There Is More than One Way to Skin a Mouse… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 8

I took this photo just below the Tanner Rapids, which are seven miles below where we played in the Little Colorado River. While it looks similar to many other Grand Canyon photos included in this series, I was eager to get it. I had camped here once after backpacking down the Tanner Trail. My campsite was to the right of the small tree. Mousy had a nest under the tree…


I’ve just returned from playing for a week while celebrating my 75th birthday. So, I am a bit behind on writing posts and keeping up with comments and fellow bloggers. My apologies. It isn’t going to get much better. (grin) On Wednesday, Peggy and I fly back east to visit with our son and his family in Connecticut. We return from there just in time to fly to North Carolina and see our daughter and her family. After that, we will spend a month exploring several national parks in the southwest on foot.

Then it will be time for another Grand Adventure. I intend to walk out my backdoor in Southern Oregon and backpack 1000 miles to Mt. Whitney in California following the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails. It’s a journey not many people make— especially 75-year-olds. “And what did you do this summer, Grandpa?” Going, of course, will depend on my doctor saying “Why not?” I hope to gain a book contract to write about the trip. Wish me luck on that one. I will be blogging much more about the trek in posts leading up to the adventure.

Since I played last week, I pulled up a previous post that is definitely relevant to the raft trip Peggy and I made down the Colorado with Tom and several other friends. When I left Alaska in 1986 and returned to California, I spent several months backpacking in the west. My first trip was into the Grand Canyon, a decision my body was not happy with! I had just spent the winter holed up in the Far North happily stuffing myself and drinking more beer than I should have…


Looking down from Lipan Point at the start of the Tanner Trail. Then sharp bend in the Colorado River... far away, is where I am heading. (The photos of the trail down I actually took several years later when I backpacked down with Peggy.)

Looking down into the Grand Canyon at the start of the Tanner Trail.  The curve you can see in the Colorado River is the Tanner Rapids, which is where we will be on our next section of our raft trip down the Colorado. Years before I rafted the Canyon I backpacked into it several times. Two of my trips were by the Tanner Trail, once by myself and once with Peggy.

“It’s not too late to make another decision,” my body told my mind as I hoisted my 60-pound pack and eyed the distant Colorado River. “There is a fine lodge with great food and even better beer 30 minutes away. It provides a fantastic view of the Grand Canyon. Much better than anything you will see on the insane hike.” “Shut up and walk,” my mind replied.

Tanner Trail dropped away under my feet as I made my first steps down the steep, poorly maintained path and descended through millions of years of earth history. About a half of a mile down, the trail disappeared, having been washed away by winter rains. “I told you so,” my body whispered loudly as I mentally and physically hugged the side of the Canyon and tentatively made my way around the washout with its thousand foot drop.

Although this photo is a little blurry and from another Grand Canyon trail, I included it because it provides a perspective on the trails into the Canyon that receive minimal attention from the Park service. Main tourist trails are like freeways in comparison.

Although this photo is a little blurry and from another non-maintained Grand Canyon trail, I included it because it provides a perspective on the trails into the Canyon that receive minimal attention from the Park Service. Main tourist trails are like freeways in comparison.

Steep drop offs are a common factor in all trails leading into the Grand Canyon. The first trails were created by Native Americans. Later miners, rustlers, and companies interested in promoting tourism would enhance the original trails and create new ones.

Steep drop offs are a common factor with all trails leading into the Grand Canyon. The first trails were created by Native Americans. Later miners, rustlers, and companies interested in promoting tourism would enhance the original trails and create new ones.

I am not sure when my legs started shaking. Given the stair-step nature of the trail and the weight on my back, not to mention an extra 20 pounds of winter fat, my downhill muscles were not having a lot of fun. Fortunately, Mother Nature provided a reprieve. The erosive forces of wind and water that have sculpted the mesas and canyon lands of the Southwest are less challenged by some types of rocks than others.

Somewhere between two and three miles down I came upon the gentle lower slopes of the Escalante and Cardenas Buttes, which allowed me to lollygag along and enjoy the scenery. I escaped from the sun beneath the shadow of a large rock, drank some of my precious water, nibbled on trail food, and took a brief nap. It would have made a good place to camp. Others had obviously taken advantage of the shade and flat surface, but the Colorado River was calling.

Ignoring the screams of my disgruntled body parts, I headed on. At mile five or so my idyllic stroll came to a dramatic halt as the trail dropped out of sight down what is known as the Red Wall. (It received this imaginative name because it is red and looks like a wall.) Some fifty million years, or 625,000 Curtis life spans, of shallow seas had patiently worked to deposit the lime that makes up its 500-foot sheer cliff. It is one of the most distinctive features of the Grand Canyon.

My trail guide recommended I store water before heading down so I could retrieve it when I was dying of thirst on the way out. I could see where people had scratched out exposed campsites here as an excuse to stop for the night. The accommodations weren’t much but the view was spectacular.

The rest of the five-mile/five month journey was something of a blur. (It was closer to five hours but time was moving very slowly.) I do remember a blooming prickly pear cactus. I grumbled at it for looking so cheerful. I also remember a long, gravelly slope toward the bottom. My downhill muscles had totally given out and the only way I could get down was to sidestep. I cackled insanely when I finally reached the bottom.

As tired as I was, I enjoyed the beauty of the inner Canyon.

I was so tired, I could hardly enjoy the beauty of the inner Canyon. (These photos are from a later trip I took down with Peggy. I waited until after she said “I do” before introducing her to the Tanner Trail. Otherwise she might have said “I don’t.”)

I smiled at the Prickly Pear Flowers on my way out of the Canyon that I had growled at coming in.

I growled at a prickly pear for looking so cheerful.

Looking back up the trail provided a perspective on how far I had come. The small, needle-like structure is Desert View Tower.

Looking back up the trail provided a perspective on how far I had come. The small, needle-like structure is Desert View Tower, about a mile away from the Tanner trailhead. You can see the trail on the right.

Setting up camp that night was simple. I threw out my ground cloth, Thermarest mattress, and sleeping bag on a sandy beach. Then I stumbled down to the river’s edge and retrieved a bucket of brown Colorado River water that appeared to be two parts liquid and one part mud. I could have waited for the mud to settle but used up a year of my water filter’s life to provide an instant two quarts of potable water.

My old yellow bucket, a veteran of dozens of backpacking adventures, holding Colorado River water. It retired after my second trip

My old yellow bucket, a veteran of dozens of backpacking adventures, holding Colorado River water. It retired after my second trip down the Tanner Trail.

All I had left to do was take care of my food. Since people camped here frequently, four-legged critters looked on backpackers as a major source of meals. I could almost here them yelling, “Dinnertime!” when I stumbled into sight. Not seeing a convenient limb to hang my food from, i.e. something I wouldn’t have to move more than 10 feet to find, I buried my food bag in the sand next to me. Theoretically, anything digging it up would wake me. Just the top was peeking out so I could find it in the morning.

As the sun went down, so did I. Faster than I could fall asleep, I heard myself snoring. I was brought back to full consciousness by the pitter-patter of tiny feet crossing over the top of me. A mouse was worrying the top of my food bag and going for the peanuts I had placed there to cover my more serious food.

“Hey Mousy,” I yelled, “Get away from my food!” My small companion of the night dashed back over me as if I were no more than a noisy obstacle between dinner and home. I was drifting off again when I once more felt the little feet. “The hell with it,” I thought in my semi-comatose state. How many peanuts could the mouse eat anyway?

The river water I had consumed the night before pulled me from my sleep. Predawn light bathed the Canyon in a gentle glow. I lay in my sleeping bag for several minutes and admired the vastness and beauty of my temporary home. The Canyon rim, my truck and the hoards of tourists were far away, existing in another world. My thoughts turned to my visitor of the previous evening.

I finished my last blog with a picture of the view across the Colorado River from my camp near Tanner Rapids. This and the photo below demonstrate how much colors change depending on the time of day.

The early morning view from my camp site near Tanner Rapids on the Colorado River.

Out of curiosity, I reached over for my food and extracted the bag of peanuts. A neat little hole had been chewed through the plastic but it appeared that most of my peanuts were present and accounted for. My small contribution had been well worth my solid sleep. I then looked over to the right to see if I could spot where the mouse had carried its treasure. Something on the edge of my ground cloth caught my eye. It was three inches long, grey, round and fuzzy.

It was Mousy’s tail!

Something had sat on the edge of my sleeping bag during the night and dined on peanut stuffed mouse. Thoughts of a coyote, or worse, using my ground cloth as a dinner table sent a shiver down my spine. I ate a peanut in honor of Mousy’s memory and threw a few over near his house in case he had left behind a family to feed. I also figured that the peanuts would serve as an offering to whatever Canyon spirits had sent the night predator on its way.

Then it was time to find a bush, cook up my morning gruel, and plan my day’s backpack trip up to the Little Colorado River. But my legs had another idea. They refused to move. I backpacked for about a hundred feet, set up camp in a small cave, and spent my day recovering while watching rafters yell their way through Tanner Rapids. I wondered what it might be like to raft down the Canyon…

Next Monday’s Post: I return to our raft trip down the Colorado.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Driving on the Alaska Highway through the Yukon!

FRIDAY’S POST: It’s back to MisAdventures. It was almost a mantra in Diamond Springs where I grew up: If there was mischief in the town, the Mekemson Kids Did It.







Anasazi Ruins and the Hopi Entrance to Another World… Rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon

Beautiful views like this along the Colorado River would have been lost if efforts in the 50s and 60s to dam the Grand Canyon had succeeded.

In our journey down the Colorado River today, we visit an ancient Native American granary that is located high up on the cliffs above the water, and stop off to play in the Little Colorado River.

Steve Van Dore and Jamie Wilson serve as our boatmen for the two days we are on the river travelling from our camp at Redbud Alcove (mile 39) to our camp at Upper Rattlesnake (mile 74). Jamie is a delight. First of all, he is funny and positive. Second, whenever a chore needs to be done, he is first in line. Finally, he is incredibly strong, which is a valuable asset when you get in a tight spot on the river. Jamie has his own business as a contractor in the Woodland/Davis area of California.


Jamie Wilson

Peggy and I hitch a ride on Steve’s Cat. Not too many Colorado River boatmen are outfitted with sun umbrellas!

Steve, I’ve already introduced. Like Tom, he is an experienced Colorado River boatman and loves the Canyon. He is also a specialist. His catamaran is outfitted with groovers: large ammo cans that have been modified to serve as portable potties.  Before toilet seats were added as a convenience, you sat on the rim of the can. It left grooves in your behind— hence the name.

We are all given training in setting up, taking down, and using the groovers. One of the first chores in arriving camp is to find the perfect place for the port-a-pot: a secluded location with a view. One time I found myself sitting on the pot and waving at rafters as they went by. The site received an A for the view and a C for the seclusion.

Steve is very knowledgeable about the Grand Canyon and readily shares his knowledge. Almost immediately he points out a site that was once proposed for a dam that would have covered much of the upper Canyon’s beautiful scenery, geological wonders and archeological treasures with water.

A similar effort was planned for downstream. Fortunately, the Sierra Club was able to stop the dam from being built. Otherwise, one of the world’s greatest natural wonders would have been lost.

Views of the Grand Canyon along the Colorado River between Redbud Alcove and the Little Colorado.

When we arrived at Nankoweap (mile 53), Steve pointed out the granaries used by the Anasazi Indians somewhere between 1000 and 1150 CE (Common Era) or AD, if you prefer. The granaries are located high up on the cliff for protection from animals and insects. Tom had scheduled a hike up and I willingly went along.  I was curious about the granaries and thought that there would be spectacular views from the cliff.

The climb was definitely worth it. Unfortunately, I sprained my knee on the way back down.

Our intrepid group hikes up the steep trail to the Granaries at Nankoweap in the Grand Canyon.

The granaries are located high up on the cliff.

They were  built by the Anasazi Indians between 1000 and 1150 CE.

Tom, Eggin and I next to the granary.

Looking down the Colorado River from the Nankoweap Granaries.

Jamie Wilson was our boatman on the fifth day. When we arrived at the Little Colorado River, it was time to play. The Little Colorado has two colors. First is a muddy reddish-brown. The River drains over 25,000 square miles. When it rains upriver, it carries tons of red topsoil.  The second color is a beautiful turquoise blue. When it doesn’t rain, much of the water comes from springs and is loaded with minerals that provide the color and very interesting deposits. We were fortunate to experience it without rain.

The entrance to the Little Colorado River.

Its almost surreal look. (Photo by Don Green.)

Looking up the Little Colorado River just above where if flows into the Colorado River. Note the mineral deposits.

A close up.

Vegetation on the Little Colorado.

A biologist was doing a study of the fish population in the Little Colorado and showed us this fellow.

We also found a lizard as we were walking up the river. It looked smug.

When we reached our destination, we donned our life vests upside down over our legs.  It looked like we had put on huge diapers. We were to float down the river feet first. After carrying out my photographer responsibilities, I too donned my diaper and jumped in. Just as I went over a small waterfall my life vest slipped down to my feet. My feet floated fine but my head bobbed along under the water. Breathing was not an option!

Peggy models the life vest diaper look. The latest in fashion statements.

Hanging on to each other, the group formed a Conga Line—Little Colorado River style— and made its way through the rapids.

Tim Spann calmly floated over a small waterfall.

Peggy looked a little less in control…

And I looked totally out of control (actually I was), as my life vest slipped up around my feet and my head dipped under the water.

According to their mythology, the Hopi Indians came into this world through a cave, which is located just up the Little Colorado from where we were playing in the water. The legend states that this is the fourth world they have occupied. People had become bad in the previous three by doing things like being disobedient and having too much sex. The good were saved and moved up to the next world while the bad were left behind, or destroyed. Maybe their diapers slipped and they drowned.

That night Theresa Mulder whipped up a delicious carrot and raisin salad. As I’ve noted, Tom had planned out an excellent menu for the trip and we ate very well. I also noted that Tom was something of a tyrant in the kitchen…

This is what you could expect if you didn’t cut the lettuce right. (grin) I decided to appoint myself to permanent groover duty and stay out of Tom’s kitchen.

I’ll close today’s post with some views of the sun setting from camp.

A different perspective…

Another view. Next Monday we will continue to make our way down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon.

Also TODAY: The photographic essay trip up the Alaska Highway continues.

FRIDAY’S POST: A chapter from book on my Peace Corps experience, The Bush Devil Ate Sam. How Rasputin the Cat beat out his sisters to become our cat.















Rowing Against the Wind… The Grand Canyon Series

Peggy captures Dave Stalheim and me as we begin our journey on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Note my clean and shaved look. It’s the last time you will see it.


With thoughts of facing headwind gusts up to 60 MPH, we began our journey down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park.

Peggy and I performed the ritual of asking a boatman if we could ride with him. It seems like a strange practice to me, designed to remind us who’s in charge. But we have entered the world where each boatman/woman is the captain of his or her ship, even if the ship is a 16-foot raft with two or three passengers.

“May I have permission to come aboard, sir?” Although it’s more like “Can we ride with you today?” It is courteous but I would prefer to be assigned and have the assignment changed each day.

The tradition is so old that it fades into history. Democracy is not an option on a raging sea or, for that matter, in the middle of a roaring rapid. When the captain yells jump, you jump.

Most boatmen are mellow people, however; good folks. There are few Captain Blighs. If they are slightly more than equal, it goes with the territory. We are committed to riding with each boatman. First up is David Stalheim. He makes his living as a city and county planner in Washington.

“I’ve been applying for a permit to go on the Colorado River for 15 years,” he tells us. Our ten-minute effort of obtaining a permit seems grossly unfair.

We push-off from shore, excited and nervous. The wind strikes immediately, like it was waiting in ambush. “Are we moving at all?” Dave asks plaintively.

An old rock road makes its way tortuously down from the canyon rim on river left. (Left and right are determined by direction of travel.) They are important for giving directions as in “There is a raft ripping rock on river right!” Since boatmen often row with their backs facing downriver, they appreciate such information.

Up until 1929, this is how travelers made their way to Lees Ferry. It would have been a bumpy ride.

The old road is how people once made their way to Lee’s Ferry, which was one of the few ways to cross the Colorado River between 1858 and 1929. The infamous Mormon, John Doyle Lee, established the Ferry. Brigham Young assigned him the job. Later, Lee was executed by firing squad for his role in the Mountain Meadow Massacre where Mormons and Paiute Indians murdered a wagon train of immigrants near St. George, Utah. For awhile, my brother and I thought some of our ancestors had been involved, had ended up dead. But it wasn’t so.

After fighting the wind for what seems like hours, we finally come to the Navajo Bridge, which replaced Lee’s Ferry in 1929. It towers some 467 feet above the river and reminds us that we are already miles behind our planned itinerary.

Navajo Bridge by Don Green

A view of the Navajo Bridge. The first is the old one and is now used as a walkway. The second is used by cars and other vehicles. (Photo by Don Green.)

Just beyond the bridge we catch our first glimpse of Coconino Sandstone. Its geologic history dates back some 250 million years when a huge desert covered the area and the world’s landmasses were all part of the large continent named Pangaea— before the divorce, before plate tectonics demanded that the continents go their own way.

During our journey down the river we will travel through over a billion years of the earth’s history.

The wind continues to beat against us as we make our way down the Colorado River. Only Dave’s strenuous effort at the oars keeps us from being blown up-stream. “Go that way,” I suggest and point down the river.

The group pulls in at a tiny beach in hopes our mini-hurricane will die down. It doesn’t. Dave develops blisters and I develop guilt. A manly man would offer to take over at the oars.

An option floats by. Dave’s niece, Megan Stalheim, is also one of our boatmen. Don Green, a retired Probate Judge out of Martinez, California, is sitting opposite her and pushing on the oars while she pulls. It inspires me. I join the push-pull brigade. Peggy also takes a turn.

The push-pull approach to rowing where Don Green was helping Megan. Peggy and I have been friends with Don for over two decades. He belongs to the same book club we do and joins us on our annual journey to Burning Man (as does Tom). Don is also quite generous in sharing his photos, which was particularly helpful on our first day since neither Peggy nor I took many.

Word passes back to us that Tom wants to scout Badger Creek Rapids. In boatman terminology this means figuring out the best way to get through without flipping. Badger isn’t a particularly big rapid for the Colorado, but it is our first. We are allowed to be nervous. It’s labeled a 4-6 out of 10 in the method used in the Grand Canyon for determining difficulty. Ten is reserved for only the most dangerous. Badger involves a 15 foot drop from the top to bottom.

Badger Creek Rapids by Don Green

Photo of Badger Creek Rapids by Don Green.

There is good news included in the message. We will stop for the night at Jackass Camp just below the rapids on the left. We’ve only gone 8 miles but are eager to escape the wind.

Dave is a cautious boatman. He takes his time to study Badger Creek Rapids from shore and then stands up in his raft for a second opinion as the river sucks us in. Time runs out. Icy waves splash over the boat and soak us. Our hands grasp the safety lines with a death grip as we are tossed about like leaves in the wind. Mere seconds become an eternity. And then it is over.

Badger Creek Rapids Google photo

The view from above using a Google photo. Our camp would be on the right (river left)  at the bottom of the photo, in the shade here. Our raft came out on the left (river right) side of the river.

“Quick, Curt, I need your help,” Dave shouts. We have come out of the rapids on the opposite side of the river from the camp. The powerful current is pushing us down stream. If we don’t get across we will be camping by ourselves. Adrenaline pumping, I jump up and push the oars with all my strength while Dave pulls. Ever so slowly the boat makes its way to camp.

Jackass campsite on Colorado River by Don Green

Not the world’s most attractive campsite. We scatter out to find places for our tents after emptying the boats. (Photo by Don Green.)

Jackass Camp Area by Don Green

Boats tethered at Jackass Camp. (Photo by Don Green.)

View from Jackass camp on Colorado River by Don Green

View from camp. (Photo by Don Green.)

Grand Canyon evening primrose by Don Green

I liked this primrose captured by Don the next morning…

Grand Canyon floers and tracks by Don Green

And found the tracks under it even more interesting. It’s like the lizard was sidestepping. Its tracks and tail trail can be seen coming down from the right. The hole on the right was made by an ant lion that uses the hole as a trap for insects. They fall in, can’t get out, and become lunch. Next Monday, we will continue our journey down the river.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: I begin my series on the Alaska Highway. We make our way to the start of the highway in Dawson Creek by traveling through British Columbia. Great wood carvings and dog agility trials entertain us along the way.

FRIDAY’S MisAdventures POST: I graduate from playing in the Graveyard to playing on a pond and discover a magical world.

MONDAY’S Grand Canyon Series POST: Beautiful waterfalls, a huge cavern, and ancient Native American ruins are featured.

Jackass campsite on Colorado River by Don GreenJackass campsite on Colorado River by Don GreenSaveSave








I Discover I Am No Longer 30, or 40, or 50, or even 60… Rafting Through the Grand Canyon: Part 4

On a private trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon National Park, everyone pitches into help. Here we are learning to rig the rafts. Straps and more straps! The  aluminum frame provided stability for the raft and held the heavy food containers. (Photo by Don Green)


It was time to make the leap from life on the road to life on the river. Laptops, cell phones, good clothes and the other accoutrements of modern civilization were stuffed into bags and dumped into our transport van.

Plus I had to paint my toenails. It was a virgin experience. Grand Canyon boatmen are a superstitious bunch. Many believe their boats will flip if a person is on board with naked toes. And it’s true— boats have flipped under such circumstances. It makes no difference if the opposite is also true. Tom lectured me. “I will not let you on my boat unless your toenails are painted.” In addition to being obnoxious, he was serious. Peggy dutifully applied blue polish on four of my toes. Did this mean we would only half flip?

Two acres of paved boat ramp greeted us when we arrived at Lee’s Ferry, some 130 miles from Flagstaff. It is the take off point for trips down the Canyon and the only bridge across the river in some 700 miles. The Mormons originally discovered the potential for the crossing and sent John Lee to set up a ferry, which began operation in 1873. Brigham Young was also hiding Lee. He had been a key player in the Mountain Meadows Massacre where some 120 eastern emigrants had been murdered. A practicing polygamist, Lee and his wives ran the ferry up until his execution in 1877.

The transport van disgorged us as the gear truck made a quick turn around and backed down the ramp. Another private party was busy rigging boats. People, gear and boats were scattered everywhere.

From off to the right, a longhaired, 50-something man had emerged. I had thought 60’s hippie or possibly the model for a Harlequin Romance cover. The pirate flag on his boat suggested otherwise. A ‘roll your own’ cigarette dangled from his lips. It was Steve Van Dore, the last member of our group and a boatman out of Colorado.  No one in our group had met him, but he came highly recommended.

Steve, a week or two into the trip.

“Please let this be the truck driver,” Steve later admitted was his first thought when he met our green and purple haired trip leader. He also confided that Tom hadn’t told him we were a smoke-free group. “On the other hand,” Steve confessed, “I didn’t tell him I was on probation.” Somehow this balanced out in Steve’s mind. There was no time to become acquainted; we had work to do.

There is an unwritten 11th Commandment on private river trips: Thou Shall Do Your Share. No one is paid to pamper you. Not helping will lead to bad things, like banishment from the tribe. The truck we had loaded in Flagstaff demanded unloading. Everybody did everything. There were no assignments. Peggy and I became stevedores. Piles of beer and soda and wine and food and personal gear and ammo cans and hefty ice chests quickly accumulated around the truck. There was no shade and the desert sun beat down ferociously. It was sucked up by the black asphalt and thrown back at us. We slathered on sun block and gulped down water.

The rafts were unloaded last. Rigging them was technical but relatively easy, assuming of course that you knew what you were doing and were mechanically inclined. I made no such claims. Steve’s Cat (catamaran) was already set up and in the water, its pirate flag was flapping in the breeze. Our other four boats were self-bailing Sotar Rafts with aluminum frames. Tom owned his own, a blue 14 footer named Peanut after the Jeff Dunham character. The three we had rented were yellow, 16 feet long and nameless.

Work also required that we get our feet wet. (Photo by Don Green)

Tom was the last to rig his boat. It was approaching dusk when he finished— the end of a very long day. I hiked down the river to find a campsite for our group while the rest boated down. Peggy and I struggled to set up our new tent in 30 MPH winds. A van was coming to pick us up for dinner at a nearby restaurant and we were late.

The walls of the restaurant were covered with photos of rafts and rafters being trashed by massive rapids. I walked around and admired them with more than a little awe and trepidation. I would have preferred to see photos that emphasized the beauty of the Canyon, but this was a rafters’ hangout.

The wind storm had changed to a dust storm when we arrived back at camp. Finding our tent in the dark proved to be a challenge, and the tent provided little protection when we crawled in. I was reminded of Burning Man as the dust assailed my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. I pulled out a handkerchief to cover my face. Exhausted, I finally fell asleep with the wind ripping at our tent.

I had underestimated the amount of work involved. We were floating down a river, weren’t we? I was out of shape and had a generous belly. Peggy and I had been traveling extensively, mainly helping our kids with their babies. I’d been over-eating and under-exercising. I might have gotten away with it at 30, or 40, or 50— and had. But now I was 67, and my body had some serious words for me. Mainly unprintable. A few years earlier I had undertaken a much more difficult task, backpacking for 360 miles between Lake Tahoe and Mt. Whitney. But I knew how tough that was and had spent a few months hiking 5-10 miles per day before hitting the trail. Now my only excuse was ignorance. And that is not a very good excuse.

We were awakened at five a.m. the next morning, as we would be on every day of our trip. There was personal gear to pack, breakfast to prepare, and boats to load. Any thoughts of a leisurely trip down the river were dashed in the cold reality of the early morning’s light.

We also had a lecture on the Grand Canyon’s numerous rules by Ranger Peggy. Somewhere in the middle of rigging boats the previous day she had stopped by to check our equipment. Life vests had been dutifully piled up; stoves and bar-b-que were unpacked. Even the groovers, which I will describe later, stood at attention. You don’t mess with Ranger Peggy.

She knew Tom from other river trips and was amused by his hair-do. He introduced me as the permit holder. “Tom’s in charge,” I noted. The smile dropped from her face. “You are responsible,” she said icily. “I’ll try to keep Tom under control,” I replied meekly. Yeah, fat chance that.

Bells, whistles and alarms started going off in my head. I would face heavy fines if any of our party misbehaved.

Our second encounter with Ranger Peggy began after the boats were packed for our first day on the river. Tom started off with a discussion on river safety. Naturally we were required to wear our PFD’s (Personal Flotation Devices) any time we were on the boat.

Tom, with his interesting hairdo, and Ranger Peggy check their lists to see which of the many rules they have forgotten to inform us about.

What’s the first rule if you fall overboard: Hang onto the boat. What’s the second rule? “Hang onto the boat,” we chanted in unison. And so it went. Tom saw his wife, Beth, go flying by him the year before as he bounced through a rapid. He caught up with her down river.

If the raft flips, what do you do? Hang onto the boat! “Easier said than done,” I think.

“Your head is the best tool you have in an emergency,” Ranger Peggy lectured. Right. When the river grabs you, sucks you under the water, and beats you against a rock— stay cool.

For all of the concern about safety on the river, the Park Service seemed more concerned about our behavior on shore.

Over 20,000 people float down the river annually. And 20,000 people can do a lot of damage to a sensitive desert environment. Campsites are few and far between and the major ones may have to accommodate several thousand people over the year.

Picture this: 20,000 people pooping and peeing in your back yard without bathroom facilities. It isn’t pretty. So we pack out the poop. And we pee in the river…

Packing out poop makes sense. But peeing in the river, no way! I’d led wilderness trips for 36 years and for 36 years I’ve preached a thousand times you never, never pee in the water. Bathroom chores are carried out at least 100 yards away from water and preferably farther.

The first time I lined up with the guys, I could barely dribble out of dismay.

The rules went on and on. Mainly they had to do with leaving a pristine campsite and washing our hands. Normally, I am not a rules type of guy but most of what Ranger Peggy preached made sense. Sixteen people with diarrhea is, um, shitty.

And few things disturb me more than a trashy campsite in the wilderness. The least we could do was to leave our campsites sparkling clean.

Finally, we were ready to launch. Eighteen days and 279 miles of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon stretched out ahead. Ranger Peggy checked our IDs against her list. We were who we claimed to be. The boatmen strapped down the gear. It was time to climb aboard and Tom was anxious to get going.

The same up-canyon winds that whipped dust into our tent were threatening to create a Herculean task of rowing. Headwinds of up to 60 MPH were predicted.

The group, ready to launch. Wife Peggy, as opposed to Ranger Peggy, is holding her and my purple PFDs. I’m second from the left, looking chunky.


WEDNESDAY’S POST: It’s back to the Amazon and monkey business. While Peggy gets the ‘good’ monkey, I get the ‘bad’ monkey.

FRIDAY’S POST: I learn a bit about cross cultural relations as a second grader— on a queen sized bed.

MONDAY’S POST: Fighting ferocious headwinds, we begin our journey through the Grand Canyon.










The One, the Only, the Interview with Bone….

Bone has been in many tough situations in his life; he can handle tough questions. Here he rests on top of a saguaro cactus in Arizona looking for border patrol agents. His lack of official papers, or even a birth certificate, can cause problems at times. President Trump has yet to tweet about him, however.


One of the more recent followers of this post, Gunta, was doing an Internet search on Tom Lovering a week or so ago when she came across this interview that Bone did— and laughed a lot. Again, many of you will have read this interview, but I am reposting it on behalf of the new folks who have joined my blog in the past year.


Q: Do you really talk? We’re speaking ethics here, Bone. Blogging is about transparency. That means honesty.

A. Are you crazy? Have you ever heard a bone talk? Of course I don’t talk. I just think out loud.

Q: Curt sometimes refers to you as he. Does this mean you are a male bone?

A. No. He makes assumptions, lot of them. He was showing me to a biologist at a writers’ conference and she suggested I have my DNA tested. “Just cut a small chip off of it,” she said nonchalantly. “You can determine its sex and breed.”

“Just cut a small chip off of it!Outrageous! I am not some it to have chips cut out of. Besides, I lead a rich fantasy life and have no desire to know whether I am male or female. Call me she, he, or Bone, but never it.

Um, I think Bone is definitely a male in this photo. –Curt

Q: You have travelled all over the world and met thousands of people. How do they usually react to you?

A. With befuddlement. You should have seen the look on the face of the customs agent in New Zealand who tried to seize me as ‘animal matter.’ But emotions run the gamut. There was a Japanese man who got off a tour bus at Yellowstone National Park and wanted to hold me for good luck. Soon there were 40 other Japanese handing me around, oohing, and taking photos. I was thrilled. On the opposite side, I know a woman who refuses to touch me, like I have cooties. “I don’t know where Bone has been,” she states primly. Not surprisingly, there is also jealousy. “I want to be you and travel the world,” a good friend in Sacramento told me.

Some people act like I have cooties. This woman almost dropped me and then washed her hands! –Bone

Her daughter, on the other hand, so to speak, understands proper bone etiquette and respect. –Bone

Q:  What is your favorite thing to do?

A. Visit graveyards; there are lots of old bones there. My favorite grave is Smokey Bear’s in Capitan, New Mexico. I once stood on his tombstone for ten minutes trying to communicate but all I could get was something about ‘growling and a prowling and a sniffing the air.’ A close second is the grave of Calamity Jane in Deadwood, South Dakota. What a woman! These are difficult choices, though, when you toss in the likes of Hemingway, Daniel Boone and Billy the Kid. On the light side I once visited Ben and Jerry’s graveyard of discarded ice cream flavors in Vermont. My spookiest experience was a visit to the Capela dos Ossos, the Chapel of Bones, in Evora, Portugal. Those folks definitely have a skeleton in their closet, lots of them.

Bone has a special fondness for unusual graves. Here he hangs out with Billy the Kid in New Mexico. Has he been in a shoot out? Is that blood on his vest?

Q: So, what’s your second most favorite?

A. Too hard; I am a dilettante dabbler, but here are a few.

  • Wandering, of course, anywhere and everywhere and by all modes: bikes, kayaks, rafts, skis, backpacks, sailboats, planes, helicopters, trains, cars, RVs, etc.
  • Visiting wild, remote and beautiful natural areas. I started life wandering the Sierra Nevada Mountains, John Muir’s Range of Light.
  • Seeking out the strange such as ghosts and aliens (I’ve been to Roswell four times).
  • Attending unique events like Burning Man but I also have a fondness for any type of fair.
  • Meeting weird people like Tom.

Bone backpacking on the John Muir Trail.

Tom being eaten by a bony desert monster.

Q: Speaking of Tom, he and Curt ‘discovered’ you in 1977 and you have wandered extensively with both. Which do you like best?

A. Eeyore, the jackass who can’t keep track of his tail. We’re traveling companions and he saved me from being strung up and buried on Boothill in Tombstone, Arizona. I’d robbed a bank, cheated at cards and hung out with women of questionable character. (This is what I mean by having a rich fantasy life. It’s also known as evasion.)

“I was in deep trouble in Tombstone. Wyatt Earp had arrested me for robbing a bank and Doc Holiday was checking me for weapons.”

“My life as Bone was in serious jeopardy.”

“Odds were I was going to end up on Boothill, along with Billy Clanton.”

“But then the ever brave Eeyore came to my rescue! I hopped on his back and we went riding off into the sunset while leaping over large rocks.”

Q: Which of your journeys has been most memorable?

A. I would have to say traveling the length of Africa in the back of a truck from the Sahara Desert in the north to Cape Town in the south. Almost falling off the back of a riverboat into a piranha infested section of the Amazon River would have to be a close second. I was perched on the back railing doing a photo shoot. And then, of course, there was the 10,000-mile bike trip.

“I was much smarter when I rafted down the Colorado. I wore a life jacket!”

“That didn’t protect me from pirates. The dreaded pirate Steve held a knife to my throat and demanded to know where I buried my treasure.”

Q: You are often seen scrambling over rocks in remote sections of the Southwestern United States. What’s that all about?

A. I’ve developed a fondness for Native American Rock art. It resonates with my bone-like nature. It’s also another excuse to go wandering around in the outdoors. Plus, some those places might be haunted and it is a great place to look for UFOs. Some of the petroglyphs look amazingly like aliens. Finally, wandering in the desert is known to be good for the soul. Ask the Prophets of yore.

“How can this guy and his strange dog not be aliens?”

“Here I am making tracks across White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. It’s a great place to watch out for UFOs.”

Q: Ah, being a born-again bone, do you have any insights into the great unknown?

A. Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Q: Finally, and this may be a little sensitive, but do you always run around naked?

A. What kind of a question is that? Do you think I am uncivilized? For shame. I am the epitome of haute couture! A bow and arrow toting, card-carrying NRA member in Montana has designed and made me two leather vests. What’s more, an 80 plus year old woman in Kansas going on 20 with a crush on Johnny Depp and a room devoted to the Egyptian gods has made me a kilt and several other outfits. Then there is the horse woman actress in Ohio whose husband is an ex-secret service agent who has promised me an outfit and the artist head of a PR firm in the Bahamas who has promised me another. Face it; I am hot stuff, clothed or naked. I may take up a modeling career.

Rod Hilton fashions a new leather vest for bone.

“My Bahamian/Canadian friend makes me a new vest in the wilds of Montana.” 

Bone, wearing his newly made kilt, fights off a ferocious sea monster in a scene straight out of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’

MONDAY’S POST: Back to the Grand Canyon.

The History of the Bone… Fifty Years and Still Wandering

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

Since Bone played a prominent role in our raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, I decided to republish his history and an interview he did. This is mainly for the folks who follow my blog and aren’t familiar with his exploits. Many of you will have read today and tomorrow’s posts.

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 above Lake Tahoe and launched his career of wandering the world.

Normally, Bone likes to hang out in our library at home. His favorite section is travel.

He also has a fondness for George, the Bush Devil who is on the cover of my 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 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 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 went on a six month 10,000-mile solo bike tour with Curt around North America visiting 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces. He ended his journey by meeting Peggy.

In the spring of 1989 I left Sacramento on my bike for a 10,000 mile solo trip around North America. Everything I would need to survive for six months on the road was packed on my bike, some 60 pounds of gear. It wasn’t totally solo. Bone was riding in my handle bar bag.

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, etc. etc. etc.

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.

Peggy and I found this mudstone concretion in New Zealand on a South Island beach. Bone, who likes strange things, insisted on having his photo taken with it.

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 me celebrate my 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. In May of 2010 he helps Curt initiate his blog, and rafts 280 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

2012-2018: 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 and 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 at Burning Man 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.

TOMORROW’S POST: You won’t want to miss the interview with Bone!



Homeland Security Goes Searching for a Bomb… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 3

Essential Grand Canyon supplies DG

All of my wilderness experiences have been motivated by a go-light philosophy when it comes to food, which makes sense if you carry it on your backs. River runners, on the other hand, have rafts to carry everything. Other rules apply. Extra pounds don’t matter. And if you are going to carry all of these oranges, you might as well carry some alcohol to mix with your orange juice. (Photo by Don Green.)


The fact that we were full-time travelers made our Grand Canyon trip easier. There was no house, mail, job, pet or the other factors of normal life to worry about. We just pointed our van toward Flagstaff and drove, stopping along the way at places like Arches and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Bryce Canyon

While our fellow rafters were scurrying to wrap up business to prepare for our 18-day raft trip though the Grand Canyon, Peggy and I were visiting Nationals Parks in Utah. This is Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon 1

Another view of Bryce.

Great adventures usually start with mundane tasks, as most of you know. For example, did you cancel the paper? Common sense, travel pundits, (and probably your mother) admonish you that devious burglars have nothing better to do than to cruise the streets looking for rolled newspapers in front of your home.

More importantly, what about the cat?

Once upon a time Peggy and I had a cat named FE. Vacations meant I would carefully measure out twice as much food and water as she could possibly eat or drink and four times the kitty litter she might use. The likelihood of her using our house as a litter box was much greater that the likelihood of her starving. As a reward for my thoughtfulness, she would shed enough fur in our absence to fill a dump truck. For weeks after we arrived home, she would also pad into our bedroom in the wee hours each night and meow loudly to make sure we hadn’t abandoned her again. Or possibly it was punishment…

FE and Sylvester dressed for Christmas

FE and her buddy, Sylvester, dressed for Christmas. Note FE’s Rudolph-red nose. I recall that a bit of photoshopping was required to get her ready for the Christmas letter.

We weren’t getting off scot-free on preparation for the river trip, however. In Flagstaff, we had food to worry about. Lots of it. Tom Lovering, his wife Beth and their friend Jamie Wilson arrived in Flagstaff three days in advance of our Colorado River trip. Their car was packed to the brim with empty ammo cans for things like cameras and huge ice chests for food. They were late.

The Department of Homeland Security had delayed their journey at Hoover Dam. The Agency is paranoid about mad bombers, rightfully so. And this was before the new bridge across the river had been completed; people still had to drive across the dam. A vehicle packed with C-4 could conceivably blow a big hole. Stern faced agents carrying guns were posted at each entrance. No smiling was allowed. Homeland Security’s normally low sense of humor (have you ever joked about a bomb during a security check at an airport) dropped to zero when the agents saw all the ammo cans Tom had packed in his vehicle. Rafters love these containers because they are waterproof and easily obtainable at Army Surplus stores. You can imagine what went through the minds of the agents. The whole car had to be unpacked and each ammo can carefully checked out.

Tom Lovering

This was the face that Tom greeted the Homeland Security agents with— furry but friendly. His looks were about to change…

Tom getting a do

Tom getting a ‘do’ in Flagstaff…

Tom Lovering with horns

What if Tom would have met the agents looking like this with green horns? We still might be waiting for him in Flagstaff.

Tom is even more paranoid about food than DHS is about terrorists. In addition to being a highly experienced rafter and trip leader, he’s an old restaurateur who had spent months planning the menu.  Each dish had been tested several times and quantities had been measured down to the teaspoon. Recipes were spelled out in minute detail. We would eat gourmet on the trip and cook it Tom’s way— or die. The options were clear.

Beth, Peggy and I were dispatched to Sam’s Club with marching orders. We filled seven large shopping carts with food. Think of it this way. There were 16 people going on an 18-day trip and eating three meals a day. This equaled 864 individual meals.

When we arrived back at the motel, Tom and Jamie had set up a staging area. Food needed to be organized by meal and day and then stuffed in the appropriate containers. The containers would then be assigned to rafts. It was important that we knew where to find the beer.

Large food containers for Grand Canyon trip

Large food chests waited for us when we got back to our motel. Each would be filled with food. Dry ice would be added to keep our food fresh for 18-days.

We still had to shop for perishables and more food was also coming from Sacramento. Our room, we discovered, was to be the recipient of most of the food. Apparently, it was written into the fine print of being ‘permit holder.’ There was barely space to sleep. Not that we slept much. Soon, we would be on the river! But first, Bone had to be appropriately dressed for his trip.

Supplies for Grand Canyon trip

We went to Safeway to purchase our perishable goods, and once more our small RV was filled to the brim.

Gear and food Grand Canyon trip

We discovered that the majority of the large food containers would be stowed in our room. With our own gear spread out on the bed, it was questionable if we would have room to sleep! Tom provides a perspective on the size of the ice chests. The yellow container is an ammunition can.

Bone in life vest

One of our final responsibilities was to make sure that Bone was adequately dressed for the trip in his PFD. Once, he almost fell off a boat in the piranha infested water of the Amazon. It would not do to lose him in the roaring rapids of the Colorado. Next Saturday and Sunday, I will provide background on Bone since he was an active participant on the river trip.

Loading truck for Grand Canyon trip DG

Finally, it was time to load our food and gear on this truck for transport down to Lee’s Ferry and the beginning of the trip. The truck was completely stuffed by the time we were finished. We were finally on our way! (Photo by Don Green.)


WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: A river boat trip on the Amazon River. The piranhas are biting and we bite back.

FRIDAY’S MisAdventure’s POST: There is nothing like reading to seduce you into becoming a wanderer.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: We start our raft journey through the Grand Canyon with 30 MPH headwinds. So much for a peaceful (between rapids) float down the Colorado!





Peggy Wins the Lottery… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 2

Mule trip into Grand Canyon

I have journeyed into the Grand Canyon several times over the years. The first was in the late 60s. That’s me, second from the top on Charlie the mule. I was heavier than Charlie liked, so he kept trying to bite me. He also walked as close to the thousand foot drop off as he could. His ultimate revenge, however, was that I was sore for a week afterwards!


Having reported on being in Flagstaff for the beginning of our raft trip down the Colorado River on last Monday’s travel blog, I thought I should back up a step and tell you how we got there.

It started with a strange phone call.

Peggy and I were in the middle of a three-year trip around North American in our small RV when the phone rang late one night. It was 10:00 p.m., far past the time I normally accept calls. They make me grumpy. Usually they are from a Nigerian Prince who wants to make me incredibly wealthy. All I have to do is send him a thousand bucks. But this was from my old friend Tom Lovering. I’m used to him calling at weird hours. He has zero sense of what constitutes a normal day and fervently believes that no one else should either.

He wanted me to immediately stop whatever I was doing (sleeping), jump on-line, and apply for a private permit to raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Permits are scarce and the number of people who apply could fill a rock concert. So the Park Service does an open lottery for interested folks. Odds of getting a permit are small— teeny tiny— and Tom wanted to increase his. He’d been scrolling through his list of friends and had already talked a number of people into applying. The clock was ticking; the lottery closed at midnight. Given the late hour, I must have been near the end of Tom’s likely candidates, which isn’t surprising. I know zilch about running rapids.

Thrill sports aren’t my thing. I have always figured that the type of outdoor things I do (like bicycling 10,000 miles around North America by myself, or disappearing into grizzly bear country alone) have enough inherent danger without my challenging raft-eating, people swallowing rapids, or climbing up the sheer face of a thousand-foot rock. Not that I have any problem with the sports. In fact, I have nothing but admiration for people who have the skill and temerity to pursue them and make a career out of flipping off the old guy in a hoodie who carries a big scythe.

My normal response would have been, “Sure, Tom, I’ll get right on it,” followed by promptly rolling over and going back to sleep. But this wasn’t accounting for the love of my life, Peggy, who actually likes water sports and enjoys jumping off cliffs. During college, she had actually attended a session of the Nantahala White Water School in North Carolina where you learn to maneuver rafts through raging rapids. She followed up on Tom’s request immediately: jumping on-line and putting in for a permit— in my name.

I was checking my E-mail the next morning when I came across the note from the National Park Service: “Congratulations you have won a permit for you and 15 other people to raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon! We will be sending you a 5000-page document (slight exaggeration) that outlines your responsibilities.” Oh joy. I called Tom immediately. He was the experienced river runner. He had promised the night before that if, by some miracle I did win, he would take full responsibility for organizing and leading the event. It’s a huge job that takes considerable knowledge about white water rafting.

At first, Tom didn’t believe me. He thought I was joking. Neither he nor any of his rafting buddies had won a Canyon permit in several years. And then he was ecstatic. Yes, he would recruit experienced boat people and their boats for the trip! Yes, he would make all necessary arrangements. Yes, he would plan the menus and organize the food! Yes, he would lead the adventure!

Then the other shoe dropped. Doesn’t it always? I was, after all, “the permit holder.” It was my job to turn in paperwork. But I also had serious responsibilities. If anything went wrong; it was on my shoulders. This ranged from people pooping in the wrong places, to how we washed our dishes, to more serious things. The Park Service had a long list of safety and environmental concerns. I’d be signing on the dotted line. There would be an inspection before we left!

I admit I had concerns. But these were countered by the fact that I love the Grand Canyon. I have returned to it numerous times over the years. I have both hiked and backpacked into it. One time I rode mules into the Canyon. Another time I flew in by helicopter. And I am perfectly happy just sitting on the edge and staring out into the vast space at the incredible rock formations. I did that for Christmas one year (and many other times). Floating down the Colorado would give me a totally new perspective. I was almost as excited as Tom and Peggy. Almost.

Between three tours of duty as a Marine helicopter pilot in Iraq and then serving as a Coast Guard pilot flying rescue missions, our son Tony did a brief stint of flying tourists over the Grand Canyon and into the Havasupai Indian village in the canyon.  When he flew Peggy and me into the village, he was playing the theme song from Star Wars as he swooped down past the steep cliffs.

Waterfalls at Havusupai

This gorgeous waterfall was the main attraction at the Havasupai Village.

I am sitting on the edge of the Colorado River, red with mud.  Peggy and I had backpacked down the Tanner Trail retracing a solo trip I had made several years earlier. Our raft trip would bring us through this section of the Canyon and over the Tanner Rapids. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Occasionally, backpacking through the Canyon requires a bit of scrambling.

But you don’t have to hike or backpack into the canyon, or raft, or fly, or ride grouchy mules to enjoy the beauty of the Canyon. You can drive up, and enjoy numerous pull-offs that give you incredible views. Short walks provide many more. Be sure to include early morning and late afternoon to capture the full beauty.

Grand Canyon 38

The rocks come in a seemingly infinite number of shapes and colors.

A final view.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: We travel to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

FRIDAY’S POST: I learn that there is more to life than dead people.

MONDAY’S POST: And why is Homeland Security checking out our food containers for a bomb on the our Grand Canyon rafting adventure?



The Red, Red Rocks of Sedona, Arizona… Part 2

Sunrise on rocks west of Sedona

The best time to be out and about for photography in Sedona is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the red rocks of Sedona at are their most colorful.


It’s photo essay Wednesday so I am returning to Sedona, Arizona to wrap up my look at some of the colorful red rocks that surround the town. Last Wednesday, I focused on the formations east of town and the striking Chapel of the Holy Cross. Today I will include photos of the rock formations west of town and take a trip up the ‘mystical’ Boynton Canyon.


Sedona rocks in morning

Peggy and I took these photos from up near the Sedona airport looking west across the town. The rock formation I featured at the beginning of the post is shown on the left here.

Peggy and view across Sedona

Peggy was standing on the ‘vortex’ near the airport when I took this photo. (Actually, looking at it, I think it is toward the east.)

Sedona view

Another perspective. Possibly my blogging friend who lives in Sedona, Johanna Massey, can provide the location.

Sunset west of Sedona

Definitely looking west here. This time the formation that I included in the first photo is on the right.

Sunrise west of Sedona

A close up…

Sedona Sunset

Sedona Sunset.

Layers upon layers, Sedona

I liked this photo because the ridges seemed to fade off into infinity.

Capstone rocks in Boynton Canyon

We took a detour on our hike up Boynton Canyon to visit with the Kachina Woman, on the left. There is supposedly another vortex in the area that emphasizes balance. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Capped rock in Boynton Canyon

A photo of the same formation from the Boynton Canyon Trail. Some claim that the vortex is between the Kachina Woman and the knoll. Since a little balance never hurts, I stood between the two formations for a few minutes. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Boynton Canyon

This is the type of view you can expect hiking up Boynton Canyon. No wonder people find the area mystical.

Sandstone rock in Boynton Canyon

Each sandstone formation provides several views as you hike up the short trail. Following are examples of this one…

Sandstone formations in Boynton Canyon

Sandstone in Boynton Canyon

Stacked rocks in Boynton Canyon

Stacked rocks and circles of rocks apparently reflect hiker’s spiritual journey up the canyon. There are so many that some people are beginning to feel that they detract from the beauty of the area. Not to worry; they are easily removed. I wonder if it gives you bad Karma.

Pinted by mineral water, Sedona

Mineral rich waters created this dry waterfall. If I remember correctly the cave on the left belonged to early Native Americans. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Anasazi dwelling in Boynton Canyon

This Anasazi dwelling definitely did. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Fortress rock in Boynton Canyon

Another of the impressive rock formations up Boynton Canyon.

Red rock of Boynton Canyon near Sedona

And another!

Peggy at end of trail in Boynton Canyon

That’s it for today, folks!


FRIDAY’S Blog-a-Book POST: The great tree race where my brother and I face off against each other in a death-defying race up and down the 70-foot tall Incense Cedar tree in the Graveyard.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: Where Homeland Security checks out our food supply for the Colorado River trip.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: A visit to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, Italy that was buried by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE.






Hopi Gods and Squirrelly Squirrels… Rafting the Grand Canyon: Part 1

Rowing on the Colorado through the Grand Canyon

While a veteran crew of boatmen handled the more dangerous parts of our 18 day journey through the Grand Canyon, I was allowed near oars on some of the tamer sections.


Since Peggy and I will actually be hanging out at our home in Southern Oregon for a couple of months and not generating new material for my travel blog, I thought I would dip back in time to the very beginning of my posts.  I had attended a writer’s conference in San Francisco during the winter of 2010 and been told that writers need an Internet presence. I felt doing a series on an 18-day trip we had just completed rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon would make an excellent start. It was an epic-adventure, one that was burned into my memory banks.  Part of the experience was that Peggy and I would be traversing some of the earth’s most challenging rapids with a true cast of characters. That alone was enough to make it an epic adventure, but even more important, at least for me, was that we would be traveling through the heart of the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Please join us on this adventure. By the end, I think you will see why the Grand Canyon has earned its world-class status. I will start with Peggy and me in Flagstaff, Arizona getting ready for our adventure…


Tom and Bone

One of the ‘cast of characters’ and our group leader, Tom Lovering with Bone in his hair. Tom and I had found Bone when we were backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1977 and he has traveled the world ever since.

Five squirrels with long tufted ears just went charging past our van— in a row. I think it must be love and Peggy agrees. We speculate that a female is leading the boys on a glorious romp. “Catch me if you can!” she giggles. It’s that time of the year when the Albert Squirrels are excited to make babies and perpetuate the species. Lust is in their hearts. Or maybe it’s just the guys working out territorial differences.

Someone they won’t be mating with are their northern cousins, the Kaibab Squirrels. It isn’t that they couldn’t or wouldn’t if they could, it’s just that the giant hole in the ground known as the Grand Canyon is too deep and too wide for them to cross. As a result, a new species has been created. Scientists and natural history folks call this process allopatric speciation— a pair of two-bit words for sure.

We are located at a KOA in Flagstaff, Arizona as we prepare for our raft trip down the Colorado River. It’s a big campground. Everywhere we look men and women wearing yellow shirts are busily preparing for the onslaught of summer tourists. It feels like a beehive, or squirrel’s nest. The camp cook tells us 28 people work here. Jobs are highly specialized. The man who straightens misplaced rocks stopped by to chat with us this morning.

Yesterday we watched two employees struggle for an hour on laying out the base of Teepee. It had all the flavor of an old Laurel and Hardy film. They kept measuring and re-measuring the angles. I expected one to leap up and start chasing the other around camp with a 2×4.

We wonder what the Kachina deities who live in the San Francisco Mountains overlooking our campground think about the squirrelly activity taking place beneath them. There are bunches of them up there, over 300 according to Hopi lore, and each one has a lesson to teach, wisdom to disperse. They come down from their perch in the winter to share their knowledge. I’m sure that they would have made quick work of the Teepee project.

Peggy and I hike up the mountain following Fat Man’s trail. Of course, there is no irony here as we desperately try to beat our bodies into shape for the Canyon trip. We’ve been out travelling in our van for months and the pounds have accumulated. The trail’s name suggests this is a gentle start. Instead it takes us straight up into a snowstorm. The Kachinas are rumored to mislead people under such circumstances. I once spent a week up on the mountain by myself and restricted my wandering to fair weather.

Grand Canyon rock formation

I’ve sometimes wondered what, if any, role that rock formations in the Grand Canyon influenced how the Hopi Indians pictured their Kachina gods.

Once they had the mountain to themselves but now they have competition. Technology has arrived— modern gods. Tower after tower bristling with arrays of tracking, listening and sending devices look out over the sacred lands of the Hopi, Navaho and other Native Americans.

It’s hard not to think Big Brother is watching or not be disturbed by the towers’ visual intrusion. But their presence means we can get cell phone coverage and climb on the Internet. We are addicted to these modern forms of communication so it is hypocritical to whine, at least too much.

But back to the squirrel theme, Peggy and I are a little squirrelly ourselves as we go through our gear and get ready for our grand adventure. I am nervous. This is my first multi-day river trip. What have we gotten ourselves into? Do we have the equipment we need? Will we survive the rapids? What will the people who are joining us be like? What challenges will we face that we are ill prepared for? There are many questions and few answers.

Would people who should not be let near knives suddenly be wielding them?

Would Canyon spirits stalk us?

Would we be required to paint our toenails so our rafts wouldn’t flip.


A note on photos: Peggy and I took most of the pictures that will be included in these posts on the Grand Canyon trip. Our friend Don Green was also along, however, and has generously shared his photos with us. I will note which photos are his.

WEDNESDAY’s Photo Essay POST: It’s back to the featuring the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.

FRIDAY’S Blog a Book POST: The next chapter in MisAdventures sees my brother and I in a death-defying race to the top of the 75-foot tall Incense Cedar in the Graveyard.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: It’s all about food, seemingly tons of it, as we make our final preparations for the Colorado River trip. Homeland Security puts a crimp in our efforts as it checks our supply for bombs.