Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Steeds III

Sometime in the late 40s, Soichiro Honda thought it might be a good idea to attach a gasoline motor to his bicycle. He was right. By the time 1982 came around, his company was making a 500cc engine that can roll a cycle 3,127 miles over 11,000 feet of elevation gain on 35 tanks of gas at 70mph with 50 pounds of junk and 180 of dude in the middle of the summer 26 years after it putted out of the factory. And I own one.

"Sweet," she said, a purple-haired woman in leather standing next to her Moto Guzzi, "vintage." That's right, I thought, it's older than I am. And, sadly, you are too.

Is it wrong to love a motorcycle? Well, I don't think I care. It's hard not to get attached to something so much like a horse that makes so much space so much fun. But I'm leaving it in Grand Junction today in the kind, capable hands of the Geigers while I fly to New Zealand. No, I won't be replacing her. But I may well find a stand-in.

Cinnamon Pass, Colorado 12,640 feet.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reservoir Dogs II

I suppose Mack Wash should eventually lead to the Colorado River, West of Grand Junction. As far as I know, it never does. But I haven't looked. The water is likely to be used up by the corn before it gets there - but I'm not complaining. Quite unnaturally, this sage and dust telephone pole country sprouts a Frankensteinish lake. You would expect such a desert pond as caused by the earthen dam at Highline to be tepid and green. It is not. Cool and crispy, with fingers of grass spreading at the edges, the mere provides. A svelte 1983 Master Craft skippered by a Geiger or four, and one unGeigered by marriage, we churn it up. Like wakeboarding on the moon. Young rowdy Geoffrey Geiger for scale.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Cowboy and his Cow

Abbey wants all the cows off public land. I agree with him, especially in beautiful marginal Utah where it takes a minimum square mile to barely keep a 'slow elk' alive. There's no way to buy enough land for a living's worth of cows in most of the arid West. Actually, most of our beef comes from the East anyway. But the whole reason these people live in the no man's land just this side of Canada is because the Government needs them to. The land has to be populated, even if barely, by your citizens to keep it part of the country. That's what land grants and land leases are all about. We can't forget that land is the fundamental resource, the reason the Cold War was between the two superpower continental empire mirrors with interiors populated with welfare peasantry.

This photo is from sheep docking time on the Twitchell Ranch in Garfield County - cutting off testicles and tails. These are good people with a genuinely original American culture built on generations of tradition - but it started with politically motivated land grants. They get rights to graze public land from the government, but that's about all they get. If they want a school, they build it. If they want to keep a road, they maintain it. If there is a fire, they put it out. Land grants might not make much sense anymore, but we can't just cut them off.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Canyons of the Ancients

The Hovenweep ruins are just one set of rock buildings at the head of a small canyon. Like cliff swallow nests. There are 800-year old Anasazi ruins like these all over the Southwest, but in this maze of canyons, they are literally everywhere. Inside the national monument, there are over 6000. That's 100 per square mile.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mesas are important.

The sun sets over Zuni, New Mexico with Sacagawea and Daniel Plainview.
Gawa Yalani towers over everything in town.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rain and the Desert

New Mexico by motorcycle. Worth every mile of Oklahoma.

US 60 West from Fort Sumner, Grave of Billy the Kid.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Riding the edge of this thing nearly worked. It turns out the only way over the Mississippi river at Memphis is the Eisenhower interstate highway system, which sure seems a lot like suicide in waning twilight with lots of wind, trucks, and water on the road. Sure, 500 more CCs would help, but so would a windshield. And a roof. Every milkshake at Sonic comes with free roofs to park under. Weather report by Speth:

I'm posting this from the comfort of one of America's many generic hotel chains, still river left. Sorry, Arkansas. I'll be sleeping with my sawed-off shotgun handy.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Reservoir Dogs

About 100 years ago, they built a concrete plug between Sugarloaf and Chilhowee mountains in the Ocoee river gorge. No better place for a dam, because the mountains did most of the work. They were TVA, and the reservoir is now about halfway full of sludge, sand, mud, and detritus from the Ducktown moonscape erosion nightmare. But by god, it makes electricity. Rafting the whole Ocoee out of the Great Smoky Mountain thrust into the flats of Tennessee's Valley and Ridge would be spectacular to do, if you still could. It's a pretty good lake anyhow, and if your boat craps out temporarily just jump in.

Parksville lake, Ocoee river, Tennessee

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Separating the waters above the Earth from the waters under the Earth is a big job. That's why the sky is so big. It's easy to understand why people used to believe there was another sea up there past the clouds, where rain came from. The truth is even more fantastically scarier - our atmosphere is a paperthin bubble in space, especially on code orange days.

I once read a book that was set on a terraformed moon. No one could remember how everything was created, but there were huge caverns underground full of churning machines tended by stubby gnomes continually manufacturing more atmosphere as it leeched into space. Earth's size gives us enough gravity not to have to worry about the sky leaking away. Air has mass, a breathable pile of molecules 22 miles thick (unless the mountains poke through). It always looks enormous. But if Americans drove as much vertically as we do horizontally, most of us would cross into space every day through the thin traffic of clouds and jets. We all have about one atmosphere of weight on our shoulders.

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On Steeds (2)

Sometimes, things don't go as planned. You can't expect the steed to ride out every storm. There will be temporary setbacks, like crashing your Jaguar research plane in the Maya Mountains of Belize. The death of a character redirects the story.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Some rush of bugs and color, Tennessee summers last forever like Daylight Savings Time. Greener than just about anywhere. Ethan carnivaling in the hammock, taking a break from the fireflies, trying to figure out what it feels like to be jounced around in a humid canning jar. Summer is still going strong, a warmup for the second one to be had in a few months. Doubling up on Fall seems like a better idea.

Monday, August 3, 2009

On Steeds (1)

This is Hourn, who is from Mongolia. He has a droopy donkey lip, and his name means 'brown.' We spent several weeks in the hills together, slowly. What is it about nonhuman and even inanimate traveling companions? Possibly they're just easier to relate to. The horse and I soon figured out what we expected of each other, and became something like friends. Neither of us did our jobs particularly well, but that was all up front. If you expect to waltz into a yurt in central Asia and be given one of the best horses around, you're sadly mistaken. Likewise if you're an old horse expecting me to have any idea what I'm doing.

John Steinbeck once had a deluxe camper in the bed of a three-quarter-ton pickup. He called it Rocinante, "which you will remember was the name of Don Quixote's horse." Whatever moves you becomes part of the journey. Sometimes important or ultimate, or just incidental. Volkswagen bus, motorcycle, bicycle, horse, sailboat, giant diesel train engine - whatever it takes to get wherever. Eventually, things attain the status of characterhood. Any good story can create a relationship between you and characters that might never even have existed. So it shouldn't be so surprising that these real steeds all have proper names.