Home From Spain (Yet Again)

Marcia and I made it back to our VOC digs this afternoon after a wonderful two-week trip to Spain, the foreign country we’ve visited more often than any other, except Canada. (Marcia actually spent a whole semester in Spain while in college, so it takes first place in overall time abroad for her, if not in number of trips). We spent the first part of the trip in Madrid, then went north to areas we’ve not visited before: Bilbao (and its suburb, Getxo) and Zaragoza. Then back to Madrid for a few more days, with a bus-trip over to San Lorenzo de El Escorial. We returned to some places we’ve loved before in Madrid, and also found some new favorites this time around. It’s a big, grand city, with lots to experience. And then we had a great time exploring the cultural treasures in Pais Vasco and Aragon, both ancient parts of the country with very distinctive histories of their own. We once again greeted a new year abroad, having done so before in Paris and Reykjavik. And we ate a ton of delicious food, most of it involving cod or various types of crustaceans or anchovies for me, with Marcia leaning a smidge more toward the terrestrial meat side of the equation.

I’m pretty whipped from travel and from what I think are still after-effects of COVID, and don’t really have the brain-power to write a big essay today, so will just post my photo album for now. If anything piques your curiosity there, ask in the comment section and I will be happy to explicate at more length. I may do so anyway here in a day or two, once my jets are less lagged. Marcia and I are off to Hawai’i for another two-week trip in ten days, so it feels great to be home for a spell of relative rest and relaxation. But, then, as good as it feels to be back in Arizona, we can tell that this was a great vacation, because we are already planning our next trip to Spain, rather than feeling sick of being there after two weeks. We’re thinking next time we’ll do a car journey, either from Bilbao west to Galicia, or from Barcelona around the Mediterranean coast through Valencia and Malaga. Decisions, decisions! We know we are most fortunate to be able to ponder them.

You can click on the image below of me interacting with Richard Serra’s monumental art at the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum to see the complete album. It’s a slightly bigger one than I normally post as a single album, so if you want to see the whole thing, you can click through to the second page at the bottom of the first one . . .

¡Hola, 2023!

Marcia and I greeted the New Year last night in the mobbed periphery of Madrid’s historic Puerto del Sol, which serves as Spain’s own Times Square for purposes of counting down the final seconds of one year, then welcoming the next one with fireworks and festivities. We both completed the Twelve Grapes ritual, eating a dozen green globes between the first and last tolling of Sol’s central clock tower, thereby guaranteeing us good fortune through 2023, per local tradition. It was exciting and interesting to be in the midst of such a felicitous public assembly.

This morning, we rose early and took two trains northward, one high speed to Zaragoza, and one not so high speed on to Bilbao. This is our first time in Pais Vasco, and both the countryside surrounding and the capitol city of this autonomous community are lovely on first day’s blush. We’ll be visiting Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum tomorrow, and we have two good meal options reserved to inundate in this region’s rich culinary traditions.

I’ll do my usual photo album of this entire trip when we get back, but as an interim teaser, here’s a bonus installment of my 10,000 Words series, featuring ten pictures taken during our first five days in Spain, in no particular order. We’re not even halfway through this vacation, which feels really great, for our first trip abroad in three years. We’ve got plenty more to see and learn about and eat. And then eat some more. Yum! (As always, you can click any photo to enlarge it, should you so desire).

Gimme The Keys

1. I’m down to my last dose of Paxlovid this afternoon, hoping that the COVID Crud will lift in full around the same time that I stop taking these large and awful-tasting pills. I certainly feel better today than I have for most of the past week, and remain thankful that whatever combination of natural immunity, vaccination, medication, prior exposure and/or dumb luck meant that it never felt like anything more than a severe and tenacious cold with some really heinous body aches thrown in as a bonus.

2. It’s a good thing that those body aches abated a bit over the past 24 hours or so, as I had to use them muscles today to do some (gasp!) snow removal work. We woke up yesterday morning to a dusting of the white stuff, but it didn’t take anymore than a broom to get it off the ramps and walks into and out of our house. Then last night, we had a crazy spot of weather for about a half hour, a true thunder-blizzard, with frequent lightning, little hail stones, wind, rain, ice, snow, frogs, locusts, and God knows what else falling out of the sky. Even the weather map wasn’t quite sure how to label the storm path, so it just put two storm paths one on top of the other (click to enlarge):

Is it hail? Is it a thunderstorm? Is there water, or ice, or rain? Yes, on all counts.

When I got up this morning, I was surprised to see that we had probably three or four inches of accumulation. I was also surprised to see that sometime during the night, conditions must have adjusted to create a perfect flocking scenario, with every branch on every visible tree looking like the white stuff had been professionally laid on by an ambitious interior decorator hoping to create the perfect Christmas scene. Just a bit early there, son. But don’t bother trying again later, please and thanks. Here are some photos I took from inside the house, while the stuff was still fresh, and before I had to go out in it:

And here’s one more, taken yesterday morning. The flocking isn’t quite as good, but it does capture the holiday spirit nicely, I think:

3. Speaking of holiday spirit, a friend of ours asked me last week to create a fun and festive Christmas playlist for a party, which we were supposed to attend, before the plague caught and hamstrung me. I agreed to undertake the task, in part because it was a favor to a friend and I am altruistic like that, and in part because I’m a selfish pig, and I absolutely hate most of the Christmas music pap that gets shoved down our throats every year, so if I could do my part to control my audio field at an event, then Hey Nonny Nonny, I’m on it. (See here for more on my issues with modern American Christmas music. Spoiler: The title of the post is “Grinching“).

Since it was a party, I figured I couldn’t go hard into the sorts of historically accurate symphonic and choral works that are more in tune (ha ha) with the liturgical meaning of the season, so instead I went for a diverse collection of quirky subjects and styles, while hewing to the mission statement that it have something to do with the December holiday season. Sure, some of the usual suspect songs ended up in my mix, but I tried to make sure they were offered in versions that everybody’s not heard 7,000 times already since American Christmas Consumer Season began, in early October.

Because I have caved to streaming, I can now share that mix with you, dear readers, so that perhaps you will also be able to also curtail the usual crap in your own sonic spaces, ho ho ho. Here ’tis:

Best Of My Web 2022

Since I’m stuck at home for at least the next five days due to my positive COVID test yesterday, I’ll likely be scribbling here a bit more than has been the case for most of 2022, just to keep my brain from turning to complete mush, and to keep the clock’s second hand ticking forward productively. Today, I’ll offer my year-end report on the websites that have most amused, entertained, and educated me this year.

Regular readers know that I’ve been online for a long, long, long time, in the relative terms that Internet experience can be measured. This site’s archives extend back to 1995 (before the word “blog” even existed), and I was romping and stomping about in virtual spaces even earlier than that, a digital dinosaur hauling my hunky heft through a primordial dial-up ASCII swamp. With that quarter-century-plus experience in sorting the garbage that spills out of the Interweb’s pipes, I think I’m pretty discerning in plucking the shiniest gems from the stinkiest spew of the ever-more-awful online world, especially in its social media sectors.

With that as introduction, here are the baker’s dozen websites that got the job done for me most enjoyably in 2022. I hope you will give them all a look-see and (where appropriate) a follow, as they’re all worthy of your support and engagement.

  • Aphoristic Album Reviews: I love a good music-nerd list, which is an “a-DUH!” statement for anybody who has read this site for more than two minutes. Aphoristic sits sweet in my current reading pantheon as the work of another list-making fiend, whose tastes overlap with mine regularly, so I feel smart being able to meaningfully respond to his great work.
  • Art & Crit by Eric Wayne: In my experience, there are folks I admire as tremendous artists, and there are folks I admire as tremendous art critics, and the Venn Diagram of those two communities has but a tiny over-lapping sliver. As small as that sliver is, Eric Wayne sits within it, a super creator, and a super analyzer of others’ creations. Great reads, always.
  • Chuck The Writer: Chuck Miller is an online friend from my Albany days, and he is a long-time daily blogger, so you most always have something(s) new to read from him. Chuck has a variety of recurring features on his site, and I have always appreciated his “behind the scenes” stories of the great, prize-winning photography he regularly shares with his readers.
  • Daily Abstract Thoughts: Short, thoughtful reflections from “Orcas Laird,” a native of the British Isles writing from his home on a gorgeous island in Washington State. He has a keen eye for blurring the boundaries between life’s sublime and mundane bits, which has been especially poignant as he has candidly addressed some formidable health challenges this year.
  • Electoral Vote Dot Com: My first choice for insightful analysis of the flailing public freak show we call U.S. Politics. I’ve been reading the site since its inception, when its focus was on aggregating polling before various people named Nate annoyingly cornered that market. It’s since morphed to become quite the interactive community, always enlightening.
  • The Fall Online Forum: While the amazing musical group that originally inspired the creation of this site are no more, (see here), the community built to celebrate them (and countless other topics of interest) churns on, and I’m happy to have it as my current “Serial Monogam-E” site of choice for real-time Internet interaction, other social media be damned to hell.
  • The Guardian U.S. Politics Blog: Electoral Vote Dot Com (mentioned above) publishes once a day, usually when I am having my early morning coffee. The Guardian‘s U.S. Politics Live Blog is the one place I then check throughout the day (Monday to Friday only) for breaking news summaries and analysis of more real-time freak show happenings. That’s all I need.
  • The Haunted Generation: The Haunted Generation deftly explores topics anchored in creepy television-dependent ’70s youth culture in Britain, and their diggings into folk horror and other tropes are outstanding, if you are drawn to the weird. They also offer exceptional coverage of contemporary electronic music, and I’ve found lots of faves in the round-ups there.
  • Messy Nessy Chic: One of the most-interesting sites online, and also one of the prettiest. Nessy’s every-Monday “13 Things I Found on the Internet” series is a weekly highlight for me, and the team’s articles throughout the week are almost always interesting, educational, and visually sumptuous. A fine creative and commercial aesthetic here, worthy of emulation.
  • Ramblin’ With Roger: Another friend from Albany days, Roger Owen Green is another super-long-time daily blogger of refined tastes and interests. Roger brings his formidable librarian skills to organizing and implementing his site, and I always appreciate his insightful takes on art, culture, history, relationships and more, be they big topics or small.
  • Strange Maps: Among my more nerdy pursuits (which is really saying something) is a life-long passion for maps and map-making. Strange Maps routinely presents fascinating examples of a cartographic persuasion, defining “maps” in the broad sense of that word, covering everything from ancient manuscripts up through modern data analytics. Smart and fun.
  • Vinyl Connection: Another deep music geek site, this one from the Antipodes. I’ve particularly enjoyed the year-long explorations into the greatness of a half-century past, with this year’s “72 Best Albums of 1972” serial being particularly grand. He’s down to the Top Five at this point, so get over there and get caught up so you can enjoy the big year-end reveal.
  • Vinyl Distractions: Carl Johnson is another long-time web connection from Albany days, and I have enjoyed his My Non/Now-Urban Life and Hoxsie! websites over the years. His current primary offering is basically an online tribute to his record collection, and, of course, that tickles me to no end, both in terms of what he owns, and how he writes about it.

I wrap this post with a remembrance/reminder of what I consider to be the very best writing-oriented site in the long, dank history of the web: Thoughts on the Dead. Its creator, Rick Harris, died of cancer in April 2021, way too young, leaving his website behind as an epic example of how fine writing can build worlds, and communities. He was a true once-in-a-lifetime genius. More thoughts (or “Thoughts”) on Rick and his TotD (including the best novel you’ve never heard of),  here, if you missed them when I first posted them. If you’re ever looking to kill some time in a fun and interesting fashion and your regular-choice websites aren’t doing for you, there’s always the TotD archives out there to put a smile on your face and a song in your heart and some potato salad in your pants. I miss him!

And, of course, there’s always this nonsense, if you really get desperate . . .

Small Upsetters

1. A few days back, I noticed that my shoulders, neck and arms were really sore, even though I couldn’t think of anything that could or should have caused that to be the case. Last night, while we were watching a movie (I’m Totally Fine, featuring a bunch of Workaholics alums), I started to get a sore throat, which had gotten a lot worse when I woke up around 3am last night. I got up this morning, still feeling crummy, and, well, probably obvious where this is going . . .

Dadgummit!! To the best of our knowledge, Marcia and I have both dodged the myriad coronaviruses swirling about the world over the past couple of years, and we’re both fully vaccinated and boosted on top of that. I suspect that the teeming broth of wheezing humanity that we were exposed to while staying in a hotel in Las Vegas 10ish days ago exposed us to enough crud that whatever resistance we had to the bug was futile. We had three Christmas-type party events on the social calendar over the next five days, so those are all obviously off. Here’s hoping that by that five-day post-positive-test point that we’re both symptom free and (ideally) testing negative. Fingers crossed.

2. It’s been a rough week for drummers in the musical spheres in which I orbit. New Zealand legend Hamish Kilgour of The Clean went missing a week or so ago, and his body was found on Tuesday in Christchurch. The Clean (which Hamish founded in 1978 with his brother, David) provided the motive force behind New Zealand’s hugely influential Flying Nun Records scene, and served as a hub around which a variety of deeply-talented players revolved in the decades since. Hamish also provided a key component of the label’s visual identity, providing cover art for a variety of very important singles and albums. He was 65 years old, and no cause of death has been reported. Here’s a favorite song of mine by The Clean, culled from their last studio album, 2009’s Mister Pop:

Then today, I learned that The Stranglers’ Jet Black (born Brian Duffy) had died at the age of 84, a year older than my father would have been, were he still with us. Black had been an accomplished jazz drummer and successful businessman in the ’60s and early ’70s, before founding The Stranglers with a trio of players some dozen years younger than him. He kept the beat going through a variety of lineups and incarnations until 2015, when his health finally forced him from the road. The Stranglers had many hits in many styles over the years, and while they were marketed as a punk or punk-adjacent band early in their career, they never really were. The Stranglers’ music was typically far more sophisticated (musically and lyrically) than the usual three-chord shouty oi-oi-oi trebly thunder offered by many of their late ’70s peers; Black’s deft touch on the skins and the wonderfully widdly keyboard stylings of Dave Greenfield (also deceased) were key to that difference. It’s hard to pick a fave Stranglers song, but right now, thinking about the drummer, I’d go with this one, anchored as it with such a monolithic and massive Jet Black groove:

3. I wrote elsewhere today how I’ve long found it vaguely funny how older dudes like Jet Black were marketed as nihilistic kids in the early punk era, with their interesting back stories mostly erased, lest they not appeal to the coveted English youth market of the time. I was thinking about this already recently, when I was listening to the very psychedelic ’60s Dantalion’s Chariot this week, featuring Andy Summers in his pre-Police days, wearing a white kaftan and playing a lot of sitar. (Summers also later played with decidedly non-punk/post-punk Soft Machine and The Animals). When the Police first hit as a hip and hot “young band,” I can’t recall any mention of his prior experience, nor of Stewart Copeland’s time in the very proggy Curved Air. “Let’s just dye their hair blonde and spike it,” shouted the marketeers. “Hey nonny, look, they’re young punks!” I watched the excellent Dio: Dreamers Never Die documentary this week, and he was sort of in the same boat: he started as a soul/R&B crooner, trumpeter and bass player in the late ’50s before founding Elf in the late ’60s. That history meant that he was older than the other members of bands he later fronted to great acclaim (Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio), with his back catalog rarely if ever mentioned among the metal-heads in pre-Internet-research days. I suppose that’s one thing that’s nicer (maybe?) about living in a world where you can have all of the information you want about all of the music you like, right here, right now. It’s harder for marketeers to gloss over inconvenient truths in pursuit of false narratives, for sure.

4. We’ve been having damp and foggy weather here of late, which isn’t all that nice, but which does serve to remind me of just how grateful I am to not be living in the snow and ice belt anymore. A couple of mornings ago, I was up well before dawn (as I normally am), and went to the grocery store when it opened (as I often do), to get my shopping done before the tourist crowds wake up from their hangovers. The fog was as thick as I’ve ever seen it here while driving at a crawl to and from the store, and when the sun began to peek up over the mesas east of us, the world turned a series of most bizarre colors and textures. Photos don’t really do it justice, but I tried:

5. Yesterday, after the rain abated a bit, I went out for a quick hike up to a summit near our house that I have done many times. I got to a ledge point about two-thirds of the way up, after which the balance of the trip is pretty strenuously steep with a lot of hand work, and I was feeling far more fatigued than I normally am at that point, which I know know was likely because of the stupid virus doing its thing. So I decided to go down a back way that was longer, but easier. As I turned away from the edge, I snapped a photo with my phone, and stuffed it in my pocket. When I got home, I realized that I had several apps and windows opened, apparently having pocket dialed and posted and touched the phone’s screen while I was scrambling, and before it had locked. As I was closing everything out, I got to the photo app last, and somehow without meaning to, I had done this to the last picture I had taken . . .

I think that might be one of the coolest looking photos I’ve taken here, even though I have no idea what filters or effects produced it. So let’s hear it for the happy, pleasing accidents that happen when things aren’t going quite the way we want them to go!

10,000 Words for the Firing Squad (Sedona #14)


(Note: Click on any image above for a full-size view, or visit the links below to see what I’ve seen in prior months and years).


Where Will 10,000 Words Come From (Sedona #13)

10,000 Words in a Language We Understand (Sedona #12)

O For 10,000 Words To Sing (Sedona #11)

Land of 10,000 Words (Sedona #10)

Fumbling Over 10,000 Words That Rhyme (Sedona #9)

10,000 Words On A Chair (Sedona #8)

The Night Has 10,000 Words (Sedona #7)

10,000 Words From The Exit Wound (Sedona #6)

What Are 10,000 Words For? (Sedona #5)

10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box (Sedona #4)

10,000 Words (Bless The Lord) (Sedona #3)

Brighter Than 10,000 Words (Sedona #2)

10,000 Words (Sedona #1)

Storm Force 10,000 Words (Chicago #10)

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save 10,000 Words (Chicago #9)

Beyond the Valley of 10,000 Words (Chicago #8)

Return to the Planet of 10,000 Words (Chicago #7)

Revenge of the Son of 10,000 Words (Chicago #6)

Son of Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #5)

Yet Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #4)

Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #3)

10,000 More Words (Chicago #2)

10,000 Words (Chicago)

Arches and Zion Whirlwind Tour

Marcia and I did a 1,200-mile long road trip over five days this week to visit two of our Nation’s more spectacular national parks: Arches (near Moab, Utah) and Zion (near Springdale, Utah). Katelin and John drove over from Las Vegas to meet us for the last couple of days at Zion, and we were able to celebrate their first wedding anniversary together, just a little bit after the official date. We had near perfect weather, and while crowds in the parks were larger than we like or are accustomed to, we know they were nowhere near as bad as they could be, so that was fine, in the grand scheme of things.

We drove up to Moab on Wednesday, taking the route through the Navajo Nation and past Monument Valley, with a stop at the Edge of Cedars State Park in Blanding, Utah. We generally enjoy the various museums in our region dedicated to native arts, history and culture, and this one was a particularly good one, with some excellent interpretative exhibitions, and an accessible, well-conserved ~1,000-year old kiva from an Ancestral Puebloan community partially excavated on the museum grounds.

After we had checked into our hotel in Moab, we  decided to have a nice pre-dinner ramble along the downtown greenway trail that parallels Mill Creek, and a few minutes into the walk were shocked to see the aftermath of a 100-year flood event that had devastated the low-lying regions of the city last month, unbeknownst to us. Large swaths of the trail were still impassable, so we just altered our amble to the retail district instead, then had the first of two really good meals we experienced during our nights in Moab, at Thai Bella. We rose before sunrise on Thursday to drive into the National Park (they have implemented a timed entry program requiring advance registration, so plan ahead before you visit), and got to pass some of the park’s more prominent vistas with beautiful dawn colors behind them. We hiked about 12 miles over the course of the day, seeing (or often passing through) most of the better-known arches. A good day, capped with our second tasty dinner at Sultan Mediterranean Grill.

On Friday, we drove down to Springdale, Utah, following the same route we had taken when we helped Katelin and John move from Des Moines to Las Vegas. It was much more pleasant this time, when it wasn’t 110ºF out, let me assure you. We had a nice dinner that night (are you detecting a theme?) at Dulivia, then got up early Saturday to catch the shuttle buses into the Scenic Canyon Drive at the heart of the National Park. A sizable chunk of the hiking area I’d hope to visit was closed due to rock falls in 2019 and continuing instability in the area, but we did get in about eight miles worth of trekking, which was beautiful, if a bit congested around the sites that get the most social media hype. We closed the last night of the trip with Katelin and John’s anniversary dinner at Switchback Grill, then after a lazy breakfast together, headed home, completing the big loop part of the trip near Tuba City, Arizona.

We felt like a full day in Arches was sufficient to get the experience of the place, but could definitely use another day or two in Zion at some point, especially if some of the closed trails in the Canyon re-open. Barring that happening, we’d probably focus our next trip on the less-congested, more-isolated flanks of the park east of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, and west along the Kolob Canyons. While I do certainly applaud the use of shuttles to minimize traffic and enhance conservation in the heart of the park, I can’t say I was fond of the experience of having to queue to catch them, nor of having each shuttle disgorging large loads of people with us when we exited, so that it became a race up the trailheads to get away from the less-experienced, and often obnoxiously loud about it, hikers. But that was, all things considered, a minor annoyance in a glorious piece of country.

And not to sound smug or self-satisfied, but this trip also furthers our appreciation of the place where we’ve chosen to make our home, as we’ve got some equally spectacular scenery and hiking opportunities within walking or quick driving distance. We know our home area well enough at this point to be able to partake in the best hikes and bask in the best vistas, often never seeing anybody else en route, because most online resources send most visitors to the same densely-packed photo op sites, which we generally avoid accordingly. Our visits to Arches and Zion also hammered home my sense that hikes and climbs to high, edgy destinations are much better when you’re not having to be constantly vigilant about selfie-shooters falling off cliff faces or knocking others down in their pursuit of the perfect Instagram shot. I’m very comfortable doing high elevation, exposed hikes with small groups of people I trust, but I find it pretty deeply uncomfortable to be in such places with people running along ridge edges in flip flops or clambering out on cantilevered rocks and ledges to get the perfect shot or just generally being oblivious to the safety of those around them, and the care and preservation of the sites attracting their attention. Harrumph.

No surprise, but I snapped a lot of pictures on the trip, as did John and Marcia, and I’ve put a collection together which you can check out, should you care to, by clicking on the photo below of Delicate Arch, one of Utah’s most iconic visual images. Note that no other human beings were put at risk by my photo-making activities, nor were any natural sites despoiled. Those aren’t hard outcomes to achieve, with some self-awareness and care, and some basic respect for the experiences of others.


A Year or a Day

1. September? It’s September already? Only three weeks until the equinox? Yeesh. That snuck up on me. We’re greeting the month here in Northern Arizona (and most of the American Southwest) with some extremely hot temperatures again, and they feel even hotter than usual after a month of good monsoon, as discussed (with photo and video support) in my last post.  Hopefully everybody’s 2022 is going better than most of our 2021’s and 2020’s went, but if not, take heart: September 1 marks the “twice as far behind as yet to go” point for the year. Which reminds me of a poem I wrote a decade and a half ago, during a year when I was publicly committed to writing a poem a day for a year:

I’m very tired of pushing words like snow,
then slipping on the forms that lie below.
I think I might just stop here now, although
I’ve twice as far behind as yet to go.
The words that used to pour out, now don’t come,
I often feel as though I’m stricken dumb.
But looking back, I see how far I’ve come:
there’s twice as far behind as yet to come.
Off in the distance, maybe, I can see
an ending to my self-imposed decree.
I guess I can be proud, to some degree
with twice as much behind as yet to be.
So here I sit, and write, at this plateau
with twice as far behind as yet to go.

2. Through a series of fortuitous connections, I’ve fallen in with a group of serious hikers who go out every Monday morning on the types of treks that I really like, typically involving beautiful (but obscure) destinations, frequent bushwhacking in the back country, and fairly strenuous climbs and descents. The group also has a great appreciation for the proliferation of Native American rock art and ruins scattered throughout this region, most of them left behind by the people dubbed The Sinagua by Europeans and Americans who later settled the region. The Sinagua left this area en masse around 1425 AD, so whenever you find their remains, you know you’re looking at something that’s at least 600 years old. I’ve posted a variety of images in my various photo series over the past two years sharing some of the public and obscure sites that I’ve visited, but on this past Monday’s hike, our group went to one of the most amazing Sinagua art sites that I’ve yet seen. I posted some shots from that hike over at my Flickr site, and you can click on the image below to see the remainder of them.

3. You may note that I do not disclose the location of the site in that photo album, and that’s generally been the case for any native sites that I find or visit hereabouts, excluding the ones that are readily open to the public under Forest or Park Service administration. I have increasingly come to believe that over-sharing on the Internet is destroying the experience of visiting sites like these, or high-profile natural locations, and I’m routinely annoyed at finding sites online with detailed descriptions making it relatively easy to find things that would be better-to-best experienced by having a knowledgeable and respectful local help you to see. (This applies to lots of things, actually. I’m equally bemused/appalled to see long lines at restaurants in towns where I have lived that locals consider marginal at best, but which for some reason have incorrectly convinced Tripadvisor or Yelp or whoever of their supposed excellence). That sense of annoyance about disrespectful visitors is even more exacerbated when I encounter people near or at these sites who are fundamentally unprepared to get there and be there, stereotypical case in point the time when I met a female “hiker” wearing yoga clothes and ballet slippers, dragging an out-of-shape photographer behind her carrying a massive equipment bag, but not much water. It was clear that her top priority was getting a fabulous Instagram-type influencer photo with professional assistance, and while I was going the other way and did not see the actual photo shoot, I can easily imagine her standing on or laying hands on things that should not be climbed nor touched. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love taking pictures (duh) pretty much everywhere I go, but the focus of the pictures is not on me looking fabulous, nor is it to provide a roadmap for strangers to follow, only a documentation of what I’ve done, because I’m a list-making, documentarian kind of guy. Be clear: I would be thrilled to take any friends or anybody who reads this site regularly up to these sorts of Native sites to see (but not touch) them, just as I was thrilled when others took me there for the first time. But I’m not going to use my website to make it possible for strangers with questionable intentions (to my views, anyway) to get there.

4. You might have noticed the owl in that photo album, if you visited it. I was leading the way in trying to find a path up to mesa we wanted to summit, and dropped down into a mostly dry wash to get some easier walking space. I came upon a small pool of water, and as I was looking for a way around it, what I thought was a rock turned its head and stared at me. Ye Gods! I figured I’d be lucky to get a single photo of this handsome fellow before he flew off, but he (using that gender neutrally, as I can’t bring myself to refer to sentient animals as “it”) was oddly calm and let me and my group (once they caught up to me) admire him. We were a bit worried that he might be bit under the weather given that odd behavior, and had we found him somewhere less remote with phone service, we might have called Animal Control to see if he needed rescue and rehab. But I’m cautiously hopeful that he was, perhaps, just a juvenile who had not yet encountered humans and so did not know to be frightened of us, if we made no threatening moves toward him. We walked on after a while, and I’m telling myself that Mr Owl had a nice rest, got a good sip of water, and then has continued on with his business, living his best possible owl life. As for us, the remainder of our hike got strenuous even by our standards, as we ended up in a blind wash and had to climb our way out through a dense half-mile, filled with cat’s claw acacia, agave, prickly pears, and other pokey, bitey, spiny flora. I looked like something out of a serial killer movie by the time I got home, every bit of exposed skin scratched to pieces. And I didn’t get the worst of it among our crew. Here’s hoping we find a cleaner path next week.

5. On the topic of hiking destinations filled with obnoxious “hikers” around here, the worst is absolutely Devil’s Bridge, a natural arch that’s relatively accessible, and is extremely highly documented on the web. I generally avoid it at all costs, because I’m averse to having to park a mile away from a trailhead, walk along the side of a busy road, and then embark upon a hike that culminates in a point on a trail where there’s a long line and a half-hour wait as people take turns walking the arch and posing for the “perfect” photo, that looks exactly like every other “perfect” photo taken there. That’s just not my idea of a good commune with nature. But a couple of weeks back, my hiking group was in the general vicinity of Devil’s Bridge, and our planned hike turned out to be a little shorter and easier than is our norm, so we decided to take a back route up to Devil’s Bridge just to add some steps to our schlep. We got up to the point where you can walk across the formation, and there was the usual throng of posing folks there. Meh. I had no desire to have the stereotypical Devil’s Bridge photo of me taken, but I did have a desire to document my explorations, so I elected to get what I think is a better shot of the formation anyway, climbing down to snap it from the underside:

Pretty cool, huh? From that vantage point, it was impossible to see the assholery going on up top, and that was a nice win from my perspective.