Weston and Porten on Pilgrimage (Pancho and Lefty revisited?) (a Hobbit and Strider?)

IMG_5326Weston and Porten, (Pancho and Lefty revisited?) (a Hobbit and StriderWe have left the Escalante Grand Staircase, heaven-to-earth Canyonlands of Utah and Northern Arizona. Now, with Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon behind us, we go next to Flagstaff, Sedona and Prescott.

So… there is so much—too much—to encapsulate. I will do so by adding the idiosyncratic dimensions of the two people who traveled through these extravagant landscapes. Much of this you already know, if you know us. It’s just kind of interesting how it plays out on a journey like this!

I will call us Weston and Porten—as many of you know, we have called each other that since we first met each other.

IMG_5531By now, Porten has gone full-on into the Aragorn/Strider mode (if you haven’t seen Lord of the Rings, my sympathies, and please stop reading this and go watch all three movies now (or read the trilogy), as it really is just something you should do). Anyway, you can now picture him, happiest when he is all alone, and cooking around a campfire, walking all day without eating or drinking.

IMG_5330Now, picture Weston, a Hobbit of no particular merit, certainly not Frodo (no evil Ring to bear), maybe occasionally as brave as Merry or Pippin, but most of time, just a small creature who loves home and comforts, and loves connecting with friends and family. Jack, meanwhile, has no personification. I think he is enough of his own fuzzy improbable character to just be Jack. He spent two days recovering from the BLM hikes in the Canyonlands, nursing sore paws and aching muscles, so he did not mind waiting for us in the van while we were in national parklands.

IMG_5348Weston and Porten, in our best mode, surprise and befriend the stranger. They may argue mightily about how they got to where we landed, but once there, they are able to work together in a mutual partnership that embraces everything in our path. At the bottom of the astonishing multihued pillars, called hoodoos, in Bryce Canyon, they find two magical trees that soar upward like green challengers to the rock panorama. While lying on their backs to try and capture this in a photo, two other people come by.

IMG_5558Within minutes, all are in conversation, remarking on how implausiIMG_5519ble it is to be here, and to witness this magnificence, and that leads to Weston to call all four of them Forest Dwellers, with a quick explanation that explains the last stage (the Renunciate) as the one where you end up at the Rest Home. At this point, Porten and the man, around the same age, go off together in a spirited and completely congruous agreement that this will never happen to them, and how they will walk off into the desert, etc etc and Weston pipes up: “if you get a choice, boys, if you get a choice” which inflames them more as she knew it would (yes, she has a bit of mischievous streak), and they are still muttering and talking to each other about how they will avoid the renunciate stage as they part.

IMG_5633I had no idea what to expect in Zion. When we went through over a mile of tunnel blasted through a sheer rock face, I was amazed, and when the road took us right down into the balmy bottom of the canyon, delighted. Another entertaining surprise: Zion’s names. I especially liked the Three Patriarchs, The Great White Throne (God’s very own), and the Towers of the Virgin, in which the Altar of Sacrifice elicited many strange visions. IMG_5629Angel’s Landing took us upward where Steve went part-way out on the path described as “a half-mile of narrow rock protruding out of Cathedral Mountain, so narrow only an angel could land on it.” The precipitous drop on either side challenged even the Strider side of him. The Hobbit, meanwhile, continued on to a rocky plateau that felt like the Top of the World. All of this up and down hiking was preparation for the Big One, the Grand Canyon.

We had no idea a week ago if it would work for us to hike in. Many things had to come together. The weather had to be good, we had to decide what to do with Jack and we had to see if the Phantom Ranch at the bottom could take us, (or hike in with enough gear for overnight, which the Hobbit nixed). We got a green light on all.  In the morning, in about an hour, we took our cohesive traveling unit and scattered it, leaving Jack at the kennels, the electronics at Bright Angle Lodge and the van at the rim, and feeling discombobulated, began our trek down the 7-mile long South Kaibab trail. It was a glorious day, perfect weather by everyone’s count. The only hard part was leaving Jack. In that innocent and trusting way of dogs, he had no idea that we would or could leave him once we got to Grand Canyon.

In the end, it was okay. He survived just fine, as did we, though we had to work through some guilt—it’s your Devil’s bargain, I said to Jack (in my head). You would vote to go on this trip if you got to vote, and though this part will be a low point, it is better than being left behind. So we work through the things that trouble us. And we loved, adored and were utterly awed by our Canyon trip. We asked our bodies to do this thing and they responded. Hurray for luck, walking habits and genetics. Don’t ask me how sore I am today. That’s why God made Alleve.

IMG_5410Porten, like Strider, took leftover food and little else. The water in his Camel was still left over from Kilimanjaro. Weston took lunch and protein bars and a full camel back bladder of fresh water plus electrolyte water. No use asking about “elevensies” or first lunch and second lunch. By now, Weston has learned that Porten will find all of these questions odd, as it is obvious one has only to eat for 4 at dinner and all of those calories will fuel the next day. Weston, who cannot perform this snake-like feat, simply munches as she walks. Porten loves that he still has the same coat from the last 5 years of traveling and that it came from a thrift store.

IMG_5499Weston loves gear. Like her new zip off sleeves, zip-off-hood Primaloft jacket. It. Yep, gear is a love affair for Weston. Can’t explain that one to Porten. Even harder to justify: the Ipod and its store of soul- lifting music. It only came out during the last 2 miles of the 10 mile trek out of the Canyon, when it was really needed, like any magical gift. And when Weston exclaimed over rocks (as she always does), they went naturally in Weston’s pack, because that’s where they belong, and neither of them thought any thing at all about hauling an extra 5 lbs of rocks up for 7 hours and 10 miles of hiking up the Bright Angel Trail. Both Weston and Porten enjoyed the stay and guests at Phantom Ranch and watched the full moon rise over the Canyon’s edge with more reverence than words.

IMG_5471I can’t say that I completely took everything in that I could or should have. Still, 12 hours of hiking and 17 miles gave us plenty of time to simply take it all in, as much as we could. The vast and glorious Grand Canyon is a nearly incomprehensible Presence: ancient, sacred, alive, sentient and mysterious. We touched it with our minds, our hearts, our hands and feet. We drank from it and watered it. I am grateful that my fleeting life included this trip into its deep heart. It will stay in my heart forever. IMG_5616

Forest Dwellers in the Canyonlands

We arrived in Moab after dark, no idea of where we would stay. Well, actually, I had used my Iphone to ferret out the Lazy Lizard Hostel while we were in Salt Lake City—but we must still ground-truth each location. In this case, that means that Specifically, Steve needs to hear the “old fashioned way” from people that this is a good choice, and that no other possibilities, preferably free, offer themselves. After checking into various dark alleys and cul-de-sacs, and stopping for a meal and beer at the Moab Brewery, I state I would really like the restful energy of the hostel and abruptly, it becomes the perfect choice, as though all along, it was waiting for us.

Thus, in our usual fashion, The Lazy Lizard becomes our home over Thanksgiving, offering free wifi, electricity, showers and kitchen and living room and lots of conversations with travelers. Anyone who has ever heard our stories about traveling knows how much we have loved hostels, all over the world. It is especially nice to continue to sleep in our own bed, while enjoying the companionable communal shared spaces. The Great Oracle (Google) also informed us of a free community dinner. Luckily, this was confirmed by many posters around town.

First, we took an amazingly wonderful Thanksgiving hike up Negro Bill Canyon, where Jack was one of many dogs who paraded with their owners (yep, dogs can go on BLM land), and mostly kept his feet dry from numerous stream crossings with astounding leaps from bank to bank, and followed that up by sitting down to eat turkey dinner with several hundred other people.

The next day, we took another wonderful hike on BLM land to Corona Arch. By now, we can see Jack slowing down a bit, and today his feet are sore from all the slippery sand. He had a few adventures, including nonchalantly jumping down a steep drop off, and then not being able to get back up until I helped by literally pulling him up by the skin after he got his front paws up.

The next day, he faced a slick rock incline with a nearly vertical angle. Luckily there was a metal chain for humans to hold onto from foothold to foothold, and once again, his loose skin became a handle as we half encouraged him, half dragged him up (and down) the perpendicular section of the trail. He has been an easy and happy companion, ever eager to go where humans go, and do what humans do, no matter how weird. He also waits in the van patiently for hours while we imbibe, visit, and sometimes sleep inside the homes of friends. And he is mostly a good sport about us digging into his paws to get out the thorns that find a home in his paws. All in all a darn good traveler, even though some of you might be surprised to hear it, if you have experienced Overly-Boisterous Jack, you’ll just have to take our words for it!


We reminisce as we drive on the top of the Canyonlands about our trip on the Green River last April. Those seven days in a canoe were a highlight for both of us. The oldest layer of rocks here—the Rico Formation—formed during the Permian-Pennsylvanian period: 275 million years. The youngest—Navajo Sandstone— formed during the Jurassic period, 175 million years ago. One of the things about the Canyonlands with that you can see all the layers in between: 100 million years of layers. That feels restful to me. It is as close to eternal as my little brain can grasp. By now, I have less trouble dismissing the high-strung modern human and seeing through Native eyes. I perceive the Rock Nations, and by doing so, make the rocks sentient, and suddenly I see the earth as alive in a real way and these ancient beings watching the flicker of human existence around them. There is much the Human Nations will do to injure the earth, but little will change in these silence-singing chasms For some reason I cannot fully articulate, this calms me.

After a night at Dead Horse State Park, overlooking the Colorado River, we continue to Escalante, in Capitol Reef section of Canyonlands, down lonely, heart-stopping gorgeous roads. By mid-day, the sun is warm; we strip down to tee-shirts and shorts. Sub-freezing nights demand down coats, gloves and wool hats. Traveling in Utah is a kinship with the Elementals. Away from our snug homes, we brush our teeth outside, pee outside, eat outside. Sky and sun, moon and stars lift our eyes. We become hypersensitive to every nuance of air and wind, subtle sage scents carried lightly, aware that a powerful gust would spiral sand and dust to damage cameras and upend camp gear. Water anywhere is the obvious miracle that we so easily take for granted.  We find a desert spring: and thirsty Jack is grateful.

We cross over and over the lonesome winding rivers of the American landscape, and suck in our breath as the highway tilts out over the big canyons and gulches they carve. The tracks of a destructive flash flood are eerily plain as we hike along a stunning dry gulch that is obviously not always dry; we listen closely to the radio weather report and (I) input different locations on the Iphone as we both scan the horizon for the possibility of rain.  The dual nature of Fire is always present; at night, we huddle close around the campfire and find comfort in the homey flicker of the candle while the threat and evidence of wildfire are ever present. Our feet pound seemingly solid earth on our daily hikes, while all around us, we see upheavals and cracked rock that are proof of the constantly moving terrain.

Our own lives become more elemental, taking things into our bodies, and discharging them back into the great cycles of energy that swirl around our planet. And we regard the things around us differently: a dropped rubber band is carefully saved for future need, a dented plastic water bottle vigilantly preserved and appreciated as it fills and refills with water. It is dark by 5:30, so if we have electricity, that is welcomed as a luxury, and if we don’t we make do with battery power. It is not surprising that by 7PM, we are very nearly ready for bed.

The three of us on a boat. That’s how it feels. Like we are on a very small boat. Steve listens to the radio as he drives. Jack forces his way through whatever we have on the floor so he can lie directly between us. I write when I can while we drive as the rest of the time is surprisingly full of activity. The nights in the van are comfy, if tight, with all three of us sleeping in it. If one of us is moving, the other must hold still. Jack keeps his talent as an Origami dog, folding up tight and small and hardly moving as we negotiate around him.

Sorry this is long. The stops to get to the internet are few and far between in this remote part of the country. Now approaching The Grand Canyon and still haven’t shared about Bryce and Zion!


Steve’s Post from Moab with photos

Sitting in the front seat of ye old Econoline—Roosevelt—in the S.E. Idaho town of Lava Hot Springs—a popular stop off along the Oregon Trail for the trail worn pioneers of the 1870—1890’3.  What a mind spin to think about Callistoga wagon trains making their way west, coming through here  a little over a 100 years ago!   —–Listening to NPR as they discuss the new marijuana legalization movement—did you know that in Colorado 50,000 more people voted for the legalization, than voted for Obama for president?!

At any rate this is the town where Shann’s grandparents settled, homesteaded and became stalwarts (Superintendent of schools and grade school teacher) and where her dad was raised, up to the point he left to join the army in the waning years of the 2nd world war.  AS an aside, Bruce Weston never really did come back, as he made his way to Mexico on the heels of his discharge, and the adventures of a life time with Ms. Maria  Rosario Camerana  (Shanns mom).  There’s a lovely developed hot springs here which for $5 (senior citizen discount!) we soaked away the hours last night—delicious!   We went hog wild and spent an additional 10 bucks for a legal spot at an RV park across the street, which gave us 110 volts to power up our little portable electric heater for some added comfort.

So, a little over a week into our trip and here are the highlights from my perspective:Visits with Elena in seattle and then to Portland and important friends that we have stayed in touch with ever since our years of living there in the 90’s.  All are representative of the many turns in the road of my wonderful life with this Ms. Weston—in some ways this whole trip is all about that very subject !

The strain of traveling with this tech savvy gal that has every new gimmick ever created by human kind—which stretches me in some ways that I rail against; vis a vis Shann using her new I-phone to navigate with, and me trying to get her to navigate the old tried and true way with maps, asking for assistance from the cars next to us at the stop light or pedestrians along the sidewalks, and generally just looking out at the world instead of down at the screen.  O—and did I mention all the ‘stuff’ that scrunches us up for space, in our relatively small home on wheels?

The beauty of the countryside: The John Day  Country of East Central Oregon.  The Strawberry Mts.  The high prairie plateau, with sage filled vistas.  The Snake River canyon land and the geological wonder that caused it 12000 years ago, when Bonneville Lake (the size of present day Lake Michigan)  burst through its ice dam and in less than a week  a wall of water 350’ high and moving at 70+ mph scoured out all in its path.   It is said that the Great Salt Lake is the remnant of that great post glacial age natural  cataclysm.

Two days later:

An 8 mile hike into a lovely hot springs in west Utah, that we had visited  last April when we were down this way for our float on the Green River (except I think I also somehow managed to loose my danged digital camera—looks like I am back to my old throw away camera standard once again!).   Another hike on thanksgiving day with Shann and Jack, up Negro Bill Canyon  outside Moab, culminating  at  a 240 foot stone arch.

A lovely  turkey day community feed at the senior center in Moab and an opportunity to be a server for a couple hours, with loads of interesting exchanges;  like with my fellow server Ruth, aged 90, and a crusty WW II  navy vet and  an avowed ‘constitutional conservative’ who thinks Obama is a communist and who turned me onto a new term —-‘pink diaper communist’—meaning both parents are card carrying members of the communist party—vis a vis  In her mind, most of the leadership of the democratic party.

Ok that’s enough for me—-its scotch drinking time and I am hoping to lure a sweet young black headed she devil into our lair, soon.  Wish me luck!



I love Thanksgiving. A whole holiday devoted to family, food, and giving thanks. Over the years, we have hosted our own big gatherings, with friends and family coming from afar and had so much abundance that we could literally re-create the whole event the next day.

So… it would be easy to feel lonely today. We miss those times. We miss our family and our friends. Instead, on this day, we become part of 500 people to receive the blessings of a free volunteer-run community dinner in Moab, Utah. After visiting with a Navajo family and two enthusiastic hikers who grab our notebook and write maps of all the places we must see, I get to write in the van, listening to Jack snore after his 4 mile romp with us up a slick rock canyon, and watching the day set over the cliffs before me.  Ah so thankful.

On this trip, I am thankful for:

Finding my grandparent’s photo at the Lava Hot Springs Historical Museum (SE Idaho, where they homesteaded and worked and where my father was born).


I am thankful for water. Traveling is dirty, and it amazes me how completely water can wash away the grime of daily life. It is like getting forgiven, over and over. I am thankful for western rivers and streams rolling across arid landscapes and through red rock canyons, for the hot and cold water offered freely at truck stops, for the majesty of Twin Falls, for hot springs in every form, for city fountains and the man-made streams that grace Salt Lake City.

I am thankful for whatever it is that is at work when our friend Kathy points us toward some friends in Salt Lake City. They graciously accept our visit, though they don’t know us. From, them, we receive a bed, break bread, and learn about the liberal side of Salt Lake City. Really? A big gay parade? Really? Wow. Good to know.

I am thankful for my loquacious husband who will ask anyone anything and though I am always trying to “polite him up”, it fails like all other schemes to change each other. So, on Temple Square, we meet two young ladies, ages 21 and 22. They are from Texas and Australia. You know how Mormons go to witness their faith all around the world? They described in great detail how it felt to get their packets from the Elders and how it could have been anywhere… Africa, South America…and theirs was Salt Lake City! After a remarkable conversation, they chased us down as we left the grounds to give us 2 free tickets to the theater production. We went. It was called Savior of the World. The title says it all. The singing and acting were great … the story classic. I am thankful for their gift, and that without hesitation, we participated in their “Divinely inspired job” by going. We also got to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse!

ON this day, I am especially thankful for the amazing trails and public lands of Utah. On Thanksgiving Day, the tracks were filled with many families and hikers and dogs. I like that. I am thankful that I like that.

Typical encounter on the trail:

Little girl, holding her dad’s hand.

Steve: “Are you taking your father for a walk?”

Little Girl nods shyly.

Steve: “That’s so great. You take good care of each other. I used to have two little girls just like you. Now they are all grown up. Keep hiking with your dad.”

On and on it goes, like that—we meet the Swiss hiker who lives in Denver, the down-easterner from Maine who just moved to Utah to live near his kids, hikers older than us, and little ones on their parents’ backs, people sprinting up the trail and others using two hiking poles to navigate. Beauty is what we have all come to see: this holy ground. . . America’s Best Idea, the Public Parks and Spaces of America the Beautiful. I am thankful for the health and the means to do this grand adventure in a free and mostly safe country that supports public lands.

Last—but always first in my heart, I am so thankful for my home, my family, friends, and community.




Idaho Dreaming

Last night we observed 28 years together. Steve found a note from Mariya in his day planner. “Celebrate your anniversary,” she wrote. A fitting reminder—oh yeah! We were in Buhl, Idaho—after wandering the back roads of the Hagerman area, where underground aquifers carrying millions of cubic feet of water from the surrounding mountains explode into waterfalls and springs straight out from the cliffs. All of this water pours into the Snake River Canyon . . .  the roadside signs remind us . . . deepened and carved by the ancient Lake Bonneville, which ruptured as glaciers retreated 11,000 years ago.

Each day, when things are hard, and they are everyday, I ask myself: Why take this road trip? Certainly, I could sit in my living room and be much more comfortable. But once again, as this trip informs me, I see that some things are more important to me than comfort. That says something, because I like coziness as much, maybe more, than most people. Something in the restless Camarena-Lima/Cathro-Weston legacy drives a desire to witness the world and then to reflect it—and it is still strong enough to overcome the (many) moments of discomfort. Lucky for me, I found a partner who likes The Way of Travel (and the Way of Home) as much as I do, a Barnes-LaPlante/Schendel-Porten spouse, to be precise. Actually, just our names tell the birthright! We come from ancestors who traveled and married the Other; who found strangers more interesting than scary and who considered journeys as natural and normal actions.

Here’s a story, illustrative of the whole adventure. We found a city park and pulled in. When the police came knocking at about midnight, Steve answered in his best squeaky old man’s voice.

Steve: “Hello?”

Cop: “Park’s closed.”

Steve: “Yeah, we just ate dinner at the Mexican Restaurant and we were too tired to go further.”

Cop: “Well, there’s no overnight parking here.”

Steve: “We have relatives in Twin Falls, and we’ll push on to see them in the morning.”

Cop: “Well, why don’t you go up the road the rest area, 7 miles up.”

Steve: “Okay. If we have to. Or we could just stay here and leave at 6 AM.”

Cop: “Why 6AM? It’s only 35 minutes to Twin Falls.”

Steve: “Because 6AM is when we get up.”


Cop: “Alright. But you are on your own. And you’re responsible.”


Steve: “Okay, thanks.”

Cop leaves. I am not sure exactly how, but he’s satisfied, and we have another free place to sleep. I can’t help but smile into the dark. The mix of brazenness and stubbornness, relayed with a non-combative tone of voice can work wonders. I have seen it too many times to count. Many of our ancestors would be horrified, I’m sure; but some would clap with glee.

So, why do we want to make such a journey–to wander the back-roads of America, this time going slowly south and east? There is no answer that I can give you if you don’t already know. First of all, Home is the only reason we can do this: our love of home and friends and family and community is our bedrock. The Road is alluring but challenging, for sure. I guess I like the ground-truthing process. When satellites tell us there are “wet areas” in the forest or on the plains, someone has to go walk on the land to make sure it really is wet, and how wet, and whether it is a bog or a marsh. That would be us. We are ground-truthing this American landscape, because you only know what the windmills look like on the ridge by seeing them, or that the narrow roads of south-central Idaho thread their way past dairy feed lots and Hispanic children riding bikes who disappear down into culverts when Steve stops to ask them directions. The map doesn’t tell us the truth of what tire-treads-to-asphalt convey: big white dogs guarding sheep, a frenzied stallion bouncing in his paddock, ancient saffron-colored cottonwoods and beef cattle gleaning through corn fields.

We wave hello to our dear friends and family. You are what puts all of this into context. You are what makes the hard times bearable.


Dispatch from John Day National Monument, Oregon Territory. Blue skies; powder of snow. To our right, the Ochoco Mountains. To the left, the flaming colors of the Painted Hills. Jack’s head is laid up against Steve’s thigh, and Steve’s hand is gentle as he strokes the black fur. The trip begins.

Do It Yourself Travel is the name of this game. We have maps and a general concept of where we are going. Daylight and weather are the rulers of our daily schedule. Time elongates into its unbroken river, no longer contained and braided into roaming channels. Problem is, back home, with those sneaky diversions, you can get stuck and lose sight of the flow altogether. That’s the purpose of this journey. To remember this: we walk in beauty. This trek is to put our lives back into that context.

We are Forest Dwellers. Using the Vedic Yoga model of the four stages of human existence is helpful. A term like “retired” says nothing of the questions in our souls nor the longings of our bodies. We are no longer front-and-center in the dance—but we are still required. We have cut loose for the winter to discern what is needed in our world now, and how to best serve this need while inhabiting the reflective last third of our lives.  We still have the physical ability to do this: use the van for our home, pee outside, travel the miles and sleep in new places. The vagabond lifestyle is both mellow and challenging. Time now to enjoy the American landscape and meet the people that our media never talks about. Image

DIY Travel: Forest Dwellers Explore