2 Weeks in July

Grand Teton range.

Road tripping, an American pastime for nearly 100 years, and one that I have been to far apart from for too long. This Summer it was time to rectify that. Mike had plans to go canoe the boundary waters and hike Isle Royale. When that fell through, I told him he should join me for a trip to Yellowstone. We quickly settled on mid-July for the start of the trip. While we both cleared up 3 weeks, we planned the experience to last about 2 1/2. I researched 4 stops on the way and 4 more for the way back, our plans looked like this:summerI

I’ve been back and forth across I-80 through Nebraska probably 100 times. Anyone who has ever made the trip know that it is boring, devoid of scenery and lacking in culture. But I had heard that NW Nebraska had some amazing stuff, so we decided to start there. We took off out of Columbia on a Tuesday and spent that night in a hotel alongside I-80 in central Nebraska.

The following day we drove the short distance to Chimney Rock National Historic Site. Chimney Rock is of more historical significance than it is of geological import. The Westward wagon trains would all head here, shortly thereafter the California Trail and the Oregon Trail would diverge. The settlers would have to decide, seek gold in California or rich bottom land in Oregon.

Chimney Rock is visible behind this wagon.

After leaving Chimney Rock we headed North to Scotts Bluff National Monument. Scotts Bluff marked the easiest passage to Oregon. Rising 500 feet out of the Western edge of the Great Plains it was a destination first for fur traders then trappers, these were followed by emigrants and mail and freight, and finally the army gathered here for the mass exterminations that followed the Civil War.

We hiked the top of Scotts Bluff, and took in the vast scenery and the Western “big sky”. We ended the day in a municipal campground in the town of Scottsbluff.

Scotts Bluff towers behind a Calistoga Wagon.

The Next morning it was but a short drive up to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. We hiked a couple of interpretive trails and visited the museum/visitor center. We learned that around 20 million years ago there were beaver in this area living like prairie dogs do today and that at the time a type of pig was the apex predator. A couple of hours was all that this site required. Of note was the Cook Collection of native American artifacts at the visitors center. There was also a nice diorama of molded skeleton animals based on fossils found nearby.

From here we headed up to Toadstool Geologic Park, a badlands area named for its rock formations. This site is administered by the Forest Service and includes a 30 million year old “trackway” of footprints left by mammals along a drying up stream bed. For the remainder of the first day we lounged around camp, just processing all that we had taken in over the last 2 days and planning the rest of our adventure. There is dry camping on site and we paid to spend 2 nights there.

The next day we drove to the Hudson Meng Bison Boneyard. This is an interesting excavation containing the 10000 year old remains of 600+ American Buffalo (bison). How the bones got there is open to interpretation but early Native Americans played a role based on arrowheads and other artifacts found at the site. Running them off a cliff has been ruled out, but other theories have not been proven or disproven. The partially excavated site is enclosed in a pole barn. An interesting place to visit.

Later that day we hiked the Toadstool badlands trail. There were lots of early mammal tracks in the stone but they just looked like depressions to me. However, the area stands out for its stark and rugged beauty.

Then, on to Wyoming. We headed out early, destination Thermopolis, site of Hot Springs State Park. Along our route we went through Wind River Canyon, an amazingly beautiful canyon and numerous pull offs to enjoy it with. When we got to Thermopolis, I discovered that I had made the hotel reservation for the wrong night. Since there was some sort of bicycle event in town, there was not a room to be had. We ended up driving 30 miles north to get a room.

The next morning we headed down to Thermopolis and the Hot Springs. The Native Americans who donated the spring to the state set the condition that the spring must be made available to the public for free in perpetuity. So we spent Saturday morning soaking in a public bath house. A nice experience that certainly relaxed us for our afternoon drive up to Yellowstone.

We stopped in Cody WY for lunch, then headed West to the park. We were hoping to find some National Forest camping near the park, but none presented, so we headed through the park and found some camping North of the park in Montana. We payed for two nights then spent the evening in the park gaping at the Elk and Buffalo and enjoyed visiting a couple of waterfalls.

A typical geyser field.

We spent the next two days driving around the park, hanging out with the buffalo, and walking every trail that was shorter than 2 miles (there are a lot of them). Highlights were Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Black Sand Basin, and too many others to name. We also moved our camp to the Western entrance to the park, outside of West Yellowstone MT. We went down to see Old Faithful and got to witness her eruption. Later we found out that a 9 year old girl had been tossed by a buffalo about 2 hours before we were there.

Old Faithful, erupting on schedule.

After watching Old Faithful do her thing, we hiked a few more Geyser trails then went back to camp. The next day we visited Yellowstone canyon, and did a rim hike along this magnificent rent in the ground. Then it was back to West Yellowstone where we got an overpriced hotel and prepared for the next phase of our travels.

Got up the next day and commuted through the park to the South entrance and headed down to Grand Teton National Park. We found a nice campsite in the National Forest and spent the next few days taking in the sites. One morning we got up early to be at an overlook for a sunrise photo op with the eponymous mountain range just to our West. Twice we staked out moose habitat hoping for an encounter with one but without success.

A Mormon settlement with the Grand Tetons as backdrop.

We visited some historic settlements, an old ferry station, all of course with the classic Western back drop.

After this it was South along Wyoming’s Western edge with a brief dip into Idaho and on to Fossil Butte National Monument. Like Agate, Fossil Butte contains fossils from the Cenozoic era, early mammals. We did a hike and watched a paleontologist excavating little fish fossils. The visitors center has a nice collection of fossilized turtles. Overloaded from all the sights we had seen so far, we only spent a few hours here and then we were on our way.

Dinosaur National Monument is a big sprawling park straddling the Utah Colorado border. We visited the smaller section in Utah, this is where the dinosaur bones are concentrated. The highlight of the visit was Quarry Exhibit Hall, a vast building with one wall made up of a hill side with exposed dinosaur bones partially excavated. We also did some short hikes to view petroglyphs made by the Fremont people 1000 years or more ago.

Then we headed East across Colorado. I had wanted to visit a camp spot that I remembered from 10 years ago. It was off of CR-8 near the crest of Ripple Creek Pass. We found it all right but the spot had been degraded in the 10 years since my last visit, a trailhead had been established right next door, and after the desert it was cold camping at nearly 2 miles of elevation. It rained all evening, and since our tent had suffered a gash in the rain fly, we pulled out around 9PM and headed for town. We stopped at every hotel for 100 miles but there was not a room to be had. So I ended up driving half the night, dodging deer and rabbits and even the occasional cow, and we slept in the car at the border to Rocky Mountain National Park.

We basically did a drive through of Rocky Mountain. We spent a little time taking in the grand views and learning about the tundra. Hiked to a prohibition era lodge and saw the elk, larger here than they are up in Wyoming.

Rocky Mountain view.

The road through the park is the highest paved road in the world and we topped out above 12000 feet. It was cold and windy, exposed and stark, and beautiful and awe inspiring.

Then it was East and down out of the mountains, through a beautiful canyon, and onto the plains. We spent the night in a hotel near the Kansas border. We got up the next morning, picked up a hitchhiker and drove across Kansas and Missouri to get home in time for dinner.

A pretty epic trip, it spanned 2 weeks, we covered 4000 miles, and we visited 8 states. As always, it is good to be home.




Dominica Bound

6 months ago I had never heard of the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, Wednesday–if all goes as planned–I’ll be touching down at Dominica’s main airport.

Sometime around Thanksgiving my partner suggested that we go to Costa Rica in the Spring. I checked into it and found that my (somewhat) recent marijuana conviction prevents me from going there until 2021. That seemed like a lot of time to wait to go on vacation, so we looked around for an alternative. My partner’s friend suggested Dominica as that alternative.

Dominica? Where the hell is that? Well, as I discovered it is a small (15×30 mile) island state in the Southern Caribbean. Depending how you measure, it is either the northernmost of the Windward Islands or the southernmost of the Leeward Islands. It’s Western side is in the Caribbean while its Eastern shore is in the Atlantic. It lacks the white sand beaches of some of the other islands in its neighborhood, as such it has been left relatively untouched and is still mostly covered in rainforest.

You can rent a house in Dominica cheaper than you can get a Motel 6 in the US. So we (My GF Flow and my brother Mike) are going to spend 2 weeks. We have a place on the West side for a week and a place on the East for another week.

A few of the activities that I am looking forward to are: hiking, bird watching, photography, native crafts, whale watching, snorkeling, canyoning, tubing, and checking out the waterfalls, native cuisine, hotsprings,  and just generally immersing myself in a foreign culture for two weeks. Due to cruise ships, 99% of the visitors to the island stay for only half a day, so we will definitely be the exception to the typical Dominican tourists.

Both places we are staying (allegedly) have internet so I should be able to blog the trip and then per my usual MO pull it together into one narrative post after I am back and settled.

Off to Missouri

18 years ago I landed in California. It was a 4 month position that brought me here. I was here something like 5 years before it really dawned on me that I might be staying. Life can be funny like that. Tomorrow evening I pack up the dogs and head to Missouri. The dogs know something is in the air, they had their first fight in 2 years earlier today.
Added the wiring harness to my car for the trailer lights, replaced a belt and the battery yesterday. Today the trailer got re-wired and the hubs get greased. Tomorrow the trailer hitch goes on the car. Then there is nothing left to do but load the trailer and hit the road.
It will be a long slow ride across the southern route. Rain in the bay means snow in the mountains, and we’ve been getting a fair amount of rain. I can’t imagine I can get there before Sunday. I am going to be babying my little car, the trailer’s max speed is 55, I’ll be putting along with the slowest of the trucks.
I’ve been visiting folks and saying my goodbyes. Had a final Peets coffee as well as southwest nachos from
Pepitos Deli, and a chicken garlic cheese-steak (it had been a while and it was a disappointment how much the quality of
Philadelphia Cheese-steak on University had declined) . Hit Point Isabel twice today, this evening for a final visit, I can’t imagine that Shadow will ever be back again. She enjoyed her last dip in the bay, no way to convey to her that it is all about fresh water from here on out. Just watched the sun set behind the Golden Gate… I guess nothing else is holding me here.

The Further Adventures of Smokey

If my battery holds out, I hope to share two more camping anecdotes. Probably won’t be near civilization to post them for at least a couple of days.
I am back in the Kern River Canyon after a 10 day hiatus during which I took some friends who were visiting from Michigan to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and a short trip down the coast. But that is another story…
We got back here the other night and found a campsite to the east of our previous one and much closer to the Kern River. These two anecdotes both concern my 7 year old Blue Heeler, Smokey. I am not neglecting my senior Aussie, Shadow, but she is wise enough not to start fights with rattlesnakes or the other brash (foolhardy?) things which follow. If I were to write camping anecdotes about Shadow they would all be a variation of “we went for a hike, Shadow stayed close and didn’t cause any problems.”
Smokey is a cow dog, when in the car she barks at every cow she sees. Until last month she had never met a cow in person. Since she had adapted so well to our life of travel I decided to let her meet some cows as a reward. So last month I tracked down some cows in the national forest and turned her loose on them. She instantly knew what to do with them, she circled to their far side and gently pushed them to me. I circled away and she nipped at them and they turned to follow. I eventually ran away and called her along (did I mention that I am afraid of cows?)  That is the background for the first anecdote.
This morning the dogs woke me up at about daybreak to let them out of the tent. Which I did and then I lay back down contented, just loving life. It wasn’t long before Shadow started growling…a rumble low down in her chest that tells me she is serious. She is 11 and this was only the forth or fifth time that I’ve heard her do it.
I grab for my glasses and the tent zipper at the same time and i hear a crashing sound from outside. I get the tent open just in time to see a half dozen cows come careening down a 30 foot sand embankment and into camp, with Smokey at their heels. Three cows, two calves and a bull. One cow lets out a bass “mew-oo” that I could feel in my bones. Evidently she had become separated from her calf. I scrambled out of the tent shouting and trying to get them out of camp while scrambling up the embankment away from them. They left out the drive and down the road, the calf-less cow continuing to call out and thankfully Smokey let them go. I am dismayed that Smokey thought it was a good idea to round up a small herd of cattle and run them through camp first thing in the morning. Incidentally, I saw the wayward calf slink around camp to join its mother about 15 minutes later.
I am blown away by how innate this behavior is in Smokey. Shadow, a sheep dog, would herd people when she was young, but without reinforcement, the behavior was extinguished by the time she was 2. The behavior has to be stored in their DNA, what other explanation could there be? It is totally amazing that Smokey would just naturally know what to do with cows. And, while I know that I am anthropomorphizing, I am certain that she had a self satisfied look on her face.
That was a frightening start to the day, but nothing compared to the fear I had for that dog late this afternoon. Like I said earlier, we are much nearer the river in our current camp. So this afternoon we bushwacked our way down to the river. It was difficult to get down to the river because much of it is cut through rock and has a 20 to 30 foot sheer rock embankment. We eventually found a spot that we could get to with about 20 feet of dirt only 2 or 3 feet above the river. Shadow generally likes the water while Smokey avoids it at all costs. I stripped and put my feet in but the river was too cold and fast to get in. Evidently too fast for Shadow too, as both dogs were hanging over the bank getting a drink. Smokey lost her footing and into the river she went. At first I laughed as that dog hates the water. But my schadenfreude was quickly replaced with fear as she was quickly carried down stream. 20 feet and there would be rock faces and she would not be able to get out. While I wasn’t afraid of her drowning, I don’t think dogs drown very easily, I was fearful that it would be difficult to find her or that she might end up on an inaccessible rock or who knows what. I was terrified for that dog. Somehow she ended up on a rock 20 feet from shore. She didn’t stay there long but made a jump for shore and swam strongly to the embankment where she couldn’t get out of the water. I scrambled over the rocks and got a hold of her collar and pulled her out of the river. She was not a happy dog and there was nothing remotely self satisfied on her face. She spent 15 minutes shaking and rolling in the sand before she wanted anything to do with me or Shadow.
I would imagine that she likes the water even less than she did before. Keep in mind that this is the same dog who canoed with me 350 miles down the Missouri River and never once got wet. Coming up from the river we had to traverse a field of poison oak, I can only hope I don’t get a full body dose of itchy rash, both dogs are covered in it and we will sleep in a pile tonight.
I both love and hate Smokey for her bravery. While I admire her heart, I fear that it will be the death of her.

I still hope to write this trip up in depth when I get access to a keyboard, tapping it out on my tablet is a serious drag.

Just to add, I was only gone from here for 10 days but during that time Spring ended and full on Summer started. The flowers are gone and the grasses are dying. It is 15 degrees warmer and we will have to move further up into the mountains soon.
I am coming up on 6 weeks of off and on camping and each day I feel less like returning to the bay area. I am so over traffic and the hectic lifestyle and the opulence and poverty that exist side by side. The chorus for a song that I recently wrote begins: “This concrete ain’t no jungle, it’s a prison don’t you see.”

Camping Anecdote

So I am still camping in Southern California. The Mojave became too hot so I migrated to the Sequoia National Forest East of Bakersfield. I am on the rim of the Kern River canyon, maybe 1200 feet above the river itself. I think these are the Piute Mountains. At some point I when I am near a keyboard I will summarize the trip. As of now I am tapping this out on my tablet, so a short anecdote will have to suffice. Probably won’t be back in civilization to actually post it for 4 or 5 more days.
I took a 4 wheel drive trail off of highway 178 and slowly navigated about 5 miles up to the canyon rim, bumping and scraping my way along. I found a pretty little knoll with gnarly live oaks, wild flowers galore, buckeyes, and not too many cows, and with lots of squirrels for Smoke to chase (my fear being that that dog will chase one off a cliff.)
After setting up camp and making coffee, I kicked back to relax and enjoy the bird songs and the view. Not too long later I hear a motorcycle putting up the hill. As he nears camp I wave and he puts into camp. As he pulls his helmet off, he says, “Dude, you totally ruined my whole day.”
Somewhat takin aback I inquire what I could have done to ruin his day?
And he replies, “I bought this trail bike for Christmas, today is my first real ride. I loaded it on my truck this morning and drove as far as I could up this hill, then I unloaded the bike and continued up the hill. I’m riding along thinking this is really getting away from it all, I’m riding where very few people get to go. Then I come around a bend and what do I see? A f*#king Toyota Yarris. The only way you could have made it worse was if you asked where the nearest Starbucks is.”
I pointed out that I already had coffee or I might have. I offered him a cup, which he accepted, and we talked for maybe half an hour. Then he said he had to get up the hill a ways so that he could at least tell his friends that his new trail bike made it further up the hill than a Toyota Yarris did.
I didn’t see him come back down the mountain so he must have found another way down, or he’s still up there.

Just to add before posting: got 2 or 3 inches of rain Tuesday and Wednesday, it came with 35 mph winds with 75 mph gusts. Holy cow, I think hurricanes sustain 72 mph and above. It was some crazy wind, but the tent withstood it.

Season’s Greetings

Another year over, and a new one about to begin. A time of  assessment and of contemplating the past as well as the future. The year was dominated by the Snowden leaks, while personally it was one of the more boring years of my life. Still exiled to the island of California, that restriction is still 11 months from being lifted.

Whatever your views and beliefs, I hope you have a most enjoyable holiday season. May your paths be warmed with laughter and may happiness light your way.

I am leaving Friday for a 10 day camping trip to Death Valley. Me and my dogs as well as my brother and his dog. This will be my 3rd Christmas at Death Valley (not in a row) and I am looking forward to it. I haven’t seen any of my family in nearly 2 years, so some good quality time with Mike will be much appreciated. The dogs are looking forward to some good  back country time (I am hoping Smokey doesn’t beat up Fido).

So, for all who are reading this; friends, family, and friends I have not met yet; hope your holidays and great and I am looking forward to quality time in the new year!

South Florida and Back

Sometime during the Winter of 2009/2010 I was on the phone with my brother Mike from Missouri. He mentioned getting a couple of weeks off work in the Spring and I suggested I pick him up for a trip to Florida. Over the coming months we solidified our plans, ticking off the places we should visit: Big Cypress Nature Preserve, Everglades National Park, and Key West came quickly to mind, as well as a visit with our old friend, Jay.

Shorebirds are numerous in South Florida     From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

By the most direct route, Key West is 3200 miles (5200 km) from my house, and I wasn’t going the direct route. While it was still a bit early in the year, I decided to take the Northern route to Missouri as the weather looked good for the next few days.
I had a rider from Craigslist set up to go, but I was getting weird vibes from him…so I backed out. Then, as luck would have it, I was unable to line up another rider.
So after a long work day, I threw the dogs in the van and we pulled out of Berkeley at 10 PM. We made it as far as Fernley NV that night where I had to stop for a four hour nap and we were on our way again. Driving across I-80, Eastern Nevada was as picturesque as I have ever seen it. Eighteen inches of snow on the ground in the high desert gave me an intimation of what we would see once we got into the Rockies. We stopped shortly before the Utah border to let the dogs play in the snow, which they enjoyed as usual. Then across Utah and into Wyoming. When we were about half way across Wyoming the wind picked up and started blowing the snow. Traffic would run over the blowing snow flattening it into black ice. It was dark and going was slow. There were numerous wrecks, mostly trucks, two spun out in front of me. A hundred miles took over 3 hours, still we managed to make it a 1000 miles in 20 hours (including our nap). We took another nap somewhere near Cheyenne. After this 4 hour nap we were on the road long before sun up. Driving through the dark with the wind and sliver moon was a really nice experience. We eventually left Wyoming behind as we entered Nebraska. Nebraska is long and it took most of the day. As we were leaving I-80 to drop south toward I-70 it started to rain. The rain would be our companion for three days, and i find it tiring to drive in the rain.
We got to Columbia in time for dinner Friday March 12. I had driven 2000 miles in 40 hours by myself. I was tired when I left home and still managed to pull it off. I find it to be a good feeling to push the limits of endurance and win.
Spent the evening with the Popster and left for the South the following morning. Mike seemed happy to hit the road and we accepted the rain, as what else can you do?
We made it as far as Murfreesboro Tennesee that night where we got a room and relaxed. Two nights sleep had me feeling almost normal again. We got up the next morning and continued South. We decided to drive straight through the night to get to our destination rather than set up camp in the rain.

Alligators were numerous in the canal         From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

Arriving in South Florida without much of a clue as to what to expect, we headed down Hwy 41 out of Naples towards Big Cypress Nature Preserve. Most of our time in Big Cypress was spent along route 41. We started at the visitor center where we found that Big Cypress contained not a single big cypress, they had all been cut down at some point in the past, leaving only smaller trees for present times. We headed to Monument Lake campground where we set up camp. Most of the hiking trails in the area are through the muck, with the exception of a few short boardwalk trails. So we did our hiking on a dirt road, Loop Road. We drove to a wide spot and set out hiking. As we hiked the road, impenetrable swamp on either side, we could hear crashing as wildlife took flight or splashes as alligators slid into the water. Walking along knowing that alligators were only feet away added to the sense of excitement of the hike. Back on 41, the canal to the north of the road was filled with alligators gathering up the warmth of the sun. There was an alligator about every 50 feet along the canal, this went on for miles and miles. There were also numerous shore birds…herons, egrets, anhingas, etc… My favorite was the Wood Storks, the US’s only native stork.

Wood Stork       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

We spent two days there then headed over to Cutler Bay (south Miami) to get a room so we could get an early start on our way to the Keys the next day. We got busted taking two dogs up to our room, this forced us to pay for another room as only one dog per room was allowed, so we forked over $75 for a room that we never ventured into.
The next day we checked out and headed down HWY 1. It was raining but warm. It is about 130 miles of bridges and islands to get to Key West. Along the way we took a couple of small walks and did some window shopping. As we got near Key West the rain let up and we started running into a lot of traffic. We made our way to the ‘old down town” area which is the heart of the tourist section. Since it was Spring Break the area seemed geared to drinking and the youth. not wanting to shop, we went to the iconic Smokey Joe’s saloon where we found out the original Smokey Joe’s was at the location of Captain Tony’s. Since this was where Hemingway hung out we went over there, but couldn’t get a drink as the bartender was less-than efficient. We took a stroll past Hemingway’s house and packed back into the car for the return trip.

Hemingway’s favorite hangout       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

The drive back north was much better, no rain and less traffic. We stopped a few times along the way to play and walk the dogs. In Key Largo we stopped and had a fancy meal at a place I believe was called Ballyhoos. I had shrimp with crab stuffing and it was very tasty. We finished off the meal with a generous piece of Key Lime pie, which was amongst the best pie that I have ever had.
We finished the drive off the Keys and got a room in Homestead, a small dumpy sort of place, but they took dogs.
The four days spent at Everglades National Park is really the heart of the trip. We entered the park near Coe Visitor Center and headed up the main park road toward Flamingo camp. The terrain was flat and featureless, there were saw grass (actually a sedge) seas stretching into the distance. Most of the elevation is less than 5 feet and it stretches 40 miles from Coe Visitor Center to the built up area of Flamingo (store, visitor center, marina, campground) which is located near the southerly tip of continental Florida.

Can it really be called a pass?       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

As we drove in we saw a sign stating that the vultures would eat the rubber off of your car if given the opportunity. We stopped alongside a small lake and sure enough there were vultures eating the rubber coating off a SUVs luggage rack. We drove on into the heart of the park with the hope of seeing manatees, crocodiles, and whatever else we could see in our brief stay.
Flamingo campground was huge and we had no problem finding a spot to set up a couple of tents and tie up a couple of dogs. Since dogs are not allowed on trails we decided that we would do our hiking early in the morning and late in the afternoon when it is cool enough to leave the dogs in the car. During the day we would hang out in camp or do car touring of the park. Near Flamingo campground was a marina where we learned there were frequent sitings of both manatees and crocodiles. Daily, or sometimes more often, we would trek over to the marina to look for wildlife. On one of our early visits we saw an osprey fly by with a fish, it landed in a tree and we set and watch it eat the fish and interact with other osprey. It was surely one of the most Wild Kingdom like experience I have ever experienced.

Osprey with fish        From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

We found that osprey were more than common around the marina and it was nothing to see 10 of them with half a dozen nesting sites easily found. There were also red-shouldered hawks, swallow-tailed kites, and other birds of prey which made regular appearances.
Added to the raptors, there were also numerous shore birds that would make regular appearances. A flock of ibis’s would regularly walk through camp looking for whatever it is that ibis’s eat in the grass. Black vultures would also come through camp looking for garbage to pick through.
Daily we would make a pilgrimage up to the marina to look for manatees and/or crocodiles. On our third day we were rewarded with a visit by a manatee (sea cow) and her calf. They are large gentle seeming creatures and we felt fortunate to experience them up close.

Manatee and calf      From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

We visited most of the boardwalk trails and even hiked a canal near bear lake, taking the dogs on an illegal hike into the swamp. At one point a ranger came and lectured me about the importance of keeping the dogs on leash, so their running free ended up being quite limited. I don’t know about Mike, but I felt that I got to see the vast majority of what there is to see before we left.

Swallow tailed kite       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

When we packed and left the Everglades we went back up to Big Cypress to spend a few hours checking out the alligators and hiking the loop road again. It was on this hike that I spied two alligators on the side of the road and decided to introduce the dogs to them. I hopped out of the van and ventured up as close as I dare to the alligators, probably about 10 feet behind them. The dogs were oblivious to them. I think that alligators are so far removed from my dogs’ experience that they were unable to even comprehend them, let alone see them right there in front of them.

Introducing the dogs to alligators       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

By this time, there wasn’t much else to do but point the car north and begin our journey homeward.
Soon we were watching Big Cypress disappear in the review mirror. Back through Naples and North on 75 to visit Jay and Cecie at their Winter home in St. James (on Pine Island in the Gulf of Mexico).
Leaving the lushness of far Southern Florida was a shock. There was no buffer zone, it went from tropical rain forest to a desert like mono-cultured dead zone in the space of only a couple of miles.
We spent the night in a motel in Ft.Myers, a bustling modern city. Early the next afternoon we we drove over to St. James on Pine Island to visit Jay and Cecie. They have a nice place right on a canal. They loaded us all up in their boat and we went putting around the canals. Even here there was much wildlife and we saw eagles, storks, numerous other birds, and even dolphins leaping from the water behind us. When we stopped to fuel the boat, Smokey fell off and I had to fish her out of the canal. Then we took a quick spin out into the Gulf and around a small mangrove island. Back on dry land our hosts took us to check out an eagles nest. We watched the eagles fly from the nest making eagle calls…the first time I had heard them.

Eagle with nest       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

After this we went back to Jay and Cecie’s place where we were served a nice dinner and spent a while chatting it up before heading back to our room in Ft. Myers.
The next day we headed North. We stopped and hiked a fire trail in the Osceola National Forest in North Florida. The area we hiked was farmed long leaf pine, sandy soil and devoid of wildlife. We finished the day by driving to Tallahassee in the pan handle and getting another room.

Smokey fetches in North Florida      From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

We had to two days of driving to get Mike back to Missouri and it was a two day drive to do it. We decided to enjoy the day along the northern Gulf coast and drive through the night to make up the lost time. After check out we dropped South to the coast and spent a big part of the day enjoying the scenery as we drove leisurely. We found some beaches that were barren except for us and did some hiking and playing with the dogs. Having a nice sandy white beach to ourselves was extremely pleasant. These same beaches were wrecked by the BP Horizon disaster about 2 months later.

Mike and the dogs play on the beach       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

After a short hike in the national forest, we pointed the car North and West and drove on back to Columbia, Mo, where we arrived early Thursday morning. Spent most of Thursday lounging and napping. Then a long weekend eating good and catching up with the Popster.
Soon enough came Tuesday night and I loaded the dogs up in the van and left Missouri. As I pulled away from the curb, I noted the big beautiful moon and thought it brought warm bodings for the trip. Leaving Columbia I dropped down 63 to 58 West.
Generally, when I start a trip I leave at night. To me it is bonus miles. I find that I can drive all night and all day, but if I leave in the morning I find that I am ready for bed as soon as dark rolls around. Since there was still too much snow in the mountains for the most direct route of I-70, I was heading South and West to pick up I-40.
When I got down to 58 I started seeing dogs crossing the road. This was about midnight and they were crossing in twos and threes. We had just watched Stephen King’s Desperation a few nights earlier and it was weird…I must have seen 15 dogs in a 70 mile stretch, they appeared out of the dark like ghosts and vanished as the headlights moved on. The rest of Missouri was hilly, curvy, and dark. We followed 58 through the night and napped about 100 miles East of Wichita Kansas. The next day we drove across Kansas endlessly…it did finally end at Oklahoma. We only caught about 30 miles of Oklahoma, still I managed to get pulled over for speeding.
Leaving a small town, I accelerated too fast out of town and was pulled over doing 44 in a 35. It was one of the better experiences I have had with a cop. He was friendly, we chatted about life the economy and everything, and he let me go with a warning. Luckily the state takes all of the ticket money so there is no pressure on the local cops to write more tickets to help with the budget. We ended up shaking hands before I drove off and surprisingly it felt very genuine. I guess I have to take back all the bad things I thought about the Oklahoma police, of course the outcome would have been very different had I been burning when he pulled me over.
In Texas, still on 58, we passed the largest feed lot I have ever seen. It went on for miles and miles. As I drove past I saw a sign saying “Bio secure area”, thinking that strange I went back to take a picture of it and the feed lot. I jumped out of the van with my camera, then stopped to read the rest of the sign: BIO SECURE AREA, NO ADMITTANCE, NO PHOTOGRAPHS. Oops… I jumped back in the van and left. We made it to Tucumcari New Mexico and got a motel.
I had made good time thus far, so the next day I took it easy. I stopped and browsed the roadside stores, took in the sites and followed some of Old Route 66. Often 66 would be just the business loop off of I-40…other times it would be a 100 mile loop that paralleled the freeway.

If daisies are your favorite flower, keep pushing up those miles per hour      From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

It was fun to imagine what Route 66 was like in the days before the interstate. Instead of the direct Chicago to LA at 65+ MPH that I know, it was a much longer trip. Where they moved mountains to create the modern interstate, the old route would have wound its way around and over them. Where every exit along the interstate are interchangeable the old route would have gone through every town along the way, big and small. Route 66 was a time when we still had regional cultures in the US, now our culture is flat and varies little from place to place, like one giant field of corn where small diverse farms once stood. I imagine that if one travelled back 50 years in time, returning would have given the same shock that I felt upon leaving the diversity of the Everglades and entering the desert-like mega farms of central Florida.
In Gallup, I stopped to look at some pottery (starting price $1000), as I got back on the freeway I stopped for a hitch hiker. It was a young (18 or 20 year old) Navajo. He had hitch hiked into Gallup to see a relative in the hospital. I drove him into Arizona about 30 miles off the freeway to get him home. We had some interesting conversation, the most notable thing was his absolute faith in nothing positive happening in his life. He had recently lost his job and had no prospects or hope of getting another…hunting antelope and worrying about mountain lions seemed to be his main joys.
In Arizona I stopped at Ofelia’s knife store, where I met Ofelia and discussed the finer points of various switch blades (I bought a set of pairing knives). Ofelia used to run her business out of Modesto California, but the tightening restrictions and stress caused by further prospective restrictions caused her to pack up and move it to Arizona. It was interesting finding an educated person in the desert selling knives at the end of 100 miles of bill boards. Between Albuquerque and Flagstaff it was cloudy, cool, and snow flurries. I liked it as I could leave the dogs in the car without guilt. I did a lot of stopping along the way. Flagstaff was cold with a lot of snow on the ground, I found a warm motel and snuggled in early.
The next day we played in the snow for a while in the Kaibab National Forest, the dogs loved the snow and I loved the trees, the first since Missouri. Then we did a large loop (130 miles) of historic route 66 between Seligman and Kingman. It was beautiful high plains, complete with Burma Shave signs. In Kingman I picked up another hitch hiker, this one a 50′ish ne’er-do-well. I ended up giving him $25 for a pair of work boots that I really didn’t need, and with his attitude he really had no use for either. The boots are actually pretty nice, new, and just a bit wide for my foot. I dropped him off in Needles where he no doubt found a liquor store to trade his cash for something more useful.
Then we were into California. Needles to Barstow used to be the long stretch of desert, at least 100 miles of dry hot road without water or gas. Now, you don’t need to travel further than 40 miles to find gas and the stretch is not much different from any other stretch of highway. I remember when I was a kid and saw this stretch of highway for the first time. My father had been talking about the upcoming desert, and I had child-like ideas of what a desert should be…sand dunes, oases with palms, maybe a camel…I was disappointed that it was scrub and had no blowing drifting sand.
We stopped in the high desert West of Boron to let the dogs run around and chase sticks and made a short day of it by getting a room in Mojave about half way up Tehachepi Pass.

Shadow enjoys the high desert       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

Early the next morning, Saturday, we took off for the final 6 hours home. Driving down the hill into Bakersfield I noted the moon off to the West…a quarter moon descending to the West, it really helped to put the 4 day jaunt into perspective. Driving North in the central valley the coastal range off to the left was as pretty as I have ever seen it. Green with the recent rains and colored with vast patches of orange (poppies) and yellow (mustard?), I am sure I have seen prettier landscapes, I just don’t remember when. We pulled into our home driveway early in the afternoon still relatively fresh. Of course the dogs were happy to be home and warm hellos were given all around. Vacation is always a pleasure, and spending this one with family made it particularly so…but the pleasures of returning home after a long trip are also to be treasured.

A few more pictures can be found here.

Note: I stole the idea of mentioning the shock of running into the monoculture farms after the Everglades from Mike, it tied nicely with what I wanted to say later about the culture-less interstate system.

Visit to Big Bend National Park

This trip took place in November 2009, I memorialised it in a series of blog posts at the time.  This is an attempt to bring it all together and make it cohesive.  I hope to do the same to my 2010 Everglades trip soon.

I had recently returned from canoeing the Missouri River and re-assimilating into daily life was hard.  As October wound down I decided that trying to mesh into my old life was futile and that I was better off hitting the road.  Since Autumn was ending and Winter was about to begin, my options for camping travel were limited.  Brief pondering led me to decide on Big Bend National Park in West Texas, just over 1600 miles away to the Southwest.  After only a couple of days to plan and stock up on supplies I was nearly ready to hit the highway, but first I spent some time trolling Craigslist for riders heading that way.
Going near the Mexican border is always a gamble as it has become a militarized police state. With check points and areas of the country “closed”, armed paramilitary patrols and the works.  It has been almost 15 years since I have been down there.  It was bad then and that was before all the hoopla of 9/11 and the following of tightened border security, minute men, etc… I think it will be good to see what we are up against…since we let it happen there, how can it be stopped here?  My hope was to not end up in a third world jail cell in Texas or Arizona.  How does the Hell’s Half Acre song go… “If you’ve got long hair and hippy beads don’t get off the interstate.”
I know the local areas down there thrive on making examples of folks like me…let’s hope we come through unscathed.

A New Mexico Mountain Pass        From 2009 Big Bend NP

My flaky riders caused me to leave 2 hours late, but finally got rolling with 3 riders (found via Craigslist). Out I-580 then South on I-5 to CA58 East then East on I-40. Out of California into Arizona. I dropped 2 riders in Flagstaff (I hope they did not freeze on the mountain where I dropped them off). Then further East on I-40 into New Mexico and South to Ramah where I dropped off my other rider at a wolf sanctuary. Smokey, never having met a wolf before, got them all stirred up. The sound of 20 excited wolves is something to hear…unbelievably beautiful. Then secondary roads across New Mexico to Alamogordo where we got a motel and had a chill evening.
Got up early in the morning and did a quick visit to White Sands National Monument which was really nice although not as grand as I had expected.  The entire visit only took about 4 hours.

They plow the sand like snow.     From 2009 Big Bend NP

Then East out of Alamogordo into the mountains where we took time to play in the snow (photo above, some of us played harder than others). Two hours later we were in Artesia and it was 85 degrees and getting hotter.
We headed down to Carlsbad Caverns but it was too hot to leave the dogs in the car so we skipped it.
When we got to the Texas border we found the road closed due to an accident, the police said it would be hours and offered up a 120 mile detour We decided to wait it out, but after an hour and a half the police said the equipment to clear the road was still at least 2 hours away…so we set off on the 120 mile detour which brought us to Pecos Texas. Since we were worn out from playing and driving all day we got another hotel.  Motel 6‘s policy on allowing dogs really makes traveling with the four footed companions convenient.  Of course they only allow one dog, but it isn’t hard to get the second dog in.
Hit the road early the next morning and headed South toward Mexico.  Coming in to Big Bend you are struck by the vastness of it all.  A vast and stark landscape, reminiscent of some of the best scenery in Death Valley.  My intent was to stay a week and explore everything possible with two dogs in tow.

Big land, big sky         From 2009 Big Bend NP

We first stopped at Panther Junction, the central visitor center and hub of the park, where we got a permit to camp at Rattlesnake Mountain, a back country campsite.  Then we went West to Rattlesnake  Mountain and set up camp.  As it got dark the sky lit up with the Milky Way like I have never seen it (although I seem to recall that the sky was like this as a child).  The first night we caught about 6 shooting stars, peek viewing of the Taurids were in the early morning after moon rise, so we were happy with seeing any.  I could clearly see the space station as it made its periodic passage over head.  There were more stars than I have ever seen, even with no moon the desert was lit below us.  I spread a blanket on the ground and just stared (gaped) up at the sky.  We went to bed at 7 and were up at 3 AM, a pattern that would repeat itself our entire stay.  The biggest problem with Winter camping is the short days.  Getting up, the moon was bright and it was easy to see to make coffee.  Hunched over the stove with a steaming mug in my hand, I wanted nothing more.

St. Elana Canyon     From 2009 Big Bend NP

After it was light we headed down to the Rio Grande where I hiked into Santa Elana Canyon and a refreshing hike it was.  After this we simply drove a big loop and took in the scenery.  We spent the rest of the day in the shade of the van reading The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot (an analysis of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.)
The next day we drove up into the Chisos Mountains , where we drove and took in the sights (much of the trip was sight seeing from the car–dogs are not allowed on the trails).  After this we went up a four wheel drive trail as far as our trusty steed could take us, then got out to hike further up.

Shadow with the Chisos Mountains       From 2009 Big Bend NP

Almost immediately I realized I had locked the keys in the car.  I was in disbelief.  Miles from the road, no cell coverage and all of our water in the car.  I felt like banging my head on the car.  Instead I judged the back drivers wing window to be the cheapest to replace.  I took a rock in hand, turned my head, and bam……bam…bam…bambam…bam.  Nothing, just small chips in the glass.  I got a bigger rock and stood back 5 feet and lobbed it at the window…bang, it bounced off leaving a larger chip.  Angry, I picked up the rock and winged it at the window…bang…the rock bounced off…and…the window popped open.  It had busted free from the motor that controlled it and allowed me access to the car.  I still had to tape it closed but it beat the hell out of covering a hole with plastic.  I felt like the luckiest man alive.

Smokey with the Chisos     From 2009 Big Bend NP

We spent another afternoon lounging and reading.  The next day we did the same drives that we had done previously but did them at different times of the day to get a new view of things.  Big Bend is full of wildlife…we saw road runners, numerous birds, javalina (collared pecaries), mule deer, hawks, and a coyote that I mistook for a wolf (a ranger set me straight later on).
The next day we moved camp to the other side of the park (Candellila camp) and did more driving and sight seeing.
Big Bend was my first introduction to the Chihuahuan Desert.  I have spent much time in both the Colorado and Mojave deserts and once spent 3 weeks camped in the Sonoran desert (these are the four desert types in the US).  That was the main thing that had brought me to Texas, to finally get the chance to engulf myself in this alien terrain.  The dominant plants were creosote, ocatilla, yucca (agave and sotol), and various cacti that were new to me and I didn’t bother to learn the names of.  The Chihuanhuan has more cactus species than any other desert and I saw and noted maybe 15 of the 65 that reside there.  The main cactus was like beaver tail but it grew much larger and the spines were red, this gave the plant the appearance of having a red halo in the sunlight…a pleasing chimeric quality.  The rocks and mountains are a mix of sedimentary and volcanic…they are very old and much worn down.  The Rio Grande cuts a canyon that is the Southern boundary of the park.  The river is a quarter mile wide oasis in the desert.  This time of year (Winter) that is where most of the action is with the park having two major installations near the river (stores, campgrounds, visitor centers, and interpretive trails.)  During the Summer the action moves to the Chisos Mountains where the park maintains a restaurant (pretty decent breakfast buffet at $8.50) and a lodge as well as the customary store, campground, visitor center, and interpretive trail.
That night I am reading by lantern light when I feel something brush my hand…i glance down…it is the biggest tarantula that I have ever seen, easily 2x the next biggest one that I have seen.  I scream and jump up, throwing my book…I am watching the spider and at the same time dancing and brushing at the imaginary spiders that I conjured up.  Shadow got behind me and Smokey went to investigate the spider.  I don’t know what the tarantula did but Smokey jumped and moved away.  I stomped my foot and told the spider to git and it ran under a rock about 10 feet from where I was sitting when I first spied it.  Well I had the heeby jeebies and was pretty much done sitting on the desert floor in the dark for that night.  So I stepped out of the lantern light to stand and gape a while at the sky.  As my eyes adjusted to the night, the path to the road became visible and I decided to go for a walk.  The dogs trailing behind, I left the lantern burning in camp and walked out the trail about 100 yards to the four wheel drive trail and then started up hill (whenever hiking I will always go uphill…when I get tired it is an easy saunter back to my starting place.)  We followed the road up and around to the left where it passed above camp.  And right there, running with its lights off, is a park service truck.  WTF?  As I approach I see the word volunteer on the side of the truck and leaning out the window the driver is scanning my camp site with binoculars.  I am walking toward the front of his truck and he doesn’t see me until I ask, “Is there something I can help you with?”  He starts like I had caught him beating off, and says, “No, no…I was just doing the final road check.”  He continued, “You need to get them dogs on leashes.”  “Yeah, I’ll do that”, I said just as sternly as I could and then stepped back.  He turned on his lights and left.
Even though he had left, I couldn’t shake him.  What was he doing?  Was it that I had made an illegal crossing into Mexico earlier?  Was it that I am a chronic pot head and pretty much commit a walking felony every time I leave California?  Was it the dogs and the leash thing?  Was he just curious?  A pervert?  A thief?
I got in the tent and read by flashlight, what with tarantulas patrolling the desert floor there would be no rest outside.  The next morning I got up and broke camp, things were weird and I don’t do weird.

West from the park.       From 2009 Big Bend NP

I drove across the park and out the West side along the Rio Grande on Farm Road 170 toward Presidio.  The road follows the river for about 40 miles and it is beautiful.  It is curvy and mountainy with many short 15% or better grades and all the while the green oasis of the Rio Grande is off to the left in a picturesque canyon with a beautiful South Western back drop that leaves you stunned…like some one had punched you in the stomach.  The dogs got to wade and frolic in the river and there were lots of turn outs.  I sat upon a huge boulder high above the river with ravens cawing in the background and smoked a number and counted my blessings which are many.  We visited an old movie set, a fake ghost town now…overrun and abandoned and a picture perfect day to enjoy it in.  We went to Presidio a border town with a legal crossing.

Smokey with the Rio Grande       From 2009 Big Bend NP

I browsed a few clothes stores and discovered, much to my delight, that they stocked clothes that fit me…they even had clothes 2 and 3 sizes too small for me.  It was a joy to shop for clothes and be able to buy what you happen to like as opposed to scrounging for stuff that fits.  I bought a couple of pairs of jeans that I really didn’t need just to experience the joy of it all.  And I realized that they had my size because they were catering to wealthy Mexicans who are regular sized people too.
Then we drove the two and a half hours up to Van Horn across the rolling Texas hills and got a room to shower and prepare for the next leg of our trip.  It wasn’t until I was back in civilization that I noticed that I had not seen an airplane in five days, no contrails, no annoying buzz, nothing.
After a rest and a shower in Van Horn, we headed West on I-10 up through El Paso, through New Mexico, and finally to Tucson AZ. We got a room for two days near downtown, with our plan being to spend a day at Saguaro NP and Ironwood Forest NM. But those plans were changed when we discovered that Tucson is a major shit hole.
The worst urban sprawl that I have seen, poor traffic management, and a stench hanging over it all. On top of that our room was a dump. I drove 8 miles to a park to let the dogs play and it took half an hour to get there. The town is like 40 miles across with stop and go traffic all the way. It seemed as if a 4 year old had laid the city out, but more probably nobody laid it out–and that is the problem. The city tries to present an environmentally caring attitude–but there is no city in the desert that can pull that off. Building a city in the desert is the anti-thesis to caring. And to allow it to sprawl to all ends of the earth only adds to the perception. There were bill boards displaying all the things that Tucson is doing to conserve water and they erected them right next to golf courses. The city had a physical stench and it left a mental stench in my mind. I decided I did not want to stay there. I asked for and received a refund on my second night in the hotel.
I spent that evening on Craigslist trying to drum up a rider or two, I was trolling both Phoenix and Tucson. I had a few responses, one wanting me to pick her up in Yuma and go to Southern California (I declined as I wanted to get away from the border area), another wanting me to wait a few days (I declined as I wanted out of the shit hole of Tucson), another wanting a ride to Reno (I declined as there was no direct way to get there).
The next morning I checked out of my room and headed North toward Phoenix. As I drove I decided I would offer a ride to the guy going to Reno as I was ahead of schedule, he seemed like he needed it, and I felt like doing a good deed. Going through Reno only added 120 miles to the trip but it added about 6 hours as the most direct way to get there was all secondary roads. So I phoned him up and told him if he could be ready in an hour I would take him to Reno.
The rider didn’t know how to give directions and it took about an hour and a half to go the 30 miles out of my way to pick him up, but he turned out to be a good rider–a good driver, ok conversationalist, and we had similar musical tastes. So we set off out of Phoenix for Reno. All secondary roads…the whole way. North on route 60 to route 93, up through Kingman AZ and across the Hoover dam into Nevada, get on route 95 in Las Vegas and up to Alt 95 to 395 and into Southern Reno. I dropped him off at two thirty in the morning and headed up to I-80 to go up over Donner summit for the 200 mile shot home. As I dropped him off it started to rain…and I knew that rain in Reno meant snow on the mountain. I got to Boomtown near the NV/CA border and decided to nap a couple of hours, I did not want to get tired on the mountain and have to sleep in the cold.
I awoke at six thirty to the sound of a steady rain. I jumped up and hit the traffic station only to hear that the chain requirement had went into effect for I-80. I drove the 60+ miles down to route 50 and got there just in time for the announcement that chains were required there too. I have never used chains, I have no intention of using them as my owner’s manual says not to. So I settled in to wait it out. Fortunately that was only 4 hours and we were on our way.

Dashing through the snow       From 2009 Big Bend NP

When we got up around 7000 feet I went up toward Wright’s Lake to find a place to let the dogs play.. After an hour of playing and romping, we shot across 50 to Sacramento, got on I-80 and went home.
It is always good to arrive home…it’s a good feeling (almost as good as leaving home). Since I am a few days early I don’t have anything pressing to do and can do an easy decompression before getting back into the swing of things.

Postscript, or My Border Experience and What it Means for Immigration Policy

The US can not stem the flow of undocumented migrants into this country, by some estimates the flow is almost one every minute…drip…drip…  All of our efforts in stemming this flow, have thus far, been largely ineffective.
My first intimation that things were not the same along the border as in the rest of the country was an impromptu stop by a Border Patrol checkpoint.  A friendly Hispanic male in a sharply creased uniform approached my window while 3 well armed white males stood back and watched.  “Where are you coming from,” the officer asked as I put down my window.  My hackles were raised by this invasion, but I held it in check and told him.  Next he wanted to know where I was going, which I told him.  Then he wanted to know my citizenship and what I planned to do at my destination.  I was mad, but I played along.  “Alright, you can go,” he told me.  Mad now that it was sinking in how invasive this experience had been, I told the officer that he should look for a new job.  When he asked why, I told him that “when the Constitution is restored he would be out of work.”  I held back on adding, “those of you not hanging from telephone poles, anyways” as I drove away.
I was angry.  This had obviously been a search of my vehicle, it had also been a detention of myself and my vehicle.  All with no probable cause.  Therefore extra-Constitutional.  It was a checkpoint in my country by my government to determine if I could freely travel…this is not a part of the America that I know and love.  This invasive behavior is one step away from requiring travel documents to move around.  And what if I wasn’t white?  What if I was brown and spoke broken English, like so many of my fellow American citizens, what would my experience have been then?
I went on down to Big Bend National Park.  Big Bend is a large desert park with the Southern boundary consisting of over 100 miles of Rio Grande River/Mexican border.  There is no border crossing anywhere near but there is an isolated Mexican village across the river.  The park’s newspaper is called the Paisano.  Paisano translates from the Spanish as countryman, loosely it means country folk.  What got me is the extent that the paper’s editors went through to make the reader fear those country folk from across the river.  Almost every page contained an admonition to fear those folks across the river.  And for humans, fear easily turns into hate.  And while avoiding explicit warnings to hate the brown people across the river, the paper’s editors still managed to evoke this message at every turn of the page.  Am I accusing the paper’s editors of being a bunch of racists?  No, but I am saying that their attitudes and words tend to increase–and are in fact indicative of–the racism already present in those who visit the park.  Fear the brown man, if not he will be arrested and deported to some place far away, your property will be seized, and you will be fined $5000.  It is this sort of incendiary writing that we refer to as fear mongering.  And, like Lou Dobbs, these folks will claim that they are not trying to incite hatred of the other, but the results are clear to anyone lucid enough to step back and critically view the situation.
When I left the park, I traveled along the border to the West about 75 miles to Presidio, TX.  This drive contained an estimated 70 miles of Rio Grande/border for a total of almost 200 miles of border.  Not a fence in site, the river is some places shallow enough to wade across.  Running in and out of canyons and weaving its way through the desert it showed to me that there is no way to “secure” this area, it is too open, too vast, too isolated, and too barren.  Terlinqua to Presidio was about 50 road miles, there is nothing in between.  Not a town, not a retail business, a couple of ranches near Presidio and that was it.
When I headed North out of Presidio, and then twice more as I paralleled the border on I-10, I ran into border patrol “inspection” stations.  Always it was either a woman or a Hispanic that approached my window and always armed white guys stood around watching in their para-military garb.  I did my best at these encounters to be both non-cooperative and non-antagonistic, not an easy fence to straddle and I was successful to varying degrees.  “Where are you coming from?”  I am coming from the South I would reply.  “No, where have you been?”  I have been in the South.  “Are you a US citizen?” Yes.  “Where are you going?”  I am going to the North.  “What, do you have a problem?”  “Am I being detained, am I free to go?”  With this last I would repeat, “Am I being detained, am I free to go?” to any question they asked.  At some point Smokey would start barking (her barking annoys me to no end but in this case I was glad to hear it) and they would eventually tell me to go ahead.
A couple of more observations to round out this account.  In Arizona on I-40, many miles from the border, I noted many SUVs of different colors with whip antenna patrolling the highway.  Sometimes two or three of these vehicles were parked together in the median.  I noted many Border Patrol vehicles sitting along both the highways and the secondary roads monitoring traffic, these vehicles were seen as far North as Kingman, AZ.
I made a similar trip to Glacier NP on the Canadian border.  I noted no such activity, no inspection stations,  no Park Service exhortations to fear our neighbors, nothing at all like the atmosphere created at our Southern border.  Despite the fact that terrorists have been caught trying to get in from Canada, but–to my knowledge–never from Mexico.  Still, the two borders of our neighbors are treated far differently…and the only difference that I can see is the color of their skin.
These events and observations illuminated two things for me.  First, the border is indefensible with anything but the most intensive and invasive measures.  And, two, the border area is a de-facto police state, essential liberties have already been surrendered in a no-win attempt to thwart these erstwhile migrants.
So the question becomes, how far are you willing to go to secure the border and which liberties are you willing to give up to do so?
For certainly, we have the means to secure the border, should that ever become our passion.  Here, for instance are some steps that would realistically secure the border:
Institute a national biometric based ID to be used for obtaining employment;
Make a stiff penalty for employing undocumented workers, say 5k for individuals and 50k for businesses;
Wall off the urban areas, perhaps a 20 foot wall separating the two nations;
Build a fence half a mile on our side in the rural areas and place land mines between the river and the fence;
Deport immediately any undocumented person who shows up at a school or a hospital;
Increase Border Patrol check points and patrols; and
Run ad campaigns offering rewards for any tips that lead to deportations.
The above is not very realistic, yet is, never-the-less, doable.  Still, I don’t know how you feel about it, but that is not the nation that I want to live in.
With that said, something needs to be done with the immigration issue.  Having 12-20,000,000 undocumented, unlicensed, uninsured, unprotected people in our midst is obviously not a good thing.
I would argue that far more benefits could be gained by abandoning our present course and adopting a course of investment in Mexico.  Jobs, education, and health care should be the objectives of these investments..  By raising the living standards of Mexicans living in Mexico we avoid having our living standards fall to their levels (Which present trends make seem inevitable).  With education, jobs, and opportunity, the pull of the North would decrease drastically and would eventually balance out with migration to the South.  As more balance is achieved we could give logistical and military support to help Mexico seal its Southern border.  As Mexico becomes more stable and secure in its borders we could begin dismantling the barriers between our countries.  After all, goods and services already flow freely across the border, is it not time for people to join in that?
I see no one in leadership with the political vision to give us real immigration reform.  Instead, incremental changes will be made that does nothing to stem the flow and leaves millions upon millions out in the cold while depriving the rest of us of our liberties, one at a time…drip…drip…
Disagree?  Got a better plan?  Leave it in the comments.  But remember, my idea requires that WE GIVE UP ZERO CIVIL LIBERTIES, be sure to list which liberties you are willing to give up to implement some other idea.  To state, “build a fence”, is jingoistic nonsense; anyone who spouts this has either never been to the border or is stupid.

There are a few more photos here.