Category: O Trilogy

WOLF CANYON RANCH AND O TRILOGY

 

Wolf Canyon Ranch is a real place and was a real ranch. I say was, since it was sold to the Washington State Department of Wildlife and since been consumed by fire. In the book trilogy, the O trilogy; Off the Edge, Over the Line, Out of Time, Wolf Canyon Ranch (WCR) is the home and ranch of Jim Johnson and Heather Asplund. Before the three books were written, for twenty years starting in 1980, it was home to the books author, RS Perry.

It is a beautiful area. On the east side of the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Three mountain passes will get you to the Methow Valley, allegedly, properly pronounced Met-How. Some people, however, including the author could never become accustomed to the hard “H” and indignantly leave it silent. The settled part of the Methow Valley is not large itself. A few homes follow the Twisp River as it enters the valley from near the Canada border and eventually joins the Columbia River.

It is a special place for a lot of reasons. It is drier than west of the mountains. The north sides of the hills and mountains have ponderosa pine while the south sides support, at least at  the lower elevations, sagebrush. In the spring the hills are awash with wildflowers ranging from yellow balsam root to ultramarine blue lupins. Wolf Canyon Ranch has one of the largest groves of Aspen trees that turn mellow yellow in the fall. For hikers it is mostly government land and wilderness. And that is what makes it so special. Beautiful, with mountains in all directions. Hiking trails in the Cascades, hiking trails leading into the Pasayten Wilderness. The valley is both soft and gentle and sometimes unforgiving and harsh.

Even driving to the Methow Valley is spectacular. The North Cascade Highway, which opened in the fall of 1972 is one of the most dramatic and beautiful drives anywhere in the United States. The highway threads itself through snow peaked mountains and meadows and eventually flows through Winthrop and Twisp. The highway then climbs out of the valley passing close to WCR as crests a small group of mountains to the east. At the top is the local ski area called the Loup Loup. All of these places have the place in the O book trilogy.

WCR is nestled up a canyon, eight miles  from the ranching town of Twisp and nearly as close to the western town of Winthrop.  It feels impossibly remote and wild with no human sounds, other than an occasional plane. Deer, black bears and coyotes are an everyday occurrence. Eagles drift on the current up and down the canyon sometimes in the dozens. The ranch is an anomaly being so close to civilization yet feeling so remote. Not everyone would define Twisp as civilized but it has everything most people need, from gasoline, groceries, a coffee and donut cafe and more recently a brew pub. Of course if you have horses, cattle or llamas then you need the Twisp Feed Store. Through the years it has changed from a ranchers town to one blended with those from the Pacific side of the mountains, sometimes fondly and sometimes not fondly referred to as coasties. There is now even a small playhouse and art gallery.

 

JIM JOHNSON NOVELS PLANES HELICOPTERS

Jim Johnson novels cont. – Off The Edge, Over The Line and Out of Time.

Continued from previous post

The mountains between  Jim and Heather’s llama ranch and the west coast (Seattle) were notorious for bad weather, especially high winds and icing conditions. He quickly realized that he need a plane that could fly over the weather, carry more people and cargo, including the occasional llama, have instruments capable of getting the plane through treacherous weather and ways to shed ice. The Piper Seneca PA-34 is a twin turbo charged plane with known icing capabilities. Heated props, windshield, air intakes and expandable boots on the wings for shedding ice are worthwhile options for mountain flying. It could fly nearly twice as high as Jim’s first plane, a Piper single engined Cherokee and a lot more safely. Safe or not, his partner, Heather, was afraid of flying.

Jim Johnson, the hero of the Jim Johnson novels, didn’t learn to fly for fun but rather as a means of getting over the mountains quickly. While the Cherokee partially satisfied that goal. It only did so  only in fair weather. The thirty hours learning to fly the small single engine plane quickly turned into a 100 hours of instrument training in the much more complex Seneca. Well, that explains why he ‘needed’ a complex plane; it doesn’t explain his need for a helicopter.

Occasionally fixed wing plane pilots and helicopter pilots do not enthusiastically share the air spaces and many helicopter pilots are not licensed in fixed wing aircraft. They are two entirely different birds. Jim learned to fly for easier transportation than driving, but he purchased his white Enstrom F-28 for love. It was also turbo charged (for rising to higher altitudes),  with the same continental engine as the Seneca (back in the 1980s they were the same), and a good choice for flying through and over high mountains.

Flying planes is a technical exercise while flying helicopters is more of a seat of your pants exercise. The truth is, Jim didn’t need the Enstrom  like he needed the Seneca, but if he could have only one material possession, something just for the sheer pleasure of looking at it and flying it – it would be his small, sleek, white helicopter.

Jim’s Enstrom is an important part of the Jim Johnson novels. The novels can be purchased in paperback or in digital formats at Amazon or rs.perry.com.

 

FLYING INJURED LLAMAS AND ALPACAS

Llamas, planes and helicopters play an important role in the Jim Johnson novel book series by RS Perry – the Jim Johnson trilogy – Off The Edge, Over The Line and Out Of Time. James L. Johnson lives on a llama ranch in north central Washington. Planes are important for many reasons in the novels but one that stands out is flying injured llamas and alpacas. Colonel Johnson works at the “secret” Biological Warfare Center (BWC) south of Seattle/Tacoma, Washington. His job as an agent specializing in biological threats is not a typical daily nine to five. Still, he makes the 140 mile flight on average weekly. And if his services are urgently needed, his boss, the director of the BWC, General Will Crystal sends a plane or helicopter to bring him in.

Is it then extravagant for him to have both a helicopter and twin engine plane? Jim would be the first to say it is, as by nature he is conservative with money. Heather his partner would be the second to say it’s extravagant. However, he spends little money on other things, even on his llama ranch in Twisp/Winthrop. And the white Enstrom helicopter just makes him feel good to look at and even better when he is flying it.

The author of the Jim Johnson series has flown Llamas and Alpacas from Wolf Canyon Ranch near Twisp, Washington to Pullman, Washington for emergency medical treatment at the Washington State University veterinary school. I’m sure Jim would do the same.

Jim didn’t learn to fly until he started living at Wolf Canyon Ranch. He knew, from flying with his men in Vietnam that he loved hekicopters. He never thought about getting a plane or helicopter until he purchased his ranch. It was approximately 100 miles from Seattle by air. While the curvy mountain roads across one of three passes extended the driving distance to over 200 miles. The shortest drive, about 3.5 hours, could be beautiful especially on the little traveled North Cascade Highway, however it was closed during winter. And winter made the other two passes oft times an exciting icy driving adventure taking extra hours to drive, taking as long as 5 hours.

A reasonably fast plane such as a Piper twin engined Seneca cut that journey time to 50 minutes, depending on weather. Jim’s first plane  was not the Seneca however,  but a Piper single engined Cherokee. While cheap to purchase and easy to fly, and also a good plane to earn his private pilots license in, it had several limitations starting with  minimal instruments and a single piston engine.  Continued in next post… Books available on rsperry.com in paperback and kindle.

 

PASAYTEN WILDERNESS

My first llama hiking trip into the Pasayten Wilderness in north central Washington State was on a sunny September day. Not an unusual day for one of the largest wild areas in the lower US, which is shielded by mountain ranges to the west, effectively blocking the low lying Pacific rain clouds making their way eastward. The flowers were gone but the grasses and sedges were still green against blue sky. The llamas rarely lifted their heads as they gorged. It was peaceful and idyllic. Especially since there were no bugs. Why not? Well it seems the disappear when the flowers do. Not when it gets colder in this wilderness. Astonishing really – being out away from any human sounds, in nature, with no mosquitos and only the occasional fly.

Most of my life I had been too busy to go llama packing or into the wilderness but life had changed. Lanette who lived on Wolf Canyon Ranch convinced me that there was more to llamas then just breeding them for profit. Prices reached a lofty high in the eighties and then cascaded down the right side of a bell shaped curve nearly as fast as they had risen. The business of breeding and selling had slowed allowing time to find out what else llamas were capable of. It turns out that they are wonderful animals, as I had always known they were, but living closely with them on the trail and in the mountain meadows – they became truly special.

The characters in Off The Edge, Over The Line and Out of Time are for the most part fictional or bits and pieces of lots of people all mixed into someone new. The llamas, however,  such as Pipestone , Shasta, Meteor are just as they were. the same colors, the same personalities, at least as I remember them.  It was the Pasayten Wilderness and the llamas, along with special people that inspired the book trilogy. And made them such a joy to write. Writing about them takes my mind back to the wonderful times spent in the ranch canyon, nestled partway between Twisp and Winthrop in the Methow Valley. Times that can’t be repeated but can be well remembered.

RS Perry