Category Archives: Travel

An Exciting Flight to Boston

Our plane pulled out from the gate, beginning our five-and-a-half hour flight from Los Angeles to Boston. It’s always a relief when a plane pulls away on time. It means no delays. It means we’re gonna get there when we planned to get there. It means just settle back, relax, and enjoy the view from 32,000 feet.

But when we were no more than 10 feet off the ground the right engine failed. Yep, that’s right. Suddenly no right engine. Sound scary? I hope so, because I’m trying to make this flight sound exciting.

Actually it was just our asses that were 10 feet off the ground. That’s about as high as these jumbo jets sit, from ground to belly, above the landing gear.

The plane had been pushed backward away from the gate and onto the tarmac by the little white truck that does the plane-pushing job. Then the pilot tried to start the engines to get us onto the runway. After about 10 minutes the plane was pushed right back to the gate.

“Aw shit,” I thought.

The pilot got on the PA. “Ladies and gentlemen, that was a short flight, ha-ha. I couldn’t get the goddamned right engine to start. I’m callin’ a mechanic, so just hold tight for a few minutes and we’ll get this bird movin’ again.”

My wife and I held tight. What the hell else could we do? We were prisoners inside a motionless fuselage. But we were philosophical. Sitting trapped on the ground sure beat having our bodies scattered over the landscape in a horrific airplane crash.

A few minutes passed. Then another few. Then a half hour. A sense of anxiety and claustrophobia was becoming palpable when the pilot got on and announced, “Gotta mechanic comin’. Finally, for Chrissake. He’ll be here shortly. Just hold tight.”

15 minutes later a new announcement: “The mechanic just reset all the damned inputs. Now he’s gettin’ to work on the engine. We’ll know something shortly.”

But not long after that came bad news. “The fuckin’ engine wouldn’t start after all that. Now they gotta change the goddamned module. I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t know when we’re leaving this godforsaken airport.”

About an hour-and-a-half after we boarded this A321 came both welcome and dreaded news. “Ladies and gentlemen, fuck me to tears. We’re gonna have to deplane and wait in the terminal for our shitty wrench-turners to finish repairing this bucket of bolts. But hopefully we’ll get your asses to Boston by the end of the day. Or at least by the end of the calendar year.”

This was welcome news because at least we would be allowed out of the confines of our tubular prison and into the more open space of the terminal, where we could stretch our legs, get something to eat, and use the restroom.

But it was also dreaded news. It seemed the big “C” was coming soon. Cancellation. And perhaps the end of our vacation before it could even begin.

Periodic messages dribbled down upon us from airline staff, as we patiently waited in the terminal, updating us on the progress of the mechanics. Such as:

“We sure as hell don’t know when this goddamned flight will depart, but we’ll keep you updated with all of our latest factoids and fuckups.”

“The stupid-ass mechanics failed again. Now they have to replace another motherfucking module.”

“You may have noticed that the plane is rolling away. Yeah, goodbye stupid plane! The stooges we employ for mechanics decided they have to take it to the hangar, so they can screw around with the engine big time.”

A rack of snacks was rolled into the waiting area, accompanied by this announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, food makes everything right. So help yourself, you mindless trained seals, and grab a snack off the rack.”

And we did, descending upon the startled food rack like ravening locusts. A crowd of pissed-off passengers stuffed pockets and purses with bags of chips, cookies, and lukewarm sandwiches. We all grabbed much more than we needed to sate our hunger. We grabbed compensation. Recompense for a delayed day. Revanche, arrogated in crinkly containers, plucked from that food rack until it was clean to its bare metal bones.

More and more food racks were wheeled in to replace the empties, until we finally gave up on protesting through feasting. With faces full of crumbs, and stomachs, pockets, and purses bulging, we belched, rolled back in our seats, and surrendered to an onslaught of more merciless messages.

A few hours later came this augury:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re really gonna fuck with you now. We’ve moved you from Gate 47 to Gate 9,253. So y’all get off yer fat asses and head down there. Pronto!”

We dutifully grabbed our bags and waddled to our new, distant gate, which might as well have been in Boston itself. And then we waited for more announcements. Finally one came.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Boston flight. Hallelujah! After a thorough search of our fleet, we finally found a replacement plane. We gave up on that other fucking death trap. Now listen to this ingenious goddamned plan. A plane’s gonna pull up to this here gate. Every peckerhead on board is getting off. Then we’re gonna clean all the shit out of it and allow you to get on board. And then we’ll flap our merry wings and haul your sorry asses to Beantown.”

Finally, six hours after we boarded the first plane, we staggered onto the second. It jetted off into the big blue void without incident. And late in the evening of a very long day, American Airlines delivered us safely to Boston, Massachusetts.

Disclaimer: The staff of American Airlines was actually very professional and polite in their announcements and treatment of us pathetic passengers. If anything in this post indicates otherwise, it might merely be subconscious slippages from my mind, that unintentionally interjected themselves into my writing, betraying my emotional state at the time.

At last, our plane got us higher than ten feet above the ground.

How to Breeze Through a Carnival Cruise

The Carnival Breeze cruise ship, moored to the dock at Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras.


“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” said the warden to Luke Skywalker. Or was that Cool Hand Luke? If you’re confused, so was I, on the Carnival Cruise ship Breeze. My wife and I recently sailed aboard this ship, while on a Caribbean cruise that began in Galveston, Texas.

I’m going to tell you what you need to know, that the cruise line and ship’s crew failed to communicate, so your ride on this vessel might go a little more smoothly than ours.

The byzantine layout of this ship can be mystifying. You have to explore on your own, and pry information from the ship’s crew and passengers, to figure it all out.

First, take a winter jacket. They refrigerate the hell out of the ship, with their ubiquitous air conditioning. My wife and I expected balmy Caribbean conditions, but our indoor experience felt much more like a gelid cruise to Alaska. And even with the thermostat in our cabin cranked all the way up to a volcanic setting, cool air still poured out of the ceiling vent.

Fortunately we had a balcony stateroom, so when we hit warmer waters we were able to prop open the balcony door and allow some blessed tropical heat enter our icebox. Er, I mean cabin. It felt nice to defrost.

Passengers defrosting on an aft deck.

There were no lights in our quarters when we first moved in. My wife complained to a steward, and he said he’d look into it. A few hours later, as the tenebrous fingers of twilight were creeping in, I desperately asked another passenger if he had lights in his cabin. Yes, he claimed, to my surprise. Then he explained that you have to insert your Sail and Sign card in a slot by the door to make the lights work. I felt a little sheepish, and wished I was as smart as him, to have figured that out.

Anyways, our cruise was finally starting to feel a little pleasant, as we no longer had to pee on the floor of our dark bathroom.

A Sail and Sign card, by the way, is a little plastic credit card like thing that you are issued when you board a Carnival ship. It allows you to buy stuff and have it put on your account, to be settled after the cruise ends. And you must have it in your possession to get off the ship and back on. And it also admits you into your cabin, much like a motel room key.

Problem is, you must leave this very important card in the slot by the door, to make the lights turn on and stay on. If you happen to leave your cabin and forget to take your card with you, you’ll be locked out. So you must spend your entire cruise worrying about this possibility.

But there’s a loophole. About two days before our cruise ended, we discovered that we could fold over a piece of paper and stick it into the slot, and that kept the lights on. What chumps we were for all that angst over forgetting the Sail and Sign card. We felt annoyed with ourselves, but also gloated and delighted in the sneakiness of bypassing Carnival’s diabolical energy-saving scheme.

Our balcony, plus a couple of other cruise ships, anchored off Belize City, Belize. We discovered that many other cruise ships were visiting the same tourist traps as us, at the same time. Translation: Large crowds ashore.

If you want to protect yourself from hearing loss, avoid the Lido Deck (Deck 10). There they blast music so loud, you can receive a free ear piercing. But the Lido Deck is also where they serve food, in a smorgasbord-like setting. So if you like smorgasbords, pack a pair of earplugs.

And men, if you prefer to be served by waiters, pack a pair of long pants. Dinner is served at the Sapphire Restaurant on Deck 3, every evening beginning at 5:45 pm. Most nights, casual attire is allowed. But on two of the cruise nights you are required to wear formal attire for what they call Elegant Dining. That means long pants. They don’t seem to give a damn what kind of shirt you wear, as long as it isn’t a tank top. But they won’t let you in if you’re wearing shorts.

This Elegant Dining crap really gets under my skin. I’m on vacation and going for a cruise to the Caribbean, goddamnit, so why can’t I just wear shorts and relax the whole time? Two reasons. First, as I mentioned above, they refrigerate the hell out of the ship, and that includes dining areas. So you might want to dine in long pants every night, and also huddle in a heavy parka wrapped over your Hawaiian shirt.

I found some lifesaving peace on this cruise, and spent quiet moments admiring beautiful sights.

The second reason has to do with the fashion police. Some folks on cruises have a thing about clothing. I suspect that dressing up is some sort of competitive sport for them, and they want to compete against as many participants as possible; even if they have to force those who just want to relax and be casual, to participate in this sick competition.

Well, I showed those snobs a thing or two. Yes, I did bring along a pair of long pants, and yes I did wear them during the goddamned fucking Elegant Dining nights. But while eating and engaging in table talk, I employed words such as “ain’t”, “y’all”, and “shaddup”, while deploying my thickest redneck accent. In this manner I demonstrated that while this rebel could be forced to be elegant, I could not be compelled to be eloquent.

By the way, to find the Sapphire Restaurant, go to the fore elevator, and ride it to Deck 3. Don’t take the mid elevator. That’s a trap they don’t tell you about. You can’t get into the restaurant from there, and have to brave crowded elevators to get back to a different deck and walk to the fore of the ship.

Learn the elevators. They have their ups and downs. There are three sets of elevators, at the fore, mid, and aft areas of the ship.

Breakfast is served at the Blush Restaurant, Deck 3, near the aft elevator. Elegant Dining never occurs at the Blush, thank God. (I wonder if that’s why they named it Blush?)

Plan your shore excursions before you cruise. Just get on Carnival’s website, and you’ll find descriptions for all the excursions available, and that should help you choose. Excursions are important. After all, why would you sail a thousand miles to a foreign port to just stay on the ship, or browse through the souvenir shops on shore? If you really want to see something, you must book an excursion.

We waited until the second day of the cruise to actually book our excursions. We knew what we wanted way before the cruise began, but we worried that we might have to cancel our cruise, and then lose our money from booking excursions too early. The tickets are nonrefundable, you see. But because we waited, some of the excursions we wanted had already been taken. So we were left with alternate, mediocre choices, for some of the tours we went on.

Don’t let that happen to you. Book on the first day of cruising. You can book your excursions at the Carnival Adventures desk, near the fore elevator, on Deck 3.

Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras. If you want to see more than this at the exotic foreign ports you visit, I advise that you book an excursion.

The night before an excursion, buy some water at the Plaza Cafe, on Deck 5. It only costs $1.44 for a one-liter bottle. If you don’t take this precious chemical with you, in the tropical heat, you may find yourself humming a certain Sons of the Pioneers tune the entire day. (Can you name that tune?)

Do you get seasick easy? Then reserve a cabin that’s situated in the middle of the ship. That’s where the least amount of pitching and rolling motion is felt. Vacations are always more enjoyable when you find a way to minimize the vomiting.

Do you have ochlophobia, like me? That’s a fear of large crowds. If so, you might want to reconsider going on a cruise. The Carnival Breeze is very populated, accommodating over 3,000 passengers. You may often find yourself being herded around with other passengers, like a parade of elephants.

I say elephants, and not cattle, because I noticed that most of the passengers are overweight. I suspect that the appeal for many people to cruising is the “all-you-can-eat” dining feature. Fatsos are in food heaven, on a Carnival cruise ship. And their sheer numbers and individual sizes can make it challenging to navigate down narrow aisles, or stand in elevators. You sometimes must contort your body in weird positions, to avoid contact with big bellies.

I think that’s also why they keep the air-conditioning cranked up. Fatsos can’t tolerate any amount of heat. They must always have cold air blowing over them to cool their adipose-insulated bodies, and they howl like tormented souls in hell whenever a hypothermic skinny person inches the thermostat up.

I remained in my cabin as much as possible, due to my ectomorphic frame, ochlophobia, and misanthropic nature. Several times I relied upon room service for a Reuben or BLT sandwich, to avoid cold, crowded dining areas.

This is the casino. Photo was taken around 6:00 am, when most of the passengers were snoozing like beached whales. I did very well at this casino. That’s because I do not gamble.

At the end of the cruise you will receive printed and oral information concerning Carnival’s highly organized, well-thought-out-plan to disembark its 3,000 passengers from the ship in a safe and sane manner. This orderly plan involves disembarking manageable groups of people, one-by-one, by assigned zone, and by deck. You will be warned repeatedly over loudspeakers to follow the plan.

We’ve learned to ignore the warnings. We suspect it’s just Carnival’s way of paying lip-service to maritime safety regulations.

We do like it seems everyone else does, and stampede for the elevators. The crew doesn’t seem to actually care about, or enforce its complex disembarkation procedure. Hell, they want you off the ship more than you want to get off of it, so they can make room for a fresh new load of elephants.

We’ve learned that the sooner we start running for the exits, the sooner we get off the boat before the rest of the stampede, and the less time we have to wait in line at Customs. Believe me, those Customs lines can be murderously long. So take my word for it. Run like everyone else runs! Beat the crowds and get the hell out of there, quick!

Galveston Bay, with the full moon setting, on the last day of our cruise. True to this astrological sign, it was lunacy getting off the ship.

And finally you’ll be heading home. Perhaps in your very own car. An uncrowded car, where you can breathe easily. A comfortable car that will leave you wondering if you could have had more fun on a road trip, rather than a cruise. A responsive car where you have control over everything except the price of gas.

And a car where you can finally remove your parka. Because you also control the air-conditioning.

Nixon Vs. Reagan (as Librarians)

My wife and I ventured forth and found a unique experience. We visited two presidential libraries over the past three months. First we toured the Richard Nixon library in September, and then the Ronald Reagan library just last week.

We were enamored with the Nixon library. That’s what motivated us to see how Reagan was doing as a librarian. But although we enjoyed it, we didn’t love it. It was just okay. This left us feeling kind of disappointed. Our high expectations were unmet. I guess Tricky Dick is a hard act to follow, even by a former movie star.

This was as warm a welcome as we received at the Reagan library.

I mean, here’s a president who fell from office in disgrace and dishonor. For years, he was the most reviled man in our country. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan left office riding a massive wave of popularity. Since then he has been idolized, oft-quoted, and used for reflective glory by aspiring politicians who never seem to come close to actually matching him.

So naturally we expected Reagan to outshine Nixon in the library department. After all, a presidential library is intended to celebrate a president’s legacy. And Reagan’s legacy far outshines Nixon’s, most would agree.

A segment of the wall that Mr. Gorbachev was told to tear down. Here is one of the few exceptions where Reagan’s library outclasses Nixon’s. You are allowed to touch and feel this exhibit to your heart’s content. Whereas Nixon’s exhibit includes a sign that reads, “Please do not touch Berlin Wall”. Er, kind of chilling, don’tcha think, Mr. Nixon?

Yet we still found ourselves more intrigued with the Nixon library. It detailed his presidency, and historical events surrounding his presidency, in an informative and painfully accurate manner. And it put Watergate and other Nixon scandals, on full display. It whitewashed nothing about this man, but instead seemed to give equal time to both his successes and failures. The open honesty disarmed us, and we liked and respected Nixon better after leaving his library.

But the Reagan library seemed artificial. It emphasized his successes, while making little or no mention of his failures. For instance, it celebrated his success at tax reform. It highlighted his ideology concerning the evils of big government. And it hailed his victories in the Cold War. This left us with the sense that Reagan was proud of his achievements, proud of his ideology, and proud of his country. Quite possibly in that order.

Remember this enthralling game in the 1980’s? No?! Why just think of all the fun-filled wholesome nights your family missed. This byproduct of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign had interesting rules and strategy including the movement of tokens by rolling a . . . a . . . snnxxx . . . zzzzzzzzzz.

Meanwhile, we found no mention of the Iran-Contra scandal in his library. Perhaps it was in an exhibit hidden in some shadowy corner, but we sure couldn’t locate it. I believe a man with more pride in this country would highlight what makes it so great. And that is our freedom to debate anything and everything, and our liberty to challenge the authority of our leaders, including the highest leader of the land.

Nixon’s humility and honesty, compared with Reagan’s ego and elephant-in-the-room elisions, left us respecting Tricky Dick better than the father of our modern-day GOP.

The much ballyhooed Titanic exhibit was visiting the Reagan library, so we eagerly flocked with the crowd to see it. Turns out, most of it contains props from the movie, Titanic, such as this reproduced debris field in underwater illusion lights. We felt disappointed to find that the exhibit features very few genuine artifacts from the ship itself.

We were also unimpressed with the panhandling we encountered at the Reagan library. While standing in line to buy our admission ticket, a nattily attired library employee introduced herself and began a friendly conversation. She was personable and demonstrated an inquisitive interest in us, leaving us feeling flattered. Then she handed us a flyer and made a pitch to get us to donate to the GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship Program. We politely declined, then proffered our $29 per person admission fee, and quickly slipped away from her in the least awkward manner possible.

While perambulating through the library, we encountered more panhandlers. This was usually in the form of photographers, trying to persuade us into having our photo taken in front of an exhibit. I don’t know what these photos cost, because we always declined their advances.

However at the Marine One exhibit, I found I could not refuse the persistent paparazzo. She would not allow me into the helicopter until I stood before the door, held a flag that she handed to me, and waved, saluted, and performed other poses for her camera. I finally got rid of the fucking bitch and made it inside the stupid aircraft to see where Reagan always planted his ass when flying off to Camp David. Perhaps it was my mood, but I felt much less impressed than I felt while touring Nixon’s helicopter.

By the way, we encountered absolutely zero panhandlers and professional photographers at the Nixon library. This left us feeling much more welcome and free to enjoy his premises, than we felt in Reagan country.

Our favorite part of the Reagan library was the Air Force One exhibit. Here it is hanging out where airplanes hang, in a hangar of course. Or as they call it at the Reagan library: The Air Force One Pavilion.

We found that the most impressive aspect of the Reagan library was Air Force One. The complete, full-sized, original Boeing VC-137C that seven presidents used, from Nixon to Bush 43, was on full display in a hangar. And we were actually allowed to stroll through it, from the cockpit to the rear exit (after circumnavigating the photographer stalking us at the front entrance).

The view outside the Air Force One hangar was pretty spectacular.

We also loved the view. The Reagan library is constructed atop a hill that affords a panoramic vista of orchards, fields, and settlements in Simi Valley, California. The weather was mild and the pellucid air felt delicately cool that day, and we found ourselves more inclined to tarry outside and enjoy the view, than return inside and endure more dry, dull showcases of Reagan’s perpetual successes.

One of the many gorgeous perspectives in the viewshed of the Reagan library includes this path that leads to a white cross. I kind of wonder if hiking this trail would have created better memories than hiking through the Reagan library.

All in all, we left the Reagan library with a lesser opinion of the man than we held when we walked in. But I still like Ronald Reagan. In spite of my semi-liberal attitudes, I believe he was an overall good influence for our country. But I wish his library possessed the same honest humility we witnessed at the Nixon library.

Perhaps Reagan had been steeped too long in Hollywood before entering politics. Perhaps for him it was more important to put on a good show than to bare himself as a fallible human being. And perhaps that’s why he rarely excelled in Hollywood beyond being a “B” movie actor.

As president he was, in my opinion, Grade A. But as a librarian Reagan seems to have retrogressed into the same “B” status as his old movies. In my view his caliber as librarian falls far short of that master Grade A librarian, Mr. Tricky Dick.

Ronald Reagan farted here.

Noah’s Art

Note: This post about a museum first appeared in my erstwhile blog, “Golden Daze”, in March, 2015. I’m reposting it, with a bit of an update, because the docent of the museum has appeared in the October 30, 2016 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

"Welcome". It's an anagram of sorts.

“Welcome”. It’s an anagram of sorts.

Desert rats worldwide have a common problem. They are landscape-challenged. Arid conditions prevent cultivating broad greenswards that require careful and tedious manicuring upon riding lawnmowers. The scarcity of water discourages weeping willows that droop over emerald ponds teeming with carp. And the sylvan pleasance and backyard woodlot are just east coast fantasies to dream about, for your average desert rat.

Instead of grass and trees, desert rats have junk. They adorn their barren yards with detritus such as colored bottles, old tires, and rusty retired automobiles. Some desert rats are sloppy, with hardscapes surrounding their shacks that are downright depressing. Others have moved up the scale, to a level of kitschy, with a little artistic planning and arrangement. And some desert decorators have talent that lifts them into a league of their own.

Noah Purifoy

Noah Purifoy

Noah Purifoy was that kind of decorator. In fact, he was legendary.

Noah Purifoy was born far from the desert, in Alabama, in 1917. He was a pretty smart guy, and earned a bachelor’s degree before serving in World War II, and a Masters of Social Service Administration shortly after the war. In the 1950s he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Chouinard Art Institute. He was gifted at art in a peculiar way. He developed the uncanny knack to turn junk into something interesting and provocative to gaze upon and admire.

In the 1960s he became the founder and first director of the Watts Towers Art Center, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. But he didn’t sculpt the famous Watts Towers himself. That was the work of Simon Rodia. Noah’s star of fame didn’t really begin to rise until after the Watts riots of 1965. He and six other artists collected several tons of debris from the riots and created the ground-breaking 66 Signs of Neon traveling exhibition.

Noah created many other works of art, following this, and is credited with re-defining black artistic consciousness through assemblage sculpture.

The left sign says "White" and the right says "Colored".

The left sign says “White” and the right says “Colored”.

In 1989 he moved to Joshua Tree, California and became a desert rat. He was 72, but not at all retired. He continued his work in the humanities by collecting all kinds of junk, including many old toilets, scrap wood, scrap metal, and discarded tires. And then he began adorning his acreage with odd sculptures designed to awe and inspire. He quickly showed even the most veteran desert rats the true art of desert landscaping.

"No Contest"

“No Contest”

Over the next 15 years, he sprinkled his property with dozens of junk sculptures. It opened to the public with the name, The Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. But most folks just call it Noah’s Art.

the-white-house-4

By 2004, Noah’s health had failed to the point where he was confined to a wheelchair. And he was drinking and smoking heavily. One evening he dozed off in his wheelchair with a lit cigarette in hand. His little desert shack ignited and he burned to death.

But Noah’s Art remains. It’s still open to the public. Admission is free, but you are welcome to leave a donation. An 81-year-old lady named Pat Brunty maintains the grounds and serves as docent.

Pat is a friend of ours, and a very sweet person. And she’s a hard worker, which is amazing for someone her age. She does much of the manual labor required to keep Noah’s museum open and presentable to the public.

Pat Brunty and her dog Freckles.

Pat Brunty and her dog Freckles.

Pat is also pictured on pag 54 of the October 30, 2016 issue of The New York Times Magazine. There’s a short article in the magazine about this unusual museum, with several pages of photos.

Pat can give you an impromptu tour if she happens to be there when you visit. She knew Noah personally, and has some interesting tales to tell about this character.

Noah’s Art is an outdoor museum, subject to the destruction of the elements. It is slowly falling into labefaction, grinding and sifting back into the desert sands under the oppressive Mojave wind, sun, cold and heat. If you want to admire it before it disappears completely, you can find it near the corner of Blair Lane and Center Ave, in Joshua Tree, California. And you can learn more about it at noahpurifoy.com.

"Homeless Shelter"

“Homeless Shelter”

Where Far East Meets Grand Canyon West

When people plan a visit to the Grand Canyon, they usually make a choice between the North Rim or the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. But this wonder of the world can also be seen without the National Park Service playing host.

If you go to Grand Canyon West.

Grand Canyon West is hosted by the Hualapai Indian tribe. Hualapai (pronounced Whollop-Eye) means People of the Tall Pines. For centuries the Hualapai’s have lived and and died in these majestic lands skirting the southwestern rim of the Grand Canyon. And here they’ve been confined to the Hualapai reservation since the 1800’s.

Great Seal of the Hualapai Tribe.

Great Seal of the Hualapai Tribe.

Not only has the Grand Canyon separated them from the rest of our country, but so has a deep chasm of poverty. At least until the 1980’s. That’s when they came up with a grand plan to raise a few bucks. They designed and built a tourist trap facility, called Grand Canyon West. And now, over the past 30 years, these clever and enterprising Native Americans have been growing in prosperity, while attracting unsuspecting tourists from all over the world.

Hualapai Indian dancer.

Hualapai Indian dancer.

My wife and I were two such unsuspecting tourists, just a few days ago. Well actually, we did suspect a few things. We read the Yelp reviews. These mixed reviews led us to approach with caution. We only paid the basic entrance fee of $40.00 per person, and decided against paying the extra $20.00 to walk on their famous Skywalk, or the extra $10.00 to eat their famous beef mush, or the extra $187.00 to take their famous five-minute helicopter ride combo 20-minute pontoon boat splash.

We’re oh so grateful for those reviews and our caution. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves, but I must say our experience was just like the Yelp reviews. It was mixed.

The barely visible rim hinting of the Grand Canyon below, from Hualapai Ranch.

The barely visible rim hinting of the Grand Canyon below, from Hualapai Ranch.

We drove two hours from our beachhead at the gambling town of Laughlin, Nevada. The drive was a bit confounding. I could not get my GPS to find their address, so I had to guess on the waypoint. Signage along the way helped out, until we got deep into the heart of the Arizona wilderness. That’s when, for some strange reason, the Hualapai’s decided to stop putting up those friendly helpful signs guiding us to their place of business.

We sweated it out for quite a stretch, wondering if we should have turned down that other road 30 or so miles back. But then we saw some tourist buses heading in our same direction and that gave us the reassurance we needed.

A waiting taxi, at Hualapai Ranch.

A waiting taxi, at Hualapai Ranch.

Parking was plentiful and easy. However, this was a Tuesday. And with such available parking, my wife and I began congratulating ourselves on how clever we were for planning this trip during the middle of the week, where we could beat the crowds. But what we failed to remember was those tourist buses.

Those buses were loaded with Japanese tourists, who had been brought in for a day trip from Las Vegas, where they had been vacationing. And there were hundreds and hundreds of these selfie-stick-toting Asians.

Many headed straight for the heliport, forming a long queue. And there were dozens of helicopters swirling in and out, their twirling blades chopping the air with a cacophany of “whollop-eye-whollop-eye-whollop-eye”.

The grounds were hurly-burly with scrambling tourist guides barking out loud commands in Japanese to their Asian minions, over the obstreperous machinery of the whirlybirds.

Can you spot the helicopter?

Can you spot the helicopter?

But not all the Japanese wanted to ride in helicopters. Several hundreds of them were wise enough to opt for the same basic ticket package that my wife and I went for. This package included unlimited riding on the shuttle buses that take you from point to point to all the attractions at Grand Canyon West.

There are three attractions.

We crowded onto a bus that may as well have been in downtown Tokyo. And what I’ve heard about so-called Japanese rudeness was confirmed on this and other buses. I don’t think they mean to be rude. But Japan is a crowded island. The Japanese have apparently developed the survival habit of fighting amongst each other to board their public transportation, such as trains, subways, and buses. It was every man, woman, and child for themselves.

Hualapai Ranch. Does this look like a ranch to you?

Hualapai Ranch. Does this look like a ranch to you?

Our first stop was Hualapai Ranch. As my wife and I, and all the Far Eastern visitors aboard our bus attempted to debouch, Japanese tourists outside attempted to board, without waiting for us to get off. This impoliteness made for a calamitous and comical exercise of people squeezing past each other from opposite directions, sometimes throwing each other back, and sometimes surging forward, like receding and advancing waves of soldiers involved in hand-to-hand combat.

After claiming victory in this battle by successfully debussing, my wife and I set off to explore our conquered territory. But we were disappointed. Hualapai Ranch was really nothing but a fake ghost town with a souvenir shop, horseback riding stable, and other businesses whose prime aim was to loosen up our wallets. We didn’t stay long.

"Lissen you low-down yellow-bellied skunk. I'll meet you in the middle of this here street at HIGH noon, an' we'll settle our beef once an' fer all!" Wasn't that a line in a movie?

“Lissen you low-down yellow-bellied skunk. I’ll meet you in the middle of this here street at HIGH noon, an’ we’ll settle our beef once an’ fer all!” I found Hualapai Ranch kind of inspiring. It made me want to write a Western.

We raced for the bus stop and managed to be first in line. Well, it kind of resembled a line. Though we planted our feet exactly where we expected the bus door to open when the next shuttle would arrive, crafty Japanese began to encroach on both sides. When the approaching shuttle bus was descried, our Asian competitors hurried forward, threatening to overwhelm our position.

But then a loud war cry erupted from a stentorian Hualapai standing nearby. He gruffly ordered the tourists to fall back and form a line behind us. He was very authoritarian and even wore a uniform. This was the magic touch that was needed. Apparently the Japanese greatly respect authority, because everyone in the crowd obeyed instantly. And the bus was boarded in a polite and orderly manner.

View from Eagle Point.

View from Eagle Point.

Off we rolled to Eagle Point. Eagle Point is the locale of the famous Skywalk. The Skywalk is a loop of plexiglass-floored walkway that extends from a cliffside building out over the Grand Canyon. For 20 bucks, tourists can tread upon it, and pretend they are walking on air. However cameras are not allowed. You must leave your camera and all other personal items behind, in a locker, before you are allowed on the Skywalk.

According to the Yelp reviews, you will be stalked by professional photographers with every step you take upon the Skywalk. They will snap many pictures of you, and for a mere $50 to a $100, you can buy these photos. This apparently is why you aren’t allowed to take your own camera with you on the Skywalk.

They want your money.

The Skywalk at Eagle Point. Notice the tourists up there running from photographers?

The Skywalk at Eagle Point. If you look carefully, you may notice tourists up there running from photographers.

But we didn’t pay for such nonsense. And the view of the Grand Canyon at Eagle Point is spectacular, whether or not you walk the Skywalk.

The third and final stop of the shuttle bus was at Guano Point. We were herded like cattle onto this bus, and it was standing room only for hapless stragglers. My wife found the last seat, but I had to hang onto a bar, while being crushed between two grim-faced Asian men who clung to the same bar.

The Colorado River from Guano Point.

The Colorado River from Guano Point.

Guano Point is the site of an old guano mine. You can hike about a half mile out to the mine, over a promontory that juts into the Grand Canyon. There are many vantage points along this route for snapping breathtaking photos of the Colorado River.

Looking upriver from Guano Point.

Looking upriver from Guano Point.

After Guano Point we were anxious to get the hell out of this tourist trap. We had spent about two-and-a-half hours at Grand Canyon West, and that was enough for us. Besides, we’d seen all there was to see.

Remains of the guano mine at Guano Point. An Air Force jet put this mine out of commission in 1960, when its tail clipped a cable that spanned the width of the Canyon.

Remains of the guano mine at Guano Point. An Air Force jet put this mine out of commission in 1960, when its tail clipped a cable that spanned the width of the Canyon.

All-in-all, I’d say it was worth doing this as a one-time experience. But my wife and I agree that we will never go back again. It’s too crowded and too touristy for us. And there are only two viewpoints.

But I must admit they are great views. And it’s the only place where you get to see the tail-end of the Grand Canyon, just a few miles before the Colorado River empties into Lake Mead.

Northern rim of the Grand Canyon, from Guano Point.

Northern rim of the Grand Canyon, from Guano Point.

If you decide to visit this tourist trap, don’t expect to have a one-with-nature kind of experience. There are just too many people and there’s too much noise from all the helicopters whirring about. But bring your camera. I guarantee you’ll have a great time snapping lots of stunning photos.

Except, of course, on the Skywalk.

The view seems like it's just  about as good off the Skywalk, as on. And the photography is free.

The view seems like it’s just about as good off the Skywalk, as on. And the photography is free.

The Hoodoos of Bryce

Black Birch Canyon.

Bryce Canyon is actually many canyons. Or they can be more accurately described as natural amphitheaters. This is a view of Black Birch Canyon.

Our next stop for my wife and me in our road trip through Utah this month, was Bryce Canyon National Park. The chief attraction at Bryce is tall columns of orange rock. These columns resemble petrified unicorn horns to me, but they’re actually called hoodoos. I guess they looked like hoodoo dolls to whoever named them.

Black Birch Canyon.

Another view of Black Birch Canyon. The many natural amphitheaters can be viewed by driving an 18-mile long road through the national park, and stopping at viewpoints. There are also several hiking trails.

Hoodoo dolls are a wicked fantasy. It’s a dark dream we all share at some time or another, to make those who’ve caused us suffering feel the same pain we feel. Throughout our lives we’ve been dealt a host of harms, both real and imagined, from a bunch of assholes. And sometimes we sure would love to pay them back.

Bristlecone Trail.

A view from Bristlecone Trail. The Bristlecone Trail is over 9,000 feet up, at the very end of the road. Most of the park is over 8,000 feet in elevation. (That’s 2,400 meters, for you Canucks.)

Wouldn’t it be nice to raise your abusive parents, and make them suffer at your mercy? Or how about blasting your loud, rap-music neighbors with 150 decibels of Slim Whitman hits? Or what if you could force TSA agents to work barefoot and without belts?

Bristlecone Trail.

View from the Bristlecone Trail. The Paiute Indians thought the hoodoos were the Legend People who, according to mythology, were turned to stone by the mythological character Coyote. Now there’s some ancient revenge for you. The Paiute term for hoodoos was Anka-ku-was-a-wits, which means “red painted faces.” This rhymes with Manischewitz, which is a sweet red beverage that can also get you stoned.

Revenge has a sweet taste. But Gandhi said that if we practice an eye-for-an-eye, the whole world will go blind. Darn you Gandhi for spoiling all the fun, with your great wisdom! If I could only come up with some wise retort for you, you’d know how I feel right now.

Bristlecone Trail.

Yet another view from the Bristlecone Trail. I managed to hike this one-mile path. The extreme altitude left me almost as breathless as the views.

Empathy is what peaceniks recommend over things like hoodoo dolls. It ain’t easy to practice, and it ain’t always pretty, but the sad truth is that it does redound in better long-term results. For instance, feeling the pain that drives the assholes of our lives to harm us, helps us to understand our enemies. And as a smart strategist once recommended, “Know your enemy.”

Natural Bridge.

This natural bridge reminds us of the connections we can form with our enemies when we stop relying on hoodoo magic.

The Buddha spoke of the Simile of the Saw. He taught that if some mean dudes are holding you down while sawing off your limbs, it is best not to think ill of them. Instead, wish them to be well, peaceful, and happy.

Natural Bridge.

Bryce Canyon is named after the Mormon settler, Ebenezer Bryce, who briefly homesteaded here. He tried to raise cattle, but the livestock kept getting lost amongst the hoodoos. After this and other difficulties, he moved away in 1880. I would have stayed and found a new vocation.

Well, peaceful, and happy?! Bullshit, right? Instead, you might rather flip them off, if only you had fingers left to do so. But just think, if these droogs were peaceful they wouldn’t be sawing your limbs off in the first place. And then you wouldn’t mind if they were well and happy.

Rainbow Point.

View from Rainbow Point, at 9,105 feet.

The hoodoos of Bryce are beautiful to admire. But be careful of their allure. Avoid the steep cliffs at their base. Revenge is a treacherous precipice, with ineluctable gravity. It only pulls you down.

Rainbow Point.

Another stunning vista from Rainbow Point.

So we gave the hoodoos a wide berth, and observed them from a distance. We avoided the edge and kept our feet on solid ground. And the temptations of the hoodoos were supervened by this one wish:

Yovimpa Point.

View from Yovimpa Point. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument can be seen in the distance, below.

That all living beings would be well, peaceful, and happy.

A Little Piece of Heaven

My wife and I went unicorn hunting a few weeks ago. That is, we went on a 7-day road trip. We motored through the scenic wonderland of the great states of Utah and Arizona. It was a successful hunt, as we captured a number of those elusive one-horned critters along the way.

View of Zion Canyon, from Weeping Rock. Yep, plenty of unicorns to be found here.

View of Zion Canyon, from Weeping Rock. Yep, plenty of unicorns to be found here.

Our first stop was Zion National Park. Zion was originally named Mukuntuweep National Monument. Mukuntuweep is a Paiute Indian word meaning “straight-up land” or “straight arrow”, or straight something or other. We were lucky, as we were not shot by any straight arrows as we toured the region.

Looking straight up the canyon walls, near the River trail.

Looking straight up the canyon walls, near the River trail.

A Mormon rancher, who apparently couldn’t speak Paiute, renamed the area Little Zion, with the idea that it resembled a little piece of heaven. This got me wondering what heaven really is.

I passed at least one kidney stone last week. For me, heaven is not having kidney stones. Or better yet, heaven is having good health in general.

Court of the Patriarchs. From left to right, these peaks are called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They all suffered from kidney stones, and therefore had these rocks named after them.

Court of the Patriarchs. From left to right, these peaks are called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They all suffered from kidney stones, and therefore had these rocks named after them.

The Virgin River passes through Zion National Park, and some say that heaven is having 72 virgins. But I say, how long will they remain virgins? Heaven for these men is very short-lived, unless they suffer from erectile dysfunction. Besides, virgins make lousy lovers. They’re bashful, and you have to show them how to do everything.

The Virgin River. This river is renowned as a favorite swimming spot for young ladies and old maids.

The Virgin River. This river is renowned as a favorite swimming spot for young ladies and old maids.

For me, heaven is having one lover, and one only. Lovers can cause headaches, you know. Just one is enough for me. And a lover who you can communicate and work well with can be very useful in a unicorn hunt. But just try coordinating a hunt with 72 giggling girls. It can never work.

A closer view of the Virgin River, looking as pure and innocent as ever. But I'm skeptical. When I got real close I spotted some tadpoles.

A closer view of the Virgin River, looking as pure and innocent as ever. But I’m skeptical. When I got real close I spotted some tadpoles.

For the Mormon that named this area, heaven was beautiful scenery. I’ll go along with that. My wife and I love the beauty of Zion National Park. In fact, this was our fourth visit.

Our first visit was brief, as we just drove through it like a Mukuntuweep straight arrow. My wife was behind the wheel, and she was so impressed by the scenery that she would stop in the middle of the highway and back up traffic. She had a hard time keeping her eyes on the road, and at times I feared she would drive off a cliff. For her, the beautiful scenery was heaven. For me it was a living hell.

Checkerboard Mesa. Wouldn't this be the perfect spot to build a Senior Citizen Center?

Checkerboard Mesa. Wouldn’t this be the perfect spot to build a Senior Citizen Center?

We’ve since learned to enjoy Zion in safer ways. And our memories of this unique canyon are the unicorns we captured. Too bad we couldn’t remain in this little piece of heaven. But there were more unicorns waiting down the road . . .

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