From a Giant Rabbit to The Old Woman’s Shoe… More Whimsical and Weird Sculptures of Burning Man

This huge rabbit out on the Playa had a message of love, transformation and living in the present. After staring at it for a moment, I thought it might also be a lesson in watching which brownies you eat at Burning Man. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

I am going to wrap up my posts on whimsical and weird sculptures at Burning Man with something of a hodgepodge today. Bugs Bunny is a good place to start. I had looked at this sculpture from several angles before the rabbit made its sudden and obvious appearance. And I am pretty sure that is what the artist meant to happen. The big Alice in Wonderland type rabbit at the top was much less subtle!

I was thinking that this was a random, modern art kind of wood sculpture as I walked around it at Burning Man…

And then I came to this view and thought immediately of the ‘wascally wabbit,’ Bugs Bunny. For those of you not up on your cartoon history, “wascally wabbit’ is what Elmer Fudd called Bugs,

Our friend Tom Lovering took the photo of the zonked out rabbit at the top of the post. Here Tom is snuggling up to a Playa dinosaur. The look on Dino’s face is what led me to include it here with my whimsical and weird photos. It’s kind of the look of a puppy after it has puddled on your floor.

The dinosaur.

The bone tree has been around Burning Man for as long as I have, I think. At least I can never remember not seeing it since I first started in 2004. It lives at First Camp where most of the original organizers of the event hang out. The combination of skulls and bones place it in my weird category. Liking weird, it has always been a favorite of mine.

The Bone Tree at Burning Man is a regular at the event.

Here’s a close up.

The Bone Tree comes with its own set of wheels so it can move around.

The old woman’s shoe, a fork of cork, an excitable mantis, metal devils, giant specks, and a couple of toothy sculptures finish out my selection for today.

“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children she didn’t no what to do.” I like to add ‘obviously.’ How would you like to have that guy outside your window? I’d be dialing 911!

Another view of the shoe.

I thought these glasses with their blue eyes made an interesting sculpture. The Man can be seen in the distance.

Does this fellow with his fish strike you as weird?

Metal devils seem to be a thing at Burning Man. The teeth are marvelous.

I was always pleased with the way I caught this fellow with his red background, especially the way it shows through his right eye. Evil!

And then there was this scary praying mantis that appeared out of a dust storm.

Its front legs are something else! I don’t think you would want a hug.

Okay, this is fun. It wouldn’t be nearly as much if you didn’t know that the fabulous bathrooms are porta-potties, which can be far from fabulous!

Have you ever seen a cork fork?

How about a fork in the road?

Definitely weird.

This little shark that found a home way out on the Playa just had to make it into this collection. I’ll close with it.

Have Aliens Landed at Burning Man?

What better evidence could there be than a crashed UFO on the Playa that aliens are carefully monitoring Burning Man?


I am continuing my exploration of the humorous, whimsical and weird sculptures of Burning Man today and tomorrow. Today I want to focus on possible alien influence…


I saw a flying saucer once, so it is not surprising that I would assume this buzzard that I am petting came from outer space. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

One of my blogging friends from Canada wonders what aliens from a UFO might think if they landed at Burning Man.  Would they feel right at home? Would anyone even recognize them? (Well here’s a secret, Sue, a top-secret, a ‘for the President’s eyes only’ type secret. They already have! Don’t tell anyone, however. There is dire punishment. You will be forced to cross the border and live at the White House.)

My post today features irrefutable proof of aliens at Burning Man. There are orange aliens and blue aliens and buzzard aliens. There are Burners who may or may not be aliens. Who would know? There are flying saucers and baby aliens and monster aliens. There are even alien robots. But most frightening of all, the most horrifying thing, is the alien BLOB.

And all of this is true, I swear. Or is that fake true?

If further proof of alien presence at Burning Man is needed, consider this UFO. Before landing at Burning Man, it was seen in the Bay Area, and just about everyone knows that the Silicon Valley is under alien influence, not to mention UC Berkeley.

Alien robots are often found out in the Playa and in Black Rock City.

I wandered into a tent and was met by this fellow. Note the eyes on this fellow and on the guy above…

Now check out these eyes! This alien cycled into our camp and demanded a cold beer.

This monster robot and his alien dog (photo left) hung out in front of the Center Camp Cafe.

Who could ever deny that this monster came from another galaxy.

Or this alien baby?

Its mama, a famous ballet dancer on her planet, had stopped off at Burning Man several years earlier. She must have left an egg.

Peggy snuggled up with this orange alien for a photo. The fence in the background tells you that you have arrived at the Outer Limits of Burning Man, where you would expect aliens to hang out.

Sure enough, we soon found their camp.

An alien cat…

And the alien buzzard I stopped to pet.

As for Burners (the inhabitants at Burning Man) it’s hard to tell who might be an alien. I figured this guy definitely had alien blood. Either that or he had just stuck his finger in a light socket.

There is no doubt about this purple man. It is rare that the aliens are so obvious.

Another obvious alien. This one had six limbs, two from her torso and four from her head.

And don’t you just know that there have to be aliens in this group. The one on the left with his wild hair, limited vision, and small hands seemed the most suspicious to me.

And for my final proof, I submit this blob we found out on the playa one day. I am pretty sure that it is dedicated to reproduction and world domination.

Here’s a close up for my last photo of the day.

Tomorrow’s Blog: Another post on the humorous, whimsical and weird  sculptures of Burning Man.


A Big Bosomed Bee, Curious Cats, and Other Whimsical Art of Burning Man

I came across these cats a few years back way out on the Playa, about as far as you can get from Black Rock City and still be in the area fenced off for Burning Man. They definitely meet my description for whimsical.


It’s photo Friday for me where I put out a blog that is long on photography and short (or at least shorter) on words. I’ve been concentrating on Burning Man the past several weeks and will continue for a few more. I have my ticket for 2017 so I am excited. Hopefully next week, we will get a ticket for Peggy as well.


It isn’t just anywhere you would expect to find a big bosomed bee. But then again, you never know what to expect at Burning Man. Someone must have had a lot of fun crocheting the bra.


Having tackled the giant women of Burning Man, I’ve been thinking about what to feature next on Burning Man sculptures. Like mutant vehicles, there are so many it is difficult to choose and even harder to organize. I started by going through my photo library and picking out a few I thought might be of interest. That got me down to 1500. I think you can see my problem. “Okay, Curt, focus!” I admonished as I scrolled through the 1500 photos for the third time.

There are categories, sort of. They are totally arbitrary and from my perspective. But it’s a start. So today, I am going to feature what I find humorous, whimsical and weird, recognizing that the three are often combined in my mind. There are enough here that I will be presenting more over the weekend.

Dogs aren’t allowed at Burning Man, but they made an exception for this fellow in 2006.

My friend Ken decided that the dog was large enough to ride, but was a little confused as to the direction. Meanwhile, the dog’s family looked on, including…

Mr. Big Bottom…

Miss Short Legs…

And Miss Long Legs.

Pucker up…

And meet a suave Sphinx.

Ready for a little monkey business?

Or maybe some big monkey business? All dressed up in his pink tutu, Kong is ready to go out on the town.

Do you want to dance?

The sound man is ready…

With his necklace of speakers.

The hare will fiddle… (Photo by our friend Don Green.)

And the turtle will dance with you. (Photo by Don Green.)

Tomorrow’s Blog: More humorous, whimsical, and weird Burning Man sculptures.


A Shoplifter, the Sheriff, and Dynamite… The Sierra Trek Series

Tiger and Leopard Lilies are among the most beautiful flowers found in the Sierras and other California mountain ranges.


I’d actually had two good days on the Trek and we had put another 25 miles behind us. I was beginning to feel good, allowing myself an optimistic thought, or two. Foolish fellow. But we had passed the halfway mark. We were on our way home!

Today’s photos reflect some of the colorful  flowers that brighten our way as we hike through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


Mule Ear flowers can fill dryer slopes.


On day six, we hiked into Foresthill, a small community 20 miles above Auburn. It was a long, hot, dusty, 15-mile hike in and out of steep river canyons with temperatures soaring over 100°F (37.7°C). Along the way we passed through Michigan Bluff, which had once been an important gold rush community. Leland Stanford got his start here, running a grocery store for miners. It was a much surer way of striking it rich than gold panning. For example, eggs cost $3 apiece. Expensive huh? Taking inflation into consideration, the price would shoot up to $80 today.

Stanford continued to prove his smarts. His future included becoming one of the Big Four in building the Transcontinental Railroad, serving as the Governor of California and a US Senator, and giving Stanford University its name.

Monkey Flowers are always a favorite of mine and are usually found near streams. You can enjoy their beauty while refilling your water bottle.

In Foresthill, we had arranged to stay in the little city park that came with a swimming pool. Given the excessive heat of the day, it was something to look forward to. I certainly did. But my plunge into the refreshing water was not to be.

First I had to make sure we could find our way out of town and back onto the trail the next morning. We were now into the territory that Steve and I hadn’t reviewed— me because I was off on Vancouver Island deciding on my future with Jo Ann, and Steve because who knows why. I hiked out of town for a mile or so down the road until I found the trail and then followed it for another half mile. It seemed well-marked, so I said a little prayer to the trail gods and headed back toward camp. It would be Steve’s job to lead the next day. He would have to deal with any surprises.

Shooting Stars are one of the early flowers, coming up soon after snow has melted. They are all over our property now.

Back in camp, the situation quickly made me wish I had just kept hiking. Charlie made a beeline for me. My always dependable backup, ex ice hockey player, ex-bomb de-fuser and IRS dodger looked like he was about to break down and cry.

“Someone stole my Grandfather’s watch,” he blurted out.

It was a valuable family heirloom, precious to him. I did what I could to console Charlie and headed over to the pool to ask around. None of my Trekkers had seen anything suspicious or had even seen Charlie’s watch. I had a hard time imagining any of them stealing it. He had done everything possible to help them down the trail. There were other folks at the pool, however. Fortunately, as I recall, Charlie found the watch at his campsite, where he had left it.

Columbine with its unique shape.

My next challenge was Lose Yourself Dick, the forty something school teacher who had wandered off on his own. He had tackled his ample supply of snake bite medicine and was feeling no pain. In fact, he was challenging all of the teenage boys to wrestle him or at least jump on his stomach. I was sorely tempted to join the latter activity. He had also discovered a flagpole he insisted on climbing. I reasoned with him as best I could, but even when he was sober persuading Dick not to do something was close to impossible. I had just completed my highly ineffective effort when a Sheriff’s car came cruising in to camp. I walked over. One of our Trekkers was sitting in the back seat.

The Mariposa Lily is another member of the lily family. Its bulb was eaten by Native Americans and early pioneers.

“Can I help you?” I asked politely.

“Yes,” the Deputy Sheriff had responded, “I need to talk with the person in charge.”

I had another of those gut-wrenching feelings. Just three more days, I thought. Just get me through three more days. I desperately wanted to tell the deputy that the man in charge had checked out and gone home or was still on the trail.

“You’ve found him,” I said, putting on a brave smile.

“We just caught this young woman shoplifting,” the deputy reported in his official lawman voice.

“Shit!” I thought. But I said, “Okay, what do I need to do about it?” My unhappiness and resignation must have shown.

“Nothing this time,” he replied. “Because she is raising money for the American Lung Association, we are going to let her off with a warning.”

And me as well, I read into his statement. “I am sorry, Curt,” she had apologized and I had just sighed.

Indian Paintbrush is a colorful and common flower of the West.

Could anything else go wrong? Of course it could and likely would. I escaped by leaving camp when Steve came in and wandered off to a restaurant in town where I wasn’t likely to find any Trekkers. I drowned my sorrows in a large steak and a couple of well-earned beers. I seriously considered drinking more but I let my commitment to getting the Trekkers back to Sacramento in one piece over-rule my temporary insanity, which was demanding a six-pack.

Fleabane is the unusual name for this many petaled flower.

We rolled our Trekkers out of Foresthill early the next morning. I breathed a sigh of relief as I followed the last one past the city limits. Once again, Steve was leading and I was playing rear guard.

Fortunately, we had a short day. I had quickly discovered that being trail leader was a lot more fun than being rear guard. For one thing, you tended to get into camp a couple of hours earlier. For another, you weren’t constantly being bombarded by the question, “How much farther?” I had begun to respond with a stock answer, “Oh, it’s about twenty miles,” and had found that Trekkers stopped asking. If they persisted, my next response was, “It’s all up hill.”

Steve told me he had been moving some of the slowest Trekkers down the trail by telling them rattlesnake and bear stories and then walking on ahead. He said people made a real effort to keep up. Years later I would use the same technique in Alaska  with grizzlies. I suspect that neither of us would have qualified for the Boy Scout Leader Seal of Approval. Or even the Sierra Club’s.

Phlox hug the ground and add a real splash of color.

Around three, I came on Steve and our Trekkers milling about a closed gate. A vehicle was parked behind the gate and two official looking people were leaning against the vehicle. I was about to learn that we were paying the price for not reviewing the final section of the trail.

“What’s up Steve?” I asked, wondering if we had managed to do something else to bring officialdom down on our heads.

“No problem,” Steve said, “they are just blasting with dynamite in the canyon.”

His words were punctuated by a rumbling sound. The guards were blocking the road so big rocks wouldn’t come rolling down on people using the canyon trails. It sounded like a good idea. In 1974, plans were underway for building the Auburn Dam and flooding another section of the beautiful American River. Land speculators were greedily selling property along the future edge of the lake. Later, building or not building the dam became one of the most contentious environmental issues in Northern California. The dam still isn’t built, and will likely never be.

“Um, how long do they plan on continuing to blast?” I asked. I pictured our Trek coming to an abrupt end. It wasn’t a totally unpleasant thought.

“We are in luck,” Steve reported. “They are just closing down their operations and won’t resume until Monday.”

Since it was Friday afternoon and we would be out of the canyon by Sunday, I had to agree. It was refreshing to see luck lean our way, although it made me nervous. That night we celebrated the winding down of our adventure by feeding our Trekkers steak and fresh salad. The feast went off without a hitch except it was amusing to see the Trekkers eat steaks out of bowls with spoons. (Forks, knives and plates normally get left behind when backpacking.) Fingers became the primary eating utensil. It wasn’t pretty, but no one seemed to mind. Civilization had definitely taken several steps backward. Everyone went to bed happy, including me.

The Sierra Thistle can be a little prickly.

I’ll close today with a wild rose.


Friday: You are in for a treat. Lots and lots of fun and unique Burning Man sculptures.

Monday: Still thinking about it.

Wednesday: The final Sierra Trek blog.

Something Fishy… The Sealife Aquarium in Charlotte, North Carolina

We met this handsome Nautilus at the Sealife Aquarium in Charlotte, N.C.

I wasn’t expecting much from the Sealife Aquarium in Charlotte, North Carolina. It wasn’t because it was in Charlotte. After all, I had already been to the city’s small but impressive aviation museum that housed the plane that Captain Sully landed on the Hudson River. No, my prejudice was based on the fact that the aquarium was located in a shopping mall. I also had a slight bit of snobbishness because my go-to place for watching sea life up-close-and-personal is the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, recognized as one of the world’s best.

I did expect that the gift shop at the aquarium with its shopping center location would be packed with sea life made for snuggling.

Like how can you resist these eyes?

I am pretty sure that this octopus had a thing for seahorses.

None of this mattered, however. Peggy and I were on an outing with our grandkids Ethan and Cody, our daughter Tasha and her husband Clay. The aquarium was simply an excuse, something that the kids would probably get a kick out of. When I was their age, chasing crawdads in Webber Creek for our cookpot at home was about as exciting as life got. The little buggers had tiny claws that could pinch. They’d zip under rocks backwards so their weapons were facing out. I was cautious. Who knows what my reaction might have been had I come face to face with an actual shark.

Ethan and I share a moment in front of the major aquarium while a small shark and other fish swim by. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Our daughter Tasha with Cody. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The whole family (Cody, Peggy, Tasha, Clay and Ethan) poses in this ‘under sea’ shot.

Some Jaws music please. While Webber Creek had its share of crawdads, trout, and suckers, there were no sharks like this one at the aquarium. Had there been, I expect some of our old swimming holes wouldn’t have been old swimming holes.

So, I was surprised when we entered the museum. It wasn’t the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but it was pretty darn good. The display tanks were well done, the sea life plenteous, and the educational materials informative. I had as much fun as Ethan and Cody. I was also impressed that the aquarium had a strong conservation/environmental-action element to it. Here are a few of the sea creatures we met and enjoyed:

Peggy caught this Lionfish. It’s easy to see why it is a popular fish in home aquariums.

Here’s my shot of the lion fish. An old anchor cuts across the right of the photo.

I didn’t know that seahorses had freckles. They always look pregnant to me. The one on the lower left looks like it is puckering up for a kiss. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I like the way seahorses are always wrapping their tails around something, including each other. Question: Are several seahorses known as a herd like horses or a school like fish?

Weird. This appears to be an octopus that Peggy photographed. Maybe it flies.

My own octopus was a little weird as well. It appears to be doing a face plant.

I was really impressed with the colorful, ocean-like setting of the aquarium. An angel fish, fins aflutter, checks me out.

This spiny lobster did not meet my definition of what lobsters should look like. Where are the big, edible claws? When I looked this up, I also learned that our crawdads were in the lobster family! No wonder their tiny tails tasted so sweet.

This common sea-snail also goes by the name of marine gastropod. I wonder if it prefers the fancier name? Anybody who has played in tide pools knows that hermit crabs love to borrow these shells for their homes, preferably once the snail has vacated the premises.

A stingray with its potent, poisonous tail. The general rule is that if you leave them alone, they are happy to leave you alone. You don’t want to step on one however.

Nor do you want to mess with this fellow, a moray eel. Divers feed them on occasion. Not smart. They also lose their fingers on occasion. It’s like feeding a hotdog to a bear. Also not smart. Where does the hotdog end and the fingers begin?

Many aquariums have learned the magic of adding jellyfish tanks and adding colored lights for effects.

As beautiful as they are, they also pack quite a wallop if you manage to come in contact, a lesson I sadly learned when I was swimming in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa.

I’ll conclude our visit to the Sealife Aquarium in Charlotte with these beauties.


NEXT BLOG: The next to the last installment of my Sierra Trek Series. As we enter the foothills on our backpack trip across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, temperatures climb above 100 and one of my participants decides to go shoplifting in the foothill town of Foresthill. Hello Sheriff!


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.