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.
I have an outdoors friend, R. Scott Jones, and one of his trademarks is "travel quests". I met Scott through social media (and he's discussed in my LA Dodger Spring Training post). He's the "king of quests" and I decided to follow his lead and come up with my own. (He's at justgetoutmore.com). I certainly wanted to make it something I'd love to do - especially since having a quest means a damn completion. After too many years of bureaucratic BS I'm not into necessarily having another "task" to complete - not even for myself- let alone an ungrateful group of local politicians. In other words, this HAD to be something I would love doing. No more gutting it out...
Once I set my mind to it I didn't take long to figure it out. Perhaps, you may recall I like our national pastime? I have another social media and SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) friend, Tom Thrash who is also a travel quest (and National Park) guy who has traveled to all the Big league parks and many minor league ones. Tom and Scott got me thinking...the California League is a High A league in California - how fun would it be to venture to each of the team's stadiums and watch a game? I decided to find out. A quick bit of background on the league - it consists of 8 teams in 8 locales and representing 8 major league clubs:
I started visiting the clubs on April 16 and finished on August 7. I saw some sights in California that I'd never have seen and some stellar baseball. After a lifetime of living, working and recreating in California, I was able to see and experience things that I simply wouldn't have without the inspiration from Scott and Tom - so, thanks guys. Talk about a slice of Americana...
If I had it to do all over again (and who says I won't?) I would change my seats. Since I ordered most of my seats online pre-season I decided to sit directly behind home plate in the first row which was a mistake. For years I've known that the best baseball seats for watching a game are as close to the press box as possible. There's a reason they put the radio and TV announcers there - it offers the best view of the action. In my overly enthusiastic approach I bought the tickets closest to the home plate action which, in retrospect, was an error...although I did get to hear some salty baseball language but you'll notice most of my photos are marred by the dumb screen and occasionally I thought pop ups were deep fly balls.
I also chose not to bring my Nikon to the games and only used my iPhone for photography. Carrying a camera around minor league parks would be a pain and a worry - I just wanted to relax and have fun - and that I did. In addition, the iPhone has a minor league app that allows you to follow the game and get info for each player, during the game, real time, - which is quite enjoyable. Each ballplayer has their own story and I find their birthplace, draft status, professional path, and experience, and of course, stats, so very interesting. It adds human interest the game.
I started my quest on April 16 in Lake Elsinore to watch the Storm play the 66ers. Only about a 1000 other people joined me to watch a very entertaining but frigid game. It was only 59F at the start with about a 20 mph wind blowing. I was glad I'd bundled up. Inland Empire scored a run in the top of the 9th to win 6-5. I did manage to get my first and only foul ball of my life. The place was so lonely that it hit a seat behind me and rolled right to me with no one else even trying to chase it. No kids were around so I kept it. It now proudly adorns my home office.
Lake Elsinore Storm
Each of the minor league teams has a mascot. As silly and juvenile and kitschy as they are- I enjoyed all of them. The Nuts were my favorite but more about that later. Here are the Lake Elsinore mascots - they are "Storm" and "Jackpot".
I had a ticket for a week later in San Bernardino but it was raining and very cold - again -so I decided I'd go later and geared up for a road trip to the Central Valley. On April 24, I drove to Visalia to see the Rawhide take on Lancaster. The JetHawks kicked the home team's butt 9-3. The most notable feature of this game was the "cow bell" that fans bring to the game and clang whenever the home team does something of note. After the game I certainly did not have a "fever for more cowbell". Also, at this game some local district attorney people were behind me loudly and drunkenly voicing their support for the imbecile in the white house, discussing current cases inappropriately, and laughing about people they'd recently thrown in jail. It was, without question, the worst fan experience I had on the trip. Also, several young Latino fans came down and sat next to me and were immediately asked to show their tickets - I wasn't though - gee, I wonder why. I asked the usher, "Hey, aren't you going to ask me where my ticket is?". He, of course, didn't get it.
Anyway, I wasn't sad to see the home team lose. On the plus side, they did have a cool bathroom.
The Visalia Rawhide mascot is a Holstein cow named "Tipper".
The next night I was in Modesto to see the Nuts. I love this team and their stadium was lovely and the ushers and crowd were fun and friendly. I had a terrific time. Unfortunately the Nuts lost to the 66ers 3-2 in a well played game. I did buy a hat - had to - and the mascots were the best the league has to offer in my opinion. Here are Wally the Walnut, Al the Almond and Shelly the Pistachio. Hilarious...
Here is the ticket booth at John Thurman Stadium. I'll be back soon and remember, "GO NUTS"!
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
My next visit was to see the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers High A team. This stadium is the closest to my home - a scant 40 miles away (Lake Elsinore is 45). I went to the game on April 29 and it was a terrific little stadium. That night storm clouds rolled by the San Bernardino mountains behind the stadium and I met Rylan Bannon an excellent third base prospect for the Dodgers who, turns out, was the 2018 league MVP. He and I had a fun conversation and I teased him about Justin Turner getting old and he said, "Yep! I'm coming for him!". He's become a real favorite - unfortunately the Dodgers traded him in the Manny Machado "rental trade". My friend Tom (see above) asked me what my favorite parks were and I'll rank them at the end - just know - this is a great little park. The Quakes lost a close one, 7-6 to Lancaster.
The mascot for Rancho Cucamonga is Tremor.
June was time for hanging out with my great daughter but, in July, Lupe and I headed up to Stockton and San Jose and went to AT&T Park in San Francisco for the first time.
It was HOT on July 9 for the Stockton vs San Jose game but it was an excellent game as the Giants scored 2 runs in the top of the 8th to win 5-4. Our hotel was literally next door to Banner Island Ballpark which made the experience even more fun. I really enjoyed the little riverfront park although I didn't take many photos.
The Port's mascot is Splash and this is a stock photo - the guy never made it down to the field and who can blame him? It was 97 degrees - I can't imagine how hot he must have been.
San Jose Giants
On July 13 we went to San Jose and it was packed and expensive. Tickets at each of the California League venues are $10 - a great deal but they were $25 at San Jose. The game was a blowout - San Jose beat Visalia 10-2. I enjoyed the park and its atmosphere. The photo on the bottom right were golf like bathroom "rules" for the men - cracked me up.
The San Jose mascot is Gigante.
On July 31 I finally made it out to San Bernardino to see the Inland Empire 66ers. It was my most enjoyable evening despite the heat. In fact, it turns out, the stadium with its mission style motif and mountain backdrop was my favorite. I also got to go to my favorite restaurant of life - Rosa Maria's. On the downside, the city of San Bernardino has truly fallen on hard times. It was sad to see what used to be lovely neighborhoods now with many, many homes abandoned and vacant. Tough years lately...here's hoping there's a brighter future for San Bernardino. The 66ers beat Lancaster 7-3.
Latino alter-egos were developed, this year, for many, many teams and the 66ers are the "Cucuys" (boogeymen). I had to have a hat. I wear it proudly.
Inland Empire 66ers
The mascots are "Slick" and "Bernie". Bernie cracked me up.
My final trip, to Lancaster in brutal heat, was on August 7. Turns out it was the most exciting game of the year - with the scored tied 3-3 after 9 innings the 66ers scored 2 runs in the top of the tenth but the JetHawks came back and scored THREE to win 6-5. Game time temperature? 101F. Whew... Still, it was a grand way to finish my quest. Rene Rivera of the Angels played on a rehab stint. I also found a terrific Mexican restaurant with the best dang tortillas I may have EVER had -"Que Paisa" in Littlerock, CA.
It was quite a summer for baseball travel! Man, I enjoyed it. As promised here is my ranking of the stadiums - I used scenic value, amenities, friendliness of stadium personnel and crowd comportment as my criteria:
1. San Manuel Stadium, San Bernardino
2. LoanMart Field, Rancho Cucamonga
3. John Thurman Field, Modesto
4. Banner Island Ballpark, Stockton
5. San Jose Giants Municipal Stadium, San Jose
6. The Hangar, Lancaster
7. The Diamond, Lake Elsinore
8. Rawhide Stadium, Visalia
Like baseball? Check out the fun of minor league ball - it's a kick. Thanks for following along with me. See ya at the ballpark.
For awhile now I've been contemplating writing a blog on music. I've started a few but they sit there as drafts since the topic, for me, is a bit overwhelming and I have so very much to say.
People who know me well know I am a music addict. In my lifetime, nothing has given me more comfort and solace in my most difficult moments. It is also something I've studied for a lifetime - it started as a youth in the 1960's when we we were inundated with such marvelous music and became cemented in my freshman year of college when I took a course entitled, "Popular Culture - Rock Music". The final exam had two hundred questions and I think it was the only final I ever received a 100% score on!
Since that time in my life all my interests, sans music, have waxed and waned. However, the one sure and solid and reliable source of diversion and comfort has been my tunes - LPs, 45's, 8 track tapes, cassettes, cds and now downloads - it's never mattered. I've always surrounded myself with music.
I am planning a trip next Autumn to Mississippi and Tennessee to visit the Blues Trail, Memphis, and Nashville and attend the annual Americana-fest. I can't remember being more excited about a trip. I'll be right there in the heart of it all.
Suffice it to say - I could go on for thousands of words about music but I'm going to limit the scope of this particular post by using the criteria suggested by Alex. Here goes:
“In no particular order – which 10 albums really made an impact and are still on your rotation, even if only now and then." It also says I should "post the cover and nominate another person to do the same" - uh, no to that part about nominating others. I'll tell you what mine are and if you're motivated to do the same exercise - then get on it!
An important proviso - these are not, necessarily, the albums that I think are the "best". For example, "Sergeant Pepper's" is certainly superior to "Magical Mystery Tour" - these are, instead, the albums that influenced me - my life and musical tastes, more than any others... Note also this is not a list of my favorite bands - otherwise, for example, the Rolling Stones would be in my top 5...
Also...while the instructions indicate there is "no particular order", these are fairly chronological.
Enough. Here goes...
Number one is an album that my parents purchased that I probably listened to more than any other as a child, "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison". It was released in 1968, I was eleven years old, and it's impact on me - musically, politically, sociologically was profound and remains so to this day. Johnny's identification with the downtrodden and lost and hopeless modeled for me exactly how a man should be. As I got older and was, at times, downtrodden, lost and hopeless myself, this album always brought and still brings comfort. Who other than Johnny could have sung with such anger, regret and sadness, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"?
When he sang, "I bet there's rich folks eating in their fancy dining car, they're probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars" I hated those rich and free people even though he knew "I had it coming, I know can't be free, but those people keep on movin' and that's what tortures me". And...what tortured me was the implication that they didn't know or care about the other sad and troubled riders, like Johnny's sad narrator, on their own train. Those people still don't.
The entire album merited nearly daily listening in my youth and it's still in my regular rotation after all these years.
It's just bad ass...
ROLL UP! ROLL UP! Number two was the very first album I bought with my own money. I was 10 years old and I saved my allowance each week. The guy at the record store wanted me, for some reason, to buy the new Rolling Stones album "Their Satanic Majesties Request" but I would have none if it. I had to have, just had to have, "Magical Mystery Tour". I wore out the grooves on it.
Of course , it's magnificent and I enjoyed that my mom hated, "I Am the Walrus" and it's lyric, "yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye", which was part of John's freaky imagery and while I didn't necessarily enjoy the picture of that image I liked that my mom thought it was so awful. Damn, I was a rebel.
My favorite song from this album was and remains, "Strawberry Fields". There have been songs, perhaps a dozen or so in my entire lifetime, that on first hearing take me away to a distant place - Strawberry Fields is one for me.
Let me take you down
Still works, doesn't it?
Number 3 is another I purchased, as an 8 track tape, on my own as an 8th grader at Ralph's Department Store in Blue Jay, CA. I played Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. II, over and over and over and drove my father to exclaim one day, "Can't you find ANYTHING other than that to play"?!" I'm an American Roots music man these days and so was this one influential? Well...yeah...obviously and profoundly. This was a delicious double album. Talk about resonating in my heart, soul and ears.
Of course, over the years, I have met people who claim that they, "don't like Bob Dylan's voice". That's cool, but my hunch is that they have favorite artists that don't have beautiful voices and whose success as a singer is perhaps because Bob led the way on lyrics and vocal expression...but to each his own. In my younger days I tried to teach the world about Dylan and and I ended up doing the learning. I learned that some people just aren't gonna "get it" and that's ok.
I have many thoughts about old Bob which probably will merit a single blog post in the future - my final exam in the Rock History class I was boasting about earlier? Of the 200 questions - 190 were about Bob. It's no wonder I aced it and got along famously with the professor. At age 61 I realize there will not be another artist who will mean as much to me in my lifetime as Dylan. His winning of the Nobel Prize finally shut down some of the ignorance about his work but, if you don't like Bob, don't you realize what you're missing?
Ah here I go again...maybe, after all, I still haven't learned the lesson...
Number 4 "Harvest". Another artist, my entire life, who I've always managed to find at just the right moment is the great Neil Young. This album, from my high school days, if I had to guess, is probably the one I've played more than any other when I've been deeply sad (Simon and Garfunkel are good, too!). At my high school, when the weather was nice, the Drama Dept. would pipe music outside and I can remember warm, spring days listening to "Heart of Gold" and feeling that teenage youthful joy that we only experience when we're young. This is another album in which I could discuss each track and how much it has meant to me over the years. One song, "Out on the Weekend" might just be number one on the soundtrack of my life. Obviously, it's "still in my rotation". Neil has always seemed to understand the profound sadness and strangeness of life.
See the lonely boy,
Number 5 - The first concert I attended, in the Fall of 1974, was Elton John at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, CA. Elton had some songs that were big hits on the radio and while I loved, "Yellow Brick Road" (still do) it was "Madman Across the Water" that captured my passion. I didn't realize it at the time but the great Elton John lyricist, Bernie Taupin, was living just a few miles away in a nearby neighboring mountain town, Blue Jay, CA. "Tiny Dancer" has always been a favorite and I still use it as one of the quintessential road trip songs. The image of the "seamstress for the band" while they travel from town to town captures some essential travel vibe that still resonates.
Hold me closer tiny dancer
There are several excellent songs on this album although they may not be as well known as Elton's "hits". I hope you can imagine my horror and sadness when this artist started making songs Like "Philadelphia Freedom" and went so far away from his original brilliance. Oh Elton, where did you go?
Number 6 - "The Band". Most of these "influential" albums are obviously from my youth. This band and this album have been my "go to's" all my adult life. In my view, the Americana genre was really started and pioneered by The Band (ironically 4 of the 5 members were from Canada). Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm are two of my musical heroes. I was lucky enough to see The Band in 1975 at the Greek Theater for their last tour and just a few short months before the famous "Last Waltz" concert - of which I had tickets but to my everlasting chagrin couldn't go - (true story and it still pisses me off). My lifelong anthem, "The Weight" is not on this particular album - it was on "Big Pink" - every single song on this album is a treasure and has personal meaning for me. As I reach the twilight of my life - and as much as I love the Beatles and Stones and Clash - this group, it turns out, has been my lifelong favorite. Perhaps one day I will write an entire blog post discussing each of their songs and why they are so important in the canon of American music. It started in the fields and then the delta and through Charley Patton and Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and there is a direct line right to "The Band". What music...
Number 7 - "London Calling". In college I considered myself kind of a cool kid and I knew music and was a bit jaded and then...punk music. I was admittedly infatuated with the genre and really liked the Sex Pistols album when it came out but I was blown away, wiped out, by The Clash. Not only was the music new and cool but Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had a nearly Lennon/McCartney harmony that was compelling and fascinating and provocative as Hell. As if they could be any more cool their politics were EXACTLY like mine and, oh say, Woody Guthrie's...People sometimes seemed surprised to find out that Woody was such an influence on Joe Strummer but, when you think about it, it's not much of a stretch. One of the most wonderful afternoons of my life was spent at the Santa Barbara County Bowl listening to the English Beat and then the remarkable Clash. If you haven't given this album a listen in awhile then do so again and hear the musical revelations - and revolution.
The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
You know, there's a reason the call him "The Boss". Number 8 could have just as easily been "Born to Run" or "The River" but, nah, I gotta go with the one that knocked me for a lifetime personal loop, "Darkness at the Edge of Town". In this album Bruce cemented his place as America's next great along the Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan line. Few albums in my life have been written that seemed to be expressing everything about my life - the feelings, the loss, my own personal faults, the injustice of the world, like "Darkness". It's as if Bruce channeled my mind and then expressed it musically. There is pain in this album - it's filled with pathos - but because, it's Springsteen, it has layers of hope and beauty...just enough to make it real and universal. Classics like, "Badlands", and “The Promised Land” are as good as contemporary music gets. "Factory" could have been written about my father, too. Each song has profound lyrical and musical depth. While I have given excerpts from previous songs from albums on the list this one is given in its entirety.
"Darkness On The Edge Of Town"
For many years I could be found there in the darkness too.
It took many years before another songwriter spoke to me like Bruce...and that's today's generation's Jason Isbell. I can't call him "influential" but he gets it...I could write an entire blog post on "Southeastern" but you should just listen to it instead.
I couldn't possibly write a post and not include my favorite album of the great Elvis Costello. I read a review of him - got his first album, "My Aim Is True" but it was his next one, "This Year's Model" that must be included on this list at Number 9. Elvis, to me, was such a rebel and a a "retro rebel" if that is a thing - His "Elvis" name and those Buddy Holly glasses and pigeon toed style of performing. He was the man! Young Elvis captured my angry young man years as well as anyone because he also was so damn pissed off...and cynical and condemning of modern society and it's emphasis on superficial values. This album is flawless and one of the most brilliant ever produced.
From, "This Year's Girl":
See her picture in a thousand places 'cause she's this year's girl
Number 10 - More Bob? Yep. Although I struggled with this last one. I feel like I'm leaving out about a million albums that I love and, well, I kinda am. I was just about to place "Document" by REM here but it wouldn't be a true indicator of "influential" to me and I simply couldn't do it. Then there was, "Who's Next" and, as much as love it, I just didn't love it in the same way as my favorite Dylan album (I think it's my favorite - I equivocate a bit - tough choices there). I do know that in high school all the cool kids were spinning "Blood On the Tracks" and I guess I was one of the cool kids. This is Dylan at his balladeer best and not even my dad complained when I played it - which was daily for about, oh, ten years! I actually sang, "Tangled Up in Blue" when I was the Drama teacher at Rim of the World High School at the "talent show". I'd like to emphasize that was my one and only public singing performance outside of drunk karaoke. There are reasons I'm just a listener...
A few years back I read that Bob simply said about the album that it was, "nothing but pain" and his son Jacob said it was the musical soundtrack to his parent's divorce. I can certainly see that kind of sadness but there is also great storytelling to be found here as well as sweetness and love - especially with, "Shelter From the Storm" and "Simple Twist of Fate". Of course, "If You See Her, say Hello" summed up my teenage romantic angst so aptly:
Sundown, yellow moon
So there you have it - I've taken several weeks to think about his and I'm not sure I've gotten it right and I suppose I'll second guess my choices but, today, it's the best I can do. If you have similar tastes that's marvelous - if you don't well, that's OK, although I'd encourage you to keep listening to new (and old!) music and go to concerts, maybe read a little music history and theory, and, whatever you do, don't say, "Music died in the '60's or '70's" or...whatever. First, it's not true and secondly you're shortchanging not only some great artists but yourself as well. In my experience people who say, "I know what I like" really are saying they "like what they know" and usually that isn't much. Nothing speaks to our inner self - our soul - like the charms of a good song. There's beauty and soul stirring melodies and words out there no matter your tastes...
If, like me, you're compelled to get more into the "American Sound" I'd encourage you to start your journey by reading, "Mystery Train" by Greil Marcus. It'll put you on the right road.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading about your most influential albums.
Now, go put on some tunes!
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.