There was a popular song, written in 1927, called "My Blue Heaven", that my mother would sing to me as a child. Maybe you've heard it. One of the lyrics went:
"Whippoorwills call, evenin' is nigh
Hurry to my Blue Heaven and a little nest nestled where the roses bloom. Just Molly and me and the baby makes three."
The song is filled with imagery and I pictured it in my mind's eye as a young boy. The words and my Mom's pretty voice soothed me and I remember asking her (she would have been 80 today) to sing it over and over again. I hadn't thought of this song for many, many years but on this latest trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument the song jumped into my head and the words naturally changed to my green heaven. The last several years now I have traveled extensively in the West and I've seen magnificent places but there is no place on earth that I feel more at home or connected to than Organ Pipe. The air itself is different. The earth feels differently below my feet. Edward Abbey served as a Park Ranger there and he loved the area too calling adjacent Cabeza Prieta the "finest desert wilderness in North America" and said this:
Transparent and intangible as sunlight, yet always and everywhere present, the desert lures a man on and on, from the red-walled canyon to the smoke-blue ranges beyond, in a futile but fascinating quest for the great, unimaginable treasure which the desert seems to promise. Once caught by this golden lure you become a prospector for life. -
Cactus Ed was right. I'm a "prospector" for what remains of my life.
The Sonoran desert is very different than other deserts in North America. Since there are five seasons; winter, spring, summer, monsoon, and autumn, and two of those can see quite a bit of rain (winter and monsoon) the desert is truly alive. The last few years I've experienced some rain during January visits to the Monument and the beauty and smell of that experience is indescribable. On this trip it was warm and sunny which made for poor photographic opportunities but maximum recreation and relaxation.
Another thing about this trip - I turned 60 recently and this damn birthday stimulated more than a few hours of introspection and reflection. As I look back I have many beautiful memories but I have also endured my share of pain: losing my parents to cancer and Alzheimer's too early, I was diagnosed with glaucoma at an unusually early age with all that entails, I faced appalling and dishonest injustice instigated and condoned by people I liked and trusted, I've lost several dear friends to death, suicide and the vagaries of time. Of course, I also extensively pondered all of my own terrible mistakes and sins which are too numerous and odious to count.
While contemplating it became clear to me that while life has been, at times, profoundly joyful and fulfilling it has also been deeply sorrowful and painful and often seemed impossible to endure. But, endure I have. I know I've been foolish on occasion but I've gained some wisdom and I've hung on even when experiencing abject hopelessness. It seems clear that I am, if nothing else, resilient, and so it is with the desert. I love the sea and the mountains but, as I get older, and come to terms with my own mortality, my respect and affection for the desert grows more deeply every year. Life is hard, for sure, but the cacti, the creosote, the bobcat, the roadrunner and the lizard thrive against the odds in an often harsh and exposed existence. The resilient Sonoran desert not only gives me solace it inspires me to live my own life more fully and with fewer complaints. Wherever I go it will always remain my own true home.
Remarkably, in this desert milieu live 850 plants and animals. Barren, brown desert? Not by a long shot. An example is the ocotillo (or coachwhip or candlewood). Talk about resilient. The ocotillo looks like an unassuming pile of dead sticks for much of the year. Then, if and when it rains, it becomes a brilliant green. It is a glorious transformation.
It is a long drive (9 hours) out to Organ Pipe for me. I determined to simply relax and meditate on my first day. Perhaps I'd just hang around the campsite in the sun and maybe go for a short hike around the campground. When I woke up I had far too much energy for such sedentary activities. I jumped in the truck and drove to Ajo. I got my permit to travel in the Cabeza Prieta and Barry Goldwater Range and chatted with the BLM folks. I then decided to drive into the Cabeza Prieta and come back to camp via the Bates Well Road and Pozo Nuevo in Organ Pipe. The weather was warm and I drove with the windows wide open. I stopped and talked to whoever was around (except the Border Patrol who were parked in too many places). I met some eccentric and intrepid travelers out there. The desert does attract us oddballs. My people...
In the middle of the day my old bones began to tire after two days of solid driving and several hours of being jostled on rutted and rocky dirt roads. I arrived at Bates Ranch in the northern portion of Organ Pipe Monument and took a few photos. If you find Bates Ranch as interesting as I do you can read more about its' history here. Despite being in the boundaries of a National Monument the ranch didn't actually stop operation until 1976. There is something about old West ranches that seems to ask for black and white photos.
I also made some color photos of this fascinating place.
The next few days I did get some of that sweet relaxation in. For the first time in many years I did not drive out to Quito Baquito but went on several short hikes in the Monument. I found some small hills to climb and meditate on. I studied the scenery. I sat in the slim shade of Saguaro and Senita cactus. I ate snacks in the cholla gardens. I stopped worrying. I listened to the crying coyotes each night. I made a few photographs but it was not a priority. I chatted with my campground neighbors. I relaxed out of my separation from the land. I visited with the Park Rangers. I slowed down. I heard the cactus wren and the ravens. I experienced each moment as fully as I could. I had a damn fine time.
I saved, for the last day, a late afternoon and twilight drive through the Ajo Mountains. I rolled down the windows and crept along the road. A desert breeze blew through the cab of the truck. I occasionally stopped and got out to take photos and take short walks. I immersed myself in the desert. I thought of my children and wished they were with me. As I neared the end of the drive I started missing Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and I hadn't left it yet.
I'd apologize for the mawkish tone of this trip review but it wouldn't be sincere. I may wax tritely and in cliche riddled phrases but I'm at a loss to describe my love for the Sonoran Desert and if it sounds maudlin so be it. If you do get a feeling for my love of the place then I'm pleased. I encourage you to read Abbey, Bowden, and Krutch. They get closer to doing this slice of "green desert heaven" more justice than I ever will.
I count the days until my next visit. Thanks for coming along.
This last photo of dancing Saguaros is one that I enjoy. May you all be healthy, happy, safe and at ease. Until next time...
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".
I've been working on this damnable site for a week and I guess it's time to "go live". I'm sure it's filled with grammatical errors and typos. I know it's poorly written and needs editing. I suppose I'll spend more time doing that so bear with me or, better yet, ignore the writing and go straight to the pictures! Ha!
The first question is what kind of an ego must a person have to create their own website? The truth is there may not be a damn soul in the world that cares about what I say, do, or think. I'm OK with that. In fact, I'm actually GOOD with that. The point of this site is to share with friends, family, and others who might have a passion or even passing interest in traveling the West. I'll journal often from the road and occasionally from home. Much of the personal material will be specifically directed at my family who, I am presumptuous enough to believe, actually do care just as I care about what's going on with them. Even cooler? Nobody ever is required to visit this site. Don't like it? C'est la vie!
I am hopeful that someone from Twitter or elsewhere might stumble across this spot in cyberspace and I'll find a few fellow travelers and lovers of the West. I'm also hopeful that I can help others with my passion for traveling through professional consultation.
Some topics I'm considering for future posts are:
My next post will describe my next trip starting in a few days. I'm headed to Four Corners and the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. Lucky me.
Explore the site. The narrative may be repetitive and dull but there are some pretty cool pictures. You can comment on this and all posts if you desire. It is my hope that this site will encourage you to get out and see the natural world around you.
I'll leave with the words of Ed Abbey:
One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.