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Showing posts from 2020

Back to a Sub-Yuman Existence

  In case there was any doubt that 'absence makes the heart grow fonder,' it was removed yesterday as I drove around the Yuma area. The green irrigated fields look gorgeous, especially in the context of the barren backdrop. As I drove through town I wondered why traffic was so light? Was it the absence of Canadians? -- no, that couldn't change the traffic by more than 20%. Normally traffic is one of things that makes Yuma my least favorite place in the Southwest. Is Yuma finally coming up in the world? That is, is it now my second-least-favorite place, with St. George UT being the least favorite?  Perhaps I was feeling semi-euphoric just because it wasn't hot for a change. A bicycle shop had relocated downtown Yuma. There was a little bit of life downtown. It used to be dead. It always seemed like downtown Yuma was under-utilized and under-appreciated. Perhaps I am a Kunstler type guy after all, and become sentimental when a downtown has some life, pedestrians, and bic

The World Gets Smaller

Looking back on 2020, it seems to have been a (soft) war year. That makes it special for Americans who haven't really experienced a true war-time situation. (Perhaps 1968 was as close as we got during my lifetime.) I keep trying to latch onto the most fundamental characteristic of the war-time experience, even though it is a better idea to explain anything by looking for a conjunction of multiple causes, instead of obsessing over one, all-important cause. It is tempting to claim 'evil-ization' as the true defining characteristic of war. Thomas Fleming did a good job of explaining evil-izaton before the American War Between the States in his "A Disease in the Public Mind." But now I am ready to declare something else as the defining characteristic of war, soft-war, coup detats, or kultur-kampfs. Recall the old saying that 'Truth is the first casualty in War.' During 2020, censorship became a part of the MSM, google, corporate advertising, and the rest of th

Desert Pavement is Under-rated

  After bad-mouthing rubble of the desert, it might seem ironic to praise a gravel surface, but the gravel surface in question is called desert pavement. It behaves just the opposite of loose gravel rubble. Desert pavement is a gravel surface that is hard and non-loose. Heavy vehicles don't even make ruts in it, which is probably why the BLM encourages campers to congregate where there is desert pavement. In fact it is fairly rare. Wikipedia has an article on it, with several theories about how desert pavement is formed. The only theory that made sense to me is the one about wind and water carrying away the dust and sand, which leaves the gravel to settle and pack into itself. Desert pavement is not perfect for a camper, but it is better than anything else. When rainy, a camper won't get stuck on desert pavement. Nor will their vehicle leave unsightly ruts. The gravel is not sharp enough to cause flat tires in bicycles and sore paws for a dog. I would like to see desert paveme

Revenge of the Rubble

I certainly have been generous this year with derogatory words for the deserts of the Southwest: barren, oppressive sunlight, aridity, stickers, fangs, rubble, etc. In fact 'rubble' is my favorite insult. Did I not give Mother Nature credit for having feelings? There are consequences to insensitive behavior like this, I learned. The other day, I heard a 'whooshing' sound from the rear tire on the mountain bike that sounded almost explosive.  The big tire, 29" X 3", went flat in a second.  The culprit was easy to find because it was slobbered over with creme-colored Stan's No-Flat fluid.  I have a special tool that is meant to patch tears in a tire larger than 1/4", but the tear was big enough to stick a pinkie finger through. So a $95 tire went into the dumpster. The good news is that that is the first time for me anything has ripped a slice in a mountain bike tire. I only had to push the bike home for 1 mile. 

Raising a Dog in the North?

There are times when it isn't fun to be a dog owner. Last evening was one of those times. The desert wind had kicked up, and I have lost all patience with the wind. So I was a grouch during the walk. But wait...what would it be like in the North to take a dog for a walk in winter? How could the dog-partner possibly enjoy a walk through gloom & grey, freezing rain, and slop & slush? It is difficult to imagine the ordeal, if you have never experienced it. Does the dog-partner just open the back door; the dog quickly runs out into the backyard and does its doggie business; and then scampers back inside the house? What kind of 'walk' do you call that? What happened to "animal rights!?" Here I was, grousing about the wind and the rubble, but the temperature was mild, and sunset against the mountains was gorgeous. And rubble is still better than mud. Obviously, there is seldom any precipitation here. At the very least my dog gets an off-leash frolic twice a day

Gems in a Ghastly Landscape

There are some goodies along the lower Colorado River. In order to appreciate them to the fullest, it helps to contrast them with their context, and be candid about how hideous the land is. It is no exaggeration to call it a disgrace to planet Earth: there is hardly any organic material in the 'ground.' You can't even call it 'soil.' It is nothing but rubble and thorns. With that grim reality in the background, it is easy to get a real kick out of an unexpected, non-thorny plant like this: With some effort you can get some enjoyment out of the macro-rubble:  Remember that silly internet meme from last week, about the metal monolith? Not to be outdone, we too have our obelisk, seen here from the side: The other day a couple owls haunted the mountain at dusk. I wish I could hear and see them more often. Wildlife is not plentiful where the land is vegetation-free. It makes you appreciate how hard these critters work for a living. Locally the grass is rather plentiful,

Speech Therapy Needed for the Brits

Since I strive to keep this blog "fair and balanced," the last post should be followed by some praise of nomad videos. That is easy. I am in love with "Tinie Planet" on You Tube. How can a guy resist her?: European scenery (instead of the hackneyed Arizona stuff), excellent drone photography, and she never stays in boring campgrounds. If that isn't enough, she has gorgeous eyes, effulgent young-womanish hair, and a pleasantly feminine manner. What a darlin' ! ...except for one thing: I have a hard time understanding her, even though she is supposedly speaking "English." Relatively late in life I have acquired an interest in spoken languages. Written languages don't intrigue me, since dictionaries and pedagogues freeze spelling at certain points in time, whereas the spoken language keeps evolving. Understanding "English" is also a problem in podcasts and audiobooks. I can barely understand Australian, and English "English" i

Why Are Nomad Videos Popular?

It seems odd that videos by "nomads" are so plentiful and popular on places like yoob toob, (aka, You Tube.) It is easy to explain why they are produced: for advertising income. But why would anyone want to watch this drivel? The videos are amateurish -- the makers don't even understand the medium of video. They shouldn't just sit in their car, and give the viewer a talking head to look at. Or they talk about their rig -- which is only interesting to the 0.1% of the audience that has the same rig, accessory, or problem. Or they show themselves heating water or talking about whether their breakfast will be porridge or corn flakes. Many viewers are armchair travelers who like romantic escapism about pretty scenery. Many nomad vloggers have drones that show the van sauntering down a curvy road, with mountains and lakes in the background. That is quite engaging to the viewer because it helps them think, "Ahh, I too could be doing that." That's fine, but they

Vikings of the Desert

  It is refreshing to take a vacation from yourself, every now and then. This is being manifested right now by camping within sight of Lake Mead. Avoiding camping near water became a habit for me the first year, as an RVer. Bugs, crowds, noise, fees, restrictions, etc. And besides, I didn't have an activity that involved water. I have no desire to relive my sea kayaker/Viking days. Being near water is helping to revive an interest in taking photographs. Is it wise to try to will yourself into a new or old interest? The short answer is No. But is seems to be working a little bit right now. This is a big issue for a retiree or anybody who doesn't live the standard lifestyle of 'the hamster wheel' in a big city. I don't feel like taking it up right now, but am interested in comments on this topic.

Empathy During Civil Strife

  The other day I got email from a friend who is a different kind of traveler, compared to me. They are airplane-oriented, so their lifestyle has really been shut down compared to an RV traveler (like me) in the USA. Just think how unevenly and unfairly hardship is distributed right now during the virus stuff! And when you get lucky, it is so easy to ignore people who are unlucky -- even if you know them well. Sigh. Since I sometimes wonder if I have wasted too much time in my life reading useless books (or other media), this might be an interesting case. What is the best book that helps you experience what it is like to be a lucky one, when others are unlucky? The limiting case might be, say, Missouri or Kentucky during the War Between the States. Or what about Germany during the 30 Years War? There must be something written about a society 'circling the drain,' and misfortunes landing on individuals unfairly and unevenly. from

The End of the Public Library

I went into the library the other day to look for a couple DVDs to watch. It was strange to walk in there. There were only two cars in the parking lot -- the librarians. There were no patrons, customers. Normally I struggle to find a DVD worth watching, despite them having hundreds to choose from. But this time I gave up after 5 minutes. As I walked out of the library I realized something quite important: that I was unlikely to ever walk into a public library again. This was a sad thought. Why so? After all, when was the last time I walked into a brick-and-mortar travel agency, video store, gym, bookstore, aquatic center, bank, bowling alley, or movie theater? But there are no nostalgic connections to this last list of places. With public libraries there are memories.  Helping my (librarian) mother at a small town library, and being so pleased with making a perfect impress of the due date on the label of the book. Being pleased with an unusually good library -- or even a Carnegie libra

Time to Play Armchair General Again

'Portentous ' is not a word that I would expect to use very often, when discussing media drivel. But it might be the right word to describe an article about Turkey's successful use of drone swarms in recent conflicts. If inexpensive drone swarms are the way of war in the future, it could change the balance of power between the leading warmonger states. You would expect the USA to continue to 'fight the last war', with billion dollar aircraft carriers and a handful of ultra-expensive aircraft. It will continue to look back to the "Good War," World War II. Even if there were a change in thinking in the Pentagon, why would the USA be good at mass-producing anything? But not all powerful countries are post-industrial like the USA. China should be hugely successful at mass-producing drones. What am I overlooking? It seems like the USA should just accept secondary military stature gracefully, and try to stay out of the way of the up-and-comers. from

Cracks in America's "Berlin Wall?"

  I was pleased to learn how easy it is to block the trolls who are trying to sabotage  They put soft-core porn pictures on the site in an attempt to discourage parler from 'taking off' or achieving 'critical mass.' Or it could be individual cranks with no political agenda. How could I ever know? All you have to do is go to the upper right hand corner of the troll's post and click the down arrow. Then some options come up. One of them is "Block @poster'sName."  Why do you have to do this? Why doesn't do it automatically? I suppose Parler is trying to live up to their free-speech ideals. I hope viewers don't get discouraged by these trolls, because it would be great if some of the new alternatives to the Main Stream Media survive and thrive. I don't really understand how to make the best use of these alternatives. And which ones will be my favorites, eventually? But there is something about this cracking of the MSM mon

The Wrong Camera?

He was big and proud: a male bighorn sheep was posing on a mountainous ridgeline, merely 100 yards from the road. I pulled over and rolled the window down. But I had no camera! A couple years ago I gave up on the $200 cameras with 20X optical zoom. They only lasted 2-3 years. Usually the telescoping zoom mechanism would stop working. Presumably it only took one grain of sand to jam things up. My solution was a "tough" camera which lacks an external telescoping mechanism. It does have an internal telescoping mechanism for optical zoom. Keeping the moving/sliding parts internal is what keeps it 'tough.' But it also keeps the optical zoom down to a mere 4X.  That would barely have worked for that magnificent bighorn ram.  So did I do the right thing by giving up on those 20X zoom cameras? It seemed like the right decision at the time, but I never bring my (low zoom) digital camera along anymore. And the smartphone has no zoom.  Since I belong to the school of photograp

Remaking a Classic Movie

  I am down to four library cards these days, and am enjoying one of them at the current location. It's too bad they don't own more classic movies. But I managed to find something halfway decent. (In the library I had overheard a strange telephone conversation between a librarian and a patron, whose voice was weak and garbled perhaps because the patron was talking into the phone, with her mask on.) On the way home I stopped at the McDonald's drive-through, for the first time this year. As I approached the place where you scream what you want, I saw a piece of paper, perhaps a sign, taped to the menu. Oh no! Was this going to be a warning/scolding/shaming about wearing a mask? What was I supposed to do?: put a mask on and scream into the box? A scene in one of those non-existent classic movies popped into my mind: recall Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17", about the Americans in a German POW camp in World War II. The German camp commandant needed to make a telephone c

Taking Nominations for Most Important Book for Today's Times

What book has the most important ideas for helping the world through the problems of today? It is easier to say what books should not be nominated. Cross off most of the books you were encouraged to read in school: Montesquieu, Locke, Rousseau, the Federalist Papers, etc. They are excellent and important, and worth reading in general. But not today.  My nomination goes to a book that you can be damn sure was not on the reading list at school; nor was it ever a New York Times best-seller. The books is La Boetie's "Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. "  As a runner-up I nominate Thoreau's "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience."  Both books discuss the ease with which dictators can be opposed merely by the human herd not complying with the edicts of the Mighty.  Camping a couple years ago in the Utah high country. A thousand sheep were being managed by a Peruvian shepherd and his 3 dogs. Now, it seems like I have taken all the sport out of this post for the reader,

Fake Paradise Camping in the Southwest

  I have speculated with friends whether this winter would end up being a crowded camping season in the desert Southwest. We had hoped that the absence of Canadians would make things less crowded, but the virus situation might make other states unlivable, which means more people will seek sanity and refuge in the desert. Today I rolled into the first of the hackneyed camping areas that everybody knows about. Business seems to be up by 50%. And yet the blogosphere and You Tube vloggers keep using cliches, such as 'in the middle of nowhere', 'the great American Southwest', 'adventure', etc., to describe over-rated and over-used winter camping in places like Arizona. As an example I am camping with a friend on a peninsula of a canyon system. We are parking in a deliberately wasteful and inefficient way so as to lower the chance that some asshole will move in close, such as the guy on the other side of the canyon a half of a mile away whose generator I can hear.  Th

Blockbuster Successes with Audio Books

I don't give book reviews on this blog because I have read too many damn books in my life. Was it worth it? I am not sure. But audio books are a new thing for me. Is there a method to finding audio books that you will enjoy? Think about the long extinct "oral tradition," and how audio books might be an echo of this tradition. Remember how most of the creation myths of various peoples were "campfire stories," such as Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Bible, Beowulf, and the Icelandic Sagas. A camper should have an advantage in throwing themselves into the mood of those who listened to these tales in olden times. That was my first guess, so I chose "The Odyssey." It was fairly enjoyable but I was disappointed by it not being a blockbuster. from Next came modern classics that are adventure tales -- rather than domestic novels. Gulliver's Travels worked quite well. My first blockbuster was Henry Fielding's &

Annual Push Against Long Winter Evenings

Every winter it is the same struggle: how to cope with all those hours of darkness. In contrast it is easier to enjoy the hours of daylight than in summer, because of pleasant coolness and the lack of insects. And then sunset happens. You would think that a person with a rig, tall enough to walk around in, would have an easier time than people in low-top vans. Perhaps various exercises in the evening would help? More household errands (cooking, cleaning, organizing) would help. Maybe I get suckered in to gluing my butt to a chair and consuming media. It is impossible to find that much media that is interesting. Another approach is embodied in a classic quote from Samuel Johnson: "As I get older, I am willing to call a man a good man on easier terms." Indeed, it helps to become less critical of media, and look to appreciate what might have been missed on the first round.  It helps to remind myself to give in on something to gain something. What I really need is staying busie

To Oz in Reverse

 My heart sank a little as I saw the spiffy new "Welcome to Arizona" sign along the road. I have never crossed the border this early before. It seemed like a defeat. It is a bit like climbing a steep hill on your mountain bike and then realizing that you are already in your lowest gear. It is quite important for an RVer not to wear Arizona out. The camping places are so hackneyed and over-used. Your guess is as good as mine whether the extra influx of COVID refugees from California will out-weigh the lack of Canadian snowbirds this year. It is always impressive to drive through the Virgin River Gorge, either direction. When you leave Utah and pop out of the canyon into the nothingness of Nevada, it reminds you of the beginning of the Wizard of Oz movie when the black-and-white photography in Kansas is suddenly replaced by the Technicolor of the Land of Oz -- except that my example is the reverse of that! There was one last impression from Utah this morning. I was driving down

Partly Known

In central Utah recently, I detected some motion in the red rocks on a red cliff. Some animal, roughly the size of a coyote, scampered away from my bike and dog, who took off after that animal, whatever it was.  The silly dog, now 14 years old, chased the animal half way up the cliff. I only got to see the animal for three seconds. What was most noticeable was the white tip on its tail. With the help of Wikipedia, the best I can do is identify it as a red fox. They are supposed to be found in Utah. But it is not the habitat that one would first think of, for foxes. And yet, it was good habitat: there were 20 den-like structures under the red rocks in that area. It got me interested in watching Finnegan the Fox videos on You Tube. The more experience somebody gets in the outdoors, the more their interests must migrate to experiences like this: the fish almost caught, the rare bird almost photographed, and the perfect campsite just missed. And yet blogs and vlogs sell predictability and

Geometry Has Consequences

Although the percentage is small, some visitors to southwestern Utah must get a kick out of the shapes, lines, and geometry of this part of North America. As I do. In fact my eyeballs and brain positively feed on the geometry.  My favorite picnic table at a trailhead.  It should be offered by Merriam-Webster as a visual definition of 'autochthonous.'  I hope whatever ranger is responsible for this makes District Ranger someday.   For instance, your eye can extend the line of a sedimentary layer from one mesa to a nearby mesa, and visualize the land in between the two mesas as eroding away over the eons. But when you do this, it doesn't quite seem as though the tops of the two mesas have the same altitude. But why should they? Sedimentary layers are uplifted -- tilted -- out of their original horizontal condition at the bottom of a sea. It becomes a game to visualize the formation of this topography as being formed from differential erosion of rock layers that might appear t

Finally...Something Got Better!

Last episode I wrote about revisiting a place that used to be a good place. Although disappointment and anger are to be expected in situations like this, a person has to be careful about complaining to newbies. Otherwise a guy will sound like a grumpy old man. And besides, it is depressing to newbies to be told how crappy things are today. So -- without any facetiousness -- I am going to shock the reader. We had a nice mountain bike descent down an ATV trail, into a hard-bottomed and wide canyon. The surface was packed by the machine traffic -- in olden times the surface was so loose I could barely ride it. We had the canyon to ourselves -- there was nobody else there. The geology was as interesting as ever. When it dawned on me that I was actually benefiting from the heavy traffic -- and of the worst kind -- I felt so relieved that I wanted to sigh out loud. It is so nice not to be on the losing end of societal changes. Sometimes I remind myself not to let changes get me down. But t

Cross Another Place 'Off the List'

In the America of the past, old people probably envied the young, and for good reasons. Look at the advantages of the young:  More years to live.  Likely to have a higher standard of living.  Healthy and good looking. As a post-World War II baby boomer, my generation might be the first generation of Americans not to envy the young. But as I travel around southwestern Utah, another angle pops up: the young simply don't know what they have lost. Just look at this place! The hectic traffic, the price of housing, the difficulty of parking, the crowdedness of recreation on public lands, and fees and rules on everything. I actually remember when it wasn't like that! I am not saying the young should slash their wrists. There are still plenty of chances to enjoy a good life, after making the right decisions. But one more wonderful place is no longer wonderful. I was so lucky to experience it while it was still good. As for the young, they should be grateful they have no real basis of

Near Disaster from Traction Control?

Mother Nature almost played a trick on me on a steep, gravel, mountain road. Actually it was my own fault. Anybody who has bought a newer car after owning an ancient car needs to learn where the button is that will turn off the Traction Control System.  I knew where the magic button was, but it is easy to forget about such things when a sudden situation develops on the road, and it has never been a habit to hit that button. My van is new enough that it still has the wimpy mommie-mobile tires from the factory. So I was worried about slipping as the mountain road became much steeper.  Then my mighty 6.0 liter Vortec V8 seemed to lose half its power. Was the van (and trailer) going to just stop on that hill?! How would I ever get it started again after it came to a stop? The good news is that the slippage wasn't too bad. In a way, the Traction Control System was doing its job well: it was backing off the throttle in order to reduce the wheel slippage. And perhaps it was applying the

Developing Latent Pleasure

The third weekend of October presents a challenge to a Utah camper who dislikes bullets flying over his head, crowds, generators, and motor-sports yahoos.) And yet, we made it work by arriving early, and avoiding campsites that were right on the edge of the canyon. The mountain bike can be used to great advantage in crowded camping situations. (I always write about biking on dirt roads and two-tracks, not single-tracks.) In fact it is the ultimate secret weapon. A mountain biker does not need or want to camp right at the "greatest" scenery; to do so would steal the thunder from the mountain bike ride. Besides, when a scenery tourist says "greatest scenery," they simply mean the biggest and reddest verticality. Mountain bikers benefit from gentler terrain a few miles away from these overcrowded vertical spots. Long-suffering readers are sick of my criticism of scenery-obsession; but with public lands becoming more and more crowded, I am suggesting an escape route fr

Example of Artistic Creativity

Let's ignore Tolstoy's (and my) disagreement with how the word, "Art," is typically used; that is, let's pretend that "Art" really does mean "pretty stuff" made by the human hand and imagination. Still, I could go to dozens of art festivals per year, as I travel, and find little that actually inspires me. And yet we saw it today. Maybe it wasn't so much pretty as creative and ironic. We were mountain biking near the edge of town, where people used to dump debris of the usual kind. The good news is that most of this dumping happened a long time ago, as evinced by the extreme rustiness of the cans, wires, and buckets. Trail builders or users had gathered up this rusty debris and decorated juniper trees along the trail. At one point somebody had built a "maze" out of a hundred cans. I started to look forward to the next 'sculpture' of rusty debris. I was tickled by some people's ability to turn lemons into lemonade. Anti

Gratitude to a Milieu

A friend and I have talked about how lucky we were to be born in Western Europe or America in the first 15 years after World War II. We thought we had it as good as people are ever going to get it. That thought hit me again as I read Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror," about the calamitous 1300s.  Eyeglasses had been in use since [1300 A.D.] , allowing old people to read more in their later years and greatly extending the scholar's life of study. Those words might sound mild but they hit me with great force. After all I read her words on an eReader. What a huge improvement they are, especially for older eyes! But won't people born a generation later than me have even better eReaders? Oh sure, they probably will. But how many books will be censored -- directly or indirectly -- by then? We mustn't be so naive as to think that freedom of expression is a natural condition nor that, just because it has existed from time to time, that it is bound to be permanent.

Camping and Language

Every activity seems to sprout its own jargon, as every lawn or garden sprouts weeds. Oddly enough, camping doesn't seem jargon-intensive. In fact the only jargon that comes to mind is 'boondocking', a term I dislike and seldom use. There might be more jargon that is obvious to an outsider, but not to an insider. I finished out the night by listening to the "History of English" podcast again, and found the episode on the woolen cloth industry in medieval England so interesting that I had to get out of bed and start this post. from In particular, Kevin Stroud went through the cloth-making industry in the order of its major processing steps, and mentioned the new English surnames or words that were associated with that step: Spinner, Weaver, Webster, Fuller, Walker, and spinster, napkin, apron, blanket, and mannequin. Perhaps this episode was especially fun for me because, as a camper, I have 'slept with the sheepies' on BLM land, seen warning

Trouble in Autumn's Paradise

It is so easy to praise September and October as months of paradise, and for the most part, it is true. Ahh but there is trouble in paradise: this is the time of year I want to go to sleep at 730 pm.  I knew somebody once who used the 'natural' argument: that you should go to bed when it gets dark, regardless of what "o'clock" it is. He was wrong. Going to bed too early destroys your sleep patterns, and sleep is just too important to play games with.  So what is a camper to do? This is one of those conundrums that will only lend itself to partial solutions. As usual, a person pines for a giant or perfect solution instead of a combination of smaller solutions. 1. Run more lights at night. 2. Blink more frequently. 3. Avoid reading books. Only do easy things with the eyes. Write rather than read. 4. Permit yourself just about any activity as long as you are conscious. 5. Shift your evening entertainment to the ears. 6. Do household chores. Get set up for tomorrow so