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First Month R&R Outside Flagstaff:

First Month R&R Outside Flagstaff:

Well, have been on the road for a month now and am finally feeling rested after spending most of that time camped in an open Ponderosa Pine forest north of Flagstaff. It was a great place to base out of while I recovered from the deep exhaustion of the move. Rain and thunderstorms the first days allowed for long naps and lots of reading, but the tiredness persisted. After ten days I went into town to take care of a lot of annoying business requiring wifi. The next day I was exhausted and required a three hour nap in the afternoon, telling how draining our connected, over managed lives can be. Over the next three weeks when I went to town (some great coffee and book stores here!) I spent many hours online, getting back to camp after dark totally spent. I did do an open mic at Firecreek Coffee, playing a couple of songs on dobro, and had all my weak points sharply highlighted for me, thank you very much.

And so the days sped by. A typical day looked like this: Wake up with the sun, which means 5:45, walk dogs, make tea, journal, some Gyrokinesis or yoga, read, sketch or paint, maybe some beading and most days a good long hike, not necessarily in that order. The forest here is laced with both marked Forest Service roads and unmarked logging roads, and one of those became my favorite hike for it’s (mostly) gentle elevation gain and varied terrain. There was a sheer rock cliff into which poured (I found out later) several upper drainages. It had fabulous striations from black to sand and pale gray and green from lichen. I returned many days to unsuccessfully try and sketch and paint it’s beauty. Even though it was monsoon season, the rain I experienced was of the drizzle variety, so I didn’t get to see it with rushing water. I know from a past experience that sometimes it rains so hard here that the road washes out. In 2010 there were two huge fires, human caused, camp fires gone bad, that scarred entire mountain sides, causing evacuation of the homes several miles away. It must have been terrifying to see whole mountains in flames behind your home. As a result there is severe flooding, but not quite so bad as when I was here in 2012.

So our hikes went through lots of burn areas where the dead trees have since been snapped off by high winds and which look pretty devastating. However they are also laced with fields of wildflower fire followers, notably Mullein, Rattlesnake Weed and some Aster varieties that look like various Black Eyed Susans and Daisies. Tiny Ponderosa Pine are trying to find their way to the sun, but it will take a hundred years to replace what has been burned.

Our hikes involved many long stops to investigate flora, a little fauna, majestic views and the ever changing and dramatic skies. I didn’t have to leave camp and go hiking to find things of interest however. There is more natural life to be seen here in a square yard of earth than in a whole city block. I was interrupted while doing yoga to watch a carpenter ant determined to carry a pine needle five times the length of his body over gravel and rocks, equivalent to me carrying a twenty five foot kayak over a boulder field. Simply amazing. There was a bright turquoise stink bug, butterflies, gall wasps, yellow jackets, honey bees and more. The rain launched a new round of tiny, inch long horned lizards. Little Pygmy Nuthatches, Mountain Nuthatches, American and Common Goldfinches, Mountain Jays, Stellar Jays, and a plethora of small gray and brown birds I could not identify because I’m still waiting for my binoculars from home, feasted on the insects in the decaying trees. Crows, ravens and a variety of hawks and eagles cried from above. Every morning and afternoon I was buzzed by a couple of hummingbirds either in my hammock or at the trailer window, making their clicking sound along with the extremely loud cidadas. There’s no water here which has a downside, but the upside is no mosquitos! I re

Rarely deer and elk came through or near the camp. It was more common to find tracks in the morning, which I could follow for quite a distance. There is bunch grass all around so they come through to graze. It’s about 8000 feet here so it’s also the time of year for them to start moving to lower elevations. In the month I was here I could feel the change in season coming as the rising sun came up a bit later and further south, changing the angles of sun and shade on the trailer windows in the morning. And there’s just something in the feel of it. Something unspoken and subconscious. Also here are bobcat, cougar and javelina, all of which I was happy for Iggy not to run into. At the vet in Flag we saw a Cane Corso who had mixed it up with a Javelina and they are an Italian cattle and swine dog that is supposed to be able to handle boar.

On one hike I decided we (Iggy,Henry and I) could follow up the game trail at the rock drainage south and up the opposite ridge and be able to circle around and meet the other trail to the west. Oops. It turned out to be a bit steeper than anticipated. A lot steeper actually, but the footing was good so we went slowly and switchbacked up. Little Henry, the ten pound Pomeranian/Chihuahua amazes me in his ability, at fourteen, to effortlessly pick his way up the steep hillsides. When we finally topped out we were in a severe burn area, a nasty nest of Mullein and Rattlesnake Weed I couldn’t see from below. The drainage leading to the rock water fall was much bigger than anticipated and was actually a deep cleft between two ridges and uncrossable. I still hoped to be able to circumnavigate the drainage but it was going to be longer than anticipated. The afternoon thunder clouds were building and the temperature was dropping fast, a sure sign of rain. For expediency I carried Henry through the rough, burned area toward some open forest where we picked up a logging road. At first I thought it might go north back down the ridge, but the road dead ended and the ridge was way too steep. So I resigned myself to the long way round, hoping it would lead where I hoped. We doubled back and started the big circle. The forest, the light, the sky were all stunning. I had to make choices at various crossroads and without compass (or water or jacket, which I DON’T recommend) followed my gut to the west. We passed a huge mountain meadow of bunch grasses and my eye caught some movement across the meadow at the tree line. I shushed the dogs to watch a huge bull elk slowly, majestically walk along the trees and finally springboard up and over the ridgeline. Luck was with us. We were downwind and the grasses high enough that the dogs couldn’t see the elk. A couple of beats after he disappeared, as I was relishing that experience, four more bulls came into view and passed along the same track as the big boy. It was a great sighting. The rut will start in another couple of months and those bachelors won’t be so friendly.

We did eventually make a big circle to the south, then west and north and were able to find a place where the drainage was shallow enough to cross and we picked up the trail again. We made it back to the Forest Service road a mile from camp just as the thunder started to roll and the rin began to fall.

On the last weekend I awoke early and needed to go outside to wee, but there was a pick up truck stopped right at my camp. A second pickup stopped and I wondered what the heck they were looking at. I turned to the east, behind my trailer to see six bull elk grazing not a hundred feet from me. They slowly, calmly walked through camp and the meadow to the north and disappeared into the tree line. Fantastic. Except that one of those guys must have radioed his buddies. For the rest of the morning at least twenty huge 4×4 crew cab pickups stopped at my camp, with guys dressed in camo glassing the area for elk which were now miles away. I learned a new term, “road hunting.” Bow hunting season is open now for deer and antelope but not for elk until November. I bought a day-glo orange cap and watch cap that I will cut head and leg holes in for Iggy. Arizona has the most lenient gun laws in the country and there’s a lot of “shoot anything that moves” mentality in some of the hunters.

If you’d like to read my essay about the ethics of hunting, meat eating and memoir of my dad click here:

After three plus weeks of R&R I had regained some energy and overstayed my welcome in the forest. Back to the city and Camping World for repairs, wifi and groceries, also a much needed stop at the fabulous Flagstaff Aquatic Center for a long yoga session, swim, hot tub, shower and finally laundry.

Next stop an incredible day through the painted desert, destination Arboles SE of Durango where my friend Betsy Bracken lives waaaay out there, designing her fabulous 2B Jewelry. Stay tuned..!


  1. Cindra Lee Henry
    September 10, 2014

    You paint pictures with words that create images in our minds as vivid as your beautiful photographs.

  2. kerry obrien
    September 13, 2014

    I’m honored CIndra. Many writers over the years have inspired me, taking me around the world from the comfort of my chair. No one did it better than Karen Blixen, alias Isak Dinesen.


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