In the month of February 2021 I was able to get out to my happy place again - the Sonoran Desert. It was an especially enjoyable trip for a number of reasons but, primarily because it, "cleared my head". I honestly believe that that human race is a mess but since the pandemic we are a mess times 2 - at least. While I like to see myself as a bit above the madding crowd - I'm not - and the pandemic made me a bit kooky too.
So it was with relief - blessed relief - that I escaped to perhaps my favorite place on earth - the Sonoran Desert. I was also able to meet some of my dear pals along the way. Thanks to Paul, Holly, Joel, Scott, Jen, and Liz. Love you all...
My first night was in Chiriaco Summit near the southern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. I love it out there.
Next morning I hung out with Paul and we made some photos - then on to the magnificent Superstition Mountains in Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona. There is nothing like them in all of the West.
I was disappointed to discover that the Apache Trail scenic drive was closed due to a washout with NO plan to fix it. I've been traveling that road since I was 9 years old on my first trip to Arizona. The trip that I fell in love with the Sonoran Desert. I've often thought that it would be a great place to toss my ashes. Alas.
Nevertheless I did travel what I could of it and made a few photos.
After a few fabulous days in Apache Junction I drove to Gilbert Ray Campground near Tucson and Saguaro National Park . The following photo went kind of "viral" on the twitter machine giving further pause as to what I think is good vs. the rest of the world...
Arizona certainly has some sublime sunsets.
I spent a marvelous day in the eastern section of Saguaro National Park. It had been years since I'd been there.
The Signal Hill trail, with it's petroglyphs, is a treat in the Park.
From Saguaro I went to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument driving through Tohono O'odham land. I have been distraught over what is happening at the border. The wall is destructive and does not impede border crossings. Candidly, only fools would believe that to be the case. It does, however, mar and, in some instances, utterly destroy important natural resources and the ecology of the borderlands - and its beauty too. I try in these pages to bring joy and not sorrow but this is a sorrowful story. Here is what I found on my drive to magnificent Quitobaquito - a desert oasis and sacred land to the Tohono O'odham.
I was so grateful to find that the springs still had water although geologists fear it may have been irreparably harmed. Time will tell. The wall is right next to it. I did spend a few hours there - breathing in the beauty and history and was joined by only a few people. As I was leaving a number of Tohono O'odham friends arrived. It was good to see them too.
Here are a few more photos from my trip.
I am grateful to each of you who reads this blog. I hope that it provides a bit of fun and relief. I also want to tell you that next year will be my 65th on earth and my 20th of sobriety. I plan on celebrating in epic style with a 2 month long trip around the USA - literally from sea to shining sea. Perhaps I will be coming to your town? Or perhaps you'd like to join me for a portion of the trip? I will be writing a blog post about this trip soon - let's talk! I am planning on seeing many of my friends along the way...
Thanks for joining me on this little trip. I feel like a weight has been lifted - and now to get vaccinated... and back to concerts, restaurants, and the ballpark!
I listened to a lot of music in 2020. I suppose being housebound can do that to a guy. Of course, I'm a music nut without a pandemic forcing me to isolate. This year, as we all know, was weird as Hell though and usually the highlight of my day was making a playlist and going for a 3-4 mile walk around the neighborhood.
In my life - through all the sadness and loss - music has sustained and saved and soothed me. It certainly still does. I was lucky to grow up in the 1960's and be literally raised on Rock and Roll. That experience, along with my parents influences and my enduring love for American roots music, still affects me. A day with out music is like - well, I wouldn't know - I never go a day without music.
In my youth I was an absurd music snob and dismissed anyone who didn't know and appreciate the music of Bob Dylan, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams.
That has changed. Goodness, it has changed. I now enjoy LOTS of different kinds of music and that openness has enriched my life. Nevertheless, you will see my tastes are still limited - I don't listen to current pop very much. So, I'm going to tell you about my favorites this year and it is important to note that this is a narrow look at 2020. As much as I enjoy listening to new music - there are only 24 hours in a day and when I find something I love it gets played and replayed...(and replayed).
I was going to rank the music from last year and I've been agonizing over it, I started several blog posts - got frustrated - moved music rankings around - then my computer went on the fritz and I just decided, "FORGET RANKING!" So, here is an unranked and mostly chronological list of the music that moved me in the strange year of 2020. I'll make a few comments about these albums and you can determine if there might be something you'd enjoy putting on your playlist. That is, after all, the point of this blog post. I will mention if an album would be in my personal "Top 10" list.
I should also say that I do purchase nearly all this music - streaming services shortchange our artists and since they can't go on the road they need our money more than ever. Please consider doing the same. It's the right thing.
1. Technically this one was released in late 2019 but I listened to the latest Who album, WHO, quite a bit at the start of the year. It's a fine album - not great - and didn't grow on me. Still, it was nice to hear a new album from those old guys who once proclaimed that they hoped they'd die before they grew old - too late guys...
2. The Drive-by Truckers released TWO excellent albums - The Unraveling and The New OK. Timely, topical and with typical Hood/Cooley musical charm and sharp lyrics, I listened to them both - a lot. Which is best? Ah, depends on the day and my mood but The Unraveling hit hard all year long. The song 21st Century USA was my second most played this year - and it oozes Patterson Hood angst from his always observant perspective.
3. Just before the virus hit Nathaniel Rateliff released a new album And It's Still Alright - his last album was so big and this is a bit slower and was released when our minds were elsewhere but the title track was a year long favorite and perhaps a bit of an anthem for those of us who scraped by in 2020.
4. A band that I think deserves greater recognition (you'll hear that frequently through this post) is The James Hunter Six. They released another fun and old school cool album, Nick of Time, in March. I grooved to it as the lock downs descended on us and the vibes provided a good salve to the world's problems.
5. Dave Simonett also released a fine solo album that deserved more notice. Red Tail is a slower more relaxed Simonett from his work with Trampled By Turtles. It's a soothing journey and offers timely wisdom. It should have made more of a splash and I highly recommend it.
6. A top 10 album of the year, for me, rolled out at the end of March and it stayed in heavy regular rotation all year long. The fantastic Lilly Hiatt released, Walking Proof, and I immediately liked it - the songs were lively and fun and insightful. I didn't know it would grow and grow and grow on me all year. Turns out, I LOVE IT. Lilly's father John is a lifetime favorite and, well, talk about the apple and tree... what an album.
7. Also at the end of March the remarkable album, Saint Cloud, by Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield) was released and has found near universal acclaim. It was ranked number 2 by Rolling Stone and was mentioned on most of the Top Album lists at years end. It was my introduction to her music and it is a creative and rootsy album that I continue to listen to on an almost daily basis. Obviously recommended and a solid top 10 choice.
8. Several years ago I discovered a band - Clem Snide (Eef Barzelay) - that had a moving and lyrically intriguing aspect to their music that was unique. In Spring of 2020 Eef released a beautiful album, Forever Just Beyond. Mr. Barzelay isn't afraid to tackle the great philosophical questions sometimes tongue in cheek and sometimes with a dagger to the heart - and the song Roger Ebert has haunted me since the first time I heard it. This is comforting music about unsettling issues. Excellent.
9. Good old Pokey LaFarge released a very enjoyable (in a Bukowski kind of way - ha) album this year called, Rock Bottom Rhapsody. I like Pokey's old school approach and it always lends itself to his ironic and poetic lyrics. This is a fine album and did manage to make a few year end lists - which makes me happy. Pokey is cool. My favorite track is, "Lucky Sometimes" which was on my playlists all year long.
10. The Strokes put out an album this year that is very good and I'm a bit surprised to see that it hasn't garnered more attention. The New Abnormal is a bit uneven but has some downright catchy tunes and the title was certainly prescient. Recommended.
11. While I focus on many underrated bands in this post the next album was, by far, the most overrated of 2020 in my opinion. That's probably sacrilege to many but while I liked, Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple it wasn't ALL THAT. I know many of the hipsters reading this are aghast and well - sorry, not sorry. I get that it fits right into the zeitgeist and while that's always powerful it just didn't resonate with me as it obviously did with many others. It's on almost every Top 10 list (but wouldn't make mine).
12. Lucinda Williams had a fine album this year with, Good Souls Better Angels. It's about as topical and political as Lucinda gets and it didn't disappoint. Man Without A Soul is fine song about, well, you know who it's about.
13. An early album of the year candidate, Lamentations, by American Aquarium was released in the spring and hit me right in the heart. The songs are hard hitting and powerful and "Six Years Come September" may be the best alcoholic regret song I have ever heard - and reminds me far too much of some of my drinking days. BJ Barham is a heckuva guy - we communicate occasionally on social media - he gets it. This, for me, is a top 10 album.
14, I didn't realize for some reason that the LA based punk band X released an album in 2020 (some of the songs in 2019). It's called, ALPHABETLAND and, hey, it's still punk and it's good!
15. A little known fellow, Joe Nolan, released a very nice and folksy album, Drifters, in May. If you don't know the name it might be worth your while to find him and listen - he's a singer/songwriter guy with excellent lyrics. Letters to Juliet is a song that I've been spinning since May.
16. I listen to a lot of music but, man, do I miss a lot of great music too. This year I finally discovered Samantha Crain and it was long overdue. Her music often has a 60's sound with penetrating lyrics and I'm stoked to have found her. From Oklahoma, she is Choctaw and has won several Native American music awards. Her album, A Small Death, has been on my daily playlists all year and in exploring her entire catalog I've found songs I'll listen to the rest of my life.
17. The USA has 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners. We are a society that loves locking people up. It's pathological. NPR says, "Each incarcerated person has a story. The new album from The Prison Music Project called Long Time Gone highlights a few of those stories. It features songs by nine incarcerated or formerly incarcerated writers and was put together by musician Zoe Boekbinder." Not a lot of songs on this album but it's important to hear them all - oh, and throw a few dollars to the Innocence Project if you can afford it.
18. The "ALBUM OF THE YEAR" no matter what anyone says, has to be, Rough and Rowdy Ways, by Bob Dylan. Bob stunned us with "Murder Most Foul" a song that managed to capture, with precision, the essence of America in the last 60 years in 17 minutes. We were blown away further when he released an entirely new album a few weeks later. It is, simply put, a masterpiece. How anyone could leave it off a Top 10 list is beyond me. The guy is 79 years old and still writing Nobel prize winning type lyrics. Remarkable.
19. Jason Isbell released another very good album and Reunions was met with listener and critical acclaim. The song, Dreamsicle, is magnificent. Another solid effort from Jason even if it is not up to Southeastern or Something More Than Free standards. It certainly should be considered as a Top 10 album - even not at his best Isbell towers above many other contemporary artists.
20. Neil Young dropped an album of some old songs and, like comfort food, Homegrown hit the spot. I listen to Neil and feel my entire body say....ah... and I breathe more easily.
21. The great Sarah Jarosz released an Album of the Year candidate with, World on the Ground. Sarah is a musical prodigy - plays several instruments - and watching her mature as a songwriter and artist is a joy. Each of the songs on this album has received over 30 plays this year and Johnny was my most played song in all of 2020. Fabulous, top 10 album.
22. Ultra cool Larkin Poe gave us some of their trademark Blues with Self-Made Man. Sisters Megan and Rebecca Lowell have some of the most raw, swampy, rootsy and traditional music being made these days. This is REAL American music and Larkin Poe are among the best practitioners today. Fine album.
23. Speaking of coolness and REAL American music it really doesn't get much more authentic than my pal, Ray Wylie Hubbard. I am occasionally asked if we are related and I always answer in that trite but apt way, "we are brothers from another mother". Ray even looks a little like me and he's a fellow friend of Bill W. He follows me on social media and when I was lamenting the troubles of 2020 sent me a private message of encouragement. What a guy. Let's talk about his music - Ray is a bit of a Texas legend for a number of reasons and oddly had never been featured on Austin City Limits until last year - an injustice that took too long to correct but, thankfully, they finally got it right. His show will air this year. Last year he released Co-Starring which is a fun and entertaining and endlessly listenable album. Ray teams up with many friends including Ringo Starr on this excellent effort. Listen to to the song Bad Trick - and, yep, Top 10 stuff in my humble opinion. And in 2021 let's remember Ray's words - "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...I have real good days".
24. I discovered another new artist this year who blew my mind. John Craigie is an LA boy and sounds to me a bit like a new Ramblin' Jack Elliott with a modern folk spin. Like Samantha Crain finding him this year was a major highlight. His album Asterisk the Universe has been on repeat for several of my walks. Check out Part Wolf and Nomads if you get a chance. Pretty sure you too will become a fan.
25. You know Chuck Prophet, right? I sure hope so because if there was ever a guy who deserved a larger audience it's him. Each of his albums the last few years have been excellent and he has a devoted following - and I am one of those devoted followers. This year the gift he gave us is called The Land That Time Forgot. The song Get Off the Stage about the imbecilic criminal in the White House was perhaps the most timely and apt song of the year. Chuck is a rocker for sure but it is his clever and at times satirical lyrics that always move me. He is the real deal. Check him out (and sign up for his newsletters - I promise you won't be disappointed).
26. Speaking of music that deserves a greater audience the always excellent Jayhawks released xoxo this year and it got lots of attention on the Americana stations but didn't make many Top 10 end of the year lists - too bad. It's a rock solid album. Dogtown days and Living in a Bubble are two of the best song so the year. You can't go wrong with the Jayhawks who are probably over the last few decades the most critically acclaimed band with the fewest sales. I'll never understand it.
27. Taylor Swift released two albums this year, Evermore and Folklore, and while her music doesn't always resonate - these are two excellent albums. I don't need to say much more, right? Taylor is doing just fine.
28. Lydia Loveless, one of my favorites, also released an album called Daughter in 2020. Unfortunately, the album lacks the vitality and energy of her previous albums. I am hoping she can turn things around. In the meantime, check out her album Somewhere Else from 2014.
29. The group Mipso also gave us a new album - Mipso - and it too lacks the vibrancy of previous albums. Still, this is another underrated group that merits more attention.
30. The Boss also released Letter to You and it's wonderful. I don't think it's quite as good as Western Stars (which I adored) but it's close. I always feel connected to Bruce's songs and this album does feel a bit like a letter to those of us who have loved the man since the mid 1970's. Hope you get a chance to hear it.
31. Gillian Welch's All the Good Times is a terrific LP (as she always gives us). This is a collection of 10 covers and she and David Rawlings are marvelous - they even cover Mr. Dylan.
So, that's enough. It gives you a taste of what I have been listening to and perhaps gives you something new to hear. I have to also mention an excellent EP called A Field Guide to Loneliness by Jamestown Revival. Love those guys. Another couple of must mentions are Stay by one of my favorite musicians in the planet Valerie June (an EP) and Hoosier National by rootsy Otis Gibbs.
Here then is an additional list of songs released in 2020 that you might check out too. In some instances I have listened to the album they come from and not listed them above or, in most instances, I still haven't given enough time to the entire album yet and had to leave it off the list. Or - it was only released as a single. Some really inspired stuff here.
1. Options Open - Kathleen Edwards
2. Headstart - Jade Bird
3. Crawl Into the Promised Land - Rosanne Cash
4. Leave Virginia Alone - Tom Petty
5. The Problem - Amanda Shires
6. Long Violent History - Tyler Childers
7. Over That Road I'm Bound to Go - Joachim Cooder
8. Love is the King - Jeff Tweedy
9. Are We Alright Again - Eels
10. Can Anyone Hear Me? - Dusty Wright
11. High Feeling - Cordovas
12. You'll Be Mine - Pyschedelic Furs
13. Ablaze - Alanis Morissette
14. Welcome to Hard Times - Charley Crockett
15. Letting Me Down - Margo Price
16. California - The Mammals
17. Days of Heaven - Jerry Joseph
18. Living in a Ghost Town - Rolling Stones
19. Punk Rock Girl - Sarah Siskind
20. Black Crow Moan - Eliza Neals
21. Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues - Steve Forbert
22. 24/5 - The Claudettes
23. Wreckless Abandon - The Dirty Knobs
24. It's Not Easy - Puss N Boots
25. Living for Yesterday - Jamie Webster
26. Better Luck - Heather Anne Lomax
27. Count on Me - The Lone Bellow
28. Feel the Way I Want - Caroline Rose
29. No Handle - The Panhandlers
30. Southern Rock Will Never Die - The Outlaws
31. When My Fever Breaks - John Moreland
32. Dawn - Fruition
33. The Well - Marcus King
34. Stay Down Man - Dan Reeder
35. Living Life - Kathy McCarty
Thanks for reading. My hope is that you find something here and that you will share some of your favorites from 2020 in the comments or in an email to me. I love finding new music and would love to hear your thoughts. May music continue to soothe and enlighten us in 2021 and beyond.
Well, this year has been a bit weird, eh? My big travel plans which included a trip to Yellowstone, Route 66 and the SABR Convention in Baltimore were canceled due to the virus. 2020 was supposed to be an epic travel year - oops! What's the expression? Man plans, God laughs?
As a result this years photographs - for the first time- are really slim pickings. A few years I've had trouble narrowing it down to ten - this year - I'm struggling to find ten. I do this each year because a fellow photographer, Jim Goldstein, puts together a compilation of top photos by many photographers and each year I participate. It's a cool project and here is the link to his website.
I'm sure, in time, we will all have much to say about this challenging time in our lives. Currently here in California the hospitals are overflowing and the death count marches on. It is, seemingly, a chaotic almost dystopian Hell. I was forced to visit the ER too a few weeks back after becoming short of breath in the middle of the night but, fortunately, it wasn't COVID. The doctor told me, "good thing you don't have to be admitted because we don't have room". That was over 2 weeks ago...I can't imagine what's happening right now.
So, yes, it is a terrible time for many. Recently, I was speaking to a fellow friend of Bill W. and we were discussing the importance of having, "an attitude of gratitude". We discussed our belief that those of us who luckily haven't lost family members and have avoided the virus or have not been terribly sickened by it have MUCH to be grateful for -in fact, probably more than other years in our lives.
I am grateful I was able to get out a tiny bit. I'm grateful for my family and their health and the new granddaughter on the way. I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful that you are reading this. I am grateful for you. I hope these photos take your mind off our troubles for a brief moment.
About a year ago we moved and my daily walk takes me by the nearby high school. Valencia High was built in 1933 and many of the buildings, including the auditorium and cafeteria, were built during the depression by the WPA. It's a beautiful school.
The next four photos are from my annual trip to Gaviota State Park and nearby Los Osos. The fog rolled in and, well, I love the fog.
I was also able to get out to Anza Borrego for a few nights with my pal, Dell. By now you are probably aware of my affinity for that place.
I was also able to get out to Colonel Allensworth State Historical Park and the nearby wildlife refuges. It's a place that I just feel at home.
Lupe and I spent Thanksgiving at Pinnacles National Park. The photo below is of Bear Gulch Reservoir from a frigid (29F) morning hike.
My favorite trip for photography this year- although it too was cut short - not by COVID but rather electrical issues with my Casita - was to the McGee Creek area of the Sierra Nevada. The first photo is of a nearby aspen grove and the second of McGee Creek Pass.
So, there you have it. I am still planning trips for 2021 although all in California, Nevada and Arizona. I will also be spending much of my time planning for 2022. That year will mark my 65th on the planet and I want to celebrate in style. First, with a huge backyard fiesta and then with a 3 month cross country trip - similar to Travels with Charley and Blue Highways - well, my version, anyway. I am excited about it - it will be the "trip of a lifetime" from sea to shining sea. It will feature nature and plains and mountains and National Parks I haven't previously visited with lots of baseball including a visit to Cooperstown and music - lots of music - including much of the Mississippi Blues Trail. I hope to see you when I'm on the road!
Now, let's stay safe - let's get through 2021 in style and and may you all have the happiest of holiday seasons.
This, as we all know, has been an odd year. While the virus appears to be surging again I have sincere gratitude for all the good things that have happened and are happening this year. To date no one in our family has become seriously ill from the virus. Sadly, I did have a former colleague - younger than I am - pass away from COVID a few months back. I think of him and his family and the families of so many others right now and it's clear that 2020 while challenging has not been an altogether bad year for me personally and we have much for which to be thankful. I have healthy and beautiful children and grandchildren and a new granddaughter is on the way! I sincerely hope things are tolerable for you and yours and may you all remain healthy and safe until this scourge is eradicated.
I've shared previously that many of my plans had to be altered this year. I'm guessing yours have, too. All of our lives have been disrupted. I decided some months back to cancel my "big" travel plans and look for more local opportunities to find peace and solitude. So... I went again to another couple of favorites.
Lately the weather has been quite warm and the summer feels like it might, finally, be ending here in Southern California but it's been brutally hot. The beach sounded nice and I was able to escape on my annual trip to Gaviota.
Each time I return to a place I know that it is different. It has changed and so have I. I've certainly learned that nothing stays the same in this life and all things are temporary. There are a few places that I return to - again and again -and they are always different - I get some comfort from the familiarity and joy from the changes. This year Gaviota was warm but not hot and had a few days of foggy weather.
Eugene O'Neill, my favorite playwright - of life - wrote eloquently about the fog in his remarkable play, "Long Day's Journey Into Night":
“The fog was where I wanted to be. Halfway down the path you can’t see this house. You’d never know it was here. Or any of the other places down the avenue. I couldn’t see but a few feet ahead. I didn’t meet a soul. Everything looked and sounded unreal. Nothing was what it is. That’s what I wanted—to be alone with myself in another world where truth is untrue and life can hide from itself. Out beyond the harbor, where the road runs along the beach, I even lost the feeling of being on land. The fog and the sea seemed part of each other. It was like walking on the bottom of the sea. As if I had drowned long ago. As if I was the ghost belonging to the fog, and the fog was the ghost of the sea. It felt damned peaceful to be nothing more than a ghost within a ghost.”
Some of my favorite outdoor haunts of my youth are in the hills above Santa Barbara. I decided to take a drive up to Figueroa Mountain in the Santa Ynez Mountains. I wanted to check out the campgrounds and places I hadn't been to in awhile in those old oak covered sedimentary hills.
Unfortunately, when I got two miles from the campground the road was closed. The Los Padres, and many other National Forest lands in California, were closed to ALL visitors due to the extreme fire danger. I understand why and believe it was a good call but I wish it had been advertised a bit more and that I'd known they were extending the forest ban past the originally publicized dates. Regardless, I had an enjoyable drive.
When I returned to my campsite I realized I had a cold blooded visitor. I notified the camp host who called the cavalry and they moved my friend to a less populated spot.
Mr. Rattler wasn't a happy camper. After all, he'd been enjoying this view of the creek for at least a few days.
I got up early the next morning and made a series of photos of the sunrise. I hope you enjoy this gallery.
Before we travel inland to Allensworth I'll leave you with a few more photographs of Gaviota State Beach.
My little fiberglass trailer, "El Correcaminos" is now 5 years old and has gone on nearly FIFTY trips. It is starting to show a bit of wear. I had electrical problems in the Sierra Nevada and a propane leak at Gaviota. I fixed those things (hopefully), got new trailer tires, and then headed to Colonel Allensworth State Park.
I am in love with Allensworth. I even joined the Friends of Allensworth to support the Park. The story of the place is fascinating and I encourage you, if you don't know it, to revisit my previous posts or to read the Wikipedia page right here.
I believe that Allensworth, like my musician pal Ray Wylie Hubbard would say, is "an acquired taste." It's in the heart of the Great Central Valley. Most Californians would complain about the highway to get there - Highway 99. They would argue that Highway 1 and 395 and 101 are much prettier and, well, it's easy to see why they'd make that point but, life is short, so lets look for beauty everywhere - even in the desolate and dry farmlands of California. The sunset photo at the top of this blog post is an example of that beauty. Further, there are two National Wildlife refuges within a half hour drive of Allensworth near Highway 99.
I also decided to check out the Carrizo Plain National Monument to see if the roads had been improved over the years in order to perhaps camp there this spring. The Monument is 75 miles from Allensworth but closer than from home (about 200 miles). The place is famous for its spring display of wildflowers. This time of year it's hot and dry. I only saw a few other people (nice!) explored a bit and had a very nice day.
A friend and former colleague, Debbie, is a reader of this website and has mentioned, for several years now, that she'd like a barn photo - and while the light isn't at it's best it is a pretty cool old barn - so...to my pal Debbie...
After driving back to Allensworth I spent the evening over the barbecue and sitting outside and watching the sunset.
The following morning I got up at the crack of dawn and drove to the Kern National Wildlife Refuge. I saw no one. Unfortunately, most of the birds were a bit shy too.
That afternoon, to beat the heat, I decided to cruise around aimlessly with the AC on in the truck. I saw a crop duster and got out to take this photo. Within, no kidding, a minute, a truck pulled up and a guy yelled. "You gotta move!" Ok, ok... I'm moving. Settle down...I'm a bit slower than I used to be.
I found a place called, "China Alley" on the map in Hanford and went to take a few photos. It too has an interesting history.
The following day I drove out to the Pixley Wildlife Refuge at dusk. The mosquitoes were THICK but it was a lovely evening - not as much water as my last visit but still a calm, solitary and peaceful walk.
It started getting HOT the next day and I was (am?) so damn tired of the heat. I spent one last beautiful but sweltering day and then headed home. I had a fabulous time.
I couldn't leave you without, of course, a lonely road and old telephone poles...
Off to the desert in a few days... has autumn arrived in your world? Mask up! See ya soon.
Hola, my friends!
2020 continues to be a challenging year. Besides the virus, tragically, as I write this, much of California is burning again.
I'm checking in on all of you and thinking of you...
I thought I would share a few photos from around town and the backyard from the last few months and, also, lo and behold, I got away for a few days to the Eastern Sierra (see the photo above). May these photos offer a tiny respite from the bad news out there.
First off, I have taken some photos around here the last few months and I thought I'd share a few. We have been working at making our backyard a bird haven and we had a fascinating visitor a few weeks back. I took this photo of a majestic Cooper's Hawk back there. Normally we have a few dozen birds the backyard daily - finches, sparrows, crows, Black Phoebes, Western Bluebirds, Mourning Doves and Mockingbirds but- when he (she?) was around they were definitely not.
The next photo is of the nearby High School which was built in the 1930's with an art deco motif. Eerily, of course, no one has been around there for months now. It's a strange world.
Here are a few more photos from my daily walks.
And here are a few from the yard.
A Short Getaway
The following photos are from the McGee Creek area in the eastern Sierra Nevada. I'm sorry to report a few negative things about my little getaway. First, the campground was filled every night and the camp host (she was also the host at Convict Lake which she said was much worse) was nearly in tears. She said that, "this summer is a zoo" and that many people had no idea about social distancing and some even refused to wear masks (while in close proximity to her) even though she explained that she's lost family members to the virus and the she is high risk. She said she's never seen more selfish and disrespectful campers after several years of supplementing her pension by being a camp host. She was exhausted and stressed and said this was probably her last year - it has gotten too hard. I felt damn sorry for her.
Secondly, I had some strange electrical problems with my little trailer which necessitated an early return home. We still haven't figured out exactly what happened, but it is fixed, and thank heavens, all seems OK now - after all, I'm headed to Gaviota in a few weeks.
It was still a relief to finally get out - if only for a few days. McGee Creek is surrounded by Aspens and the photo below is an example.
Here are a few more from the area.
I must admit it was a blessing to be on the road again. It felt good to breathe in open spaces again and go for long walks in the woods. My plan, until there is a vaccine or the virus abates, is to do lots of short trips. In that vein I am going on my annual trip to Gaviota in mid-September. I was able to get the one spot where, even if the campground is full, I will be well away from other campers and the beach there is notoriously and happily uncrowded.
Thanks for allowing me to check in - please check in with me! I always enjoy seeing your comments and getting your emails. How are you holding up?
Let's talk soon, and until then, please be safe and stay well. Much love to all...
“I go to nature to be soothed, healed and have my senses put in order.”– John Burroughs
This is a difficult and harrowing time for so many people. I worry about my family and friends every day. This worry has led me to daily deep contemplation about how I use social media and this blog in particular. I try to use this blog to uplift and bring a small bit of joy to the readers. I do not want to add more despair to the world. I tell a few stories and show photos and do my best to illustrate that this world isn't solely sorrow and suffering and sadness. There is however, even in the best of times, much suffering in our world. The virus and the racial injustice and the environmental degradation just put an exclamation point on it.
The other day on my daily walk I thought, "Life essentially consists of loss, grieving and recovery."
In my life I have suffered breathtakingly deep losses, extended periods of grieving and, thankfully, blessed healing and recovery. The thought of writing about these losses as a process of redemption overwhelms me. I have chosen a different path to find solace. I immerse myself in nature and then share.
I know, if you have lived very long, that you too have experienced breathtaking losses. The longer we live the more they pile up. I often find myself these days thinking about my lost loved ones and dead best friends...perhaps that is the way of old age. I remember my 90 year old uncle telling me he didn't want to live so long - it was too hard to lose everyone. I understand and, I'm guessing, you do too. And now this terrible virus which has already claimed at least 130,000 lives and the grim numbers still grow.
Also, now, we see the ongoing tragic effects of racism in our country. I grew up in the 1960's and saw much civil unrest and this reminds me all too much of 1968. My heart breaks daily and I cannot understand why we are still dealing with these clear issues of right and wrong.
Another of my favorite quotes is; "What defines us is how well we rise after falling".
If falling is loss and we all fall... the question then becomes, "so how well do you rise?"
These days when I feel my heart breaking I fall back on the one thing I know will bring me solace and comfort and hope and healing...nature. I believe that without my loving family and nature I would not have been able to cope with the losses of this life and, candidly, I wouldn't be here.
As you know, I have taken to the road the last several years and that, in turn, has taken me to photography. Now, of course with the damn virus, is a difficult time to hit the road and take photos. Instead, I decided to share two old photos a day on my Twitter account. Besides my backyard it's about as much nature as I'm getting these days. Simply looking through the photos helps me catch my breath and injects a bit of joy into my days. That was my goal in my last post as well. So, perhaps, you might sense a theme.
I am always a bit bemused by seeing which photos get the most attention because rarely are they my favorites. Awhile back my online friend, Chris LaTray posted a magnificent photo that ended up with somewhere near a thousand "likes". And while it was certainly a stunning photo - I wanted to say, "Hey! Have you seen his other stuff?!". It's an old story - often what is popular is not necessarily the best. I always use the McDonald's metaphor - selling billions of burgers doesn't exactly make it fine dining, does it?
Regardless, I thought I'd share what others seem to like. And, in order to lighten our load I offer these revisits from days gone by in hopes that it may bring you a tiny bit of relief from these difficult days.
The following photo, which actually is one of my favorites, garnered some attention. It is of Imperial Point, on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, taken on a late afternoon in July 2018 while on a photo walk with my pal, Liz Kylin.
I admit I was very surprised about this next one being popular - at all. I was all alone with old baby Nikon and took this photo of the Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend National Park, Texas in spring of 2015. It seems very ordinary to me...
The next one is from one of my many trips to Red Rock Canyon State Park here in California near the old ghost town of Cantil.
Next is a photo of Half Dome in September 2017.
My Casita, my little home away from home, a quiet and chilly night at Red Rock.
Here's old Route 66 near Essex, CA
This is near Johannesburg, CA and one I have framed in my office - it captures a bit of the West of my life...
I took a gazillion photos of Fajada Butte in Chaco with my iphone and shared one - it's a deeply moving place...
Funny enough I realized recently I don't have very many photos of my "home" National Park -Joshua Tree. I've had two trips canceled by the idiots running the government and have also been a bit disgusted by the crowds... but, here's one from a trip a few years back that Lilly was on... Gonna get out there this Fall...
The website "Visit Colorado" picked up this photo of Cliff Palace.
And lastly, to show you how you really can't explain tastes... this one was actually liked...it's a geezer in the High Uinta Mountains of Utah.
Welp, that's it! Thanks for riding along on our trip down memory lane.
I've been making a few photos of our wild Orange County backyard and I hope to have you visit with me back there real soon - at least virtually.
Stay safe. Take care of one another...
I have started multiple blog posts - mostly about the move that Lupe and I made at the end of January and the ensuing nightmares but, in light of the current worldwide crisis, all that seems like minor bullshit. Suffice it to say, don't believe everything your real estate agent tells you. The good news is that I am going to start creating a California native backyard since our property is so large. I also will keep my citrus and avocado trees which was the advice of the native landscape consultant. If we can get through this pandemic I am actually very excited about making our little parcel of land a wild haven - in the midst of suburbia. I also LOVE our new neighborhood. So, all's well that ends well and I look forward to entertaining family and friends and you soon!
I also want to complain here about canceling trips and the lack of baseball but then, come on, we are currently all healthy and that is what is important today.
My thinking on this blog post is that it will be a bit of a stream of consciousness while we are shut in and trying to avoid the horrors that we are seeing right now, for example, in Italy and even in New York City. There is a reason many of us geezers suffer from anxiety and are overly careful - we've seen what the world can do...even in the best times. So, on that negative note let me just say that I hope that everyone reading this can find some joy and hope in each day going forward and that we navigate this difficult time with grace and cool and good fortune. It would be grand if my few words and photos could provide some respite from the mess of the world right now. I believe writing these posts will do exactly that for me. The other night I had a Zoom meeting with my friends from Insight LA and it is crucial we continue to reach out and connect...here's my attempt to do just that...
There is so much fear and worry out there right now...try to remember to breathe.
I've been revisiting some of my old photos and trips and I thought I'd start by sharing a few of those. Perhaps, this will provide a tiny bit of succor from the self-quarantining ennui. I've been throwing them up again on Twitter and that's been fun, too. Thanks for letting me share. Through these words and photos I hope to send out a bit of love during this harrowing time. I'm not sure how else to go about it.
This first photo is from a trip I took to Pinnacles National Park back in 2015. I took this photo on the Bear Gulch trail and was practically alone for the entire hike. That has changed in the last few years as the National Park status has elevated awareness of the Park.
The next photo is of the Smith River in September 2016. I got up very early each day to take photos in this spot in Jedediah Smith State Park.
This next one was taken on an early morning drive along Highway 89 between Sedona and Flagstaff in Oak Creek Canyon. It remains one of my personal favorites over the last few years.
Here is a photo of nearby Santiago Canyon where I used to ride my Triumph Thunderbird regularly.
This next photo is framed and sits above our dining room table. It is of the train track, trestle, beach and pier at Gaviota, north of Santa Barbara. It is a place that I return year after year and have grown to love despite the sometimes gale force winds.
And here is another of my favorite California spots - it's a sunset view of Mugu Rock from Thornhill Broome Beach which is north of Malibu but feels million miles away from everywhere...
Now this is one of my favorite photos from my home away from home in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
The next photo is of a fiery sunset in Yosemite National Park in September of 2017. This was a meaningful trip as it was the last time I went with my long time pal, Jack, who passed away last year. How blessed I was to be able to spend that few days with him.
Here is another from that trip. It's from a misty and quiet morning along the magnificent Merced River.
One last one. This is an iPhone photo of Quitobaquito on the Mexican border in Arizona. It is currently being ravaged and perhaps entirely ruined by a needless wall. Enjoy this image...it's one of the most special places in all of the West.
I have a dream I'd like to tell you about as I end this blog post. It's a simple dream but it seems awfully challenging these days. My dream is this...that everyone who reads these posts regularly and is a friend who shares my love for the land will meet me one day on the road in one of these remarkable places. I'll make the fire for us to sit around and talk about how we all survived the terrible pandemic of 2020. And how, after surviving it, we feel a little more grateful for all that we have and have had. And how life seems a bit sweeter than before.
Much love to all. I'll be back in a few weeks with a few more words and photos.
2019 was an odd year for me. I had some health problems which significantly impacted my time "out there" and I made far fewer images than in 2017 or 2018. It is my hope that through a rigorous diet and daily exercise the year 2020 will be better.
I post many of my photos online and invariably I'm surprised at what photos garner the most attention - rarely are they my favorites. Isn't that interesting? Nevertheless, I always enjoy the feedback and find it educational and encouraging.
So, it's important to note that these are MY favorites...perhaps not yours. Regardless, I hope you'll kick back for a minute or two, look at these photos and take a tiny respite from the rest of your busy life.
We will start with a photo of San Clemente that I took last spring at sunset. It was a peaceful evening after a storm.
Next up is a photo I took from my front porch of the Supermoon in August. I took a series of moon photos this year and, while photographing the moon can be challenging, I like this one.
The following photo was my most popular on social media which doesn't mean much really. But, I kinda like it too. It's the Bare Mountain Range north of Death Valley in Nevada.
Last winter, I went out to the Mitchell Caverns and spent time in the Mojave Preserve. It is, no question, one of my favorite places in all of the West (I say that often, don't I?). The photo below might merit a click. The clouds, after a few days of rain, are clinging to the mountains as if they can't bear leaving. That afternoon was as crisp and beautiful as any desert afternoon I've known - and I've known some almost painfully beautiful desert afternoons.
Another magnificent desert spot I visited last winter was Anza Borrego State Park with my two kind and handsome sons. One afternoon my oldest son, Jordan, and I drove around the park and stopped here at Clark Dry Lake. I enjoy this photo not just visually but because it also reminds me of the fine company I had that day.
Last September my daughter started attending Oregon State University and I drove the truck up with her things to help get her settled in. On my way home I drove east through Oregon on my way to Highway 395. One morning I found a quiet lake with clouds hovering above it between Corvallis and Bend. I stayed for an hour watching the clouds slowly lift.
Speaking of clouds ... early one morning I found myself on Highway 1 just south of Big Sur and saw this view of the marine layer and sun. I even kind of like the lens flare in this one. It reminded me of my youth driving the Rim of the World Highway (Highway 18) near Lake Arrowhead overlooking the valley.
On my southbound drive last autumn from Oregon I stopped along US 95 in the wee hours and made this photo which is near Tonopah, NV. I liked it so much I even made new personal cards with this image.
This year, 2019, will be the year I'll remember that I fell in love unexpectedly. For many reasons I am in love with Colonel Allensworth Historic State Park in California's great Central Valley. I have at least 15 photos that I'd like to share from Allensworth State Park! I will, however, only share two and they are both from my first trip. You'll be seeing many more of that area in the future. The first is an iphone black and white photo that I took while out walking and a storm began to build in the north.
The last photo of my favorites is also from the Central Valley and I call it, "Rage Against the Dying of the Light". It is my favorite photo of the year - the sun's last light as it beams through the Tule fog and shines on two trees, together, but alone.
So, there are my top 10 favorite photos from this year.
Of course, you know I have a western theme that I also love - it's roads, and rails, and telephone poles. Each of those symbolize the West of my heart and my dreams and I will leave you with one of my favorites of those motifs as well.
I wish you all the best for 2020. May it be the best year of your life.
For several months my two pals, Steve and Marty, had planned on meeting in Big Sur in November at good old Plaskett Creek Campground. I surrounded that trip with short stays in Morro Bay and Allensworth State Park (my new favorite) for a pure California trip. Sadly, Marty got sick and couldn't make it. I hope he's reading this so he'll realize how much he was missed. I know he was bummed about not going so we'll just need to schedule another trip soon.
I share lots of photos of Morro Bay on this website so I will only share a few more. I am on a "health kick" these days ('bout time, don't ya think?) and I did go on a ten mile walk one day while I was here - from the State Park to the Rock and then all around town. This time of year things are quiet in this sleepy beach town - reminds me of California past...
The next photos are from the hike near the State Park and into the estuary. Posting the photo of the Turkey Vulture online got a lot of responses. It reminded me when I went to a "talk" on them at the Grand Canyon two summers ago the Park Ranger put a photo up on the large projector screen and a kid yelled, "Oh, GROSS!" Cracked us all up and you may see what he means...
Here are a few more photos from magnificent Morro Bay.
After two nice days I drove the short distance to Plaskett Creek Campground which is south of Big Sur and north of Ragged Point on the California coast. Nearby is Sand Dollar Beach. It is one of the few remaining places that has ZERO cell reception which at first is strange and then worrisome and finally - so relaxing. I think we all need an electronics break and it's hard to take one so I suggest camping at Plaskett Creek as soon as possible! The first photo is a view of the sun and the marine layer from a stop along the Coast Highway. It reminded me of my days, long ago, driving across the Rim of the World Highway near Lake Arrowhead...the good old days.
Here are some photos of and from Sand Dollar Beach.
A few more photos of the area near Plaskett Creek.
My dear friend Steve arrived for the weekend. Recently he and I lost someone who we both loved very much. We spent time together connecting in the way that only people who have shared a mutual loss can. We walked and talked and remembered. It was a poignant and meaningful time together.
Luckily Steve brought his guitar and so we serenaded our nearby neighbors with songs of Slaid Cleaves and Jason Isbell. We also loudly proclaimed our thoughts on the band, Queen. One of us is a fan and one of us is not (me).
I didn't focus much on photography. That will be for another time. I'm grateful that Steve and I had that time together.
Here are a few black and white photos from the area.
You may recall that last spring I visited a State Historic Park in Central California in which I fell in love. On this trip I returned and my love affair deepened. I do have a request though -this place is off the beaten track and I'm worried that I talked too much about it online. So, let's keep this a secret just for us?
When I arrived at Allensworth I was only the second camper. The Ranger came by and wanted to talk about my Casita - while we did that she shared more about how I might be able to support the Park. When I came home I joined the "Friends of Allensworth" and made a small donation. I don't necessarily believe in reincarnation but I certainly feel at home here in some strange and reminiscent way.
Each day out there was glorious and I did get out to the local Wildlife Refuges as well.
Here are some photos of the buildings at Allensworth which have been faithfully restored.
Trains roll by on the regular. I love the sound of horns and the hum of the clickety clack as the freight trains roll slowly by. It lulls me into a calm and contemplative state like nothing else. I breathe easier.
On one particularly fine day I got up early and walked 6 miles all around the Park - made a lunch to go, jumped in the truck and drove to the Kern Wildlife Refuge. After meeting with the Ranger I took a few photos and then headed to Pixley Wildlife Refuge which is close to Allensworth for sunset. It was one of the very best days. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them...
Many of my favorite photos of the last few years are of telephone poles and solitary roads. This place was heavenly in that regard.
I will leave you with a few photos of my last sunset in my Central Valley paradise. Thanks for coming along on my western journeys. I love to travel alone knowing I get to share with you on my return.
My daughter Lilly, the very light of my life, went off to college this fall. She is my youngest child and my only daughter. Old sentimental sap that I am, I'm trying not to to cry as I write this.
I miss her.
I took the truck, with her belongings, to school in Corvallis, Oregon, and on the way home, to assuage my sadness, made a road trip out of it. I saw some places new and old and nature, as it always does, provided me with comfort and succor.
From Corvallis I headed east on magnificent Oregon Highway 20 through the Willamette National Forest. Over hills and through the mountains with water everywhere. Lost Lake, Foster Lake and the Santiam Creek were highlights.
The Highway 20 black and whites.
After driving through Bend to Burns I spent a day in and around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, this magnificent place may be more well known for the welfare rancher Ammon Bundy and his crazy, gun toting freaky followers and their month long occupation of the refuge back in January of 2016 than for being a natural splendor. It's too bad, of course, because Malheur is also renowned for the birds that visit and call it home as well as other wildlife and, of course, the Eastern Oregon scenic beauty. I found it stunning.
From Burns I took a leisurely drive down Highway 395 and went to visit a place I've seen on the map, all my life, and never visited - the very northeast corner of California. There are some huge lakes up there - Gigantic Goose Lake straddles the border and Lake Abert and Honey Lake are also near the highway. I'd been picturing it in my mind's eyes for a long time and it certainly was better than anything I could have imagined.
I drove to Virginia City in Nevada. My mom and grandmother took me there around 1967 and I hadn't been back since. It's a novel town that focuses on its history and, in 50 some odd years, it hasn't changed much at all. It's exactly as I remembered it and I think that's the idea.
Since I had no reason to rush I took my own sweet time to come home and was able to stop and make some photos that I think capture the everlasting Nevada of my youth.
Another trip and another chapter ending and a new one beginning. And the seasons go round and round... Thank you for coming along.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.