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54 hours on the road... 14 pics an hour....


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I needed a hike. I needed some time in the clarity of the desert. I've been feeling a little lost of late. I quit my job in September, and I just feel that career has run it's course. So far no replacement has presented itself. Over the years I've toyed with the idea of lawyering. I signed up for the LSAT. But then things happened. Bullett (my wife, a lawyer) got a mailing for what should have been an interesting lecture at the law school. I wasn't interested. Then Tom (azkaisr) posted this: AZ Dirt Ride , and I knew I'd rather be there than shut up in a stuffy room, at a cramped desk, with a bunch of silly rules, making marks in HB pencil on a sheet of paper all morning. I recognized in the two events a lesson on my desire for law school: Not really there. Hopefully, I'm beyond doing something just to have something to do, or if not I ought to just go back to my old job.


So, I putter around the house, usually keeping it clean, maybe having dinner ready for Bullett when she gets home from work, maybe working on a project a bit, and waiting for inspiration to strike. So far inspiration has been taking a long vacation. Maybe I need to be one of those street bums. I could get me a nice bottle of store brand mouthwash for the alcohol, put on some raggy clothes, and hang out in the parking lot at Albertsons. Heck, after I make some money doing that, I could probably write a book and be famous.


In any event, feeling directionless, but wanting to get away, I packed up the truck and headed down South for a few days. This is the tale of my journey back to one of my favorite places, the San Rafeal Swell in South Central Utah.


The Swell is just as it as is named, a region of the earth's surface which has bulged out. Where this swell breaks through the crust on it's eastern edge sits what the old timers called a "reef". The story being that much of the west was first explored by sailors. If you deign to follow my story along, you shall see a slice of that reef and a bit of the inner swell itself.


I packed the truck on Wednesday morning in a cold and dismal rain here in SLC and made it of town around noon. The swell is not far by western standards, beginning only about 2 and a half hours from home, but I was heading a little farther towards it's southern reaches, and days are short, short, short at this time of year.


Soon, however, I was crossing Soldier Summit on U.S. Highway 6, in heavy storm, reminiscing about when Bullett and I had crossed that very pass in the middle of July 1987, pulling a trailer, as we moved to Utah from Colorado. I was watching for the spot where, under blinding rain, a bridge had washed out just behind us, just after we had passed, on that trip 21 years ago, when I spotted intense color in the bleak landscape.




After making a few images, I proceeded on down to the Swell, leaving the storm behind. The views of the Swell along US-6 north of Green River, on I-70 west of Green River, and traveling along UT-24 between I-70 and Hanksville have always struck me as compelling. In morning sun, soft light brings out a fantastic jumble of rocks in kaleidoscope colors. Canyons beckon and it is impossible to pass without feeling the allure, the desire to find a way back into this strange country. But in midday, or afternoon, the Swell often appears washed out. No more detail showing than an unremarkable ridge. At these times only the memory of it's glory is left in my mind, yet still it beckons.


I was expecting just such an experience as I approached the swell. To my surprise however, as the day was to be quite short, and the sun is shining from a more southern angle than at other times of year, I found the swell and the reef lit nicely as I approached. As dusk began, though I was rushing along east of the reef to make my campsite before dark, the views became so compelling that I had to stop from time to time.






The rule of the west, where land is mostly public: Leave gates as you find them. Not usually so explicit as in this case, but understood by those who live and roam here:




The lighting deepened, and now glowing peaks caught the last rays of the sun.






As I brought the truck to a halt at my campsite, I looked up to see this scene. Hurrying to grab the camera I stepped out into the dawn of moonlight to make a few more images.




There was still a hint of sunlight in the sky to the southwest:




Things had changed. I was at the mouth of Little Wildhorse and Bell Canyons. When Bullett I first found this place, on Christmas Day 1988, finding it was half the adventure. Dead reckoning with half baked instructions across lonely two tracks, through deep blow sand, over unimproved gully crossings lead to a spot where the road crossed yet another gully. Could this be it. It was.


Today the route is well signed, and I could have easily made the trail head on my RT. The place has become popular with scouting groups, and parking has been installed for about 300 vehicles, with immaculate pit toilets, a marked trail head, and other improvements. I had forgotten that after years of political battle, the reef was formally made a "Wilderness Study Area" (this means it is managed as "Wilderness" until congress says otherwise) by Congress a few years ago. Consequently, I could not drive up the wash a bit to camp as has been our habit in the past. The WSA boundary was marked just off the main road, and motor vehicles were prohibited. All in all, probably the right thing to do in a place with so much visitation. Unfortunately, this left me with the choice of camping in the huge parking area, or driving through the moonlight to find somewhere else. No soft sandy river banks to be had. The parking lot was constructed of compacted road base, and a tent stake would make no more than a 1/4" dent in it's surface. I rounded up rocks from nearby in attempt to anchor the freestanding tent. Things seemed well enough.


It was maybe 6 pm and full on dark, well so dark as it would get with a full moon on the rise anyway. I bundled up against the falling temperatures and pulled out the camera and tripod. Time to see if I could make a picture by moonlight in the clear desert night.




Then as the evening grew brighter with the rising moon, I went for a walk for a few hours.


Finally, bed.


To be continued.






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No sooner than I had crawled into my sleeping bag and gotten comfortable the tent blew loose from it's moorings and the wall scooched in against my head. I got back up and found more rocks in the moonlight. I doubled the rocks at the corners and then found a bunch more rocks and staked out the rainfly firmly. A half hour's work and I was back in my sleeping bag. The reinforced job held through the night and I woke at dawn.


Rising, thinking only of doing those things one does when one first rises, I was interrupted by the incredible scenery in the soft clear light. Camera first then.


The reef was catching the first glows of morning, even as the moon sank below that ragged horizon.




This is a two image panorama. Just below it is a link to a larger copy than can be displayed here.




Panorama - Morning at Little Wildhorse Canyon


You will need to scroll across the page to see the whole image.




Looking a little more northerly:




After that treat I got some clothes on against the near freezing temperatures of the desert night, which yet lingered even though sun had chosen to make the morning glow. Well, as I said things have changed a lot. We used to camp a lot. Then Bullett's knees weren't keeping up with long hikes so much, so we got the bikes as a different way to get out and about. There is this box we have of camping foods. It doubles as our emergency supply box when at home, so we do keep an eye on it to ensure that it is well stocked. I went through it as recently as last year, but it has not seen much use for three or four years. I went through it again at the start of this outing. What I discovered to my dismay on this fine Thursday morning is that even those things that look well, and which you would not think to suspect when well packaged can go bad. I fixed hot coffee and Malt-O-Meal. The Malt-O-Meal was badly rancid, and completely inedible.


Starting out then on a cup of coffee, I made my way into Little Wildhorse and Bell Canyons. This act, in itself, being a bit of defiance and something of a modern wonder. In 1998 my back became bad enough that it was limiting my walking. By 1999 a trip to the supermarket meant a list of ten items or less and checkout via the fast lane. I was not hiking. In 2000 I had a fairly radical back surgery. I asked the doctor beforehand about various expected outcomes. I asked him specifically if in a best case outcome I could expect to backpack again. He said under no circumstances would that be possible.


In the intervening years I have hiked again, but only with a small day pack, no more than 10 pounds. My distances have been more limited too, not exceeding 6 miles, and more usually in the 3 to 4 mile range. Today, going alone into rugged country, traveling longer than I have since the surgery, carrying a dSLR and all it's attendant accouterments, carrying clothing for winter conditions (always enough to survive a night), carrying water for desert hiking, and food, I used a full sized back pack for the first time since 1998. Maybe at about 25 pounds. But, I had not been completely wasting my time away from work these last two months. One of my goals has been to be more active, to be in better condition. I had felt that I had done well in this regard, but today would make a proper test.


This shot from the trail head gives you the "overview" of my venture on foot into the reef.


You can see in the foreground a gully which winds it's way past a few Cottonwood trees from right to left across the field of view. This is route into the reef. Then as you look to the mid-ground, over to the right of the image, you can see where Little Wildhorse and Bell Canyons penetrate the reef. I love the way the rich brown cap rock lays broken and strewn across the softer underlying layers.






As I enter the canyon the walking is easy, and I spy an old friend, this Cottonwood that somehow anchors itself against the raging flashes of storm water that from time to time scour canyon clean, and keep it's bottom otherwise free from tangles of vegetation.




Soon the muddy adobe hills give way to the rocky walls of the reef itself. I see poised above me, frozen in rock, the ancient surface of an old sand dune marked by the ripples of a breeze witnessed only by dinosaurs.




The way narrows. I know this spot, and I know that I will need to follow the ledge at left to escape this trap. But I love the pastel colors that play in the walls of this cleft so I meander up into the cleft.




Here, at it's end, layers of rock lay in deep shady quiet, cool even in blazing summer. In 1988 I climbed out of this narrow, rather than going around. The climb is tempting today, but I know that I've a long day ahead of me, so I go around.




Passing up and over on the ledge affords it's own pleasures. Here is the view of the cleft from above. The jumble of broken rocks is where I would have climbed out.




The first obstacle passed, the way becomes easy again, though the rocky walls offer surreal scene after scene.


Here white ropey deposits, perhaps aragonite, adorn the walls.




And here iron nodules lay in little runs in the fossilized dune.




Now, as I walk my mind races. I am pondering the nature of beauty as I walk through what seems an impossible landscape. Is it beautiful, this earth, because we are adapted to it, an evolutionary outcome? I walk on.






I have brought the tripod, expecting little sun in the deepest reaches of the canyons. But the season and hour have aligned with the star we call the Sun, and morning light streams up the canyon.




Now the way goes through there, the cleft in the center of the image.




But the way is fine for walking.




And the sights continue to delight.




Now if you are with me, we, you and I, are in Bell Canyon, the left (southerly) fork of the pair. It may surprise you to know at this point that people come here not for Bell Canyon, but for Little Wildhorse Canyon. But I have always thought Bell to be just as fine, if not more so. In any event we shall make a loop of the way, so it is only a matter of which canyon to walk up, and which to walk down.


Bell Canyon, Utah






Occasionally obstacles must needs present themselves. This one seems to have gotten a bit deeper than last time I was here, when I suppose only one or two rocks lay piled at it's bottom to aid travelers. These will be gone with the next flash of water to pass this way, as all traces of man in the canyon are washed away. Yet, even for the forces of nature which carve the canyon anew with each passing, the shape of the little spillway seems unchanged, cool solid bedrock, it's fine grain polished smooth to the touch in this time and place, for a moment.




Once started, obstacles come with a bit more frequency now. I'm pretty sure it's a good thing I wasn't here when this one fell into it's place.




I squeeze through and find myself face to face with this bit of bright green clinging to the rocky face.




To be continued....






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Most enjoyable following your tale and incredible images! Perhaps you should consider inspirational writing instead of litigation as a change in career? Utah's remote isolated solace seems to have invigorated your "chemistry" :grin: as you contemplate your navel and life options. I've started doing that myself, having been "retired" from former tech sector job last Friday. Now everyday is Saturday!



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The scale of textures of the desert always amaze me. In the reef in particular rock exists as rough and rotten as a log, or maybe an old sponge, and as smooth and polished as the mirror finish of the desk I sit at now, here back in my home. In between the scale runs through coarse grained fossilized dune beds, preserved mud flats, and on up into "conglomerates" full of pebbles or cobbles or boulders.


The rocks are punctuated with vegetation. No carpets of tree here, but every bit as much variety as anywhere else. Each adds it's own bit of texture to the desertscape. From tiny tundra like plants, to the great Bristlecone Pines of Bryce Canyon the Colorado plateau adorned. In the open plains we see grassland valleys, or sage flats. Each plain is marked by ridges of Utah Juniper and Pinyon Pine. Here in the canyons lies a mix of environments, from dry and sunbaked to cool wet nooks, and everything in between. And so it goes with the vegetation too.


Here is a polished surface of rock in the canyon bottom, note that older exposures above, which must have once have been polished smooth, have grown fractured, and rough with lichen and desert varnish.




I was sitting on a rock for a moment, surrounded by grasses, sage, mountain mahogany, and boulders, when I had the sense I was being watched. This little fellow posed for me, stock still as I got out the camera made his picture.




More iron nodules, this time on an older exposure of rock.




Here the walls begin to show pockmarks.




as we wander up the canyon.




Here I was struck by the triangular patch striped with desert varnish up ahead on the right wall.




A closer view.




I try to imagine what processes might account for that singular patch, and fail.


Now I pass up into the pockmarked layer.




Here a fresh exposure is polished and studded with pearls of white. Calcite-aragonite I think.




And here, a slightly less recent exposure, more worn and with the beginnings of desert varnish in evidence.




The way becomes strewn with boulders.




But I am reminded that the tales of all these rocky wonders is reflected again in the gravels of the wash, where each of the contributors lays it's colors to rest, wash down stream, pummeled and polished finer and finer, until ultimately they become the sands and muds on the plains.




When Bullett and I first came to this place, back on that cold Christmas day so long ago, armed with a Ricoh film camera, in the days before autofocus even we made a picture here at this rock. I thought I would do so again. In those days, starving students we were, dressed in homemade polypro coats. Today the coats are store bought, and Bullett is settling a case or something back in SLC, the camera has a remote control (in my hand), and makes a digital image, but not so much has changed really.




Often we play games in the desert. What do you see in that rock? See those faces? See ET? In artist speak, the rock might be described as "organic". As a chemist, or perhaps a former chemist, I think "organic" means a substance made of carbon. I suspect the Dept. of Agriculture has a different idea even yet. Today I began seeing whales.


What do you see?




It makes me wonder how are brains are wired, that we see this beauty in rocks, that we can find animals in stone. Something in our deepest architecture processes patterns in a manner that must be entirely divorced from our intellect.


This is not really arch country, but there is one in this shot.




Here is another view.




We have walked up and out of Bell Canyon. Now we are "Behind the Reef", on the Behind the Reef road. Oh, and yes it is open to motorcycles, as are the canyon bottoms heading west into the swell. I was drooling for the DR-Z just about now, let me tell you. So we are in the swell proper now, and just must amble up over the ridge that separates the Bell and Little Wildhorse drainages, that way...






The intimacy of the canyon gives way to expansive views. The deep red we walk across is known as the Moenkopi layer. When it is not too hot, as in this season, I love the intensely colored muds that overly this surface, at the base of the cliffs in this region. At other times this expanse can be ovenish hell that must be endured. We go this way.




Looking out to the Southwest




Looking back the way we came, into Bell Canyon.




I'm thinking this Utah Juniper is really old, certainly several hundreds of years, if not more.




DR-Z baby (CRF, WR, whatever)!




More Whales, and some of those colored sands...




Textures and light.




Another old fellow, hanging on




Any takers on Romulan Bird of War, or do you prefer Hooded Cobra, or is a Romulan Bird of War a Hooded Cobra after all?




To be continued

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Down in there somewhere is Little Wildhorse Canyon. I'm pretty sure you'll agree that no horse has ever traversed this place though.




Something about that obelisk catches my eye in today's light.




Just working our way down.






Hmmmmmm... Somehow I need to get down there. Yeah, that hat waas here the first time I was here in 1988 too. It's been on more than a few desert hikes.




I bet this made quite a noise when it cracked.




It was getting on into afternoon.




Textures and light. Processes unknown.




Up on the banks grasses survive.




And on the cliffs.




The path goes down there. I need to find a way in.




I might have made the climb down, but that pool at the bottom is deep, clear and cold. I would not have liked the footing.




Did I say that people come here for Little Wildhorse?




Suddenly the way is open and easy again.




This is a primo little bit of desert varnish, with all manner of lichen coloring the deep purple stains of manganese and iron oxides.




Strange brown ropey sponge like deposits.




Spent flowers on the banks.




That's right, in there...




So far, so good.




Just a little rougher now and again.




Our old friend the aragonite nodules.




I guess the raging torrents eddy, carving these undulations that are so characteristic of all the slot canyons.








I guess you can tell where the rock is impermeable to water without too much trouble. I had to take off my boots and wade through some of these icy pools. I came out covered in heavy mud, you know like the kind that keeps an XT standing up without a kickstand. After each pool I had to clean up and get my boots back on, and hope for the restoration warmth in my numbed and bruised feet through walking on.




To be continued.

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These ridges in the walls of sandstone, I don't understand them.




Here a grasshopper.




More iron nodules in textured painted rock.






Narrow enough for you, and what a strange perspective.






I wedged my way over this pool, not wanting to struggle with wading through mud a fourth time. Whilst wedged in place above the water, I managed to fire off this shot, though I made quite a tangle of myself in the process.




Here is looking back at it after a successful aerial crossing.




Then, this one, some 40' long. Four wades it was to be. Brrr, and what a mess.




Textures and varnish, age and wrinkles, solidity and wear




And so the trail leads on. I am getting tired. I will be back at camp later than I would like.




But still the landscape compels a picture now and again.




Every slot canyon has to have one of these.




More of those rich brown cap rocks lying broken.




This bit of mudstone lies near the end, and reminds me that I tread on fossilized seas of yore.




Oh, that Cottonwood, again, this is side that withstands those battering flows




24 hours in this landscape brings dusk again as I walk into camp. I am a bit tired, but feeling good after 9 miles on the trail with a pack, in rugged country. There have been a few strenuous moments, but mostly easy walking in a surreal landscape. What did Dali have in Spain that made him see a place so like this?






The tent has blown loose again, I have no time to move before dark, and the prospect of nothing for breakfast again is unappealing. I have broken several of my embrittled 80's vintage Nalgene water bottles and can not hike like this again without them. So I break camp and head for Green River.


Along the way the sunset deepens and I stop now and again for a few shots.






As always the silence and clarity of the desert astound me.










Trucks have mirrors too you know.






Just when I think the show is over I see something bright on the horizon reflecting the sunlight, at first I don't realize what it is, but after a moment it rises more and I see.








To be continued

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Beautiful photography as usual Jan.


I think that I understand what you are going through and if I may say, I wish you all the best in finding the answer to your question. It's an important one for sure.

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This is great...

(and you've got me hooked!) :thumbsup:


That's a good thing, as you will soon see. This tale has your name all over it. Though you are going to need a new bike I'm afraid. :thumbsup: Keep watching.



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Wish I was there, Jan. I can hear the quiet. Lovely pics.


At night, before the tent blew in, the air was still, and it was perfectly silent for minutes at a time. Then, even before you could feel the movement, the tiniest of breezes would become audible for a moment, and die down. Except for when a jet would pass high overhead, it was quiet. The place gets crowded at time, but I saw only two other people, a couple, the whole time I was there, and I saw them just for a minute.

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Most enjoyable following your tale and incredible images! Perhaps you should consider inspirational writing instead of litigation as a change in career? Utah's remote isolated solace seems to have invigorated your "chemistry" :grin: as you contemplate your navel and life options. I've started doing that myself, having been "retired" from former tech sector job last Friday. Now everyday is Saturday!




Sorry to hear about that. In my case it was voluntary, and with Sharon working we can at least cover expenses, if not much more. As for the rest.... I guess you can see where this tale is headed, eh?


I really think the economy may be in real trouble for the first time in most of our lives... but this is not the place to discuss it. Wish you the best as you sort things out.

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Beautiful photography as usual Jan.


I think that I understand what you are going through and if I may say, I wish you all the best in finding the answer to your question. It's an important one for sure.


Hope your decision works out for you as well. Glad you are ahead of me in that you have made a decision. Well, I've been on the chemist path since 1984, and it's been good, but... here I am.



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In Green River UT you can still get a motel room for $30. Most of them are not worth that much, however. We like the Sleepy Hollow as it is clean and comfortable. Unfortunately, like most of Green River, it was either closed for the season or out of business. I got a room at the Robber's Roost, named for where Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch hung out just down the road in the Henry Mountains. It had improved since I had stayed there last, but carpet was not really going to help. It just needs to be torn down and start over.


Now Ray's is the place to eat in Green River, and has been for a long time. Ray's serves 1/2 lbs burgers and a big pile of home cut fries (usually a whole large russet's worth) on tables made from 4 inch thick slabs of old pine. But I really wasn't in the mood for over indulgence, a feeling of lightness having come over me. Yes, I did have lunch, whole wheat snackers (you may have been raised to call them "crackers", but this is wrong I say) and some chicken paste goo that I think must have come out from under a log, as it was labeled "Underwood". I was ready to eat, but not so much. I went to Ben's, typically lackluster, and always in a bit of disrepair, but generally reliable. It was a bit subpar on this evening, however. Full, but not terribly pleased, I returned to my room.


The thermostat on the heater in the room didn't work, and I was alternately hot and cold. I slept some, and rose at 6:00. Ready to go by 6:15, I had forgotten where I was. Only gas stations were open. By 6:45 a coffee shop and eatery that always been closed every other time I had seen it, opened up. It should have stayed closed. After an even worse meal, I set out on the road by 7:30. Rid of the town, soon I was back near the swell, this time approaching in the early morning light as I like.


Even the Book Cliffs looked good.




Here is an 8 shot panorama of the view of the reef from I-70, looking west.




Here is a LINK to a somewhat larger view of it.


This is a shot through the front windshield at about 40 mph, and slowing rapidly. Do you see three of them?




I think one of those cracks in the reef leads to Eardley Canyon. A hike we've never successfully done, though we've tried a few times. That's really something back in there.




I drive in on the Temple Mountain road. I am astounded find several developed campgrounds in what has always been a wilderness setting.


Here are some views:




This is Temple Mountain. We once were woken by thunder, camped near this spot, as great gouts of lightening played across it's sheer cliffs at midnight. You can perhaps just make out the track of the Behind The Reef road in the mid-ground, as it screams DR-Z, and winds beneath the cliffs.




Oh, here is a better shot of that road. I think I heard it yell "Killer, where are you".




Dirt bike roads were everywhere, and I was really getting worked up to come back with the bike.


Once inside the swell, the views become expansive. That's Boulder Mountain in the background, and the Cathedral Valley lies over to the right, hidden from view.




Looking back at the reef, and Temple Mountain.




I was just moseying along, never having been in this part of the swell before, when I spotted something up on a bluff. There was a two-track so I took a look. You know, I didn't really need any more of an invitation, but since you asked...




I had the idea that these people had a lot in common with Micheal, Sagerider here.




In fact, I'm pretty sure they named themselves after him.


The land turned to grassy range, and I came to I-70. I crossed under the freeway and continued north through range lands. This is another large panorama, looking west. EffBee's Fairview Canyon is over there. Fairview is up top where the snow is. In the mid-ground is the San Rafeal River area of the swell, where I am headed.




LINK to larger version


Be sure you scroll across the page.






LINK to larger view


I didn't do a great job shooting this one, but the scene is compelling. For some reason autostitch would not process this one so I used CS4. CS4 but these tiny white break lines in that really annoy me, but most of the problem is in the way I shot the images.




LINK to larger version


At the San Rafeal River sits this historic bridge.










Seemed sturdy as ever. I would have driven over it without hesitation.




I worked my way on up to the Wedge Overlook, another place I had not been.










I think this is how it got it's name.










The lighting was harsh with the midday sun in my eyes, so the pics are not the best. You get the sense of the place though.


Desert soils are a topic of much interest. Here we have what is known as "desert gravel pavement". At about 6000' these tundra like plants abound.










Well the trip through heart of the southern swell was new to me, as was the Wedge Overlook, but I wanted to go for three. I headed north through the northern swell to the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry. It was closed, and I couldn't even get within a mile. Pretty park like country though, and worth the venture for sure.


On the way out I passed through the little community of Elmo. Things here seemed strange. I began to think of Dave and Just Jean, and their menagerie. I began to wonder if I needed to be thinking of Utard and his trip to Hillsdale. In any event their certainly seemed to be some strange ideas of husbandry in the vicinity.






And with that, a little slab run, and I was home for dinner Friday night.


What I got out of it was a renewed conviction that somehow I must make my way into something that takes me places I want to be, doing the things I want to do, and that means somewhere like this.


Thanks for following along. Hope you enjoyed the show.





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Great great pictures. What an amazing place Utah is. I went through utah once and ended up in a little town called Moab, with the Colorado river running right through it. I stayed at a wonderful little Motel called the Sleepy Hollow Inn. Just me, my guitar, my dog and of course a little help from above. Utah unlike many other places Ive been has some sort of ............

I cant explain it. Special is a good word.

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