Song Of The Blackbird

After the wild storms all the way up the Oregon Coast, this is what I found at Cape Disappointment on the mouth of the Columbia River. Peace!
It was a perfect mid-winter afternoon. Folks were out and about to absorb every minute they could.
The Columbia River near Astoria Oregon. It is surely one of the world’s great rivers.

In Mexico, in the mornings, their blackbirds can conjure up a symphony of calls that sound like a jungle filled with a hundred different birds. It is splendid. This morning, Jack and I went for a walk at Swallowfield Farm. The wet snow had frozen so the long trampled path was easy enough for me clomping along in my winter boots. Jack trotted along happily on top of the untrampled frozen snow with a great grin on his old phizog. In the distance I could hear the call of red-winged blackbirds. I waited until I actually saw one to confirm it was the real thing and not some starlings mimicking the song. The blackbirds, with their red epaulettes, were real and their trilling song was true. It is a first sign of spring here, despite the harsh winter the northern hemisphere is enduring this year.

Home again. Note the heron in the middle of the image. He has a long wait until the tide comes back.
Have a long look then close your eyes and hear redwing blackbirds singing from the forest’s edge.

I look back on the last month’s mad travels (8,000 km/5000 miles in one month) and see how how I could have done things much differently. I should have stayed home and completed the deal on ‘Seafire’ then ambled south with nothing to rush anywhere for. With the harsh winter, and cool temperatures with snow throughout the Northern Hemisphere, It would certainly have been best to wait a while. Hindsight! Shoulda, woulda, coulda! In another two months the Sonora desert will be starting to bloom profusely. Maybe I can return there in time for that. I do know that I saw many marvellous things and met some incredible people with a perfect timing which almost seems predestined. I know that this old salt has left a big piece of his heart in the desert.

I have previously travelled to Mexico while towing a teardrop trailer. I learned a lot from that jaunt and I now have my experience with the old camper van. It’s not sexy but it did get me home again. I’ve made up my mind that I need a small, sturdy trailer of less than twenty feet which can be used for shelter in inclement weather. I have a blind fantasy of living outside beneath an awning at a small table but the weather dictates how that happens. I’ll pull the trailer with a 4×4 truck that is old enough to be affordable and also repairable by myself. The trailer can be dropped off while I explore especially rugged areas with the truck.That towing vehicle can then hold tools, bicycles, extra fuel, a kayak, an inflatable boat perhaps. The trailer has to be rugged enough to be eased along rough back roads without falling apart. Many new trailers being marketed as “Offroad” could not survive for long off-pavement. Putting knobby tires on a trailer is stupid and does NOT make it into a rugged offroad RV.

I could write about what are my does and don’ts, but those may not be especially helpful to someone else venturing out. There are many different ways to direct the same script. I found that Northern California was very expensive. I am told that the southern part of the state is considerably more ridiculous. The secondary roads in California are in dreadful condition, on a par, or even worse than back roads in Mexico. Diesel fuel, in many places, was more expensive than regular gasoline sometimes by a dollar more per tiny US gallon. Gasoline generally was up to a dollar more than in neighbouring states. I soon learned not to buy fuel at the first location in town that one comes to, sometimes the fuel in the middle of town sells for as much as sixty cents per gallon less. Most gas pumps will ask you for your zip code when you stuff your credit card into it. It was frustrating until I was taught that with a Canadian card, you enter the numbers in your postal code followed by two zeros. It always worked like a charm. in my case I found that the road signs in the US in many places were inadequate or downright misleading. My road maps often did not agree with each other and my GPS, at times, seemed utterly confused about which planet it was on.

In any case, do not put yourself in a space where you are regretting what you did not do. Today is all you have, go for it! In the blogs I have written about this trip, I have often alluded to the vastness of the states I crossed. Despite man’s imposition of change everywhere he goes, there are still massive expanses between the horizons of a majestic, sprawling land. There are many areas where you can view the planet almost as it has always been. Then, when a person looks at a map and sees they have only travelled a tiny scratch of the earth they become very humble. That is a good thing.

Perhaps not as fascinating as a cactus but this old, rough bark has its own beauty.

Presently I am unloading my beloved ‘Seafire.’ It is a big job which I hate, especially when performed through misty eyes.This vessel is a huge part of who I am. (I have arguments with myself about stuff being part of my identity.) She’s going to good new owners but, for me, it is hard to envision a future without her. I’ve painted myself into a corner financially, this is my way out. I intend to have a trailer and a powerboat in which I will live and travel and write into my dotage.

As I write, I close my eyes and can smell the sea air of Mexico, the pure silent wind in the desert; I can see red rocks and sand, cacti and palms, high-altitude twisted, stunted pines. I have fleeting images of jackrabbits, wild burros and horses and perhaps an illegal immigrant hiding in a thicket of mesquite. I think of people whom I met there who know only their world and are very content in it. My home is here on Vancouver Island, which folks come from around the world to see, because it is spectacular. I need never leave this island to have a full and wonderful life. But I am one of those who is cursed with a compulsion to see what is around the next corner…and so I go.

Stinkeye.
Jack regarded me with his special look of disdain during my first few days home. I’d been away without him. He’s over it now.

This Saturday evening came with bursts of heavy sleet and snow during the drive to Nanaimo to see a movie, ‘Green Book.’ It has many nominations and awards and certainly deserves them. I suggest that if you see only one film during the entire year, this is the one. I’ll end this blog with one of many great lines from the film.

Buddhy. He is my travelling companion, security system and charmer of officials at border crossings. “Who’d want to deal with one of THOSE nutters?” I believe that is what they might think. In any case, he works well  for me with his incessant grin as he sits velcroed to the dashtop. This photo is about his actual size.

The world is full of lonely people afraid to make the first move.”

McMinnville – Part 2

(Once again, a reminder that you can enlarge any image by clicking on it)

The last blog was cut short when the host, WordPress, informed me that I had used up all my cyber bits and bytes. I had to purchase a business-grade subscription. I was delighted to hear from several subscribers who wanted a part 2. So, now I’ll now finish my photo essay on this wonderful aviation museum. No matter how many photos I post, it is impossible to portray the enormity of this incredible display.

Oh those Russians! There is an amazing number of Russian equipment on display. We tend to forget that the Russians have always been a forerunner in aviation and space technology. These copper borscht kettles are enormous.
I remember Yuri. he followed monkeys into space. They all survived their flights.
Nice ride Yuri!
A pointed relic of the cold war.
“Oof, it must’ve been something I ate!”
“Aw quit your whining and get back in here. It smells fine inside my suit.”
Sikorskys in a row. I have bent wrenches on the two types on the right, an S-55 and an S-58
An S-56. This was a new one on me. It is described as the world’s first heavy-lift helicopter introduced during the Korean War. What a pig it would have been to fly! Note the little girl at the tail. I could just reach the white band on the lowest tail rotor blade. Now let’s clear something up. If you go to U-tube and look up Nazi helicopters, you’ll learn that the Germans had heavy-lift helicopters in the late 1930s! There are films of them flying artillery field pieces. So…fake news? Uh huh!
Remember the Jetson cartoon of the ’60s and the notion of personal commuter aircraft? This is a McCulloch J2 autogyro from that era. It is, apparently, still available from a Nevada builder now as the Pegasus III. At the same time, in Canada, a similar aircraft was produced called the Avian Gyroplane. Despite government subsidies it followed the dodo bird south, just like the Avro Arrow. Today, with some wonderful composite plastic materials available, there are several new-gen gyro products being built. I’ve always wanted one.
The flying lawn chair. This is a home-built Benson autogyro. Plans and kits are still available. I flew one once. That was enough…no airbags! The 2-stroke McCulloch engine on the back was used in WWII target drones.
Of course! The military explores all the angles.
“I just dropped in to see if you have any hand grenades.”

 

A Piasecki Vertol H-21. I have some personal experience helping repair these clatter boxes. Introduced the 1950’s, they were being surplused out from the military by the mid-sixties.. With a metal fuselage, they still twirled wooden rotors.
A Piasecki HRP1 from 1944. With wooden rotors and fabric over tube fuselages, it would take one brave soldier to go for a ride into battle in one of these.
Remember the 1954 film ‘The Bridges At Toko Ri’?
Mickey Rooney played the pilot of one of these rescue machines. It is a Sikorsky H-5 Dragonfly.
The office, full of steam gauges and switches. This is the cockpit of an F4 Phantom. Imagine having an intimate knowledge of every item there so you could invade the steaming skies of Vietnam while trying to evade a herd of Mig fighters trying to blow some smoke up your bottom. Today’s fighters have a full electronic display and lots of computers to help you make it all work.
The F4 Phantom
Jet fighters are everywhere, inside and out. I lost track. This is an F84 Thunderchief.
One of the engines from the SR71 Blackbird which could fling it at up to several times the speed of sound and to 70,000′. The huge evil-looking black beast carried cameras.
The SR71 looks like an angel of death from every angle.
I prefer biplanes.
I kept wondering how the museum acquires all these items. It is amazing how billions of dollars in military assets are relegated to the scrap heap.10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1- Gone!
Even the humble Piper J3 Cub, all 65 horsepower of it was turned into a weapon called the ‘Grasshopper.’ A light observation aircraft, someone figured out how to lash bazookas to the wings.
The Cessna 337 was similarly employed during the Vietnam conflict.
I can’t take it anymore!
A Skyraider, designed for stowage aboard an aircraft carrier. That monster was flung off the deck with the aid of a steam catapult. It’s something I always wanted to do…as a passenger.
From this…
…To This! In a single century! Imagine if we had applied the same diligence and resources to eliminating war, starvation, malnutrition, and disease. What if we presented God as being on everyone’s side? We would not need all those war toys. It is all a matter of choices and the first should be to overcome our insatiable craving for possession and control.
Finally, I could take no more. The photos in this and the previous blog are by no means all of which I took. Outside there was more. Scrap heaps of parts and engines sit randomly in the dirt and pouring rain.
Like my headers? A corn-cob radial anguishes out in the weather.
The drip! I could not resist this parting shot of the hand of the bronze statue of the museum founder.

 

McMinnville

It is a real place and home of a very fine aviation exhibition, The Evergreen Aviation Museum. I arrived too late to go in for a self-guided tour. I would need at least a half day. They let me park in the back corner, dry-camping next to old US Air Force rockets. There are four massive buildings. The largest one houses the Hughes Hercules and is nearly big enough to fly some of the small aircraft I have known, around inside it! The massive airplane is known worldwide as the “Spruce Goose” although it is actually built almost entirely of birch plywood. Howie himself flew it, once. An icon of dreams, it is the world’s largest wooden airplane ever and among the world’s largest airplanes, even today. Of all the amazing achievements of old weird Howard, this is the big one. Just imagine all the people telling him and his crew that it couldn’t be done. But he did, and so did it. Then WW II ended and the need for a massive air transport machine ended, at least for the time being.

The whole goose and nothing but the goose. This is the centerpiece of all the exhibits, around it and underneath it.
Inside, looking aft. It cost another $39.US to see the flight deck and have your photo taken. No, I did not.
A brilliantly-done cutaway of Pratt and Whitney R-4360. The Goose used eight of these. Each engine had 28 cylinders (With two spark plugs per cylinder for a total of 56 on each engine) They produced a net horsepower of 3500. The Goose sported eight of these. “I say old chap, number seven is a bit rough don’t you think.”  The flight engineer was a very busy fellow.
” Now son, I want you to change the spark plugs. When you’re done on this wing, do the other one. Don’t drop anything.”
The office up there.
Big smoothie. The huge Hughes.
One wing sponson dwarfs a beautiful Curtis Robin.
Where the money came from. Howard Hughes Sr invented this drill bit. He refused to sell it to oil companies, and instead leased it. Howard JR inherited the massive wealth at age 19 and started messing with airplanes. He was, by all accounts, a very skillful test pilot.
A Bell D1, the ubiquitous M.A.S.H. helicopter. Part of my apprenticeship was spent working on these. Wooden main rotors, dozens of grease fittings, it was crude. To trim the aircraft for varying loads, you slide the battery to the correct position in the tailboom.
Just think of it!
A Beech 17 Staggerwing.
When it hit the civilian market in the 1930’s it was faster than anything the US military possessed at that time.
A Pietenpol, probably one of the first home-built designs ever. The engine is from a Ford Model A
One of my flying mentors built one of these during the Great Depression and made an income selling rides. As he travelled, he’d sleep beneath a wing at night. There should be a song: “And that’s why I hit the tree, I couldn’t see, there was a radiator right in front of me.” These are still being built today with modern engines.
Them’s the brakes. A primitive toe-brake on a Curtis Pusher (That means the engine pushes instead of pulls. OK!)
A GeeBee Sportster, gentle sister of the GeeBee racer as portrayed with the model on the floor.
A beautiful full-scale replica of Lindberg’s famous “Spirit Of Saint Louis.” There were others who made the Atlantic crossing in little airplanes when we seldom hear of, but hi was the first successful crossing.
A misty-eyed moment for me. This is a Bell Huey, the most famous Vietnam helicopter. When I was graduating from high school in 1969 three friends  and I were determined to join the US Army. (30,000 Canadians went to ‘Nam) We could learn to fly helicopters for free! The first friend went ahead…and came home in a Glad Bag. We became a lot smarter overnight. It was my second consideration of a military career, and I lost interest for good.
A Le Rhone rotary engine. First World War technology. It was used in an airplane designed to kill…only a few years after powered flight had been proven possible. It was crude. The cylinders spun with the propellor. A 2-stroke engine, the lubricant used was castor oil, which flew everywhere. Pilots carried spare googles to exchange ones which had become coated with oil.
A DC3, probably the world’s most well known aircraft. Introduced in the late 1930s, it was the first to have a full-cantilever wing. (No external bracing) Eighty years later, many are still earning a living in skies around the planet.
An ME 262, the world’s first operational jet fight. Fortunately for us, allied bombers obliterated the factories where these were being built.
These are both real flyable airplanes, a kit-built helicopter and a Bede 4 personal jet. The little boy was completely fascinated by the jet, a perfect size for him.
A FW 190., another very respected Luftwaffe fighter. With its massive BMW radial engine, monstrous torque high-propellor, pigeon’toed undercarriage and short fuselage, this machine must have been a beast to handle while on the ground.

 

Even as modern airplanes go, the Goose thing is a monster. I am amazed at the survival of this wooden wonder. How it has not rotted or burned in 75 years is yet another wonder. The aircraft that I came to see is the only one of its kind ever built. This is my Mecca, the object of a pilgrimage for a guy who has been flying and otherwise messing around with airplanes his whole life. I’m hoping to find inspiration to cope with some tough weeks ahead. I’ve looked up at it already. The only time I’ve know that same feeling before was when I stepped aboard ‘Cutty Sark’ in Greenwich.

The museum itself is massive with its four huge (Ha… Hughes, get it?) buildings, three are for display and a third is a swimming pool. They have somehow hoisted a Boeing 747 (Imagine the fleet of monster cranes required to work in full co-ordination…with no wind)) onto the roof and converted it into the apex of a water slide. The parking lot behind the buildings would be adequate for landing smaller aircraft.. Imagine having rows of jet fighters for lawn ornaments!

Now that’s a lawn ornament!
It sure beats plastic flamingos or garden gnomes. It is a Lockheed T-33 or ‘Shooting Star’ I remember then from my early childhood. they are still flying in a few countries.
Am American drone clone. The US decided to copy the German V-1 and use it for a target drone. Someone has been droning on about something ever since.
Then came the V-2, brainchild of Wernher von Braun. It was the beginning of the space age.
There is something to amaze everyone, even if they’re not interested in aviation or space travel.
How about the lunar RVer?
Or…the lunar ATVer?
After a while sensory overload began to kick in. I began to worry about missing something. I’m sure I did.

The exhibits go on and on, with a movie theatre complex in the middle of the complex. I am a small airplane guy and there were plenty of these dispersed among the big fellows, both civilian and military. It was a dull overcast day for taking photographs, but I managed to click off about one-hundred-fifty frames that I’m keeping. That is a lot of editing. I could have easily taken twice as many.

Evergreen, a private enterprise, draws a very close second to the amazing Boeing aircraft museum in Seattle which doesn’t have a water park. Ha! It also doesn’t have the Goose or, the SR71 Blackbird. There are also two other great aviation museums in the state of Oregon, one in Tillamook and another in Madras. Here are a few of the photos taken at Evergreen, I once again repeat myself in saying that they don’t begin to compare with actually seeing this operation in the flesh. When I was growing up in the post-war, pre-space age, aviation was still a bit of a novelty. That, despite the massive aviation advancements of WWII. By the time we had put men on the moon the reality of flying machines had become a ho-hum fact of everyday life. We no longer look up when an aircraft passes overhead. Yet, clearly, there are a great many people who do hold a deep fascination for a highly and still rapidly evolving technology which is only a little over a century old.

I have long held the theory that the human race is not indigenous to this planet. We certainly do not fit in here. As far back as we know, we have had an affinity for the sky, for the stars, for flight. God is always from somewhere up there ( God being the concept which is our convenient pigeon-hole for all that we cannot comprehend including love, wisdom and infinity) Many of our wisest ancients speculated on ways and means to rise above our earthly bonds. We have scrambled frantically to fly, then to fly ever higher and faster. It is a compulsion which now has us sending machines beyond the known edges of our universe, looking for ways to personally visit and inhabit places like Mars. I believe that it is all part of that ancient quest to find our way home. Yet at the same time, we need to look within and consider our aberrant nature, and that that is perhaps why our ancient ancestors were dropped off here. Once we realize the way to get along with each other, as well as other species, only then will we be truly ready to go home. Then we won’t need to. In the meantime, to survive that long, we need to become considerably more gracious toward the beautiful planet that is hosting us. For now, it is the only place we have.

The computer grinch says that I have run out of space for any more photos in this blog, even in my edited series. I’ve challenged him three times because there is so much more to show. If, readers care to send a comment in favour of posting a part 2 to this particular blog, I’ll be glad to post more images. Happy Landings!

“Sometimes, flying feels too godlike to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see. ”   

Charles A. Lindbergh

 

Coastal Light

The sea, eternal, infernal, a constant ever-changing state of both peace and rage. An ending for some, a beginning for others. It will always be a first passion despite my deep and growing love for the desert and all its moods.
Heceta Head, part of a network of lights strung along the Oregon and Washington coast to guide mariners away from danger and into port.
Look there! Something’s swimming down there! In churning surf, up to thirty feet high at moments, sea lions paddle as easily as a fat boy in a bath tub.
Inside their cave they retreat to rest and argue. Their incessant grumbling echoes within this monstrous cavern and makes a strange and eerie music as it blends with the crashing surf. The more you look into the dark recesses the more of these heavy characters you see.
I am de boss! Now listen to me! These characters will strike a pose like this and then hold it for hours. They laze and play in the surf and foam effortlessly. That same smashing brine would reduce any of us to mince in seconds.
When gulls gather inland take heed, it is a sure warning of foul weather to come. The weekend storm watchers were not disappointed.
The suddenly, for a while, the sky cleared, the wind was gentle, the sunlight warm. People mysteriously appeared in large numbers. This is the lighthouse at Yaquina Head.
This is another spectacular location on the Oregon coast. When there is sunlight it is always superb.
The light station is a temple of all things nautical…except making a landfall. Almost always, lighthouses are intended to warm a mariner away from danger, not beckon him toward safety.
Lighthouses are always an interesting study in architecture. Both form and function must interplay. Durability and beauty work together.
What dramas have unfolded before these windows?
A poignant salute to mariners lost at sea.
A thing of beauty.
“Please stay on the path.”
Clearly an invitation.
You are being watched. The hill overlooks the Yaquina Light. Paths angling upward conjures up stories about widow’s walks.
OhmyGawd! I forgot to set the parking brake! Not all turnouts have guard rails.

In a few days I’ll be home again. A home, that at the moment, is a place of snow and ice, of heaps of bills, a deal on my beloved ‘Seafire’ to complete and a plan about what comes next. But, that’s in a few days. I drove up the coast today toward fulfilling a very big item on my bucket list. There were patches of blue sky, and sunlight. Although the wind still roared bringing yet more rain and hail squalls, people were out and about everywhere. Trust the Americans to turn bad weather into a business opportunity. I also learned that it was a long weekend, ‘President’s Day,’  and I’ll keep my remarks to myself on that one. Checking out places I’ve always passed before, I actually enjoyed just being. When the light is good on the coast, it is amazing. This photographer, like all others, is a sucker for soft, golden light and the special clarity it brings to the visual world. Finally I turned off the coast highway and headed inland toward a place I’ve been dreaming of for years. Another pass to cross, with yet another sleet storm but this time the elevation sign read 760’, not 7600’.

As I drove into McMinnville I found a farm machinery Museum. Thankfully, it was closed.
No computers! Low profile tires. It got the job done.
Near the tractor, this is what drew me to make a U-turn back to the museum gate.
This sculptor knows horses! The work is beautiful!
I was spellbound.
There is a bird’s nest inside the nose.
I wonder if this is it? A stunning sight. Who fell out of bed and thought, “Let’s turn a 747 into a waterslide?” It must have flown poorly with those big pipes hanging out of the belly. The air museum is surrounded with its own vineyards and markets the wine in its gift shop. The Willamette Valley has become a huge wine-making area. There are vineyards and wine-tasting opportunities everywhere.
So…Having arrived too late to begin my visit, I was told to go park in the far corner with the rest of the rockets. That’s me in the corner. “Beam me up Scotty!”

An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging your back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming”anon.

Bliss!

But this is California! The backroad to the coast twisted and wound up and down through magnificent forest and valleys. The snow I could handle, the poor road maintenance and endless potholes had me shouting. Yes! Swear words.

There is a mystery in this old van. Every once in a while I misplace something and joke about “Oldtimers” setting in. Well now, I have something going on that is downright weird. There is slide-out crockery locker in my little galley. In it, with the plates and bowels, I have stored three saucers. Occasionally, I absentmindedly put them in an adjacent drawer. Now they’ve disappeared. I cannot find them in the van, anywhere. Three saucers are no big deal, but where in the hell did I put them? Lurching and winding over the twisting California mountain passes could possibly have shifted them. But they are gone. Gone! Hopefully, I’ll be able to report where I found therm. They must be in the van somewhere…unless! Call a priest! California, by the way has some of the worst roads I’ve travelled, both here and in southern regions. Patches on patched patches, sloughing grades, 10 mph hairpin turns and, nobody’s fault, …more snow!

Would the bad dream ever end?
Finally, down into the redwoods, out of the snow.
Always wonderful, even in the dripping wet of winter. I found another backroad and headed for the open coast. I have always wanted to see Cape Mendocino. It’s well off the beaten route, but a darkly famous spot for mariners.
Aw, c’mon! One more high pass, one more bit of snow. Down the hill is a hawk hovering in the wind.
Then things turned green again.
The California Shoe Tree, a sure sign of nearing the coast.
It blooms in mid-winter.
And thar she be Billy! A new kind of white stuff!
Cape Mendocino! Mariners give it a wide berth. Fifty to a Hundred miles out, the seas  are still notoriously nasty.
I decided to name this one ‘Battleship Rock’
Whassamatta…never seen a heifer before? I was stunned to find some of the most beautiful cattle ranchland I have  ever seen. Imagine having a North Pacific beach for a fence line.
Boris The Beach Boss. He did not need horns to enforce his status. He looked like he’d really enjoy having me come over the fence to his side. “You can be the ball!”
Who’s your daddy?
What a place. I’d like to go back in summer. Take the road to Honeydew and follow the coast. Go slow, it’s no freeway.
The wild game seemed less wary than the livestock. This doe had two yearling fawns with her. She’s in great shape.
How’s that for a home on the range?
Here’s the neighbouring spread on the north side of the cape. It is a long way to the corner store.

I am writing this at my little table in the van looking out the windows and watching the surf roll in and collide with the breakwater approximate 600 feet away. There is spume in the air and a steady thunder of breaking seas. It is a terrifying sound to the mariner in his boat but I am on the beach, safe, warm, dry. The wind and rain are horrific. I love it. I’m going to stay in the same spot for a while. A week ago I was looking for my night’s spot in that frozen gravel pit near Williams, Arizona. Next time, no more marathons. I’ll amble south until I am where I want to be and I’ll stay there, for days and days, maybe weeks. I’ll also have an RV far more suitable for back roads. I know now what I need. I’ve learned a lot this trip. When not at sea I want to be in the desert.

There were more redwoods. A former logger, i now find it incredible to look at such a forest and see only board feet.
The trouble with looking up all the time is that you miss some very wonderful things at your feet.
When a redwood falls in the forest… how long before it becomes earth again? I knew that these old-growth Sequias could support no large fauna, there’s just no feed for them. Right?
Oh yeah!
Oh yeah?
At first I thought this was an elk farm but then I saw that the huge herd of elk cows was between a fence and a river. They were instantly aware of me and magically disappeared below the bank.
The boys were just around the corner. These really are wild Roosevelt Elk bulls. They’re free to go and do as they please. Don’t go trying to feed them apples.Those magnificent antlers are designed for them to try and kill each other. Survival of the fittest, fatest, horniest!
Aw shucks!

At the moment, the pelting rain and wind are outside. I’m in an oasis of warmth, with a spectacular view. On the stove are three massive chicken legs slowly sizzling with an aroma of Pollo Sazonado, 3.32 pounds for $3.29! I splurged and also bought a pre-packaged Caesar salad. Be still my gypsy heart! This is bliss.

I arrived ai Gold Beach Oregon and hove-to for two days. The wind and rain and hail were horrific. I was snug inside with my frying chicken. This is the view over the fence behind my van. The booming surf is somehow comforting.
Pretty in Pink.
“Dear mom, I’ve bought a bigger motorhome. It needs a little work, but nobody will steal it and I’ll be able to find it in any WalMart parking lot.” The owner, my neighbour in Gold Beach drove, incongruously, a huge shining silver Lincoln.
On the wall above the urinal, a little poetry to muse on. There were other framed efforts including campground rules and completed jigsaw puzzles.
Highway 101, which follows the coast from Tijuana, Mexico, to Lund in British Columbia was built when esthetics mattered. This lovely old bridge spans the Rogue River at Gold Beach. The weather looks no better inland.

A day later, I’m in the same place in my van. The weather does not break. Every time I try to go for a walk an even heavier blast arrives. I’ve been working on getting caught up with my blogs, but the internet here is behaving strangely and I cannot get photos to download correctly. I decided to finally get my bike out and oil it up for when the weather improves.. I haven’t ridden it during the entire trip. Way back on Oak Creek I found a place to pull over and get some good photos. I decided to back the van up to leave as much room as possible. During that manouver a family in a little car wheeled in behind me. I did not see her in my mirrors. Yep, bang! We were worried about damage to her car which was fine, and she drove off. It turns out that I’d rammed her trailer hitch with my buckboard. It was bent up and today I discovered the front wheel on the bike was too wonky to be used. More swear words. I’ve been inside this little van for days and certainly most of the past twenty-four hours. I’ve had no significant exercise for days. I am frustrated. I could have stayed home in the boat, warm and snug in this weather and at least have some room to stretch out a bit. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!

I did not walk far. Every time I ventured out, another horizontal blast of hail arrived.
Between the incredible views and the blasting wind, it was hard to stay on the road.
Cape Blanco LIght. A beautiful place, the quintessential setting for a novel. I was happy to not be blown off the cliffs, the wind was at least 40 knots. I almost lost my new video camera…and the driver’s door on the van!
Wonder what the weather in the desert is like today.
Even the sheep were hove-to
A little colour on a dull day.
Back to old haunts.
Out of ballast, this old girl appears ready for the breaker’s yard. With all those scars on her face, I’m sure she has many a wonderful story.
The dreams never die.
Leaving Coos Bay, I had to  speeed up and grab this shot. The messages left me in wonder. Vape Junkies/ Order Online/ Drugs Are Garbage/ We Deliver.
The Bar is Closed.
Same old, same old.The rivermouth at Florence Oregon.
I’ll gitcha!
Gotcha! It is amazing to me how these tiny birds can be so tenacious in even the heaviest of weather. “Eat like a bird!”
Life can be a lonely flight.

I’ve only made it to Florence, about 100 miles up the coast, but I’ve finally been able to shoot some footage of an Oregon Coast winter storm. I did not get blown off the cliff but all my old winter aches and pains are back. I’m almost home. As Canadians say, “No doubt about it!” In the morning there is a strange blue patch overhead. A brillant light beams down out of it. I think I’ll go check it out.

A storm always ends, enjoy it while it lasts!” …meself

Blizzard!

I left Baker in mid-morning after editing photos and posting a blog. It always feel good to be caught up. This trip has been a breathless rush of events, people and images which I feel are truly worth sharing. Reader’s comments confirm that. I began the day’s travels by visiting a local archaeological site. It was wonderful. I had it all to myself to speculate on the wonders of mud ruins, apparently seven-hundred years old. The wind was keen and shrill and cold. I wore no hat and soon had an ice-cream headache. My hands throbbed painfully. I am just not nineteen anymore!

Handyman special! View home in need of TLC. Quiet neighbours. These ruins left me with a whole lot of questions. Why here? Water? Game? Defenses? Each question raises three more.
Spring Valley, Nevada. There are five rows of these monsters steadily turning in the face of the approaching storm. it is an impressive sight to say the least. They are huge. It is hard to guess but I reckon each blade must be about ninety feet long. Maybe it was because the wind was shrieking, but the whole weird scene was dead quiet. Eerie!

Turning west onto Highway 50 (Called the loneliest highway in America) I again climbed and descended several mountain passes and traversed more wonderful valleys. I stopped to absorb the wonder of a huge wind farm in a place called Spring Valley. The wind was increasing and it was obvious that a storm was coming. I reckoned I could make it to Ely (Pronounced eely) and hunker down somewhere if the weather was indeed as serious as it seemed. The snow blew and thickened. When I finally arrived I passed an RV Park that looked so dismal in the deepening snow I could not bring myself to stop. I filled up with gas at a “Loves” truck stop and then decided that in consideration of the weather I should stuff up my own tank. The truck stop is adjoined to a sort-of casino and a Carl’s Jr. Fast burger joint. I know better. I still have a souvenir of that joint riding in my belly over a day later.

Sure glad I had my shorts and sandals along!
…And my bike too!
Struth! Of all the things a person could possibly see!
Slowly, the visibility improved and I could see what I was passing.
Can’t call it the Pearly Gate, and Horny Gate would upset some people. How about “Bone Bower?”
Those antlers represent an awful lot of dead deer and elk.
Eureka! I’ve found Eureka..which sure beat being back at Carl Jr’s in Ely watching the drifts pile up.
Somehow, in the snow, the old freight wagon does not look so romantic.
S’no dog like a Blue Merle Collie on an ATV in the snow.
These folks have known a winter day,or two, before.
This town knew some high times…before the gold ran out.
Mule Deer antlers, goat skull, maybe a clock some day? Too cold to ponder any longer.
“America’s Loneliest Highway.” Nevada HWY 50.
How’s Business?
Yeah, they’re everywhere!
Some Logo! What does a Fist and Whip really mean?
Not a place I’d want to work.
A big hat, a long range coat, the clink of spurs, a a horse’s steaming breath, the squeak of snow shoes. Wasn’t I in Mexico a few days ago?
We’re outta here!

All the employees there, mostly chunky ladies who looked like the Michelin Sisters wore company T-shorts with “Beyond Meat” emblazoned on their chests. The irony did not escape me. Clearly the management has an all-you-can eat policy for its employees. There’s an old country song that says, “I love the way you fill out your skin-tight blue jeans.” Not! What rhymes with sweat pants? I suppose it may be cheaper than a retirement program, but pity the pallbearers! My ubiquitous gang of Asian tourists arrived, looking completely bewildered. Their patriarch, an aged, shuffling fellow was dressed incongruously in a Russian fur helmet, a pair of John Lennon sun glasses, camouflage trousers and open toe sandals with bright pink socks. And I thought I was a snappy dresser! While we snacked on our gristle burgers, a full blizzard descended with swirling fury.

I am a former great white north guy and reasoned that if I could make it to the other side of the mountains, conditions would ease and the storm could heap as much snow as it wanted…behind me. Hell, I’ve driven in everything. Fool! My photos attest to that. However, the most weirdly wonderful thing happened as I set out on that trek. I could smell coal smoke and put it down to an over-reaction to my lunch or perhaps my angst about the weather. Then I saw it! Had I also begun to hallucinate? I leapt out into the wintry blast with my mobile phone. (My serious cameras were not going to be taken out into the driving snow.) There, in that raging blizzard, was a steam locomotive backing an antique work train onto a siding. I could not have been more amazed had I been looking at the ‘Queen Mary’. I’ve reviewed my short video and photos repeatedly to confirm what I saw. It is still hard to believe. You can google up information on the railway museum in Ely) Go closer to spring. I drove on westward into that storm; sometimes my speed was down to fifteen mph. I had to stop repeatedly to clear the ice from my windshield and wipers.

I was right. The snow eased and visibility improved and I arrived in Eureka Nevada. It was winter-bound and the RV park I saw looked closed. After a short stretch and breathe and shoot- up with my camera, I drove on west into the now-brilliant sunset hoping to find a place to stop for the night in Austin. Everything there was wintered out as well. After almost colliding with a large herd of mule deer on the main street I drove on down the mountain into the darkness. I looked back and saw that Stokes Castle was cleverly lit with golden light. Every time I drive across Nevada, Austin is on my route. This time I closed a loop of my south-bound leg to San Carlos. I hate looking for a spot to spend the night in the dark when I’m not sure where I am. Eventually I found a safe turn-out which proved to be the former site of a Pony Express station called ‘Cold Spring.’

In the morning I took photos of the surrounds and also ruins of a former telegraph station. Later, in perfect light, I came upon an archaeological site with loads of ancient and beautiful pictographs near Grimes Point, looking down on the Fallon Naval Air Base. Yep, right there in the desert! Tonight, I discovered I’d done something wrong and have no images to download from the day. Swear words! My water pump had again frozen last night. Later in the day as it thawed, a hose came loose and the water tank under the bed emptied itself inside the van. Grit! You’ve gotta have grit!

Blowing snow. The view did not leave me feeling warm and fuzzy.
Into the setting sun he drove, Westward, ever westward, California or bust. Hwy 50, Austin somewhere ahead.

 

Red Bluff California offered no room at the inn. It was full of homeless refugees from last year’s horrible wildfires in the surrounding area. I drove on into the gathering dusk, once again, looking for a level place to park for the night. I awoke in the morning beside a stockyard, beside a gurgling stream. “California!” I thought, I’ve made it, the snow is behind me now.” Haa!

It was fortunate that I made a decision to put my head down and just drive, ignoring some great images along the way, (which I would have lost as it turned out.) I drove through Reno (Eeeech) and then north, heading for Susanville California. Then I chose to head for low ground and put the last mountain passes behind me. Eventually I arrived in Red Bluff a few thousand feet ASL lower. In the wake of last year’s horrific wild fires, there is no space available in this area for the likes of me. Many of those displaced folks are living in RV Parks all over the interior of Northern California. So with no wifi again, no blogs will be posted tonight. I am in some very beautiful countryside, about one-hundred miles from the coast, parked on the side of the road once more. Think of the money I’m saving in fees. There is a gentle steady rain falling which, I know, is more snow in the mountains behind me.

I have always loved this region of California. The lush, rolling hills covered with open Oak forest and filled with grazing cattle soothes my soul. Sadly, everywhere you look there is a”Posted” sign. Private, no trespassing, no looking, threats of prosecution and execution. Where have you gone, Timothy Leary? Peace man!

Hard winter conditions have pursued me for the past week. I’m frustrated in not finding the rest and reboot I sought. I am in fact, exhausted. Meanwhile, at home, snow is piling up with more to come. Folks are emptying the grocery stores in anticipation of continuing harsh weather. I try not to feel guilty about being out here on the lam. Silly bugger!

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” … Scott Adams.

Beyond Zion

Kanab, Utah. Just over the border I was seduced by the pink sandstone, its texture, arches, caves and pools. I wanted to stop. But something drew me onward through what had already proven to be an amazing day. I expected to see Mormon churches everywhere. I was right. All mileage boards, no matter which road i travelled, always displayed a distance to Salt Lake City.  Plenty of women and girls wore  ankle-length dresses. Fortunately, apparently, no Burkas are required. Yet!
How does one adequately photograph this? You need a good local knowledge of both the locations and when the light is best. The sun was setting, the light was fantastic and I raced on like a giddy child looking for the next awesome spot. The arch is several hundred feet high and wide.
The afternoon light was fading quickly. I stopped, grabbed a few frames and hurtled off to see what was around the next corner.
Quick! The light, the light!

 

Oooo-ah! Yeah right! This old blue-collar boy dropped many expletives, all four-lettered and no ooooh-ahs!
A portal in the Mt. Carmel Tunnel. It is 1.1 miles long and drops/climbs 800′. There is no lighting other than that emitted through random portals carved out through the side of the cliff. It was built by the CCC, and is an amazing piece of engineering, as is the entire roadway through the park. The
Civilian Conservation Corps was founded by President F.D. Roosevelt to provide relief employment for young single men during the great depression. Their projects across America are a continuing legacy for the infrastructure of the country.
The workmanship is amazing. The tunnels, bridges, road grades and hairpin turns are an achievement that should be listed among the man-made wonders of the world.
Last light
Loads of photographers, some with very serious equipment were there to milk out the last drop of workable light.
Mind how you go!
The Zion River RV Park.
A very classy place!
Spawning of the Airstreams.
They are apparently the ultimate in travel trailers, including price!
No, not my dog! A racoon, I believe, this way went along the Zion River.
Say no more.

Bob Marley and other Reggae musicians often sing about Zion. So, I’ve been there, I want to go back and spend time working with the changing light. I’ll need some sort of motorcycle so I can park easily along the roadside wherever I need to stop.Finding a pull-out is a challenge. For the moment I have to go home and reload. Just west of the park I came upon a fabulous place(They claim a 5 Star rating) and I enjoyed my stay in the poshest RV Park ever. In the morning I discovered the park is located on the banks of the Zion River where it flows through Virgin Utah. How did folks name their towns? By the way, I met a lady while there who makes hand-made high-top moccasins. They are beautiful. Her website is Moccasin Lady.com. Check it out. 

No jokes please.
Well maybe one.
Virgin, Population None.
Terrorists need not apply.
A Scotsman this way came. Who else would build a free-standing dry stone wall? Beyond Cedarville, Utah I point myself toward the Nevada border. Yep, lots of snow ahead. Little did I know how much!
A former glory. What keeps folks hanging on in these old communities? What do they do for income? For dreams?
The way we were. Milford, Utah.
Hey Frodo, I think we’re in Mongolia!
Quick! somebody’s coming! I swear that I could see this load of hay a half-hour before it passed. There is no sneaking up on anyone here.
The black spot in the distance is a dead cow. There were three ravens sitting on it…until I stopped.
First a little water.
Then some slow-growing trees.
Then a well. Then a small corral.
Then a small ranch hand’s house.
Then…abandoned.
Home on the range. There were four heifers penned in without feed or water. I assumed someone would be along to tend to them. As a stranger, I knew better than to mess with another man’s critters. Mormon bullets leave you just as dead.

 

Water, bull rushes, trees. sloughs, homestead, abandoned, posted ‘No Trespassing.’ So where did they get the building logs? There must be some sort of civilization within fifty miles.
Sho nuff! Sod roofs and all.
Garrison Utah, on the Nevada border. Endless rustic scenes, eternal valleys and passes with a thousand sideroads heading off over yet another pass. I’m hooked.
What yuppies drove in the late’50s. Options included V-8 engines, 2-speed automatic transmissions, power steering, power brakes, push-button radios. It was not uncommon to have a six cylinder engine and a three-speed manual shift on the steering column with non-power brakes and steering.
Many, like me, took their driving test n such a vehicle. “Son, see that space between the two cars on the hill? I want you to parallel park in it. Use your mirrors, do NOT roll back when we pull out.” This old beast’s last license plates were dated 1967.
A haven for the night in Baker, NV. Their water was frozen but I was happy enough with my little electric heater. I had the place to myself.
Actually, the manager took my trade at the roadside bar which she opened from 4-8pm. I had no gun to leave at the door.
The workshop…my kind of campground!
Beautiful downtown Baker NV. where the air is clean and free. So is the view.

As I drove northwest the skies became duller, snow began to fly and I speculated that I may have to find a niche to wait out the storm. North of a community called Cedar City I found the highway that would take me across the Utah border. I arrived in Baker, Nevada shortly before sundown at a lovely RV Park. Their water supply was frozen up. Fine!

My trip for the day encompassed traversing several mountain passes and broad, wonderfully dramatic valleys. The light there reminded me of Scotland in the way it constantly changed as the shadows raced across the broad plains of the wide valleys. What a wonderful journey! Again, my photographic efforts seemed pale against the task of capturing the feeling of that vastness.

Beneath a desert elm, complete with an old Oriole’s nest and setting new moon, I went to bed wondering what tomorrow would offer. It would prove to be another grand adventure.

We do not really know what draws a human being out into the world. Is it curiosity?A hunger for experience? An addiction to wonderment? The man who ceases to be astonished is hollow, possessed of an extinguished heart. If he believes everything has already happened, that he has seen it all, then something most precious has died within him … the delight in life.”

Ryszard Kapuscinski ‘Travels With Herodotus’

____________________________________________

High Plains Drifting

High Plains Drifting

I’ve described arriving in Page, Arizona. It was a time to buy provisions, do laundry and purposely begin heading in a vague direction toward home. It is amazing what can happen in one day. The next two blogs will be pictorial accounts of an amazing and ongoing trek.

And a partridge in a bare tree. It is going to be a good day when you are bid farewell by a Mourning Dove. There are thousands of these beauties in the Southwest. They are considered a game bird and  are hunted aggressively.
Dam it all!? Page Arizona, where the Colorado River was backed up to make huge Powell Lake. This mighty but sorry river never reaches the Sea Of Cortez as it used to. It is pumped dry for irrigation of the rich farmland in a radius of Yuma. That happens after it is again dammed by the Hoover Dam near Las (Lost) Vegas That dam’s reservoir, Lake Mead, is almost dry. It is still an amazing river despite all the effort to destroy it.
Run ponies, run. Horses are another cornerstone of Navajo culture. The creatures are allowed to run wild and free. They are extremely wary and will herd up and charge off with the simple provocation of your stopping. They are difficult to photograph. They are beautiful!
The photographer’s shadow. I cannot get enough of this country.
I hope this cut was not made with pick and shovel. They are a feisty lot in this part of the country.
After doubling back from Page, i drove through the cut and down the long, steep grade to Bitter Springs on the plain below. Here one leaves Highway 89 and heads westward into the magic of Marble Canyon, the Vermillion Cliffs and the hig snowy North Rim country of the Grand Canyon. Bleak and desolate perhaps but I was overwhelmed by the stark beauty of it all.
More wild horses, wary as ever. Surely another good omen for the day ahead. They quickly vanished beneath the rise of land as if I had only imagined seeing them.
Uh Huh? Would this sign make a difference if you were really going to take the plunge? This is on the old Navajo Bridge at Lee’s Ferry, a crossing of the Colorado River.
Head-Smashed-In-White-Man Jump. Turbid and swift, the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry is cutting its way toward the Grand Canyon.
Nice Canyon Ya got there!
The Vermillion Cliffs drew me westward. I found a notation on my map about a place called “Cliff dwellers”. You know what I was thinking. I began to get excited.

 

WTF!? Bedrock City! In 1927 a couple driving by had their car break down. They decided to stay and built an abode with out-buildings (outrockings?)
They constructed walls and roofs beneath the immense boulders, opened a restaurant, put in a gas pump and…? Cliff Dwellers is listed among Arizona’s ghost towns.
C’mon on in. Set a spell. D’ya bring any water?
An old Scottish expression came to mind. “Long may your lum reek.” Translation: Long may your chimney smoke.
The In-law suite.
Doghouse?
Graffitti. Some from 1878. That’s cool!
Oh SHIT! Really? What’s with the Porta-potti security? Guess we’ll have to go behind a rock. Paper? No! Really?
Who let the rocks out? Why the hell would anyone go to the effort of fencing this? My dirt! It was intriguing but I couldn’t bring myself to trying to live beneath any of it. What if, what if?
Car-squashed-flat-native-jewellery vendor. Don’t lean on anything!
“She died, and left me the deed to the ranch.” That’s a punchline from an old Paul Harvey joke. Dang! that’s a lot of fencing to look after. There are ranch buildings at the bottom of the hill. The vastness, solitude and endless beauty are overwhelming.
Fredonia!? Old Fred drove onwards. Jacob Lake is where you turn in to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was closed, and heaped with snow. I was amazed at the number of people who live up in every one of these high, desolate places.
Descending into the Kanab Valley, the Utah border is a few miles ahead. I can never get enough of these broad, spectacular vallies. There were fresh deer tracks in the snow everywhere.
I once knew of a boat named ‘F.R.E.D.’ It meant F—ing Ridiculous Economic Disaster. Welcome to Fredonia.
The Town Center. Someone should be charging admission.
Low profile tires, spoked wheels, full cabin air. There was nothing to indicate what make it was.
A dodge tow truck. No hydraulic problems with the rig.
Home-made signal lights.
Straight-out, left turn.
Pointing-up, right turn. You used to have to know the hand signals for your driving test, car or motorcycle. Folks don’t even use their electric signal lights now.
The original Ram-Tough Dodge grill.
They delivered fuel in this!
You can still see Standard Oil on the side of the three-compartment tank. There are mechanical brakes on the rear axle only. And there are no hills anywhere! Nope.
With a little paint, I’ll bet this thing would sell!
It didn’t hurt him a bit!
Farm yard frugal. Ya could stuff it with straw and git another cupla hunnert miles outta ‘er!
Says it all, that saw blade mural on the tin wall. I did not stop at the realtor’s office.

All I’ve ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.”

… Steve Martin

Life Is A Journey

Life Is A Journey

(Remember that images can be enlarged by clicking on them)

The crack of dawn. It cracked because it was brittle with cold. Here I awoke at first light  in a gravel pit near Williams Arizona.

I am determined to journey homeward in a meandering fashion, with no particular route planned. The journey, after all, is its own reward. After all the repairs and expenses I knew I dare drift no further eastward, away from the general direction of home on Vancouver Island. I arrived in Flagstaff, where it was cold, snowy and blowing. I found a McDonalds and checked my e-mail and the weather. With more real winter to come, I checked for an RV Park then entered the data into my dash-mounted GPS. It lead me for miles in all directions and finally in the gathering darkness, I fired the miserable little box. The Grand Canyon was in my sights so I headed westward, where I would turn on to Highway 64 and find any old place to camp.

In the early morning light what to my wondering eyes should appear? A lifelong airplane guy, you’ll just have to put up with my occasional aviation photos. A pair of Convair 990s.
An inglorious end to a wonderful life of airshow flying. Closed for the winter, the museum claims to have many flyable aircraft stowed away inside.
Drones are nothing new. I want one for my birthday!
Bin der, Dun dat! No photo can convey the immensity, not only of geography, but also of man’s insignificance on this tiny planet within the universe. All this photo can tell you is that I was there.
That is the Colorado River down there. It’s almost a mile to the bottom and obviously much warmer. It is hard to believe that this meandering stream was the prime maker of the huge canyon. So where did all the dirt get washed to?
The nearby sign said 8000′, ASL. A ski hill close by was on Humphrey’s Peak, 12, 600′ up in the frozen desert sky.
That’s better. This is the through-road from the Grand Canyon where it arrives at Cameron AZ. I would have been here six hours earlier if the road had not been closed, forcing me to backtrack through Flagstaff.
If I had not been forced to detour, I would not have had the joy of meeting these wonderful Navaho ladies selling their handmade crafts. Who can resist smiling, waving people on the roadside out in the lonely desert?
They even sold mutton soup! An arrow and a bookmark were the only only souvenirs I bought  from these women on the entire trip. We had a great chat and I discovered the Navajo people endure the same issues as the North Coast natives at home, of whom these folks had never heard! That’s Lady laying there, guarding the jewellry.
“Honey, I felt the earth move.” A section of old highway. Things take a very long time in the dry desert to vanish into the earth.
A horse in the Painted Desert. The country is beautiful. I was left wanting a horse of my own so I could ride and ride. I can feel my saddle-sore bottom even as i think of it. Then there is the aching back of the poor horse who had to carry me!
A hogan. This was the traditional Navajo home. No matter what these folks live in now, they still also have a hogan for traditional religious purposes. With roofs made of different materials, the doors alway face east to catch the morning sun.
A Navajo community.
Beautiful but hostile to gringos like me. It is amazing to this outsider how indigenous people survived and thrived in this environment. Their art demonstrates enough free time to develop a rich cultural cornerstone.
Neo-native art at a roadside craft marketplace.
There were several murals, all very poignant.
While taking my photographs, a young Navajo girl stopped to shyly ask if I’d seen her runaway dog, a young brindle female pitbull named ‘Jinx.’ Hope you found your way home doggie!
One more
Sheep are an important part of Navajo culture.
The Painted Desert now holds a piece of my heart. Imagine a desert night’s sounds under a brilliant moon and star-studded sky. Whistling wind, coyote’s howl and all the things that go bump in the lonely night. Then comes the golden light of dawn against the vermillion cliffs. It is said that if your dog runs away, you can watch him going for the next three days.

 

The night was crackling cold. I piled on all my blankets and thanked the Gods for my propane furnace. The stars were amazing. By morning the potable water pump had frozen. I was worried about split plumbing but all’s well that ends. I arrived at the Park Gate, paid the horrific fee, and found my way to the snowy parking lot. I’ve seen thousands of photos and films of this incredible hole in the planet, but nothing can prepare a person for the moment when you first look upon the Grand Canyon. If you are not rendered speechless, then you are a sad creature indeed. My photos can only confirm that I was there; they cannot do justice to the expansive and overwhelming feeling of the place.

Unfortunately the price of being able to easily attend one of the world’s greatest marvels is that there are people, bus loads of them, steadily arriving in an endless convoy. They overwhelmed the place, with hordes pushing, shouting, being rude in every possible way and seemed oblivious to any sanctity or wonder. They’d come half-way around the planet to take selfies on their mobile phones and absolutely nothing else seemed to matter. I really do try to love all of God’s creatures and I hate categorization and racism so all I’ll say is that it is holiday time in celebration of Chinese New Year. “Gong Xi Fa Cai” with all due respect! These tourists were everywhere, I mean every-bloody where I was to go in the following days. Their behaviour was consistently rude and arrogant. Shop keepers and vendors expressed dread at their invasion. I’ve been in China, the folks there are charming and considerate. I cannot explain beyond my personal observation of what happens when they are visiting here. I should quickly add that I’ve found other cuacasion cultural groups just as abominable when on their vacation. People!

With the fabulous shifting light, I could have stayed, but after having actually been shouldered aside a few times, I decided to proceed forthwith. My plan was to drive on to a place called Cameron, where I could consider my options, but the road had been closed due to wintry conditions. Swearwords indeed! Why the hell could the National Parks folks not have made the closure clearly noticeable beforehand?

Frustrasted, with no other option, I headed the sixty miles back to Flagstaff, fortunately in part, on a different route. I ended my day in Page, Arizona on the shores of the great man-made Powell Lake where the Colorado River was dammed, and damned. Incredible scenery was sacrificed to make a huge recreational waterway. I had no interest in seeing it and headed off to see other wonders. Everywhere I go, I am boggled by what I see. The grandeur and vastness is too much to comprehend. I want to come back and slowly sponge it in and so the bottom is blown out of my bucket list. I am bemused that nearly all the best views are smudged by power lines. Or on clear days, by an endless parade of jet contrails streaking in all directions. I wonder repeatedly at how the world must have looked before it was “Settled” and how we have altered it so drastically and so quickly. Small wonder at the disenchantment of the First Nations People.

Finally arriving at the Arizona/Utah border I had to choose a route that lead approximately northwest. With a simple choice at a crossroads I left the natural wonder of the scenery of Kanab Utah behind and drove over yet another snowy pass into the wonderland of Zion National Park. I had barely heard of this place and can only describe it, inadequately, with photographs. I caught an incredible afternoon light and realized that everything was happening in a serendipitous order that makes perfect sense in retrospect, including some very wonderful people I meet along the way.

I’ll be back.

Beauty is not caused. It is.” …Emily Dickinson

Foresight

A traveller’s promise. Beyond Wickenburg, home of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum museum. I did not go in. Every town claims to have been the prime stomping-grounds of Wyatt Earp. He was a very busy dude!
It’s hard to believe I woke in this van under a palm tree this morning and now I’m going to bed in this! Yep that’s sleet on the windshield, ice on the ground. Eeeech.
Altitude makes all the difference. The Glen Ilah Hill is a steep winding grind from the desert floor below to a high plain and forest 4000′ higher.
His Master’s Voice. Remember that? Mainstreet Yarnell. Many of these small American towns look as if someone walked out the door one day, and never came back. You keep expecting to see Rod Serling standing on a street corner.
See what I mean?
Each little town can be easily dismissed as being like all the others. Yet, if you have a real look, they all have their own distinct personality.
Beauty in the storm. It chased me as I went along. The welded steel pipe fence went on for miles and . Even if prefabbed,it was a helluva project. (Trump Fence Company?)
The GPS says it all. On the road to Prescott, complete with several roadside crosses. Pelting rain and sleet, swirling cloud, snow plows on switchback corners. Nope, not sleepy!
Jerome or bust! Part of the bigness of this incredible country is that distances are given in miles not kilometres. You drive and drive.

Light jazz was playing on the local radio station. Saxophone, piano and pan flute. Then came a crash and a flash of light. For a moment I thought I was back in Ajo with yet another sonic boom. It was thunder and lightening. Thick rain and snow pellets rattled down on the van.

It is hard to comprehend that only this morning I was among the palms and cacti of the broad Ajo Valley. On the way, I missed a turn and drove miles out of my way and then had to drive through the heart of Phoenix. It’s no place for the likes of me and I’m glad to have that gauntlet behind me. Now I am at 6000’ASL in the boulder-tumbled mountains above Prescott, southwest of Flagstaff Arizona. I drove up from the valley east of Phoenix into the clouds and onto a high plateau which rapidly became a jumbled rocky forest and a winding, snaking road that crawled through it. The radio station is from nearby Prescott, the local forecast is for up to three inches of snow tonight. The countryside and forest are fantastic, entirely new to me. That’s why I came. As promised I’m meandering homeward but palm trees to snow in one day, that was not within my foresight.

The ups and downs of travel in Arizona. For a few hours I leave the snow behind, until I drive up the next mountain pass. Just before I could pull over and take this photo I left an indelible image behind. A huge prickly pear cactus was poking out of a snow drift. The road maintenance is excellent.
Driving in Arizona is seldom dull. Brake shops and funeral homes must do very well. “Look ma, they got no snow down there.”
Jerome AZ. I could have spent a whole day here, with my camera clicking. This funky town is perched on the side of a very steep hill at 5000′ ASL. Every home has a view.
The countryside is constantly changing. Open plains dotted with Juniper, cactus and sage, deep winding canyons, steep cliffs and weird rock formations. It is NOT boring. This stream in winter freshet will probably be bone dry by late spring.
Gobsmacked!
The dramatic red rocks of Sedona are surreal. They made many cowboy movies here.Shame they were black and white.
What does a priest have to do to be sent here? It is a stunning piece of architecture that blends with the natural surroundings. I pondered yet again how a dogma that claims peace and love as cornerstones, uses a symbol of capital punishment as its icon.
Dang rocks! Yer view in every direction gits spoilt!
Every home in Sedona has curb appeal. This house also has my idea of a lawn.
Front yard shrubbery. Now try pruning that.

I am determined to take some gorgeous photos of my own in the Sedona region and then meander on northward on routes which are new to me. All the repairs I’ve had to make on the van have gobbled up my already tight budget. So there is a stress factor but I am determined to return home refreshed and recharged. Old aviation clichés about wings and prayers and groping through the murk with dusty gas tanks are coming to mind. Well, ordeal or adventure, that it is up to me. I have had some wonderful moments, making wonderful new friends and seeing amazing things. And, the grandest times of my life have been when I didn’t have the proverbial pot. No, not the one you smoke!

Tonight I’m snug in a National Forest Service campground, parked on a level asphalt pad with a lighted outhouse only a few long paces away. The fee is a modest $5. The forest around is open, a mix of Ponderosa Pine and Juniper. There are punctuations of clear rushing streams among jumbles of smooth, large boulders. It is the sort of woodland where I could wander blissfully for days. Look there’s another deer! I am warm, dry, fat and happy inside the van. As I edit my day’s photos the radio station KAHM, Prescott Arizona, 102.7 continues to play a lovely mix of music. It will be a long dark night and it sure beats sleeping in a ditch. I realize that, for the moment, I don’t want to be anywhere else. That’s a grand feeling! G’night.

Over the pass and down through the funky old mining town of Jerome I descended to the broad, undulating valley below and began tacking and gybing across the country like a good sailor should. The suddenly I found myself in Sedona. The natural scenery is stunning and beyond description. The whole town has been designed to blend in with that natural wonder. Despite the reek of money and the glossy architecture it is elegant and makes this town, in my opinion one of the most beautiful inland communities I have ever seen. Even in February, the sightseers were everywhere. I can only imagine how it is in the peak seasons.

Travelling northward from Sedona the scenery changes dramatically yet again as you wind up along Oak Creek, famous to Southwest nature photographers. Unfortunately there are few safe places to pull over and where provision has been made, they have gates and toll booths.
Everywhere is an essay on Rocks and water. Here a trickle of water belies the eons it has taken to carve the earth.
Oak Creek was a dream. Note the waterfall up high, coming down from the ridge.
I drove for miles to find a spot to turnabout and come back to this piece of the creek. Fortunately the light was still good.
I’ve said it before. “Hi mom, I’m home.”
A cave across the road from where I parked.
The cave evolved.
On up the creek.
It began to snow yet again. I drove on and up yet another twisting steep grade. At the top I travelled for miles through a snow-laden pine forest. Fresh elk and deer tracks crossed the road everywhere. I emerged from the forest into snow-shrouded Flagstaff where Old Route 66 is the main drag. It took me three tries to get out of that town for good.

I know those devastating numbers of people need to be controlled but it gets frustrating. No matter where I wanted to stop for more photos there is a plethora of signs and concrete preventers of some description. You are expected to display a permit but there is no indication of where to purchase one. Other places one is able to stop will not accept the day permit from the last place. Travelling north from Sedona along incredibly beautiful Oak Creek there is no place to pull over and work your camera. I finally emerged out of the spectacular scenery, miffed about all the photo opportunities I had to pass by. It is cold and snowy and blowing. I am sitting in the van tonight somewhere west of Flagstaff apparently on a road to the Grand Canyon. It will be beautiful with all this snow. Yesterday I was in Ajo. It is a long way away now. Was I ever really there?