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Saturday, July 30, 2016


      Utah is much more than mountains and Mormons. Driving down from the Rockies we were embraced by its colorful canyons that had been carved by the Colorado River. 

 From mountains to mesas, breakfast by the Colorado
    We spent a day hiking through Canyonlands National Park then watch the sunset with our new campground neighbors, Larry and Melanie.    They retired young spending half of the year living on their sailboat in Mexico. The summers are spent roaming our country's cool mountains in a camper similar to ours. 
Like us, they converted a Toyota van into a home on wheels. They have bikes on the back and that pod on top?  It holds their inflatable kayak.
       Mel and Larry love to wander and can afford their no-work lifestyle. As they told us, “It costs much less to live in Mexico and here, camping is just twelve bucks a night”. The former airline manager and sit-com producer have lived this way for years. If they ever settle in one place it might be on a houseboat in France.

    The four of us enjoyed hiking in the park which is a lot like the Grand Canyon, a hundred miles southwest.

     Wind and rain have carved up this part of the west in beautiful ways. Just north of Canyonlands is Arches National Park.  Although neighbors, the two parks are quite different.  In the first you're looking down into huge voids.

 In Canyonlands they'll let you drive your car 1,400-feet down to explore 100 miles of the canyon's inner rim.  We watched an ant-size car traversing these zig-zags hoping they didn't make a mistake.

When you're in Arches, you're tilting your head up a lot.

 This formation is called "The Three Gossips"

    In Arches you are high on a mesa with over 400 spans, dramatic negative spaces, sandstone worn away by wind and water. 

             Francesca climbing down from her perch
    We hiked to a few in the 105 degree heat.  By two p.m, we were ready to cool down in the nearby Moab library. The popular place was packed. We learned it got a 2009 award for being our country’s "best small town library”.  The award described it as  “Moab’s living room”. 
   This town, like Boulder, is a magnet for people who enjoy extreme outdoor activity like hiking, mountain biking, and boating. It’s next to the Colorado River so it seems there are more river rafts than cars.
   It was time to tell the magnificent muddy river goodbye. The Colorado was turning south to enter the Grand Canyon and we were continuing west.
   Note:  Unfortunately, we're doing our best to destroy the big river. You may want to watch "The Death of the Colorado" on the Discovery Channel, Thursday, August 4th.
   We decided to spend the rest of the sweltering day pushing our air-conditioned van further.  The two of us expected to be passing through flat desert for hundreds of miles, until we reached California’s Sierra Mountains.  I thought I might see see a Mormon dad crossing the road with his six wives and twenty-nine children.  

    Neither happened. The fantastical “canyon lands” continued for hours until it became mountainous ridges with dry, desert valleys in between. 
    The evening's long excursion was totaling entertaining.  We had close up, slo-mo view of all we’d been admiring from 30,000 feet on annual flights to the Bay Area. Most of Francesca's family lives there.  

   We were now far from interstate highways. Our path took to a national park we'd never heard of ("Great Basin") 

and, the next day, through small towns like Delta, Nevada. 

   This place -like many others- had a small history museum run by the town's elders. These cool collections exhibit items you’d never see in a big city museum and you can pick them up! 
   Delta's did a decent job of covering the 10,000 years when Native Americans were here. Their lives were relatively simple, arrowheads and pottery shards were displayed. Nomadic Indians did not require furniture or collect antiques.

   This museum's focus was on what white people had done in this area after they destroyed the pesky Indians. For many years they had a gathering place for the U.S. army veterans who fought them.

    The citizens of Delta re-created a general store in their museum and
held on to their early telephone operator console.
     There was plenty from my early days too.  I saw the dentist's drilling apparatus that tortured me as a kid and the machine that x-rayed my new shoes (and my feet inside).  I'd step into  one every time
my ma took me to Landau's Shoe Store in Miami Springs. From all that radiation it's a miracle I still have ten toes.

     As we were leaving the hostess asked us if we'd seen the museum next door. When we told her we had not, we learned about Delta's biggest story.  
    At the beginning of WW II, 10,000 Japanese-Americans were forced to leave their California homes to live in a desert prison just outside of town.

More on "Camp Topaz" when the Grove Guy returns. 

Friday, July 29, 2016


  Boulder, Colorado is at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. This national treasure is one of the few places where you can drive up, up, up to reach snow in July. Swooping though the two-mile high alpine tundra feels like flying.
    We soared in our van for a hour then wound our way down.
Soon we were camping in the green meadow where the Colorado River begins.
  The gentle brook in which we we dipped our tired feet gathers enough volume to carve canyons from here to Mexico. The Grand Canyon is only one of its many creations.  Our route west kept us next to the mighty river for the next three days.
    Sauntering into the woods we passed a herd of elk, fly fishermen, and later, a 1000-pound moose. 


You can't ignore the millions of dead pine trees in this park and all over the west. Drought and warmer temperatures have allowed the deadly pine beetles to kill millions of  them. Fifty years from now the dead forests will be green again, replaced by other species.

  We learned why the trees are skeletal at a park ranger campfire performance.  The young man wearing a Smokey hat also talked about the elk that were grazing nearby. He brought out two skulls attached to magnificent antlers.  Every fall the bulls compete for the love of the “women”. They do this by smashing head-on into each other until one of them says “Eeuh!” (elk for “Enough!”).  These two unfortunately got their antlers locked together. They starved to death that way. 
    The things we do for love.

    Francesca and I are long past the initial mating ritual stage. We’re now exploring the west on our way to California. We will spend a few weeks there, until it’s time for Francesca to return to her Miami job. I plan to stick around for Burning Man, a fantastic festival taking place in the Nevada desert every August. I haven’t been able to get a ticket yet but if I am persistent enough, I think I’ll be dancing under the stars with 70,000 other “burners” a month from now.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016


      My bachelor days are waning, in a few days I’ll hook up with my wife again in Denver, Colorado.     
    My hobo routine is thus, waking at dawn in some strange place then driving for three hours.  Breakfast is in some Ma and Pa cafe followed by hiding from the heat in a small-town library.  Occasionally I step out for walking tours. They reveal pocket museums, antique shops, and chatty inhabitants. I then return to the cool comfort of the library and research the road ahead. These book collections are roomy, wi-fi'd, and the bathrooms don’t stink.  

    Two days ago I was blogging away in an Iowan house of books. Last week an Illinois librarian gave me a stack of audio books to enjoy on the road, mostly westerns. North Platte, Nebraska, had another fine library and much more.    

    At 7 a.m. I happened upon a downtown sidewalk sale. Alan Hirschfeld, a fourth-generation haberdasher, sold me a spankin’ new cowboy outfit for next to nothin'.
   Suitable dressed, I had breakfast in the Expresso Cafe while Django Reinhardt played in the background. A brochure told me about the North Platte Pioneer Museum on the outskirts of town.
Beautiful old buildings have been moved there to re-create an 1880’s village.  Everything was open and free.
   A tin-roofed warehouse protected an outstanding  tractor collection. These much loved machines must be hard to part with. You see many rusting in fields traveling through the mid-west. 

There's plenty of room on The Great Plains for these aged iron horses.


    Before there were tractors horses pulled the plows. Buffalo Bill rode them with style. The wild west showman was the most well-known American a  hundred years ago. He made his home in North Platte at Scouts Rest Ranch.  
   William “Wild Bill” Cody serve as a scout for the Union army in the Civil War and later found his way to the rodeo stage. He shared the romance and the excitement of the wild west that continues to sell cigarettes and pick up trucks today.


 I visited Bill's house, and, did you know? Barbed wire collections are very popular out here.  Mr. Cody's ranch had 21 varieties arranged into a cowboy-style meditative mandala.

     In the early evening I travel for a hour or more, during these lazy hobo days, looking for the next campground.
   You have to head west for what seems like weeks before you finally see the Big Show, the shadowy grays of the Rocky Mountains looming on the horizon.  This is always an “Ah” moment.

   It was also a thrill to find my wife at the Denver airport.  Francesca laughed when she saw our mobile home had been turned into a bachelor pad.  That didn’t last long.  


    We drove to nearby Boulder to visit Ruy, Francesca's son, and his wife, Meagan. What an unusual, ultra-hip city it is. Marijuana is legal but obesity isn’t.

     There are no fat people in Boulder. 

 The locals take great pride in huffing and puffing in non-stop outdoor activity. If you are not jogging, biking, or climbing a mountain, you must be in some other place. 

    I discovered Boulder in the early 70's.  It was hippie heaven. Many of my friends moved here.  Some never left. 

                    Parking lot with a mile-high view

    Boulder's farmers market was first-class.  It's a shame we can't have one just as good in Coconut Grove.



 No visit to Boulder is complete until you go to their tea house.  It is a gift from their sister city in Tajikistan.

   They follow the rules here. At 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning -with zero traffic-  I saw a woman speeding along on an expensive bicycle.  She came to an empty intersection and actually stopped for a red light. She stood there statue-like, for the longest time before the light turned green. That would never happen in Miami. Bicyclists are bolder there.

    When we weren’t hiking and biking the young’ns were taking us to drink beer at micro-breweries.
These are warehouses where you sit surrounded by huge tanks filled with fermenting grain.         
                                                         Ruy and his mom

   Happy waiters offer you 85 varieties with ridiculous names. Not being a fan, I took a few small tastes. All of them looked like foaming urine and tasted (to me) like Budweiser. I ordered wine or water at these houses of (beer) worship. 

    Taking this Boulder “I’ll drink anything” maxim further, I went to a “meadery” to try wine made from honey. Mead halls were very popular twelfth-century England where the Terrys originated. This hall’s six varieties reminded me of Mogan David White with slight notes of bee excreta.  Oh well. 

   Pot is legal here but being in Colorado, we were already a mile high. Photos in tourist brochures try to make gnarly wads of expensive weed look attractive. All with ridiculous names, one variety advertised was “Trumpjuana”, “One toke and you’ll forget he ever existed”.  Tempting.
     Ganja is big business. Huge corporations will soon be selling it like Budweiser. 

GETTING READY FOR THE ROCKIES                                   
    Pot and beer were plentiful but we didn’t come to Boulder to get wasted. Being with friends and family -where the range rises up to The Rockies- was enough.  

    In north Boulder we stayed with friends, Linda and Hap. They live where the city turns into wilderness, where the deer and the antelope play.

    On their back porch we drank coffee. In the yard Bambi grazed and raccoons dug for worms. This was so refreshing as in Coconut Grove you only see them digging through garbage. One afternoon three up us formed “The Raccoons”, a Radiohead ukulele cover band. 
   The worm diggers loved us but now it was time to pack up and head up to the mountains.


Friday, July 22, 2016


   Crossing the Mississippi is a big deal. A bridge lifts you from the East and sets you down in the West, in my case LeClaire, Iowa. I loved the Mark Twain-ness of this cute-sy
berg. An old paddle-wheel steamer was displayed next to the Big Muddy which was adjacent to the  Buffalo Bill Museum. 
William (“Buffalo Bill”) was a big deal too. He starred in his own Wild West show that toured the world.  One sign said he the most well-known American in the 1890’s.  
     Locals insisted that I visit the home of a TV show called “American Pickers”. I assumed it was a banjo players paradise but no, these “pickers” are two guys that roam the country buying old junk.
   All you can buy at he Pickers store, really, are t-shirts, mugs, and their Guide to Picking.
    I’m told the show is quite popular and it’s home base, a converted garage called “Antique Archeology” gets a big crowd. It is well-designed junk store with a Big River view. If you need some vintage clown shoes this may be the place to go.
   True junk stores are crammed with stuff for sale. This joint’s junk is illusional, the coolest stuff is marked, “NSF”.  Interspersed amongst all the old signs, rusting metal and the flaking clown shoes are $25 mugs and t-shirts. They allow you to become an American Pickers billboard 
Antique motorcycle engine that you can't buy

  There are many young, pierced, women running the place. Wearing big smiles and dark tattoos they are happy to take your money.
     I walked out with memories of this mini-museum dedicated a TV show that I’ll probably never watch. 
   Now I was also remembering my cousin Jeff, who live six miles north. I asked him if I could visit but never got a response.  While I haven’t seen him in 54 years, we are "friends" on Facebook. He lets me know that Hillary is the devil, Obama is a Muslim, and that he owns over 200 guns. It would have been an interesting visit.
     But I had to plunge through Cornhusker Country and Nebraska beyond, to reach the real west. In four days Francesca would be waiting for me at the Denver airport with fresh mangos. 

Future tackle, Cornhusker football team

This was my chance to putter along for 500 miles, an opportunity to play hobo.  I chose to camp in strange places, far from laughing children.  This first night I laid my head in a corn field (no surprise there, both states are totally corn). A corn stalk is Iowa’s state tree. 
   I also bedded down in a city park and an I-40 rest stop. Nobody bothered me but if they had, I was carrying  an electronic mosquito zapper (not 200 guns) for protection.

           The adventure continues....                ___________________