The Incredible Journeys of Bone… 43-Years of Wandering and Still Traveling

Every couple of years I update Bone’s travel history because he continues to wander the world. This time, I’ve added his 750 mile trek down the Pacific Crest Trail. As you read this post, he is preparing for another 7,000 mile journey in Quivera the RV to some of the remote corners of the contiguous United States in honor of Peggy’s 70th Birthday. He’ll be wearing his face mask and reporting along the way!

Bone has travelled twice to the base of Mt. Everest.

Sometime in the 1900s Bone started his life as part of a horse wandering through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The horse was allegedly eaten by a bear. Bone ended up in a high mountain meadow practicing Zen and being nibbled on by a miscreant rodent.

1977: He was ‘discovered’ by two lost backpackers (Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering) on the Tahoe Yosemite Trail south of Lake Tahoe and launched his career of wandering the world.

Normally, Bone likes to hang out in Curt and Peggy’ library in Oregon. His favorite section is travel.
He also has a fondness for George, the Bush Devil, who is on the cover of Curt’s book, “The Bush Devil Ate Sam.” Here, the two of them share a laugh.

1980-81: Bone commenced his first World Tour with Tom.  He visited Asia including Japan, Hong Kong, Bombay, Delhi and Katmandu where he trekked to the base of Mt. Everest. He then wandered on to spend spring and summer in Europe stopping off in Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, England and Ireland. Getting cold, Bone headed south and hitched a ride in the back of a truck through Algeria, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Sudan, Kenya (where he crossed the Equator), Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. He signed on with Tom as crew of a sailboat in Cape Town and headed north to Mallorca, stopping off on the islands of St. Helena, Ascension, Cape Verde and Madeira. Back in Europe he explored his possible Viking roots in Sweden, Norway and Finland.

1983-86: Bone assumed Cheechako status and moved to Alaska with Curt where he was stalked by a grizzly bear on the Kenai Peninsula, explored Prince William Sound by kayak, learned to winter camp in 30 degree below zero weather while listening to wolves howl, backpacked in the Brooks Range north of the Arctic Circle, and discussed the finer points of eating salmon with Great Brown Bears in Katmai National Park. He escaped briefly to the warmer climate of Hawaii and participated in the New Orleans Mardi Gras.

One look at this fellow and Bone decided that he wanted to be elsewhere.
Alaska Brown Bear playing with moose bone.
The big guy was playing with a distant cousin of his.

1986: He backpacked the Western US for five months with Curt exploring the Grand Canyon, the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, the Rockies, and the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming before returning to his beloved Sierras.

1989: Bone joined Curt on a six month 10,000-mile solo bike tour around North America visiting 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces. He ended his journey by meeting Peggy in Sacramento.

1990: The International Society of the BONE was formed at Senior Frogs in Mazatlan, Mexico, where Bone spent the afternoon being pickled in a pitcher of margaritas and being kissed by lovely senoritas.

1991-97: Various members of International Society accompanied Bone on numerous adventures. Highlights included a White House Press Conference with Bill Clinton, being blessed by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square, visiting with Michelangelo’s David, going deep-sea diving in the South Pacific and Caribbean, doing a Jane Austin tour of England, and exploring the Yucatan Peninsula. A group adopted him as a good luck charm and took him back to visit the base of Mt. Everest one year and to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro another.

Bone loves high places. Here he is on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in East Africa. (He’s with MJ, fourth from right, standing.)
Bone went diving in the Pacific in 1997 with Jose and Barbara Kirchner, visiting a Japanese ship sunk during World War II and receiving his diving certificate.

1998-99: Bone embarked on 40,000-mile journey in the van, Xanadu, through the US, Canada and Mexico with Peggy and Curt, visiting over 30 National Parks, driving the Alaska and Baja Highways, checking out Smokey the Bear’s and Calamity Jane’s graves, kayaking in the Sea of Cortez, leaf peeping in Vermont, jetting to the Bahamas, pursuing flying saucers in Roswell, New Mexico, and completing his visits to all 50 states.

Bone was quite impressed with the size of his ancient relatives. Here he rests on dinosaur toes at the Dinosaur National Monument Visitor Center.

2000-02: Bone journeys up the Amazon, returns to Europe, cruises to Belize, Cancun and the Cayman’s, and goes to New Zealand where a misguided customs agent tries to arrest and jail him as animal matter.

Bone, who likes strange things, insisted on having his photo taken with a mudstone concretion in New Zealand.

2003: Bone undertakes a 360-mile backpack trip in celebration of his discovery and Curt’s 60th birthday. They begin at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe and end by climbing Mt. Whitney. Various friends join them along the way.

Bone got a little high when he helped Curt celebrate his 60th birthday,  which isn’t surprising considering  he is a California bone.

2004: Bone visits Hemingway’s grave in Idaho, goes horseback riding with Australians and Bahamians in Montana, and makes his first pilgrimage to Burning Man in Nevada, a very Bone like type of place. He also jets off to Costa Rica.

Bone has a love for anything ancient. Here, he perches on a Mayan sculpture in Costa Rica.

2005-2007: Bone returns to Burning Man twice and revisits Europe twice including special stopovers in Portugal, France, Holland, Germany, and Belgium. He also revisits Mexico.

2008 – 2011: Bone commences another exploration of North America. This time he travels in the van, Quivera, along with Curt, Peggy, and Eeyore the Jackass. His journey takes him over 75,000 miles of American Roads. Along the way, he barely escapes the hangman’s noose in Tombstone, Arizona. In May of 2010 he helps Curt initiate his blog, and rafts 280 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

Bone barely escaped the hangman’s noose after being a Bad Bone in Tombstone, Arizona.
Bone, wearing his PFD, scouts a major rapid on the Colorado River before rafting though it.

2012-2017: Bone goes into semi-retirement in Southern Oregon. Please note the semi, however. He continues the exploration of the West Coast ranging from Big Sur to Vancouver Island, where he kayaks for a week in search of Killer Whales. He wanders through England and Scotland helping Curt find his roots and spends a week traveling by Canal Boat. Later, he returns to Europe again, traveling through the Mediterranean visiting Turkey, Santorini and other Greek Islands, Dubrovnik, Venice, Rome, Pompeii, Florence, and Barcelona. He returns to Burning Man several times.  On one trip, he is married to the lovely Bonetta, who he met while exploring a swamp in Florida. Rumor has it that it was a shotgun wedding. This past year he traveled with Peggy and me on our 10,000 mile trip around North America retracing my bike route. He made a very special trip with fellow blogger Crystal Truelove to visit with Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.

Burning Man is one of Bone’s all-time favorite activities.
Bone and Big Nose Bonetta are married in a temple at Burning Man in 2013. Bone’s kilt was made for him by an 80-plus year old woman from Kansas. Bonetta is wearing a designer wedding dress with very expensive plastic jewelry to match.
Bone got a wee bit jealous when I snuggled up to this mammoth of a bone when Peggy and I were re-visiting by van my 1999 10,000-mile bike trip last year.

2018: Bone joins Curtis in celebrating Curt’s 75th Birthday by backpacking 750 miles in Oregon and California. Highlights include the Rogue River Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness and the Siskiyou Mountains in Oregon. In California, Curt and Bone more or less follow the Pacific Crest Trail through the Klamath Mountains, Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, Cascade Mountains and Sierra Nevada Mountains— taking  detours whenever the mood strikes, including revisiting where Tom and Curt found him in 1977! Along the way, Bone meets and chats with numerous through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail who are hiking from Mexico to Canada. He also spends a lot of time dodging horrendous forest fires. Peggy joins Curt and Bone  for three sections of the journey and provides welcome backup for the rest of the journey. 

Bone had a privileged position on the front of Curt’s Backpack during the 750 mile journey down the Pacific Crest Trail.
Bone met many through-hikers making their way from Mexico to Canada including a hiker whose trail name was Bone! Here we have Bone and Bone.
Bone and Curt take a break from the PCT to meet with Tom Lovering at the 10th and R Street Fox and Goose Restaurant in Sacramento. Tom owned the Alpine West backpacking and outdoor specialty store in the 10th and R Building in 1977 when he and Curt discovered Bone.
As we arrived at Bone’s home south of Lake Tahoe, he entertained Peggy with tales from his childhood.

2019-2020: He joins Curt for a trip down California’s beautiful Highway 395 among the Eastern Sierras and visits the Alabama Hills where cowboy movies of yore were made with the likes of John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy,  the Lone Ranger and a host of others— voices from the past that have echoed down through time. “Hi-yo Silver away.” Planned trips for 2020 including a journey through the Panama Canal and up the Rhine River have been cancelled because of the Coronavirus, but don’t count Bone out. He is madly planning another trip across the US where he will home-shelter in Quivera the RV. 

Bone and his traveling companion Eeyore are excited and ready for their 2020 RV trip around the US.

When Getting Lost Is a Treat: Venice… Armchair Travel

This is number four in my armchair series on Venice where Peggy and I visited in 2013. Again, I have pulled it from my archived posts to revisit in the time of Covid 19. Enjoy.

Walking through Venice allowed us to enjoy what was unique about the city, such as this lamp.
Walking through Venice allowed us to enjoy what was unique about the city, such as this lamp.

I have always felt the best way to learn about a city is to walk its streets. Fortunately, I was traveling in Europe with companions who also loved to walk. For the most part, we skipped the tours. It isn’t that the tours are bad, you can learn a lot from them, but they are regimented and often expensive. There is no wandering off on your own, or taking longer to enjoy a particular site than the tour leader allows.

Venice is a great walking city— if you don’t mind getting lost. Streets have a tendency to take you somewhere you weren’t planning to go and come to abrupt ends. Street signs are rare. What the city does do, however, is post signs that will eventually lead to major monuments. And of course, you are on a relatively small island. How lost can you get? Besides, it isn’t like getting lost in the Alaskan wilderness. I was always very careful not to.

A good map is an important tool when walking off the beaten path (or main tourist routes). We didn't always agree on where we were or the proper route to take, however... and we all considered ourselves something of experts in map reading.
A good map is an important tool when walking off the beaten path (or main tourist routes). We didn’t always agree on where we were or the proper route to take, however. And we all considered ourselves experts in map reading. Our companions caught many photos of us studying and ‘discussing’ maps. Where’s the GPS phone ap when you need it?  (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Common sense is important.  Wandering down dark, lonely alleys can be risky at times, regardless of where you are. But in restricting your journey to major streets and walkways, you limit your opportunities to have adventures and develop a true sense of the communities you are visiting.

It is important to look around and notice the small as well as the large, the seemingly insignificant as well as what is featured in the guidebooks. Photography helps once you get beyond ‘we were there snap shots’ and allows your mind to feast on the wonderful variety that any area offers. It teaches you to see new things and to seek out what is unique. Following are various locations and objects that Peggy and I found of interest.

This photo provides a good example of our wandering off the main tourist routes of Venice without a clue where we were.
Of course, you can always stop and ask for directions…
I don't remember where I came upon this friendly looking, gargoyle-type of lion, but he was definitely worth a photo.
I don’t remember where I came upon this friendly looking, gargoyle-type of lion in Venice, but it was definitely worth a photo. It seems to have something to say. Now as I look at it again, it appears to have wings, which means it represents Venice’s patron saint, St. Mark. Look around, and you will find these fellows everywhere. If you ever find yourself in Venice with kids, you could probably keep them busy by challenging them to see how many they could find.
Venice street scene showing colorful buildings and flower boxes.
I felt this photo captured the colorful buildings and flower boxes of Venice streets. Also note the green pharmacy sign and green pharmacy lamp on the lower left.
Window flower boxes are common in Venice, Italy.
One thing you find much more of in Europe than in the US are flower boxes. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Peggy caught this photo of a large flower box. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Here’s my photo of another large flower box— without flowers. But the green was as dramatic with its striped orange backdrop.
The Hotel Iris is definitely not one of your more swank hotels in Venice... and it knows it. I looked it up online and its website headline proclaimed: Hotel Iris: A Cheap hotel in Venice. Cheap was capitalized by the hotel. I consider that truth in advertising. In the US it would be "affordable lodging."
The Hotel Iris is definitely not one of the more swank hotels in Venice— and it knows it. I looked it up online and its website headline proclaimed: Hotel Iris: A Cheap hotel in Venice. Cheap was capitalized by the hotel. I consider that truth in advertising. In the US it would be “affordable lodging.”
Starry roman numeral 24 hour clock found off of St. Marks Square in Venice Italy.
One of the advantages of a telephoto lens is it allows you to capture details you can’t normally see. I doubt we would have spotted the wild hour hand of this starred 24 hour Roman numeral clock found off of St. Mark’s Square. There’s another winged lion in the center, BTW. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I am always intrigued by what I consider as invitations, such as this stairwell in Venice. It’s saying “Come and climb up. See what’s up here.” Unfortunately, the locked iron fence said something else.
Iron gate in Venice.
Speaking of iron fences in Venice, was this one saying “Take my picture.” or “Don’t even think about climbing over!”? That’s it for today. Next up, we go window shopping in Venice and discover the long-nosed face masks that Venetian’s wore during the plague of the 1600s.

An Easter Tale… Well Not Quite; Hmmm, Not Even Close?

rasputin B&W copy
Rasputin the Cat hosting rhinoceros beetles in Liberia, Africa circa 1966.

It’s that time of the year when chickens lay brightly colored eggs and bunny rabbits hide them for children to find. It’s an Easter tradition that is even more important this year when children (and their parents) can use a little old-fashioned fun. By rights, I should have a chicken, egg, and bunny story to tell. But I don’t. I do, however, have a cat and rooster story. It will have to do. Join me as I travel back in time to when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa and Rasputin the Cat and the Cockle Doodle Rooster hatched a plot to wake me up early every morning. (I adapted this story from my book, “The Bush Devil Ate Sam.”)

Jo Ann, my first wife, and I raised Rasputin from a kitten. He had grown into one fine cat, or sweet meat as my students said. They’d tease me by coming by and pinching him to see how fat he had become. Then they would stand around discussing whether he was ready for the stew pot.

Rasputin’s primary entertainment was stalking dogs. You knew when he was at work because the neighborhood dogs carefully avoided the tall clumps of grass where he liked to hide. He was particularly obnoxious when it was windy. He would hide up-wind and make it more difficult for the dogs to sniff him out. I felt for the poor dog that came too close.

A streak of yellow and a yip of surprise proclaimed his attack. What made his behavior particularly strange was that he came at the dogs on his two hind legs, walking upright. This allowed both front legs to be used as slashing weapons. It was the wise dog that steered clear.

His other form of entertainment was more cat like. He liked the girls. Each night he would ask to go out around 10 and we wouldn’t seen him until the next morning. I was fine with this. Who was I to get in the way of true love? I was less tolerant of his returning around 5:30 and insisting that I let him in. He did this by practicing his operatic meows under our bedroom window.

Since no amount of suggesting that he should change his behavior discouraged him, I jumped out of bed one morning and chased him across the yard. This got Jo Ann excited. Our cat was going “to run away and never come back.” She may have also been concerned about the neighbor’s reaction to my charging out of the house naked. That type of thing bothered her. I promised to repent and assured her that the cat would be back in time for dinner. He was.

There were occasions when Rasputin’s tomcatting kept him out beyond his normal 5:30 appearance. I’m convinced that he made a deal with the rooster next door to wake us in his absence. I didn’t make this correlation until the rooster crowed directly under our window one morning at 5:30. Even then I thought it was just a coincidence until the rooster repeated himself the next day.

It wasn’t just the crowing that irritated me; it was the nature of the crow. American and European roosters go cock-a-doodle-do. Even urban children know this because that’s how it is spelled out in books. Liberian roosters go cock-a-doodle— and stop. You are constantly waiting for the other ‘do’ to drop.

“This crowing under our window,” I thought to myself, “has to be nipped in the bud.”

That evening I filled a bucket with water and put it next to my bed. Sure enough, at 5:30 the next morning there he was: “COCK-A-DOODLE!”  I jumped up, grabbed my bucket, and threw the water out the window on the unsuspecting fowl. “Squawk!” I heard as one very wet and irritated rooster headed home as fast as his little rooster legs could carry him.

“Chicken,” I yelled out after his departing body. “And that,” I said to Jo Ann, “should be the end of this particular problem.”

I was inspired though. Cats don’t think much of getting wet either. What if I kept a bucket of water next to the bed and dumped it on Rasputin the next time he woke us up at 5:30. Jo couldn’t even blame me for running outside naked. With warm thoughts of having solved two problems with one bucket, I went to bed that night loaded for cat, so to speak.

“COCK-A-DOODLE” roared the rooster outside our window promptly at 5:30.

“Damn,” I thought, “that boy is one slow learner.”

I fell out of bed, grabbed the bucket and dashed for the window. There was no rooster there. I looked up and spotted him about 20 feet away running full tilt. He had slipped up on us, crowed and taken off! My opinion of the rooster took a paradigm leap. Here was one worthy opponent. The question was how to respond.

It took me a couple of days of devious thinking to arrive at a solution. What would happen if I recorded the rooster on a tape recorder and then played it back? I had a small tape recorder that I used for exchanging letters with my dad so I set myself the task of capturing the rooster’s fowl language. Since he had an extensive harem he liked to crow about, it wasn’t long before I had a dozen or so cock-a-doodles on tape. I rewound the recorder, cranked up the volume and set it up next to our front screen door.

The results were hilarious. Within seconds the rooster was on our porch, jumping up and down and screaming ‘cock-a-doodle.’ There was a rooster inside of our house that had invaded his territory and he was going to tear him apart, feather-by-feather. Laughing I picked up the recorder, rewound it, carried to the back screen door, and hit the play button.

“Cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle,” I could hear the rooster as he roared around to the back of house to get at his implacable foe. Back and forth I went, front to back, back to front. And around and around the house the rooster went, flinging out his challenges.

Finally, having laughed myself to exhaustion, I took pity on my feathered friend and shut the recorder off.  This just about concludes the rooster story, but not quite.

One Friday evening, Jo and I had been celebrating the end of another week of teaching with gin and tonics until the wee hours when we decided to see how the rooster would respond to his nemesis at one o’clock in the morning. Considering our 5:30 am wakeup calls, we felt there was a certain amount of justice in the experiment. I set it up the recorder and played a “Cock-a-doodle.”

“COCK-A-DOODLE?!” was the immediate response. No challenge was to go unanswered. “Cock-a-doodle” we heard as roosters from the Superintendent’s compound checked in. “Cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle” we heard in the distance as town roosters rose to the challenge. Soon every rooster in Gbarnga was awake, and probably every resident.

We decided to keep our early morning rooster-arousing episode to ourselves.

Hope you enjoyed the tale. There are several more about Rasputin in the book. A very Happy Easter to each of you from Peggy and me. Be safe and stay healthy!

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.