Saturday, July 28, 2012

First Shoestring Travels - Part Two

      Arriving at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the jumping off point to the Park, We saw, for the first time, the majesty of the Teton Range.The most beautiful view in America, I have always thought since then. My fascination with the Tetons has lasted a lifetime, and I have driven back up there on more that one occasion, alone, and camped in the shadow of those mountains. Just looking. If you ever need inspiration, that's the place.
      We decided to hike around Jenny lake. It didn't take long to begin seeing lots of Elk and Deer. Barbara was just beginning to feel the effects of being pregnant, and she totally gave out three quarters of the way around. I found a campground I thought would be safe for her, left her there, and continued on around to collect the car. I stepped out into the highway, at just the wrong moment without looking behind, and a very fast car brushed my shirtsleeve, one of those "near death" moments. The first thought that flashed through my mind was, "What in the world would Barbara do, up here alone, with me dead on the roadside"?  Nowadays, in foreign countries, the question is different. How would I get back home without Barbara? I fully realize Barbara would have no trouble getting home alone. But me, I have doubts about. Very tired, we continued on into Yellowstone, and found a real campground.

      The next day, we took a leisure day and drove around Yellowstone. The loop around was very different then. The traffic was light, in spite of the fact we were there during a peak vacation time. This was totally unlike my last summer trip through here, when this loop was one big dusty parking lot. Many large animals still roamed the roadsides on that first trip. Not the least of which were the Bears. We passed a brown bear, trudging along the road. We parked and went back. He was surrounded by tourists, and seemed to pay no attention to them at all. At least, not until Barbara walked up. He stopped, looked at her and, growling, made a three or four step run at her. She screamed and made a couple of dozen step run for the car. Very fast. I don't know what it is about Barbara, but big animals just seem to single her out and do that. Some don't stop at four steps. An Alpaka, a large Ram, and countless others. She always bolts for the car. Some of them turned out to be big pets. These were the only times I have ever truly appreciated just how fast she can run. But how do you know the animal's intentions?  Best to run first, ask questions later.

      We passed a big Black Bear, walking slowly along the roadside. We pulled ahead, stopped, but stayed in the car this time. He walked up to my side of the car and stood up, putting his front paws on top of the car, and looked in at me. I was feverishly trying to roll up the window and start the car, while Barbara was feverishly snapping pictures. Good Grief! He probably was just begging for a snack, as he had become accustomed to. But in my mind, he was looking for a big meal. A very big meal.

      We just drove by and pictured, after that, and kept our distance. Heading out of Yellowstone, starting our last leg into the mountains of Montana, a minor disaster struck. Our clutch cable broke. I finally managed to tie a piece of rope onto the cable, and secured it to the clutch. We were still a long way from any help. Driving very gingerly, and seldom clutching, we limped into brother Harold's town.

      Harold was in the Air Force, a radar tech. He and Lou also treated us royally for a few days, while we waited for our new clutch cable to come in.
Deer were everywhere. We saw dozens every day. And, Trout just fought each other to be the first on my hook. But it was cold. Seemed like winter almost, and it was still June. My legs, without any boots, just froze, wading those trout streams.
Wintertime was a very bad scene in Montana, they said. One of their neighbors went out to feed his cattle in a snowstorm, and just never came back.

Our new clutch cable arrived, and we nearly filled a large ice chest with trout, covered it with dry ice, and headed out. I have few memories about the trip back, partly because we were in a going home mode now, partly because we were out on those endless plains quickly. We did drive by Little Big Horn, and paid our respects to General Custer. I'm sure we camped somewhere, nothing else was possible. No more family in between us and Fayetteville. I do know we scraped together our last few dollars and pennies to fill the car up that last time, which cost nearly five dollars. We did prove $200 was sufficient for a 5000 mile, two week+ trip, if you have family scattered around at intervals. At least, it was in the summer of 1968.

That was the first of many long trips on a shoestring, for Barbara and I. We did more, much shorter, when the kids were larger, But it was never a quiet, leisurely trip. A constant battle. Pinches, pokes, gouges, and hitting, with "Mama! He's looking at me again!" ringing in our ears. That just seemed to dull our wanderlust, somewhat, for many years. But it would come back with a vengeance, later. Kinley once asked, "When we were little, and we went on a trip, it was to the nearest lake, for a camp out. After we were grown, you now go all over the world. Now, why is that?"

     The End     Thanks for your time, and your attention. Guess What! I am going to officially be published in August. My story can be seen in August by going to arkansas   Look under the flip builder viewing of the magazine, page eleven. About the Wing Community Church.. The July issue is still up until sometime in early August. I'm still waiting to hear from the University of Arkansas press for their decision on my book, "Spreading Wing." My fingers are still crossed, but I think they are beginning to grow together.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Our First Shoestring Travels

I know I told you I would not be back until Aug. 1, but we're back, resting up between short trips, and I just can't seem to pass my computer without sitting down and telling you a story, so here goes.......

      Barbara and I decided to take our first long trip. It was absolutely, more so than all others, on a shoestring. This was a very long time ago, before man walked on the moon, when Barbara and I were footloose and fancy free, son Corey was yet just a few dozen cells, multiplying rapidly, daughter Kinley was yet only a distant but hopeful dream. When Walmart was still just a single store, gas was 28 cents a gallon, Barbara was still cold natured, thus our home was still warm and comfy in the wintertime, (though that was soon to change forever.) The first, With many more to come.

      Our funds were truly meager, yet we owned a nearly new Corvair, freshly paid off. Our available funds amounted to a few pennies one side or the other of $200.
      My oldest brother lived in the outskirts of Los Angeles, while my next older brother, 14 years on the downhill slide side of me, lived in the mountains of Montana. Could we visit them both, see the sights in between, and get back to Fayetteville on our tiny stash of cash? We decided to find out. Now, shoestring travel, in its purest form, (cheapest) is, stay with relatives as long as they will want to put up with us.
We estimated their probable time tolerance level, and headed out one day in June 1968, on what should be about a two week trip.

       We drove hard the first day, and as the last rays of the setting sun melted away, we found a cute little park. No, not a camping park, but a roadside park. Right alongside I 40. We carried our tent back in the bushes a ways, out of sight, hopefully, from touring serial killers, and set it up. I shudder at the memory of that sort of travel in the old days, but back then, we were young, bold, and somewhat foolish.

      The next day we planned to see the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, many other sights yet unseen by our virgin eyes, and wind up at the Grand Canyon. We arrived at the Grand Canyon late, about midnight, tired but happy. Unfortunately, all the campsites were taken, but we did manage to find a nice little spot, though a bit smelly, right between the garbage cans and the dumpster.
      We saw the Grand Canyon in all its glory the next day. As we were about to get on the park tour bus, the woman behind us took her customary long, deep drag on her cigarette, and flipped it back out the door. The lady driver was livid. "You go right back out there and pick that up!" she said. "How can I ever find it out there in that mess?" the woman protested, pointing to the vast array of butts already there. "You just get out there and pick up any one of them," the driver replied. The woman, totally embarassed and humiliated, complied.
      Needless to say, that very large, colorful hole in the ground was breathtaking. At one stop, at the head of the seven mile trail to the bottom, hikers who had just walked out of the canyon were lying around, totally done in. As they say, "7 miles down, 77 miles back up."

      By late morning, we were headed on west. Getting into the Rocky mountains, we just simply could not believe the majesty of what we were seeing. And, unbelievably to us, many were capped, still, by patches of snow.
      Late in the afternoon, we looked for another roadside park. Each one was dry, almost treeless, with no place to hide our tent, and overan with small groups of Indians, sitting about. Some of the men looked at Barbara long and hard. Were they thinking how good that long, beautiful hair would look, hanging from their belt, or did they have something else entirely in mind?

      Either way, this was no place to be camping, and we got back in the car and kept pressing westward.
Arriving in Los Angeles in the middle of the night, we drove slowly along that mass of endless streets trying to follow Harry's directions, but with little luck. I started to change lanes, noticed lights coming up behind me, and jerked back into the lane. Immediately, his blue lights came on. Roadweary as I was, I pulled over to the left side of he road, the closest point. As I emerged from the car, his loudspeaker bellowed, "Get back in that car, and pull over to the curb!" I quickly complied. He walked up, still not in a friendly mode. "What do you think you're doing?" he demanded. "Well, I really don't know. I guess I must be lost as a goose." Hearing my Arkansas talk, he sensed what the problem was, and changed to a friendly, helpful tone. He directed me to our destination.
      Arriving at Harry's complex, it was around 1 AM. Not sure of his apartment number, but knowing I was very close, I took my best guess, and knocked loudly. After a while, a sleepy man's voice said, louldy, "Go away!" He was not in a neighborly mood, and was not Harry. As it turned out, Harry lived next door, and was much more welcoming to us. Asking if we had much trouble finding him, I told him we did fairly well until the man next door got a little upset with us. "No man lives next door. Only a woman," he said, grinning.

      Harry treated us like royalty for several days. He even showed us some of his work sites. Harry travels all over Southern California daily, servicing large earth moving machines, and he crosses the LA area daily, many times, in his large truck. Years later, when we finally got him back to Arkansas, he would never step foot into California again, for the rest of his life.
      He showed us Hollywood, Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and many other fantastic sights of LA Sensing we were on a very thin shoestring, he almost never allowed me to pull my, also thin, wallet.We got to know, again, all of my California aunts and cousins, some I had met, most I had not. My mother's flock of sisters all headed to the bright lights of California early, mostly before I was born.

      We headed for Montana, cutting across Nevada, into Utah, and camped somewhat short of the Grand Teton National Park. Some sort of furry little animals, a bit smaller than a barn rat, spent the entire night running up on our tent, then sliding back down. Hard to sleep, with all that mess going on.

Continued      Good to be back with you, and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pork and Beans Trips - Part 3

My next trip was toward the Okefenokee Swamp on the Georgia-Florida border. It is simply a spot where the Swanee River spreads out very, very wide, fifty miles or so, and is still one of the true remaining wild places in the United States. It was not successfully crossed by the white man until up in the 1930's. Alligators abound, by the thousand, and it takes three days or so to paddle across in a canoe. Raised platforms have been placed about a day's travel apart, to avoid having to sleep right down in among the gators. I had always wanted to paddle across it, but never could find anyone to go with me, and one can't do it alone.
I headed out, again in my little red truck. I got to Tallahassee the first day, It was raining hard, and that little bit of mud to put a tent up on was only $10 less than a cheap room, so I violated one of my rules that night. I arrived at Mark Twain State Park, on a peninsula well out in the swamp. Tons of wildlife to photograph. I rented a canoe the next day and paddled far out into the swamp and got some really good gator shots. If I knew then what I've since learned, I would not have gotten quite so close. I have heard they can outrun a horse for 30 feet, but I really didn't believe it until I saw one do it, going after a bird, at Aransas, on the Texas Gulf Coast. They can really come up on those toes and fly! I got one pic of a big mama gator sitting on her nest, and as I snapped the shot, I saw movement above her. When I got the pic back, there was a baby gator crawling over her head. I've been back to Okefenokee several times since, because it's a really special place, worth backtracking. And, I always see lots of wildlife, and called up lots of foxes.
On the way back, I found a pure white squirrel, totally beautiful. I dropped down to the Florida gulf coast to camp, and while I was cooking supper, sun still up, the raccoons were already coming in for supper. I sat up a photo session after dark, heated some leftover soup up in a skillet, and they flogged me. I got eight of them in one photo. One particular coon constantly kept stalking me, coming real close. Not sure exactly what his intentions were, but I finally got up off the ground, and ran him off.
For my next trip, I decided to drive totally around the border of Texas, with Big Bend National Park my main goal. I spent the first night, again, at the Witchita Mountains, then drove down the western edge of Texas the next day. My old trucks never seem to keep the A/C working, and this one was no exception. I about burned up. West Texas is different. I passed the opening gate to a ranch, with a dim trail going off across the desert out of sight. The sign said, “so and so ranch, 38 miles.” Distances are very great in west Texas. Telephone poles were about head high, consisting of little scraps of limbs. Just work with what you've got. I topped off my gasoline every time I passed a rare station. Distances were the same in Big bend, 20 miles plus from the entrance to the Visitor's Center. When I started in the building, a big roadrunner was leaning up against the building, in a small bit of shade, tongue hanging out. It WAS hot that day. I started to go back for my camera, then I thought, I'll see lots more. I never saw another that close. There is a campground on the far south side of Big Bend, right along the Rio Grande, but it was deserted, and it didn't have a good feel about it, right on the border. The major campground is up in the mountains, so I chose it. Lots of desert wildlife around up in those mountains.
The Javelina, or Collared Peccary, were plentiful. Stalking a large group, I came upon a large male, very close, and It made him mad. His hair went straight up, and I snapped a photo, not totally sharp, as I was getting out of there. Texans tell me, they will even attack a man on a horse, as well as on foot, and those sharp tusks can cut a man or a dog up real good.
Heading east along the Mexican border, I got to a large State Park just after they had closed down for the day, and I left early the next morning, so I never saw another human. The Jackrabbits were plentiful, though, and I got my best close up Jackrabbit photos at sundown.
If anyone ever asks you, how far it is around the Border of Texas, it's about 2200 miles, including a few side trips.
I did several other other Pork and Beans trips, mostly in the 1990' s. I always scheduled these when Barbara was otherwise entertained, in some fashion. The most recent of these involved her going with her sisters Sugar and Frances, along with France's husband, Bill. They went on a cruise to Hawaii and on to Fanning Island, during which Barbara completely lost half her birthday. The ship anchored offshore on her birthday, the launch to the island carried her across the International Date line into another day, then came back to what was left of her birthday that night. Or, maybe she gained a day. She may be older than I think. I went on a trip into the Grand Teton Range, and spent several days mostly just looking at my favorite view in America. As always, in my cute little red truck.
When the cruising crew returned, the sisters told me right off, “Bill slept on top of Barbara every night while we were at sea.” That caused a momentary wrinkling of my brow, until Bill said, “I prefer to say, I slept ABOVE Barbara. Bill had the top bunk.

Actually, I saved us a lot of money with my trips. I never spent as much as I would have had I went along on that cruise, nor did I gain as much weight. And, I was happy, in the wilderness, plus Barbara was always happy to see me when I got back, and likewise. A win-win situation. I finally decided, I had photographed, in some fashion, about every Animal I was likely to find in America. More trips would be backtracking, something I try to avoid. But if one of those long, super strong digital lenses ever falls into my lap, I think I will start them all over again, with Barbara's permission. My limited lens at that time limited my photos, And, after all, I have always been only a “pretend photographer.” I'm not like Barbara or Jane Dunn. But, I was out there, doing what I love to do, in the wilderness. My Pork and Beans Photo Album still lies on our coffee table. But, actually, I'm about the only one to ever look at it. But every picture, even the bad ones, bring about memories of a very special time in my life. I did sell one, a picture of the white squirrel. So, I guess actually, I am a professional Wildlife Photographer. That title and a dollar will buy me a burger at McDonald's

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Pork and Beans trips - Part Two

      After our children were grown and gone, I planned my first real Pork and Beans trip. Barbara's sister planned a car trip to New England, six days, and they wanted Barbara to go along. This situation was perfect. I slept as late as possible the day I left, ten AM. I headed out for Rocky Mountain National Park. Actually, I just wanted to get as close to it as I could that day, never intending to drive the whole way, but that's the way it turned out. Those Kansas plains just offered few camping spots while thunderstorms rolled through. Driving through a small town in Oklahoma late that afternoon, I pulled over to study my map. I noticed in my rear view mirror that a truck pulled up behind, and an angry looking man got out, walked up to my window. “Somebody driving a truck just like yours just shot out my front window,” he said, looking me and my truck contents over good. “Now look,” I said, “Don't you think if I had just shot out your window, I would already have my getaway planned out? Do you see what I'm doing? I'm reading a map! And, do you see a gun in here? I'm shooting with these cameras.” He looked my gear over good, but I guess my words settled him down a little, because he turned and left.
      I went on up through Kansas to I70, did a hard left, and began the long haul up toward Denver. Approaching a long grade near daylight, the lights of Denver began to appear. As I dropped into Denver, my need for sleep began to overtake me. I dozed off twice momentarily passing through Denver, but soon I was in the Rocky Mountains, and my excitement pushed the sleep urge back. I realize now, a sleepy driver can be as dangerous as a drunk driver, and I don't push my limits like that any more.
I headed north, fully enjoying the early morning views of the Rocky mountains, no big rush now. I arrived at the west gate of Rocky Mountain National Park around 10 AM, a twenty four hour drive. I arrived at a campground, set up my tent. I was much too excited just to be there to sleep now, so I walked through a creek bottom, looking for wildlife. I got a good picture of an elk calf suckling, and saw lots of other Elk. I drove slowly back toward the entrance and back, and saw a large wolf and a Moose with two calves wading in a pond. When I got back to camp, I was at 8000 feet or so. I decided to drive on up to the Continental Divide, at about 12,000 feet. Climbing on up in my little red truck, I was beginning to feel the effects of altitude sickness, climbing so high in my exhausted state. I turned around. By the time I got back to the campground, It was hitting me hard. I crawled into my sleeping bag, really not caring whether I lived or died, at the moment, and was soon asleep.
      I awoke at dusk, and could hear some sort of program starting up at the pavilion, but I really didn't care. I went back to sleep, and slept the night through. When dawn broke, I awoke, feeling a little better, but I still had a major headache, and my eyes were totally red from the long drive with my windows down. Looking out, an elk was right beside my tent. That brought me fully awake, and I soon was headed back up to the Continental Divide.
      Exiting my truck standing right on the Continental Divide, I looked up to the tall peaks around me. The divide was at about 12,000 feet, and the peaks went up to around 14,000. I could see tiny white spots near the top, probably mountain goats. Could I climb that high? I decided to find out. The altitude was hitting me hard. I walked 30 steps, rested, and did 30 more. Finally, I knew I had to be nearing where I had seen the goats, but no sign of them now. Then I looked up, and they were lined up on a ledge above me, all staring at me, 60 feet away. I got several good photos.
      Traveling a little farther in my truck, I saw a narrow foot trail winding up the mountain. I decided to take it. Half way up, I met a huge bull elk, his beautiful rack in full velvet, heading down. He was used to tourists, did not fear me, and saw no reason to yield the trail to me. He kept coming, and I was about to take my chances down the steep slope, when he took the lead role and headed straight up the mountain. I did get several good photos.
      Heading home, I decided to make a halfway stop at Witchita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma, and have used that as a good place to spend the first night out since then, several times. It was set up as a place to start somewhat of a comeback for the Buffalo, right after millions upon millions had been killed for their hides. It still has large herds of Buffalo roaming free, as well as many deer, elk, and smaller animals. It has a couple of good campgrounds, and it's a good spot for wildlife photography.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pork and Beans Trips - Part One

     “What in the world are you THINKING,?” she was saying to Barbara. “Haven't you read The Bridges of Madison County? (The movie had not came out yet.)  “No, actually, I haven't,” Barbara replied, still smiling. Her brow tightly knitted together, the lady just said, “Well, maybe you should!” and shaking her head, walked away.

      Many years ago, in the early days of our marriage, when Barbara was still yet a teen, Barbara readily accompanied me on my “Roughing it in the wilds” adventures, for a time. Two particular trips brought that to an end.
      Once, when we still lived at Fayetteville, we drove over to War Eagle Mills. We opened the farmer's gate and drove down to that beautiful river, which the farmer allowed at that time. This was before the days of the big festival now held there. We found a beautiful spot, we fished, built a fire, cooked, ate, and just generally had a great day. That night, we rolled out our sleeping bags, and since Barbara was not really a “sleep out under the stars” type of person, as I was, I made the concession of stretching a tarp over us. I slept well, as I always do at such a place. As dawn broke, Barbara was awakened by a big, slobbery kiss – right on the lips. No, not by me, this is not that kind of story. A big old hound dog.
      “We need a tent,” Barbara stated firmly, “If we're going to keep doing this!” I went to Walmart, right behind our house, the next day. I found a perfect one. But I didn't buy it. A purchase that major, in those days, was something for us both to discuss long and hard. We were pore' folks.
      Tommy Beard was one of my best friends and fishing buddy. He was a student majoring in business, and he was destined to become a  financial wizard, managing and investing money for several large companies. But to me, then, He was just another kid, newly married to his wife Pat, and he loved to go along with me in search of the catfish. While Barbara and I were still agonizing over that tent purchase, Tommy said to me one day, after taking me aside, “You need to scrape together every penny you can. A company up the road is about to make their first stock offering. This is a once in a life time opportunity. This company is going to really, really go places.” 'Tommy,” I said, “ We live in a trailer park. We don't have money!” He didn't say any more. Just walked away, shaking his head.
      Barbara and I made our decision that night. We would buy that tent. The next day, I walked into Walmart, the only Walmart in the world at that time, and bought a six million dollar tent.
      Twenty years later, I was reading the Sunday paper one day. I saw an article about a large company from Arkansas, detailing what the initial stock offering for that company was now worth. The $36 dollars I paid for that tent translated into six million dollars at that time. The company? Walmart.
Several years later, When he knew I had decided to leave coaching, and was looking for a teaching job, Tommy again advised me. “Walmart has just started a new program, training up store managers. No telling how much you could wind up making, if you get into that program on the front end.”

      I chose teaching. Story of my life. A pore' boy, destined to die a pore' boy.

      Anyway, let me get back to my story. Shortly after we bought that tent, we went back to the War Eagle River, camping once more. The river bank was pretty well grown up in bushes, but I did find one clear place. Kinda in a swag, but the sky was clear, no rain tonight. We now also had air mattresses, I had to make Barbara as comfortable as possible, to keep her roughing it with me.
      About midnight, dark clouds rolled in. It came a “Toad Strangler.” (That's hillbilly for “A major rain.) I slept through it. I always sleep my best, out in the wild. Until Barbara elbowed me good in the ribs. “My air mattress is floating around!”
      By daylight, Barbara had had all she wanted of roughing it in the wild places, and she has never weakened or wavered from that position in 45 years. The next day she declared, “If you are going to keep doing this, you'll have to go alone!”
      Well, that set the stage. Barbara knew I have to return to the wild places periodically, to recharge my batteries. It's as necessary for me as breathing. I grew up a loner, and I am far more at ease and at home in the wilderness. It would be many years before “roughing it” was not the only option for such trips.

      We worked out a deal. I would do my thing, in the wilds, while she would do her thing. That often turned out to mean, she would visit her family, go on car trips with her sister's family, or, later, her and one of our kids or sisters went on a cruise.
     The Pork and Beans trip was born. I planned my trips very carefully. Wildlife photography was my main goal. I plan to include a selection of my Pork and Beans photos, at the end of this series. But that's not one of my few computer skills, as yet. I won't promise anything. Hunting and fishing lost it's attraction before these trips began. Barbara didn't like wild meat, but the clincher was, she didn't want to cook it either. If we were not going to eat it, I didn't want to kill it. Not spending much money was rule number one. I cooked every meal, I never ate out. I cooked only the least expensive foods, so pork and beans was a major staple, along with potatoes and spam, if I really wanted to live high. I could pull over to a park picnic table, whip out my little burner and skillet, and have a meal ready in five minutes. Barbara and I adopted, early on, a little but very effective rule to live our lives by: Always live below our means. That rule has been good to us, and enabled us to do many things that pore' people like us usually never get to do. I camped only in the least expensive places, usually National Forest Campgrounds.