Wednesday, August 27

7 Days Of Vacation

Day 24: Four Corners, AZ/UT/CO/NM

Can you feel the magic?

You are standing in four states!


Or not. This is a pointless exercise, but no one can resist it. Since you've probably been in the car for five hours with screaming kids and a barfing dog, you needed to stop anyway. Help out the local Navajo by buying some trinkets at the multitude of plywood stands. Then get a soda, some frybread, and load up the family for another five hours of butt numbing torture.

Before you go, stand in four states!

Come on. You know you want to.

Teasers on this trip: AZ/UT/CO/NM

Tuesday, August 26

8 Days Of Vacation

Day 23: Williams, AZ

Our family has vacationed here more than anywhere else in the last 20 years. I think it's because the town is located in the largest ponderosa pine forest in the country. Or maybe it's because there so much to see in the surrounding area. The fact that one of the best preserved sections of old Route 66 forms the main street of town doesn't hurt.

Williams is named after mountain man Bill Williams. Why, I don't know; you would expect to see this sort of history in ranges farther north. However it came to be named, the town touts itself as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon, about an hour's drive north. This is the big kahuna attraction, but you could easily spend a week here without seeing it.

The town has a quite a bit to offer for an afternoon's walk. Souvenir shops sell turquoise jewelry and Arizona souvenirs. Retro 1950's joints sell soda and ice cream, plus the obligatory Elvis and Marilyn memorabilia. There are a number of good coffee shop/diner/have a seat at the counter places with rib sticking vacation food. Don't miss dinner at
Rod's Steakhouse, a Williams institution. Visit ol' Bill Williams' statue at the tiny park. Sling back a cold one, or a strong one, with the local cowboys at the Sultana bar. Just try not to be afraid of the resident mountain lion and bear. Keep an eye out for all the great vintage signs, neon or painted on brick walls. Stay at the Red Garter B&B. Hope the ghosts of frontier town bordello patrons don't keep you awake.

If the adventurer in you comes here without any idea of what to do, stop by the Visitor Center. You'll leave with more stuff to do than you can cram in a week. The train leaves daily for Grand Canyon. I've never
done it, but it looks fun. To the west is Seligman, a tiny little town that was the inspiration for Radiator Springs in the Pixar film Cars. To the east is Flagstaff, a fun town with a strange cultural mix of western, bohemian, native, college, and sportsman. Lowell Observatory, where the planet(oid) Pluto was discovered, is a sure fire hit, as is the ski lift ride up the San Francisco peaks. From there I'm pretty sure you can see all the way to Argentina. Farther west is the tiny Route 66 desert leftover of Holbrook, the Painted Desert, and Petrified Forest. To the south is Sedona, a town know for its art, spas, New Age wingnuts, and stunning red rock views. John McCain maintains one of his seven residences near there.

It doesn't matter where you stay. A reasonable motel room, a campground, a house rented for a week: all are excellent bases for exploration. You might wonder how
Arizona Highways magazine could be around for eight decades concentrating on just one state. With one visit to Williams and its environs you won't wonder any more.

Teasers on this trip: deer farm, meteor crater, lava tube, elk

Thursday, August 14

9 Days Of Vacation

Day 22: Laughlin, NV

Time for a grown-up trip to indulge some minor vices.

You do not know top-of-the-line glitz and excess until you experience the Las Vegas Strip. Everyone should do it once. Even so, a familiar refrain around these parts is "Vegas ain't what it used to be." Some remember and long for the days when the mob ran things, before the super resorts and mass migration. If you feel the same, have no fear. Just take a 90 mile roadtrip south to

Gambling purists often turn up their nose at this town on the Nevada-Arizona border, perhaps with some justification. This is very much a regular folks type of place, frequented by seniors, college kids, and the less well to do. But if you aren't a high roller, Laughlin is a perfectly good, and cheaper, substitute for a gambling jaunt. Founded in the 1960's, Laughlin and its "strip" are perched on the banks of the swift, deep green Colorado River. The walkway along the river passes around, and sometimes through, the casinos. There are jet boats, water taxis, and paddle wheelers for river tours. You won't find high profile performers here much of the time, although headliners do regularly pass through, but the standard fare is just fine. Concerts by tribute bands, up and coming comedians, and the like are reasonably priced and definitely entertaining. Compared to the prices for everything in Vegas, Laughlin is a penny pinching bargain. For the truly stingy, there are the lounges with free jazz combos and whatnot.

I need not go into much detail about a stay here. A weekend is plenty of time to gamble in a low pressure atmosphere, drink too much of your favorite libation, eat too much at the buffet, walk the river with another drink in your hand, take in a show or two, stay up late, sleep in late, and play some linen wrestling. Vegas it isn't, but that is why Laughlin continues to grow and attract all sorts of people. It's a great relaxing getaway with plenty of adult activities. Who knows, you might win a few bucks, too.

Teasers on this trip: Topock Canyon, London Bridge, Oatman, about a million koi

Wednesday, August 13

10 Days Of Vacation

Day 21: Salt Creek, CA

Who would have thought I could satisfy my curiosity of all things fish in the middle of Death Valley?

Death Valley National Park is extreme in every conceivable way. The hottest temperature in the country, 134F, was recorded here. The lowest point on the continent, -282', is here. From this lowest point, the highest point in the lower 48 states can be seen, Mt. Whitney at 14,505'. The aridity is total, the occasional storms magnificent. Over 400 animal and 1,000 plant species live here. It is a hostile, foreign, forbidding place. It is also a place of extreme beauty, and surprises at every milepost.

Salt Creek is far and away my favorite place here. It is small in comparison to the vast salt flats, dunes, and mountains that surround it, but the half mile trail is a microcosm all its own. To protect this extremely (there's that word again) fragile ecosystem, hikers are confined to a boardwalk that winds around the creek. In places it is only a foot or so across and a few inches deep, depending on the time of year. This is a green spot in a region otherwise dominated by tans, greys, and whites. The plants seem almost blasted into submission, clinging stubbornly to the rim of this tiny stream, gnarled and short. As you progress along the walkway, the creek widens at points, allowing for some shallow pools. In these pools is an astonishing site: the Salt
Creek pupfish. Only a few inches long, these fish avoid predators by hiding among the rushes and algae. In the spring, the male turns a bluish color and collects a harem. As the males vie for spawning territory and females, they chase each other like puppies, giving rise to their common name. These are tough little animals. They have evolved to deal with low water levels, fluctuations in temperature, salinity, and oxygen levels, limited food sources, and all the other vagaries of a harsh environment. They have survived, and continue to thrive only in this small stretch of water, provided we continue to protect them. To the casual uneducated visitor, these might be just another minnow. To me, they are one of the natural world's greatest treasures.

To the north lives a famous relative in ichthyology, the Devil's Hole pupfish. One of the most endangered fish in the world, the only location where it lives is closed to the public. There are a number of other
pupfish species, all related, all rare, and all tiny, precious jewels in the desert landscape. I am so fascinated by them I named our family boat the Pupfish.

Teasers on the trip: Badwater, Stovepipe Wells, Rhyolite Ghost Town, racing rocks

Tuesday, August 12

11 Days Of Vacation

Day 20: Columbia, CA

Columbia is the very embodiment of a classic Gold Rush town. It is far from being a museum piece, or a living history site like Plymouth or Williamsburg (both fine destinations in their own right). This is a state park, a historical landmark, an educational institution, and a vibrant modern community all in one place. I've been here a hundred times, and it never gets old.

Like sister cities Auburn and Placerville to the north, Columbia was born, boomed, and busted during the California gold rush of the 1850's. Unlike most others, it was never completely deserted, nor added to in subsequent decades until it was no longer recognizable. A walk on the main street of Columbia must be similar to one 150 years ago. There are two parts to the town. The quaint residential area where the population actually lives, spreads over the hills and under oaks, never too crowded or overgrown. There is a beautiful little trout farm, a fine plant nursery, a popular melodrama theatre, and one of the prettiest community colleges I've ever seen. Given a different direction in my life, I could have lived very happily here.

The historic state park is the place for a day's visit, however. There is some touristy kitsch, but most of it is a friendly, relaxing place. The wide main street is lined on both sides by historic buildings. Original brick storefronts and massive metal doors anchor the Gold Rush ambience. The wooden walkways and benches allow for wonderful people watching. Stop by the Douglass Saloon, a large airy bar where families can gather for sandwiches, sodas, beer, and a game of dice. Visit the blacksmith and have your name stamped on a horseshoe. Try to resist the yummy stuff at the candy kitchen. Shop at several stores for old west clothing, leather goods, classic hand-made wooden toys, or a thermometer mounted on a fake goldpan. Try your hand at finding gold, or just buy a little bottle of flakes, at the gold mine at the end of town. While you're doing that, the granite blocks and boulders next door are a perennial favorite for antsy climbing youngsters. You might see a lone fiddler, a western string quartet, or other period specific entertainer (no jugglers or balloon animals here). Grab a snow cone and visit the exhibits open to the street: the firehouse, a miner's cabin, a Chinese apothecary, the Wells Fargo depot, even an active judge's office. Tour the small museum full of mid-nineteenth century relics found here, a collection of minerals relevant to the gold rush, and take in the slide show. Take the kiddies for a stagecoach ride; you might even get held up by bad guys before your return. Give the little ones a horsey ride. Have a picnic. Once a year, the town re-creates the tent town it sprang from. I had a ball there, chewing on a cheroot, downing a beer, and having my picture taken with bosomy dance hall girls in a makeshift saloon.

Columbia, and its neighbor Sonora to the south, make an excellent base for exploring the Gold Rush country. One visit to this area of the Sierra foothills and you will be hooked. It has an important and unique history, one often overlooked elsewhere in the country. Without the things that happened here, the U.S. might have stopped at the Great Divide.

Teasers on this trip: Railtown 1897, Highway 49, gold panning, jumping frogs

Friday, August 8

12 Days Of Vacation

Day 19: Indian Grinding Rocks, CA

Indian Grinding Rocks, or Chaw'se, is a small state park in the heart of California's gold country. It is a quiet place of meadows and valley oaks. One of my favorite campgrounds is located here, as is a small museum dedicated to the native Miwok, easy nature trails, and outdoor recreations of various dwellings. The park showcases several large rock outcroppings pocked with a thousand or so holes. It's a strange sight. If you were blindfolded and led here, you might not guess what they were. As the name of the park suggests, they are mortars carved by the prehistoric people for food processing. The region's oaks provided an abundance of acorns which were ground into a coarse flour. Over generations, the mortars we now see were pounded into the rocks. There are also a few strange curving and geometric petroglyphs, a rare occurrence at this type of site, which probably predate Christianity.

Many times I have strolled or sat among the oaks and imagined what it was like hundreds of years ago. The women would have brought baskets of acorns or pine nuts and spent the day gossiping or singing to the pounding of the rocks. Perhaps the men hunted for rabbit or deer, or practiced other skills. Children must have been like children have always been, underfoot, chasing each other in the grass, inventing games with natural objects or toys fashioned for them by their extended families. In my head I hear the laughter and conversations in a language I don't understand, and I feel a sense of detached communion. I am certain it was not an easy existence, but I believe the Miwok must have derived more satisfaction from their lives than we do now, with the frenetic pace and information overload that enslaves us.

When I was in my early teens, you could walk over the grinding rocks for close up views and enter the roundhouse. To preserve the site and respect the native culture, these are now viewable only behind log barriers. It really doesn't detract from the experience. If you are lucky, your visit might coincide with one the modern day Native American gatherings, which are conducted several times a year and preserve ancient skills, arts, and ceremonial traditions. Be respectful of the land and its people.

Teasers on this trip: Volcano, Apple Hill, Sutter's Mill, Lake Tahoe

Thursday, August 7

13 Days Of Vacation

Day 18: World Famous Tree House, CA

You must have heard of this place. You haven't? But it's world famous! It says so right there on the sign.

Whenever I see "World Famous" or "World's Biggest" on a tourist trap sign, I know I'm being lied to. And they know that I know I'm being lied to. They also know that I Just. Cannot. Pass. It. Up. This is America's greatest contribution to travel: The Roadside Attraction.

The World Famous Tree House isn't a tree house. It is a large redwood that was hollowed out by fire eons ago, but true to the tenacity of its species, continued to live and grow. And grow it did. The tree is about 30 feet in diameter at the base. A door and a window were inserted in the trunk, and voila!: Tree House. Inside the owners (who knows how many by now) laid a wood floor and stuck a light up inside the tree about 20 feet up. How high up the hollowness goes is anybody's guess, because there's about three million years worth of cobwebs up there. My family has always agreed that the worst job in the world is changing that light bulb. I'm not sure if there ever really was a shop in there, but now it houses some cute little quarter machines. The best one is pretty old, made by some forest guy with too much time on his hands. You plunk in your quarter, and a miniature sawmill comes to life: tiny hand-carved men saw and hammer, little machines do little back-and-forth machiney things. It's really quite charming.

The true purpose of the Tree House is to funnel its guests into the attached souvenir shop. It's pretty much like any other on this part of Highway 101. Redwood plaques: check. Redwood coasters: check. Rose pods (what the hell are those things?): check. Carved redwood bears with fish in mouth: got 'em. Redwood picture decks of cards: okay. Plastic Navajo girl dolls (???): yup. Bumper stickers: uh-huh. Redwood burls sprouting in a dish of water: of course. If you can escape this without buying anything, there is a snack stand to grab your wallet on the way out. The owners are kind enough to provide a restroom.

You gotta see this, because the currently relevant endorsement of Ripley's Believe It Or Not compels your curiosity. That and the need for a pee break, a Coke, a keychain, and a redwood burl.

Teasers on this trip: Richardson Grove, Chandelier Tree, Grandfather Tree, Bigfoot

Wednesday, August 6

14 Days Of Vacation

Day 17: Mossbrae Falls, CA

About fifteen years ago, my wife told me to take a short vacation. She saw I was increasingly unhappy about something. We didn't know what it was. I packed up some clothes and fly fishing gear and hit the road.

I ended up in
Dunsmuir, a tiny town surrounded by forests and streams. For three or four days I waded the Sacramento River, watched trains enter and leave the depot, ate at the steak house, basically just wandered aimlessly. There wasn't much to do at night, so I got to know the fifty-something matronly bartender at one of the two bars in town. Her name was Juanita, and on my last night she told me to stay while she closed up. When everyone had left she took me by the shoulders. "You need to stop being sad," she said. "Look around you!" She growled like a mother puma and shook me. "You don't know who I am, but someday you will. Now go live and be happy."

The next day, my last, I took a hike to Mossbrae Falls. It was hot along the train tacks, but serendipity surprised me with a sweet lunch of wild blackberries. Lizards scampered away at my approach. Overhead, a red-tailed hawk flew figure eights two miles wide. I crossed an old trestle bridge, and stopped mid-span when a train passed over it, two feet from my face, with a rumbling click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. At a hillside spring I filled my hat with icy water and shivered as I poured it over my head. Nodding red columbines laughed at me. I scrambled down the sloping grade to the stream, chastised by jays. In the sublime pristine music of the falls, I tied a nymph to my flyline and started my back cast. On the forward cast, I felt a hook in my behind.

I stood in the sun, my waders filling with cold water. I hadn't done much this trip. I hadn't caught a fish. And now Mother Nature had shown me a dozen rare treasures in one afternoon, then tweaked my nose by sticking me in the butt with my own stupidity. All I could do was laugh at myself. And so I did, for the first time in my life. I really, truly laughed at myself, the way I think few people ever do. I lifted my face to the wide world sky and laughed. I laughed. Just laughed. And Mossbrae Falls said "See?"

A few years later, I found out why I was unhappy. I realized Juanita was right in everything she said when my doctor gave me the following advice. Sometimes, he said, the universe reaches out and taps you on the shoulder. When She does, you had better stop and listen. I started listening at Mossbrae Falls.

Teasers on this trip: fly shops, Castle Crags, Mt. Lassen, Babe Ruth

Tuesday, August 5

15 Days Of Vacation

Day 16: Dick's Place, CA

It is easy to have a love/hate relationship with Mendocino. On the one hand are stunning coastal cliffs swathed in salty fog thrown up by the crashing surf, weathered grey clapboard construction of houses and stores, tiny gardens bursting with blooms all year round, an exhilarating carefree freedom facing into a Pacific wind. On the other hand are the overpriced tacky shops marinated in the affected personalities of the shopkeepers, and the passive/aggressive rudeness of overpaid software aristocrats from the San Francisco Bay area. If you put on your far-sighted point of view, you can enjoy the former while overlooking and laughing at the latter.

Some may recognize parts of Mendocino from Murder, She Wrote, where many exterior shots were filmed. The town is small. You can walk the entire town at a leisurely pace in less than an afternoon. But don't let the size fool you; this is a beautiful place. There are some nice trails that allow you to roam the grassy headlands, or descend long stairs to small beaches littered with driftwood. Gather some up for your own ocean-inspired creation. Grab some salami, cheese, and sourdough at the market, slice 'em up, and have an unplanned lunch at the picnic tables provided. Watch out for the seagulls, they're sneaky li'l bastards. At night, the moon shines on the rippling waves, so clear you'd swear it was a school of iridescent fish, or the ballet of sea pixies.

There are some shops worth a look, too. The science-themed toy store has some neato goodies for kids and childish dads. (That would be approximately 100% by my estimation.) The bookstore has a fun selection of unusual books, a great kid's section, and groovy stuff like stickers and stationery. Make sure to stop at the candy store and get a candy apple, or some turtles, or an ice cream. (Say "Hi" to the resident geese up the street.) One of my favorites is a back alley store devoted to birds. It's a delightful assortment of feeders, houses, whirligigs, mobiles, birding books, and other fun stuff. Watch the pine siskins raid the copious feeder outside. There is one shop I can't figure out. It's owned by a crazy-uncle-packrat guy and crammed full of musty old paperbacks, rusty old swords, and dusty old . . . things. There's an upscale garden shop, a nice shell shop, a homey Irish shop, and several dozen or more shopping sprees for blankets, linens, soaps, cooking gadgets, candles, etc. Then there are pretentious jewelry shops, wine shops, art galleries, B&B's, endive-and-radicchio restaurants and How the hell can you make a living selling this ugly expensive crap? shops. This is where you and the kids put your chocolate smeared noses and candy apple sticky fingers against the glass and laugh. Simple props like pinwheels, balsa wood gliders, and cheap plastic whistles are at their finest right here.

I saved the best for last. It's called Dick's Place. That's it. Real simple. It projects a refreshing "Yeah, it's called Dick's, so what?" vibe. It's got the plank floor, the wobbly stools, the old jukebox, and the true hallmark of any fine drinking joint: the buzzing pink neon sign of a martini glass out front. I've heard many complaints about Dick's over the years, always from the type of folks we previously laughed at. If you got your head on right, this is a fantastic place to observe the human animal. I have always found the clientele and staff affable, if a little gruff. If you don't pretend to be anything special, you'll fit right in.

There are grizzled biker dudes that can't keep their voices below 115 decibels. There are delicate 200 pound barflys. There are mud stained lumber workers. There are Renaissance Faire jewelry making chicks. There are the deli employees who tell the real stories about the tourists from the privileged classes. There are those two guys that are laughing right now, but will probably rumble later, and be back to laughing again tomorrow. There's the piercing-eyed artist who creates pieces from castoffs she finds on the beach. There's the guy with the Robin Hood beard, eight silver dragon rings, and a beat up guitar. There's the 98 pound pool shark, showing off her two inch cleavage in an attempt to sucker some drunk into a round of 8-ball. No matter how they look, they will all gladly trade a bad joke, tell you what's wrong with your clothes, answer a question or two, and maybe share a round of shots with you. Occasionally you will find a partner that is opposite you in so many ways it's like looking into a funhouse mirror. It's not your reflection, exactly, but you recognize something there. I have struck up two hour friendships with a crude road crew worker, a sultry hippie gypsy, and some local geezer and his dog. Oh, my yes. This is a BAR. Bar par excellence, from the huge nicotine stained mirror to the desiccated gecko in that bottle of rumtequilawhiskey something. I don't know how long Dick's has been here, but gauging by the feel of spirits (and *hic* spirits), I'd say about 400 years. Even if it's only 80, I'm sure 400 years worth of living has taken place.

Take a seat by the window. Gaze southward, past the window's gold lettering, to the serenity and confidence of the northern California coastland. Watch the well-heeled doctorate idiots avoid Dick's like the plague. Absorb the real life they are missing and wouldn't recognize if it rear-ended their BMW. Bask in the heady orange glow of the setting sun, the babble of a lovable funky people, a good stiff drink, and your own superiority.

Teasers on this trip: Glass Beach, Noyo Harbor, Skunk train, pygmy forest

Monday, August 4

16 Days Of Vacation

Day 15: Casa de Fruta, CA

Every native Californian has their favorite fruit stand. Although they are not as prevalent as they once were, there must be hundreds around the state. If you've ever traveled interstate 5 between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, chances are you've been to one of the best and most enduring:
Casa de Fruta.

This landmark in the Pacheco valley started out as a family orchard 100 years ago. Around the end of World War II, the owners opened up a fruit stand. Later they added a coffee shop, a store, and it hasn't stopped growing since. Now you can eat at Casa de Restaurant, fuel up at Casa de Gas, sleep at Casa de Motel, even take the kiddies for a little train ride at Casa de Choo Choo. Seriously, I'm not making any of this up. It's cornball and campy, and it hasn't lost that charm in the 40 years I've been going there.

Most everyone from the San Jose area has spent some time here. There are picnic areas, a pond, playground, an animal farm complete with 2nd or 3rd generation buffalo, a great antique merry-go-round (I'm a sucker for these), an RV park, and souvenirs. Oh, yeah, just as s sideline, they sell fruit. This is a fun way to kill an hour or two, or to spend the day with family. I loved going there as a kid. I remember it had the biggest slide I'd ever seen. On the winding highway was a billboard with a rotating coffee cup, an advertisement for the World Famous Cup Flipper. I saw him only once. He would bring you a cup upside down on a saucer, flip it in the air, catch it on the saucer and pour your coffee from two feet above. Now THAT is the kind of tourist trap entertainment ya just can't get no more. Unfortunately, the Cup Flipper retired some years ago.

True to its legacy, the fruit "stand" specializes in all sorts of fresh produce. I've not lived in my native state for 12 years now, and I always yearn for California treats every spring and autumn. Black walnuts, almonds, pistachios, dried apricots, dried prunes, Bing and Queen Anne cherries, oranges, artichokes, avocadoes, strawberries, plums, pears, olives of every description, and more more more. I especially crave the (really) world famous garlic, huge fragrant bulbs with purple-pink striped papery skin, clustered in foot long braids. You can buy all of these anywhere now, of course, but it's not the same. You cannot say you've eaten any of them until you've had them fresh from the California heartland. Casa de Fruta has now expanded to mall stores, mail order, and internet sales, but it ain't the same without rolling golden hills, ducks, auto exhaust, and the Cup Flipper.

Sigh. Now I'm homesick.

Teasers on this trip: Renaissance Faire, Henry Coe State Park, Pinnacles National Monument, Gilroy Garlic Festival

Sunday, August 3

17 Days Of Vacation

Day 14: Freedom Trail, MA

It's Sunday, so let's go to church. The church is Old North Church (the "one if by land, two if by sea" location of Paul Revere's tale), and we are on Boston's famed Freedom Trail.

I love this trip. Start at any place on the trail's map, and walk in any direction. There's tons to see and learn. From the U.S.S. Constitution (oldest commissioned ship in the navy) to the Boston Massacre site, from Paul Revere's house to Granary Burying Ground (final resting place of John Hancock and Samuel Adams), this is a day of discovery and delights for every sense. I won't recount them here. Instead, I will give my impressions of one afternoon.

After visiting Old Ironsides, perhaps my favorite stop on the tour, the family and I walked back to our car through Little Italy (amazing shops with cured meats and cheeses and chiantis and give me one of everything). Once we reached Quincy Market, my wife, mother, and kids went shopping. I went to the Green Dragon where I polished off an ale, sitting in the same place where Paul Revere might have sat. Then I went to the Bell In Hand Tavern, and polished off another ale, in the same place where other revolutionaries must have caroused. I was in good company.

Afterward, I browsed the outdoor market. Voices of every timbre and accent filled the air, hawking fish of the day, olives from California (I laughed at that one), strawberries, beeswax candles, all sorts of fresh goodies. Very nineteenth century marketplace and very amusing to someone with a belly full of good Boston ale. In a quieter corner I found my own personal El Dorado. An old man was selling fresh clams from an old ice cream pushcart, 50 cents apiece or three for $1.25. I immediately sat at one of the two stools in from of his "establishment," and proceeded to indulge in a dozen huge, fresh, shucked-right-under-my-nose clams. Condiments provided were coarse salt, lemon halves, and Tabasco sauce. I tried all three in all combinations. The old man chatted with me, regaling me with insignificant anecdotes that entertained me immensely. From time to time another tourist, always male, would sit at the other stool for a clam or three, and we would all swap a lie or two. It was great. I paid the man and went on my merry way.

I stopped at two more pubs, and visited Ye Olde Clamme Man twice more. Final total: five ales for about $20, thirty-six clams for $15, and one-hundred and four stories for $0. It was one of the most enjoyable few hours I've ever spent alone. Later that evening, I treated my family to lobster 'n stuff at the Union Oyster House, oldest continuously operating restaurant in the country, open since 1826. When we shared our experiences of the day, they were appalled and amazed that I would eat all that and still go out for a seafood dinner. I just burped and smiled.

Go find your own burp and smile somewhere along the Freedom Trail. Just follow the red brick road. For the unbelievable number of historic sites located here, check out this map.

Teasers on this trip: Lexington/Concord, Salem, Plymouth, Walden

Saturday, August 2

18 Days Of Vacation

Day 13: Virgin River Narrows, UT

I like to think of
Zion National Park as the red rock little sister of Yosemite. Mountains of red and buff sandstone surround this valley, through which courses the Virgin River, the lifeblood of a natural botanical garden that rivals anything I've ever seen. In this desert location are not only cactus, yucca, and other xeric flora, but also cottonwoods, willows, ferns, and in the spring, a riot of wildflowers of every color. Due to the many plant species, the wildlife is just as varied and interesting. Zion also has its share of colorful place-names: The Watchman, Great White Throne (at right), Checkerboard Mesa. There is a great visitor center, and Zion lodge is worth a look for bigger than life architecture (see the earlier post on El Tovar) and cabins available for rent. My favorite place, however, is The Narrows.

Like the Grand Canyon, portions of Zion have been cut through by the Virgin River. Unlike the Grand Canyon, this river's masterpiece is accessible and easy to experience up close. A 15+ mile trail meanders through Zion's back country, zigging and zagging along the river's course. It starts near the Temple of Sinawava and continues to get progressively narrower until you can touch both walls of the canyon standing in place. In places the trail is on high ground, in others you may be wading up to your armpits and carrying your pack over your head. A sturdy hiking stick is not only fun, but a necessity in navigating some currents. The scenery changes with every turn: vertical rainbow cliffs, sandy beaches under arched recesses, waterfalls, hanging gardens, swards of grass and stands of trees, the trill of canyon wrens, and everywhere the sound of water. As far as I know, there is no other hike quite like this in the country.

I have hiked only three or four miles in, then back out. It was enough for this hike to sear itself onto my memory, and give me a healthy respect for my own limitations. I plan to do more someday. Be aware that this hike is not without its dangers. At certain times of the year, especially summer, sudden storms many miles away can dump enough water to cause dangerous torrents that race down the canyon, even if it is sunny and clear where you are. While the first mile or so poses no significant risk, the farther you go the more treacherous the terrain gets, and the farther from help you are. I advise caution, a well-provisioned daypack (water, 1st aid kit, snacks, poncho, sunscreen), notifying someone of your plans, and checking with the ranger station before you go. I recommend at least rudimentary swimming skills as well. The desert, even in the most benign looking circumstances, can be a very dangerous place for the uninitiated.

Teasers on this trip: Kolob, Bryce, campfire, tunnel

Friday, August 1

19 Days Of Vacation

Day 12: Morro Bay, CA

Morro Bay is stuck somewhere in the mid 20th century. Unlike most other central California coastal towns, it hasn't been completely taken over by surfers, latter day hippies, real estate agents, or wine snobs. They are here, and so are some trappings to keep them here, but the town retains most of its fishing-village-and-natural-wonders personality. There are easily 1,001 California coast destinations worth a visit. Morro Bay is in my top three.

The most obvious, imposing, and awe inspiring feature is Morro Rock, the last in a chain of weathered volcanic plugs called the Nine Sisters. It stands guard over a perfect natural harbor. The topography makes for a a fascinating place to walk, beachcomb, and birdwatch. Along the Embarcadero are souvenir shops, bike and boat rentals, fish markets, restaurants, and small gardens from which to watch the incoming fleet or the setting sun.

The pleasures of this destination are simple ones. The town prides itself, and justifiably so, for its bird sanctuary status. Hundreds of species take up residence or migrate through here, including the endangered peregrine falcons that nest on Morro Rock. There is a small but very good natural history museum. The old, tiny public aquarium ($2 admission!) is a sure bet for young and old alike, especially the rescued seals who perform tricks for fish scraps. Visit the shell shop. Fly a kite. Food is simple and hearty fare, mostly family style restaurant or bar and grill type spots specializing in fresh seafood. There is a yacht harbor, a large public park, long strands of beach on the outer harbor and north of the rock, and one of the state's best preserved estuaries. Most of all, this is a place for casting off self-imposed shackles. Enjoy the rhythm of the tides without the need for cell phones, itineraries, or an abundance of credit cards.

S - l - o - w . D - o - w - n .

Teasers on this trip: kayaks, Pismo Beach, wineries, Hearst Castle

Thursday, July 31

20 Days Of Vacation

Day 11: Montezuma Well, AZ

This and the cliff dwelling a few miles to the west were named by retarded cowboys who thought the Aztecs lived here, or some other fool notion. The truth is they were used by the Sinagua, an enigmatic prehistoric people whose traces can be found all over the southwest. (We will pay a visit to their neighbors, the Anasazi, later in our 30 day virtual vacation.) Unlike many other ancient sites, Montezuma Well has few domestic structures. It also isn't really a well.

The site was form when a cave collapsed, and the sinkhole was filled by a spring. As it is located smack dab in the middle of the desert, it's no wonder both humans and animals have used it for millennia. It is small in area, only a football field or so across. Around the rim can be seen a few remnants of mud brick structures, possibly one room dwellings or food storage facilities. A short hike to the bottom allows interesting views of the blue water, aquatic plants, and the occasional turtle. If you're lucky enough to be alone, rest under the stone overhang, listen to the birds, and reflect on the scratches on the walls from visitors of past centuries.

Hiking back up, the trail continues over the southern rim. Here a cool and verdant path leads to the exit point of the spring. Water tumbles out of the rocks, over a million gallons a day, and fills ancient irrigation ditches built by the Sinagua. This is one of my favorite spots in the southwest. It still feels alive with the spirit of a people who long ago abandoned the site. It is a good place for quiet contemplation, beside the cool waters of the ditch, under massive smooth-trunked Arizona sycamores, watching fish in the creek and listening to the breeze and birdsong.

This is one of four excellent and unusual, but less well known, ancient indian sites. To the west Montezuma Castle sits high in a cliff face, farther west Tuzigoot is a small city built on a hilltop, and to the northeast are the remains of rooms built in the recesses of a promontory in Walnut Canyon.

Teasers on this trip: copper, corn, vortex, sliding jail

Wednesday, July 30

21 Days Of Vacation

Day 10: White Bird, ID

Pride yesterday, shame today.

This is a sad place. It was the site of the first battle between the U.S. Army and the Nee-Me-Poo, or Nez Perce, nation. Although the army was soundly defeated, the whole affair could have been avoided if the whites had just dealt honestly from the beginning. The Battle at White Bird may have been a victory for the Indians, but it marked the eventual decline of their culture after numerous other skirmishes with American forces. The ending is the all too familiar one: a native people decimated, relocated, cheated. For those who wish to read more, this
National Park Service pamphlet is an excellent history.

I found this place on a business trip driving from Spokane to Boise. The region in between is beautiful forest, river, and prairie, dotted with Lewis and Clark adventure sites. I plan to go back someday and explore this breathtaking land, and the native culture that belongs to it. For now I am haunted by the memory of standing between two hillocks on a cold afternoon, with miles and miles of open grandeur, a leaden sky crying fitful tears, the feel of ghosts who have been wronged hiding in the grass. About the only positive experience from this brief stay was my education of a people, and a greater appreciation for an iconic American hero, Chief Joseph.

"From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

Teasers on this trip: I know nothing about the Clearwater and Flathead rivers; all the more reason to return

Tuesday, July 29

22 Days Of Vacation

Day 9: National Archives, Washington D.C.

The struggles for American independence took place in every colony, Massachusetts and Virginia are the prime examples, and in places beyond the reach of established institutions of the day. Our nation's capitol is not the birthplace of our country, but it is its heart. Washington D.C. is where the will of the people is exercised, the place where our shared values are most in evidence. From the seats of federal power to the resting places of our honored dead, to visit here is to know that the public owns these monuments and parks, and that the current government exists only by the public's consent. It is hard not to bloviate and swell with patriotic pride when surrounded by expressions of ideals that changed the world.

This is why the National Archives is my number-one place every United States citizen should see. On display are numerous historical documents from four different centuries. The greatest of these define our country and are presented center stage: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. There before your eyes are the signatures of John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and all the founding fathers. There is the original ink, the parchment passed through the hands of history, the compromise of differing views, the hotly debated words of We the People. I wish every high school senior was required to see it.

On my second visit, a guard explained that the documents can be mechanically lowered to an underground vault safe from nuclear attack. A woman next to me asked "Why? Are they worth money or something?" I wanted to strangle her. I bit my lip and remembered to uphold our founding principles of equality and freedom of speech, even for the aggravatingly stupid. After all, each of us has the right to opinion and ignorance, no matter how ridiculous it may seem to others.

This sounds cliche and pretentious. But I dare you to come to Washington, tour the memorials, explore the Smithsonian, visit the Capitol rotunda, view a session of Congress, and not puff up a little. Come on. I dare you.

Teasers on this trip: stand tall and look around you

Monday, July 28

23 Days Of Vacation

Day 8: Golden Gate Bridge, CA

This is a beautiful sight, no?

I must have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge a hundred times in my life, but it wasn't until I had all 3 children that I walked across it. I shouldn't have waited. Beneath you pass passenger ships, tankers, and sailboats. Travelers you don't see include sea lions, sharks, even the occasional whale. To the east is San Francisco Bay, the city skyline, Alcatraz, and a whole continent. To the west the Pacific rolls on and on and on until it touches the shores of Japan. The feel of the wind, the smell of the ocean, and the sound of the gulls contibute to the bridge's many moods, which change depending on the weather, season, and time of day. I look forward to traversing it one day during an early morning fog, or a strong rain or an autumn sunset. is informative, although disappointing for a cultural and historical landmark 50 miles from the center of the computer industry.

Teasers on this trip: Presidio, Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, Red & White fleet

Sunday, July 27

24 Days Of Vacation

Day 7: El Tovar Hotel, AZ

Today is Sunday, so why don't we go have a nice late lunch? I've chosen a place with a surrealistic view of both space and time: the
El Tovar Hotel.

At the turn of the 20th century, America was still discovering its natural wonders, but hadn't quite grasped the unique identity of them. So we imitated the lodges and hotels of Europe, finishing them with a western personality. The El Tovar is an example of the robust architecture prevalent in the early national park system. A broad porch allows for ample seating, providing welcome shade from the Arizona sun. A large entryway leads you to the lobby, a cavernous space of log rafters, chandeliers of geometric stained glass, mission style furniture, and obligatory mounted animal heads. Besides the lobby seating and fireplace, there are two gift shops, a small cocktail lounge, some interesting history on the
Fred Harvey Company, and the dining room.

In keeping with its Victorian style roots, this is a fine dining establishment. Not quite the Waldorf-Astoria, but fancier than you might expect for a place frequented by tourists and hikers. The main dining hall is beautiful, constructed of native stone and the same sturdy dark woods of the lobby. The decor is rustic upscale; subtle artwork pays tribute to the desert landscape and Hopi culture. I had been here several times before I realized there was a second dining area behind the first. Although it is smaller and less elegant, I prefer it.

For here large windows reveal an incomparable panorama. I doubt any other restaurant table in the world has such a jaw-dropping view. Order a glass of wine, an appetizer, and the superb trout. Enjoy a tantalizing dessert. Sit quietly with your companion and marvel over the coral and peach and rust expanses of the
Grand Canyon. Reflect on the billion year history revealed in the canyon walls. Marvel at the power of a river to create it all. This is more than a pleasant meal. This is a revelatory repast. Savor.

Teasers on this trip: mule, kachina, condor, awe

Saturday, July 26

25 Days Of Vacation

Day 6: Pinecrest Lake, CA

Time for a refreshing dip in a lake, and one of my favorite places for that is at
Pinecrest. This small lake sits in a corner of the Sierra mountains at 5,600' elevation. It is drained in the winter, when everyone goes instead to the Dodge Ridge ski area up the road. Locals and tourists start to swarm the lake in late spring when the air is clear and warm, the water clear and COLD. In my teen years every Memorial Day weekend, some guy would drive his Amphicar straight into the lake, while onlookers gasped, then laughed. This semi-officially kicked off the summer festivities for the regular crowd.

The broken spine of the Sierra Nevada range rises east of here, topping out at 9,620' Sonora Pass. Spring lasts about 6½ days there, so plenty of glacier and snow melt rush down the mountains to fill Pinecrest. The water has a silky-mineral brainfreeze quality to it, pure and invigorating. It's hard to stay in too long if you aren't in the warmer shallows. This makes it perfect for trout, though, and the lake is well stocked. The picture to the left is typical of the shoreline, great granite blocks thrust out into the water, pines receding into the ever higher distance.

Despite the crowds, this is a beautiful spot with areas for quiet introspection, if you're willing to work for it. A four mile trail meanders around the lake, over granite and meadow, beneath stone cabins and towering ponderosas. At the midway point (the "back end" of the lake) you can deviate due east and strike your own path up the Stanislaus River into the wilderness.* It's tough to describe the grandeur of Sierra birds, waterfalls, achingly blue sky, wildflowers, and the ever present dark grey stone to someone who hasn't seen it. I spent so much of my teens and twenties tramping through this part of California that I can feel the throb of the Sierras in my blood like a potent drug.

There is no other spot on the Earth quite like this. At first glance it appears to be just another mountain lake resort. But Pinecrest has a dual personality. The west has its fishing, swimming, paddleboats, ice cream stand, and bikinis by the yard. The east has the unspoiled vigor and rugged confidence of young California, inviting to those with strength of heart and character. It is a soul calming, mind restoring, magical place.

Teasers this trip: whatever you empty out of your head

* NEVER hike into wilderness areas alone or unprepared.
* Check with the Forest Service for local regulations and permits.
* Inexperienced hikers should remain in well-established recreation areas.

Friday, July 25

26 Days Of Vacation

Day 5: Balboa Park, CA

From extinct animals yesterday, to live ones today. San Diego is rich in California history and the Latin culture that gave birth to it. The heart of the city is Balboa Park, an urban playground of museums, architecture, gardens, and music. This is kind of an obvious choice, but no trip to southern California would be complete without a visit to the park's crown jewel, the
San Diego Zoo.

I can't really say much about this destination that wouldn't bore you. I mean, you have been to a zoo, right? Maybe, but you haven't been to this one. For almost a century it has been famous not only for its collection of animals, but for its botanical gardens and conservation efforts. These efforts are obvious in the care and attention to detail in every exhibit. The zoo has been a pioneer in enclosure design and enrichment programs, resulting in beautiful, spacious habitats for the occupants while allowing for great viewing by visitors. The staff is the best I have seen at educating the public about wild species and our conservatorship of them.

This is a LARGE zoo. Bring comfortable walking shoes and spring for the tram and skyway tickets. The baby panda is extremely popular, so expect a long line (and be quiet!) My favorite not-to-be-missed exhibits are the Galapagos tortoises, Gorilla Tropics, Tiger River, Sun Bear Forest, reptile house, and the world famous flamingo lagoon just inside the entrance. Be sure not to overlook the botanical specimens (the agaves and euphorbias are splendid) and keep your camera handy. This is an excellent zoo for photography.

Balboa Park has a lot going for it, but the zoo is only one of three major animal attractions in the area. The San Diego Wild Animal Park (35 miles northeast) and Sea World (10 miles northwest) are other options for an extended stay. Bring your credit cards!

Teasers on this trip: Hotel del, Old Town, Cabrillo, cross the border

Thursday, July 24

27 Days Of Vacation

Day 4: St. George Dinosaur Tracks, UT

One of the great things about touring the American southwest is the myriad dinosaur related side trips. They range from magnificent places like the remote moutainside boneyard at Vernal, Utah to the small but impressive display at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. I've seen dinosaur tracks for free on the Navajo reservation and on vertical red sandstone cliffs. For abundance and variety of unique specimens, however, it's hard to top the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site.

You won't find any life size reproductions or assembled dino skeletons here. Young children may see it as just a bunch of mud colored rocks, but for the older dinosaur buff and scientifically curious, there are rare treasures on display in this warehouse-like building. Discovered only eight years ago, the site has already made a large impact on paleontology. There are a few dead bones to be found, but most of what's been left behind are hints of how Jurassic creatures lived and moved.

The most obvious displays are the dinosaur footprints, dozens upon dozens of them, some single, some in trackways. The largest ones were made by dilophosaurs, but there are a number of smaller ones made by some as yet unidentified animals. These were the megafauna of their time. Even more interesting are the smaller bits scattered here and there: insect trails, turtle rubs, mollusc shells, plant root castings, burrows, fish fossils, seeds, plant impressions, the list goes on. The truly rare and bizarre are the fish and dinosaur swim tracks, tail drags, skin impressions, even a depression left by a sitting dinosaur. It is a sandstone text book offering a view of an entire ancient ecosystem and the interdependece of the organisms in it. It is a prehistoric Rosetta stone, waiting for us to solve a thousand riddles of evolution. Fascinating and captivating.

This is an active research site, with new discoveries being made all the time. (As evidence of this, check out the huge pile of rocks out back.) Some finds haven't even been properly classified yet. There aren't any prettied up displays or fancy fonts. You tread across concrete and sandstone, separated from the Do-Not-Touch pieces by nothing more than a rope. That's why I like it. It's a peek inside an active and engrossing disipline, and if you squint real hard, you just might see that dinosaur swimming toward you, breathing and alive.

Teasers on this trip: canyons, wildlife, Weeping Rock, Shakespeare

Wednesday, July 23

28 Days Of Vacation

Day 3: Tennessee Aquarium, TN

Today we jump across the Big Muddy for the first location involving my obsession with fish. Public aquariums feature high on my list of things to see when site-seeing. In California, the Pacific currents are cold, the rivers fast and clear. On a business trip to Chattanooga, I discovered the
Tennessee Aquarium, showcasing aquatic life from warm Gulf waters and slow, muddy rivers.

This is a big place. A zig-zag ramp starts at the top and winds down around the building. The walkway descends past large tanks surrounding the open but dark interior, slips in and out of small halls, back to the large tanks, and back again into brightly lit rooms with views of the Tennessee River. It's an unusual set-up, quirky even, but lends a sense of discovery as you round corners from the large to the small, the dark to the light, the swift to the calm.

There are the requisite sharks, but there are also some truly impressive tanks here. One is a two story monstrosity with a fishing boat on the surface, sun loving sportfish like bass and crappie in the upper water column, huge lunker catfish at the bottom. Another is a vast empty space with fast swimming Gulf species like tuna and tarpon. What is hard to convey is the scale of these exhibits. You are pressed close to a wall of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, fish of every description zipping past your nose, or floating up lazily to peer at the possible snack on the other side of the glass. There are plenty of exotic species such as the
arapaima (one of my personal favorites) in the submerged Amazon forest. Or the Tim Burtonesque giant spider crab, leg span 15 feet. It's the only place I've ever seen a leafy seadragon. For a real treat with the kids, go underneath an enormous tank and peek out through portholes to get a fish's eye view of a coral reef. A recent addition is the Anarctic Penguins' Rock.

It is with the regional speices that the Tennessee Aquarium truly excels. There is an exceptionally good hall of turtles, from the clownish pig-nosed to the nightmarish alligator snapping. The open and airy swamp exhibit is worthy of an hour's stay. Practically at your fingertips are alligators, ducks, fish, and a swarm of pond turtles in a perpetual mating swim/dance. If you are so inclined, you can pet a sturgeon, make faces at river otters, puzzle over a paddlefish, or relax in the peaceful butterfly habitat. All in all, the Tennessee Aquarium ranks as one of my top three in the country.

Teasers on this trip (I sampled only the last one): Ruby Falls, Chickamauga, the Smokies, BBQ

Tuesday, July 22

29 Days Of Vacation

Day 2: Star Trek The Experience, NV

If ever there was a place to indulge your inner geek,
this is it. Located inside the Hilton resort near the Strip, this has all the elements of hyperbolic, over the top, gee whiz sci-fi excess, all with a Las Vegas twist. You enter the large area devoted to dorkitude through, of course, a themed casino and bar area. Various light-up zappy things are everywhere, the decor a furious and curious collision of depression era Logan's Run combined with Forbidden Planet on acid. Even if you're not a gambler, it's worth a dollar bet just to pass your hand through a light beam that activates the slot machine tumblers. Neato!

The Promenade, although shorter than I'd like, is a vague representation of the Deep Space Nine set. Here you can peruse various Star Trek souvenirs, from action figures to Starfleet wear to expensive gadgets like phasers and starship models. Once, I even saw a replica of Captain Kirk's command chair, complete with a detailed painted cutout of good ol' James T. From 30 feet away, it looked pretty cool. If you can't find something to covet or roll your eyes at, leave now. It only gets worse.

Across from the Promenade is Quark's Bar and Restaurant. It is here you're likely to be fleeced by a Ferengi or accosted by a Klingon. Sidle up to the bar (more zappy stuff) and demand a Tranya, or a Romulan Ale, or a Warp Core Breach. Order up some targ ribs, or Holy Rings of Betazed, or a hamborger. Seriously, go to the web
site, click on the restaurant link under "What is..." and check out the menu. It's insane in its unapologetic geekiness. At this point, NASCAR fans will bitterly berate Star Trek nerds with epithets strong enough to break the Organian Peace Treaty. For true and unabashed Trekophiles like me, the inside jokes, self-deprecation, trivia drops, and absurd coolness cannot be matched by any other attraction.

Most likely, though, the reason you're here is the two rides: Klingon Encounter and Borg Invasion. I won't say much about these, other than they are not rides in the conventional sense, but total sensory immersion into the Trek universe. Painstaking set details, costumed actors with a script, and holy sh-- special effects make either of these unforgettable. The transporter effect that sends you into the future is one of most baffling and surprising things I've ever experienced. At that moment you can almost believe you really are being "beamed up."

For my money, however, the best thing about Star Trek: The Experience is the area leading up to the rides. Rather than just wait in a boring line, you wander through the world's largest collection of all things Trek. Costume pieces, props, stills, you name it, line the balcony walkway, all presented in a sort of future museum exhibiting relics from Federation history. Many a fan has stood gaping at stuff they saw on their favorite show, amazed at how cool or cheesy it is in real life. Easily the best part of the trip, tickets can be purchased separately, and you can exit before the rides. Also here are LARGE models of starships suspended from the ceiling. The original Enterprise, Enterprise-D, Voyager, and others are all here, suspended in mid warp, glowing and blinking in a way that communicates with the adventurous "what-if" in us. Flanking these are large screens which periodically show retrospectives of the franchise: a piece on the Captains, or starships, or aliens, or some other wow-I-loved-that memory. Wistful, inspiring, and familiar; my inner twelve year old loves this place.

Unfortunately, this ultimate Trekkie Mecca is scheduled to close on Labor Day this year. Even if they relocate the displays somewhere else, I doubt the environment will be as all-encompassing as it is now. Plus, you'll undoubtedly have to pay more.

Teasers on this trip: Shark Reef, Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam, Fremont Street light show

Monday, July 21

30 Days Of Vacation

It seems everyone I know is taking a summer vacation. For the first time in 10+ years, I won't be. I will take one by myself after the remaining kids go back to high school, but it's not the same as the family week-long summer vacation in a rented house, or motels, or camping. Plus, with starting up two new radio stations we purchased in the last five months, I really couldn't get away anyhow. I've been overwhelmed with helping steer our corporate ship. It's been rewarding, to be sure, but I haven't had much time to reflect on just "me" stuff. What could I possibly write about that's of interest to anyone, if I'm not interested myself?

Then, while quietly jealousizing over
Tiff's and others' vacations, it hit me. Time for a change-up, and set myself a challenge. Every day for the next 30 days, I will visit a favorite place I have found on family vacations or private wanderings. Some are lifetime favorites, others are pleasant surprises you won't find if you look for them. Please join me on a virtual vacation. Heck, write about some of your own so we can all relish in the wonder of places unvisited!

Day 1: Samoa Cookhouse, CA

We start our trip with a meal at the
Samoa Cookhouse near Eureka, California. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Take your pick, but bring your appetite, because the Samoa Cookhouse serves food like nowhere else I've ever been. Dating back over 100 years, this old building was used to feed the lumber industry employees, many of whom lived in the tiny company town of Samoa just down the street. The appetites of lumberjacks and sawmill workers are legendary, so it's no surprise that the Cookhouse continues in that tradition.

The first thing you notice upon entering is the chalkboard menu. The second thing you notice is the wood-floored hall with rows and rows of picnic tables. If you are the linens and sommelier type, this is your first and only clue to hightail your pretentious butt back south to San Francisco. Because, here? You're gonna sit where you're put and eat what you're given. On Wednesday night it might be fried chicken and potatoes with green salad and bread and butter. On Friday it might be fried fish with corn on the cob and minestrone soup and bread and butter. On Monday it might be thick slabs of pork or beef roast with mixed vegetables and bean salad and bread and butter. All washed down with icy frothy milk and the best black coffee in the history of history. Don't like what they're serving that night? Tough. Go hungry.

Oh, but what you will miss. Plastic table cloths laid out with thick cream-colored ceramic plates and bowls. Giant salt shakers and creamers and coffee cans stuffed with napkins. Silverware you could used to repair an RV engine. Sharing your bench with a coupla Harley dudes. Rubbing elbows with a shy lanky teen. Helping the kindly senior lady across the table to servings of apple pie. Chatting across, down, behind you with folks you've never seen before, and probably have next to nothing in common except this desire for REAL food, dammit, and the desire to share in our most primal ritual with others of an extended tribe. And all around you little kids chase each other around the lumber-era museum pieces, babies bounce on laps, grandparents revel in the closeness of their families, tourists recount the day's escapades, and always always always the super efficient and strong waitresses pass huge stainless steel pots and melamine bowls back and forth from the huge kitchen, everything steaming and clanking and clattering and giving rise to aromas that make you want to eat twice your weight in simple stuff you never thought could taste so good. And it never stops. You keep eating, they keep bringing.

The Samoa Cookhouse is one of the the best restaurants in America. I have driven three hours, each way, in a day just to eat there. I've been in fancier, older, more heralded eateries across this country, but none better or more original. Go and enjoy. Stop by again on your way back home for breakfast, and pay closer attention to the history that soaks into you from the sturdy planks and sawmill memorabilia. It'll last you all the way home.

From here, you can go north or south to enjoy the spectacular northern California coastline and superlative sequoia sempervirens. I'll let you discover those on your own. But a few teasers: salmon fisheries, Avenue of the Giants, Paul Bunyan, and Roosevelt elk!

Saturday, June 7

Another Random Saturday

My wife's best friend moved away today. She lamented that she has no friends in town any more. It made me sad, because I haven't had a friend for 20 years or so. I'm not sure why. My 2 semi-lifelong bosom buddies and I drifted apart in our mid-twenties, and they have never been replaced. Oh, I have friendly people I know, and we know some personal details about each other. But there is no one over the last 2 decades that I can just call on the phone for help with a broken car, or watch football with every weekend, or plan a fishing trip, or go on combined family picnics. I'm not exactly sure why, but I'm reasonably sure the fault lies with me.

The difference is: my wife is a wonderful person who will have little difficulty finding another friend.

* * * * *

Another little piece of my youth was swallowed by history with Jim McKay's death. I was never a rabid sports fan, but he was a staple of television in my younger days. Who could forget "The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat?" He WAS the Olympics, especially with the life changing 1972 Munich games, punctuated by his succinct and poignant coda "They're all gone." In an industry of testosterone, arrogance, and ego, he was a gentle man that made sports accessible to us non-jocks.

Goodbye, Jim. Everyone liked you, and that is rare.

* * * * *

Middle age is a capricious bitch. One day you are at the top of your game, the respected mentor. The next day you are the dismissed out-of-touch dork barraged by medical tests. It's aggravating in the extreme, but somehow the bitch gives you the resilience to ignore it all.

But she's still a bitch.

* * * * *

I love my new dog, Poppy. She occasionally succeeds in stealing a butter tub from the counter, or finds a stray remote control to chew, but she is sweet. She is affectionate, smart, and eager to please. She's learning, and LOVES Princessfisher and me. She's okay with Queenfisher. For once, the alpha female of the house is not the favorite.

That makes me laugh.

* * * * *

Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" was on the jukebox, and it really really really really really really really sucks the vomit hose.

If you like modern R&B/Rap/Hip Hop/Dance to the exclusion of all else, you are either to young to appreciate music or you are a fucking retard.

* * * * *

Right now I am in the mood for a Cobb salad with bleu cheese that would barely fit in the trunk of my car.

Pay attention to your cravings, they usually mean something. Even the "bad" ones.

* * * * *

Fireworks stands will go up soon. Cannot wait. Bonus: July 4 is on a Friday this year. My house will be beer and barbecue and blowing shit up central. I will get to use the word "punk" around my teenage son and his friends about 47 times.

If you don't understand the dual definition, your Independence Day party is gonna suck.

* * * * *

Hillary finally gave up. Shutup feminists. The majority of us have no problem with a female president. It was her entitlement attitude, even before her run for president, that turned many of us off. If you truly believe the national persona/focus/spirit will fundamentally change with a female in the White House, you are hopelessly naive. Politics is politics. Different players, same chess game.

BTW, "Clinton" re-arranged is "nonclit."

* * * * *

Gardening in the Mojave is one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced. So far, I've failed miserably at my favorites: cut flowers, vegetables, herbs, and succulents. My daughter has expressed an interest. Given her femaleness and her mother's gifts, I have no doubt she'll do better.

She better grow some damn good Roma tomatoes to overcome my jealousy.

* * * * *

I guess that's it for now. Go Big Brown!

(And by extension, Fuck you, PETA!)

Monday, June 2

Kingfisher's Cultural Poker Hands

9 Best Hands
Lost child beats: Pregnant woman
Pregnant woman beats: Frail senior
Frail senior beats: Mentally impaired
Mentally impaired beats: Blind
Blind beats: Wheelchair
Wheelchair beats: Broken down car woman
Broken down car woman beats: Stray dog
Stray dog beats: Hitch hiker
Hitch hiker beats: Panhandler

Anything (a dead cockroach, for example) beats these 9
Winning season Little League coach
Humvee soccer mom
Discovery Channel know-it-all
Initials on tailored shirt cuff salesman
Obese bitch/bastard with handicapped plates
“Will work for…” parking lot sign guy
Sour grandma on power scooter
High speed lane changing motorcycle prick
Don’t-dare-look-at-my-obvious-implant-cleavage-presented-for-your-approval chick

Sunday, June 1


I was inspired to write something about this photo presented by Wordsmiths Unlimited in February. At the time, I was too busy, lazy, and tired to contribute. I had the idea for a prayer, which I now present much too late, much too short, much too contrived, and blasphemous in between.

This is a work of fiction. Copyright © 2008 Bolt, Ink.
All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this work may be copied, retransmitted,
reposted, duplicated, or otherwise used without
the express written approval of the author.

Prayer of Sacrilege

Mother Mary, Full of Grace
Hear my plea
I too am young in life and love
Am I ignored in my sighs?

Mother Mary, Full of Hope
See my tears
I too have no place to call home
Am I alone in my cries?

Mother Mary, Full of Truth
Feel my rage
I too am conceived without husband
Am I unworthy in Heavenly eyes?

Mother Mary Full of Lies
We are the same between our thighs

Tuesday, May 27

9 Guys That Annoy Me

"I only need three hours of sleep. I get up at 3:30 every morning."
Um, remind me not join you on any long distance road trips. I'd love to see the quality consistence of whatever work it is that you do. Here's a clue for ya: you may feel superior; I think you're lying blowhard.

"Kingfisher's next drink is on my tab."
Look, you drunken fool, I don't like you. We're not friends. Everyone else may take advantage of you, but I'm gentleman enough not to in your daily inebriated state, and not bring attention to your hypochondriac opinionated boorishness. I hate feeling obligated, but if you sneak one in on your tab, I won't feel guilty for not buying you one.

"Can you get this report for my client?"
Sure. But if I bring it to you an hour later and you have already given them one, and it's wrong, I will break your teeth with my staple remover.

"Sir, do you know how fast you were going?"
What is this? Cash Cab? Do I win something if I get it right? Or are you just asserting your God-complex jerkoff coppitude? Just gimme the chicken shit ticket for going 60 in a 55 while everyone else whizzes by at 80. Remember when a policeman was your friend? Not no more.

"Yeah, I hit the gym before work this morning. (stretch) Got a tennis game tonight. Got a mountain bike ride on Saturday. (flex) Going kayaking Sunday."
Great! I'll say hi to your wife at the bar later. If I wasn't married, I'd be riding her implants within 2 hours.

"Income taxes are unconstitutional. The IRS can't force you."
Sigh. 100 years of this argument hasn't worked, buddy. Take off the tinfoil hat and PAY YOUR GODDAM TAXES you worthless pile of ignorant sludge. Then I wouldn't have to process your wage levy. All three of them. Idiot.

"God bless you." (after I sneeze)
Arrggh! Why do you insist on perpetuating this stupid superstitious pagan ritual? Isn't it a little condescending to assume I want your God's blessing? Do expect me to say the same? I sometimes do, but only when someone belches or farts.

Middle-aged Harley guy, with your bondage outfit and German WWII helmet and white nicotine stained mustache and your hey-this-is-america-freedom-is-mine arrogance, I was enjoying this quiet Grand Canyon rim with ravens' calls and wind in the pines until you FUCKED EVERYTHING UP WITH YOUR GOD GIVEN RIGHT TO BE A LOUD ASSHOLE. Impinging on everyone else's space with whatever you want to do because it isn't physically threatening is not Freedom. It is rude, irritating, arrogant, and the exact antithesis of liberty and civility. And you are not a rebel. You are, however, a huge donkey sucking asstard fuckhat. It is my fervent wish that road pizza is in your immediate future.

"F-R-E-E that spells free, credit report dot com BAY BEE"
Everybody in that car deserves to die. Especially the non-guitar playing pothead qwerbo in the back.