Interior Monologue

It’s been two years now since I started this site. Not being a user of social media, I initially wanted to have a small presence on the web in order to demonstrate a modicum of technical proficiency and feigned interest in the digital world should an employer inquire. I also wanted to motivate myself to write a little bit, thinking there could be no harm in contributing my own minute inanity to some infinitesimal portion of the internet. Additionally, I created it so that family members, and a few friends, might peruse photos and descriptions if interested, rather than being subjected to hours of pictures and effusive trip details each visit. It’s worked for all of those things, and even if only a handful of people check in on a regular basis, it’s been rewarding to see how the posts have developed, and to revisit them myself from time to time.

But truth be told, it’s not something I‘m wholeheartedly committed to. I won’t bother to detail personal perspectives on the ills prevalent in the creation of idealized internet personas—fashioned to make us look our best, to make others jealous, to mask unlimited insecurities. I won’t bother to do that because we’re all aware of those realities, even if we have collectively agreed somehow to embrace them. It’s not always like that, I know, some people just like to share information, advice, recipes, photos, artwork, etc., but often, even then, ego plays a part, along with a need to feel needed. I get it for sure, and am not immune to those desires, but I suppose I care most about finding fulfillment closer in, whether it’s feeling comfortable with solitude, or sharing physical experiences with people I value.

All of this to say that I was considering the cessation of the site for multiple reasons, but when it suddenly, and kind of shadily, I might add, ‘auto-renewed’ a couple of weeks ago (while the goal of many bloggers is to monetize their sites, I actually pay to keep ads off of this one) I decided to keep at it for a few more months. And those months will most probably be focused on Alaska, my home for the time being. After that, perhaps I’ll be hoping for real friends in place of faceless followers, and getting my likes and thumbs-up in person or not at all. Until then, however, thanks for reading.



Chena Hot Springs


2020: A succession of flights beginning in Amarillo, Texas on January 1st landed me in Fairbanks around midnight on the 2nd. The convenience of air travel makes distance obsolete, and creates mental disparity in attempting to reconcile the abrupt relocation from one reality to another. Some believe it takes the soul several days to catch up to one’s body. I have flown to Alaska several times in the past, and driven multiple others. I’ve often made the near 4,000 mile overland trip from Texas to Alaska, or back down, stretch out over a couple of months; the quickest I’ve ever done it took a week of long tedious days of extended driving. It’s much easier to comprehend the distance between the two when one serves witness to the immense expanse of land which separates one location from the other. A slower pace allows both body and mind to adjust accordingly.

When I walked out the doors of the airport at one in the morning I imagined my first thought would be: ‘What in the f*ck am I doing moving to Alaska in the middle of winter, or at all?’ But it wasn’t really like that. I simply noted the intensity of the -20 air mingled with a cloud of lingering exhaust fumes, put my bags in a taxi, and rode off into the icy darkness.

The next day was a whirlwind of logistics and preparation for the near future. The one I’m living in now. Up until about three months ago I hadn’t remotely considered the idea of living in Interior Alaska as a possibility in my life, yet sometimes options are not mandated by the person left to choose between them. Forces beyond our control—the decisions of others, failed or functioning relationships, available and desirable work opportunities, etc.—leave one to reorganize priorities and outcomes, to accept circumstances with a mix of resignation and hopeful optimism. By the end of that first day, I had found a place to live and a vehicle to purchase, and was well on my way to becoming an Alaskan resident.

I’ve now been here almost a month, and continue to operate motivated by that same combination of acquiescence and forced positivity. Just trying to figure it all out. As mentioned in previous writings, my thoughts on Alaska are often convoluted. I still feel as if there’s unfinished business here, so much to see and do, infinite possibilities, yet often question whether or not I am capable of accessing that potential. Queries of self-efficacy guide honest assessments of character and circumstance. There is also the fact that throughout its recent history, the past 300 years or so, Alaska has drawn those who care only to see how much they can take from the land. An ethos of extraction prevails, and that can be difficult to negotiate.

For now, however, rather than dwelling on dilemma, I will simply share some impressions, and save the day to day for another time.


Tanana Lakes

Years ago, I was in the military. My last year in, my team flew up to Alaska in mid-December to conduct training exercises in a cold weather environment. We arrived to the Anchorage area, several hundred miles south of where I am now, in time for the winter solstice. I remember watching the sun make a quick arc across the sky each day, appearing around 10 a.m. and disappearing quickly thereafter, at around two in the afternoon. It was a particularly frigid winter, with no snow, and temps around -20 with a wicked wind steadily blowing throughout our time there. The ground was covered in hoar frost, and as part of the training I spent several days and nights trying to stay warm and survive in ‘the field.’ I feared most for my toes, which passed hours without feeling. At the end of those two weeks, I never wanted to go back.

The Army being the Army, however, and me being a single soldier tasked with following orders as they came down, I found myself in the same exact location only weeks later. Attached to another team, we flew up from Washington State in a cargo plane with the heater set to about 80 for the entirety of the flight. When the time came, we parachuted out the side doors and I found myself crashing to the ground soon thereafter on the same landing zone I’d jumped into weeks before. Due to the adrenaline, and my overheated core from the plane ride, as I started rolling up my parachute I looked around thinking to myself ‘This isn’t so bad.’ About two minutes later all that internal heat was gone with the wind, and the cold set in hard. I cursed my luck knowing that I was going to be there for a couple of months this time around, and imagined nothing but misery for the duration.

The first couple of days proved to be exactly that. More wind, more cold, lots of ice around the base and several people almost breaking bones because of it… On day three, however, a shift occurred in the weather. It suddenly warmed up enough to snow (extremely cold air generally signifies a high pressure system with little moisture), and the wind died down significantly. From that time on, it was one of the best deployments I had in the military. We spent the first ten days ‘training’ at Alyeska Resort—a local’s nightmare—300 camoflauged Gore-Tex clad yahoos on Army skis destroying runs of beautiful fresh powder with the ugliest turns you’ve ever seen. The next several weeks we tent camped and did survival training and rode snowmobiles and cross country skied and even had our own little biathlon. It was awesome. The experience culminated with a mock scenario which found us one midnight flying several hours up north in Chinook helicopters. Just before they landed we started up our snowmobiles and revved them off the ramp, James Bond style, flying off the tailgate and onto the packed snow beneath. We spent the next three days doing our thing, the entire time the sky above us lit up with every color of aurora possible.

That whole experience changed my perspective of Alaska completely, though I still never imagined myself living here full time. I made it back many years later as a guide, and spent my first summer here near Denali National Park taking clients down the Nenana River. Most of the people working up here in the summer only come for the season, but there are a few that stay year round, and even a couple who actually grew up here. I’ve worked in the state four summer seasons total, and would always inquire as to how life was in the winter, not because I was interested in living through one, but because I wasn’t. Watching the seasons’ quick change each fall, and noting the darkness descend (miffed in late August because of a 10 p.m. sunset), my thoughts turned quickly to the desert. Descriptions of -40 temps and the minimal daylight hours convinced me of the correct nature of those notions.

There was no love in the desert this year, though for this reason I may report that Alaska in the winter is much more beautiful than I ever imagined or remembered. It would be difficult to describe, but sometimes it almost hurts to look around, a weighing of the heart the soul what have you, to be surrounded by beauty of such intensity—to be the engaged observer, to take part in the realization of fleeting reality. To be here in the winter is not to admire the landscapes, but to be absorbed into them. There is darkness, to be sure, for many hours of each day. But the light, for the hours the sun sits on the horizon, is otherworldly. It is a physical presence, palpable around you, the snow, below you on the ground and above you in the trees, never white but warm shades of pink and gold. The sky, for hours and hours, cobalt and blues deeper than you knew existed in the world, and purple and pink and red. To be here is to live inside of a suspended sunset, rather than watch it on a distant horizon—from passive onlooker to full participant.



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As for the cold, it’s also not as most would imagine, though I’ve come to realize most would also not believe that to hear it. From many perspectives, temperatures dropping past 40 degrees above zero are cold enough, let alone even imagining -20, or -30, or -40 below. You will simply have to believe me or not when I say, so far, I’ve been a lot colder in a lot of other places. Places like the Texas Panhandle for instance, and definitely in lots of deserts, and for sure in Leadville, Colorado, the last wintry place I lived. There are two reasons for that, the most relevant being the wind, which, right here, rarely blows at all. I think the best analogy would be (maybe not even an analogy, as it’s kind of the same thing) stepping outside here is a lot like stepping into a walk-in freezer, like the kind found in most restaurants. It is so still that it takes a minute for the cold to set in. Once you realize that it’s cold, you also realize it’s definitely the kind of cold that could kill you if you continued to hang out in a t-shirt and shorts for much longer. But it’s not the kind of cold that makes your face chafe instantly and causes you to turn away from it quick like. It’s not the cold that comes ripping at you from hundreds of miles away, the kind of cold you encounter when climbing mountains in the fall or kayaking in the spring. It’s not that ferocious surprise cold that makes your eyes tear up; it’s a slow almost imperceptible cold, one that likes to take its time, but also the kind of cold that skips the shivering stage. The second reason it’s not so bad is that, unlike in those other environments where wind and wetness can create unexpected distress dangerously quick, you know it’s going to be cold when you go out, and you know what it’s going to be like. As such, it’s not that hard to be able to adequately prepare for it, up to the point where it’s also not difficult to be able to enjoy being outside without discomfort. For those willing to do so, that is. A small number indeed.


X-country skiing at -25. Expelled moisture freezes quick. Good times.


Trails Everywhere!

The hardest part then, for now, is trying to face it alone. The starting over again. The being surrounded by all this beauty and intensity and endless potential. It’s knowing that there are a few people out there doing these awesome things, creating these amazing epic adventures only possible in this sprawling wilderness, but having no real idea how to become aligned with them.

I’ve done a lot of solo traveling, including several multi-day trips in Alaska, and am sure I will continue to do so. Sometimes because I really wanted to go alone, and a lot of times simply because there wasn’t anyone else around willing and prepared to make things happen. There is a tenuous line, however, between voluntary solitude, and something far different. There is also the fact that Alaska truly is on a much different scale than anywhere else, in terms of both splendor and consequence. In an abandoned school bus not too far from here, Christopher McCandless penned a line in a book margin, ‘Happiness is only real when shared.’ I do not agree completely, yet fully understand the sentiment. Especially in a place like this.




20170619_204959-2.jpgA new year is upon us, the earth beginning another revolution around the sun—if, of course, there can be imagined to be a beginning and an end to the cycle, a start and a finish, rather than a continuum. How much better for us here in the northern latitudes to celebrate in the dead of winter, rather than to picture things starting over in the middle of summer, as they must do further south. A renewal, a fresh start, a regeneration, new chances and new opportunities. From dark to light, death to life, cold to warm, winter to spring. The imagery lends itself to resolutions.

The days, 31st-1st, and numbered years, of course, human constructs based on measuring the invention of linear time as a whole, and on this particular calendar given in relation to the life of a religious figure. Why wouldn’t the year begin anew on the solstice, at the very least? No matter. For the purposes of this post we’re going to go with it. As of midnight, the year is 2020, the year of hindsight, and a year of new beginnings based on lessons garnered from life experiences to this point. Why not?

What I have mostly been dwelling on these past months of 2019, or perhaps for years now, concerns individual efforts, successes, failures, and imaginings as to the amount of influence we can affect upon any aspect of our personal realities. We are very limited, it would seem, in our impact, though not entirely without recourse or decisions.

We have all heard that we often cannot control circumstances, merely our reactions to those circumstances. Examples might be as benign as the weather, or as malignant as the death of a loved one. This notion could be seen as both depressing and inspiring. Either way, it would be difficult to argue its basis in reality. Perhaps a more poignant take moves beyond reactions to propose that we cannot control our circumstances, but yet we can control our character, comprised as it is of attitudes, emotions, and actions—the latter being the most important consideration. Defining values in a continual process of growth and awareness prepares us for inconsistencies inevitable in the environments we occupy.

In this world most things are outside of our control, including, to a large degree, our individual selves. Our genetics, for instance, are beyond us. We don’t get to select our gender, or the color of our skin, or guarantee any sort of early financial stability or loving home environment. All are born with predispositions towards health and/or illness. Our actions and life decisions may influence these susceptibilities, for better or worse, and our attitudes may also determine certain outcomes—though most would be willing to admit neither is failsafe in preventing, curing, or even intensifying vulnerabilities. We’ve all heard of 30-year-old marathon runners collapsing of heart attacks and smokers living to 100.

Furthermore, we can’t even determine seemingly less significant things in our lives. Our thoughts, to be specific, are often well beyond our control. It proves incredibly difficult to retrain one’s brain to cultivate more desirable initial reactions to given situations. We are people of prejudice and judgement, each of us to one degree or another. We make snap decisions based on all manner of input informed by past life experiences and influences. We may find humor in inappropriate instances. Some may even be aroused by socially taboo subjects, or programmed to find pleasure in negative behaviors. In these instances, the thoughts themselves are inescapable. It is how we choose to act upon them which will determine their impact on individual and communal realities.

We can also not predict the future, nor the actions of other people, nor the universe as a whole. No matter how carefully we plan for contingencies or try to shelter ourselves from emotional abuse or physical detriment, there are too many factors to account for in ensuring success of any measure. We all have good days and bad days, interact with good people and bad people, and must deal with personal frailty and the juggernaut which is the world around us.

So it is true then that we cannot control the vast majority of influences in our lives. It is also true, however, that we may express some autonomy in how we react to situations as they present themselves to us along the way. We can strive to nurture neutral or even positive responses to seemingly negative situations. We may also work to extract ourselves, or protect ourselves from those situations, though this may not always be immediately possible. Above all, we may work to learn and grow from the circumstances we live through. This is the cultivating character part, the importance of determining personal values in an effort to strengthen resolve in relation to any given condition. This is the 20/20 hindsight. Not an examination of how things should have been done in the past, but how the lessons we’ve learned to this point might serve us in the present.

Integrity, the act of doing what we know to be right even when no one else is around to notice, proves essential in our progress towards becoming fully realized individuals. ‘To thine own self be true.’ Without defining one’s values, there may be no right or wrong to speak of, no clarity or guidance for future predicaments or accomplishments. We must determine our personal philosophies and strive to achieve customized incarnations of said values. Simply put, to be the best that we can be. To give the best of ourselves in all situations, regardless of external response, or lack thereof.

The Golden Rule posits that we should treat others as we would like to be treated; similar maxims are said to exist in most religions and cultures. This is the expression of our character and values. Unfortunately, there is no assurance that those we treat in this manner will treat us the same way in return, yet another variable outside of our control. Perhaps an appropriate (albeit wordy) addendum would be to determine how we would like to be treated, find people that treat us that way, and do our best to reciprocate. Our personal values not only dictate how we treat others, but also determine the respect we hold for our own well-being.

This is the important lesson: personal value systems are not refined to influence others, though we may hope to exert positive results through our efforts. They are meant to inform our intentions with respect to desired outcomes in our own lives. There is no guarantee these outcomes will manifest, but understanding what we are willing to accept as edifying and gratifying allows one to abandon or embrace relationships—with people, possessions, passions, activities, etc.—with clear mind. They allow us to receive, examine, and respond to those aforementioned circumstances with a predicated level of consciousness. They permit us to do what is right in our own lives, and according to our own principles, regardless of happenstance, or the consequences of forces beyond our control. They fortify us in the present and help us to prepare ourselves for the future.

Happy 2020.

sweet darkness 2

Full Poem: Sweet Darkness

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Run the Texas Panhandle!

I grew up in the Texas Panhandle, a large section of Texas loosely identified as the northernmost 26 counties of the state. The region is bordered to the west by New Mexico, to the north and east by Oklahoma, and to the south, hundreds of miles from the northern border, by the Big Bend and Hill Country regions. For the most part, the topography consists of grass and shrub covered plains, occasionally interspersed with arroyos and shallow canyons. It is a vast level swath of land, some 25,000 square miles total, featuring open views in all directions. With a vantage allowing line of sight through fences, power lines, wind farms, and oil field machinery, one may note the slight curvature of the earth along the distant horizon.

state map


It is a windy place, much of the time, with a widely varying range of temperatures, each exacerbated by the blustery weather. It can be well over a hundred and blowing hair dryer hot in the summer, and snowing sideways with wind chills well into the negatives on the worst of winter days. With the winds come tumbleweeds and trash, blowing from fence to fence across rural landscapes, and yard to yard in towns and cities.

Driving the backroads, one moves steadily from one small community to the next, each in varying states of disrepair. The boom and bust cycles of agriculture, ranching, and oil are evident throughout, though when passing by boarded storefronts, broken windows, and empty brick hollows, it is difficult to imagine these main streets ever lived up to their full potential. Scattered signs of life may be observed as well: hamburger shacks with hand-lettered signs, dilapidated beauty salons with clever names, a Dairy Queen, competing convenience stores, shoe-polished slogans supporting high-school football teams—Go Eagles! On the outskirts lie weedy trailer homes and the rusted carcasses of American muscle cars—dreams left to die. The larger cities in the region prove no more stimulating—the standard repetition of box stores, fast food chains, franchised restaurants, and mega-Walmarts. Sprawl and squalor, obvious separation of wealth. The whole place exudes a certain one paycheck behind quality, a feeling of uninspired existence perhaps, though food, fuel, and other fundamentals are produced here, a concept not to be taken lightly. I confess a proclivity for criticism, having endured an adolescence stifled by an inflexible status-quo.

In short, if you ever find yourself in the Panhandle, your first thought might be of running—running away that is. At least that’s been my experience since leaving here many years ago. I have discovered, however, there is beauty to be found everywhere, and though one may have to search a little harder here, it does exist in many forms—in the open skies, those boundless horizon lines, in the wildlife, the rugged vegetation, the thrill of a multi-story dust devil, the sight of a refrigerator-sized tumbleweed bouncing along the freeway at 40 mph. There are also a few geographical gems in the region which provide opportunities for outdoor recreation, for running and camping and wildlife viewing, etc. Places worth getting to know, worth going back to time and again should you find yourself just passing through or stuck here for a while.

My family still lives in the Panhandle, and as such, I try to visit when possible. This usually occurs once or twice a year as I’m driving from one place to another. Amarillo, the biggest city near where I grew up, is a long ways from most of the places I’m interested in getting to—an eight hour drive even from Terlingua and the Big Bend—but as it’s transected by major interstates, planning a route which detours through there isn’t all that difficult. I’ll general stay for a week or so, a couple days in the city with my mom, and a few days hanging out with my dad, who lives in one of the neighboring towns about 45 minutes away. The past several months, however, I’ve ended up spending an inordinate amount of time here. As such, I thought I’d do a little something about a few of the best places to spend time outdoors in the region, just in case one of my fictitious, running obsessed readers finds themselves in the area. Not to mention, this may well be the last bit on running I do in a while, as it’s going to be treadmills, ice spikes, and cross country skis for long months to come once I make it up to Alaska next week.

I mainly want to give a brief description of the three best places to trail run in the entire Panhandle, from my own experience, limited as it may be and more specific to the Amarillo zone. But those three should be enough for anyone driving along I-40 or I-27 to detour to for a couple of hours of exploration, or to camp out for the evening if passing through the region. Truth be told, these three places probably cover it for the most part anyway, as outside of the Big Bend finding opportunities to recreate on land open to the public is depressingly difficult. Over 95% of Texas land is privately owned, leaving a minute amount of accessible open space for the common folk. The rest of it sits sanctioned off by boundless miles of fence posts, barbed wire, and closed gates. As such, options for running outside of city parks or municipal streets are limited to underfunded and overused state parks, or the couple parcels of federal land in Texas—one of which happens to be a few miles from where I’m typing this.

Before moving on to the descriptions, however, one running anecdote from my time in the Panhandle: As I’ve mentioned before on this site, running hasn’t played a part in my life for all that long, at least not an enjoyable one. Some years prior to the shift in attitude, however, I found myself signed up for the annual Amarillo Thanksgiving Turkey Trot. I knew that I was going to run the 5K a couple months beforehand, but couldn’t really bring myself to do any sort of training for the event, mostly because I really didn’t like running, so figured I’d save it for when I had to do it and not spend any extra effort in working up to it. I also lived in Leadville, Colorado at the time, at an elevation of 10,000’, which made running even less enticing, and also made for a convincing excuse that the drop in altitude should be enough to compensate for my lack of preparation. The inevitable Thursday morning arrived as cold and breezy as one might expect for November in the Panhandle. I showed up just as the event started, and found myself scrambling to attach bib and shoelace timing chip as the gun went off. From the back of the pack I eventually found my pace and place, ahead of the walkers, but a long ways behind the real runners, who I could see well on the other side of the lake the course circuited around. I wasn’t dying, but I certainly wasn’t having much fun. It was cold; I was out of shape and underdressed and hadn’t run three miles consecutively in many years.

About a quarter mile from the finish I caught up to a 12-year-old boy giving it his all while dressed in what would, in most parts of the country, be considered a decidedly non-PC Indian outfit, feathered headdress, war paint and all (“It’s my culture, not a costume!” read the posters around university campuses last year…). I didn’t intentionally pass him, simply labored by hoping for the experience to be over. He shot me a death glance as I overtook him. Around the corner the finish line was finally in sight, and I heard much yelling and cheering from the awaiting crowd as the kid was now high-kicking it behind me in an all-out sprint for the end. Even if I would have felt like humiliating a small child in a public setting, I wouldn’t have been able to muster the extra energy, and he bounded past to beat me by a couple seconds. I’d like to imagine that I could smoke him these days, but that’s probably not true, as he’s now about 19 and certainly quite a bit faster if he kept with the running. The most humiliating part came the next day, however, when the holiday copy of the Amarillo Globe-News arrived at my dad’s house. There it was, on the front page of the paper for all the Panhandle to see—the young brave whooping across the finish line with a panting old guy, his/my face plainly visible in the photo, struggling for breath several steps behind.

On to the rest of it then. Over the past months I’ve been able to revisit a few of my favorite spots in the Panhandle, and even discover a couple of new trails. I’ve also been running around the east side of Amarillo a fair amount (might as well grow an extra head the way people gawk from their truck windows at a pedestrian), and have come to the conclusion that winter may well be the best time to run here. The wind can be a deterrent, especially the colder it gets, but there are significantly fewer weeds, pokey things, and stickers in general, along with greatly reduced chances of seeing snakes. Slanted lighting softens the landscape. Long shadows and golden glows abound.

The three places I’d like to endorse are as follows: Caprock Canyon State Park, Palo Duro State Park, and the Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. All offer many miles of trails and excellent options for runs of any distance. There are a few other smaller state parks along the southern extension of the region, (such as Copper Breaks, which does have a few good trails), worth checking out if you’re in the area, but these are the top three if you’re looking for extended runs across inspiring terrain.

Caprock Canyon State Park

Caprock has around 90 miles of trails open to hiking and biking. It’s definitely somewhere one could spend several days exploring. For those looking to stay a while, the campsites are a highlight as they are arranged to offer privacy and great views. The trails provide lots of variety and untold options for connecting different routes. I would have stayed a few more days the last time I was there, but had to depart due to reservations made by incoming attendees of the annual Bob Wills Days in nearby Turkey, Texas. Be aware of that detail if you’re there at the end of April. Another highlight is the ‘Texas State Bison Herd,’ which roams freely throughout the park. Tatanka. Get your Kevin Costner on.

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Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Touted in park literature as the ‘Grand Canyon of Texas,’ Palo Duro is reported to be the ‘second largest canyon in the US,’ though when I searched for substantiation of this claim I could only come up with Texas based media outlets as sources. Such is life in the Lone Star State. Regardless, it is an incredible place to visit, and an iconic landmark. Captivating landscapes, lots of wildlife and wildflowers, plenty of opportunities for camping, and great trails. You can also see the outdoor musical TEXAS if you’re there in season. I try to spend at least a day here each time I pass through, and any time of the year is a good time to visit. My favorite trail combines the Givens, Spicer, Lowry (named for three local runners) with the Lighthouse trail to make a six or so mile loop with opportunities to take spurs to the Lighthouse formation and/or Little Fox Canyon.

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Lake Meredith National Recreation Area

While the first two might be somewhat obvious choices if visiting the Panhandle, Lake Meredith is fairly unknown outside the local area. When I was growing up, the lake was popular for boating, fishing, beer drinking, and cliff jumping. As the years passed, however, the lake (actually a reservoir capturing the flow of the dinky Canadian River) began to recede considerably, reaching a record low in 2013. As the lake dropped, marinas and boat ramps were left high and dry, and visitor use plummeted. In an effort to increase recreation opportunities in the area, the NPS decided to begin constructing trails, and several were seen to completion. Since then, however, the lake has experienced an astonishing recovery, with current water levels actually covering sections of trail where a few years ago the lake wasn’t even visible in the distance. What this all means is there are presently miles of really sweet trails with great views of the lake along the way.

Along with NRA’s eponymous lake, the region also features Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, a site recognized for its importance to the “survival, commerce and culture of the High Plains.” In past visits, I spent a fair amount of time here with my dad, who did a lot of volunteer work at the monument, including conducting interpretive tours of the quarries. Visiting the sites requires having a guide and a good imagination. The main sites, which sit on top of a mesa, consist of nothing more than small pits in the ground where high grade flint was extracted by prehistoric cultures to be used in trading and the construction of tools. If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth a stop by the visitor’s center, and nearby dirt roads allow access to the lake and some easy running opportunities. My dad no longer volunteers for the park service, having since moved on to other projects, but does spend a lot of time hiking around the entire area taking photographs and identifying flora and fauna. As such, anytime I’m back we spend at least a couple of days out by the lake, both on trail and off, and it’s become one of my favorite parts of spending time in the Panhandle.

There are several different areas of the recreation area with access to trails, but two of the best trailheads can be accessed at the same basic location, which is the Harbor Bay boat ramp just outside the town of Fritch. The first trailhead will be on the left as soon as you spot the lake. This is the South Turkey Creek Trail, which parallels the lakeshore for around six miles before dropping down into Turkey Creek itself, where it joins up with a four mile loop up the creek—making a 16-mile round trip route for anyone looking to do some distance. The loop can also be accessed, by an unofficial but apparent trail, from Dolomite Point, which is a short drive from the Alibates Visitor’s Center.

The second trail is the Harbor Bay Trail, which can be reached by continuing to the Harbor Bay boat ramp. From here the trail climbs for a short ways, then traverses a side canyon before crossing a creek and heading up to a mesa loop trail. From the trailhead to around the loop and back is around 6 miles. An earlier loop goes up to a mesa overlooking Harbor Bay itself. The terrain is a nice mix of up and down, the views are outstanding, and you are likely to have the place to yourself.

Welp, guess that’s about it pard. Not necessarily suggesting anyone make the Panhandle a destination, but if you happen to find yourself in these parts hankerin’ for some fresh Texas air, now you know where to go. Later y’all!

Photos below provided courtesy of Glendon Jett.






20191211_152741Sometime this past summer I started thinking about Baja. Not sure why I hadn’t considered traveling there before, but I began dreaming up a couple of bigger trips I’d like to do in the region, both on water and on land. Before I ended up in Spain I’d been considering the possibility of driving on down and staying for a while. That hasn’t happened yet, but when I found myself with a couple additional weeks of Kafkaesque frustration in waiting on a future dependent on government paperwork and faceless inefficiency, I decided to go for a visit, some recon, a vacation, something sunny and somewhat productive to do in the meantime—call it what you will. No matter what, it seems like Mexico is always a good idea. 

Sold the van and then took a bus down from Albuquerque, crossed the border in El Paso, stayed a night in Ciudad Juarez. Powered up on some huevos rancheros in the morning, and spent a day of air travel over to the peninsula. It was one night in a cool little hotel in San Jose del Cabo, and then on to the beach. Didn’t have any plans whatsoever, so bumped across town in a local bus the next morning, hopped in a shuttle headed to the Pacific side, and got off when I saw a dirt road heading down to the ocean.IMGP0828Ended up in the sleepy town of Cerritos ten years too late, but still enjoyed spending a few days in what was once a quintessential Mexican fishing village turned surf spot. The area is currently being hammered by development and habitat destruction, with a vibe trending hard to gringo tourist, but it was a good place to flail around with a surfboard for a few days. The afternoons were hot and humid, and the nights crisp and cool on an empty beach. It was fish tacos and a couple of Indios each evening, and in bed with a book around 8 p.m. listening to the exploding surf through the frond walls of a palapa. A couple good runs, lots of walking around, a few decent waves, and color filled skies at dusk. Super tranquilo.  

It was a final Sunday morning surf session, and from there it was a long hot walk back up that dirt road, a back-of-the-pickup ride from some locals, and a bus to Todos Santos where I spent a couple hours poking around town and taking photos.20191208_153342

That evening I arrived at the malecón in La Paz, capital of Baja California Sur, just in time for a stellar sunset and a Christmas concert. I stayed a full week in a little apartment just outside of the central district, and spent my mornings brushing up on grammar at a Spanish school, and afternoons checking out the city and the local beaches.


I probably could have repeated the schedule for a couple more weeks without getting bored. It was great to speak Spanish for a few hours each morning, and then head off on my own around lunchtime. Would have been amazing to have had someone to cruise around with, but between studying and exploring I kept pretty busy. Highlights of the week were runs down to the malecón in the early a.m., getting exactly what I’d hoped from the classes, lots of great food, a couple of sweet hikes, an art walk with local guide Amelie, visits to the local beaches, bike riding on the boardwalk, and basking in lots of sunshine and sunsets—which there may soon be a dearth of in my life. The scenery is amazing down there, the juxtaposition of desert and sea something special.20191212_164003

20191209_164101Check out: Colectivo Tomate

20191211_163001My last day in town was Saturday, and I joined an all-day tour out to Isla Espiritu Santo. I rarely sign up for group tours, but when I do it’s always fun to watch the guides in action, to experience the day from the other side, to hear the same tired guide jokes I’ve personally repeated hundreds of times. And the tour itself was awesome: a morning boat ride out to the island, checking out a frigate rookery, swimming around with sea lions, a ceviche lunch, a lucky encounter with a pod of playful dolphins, and snorkeling with whale sharks to end the day. The activities/ecosystems also seemed to be responsibly managed and protected, which was uplifting to see. That evening there was a big holiday affair on the malecón, complete with loads of food vendors, a night boat parade, and fireworks. An entertaining end to the week.IMGP0961 (2)

IMGP1041From there it was up early in the morning and out of La Paz. On to Guadalajara, Juarez, and over an hour of standing in a barely moving line with hundreds of people on the international bridge waiting to process though customs. Once across, it was a couple hours in downtown El Paso, vibrant and lit up for the holidays, and then back to the hyper-depressed reality of bus travel in the US. It was up to Albuquerque again, and over to Amarillo, and into low clouds and gray skies and cold wind and dreams of deserts and oceans and sunshine. It was smiles from thinking about conversations with locals, and all the tacos consumed, and simply knowing that it’s all down there, whether I ever make it back or not.20191210_172542

Hold What You Love with an Open Hand

Non-attachment. Often a difficult concept to practice, it would be gauche to exclude mention of the idea on a site purportedly inspired by one western whitey’s trifling interest in ancient eastern teachings. Non-attachment represents the core of the Buddhist path, the Buddha having identified desire as the nexus of all suffering. It is only our longing for permanence in an ever-fluctuating environment which causes anguish and emotional turmoil when the inevitable occurs. Things change. Loss is imminent. Shit happens. We are all aware of such universal laws, yet often unprepared to accept their consequences, choosing instead to cling desperately to ideas of ownership and injustice.

When it comes to non-attachment and people, I fail considerably. That’s probably what these musings should be about, but I’m loathe to expose personal weakness in detail. When it comes to detachment and belongings, however, I usually do alright. The shedding of possessions can be equated with liberation, and the greater emotional satisfaction found in giving vs. receiving holds true. While I will recognize that material goods may provide access to liberating experiences—as in the case of vehicles, musical instruments, appropriately incorporated technologies, adventure gear, etc.—it is easy to lose sight of the end goal in the acquisition of more and more things. Needs, needs, and wants. Falling into this consumeristic mindset inevitably requires compromising one’s original values, and often free time and freedom, in order to acquire ever more equipment ostensibly needed to experience certain environments, or the world as a whole. And most of these technologies and goods are designed to make those experiences safer, easier, faster, warmer, drier, more sterile and less wild and not nearly as redemptive as a consequence. And once you have the things, of course, you have to hold on to them, and find space for them, and secure them, and fret about losing them somehow. In the end, I suppose, the point is determining what is essential to one’s fulfillment, and reevaluating the excess. As revered river guru Larry Firman once noted, “You don’t need much in this life.”

Truth told, I don’t own much in this life, and I’m pretty happy about that most of the time. This valuation, of course, being a relative assessment as there are billions of people on this planet with less than many of us would consider necessary for basic existence. I’m typing on a personal computer, I’ve almost always owned a vehicle. I have an abundance of clothes, and an excess of outdoor gear. But it’s good to reexamine with frequency, to keep the ever multiplying things in check. It’s important to cull the accessories from the fundamentals in a concentrated effort to simplify our worlds, to minimalize extraneous distractions from those things that truly do bring us alive. Every now and again it may also be healthy to release something you may have become too attached to. A practice in moving on and letting go.

On a less foofy note—it’s also kinda exciting to get rid of a bunch of junk so you can buy some more of the same. Anticipating an upcoming move, and also hoping to hit a reset button of sorts, I’ve been doing a lot of shuffling, selling, tossing, and donating lately. Loads of barely worn, ill-fitting clothes to the thrift stores; another boat paddled and gone; stacks of novels destined for library book sales; old photos and letters solemnly shredded; and the van, faithful companion and facilitator of adventures for the last several years, hesitantly transferred to more of the same without me. May it live to triple the miles it has now, and travel a Mobius loop of backroads till its wheels fall off. Thanks for all the good times. The rest of these words and photos are a dedication to our journeys together, as many of the stories on this site were made possible through its diligent service.


This was the third van I’ve owned in my life, and as someone with a very transient lifestyle, I’ve spent a lot of years living out of (not in) a vehicle. Perhaps I’ll write more about all that at some point, but I had been thinking about buying another van for several years before I auspiciously found this one in Anchorage a week or so before I was scheduled to fly up to Alaska for the summer. This was 2016. It was exactly what I had been looking for off and on for a long while, a stealthy cargo van with low miles and a good engine and lots of empty space in the back for conversion. Luck and faith allowed me to sell my Civic a day before flying out, and two days later I was spending my first night on the Alaskan highway, a stellar view of the Chugach out the window. I bought some lumber and built a hasty bed to get me through the summer. My mama sent me some custom sewn blackout curtains to cover the windows against the never setting Arctic sun. At the end of the season I drove it through Canada, and then down through the PNW to California and eventually over to Texas. I spent a week at my dad’s house where we put on the roof rack and customized the inside—sturdy but simple, function with no frills other than varying shades of blue throughout. From there it was south to the Big Bend and on and on and on.

Around this time I was gifted a new road atlas, which I greatly prefer to google maps and GPS. I love the byways, the backroads, the out-of-the-way and little known attractions. While there are no more blank spots left on any maps, there’s almost always something new to see. For fun, I started highlighting all the roads and rivers traveled. It’s now been three-and-a-half years and 50,000 miles and 30+ states, many of them several times over. It’s been three times from Alaska to Texas or vice-versa, two times driving, once on the ferry. The Cassiar, the AlCan, the Top-of-the World ‘Highway’, the Inside Passage, the Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta. It’s been on a couple grocery runs into Mexico, and out to the East Coast and down to Florida and up through the North Country and across the Midwest. It’s been three canoes, three windshields, untold oil changes, new brakes, and a new set of tires. It’s been mud, snow, sand, and a few places it probably never should have ended up. It’s been good times and goodbyes and a lot of memories. It’s hard to believe it’s only been a little over three years, and it’s a bit hard to accept that it’s time to move on. But such is life, and personified vehicles may serve as sought after metaphors.

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“La peor forma de extrañar a alguien es estar sentado a su lado y saber que nunca lo podrás tener.” Gabriel García Márquez

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A veces es difícil enfocarnos en las personas que nos cuidan y que nos apoyan, en vez de obsesionarnos en las que pensamos deberían haber hecho lo mismo, pero nunca lo hicieron. Por esto, tengo que dar gracias etorno a Laura—anfitriona demasiado generosa, persona increíble amable, y un alma lleno de energía positiva. Me ha mostrado lo mejor de tu ciudad, y algunos lugares encantadores de tu país. Gracias por todas las comidas—típicas y ricas, y por invitarme a visitar después de tantos años. Ojalá que tenga la oportunidad para hacer lo mismo para ti en el futuro próximo. Ha sido un placer pasar tiempo contigo y con tu familia. Nunca dejes de sonreír.


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Lo Inesperado

Vivir no es sólo existir, sino existir y crear, saber gozar y sufrir y no dormir sin soñar. Descansar, es empezar a morir. –Gregorio Marañón


Toledo, España

Hay veces cuando uno tiene que preguntarse si usar agua como metáfora por cómo se debe vivir es pragmático. El agua, después de todo, no planea su futuro. No piensa en dos movimientos adelante. No le importa las repercusiones de no dirigir su destino en avance. Solo se mueve—a veces rápido, a veces casi indistinguible. Solo sabe comportarse como agua, no importa si es líquido, solido, o gas. No importa si está bajando un rio, o formando una ola, o pudriéndose en una planta de tratamiento de aguas. Solo reacciona sin reaccionarse. Sin tener reacciones que sean negativas o positivas. No tiene emociones ni pensamientos en lo bueno ni en lo malo.

Hay mucho que aprender pensando en ella, pero también uno tiene que ser el ser humano que es. Uno tiene que vivir evitando consecuencias que puedan parecer más duras que las piedras que hay en los arroyos. La vida nómada suele tener etapas muy altas y también muy bajas. Experimentar los momentos más altos, los momentos de pura alegría y libertad, es lo que ánima a los que la viven, a hacerlo. Pero los momentos bajos también pueden ser extremos, y duros, y pueden durar hasta que uno no puede más. Ya he conocido a algunos que no tenían lo que hay que tener para soportarlos, pero tampoco no podían pensar en cómo cambiarlos, ni cómo vivirían sin esta libertad. Pero si alguien puede mantener la fe—aunque cada vez pueda ser más difícil—las cosas sí cambiarán. Solo hay que tener esperanza y enfocarse en salir adelante otra vez.

Entonces, cuando desde la oscuridad, alguien te dice ‘ven a España…’ tal vez tienes que pensar que no solo habla la persona, sino el universo. (Pero a este pensamiento, este alguien me respondió: ‘Eso es! Pero la persona también quiere que vengas…’) Hay que ser como agua, y no preguntarse para que estas siguiendo una ruta sin saber el destino. Hay que evaporarse desde el charco estancado, ir al aire, y bajar el rio otra vez. Sobre todo, y por lo menos, tienes que intentarlo. A veces la vida puede ser como un sueño. Hay que vivirla así.


Barrancas de Burujón

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Nerja, Costa del Sol


Year of the Snake

Rattlesnakes everywhere.

For me, at least, this has been the Year of the Snake, and I’m more than ready for those things to crawl under a couple rocks for the winter. I will say that I appreciate the rattlesnake for the ample warning it gives, rather than going straight for the biting offense as defense displayed by many venomous snakes in the world. I do, I do. However, having experienced the startling buzz accompanied by coiled strike pose only feet from my own—multiple times as of late—I’d prefer to have a few months free from further encounters. I suppose the body’s flight mode response does boost the heart rate while high-stepping to the side of a trail mid-run, but I’d rather hit those numbers climbing hills than leaping into cacti. I’m looking forward to looking up and out, rather than scanning vigilantly downtrail all the time.

Idaho has more rattlers than anywhere, as far as my personal observations have shown, though I started writing this in New Mexico after pulling into the El Morro campsite and spotting a small diamondback immediately after exiting the vehicle. Two days later, I was riding my bike in El Malpais and stopped to watch a very large diamondback work its way across a dirt road. On both of these occasions, there was no major reaction from either of the snakes or myself, but that has not been the case most of the summer, now officially fall.

A week before, I was in Utah canoeing a couple of canyons on the Green River, which I posted about (Labyrinth and Stillwater) including a photo and mention of this next incident. I was off on a side-hike up an abandoned meander near Bonita Bend; where the river once flowed is now a dry loop around a mile or so in distance. Earlier in the day, I happened upon a slot canyon while running up on the mesa above the river. I worked my way down the canyon for a half-mile or so, then went back to my boat with the intention of hiking the entire thing from below rather than going all the way to the river and returning. As I paddled down the river to what I thought would be the mouth of the slot canyon, I began to realize that the two weren’t going to intersect after all, and deduced that the entrance most likely sat at the back of the dry bend. It was a hot sandy walk in the old riverbed to where they met, but once I arrived, tall cliffs shaded a wide swath of pink gravel. The shade was a welcome respite from the sun, and I could see the slot canyon just ahead. Happy to have figured out the location, and relieved by the coolness of the air, snakes were the last thing on my mind. In the beginning of the trip, still maintaining the awareness I developed in Idaho, I’d been keeping an eye out for snakes of any sort. I only saw one little baby snake, and seemed to remember not seeing many snakes in Utah all the times I’d been there before—just hundreds of lizards running all over the place. It was now my 5th or 6th day on the river, however, a lapse in vigilance having returned as a result of  many uneventful hikes on the way down. Anyway, guard down, especially in the open expanse of shaded sand, a sudden BUZZ-BUZZ-RAPID MOTION in my peripheries, was followed by ridiculous vocal reaction from me and a hurried leap into the air. A freakin’ pink rattlesnake, exactly the color of the surrounding sand, shaking its thing while assuming an aggressively contorted coil only a foot from my walking trajectory. It was two-feet long and skinny as can be, but that multi-coil meant business and this thing was ready for action. I was not. Uuugh.

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If you have never heard the sound of a rattlesnake before, it’s actually kind of hard to describe, and nothing like the toy baby-rattle soundbites of old westerns. It’s much quieter and perhaps akin to a high-voltage buzz of electricity or a pair of overworked hair clippers. When I haven’t experienced it for a couple of years, I often forget what it is when I first hear it. Grasshoppers and grassy desert plants seem to mimic the noise once you’re on full alert, but before then it doesn’t sound too out of the ordinary, until vestigial instinct kicks in and you realize you’re being a dumb ass for not moving as quickly as possible in the opposite direction.

All of these recent snake sightings led me to recount my experiences this past summer in Idaho, which led to a reflection on all the times I’ve ever seen a rattlesnake. It was actually quite interesting as one memory led to the next and on to the next, leading me to consider how impactful brushes with danger, either real or perceived, can be. This, in turn led to reflection on topics pertaining to arguments for keeping top predator species in the wilderness, as well as some of the reasons many people venture into the outdoors in the first place. Unknown variables have the potential to create visceral experiences, heightening awareness and involvement and leaving formative memories. It’s certainly true that these incidents can lead to injury, horror, discomfort, and death, but for many, the greatest rewards often come with a certain amount of risk.

I digress. Back to the snake stories.

The first encounter in Idaho this past summer was on a dusky after-dinner run. A few minutes up the trail there it was, the buzzing, the coiled striking pose. This was indeed a time when it took a couple of seconds for my brain to connect the noise to the danger. I might also add that it’s an awkward movement to brake mid-stride. Once stopped, a brief staredown ensued and I almost turned around, as it was near dark anyway, but I decided to take the long way around instead, marking the spot mentally for my return. When the snake was nowhere to be seen on the way back, it was worse than if it had been, the obvious question being “where the hell is it now?” Never saw it again, however, though did see the second one of the season a couple days later at Veil Falls. After that, they were all over the place. Another week we saw four in one trip down the Middle Fork, including one menacing bastard at Tumble Camp which the trip leader decided to “flag”/cordon off, leaving it to its own desires even though it was only a few steps away from where the rafts were tied up for the evening. Bad plan. An hour later I was carrying some water buckets down the hill to be filled, when someone loudly announced that the snake was gone. I instantly found myself leaping over the refound snake from one rock downhill to the next as it gave impatient warning directly below. It then struck at one of the other guides a couple minutes later before someone was able to scare it into the bushes next to the kitchen where we could fret about it for the next 15 hours. A couple weeks later, now alerted to the possibility (or imminence) of their presence, I was running up Sheep Creek on the Main Salmon trying to avoid the unavoidable poison ivy and watching for snakes at the same time. Sure enough, there was one, this time more surprised to see me than I it, though every bit as ready to spring into a coil as I began to backpedal.

In addition to my own encounters this season, one of my friends down in the Big Bend was actually bit outside of his house one night. $80,000 dollars in hospital bills later, the anti-venom is not cheaply produced nor obtained, he is reportedly most thankful that he, not his young son who was beside him, was targeted. Just before leaving Idaho, I met a young family at a hot springs with a 12-year-old girl who had also been bitten this year. This time the snake was a baby rattler; having no buttons to rattle, it was unable to produce any noise to warn off potential threats, relying instead on striking as its primary defense. From talking to them, I did get a confirmation from what I’ve long heard repeated, which is that the babies can indeed be more dangerous than the adults. This is due to their inability to control the amount of venom released, giving their victims a full dose, whereas a large percentage of adult bites are actually dry bites free of venom.

The first rattlesnake I ever saw in my life was probably also the biggest, and I’m thankful that I haven’t run into any of its size since. I was probably around 10. We were on vacation in Guadalupe National Park and watched a fabled diamondback, at least 6’ in length, from the security of the family wagon as it calmly snaked its way across the dirt road. Terrifying and fascinating both, and easier to appreciate from the window of a car. Strangely, however, that is the only rattlesnake I remember seeing my whole time growing up—years of living in the panhandle of Texas and spending a fair amount of time in the woods and even wandering around looking for snakes to catch and handle. (I still remember being shat upon—a potato salad looking dollop with a truly repulsive smell, a defense I’m told—by a hog-nosed bull snake I picked up while working at a scout camp one summer.)

The next rattler I remember seeing after that, as an adult that is, was while walking on a trail in Durango, Colorado. I recall thinking then about how odd it was that I had managed to go all those years in the Panhandle without seeing a single one.

Back in the Panhandle years later, however, I inadvertently ran over a baby rattler with my skateboard while messing around in a massive full-pipe near where I grew up. A 25’ tall, 100’+ long section of concrete pipe surrounded by nothing but steep-walled concrete high above a reservoir seemed like the last place one would find a rattlesnake, but there the poor thing was with half its skin ripped off from being rolled over in the near-dark of the tunnel. A friend put it out of its misery with a quick chop from the tail of his deck.

I will note here, that this one and one other, a shifty lurker in an indoor shed full of plywood, are the only snakes I have ever harmed. I certainly believe in leaving them alone in their own environments, and in no way condone the killing of any species merely because it poses a trivial threat to humans. Snakes, an integral part of many ecosystems, should certainly be allowed to go about their business. From now on, however, when the situation dictates, I will always move them away from camp, which actually I’ve always done in the past before the previous mentioned Tumble incident this past summer. There was one that intentionally crawled into our camp one evening in Santa Elena Canyon, doing its best to slither up to the circle of clients, causing me to encourage it back towards the river by shoveling sand at it with a canoe paddle. It reluctantly swam across the Rio Grande and was not seen again. Another one at the old lodge camp on the Forks of the Kern in California received the same treatment from Tom P., which is where I learned the trick in the first place. “Go on, get on out of here,” Tom admonished while plying it with dirt. The snake complied and crawled into its den. An hour later an annoyingly arrogant client, already upset and embarrassed to have left his and his date’s sleeping pads at home, decided to set his tent up about 3’ from the hole. “What? You think it’s going to come back out of there tonight?” he exclaimed when we asked him if he thought that was a good idea.

One trip I did down the Dolores River in Colorado was particularly noteworthy for the wildlife. Our first night’s camp featured a group of big horn rams only about 200’ from the kitchen site. They spent all evening taking turns leaping onto a huge slab of rock to challenge one another to head-butting competitions. It was like their private boxing arena, and as the skull-bashing ensued, the rest of the group, freshly concussed from their own rounds, would simply spectate while the next pair went at it.  The following night, we camped in a stand of conifer trees. Pine needles covered the floor around us, though as we sat to eat our dinner, some of the ‘needles’ appeared to be in motion. Turned out to they were tiny baby rattlesnakes, only a couple of inches in length each one, the size of pinky fingers, perhaps freshly born as we counted at least seven of them working their way across the ground around us. It was reluctantly that I lied down to sleep that night, as I hadn’t bothered to bring a tent, my warm body surely a beacon for anything seeking heat. Speaking of seeking heat, there was also the time on the Jarbidge when Chad went to pack up his tent the first morning only to find two snakes snuggled below it. Reluctant to give up the shelter they tried to get back underneath the floor each time he moved it from place to place hoping to dismantle it.

There was the one time in the Grand Canyon when we were sitting on the ground in our Crazy Creeks reading. I saw one moving slowly along only a couple feet behind V, who was deeply involved in a book. ‘Don’t freak out, but there’s a rattlesnake right behind you crawling towards your chair…’ There was another time the two of us were walking on the Kern River trail and I ducked under a tree hanging over the path only to find one in full coil. ‘Ha, you jumped!’ she laughed. ‘Yeah, what the hell would you have done?’ There was the time KJ stepped on a rock going down a Salt River side canyon and the rock buzzed loudly beneath her. There was the one on my way back down White Canyon in Arizona just downstream from Lake Mead. I inadvertently found myself returning down the wash in near dark having had to escort a dehydrated and disoriented hiker a couple miles back to the parking lot. That one was close, I’d say. Flip-flops and what seemed like a few inches from unseen fangs at the other end of the caution. There were multiple encounters in the Dome Rocks wilderness while taking a group of high schoolers backpacking. The list goes on.

I do have a favorite story, however, which I will end with. A couple of years ago I was back in the Panhandle visiting. My dad and I went out for a hike near Lake Meredith one morning, hoping to find an obscure ruin site near the Canadian River. It was only mid-April, but it was hot out and had been a particularly warm spring. My pops had already seen several rattlesnakes out that year, and as such, was wary of seeing more. We waded across the river and found ourselves on a grown-over jeep track, which we planned to follow to the approximate location of the site. Somewhere along the way we wandered off the trail and suddenly found ourselves in dry calf-high grass. It felt kinda snakey, you might say. For some reason, however, we decided not to backtrack, but to instead move forward through the grass until we intersected the track again. It seemed like kind of a bad idea, but who wants to turn around? As my dad happened to be carrying a trekking pole, I fell in line as he began to methodically whack at the grass in wide arc in front of him. The motion was that of a blind person moving with a cane, but slow, deliberate, and increasingly tedious. Whack, whack, whack. Whack, whack, whack. One step forward. Whack, whack, whack… Another step forward. This went on for some while as we inched forward toward our goal, which we could see in the distance. Many minutes later, I grew impatient. We’d certainly walked through many a grassy field without the fanfare. Whack, whack, whack… Whack, whack, whack… Just as I opened my mouth to proclaim the ridiculous nature of the situation, one more whack sprung the snake, only a few feet to our left and from what must have been flat to fully erect and furiously buzzing in a hot second. The tension was released, the danger revealed and negated by distance, and it was unbelievably comical. I laughed on and off for the rest of the day, and will always have a rattlesnake to thank for the smiles I still get thinking about it.



Bit more time in Canyonlands and then back to the backroads. South and east. Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas. Piñons and junipers, cactus and sage. Ruin sites and petroglyphs. Desert running, big-sky walking, beveled horizon lines and distances without end.


Needles District, Canyonlands NP


Newspaper Rock


Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelley


White House, Canyon de Chelley


El Morro and El Malpais National Monuments