a spring in the desert

Today we hiked the Smith Springs loop in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

A gorgeous easy and short hike with the amazing payoff of a freshwater spring tucked away in the folds of the Guadalupe Mountains.

The beginning of the hike is though an unmistakably desert clime: low juniper, madrone, cholla and prickly pear cacti, dry washes and tall yucca. About two-thirds through the loop, however, you find yourself walking into an alternate world: oak and pine and maple, all nearly completely hidden from view in a little spring-supported oasis and in the final few days of their Fall reds and oranges and browns.

I was really struck when we all of the sudden found ourselves in such an alien feeling environment compared to where we set out. It was beautiful and breathtaking, and I just wanted to sit and breathe it all in.

The springwater bubbling out from the rocks, Fall leaves floating atop the downstream pools, the shady canopy and water-shaped rocks. It was otherworldly, like walking into Rivendell – but in the middle of a desert.

I rock-hopped downstream, accidentally getting my toes wet but too excited to explore to mind overmuch. I took pictures from this angle and that, and sat down frequently on large rocks to see it all from as many different vantages as possible.

On the hike out Sharaun and I both agreed that you really don’t get a proper feel for, or appreciation of, a place like this until you physically get out into it, tromp through it, feel it under your feet, hands, on your face and in your lungs. When that happens, when you take the time to let it happen, you truly get the magic of a place.

A great day, great hike, and a nice green check mark next to that goal of slowing down a little.


just wanted to write

24° this morning in the border town of El Paso. The RV was a champ, preserving us, keeping us warm and cozy in a little bubble parked in the back lot at a Cabela’s off I-10. Not glamorous, but certainly functional.

Stopped here to get the mail which our friends had shipped to us general delivery, but arrived Sunday completely forgetting Monday was a federal holiday so had to squat in town for another night. Spent the unplanned day catching up on errands and shopping.

After grabbing the mail we’ll make tracks onto Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where we’ll settle for a few days and also visit nearby Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Did my best to not discount the past 36hrs “stuck” in El Paso as lost time. Hard for me, tho, with my whole needing to get or be somewhere. I’ll admit I’ll feel good getting back into the wilderness later this afternoon.

That’s it, just wanted to write.

wal mart again

I see a balding man in a black t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. He’s in the freezer aisle. He pulls open a door and hefts a weighty box of frozen burritos. He surveys it for a moment, exhales and settles into himself a little before chucking it into his nearly empty cart.

In that ponderous moment I imagine much more being evaluating than perhaps simple cost or calorie-count of a potential purchase. No, this decision carried with it much more… maybe an evaluation of everything… of life and station and wellbeing…

“Here I am again, in Wal Mart, buying another box of mass-produced burritos because I finished the last one. Oh shit man, is this my life? Isn’t there more? Am I happy or am I just grinding? Are these burritos even good? Do I even like burritos? What the hell am I even doing?”

Because, there are so many other ways to live.

This corporate run-in-place McMansion megachurch rat-race is certainly one of them, and even an enjoyable one at times. You know… talking about your 401k, where you went on your latest vacation, pretending to know good Scotch or where to get the best steak in Manhattan. Small Group meets Wednesday, happy hour Friday and the wife’s got spin after dropping the kids off at school. Oh look my Amazon package is here!

Yesterday I met a guy who legit hops trains and wanders. He described himself as an “anarchist, free-spirit, whatever.” He had one bag, a guitar, a dog, and face tattoos of railroad tracks and a compass rose. He saw my Dead t-shirt and asked if I had any grass. I didn’t, but we still chatted on the corner where he was busking for a good 15min.

There are so many other ways to live. Fare there well, JR. Hope you found some grass and a warm place to sleep last night.

ten weeks in

Finally feeling appreciably disconnected, took longer than I’d guessed but officially arrived earlier this week as a perceptible shift in attitude and outlook.

And we are truly rambling now, deciding where to go each morning when we wake or choosing to stay put if the current digs pull harder. I’m convinced this new approach has a large part to play in the mental corner turned.

It’s time then, I suppose, to stop a moment and take stock. What epiphanies, if any, have I had? What mysteries of life now have greater clarity? I wanted to do this early on in the trip and evolve it as we go, to sort of watch how my impressions morph and develop.

I chose to keep things brief, not capture reams of revelations but rather simple bullets. Maybe that brevity makes these supposed truths less impactful, but it felt right and I need to get to the kernels before I can expand, anyway.

So here are the “truths” I’ve captured thus far:

  • I am living too fast
  • I have too much stuff
  • I eat poorly
  • I am too sedentary
  • I create my own stress
  • I choose how I live (thou mayest!)
  • I enjoy listening to people
  • I enjoy talking to people
  • I enjoy building relationships

That’s it; that’s the whole of it. Ten weeks of reading and writing consideration and the solitude of self-communion and that’s the meat, or maybe the grist.

I wanted to get it down, get it out, so that I can come back to it and revise, build, reverse.


backroads bob

This morning I met Bob at the RV park. Bob came rumbling through, driving a diesel pickup in all browns, fitting for the desert.

I was outside as he drove by and slowed. Through an open window he hollered cheerfully, “How you liking it here?”

A bit about “here,” first. We had parked for the night in Douglas, Arizona, a border town, after spending a day kicking around Bisbee (“Mayberry on acid”). We just needed a stopping place for one night and picked an RV park which was basically the front parking lot of a golf course. Nothing fancy, but it was quiet and cheap and had full hookups.

Anyway, based on his interrogative greeting I initially assumed he may be a campground host. I answered that we’d had a great quiet comfortable night had enjoyed our brief stay.

Turns out Bob wasn’t a camp host, just a gregarious campground permanent resident. We talked for a good 15-20min, him sitting in the driver’s set parked & idling and me hanging my elbows into the open cab as I leaned against the truck.

“Backroads Bob,” they called him. He’d traveled all around the country but was now here at this Douglas RV park for good as he’d scored the golden gig. He works nine hours a week doing odd jobs for the golf course and RV park and in exchange gets free electricity, water, sewer, and WiFi.

His passions, other than traveling, are cooking and mixology. He’s converted the back of his toy hauler to shelves to accommodate his spices and ingredients and liquors and mixers. He’s befriended the golf course bar staff & through them has wholesale access to a wide array of craft booze & microbrews.

Bob was a super happy dude, and interacting with him brightened my morning considerably. Even moreso when, after shaking hands on our initial goodbye, he walked back over with a dropper bottle in hand.

“I made you a martini for later, I’m a bit of a gin nut.” He goes on to tell me of the local Arizona distilled gin, high-end vermouth and homemade juniper bitters he used. “If you guys were here longer I’d have you over for dinner and drinks,” he says.

We shake hands again and I’m sure to get his contact info so I can send him my impressions of the drink this evening.

Can’t wait to try it. Road life.

a day of real magic

It’s almost 7am. I’ve been up for about an hour. I like being up early before everyone else.

We’re still in the desert and the mornings are cold so it’s just a bit chilly in the RV. Outside the window, a line of mountains separating sky from firmament, unbroken but for one tall Saguaro that pierces the border. Closer, creosote and ocotillo kind of lend an underwater vibe, almost like I could be looking into an aquarium.

Yesterday was Sunday, our third day here in Saguaro National Park. We had planned to go break camp and drive into town to a church Sharaun dug up online, then head back to the campground and walk over to Old Tuscon, a former movie set now turned Old West themed attraction with saloons and gunfights and shows.

At church, however, we got invited out to lunch by some of the members. Having truly regretted passing on a similar offer once before on the trip, we’d made it a rule that we’d always accept if the chance again arose. Thus we found ourselves eating hospitality-funded burritos at a local Mexican joint with some great people.

And that’s how and where we learned that the very day we were in town (Tuscon proper) was the final day of a weekend-long Dia de los Muertos festival, which was to culminate in a huge procession of humanity walking through the streets in memory of their loved ones who’ve gone before them.

We decided to ditch the Old West and instead experience the procession. And it was a day of magic. One of those spontaneous decisions which unpredictably spawn pure magic – the epitome of what we’re hunting through this trip.

It’s easier for me to try and recount said magic with less words vs. more: There was skeletal facepaint, flower crowns willed into existence from Dollar Store booty, tamales purchased from a front yard. We climbed atop the RV to watch, and climbed down again when the procession drew us in, walking with the masses for a block or so.

In the end the spirit of the whole thing clutched me and I found myself emotionally engulfed in the powerful purpose of the day. What an amazing occasion! What a terrific way to remember and honor and grieve and commune. And such a very natural thing for humans share, rooted in the universal experience of death and loss and memory, and yet I’ve never experienced anything even close until yesterday.

We made paper hearts to wear with the names of our loved ones, we wrote their names on ribbon and pinned them on a procession banner, wrote them again on paper to go in the urn. Letting it all in, I was unsurprised and glad to cry tears of sadness, but mostly of happy remembrance, at the spectacle. It was emotional all around in all the right ways.

That’s the stuff.

across the colorado

We did it.

We made it across the California border and into Arizona. It’s one small mile for the FaceDragon, but one giant mile for… oh whatever. It’s a big deal, psychologically. It’s transcending some boundary that I’ve been imagining, at least.

We did Halloween trick or treating for the kids just outside Joshua Tree National Park. On a recommendation from an NPS ranger we drove into a in a little slice of desert suburbia that was positively teeming with costumed kids. I think the sparse layout of homes and neighborhood blocks in the desert ends up funneling the masses into the most traditionally arranged tracts.

And now we are sort of purposely adrift, not knowing where we’re headed each day or where we’ll land each night. It’s working out OK, I think… I’m comforted a little by our having a “want to see list” against which we can at least plot some notion of a linear progression (there, my need to plan and foreknow bows again). Anyway, so far so good.