Colossal Women… The Sculptures of Burning Man

Sculpture Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane at Burning Man 2013

Truth Is Beauty is one of three colossal sculptures created for Burning Man by the Bay Area artist Marco Cochrane. Each of these sculptures captures the beauty of the female form but goes further. Marco’s works are designed to help us see women as total human beings instead of objects. Not to detract from Cochrane’s message, but I decided to kick off today’s post with this photo because I spotted a bit of green along with the truth. Happy St. Pat’s Day.


Now that I have finished my series on Burning Man’s creative and sometimes wacky mutant vehicles, I am ready to take on another aspect of the art that seems to bloom and thrive in the Black Rock Desert, sculpture. I am going to start with something big, really big— colossal women. We are talking 40 to 60-foot-tall sculptures here! Three artists have been responsible for creating the giant women of Black Rock City, Marco Cochrane, Karen Cusolito and Dan Das Mann.

Das Mann and Cusolito, working as a team, produced a series of works at Burning Man between 2005 and 2007. Mann’s interest in monumental art started with a degree in Landscape Architecture from Rutgers University. Cusolito’s introduction to the art world followed a more formal path with studying at the Rhode Island School of Design and Massachusetts College of Art.

These photos are from Mann and Cusolito’s 2006 and 2007 art at Burning Man.

My introduction to the art of Karen Cusolito and Dan Das Mann was this tall woman with her arms reaching toward the sky. She was located in front of the Center Camp Cafe which is considered a position of honor for art at Burning Man.

She was accompanied by this woman kneeling in supplication.

Another photo of the two with the Black Rock Desert for background.

This one shows the art’s location in relation to Burning Man’s Center Camp Cafe.

Close up of the ‘skin.’

For 2007, Cusolito and Das Mann created Crude Awakening.

This sculpture caught my attention. Fire shoots out from the hands.

Check out the chain hair.

Marco Cochrane was born in Italy to American parents in 1962 and raised in the Bay Area. According to his website, “he identified with the female struggle with oppression and saw feminine energy and power as critical to the world’s balance.” His art reflects this belief. In 2007 he attended Burning Man and would have seen the sculptures by Das Mann and Cusolito. Eventually, he returned to Burning Man in 2010 with the first of his own colossal sculptures, Bliss Dance. In 2013 he brought Truth Is Beauty to Burning Man and in 2015, R-Evolution. I’ve blogged about each of these creations in the past. Following are a few of our photos.


Cochrane’s first work, Bliss Dance, was my favorite. She now resides in Las Vegas just off of the Strip.

I like the playful nature of Bliss Dance.

Marco Cochrane's Bliss Dance at Burning Man.

A close up.

I introduced this post with a night photo of Truth Is Beauty. The sculpture shares this picture with other Burning Man art.

This photo provides a side view. The people give perspective.

A back view. Each of Cochrane’s works are powerful from any angle.

R-Evolution is the third and final of Cochrane’s sculptures at Burning Man. I like how R-Evolution fits in with the mountains here. (Photo by our friend Don Green.)

A night-time view of R-Evolution’s back.

And a front view to complete this post.


Something Fishy.

The Sierra Trek: We backpack through 106 degree weather, and the Sheriff pays us a visit.

More of Burning Man sculptures.


How to Take a Bath in the Woods… The Sierra Trek Series

Many trees take on a certain beauty when they die that matches whatever beauty they had when alive. I often find myself stopping to admire them and frequently photograph them. I couldn’t help but wonder what gave this tree its twisted look. The canyon in the background leads up to Muir Pass.

I am returning to the Sierra Trek today. I told the story in my last post about how our second day had included hiking 16-miles without water, confronting a 6-foot rattlesnake, discovering that one of my participants was lost, and having to deal with a minor rebellion. I was not having fun. I ended on a more positive note, discovering that the lost Trekker wasn’t lost. If you missed that post, or any of the others about the Trek, I’ve listed them at the bottom of this post.

Not having any photos of that first Sierra Trek adventure, I have been posting photos from other backpacking trips I have made up and down the Sierras. Today, I am focusing on the beauty of trees and wood grains that hold their beauty long after they have died.


I found this unusual knot that resembled a duck when I was climbing over a pass in the Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe.

With Dick, the lost Trekker, back in camp, I declared a layover day and turned around to go retrieve the two people I had left behind at Duncan Creek. Along the way I met the rest of the Trekkers and told them that our lost party had found himself.

“I am beginning to understand what it means to be a manic-depressive,” I told Charlie. My life over the past three weeks had been one constant roller coaster. I allowed myself a slight glimmer of hope that we had made it beyond the low point of our adventure.

The other Trekkers had made it to Robinson Flat the day before without a hitch and I now had everyone back together again. A layover day gave all of us, including me, a chance to recoup. People were able to wash clothes, take baths, read, and just lounge around, swapping lies about their terrible ordeals. Even the Four Mouseketeers were back in high spirits. I came over a hill and found them gathered around one of my older female participants as she sat in the middle of a tiny stream without a stitch of clothes on. They were struggling to appear cool and carry on a conversation while she bathed. I sent them scampering back to camp. At least I had answered my earlier question as to what kind of babysitting services we were providing.

Nan, one of my staff members from the Lung Association in Sacramento, showed up with resupply about midday, including food, cold beer, sodas— and Jo Ann. It was good of Jo to come, but we were uncomfortable. Still, I was glad to share my adventures and frustrations to date with her. I left out any references to hiking and holding hands with Lisa. After Nan and Jo departed and I had people settled in for the evening, I headed over the hill, loaded my pipe with Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco, and settled in for a smoke. I hadn’t totally abandoned my pipe (adult pacifier?) at that point and needed the solace it provided. I must have sat there for an hour staring up at the stars, alone in my thoughts, sad.

But the sun was shining the next morning, as it usually does in the summer Sierra. I felt glad to be out in the woods and happy to be alive. My body was beginning to tone up and I could almost hear my pampered fat cells screaming in protest.

We hit the trail early. I took over leadership since we were now covering a section of the route I had previewed. It felt good being up with the hotdogs, all younger than I was by a decade. The miles sped by as we maintained our three to four-mile an hour pace. Of course, we were egging each other on. As the old man of the group at 29, I had to prove that the kids couldn’t outrun me. My only problem was blisters. My feet were still doing battle with the new Lowa boots, and the boots were winning. Since I couldn’t ignore the blisters in the same way I was ignoring the piteous cries of my fat cells, I kept slapping on moleskin. There wasn’t much bare skin left.

Camp that night was at an old mining area called ‘Last Chance.’ Obviously, some disgruntled forty-niner had named it as his dreams of wealth were fading. The area was a major checkpoint on the Tevis Cup Horse Race. Veterinarians tested horses to see if they could continue on. It is used for the same purpose today for long distance runners on the Western States 100-mile ultra-marathon. I wandered around and carried out a similar check with the Trekkers. There were a couple of people I assigned to the jeep for a day or two and several whose feet I patched up. I was becoming quite the expert on blisters. People were in an amazingly good mood.

I found this beauty near Benson Lake Pass near the northeastern corner of Yosemite National Park.

I set up camp next to Charlie, which involved unrolling my ground cloth, ensolite pad, and sleeping bag. We were sleeping out in the open at the time, which I almost always did unless weather forced me into my emergency tube tent. We lay there, looking up at the sky and contemplating the myriad of stars the clear Sierra night made available.

“What an experience,” Charlie offered. “I can’t believe I am out here. Someday, people will be doing these Treks all over the nation.”

My thoughts were more along the line of “Thank God we made it through another day.” But things were definitely getting easier as Steve and I adjusted to our group and the group adjusted to its long hiking days. The next day even found several of us trotting along the trail in sheer joy with Orvis trotting right along with us. We still had our share of challenges though.

Food was one. I spent a lot of time listening to complaints about Ham Cheddarton, which the Trekkers were eating every other day. They had even composed a little ditty about the meal and where I might put it. It sounded rather uncomfortable. At least they were developing a sense of humor. Three young people from Auburn had the most legitimate gripe. I discovered they had broken their stove and were eating the goop with cold water. I turned down their ‘generous’ offer to sample a bite and loaned them my stove. (We had three in our cook group so cooking wasn’t a problem, but my stove never quite recovered from the experience.)

This old stump might be a bit frightening at night. I found it in the Granite Chief Wilderness behind Squaw Valley.

Keeping the troops clean provided another interesting challenge. Some people simply didn’t bother. I suspect our Four Mouseketeers weren’t overly concerned about missing a bath or two. But nobody was squeaky clean. People have a way of deteriorating in unison on the trail. Even the most conscientious develop a certain look, a certain patina. You don’t really recognize this state of deterioration until you arrive back at civilization and meet disgustingly clean people at trailheads.

There are numerous approaches to bathing in the woods. The one I developed on the first Trek and have used most often since is the yellow bucket routine. It simply involves going down to the lake or stream, filling my collapsible plastic bucket with water, and disappearing into the woods.

Like in real estate, location is everything. At a minimum, wilderness ethics require that I be far enough away from the lake or river to avoid getting soap in the water, even biodegradable soap. Beyond that, I tend to wander around searching for the perfect site. I like to find a spot where my bucket won’t tip over. Few things irritate me more than to be standing out in the woods naked and see my bath water go happily splashing off down the hill. It’s been known to make me forget my bath for the day. It’s doubly irritating if I have already soaped up. Having something smooth to stand on is another requirement. My tender feet do not appreciate pine cones and other sharp objects. Being greedy, I also like a view. I actually find such places on rare occasions.

As with location, water temperature plays an important role in determining bathing pleasure. Early season, snow-melt streams guarantee a fast bath with minimal attention to detail. I’ve developed headaches from really cold water. When the water is icy and I am feeling particularly wimpy, I boil up a pot of water and add it to the bucket.

I found this ancient tree blaze in the Desolation Wilderness and could only wonder who had used it to mark their way several decades earlier. Insects and woodpeckers had also marked this wood, telling another story. Speaking of bugs…

The true bane of outdoor bathing, however, is insects. A bare butt in the woods is like a huge neon billboard announcing your presence. You can almost hear the clarion call go out:

Major target located in northeast quadrant. Proceed at once to location. No invitation is necessary, BYOB. (Bring Your Own Beaks)

A half-dozen or so mosquitoes almost always come with the territory. It’s when they swarm in the hundreds that bathing becomes impossible. I’ve mastered the 30 second bath for such occasions. This involves dumping the bucket of water over my head and then whipping myself dry with a towel to keep the mosquitoes off. And no, there is nothing kinky about this. Depending on where I am backpacking, I have also had black flies come after me with a knife and fork, no-see-ums disappear up my nose, and horse flies hit me repeatedly on top of the head kamikaze style. The latter are about as easy to kill as an enraged grizzly bear. When my flying friends aren’t enough to keep me amused, there is usually an ant around to bite me on the toe, or some more tender location that falls under the TMI category, too much information.

Many backpackers today have switched to using lightweight, backpacking showers that they fill up with water and place out in the sun so can enjoy a hot bath. The showers make washing and rinsing much easier and also solve the problem of cold water. But they can’t do anything about the insects.

This old pine reflects the tough life it had led existing on a high granite ridge in the southern Sierra.

Probably the easiest solution to bathing is to just jump into a convenient lake or river. Again, you can’t use soap because it damages the water supply. Truly lazy or tired Trekkers may jump in with their clothes on, thus rinsing their clothes as well as their body. By now, I am sure the reader is beginning to grasp why backpackers gradually become scruffier as the trip progresses.

One issue that is always present is the question of privacy. Do you slip off into the woods by yourself or do you shed all of your clothes and jump into the lake regardless of who is present. The latter range from folks who jump in and make lots of noise, to more shy folks who quietly slip in business like. Our first Trek, a true 70’s type event, incorporated all types. I already mentioned the woman and her coterie of the Three Mouseketeers. She would have preferred a private bath but had to put up with her youthful admirers.

Two of our Trekkers, who I will call Y and Z, were definitely of the Hippie Generation when it came to bathing. Y was an amply endowed woman who floated in a most interesting way, but it was her boyfriend Z, who drew the most attention. Orvis, at 70, still had a fine appreciation of the female body and could be depended on to check out the action at the local swimming hole. We were camping on the middle fork of the American River when he came up to me with an impish grin on his face.

“Did you see Z, Curt?” he asked with wonder in his voice. “His dong goes all the way to his knees!” I just started laughing and couldn’t stop. I couldn’t help myself. But I also made an innocent trip by the swimming hole. Sure enough, Z, who was a skinny guy, had equipment that would have sent a mare running in the opposite direction.

A final photo to wrap up today’s post. I found this tree near Mt. Whitney.

Have you missed one of my posts on the Sierra Trek? Here they are in the order I’ve written them.

1.  A Far-Out Excuse for Escaping to the Woods…

2. What Do Burning Down a Bank and the Sierra Trek Have in Common?

3. From an Ex-Ice Hockey Player, to a Ballerina, to a Witch…

4. Bears, Rattlesnakes, Heart Break, and Ham Cheddarton…

5. It Takes a Worried Man…

6. A Pot Smoking Orgy in the Mountains?

7. 16 Miles without Water: A Rattlesnake, a Lost Trekker, and a Rebellion…


Burning Man’s Really Tall Women

Something Fishy

Backpacking in 106 degree F weather, plus the Sheriff comes to visit

“Captain Sully, May I Take Your Photo?” … A Fateful Plunge into the Hudson River

Flight 1549 Airbus 320 that landed on Hudson River.

Airbus A 320, the airplane that Sully landed on the Hudson River, is on display at Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina .


“You have to land poor Sully,” Peggy told me. And she was right. We had seen the plane he had been flying when we were visiting with our daughter and her family in North Carolina over Christmas.  A month ago, I had promised to do a post on the ill-fated flight. I was distracted. Ever since, I’ve left Sully circling in the air over New York City. 


Passengers make a quick exit onto the wings, into the water, and onto a raft from US Airways Flight 1549 after its emergency landing on the Hudson River. (Photo from the Carolinas Aviation Museum.)


Peggy and I were visiting the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina to check out the Airbus A 320 that Captain Chesley Sullenberger had landed on the Hudson River when I heard, “Captain Sully, may I take your photo?” I looked around, excited that Sully was at the museum. I wanted to take his photo, too! A 30-something guy was making a beeline across the museum toward me. I glanced behind me; no one was there. By then, the man had reached me, beaming, his hand outstretched.

“It’s a privilege to meet you, Captain,” he declared while grabbing my hand.

“I am not Sully,” I laughed, “But you are welcome to take my photo.” He yanked out his iPhone and took a selfie of the two of us, which he immediately sent off to his brother in Texas. I walked over and studied a display that featured the captain. Yes, we both had white hair and a mustache.

On January 15, 2009, Sully, along with first-officer Jeffrey Skiles, left La Guardia Airport in New York on US Airways Flight 1549 on their way to Charlotte, North Carolina. Skiles was piloting the plane. One and one half minutes into the flight, a flock of Canadian Geese appeared, crashed into the airplane, and were sucked into the jet’s engines. Birds crashing into airplanes are nothing new; it’s been happening ever since man learned how to fly. In fact, the month I was born, Westinghouse engineers were firing dead chickens 200 mph at airplane windows to determine if the windows could withstand the impact. Splat!

“I could hear the thump and thud,” Sully said afterwards about the geese.

The impact was fatal for the geese. The ones sucked into the engines immediately became cooked geese, minced and over-done— airplane food, you might say. It could have been fatal for Sully and the other 154 people on Board Flight 1549 as well, had it not been for the extensive experience and quick thinking of Sully. Both jet engines lost power. Zero thrust was available to fly the plane. “May Day! May Day” Sully called to La Guardia. Preparations were made for an emergency landing at La Guardia and at Teterboro, another nearby airfield in New Jersey.  Runways were cleared and fire engines revved up. Sully took over flying the plane from Skiles. Skiles jumped into reading the four pages of the emergency flight manual on how to restart stalled engines.

The flight manual for Airbus A 320.

Sully did a quick mental calculation. Could he  get back safely to La Guardia or Teterboro? Forty years of experience, 20,000 hours of flying, and his official participation in a number of airplane crashes told him no. His plane was too low and his speed was too slow. Trying to get to either of the fields would lead to the Airbus crashing into one of the most densely populated areas of North America. In addition to the 155 people on board, several hundred other lives could be lost.

“We can’t do it … We’re going to land on the Hudson,” he told Skiles and the control tower at La Guardia. “Brace for impact,” he told the flight crew and passengers. The flight crew immediately began yelling in unison, “Brace for impact, heads down, stay down!” “Brace for impact, heads down, stay down!” over and over. As passengers prayed and cried and desperately tried to make last-minute phone calls, Sully aligned the plane with the Hudson River and barely missed the George Washington Bridge. Could he avoid hitting any boats on the river? Could he land at exactly the right angle to reduce the likelihood of the Airbus being torn apart or sent cartwheeling across the Hudson?

People who happened to be looking out the windows of tall skyscrapers along the Hudson watched in heart-stopping horror as the large plane flew by and headed for its fateful plunge into the icy Hudson.

A few seconds before impact, Scully straightened out the plane and pulled back on the rudder to achieve the correct angle for a water landing. And then, 208 seconds after the engines had lost power, the plane plunged into the Hudson and shot under the water, creating total darkness— before it popped back up onto the surface.

The plane was filling with water. Fast action by the crew, with cooperation from the passengers, got everyone out of the Airbus. Sully was the last to leave, desperately trying to make sure that no one was left behind. Nearby boats on the river sped to the rescue. All 155 people were rescued with only a few minor injuries. A hero was created; a legend was born.

The right side of Airbus A 320 also including the raft that passengers escaped into.

A shot of the left side of Airbus 320 showing the damaged left engine.

A close up of the engine.

A final shot of passengers and crew waiting on the wings to be rescued. (Photo from the Carolinas Aviation Museum.)

If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend watching the movie “Sully” starring Tom Hanks as Sully and directed by Clint Eastwood.

Next Blog: It’s back to the Sierra Trek!

Mutant Vehicles IV… The Creativity and Magic of Burning Man

The thing about mutant vehicles is you never know what people are going to come up with, like this telephone: Off ‘Da Hook! Burning Man is an “Off ‘Da Hook” kind of place.

I could go on and on with mutant vehicles. Their sheer numbers and variety speak to the creativity and magic of Burning Man. But the camps, sculptures, temples, painting, costumes, performance art, the Man, and even bicycles also speak to the creativity, so I need to move on. Mainly, up until now, I have focused on vehicles that tend to stand out and draw crowds. Nothing is better at this than El Pulpo Mecanico.  There are dozens of other vehicles that also deserve attention that I haven’t covered yet, however. (And I wasn’t around in 2016 to see the latest creations!)

One mutant vehicle I haven’t featured yet, Never Was Haul, is right up there with El Pulpo Mecanico and the Rhino Redemption from my perspective. It’s here today, but there are also dragons and bugs and ships and animals and some really weird stuff. Oh my! Enjoy. (Unless noted otherwise, all of the photos are by Peggy and me.)

I selected this photo of Never Was Haul from my longtime friend Tom Lovering because it is one of his all-time favorite mutant vehicles. I would describe it as a combination of a steam train engine and a Victorian house.

Caboose mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

Trains are one of the themes for mutant vehicles. This caboose fits right in.

Steam engine Mutant Vehicle at Burning Man.

As does this steam engine. The grill on the front of this steam engine and Never Was Haul is known as a cattle catcher, BTW. I am not sure that the cow is in any better condition after a collision with a train, but the engine is. They also work for moose and buffalo!

Dragons are also a common theme for Burning Man mutant vehicles. (Photograph by our friend Don Green.)

Scary dragon mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

This is one of the more scary dragons that roam the Playa. Most of these fellows breathe fire as an added attraction.

Green dragon mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

This dragon was ,um, green and horny. His/her dark snout came from breathing fire. It is standing next to an array of solar panels and the Black Rock Desert serves as a backdrop.

This ferocious looking dragon had chains for reins and palm trees for wings. I think it is a creation of the NOLA camp at Burning Man.

Sparkle Pony Mutant Vehicle at Burning Man.

Numerous animals wander the Playa. This is a Sparkle Pony. (Sparkle Pony is the name for Burners who show up at Burning Man and expect to be waited upon.) Our friend Leslie Lake thinks that is a great idea and has adopted Sparkle as her Playa Name.

Rabbit mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

Some of the animals are just plain friendly looking, such as this rabbit.

Dog mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

And this buck toothed dog.

Cheshire Cat mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

The Cheshire Cat is, of course, noted for its huge grin.

Giant bull mutant Vehicle at Burning Man.

My guess is a giant cow. Her eyes flash out beams at night, giving this friendly beast a more scary persona.

Steampunk mechanical horse mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

This mechanical horse with its carriage represents the heavy steampunk presence at Burning Man.

Chicken Pox mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

I finish off my animals with this humorous Chicken Pox.

Sailing ship mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

Once upon a time, this section of the Black Rock Desert was a huge inland sea. So why shouldn’t there be sailing ships at Burning Man?

The yacht Christina, a mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

And yachts. This boat is named Christina and looks quite gorgeous at night.

Crab with shell mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

As might be expected in an ancient sea there are also numerous creatures of the ocean at Burning Man, such as this crab with its colorful shell.

Articulated fish mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

And an articulated fish.

Many of the fish swimming in the Black Rock Desert feature large teeth, such as this Disco-Fish.

Fish eating fish with provocative tongue mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

Big fish trying to swallow equally big fish. What puts this mutant vehicle into my weird category is the tongue, however. Note the stirrups so a Burner can hop on for a ride.

Sea creature mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

I am not sure what this creature is, but I think it belongs in the sea. I’ll go with seahorse.

Praying Mantis mutant vehicle at Burning man.

There are numerous insect mutant vehicles at Burning Man. My favorite is the praying mantis. So I will let it represent the bugs.

VW Bug art car/mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

Speaking of bugs, here is a VW Bug art car.

Walter the mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

And his bigger cousin (much bigger), Walter the VW Van. (Photo by Don Green.)

Mutant vehicle hot rod at Burning Man.

While I am on vehicles, I’ll include this dream of a hot rodder’s hot rod.

Pucker up mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

Often, it’s the faces on the mutant vehicles that capture my attention. Pucker up.

Joker mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

This joker has another memorable face.

I think ‘Kilroy was here’ of Kilroy fame may have been the inspiration for this face with its large tongue.


NEXT BLOG: I’ll finally get Sully landed on the Hudson River and off of his plane.



Let’s See: Shall We Do Las Vegas for $700, or See Red Rock Canyon for $7…

The rocks of Red Rock Canyon, come in numerous forms and colors, including red…

Las Vegas can be fun. It’s a gaudy, flashy, weird place where millions, even billions, are spent on enticing you to leave behind large chunks of change. It’s easy to spend $30 to 50 for dinner, another $30 to $50 for breakfast and lunch, and $50 to $100 for a show. And that’s on the lower side of things. Then there are the ubiquitous gambling machines, modern descendants of one-armed bandits seductively designed to promise you a fortune while robbing you blind— if you hang out long enough, or think dollars are play money. Even so-called penny slots can gobble down 9 to 100 cents (or more) per play. And forget nickel video poker, at least on the Strip. Those were the old days when less greedy gangsters instead of modern capitalists ruled the roost. Today’s entrepreneurs even charge you for parking!

Of course there are less expensive things you can do in Las Vegas. I enjoy walking down the Strip, especially at night, and visiting the pleasure palaces along the way for a clever but fake touch of Paris, or Venice, or New York, or Egypt, or some other exotic locale. Even with ‘cheap on the mind,’ however, the temptations to spend are strong. Oodles of fine restaurants beckon, top shows promise and deliver excellent entertainment, and who can resist investing $20 on a possible fortune. Not me. (My friend Ken claims he is better off walking into a casino and throwing a few $20s on the floor, just to get it over with.)

At night, Las Vegas turns into a fantasy land.

The resort-casinos along the way have spent billions building fake worlds, such as this mini-Venice, designed to lure you off the streets.

The truth about Las Vegas is that it would have been incredibly easy for Ken, Leslie, Peggy and I to spend $700 a day between us on our visit last week, not counting lodging. We didn’t. The cost of one meal ‘out’ bought groceries that allowed us to eat two of our three daily meals ‘in’ for the six days. We avoided shows this time, and did most of our limited gambling off the Strip— almost breaking even. Woohoo! The really big savings, however, came from our getting out of Vegas for two days. The first trip, which I have already described, was to the Valley of Fire State Park some 50 miles east of town.

Our second trip was to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which sits on the western edge of Las Vegas and is operated by the Bureau of Land Management. You can get there in 30 minutes from the Strip. It took us 15 from where we were staying. BLM charges $7 per car to explore the beautiful park. An excellent Visitors’ Center provides an introduction. A thirteen mile road with several pull-offs and hiking trails winds through the area. The following photos provide an overview of some of the sites you can expect to see.

Be sure to stop off at the excellent visitor center for an introduction to the plants, animals, original inhabitants, and geology of the Red Rock Canyon.

Tortoise sculpture at Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center next to Las Vegas, Nevada.

In addition to this realistic sculpture of a tortoise, the center also has tortoise that live on the premises. They are also found roaming free in the park. Signs along the road warn you to watch out for them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Road through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in southern Nevada.

A 13-mile road winds through the canyon providing numerous views and hiking opportunities.

Rock formation in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas.

This colorful rock formation is found at the beginning of the drive. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Red and white rock formation in Red Rock Canyon on the edge of Las Vegas.

I captured this close up.

Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas.

And Peggy managed to find another face. Edvard Munch’s Silent Scream comes to mind.

Much of Red Rock Canyon provides more distant vistas. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Yucca and a mountain in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Yucca plants offer a touch of green to the dry desert.

Ice Box Canyon in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Ice Box Canyon provides one of many hiking trails.

Trail into Ice Box Canyon in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas.

The trail leading into the canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A close up along the trail taken by Peggy.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area from Ice Box Canyon pull off.

This rocky draw was on the mountain forming the left side of Ice Box Canyon.

A view on our way out. The sun lights up a cholla cacti.

Just for fun and to conclude this post, I found a car with this license plate in the park. I think it is the most clever way I have ever seen for warning people that they are driving too close.

NEXT BLOGS: Back on schedule. I will wrap-up my Burning Man mutant vehicle photos, get poor Sully landed, and return to the Sierra Trek.




Frogs or Aliens… Petroglyphs from Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park

Petroglyphs on Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park, southern Nevada.

I was thinking frogs when I first saw this petroglyph found on Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park. Now I am thinking aliens about to be beamed up to a flying saucer… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Southwestern United States provides numerous opportunities to study petroglyphs left behind by ancient peoples who occupied the region for several thousand years before the arrival of Europeans. Early natives took advantage of desert varnish, a dark film of oxides formed on rocks in areas where rain is rare. Using a stone, artists, or possibly shamans, would peck through the varnish to the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind art or messages whose meaning we can only guess. Peggy and I are fascinated by this rock art and have visited numerous sites in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico as well as other locations (like Hawaii, for example).

The Valley of Fire State Park has several areas where petroglyphs can be found, including Atlatl Rock, which features a stair structure that allows people an opportunity to climb high up on the cliff for a closer view. While Peggy, Ken and Leslie climbed the stairs, I wandered off to find less tourist-oriented petroglyphs.  I like to think of the search for rock art as a treasure hunt.

An atlatl, BTW, is a device early people used to give a thrown spear more oomph. Plastic tennis ball throwers, designed to give Fido a workout, operate on the same principle. Modern use of atlatls has shown that speeds up to 93 miles per hour can be achieved. If you visit Atlatl Rock on March 19, 2017, you can actually watch the 25th Annual World Atlatl Competition where enthusiasts from around the world will gather to see who can toss a spear the farthest.

Viewing platform on Atlatl Rock at Valley of Fire State Rock in southern Nevada.

The petroglyph viewing platform seen here, is located high up on Atlatl Rock. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Ken and Leslie Lake provide perspective on viewing platform on Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park.

Our friends Ken and Leslie, standing on the viewing platform, provide perspective. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Petroglyphs on Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas.

A close-up of the petroglyphs provides a view of an atlatl and an atlatl thrower. The Bighorn sheep on top may be the target. Just below is the atlatl, and below that is the feathered spear (slightly crooked). The spear thrower is just beneath that. My ‘aliens’ are on the left. A possible ladder, lighting storm, shaman and trees are also found among the petroglyphs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Foot petroglyph found on Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

I was amused by this atlatl thrower connected by a power line with a sheep and then a foot. What the heck does this mean? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

While Peggy, Ken and Leslie were exploring Atlatl Rock, I was off wandering around on the other side looking for petroglyphs.

Bighorn Sheep petroglyphs at Valley of Fire State Park.

I found a pair of nose to tail Bighorn Sheep… (Doggy sniff-sniff maybe?)

This whatchamacallit and a spiral… (The spiral may represent a journey from an inner world.)

Petroglyph found near Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park.

And a woman having a baby. At least that’s what my rock art symbol book tells me.

Peggy and crew joined me to check out these petroglyphs on a cliff that we had discovered on an earlier trip. Apparently the rock artists had used a crack in the rock to climb up to do their work. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Petroglyphs carved into desert varnish on a cliff face near Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

A closer look…

And closer. Lots of sheep, a shaman, a fat dog, and an atlatl. The circles at the bottom may represent the sun. And can you find the coyote?

Plant in sand near Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

I also found this green plant with its weird shadows that contrasted well with the golden sand. Note the animal tracks beside the plant.

And Peggy captured this colorful sandstone cliff with its erosion. No wonder natives might consider the area sacred. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Arch Rock at Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada.

Just up the road from Atlatl Rock is this much photographed arch— photographed by Peggy.

Arch Rock photograph by Curtis Mekemson in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

Also took my turn and will conclude this post and my series on Valley of Fire State Park with the results.

The Towering White Domes of Southern Nevada’s Valley of Fire

Sun illuminates White Dome s in southern Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park

I caught the sun hanging over one of the White Domes in the Valley of Fire.

Today I will continue my exploration of the Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas in southern Nevada. There are three primary roads in the park. My last post followed the main road. Today I am going to focus on the route into the area known as the White Domes. The road begins at the Visitors’ Center, which is well worth a stop, and climbs up through colorful rocks known for their ‘rainbow’ colors. It ends at the towering White Domes. I’ll let our photographs ‘do the talking’ today.

Rocks near Visitor's Center at Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas.

Peggy discovered these rocks having a bad hair day at the Visitors’ Center. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Rock sculpture near Visitor's Center at Valley of Fire State Park.

And I snapped a photo of this rock sculpture.

Rainbow Vista in Valley of Fire State Park.

There is a reason why this area is named Rainbow Vista. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Rainbow Vista at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada with mountains providing contrast.

Again, with mountains adding color to the ‘rainbow view.’

Sandstone mountain along road to White Dunes in Valley of Fire State Park.

The road to the White Domes included this impressive mountain of sandstone.

White Domes at Valley of Fire State Park in Southern Nevada.

Our first view of the White Domes. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Squirrel at White Domes in Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

I found this squirrel at the White Domes. We were eating lunch and he thought he should be invited.

Peggy found this lizard that was more interested in eating bugs.


Side of White Domes in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

I like this photo because it provides a perspective on the height of the Domes. Note the person on the right. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Photo of side of White Domes at Valley of Fire State Park.

My shot up the side of the White Dome.

Stone sculpture at White Domes in Valley of Fire State Park.

Several other stone sculptures are found near the White Domes.

White Domes at Valley of State Park in Nevada.

Another of the White Domes.

A trail leads around the White Domes. At this point, it drops into a small canyon.

Rocks along trail leading around White Domes at Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada.

A view of the rocks leading down into the small canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Photo of White Domes at Valley of Fire State Park by Curtis Mekemson.

I’ll conclude with this shot I took of the main White Domes sculpture.

The Valley of Fire Lights Up the Southern Nevada Desert… Views Along the Main Road

Balanced Rock at Valley of Fire State Park in Southern Nevada.

Wonderful rock sculptures created by erosion, such as this balanced rock, are found throughout the Valley of Fire State Park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)


I put my blog on hold this past week as Peggy and I, along with our friends Ken and Leslie Lake, visited Las Vegas to celebrate Leslie and my birthdays, which are both the first week in March. We’ve been celebrating together for 13 years and try to go somewhere different each time. I know I’ve put off a few promised blogs, but hopefully you will find the detour worthwhile!


The vast majority of visitors flock to Las Vegas for its renowned shows, fine dining, glitter and gambling. (Nevada prefers ‘gaming,’ but hey, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…) Few come to enjoy the natural beauty of the area— or are even aware of it, which is too bad. Some of the nation’s best desert scenery is within easy driving distance. A day’s trip can take you through Death Valley. A half-day will provide an overview of the Valley of Fire. And a couple of hours will introduce you to Red Rock Canyon.

Peggy and I always try to visit at least one of these areas when we are near Vegas. This time we worked in the Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon. In fact, Red Rock Canyon was 15 minutes away from where we were staying. I’ve blogged about these parks before, but they are always worth blogging about again. And again.

Today I will feature our visit to the Valley of Fire State Park, which is located about 50-miles northeast of Las Vegas off of Interstate 15. The park takes its name from red sandstone that can turn a fiery red in sunlight. The sandstone was laid down by sand dunes some 150 million years ago. Geological forces have turned the region into a magical kingdom of rock forms. There are also several petroglyph sites left behind by the ancient Anasazi between 300 BC and 1150 AD.

As a result of the natural beauty, interesting rock forms, and native rock art, our cameras were busy the whole trip. Following are some of the results. To allow for more photos, I am going to break this post into three parts: views along the main road, the Atlatl Rock area, and the White Domes area.

While the road into the Valley of Fire State Park provides dramatic views, it doesn't provide a clue for what you are about to see.

While the road into the Valley of Fire State Park provides dramatic views, it doesn’t provide a clue for what you are about to see. The first sight is just around the corner…

Introductory view of the Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas.

Your first view of the red sandstone rocks provides a preview of what is to come.

Road into Valley of Fire State Park.

The main road drops quickly into the park.

Distant mountains add contrast and depth to the bright red sandstone. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Distant mountains add contrast and depth to the bright red sandstone. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Red sandstone rocks and mountains at Valley of Fire State Park in Southern Nevada.

Another perspective.

Red sandstone rocks at west entrance to Valley of Fire State Park.

The rocks alone.

A closer look.

A closer look.

I liked the rounded look here plus the green shrubs.

I liked the more rounded look here set off by the green vegetation. Note the hole in the sandstone.

Holes in sandstone rock at Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas.

Holes in sandstone are quite common. Some are large enough to crawl into.

The Beehive at the Valley of Fire State Park in Southern Nevada.

The Beehive is one of the Valley of Fire’s best known rock sculptures.

Beehive stone sculpture at Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

Looking up at the Beehive provides a close up of the unique erosion.

Valley of Fire State Park rock sculpture.

Another favorite of mine.

Rock sculpture at Valley of Fire State Park.

A number of other rock sculptures are located near the Beehive including the balanced rock featured at the beginning of the post and this mouthy fellow.

Faces in the rocks at Valley of Fire State Park.

Peggy and I often see faces in the rocks. Does this make us strange?

Faces in rocks at Valley of Fire State Park.

This face, buried in the rock, was on the scary side. I immediately thought of ‘The Mummy Returns.’

Mountains and sandstone at Valley of Fire State Park i southern Nevada.

I’ll conclude today’s photos from our drive along the Valley of Fire’s main road with this shot that includes an impressive mountain backdrop. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

NEXT BLOG: The road to the White Domes


On the Road to Las Vegas… Was It Winter or Spring?

This is what Peggy and I saw what we looked out our window on Thursday morning. It was beautiful but possibly not the best conditions for a road trip.

This is what Peggy and I saw what we looked out our window on Thursday morning. It was beautiful, but possibly not the best conditions for a road trip.

We are watching the Oscars in Las Vegas, which may be the best ever, especially in recognizing what is positive (and wrong) about our nation, with humor. They just sent a tweet to Trump.

The Oscars can go on, however, so I have time to put up a blog on our trip down here. We woke up at our home in Southern Oregon on Thursday to several inches of fresh snow. It was beautiful, but I immediately begin to fret over road conditions. Would I have to put on chains to get over the Siskiyou Pass? If so, it pretty much guaranteed I would be delaying the trip for a day. I hate putting on chains.

As it turned out the road was dry, the Siskiyou Pass and Mt. Shasta were gorgeous, and the Sacramento Valley was showing signs of spring.

There was a bit of water about, however. The Yolo Causeway, which is normally farmland, looked like an ocean with overflow from the Sacramento River.

Anyway, here are some photos that Peggy and I caught along the way.

The Madrone in our backyard had a new coat of snow.

The Madrone in our backyard had a new coat of snow.

Our ceramic jay was looking cold.

Our ceramic jay was looking cold.

The sun came out, however, and the highway report told us that no chains were required over the Siskiyou Pass.

The sun came out, however, and the highway report told us that no chains were required over the Siskiyou Pass.

And Doodle, our rooster, was glad to warm up.

And Doodle, our rooster, was glad to warm up. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I had the first shift driving, so Peggy used my camera to get these shots of the Siskiyou Pass.

I had the first shift driving, so Peggy used my camera to get these shots of the Siskiyou Pass.

Another snowy shot going up the mountain. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Another snowy shot going up the mountain. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It was looking more like spring along the Klamath River.

It was looking more like spring along the Klamath River.

And even flowers.

There was even a crocus blooming.

Peggy found Mt. Shasta peeking out from behind the clouds.

Peggy found Mt. Shasta peeking out from behind the clouds.

Black Butte, which hangs out next to Mt. Shasta looking small was free from clouds. (Photo by Peggy.)

Black Butte, which hangs out next to Mt. Shasta, was actually free from clouds. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Central Valley was showing signs of spring.

The Central Valley was showing signs of spring. The Coast Range is in the distance.

Rice paddies were covered in water with thoughts of draught far behind.

Rice paddies were covered in water with thoughts of draught far behind. The mountains show recent snow.

A reflection shot.

A reflection shot.

The Sacramento Valley was filled with blooming fruit trees.

The Sacramento Valley was filled with fruit trees in bloom.



And finally...

And finally…

The Yolo Bypass filled with water reflecting the extensive flooding that Northern California has experienced this winter.

I’ll conclude with this photo of the Yolo Bypass filled with water reflecting the extensive flooding that Northern California has experienced this winter. Normally, this is farmland.


Steampunk, a Towering Octopus, and a Giant Rhino… The Mutant Vehicles of Burning Man

Burning Man's El Pulpo Mechanico.

The sometimes scary El Pulpo Mechanico in black and white.

Peggy and I were out wandering around Black Rock City when we came across the steampunk mutant vehicles that I am going to feature today: El Pulpo Mechanico and the Beamer Steamer. A flaming duck was also present. The folks that created these vehicles came from Northern California and Southern Oregon— our territory, and at least two of the vehicles had connections with the human-powered Kinetic Sculpture Race that runs between Ferndale, Eureka and Arcata over the Memorial Day Weekend.

El Pulpo Mechanico sprang from the creative mind of Duane Flatmo. His parts were scrounged from the Arcata Scrap and Salvage Yard in Northern California. Jerry Kunkel designed his electronic and flame system. His crawdad attachment was once part of one of the Kinetic Sculpture race vehicles.

El Pulpo always draws a crowd at Burning Man, especially when he is flaming. He can go through 200 gallons of propane in one night.

El Pulpo always draws a crowd at Burning Man, especially when he is flaming. He can go through 200 gallons of propane in one night.

El Pulpo at Black Rock City.

This shot of El Pulpo by our friend Don Green also shows his crawdad front.

Heres a shot of his crawdad front during the day. This creature was once part of a kinetic sculpture that participated in the Kinetic Sculpture Race in Eureka.

Here’s a shot of his crawdad front during the day. This creature was once part of a kinetic sculpture that participated in the Kinetic Sculpture Race in Eureka. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Looking up at El Pulpo provides a view of his barrel tentacles.

Looking up at El Pulpo provides a view of his barrel tentacles.

El Pulpo Mechanico fish at Burning Man.

This primitive fish is also a part of El Pulpo’s decorations.

As is this sea horse!

As is this sea-horse! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

El Pulpo's head.

El Pulpo’s head.

El Pulpo Mechanico at Burning Man.

A final view.

Bob and Karen Thomson of Southern Oregon had been participating in the Kinetic Sculpture Race for several years when they decided they wanted a vehicle that they didn’t have to power with their own effort and sweat. They created the Beamer Steamer to go to Burning Man.

The Beamer Steamer at Burning Man.

The Beamer Steamer mutant vehicle by Bob and Karen Thomson.

I am not sure of the history of the flaming duck but it can light up the sky at night.

The flaming duck during the day at Burning Man.

The flaming duck during the day at Burning Man. Check out its head.

The flaming duck at Burning Man.

The flaming duck out on the playa at night waiting for the man to burn.

You have to travel south on Highway 101 from Eureka to come to the home of my fourth mutant vehicle today. The Rhino Redemption was created by Kevin Clark and the artistic group that works out of the Reared in Steel building in Petaluma. Kevin was also responsible for the creation of the Medusa Sculpture at Burning Man that I have featured in the past.

This wonderful rhino mutant vehicle has become one of my favorites at Burning Man. I was once charged by one of his counterparts in East Africa and have had a special appreciation for rhinos ever since.

This wonderful rhino mutant vehicle has become one of my favorites at Burning Man. I was once charged by one of his counterparts in East Africa and have had a special appreciation for rhinos ever since.

Rhino Redemption at Burning Man.

A side view of Rhino Redemption. He can accommodate up to 20 people.

Rhino Redemption at Burning Man.

Rhino charging? It’s kind of how I remember it. (grin)

Rhino Redemption in camp at Burning Man.

A final view… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)


I’ve decided to take a semi-break for my birthday next week when I will be in Las Vegas. I’ll see you back here on March 6. Well, I may put up a blog or two if things are slow, but I wouldn’t bet on it. (grin)