My buddy Alex recently put together an interesting blog post. For awhile now I've been contemplating writing a blog on music. I've started a few but they sit there as drafts since the topic, for me, is a bit overwhelming and I have so very much to say.
People who know me well know I am a music addict. In my lifetime, nothing has given me more comfort and solace in my most difficult moments. It is also something I've studied for a lifetime - it started as a youth in the 1960's when we we were inundated with such marvelous music and became cemented in my freshman year of college when I took a course entitled, "Popular Culture - Rock Music". The final exam had two hundred questions and I think it was the only final I ever received a 100% score on!
Since that time in my life all my interests, sans music, have waxed and waned. However, the one sure and solid and reliable source of diversion and comfort has been my tunes - LPs, 45's, 8 track tapes, cassettes, cds and now downloads - it's never mattered. I've always surrounded myself with music.
I am planning a trip next Autumn to Mississippi and Tennessee to visit the Blues Trail, Memphis, and Nashville and attend the annual Americana-fest. I can't remember being more excited about a trip. I'll be right there in the heart of it all.
Suffice it to say - I could go on for thousands of words about music but I'm going to limit the scope of this particular post by using the criteria suggested by Alex. Here goes:
“In no particular order – which 10 albums really made an impact and are still on your rotation, even if only now and then." It also says I should "post the cover and nominate another person to do the same" - uh, no to that part about nominating others. I'll tell you what mine are and if you're motivated to do the same exercise - then get on it!
An important proviso - these are not, necessarily, the albums that I think are the "best". For example, "Sergeant Pepper's" is certainly superior to "Magical Mystery Tour" - these are, instead, the albums that influenced me - my life and musical tastes, more than any others... Note also this is not a list of my favorite bands - otherwise, for example, the Rolling Stones would be in my top 5...
Also...while the instructions indicate there is "no particular order", these are fairly chronological.
Enough. Here goes...
Number one is an album that my parents purchased that I probably listened to more than any other as a child, "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison". It was released in 1968, I was eleven years old, and it's impact on me - musically, politically, sociologically was profound and remains so to this day. Johnny's identification with the downtrodden and lost and hopeless modeled for me exactly how a man should be. As I got older and was, at times, downtrodden, lost and hopeless myself, this album always brought and still brings comfort. Who other than Johnny could have sung with such anger, regret and sadness, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"?
When he sang, "I bet there's rich folks eating in their fancy dining car, they're probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars" I hated those rich and free people even though he knew "I had it coming, I know can't be free, but those people keep on movin' and that's what tortures me". And...what tortured me was the implication that they didn't know or care about the other sad and troubled riders, like Johnny's sad narrator, on their own train. Those people still don't.
The entire album merited nearly daily listening in my youth and it's still in my regular rotation after all these years.
It's just bad ass...
ROLL UP! ROLL UP! Number two was the very first album I bought with my own money. I was 10 years old and I saved my allowance each week. The guy at the record store wanted me, for some reason, to buy the new Rolling Stones album "Their Satanic Majesties Request" but I would have none if it. I had to have, just had to have, "Magical Mystery Tour". I wore out the grooves on it.
Of course , it's magnificent and I enjoyed that my mom hated, "I Am the Walrus" and it's lyric, "yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye", which was part of John's freaky imagery and while I didn't necessarily enjoy the picture of that image I liked that my mom thought it was so awful. Damn, I was a rebel.
My favorite song from this album was and remains, "Strawberry Fields". There have been songs, perhaps a dozen or so in my entire lifetime, that on first hearing take me away to a distant place - Strawberry Fields is one for me.
Let me take you down
Still works, doesn't it?
Number 3 is another I purchased, as an 8 track tape, on my own as an 8th grader at Ralph's Department Store in Blue Jay, CA. I played Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. II, over and over and over and drove my father to exclaim one day, "Can't you find ANYTHING other than that to play"?!" I'm an American Roots music man these days and so was this one influential? Well...yeah...obviously and profoundly. This was a delicious double album. Talk about resonating in my heart, soul and ears.
Of course, over the years, I have met people who claim that they, "don't like Bob Dylan's voice". That's cool, but my hunch is that they have favorite artists that don't have beautiful voices and whose success as a singer is perhaps because Bob led the way on lyrics and vocal expression...but to each his own. In my younger days I tried to teach the world about Dylan and and I ended up doing the learning. I learned that some people just aren't gonna "get it" and that's ok.
I have many thoughts about old Bob which probably will merit a single blog post in the future - my final exam in the Rock History class I was boasting about earlier? Of the 200 questions - 190 were about Bob. It's no wonder I aced it and got along famously with the professor. At age 61 I realize there will not be another artist who will mean as much to me in my lifetime as Dylan. His winning of the Nobel Prize finally shut down some of the ignorance about his work but, if you don't like Bob, don't you realize what you're missing?
Ah here I go again...maybe, after all, I still haven't learned the lesson...
Number 4 "Harvest". Another artist, my entire life, who I've always managed to find at just the right moment is the great Neil Young. This album, from my high school days, if I had to guess, is probably the one I've played more than any other when I've been deeply sad (Simon and Garfunkel are good, too!). At my high school, when the weather was nice, the Drama Dept. would pipe music outside and I can remember warm, spring days listening to "Heart of Gold" and feeling that teenage youthful joy that we only experience when we're young. This is another album in which I could discuss each track and how much it has meant to me over the years. One song, "Out on the Weekend" might just be number one on the soundtrack of my life. Obviously, it's "still in my rotation". Neil has always seemed to understand the profound sadness and strangeness of life.
See the lonely boy,
Number 5 - The first concert I attended, in the Fall of 1974, was Elton John at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, CA. Elton had some songs that were big hits on the radio and while I loved, "Yellow Brick Road" (still do) it was "Madman Across the Water" that captured my passion. I didn't realize it at the time but the great Elton John lyricist, Bernie Taupin, was living just a few miles away in a nearby neighboring mountain town, Blue Jay, CA. "Tiny Dancer" has always been a favorite and I still use it as one of the quintessential road trip songs. The image of the "seamstress for the band" while they travel from town to town captures some essential travel vibe that still resonates.
Hold me closer tiny dancer
There are several excellent songs on this album although they may not be as well known as Elton's "hits". I hope you can imagine my horror and sadness when this artist started making songs Like "Philadelphia Freedom" and went so far away from his original brilliance. Oh Elton, where did you go?
Number 6 - "The Band". Most of these "influential" albums are obviously from my youth. This band and this album have been my "go to's" all my adult life. In my view, the Americana genre was really started and pioneered by The Band (ironically 4 of the 5 members were from Canada). Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm are two of my musical heroes. I was lucky enough to see The Band in 1975 at the Greek Theater for their last tour and just a few short months before the famous "Last Waltz" concert - of which I had tickets but to my everlasting chagrin couldn't go - (true story and it still pisses me off). My lifelong anthem, "The Weight" is not on this particular album - it was on "Big Pink" - every single song on this album is a treasure and has personal meaning for me. As I reach the twilight of my life - and as much as I love the Beatles and Stones and Clash - this group, it turns out, has been my lifelong favorite. Perhaps one day I will write an entire blog post discussing each of their songs and why they are so important in the canon of American music. It started in the fields and then the delta and through Charley Patton and Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and there is a direct line right to "The Band". What music...
Number 7 - "London Calling". In college I considered myself kind of a cool kid and I knew music and was a bit jaded and then...punk music. I was admittedly infatuated with the genre and really liked the Sex Pistols album when it came out but I was blown away, wiped out, by The Clash. Not only was the music new and cool but Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had a nearly Lennon/McCartney harmony that was compelling and fascinating and provocative as Hell. As if they could be any more cool their politics were EXACTLY like mine and, oh say, Woody Guthrie's...People sometimes seemed surprised to find out that Woody was such an influence on Joe Strummer but, when you think about it, it's not much of a stretch. One of the most wonderful afternoons of my life was spent at the Santa Barbara County Bowl listening to the English Beat and then the remarkable Clash. If you haven't given this album a listen in awhile then do so again and hear the musical revelations - and revolution.
The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
You know, there's a reason the call him "The Boss". Number 8 could have just as easily been "Born to Run" or "The River" but, nah, I gotta go with the one that knocked me for a lifetime personal loop, "Darkness at the Edge of Town". In this album Bruce cemented his place as America's next great along the Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan line. Few albums in my life have been written that seemed to be expressing everything about my life - the feelings, the loss, my own personal faults, the injustice of the world, like "Darkness". It's as if Bruce channeled my mind and then expressed it musically. There is pain in this album - it's filled with pathos - but because, it's Springsteen, it has layers of hope and beauty...just enough to make it real and universal. Classics like, "Badlands", and “The Promised Land” are as good as contemporary music gets. "Factory" could have been written about my father, too. Each song has profound lyrical and musical depth. While I have given excerpts from previous songs from albums on the list this one is given in its entirety.
"Darkness On The Edge Of Town"
For many years I could be found there in the darkness too.
It took many years before another songwriter spoke to me like Bruce...and that's today's generation's Jason Isbell. I can't call him "influential" but he gets it...I could write an entire blog post on "Southeastern" but you should just listen to it instead.
I couldn't possibly write a post and not include my favorite album of the great Elvis Costello. I read a review of him - got his first album, "My Aim Is True" but it was his next one, "This Year's Model" that must be included on this list at Number 9. Elvis, to me, was such a rebel and a a "retro rebel" if that is a thing - His "Elvis" name and those Buddy Holly glasses and pigeon toed style of performing. He was the man! Young Elvis captured my angry young man years as well as anyone because he also was so damn pissed off...and cynical and condemning of modern society and it's emphasis on superficial values. This album is flawless and one of the most brilliant ever produced.
From, "This Year's Girl":
See her picture in a thousand places 'cause she's this year's girl
Number 10 - More Bob? Yep. Although I struggled with this last one. I feel like I'm leaving out about a million albums that I love and, well, I kinda am. I was just about to place "Document" by REM here but it wouldn't be a true indicator of "influential" to me and I simply couldn't do it. Then there was, "Who's Next" and, as much as love it, I just didn't love it in the same way as my favorite Dylan album (I think it's my favorite - I equivocate a bit - tough choices there). I do know that in high school all the cool kids were spinning "Blood On the Tracks" and I guess I was one of the cool kids. This is Dylan at his balladeer best and not even my dad complained when I played it - which was daily for about, oh, ten years! I actually sang, "Tangled Up in Blue" when I was the Drama teacher at Rim of the World High School at the "talent show". I'd like to emphasize that was my one and only public singing performance outside of drunk karaoke. There are reasons I'm just a listener...
A few years back I read that Bob simply said about the album that it was, "nothing but pain" and his son Jacob said it was the musical soundtrack to his parent's divorce. I can certainly see that kind of sadness but there is also great storytelling to be found here as well as sweetness and love - especially with, "Shelter From the Storm" and "Simple Twist of Fate". Of course, "If You See Her, say Hello" summed up my teenage romantic angst so aptly:
Sundown, yellow moon
So there you have it - I've taken several weeks to think about his and I'm not sure I've gotten it right and I suppose I'll second guess my choices but, today, it's the best I can do. If you have similar tastes that's marvelous - if you don't well, that's OK, although I'd encourage you to keep listening to new (and old!) music and go to concerts, maybe read a little music history and theory, and, whatever you do, don't say, "Music died in the '60's or '70's" or...whatever. First, it's not true and secondly you're shortchanging not only some great artists but yourself as well. In my experience people who say, "I know what I like" really are saying they "like what they know" and usually that isn't much. Nothing speaks to our inner self - our soul - like the charms of a good song. There's beauty and soul stirring melodies and words out there no matter your tastes...
If, like me, you're compelled to get more into the "American Sound" I'd encourage you to start your journey by reading, "Mystery Train" by Greil Marcus. It'll put you on the right road.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading about your most influential albums.
Now, go put on some tunes!
National Parks back in the day - they were something. Old fogeys like me remember them as quiet and iconic and sensational - as I travel 'round the West it has become clear to me that our National Parks are simply being overrun (I know it's a constant refrain of mine - but it bears repeating). There are a few exceptions and this scoop - for my readers only - is that you can find old time National Park bliss at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
In the evening and morning you can drive the Cape Royal Road and, at times, be completely alone at some of the most magnificent overlooks on planet earth. You can stop and breathe and stare at that canyon for hours. This was my second trip in the last few years and I'm already planning my third.
It is a bit of a drive to get there. It's much easier to get to the South Rim and the North Rim is, indeed, significantly more isolated. It keeps the riff raff out.
I thought, since it's such a long drive that I'd make a stop along the way. I knew it would be hot but surely not "Africa Hot" (see Biloxi Blues). It was 108F when I arrived at Quail Creek Reservoir State Park. I spent the night in 90 degree weather inside the trailer. Oof. It was a pretty place for a man made thing but I decided to "GTHO" the next day and drive to the mountains.
I drove straight to one of my favorite spots in all of the West - Cedar Breaks National Monument where, at 10,000 feet, was a beautiful 65 degrees. Cedar Breaks, I'm convinced, would be a National Park if there weren't already five in Utah - which already frustrates those among us who would mine and develop and ruin these natural areas.
From there I took lesser known roads and drove to the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. It is the site of one of the ugliest episodes of the old West - and there were plenty of those. I would encourage you to read up on this one...the story has changed - even during my lifetime and it merits broader awareness. It's a very sad place.
From there I took a leisurely drive up to Pine Valley and down around Snow Canyon in Southern Utah.
I called Lupe before I left in the morning to help me figure out a strategy for dealing with the trailer sitting in the sun while I went to the mountains. We figured closing it up was best. So, I closed the blinds and locked it up. I'm not certain it was the best plan. When I got back it was ONE HUNDRED TWENTY degrees inside! Good Lord, man! I opened it up, sat outside, and when it reached only ONE HUNDRED I tried to sleep. It didn't work very well so I got up early, hitched up my little fiberglass home, and hit the road for the high country of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
I arrived in the early afternoon, and I suppose from the altitude and electrolyte loss, was wiped out and simply sat around the campsite. The next morning I went to take a reinvigorating campground shower and waited for my amigo Scott Jones. He and his partner Jen and some friends did stop by for a bit. It was enjoyable but far too short. Yes, that is an Everett Ruess shirt the old guy is wearing. Scott and I are going to attend the USC vs ASU football game this fall at the Coliseum. He's a Sun Devil and I received my doctorate at USC so- FIGHT ON! See you in October!
My pal and fellow train lover, Liz Kylin, was staying at the North Rim Lodge and came by too. She and I drove out to Imperial Point and a few other spots that evening. Turns out it was a nice to time for it.
I did spend a bit of time at the North Rim Lodge. What a cool place. You all know the famous Brighty of the Grand Canyon, right?
Liz and I drove out to a spot Scott had recommended - Marble Viewpoint via a sweet dirt road. We got there in the middle of a hazy day and the photos don't do it justice. Not even close. What a magnificent view.
I spent the next few days wandering. The North Rim Drive is an unparalleled gem. The little cabin below was used by cowboys for stock food storage. That pretty flower is the Arizona Mariposa Lily.
The following gallery has a few photos of iconic Grand Canyon sights, to wit; Colorado River, Angel's Window, Wotan Throne and the Vishnu Temple. I did spend one day driving the entire Cape Royal Road. The last photo of this series is a panorama of Wotan's Throne (on the right) and the Vishnu temple (on the left).
Of course it sometimes pays off to get up at the crack of dawn to make photos. One morning I awoke at 4:00 AM to do just that - I drove up to Imperial Point - set up the tripod and waited for the light. It was a stellar morning- warm and breezy and solitary.
As I was post processing the photos I spent hours looking for opportunities to make black and whites. Some of these turned out OK.
Someone asked me once why I share so many photos on my blog posts - I wasn't sure how to take that question. Did it mean that many are bad and don't need to be shared? Maybe - but I answered the way I felt - my blog is a travel blog - not a photo blog per se. Do I want you to see the artistic expression of my photography? Of course - but - most importantly I want you to vicariously come along. Most of the time I'm alone when I travel and, like most travelers, I enjoy sharing the sights and sense of adventure I feel with others of my species.
I am, of course, happy about the quality of some of the photos and feel fulfilled when someone decides to hang one of them on their wall...I think of them whiling away the time looking at those magnificent vistas and feeling that "grand" feeling with me.
So, hey, thanks for coming along! We all know, especially as we get older, that we are only here for a limited number of days. As I reach the final trimester of my life nothing gives me more sheer joy than my family and my trips and my photos. How blessed I am that you are here with me.
Oh, and get out to the North Rim - but SHHHHH! We don't need another Zion or Arches...let's keep the wonder of the place just between ourselves.
Craziness and Cowardice in the Desert
Recently I read a story, in High Country News, about a campground in Colorado that was overrun by gun "enthusiasts". It sounded pretty bad and reminded me of a trip I took to Mojave a year or so ago.
I was camped in the site you see above at Hole-in-the-Wall campground. It was quiet and calm and fairly private. One late afternoon, while entering the trailer, I grabbed a small exterior handle to hoist myself inside and didn't see that a bee had decided to latch on to the back of handle. I felt a burning sensation and then - DAMMIT! I'd been stung. I saw the poor dying bee, sticking to the side of my hand, but felt little sympathy for the SOB. I went to the first aid kit and got the tweezers, pulled the stinger out of the side of my hand but it immediately started swelling. I took three aspirin, ate a pain filled dinner and iced up my hand.
At about 8:30 that night I decided I'd better turn in but, wimp that I am, my hand was hurting and continuing to swell and I couldn't fall asleep. I read and listened to the radio and finally, I'm guessing around 11:00 fell asleep.
At around midnight I awoke to a light, bright as day, shining in my trailer. I then heard the gunning of engines and went to open the door and my campsite was bathed in light from some jerk's spotlight that he had mounted on his Jeep. I was pissed. I decided to get dressed and have a word with my new neighbor. As I was getting my pants on I heard several more vehicles drive around the campground and started to get a little nervous. Still, I was mad and with adrenaline kicking in decided to confront these morons.
Charging out of my trailer I heard the "Pop-pop-pop" of gunfire. I stopped. Directly across from my campsite there were four or five men armed with rifles and shooting at something in the vast darkness.
OK - new plan.
I high-tailed it back to the trailer and locked the door (which I never do) and looked for my bear spray and machete. Yeah, that's me...I bring bear spray and jungle clearing implements to a gunfight.
The gunfire, now sporadic and accompanied by loud, drunken shouting continued for probably 20 minutes. I decided, at that very instant, to become a pacifist and not confront these "people". I tried to go back to sleep and the throbbing in my hand really kicked in (from the adrenaline kick I'd guess). I had the persistent thought that I might have to go to the emergency room, an hour away in Needles, if the swelling continued. After awhile the gunfire stopped completely although my campsite was still lit up like Fifth Avenue and 45th street. Around 3:30 or 4:00 AM, I eventually fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning to the racing of engines and more loud voices. I looked out the window and there were probably 6 or 7 Jeeps and maybe a dozen guys packing them up. I made coffee, fretted a bit about my hand, and stepped out into the sunlight. I heard these guys talking and discussing their plans for the day. They were talking about a route on the old Mojave Road. As they got ready to leave one guy, with a minor conscience, I suppose, walked over and said, "I'd tell ya I was sorry about the noise last night but we're all retired cops and we don't apologize- hahaha". I didn't say a word. I did give him a bad ass glare, however.
They were gone within 30 minutes. I jumped into my truck and drove to the nearest Ranger Station to report these community pillars.
It was closed and locked.
My hand got better.
First Stop: Point Mugu
It's time for the beach. Each year, at least once, I head north up the coast. Last year I foolishly went in June and was socked in with the marine layer for almost 10 days. This year I had none of the "May Gray" and it was sunny and warm and, well, damn near perfect.
The trip started out at good old Point Mugu and Thornhill Broome Beach which lies between Malibu and Oxnard. As a young man I lived in Ventura and attended UCSB but would work for my Dad in his typesetting shop in Los Alamitos on the weekends. I didn't enjoy taking the 101 to the 405 so I took the longer, more leisurely and exceptionally scenic route through to Malibu. That route went directly by Point Mugu. I'd look down at the people camping literally on the sand and think, "Man, that's the life - one day when I don't have to work 7 days a week I'm gonna camp there." I made good on that promise to myself. I counted and I may have missed a trip or two but I believe this was my tenth trip.
Even if you haven't been you to Point Mugu you've seen it. It's featured on about half the car commercials these days. I adore the area. On my first night my Brazilian musician and poet friend Mauro came to visit and we made a fire and and barbecued tri-tip. We chatted and listened to music well into the night...
The last photo is kind of random but across from my campsite was a padlock in the fence separating the highway from the campground. I was fascinated by it - how long had it been there? Why had someone locked it and left it? It's a dang oddity. Love those...
One of my photography influences is Dennis Stock. Back in the '60's he took what I consider to be the best shot perhaps ever made of the Southern California beach scene near San Diego. There are a few spots on PCH I consider quintessential California but, alas, they're changing as development and other changes impact the landscape and the road. Nevertheless, I did go looking for a few spots to make photos and was nearly hit by a small and swerving grocery truck. You have to sacrifice for art, right? I like these photos anyway.
The following photos are just up the road a bit from the campground and I've spent many an hour in that very spot. I always say, "It feels a million miles away from LA".
Second Stop: Gaviota State Beach
After 4 days at Point Mugu I drove North to my old standby Gaviota. While there I went looking for some railroad photos and visited the first place I ever taught - De Anza Junior High School in Ventura as a long term substitute in Autumn of 1981. I also went to visit an old house - the house we were living in when my wonderful son, Jordan was born in April 1983. I enjoyed it. I often wish I could transport myself back to that time - knowing what I know now - I'd do many things differently. Regrets? I have a few...
The hills around Gaviota were lush and covered in mustard.
The coast in Santa Barbara county is much different than the coast I grew up with in Southern California. Shale dominates here.
A train trestle runs across Gaviota and invites you to explore. So I followed the tracks north...
Here are some additional photos of my time at Gaviota. I'll be back in August. I can't seem to get enough of the place.
Final Stop: Morro Bay
I scheduled a Morro Bay State Park trip for last Fall but it was canceled by them after a freak storm brought down several trees in the campground. I love Morro Bay - have ever since I was about 12 and my grandmother brought me here to meet her old bachelor cousin who had lived here for 30 some odd years. He was a poor, salty old fisherman who lived in a small apartment about a block from the bay. I never forgot him. A bad ass, independent, crotchety, profane "pescadero viejo". My kind of guy.
Normally, when I've visited the last several years it has only been for a few days and I haven't really explored the nearby wetlands or Elfin Forest which are close to the south end of town, I made up for that omission on this trip.
I was, finally able to visit the Elfin Forest which is near Los Osos, CA and just across the National Morro Bay Estuary from the campground. I left for my hike about 2:00 in the afternoon and it was cloudy - by the time I hit the trail the sun had emerged and the light was not great for photography. Of course, that didn't stop me from taking photos and I decided, then and there, that I had to come back in the Fall since this was such an extraordinary place.
I hope, through these photos, you get some idea about how splendid Morro Bay is and that you will, if you find yourself on the California central coast (and you should find yourself there) , check it out. Wait until you see how you feel there.
I hope you enjoyed looking at these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them. Next stop is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. See ya on the road...
To my mother's lifelong chagrin I'm not and never was a religious person. I was a skeptic at a ridiculously early age. Of course, over the years, one would hope we evolve. While I'm still fiercely skeptical I allow for, and try to be open to, new insights and experiences - call them religious or spiritual, or what you will.
In my life I've had two of, I guess, what one would call "out of body" experiences. Not surprisingly they were both in nature and both in the great Southwest and, no, I wasn't drinking at the time. The first was in Arches National Park in 1994 and the other in Southeastern Arizona just a few years ago. In both instances, as I drove into Arches National Park and Chiricahua National Monument I had to pull over to the side of the road because I felt light headed. Then, after taking a deep breath, I actually felt as if something deep inside of me was rising out of my body and expanding into the outdoors. Weird, huh? Here's the thing though - it was a deeply "connected" spiritual experience.
The great playwright (and my favorite) Eugene O'Neill described this much more poetically and eloquently than I can when he wrote in, "Long day's Journey into Night" the following:
"You've just told me some high spots in your memories. Want to hear mine? They're all connected with the sea. Here's one. When I was on the Squarehead square rigger, bound for Buenos Aires. Full moon in the Trades. The old hooker driving fourteen knots. I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself -- actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way."
O'Neill gets it precisely right. I felt as if I was dissolving for a few minutes. Of course, both times, after I felt myself come back into myself, I was overwhelmed and tearful and grateful and full of humility and love for having this gift of life bestowed on me. What a literal mind-blower.
You know, of course, I've tried to get that to happen again and it hasn't and I doubt it will. It's not something I can will to happen - it is organic and ethereal and can't be manufactured.
It's so weird, of course, that I seldom, if ever, discuss this with anyone. Yet, here I am writing a blog post about it! Old age has clearly corrupted me and now I'm probably oversharing and it's TMI and all but I don't give a damn. It happened.
The irony is that one of my worst Ranger interactions happened in Chiricahua the very next time I went to visit. In fact, if my first visit was a "peak" experience let's call this one a "valley". I'd planned on camping and pulled into a site and began unloading my camp stove when a Ranger walked up and said, "You can't leave any of that stuff outside your truck". I was momentarily confused and the Ranger said, "We have a strict policy. Nothing left outside - either in your vehicle or tent". I explained that I had to remove some things because I slept in the back of my truck and couldn't fit all my gear in the cab of my truck. Ranger said, "Well, then, I don't know what to tell you but it doesn't look like you can camp here".
I understood why Edward Abbey called them the "Tree Fuzz" (despite being one himself for a couple of years). I've camped all over the West and never met a more obnoxious and unhelpful Ranger. In fact, I love most of them I meet. They're underpaid and under appreciated and protectors of our most cherished places.
Still, it was apparent that this particular Ranger hadn't gotten the customer service memo. So, I thought, to Hell with it. I'll just drive back to Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoons. Of course, before I did I wanted to drive up the road and go to the Visitor Center to express my dismay. As I pulled out of the campground, at say, 15 mph, another Ranger with his window rolled down, gave me the universal "slow down" sign by moving his hand up and down. I couldn't believe it. I could only go slower by stopping. Two fools in one 15 minute period. I drove to the Visitor Center and they said the "Head Ranger" would call me.
He did call the next day. He left two messages. The first was actually to me when he said that, "while we have no bears we follow best practices for camping" and the second, was when he apparently, dialed the wrong number, and was all about personal information that I had no business knowing. Honestly. Talk about weird and inept and disheartening.
So there you have it. Life in a nutshell - lots of weirdness, banality, oddities and a few moments of existential bliss.
Of course, I've been back to Chiricahua. I took Lupe and then actually made reservations to camp there with the Casita. One week before my arrival date I received an email telling me that, due to construction issues, the campground would be closed despite my reservations. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.
Oh land of Chiricahua - how I love thee.
The humans? Not so much.
Of course, I'll be back. And soon.
So there you have it. As the great Jeffrey Lebowski said, "Strikes and gutters, my friends, strikes and gutters."
My entire working life I dreamed of, one day, having the time to be on the open road and live the life of a part time vagabond and traveler of the American West. The last few years, I suppose one could say, I've been truly "living the dream". I thought it would be enjoyable to recap those years in terms of my personal experiences both as an exercise in re-living many of my trips and, perhaps, to stimulate my readers minds to visit some of the same places. I will recall my funniest moments, happiest moments, coldest moments, strangest, etc. This, my saddest moment, is the first post of the endeavor.
I was motivated to do this blog project while listening to the free book on Audible.com called "The Home Front: Life in America during WW2" (which I highly, highly recommend). Stories of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated at concentration camps (euphemistically called internment camps) all over America reminded me of the most crushing moment of my travels when I visited the Manzanar concentration camp off Highway 395 near the Eastern Sierra Nevada.
I have, perhaps like many others of us, experienced deep and profound injustice and loss in my life and as I walked around the camp I immersed myself in thinking about what life must have been for these people, torn from their homes, belongings sold or absconded, and the simple plain horror of that. The historical site, designated in 1992, has now built similar barracks and other features of the camp to help people, like me, fully comprehend the plight of those of Japanese ancestry in our country at the onset of World War II until 1945. It is a deeply touching and profound experience. As I meandered around on that typically windy and hot day I was overcome by sadness and frustration with our world and my country.
At the end of my visit I decided to check out the visitor center and bookstore. When I walked in I was surprised to find many families of Japanese ancestry in the Center. I spoke to the Rangers at the front desk and began wandering through the bookstore when I saw a young Japanese family, a mother , father and their small, perhaps 5 year old, son near one of the bookshelves. The father was stooped over explaining to his son that his grandfather had been held at Manazar. The little boy looked very confused and then softly said, "But, why Daddy, why?" The father simply looked away with tears in his eyes.
I was overwhelmed with sadness and grief and anger at the injustice. As I write this today I still am.
In the next few weeks (months?) I'll be listing some of my favorite memories of my life on the road. I hope you'll enjoy reading them as much as I will sharing them.
In the meantime, especially in today's political milieu, you might consider a visit to one of our great National Historical Monuments - Manzanar wouldn't be a bad place to start.
I've included some photos that I took that day. Since my photography is a bit better these days I need to go back and do it justice. In the meantime...
I love baseball. During my working years I lost touch with the game a bit. Devoting too much time to work and caring about what other people think comes with a cost. Often that cost is putting many things one loves on a back-burner and thinking, "one day I'll spend more time with that". Well, "one day" has arrived. I have finally returned to immersing myself in my favorite sport.
I had always told myself that, after retirement, I would go spend a week at Dodgers Spring Training Camp. When they left Florida to train in Arizona it made the idea even sweeter (I like Florida but it ain't Arizona). I figured I'd take my little trailer and find a place, close to Phoenix, and go watch my team prepare for the season.
Sometimes reality is better than our dreams.
Lake Pleasant, a short drive from Phoenix proper, was a terrific place to camp and sight-see and lounge. In addition to making it my "baseball home base" I found a sweet little gem of outdoors fun.
What a gorgeous place and, not only that, but a fellow I've known and admired on social media for quite some time was able to come and meet me and hang out around a campfire for an evening. Mr. R. Scott Jones drove up and, bringing firewood and beverages, sat down and we talked, and talked, and talked. In fact, I didn't crawl into the sack until well after midnight which hasn't happened to me while camping in, say, 35 years.
Scott is a remarkable guy. He champions. "travel quests" and walks his talk. He has visited more places than I will be ever be able to get around to and has motivated me to do my own "quest" (more on that later).
As I sat there listening to his exploits and plans I grew to admire him even more. In my lifetime I've only known perhaps a handful of people who live the life they damn well want to live. It seems most of us, especially in our youth, are caught up in making money and moving up the ladder and all that other crap we're "supposed" to be doing. I count myself as one of those people. The biggest regrets in my life all surround not taking better care of my personal hopes and dreams and not spending more time with my precious family, all in the name of "success" (i.e. ego).
My hunch is that Scott will not have similar regrets. He lives with energy and vigor and outdoors loving zeal. He understands and appreciates the importance of our few remaining wild places and environmental issues. He's on the right side of history and he lives precisely the way he believes his life ought to be lived.
One of the coolest things about Scott is that he encourages all of us to get out and "Hike our own hike". In other words, we don't have to be a "quest' person or anything else - we should just be true to ourselves but get out there! Love it. What a guy. I look forward to spending more time with him down the road. The man inspires me to go for it.
In fact, after originally dismissing the notion of "quests" I thought I'd try one myself. This baseball season (it always comes back to that, doesn't it?) I'm going to visit each of the California League's venues and go to at least one game in each minor league park. Man, I think that's going to be fun.
Speaking of baseball the next component of this post will be solely devoted to the Dodgers and Spring Training. So, if you hate baseball or the Dodgers I wouldn't be hurt if you stop reading right here. However, I think I got some cool shots of the Boys in Blue and I'd love it if you took a look.
Baseball is known as the "thinking man's game". There are many cultural and historical aspects of the game as well as a deeply complex and technical strategical component. I love history and so it's natural that I would be a bit of a baseball historian. I'm happy and proud to be a Dodger fan because of the franchise's storied history. Of course, the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson broke the "color barrier" and the Dodgers were the undisputed champions of civil rights in sports. Maury Wills and Lou Johnson and other African-American players have spoken about how they loved playing for the Dodgers for that very reason.
I'm tempted to wrote a treatise here but I'll stop and simply point out, since we're talking history, the Dodgers currently employ one of the greatest left handed pitchers in the long history of baseball - Clayton Kershaw. I went to three games at Camelback Ranch but didn't want to drag my camera around the park so I only brought it to the game that Clayton was rumored to be starting. Turned out it was a good choice. Here is the superstar and his windup.
As soon as Spring Training tickets went on sale I got mine and so my seats were fabulous for each game and hence my photos are pretty up close and personal.
The Dodger's MVP last year, in my opinion, was Justin Turner. No one works harder or has a better attitude. Unfortunately, he was hit by a pitch toward the end of Spring Training and will be out for 6-8 weeks. Here are some photos of JT.
Enrique Hernandez is a passionate ball of energy and will need to step up this year in JT's absence. A native Puerto Rican he recently asked the Dodger's ownership to assist with the Puerto Rican Hurricane Relief Fund and they stepped up to the tune of 2 million dollars. That's my team!
Great things have been predicted for Dodger Joc Pederson. Unfortunately, at this point, he hasn't lived up to the hopes of the Dodger faithful. He's still young though. Here's Jocko.
Former Dodger All Star, Matt Kemp seen below, has returned to the team for this season.
The old man of the team, 39 year old Chase Utley, also known as the "Silver Fox" just signed a 2 year deal and is a stabilizing influence in the clubhouse.
The Dodgers skipper, Dave Roberts, was a fine player and is well liked by the players. His pitching changes make me nuts but I can't argue his success.
Even more than a "Dodger fan" I'm a baseball fan. I love the sport and enjoy watching all the teams (ok - maybe not the Giants or Yankees- no, actually even them). Since I love baseball so much I've become a fan of our local college team - the University of California, Irvine which is a little weird considering I attended four universities and UCI wasn't one of them. Of course when USC and UCSB play them I pull for my old schools but I am sincerely enjoying going to the "Anteater's" games. Last year they had a player, Keston Hiura, who hit a remarkable .442 and he was drafted by the Brewers. Sure enough I got to see him in that Brewer uniform and he hit a bomb off the batter's eye in dead center.
Can you tell I had some fun? It was a wonderful trip for many reasons. I took lots of photos and had so much dang fun I'm going back next year.
Here's to a great 2018 season and I'll see you at the ballgame!
“All at once the desert was everywhere, and I was overcome with a feeling of relief. Sand, rocks, hills—the whole landscape was tinted the same shade of orange as the sky.”
― Jasmin Darznik, Song of a Captive Bird
Few places I know would merit a return in the same season but Red Rock Canyon State Park in California certainly does. My camping family/friends, Marty and Steve and I had decided, after last year, to go to Death Valley again this year, but after a storm last Fall, our favorite campground was closed. I suggested Red Rock as an alternative and so...we went.
The only problem? It was too damn cold. Steve and I have had 3 frigid camping trips - Calaveras Big Trees, Death Valley and now Red Rock. One morning it was 21F (and the furnace quit working of course) and it never got over 50. We also had to contend with sleet and rain one night. We still hiked a bit and the evenings inside the trailer were filled with drunken and loud singing and musical and political arguments (we had no neighbors- thankfully).
These two guys, from my perspective, are about the two best camping buddies a guy could have. They're fun and funny and smart, love the outdoors, and are forgiving of my quirks. Who could ask for more? The photo above is from our short walk at Fossil Falls off Highway 395 north of Red Rock. The photos below are my black and whites from the trip and I'm enjoying moving more to that medium lately.
The following photos were taken in the tiny old mining town of Randsburg. Fascinating place. The road and railroad photos above were taken on our drive there. My favorite photos these days, if you couldn't tell, are typically roads, sage, train tracks and desert sky. This is the West of my memories and my dreams.
The following images are from Red Rock Canyon State Park itself. I still can't believe I lived so many years of my life not even knowing about this Mojave gem which is just a couple hours north of LA.
We drove up Highway 395 after a late winter snow and visited Fossil Falls on the recommendation from, of all people, my dentist. It's a fascinating place from a geological and scenery perspectives and it didn't disappoint. Thanks Doc Evans!
After a cold week at Red Rock I went home for a few days and prepared to venture to Arizona for Dodger Spring Training as well as visiting Homolovi State Park in the Hopi lands. I knew it had to be hotter there and I was ready for shorts, t-shirts and sandals weather. Oh how wrong I was! Ha!
One of the great gifts of social media is finding cool people that you share common interests with - in the last year I was able to meet a fellow rail-fan (train fanatic) and Southwest lover, Liz Kylin on Twitter. When she read I was going to visit Homolovi she offered to show me around a bit and have lunch at "The Turquoise Room" in the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, AZ (maybe my favorite Southwest restaurant).
It's 525 miles to Homolovi from El Rancho Hubbardo and when I arrived I was exhausted from dragging my trailer around and avoiding the ubiquitous tractor trailers. I got my gear set up, ate some pea soup, watched a movie on my iPad and turned in very early. I awoke and was ridiculously cold. I keep an indoor/outdoor thermometer in the trailer and turned on the light to see the temperature which was a stupidly frigid 14F. Oh, man. So much for shorts and sandals! The next morning I checked in with the Ranger and told him it was 14F. He replied, "14? No, sir, it was 9F last night". Oh, OK, I stood miserably corrected.
The day did begin to warm a bit and Liz arrived at 10:00 AM and proceeded to show me the ruins in the Park. Although partly cloudy, it was getting warmer and I was grateful.
After a lovely walk and drive in the Park we made the short jaunt to Winslow and ate lunch. The La Posada is the home of an old "Harvey House" and the trains run just outside the back door. Liz was somehow able to determine that there was a freight headed our way and so we scurried out to her car and drove to a bridge overlooking the tracks and Interstate 40. Sure enough...here came our train. We even got the whistle!
Liz told me there was one more place that she had to show me...the Little Painted Desert. It was just north of Homolovi and - wow - what a place. Liz was quite the tour guide! I can't thank her enough.
After an extraordinary day Liz headed back to Flagstaff and I got ready to move south to Phoenix and my beloved Dodgers and some warm weather! My next blog post will be for baseball lovers and features the redoubtable R. Scott Jones and some photos of the Boys in Blue. Until then...
After being away from the desert for several months I almost couldn't bear it anymore. I planned a trip to Mojave but the idiots in Washington DC were threatening another government shutdown which would essentially shut down the Mojave Preserve.
After kvetching about this online my friend and Desert Expert Extraordinaire, Lori Carey said, "just get up to Red Rock Canyon". So, I did. The above photo shows the spot that I was able to secure for several days of desert bliss. Red Rock Canyon is only two hours north of Los Angeles but it certainly seems as if you're in another state, or another planet. It is about 80 miles from Bakersfield and 25 miles from the town of Mojave. The State Park link is here.
There is not a lot of civilization nearby this piece of unusual rock formation. As a result, it's uncrowded and provides solitude despite its proximity to Los Angeles. Many old Westerns have used this as a filming locale and it does have it's own unique charm. One day I jumped in the truck and decided to check out the local towns. The highway and the railroad tracks were lonesome on a late autumn afternoon. Just the way I like them. Have you ever felt "in your element" too? I
The weather was terrific. Highs during the day reached the upper 60s. It did get chilly at night but I was nestled in my little home away from home.
There are multiple hiking trails in the area. A highlight of the trip is the short Hagen Canyon Loop Trail. It's only a little over a mile but every bend leads off to another scenic spot which will tempt you into exploring. I spent an entire afternoon out there walking, wandering, resting, and making photographs. The geology is quite spectacular and there are some species of wildflowers that are only found here. It feels unique because it is...certainly no other place like it in California. At times, I found myself marveling at how much it looked like southern Utah.
My annual Death Valley Trip has been altered due to the Mesquite Spring Campground being closed from storm damage and I'm meeting my dear Bay Area family right back here in February. It certainly has on "Old West" feel. On the next trip I'll spend more time in the nearby El Paso Mountains and the Trona Pinnacles are just an hour away.
Thanks for joining me on this little Western getaway. We'll be back soon.
"Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best"
– Henry Van Dyke
At the end of each year it is enjoyable to look back and review the places I've visited. I also enjoy looking through old photos and remembering the fine times I had in each scenic spot.
My viewpoint of photography is changing and evolving on a regular basis. What I like today I may not be fond of a year from now. As my friend and fellow photographer, PJ Finn, has helped me realize, it's all about finding my "voice", just as I did as an actor and director when I was working in the field of Dramatic Art. Indeed, just as all artists should do.
In the next few years I believe my photos will be more of what I LIKE to photograph as opposed to what I think I SHOULD photograph. This is a leap for me but, at my age, what do I have to lose?
The photo above is on a deserted road near the tiny town of Cantil, CA. It's my personal favorite as, to me, it captures that lonesome western highway feel.
This photo below is taken from the Ajo Mountain Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument one evening toward dusk in January.
My next trip was to Death Valley. I made several photos that I liked there and this simple black and white captures the stark and barren yet beautiful landscape of Death Valley near Zabriskie Point.
The next photo is of the Grapevine Mountains from the Valley floor the day after a rare winter storm.
After a soggy winter (finally) I decided to visit Steinbeck Country in Central California in March. This afternoon photo was taken along the Fremont Peak trail overlooking the city of Salinas. This trail was one of Steinbeck's favorites as a youth.
In April I was asked to make some photos of a United Farm Workers March in Madera, CA. I was proud to do so.
Lupe and I went to Chicago in April also and I got to see legendary Wrigley Field. We fell in love with the city and its Midwestern friendly vibe.
In May I was blessed to have been able to camp in Utah with my son, his wonderful wife and her brother, and my itty-bitty grandchildren. It was sheer heaven. The photo below shows Zion Red Rock in a layer of clouds. When I posted it on social media only a few folks "liked" it. But I like it quite a bit.
I don't normally make or show too many photos of people but when they're the two cutest people in the world whats a guy supposed to do? These are my grandchildren, Finley and Joaquin, at Kodachrome State Park in Utah.
Marty and I had a terrific time, as usual, at Gaviota on our annual trip there.
My daughter and I spent a few fantastic days in Pismo in June. Every day spent with the apple of my eye is a blessing.
In June I was at one of my favorite spots in California, Point Mugu State Park, and took this photo directly from my campsite at sunset.
In the summer I took my daughter Lilly and her friend Kennedy to the Giant Sequoia National Monument in the Sierra Nevada. I admire the stubborn independence of that solitary pine.
Lupe and I also visited the state we love the best, New Mexico. These are ruins in the Juniper country of Bandelier National Monument.
In early Fall I visited sublime and renowned Yosemite National Park with my dear Bay Area family.
in November I visited Pismo Beach once again. Man, I love the Central Coast.
I spent a fascinating day with the BLM and Mojave Desert Land Trust exploring George Patton's old WWII Training Center. The photo below is from an old place of worship near Camp Ironwood.
This last photo is another personal favorite that I recently took near the ghost town of Garlock, CA.
I thank you for coming along and wish each of you the most marvelous of years in 2018. Cheers! See you on the road...
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