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A Belvedere Over Windy Badlands

I won't apologize for my long-standing fascination with desert arroyos, especially when they develop into small canyons. Of course, readers should be warned that you should begin by hiking 'upstream', with the main branch resembling a forearm, which then subdivides into fingers, which further split into sub-fingers. At some point, you turn around and return to your starting point. It is mathematically (topologically) impossible to get lost.

Ahh, but what if you are camped on a mesa that lords over eroded badlands? Then you start walking downstream. A mistake.

Normally I feel an urge to dismantle rock cairns. What gives people the right to rob a route of its mystique and aura? But in this case, I was happy to see two cairns, at the first important junction on my first downstream walk. After all, I was out of practice.

The technique that works for me is to renounce the mindset of a tourist. Stop calling things 'beautiful' just because they are freakishly large and ve…

The Lure of Incomplete Information

If only I had a nickel for every time somebody said, "Buying a DVD doesn't make much sense, because once I've seen the movie, it isn't interesting anymore." They are correct of course if they are thinking purely in terms of how the story turns out.

But I prefer to ignore that issue and focus on identifying classic lines from classic movies. These become philosophical building blocks, comparable to Aesop's Fables, famous quotes and speeches from Shakespeare and the Bible, and the proverbs of folk wisdom.

The same thing can be said of classic jokes. For example, consider one of Jack Benny's, from the days of Radio: menacing footprints are heard approaching, as he is walking down the sidewalk at night. It  turns out to be a mugger. The mugger tells Benny, "Your money or your life." There is a long pause after that. Benny finally blurts out, "I'm thinking about it!"

There was a joke similar in spirit in Sydney Pollack's mid-1990s rema…

My First Flash "Flood," part II

Between the noise and the rain and the sticky goo, I was getting cabin fever. Not just a hackneyed expression, this is a real state of desperation. Oddly enough, whenever I have personally experienced this mood, I rebelled against it with the most determined optimism. This can seem odd or even a little magical to the person experiencing it, but, if we are to believe William James in The Will to Believe, it is common behavior:
It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem, on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest. The sovereign source of melancholy is repletion. Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us; our hour of triumph is what brings the void. Not the Jews of the captivity, but those of the days of Solomon's glory are those from whom the pessimistic utterances in our Bible come. Germany, when she lay trampled beneath the hoofs of Bonaparte's troopers, produced perhaps the most optimistic …

Wet Deserts and Creepie Crawlies

Yuma, AZ. I saw two of these creatures in a sandy desert on a rainy day. The body is 0.25--0.35 inches long. But the color really leaps out at you. Any guesses?


The photo above shows the color as too burnt red. In reality it was more scarlet red, such as this:


That's the head coming to get the cameraman. This thing, or rather, its color really amused me.

Part 4, Beyond Postcards: Drowning in Earth-Cracks

It was an odd and pleasant experience to walk into the "breaks" near Socorro, NM; and of course that means I have to try to explain it. After all, if I don't think about and write about odd and powerful experiences, what should I write about?

I don't know if most readers caught it, but during the discussion of my last post on this topic, history was quietly made: one of the outdoors-blogosphere's most notorious and incorrigible optical-sybarites (grin) admitted that a breathtakingly beautiful, 1200-foot-high, sheer vertical, redrock cliff is not necessarily 1.3333 times as breathtakingly beautiful as an identical cliff that is only 900 feet high.

It is time to be a good sport and move on. I will nobly resist the tendency to be greedy by also trying to get him to admit that:
We should stop calling things beautiful when they are just freakishly large, and therefore have been made into a national park.The freakishly large is certainly entertaining, but only in a cheap …

Owl in a Cactus

I've only gotten close to an owl once before today, and that was when mountain biking in a ponderosa forest. They are larger and more powerful than I expected. They seem more exotic and menacing than other raptors. So I grinned from ear to ear when a friend walked us over to an owl nest on the southwest side of Tucson. (Gee, maybe I should provide GPS coordinates so readers will have the ultimate in convenience in finding the owl. Isn't that how "RV blogs" are supposed to work?)
An impudent Malevolence in the shadows...





Deadly Skies in the Sonoran Desert

The skies have been weird around here lately. Blame most of it on stormy skies, especially in the mornings.



Later in the day the Fly Boys strafe my trailer. They go over at 12 o'clock high, maybe 500 feet above my roof. (It's hard to judge heights like that.) Maybe I should complain that such low flights interfere with my Fox News TV reception. (satiric grin.) You'd think they would have an adequate playground over the Goldwater Bombing Range, which is bigger than some states in the northeast. But no, they need to fly over an American citizen legally camped on public land. Why don't they at least fly over and intimidate illegal immigrants in the desert?
I wonder how many (borrowed) dollar bills per hour squirt out the ass-end of these Air Force Warthogs. Wikipedia says the rotating 30 mm cannon (visible in my photo, taken looking up from my RV) fires 4000 rounds per minute -- what a fine addition this is to the Killing Machine that our country has become.

Capturing the Perfect Cactus Photo Cliche

Somewhere and somehow I got a photo cliche into my head: a Gila woodpecker or a cactus wren or a curved bill thrasher sticking its head out of a cactus lacuna. These rascals are always interrupting my bike rides by tempting me with the expectation of capturing this photo cliche. But as I approach, they skedaddle.



Phainopeplas are not rare around here. What I liked about this next guy is the geometry of the ocotillo stalks that he chose to frame his portrait with:

And then there is the bird with the sexiest curves of all, the curved bill thrasher:


A Quartzsite Refuse-nik

Near Quartzsite AZ a couple winters ago. A cynic might say that the big RV gathering in Quartzsite every January is a testament to herd-like behavior in human beings more than anything else. Still, it probably makes sense for any RVer to go there once, at least for a reason that might sound snide or facetious at first: the experience of Quartzsite will enhance your appreciation of camping somewhere -- anywhere -- else, in January.

After all aren't you always making a comparison of some kind when you appreciate the goodness or badness of any place? The comparison might be silent or implicit, but it's still there and it colors the whole situation. Your appreciation of anywhere-but-Quartzsite can be quite intense after experiencing that dreadful mess once.

The dogs and I had an especially good example of that a couple years ago. We boondocked a few dozen miles east of Quartzsite, with world-class hiking and scenery, a good wireless internet signal, and complete privacy. We were tu…

A Cliff-Hanging Tail

The sky islands of southern Arizona are great places to camp, hike, and mountain bike; thus we've returned to them, after three years off the road. We had a strange experience here, four winters ago. In fact I am looking out the window at the exact spot on the mountain, as I type. 


It was just a couple months after the little poodle had been rescued above Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, CO. I've edited this oldie-but-goodie. Tonopah AZ...

Walking right from the RV's front door of our solitary boondocking site, we headed for the nearest mountain. These small mountain ranges can be quite photogenic; even better, they are finite: you can look at them from a variety of angles on one day. It was topped off with a cliff and caprock that almost made it look like a mesa. A large hole in that cliff had attracted my eye for days.

It got steeper as we approached the cliff, so much so that I had to scramble on all fours. At the foot of the cliff the little poodle froze in place, p…

A Condensed View of a Rainy Desert

As the modern Brownie camera keeps getting better, will the electronic camera industry be a victim of its own success? Customers could become jaded enough to expect a technological marvel for $99, and then just shrug at it, almost with indifference. In fact that day is already upon us: the camera I use for this blog is the Canon SX110, purchased three years ago. Its successor, the SX130 was on sale at Walmart and Target for $99, as a loss leader presumably.

Camera technology is good enough; it's only the photographer that needs improvement. (Oh sure, there are utilitarians and mindless rat-racers who can't get enough megapixels, but they are just kidding themselves.)

It's sad enough to see the marvelous results of the camera industry taken for granted, but what about the nuanced skills of photographers, themselves? Will their viewers learn to shrug with indifference at superb photographs since everybody has an excellent camera these days, and if that isn't good enough,…

The Next Life of Certain RV Bloggers

It is very satisfying to rise to the challenge of walking in generic (non-national-park) deserts and finding things that interest you. You have to use every angle that you can think of. You can't just be passive and expect the sheer optical pop-titude [*] of the place to wow you into a state of entertainment. (This is one of the False Doctrines of the Desert that some blogs preach. grin.) In the Wickenburg AZ area Coffee Girl and I went to work on the generic Sonoran desert landscape.
Imagining the topography as time lapse, accelerated photography is one of the great advantages of arid land, since geologic layers are exposed. Except for crumples in the earth and lava expulsions, much of the topography is formed subtractively -- that is, erosively -- from layers upon layers that have different erosion rates.

This caprock is only four inches thick; it overhangs about one foot. The mesa is only 20 feet over the lower lands adjacent to it. And yet this numerically humble caprock illustr…

Camping with Somebody Else?

The other day a retired man approached me in a big box parking lot. Initially I tensed up. That's the instinctive response these days, since you expect to be panhandled. But he said that he had noticed bicycling on my tee-shirt. As it turned out, he was a newbie van camper who went on bicycle tours all over the world in previous years. I listened to his stories for an hour or two, as we stood in the lee of my trailer in the cold New Mexican wind. He cycled through third world countries. When he approached a village he was received like an alien from a UFO that had just landed. He never camped in normal campgrounds. (Sigh, I just don't like tent camping or cycling highways enough to do cycle touring like him.)

How strange. No encounter has ever happened like this to me before, as an RV traveler. Of course I gave up trying to socialize with RVers years ago, so it's my own fault in a way. RVers are nice middle-class folks who have worked hard all their lives. They are respons…

Naked Hiking Follow-up

The geology and plant life of my current boondocking location makes for some uncomfortable walking, at least in places. The other day I howled because of something jabbing me in the foot; I had just stepped on a rock with a sharp, pyramidal point. But the pain occurred a couple more times over the next day, and always in the same spot of the same shoe.

Why was I being so stupid? Something was embedded in the sole of that shoe. I just wasn't used to getting punchadas (or pinchazos) all the way through a sole. It's a mesquite thorn, if I'm not mistaken. Lots of them are growing nearby. This is what you get for hiking in trail sneakers instead of real hiking boots with a nylon or steel plate in the sole.


And yet I have a friend who has lived in the Southwest for 15 years and hikes everywhere in sandals.

Naked Hiking Still Legal in American Southwest

It must have been a slow news day today. The BBC featured a story that really was more Yahoo style: the Swiss court has upheld a canton's law against naked hiking.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says naked hiking is an increasingly popular pastime in Switzerland.However, Appenzell is a deeply devout and conservative canton - it only granted women the right to vote in 1990 - and the influx of naked hikers has offended many local people, she adds.The new ruling applies to the entire country.Naked hikers may now have to look for another country which offers them a warmer welcome, our correspondent says.Come to the American Southwest, I say, to all the oppressed perambulating naturalists. We offer you the freedom to live in harmony with nature as well as the opportunity to develop deep tans.









Reunion with Desert Arroyos

BLM land near Soccoro, NM. It's hard to believe that I was hiking at San Juan mountain altitudes less than a month ago, near Ouray CO.


How could an outing along the Rio Grande possibly stack up well compared to hiking several thousand feet above a boutique mountain town that is visited by people from all over the world? Fortunately outdoor pleasure is not influenced all that much by sheer size. Also, this blog is dedicated to promoting a tacto-centric hedonic ethos of the outdoors versus the opto-centric obsessions of the mass tourist.

Here it is chilly most of the time, but I liked it except for the first day, when the cold wind was a bit unpleasant. (But hey, it's winter in New Mexico.) Besides, the unpleasantness just made our reunion with the arroyos of the desert more delicious.

I really appreciated one reader's comments about the under-rated outdoor pleasure of experiencing warm sun and cold air against the skin, simultaneously. That was even more the case on our fir…

The Partially Seen Villain

It was time for an uneventful hike in an Arizona sky island, a couple winters ago. We went up a canyon or draw, up to a saddle that I recognized from an earlier hike. Although I favored backtracking, since that is the safest thing to do, the little poodle made the decision for me. He headed up to the saddle, which would suck us into making a loop. It was good to see him exonerate himself from his unmanly behavior on a recent hike.
I stopped in my tracks when I saw a dead teddy bear cholla. Since my photograph didn't do it justice, I deleted it. It was as startling as seeing Norman Bates' mother at the end of "Psycho". The dead cholla was more anima-morphic in three dimensions than in the photograph. You could see its two eyes and maw. It was standing up with curved forearms. Its face seemed frozen in a death-agony. 

Since villains are seldom that scary when you actually see them, Hollywood has learned to give the viewer indirect views of the villain, at …

The Sonoran Season to Be Jolly

A couple Christmases ago, the dogs and I explored volcanic Saddle Mountain, near Tonopah, AZ. It worked out well to approach from the north, the green side. The rains have produced a lot of green "grass." It's not really grass, but looks like it from a distance. The spiny, stalky ocotillos are leafed out with dense, small, green leaves. They'd be perfect Christmas trees if they had their red blooms. Actually I didn't expect to see any green today.

It takes effort to give up this notion that lichen belongs in alpine settings being licked by a mountain goat, rather than in the desert. It is surprising how lush and thick it can be here, on the desert floor at 1000 foot altitude. You really could do some rough orienteering on a cloudy day just by noticing the green (or yellow or orange) fuzz on the north side.

As easy as it is to enjoy the Sonoran Desert in the winter, I sometimes wonder what I'm missing by not experiencing it at other times of the year…

Arizona Arroyos

There are plenty of arroyos (dry washes) in the Little Pueblo, but bein' az we're at the foot of the mountains, they are usually soggy and full of plants. They just don't make for the peerless walking of the arroyos of lower Arizona. Forgive me for feeling a little nostalgia for them; during my traveling years I'd be in Arizona at this time of year. 
My dogs and I hardly ever walked real hiking trails in the uplands there, since the rocks were too sharp for dog paws. A woman in the campground here sewed up a boot out of cloth for her dog. She was amazed how short the boot's life was. But even leather doesn't stand a chance. I spent a couple years trying different brands and materials before finding Neo-Paws.

Contrast the prickliness of an Arizona razor-rock hike with the pleasure of an arroyo. Cactus and mesquite grow on the banks, but not in the middle of the "stream." As if that wasn't relief enough, the rocks and gravel are mercifully rounded. Th…

A New Plane/Plain of Existence

In the desert west of Phoenix, a couple years ago. It's been so long since a real cold front blasted through, like they do back east. Wonderful. We went out to explore the desert plain around our new boondocking site near Tonopah, AZ. The altitude was just over 1000 feet. Some of my plastic bottles were flattened by the air pressure.

I dreaded returning to the creosote bush-dominated desert of lower Arizona. Perhaps it was monotony of a desert plain dominated by one plant; or maybe it flatters the ego to live at high altitudes. But someone who has been hiking in thorn and sticker country recently can see creosote bush as a blessing, since it has no stickers or thorns! That is no small miracle. Just a few feet from this monotony you could see the lush boscage of a dry wash. Maybe they were ironwood and elephant trees. Just imagine walking across this hellish plain in June, and finally finding this shade!

This desert plain is covered with desert pavement, like at Quartzsite. …