My grandmother died on Christmas Day in 1962. She was a sensible and kind woman who adored her family. I remember her being so very sweet to me and I think about her often. I hadn't been back to see her grave since I was 14 in 1971. As I approach my own death it has somehow become more and more important for me to connect with my relations that have already traveled to the great beyond. I do not know why this is so and I do not question it. It is strong desire and there is nothing unhealthy about it...it is, in some strange way, deeply comforting and wholesome. I also visited my grandfather and uncle's graves...family I never met but with whom I feel a tangible and sentimental connection.
I spent two hours in the Rocky Ford, Colorado cemetery thinking of their lives and their hopes and dreams and fears. My poor uncle Chuck wanted to enlist after Pearl Harbor like two of his brothers but when he was given his physical they found an "enlarged heart". According to my father he was devastated by the news and died in two years at age 22. I was stunned by the poignancy of the visit. It is possible to love people you have never met and will never meet.
Indeed this was quite a road trip. As well as these deeply emotional and affecting parts of the trip there was also some just pure fun. Won't you come along? You'll get to meet my amazing Aunt, one of my dearest friends who I have known for 52 years, and go to the Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie Centers in Tulsa, OK and visit my new favorite city with a small town vibe - Kansas City. Then there was beautiful drive home... here's a photo of from Highway 160 in Colorado.
Let's go! I decided on this trip to take things easy - no long drives. I liked it. It gave me more time to take in the sights and pull over whenever I wanted to. In fact, my first day I set google maps to "avoid highways" and cruised out to Kingman, AZ. On the way I stopped by the tiny but fun Route 66 Museum in Victorville, CA.
The following day I slept in - relaxed - and leisurely drove to Grants, NM. This is the same road that I have been on probably over 50 times in my life and always saw the Walnut Canyon National Monument but never stopped there. Finally! Here was my chance and what a cool little place - unfortunately the main hiking trail was closed due to trail maintenance but I still enjoyed traipsing around and peppering the Rangers with questions about the history and flora.
In the afternoon I drove by the Petrified Forest National Park and stopped in the Painted Desert. It wasn't the best light but it is certainly a beautiful place.
And a black and white.
The next day saw a rather uneventful and relaxing drive to Amarillo, TX. The following morning I got up early and hit the road - there is always a problem heading east first thing in the morning. The sun was in my eyes, I was blinded in my little roadster, and I just pulled over and waited until the sun rose a bit. I only mention this because with the years comes a bit of wisdom - when I was young I would have powered through it even though I couldn't see a damn thing...now? What's the hurry? Relax...life, to me, is best lived simply one moment at a time and on this trip I was able to let go and really let things unfold. What a way to travel...
On my way to Tulsa I stopped for lunch with my friend Jill in Yukon, OK. We had only known each other online so it was a kick to meet 'in real life". We talked each other's ears off for 3 hours. Then it was on to Tulsa - and I was excited... the first thing I saw was the home of the Tulsa Drillers - the Dodgers AA affiliate. Now, I got to go back during baseball season!
The ballpark was within a block of my hotel. I had a restful evening and got ready for a day had long awaited. When I was in high school a girl who I viewed with fondness, okay, maybe a little more than fondness, loved Woody Guthrie. I was a Dylan boy and so, naturally, we became friends and shared favorite songs. She turned me on to "Deportees" and "Pastures of Plenty" and I turned her on to "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" and "I Shall Be Released". We were both astounded and astonished and it was pure delight.
Indeed my love for Woody Guthrie has been lifelong (thanks, Blythe wherever you are now). As a result, I signed up - years ago - to be a member of the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa. It was always a dream to see the place and here I was at the doorstep.
You know how in life you sometimes think things are gonna be great and they let you down a bit? Sure you do... it happens all the time ... but not to me in Tulsa and not at the Woody Guthrie Center - I made fast friends with the staff and other visitors and immediately felt like I belonged.
Rumor is - and I cannot verify it - that Bob Dylan was so taken with the Woody Guthrie Center and, in particular, their care of the archives that he was enthusiastic about his center being in Tulsa too. I heard about it a few years ago and knew that when it opened I would be there. No other artist in any medium has meant as much to me as Bob. I became a member and founding supporter and set my sights on visiting opening day. Sadly, that didn't happen as I was on my big train trip - I mean, I never dreamed it would open on time... but it surely did in May 2022. By golly, I would be there as soon as I could. I felt like I was in a dream during my visit - such is my love for the music and artistry of Bob Dylan.
Of course I'll share some photos - who wants to read all this anyway but, please, if you are a modern music lover - make the trek to Tulsa - what a divine treat...you won't be sorry that I can guarantee.
In would be remiss if I didn't share that the Guthrie Center also had a Bruce Springsteen exhibit. Lots of cool E Street stuff and here's a photo of the Clarence's saxophone - RIP Big Man.
What a day! Who knew the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma would give me so much joy at age 65? Seemed unlikely most of my life. Now I wanna go back. That night I had a quiet dinner basking in the wonder of where I'd been and prepared to drive early the next morning to Kansas City.
I woke up very early the next morning and started the long and, on this particular morning, seriously rainy drive to Kauffman Stadium to see the Kansas City Royals play the Minnesota Twins at 1:00 PM. I arrived at the stadium about 90 minutes before game time.
As I was waiting near the gates a Royals stadium employee asked me if I was from out of state (How did he know? My clothes? My California mannerisms?). "Why yes", I said, "I am indeed." Well, the stadium employee said, "Today is your lucky day - follow me". I did as I was told and he showed me the "only open gate" and a path to the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. It was a kick!
I have been to few baseball parks in my life and quite a few stand out but I must say that the park in Kansas City is absolutely one of the best - hands down. Someone described Kansas City to me as a large city with small town feel and that is precisely how "the K" felt to me - a big stadium with a small and intimate vibe- it has a great sight lines and a family feel - the employees and fans are friendly and personable and I was made quite comfortable there. I didn't know it at the time but this was a feeling I would carry with me for the next few days during my visit. Kansas City is a new and favorite place. Man, I can't wait to get back there...
After the game there was no traffic (seriously) and I made it to to my hotel in about 15 minutes. It rained that night and I woke up to steady downpour. As a Southern Californian the rain was welcome and I walked around town a bit just feeling that wet stuff in my face.
I visited the Negro leagues Museum which was one of the big reasons for me to visit Kansas City. Most of us baseball people are amateur historians and the story of the Negro Leagues is fascinating and tragic and wonderful and bittersweet. The Museum in Kansas City, run by the irrepressible Bob Kendrick, is a gem and I spent a few hours getting educated and immersing myself in what life must have been for a baseball player of color until Jackie Robinson came along (and even for a few years after).
When you walk into the museum the tone is immediately set. There are some figures playing baseball but you can't get to them - you can see them and you have a desire to walk to where they are and you just can't understand why they won't just allow you to do that - one is, indeed, on the outside looking in. It is, of course, the perfect metaphor.
I spent probably too much time at each exhibit but I was enthralled with the place.
Finally, at the end of the museum tour you are allowed to walk among the players.
I had to have some Kansas City Barbecue and that evening I walked down to Gates Bar.B.Q. I was told by a taxi driver that it featured Soup Nazi employees and that I had better have my order ready when in line and called upon and he wouldn't recommend it - "the food is great but it's a bit intimidating". I wanted to go, but after hearing his words, I HAD to go.
I wasn't disappointed. Sure enough there was an indecisive person front of me.
"I'm still looking at the menu".
"Give me just a minute"
"SIR! STEP OUT OF THE LINE. PEOPLE BEHIND YOU ARE READY TO ORDER".
"STEP OUT OF THE LINE!"
He did step out and was then ignored. He finally gave up and left. I think I may have been the only person who noticed. And let me tell you when I was asked for my order? I was ready! And was it worth it? The line that almost went to the door gave testimony.
After dinner I realized I had reached the eastern limit of my trip and tomorrow I would start heading west through Kansas. I would be staying the night in a Best Western in a little town called Wakeeny. I looked at the map and saw I would be traveling through Abilene - the place where Dwight Eisenhower was raised and home of his presidential library. I hadn't thought much in my life about Presidential Libraries until recently when my pal Tom Thrash came out west and we visited the Nixon Library together and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I am related to General Omar Bradley and he - along with most of my relatives - no matter where they fell on the political spectrum - all admired and respected Ike for his extraordinary leadership in WWII, his intelligence, class, and decency. He was, by all their accounts, a good man.
I decided to stop at his library in Abilene and I wasn't disappointed.
The Eisenhower family home was being "refreshed" and was closed but the museum and grounds were beautiful. It was a warm spring day and I pictured young Ike enjoying the Kansas weather the same way I did on that fine day.
The next day was the real reason for this long drive and, as I shared above, I was unprepared for the emotions of visiting my grandparent's and dear Uncle Chuck's resting place.
Rocky Ford, Pueblo and Aunt Lisa
I was 7 years old and my mom began struggling with her own sanity. We started moving and trying a new community every few months. My father was working two jobs and was never at home and we somehow ended up in Laguna Beach the next year in 1965. It was an artist colony and hippy haven. The greeter (Eiler Larsen) was there in full regalia and voice and personality.
My aunt Lisa - who had divorced my uncle - moved to Laguna and was as bohemian as they come. She also ran the children's theater in that artistic community. She taught drama classes and had her own studio. She drove a TR-4. And, thank you universe, she adored her nephew. And, let me tell you, her nephew adored her (and still does!). She cast me as Sneezy in Snow White. She was, for almost a year, the only adult in my life with whom I felt connected. I remember us cruising PCH in her Triumph with top down, wind whipping through our hair, and holding on for dear life as she made the left turn into the hills around Laguna or zipping through Laguna Canyon Road and her looking down at me with the most loving smile I've seen in my life. How grateful I am to have had her in my presence in my childhood.
A few years later I tried my hand at acting and directing and became a High School Drama teacher. Today? Well, they don't make those Triumphs anymore but I own a tiny roadster anyway and, once in a while, on a fine spring day you can see me on PCH and carving corners around Laguna Beach and thinking of my dear sweet Aunt Lisa. You might say she influenced me - just a tad.
And Aunt Lisa? She is still kicking and living in a nursing home in Pueblo, CO. She's in her 90's - closing in on 100 and still sprightly and kind. I don't know how many more chances I'll get to visit her - she and I are both "getting up there" as they say. Here we are...and you'll be hard pressed to find a photo of me with more joy in my heart.
We said our goodbyes and off I went for another trip down memory lane with a long time friend - Lee Anne Martinez. She and I have know each other since 1970. I met her in 8th grade and we have remained pals all this time - she is a professor in Southern Colorado and also lives in Pueblo. We met for dinner and reminisced. Her father was one of the finest teachers I have known and he was a tremendous influence on me and a man of great integrity and heart. Lee Anne's family are extraordinary people - all of them absolutely brilliant. We met when the restaurant opened and were there when they closed it- and I still wanted to spend more time. We gotta figure out another time to meet soon. I love my friend Lee Anne.
I wasn't quite through with Southeastern Colorado. In 1998 I took my father, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's, to visit his brother - my Uncle Bill - and we took a trip to Bent's Old Fort. I returned in remembrance of them. Here are a few photos.
The next day I started the long drive home. My heart was full of joy and sorrow and love and despair. Just the old human condition I suppose...
I hope you enjoy the start of autumn and these photos of Colorado and Navajo Lands. I also hope you too are able to travel and see the friends and family who you love and who have meant much to you in your life. This trip was one of the most poignant experiences of my life and I wish the same beauty and poignancy in your life. Words fail to describe how much this trip meant to me and how much sharing it with you does too. Much to love to each of YOU.
I officially became a geezer in 2022. I'm not sure what milestones you mark in your life but 65, as Ron Burgundy would say, is "kinda a big deal" to me. Moreover, it also marks my 20th year of sobriety. Of course, turning 65 isn't really anything at all except what's in your head. And here's what's in my head... I'm in the autumn of my life and, as the song says, "the days are dwindling down to a precious few." I could make a list of all the people that I have loved and lost in this lifetime - including my parents and grandparents and best friends and cousins and schoolmates but the names would fill this page - I know my time is coming. I wish it wasn't but that's the way this all goes. I am relatively healthy and I need to do the things I've always wanted to do and see some of the things I've always wanted to see. I watched too many of my relatives waste their last days watching TV and sitting on the sofa waiting to die. I want to celebrate being alive while I can. And, by God, that's what I am going to do.
I am a "Travels with Charley" and "Blue Highways" fan and, as a result, originally planned a cross country car trip and while I still have many road trips in front of me it occurred to me that I could take the train and see lots of the country - get fed - and relax in ways that aren't possible when you're driving. Further, I didn't want to be on the road longer than a month. I spent several of the Covid lock down months planning the 10,000 mile trip and it worked out well.
So, let's go. I'll do a short narrative for each day so hold on tight and please remember this is an overview. Several events, by necessity, have been left out but these are most of the highlights. Also, please note that the photos in this post are not high quality - they were often taken through the dirty window of an Amtrak passenger car replete with smudges, reflections and lens flare - nevertheless, since this is a TRAVEL blog, I shall include them - I hope that's OK- the idea is a to provide a summary narrative...it ain't high art.
Oh, and guess what? Apple Music finally acknowledged their problem and fixed it! MY library is back...I listened to some SWEET tunes - maybe I'll share my playlist on another post.
April 11, 2022
It started early on an April morning in Fullerton - just a few miles from home. Lupe dropped me off at 5:45 and I waited - on the wrong platform until about 5 minutes before the Pacific Surfliner arrived. A kindly Amtrak employee inquired if I was headed to LA? Why yes, yes I am. Well, you need to get in to the elevator and cross the tracks the train is almost here. Yikes! So, off I went with my suitcase and Tortuga backpack in tow.
After arriving at LA Union Station I walked to the Amtrak booth to say hello and the agent said, "Hey, you want some coffee"? "Sure!" Well, head on up to the Metropolitan Lounge. This was the first of many lounges that I was to spend time in over the next 3 weeks. Free coffee and snacks are the mainstays of all the lounges but none of them compare to the New York Lounge. Here is the LA Union Station "Metropolitan Lounge":
I waited a few hours and then headed down to Track 12 where we boarded the Coast Starlight bound for Portland, OR. The photo on the lower right was my roomette view in the station.
Excited, I settled in and we headed up the coast. This was my 4th time on the Coast Starlight. The first was back in the early 2000's to celebrate earning my doctorate at USC. That was in December and it was rainy and we were stopped for hours because the tracks were covered in water. This time it was mid April so - I looked forward to the beautiful American spring weather. (This is what is known in the writing business as "foreshadowing".)
I do love the parts of the California Coast that one can only see on foot or by train. I have driven Highway 1 dozens and dozens of times in my life and missed so much of the coast that is only accessible by train. These photos were all taken from my window (as are 90% of the photos in this blog post). The lower photo here is of Gaviota - a place I have visited every year for 10 years.
By the afternoon the train turns inland and you roll through California's extraordinary Steinbeck Country.
The evening approached and I had a fine chicken dinner in the Dining Car. I went to bed early. After all, lots more to see and tomorrow night I'd be meeting the great Lilster, my amazing daughter, who is attending school at Oregon State University in Corvallis for dinner in Portland.
When I awoke in Northern California it was a darn winter wonderland. What the? So much for the mild spring weather. I looked at the weather app and it looked OK in Portland but the route of the Empire Builder - the train from Portland to Chicago which I was scheduled on for 4/13 - looked like it was going to get some real winter weather.
We were delayed for two hours in Klamath Falls due to an Amtrak personnel issue (yeah - I don't know - something about a crew change). I was hoping the snow would clear up but on the ride to Portland it got worse and worse.
As we got closer to Portland the conductor made an announcement that all passengers heading east on the Empire Builder would be terminated at Spokane as the tracks were closed beyond that station. Welp, there it was. As the conductor came by my room I stopped him and told him my situation - that I was headed east on the Empire Builder tomorrow. His response was, "It doesn't look too good". Oh great...I was just starting my journey and already there's was a potential major hiccup. I started looking at the airfares from Portland to Chicago. I had to be on the Lake Shore Limited in 3 days.
The beautiful Willamette River came into view as we rolled into the pretty Portland Station. My sleeping car attendant said goodbye and wished me luck. Lilly was waiting for me and drove us to the Mark Spencer Hotel in Portland. That night we prepared for a possible flight if my train was canceled. Lilly showed me her packing tips - I folded all my shirts into burritos based on her direction. I gave her a bag of some items that I could survive without and which would allow me to perhaps not check both my bags at the airport. Then we went and had a nice dinner at local Mexican joint.
I slept in a bit in Portland and checked in with Amtrak - the train was still running despite the various websites showing service disruptions and closures at stations like Minot, ND. Lilly met me at the Metropolitan Lounge and we waited - sure enough, the train was running after all. No one knew but we would be the last train through for nearly a week - a historic blizzard was bearing down on the Montana Hi-Line.
I sadly said goodbye to my sweet daughter and got on the Empire Builder bound for Chicago. In the over 10,000 miles I traveled on Amtrak I believe the most scenic part of the ride was from Portland to Spokane and through the Columbia River Gorge. It was simply stunning. A few times in my life I have been moved to tears by nature's splendor (OK OK - more than a few times - I am a sentimental old fool) but this was certainly another one of those times. I gazed out the window and relaxed. This then was the trip I'd been planning and dreaming about for over a year. It was happening. The good life...
After an excellent night's sleep I woke up to chilly weather outside. It was 9F but according to the weather app "felt like" -1F. There was snow on the ground but the sun was shining and I looked forward to another relaxing day staring out of the window.
Around 11:00 AM it started to snow. And then it really started snowing. Then the wind began to bend trees over sideways and drifts began piling up. The conductor made an announcement that the next few hours were going to be a challenge and that we should expect delays. He also named several train stations along our route that were not in service because they were snowed in. A hush fell over the train.
In the afternoon we were forced to a siding to wait out the storm. I talked to one of the sleeping car attendants and she told me they were a little nervous. All Amtrak and even the freight trains were now canceled on our track - we were the lone rangers and the only train running. We passengers mumbled worried words to each other and visions of "Train Stranded for Days" headlines ran through our heads.
After about an hour on the siding the conductor announced we were ready to move but there was a frozen switch ahead and that he and some other crew members would need to manually throw the switch. This required him to exit the train in the blizzard and would take him about 30 minutes to accomplish the task if, "it goes like it should". It was a rather nerve-wracking experience for all of us but at least we were warm and inside. Fortunately it went, "as it should" and we were on the move plowing through the snowdrifts.
I ambled down to the dining car and saw the conductor. I thanked him for braving the elements and getting us on our way but before I could finish my compliments we were interrupted by an extremely agitated woman who demanded that we stop at her station even though it was closed. I sat down and listened while the conductor explained that they were not going to drop someone off in a massive and historic blizzard at a closed station. "Cars are not able to get to the station. Amtrak would essentially be stranding someone by dropping them off. It is "CLOSED". I admired his patience but he grew progressively firmer as the conversation went on for maybe 10 minutes - finally the woman asked, "well, what stations are open"? The conductor told her and she exclaimed, "Oh! That works! I can get a ride from there". She got a major eye roll - not just from the conductor but from everyone within earshot. When things get dicey some people are calm and centered and, well, let's just say some others are not. It had been a helluva day. In fact it would be another FIVE days before passenger trains were back on this route.
Woke up - had my coffee and looked out the window at downtown Fargo, ND. Today, if the fates would allow, we would get to Chicago where the temperatures were supposed to be downright tropical - high 40s!
By the time we hit St. Cloud, MN the sun was shining. Oh how welcome it was...
It was a chilly but glorious afternoon in St. Paul as we rolled alongside the Mississippi River. I knew I'd see it again in a week or so but way down south near New Orleans.
Grateful to have made it through the blizzard (how do people live in Minot, North Dakota anyway?!) I spent a very enjoyable afternoon and evening rolling through the farms and fields of scenic Wisconsin. I also must mention two of the greatest employees that work for Amtrak -Lisa and Aiyana. They took amazing care of me when things got weird on the Empire Builder. I'll never forget their kindness and hope they are reading this!
We arrived in Chicago and I had this delivered to my room. Yes, I know Lou Malnati's is not on my diet but, come on, when in Rome...er.. Chicago! And yeah...it was as good as it looks - maybe better.
I went for a long walk in the neighborhood along the Chicago River after I stuffed myself full of pizza but it was too cold and windy - about 36F with 40 MPH gusts. I also saw so many people, all bundled up, enjoying time with one another and got a bit lonely. It doesn't happen often in my solo travels but it did that night. I headed back to my cozy hotel room where I slept for 10 hours - a rare thing indeed.
After spending a lazy day resting in my room and wandering around Chicago I hailed a taxi and went back to Chicago Union Station. Turned out to be the craziest taxi ride of my life. The driver was angry. I asked if he was alright. His answer, "NO- you are only going to train station everyone else is going to the airport! Airport is much bigger fare!". He was driving 65 mph through the streets and then screeching the brakes at every stop. In my experience the people of Chicago are generally quite polite but when this taxi driver cut them off I found that they do have a quite extensive vocabulary and aren't afraid of expressing their displeasure by use of an age old finger gesture. After 15 minutes of Hell I finally arrived at the station - not the entrance mind you - but close enough for me to get the hell out of that cab. Geez. The world seems so angry these days.
Chicago Union Station is HUGE - ten city blocks long and it feels a little intimidating at first but with the help of station personnel it's not too challenging to figure out where to go to eat and to relax. Like most things Chicago I like it. The train platforms are all underground and on my way to my roomette on the Lake Shore Limited I saw this private car and stopped to take this photo. The photo isn't much but in taking it my suitcase and backpack fell and and splattered on the platform. The passengers behind me were not amused so as I put my luggage back together I let them go ahead, muttering, "sorry".
As usual I had a marvelous sleeping car attendant and he assisted me with my luggage and directed me to my room. I was surprised at how different the eastern trains (Viewliners) were from the western trains (Double deck Superliners) - the biggest difference? A sink and toilet in the train compartment.
Again, I slept very well that night. I was on my way to Utica, NY to rent a car and drive to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown - a place I'd wanted to see since childhood. I was stoked. I can remember in High School telling people that I doubted I'd ever get married but, if I did, it would only to be to a woman who wanted to spend our honeymoon in Cooperstown. It was a joke, of course, but it had a sliver of truth to it.
The photo below is of the dining car on the Viewliner. On the train I am always up early, typically the first passenger to arrive in the dining car - there for my coffee and the view.
The Lake Shore Limited is a more scenic train than I had anticipated. It hugs Lake Erie and I enjoyed every minute.
Here is a photo of Buffalo, New York or, "Dirty Old Buffalo" as the great musician and my friend, Gurf Morlix, calls it in one of his terrific songs. It looks like I always thought Buffalo would look - frigid.
Yep! That's snow on the ground! And more was coming. I arrived around noon in Utica on Easter Sunday. No taxis around so I sent for an Uber to take me to my Motel. The driver arrived, it was sunny, and it was only a 5 minute drive to the Best Western. By the time we got there the ground was covered with hail. That was an omen.
I walked through the slush over to a nearby restaurant and had a fine dinner. I returned to my room and went to bed fairly early because I was renting a car at 8:00 AM the following day and meeting my buddy Tom Thrash at the Baseball Hall of Fame around 10:00 AM.
I awoke at 4:00 AM to a storm alert on my phone. A big red STORM WARNING. The next day 12-16 inches of flipping SNOW was supposed to fall. Road closures were predicted. I was supposed to be in Cooperstown for the next two nights. Yikes! (I didn't actually say yikes- just FYI - I used another word). After living in the snow for 30 years of my life the last thing I wanted was to have to deal with THAT - in a car rental - 3000 miles from home.
So, what to do?
I waited until 6 AM and, casting polite behavior to the wind, and because he's such a good dude, I texted Tom and asked him to give me a call when he awoke. Tom had also reserved a room in Cooperstown and I figured he would have an idea of what to do. Five minutes later I was on the phone with Tom and, yes, he knew exactly what to do. The first thing he made clear was that I was not overreacting. Indeed, a big storm was on the way. In fact, he was already planning on not staying in Cooperstown in order to avoid the mess that was surely coming. Thanks to his insight, savvy and kindness we came up with a plan. I would grab my luggage, check out of the Best Western, and get a ride to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Tom would drive the several hours to meet me. We would spend the day at the Hall and then Tom, out of the goodness of his heart, would get me the heck out of there, take me to Poughkeepsie where I could catch the train for my next stop - the Big Apple. It was kind of a genius plan. So, after a very enjoyable ride to Cooperstown through some quite beautiful upstate New York countryside, I met Tom and, after all these years of dreaming about it, we went to the HALL OF FAME!
Look, I know social media stinks and is responsible for much needless angst and stress and plain meanness in the world but my Twitter account allowed me to meet my friend Tom Thrash. Let's see...what is Tom interested in? Baseball (a fellow SABR guy), nature, National Parks, history and trains. Anyone you know who likes similar things? It's uncanny, isn't it? We really are, in many ways, two peas in a pod. And, let me tell ya, we had a damn fine time at the Hall of Fame. Here is the old man with the first group of inductees.
𝐁𝐀𝐂𝐊: Honus Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler, Walter Johnson 𝐅𝐑𝐎𝐍𝐓: Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Cy Young. Not pictured: Mathewson (sadly deceased), Cobb (tardy!).
Yes,. it does appear as if I am sitting in Connie Mack's lap - he was a gentleman and wouldn't say a word.
Speaking of gentlemen. Here's Tom's photo with the first class. Smarter than me he's sitting between Connie and the Bambino.
Pictures don't really do the Hall justice - it is a pilgrimage that all baseball lovers should make. I know, if I stay upright long enough, that I will return. Nevertheless, I will offer a few photos for those of you who might find it interesting. The Hall consists of 3 floors - the docents recommend exploring floors two and three before coming back down to number one to see the plaques. So let's start on the second floor.
The first floor highlight is the Plaque Gallery. I remember hearing the great Tom Seaver talk about how proud he was to have his plaque at the hall and that each time he visited he would run his hand over it - just to make sure it was real. The first photo is my childhood (and adulthood) hero.
Here are a few more plaques - it's just a taste. You should go and see them in person - it was an emotional experience for me. They are vertical photographs and, if you see someone you like, be sure and click to read the entire plaque.
Lastly, here is the statue of the great Buck O'Neil.
After spending several hours in the museum I went to the Gift Shop. As I was checking out the cashier asked, "You staying here in Cooperstown? We are gonna get two feet of snow! I can't believe this is April". She confirmed my worries. "No," I said, "my buddy is driving me to Poughkeepsie". "Your buddy is smart!" she replied. And so he was. My hero Tom drove me all the way to Poughkeepsie. I got a room a few blocks from the train station and avoided the storm - which was huge and did indeed end up closing roads and was, in general, a huge mess. I am including the following photo -it's not mine (thankfully) that I pulled off the internet from a resident of Cooperstown to give you an idea of what happened and how Tom saved my behind from dealing with that wintry drama.
The following photo was taken from my hotel room in Poughkeepsie and I never thought I'd be so happy to be in Poughkeepsie, NY - but, I was, I was. Whew! Now I would spend an extra night in New York City but, hey, I could handle that! What a relief it was to be out of that crazy weather. I am so grateful to Tom for helping me - and I knew in a few days I was headed south to The Big Easy on Amtrak's Crescent and warmer weather.
It was chilly and windy in Poughkeepsie and I went to the Station which was old and drafty and beautiful.
Here is a view from the platform.
The ride on Amtrak's Empire Service was uneventful to New York City and, of course, the minute I got off the train the New York experience hit me - full force. How I love and have loved that city. There was so much to do and see and it had been ten years. My hotel was adjacent to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. I know not everyone agrees but I think New York City is magnificent. Here are two views from my 33rd floor hotel room.
My first night I had a wonderful dinner at Uncle Jack's Steakhouse on 9th Avenue. It was a bit cold - no snow - and so I walked around for awhile just taking in the perfect madness and rush of the Big Apple. It took me awhile to get it together and get my bearings. It had been awhile and, to use a surfing metaphor, you have to ride NYC like a big wave - it takes a while to stand up on the board and be comfortable when you return. And then, unlike any other city I know, once you do catch your balance, you will go for the ride of your life. There is no place I have ever been that's like it.
I woke up and leisurely walked up to Times Square and the TKTS booth. I was hoping to see American Buffalo with Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell. I got to Times Square about an hour before the booth opened and already there was a long, serpentine line for tickets. That was OK - it was a nippy but sunny day and it felt so good to just feel New York. After some searching, I found the end of the ticket booth line. I heard someone yelling behind me, "SIR! SIR! HEY! HELLO! THAT IS NOT THE END OF THE LINE! - THE END IS OVER THERE". Hmmm, it seemed like someone was yelling at ME. I looked around and the people in front of me pointed to another spot. It was only a few feet away but I had clearly committed a major TKTS faux pas. I moved to the REAL end of the line and a young woman who had observed the entire episode turned around and with a twinkle in her eye said, "Well, I'll guess you'll never make that mistake again!" We both laughed and rolled our eyes. Oh, you fabulous New Yorkers. Embarrass me one moment and let me know that's it's all OK in the next - such is my favorite city.
I was able to score the tickets for American Buffalo and it was even better than I'd hoped. Sam Rockwell is probably my favorite actor these days. He was utterly brilliant. It had been awhile since I'd seen a show on Broadway and now I gotta hurry back.
The next day was devoted entirely to the New York Mets and baseball in the Big Apple.
I was up early to eat a hotel breakfast and then take the Number 7 train to Long Island. When I arrived at Hudson Yards station (the steepest incline in NYC) - the first stop on the line - I was the only passenger. An empty NYC train was an odd experience. It wouldn't stay empty for long. We rolled along and picked up Met fans all along the line until the train was FULL of folks in Mets gear.
It was, for me, another cold day but setting my eyes upon Citifield changed all that. It is magnificent. I am a Dodgers fan but I love the New York Mets and Tom Seaver has been a lifelong favorite and was a fellow USC Trojan. His statute is perfect- and captures his style, competitiveness and unique pitching motion - the drop and drive - extraordinarily well.
Mets fans are a serious and baseball savvy bunch and they follow the game intensely. No selfies or the wave or arriving in the third inning or leaving after the seventh inning. Some west coast fans could learn from them.
A trip highlight happened just before the game started as the players came out to warm up. I saw the Mets first baseman Pete Alonso - a fine player come trotting out and just then a young boy - maybe 8 years old - yanking his mother by the hand came flying down the stairs next to me and ran to the railing while shouting in a perfect New York accent, "OH MY GAWD! IT'S PETE ALAAAAAWNZO!". It absolutely cracked me up and reminded me of every child who has ever fallen in love with a baseball player and finally gets to see them for the first time in person. It always feels like a miracle. My GAWD, I loved that little boy and baseball and all the feelings it engenders.
One last night in New York.
I couldn't sleep so I walked around Hell's Kitchen already missing New York and not having left it yet. Got back to my room and made a melancholy photo while lying in bed. As I grow older each visit to a place I love makes me a bit sentimental and I always wonder...will I be back?
Up and at 'em. I walked across the street to Moynihan Train Hall. It was time to take the Crescent all the way to New Orleans. At last - some warm weather!
We rolled out of New York and my sleeping car attendant wasn't too helpful. Apparently her beau was also on the train so let's just say she was scarce. The spring weather was uplifting as we passed over the Delaware River near Trenton, NJ and Philadelphia and nearby environs.
We picked up speed nearing Baltimore and I clocked the train going 107 mph (there's an app for that called Speedbox).
We slowed down here to cross the Susquehanna River.
I was deeply interested in the next part of my journey. While I am a regular New Orleans visitor I had never seen much of what is considered the "Deep South" other than a visit to Atlanta. As a music nut, and a Delta Blues fan, I had always wanted to travel to Memphis and to see the Mississippi Delta. Moreover, the view from the train often captures a kind of hardscrabble point of view of America - after all, people of means don't usually live too close to the tracks or in a hobo jungle. I wasn't going to get a glossed over chamber of commerce version of the South. As a California man I had lots of stereotypes in my head...just what would my experience be like? One guy on social media said for me to "watch my back". Yeah. OK. I thought at the time that was a racist comment - and still do. The Delta is approximately 85% African American.
In the meantime...the view from my window on the Crescent was mesmerizing. Here are some photos near DC and Baltimore.
I fell asleep in Virginia.
And woke up in Georgia.
The next several hours I had my nose glued to the window taking in the sights. As a man of the West I have become somewhat snobbish about the great outdoors. However, I must say that there is some true scenic splendor in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi that I did not anticipate and brought on my favorite feeling while in nature - a feeling of awe. I hope you enjoy the photos. Here is Alabama:
And my first glimpses of Mississippi.
The photo just above struck me somehow. It is of Meridian, MS the hometown of the great Jimmie Rodgers or as he was affectionately known, the "Singing Brakeman." I envisioned old Jimmy working out there on that particular part of the railroad while dreaming of making music. Regardless, for me it is an evocative photo reminiscent of the past and, oddly, perhaps my favorite of the trip.
We arrived in New Orleans late due to freight train interference which is a ongoing and regular problem with passenger train travel in the United States. If you are an Amtrak traveler you know just what I'm talking about.
Finally, around 9:00 PM I was in the Crescent City. It was a heavenly 79F!
My day in the Big Easy. I woke up and walked to the French QuarterFest. It was hot and steamy and so very welcome. I went to the Chevron stage near Jax Brewery along the River to listen to Cajun Music. As usual in New Orleans it was a party. I often think about the notion that we should let go of the past and stop worrying about the future and focus on the NOW (and try to live accordingly). That viewpoint seems to be the philosophy of New Orleans which is a major reason why it is and will remain one of my favorite places on earth. It's a gas.
What a fine day I had!
After hours of listening to terrific music and chatting with some locals, I ate a delicious gumbo dinner and went back to my room. I got sick to my stomach afterwards and figured it was a passing thing. It was not and would plague me off and on for the rest of the trip and then for a few weeks after I got home - it was a particularly virulent stomach bug (good news -after many doctor visits and tests I am better now!).
The next day I was up early to find my brick at the WWII Museum and then make my way to the train station to ride the City of New Orleans train to Memphis.
Several years ago I made a donation to the WWII Memorial in DC in my relative's names for its construction and for the construction of the WWII Museum in New Orleans. One of the donation opportunities was to fund a brick to be placed outside the museum - and I visited the museum several times after I purchased it but never actually looked for it - until this trip. I didn't have time to explore the museum again but wanted to find that darn brick- the docent located it on the computer and gave me a map and, indeed, I found it. I am proud of ALL who served but in particular my 3 uncles - W.A. (Shorty) Hubbard, Bill Hubbard and Edward Poppe. Each of them served in the Army Air Force and my Uncle Shorty flew 35 missions over Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. He was severely injured as a tail-gunner on a B-17. I am a bit of a WWII historian as a result of my family's influence and service.
Speaking of inspirational people - there is a modest monument to Anne Frank at the Museum and she has been a personal hero to me for as long as I can remember. When I became a high school drama teacher I couldn't wait to direct my own production of "The Diary of Anne Frank"- it remains one of the poignant stories of my life and one of my proudest moments as an educator.
After that short visit I jumped on my next train which is only a few blocks from the museum. I was unprepared for how scenic the initial section of the City of New Orleans train was as it moved north through the bayou country and into Mississippi. The sleeping car attendant caught me staring, slightly agog, and said, "Oh yeah...I see you. I know I should be working but sometimes I just have to stop and look out the window too. Some days I count the alligators. Counted 50 once".
The clouds rolled in as we got closer to my destination of Memphis and the rain fell - very hard at times - and it was dark and beautiful and made my little roomette even cozier.
The train arrived in Memphis about 11:00 PM and I was excited to see that my hotel - the Central Station Memphis was adjacent to the tracks. How convenient. I had been receiving confirming emails from the hotel for a few weeks and it looked great.
Looks can be deceiving.
When I arrived the young lady at the front desk informed me that there was no record of my reservation. I showed her my confirmation number and emails. She said, "Sorry, sir, I have no record of a reservation and we have no rooms" and smiled. That awful smile. It was 11:00 PM and I explained I was tired and none of this made sense and she said, "Call booking.com" - and then, because I didn't leave, she called her supervisor. After several minutes trying to get the phone number for Booking.com I spoke to someone overseas who said, "Oh, they have to find you a room. We will ring them". Finally, the hotel front desk had another person arrive to help - a sympathetic and evidently more experienced employee. She winked and said, "don't worry...we will figure this out." Finally I started to relax a bit until the first employee hung up the phone with her supervisor and said, "DON'T EVER USE A THIRD PARTY. That's your problem."
She then sighed - a huge sigh - and started punching the keys of her computer and then gave me a key to a room - a suite because, "that's all we have".
Wow. What a mess. It was now midnight. I was supposed to get my car rental at 8:30. I got into the room - took a shower and tried to relax -nope - still too wound up by the reservation drama - couldn't sleep - all night. Still, I was thrilled about renting a car and driving through the Mississippi Delta and exploring the home of so many of my musical heroes. How curious and interested I was about my next adventure.
At 7:00 AM I went down to the hotel restaurant, ate a veggie omelette, and then called Enterprise car rental who said they would send someone to the hotel to pick me up at 8:30. I gathered all my luggage and walked outside. It was a nice morning. I waited and no one arrived. At 8:45 I called back and someone said, "we are on our way". At 9:15 I called again and was told, "Sir, we are having a challenge getting you a car". I can't remember precisely what I said but was later told that the guy expected me to yell and that I remained calm and told them I had no place to go and needed a car and that they were to come pick me up and I would wait in their office for a car and didn't give a damn how long it took. So far, Memphis had not been exactly a welcoming place. They sent someone for me.
My grumpy strategy evidently worked and I believe they got tired of my pouting geezer face because within two hours I had a car. It wasn't exactly pretty but it was a car.
Fired up, I jumped in and, of course it was on E, but I got 'er filled up and went directly to Stax Museum.
After spending about 10 minutes inside I thought, "Hey, did I get all my luggage from the Car Rental place?" As soon as I had that thought I received a call from "Enterprise - Memphis".
Hello, Dr. Hubbard? Yes, I know - I'll be right over...
I gathered the suitcase I left behind at the rental agency and decided to get out of Memphis. Soon, windows rolled down in the sticky springtime Mississippi heat, I was driving south on legendary Highway 61.
First Stop - Tunica, Mississippi.
I took my sweet time driving down to Clarksdale. My first stop was to visit Roger Stolle and his fabulous Blues store Cathead. He was as kind and friendly and knowledgeable as expected. If you are a Blues fan and make a pilgrimage to the Delta like me - I strongly encourage you to to make Cathead your first stop. Your mind will be full of ideas about what and who to see and where to go...and you'll walk out and feel like you're going back in time to an earlier era. Right next to Cathead is an old Rexall sign...how many years since I'd seen one of those? 30? 40?
From Cathead I drove to my spot to sleep the next few nights - the famed Shack Up Inn. It was my kind of place. Here was my bit of shangri-la. I was in the "Caddy-Shack".
I sat outside at the shack with a cold drink and meditated and read and relaxed and felt that cool Delta breeze on my forehead. I immersed myself in the feeling of the place. It did feel just as I supposed it would. The problem is that as I imagined it long ago there was too much pain to contemplate. Still, I was grateful to finally be in the place I'd dreamed of seeing my entire life.
Slept beautifully and was up early and off to the crossroads. Yep. Those crossroads.
I wandered around and ended up at the Delta Blues Museum.
I had dinner at Abe's back at the crossroads and tried one of their tamales. Sometimes we Westerners don't realize that tamales are eaten in the South - there is even a "tamale trail". It wasn't too bad although eating it with saltines seemed pretty darn weird.
I spent most of the day exploring the Delta with a visit to the Grammy Museum in Cleveland, MS which is right across the street from Delta State University and in the same town as the Martin & Sue King Railroad Museum. Everyone that day was extraordinarily kind and helpful and generous with their advice and time. Southern hospitality is a real thing.
On my way back to my room at the Shack Up Inn I stopped and made a few photos of the old Hopson Plantation which is adjacent to the Shack Up and the surrounding area.
The next day I made a leisurely drive to Memphis to spend the day at the National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated. I also wanted to see the Blues Hall of Fame Museum (of which I am a member). In my life - one leader towers above all the others in my estimation - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His philosophy of non-violence, patience and kindness and love have inspired me my entire life. Thus, it was a deeply emotional experience to see the very place where the world lost him. My breath left me and I had to walk away from other people and gather myself upon witnessing it. In my life I have never seen another site that brought so much sadness for our country and "what might have been". I have not been to Dealey Plaza - perhaps it will have the same impact.
Here are a few other photos I made. I took too many and didn't like any. In candor, I struggled with the fact that this was the place chosen for the Civil Rights Museum - until I saw that Coretta King had agreed to make it so. If she thought it was fine then who am I to doubt it? It is a place that every American should see.
Leaving the Museum was bittersweet but I know I'll be back - hopefully with my grandchildren.
I have been a member of the Blues Foundation for many years. Their museum is located in Memphis directly across the street from the Civil Rights Museum. When I arrived and shared my membership card one of the docents jumped up from her chair and said, "WELCOME We have been waiting for you!". It was too sweet and, of course, I loved it.
Here is - no kidding - Muddy Water's guitar. 😲
Soon it was back to the train station and the City of New Orleans on our return trip to Chicago.
The ride to Chicago and back to the cold weather was uneventful on the City of New Orleans although I had oddly stopped being hungry and, trust me, that it is highly unusual for me. Nevertheless, Arlo Guthrie's version of Steve Goodman's classic song, "City of New Orleans" song was stuck - as it should be - in my head and on repeat. And look! Here is Kankakee! Followed by a few other photos I enjoyed making and that made me hum... "Good Morning, America- how are ya?"
That night in Chicago, despite not having much of an appetite, I walked down the street to the Berghoff and had a Root Beer and a few bites of German food. When I got back to my room at the Central Loop Hotel I checked my Amtrak ticket on my phone and it said, "service disruption". That is trainspeak for, "you are screwed -the train isn't running". I called Amtrak and the agent said, "well, maybe you're getting that information before we are, which often happens, but it looks like your train is still running". That was encouraging - or not. I slept fitfully. I was ready to get on the Southwest Chief and come home - it had been almost 3 weeks.
"Service disruption" no longer was displayed across my iPhone Amtrak ticket. Thank goodness. I took a taxi to the splendid Chicago Union Station. It's really quite a place. Unlike airports (yuck) there is plenty of room to spread out and walk and sit and relax without other people around. There is also no TSA theater where they do things like take away your 6 oz sunscreen because you know... well, actually I don't know.
I got on the train for long trip home. It was beautiful ride - the Southwest Chief is a gem. I was also enthusiastic about going through my father's home town - La Junta, CO on the train where, in the early 1950's, he got on the "El Capitan" and came to Los Angeles and met my mom.
Unfortunately, my stomach issues really kicked in and I wasn't able to enjoy the trip as much I'd hoped. Still - I was able to make a few photos and I hope you enjoy them and they give you a sense of what riding on "the Chief" is like.
We were reaching Colorado and I was able to take a few photos of the place where my dad grew up. I will return this September, in my little Mazda, and visit the graves of my grandparents and Uncle and my last remaining Colorado family who live in Pueblo. The photo below is the "old" train station in La Junta - did my dad walk out those doors? Buy a ticket from that window? Wait outside for the train right here?
These photos are all in New Mexico - the next day I'd wake up in California.
My trip was originally supposed to include a stop in Kansas City - due to Amtrak staffing shortages that part of the trip had to be eliminated - I was bummed at the time but it actually worked out OK. By the time I hit California I was pretty sick from that nasty (and long lasting!) stomach bug. It felt good to be home. And, let's face it, I love California.
What a journey. Of course, a blog post and these photos don't do it justice -if I had the creativity and energy of a younger version of myself I might be tempted to write a short story or novel about it. As it is these words and photos will have to suffice. I can't imagine taking another trip similar to this length on the train - it might happen but I doubt I'd do it solo. Maybe if you came along?
The big Western train I didn't take was the famed California Zephyr - I'll make up for that this autumn. I'll also visit Kansas City when I visit Colorado late this summer while on my Bob Dylan Center and and family ancestry pilgrimage.
This was a long post because, well, it was a long trip. I truly appreciate you reading and allowing me to share. Connecting with people has always meant a lot to me and, after retiring several years ago, I lost my ability to do much of that. Except with you - and for that I'll be forever grateful - and when I say much love to my friends and readers I mean MUCH love to each of you.
May this summer be the best of your life. Thanks again.
Let me leave you with lyrics from a favorite Dylan song that has inspired me these many years and that I thought of often on my once in a lifetime cross country train trip.
"Let me Die in my Footsteps".
Let me drink from the waters where the mountain streams flood
Let the smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground
Go out in your country where the land meets the sun
See the craters and the canyons where the waterfalls run
Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
Let every state in this union seep down deep in your souls
And you’ll die in your footsteps
Before you go down under the ground.
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.
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.
Notes From The Road- Ready To Go?
Hi friends. I'm getting ready to take off early, early tomorrow morning. "Pre-trip" is an odd emotional time. It's an exciting time usually tinged with some sadness about missing my wife and family. I also start to anticipate the first day's drive which means dealing with Southern California traffic until I get "out there". The older I get the more I abhor traffic and the lack of scenery in SoCal. As I leave I can't seem to put it behind me fast enough. In addition, my mind gets cramped with details. Did I pack everything? Food? Personal items? Do I have what I need? Am I ready?
Tomorrow I'll take the good old Interstate 15 through seedy, gaudy, tawdry, Las Vegas and then head toward Zion on my way to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. I'm interested in the state park and anxious to explore it. I hear it's a place a lot of the land maulers, aka Quad riders, visit. The noise, partying, and general attitude of those people aren't usually my cup of tea. We'll see. My hunch is that it will be more than fine.
It's a long drive (442 miles) but not as long as Tuesday when I drive to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (476 miles). When I arrive there and get a camping spot my trip will settle down into a more relaxed mode. I work at slowing down constantly the first few days of any trip. Once that calm kicks in the trips can start to become tranquil and magical. After rushing around for 35 years slowing down is a daily challenge. I'll explore the new National Park at the Gunnison River and then head for fishing and hiking grounds near Silver Jack Reservoir, the Rio Grande and, eventually, the Arkansas River.
I will try to write from the road but that may not be possible given the typical lack of cell reception in the more remote and mountainous areas. I purchased a small digital tape recorder to perhaps more easily take notes. I also got a monocular for the camera and it will be interesting to see how that works. The playlist is ready- lots of Bob Dylan, Calexico, Neil Young, Gourds, Jon Dee Graham, Beck, Drive-By Truckers and Alejandro Escovedo. I'll be reading "Go In Beauty" by William Eastlake and bring lots of Edward Abbey & Terry Tempest Williams to supplement. I'm also bringing the classic, "Land of Little Rain" by Mary Austin.
May you all slow down and enjoy the simple things while I'm "on the road".
My next trip starts on Monday, September 8. I will be spending some time in Colorado. My father grew up there albeit in one of the most desolate spots in the state, La Junta. La junta means the meeting or meeting place in spanish and, sure enough, that's where several railroads meet (or met- passenger trains ain't what they used to be). My father used to speak about the wind and the snowdrifts and the unbearable summer heat. He also talked about his father being an excellent outdoorsman. I never met my grandfather. He died in 1948 at age 48 due to acute alcoholism. I wish we'd known each other. I have sensed in my lifetime that some of my genetic predilections are directly linked to him and his appetites.
The stories that my Dad told me about the outdoors often revolved around the southwestern part of the state in the San Juan mountains. Places like Creede and Pagosa Springs were mentioned. This is an area I'd promised myself that I would spend time in before I died. I plan on fishing, camping, hiking and exploring.
The mountains are at their peak in September in the West. The crowds and kids are gone. September is my favorite month of the year anyway. Even when I was working in the schools I loved it. The parents and kids were well behaved and everyone still had hope for a successful school year. While this made school and my job better than say, in March, I still always longed to be outside. I remember, even as a child, thinking that I was missing some important things going on in the outdoors in September. Now, at long last, I get to spend some time in the Rockies in September.
Do you know the song from "The Fantasticks"?
Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
I am going to "follow".
Here's the tentative itinerary:
September 8 Monday - Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, UT
September 9 Tuesday- Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, CO
September 10 Wednesday - Same
September 11 Thursday- Silver Jack CG - (Southeast of Montrose)
September 12 Friday - Same
September 13 Saturday Bridge Campground (Northwest of Pagosa Springs).
September 14 Sunday Bassam Guard Station (Northwest of Salida)
September 15 Monday -Same
September 16 Tuesday Holbrook, AZ
September 17 Wednesday Home
My trips are generally set up as "tentative". If I find a place I like, and it doesn't require reservations, I'll stay and stay. I have found, however, that being literally "on the road" is what I enjoy most. It's the discovery that I like. Of course, many of the best places are found in exactly that way.
I'm cutting this trip a bit short as I am required home to prepare for a baby shower of epic proportions. This should be a good "taster" of the area. I've always loved Durango and I'll be sure and spend some time there (if nothing else than to pick up a fishing license and grab a bite to eat).
The drive home requires one motel night in Holbrook. AZ which is a fine western town. When I get home I'll have a bit of time to prepare for my October Utah Red Rocks trip that promises to be spectacular. After that I'll be laying low waiting for my first grandchildren to be born. The twins are coming in November which means December and January will be perfect for celebrating their birth in Organ Pipe, Cabeza Prieta and other desert wonders in southern Arizona.
One last note, I've been communicating on Twitter with the excellent film director and cinematographer Eric Temple. He claims we are "brothers from another mother" and I agree. His films are all great and I own "Edward Abbey: A Voice in the Wilderness" which is truly excellent. If you can find it- buy it. If you can't buy it then see it any way possible. It's fantastic and features some other great Southwest artists and authors including the great Charles Bowden who just passed away. Charles' death is a huge loss for us desert and justice lovers. Eric did mention to me that for his next film subject he's considering either Maynard Dixon (my favorite Southwest artist) or my inspiration Everett Ruess. See? He is, indeed, a "brother from another mother"!
I'll keep you posted from the road.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.