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July 29, 2009 (Portland, Oregon)

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A Wedding in Tucson and a Road Trip to Montana




The Wedding Bell Blues

My friends and relatives never invite me to weddings.  I'm not an unruly guest or anything like that, and I'm certainly not complaining about it.  It's just that I don't enjoy going to weddings, so my friends know I'm not going to show up even if they invite me.  I like the concept of marriage, certainly, and I still hold out hope that someday I'll find a woman who can put up with me and who'll want to marry me.  But I just don't like the formality of a wedding or attending an event where I don't know anyone else.  So if you're getting married, I hope your wedding goes well and I sincerely wish you the best in life -- but don't bother sending me an invitation, o.k.?


My niece, Christina, in Tucson, Arizona got married this spring and had sent me a lovely invitation, but I politely declined.  Instead of going to Tucson in April for her wedding, I told her that I wanted to come down after the wedding in May and spend a weekend with her and meet her husband, Michael.  Being very understanding, Christina was fine with that and she looked forward to seeing me -- or at least, she said she did, but sometimes my relatives aren't always honest with me!  Anyway, I figured this would be better than going to her wedding because I could spend some time with Michael and get to know him, instead of just briefly chatting with him over a slice of wedding cake.  And I could also combine this trip with some desert camping, which living in Portland I sorely missed.  So first I'd go going camping in the desert and then on to Tucson to see Christina and Michael.


I flew to Phoenix on a Friday morning and rented a PT Cruiser at the airport, stocked up at a nearby grocery store, then made a run for the border.  My destination that afternoon was Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the Mexican border.  Yes, it has a funny name but it's one of my favorite national parks in the U.S. and this would be my third visit there in the last 25 years.  I reached Organ Pipe around 2 p.m. and found the park pretty empty.  It's peak season is in January and February when thousands of snowbirds descend on southern Arizona, but this being early May, it wasn't very crowded like it is in the winter or unbearably hot like it is in the summer, so I figured it was the perfect time to visit.  There's a large, developed campground by the visitor center and a much smaller, primitive campground several miles away.  I chose the smaller campground, of course, reserved a campsite at the visitor center, and spent the next few hours exploring the park. 


Flying into Tucson    Organ Pipe National Monument    Organ Pipe cactus

Above left:  Flying into Phoenix.

Above center:  After renting a PT Cruiser, I headed south to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  This is one of my favorite national parks.

Above right:  And here's an organ pipe cactus.  They grow only in a few small areas of the U.S., including this part of southern Arizona.



Saguaro cactus    Cholla cactus thorns    Organ Pipe Cactus campground

Above left:  A saguaro (pronounced "saw-war-oh") cactus, made famous in the Roadrunner cartoons.  Beep beep.

Above center:  This is why you always wear shoes in the desert.  Those are barbs from a cholla (pronounced "choy-ya") cactus.  If they get in your skin, they're very difficult (and painful) to extract.  Believe me, I've learned this first hand.

Above right:  I camped in the primitive campground at Organ Pipe and shared some evening conversation with a nice couple from France.


Swimming to Mexico and a Visit to Tucson

I arrived at the Organ Pipe campground at sunset and set up my tent, the little shelter I'd bought in Abu Dhabi which had served me so well in the Oman desert.  There was only one other group in the campground, a couple that joined me later that evening bearing a bottle of wine.  They were from France and were spending a few weeks exploring the western U.S. and were amazed at the cactus and desert landscapes at Organ Pipe.  It was a warm and pleasant evening with good company and good conversation.


The next morning I took a hike through the desert, then packed up my gear and drove a few miles south to the border town of Sonoita, Mexico, but I didn't cross the border and go into Mexico because I didn't have my passport.  I've been to several foreign countries but, surprisingly, never to Mexico.  Well, I've never officially been to Mexico, I should say.  About 20 years ago during one of my cross-country drives, I visited Big Bend National Park in Texas and camped alone one evening right along the Rio Grande River.  As I looked across the river, I realized that I'd never been to Mexico, so I put on my swimming trunks and swam across, walked on the Mexican side for a few moments, then swam back to Texas.  So yes, I have been to Mexico but not officially.  And I'm certainly not condoning such behavior, just in case the INS or Border Patrol is reading this.


After taking a couple pictures of Sonoita, I hopped in the PT Cruiser and headed out.  This area has really changed in the past few years and there's a much larger presence of Border Patrol agents now, including several that I saw in the park, reflecting the increasing concerns of illegal immigration and drug smuggling.  In fact, on the deserted highway on my way to Tucson, they had set up a check point where I had to stop and roll down my window, then I went eye-to-eye with a burly Border Patrol agent wearing reflective sunglasses.   The agents are instructed to talk fast, in case the person doesn't speak English very well and won't be able to understand what they're asking, an indication they might be an illegal alien.  So speaking very quickly, the officer asked me, "WhereAreYouFrom?"  "WhereAreYouGoing?" and a FewOtherThings, then waved me on.  I was hoping Mr. Mirrored Sunglasses wasn't going to ask me about the Rio Grande incident in 1985 and thankfully he didn't.


I reached Tucson on Saturday afternoon and visited with my niece Christina and met her husband Michael.  He's a great guy, just as everyone had told me, and they make a cute couple.  They took me out to dinner that night and we had a great time, then they showed me slides of their honeymoon.  We had brunch Sunday morning at a busy restaurant filled with college students near the University of Arizona and then went to Sabino Canyon, where we took a tour in an open-air bus, and that was fun, too. 


My last visit to Tucson, about 25 years ago, wasn't quite as fun.  Back in my college days in southern California, I dated a student named Katy for a few years, then we parted ways to go to different grad schools.  She moved to Tucson and I moved to Wisconsin, but we still dated for a few years afterwards.  One June after the school year, we planned a weekend get-together, so I drove into Tucson, found her house, knocked on her door and gave her a big kiss.  After a few hours, though, she told me she had... uh... found a new boyfriend.  And not only that, but he joined us that night for dinner.  Umm... can you say "awkward"?  It was a very strange evening for me, as you can probably imagine, and I left Tucson early the next morning vowing never to return.  I never thought I'd see Katy again, but amazingly enough, she popped up 20 years later at my company in Seattle where she'd been hired to work on the same project as me.  It was, indeed, an amazing coincidence.  After 20 years, though, I figured that incident in Tucson was water under the bridge and I forgave her, because I figured we all do strange things when we're in love.  So Tucson is back on my good list.


I said goodbye to Christina and Michael late Sunday afternoon and drove to Phoenix, where I caught a plane back to Portland.  So while I didn't make it to their wedding, we had a great post-wedding get together.  And best of all, I didn't have to dance the Hokey Pokey -- and like the song says, that's what it's all about.


Saguaro blooms    Border at Sonoita    Why Arizona

Above left:  A saguaro in bloom.

Above center:  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is right on the Mexican border, but I didn't go into Mexico on this trip.

Above right:  Why not?  The Arizona town of Why got its name from a "Y" that the highway makes here.



Restaurant in Tucson    Sabino Canyon    Sabino Canyon

Above left:  After a night at Organ Pipe, it was on to Tucson to visit my niece Christina and meet her husband, Michael.  They took me out to Tucson's only Ethiopian restaurant my first night.  No utensils here; instead you eat everything with your fingers.

Above center:  The next day, we went to Sabino Canyon on the outskirts of Tucson.

Above right:  Where we hopped on an open-air shuttle bus.  It was a nice visit and much better than a wedding!


A Road Trip to Glacier

I got the hankering for a road trip a few months after visiting Tucson.  It was summer, the weather was nice, it had been several years since I'd taken a long road trip around the West, and I was eager to get back out on the highway.  I had a week of vacation so I looked at a map and figured Glacier National Park in Montana would be a good destination.  I've been to about 200 national parks but Glacier was one of the first I ever visited, when I was 8 months old during one of my Dad's many cross-country trips.  However, I hadn't been to Glacier in over 10 years and with global warming, I was hoping the glaciers were still there or figured I better see them before they disappeared.


I packed up the van and left Portland on a sunny Saturday morning.  On the first day, I drove east on Interstate 84, then up into southeastern Washington, where I camped at a state park.  Southeastern Washington is pretty bland in the winter and early spring, but in the summer it's absolutely beautiful, with rolling hills and golden wheat fields.  The next day I continued east, driving along the Snake River through Clarkston, Washington and Lewiston, Idaho, neighboring cities named after Lewis and Clark, who paddled through here in 1805 on their way to the Pacific Ocean.  I followed their trail through central Idaho along the rugged Lochsa River, then dropped down into Missoula, Montana, one of my favorite smaller cities in the U.S., and camped that night at Lake Alva, north of Missoula.


The next day I entered Glacier National Park, crossed over Logan Pass and the Continental Divide, and dropped down to beautiful Lake St. Mary, where I snagged one of the last campsites in the windy campground.  Glacier, one of the country's oldest national parks, gets a lot of visitors in the summer but the crowds are usually spread out because there are lots of different things to see and do in the park, so it rarely feels crowded, unlike Grand Canyon or Yosemite, two parks I never, ever visit in the summer.  I'd never been to the adjoining Waterton Lakes National Park on the Canadian side of the border, so I headed north the next day, crossed into Canada, and camped in a nice campground at Waterton.  It was really pretty here, but a wicked rainstorm rolled in that afternoon, but then it cleared and I had a nice walk around the village.


I headed back into the U.S. the next day and into Glacier Park.  Crossing into Canada the previous day was easy and the Canadian Customs agent asked me only a few questions, but coming back into the U.S. was a different story.  As I stopped at the border station, four U.S. agents surrounded my van and looked through everything.  Two guys opened the back of the van and began going through my things while another guy opened the passenger door and began rifling through my daypack, which was sitting on the passenger seat.  When I looked over to see what he was doing, the agent by my window firmly said, "Sir, don't look over there."  Jeez, guys, crossing from the U.A.E. into Oman was easier than this and I was expecting one of them to ask me to bend over and cough, but maybe they heard I had illegally swam into Mexico 25 years ago and were being extra cautious.  After a thorough search, all the contraband they found was a half-eaten bag of Canadian barbecue potato chips (busted!), so they waved me through and I resumed my voyage.


Starting the road trip    Eastern Washington    Eastern Washington

Above left:  Packing up for a week in Montana.

Above center:  The Palouse Hills of eastern Washington on my first evening.

Above right:  Southeastern Washington is beautiful in the summer.



Del's Place    Van on camping trip    Glacier National Park sign

Above left:  Hey, it's Del's Place in Missoula, Montana!  I should've asked for a free burger.

Above center:  Here's my home during my week in the Rockies.

Above right:  Entering Glacier National Park, my first visit to Glacier in about 10 years.  It was nice to be back.



St Mary Campground Glacier    St Mary Campground Glacier    Canadian Border at Glacier

Above left:  Cooking brats for dinner, my traditional camping fare.

Above center:  View from the St. Mary's campground on the east side of Glacier National Park.  It's usually windy here and this night was no exception.  I snagged one of the last campsites in the campground.

Above right:  The next morning I headed north.  This is at Canadian customs.  The folks here were pretty nice, much nicer than the American customs agents I'd encounter the next day when I returned to the U.S.


Waterton National Park    Flower at Glacier National Park    Prince of Wales Hotel

Above left:  In the Waterton section of Glacier National Park, in Canada.

Above center:  The wildflowers were in full bloom.

Above right:  The most spectacular building in Waterton is the Prince of Wales Hotel, on the shores of Waterton Lake.


Close Encounters of the Bear Kind

I drove up the Swiftcurrent Valley that afternoon on the east side of the park and hiked up to a lake about three miles from the trailhead.  During the hike, I saw a group of a dozen folks up ahead who were excited about something, and as I approached, they told me there was a bear up ahead near the trail and that no one was hiking through.  I spotted the bear, about 50 yards ahead, and even though he was cinnamon colored, I thought it was a black bear and not a grizzly bear, so I kept hiking.  I could hear the folks behind me saying, "Look at that guy, he kept going." 


I dealt with a lot of black bears when I worked in Colorado, including one that got into my tent (while I was gone, thankfully), and know that black bears usually don't cause problems as long as you don't harass them or their cubs.  Grizzly bears, on the other hand, are a totally different story.  Grizzlies about twice as large as black bears and are much less predictable, and I don't mess around with grizzlies or pretend to be brave.  Instead, I get away as quickly as possible.  But black bears, like I say, don't usually cause problems so I walked right by him (or her).  He was about 10 yards off the trail and grubbing around for bugs and berries, which comprises most of a bear's diet.  We looked at each other for a moment and then he (or she) resumed eating his lunch and I resumed my hike.  After I walked through, the rest of the group behind me figured it was safe and followed my lead.


Later that day, I drove back over Logan Pass, this time heading west, and that afternoon drove on a bumpy dirt road for many miles to the farthest northwest corner of the park, Kintla Lake, my favorite spot in Glacier.  During my first visit to this remote area in 1983, a grizzly bear attacked a ranger, pulling him down from a tree and causing massive injuries, which happened just a few hours after I'd left.  I've always remembered that incident and take a lot of precautions when hiking in this area.  Like I say, I don't mess around with grizzlies and, while I greatly respect them, I hope I never encounter one up close in the wilderness.


I camped at Kintla Lake that evening and the next morning got an early start on my drive back to Portland.  I drove about 800 miles that day and reached Portland in the evening.  Yep, it was a good trip and it was nice to be back on the road again.  And as far as the glaciers go, they're still there but they're melting fast, so if you want to see them, you'd better hurry.


Swift Current Valley Glacier    Red bus at Glacier    St Mary Lake

Above left:  Back in the U.S., this is in the Swiftcurrent valley, shortly after I'd encountered a hungry bear on the trail. 

Above center:  One of the historic open-air buses that have been traversing Glacier National Park for over 70 years. 

Above right:  St. Mary's Lake on the east side of Glacier.



Logan Pass    Viewpoint at Logan Pass    Mountain goat

Above left:  Logan Pass and Going-to-the-Sun Road, the Continental Divide and the highest road in Glacier National Park.

Above center:  Viewpoint near Logan Pass.

Above right:  I suppose if I were a mountain goat, I'd take the road, too!



Glacier National Park entrance    Kootenai Falls    Spokane

Above left:  Yep, Glacier is popular place!

Above center:  Heading back to Portland, this is Kootenai Falls in western Montana, where the Kevin Bacon and Meryl Streep movie, "The River Wild" was filmed.

Above right:  Spokane, Washington and a break for Burger King.  Next stop:  Portland.



Next News

January 7, 2010:  Belize Trip #4 (Building an Orphanage for Jaime and Nancy)


Previous News

April 18, 2009:  Belize Trip #3 (Building a School with NYU)

January 24, 2009:  Abu Dhabi and a Road Trip in Oman

January 5, 2009:  Belize Trip #2 (Two Schools and an Orphanage)

July 6, 2008:  Around the World in Eight Days (Part 2: Abu Dhabi to Portland)

July 6, 2008:  Around the World in Eight Days (Part 1: Portland to Abu Dhabi)

February 20, 2008:  The San Antonio School  (San Ignacio, Belize)

February 17, 2008:  The Succotz Library  (San Ignacio, Belize)

February 16, 2008:  Old Friends / Belize it or Not  (San Ignacio, Belize)

May 28, 2007:  Oregon Bound  (Portland, Oregon)

August 7, 2005: Back To Work  (Redmond, Washington)

June 25, 2004: Life in Bellingham  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 7, 2003: The Greatest Generation  (Bellingham, Washington)

March 28, 2003: My Father  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 30, 2002  (Bellingham, Washington)

July 24, 2002  (Princess Louisa Inlet, British Columbia)

July 12, 2002  (Lake City, Colorado)

July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 2  (Lake City, Colorado)

July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 1  (Lake City, Colorado)

July 1, 2002  (Looking Glass Rock, Utah)

June 25, 2002  (Lassen Volcanic National Park, California)

June 18, 2002: Part 2  (Port Orford, Oregon)

June 18, 2002: Part 1  (Port Orford, Oregon)

May 22, 2002  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 7, 2002  (Sydney, Australia)

April 4, 2002  (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

April 1, 2002  (Hervey Bay, Australia)

March 28, 2002  (Airlie Beach, Australia)

March 25, 2002  (Port Douglas, Australia)

March 16, 2002  (Winton, Australia)

March 13, 2002  (Alice Springs, Australia)

March 11, 2002  (Ayers Rock, Australia)

March 8, 2002  (Coober Pedy, Australia)

March 5, 2002  (Port Augusta, Australia)

March 1, 2002: Part 2  (Robe, Australia)

March 1, 2002: Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002: Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002: Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002: Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002: Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002: Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002: Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001: Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001: Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001: Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001: Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001: Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001: Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001: Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown, South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001: Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001: Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)