Chronicles of the Wayward Moot

WELCOME TO THE MOOT, oh world-wanderers and word-whisperers. After two years of Peace Corps. After 2,200 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. What. Comes. Next?


Merced River and Redbud

Copyright R.B. Lehman 2013

My new tripod was definitely a good investment. The images I was able to create during this most recent trip to Yosemite are examples of a developing taste for artistic creativity in my photos. Now I'm looking forward to using the camera to create some amazing video as well.

PS: Why do I still have a Blogger blog? If anyone out there has a suggestion for where best to carve out a real online presence, I'd love to hear it. Wordpress has caught my attention lately...

Posted by Picasa



Sunday May 20, 2012

Sarah pretends to nap on the couch for a short while after we spent part of the afternoon putting together a colorful Star Wars puzzle on the den table.  I leave the puzzle pieces to their shiny, reflective selves and turn to more pressing matters: How are we going to watch the rare spectacle of an annular solar eclipse as the shadow of Earth's moon creeps across the surface of North America, the silent stone sphere drifting between the planet and the sun's fierce rays?

A welder's mask or goggles could work, but we don't have any at hand.  A six foot long box would serve as well, but none are in the apartment and the dumpster is often a sinister mess inside.  I find instructions online for making a pinhole projector and remember having seen this done in some previous eclipse event years ago.  In a Mr. Wizard moment I'm procuring scissors, a heavy paper REI shopping bag, tape, and aluminum foil.  The time is a quarter past 5 and maximum coverage of the rare eclipse occurs around 6:30 so there's no time to lose.  I cut two parts of the bag out leaving the handles for easy carrying, then snip rounded holes about three inches across in the middle of each section of brown paper.  Using the last of a roll of aluminum foil I tape a thin sheet of the metal over each of the holes.  The foil will allow me to create the pinholes through which the sun will shine and create a projected image of the fiery crescent we'd see in the sky if our eyes could look upon the show unaided.  Sarah wakes and rummages for some white paper upon which we can project the images, and soon we're heading outside for the show, tingling with excitement and anticipation.

Just outside of the gate to our apartment complex we cross paths with a group of adolescents walking home from a visit to a friend's swimming pool. AHA! Our first victims!  "Hey, you guys want to see the solar eclipse?"  The tubbiest boy then asks, "What's a solar eclipse?"
This astronomical event has been mentioned in the news for quite a while but of course many kids today aren't supremely concerned with what goes on in the news, so that he didn't know about the eclipse wasn't a total surprise.  What surprised me was that he didn't know what one WAS.  The teacher in Sarah and me came out instantly and we set about erasing ignorance right then and there.  She retrieved our pinhole projector supplies from the carrying bag while I swiped some pebbles from the ground and gave a mini lesson in space geography, indicating how the moon passed between the Earth and the sun in just such a way as to cast a shadow onto the planet's surface, and how we were lucky enough to be right in the path of that shadow.  Sarah and I then held up the paper and pinholes to the sun and showed those kids images of what must have been their first eclipse, right there on Sierra Boulevard in Sacramento.  They thanked us and we continued on around the corner to Loehmann's Plaza shopping center where we hoped to encounter more sun spotters for the main event.

Encounter them we did, and a bonus it was to our journey, for one woman had a stack of film negatives she was looking through, allowing her to peer directly at the sun and see in sharp detail the circle of the moon covering ever more of the brilliantly bright orb.  Now I have read that film negatives do not count as completely safe filters for eclipse viewing, but she had six stacked on top of one another and nobody in her group seemed any worse for wear, so we had a look and were blown away by the stark strangeness and celestial beauty of what we saw.  Through the negatives the sun was a deep dark orange with a perfectly round section simply missing, right there above us in the sky.  We showed the group the projection through our pinholes but after seeing the eclipse directly it wasn't quite as attention-grabbing.  The woman was kind enough to send us off with one of the negative strips and so we folded it over on itself a number of times to strengthen the filtering capability and continued to the corner, where a new distraction became apparent.

The next person we met was a gentleman whose car had stalled at a red light and would not restart.  Sarah and I gave him a push into the Loehmann's parking lot and then let him have a look at the magic going on in the sky.  Walking back to the corner we noticed yet another strange and beautiful eclipse phenomenon: The sunlight passing between the leaves of trees created hundreds of eclipse projections on the pavement ... as full coverage approached the trees' shadows were dappled with a dancing mass of perfect crescents.  Absolutely mesmerizing!

The shadow crossing the sun was nearing its greatest extent as we crossed the street and settled in at the Temple Coffee, where another group of folks was eager to share in our equipment and take some stunning photos of the sun through the film negatives.  The wall of the building received another dose of the magnificent sun dapples from a landscaping tree and we were delighted to see that we could even produce the eclipse crescent-projection effect by holding our hands in such a way that only tiny pinpricks of light passed between our fingers.  It seemed that the beauty and excitement of the rare event was over just as swiftly as it had begun - we walked back home watching for more of the tree-filtered light dapples, went back inside, and that was that.  A great many people across this and other countries also watched the moon pass in front of the sun, and a number of them had their cameras specially outfitted and trained on the "ring of fire" annulus, so I'll let the images speak for themselves.  What a world, what a life, what a beautiful thing to witness!


A Birthday Mini-Miracle

This past Saturday I spent my 31st birthday with my wonderful honey in Sacramento in active pursuit of physical prowess and selective skillfulness.  That is to say we rode our bikes along the American River to the restored northern California "French Quarter" known as Old Sac.  This section of Sacramento is a touristy neighborhood of parking scarcity and abundant old-fashioned candies, of restaurants and art galleries, in which one can while the time away enjoying an artfully crafted burger beneath a 19th century stained glass work of art.  Indeed we did just that, and marveled as well at the smell of nutty brittles (we purchased some of the peanut variety) and the girth of parked motorcycles, all gallantly arrayed in chrome and bright paint.  Our garb was minimal, our gear the same.  Just water, gloves, and for me a small pack to hold a hydration hose and wallet and keys, the necessities and nothing more.

According to Sarah's GPS-enabled watch it was a 10 mile ride along the bike path and over the bridge to reach our destination and achieve a look-see of Old Sac and its pioneer-era historical underbelly before tucking into a lunch at Fat City.  Ten miles back with a decently full belly?  We were up for it, even though we were also scheduled for a 2.5 hour AcroYoga workshop that night.  The topic?  The Art and Science of Handstands!  As ready as we were for lunch, we hoped we hadn't gobbled too much so as to gravitationally affect the inverted selves we'd soon be at the workshop...

Riding together along the path under a blessedly sunny sky, the American River shimmering to the south and then the west, we spun riddles and guessed at the habits of hummingbirds before returning to our neighborhood's environs.  Before we reached the final street, I suggested we use some of our ample time before the workshop to hunt for a geocache that I'd looked for in the area but had yet to find.  "Four eyes could be more effective than two," I reasoned.  

We made a few more turns and dismounted the bicycles.  I dropped my pack and retrieved my keychain and the LED light I keep on it - for one never knows when illumination will make all the difference!  Sarah headed into a nearby restaurant for a moment while I poked and sniffed about for the elusive hidden cache.  Not there.  Not theeeeere.  Not there either.  Hrmmm.  Oh what's this?  Not on a padlock, not in a steel chain, and not down either of the two metal pipes that I'd searched before, the secret capsule was disguised behind a bolt running vertically through a concrete parking barrier the likes of which can be found in your nearest strip mall.  I signed the log as Sarah was returning and soon we were off on the last half mile to home.  In retrospect, the finding of the cache was not to be the carefree experience I'd felt it was at the time.  Little did I know...

At home we put down meditation cushions and had a brief zazen seated meditation before making some preliminary preparations for heading to the workshop.  Snacks were nibbled and time ticked by.  And then a detail that I'd somehow overlooked shot like a thunderbolt from my subconscious up and out of my mouth. 

"Where is my backpack?"

We entered the home with my keys, but they were in my pocket since I'd taken the pack off to retrieve them.  My phone was in my other pocket and had been used to locate the approximate location of the geocache.  I remember leaning the red and black pack against one of the pipes I was searching, but there was no memory of putting it back on again.  Maybe I'd brought it into the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen?  None of that made sense.  Pulse quickening, I knew what must have happened:  In our excitement to get back home and head to the workshop, I had left my pack and thus my wallet with all of its vulnerable treasures right next to a sidewalk near a busy Sacramento intersection.  For more than an hour.  An hour that we'd spent relaxing and meditating and looking forward to the evening of going upside down.  Well now things were FEELING upside down!

In twenty seconds we were out the door, snacks unfinished in the kitchen and yoga gear in tow, racing nervously to see whether I'd be canceling credit cards and looking up the location of the DMV for getting a new driver's license.  Thoughts of hoodlums with eyes wide open as they pored over the contents of my wallet came from the inner psyche.  We both were charged with the unmistakeable electric rush of being jolted into action and though it was exhilarating, neither of us were hoping the day's excitement would be taking such a form.  "Maybe someone turned it in to La Bou," Sarah wondered about the eatery near the scene of the potential crime.  "It's okay, it's just stuff, just another challenge to overcome and deal with," said the part of me that was probably lying catatonic near the back of my cerebellum.  I'd even forgotten it was my birthday, despite the "gotcha" surprise party we'd had the night before.

Sarah maneuvered her Honda like a prowling tiger among the traffic lights that impeded our advance to the cache site.  Maybe maybe maybe........ Maybe it's still just sitting there.  Maybe people passing by thought someone was watching it.  Maybe this is all a frightfully realistic trick and the hilarious truth will be revealed - I'm on candid camera perhaps?  Not to be.  Reality was cold and hard in my face and I was going to learn a lesson in mindfulness whether I liked it or not.  We zoomed around the final turn and there, in the near-darkness I spotted the pack, slumped down against the pipe exactly where I'd left it.

To go from a state of shock and disbelief to a state of relief and even more disbelief was not much of a relief as all!  We were so amped up by the realization of simple oversight that the pack I now held in my hands felt unreal, and remained so after I located the wallet intact inside and we were well on our way to the workshop.  To Sarah I felt apologetic for the oversight that led to such a heightened sense of urgency, and to myself I felt compassion for being a simple human with the capacity to forget and overlook.  It was mini, sure, but it was still an unlikely miraculous end to a birthday so full of good energy.  31 years ago I'd been born.  Hopefully I'd been reborn through this little experience to pay a bit more attention.

"How'd the workshop go?," you might be asking.  Sarah's gift to us both went great.  I made sure to bring my pack into the studio (ha) and we both learned some techniques that will keep us upside down in our practices for a long time to come.  Lesson learned.  Thank you, good people of Sacramento!


Running to Feed The Hungry in Sacramento

I hope everyone had themselves an enjoyable Thanksgiving and that you've got something to look forward to over the coming December and New Year's Holiday season.

Thanksgiving morning I awoke on the floor (We had guests using the bedroom) to a cold and overcast day of rain, but with excitement nonetheless. Butterflies churned my nerves into a frenzy as I prepared to face my first attempt at running a 10K - with no prior running or cardio training - "off the couch" as they say. My partner is a marathon finisher and although she's been away from running for a few months, was certainly more seasoned and knew what to do to finish without injury or slowing down. I however was as fresh as a bean sprout, and only a little faster than one.

The starting countdown ends and almost 30,000 people surge beneath a banner suspended across J Street in Sacramento, the California capitol. Most are already fairly soaked by the morning's steady precipitation. I've got a Gore-Tex wide brimmed hat on and a rain jacket over a long sleeve synthetic race shirt with the Sacramento Country Day School logo on the back ... SCDS is the school whose team I'm running on as a fundraiser to help the Sacramento Food Bank. Several years in a row the SCDS team has raised more money for the benefit than any other team, and even I helped with two sponsors I didn't want to let down! Skimpy running shorts were all I wore on my lower body, and once the crowd ahead thinned out, I crossed the starting line and began a steady trot that I would somehow maintain for the entire 6.2 miles.

For ultrarunners or marathoners and even half-marathoners, 6.2 miles may be a meager and unimpressive figure, but for a guy who prefers to strap a big pack on and amble tortoise-like over uneven terrain at a spritely 3 miles per hour, adding speed even while subtracting payload is still a challenge. Top it off with the cold rain, wet and slick street surface, and a desire not to give in to the temptation to walk even a litte bit, I had a minor battle on my hands. Back straight up, hands with fingers bent but not in fists, shoulders back, breathe in through the nostrils, out through the mouth. Keep aware of cramping, of where the breath is going, of the pace, of how your feet are moving- don't step on the white marks, they're extra slippery! With so much to be mindful of, the mind chooses to stray from its chores and just wander. I read signs, laugh at folks with costumes on, and scream "thank you"s to observers playing music and cheering encouragement.

Mile 3.5 and I'm feeling the need to slow my pace a bit. Breathing heavily but not struggling and I don't want to get into the struggle zone. My partner has given me all the tips she can for the time being and is pulling ahead just a tad and I don't feel up to keeping that pace. The experience changes from our run to MY run, and I'm okay with that. In a few minutes she's among the runners in front of me and soon I lose her in the throng. If I walk now, she'd never know... but I'D know and that's not acceptable since I'm feeling challenged but not at all exhausted. There is discomfort but not really pain. I keep going, sweating into my hat and jacket, taking a pull from a water bottle ever mile or so. I can do this!

Mile 5 is marked by a sign. My left hip socket is feeling a tweak. Nerve? Cartilage? Fracture of the head fo the femur? No, I'm just working out some kinks I suppose. Barely more then a mile to go but I'm feeling the strain now, knowing that if I think about walking I'll talk myself into it. Got to keep taking strides, adjusting the knees and the feet to make this last bit doable, to get me around the next few corners and to the finish. It hurts... but what is "it?" Can't put my mental finger on it, there's just something that is uncomfortable, but that's all. A pervasive feeling of working hard, pushing the body's feelings of comfort, expanding into new areas of performance... for crying out loud, it's only a little more than an hour of running, you've hiked hard with a huge pack on for more than twice that long...uphill!

The final stretch. I see the finish line banner across the road ahead. I'm in a thinner crowd of runners in the 10K, we're not the fast ones but we're not the slowest either. Not bad for a first timer with no training anyways. My pace picks up though I don't feel conscious of adding the speed myself. Just something about the excitement of knowing that relief is soon to arrive. My feet continue to move, pumping again and again ahead, under, behind my hips. The pelvis aches where the femurs have been moving in their sockets, like a pre-soreness. After a couple of minutes more of this detached state of final pushing, the run ends as suddenly as it started. I hop over the finish line, my time recorded by a tag on my shoe to be checked on the computer out of the rain and cold. Upon slowing to a walk the fatigue in my quadriceps and hips expands to fill the space my calming lungs now allow my consciousness to feel. The body cools as muscular activity slows, and the chill in the air becomes much more noticeable. I'm glad to have done it. Glad to have run farther than I ever had before. Glad to have not given up. Also glad to learn that I was only a few minutes behind my lady! We meet under the VIP tent, snatch up a few of the free snacks, and walk home together, feeling great in body and soul.

Labels: , , , , ,


A Vision in Focus?

A photographic image is a story told to your eyes, via your sense of sight. You can create one in your mind as well - the difference is simply that the experience of that visual story is only internal, whereas with a print or on a screen the image occurs out in the physical world where it can be apprehended and experienced through the eyes of others, thus shared.

In both instances, focus is a fundamental quality. If the image is in focus, the subject can be clearly outlined and its features readily distinguishable. The boundary between the subject and the surrounding space will appear sharply visible. The what it is and the what it is NOT are identifiable and distinct. If the subject is out of focus, the image or vision is unclear, undistinguished, and lacking specific qualities of form even if generalities of color and texture are present.

Now I believe that this way of perceiving images can be applied to one's life and goals as well. Someone may have a clear vision in mind of who they want to be, what they want to accomplish, and the intermediate goals and steps along the way to getting there. This is a vision in focus. Others may have an image that is less defined, existing at times in a sense of color or texture but not with a clearly imagined form. They possess a sense of what they'd like their life to feel like, but do not yet have a sharp focus on the specifics of how to arrange and create such a life.

In my own years of creating images both internal and external, many of which are proudly shown on this site, I have found myself more often having an image of life that is out of focus. There is a sense of what appeals to me and what does not, and I naturally aim to involve myself with what is appealing, but without a focused vision or image of where I want to be and what I want to be doing, the intermediate goals and steps that could make such a vision possible don't come into play and I'm left grasping for direction to who-knows-where.

I think it's time to change this pattern. Goals both short and long-term are vitally helpful for developing a sense of fulfillment and direction. Goals are challenges to oneself and without them, creating a clear image or vision that is in focus and that inspires us to grow and achieve is extremely difficult.

Plenty of people have a great eye for photography, but not just like me. Plenty of people can craft an engaging image or story with words, but not just like me. Plenty of people can travel and adventure and get into the thick of unusual circumstances, but not just like me. There's a unique asset that I can leverage to better myself : Myself!

"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken." - Oscar Wilde
I ask and encourage everyone reading this to shoot me a line and follow up with me on how my vision is coming into focus. What steps am I taking to move towards achieving a goal? What are my goals? Where am I and where do I want to be, literally and figuratively? YOU can be a positive part of a beneficial change!

All comments are welcome. More to come soon from the Moot.

Labels: , , , ,


I have often dreamt that I was making photographs.

In my dreams, I find myself exploring fantastic locales with as much depth, color, and fascinating shape as the "real life" places I have traveled in the physical world. In these dreamscapes, just as in my physical existence, I often seem to have in my possession a camera. Which make and model I'm shooting with never seems apparent or important, but I always have the distinct experience of composing an image with this dream camera ... choosing what to include and what to leave out, then waiting patiently for the right moment of action when the subject gives away just enough of its essence to the camera to be worthy of capture. Sometimes I wake up later and feel a little bit dismayed that the images I made in my dream aren't there for enjoyment or sharing with others.

The word "camera" originates from the term camera obscura, or "dark chamber" in Latin. This refers to a simple means of projecting an image onto a surface within a darkened space via a small aperture through which light may enter.

I'll take analysis of the term a little further. If a camera is essentially a chamber, then what else can a chamber do in our modern world? There's the combustion chamber in an engine, which allows for a mixture of air and fuel to burn in a controlled manner, applying expanding pressure to a piston which in turn moves a connecting rod, crankshaft, etc. eventually locomoting a vehicle and presumably its occupants to some destination, even if the joy of motion is itself the destination. (A Bugatti Veyron engine happens to have 16 chambers, for example.)

Another relatively recent human invention is the firearm. A firearm requires a projectile (with explosive-containing cartridge attached) to be placed inside of a chamber. When the explosive element is ignited, the force - much like with anengine - is directed by the walls of the chamber in a specific direction. Just as an engine's piston is pushed by the combustion, a firearm's projectile is pushed. Just imagine howthese two similar technologies, shaped by simple physics, have shaped the world we live in.

A camera, to me, is a chamber where the power lies in what goes into it as opposed to what comes out. Happy shooting!

A California Indian Pink is exuberant alongside the Hite Cove Trail early in 2011.



I return to the Moot after a considerable absence, acknowledging that my offline life has been blessedly full of change and love and valuable experience. Now to the prose:

Yesterday afternoon in Sacramento, California. It was one of those moments that come along too seldom. A moment when clarity shines down through the layers of thought and perception and nestles right into that nook of your consciousness dedicated to musings of everything being as it should be. I sat in the jacuzzi up to my waist with a book on Yoga anatomy in my hands, my lower body enjoying the dilation of blood vessels that occurs in very warm water. Palm trees stretched toward the blue sky as garden snails navigated the concrete planters dotting the pool area. A paragraph on the various types of joints in the human body was absorbing my conscious mind when I noticed a leaf floating along the water's surface. Fall's color had graced the leaf with bright yellow and orange hues, and its surface displayed a few droplets of water that resembled minuscule spheres of glass, distorting the shape of the delicate filaments and veins of the leaf seen within them. Each droplet acted as its own magnifying glass, evoking the details of the leaf up and out to the enjoyment of anyone sensitive enough to observe.

Ignoring the book for the moment, I watched the leaf drift beneath my gaze. More details of the image emerged. I saw that a similar bending of visible light occurred where the weight of the leaf pressed downward on the surface tension of the water, much like a massive object would bend the plane of a sheet of rubber or a person jumping would stretch a trampoline. The closer one looks to the object exerting the force, the greater the angle of distortion. Beyond the leaf I drew my gaze to the pattern on the bottom of the jacuzzi, visible since the jets were shut off. The complex underwater mixture of mosaic shapes and colors were static until the leaf drifted near them in a light breeze. Then, as if the leaf possessed some magical property, the patterns warped and bent around the unique shape of the leaf. Each lift and curl of the yellow and orange piece of former tree exerted an effect on the way my eyes perceived the patterns beneath the water.

To learn a bit more about optical distortion and how it works:

Now what I began to feel during this experience was something that I know and understand on an intellectual level but less seldom on a moment-to-moment whole being level: Everything is connected. I teach this to school children. I read about it in books. I marvel about that fact and wonder how our species seems to have strayed so far from this truth, and there it was in front of my eyes in a little hot tub in California's central valley plain to see and ripe for the grasping. I mused: Distortion in proportion to mass, proximity ... surface tension of water combined with temperature gradients in the air (resulting in gentle breezes to blow leaves) shares basic appearances and relationships with the way gravity and space time are imagined to work. I'll ponder this some more and come back to it if necessary. In the meantime, I hope you'll let me know what kind of content you'd like to see here as I return to more regular posting. Rest assured that sharing my recent photography will remain a key feature of the blog.

Labels: , , , , ,


Double Rainbow from the top of Yosemite Falls yesterday.

R Kelley resting near the Devil's Bathtub, Yosemite Valley.

A volunteer service team from Adventures Cross Country after picking up tons of litter from the Tunnel View parking area.

Western Tanager with some dinner in Curry Village.

Couchsurfing abounds with perks! I went kayaking with one of the awesome folks from the Stockton/Sacramento Couchsurfing scene. Niiiiice.


LM and I grin and show off the fruits of our volunteering labor!
Not long ago was a "No Fee Day" at Yosemite, so the NPS let Naturebridge solicit donations from the lucky folks arriving on the free admission day. Our entrance station netted nearly $4,000, with a total for the day of nearly $20,000 cash. Good times, great people, and the kids whose lives will change for the better as a result of the generosity of the park visitors is the best part of all!
Posted by Picasa



Waking up to a snowy morning near Rancheria Falls by the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir a few weekends ago.

Sunset over the reservoir the night before.

My pana en crimen for the trip, Ruth, pointing something out on the shadow-streaked trail - Storm clouds approaching.

Springtime is getting finished with the annual Dogwood blossom show in Yosemite, but this is what abounded a few weeks ago...

Mountain lichen love.


Spring has sprung! This was from a few weeks ago along Highway 140 between Mariposa and El Portal, where I live.
Posted by Picasa


Students from my home state of Louisiana learning to cross-country ski in the Sierra Nevada. (Español for "Snowy Range") Hilarity ensues. (No students were harmed in the making of this photograph)


This hand is my hand. This hand is your hand.

In a mature Giant Sequoia it's said there are enough board-feet of timber to build 40 five room houses. Here are two of the magnificent trees sharing an embrace that spans dozens of centuries. Wow.


This was a few weeks ago. The meadows all melting out, birds returning en masse, and the sun blazing down onto the valley floor. Now, after several days of snow and rain, it seems as if winter is hanging on for a few more weeks.
Posted by Picasa



Bobcat on the prowl near Lower Yosemite Falls. I love this place.



WINTER in my new home.
Stream melting snowpack from beneath at Summit Meadow near Badger Pass, where we take kids cross-country skiing.

Worth a closer look, sunset light rips across a snowy ridge above El Portal, as seen from Highway 140 below the house where I live.

Near "Oh My Gosh Rock," a short side trip from the Yosemite Falls Trail, a Manzanita's distinctive red bark grins out at the beautiful world.

Heavy snowfall creates artful shapes with the local flora near Badger Pass, California's longest-running ski area.

The legendary Ahwahnee Hotel opened her doors to guests in 1927. Still in operation and classier than ever, she's undergoing a three week closure for upgrades to her fire suppression system among other things. Around her, Yosemite Valley continues to astound with its own winter vestments.

Labels: , , , , ,


The horrid little fish that haunts our deck at night. Nemos, be warned.

Confused inverted tumbleweed? Mt. San Jacinto looks on, wind-whipped snow dwarfing airplanes overhead.

I fear I'm missing out on this special brand of gluttony back in Louisiana right now.

Labels: , ,

How one is supposed to distract children away from a spectacle like this long enough to teach concrete science is something I am working on and improving at. Til then, I'm content with letting the "wows" and "whoahs" and "holy craps" ring out into the granite and Douglas Fir of this place.

Labels: , , ,


The "Big Three-Oh." What's the big "Dealy-Yo?" After work, I spent a few hours of my birthday wandering aimlessly among the boulders and trees, taking a nap on top of a house-sized chunk of moss-covered granite, then making my way upwards to encounter (unexpectedly) the bottom tricklings of Ribbon Falls, which spits its meager allotment of snowmelt over the precipice of El Capitan, the tallest granite monolith on the planet.

Note the little rainbow.

Note the very little airplane.

Labels: , , , , ,


I'm back.

The blog is not dead. I am not dead. I have been posting heavily on Facebook, but I still intend to keep Chronicles of the Wayward Moot quite alive and relevant as a forum for more lengthy material and perhaps a showplace for some of the fantastic photography made possible by living in one of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet.

Been busy partying, having back surgery, working, and taking hecka photos. Flew and airplane over Mandeville while back in Louisiana, then flew in my brother's BMW Z4 M-Coupe. That felt much faster than the plane actually. So it goes. If yall post comments you can dictate what kind of material you'd like to see here so I don't waste anyone's time. In other words, POST away, and I await your responses with bated breath.



Bearing the brunt

In Yosemite National Park taking a Wilderness First Responder course ... Today is the fourth day in, and during our morning scenario we were interrupted by a bear wandering through the outdoor classroom.  Wild!


The Wheel it Keeps on Turnin'

The Mountainjedi returns after too long in hiding! Since writing last about my visit as a medical missionary to Guatemala and the associated adventures involving volcanic exploration and new friends in Central America, much has happened to me though at times it felt less that I was doing things than that things were happening to me, an important distinction with implications relating to the sense of having control over one's life. Still reeling from the death of my younger brother and the effect that drawn-out event had on my parents and the energy of the remaining family, an already low time sank lower yet with the realization that a main reason for returning home was no longer a valid excuse for avoiding action that would return me to a sense of being in the right place, doing the right thing (for me at least). In other words, regardless of what I did or with whom I spoke, being back in Louisiana where I grew up never felt like a situation that I would gain mid-to-long-term satisfaction from. I had been spoiled by travel and freedom to find the idea of a conventional life somewhat unattractive and to settle back into my hot, flat little overly-developed hometown, charming as it can be, seemed a step in the wrong direction though I certainly struggled with the confusion of simply not having a sense of what the right direction was as the time. Attitude and perspective influence an enormous percentage of our subjective experience of life, and normally I believe we have significant control over our attitude but sometimes our capacity to maintain perspective and keep an even-keeled outlook gets compromised by stress, chemical imbalance, or other factors. Over the last few months I certainly felt myself slipping down what Times Picayune writer Chris Rose called "the Rabbit Hole" of depression. We had both spent years equating needing or seeking help with personal weakness, believing that a down mood was something that ought to be surmountable by sheer force of will. If a content and stable peace of mind was not achievable through pure desire and intent, one reasons that the problem must be with the will, a personal flaw that served only to deepen the sense of shame and inadequacy already characterizing the general state of mind. I'm not afraid anymore to say that there are things I don't have the power to overcome without help, and I've sought that help. Writing today, I can say that while I still do not understand all of the factors that contributed to the depth and severity of my trip down that Rabbit Hole, I feel a great deal better now than I did a few weeks ago. One factor could be that I know what I'll be doing with myself later this year - surely a vast improvement over the miasmic uncertainty that I felt during the first part of 2010. The fact that the new endeavor will take me back to an inspiring mountainous haunt of mine and out of Mandeville, working in a field and for a cause that I can get excited about is all the better. More on that later.

Into the West
In April I saddled up in the 2010 Prius sort of known as "Blue Lightning" and aimed her west on a mission to the mountains of California. We didn't pull back into the driveway here until more than 5,000 miles had passed beneath the tires and my eyes and mind had witnessed a slew of fantastic new sights and experiences. The following is an account of the journey I call Westward Ho 2010. The first Westward Ho I consider to be the drive I made from New Orleans to San Francisco via the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada back in 2003, the year before this blog began. That trip was made solo all the way in a trusty red 1991 BMW 535i with the intention of getting west for a summer job. This time around I was going for a job interview. More on that later.

From an email I sent to a good friend I used to work with in Washington, DC:

... you mention picking up strange men along the way, and, well, you know me! Before departing I actually did go onto Craigslist and posted a notice on the ride share board about my trip west... got a few responses (one from a group of 3 people with three big bags, two guitars, and a DOG on top of it all - I declined that one). Ended up taking three guys all the way from the New Orleans area to Fresno, California. One was an 18 year old food stamp recipient from Seattle who when I met him was wearing a T-shirt depicting a unicorn vomiting rainbows and a hypodermic needle. He also had a knit yarn lanyard around his neck with a knit version of an Amanita muscaria mushroom hanging on it. Those are the Super Mario-style mushrooms, red with white spots and very hallucinogenic/dangerous. Uh, he was a trip, literally. The other two guys were college students from Montreal, both speaking with distinctive French Canadian accents. The three of them had met at a "Rainbow Family Gathering" in Alabama. I'll let you look that up yourself. More of a Hippie Commune in the forest thing than a Dupont Circle style rainbow though. In any case, the three of us had quite the ride driving through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before hitting California and eventually parting ways. We slept out under the stars in our sleeping bags behind rest stops two nights, one morning being greeted by a woman walking towards us from a huge tour bus carrying a platter of deli sandwiches! On the second day, despite driving a 50+ mpg Prius, we got extremely close to running out of gas in the middle of nowhere Texas. The "miles til empty" meter went from 20 to 12 to 6 to 4 to 2 to 0 and we were still not near an exit with a gas station. The Seattle kid and I were in the front trying to drive as slowly as we could to use primarily the electric motor and not the remaining fumes... in the backseat were the two Canadians unaware of how close they were to getting out and marching alongside the scorching hot Texas interstate. Classic. We eventually pulled into a station after driving on empty for 8 or 10 minutes and filled up in a euphoric rush. I told everyone I'd buy them Taco Bell in a spurt of generosity borne of not having to deal with running out of gas after all. Eyes peeled for a run for the border, none were to be found and in the end we ate at some crazy local taco barn place in El Paso where we were clearly the only English-speakers in the joint. The food however was delicious and plentiful, so no complaints. Spicy too, like the chiquitas who took our order!

The big idea was to invite one or two others along on the outbound trip so as to achieve multiple goals. Besides helping with fuel expenses, the passengers get to cross the country quickly and cheaply while keeping the driver engaged and awake. While taking three strangers into a relative new car for a 2,000 mile drive isn't something I'd typically do on the fly, having the chance to speak with these guys on the phone and then hosting them a night at home (during which they cleaned and polished a Tibetan singing bowl I have) gave me what I needed to feel comfortable sharing the trip with them, and it turned out to be a joy traveling that way. Our second night we pulled into a rest stop somewhere west of Phoenix at 10 or 11pm and carried our packs out to an area of desert where the floodlights didn't penetrate so far. Awaking to a crisp cool sunrise surrounded by spring flowers and ubiquitous burrows in the gravely ground, we approached the restroom building and saw a sign we hadn't noticed the evening before. "No dogs beyond this area, poisonous snake and insect habitat." Well, we probably smelled foul enough to deter any of the critters anyhow.

The evening of April 5, our bellies still digesting a lunch from In and Out Burger, that iconic Californian franchise dutifully serving excellent burgers and fries to the west coast car culture, Blue Lightning cruised north along 99 in the agriculture-burdened Central Valley toward Fresno. We'd survived an encounter with a crooked filling station attendant trying to overcharge hundreds of dollars on a credit card, a windstorm in San Gorgonio Pass that destroyed a trailered golf cart just ahead of us on the freeway, and a torrential downpouring of rain that slowed traffic through the Los Angeles area to a crawl before we marveled at the sight of the wildflowers shimmering on the hills in Angeles National Forest. We reached the city, very nearly ran out of gas again, and eventually I dropped my friends and their gear off at an onramp where they would attempt to hitchhike to the Bay area (unsuccessfully, at least the first night). In a rush of unloading, farewelling, and quick hugging, I was alone again, free to make my way out of the valley and into the sierra. I started the day in a desert, but after scouring Fresno for some snow chains that would fit the Prius and threading some narrow and windy roads through the foothills of the Pacific Crest, I would lay my head to sleep in the funky mountain community of El Portal, the western gateway to one of the most famous and inspiring landscapes in the world - Yosemite Valley.

Back in the Sierra I reunited with a friend from the Peace Corps and numerous previous entries here, Kingfisher. In South America she and I had climbed to the snowy pinnacle of a dormant volcano above a city of guinea pig gobblers, watched the world whirl in a mystical cave at 13,000 feet, and had scampered among the precipitous ruins of the Inca civilization. Her suggestion had been the impetus for my application and subsequent invitation for an interview, and so it was a treat to have some time to visit before and after the interview process. One day we took a short hike out along the south fork of the Merced River to Hite Cove, said by some to be the greatest wildflower hike in the entire state of California. Not bad for four minutes down the road from home... The sky shone blue and warm upon the twinkling surface of the river as the trail wound along a steep slope liberally adorned with rich orange California poppies and the brilliant yellow of Goldfields. Poison Oak was also out in full force, happily shining leaves insinuating themselves out onto the trail in places. We reached a spot where the trail descended to the riverside and passed a few hours talking, dissecting gummy worms, and soaking up the sun and some good books while the waters caressed the stones nearby. No better way to spend an afternoon than right there in the moment, enjoying the place, the breath, the warmth, the company.

Over the next few days I did participate in activities related to the job interviewing process including giving a mock lesson to a small audience and a typical question and answer session, but what set the experience apart were the numerous opportunities to explore and connect with other applicants and the singular environment we found ourselves in. We were housed for two nights in a small staff cabin at Crane Flat, where the 6,000+ foot elevation meant lingering snow pack several feet thick and drifts coming right from the ground to the rooftops. Twice I had the chance to visit the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias with other applicants. Our first night the five of us all rounded up some cross country skis and headed out as the sun set, just arriving as the shroud of night overtook the grove. Having only skid like that twice ever before, it was a good thing I wasn't aware of the steepness of the trail! The second evening one of the three women and I hiked down together on foot and engaged in substantial conversation while taking in the atmosphere of the grove. Several times the immensity of the trees soaring skyward on rust-colored trunks silenced us in mid step, our necks cocked backward and mouths agape, pupils straining to catch sight of a bough trembling in a breeze hundreds of feet above our heads. Venturing farther than the darkness allowed the previous night, we encountered a massive fallen sequoia trunk ten feet in diameter and longer than a bus. The ancient roots were splayed out in an arc like the tail feathers of an enormous wooden turkey in the snow, and at their base we could see a dark bit of negative space ... a passage perhaps? A bit of investigation proved fruitful and the two of us crouched down and passed through the hollowed out trunk of this older-than-old tree trunk for 70 feet or so until a crack in the side provided an exit hole. We learned later that the tree is known cheerfully as "Dead Fred" but agreed that stumbling across it unknowingly was the ideal way to encounter such a majestic former lord of the forest. Before departing we stood in the silent snow beneath another giant named Big Red and just looked up, watching the fading day's light play across the uppermost bark and branches of one of the Earth's most massive living things. 15 or 20 minutes passed as the twilight sky fell into shadow and we held motionless in the moment.

The wilds of Yosemite held other memorable experiences during my visit. I learned an addictive wordplay game called "Contact" with a group of high school students while hiking in the snow to a fire tower above Crane Flat (Anyone who followed my PCT hike in 2008 knows how tickled I was to reach another panoramic fire lookout!). I saw a black bear yawning and lazily waking up under a tree in the crowded Eastern end of Yosemite Valley. I walked out to Mirror Lake beneath Half Dome, which actually turned out to be a wide seasonal pool in a stream with an interesting history since the white settlers took over the area. 50¢ for admission so you can take a photograph of your reflection in the lake? Got a mustache? How about a petticoat?

My last whole day in the area Kingfisher and I aimed to get out to a place neither of us had ever been: The upper Mariposa Grove. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln took a moment out of leading the Union during the Civil War to sign into law the Yosemite Grant, which ceded the valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias to the State of California as a state park "for public use, resort, and recreation." More than a century and a half later, the resource is still as impressive as ever and is protected year round for the enjoyment and inspiration of countless visitors, the two of us included. We arrived at the parking area after a 35 minute drive and it was full with a line of vehicles waiting. Hmm. After a scramble to look for an alternative, we settled on a roadside pullout a few minutes down the road and packed up for a good day hike. The road to the larger parking area was still closed due to snow so we had a two mile road walk before the first of the trees appeared. From there a network of paths and trails wound their way uphill among such landmarks as "The Bachelor and Three Graces," "The Grizzly Giant," "The Clothespin Tree," The Wawona Tunnel Tree," and "The Telescope Tree." Countless others rose up around the paths and their shadows trailed into the distance, nameless sentinels watching over the same mountainside for milennia, some of them having witnessed more than 700,000 sunrises and sunsets. Neither words nor images will ever match the experience of moving through the community of beings many times older than modern industrial civilization. Their indomitable power and endurance is at once contrasted with the vulnerability they display in the face of human ingenuity and ambition. Sharing their presense induced simultaneous feelings of enormous power and miniscule impermanence. While the ocassional roaring wildfire only serves to help the species continue, a group of men with saws or other tools can with alarming swiftness snuff out a life whose progeny would not reach the same maturity until the year 4,000. It seems we literally cannot comprehend the scale of processes we have the power to interfere with.

Our hike took us from the lower grove, still buzzing with flip-flop-clad visitors who had also made the two mile road walk, up the hill to where the true snowline was. First we followed a plowed path. When the plowing ended we followed cross country ski tracks over the snow. Soon the tracks turned around, leaving the way ahead a virgin carpet of white. This is what we'd worn boots for, and so we agreed to press on and go for the largest loop possible, despite the slow progress. This proved to be the right choice, and the resulting few hours of complete solitude making tracks among our towering coniferous brethren was a highlight of my life so far. After having the freedom to approach and explore any tree without fear of harming its root system, it is hard to imagine a more pleasurable way to get to know the grove. In the fresh snow we spotted bear, coyote, and mountain lion tracks along with sugar pine cones more than a foot long. Kingfisher and I managed to get off trail (or what we assumed was still the trail under all that snow) and check out some fallen logs that like Dead Fred were hollow inside and offered a thrilling little cave to explore. Appreciation was expressed for the foresight demonstrated by the early (non-native) conservationists who recognized the danger these trees faced in the onslaught of advancing western settlement and worked to protect them for future generations. To play a part in continuing that work is Kingfisher's job at Yosemite and will be mine too when I return in August. More on that later.

San Francisco
I left the mountains the next afternoon and descended to San Francisco in a rainstorm to stay with my friends J and R and Braxlee the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel at their new apartment in Buena Vista, very near the exact geographic center of the city. The mayor lives around the corner and their living room boasts two large picture windows looking out over the Castro, the Mission, and beyond to San Francisco Bay. If that weren't enough, I was treated to home-prepared roast leg of lamb my first night in town. Impressive! The transition from Yosemite to San Francisco was almost jarring. One place is a temple of natural beauty, the result of organic forces like wind, water, rock, and ice working in concert with roots, grasses, birds, and claws to become an evolving expression of the planet's wildness. Human impact is measured out at a minimum and care is taken to preserve the qualities of the place as much for its own sake as for its value to humanity. The city, however, is abundantly populated with sights, systems, and structures that defiantly proclaim the mythical dominance of man over nature. The spirit is one of conquest, of profligate construction and spread upon arrival at the edge of the continent. Seemingly every hill is laden with homes and apartments and streets and tracks for cable cars. Here, as in all urban areas, the focus is on people and their sustenance and entertainment. Despite the abundance of hybrid cars, mandatory recycling and composting, rooftop photovoltaic cells, and wind turbines in the hills east of town (all better than the alternatives), San Francisco exists for humanity, and they will keep it. I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with R while her husband was at work, learning about her experiences so far living in "Not New York" and her plans for the future, but the stark difference in my own path and theirs felt sharper than ever and though I didn't want to make a fuss about it, feelings of self doubt and anxiety over uncertainty crept into my mind, distracting me from the beauty and goodness of the present moments. A chance to spend some time talking and having dinner with a friend who shared Zaruma with me as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador helped some of the anxiety subside, but the time to leave was drawing near.

My father flew into SFO and joined the traveling party on April 13. The intention was for us to take our time driving together back to Louisiana, using the opportunity to talk, bond, share, and create new memories while we had the chance. We wasted no time in investigating our surroundings. Fried Chicken and Waffles(!!!) at the Little Skillet. A walk around AT&T Park and the South Beath Park dock. A drive along the shoreline embarcadero and the famous piers. Taking the Prius down the impossibly crooked section of Lombard Street. Becoming confused and almost crossing the Golden Gate Bridge before exiting and exploring the cliffside defensive batteries south of the invigoratingly windy channel. Making our way south to Golden Gate Park and wandering among the botanical gardens while a car just in front of us was broken into, Police surrounding the vehicles when we returned causing unecessary concern. Encountering a squirrel with a penchant for burying Tic Tacs. Eventually returning to J's hilltop neighborhood and taking in the emergence of the twinkling cityscape below before going burrito hunting for dinner. I contend that we had a full afternoon in the city, and after breaking our fast at a fancy bakery cafe near the historically gay Castro with R the next morning, we aimed ourselves towards the Golden Gate and began our winding journey homeward.

Across the Sierra
Next stop was just north of the bridge: Sausalito, CA is home to an unusual collection of residences that we had to pull over and see. Following the closing of a shipyard decades ago, people began setting up homes on teh remains of old boats and barges in Richardson Bay. Bohemians and Hippies took to the lifestyle in the 50's and 60's and the community grew through various legal challenges into the colorful and unique attraction that it is today. The vessels range from massive professionally-designed and luxuriously appointed floating houses to truly ramshackle amalgams of spare parts and a half-assed attempt at some vaguely artistic flair. There's a houseboat for every taste and style it seems, from the exclusive penthouse to the junkyard scrap heap and everything in between. Strolling among the homes on a wobbly network of planks exhibiting varying degrees of buoyancy, we spied cats and cacti living out their niches in the delightfully odd place. Like temporary specters from a less watery world, we took our leave as suddenly as we had arrived, continuing north.

A long drive and a brief visit to Muir Woods took me back to Marin County where I trained in preparation for leading wilderness trips in 2003. We circled around the north end of the huge bay and met with the freeway heading through Sacramento and then the Pacific Crest. In a couple of hours the temperature outside was plunging into the 40s and snow was lining the roadside. At Echo Summit the car crossed the Pacific Crest Trail for the second time on the trip, just south of the Desolation Wilderness where I spent a few days hiking with Wild Child and Glitter Bomb two years previously. Our destination this day was the resort town of South Lake Tahoe, current home of A and his brother, who had agreed to host us for a night. After pizza and local brews, we delved into True Stories, a film I'd never heard of featuring David Byrne of The Talking Heads. It was unlike anything I've ever seen and thoroughly campy and weird but in a very good way. Perfect entertainment for our surroundings: A well-used apartment piled with equipment for making music and sliding down streets and snowy slopes at high speed. The zealous Afghan wolfhound who cohabited with our hosts spent the night playing with his rope toy, jumping on us, and chewing into our luggage. Der humpink indeed.

SLT provided a bit more fun the next day as we sent a birthday postcard, procured rations for the next few days, and visited a chilly coarse sand beach on the shores of the second deepest lake in the country before hitting the road and zipping over the last pass remaining between us and the descent to the eastern side of the sierra. Cresting the final rise and looking down to the valley thousands of feet below, the power of a distant vista to inspire the soul was evident. The primary corridor for travel along the eastern sierra is Hwy 395, so we aimed Blue Lightning onto it and began the scenic ride south with the snow and glaciers of the high country on our right.

In Hot Water

Bridgeport, California is not a big place, but it holds a big spot in my memory as home to one of the most enjoyable stops along the way to Canada. This is not due to a restaurant or a motel or even the view of the mountain range, which is undeniably picturesque. Just outside of Bridgeport one finds Travertine Hot Springs, a naturally occurring melding of hydrological and geological features that spells one thing for visitors: Delicious relaxation in the outdoors! Minerals dissolved in the hot spring water have been forming mounds and terraces above the valley for thousands of years, and human visitors have shaped the outlets to produce various pools with different forms and temperatures in which to soak ones cares away. I knew that if we were going so close, I had to show this place to my dad. Going off pavement in a Prius is not something I intend to repeat very often, but the surface was dry and the reward well worth it. Channels cut and coaxed along massive travertine ridges diverge and trickle their piping hot contents into the soaking pools via organic little cascades providing visual and auditory stimulus to all who enjoy the waters with their unobstructed view of the alpine spine of the westersn states. Dad is not typically an easy person to impress, but I think he enjoyed the unique experience of Travertine as much as I did.

Received a bogus citation after leaving the springs. While safely passing a very slow vehicle with a trailer that had pulled over and signalled for me to do so, my left tires crossed the yellow line. Arghh. Funny thing was, dad was sitting in the passenger seat in just his underwear, hoping to dry off more before reapplying his vestments. You can imagine, having two officers of the law standing outside while you're in your boxers and nothing else. Silliness. Hopefully we can get our explanation in front of someone reasonable and put it behind us.

Mono Lake. Cold. Not many birds this time of year. Not a single picture taken. Moving on.

Lone Pine. We arrive late and opt to sleep in the car in a parking lot across from McDonald's. Gross. Dad is cold and we wake up with fogged windows and a funk in the air that ought to be outlawed. It is the first and only time we sleep in the car during the trip. In contrast with the funkiness of our breath and maybe our moods, the rising sun is hitting the sierra head-on now, and we gaze up at a wall of mountains crowned by the white-capped Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. The day's plan is to enter another world of extremes, where snow is nothing but a cruel joke. The largest unit of the National Park System outside of Alaska is Death Valley, and we ready ourselves to enter the vast and legendary expanse of sun-parched desert.

Ranger Bob, we're very disappointed in you. Your performance has been lacking for some time. Now we aren't going to fire you, but we will be transferring you to a post in another park. Somewhere more ... remote ...

The hottest ambient temperature ever recorded in the new world was 134 degrees Fahrenheit, taken in 1913 at Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level. Again, words fail to express what a place that can reach such temperatures is like. Only first hand experience can convey the true meaning of salt flats, of shimmering dry heat radiating from the ground, of corrosive brine, of isolation and despair and the inhospitable conditions possible on this Earth. Sure it sounds like I'm whining about one lousy day driving through the place, but Death Valley challenges us to define it in terms not applicable to other locations. In short, I loved the place for the same reasons it has achieved infamy. Barren, sprawling, indifferent, uncomfortable, inscrutable - the landscapes merit all these descriptions and more. The place is a jumble of stones, an expanse of sand, just as much as it is a back full of sweat, an involuntary squinting of the eyes, a painful split in a chapped lip. The place is a dare made in bad taste. It seems to exist out of the grasp of time, for things feel frozen there, as if change is only a story told by the stones to keep the sky amused. "Sure there was water here once, have a look at this smooth marble!"
"Oh yeah, loads of water," answers the sky, glaring hot and blue like a stove flame. "And I assume there are flowers down there too, right?"
"Ahh, so you've seen them? I told you they're real!"
"Gimme a break." And so the eternal bickering spans the passing centuries, the elements teasing one another as the world dances its dance. Our visit did happen to coincide with the arrival of the spring flowers though, and between fields of black volcanic stone and the blinding off-white of the salt flats we flew past more yellow and pink than the eye could absorb. How the insects that pollinate those flowers tolerate the 120+ degree days and 100+ degree nights of the summer I'll never understand, but the balance of life they maintain is amazing. Having spent hours exploring Panamint Valley, Mosaic Canyon, an old borax processing plant (Hell of a place to make a living), the shockingly landscaped visitor center (Must have a well there), the Devil's Golf Course, and the incredible, inedible Badwater Basin, we were baked beyond belief and a consult of the map saw us cruising into Nevada for an evening in Las Vegas.

Vegas Baby!

Apart from getting to take a shower, this place was an abomination. Sex and sleaze and false gold glitters and litters the desert here. The city will eat you up, though I can recommend nobody eat anything at all at the Circus Circus dinner buffet. I had been to Las Vegas once when I was 12. It has grown like a cancer since then. Perhaps there is really nothing at all wrong with Vegas, the issue is just that I'm not the kind of person the city is marketed toward. Thanks for the shower, but your water was hard and the soap was crappy. And hey Pallazo Resort at the Venetian, who needs a cell phone that costs $7,500? Sheesh. Edward Abbey was right about you.

The next day. Hoover Dam. Building a new bridge to span the Colorado so private vehicles will no longer go over the dam. Edward Abbey was right about you too.

Arizona. Sedona. Red RED rocks and psychics and energy vortices and the gullible with discretionary income. A unique chapel perched on the side of a beautiful rock outcrop. Below is a private home that greedily gobbles the attention of all visiting the chapel. Selling for tens of millions of dollars? This place is beautiful, but too many people degrade the atmosphere. Let's get out of here, come back in the off season. Giant Saguaros along the road to Phoenix. They look annoyed at the interstate. I thought that they may only have primary arms and not "hands" on the arms. I was wrong. Phoenix is large. Let's go to Tuscon tonight. Ok.

Worlds: They Don't Make Them Like They Used To
Side note: The Motel 6 we stayed in outside of Tuscon was the nicest I've ever seen. The room was totally redone with pleasantly bright colors, the bathroom was gorgeous, functional, and comfortable, and there was a sustainable and durable bamboo laminate floor in the room that felt great underfoot and looked even better. Gideon Bible be damned, the place was really nice.

Our morning began with a late sleep, a nod to the long day coming from Vegas. Not sure what to do in the area, a local publication revealed a generous coupon for entry to Biosphere 2, the once exciting experimental science facility from the 90's that looks like a space station from a B movie. Now run by the University of Arizona, Biosphere 2 was originally built with the intention of creating a prototype living facility suitable for colonizing other worlds. How to figure successful design? Apparently, construct the largest closed ecosystem on the planet complete with an ocean, desert, rainforest, wetland, and savannah, stick a few people in there with a small area for farming food and raising goats, and seal the thing up tight. Airtight. Not a breath goes in, not a breath goes out. For two years. People under glass. A world under glass. Stupid human tricks in the Arizona desert, you gotta love it! Bases on the moon and Mars, here we come! Well, not so fast. The bionauts or whatever they came to be referred to gave the experiment a solid go, but oxygen levels in the recycled air began dropping and so did the daily calorie intake of the subjects. The vitamins and minerals the bionauts took in were sufficient, but the energy they received from their meals was lacking considering the hard work it took to keep the farm and other experiments running. Ants somehow made it into the sealed building and wrought havoc. The airlock was broken and oxygen eventually had to be brought to more livable levels artificially. Was the whole project a failure? Were allegations of secret food caches and fudged scientific figures merited? I can't answer those questions, but I can comment on my impressions of the place as it is now, and I would recommend the tour to anybody in the Tuscon area.

In Yosemite I saw some conservation posters with technical drawings of features like the Giant Sequoias and Yosemite Falls done up with mechanical features like water turbines, carbon fiber tree trunks, animatronic woodland creatures, water recyclers and pumps, synthetic bark material, etc. The point was to emphasize the absurdity of the notion that people could simply recreate majestic examples of nature's creation through technical ingenuity. The underlying implication was that the trees or the waterfalls were truly irreplaceable and that we need to take care of them as the singular and precious entities that they are. This general theme came right back to me as I walked through the Biosphere complex with its cherry picked environments. Where was the volcanic landscape? The Arctic? The Antarctic? The upper atmosphere? The snakes? Mosquitoes? Flu virus? These things, inhospitable or unpleasant as they may be to people, are all part of this planet we live on and to not include them in a recreation of the world is to turn our noses up at their role in the balance of the place we call home. My gut feeling is that the systems at work on Earth are far more complex than any smaller model could ever accurately reflect. Even the largest enclosed ecosystem ever built seemed woefully inadequate for indefinitely sustaining human life. What about all of the outside energy that went into the structure to keep it cool in the heat of the desert? What about the glass not allowing ultraviolet light through, hampering the ability of the bees to pollinate the plants inside? We are interconnected with everything that surrounds us, and the designers of Biosphere 2, though thorough in what they managed to accomplish, still fell far short of an accurate recreation of the systems that are at work here on Biophere 1. Now that's not a scientific analysis, but an impression of the heart. Like I mentioned before, check out the tour if you're in the area. The "lungs" they came up with to prevent the sealed place from exploding or imploding from variable air pressure are really cool. The bowels of the complex underneath the photogenic greenhouse portion are fascinating for their audacity if not their coolness. It feels as if someone saw one of those posters in Yosemite and took it seriously. Seriously?


The next day we took off across the dry wastes of the southwest and steered northward outside of El Paso to cut between I-10 and Hwys 62/180. The desert this detour took us through gave the impression of passing through a bad part of a bad part of Venus, minus the temperatures and poisonous atmosphere. Strange dirt trails wandered off from the one paved road, marked with discarded tires. Each seemed to hint at a shallow unmarked grave or two just beyond view of the sparse traffic. The only thing moving was the ocassional plastic shopping bag impaled on a cactus spine or a bit of barbed wire. Maybe not Venus. More like Mexico, or parts of it. I can't commit to that fully, not having visited Mexico much. Anyhoo, we made it to the intended highway and drove up into the Guadalupe Mountains for a stop at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Now here was a breath of fresh air. It's remote. Nothing much of note for miles in any direction. The settlement outside of the park's entrance is a one horse town. It's unassuming. The drive approaching the visitor's center is windy and features a few pulloffs with interpretive signs, but nothing outside prepares you for the spectacle to come. The visitor's center itself is pretty well appointed inside, with plenty of photographs of cave formations and panels about bat ecology and before you know it you're ... what the? Oh my. Well, that is a large and steep entrance. A chasm really. And here we go ... Quite dark in here. Ahem, smells a bit musky. Guano. Better whisper, sound carries a long way in here. Shoulda brought the big Maglite. Oh. My. God.

I write in superlatives. I speak in them too. Guilty as charged. This is partly because I can sometimes be intellectually lazy. It's also partly because I like to go to superlative places and do superlative things. The experience of walking down from an unremarkable arid landscape more than 700 feet nearly straight down into a world of fantastic forms and mind-bending spaces is superlative. It's fricking incredible. I suppose the only thing that really harms the experience is the knowledge of how easily accessible it is. Most of the time that kind of exposure, that brand of wow factor, is farther off the beaten path. I've been caving before and had a blast exploring and crawling around getting filthy. All of that is good fun, but I've never been open-jaw entranced by what I saw underground. Not until witnessing Carlsbad Caverns. I hope it's not the last time. There are other cave networks with over 300 miles of explored passageways. One network! It's a big world out there to get to know...

Aaaaand then we got back home after driving more than 5,000 miles. And look out, because in some places in California gas was $3.99 a gallon. Apart from shooting a 44 Magnum at a shooting range with a friend in Austin, TX the cave visit was just about the last remarkable thing my dad and I did before returning home to Louisiana. Suffice it to say that it was a trip to remember, though things are rarely as good (or as bad) as they seem to be at the time. Now to give these fingers a rest. Photos and video to come soon. Much love. Whew.

I updated the blog the other day and 12 posts seemed to go completely missing from the main page, so I've linked to them here. Now nobody has to miss out on the fun of a 5,000 mile road tip to the west coast and back.
To see astonishing "lost" photos, videos, and text from the first part of the trip out west and back, please check out the following links:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Part 7
Part 8 (Video of huuuge Sequoia tree)
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11


A parting shot from the unusual beauty of Carlsbad Cavern. Soon we would be back in the gulf coast region with the wild environs of the western journey just a memory, but for the moment we were hundreds of feet underground with the rangers hinting that we needed to get back to the surface. There's more where this came from. Thanks for having a look at the photos. To get the bigger picture and enjoy the ride from the inside, I invite you to read the narrative I posted yesterday. Cheers.

Have we been shrunk and put into a humanoid robot android? Not quite. The facility is fitted with two huge lungs that allow the total volume of the place to expand and contract with changes in temperature. Without the innovative design of the lungs the building would have exploded or imploded as temperatures caused air pressure to vary.

Another state, another marvel! Stalagmite along the descent into Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico.

Now that's a light.

Nipple-a nipple-a nipple-a NIPPLE-A!

Keeping an eye out for Pauly Shore, we made it to Tuscon and spent some time touring Biosphere 2.

Tee hee, you ran out of oxygen! Seriously though, the story of this place is fascinating. It felt to me almost like the transporters from Carl Sagan's Contact novel - magnificent and strange scientific marvels made possible by a vast expenditure of money and resources.

Dad examines the ocean and mangrove environments, all under glass and sealed airtight at one point for a one of a kind human experiment.

The underground machinery keeping the temperature and humidity and water and air and all the rest of it within normal parameters. The signs says "savannah drainage." An artificial world - weeeird.

Sedona, Arizona. The Chapel of the Holy Cross.

As seen from the Chapel, below one finds a Cathedral of the Unholy Materialism. Seems to be owned by someone who invented some kind of medical technology. I do like the observatory on top though.

Hey you! Yeah you, with the funny stuff on your head!