Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Asleep at the wheel; the quest to become a better photographer

So yeah...asleep at the wheel...I've not updated this blog since I got back from my trip in early June, but hey life has been hectic. Been busy...I had to plan and execute a payback for one of the perpetraters who rearranged my house for me while I was gone. Mission accomplished. Ever hear of "Christmas in July"? Well, that is what Pam came home to. I mean...that's what I heard anyway. I had nothing to do with it O:-). Also been busy taking pics. I've been pushing myself real hard to do what I, not eat Famous Amos cookies all day...although I love to do that...been out and about, and in studio when I can to get more experience. One thing photography has done for me; I look at the world completely different now. I see things, I don't just look at them. No matter where I go I'm constantly thinking about how the scene is composed, how it reacts to light, and how it may look from a different perspective. For instance, if you happen to be walking along a path somewhere...could be anywhere...your obvious reaction is to watch where you are going. Safety first, of course. But do this...stop and look around. Look down...get down on your back and look at the trees from a lower vantage point...turn around and look behind you...look closely at the the shadows and how they interact with the things around...lay on your stomach and look at a flower that's close to you and examine it...and take note how things in the distance become blurred when you are focused on something right in front of you...walk around and see how the scene changes when the sun is behind you instead of in front...or on your left instead of your right. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point now. While thoughts go through my head about how a scene like this would play out in a picture, it's more about the experience than what might look good on paper. The world is amazing and when I see people walking fast, jogging, or running along the lakefront and don't appear to be worried about anything but dropping a pant or dress size, I often wonder if they ever have taken the time out to just see things. I don't judge people by what I see, for I don't know any of these people. After all, we can't always be chillin out looking at nature like that. If so, we'd never get anything done and we would all look like we smoked a bag of weed or something. I spent some time recently in Madisonville and Lacombe doing just what I described. No, not smoking weed, but just taking in nature and looking ALL around instead of just what was in front of me. When I was in Madisonville at the end of the road (near the lighthouse) I was captivated by an old boat partially sunk in the water. There's an old pier that was partially destroyed (perhaps by Katrina) and some reminants of an old camp or something. But was I was most intrigued by was the few broken fishing lines and corks hanging from the old power lines leading out into the lake. Not sure why, but I just kept looking at them and a millions thoughts kept going through my head. I took some pics of all this and they can be seen here. I spent about 2 hours walking around the peninsula. While I took pics, I spent about 90% of my time just seeing everything. It was fantastic.
That's about all I have for now. More to come later. Perhaps not only will I continue to see what the world is all about, but I'll find the time to update this blog more often. Lord knows I have a lot of stuff to say (for a somewhat quiet person). Lots of thoughts about my Dad, life in general, and oh those Famous Amos cookies....

If you are a road warrior like me, check out (especially if you love the west like I do). Lots of great trip ideas if you happen to be heading that way. And if you are...let me know cause I wanna join ya! I'll bring the cookies!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

All Good Things Must Come To An End (From Sunday, May 30th.)

Pic #1 - I wonder how long this ore cart has been hanging around up here?
Pic #2 - 24 degrees outside...brrrr.
Pic #3 - My favorite little town on earth, Ouray, Colorado
Pic#4 - I see what Masayuki was doing while we were sleeping

What a great sound to wake up to. Hearing the Uncompahgre River roaring passed the open window was like a beautiful song to my that only nature could compose and with the cool mountain air filling my lungs I pause and savor the moment before I walk out onto the balcony. Peeking to my left I could see the first rays of sunlight hitting the tops of the mountains while everything else below 13,000ft. was still cast in shadow. But for a small area on the north side of town, this entire community is surrounded by tall jagged peaks and is known as the "Switzerland of America". It's pretty much land-locked and retains a lot of the original architecture from the 1800's, and it also has not been overrun by the rich and famous like Aspen and Telluride have. The walk up and down 3rd street (Hwy 550, the "main drag") thru town is easy, although not flat as the town is pretty-much built on a slant. Be careful if you are drunk, you may trip and fall on one end of town and wind up rolling down the the other end. If you ever go there, you will quickly understand why this is my favorite place in all of Colorado, and perhaps anywhere for that matter. But knowing what I have to do is not what I want to do, I pulled myself away from the river...glancing back a time or two just to get another quick look. We packed up the truck and began to head south through town towards the Million Dollar Highway and the towns of Silverton and Durango. Along the way, we passed the Ouray Chalet Inn. The last time I was here, I called this little hotel "home" for 5 days and it was the starting point for many hair-raising, butt puckering 4-wheel-drive adventures in the mountains surrounding this little Heaven on Earth. Amanda, my parents, and my nieces Sarra and Marissa were with me that first week of June, 2002. One more thing I have to thank my Dad for is introducing me to "Jeeping" in the mountains. There are so many beautiful sights that most travelers never get to see unless they get off the main highways and do some exploring. Yes, some of it is scary but ultimately the rewards are worth the risk. But the risk doesn't deter me...knowing full well that if I'm careful I have no greater chance of getting killed on these roads as I do driving down I-12 to work every day. At least up here there is virtually no chance of running into someone putting on their makeup while talking on a cell phone and eating a biscuit at 75mph. The vast majority of these folks are very courteous and are here for the same reasons as me...they understand the dangers and purpose of traversing these old wagon trails, railroad beds, and mining roads in order to share in the reward...knowing that so few people will lay eyes on these same vistas. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it's priceless when you add feeling the breeze, breathing the super clean mountain air, listening to the streams and rivers and wind blowing through the trees (up to about 11,500ft anyway...trees don't grow at higher elevations), seeing a deer, bighorn sheep, or bear going about their lives off in the distance, and feeling the warm Colorado sun on your skin. No traffic, no radio, no cell phones. Just nature. Anyway, back on track here, as we reach the end of town (which is a very short drive) the road immediately begins to climb steeply, with a series of switchbacks welcoming us to on of the most dangerous roads in the country. After a quick stop to get some pics of the town from above we head deep into the mountains and watch as the temperature drops on the thermometer in the truck and experience the coldest temperatures we encounter on the trip...24 degrees. After going through a couple tunnels and enjoying the breathtaking views, we pass the entrance to Engineer Pass. This 4WD road is popular because of its easy access off the main highway and access to other old mine roads that are prevalent throughout the San Juan mountains. I conquered this road in 2002 and really wished I had a 4WD right NOW cause we would be driving up this bad boy. It ultimately leads to Silverton, which is our next destination but I have to suck it up and take the blacktop to town. After stopping a few places along the way and checking out some old mines and old log cabins we pulled into Silverton and replenished the ice and gassed up. Although this town is a little bigger than Ouray, it retains a lot of its charm and architecture and is among my favorite places. AS we drove through town towards the road that would take us to Animas Forks (a great, and popular, ghost town) I kept an eye out for the campground at the end of town where we used to stay. As we drive up to it I see absolutely no signs of life there. The campground is closed...and it appears not just temporarily as many businesses will do for the winter...but for good. This is another special place for me. I can distinctively remember lying on my back on the smooth, weathered rocks next to the river at night and looking up at the most stars I've ever seen in my life. The only sounds being the gently rolling, shallow Animas River as it passes within a few feet of me...the wind through the trees that comes and goes as breezes pass by...kinda sounds like rain coming at you from a distance, catching up to you, and passing you by and the occasional wold or coyote somewhere in the mountains. It was the first time I actually saw satellites as they orbit the Earth. They appear as just pinpoints of light...kinda like a shooting star with the light trail and going much slower. They come from every direction as they make their way through space at 17,000mph...although from here they look like they are traveling at 7mph. The millions of stars put off just enough light to make out the silhouettes of the surrounding mountains and cause the snowfields near the tops of the peaks to glow. If there was ever a time and place where I felt the most at peace, I believe this was it. I'm sure everyone has "that place" they can go where all is right...for some it may be church, others it may be hiding out sittin on the toilet for awhile, a walk on the lakefront, in a hotel room with your buddies and a case of beer and funnel, your living room watching your kids play, or that moment when you say "hey ya'll watch this" just before you put the fake roach on your sister's table. I often think about that experience (lying by the river, not the fake roach), but it was amplified when I actually passed the campground. I thought "man I'd love to buy that place and bring it back to life"...who knows...maybe one day. AS we leave the pavement behind and start to climb in elevation we pass old mines and plenty other trucks as this is a fairly easy stretch of road to Animas Forks, which sits at a crossroads for other 4WD trails. There is actually a mine along the way where ore cars, still holding their cargo, hang from cables spanning the valley dozens of feet in the air...frozen in time (see pic above). Who knows how long they have been hanging there...50...60...80 any rate it's very intriguing to see. The last third or so of the road to Animas Forks is where it starts to turn rough. There is a huge sign explaining that only high-clearance and 4WD vehicles should proceed from that point. More on that a little later. As we pressed on, sections of the road are just enough for one vehicle to fit. We made is passes those areas with relative ease and then I got a glimpse of the town and just said "ahhhhh" to myself. OK so maybe it was because I had some flatulence (beef jerky for breakfast), but it was also because I had the feeling of meeting up with an "old friend" again. Last time I was here was 8 years ago, but that trip was not my first time visiting this historic place. I had been here a few times before as a kid, riding in the back seat of a rented Jeep Wrangler that my Dad was driving. I remember getting sunburned back there too but I didn't care. Well, just before we got to the town I noticed the orange cones at a spot where the road crossed over the Animas River. this sight made me a bit nervous. The road had obviously been washed out at some point...and not too long ago. It was repaired but it kinda looked like if you take one of those real skinny Band-Aids from the box (you know the ones I'm talking about) and try to cover a brush-burn the size of a silver dollar on your arm. The repair was not the whole width of the road, which was small enough as it was already...and the river was rolling along at a pretty good clip underneath the road. I was not going to let that sop me so we went across and let me tell you...when I say I had no room to spare on either side of my truck I had NO room. It would not have ended up good had I not crossed it just right. There were quite a few spots where Danny and I talked about his 4WD dually and where we could NOT have gone with it. This is definitely one of those places. But no risk, no reward, right? I was determined to get to the town. There is not a lot of preservation goin on here and it's the same story at many of these ghost towns. The severe winters at these elevations take their toll on these old log homes and businesses. In may towns only a handful of buildings remain were at one time dozens or even hundreds of structures once stood. Between the optional practice of actually taking the timber to new towns back in the day, vandals, fire, and the elements of weather an time these places are destined to eventually disappear for good. Some already have and are nothing more than a place-marker on specialized maps for enthusiasts like physical traces to be found. We walked around a bit and of course I took plenty of pictures (look for them on my website). Again...reluctantly we had to leave even though I really didn't want to. We passed the little sliver of a river crossing and were making our way back down. There was a group of Jeeps off to the side setting up camp or a picnic and I surely was wishing I was up there with them to enjoy the scenery for awhile longer. And then we see a little car coming up...a red Cobalt. WTF?? They clearly did not see the sign back there about the high-clearance and 4WD vehicles only. Then I thought...perhaps "high clearance" is up for interpretation. Kinda like "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". I'm thinkin at this point they just won't make it because we had just traversed the roughest part of the road and it was very rocky. I found a spot to pull over along the one-lane road to allow them room to pass and they stopped. The driver asked me how much further up the road was the his German accent. Dang tourists ignoring the warning signs LOL. So I told him it wasn't too far up the road and we marched on in different wishing I was heading the way they were instead of the way we were. We bid adieu to Silverton and made our way down to Durango where we had a late lunch/early dinner at Dairy Queen. I sure wish we had those around here...maybe I'll open up one of those too...maybe one day. The talk turned to heading home as I think the pace of the trip was catching up to us and the plan was to start heading home in about 12 hours anyway, so we decided to keep on going. Since the route was going to bring us through Albuquerque I decided to call my funloving cousin Kim and see if she would be home about 7p.m. And whaddaya know...she was in Vegas so we just kept on truckin'. Leaving Albuquerque and heading east on I-40 I was in familiar territory. Route 66, which I drove the length thru Texas and New Mexico last year, parallels the interstate in a lot of places. Sometimes it crisscrosses I-40, sometimes it hugs it, sometimes it's under it, and sometimes it just fades off into the dusty plains with barely a whimper. For as long as the sun gave me enough light to see, I looked out the side windows driving along at about 85mph (the speed limit is 75, but if you ain't doin at least 80 you gonna get run over) at some of the old portions of the overgrown pavement in the distance and thought about all those travelers who drove the Mother Road out west looking for the American Dream. And I think about all those people driving along the interstate having no idea of the crumbling history that sits 100 yards away (at times). Every now and then I'll catch a glimpse of an old bridge just sitting out there on the plains...the old stretch of highway that approached it is long will the bridges be gone too one day I suppose. And will anyone ever care that this history is now history? I know I will...and I will carry those memories with e always. For me, that will have to do I guess. So as I gaze upon these relics the setting sun put no a magnificent display and a fitting goodbye to New Mexico and Colorado. It was absolutely beautiful...and completely in my rear view mirror which served as another reminder that my truck was pointed the direction of home. One last place I wanted to stop was the Cadillac Ranch just outside Amarillo, Texas, but alas the Earth spun too fast for me and it was dark by the time we got there. I lost all my pics from this iconic spot last year...well not really lost but somehow I didn't back them up before I cleared my memory cards. Oh well, yet another reason to head out west again soon. Danny and I traded driving duties and I got myself some sleep. As we were heading back into Dallas I took over again and prepared for the last leg of the trip. We passed the old picnic area again (which I totally believe is gone now...*sigh*...) and the old familiar gas station just before where the railroad goes over HWY 380 in Denton. We jumped back on the interstate and so ended the back-roads travel. Interstate all the way home now. And as the sun was coming up, the all too familiar sticky, humid, and hot air greeted us like a 300 pound bully. Just 24 hours ago I woke up to the sweet music of the Uncompahgre River and cool mountain air. I wanted to turn around and head west so bad, but the realities of life awaited me back home. Work, cutting the grass, and the nice surprise my friends left me. As I walked in the front door I found my daughter's bed set up nice and neat in my living room. At least the bed was made..sheets tucked in tight, comforter turned down, and stuffed animals chillin out. I couldn't help but laugh...and start planning my revenge. I was too tired to put everything back where it belonged...and besides...they did such a good job I had to savor it for awhile...before it became history. Classic move ladies...but's us quiet ones you should fear the most.....hahahahahahahaha.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cruising along...and getting stuck in the snow...well it wasn't ME! (from Saturday, May 29th)

Masayuki enjoying the view of the Uncompahre River from the balcony of the Hot Springs Inn in Ouray, Colorado. She slept on those hooks because she didn't want to get a reputation by sleeping in a room with two guys.

The alarm on my Blackberry is SO annoying! But I guess if it wasn't, I would sleep right through it. But it's a new day with promise of new adventures...starting with the "free continental breakfast". What a joke that is...some Fruit Loops and Frosted Flakes (and probably the knock-off brand, not the REAL stuff), some bread to put in the toaster, and a few rolls. I'll settle for the beef jerky and Famous Amos cookies I have in the truck, thank you very much. After the truck is loaded and a quick stop for a fill-up of gas, which was by the way $3.16 a gallon, its back to yuppieville...err...Aspen. But luckily it's just to the outskirts of town so we can get to the Maroon Bells area and the ghost town of Ashcroft. Before getting ouf of there we will have passed through the traffic circle 4 times...once on the way through the evening before...then back through to get to Maroon Bells about 12 miles down the road...then back from there to the road to Ashcroft which is about 10' away from the entrance to the road to Maroon Bells, but another 12 miles down a different road...then back through to ironically pass the hotel we just stayed at, which is about 30 miles passed the traffic circle. So doing the math....30 miles each way to/from the hotel...carry the 1...looks like about 108 miles of doubling back. So at about 18 miles per gallon...that's 6 gallons at $3.16...I spent about $700.00 in gas going in circles. OK maybe just south of $19.00 but it was worth every minute and every penny. First stop is Maroon Bells. This is another magical place. I remember camping there when I was a kid...near the lake which, when the water is calm casts a perfect reflection of the maroon-hued mountains. They look like 3 bells sortof crunched up together hence the name (pics coming soon to my "Colorado" gallery on my website). They were mostly covered in snow so there wasn't much of the reddish color showing. And the wind was blowing about 98 mph so no reflection today. Just the clearest blue skies and the sound of the running water as the lake empties into the river. The breeze gave the slightly cool air a cold feel, but it was comfortable and not bad at all. I took some pics and then walked up the path along the lakeside, recalling the same walk on the same path many years ago...and many pounds ago...and hair lacking all the grey color...with my backpack full of water and God knows what junk food. I hadn't seen this sight through these eyes in so long, but I remember it so vividly. It was almost like a dream...not the kind where you are back in elementary school in your underwear...but like I had been there just yesterday. So I made a mental note to myself that I will come back here and plan for more time to take the hike as we had done years ago...from Maroon Lake up to Crater Lake. I might need an oxygen bottle and a winch but I really want to do it. So after some pics, reflection, and letting loose a little flatulence (oops) its back to Maroon Creek Road...and back through the traffic circle...and going 10' through it and on to Castle Creek Road to Ashcroft. Have a mentioned that is must be a state law where everyone must own a bike? And they must ride it on the highways? Ok well, there ya go. Anyway on to Ashcroft, another old ghost town and a "must stop" along the way. There are a few buildings left and an old wagon sitting in a field. According to the sign there is some preservation going on, but it appears mostly aged. The old hotel has some new wooden steps and porch on it, but otherwise everything appears to be original timber. The wagon just fascinates me (again, more pics to be posted on my website but those of Ashcroft will be in the Ghost Towns gallery). It is deteriorated badly, but I wonder who may have rode on it, how did it end up in this spot, etc. When I look around these old towns a million questions go through my mind like that...ok maybe I'm exaggerating...more like 700,000 questions but still. After walking around, taking some pics, flatulence (oops, well you know to scare the bears away), and reflecting on the past it's time to get on the road again. So after passing through the traffic circle for the last time the open road calls. We passed through some beautiful country and took the quick side trip to Marble. Not much going on here, but LOTS of marble slabs all over the place. The quarry here produced the marble that is used for the Tomb of the Unknown Solder. A quick u-turn and it's back to the Highway. We stopped for lunch in the little town of Hotchkiss. Danny got an elk burger at a little local restaurant, and I got a cow burger (for a change). While he said it was good, it was obviously a frozen patty which is what we were not expecting. So much for trying something different...he said it mainly tasted like a frozen cow burger. We then headed down Hwy 92 towards Blue Mesa Reservoir. This narrow 2-lane road gave us some spectacular views...and scary too. As many of the other highways around here, one wrong turn and you will not be waking up in the morning. I realize I hadn't mentioned Masayuki yet. Well, she sat in the back and was scared stiff...litterally. After stopping a few places along the way, one of them for me to get my "towering aspen trees" shot (will be posted in the Colorado gallery) we were headed down passed Telluride and to the ghost town of Alta. As we exited the highway and onto Alta Lakes Road, it was soon apparent to Danny that I will go just about anywhere to see what I want to see. The road quickly turns into a steep, one lane, unpaved butt-puckering (that was Danny's term for it) drive up the side of a mountain. The rules of these Jeep Roads, as they are commonly known around here, are that the person going uphill has the right-of-way. If you should meet someone and cannot pass (which most if it was this way) the person coming downhill either has to give way...even if it means backing up. Not something that you really want to do. So as we gain elevation we begin to see snow patches around...then there are some small snow patches in the road...then there are some big snow patches in the road. Not enough to stop me. Then came the point where I realized we were not going to make it to the top. We were at a switchback and could see there was just too much snow covering the road to go any further. Then we see a white Explorer sitting in the road up the hill. I thought they were backing down and we realized they weren't moving. Danny suggested we go see if they need help, which we did. We walked up and saw these women walking around trying to stick rocks under the tires. They had tried to plow through the snow and got high-centered so bad that even in 4-wheel drive they could not budge. There was a couple in a Toyota FJ trying to come down, which they couldn't because these girls had the road blocked. So then I start to think...was the Presidential election controversy in Florida with the "hanging chads" handled properly? After that we tried to push the truck out while the driver gassed it in reverse...then my thoughts turned to "if this thing breaks loose and slided backwards, the next thing it will hit is my truck and they will both be out of commision". But not to fear, that thing didn't budge. We tried jacking it up to put as many rocks under the tires as we could but that didn't work. So then I tried to back my truck up the hill to hook my strap to it and pull it out. Well, I guess the exra pounds from the Nerds just made my ass too heavy to get traction cause I kept getting so far and my wheels would spin. At one point my front tire got close to the edge and I thought Danny was gonna have a heart attack. Not me tho...I knew what I was doing. So after changing my tighty whiteys and taking a deep breath we realized that I just wasn't going to make it. So I drove back down and parked out of the line of fire. So then the decision was made to have the FJ push the Explorer and see if they could free it up. It didn't take much of a push and it was broken free at last. Oh, and that was after the dude coming downhill on the bike said "well, there isn't much I can do for you" and kept on truckin. Gee, thanks for nothing. I was sooooo tempted to get them all to take a pic with Masayuki but I think they had been through enough so I didn't mention it. Everyone got down the mountain OK and I didn't get to Alta. I was very disappointed because I keep reading that this town will be nothing but a memory soon. It is very close to Winter Park where many high-rollers live and word it the property this ghost town sits on is slated for development. I lost all my pictures of the town in Katrina and I was really hoping to get more before it is gone forever. So it's not like I need an excuse to go back to Colorado, but I really want to get to it before someone is parking a Mercedes where the miners bunked a hundred years ago. We passed back through Telluride and stayed in my FAVORITE Colorado town, Ouray. I absolutely love this little town. We checked into the Hot Springs Inn, in which all the rooms have a private balcony overlooking the river. We then drove into town and got some GREAT pizza (for a change) and some ice cold Bud. I quickly forgot about my missed opportunity with Alta and counted my blessings for being back in this town I love so much. It's known as the "Switzerland of America" because of its location in a small area surrounded by mountain peaks. The little bar we ate at was just perfect. I soaked it all in...what a great evening. So when we got back to the room we opened the window and fell asleep to the sound of the Uncompahgre River rushing by just outside...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Masayuki is rollin along...and gets injured...oops...(from Friday, May 28th)

Pic #1: Masayuki breathing some of the fresh Colorado air on Phantom Canyon Road

Pic #2: Masayuki at the "Brass Ass" casino. She didn't win any money...she just couldn't get a good hand.

Pic #3: Masayuki at the top of Independence Pass near Aspen


I can't remember a time where I slept about 14 hours before...notwithstanding those times after surgery when I was taking pain pills. I don't like them cause they make me feel like I'm on another planet somewhere. I know what you are thinking so don't bother saying it. Anyway after the previous day's marathon 20 hour drive with no sleep and a greasy dinner (big surprise there) I took a shower and the plan was for us to check out the local scene in Pueblo. But once I stopped and put my head on the pillow I was done. We headed out the door about 6:30 a.m. or so and went straight west into the mountains. We hit Phantom Canyon of those awesome unpaved backroads with tunnels and bridges and rivers and mountains all around. This one was quite tame compared to some I have been on before, and some we hit on this trip (more on that in follow up posts). We encounterd but 2 cars the whole trip. One of them we happen to meet head on at one of the one-lane tunnels. So being courteous I backed up and let them through. The second car came up behind us and again, being courteous I stopped to let them pass me by as I could see the Colorado plate on the front of the car. I figured it was another local that likes to drive these roads at 70 mph but in this case it was a couple from Florida who was heading to the casinos in Cripple Creek. They pulled up along side and asked us if we were lost. I should have said "yes, I was going to the store for some hot dogs and I think I missed a left turn in Albuquerque". But, being courteous, I was polite in saying "no" and told them we were going to Victor and Cripple Creek. They explained they live in Florida and come up to the casinos. Danny tried to inquire as to whereabouts in Florida they live, but they sped off. I guess the "double jackpot points" on the Wheel of Fortune slots were about to end or something. So we pressed on slow and stopped a few places for pics. Danny also inquired about drinking water from a mountain stream so we figured what-the-hell why not? So he did...we were waiting for the cramps or glowing skin and it didn't happen so it must have been OK. We arrived in the small town of Victor and checked out some old mines which are all around town. Then we drove the additional 6 miles to Cripple Creek. This is one of the few towns in Colorado which allows low stakes gambling. And just about every building there is a casino. We decided to grab a bite to eat before pressing on (I got pizza for a change). After manuvering passed the busses which obviously had brought in crowds from the local retirement homes we found our way to Independence Pass which we needed to cross before getting to Aspen. It had just opened from being closed all winter. This is one of the most beautiful drives around and it crests out at over 12,000 feet...and it's not for the weary (I'll have pics posted in my "Colorado" gallery on my photography website soon). There are spots where waterfalls empty onto the roadway...we kept seeing wet cars coming from the other way and wondered what was going on. I had not been on this road in about 28 years or so and it was just as spectacular as I remember it. And just after taking the pic by the see...I put Masayuki in my back pocket because walking over the was a lil slippery and well...I slipped...and fell on top of her and...well...thankfully I had kept that piece of tape holding her head on after I glued it because her head may have gone rolling down the side, gaining speed and snow until she was a 10' snowball barrelling down the side and...oh I don't even want to think about the damage she could have done. Had that happened, I would have thrown her body into the little Subaru next to me that the foreigners were in and said "they did it". So anyway her head is still attached...somewhat...and I'll re-glue it later. We also stopped at the ghost town of Indepedence. Part of the reason for me take this trip was to visit a half dozen or so of these relics before they return to nature. I have a place in my heart for the old towns as they pique my curiosity about how life was back then. It certainly was not easy. No would we do with the kids? Anyway we arrived in Aspen and damn has that place changed. Way too much big money around there for our tastes. People who saw us driving in my lowly Avalanche probably thought we worked for the sanitation department or something. Lots of Beemers, Mercedes, etc. riding around that town. We walked around a bit and really didn't like it...we felt out of we went to to a town that just sounded more like blue collar..."Carbondale". We checked in the hotel and walked across the street to a little 50's style diner and had a few beers and dinner...and that's about it for the day. See ya!
P.S. Since I was on the east side of the continental divide, (as seen in the picture from Indepence Pass) had her head rolled down the side of the mountain and ended up in the river, it would have eventually wound up in the Mississippi River and ultimately in the Gulf Of Mexico as opposed to the Pacific Ocean had I been on the other side of that sign. about adding insult to injury had her head been tangled up in that oil spill...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Masayuki in Colorado; Don't forget to look down; Reflection

I wanted to scream! I can't stand sitting in traffic and the anticipation of getting out of town just made it that much more frustrating. Finally I get to Danny's apartment and get some relief as he picked up a Little Ceaser's pizza as a pre-trip meal. Who can't be happy about a pepperoni pizza? So with a full belly, tank full of gas, Red Bull, Lemonheads, beef jerky, flatbread (wheat - you know gotta think healthy here), and Masayuki in tow we were headed west. We hit some bad weather between Baton Rouge and Lafayette and it rained much of the way to Shreveport. 10:20 pm and we cross into Texas. About 2:30 a.m. we crossed into CLAY county (holla!). A few Red Bulls and Lemonheads later, we stopped about 4:00 a.m. to take a quick snooze...well we tried anyway. Not really getting any good sleep we pressed on and since we were making very good time (that's what driving without sleep will do) we drove up to the top of Capulin Mountain and got a glimpse of the snow-capped Rockies many miles to the west. At this point I figured it was time for Masayuki to see the light of day. We took a couple pics for her scrapbook so she can prove to her buddies sitting in the box back home that she was actually there. I think there are some trust issues there, but she doesn't really say anything about it. While I did glue her head back on, she still has an "aid" present to keep it in place just in case. Should the glue not stick in this high altitude, I would not want her head to mistakingly fall off, roll down a mountain, and be discovered many years later by an archaeologist who thinks it is a 1000 year old Japanese relic and have history books re-written to show the American Indians were preceeded in North America by Chinese doll makers. Pics to be posted later...I'm too tired to explain. On the way out from Capulin we stopped along the road where there was an old car and windmill that was too photogenic to pass up. While I was walking around taking shots from different angles I was reminded of a rule for travelling in the southwest...don't forget to look down. There are rattlesnakes that might not appreciate photographers tresspassing in their hood to get photographs. Luckily, he knew who was boss here and he quickly retreated to his hole. I didn't stick around long enough to see if he was going down there to get some buddies or a .45 to welcome me to the neighborhood. But seriously tho, rest assured I will play closer attention to where I am walking. A hospital visit is NOT in the plan here. Tomorrow we are heading into the high country via some old twisting and turning dirt backroads. Gonna check out some old mines (from a distance as they are VERY dangerous), ghost towns, and beautiful scenery. Masayuki is a little nervous, but a lil shot of Tequila should take care of that for her.

I have to say, this trip has been one of reflection and quite emotional. It's only been about a month since Dad has been gone. Throughout this journey I have been reflecting on the many familiar places and recalling memories of the many trips we took through here when I was a kid, and the last trip we made as a family back in 2008. We had so many different vehicles over the years, from the LTD ex-police car to the many vans, motorhomes, and station wagons. We always stopped at the gas station near where the railroad tracks pass over highway 308 in Denton, TX. This was always the spot that I remembered as the "beginning of the adventure" for here is where we bid adieu to the interstate for a long, long time. Hundred and hundreds of miles of two lane and four lane highways, all the way to extreme northwest New Mexico where we would jump on I-25 and head into Colorado. When I passed that station yesterday what I saw was a dark, closed station with no one around. But what I saw in my mind was my Dad pumping gas into the old Rockwood motorhome while I waiting inside for him to come pay for it so I could get more junk food that I didn't really need because we had plenty already. I remembered riding in the bed that was over the van chassis and looking out onto the plains of Texas, waiting for a train to pass to add some excitement to what, at the time, was pretty boring. I certainly don't think the same when I make the same drive now. I was looking for the picnic area just before Decatur, TX but I think it is gone now. They are widening the road to a divided, 4 lane highway instead of the old 2 lane it was forever. I was heartbroken to see that it appears to be gone (I'll check when I pass in daylight on my way back). I remember so many stops there to eat lunch. We even stopped there in 2008 and it looked the same to me as it always did. To me, it was a sacred place and if it is gone I will feel as tho a small part of me has gone with it. Driving through the small towns along Hwy 287 I recall the places we ate. I'm sure we hit every Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen along the 400 or so miles of it. Another special place for me is the park In Dumas, TX. We used to take a break from the road, eat some sandwiches, and swing on the swings. It was a nice chance to run around a bit before the last push onto New Mexico. I remember looking out the window from my high vantage point in the motorohome; the bed above the van-front end in the class "C" Rockwood. This was the best seat in the house. I could see so much from up there; the rows planted in the farmland that made patterns that seemed to "flicker" as we passed them at 65mph; the old farmhouses off in the distance; the never ending highway that seemed to fade into the horizon as the heat from the blacktop blurred the line between land and sky. One of the biggest thrills was waiting for Capulin Mountian to come into view from behind Sierra Grande. As the highway snakes around this mountain, which by the way is the largest "single" mountain in the U.S., it strategically hides Capulin until you get to the northwest side. The very top of Capulin is the first view, and because of my vantage point I was able to see it first. As we rounded the mountain more and more of Capulin is there until alas, the whole beauty of this extinct volcano is there for the weary traveller to see. We always stopped and took pictures even though we had taken then from the same spots so many times before. As we came upon her today I felt the same anticipation and excitement as I always had. I was waiting to get that first glimpse of her summit and as usual, she was there as she has always been. I drove up to the top and looked out at the Rockies in the distance and remembered seeing this same view through these same eyes that were a bit closer to the ground back in the days (hey I was short, what can I say). But a piece of me was missing. This was the first time I had been up there without my Dad. Mixed emotions to say the least, as this has been as much a travel back in time as it has been a new adventure. Knowing my Dad had seen these same sights for 35 years in a row and how it never got old to him makes me appreciate these same sights today and that is never gets old for me. He loved this and I have acquired that same love, although it took me years to realize it and see everything around me, not just look at it. So tomorrow again I am going places that I have not been to without my Dad being present. Having Danny along is a big help as we talk about things and it keeps my mind occupied. And, well, I guess I'm not totally without my Dad on this trip. I am wearing a ring of his that his mom gave him when he was 16 years old. It's a small ring with a "C" on it, but it is larger than life in meaning to me. I'm off to get some more sleep. Thanks Dad for introducing me to the beauty that this wonderful country has to offer, and for the years of great memories we had exploring it. I will pick up where you left off and continue the journey...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Inside Job

Well...I guess I can't blame anyone but myself. Maybe I should have waited to start talking about those ugly gifts. Maybe I should not have told anyone I was going out of town. Maybe I should have taken my key back from my sister's house. Maybe I should have burned all those ugly gifts when I had the chance. I arrived home from work today, thankful to see no Santa on my porch, toilet paper in my trees, or the rubber arthritic see-through hand stuck to my front door. But, as I walk inside...damn! Right there on top of my can see the pic. The first thing I thought of was...I would like a vanilla wafer. But the second thing I thought of was "those suckas done got my family involved in this racket". So I stopped by my sis and of course she "tried" to act all innocent, but the smile on her face told me otherwise. Besides, she has a key and lived 2 doors down so who else could it be? I didn't see any broken windows so I knew she either put it there or let them in. So after holding her little doggy Prissy hostage, she confessed. Revenge shall be mine and now my only, OLDER (of course...duh) sister is in the mix.

More to come from the road soon. Oh, and by the way, Masayuki is repaired (somewhat) and she is ready to roll! See ya soon!
P.S. Cat, I didn't mean any of that. Thanks for getting my mail and watering my plants. Or should I wait and thank you when I get back, just in case you water my mail and get my plants?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Masayuki loses her head **WARNING: GRAPHIC PICTURE **

So after going to the grocery, also knows as visiting "Wally World" I got the truck all washed up for the road trip. That is one of those crazy little things that I MUST do. I can't go on a road trip with a dirty truck, knowing full well that I'll be hitting some dirt roads and it will be filthy in no time. Call me crazy but it is what it is. When I got done with that, it was time to head to my sister's house for some birthday celebrations. And of course, Masayuki made an appearance and was gonna take some pics with the birthday boy and girl. BUT...I left her on the kitchen table and I went into another room then I heard those dreadful words..."oh no". I figured either she prematurely went for the cake or she was shattered to pieces. Then word reached me that she tipped over and her head fell clean off. It just rolled around the table like a marble...well a marble with an ugly hairdo. I thought it was a joke at first but as you can clearly see in the picture, it is true. At least she did not share the same fate that Mrs. Claus did at my 40th birthday party. Thanks to my great friends I received the "ugly gifts" in front of my friends and family. All I could say was "I'll have to explain this to you all". Then gravity somehow grabbed a hold of Mrs. Claus and she was history. So Santa makes his way through the world, landing on porches and hiding in closets, as the merry-go-round of ugly gift re-giving keeps on happening. At this point Masayuki will be repaired, either by crazy glue, duct tape, or both. Whatever it takes, she is coming with me on this trip, head or no head. So fear not folks, there will be updates with her travels as originally planned. That's all for now..there will be plenty more when I get on the road real soon.
A great quote I recently received via email: "Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it." Wow that is so, so true if you think about it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ups and downs

 started out just fine. I woke up before 8 a.m. without an alarm and that certainly is a rarity. Had the day planned out...cut the grass, water the flowers again so they know I love 'em, run some errands, and show up at the two functions I was invited to. the front grass cut, did a lil cleaning, and took a break for lunch. Well...the lunch part wasn't bad but the "break" wound up lasting all day. I sat by the computer and that was a wrap. I figured while I was waiting for the food to cook I would do a little more planning for the road trip coming up here shortly. I don't normally do a lot of planning...just kinda go where the wind takes me...but I'm trying to cram a lot in to a few days so I'm plotting out my moves. What got me today was that some of the places I'm planning on visiting are areas I haven't been to since I was a kid. It made me think about my dad. It hit me when I was looking at the Maroon Bells area near Aspen. I was looking on Google 3-D Earth maps (man that thing is freakin crazy cool!) at the lake in front of the mountains. You can look at it from ground level, just as if you are standing there. The last time I was there was with the whole family, many years ago. Well, one thing led to another and all I kept thinking about was the great times we had on vacation. Dad and I made up our own "highway" games to pass the time...especially for the 600+ miles we always drove through Texas...each way. We would try to predict what type of car would be coming in the opposite direction on the highway. We would do that for hours. And he always kept in the game until I was the one who got tired of it...he never ended it because he knew it entertained me. I also thought back to our last trip together. In 2008 we all took two weeks and went up to Wyoming. I'm SO SO SO thankful that we were able to go. Lots of GREAT memories just like the rest. It was a far cry from our very first trip out there...1975...with 7 of us piled into a 1971 Ford LTD ex-police car. Good thing gas was cheap back then...that thing probably got about 7 miles to the gallon. I have never been the same since that first trip. The love of the mountains and the west run through my blood...and I have my dad to thank for that. With the memories of all the vacations running through my mind...nothing else got's been a rough day. I am...mentally exhausted. I'm going to watch some TV and try to think about something else for awhile. Goodnight world. Goodnight Dad...thank you for so many great memories...I miss and love you very much.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Masayuki joins "guys night out"


Pic # 1 (standing) Mike, Shawn, and me (sitting) Danny, Chris (with his hand wrapped lovingly around Masayuki - keeping her safe), and Craig

Pic#2: Our GREAT waitress Dena and our chick Masayuki.

So today started out with a trip to my old stomping grounds in Chalmette, La. I didnt venture too far in, just to the funeral home and to Discount Tire to get the tires rotated and balanced on the Avalanche for the upcoming road trip. Ate at Wendy's (spicy chicken nuggets are the BOMB) and headed back to the North Shore. All that rain we had on Sunday and Tuesday seemed to do nothing for the flowers in the garden so I watered them before they hired a lawyer and sued me for abandonment. But then's Friday so I guess they could use a little attention. Looks like the grass can use a cut too but that will have to wait. With the watering out the way I stopped by my Mom's to drop off some paperwork and headed to get the oil changed in the truck. Two things done before the road trip and now it's time to head over to the Beach House bar in Mandeville to get together with the guys. Of course, I HAD to bring Masayuki along for her first night out in 6 months. She's been couped up in the house so I had to get her a night on the town before she hired a lawyer and sued me for abandonment too. And what a fantastic night it was. The 6 of us went to school together...and not just high school. Throughout points in elementary, middle, and high school we were together, and now many, many years later here we are all having some beer and talking about where our lives have taken us since way back then. Band practice has given way to jobs, wives, ex-wives (not you Shawn) and grey hair (well, just me). It was an absolutely great night and I'm looking forward to the next go round (who's buyin next time?). And damn...the Beach Burger with bacon is slammin! Masayuki really didn't have much to say...could be because she spent most of the night in my camera bag. But she really did enjoy being in Chris' hand for a few minutes. Most action she has had in a long, long time (that I know of). Could be like Toy Story...when I leave for work she could be partying with the Precious Moments dolls. I did notice that some of the vodka was missing....hmmmm...
SPECIAL THANKS to Dena for taking care of us and being a great sport and letting me take a pic with her and Masayuki.
So...who knows where Masayuki will wind up next...stay tuned...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meet Masayuki...the one-handed Japanese woman "made in China"

Pic #1: Me (dig the long hair) and Masayuki moments after our introduction.
Pic #2: Masayuki posing next to her half sister who goes by her Indian name "Hair that looks like a squid coming out of my head".
For the entire picture library of her travels visit my website at and look for the "Where in the world is Masayuki" gallery.
So...Christmas 2009...a time of caring and sharing. A time for celebration. A time for remembrance. A time for giving hideous and vulgar gifts. What would Christmas be like without ugly gifts? So it was then that I was introduced to Masayuki (which means "happiness" in Japanese). We had a lot of fun, especially when we hid all of the ugly gifts bestowed upon us that night in strategically placed areas around Pam's house. Some were hidden better than others and they were all eventually found...and after calling all of us some choice words the retaliation began. I arrived home after spending the New Year in Austin to find my long lost Japanese bombshell on my front porch with a note (I will keep this blog "PG" so it shall not be repeated here). As an added bonus, my rocker was removed from my porch and was in my driveway, and seated on it was the ceramic "Santa" that has been passed around quite a bit (more on him later). Alas my porcelin skinned sweetheart was home with me. So there she has sat on my dresser for months...awaiting her fate...who's house would she go to next? Of course all this time I'm plotting my next move...who gets her and how? Mr. Claus has been painted to represent Tulane University, Peyton Manning, left on lawns, in trucks, and in closets and was recently dressed in a Saints jersey with a bag on his head. So I had been cooking up some ideas (I won't share them here 'cause I still might need them) until I thought about this: I'll take her on my travels and document it. I'm preparing for a road trip and I'll have her along for the ride. Who knows where she will go or people she will meet. For that...stay tuned to this blog. For now, she has only been to Mandeville and Abita Springs (at least since I got her). I'm sure before she came to me she spent a lot of time cramped up in some shipping container on the Pacific Ocean on a Russian vessel with a French crew. At least now she has some air conditioning and doesn't have to deal with those pesky rouge waves. Lisa, Chris, Chris, Stacy, Pam, Kenny, Melissa, Anthony, John, Shawn, Rob, Tanya, Erin, Vincente, Dale, and Jen...just because Masayuki is coming with me on my travles don't even think for a minute that I don't have a replacement for her. Will Christmas come early for you? Maybe, maybe not....more to come.
If you like ghost towns as much as I do, check out the website

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Are they crazy? Am I crazy?

So this was supposed to be posted last Sunday night...however me and anything that requires a password cannot play nice lately. that cooler heads have prevailed...on with the show...
The whole house first thought was that someone ran through the fence and into the back of the house. I jumped up and soon realized it was a rumble of thunder that woke me from a deep sleep in about 2 milliseconds. Having your backyard up against a busy street with trucks that rumble down the road, you get used to hearing the rumble but not where it sounds like the windows are about to shatter. So after I got my heart out of my throat I sat down and listened to the rain and watched as the lightning flashed through the blinds. Thunder right after so it was a bit unnerving. What do I decide to do? Great day for a drive out in the country. A friend of mine told me about an area around Philadelphia, Mississippi that had a lot of old barns and houses, things I really like taking pictures of. So I figured why not, even though I knew I wouldn't take many pictures, if any today. So I gathered up my gear, set the trip odometer to 0, and set out on the road. Of course I had to stop at the gas station right up the street and get an Icee. They have the best around. I always have something to drink with me when I go on the road...whether I am thirsty or not. It's like I think I'm gonna get dehydrated or die of thirst, or just habit. Not quite sure yet. So I head out, driving up north towards Franklinton and there are not too many people out today. Gee, perhaps it could be the torrential downpour but who knows. As I am gettin into Miss. I'm seeing a couple old gas stations and mark them on the GPS to come back on a better day. All the while I'm getting my orientation right...this one is on the east side of the road so I should come back in the evening for the best light...check... As I am driving up Hwy 27 I see a group of motorcycles. About 12 in all driving down the highway in the pouring rain. Of course my first thought is "are they crazy?!!" But soon after saying "wow" a couple times (I think I may have even said it out loud) I start to think...maybe they are just doing something they love to do and who am I to think they are crazy? Just because I wouldn't do it doesn't mean that someone else wouldn't. People may think I'm crazy for driving my truck in the pouring rain, listening to Armin Van Burren's "A State of Trance 2010" while getting excited about finding abandoned buildings when most of the "normal" people would not go out if they didn't have to on a day like this. So it made me think about something...who figured out that a "day" is not actually a full 24 hours's 23 hours and 56 minutes? And who's idea was it to add all those minutes up and give us February 29th every 4 years? Wow. 464.9 miles later I am home. Some observations on my trip:
  • I saw lots of potential photographic subjects, but I already knew the weather was not going to cooperate. One of the very few shots I took is of the lonely railroad tracks posted here. I stood in the rain a few minutes thinking about those that have travelled up and down these tracks...
  • There are a lot of chicken farms in Miss. And I saw where farmers proudly display who they are affiliated with...Tyson...Sanderson Farms...etc. Then I wondered. If these competing farmers should have a dispute, do they egg each other's houses? I mean, they don't have to drive down to Winn Dixie and buy a dozen eggs like we do. They have all the ammunition in the world and it is reproduceable.
  • The church building business has to be lucrative. There are churches everywhere. There were a couple spots where I could have stood in the same spot and thrown rocks and hit 3 different churches. Well, maybe thats not fair cause I can throw rocks pretty far. But anyway, you get the point. And the parking lots were all full. I could have stolen all the pink flamingos off front lawns that I wanted to and no-one would have ever known.
  • Since we are talking religion, I found myself driving alongside a hazardous materials truck on I-59 heading home. I was nervous enough...then when I saw the vehicle number (for the company I suppose) on the back of the was 666. Well, with all the lightning and stuff from earlier on my mind, I gunned it. I didn't want to be anywhere around that thing. Then I thought...perhaps the place where they pump down the chemicals that keeps hell burning must be somewhere in southern Mississippi. If I had that exact location...hmmm....maybe I should have just followed him.

All in all it was a great trip. I was able to relax (which is usually the point of me getting on the road anyway) except for the whole Devil's truck thing. There were places where I crested a hill and I could see for miles around. It was really beautiful in spots. Oh, and the tip was a good one. There were some really good photo ops so I'll have to head back on a better day. Another tip I was given...don't eat at a particular chicken restaurant up there. I won't say the name of it...but the initials are KFC. She found something in her food...perhaps from a pissed off farmer?

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