Thursday, March 16, 2017


We’re driving up the South Padre Island beach in southern Texas on a particularly gray day when suddenly our path is squeezed by a fallen tree. Stop. Wait. What’s on that tree?

I get out. And look.

I see a collection of children’s toy boats balanced down the limb toward the Gulf of Mexico. Wow. It’s amazing the wind and the waves have failed to claim these toys. I walk closer. And learn why. Each plastic boat is attached to the tree by a galvanized screw. It’s intentional. It’s beach art. I feel blessed by beach art.I climb back in the truck  and we continue our journey (skirting the installation, of course, dipping our tires into the waves). Not far down the beach I see another piece of colorfully adorned driftwood. Stop!

I get out and walk closer. It’s the same concept — toys screwed to the tree — but the toys are different. They’re ravaged.  It’s not just art. It’s art from objects found on the beach, left behind by tourists or washed ashore by waves (anything that topples overboard into the Gulf of Mexico eventually washes up on Padre Island. It’s just the way the currents go.

SO I feel twice blessed. Take tons of close-ups and stand for a long shot. That's when I see them. In the distance. Behind the dunes. Other pieces of art. Jutting up from the sand. A gallery of beach art hidden behind the dunes. I walk closer to each one. Examine the media. Take pictures. Holler to Allen to come look.

 A missile, ready for launch. 

It's made from 5-gallon buckets and their lids.

A Christmas tree.

Its base decorated with lost cigarette lighters and toys.

Lost shoes form its boughs.

I found this thingamajig. Looks like a failed torpedo, striped with spent lighters.

A little garden gives the sand a pop of color.

Soon, we hop back in the truck and continue our journey. STOP! More beach art. This one is spectacular. An abandoned diving bell decorated with beer cans, seashells and plastic toys. AND, a sense of humor and design. 

And finally, we see this. 

Allen says it's not art. Because it lacks intent. I say art is in the eye. Snap the picture. Then we continue on our journey.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Things that make me laugh

I laughed out loud.

It was a sudden, burst of a single HA. The kind that makes you look around, to see if anyone heard you.

Here’s the story.

The beach at South Padre Island is salted with wee bitty crabs about the size of a quarter. They skitter sideways, cleverly dodging trouble (birds, waves, human feet) by slipping down little holes in the sand.

As they grow, they move up into the dunes and build wider, deeper hideaway holes.

Today, I encountered one of those bigger crabs, about the size of a clamshell phone. Predictably, he skittered down the nearest big hole. 

Here’s where I laughed.

He immediately shot up out of the hole, followed by the claw of an even bigger crab, about the size of an IHop pancake.

What to do? Where to go? In an instant, he recalculated his life-saving escape and skittered sideways away.

For the rest of my walk home, I thought of the life lessons those two crabs taught me. Feel free to add your own:

1. Always call first.
2. Sometime size does matter.
3. Don’t go where you are not wanted.
4. Don’t panic.
5. Don’t be an old crab. :)

Friday, December 9, 2016

Illegal immigrants: Hunt 'em, help 'em

Thick with cactus

Organ pipe cactus

The world of illegal immigration is here. In Gila Bend, AZ, where we’ve been for about a week now.
Just south of Gila Bend is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which shares a border with Mexico. 

 I’m inside the visitor’s center  and find signs encouraging me  to protect myself against undocumented people trying to escape poverty  (or maybe dealing drugs) by crossing the border illegally. Keep my bike locked up. Don’t engage. Report.

And that’s what two hikers now inside the visitor’s center are doing. They are reporting a “sighting,” a collection of evidence they believe “is unusual.” They behave very cloak-'n-dagger. They never blurt: "There is an illegal alien in our midst.”

Instead they mention, casually, almost covertly, stumbling upon a cave with disturbed underbrush inside. A stash of water bottles. The aroma of recently a recently cooked meal. With chilies.  A tumbling of rocks, as if something slid down the hill.

The park ranger makes serious note of the report and marks the cave location on a map. She thanks the visitors who leave.

No. 1 Mexican restaurant in Gila Bend, AZ
As I tour the park, I find the Valley of Their Sighting. I look up into the hills. I seek out the cave. And I wonder who hid there.  And I  understand why they sought a hiding place to rest. And needed water. And ate. Organ Pipe sprawls dangerously for about 517 square miles of dense cactus-covered, parched terrain butting up against rocky, unfriendly mountains.

If they made it this far through the desert alive, they must still contend with an attentive border patrol and, apparently, tourists.

It’s not easy. Or safe. To get a slice of my apple pie illegally.

And that’s what I’m thinking as I sit inside Sophia’s, a Mexican restaurant truckers rate No.1 in Gila Bend. At my table is a box, painted white, with black hand-lettering asking for money. Donations. To help people lost in the desert. To provide medical care. Rescue. 

Helping immigrants
It never says the immigrants to be helped are illegal.  But it’s obvious. If the guy who slid down the hill, or hid in the cave or ate the chilies for lunch is sick or injured when found, these people will help. With medical supplies, I’m told, but no visa.

So down here, close to the border, signs ask me to snitch. Signs ask me to help. Welcome to the world of illegal immigration.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Worried about the law in a Nevada ghost town

I see cops.
See us sticking out into the road?
And I immediately think they plan to ticket us for parking out into the road.

Our fifth-wheel is a monster when it comes to parking on downtown city streets. And even though Goldfield, NV., population 204, isn’t a real city, it does have a downtown and we are hogging the street, trying to park to the side so I can walk down the sidewalk and take pictures (some below).

This is a ghost town, even though people still live here. It was born and went bust during the glory days of the gold rush. In its prime, there were more than 30,000 people here. A few left town millionaires. Stories place Wyatt Earp and his brother Virgil here.

But today it’s a collection of dusty and rusting artifacts of yesterday. I see art in that dust everywhere. A building covered in road signs. Cars decorated with found items, even other cars. A shadow of a phone-texting man cleverly placed to show him near the shadow of a real stop sign. 

This town is worth so much more than the mere minutes I’ve been here, snapping a few dozen pictures or brokeness-turned-lovely, art out of ashes.  But I’m worried about the cops. So I tun to race back to the fifth-wheel (puffing hard in this 6,000-foot altitude), to get it out of the street.

But I see no cops. They must have moved on. They must be used to tourists like us. Tourists who hog the street and take snapshots of the past.

But, wait. Cops? In a ghost town?
Where do they get the water in a desert?

Clever shadow art.

I could shop here all day.

Less government.
Beetles reign!

Pure art.

Unsafe privatization?

Don’t blink.

You might miss something.

Like we did a few days ago when we let life’s little upheavals distract us from an adventure down a dark trail.

Our fifth-wheel is sick, so we’re headed north from Death Valley into Carson City, NV, for repairs. It’s a six-hour drive up Route 95 through beautiful high-desert landscape cradeled by the Sierra Nevadas.

As we near our RV park, we fail to make much note of the acres and acres of what looks like elongated Hobbit houses (close-up above) dotting the valley floor. Bunkers, we shrug. Hundreds of bunkers. We shrug again and turn in for the night.

We winterize the RV because the nights are freezing and we walk the dog and we ponder the fate of our trailer. While doing this, we fail to notice the munitions warning signs. We are oblivious to the town park’s colorful windmills made from torpedo remnants. We don’t see the submarine missiles displayed on the sidewalks downtown.

We head north in the morning and pass what is clearly a very large yet deserted military installation called Hawthorne Army Depot. So on the way out of town, I Google what I just saw.

Apparently, we just spent the night surrounded by the largest ammunition storage facility in the world. The town itself is only 1.5 square miles, but the depot covers 226 square miles and can store 600,000 square feet of ammunition in those Hobbit houses I saw — more than 2,400 bunkers.

Its history is fantastic — during World War II it employed more than 5,000 people -- (go ahead, Google it for yourself) and its mission frightening (Is the ammunition still there? Are the bunkers empty?).
Curiously, something this important to the safety of this country is not run by the government. 

Imagine that.

The ammunition needed to send this country to war is stored by an independent contractor — Day & Zimmerman Hawthrone Corp., a leading manufacturer of ammunition who  also makes the little silver foil wraps for Hershey kisses (or used to).

Forbes named the company one of the richest privately held companies in the United States, with revenues of $2.5 billion a year. They hold more than 350 government contracts and we pay them more than  $151 million a year to store wartime ammunition.

If we renege on a payment and need a bullet, can they say “No?”

The U.S. Marines used to guard the facility. That job has been outsourced, too. To Day & Zimmerman.

So my gut tells me I’m not the only one who blinked. Everyone in this  country must have blinked when the government decided to hand over the largest ammunition storage facility in the world to one of the richest companies in the United States.

I’m hoping there's a clause in those contracts that puts the facility back under Marine protection and Army control in the event of war. Because if we are attacked, I want the bottom line to be our protection, not a bank account.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A window exposes more than a view

I’m taking a nap inside a very old Alpha fifth wheel that isn’t mine in a trailer park where I do not live.

Except for this week.

I live here, in a rental trailer in a trailer park in Pahrump, NV, because my brand-new, beautiful, georgeous fifth wheel, the one with a fireplace and big screen TV, with a kitchen island and hard wood floors, broke.

Broke. And we can’t use it. We made plans for it to be fixed next week because this week we want to play in Death Valley National Park.

So we rented this trailer In a trailer park, where I am taking a nap. But I can’t sleep because there’s noise outside my window,  I can hear what trailer parks are known for. Unruliness. Men yelling at each other. (A fight?) And cars spinning out on gravel. (A FIGHT?) And I lay here, beginning to question our safety.

But I’m curious. So I peak out the window and I see someone’s car has pooped out. And a bunch of men are pushing the car, which spins again and is freed from whatever was holding it. And the driver drives off. The men high five. Well, some of them do. Then they disappear into their trailers. These men. These kind men. Who extended a helping hand.

While I extended judgement.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Stereotypical day for an RV'er

We’re in Elkhart, Ind., the birthplace of darn near every fifth-wheel, travel trailer and motorhome you see on the road today.

And with that distinction comes a well-honed, stereotypical image of an RV-enthusisast: a graying, sneaker-shoe wearing, binocular-toting Boomer, a bit myopic and cloyingly perky.

Is that us? 

And is that them? The people who birth these homes on wheels? Are they like us?

Unfortunately, we have a chance to find out because a piece of our fifth-wheel pooped out. Just clanged into inoperability. And we need it fixed. So we head to its mother womb, a company called Open Range in Shipshawana, an Amish-filled town on the Elkhart outskirts.

 I see a single-story, long building that resembles an old-fashioned motel, only spiffed up a bit. Inside, we crowd into a tiny RV-sized waiting room, where a man is engaged in a lively phone conversation. His back is to us, so we see his lovely blond pony tail trailing darn near to his waist.

Soon, a man wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans, sporting a Duck Dynasty beard and wooden earrings pops in and offers to help. He has more tattoos than a tattoo parlor advertises. Nothing’s on his face, which must be all of 30 years old. He listens to us and slips back into the Open Range belly to fetch Jennifer. She’s all of 30, wears a flowered headband and skinny jeans, a barely-there T-shirt and the cutest little slippers she says she bought at Walmart.

The two diagnose our problem, hand us the parts we need to make repairs and wave farewell.

Wish I had thought to take their picture.

 Because, clearly,  they are the antithesis of the RV stereotype. And we aren’t.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Avoiding Toledo, technology free

My granddaughter Grayce loves maps. They way they look. The places they delineate.

I’m thinking about her and her passion as I panic because I need a map. We’re barreling toward Toledo and I do NOT want to spill onto the city streets to do battle with tiny turns and tree branches.  We’re towing a 38-foot fifth wheel that's about 13.5 feet high. 

I want to avoid Toledo.

But I don't know how. And my phone’s map app is crashing and my GPS is a pathetic bully. Technology fails me today.

So I reach under the back seat and grab my Rand McNally — an oversized coverless compendium of places we’ve been and places we want to be. I flip to Ohio and within seconds I’ve navigated us out of Toledo’s grasp and into the arms of Route 20.

 Where we stay for hours and hours. Watching corn grow. And cows graze.  Enjoying scrubbed up old towns, palms up for a tourist's dime. We see wafting clouds of starlings and hawks chasing their prey.  And classic barns, grain elevators, Mom-and-Pop stores, aging trucks for sale in varying degrees of decay. I love the white-steepeled churches with congregations of graves just outside.

Yes. Yes. Had I used the technology to get from here to there I would be there already and I’m not. I’m sitting in a Wal-Mart parking lot somewhere in Indiana instead of Illinois, listening to a train passing by. And my Rand McNally is nearby. It’s my new best friend. 

My granddaughter loves maps.

So do I.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Listening to my past; loving it's in the present

It’s rainy. Off and on. And muggy, here at Jekyll Island campground, where they spray twice a week for mosquitos, failingly. 

Most of the campers pulled out early this morning because, well, because it’s rainy off and on and the mosquitos wear their bug armour well.

A few families remain, soaking in what might be the final weekend of the summer for the kids to be just kids and not students, too.

I’m sitting inside my RV, just lounging in the air conditioning. And that’s when I hear it.

My childhood. My past.

“Ready or not! HERE I COME!”

And I get very quiet. Pavlov. Shhhh. Don’t move. And, for goodness sakes, do not breathe.

I know it’s coming. Yep. It’s coming. "EEEEEKKKKK!” The high-pitched screech of discovery. Then the pounding of little feet zigzagging "home," dispersing leaves and broken branches, to where it’s safe.

I don’t look out. I just listen. Like to a radio show.

“I see you,”  a little girl says, so quietly and so closely, I think, for a flash, she’s talking to me. But then I hear giggles and another chase. 

Finally, I hear no more game. I peek outside and see two little girls:  a 5-year-old, all in pink, and a 10-year-old with a leg cast on walking around. Maybe they've teamed up to hunt for a hidden little boy I saw earlier.

When they find him, maybe they’ll play Tag, or Simon Sez or Mother May I. Red Light Green Light? 



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Making memories

Sometimes, we do things more for the memory than the experience.

For instance, we’re riding bikes around Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia and it’s lovely. But it’s suffocatingly hot. We swim through moisture thick air.

At home, we would NOT be riding bikes.

But we continue on here because, well, look at what we are seeing. We pedal under an umbrella of trees dripping with Spanish moss. And we pass a corral of horses all saddled up for a ride. To the left, through a break in the trees, we see dozens of herons taking flight. Up ahead, a fishing pier beckons us to visit, with its shade-offering roof, comfy benches and Atlantic Ocean vistas. Just above the pier, a flock of pelicans circle, broadcasting the presence of fish down below.

So, we park our bikes and visit the pier, where I see an older man teaching a little kid all about crabbing. About the rotting chicken that’s used as bait; about how long it’ll take to catch ‘em; and how to avoid those pinchers.

The kid stays down with the crab cages and the older guy (gotta be grandpa) comes over near us to check on some fishing lines they have in the water.

“You know you are giving that kid some great memories,” I say to this guy. He grins, gives me a wink and a nod. “That’s why I do this. Heck, I don’t even like fishing.”

He then reels in one of his lines and finds a small fish, a croaker, at the end. Quickly, he lowers it back into the water and moves down to check his other lines. He calls to the kid. “Hey. Come help me check these fishing poles.” He nonchalantly points to that line, the line he just checked. The one with the fish.

The kid obliges, picks up the pole and begins to reel. Then, he squeals. “GRANDPA! A SHARK!” he insists! “A SHARK!”

What a great memory.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Surprised by a smash-up

I’m sitting in the grandstand of the Ozark Empire State Fair in Springfield, MO, crossing two adventures off Our List.

(Our List is a bunch of things my husband and I want to do together as spectators, just the two of us, so we can leave early if we hate them.)

Tonight it’s Monster Trucks.

And Demolition Derby.

And so far, we’re not budging.

We’re loving the Monsters. And so is this crowd. A collective, raucous cheer rises with each crunch of metal, bounce of skyscraping wheels, deafening roar of unmuffled engines.   Allen and I are clueless. (Why did that guy win?) (Why is he doing donuts? Where is he going?) But we’re loving it anyway, absorbing the thrill  of the crowd, watching everyone leap out of their seats, punch the air, cheer on these trucks. Trucks with names. Barbarian, Outlaw, BountyHunter, TailGator and Smashosaurus (I kid you not).

And now, the Demolition Derby.

Four, six, no eight misshapen, ratty tatty cars grumble and sputter onto the field. They park, heads in, in two lines of four with their tails toward each other.

Someone drops a flag and it’s a go.

WHAT A HOOT! These little cars spit and spin, smash and push and wobble like Weebles. They dig in and grind their way into and out of pileups.      

I’m shocked at how much I enjoy this. Me. Non-combative me. Non-violent me. I’m loving the pounding these banged-up little cars give each other.

And my favorite? The one with a painted message: “Don’t Tell G-Ma.” HA!

Right now, G-Ma's sitting in the middle of the field, her rear end stuck under the tailgate  of a station wagon. Her wheels spin dust bunnies, but she's going nowhere. The other car’s trapped, too. Then WHAM. G-Ma’s  slammed from the side. (In unison, the crowd reacts: “OHHHH!.”) And WHAM,  she’s slammed from the other side. (“OHHHH!”)  And then she breaks free (“YAY!”) The crowd’s on its feet! 

The station wagon immediately plows into a third  car (metal flies; crowd: “YAY.”) Two cars sandwich a third.  (“OHHHH.”) And yet another loses its front bumper.  Someone lost a tire. (A cacophony of cheers  ensues.)

No one but me seems to notice G-Ma’s not getting her wind back. She coasts outside the action. And just sits there.

And now it’s over and a winner declared (a last-man-standing sort of win.) Wreckers, front-loaders and Bobcats cart off the sick and injured.
And now, it’s just G-Ma. She’s cooled down and her driver gets her running. Backwards. But on her own volition, she leaves the field. Backwards.

No one seems to care.

But me.

I silently cheer.

Because I’m loving this.

Friday, July 31, 2015

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets"

I’m in Ozark, MO, and I love seeing Jesus at work.

Not in words.

In action.

I’m at a Christian thrift store. When I walked in, two things caught my attention. First, this place is dirty. Dusty. Crammed with donated stuff, some of which is better suited for a community dump than a resale house. Second, the TV. It’s blaring from the back of the room. I’m guessing to show customers it still works.

 I walk toward the noise (because I’m nosy) and I hear laughter, not from the TV, but from inside the store. As I turn the corner, I see five men eating lunch, watching the TV. Something’s funny because they're laughing. One guy bounces on his chair because he’s so tickled.

It’s clear from their dirty, ill-fitting clothes, scraggily beards  and skeletal builds that three of the five men have fallen on hard times. The  other two guys are  clean shaven and well dressed. So my guess is they are not down on their luck.  Are they here to help those who are? 

I keep on shopping. The TV goes silent. And I watch the men file toward the front of the store, where they stop, hand over the video they’d just been watching,  and sing happy birthday to the woman behind the cash register. She smiles, waves them off, and they head out the door. All but one.  The bouncer. He’s a little lost. Just sitting on a nearby chair. Kinda edgy. Drugs?

It’s my turn to check out ($2 for beautiful silver earrings), so I ask,”What’s with the guys watching TV?”

“Oh,” she says. “They’re …” She hesitates … momentarily … then completes her thought: "volunteers. They come in to have their lunch.”

So, as I see it, this little Christian thrift store puts a few homeless men to work. Gives them food, a nice little place to eat and a chance to watch some TV. And then, when given the chance to brag about the good that’s being done here, they chose, instead, to show respect toward these men, to protect their integrity in front of a stranger.
Yep. I'm seeing Jesus at work.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Oh. So. Cool. In Oklahoma

As dusk approaches, the relentless heat of Guymon, OK, (a humid 103°) subsides, giving way to a breeze and  promise of a perfect night. A cool night. A sweet night.

At the drive-in. YES! The DRIVE IN!

We rerouted our trip East to dip down into Oklahoma because a little ap on my phone told me there was an RV park here. And that park was connected to a drive in.

Oh. So. Cool.

SO we’re sitting in our comfy chairs just outside our fifth-wheel, munching on movie-theater popcorn and drinking my home-made iced tea out of monster cups of ice I bought at the concession stand.

We’re watching a dozen kids play ball and swing and under the big screen, just waiting for dark. We’re watching a dozen or more cars trail in, then people file out, heading for the concession stand. Pizza. Hamburgers. French fries. Candy.

Oh. So. Cool.

We even have our dog at our feet.  On his own big pillow. And he’s  watching the kids. Smelling the air. Barking at a cat.

Oh. So. Cool.

Frankly, I don’t care that the movie’s so bad it’s painful to watch (“Pixels”) or that that  “cat" smells a lot like a skunk. Arnold’s back in the next flick (“Terminator Genisys”), we get free refills on our monster tub of popcorn and we can stay until they turn the lights out because we’re already home.

Oh. So. Cool.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

What a difference a crowd makes

The famous Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park.
We went to Mesa Verde today, a massive national park in the southwestern corner of Colorado. It has more than 4,500 archeological sites, 400 of which are cliff dwellings, where the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians lived. The Anasazi.


As big and intense as this park is, so are the crowds. Dozens and dozens of people milling about in orchestrated attendance. Old women like me complaining about their aches and pains, children eating candy and hopping around walls, Bubba-types with barrel chests pounding their way forward. Yes, chewing bits of hay.

Usually I love being in intense crowds. But Wednesday's experience at less well known  parks spoiled me.

Painted Hand. We hiked a circuitous mile to find this in the Canyons of the Ancients.
 Wednesday, Allen and I hiked ALL BY OURSELVES through the Canyons of the Ancients, across a rock mesa and discovered Painted Hand, a cliff dwelling hanging onto the side of a mountain. It was magical. I felt the heat of the sun. Listened to the birds. Imagined children at play, chasing turkeys and dogs. Men chopping away at the hardened earth to plant corn, squash, beans. Women, skinning a freshly caught deer, preserving the hides and bones for utilitarian purposes.

We strolled around and in and out another dwelling,  called Lowry, preserved and protected but not fenced off. We walked where the ancients walked.

At Hovenweep, a national park like Mesa Verde, but on a much smaller scale, Allen and I explored alone as well. We stood at the edge of a canyon  and surveyed the cliff dwellings, pondering in peace why these people moved into the mountainsides.  No one knows why.

Like I said, magical.

One of the ruins at Hovenweep National Park.
Today, I imagined nothing. And I walked in waves of crowds.  I caught a glimpse at the famous Cliff Palace  (see my selfie!), but I had to keep trading places with the crowds to be respectful.

We didn't even go into the museum to see the 25 minute film about the park. And I LOVE THOSE FILMS. But the crowds were daunting. We drove in. Then drove out.

Oh, I am GLAD YES GLAD lots of people love the national parks like I do. I just wish they'd show their love on different days.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Life on the road

Al taking pictures during a barrel racing competition at our campground (a county fairgrounds)

That's Lily (our Wildcat fifth wheel) next to our truck parked in a campsite at the Jerome County Fairgrounds in Jerome, Idaho.

Oh, the transient life.

Today marks the two-month point in our journey. We left home May 19 and it's now July 19. 

Many things go right. Many things go wrong. But we're used to that.

This week, for instance. We arrived at the Jerome County Fairgrounds in Jerome, Idaho, on Sunday. It's a great deal. $10 a night for water and electric hookups.  That means we can shower daily AND do dishes, too. Yay!

On Monday, a monster RV pulls in, backs up and smashes a utility pole. There goes our water. Boo.

He offers to go buy us lots of gallons of fresh water; sweet man. But we have plenty on board.

So, we shower every other day and use paper plates. No problem.

He leaves the next day and we have the place to ourselves. We tour, bike ride, enjoy the serenity.

On Wednesday, dozens of horses and people converge on the fairgrounds and we enjoy a free night of team cow roping. What fun! Yay!

On Thursday, the maintenance workers warn us we might lose our electricity, too.  Boo.

No problem. We have a generator.

Well, we don't lose our electricity (YAY!), so we head  out for dinner (rainbow trout)  and a scenic cruise on the Snake River.

When we return, we break our refrigerator door so it no longer locks. Have to use a rope to keep it closed until we can get it fixed. Boo.

We notice some motorcycles at the fairground. Within 24 hours, the fairgrounds is peppered with them. A weekend convention of the Christian Motorcycle Association. Great people. Kids for the dog to play with. Yay.

Saturday morning, more horses. This time, free barrel racing. Yay.

So life on the road for us is unpredictable. Mostly unplanned. And fun. Lots of hurdles, but we always find slicky slides and carousels.

We have a little more than a month to go in this journey. We leave here tomorrow. 

Where we go depends on which way our wind blows when we head out.

(Update: It blew us down to Moab, UT, for lunch and on to Cortez, CO, to visit Mesa Verde National Park.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rutted in history

The half-circle at left is a modern road. The historic ruts are perpendicular. I think.
Can't tell if I'm gullible or humbled to be standing here, on a windy hill, staring down at deep ruts in the mesa. And digging deep down into my heart to believe these ruts were made by the wagon wheels of pioneers who suffered amazing tragedies while following the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s.

I close my eyes and try to imagine men, women and children pushing their wagons, tugging on their horses' reigns, working their way up  these  steep canyon walls, hungry, cold, ill.  In her 1849 journal, "A Woman's Trip Across the Plains," pioneer Catherine Haun wrote, "It  was not an unusual sight  to see graves, carcasses of animals, and abandoned wagons. In fact, the latter furnished us with wood for the campfires as the sagebrush was scarce and unsatisfactory."

I DO believe Haun was there, on the trail. My problem is believing this is the trail. Right here in Hagerman Fossil Beds, a treasure of a national park in Southcentral Idaho. The fossils that make this park famous are the oldest ever found from the genus Equus (horse, zebra).  The Hagerman Horse might have  migrated over the landbridge into Asia before the Ice Age. But it was here first.

I have no problem believing the horse was here, or the sloth or the mastodon or the more than 200 species of plants and animals who lived here 2.6 million years ago, whose bones document their existence. Hard, fossilized evidence.

It's just that those ruts ... They  perfectly align themselves with the route of electric lines heading up the same hill and connect with a main highway. I close my eyes and can see big trucks with poles getting stuck in the spring mud. Making those ruts. Maybe a few years ago. But not wagons 166 years ago.

My husband's bought this historic tale. He says I'm looking at the wrong ruts. Look over there, at that rut, he says. The one filled with tumbleweed. And he's standing there, staring at that rut, drinking in the concept, the misery. The landmark essence of what occurred. Right here.

He's aghast at my suspicions.

Still ...

Friday, July 17, 2015

Making friends in the Magic Valley

Marce and Lester, great friends

We’re sitting on a tour boat on the Snake River in Idaho, sipping great coffee as the storied 1000 Springs area unfolds before us.

Look! Up there! Waterfalls erupting from the canyon walls. It looks like the mountains are weeping. And those birds! Mud swallows by the thousands. Flocks of black and white ducks? Gulls? Pelicans? Not sure.

Sadly, the “stories” of this area are mine to discover elsewhere, because the tour boat captain's not one for talking. Much.

I expected a narrative from him. All I get are notes. 
Until Lester sits down.

Lester and Marce, his long-time friend and fellow Berkeley graduate, are part of the Road Scholar group on this tour boat with us. They sat in the rear of the boat until the sun got too hot, then asked to join us in the shade.

From this moment on, Lester entertains with his non-stop stories, about the time he was asked to be an astronaut, got to meet John Glenn, but then turned down the opportunity. Or about bunking with a general in Vietnam. Or writing a supply acquisition order signed off without comment by McNamara himself. Or how his cousin was appointed ambassador to Finland, simply because he spoke Finnish.

And on and on. He then recites lengthy beautiful passages from "Kubla Khan."

Marce says little. She just grins as Lester tells his tales. She lightly touches his upper arm now and then. Probably when the tales get too tall.

Doesn’t matter.

The stories have nothing to do with this beautiful part of the world, called the Magic Valley. But they color my world magnificently, because Lester (who’s been a doctor, a geologist and a fighter pilot, and is 90 years old) tells them. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

A historic meeting

Muir's signature is third one down. Not sure about the others. 

There’s something special about holding hands with history.

I stand here, inside this little lumberjack museum in tiny Pierce, Idaho, staring at this block of wood. So desperate to reach out. To flatten my hand on the name carved into it. J.H. MUIR.

John Muir. One of my idols. A man so in love with nature even his wife lovingly tossed him back outside into the hills  to replenish his soul. He understood the need to maintain our waterways, our prairies, our mountainsides as living monuments to the planet that sustains them. He was the quintessential conservationist whose advocacy of all things natural led to the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. 

And he battled the logging industry, weary with the raping of the land, the wholesale pillaging of great forests. So it’s ironic I’d come this close to shaking hands with one of my tree-hugging heroes inside a museum dedicated to an industry that takes those trees down.

Or is it?

This  little museum, called the J. Howard Bradbury Memorial Logging Museum, obviously honors my hero, too. Because it chronicles the logging industry in Central Idaho, an industry that has evolved to understand the need to replenish the land, to replant in numbers equivalent to what’s taken. To conserve.

 I suspect when a lumberjack felled the great tree and found the famous signature, he, too, felt he was holding hands with history. 

And saved the piece to honor the man.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Meager beginnings

This little mound is of historic significance.

I’m staring at a mound of rock and dirt, maybe 50 feet at its highest. It’s nothing to look at. Just volcanic rock thatched with brittle-dry grasses and weeds. It’s quite small. Nothing spectacular at all, nestled in the shadows of magnificent rolling and folded hills just outside Kamiah, Idaho.

But it is important. Historic.

It is the Heart of the Monster, the birthplace of all human beings, the last of which were the Niimiipu, translated as “The People.”

We know them as the Nez Perce, translated as Pierced Nose, so named by French Canadian fur traders in the 18th century, who actually confused them with another people who pierce their noses. The Niimiipu didn’t. Still don’t.

For the past two weeks, we’ve camped on land owned by the Niimiipu, and engaged with multiple sites historic to The People, sites maintained by the Nez Perce National Historic Park. The park includes 38 sites in four states —  Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington — and follows The People’s trail.

Along the way is this beginning, the Heart of the Monster, this little chunk of land I walked a half a mile in 114-degree heat to see.

It’s so unimpressive. Nondescript.  If I didn’t know the story.

It reminds me of another unimpressive chunk of significant history, Plymouth Rock. Been there? It’s laughably small, big enough for one person to step foot on. I know that story, too.

I think of that rock and this mound and the ironic connection. Historic.