October Gulf Breezes
In the last 18 months I have canceled over 60 nights of travel due to the pandemic and associated drama. Late in the summer, I was tired of canceled camp sites and reservations and decided, "THAT'S IT! I AM OUTTA HERE". I went on my favorite trip planning website and, since I've wanted to see it for awhile, planned a trip to Devil's Tower in Wyoming and Badlands National Park for October.
After a few years of deliberation I also decided to get a sports car. When I retired I sold my convertible and bought a truck but missed the sheer fun of the open air. This is especially true because, after too many close calls in the Southern California traffic, I sold my big Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle a few years back. In my life some of my finest moments have been on a lonely two road highway, top down in a convertible, banging the steering wheel to the beat of a great song and letting the wind blast through my hair. That, my friends, is living. I started researching sports cars a few years back and tentatively decided on a Mustang, Camaro, or even another BMW. I required a manual transmission which, today, is a little like finding a needle in a haystack on those models. I subscribed to Road and Track and Consumer Reports and my thoughts on my next car all changed. The little Mazda MX-5 ranked so far above the competition that I had to drive one and then, well, I fell in love with the little roadster. Talk about fun to drive!
Ok! Let's go! For grins and a bit more info I talked to a friend who is a regular visitor to Badlands and she said, "You want to take a convertible to South Dakota in October? Oh, silly boy, you do that when it's warmer - it could snow on you. You drive south in October in a convertible!". Well, alrighty then...let's drive south.
I stared at the map for awhile. I'd always wanted to see the Padre Island National Seashore along the Texas Gulf Coast. That is south. So, I got in the little MX-5 and drove 1508 miles...
But let's jump back a little bit. I actually did have a short 3 day trip to Morro Bay in August. It was quite lovely and I did manage to make a few photos. So before we head out to Texas allow me to show you a few images from an enjoyable short trip to sleepy (and foggy) old Morro Bay - love that place! Lupe and I will be returning this month.
Okay. Fast forward to early October 2021. One morning at 6:00 AM I threw my suitcase in the trunk. Put a backpack in the passenger seat. Hit my Apple Music playlist that included every single Texas song I could think of and backed out of the driveway. As soon as it warmed up I pulled off Interstate 40 - put the top down - and commenced the road trip bliss. My first night was at La Posada in Winslow. I met my pal, Liz, and we had a nice dinner at The Turquoise Room. With it's history, decor and proximity to my beloved trains, La Posada remains one of my favorite spots to stay in all of the Southwest.
After a restless night of sleeping, the thought of the road kept waking me up, I started the drive through some magnificent scenery and Billy the Kid country, to Artesia, New Mexico. Liz had recommended the drive through Quemado and Pie Town and avoiding the interstate and it was an inspired recommendation. I had what Mr. Maslow called a "peak experience" on the drive. No traffic, perfect 80 degree weather, scenery to bring tears to your eyes and cracking good tunes by my favorite Texas singers/songwriters. I lost all sense of time for a few hours and only felt that particular joy that only a road trip can provide. Here are a few photos from that day.
I arrived in Artesia, NM at about 5:00 PM after losing an hour heading east and driving about 550 miles. After trying, for several years, I finally met my social media pal Mike Nowak and we had a lovely dinner at the Adobe Rose - where I also happened to be staying. It was cool hanging out with Mike and I'm hopeful it can happen again soon. I slept well and woke up early the next morning to head to San Antonio. I had spent some time in Texas over the years, of course, but hadn't been on a road trip there other than when I picked up my little fiberglass trailer in Rice back in 2015. After driving through the oil country I stopped for some Texas BBQ in Ozona, TX at Wagon Wheel BBQ. After eating the most tender brisket I have ever had I spent about 45 minutes talking to the owner about how he became a barbecue master and the differences between Texas BBQ and Santa Maria BBQ after I told him about my grill and love of tri-tip. It was a hospitable welcome to the Lone Star State.
This was the first of many fine meals I had on my Texas sojourn.
After 3 days of solid driving I was becoming a tiny bit road weary. I decided to stop in one of the many "parking areas" on the Texas interstates and saw this old abandoned stagecoach stop. It was an interesting place and the view through the interior provided a fine photo opportunity.
I arrived to sunny and hot (95F) San Antonio at about 4 in the afternoon. I checked into the hotel and rested for a few minutes but had to, absolutely had to, go get some Tex-Mex. I walked down to the Riverwalk and had a lovely dinner.
The next morning was my obligatory Alamo tour. On the drive in I had listened to an audio-book called, "Forget the Alamo". It's a fairly new history of the context of the battle and it was eye opening and much different than the "official" history including the fact that Mexico's abolishment of slavery was a huge part of the story. I was looking forward to seeing if the tour guide would weave any of this information into his tour. I should have known better. The Alamo is still too sacred to mar with the truth.
I was very surprised when I arrived in Alamo Plaza. It was crazy. There were dozens of people everywhere and people participating in reenactments were wandering around aimlessly shooting their fake guns or selling souvenirs from booths and every 5 minutes cannons were being fired in the street and, man, it was all a bit much. The worst part? The tour itself is a snoozer. I'm still glad I did all this, I suppose, but I can't imagine ever "doing the Alamo" again.
I had Tex-Mex for lunch and visited the Briscoe Western Art Museum, took a river boat tour and that night went on a walking tour of the city - which I would highly recommend. The walking tour (free!) was a historically accurate and entertaining introduction to San Antonio. In fact, it'll make you fall in love with the city. I did. And I know I will be back - there is so much more to see and do and places to eat! Here are a few photos of my day.
As I left the next day for the gulf coast I thought that I would check out one of the San Antonio missions. After doing a little of my own research (scarier words seldom said) I decided to visit Mission Espada which is (allegedly) the best preserved. I arrived to a full parking lot on a gloomy but warm day and realized, since it was a Sunday morning, Mass was being observed. I quietly meandered around. It was an oddly satisfying hour or so. I kept wondering about who and how many people had walked in this same place for so many years.
I was 12 in 1969. Lots happening that year - even Glen Campbell sang an anti-war song called "Galveston". It captured me and inspired a lifelong desire to visit the Texas Gulf Coast. In particular, I had always wanted to stand on the coast and look at the waves and feel the gulf breeze on my face and in my hair. Finally, in October 2021, a mere 52 years after I first heard that song, I made that dream come true. It wasn't exactly in Galveston, I was at the Padre Island National Seashore which is a unit of the National Park Service. The place, as my Texas gulf cost dream evolved over the years, that I wanted to see the most. It did not disappoint.
This then was my first view of the Texas gulf coast at Malaquite Beach. And yes, the warm breezes were blowing in my face - it was just as I had pictured it in my mind's eye all these many years.
I spent two glorious afternoons at the National Seashore. I was astonished and delighted by the solitude I found there. Every summer, in my youth, I would spend days in the ocean swimming. It had been a few years but the water was so warm and inviting that I couldn't help myself. I spent half one afternoon being healed - physically and spiritually - by swimming in that temperate salt water.
I was delighted by the Coastal Prairie grasslands. How novel for me and how magnificent.
I spent a bit of time in Corpus Christi where the temperature barely changed while I was there - it seemed to be 85F all day and all night. That's not strictly true of course but let's not let facts get in the way of my feelings. It seemed to be hot - all the time. Of course, another song, Corpus Christi Bay by Robert Earl Keene, had boosted my interest in this area as well.
The following morning, unaware that a hurricane was building that would eventually alter my course, I drove to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park and spent time in the Lower Rio Grande Valley on my way to South Padre Island. I had a marvelous time other than running into the largest Mosquitoes I have ever seen and nearly being carried off and eaten alive. I talked to the Ranger at Palo Alto who lived there locally and he told me, "yeah, we're thinking about changing the state bird". Cracked me up. The following photos are from the battlefield and the surrounding area near Los Fresnos, TX. I need to go back and make that area near Brownsville my home base for 3-4 days and make photographs. It has it's own unique and, to me, spectacular beauty.
On my way to South Padre I stopped at the Port Isabel Lighthouse. Not too many folks around.
I got to South Padre - checked in to my motel room and rested. It had been a busy several days. I checked my twitter account and someone said, "Hey, look out for Pamela". Well, OK. Let's see here. Oh, Pamela is a hurricane but it's not coming from the gulf. It's coming from the Pacific - crossing over Mexico and is supposed to hit Del Rio first as it moves into Texas. Well, tomorrow night when it hits - I'm supposed to be staying in Del... wait, what? I went on the weather app and, sure enough, there was a huge red cone showing the hurricane track and yep it was headed directly for my next stop in Del Rio. They were predicting 6-8 inches of rain in a 24 hour period with flooded roads. I suppose if I'd been in my Tacoma I'd have been more relaxed and game to deal with crazy weather but being in a tiny roadster wasn't a brilliant choice for happiness while driving through flooded roads.
So much for my leisurely drive through Laredo along the Rio Grande to Del Rio. I had to dodge this weather front and kick in plan B. The next morning I got up at 2:00 AM and hit the road on the way to Fort Stockton which would put me north of the hurricane track. Of course, it should have been easy enough to do - just go back east toward Corpus Christi and then north to San Antonio. Google maps had me start taking 2 lane highways all over hell and gone and then directed me to a closed highway. At 4:00 AM, no less. I stopped the car. Got out and breathed deeply - this was an adventure now. After a few minutes breathing in that fine Texas air I jumped in - looked at a PAPER MAP and got going - what a novel idea. I headed north but kept checking the radar and watching the leading edge of Pamela every time I stopped - nope - no way to avoid it. By the afternoon the weariness kicked in and then , like clockwork, the storm hit me on the interstate. Now, I've been in some weather in my life but this - just the tip of the storm - was pretty darn wild. The speed limit is 80 MPH and I was driving 30 MPH and passing trucks. We all got hammered for about 45 minutes and then... it was gone. Sweet. I pulled into the Fort Stockton Best Western a relieved and tired California boy. The motel offered a free dinner - what a genius concept. I ate and crashed for 12 hours. Woke up to a beautiful dawn and headed to Las Cruces through Alpine and Marfa.
I was on the home stretch now. Hurricanes and gulf breezes behind me I thoroughly enjoyed two relaxing days in Las Cruces. I spent one morning at White Sands National Monument - er Park - and was rather horrified to find the Visitor Center Parking lot full and the center itself was so crowded one could barely move. Sigh. This is the price we pay these days for making anything a National Park. I took a trip to Zion with my oldest son a few years back and was deeply saddened by seeing the park overrun - I had the same feeling here. Regardless, I did manage to find a bit of solitude and made some photos.
I spent part of one afternoon at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. I do not know why. I did have a nice conversation with the blacksmith and walked across an interesting bridge.
After eating New Mexican cuisine and gaining another 5 pounds and stuffing myself with sopapillas I started the trek home. After a fantastic lunch in Tucson with my friends Holly and Chip I spent a night in Gila Bend at the famed Space Age Lodge.The next morning I took the long way home over Interstate 8. It was a fine trip. I was able to have the top down in the convertible almost every day. I finally felt those gulf breezes blow through my now thinning and graying hair.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, "I owe more than I can express to the West". Me too, Teddy, me too.
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 recently wrote about returning to favorite places. A lifetime favorite, for me, is the Four Corners region of the United States. I could return there, and only there, for the rest of my life and be quite satisfied. For many reasons - perhaps some related to my content mental state these days - this was my favorite trip -of the many I have taken, in recent memory. Hyperbole? Yeah, maybe - but, candidly, I can't imagine having a better trip.
I traveled to places new and old - strange and familiar. My comfort level toting around a 3000 lb. trailer has increased and my trip planning has improved as well. I'm at that place of not worrying so much and enjoying things more...it's a good place to be.
This trip also felt a bit like a watershed for my photography. I've reached a point where I've grown somewhat satisfied about my approach - I have struggled balancing fun, relaxation and photography. On this little journey I felt I was able to better handle doing all the things I love to do.
My goal was to get to Hovenweep National Monument as soon as I could and so I drove 525 miles the first day back to Homolovi Ruins State Park. It was a long drive but between Audible, the MLB station on Sirius XM and my playlists it wasn't too brutal. The sky was wonderful when I got to Homolovi.
I gassed up and grabbed a quick bite at a chicken joint in Winslow and went to bed very early. I got up at the crack of dawn and headed for Four Corners. For a few years now I've wanted to see Hovenweep National Monument which sits on the border of Utah and Colorado. No reservations are available at the campground but, arriving on a Wednesday, it was wide open and I got a wonderful spot. After setting up camp, I went to the visitor center and took a few photos.
The next morning I was on the trail fairly early. I hiked the Square Tower Trail, the Castle Trail and Tower Point. The hiking was very easy and, in total, only covered about 4 miles. What a 4 miles, though! Each of the Ancestral Puebloan structures is fascinating and quite reminiscent of my trip to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
A highlight of the hike was, after picking up trash along my way, I ran into an NPS Ranger. We had a wonderful conversation and just as we were discussing how visitors can be idiots, she spied a guy dangerously off trail across the canyon and let out an awesome bellow. She yelled, “GET BACK ON THE TRAIL!”. The fool, near a precipitous edge, jumped back and said, “Oh. Sorry”. I gotta admit, it was pretty cool.
The eastern Utah sky put on a show that afternoon.
After two blissful days at Hovenweep I loaded up and set my compass east toward Montrose, Colorado.
Four years ago I went to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River National Park and transfixed by the beauty, I decided on leaving that I had to come back and as soon as I could. It did take four years but it was worth it. This is an unheralded gem of the Park system. Uncrowded and serene and gloriously beautiful. After I arrived I couldn't help myself - I grabbed my tripod and headed directly for the rim.
I spent the next morning at the Visitor Center and on a Ranger Archaeology walk. In the bottom photo you can see the mighty Gunnison which still roars at times despite being dammed three times before the river gets to the National Park.
That night, well, you know what I did that night. You are correct, I grabbed that tripod again and went for a drive. The weather was perfect and I rambled along the trails in shorts and a t-shirt...just breathing in the grandeur.
One of the nicest things about this National Park is the access to magnificent viewpoints within 300-400 yards off the main road. It's great - you drive a few minutes and then walk and sight-see for 30-45 minutes at each stop (or longer - I spent 2 hours one afternoon at Rock Point). There are much longer hikes and rock climbing in the Park too - it's got something for everyone.
I was able to get to Sunset View literally just as the sun was setting. What an evening...
Four years ago when I was at the Black Canyon I camped down by the Gunnison River in East Portal. The road is, I believe, the steepest I've ever driven but it merited a return. I loved it down there. As I was walking to the river a strikingly pretty Smooth Greensnake crossed my path and, after all these years of being frustrated with people harassing wildlife (and being idiots in the Parks - see above), was tempted to pick it up. These human minds of ours... Of course, I thought better of it and watched it cruise across the road and into the tall grass where he/she melded into the reeds. Just lovely - as was the sweet, cool river.
That night, as is my way, I went to the Ranger Talk at the South Rim Campground. As a testimony to my traveling days I talked to a Ranger I'd met two years ago at Lassen National Park. He said he remembered me (we discussed the government sponsored bison kill at Yellowstone) and he said, in his many years of moving around the Parks I was his first repeat customer. He gave another excellent presentation and it was kick to see him again.
After 4 days of canyon bliss it was time for me to drive over the Lizard Head Pass and get to my next destination, Mesa Verde National Park. The photo below is from a turnout on the San Juan Skyway.
After arriving at Mesa Verde I made a beeline for the showers and then, feeling fresh, I moseyed over to the Visitor Center and ran into some friends along the way.
The last time I was at Mesa Verde I was a young man. Since then the Visitor Center has changed and now a statue adorns the entrance which I thought was quite striking. It's an Ancestral Puebloan cliff dweller.
After securing my tickets for the next days Cliff Palace Tour and a congenial visit with the Rangers in the Center I decided to just drive back to camp and relax but an early autumn storm began moving in and I took some photos. It was a magnificent afternoon.
The next morning I went to iconic Cliff Palace and enjoyed myself despite one weird Ranger/Docent. On the way out an elderly woman was struggling to make it out of the little canyon and the Ranger started complaining that she needed to hurry up because he, "had to pee". The woman, hearing this, started to cry. One of her friends looked down at the Ranger and said, "WE ARE GOING TO WAIT UNTIL SHE'S READY!" He piped down after that. I could go on and on about this guy but he wasn't representative of the typical well-meaning, knowledgeable, helpful, underpaid and under appreciated National Park Rangers (like my buddies at Black Canyon and Hovenweep). Eventually, the woman was able to climb out and we went on our merry way although I felt awful for her.
I do enjoy the photos below. We know very little about the people who lived in this place -there's a sense of mystery here - we have many more questions than answers about the Ancestral Puebloans...
I shared on social media the photo below which seemed to garner some interest. The photo is of the old and original road into Mesa Verde. It has been washed out and is closed to hiking, but one can still get a sense of the harrowing experience it must have been driving to see the old cliff dweller structures. It was called the "Knife's Edge" - makes sense. While the current road looks and feels a bit treacherous it's nothing compared to this...
The following is a panorama of Navajo Canyon in Mesa Verde. It is quiet and grand and filled with wildlife.
I spent the next day over on Wetherill Mesa which, sadly, has been marred by a few fires and little resembles what I remembered from my last visit. I got up the next morning and headed for the Navajo Nation and one of my favorite places on earth - Canyon de Chelly. After I arrived I immediately decided to eat a traditional Navajo taco in Chinle. I then went back to the campground - waited for the afternoon shadows, and then drove along the south rim to make photos of the canyon and, in particular, iconic Spider Rock seen below.
Occasionally, on the road and at home, I'm asked for advice on seeing the "real Southwest". It's a tough question - but I typically recommend Four Corners and then I tell them about Canyon de Chelly. I'm always surprised about how few people actually know about the wonders there. In my last blog post I discussed places in which I enjoy returning - I've been a regular at this canyon since the early 1990's and I know I'll never stop going - it's too stunning and too sacred and powerful.
Sadly, that evening I prepared to leave and make the long drive home but I had one more stop to make - I wanted to camp at the free campground at Chiriaco Summit, just south of Joshua Tree National Park, where my friend - known professionally as PJ Finn - is the manager. PJ is a quintessential desert rat and a helluva photographer. There is no question that he and has been one of my biggest inspirations since I started making photography an almost full time avocation. Moreover, I admire PJ's ability to live simply and happily in a place he loves - despite the sometimes terribly harsh environment of the California desert which he calls home year around. You can see his photographic artistry on Instagram and Twitter and on his blog.
I rolled in, after a 550 mile drive, about 5:30 PM. We had dinner at the nearby diner and hung out and, of course, I made some photos from the campground. I particularly like the first photo of Interstate 10 from the campground - it still looks like the California of my youth or somehow captures that feeling or something.
We got up early the next morning and went for a drive. PJ was an excellent tour guide and I finally figured out how to pronounce Chiriaco properly (it's a family name). Here is the man himself, his dog Abbey, and the cholla protector of Chiriaco Summit.
Lots of photos on this post - but hey I took over 1400 images in those 2 weeks! Many interesting ones left on the cutting room floor. I did my best to show what I thought were the most representative of the magnificent country I visited. Here's the last - a lonely desert road south of Joshua Tree. Thanks for joining me. I hope you sensed a tiny bit of the joy and wonder that I did on this meaningful journey.
That Glorious Grand Canyon
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.
The Rites of Spring
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!
Red Rock Redux, Trains and Arizona
“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...
I recently returned from a gorgeous 3 days out in "Sonoran Heaven"- Organ Pipe Cactus National Park. Please look at the pictures under "Trip Reviews" and enjoy. I'm planning on heading out there again February when the wildflowers should be "popping"- especially with the recent rains down there. I can't tell you how much I love this place. I've been traveling there often since my first glimpse of this marvelous place in 1992.
Notes From The Road- At home
I've been home almost a week and, funny enough, I'm itching to get back on the road. I know that the good weather months are dwindling and that soon it will be cold- my traveling and camping nemesis. I have a trip planned to Utah in less than two weeks and then the wait for the twins begins in earnest and I'll probably stay pretty close to home.
One of the most enjoyable activities of the winter months is planning the next year's travel. So far, I plan on two trips to Organ Pipe NM this winter. After 11 long years the monument is now fully open again which is exciting to say the least. I can now explore some places I've been itching to see for awhile but were closed due to the US Border Patrol's activities.
Have you read, "The Devil's Highway" by Luis Urrea? The setting is Organ Pipe- it's a tragic story and my views on immigration were only solidified by reading it. I know it's a complex issue but we MUST find a more humane way of dealing with those desperately poor people from Mexico who simply want a better life in the USA (as did all our relatives- except the indigenous). I have lots of deeply passionate thoughts about these issues and, perhaps, in future, I'll devote an entire blog to what I believe the problems are (and there are many - starting with the government of Mexico and US policy) and how we might go about creating a better world for our brothers and sisters from the south. If you have an interest in these matters please read Urrea, or "Border Patrol Nation" by Todd Miller. Or read anything that Charles Bowden has written on the Border problems.
If you know me, at all, you know I love all things Southwest- by extension- I love Mexico and the Mexican culture. It's everywhere you go in the Southwest and it's one of the major reasons I love it here.
Back to my plans for next year- so Organ Pipe is on big time. I'm also going to spend some time at Anza Borrego near Little Blair Valley doing some boondocking near a dry lake bed. Last year when I was there I was mesmerized by the solitude and stark beauty of the place. The problem was that it's at 3000 feet elevation, it was during a cold snap, and when I awoke it was 21 degrees F. WAY too cold. This fall/winter I'm hoping to go when it's a bit warmer. Of course, I'll also figure out a time to go to my beloved Joshua Tree NP.
In March I'm heading to Big Bend National Park in Southern Texas along the mighty Rio Grande. This is a trip that I've been wanting to do since my 20's and I'm finally going to make it happen. That trip will include stops in Arizona and New Mexico and may include a stop at Palo Duro Canyon and Guadalupe NP. April is a wonderful month to explore the coastal mountains near Santa Barbara and Big Sur and I'll backpack then. I love to travel in May because the weather is warming and the crowds are at a minimum. I will probably be in Taos and Santa Fe then. In June I'll head to the Sierras again. July is "Lupe and Lilly time" and we are still in the process of deciding. I'm considering two options for August - either Flathead Lake and Glacier NP in Montana or a Northern Cascades trip in Washington.
This last trip was really spectacular and I'm strongly considering heading back to the Four Corners in Utah and Colorado in September. I'm still, as I sit here at home, staggered by the scenery I saw in Colorado on this last trip.
My next trip, leaving on October 6, includes a visit with my very best friend from high school, Kevin D. , and still one of the best people I've ever known (or ever will know). He went to college in Utah and then got a job there and so our visits have been sporadic (at best) over the years. I'm hoping that changes in the next few years as we both move into the retirement phase of our lives. As I told him recently- one of us is still working (him) and one of us is a hobo (me) so his schedule will dictate things for awhile. Luckily he's free on the weekend of Oct. 11 and I get to hang with him on this trip. Knowing Kev he's explored most of that beautiful country up there and I'll be the beneficiary of his knowledge.
Here's my Utah tentative itinerary:
10/6 Navajo National Monument
10/7 Arches NP
10/8 Arches NP
10/9 Arches NP
10/10 Canyonlands NP
10/11 Visiting with Kevin near Vernal, UT
10/12 Goblin SP
10/13 Goblin SP
10/14 Capitol Reef NP
10/15 Kodachrome SP
Looks amazing doesn't it? Arches NP remains my favorite. Before I read Ed Abbey I visited it and had an OBE (out of body experience)- after I read, "Desert Solitaire" I understood why. I probably feel more "at home" in Arches than any other place on earth. There is no place like the Red Rock Country of the Colorado Plateau. Being there fulfills my heart's desire. I'll look forward to sharing pictures on my return as always.
Thanks for reading this. I hope all is well in your life and that you too are planning your next adventure. I'll look forward to writing again soon and sharing about another one of my new passions- playing guitar.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.