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Showing posts from June, 2010

Farewell to Dirt

Chino Valley/Jerome AZ. Autumn's warmth is disappearing quickly. I must head south. But I want one last hike in some things I really hate to give up: grass, honest-to-goodness soil, ponderosas, and oaks.  Feeling a bit weepy and nostalgic, we went on our "last" hike before skedaddling south to the lower elevations. In fact I become a weepy sap every autumn, just before I migrate south. A carpet of small oak leaves on the trail reminded me of how fond I've always been of oak trees, leaves, and wood. We were hiking in the midst of some no-name hills; volcanic knolls actually. The rocks were sharp, dog-paw destroyers, but there was enough soil and grass to keep the dogs happy. It was only a short hike, but steep. I never cease to be amazed at how little you have to climb before everything looks different. Our hiking club specializes in saddle-bagging, instead of the more usual peak-bagging, and indeed we found several saddles between the volcanic knolls. The lig

Hawk Fleeing

Not too badly out of focus, considering what's happening. Dig those talons.

Volunteer Work

Recently I signed on as a volunteer to work on a section of the Continental Divide Trail. I really haven't done any volunteer work during my retirement, although I have looked into it from time to time. It surprised me what a formal organization they were. I got officious-looking letters from headquarters informing me that I'd be camping four nights and working eight hours per day on it. Then I bowed out. But why? It had seemed like such a fine idea. At first I thought it was the logistics of getting there, camping, or finding a dog-sitter. But there was something deeper. Volunteering can seem humiliating, especially when you have to deal with salaried "volunteer coordinators." (Bureaucratic young squirts who live in a spreadsheet dream world.) Time is money, and to volunteer your time seems connected to the idea that your time and life are worthless. I have been turned off by volunteering for animal shelters, as well. The impression I got was that they thought th

Education for a Traveler

My van's "Check Engine" light came on, once upon a time. Many dollars later, after several mechanics has slavishly looked at the diagnostic computer for hours and needlessly replaced various sensors, a clever mechanic found that the wiring harness had been rubbing a bolt and the outer insulation had been worn off, thus shorting a couple wires. I could have spared myself all this by poking around the engine compartment with a flashlight, and eliminating the rubbing with a few cents of tape. O Woe! Rig maintenance is no small expense to an RVer. It puts you at the mercy of repair shops who see your out-of-state plates. But if the School of Hard Knocks is not the ideal education for an independent lifestyle, what is? I'm not talking about "How to be an RVer 101" workshops. Long ago I read a book about early retirement that asserted that the ideal education was high school shop class cum Shakespeare. Perhaps the author meant that blue collar skills wou

Milkweed Last Autumn

Rain, Mud, and a Movie

Cottonwood AZ. Recently I had a windy night high over the little mining town of Jerome. It was a reminder of how difficult it is to sleep when the trailer is rockin' and rollin'. I wonder how many RVers considered living on a boat? I confess to having had that fantasy a few times. My boat fantasy never survives more than thirty seconds of scrutiny. What would it be like to sleep on a boat during a stormy night? As difficult as it is to sleep through wind, rain is even worse. The drops sound like BB's gradually drilling their way through the roof. Then the dogs decide they need a walk. Just the act of walking from my trailer to my van is a messy nuisance. Arizona was having an all-night rain, recently. It's no fun boondocking in soup, especially with the dogs, so I rolled into Walmart for the night. The noisy rain on the roof woke me, so I popped in a DVD movie. Outside sheets of water sloughed down the parking lot, with harsh pole lights glaring over

Ensuring Longer Life

Recently I was thinking of some busy retirees that I know, as well as a conversation that I overheard in a coffee shop by folks nearing retirement. They decided not to opt for early retirement because they were afraid they'd be bored. If you were a part of that conversation, would you have offered a pep talk about all the activities and challenges that await in a busy -- and therefore meaningful -- retirement? People are frightened of death, but boredom is more immediate. There is a profound contradiction here, since busyness makes time pass quicker; essentially, busyness makes you die "sooner." Imagine the vast fortune the country squanders on seniors the last two weeks of their lives. Meanwhile it would cost nothing to double or triple the psychological-years experienced past retirement age simply by consciously dwelling on your own thoughts and observations rather than being endlessly distracted by the Media or by household trivia. A hot summer day. Drinking a cup of

Imagining Scenery

Last summer, migrating north through New Mexico and Colorado, I began encountering arroyos with water running in them. At first this seemed unnatural and unwholesome, but I tried to keep an open mind. In fact, wet rivers can grow on a person. Nevertheless, now that it is autumn, it is a relief to be back where rivers beds are dry and walkable.  Besides, is there really all that much to see in a wet river? Perhaps, if the water is clear and shallow. Thoreau certainly did his best while paddling down " The Concord and Merrimack Rivers ," but even his fans probably don't consider this his best essay. What would he have thought about the dry washes and canyons of the Southwest? Imagine if he had not died prematurely and had somehow hooked up with John Wesley Powell on his exploration of the Colorado River. Starting from our campsite near Cottonwood AZ, the dogs and I drove upcountry. Further along this dirt road there was a big-name canyon that got a few tou

Slaying the Monster of Summer

It's quite an experience this summer. After a decade of a Captain Ahab-like obsession about Dry Heat, I'm finally at peace with summer. Credit the snowiest winter in a generation. It seems important to follow through on this breakthrough. We are after all naked apes, adapted to hot African savannas. We are supposed to be at peace with warmth. In cold weather we can never really relax; it is an enemy we must always be on the guard against. A friend told me once that when he lived in Florida he survived by taking four showers per day. It took some real effort to force myself to take merely two. Why was that so hard? Can trivial daily habits really be so hard to change? The next nail in summer's coffin must come from sleeping hours. When you live at an altitude of 6000 feet in a dry western state, it gets nice at night, no matter how hot the afternoon. Thus we have perfect weather for 18 hours per day. Why sleep through half of them? More than anything else, gringo sl

The Big Valley

Our latest camp was high over little Jerome AZ, and the grand Verde River valley. This is about as far north as you can go in AZ and still be semi-warm. Winter starts with a vengeance in a couple days, and I don't want to surrender too soon to the moonscape of the Mojave. The red rock cliffs of Sedona glow at sunset. I could enjoy this right from my trailer door: I've never actually visited Sedona. I cling to my geo-bigotries as tightly as the old mining town of Jerome clings to the side of Woodchute Mountain. Jerome wasn't as tourist-kitsch as I feared; only the main buildings along tourist central are over-restored. I took the dogs on a short hike, right from town. I was in a foul mood,  because of van maintenance problems, poor comportment by one of the dogs, and the claustrophobic road layout. If that weren't bad enough, we soon encountered volcanic rubble, my least favorite geologic layer. It had taken four attempts to find this miserable, gnarly road


Halloween photo: the worm-eaten souls of Los Muertos rise up through the flames of Hell, to commingle with the Living for one night per year.

City Lights

At a recent RV boondocking campsite the view back to town was brown, hazy and uninteresting, at least during the day. But when the sun went down it became delightful -- I could see the city lights of Prescott. It is ironic that an RV boondocker, who doesn't particularly care for cities or for camping in them, would enjoy city lights at night. One of the prettiest sights at night is to camp a few miles above a casino town like Laughlin, NV, and appreciate the contrast between the cold black desert sky and the hot neon strip. Maybe it heightens your sense of separateness to have a view of a distant man-swarm. But aren't boondockers supposed to rhapsodize about the brightness and beauty of the stars? I would have been a flunky Babylonian. I don't really walk about at night and look at the stars, even though there are few people who have better opportunities to do so than a RV boondocker. But looking back to town on this particular night, I wondered Why Not? P

Gravitational Therapy

It's been a while since I experienced amnesia while pedaling up a hill. It couldn't have happened at a better time. Last night I had a conversation with a fellow camper at the RV park and he predicted mass migration of Ari-cali-fornicaters to my Little Pueblo. "I'm in the first wave," he proudly predicted. Later that night I had a nightmare: that I went back to work. Perhaps I'm a little sensitive on the issue of population growth after seeing one of my hangouts, St. George UT, go through a population explosion. I don't care to ever see the town again. But who needs these thoughts, especially when I can't do anything about it. So up the hill I went, and went into a trance-like, internal rant. When I came to, I had just climbed a thousand feet and had no conscious memory of doing it. Near the continental divide I saw a cycle tourist from the Netherlands resting. I stopped to talk to him for awhile. He stank as bad as a javelina. I have to keep remind

Yet Another McMansion

Now I think we can all agree that this blog does not need another photo of another New Mexico dump. But I can't help myself.

Bridge over the River Hell

North of Prescott, AZ. We were camping in the headwaters of the Verde River, at the base of the Mogollon Rim, the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. The dogs and I took off on a mountain bike ride to Hell Canyon, right from the travel trailer's door. How can you resist a place-name like that?  We were on a flat stretch of overgrazed ground. You don't really see much of that on western public lands anymore, thanks to the environmental lobby. There! For once, I've given them a well-earned compliment. The dogs loved running on the flat dirt roads on the way to Hell Canyon. We finally arrived at the canyon, at the point of a large railroad bridge and a highway bridge built back in the Depression. Both were picturesque.   Looking at these tracks over Hell Canyon brought an image to mind: the boys playing chicken with a train in Rob Reiner's wonderful movie, "Stand by Me." Since I had missed that experience as a lad, I felt a perverse desire t

Travel Blog Addiction

This wasn't supposed to happen to me. I don't even know where to get treatment for it. I'm talking about becoming addicted to travel blogs. A journal junkie. No, not RV travel blogs. They're nice folks, but their notion of travel is un-adventuresome to the extreme, as is the case with about any motor-vehicle culture. With RV culture, old age makes it even worse. Nor have I gotten hooked on the young world-vagabonder blogs; hitchhiking around the globe and staying in youth hostels is something I just can't relate to. Rather, it's the bicycle touring blogs that have hooked me, even though I loathe tent camping and high-traffic highways. Perhaps the key to enjoying any subculture is to discount or laugh off 95 percent of it as uninteresting or uncomfortable stereotypes, and then look for the 5 percent that is juicy and interesting. Deja vu helped too. When I was being drawn into dog culture I went to an agility trial for the first time, and was really entertai

Funny Colored Red Tailed Hawk

You can see a hidden reddishness to the tail. It shows better when they are flying. But if this is a red tailed hawk, why is it so grey instead of the usual brown/black?

Marital spat?

My eyes are frequently pulled to small unglamorous birds.

A Harmless Crank

Because of our rainy and snowy winter I got a bit out of shape. This offered me an unusual chance to relive the process of getting in shape in the spring, like I experienced it years ago, back East. It was the sequence of the human machine that interested me. First the quadriceps get stronger. Then aerobic fitness makes a comeback. These two things happen quickly. The last thing on the list, which takes all summer, is lower back strength. It really is the back, and not "thunder thighs," that gets you up the hills.  The second-to-last machine part is the subtle one. The human body must be harnessed correctly in order to efficiently operate a crank-machine like a bicycle. I can't quite remember, but I think it was the classic book on medieval technology by Lynn Townsend White that emphasized how slow the development of the crank was. A crank mechanism converts rotary motion into linear motion, or vica versa.   You might even remember your grandmother powering her Singer

Transparency in the Housing Industry

On my standard summer bicycle ride I see this aborted McMansion, sticking out on a rocky knoll as ostentatiously as possible. Nice views, with lots of wind. I've heard different stories but most of them say something about the builder and the owner getting into a fight and just walking away from it. It's quite the eyesore now. Still, it's symbolic of what happened in 2004-2006.

Strange Bedfellows for a Camper

Full time RV boondockers are famous for sleeping around. Perhaps our most interesting bedmate is the industrial economy, which at times can be far more interesting than postcard scenery.  One summer I squatted on a maritime pier on Puget Sound. I was awakened in the middle of night by the bellowing horn of a huge tugboat that had pulled up. I quickly got dressed and staggered around on the pier, still half asleep. The crew was changing shifts. The tugboat's job was to escort football-field-sized oil tankers to a nearby refinery. My eye was drawn to the huge ropes that lashed the tugboat to the pier. At my present boondocking campsite on the east side of Chino Valley, AZ, I am enjoying watching the macho equipment roll in to build another power line. Have you ever thought of the technological miracles of the 1800's: the conversion of mechanical motion into electricity, and thence into so many things? People of a few generations ago went through bigger change


I always like getting the Evil Eye from a curious or annoyed bird, especially from a sexy little Hot Shot like a kestrel.

The Night Stalker

We are camped in the Prescott n ational forest, but not in the ranger district of Prescott itself. What a relief it is to be away from the Prescott mindset. But let's not beat up on Prescott too much. No doubt, Sedona is even worse. It is so old-fashioned where I am boondocked right now. There are few visitors, perhaps because the scenery is nice, but un-postcard-like. There aren't any special categories of land management, with all the obnoxious brown signs that let you know your Government is watching everything you do. Places like this are my sanctuaries from Progress.  The dogs and I were off exploring Woodchute Mountain. We came upon a water entrapment pond when I noticed a plurality of animal tracks on the talcum powder-like dust. These ponds are a big deal in the tawny chaparral of Arizona's Central Highlands. They are as important as the community well in a traditional third world village.  I saw some tracks over three inches wide, and half-convinced my

Why I Hate Apple Computer

Consumers have paid a price for obsessing over cheapness when it comes to electronic gadgets. It is the reason for the quality and durability being so low. One company that escaped the Cheaper-and-Cheaper Syndrome is Apple Computer. I'm happy for them and their employees. Even those of us who do not buy their products benefit indirectly from the countervailing force that Apple creates. We also benefit from their innovation, since every company soon jumps on board and imitates it. For instance, I have no interest in a keyboard-less tablet computer like the iPad, but I hope to buy a (keyboard-equipped) clamshell netbook with the trends that Apple is pushing: a non-Windows operating system, faster boot-up, an ARM (non-Intel x86) microprocessor that uses low power, and an all-semiconductor "hard drive." Consider the "apps" phenomenon that Apple has brought to the world. In the gadget racket this might seem like an innovation. Perhaps it is really just the reinvent

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

While shopping for a new RV boondocking campsite north of Prescott, I thought about how strange it is that it's still a challenge, despite years of experience. Actually 80% of the effort is in finding a campsite that also has wireless internet. Think about the newbies who spend thousands of dollars on satellite internet systems for their rig. Does it ever occur to them how circular the argument is? Most RVers have rigs that are simply too big for RV boondocking, except in a few places. If there doesn't happen to be cellphone coverage there, the RVer then concludes that he must spend thousands of dollars on satellite internet. Why not save tens of thousands of dollars by buying a smaller rig that can camp in more places? On today's campsite shopping trip, I saw something unusual. A helicopter was ferrying utility poles to a new power line in the national forest. The holes have already been augered; the helicopter carefully lowers the pole into the hole. Interesting

Toynbee Eats His (UN) Veggies

The United Nations is in the news again, offering mankind guidance and advice, and looking for a way to make it mandatory. Their advice isn't completely new. Back in 2008 -- a year after he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with that other Eminence and scientific Luminary, Al Gore -- Rajendra Pachauri recommended that mankind eschew animal flesh one day per week. (You remember Pachauri, surely, of IPCC and global-warming-scandal fame.) He claimed that this would alleviate a laundry list of world problems. More recently a new UN report has tightened the screws on mankind. We are now to become vegans, rather than mere part-time vegetarians. Rather than flail around in policy-wonk mode, let's place the matter in a wider historical context. How can we fit this into Toynbee's classic "A Study of History?" (I use the abridged version because it has a drastically lower carbon footprint.) Consider Chapter VII, Universal Churches; section (2), Churches as Chrysalises, which

Sun on a Foggy Morning

The Easy Way to Exercise

A reader recently touched one of my hot buttons when he said that he ' should exercise more.' It's ironic that I am writing this when Coffee Girl, my new dog, is not supposed to exercise because she was spayed a couple days ago. Yesterday both dogs and I were restless and irritated. I think we are going to be naughty and have a nice walk today. If only I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone say that they should exercise more. That is the moral equivalent of sitting on the sofa in front of the boob toob and saying 'I really should eat more organic dehydrated alfalfa pellets, washed down with distilled water, instead of this bag of potato chips and ranch dip, but ...' Why do people discuss exercise like they are swallowing bitter medicine? The worst idea of all is to do routine exercise indoors. No wonder people think that making yourself exercise is an exercise in sheer will power. Is there an alternative to this self-defeating s

Last Ride of Season

I try to mountain bike as much as possible for safety reasons, but road cycling is much cooler in summer. On my last mountain bike ride out to a Benedictine monastery, this view presented itself:

World's Worst RV Boondocking

Of all the RV boondocking locations Quartzsite and the Slabs are probably the most famous. But there is another place that has its own kind of distinction: the Walmart in Gallup, NM. I went through there recently on my way to picking up my little poodle who was rescued above Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, CO. Gallup is certainly at a convenient and strategic location, on I-40, near the Four Corners.  It's surrounded by a Navajo reservation. When an RVer pulls off the highway he immediately notices many big-box parking lots, without any signs telling him to get lost. Happy Hunting Grounds, then, for an RV boondocker? Alas, truckers off of I-40 sense opportunity, too. There are signs prohibiting them, but they pay no attention to them. There was a whole line of semi-trucks parked next to the Walmart. On my way up to pick up the poodle I stayed at one of the quieter big boxes, but on the return trip I was led by a perverse curiosity to the Walmart--just how b

Finally, Something Important in the Media

One of the best summaries of the financial crisis that I've ever seen is this one on CNBC (of all places). In it they discuss the government-sanctioned ratings cartel of Moody's and Standard and Poor's, as well as the conflict of interests in having the firm being rated pay the ratings agency. (People have compared that to having judges paid by the plaintiff or the defendant.) Essentially that makes ratings a farce. Large institutions -- such as pension funds, insurance companies, and banks -- are required to invest in AAA bonds. So the ratings cartel gives everybody a AAA rating, and the System is happy. I don't understand the mindset of some people to have a knee-jerk reaction favoring more government regulation to financial institutions. If risk had been rated honestly and accurately, these bubbles could not occur. There are independent rating agencies that could be used. Or they could require the buyer of bonds to pay for the ratings, not the seller of the bon

Running out of Luck

For the first time in 40 years, after another 35,000 wells have been drilled, we finally got unlucky with an oil spill. Why did it take so long? Don't count on that ever being discussed. Of course as a bicyclist and pedestrian I reacted at first with some evil pleasure at the notion of anything that will make gasoline cost more in the future. My goodness, I get so sick of noisy pickup trucks and hectic traffic. It says something about our country that the Media immediately ran to the American president, as if he can just push a buzzer in the Oval Office and make the crisis du jour go away. Watch the talking heads, the politicians, and the Greens posture in front of the TV cameras: none of these could handle the tiniest technical problem themselves. They have no appreciation for the complex engineering involved in bringing petroleum to an economy completely dependent on it. Most galling are the Greens. This is a perfect chance for them to demagogue big Evil oil corporations.

Infamous Goathead

Think of them as nature's alarm clock. It makes for a bad start to a new day when I put my foot down from the bed and immediately hit a goathead that was dragged into my RV. But it certainly wakes a guy up.

Love of Life

Adventure books have grabbed me from time to time, such as my first couple weeks as a full time RVer, in northern Michigan. Spring was supposed to be happening, but it wouldn't. It was cold and damp in that little travel trailer, which I was struggling to get used to. It seemed like an igloo. I was alone and had little to occupy my time. 'RV Dream' lifestyle, indeed! I was having some doubts. I ended up reading Richard Byrd's classic outdoor tale, "Alone," about his solitary brush-with-death in the Antarctic. There's nothing like reading the right book at just the right time and place. With that idea in mind, I read "Alive" when I was hoping that my lost little poodle might be rescued. "Alive" was the story about the South American rugby team who suffered a plane crash in the Andes. They also made a movie of it. But it didn't inspire me, like you might think. Instead it made me feel ashamed of holding onto such unrealistic

Northern Flicker

These fellows are in the woodpecker family. You get no hint of their beautiful golden underwings until they fly.

The Spirit of Summer

This year, June in the Southwest is living up to its reputation of monotonous, cloudless skies and fierce Dry Heat. Normally I would be miserable during weather like this, and look forward to the monsoons later in the summer. But not this year; winter really did cure me of piteous whining about dry heat. All it takes to enjoy an afternoon like today is a small gift of shade, sacred Sombra. The breeze does the rest. 'Wind' and 'spirit' (breath) have quite a history together, which a good dictionary or Wikipedia can tell you about. I've tried to shelter the Wind from its many assailants and detractors. If my eloquence failed, then seek your own in spir ation in a chair, outdoors. The wind coats and cools every inch of your skin, like a mountain stream does to a rock in its middle.    Remember when you were a kid and trying to exact revenge on a sibling or playmate; Mother would shake her finger at you and say, "Two wrongs don't make a right." But in

Soft as Granite

The trails around Prescott, AZ, proved to be a great place to break in the new dog, who is still unnamed. The Prescott area highlights granite gargoyles and balanced rocks. Then the granite crumbles into dry washes and trails. This goes against the normal image of 'hard as granite.' Granite, in a state of nature, seldom has the triple A hardness and denseness needed for the counter-tops of Alan Greenspan's McMansions and Garage Mahals. In fact, granite is usually found in a sub-prime state.  After the recent housing boom, there must be craters in Vermont or Italy so huge that they perturb the rotational mechanics of the spinning globe. Failed politicians looking for a second career would do well to consider raising the general level of awareness of the dire threat of Global Tilting or Wobbling.  It is no small miracle to see one of my theories actually work. I chose my second dog to be as different from my first dog as possible. I didn't want the specia

pRaising Arizona

After pulling into town RVers typically park in the spacious parking lots of big boxes on the edge of town. Let's say you've done so but are still hitched up, and then you see the store you really want just across the street. What do you do: walk or drive? For your sake I hope you drive, as silly as that seems. There is little allowance made for pedestrians on most American streets, except in Oregon or some mountain towns in Colorado. I had a close call walking across the street in western Colorado, recently. Despite the close call, Colorado is quite good in that department. I dreaded returning to culturally backward states like Utah and Arizona.  Since western Colorado is in the gravitational field of Moab, I found a cycling newspaper and read about a tragic accident involving a cycling advocate. I started rolling the tape back over all the cyclists I've known who were smacked by cars. The next day I stopped to help a caterpillar cross the road near the B

Back to Normal

The rescued poodle was coming along fine. He and my (unnamed) new dog were confused by each other, but they will probably get along. How nice it was to get back on the road--back to normal--and drift over the high plateaus of the Southwest, those brilliantly-lit, elevated, display cases of geology. It has been a long time since I saw Shiprock near Farmington, NM. The last time I was here a friend and I were such newbies that we didn't know that it trespassing to travel on Indian reservations, off the main highways. We actually boondocked right at the base of Shiprock until a Navajo kicked us out. The main peak is an old volcanic throat. The surrounding rock, probably sandstone, has eroded away. On this visit I especially enjoyed the volcanic dikes that radiate away from the main peak. They were formed when igneous rocks oozed through cracks. They extend for  miles, but are only a few feet wide. In places they looked like a crumbling brick wall, with holes. When

An Honest Political Party?

The Socialist party in Japan pulled out of the ruling coalition, and brought down the prime minister, merely because he failed to live up to his promise to boot out a foreign invader. (The American military base in Okinawa.) The socialists in Japan showed some real integrity and guts by reacting to betrayal the way they did; contrast this with the indifference of the American Left, when the latter's "peace candidate" turned into a warmonger. Why the discrepancy? Does the "Left" mean something different in Japan than in the USA? Or is the American Left just especially spineless? Actually I don't think political ideology explains why the American Left continues to support a president who should be considered a political traitor. Demographics does. The USA is a country that has few indigenous Leftists. By 1900 or so most of Europe's intelligentsia had become Marxist (on the continent) or Fabian Socialist in England. Many of the professorships at America&

Center of Attention

There seems to be no way to photograph a raven other than silhouette. I still don't understand why everything pointed to the raven here, but I like it .