Breakfast at Deetjen's, dinner in Buttonwillow

When I awoke Friday morning, the first thing that materialized in my consciousness was the window above my head.  Big heavy raindrops were sounding a fierce steady drum beat on the glass as I lay under my cozy down comforter, leading me to marvel at the ability of glass to separate misery from comfort. My thoughts next wandered to Helmuth Deetjen who built this sturdy old building by hand in the 1930s as part of his farm.  I tried to imagine how miserable it would have been for poor Helmuth to have to get up before it was even light and trudge around in the cold drenching rain so he could feed his animals and do his chores.  It must have been monumentally unpleasant.  It was so very much nicer to be tucked into a little cloud of warm puffiness instead.  I have since read on Wikipedia that Helmuth himself made the panes of glass that were safeguarding my pampered head.  He fashioned them in nearby King City and then brought them over the mountains by mule to his little paradise in Big Sur.  That's a pretty amazing concept in this day and age.

Deetjen's Big Sur Inn is an oasis, a rarity, an anachronism and a treasure.  The namesake Deetjens - Helmut (a Norwegian immigrant) and Helen (of the California Haights) - moved to the Big Sur area in the early 1930s, initially living in tents.  They soon built a small house and large barn on Helen's forty acre property in Castro Canyon and began welcoming visitors who were traveling down Highway 1, which at that time was a crude dirt road.  Over the years, they gained a reputation for their excellent hospitality and eventually added a restaurant known for it's delicious food and built a variety of charming cabins tucked into the crannies of the rugged canyon.
Deetjen's has maintained an extremely loyal following over the decades, and all it takes is one visit (this was my fourth or fifth) to understand why.  The rooms are cozy, personal and eclectic; the carefully tended gardens are lush and full of beautiful surprises,  The staff all seem delighted to be working there and eating in the restaurant is a true and genuine pleasure.  During one of Bruce's previous stints at Esalen, he had grown to love breakfast at Deetjen's nearly as much as I, so when I made my reservation for this visit, I immediately proposed that we enjoy a breakfast at the Inn together before I departed.
The rain was not yet ready to subside, so Bruce and I dashed across the puddled driveway and ducked into the warm glow of the restaurant which was busy, jammed with locals, most of which were sitting near the roaring fire and reading the paper out loud and laughing as they drank their coffee.  As we sat down, the waitress was just replacing the long white taper candle in the brass stag candlestick on our table.  I don't know that I've ever breakfasted by candlelight before, but it was lovely - especially on this wonderfully blustery day.  As usual, everything was scrumptious.  Bruce ordered some french toast, while I opted for the eggs Benedict topped with locally cured salmon.  And as if that wasn't decadent enough, I had them add crisp bacon to the stacks which turned out to be exquisitely delicious.  I could have sat there all morning swilling coffee by candlelight, talking with Bruce and watching the rain pouring down.  But alas, it was time to get on the road and head back to Texas.

After breakfast, we headed back to Esalen and along the way Bruce pulled over at a spot he knew I particularly liked - McWay Falls, a rare and exquisite tidefall that drops 80 feet to empty onto the beach of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  It's a pretty spectacular spot - the roiling Pacific rushes into a cove and up onto the beach to meet a picturesque waterfall of fresh water flowing down from the mountains.   That's the definition of a tidefall - a waterfall that falls directly into the ocean - and apparently they're quite rare.  One way or another it's an amazing spot and I never tire of seeing it.

Bruce and I returned to Esalen and spent some time going over fabrication plans for a project I'm working on for Flipside.  Bruce is so great at both explaining how to do something and bolstering my confidence in my own abilities in achieving it - I felt very relieved.  After packing a lunch to eat on the road since my robust breakfast had left me quite full, I set off south down Highway 1 on 80 miles of winding road, the rain falling  in a steady drizzle.  There was so much moisture in the air that I could hardly see the ocean, but it was and always is an astoundingly beautiful drive.

I left the coastal road at Morro Bay and headed west in the direction of Bakersfield.  I quite enjoyed the drive between Atascadero and McKittrick - a long stretch of winding roads through rolling hills, farmlands and gentle mountains with only a few fellow travelers passing me along the way. When I reached the other side of the mountains and began descending into the valley just as the light became golden, I encountered various signs of petroleum production.  The Bakersfield area reminds me very much of Lubbock, only with more expensive gasoline.  I decided to stop overnight in the curious town of Buttonwillow which is seemingly wedged into the spaces between a couple of exits on Interstate 5.  I had had a long hard drive and was about at the end of my daily rope, so elected to stop when I saw a Motel 6 beaming in the glow of the freeway ahead.  I had resigned myself to picking the least repulsive of the usual fast food establishments to grab some dinner before retiring and was overwhelmed with happiness when I pulled into the parking lot of the Motel and saw a colorfully lit Salvadoran restaurant right next door, the wonderful Tita's Pupuseria.  I guess I'm going to have to take back all those  jaded remarks about how you can't find good Mexican food (yes I realize I said Salvadoran) in California.  I was just relieved there wasn't any horrible salsa, sour cream and sliced black olives on my meal.  My pupusa de calabaza (squash) and yucca frita con chicharon was manna from heaven as far as I was concerned.  I went to sleep with the sounds of big rigs roaring down I-5 lulling me gently to sleep. I had a lot of driving to do the next couple of days.


Another Strenuous Day in Paradise

Early Tuesday morning, I drove from my lodgings at the insanely fabulous Deetjen's Big Sur Inn (more on Deetjen's later) over to Esalen so I could meet Bruce for breakfast.  By the time I arrived, he had managed to find a few things he could tolerate and waited patiently while I performed a wide-eyed round of buffet reconnaissance prior to selecting and preparing my lavish breakfast.  I chose nine grain porridge cooked with raisins and apples, soft boiled eggs, cinnamon swirl toast and a fresh California orange. Sumptuous and delicious!

Bruce left to put in a half day's work while I attended to my rigorous morning schedule: an extensive turn about the grounds to enjoy all the extraordinary botanics, followed by a massage down at the bath house.

Esalen's landscape is a flora lover's dream come true.  The plantings are abundant and range from traditional garden rows of practical edibles like lacy purple mustard greens to purely aesthetic displays such as the huge spherical arbor made of finger thick English ivy vines. The variety and quality of the plantings are easily equal to top notch botanical gardens I've visited and they're certainly every bit as well maintained.  On my stroll I had the pleasure of encountering several plants I wasn't familiar with, but I also stumbled across familiar plants that had been gigantified by way of ideal environment and loving attention. My Texas-savvy readers will appreciate the concept when they see the image above right - an entire hedge of the lupine variety we refer to as "Bluebonnet".  It's against my state code of honor to say it, but I have to because it's true - they never get anywhere near that big in Texas!  I also found an incredible pincushion protea in vibrant shades of orange and yellow that was nearly as tall as the roof of the little cottage it adorned.  Amazing.

I timed the conclusion of my walk to allow me sufficient time to meander down to the bath house and get in the recommended 15 minutes of  hot tub soaking prior to my massage.  My massage therapist fetched me and led me to an airy massage room glowing with softly diffused light and  immediately swaddled me in soft warm sheets. For the next hour and a quarter I was treated to a soothing, deeply relaxing rub down  - during which I discovered there were still a lot of kinks and pulls left over from my long canyon walks and horseback adventure back in Arizona.

As I lay in the cozy post-massage haze that happens after a particularly good kneading - the warm cloud you float on before you open your eyes, before you even begin to think about dressing - the only sound that reached my ears was the distant rumble of waves thundering onto shore that drifted through the open window.  I bet a lot of people drop deeply off to sleep at this juncture. I, however, mustered a small amount of impetus from some recess deep within myself (I know not where) and after managing to dress, flowed back up the hill like a pool of pink mercury to meet Bruce for a late lunch.

When I arrived in the dining hall, Bruce was pacing to and fro, searching each area of the buffet to see if there were any items he might consider edible.   If you haven't guessed yet, I think the food at Esalen is consistently outstanding, so when I saw they were offering veggie fried rice and curried tofu among other things I was thrilled.  Bruce, on the other hand, wasn't having any of it and quickly decided he'd rather try out his new pizza oven on one of the pepperoni and sausage pizzas I'd imported for him from town.  He scampered off to prepare his pizza in the shop and I sat down to a delicious lunch featuring a huge fresh salad, stir fried rice and some tasty lentil soup.  I feel certain I'd weigh an extra 20 pounds if I lived at Esalen.  After I finished my lunch, I went over to the shop and found Bruce happily polishing off wedges of freshly baked pizza, offering the last few remaining slices to passing coworkers who eagerly accepted, seeming to have been equally put off by the concept of curried tofu.  It was so funny to me to see all those folks that worked at a new age retreat so afraid of a little tofu.

After lunch, Bruce suggested we head to a nearby beach that he liked and I had not yet had the pleasure of visiting, a place named Sycamore Canyon for the impossibly long stretch of old growth sycamores that line the banks of a fresh water creek that runs through the canyon to the ocean.  There's a large riparian zone (i.e., the transitional terrain between  land and water) at the mouth of the heavily wooded canyon where it opens out onto a rocky stretch of beach.  I was overjoyed to discover such a beautiful new spot along this stretch of coastline that I love so well.

It was a bright windy afternoon and the beach was exceptional. There were several rock formations that pinched the water in such a way that huge dramatic sprays would be created by the surf trying to pound it's way through a narrow opening.  There was also a place a little further down that exhibited large deposits of deep pink sand.  I never did understand where it came from, but found it to be absolutely beautiful and was fascinated by the patterns that resulted when the different colors (there was black sand, too!) encountered one another.

And of course I couldn't resist...

We returned to Esalen after our beach adventure, and by that time it was the dinner hour and luckily there was a Bruce-approved entree on the menu - spaghetti and meatballs!  After the dinner hour, we both pulled out our laptops and played what I like to call dueling laptops - happy hours spent looking things up on the internet with Bruce.  We found groovy steel spheres and Wikipedia treasure.  The rain began late, making it more than time to crawl under the thick fluffy duvet at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn.  I could hear heavy drops of rain hitting the antique glass panes beside my head as I dropped off to a delicious slumber.


Roughing it in Big Sur

Mint/Lemon Balm/Pineapple Infusion overlooking the Pacific

File:BigSurMap3.pngThe Big Sur area of the west coast is one of my very favorite places in the United States.  It's roughly 90 miles of breathtakingly beautiful coastline formed by the sharp uprising of the Santa Lucia mountains from the Pacific ocean.  There's barely enough room along the top of the cliffs for a two lane road that snakes to and fro, a series of bridges and curves and hairpin turns. At every bend of the road you can either look down and see a spectacular beach scene or you can look up through ancient stands of redwood to see the misty mountain tops above you.
The whole region is pure magic in my book, and my dear friend Bruce has settled there for the time being, caretaking at a fancy-schmancy new age retreat center and spa called Esalen.  It too is a magical place - clifftop  perch, exquisite gardens, delicious food, fascinating people, geothermal hot tubs. It has a fascinating history and a surprising roster of celebrity residents who have visited, all of which is detailed on Wikipedia if you'd like to read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esalen.

Shortly after I arrived around 5:00 Monday evening, Bruce and I stopped by the dining hall so I could make myself a mug of strong black tea with milk.  In a gesture of immense civility, the dining hall at Esalen is always open and continually equipped with an excellent selection of not only myriad hot and cold beverages, but also a large station stocked with freshly baked breads and everything you need to make perfect toast, including a vat of peanut butter!  I find it one of the most decadent things about the whole place due to my own particular proclivities.

The two of us prepared our beverages and proceeded out to the patio where we located a pair of chairs pointing toward the immensely scenic view of dramatic cliffs and thundering surf.  There was a cold wind blowing, but the backs of the chairs blocked it very effectively, creating a cozy space that allowed the piping hot mug of tea to warm me through and through.

After we drained our mugs, Bruce gave me a brief tour of the shop where he does a good bit of his work, the final tour stop being at his desk on top of which sat a bright orange tool box, emblazoned with a label.  What could be so dear to Bruce that it was carefully inscribed with his name, locked securely and left in a place where he'd be able to easily monitor it?  Candy, of course.  A wide ranging assortment, neatly organized into compartments and containers.  I was silently jealous and very much in awe.

We decided it was time to go down to the baths for a nice long soak before dinner.  I say go down because while the main campus of Esalen sits atop a large outcropping of cliff, the geothermal baths are situated at the end of a long gently sloping pathway that leads down to a spot I'd guess is about 80 feet above the crashing surf.

After you reach the bath house, you descend a short stairway that leads you to a vestibule where you are presented with a choice between whether to enter the <- Silent or Quiet-> side of the bath.  After deciding, you must next undress and leave your clothing in a lifeless heap in the changing area before proceeding to the showers where you can rinse off your funky patina.  The shower room at Esalen is hands down my favorite shower in the entire world.  It's an enormous marble affair lined with 6 or 8 shower heads and saturated with light that streams in from the giant sliding glass doors that flank one side of the chamber.  The sliding doors open directly onto the churning sea below, allowing occasional tendrils of cool ocean breeze to waft by you as you stand under a stream of luxuriantly warm water.  There's often a sea otter, dolphin or whale frolicking about in the deeper waters if you gaze patiently out into the distance.

Once you've scrubbed the real world from your weary frame, you're free to choose any one of a variety of tubs (even several deep old-timey clawfoot bathtubs!) scattered over the three open and airy levels, and ease gently into the intensity of the hot sulphury water while you allow your gaze to wander the great halls of beauty that surround you.

As delightful an experience as the bath house is during the day, I've found it to be even more amazing at night.  By the time Bruce and I started down the sloping path to the baths Monday evening, it had begun to darken significantly which allowed me to enjoy  the beautiful sea grass light fixtures that illuminate the pathway down to the baths in a series of small warm golden pools of yellow light. After a lesiurely shower I hurried through the cooling night air to one of the large natural stone pools that is cantilevered out over the water and plunged quickly into the comforting cocoon of warm water.  I rested my head on the stone wall and gazed upward where I could pick out the moon, Jupiter,Venus and even Mars all glowing brightly in the dense tapestry of stars above my head.  The whole thing was so intensely pleasurable that I found myself entertaining feelings of guilt.  Why did I deserve to have such an amazing and wonderful life?  I soothed myself by reminding me that I was better qualified to enjoy life than anyone else I knew.  That always does the trick.

After a nice long soak, Bruce and I decided our hunger had finally overcome our slothfulness, and so promptly dressed and ventured back down the curvy blacktop to a charming little place in the woods that served humble burgers and sandwiches.  Bruce had gotten wind of the Monday night menu in advance - curried tofu - and resolved that we should eat elsewhere.  I enjoyed my Rueben sandwich quite a bit beyond my imagining - it turned out this tiny little pub in the woods cures their own pastrami for crying out loud!

Bruce dropped me back off at my cozy little hotel room under the eaves after dinner and I crawled happily under the duvet and was asleep in no time.


A Quick Turn in San Fran

Photo by Kurt Bollacker

After starting the car and rolling slowly out of the parking lot atop Havasupai Canyon, I departed the terminus and drove along a 738 mile social continuum which temporarily ended in San Francisco.  Over two days, I transitioned from deep and pervasive silence, no cars and only a handful of native inhabitants in a remote locale to the colorful cacophony and social whirl of densely peopled San Francisco.  Which happily enabled me to spend a four day weekend enjoying a steady stream of people and activities I love and led me to resemble nothing so much as a bemused deer gazing deeply into distant headlights (see above).

Shortly after I arrived in the city on Thursday and settled in with my hosts Kurt and Rich, I felt compelled to compensate for my recent culinary deprivation by cooking a lavish dinner emphasizing fresh vegetables and fruit.  As I worked to plan the menu, I remembered that I'd stowed an uneaten avocado I'd purchased in Supai Village in my bags. which a donkey had fetched briskly to the top of the mesa, whereupon it continued its journey by car for two further days, returning finally to the West Coast from whence it likely came.  I figured it was the best travelled avocado in the world, and it deserved to be made into an extra special salad.  I sectioned some fresh Cara Cara oranges, piled on some of the storied avocado and then topped that with finely chopped shallots, ribbons of fresh mint and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  It was absolutely delicious.  And that was only the appetizer!

Friday night, Rich and I went to a tiny classic San Francisco club called Bottom of the Hill where we were privileged to watch Bob Mould perform his seminal 1992 album "Copper Blue" from beginning to end.  Both of us are huge fans of the record, and it was truly exhilarating to see one of my biggest guitar heroes in action and hear an entire album that I love so well.

A fun but frenetic Saturday followed, beginning with an early trip down the hill to the marvelous Almeny Farmer's Market followed by an interesting brunch with a group of Bay area go getters and then a quick trip to the airport to deliver Tad so he could journey to Germany.  And all of that happened by lunchtime!  Later in the afternoon, I drove over to my dear friend Lady Bee's place with my overnight bag in hand.  The two of us hadn't had a chance to visit in any kind of meaningful way for a while, so we were going to have a slumber party and do some catching up.  LadyBee's good friend Marcia joined us for dinner and then the three of us got all gussied up and headed over to a swank party in the Presidio.  I was rarin' to go ever since I'd read the text of the invitation which stated among other pithy items: 

   Dress code: whacked/shiny/sexy/devotional/steamy/surprise/hyper-urban

This was going to be a full on Bay Area shindig and here I was sporting nothing but all-cotton pyro drab in my suitcase. Lady Bee came to the rescue and lent me a lovely organdy coat to spiff up my outfit.

I, of course, found a number of very pleasant folks to chat with at the party and by the time we gave each other the are-you-ready-to-go look it was past 2:30 in the morning and we were on the other side of town.  I burned some happy midnight oil that morning, alright.

I enjoyed a much appreciated leisurely Sunday morning sipping a cup of strong black tea with a cat on my lap, thumbing through Lady Bee's excellent library.  We organized ourselves by early afternoon to make a visit to the flea market, just on the tail end of the event when all the dealers would be starting to pack up and much more likely to bargain.  It was heaven wandering around a good flea market with someone who appreciates ephemera as much as I do.  And I found a nifty book published in 1963 answering all questions you have about Space.  "Will man go to the moon?" it asks boldly on the inside cover.  And a treasure trove of design ideas for the spaceship I'm happy to report.

Sunday evening a group of us got together to eat dumplings and cut up.  Everyone's Cantonese was a bit rusty, so we had to empirically determine the fillings of various and sundry containers of dumplings we had ordered.  They were all delicious, so it didn't really matter to me.  It was good to get in a visit with my brother-in-law Kurt and see the world's most adorable couple, Stella and Tory.  The only drawback of seeing so many  people I love is I having to say goodbye over and over again, and damn it, I hate that.

But on Monday morning, that's just what I did.  I headed out a little bit after breakfast, south toward the Big Sur area where I'd be visiting my pal Bruce.  I stopped in San Jose and had lunch with Bob Mackey who I'd run into at the WPA get together.  I had vowed to myself shortly afterward that it wasn't going to be nearly as long between meetings next time, and hell - I was driving right past Bob's office building on my way out of town.  It felt good to honor a commitment so swiftly and it didn't hurt a bit that we had a lovely Greek lunch made even better by the fact that I got to geek out again when we sat down next to two other nerds that Bob knew.  Spectrometers were one of the main topics of conversation this time.  Cool.

I meandered on down the coast, taking my time on the hauntingly beautiful stretch of highway that runs south to the redwoods along the coast.  Time to make my previous incidents of pampering on this trip seem wimpy in comparison.


Havasupai Holiday

If you follow old Route 66 northeast of Kingman, Arizona, to the tiny little town of Peach Springs, you'll find a turn off on the Hualapai Indian Reservation that takes you another 60 miles northwest and dead ends on the top of a mesa.  An 8 mile hike (the first 2 miles a series of steep switchbacks) takes you down the mesa, through the canyon and all the way to a tiny Indian village called Supai that sits about 9 miles from the Grand Canyon.  The only way to get back and forth to the area is on horseback, by foot or riding in a helicopter.

I parked the Caddie on the Hualapai Hilltop Monday afternoon around 1:00 p.m. knowing that the 8 mile hike down into the canyon, including some moderately challenging portions, would take me at least 4 hours.  As I began my descent down the steep pathway, I encountered little knots of panting Boy Scouts, hiking back up with their packs from a weekend camp out.  I noticed right away that those 12 and 14 year old powerhouses of metabolism and youthful energy were drooping significantly.  This gave me pause to think.  I had an uncomfortable pack that seemed a bit heavy and a quite a few years on those young colts.  Hmmmmm....

I paused at a strategically placed (for scenery anyway-see above) picnic area about halfway down the steep part of the trail and ate the roast beef sandwich I'd packed, figuring it was easier to carry it that way if nothing else.  My pack was already giving me trouble, hurting my back and making my arms go to sleep.  I was sitting and contemplating serious matters of this sort, no doubt, when my eye was drawn to a figure running down the trail toward me.  Running!  I hadn't seen a single other soul headed in my direction the entire time, so it was a bit of a shock to see someone else to start with, but they were running!  It didn't take long for him to get close enough for me to see it was an Indian fellow, about 25 or 30, his glossy black hair tied back with an aqua blue bandanna.  I imagined I was watching a scene from an old movie or reading a Larry McMurtry western where the Indian brave with flowing black mane and sure foot engages in some impressive athletic feat.  I was already trying so hard to evidence the third world that it took me a moment to notice that he held a notebook computer in one hand and wore flashy hipster tennis shoes on his feet.  I grinned broadly sitting in my picnic perch as he picked his way past me on the path at great speed.  Wow.

I continued on, through breathtakingly beautiful scenery, taking frequent breaks to sit and rest my pack on a rock.  How could it be so damn heavy?  It was good to stop every 1/4 mile or so though, because the scenery was awe inspiring and yet I didn't dare look up from the pathway for very long lest I lose my footing.  Taking frequent breaks gave me a chance to really sit and drink in the incredible beauty of my locale.  It also added an hour or two to my journey.

By the time I made it to the sign that said cheerfully (and incorrectly) "You're almost there!" I was getting to the advanced are-we-there-yet??? stage.  I was whining aloud to myself, like I'd care.  The sun had slipped behind the canyon walls and it was getting dark fast.  A fellow passed me from behind, plodding toward the village and not only did he have a pack, but he had a toddler perched on his shoulders as well!  I humbly ate his dust.

Eventually, one of the bends in the endless canyon revealed a structure fashioned by human hand in the distance and I was nearly there.  There in a sense - there was still a good little walk to where I'd be lodging and I was running out of gas fast.  The trail now resembled a road more so than anytime in the last 8 miles, so I pulled the handle up on my bag and began rolling it through the soft dirt (which I suspect was technically dragging it).  I headed off in the direction I thought made sense and two voices reached me from the gloam: "Hey!  You're going the wrong way!  Turn around!"  Two Indian women who stood talking in a stand of trees had called to me.  They directed me toward the lodge and after thanking them profusely, I trudged off.  At several other junctures along the way, the Supainese (??) emerged from the shadows to guide me and help me find my way.  One young man asked me incredulously, "Have you been dragging that thing the whole way?" looking at my obviously-not-very-practical purple pack leaving deep ruts in the sand. I guess nothing the tourists do would surprise these folks by now.

When I arrived at the Lodge, the office was dark and shuttered.  It was, after all, almost 7:00 p.m. - my hike had taken me close to 6 hours!  I found the manager's door and before long had the key to #7 in my hand.  I had inquired about the restaurant - but, no it was closed, and for that matter so was the only store, so I'd be on my own for dinner.  The only nutritive item I had in my backpack was a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints, so I supped on a fine repast of cookies and water for dinner.  Fortunately, I was so exhausted, sore and weary that after a nice long hot shower, I had trouble staying up to 8:30.  That hot shower sure did feel good, though.

The next morning, I went straight to the store and got ibuprofen, a bacon/egg/biscuit I heated in the microwave and a coffee which I foolishly attempted to ameliorate with "concentrated liquid creamer, Vanilla flavor".  After packing just a few bare necessities in my pockets, I set out on a hike that would take me to three of the major waterfalls in the area: Emerald City, Havasu and Mooney.

Once again, shortly after having set out I was hailed by a woman pushing a wheelbarrow: "You're going the wrong way.  I can tell this is the not the way you want to go.  To the falls, right?"  How on earth could she tell I was a tourist?  I often travel to places where I stick out like a sore thumb, but this was a new level of being different.  Every single inhabitant of Supai I encountered had gorgeous dark black hair and a broad brown face.  I very definitely did NOT fit in and it was perfectly obvious when I was off the path.  Everyone was very pleasant, but I got to experience the feeling of being a complete outsider.  It's a good thing to remind yourself of from time to time.

I was soon restored to the proper path, passing a number of modest ranch homes on the way out of the village, tenanted mostly by dogs and horses.  It was a fine morning and an exquisite walk.  I soon found myself meandering alongside Havasu Creek which winds invitingly through the canyon lands on a 9 mile journey toward that portion of the Colorado river that you might know by its more common name, The Grand Canyon.  The creek makes a series of drops along the way that make for a multitude of small charming falls and four very spectacular ones.  Another factor that makes the water even more incredible is the high lime content which mixes with the travertine deposits and renders the stream beds an enchanting turquoise blue color.

The first fall I encountered was the stunning (and in the end, my favorite): Emerald City.  It actually goes by several names since it's relatively new - a flash flood in 2008 rerouted the water flow from another fall called Navejo and created this glorious spot instead.  There are actually two sets of falls that are so advantageously placed that it's almost hard to distinguish.  One part has a long flat shallow area that allows vegetation to flourish in the most incredible shades and textures of green. I haven't rhapsodized about colors yet on this trip, so maybe now is a good time: aqua, oxide red, emerald green, tannin-stained black, granite dust red.  Awesome.

I tore my eyes away from Little Navajo falls as it's also called and headed on toward the better known Havasu falls. Havasu falls is the both iconic and magnificent.  It makes a dramatic drop into a length series of broad turquoise pools that are packed with swimmers in the summertime. Fern covers the rocks beneath the falls, lapping up the mist created by the tumbling waters.  Absolutely beautiful.

I next headed down to the top of Mooney falls, where I figured I'd have a nice leisurely snack and then turn around and meander slowly back to the village.  When I arrived at the choke point at the top of the fall, I found a nice picnic table located comfortably but deliciously close to the brink.  I emptied my pockets onto the table and then scooched out onto the precipice on my belly (as I had learned to do at Devil's Sink Hole), inching slowly out onto the furthest outcropping of rock.  I didn't dare look over, but tried to hold my camera at such an angle as to capture what the water looked like rushing over.   It was heady to be that close to the confluence of such extremes.  I eased my way carefully back onto the mesa and returned to the picnic table to enjoy a rest and  my snack - more Thin Mints and water.

After sharing my last Thin Mint with a ground squirrel that had been carefully eyeing me, I began my return trip allowing plenty of time to explore all sorts of nooks and crannies along the edge of the creek.  The only other people I encountered on my hike were a few small clusters of men who were working to clear undergrowth by burning it in small piles.

By the time I reached the village, I was hot and dry and thirsty and hungry.  I decided to walk down to the store get a Fanta Orange and see what was happening in the public square.  Another movie moment presented itself as I rounded the corner to see groups of Indian folks sitting on benches lining the (tiny) square, 3 stringers of ponies tied to the hitching post and various people coming and going on horseback.  I feel like it's probably the closest I'll ever get to experiencing the old West in person.

I approached my grocery shopping expedition like a sort of puzzle - what could I make from the odd ingredients I found at hand that I could tolerate eating for the next couple of meals? To make it even more of a challenge, I wouldn't have access to a microwave or a can opener.  I decided to start with a good universal base ingredient, Fritos.  To that I added a small can of spicy bean dip, some cheddar cheese sticks and a precious fresh avocado, perfectly ripe.  I couldn't resist including a pair of Hostess cupcakes which I would enjoy for the next morning's continental breakfast.  Last but not least, a couple more packages of ibuprofen and I was all set.  On my way back to the lodge I was struck by the oddity of being in such an anachronistic and isolated place and yet still having to make peace with modern intrusions that didn't really make sense so far out of context.  Like the large commercial sign I noticed as I passed the village school - No loitering.  For crying out loud, how many kids could there be to congregate at the gate and is a sign really going to run them off?  As if to draw my attention to the folly of trying to figure such things out, I also noticed two large areas of graffiti on the building closest to the school gate.

The next morning as I was readying my things to go, I opened the nightstand drawer to make sure I hadn't left anything, and discovered a really amazing and moving thing.  Right next to the ubiquitous Gideon's bible rested a beautiful pale peach colored feather.  It really appealed to me as a symbol of having the option of letting love for the world around me be my own form of spirituality.  I thank whoever thoughtfully left it there.

After witnessing the toll the hike down the canyon had taken on me, I had decided Tuesday morning that I would arrange to ride a horse back up to the Hilltop instead of walking and lugging my impossibly heavy pack.  I was instructed to be standing with my pack, ready to go, outside the front gate of my lodging by 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.  My ride didn't actually arrive until almost 8:45, trotting up quickly to make up time lost in the rush hour traffic.  My driver, BJ, detached my horse (named Little Man) from the string so I could mount using a nearby set of rocks installed for that exact purpose.  I was soon settled into the saddle, but had to do without stirrups since at their shortest length they dangled about 4" below my foot!

BJ hoisted my painfully heavy backpack onto the broad strong back of a mule and I watched it bob ahead of me most of the trip.  I thoroughly enjoyed the ride which gave me a valuable chance to spend most of my time observing the scenery without fear of losing my footing.  Little Man did a stellar job of trotting my city-girl-can't-lug-a-pack butt up that monstrous hill.  He was a little sweaty by the time we reached the Hilltop, but seemed only a little sullen as I thanked him vigorously for his patience and persistence.

As I walked toward my car, I realized I'd need a lot more ibuprofen, for a new and completely different set of aches and pains.  When I got into the car, turned the key and slowly started to roll out of the parking lot, it felt strange as hell to be driving a car.  I'd need that two hour drive back to civilization to prepare.