John Henry – Chiricahua Mountains, AZ

John Henry was saying, “The last polymath was …” but the clanking gears in my brain drowned him out. They were too busy working down the names he’d threaded into the last five minutes’ conversation.

The Dalai Lama, Bronowski, the Kula Trail, L. Ron Hubbard, the three types of Pygmy death (dead, completely dead, forever dead).

Just when my brain got the mess untangled, the flash of silver caught my eye. It was John Henry’s skinning knife relieving a coyote… Continue reading

Sierrita Mining and Ranching – Sahuarita, AZ

When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do it without grumbling. He will not request it unless absolutely necessary.

—from “Hints for Plains Travelers” Omaha Herald, published 1877 .


No grumbling, Bernie

“My ancestors were on the way to California when they broke a wagon wheel in these mountains” Norman said as he handed me a photo copied map of the McGee family ranch.

“While the wheel was being fixed in Tucson, they discovered water and began… Continue reading

Butterfield Stage – Mobile, AZ

It cheers me that I can do today what once took an act of Congress. It’s just too bad they never heard the saguaro.

In 1857, Congress voted funding for an overland mail route “from such point of the Mississippi River as the contractors may select, to San Francisco”. The contractors chose St. Louis. Congress chose San Francisco. Ok, so I chose Oriental, NC to San Diego. Still, our routes often overlapped.

As I make my way across Arizona, I… Continue reading

Do Not Enter When Flooded – Saguaro National Monument, AZ

“Why in the world is there a flood sign next to a cactus?” I wondered as I rode Woody down the desert highway.

But it’s a common sight along these desert roads: a yellow sign that warns of drowning next to a cactus that could use a drink.


What a way to go; drowning in the desert.

The reason for this eccentric signage is the monsoon.

I usually associate that word with the tropics: Australia, India, Bangladesh. Those guys get… Continue reading

The New Mexican Nut Job – New Mexico

“High Pecan Prices Lead to Thefts” shouted the Albequrque Journal. Reading on, I learned that the poor pecan harvest in Georgia had driven pecan prices to a dollar and a half and two dollars a pound. No wonder guys were thieving nuts. My mind flashed at the state of my bank account and suddenly I got the urge.

A few of those pounds and I’d be solvent again.

Then Alan hailed me riding down his dirt road with the words… Continue reading

Welcome to the Grand Canyon State – Apache, AZ


Welcome to the Grand Canyon State

For weeks now I’ve wandered through New Mexico with Arizona on my mind.

It’s cold out here on the High Lonesome. Most nights my tipi freezes into an ice-cream cone shape. Mornings, when I go to take it down, it won’t fit into its stuff sack. I roll it up like a six pound burrito and just cram it into Maggie’s cart. In the evenings, when I re-pitch it, it unfurls in a shower… Continue reading

Finding my Way – Animas, NM

“I grew up a-dreamin’
of bein’ a cowboy,
Lovin’ the cowboy ways…” Billy’s voice rasped softly above his guitar, out across the desert scrub.

“Pursuin’ the life of my high-ridin’ heroes,
I burned up my childhood days…”

Billy had finally found me.


Billy Ottis

This was a welcome change. For once it wasn’t me looking for the way.

People often ask me in an assertive tone “How’re you finding your way across America?”. They assume a great amount of planning… Continue reading

Mule Woody Hits Mile Five

Woody disputes the merits of the journey at the entrance to my tipi. Did he think he was going to have to sleep inside my cone shaped home? As crazy as it sounds, some folks thought just that. “How,” they asked, “do you get that horse in to your tent at night.” At which I’d explain Woody wasn’t a horse and, well, you can see how much it takes to explain away life on the road with a tipi.

In… Continue reading

Touchy Flanks

Tonight I’m concerned for Woody. He’s touchy along his withers and he didn’t finish his feed. When I peeled off the vintage McClellan saddle and ran my hand down his back, he pinned his ears and gave me that “Pal, don’t” in the way that sparse words convey danger.

Earlier, when I pitched camp along the South bank of the Neuse, Tom and his daughter Rachel rode to visit and when they departed Woody churned back and forth on his… Continue reading

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