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.
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.
About a year and a half ago I was extolling my Utah love to my daughter in law Meredith. She looked pensive and said, "Will you take me there?". Well, of course! I figured it was just one of those things people say. Along the lines of "someday". After all, my daughter in law had just given birth to twins 6 months before. I figured she was going to be too busy to go on an extended trip for, oh say, at least 5 years.
I was wrong (again). She was determined to go. Cool. I still was unclear if my son would join us and what of the twin grandchildren? As it turns out...the more the merrier. The 2 year olds were comin'! In fact, there was even a last minute addition, Meredith's brother Matt who would accompany me on my drive while the grandkids and their parents would be in another car.
I had asked Meredith if she wanted southeastern (Arches & Canyonlands, Four Corners) or southwestern Utah (Zion, Bryce). She wasn't sure and although Zion has become a zoo I figured it was a closer drive and it is, after all, a must see. Then I figured we'd go to Bryce and a favorite of mine - Kodachrome Basin.
Zion National Park, while being world class in scenery, continues to get worse and worse as a destination. My first trip there, in the early '80's was sublime. Uncrowded, easily driveable, and scenically stunning it became a favorite and I've been there a dozen times over the years. Sad to say this will probably be my last visit - perhaps in this lifetime. I may return in winter sometime but the crowds and the associated Ranger Rules are not my cup of tea.
While acknowledging that my back "going out" before leaving on the trip probably colored my point of view, I could spend paragraphs explaining my frustration and sadness with Zion National Park but I'll leave it like this - it ain't what it used to be and the West is too big and wonderful to go to a place that is being overrun and is poorly managed by an overwhelmed and unwelcoming National Park Service. Maybe I'm just getting old and curmudgeonly but I don't think so. I don't believe, unless you fully experienced these Western Parks before the great tourist invasion, you can understand the disappointment regarding what has happened here.
By the way, "GET OFF MY DAMN LAWN!".
The weather was wonderful when we got there but changed, as forecast, to a steady and persistent rain on the second day. It did provide for some good photography opportunities however. I brought my camera as an afterthought, this was a family vacation, but I'm pleased with some of the photos. As a reminder you can purchase relatively inexpensive prints at by clicking here. Blog subscribers receive a discount. E-mail me at SouthwestDude@SouthwestDude.com for more info.
Here are some photos of the first day and a half before the big weather change.
The rain started to fall heavily and all five of us were cooped up in my little trailer - El Correcaminos. I decided to sleep in the truck for everyone's sanity but was told I needed to move the truck as we were "over the vehicle limit" despite having 50 feet of empty pavement in our campsite. I really despise this kind of nonsensical bureaucratic foolishness but I moved the truck 1/4 mile away and sulked off to fitfully sleep. No use raising Hell to an unresponsive, stodgy, overworked and underpaid Park Service.
The next day we took the kids on the Riverwalk trail, I tried my best to clear the trailer of the mud and mess from the rain, and made some more photos. That night we had a wonderful dinner of shrimp and orzo salad. We ate s'mores which I very rarely do and enjoyed a long conversation around the campfire. When the world pisses me off with its stupidity nothing gives me more relief than family. I loved every minute. It was a good day and we geared up to move to Kodachrome Basin. Here are some photos of the walk.
After the Riverwalk I stopped at the Courtyard of the Patriarchs. Don't forget you can click on the photos to make them larger.
That evening I ran out to take some last minute photos before saying goodbye, perhaps for the last time, to my beloved Zion National Park.
We left Zion, the weather was perfect, my back spasms had improved a bit and we drove the short distance to Kodachrome Basin State Park. Now, this was my kind of camping — a quiet and secluded campsite with hikes and views and friendly, helpful State Park Rangers. We settled in for a few fine days. I had intended to take the short drive to Bryce Canyon but that would have necessitated taking two cars and we didn't think the Rim drive would thrill the 2 year olds. Instead, we went on short hikes and wandered around Kodachrome saving awe-inspiring Bryce for another trip.
I was really hoping to get in a long hike or drive with my son but it didn't work out. Hopefully, next time. He's quite a remarkable young man. I am deeply proud of his sensitivity, love of and devotion to his family, his affection for art and the poor and the indigenous people of our country. He is a humanitarian. In short, he gets it and I probably don't deserve to have such an incredible person for a son. We did have an unforgettable few days and I can't wait until the next time.
I got a few photos of the family and a favorite is the two year olds, Finley and Joaquin, in full flight, loving being outdoors. I'm impressed with the emphasis that my son and daughter in law are putting on the little ones, already, to experience and enjoy nature to the fullest.
In discussing this trip with friends the question of how "Kodachrome" came to be the name of the State Park came up frequently. My tiny bit of knowledge is that in 1949 National Geographic Magazine sponsored an expedition to the area (with funding from Kodak) and hence they donned the name Kodachrome State Park after their iconic film. It is a beautiful place which features sand (or sedimentary) pipes. Large sandstone formations that jut straight out of the ground. I'm told that they are only found in this particular area. Here are some photos of sand pipes and slickrock and typical southwest vegetation replete with junipers and pinon pines.
Here is a striking example of a sand pipe. This is known as "Chimney Rock".
The following was our campsite view in Kodachrome. It was glorious.
Lastly, I offer a couple of panoramas. The first from Zion and the second from Kodachrome. I don't know how many of my friends and subscribers have been to Utah but it is, to me, a sacred place. I fell in love when I crossed the state line nearly 40 years ago and the state never leaves me. Through the trials and travails this life provides I know, no matter what, I have sweet Utah...here in photos, often in my mind, and thankfully just a few hundred miles down the road.
Thanks again for coming along.
Until next time...be well.
On Twitter it's apparent that reviewing one's photos for the year is all the rage. I consider myself a non-conformist but I kind of like the idea. This is true even if the exercise is nothing more than an oppportunity to review my travels and tribulations for the last 12 months. For me, it's easy to do that and one of the reasons that I started this website. I enjoy sharing the beauty of the West and looking at my photos will be an enjoyable activity. I am not, however, inclined to pick my "favorite" 12 photos. While ranking is cool I think that activity might make my head explode. Maybe next year...
This was my first year traveling with my little travel trailer, a fiberglass egg, called, "El Correcaminos". It is quite different than sleeping in a tent or the back of my truck. In fact, it's so dang convenient that the first few months I traveled with it I'd get in the cozy little space and just want to stay there. This rather defeats the idea of getting a trailer which is to enjoy the great outdoors. I suppose it's natural though, when in a safe cocoon, to want to stay there. However, get out we did!
Here are my some of my favorite photos from my trips this year. I started the year using JPEG and a Nikon D3300, editing using the Nikon software, and finished the year making RAW images with a Nikon D750 and editing them in Lightroom.
The first photos are from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument last January.
For my birthday, the last one of my FIFTIES, Lupe and I took Banjo to Point Mugu.
My next stop in the little trailer was Death Valley. I'd been there before but never during a "super bloom" or for so long. It was a good trip.
In March I visited my Bay Area family. The last 6 years have been challenging for me in many ways but Lisa, Kara and Steve have always been there for me. How I love them... The photo below is of Lisa, Kara and their Dad, Jack. Jack is maybe, just maybe, the coolest guy I've ever known.
In March Lupe and I went to Arizona. We spent time in the Superstitions and out at Organ Pipe. We had a wonderful time. Lupe is the perfect traveling partner.
In late March Banjo and I spent a few days at the other-worldly Red Rock Canyon north of Los Angeles. It's a really cool place and reminded me of Utah or Abiquiu, NM.
In April, I headed out to Utah. I was able to spend time at Zion, Bryce, Escalante State Park and Kodachrome State Park. Magnificent.
In May I spent some time in Joshua Tree and at San Onofre Beach.
In June I was able to visit the newest National Park, Pinnacles, with my remarkable daughter Lilly and her friend Kennedy. Pinnacles is becoming a favorite as it is (relatively) uncrowded and sits in the heart of the scenic part of Central California. I'll be back next March for some spring photography in "Steinbeck Country".
Lupe and I had to forego a planned trip to Glacier but we managed to spend a wonderful week in Lassen Volcanic National Park. When we returned we decided to establish an annual family and friends trip up there and 2017 will be our inaugural event.
In August my friend Marty and I spent a week at Gaviota State Beach and on the Central Coast of California north of Santa Barbara.
The next "big trip" I took was way up the Northern California coast to Redwoods National Park and then I spent another few days near Brookings, Oregon at Harris Beach State Park
In October I visited my thoughtful and smart and long lost friend Eric Flaherty and took a short trip to Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona.
In November I visited the wonderful Mojave. I love it out there...
In December I took a very short trip to a local campground, Casper's Wilderness Park, and my truck began to have mechanical problems. I had to cancel my Anza Borrego trip and deal with having the truck in the shop 3 times in a two week period. Since I was convinced that my troubles with the truck were only beginning we bought a new Toyota Tacoma which will bring less worry to my travels in the next couple of years.
This, then, wraps up my short review of the year's travels. I'm hard at work planning for 2017. I do hope each of you who read this have a magnificent holiday season and that next year is one of the best of your lives.
I was unprepared to retire when I did. While the circumstances might be unique for each "retiree" I don't think I'm alone in that feeling. Most of us go from being productive "members of society" to being a little lost with this new stage of our lives. That probably sounds strange to many of you still working who look forward to retiring- I know it was a foreign thought to me. But, like many things in life, you can't realize how different it feels until you're there.
I remember telling a friend I went from daily trying to make the world a better place to having little purpose. She asked me, "So, you wanted to change the world? You did all that academic work, got your doctorate, and worked in school districts to help kids and change the world, right?" "Yep", I replied. Her response?
"How'd that work out for you?".
Brilliant, even though it did sound a little like Dr. Phil. It was a painful truth. She said three things that resonated afterwards...
1. Trite as it may sound, maybe all any of us can do is be the best person we can be. Set that example and quit trying to "change anything" except yourself.
2. Do all the things that you've wanted to do. That's not selfish, that is leading a productive and meaningful existence and following your heart is an opportunity that many people never get.
3. Surrender to what is.
So, I took her excellent advice.
I have been a traveling fool since that conversation. I work at being the best husband, father and friend I can be. Two new lights of my life, Finley and Joaquin, have been born. I have found a new love- photography. I have embraced my love of music and literature. I have re-established some long lost relationships that are deeply meaningful to me. I have seen and been places I wanted to see my entire life. This year is no different. I'm getting into my "golden years" and I'm loving it. Turns out this next stage of my life is a powerfully poignant and beautiful time.
Here's where I'll be the next few months:
April - I'll head to Utah and the Colorado Plateau. Zion, Monument Valley, Canyonlands NP, Kodachrome Basin and the Valley of Fire in Nevada.
May - Arizona - Painted Rock Petroglyph CG, Kartchner Caverns, ghost towns, Chiricahua National Monument, Bisbee, Madera Canyon.
June - San Onofre, Pinnacles NP with Lilly.
July - Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming and Glacier NP in Montana with Lupe. Point Mugu with Lilly and Lupe.
Aug - High Sierra fishing with son Jordan (and maybe Kevin?). Sequoia NP with daughter Lilly.
September - Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Redwood NP, and Harris Beach in Oregon.
October - Arizona and a visit to Little House Customs for some improvements to my little trailer and camping along the Mogollon Rim.
November - Still not determined but that sounds like desert time, doesn't it?
Come on and join me!
See you on The Road...
I just arrived home from an inspiring trip to see the grandeur of Utah. I'm always amazed at the number of Californians who just don't get out there. I've now traveled quite a bit of the country out here and the West and Utah, remarkable Utah, is profoundly beautiful. It is also a state of very interesting people. You may have opinions about Mormons, one way or the other, but to dismiss Utah as, "that Mormon State" and not visit is an error.
Take Moab, for instance. It has to be one of the most diverse towns in the West. I had to fix a tire out there and I spent a few hours people watching in that fascinating place. There are artists, rednecks, hippies, survivalists, cyclists, bikers, 4 wheelers, hikers, photographers, television crews, geologists, literary types, workers, mechanics, tourists in all forms, naturalists, poets, school children, businessman, ranchers, miners, explorers, Park Rangers, and that's just the start. It is a slice of America like few other places. In fact, there is no other "small town" with such diversity that I've ever visited.
The word that kept coming to me on this trip was "awe". Funny enough, when I got home I found that Sierra magazine had published an article, in its' latest edition, about the brain changes that are created by our sense of awe.
I don't know how long I'll live but I know that being outdoors, and experiencing "awe" is good for my heart, soul, comfort and health.
I hope you enjoy the pictures of Utah on the "Trip Review" page and that they give you, at least, a tiny sense of the awe I experienced for a little over a week.
Here's to more AWE in your lives!
Something I get asked from time to time is, "How do you travel alone so much?". It typically strikes me as an odd question but I get it. Being alone with one's thoughts as your only companion can be difficult especially if you identify with those thoughts. This is a major reason I meditate. I'll write about meditation in a blog post soon but, in the meantime, these are my thoughts on traveling solo:
My career was people oriented. I did my best to create positive relationships with everyone with whom I worked. I truly cared about the people I worked with even if it wasn't always reciprocated. Perhaps I was naive. I also worked with people who didn't share my passionate values about the welfare and education of young people and I didn't mind their enmity but was always hopeful that we could "see the light" together at some point. Nonetheless, I was constantly interacting with others. I spent my life, from kindergarten through retirement, around groups of people on a daily basis. As a result, my retirement has been completely different and weird at times (thank God for my beautiful family who have endured my sadness and helped me). While I used to crave solitude I now seemingly have an over supply of it. My first year or so of not working was terribly difficult for many reasons and I often felt lonely.
That's no longer the case.
I have learned to cherish and appreciate this solitary life. I'm blessed with an understanding and loving wife and family. They accept my longing for the road and pursuit of beauty. That unconditional love provides a firm foundation which gives me permission to do what I want (and need) to do with approval and encouragement from those who "get" me.
My days, off the road, consist of reading, meditation, and personal growth activities - like walking, writing, watching films, following sports (USC, Liverpool FC & the Dodgers), learning Spanish, reading my twitter timeline, running errands, planning trips, an occasional motorcycle ride, and learning the guitar. My reading hunger since I stopped working has been insatiable- I know I'll die before I read everything I want to read.
My days on the road, since I have my books and my meditation, are rarely lonely. I do, of course, enjoy traveling with others, in particular, my kids, family, and wife. They are all fabulous, non complaining, funny, curious and grateful, adventurers. Of course, they have their own business to attend to and my wife can't retire for a few more years. I do, certainly, miss many of my friends, some of whom have died and others lost to the vestiges of time and vagaries of life. The worst part of traveling alone is wanting to share the singular experiences and the astonishing scenery. I take pictures, lots of them, in my attempts to share. This website and blog is another effort to share with my friends and family the places I see and visit.
There is, however, something peaceful and poignant about traveling solo. I can reflect, muse, and do all things that I damn well want to do. If I like a place I can stay- if I don't I can move on. After spending many hours researching I go where I want to go and see what I'm curious about. As the Buddhists suggest, I eat when I'm hungry and rest when I'm tired. I read voraciously. I listen to music and spend hours preparing a long playlist specifically designed to complement the journey. I hike. Occasionally I fish. I write. I meet strangers and share travel stories. In the evening I make a nice dinner, perhaps start a fire, and watch the sunset. Afterwards, I crawl into the back of the truck- get comfortable and listen to the local radio stations, contemplate the doings of the day, and plan my next day's activities. I nod off while listening to the songs of the coyotes or the pure quiet that can only be found miles away from cities.
I do miss the people that I love. I think about their qualities- the reasons that I miss them. I remind myself that all things are temporary, I will die, and I must use this time in the most meaningful way possible. I worked, for a lifetime, trying to change the world and make it a better place. I attained a doctorate and rose to the top of my profession. All those years of work, putting my career first, ironically didn't work out as planned. Now, I try to live my life the right way and let the Universe decide if my life will impact others positively in any way. I can only do my best for my family and friends and this beloved earth. I try to be an example. I choose to surrender the rest.
This precious time in my life, when I have the freedom to travel the West, is a profound gift. Perhaps, some day, I'll connect with former friends, become a better guitar player, write beautiful stories and poems, work publicly to save the planet, demonstrably help the poor and needy, but, for now, I'll travel alone and contemplate, learn what I can, and be the best father, husband, friend and man I know how to be.
This solitary travel helps me ground myself, clarify what's important, and find and explore my humanity. I enjoy myself. I experience a powerful spiritual connection to nature and, in particular, the Southwest. It is my sacred home.
All I can truly offer the world, in the end, is my humanity and experience - if I can stay true to a life of empathy, compassion, tenderness, and love, then, perhaps, my life will be of some worth. I can't think of anything else to do that has more meaning.
The one song I have listened to more than any other the last several years is "'Cross the Green Mountain" by Bob Dylan. The lyrics resonate deeply in me- like a soft breeze of pure, cool air in the late desert afternoon.
He expresses it perfectly:
Pride will vanish
And glory will rot
But virtue lives
And cannot be forgot
Let them say that I walked
In fair nature's light
And that I was loyal
To truth and to right
See you on the road, in fair nature's light, soon.
I'm Utah bound in a few days.
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".
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.