It's been an odd summer and I feel the need to check in and say hello.
Let me start by saying that if there is one single lesson I have learned in this lifetime it is this:
ALL things are temporary.
As one gets older and friends and family pass away one's own mortality becomes a center focus of daily life. This is not morbid or bad - it is the truth. As far as I know I'm only getting this one crazy and beautiful life and, as I get older, runaway time seems to become more precious.
I lost my best friend Richard in 1983. I lost my Mom in 1995 and my Dad in 2004. My mentors, John Fitzpatrick, Bill Dickson and Bill Slout are gone in the last 5 years. My uncles and aunts and cousins are now nearly all dead. So, I work to remind myself that this too will be my fate and it 's always too soon, isn't it?
Everything changes all the time. This June my youngest child, my daughter, graduated from high school and is heading off to college in Oregon this fall. Man, I'll miss her.
All things are temporary.
Perhaps it was the accumulation of events or simply random but I had some minor health problems start in May that precluded me from traveling. Now, to be sure, I've suffered with mental health problems in my life - depression, alcoholism and even PTSD - but this was different, each day was physically painful, and it scared me and worried me and motivated me to start doing things I want to do before it is "my time" or until I am no longer physically able to do what I can do now.
I missed my summer trip to the Grand Canyon and I know I'll never get this summer back again. It bummed me out.
Life is different in your 60's. When I was young and I had to miss some experience it was not big deal, after all, I had years to make up for it. I no longer have that luxury.
So... this summer, while going to physical therapy and doctor appointments and diagnostic tests, I have been travel planning in earnest. Life is short and I want to get a good look around before I go! As Simone de Beauvoir said,
"Change your life today. Don't gamble on the future, act now, without delay".
So, we have to get cracking. As my grandfather would say, "we're burning daylight".
I have big plans for 2020. Let's hit the road.
Next year, I have 4 major trips planned. In the Spring I'll do a southwest tour in Arizona and New Mexico, and in July I'll be at the SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) convention in the beautiful city of Baltimore and in August I'll be in the Northern Rockies. And also...
In June, I'll potentially be meeting a few friends in Chicago and then driving the "Mother Road" all the way back to Los Angeles. I will be finalizing the dates and plans and sharing them with my friends who follow the southwest dude's travels on my blog and through social media. Why don't you plan on meeting me in the Windy City and we'll all motor Route 66 back? You can join the gypsy caravan. My plan is to take 12-14 days to drive the whole enchilada. Of course, that may not be your cup of tea and that's cool - I'll take you along vicariously and share my photos when I return whether you like it or not!
Of course, I have many other ideas for traveling next year, too. I'll certainly have my desert time and I'll be at Death Valley in January.
But how about the rest of this year? Well, I am starting to feel better. It seems like the physical therapy is working. In a few weeks, if I'm OK, I'll be taking my annual central coast trip to Gaviota and Morro Bay. I'll be going to San Diego to see my Dodgers play the Padres with my pal Tracy, and then I'll be helping move my sweet daughter to her college dorm room in Corvallis, OR and taking a leisurely road trip home. In November, I'll be meeting the two best camping buddies a guy could have in Big Sur and in December I'll go visit my Bay Area family who I miss and love so very much.
Then...it's 2020 and what promises to be an epic travel year.
“So have adventures. Go exploring. Drive around at midnight. Feel the wind running through your hair.
Life is so short, my darling. And there's no day like today.”
― Morgan Matson
All things are temporary.
Last month I took a quick jaunt down to San Clemente State Beach.
My friend Dell was supposed to join me. Turns out, he stayed one night in San Clemente but had scheduled work. With my plans to camp with him dashed I took a few photos and decided to go home the following day because I felt like Hell.
I woke up the next morning - reminded myself that life is short - and decided, what the Hell, to drive to an obscure State Park which I had recently heard about in the California Central Valley.
Interstate 5 and Highway 99 are notorious in California. Recognized as either the "most boring" or simply "ugliest" drives in California they are only to be used to get from one place to another in the quickest manner. I used to subscribe to this notion, too - especially when I was younger.
My 4th grade teacher, Eve Boram (yep, her last name was pronounced BORE 'EM) instilled in me a bit of California love. In particular, she loved to pull down the map and talk about "The Great Valley" and its impact on American agriculture and how it fed Americans. She talked about the "hot Mediterranean climate" and said the valley had its own special beauty.
I never really saw that - after all, Yosemite is east of the valley and Big Sur is west - and well - that's BEAUTY. But you know....I realize now - she was right.
So, let's go. The weather was perfect and I had a leisurely drive up 5 to the 99 to Earlimart and then to Colonel Allensworth State Park. Do you know the story of this place?
"Established on August 3, 1908, the town of Allensworth was the vision of Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth. Born in 1842, Allensworth escaped slavery during the civil war and joined the Union Navy. In 1886, he became the chaplain of the 24th Infantry Regiment, retiring in 1906 as the highest ranking African American officer in the US Army.
On June 30, 1908, Colonel Allensworth, Professor William Payne, Dr. W. H. Peck, Harry Mitchell, and J. W. Palmer formed the California Colony and Home Promoting Association. They purchased land at this location to build the town of Allensworth - the only town in California founded, built, governed and populated entirely by African Americans."
Here is the link to state website.
The town, due to water problems, slowly dwindled in population. By the 1950s Allensworth was an impoverished area without drinkable water. Colonel Allensworth himself had been hit and tragically killed by a motorcyclist in 1914 in Monrovia, CA.
In 1968, Cornelius "Ed" Pope, a former Allensworth resident, helped restore the area to a state historical site. In 1976, the site was established as a State Historic Park. The preserved town features nine restored buildings, including a schoolhouse, a hotel, a general store, and library and several homes.
In my life there have been 4 places where the feelings I had upon arriving were psychically overwhelming. I experienced an energetic calm and a feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Those four places? Arches National Park, Chiricahua National Monument, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and, strangely, Colonel Allensworth State Park. The isolated, stark, flat beauty of the Park was different than any of the places I've visited over the last 10 years. The air was clean and birds were everywhere.
As I was setting up camp one of these birds was raising hell with me with sharp and shrill chirps and an odd display of its feathers. It looked like a plover to me but I'm not well versed in bird identification. After I got the campsite ready I walked over to see why the bird was being so aggressive and, after nearly stepping on her eggs, I discovered why she was acting that way.
I took a photograph of the bird and the eggs and posted them on iNaturalist. Since this park is renowned for birding opportunities I assumed they'd get back to me quickly and, in 24 hours, I found out the bird was a Kildeer (indeed a type of Plover) and they often nest and lay their eggs right on the ground. Further, they engage in a "broken wing display" to draw predators away from the nest. In this scenario, I was, of course, the threat and the photo below was Mom's response to get my attention.
In my short time at Allensworth I fell in love with this Mama Kildeer and kept a sharp lookout for any people (or animals) who might get near her nest. I do believe we became friends and that she knew she could trust me before I left because she was calm around me and stopped using the broken wing display. I loved her.
Additionally, this place - besides the history - was, to me, a photographers dream. I have already made reservations to go back in November. I hope you will enjoy the following gallery of photos.
Abandoned roads, clouds, trains and telephone poles. Southwest Dude stuff.
One late afternoon the famed Tule fog started rolling in from the northwest. The sun was slightly obscured and made a photo that I enjoy.
Here are some other color photos of the Park.
I'm definitely not trying to sell this Park. It isn't for everyone, but it is just as "California" as the beach or Sierra Nevada. If you find yourself on old Highway 99, I would certainly encourage a quiet and reflective respite where, despite an overwhelmingly daunting past, one man, Colonel Allen Allensworth, an old escaped slave and war hero, had a dream and dared to make it a reality.
Each spring Lupe and I try to go on a short trip during her spring break. This year we decided to take the Coast Starlight from Anaheim to Seattle to see her brother and his beautiful family and to take in the sights and a Mariners game.
I love everything about trains. The sights that you see from the train window are different than those of the interstates and offer glimpses into real Americana. Train rides are like glorious road trips...with no driving. The Coast Starlight is a well known and scenic route from LA Union Station to King Station in Seattle. I first took this trip to celebrate getting my doctorate at USC in the early 2000's. I should point out that trains are NOT for everyone - there are always inevitable delays and if you're in a rush to get somewhere trains will make you crazy.
On the first day of the trip we left from Anaheim and headed up the coast in our "roomette". I enjoy the train horn but it seemed like the engineer was a bit fanatic about it - it was constantly blowing. When we got to San Luis Obispo we understood - the horn was stuck in the on position! It necessitated a delay while we got another locomotive. It put us about an hour behind schedule but no big deal. Here are some photos from the train window and from the stop in San Luis Obispo on our first day (yep - that is Gaviota from the trestle that I have so often photographed and shared on this blog):
We slept fitfully on the train that night and I'm not convinced, although she's been kind about it, that my wife enjoyed the accommodations. After we arrived in Seattle we did some sight seeing with my brother in law as tour guide - went to Top Pot Donuts, the Space Needle and the Chihuly Garden with some of the most distinct and lovely glass art I've seen.
We also took our niece to the Gasworks Park. Fascinating place - marvelous views and quite the urban oddity. It reminded me of one of my favorite songs by Ewan MacColl about Dublin. "I met my love by the gasworks wall/ dreamed a dream by the old canal/ I kissed my girl by the factory wall/ Dirty Old Town."
We spent the next day at the Museum of Flight which was terrific. I had seen the Apollo 11 command module at Smithsonian some years ago and it was at the museum in Seattle as part of an exhibition. In addition, the Amazon mega-rich guy, Jeff Bezos, funded a project to locate pieces of the Apollo missions in the Atlantic Ocean and many of those components were also on display. I was a child during the years of the Space Program and I still think it's easily the best thing humanity has done in my lifetime. A giant wave of bad and ill informed and wrong has been done by mankind in the last 62 years but there's that shining moonshot....
That night we took the convenient train from our hotel to what is now called T-Mobile Park (it was called Safeco) to see the Seattle Mariners game. Man, I like being a Dodger fan - our stadium doesn't change names every few years due to corporate sponsorship (see San Francisco for the most egregious example). Anyway, we had dinner before the game at the stadium and enjoyed a chilly night watching the Mariners roll over the Rangers. The stadium is a beauty. It was a kick.
Responsibilities were calling so the next day we got back on the train and headed back home. I can't describe the ride as it wended its way through quintessential California landscapes... I'll show you photos instead.
In conclusion - if you're ever interested in taking a trip on Amtrak I have one thing to say - Do it! Thanks for coming along...
I write about it all the time and you know, if you've been following this blog for awhile, that I am a regular at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I hope you have a place that fills your heart the way Organ Pipe fills mine.
I'm not going to bore you with too much narration on this post - if you haven't been to Southwestern Arizona and you're ever interested in going let's talk... It was nice to go when it was warmer and quieter this year in April. I was on the lookout for snakes and scorpions and the mythical Gila Monster...but, alas, I saw none...
Let's get on with the photos. With this post I'll do things a bit differently than previous posts - since I focused, to a large degree, on black and white images for this trip, we'll start there. These photos are from the first few days in Sonoran Desert heaven. The ruins at the bottom are from the Victoria Mine site.
The next series of photos are from the Ajo Mountain Drive and Puerto Blanco Road which includes photos of Bonita Well and Quitobaquito Springs as well as the trappings of the US Border Patrol. Perhaps, one day I'll devote an entire post to my interactions with the Border patrol since I'm often along the border in Arizona and New Mexico and see them regularly.
The next photos are from the Desert Walk near the Twin Peaks campground on my last day. The photo at the bottom - with the early morning sun on a saguaro - is my favorite B&W of the trip.
Let's move on to color. For those of us growing up around the Mojave the Sonoran Desert always surprises us with its color. This year- after all the rain - and going in April was marvelous.
There is an oasis out there called Quitobaquito Springs home to the Quitobaquito (Sonoyta) Pupfish. I cherish it. Here is an afternoon panorama and other images.
I've spent many hours on the bench in the photo above simply soaking in the beauty and history and solitude. No place on earth I'd rather be...
I hope you enjoyed coming along. Catch ya down the road...
I retired several years ago. My long term and instant goal was to get "out there". WAY out there. Often. Included in that dream was time with my kids in wild and natural places. I've been able to largely accomplish that goal. Each of my three children have gone with me. But...I hadn't been able to accomplish the one thing I'd been thinking of very often - going with my two boys together. When they were younger we regularly camped at Pismo Beach and other places and they are some of the best memories of my life.
For many years as they were growing up we all lived together. However, to my great regret, I spent far too much time away from home while trying to "change the world" and never spent as much time as I wanted to spend with these two young men- who, along with their sister, are simply the greatest joys of my life.
What gave me solace was knowing that "some day" after I retired we could finally spend quality time together for an extended period of time. But, my friends, you know how that goes. They grow up and guess who's busy now?!
But, HEY! We finally made it happen. Our original plan was to camp at Indian Cove in Joshua Tree National Park, but, thanks to the genius in the White house our reservations were canceled. We quickly made plan B - getting the LAST spot available in the Borrego Palm Canyon campground (the big one) in Anza-Borrego State Park.
Anza-Borrego is in the Colorado Desert which becomes the Sonoran Desert as one moves eastward and it changes into something much different. I love Anza-Borrego but it's rarely as green as the Sonoran and has different flora - no saguaros for example. It's more stark and barren. But, after the rain we've had this winter though Anza-Borrego was greener than I've ever seen it. I'm guessing the wildflowers will be spectacular in just a few weeks. It was gem-like.
The photo above is taken from the campground on a very windy late afternoon. My son Kevin arrived on Wednesday, on his motorcycle, after driving through some very frigid weather. Check out the sign at the higher elevations near Culp Valley.
After Kev arrived we went on the short walk to the Visitor Center.
Jordan arrived the next day and I decided to take them to Little Blair Valley and the pictograph trail. Except, well, except, er, I didn't drive to the pictograph trailhead. I took them to the Morteros trailhead. Oops! Dad screwed up. AGAIN! We did have a nice walk though but at some point the trail petered out and we were forced to scramble over and around and between rocks. The old man ripped his pants and knocked the eyepiece off his camera and finally - when we saw the end of the canyon - I knew we'd gone wrong. DUH! We did see ONE pictograph and the Kumeyaay Morteros are pretty cool.
This was the end of the line...
The next day Jordan and I drove out to the Peg Leg Smith monument and Clark Dry Lake to scout out some potential boon-docking spots. The day was spectacular.
We found an old abandoned building with graffiti indicating there was a, "DEAD BODY". I sent Jordan in to check it out.
Nope. No dead body. Thanks, Jordo for checking...
Here is a panorama of Clark Dry Lake
Other photos from our day:
I know I have many readers from out of California- if you do happen to make your way out to our overcrowded but wonderful state - please check out Anza-Borrego. You will not be disappointed. If you are from California, what are you waiting for? This spring will be sublime.
So, yep. We had a marvelous time. I don't mind saying that my kids, all 3 of them, are excellent campers. My theory that you learn a lot about a person in 24 hours of camping proves that I am one lucky father! Here's to many more years of camping together.
I'll sign off with a gallery of black and white photos, as is my way. Thanks for coming along. See you on the road!
I've been fortunate in the last few years to meet some really fine photographers like Lori Carey, Joe Smith, Tracy Schultze and Rachel Cohen (among others). Something that most of these photographers participate in is a year end list of their "favorite (or best) photos". We submit them to a well known and well regarded Bay Area photographer, Jim Goldstein, for his annual "Blog Project- Your Best Photos"annually. So this is my list.
I had the good fortune to maintain my regular routine of monthly travel (except October because of the Dodgers - dem bums). I started off the year with two trips to Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave, visited Dodger Spring Training and Homolovi State Park in Arizona, took two trips to the Central Coast, went to Utah and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, went to each California League stadium, Petco Park, San Francisco (AT&T Park) and environs with Lupe, and took a fabulous Four Corners trip, which included Mesa Verde, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Hovenweep National Monument and a quick jaunt to Joshua Tree to see my buddy, PJ Finn. Whew! Who said retirement was boring?! I made about 8000 images this year and 7,990 were pretty bad. Well, not really, but these photos represent my personal favorites.
The first photo (above) was taken in the fading light of a September afternoon at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park from the south rim near Chasm View. To me, it seems to capture the "up close but oh so deep and mysterious" look of this magnificent canyon.
The next two favorites are also canyon photos and both from Imperial Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at opposite ends of the day. The first was taken while walking around with my amiga, Liz Kylin, in the late afternoon and a few days later I got up early to catch the sun as it just started to hit the point. You'll get a sense of how fascinating the light of the canyon can be from these two very different photos near the same vantage point (taken with the same camera).
Let's move from canyon country to the coast. My number 4 favorite is a photo of Morro Rock - a place I return to year after year (since the 1980's). I finally took a photo I liked of it.
Next is a Mojave Desert photo taken after a steady 24 hour rain and the clouds were still lingering and creeping over the ridges into the valley below.
The next photo is a long exposure of the pier, at sundown, in my beloved Gaviota State Beach. I'm not a fan of the ugly yellow boat hoist at the end of the pier - but, hey, that's Gaviota.
My amigo Joe Smith has really encouraged me to use more black and white and the last 4 are in that medium. The first is of Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu on a late summer afternoon.
The next photo is of Round Tower in Hovenweep National Monument. This structure was probably built between 1150 AD and 1350 AD by Ancient Puebloans.
This photo of iconic Spider Rock at sunset is probably my favorite of the year. Yes, I know its been photographed thousands and thousands of times but I like the simplicity and shadow of this black and white.
Lastly, you wouldn't really expect the old Southwest Dude not to have a railroad track photo, right? Right. My last is from a favorite spot near Cantil, CA.
Since it is the end of the year I want to express my gratitude to each of you who follow my blog and vicariously travel the roads of the West with me. I hope you get some sense of how much I enjoy sharing my "traveling life" with you and I hope you know how great it is to have you along.
I'd like to also give a shout out to my pals and fellow inspirational photographers, PJ Finn, Craig Pindell, Scott Hays, Don Wendell, author extraordinaire, Chris LaTray and fellow travelin' fool, Scott Jones. I'm fortunate to have you dudes in my life (even if most of it is online).
Lastly, I also want to acknowledge the greatest blessings of my life which are my three children, my two daughters in law and my sensational wife. I don't know how they put up with me - but they do and I'm so damn lucky.
My best to all - let's have a brilliant 2019.
I loaded up the Casita and headed for the Mojave Preserve on Monday, December 7. A few months back I heard that the Mitchell Caverns had re-opened for visitors after being off limits for seven years. The Mitchell Caverns are part of the Providence Mountains California State Park which lies in the Mojave National Preserve in the Mojave Desert. I made reservations to visit the Caverns on Friday, December 7. My camping buddy and soul brother Marty joined me on Wednesday but we didn't anticipate how cold and rainy and windy it would be. The first day I arrived it was cold and pretty but a change was in the air. I have a favorite boondocking spot (or 3) out there but, since the forecast was for heavy rain, I opted to stay at good old Hole in the Wall campground. It is, without question, one of my favorite spots in the West.
On Tuesday, I drove down to old Route 66 and Amboy Crater.
Every year, in the summer, a few people seem to die near Amboy. It boggles the mind as the crater is close to the parking area and it seems impossible to get lost. While wandering around the volcanic piles I found a makeshift memorial to an Orange County couple who were found dead there in 2017. It's heartbreaking - even more so when you see how close they were to getting back to their car.
Here are some black and whites from the first couple of days.
I woke up on Wednesday morning to flash flood warnings on my telephone. I did as much as I could to prepare for the coming storm. I went for a walk and enjoyed the pre-storm calm.
Marty arrived and we enjoyed a fun evening hanging out, having great conversation, listening to music and watching a biography of the great Jack London on my iPad. The next day we went for a short hike and the rain started. We went back to the trailer and hunkered down. At one point, we looked outside and realized that we were the only people left in the campground. It was slightly unnerving as we both kept getting iPhone warnings about impending weather doom. Turns out that it did rain - steadily for several hours. However, it was never a truly "hard rain" and there was no flash flooding.
The day after it rains anywhere is usually wonderful but, in the desert, it is extraordinary. The smell of the creosote bushes permeates the air and the sun feels brand new. Marty and I got up early and went to the Mitchell Caverns which were terrific and highly recommended. For me, however, the landscape views that day were unforgettable.
Here are some photos from the Mitchell Caverns. The first photo is actually a mine - not a cave - on the walk to the Caverns. The second photo is the entrance to the Caverns...(on the right- the entrance on the left suffered a cave-in many years ago).
The short drive back to the campground after our cavern tour was spectacular.
A private ranch, Blair Ranch, still operates out there in the high Mojave. This is a view of the ranch from the Providence Mountains Visitor Center.
The next day Marty left around noon and I spent the afternoon lazing in the sun and reading. Sometimes, it's not the hikes or the sights or the drives - it's these moments I enjoy the most from my life on the road. Book in hand, cold cup of water, and sun in my face in the expansive and quiet desert. Yes.
The next day, my last in the Preserve, I decided I'd try and see Goffs Schoolhouse. I've tried a few times before and it was always closed. I drove until I got reception on my cell phone, called, and they said, "come on by!". I ended up spending much more time than I anticipated. The day was warm and the managers, Gus and Stella, were hospitable and helpful and kind. After seeing their work I ended up joining the MDCHA (Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association). Goffs is an even more fascinating place than I'd anticipated. Not only the schoolhouse but the dozens of exhibits outside encouraged me to stay and wander for as few hours. Here are some photos I made of the place.
Lastly, you probably know I have "a thing" for two lane highways, trains and telephone poles. To, me, they visually represent the hopes and dreams of the West that I have romanticized since my youth. I did get a nice photo that gets two out of the three.
The Preserve is about a 4 hour drive for me and I'm already planning my next trip. Thank you for coming along!
“Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.” ― Keith Richards
Music is in my bones. Throughout my life two things - always - have given me solace. First- my children. Second - music. Regardless of the sadness and tragedy and injustice of life I have always been saved by my kids and my songs. This year, of course, was no exception.
If you follow my blog you know I'm a Roots/Americana fan. Americana is hard to specifically define - Wikipedia describes it as, "Americana is an amalgam of American music formed by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that make up the musical ethos of the United States, specifically those sounds that are merged from folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, gospel, and other external influences". Fair enough. I''ll just say this - the sound of Americana resonates deeply in me and is, "in my bones".
While the following list is the albums I purchased this year and reflect that Americana emphasis I am, in general, a fan of all music with the notable exception of popular "Country Music" and "Contemporary Pop" which I find abominable and superficial and useless (not that I have strong opinions or anything).
The following is a list of the albums I purchased this year listed by release date. Please note, because I am a supporter of musical artists I do not stream music but, in order to acknowledge the musicians with my wallet, I purchase each album. I do, admittedly, often use YouTube to preview music that I may want to purchase. Also, I am constantly updating my older music and that is not reflected here (my classic Blues catalog expanded exponentially this year!).
OK - enough introduction. Here's the NEW music that I considered for my Top 10 list:
I'll also list the music that I played most often in 2018 but here are my choices for the Best of 2018. Ranking is a pain and wrong for a lot of reasons - all of the albums above are good - the following simply resonated most deeply for me on a personal level.
Ok - now - here are the new songs I've listened to the most this year:
Ok! I've made my list. Agree? Disagree? Want to share some great music that I haven't listed (or maybe even heard)? Leave a comment. Better yet - make your own list!
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.
Lately, I've been devoting a lot of thought to the idea of discovering new places and the idea of finding a place, loving it, and returning. I like seeing new places but, something I've learned from Buddhism and photography, is that we never truly visit the same place twice anyway. Let me use my own backyard as an example.
I know my old backyard, don't I? Heck, I see it everyday. But...if one looks closely, each time I walk out there it's quite different. It's a different time of day, a different feel of weather, a different season. It smells differently in the spring than in the fall. It looks different after a summer of extreme heat than after a winter of moderate rains. The marine layer adds to the feeling in May and June and even, occasionally, in October. It's not the prettiest of back yards, I suppose, but I love seeing and smelling and feeling the differences.
So, to me, one can never exactly return anywhere.
You'll notice, if you've followed my travel blog for awhile, that I do seek new places but so often I return to beloved places. Such was the case this August when I went back to my beloved Gaviota State Beach north of Santa Barbara. I also mixed in a new spot the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve.
I'll start by showing you some long exposure photos I took on consecutive evenings.
Of course, I made a few black and whites.
The day I drove out to Rancho Guadalupe Dunes I was surprised at the uncrowded and scenic virtues of the place. I had an excellent time - spoke at length to a Ranger about the endangered birds that call this gem home and the fact that the beach and dunes are typically quiet and serene. One reason is that the road is often closed since the dunes reclaim it on a regular basis. Check out the photo of the road in.
Each day I spent at Gaviota I went to the beach in the afternoon. The lifeguard there and I are kind of buddies - he sees me every year. This year, each afternoon at 3:00, a fisherman would come in to the beach with a huge bag full of fish. The lifeguard told me that he sells his bounty to local markets and restaurants. Since the pier has been closed for a few years now the fishing pressure has decreased significantly and, as a result, the fishing from boats has become quite good. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about this hearty soul who has chosen this life - no bosses - on the sea each day - making his own way. Ah...a rugged individualist. I admire that.
I also made a few other photos of this favorite spot which I return to - year after year.
Thanks for coming along! I hope you enjoyed the photos.
If you ever find yourself on the road north of Santa Barbara check out this quiet oasis on the coast. Who knows? Maybe, I 'll see you there.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.