Bright lights, dark sky

The lights dart across the Texas desert, pulsing, merging and then disappearing.

Some people believe they are UFOs; others, the ghosts of Spanish conquistadors.

A cowboy first reported seeing them in 1883. He thought they were campfires of the Apache.

Other theories as to the origin of the mysterious lights include swamp gas, St. Elmo’s fire and the glint of minerals in the moonlight. Continue reading

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Prost, y’all

Enchanted Rock TX

On Enchanted Rock

Beef. It’s what’s for dinner in Texas.

Unless you’re in Hill Country, where it might be bratwurst.

In the mid-1800s, tens of thousands of German immigrants settled in central and southwest Texas, which, at the time, was its own country. Some of the settlers were sponsored by a group of German nobles who aimed to colonize the Republic of Texas and develop trade.

Their scheme was disrupted by a lack of funds, the war with Mexico and the statehood of Texas. The German homesteaders stayed anyway. Continue reading

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Back on the road

This week, I’m starting a four-week road trip from Austin, Texas, to Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona.

It will be my longest trip in nearly a year.

After three years of nearly non-stop travel, I felt a need to catch my breath. I was road-weary.

I rented an apartment in Columbus, my first “permanent” residence since 2014. I emptied my storage locker and found things I forgot I owned. I even bought a car.

Most importantly, I reconnected with family and friends. And thought about what is next. Continue reading

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Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe NM

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

Three historic trails lead to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

One arrives from Mexico City–El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road of the Interior Land). For centuries, Native North Americans used the sixteen-hundred-mile trade route.

In 1598 Spanish settlers first followed El Camino Real north. It was traveled continuously until 1882.

Another trail enters Santa Fe from the west. Approximately seven-hundred-miles long, the Old Spanish Trail connected Santa Fe with settlements in California. Blazed as early as the 1500s, the Old Spanish Trail was used by Native Americans, explorers, trappers and traders until 1848.

A third route, the namesake Santa Fe Trail, connected Santa Fe with the eastern United States, specifically Franklin, Missouri. The nine-hundred-mile trail was established in 1821 to take advantage of new trade opportunities with Mexico, which had just broken away from Spain. It saw use until around 1880.

Three cultures intersected at the crossroads of Santa Fe–Native-, Hispanic- and Anglo-American. It seemed an appropriate trail’s end for my tour as well. Continue reading

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Parks and rec

National Park ServiceWilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.
–Edward Abbey

Over four-hundred parks, preserves, forests, seashores, rivers, monuments, memorials and historic sites make up the National Park System. During my recent tour of the Southwest, I was fortunate to visit fifteen of them.

Seven of the biggest are in Alaska, including the largest park, Wrangell-St. Elias. At 12,500 square miles, it’s bigger than each of the nine smallest states.

Death Valley is the largest in the lower forty-eight states. The smallest park is Hot Springs in Arkansas at around nine square miles.

(For my post on Death Valley, please see “Death Valley days.” For Mojave and Joshua Tree, see “Wandering in the desert.” For Organ Pipe Cactus, Tumacácori, Coronado and Saguaro, see “Borderline.”)

The National Park Service was created in 1916 to keep the parks unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. They are often called “America’s crown jewels.” Continue reading

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Too tough to die

Gunfight reinactors, Tombstone AZ

Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan

In 1881, Tombstone, Arizona, was the site of the most famous gunfight of the Old West.

On one side were the Clanton brothers, the McLaury bothers and Billy Claiborne, members of a loose-knit gang of part-time cowboys and part-time cattle rustlers.

On the other side were Town Marshal Virgil Earp and his deputies, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday.

Near the O.K. Corral, the two factions faced-off, four against five. Thirty shots were fired in thirty seconds, some from just six feet away.

When the smoke cleared, three of the participants lay dead, three were wounded and three had run away.

Wyatt Earp stood alone, unscathed. Continue reading

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Saguaro National Park AZBorders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.
–Thor Heyerdahl

I left Palm Springs, where the streets are named after stars, and drove east to Phoenix. In some stretches, sandstorms raged on both sides of the road.

I passed Desert Center, the birthplace of Kaiser Permanente and the site of General Patton’s Army Air Field training center. Now, it’s only a few souls short of a ghost town.

Sped past Quartzsite, a quasi-city of tens of thousands of RVs. Ten major gem shows and fifteen huge flea markets attract over 1.5 million swappers annually, mostly during January and February. Over three-thousand dealers of rocks, minerals, fossils and jewelry set up shop.

Quartzsite is also the site of Joanne’s Gum Museum with its collection of wrappers from around the world.

In Phoenix I gathered Craig, my college roommate of three years, from the airport. He agreed to join me for a few days during my tour of the Arizona borderlands. A vacation for him and rare company for me. Time to catch up, embellish old stories and write some new ones. Continue reading

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