Vison Quest

Three years ago, I became aware that I had arrived at a stage in my life where I had no duties or obligations to hold me down. I no longer had a job. My children were adults with children of their own. Two of my grandchildren were young adults pursuing their own paths. It was time for me to pursue mine.

            There have been many changes since then, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. My birthday is in August and I love celebrating the joy of being alive. This year I decide to observe it differently, to contemplate my life, where I’ve been and how I got here; where I want to go, and how to get there. I find the perfect place for silent reflection, the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Freedom’s navigation system routes me along country roads. Driving is pleasant and unhurried. Along the way, I see vibrant canyons, their faces etched by time, and wild sunflowers growing beside fast running rivers that skirt imposing mountains. There are small, old towns strung out like beads between long stretches of ranchland where I need to stop from time to time while cattle cross the road.

I drive through Chama, and down pine covered mountains. I don’t need a sign to tell me when I’m in Abiquiu. I see it in the grandly shaped and striated rock formations composed of volcanic debris from eighteen to twenty-seven million years ago. Tuffaceous sandstone, pebbly sandstone, siltstone, gravel beds, and mudstone in gorgeous shades of color from white to light grey, buff to ochre, red-orange to magenta. I fell in love with Abiquiu last summer and I’m happy to be back in this beautiful place.

From the highway, it’s a thirteen mile drive to the monastery over a sometimes gravel covered, deeply rutted, bumpy, red dirt road. It takes forty minutes to get to the guest house. I have enough time to unload my car, make the bed in the simple room I’m staying in, and walk to the chapel for Nones. As I enter, the monks are chanting, “May you live to see your children’s children…”

Dinner is in the Guest Dining Room. Meals are taken in silence, but there are quiet introductions among the guests. Afterwards, I walk around the grounds and back to the guest house. In the courtyard I relax into the peaceful surroundings. The sun is about to set. The changing light creates more definition in every crevice of the rock formations. It’s magical.

I wait for darkness to see a star filled sky, but clouds roll in and draw a shade over them. I go to my room. When I lay my head on the pillow, I fall into a deep sleep.

In the middle of the night, I’m jolted awake by a car alarm going off in the guest parking lot. It seems like an eternity before the alarm stops. My body adjusts to the adrenaline coursing through it and just as I’m falling asleep, the alarm goes off again. This happens several times. Now I’m awake waiting for the next alarm. It doesn’t happen again, but there is the noise of my mind wondering about this and that, making comments on every speculation.

Silence is something I’ve always longed for. It’s quiet here, even the whip, whip, tweet of a bird, the chattering of crickets, and the howling and yipping of coyotes that echo throughout the canyon are sounds that do not intrude on the tranquility of this remote place. In “civilization” there is always noise, even at night: motors for refrigerators, heaters and air conditioners going on and off, the drone of traffic in the distance. I conclude that there is no such thing as silence, but there is quiet. Now that I’ve weighed and measured the difference between silence and quiet, noise and sound, I’m wide awake.

It’s my birthday. I get up, dress, and go outside to look at the heavens. I’m greeted by a half-moon and Jupiter brightening the pre-dawn sky. I was so excited by this sight that the photo is blurry from not holding the phone steady enough.

It’s been rainier than usual in this part of the southwest, making the landscape astonishingly green with a profusion of wildflowers in bloom. I find a spot to sit in the midst of all this splendor and send love and blessings to my family and friends, on this plane of existence or beyond the veil, who have walked life’s seasons with me, through joys and sorrows, and the hard lessons that created growth. I think of those who walked with me briefly, sometimes only moments, who had a great influence on my life, changing its course by pointing a way to go when I couldn’t see one. I’m filled with gratitude for the life I’ve had and for the good health that allows me to continue to experience it to the fullest. I ask the Divine Spirit how to be a better person, and what more can I do to help bring nature and humanity into balance?

During Vespers, as the monks chant, thunder booms and rolls. Puffy white clouds gather and turn gray. The thunder grows more frequent, like the drumming of Grandfather, the Native American name for the Great Spirit. It rains hard for five minutes and stops as abruptly as it began. The sky remains cloudy, but at sunset it turns a brilliant shade of rose. The camera doesn’t capture the true color. The rain starts again, and continues all night, the booming of Grandfather’s drum speaking to me.

Everyone here is seeking solitude. Some do not speak at all, their days spent reading and in contemplation. Others observe the quiet, but are open to conversation. Mira Nakashima-Yarnall and her husband, Jon, are warm and friendly. We talk in the courtyard of the guest house. Mira’s father, George Nakashima, is the architect who designed the monastery chapel.

In the morning, Mira and I go for a walk. We cross the field that leads to the horse corral. The path is a red mire from the heavy rain overnight. The Rio Chama was low when I first arrived, but it’s full to its banks and runs fast and muddy.  I enjoy being in Mira’s presence. She exudes peace and kindness. She’s the President and Creative Director of George Nakashima Woodworkers in New Hope, PA. Mira narrates the documentary A History of George Nakashima on You Tube, about his life and evolution from architect to furniture maker. It’s an interesting video and worth watching, as is a visit to the website:

Later in the day, I walk down the road and see a van with Ojai on the license plate. A man is sitting behind the wheel. I say, “Oh, hi. Are you from Ojai?” He looks up. “Yes. Do you know it?” I say that I’ve been there many times to hike and sit in the hot springs.

His name if Jeff. He just drove down from the Benedictine Abbey at Snowmass, CO and hopes to speak with a monk here about Father Keating and the Centering Prayer. I’d never heard of the prayer. Jeff explains that it is a way to quiet the mind, to get to mindlessness through a self-selected mantra. I say it sounds similar to Transcendental Meditation. We talk about the difference between mindlessness and mindfulness, about Eastern philosophies, mysticism, and the many roads that lead to inner peace, self-realization, Divine Spirit, the All Oneness.

He drives me to the guest house and gives me a tour of his van, outfitted for overlanding. There’s a solar panel on the hood to run an extra battery for the refrigerator, a satellite GPS, and many other features to accommodate self-sufficient travel in remote places.

We walk to the chapel and I introduce him to Brother Andre, the Guest Master who takes Jeff to speak with another monk about the Centering Prayer.

It rains all night again. After breakfast Jeff follows me down to the highway to make sure I have no problems on the muddy road. We wish each other well on our journeys. Jeff turns to the mountains, and I towards Ghost Ranch.

Ghost Ranch

Ghost Ranch is lush with grasses and colorful wildflowers, hardly the desert xeriscape I saw a little over a year ago. In this time of severe drought throughout most of the western part of the United States, it’s a bold reminder of the life giving function of water.  

After I check in at the Welcome Center, I go to the campground, choose a space and plug Freedom into the electrical outlet. I realize that I forgot to pack a mallet. I walk to the maintenance building and borrow a hammer from the foreman. He drives me back to the campsite in his golf cart. He says that in the spring the local water company sent the ranch a letter that there would be severe water restrictions because of the drought. Thankfully, the rains began on June second.

While I set up the tent, I realize that if there hadn’t been this stream of rain all summer, I might not be here now. I think of the pervading problem of drought in some parts of the world that lead to severe wildfires, and extremes of rain causing floods in other parts. I worry over how we human beings will solve the environmental crisis we are living through, and how much we are willing to forego as individuals to live in harmony with Nature.

The tent pops up easily and the soft ground yields to the hammer as I pound in the stakes. I roll out the mattress and sleeping bag, and situate a flashlight and the book I’m reading next to it. I wander around the grounds the rest of the afternoon, taking in the beauty.

It’s a lovely evening. Instead of eating in the dining hall, I find a table outside. A gentleman sits at the next table. He says his name is Dave Mitchell and we talk about our travels. The conversation turns to ecology and we learn that not only are we concerned about it, but we are seeking ways to help solve the environmental crisis. Dave is a contributor to Eco-Radio on, Kansas City, MO. We talk for a long time, and then walk together to the campground.

The night sky is once again shrouded with clouds. I intend to read a while, but it’s so cozy inside the sleeping bag that I close my eyes and drift into sleep.

The tent is bright. Have I slept the morning away? I get up and look outside. The waxing moon lights the pre-dawn sky, a scattering of stars shine dimly around her. I dress for the day and sit at the camp table and read, waiting for the sun to rise.

I walk down the road with the marker to Georgia O’Keeffe’s house. It’s private property, owned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, but I hope that just one person ambling by might go unnoticed, and I can stand on a spot where she stood and see what she looked at. Past the horse corrals, there’s a gate covered with wire and a “No Entry” sign. I walk up a hill that overlooks the road. This is as close as I get to her house.

Later in the afternoon, Dave and I meet up and hike the trail to Chimney Peak. We stop from time to time to enjoy the views and take photos.

When I return to the campground, I realize that my phone is out of charge; the charger is in the car and I can’t access the car without the phone. Max Re, who works at the Trading Post, says he has a charger that will fit my phone. After dinner we walk to his van and plug my phone into the charger. We talk about where he attended school and his changing path in life. Max is a writer, and our conversation flows between what kind of books we like to read, psychology and philosophy, and quantum physics. After a while Dave joins us and ecology becomes part of the conversation. When there is enough charge on the phone, Max heads off for a gathering with co-workers and Dave and I talk for a while longer.

At the Welcome Center there’d been talk of rain tomorrow, a river of it according to some accounts. I hope it will wait until I leave, but as a precaution I pack the car.

I’m awakened by the sound of drips and splats on the tent. I peek outside and see misty drizzle. I get dressed, roll up the mattress, stuff the sleeping bag into its sack, put them in the trunk, and walk to the dining hall to meet Dave for breakfast. It takes two people to fold the tent. I ask Dave for help and he graciously says yes.

It’s raining steadily as we walk back to the campsite. I pull the stakes out of the ground; we fold up the tent like a taco and twist. It’s covered with mud and doesn’t want to stay folded, and we’re getting wet. Dave suggests that we move the tent under the bathhouse portico. We fold and twist numerous times, but the tent prefers to pop up, or folds into a circle twice the size of the trunk. Finally, we unload the trunk, put everything in the back seat of the car, and stuff the tent in the trunk. I imagine getting home, opening the trunk and the tent popping out like a Jack in the box.

Dave and I exchange email addresses and say farewell. I’m grateful for his patient help and camaraderie the past few days. My water repellant jacket is dripping wet and my shoes are caked with red mud. I take the jacket off as I slip into the front seat of the car and drape it over the passenger seat. I’m glad I had the forethought to put my sneakers there and change into them. Dry and cozy in my car, I drive into the rain and up the mountains surrounding Taos.

The ride home is in and out of squalls, along roads curving through pine forests. I think about what I learned this week. I’d gone away for quiet and solitude, and while I did have plenty of both, the Cosmos surprised me with an array of interesting people and thoughtful conversations. Nature embraced me with her beauty, and I realize that my wish to save Her is wrongly placed. Nature always comes back after fire or flood or humanity’s abuse, more beautiful than before. It is humanity that needs to be saved. Meeting people who are seeking a higher standard in their lives, looking to live in peaceful harmony with neighbor and nature, living with concern over the environmental crisis and working towards solutions, made me feel my prayers were heard. Grandfather’s drum replied, “There is hope, keep spreading the word.”

And after dinner on my birthday, the Cosmos supplied a slice of cake to celebrate.

To read more about the history Ghost Ranch and Georgia O’Keeffe, read my blog, The Best Place on Earth.

Yellowstone High Country

In June, Yellowstone National Park was devastated by flooding from torrential rains and rivers full from snow melt. Roads and bridges washed away. Visitors were asked to leave, some needed to be evacuated. The park was closed for a week so that damages could be assessed. Some entrances have reopened, but the northern tier entrances are still closed, having sustained the greatest damage.

A few weeks ago, I saw a post on Facebook by Silver Gate Lodge in Montana. They are one mile from the closed northeast entrance to the park, and it’s had a severe impact on tourism, the source of their livelihood. Please come, the post said, offer what you can afford. I called the next morning, thinking that they’d be booked by then, but to my joy, they had availability.

It’s a twelve hour drive to Silver Gate from Castle Rock, too long a drive for me to make in a day. I decide to spend the night in Sheridan, WY, at a KOA Campground, a safe way to solo tent camp for the first time, and a baby step toward my ultimate goal, to be able to camp in Mother Nature’s arms.

It takes seven hours to drive to Sheridan, from the congestion through Denver, detours for road repairs, and two twenty minute stops to charge Freedom. I enjoy those stops at three hour intervals to get out and walk.

My favorite songs come in and out of awareness as I watch the landscape roll by. I enjoy being the only car for miles, the road a long tongue licking the horizon, as puffy white clouds drop shadows like drapery over the mountains. The rolling hills are pale yellow, baled hay in rolls along the roadside. There are herds of black cows grazing. Every so often there is a metal sculpture on a butte: a bison, a cowboy on a horse, and then a dinosaur, on the other side of the road, oil rigs pump its remains out of the ground.

I also see billboards that make me think, Wyoming! Land of Exclamation Points!!! The campaign slogan for a gubernatorial candidate is, “Fossil fuel, yes!” Liz Cheney’s opponent proclaims, “Ditch Liz!” And, in case you are hungry, a roadside market offers, “Beef! Hogs! Lamb! Wild Game!” I’m not kidding!

Sunset at KOA Campground, Sheridan, WY

From Sheridan, I drive HWY 14 through the Big Horn Mountains. I think it’s probably the most beautiful drive I’ve ever taken, and just when I think it couldn’t possibly be more beautiful, it is. Sometimes there are majestic sandy colored mountains with magenta veins running through. Then I see a hazy valley below of pastel pink, tan, and yellow-green, with strands of turquoise running though. I descend to the valley and learn that those turquoise strands seen from above are the Big Horn River. I wish I were an artist to paint what I see of color, shape, and texture….

Silver Gate, Montana is one mile from the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It’s a block long on a two lane highway, cradled in a valley along the Absaroka Beartooth Mountain Range. On the southeast side of the road is the Trading Post and the Log Cabin Café. On the right side of the road is the Range Rider Lodge, and the General Store, where I check in to Silver Gate Lodging. I’m greeted by Katie, a young woman who radiates a zest for life. She gives me the keys to the School House Cabin, and all the information I need to be comfortable during my stay.

After I settle in, I walk around to get a feel for this beautiful place. I’m filled with awe looking at the majestic mountains. There is an outdoor fireplace and one of the other guests is feeding logs into it. There are six other people there, from the Carolinas and upper Michigan. Everyone is friendly and we chat late into the evening.

There is a pleasant chill to the evening air, and it’s quiet. There’s no noise pollution from traffic, and no light pollution from city lights. I put my head on the pillow and fall into a deep, restful sleep, the best night’s rest I’ve had in a long time.

*No cars are allowed into Yellowstone National Park, but you can walk or bike for six and a half miles into the park, then the road drops off, having been washed away during the floods six weeks ago. A thirteen mile round trip hike is a stretch for me, but I walk as far as I am able to see as much of this beautiful landscape as I can. The entrance to the park is blockaded to vehicles, but park rangers are on site, and Loren greets me as I walk through. She instructs me on care to take around wild animals. She says bears attack only when surprised and will move on if they hear someone approaching. She suggests that I make noise or sing as I walk. I’m thrilled. No one ever suggests that I sing.

Soda Butte Creek wends its way below the road. It’s a beautiful shade of blue-green, and the sound of water rushing over rocks is soothing. There’s an abundance of wildflowers in bloom, fanciful flowers that look like a faerie garden. I sing and hum from time to time, to keep the grizzlies at bay. I hope to see some of the wildlife that live in the area, but see only a chipmunk and a deer, both too fast for me to capture on camera.

Bannock trail to Bridal Falls is heavily forested, with cabins tucked in among the pine trees. I cross the creek where the road washed out from the floods. Mother Nature has healed herself, and wild roses and wild strawberries are in bloom. Only what was created by human hands remains damaged and in need of repair or rebuilding.

I walk deeper into the forest, breathing the fragrant pine air, enthralled by the beauty of the flowers, and the birds singing to each other as they flit about the trees, then realize that I’m walking away from the mountain, the source of the waterfall. Tolkein said, “Not all who wander are lost,” but I’m a wanderer who tends to get lost… in the beauty of what surrounds me, in the moment. I turn around and cross the creek again where the road washed out. A resident drives up on an ATV and stops to chat. He says I just passed the trailhead to Bridal Falls on the other side of the creek, and that a mother moose and her calf have been seen grazing in the area.

Hoping to see mama moose and her calf, I cross the creek again and find the trail marker amid the debris from the storm. The path is strewn with fallen trees and limbs. After clambering over a few, I decide this isn’t a hike to do alone.

The General Store is the gathering place early in the morning or in the evening because that’s where there is internet connectivity. It’s been wonderful disconnecting from the outside world, still, it’s good to be able to communicate with family and friends a few minutes a day. I seek out a table on the side of the store where there is some shade. Hypatia and Leslie are sitting on one end, happy to share the space with me. We start talking and I feel as if I’ve known them forever. Hypatia is a ceramicist and Leslie is a chef. They are both from Georgia and I love their soft southern accents. Hypatia’s brother, Henry, is the owner of Silver Lodge. I say that I would love to ask him some questions for my blog. She corrals her brother, and she and Leslie are off to pick rhubarb from Henry’s garden to make a cobbler for dinner.

Hypatia and Leslie

I carry my camera around, adjusting the lens for shots of the mountains, of buildings and streams, and close ups of flowers. Now, talking with Henry Finkbeiner, I feel as if what I’m experiencing here is coming into focus, and he is the heart of the picture.

Henry is a soft-spoken man. He says that his grandparents brought him to Yellowstone when he was ten years old. The experience made him a lover of nature. He says that the ecosystem is larger than himself, and separation from it is illusory. When talking about Nature he says, “Our only job is to love Her back.” Henry believes the meaning of life is to be a kind human, and to participate in a positive way.

In 2000, he bought Whispering Pines, across the road from Silver Lodge, to use as a summer camp for underprivileged children, to introduce them to the joy of being in nature, and to act as a mentor. It worked well, but the groups he worked with found it difficult to get the children here.

Later, Henry bought the General Store, Silver Gate Lodge, and the Range Rider Lodge. He realized that he could be a mentor to the young people he employed by creating a community for them to feel involved. It appears to be succeeding. His employees are upbeat, friendly, and helpful.

He gives me directions to Silver Falls on Mineral Mountain and lends me bear spray to carry. He says, “It’s like taking Prozac. You probably don’t need it, but it makes you feel better.”

Henry Finkbeiner

On Mineral Mountain, Silver Falls streams more than one hundred feet over a limestone cliff face. I hike up through alpine meadows and over scree. As I photograph the stream that flows into Soda Butte Creek, a family passes me. Nearing the falls, I hear them laughing. I stay at a distance to photograph the falls, so they can have privacy, and the joy of being a family in this marvelous place.

Terry Ward came to Yellowstone years ago and never left.  He’s a manager at Silver Gate Lodge, and is known as Terr Bear and WBB (World’s Best Boss.) He gives me a tour of the Range Rider Lodge. The lodge was built in 1937 and opened in 1938 as the Gorham Chalet.

They had just hosted the annual Hemingway Conference. Ernest Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, lived at the L-T Ranch in neighboring Cooke City from 1930-1939. They came to the Royal Wulff Tavern every Saturday night for dining, dancing, and drinks. Some Hemingway memorabilia is in the lodge.

I ask Terry about the recent floods. He says it started with rain or snow every day since the end of May. By June twelfth it rained five inches a day and didn’t stop. Water ran down the roads and visitors were asked to leave. Soon, everything was under water and the employees were mandated to leave.

“We drove against the water until we came to a slide on the road, The kids (the employees under his management) moved rocks and trees to make a lane for cars to get through. Two days later, the southeast side of Silver Gate was covered with mud. Trucks carried out mud a foot deep. Within four days, it was cleaned up.”

Because of clean-up efforts, Silver Gate looks pristine, as if the floods never happened, but repairs to some personal residences, businesses, and roads are ongoing.

Terry Ward

Every evening, I hope to see starry skies and the Milky Way, but clouds mask the heavens, and some nights it rains. I’m rewarded when I wake pre-dawn one morning to see Venus shining in all her glory. Alone in front of the General Store, sipping a hot cup of coffee, I watch the sky brighten with the approach of the sun, and listen to the birds sing their praises to the new day.

Even though I didn’t see the wildlife I’d hoped to see: moose, elk, bison, and bears, or star filled skies every night, my stay in Silver Gate was magical. The air was fresh. The days were warm, and the nights were cool. The landscape filled me with awe, and Mother Nature arrayed herself with garlands of glorious flowers. It was so quiet that my thoughts slowed down, and time became meaningless. I did have solitude, but the other guests, residents, and employees of Silver Gate were warm and friendly, and I never felt alone. I will go back, and next time my stay will be longer.

The navigation system routes me back to Sheridan via HWY 212, the Beartooth HWY. It reaches an elevation of 10,947 feet. There’s a delay due to road repair work, but the drive provides spectacular vistas, as well as frightful hairpin curves with nothing but metal railings between you and all the way down. I see a bear cross the highway. It’s the biggest thrill of all.

*A recent news update states that major construction repairs on the Northeast Entrance Road to the park has begun.  Hikers and cyclists will still be able to go as far as Warm Creek trail head, two miles into the park. Repairs are projected to be completed by October 15th. These repairs are temporary, and alternatives are being considered for the permanent reconstruction of the Northeast Entrance Road that have the least impact on the environment, are most resistant to natural disasters, take advantage of unimpacted existing road infrastructure, and are the most expedient and cost effective.

Canyons of the Ancients

Cortez, CO was one the places that fascinated me on my journey last year. The area is rich in the history of the ancient Anasazi who dwelt there. I decide to return to see what I missed. On the way there, I stop in Poncha Springs to charge Freedom at the Tesla Supercharger and while away the afternoon in Salida. It’s a lovely day and I enjoy walking along the Arkansas River, watching the white water rafters and paddle boarders glide by, and kayakers play in the waves. What impresses me most is the number of dogs I see. There are dogs along the river, in the river, in the park, on the street, even in the restaurant where I have lunch. Except for the dogs in the river, they’re all walking people on leashes. In all of my travels, I’ve never seen so many dogs in a vacation spot. I’m so astounded by this phenomenon that I fail to photograph it.

Salida is a lovely town, and aside from river sports, it is known for its indoor hot springs that come from Poncha Springs eight miles up the road. Eighty years ago, the WPA capped those springs and diverted the flow to Salida.

Ah, Poncha Springs. I don’t know why I feel that if I were ever to encounter a UFO, it would be here. There isn’t much to do, but there’s lots of open seating.


When pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson came to the mesa in 1874, he called it Hovenweep, the Ute/Paiute word meaning deserted valley, but it had been inhabited over thirteen thousand years ago by nomadic hunters who roamed these plateaus and canyonlands. As the animals they hunted moved elsewhere, they followed. Eleven thousand years ago, hunter-gatherers from the west moved in. These people, the Anasazi, are the ancestors of the Pueblo people. They moved around according to the seasons, taking shelter under canyon ledges and in narrow recesses as they searched for food. When they began to grow corn, life became more ordered, and they built pit houses in the valleys and mesas near their crops.

Cajon Mesa, was a source of water with springs and seeps. The ancient Pueblo people grew the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash, and other crops, in fields and terraces, building check dams for irrigation. Around the year 700 CE the population in surrounding areas grew. As people moved away from mesa top homes, larger villages were built around Hovenweep.

Severe drought, over use of natural resources, and over population in the late 1200s caused the Pueblo people to leave the area and settle in the Rio Grande area of New Mexico and the mesas of Arizona.

Hovenweep was designated a national monument in 1923.

The two towers are constructed on bedrock with thick and thin sandstone blocks. One tower is oval, the other is horseshoe shaped. There are sixteen rooms between them. The towers are among the most skillfully constructed buildings in the southwest.

The rectangular structure is two stories tall. It may not have been used to live in, as there are no room divisions. There are many small openings at unusual angles whose function is unknown.

Below it is Eroded Boulder House. Walls were built incorporating parts of the rock for its roof and walls.

Unit Type House has a few living and storage rooms and one kiva, a room for spiritual ceremonies. The structures are maintained by the Pueblo people, but if a structure collapses, it is not re-built.

Tower Point views the entire Little Ruin Canyon. Recesses below the rim were used to store crops. Rim Rock House is across the canyon.

Hovenweep Castle consists of two D-shaped buildings, the stone walls, two and three rows thick, show comprehensive masonry skills. The Square Tower is situated in the canyon, built on a sandstone boulder in a slightly spiral shape. A kiva was excavated beside it. The large Hackberry trees growing there indicate the seep underneath, designating the water source that was vital to the settlement.

Park Ranger Steve makes sure everyone and everything is okay.

Just beyond the Castle and Square Tower is this lovely Juniper tree. It’s the largest Juniper I’ve seen in my travels around the southwest. It’s one hundred degrees, and it’s a treat to sit and sip water on a bench under its shade. It’s silent, except for a gentle breeze and the occasional bird song. Although I encountered other visitors along the way, I am alone now, breathing the fragrant Juniper, and feeling at peace.

I think about the ancient people who lived here, the ingenuity and skill it took to build these extraordinary structures, and to live in harmony with nature under severe conditions. Still, they were driven away by conditions similar to what we are facing today. I can’t help feeling that there are lessons here for us.

Sleeping Indian Mountain

There is a Ute legend that the Great Warrior God came to help his people fight evil. There was a great battle, and though victorious, the Warrior God was wounded. He lay down to rest and fell into a deep sleep. His open wounds became rivers. It is said that he changes blankets for the four seasons; light green in spring, yellow and red in fall. Some Utes believe that one day he will rise to help his people.

Anasazi Heritage Center

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument comprises 170,000 acres in the southwest corner of Colorado. Its landscape is rich in cultural and natural resources, and managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System. Monument headquarters are at the Anasazi Heritage Center.

The visitor center and museum focus on Ancestral Puebloan, Native American, and historic cultures in the Four Corners region. The exhibits feature the methods that archaeologists use to reveal the past. There are interactive, computer based exhibits, artifacts from excavated sites that you are able to touch, and a replica of a furnished Pueblo pit house.

It is also a repository for artifacts and records from excavations of 1,626 archaeological sites on more than 16,000 acres, 125 sites were fully excavated, and more than 1.5 million artifacts were collected. The Heritage Center was constructed not only as a museum, but also to preserve both artifacts and records in perpetuity. It offers educational resources for teachers, internships for students and recent graduates, and a research library of archaeology and anthropology. Archaeological reports are available for download in searchable PDF format for anyone with a legitimate research interest through the curation department.

It’s an easy walk up to the Escalante Pueblo, where there is a three hundred sixty degree view of the area. It looks on McPhee Reservoir, and out towards the Sleeping Indian Mountain.

McPhee Reservoir dams the Dolores River to provide irrigation water for Montezuma and Dolores counties, and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation. There are campsites and boat ramps as well as fishing, and hiking and biking trails.

Sand Canyon

When I visited Sand Canyon last year, I went along the upper ledge. The climb down was steep and there was no one else around. I thought it wise not to attempt hiking it alone. I promised myself that I’d come back and take a closer look. This time I went with my friend, Pauline, who lives in Cortez and knows the area well.

McElmo Road runs along the foot of the Sleeping Indian Mountain. Because of run off from the mountain, this area is green and fruitful. There are orchards and even a vineyard, and looks lush compared to the slip rock trailhead to Sand Canyon. The first great rock is Castle Rock, but it looks like an elephant to me.

Just past Castle Rock, there is a spur trail that leads past a large section of preserved wall. There is a slow rise on the path to a junction with a path that leads to views of the ruins.

About 1250 CE, a large, compact village was built at Sand Canyon. By 1275 CE Sand Canyon was about three times the size of Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde. The onset of severe drought resulted in poor or failed crops. In 1277 CE, Sand Canyon Pueblo came under attack, perhaps by other Pueblo people competing for dwindling resources. Many people were killed. Afterwards, the survivors migrated away.

When archaeologists worked at Sunny Alcove, they found corn cobs, pottery sherds, and fragments of grinding stones. The well-preserved walls include eight rooms and a kiva.

I have grown to love Juniper trees. They are capable of surviving in harsh climates and inhospitable landscapes, in scorching heat, and with little water. They often appear to grow out of solid rock, and a tap root can penetrate down twenty-five feet in search of water. They live in almost every continent in the world, and is one of the oldest living species of trees. During my visit to Escalante Pueblo, I learned that during drought, Junipers will cut off access to water to some limbs for the survival rest of the tree. Native Americans use the seeds as beads to make necklaces and bracelets for protection. The berries are edible and medicinal, and are used to make gin. I like my martinis with a twist of lemon.

Pauline is the owner of Bella Organique Spa and Airbnb. She is a former Olympic skier, a gifted gardener, and extraordinary body worker. If you are ever in Cortez, and need a place to stay, contact Pauline. Treat yourself to a deep massage. You’ll be glad you did.

On the Road

“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
                        from On the Road, Jack Kerouac

I moved to Oregon to be near my grandchildren when they were toddlers. It was a joy to watch them grow up, and a delight to see the wonderful young adults they’ve become. My last week in Oregon I spent as much time as I could with them and friends who are dear to me. They are an interesting mix of people who helped me walk the path of life, sharing laughter when life was happening as one would wish, and giving encouragement during the rough patches. I will miss them all, but it’s time to move on.

Wanting to see a part of the country I’ve never been to, I take Highway 90 across Washington, through Idaho, and into Montana. I spend the first night in Ellensburg, WA, a charming community along the Yakima River. It’s an agricultural region, and the main crop is hay and other forage, ninety percent of which is shipped internationally. It is also the home of Central Washington University. I love the architecture of the town, a mix of Italianate from the time of its establishment, to Art Deco of the 1930s.

I have dinner at the Palace Café. From the front window I see the Davidson building down the street, under a bright blue sky. A dark cloud hovers along the side street. It begins to rain and the wind kicks up. There’s a flurry of whiteness outside. For a moment I think it’s a blizzard, and then realize that it’s petals from the flowering plum trees drifting in the wind.

I want to spend the weekend in Coeur d’Alene, ID, but accommodations are too expensive. I stay in Spokane instead. In the morning I drive to Coeur d’Alene. When I arrive, the Women’s March for the Right to Self-determination is in progress. It’s a cold, dreary, misty day. Women of all ages march, some are pregnant. Men march with them. They chant, “My body, my choice.” The truck in front of me has an American flag flying from the tailgate. The man driving it sticks his head out the window and shouts, “If you have a baby in your belly, you’re supposed to keep it!” He turns left and zooms off.

People across the street shout, “Murderers!” In one hand they hold an American flag, in the other, a picture of Jesus.

Now I’m behind a car with California license plates. We stop at a red light. A woman from the non-marching side of the street screams, “Go back to California you #%^&*@!

I find a place to park, but by the time I walk back to the main throughfare, the parade has passed. Only the flag toting, Jesus-picture-carrying-mob remains. In the store windows are signs, “Idaho Wild & Free. It seems ironic to me that people who pride themselves on personal freedom, would deny others the freedom, and right, to make decisions that affect only their personal lives.

I walk to the lake. It’s beautiful but looks forlorn, or maybe it’s me who is forlorn. I get in my car and drive back to Spokane.

On the TV in the lobby of the hotel where I’m staying is breaking news of a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. I’m heartsick. What’s become of this country? Why can’t we be civil with each other? Why can’t we just get along? We all want the same thing, to be able to sustain ourselves and live peacefully in our homes, the love of our family and friends, to have pleasant interaction with our neighbors, and that includes the world at large.

I spend the rest of the day walking along the Spokane River on the Centennial trail. The river is running high and fast from the spring melt; the trail is beautiful and peaceful, with touches of whimsy.

A River Runs Through It

Missoula, Montana surprises me. I imagined the weather would be cold, with clouds hovering over an old western town in the heart of a city of modern buildings, and filled with cowboys. When I arrive, it’s sunny and seventy-two degrees, and I don’t see any cowboys. It’s Sunday and the town is quiet, but restaurants are busy. Even though it’s the second largest city in Montana, it has a small town feel. It’s home to the University of Montana. I’m told that it’s graduation weekend, but there are no signs of celebration.

I have dinner at a restaurant on the river, then walk along the riverfront trail. I cross a bridge over the Clark Fork River, the river that runs through it, and walk around the Hip Strip. People are sitting at outdoor tables in front of bars and restaurants. There is a line to the corner of families waiting their turn for ice cream at the Big Dipper.

Bicyclists ride by and I watch someone in a kayak playing on Brennan’s Wave, a manmade whitewater wave. I cross the river again at the Higgins Avenue Bridge, and then walk in the opposite direction, back to the motel where I’m staying.

The sky becomes overcast. I’m disappointed because I’d hoped to see the full moon rise, and watch the Flower Blood Moon eclipse.

Every fifteen minutes, a train runs behind the motel I’m staying at. It isn’t just the clickity clack of the wheels on the railroad tracks all night, but also the whistle that blows as it passes my room that startles me and makes sleep impossible. I get up and search the internet for different accommodations. What few rooms that are available are well over two hundred dollars a night. When I started planning my trip in February, I was shocked that prices were sixty to eighty dollars a night more than last summer, but they’d increased even more in the past few weeks. I decide to leave in the morning.

I’d planned to stay a few days to hike the Lolo trail and explore more of the surrounding wilderness. During my journey last summer, I realized that what I really want to do when I travel is to camp in the arms of Mother Nature. I’m working on building the courage to camp solo. When I’ve conquered the hesitance within, I will re-visit the Missoula wilderness.

Big Sky Country

The sky is big in Montana, and it is more than blue, it has a tinge of violet, and appears to curve above me rather than at the horizon. Driving beside sparkling streams, the mountains seem near, yet far off. They aren’t gently rolling and crested, but jutting and oblique, and purple, not verdant. My eyes feast on the beauty as I drive across the state. I wish there were places to pull over to take photos.

When I left on my trip, I was warned that Montanans drive fast. The speed limit does go up to eighty miles per hour, and slows down to sixty-five when passing by towns. I stay in the right lane and I’m surprised that Montanans do, as well. It seems the left lane is used as it’s intended, as a passing lane. Drivers stay well back, there are no bumper huggers, and if they want to pass, they don’t cut in front after passing, but put distance between the vehicles before returning to the right lane.  Yes, they drive fast, but I think Montanans are the politest drivers I’ve encountered on the road.

Billings is the largest city in Montana and the most industrialized. I spend the night and then take HWY 25 down into Wyoming. It is more rolling than flat. I hope for a glimpse of the Grand Tetons, but it’s too far east of them. I promise myself to visit Yellowstone National Park in the fall. ***

I spend the night in Casper and I’m up early, eager to get to my destination.

“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”

                        From On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Denver is a big sprawling metropolis with a heavily trafficked, multi-laned freeway system. It reminds me of Los Angeles, the center of a spiderweb of outlying suburban areas. Castle Rock is one of those suburbs, a half an hour south of Denver. It’s seventy-eight degrees the day I arrive, the next day it’s eighty-eight. The temperature drops to twenty-six degrees overnight and a foot of snow falls.

It’s good to be with my son, Paul, and daughter in law, Heather. I’m adjusting to fitting in with a newly formed family as well as a new environment. I join a writer’s group to meet people, hike in the beautiful mountains surrounding Castle Rock, and watch my new life unfold.

***As I write this, all entrances to Yellowstone Park are closed. An unusual amount of rain and spring snowmelt caused severe flooding of rivers, eroding roads, collapsing bridges, and sweeping homes into swiftly running streams. The greatest damage is to the northern entrances to the park. Until damage is fully assessed, those portions of the park may be closed for the rest of the season.

Forest fires have swept New Mexico since early April. The Black Fire in southern New Mexico has consumed over 3212,00 acres and is only 47% contained.

Because of severe drought conditions, Mendocino County, CA is running out of water.

It seems the weather is becoming more and more extreme. Extreme conditions mean extreme actions must be taken to bring humanity back into balance with nature. We need our political leaders to stop bickering with each other and work hand in hand with leaders of industry to focus on resolving these serious issues, and as individuals, we must live lightly upon the earth. I don’t like thinking about the consequences unless we act swiftly and soon.

Mercy, Mercy Me

“Mercy, mercy me,

Things ain’t what they used to be, no no

Where did all the blue skies go?

Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east…”

Marvin Gaye

I went inside my heart to see how it was. Something there makes me hear the whole world weeping.


I return to Oak Grove to look for a place to rent, and get off the road for the winter. It feels good to be back to the familiar, to know how to get where I’m going, and take my secret shortcuts to get there. Although everything is the same, it seems different. There’s a yellow pall across the sky from a fire somewhere, and it looks as if everything is covered with a layer of ash.

I go for a walk along the Willamette River. I’ve never seen the river this low. The land bridge to Elk Rock is completely exposed. Pine trees are filled with dry, brown needles, not a few here and there, but whole limbs.

Later, I walk around my old neighborhood. Yards are dry and dusty. The leaves on trees are curled and crisped, as if burned, from heat and lack of rain. It’s a tinderbox. A careless fire and a strong wind, and all of this would be gone in moments.

My body trembles. I can’t breathe. I crumple to the ground. I feel as if I’m going to die here, under a pine tree, gasping for breath, on a patch of dry pine needles. I think of once mighty rivers running so low that they are rivulets, and leaves on trees that are scorched from the heat, and the smoke from fires that have swept across the west that shroud the night sky, and I cry,

chest heaving,


wet and salty


 If only these tears could fill the rivers and water the trees. I want to save the world but I don’t know how.

In the past year, a firestorm swept through a large portion of Oregon that came too close for comfort to where I lived. Five months later, an ice storm brought down limbs and whole trees on power lines throughout the Willamette Valley. Some areas were without electricity for weeks. I felt fortunate to have been without it for only four days.

Mid-June it’s one hundred fifteen degrees in the Portland area for a few days. There’s a wildfire in Oregon, another in California. Lake Powell is so low; it seems a trickle between its two great banks.

Everywhere I go, roads are being re-paved, and new roads are made with black asphalt. Why do we continue to use it, when it absorbs the sun’s heat and then radiates it back at the end of the day where we live, making it uncomfortably hot, creating a demand for air conditioning, putting a strain on energy grids that, in many areas, are powered by dammed rivers that are reaching dead pool levels?

Through Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, I notice many vehicles, usually trucks for small businesses, spew black exhaust. There are floods in Germany. Sardinia is on fire. It’s one hundred twenty-four degrees in Sicily. Because there hadn’t been enough rain, the people of Ireland are told to conserve water.

Flooding devastates the city of Zhengzhou in China, and the fires in Oregon and California are out of control. A shroud of smoke hangs over the night sky.

In Abiqui, there are dramatic storms with sharp lightning strikes and booming, rolling thunder, followed by downpours. In the morning the earth is dry, as if the rain had been a figment of my imagination. The Rio Grande is reduced to a stream by the time it reaches Albuquerque.

Sicily is on fire. And then Greece. And Calabria. Torrential rains flood Japan.

It seems there is a weather disaster somewhere in the world every week. I don’t understand how people can deny climate change. Do they not pay attention to how the Earth has changed during their lifetime? I don’t understand how they can excuse the climate chaos that is happening as simply another earth cycle.

I don’t know if it’s minutes or hours that I’m on the ground, weeping, my mind replaying all the things I’ve seen and heard over the summer. Earth is compromised. What will there be for our grandchildren?

I don’t know why I feel personally responsible to make changes beyond the daily things I do to live lightly upon the Earth. Words are all I have to offer to encourage people to make changes in their lives to help Earth’s healing process, and to our local, national and world leaders to make the sweeping changes that will make the greatest impact. Even though I have much to say, words fail me.

When there’s not another tear left, I get up and walk back to the room where I’m staying, picking pine needles off my arms and legs, and out of my hair.

It takes weeks to find a rental. Aside from the outrageous cost of rent, most places want a lease for one year. I plan to be here only until spring. Friends tell me that Waverly Greens has short term rentals. It’s easily accessible to everything I do, and it’s near the Willamette River for walks. By mid-October, I settle in for the winter.

The Blue Hole

Before I left on my journey, I asked people where they would live if they could live anywhere. Of all the answers I got, and some were intriguing, one place came up more than anyplace else, Sequim, Washington. Someone said that pilots flying in and out of Seattle refer to it as “the blue hole” because even on cloudy days, it’s clear over Sequim. It met some important wants and needs for a new place to live: far from the maddening crowd, yet near a city for cultural activities, access to an airport for travel, decent weather, and on the west coast. After several months in the southwest heat, I was ready for cooler temperatures and ocean breezes. I decided to check it out.

I cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to the Olympic Peninsula. The road narrows to a two lane highway through a deep pine forest. The traffic is as dense as the woods. I drive north until it opens to a rural valley, the Olympic National Forest rising in tiers behind it, and turn west to Sequim.

After I check into the motel, I drive around town to get a sense of it. It’s a long road with clusters of shopping centers. I stop at one and roam around the stores. In a consignment shop I find a beautiful velvet jacket. When I pay for it, I ask the cashier how she likes living in Sequim. She says she loves it. “There’s too much rain in Port Angeles, Port Townsend it too arty-farty, but Sequim is perfect.” I think I may have found my spot, but it isn’t Sequim.

The next morning, I drive to Port Angeles. I walk along the waterfront and see cargo ships being unloaded. I like the architecture of the downtown area, but the town doesn’t resonate with me.

I drive Old Olympic Highway back to Sequim to view the lavender farms. I stop at B&B Family Lavender Farm. Bonnie, one of the owners, gives a tour. She is warm and friendly. Her son-in-law, Zion takes us to the shed where he shows how lavender flowers are distilled to extract the oil.

Lavender plants hang along the wall to dry. The distiller is a large copper pot filled with boiling water. As the plants steam, precious oil drips out. An acre of lavender yields from three hundred to eighteen hundred pounds of dried flowers to produce twelve to fifteen pounds of essential oil, about two gallons. Now I understand why essential oils are so expensive.

In the morning I go to Port Townsend. The weather is magnificent: sunny, warm, blue skies. It’s charming, with late Victorian architecture. Many boats are moored along the waterfront. There’s an active creative community of artists and writers.

Could I live here? It’s beautiful and has the sort of environment I thrive on, but it’s expensive, and even though it’s near Seattle, it isn’t easy to get there.

As I drive back to the motel, I realize that what I’ve been looking for is Santa Barbara, as it was when I arrived there all those years ago: culturally rich, beautiful terrain and architecture, perfect weather, quiet, and unspoiled.

I drive down Hwy 101 to Olympia to visit my son, Luke, and daughter in law, Eva. Trucks filled with timber pull onto the road in front of me. I think of the scarred mountains that have been clear cut. I wonder why the forests aren’t replenished after they’ve been clear cut, and why we aren’t farming hemp and bamboo for more sustainable sources of things we cut down trees for: paper products, flooring, furniture…?

I enjoy spending time with Luke and Eva. While they are at work, I go hiking at Priest Point Park and Trailhead, and Tumwater Falls. Eva found a rental for me in Tumwater. I explore the area and happened upon Isabella Bush Park, a twenty acre park with several wetlands and a regional storm water infiltration pond.

A farm is on the grounds, and as I’m admiring it, a gentleman comes to talk to me. Charlie Schneider is a City Council member and volunteers with FRESH (Farm Rooted Education for Sustainability & Health,) a youth farming program through the Tumwater School District. The students receive class credits, and one thousand dollars to work the farm in the summer. The food that is grown goes to the school cafeterias, students and families in need, food banks and senior centers. I think it’s wonderful.

The rental in Tumwater falls out. Luke and Eva help me find another rental in downtown Olympia. That, too, falls out. I think maybe I’m not supposed to be here, and go back to Oregon, where my journey began in June.

Heading North

Interstate HWY 70 between Denver and Palisade, Colorado is one of the most beautiful roads I’ve driven. There are deep, colorful canyons, even as pine forests rise on the mountains above. The Colorado River and its tributaries run alongside.

The road is a civil engineering feat that won awards for design and consideration of natural beauty, wildlife, and environmental issues. Construction over Vail Pass included fencing to prevent wildlife from crossing the highway, and directs the animals to several underpasses. One underpass is landscaped to coax the deer to follow it.

The highway crosses the Continental Divide at the Eisenhower Tunnel. The elevation is 11,158 feet and is the highest point on the U. S. interstate system. There’s a seven percent grade over seven miles, and the tunnel is 1.7 miles long. A boring device was used to create the tunnel; not explosives. It’s quite impressive to approach and drive through.

Heavy rain in July caused mudslides to inundate I70 at Glenwood Canyon. It was reopened about a week before I drive there. Large green nets are strung beside the road to capture any wayward debris that may fall.

A train runs on the other side of the river. Our courses run parallel to each other until Palisade, the “Peach Capital of Colorado.” It’s peach season and that’s my favorite fruit.  I check in at the Dreamcatcher B& B, and then go out to take in the area. I stop at the Mt. Lincoln Peach Co. fruit stand across the way. The peaches are golden with a red blush, and I can smell the delicate sweetness of the fruit. I want to buy a flat to bring with me, can I pick them up I the morning? Can half the flat be white peaches? Laura, the young woman who runs the store, says yes. I buy a peach to enjoy after dinner.

There is little traffic on the road, only an occasional truck laden with crates of peaches. I stop at Colterris Vineyard Tasting Room and buy some wine for my son and walk through the orchard, row after row of trees laden with beautiful peaches.  The overlook is across the river from Mt. Garfield, part of the Book Cliffs. There’s a hiking trail that’s only two miles to the top, but is challenging, climbing two thousand feet in that stretch. Will I try it next summer, when I come back for more peaches?

I’m up early the next morning and go for a walk in the yard. I’m entertained by a pair of hummingbirds darting around the feeder.

This is the first time I’ve stayed at a bed and breakfast on my journey. It’s homey and comfortable. At a motel or an Airbnb, one retains a certain anonymity, but it’s nice to meet new people and hear about their travels over coffee at breakfast. Julie, the host, is a wonderful cook. She serves a delicious vegetable omelet made with fresh eggs from the hens running around the yard.

We talk about the problem of poverty and hunger when food is abundant in farming areas. Julie says there was a time that high school classes didn’t start until the peach harvest was done so that teenage students could glean the fields as well as earn some money; now the last fruits are left to fall, are machine gathered and left to rot in heaps. It seems to me that there is an industry in need of development here.

I stop at the fruit stand and expect to wait while Laura puts my order together, but there’s a flat of twelve perfectly ripened peaches, half white fleshed, with my name on it. I am pleasantly surprised by the great service, and charmed by Laura’s sweet personality. I also buy some Olathe corn and I’m on my way.

The beauty of the southwest continues to astound me with great vistas and canyons of colored layers of sandstone. I enjoy the drive until the outskirts of Provo, Utah, where the traffic is heavy and the freeway becomes multi-laned. The worst part is the air pollution. I’d noticed many vehicles, usually trucks. spewing black smoke as I drove through Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.

Utah has some of the worst air quality in the U. S. Winter inversions cause eighteen days of pollution above National Ambient Air Quality Standards; in the summer ozone and lakebed dust impact air quality. This summer, wildfire smoke caused Salt Lake City to exceed federal standards for particulate pollution sixteen times. Utah has a contradictory response to poor air quality. In 2015 the state offered a $1500 credit for clean fuel vehicles, and in 2021raised registration fees on the same vehicles.

To make the problem more complex, the Great Salt Lake is drying up. It is ten feet below its average level and the exposed lakebed is a source of toxic pollution. Not only is it an air quality issue, it points out the pressing problem of water. It isn’t merely drought conditions. The diversion of water from upstream sources for agricultural and residential use doesn’t leave enough water to flow to the lake.

Three gnomes have taken up residence under the tree in front of Anna and Steve’s house. I arrive late in the afternoon, on time to go to soccer practice with Anna and her two boys, five year old Wren and three year old Dashell. It delights me to watch them at play and brought me back to the days when I sat on the sidelines watching my son learn the game. I’m happy to reconnect with Anna. I watched her grow up and now I get to see her parent her children.

After dinner, Steve grills some of the peaches I brought from Palisade for dessert. How can something so delicious become even more delectable?

As twilight deepens, we go for a walk in the charming, tree lined neighborhood. We look at the gardens along the way, full of flowers, and ripening tomatoes and squashes. We see insects and birds. Wren and Dashell know where all the special places are. I look for Venus. She’s glorious in the night sky.

The truck stop outside Twin Falls is a massive complex. They have every type of gasoline imaginable on a lot full of pumps with huge semi’s, an assortment of other trucks, RVs, campers, boats, an assortment of outdoor toys and accessories, and the cars that haul them, all filling up.

The landscape is barren here. I turn onto HWY 93 and approach the Perrine Bridge, a truss suspension bridge 486 feet above the Snake River. The Twin Falls Visitor Center is on the other side with a Tesla Supercharge in the parking lot. I plug Freedom in and walk along the trail to view the bridge and the river below. The Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia River, the largest north American river that flows to the Pacific Ocean.

The bridge is a popular Base Jumping site, the sport a bit extreme for my timid soul. Less than two miles to the east is the spot where Evel Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon on his Skycycle X-2 in 1974. He didn’t succeed because of a parachute malfunction.

I check in at the Fillmore Inn. Denise is a delightful host, and I love the room I’m assigned. The bedroom is cheerful with light coming through the windows, but secluded behind high brick walls. There’s an alcove with a desk where I can write, the shower is large and there are lots of fluffy towels. On the table are two large flourless peanut butter cookies in a cellophane bag, tied with a ribbon. I’ve been foregoing desserts, but decide to nibble a corner of one cookie. It’s delicious, and nibble a little at a time over the next few days.

I shower, put on the nicest clothes I have, and go for dinner at Elevation 486. It’s crowded and short staffed, like so many places I stopped along the way. The service was slow, but the food was good. Having spent a portion of my life as a waitress and understand the pressure the entire staff is under. I enjoy taking in the view with a glass of prosecco while I wait for dinner to be served..

Afterwards, I walk along the rim of the Snake River. All summer there’s been a thin pall of smoke across the southwest from the fires on the west coast. The smoke is thick tonight. I don’t know if it’s an accumulation from all the fires, or if there’s a newer one.

Breakfast is in the dining room. Denise has set tables appropriately distanced.  There are two couples and myself. She introduces us, noting that one couple is on their honeymoon, and serves breakfast. Within a heartbeat, the man who is on his honeymoon raises his voice to say grace, his wife’s head bowed, their hands folded in prayer. He proclaims that his God is the only living God, and that all other gods are dead. He even names a few. There is stunned silence. Denise offers more coffee and goes around filling cups. The honeymooners eat quickly and leave, never addressing me or the other couple.

Denise starts a conversation. The other couple live in Palo Alto. He’s from Switzerland; she’s from Greece. They both work at Stanford University, he as tech support, and she in cognitive therapy of the psychology department. We talk about travel and places we’ve been that we enjoyed the most.

As I pack to leave, I think about what happened in the dining room. I’ve met all sorts of people from varied backgrounds on this journey, but this was the most uncomfortable moment I’ve experienced. I didn’t mind that he wanted to pray, I wouldn’t even have minded if he had invited us to join him. What bothered me wasn’t merely the imposition of his beliefs, or that his belief was the one and only way, but the denigration of any belief but his. It saddened me deeply to witness this, a blatant example of what divides this country: my rights and beliefs are more right than your rights and beliefs.

It’s my wish, prayer if you will, that we learn to communicate better with each other, to build a bridge to understanding. We all want the same thing; to live happily with our families and friends, peacefully with our neighbors, shelter and food to eat, and a purpose in life.

Before I leave Twin Falls, I stop at Shoshone Falls Park. This waterfall on the Snake River is 212 feet tall, one of the largest natural waterfalls in the U. S. and is fed by Rocky Mountain snow melt. The flow varies depending on snowfall and the fact that the river is diverted twenty miles upstream to irrigate a half million acres of farmland. The dam upstream from the falls also diverts water to the hydroelectric plant that generates electricity for Idaho Power.

Because of its height, the falls mark the upper limit of fish migration, including salmon, steelhead and sturgeon. This spot was a major food source for local Native Americans, the Shoshone Indians.

It’s beautiful along the Snake River. This is another place I would like to revisit.

I stop in Baker City and visit John Simpkins who graciously allows me to visit him at his studio, even though we’ve never met. John is one of the many friends I’ve made on Facebook. Over the years, he shared his paintings in progress with daily posts. It was interesting to see his process, to watch the paintings develop, and see the finished work.

His latest work, Chaya, hangs on the studio wall. It is even more amazing in life than the photos on Facebook. There is a red ball in the picture that looks flat in photos, but here it has dimension and seems to pop off the canvas.

You can view John’s work at There is an online virtual exhibit called elephant in the room where you can see his art. It’s worth the visit.

The Baker City historic district seems to be lost in time. I love the architecture of the older buildings. I have dinner at the Geiser Hotel and return to the motel.

I spend the evening looking for someplace to stay over the weekend. I want to go to Sequim, WA but everything is booked. I look for the halfway point between there and Yakima. Cle Elum seems to be closest. The neighboring town is Roslyn, where the TV series Northern Exposure was filmed. Fortunately, accommodations are available in Cle Elum and I’m excited to visit Roslyn.

Family Time

For five days, family and friends gather from near and far to celebrate Paul and Heather’s marriage. The afternoon of the wedding is pleasant, and the ceremony is heartfelt with just the right touch of levity, followed by dinner and dancing. The DJ plays a wonderful mix of music for all kinds of dancing. Several of the men show amazing breakdance moves.

Andrew, Paul’s best man, makes a toast filled with good wishes for the couple. He begins, “Paul finally met someone he loves more than Elon Musk…”

After the long weekend, I drive to Castle Rock, Colorado to spend time with Paul and Heather. From Santa Fe to Colorado Springs, the roadsides are covered with sunflowers in bloom, their bright yellow faces against a deep blue sky add cheer to the drive.

We enjoy family time together. Sometimes Paul cooks diner, sometimes I do, one of us assisting the other. We go to Festival Park to see a local rock band, and to the farmers market in Parker. It’s crowded, but fun, filled with all the goodness that Mother Nature provides at the height of summer. We fill bags with fresh produce, and wait a half hour in line for a flat of mixed sprouts that add zing to our salads and sandwiches.

Heather and I have a wonderful day poking around antique stores in Elizabeth. Paul and I tend his garden.  We enjoy hiking and exploring the Rock and Dawson’s butte.

Castle Rock

Castle Rock was home to the Arapajo and Cheyenne people until rumors of gold brought white settlers to the area. Instead, they found rhyolite, a fine grained, silica rich, volcanic rock. Rhyolite is Greek for streaming rock, and so this rock is named because of its flowing bands of color. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, quarrying rhyolite was the main industry. Rhyolite is used in construction, building and road materials, and landscaping. Driving around Castle Rock and Denver, one will see many historic buildings made of rhyolite.

The butte the castle shaped rock sits on was donated to the town in 1936, and thus the town’s name, Castle Rock. Not long afterwards, the WPA built a star atop the butte. It was lit every year until 1941. It remained dark during WWII a symbol of support. The star was re-lit on December 7, 1945, and has been lit every year around the same time since.

I had a reunion with extended family that I hadn’t seen in many years. Stuart and I hiked in Castlewood Canyon Park. His wife, Sally, and I spent hours talking. I started to leave at least three times, but we couldn’t stop talking. It was hard to say good bye.

Castlewood Canyon Dam was built in 1890 by the Denver Water Storage Company. The dam leaked and fell into poor condition. In August, 1933, heavy rains caused the dam to collapse and sent a fifteen foot wall of water into Denver. The flood caused about $1.7 million in damages. I wonder how much that is in today’s money.

August 16this my birthday. Paul has a full day planned, beginning with a visit to the Denver Botanic Garden. It’s magnificent. There’s a little museum on site, and the current exhibit is Salvador Dali’s Gardens of the Mind, with prints of his Surrealist Flowers. What a thrill to see such an array of beautiful flora, and then Dali’s whimsical take on the world of plants.

In the evening we go to the spectacular Red Rocks amphitheater to see and hear Not Our First Goat Rodeo, a blend of classical, bluegrass and folk music by YoYo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile. Aoife O’Donovan added vocals to three numbers.

Flowers, great art, great music, a sunny day and a balmy evening. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.

YoYo Ma, Not Our First Goat Rodeo, Red Rocks Amphitheater

Full moon in Aquarius, Jupiter a dot in the sky above it.

After sunset, I look for Venus in the sky. She’s been there since early spring, following me on this journey I’m on, setting the familiar aside to experience the different. Tonight there’s a full moon. I remember that part of the journey is to find the best new place to live. I still haven’t found it.

Before I left Oregon, I asked everyone I came in contact with where they would live if they could. One place kept coming up.

I’m back on the road, headed to Sequim, Washington.

The Best Place in the World

Shortly before I retired from flying, there was an article in Life Magazine about Georgia O’Keeffe. The photos were mostly of her, but her sensibility, and the one piece of her art that was shown, captivated me. I was surprised that in any of my flights to Albuquerque, I’d never heard of her. This was before Google, so I was limited to visits to museums hoping to see her art, or the occasional magazine article showing her work. The most memorable exhibition I’ve seen was a collection of her work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1989.

Over the years my son lived in New Mexico, I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe several times. Each time the museum exhibited different pieces of her art. Now, I am eager to visit again to see the familiar, and the different.

When I enter, the museum is hushed, the way a church is. I stand in front of her paintings and notice how smooth the paint is, how precise the lines. I sit at a distance on a bench to absorb what I see and feel.

Today I learn that she was influenced by Zen principles. It reflected in the way she lived, as well as her art. She was inspired by Arthur Wesley Dow’s innovative concepts based on principles of design and composition in Japanese art. She traveled the world, most of which she did in her sixties and later.

Above the Clouds, a series of paintings she made between 1961-1962 of clouds seen from airplanes.
Pond in the Woods 1922 Pastel on Paper
A replica of the banquette with rattlesnake skeleton beneath glass in Georgia O’Keeffe’s home

I drive through Abiqui, a sliver of a town, and through red clay canyons as majestic as the Grand Canyon. It’s as if I’m driving through O’Keeffe’s paintings.

Up ahead a dark cloud looms, lightning flashing in the sky, sometimes striking the ground. The cloud seems to rush forward. There’s a burst of rain, the windshield wipers going as fast as they can and then, about four car lengths ahead, a bolt of lightning to the road. I’m awestruck and wish I had the gift to be able to paint what I see.

A few minutes later, I turn into Ghost Ranch. There’s no indication of the storm on the parched road to the Welcome Center. I check in and drive to the cabin where I will stay. There is a woman sitting on the porch. Her name is Kalika Antao. She’s staying in the other room of the cabin. Over the weekend we go on hikes and take our meals together in the dining hall. She recently bought a truck and is experimenting with camping on her own. Talking with her, I realize that is the best way to travel for the experiences I’d prefer.

I once had a Volkswagen van. We took out the back seat, built a platform for the bed with storage underneath. We did a lot of traveling in that van, but it usually involved parking the van and backpacking to a lake somewhere near the top of a mountain. Only one trip, to Mexico, involved staying at campsites. Kalika gave me something to think about. Now all I need is the courage to drive a truck. Maybe another camper van is the answer.

Kalika is a talented artist. If you’d like to view her work, you can find it at

Kalika Antao kayaking at Ghost Ranch

Ghost Ranch has an interesting history, beginning with the Archuleta brothers who were cattle and horse thieves. They hid their stolen stock in the Box Canyon below the Camposanto Mesa, and kept the curious and angry out by saying that the ranch was haunted. Anyone who suspected that their missing livestock was there, found human remains. They didn’t stay long, one way or another. The brothers also told tales of a flying dragon that haunted the hills.

After an argument over hidden gold, one brother killed the other and held his wife and daughter hostage, hoping they’d tell the whereabouts of the gold. The women escaped at night to the San Juan Pueblo. The men of the Pueblo rode to the ranch and hanged the remaining brother and his gang from a cottonwood tree that still stands near one of the casitas. It became known as El Rancho de los Brujos, Ranch of the Witches.

The ranch remained uninhabited for thirty years, until Carol Bishop Stanley moved in. Stanley was born in Boston, MA into a prosperous family. She was a classical pianist, and in her thirties fell in love with a musician. He did not meet her parents’ approval, so they sent her away to the southwest to get over it. She spent a couple of years on a horseback excursion around the Four Corners, and married a cowboy she met on the trail, Roy Pfaffle. Roy was a gambler and won the deed to El Rancho de los Brujos in a card game. Stanley recorded the deed to the ranch in her name, and when they divorced in 1931, she moved there and named it Ghost Ranch. She built guest casitas and turned it into a dude ranch. It was visited by wealthy and creative people of the time.

In the summer of 1934, a woman drove up in a Model A. She’d read in Nature Magazine that this was the best place in the world. It was unusual because guests came by invitation. However, the woman was Georgia O’Keeffe, and accommodations were found for her. She discovered that it was indeed the best place in the world and lived and painted there the rest of her life.

Stanley had married another gambling cowboy, and struggled financially. In 1935 she sold the ranch to Arthur Pack, writer and editor of Nature Magazine. In 1945 Pack sold a seven acre parcel near Chimney Rock to O’Keeffe.

As Pack grew older, he was concerned with how the ranch would be cared for after him. He didn’t want the ranch subdivided and offered it to the Boy Scouts of America and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to have and maintain, but neither were able to accept the offer. He gifted the 21,000 acre ranch to the Presbyterian Church in 1955 to use as a retreat and for education.

It seems the story about flying dragons wasn’t so farfetched. In 1947, George Whitaker of the American Museum of Natural History in New York was hunting for fossils in the red hills of Ghost Ranch when he found a graveyard of hundreds of the Theropod Dinosaur, Coelyphysis from the late Triassic era. They were light, agile and fast moving. Their form may have looked dragon like to someone viewing skeletal remains. There is an excellent exhibit at the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology near the Welcome Center.

The Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology also has an excellent collection of aritfacts from Paleo-Indian culture through ancestral Puebloan times

Ghost Ranch has been the setting for many films, among them: Silverado; Indiana Jones ~ Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; 3:10 to Yuma; Wyatt Earp; Hostiles, and City Slickers.

I spend my time hiking around the ranch alone, and with Kalika. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. A weekend is not long enough to explore everything I want to see, and hope to return. Next time I will use the campground. The accommodations are disappointing. The ranch is in a terrible state of disrepair. The people at the Welcome Center blame it on the year it was closed due to Covid. It took many years of neglect for the ranch to fall into this condition. The Presbyterian Church owns Ghost Ranch but no longer supports it financially. The Ghost Ranch Foundation is responsible for care, preservation, and maintenance of its facilities. I imagine Arthur Pack would be displeased if he saw the condition it’s in. Fortunately, the natural beauty of the land is intact.

The weather is moody and dramatic. Kalika and I decide to hike to Chimney Rock after dinner. It was lovely as we started out, but dark clouds rolled in and we think it best to head back to the cabin. By the time we return, the clouds pass. Later that night, there is thunder and lightning and a torrent of rain.

Georgia O’Keeffe wrote of the Pedernal, “It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.”

Pedernal by Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe Pedernal 1945