Monday, June 24, 2013

OFF THE TRAIL (Part IV of the On the Road Chronicles)

I was tired; maybe fatigue is a better description.  I’d been on the road for almost three weeks and I’d been up early every morning chasing the sunrise.  I was barely one-hundred miles from home but there were a few more photos yet to be made.  After gassing up in Cameron I headed south on highway 89 and a few miles later turned into the Wupatki/Sunset Crater National Monument.  There was one particular place I wanted to photograph with my infrared camera.

Wupatki/Sunset Crater is two national monuments.  The northern section contains the Wupatki Anasazi Indian ruins and the southern section contains the extinct cinder-cone volcano, Sunset Crater.  Entering the Monument from the north I headed directly to the Wukoki Ruins, a ‘great house.’  I had in mind to reshoot a photo I’d shot years before, but this time in infrared.  The shot was from the western or backside of the ruin and I knew exactly where I’d have to stand to get the shot.  Since I was tired and lazy, I parked close and made a brisk walk to the ruins and around the backside to the vantage point I’d previsualized.  I stepped a few feet off the trail and squatted in the shade of a large boulder, aimed my camera, and waited.  And waited, and waited.  There were a couple of loud-mouth, morbidly obese tourons in my shot.  I thought, instead of retouching the people out of the photo, I’d just wait for them to leave, but they were moving slow and talking really loud.  I could hear their southern accents two-hundred yards away and now the fat cow was talking about me.

“Look!  That guy’s off the trail!” she exclaimed in her dumb-sounding southern drawl.  “He’s off the trail!  He’s off the trail!  The sign says ‘stay on the trail’ and he’s off!  He’s breaking the rules; he’s not supposed to be there!”  Her tone indicated she was clearly distressed by my horrible, off-the-trail transgression.  In her view, I was a huge asshole.

Shut up and move along, you cow, I muttered to myself as I waited for a clear 1/250 of a second to take my photo and get going.  Now she’s pointing me out to her fat friends.  Gee lady, get over it and move along, as soon as you move, so will I.  I was tired and in no mood for idiot tourists all cheesed-off about me being a few feet off the trail.

Finally she waddled out of frame.  I took the shot, bracketed a few exposures and was done.  Two minutes of photography after waiting fifteen minutes for the people to get out of my shot.  I made a brisk walk back to the ruins and on to my car.

When I got back to the ruins, loudmouth hillbilly-lady decided she needed to accost me about my off-the-trail rule violation.  Why do people think they can bitch me out with impunity?  Do I have a face that says I’m harmless and won’t mind getting yelled at by non-authority figures?  Do I look like that much of a wuss?  The next thing I know she’s hollering at me:

“Can’t you read the signs, you’re off the trail, you’re breaking the rules, you can’t do that!” she went on and on and on.

I listened while losing patience.  I don’t have time for this and you’re not a park ranger, lady.  When she finally shut her giant pie-hole I decided I really didn’t need to explain, no, I’d just give it right back to her.  I was tired and hot and ready to be home and had no time for idiots like her.  Since she’d already decided I was an asshole, I might as well be one.

“Madame,” I began, “I can tell by your accent you’re educationally disadvantaged, so I’d like to teach you a new phrase…” I paused for dramatic effect, “…Bite Me!”

I do believe she immediately fell ill with ‘the vapors.’  “Why I never…” she muttered.

Then her even more morbidly obese husband got into the act.  “Nobody talks to my wife like that, I ought to kick your ass!” he yelled at me.

Really?  I thought.  You assholes are going to do this?  “Ah!  Kick my ass?  Is that how you people solve your problems?”  I asked the husband.  “If you can even run down here and catch me you’d better bring her boyfriend too, Bubba.”  I taunted the fat dude I knew I could outrun.

They stood there and just sputtered and fumed, like the fat pissed-off assholes they were.

I continued on to the parking lot, got in my car, and drove off towards Sunset Crater.  I’m sure it would be at least another half-hour before their toothpick legs could transport their bulk to their car with the sacked-out suspension.

Really, is that shit necessary?  How unpleasant.  And, despite the so-called rules, it’s none of their business.

If you’re one of those color-inside-the-lines and always-follow-the-rules types then the fact that I was only a few feet off the trail won’t matter to you.  But most folks are more reasonable and most smart folks don’t care.  It’s not up to the tourists to enforce the rules.  Park Rangers enforce the rules and being a Park Ranger has been more about law enforcement for the past thirty years than naturalism anyway, so let them do their jobs.  There is no need whatsoever to accost a stranger who’s caused you no harm or inconvenience.  Let it go.  Or go get a Park Ranger.  Besides, what if I had been a psycho-asshole and really kicked the guy’s ass?  Would it be worth it to him then?

I guess I just look like one of those guys who is easily intimidated.  They had no idea of what an effective defensive weapon a tripod is….

I’m pretty sure I made an impression on those hillbilly assholes.  As for other impressions, well, I didn’t even leave a footprint on the ground.

So bite me!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

THE NAVAJO DOG (Part III of the On The Road Chronicles)

The little black Chihuahua puppy curled up into a ball in my arms.  She was shivering from fear and the cold.  There was no one around, absolutely no one but me.  There were no cars, no houses, buildings or structures of any kind in sight.  It was quiet except for the wind and the whimpering of the little dog.  I had no choice nor did I need to make a choice, I was keeping that pup.  I don’t know how she came to be here but if she stayed, she’d certainly die from exposure or predators or traffic.  I would rescue that dog, she’d ride with me for the rest of the trip and I’d take her home…

…The alarm on my wristwatch quietly beeped at four-thirty A.M.  This would be my last day of chasing the light on this photo-shoot and it was a good thing because I was tired.  I’d slept well enough in my room at The Recapture Lodge in Bluff, Utah but three weeks of early mornings and late evenings had taken their toll and the fatigue had set in.  I went to bed tired and woke up tired.  And I had weird dreams…

I packed up my equipment one last time, loaded the car, dropped off the room-key and refilled my coffee mug.  I’d done this drive a zillion times.  Leave Bluff; pass the Goosenecks of the San Juan River and Mexican Hat.  Onward through Monument Valley and then the Rez; turn left at Tuba City, pass Sunset Crater and hang another left onto I-17 in Flagstaff.  Run with the 90mph traffic to highways 169 and 69 and then I’d be home.  It had been a long shoot and the homing instinct had kicked in, but as always, I’d stop for some photography along the way, especially Monument Valley.

Passing Monument Valley there was one rock formation near Kayenta I wanted to photograph.  The locals call it ‘El Capitan’ which isn’t an official name; I’ve noticed a lot of large geological protuberances get called ‘El Capitan,’ and it seems to be a common moniker for officially-unnamed, um, mountains.  As I passed ‘El Capitan’ I drove through its shadow.  Thinking a backlit, shot from the shadow side photo would be interesting I found a wide spot on the road and prepared to make a U-turn.  But the wide spot was a good vantage point too, so I pulled further off the road, crossed a cattle-guard, parked and opened the back hatch to get a camera.

I heard the whimpering of the dog before I saw her.

Looking behind me I saw a little black dog.  She was friendly, but scared and crying and laying low on her belly.  She was just a puppy.  A furry mutt; all black with white legs.  As soon as I saw she was not a Chihuahua I was relieved I didn’t have to ‘rescue’ her like the dog in that dream the night before.  I’ve already got a Chihuahua puppy at home and he’s enough work all by himself.  So I petted the little dog and she whimpered and cried and rubbed her little body on my legs.  As I retrieved my camera from the car and mounted it on a tripod she scooted under the car and laid there in the shade, just like I’ve seen so many reservation dogs do.

I photographed ‘El Capitan’ and prepared to go back and get the shot I’d originally seen.  The little puppy was still under my car so I got a peanut butter cracker I had and tried to coax her out.  She wouldn’t take the cracker and she wouldn’t move.  Finally I had to just drag her out from beneath the car but as soon as I opened the door to get in the car, she was back under it.  Finally, I pulled her out from underneath the car again and set her on the ground about fifteen feet away.  I started the car and drove back to the highway, leaving the little dog alone in the desert.

I felt bad, but what could I do?  There was a Hogan about one-hundred yards from where I’d parked and I hoped she lived with the people who lived there.  Or maybe she lived in one of those trailers further down the road?  There’s a lot of feral dogs running around the Navajo Nation and she was just another.  I didn’t want to steal someone’s dog, assuming she was someone’s.  Certainly she belonged to somebody?  I checked my mirror as I got back on the pavement; I hoped she’d at least stay away from the highway.

I drove back to ‘El Capitan’ but the sun had risen higher and the shadow was no longer in the same place or as long, so I’d missed the shot.  Oh well, the other vantage point would have to do.  I did another U-turn and headed back toward Kayenta and home.  I drove slowly as I passed the place I’d left the little black puppy and searched the ground for her.  She wasn’t far from where I’d left her, wandering along next to the highway.  My window was down and I could hear her crying.  I had a really shitty feeling but I can’t rescue every dog I see.  There was hardly any traffic at such an early hour so I drove slowly for a while with the window down.  Less than a mile down the road I saw another little black dog with white legs, another puppy with the same markings as the Navajo dog.  This dog was dead.  Obviously hit by a car, with blood smeared on the highway.  It was the other dog’s sister, a less-fortunate litter-mate.  This is why the other dog was crying and whimpering so.

Damn, what an ugly sight on a beautiful morning.  I hoped that other dog would find her home.  Heck, I’d be happy if that dog simply made it through the day.

I felt really sad for that dog as cued up behind all the slow Indian drivers on the way to Tuba City.

Based on a lifetime of knowing a lot of different dogs I’ve come to the conclusion that most dogs are better than most people.  Dogs have pure souls.  Dogs don’t have egos.  Dogs don’t have ulterior motives.  Dogs exist to give and receive love.  All dogs, especially feral dogs that live on the Rez, need to be treated better.  They ought to be treated like family members.

If you wouldn’t let a four-month old human infant crawl along next to a highway, you shouldn’t let a dog either.  This is simple common sense.  But, now that I think about it, we don’t treat each other all that well and that’s why so many people just don’t give a damn about their pets.

Perhaps we should try it backwards?  Maybe if everyone treated their dogs and other pets better that would make them more inclined to treat people better?  I wish I had the answer…

I’ll bet I thought more about that dog that day than its owner did.  My dog Bruno got an extra hug when I got home.

Monday, June 10, 2013


“And I’d like a ground floor room please.”

“Sorry, only second floor is available,” said the woman at registration.

“Then put me near the elevator,” was the best I could ask for.

I always ask for a downstairs room at hotels because I’m lazy and, moreover, I’ve got a lot of camera cases and equipment I prefer to schlep as short a distance as possible.  Fortunately it was a short walk from the car, to the front door, to the elevator and then to my second floor room.  For my fourth and final trip all I was carrying were maps, a Kindle and a flask of rum for a cocktail in the room before bed.

As luck would have it, this time I waited and waited and waited for the elevator to come down one floor of the only two-floor hotel.  Finally the ‘ding’ of the elevator announced its arrival.  The door opened and people came out, giggling little tourists emerged, one after another after another.  What’s so funny?  The elevator was like a clown car as I hummed the backwards lyrics of the old Genesis song I always think of when waiting for elevators to empty; you’ve got to get out to get in…

As the last one of the giggling little tourons exited the elevator I jumped in just as the door was closing.  Finally!  I stabbed the “2” button, the door closed and then it hit me:

The Fart.

Is this what they were laughing about?  A giant, hideous, smelly freakin’ fart had contaminated every molecule of air in the elevator!  This was no little stinker but a fully fermented, from the bowels of the bowel, weapons-grade motherfucking fart.  It was a close your eyes and hold your breath if you want to live kind of fart. 

It was hideous.  I’m sure it was infusing my clothing.

If anyone on the second floor was waiting for the elevator when I got off I was just going to say to them:  “Hey, it was in there before I got in, I didn’t do it!”  Luckily the ride was short (I was able to hold my breath) and there was no one waiting for the elevator when the door opened on the second floor.

Whew!  Next poor elevator-rider won’t have anyone to blame.

Sonofabitch, I muttered as I inserted my card-key into the door.  Safely in my room I finally took an uncontaminated breath.  I sniffed my clothing but it only smelled like my own sweat, I was lucky.

I washed a glass and retrieved a Coke from the mini-fridge and prepared to mix a drink with the contents of the flask in my back pocket.  Rocks?  I need ice.  Grabbing the ice bucket I remembered seeing an ice machine next to the elevator and stepped into the hallway outside my room.

No ice machine.

Damn!  That ice machine next to the elevator was on the first floor.

I decided right then that drink didn’t need any ice.

No way I’m getting in that elevator now, that fart is still in there, waiting for its next victim….

Saturday, June 1, 2013


After spending the night in the unlikely-named Glasgow, Montana, it was about a 110 mile drive to the North Dakota state line.  It would be an easy drive on the nearly arrow-straight state highway 2.  Commercial-free jazz played on the XM satellite radio and the cruise control was set at the speed limit of 70mph.  The weather had been weird for the past few days.  Storms chased me across northern Oregon and late May snows in central Oregon called for a mid-trip course-correction, so I was in Montana sooner than I’d planned.  As I drove I scanned the skies.  Although the skies were partly sunny on the high flat plains of eastern Montana I could see a thunderstorm off to the north, and two more in the southeastern distance.  So far it was dry but I wondered if I’d be driving into heavy weather.  As a guy who watches The Weather Channel and as a child lived in Kansas for a while, I know what tornado skies look like and the distant skies were angry.

As fate would have it, it wasn’t long before I drove right into a Major Storm.  I don’t know if the road took me to the storm or the storm came to the road but conditions got bad quickly.  The windshield wipers went from intermittent to full blast.  My speed dropped from 70mph to barely 30.  The rains came hard, then the hail.  With the hail I started to worry about the car and the windshield especially.  Luckily the hailstones were small and sporadic.  Mine was the only car on a long, lonely road in a storm and I really wanted to get out of that storm.  I can deal with heavy rain, but I’d prefer not to drive in a hailstorm.  I searched the horizon for a tree; someplace I could park and hide until the storm passed.  Yeah right; have you ever tried to find a tree on a prairie?  There aren’t any, there was nothing at all; just a vast plain that I assumed was still there, behind the rain and evermore darkening skies.

Somewhere near Poplar, or maybe it was Culbertson, I saw a tree on the side of the road.  It was a pathetic little tree, but it would do.  I headed for that tree and parked under it, across the highway from an abandoned building.  The hail had stopped and the rain had lightened, somewhat.  I scanned the fancy high-tech XM satellite radio for a weather report but the nearest station was in Minnesota.  No useful information.  If I just knew which way the storm was moving…

As I sat in the car wondering, should I stay or go, another car came driving up slowly from the east.  It was a cop car, or more specifically, a cop SUV, one of those tricked-out heavy-duty go-anywhere kind of rural cop vehicles.  I rolled down my window and flagged down the cop.  He stopped next to me in the middle of the highway ---there was nobody else around for miles.

“Hey,” I yelled to the cop over the booming thunder, “Do you have a weather-report on that cop-computer in your car?”

“Sure do” He answered.  “And there’s a super cell sitting right over this area!”

“Does it indicate wind direction?” I asked, “Which way is the storm moving?”

“East.” He answered.

“East!  Maybe I can get out from underneath it by out running it?”

“Good idea.”  Answered the cop as he pointed west, straight down the highway from where I’d just come.  “But first we’ve got to outrun that!

I looked down the highway in the direction he was pointing and saw a funnel cloud forming.  “Holy shit!”

“Follow me,” Yelled the cop, “You’ve got a fast car, so keep up!”

With that, he whipped a u-turn, turned on his flashing red lights, and put the hammer down.  The next thing I know we’re hauling at 90-100mph, I’m on his bumper like a NASCAR driver and checking the rear view mirror for that tornado.

Four or five miles down the road the tornado had dissipated and the rains slacked.  The cop braked and motioned me to the side of the road.  We pulled off; I stopped next to the cop and rolled down my passenger window.

The cop leaned out his window and said, “Tornado fell apart and didn’t form, we’re clear.  If you continue east you’ll be in front of the storm.  If you can go southward, the weather’s even clearer.”

“Thanks so much!” I was truly grateful.  Just before I drove off the cop added one more thing:

“And no more speeding without an escort!”  He smiled.

“No problem.”  And I continued toward the state line.

By the time I got to Williston, North Dakota, it was mostly sunny.  Feeling optimistic after outrunning the tornado I ignored the cop’s advice and turned northward.  That turned out to be a Big Mistake but for a whole ‘nuther reason……