Playing Hooky and Enjoying a Winter Wonderland

We woke up this morning without power and several inches of fresh snow. It was the most we’ve seen at our house in 3 years.

I’ve been playing hooky from my blog. Or you might say I was ‘derailed.’ Peggy and I climbed on Amtrak in Mid-December as part of a 5000 mile train trip across America and back. I’ll cover the adventure in my next post.

We went back east to visit with our son and his family in Florida to enjoy Christmas and then went north to visit with our daughter and her family in Virginia to celebrate the new year. All of that would have been ample distraction to pull me away from blogging. A nasty cold I picked up in Florida was the main culprit however. It was one of those bugs that keeps you awake all night coughing your lungs out. (Remember when Calvin of Calvin and Hobbs sneezed his brains out? That’s how I felt.) I had enough energy to enjoy our kids and grandkids and take the train home. That was it.

I thought it would be fun to feature some photos from today when Peggy and I woke up to several inches of gorgeous snow for my return to blogging. As always, it called for a walk in the woods.

Walking outside, we were greeted by our rooster who seemed quite proud of his extended comb. The bright snow created a problem for photography.
A teenage deer was waiting impatiently on our door step and insisted we feed her an apple before moving on. Her favorite foods, other than apples, had been buried under the snow.
Our next chore was to clear a tree trunk that had fallen across our road. It was one of several that had dropped on our property from the weight of the snow. Fortunately, the rest of them chose to fall in the forest. Grin. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Peggy steps over a log and demonstrates what it felt like to walk through the eight inches of fresh snow. I think she is suggesting two feet! Falling snow gave her a white nose.
Part of the fun of a snow hike is seeing all on the animal tracks that normally aren’t visible. These were left behind by the deer herd that roams our neighborhood.
But mainly, the pleasure is in enjoying the beauty and silence. A robin sitting on top of one of our white oaks decorates this picture. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The back of our property abuts Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest where we headed for our hike.
A manzanita bush covered in snow…
And this one was buried in snow, speaking to how much had fallen.
The trunk of a white oak showed off both white snow and green moss, making a nice contrast.
And a madrone provided a brown contrast with its iconic bare bark.
And finally, one of my traditional snow photos from our deck on the Upper Applegate River looking south toward California. Our rosebush has a topknot.

NEXT POST: Clickety-Clack— a 5000 mile train trip across America and back.

The Magnificent Tufa Towers of Mono Lake… The Highway 395 Series

It’s hard to believe that springs bubbling up beneath the surface of Mono Lake were able to create sculptures like the tufa towers you find at Mono Lake.

You’re stuck if you are a raindrop falling into Mono Lake— or anywhere else in the Great Basin. There are no convenient rivers to whisk you away to the sea. Evaporation is your only escape. Water tends to become a little grouchy under these conditions, or make that salty. In fact, Mono Lake is 2.5 times as salty as the ocean, and 100 times as alkaline. The good news here is it is really hard to drown. You can float to your heart’s content. Even sea gulls have a hard time keeping their feet in the water to paddle. The bad news is a minor cut or scrape will send you screaming for the shore.

There is magic in the water, however. Springs flowing underground from the surrounding mountains are rich in dissolved calcium. When they bubble up into the lake, the calcium bonds with the carbonates in the lake and together they make rocks, or what are known as tufa towers. In the past, when the lake was full, these towers hid out under the surface and happily continued to grow.  There were few or no tufa towers to see. Mark Twain camped out on the lake in the 1860s when he was searching for a lost gold mine and noted in Roughing It,“This solemn, silent, sailess sea­­— this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on the earth—is little graced with the picturesque.”

Obviously, the tufa towers weren’t there to greet him. We can thank Los Angeles’s formidable Department of Power and Water for their presence. Back about 1913, DPW had the challenge of supplying more water to the ever-thirsty Los Angeles with its desert environment and burgeoning population. It decided that there was plenty of water up in Owens Valley along the eastern side of Sierras. DPW didn’t bother to ask the local residents, farmers and ranchers whether they wanted their water to go to LA. It didn’t have to. It had the power to grab what it wanted. Things got nasty. Water wars in the West aren’t pretty. “Greed of City Ruins the Owens Valley” the headlines in the Inyo Register screamed. And it wasn’t far from wrong. Every stream of consequence flowing into the valley was tapped to meet LA’s water needs. What lakes that existed started drying up, including Mono Lake. Starting in 1941, DPW began taking water from the lake’s major tributaries, dropping the lake some 40 feet.

Building the pipeline that the LA DPW used to transport water from Owens Valley to LA.
Another perspective on the size of the pipeline.
Yes, this is me standing in a segment of the pipeline. And no, I wasn’t around when the pipeline was being built.

Environmentalists mounted a major effort starting in the 70s to save the lake. Fish can’t survive in the highly saline/alkaline water, but some four trillion brine shrimp, innumerable small alkali flies, and algae find the conditions perfect. The shrimp and flies, in turn, serve as a major food source for the two million birds that stop off to dine in the lake. The lowering water levels threatened to kill off the algae, shrimp and flies. The birds were in danger of losing their handy fast food restaurant. In 1994, The California Department of Water Resources stepped in to resolve the issue by requiring DPW to reduce the amount of water it was taking from the lake’s streams and repair some of the damage it had done to the riparian habitats along the streams. While the lake won’t return to the levels that existed when Mark Twain visited, the ecosystem is now being protected. Birds will be able to continue to stuff themselves while visitors can continue to enjoy the unique beauty of the tufa towers.

This handsome fellow is a male brine shrimp featured on a signboard at Mono Lake. Length would be about thumbnail size.
This provides an idea of how many alkali flies live around the lake.
I took this close up as further proof. The flies spend much of their life under water as eggs and pupae. When the adults dive under the water to feed and lay eggs, they travel with a bubble of water. Think scuba diver. Local Native Americans considered the fly eggs to be a delicacy.
While I missed the height of bird migration, large flocks were still flying in formation and feeding on the water’s surface.
Wilson’s Phalarope stop off at Mono Lake in the midst of a long journey. Mom arrives first in June, leaving Pop at home to finish raising the babies. Pop and kids start arriving later in June and through July raising the total population to around 100,000. The birds are around for 4-6 weeks while they molt and pig out on brine shrimp and alkali flies, doubling in weight. The extra weight is critical for the next segment of their journey: a 3,000-mile nonstop flight to Ecuador.

It was late in the afternoon when I visited the south end of the lake where the most impressive tufa towers are found so I was able to photograph the towers at sunset. The warm tones added to the beauty. I took lots of pictures. (Grin) To get here look for the signs that direct you to the South Tufa Towers south of Lee Vining off of Highway 395.

To provide perspective, these are the tufa towers on Mono Lake with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. Even without the towers I have a hard time imagining why Twain found the area “little graced with the picturesque.”
I divided my photos of the tufa towers into three categories for organization. First up was individual sculptures as shown below.
Next, are groupings of the tufa towers.
I will finish this series with several photos that place the tufa towers in their broader environment but first I wanted to show this picture I took from the north end of the lake looking south. This would have been more like how Mark Twain saw the lake.
I was enamored with this side channel in different light.
And took photos from both directions. Here, I caught a sea gull landing.
A final view as the sun slipped behind the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

NEXT POST: The ghost town of Bodie

When Death Camps on Your Doorstep

I got the call from my brother Marshall in mid-March. He had house-sat for us while Peggy and I were off backpacking last summer. Then, as he has been doing for 17-years, he hit the road, heading for Arizona where he would winter. He’d come West the year before, ending his 15-years of migrating back and forth between North Carolina and Florida, as regularly as the birds. Oregon would be his new residence. Four years ago, he had fought tongue cancer in Florida, free-camping while he had extensive treatments. It was his way. I had flown in to spend some time with him. He had won that battle, a temporary reprieve that allowed him to continue to wander, which is what he loves to do.

The phone call was serious. His cancer was back. He wasn’t going to fight it. At 78, he was coming home to die. His wandering days were over. A couple of days ago I found him talking to his RV. “I know, big fellow, you want to be on the road as much as I do, but we can’t.” 

For the past two months, Peggy and I have been caring for Marshall. He is living in our back yard in his RV. It’s where he wants to die. Marshall has hospice care now and the team is excellent, providing support for us as well as him. They are warm, caring people. None of this easy. It’s incredibly tough watching someone you care for waste away and die. It may be days, or weeks, but probably not months. Each morning when I go out to visit, I wonder.

I’ve decided to check out of my blog for now, for at least a couple of months. I need the time for Marsh, and Peggy, and me. I’ll be back. My blog and my blogging friends are part of my family. Until next time, take care my friends. 


On Getting Lost in Black Rock City… My 11 Years of Burning Man

A view of Black Rock City looking across the Center Camp Cafe at the distant mountains. The 70,000 plus people who arrive here for Burning Man each year make the city the third largest city in Nevada for its one week of existence.

Black Rock City is laid out using a semi-circular grid system. The main roads are numbered and are oriented toward the Man, which is at the center of Burning Man. The circular roads are in alphabetical order with names based on the theme of the year. Say the theme was Wildlife, A street might be Aardvark, B street Baboon, etc.

A view of how Black Rock City (BRC) is laid out. The X in the center is the Man. The small circle above it is where the Burning Man Temple is located. The large circle below the Man is Center Camp and the smaller circle within it is the Center Camp Cafe. The Esplanade, where most of the larger camps are located, provides the boundary between BRC and the Playa. The length of the scale below is 5,000 feet, close to a mile. We normally camp between 5th and 7th Avenues, 7-9 blocks out from Center Camp.

The well laid out street system makes it easy to get around— in the beginning— during the day. The story changes at night when lack of light, stolen signs, liberal doses of free alcohol and mass chaos seems to rule, especially later in the week when the full 70,000 plus people are present. Then, it’s easy to get lost. Throw in a zero visibility dust storm and it is almost impossible not to. Common sense and Burning Man tell you to stay put.

I was lost for an hour once during such a storm. We had gone out to watch a burn, which was scheduled at dusk in the far reaches of the Playa near the apex of the map shown above. As the fire burned down, a huge dust storm hit, leaving Peggy, our friend Beth, and me— along with a few thousand other Burners and mutant vehicles to find our way home. It bordered on scary, made more so by large mutant vehicles appearing out of nowhere. When the storm cleared enough to get our bearings, we found we had walked in a huge circle out on the Playa. We returned to camp caked in dust and exhausted. Now, I carry a compass.

Street signs set up by Burning Man help people find their way around. This is at the corner of 6th and D. 6th runs into Center Camp and then out to the Man and the Temple.
A dust devil attacks bicyclists on the Esplanade. Dust storms can range from a location specific hassle like this…
… to event wide brown-outs. Our neighbors across the road, about 100 feet away, disappeared as a massive dust storm roared in accompanied by high winds.

You don’t need a dust storm to get lost, however. Here’s a story I related earlier this week in one of my comments: A young man drove up from San Francisco to Burning Man. He was a first timer, a virgin Burner eager to get out and explore. He parked his car, quickly set up camp, and headed off to play. When he returned to his camp later that night, he discovered that someone had stolen his car, his tent, his food and all of his gear. He reported his situation to the Burning Man staff and they found the unfortunate fellow a ride back to SF. End of story.

But not quite. A few days after the event, he received a call from BMO. His car, his tent, his food, and all of his gear had been found— right where he had left them. That was how lost he had been. If this seems a bit far-fetched, consider the following photos.

The week before Burning Man, this was vacant desert. A week after it will be vacant desert again. But during the event, it becomes wall to wall people. It is easy to see how someone might become confused about where they live. Think about leaving your car in a large parking lot filled with several thousand vehicles and not paying close attention to where you left it.
Another view of the people clogged Black Rock City.

After the above story and photos, it might seem that it would be impossible to get away from the crowds. Actually it’s easy, assuming you are willing to head out into the Playa. Even the area surrounding the Man is relatively unoccupied unless a major event is taking place. Very few make it to the outer boundaries. Showing up early in the week or leaving late also reduces the crowds that peak on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Black Rock City as seen from the Man. Main avenues run out to the Man from 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock. As you can see, the number of people drop quickly, even in the more heavily trafficked part of the Playa.
From far out on the Playa, Black Rock City with its crowds appears even more insignificant. Peggy, Beth and I were out here when we got caught in the dust storm.
Here we are setting up the Horse Bone Camp with Quivera, our van, and Walter, Tom Lovering’s Trailer. We came early to assure we would have space in a desirable location. Within three days, this area was totally packed with tents and vehicles.
Hanging out until Monday also assures that the majority of Burners will be gone. (Photo by Don Green.)
I’ll conclude with this shot of the sun setting over Black Rock City on a dusty day.

NEXT POST: I’ll take you for a walk through Black Rock City.

Who Ate the Gingerbread House? … Good Doggy, Bad Doggy

I went searching for three wise men at Carowinds Amusement Park on the border of North and South Carolina. I didn’t find them. Maybe they were lost in the pre-Christmas crowd. But I did find one of their camels.

It’s Christmas Eve here in Charlotte, North Carolina. The tree is up and loaded with goodies. The gingerbread houses have been built and the Christmas cookies are ready to eat. (Minus those that Grandpa has already eaten. I have a serious responsibility to test the cookies as they come out of the oven. Sometimes I have to eat two, or three, just to be sure they meet my high standards.) Our son-in-law Clay will soon be up and preparing tonight’s roast. He’s one heck of a cook. All’s well with the world, or at least all is well with our little corner. And that’s enough for today.

Like Santa, we are in the middle of our holiday rounds. Last week, we were in Florida visiting with our son and his family. This week we are with our daughter and her family in Charlotte. It’s her turn to have us for Christmas. Next year is Tony’s turn, as we have already been reminded several times. (grin) Santa, of course, has the advantage of being able to be in both places. That’s because he has that magical sleigh and eight reindeer plus the red-nosed fellow. We have to travel by airplane, where we are lucky to arrive at all.

Santa dashing away on top of one of the rides at Carowinds.
One of his eight reindeer!

Both sets of kids (and grandkids) decided it would be fun to check out the holiday decorations at major amusement parks this year: Busch Gardens in Florida and Carowinds in North Carolina. They were impressive:

Clay used his Google Android phone to capture this photo at Carowinds. (Clay works for Google as a manager at their data center in South Carolina.)
Both parks featured decorated trees. This is at Busch Gardens.
Another Busch Gardens tree.
This tree with the moon hanging out above was at Carowinds.
Clay caught this ‘bulb-tree.’
And I took a close-up.
As usual, I couldn’t resist a reflection shot. This is Carowinds.
A very big Christmas tree ornament at Carowinds.
As expected, both parks had impressive Christmas trees: Busch Gardens…
Carowinds. This tree, BTW, sits on the border between North and South Carolina.

Making gingerbread houses is a tradition at both houses, which isn’t surprising considering Peggy’s love of all things Christmas. The grandkids join in the effort with total dedication, except for eating half of the house decorations. They are not alone in their passion for jelly beans and M&Ms and candy canes, gumdrops etc. The doggies also have a sweet tooth. But which one ate the gingerbread house?

Was it Natasha and Clay’s dogs: Miss Innocence (Chima) here?
Or, “How could you even think I might eat the Gingerbread House? ” Lexi.”
Or Tony and Cammie’s Miss Definitely Not Me (Lyla).

Chima and Lexi were actually innocent— this time. Not that they wouldn’t eat a gingerbread house if someone left it on the floor by mistake and no-one was home. But they lack Lyla’s long legs. (Clay swears his dogs would not eat the gingerbread house.) Cammie and boys had just finished their house and were briefly out of the room. Cammie returned to find Lyla on her hind legs scarfing down their house. In Lyla’s defense, she had only thoroughly licked one side— but I am pretty sure that the house’s demise was just a matter of time. Anyway, here are the Cox family gingerbread houses:

Cody’s Robot House… Check out the teeth!
Ethan’s Reindeer House…
And Peggy’s. She would never be left out when it comes to building gingerbread houses.
While I didn’t catch Lyla’s well licked gingerbread house, Peggy and I found that our bedroom had been invaded by animals. This was special. Imagine kids loaning out their animals, even for a night! It was the true Christmas spirit.

Speaking of animals, Carowinds had put together a petting zoo for Christmas. It’s where I found the camel. There was also a very, very strange looking goat that looked like it was having a really bad hair day, that it was an ancient goat from another time…

I decided that it was… are you ready for this… The Goat of Christmas Past.



The Great Pumpkin and Rabbit Ears Made of Romaine… Rafting the Grand Canyon: Part 11

As we passed outside of the Grand Canyon National Park boundary, the Canyon lost some of its grandeur, but just barely.

I wasn’t too surprised when Susan Gishi sported Romaine Lettuce as rabbit ears. In fact, wandering around with my camera, I may have encouraged her. Nor was I surprised when she wielded the cutting knife threateningly. Or when the kitchen crew started head loading the salad containers (not too successfully). Tom ran a tight ship in the kitchen and his mutinous crew responded with humor. After 15 days on the river, his efforts at organization were somewhat analogous to herding cats, or maybe kangaroos. It tended to make him grumpy.

Susan demonstrates how to wear Romaine Lettuce, and the proper way to cut it.

This is the rowdy kitchen crew, Susan, Peggy and Eggin.

Susan demonstrating how to head load.

A convenient ledge provided first row seats to watch the crews shenanigans.

Later, Teresa decided to become a stalker.

While Don Assumed the pose of the thinker. Hopefully, the rope stayed in place.

His shirt makes a ghost appearance.

As we passed outside of the National Park boundary on our trip down the Colorado, the Canyon lost some of its grandeur. But there was still plenty to see. Pumpkin Springs was a good example. It looked like a huge pumpkin. Beth, whose nickname is Pumpkin, was glad to climb up on top of the springs for perspective. The gourd-like structure is another example of a travertine formation created by the lime pumped out by the hot springs. An interesting note is that the spring also has a high concentration of arsenic. Health standards are set at 50 milligrams per liter. The level at Pumpkin Springs has been measured at over 1000! Don’t drink the water! Bone, of course, had to take a sip, but doing anything  he does usually has an inherent risk. I once watched him dive into a pitcher of margaritas at Senior Frogs in Mazatland, Mexico and refuse to come out until a señorita gave him a kiss.

Rock formations continued to entertain us.

Volcanic rocks begin making an appearance, including this large chunk of basalt…


And columns of basalt. They reflect the way basalt may crack when it cools slowly. The Devil’s Postpile along the John Muir Trail is one of the best examples of this phenomena.

A view of Pumpkin Springs.

Beth provides perspective on the size of the springs.

While Bone gets up close and personal.

Peggy and I both took turns at the oars. Peggy’s was mainly a photo-op but I rowed for a longer period, giving Dave a break. He even encouraged me to try my luck at death-defying rapids (more like a 1 on a scale of 10.) “Point toward the V made by the water and stay in the center,” Dave had advised before going back to sleep.

Peggy takes her turn at rowing…

As do I…

Dave taking a snooze while I row.

This is an example of the small rapids I rowed through.

A final view of the Canyon for today.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Up close and personal with the big brown bears of Kodiak Island.

FRIDAY’S POST: Living on Graveyard Alley— or not. It’s a wrap on the Mekemson Kids Did It.






Beautiful Havasu Creek and the Infamous Lava Rapids… The Grand Canyon Series: Part 10

Havasu Creek with its travertine colored water.

I had been on Havasu Creek before. Our son, Tony, who was on a break between flying helicopters for the Marines and flying helicopters for the Coast Guard, was flying helicopters for a private company that offered tours over the Grand Canyon and into the small Indian village of Supai. The town, which is located inside the Canyon, sits next to Havasu Creek.

Tony had flown his wife Cammie, Peggy and me into Supai as a treat. He was playing the theme from Star Wars full blast as we dropped over the steep edge of the Canyon and begin our rapid descent! We were greeted by the beautiful blue-green water of Havasu Creek and its interesting travertine structures when we landed  A high concentration of calcium-carbonate is responsible for both the water’s color and the formations. The process of coating objects with lime is fast. Today’s downed limb in the creek may become next month’s travertine sculpture. Peggy and I were eager to see if the creek maintained its unusual color and interesting formations at its mouth where it flowed into the Colorado. As the following photos suggest, we were not disappointed.

The mouth of Havasu Creek is a common stop for rafters in the Grand Canyon. Our rafts look small beside the large commercial tour boat.

We hiked over this from the mouth of the creek.

And were treated to views like these.


Don caught this lovely view. (Photo by Don Green.)

And Peggy took this one.

One of the things rafters do for entertainment on Havasu Creek is to damn it up using their rears…

And then, people scramble out of the way, creating a mini-flood! Beth was having a bit of trouble with the scramble part. She was holding onto Bone and didn’t have her hands free.

A pictograph, left behind by ancient Americans, caught the group’s attention. Maybe they used to grow people taller. (grin)

Lava Falls is labeled a 10 in the Grand Canyon’s system of scary, the highest rating given to any rapids along the Colorado. The river drops 37 feet over a few hundred yards and guarantees a quick, gut wrenching ride that seems to last forever and might very well throw you out of the raft. We had been worrying about it even before the trip. It is considered one of the top ten challenging rapids in the world by river runners. Our boatmen parked their rafts above the rapids and carefully scouted a route. We could see a huge, raft-sucking hole in the middle. It seemed that slipping by on the right  seemed the wisest choice. But what did we know. The river was going to do what the river was going to do. Steve agreed to carry us and away we went on our bucking raft… Ride ’em cowboy!

Back on the Colorado River, we headed for our appointment with Lava Falls. Eggin would be attempting the rapids in her kayak.

It was hard to imagine that Lava Falls was just around the bend. But we could hear its roar.

Everyone wanted a good view of the rapids.

They promised a quick but rough ride! Would that hole suck us in and tip over our raft?

With Steve at the oars, Peggy and I enter the infamous Lava Falls on the Colorado River, a perfect ten… that’s 10 as in rapids don’t get any more serious. Shortly after this we disappeared under the water! (Photo by Don Green)

Peggy and I are between the camera and the oars! Luckily we came out with our messy side up. (Photo by Don Green.)

Everybody made it through with the exception of Eggin, who managed to run the rapids upside down in her kayak. One of the boatman shot out to collect her and the kayak. Other than being a bit wet, she was fine. Meanwhile, her uncle, David Stalheim, had pulled over at Tequila Beach and was demonstrating why it was so named. If you manage to survive the rapids, you are expected to celebrate with a shot of tequila. Dave apparently wanted the whole bottle! The party continued after we reached camp…

Don demonstrates how he was feeling after running Lava. It’s possible that the lid was on, but just  maybe. 

Peggy and I just looked happy. We needed a T-shirt that said we survived Lava Falls.

Jonas had decided to celebrate with a little quiet reading in the river…

Bone declared that the trip had scared the pee out of him…

While Beth and Susan decided it was time to Party.

While Tom was just, um, Tom.

I will note that the party continued into the night and the natives were apparently having a heck of a good time!

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: Flying over Kodiak Island. It was green enough to be Ireland before the glaciers started.

FRIDAY’S Blog a Book POST: Another in the MisAdventure series. Bob Bray and I are chased by a hobo and my mother chases fire trucks.







This Place Called Black Rock City… Burning Man

Imagine, if you will, having enough port-a-potties to accommodate 70,000 people. It’s one of many issues Burning Man has to deal with in planning Black Rock City.


I always like to include a post on Black Rock City when I am blogging about Burning Man to give readers a view of how everything fits together. Obviously, you can’t throw up a city for 70,000 people in the desert without some serious planning. Think of it this way: For the one week of its existence, Black Rock City is the third largest city in Nevada— only Las Vegas and Reno are larger.

It all starts with locating where the Man will be placed out in the Black Rock Desert a few miles east of the small, northern Nevada town of Gerlach. A ceremonial spike is driven into the ground to mark the placement.  Everything else including the Temple, Center Camp, the surrounding fence and Black Rock City evolve from there. Official Burning Man structures and major camps are built before the event. Sort of. It is not unusual to arrive on Sunday with work still being done on the Man, the Temple, Center Camp, etc.

Black Rock City is laid out in a semi-circle as shown on the 2016 map below. The circular roads are given names based on the annual theme and are in alphabetical order. For example, the 2016 theme was Da Vinci’s Workshop. The road names were Arno, Botticelli, Cosimo, Donatello, Effigiare (Italian: to portray), Florin, Guild, High Renaissance, Italic, Justice, Knowledge, and Lorenzo. The main road that separates Black Rock City from the Playa is always the Esplanade. Roads that cut across the circular roads are numbered clockwise and lead out to the Man.

The large circle on the bottom is Center Camp, the middle circle the Man, and the upper circle the Temple. Both the Man and the Temple are located on the Playa, which continues out to the fence. Shaded areas are for assigned, organized camps; non-shaded areas for everyone else. Space in the non-shaded areas is on a first come, first serve basis and you can have as much as you need for your camp, assuming you come in early— there seems like a lot of space in the beginning. By the end of the week, everything is packed! The total area encompassed within the fence including Black Rock City and the Playa is approximately seven square miles.

The official Burning Man map of Black Rock City for 2016.

The following photos provide a glimpse into what it is like to live in Black Rock City.

If you come in early on Sunday, you feel like you have a lot of space. We always mark out our site with rope and reflectors.

Things fill up rapidly as the week progresses. Quivera, our van, marks one end of our camp. Our goal is to be somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 on H or I.

By Friday, there is no room left. If you haven’t clearly marked your area, you will have guests!

If things feel too crowded, you can always bike out onto the Playa where the Man, the Temple and many of the major art pieces are located.

If things are still too crowded, you can head out farther…

And farther…

And farther. By now you are out in what is known as the Deep Playa.

This is where you come to the fence that limits further exploration of the desert. Actually, during a dust storm when visibility is close to zero, it is good to have the fence available to keep you from wandering off. There is a vast amount of space to get lost in.

Burning Man is serious about Burners staying inside the fence. Part of this is for safety and part of it is to keep people from sneaking in for free. When I crossed the fence for a photo-op, a BM truck came speeding over to where I was.

A substantial infrastructure is required to operate the event. These lifts are located in the Public Works Department lot.

Safety is always a concern. Burning Man has its own safety officers know as the Black Rock Rangers. Of course there are also numerous local, state, and federal law officers present. There is also an extensive emergency medical operation.

Lamps are lit at night to help Burners find their way. The lamp lighters are volunteers who have their own camp.

Providing ice for Burners to keep their food (and beer) cold is also a major operation run by volunteers. A recruitment poster urges Burners to sign up. Ice is one of the very few things you can purchase in Black Rock City.

The tongue in cheek sign at the top of the post refers to the numerous banks of port-a-potties found throughout Black Rock City and out on the Playa. An army of trucks is constantly servicing the outhouses. (Photo by Don Green.)

I found this in one of the toilets.  I imagine that this sign had some city folks checking. (grin)

Sand spiders are more dangerous.

Heat, wind, and dust storms are a part of life at Burning Man. It can also rain.

This photo was taken a few minutes after the above photo. The storm has arrived!

While it is important to be prepared for the heat and dust storms, there is also great beauty and good weather at Burning Man.

Looking out from our camp at the sunset.

And a rainbow.

If things get too rough out in the desert, you can always stop and have a beer.

Next Blog:  Some really cute seals and the beautiful Pt. Lobos nature reserve near Carmel.

The Deer Don’t Have to Pay a $275,000 Membership Fee to Play at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club on the 17 Mile Drive

This ‘lone cypress’ is almost synonymous with the 17 Mile Drive and serves as the logo for the Pebble Beach Resort. I am pretty sure that it is the most photographed cypress in the world and it is certainly the most cared for.Check out the rock-work.  The tree probably has its own arborist.


Monterey and Carmel take me back in time, back to the 60s and 70s, back to when the world somehow seemed more promising— it was, after all, the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius. I used to drive down to Monterey humming the tune in my Volkswagen Camper, Van-Go, and free camp at a surfer beach just south of Carmel. The surfers are still there riding the waves, but the free camping has long since disappeared, a victim of the times. The welcome sign has been taken down. The hospitality industry prefers that tourists pay for their lodging and the locals prefer that their visitors drive Mercedes.

I considered myself lucky that I could still find a campsite for $32 a night last week when I visited California’s Central Coast. Maybe that’s because the water was unpotable at the Laguna Seca Campground. I noticed the signs after a couple of days of happily drinking away. Turns out the water is laced with arsenic. (If I seem a little strange… But, hey, how would you know the difference?)

The Laguna Seca Campground is located up in the hills here, hidden away among the trees.

While green grass was still growing in the valley, it had turned a ‘California gold’ next to my campsite.

I liked the trees. Our grandkids would have been all over this one.

The campground is operated by Monterey County and nestles on top of the beautiful coastal hills that surround Monterey-Carmel. If you are a car racing fan, you will recognize the park as home to the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. I stayed there until I had to vacate the premises. People had signed up to pay $120 per night for my $32 site. It provided an excellent view of the raceway and the Ferraris were coming to town for the Ferrari Challenge.  I watched as 18-wheelers rolled in carrying their precious cargos.

The Ferrari Challenge was the first major race of the season. Crews were out preparing the track.

This site of the track was about 50 feet away from my camp. You can see why it was prime territory.

All of the 18 wheelers you can see in this photo were carrying Ferrari race cars. There was close to a parade of them going by my camp the morning I had to leave.

I don’t know what a Ferrari race car costs, but you can pick up a classic Ferrari 250 GTO for the tidy sum of $57 million. It’s a bit out of my price range— and my imagination. Somehow, I can’t picture myself running down to the store to pick up a carton of milk in one.

Laguna Seca is about 7 miles outside of Monterey on Highway 68, the road that connects Monterrey with Salinas. It’s hard to imagine two more different worlds. Salinas is prime agricultural land and the one-time home of John Steinbeck. (Be sure to visit the Steinbeck museum if you are in the area.) As I drove through, migrant workers were busily harvesting crops, probably hoping to get though before ICE agents showed up to arrest them. I suspect the farmers were even more eager for the workers to finish their job. If the price of your veggies skyrocket this summer, you’ll know what happened.

A trip along the 17 Mile Drive,  which runs along Monterey Bay and connects Monterey with Carmel, provides an excellent example of how the other half, or make that the one percent of the one percent, live. There are folks here who live in mansions perched on the ocean’s edge who can afford to go out and buy one of those Ferrari 250 GTOs— and pay cash.

The 17 Mile Drive is golfer heaven. Think Pebble Beach. Or, if you go back far enough in time, the Bing Crosby Pro/Am Golf Championship. Today it is known as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro/Am. There are several golf courses in the area. If you are an avid golfer, you can purchase an inexpensive golf club membership for $18,000 plus a couple of hundred a month in dues. If that doesn’t strike you as inexpensive, you may want to compare it with a membership at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club for $275,000 with $1045 in monthly dues. Of course, membership is by “invitation only.” How else are you going to keep out the riffraff?

The Bird Rock Hunt Course, #9 on the map below, was once used for equestrian hunt and steeplechase competitions. In the 1920s it did double duty for riding and saber practice for the US 11th Calvary. Now it serves as the Shore Course for the Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Here, deer and golfers share the course.

A green on the Shore Course just below the small grassy hill has its hole marked by a flag. The cypress on the granite rock behind the green adds beauty to the course. The fog adds mystery. Numerous sand traps come with the territory at the golf courses along the 17 Mile Drive.

This cypress was also on the course, just off the road.

A happy, obviously well-fed buck, whose antlers are still in velvet, munches down grass on the course. He is welcome to eat all of the grass he wants and is not required to pay the course’s $275,000 initiation fee,

I’m having a bit of fun here; my apologies to golfing fans. I’m not one. In fact, the only C I ever got in PE was for golf. I was not happy. I’ve held it against the sport ever since. Peggy did much better. In fact, she was goofing around at Mary Baldwin College (or was that golfing a round) and hit a hole in one. The golfing coach happened to witness the event and immediately recruited her for the college team.

I have watched my share of golf matches on TV, however. It turns out that father-in-law number one and father-in-law number two both loved the sport. Bonding included many an hour of listening to the announcer whisper in awe at the difficulty of a particular tee shot. Exciting stuff. I classified my TV golf time as part of my marriage vows under ‘and other duties as required.’

If I were a golfer, or even if I just watched golf on TV for fun, the 17 Mile Drive is an incredibly beautiful location for the sport. The brochure for the route is justifiable in declaring it “one of the most famous scenic drives in the world.” Since the area is privately owned by the Pebble Beach Resort, you will pay a $10 per vehicle fee to visit, but it is definitely worth it. The resort is owned, btw, by an investor group headed by Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer, and Peter Ueberroth. They bought it from a Japanese company, possibly in a fit of patriotism.

Clint, you may recall, was mayor of Carmel in the mid-80s. He also owned a pub/restaurant in the town known as the Hog’s Breath Inn.  Being a fan of his spaghetti westerns, I ate there once in the early 70s shortly after it opened. Eastwood wasn’t happy. Apparently I resembled riffraff. He walked over to my table, pulled out his .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 and said “Are you feeling lucky, punk?” Just kidding. Eastwood was off making a Dirty Harry movie and we were more than welcome at the restaurant.

Of course there is much more to the 17 Mile Drive than manicured golf courses.  A restless ocean, graceful Monterey Cypress, impressive rocks, and abundant wildlife are all part of the scenery. Following is a map and some of the photos I took.

I borrowed this map from Google. There are several entrances. This time I came in through the Highway Gate on Highway 1 and drove down past the Poppy Hills Golf Course. My first stop was to admire the ‘Restless Ocean’ at #6.

The marker at the site told me that the ocean was restless because of all the rocks that the waves had to break over on their way into shore.

A wave cooperated with me by breaking over a rock.

The fog reduced my view of Bird Rock at #10. Cormorants were the main birds I could see. Harbor seals with sea gulls in between can be seen on the lower right. Fortunately some sea gulls flew over to see if I had any food to offer. I call them my galley of gulls.

Definitely a “Do you have any food?” look.

A bit more laid back.

The feathers on this fellow caught my attention.

I don’t think I have ever seen a darker eye.

Here we are back at the Lone Cypress at site #16. It has hung out on its perch for 250 years. A number of guy wires holding it up are meant to assure that it continues to hang out for many more years.

The road itself is worth the trip. Here it has a bower of tall cypress trees next to the Ghost Tree Stop at #17, which was my last stop.

This is the tree on the left from the above photo. I can see where it might be considered ghostly.

I am not sure which tree was ‘the ghost tree’ but I found a number of candidates.

Another candidate…

One of the 17 Mile Drive Mansions overlooks the Ghost Tree site. This is a different perspective on the tree shown above.

Maybe not ghostly, but I liked the way this ancient downed cypress seemed to drape itself over the rock.

Speaking of rocks, I felt these might have been something that Druids would worship.

The rock in the ocean seemed to fit right in!

Another perspective.

I liked the combination here of a shadowy cypress, rocks and the restless sea.

Another photo featuring a cypress tree, rocks and the ocean.

This cypress, another candidate for the Ghost Tree, seems an appropriate end for this post on the 17 Mile Drive.

How to Forget You Are Being Divorced… The Story of Bone’s Discovery: Part I

Bone reviews the story of how he was found.


Bone’s Perspective 

I didn’t plan on seeing the world and becoming famous. Once I was part of a horse located just above the hoof. I had no freedom; I had no glory. Wherever the horse went, I went also, a mere slave to his desires. During the summer this meant carrying greenhorn tourists into the backcountry of the mountains above Lake Tahoe. The added pounds gave me bone-jarring headaches. Then the horse died; I like to fantasize that a large bear with big teeth and sharp claws ate him.  Hopefully he ate the tourist as well.

Whatever happened, I was free to be me, Bone. Yes, that’s right, Bone is my name. A kindly coyote picked me up and carried me to a high meadow filled with Corn Lilies. It was there that I discovered my Zen-like nature as I meditated through the seasons. I was alone except for a mouse that came by and nibbled on me occasionally. That hurt. In fact, it interrupted my meditation and scarred me for life; you can still see teeth marks. I blame all of my subsequent bad behavior on that flea-bitten miscreant.

My annoyance at the mouse, however, was minimal in comparison to my anger at the large two-legged creature who yanked me from my meadow home and begin yelling I was trash as he ran down the trail in pursuit of another two-legged creature.  Can you imagine the insult? I had no way of knowing that this was the beginning of my world travels or that the two creatures, Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering, would become my servants. But read on as Curt provides his perspective on my discovery. He had no idea of the treasure he had found. –Bone


Bone has backpacked through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range numerous times— but that is only a small part of his adventures.


NOTE: I’ve told this story before on my blog, but in the interest of bringing my more recent followers up-to-date, I am repeating the tale. Enjoy. –Curt

It was the summer of 1977 and my wife was divorcing me. She had dropped the bomb shortly after we had spent six-months traveling in the South Pacific and East Asia. Apparently, I lacked in stability or at least in the desire to pursue the Great American Dream. She was right of course. I had absolutely zero desire to tie myself to an eight-hour a day job and a large house in the suburbs. None of this made the divorce easy, however.

To keep my mind occupied, I was working on the route for the Fourth Annual Sierra Trek, a challenging nine-day 100-mile backpack trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that I had created as a pledge-based fund-raiser for the American Lung Association in Sacramento.

“So what’s your problem?” my friend Tom Lovering asked over a beer at the Fox and Goose Restaurant. He’d been-there-done-that with divorce and dated a number of women since. Tom owned Alpine West, an outdoor/wilderness store in Sacramento, and sponsored the Sierra Trek. He was the ultimate available bachelor and planned on remaining that way. I had persuaded him to go backpacking with me for six days to preview part of the new route. Our plan was to start near Meek’s Bay, Lake Tahoe and work our way southward 70 miles following the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail.

Tom had invited his girlfriend, Lynn, and Lynn was bringing along her friend Terry. Terry was nice, not my type.

“I have a friend named April who wants to go backpacking,” Tom offered. “Why don’t I invite her to go as well? Maybe you two will hit it off.” The implication was that this would help me get over my wife.

A friend drove the five of us up to Meeks Bay. April was gorgeous and Tom was right. I followed her long legs and short shorts up the trail. My gloomy focus on the Soon-to-Be-Ex faded like a teenager’s blue jeans. Hot feet and screaming fat cells were even more potent in forcing me to live, or at least suffer, in the moment. As usual I’d done nothing to physically prepare for the first backpack trip of the year and I was paying the price.

We climbed a thousand feet and traveled six miles to reach our first night’s destination at Stony Ridge Lake. I crashed while Tom broke out some exotic concoction of potent alcohol. After consuming enough of his ‘medicine’ to persuade my fat cells they had found Nirvana, I fired up my trusty Svea stove and started cooking our freeze-dried dinner. It wasn’t hard. Boil water, throw in noodles, add a packet of mystery ingredients, stir for ten minutes and pray that whatever you have created is edible. That night it didn’t matter.

Afterwards, we headed for our beds. The next day would be long. I slid into my down-filled mummy bag and looked up at what seemed like a million stars. There were no city lights or pollution to block my view and the moon had yet to appear. I traced an imaginary line from the Big Dipper and found the North Star. It seemed far too faint for its illustrious history. A shooting star briefly captured my attention. Thoughts of divorce, short shorts, the next day’s route, a rock digging into my butt, and sore feet jostled around in my mind for attention.

Sleep finally crept into the bag and captured me.

I awoke with a Mountain Jay screeching at me from the safety of his perch in a Lodgepole Pine. A faint light announced the morning, but the sun still hid behind the mountains on the east side of Lake Tahoe. It was frosty cold and I burrowed into my bag, pretending for a few more moments that I didn’t have to get up. Nature drove me out.

I could ignore the faint light; I could ignore the Jay, and I could even ignore the stirrings of my companions, but I couldn’t ignore my insistent bladder. Among muttered good mornings I wandered off into the woods and peed on a willow near where I had seen a coyote the evening before. I was marking my territory.

Back in camp Tom had his stove going. Lynn smiled at me. She, too, was a tall, good-looking woman. Terry had yet to emerge from her cocoon and April had replaced me out in the woods. I heard a kersplash in Stony Ridge Lake and turned to watch as ripples spread out and announced a trout had snatched its buggy breakfast. Briefly I regretted that I had left my fishing pole at home. The sun was now bathing the peaks above us in gentle light; ever so slowly it worked its way down the mountain.

Instant coffee, instant oatmeal and a handful of dried fruit made up breakfast. All too soon it was time to pack my gear and urge my still stiff muscles up the trail.

The troops were in high spirits. The sheer beauty of Desolation Wilderness demanded it. Our day would take us up to Phipps Pass, down to the Velma Lakes, across the Rubicon River, up Rockbound Valley, over Mosquito Pass and end at Lake Aloha, some 13 miles from Stony Ridge Lake. We took a few minutes to make sure our camp was clean. Almost immediately we began to climb. Flashes of blue lupine, multi-colored columbine and cheerful monkey flowers eased our way along the switch back trail. My pace of travel provided ample opportunity for appreciation. I caught a brief smell of mint at one point and wild onion at another.

We passed by two more small lakes and began our ascent of Phipps Pass. By this point I had moved in to granny gear and could hear my heart pounding in its cage, wanting to escape. Each step was a test of will. I kept moving. I had long since learned that the difficulty of starting outweighed the benefits of stopping. One step at a time I reached the top. A spectacular view rewarded my effort.

Peaks still buried under snow stretched off into the distance. The Sierra is a baby mountain range, the child of plate tectonics. Once, ancient seas covered the area. Volcanic activities left behind vast pools of subterranean granite. Crashing continental and oceanic plates lifted the granite into spectacular fault-block mountains, steep on the east and gentler on the west. The Ice Age brought glaciers that carved peaks, scooped out basins and left behind rocky moraines.

We stopped to catch our breath and enjoy the view.  Soon we would begin our descent toward Velma Lakes, but first we worked our way around Phipps Peak. A series of lakes came into view. Tom and I immediately began to debate which was which.

“And you expect us to depend on your trail finding skills?” Lynn asked. Tom whipped out his topographic map.

“See,” he said decidedly, allowing a note of triumph to enter his voice. While we were the best of friends, this didn’t eliminate an element of alpha male competition between us. He, after all, was the owner of an outdoor-wilderness store, and I, after all, was the leader of wilderness treks. I glanced at his map and an impish grin filled my face.

“Your map is upside down, Tom.” Oops.

We did agree that my decision to detour from the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail and go through Rockbound Valley was a good one. Heavy snow still covered the northern and eastern side of the mountains. It was unlikely to melt by the time of the Trek. The Trekkers would have enough challenge backpacking 13 miles on their second day out. They didn’t need to slog through five miles of snow while muttering unprintable thoughts about me.

We started our descent into the Velmas carefully. It is hard not to think, “Oh boy, down hill!” after a hard climb. But going down is much tougher on your body than climbing. Stepping down is a form of free fall. Velocity and weight are focused on the joints of your legs and feet. Adding a 40 to 50-pound pack increases the problem. It is easy to twist a knee or sprain an ankle, especially at the beginning of the season. And that was what happened. By the time we reached Middle Velma, April was limping.

“I stepped on a loose rock and slipped,” she explained in obvious pain.

While April soaked her foot in the cold lake water and broke out an Ace Bandage, Tom and I mulled over whether to go on or hike out. We arrived at a compromise. Lynn would hike out with April to Emerald Bay and the two of them would stay at a motel. They would rejoin Tom, Terry and me at Echo Lake some 18 miles down the trail.

Coming up: Part 2 of Bone’s discovery. There are raging rivers, kamikaze mosquitoes, and naked ladies jumping. You won’t want to miss it. In the meantime, here are two more photos reflecting Bone’s subsequent journeys.

Bone visit the Tropic of Cancer…

And checks out the 45th Parallel. (Bone is above the 5.)


Friday: More unusual structures at Burning Man including a Bird Trap Church and a memorial to LSD Guru, Timothy Leary.

Monday: The Coquille River Lighthouse and Bullard’s Beach near Bandon, Oregon.

Wednesday: Bone is discovered: Part II