Ten Favorite Burning Man Activities… Updated!

The classic female nude has always been a favorite subject of artists. This beautiful woman was over 50 feet tall and was one of a series of three at Burning Man.

The classic female nude has always been a favorite subject of artists. This beautiful woman was over 50 feet tall and was one of a series of three at Burning Man. Art, more than anything else, has been pulling me back to Burning Man since 2004.

With two laptops down and this one heading for the doctor, I have to revise my publishing schedule for the next week. I’m reaching back into my archives and pulling out three former posts that are at least in the spirit of what I have promised. Today is on Burning Man. I’ll follow up with an historical blog on Philadelphia’s Fort Mifflin and then a backpacking tale that includes bears, lots of them.

I may be totally off the Internet for the next week. If I don’t respond immediately, that’s the case. 

It’s time to buy tickets for Burning Man again, which is always a harrowing experience. At least it has been for the past several years. I made my first trip to Burning Man in 2004 and have been back numerous times since. I can’t resist. It is one of the most unique events I have ever attended. Following are some of the reasons why. Today kicks off a Friday series on Burning Man I will be running over the next couple of months during the ticket sale time that feature favorite photos from my archive of thousands. Enjoy!

I should probably name this blog Curt Mekemson’s Ten Favorite Burning Man Activities. When it comes to Burning Man, things get personal. One person’s preferences might very well be another person’s boring, with just the right teen-age emphasis followed by, “Was that guy actually there?”

For example, I don’t like loud music but there are camps at Burning Man with humongous speakers that blast out ear shattering decibels 24/7. Fine, it’s their thing and they have lots of fans, not to mention some of the best DJs in the world. Many Burners list these venues among their top choices. They joyfully dance the night away, literally. I like stopping by but my ears soon send me scooting for quieter locations— like the opposite side of the Playa.

Dancing and music are an integral part of Burning Man. The event attracts some of the top DJs in the world who spin their tunes for free at Burning Man.

Dancing and music are an integral part of Burning Man. The event attracts some of the top DJs in the world who spin their tunes for free at Burning Man. The hanging speakers give an idea of the volume that can be generated.

I don’t run around naked at Burning Man, either. That would be scary— for both me and anybody looking in my direction. But I have no objection to other people being nude. Some Burners are quite attractive while others are at least, uh, colorful. I assume all are enjoying some form of liberation, or at least a bit of exhibitionism.

Outrageous costumes make people watching at Burning Man a number one activity. The guy 'looking the wrong way' helped make this photo. Note the platform shoes on the woman. She wears them well.

Outrageous costumes make people watching at Burning Man a number one activity. The guy ‘looking the wrong way’ helped make this photo. What was he thinking? Note the platform shoes on the woman. She wears them well.

The thing about the Burning Man experience is that it depends on the individual. My recommendation for new participants is to come with an open mind and explore. If you want to get naked, go ahead; but you don’t have to and most don’t. Your experience can be as radical or conservative as you wish to make it.

So, having established my parameters, here is my top-ten list of things to do at Burning Man (assuming one can finagle a ticket). They aren’t in order of preference.

1. Attend the Burn: First, you will want to visit the Man during the week. There are usually a number of activities taking place that reflect the year’s theme. Plus you can often climb up into the base and enjoy some of the best views available of Black Rock City! The burning of the Man on Saturday night is the climax of the week where everything and everyone comes together. Hundreds of fire dancers and drummers kick off the event and are followed by an elaborate ceremony where the Man is set on fire.  Things start with a bang, literally, as rockets explode and light up the sky. The Man then moves toward his ultimate demise, slowly. His last seconds are met by silence from 70,000 people, possibly the only time when Burning Man is quiet, followed by oohs and ahs building to a crescendo as he comes crashing down, completing his annual sacrifice. Don’t worry, like Frosty the Snowman and the Phoenix Bird, he’ll be back. The burn is only part of the show, however. Elaborate costumes, giant mutant vehicles, and total  bedlam compete for attention.

 

For six days the Man serves as a gathering point on the Playa and as a landmark for lost Burners. On Saturday night he burns in what has become one of the world’s best known New Age rituals.

Burning Man's roots go back 27 years to the burning of an 8 foot tall statue on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Today's man stands some 40 feet tall and rests on a 60 foot pedestal. The wooden man and his fiery demise symbolizes the annual event that takes place in the remote Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

Burning Man’s roots go back 31 years to the burning of an 8 foot tall statue on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Today’s man stands some 40 feet tall and rests on a 60 foot pedestal.

My friend Don Green took this photo of the Fun House entrance that was built around the Man in 2015.

My friend Don Green took this photo of the Fun House entrance that was built around the Man in 2015.

The night sky is lit up by fireworks during the burning of the Man at Burning Man 2014.

Suddenly the night sky and the Man are lit up by fireworks. The burn is about to begin.

A close up of the Man burning at Burning Man 2014.

Don Green captured this photo of the Man Burning.

The Burning of the Man on Saturday night gives the event its name.

Huge flames light up the night.

People perch on El Pulpo Mechanico at Burning Man and watch as the Man burns.

People perched on El Pulpo Mechanico at Burning Man and watched as the Man burned. Even the mutant vehicle, El Pulpo Mechanico, seemed entranced.

2. Enjoy the People: I don’t know where one could find a more interesting cast of characters than Burning Man. But then again, there aren’t many places where you are encouraged to be yourself and pursue ‘radical self-expression’ in a region where temperatures top 100 and 60 mph windstorms kick up massive dust storms that create zero visibility. Tribes, events and volunteering create numerous situations where it is easy to meet people and make friends. While Burning Man preaches involvement, you are also totally free to wander around and simply observe.

The folks who come to Burning Man represent a broad spectrum of people representing all ages and occupations— from broke college students to billionaires. this fellow is a veteran Burner who works with the Department of Public Works that helps build Black Rock City.

The folks who come to Burning Man represent a broad spectrum of people from all ages and occupations— from broke college students to billionaires. This fellow is a veteran Burner who works with the Department of Public Works that helps build Black Rock City.

This young couple stood next to me as we watched a burning piano be tossed 50 or so yards up the Playa. Glasses form an important part of Burner's costumes.

This young couple stood next to me as we watched a burning piano be tossed 50 or so yards up the Playa.

Costumes are an integral part of Burning Man and some people such as my friend Ken (aka Scotty) Love to dress up.

Costumes are an integral part of Burning Man and some people such as my friend Ken (aka Scotty) love to dress up. Scotty, BTW, is Ken’s Burning Man name. Almost everyone has one. Mine is Outlaw.

3. Appreciate the Art: Burning Man art comes in all forms, from monumental to small, from sculpture to painting to performance. Most of the major pieces and performances take place on the Playa or along the Esplanade. But there are many smaller pieces (and performances) found throughout the camp and at the Center Camp Cafe. Much of the art is interactive. Be sure to check out the playa sculptures at different times of the day. Many of the pieces are schizophrenic with radically different day and night personalities. And many are making there way into communities around the world.

Burning Man has become a major center for what is happening in today’s art world. Selecting a piece to represent what is happening in the Nevada desert is close to impossible. These two oil tankers welded together and stacked on top of each other, meld environmental concern with art, two of Burning Man’s major themes.

Medusa with her snake hair was one of my favorite sculptures in 2015.

Medusa, with her writhing snake hair, was one of my favorite sculptures in 2015.

Burning Man Fantasy sculpture

Monumental sculptures, many you can climb on, are among the most popular art works at Burning Man.

4. Save Time for the Desert: The Black Rock Desert and surrounding mountains are beautiful. Look around. Once the Playa was part of the huge Lake Lahontan, which was over 500 hundred feet deep. Mammoths wandered the lake’s shore. Early morning and late evening provide the best times for desert viewing. An early morning walk, while Burning Man more or less sleeps, is the best time to appreciate what the desert has to offer. Embrace rather than dread the weather. When else in your life will you experience a massive dust storm or see a desert rainbow?

The evening sun bathes the surrounding mountains at Burning Man in soft light.

The evening sun bathes the surrounding mountains at Burning Man in soft light.

I think Burning Man  fails to emphasize (or assigns to footnote status) one of the event’s most spectacular assets… the beauty of the Black Rock Desert.

A massive dust storm crosses the Playa and hides the camp.

4. Visit the Temple: The folks who build the Temple deserve a huge vote of thanks from all of us. Visiting is both an aesthetic and spiritual experience. To start with, the temples are gorgeous, with each year’s building a unique creation. Thousands of written messages are left on the walls to honor loved ones who have died or to give thanks for blessings. The messages are both sincere and touching. Take along a pen or a marker if you wish to honor or thank someone who has had a significant impact on your life. On Sunday night the temple burns, sending messages skyward in what I can only describe as a sacred experience.

The Temple of Promise at Burning Man 2012.

The Temple of Promise at Burning Man 2015.

The Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014.

The Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014.

The Temple burns on Sunday Night. Unlike the Burning of the Man which is a bit on the rowdy side, Burners watch silently and respectfully as the Temple Burns.

The Temple burns on Sunday Night. Unlike the Burning of the Man which is a bit on the rowdy side, Burners watch silently and respectfully as the Temple is consumed by flame.

5. Check out Camp Center Cafe, Often: Whether you want to perform, show off your costume, pick up the latest news, attend a show, enjoy art, have a cup of coffee, meet friends, have your fortune told, apply pasties, watch people or just hang, Camp Center Cafe is the place to go. It’s open 24 hours a day. Something is always going on. I visit two to three times daily. Be sure to watch the costume contest and the talent show.

This robot with his dog and a flower was in front of the Center Camp Cafe. He would raise the flower up to his nose and sniff it.

This robot with his dog and a flower was in front of the Center Camp Cafe. He would raise the flower up to his nose and sniff it. Each year Center Camp Cafe features a major sculpture.

“Yes Master.” Camp Center is a great place to watch people, show off your costume, and live out your fantasies… and it is always entertaining.

A show of some kind of the other is pretty much guaranteed when you visit the Center Camp Cafe. Here couples practice partner yoga. Are the two guys center-right twins?

A show of some kind of the other is pretty much guaranteed when you visit the Center Camp Cafe. Here couples practice partner yoga. Are the two guys on the floor center-right twins?

Center Camp is also a prime location for Burning Man art.

Center Camp is also a prime location for Burning Man art.

6. Stroll or Bike The Esplanade: This is Burning Man’s other major center of action. It provides the border between the Camp and the Playa. It is a theater, circus and walkway all in one. Stop by and watch people pummel each other with foam sticks in the Thunder Dome, enjoy a troop of fire dancers, go roller-skating, play games, try out a balloon ride, hear how loud music can actually get, dance, watch a movie, become lost in a maze, meditate… etc.

Hundreds of people lined up for an opportunity climb into the sky on this balloon ride that was offered on the Esplanade. Entertainment along the Esplanade varies from dancing, to roller skating, to circuses. Once there was even a booth that would spank you, assuming you needed it.

Major tribes with hundreds of members build elaborate camps along the Esplanade.

Major tribes , some with hundreds of members, build elaborate camps along the Esplanade.

A number of impressive buildings including the Sacred Spaces building are found along the Esplanade at Burning Man.

Another example.

7. Check out and/or Ride on Mutant Vehicles: Undecorated vehicles are restricted to camp. If you are going to drive you have to decorate. What’s not to love about a giant, wooly mammoth or a cat car with fur? Mutant Vehicles at Burning Man come in all shapes, forms and sizes. Some people spend weeks/months creating their fantasy transportation systems and even bicycles are elaborately decorated.  Various vehicles become dance floors, spout fire, look ferocious and even appear friendly. A polite request may land you a ride.

The Cat Car is a perennial favorite at Burning Man. This year she had a makeover and was looking quite snazzy.

The Cat Car is a perennial favorite at Burning Man. This year she had a makeover and was looking quite snazzy.

The tusks on they mammoth are what make this art car one of my favorite mutant vehicles at Burning Man. People sit inside the rib cage. The driver climbs into the head.

The tusks on they mammoth are what make this art car one of my favorite mutant vehicles. People sit inside the rib cage. The driver climbs into the head.

Where's Alice?

Where’s Alice?

Never Was Haul resembles a Victorian House that has been converted to a steam engine train.

Never Was Haul resembles a Victorian House that has been converted to a steam engine train.

A rhino even more massive than its counterpart in East Africa.

A rhino even more massive than its counterpart in East Africa.

8. Join a Tribe, or not: Tribes are the major social units at Burning Man and there is a tribe for almost any inclination. Many feature theme camps based on the year’s theme and welcome visitors. You can also form your own. Let’s say you are a purple alien from outer space and can’t find a tribe. Create the Purple Alien from Outer Space Tribe. Odds are there are other purple aliens who will want to join. It’s doubtful that anyone will even recognize that you are an alien. They will just think, “Oh, he’s got a neat costume,” and want to take your picture.

The Peripatetic Bone, held here by Boots and featuring his leather vest, has his own tribe… the Horse-Bone Tribe. He has been visiting Burning Man for years and was even married there to Bonette, a few years ago.

9. Go out into the Night: The Burning Man night is magical. Everyone and thing includes some kind of lighting system including art, people, bikes and mutant vehicles. Most blocks provide entertainment. Is it going to be pole dancing, jazz or vodka creations that capture your imagination? You will think you have entered a different universe.

The front of the Temple at night.

The Temple of Promise at night.

A large group attended an evening discussion on the issue of violence against women.

R-evolutuion lit up at night. Here, a large group attended an evening discussion on the issue of violence against women.

Burning Man dragon created by Flaming Lotus Girls for Burning Man.

A fiery dragon.

Burning Man mutant vehicle. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And a mutant vehicle vase.

10. Peruse the Catalogue: You are given a catalogue when you arrive that includes literally hundreds of things you can do at Burning Man ranging from attending a lecture on solar power to having your breasts painted. The various tribes sponsor these events for free as part of Burning Man’s gift-giving culture. You can practice yoga, learn the samba, improve your fire twirling skills, watch a show, and even improve your sex life, regardless of which way you lean. You can also drink. The catalogue lists dozens of bars featuring everything from Bloody Marys to craft beers. One year I found a casket that featured beer spouts.  Drinks are free; bring your own cup. One of the first things I do after setting up camp is to go through the catalogue and check off things I might want to do. Hmmm, I wonder what bondage is like? (Just kidding… but there are opportunities to learn about it, and practice.)

Burning Man may be the greatest show on Earth. Bring along your imagination, sense of humor, and willingness to experience new things.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, are planning on going to Burning Man for your first time, want to learn more about the event, or want to reminisce about past events, I invite you to join me on Fridays for the next couple of months.

Dog Stew, A Rattlesnake Bite and Hypothermia… Reblog

This is the fifth and final of a series of Blogs on how the Peripatetic Bone was found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I will respond to comments when I return from Burning Man.

It was a pleasant hike down to Carson Pass on Highway 88 and relatively dry since we were on a south-facing slope.

Kit Carson came through here in February of 1844 along with John C. Fremont. It wasn’t pleasant then. The snow was deep and food was limited. They ended up dining off of their horses, mules and the camp dog. The dog apparently went quite well with pea soup. Later, the trail they discovered would become a major entry point for the 49ers and run through the foothill town of Diamond Springs where I was raised.

There was nary a bar, restaurant or gas station near the Pass so we hiked on another three miles to Lake Winnemucca. Rain was threatening and I set up my tube tent, a large sheet of plastic shaped into a round tunnel. It wasn’t particularly sturdy, but it was light and dry.

Tom, on the other hand, was carrying a luxurious three-season tent. He stacked the women in head to toe and ended up smelling April’s feet all night.

The next day was all downhill: down to Fourth of July Lake, down to Summit City Canyon, and down Summit City Creek to Camp Irene on the Mokelumne River. After dropping 4000 feet in 14 miles I found myself bone tired again. Camp Irene provided an attractive campsite but turned out to be rattlesnake country.

I had discovered the perfect toilet spot, dug my cat hole and was baring my behind when one buzzed at me. It’s amazing how fast you can pull up your pants. I was lucky the snake didn’t bite me on the butt.

I grabbed a stick and chased him away with a couple of sharp prods for good measure. He was lucky I was something of a nature boy. Otherwise he would have been smashed. The next time I did any serious bathroom duty was when I was parked on a flush toilet at Lake Alpine.

Backpacking out of Camp Irene is a challenge. The 4000 feet we dropped the day before in 14 miles we were now expected to re-climb in five. Low clouds filled the canyon. It wasn’t raining but it was cold and damp. Somewhere in the mist a male grouse made its familiar ‘whump, whump, whump’ sound, working to attract a female companion. I empathized. Dripping wet Buck Bush grabbed at our legs.

To stay warm and dry we broke out our rain gear. Lynn moved from being cold and miserable to shivering and not caring. She was on the edge of hypothermia, a very dangerous state. The body loses its ability to maintain warmth and the rational mind ceases to function. Coordination spirals downward. It is very easy to die.

Tom and I acted quickly. I fired up my Svea and Tom had Lynn stand over it wearing her cagoule, a dress like poncho. We positioned the stove carefully. While this wasn’t a solution to hypothermia one found in survival guides, it worked. (The recommended solution is to break out your sleeping bag and crawl in naked with the victim.) Within minutes, Lynn was ready to tackle the rest of the mountain.

Hypothermia can strike fast but it can also be quickly cured… assuming of course you catch it in time. Tom was next.

“Curt,” he called plaintively from off in the brush where he had gone to pee. I rushed over and begin laughing. He had managed the first half of his chore but couldn’t zip his pants up. His mind was working fine but his coordination had gone south. He was all thumbs. I called Lynn over to help as I returned to the trail chuckling. There are some chores a trek leader doesn’t need to handle.

We hiked the rest of the way into Alpine Lake without undo difficulty. Since our ride wasn’t coming until the next day, we rented a one-room cabin to share. Rain poured down outside as we relived our adventures and made up tall tales way into the night. Our journey was winding down, but it wasn’t over.

I was shaking the dirt out of my pack at home when the bone fell out. Apparently I had been carrying it all the way from Winnemucca Lake. “Darn Lovering,” I thought to myself, “I am going to get even.” I decided to keep the bone. There would be an opportunity on a future trip to slip it back into Tom’s pack. I would have revenge!

And that’s it, the story of Bone’s discovery. It started like so many things in our lives often do, as a non-event. Bone didn’t come up as a subject during our night in the cabin. Naked jumping ladies, lost trails, swollen rivers, gorgeous country, rattle snakes, the physical challenge, hypothermia and even the upside-down map were the stories of legend, not a small, insignificant bone that came from who knows what.

But time has the power to rewrite history. When Tom opened his suitcase in Japan at the beginning of a two-year exploration of Asia, Africa and Europe, he found a surprise, Bone. I had my revenge. When I moved to Alaska and was unpacking my boxes, who should fall out but Bone. The tales go on and on…

Bone Is Found, but Not Before the Naked Ladies Jump… Reblog

This is the fifth and final of a series of Blogs on how the Peripatetic Bone was found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I will respond to comments when I return from Burning Man.

I was up early the next morning and eager to hit the trail. My body was starting to adjust and feel good. More importantly, the resort at Echo Lake was calling. A quick breakfast and we were off.

I took the lead with Tom following and Terry trailing. Soon we had climbed out of Lake Aloha, passed Margery Lake and worked our way across Haypress Meadows where cattlemen once harvested grass for winter feed.

As we began our descent into Echo Lake, I left my companions and the Desolation Wilderness behind. The vision of cold beer and a hamburger drove me on. Short shorts may have been a factor as well. Lynn and April were supposed to rejoin us at the Echo Lake Resort.

There was a decision to make when I reached Echo Lake. I could continue to follow the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail around the upper and lower lakes or I could call the Lodge from a phone located at the end of Upper Lake. It would send a boat taxi to pick me up for five bucks. The trail was hot, dusty and filled with day hikers and I was ready to take a break from backpacking; I made the phone call.

A half hour later, the throbbing of the motorboat’s engine caught my attention as the boat worked its way up the lake. Soon it arrived, coughing slightly. The boat slowed and bumped into the pier. My ‘taxi driver’ was a 16-year old plus teenager who had managed to snag a great summer job.

“Hop on,” he told me. An elderly couple was along for the ride. I nodded at them. I was halfway between the boat and the pier when I heard a commotion.

“Over here, Curt,” a familiar voice shouted. I looked up. A few yards away alders hid another pier. Two very attractive and very naked women were jumping up and down to get my attention.

They succeeded.

It was April and Lynn. They had come over on an earlier boat and were working in a little sunbathing while waiting for us. The young boatman and the old man were all eyes. The elderly woman looked thoroughly irritated and glared at all of us, especially her husband.

“Uh, I think I’ll stay here,” I told my driver.

“Can I stay too?” he asked and grinned at me. The elderly man wisely stayed silent.

I joined the girls as the boat coughed its way back toward the resort. Tom showed up soon afterwards. We were waiting for Terry when the ranger showed up.

“There has been a complaint about naked women jumping up and down over here,” he told us.

“Boy, I wish I would have seen them,” Tom responded. I am not sure the ranger bought our story but he wandered off in search of other criminals.

The same boatman picked us up and told me that the first thing the elderly woman did when she got back was to complain loud and long about the perverted people across the lake. She even cornered a ranger. My new young friend speculated that the ranger came looking for us as an excuse to escape. “Or maybe he wanted to see the naked ladies,” I noted.

We made it to the resort ourselves and celebrated our brief return to civilization with a cold beer (or three). My system complained about the third as we hiked on across Highway 50 and up to Benwood Meadow where we stopped for the night, some 34 miles from Meeks Bay.

Our fourth day started out as a typical backpack day; we climbed. It was gentle at first and then became more serious. Once again snow-covered large segments of the trail. We spread out and searched for tree blazes. I scrambled over a particularly steep section and found myself in a high meadow.

Something half buried in a field of young corn lilies caught my eye. A few days earlier it would have been covered with snow. Curiosity led me to detour through the still soggy ground. Mud sucked at my boots.  My treasure turned out to be a disappointing, short, squat bone. Gnaw marks suggested it had been part of someone’s feast. I was about to toss it when a devious thought popped into my mind.

“Trash,” I hollered at Tom and held up the bone. We had a game where if one person found a piece of trash, the other person had to carry it. But first you had to catch the other person.

Tom sprinted down the trail with me in pursuit. Unfortunately, we had made it over the mountain and our route ranged from flat to downhill. Tom was very fast. We had traveled two miles and were almost to Showers Lake before he stopped, concerned about leaving our companions behind. Very reluctantly, he took the bone and stuffed it in his pack.

“How can you classify a bone as trash,” he whined. I figured Tom would toss his new travelling companion as soon as I was out of sight.

Next: Dog stew, a rattlesnake bite and hypothermia.

A Pounding Heart and a Sprained Ankle… Reblog

This is the second of a series of Blogs on how the Peripatetic Bone was found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I will respond to comments when I return from Burning Man.

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 backpacking day would take us up to Phipps Pass, down in to the Velma Lakes, across to 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 the 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 40-50 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.

Next: Raging rivers, kamikaze mosquitoes and marriage on a mountain

The Story of How Bone Was Found… Reblog

While Peggy and I are at Burning Man, I am reposting the story of how Bone was found. This is the first of the series. I will respond to comments when I return from Burning Man.

Backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness… Or, How to Forget You Are Being Divorced

It was the summer of 1977 and my wife JoAnn was divorcing me. 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. I was prepared to spend my life as a happily married man.

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.

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 if off.”

The implication was that this would help me get over my wife.  Actually, I had already met the woman who was going to help me recover but I humored Tom.

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.

Next: A pounding heart and a sprained ankle.

The Whimsical Art of Burning Man

What’s not to like about this lovely face? Burning Man art often comes with a sense of humor attached. See what’s attached to this face below.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many of the artists who display their art at Burning Man have a sense of humor. I mean anyone who is willing to brave hundred degree plus weather, unending noise, towering dust storms, minimal bathing and a week of well-used porta potties must have a sense of humor. Right?

I like the word whimsical. It means to be playfully fanciful in an appealing or amusing way. It also means acting in a capricious manner. Both seem to fit Burning Man. Each year I wander around Burning Man with my camera in a totally capricious ramble looking for amusing art. I am never disappointed.

Here’s the body attached to the face above… a suave sphinx.

Art doesn’t get much more whimsical than these sculptures created by Pepe Ozan.

This dog by Pepe Ozan was particularly amusing. My friend Ken Lake, a noted contrarian, immediately climbed on the dog and rode him backward. Imagine trying that at a museum.

I keep coming back to this rabbit in my blogs because he makes me laugh. Isn’t that a OMG expression on his face? There is an annual bunny parade at Burning Man where a thousand or so people put on rabbit costumes and hop around Black Rock City.

Dragons are common at Burning Man… no surprise there. But this guy struck me as more whimsical than ferocious. After dark, his fire-breathing personality takes over, however.

Here’s another sculpture with scary potential that I found humorous. His creator, Diarmaid Harkan, named him Metaluselah but I dubbed him Pitchfork Man.

Certainly a see-through goat with trash in his stomach qualifies as being fanciful. Check out the shadow.

This violin fiddling hare was found in Center Camp, which is always a great place for art. (Photo by Don Green)

This amply endowed Statue of Liberty welcomed visitors to Silicon Village. Apparently her baby default mode was off and she and an ear piece for translating guy speak. Silicon Camp has over 200 members, most of whom come from Silicon Valley.

One day I was wandering around Black Rock City, I found a camp that specialized in photo montages. There must have been a dozen works and each captured a unique slice of Burning Man. Check out this photo carefully. What you see reflects the fun of Burning Man.

And finally, the Peripatetic Bone insisted on being included in this section on whimsical art. He jumped on the nose of my noble steed, Horse with No Name, and declared the horse was a Unicorn. “Art,” he claimed, “is the process of changing the usual into the unique.” I told Bone he looked more Rhino-like that unicorn-like. He said, “Whatever.”

The Murky Depths of the Amazon’s Rio Negro… The Passport Series

The Tropical Hotel in Manaus Brazil.

Having survived swimming in piranha-infested waters, Peggy played Titanic. The Peripatetic Bone decided to get into the act by posing on the rail. The boat lurched and Bone was on his way to reside forever in the murky depths of the Rio Negro. I leapt and made a saving catch as he went over the edge.

Having gone swimming in the piranha-infested waters of the Amazon, Peggy tempted fate again by doing her Titanic pose.

The Peripatetic Bone poses on railing of the M/V Amazon Clipper shortly before he went plummeting toward the murky depths of the Rio Negro.

After being rescued from his fall, Bone was limited to more prosaic activities, such as steering the boat.

We were wrapping up our tour on the M/V Amazon Clipper. There was the village of Novo Alrao to visit and a jungle walk to take. Then we would return to the Tropical Hotel in Manaus. Good-looking Latin men with sharp knives seemed to lurk everywhere. I told Peggy, “No, you can’t bring one home.”

One of our guides. Nice smile, sharp knife/machete.

One of the women applied the word “hunk” to this machete wielding Amazonian who was demonstrating how to open Brazil Nuts. Brazil Nuts, BTW, live in heavy pods high in the trees. Getting hit by one can cause serious damage.

A touch of Disney in the village of Novo Alrao. I assume the building was an elementary school.

I thought this dog in Novo Alrao, Brazil was quite handsome although his ears made his head look small.

These Amazon River boats were beached at the edge of the village.

A Brazilian houseboat came in for resupply when we were in Novo Ariau. Ten of the world’s largest rivers are found in the Amazon Basin. Living and traveling on these rivers makes sense.

I was much more concerned about the soldiers with automatic weapons who filled the Tropical Hotel in Manaus than I was the guys with the machetes. The soldiers surrounded the hotel and were posted in every corridor, at the swimming pool and in the restaurant. A serious looking gunboat cruised back and forth in front of the hotel’s dock.

A sign posted in front of the hotel welcomed the Defense Ministers of North and South America. We had been invaded. We were lucky to still have a room. To escape from constant surveillance, we took a taxi into Manaus to visit the Opera House, public market and waterfront.

Manaus, Brazil has a large colorful market, which is a must see stop on a tour of the city.

The Manaus waterfront. The market is located in the reddish buildings on the right. The boats in the foreground serve as the major form of transportation up and down the Amazon River. Captains wait for the boats to fill before leaving. It can take several days. Passengers bring their hammocks and sleep on the boat.

That night we took photos of the sunset and then finished up our stay by playing cribbage with another couple that had been on the Amazon Clipper with us. He was a CPA out of Texas who specialized in loopholes and apparently cribbage. We were severely trounced. The next day we made the long flight back to Sacramento. Our Amazon adventure was over.

A beautiful sunset capped off our visit to Brazil and the Amazon Rainforest.

Monkey Business at the Ariau Amazon Lodge… the Passport Series

This photo captures the tree house nature of the Ariau Lodge located on the Rio Negro River near Manaus in the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil.

“The war of the future will be between those who defend nature and those who destroy it. The Amazon will be in the eye of the hurricane. Scientists, politicians, and artists will land here to see what is being done to the forest.”

Jacques Cousteau

The Woolly Monkey leapt on to my shoulders and rested one paw on my forehead. I hadn’t invited him and suggested he leave.  When I tried to put him down he wrapped his powerful tail around my wrist and then threatened to bite my hand.

An upside down Woolly Monkey holds on to my arm with his powerful tail at the Ariau Lodge in the Amazon.

When I suggested to the Wooly Monkey that he should get down, he threatened to bite my hand.

My wife Peggy took photos and laughed at my predicament. Her turn was coming.

We were staying at the Ariau Amazon Towers Lodge some 35 miles from Manaus Brazil in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest overlooking the Rio Negro River. Located high in the rainforest above the river, the Ariau is the Mother of all tree houses. Tarzan would appreciate the luxury. In fact there is a “Tarzan Suite” perched 110 feet up in the air.

The Tarzan/Honeymoon suite at the Ariau Lodge perched 110 feet above the Rio Negro.

Catwalks, some as high as 70 feet, radiate out from the lodge for five miles into the forest and provide the visitor with the unique Amazon experience of walking among the treetops and visiting with the wildlife… including parrots and the far-too-tame monkeys.

Attractive walkways or catwalks extend out for some five miles from the Ariau Lodge providing visitors with an opportunity to wander through the tree tops of the Amazon rainforest.

This photo provides another view of the catwalks at the Ariau Lodge in Brazil.

This brilliant green parrot greeted us on our walk at the Ariau Lodge.

Jacques Cousteau inspired building the Ariau in the mid 80s.  His statement to Dr. Francisco Bernardino quoted above led Bernardino to erect the hotel to accommodate the expected influx of ‘artists, scientists and politicians.’ Since then the lodge has accommodated a steady stream of famous visitors ranging from Prince Charles to Bill Gates. Peggy and I stayed in the “Jimmy Carter Room,” which was given its name after Carter slept there.

The Peripatetic Bone insisted on having his picture taken with the Carter sign and with a Brazilian mask.

The Peripatetic Bone rests on the Jimmy Carter sign.

A number of carved artworks are found at the Ariau Lodge. Bone is taking a nap in the mouth of this snake-tongue protruding from the mouth of a Brazilian mask.

But back to the monkeys… Peggy’s want-to-be friend was a long-legged Spider Monkey. He joined us on the walkway and immediately wrapped one leg around her neck and looked up adoringly. He held on for a mile as we strolled along the catwalk. When we stopped, he immediately stretched out on her lap and made faces at me.

She only lost her long-legged furry friend when we returned to the lodge. That night she discovered the flea bites.

The Spider Monkey climbed up on Peggy, draped his arm/leg around her neck, and looked up adoringly.

The Spider Monkey joined us for our walk among the tree tops of the Amazon forest.

When Peggy sat down, her new best friend spread out on her lap and made faces at me.

This “wild” creature of the Amazonian Rainforest then proceeded to take a nap.

Wandering through Time and Place… A Writer’s Perspective

Bone has wandered the world for 35 years doing strange things. Here he rests on the Mayan god Chacmool in the place where sacrificial hearts once resided.

After two years of blogging under the title of Peripatetic Bone, I’ve decided to make changes. Bone, as you may know, was found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1977 and has been travelling the world ever since. He has visited over 50 countries, climbed mountains, gone deep-sea diving, been blessed by the Pope and had many epic adventures.

When I started this blog, my wife Peggy and I were travelling around North America full-time in a 22-foot van. Bone rode up front where he could see the world go by. Introducing him to strangers was a weird but great way to begin conversations. We would do a photo shoot with him and wait for people to start asking questions.

It seemed natural to name my blog The Peripatetic Bone. Times have changed, however. We are now settled in Southern Oregon and Bone has retired, at least temporarily, to his Bone Cave.

Also, from the beginning, I wrote about many non-Bone related subjects. He wasn’t around when three British Warships used Andrew Mekemson for target practice during the Revolutionary War, nor was he with me when I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa. He even missed Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement.

“Wandering through Time and Place” is my new title. This will allow me to continue my travel focus plus incorporate stories from the past. I also plan to expand my grass-roots solution series with an emphasis on the future. Presently I am reorganizing my blogs to fall under three categories: Looking Back in Time, Wandering the World, and Creating the Future

My new tagline, “A Writer’s Perspective,” is what this blog is primarily about and always has been… story telling. Plus I have another motivation. Presently I am pulling my Africa Peace Corps stories into a book that I will publish digitally this year and in print format next year. Some time in the next few weeks I will create a new WordPress blog linked to this one that will feature a new chapter each week.

None of this means Bone is going away. He will still have his own page on this blog and will appear frequently in my travel tales. Thanks again to all the people who read this blog and make the writing of it fun and worthwhile.

Bone contemplates the future of Bad Bones in Tombstone Arizona.

But not to worry… Bone is a good bone and he is not about to be hanged by mistake.

Nor is he likely to fall into any dark, bottomless pits.

Nor be shot down by a desperado such as Billy the Kid.

Nor is his fate to be chomped down by an ancient Hawaiian deity.

Or become iguana food.

Instead Bone will continue to wander the world.

And have adventures that most people only dream about.