Saturday, April 25, 2015

Grand Canyon; Pies for Dinner? Kaibab National Forest; A Minor Misadventure; Needles; Pricey Gas; An Empty Hotel; Thanks to Readers; Leapin' Lizards!

Grand Canyon is an incredible place. Here is Suzanne pointing down at the trail we had hiked years before, wherein lies a tale... I recall fondly the first time we visited here together, 16 years ago. My Lovely Bride (then a newlywed; we had only been married a couple of years) suggested we hike down into the canyon. My recollection (not necessarily shared with You Know Who) is that she also suggested I load up my pack with rocks so that it would be realistic training for when I went hiking in the desert or the mountains. (She suggests an alternative explanation for such foolishness, but as I tell her regularly, "It's my blog.") In any case, we had hiked down the iconic Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim to Indian Garden, a steep 5 miles with a 3,000 ft elevation loss. Then we turned around and hiked back up to the South Rim... when we finished, we were both totally exhausted, more so than after any of my 26.2 mile long marathon races, and I questioned the necessity (and sanity) of carrying a pack weighing 35 lbs, filled with rocks. Suzanne merely laughs when I bring up this topic over wine...

It was Bob and Jan's first visit to the Canyon, and they were visibly impressed. While MLB and I rode our mountain bikes along the Hermit Road multi-use path, they took the shuttle bus in order to maximize their time and take in the best views. It was funny, though, in that we saw them in five different places along the trail, since there are only about eight viewpoints along the route. Photography hardly does justice to the Grand Canyon. You have to stand on the rim and look down at the Colorado River, more than a mile lower in actual elevation, but 7 or 8 miles as the bird flies, to appreciate the enormous power of moving water in cutting out 40 layers of sedimentary rock dated from 200 million years to 2 billion years old. To give some perspective, there are several people standing at the lookout point at the upper left corner of the photo... they are looking into The Abyss, one of the most impressive sheer cliffs and drops into the depths of the canyon below. 

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Grand Canyon and said: "The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world. Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see." 

I almost felt like a child when we posed for this photo; I could hear my mother saying, "Ty, don't be a fool and a show-off; you know better." About two feet to my right is a drop of a thousand feet or so, but I made sure the wind wasn't blowing too hard from the south, and I know Suzanne would miss my breakfasts and unique sense of humor, and would grab me if I started to fall. Well, I hope so, anyway... 

The national park isn't all sheer cliffs and rocks, though. We found these blooming cactus (cacti?) showing off their unique plumage. April is still relatively wet here; don't look for these guys in July or August, though, because you'll be disappointed.  

"Miss Ensuzyasm" shows her true colors here. Our mountain bike ride was exhilarating, with lots of ups and downs, and kept us on a natural high for almost two hours. Then we met Jan and Bob and adjourned to town for a farewell dinner...

... where Bob was almost frothing at the mouth over these pies. Jan had to get stern and tell Bob that he had to eat his main course before indulging. Jan was good, but Bob and Suzanne split a piece of coconut creme pie, while I was also good, and only ate 2/3 of a slice of chocolate cake. Hey, what's a guy to do? (By the way, the pies here had been recommended by Linda Heavin back in Tucson - thanks, Linda, they were great!)

On our second day at the canyon, while Bob and Jan went back to Grand Canyon, Suzanne remained at the coach and gave two readings and I went for another solo hike, this one to Kaibab National Forest and Bill Williams Mountain, a moderately difficult hike of 8 miles with a 2,200 ft. elevation gain.

It helped having been up at 6,000 feet for the past week, and having perfect weather (63F and breezy), because it was a pleasant 2 1/2 hour hike through pine, oak, fir and aspen forest to the summit at 9,200 ft. These aspens at about 8,000 feet were just sprouting green at their peaks; up at 9,000 feet, their cousins were still bare. And yes, I did carry a backpack; you know, for training, in case I ever went hiking in the mountains.

In all that time, I did not see a single soul, only a few flowers,  squirrels, lizards and birds, and some very big elk tracks. What a fantastic time to meditate and enjoy solitude (never the same as loneliness, I assure you). There were even some snowy patches up top, but they won't last more than a week or so with the warm weather the area is enjoying. 

The trail was in good shape and well-marked (thanks, Brad, to your Kaibab Forest Service compatriots), which was reassuring since there were a couple of side trails that I could have wandered off onto. The only misadventure ( and lesson re-learned) came when I was eating a protein bar while hiking down the 10% grade, and not paying close attention to the trail; my foot caught a root and I went down flat on my face, fortunately on dirt, roots and gravel, and not a hard boulder. Nothing broken, and only a couple of bruises - all part of the fun and zest of hiking. (The orbs in this photo were not representative of my impaired vision...)

Our friends Jan and Bob were heading back towards Florida, so we departed Grand Canyon on Friday, headed west on I-40, and arrived in Needles, California, for two nights of admin work and to get a car tire repaired. It had picked up a nail and had a slow leak; a $10 fix here, while a similar repair a few months ago had cost us $26 back home in The Villages. Needles was a fairly bustling town back in the 60s and 70s, being located on Route 66 at the edge of the Mojave Desert. The completion of Interstate 40 back in the 80s resulted in a dwindling of commerce here, and Needles' current claim to fame is that of the highest daily temperatures in the US (and occasionally the entire world), up to 122F in July and August. (A local restaurant has a sign that reads "Needles, 300 miles from Nowhere and 3 feet from Hell." Fortunately, it was a mild 75F today, with a few light rain showers. We took Rudy and Gretchen to t-o-w-n for a w-a-l-k, and here we are on Old Route 66, the main drag, at 7:30 PM, with nary a car in sight in either direction. On the positive side, you can get a fixer-upper house here for a song... 

Of course, the real downside to living in Needles is that you're living in The People's Republic of California, where a lack of foresight in water management has resulted in a serious lack of water for farming, much less swimming pools, lawns and car washes. Oh, and did I mention the taxes here? Back in Flyover Country, as folks from the coasts derisively call the Midwest and South, gas runs about $2.15/gallon; here in Needles, it's $4.09 for regular. Ya gotta love Socialism...

I love to see where my tax money is going. One example is here in Needles, where $5 million in federal grants (that means our taxes, I think) helped renovate the classic El Garces Hotel, built in 1908 as a Harvey House Hotel. It closed in 1949 for lack of business, and was renovated in 2009-2014 with public funding, but remains vacant for lack of business. (Is there a pattern here?) 

Finally, to end on a happy note, I would like to thank Loyal Readers Dale Hilliard, Colette Sasina, Connie England and Lynn Spence for their correct identification of the eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) in a previous blog post. Dale even noted that the reptile in question has the ability to run on its hind legs, looking like small therapod dinosaurs. They can run up to 16 mph, pretty quick for a little critter, and prefer insects, small mammals and other lizards over kale, quinoa and other marginally edible vegetables. They must be very smart.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Happy Dog; Sedona; Desert Blooms; SOARing; Hiking and Biking; “Here Fishy, Fishy”; “Keep Your Eyes in the Boat!”

Rudy is a Happy Dog; he has been playing with his new “indestructible” Dragon toy that he received from our sailing friends the Heavins in Sun Lakes; one toss out of ten may result in a retrieve, but usually when I throw it, he decides to lie in his bed with the toy firmly grasped in his mouth, and nothing can get it away from him. 

We arrived in Sedona on Sunday and got a hike in almost immediately. This little critter is cleverly camouflaged to blend into the bright green and yellow foliage along the trail. (Identification is incomplete because our Internet signal has been very weak.)

This was Jan and Bob’s first trip to Sedona, so of course we had to take them on a hike as soon as we arrived. In the background is Courthouse Mesa and Bell Rock. They liked the trail, the gorgeous red rock scenery and the spiritual energy that exists here.

I suggested that Bob try some rock climbing, since there are limited opportunities for this exciting sport back in Florida. I pointed out the two climbers up on the left side of this near-vertical rock; I think I heard Bob say something about “When pigs fly…”  

The desert is in bloom here in northern Arizona; these lovely purple flowers show that not all plants have prickly spines, although there are plenty of Saguaro and prickly pear cactus around for the unwary hiker to stumble into.

Here is Suzanne experiencing the energy and looking like she’s ready to SOAR… oh, that’s an appropriate term, isn’t it?

This was the best part of the view from our campsite at the Sedona Elks Lodge, located on a hill right by the airport. Not too shabby for $30 a night, less than half of what the only commercial campground in town charges, and there’s no view at all there.

On our second day in Sedona, Biker Chick and I went mountain biking on the Bell Rock Pathway, a multi-use trail that circles that rock. There were lots of ups and downs and some slickrock sections that make Arizona and Utah riding unique. Here Suzanne is powering up a short grade in low gear (not the lowest, which is called “granny gear” by teenaged cyclists); that gear is saved for really steep sections of trail.

My Good Friend Bob returned from a shopping trip to town with a present for Der Blogmeister. This isn’t the first time he has impugned my fishing prowess (or lack thereof) and I fear it may not be the last… we’ll see if I share any of my trophy trout with him!

Jan, Bob’s Better Half, made big points when she brought a delicious fruit tart as well as a yummy salad and shrimp cocktail appetizer to dinner one night. I had made chicken Marsala; it must have been okay, because Bob’s plate looked like Rudy had licked it clean. Yes, food continues to be a recurring theme in this blog, and we are eating pretty well in spite of the primitive camping conditions we face daily.

I mentioned prickly pear cactus earlier, and on our third day’s hike we saw this one in bloom, with a gorgeous yellow blossom surrounded by inch-long needles.

I’m not sure what this flower is, but its white flower is much more robust than its distant dandelion cousin. I tried blowing on one, but not a single petal detached; I think it would take a hurricane force wind to blow it apart.

I did a solo hike up to one of my favorite spots, Soldiers’ Pass, on our last day in Sedona. Within 45 minutes, you’re out of sight of civilization, and thinking that this could be 1860 instead of 2015. Sedona wasn’t founded until 1909, but the US Army had cavalry patrols in the area during the period that some local residents were not playing well with settlers and miners opening up the Southwest…

We are now in Williams, AZ, gateway to the Grand Canyon. But because of poor Internet connectivity at our campground here, I will have to defer reporting on that part of our trip until we get settled in Needles, California, in a couple of days. One of the problems being in a very touristy area now is that the “parking lot” we are in has lots of dirt, but no view, no Wi-Fi, no facilities to speak of, no grass and no AT&T phone service, and yet charges $45 a night. We awoke this morning to 29F temps; at least we didn’t need air conditioning. We had to drive into town 7 miles away to post our blogs.

Finally, Suzanne received a note concerning my blog entry from back in Texas about “short-shorts” and cheeks showing on an attractive twenty-something waitress we met in a bakery. The note was from a former naval officer and Naval Academy graduate who was taught to “keep your eyes in the boat” when a sweet young thing (male or female) walked by a formation of  midshipmen, so as not to incur the wrath of an upper classman. Not being a “Boat School” grad, I never learned that lesson, but My Lovely Bride just told me in a stern voice, “Ty, it’s never too late to learn.”  “Yes, Ma’am!”   

Sunday, April 19, 2015

West Texas; Texas Tarts; Big Stadiums; Self Reliance; Fort Bliss; Tucson and Phoenix IANDS and Phoenix Unity; Dining in Scottsdale; Turbulent Flow?

Well, it's been a few days since I've had time to put pen to paper on this blog (well, okay, fingers to keyboard, anyway). The past week has been very hectic. We departed Odessa/Midland, Texas, and drove about a thousand miles in three days, which in a motor coach is covering a lot of territory. The country here is wide open, without many trees, but with hundreds of oil wells dotting the arid landscape. We drive at 62 mph, but stop every hour and a half to change drivers, stretch our legs and walk the puppies. Then there's lunch, which is always in the coach, unless there is a particularly appealing option in a small town we're passing through. One example, which shall go unidentified because I don't want the young lady concerned to get into trouble with the owner, occurred while still in Texas...

We stopped at a local bakery that offered sandwiches as well as breakfasts and pastries. We arrived shortly before closing around 12:30, and were greeted by an attractive, heavily tattooed young woman in short-short shorts and a tee shirt. (By short-short shorts, I mean her cheeks were showing). I was stealthily admiring her attire when I was brought up short by My Lovely Bride saying, "Ty, you are holding the menu upside down." I replied honestly, "Suzanne, what's your point?" Smack! When will I learn? I got into even more trouble when the cute young thing dropped off two tarts (aptly named, I reasoned) in a bag, compliments of the house... Well, what's a guy to do?  (Photo removed by a certain female censor; darn!)

Moving on to less controversial topics, if you've ever driven through West Texas, you know that towns and ranches are located very far apart, and the towns are often very small. But even the smallest town will have a high school with a football stadium that looks like a big university sports facility. The entire town often turns out for home games, and generations of families are season ticket holders, located in the same seats for years and years. We passed through Abilene and saw Shotwell Stadium, home of the Eagles, but weren't there for a home game, unfortunately. It would have been exciting, especially since Suzanne is a former marching band flutist, and loves watching high school bands whenever possible.


Self-reliance is a quality well-known and respected in West Texas. One obvious example is seen in this photo, where a local guy ensured that he wasn't caught out on the open range without proper facilities for... well, you know...

The weather has been near perfect, and it's nice to be able to eat outside. We're using our small portable gas grill often, and this al fresco dinner featured ribeye steak (hey, we were still in Texas), salad, yams and a very nice Pinot Noir. Rudy and Gretchen were hoping for scraps, but we don't give them any people food except for a taste of chicken once a week or so and a teaspoon of shredded Cheddar with their meals. 

We finished up the Texas portion of our trip with a stop in El Paso, with a great campsite at Fort Bliss, home of the First Armored Division, Old Ironsides. The "Pyramid of Power" part of the 1st AD patch was designed by no other than then Colonel George S. Patton back in WWI when he was in charge of the Army's first tank school in France. The division nickname was adopted after the first division commander saw a photo of the US Navy frigate, USS Constitution, the original "Old Ironsides". (Yes, Colonel Crusty and the rest of you Army guys, Navy leads again!)


Here we see Der Blogmeister aboard a Sheridan tank, taken before the Army Military Police could arrive and say, "Hey, Captain, the Navy's not allowed on our exhibits!" By the way, Suzanne insists on calling this post "Fort Ananda", since that word in Sanskrit means bliss

After Fort Bliss, we drove all day to Tucson, where we got a campsite at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and Suzanne immediately went to work. Her first event on Thursday was a research reading with Dr. Gary Schwartz, PhD.  Gary and Suzanne have collaborated before on several occasions, and this day's topic was a blind reading for a sitter that Gary had selected. 

That afternoon we visited the University of Arizona where Suzanne presented her  Heart Gifts talk to Gary's 300 level Spirituality class of 90 students. We are shown here with Dieter, a colleague of Gary's in the psychology department at the University, Dieter's wife, Netzin, and son Wulf (a big synchronicity) who attended Suzanne's talk.  Another synchronicity came when Suzanne found out that Netzin's name was given to her by her father, also a university professor studying the Mayan people in Central America; of course, many readers know that the related Incan culture in the Andes, especially the statue of the fertility goddess Pachamama, is featured in Suzanne's book Wolf's Message.

On Thursday evening, Suzanne addressed the Tucson branch of the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS) at Unity of Tucson.  We had a full house of enthusiastic listeners (and one service dog) with a busy book signing after her talk. 

Thursday had been non-stop, and Friday arrived with another early reveille to make tracks to Phoenix. On the way, we stopped for lunch at the beautiful home of our dear sailing friends Linda and Jim Heavin, whom we met while they were cruising aboard their Moody 38 Lady Sandy. They now live in Sun Lakes, Arizona, a gorgeous community much like The Villages back in Florida. They are now Rudy and Gretchen's best friends, because Linda and Jim gave them a pair of "indestructible" dragon dog toys.  They had read in this blog about our destructo-dogs' ability to disembowell stuffed animals within minutes.  Since their little Yorkie/Maltese mix, Sage, hadn't been able to tear his toy apart in months, they were sure their gift would withstand the Rudy-Gretchen test. 


Suzanne, however, guessed that Rudy would have better luck than Sage in eviscerating his toy, no matter what the maker said about its relative indestructibility. Here she is about to give the puppies their new toys, and the clock reads 3:23 PM... Ready, set, go!

... and the wiener is... Rudy, in 19 minutes! So much for tough dog toys. Dachsunds are known for their ability to tear apart any toy known to dog, including those made of Kevlar, the basis of body armor. Rudy's face says it all: "Dogdad, aren't you proud of me?"

Suzanne's Friday night Heart Gifts presentation was again sponsored by IANDS, and was held in the sanctuary at the beautiful Unity of Phoenix after a wonderful dinner hosted by the IANDS leadership. 243 enthusiastic attendees made this one of her largest events outside the Villages this year. Suzanne was happy to see her Henderson High School friend Bronwen Barnett (shown waving in the photo below), Martha Aubey, a retired Air Force officer who Suzanne worked with at the Pentagon, and several other friends who follow her Facebook page and blog.

We were happily overwhelmed by those wanting autographed books, and we ran out of Messages of Hope and Wolf's Message

Many thanks to Susan Amsden and Chuck Swedrock, the coordinators for the Tucson-Phoenix International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS) for their friendship, hospitality and hard work in making our Tucson and Phoenix events so successful. We loved both venues and the warm welcome we received, and have already agreed to return for another round of Suzanne's newest presentations in April 2016.  

We had planned on going hiking in the Superstition Mountains the day after the Phoenix event, but Suzanne and I were both drained, My Lovely Bride from four events in the previous two days, and Your Humble Blogmeister from having to get up with Rudy on three consecutive nights when he had to go outside for unplanned dogly duties. It seems that our long driving days and time zone changes affected him more than the rest of us, but having to go out at 0100 and 0400 three nights in a row also took its toll on his Dogdad and Dogmom. So we skipped hiking, but it gave us the opportunity to visit a truly gifted spirit artist and poet instead...

Ella Newkirk's story is amazing. Interested in art since childhood, she survived being struck by lightning at age 20, had a near death experience, and has grown spiritually from the experience. Her art is stunning; since 2000 she has sculpted faces in a porcelain and clay mixture attached to stones specially chosen for their spiritual energy. Each stone is lovingly sculpted by hand, and no two are alike. Suzanne was so impressed by her work that she had to acquire one, coincidentally one that both she and Ella decided separately was the right one for her. 

This close-up of one of Ella's pieces shows the exquisite detail she achieves through painstaking work using a magnifying glass and dental tools. You can contact Ella at for more information on her unique spiritual art or visit her website:

Our final event in the Phoenix area was actually in Scottsdale, a fabulous dinner at Tommy Bahama's with award-winning author Bill Hammond, his sister Cris Endicott, and Mary Crain, Bill's deceased wife Victoria's sister. Bill and Chris had also attended Suzanne's event the night before. Bill's latest book, The Ultimate Gift, was also received very well by the attendees. (As many will recall, it features a series of amazing readings that Suzanne gave Bill after his wife Victoria passed to the other side.) It was a delicious dinner and a delightful evening, and we talked and laughed about politics, current events and family. Special thanks to Cris for your generous hospitality!

Now we are on our way to Sedona, Arizona, for Suzanne and the Pack to get some much-needed R&R (the military term for "rest and relaxation" for readers unfamiliar with military acronyms) and some hiking with our good friends and neighbors Bob and Jan Blythe from The Villages. More on Sedona and its vortexes in the next post... (I thought the correct term was "vortices", but either is correct, according to Wikipedia). For those interested in the phenomenon in physics, vortexes/vortices are major components of turbulent flow, which is not only spiritual, but something that Yours Truly often gets into with His Lovely Bride, such as when he comments on waitresses in short-shorts. Sigh...

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Nice Hike; Bad Girlz; Dam Judge; Sam Houston; Dallas and Houston; Jackknifed Semi; Golden Chicks?

After the wonderful Wimberley event and visiting New Braunfels, we took a nice hike through the woods and around the shore of Canyon Lake before setting off for Houston.

Canyon Lake is huge, with several big marinas. We expected a lot of fishing boats, but these sailboats, many over 35 feet long, were a surprise.


Our campground was protected from marauding deer by this wooden fence; okay, it was probably more scenic than effective in keeping out the deer.

On Friday, we packed up and headed for Houston. On the way to Houston, we passed a shop that caught the eye of My Lovely Bride - Bad Girlz of Texas. Don't worry, it wasn't one of those shops with red lingerie and stilettos, but most of the clothes seemed to be made for teenagers, and seemed skimpy, if not exactly naughty...   

We also passed this sign suggesting that visitors come see their dam... or the local judge if you drove too fast.

On the road, we passed a giant statue of Sam Houston, with a plaque with one of his quotes that I really liked: "The great misfortune is that a notion obtains with those in power that the world, or the people, require more governing than is necessary. To govern well is a great science, but no country is ever improved by too much governing... most men think when they are elevated to position, that it requires an effort to discharge their duties, and they leave common sense out of the question."

In Houston, Suzanne spoke at the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment Center. Then we drove up to Dallas, where she spoke at the Center for Spiritual Living (CSL), a Science of Mind church with terrific energy, a very dynamic staff and a warm, welcoming community. Dallas CSL is now among our favorite venues, and we hope to return one day very soon. Thanks to Rev. Vince, Toni Hill and Jill Zeagler for their hospitality and help making this event such a success. 

We were gratified to have friends meet us in Dallas - Mary Ellen and Len Alton, parents of one of Suzanne's high school classmates, Julie Alton Porter. Mary Ellen is loads of fun, as you can tell from her smile, and is also a Loyal Reader of this blog. (She is obviously a person of discriminating taste.) Len and Mary Ellen moved from their home in West Chester, PA, to San Diego, and are now full-timing in their beautiful 43-foot Allegro coach.

The Altons, their son Jeff and his girlfriend Amanda attended one of the CSL services, and then we joined them for dinner at a  Corps of Engineers' campground on Lake Lavon in Wylie, northeast of Dallas. Len grills a mean pork loin, and Mary Ellen is an attentive hostess and wonderful cook. It was great to catch up with them and trade RV stories while enjoying a terrific meal.

Dallas was a great stop, but bad weather finally caught up with us Sunday evening, with a series of severe thunderstorms passing through the area during the night and keeping us awake for hours. The rain continued most of the day, including our rush hour trip through downtown Dallas.

The drive along I-20 westbound was mostly wet, but without incident... at least on our side of the road. This jackknifed 18-wheeler was blocking both eastbound lanes, and traffic was crawling past on the shoulder, with a backup about seven miles long. Fortunately, there did not appear to be any serious injuries. Coincidentally, we had been talking to the Altons just the previous night about a jackknifed rig that someone we met out west had almost hit while driving at night. We almost never drive after dark; less visibility means less time to react, and big rigs like ours have very long stopping distances.

We arrived in Odessa, Texas, this afternoon. After sprucing the car and coach up for the Dallas event, both were trashed by the rain and road splash from the 340 mile drive. But we do fit in now... most of the other vehicles here are muddy from "field work". The campground here is also bit unusual, since most of the campsites are filled with trailers and fifth wheels occupied by oil field workers and support personnel for the rigs and pipelines in West Texas, almost all of which are off main roads. Everyone is very friendly, but we feel a bit odd because our Honda CR-V is miniscule compared to the half- and one-ton trucks driven by most of the oil field folks. And no, we haven't seen a single "Smart Car" here.

Finally, another billboard caught my eye, and got me into trouble. This one read "Golden Chicks"; I thought it was one of those Gentleman's Clubs for Seniors, but My Lovely Bride chastised me and said, "No, Ty, it's not a girlie bar... it's a fried chicken joint." Well, that was a disappointment; I liked my interpretation much better than hers...