelly up, she told me about her interview and I told her about my dismal hour of fishing the upper Cahaba. Since neither of us had much any real fishing success up to that point on our trip, and we don't give up easily, we stopped yet again on the way home at Tannehill Ironworks State Historical Park. Between the two of us, we caught this:

Does one tiny Bluegill equal success?

At least I can say my newly created craft foam cricket works... sort of.

All in all we had a fast-paced, fun-filled weekend. We enjoyed putting over 600 miles on the new Outback. The fishing could have been much, much better. I don't really want to admit just how bad it was, but let's just say we did a lot better "salamandering" than we did fishing. I'd like to think the unseasonably warm weather had the fish "confused," but I honestly can't explain it. I couldn't tell you how many fish we had follow our flies for three feet or more just to turn up their noses at our offerings... and believe me, we offered them plenty of variety to choose from.

If you ever have any doubt that warmwater species (bass and panfish) can be extremely selective, I've got a couple places I'd like to take you fly fishing in Alabama on a warm day in February.


  1. Any fish = good day in my book.

    Very nice new wagon. My buddy has an older Subaru that drives just as well as my Explorer Sport in rough terrain. They're nice little cars.

  2. Natural formations are awesome.
    I love the bluegill. And the car, well its a Subaru. Good choice.

  3. "Salamandering" used to be one of my favorite activities when I was a kid. My favorite time to go out was just after some rain to look for red-spotted newt efts. I still find myself overturning rocks and small logs here and there when moving between fishing spots. Now the best part is sometimes I have my kids with me to help me look for them.

  4. That wagon'd be good for accessing some of my off-the-beate-track fishing spots in the Sierras. Have to wait a few years, after I run up the miles on my Accord past 200,000... Nice little trip. Salamanders, fishing and good eats.

  5. Mark, thanks for the optimistic perspective. I just hope things get better as the weather warms up for good.

    Brk Trt, if you're ever in AL you should definitely make an effort to see the Natural Bridge. We think we made a good choice too.

    Kiwi, if you enjoy "salamandering" you should make your way down to southern Appalachia where you can find more than 40 species in east TN and western NC. Very cool that you have passed "salamandering" down to your children.

    Pat, Kelly (almost unbelievably) put over 200,000 miles on the Chevy Malibu at an average of about 20,000 miles per year. Maybe we'll make it out to the Sierras in the Outback some day.

  6. I think that you like that car a little bit!!! Nice choice...they are really popular out here where you need at least AWD...so, they must be pretty reliable in any kind of weather. Tell Kelly to put "HERS" on the license plate before you steal it! Ha

  7. Jay
    First off what kind of gas mileage do you guys get with the new SUV, I know it is probably good. I heard today on the news that gas prices are going to be close to 5.00 by August. Man I am glad I got rid of that big bass boat with the big motor.
    You and Kelly came within 3 miles of our house, and you were less than a mile from Walker Lake just as you passed the Carl Cannon Auto Dealership. That lake is 165 areas and well taken care of, by the caretakers who live on the primacies. That is where I have caught some monster gills with the fly early when the water reaches 60 degrees. I must say that my wife and I have not made it to Natural Bridge, looking at your pics, makes it a spot we may visit when make another trip to Miss. What is Kelly’s graduate work in? If you all come back give me a call and I will show you where Walker County Lake is located. They have boats for rent and everything you need to spend time on the water. We are still on for the spots in April or May. I will let you know when it gets good. Enjoyed the post.

  8. RD, thanks for stopping by. I admit I like the new wheels... a lot. I offered to trade Kelly my old Ford F-150 for the new Outback, but she's too smart for that.

    Bill, the new Outbacks get EPA estimated 29 mpg highway, but we were averaging about 28.5 mpg (according to the dashboard readout) for the whole trip- including driving slow in town, down country roads, and in the state parks. I think it might be closer to 30+ mpg on the highway. I didn't know we were so close to Walker Lake... or your house for that matter. Thanks for offering to show us around. The Natural Bridge is interesting... a little oasis of diverse forest and interesting geology in a pretty developed area... well worth a stop. Kelly will be pursuing a graduate degree in biology... just not sure exactly where yet. We're definitely still on for Spots... I just hope Kelly doesn't get too jealous if I go without her.

  9. Jay-sorry to hear about the sorry fishing. It sounds like you had fun camping and "hunting". I got to fish my lake for the first time this year on Friday and it was "awesome". I posted an underwater video of a crappie on a fly. Caught several crappie, bluegill and bass. BUT no trout in Oklahoma!

  10. Jay, sounds like a great weekend to me with or without fish. Even though I'm sure salamanders play a huge role in the cycle of life, well, I like them as well as snakes. Good read though.

  11. Dale, thanks for stopping by. I saw your pics of your first fish of the year from your lake. Very cool. I need to check out that video.

    Cofisher, I understand most people don't care for snakes, but how could not at least think salamanders are cute? I think they are, and I'm not too macho to admit it either. They do play a role in nature... more on that coming soon... I promise.

  12. Great post Jay. Enjoyed the read. Hope you post a review of some kind on the Outback after you've had it a while. My old gas-guzzling Jeep is getting old and I am looking at getting an Outback.

    Did you wear a U of M shirt when you were at UAB? They LOVE it down there when you do that.

  13. Ty,
    No, I didn't rep the U of M... on this trip. I honestly don't remember what I was wearing around town. If I end up living in Birmingham, I'll definitely be wearing my Tiger blue during college hoops season... football season might keep me quiet.
    I'll certainly do a more in depth review of the Outback sometime soon... I can tell you at this point that it's averaging more than 29 mpg and it's really nice to drive. We'll be taking a road trip to FL with kayaks strapped to the top in two weeks (part of our "Bass Slam" quest), which should be a good test of gear hauling ability. Maybe we'll hit some off pavement roads/trails too. I'm looking forward to it.
    Thanks for commenting.

  14. I love love love Kelly's new ride! As we cruise around here I have Outback envy. I think we are the only house that doesn't have one in the drive.

    Snakes, I hate. Salamanders, I dig. Looking forward to that post!

    Good luck to Kelly with her grad school search!


  15. Thanks, S & D. The Subaru Outback IS the official car of CO, right? It's just a matter of time before they issue yours to you.