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?

Power To The Peeples.

Part of being sane is being a little bit crazy.” …Janet Long

Ba Bam Part II

The Ajo Mountains
Looking back into Mexico. Within the vista of this harsh desert as I take this photo there are illegal immigrants making their way toward a faint hope. They may have walked thousands of miles. Although it is illegal, some folks take out caches of water and food. There is a slogan here: “Being humane should not be against the law.”
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a very large forest of huge Sagauro cacti
Dennis and Laurie, charming hosts of Belly Acres RV Park in Ajo. Everything you need is within a short walking distance and the facility is great. You are treated as family. It is pet friendly, and affordable They are online. Laurie, by all accounts is a great cook and I can attest, makes the world’s best baked beans. Dennis is the world’s friendliest gentle bear. Don’t worry about the pistol on his hip, it’s just Arizona!  www.bellyacresrvpark.com

 

 

I’ve now stayed for three nights in Ajo this time. I’m not sure I want to move on, but the long trek home has to begin and the meter of life is ticking. Deadlines and commitments!

The folks who run this RV Park, Belly Acres, are embracing, charming and provide a lovely place to stay. They had a Super Bowl Football gathering and pot luck supper with copious heaps of very good food complete with a keg of beer. I am not a football guy but how could I say no? All the folks here are lovely. There is a NAPA store and garage next door. They fitted my van repairs into their busy schedule and I can go back out on the road with a renewed confidence.

In the NAPA repair yard
OK! Enlarge the image and read the small sign.
Inside the NAPA store a 1952 Harley Davidson for sale. The same age as me, with only one oil leak, it is in much better shape than I’m in.

 

I’ve finally been able to get to really know an acquaintance of several decades. I know Frank through a mutual friend and we hit it off well. He took me for a drive into the desert in his SUV which was amazing; both the desert and Frank. The vehicle has a standard transmission and Frank has only one leg. The man uses a wooden cane to work the clutch as smoothly as anyone else. He is a genius and a very inspiring character, having courageously worked as an advocate for disabled folks for decades. He is clearly more enabled than a lot of folks who have the use of all their bits and pieces. That does not change the simple fact that he is a great fellow. I’m proud to count myself among his friends.

My friend Frank
with more friends, Zena and Charlie.
Now fill it in again! How’s that for an environmental disaster? That turquoise bit in the bottom is water. This is one of the world’s largest open pit copper mines and one hell of a pile of pennies!
A funky Ajo home. Homes in an abandoned mine town are cheap so you can afford to do some creative things.
Funky Ajo art school.
The old Ajo Mission now turned mine museum.
Your sidewalls are gone!
There is a load of cool junk,um, I mean artifacts. Check out the etching on the rock.
A desert home with a spectacular view. It’s for sale!
The View
May I have this dance?
Dry camping
On BLM land you can camp without fees, or services, in exchange for the reasonable expectation that you will respect the land and take or leave nothing.
Locally known as the pipeline road, this will, if you are tenacious enough, take you over the mountains and down into Tucson.
And now for something different. How do you fry a frozen egg? At least the fridge is working!
“Flying high in April, shot down in May.” Folks sure do like to shoot things down I here. I try to stay polite!
I did try!

There is a vicious, cold wind blowing across the desert this morning. I ave had a sleepless night and am waiting for dawn to pack up and move although reluctant to leave this fantastic place. Ajo is home to one of the world’s largest open-pit copper mines, or at least home to a massive work of environmental devastation, now closed. The small town is also the hub of the American Sonoran Desert. With the Air Force Gunnery ranges and several intriguing places of interest, including Baboquivari, within a short radius, I could happily spend several months here. Adios Ajo, for now.

Ah Arizona!
I have enough excellent photographs of the desert to put together a fine picture book…and maybe I will!

To be upset over what you don’t have is to waste what you do have.” …anon

Ba Bam

The peace of morning and a first coffee is shattered with the distinct double crack and earth-shaking clatter of a sonic boom. It is soon followed by another. High overhead jet fighters hone their deadly skills. They are too high to be seen but the eternal thunder of their presence is oppressive. I am on the Southern edge of the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range. The military actually posts schedules and provides passes for folks who want to sit in bleachers and watch as ground assault aircraft practice “Ordinance delivery.” Bizarrely the range is adjacent to the Cabeza Prieta National wildlife sanctuary. Run rabbit, run.

The desert weather has been wet and windy and cold. This is another bleak Sonoran morning. I finally get to know an acquaintance of over thirty-five years and it is grand to find a kindred spirit. The day speeds by. I have been introduced to the amazing area around this small Southern Arizonan community of Ajo. My old van has been repaired and I am very glad I did not attempt the job myself on the side of the road. I will begin meandering northward in the morning. I am grateful for the camaraderie and the rest my stop here has provided. This place is fantastic and I want to return soon. Hostile as the desert may be, it has seduced me.

It is nearing midnight as I start this blog after editing another day’s batch of photos. Outside, nearby, coyotes yip and howl. I will sleep well.

Fred’s Mexican roadside repairs. I was very grateful for the comforting light of the sign for a night’s stop. Check out Barb’s website, this place does great things.
I drove in to say thank you.
This place shelters hundreds of dogs. It is a very small dent in dealing with Mexico’s stray dog problem, but it offers hope and humanity. The dark female on the right made it very clear she’d like me to take her with me. Heart rending!
Even in the bleak damp dawn of that morning, desert flowers bloomed beautifully.
A grey, cold morning in the Sonora Desert while it was snowing at home on Vancouver Island. It was hard to photograph anything without plastic trash showing everywhere, a very sad problem throughout all of Mexico and I can suggest no solutions other than the obvious.
A Sagauro cactus corpse, bizzarely mummified. Yep, that’s my little old van in the distance, dwarfed by the enormity of the desert.
And then the sun began to emerge.
Early springtime. I am told that April and May are stunning.
I find the desert impossible to photograph and convey the sense of grandeur, wonder and amazing detail all at once. One needs to stay in a single place for at least several days, observing the scene with the ever-changing light. I really want to stay for months.
Everywhere one looks there is beauty both stark and subtle.
President’s Wig? No. It is firmly rooted.
Well, it’s a start. Mexico is definitely becoming more environmentally aware. Now do something about all the plastic trash!
One of the wonders to me is the thousands of half-vast projects never completed throughout Mexico. This building is typical of someone’s abandoned ambition. It is clearly unfinished and unused.
Crossing the border from Sonoyta Mexico to Lukeville Arizona. No photos please! Shut off cell phones! I drove northward toward Ajo with a grinding, shuddering driveline, my third serious mechanical issue of the trip. … Ba Bam part 2

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”

… Stephan Covey

Bouncing Back

San Carlos Harbour. Some call this place Tucson South where a vulgar display of wealth flies in the face of Mexican reality. But this place also has a Mexican charm.

Ya can’t bounce back til ya’ve hit bottom.” That comes to mind from deep in the archives of my mental hard drive as I passed along a hard rive of another sort. I left Nogales in the dark yesterday morning, totally exhausted after yet another sleepless night. Entering Nogales Mexico is a plunge into hell. A young lady, shivering inside her non-offical parka, gave my van a brief inspection and waved me on. Que? OK?. I entered a scene which was part Blade-Runner, Quest For Fire and any apocalyptic film of your choice. Crooked cobbled winding streets poorly lit, except for the hi-beams of vehicles hurtling in all directions, pedestrians wandering every which way, vendors already setting up their market trucks along the curbs, rare and nebulous road signs posted just at the junctions. Add all the mad Max’s in the world trying to block you. Holy shit! I have driven in Mexico and loved it, (Well mostly) but yesterday seemed incredibly bizarre. Out on the open road finally, the signage is variably good, with long sections of road repairs, then miles later, more “deviacion.” The cuotas, or toll booths, are presently unmanned by government employees but are attended by folks begging money and demanding to know where you are going. Eventually you see a sign indicating that you are, perhaps, on the correct route. Then you hit a Tope, one of Mexico’s infamous speed bumps.

The small city of Hermosillo, was a repeat of Nogales. Even in daylight I hate the gauntlet that is this dreadful place. At nearly every stoplight a gang of window-washers assails your vehicle, jumping all over it in their efforts to clean the glass and extort a small ransom. My shouted No’s are ignored. They banged on all windows with their demands and tried to take the bicycle off the back of the van. You’re helpless, inclined to leap out in confrontation, but you know of course, that’s dangerously foolish, so you sit inside, cursing and seething at your entrapment while a gentle voice on your shoulder whispers that “This is Mexico, relax, this shall pass, these kids are just trying to help support their family.” I do get it, but a simple permission and a gracious acceptance of “No” would completely improve the business model of these junior extortionists. When driving through a congested town or city, it is utterly wise to keep your doors locked and your windows closed. I’ve decided that next time I will start photographing them from the confines of my driver’s seat and, not to be so vulnerably alone. When i returned through this city, not a window washer was in sight!

About nine hours from Nogales I blearily drove past my turn-off to San Carlos and had to back-track up through Guaymas. Yet another hour of my foolishness. Its old-town and waterfront is beautiful, an oasis of tranquility, but I  simply needed to complete the journey for the day. Guaymas is also a swirling chaos of mad driving through dusty, despairing, sprawling barrios with vague signage. My on-dash GPS was useless and I was too busy trying to stay alive to have time to glance at it anyway.

Empalme, a southern satellite community of Guaymas. The fishing fleet was in before the tide fell. Fishermen stand out in the traffic selling bags of fresh prawns.
On the main street of San Carlos is an oasis for the weary traveller. There were more Canadians there than those left in Canada. They have a web site.
A view from my parking spot. Mexicans do seem to like their walls…Donald.
Sprawling development is going on everywhere. There goes the neighbourhood!

Well, somebody has to live here…don’t they?
Maybe I’m jealous, but it seems obscene to me. A concrete artisan and his helper do not even dare think of living in a place like this…nor me.
“Hi Mom, we’re home!”
What else can I say?
Cuanto vale? Below the 200 peso notes, clockwise the coins are 50 pesos,20 pesos, old and new, 10 pesos also old and new, 2 pesos, and 1/10 pesos.
The total of the entire complicated heap is 634.1p or about $30.US
There is also a 1/2 French franc which I cannot explain.
There are many splendid vehicles in Mexico which we never see in the north. There are both novel (To me) imports and locally built vehicles. This wonderful little Mexican Chevy truck has side-steps, a place to stand on the back bumper and a hand rail behind the cab.
Reality on the other side of the bay at Marina Real. Imagine living here and going to work at the shining luxury condos across the water at Marina Real. Kids, dogs, a leaning outhouse, piles of nets and laundry.
Home Sweet Home  complete with water barrel and a rocking chair in the sand. Don’t laugh, there’s no mortgage!

Obviously, yet I live. I am writing this in the rising warmth and light of another Mexican morning. A few feet above my head is a cooing dove hidden in the dense foliage. I am vibrating-weary. I love Mexico and ache to go on south, or just stay and rest, but I’ll complete the business at hand and promises kept, I’ll turn back Northward. Low finances and a faltering vehicle demand prudence. I desperately need to take a break. Crossing back into the US will, this time, take me a long way toward an ease of anxiety. There is a band of Northern Mexico which, in my estimate,is about 200 miles wide that I dislike. San Carlos marks the latitude of Mexico where I begin to love the country more and more as I drive further south. Sadly, this is as far as I am going. I’ll complete my business here and then turn northward.

It seems that every grotty little Mexican fishing village has at least one upscale seafood restaurant for the gringos. How could I resist a place with a doorman like this?
How about a table without a reservation and a view like this? You know the food’s good when the locals eat there.
At the next table, an aging rock star perhaps. Note the personal beer bottle glove.
Don’t get up. The view from my table.
The appetiser. The rest of the meal was as incredible and including two beer and a tip, it was the equivalent of approx $20. cdn
Was I really there? It seemed like a dream.
The village at La Manga where poor people still live by the sea and can afford to eat seafood…because they catch it themselves.
Another panga arrives with a fresh supply for the restaurant.
There must be a story here! Note the Saskatchewan license plate. Is the old camper someone’s home?
A Mexican attempt at recycling.
Honest Umberto’s used Rv’s?
I remembered Joni Mitchell’s song about the tree museum.
Yep, yet another hotel stands beyond the foliage.
A view from the front.
A view to the rear.
A discreet luxury development near San Carlos. I’m told it has to do with laundering money. There are no lights on at night.
At least I agree with their ideas for lawns. Note the various spots where helicopters can land.
A lingering view of the open Sea Of Cortez, upon whose face I should be sailing.
As I drove up, over and down from this place, I imagined a posh British accent exclaiming, “I say! This would be a proper blighter if ever it should snow.”
The following morning, the reluctant meandering trek homeward began. I cast a sad last glance at the Sea Of Cortez from the San Carlos waterfront. It is piece of ocean I love and yet I did not even wet my feet in her this time. I’ll be back. Soon.
Out of the desert came forth wine. There are many continuous miles of new vineyards along the Sonoran highway. They extend out of sight away from the road.
“Everybody out!” A military checkpoint on the highway. Wen I was southbound trucks were lined up for several miles, each waiting for a tedious clearance. Two young soldiers, poke around inside as buses engine compartment. They were only a few surly questions for the old gringo in the old van.

Two days later, I am now on the intended-to be leisurely and meandering return homeward. I decide to divert and stop over in Puerto Penasco on the Eastern shore of the Gulf Of California, at the top of the Sea Of Cortez, which like so many, I love dearly. I have a rule about driving in Mexico in the dark and I so I broke my own law. Onward I went through endless miles of fields, then desert, then fields, all punctuated by dusty, desperately poor barrios. I drove westward, peering into the setting sun through a dusty, bug-spattered windshield. I was desperate to find a safe haven for the night and took no more photos that day. 

The best images ever are never recorded on a camera it seems, but remain in the back of my brain, as clear as the moment i saw them. I am stuck with an indelible image of children playing soccer in the ubiquitous adobe dust of Northern Mexico at dusk and I wonder at the their future. They are well dressed, and everyone has perfect haircuts yet you can see that where and how they live is well below anyone’s notion of a poverty line. They have wealth in the embrace of their expansive families and the joy of the moment is always evident despite the misery of which they know nothing else. There is clearly a joy in a life without expectations which I do not understand. The narrow, rutted, pot-holed road stretched on ahead forever it seemed. Rushing oncoming vehicles with brilliant lights, or one or none at all, zoomed past. I could find no safe-looking turnout to rest for the night. I was exhausted, my brain on auto-pilot as I resolved myself to a head-on crash. My ended life marked with another rusting metal cross on the edge of some nameless field.

No visit to Mexico is complete without a look at a few churches. This is the Catholic church facade in Santa Ana.
The ostentatious church rises grandly above the squalor and poverty of this little town.
Beneath exquisite old Spanish architecture these huge and beautifully carved doors are locked; from the inside. Sanctuary?
The priest’s car I guessed. In double lock-up to keep me out…or him in?
HOLY SHIT!
The only caption I can think of. This is the church cupula in Pitiquito.
The bells and pigeons of Pitiquito. The church door was open and a group of ladies conversed inside.
Across the street from the church, a dark biblical mural at the taxi stand. Cheering!
A mixed theme of the Second Coming and Dias Des Muertes. I’d like this artist to paint my van!
A bright spark of happy genius. Meals on wheels indeed! LA BOMBI!

Eventually on the horizon of this flat land, distant lights began to arise. I finally realized that this was what I had driven so long and far out of my way to see. I had envisioned a sleepy, Mexican fishing region, gentrified but tolerable. I had expected to find some open beach where I could park and rest for a few days. What I saw instead was a vision of hell. The place stretched on and on and lay miles off the highway.. It looked like pictures of Miami and I drove on into the night, my hopes shattered. I tried stopping in the parking lot of their airport, also miles off the road, but a security guard gave me the boost within a minute. I found a spot on the roadside, brightly lit and there I finally stopped. In the morning I jacked up the van, and pulled my rear wheels apart to try and find the source of a horrible grinding noise. U-joints was my diagnosis and so I decided to head onward to the border. Ajo or bust. First, I stopped to thank Barb’s Dog Rescue for the haven and security of their brightly lit sign. I, a dog-lover, gave myself a strict lecture, took a breath and went on in. I left quickly, head down, not looking back. All those lovely dogs. Surely I could manage to bring one home, a travelling companion and a pal for Jack. I faced reality, and drove on.

Well, I’m writing in Ajo now, a desert town. The area is a popular winter retreat. A friend is parked next door in the Belly Acres RV Park and there are new friends all around me. I slept eleven hours last night. The wind howled and a torrential rain hammered down as if I were at home on Vancouver Island. More desert flowers! Tomorrow morning the parts store and garage next door will open and the course of my fate will be determined. 

Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.” …Albert Camus