Showing posts with label Arizona. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arizona. Show all posts

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Pilgrims of Gringo Road

They plod past my driveway, the last one before heading out to the remaining 750 miles of the Arizona Trail. One part of me wants to open up to the spirit of adventure emanating from them. But it is difficult.

It would be easy to fantasize about camel trekking in Morocco, or riding long sections of the Silk Road, or sea kayaking between Asia and North America, across the Bering Strait.

But walking, plodding, and trodding in Arizona heat? They are visualizing something that I can't, although I would like to. All I can see is a slow-moving sport that lacks all pizzazz or sex appeal. Their sport is the perfect activity for a puritan's Sunday.

Perhaps I am being unfair, for demographic and cultural reasons. Hikers tend to be Greens, urbanites, Democrats, veggies, etc. 

A few of them had real panache. For example I have seen a couple hike with silver umbrellas fastened to their backpacks. Correction: parasols. And of course that appeals to the romantic imagination of a retro-grouch.



One day I even saw a man and woman trying to coax their German short-haired pointer across a cattle gate on the Trail. Oh sure, I rolled my eyes, thinking, "Damned city slickers. Their dawg ain't even seen a cattle gate before!"

But at least they had a dog, rather than a cat on a leash, which is about what you would expect from a city slicker. Later in the day I ran into the same couple in the town post office. They had wrapped duct tape over the dog's pads to try to protect them. I told them about real hiking shoes for dogs, made by Neo-Paws. She was interested, but it was too late to do her any good.

On another day I saw a hiker running from side to side on the road (the Trail, for a short distance). She was picking up empty plastic bottles. Didn't she know she could buy a plastic bottle at the upcoming grocery store?

But there was something else: she seemed so ostentatious about it. Was she a Green picking up litter, and enjoying it a bit too much -- perhaps because somebody would see her? The more you think about this whole activity, the more it seems analogous to religious pilgrimages of yore. Weren't they supposed to Suffer, even if they had to indulge in self-flagellation to do it?

But what Sins are these modern urbanite metro-sexual secularists trying to expiate? How does it work, that is, how many units of sin are erased by how many units of heat and drudgery?  

For those who haven't seen it, I recommend Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." The march of the flagellants might make quite an impression on you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Annual Battle of Classicists Versus Romantics

During my annual visit to Mayberry-for-Hippies, AZ, I fall back into the polemics of a classical approach to life, rather than the romantic approach. Oddly enough, it is the scenery that crystallizes the issue for me.


This is ranch country, as well as mountains and forests. Therefore it is useful for grazing cattle. That leads to food, a practical and unromantic thing. The land isn't just here to gush over as scenery, although in fact, I love it as scenery.

 
It has never interested me much to try to 'solve' the conundrum of classical versus romantic. A reductionist approach to life seems unappealing.  To hell with looking for magic recipes that explain everything. 

All that interests me is to watch this dualism operate on different things, and to see how the balance changes over the years. Indeed, I do become more classical every year, but that doesn't mean that the classical approach to life is some sort of philosophical monad. 

A scissors with two countervailing and reciprocating blades cuts paper better than a knife.

In the mean time, chalk one up for the importance of visual representations of abstractions that would otherwise seem like uninteresting homework.  In fact a local artist has painted some spots around here where I may have paused the mountain bike, just to admire. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What If I Were a Car Camper?

Every day I travel by a solitary car camper. Sometimes I feel like walking up and introducing myself. But I never have.

Is this just bourgeois prejudice, looking at somebody who appears to be a low-life? It could be, but it could also be reasonable caution. How am I supposed to know which topic lights the guy up like a firecracker? And how will I escape his rant, gracefully?

Another motive is self-protection. His situation seems sad, and I don't really want to wallow in it. The other day was a big day for him. I saw him walking around his car a little bit. At one point, he bent down and tied his shoes. That is the most action he has had in a week. The rest of the day, he just sits in his car and looks out the windshield.

There could be some genuine drama happening in that car. But who would know? Who could be affected by it vicariously, if everybody is afraid of him?

I always feel ashamed of myself when I go by him. Are he and I in the same category -- desert rat boondockers?
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In contrast, walking by a female car-camper makes me feel rather good. She is a talented musician and a dog lover -- she might have four or five of them in her tent and jeep.  She is always doing something. I have talked to her a couple times when her dogs came out to say hello to mine, as we biked by.

Perhaps the contrast comes from the vibrations she gives off that seem to say she only does this seasonally, and it makes no practical sense to buy a regular RV for a short stint in the desert.

At first, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Four dogs. What do they use for common sense?" But the more accustomed to her I became, the more it seemed like she was offering an authentic, anthropological performance that befits the human female. I like to think of people as a type of wildlife. 

Previously I had complained that I couldn't see any positive role for female campers. Most of them seem not only useless, but to be outright liabilities. In contrast, this woman was doing what they have always done: staying busy with three things at once, providing existence, survival, comfort, security, and pleasure to the other creatures in her life.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thoughts for a Rainy Day in Arizona

The woman at the bakery was quite serious when she complained about Quartzsite business being down this year. Well, I was certainly doing my part to help, considering how many times I have been into the bakery. Perhaps she should stay open more than four days per week? And really, being closed on Saturday! But what do I know about running a successful business?

Still, perhaps we should all do our part, and try to come up with fresh business ideas to bring the crowds back to Quartzsite. The only sure winner I can think of is ... drum roll... clip-on dreadlocks. Why should millennial hitchhikers from California get all the babes? Old guys need a chance, too.
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A hard rain last night. How strange that I felt so resentful. There is supposed to be a secondary rainy season in the Sonoran Desert in mid-winter. And after all, I appreciate green ocotillo stalks and spring wildflowers. Since I prudently stayed camped on desert pavement, there was little chance of getting stuck in the mud.

So I should have enjoyed the rain. Perhaps I am no better than the tourists (from cities) who I usually poke fun at, as nature-frauds. Or I could take the easy way out and blame it on "genes." White people have usually lived in dismal climates of cold, clouds, and mud. It is hard for us to believe that we can get too much sunlight.

Still, it is strange how difficult it is to follow along with what makes sense.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Making Peace With Quartzsite

A big part of an independent lifestyle is being able to appreciate things. Now and then I see a sudden jump-up in my appreciation of something -- many times a location. The more general question is what is holding me back? But let's consider a tangible example.

I have always found Quartzsite AZ difficult to appreciate. Most of the junk for sale isn't such a great bargain. Besides, what is so great about a clutter of miscellanea and detritus?

On the other hand, it has been easy to appreciate the fine winter weather: cool dry air with no insects. Quartzsite is not too crowded in December. Library privileges are offered to visitors.

This year I have made better use of the plexus of ATV trails that one of the camping areas has. Mornings are cool, so the motorhead crowd waits until afternoon. (And even then, it still ain't bad.) That makes these trails excellent in the mornings for mountain biking with my dog. 

I don't know why I overlooked this advantage, in the past. Perhaps the highway noise bothered me. Noise from an interstate highway is rather steady after all, so I could have tried harder to think of it as white noise. Besides, it drowns out the neighbor's generator.

With wider tires, a mountain biker can adapt to the rocky trails. And you would never have to worry about mud! I pedal along, fantasizing about bigger and wider tires. Ah well, that's OK. Delayed gratification is fun. 

(People who still have 26" wheels are starting to feel like losers. Even better than a standard 29" wheel, would be a 29er bike with the wider "Boost" hubs. These bikes accept a 27.5" X 2.8" wide tire, as well as a standard width 29" tire. They also eliminate the front derailleur by using 1 X 11 gearing.

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Epilogue: I take it all back! Quartzsite lost its veterinarian. Now it's a long drive to Havasu or Yuma. A grand total of one in Blythe. Imagine the problems with getting in to see a vet in January when the dashboard dog population spikes!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Body Language

Perhaps every dog owner is a bit like the parents of a human: they want their offspring to succeed where they failed, or at least, missed their opportunities. That must be the explanation why I get so much pleasure from sitting in the shade in front of the 'Chatterbox Cafe', in Mayberry-for-Hippies, AZ. My dog has become the official 'meet and greet' dog, as befits her name, Coffee Girl.

Try to imagine being a computer-graphics expert who works for Pixar and writes software code for the physiognomy of the face. Imagine doing that for a dog who is immensely popular: an open mouth, a wagging tail, stamping paws, and other gyrations of the body.

But if I were really wise, I would practice that on myself. She is popular, while I never have been. (Perhaps I need to look less serious and professorial, and relax the permanent scowl in the ligatures of my facial muscles.)

The actual geometry and mechanics might be simpler for a human than for a dog. But it was not always so. Recently I rewatched "Gigi". Despite the tawdry plot of a courtesan-in-training and rich male appreciators, the cast performed with such tact and grace that the whole thing went over well. I smiled at one of Gigi's lessons: her worldly aunt taught her not to just plop down into a chair, but rather, to "insinuate herself" into the chair.


Thank heavens, for little girls...

So many mannerisms of that type have been lost from our levelled, plain, and utilitarian culture. It is fun to imagine how the most PC unisex males of the modern world would respond to a now-extinct 'lady', such as an ante-bellum southern belle or a Victorian lady with a parasol.

Try to imagine writing the Pixar software code for all the body language in a Victorian lady's parasol. What actually happens when it says, "Not so fast, Mister"; or "You've got a chance if you did a bit better"; or "Hey there, Big Boy."


But since modern female biological units have voluntarily relinquished the parasol and impoverished today's body language, we are free to consider other applications for the parasol. For instance, everyday I look out from my mooch-docking gig onto several people walking northbound on the Arizona Trail. Their hats have been interesting. One looked like a straw hat for a peasant picking rice in IndoChina.

Once a fellow went by with a silver umbrella. What a genius he was! The marketing departments of the outfitting companies need to get to work and revive the parasol, with all the right images. 'Parasol' means 'for the sun' in Spanish -- a lovely word, but it conjures up the image of a feminine accessory in a long-gone era.  'Umbrella' is just the diminutive for shade/shadow in Italian and Latin. Also, it conjures up the image of rain -- not appropriate for the Arizona Trail in spring. 

Therefore I suggest that a new outdoor equipment bandwagon should be started using the term 'sombrella', invoking the Spanish word, sombra (shade), such as in 'sombrero'. Maybe it could be combined with a hiking pole. Invest now!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Clumsy Coatimundi

Sometimes I think my dog, Coffee Girl, is too cosseted. For instance I usually let her off-leash on mountain bike rides unless the road has faster traffic, or she is bothering free-range cattle. On the return trips later in the morning, she also gets snapped back on, since she doesn't care by then. When it is over 75 F and the rattlesnake risk is higher, she also gets snapped on, whether she likes it or not.

(By the way, the best way to control a dog when mountain biking, is to put a carabiner on the end of her lease, and snap it to a belt around your waist.)

A couple mornings ago, we were riding and running on an enjoyable, recently-graded road. Then a long-tailed animal darted across the road about 50 yards ahead of us. I recognized it as a coatimundi, a type of raccoon with a long monkey-tail. It was only the second one that I've ever seen. Naturally Coffee Girl threw all caution to the wind and took off after the coatimundi.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on the coati. Not surprisingly, this coatimundi climbed up the first tree it could find. Not surprisingly Coffee Girl had her hackles out at 90 degrees and was whimpering/barking with the strangest sounds she has ever made.

A long-tailed coatimundi. I never realized how difficult it is to take a photo when the brightness of the sky drowns the subject of the photograph.
The tree-ed coatimundi was behaving oddly, too. It was about 15 feet up in the tree, but it kept trying to climb higher. The branches kept getting weaker like that; and for a moment I thought the crazy animal was going to fall out of the tree and land right on the barking fool dog's head.

Then things really took a bizarre turn. The beastie starting climbing down the tree! What was it thinking? That some referee was going to blow the whistle for a 'time-out', and that my 44 pound dog was just going to grant a 20 pound prey 'safe passage' to the next tree?

The coatimundi looking down on the damn fool dog, barking her head off.

The damn fool coatimundi descending the tree, where my dog was waiting for it.
A few seconds before we could find out, I let out a "Come here!", the likes of which my dog has never heard before, and she came back to me to get snapped back on her leash. The coatimundi then scrambled over to the next tree.

What was going on with that creature? They are supposed to be excellent at tree climbing. Perhaps it had never been chased by a dog before, and thought the dog could climb as well; and that it needed to climb higher to get safe?

At any rate, no harm was done to anybody. And the coatimundi now understands dogs a little better. Gee, do you think when Trump gets his wall built, that coatimundis will stop sneaking up from Central America to invade the USA?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

John Wayne's "Advice" to Travelers

Some time ago I mentioned that I had little appreciation for John Wayne's performances, other than as Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit". A commenter or two agreed.

Perhaps it was the roles and the writing more than his acting. To me, he merely had some mannerisms, such as the funny walk, and verbal trademarks: "Tryin' don't get it done, Mister!", "Ready? I was born ready", "Sorry don't get it done", etc.

So it came as quite a surprise when I watched his "Hondo", and saw him actually doing something useful. He was working as a ferrier, getting the coals and horseshoes hot, and banging the horseshoes on an anvil. He appeared quite expert at these operation, too, not that I could really tell. But it was gratifying to at least see him pretending to make a living as a cowboy, instead of just looking tall in the saddle, having shoot-outs, and talking macho.

This seemed important. I've been at this full-time RV lifestyle for 19 years now. Long ago I renounced the attitude of a city tourist looking for pretty scenery, and have always been on the lookout for ways to make the lifestyle seem more authentic and interesting on a long-term basis.

For instance, when a guy goes mountain biking, what makes it seem authentic rather than just an activity for weekend warriors from the big city? That question is certainly timely, because the winter social-hiking season is over now, and the mountain biking season has started again. (Hiking is just too hot over 50 F.)

A local told me that a certain road we had once hiked has been graded, and is nice and smooth. Such events are rare, and deserve to be seen as small miracles. So off we went. (I thought of John Wayne's dog in "Hondo".) And indeed the dirt road was pleasantly smooth.

Something unusual came around the bend: a man on a mule. He was surrounded by a pack of eight hounds, each with a GPS antenna sticking out of their brain. He was dressed in kit that would have made John Wayne envious: a great Western hat, leather chaps, some kind of vest, and a six-shooter on his side. Even though these things sound a bit kitsch, they looked good on him. Maybe it was because they were dirty. They looked useful, authentic.

We talked for five minutes before I noticed he had his quarry strapped to the back of the mule. He was a hunter and a rancher. He also did some guiding for rich city-slickers -- hence the clothing. As always, I tried to earn the respect of guys like this by asking some halfway-intelligent questions. The trick is to put entertainment and prettiness aside, and treat nature as a serious and potentially dangerous business. But such guys see mountain biking as a city slicker sport, so it took some persistence to earn his respect.

And as always with these guys, he had some tall tales, which I listened to, eagerly. It's funny ain't it? Suburban coffee-table-book sentimentalist environmentalists think there is something holy about endangered species. Non-human species, that is. But I would rather see people and their vanishing way of life as precious. Like that man and his mule.

Back in the day... at 15 years of age, the Little Cow-puncher still cast a long shadow across the golden West.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Choosing Great Land for Mountain Biking and Camping

One of the great advantages of any sport is being able to do it anywhere. Not literally, of course. But if your sport fits a wide variety of landscapes, roads, and trails, then you have chosen well.

For instance, the sport of hiking needs trails in dense forests or gnarly chaparral. This may cause you to overlap with people you don't want to be around, especially if you are a dog-lover. But in short grasslands, ponderosa forests, and most deserts you can get off the trail.

Mountain biking benefits from the right topography, but it doesn't really need official trails. (This post is about mountain bikes that you pedal.) Many parts of the country are criss-crossed with dirt roads that are great fun to mountain bike on. It's true that the motorsport crowd will be on those roads on summer holiday weekends. Sometimes there will be more traffic than you want even on Saturdays. But by Sunday noon, the weekend warriors will decamp for the long drive back to the metropolitan hell-hole.

Years ago I learned to ignore official mountain bike trails. They were misnomers. They were actually just pre-existing hiking trails, and were far too steep and rough even for a fully-suspended mountain bike. But I've started to use real trails more, the last couple years. Sometimes it is a pleasant surprise to find trails that must have been designed/built by people who have actually ridden a mountain bike.

I'm in one of those areas now, the White Mountains and the Mogollon Rim, from Show Low AZ to Alpine AZ.  It is under-rated and probably always will be. Because it is so high, 6500--9000 feet, it is the icebox of Arizona. Because it is flattish, its scenery is insufficiently postcardish for the mass tourist, the average RVer, and most hikers. But their loss is the mountain bikers gain.

Great semi-open  ponderosa forests, lots of camping, Verizon cell coverage, and city services.

But the real treat is the White Mountain Trail System. Who is responsible for such a success? The Forest Service? Well anything is possible, I suppose.  There is also a volunteer organization, www.tracks-pinetop-lakeside.org . I am looking into joining them and volunteering on trail maintenance.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Spurt of Appreciation for Living Geology

In a Star Trek episode in Season 3, some aliens moved at extremely accelerated speeds, so fast in fact that the Enterprise crew couldn't even see them. They could only hear an insect-like buzz when the aliens went by. It also worked in reverse: to the aliens, the Enterprise crew were frozen, static.

That captures the disconnect between a human observer and geology. I have always wanted to be more knowledgeable and interested in geology, but something got in the way.

While camped on the edge of the ponderosa forest near Springerville AZ, recently, I was lured to the road that climbed a large volcanic knoll (aka, cinder cone). It was an easy hike. What a grand view you can get from a few minutes of hiking and a couple hundred feet of elevation gain! That is especially true near some kind of boundary, in this case the ponderosa forest/grasslands boundary at 7500 feet.

From my cinder cone I could see 15 more cinder cones in the Springerville volcanic field. Since they were in the grasslands, they had a weird tawny mammary appearance. I didn't photograph them because they weren't really impressive in the usual trivial postcard sense.

But the view offered something more important: the ability to imagine geology. Instead of the eyes glazing over with boredom when you read a series of words like 'Pleistocene', or see a sequence of numbers like 2.4 millions years, etc., I was able to grab onto the scene mentally. Why, the newest volcanic cinder knolls were only a few hundred thousand years old.

More helpful than the newness was the sheer number in view at one time. What if I were standing on this same volcanic cinder cone, and looking to the east? That is where the newbie would be likely to pop out, because of the westward drift of the continental plate. How quickly would the baby volcano be born? It would probably glow red at night.

Imagine hot red splat shooting off into a cold, dark sky. How high? Then it falls back down -- as a still warm rock? -- and builds the cinder cone's height, to be hiked up and enjoyed by some other human, when my own bones have mouldered back into the soil. Food for grass.

Could I stand on this cone and see several other cones glowing at once? Ahh, wouldn't that be grand! And would I actually be in danger from their expulsions? 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Balanced Scenery

'Balance' is a subtle form of beauty in a landscape, but it is a real one. It is also a rare one in the West. When people show postcards of western scenery and describe it as 'breathtakingly beautiful', they are being narrow and philistine. What they mean is that something in landscape -- hopefully reddish -- is freakishly large and vertical.

The truth is that much more balanced scenery exists in the East and the South, and a little bit in the Great Lakes region. Imagine a place that actually has pretty forests full of a variety of trees that have leaves (!),  a creek, a barn, and some productive fields. In most of the West (other than the Willamette Valley in Oregon) forests are nothing but dreary monocultures of some species of needle-tree.

The lack of balance and variety in the West just means that I have learned to appreciate those rare places where it can be found. One of those places is southeastern Arizona. That is the theme of today's postcard.


Monday, March 9, 2015

What is Architecture?

Perhaps a recent commenter was correct in thinking I wouldn't learn much about being an architect just from re-reading Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead."  But at least the book has me thinking in terms of architecture, a different perspective for me. But let's resist rushing off to build philosophical skyscrapers...


1. My host in Patagonia took me on a walk to the ruins of a stucco hunting-cabin. It was used as recently as 15 years ago, but now Mother Nature is rapidly reclaiming it. The main room was about 50% bigger than my converted cargo trailer.


Spartan? Not compared to the Outdoors where the hunters spent much of their day. 

Beautiful? Not really. The appliances and materials are not significantly different than modern ones. There are no exotic shapes, structures, or colors.

So then why did I feel a small lump in my throat when inspecting this little cabin and the neglected cemetery outside it?
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2. Down the street from me there is a house that I fawn over every day. Somewhat old, but not to the point of being "historical", cute, or exotic; a simple gable roof-line of corrugated metal; nice porches on two sides, held up by wooden poles.

Although the house is beautiful in a classic ranch sort of way, no architect would be the least impressed with it. 'Beauty' doesn't seem like the right issue. This house exudes integrity, somehow.

It seemed strange to be so bowled over by something as stately and sedate as 'admiration.'
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3. Down the street from my rental lot in Yuma there was a house that made me flutter my eyelashes every time I walked by. It was just a block-shaped stucco house, but they had huge overhangs on the east and north side. They also had a redundancy of arches that might seem pointless to some people.

Imagine finishing a bicycle ride with the boys on a warm morning in Yuma. You are trying to make the season last longer before you flee north, where it is cold and rainy until July 5.  You sit in that luxurious shade and catch any breeze the comes through the arches. How glorious!

On my daily dog walk in the desert, there was one crucial angle where I could actually see through three layers of arches. Everyday this inflamed my imagination. Recall Edmund Burke's "...The Sublime and Beautiful...":
"Judgment is for the greater part employed in throwing stumbling blocks in the way of the imagination, in dissipating the scenes of its enchantment, and in tying us down to the disagreeable yoke of our reason.

Hardly any thing can strike the mind with its greatness, which does not make some sort of approach towards infinity; which nothing can do whilst we are able to perceive its bounds...

 A clear idea is therefore another name for a little idea."
Three layers of arches can inspire so much? Well, we use only three dots of ellipsis in mathematical notation, when describing an infinite series. I guess that those three layers suggested infinity to me as I walked off into the desert. The remarkable thing is how emotional and exciting it was.
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4. Rarely does a normal house make a positive impression on me. The rare exception occurred once when visiting a Canadian couple in Loreto, Baja California.  A house with at least five different degrees of indoorsiness! Other than that, the house was normal and uninteresting.
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Perhaps it is time to come up for air. Think about examples like this or other rare structures that actually inspired you over the years. Next time, let's put it all together and try to explain things. 
 


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Falling in Love with the Half Beautiful

Looking back on a winter in the desert, it is gratifying to learn how to appreciate it more -- no, not the postcards of saguaro cactus or red sunsets. Those present no challenge to an experienced traveler. Rather, it is the touch-feel of harsh rocks, rocks that almost cause your hands to bleed if you lose your balance on a trail and put your hands down, to regain your balance.

Perhaps the "credit" should go to the youthful orogeny of volcanic sky islands. But when you are out there, immersed in the sheer horribleness of it, you can't help but think that aridity is the cause. Surprisingly you see that rocks are somewhat rounded in arroyos that flow only once per year, if even that often. Ironically that is where aridity makes it greatest impression.
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By this time of the year we have started the Great Loop. We've moved up to 4000 foot grasslands in southeastern Arizona. My friend in Patagonia was boasting of the winter rain, so I came here expecting verdancy. But little was to be found. My dog and I did a long mountain bike loop the other day. I was overwhelmed, as usual, by universal tawniness in these parts. Tawniness doesn't seem like it should be impressive, at least not like floods, storms, and volcanoes.

Grass seldom responds to winter rains in the Southwest. It ain't even tempted. It waits for the monsoons of late summer to "verde" up. Until then a horseman or mountain biker must surrender to what is actually here. At first you resist all the dry stickery stuff and sepia tones.


There is more annual rainfall here than in the desert, or grass wouldn't be growing in the first place. But ironically it seems dryer here than in the desert because the vegetation is 100 times thicker. 

Our species is not a ruminant that can digest grass, nor can our eye-brains feast easily on grasslands. We want something easier, something more like a photo cliche with a bar code on it. But with persistent effort you can see these tawny-wastes as glorious.

Think of the freedom of movement that grasslands give animals and humans. It was the great inland sea to ancient and medieval Eurasia. It enabled the Silk Road, finally leading to communication between East and West. It enabled our starving ancestors from over-crowded Europe to own their own farms. It led to the fabled trails of the pioneers. And while thinking of this, contrast it with the horribleness of overgrown, thicket-like forests.



Even more, there is a beauty to a Balance between the useful and the merely pretty. What results is a natural experience that has integrity and authenticity. 

What are mountains and deserts good for? McMansion subdivisions, and that is all. It is only the people of a spoiled, post-industrial, and over-populated civilization who could see such places as beautiful. Such lands have contributed very little to civilization. 

This is the sort of experience an outdoor traveler should want over and over: a place where there is just enough easily-recognized beauty to arouse your eye-brain, and then the rest is up to your imagination and the sweaty straining of your body. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Making Hiking Sexier than Oatmeal

If done thoughtlessly or imitatively, the sport of hiking is about as exciting as a breakfast of store-brand instant oatmeal that is prepared with luke-warm, soft water. Of course oatmeal can be sexed-up with more texture, fruit, nuts, and yogurt. Learning how to do the same to hiking has been a long-term project for me.

One of the tricks of the trade is to take a more "naturalistic" approach. Recently I had an opportunity to do an unusually fine job of that with two boondocking friends, of bus crash fame. We walked toward some jagged Yuma mountains, right from the front door, at sunrise, with tribal "associate members," aka dogs. 

But we weren't on our way to a stereotypical peak-bagging hike on an official list of Top Ten hikes in the area. Rather, we were headed up a large arroyo, delineated by harsh brown mountains. When you look at the area on Google maps, you can't tell ridgelines from declivities. It's as if the land was a piece of crumpled aluminum foil that was illuminated with a flashlight in a dark room. You must move Google's hand icon to the spot and read the altitude.

Let's hope they weren't just doing this hike to humor me.  The scenery turned out surprisingly good. We were also relieved to find/lose/re-find a faint trail (made by whom?) along the arroyo. (There were no signs of course.) This made walking easy, both directions. The mountain walls on both sides were almost canyon-like. The rocks were so sharp to touch that you would have needed gloves. But the rocks in the arroyo were half-rounded and easy on the dogs' paws. 

There was precious little vegetation except along the arroyo, where the trees were surprisingly large. Even though the weather on this winter hike was perfect, the morning sun eventually climbed over the ghastly walls to heat up the trail, enough to imagine the horror of Yuma's summer heat. 

We had already been surprised a couple times, would we be lucky enough to stumble onto a spring or even the tiniest trickle of that magical liquid dribbling out of an untouchably sharp rock? 

Alas, that didn't happen. Nor did we find the fabled Southeast Passage through the mountains, despite some false hope along the way. It didn't really matter. When we had had enough, we sat down and enjoyed a snack in the shade. The descent was pleasant as it always is, in an arroyo.

I am not anti-camera, and in fact, even brought mine along. There would have been a couple opportunities to use it, too. But I didn't. Visual entertainment is not rubbish, but it is irrelevant. The satisfaction to be gotten along the arroyo is an autochthonous one: a Dread of sun and heat and the Ecstasy of water.  

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I had promised my friends that rains were soft at this time of year, the secondary rainy season in the Southwest, and that they should camp right down in the arroyo, on the nice rounded cobble. A couple nights later they claimed to hear a foot of water flowing over the nice rounded cobble. (It was the middle of the night, and I suspect they were dreaming.) What could be more wonderful than to wake up to water flowing over your campsite? Shame on them for not appreciating that. Still they won quite a few brownie points for their camping and hiking skills over their two week stint. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Seasons Can Be "Complementary Lifestyle Modules"

Once again I am in Yuma, wondering if there is a business where I can put my brain into cold storage for the winter. 

And why not, I ain't got no use for it, anyhow -- at least not for the next couple months. In fact the intellect is over-rated, as my winter lifestyle will prove. My enjoyment of life will be physiological and anthropological: I will be roadie-cycling with the single best cycling club in the Southwestern winter.

As you can tell, I just finished my first club ride, came home and took a navy-style shower, popped "The Big Country"  into the DVD player, and took a deep sag in front of it. (Notice I did not say 'nap.')

There is a real satisfaction that comes from changing your lifestyle in the winter, rather than merely changing your geographical location. What is the marginal utility of one more location to an RVer after 50 locations, the rest of the year? [*]

But if he can spot some deficiency in his lifestyle the rest of the year, and if he can somehow come up with the complementary pro-s and con-s in the winter, well then, he has constructed the perfect 12 month lifestyle.

In my particular case, I experience more pretty scenery than a sensible human being would need. I know that Life's Little Adventures and Box Canyon Blog won't agree with me on this issue. Wonderful (and unique) people though they be, and as happy with their lifestyles as they are, they still suffer from a serious substance-abuse problem: pretty scenery is their heroin. (grin) Or it could be that they just don't invoke the concept of diminishing marginal utility as the Prime Directive of their blogs.

Thus in the winter I head to Yuma, one of the few places in Arizona that is visually uninteresting, if not positively ugly. Let my eyeballs and camera rest for a couple months.

The rest of the year I disperse camp, mountain bike, and walk arroyos with my dog, who is of course ridiculously happy about it. But unintentionally I live the life of recluse. I've tried various approaches to overcoming that; they were about 5--10% successful. 

Perhaps I will never solve this "problem." So be it. Life is too short to worry about the same old issues year after year. Whatever disappointment I feel in this one department of life can be turned to advantage by showing up in Yuma and riding with the road cycling club. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!
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[*] Isn't it strange how the prophets of the RV blogosphere, imbued with all their Higher Forms of Wisdom, can so easily see the folly of the conventional lifestyle with its insatiable demand for one more gadget or one more granite counter-top. 

But they cannot see the pointlessness of one more location, after pushing their geographical "channel button" 100 times per year.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Cycle-Sauntering with Benji and Thoreau in Pata-Goofie, AZ

After a successful winter of deliberately pursuing a lifestyle (in Yuma, AZ) that complements the other three seasons, I thought it would be effortless to get back to the normal lifestyle of traveling, RV dispersed camping, and mountain biking on public lands in the Southwest. Much to my surprise it is taking some deliberate effort. I am not complaining. The sheer momentum of living in any fixed way narrows a person and starts to make them inflexible. 

I want to live deliberately, as Thoreau promised on his way to Walden. For some reason, the modern interpretation of Thoreau ignores the word 'deliberately', and visualizes Thoreau's lifestyle as a solitary hermit, talking to the animals, living on fruits and nuts, and posing as a "nature fakir" by walking around the woods of Concord MA in a polartec loincloth.

Thoreau's short essay, "Walking," is worth reading. At least the beginning. Unfortunately he then meanders away from his theme.
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks -- who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going à la Sainte Terre," to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer," a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds;
Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all;
For every walk is a sort of crusade...

We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return -- prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.
But Merriam-Webster gives a different etymology for 'saunter': it comes from a Middle English word that means 'to muse.' Thoreau's religious imagery might be misleading. I really do prefer the modern definition: "to walk about in an idle or leisurely manner : STROLL..."

I see what Thoreau was trying to do in this essay, but I don't want to go to his "Holy Land" when sauntering. But let it be sentimental, nostalgic, and leisurely. 'Sauntering' usually refers to a style of walking, but most of the USA is too spread out for that. It's actually easier to go cycle-sauntering. Appreciating this kind of sauntering to the fullest was made easier by following a winter of semi-racing with crazy old buzzards in Yuma.

It also helped to be in Pata-Goofie, AZ, a small town where I have a long term friend. Think of it as Mayberry for old hippies. Let your mind meander off to Lake Wobegon and the Chatterbox Cafe, or to the opening of the original "Benji" movie.
Riding bikes used to be a part of summer in America. Today of course you would be arrested for this.

I jumped on the mountain bike, after a 3-4 month hiatus, and pedaled from the grasslands down towards town.


My dog, Coffee Girl, is normally leashed to an external belt around my hip, but here I let her run down the dirt road at full gallop. What bliss!

We were announced at the grassy knoll of the RVinos by their two "guard" dogs, Carly and Jake, who are friends and team mates of Coffee Girl. 


Down to town we continued. You are doing something last done when you were a little squirt on your bicycle, during summer vacation, looking for a puddle to ride through after an afternoon thunderstorm.

Long ago...despite looking into the sun, a sibling was happy with her "new" bike
We checked out the bird sanctuary; then the knee-deep creek that re-emerges from underground. No water dog like Carly and Jake, Coffee Girl only splashed around to her ankles. I remember hosting a hiking and biking gathering with RVers here many years ago. It made my day to hear one of women, from the god-forsaken East, rhapsodize over riding her mountain bike through the water for the first time at this same creek.

Back in town proper I reacquainted myself with the funky, dilapidated, Southwestern architecture.


Of course my favorites will always be a simple adobe or ranch style house, well along in noble rot, and with rusted corrugated metal roofing. There I would wiggle the handlebars and weave around on the road, like a silly boy.

Finally we made it to the coffee shop. Unlike much of America, it is still legal to tie your dog up outside a business on Main Street. A cat was making the rounds. It stopped on the sidewalk, 20 feet away, and objected to my dog being there. What a personality that cat had! It's the first time a cat made me laugh. And it really did seem like the beginning of "Benji."

There have been changes; and the long-suffering reader thinks I am going to trot out Thoreau's "improved means to an unimproved end." But I certainly wouldn't include a newly bulldozed/graded road in that category! Another new road to mountain bike on, smooth, and with no traffic.

On the other hand, they stopped using their venerable wooden card catalog in the town library. You know, with the cards in it, one for each book. Sigh.

But there is hope. They still allow dogs in the town library. There were two canine bookworms in there on the day I went in, to check out the last two Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian. I told the librarian, "I hope Patagoofie never becomes 'normal.' " She smiled and agreed.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Peek at Picacho

Approaching a small desert peak north of Tucson, I began to understand why it had barely been named -- it's "name" sounds more like a common noun than a proper noun. The atlas had piqued my interest so, just out of curiosity, I came to "Desert Peak."

I was a bit frustrated in wasting the gasoline to get here. It looked as uninteresting as it did on the map. I got parked and we immediately started walking towards this lackluster "peak." It was a shock to see how much the vegetation had changed from the desert floor along the Santa Cruz River, just two hundred feet lower than here. How could plants be so local, so particular about where they grow? We were back in sticker and thorn country, especially the nasty chain cholla.

Many of the place-names out West are rather colorful. Unlike constellations in the sky, mountain peaks sometimes actually look like the animal, saddle, or portions of Mollie's anatomy that they were named for.

Many peaks were named to honor early explorers and settlers. Some peaks even had the dishonor of being named after politicians of the day. Usually they sound more romantic in Spanish, although that can lead to linguistic redundancies, such as the nearby Picacho Peak. In a few minutes the dog and I reached a small saddle for a peek at Picacho:



It is quite amazing how some small peaks can be so recognizable and useful for navigation, or at least orientation. Visiting them year after year, you come upon them as an old friend: Castle Dome near Yuma, Baboquivari southwest of Tucson, Picacho northwest of Tucson, Ute Mountain on the way from Taos NM to southern CO, and of course, Mollie's Nipple near Hurricane UT.

The view from the saddle was nice, but I didn't expect any more visual excitement. There wasn't a single thing about this peak that would tempt the BLM into wasting a brown stake on it. 


I purposely lower my expectations when approaching an area in order to be surprised on the upside.  That is a crucial, but difficult, technique. Sometimes, to make it easier, I go overboard and imagine scenery as a positive evil -- whatever it takes to renounce puffed-up expectations and visual greed. Hence surprise and serendipity get a chance to shine.

With nothing but plainness and mediocrity to think about, all I could do was follow my best instincts by walking up a declivity to a saddle. Small though this peak was, it had a wide variety of what you might wish to see on any mountain, and why shouldn't that be good enough? It had slopes and faces that met fresh mornings, and others that waved farewells at weary afternoons. I doubt that this is on anybody's "Top Ten Desert Wildflower Auto Loops" list, but who knows, you could always find a surprise:


Friday, March 7, 2014

Lending Wings to Your Stride

There was a time when I seriously feared and hated the onset of Dry Heat in Yuma, usually in March. Experience and old age have turned the experience into what could almost be called 'appreciation' and 'good humor.' It's not that I no longer feel the misery of heat; but now I can see past the temporary misery, and playfully romanticize it as noble suffering. Think of the dramatic religious procession in Bergman's "The Seventh Seal."

Besides, what fun can there be in leaving a place unless you really, really, want to leave? And it is getting like that, now.

But before I crawl out of winter's chrysalis, and stretch out my new wings of travel, let's think about what was accomplished this winter. It is 1/4 to 1/3 of the year, after all. I realize that most readers have no interest in bicycling, but they might be interested in the general principles that the cycling experience can illustrate.

Furthermore I will assume that the reader has a certain amount of sympathy with the noble quest of making outdoor exercise non-puritanical. Let's take Duty, Guilt, oppressive repetition, and drudgery out of it.  Let's look for reasons for outdoor exercise other than 'because it is good for you.' So then, no more goodie-goodie; nor do we really need to be  'bad'; but let's be a little bad-ass at least. 

When William James discussed the "moral equivalent of war," (Lecture XIV, The Value of Saintliness in "Varieties of Religious Experience") he argued that courage-with-poverty could fit the bill. My thinking runs in a different direction: towards intense outdoor sports as the moral equivalent of war.

There were supreme moments of excitement during this winter cycling season: moments when I ignored everything, including my self-consciousness; everything except half-crazy, bloodthirsty, male, tribal, hunter/warrior feelings. Sometimes this happens when the cyclist takes a noticeable step up in his athletic performance.

The feeling might be intensified by simultaneous competition and cooperation amongst the cyclists. The cyclist is most aware of the snapping heels of the cyclist ahead of him. He is also only a foot or two away from touching tires. If that happens a fairly serious injury (messed up shoulder or broken collar-bone) will usually result. Therefore the paceline of cyclists shares much of the psychology of a platoon of combat troops.

But even more, I've come to appreciate the synergy, the feeling of enlarged corporate tribal power, that comes from moving along, aggressively, with your mates.

Hill Climb on annual Tour of the Gila near Silver City, NM

By luck I found the book, "The Culture of War," by Martin van Creveld. In Chapter 6, "The Joy of Combat," he quotes a well-known historian, W.M. McNeill, on his military experiences:
Almost half a century after leaving the army, a famous American historian also recorded, not without surprise, how much he liked "strutting around" on the parade ground. "Words," he wrote, "are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in a collective ritual."
Anthropology, assuming that it is more than conjecture, is real nature, rather than the PC, bowdlerized version of nature that is presented in coffee table books. Can you think of a constructive use of human anthropology in your outdoor activities? This isn't just a rhetorical question.

The last thing you want to do is get solitary and unsociable, and start up another of those travel blogs that writes paeans to "Nature", sacred solitude, peace and harmony, and the rest of that sickly drivel.