Archives for posts with tag: post

Photo: Gregory McDonald

Shortly after getting on the road for our second day on the California Backcountry Discovery Trail, a tiny CRV carrying a long, thin, rip-stop-nylon-clad load on its roof, came clamoring up the rocky trail behind us. In front of us a Toyota Tacoma made its way up the mountain, similarly equipped. We were way out in the forest in traffic.

Soon we figured out what all of the congestion was about. Besides the opening of deer season, people were heading up to Hull Mountain for a hang glider “fly in.” Read the rest of this entry »

Spiderwoman Rock, Canyon de Chelly. Photo: Nik Schulz


After leaving Taos we headed northwest across New Mexico toward Arizona. About 200 miles into that day’s drive, something loomed up over the edge of the horizon. It was Shiprock, the massive remains of an ancient volcano’s innards that rise 1,500 feet above the high desert plain. It was an otherworldly sentinel marking our entrance into the Navajo Nation.

Update: Here’s a quick video of the trip.

Shiprock looms ahead. Photo: Natalie Menacho

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The first assistant lighthouse keeper’s house at Point Cabrillo

Photo: Nik Schulz

Another spot we visited for a sense of Mendocino’s seafaring past was Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, which was established to ensure the safety of lumber schooners plying the coast. It seems to have arrived a little late on the scene, however, since it wasn’t built until 1909.

In 2004, the former lighthouse keepers’ residences were treated to period-sensitive renovations and repainted in the official U.S. Lighthouse Service colors. Yes, apparently there was an official U. S. Lighthouse Service color scheme, and it was a nice one too.

Not only do the residences look fantastic, you can actually stay in them. The main lighthouse keeper’s house and a couple of cottages can be rented by the night or two. The 4 bdrm/4 bath Main House currently runs about $400–$500/night. The 1 bdrm cottages (East Cottage and West Cottage) can be had for a moderate $144/night. Read the rest of this entry »


Photo: Nik Schulz

Last week I whisked my girlfriend, Natalie, away for a few days on the Mendocino coast. We’d read about a couple of nice places to stay and went up to have a look around.

In its current incarnation, Mendocino is mostly known for its new-age outlook, its hippies (which are locally avaialable in both M-series-BMW-driving and gritty-original flavors), and, according to Natalie, for a dried-seaweed snack known as “Sea Crunchies.” What is perhaps lesser known is Mendocino’s swarthy, seafaring past.

Why seafaring? One word: Timber. The town took off in the 1850s when the Gold Rush triggered a huge building boom. Money flowing down from the Sierras built San Francisco (and rebuilt it again after the 1906 earthquake) with the help of a billion board-feet of redwood taken from the nearby Big River watershed. Most of it left by sea and the remains of this seafaring history can still be seen today.

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Last month I went to the Overland Rally in Hollister, CA, a weekend of classes, camping, and overland community, where travel, vehicle prep, driving, and navigation were all on topic. For example…

On international travel: if you’re traveling through a town and you don’t see any women or children, something is wrong. That said, the world is a pretty safe place and trouble is usually highly localized and easily avoided.

On vehicle prep: the most important change you can make on a vehicle is tires. Select ones that are suited to the environment in which you’ll be driving. For example, mud terrain tires work in mud but not on asphalt and snow.

On navigation: if you end up lost, stop. Figure out where you are (by plotting your GPS coordinates on a map or using a compass to triangulate your position from known points); make a plan; and proceed by dead reckoning (traveling a certain distance, on a known heading, from a known position) or by plotting GPS coordinates every few miles. Precision is the key. An error of a few millimeters on the map can translate into a few thousand feet on the trail. When following your compass, don’t forget to account for magnetic deviation (the difference between magnetic north and true north). Read the rest of this entry »


Photo: Greg MacDonald

When we last left Mark Twain he was slaughtering passers-by in the pages of the Territorial Enterprise. He wrote a similar story in the fall of 1863 meant to shame financiers for artificially inflating stock prices—yes, it happened back then too—and to embarrass San Francisco newspapers for their complicity.

Entitled “The Massacre at Empire City,” it told the story of a man who, in seeing no way out of a huge financial scandal (think 19th-century Enron), committed suicide after gruesomely murdering his wife and most of their nine children.

Twain intended it as satire but big-city papers reprinted the piece as fact, too caught up in the grisly details to catch the finer, cautionary tale. When he recanted the whole thing, cries for Mark Twain’s head could be heard up and down the west coast. Shocked, Twain offered to resign from the paper. “Nonsense,” his editor replied, “We can furnish the people with news, but we can’t supply them with sense.”

In making his first real mark on the West, Twain had, to his amazement, discovered the power of the media.

At our camp in the Bodie Hills, Greg had discovered the power of a wonky stomach. Marinated chicken and my lack of ice-chest due diligence had been the culprits. Back at Desert Creek I had grilled chicken. Natalie warned that it might not have survived the thaw. It had tasted fine but I spit it out anyway. Greg passed too, after swallowing a bite. That simple italics made all the difference. Now in the Bodie Hills he made excursions into the sagebrush with shovel in hand. Read the rest of this entry »


Photo: Nik Schulz

When Clemens arrived in Virginia City in 1862, it was a mere three years old. Its mines, however, had already produced over $400 million dollars in silver, enough to bankroll the building of San Francisco and eventually help the Union win the Civil War. The booming town was lined with businesses, restaurants, saloons, and populated with well-paid miners and dancing girls. After his own hard-scrabble mining stint, Sam Clemens, newly shaved and puffing on his ever-present cigar, must have surveyed the bustling, cosmopolitan scene and thought, “Now this is more like it.”

Here he began to thrive writing stories for the Territorial Enterprise. When the news wasn’t interesting enough for him, which it rarely was, he stretched the facts like taffy, folding and molding them until he had produced a confection that bore little resemblance to the reality from which it was derived. To these colorfully fabricated accounts, he added his colorful new pen name: Mark Twain.

I found one wagon that was going to California, and made some judicious inquiries of the proprietor. When I learned, through his short and surly answers to my cross-questioning, that he was certainly going on and would not be in the city the next day to make trouble… I took down his list of names and added his party to the killed and wounded. Having more scope here, I put this wagon through an Indian fight that to this day has no parallel in history.

My two columns were filled. When I read them over in the morning I felt that I had found my legitimate occupation at last… I felt I could take my pen and murder all the emigrants on the plains if need be, and the interests of the paper demanded it.

Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chapter 42

Our legitimate occupation involved getting to the former town of Masonic in the Bodie Hills. First though we had to follow the trail south from our Desert Creek campsite to Jackass Creek and over the Sweetwater Mountains. Read the rest of this entry »


Thanks to JC for spotting this on Saddletramps. It’s a Land Rover Series IIA wagon, sporting a pop-top conversion no less, on the banks of a river in the wilds of who-knows-where. Very nice.


Photo: Greg MacDonald

As I mentioned in the first “Twain Trip” post, Sam Clemens planned to work as an assistant to his brother, the newly appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory—a secretary to the Secretary as it were. This notion he abandoned, however, when he learned that his salary would be deducted straight from his brother’s paycheck. Surely seeking to maintain positive fraternal relations, he sought his fortune by other means, first as a timber baron, then as a mining tycoon.

Things did not work out as planned, however. Aside from nearly capsizing in Mono Lake and almost freezing to death near Carson City, a consequence of having spent the night lost in a snowstorm (a mere 50 feet from the nearest stagecoach station), he accidentally burned down a large swath of forest surrounding Lake Tahoe, a feat he bested only by forfeiting a mining claim worth millions of dollars. Not to say that he wasn’t keeping busy—he was. It was just no way to make a living.

Twain, used to doing things on a grand scale, made no exception in failure. He had failed spectacularly. Those weren’t the piddling millions of today’s currency, mind you—they were 1860s millions. And yet, at the end of his short mining career he didn’t have two cents to rub together. The dizzying flight from millionaire to pauper left him lost. A saving grace though arrived in the form of an offer to write for Virginia City’s local newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise for $25 a week. Normally he would have turned it down, work having been antithetical to his nature, but with his back firmly against a wall he accepted and, at 27, moved to Virginia City.

I do not like to work, even when another person does it.

— Mark Twain

For us, Virginia City lay still ahead. We awoke before dawn and watched a serene orange glow bleed into the dark until the sky flooded and pushed the stars out of sight. After breakfast and cups of tea to ward off the chill, we packed up and hit the trail. Read the rest of this entry »

After a couple of flights and a brief overnight at the very nice Phuket Backpacker Hostel, we boarded a boat for Koh Phi Phi, Thailand’s stunning tropical beauty in the Andaman Sea. Of course, the word about Phi Phi had long since gotten out. As we disembarked into the heat from the air conditioned deck, we joined throngs of people streaming down the pier and were immediately absorbed into a sea of backpacks, luggage, and Thai men hawking hotel rooms.

Tonsai Village, the heart of Koh Phi Phi Don (the main island) is a dense area of small shops, bars, and restaurants served by streets no wider than a city sidewalk. There’s not a car or scooter in sight. When the boats come in, they turn into rivers of tourists. It was all a little overwhelming, so the first thing we did was sit down and have a pizza.

With lunch finished and the crowds cleared, we felt fortified enough to look for a place to stay, so we slung on our backpacks, and headed out to see what we could find.
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