On Naked Pirates and a Snake Tattoo

If sailor tales to sailor tunes,
Storm and adventure, heat and cold,
If schooners, islands, and maroons,
And buccaneers, and buried gold,
And all the old romance, retold
Exactly in the ancient way,
Can please, as me they pleased of old,
The wiser youngsters of today:
—So be it, and fall on! If not,
If studious youth no longer crave,
His ancient appetites forgot,
Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave,
Or Cooper of the wood and wave:
So be it, also! And may I
And all my pirates share the grave
Where these and their creations lie!
– (Robert Louis Stevenson, “Treasure Island,” 1883)

The land was dry, and so was I.

Did you ever come to a place where your throat matches the landscape, both being drier than an old whor– (whoops … almost made anatomical reference here to a lady of the night, but won’t) — let’s make that “drier than an old dog’s fart?”

I had wandered out of the desert just before nightfall, lured to an Interstate by a lighted billboard promising food and beer (for this, I ask forgiveness from the ghost and disciples of Cactus Ed). I took the highway exit and arrived at a river that, like me, begins its life story within a few miles of the high mountainous spine of this long-abused land once known as Turtle Island.  My old friend the river now sported a Disneyficated dream of a pirate cove/beach bar resort, where I wandered with my old dog on raked beaches of trucked-in sand, while ogling the cove’s only current (except for aforementioned travel-worn dog and ogler) visitors, a tethered float plane and miniature version of the vessel that might have carried any of Stevenson’s pirates to a watery grave, but didn’t. Seemingly, the developers had gotten the promotional cart ass-backwards (as me long-gone daddy might have said), and lit the billboard before the official grand opening ceremonies, thereby drawing unsuspecting travelers such as myself to disenchantment. A scattering of tracks from the parking lot, across the beaches and back told the tale.

The outdoor bar was there; the barstools and tables could have been full of the laughing, partying, big-spending resort patrons that fill any self-important PowerPoint prospectus presented to new-money venture/hedge/slush funders of such freebooter market enterprises, but they weren’t. Newly finished wood glowed darkly in the crepuscular air. The only sign of human habitation was, quite literally, a sign. A garishly painted bas-relief wooden sign, as I would’ve called it in my artiste days of carving and painting signs as a means of earning money for beans, beer and artiste supplies. But where was I? Ah yes — this sign depicted a bathtub with a seemingly quite naked pirate in it. He just wasn’t my cup of tea, though the comely wench depicted in the act of approaching said pirate was, shall we say, of some passing interest to my desert-dried eyes.

The overall effect of the deserted cove of the Naked Pirate was depressing, which is how, less than an hour later, I came to be perched on a barstool in a dilapidated riverfront bar on the other side of that very same river, nursing a Corona with lime while ogling an off-duty bartender’s snake tattoo, as it slithered down her scantily clad torso, only to get lost in the ever amazing crepuscular cove that forms just at the top of the bottom half of a string bikini, where a comely wench’s abdominal zone becomes, well, something else entirely.

Just then, a clutch of graying developer-types wandered in, faking friendly banter while power-slamming shots of something and slapping each other’s shoulders. The unintended effect of which was to emphasize the heaving paunchy evidence of better days gone by that hung like spare tires around their waists, barely covered by the pastel polo shirts that provided a uniform for their club. They slammed the now-empty shot-glasses on the bar, and one ordered another round. A gaggle of women, sagging in all the right places to denote spousal fealty in their ample two-piece bathing suits, moved around the bar pointing at almost life-size pictures of bikini-clad women and bare-chested men. I was coming to understand that some of these pictures were of the very developer- and wifely-types that suddenly surrounded my barstool. They seemed not to notice me though, so I continued my observations unmolested.

* * *

Now, before I get any deeper here, I will emphasize that nobody’s body parts touched yours truly in the making of this tale, though a wifely type did nod in my direction, and the comely off-duty bartender did stand within a few inches while slinging her arm over the shoulder of a graying developer-type birthday boy (thus providing a tantalizing vista of the snake’s tail hung over her shoulder, and the body going down, down), while she told the on-duty bartender (who was definitely not wearing a string bikini, being more of a “somebody’s mother someday” type of young woman) to pour her a shot of whatever Birthday Boy (who would later slam a “Muff Dive” [I swear, this is the name of an actual drink]) and his friends were drinking. By the label, it was tequila, a dangerous drink to be sure, and I pretended to concentrate on my Corona. The off-duty bartender with the snake tattoo saw through me though, and smiled. Then she sashayed toward the bar’s darkened riverside patio, there to engage in animated conversation with a swarthy young guy who probably was not the social equal of the developer and wifely types proceeding to get shit-faced all around me. Most likely the guy was, like me, a seasonally employed, part-time romantic type.

By now, this may seem a celebratory tale of an oasis of licentious behavior and unquenchable lust in the desert night, an honest-to-gawd American answer to tales of 1001 Arabian nubile nymphs in a harem fit for an oilygarchy sheikh’s night out. It isn’t, or won’t be by the time you read this, because at my elbow as I scribble away another perfectly good beer buzz while camped along a far-upstream stretch of that same anonymous river a few months later, I’m eying a brochure in which the dilapidated establishment that housed the tableau described above is replaced by a multi-story veritable fucking (here I quote), “Spa & Resort!” Gone is the sun-blasted face of the old bar, the creaking door, the slanting floor, the bar where I sat ogling the snake tattoo while idly wondering just where fangs and tongue had been etched by the inspired tattoo artiste. Gone are the darkened patio over the river, the romantic words between swarthy young seasonal worker-types and comely off-duty bartenders, gone even are the aging developers and their fading spouses, holding up pictures of themselves in smaller bikinis in more comely days, taken down from the ceiling of the now-vanished bar as ’80s pop-rock tunes played on the jukebox that stood against the wall that night. The brochure shows instead an “artist’s rendering” of a multi-story hotel and micro-brewery, waterfront teeming with speed-boats and jet-skis, an honest-to-gawdawful American dream of orderly decadence that one-ups the Naked Pirate resort cove for committing blasphemy on the dam-tamed river that was once too thick to drink, too thin to plow — and wild enough to sculpt canyons that defy description. This tale is, instead, a commiseration on some current misfortunes, and a hope that one day my old friend will regain its former glorious role in the art of carving a continent. Time and a river flowing, as one book named it long ago.

Peering closely at the grainy print of the digitally rendered future spa & resort, I spy the artist’s fantasy of just who will be lounging in the outdoor pools and hot tubs. There are requisite pectorally perfect pale young men accompanied by bikini-clad nymphs posing under palm trees. In the light of my headlamp, with my nose pressed close to the page, I examine the lower bellies of each of the digital dream girls on the cover of the brochure. Satisfied, I consider the fact that not one of the young ladies has any sort of a crepuscular cove at the top of the bottom half of her string bikini, much less the tell-tale ghost of a snake tattoo.

* * *

For the purposes of this story, remember that a “Muff Dive” consists of a shot-glass of tequila sunk to the bottom of a pint glass full of whipped cream. The main purpose of this drink seems to be as entertainment for an assembled clutch of developer-types and spousal units as the unlucky aging Birthday Boy meets the eyes of his loving wife, his teeth gripping the edge of the shot-glass, whipped cream dripping from chin to his once-fashionable alligator-logo polo shirt. “Oh my God,” he says weakly, “that was my fifth shot.” She laughs at him.

I finished the Corona, paid my tab, and left the bar by way of the darkened patio. The off-duty bartender with the snake tattoo and her swarthy cohort never looked up from their now-whispered tete-a-tete. I drove far, far up a dark and dry arroyo — out of sight of river, naked pirates, comely wenches and the dreams of spa & resort-tamed developer-types. Sometimes, in the desert of our ever-more Disneyficated New West, a little dryness is about the only oasis my old dog and I can stomach for more than one round.

Senor correspondent B. Frank is the author of “Livin’ the Dream.” His last story for MG was “Ballad of Francois, Le Conducteur d’Autobus,” which appeared in #175. Frank splits his time between the Four Corners and the Border Country, which means, of course, that, most times, he’s hard to find.

Stone Mountains, Best Climbs and Skiing Tales

“Stone Mountains,” by Jim Thornburg

“Stone Mountains” is 10 pounds of coffee table awesomeness. Photographer Jim Thornburg masterfully captures it all in this 320-page behemoth — in his photos, the rock is the star just as much as the climber. There are plenty of photos of climbers on moderate routes, which makes the book inspirational in a way — you might find yourself writing down names of routes and areas and planning your next trip around them. Thornburg’s photos truly span the continent, from Squamish to Potrero Chico and everything in between: Smith Rock, Tahoe, Yosemite, Tuolumne, Bishop, Needles, J-Tree, Red Rocks (and Vegas Limestone), St. George, Zion, Mount Lemmon, Cochise, Hueco, Horse Pens, Chattanooga, Obed, North Carolina, The New, Seneca Rocks, The Red, The Gunks, Rumney, North Conway, Devils Tower, Wyoming, Boulder, Rifle, Moab, Joe’s Valley, Maple Canyon, SLC and City of Rocks.

If you’re a climber, this book will make you count the days until spring, or go ahead and decide it’s okay to put a plane ticket to Joshua Tree or Red Rocks on your credit card. If you are buying a birthday gift for a climber, this book should be it. Jim Thornburg has spent 20 years of his life photographing climbing, and we can all be better off for it.

$59.99 at ChesslerBooks.com or JimThornburg.com.

Best Climbs Series, by Stewart Green

Stewart Green must have spent most of his adult life writing guidebooks. He has more than a dozen to his name, including five or so mega-guidebooks to climbing areas in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, New England and Europe. Typically the climbing books are overviews of a state or region’s more worthwhile areas and run about 500 pages and contain more than 1,000 routes. He’s back with a series of three books from Falcon Guides — “Best Climbs Moab,” “Best Climbs Denver and Boulder” and “Best Climbs Rocky Mountain National Park” — which are much more digestible overviews to throw in a backpack. Each book contains 140-200 routes at the better crags in each area, and clocks in at a much more svelte 145 pages. Those who own Green’s earlier guidebooks can consider these more focused, localized versions of their wide-angle predecessors — the Denver and Boulder volume covers 25 crags in seven geographical areas, including trad, sport and bouldering, from 5.2 to 5.14a. Those who are just visiting for a weekend or three a year, or someone just getting started climbing in an area, can find enough climbs in one of these editions to keep them busy. Full-color photo topos, beefy pages and a sewn binding keep these up to the higher standard of the later generation of guidebooks, and beat the hell out of some of the hand-drawn black-and-white topos in the guidebooks of old. These are pure beta, with a minimum of historical info.

$18.95 at falcon.com.

“The Perfect Turn and Other Tales of Skiing and Skiers,” by Dick Dorworth

Dick Dorworth has probably been skiing longer than you’ve been alive. He raced for 15 years starting in 1950 all around the world, and set the world speed record in 1963. He coached the U.S. Ski Team and was director of the Aspen Mountain Ski School. Lucky for you, he can write about it, too. You may have read his stories in magazines such as SKI, Skiing, Powder, Snow Country, Men’s Journal, and your beloved Mountain Gazette — Chapter 6 of this book, “In Pursuit of Pure Speed,” appeared recently, in MG #173. If you liked that story, prepare for more tales from the heart of man whose life has been defined in large part by skiing and the people and places he’s encountered doing it. Dorworth, based in Ketchum, Idaho, fills these pages with striking narrative of skinning up Bald Mountain and the feeling of breaking 100 mph on skis; opines about the frustrating treatment of ski instructors in America; details the history of speed skiing; and reminisces about old friends (ski filmmaker Dick Barrymore) and chance encounters (the day he skied with Sen. Ted Kennedy). A great read on your way to make turns somewhere, in the middle of winter or before spring backcountry skiing.

$15.95 at westerneyepress.com.

Life on the Mountain Music Road

Sharone Digitale

High-altitude sexification
The music world is full of stories about band members always getting laid — the allure of the fantasy has compelled many a young teen to pick up a guitar and spend hours strumming strings, only to later end up stroking his own instrument alone in his bedroom. But even musicians face sticky situations with the world of sexual magnetism; sometimes when they’re desperate for it — and feeling pretty confident –— they don’t get it, and other times, when they don’t want it, it comes on just a little too strong.

Sharone Digitale, an electro-pop, trip-hop group that dubs its sound as “baby makin’ music,” wasn’t so keen on the sex scene in its hometown of Nashville, Tenn.

Yes, I know, Life on the Mountain Music Road focuses on the strange and weird in high-elevation towns, but the (very loose) tie-in is, Sharone Digitale just rolled through Vail and Breckenridge on a national tour, and the artists were relieved to come home without any crazy stories for a change.

Writer Sharon Lang prides herself on penning music akin to rose petals strewn upon silky bedroom sheets that make listeners feel smooth, extravagant and sexy. But one night, her sound got a little too luscious for her to handle.

After a Nashville show, an apparent swinger couple told the band members that their music “made them so horny that they just wanted to smoke bowls and make out with us the whole time. Us, meaning, they wanted to basically take the whole band back to their place and ‘sexify’ us, as they so gracefully put it,” Lang said. “It was quite a hysterical moment in which we had to respectfully decline the offer, but it nonetheless added some interesting zing to the evening!”


If only that happened to Afro-Zep
Afro-Zep drummer Marshall Greenhouse never got so lucky — in fact, quite the opposite, especially when he first played in Breckenridge (at the dark underbelly on Main Street formerly known as Sherpa & Yeti’s) 10 years ago with his Chicago collective of musicians who mash Led Zep classics with the grooves of Afrobeat and Afropop.

Greenhouse claims he’s “not really that coordinated (although somehow drumming comes easy to me),” so when he decided to try snowboarding the day of the show, it “ended in obvious results,” namely, three front flips through slushy snow, resulting in a separated shoulder.

“That night, the band played a pretty awful acoustic set, while I sat at the bar on tons of Vicodin and took advantage of the discounted booze,” Greenhouse said.

Though he doesn’t remember much more about the trip, one painful image remains burned in his mind: Being Unable to take his clothes off himself. He said, “Luckily Chris’ girlfriend at the time had a bunch of really hot friends that came on tour with us.”

“I remember going in a hot tub later that night thinking I was going to get lucky with this girl I met in Frisco the night before, but when I asked her to pull my pants off to get in, she kinda stayed far away from me the rest of the night.”

And in the end, he says never learned his lesson. This time around in Breckenridge, he’s snowboarding in-between his Breck and Vail shows.

“I’m gonna beat the mountain this time,” he said.

No word on how he’s gonna get laid, but I bet Lang has some silky sounds he can slip into his Afro-Zep beats.

Next issue: Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman muses on ski towns and bums of the past — and pleas to get Mayor McCheese back, for god’s sake!

Letters – #177

Envelope: By M. Ward.

We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.

Bad trip
Hi John, Read “Bad Trip” (Smoke Signals, MG #175) with a sense of déjà vu.

After finishing training in family practice in the early ’70s, my then-wife and I were invited to look at small town practice in western Kansas, Oberlin to be precise. Like you, I figured not too far from Colorado, so we would give it a look.

So, on a cold November Friday, we headed east and lost sight of the mountains in the rear view mirror at Limon. There are two colors out there that time of year, grey and brown, which reflected our mood as we pulled into town. Oh yeah, the wind.

We were met by the “doctor search committee,” and I immediately sensed desperation on their part. The group of about five or six included the bank president, a Kiwanis leader, hospital administrator, board members and a very bedraggled looking physician who had lost his only partner six months ago to a Colorado mountain community. The town doc tried to put the best spin on the situation, but it was pretty clear from the onset that this place was meant for a physician committed to his patients but not much else, including family, recreation or sleep.

The next day was the town tour, which included prosperous farms, the grain elevator, Main Street and the hospital. Nice enough people, but we felt the pressure growing as the day progressed.

Scheduled that evening was the dinner in our honor. Held at the VFW Hall, my wife and I were a bit shocked to walk in to a room with about 30 citizens of Oberlin and environs. Unlike you, unfortunately, I had to face this whole ordeal sober. (I think Oberlin is dry). The search committee director gave a nice positive overview of a medical practice in western Kansas and abruptly asked for a decision yes or no will I come to Oberlin. I have no recollection of how we declined their kind offer, but I have ended up working in the mountains for next 35 years.

By the way, with age, I have learned to appreciate the wide open spaces and haunting beauty of the high plains and the kind, resilient people that live there.

Always look forward to the Mountain Gazette.


Jim Oberheide

Say what?
I’m hear [sic] at a bar. There is beer, and right now I’m too lazy to read, so thanks for these great photos … but if you ever have a little extra white space, maybe a crossword? And if you do, [sic] do a crossword, how about one that’s all about beer?!

Respectfully inebriated,

Reader Number 082568 aka, Tee from Denver

Hitchhike Hard with a Vengeance
Dear Mountain Gazette: I just finished reading “In Remembrance of ‘Boy’,” by Rosco Betunada (December 2010 issue). I have been hitchhiking around the United States for most of 14 years and it is amazing who picks you up.

Once I was hitchhiking in Idaho and this guy picked me up.  He told me that his friend was hitching north of Twin Falls. This old pickup pulled over and he got inside and looked at the driver. The driver looked at him, smiled and said, “Yup, I am who you think I am.” It was Bruce Willis.

One time I was hitching in western Nebraska and these three guys picked me up. I got in the back seat of the car and we were going down the road when the guy sitting next to me looked at me and asked, “Aren’t you from Ames, Iowa?”

“How did you know that?!” I replied totally surprised.

“I picked you up a few years ago and you gave me a copy of your book.”

That guy later told me that he got a ride from Missouri to Iowa in the late 1970s with a guy named William Least Heat-Moon. Least Heat-Moon later wrote the best-seller, “Blue Highways” (first published in 1982).

If you are interested in my hitchhiking travels, you can read my book “High Plains Drifter: A Hitchhiking Journey Across America.” It was published in 2008.

My home base is between the Missouri River and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


Tim Shey, Bozeman, Montana

A Matter of Pride
Dear Editor: In MG #173, I find two new names on your masthead as senior correspondents — Richard Barnum-Reece’s and mine. On the behalf of now-dead Richard, I’d like you to know that he would be really pleased by this designation, as he and I always pictured your magazine as the ultimate in alpine truth-telling. This is the only publication we ever found that consistently understood what we thought it was all about.

He and I were introduced to MG when we first saw Dick Dorworth’s ’70s article “Night Driving.” We held (still do) his writing and accomplishments in the same esteem as that of Edward Abbey, Yvon Choinard and other big mountaineering names of the time. Thirty-five years later, that same sense is still true for me. That you would name a dead guy “(RIP)” as a senior correspondent (maybe a first in magazine journalism) validates MG’s courage, sense of humor and sense of what’s right.

For my own part, this mention is going on my resume with a great deal of pride. To be listed on your masthead with Dorworth and the others there is a major milestone.  Thanks.

Dave Baldridge, Albuquerque, NM

To Human Companion Bob Welsh in Mountain Dog photo, MG #176: While a picture is worth a thousand words, the picture may not portray reality, but allow me to go off on my impressions of you and the picture you appear in on page 23. The photographer is identified as a woman. If she doesn’t love you, you are still lucky enough to have a woman who is gracious enough to at least put up with you AND your dog. Your dog loves you, is at ease and looks forward to working with you and is gracious enough to put up with you when your attention is diverted. The photo was taken at an out building. Its windows haven’t seen glass for a long time. These features, along with your clothes and complexion, mean that you work some land that comes with a personal history. The beautiful brace of birds came from that land, your land, from walking distance. You didn’t drive for hours on a Saturday morning to get in line at public land to chase birds that were stocked the day before.

Bob, if only so much as a word of this is true, your hat may as well be a crown. You are young and strong and king of your world. That’s what I see in that photo.

Charles Green, Boise

High Praise Indeed
Hey M. John: I just picked up the latest issue, #176, of the Gazette: “4th Annual Mountain Dog Photo Contest.” Actually, as always I picked up two copies. One to leave in the shitter at work in an attempt to spread some appropriate perspective to my co-workers during their otherwise busy days, and one for home, which, incidentally, often finds its way to my shitter as well. Mind you, this business about the Gazette finding its way to the shitters that populate my life is not meant as an insult. Quite the contrary. Only the best of the best makes the cut. In my world, there’s no greater status reading material can attain than to cross the carpet/linoleum boundary and find a home atop “the oval office.”

Bathroom talk aside, when I got around to cracking open this latest issue, I couldn’t help but notice the issue month read “February/March.” In a panic, I rushed to the computer (don’t worry … I washed my hands), to check and see if the Gazette is going to an every-other-month publication schedule. I just don’t think I (or my relaxing co-workers, for that matter), could go a full two months between each issue.

So, what’s the scoop? Have I just somehow missed that the Gazette combines a couple months as in years past or is this a new development in the publication schedule?

Thanks for any clarification and thanks again for the fantastic mag.

Mike Gerhardt, Boise

Editor’s note: We now publish 10 times a year, with double-month issues appearing February/March and August/September. This gives our staff time to hit the road for a spell without falling even further behind than we already are and always will be.

Little Dog #1
Dear M.J. Fayhee: I’m sure my email is one of the dozens you have now received regarding your heart-wrenching article in the latest Mountain Gazette (“Little Dog,” Smoke Signals, MG #176). You may have already relinquished Casey by now, but I’m writing to contribute my unsolicited two cents worth.

I too had a “soul mate,” my little Ute, a red Aussie mix, only 35 pounds. He died in my arms at age 2 1/2. There have been two dogs since: Harvard, who eventually stayed with the ex-husband, and my current dog of 10-plus years, Willow. There will never be another Ute, no matter how short our time together was. And while I have loved both Harvard and Willow with all my might, the relationship is not the same.

I’ve also had some experience in the Land of Enchantment, which is not very enchanting for many of our canine friends. Notoriously the opposite. I lived for a short time in the village of Corrales, and heard various stories of how folks came by their pets.  One fellow that I dated briefly got his dogs on one of the local pueblo lands where he was doing work. He coaxed the smaller, more feral one, out from under her bush and was successful at grabbing her after various attempts over a period of time. She domesticated somewhat, but once chased my neighbor’s cherished little brown hen and yanked out several tail feathers. Running down birds was probably a staple of hers out there on the res. Another woman had rescued her dog when she spotted it trapped in an irrigation ditch (luckily dry at the time) with the chain around its neck. No collar, mind you, just the chain. No one ever claimed him, so she kept him.

The fact that your Casey has still managed to maintain her sweet disposition after her eight months of wide-ranging experiences speaks volumes to her inner nature. She has not tried to viciously attack your cat, plays with other dogs and is up for new adventure.  Can you teach her to stay closer on your forays to the woods, your deal-maker? That could take time.

I got my Willow when she was “3-5 months old.” Again, it was questionable. I adopted her from the Clear Creek Animal Shelter in Dumont, though she has a chip in her head from Denver Dumb Friends. My guess is that her original litter went to Denver and she was adopted out from there. For whatever reason, that lasted only a few months, and she ended up in Dumont. She has always gotten along well with other dogs, and even had a little cellmate at the overcrowded Dumont Shelter. Perhaps her other little incarcerated comrades had been more of a staple in her life than people had.

I adopted her on Halloween, 2000. She was my reaction to cancer — not mine, my friend Karel’s. Karel had died just two weeks before on October 19th. I had just moved back to Summit County after a six-year hiatus and was living in Wildernest. I wanted a dog to hike with me, though I had just bought a townhouse with almost white carpet. Not the most practical decision I have ever made. Karel had been 49 when she died. My mind set was, “Life is short. If you want a dog, get a dog.” So I did.

Unfortunately, Willow and I did not immediately bond, even though I was rather devoted to her. Had to be, actually.  If she needed to go out, so did I. But there was something rather distant and standoffish about her. She didn’t need my constant attention, didn’t beg to be petted, didn’t really crave it. She tolerated it, but didn’t seek me out. I imagined that I had adopted a dog with attachment disorder like those sad eastern European orphans that can’t stand to be touched. She has always cowered from an outstretched hand, and still ducks her head when you want to stroke it. She especially hates the big gloved hands of winter, and it has been with constant vigilance that she does not bite those fingers. One very short-lived boyfriend once reprimanded her and she immediately squatted and peed on his polished wood floor.

Regardless, we became good roommates and pals, though she slept alone on the landing where it was tiled and cool, and I snuggled under my down comforter alone. We explored the trails of Summit County, played in Lake Dillon, but still, there was this gap. She would have gone along with anyone who had a dog, often did. Almost jumped into strangers’ cars. Anyone else with a dog was a good as me. Then, the following summer, June I remember, she suddenly seemed to look at me, really look, and I became hers. I have no idea what triggered it. It had been almost eight months since we met, and by my best guess, she was almost a year old. A gestation period, perhaps? I had outlasted the other humans in her life twice over by then.

She’s still my dog and the devotion goes both ways. We now have a man in our lives, have had for eight years. She’s always liked Alan. He ignored her growling when he first folded himself into my little Mazda, and fed her cheese from our trail lunch. He gives her confidence, and they’ve hiked many miles together without me.

I think Cali has spoken, you just haven’t quite gotten it. Your instincts led you to this New Mexico orphan. She’s not a Colorado dog — she won’t have Mayflower Gulch in her backyard. She’s in YOUR backyard, and feels safe there. So … I hope you will give Casey a chance. It sounds like she has so many good attributes that can be worked with. You’re right that she needs time to become her own dog. Then she’ll have the ability to become your dog. She’ll give you her undying loyalty, when you give her yours.

Best of luck with your decision.

Lynn Fox

Mountain Gazette welcomes letters. Please email your incendiary verbiage to: mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com.

Injun Joe

If you are inclined to recreationally eyeball road atlases as much as I am, you have probably graduated to the point where you see more than states and provinces, more than roads and streets, more than cities and towns. In other words: more than the obvious information one needs to travel more-or-less accurately from one’s home town to one’s vacation destination and back, even if you are disposed to zig, zag and wander. You are to the point in your atlas scrutinization evolution where your attention falls upon the oft-times perplexing minutiae that can be found in the fine print of every atlas worthy of the name. For instance, you will come across, in south-central Oregon, four little red squares (called “points of interest” in atlas legends) that direct you — mentally, if not physically — toward such noggin-scratchers as the Big Hole, the nearby Hole-in-the-Ground, the proximate Crack-in-the-Ground and, additionally, the Lost Forest, which, one would guess, has now been successfully located, since it’s mentioned in a road atlas and all.

Another little red square, in the Adirondacks of New York, notes something called “The Land of Make Believe.” (One can only imagine … )

Yet another in Arkansas’ Boston Mountains is “Sam’s Throne.” (I assume this has something to do with Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, who is likely considered royalty in the so-called “Natural State.”)

And, in southwest New Mexico, very near where I live, there can be found the only little red atlas point-of-interest square I know that highlights a functioning imbibery — in this case, the Buckhorn Saloon & Opera House in Pinos Altos, a 7,000-foot elevation mountain hamlet that is commonly referred to as a “ghost town,” not because only ghosts dwell there, but because ghosts far outnumber the living. Though P.A., as it is known to locals, is now home to about 300 near-bouts stunningly demographically diverse souls, it is a place, like many Western locales, that once had a mining-era population so large that it takes a great deal of active imagination, and maybe even a hefty dose of psychotropics, to envision the supposedly 30,000 people who once hung their hats here. It’s not as though there remain rows of long-empty edifices prompting a visitor to merely wonder where everyone went, and why. Only a handful of buildings remain from the time when P.A. was actually the seat of Grant County. There’s the old courthouse, which is now for sale, though, as soon as prospective buyers hear story after story about witches, bat infestations and hauntings from hell (remnants of the hanging tree are still found in the front yard), they usually shy away pronto toward real estate environs that do not require immediate exorcisms. There are a few old crumbling adobe walls in P.A. And there’s also the Buckhorn.

The Buckhorn is the first bar I visited when I moved to the Mountain Time Zone 35 years ago. I had been backpacking for several days on Tadpole Ridge and emerged sun-burnt, cactus-shredded, stumbling, exhausted, stinking to high heavens and dry of throat onto New Mexico Highway 15 just at dusk. I hitched a ride into P.A. and entered the Buckhorn looking for little more than a ride back to Silver City. What I found instead was a watering hole so flat-out special that it occupies a place of honor (well, at least a little red square) on page 131 of National Geographic’s “The American Road Atlas & Travel Planner.” I could easily spend several thousand words describing what makes the Buckhorn such a compelling place to tip a few brews, but that would require additionally herein inserting an equally lengthy tangent, wherein I would wax philosophic about the nature of bars and their place in the greater cosmos. Though I have that inclination, I do not have the room. Suffice it to say that the Buckhorn is one seriously splendid establishment.

Now, cool as it is, one has to wonder why, out of all the worthy bars in the country, the Buckhorn was singled out by National Geographic to be an official point-of-interest in its road atlas. My guess is that N.G. employs people whose gig it is to cruise around the country looking for offbeat points-of-interest to include alongside the more traditional local museums and historic sites. (I would give a left nut to have such a job.) That person was likely traveling through the area, making certain that the Gila Cliff Dwellings were still located where they have been for 1,000 years or so, and, as he/she crossed the Continental Divide north of Silver City, realized he/she was feeling a tad dry. When what to his/her wondering eyes should appear, but a building that from the outside looks like it may very well crumble into a pile of dust as you’re sitting there thinking that thought. And — lo and behold! — of all fortuitous things, there’s a bar sign right there in the window, alongside another sign that proves beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt that there is indeed a supreme being up there in the heavens, and that deity is the very one mentioned in the bumpersticker that proclaims: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!” Yes, that second sign said, “open.” The N.G. point-of-interest verifier says fuck the Gila Cliff Dwellings and enters the Buckhorn, where he/she spends a convivial few hours enjoying the ambience, the beverages and the local color. Still, all things considered, there are other bars just in the Southwest as worthy of inclusion in the N.G. road atlas as the Buckhorn. Why then did the N.G. person report back to headquarters that — hold the goddamned presses! — this place needs to be on the next map? What separated the Buckhorn from Tucson’s Congress Hotel Bar or the Adobe Bar in Taos?

Please allow me to venture a guess.

Most noteworthy among the constants during the time I have visited the Buckhorn: Sitting on the same barstool —“Norm”-from-“Cheers”-like — has been a single solitary figure: Injun Joe. When I first laid eyes upon his disheveled self back when I had more future than past, I, like thousands before and since, thought he was verifiably corporeal. Maybe a little rough around the edges — hair a bit too long for a man boasting grey streaks, rumpled hat, tattered flannel shirt, ratty jeans, muddy boots — but, still, a living and breathing being. I might have even said howdy as I made my way to the bar that first time. Like thousands before and since, it probably took me a few minutes of sideways glancing to realize that Injun Joe had not moved a muscle since my arrival, not so much as a nervous twitch. Which prompted a more studied eyeballing, until I finally realized, like thousands before and since, that, though Injun Joe is surely endowed with a full ration of spirit, he was nothing more than a manikin with weathered-looking skin that had clearly spent far too much SPF-free time out in the blazing New Mexico sun.

It’s my guess that the N.G. person probably found him/herself parked next to Injun Joe that day, and Joe probably spoke in such a way as to compel him/her to make the Buckhorn an official point-of-interest. No place else has Injun Joe sitting at the bar.

A couple years back, the Buckhorn was scheduled to close for what turned out to be an 18-month renovation that, rumor had it, would include new management. Joe’s fate was at that time unknown. The words “politically incorrect” were starting to get uttered. So, before the doors closed for the renovation, I brought my camera, pen and notebook up to the Buckhorn with the idea of formally interviewing Injun Joe, who, I should point out (with a combination of relief and concern), was, when the Buckhorn thank-godfully finally re-opened, re-placed on the very same stool in the very same spot he had occupied since at least the mid-1960s.

Now, some of you might look askance at the notion of formally interviewing a, well, dummy. To that I respond: Hell, I’ve interviewed Scott McInnis and John Andrews. Obviously, my standards ain’t that high. Besides, this would not mark the first time that I had chatted with Injun Joe. One of those long-ago days, I had eaten what I learned later was not only too many, but too many by a factor of 10, fresh Maine Liberty Caps. That was the time, just as we were going by the sheer 1,000-foot drop-off near Cherry Creek at 60 m.p.h., that my buddy Kerry, who was driving, turned to me with shock on his face, took his hands off the wheel, started pushing on his own chest (the car was by now starting to careen, much to my consternation) and told me, with a degree of earnestness that was downright captivating, that his heart had stopped beating. (I did not know whether to laugh or cry.) I consider the fact that we safely made it to the Buckhorn that day to be among my greatest accomplishments. While Kerry lay across the street under a juniper tree giving himself CPR, I went in for a calming beverage, as high as a human being can be without seeing the bright white light at the end of the long dark tunnel. I parked it next to Injun Joe, who turned to me with a wry grin and asked: “Rough one, huh?” We talked for two solid hours about this and that, until I finally felt compelled to check on Kerry, who, still lying under the same juniper, said, frantically, upon seeing me, “’Bout time!!! I think I need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”

Though lots of folks filtered in and out, for the duration of our chat, it was only Injun Joe and yours truly at the bar when I pulled my notebook out. Here’s a sampling of that interview.

MJF: You remember me, Joe?

Injun Joe: Sure. I still laugh when I think about your buddy giving himself CPR. Lucky you grabbed the steering wheel like you did. That’s a long ways down that cliff. I liked walking around there when I was young.

MJF: So, you used to do a lot of trekking through the Gila?

Injun Joe: This country flows through my veins. But I think my arteries are starting to harden. I worry about my heart.

MJF: What exactly kind of Injun are you? Are your people from this area?

Injun Joe: I used to think I was Apache, the direct descendent of Geronimo and Mangas Coloradas. But maybe that was just a story I told to impress the hippie chicks who used to come through town. They were into that sort of thing. I used to tell good stories. But what does it matter? You probably don’t know any more about your heritage than I do of mine.

MJF: Yeah, but my heritage comes from thousands of miles away. Yours probably comes from right where we’re sitting. Seems like you should know. Seems like something your people consider important.

Injun Joe: Once you take up residence a bar, especially a bar with few windows, spatial relationships can get distorted. No matter where you are, you find yourself a million miles from your roots, a million miles from the dreams you once held dear. That’s the worst part — not just not fulfilling your dreams, but forgetting entirely what they were.

MJF: So, what’s it like, sitting on the same barstool by your lonesome, all day, every day?

Injun Joe: I’ve been hugged and kissed by people from all over the country. You know … you’ve seen those over-cologned big-haired Texas ladies with the low-cut dresses rubbing their breasts on me. They take lots of photos. I’d hardly call that lonesome. And, on crowded nights, they move me back by the bathrooms to free up room at the bar, so I do get a change of scenery.

MJF: Yeah, but the over-cologned Texas ladies take their photos, laugh a bit, then saunter back to their tables. They don’t try to get to know you.

Injun Joe: OK, you’re right — it’s superficial. They leave, and I revert to being, at best, a decoration, and, at worst, invisible.

MJF: As the Buckhorn was gearing up for its big renovation, did you worry that you maybe wouldn’t be coming back, that you’d just be stashed in some storage room or tossed into a dumpster?

Injun Joe: The hereafter doesn’t frighten me. There’s a good chance the Buckhorn is my hereafter. Either way, at least I ended up in a nice place. They have a lot of good live music. The staff is pleasant. Time was when my kind wasn’t even allowed in places like this. As far as what they do with my physical body if they ever decide to ditch me, I guess I’d like to be taken out into the Gila, maybe somewhere up on Tadpole Ridge, and left sitting under a tree, where I can watch the light play off Bear Creek Canyon. I had a vision up there once, back when I had more future than past. I liked the potential I saw during that vision.

MJF: Look, man, as much as I personally fantasize about your lifestyle, about never having to leave the Buckhorn, I just gotta ask: Do you want me to break in here some night and take you away? You know, set you free? I’ll do it. I’ll take you up to Tadpole Ridge and sit you up under a tree. Just say the word.

Injun Joe: No, you’d probably get caught and get in trouble. You’d blab, the way you do, and they’d end up writing a story about you in the paper. I guess what I want to say is that I’m comfortable right here. Was there a time in my life when that would have mortified me? Sure. But there are worse things than being a decorative remnant of the past. At some point, all of our stories end. What can you do when it’s already too late? No, I think I’ll just sit here a while longer. Been feeling pretty tired lately. You don’t come up here as much as you used to. You should consider spending more time here. You can even try out my barstool when they move me back by the bathrooms on busy nights. It’s actually pretty comfortable. You can get used to just about anything.

Salmon River Brewery

In 2004, Tamarack Ski Resort, located across Lake Cascade from Donnelly, ID, became the first major new ski area to open in North America since Beaver Creek, CO, and Deer Valley, UT, back in 1981. The resulting spasm of real estate speculation, and associated influx of “far-ners,” many fleeing the more populated mountain towns of Colorado for the relatively underdeveloped paradise of Idaho’s Valley County, brought with them a culture and ideas that were a “mite differn’t” from those that had dominated these rural areas in the past.

Uninterested in sheep herding, the newcomers had ideas about recreation, recycling, education, public transportation and green living that hadn’t been given widespread credence in these parts before. They also brought with them a taste for something other than Olympia and PBR. Ten-year resident Matt Ganz, himself working full-time ski patrol at the resort, heard the call, and in 2009 with partner Matt Hurlbutt, founded the Salmon River Brewery in the nearby town of McCall, ID, with a 7Bbl brew system bought from the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver.

On the opening day of the brewery, it was announced that Tamarack would not be open the following year. The perfect economic shit-storm that had hit the rest of the country took an early toll, and the owners of the resort were in court, or on the run. Despite the news, the brewery and restaurant flourished, and sales of their Salmon River Quiver IPA and Udaho Golden Ale kept on strong. Now, two years later, a group of homeowners at the resort have worked a deal to get the lifts at Tamarack turning, and the slopes were open again this past winter. Rumors of possible investors abound, and all involved hope to see a stable operator at the helm soon.

Robbie Russel enjoys a proper-sized mug of Salmon River Quiver IPA a the Salmon River Brewery in MCcall, ID. Photographer: Colin Gamble

At the brewery, the resort opening has helped the winter business some, but their focus has been the details of a possible expansion this summer to allow for a wider distribution footprint. According to Ganz, the current brew system and production volumes don’t pencil well with large distribution, and he is eyeing some 15Bbl fermentors and a new cooling system to fix this. In the meantime, expect to see a series of small-batch beers on tap where the brewers have taken a mainline offering and done something different, such as changing up the yeast strain, or adding some dry-hopping (post-fermentation addition of hops to increase floral aromas and flavors in the brew).

After the lifts have been stopped, but before nighttime temps in the High Country have quit turning barley-pop into beer-sicles, the weather is near perfect out in Utah’s Canyonlands. Moderate daytime highs make this one of the best times of the year to get out into the red-rock backcountry. And if, despite this, the rumor of Beehive State 3.2% beer laws give reason for pause, then you have not visited The Moab Brewery. According to head brewer Jeff VanHorn, the brewery maintains a rotating lineup on eight taps, spanning the spectrum of color and ABV. Additionally, he is bottling a series of imperial-strength beers (above 8% ABV) in bombers for campsite enjoyment. By press time, these should include a Scotch ale, a black imperial IPA and a Belgian triple. These, as he says, should help non-local beer drinkers to feel safe about coming to Utah. Spring of 2011 will also see the ground-breaking for a planned 5,000-square-foot expansion of the brew house to allow for more fermentation space and a new canning line. Plans for off-site distribution are not complete but a definite possibility for 2012.

From the back deck of Ska Brewing’s World Headquarters, located atop Durango, CO’s mighty Bodo Industrial Park, one is afforded an excellent view of the rocky craw of Carbon Mountain, less than a half mile distant. Azure afternoon skies are saturated with San Juan sunshine, and, generally speaking, the air is perfect for drinking. It was here one Saturday afternoon a few years back that I sat with some buddies and watched the ski club from Ft. Lewis College practicing their backcountry turns down the still-snowy north face of the mountain, while consuming the last barrel of Ska’s winter seasonal, Euphoria Pale Ale, punctuated by mugs of the first batch of their summer seasonal, Mexican Logger (look for a canned release this summer). A more perfect trifecta of spring rites in southern Colorado cannot be described.

Brewers! Got news about your brewery, your brews or beer-related events in the West that would interest our readers? Send email and a sixer to beer@mountaingazette.com. Cheers!

Road Trip (With Baby)

Back in the day, when life was long and there was time to kill, I wandered for months at a time, going anywhere I pleased for however long I felt like. Days were a blur of trails and highways, while nights were spent beneath the stars. Eventually these solo forays evolved into backpacking and road trips with my sweetie. Long after most of our peers had settled into real jobs and mortgages, we were working as little as possible and spending weeks at a time exploring the deserts and mountains of the American West.

Then we got married. Nine months later, we had a baby. A year after that, the three of us took our first road trip together.

Winter is getting old. The snow is crusty and dirty. The March wind is blowing ceaseless and cold off the sagebrush desert. Let’s fast forward into spring, take a trip to the Utah red rock, our first trip since our splendid honeymoon in the San Juans. First trip since the golden aspen cast a spell that led us to carelessly, blissfully, fatefully commingle our DNA along the banks of the Dolores River. First trip since the primordial chaos of a birth and a slew of sleep-deprived nights. Once again, we’re lighting out for parts known and unknown, bound for the towering walls of Zion Canyon. Gasoline, caffeine, a couple of Taos breakfast burritos and GO!

Few things in life beat the feeling of rolling out of your hometown. Familiar mountains recede in the rear view, exotic mountains rise up in the windshield, and the steaming coffee makes everything feel like it’s going to be alright forever and ever. And we’re in a new car, newest we’ve ever owned anyway: a 1990 Volvo wagon with a working CD player. I pop in Marty Robbins to serenade us into the next valley over, ready for anything.

For one rocking hour we are back in the saddle. And then:

The Blonde Bambino awakens and howls in her car seat, halting our road reverie dead in its tracks. We pull over, hopefully in a place with views or alongside a creek where Dad can bust out binoculars and engage in his new hobby: bird watching, a frighteningly middle-aged-style pursuit. Meanwhile, in the solar warmth of the car, Momma patiently gives of her body so that the Bear Cub squirming and slurping at her breast will continue to be nourished and grow. Thirty minutes later, after changing a diaper, we’re back on the road, for an hour or two anyway, until it’s time to pull over and repeat the process.

Signs tell us that we’ve just crossed the Continental Divide — here just a modest dirt ridge speckled with junipers — and now we’ve officially left our Rio Grande Rift Valley and begun the 500-mile trek across the Colorado Plateau. Black basalt gives way to creamy hills and tortured badlands sliced by arroyos, some of which are blessed with a handful of barely budding cottonwoods. The view opens up, and mountains in four states come into view: the San Juans, the Chuskas, the Abajos and Mount Taylor all in one fell swoop, with Shiprock and Chaco Mesa thrown in for good measure.
It is the first of many such views, and the next few days will blur into an impressionistic montage of banded cliffs, shooting stars, desert sunsets and blossoming trees. This trip is our reminder of the big Out There, our reconnection to sidereal time and the humbling power of geologic process and biologic renewal.

But our daughter could care less about such high-fallutin’ nonsense: She’s in the backseat, transfixed by the miraculous zipper on her bunny sweater.

Due to the still-freezing nighttime temperatures, and the fact that we’re both a little soft after two years of non-camping, we spend the first night in a Kayenta motel, where we stay up way too late catching up on commercials and sitcoms we haven’t seen since the last time we stayed in a motel. The next morning, we’re off at dawn, or about four disorganized hours after dawn anyway, speeding toward the Colorado River.

That’s the plan anyway, but the Volvo is running hot, the needle high in the red zone as we prepare to climb up and across White Mesa. We pull over next to a sign reading “Peabody Coal/Baptist Church,” a taste of Appalachia here on the Navajo Rez, where Daddy busts out the toolbox and Momma busts out her right, no left (gotta keep track) breast and proceeds to feed Precious Angel. I open the hood and poke around, but can’t see anything wrong. She’s definitely hot (the car and the Milf in the passenger seat) but there’s no steam or fluids leaking out (except from the breast of the Milf in the passenger seat) and all belts and hoses seem to be intact so I close the hood and hope for one of those moments when the car magically fixes itself.

It doesn’t, so for most of the rest of the trip, we maintain a safe temperature range by running the heater at full blast.

We pause in lawn-filled Page to grab batteries for the Singing Frog — a crucial piece of get-to-sleep gear — then bridge the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam and head west across a series of streams flowing south off the Kaiparowits Plateau en route to Marble and Grand canyons. One of these streams cuts a deep canyon of its own as it drops down to the big river, and there’s an official campground right where the canyon begins, which should suit us just fine.

But I cringe at the thought of paying for camping when we’re surrounded by millions of acres of public land chock full of spots to set up camp for free. I mention this to my wife (she’s heard it before, many times) and she relents and allows me to explore a promising dirt road that the map says should lead to car-camping paradise. Forty-five minutes later, the temperature gauge is topping out, we’re coughing on clouds of dust (the windows are open to counteract the blasting heater) and the Baby is crying, so I turn the car around and head to the official BLM campsite.

Humbled, I visit the self-serve pay station then roll slowly through the campground, past young hipsters sipping microbrews amidst fancy cars with mountain bikes and gear boxes mounted on elaborate roof racks … and it dawns on me that nobody else knows or cares about “back in the day.” The vagabonding, the high-lonesome adventures, the twenty-something coolness has fallen away like the hair on the top of my head, and the stroller lashed atop the aging family station wagon heralds the end of the chapter of my life entitled “Hip.”

We settle on a swell site next to a battleship-sized blob of tan sandstone and unload, starting with the square playpen. A few deft flicks of the wrist and there’s a baby jail set up beneath the shade of a juniper. I pop the Bundle of Joy inside lest she stuff her mouth full of rocks and beetles and begin to unpack.

It’s been just two days of travel, but the car is already a disaster. The front is cluttered with coffee mugs, half-folded maps, crumpled burrito wrappers, roadside geology books, binoculars and the camera — the usual road trip detritus — while the far back is stacked to the roof with winter parkas, spring Chacos, hiking boots and underwear that have crept out of bins and backpacks to mingle with scattered sweatshop toys and stuffed animals (including the aforementioned Singing Frog, who is stoned on fresh batteries and bursting into spontaneous song: “IF YOU’RE HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT CLAP YOUR HANDS!”)

But the back seat is where the real action is, for every surface near the car seat is sticky with a mixture of spilled juicie and smashed Cheerios, and the window next to the car seat is crusted with smeared hummus. Worst of all, somewhere on the floorboards there lurks a plastic bag of shitty diapers I forgot to jettison back in Page, and another bag containing a cutesy pair of shitty overalls we salvaged after our Little Insurgent had what we refer to as a “blowout” just outside of Kaibito.

Fortunately, there’s a cooler of beer tucked away beneath a case of stewed organic carrots. I plunge my hand into the ice and grab a bottle, pop the cap with the handle of a sparkling magic fairy wand, and take a Daddy-sized drink of pale ale.

The warm afternoon becomes a chilly evening, so I wander to the riverbank and gather an armful of wood from the wreckage of sticks and logs piled up by the last flash flood. I start a fire while Momma Bear stirs a pot of roasted red pepper soup and spreads butter on bread that will soon become very satisfying grilled cheese. We sit and eat contently while our Pumpkin stands with her hands gripping the edge of her playpen, quietly dividing her attention between the crackling flames and the bats flitting overhead.

After dinner, as my honey readies the bedding, I gather my daughter into my arms and take her for a moonlit stroll alongside the softly roiling waters of the river. I still haven’t mastered my lullabies, so I soothe my Little Angel to sleep with the sweet sounds of the Grateful Dead, nurturing her malleable psyche with the mythology of Americana: A tumbledown shack in Bigfoot County, a cave in the Utah hills, a place where the wind don’t blow so strange…And she’s out cold, snoring even.

Perfect. Bedtime, for Bonzo anyway, so we all settle easy into the tent, careful not to wake her. It’s the first night of her life not spent inside a womb or beneath a roof, and our first night camping with anything but a dog between us. It’s only March though, still cold, so we err on the side of caution and bundle our Offspring in a onesie, sweat pants and a sweater, topped by a snowsuit that makes her look like the pink spawn of the Michelin man. We position the sleeping bags to provide her with one more layer of warmth, then fire up the headlamp and read to each other: “Desert Solitaire” for the first time in years, deep in the heart of Canyon Country. My wife and I snuggle up and read. An owl hoots. All is well.

And then there’s that unmistakable smell. Damn. Usually she does this in the morning, like her Daddy, but for some reason here it is: fresh baby shit. We have no choice but to unpeel all those layers, one at a time, right here in the tent. We start slowly at first, hoping that somehow she’ll sleep through the indignity of getting her clothes ripped off and her ass wiped in the cold night air, but we quickly realize she’s waking up no matter what, so we kick things into high gear: zippers, snaps, velcro, buttons, booties and the diaper removed, down to the proverbial baby bottom … contain and wipe away the steaming metamorphosed peas, position the next diaper then rebootie, rebutton, revelcro, resnap, rezip, our four hands working in rapid fire surgical precision in hopes that we’ll head off the potential disaster of a midnight meltdown.

Thankfully, we do, and she falls back to sleep.

Our child is up with the sun, so we are too. I shuffle out of the tent and brew coffee in the morning chill. My crew soon joins me, and I rekindle last night’s fire and fry up bacon, eggs and green chile. We eat slowly then lounge around, soaking up the first rays of morning warmth, and taking turns dragging our Desert Tortoise back from the brink of the campfire she has decided she must crawl into.

It is a perfect high-desert morning, a long time coming for us, but there are cracks in the bedrock of our calm contentment. Yes, dear daughter, you were an accident — the happiest accident we could ever hope for — and we love you more than you will ever know. We would die for you. We would kill for you. Our lives would be meaningless without you, but that doesn’t mean its easy for us to sit in these camp chairs and watch as carefree folks shoulder their backpacks and disappear into the canyon yawning mysteriously at the edge of the campground, a canyon Ed Abbey once described as “nothing but cavernous gorges; quicksand; high sheer tapestried walls of golden sandstone; marvelous patterns of light and shade on rock; water and cottonwood trees…freshwater seeps and springs; hanging gardens on the canyon walls; side canyons; an abandoned river channel; waterfalls and plunge pools, potsherds and petroglyphs…routine stuff”.

By the time they come out of that canyon, sunburned and dirty and amazed, we’ll be back home, back at work, our long-anticipated trip over and done. By the time circumstances allow us to take that sort of journey again, we’ll both be well over 50 years old.

For a few wistful moments, Mommy and Daddy wish they could disappear into that canyon too.

We pack up and hit pavement, headed across one of the middle “steps” of the Grand Staircase — the Shinarump Flats. The signs of humanity are small, the views large, much larger even than they seemed, for we are smack dab in the middle of one of the largest exposures of geochronology on the planet. To the south, the Flats step down to the forested green sea of the Kaibab Plateau, which sprawls south toward an unseen drop into the Grand Canyon, where epochs of lush swamps, tropical seas and mammoth volcanic eruptions overlay continental bedrock. Somewhere down there, billion-year-old fossilized algae lay exposed to the wind and rain — the same wind and rain that have laid waste to this part of Utah over and over again. To the north, red (ancient river deposits), then white (lithified sand dunes), then gray (black mud and swamps) cliffs rise in successive steps toward distant pink cliffs — the bottom of a lake now crowning the snowcapped Paragaunsant Plateau.

Routine stuff indeed, all the way to Kanab, where we pause to change a diaper before crossing a non-descript divide and into the headwaters of the East Fork of the Virgin River. We enter Zion National Park, pass through a tunnel and into Zion Canyon itself, then down the river to the town of Springdale.

Springdale is just that: a meadowy opening in the canyon bounding with spring birdsongs, spring flowers and loads of spring tourists and tour buses. We head down valley into the sleepy town of Rockville, a stark contrast to the gateway bustle of Springdale, and for just the second time in our lives, check into a bed and breakfast — paid for, like the rest of this decadent trip, with our very first credit card: a doozy from REI with no spending limit, a picture of an ice climber on it, and a nebulous interest rate. We haul a large amount of gear up the plush carpeted stairs — I can sense the proprietors’ nervousness at the sight of the cooler and camp stove we stash in our room — then retire to a patio to soak up the glorious evening light while our child crawls on a lawn for the first time in her life. As we sip our beer, a gentle breeze welcomes us to full-blown spring with the scent of apple blossoms.

We had covered some ground in the last few days — 600 miles to breakfast beneath the thousand-foot walls of Navajo sandstone, but the seemingly immovable mass of rock had come further. The individual grains of sand that made up the orange cliffs were eroded off of the Appalachian Mountains back when they resembled the Andes, then carried across an entire continent by long-vanished rivers that flowed into a vanished sea. The sea dried up, and winds whipped the sand into a vast expanse of drifting dunes that covered large parts of Utah and six other states. Climates changed, continents broke apart, and the dunes were buried beneath other geologic happenings and cemented into colossal chunks of sandstone. Millions of years later, this part of the world was uplifted, and a small river sliced straight down into the layers of stone, resulting in a narrow canyon so majestic that some Book of Mormon thumpers would eventually name it after heaven.

Some of the most epic scenery on Earth to be sure, but, until now, I’ve avoided this place. Zion draws millions of visitors each year, and this crush of people, combined with the implementation of a long list of rules, cramps the style and undermines the sensibilities of the average dirt-bag adventurer: entrance fees that rival the cost of a tank of gas; campgrounds that need to be reserved months in advance; no dogs; automobiles jockeying for position at trailheads and scenic pullouts, and permits required to do just about anything beyond taking a nature hike on a paved trail.

But two things make this trip different. One is the Midget Goldilocks I’ll be carrying on my back or pushing around in our super-yuppie-style stroller, a situation that limits our ability to cover too many miles, let alone scramble through narrows or claw our way up brushy ravines. Suffice to say that our days here will be spent taking nature hikes, some of them on paved trails.

The second difference is the fact that Zion National Park has done something rather extraordinary — something Ed Abbey suggested over 40 years ago in “Desert Solitaire”: from March through October, personal automobiles are banned from entering Zion Canyon itself. Instead, you can walk, bicycle or hop on the free propane powered buses that shuttle folks into and out of the canyon.

We parked at the visitor’s center, gathered our survival gear (a rickshaw-style backpack, sippy cup, crackers and applesauce, diapers and wipes, a binkie and a blankie) and rode a bus right into the heart of the world’s deepest sandstone canyon, hopping off at various trailheads to explore then hopping back on for a ride to the next one. Thousands of other people were in the relatively short canyon along with us — a situation that usually turns me into a grumpy asshole, particularly since every single one of them made a comment about the baby on my back (“now that’s the way to hike!”) — but the ease of movement and surprising quietude made it feel as if we had the place to ourselves.

Indeed, the lack of cars made everything better. No engines revving. No horns beeping. No doors slamming. No ceaseless whoosh of tires on pavement. We could actually hear the river, loud and clear, and we relaxed and noticed the small wonders tucked away beneath the majestic cliffs: trout glistening in crystal pools; the vanilla smell of sun-warmed ponderosa bark; ravens building nests; the sound of last year’s dried cottonwood leaves rattling in the canyon breeze. Whole families pedaled by on bikes, or picnicked along the river, and I was surprised to feel a kindred connection to my fellow explorers as we snapped photos of waterfalls and filled our water bottles from dripping springs.

We spent our last night outside of the park, car camping like days of yore on a ridge overlooking the unique and spectacular triple nexus of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert. Range after range of mountains stretched into the sunset, and a thin swath of cottonwoods revealed the path of the Virgin River as it flowed off the red rock heights and into a lower, hotter world of creosote and ocotillo, sky islands and earthquake valleys.

It would be nice to keep going, across the sun-blasted alkali flats, over the silver granite of the Sierra Nevada, all the way to the roar of the Pacific Ocean. But that can’t happen, not for awhile anyway, maybe never. Tomorrow, we head home to the various responsibilities necessary to feed and shelter our child.

And that’s just fine. We had a good run, my wife and I, chock full of extended opportunities to stop and smell the wild roses, and any wisdom we gleaned from those experiences — awe, hope, humility — guides us now as we try to raise our child to be a compassionate and Earth-loving woman. If we’re lucky, if we pay attention to what we’re doing, she will grow up knowing the importance of rivers, mountains, deserts and sunsets. That’s our big adventure now: raising a well-adjusted Pagan.

Besides, the Sierras aren’t going anywhere, not in my lifetime anyway, and the Pacific Ocean will be there for a few hundred million more years. I turn away from the beckoning view and put another log on the campfire. Tonight we’re roasting marshmallows.

Everest 3D

As part of an ongoing series, Elevation Outdoors will follow 13 climbers as they attempt to summit the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest.

We put you at the center of the action with real-time blog and tracking updates through Everest 3D, a first-of-its-kind project. Using high-resolution images and precise 3D maps, every user on the web can track their expedition and visualize the experience from home.

As the climbers make their way up the mountain, they will be tracked in real-time through Everest 3D, a first-of-its-kind project developed in partnership with 3D RealityMaps, DigitalGlobe, the German Aerospace Center and Peak Freaks. Using high-resolution images and precise 3D maps, every user on the web can track their expedition and visualize the experience from home.

Everest 3D was developed through a partnership between 3D RealityMaps and commercial satellite operator DigitalGlobe. High-resolution WorldView-2 satellite images captured the Mount Everest region and were transformed by 3D RealityMaps into a 3D visualization of the highest mountain in the world at a highly precise and detailed caliber that makes this partnership truly unique. The expedition is being lead by high altitude mountain guide Tim Rippel, owner of Peak Freaks, an 8000m expedition company.

Download the application to view the climb.