My Previous Life as an Equestrian

Michele asked if I had any photos of myself on a horse, in response to my comment about his daughter the Duchess, who looks so naturally comfortable astride. So, I went through my Google Photos which go back to when I rode my friend’s horses. My own mare was gone before the advent of the cell phone, which has made keeping a photo journal so convenient. I probably posted pictures of my beloved Sunny on my Xanga page.

Gemela and me
Florentino with Steve aboard

My oldest friend, Stephen (I’m a few days older than he is of which he reminds me at every opportunity) bought two Andalusian yearlings years ago, while he was still working long hours at his private medical practice. I thought it was ill-advised as he already had two Quarter horses that were seldom ridden. When the youngsters matured, he placed them with a local trainer who turned them into lovely show horses, on which she won many trophies and ribbons. When they came home from the trainer, they were a pleasure to ride…in the confines of a show ring. Steve rode them occasionally on trails, and he sometimes allowed others to ride them, some skilled and others not so much. After about ten years of erratic handling, they had lost their good manners and were almost impossible to ride.

Gemela was a silly beauty who would not stand to be mounted. While she had a gentle temperament and a calm nature, she had learned long ago that she could do as she pleased and she was pleased to avoid capture when turned out in the arena.

Florentino was homely and affectionate and chewed on anything within his reach. Both were bomb proof by nature which made them easy to handle, especially when the kids would come roaring through the barn on their ATVs or the gardener would run the tractor or other noisy implements. They had raw patches where the flies had irritated their sensitive skin and sores on their fetlocks from having to lie down on hard dirt or rubber mats.

I worked, with my sister’s and cousin’s help, cleaning up the barn, creating drainage in the corrals, and grooming their knotted manes and tails. I added shavings to their stalls for bedding and sand to the corrals to soften the footing. With a clean barn and some fly control, they began to heal, though the knot on Florentino’s fetlock never went away.

The work of restoring their manners was time consuming and exhausting. Before I could even begin to ride them, I had to teach them to stand quietly while being saddled and mounted. They had obviously been cinched up carelessly by ignorant riders and tried to sidle away when being saddled and cinched. I gently snugged up the cinch (or I guess they call it a girth on an English saddle) repeatedly, day after day, until they trusted that they wouldn’t be hurt. Steve was paying me $10/hour and I figure he spent $100 just to have his horses learn to stand still to be saddled.

The next step was to teach them to stand quietly while I mounted. Andalusians are good sized horses so I used a mounting block. Naturally, even tied in cross ties, they stepped away from the mounting block as soon as I stepped up. I spent what seemed like hours mounting and just sitting quietly, in the barn. Then I’d dismount and mount again. Again, I’d sit still until they got the picture that we weren’t going anywhere. Finally, I repeated the procedure without the cross ties. These were not new ideas for these middle-aged horses; they had just been badly handled for many years.

Then we began some work in the arena. They seemed to appreciate the diversion and the subsequent bath. Keeping two white horses white when they live on red clay is a Sisyphean task. Weeks rolled into months and, we began to expand our areas of exploration. Horses are herd animals and normally don’t like to venture away from their territory without their companions. Gemela initially whinnied plaintively as she was forced to leave Florentino behind. He didn’t encourage her by replying and never looked back when he was the one leaving the barn.

Each of these bold horses had qualities that made me enjoy riding them. Flo had the smooth gaits that could lull you to sleep in the saddle while Gemela had the showy leg action that could bounce even a good rider off her seat. Initially, Gemela wouldn’t step over a crack in the pavement but over time, came to trust my judgment in almost all cases. Flo would go anywhere he was asked, uphill or down, clear trail or flowing water. Flo would lope evenly on a loose rein while Gemela always showed eagerness to pick up speed, though neither of them were inclined to ever actually run.

When I had reformed the miscreants, I invited Stephen to go for a ride with me. I had both horses shining white with flowing manes and tails.

Walking the placid Florentino
Riding bareback while filming on the showy Gemela doesn’t make for the best video

I think I cared for Flo and Gemela for about 4 years until a real job found me. I continued to supervise their routine veterinary care, feeding, and hoof care but I turned over the responsibility for keeping the barn clean to the gardener. I’d grown as fond of them as if they were my own and it was difficult to watch their health decline and have no say in their veterinary decisions. White horses are prone to melanoma and Flo had a tumor on his rectum that made defecation increasingly difficult. He eventually was put down but it was considerably later than I thought was humane. Gemela became sick and the vet speculated that she too had a cancer that wasn’t immediately visible. She died within months of losing her half brother, with whom she had been barn mates her entire life.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t horse crazy. To this day, the sight of a horse triggers a visceral sensation of pleasure. But, age has made my heart too tender to take on the responsibility of caring for an animal that can’t share my home. When the winter nights turn cold, and the wind blows through the barn, I don’t worry about my horse anymore. When the summer heat beats down and no breeze blows through the barn, I don’t worry about my dear equine friend. I can rest easy with my dogs and cats beside me.

Consider the Source

Being one of those people who has an immune system that responds to the Covid vaccine drill like it’s the real deal, I was not eager to get the booster. But, since I’m also one of those people who would rather take a beating than be sick, I girded my loins for jab number three and took it like a woman.

GPs face 'planning nightmare' as flu plan casts doubt over COVID booster  campaign | GPonline

The pharmacist was encouraging as he deftly squirted what felt like liquid mercury into my “sinewy”shoulder (my chiropractor’s word for my physique). He suggested that since this was half the dose of the first two, I might not suffer side effects at all. Although he mused that even a half dose could be a bit much for my small frame.

I spent another listless day on the couch and two restless, nightmare infested nights, before I regained my usual energy. This brief sample of illness removed any shred of schadenfreude I had feared I might feel when I learned that my anti-vax cousin had contracted a full-blown case.

As soon as I heard her congested voice on the phone, I found myself fervently hoping that she didn’t have Covid. But sadly, she was on day ten of her struggle with the virus and had reached a point of hopelessness, feeling that the misery would ever end. She confided that she had broken down in tears when she called her doctor for help yesterday.

My cousin is strong and healthy and has an unshakeable faith that will carry her through this valley of tears. She’s been prescribed prednisone and Azithromycin which will make the journey a little more comfortable. She was also prescribed something to tame the cough but so far, no Ivermectin.

I don’t blame my cousin, nor do I fault anyone who has chosen not to get vaccinated because of their poor choice of information sources. We all live in our own bubble, surrounded by people who think like we do. We all prefer to believe what appeals to us. I believe that coffee, red wine and chocolate are necessary for life. So, I sympathize with people who get their news from Facebook and from the people who share their bubble.

That said, I do blame the people who purposefully and systematically spread false information for their own profit. I also blame people who pass along hearsay, anecdotal, unsubstantiated claims just because they believe it to be true. (I believe I’m funny but I would never insist that it’s true!) I’ve actually heard someone say, with a straight face, that more people have died from the vaccine than from Covid. This person even quoted numbers of people who had died from the vaccine. When I asked if he knew any of these deceased people or if he knew someone who knew one of these people, he admitted that he didn’t. I personally knew three people who have died of Covid and several more who were intimately known by someone I know, but I don’t know of anyone who has died of the vaccine.

So, I guess the point of this is, I hope people will get beyond red or blue, right or left, and simply read peer reviewed scientific articles. Examine the credentials of the author of the information you’re believing: if your news anchor is wearing a cocktail dress, be skeptical; if it’s found on Facebook, be suspicious; if the friend telling you is wearing face paint, consider an N95 mask and at least 6′ of distance.

Read, Write, Love or Survival of the Literate

Let’s say you’re stranded on the proverbial dessert island. Which would you choose: Tiramisu, creme brulee, flan, strawberry/rhubarb pie a la commode, or a brownie, hot fudge sundae? If you say something totally healthy like fresh fruit with plain yogurt, I’ll know you’re lying.

But seriously, what if you were confined to any isolated place. I hesitate to say desert island because, obviously water would be your first choice, but after water and chocolate, would you choose a) a selection of books sufficient to occupy your mind for the duration of your isolation; b) writing materials, a Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, and a thesaurus; or c) one person you love?

The merits of each could mean the difference between sanity and talking to a volley ball (aka the one you love), so choose carefully. And assume that the other essentials for life would be attainable by employing the skills learned from reading Robinson Caruso, The Swiss Family Robinson, and by having watched Castaway.

Homeward Bound

Retracing my route through Bryce National Park, I took a little time to walk one of the trails near the highway since the weather had warmed up a bit.

Trails measured in feet appeal to the folks who prefer to see the sights from the comfort of their vehicle.
Sadie was getting bored with posing for pictures.

Rather than going home the way we had come out, I went north on Hwy. 89, then taking route 20 through the mountains which follows the Old Spanish Trail. There were some steep grades, 12% at times, but I took it slow since traffic was light and there were two lanes in each direction should anyone want to pass. This beautiful drive was over all to soon and we were dumped onto the interstate highway which was quite busy and FAST. The speed limit was 80 mph in places and I never saw any restrictions on autos towing trailers, so I kicked my own speed up to 65, just in self-defense. The laws of physics don’t change with posted speed limits, so I remained alert, knowing that any sudden maneuvers would be risky.

Just north of St. George is a little town called Leeds. I had done some Google research thinking it would be a good place to stop for the night and I’d found an RV park and a good restaurant. Pulling into Leed’s RV resort, I felt like I’d just been moved from business class to coach. The park was populated by mostly full-time residents who had personalized their own space. One woman had an expansive outdoor cat run and another had a pet that appeared to have the freedom to roam the park.

Porky was oblivious to Sadie’s interest.

Overall, the park was neat and the residents were quiet. My site was about as far away from the restroom as one could park and still be within the property, but at least it wasn’t cold so the hike was pleasant enough.

The hike of the evening

Once our camp was set up and the trailer disconnected, we set out to explore our neighborhood. The Silver Reef Museum was nearby so we headed up the road that Google said was the way to go. We never spotted the museum but we did find a nicely graded dirt road that led to a lovely little hike. Just what my aching hips needed! The girls enjoyed the freedom of BLM land and my distraction of a phone call from home.

The butte in the distance is Gooseberry Mesa where we used to go mountain biking and Zion National Park is off to the left.

After we had worked up an appetite, we drove to Tequilana where the food was as good as it had been reported on Google. There was a brand new, Covid inspired patio, where the girls could join me. The waiter kindly brought them a to-go container which he tore into two parts to fill with water. Sadie, impatient with his service began to drink out of his pitcher. I don’t think the people at the next table noticed.

At last…some food porn

To say it wasn’t a great day would only indicate my feeling of loss at parting with Tam and leaving the comforts of Yonder. I went straight to bed and actually slept pretty well, despite the drone of the nearby freeway traffic, or maybe because of it. But, of course, I was awake by 4:00 A.M.

Feeling the end-of-vacation blues, I debated whether to just drive the 8 hours home, rather than detour from the freeway through Valley of Fire again. I was on the road by 5 A.M. and thought I’d see how I felt by the time I reached the VoF off ramp. The eastern sky was just starting to lighten when I came to the exit and I was growing very sleepy, having left camp without coffee. Thankfully, Mike called just after I left the freeway and talked to me most of the way to the park.

I walked through the campground looking at tags to see if anyone was vacating that day and found two sites. The couple from Idaho in the site I preferred, was in no hurry to leave so I told them I’d go pay for the site and amuse myself until check-out time. The Atlatl campground has hookups and showers so I went up there to take a shower and then parked in a day-use picnic area and made myself a much-needed cup of coffee and some breakfast.

Restorative breakfast…home-grown egg with my own homemade fruit/nut bread fried in butter.

That was all it took to get my vacation mojo back. Refueled, the ambivalence of the morning evaporated. By the time I headed to my campsite, the Idahoans were leaving the campground and I waived merrily to them. But now I worried because they had said they wouldn’t be leaving for a few hours, and now my campsite was sitting vacant. Would-be campers were circling the campground like vultures, prowling for a site, as I had been earlier. Sure enough, by the time I made my way through the campground someone had parked in my spot. It was a handsome, young man who moved out without argument, saying he didn’t know how the system worked. His girlfriend was walking down to the entrance to pay the fee and I hoped she hadn’t already put her money in the slot. At any rate, I suggested he try the app Campendium.com to locate a place to camp outside the park.

Home for the night

I set up the trailer and considered a hike but somehow the idea of a nap won out. The camp was quiet, the air was warm, and I had several good books. A sunset hike seemed like a more reasonable option. So, just before dusk I loaded the girls into the back of the car and went in search of a cell signal so I could let Mike know that I wasn’t coming home that night.

Some rock pictures, just in case you craved more.
More rock pictures for my sister.

The woman in the campsite next to me turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Almost my age and caring for an aging mother, we had things in common. She had a fascinating history, having traveled extensively and she was an avid bibliophile. We could have talked for days but darkness fell and we both had miles to travel the next day.

And then the adventure was over except for the unpacking, the laundry, washing the trailer and car, and preparing for work on Monday. Reliving it through this blog is almost as fun as planning the trip.

Adios, Escalante

We had hiked about 7 miles the first day, about 8 the second day, and we were pleasantly surprised that we recovered over night. So, on day three, we set off for another exploration of the Escalante River. Thinking we would go upriver from the highway, we headed back towards Boulder; but on the outskirts of town, we noticed a trailhead sign that indicated we could access the river from the east end and skip the drive. Our hiking book said it was 14 miles to where Hwy. 12 crosses the river but we had no intention of going that far. I remembered the sign at the bridge on our previous hike:

Almost as soon as the trail reached the river, the canyon walls rose up and closed in. We traveled slowly down river, crossing the stream many times and had to stop occasionally to rest our cramping necks. Necks are not accustomed to looking up and the towering cliffs demanded that we look at their flamboyant ribbons of color and texture.

The paws that refreshes
The overhang in the background is one of the largest on the river.
Tamera and Lucy are dwarfed by the massive dome.
Hard Hat Recommended

It was hard to make the decision to turn back as each bend in the canyon promised another breathtaking alcove, waterfall, or slot canyon, but common sense prevailed and we retraced our path back to the car after about five miles.

Cottonwoods live a precarious existence in the canyon.
Near the trailhead there is a stock gate. It was unclear on which side of the fence the cows were supposed to stay but we didn’t see any poop on the trail, so presumably, it was designed to keep them out of the canyon.

As usual, we finished the hike with howling stomachs, but thankfully we were only a couple of miles from Escalante Outfitters . With mouths watering we made all haste only to find they were CLOSED! .https://www.escalanteoutfitters.com/restaurant/

With heavy hearts we continued towards home, consoling ourselves with the thought of my homemade, cheese/black bean/corn enchiladas with authentic sauce made from scratch, that were languishing in the camper refrigerator. But we spotted this gem!

Como se dice muy delicioso en engles?
Georgie’s has no web page but Google’s five star rating is an understatement.

The special of the day was pozole, something that no self-respecting vegetarian would eat but…on vacation, I eat as the Romans eat or in this case, the Mexicans. I’m seriously thinking of another trip to Escalante just to sample other menu items. I’m certain this experience has ruined me for any other pozole and so, I vow not to eat it ever again, but the memory of that savory soup will linger always. Tamera’s quesadilla, layered with tender pork and good quality cheese came with salsa and guacamole, obviously made fresh on the premises. Tortilla chips, made from flour tortillas, were also freshly made. There was nothing healthy about this fabulous meal and I’m grateful Georgie’s is 600 miles from home.

So, enough of waxing rhapsodic about the food we have eaten; it’s obvious I’m avoiding the inevitable parting of the ways with MFN. We spent our last evening in paradise appreciating the Yonder Escalante glamcamp.

MFN in her fancy pants.
Tamera has a gift for photography, her choice of subject matter however…

Morning came and neither of us was eager to hit the road for home and say good-bye, so we went into town in search of breakfast that neither of us really wanted. The Outfitter restaurant was still closed but the store offered a nice assortment of prepared food. That uncomfortable space of time, where the imminent parting hung between us like a diaphanous curtain couldn’t be ignored. A lingering hug in the parking lot had me stumbling towards my car with tears welling unbidden. Remembering one of our fireside conversations about break-ups with boyfriends and distracted driving, I paused to text her that I wouldn’t sob and drive.

On the road again, equanimity restored, I was transported by the panorama around me. It was easy to live in the moment and enjoy the drive to Bryce National Park.

Escalante with MFN

The first time I came home from Southern Utah with what I thought were spectacular photos, my sister commented dryly, “Sure are a lot of rock pictures”. The next time, I took her with me and she came home with twice as many rock pictures as I had. My point is, amateur images scarcely hint at the grandeur of the landscape. So with that in mind, kindly view the following with uncritical eyes.

My frosty breath hung in the air INSIDE the trailer and the dogs declined to go outside to do any kind of business. Of course, it was still well before dawn. There was naught to be done but snuggle in bed and write in my journal.

The transcription of this journal will probably follow but only the truly masochistic, and my sister, will want to read it.

When the sun came up I was able to crawl from under my down comforter and heat some tea on the stove, which took the chill off but also caused moisture to condense on the cold ceiling and drip onto my bed. Ah, the joys of camping! Later when the camp host came by, I asked him why I had no electrical power and he diplomatically pointed out that I needed to turn on ALL of the breakers at the post. He was nonplussed that I hadn’t bothered him after hours to help me. I guess the usual guest isn’t that considerate. My trailer has a new battery so I didn’t need electrical power but I did appreciate the WiFi as there was not much cell service.

A text from Tamera said she was about four hours away so I took a hot shower and broke camp. Kodachrome Basin State Park was just a short drive off the highway and looked like a great place to while away a few hours before beating cheeks to Escalante to meet MFN.

Kodachrome Basin State Park, Cannonville,UT

The park looked like I could have spent several days exploring the canyons and dirt roads, but I was too eager to get to Escalante and meet MFN Tamera to do more than snap a few images, cruise through the campgrounds and then turn east to Yonder Escalante.

After setting up our camp in a private-feeling space at the end of a row of RV sites, nestled in a copse of scrub oaks, we set off to explore our new neighborhood. A dirt road, just across the highway, brought us to a short canyon where the dogs could romp off leash and get acquainted. Tamera’s little Mini-Australian Shepard, Lucy, is about a quarter of the size of Sadie so she was cautious about initiating play. Each time she would entice Sadie to chase her, she ran and hid behind her mom.

Our first night in camp was a bit of a trial. I heated the chili relleno caserole with some brown rice and a nice bottle of pinot noir to set the mood. We then set up the larger bed at the back of the trailer for my two big girls and me, and the smaller front bed for Tamera and her little girl. Poor Lucy! She just couldn’t relax with two big dogs just a few feet away and Tamera finally gave up and moved her bed into the back of her car. This also allowed Molly to settle down as she was suspicious of the interloper who had usurped her bed. Neither of my dogs offered to move to the now empty front bed, but I was content to share their body heat.

In the morning I tried the heater again and voila! it fired right up without apology or explanation.

We all piled into Tamera’s new Nissan Pathfinder to hike the three-mile trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls, the iconic Escalante canyon trail. Lower Calf Creek is described as a heavily trafficked, moderate hike, but we didn’t find it to be at all crowded even though the small parking lot was full when we arrived. Though dogs are required to be on leashes, there were long stretches where we could let them loose, only tethering them when we saw other hikers approaching.

The reward at the end of the 3-mile walk up the canyon.
MFN Tamera, aka the girl with the getaway sticks. Notice that her legs reach to my waist?

We retraced our steps and by the time we reached the car, we were ready for breakfast/lunch/dinner as we hadn’t had a meal all day. Even though it was cold and windy, Tamera agreed to drive up the Hogback https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCJB_Xa1nOs to Boulder to eat at Hell’s Backbone Grill. https://hellsbackbonegrill.com/ Thanks to Covid, the restaurant was serving only dinner and that was outside, on the patio. Still, people were lined up for their locavore cuisine. We opted to take ours to go and found a turnout on the Hogback that afforded a 360 degree view, Calf Creek on the right and another stark drainage on the left. We ate our dessert first, using the excuse that we didn’t want Tamera’s autumn fruits cobbler to get cold or her ice cream to melt. My chocolate chili cream pot would have been good at any temperature. Sorry no food pictures; we ate like starving refugees.

Returning to camp, we decided to go to the drive-in movie theater. Top Gun was showing. As Tamera recited the dialog from memory between and through mouthfuls of popcorn, I reviewed the day’s pictures and texted them to Sally to elicit her envy.

Our narrator
We chose the Nash Rambler over the ’64 Corvair because the Corvair has a terrible safety record.
Dig that analog clock! That’s an electric heater on the floor, next to a vintage Victrola radio used as a speaker.
HiFi (that’s pre WiFi for you youngsters)
It began to rain rendering Tom Cruise’s face a little blurry but presently a sweet staff member came by with a squeegee and cleaned our windshield.

Yonder served freshly ground and brewed coffee on the patio, along with hot corn muffins and fruit every morning. Neither Tam nor I are big on food first thing in the morning but we tapped that coffee with enthusiasm. No powdered coffee whitener, but real half and half or oat milk for this classy place. I was quite certain this is what heaven would look like upon arrival.

Hike #2 began where Highway 12 crosses the Escalante River. We started off downstream and almost immediately were forced to cross the shallow but frigid stream. I switched to my already damp water shoes and never bothered to change back.

The trail immediately crosses under Highway 12
The bridge support beams are plastered with modern pictographs.
I think the people behind me were the only two we met on the trail all day.
Recent high water had deposited debris five feet high, reminding us of how quickly these desert streams can turn violent.
A side canyon leading to Phipps Arch proved to be an interesting diversion.
Our progress was temporarily halted by this spill off.
We found a way around the first spill off only to be stopped by another farther up the canyon forcing us to retrace our steps across this fragile bridge. The term, “think light” occurred to me as my dogs and I scampered across. Notice the crack 2/3 of the way across? Yeah, it scared me a little.
It looked more substantial from this direction. This was on the way up canyon.

Once again, we left the trail, having hiked 8 miles without breakfast or lunch, famished. Now you may discount what follows, attributing it to exaggerated appetite induced by physical activity but seriously, the lunch at Escalante Outfitters was world class.

Like castaways, we described to each other the meal we were anticipating when we got back to town. Tamera craved fresh mozzarella with tomato on focaccia while I was more broad-minded in my fantasy, never imagining that Tamera’s dream would be realized in the teeny-tiny, back-road, cowboy town of Escalante.

And so, we again arrived at heaven’s gate. Tamera’s sandwich exceeded all expectation. The requisite buffalo mozzarella was enhanced by tomato, red onion, and pepperoccini, on grilled kalamata olive sourdough bread. I ordered a truly Italian style, thin-crust pizza glazed with olive oil and grilled garlic cloves, topped with grilled tomatoes, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and red onions. World class is no exaggeration and I apologize for failing to photograph the pizza before devouring it.

Returning to camp with full bellies, we showered and joined our fellow campers (not pictured) on the patio to watch the full moon rise. The patio refrigerator was stocked with packages of marshmallows, Reece’s peanut butter cups and graham crackers for making s’mores along with sticks on which to roast the marshmallows. Packaged meals, ready to be grilled on the camp grills were also available for purchase. The heated pool and spa beckoned but we were already too tired for a swim.

After the first night, we agreed that we must extend our stay another day. We were hooked on Glamping.

Escalante 2021 – Home to Cannonville, UT

Several weeks ago, I fantasized aloud about a dream trip to Escalante, Utah. Recently President Biden reinstated the original boundaries of the Staircase/Escalante National Monument, thereby deferring the desecration of the area until the next administration decides that mining is more lucrative than tourism. MFN Tamera, who lives almost as far east of the monument as I am west of it, said, “Let’s go!”

Almost in disbelief that a life-long fantasy was going to come to fruition, I began plotting my course and planning every step. Google Maps and Google Earth facilitated the research (and I must also credit ESRI, my hometown mapping company). Traveling solo is always fraught with some trepidation about unanticipated complicatons, so it calmed my anxiety to be knowledgeable about camping options, hiking opportunities, and expected weather. A week before departure, the preparations began in earnest.

Food prep – Chili Relleno caserole – enough to take and plenty to leave for Mike to eat in my absence

Clothes were packed…and repacked as weather reports were updated
Destination appropriate reading material was packed in the hope that there would be time to read. Ha!

Something young people don’t plan around much is bodily functions. But as a mature traveler, it’s essential to consider the demands of one’s digestive system. It’s a complicated formula, one that can be manipulated with the use of caffeine to influence the timing of ablutions. My first stop was planned for about 2 1/2 hours into the journey, The Mojave National Preserve. The details of this stop will be left to your imagination but suffice it to say, it’s a rather sparsely populated area with only desert scrub for privacy. The girls enjoyed the walk.

Rest stop #2

I had little hope of finding a camp site in Valley of Fire State Park as all of the sites are available on a first-come-first-served basis and this was Friday. But, I was tired of freeway driving and decided to make the side side trip to the park anyway. The campground was full but, remembering that the group camp sites allowed up to 15 vehicles, I had the bright idea that I might be able to inveigle an invitation from a small group to join them. As luck would have it, a couple representing the Henderson Presbyterian Church had reserved the best group site and graciously invited me to join them. They turned out to be ideal companions for the evening.

Evening settles over Valley of Fire

If there is anything more beautiful than dawn over the desert, I can’t imagine it at this time. I was awake long before daylight. I reveled in the absolute silence that can only be found in the desert environment where there are no noisy insects or animals. Tarantulas, unlike crickets, don’t attract mates with sound.

Encroaching dawn

How quickly the stars retreat from the glow on the eastern horizon! Only the planets, Saturn & Jupiter (according to my fellow campers), steadfastly held their positions, glowing companionably but appropriately distanced.

A lone plane droned somewhere in the distance to the south, then faded to silence so profound my own heartbeat sounded loud in my head.

The girls lay contentedly on the hard-packed gravel, Molly shunning the plush, dog-sized rugs I had bought for them, as much for their comfort as to keep them (the dogs; not the rugs) clean. With ears pricked they watched the surrounding brush intently, hoping against my hope that prey would show itself. The mountain sheep here are practically tame, having long grown accustomed to the sound of shutters clicking.

The Watch Dogs
The loo with a view
Fifty Shades of Red

With dawn comes the intrusion of sounds of human presence. From the road, a half mile away, early arrivals can be heard and the first jet of the day growls, unseen, in the cloudless sky. Time to hit the road.

The road back to the interstate highway follows the Muddy River which is lined with immaculate farms and a beautiful Mormon temple. The tiny communities of Overton and Logandale are apparently conservative bastions where every lamppost bristled with an American flag and gated homes were hung with banners proclaiming support for Trump and the police. Said supported police were in evidence: one over-sized, 4WD pick-up truck with more chrome than paint; and another luxury SUV, both emblazoned with their law enforcement status. Another hand-crafted sign advertised, “Pistols & PCs”, an interesting collaboration. Suffice it to say that this female with California license plates was careful not to exceed the posted speed limit.

The drive to my next camp site was as scenic as it was long. The Virgin River Gorge has to be one of the most spectacular sections of highway in the country. Squeezed between towering canyon walls, it snakes along the course of the Virgin River, crossing it and recrossing as often as the engineers chose to show off their road-building genius. The most jaded truck drivers must still feel a thrill as they navigate this four-lane roller coaster.

I-15 construction to slow travel between Utah and Las Vegas - The Salt Lake  Tribune

Extreme Road Building

Zion National Park stood between me and my destination, and I debated whether to drive through the park, braving the bumper-to-bumper traffic, just to experience another feat of extreme road building, this time in the form of tunnels, or detour south of the park. The more expedient route won out since I knew there would be splendid scenery no matter which route I took.

We reached our reserved campsite in the tiny burg of Cannonville shortly before dusk which allowed me to set up the trailer and take the dogs for a short hike.

The hills behind Cannonville, just east of Bryce National Park

The night was freezing cold and the heater in the Wanderlust wouldn’t light. I had only two dogs on a three dog night.

Dogs in Down

Just Stop!

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Warning! This is a rant.

Just home from a week-long vacation, and before I begin to post the details of the trip, I am going to alienate anyone who believes that mankind is mandated to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “cover the earth”. Enough already!

I’ve been wandering the desert Southwest for almost fifty years. The lure of quiet canyons and star-filled skies has brought me back to Utah and Arizona, in particular, year after year. But now the vast open spaces, once unmarked by humans, are crisscrossed with the tracks of all terrain vehicles and littered with the detritus of a careless breed of humans who feel entitled to dominion over the earth. The places where one could pitch a private camp, away from the noise of others, now are crammed with RVs (recreational vehicles) of all sizes and purpose. Their occupants sit inside their “home away from home” and watch their big screen TV, rarely venturing outside to appreciate the surroundings of unsurpassed natural beauty. When they do venture out, it’s to fire up the quad or motorcycle to go tearing around the countryside as fast as the uneven terrain will allow.

It’s easy to understand why the seemingly infinite wilderness would feel like one’s own personal space to use and abuse as carelessly as a child would his pristine diaper. But the difference is that the desert isn’t washed clean every day. The mark made by a single passage remains a scar, sometimes for decades; and the tracks of thousands of powerful ATVs render a wilderness a barren sand trap.

The earth is a closed system, my dear breeders. Already our teeming masses, yearning to breathe free, are breathing each other’s exhalations and it’s nearly impossible to maintain a 6 square foot distance between ourselves and other humans.

So, I beg you, just stop. Stop having so many children. Also, if it’s not too much trouble, raise the ones you have to be respectful of mother nature and each other. Teach them that mechanization increases their potential for destruction of the natural environment exponentially while diminishing their ability to appreciate it commensurately. Trust me on this: traveling under one’s own power reveals priceless secrets about one’s environment and about one’s self.

Memories of 9/11/2001

Twenty years ago today we were poised to go North to Grass Valley on a mini vacation, to visit friends and do some mountain biking around Lake Tahoe. I was loading the ice chest when my mom came from her granny flat in our back yard to tell us that the World Trade Center had been hit by an airliner. Mum lived alone and kept her TV on for company and so learned of the attack as soon as, “We interrupt this program…” grabbed her attention.

The deep, visceral horror of watching the news report footage of the plane smashing into the first tower over and over, and then hearing the shocked confusion in the anchor’s voice as a another plane disappeared into the second tower, left us dazed, terrified, and mentally crippled. There was no way to process the events and the impact they would have on the people at the sites of the attacks, and we couldn’t begin to imagine the changes that would follow for the entire country. We sank into chairs, in front of the TV, immobilized, paralyzed, stunned, stomachs churning, minds trying to find equilibrium.

By the end of the day, it appeared that the mayhem was finished. The authorities quickly determined that it was a terrorist attack, not an act of war by another country, but the President quickly took action (though some found fault with the fact that he finished the story he was reading to some per-preschoolers when he was informed) closing all of the country’s airports and stopping all commercial interstate transportation.

Those who know me at all, know that my life revolves around vacation. And acting with complete and utter self-interest, I determined that we were incapable of doing anything to ameliorate the suffering of the victims. And so, the next morning, I repacked the ice chest and we set off.

We traveled up Highway 395, a normally hair-raising stretch of road that snakes along the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In those days, twenty years ago, it was a two-lane road with a sandy shoulder, few passing lanes, and HEAVY truck traffic. But on this day, with no trucks and few passenger cars on the road (sane people were at home glued to their TV sets, watching the planes smash, and the towers crash over and over and…) the journey was surreal. We were in the sheltering bubble of our car, with nothing to remind us of the crazy world outside, except for the dystopian empty road ahead and behind our cocoon. The road passes through a few small towns, Lee Vining, Bridgeport, Walker, all of which looked like ghost towns. We were yanked back into 2001 when we approached an overpass near a larger town (I can’t remember what it was called) where the locals were gathered on an overpass waving banners and flags, and proclaiming American unity.

Now normally, I am not a fan of nationalism. Don’t take this wrong: I love my country and most of my countrymen. But I fear nationalism, seeing it as an instrument of war and I am vehemently opposed to war. But this spontaneous display of unity, unity against terrorism, unity in support of the people who risked everything to save others, and unity in our grief, moved me. For that moment we were one nation.

So, today, September 11, 2021, looking back on that day and the two decades of war that followed, I took the girls for a walk in the hills. I know, here’s your surprised look, right?

We climbed Flag Hill, one of my favorite mountain bike descents.

My Patriotic dogs, standing at attention.

We descended Fire Bell Hill Trail in memory of those heroic fire fighter who did their job with courage.

We rang the bell. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls…”

And then we headed home for a well-deserved breakfast.

A Walk, a Jog, and a Sprint

At my age, the difference between a jog and a sprint is only discernible by the duration of the activity. I start my morning dog walk at a leisurely walk, gradually building up to a brisker pace. The old lactic transport system is slow to respond which means a gentle warm up is mandatory.

This morning, I just wasn’t feeling it. The particulate air pollution, the noisy traffic, and the pesky flies that came with the truckloads of manure recently spread in the orange grove along my route, all contributed to a sour attitude. After less than a mile, we turned back towards home. I forced myself into a jog that probably looked more like a shuffle to the passing truck drivers. The flies were too lazy to keep pace so it was worth the effort.

The formerly rural town where I live is known by a couple of nicknames, Mentone Beach, a nod to the numerous settling ponds, and Dogtown, because dogs outnumber people here. I think I’ve mentioned before, that it’s a diverse neighborhood, made up of Hispanic, Asian, White, old, poor, young, meth head, alcoholic, blue collar, retired, disabled, low-income, people all of whom love their dogs. From Chihuahuas to Great Danes, and every variety in between, my neighbors keep dogs in various versions of luxury.

Some, like me, pamper and discipline their animals as if they were children. At the other end of the love spectrum are the folks who believe their dogs should live a life of freedom. These dogs are allowed to bark as long as as loud as they see fit; if they jump the fence and accost a passing pedestrian, it barely warrants an apology; and if they are run over by a car or carried off by a coyote, they are quickly replaced.

My neighbors a few houses to the North, have about four dogs and at least as many cats. The population is fluid. They had three smallish dogs that lived outside, but the nephew, who lives in the storage shed in their back yard is too lazy to close the gate when he leaves, so now they’re down to one. He ran over one, the coyotes ate one, and the last one, Bean, is living on borrowed time. Unaware of his diminutive stature, he yells insults at my dogs and me from behind the fence when we walk by and if the gate’s been left open a crack, he comes out and taunts Sadie.

My dogs are pretty well trained to walk at my side without a leash even with distractions. But this morning, Bean must have said something about Sadie’s mama and she decided to make him eat his words. She chased him back into his yard and proceeded to maul him. And that’s when my shuffle became a discernible sprint.

Bean was yipping like he was being killed and I was yelling at Sadie (and this is when I learned that whacking your own dog with a hiking pole is totally ineffective in a dog fight) and Molly thought it looked like fun and piled on. I got a grip on both of my dogs’ collars and strangled them into submission and Bean beat a hasty retreat. I dragged both dogs out of the yard, expecting Bean’s peeps to come out and berate me for my irresponsibility. Molly slipped her collar and I lost my balance and fell in the dirt, still keeping a strangle hold on Sadie. Thankfully, the neighbors never appeared.

Back home, I put the dogs in the back yard and composed myself. Then I traipsed back to Bean’s house to see what the vet bill was going to cost me. The gate was now closed and Bean was nowhere in sight. I let myself in and went to knock on the door and found Bean in a cage with a bowl of ant-infested dog food, big enough to last him a week. I knocked on the door but nobody responded, all the while Bean was casting aspersions on my character at the top of his lungs. He looked none the worse for the wear so I went back home where my own dogs acted like they had no idea they were in the dog house.

And that, my friends, is how we stay in shape in Dogtown.

Bad Dogs