Monday, October 31, 2011

Boneyards in the Badlands

The Uncompahgre River valley, southwestern Colorado, a couple Halloweens ago. In answer to my question, the boys at the public lands office said, "Mancos shale." What a cool name. It was Eastwood's name in his second Spaghetti Western. It was this rock that made the western Colorado Badlands bad.

Mancos shale results from silt. It suffocates the roots of plants; thus few plants grow out here, and hardly any critters. Not even crypto-biotic soil. Only an occasional prairie dog or scavenger would try to make a living here.

It's not like I'm complaining. Instead of standard tourist scenery, I prefer scenery that has a strong flavor of any kind, even the horrific. There is more drama in it. It is more evocative of life and death struggles. Maybe I've bought too many postcards from Nietzsche, over the years. 

Well this is the place for it -- the Badlands between Montrose, CO, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The complexion of the ground was that of a corpse. Pallid hills rumpled up about 200 feet high. Imagine a woman with the comeliest curves, and the shabbiest skin complexion--say, Morticia, of the Addams Family.



A glutton for punishment, I pulled into the main staging area of the motor-crazed yahoos, intending to boondock for the night. (It was virtually in the shadow of a cell tower.) The BLM's sign named the trails: Dump Ridge (overlooking the town landfill), Skull X Bones, Monster Ditch, Moonlight Mesa, and Nighthorse Trail.

What really attracted the gasoline-besotted yahoos was the "open" status of the Badlands: they didn't have to ride on trails. They could commit wanton destruction to their heart's content, except that there wasn't
anything left to destroy. The sterile ground was tensile-cracked and salt-encrusted. The landscape was harsh and lunar.

Here in the Badlands I saw a type of beauty to the otherwise hideous sport of motor-crazed yahoo-ism. Thomas Hardy, the author of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles", would have called it "a negative beauty of tragic tones."

The only animal life visible were the crows that patrolled the town dump by toying with the ridge-lift from the hills. (Aren't Badlands always windy?) They were all that was alive, yet they cared only for morsels of fresh Death. This was all becoming a little weird, like I was stuck in a BLM version of an
Edgar Allen Poe story. Just then a pickup truck approached. Alongside it, a large Chocolate Lab ran his heart out. What a creature, so healthy and joyous! He came up to inspect my little dog, and then spirited off.

There could not have been a creature more out of harmony with its environment than this lab; and what a relief it was to see! But there was another contrast with the grisly environment: at the foot of these hideous badlands, rich fields begin:


 
It was getting close to dusk when I winced at the approach of six motorcyclists, about a half mile away, who were silhouetted on a sinuous ridgeline. When one of the two-cycle engines would scream, an adjacent ghoul would roar in response, and moved to catch up with the other. It was as if they were holding hands and doing le Danse Macabre on that darkling ridge, like the classic finale in Bergman's "The Seventh Seal", when black-shrouded Death finally wins the chess game and leads his victims off:

And Happy Halloween to my readers!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

EmmyLou on a Windy Night

An RVing friend surprised me recently when he confessed that he and his wife just hate camping in wind. It is strange how some flavors of hardship discourage you, while others bring out the best in you. For whatever reason, I rather like rocking and rolling in my trailer in the wind. All RVs, even a cheap cracker box like mine, come with some sort of stabilizing jacks; but years ago I got rid of mine.

Cliffs are certainly good places to experience wind. Wind results from a difference in air pressure, which is connected with sudden altitude changes, or one cliff-face facing the sun while another is in the shadow.

One night I went to sleep listening to EmmyLou Harris singing some of her classics. Ahh dear, a female singer is always at her best when she is wailing about her wounds, be they real or imagined. Can you imagine anything more boring than a country-western diva, a Puccini heroine, or a Celtic lass singing about how reasonably content she was with the universe?

I woke up at just the right moment, when she was weeping into my ears with that tremulous vibrato and falsetto of hers. How it evokes frailty and injury! Outside, the wind was screaming down through the notch in the cliffs, where, four years ago, I imagined my lost little poodle being attacked and disemboweled by coyotes. My trailer rocked annoyingly, and yet, I like being annoyed by it.

The trailer-twitch and her vocal uncertainties and frailties were alike somehow; maybe it was their vulnerability. It's nice being reminded of my rig's vulnerability, like a helpless little sailboat bobbing in the ocean. After all, this is supposed to be camping.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Nearing the Top


Most hikers are probably fond of that moment in a hike when you're starting to wonder if you're ever going to get to the top. But of course the experience would be boring without the voluntary suffering of it all. Then you see some blue sky peaking through, so you must be getting ready to crest. Recently Coffee Girl and I finally made it over the top of Book Cliffs, which my little poodle valiantly surmounted four years ago. I can't be sure that he used this trail, but it's the only one. It was 1600 feet of altitude gain.

It's counter-intuitive how the high-altitude side of a cliff ramps up the edge, and then falls precipitously. The Mogollon Rim (in Arizona) does this as well. The top of Book Cliffs was fun to explore; it was crossed by more ravines than I thought; it wasn't just a flat mesa-top.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Urban (Parking Lot) Boondocking

You have to admire the constitution of campers who can actually sleep in a noisy parking lot in town. Do engines ever get shut off? You get to enjoy trains, boom cars, loudspeakers on the pole lights, semi-trucks pulling up in the middle of the night, and perhaps worst of all, predatory strafing of your RV by the parking lot Zamboni.

So why do it? There are practical advantages such as minimizing driving while accomplishing shopping errands. And there are plenty of $30 per night RV parks that are half as loud as a free parking lot.

There are tricks in parking lots that will get you a few hours of sleep:
1) It is surprising how quiet a semi-truck can be if you are parked aft of its trailer, rather than sideways-adjacent to the engine and Thermo-King refrigerator.
2) It's also surprising how restful it can be to sleep next to a busy freeway, since the sound is so steady.
3) White noise helps quite a bit too. You can use music, a DVD movie, or whatever.
4) Stay up late at night and get up late in the morning. Of course it's pretty hard to make this adjustment when you're used to going to bed at 8 pm. In the summer, a late riser in the morning would miss the time of the day that's worth living for.

Tricks like this help, but it works better to find a dead-end street.

But my mission was accomplished: I have a fear and dread of the unbelievable rheology of wet Mancos Shale. My BLM campsite was at the end of five miles of the stuff, so I wanted out of there while the first winter storm blew through.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Shopping at Cabela's

Several times now, somebody expressed surprise at learning that I was an NFL football fan. They usually say something like,"You don't seem the type," whatever that means.

The same people would probably be surprised that I was excited to learn that Grand Junction CO had a Cabela's store. Soon I was there, poring over the latest and greatest multi-tools and LED flashlights. It's odd that, with so many items in such a gigantic store, it's only these two items that interest me. Besides, I already have a high-end Leatherman multi-tool and never bring it along, because of its weight.

Imagine how easy it would be to criticize female shoppers fawning and coo-ing over some expensive and useless trinket just because it was kyooooooot! The sidewalks of Ouray CO are full of such shoppers.

But one Sunday morning Coffee Girl and I went on a nice hike on that remarkable network of trails than emanates from the town of Ouray. Afterwards I finally found a restaurant that offered good televisions to watch the Sunday afternoon NFL games. What bliss! Sitting there, utterly pleased with the universe, it occurred to me that perhaps I had been too harsh on the bourgeois shopping mavens. After all, they have the DNA of thousands of generations of successful Gatherers in their bodies, just as I had the DNA of Hunters and Warriors in mine.

What is a hike but an exercise in mock hunting? After it, my "hunt" had continued on to a restaurant that would actually let me watch the football game. And what are sports but mock war? Perhaps I was feeling happy because I was acting in a way consistent with the evolution of the human animal. Why then doesn't the female Gatherer/shopper have the same right?

Which brings us back to shopping at Cabela's. Hunting and fishing are dying sports in an increasingly urbanized, uni-sex, environmentalist America. I can only imagine how expensive and restrictive it is to hunt these days, with the Wildlife agencies full of environmental science graduates. Hunting and fishing are sports that boys learn from their fathers, which goes against the entire ethos of feminized, politically-correct America. 

Why then should there be huge mega-stores built around a hunting and fishing theme? Perhaps Cabela's thinks that the 'best defense is a good offense?' Or it could be something more anthropologically significant.

Now that fathers don't even live in the same household as their sons, and work in climate-controlled cubicles instead of ranches, farms, or factories, maybe they have a need for things like big powerful pickup trucks to drive to the cubicle. Perhaps they need even more consolation for their lost masculinity, and Cabela's offers it: the uni-sex role of being a Gatherer (i.e., a shopper), all under the facade of a traditional male image.

If this explanation is correct, there is a sort of poetic justice in it. Now that women are poaching on the traditional male role of raping, burning, and pillaging in the Imperial legions, it's only fair that men should become Gatherer/shoppers.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Heroes, Emergencies, and Second Chances

It's hard to believe we were returning to the scene of the crime, to the foot of Book Cliffs north of Grand Junction CO, where, four years ago, my little poodle ran away in panic from noisy target-practice shooters, and disappeared for fourteen days before he trotted up to an elk hunter's pickup truck. The full story is on the tab, Sad Story at Book Cliffs, at the top of the blog.

His extended life has been a good one. Would he remember this awful place? He seems to remember people and places from one year back, but not four. And besides, he's mostly deaf and blind now.

I stopped the rig about a quarter mile short of the camping turnaround that I remembered all too well, since I wallowed in angst and guilt there for a week, hoping for his return four years ago. At the end of the week I accepted defeat, went to the Grand Junction animal shelter, and adopted Coffee Girl.

We walked the rest of the way in order to inspect the road condition. As we approached Book Cliffs, the little poodle assumed the position and took a nice big poop. Gee, maybe he did remember.



The next morning we started hiking the trail that I remembered from four years ago. The little poodle was acting frisky for an old boy who's almost sixteen and a half years old, so I decided to take him for a ways, until he tired. The trail through the canyon and up Book Cliffs was still dark and cold when Grand Valley and the Colorado Monument, in the background, were bright and sunny.


Sad and desperate memories came back when we reached the overlook where I abandoned the search four years ago: would he stay on this trail in the first place? Why would he keep climbing unless the gun noise was dying down, and I didn't think it was? Surely he wouldn't choose a direct frontal assault on the vertical sections of the cliff? Coffee Girl posed there today, with the rig looking like a small white speck in front of her chest.


But the little poodle didn't tire today. In his youth he would always charge ahead, keeping the leash as tight as a violin string. But in old age he likes to follow behind my feet, since he can't see the trail that well.

I was tempted to let him pose on some of the scenic overlook spots, but a little voice in the back of my head whispered warnings against hubris. It's strange how emergencies usually come about only after a sequence of several misjudgments. It's the last mistake that finally causes the situation to tip into disaster.

Both dogs and I were pumping out the endorphins by now. (And the little voice was telling me that endorphins can be dangerous.) Should we keep going until we reached the top of Book Cliffs? We were getting into the vertical stuff now, about two-thirds of the way up. But would the little poodle have the stamina to return? I had never carried him in my new day-pack, and didn't know how well it would work.

No more chances. We've done enough for today. The Little Hero looks as happy as a pup. It's a good place to declare victory and return.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another Under-rated Pleasure of Camping

Having just gotten camped in a new location, it was time to do something that I hadn't done in a long time: pop the outer door open, while letting the screen door face right at the southern sun. At this time of the year, the sun is getting quite a bit lower; we're only two months from the winter solstice. I'd forgotten how glorious it is feel the Southwest's sun through solar screen. (Years ago, I'd replaced regular RV industry screen with 85% blocking solar screen.)

It's easy to under-estimate how pleasant it is to feel, simultaneously, cool autumn air and warm, moderated sunlight through that solar screen. This might seem like a trivial experience to people who are not familiar with the Southwestern sun, or who spend all summer in air-conditioned domiciles or cars. It might also seem like nothing is accomplished by suffering heat in the summer, without an air-conditioner, only to get the pleasure back in autumn; you could argue that it averages out, over a full year, to a big fat zero. But something is gained by the sheer intensity of this pleasure: life becomes more interesting and dramatic, instead of neutral, boring, and comfortable.

The sun charged up the batteries through the solar panels, while also thermally "charging up" the inside of the RV. But everything was almost too perfect, so instinctively I started to worry about topography robbing me of lawful daylight at the end of day. But it didn't.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Time to Head Down River


Oops. In considering where to go when, I overlooked that I would be camping higher and cooler than the cities in the valley. So it was time to leave the upper Uncompahgre River, "conflow" with the Gunnison River -- isn't conflow what you do at the confluence of two rivers? -- and then "float" down to the Grand River.

What a marvelous experience I owe to the Johnsons over at Box Canyon Blog!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wrinkles of the Western Slope

Contrast is probably the quality that most people value highest in a landscape, since prettiness per se is insipid. Badlands, eroded from Mancos shale, are quite a contrast from the volcanic extrusions in the San Juan mountains. I get to admire both from my campsite on a mesa outside Montrose CO. Sigh, I really don't look forward to flowing downriver this Friday.



Monday, October 17, 2011

Squished by Mountain Weather


Somebody needs to come up with an old saying analogous to 'you can't see the forest for the trees' about mountains. It's hard to appreciate what is happening to a mountain range if you are right in the middle of one and your view is blocked by a mountain. On my little mesa near Montrose CO, I am 25 miles from the edge of the San Juan mountains, so I can appreciate the big picture. During storms the entire mountain range disappears in minutes.

The tiny bright speck in the center is the morning sun reflecting off a building.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Natural Migration Paths in Autumn

How many times have you smiled at a school bus? But I did yesterday. It was labelled as "Gunnison Watershed Something-or-Other". It's rare to see something labelled as XYZ Watershed, but in a state like Colorado it should be common. To finally see "justice" done was a delightful surprise. I smiled myself into a nostalgic fit over it.

So many American rivers start here, although the Colorado River, ironically, isn't one of them. But we needn't rehash the sorry history of that bit of political chicanery, perpetrated in 1922; you can read on it at Wikipedia.

When RVing in Colorado for the first time, many years ago, it was difficult to memorize the names and locations of individual mountain peaks; there are too many of them and the names are not always interesting. So the brain aims at unifying this clutter of details: it groups them into mountain ranges, or studies up on the geology and orogeny of the area, seeking order from the chaos of individual facts. That helped, but only a little.

Seeing the mountains is the main reason why visitors come to Colorado, isn't it? Aha, that's the trap. A single inversion of this type of thinking makes the breakthrough for the frustrated geography nerd: don't visualize the mountains, the high spots; rather, visualize the low spots, the river courses. Stop thinking like a motorist and start thinking like a:


You can carry a simplified sketch around in your head that resembles something you might have drawn in grade school. Halfway between adjacent rivers you can draw in upside-down "V"s, just like a grade-schooler might. Color in the top of the upside-down V with the white crayon. (Funny, I can't remember having white crayons back then. I wonder if little kids have crayons at all these days. Maybe they draw with their damn iPads instead of a box of crayons.)

At any rate, this simplified sketch in your own mind is more mobile than anything GPS or Google Earth can give you, and it doesn't require you to take your eyes off the road when driving in order to access the data. No batteries, either.

Until I saw that school bus with its fine label, I wasn't really sure how to migrate this autumn. But now it would be dishonorable and unnatural to pay attention to random and meaningless highways rather than river courses. Now we will, to paraphrase Lincoln after the Union won the battle of Vicksburg, follow the great Southwestern Father of Waters as it rolls unvexed to the sea.

Very well then, it's time for a quiz, to see if the reader has been paying attention. Let's start in the central western part of the state, near the city of Grand Junction, where the Grand River flows down to Moab, UT; let's circle around the state, going clockwise. Let's see how many you can visualize and if you know what they drain to: the Yampa, North Platte, South Platte, Arkansas, the mighty Rio Grande (Rio Bravo del Norte, actually), San Juan, and Dolores.

How did you do? Ahh, did you catch my omission? Here's a hint: it starts near Colorado's southern border and has a northern name.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Morning Cup of Joe for the Batteries

When a person starts off on round two of their traveling life, they need to stay open-minded and flexible so they can do a better job than in round one, not that round one really needed much improvement. But without improvement and progress, what are we to do with ourselves?

It's easy to become bored and jaded with the progress in gadgets: thinner, lighter, more gigabytes, etc. How about some progress in some other field?

In the traveling biz there has been remarkable progress, back around 2000, when Honda brought out that remarkable line of alternator/ inverter-based generators. Quiet and fuel-sipping.

Of course a chain is no stronger than its weakest link: I'm not sure whether the RV industry has modernized their converter/chargers; they used to just put out 13.6 volts, which can not fully or quickly charge a battery. But there has been remarkable progress in bringing the cost down of real, three stage, battery chargers that put out 14.X volts DC, and twiddle the "X" based on temperature. You can buy one for $60 at Walmart. I bought a Xantrex 40 Amp charger of this kind from DonRowe.com several years ago. Completely pleased.

Now if only there were a little progress in batteries!

Still, I had to smile this morning when I was sucking down the morning cup of joe. I had my little generator running, giving the batteries their dawn cup of joe, starting with 40 amp espresso, no creme. Perhaps I shouldn't even be running the generator at dawn; if I had neighbors I would become unpopular. But I have little patience for solar charging in the winter; it doesn't really get going until 10 a.m.

If only RV bloggers would stop over-praising solar panels! They're useful and worth having, but they're not divine. It's easy to expect too much from them.

In summary: they should encourage the newbies to first buy one of those quiet Honda 1000 watt generators, and then pair it to a modern, three stage charger that puts out 14.1--14.3 volts DC for quick and complete charging. Then over time, a person can add solar panels to complete and maintain the charge during the day, and keep the generator usage to a sensible minimum, perhaps one hour per day.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Chilly Dawn

I step out of the rig before dawn to let my little poodle do his old-man duties. I stand close, guarding him. Off in the distance the sagebrush stands out slightly from the surrounding grass; under the full moon, it looks like a patient, lurking, coyote-sized predator. A full moon does a fine job on a high, lonesome, and wind-less mesa. But all of this had little effect on me. It was the temperature that mattered.

It was chilly of course, but to just the right intensity. It's funny how certain "hardships" stimulate a person. The hardship must be of the right kind and adjusted to the proper intensity. For the first time in several days, the chilliness left me feeling confident as I braced against it.

Perhaps I should celebrate the occasion by rereading Toynbee's chapters on "Challenge and Response." What he described about several societies in different eras -- he was gloriously time-agnostic -- applies just as well to an individual's life. It is the issue that separates an early retiree from a conventional retiree.

Now, there is enough voltage in dawn to see the indigo serrations of the San Juan mountains. What a pageant of eye and skin pleasure each dawn is! Late risers miss so much. They'd better live in town.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

South So Soon?

It might just be a fluke of a small data set, but it seems that RV travelers are already too far south this October. "There he goes again, running down people who have different tastes than himself," say a few readers. But actually, I'm not talking about tastes at all; I'm talking about geography.

North America is 10-20 times smaller in winter than in summer, after taking into account what most travelers desire. This causes two problems: 1) a noticeable population compression in the places that are desirable in winter, and 2) you run out of places to go in the winter. You get tired of the same old places.

Population compression (#1) does not enhance the camping experience unless you enjoy lines, crowds, generators, or higher prices and reservations at RV parks.

Problem #2 is real, but not severe. I like the places that I've gone to, in winters past. Still, there is a limit to how long I can stay interested in places like the Mojave Desert or windy southern New Mexico or West Texas. Southern Arizona is always overcrowded.

The obvious solution is to stay in cooler locations during the shoulder seasons, so that the warm places don't get worn out. Why do so many RVers have such a negative and cynical attitude about cool air? I've spent 20 years of my life downwind of the Great Lakes, so I know how disgusting cold and wet weather can be. But it's the clouds, cold precipitation, and slop that really get to you -- not the thermometer itself. There is a secondary rainy season in the Southwest in mid-winter, but the shoulder seasons are dry and sunny, usually.

Chilly air under sunny skies is one of the great pleasures of the outdoors. You miss that by heading south too soon.


You can also sleep better in cool air, with the windows of the RV shut and blocking a little bit of outside traffic noise.

But no reasoned argument will have any effect on some RVers, who have this cliche image built into their retirement dream: they are stretched out in a lounge chair outdoors; in the background there is a palapa roof and palm trees; a warm tropical breeze blows in from la baia; they have a margarita or a Corona beer in hand; everything is warm, easy, care-free.

And for escapist cliches like this they are willing to put up with the downside.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Escaping from Blog Prison

The challenge for me as a blogger has always been to gradually migrate my readership away from the pure travel genre and towards the topics that I'm interested in enough to write about, as given in the subtitle at the top of the blog. Somehow I have to do this without knowing much about my readers or where they come from; most readers probably still come from RV travel blogs.

A cross-category blog is inherently difficult to match with readers. Perhaps that's why most blogs are "pure-breeds", such as news, politics, financial, vacation-like travel, sports, friends and family, etc.

Imagine the disappointment of a the standard armchair traveler/RV wannabee who stumbles onto my blog. He wants escapist dreams and pretty pictures to help numb the pain of having four more years to go, in his cubicle prison; there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not what I do here. Offering anything but sugary fantasies will come off as being overly-earnest at best, or negative and cynical at worst.

I take independent, non-stereotypical, living and thinking seriously, but I doubt that the average armchair traveler does. But how do I find the right readers? "Alternative lifestyle" is a keyword that matches various wacko stereotypes. "Independence" matches people looking to stay out of nursing homes for another year.

Travel-based experiences are important to me, but that does not mean routine sightseeing, not that there's anything evil with it; but it's too easy and predictable. A real travel experience doesn't take place at arm's length from the windshield; it comes from pushing your envelope both physically and mentally.

There is an old saying in the movie biz that a movie can not be any better than its villain. Similarly, a book-novel has a protagonist and an antagonist; there is a conflict, and resolving that conflict is what the story is all about. An independent and alternative lifestyle should also be a drama about the conflicts between the protagonist (the individualist) and the antagonist (mainstream society and its shackles). A drama is a lot different from an escapist fantasy.

Trying to escape the travel blog pigeonhole has been frustrating, which then causes me to lash out at the mainstream RV traveler, whose supposed "alternative lifestyle" turns out to be false advertising. Recall that 'a cynic is just an idealist who has been disappointed once too often'.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Back Home on BLM Land

I was given fair warning when I started the driveway-guarding gig in Ouray that the late sunrises and early sunsets would take their toll on me. But it's beneficial to experience voluntary, short-term suffering when traveling. It just whips up your appetite for the next thing, and it adds drama. Even Mark, of Box Canyon Blog, had to buy a new and more mobile rig just so he can escape to Arizona in the winter and receive self-administered emergency "heliotherapy treatments". Near the end of the gig, the dogs were becoming despondent.


In fact the sun was perverse on the last day. After a day or two of clouds and rain, the sky finally cracked open. Here's how things looked from Mark's driveway:


Impressive indeed. That was at 2:30 p.m. By 2:38 the sun went behind the western cliff. That did it! I'm outa' here.

I love being back on spacious BLM land. I'd forgotten how much pleasure you can get from small aspects of boondocking, such as orienting your rig so the door faces the morning sun and the "den" window faces sunset. And up here on the mesa, surrounded by nothing more than grass and sagebrush, I get to experience each lawful minute of daylight.


Camping on BLM must be similar to blue-water sailing. It offers the freedom to move and to live without bumping into neighbors, cops, and cars. The visual manifestation of this freedom is horizontal-ness. You see it everywhere.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Just a Bit of Elevation and Light

It's Dawn now. From this cold and lonely mesa in western Colorado I see the city lights, below. I'm surprised how gorgeous they look from this vantage point of only a couple hundred feet above the valley floor. How could so much be gained by so little?

I shouldn't avert my eyes from the ugliness of Montrose, a rather standard sprawling noisy American city, completely dependent on automobiles for transportation. Much of the beauty of those lights comes, not from their color or faint flickering, but from the contrast with the unpleasantness of city life, and from my own detachment from it on this mesa.

There's just enough light to judge the type and extent of the clouds. Day seems real again and full of promise.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Foraging Versus Sightseeing

It hardly seems intuitive to begin an autumn migration by going north, but that is what we did yesterday. Latitude does matter, at least 400 mile chunks of it, and especially at this time of year, but altitude still matters more. The Uncompahgre River drains to the north.

A cynic might argue that half the appeal of a reverse migration is just the feeling that one isn't supposed to do it. Actually, one of the sweetest pleasures can be gotten by noble and voluntary suffering in the Cold before finally relenting and moving towards the Warm. (We all know certain Sybarites of the Road who would never believe this.)

When the dogs and I got out of the van in Montrose CO, the sun felt delicious; but it was the rareness of this pleasure that was most appreciated. How many times does the driver of an un-air-conditioned cargo van actually enjoy warm sun coming through that big windshield? Normally I loathe it, and worry about the heat harming my dogs.

I can't imagine bathers in famous hot springs pools in glamorous overseas spas ever getting more pleasure than I got yesterday from that weak evanescence of heat from the dashboard, vanishing into that wide cold valley, and then vanishing 'like breath into the wind' into the cold blue Colorado sky. So too would it vanish into late afternoon chill when I drove the rig up onto a nearby mesa, for a night of cold, lonely camping. In the longer term this precious heat would vanish when the bittersweet months of autumn congeal into the rigidity of winter.


In Montrose I began a shakedown of the town, while accompanying the dogs on chores of theirs. The satisfaction of the dogs was so noticeable, despite the routineness of their chores. Each sniff of a bush was vitally important to them.

And here I was, getting back into the old traveler's routine of shaking down a new town. I slipped back into it so naturally it was as if I had never left it for three years. But why the surprise? We are animals after all, and are entitled to experience genuine satisfaction in doing our daily chores, just as dogs are. As I walked along I stepped outside myself, and saw an animal doing what he was intended to do. He was foraging for the necessities of life.

Foraging is under-rated as one of the satisfactions of a traveler and camper. It is more common to believe that sight-seeing is a traveler's daily occupation; primarily this idea comes from the tourism industry that wants us to see traveling as visual entertainment for which they sell the tickets.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Colorado Tourism Promotional Postcard


The San Juan Mountains still have plenty of tourists here for the fall color season. I wonder if this is what they had in mind.

Wasn't it Arthur Koestler's Act of Creation that discussed the usefulness of inversion in creativity? Maybe he was on to something. For instance, every windshield tourist is running around the mountains trying to take "breathtakingly beautiful" postcards of autumn colors. Since digital cameras are so good, most of these postcards look pretty much the same, and the world's supply of pixels is depleted for nothing. A yellow leaf is just a yellow leaf.


What if, instead of joining the leaf-peeping hordes, we asked, "What is the ugliest thing we could photograph at this time of year?" Or is that negative thinking? Well at least it is thinking, and a difficult type of thinking it truly is.


For instance I thought wet, disgusting snow coming down in early October might be a suitably perverse subject. But being anti-beautiful is just as difficult as the other side of the coin; perhaps more so, since we can't just imitate somebody else.

The biggest snowflakes fall just above freezing and then instantly melt. It is necessary to find a dark background for them to show up. I tried to play around in "shutter time" control mode on my camera, which is a mode I seldom use, and am not good at.

In fact, the question of "what should I choose to deliberately come up with ugliness" causes the brain to freeze up, even for an ol' cynic and curmudgeon. You can't just take your notions of beauty and multiply them by an algebraically-simple negative one, although there's probably some aesthetician or metaphysician who would argue that you could.

It still seems as though something good might eventually come from this project. Let us try to keep an open mind; after all, ugliness is in the eye of the beholder.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tolstoy as a Traveler?

I got on this "What is Art" kick because it seemed that I might find something in the general subject of art that I could apply advantageously to the Art of Travel, which is part of my job. Remember that this blog is not aimed at sight-seeing vacationers or RV newbies.

I used to feel a bit disappointed that art, that is, beauty, had so little effect on me. But rereading Tolstoy's essay puts my mind at rest. Perhaps beauty is over-rated. If Tolstoy was correct there is a completely different way to approach the subject of art.

Finally in Chapter 5 Tolstoy's What is Art? (Google books) gets to the affirmative side of the question.
What is art, if we put aside the conception of beauty, which confuses the whole matter?
But first, one last exclusion:
A man may express his emotions by lines, colors, sounds, or words, and yet may not act on others by such expression; and then the manifestation of his emotions is not art.
The peculiarity of [art], distinguishing it from intercourse by means of words, consists in this, that whereas by words a man transmits his thoughts to another, by means of art he transmits his feelings.
In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure, and to consider as one of the conditions of human life.

The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man's expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it.

Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of external signs, hands on to others feelings that he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings, and also experience them.
The infective transfer of feelings from one person to another is what Tolstoy calls art, whether it be a joke, a painting, or a tune. It surprises me that the stern old beard would admit that telling a joke was art, since his writings were hardly ever humorous except possibly when he was ridiculing German intellectuals.

Perhaps his favorite movie would be Punchline, with Tom Hanks, Sally Fields, and John Goodman. It was a marvelous drama about the serious side of being a stand-up comedian. In one scene, the most promising comic of a certain nightclub, played by Tom Hanks, was practicing during the day at a hospital. In his audience were doctors, nurses, and patients. His humor was such powerful medicine to the patients that you couldn't tell whether they were laughing or crying. "Infective" transfer of feelings, indeed.

The other day I finally got it straight why I've been enraptured by ridgelines for so many years, despite other forms like mountains, beaches, or red rock arches being the standard objects of adoration. The experience of traversing ridgelines is the best for appreciating -- that is, being affected by -- the rest of the world, and this is more significant than the visual beauty of the ridgelines themselves.

Perhaps this captures the essence of the art of travel: of pursuing those activities and getting into a mindset that raise our sensitivities and infectabilities from what is around us when we travel; not just pretty scenery, but conversations with other people, experiences with animals, food and fitness, mental exercise, lifestyle experimentation and control of our daily habits, and the complete drama of the outdoor world.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bambi Unbothered

Several times my little poodle has made a bad situation worse by not barking when he was in danger, so when I heard him bark outside my trailer today, I was both relieved and alarmed. Sure enough, it was the deer that likes to munch on the suckers of a dead stump on the Johnsons' driveway. She has two half-grown offspring who travel with her.

Since the little poodle can barely see, his interaction with mama Bambi was probably accidental. I charged out of the trailer and saw Mama "facing off" with the little poodle. She wasn't particularly afraid of me.

Actually, I think it's in the interests of any wildlife to stay frightened of Man; otherwise, they will hang around too much and eventually get run over by a car. So I thought I was doing the deer a favor by sending my 40 pound Australian kelpie, Coffee Girl, to chase the threesome out of the yard.

But mama deer was completely fearless. She faced Coffee Girl head on, and wouldn't yield an inch. Coffee Girl actually got underneath mama deer, where she could have been kicked and injured. You could tell that Coffee Girl was confused, if not positively insulted, by this impudent cervine's unwillingness to act, uhh, subservient.

But the dogs and the deer ended the encounter with no injuries. Now please, let no Bambi-lovers tell me that I was being cruel. Coffee Girl is not the threat that a car is.