About a year and a half ago I was extolling my Utah love to my daughter in law Meredith. She looked pensive and said, "Will you take me there?". Well, of course! I figured it was just one of those things people say. Along the lines of "someday". After all, my daughter in law had just given birth to twins 6 months before. I figured she was going to be too busy to go on an extended trip for, oh say, at least 5 years.
I was wrong (again). She was determined to go. Cool. I still was unclear if my son would join us and what of the twin grandchildren? As it turns out...the more the merrier. The 2 year olds were comin'! In fact, there was even a last minute addition, Meredith's brother Matt who would accompany me on my drive while the grandkids and their parents would be in another car.
I had asked Meredith if she wanted southeastern (Arches & Canyonlands, Four Corners) or southwestern Utah (Zion, Bryce). She wasn't sure and although Zion has become a zoo I figured it was a closer drive and it is, after all, a must see. Then I figured we'd go to Bryce and a favorite of mine - Kodachrome Basin.
Zion National Park, while being world class in scenery, continues to get worse and worse as a destination. My first trip there, in the early '80's was sublime. Uncrowded, easily driveable, and scenically stunning it became a favorite and I've been there a dozen times over the years. Sad to say this will probably be my last visit - perhaps in this lifetime. I may return in winter sometime but the crowds and the associated Ranger Rules are not my cup of tea.
While acknowledging that my back "going out" before leaving on the trip probably colored my point of view, I could spend paragraphs explaining my frustration and sadness with Zion National Park but I'll leave it like this - it ain't what it used to be and the West is too big and wonderful to go to a place that is being overrun and is poorly managed by an overwhelmed and unwelcoming National Park Service. Maybe I'm just getting old and curmudgeonly but I don't think so. I don't believe, unless you fully experienced these Western Parks before the great tourist invasion, you can understand the disappointment regarding what has happened here.
By the way, "GET OFF MY DAMN LAWN!".
The weather was wonderful when we got there but changed, as forecast, to a steady and persistent rain on the second day. It did provide for some good photography opportunities however. I brought my camera as an afterthought, this was a family vacation, but I'm pleased with some of the photos. As a reminder you can purchase relatively inexpensive prints at by clicking here. Blog subscribers receive a discount. E-mail me at SouthwestDude@SouthwestDude.com for more info.
Here are some photos of the first day and a half before the big weather change.
The rain started to fall heavily and all five of us were cooped up in my little trailer - El Correcaminos. I decided to sleep in the truck for everyone's sanity but was told I needed to move the truck as we were "over the vehicle limit" despite having 50 feet of empty pavement in our campsite. I really despise this kind of nonsensical bureaucratic foolishness but I moved the truck 1/4 mile away and sulked off to fitfully sleep. No use raising Hell to an unresponsive, stodgy, overworked and underpaid Park Service.
The next day we took the kids on the Riverwalk trail, I tried my best to clear the trailer of the mud and mess from the rain, and made some more photos. That night we had a wonderful dinner of shrimp and orzo salad. We ate s'mores which I very rarely do and enjoyed a long conversation around the campfire. When the world pisses me off with its stupidity nothing gives me more relief than family. I loved every minute. It was a good day and we geared up to move to Kodachrome Basin. Here are some photos of the walk.
After the Riverwalk I stopped at the Courtyard of the Patriarchs. Don't forget you can click on the photos to make them larger.
That evening I ran out to take some last minute photos before saying goodbye, perhaps for the last time, to my beloved Zion National Park.
We left Zion, the weather was perfect, my back spasms had improved a bit and we drove the short distance to Kodachrome Basin State Park. Now, this was my kind of camping — a quiet and secluded campsite with hikes and views and friendly, helpful State Park Rangers. We settled in for a few fine days. I had intended to take the short drive to Bryce Canyon but that would have necessitated taking two cars and we didn't think the Rim drive would thrill the 2 year olds. Instead, we went on short hikes and wandered around Kodachrome saving awe-inspiring Bryce for another trip.
I was really hoping to get in a long hike or drive with my son but it didn't work out. Hopefully, next time. He's quite a remarkable young man. I am deeply proud of his sensitivity, love of and devotion to his family, his affection for art and the poor and the indigenous people of our country. He is a humanitarian. In short, he gets it and I probably don't deserve to have such an incredible person for a son. We did have an unforgettable few days and I can't wait until the next time.
I got a few photos of the family and a favorite is the two year olds, Finley and Joaquin, in full flight, loving being outdoors. I'm impressed with the emphasis that my son and daughter in law are putting on the little ones, already, to experience and enjoy nature to the fullest.
In discussing this trip with friends the question of how "Kodachrome" came to be the name of the State Park came up frequently. My tiny bit of knowledge is that in 1949 National Geographic Magazine sponsored an expedition to the area (with funding from Kodak) and hence they donned the name Kodachrome State Park after their iconic film. It is a beautiful place which features sand (or sedimentary) pipes. Large sandstone formations that jut straight out of the ground. I'm told that they are only found in this particular area. Here are some photos of sand pipes and slickrock and typical southwest vegetation replete with junipers and pinon pines.
Here is a striking example of a sand pipe. This is known as "Chimney Rock".
The following was our campsite view in Kodachrome. It was glorious.
Lastly, I offer a couple of panoramas. The first from Zion and the second from Kodachrome. I don't know how many of my friends and subscribers have been to Utah but it is, to me, a sacred place. I fell in love when I crossed the state line nearly 40 years ago and the state never leaves me. Through the trials and travails this life provides I know, no matter what, I have sweet Utah...here in photos, often in my mind, and thankfully just a few hundred miles down the road.
Thanks again for coming along.
Until next time...be well.
"I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America". -Sarah Bernhardt
Chicago. The Windy City. Chi Town. Hog Butcher to the World. The most corrupt city in America. The Second City. The City of the Big Shoulders.
So many words written about this great midwestern city. Truthfully, before this trip, I think I'd missed something that I found this time around. I had been to Chicago, for work crap, 3 times before this trip and liked, but didn't love, Chicago. The weather was always terrible. It was 8F on one trip and a muggy 99F on another. I mean, c'mon, I'm a southern California guy! I'm also a Blues man and so I truly wanted to like Chicago. Yet, I didn't think, in this lifetime, that I'd probably get back there. I have European and South American cities to explore. I'm in a constant state of missing NYC, Santa Fe and New Orleans.
But, hey, I'm married. While I gallivant around the Southwest all year my wife is still working. She's a school administrator (what kind of fool would do that job?). She gets only a few weeks to vacation each year and, so, it was her choice. I voted for Mexico City but it was vetoed in favor of a spring trip to Chicago.
I'll admit I wasn't too stoked...until I went online and saw the Cubs were in town...until I got tickets for a Cubs vs. Dodgers game at Wrigley Field. That did it. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve. Wrigley Field is a baseball mecca. I'd wanted to go my whole life. So, nice choice Lupe!
In preparation we set various activities, to wit: House of Blues Gospel Brunch, The Second City, The Chicago Art Institute, the Field Museum, and architectural tours - one walking and one on the Chicago River. What we didn't and couldn't plan for was the graciousness and hospitality of the Chicago citizens. In my lifetime, I cannot remember a visit anywhere where the people were lovelier. Helpful, sincere, thoughtful and polite - I was amazed by the kindness of the people we met on this trip.
Of course, we ate deep dish pizza. Nothing like it anywhere else. We had hot dogs at Portillo's. We had one of the finest dinners, of our lives, at Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab on Grand Avenue. The weather was in the 70's when we arrived! Of course it cooled off considerably, thundered and rained on our river tour and was chilly at Wrigley but it was tolerable and it turned out to be a wonderful trip.
This trip was NOT about taking photos but, you know me, I did take a few.
The architecture in Chicago is compelling for many reasons. One can see classical, art deco, modern and postmodern designs. Our trip started with the House of Blues and then a walking tour. In Chicago you spend a lot of time just looking up...
Of course, Lupe wanted to visit Marshall Fields (it was bought by Macy's several years back but no one calls it Macy's). The following are two pictures of the bedazzled ceiling and another Chicago landmark - "The Picasso" which is a source of both pride and derision in the city.
The next day we spent a few hours on a double decker bus tooling around and checking out the city.
That afternoon the rain came lashing down. The wind howled and the temperature dropped 30 degrees. Oh Chicago.
The next few days were spent at various Chicago institutions, Grant and Millennium Parks, the Art Institute and the Field Museum.
Several years ago, my long deceased friend Richard Gillen (of Chicago no less), had given me a fascinating book to read about maneless man eating lions in Kenya that I still think about from time to time. While meandering around the Field Museum I saw a sign that said, "Man-Eaters of Tsavo". Intrigued, I walked to the exhibit which had the actual lions from the story. I was blown away - it was too cool. Don't know the story? Check it out here.
The week flew by. I was worried that the Thursday afternoon Cubs vs. Dodgers game would be rained out as the forecast predicted rain in the morning. It did rain and it was cold but, well, this is Chicago. We took the subway to Wrigley Field and I was there.
I'm a lifelong baseball fan and, of all parks, Wrigley has been my dream destination. Yes, my northeast friends, I know Fenway is cool too, However, I grew up a National League fan and listening to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett vividly describe Wrigley as a child, seeing it's on TV for many years, listening to Ernie Banks call it the "friendly confines", created a deep desire for me to "someday" go. Oh, how it matched all expectations. Built in 1914, known for some of the most dedicated fans in the country, sitting, like old parks, in a neighborhood, it was baseball sublimity. The fans were marvelous and welcoming. Listening to their comments about the game it was obvious they follow the game closely and were deeply knowledgeable. They only spoke positively about their team, none of the "Beat LA", or "Dodgers Suck" crap. It was how we want to teach our children...root for your team, be humble, and don't disparage your opponent. All class. Man, was I impressed.
It was very cold when we got there. Cubs manager, Joe Maddon sported his trademark wool knit cap and the Cubs played like they knew how to handle the weather. The Dodgers played like they just wanted to go home to warm Southern California. Still, while the game wasn't close, it was a lifetime thrill to be at Wrigley. And to see my Dodgers? Even better. It was a banner experience in my life.
Chicago. The people are the best, the city is a musical powerhouse, the vibe is great, the weather sucks. We had a marvelous time. Thanks for coming along.
It's time to DO something, don't you think? Now, that I'm retired I am going to do some things that appeal to my convictions and my passions.
Since I was a young man, the farm workers of California have had a special place in my heart. I don't understand how anyone can drive by the fields and farms in California and not feel great compassion and empathy for those hard working people who feed us. It's back breaking work. Often bent over, in the hot sun or the drenching rain, these folks keep working for infinitesimal wages. Many are forced to live a migrant lifestyle moving from farm to farm and city to city to "follow the crop". Their bodies take a beating, often they get only short breaks, and must inhale pesticides and other toxins. Many, who come here simply seeking a better life, face possible deportation. It is a grueling life. I can't describe the respect I have for these men and women.
Last night I received the word that my education mentor and role-model, Mr. Bill Dickson, had passed away. He was my high school drama director and he cast me as George in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men". To motivate me to understand my character he said, "Jeff, he's a lot like you. If he were alive today he'd be working on behalf of the farmworkers". Good old Mr. D., he went right to my heart.
I recently had the opportunity to photograph the United Farm Workers march in Madera, California. It was my first time photographing a march and I learned a lot about how to approach this next time. Nevertheless, I do hope you enjoy looking through some of the photos and see the passion and determination of these marvelous and indefatigable people who feed us.
I need to express my gratitude to Teresa Romero, Jocelyn Sherman, Jamie Padilla and Oscar Mejia of the UFW for allowing me the opportunity to help the UFW in this small way.
At the end of the march there were speeches, and dancing, and music, and food. It was a celebration of brotherhood and a common cause. Bless them for their kindness and hospitality.
You might know that Cesar Chavez was one of my childhood heroes along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cesar's emphasis on non-violence resonates deeply in me still. How lucky I was to be in the presence of his spirit and among people, who despite hardships and unfairness and injustice, find meaning and passion and hope in their lives. They are the best among us. I hope, someday, to get another opportunity to be at marches and help document their indomitable and "Si! Se Puede!" spirit.
I am a John Steinbeck man. I was introduced to him by reading, "The Red Pony" at the age of 12 and I've been reading him ever since. I was lucky, in my senior year of high school, to play George in "Of Mice and Men" for which I won a small scholarship to the Drama Department of a small local state university. Make no mistake, I consider him one of the greatest writers of all time. The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden are two of the most beautiful, meaningful and powerful reading experiences of my lifetime. As a Nobel winner in 1962 it's clear that others have agreed. John's work, of all authors, resonates in me deeply.
John Steinbeck was the first of the great writers with whom I fell in love. There would be dozens and dozens of others over the years but he's the one I've stuck with - through all the the other "reading eras" of my life. If you know Steinbeck's work then you that no other writer, perhaps ever, captured settings better than him. The majority of his novels take place in what is commonly called "Steinbeck Country" in California. The oak savannah of central California has always held a particular allure for me and I thought, last September, that I would plan a spring trip there.
I was hoping we'd have a decent rain year which can turn the rolling hills into a spectacular, verdant green. Well we finally had a downright wet year.
We had so much rain, in fact, that it threatened my trip and closed the campground at my first stop. Morro Bay State Park. The campground there on the coast had suffered significant storm damage and photos showed dozens of trees knocked down onto the campsites and blocking roads. I looked for an alternative and found pretty Cerro Alto campground off Highway 41 between Morro Bay and Atascadero.
(Quick digression - do you know what atascadero means in Spanish? It means "sticky mess" and ranks high on the list of dumb Spanish names for towns along with Los Banos).
The road to Cerro Alto, off Highway 41, is one lane and if you stay right at the Y leads you over a stream, and into a tiny dead end with 3 parking spaces. Of course I took the truck and trailer right in there on the way in - you always stay right, don't you? After some crazy yet dexterous maneuvering I got the truck and trailer turned around and made it to my campsite. It was a picturesque place and my campsite had tiny Morro Creek running behind it.
The following morning I drove to Morro Bay and filled up with gas, had breakfast and bought a few provisions. Morro Bay is one of my favorite places on the coast of California and I've made dozens of trips there in my lifetime. I do not believe I had ever seen it so quiet and serene.
On the way back to camp I drove for a bit on Highway 41 to check out the late winter splendor.
The following day I spent hiking around the camp and on the Cerro Alto trail.
After a morning hike I came back for lunch and then decided to take a short nap. As an aside, I met a woman a few weeks back who had warned me about ticks this spring being very bad in the area I was to be travelling. She had contracted Lyme's disease about ten years ago from a tick and told me she had been sick ever since. Scared the Hell out of me as I've had a lifelong fear of parasites (human and insect) but I was pretty sure that I'd scheduled my trip prior to the big spring "tickfest". I mean, I'm a outdoors man, I wasn't worried.
After I got comfortable on my bed in the trailer, ready for my afternoon nap, I looked up and, boom, a tick about 4 inches from my head. Shit. Oh no. They must be everywhere, right? I thoroughly checked my clothing and scoured the trailer. I showered in my little trailer bathroom. The camp host came by and I asked him about the ticks. He told me, "yep, been around all winter and they're everywhere". Thanks pal, thanks for the encouraging news. I spent the next several hours obsessively scratching and itching. In the end, I never did see another tick. After years of being outdoors I'd much rather deal with rattlers than ticks. I can generally see and sometimes hear the snakes. The ticks are sneaky little bastards.
The next day I drove to Fremont Peak State Park. I was looking forward to going there as it had been Steinbeck's last California stop in his wonderful and inspiring travelogue, "Travels with Charley". It overlooks the Salinas Valley of John's youth and I felt that I would be walking in his footsteps during my visit. I did stop at the Camp Roberts Rest Stop (one of the most scenic in California) and made a few photos of what I consider prime examples of "Steinbeck Country".
The road to Fremont Peak is harrowing and the campground road was narrow, one lane, with fallen tree branches and steep cliffs on each side in places. About halfway there I thought I was completely out of my mind for dragging a trailer to such a place. After finding my campsite I didn't feel quite so crazy. It set on a bluff overlooking the valley with a view all the way out to marine layer covered Monterey Bay. I was, until a few nights later, the only person camping there. Magnificent.
I love that old picnic table in the photo gallery above. It looks like it has been there at least since the time Steinbeck visited in 1960. I imagined him there - peeling an orange and relaxing with faithful Charley by his side.
I was now in full "Steinbeck mode" and decided to spend the next day in Salinas. My first stop was at the "Garden of Memories Cemetery" where the ashes of Steinbeck are buried near his parents and last wife.
I met some workers at the cemetery who told me that 300 old growth oak trees had fallen in Salinas during the series of strong Pacific storms this winter. It was a theme for the entire trip - so many old, stately, and beautiful oaks lost. Heartbreaking.
I then went to the National Steinbeck Center and spent a few hours immersing myself in John Steinbeck. The exhibits are wonderful and cover each major part of his life. I had heard that Steinbeck's truck and camper from, "Travels with Charley" was there and I raced around until I found it. It didn't disappoint.
After spending a few touching hours at the Center I wandered down Central Avenue in Salinas to the birthplace and childhood home of Steinbeck which is a now a fine restaurant staffed by volunteers and fellow Steinbeck enthusiasts.
The journey back to the campsite was not nearly as anxiety filled without the trailer and I did stop to take a few photographs of the drive.
That evening was quiet and serene - literally no one else around.
The next day, a Saturday, I decided to go ahead and truly follow Steinbeck's footsteps and hike to the top of Fremont Peak. I awoke a little later than I'd planned and worried it might be crowded. I needn't have worried - I saw a group of 3 women and a father and son on the hike. There was a 360 degree view at the top of Fremont Peak. It was blissful and I thought of John and Charley the entire time.
Fremont Peak State Park is an unheralded gem. Not only literary history but California history abounds as well. John Fremont and his troops ascended the peak during the Mexican-American war (1846-1848) and it was the first place that the American flag flew in California. It is also a dark sky place of some renown in California according to the stargazers I met on Saturday night. There is an observatory there and many folks just tote their telescopes to the park, set them up, and spend hours observing the constellations. It's quite a place. I'm pleased Mr. Steinbeck sent me there.
I planned to spend the last few days of the trip in Pinnacles and then visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Unfortunately, Pinnacles was overrun (the exact opposite of Fremont Peak) and I had a couple of minor issues develop with my Casita which necessitated coming home a bit earlier than planned. Nevertheless I did make some photos of the two days around Pinnacles.
I am a passionate person. Guess I was born that way. And the things I love? Like music and literature and the land? I love them deeply. I love John Steinbeck and I love the topography of my home state. I have my whole life. This trip was one I'd desired to take for many, many years. It satisfied a longing I had and felt as though I'd touched the heart of the golden state.
Haven't read Steinbeck yet? Start with, "East of Eden". Like me, you'll probably never look back.
There was a popular song, written in 1927, called "My Blue Heaven", that my mother would sing to me as a child. Maybe you've heard it. One of the lyrics went:
"Whippoorwills call, evenin' is nigh
Hurry to my Blue Heaven and a little nest nestled where the roses bloom. Just Molly and me and the baby makes three."
The song is filled with imagery and I pictured it in my mind's eye as a young boy. The words and my Mom's pretty voice soothed me and I remember asking her (she would have been 80 today) to sing it over and over again. I hadn't thought of this song for many, many years but on this latest trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument the song jumped into my head and the words naturally changed to my green heaven. The last several years now I have traveled extensively in the West and I've seen magnificent places but there is no place on earth that I feel more at home or connected to than Organ Pipe. The air itself is different. The earth feels differently below my feet. Edward Abbey served as a Park Ranger there and he loved the area too calling adjacent Cabeza Prieta the "finest desert wilderness in North America" and said this:
Transparent and intangible as sunlight, yet always and everywhere present, the desert lures a man on and on, from the red-walled canyon to the smoke-blue ranges beyond, in a futile but fascinating quest for the great, unimaginable treasure which the desert seems to promise. Once caught by this golden lure you become a prospector for life. -
Cactus Ed was right. I'm a "prospector" for what remains of my life.
The Sonoran desert is very different than other deserts in North America. Since there are five seasons; winter, spring, summer, monsoon, and autumn, and two of those can see quite a bit of rain (winter and monsoon) the desert is truly alive. The last few years I've experienced some rain during January visits to the Monument and the beauty and smell of that experience is indescribable. On this trip it was warm and sunny which made for poor photographic opportunities but maximum recreation and relaxation.
Another thing about this trip - I turned 60 recently and this damn birthday stimulated more than a few hours of introspection and reflection. As I look back I have many beautiful memories but I have also endured my share of pain: losing my parents to cancer and Alzheimer's too early, I was diagnosed with glaucoma at an unusually early age with all that entails, I faced appalling and dishonest injustice instigated and condoned by people I liked and trusted, I've lost several dear friends to death, suicide and the vagaries of time. Of course, I also extensively pondered all of my own terrible mistakes and sins which are too numerous and odious to count.
While contemplating it became clear to me that while life has been, at times, profoundly joyful and fulfilling it has also been deeply sorrowful and painful and often seemed impossible to endure. But, endure I have. I know I've been foolish on occasion but I've gained some wisdom and I've hung on even when experiencing abject hopelessness. It seems clear that I am, if nothing else, resilient, and so it is with the desert. I love the sea and the mountains but, as I get older, and come to terms with my own mortality, my respect and affection for the desert grows more deeply every year. Life is hard, for sure, but the cacti, the creosote, the bobcat, the roadrunner and the lizard thrive against the odds in an often harsh and exposed existence. The resilient Sonoran desert not only gives me solace it inspires me to live my own life more fully and with fewer complaints. Wherever I go it will always remain my own true home.
Remarkably, in this desert milieu live 850 plants and animals. Barren, brown desert? Not by a long shot. An example is the ocotillo (or coachwhip or candlewood). Talk about resilient. The ocotillo looks like an unassuming pile of dead sticks for much of the year. Then, if and when it rains, it becomes a brilliant green. It is a glorious transformation.
It is a long drive (9 hours) out to Organ Pipe for me. I determined to simply relax and meditate on my first day. Perhaps I'd just hang around the campsite in the sun and maybe go for a short hike around the campground. When I woke up I had far too much energy for such sedentary activities. I jumped in the truck and drove to Ajo. I got my permit to travel in the Cabeza Prieta and Barry Goldwater Range and chatted with the BLM folks. I then decided to drive into the Cabeza Prieta and come back to camp via the Bates Well Road and Pozo Nuevo in Organ Pipe. The weather was warm and I drove with the windows wide open. I stopped and talked to whoever was around (except the Border Patrol who were parked in too many places). I met some eccentric and intrepid travelers out there. The desert does attract us oddballs. My people...
In the middle of the day my old bones began to tire after two days of solid driving and several hours of being jostled on rutted and rocky dirt roads. I arrived at Bates Ranch in the northern portion of Organ Pipe Monument and took a few photos. If you find Bates Ranch as interesting as I do you can read more about its' history here. Despite being in the boundaries of a National Monument the ranch didn't actually stop operation until 1976. There is something about old West ranches that seems to ask for black and white photos.
I also made some color photos of this fascinating place.
The next few days I did get some of that sweet relaxation in. For the first time in many years I did not drive out to Quito Baquito but went on several short hikes in the Monument. I found some small hills to climb and meditate on. I studied the scenery. I sat in the slim shade of Saguaro and Senita cactus. I ate snacks in the cholla gardens. I stopped worrying. I listened to the crying coyotes each night. I made a few photographs but it was not a priority. I chatted with my campground neighbors. I relaxed out of my separation from the land. I visited with the Park Rangers. I slowed down. I heard the cactus wren and the ravens. I experienced each moment as fully as I could. I had a damn fine time.
I saved, for the last day, a late afternoon and twilight drive through the Ajo Mountains. I rolled down the windows and crept along the road. A desert breeze blew through the cab of the truck. I occasionally stopped and got out to take photos and take short walks. I immersed myself in the desert. I thought of my children and wished they were with me. As I neared the end of the drive I started missing Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and I hadn't left it yet.
I'd apologize for the mawkish tone of this trip review but it wouldn't be sincere. I may wax tritely and in cliche riddled phrases but I'm at a loss to describe my love for the Sonoran Desert and if it sounds maudlin so be it. If you do get a feeling for my love of the place then I'm pleased. I encourage you to read Abbey, Bowden, and Krutch. They get closer to doing this slice of "green desert heaven" more justice than I ever will.
I count the days until my next visit. Thanks for coming along.
This last photo of dancing Saguaros is one that I enjoy. I must give credit to my friend and photography guru, Alex Kunz, for helping me process it. May you all be healthy, happy, safe and at ease. Until next time...
Last year I had a marvelous visit on my own for the "super bloom" in Death Valley. I decided last Fall that I wanted to go out there a little earlier this year since I'd read that December and January were the least crowded of the year (can you imagine going in, say, August? Who are those people?). I asked two of my dearest friends to come with me. I've known Steve and Marty for nearly 40 years.
I arrived on Monday, at overdeveloped and busy Furnace Creek, and had two days to myself before the lads joined me a few days later. I made a few photos near Zabriskie Point on Tuesday morning.
This night photo is from my campsite. That is the Furnace Creek Inn in the distance.
I spent the next day, in shorts with weather in the sunny mid 70's, hanging out in Furnace Creek. I went to the old Borax Museum and the Harmony Borax site as well as driving the short road through Mustard Canyon. I was also visited by my favorite bird, "El Correcaminos".
On Wednesday I got on the road and listened to the Liverpool match on radio while waiting for Marty. The weather began to change and while the forecast was for rain I figured, "Hey, it's Death Valley. How much could it rain? How cold could it get?" This seemed especially true as I drove through a dust storm in the warm Mojave sun.
Marty finally arrived a few hours late but explained that the drive was so beautiful he had to stop and take photos along the way. Made sense to me.
We got up early and drove out to my favorite Death Valley campground - the much more primitive and isolated Mesquite Springs. Mesquite sits at 1800 feet in elevation. We should probably have stayed in Furnace Creek or gone to Stovepipe Wells which are much lower and warmer but, to me, Mesquite is more scenic. It rained all day (as had been forecast). Steve arrived that day after a long drive from the Bay Area. The three amigos were together and ready for some Death Valley fun because tomorrow had to be warmer, right?
Since it was Steve's first visit I decided to do the "tourist tour" which included Badwater and the Devil's Golf Course.
To my surprise, it stayed cold and it stayed wet. After many years of tent and cowboy camping we felt fortunate to have my little trailer to stay warm. We spent time inside watching a few movies on my iPad and singing folk songs to the accompaniment of Steve's guitar and Marty's harmonica.
We spent much of the next day at the Ubehebe Crater. That's Marty on the far left of the panorama running to take his next photo or perhaps trying to stay warm. Since the weather was so nasty it did preclude us from some off road travel but we're saving it up for next year.
I also made a few black and white photos on the trip as well.
We all went our separate ways at the end of the week but have decided to make this an annual trip. The planning has already begun...Death Valley holds a lifetime worth of fascinations. I will get to see Steve and Marty at the big shindig in Lassen this summer but I'll miss them until then.
Next I'll be heading to the Sonoran desert in Southern Arizona. My hunch? It will be warmer and stunning but, without my amigos, not quite as much fun.
We sadly decided to trade in our failing Nissan Frontier Pro-4X in favor of a new Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Off Road TRD. Unfortunately, Toyota recommends a 500 mile break in period before towing anything. We had scheduled a camping trip to Joshua Tree (like everyone else apparently-record breaking crowds out there) and canceled that trip too. Since I'm headed to Death Valley next week I needed to put some quick miles on the new truck. We all love Pismo and thought a drive up there would do the trick. It's a four hour drive.
Wait? Did I say a four hour drive? In reality was a SIX hour drive sitting in traffic on the way to LA, in LA, in Carpenteria, and in Santa Barbara. If you're old enough you can remember when a trip up the coast was seldom "trafficky". California gets worse and worse...
We arrived at about 4:00 PM. We immediately stopped at Pancho's Surf Shop where Lilly had her eye on a cool sweatshirt. It was as busy as I've seen Pismo even during summer.
After the obligatory shopping we walked out to the Pier and I was able to make a few photos. The temperature was cool and the sunset mesmerizing.
My travel companions...
We woke up early the next morning and it only took four hours to get home! It felt like a miracle. This has been a joyous week having Lilly and her friend Kennedy with us. Since the truck is "broken in" next up is Death Valley with Marty and Steve.
One last photo of my enchanting daughter.
Happy New Year to all.
On Twitter it's apparent that reviewing one's photos for the year is all the rage. I consider myself a non-conformist but I kind of like the idea. This is true even if the exercise is nothing more than an oppportunity to review my travels and tribulations for the last 12 months. For me, it's easy to do that and one of the reasons that I started this website. I enjoy sharing the beauty of the West and looking at my photos will be an enjoyable activity. I am not, however, inclined to pick my "favorite" 12 photos. While ranking is cool I think that activity might make my head explode. Maybe next year...
This was my first year traveling with my little travel trailer, a fiberglass egg, called, "El Correcaminos". It is quite different than sleeping in a tent or the back of my truck. In fact, it's so dang convenient that the first few months I traveled with it I'd get in the cozy little space and just want to stay there. This rather defeats the idea of getting a trailer which is to enjoy the great outdoors. I suppose it's natural though, when in a safe cocoon, to want to stay there. However, get out we did!
Here are my some of my favorite photos from my trips this year. I started the year using JPEG and a Nikon D3300, editing using the Nikon software, and finished the year making RAW images with a Nikon D750 and editing them in Lightroom.
The first photos are from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument last January.
For my birthday, the last one of my FIFTIES, Lupe and I took Banjo to Point Mugu.
My next stop in the little trailer was Death Valley. I'd been there before but never during a "super bloom" or for so long. It was a good trip.
In March I visited my Bay Area family. The last 6 years have been challenging for me in many ways but Lisa, Kara and Steve have always been there for me. How I love them... The photo below is of Lisa, Kara and their Dad, Jack. Jack is maybe, just maybe, the coolest guy I've ever known.
In March Lupe and I went to Arizona. We spent time in the Superstitions and out at Organ Pipe. We had a wonderful time. Lupe is the perfect traveling partner.
In late March Banjo and I spent a few days at the other-worldly Red Rock Canyon north of Los Angeles. It's a really cool place and reminded me of Utah or Abiquiu, NM.
In April, I headed out to Utah. I was able to spend time at Zion, Bryce, Escalante State Park and Kodachrome State Park. Magnificent.
In May I spent some time in Joshua Tree and at San Onofre Beach.
In June I was able to visit the newest National Park, Pinnacles, with my remarkable daughter Lilly and her friend Kennedy. Pinnacles is becoming a favorite as it is (relatively) uncrowded and sits in the heart of the scenic part of Central California. I'll be back next March for some spring photography in "Steinbeck Country".
Lupe and I had to forego a planned trip to Glacier but we managed to spend a wonderful week in Lassen Volcanic National Park. When we returned we decided to establish an annual family and friends trip up there and 2017 will be our inaugural event.
In August my friend Marty and I spent a week at Gaviota State Beach and on the Central Coast of California north of Santa Barbara.
The next "big trip" I took was way up the Northern California coast to Redwoods National Park and then I spent another few days near Brookings, Oregon at Harris Beach State Park
In October I visited my thoughtful and smart and long lost friend Eric Flaherty and took a short trip to Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona.
In November I visited the wonderful Mojave. I love it out there...
In December I took a very short trip to a local campground, Casper's Wilderness Park, and my truck began to have mechanical problems. I had to cancel my Anza Borrego trip and deal with having the truck in the shop 3 times in a two week period. Since I was convinced that my troubles with the truck were only beginning we bought a new Toyota Tacoma which will bring less worry to my travels in the next couple of years.
This, then, wraps up my short review of the year's travels. I'm hard at work planning for 2017. I do hope each of you who read this have a magnificent holiday season and that next year is one of the best of your lives.
Like many of us, I suppose, I've been thinking, often, about this bizarre election. In fact, whenever there is an election I try to put it into historical perspective but there really is no history in the United States that could have predicted a right wing white nationalist of epic immorality, stupidity and narcissism would be elected president.
As a child of the 60's I was inundated with politics. I was molded, to a great degree, by the tumult of the times. The Vietnam War was a dark cloud that enveloped the nation and tore it apart. The Civil Rights movement was a beacon of hope in those dark times. My childhood hero was Dr. Martin Luther King. I never understood, as a child, how people could be judged on the color of their skin. Of course, I still don't but it just seems so basic to me. While I had to acknowledge that there were, indeed, racists they were, obviously a dying breed of backward knuckle dragging neanderthals, right?
The 1968 assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and MLK were very, very painful to me. I was 11 years old and, already, the world was beginning to terrify me in ways that have never gone completely away. I was deeply affected by Cesar Chavez and the Chicano movement in Southern California as well as AIM (American Indian Movement). I asked my parents to stop eating grapes during the boycott. Things were changing and I happily subscribed to the notion that, "all men are created equal" and there should be more compassion and empathy and love in the world. The Beatles understood and amplified..."All You Need Is Love".
The 1972 election baffled me. Wait. If all of these social changes were occurring how could Richard Nixon be elected? George McGovern was a kind, smart, decent WWII veteran progressive who promised to end the Vietnam War which was dividing the country and was unwinnable. Instead? It was a massive landslide for Nixon. Ok, so that was weird but I figured people were nervous about changing the president during a time of difficulty.
In 1973 it became obvious that something was seriously wrong with the Nixon administration. In my high school Social Studies class the teacher insisted on watching the Watergate hearings. One day, bored I guess, I said, "Why are we even watching this? Nothing's gonna happen anyway". My calm, relaxed and ultra-cool teacher grabbed me by the arm and took me outside the classroom. In a measured but direct way he said, "Do you understand that this country has a constitution? Do you understand that this applies to everyone? Do you? Do you understand its' importance?". I believe I responded with something like, "Yes sir".
At that instant a light clicked on in my head. My youthful cynicism flew out the window. Of course, Nixon, facing removal from office resigned and I wondered if another Republican would ever be elected again.
In 1976 I was ready to vote for the first time. Jimmy Carter, that conservative from Georgia? No way - I made phone calls and dropped off pamphlets for Shirley Chisholm. I was very excited about Tom Hayden running against conservative Democrat John Tunney for Senator from CA. I put a "Hayden for Senate" bumper sticker on my 1967 Volkswagen Bug and grew my hair out and my beard longer.
Chisholm and Hayden were crushed. I began to sense that maybe I was not a part of the political mainstream in California and the USA. It was nice, however, to have most of my college professors agree with my stances. Smart and educated people got it. The answer was EDUCATION! If there was to be a real American Dream then it, of course, had to begin with a proper public education. I started studying Education with an eye toward becoming a teacher.
Remember I thought in 1975 that another Republican would never be elected for many, many years? I remember Hunter Thompson writing, "What is to become of Ronnie Ray-Guns"? In 1980 - a reality check of epic proportions- I mourned the election of the "Seen one Redwood, seen them all" Ronald Reagan. HST and I couldn't have been more wrong. He was, until 2000, the absolutely worst president of my lifetime. I detested the man. I could write another long blog on all the reasons why but that would be another depressing exercise.
During the 1980's I was focused on my teaching career but environmental issues became more and more important to me. While disgusted and distressed by US foreign policy, in Latin America for example, I began to seriously worry about the biggest issue of our time - the preservation of the earth. I read Edward Abbey, Rachel Carson, Barry Commoner and Carl Sagan. How I hoped for a president who had a progressive agenda that focused on protecting the planet.
Let's fast forward to 2008. I was, finally, vindicated. A progressive was elected (No- Bill Clinton was NOT a progressive). At age 51, what I thought would happen in 1976 happened. Obama still wasn't progressive enough for me. I hated his drone program. I hated his emphasis on surveillance. His choice for Secretary of Education was despicable and shockingly all wrong. He bailed out Wall Street. But, at least he was smart and capable and measured and he and his wife were dignified and classy. I was proud that he represented the USA abroad.
As the 2016 election approached I figured we were in trouble again. Police shootings of unarmed blacks were the news of the day (after all these years- like it was new). Mass incarceration was acknowledged. The neo-liberal (a euphemism for soft Republican) Hillary Clinton, a champion of mass incarceration, would be the obvious nominee for the Democrats. I thought maybe Jeb Bush would be the Republican nominee. I was frightened of "junior Joe McCarthy", Ted Cruz, as a possibility. Donald Trump? No way. He's a two bit hustler, a huckster, a game show host, a conspiracy theorist, a greedy landlord, PT Barnum without the intelligence. In short, a joke of a candidate. We needed better choices.
Then, a candidate, a true progressive, emerged from the shadows of the great state of Vermont. I'd been following and admiring Bernie for many years. It's a rare thing to find a candidate who you agree with on literally 99% of the issues. Therefore, I knew he had ZERO chance. He was Tom Hayden and Shirley Chisholm again. Hell, he even called himself a socialist. To my amazement, Bernie was suddenly speaking for more people than just myself. Despite the Clinton cronies calling his supporters "Bernie Bros" and people like Gloria Steinem (of all people) saying girls wanted to follow Bernie to meet boys (what happened to YOU Gloria?), he did very well in the primaries. In fact, he was mounting a serious challenge to the Democratic status quo. It was, of course, too good to be true. Hillary finally emerged as the victor through what some may label as dubious tactics but - regardless - she garnered the nomination.
Even odder than the Bernie phenomenon was the fact that an obvious racist was winning some Republican primaries. It was clear that Trump was appealing to what I like to call the "lowest common denominator"...the racists and xenophobes and haters of the most vulnerable people in our society. The truly ignorant. I wasn't worried. To me, Trump was just another Alabama George Wallace. He called Mexicans "rapists and thieves" and that had to disqualify him right? He had an insanely egotistical and nutty twitter account where he demonstrated his mendacity, bigotry and stupidity on an hourly basis. He denied climate change and called it a "Chinese hoax". He would make his points with the term, "many people are saying" to show he read internet crazies and wasn't interested in facts. He showed no dignity or class. He criticized the press constantly. He called for a national registry of Muslims and when asked how that differed from what Nazi Germany did to the Jews responded with, "You tell me". He said he would build a "Big, beautiful wall" along the Mexican border. He mocked a disabled reporter. He was a demagogue, the village idiot with a microphone, a disgusting, vile human being.
He won the nomination. He was, without doubt, the biggest fool to ever gain this kind of support in my lifetime. He made George W. Bush and Reagan look like great statesman. I still wasn't that worried. He'd be crushed by Hillary. In fact, I was kind of glad that he showed how many racists and fascist leaning people there still were in America. It was sobering but important to know.
The polls were pretty clear that although this imbecile had some support Hillary would easily defeat him. Then, to make it more obvious that this guy was a despicable, thoroughly un-electable and rotten person a video surfaced that showed him laughing about grabbing women "by the pussy" or, as it's more commonly known, "sexual assault". He was done, cooked, history. It was clear that we had some serious problems in the country but at least that lunatic would be out of the picture.
Somehow Trump stayed in the race. I was stunned. Wikileaks, the Russians, and unbelievably the FBI were all playing some shady role in supporting Trump who, it was now clear, was an unfit sociopath for president. Still, we would weather the storm. Gas prices were low, the economy had been slowly recovering from the Republican mess of 2008, unemployment was very low, our country was OK.
In November the country, as I suspected, voted for Clinton. Of course, unlike any other democracy in the world we in the U. S. have this odd thing called the, ahem, "electoral college".
I still don't understand it. The fact that 60 million people in the United States cast their vote for this guy is something I'll never fathom. I thought when I was young that the world would become more comprehensible to me. Just the opposite has happened. I always believed in some semblance of good in America, a country that did things like win WWII against outright evil, outlaw slavery, repudiate McCarthyism, send a man to the moon, create the Peace Corps, recognize collective bargaining, lead the world in freedom of expression and innovation, and, one day, be a force for global good. I just don't get it. I do understand one thing very clearly though...I am not in step with many of my fellow countrymen. Of course, I'm rather used to that...just not to this extreme.
My lifetime hopes came crashing down this November. We are at a new place now. Recent revelations appear to confirm that Russia participated in our election and supported Trump (serious irony there...see American involvement in Latin America or Iran for example). Early cabinet selections show that Trump is exactly who we thought he was. America's national nightmare is just beginning.
This country is, I believe, at a crossroad. Democracy itself may be at stake. My greatest hope at this point is that this mentally unbalanced sociopath doesn't launch a nuclear strike. It is a time for us to cling tight to our democratic constitutional system. A system I have criticized many, many times but, ultimately, have great faith will eventually work.
We must resist. We must do all we can, daily, to preserve our planet. We must take good care of ourselves in order to do what must be done for our children and grandchildren. We must be good and just. We must remember the legacies of Gandhi and MLK and Cesar Chavez. We must be kind whenever we can. We must be vigilant and wary and protect "the least among us". We must support all institutions of Education and focus on facts which will mold our beliefs. We must act with integrity. We must endure. We must "do the right thing". Passivity is the enemy. Little things count. Resist.
BIRTHDAY PARTIES and LOCAL CAMPING
For many reasons this has been an interesting period of time. I've been attempting a blog post, for a month now, about my revulsion regarding the US Presidential election but I'll save that and for now just tell you about the birthday party for my twin grandchildren in LA and about some time spent nearby in the Casper's Wilderness Park off the Ortega Highway near San Juan Capistrano.
Joaquin and Finley turned two in November and here are a few photos of their party at a park in the San Fernando Valley. I know this is a travel blog and not Facebook (thank heavens) but I'm hoping you'll indulge me just a bit for my family pride.
I also decided to spend a few days at a local campground. Near San Juan Capistrano, off the Ortega Highway, is a large expanse of land that hasn't been completely over-developed so I guess that passes for a "wilderness" these days...
It was difficult to find locations for photos that didn't include, roads, telephone poles and lines, people and/or cars. I did manage to take a few short hikes which has a bit more of a wild feel but it wasn't a "photo trip" anyway. It got very cold. Down to 30F one night and was I glad I had the cozy trailer. A highlight was that my young buddy Tim joined me for a night. Tim's father and grandfather lived on the same street as my grandparents when I was a child and they both became very good friends of mine. Tim is Lilly's brother by a different marriage. Lots of interesting connections! Timmy has had a lot of challenges in life and it was good for both of us that he came along...
My next plans are on hold right now as my Nissan Frontier Pro-4X has been in the shop for 5 days and the dealership still can't figure out how to fix it. A light on the instrument panel illuminated and, apparently, the greatest minds at Nissan are baffled. Can you say amazed and frustrated? I told them I'm an obsessive vagabond but I don't think they quite understood.
I do hope that each of you, my dear friends, has a beautiful and peaceful Holiday season and let's hope for a good 2017. We may need a little good fortune...but we all deserve it.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.
All content (C) Jeffrey C. Hubbard. No re-use without express written permission