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Showing posts with the label Arizona

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. 

Afew 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 d…

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 recip…

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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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 appreciategreen ocotillo stalks and spring wildflowers. Since I prudently stayed camped on desert pavement, there was little cha…

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 …

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. Rece…

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. …

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 …

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…

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 grassl…

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.


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 h…

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…

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…

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…

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 …

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…

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 asnoble 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 am…