Showing posts with label miningTowns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label miningTowns. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Traveling Again, Observing Again

I'm glad that southwestern Colorado (Cortez, Mancos, Dolores) seems to be coming up in the world as a mountain biking alternative to you-know-where in southeastern Utah. I will never understand what is so great about fighting loose red sandstone. Southwestern Colorado has some good ponderosa forests with smooth packed dirt trails.

The other day we saw a family at the top of the hill on the trail ahead of us. Did the mom ever have her hands full: a child too young to walk, a little boy-savage about 4, and a labrador retriever, together with all the impedimenta that goes along with them. I snapped my dog on the leash so that the mother wouldn't have one more issue to contend with.

Oddly enough, she seemed to be enjoying the moment of chaos. Her lab was friendly so I unsnapped my dog so that they could play together. I got a kick out of the little boy-savage, with his forest-camo, face-paint made of "Teddy Grahams."

All this little boy-savage-of-summer needs in the forest is a club or spear.

I wish I had more pleasant encounters like this with homo sapiens. Normally they are just a nuisance. But it should be an important part of the travel experience. I like the way the mother was content with a boy who acted like a boy and allowed her dog to act like a dog.

I always leave nice families feeling optimistic. Maybe this country isn't as sick and dying as it usually appears, especially with a woman like this willing to pass her genes on. Where did she get her optimism?
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The Dolores public library, backing right up to the river, makes for a great place to hang out and suck free wi-fi, while listening to the symphony of piano music from the river. There was a young couple at the other end of the patio with a -- did I get this right? -- a pet Canadian goose. At least it was acting like a pet. My dog wasn't even lunging at the goose, perhaps because it was acting like a pet rather than prey.

Later, when they left, the silly goose followed them like a young duck will follow its mother. Even sillier was the goose's body language: 'what, you're leaving me? But I need you!' The goose kept following them, and the young woman kept turning around to check on it. She giggled in astonishment the whole way.  So that wasn't their pet! 

Apparently it was a denizen of the Dolores River, who had perhaps learned that it could mooch food from people on the library's patio. The goose followed them down the side of the highway for 100 yards, with cars streaming by, a few feet away. It couldn't walk as fast as the people, so occasionally it would spread it massive wings and hop a bit, giving it the appearance of love-sick indignation.
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Surely this was a nice moment to get off the mountain bike and take it all in. Although they probably grow in many states, I never seem to run into wild roses except in southern Colorado. Perhaps it is the timing. It is nice having a smaller camera: occasionally even a retro-grouch adapts to the modern age of lithium batteries and more compact cameras.

So I was expecting a good photo of 'many a flower, blushing unseen' as some damn fool poet once said. But they were withering rather than blushing. Here is how I wanted them:


Taken at my favorite flower hangout above South Fork, CO
I wondered what the right attitude should be towards disappointment like this. It seemed like the subject for an entire essay, but right now a mountain bike in the stable is neighing plaintively and pawing anxiously at the ground.


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.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Camping at Dusk on a Narrow Road

San Lorenzo, New Mexico. And to think that a reader/commenter thought that I was a coward for avoiding hiking, biking, or traveling near sunset! It has always been a good policy. But sometimes a camper has to push the envelope a little. I'm not advertising recklessness. But there's such a thing as going into the Unknown simply because you must. Although risks are unavoidable, they are not being pursued for the sake of themselves. It builds character to get yourself in a bit of trouble, fight to stay calm, and work your way out of the hole by solving one problem at a time. But even more fundamental than that is backing off before it's too late.

In general the Benchmark state atlas shows RV-friendly dirt roads as heavy dashed red lines, and they have names. In general there is a big turnaround once you get into a national forest; big enough for pickup trucks pulling horse trailers, or for firefighting trucks. My Ford Econoline van and 7 foot wide X 21 foot long trailer turn around better than those other vehicles.

Armed with those excuses I decided to push through the 7 miles of dirt road before hitting the national forest. It was dusk now. The road wasn't steep or rough, but it was narrow. I dreaded another vehicle coming the opposite way. And if it got dark, could I get camped without backing into a tree or boulder?

If only the terrain would open up, with wide pull-offs along the road! Anyone pulling a trailer -- even a small one -- should feel claustrophobic about getting trapped in a canyon. In a worst case scenario, I would simply pull over to the side of the dirt road and "camp" for the night. But the dirt road kept getting narrower and narrower, and dusk got darker.

Finally I started to feel the survival instinct of the Experienced: don't make things worse! Stop while there is still time! So I parked on a flat spot right in the middle of the road, grabbed the four D cell Maglite flashlight, and walked the last half mile to the national forest gate. As always, dogs love moments like this. They get so charged up. They perceive no risk -- just fun.

And there it was! The canonical turnaround at the cattle gate. Beyond that, the road went up a ridge that might offer line-of-sight to the Verizon tower that was 5 miles to our west. Mountains, not so good; canyons, very bad; ridges and mesas, good.

I was terribly relieved, and walked back to the rig to bring it up to the turnaround. By now the flashlight needed to be turned on. Then a weird mechanical sound make me jump a foot off the ground! Geesh, that was only the second rattlesnake that ever rattled at me in all these years. There's nothing subtle about that warning. He was lying out in the middle of the dirt road, soaking up the warmth left over from a hot day. Thank goodness Coffee Girl was on a short leash. The gods just won't let a guy gloat at all, before smiting or at least humbling him.

We finally got camped with no more excitement. This is an example of how Comfort and the spoon-feeding of information to campers are not what make RV camping fun and rewarding. This blog will remain silent on geographical details such as specific roads and locations.

The next morning I found boondocker heaven, further up the road: spacious, no people, no rangers, 6700 feet of altitude, and 3 bars out of 4 of Verizon internet signal. I love ridges!

On a mountain bike ride up the canyon, I smiled when the ponderosa pines started at 7000 feet. It was cool and dark along the creek bottom. I found some old mining buildings:


It was a surprise to find a real residence out there  -- the only one on the whole road. The gate was locked and a warning sign made it clear that the hermit/troll was not looking for company. Where is the Kodger Incorrigible when you need him? I wonder if he would have enough guts to ring the "doorbell" just outside the hostile gate -- clang, clang, clang! -- and get the "story" from whatever weirdo lives here.


What sort of guy lives out here all by himself? An urban drop-out? An old hippie or Greenie? My reluctance to bang the bell was due to the fear that his entire mental life consists of listening to talk radio or preachers on AM radio.

Friday, April 13, 2012

An Incorrigible Kodger in Bisbee


Maybe Wayne was right the other day about beauty being available even in towns and cities. For instance the Mobile Kodger and I were walking through Bisbee AZ yesterday on our sojourn to New Mexico. Old mining towns -- even if they are tourist traps -- put me in a good mood regarding towns, cities, and -- dare I say -- even people. And I needed the advantage since I was walking through a funky town with the inimitable and incorrigible Kodger.


Those who have never had this experience might have difficulty imagining it. It took a few blocks for the Kodger to reach his stride. We started downtown, in the high-rent district: art galleries, gewgaws, baubles, trinkets, and bourgeois matrons. There really is a sad and noble beauty to the silent suffering of  any husband who is in tow in a place like this. The most humane and sensible matrons leave their suffering saints at home and do Bisbee with "the girls". In fact it might be a good idea for any man who is seriously considering marriage to take Honey Buns through Bisbee. If they are still on speaking-terms after an hour or two, the marriage might stand a chance.

Unlike the Kodger I was indifferent to people, and preferred old buildings and architecture. There were a couple times when my heart started palpitating and my eyelashes began fluttering. This was probably amusing to him. As we walked away from downtown the buildings looked more dilapidated, eclectic, and funky. One old wreck of a house seemed to be built out of the same rocks that were used in a multi-level terrace.


As a cyclist I perked up when I saw this store:


In case you didn't click it to enlarge it, it says "Bisbee Bicycle Brothel."

Each block up the hill and towards the canyon, the Kodger became bolder about getting the "story" from total strangers. I hung back and either blushed or acted annoyed and impatient. Was he just exercising a skill that he knew he was good at? Another scalp on his belt? Or was it actually beneficial to him or his interviewee? Maybe the interviewee just felt important; if that's all it was, the whole thing seemed manipulative, as everything in the social science racket is.

And yet, the Kodger is fundamentally correct in making an effort to see human beings as a valuable resource. One reason I'm involved with his experiment this summer is that it takes straight aim at the mistaken notion that boondocking and hermit-like behavior are inextricably linked.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Idle, Idyllic, and Idols in Patagonia


Every day the same three guys sit in chairs under the canopy of the old-fashioned gas station. And since this is Patagonia, it still is a gas station. I giggle at this sight because they are so reminiscent of the old boys hanging out at the gas station on the Andy Griffith show of olden times. In fact that is one way to think of this town: Mayberry for hippies.

The best way to tour Patagonia is to ignore the art galleries and walk through the alleys to gawk at backyards. The normal bland suburb would have codes and ordinances against half of this town. Patagonia is a lower Leadville.

It is ironic. Most of the towns in America more interesting than Gopher Prairie or Levittown are old mining towns. So is Patagonia; yet, the locals are raising hell about a copper strip mine being developed in the area. Actually there is a second layer of irony: an environmentalist's favorite utopian dream is a nation running on all-electric Obamamobiles. How many pounds of copper windings would there be in each of these? Where does the copper come from? Perhaps the typical American of the post-industrial age thinks that an electric car is really an "electronic" car run by silicon chips "made by" Apple.


But back to the backyards of Patagonia. They are the kind of art I can appreciate; art that develops slowly over time, just as the topography of the Colorado Plateau does.

Many houses and sheds had corrugated galvanized metal roofs. When the sun catches them just right they rip the eyes right out of your head. There is a beauty to intensity that is usually overlooked as artists try to make everything effeminately pretty. I love these roofs most when they are partly rusted.  

Most Anglo-Americans implicitly subscribe to the Whig Interpretation of History. How do travelers reconcile this general perspective with their concrete experiences of returning to towns that they love after a year or two? Are they not afraid that something will have changed, and that most change means decline? Or do people worship the false idol of Progress so blindly that they don't see the increased sprawl, noise, prices, traffic, architectural blandness, and rules and regulations?

On one of these returns I immediately hit the town coffee shop, which also serves as the "Chatterbox Cafe" a la Garrison Keillor. My first impression came from the young senorita barista, who had the sort of skin that a gringo with northern European genes has to be in awe of.  Ahh, all was going to be well this year, I thought.

Every year, before Tucson has its first heat wave, I move the ol' wagon up to summer pastures near Sonoita and Patagonia. It is a seasonal idyll that lasts a couple weeks. There's a dog in this shadow:




I don't know how Patagonia got its name. The only time I've ever paid any attention to the name was a book mentioned in William James's Varieties of Religious Experience. The book was Hudson's, "Idle Days in Patagonia." He was an Argentinian of English heritage. Those who have depleted the great open pit mine of Thoreau and would like to find a similar author would do well to consider this book.

By a curious coincidence I remember once seeing a dilapidated windmill in this area, with barely legible labeling as usual. It was made in Argentina.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Annual Pilgrimage to Patagonia

In March I usually stay interested in the area south of Tucson, for a month. This year it looks like it will be closer to two months. The main attractions are the high grasslands and the Santa Rita mountains. The grasslands go up to 5000 feet, so you can stay comfortable almost to May.

Several years ago my standard (ammonia/hydrogen) RV frig went kaput when I was here. It turned out to be an interesting experiment to junk it and replace it with a homemade, super-insulated ice chest. It took three dreadful days in Lowe's and Walmart parking lots to finish the job.

I don't recommend the ice chest as a permanent solution, primarily because of the inconvenience and cost of block ice, but it's nice to know that it works well as a stopgap. After putting up with it for a couple years I bought a Whynter 12 volt refrigerator, with the high-efficiency compressor. It has worked well the last six months on a full time basis, and appears to be the permanent solution.

Just a few miles south of Tucson is the Helvetia mining area. You do find some good rockhounding in the arroyos around there. It's no surprise why; you are just on the other side of the valley from the giant Pima copper mine.



Full time RVers are supposed to be rootless vagabonds. How then can you explain my sappy sentimentalism when I revisit one of my little valentines, like Patagonia? Why do I always choose towns where I don't fit? Everybody here is foo-foo New Age, Democrat, Green, has a butterfly garden promoting world peace, eats organic food, etc. I can't believe there are that many people who need to buy useless trinkets art, or pay for yoga or pilates instruction. Most people in town are broke, but housing is expensive and the hippie organic food boutique charges confiscatory prices. I can identify with the birders a little, and would do so even more if they would just eschew those Tilley hats.

For some reason I overlook all that. Patagonia makes me feel human; this can be felt most sweetly after a few days in Tucson. Maybe it is the same feeling that I had rockhounding close to that huge mine.
Recall that Thoreau once walked across Manhattan and reported that he hadn't met one man who was actually alive.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Appreciation Versus Craving and Ownership

There must be many a man who is surprised by how his career as a girl-watcher develops as he ages. Most young men probably think that age rots the pleasure of girl-watching. Are they ever wrong! They come to this erroneous conclusion because they confuse sex-drive with pleasure, and craving with appreciation.  Something similar happens with "owning a house". The more experienced man realizes that the house owns him more than vice versa. But that isn't to say that he can't be fond of looking at old buildings, ruins, foreign architecture, etc. 

A third example of the same principle is enjoying funky, artsy, old mining towns in beautiful locations. What a pleasure they are to visit. But I don't envy those who live here. How general is this tendency for us to outgrow ownership -- with all its irony and self-impalement -- and replace it with an appreciation that is sincere, flexible, and unbinding? And why not? We don't really own Life; we're just renting it for awhile.

I'm currently enjoying a marvelous example of this in Patagonia AZ.  After doing a couple minor errands the first thing Monday morning, I was furious with being ripped off. There are no bargains in this town. And yet people manage to live here, despite the lack of good-paying jobs. (Obviously there is the usual contingent of wealthy retirees who made their money in the city and are now living in 4000 square foot retirement homes, 20 miles from a grocery store, and passing their time as environmentalists.)

I kept fussing and fuming when I noticed a brightly colored bird flit from the bumper of my RV to a nearby tree. It was unusual to see such a stunner hanging out on your bumper.


This calmed me down. Ah yes, this is why people are here. They are trying to make charm permanent. Personally I don't think that is any more practical than trying to turn a hobby into a job or a girlfriend into a wife. But I wish them luck.

But is it a red-headed woodpecker or an acorn woodpecker? Neither seems quite right. But you'd better believe that there are plenty of people in this birder town who know the answer, and I'll bet a couple of readers do, too.

There is plenty of funky charm and freedom here. Dogs are allowed in the library. I went into the library to find that I still had a library card from four years ago; and it was a card, literally: a 3 X 5 index card, made of paper.

My neighbors run their black labs to the coffee shop in the morning. How do they keep the leashes from tangling?


Friday, August 19, 2011

Streaming Water Music in Mogollon NM

Whatever you do, don't try to drive a large trailer or Class A motorhome to the old mining town of Mogollon NM. You might possibly make the 9 mile climb of a couple thousand feet, but only if nobody is coming the opposite direction. I made it because it was Thursday and the two businesses in the town were closed, so nobody did come down when I was going up.

Once again this shows the advantage of small RVs; I can't wait until mine is less than forty feet long, combined.

What a marvelous first impression the old place made. It's in a ravine that wasn't too tight, fortunately. Greenery, running water, and butterflies are everywhere. It would be nice to know some names of these beautiful insects, but when something sounds like a big project it gets put off.

This guy looks like a mountain biker doing an end-over:


The next impression was just as pleasant: a small, fast-moving stream ran right down Main Street. A small RV could squat overnight on a gravel turnoff at the edge of town and listen to that stream at night, and wake up to it in the morning, instead of to roaring pickup trucks and boom cars.  

A couple dozen people do live in the town. Some of them had to walk over the little stream just to get to their house.


The town certainly had funky people and houses:



That last one was especially strange. It was sheet metal sided.

This was a great time to contemplate the difference between the unplugged-in lifestyle and the more typical frantic madness and noise of a city. Next time, maybe.