Monthly Archives: January 2019

Down From The Mountain

(Click on images to enlarge)

The entire desert environment is harsh and no place for fools (like me) to wander alone.

As is often said, there’s no fool like an old fool. An arduous climb, and harder descent lead me on to the next quest, the same day. I did not find the petroglyphs and ended up stuck in an arroyo for a couple of hours while I jacked the van, again and again, shovelled and stacked rocks until I finally found the high ground. Fool! You may tell me how clever I am to get myself out of my fix, as darkness fell but, this old backwoods man often recites the mantra “superior pilots use their superior knowledge to avoid situations requiring their superior skill.” All’s well that ends.

The path zig-zags ever upward. Each step is a conscious placement of your boots. The rocks are loose and grabbing a bush for support is a definite NOT! Nearly all vegetation is covered in vicious thorns.

The changing views are spectacular and draw you ever upward.

Homeland Insecurity sneaky-cam chained to a tree. James told me drug mules come over the mountain passes..yep, way up there. There are electronic sensors strategically placed and the soon the helicopters are on site.

Fresnal Canyon. It looks lovely, but there is no gentle strolling here.

It was stunning

A Godshead?

A view eastward toward Tonopah and Sells. The water towers are the giveaway. I find it impossible for this alien to to judge height and distance here.

In the distance beyond the cactus, San Miguel and then Mexico. There is an ominous incessant thunder far overhead as fighter jets practise. You can never see them.

I took this photo when my old injuries stopped complaining and started screaming. I reasoned that I was entirely alone and had forgotten to bring my cell phone. One slip, one sprain or broken bone could have been drastic. Going down was even more arduous. I would later learn that the cave I sought was at the  base of the cleft, in the tan spot. I was only ten minutes from the Creator’s Cave where legend has it he emerged to create the world and distribute the people of different colours. I did not feel quite ready to go meet my maker.

So…I sat a while and chatted with a cactus. He was even more prickly than I am.

Someone went to a lot of work to build these walls. An old camp on the mountain? How old?

Everything commands/demands respect.

Even in January the shade felt good. I can’t imagine clambering here on a summer day.

A ground squirrel sunning himself atop a huge boulder ponders the passage of the apparition I must have been.
I order my used Minolta 400mm reflex lense from Japan. It is fantastic for these sort of shots. The photo was taken hand-held at a distance of about sixty feet.

Ahhh! An underground stream emerges briefly to fall into this pool. Everything gathers there, wasps, flies, moths and all sorts of creatures that make tracks. The sound of that trickling water was sweet music indeed. Then the water disappears underground again.

This character was as tall as I am but was definitely not leaning out for a hug.

Dumb ass! I knew better and told myself so during the two hours of shovelling, jacking and packing rocks while darkness began to fall. The van is not a back country vehicle.

Night fell. Ominous but beautiful.

And so I spent the night.

Pre-dawn. Night creatures provided a wonderful symphony.

Don’t fence me in. Part of the coral where I spent the night.

Water is everything. Note the moisture flowing down the cliff face. What is its source?

Up the arroyo (or, wash). These are the super highways of the desert, where the going is easiest and ambush most likely.

Creak, clatter and squeak. The traditional windmill is a green source of retrieving the essence of life. This one was still pumping but the rest of the system needed attention.

Photographer in the well. I imagined falling in. What a place to die in the desert!

An offering in the desert.

Arroyo beans. Each seed contains the future.

Antcano!

After spending a night at an abandoned cowboy’s corner in the desert I finally made my way back to pavement and the small native town of Sells. I emerged from the grocery store to discover coolant again weeping form the van. Oh Golly! Uh huh.

A Caracara, desert hunter and scavenger, watches my departure.

I’ll be back.

After an eighty mile quest for an auto parts store, whereupon checking the length of a new hose, I discovered that my young Yuma mechanic had not properly tightened a hose clamp. Exhausted beyond words I drove around Nogales arranging Mexican travel insurance, finding a friendly ATM for cash to turn into Pesos and finally a place to park for the night. I am writing this in MacDonalds in Walmart. The van is parked, it seems, a mile across the parking lot in the far corner. An antithesis from Baboquivari, but damn, they do have good wifi! I’ve discovered this during yet another sleepless night in the van.

When I walked back to my urban camp I thought my weary eyes were deceiving me. There were creatures snuffling all around it. To my utter delight, the creatures turned out to be Javelinas, a type of peccary and not a feral pig. I was stunned but managed to grab some cell phone footage of these Wal Mart wanderers. By the way, about my Ajo Bird in the last blog. A reader commented to suggest the bird was a curve-billed Thrasher. By guidebook to birds of this region confirmed that. So, at 03:30 from the Nogales Arizona Wal Mart parking lot, this blog’s for you.

In a pig’s eye!

Walmart marauders. You thought I was kidding? So did I at first.

A smile is the shortest distance between two people.” …Victor Borge

Baboquivari

The beautiful old church in Ajo. Look at this and hear the coo of Mourning Doves

My Ajo Bird. He sang while I prepared to move on. I’ll have to learn which flavour of desert bird he is.

Downtown, old Ajo.

The centerpiece at the general store in Why, AZ. Rock music droned from speakers in the cab. I want one!

The store. What visitors can pass without stopping?

And why not indeed? This nest is in a cactus in front of the store.

I’ve seen plenty, but they’re always on the run…away. So are the wing-eared Desert Jack Rabbits who are almost as big as the coyotes.

Wild mustang stallion. I saw the herd crossing an arroyo so I raced ahead, slammed on the brakes and leapt out. This guy, was very patriarchal and stood guard till the rest of the herd ran ahead. Look at the scars on his chest! He’s a feisty old guy.

Run girls, run!

Once they were safely out of sight, Old Studly brought up the rear. What a thrill to see!

Can you smell the smoke? It’s mesquite. There is a campfire at my right elbow. A breeze blows the heat my way as well as a fine shower of ashes. Above me, through the still-bare limbs of a Mexican Blue Oak, the desert stars throb with a spectacular energy. Towering over me, a mile above, are the stark black cliffs and peaks of Baboquivari. Until a few minutes ago they still held an eerie glow from the distant sunset.

Arizona backroad to Fresnal Canyon and the foot of Baboquivari. It’s the high one in the distance.

A pilgrim arrived. Baboquivari is in the background. behind the tree.

Look closely.

See?

Another offering to the creator. This place is the ultimate church. Folks come from all , mountainsover in answer to its call. Others come to climb the lofty vertical stack at the top of the mountain. I barely began that ascent!

The west-facing cliffs held the sunset even into darkness. In the morning I would climb to the base of the long shadow to the right of center. It looked easy!

Slowly, the light faded as if reluctant to let go of the mountains.

Last year’s birdnest and a promise of new leaves in the new year.

Have you ever felt excitement and peace all at once? I am here, finally, after dreaming of it for five years; and I’ll be back! This is a sacred place to the local Tohono O’odham indigenous people whose history here goes back at least 12,000 years. Other native nations in the American Southwest have successfully declared themselves sovereign states, complete with their own passports which you are required to have to enter their land.

Night falls

Only the crackle of the rising flames and calls of night creatures punctuated a silence that you could feel. Wonderful!

Night desk. Where this blog was written. The desk lamp is a wonderful solar lamp/USB charger imported from Norway.

The Tohono embrace you as a visitor to their hallowed mountain. Shinto priests have come from Japan to meditate here. I understand that, I can feel why. The resident guide/caretaker, James, welcomed me and issued me with a free permit as well as telling me where to hike to find some secret places. I will rest here for a day or two. I would stay longer if there were good company to share this with. On my bucket list, coming here was very near the top. I have been summoned since I first saw this place five years ago from the lookout on Kitt Peak. It will take more than one blog to complete this essay.

James, my mountain mentor and guru. This man exudes an aura. The peace in his eyes and the lines on his face tell of his life’s time in a radius of this mountain and a deep spiritual attachment to his land. He is eager to share his knowledge if you are eager to hear him. We have promised to meet again….in the same place.

Trump this! A traditional and effective method of fence-building.
James told of meeting illegal immigrants who were “In rough shape” and doing what he could to help fellow humans in desperate need. While
I understand the reasons for going through the legal process of
immigration, I also ponder about people who walk all the way from the bottom of Central American to take the risks of illegal entry. Aren’t those the kind of folks you’d want in your country? The US Homeland Security Forces is a massive military force and seems, to my eyes, to be waging a huge battle largely with their own paranoia. But I can hold no opinions, either way based on what I’ve seen. I am an outsider, and also an alien intruder.

Devil’s claws decorate and protect Jame’s home at the base of the mountain.

First Light…and the climb begins.

I was watched.

…And watched. These feral, free range cattle roam everywhere. how they pass through the thick, tangled and massively-thorned brush is amazing. It is even more incredible that native cowboys are able to round them up and coral them.

Up through the shadows I climbed. The pathway is very rugged and not for the faint-hearted. Next blog will be images of the climb and descent.

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” …Oliver Wendell Holmes

Desert Fever

One can only wonder at the history. I am noting, as I talk to more folk, that while they value the huge contribution provided by Mexican immigrants, it is the illegals from all over Central America that they object to. Point taken!

Friday, January 25th. It seems like ten months since Christmas! This morning I crawled out of bed well before dawn and decided that no matter what, I’d catch up on my blogging. Six hours later I was done and packed up the van, ready for the road. After bidding a fond farewell to my Ladysmith amigos, I went and provisioned up, then hit the road. Aghast at the size of the RV dealer’s lots I finally cleared through a Homeland Insecurity checkpoint and began to feel free again. I’d beaten the mechanical gremlins and was off to see the wizard. But then I began to smell something. My weary old farm boy brain decided it must be the faint aroma of some chemical being applied to the fields that I was passing.

Northern Sonora Desert vista.
I keep trying to imagine what it was like before us white folk arrived. This is what it must have looked like.

At a place called Wellton, I pulled off to gas up before pursuing an alternate route along a back road which is always my bliss; exploring a new rural track. At the gas pumps I shut off the ignition. Pshhhhhh!!! Balls of steam erupted from under the hood. I swore softly. Yeah right! When I crawled underneath I could see coolant running down behind the new water pump. I swore softly again. As it is turns out an old heater hose had ruptured. It should have been replaced when the pump was changed, but, that’s the way the pickle squirts.

My desert neighbour. He was cautiously amiable. He was travelling very light and was heading home to North Carolina after a tour of Mexico!

Between a rock and a hard place. Desert repairs for dummies.

All mine! There is absolutely no one around to lend a cup of sugar. Repairs complete!

After slowly cooling the engine down I made a temporary repair then ventured into the tiny farm town and found the new hose and coolant I would need for a permanent fix in the morning. The NAPA clerk assured me that Geronimo’s Mexican Restaurant across the street was excellent. Noting the vultures circling above I came on in. It is five pm as I write and the place is filling with local seniors. Muy Beuno! I last ate a small bowl of hot cereal at 05:30 and this place has fantastic authentic food especially when feeling famished.

Geronimo’s Wellton AZ
Stop in if you are going buy. You’ll thank me for the tip.

After my meal, I stepped outside…and looked up!
“For Whom The Vultures Circle.”

Next door to Geronimo’s , Pauline’s Treasures was closed…but the inventory stayed outside. That’s a social comment!

Heartbreaker! She was wandering on the road, miles from anywhere. Beautiful, friendly and affectionate It hurt to drive on and leave her behind. I did not look in the mirror; noting that someone must be feeding her.

Well, now I’ve made several repairs to the accommodation infrastructure, and three to the engine room so, damn your teeth Murphy, I’m confident the worst is behind me. On the wall beside me, is a ubiquitous black and white photo of the area which I’ve seen several times. It was taken in Yuma in 1950 when two men in a small Aeronca sedan flew in circles for forty-five days non stop. They were served with fuel, oil and food from a convertible car racing beneath. What they did for matters of personal hygiene is a nagging question for me. I once had an airplane which held nine hours worth of fuel. My bladder never outlasted that fuel tank and I tried several creative and sometimes humiliating ideas. Both machines have been recovered, restored and are now on permanent display inside the Yuma City Hall.

Old Cactus Bones hisself.
I could wear out a camera here.

Painted Rock Petroglyph Site
A sacred experience for anyone with a heart

I edited my number of frames of this place down to 36. I could have easily taken four times more!

Clicking Man
The best light is always at either end of the day.

Ma, Ma! The mules is gone!

A whole lot of mooing going on. There are very many feedlots with an amazing number of cows. The stench is horrific even to this old farm boy!

The Solara Generating Station. There are several of these randomly scattered across the countryside. Each one is incredibly immense.

Geezer Cycle Gangs
There are huge herds of these as well.

Don’tcha fall off now!
There is far more money in this custom tricycle than there is my van

There are still two hours of daylight, I forge on eastward and look for a place to spend the night. Just at dusk I pull off the old highway I’ve been travelling and over a hump, behind a hill, I find a spot in raw desert that seems perfect. As I manoeuvre for a level spot I notice a small tent and a motorcycle a mere one hundred yards away. I go to apologize for cramping his solitude. The fellow is amiable enough but won’t shake my hand or give me his name.

The night is splendid with a moon-lit desert and brilliant stars. Up[ before dawn, I make my repairs, then take a short hike. In the distance I can hear crump…crump, crup..crump. I check the map. It is artillery from a distant practise range. It is far enough away to somehow add an air of peacefulness to my scene.

A day later, I’m blogging from ‘Belly Acres’ Rv Park in Ajo Az,a place I’ve stayed before. The sun is just breaking through the van windows, mourning doves are cooing away from the palm tree above me. Today I’ll be off to Baboquivari. There ’ll be no peace in the valley.

And now for a few desert blooms

Winter flowers. The spring desert bloom is just beginning. I’m told that because of heavy December rains, the show will soon be fantastic.

am going to have to dig out my books and learn the names of some of these.

At first I thought that some one ahead must be heaving sacks of cotton balls out of their car window. Then I noticed that a particular plant had these fuzzy flowers attached. Dunno!

Out of reach except for hummingbirds

Much, much more to come!

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

…Saint Augustine

YUMA

Driving south from Goldfield I began to see Yucca trees. Here’s a forest of them.

Poston, Arizona on the banks of the Colorado River
This area, within a large radius of Yuma is some of the most productive farm land in America… and the money is made on the backs of Mexican immigrants, legal or not. The extravagant farm owner’s houses tell the story. so do the grim barrios where the workers are housed.

 

Driving toward Yuma from the west, you must pass through Quartzsite, the biggest flea market I’ve ever seen.

It’s a mess to get through

Everything imaginable is for sale

I mean everything! This is a Bell 47 J2A. I worked on these when I was an apprentice helicopter mechanic. I still love this model.

Tens of thousands of RVs park in the desert. It is called “Dry Camping”

Yuma bound

Snowbirdville
Hundreds of thousands of northerners spend their winter here, just like this.

Old cars are a passion here. This, I believe, is a 1940 Ford

In a Yuma backyard. The grapefruit just fall and lay on the lawn. They are $3 each back home.

A Yuma weed growing beside the sidewalk. Dates are smeared all over the concrete.

Yet another Yuma suburban scene

WEEDS!

Colorado River dawn. It looks kind of biblical!

The Mormon Battalion once passed through here to fight the Mexicans. This is a commemorative statue in the adjacent park.

I liked the poem.

Nobody home.

January flowers. There are wonderful colours, alien to me, which bloom everywhere.

Respect!

Outspoken

Still working after all these years

Waiting for parts

Re-radial low profile tires

Dry dawn

Thirsty

Thinking green? Recycling is clearly a novel idea here. It looks a lot like Mexico!

Super mannequin

Studebaker Bullet Nose
Nearly 70 years old and still ahead of its time!

My Mexican laundry.

Anything for a buck. Mexican enterprise.

First coffee and finally… a selfie stick!

RV Park dawn. Up before the quail to catch up on my blogging. The stars are magnificent here. Five hours later, it is getting too bright to see the computer screen. Time to move on. Desert Ho!

 

In my last blog, I described Yuma well enough. It is a massive sprawling agricultural barrio with non-stop trains, howling freeway and endless military flights. Look there goes another F69! I’ve stayed in the same RV park for four nights while repairs were made and while visiting friends from my marina in Ladysmith. John and Lynne are seasoned snow birds and have pampered me wonderfully. Now it is time to move on. This RV park is nestled on the southern bank of the Colorado River, immediately adjacent to an amazing park built on the reclaimed land of a huge garbage dump. Here are some of my photographic impressions of the drive into Yuma and of my last four days here. I’ll post this blog and then move on into the raw desert.

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” …Mark Twain

Broke Down In Yuma

(I know I promised)

I know I promised to cut down on the prose and focus on photos. (Now there’s a pun.) At the moment I am writing while sitting in my van while a young man works on the engine four feet away from this keyboard. He is frustratingly slow. It is not because he is Mexican, he’s just young. And how the hell do you work under the hood of a vehicle while wearing sunglasses?

So where do the Catholics park? This was a sign I found in Austin. Nothing is sacred if there is a dollar to be made.

Hours north of Las Vegas I passed through Goldfield NV, a once thriving gold rush community. There are still mining activities, but the place is a living permanent ‘Burning Man’ sort-of gasping ghost town.

A truly great radio station!
Google it up and have a listen.

A product of the “Four Wheel Drive Truck Company”
No airbags!

No flats. Low-profile solid rubber tires, mechanical band brakes. She must of been a riot to drive.

A Cletrack. My camera heated up as I shot up this fascinating place.

Yes, it is real. A narrow gauge mining steam locomotive.

SEE! Burning man!

A wonderfully nutty town.

Main Street,
Goldfield. There was an aroma of wood smoke.

Say no more!

 

I mentioned my old tires in a previous blog. I finally decided that I had to replace them. Problem is, their cost equals my gas budget to get home again. But, it now feels like I’m driving a much newer vehicle. It would be irresponsible continuing to drive something that was clearly unsafe. After parking in Searchlight, my morning inspection revealed that my engine’s water pump was giving me fair warning. I bought a replacement pump in an effort to outwit Murphy and have made it to the campground where some friends from home are staying in Yuma. It was great seeing them and they have been wonderfully helpful. Replacing the pump is a straight forward job for an old wrench-bender like me but my experience says it is not a job to do on the roadside nor in the very civilized camp ground where I’m staying. And, if there is some small part I may need…! So here I sit, trying to patient while time and money vaporize.

Runway 24
My morning amble took me up and down on the runway at Searchlight Nevada where I stopped for the night

Crash landing. This place was clearly a failed development of a fly-in suburb built around a runway where you could taxi right up to your house.

Speaking of crash landings! north of Las Vegas I came upon the once infamous Mustang Ranch, a bordello just north of Beatty NV. There was a huge horse’s head in white on the hill above the site. The wreck is a Beech 18, famous twin-engined workhorse. A little further north I passed a sign marking the “Shady Lady Bed & Breakfast” Uh Huh!

It looks like I may not be going to Mexico after all . The friends I was rushing down to San Carlos to meet have moved on south because their plans shifted into sub-section F. After making repairs I think it is prudent to stay north of the border but…I am dead, burned-out exhausted and not making good decisions. I think I will stay in Yuma for one more day and just rest. I have long wanted to return to an area I saw from the top of Kitt Peak Observatory, a short distance southwest of Tucson. To the south of the observatory stands Baboquivari, an ancient volcanic cone that is a sacred mountain to the local Tohono O’Odham Indians. There is a remote campground there which will be a great place to rest, write, and explore with my cameras. After that, I’ll decide which plan is best. It is certainly not pleasant doing this pilgrimage alone and on a tight budget but I need to recharge my own batteries and have a rest. Baboquivari will make the whole journey worthwhile, and I’m not ruling Mexico out just yet.

On the road to Vegas

The long road home

Sundown before Las Vegas. I knew I should have stopped for the night!

Yuma is a bewildering mix of endless dusty barios and shining Neo-Amurica. It sprawls on and on and is the largest farm town I’ve ever seen, surrounded for many, many miles on all sides with some of the most productive agricultural land on the continent. Chances are the vegetables for tonight’s supper came from the Yuma area. The price of that production is the draining of the Colorado River. It no longer runs into the Sea Of Cortez. It is pumped dry for irrigation of the fertile dark soil. That is after several years of drought, a subject to discuss another time.

Beatty Nevada. That damned cop trundled along at 1 mph under the limit…of 25mph. I felt he was daring me to pass him!

Apparently, there were December rains this winter and I am told that desert will soon burst into a rare riot of blooms. Today a cold, dry winter desert wind continues to blast the broad valley but I am wearing short sleeves while many folks are in wool caps and parkas. I am a Canadian…like hundreds of thousands of other Northern Snowbirds crowding dusty campgrounds for hundreds of miles. I clearly have a very different notion of getting away from it all.It is abierto for me! In the distance, the ancient sun-blasted mountains of Mexico loom above the verdant plains of the Colorado River. Their call is so strong!

Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.” …John Keats

The High Road To Winnemucca And Beyond

(Click on any image to enlarge)

It has been a very long time since a certain travelling tractor salesman once plied these roads. These roads being those of the American Pacific Northwest. Tonight I’m in my van in a roadside rest area on Interstate 5 near the Oregon border, parked beside sleeping big rigs and listening to the rain drum on my fibreglass roof. I am exhausted. It has been a very long day. After the ferry ride to the mainland I performed some roadside repairs so now I have a functional house battery which means there is a working furnace and lights, etc. etc. Such decadence! (There was a time when sleeping beneath an upturned canoe on a rainy night was a matter course for me…long ago!)

I once regularly travelled this route, Interstate 5, the north-south transportation artery between the Canadian border near Vancouver and Tijuana on the Mexican border. Maybe I’m just older, the traffic now seems much heavier and faster despite an obvious police presence. In Seattle, which now is always in rush hour, drivers clearly have a death wish. I’ve never seen such risk-taking and I recall when Seattle traffic was noted for courteous driving. Some may argue that my memory fails me, but that is how I recall the good old days. And you could time your movements to avoid the morning and evening commute. Not any more. It is all a monstrous throbbing cancer despite the wonderful artistic community which I know thrives there. I’m a country boy at heart and so I’ll head for the hills. I just hope that all this rain is not snow at higher elevations. Yeah right! I was going to I5 it all the way into Northern California, then cut across to Reno and head on south through Nevada and Arizona.

I’m finding this freeway too much work and anxiety. Although I’ve made some repairs to the old van’s steering, it still handles like a hay wagon especially when travelling at the truck’s legal speed limit of 60 mph and the eighteen wheelers go by as if you are parked. They actually do try to blow you off of the road. The air compression at their speeds is incredible. Think of all the diesel being burned to rush someone their fresh lettuce. I kept the window open a bit to help myself stay awake and I swear there are times when I can smell and taste the exhaust swirling around out there. Well I’ve taken my meds, washed my face, brushed my teeth and it is time to go to bed for my first night in my little bus. Tomorrow is another day.

And so it is; after a very long night. I’m sitting with my morning coffee, pecking away at the computer in the thick black of 06:30. Something is draining my house battery and shortly after going to bed, the furnace died. I pulled on another blanket and tried to sleep. Stupidly I’d parked where directed, in the big truck area. I’d forgotten about engine brakes, air brake pressure relief valves, throbbing idling diesels, flashing lights as trucks arrived and departed all through the night. This morning I first could nor find my mobile phone, then couldn’t locate my hidden envelope of US cash. The adrenaline of panic is not a good way to begin a day. I wander off to the washroom, far across the parking lot in the driving rain and sleet. To my amazement, on a lowbed trailer sat a huge Bell 212 helicopter looking very out-of place.

Next the curser on this golderned computer screen vanished; gone to the loo I suppose. It returned, eventually. The coffee is good and I soldier out into the wet and dark of morning on the road. Ordeal or adventure, it is all in the journey I choose.

Om a mountain pass eastbound toward Sisters Oregon, I pause to make a short film clip explaining that I am on this road trying to escape the winter rain of Vancouver Island.

The journey has now led me to be parked beside a rail line near La Pine, in Central Oregon on my second night. You know it, rain and wet snow. Tombstone Pass over the mountains was slick with sticky wet snow. In the dark I missed a turn in Bend and now here I am. I’ve finally sorted out my electrical problem and am happily listening to the fan of my lovely little furnace. It was an arduous day that has passed quickly. I fell into my bed, which was damp with the storm’s humidity. Earlier today, I finally exorcized my electrical gremlins and now I do have a working furnace.

Diesel pickups with loud exhausts roared past on this remote backroad all damned night. I was parked close to a level crossing and every time I almost drifted off, guess what? Yep! Too whoo, clickety clack, who dat trying to sleep beside the old railway track? Fully exhuasted, I was cooking breakfast before dawn. I drove eastward toward a place called Winnemucca, Nevada. It sounds like a medical condition but it is a real name, probably of a native origin. At first the sun was in my eyes with a promise of a brighter day but for a while I squirm around yet more wrecks being attended with emergency crews. It is not just Canadians who have a death wish.

Dangerous curve ahead!
Once east of the coastal mountains, The roads in southern Oregon and Nevada are often arrow strait.

The winter roads here are sanded with crushed, brick-red lava rock so the old van is coated with red muck. It hides the weathered paint and rust. I drove on through high Ponderosa pine forest and emerged onto the Southern Oregon high plains ranchland. I have been gobsmacked with the incredible beauty of this country. It is vast. It is stupendous. I tried to imagine how incredible it must have been before the pale-faced hordes invaded and desecrated everything with roads, fences, power lines, mines and waste. It is still stunning. As I drove across the plains and mesas, around and over thrusting slabs of tilted, weather rock sometimes a thousand feet or more high, I finally began to feel my months-long anxiety begin to ease. If I has stopped to take all the photos I saw, I would not have travelled fifty miles. Each time I leapt out of the vehicle with my camera I thought of another note to make and soon snatches of poetry began to appear. A very good sign indeed.

Downtown Summer Lake Oregon. That’s it! These rural centers are not uncommon.

These vast plains and thrusting slopes are a landscape that the gods slash with bursts of changing colours and light, rainbows, and swirling clouds while ten thousand cattle turn their backs to yet another winter squall.” At one point it was raining and blowing so hard, I turned on my dash cam to capture the show while fighting to keep the careening vehicle on the road. Stunned, I came upon a jogger out in the tempest and then, incongruously, I saw that he was waving to another jogger approaching him. These ranch folk in spandex are a tough lot! I wrote some more, “And the land rose up, the sea fell away, as the plains turned green, out came hoofed creatures at play.” Well it’s a start.

Paisley Oregon

The vastness is wonderful to me and left me wanting for a horse.

Imagine having to name them all. Each black dot is a cow. I saw millions of the critters. Say moo!

Then I realized a freedom that I was actually stopping to write these ideas down. The day unfurled before me like a wonderful dream. As I drove I also seized upon one of the joys of this old van, it has a cassette stereo. At the last minute I tossed in a bucket of cassettes I hadn’t looked at for years. What a way to enhance the bliss! Occasionally I’d meet another vehicle, perhaps twice an hour. Everyone waved! I have forgotten how it was to live in a world like that. I saw magpies several times and realized that I had also forgotten these once-beloved birds. The day rolled on on on. There were often huge round boulders laying in random places. I recalled a Swedish friend once explaining to my wonder at such things that they were there because some Troll had once thrown them at a church. Every so often I would pass a cattle guard. Traditionally, these are  gateposts at either of a series of pipes or rails laid side by side for three or four feet. Cattle can’t walk on them, the metal tubes must hurt their hooves. On the highways, these gates are merely heavily painted lines across the road. The cows have duped themselves into believing they cannot cross. Hoof prints and manure stop abruptly at these lines and then turn back. It is clearly not only people who can be convinced to believe in the impossible, whether it is true or not.

Whoa little doggie!
A painted cattle guard.

Apparently, to relieve the tedium of driving these high plains roads, State Highways Departments randomly post targets for motorists to practise their marksmanship!

Many motor-shootists have low confidence levels and… shotguns create much more damage.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow can stop the shooter’s blow.

Heart shot! It took a while for me to understand that the perfectly placed hole in each target was actually a rivet. The three real bullet holes in this one were all clean misses. One for the pronghorn!

Aw c’mon guys! Farmers too!
I thought that perhaps the profile of a few presidents would be good. Let’s see, there’s Dick, There’s Don, there’s a few Georges….

Perhaps folks waved because it’s obvious that I’m a stranger in their big country. I am not driving a silver Dodge diesel 4×4 truck at over eighty miles an hour. The grandest wonder of all to me is that for all the hundreds of miles I drive in this sprawling majesty, it is only a tiny scratch within a very, very huge land. Tonight I sit in my camper van just south of Battle Mountain. There has been a labour of love here. Some folks have made two huge letters on a mountain slope overlooking the bleak little town. BM. We know what that can mean. Las Vegas ahead in the morning. It is a city I abhor and I’ll do my best to go around it.

A delightful shock in Tiny Austin Nevada

The rest of the story

Imagine waking up every morning with this as the view from your tower.

Looking back on the climb eastward from Austin. That’s the village below, once a thriving mining town on the Pony Express route.

So guess what? There I was in downtown Las Vegas, in the dark, after ten hours on the road, with every zoomhead in the world wanting to play bumper cars. I have an ancient GPS mounted on my dash. It saved my life. I only had to backtrack once. Now I’m backed into a dead end at the Searchlight Nevada municipal airport. Almost five hundred miles today since Battle Mountain. I’m bagged.

The shining mountain

I’ve seen more amazing scenery and incredible sights than I can assimilate. I’m WOWed out! From hereon I’ll try formatting the blogs from this ongoing trip as pictorials with captions. Editing all my photos and films at the end of each day is plenty enough work. This is supposed to be a holiday! I’ve finished stashing the day’s take in photos. A marvellous mariachi bands plays on the radio. Outside, a cool wind blows beneath a clear, full-moon desert sky.

Buenos Noches.

Moondog over Battle Mountain, Nevada
Later in the night it would eclipse and become the blood moon

I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.” …Shawshank Redemption

To The Wall

(Note: This blog is finally being posted eight days after beginning my journey southward From Ladysmith. At present I am in an RV Park in Yuma Arizona. I’ll catch up to immediate events as soon as possible)

Ladysmith, just before the Christmas light-up season ends. The wet street should explain why I am southbound

I’m almost on the road, finally, into the land of Trump, heading for the wall. It has occurred to me how that man could effectively close the gaps in the already half-built fortification, if he simply erected a continuous billboard across the continent, ten feet high with shoulder to shoulder portraits of himself, facing into Mexico. He could be shown waving his hands horizontally as he does, and with a quote saying something like “This will be very effective, very effective, you will pay.” Better than bullets! An endless chain of his porky fizog peering out from beneath that blond mop on his head would certainly repel me. Sorry Republicans, nothing personal, it’s just a repugnance I’ve developed after all the news stories about this character’s latest tweet. (Feel free to slander our own flacid Canadian Prime Minister.) Well, I know that I’m supposed to be a smiling non-partisan guest as I greet each gun-toting American child of God. And so I shall. “Is that a Smith & Wesson in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

A view south from the BC Ferry to the mainland. The big island is Orcas Island in the US San Juan island archipelago

My experience with the ordinary American citizen is that they are warm, friendly, generous and compassionate. They are trusting and complacent which is why they’ve ended up with the porcine fuhrer they presently have. When questioned about the dangers of driving in Mexico I always explain that I’ve beaten the odds once over the Mexican border. After the drive across the US I feel much safer. It is a beautiful land with lots of great people, too bad there is a cloud of constant anxiety above it.

So here I go. The old van I bought has proven to have the usual plethora of used vehicle woes but I sally forth with some tools and optimism. I’ve even cut a hole in the floor above the electric fuel pump which is mounted inside the fuel tank. If that fails, I would otherwise have to remove the entire tank, which of course will be full with gasoline when the fuel pump dies. This is accomplished by squirming underneath the vehicle, on your back, while laying in the dust of a remote desert area. I’ve been in that situation before. There’s no romance to any of it, even looking back. There is no valid excuse for putting a pump inside a tank without providing an access panel like many foreign vehicles. A friend has loaned me a used fuel pump to carry, just in case. I know that since I have that angle covered, Old Murphy will find something else to to nail me with. Well, enough nattering. Shut up and drive! Find a country music station on the radio and let the miles erase the angst. I’m worried that I have forgotten how to relax and how to play. So here goes!

So what is it that I like about Mexico? I love a journey with constantly changing scenery. I love being warm and dry. I love Mexicans. Despite all the negatives I’ve heard I am far more inclined to trust a Mexican than most gringos. I have not met a lazy Mexican, which is why the US economy is built, in no small part, on the backs of these folks. Their economic system does not allow them to sit around leeching off of others. Work or starve. They possess a dignity that defies our comprehension and also the wonderful ability to live in the moment. If you can feed your children today, bueno! Besides, what can you really do about tomorrow? Mucho Gusto!

Mexican also still embrace the concept of family. Both children and the elderly are treasured and provide elements of security within the basic unit of government in any culture. Drugs. Yep a, nasty business, made even worse by the incessant focus of the media. Nature abhors a vacuum and we all know where the huge market is for that poison. Yep, right here! If you want to stop the drug trade, stop buying the shit! There is plenty of violence and death right here at home, drugs or not. By the way, The Mexico and its people I know is always as far away from the tourist centres as possible. There are many folks who go into Mexico, stay in a resort area and never see nor taste the real country. I prefer the back roads, rural areas and remote pieces of coast. I also do not portray myself as a shiny, wealthy, arrogant Northerner. A smile and a sincere effort at the language also goes a long way. Ándale!

Well finally! January 17th, 10:15 With a mighty boooop of the ship’s horn, we pull away from the ferry dock at Duke Point in Nanaimo. Propitiously, we are exactly on time. The van is two decks below me, stuffed randomly with food, clothing, tools and cameras. I will have to sort it all out later, but the immediate objective is to cross the border. There is an electrical problem, the brand-new battery which runs the house system including lights, fridge, and furnace is flat dead. I need to find out the problem right away so the battery can recharge while driving along. I am dead shattered-weary but I’ll fix it.

There is an exhaustion which is due in part to the stress and duress of preparing the old van, worries about money and the general low health blaahs which I fall into every winter. My arthritis this year has made it difficult to walk at times, to hold a wrench, or even a pen. My handwriting is more terrible than ever. My fingers miss the letters on this keyboard and I understand why as a youngster, I knew old people were often grumpy. Now I get it. I hope that I do not yet exude the old man smell I remember when I’d have to sit near an oldster on some hard oak pew. It was not pleasant. To increase my duress there is a tentative deal cooking on my beloved ‘Seafire’ which is very bittersweet. But I have plans beyond parting with my dear old boat and I assure you, I have not swallowed the hook. There will be another boat, somehow, in my future. I have a dream. Continuing my blog is part of it. Thank you all for your support and your many cheering compliments and creative criticisms.

Onto the mainland and a stop to repair the house battery charging system.
The attempt failed.

So the first hurdle is dealing with Homeland Insecurity as I cross the border. They can see the horn which sprouts on my forehead each time I have to deal with them. I need to thumb through my copy of “ Being Contritious With Bureaucrats For Smart-assed Old Farts.” Perhaps I have enough points to earn a free trip to Guantanamo Bay. As it turns out, they did query me about all my camera bags and if I was going to work in the US. For once, I kept my pie-hole shut and simply answered YES/NO as required.

One of the grand things about travelling in the US is that there are fast food outlets everywhere, in fact it is often difficult to find a real restaurant that serves those jelly belly hi gluten and trans-fat meals otherwise know as home cooking. The fast food joints all have wifi so the blogs will continue to be beamed out to you. You’ve been warned!

I’m told Jack is depressed and missing me. By the time I get home, he’ll probably bite me.

Ps: Here’s a link to a blog posted by my dear friends Tony and Connie. They’re home taking a brief sabbatical from their ongoing wandering sail around the globe. They’ve been on this trip now for nine years…and it ain’t over yet. Tony posted a blog about the walk we went on in the fog at my now-beloved Swallowfield farm on the same day. https://sageonsail.com/

Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.” …Raymond Lindquist