Saturday, February 19, 2011

Visit us at Modernism Week-Palm Springs February 25-27!

The Eco-Discovery Tour is pleased to announce that we have been chosen to participate in a very special Vintage Trailer display at Modernism Week in Palm Springs! We are proud to be one of only 18 vintage trailers chosen to display for their special features during this week long celebration, which according to the Mission Statement on their website:

"Promotes public awareness of the desert's mid-century modern design and architecture. Modernism Week celebrates the post-war design aesthetic and culture through educational and charitable activities"

We invite everyone to come visit us in Palm Springs! For more information, visit the Airstream Life website: Airstream Life or the Modernism Week website: Modernism Week

We hope to see you there!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Get Off The Bottle!

Bottled Water...many of us use it everyday. But all of us know that not only are the bottles one of the most prolific forms of plastic pollution on the planet, the water is no better for you than most tap water, it is expensive, and there is fear of chemical leaching from some types of bottles.

As we travel, staying hydrated is very important. To solve the problem of using and disposing of plastic bottles, we decided on a very simple and cost effective solution. First we purchased a Britta Filter Dispenser that fit in our fridge. Next we visited REI and bought two stainless steel reusable water bottles that have a very nice resealable drinking nozzle. Every morning before we hit the road we fill our bottles and refill the dispenser so that we will have plenty of water for the day.

At the average price of about 25 cents a bottle, and the average consumption of 3-4 bottles a day per person, we will pay for our investment in about 40 days. Even with the cost of new filters, this will still keep the cost of water way below the plastic bottled kind and none of our bottles will end up in a landfill. Preserve has instituted a recylcing program for used filters and Whole Foods among others now has a drop-off for used filters in their stores.

We urge everyone to look for a solution to their bottled water consumption. If you don't feel guilty, you should!

For more information on bottled water visit:

5 Reasons Not to Drink Bottled Water

Get Off The Bottle!

And for a little fun:

Don't Go Near The Water!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Plastic Into Oil-Update!

In July of 2009, we reported on the technology we found in Oregon that was able to convert recycled plastics into oil(Our Visit to Agri-Plas). My good friend Ed recently made us aware of some new technology coming out of Japan that makes this process possible on a micro-scale that could eventually be available to everyone (Man Invents Machine To Convert Plastic Into Oil).

According to the developer, "The machine produced in various sizes, for both industrial and home uses, can easily transform a kilogram of plastic waste into a liter of oil, using about 1 kW·h of electricity but without emitting CO2 in the process. The machine uses a temperature controlling electric heater instead of flames, processing anything from polyethylene or polystyrene to polypropylene (numbers 2-4). 1 kg of plastic produces one liter of oil, which costs $1.50. This process uses only about 1 kW·h of electricity, which costs less than 20 cents!"

The potential for this is huge. Imagine a world where many homes are equipped with this machine, and apartment dwellers or neighborhoods share a machine together. The resulting oil could then be returned to collection centers where it can be reused in the production of hundreds of petroleum based products including plastics that could then be recycled again and again. The potential reduction in CO2 emissions is remarkable and much of the waste that currently ends up in a landfill or the ocean could be eliminated. In Third World countries where plastic waste frequently ends up directly in the environment as the means for disposing of waste are not always readily available, the plastic waste could be converted directly into oil used for heating and cooking or kerosene for light.

This new machine is compact, can be easily transported, and the technology appears to be relatively simple. Combined with the advances that are being made in plastic materials that are not made from petroleum (Bio-Plastics, Biodegradable Plastics Made From Plants) , there is hope!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Pojoaque Pueblo
English Pronunciation: "Po-wock-ee or Po-hock-ee"
Traditional Name: PO-SUWAE-GEH

Our temporary home in Santa Fe, NM is located on the edge of the Pojoaque Indian Pueblo, home of the Pojoaque, one of the eight Indian tribes of Northern New Mexico. Today they were celebrating the festival of Our Lady of the Guadalupe, the Patron Saint of the Pueblo. After a traditional Catholic Mass at the nearby adobe church, the Pueblo celebrated with an even more traditional Buffalo Dance, and the entire community turned out for the event. The sinuous lines of exquisitely costumed dancers ranged in age from the very young to the elders of the tribe, and they executed a remarkable dance choreographed by tradition across the dusty lot in front of the church, while a small band of solemn faced men set the beat with their chanting and their tom-toms.

This is a deeply religious occasion, and unlike the dances that many of the Pueblos do for the tourists, the crowd remained completely silent, there are no photographs allowed, and it is a truly moving experience. On the outer edge of the lines, warriors dressed as Elk with a large rack of horns on their heads and sticks adorned with pine boughs in their hands, move along bent over on their sticks in stilted motions, simulating the movement and the bony front legs of the animal. Inside this outer line, dancers in full-headed buffalo costumes dance along in unison. Watching, one could almost feel the Buffalo moving as they once did in vast numbers across the prairies of the American West. Feel them moving like they did long before the white man came and slaughtered them in such numbers that the bones were piled high beside the steel rails that brought indiscriminate death to both the Buffalo and the way of life of our native people. Behind these dancers came the hunters with their bow and arrows. They too are there to kill the Buffalo, but unlike the white man, they understand that the Buffalo is life, and to kill for sport instead of sustenance is to rape their Mother Earth, and will not long sustain them.

For tens of thousands of years the Buffalo gave the Indians food, shelter, clothing, and tools. In just a few short years after our arrival, the white man eradicated them from the face of the earth. Not only for sport and pleasure, but in a premeditated effort to deny these noble people that which not only sustained them, but was also sacred to them in every way. Today the Buffalo are gone and the Casino provides them their way of life. Soon the Whales and the Polar Bears will be gone as well, and the native peoples of the North will join their Southern neighbors in a way of life that offers much less hope and much less beauty than the life they had before they became “civilized”.

For just a moment today I got to see a small group of these people forget what was done to them and cherish their traditions. Tomorrow they will go back to work at the Casino, or the liquor store, or the WalMart, or any of the other blessings which the white man has been so generous to provide. But for just one beautiful moment today…they danced.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Amarillo to Santa Fe

The next morning came rather early, as the trucker who shared our discreet location as a good place to spend the night, fired up his diesel at 3am and prepared to hit the road. We drifted in and out of sleep until first light and then prepared to hit the road ourselves. As we were now into the much less dramatic scenery of Western Arkansas, and headed toward the rolling hills and plains of Oklahoma and finally the doldrums of the Texas Panhandle, we decided to take a little detour side trip and visit “POP’s” on old Route 66 in Arcadia, OK. As we left Interstate 40 and approached old HWY 66, a police car came screaming down the two lane highway. With lights flashing and siren blaring, we assumed that some dire emergency was taking place. Following not far behind the police car was a lone Hearse. Surprised by this I tried to imagine a scenario in which a dead man needed a high speed police escort to get anywhere in such a hurry. Perhaps he was late for his own funeral, or maybe he was just dying to get buried? Anyway I pulled to the side as they screamed on by and into the distance without further explanation or even so much as a fine how do you do.

Shortly thereafter we were greeted by the 66ft tall soda bottle in the driveway of Pop’s, a large gas station/drive-in and soon found ourselves immersed in an odd blend of a nostalgic 50’s roadside soda fountain and a modernistic designer soda shop.

The old gas pumps have been replaced by state of the art, and somewhat art deco pumps, and the soda fountain boasts a dazzling array of craft brewed sodas from around the world. The glass walled building is completely lined with a huge array of colorful soda bottles that reflect the light and create an almost soda pop cathedral like feel to the building. Needing some lunch and deciding to kill two birds with our stop, I chose a Portobello Mushroom Turkey Burger from the totally non-traditional diner menu, while Kate indulged in a huge Chicken Melt sandwich. Both were complemented by soda fountain milkshakes made with the old fashioned boat motor style milkshake machines.

Unable to resist the lure of such soda pop label icons like Moxie, and the old Doctor Pepper bottles with the 10-2-4 motto (remember that?) still emblazoned on them, I staggered happily away with a six pack of assorted unhealthy and decidedly decadent sodas with such titles as Parrot Punch, Route 66 Root Beer and Flat Head Lake Cherry Cola. Feeling totally bloated and totally guilty for our indulgence, we waddled back onto HWY 66 until it merged back onto the much more modern and urban HWY 40 and headed east for Amarillo, TX.

Having called ahead to assure ourselves of a “camping” spot at the Walmart in Amarillo, we pulled in with confidence to the store. We were quickly greeted by a security officer who asked us if we were planning to spend the night. Briefly taken aback by the reception, we answered yes and that we had called ahead to make sure it was acceptable. He quickly assured us it was no problem and simply wanted to point out the areas of the parking lot where we were welcome. He then added that there would be security on site all evening and to let them know if there was anything we needed. Now that’s a Texas welcome! We were joined in the lot by a diverse group of fellow vagabonds, some in six-figure motorhomes, some in rag-tag trailers, and some in beat-up old vans with newspapers stretched across the windows to keep out the parking lots bright lights. It was obvious that other than the folks in the motorhomes, this was the only place to spend the night for some of these people and that this recession/depression was far from over. We spent yet another surprisingly quiet night there and rose early to begin the last leg of our journey.

If you have followed our blog, you know that we have spent quite a bit of time in Texas, a State so large that when you drive across it you usually have no choice but to spend quite a bit of time in it. As it is such a large place, the diversity of the landscape there can be amazing, the hill country, the modern and hip city of Austin, the Riverwalk in San Antonio, the Gulf Coast, Big Bend, and the list goes on and on. But for the most part, the large parts of Texas across which the Interstate Highways run is miles and miles of nothing, and the sooner you get through it the better. Having driven back and forth across the state more times than we like to count in the last year, we were pleased to cross it at the Panhandle, which blessedly is the narrowest part. What’s weird is, and I am not quite sure how or why Texas ended up with this appendage sticking up like a giant middle finger between Oklahoma and New Mexico, but as you leave the rolling hills of Oklahoma, and before you reach the colorful wind blown plateaus of New Mexico, you have to traverse the completely flat and nearly featureless prairies of the Texas Panhandle. It’s almost as if when they handed out the land, the early mapmakers took a look at the Panhandle and said “OK, this part sucks, we will give it to Texas”. Don’t get me wrong, if you look hard enough there is some scenic beauty, like the Palo Duro Canyon just outside of Amarillo. Texans boast (as Texans are known to do) that the Palo Duro is the “second largest canyon in the U.S”. This is a boast they fail to temper by telling you that means in overall size, not depth or length, and that the 120 mile long and 800 ft. deep canyon has a bit of a ways to go to reach the 277 mile length and 6,000 ft. depth of the Grand Canyon. Nonetheless, it is a thing of beauty in a land of flat plains, but you have to drive a considerable distance off the Interstate to find it, and we were just happy to see the “Welcome to New Mexico” sign in our windshield and the “Welcome to Texas” sign in our rear view mirror.

Within hours we were approaching Santa Fe, and were welcomed by the brilliant blue sky and brisk cold temperatures. Santa Fe is a gem in the desert, and the “City Different” as it is known is not only one of the oldest in the country but one of the quirkiest as well. We look forward to enjoying it for a bit.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the road again!

Once again I am sorry for the long absence, but after spending the last seven months doing very hard, but very rewarding hands on construction work and consultation on the eco-friendly restoration of a historically significant 214 year old Ferry House on the Eastern Shore of Old Virginia (that’s another story that shall be told!), Kate and I are on the road again.

After saying our fond goodbyes to the wonderful family who had adopted us while working on the house, we hooked up Doris Mae and hit the road. The first thing you do when you leave the Eastern Shore is cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a spectacular feat of engineering that spans the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and connects Delmarva Peninsula with the mainland of Virginia. The brisk wind, which can be fairly incessant across the bay, was whipping the water into whitecaps, and the seagulls were gliding seemingly magically motionless at the edges of the bridge railings as they caught the updrafts from the boiling sea. It was a fitting farewell to our home of seven months.

Our destination on this trip is Santa Fe, NM where we will meet up with some friends to establish a new base of operations for the time being and hole up for the winter. We realize that spending the winter at 7500 ft is probably not the warmest place to be, but Santa Fe is gloriously sunny and spiritually uplifting, and just like the batteries in our solar system we will use the sun and the energy to recharge ourselves.

Departing somewhat from our usual methods of travel, this trip we are simply trying to make good time. Because many of the parks and campgrounds that we normally inhabit are closed for the season we decided to try an old RVer’s trick and spend the night in the parking lots of various big box stores that are willing to accommodate us travelers. The two main choices are Walmart and Cracker Barrel. Not being big fans of Walmart we thought we would give the Cracker Barrels a try. Arriving in Asheville, NC on our first night out, we found the local Cracker Barrel, and much to our surprise in this economy the place was packed. We headed down the road a few miles and found the nearest Walmart and realized that their vast parking lot was a far better choice. Exercising proper etiquette, I checked in with the young man and young lady at the customer service counter to make sure that this location allowed overnight stays. With a thick southern drawl they both assured me that we were more than welcome, and the young man actually apologized for not having the RV hookups that he had heard some of the Walmarts were equipped with! Being as we are, solar powered and fully self contained, I assured him that that was not a problem and thanked them for their gracious Southern hospitality.

After 10 hours on the road we were ready for a couple of beers, and a nearby sports bar within walking distance provided just the ticket. After a few relaxing beers, we soon settled down for the night under the harsh glow of the sodium vapor lights rather than the warm glow of the moon we were used to. Tired as we were, we quickly fell asleep and other than a few late night shoppers who had obviously had a few more beers than we, spent a quiet evening there

Hitting the road early the next morning under a light blanket of fog, we streamed through the limestone bluffs of North Carolina and the rolling hills of eastern Tennessee toward our day’s destination just outside of Little Rock. Much to our surprise in the home state of Walmart a large sign with “No Overnight RV Parking” greeted us at the first two Walmarts we came to. Running out of options and daylight, we found a small Mexican restaurant full of surprisingly beautiful brightly colored hand carved tables and chairs, and sitting next to a huge but finely dressed and well mannered extended Mexican family, we enjoyed a quick meal while we pondered our options. Having spent more than a few nights in some interesting but unorthodox locations, we soon found a deserted side street just around the corner from the restaurant, and feeling pretty comfortable that there were no local police to roust us in the night, we settled down for another quiet evening under the street lamps. I soon discovered that in addition to the free nights lodging, we also had free wireless internet courtesy of the nearby medical clinic as well. Free internet, free camping, all we needed was a free breakfast and this is as good as life gets! Thinking that if we wandered in to the nearby Day's Inn and just acted liked we stayed there our free breakfast could be within reach we quickly drifted off asleep and dreamed of our next day’s adventures.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The End of the World As We Know It


I apologize for being so quiet the last month or so, but as the events in the Gulf of Mexico have unfolded I have found myself not only broken hearted but speechless as well. As the amount of oil that scientists estimate is spilling into the Gulf continues to grow larger, and the time it will take BP to stop it grows longer, the gut wrenching pictures of seabirds and turtles covered in oil have made me feel that perhaps everything we have been trying to do on our journey across America has been for naught.

With today’s revised estimate of the spillage now up to 60,000 barrels a day, it is possible that well over 100 million gallons of oil have already poured into the Gulf and the end is nowhere in sight. BP has said that they will soon be able to capture up to 28,000 barrels of oil per day, that is still less than half of the current estimate, but over 5 times as much oil as BP has admitted is destroying these precious waters. Barring some kind of miracle, or perhaps the use of nuclear weapons, oil will continue to flow until at least late August, and at the current rate at least 300, maybe 400 million gallons or more will soon be mixed with the clear blue waters in the Gulf and things there will never, ever be the same.

Whether you believe in Peak Oil (for more info click here) or not, there is virtually no one on this planet that doesn’t understand that sooner or later we will begin to run out of oil, and long before that day we will begin to run short of oil. While very few seem willing to admit it to themselves or say it out loud, the fact that we are drilling for oil over a mile beneath the sea, and over three miles below that to reach the oil, and stripping the forests of Canada bare to expose the oil sands so that we may continue our unsustainable and unjustifiable use of this finite resource shows just how desperate we already are.

The oil we squeeze from the sands requires more energy to produce than it generates. This is like putting $1.00 into your bank account and getting $.75 back. Not only would that be foolish, sooner or later you would run out of money. Many of the offshore wells like Deepwater Horizon will eventually produce oil that is much more expensive than the current price of oil will support. The oil companies know this, but they also know that sooner or later, the price of oil will rise to meet the dynamics of supply and demand and they are simply hedging their bets by drilling these wells in advance with the profits from some of the easy money wells around the world.

The worst part of all this is that our entire way of life, and all of our economies the world over, have since the first commercial oil well was drilled in 1859, become completely dependant on oil. Nearly everything we use as a modern society, from the obvious like the cars we drive and the gas and electricity that heats and lights our homes, to the less obvious like clothing, paints, medicines, cosmetics (for an astounding and more complete list click here ) is made from oil. More importantly nearly our entire food supply is dependent on the use of petrochemicals in every phase of its production from seed to market. In fact, the overpopulation of our planet today, is a direct result of the availability of cheap oil and resulting abundance of food that can then be transported over large distances. Just think about it, in 1859 a mere 150 years ago, virtually nothing on this planet was made from petroleum based oil. There was a large industry in whale oil, but the number of products made from that oil was relatively small, and by 1859, the world’s whale population was already declining from the uncontrolled slaughter of these magnificent creatures for commercial use. “Peak Whale” was reached in the mid-19th century, and just like Peak Oil, it eventually spelled the end of the industry. But we are talking about a time when the worldwide population was fairly stable at about 750 million souls. With the advent of chemical fertilizers and other dramatic changes made possible by the discovery of petroleum, the world’s population has skyrocketed to over 6.5 Billion in that same 150 years,

Can we sustain our current population without petroleum? The answer is a resounding NO and the evidence suggests that with the end of cheap oil, the population of this planet will again need to be reduced to the more sustainable number of 750 million or less (for more info click here). That means that unless we do something to change it, in the not too distant future whether through famine, war, or other manmade and natural disasters, about 6 billion of us will eventually be weeded out. This will be nature’s way of resetting the clock and dealing with an unsustainable population caused by the unsustainable availability of cheap oil. I believe it can happen to humans, it happens to other animal species all the time when they become overpopulated. The only thing that has both saved and doomed us so far is the readily available supply of oil.

While every prophet, cult or religion that has ever predicted the “end of the world” have so far been wrong, I believe with certainty that what we are seeing now, and what we will be experiencing in the decades to come truly is “the end of the world as we know it”. That it would seem is not that hard to predict. Drilling deeper and deeper and turning the sands beneath our forests into garbage bags and lipstick will only prolong the agony. Unless we develop, and develop rather quickly new ways or rediscover old ways to do almost everything we do, we will eventually run out of both oil and time. The “tipping point” is coming. The prospect of the Gulf oil spill affecting not only the Gulf, but the global food chain and weather patterns is very real and we won’t know what has happened until the damage is done and it is already too late. This is the wake up call that we cannot afford to ignore, and yet I fear that most of us will simply roll over and hit the snooze button.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Racing into the Future

This is a very thoughtful and well done video from an unlikely source! Leilani M√ľnter is a professional race car driver and environmental activist. She holds a bachelors degree in Biology specializing in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution from the University of California San Diego. Leilani adopts an acre of rainforest for every race she runs and is a long time vegetarian and eco activist.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Nature’s Head Composting Toilet

Throughout our travels and from our website and blog, one of the most frequently asked questions is “How is your composting toilet working?” So by popular demand here is an update on the toilet!

It seems like the very thought of a composting toilet is both intriguing and intimidating to most people. All of us are used to the flush and go toilets (or is it go and flush?) we have used all of our lives and really don’t think that much about it. However with the increasing awareness that the availability of clean water (already an issue in many parts of the world), is going to become a global issue, and that the wisdom of using fresh clean drinking water to flush our waste seems doubtful, more and more people are becoming open to the idea of composting toilets.

For us and for all self-contained mobile travelers, there is also the issue of disposing of the nasty mixture that spews forth from the infamous “black tank”. As any one who has lived in RV or trailer will tell you, this is certainly one of the least enjoyable parts of the experience. While the Nature’s Head composting toilet is not without maintenance, it does a pretty nice job of separating the liquid and solid wastes, thereby making the job of maintenance and disposal much less disagreeable. Combined with the fact that you can feel good about conserving precious water resources, the upside of using a composting toilet far outweighs any discomfort you might have about dealing with your waste in a little more hands-on manner!

The first question most people ask is “does it smell?” The answer is definitely “No” Not only does it not smell (there is a slight but not unpleasant earthy odor when we add new peat moss), but there is a complete lack of the usual chemical odors associated with the conventional RV toilet much like you would find in an airplane toilet.

People also want to know we handle the waste. First of all, there are several different types of composting toilets. Some use heat to remove the liquid waste from the solid waste. This requires not only additional electrical energy, but also a larger tank as well as longer composting times. The Nature’s Head toilet cleverly separates the liquids from the solids, making the disposal of liquid waste as easy as emptying the tank, and the overall size of the toilet much more suitable for smaller living spaces like an RV or cabin. Both types of toilets have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the application. If you are considering a composting toilet for your home as opposed to an RV, boat, or cabin, I would look into some of the units designed for that application as the Nature’s Head is best suited to those other situations.

As for what we do with the waste, this depends on how much we are using it, and where we are. While traveling and using the toilet full time, the liquid waste needs to be emptied every three to four days. This is usually done in a pit toilet if we are at a campground. If we are boondocking, I do not have a problem with emptying the liquid waste directly into the woods. Just like the wildlife that lives there does, the liquid waste is natural and biodegradable. It is only when it is mixed with solid waste as in a conventional RV toilet that it becomes toxic. To insure that it is filtered by nature, we do not empty it near any bodies of water. If we are camped in the city, it goes down a conventional toilet, but this requires only one flush for three or four days of liquid waste giving the old adage “if it’s yellow let it mellow” a whole new time frame!

The solid waste is a little more complicated, but still way less annoying and toxic than having to empty the foul mixture that comes out of the conventional RV black tank. The Nature’s Head toilet works by composting the solid waste in a small tank containing peat moss. The peat moss acts as a medium to begin and maintain the composting action. There is a small handle that is used to stir the tank after each use. This stirring aerates the mixture, accelerates the composting and keeps it from becoming too dense. In addition there is a small fan that operates on the 12V system of the RV (ours is solar powered), and helps keep the mixture dry and odor free. When it is time to empty the toilet and renew the peat moss, it is a simple matter of removing the tank, dumping the compost, and adding new peat moss to start the process over again. As with the liquid waste if we are camping, the compost is easily disposed of down a pit toilet where it will rapidly finish decaying. In the woods, digging a small hole away from any water and covering it with dirt will do the job. And in the city, unless you are staying at a place where you can add it to someone’s non-vegetable compost pile, it usually ends up in the landfill where it will quickly and safely finish the process of decay.

As I said, becoming a little bit more involved with our waste is not something everyone may be comfortable with, but when you think about it, we should be! Just like everything else we do, from our electrical use, our water consumption, and our use of petrochemical products, all these things have an impact on our planet, and the more we understand, evaluate and reduce that impact, the better off we will all be.

For more info on the Nature’s Head Composting Toilet, visit their website at:
Nature's Head Composting Toilets

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Captain Ed’s Eco-Tour

While we were in Apalachicola, I met up with Captain Ed Daniel who operates a small tour operation out of the Scipio Creek Marina that he calls the “Eco-Explorer” and he was kind enough to invite me on his boat for an afternoon cruise. Captain Ed is not only an expert on the history of the area, he knows the swamps like the back of his hand, and gives an excellent non-stop narrative as he takes you first along the towns old waterfront, out to the mouth of the harbor, up the Apalachicola River and finally into the swamp and marsh areas nearby. For over two hours Captain Ed treated us to dolphins as they played in the waters at the mouth of the bay, the nesting places of a number of birds, and my personal favorite two huge alligators nestled in the reeds and basking in the sun by the side of the channel.

In the process, he gave us a detailed account of the area from the viewpoint of a man who clearly loves nature. The history of this river and the massive wetlands it supports is full of the misguided efforts of man to change it. In nearby Tate’s Hell National Forest, (named for an early settler who was lost there for ten days before stumbling out and exclaiming “I’ve just been through hell” just before he died), the loggers who had cut down all the Cypress trees which grow well in a swamp were left with just a swamp. Their disastrous attempts to drain it so that they could cultivate the faster growing Pine trees included building miles and miles of drainage ditches that today continue to hamper the efforts of naturalist to restore the swamp to its original state. In the middle of the swamp, Captain Ed pointed out a “cut” between two channels that some lazy fisherman had made a number of years earlier so that they could pull their boat between the channels. Although the channels run side by side only a few yards apart, they are at slightly different levels, and to this day, water flows from the higher channel into the lower one, disrupting the natural flow. A little deeper in the swamp we came across a couple of “hunting camps” that consisted of small floating barges with a shanty shack perched upon them. While not technically illegal, these hunting shacks push the limits in this protected area and local conservationists are pushing hard for their removal.

Captain Ed is not really an “environmentalist” in the traditional sense of the word, but more of a conservationist. Like many who have spent their lives on the water, his concern for the environment comes from his understanding that to continue to enjoy this natural beauty, we must protect it. I can only imagine his horror as the oil from this spill approaches. Having met Captain Ed, and the wonderful people of Apalach makes this disaster even more personal for me, and I wish them and all the residents of the Gulf Coast my best. If you find yourself in Apalachicola, look Captain Ed up and take one of his Eco-Tours, you will truly enjoy it.

For more info visit Captain Ed's website at:
www.ecoexplorercruises.com

For more photos of the Forgotten Coast visit our website at:
www.ecodiscoverytour.com

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Apalachicola

Apalachicola, or “Apalach” as the locals call it, lies at the end of the Apalachicola River where it gently meets the Gulf of Mexico. Although visited for hundreds of years by the Spanish and other explorers, the area was sparsely populated. Founded in 1831, the town was established to receive the huge shipments of cotton that would come down the river by barge and then be loaded on ships that would take this valuable cargo to points around the world. By the 1850’s, the town was bustling with activity, and three story brick warehouses lined the waterfront. The town continued to prosper, and was able to survive the Civil War when Federal troops blockaded the harbor to prevent the South from shipping out one of its few precious revenue producing crops and receiving goods from the British in exchange. However, with the advent of the railroad the business of shipping cotton by barge began to decline, and by the late 1800’s had all but disappeared.

Luckily for the town, but later on disastrous to the environment, the logging barons of the Northeast, having depleted the great forests of the North, then turned their eyes on the huge Cypress forests that graced the land. The town reinvented itself, and the cotton warehouses gave way to lumber mills, and soon the lumber barons were building the magnificent Victorian homes that still give this town its Southern charm and beauty. Logging continued for many years, but all too soon, the slow growing Cypress were also depleted, and the logging business moved on to plunder the newly opened virgin forests of the West.

Once again the town was struggling to survive, but by the end of the 19th century, the harvesting of seafood had rebuilt the waterfront with processing houses and the burgeoning oyster business brought much needed revenue to the area. The county now harvests more than 90% of Florida’s oysters, and about 10% of all the oysters consumed in the U.S. Known for their mild briny flavor, they are favored by chefs around the country. Shrimp, blue crab, and a variety of fish are also caught and processed here.

Today, the town retains the flavor of a small fishing village, and is still pretty sleepy for a tourist town. The people who come here come for the local flavor, not for the miniature golf courses, shopping malls, and big chain restaurants, as they are nowhere to be found. The wide tree-lined streets and the meticulously maintained homes reflect the pride and the spirit of the people who live here. Many of the old buildings have been preserved and the downtown is an eclectic blend of unassuming shops and unique restaurants where the chefs sometimes wander from their kitchen to the neighbors to get a taste what’s going on over there.

Despite all the challenges, the town is determined to stay alive no matter what gets thrown at it. When we were there however, the relentless volcano of oil that is now gushing from the sea floor hundreds of miles away was just another oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and the name Deepwater Horizon had not yet spelled potential disaster. The last two hurricanes that came through here did a lot of damage, and there are still dozens of boarded up buildings and abandoned piers along the water. One gets the sense that it wouldn’t take much more to push this area over the edge and make another recovery damn near impossible, but these people are tough and resilient. Let’s just hope the chorus “Drill Baby Drill” is not their final swan song.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Forgotten Coast

After we left Texas, we decided to head back along the Gulf Coast and spend a little time relaxing along Florida’s Gulf Coast. With the recent oil spill disaster that is unfolding there, we are not only glad we did, but also painfully aware of the potential for massive ecological damage to an area that has already seen more than its share of both manmade and natural disasters. The Gulf Coast is already an enigma of pristine eco-systems and manmade trash. The oil industry is everywhere, and the sights and smells of its business are strewn across the land. The fishing industry, that has more to lose than anyone, has also made its footprint visible here. While virtually all of the small private fishermen cherish the waters from which they draw their livelihood, many of the larger commercial operations have poorly maintained facilities that can be an eyesore along the waters.

While we were there however, before the foul stench of crude oil and the heartbreaking sight of dead and dying birds, fish, and other wildlife began to become an almost inevitable certainty, the Gulf Coast was basking in the beautiful spring sun and the glistening white sand beaches were nearly devoid of the tourists that would soon come to enjoy the fine weather. But even then, before the spill, everywhere we went the double whammy of back to back hurricanes combined with an economy that has been pummeled not only by nature but by the winds of change in America, has left empty shells of businesses, vacation and retirement homes, and shattered dreams scattered along the coast like so many broken seashells.

As we left the populated areas around New Orleans and headed east along the coast, we decided to visit an area that has been dubbed “The Forgotten Coast”. Legend has it that the nickname came about as a result of a tourism brochure printed many years ago that extolled the virtues of Florida but completely neglected to mention this area that stretches for over a hundred miles from Panama City to just south of Tallahassee. With miles of sugar sand beaches, barrier islands, wildlife refuges, marshes, swamps, and teeming with wildlife, this area should probably consider itself lucky to have been forgotten. While there is certainly plenty of development, the economy managed to bring most of it to a screeching halt before the endless rows of condos and beachfront developments that plague much of the rest of Florida’s coast could completely envelope the area. This has left an area that with the exception of a few pockets where the ubiquitous beachwear and t-shirt shops, factory outlet stores, and scooter rentals have managed to take hold is still fairly quiet and holds a few treasures like the little town of Apalachicola, that we made the center of our visit there. Over the next few days, we would learn more about the people, the history, and the future of this paradise teetering at the tipping point.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spill Baby Spill

Having recently spent several weeks along the Gulf Coast stretching from New Orleans and through Pensacola, and then along the “Forgotten Coast” of the Florida Panhandle near Apalachicola, we are acutely aware of not only the natural beauty of the area, but also the fragile nature of the ecosystems there. Already damaged by the cumulative effects of mankind and the back to back damage from a series of devastating hurricanes, this area is now faced with a challenge beyond our imagination. Having experienced first hand the effects of an oil spill in an area not nearly as fragile or teeming with wildlife, I can only imagine what the long-term effects of this disaster are going to be.

With that said, I want to apologize for this disaster because it is entirely my fault. Yes, BP and Transocean are responsible for the failure of the equipment, and yes, our Government is responsible for the failure to regulate those responsible for the equipment, but in the end I am responsible for my insatiable appetite for oil that caused all this to begin with. I am not a big oil user by any means, so even more responsible, and soon to be crying for help are the fishing fleets that rely on big diesel motors to ply the waters and harvest the fish that will soon be dying by the millions. The day they stop using oil to power their boats is the day I will feel that they should be compensated for the losses they will suffer from this. The truth is none of us are innocent, and once again I include myself with my solar powered home and all my good intentions in this statement. I still drive a truck, I still have more products than I care to think of that are made from oil and I am still a major part of the problem.

So we can cry, and we can point fingers, but in the end there is only one culprit. You, me, and the horse (power) we rode in on. I don’t care how “green" you tell me you are, and I spend a great deal of time telling others how “green” I am. MEA CULPA. I am guilty, you are guilty, and now we will collectively pay the price. The government has said that BP will be responsible for all the costs associated with this spill. I know the birds and fish and turtles and all the other wildlife that teems along these shores are looking forward to receiving their first check from them.

I am not an oil spill expert, but I am smart enough to read between the lines of what our government and the scientists are telling us to realize that this is a disaster of epic proportions, and one that will hasten the tipping point for total global ecological disaster by a magnitude that will not be understood for years or even generations to come. President Obama, bowing to pressure from the Republicans, and desperate to find any other solution to our addiction to oil than actually kicking the habit recently proposed (much to my absolute shock and horror) an increase in offshore drilling to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

There is only one dependence that can be reduced that will help in the end, and that is the dependence on oil and a high carbon footprint lifestyle. Drill Baby Drill only invites Spill Baby Spill, no matter who is in charge. Developing carbon free, renewable sources of energy on a scale equal to or surpassing the nuclear arms or race to the moon may be the only answer that will actually produce any results. So from the car we drive, to the lights in our house, to the plastic bags for our groceries, and a thousand other products we use everyday that we don’t even know are made from oil, like our food, we must all change our ways.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Texas Wildlife & Wildflowers

Texas is well known for its wildlife, from the Coyote Ugly bars in San Antonio, to the beaches on the Gulf Coast, but from the moment we arrived in Texas, we realized that the wildlife here, in the form of birds, deer, turtles, turkeys, wild pigs, and even a panther or cougar of some sort that I saw and nobody could seem to identify, is abundant everywhere. From a maddening good hour before you wanted to wake up, the birds sang a cacophony of tunes that dazzled the senses. At the same time, some of them were predictable, and began each day with the same tune at the same time and led us to wonder, was it the same bird? At any rate, wherever you turned in Texas, there was wildlife in abundance.

One day I came across a group of wild sow pigs that were nurturing their suckling piglets. There were only perhaps a half dozen mamas or so, but there were easily 50 or more tiny piglets traveling aside, “How cute” I said as we drove by them. “Not really” my Texas companion replied. “These pigs are not indigenous to the area, and those 50 piglets will become 400 pigs within a year, and will eat everything in sight, causing huge environmental problem. There is an open season on hunting pigs year round, and hopefully, the landowner here will realize that they have a problem and come down and slaughter as many of these pigs as they possibly can.”

I love animals, and the thought of destroying them really bothers me, but man has created a situation where it is very easy for some of these life forms to get out of control. This includes deer, pigs, and turtles among others, and it breaks my heart to think of having to slaughter them, but we have upset the natural balance, and it seems that all the king’s horses and all the king's men will not make it natural again.

And then there are the wildflowers. Although we left Texas just as the wildflower season was going into full bloom, the flowers here are amazing. Everywhere you go the fields and roadsides are alive with color.

So there were snakes on the road, birds in the trees, deer in the bush, turtles in the ponds, pigs on the run, big cats in the bush, and wildflowers everywhere. Texas is blessed with a plethora of wildlife, but it also has a responsibility to it as well, and I think and hope that they will take it seriously.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

SMUD

The particular part of Texas that we found ourselves has an interesting type of soil to say the least. After a few weeks on the ranch, I nicknamed this glutinous substance SMUD. Somewhere between sand and mud, this stuff will suck you in, chew you up, and infiltrate every part of your vehicle and every other available pore and orifice that you can imagine.

Not long after our arrival, one of the guests managed to ignore the warnings to keep the golf carts that were available to them “on the roads at all times”. The reason for this warning is that the SMUD, quickly engulfed the poor little cart and proceeded to swallow it whole. By the time I arrived, the guest (clutching what appeared to be a cocktail) had already fled in horror, and the golf cart was quickly disappearing below the surface. No problem I thought as I headed over with my ¾ Ton Chevy pickup that in addition to pulling the Airstream is also fully capable of pulling a 100 foot tall Douglas Fir out of the ground by the roots .

As I drove ever so slightly off the road to attempt a retrieval, I suddenly felt the truck begin to sink faster than George Bush’s approval ratings. This cannot be happening I thought as I continued to sink further. In just moments, I was up to my axles in SMUD and hopelessly stuck. As the sun was already beginning to sink, much like I was, I decided to come back the next day before attempting to rescue my vehicle, hoping perhaps that tiny Texas gnomes would be kind enough to dig it out during the night. Much to my chagrin, there it was the next morning, still buried to the axles, and still going nowhere. Now I have been stuck in the mud before, but this SMUD is not like anything I have ever seen this far from the beach. I once watched a full-size pickup sink beneath the sand completely on the Oregon Coast, and for awhile, I was afraid that would be my fate as well. Pretty soon though, a few good souls but especially my friend Armando pitched in to help me out, and through a combination of manpower and horsepower, finally managed to free me from what I can only describe as quicksand.

Just a word of advice should you ever find yourself in the middle of Texas surrounded by SMUD. Stay “on the roads at all times”!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Armando

One of the true pleasures of our stay in Texas was the opportunity to work with Armando. Armando was the lead ranch hand, and an indispensible part of the operations. Always there, always smiling, and always ready to do whatever it took to get the job done, Armando is the kind of guy you want on your team and easily did the work of two less dedicated people.

I am an early riser, but everyday when I showed up at the barn to get things started, Armando was already there and already working. God only knows what time he got started, and he was usually still working when I called it quits from shear exhaustion.

When my truck got stuck in the quicksand that they call dirt here, Armando jumped in with a shovel and helped me dig it out by hand. When a few of the cattle got loose on the road, Armando showed me how to use a combination of food to bribe them and brains to fool them into heading back into the pasture. And when we got ready to leave, Armando showed me that between his somewhat limited English, and my very limited Spanish, we had built a bond that I will always remember.

So here’s to Armando..Via con dios Amigo!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Get along little doggie!

One day the ranch owner called and suggested I “go along” on a “calf tagging" expedition. The new crop of young cattle had just been born, and in preparation for eventually selling off these cattle so the land can be returned to a more natural state, all the young calves would need to be tagged. This of course is something which I knew only enough about to be pretty sure I don’t want to be involved, but what the hell, I grabbed a pair of gloves and met Paul out in the field. Paul smiled heartily as I told him that Carol suggested I “watch” them tag some calves. “Watch!” he laughed, “ain’t no such thing as watching!”.

This turned out to be true, and I soon found myself knee deep in mud and cow shit and watching in amusement as grown men tried to throw ropes around the necks of the baby calves. Much like archery, I didn’t have a lot of experience at calf roping, so I quickly decided that I would just grab one of the suckers. I was almost instantly successful, and in one of those “be careful what you wish for” moments soon found myself with a “small” calf that probably weighed a hundred pounds and was at least as strong as I was nestled in my arms. Needless to say, the calf was not overly happy about this, and I quickly found out that his thousand pound mama wasn’t either. Snorting and bellowing at me to let go of her calf, I found out that the best defense against an angry cow is a cowboy hat. Unfortunately I had left my cowboy hat, along with my cowboy boots and chaps back where I never owned them, and was grateful when Paul came to my rescue and chased mom off. We got that first calf tagged in short order and emboldened with my success, I soon grabbed another and another. While the Texans were having little success with their ropes, when all was said and done, three out of the four calves we were able to tag that day succumbed to my clumsy but successful technique. Final score JB 3….Cowboys 1!

On the other hand, one of the things I did enjoy was riding a horse, and whenever possible I tried to tag along on the morning horseback ride. These weren’t just horses, these were Paso Finos, and a more enjoyable, easy gait ride cannot be had. The 650 acres held a load of visual treasures in the early morning light, and I never grew tired of seeing the oaks or the cedars, the ponds and the turtles, or the other farm animals out for their morning stroll.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On the Job Training

As part of the work we had agreed to do on the ranch, I became involved in some of the guest and day to day ranch activities. This led to some amusing involvement in things of which I had little or absolutely no knowledge. I keep a quote on my computer that says “I am very experienced at doing that that I have never done before”. Never before in my life has this been so true. It started out with little things, like when a guest requested a one hour “Archery Session with Instructor” that was offered on the website. As there was no instructor on staff, and the only one available was me, I quickly became the staff archery expert. As luck would have it, when I was a kid my next door neighbor and constant torturer David was an expert with the bow and arrow. Try as he might, like so many skills that I tried to acquire when I was young (baseball, roller skating, wrestling, etc.), I completely sucked at it. However, what I have learned is that 40 years later, much of the knowledge that I tried to absorb at that time but that my adolescent body was simply unable to use effectively, has lay hidden under the surface just waiting to surface. Apparently this is much like the pimples that at 56 ears of age one would think you are done with, but which still seem to erupt from time to time.

Anyway, as I nocked the first arrow in the bow and prepared to take a shot, all the while pretending that I knew what I was doing, the kids I was teaching watched in awe. Pulling back the bow I let the arrow fly and much to my surprise and their amazement, nailed a bull’s-eye on the first shot. OH WOW, they exclaimed! HOLY SHIT, I thought silently to myself while outwardly pretending that this is something I do everyday. “OK, now you try” I said, breathing a huge sigh of relief that I was now completely off the hook, and wouldn’t be required to prove myself again. From now on, anything I said was the gospel, and they just ate it up.

My next challenge turned out to be trap shooting. Once again I had never even tried this sport before I was required to be an expert at it, but being an excellent shot with a pistol and a rifle, I though “how hard can this be”. What I found out is that hitting a target that is moving across your field of vision at the speed of light with a load of tiny pellets is something like merging onto an LA freeway from an on ramp while towing a truck and Airstream that are over 40 ft. long and don’t exactly accelerate like a Ferrari. Something I do have experience with. It’s possible but not easy, and you may spoil a perfectly good pair of underwear in the process. Shotguns are a loud and messy affair compared to the guns I am used to and firing one is a rude awakening. Fire shoots from the muzzle and the stock slams into your shoulder with a force that is quite surprising. But once again, just like Leonardo Di Caprio in “Catch Me if You Can”, half of looking like you know what you are doing is successfully pretending you know what you are doing. Pretty soon terms like “lead the target” and “try and nail it before it reaches the tree line” that I had heard from Paul (a real expert) where rolling off my tongue. Before long my “students” where hitting clays like experts and all this from someone who has yet to fire a single shot at an actual target. Later I received a nice “thank you” note and a tip from one of the parties whose teenage kids I had “taught” to shoot. Will the wonders never cease!

Oddly enough, fishing was the last thing I had to look good at, and this is something I do know how to do. However having grown up a fast water trout fisherman all my life, fishing for bass and catfish in a pond was decidedly not something I was good at. In spite of that, I did manage to pull of a plausible lesson for some of the guests that day, but they did not catch any fish which is not all that unusual. Several days later when the real fishing instructor was able to show up, his guests caught a total of 15 fish (catch and release), and it was the first time they had ever done it. I was humbled, but oh well, I did pretty good overall, and as they say, two out of three ain’t bad!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Looking for the Heart of a Saturday Night

Most Friday and Saturday nights were spent at Carol’s restaurant. Not only was it the best place to eat for miles around, it was pretty much the only place to eat for miles around. This does not include the Cat Springs Country Club, a converted gas station complete with the old gas pumps that apparently (since I don’t eat them) serves one hell of a good burger, except on Friday’s when they only serve catfish. Surprisingly, no major golf tournament has ever been held here. As a matter of fact there is no golf course, but if you need a warm burger and a cold beer somewhere halfway between Austin and Houston, this is the place.

Anyway, back to Carol’s. Carol, the owner of the ranch/B&B that we were staying and working at, has built a local clientele based on a very un-Texas like menu, a little good wine, and lots of good company. While we soon knew all the usual suspects that would show up on any given weekend, we never got tired of the way they welcomed us into their world.

We soon learned that the always impeccably dressed in his Texas best Poor Ol’ Bob’s wife G. Marie was a world class country music writer and singer who would often entertain us until late at night after most of the regular guests had long departed. We got to know Paul & Robin, close neighbors of Carol’s that loved to drink a little, OK sometimes a lot of wine and laugh and laugh. Paul soon became the natural target for some of my jokes, and was always able to flick it back at me in style. Paul is a giant of a man with a handshake, a smile, and a laugh to match. And who could forget Skeeter, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Skeeter has adopted Carols ranch at Cat Springs as his home, and tirelessly helps Carol with whatever he can in exchange for an extraordinary place to hang his hat and practice his art Then there was Pete. Pete was a character that would show up after a couple of beers at the Country Club for a couple of more at Carol’s and liven up the party. He also has a heart of gold, and one night presented Kate with a beautiful hand-made “Sunday-Go-to-Meeting” walking stick made of Texas Crape Myrtle with a brass head and tip. Kate was stunned and it is just one of the mementos we will carry with us forever.

These are just a few of the wonderful people we would meet, and does not include Carol’s delightful staff. People like Gina who will soon be headed to Ireland to try her hand at acting in a country where she will stand out instead of being just another waitress/actress wanna-be that line the streets of New York and Los Angeles. Or Cindy who proudly showed us the pictures of her beautiful children including her 10 year old daughter who is preparing to break out of small town Texas and leave for Australia on a scholarship program for which Cindy worked her heart out to support her.

As much as they like to wave, most Texans we met also like to laugh. They have an open, no holds barred sense of humor that not only allows them to laugh at the rest of the world, but also at themselves. Not everybody can do this, and it’s one of the things that makes them so endearing. And when they laugh, Texans don’t let out a little guffaw, or a slight chuckle, the Texans we met preferred a great big belly laugh and a smile as big as their heart. While their sense of humor tends toward the more obvious, they seemed to love my sense of humor which tends toward the subtle play on words and the pun. While most of them did not tell that type of joke, they seemed to love them, and it was very rewarding to have a table full of Texans at Carol’s of Cat Springs laughing that big old Texas laugh.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Texas Two-Finger

One of the first things you find out about Texans is that they are friendly. They are very, very friendly and they like to wave at you. In fact, they like to wave at you a lot. At first we thought the maybe it was our Oregon license plates, or the classic Airstream we were pulling, but after we had been there awhile, we realized that they wave at everybody and it’s apparent that different occasions call for different waves.

First, there’s the graceful “Rodeo Queen” wave that you are likely to get from a total stranger sitting on their porch as you drive by. Then there’s the “Howdy Y’all” wave which is much bigger and more enthusiastic and is likely to be given when you pass a group of Texans out for a horseback and Lone Star Beer ride which they are frequently known to participate in. But perhaps my favorite wave, and the one that will damn near wear you out giving it, is what I call the “Texas Two-Finger” wave. This ubiquitous wave is given by most country-dwelling Texans to nearly every truck that passes by. I say truck because I never actually drove a car in Texas, and I’m not sure it has the same status as a truck, but when you are driving a truck, Texans honor you with this wave. It is a subtle little wave compared to the others, and involves clutching the top of the steering wheel and then raising the first two fingers of your right hand in a salute to passing drivers. Maybe it’s because the countryside is so vast out there, and just seeing another human being can be a cause for celebration, or maybe it’s because Texans are just so damned undeniably friendly. Either way it becomes a reflex after a while and something you actually miss when you travel out of state or go to Houston which apparently many Texans would like to believe actually is out of the state.

After three months in Texas this had become such a habit that I absentmindedly did this little wave as we headed east through Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and finally into Florida. In some cases people just glared at me or I got no response at all, while in others I got the famous one-finger salute so well known outside of Texas. I finally had to make myself stop altogether as I was afraid I was drawing the attention from some of the local police. It’s funny how something like a wave can be so much a part of life in one place, and so out of place in another.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Welcome to Cat Spring Texas!

Of all the States we have visited, one of those we least thought we would spend much time in was Texas. We had both “been” to Texas before, and although the people here were always very friendly, neither one of us had seen much here that we thought would bring us back. What we found out is that Texas, like California only even more so, is so big that you haven’t really “been” to Texas until you have traveled thousands of miles through all types of terrain.

We also found that the people here are not only very friendly, they have a ribald sense of humor, love to eat, drink and party together, and make everyone feel at home.

We ended up in Texas for two reasons. One, you kind of have to go through it to get from Louisiana to New Mexico. Two, we had been invited to the tiny town of Cat Spring by the owner of a 650 acre ranch that also operates as a very unique Bed & Breakfast. Scattered across the acreage is a plethora of small cabins, cottages, and farmhouses available for guests. Each one is tastefully done in variety of themes, and guests come here to get a taste of ranch life and away from the big city. The ranch owner who is interested in returning a portion of the ranch to a more natural prairie state, and “greening” up her operations had invited us to visit and discuss a possible consulting position as she moves forward with her project. The opportunity to spend some time on the ranch and discuss the possibilities for the future was very tempting, so after spending the holidays in New Mexico with my family, we headed back to Texas.

The ranch is situated in the bucolic rolling prairie lands that begin at the edge of the Texas Hill Country. Studded with massive live oaks and dotted with ponds, the ranch is currently home to a small herd of cattle, some horses, chickens, peacocks, geese, goats, a pot-bellied pig, dogs and cats, along with a few emu, antelope, bison, a kangaroo, and even a camel. The long-term plan that they are working on is to remove the cattle and restore the pastures to their native prairie grasses and wildflowers. This is a process that is slowly gaining popularity in Texas, a place where cattle are king, and an exciting trend for the future. The ranch owner also wants to establish a wildlife preserve here where some of the native species such as fox and quail can return and flourish.

Sitting halfway between Austin and Houston, Cat Spring is a tiny little town with only one stop sign, a Post Office, a couple of Antique stores, and Carol’s at Cat Spring, an incongruous gourmet restaurant operated by the owner of the ranch. This would become our home and the source of our adventures for the next three months.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Three Rivers New Mexico-Ghosts, Rattlesnakes, Petroglyphs, and Trains!

Our friends and artists Cameron and Pamela Blagg who we visited in Montana (Our Visit to the Blagg's) had told us they would be in New Mexico in December to give Sue Tassinari, their partner at their Art Gallery and Trading Post in the former Ghost Town of Three Rivers, New Mexico a little time off. As we were planning to be at my Mom’s in Albuquerque for Christmas, we figured we could fit a visit in. I love Ghost Towns and the history that surrounds them, so I couldn’t wait to get there.

As we drove past the Trinity Site where the world’s first nuclear bomb was detonated, the desert spread out in front of us for as far as the eye could see. I have always appreciated the stark beauty of the desert, but I’m thinking “not much of a place for an art gallery”! Much to our surprise, in the middle of this desolate landscape, Three Rivers jumped out of the desert and appeared like a shining oasis. This classic stucco New Mexico building with its jutting portico, exposed wood support beams, and bee hive shaped anteroom, just reeks of history. It has been everything from a Biker Bar, Restaurant, Post Office, Trading Post and God knows what else in its lifetime. The Blagg’s bought it in a severely run down condition, and have with the help of Sue and some of the locals, restored it to not only its former glory but a new state of beauty. Complete with an old schoolhouse, the town is a mere shadow of its former self. Once a bustling whistle stop, after the trains no longer stopped here for water, the town dried up and died.

Cameron greeted us with a big smile at the door, and we were soon parked out back with an absolutely stunning view of the snow-capped Sacramento Mountains. As it is winter, the trees that normally make the grounds surrounding the Trading Post green were barren, but from the pictures we had seen, you could tell that in the summer this place was gorgeous in that high desert sort of way.

The Blagg’s had invited us to stay as long as we wanted, which is a huge mistake when you are dealing with a couple of boondocking, Airstreaming, gypsies like us. After over 17.000 miles of traveling, I had some maintenance work to do, so we took them up on it. While we were here, we also wanted to do a little sightseeing, and check out the Three Rivers Petroglyphs Site in particular.

This area is known for its overly large rattlesnakes, but luckily it is too cold for them this time of year, so they were all hibernating. Sue told Kate some pretty good stories of her encounters with them. I like snakes, but prefer the non-venomous kind, and as I was about to spend the next couple of days lying on my back under the trailer, I was not too upset that they were nowhere to be seen.

Our arrival at Three Rivers had nearly doubled the current population here, and along with Cameron and Pamela, actually increased it five-fold from its normal high of one. As Cameron has been debating the installation of a new water system, we wondered if our arrival as terminally unemployed workers might somehow make the water project “shovel ready” and qualify the town for some much needed Obama Bucks! With a 40% unemployment rate (us), a few million bucks would go a long way here, and based on some of the other projects we have seen that have qualified, this would be money well spent.

As we settled in for our first night, we began to hear the trains. They started as faint ghostlike screams out on the desert and then rolled into long lonesome whistles and finally rocketed through the Airstream like an eight ball hammering into the corner pocket. It is a good thing we like trains, because they were frequent, long, and mighty close by. Having lived in a house in Bend for a short time that was so close to the tracks that over the years the framework of the house had actually gotten loose, the house would rock and roll like Elvis before he donned a white cape and got fat. So needless to say we were used to it, and it soon became part of the routine.

At the Three Rivers Petroglyphs site there are over 20,000 Native American Petroglyphs and I drove up to take some photos in the early morning light. As the first rays of the sun played across the rocks, I thought about the people who once lived here and created these works of art. What were their lives like? What inspired them to create these drawings? Was it a desert when they lived here? I later got a chance to chat with Joe Ben Sanders, a friend of Sue’s who is the premier expert on not just the petroglyphs in this area, but the history of all the native peoples and the settlers up through modern times. Joe is a true local, born and raised, and an unassuming gentleman who I never saw without his signature cowboy boots and hat. From his laid back country manner, you might think he drove trucks or raised cattle for a living, but Joe is a trained archeologist and I listened intently as he told me his theories about the Indians who once lived here. Joe has developed a somewhat controversial theory that the modern day Hopi’s are the descendants of these Indians, and bases it on years and years of studying the petroglyphs both here and throughout New Mexico. What most people see is a random scattering of drawings almost like graffiti, from a people who disappeared long ago. What Joe sees are the legends of the Hopi, still handed down today from one generation to the next. His passion for the subject and the area has spawned dozens of books on the subject, some of which are available at the Trading Post. You can see the Petroglyphs at my photo gallery on our website at: ……..

While we were in the area we took in the White Sands National Monument, the old mining town of Ruidoso, and Lincoln City, the hangout of Billy the Kid. We also stumbled across the ironically appropriate “Post Apocalypse Reclamation Center” in the nearly deserted downtown of nearby Carrizozo.

We ended up spending nearly two full weeks at Three Rivers as the Airstream repairs took longer then anticipated, and the hospitality and the ever-changing beauty of the desert were a joy indeed. If you ever find yourself on HWY 54 headed North out of Alamogordo (and who doesn’t!) stop by Three Rivers and say hello to our friend Sue. There is always a pot of coffee on, and as the two bikers who stopped by while we were there had heard, it is the best in New Mexico.

For more photos of the Petroglyphs and New Mexico CLICK HERE to visit our website.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas in Cuba-New Years in Nowhere!

My Sister’s family has a small cabin just north of Albuquerque in Cuba, New Mexico. Despite the fact that I managed to piss most of my family off through some disparaging remarks about Albuquerque after our truck was vandalized there, they invited us to spend Christmas with them anyway. That is the beauty of family, no matter what kind of grief you give them, eventually they always seem to love you anyway.

Snow had fallen the day before we arrived, and although it made it difficult to reach the cabin, it was beautiful. The storm had passed through and left some bitterly cold but strikingly blue skies behind. My sister had arranged for us to stay at a friend’s place just down the road and when we arrived we found a quaint little cabin nestled in the pines and glistening in the snow. Already pretty warm from the solar potential created by the large windows and brick flooring, the woodstove soon had the cabin cooking, and we looked forward to a quiet night in front of the fire.

As we settled in for the night, I thought about Christmas, which is a somewhat confusing time for me. I appreciate in so many ways what some people call the “true meaning of Christmas”. It is a time for family, for friends, for giving and receiving, and for cherishing the gift of life and all the people we know and love. On the other hand I am appalled by the commercialization of Christmas, from the ritual of “Black Friday” to the conspicuous over consumption that it inspires. As we are on the road full time and it is much harder to send or to receive gifts, we have been largely spared from participation this year. Our Spartan lifestyle on the road has also led us to find that what we really don’t need is more “stuff”. But my family managed to shower us lightly with gifts that we could use (food), gifts that we could love, (self-made art and music), and gifts that we could laugh at, then return (the Obama Chia Pet).

Christmas with my family was a joy and a pleasure. New Years spent with just the two of us on the New Mexico desert was a joy and a pleasure as well. Sometimes it is just another day, and sometimes it is full of meaning, but it is always full of life.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Good Planet is Hard to Come By


Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains just outside of Tucson, Biosphere 2 rises from the desert like a gigantic diamond with thousands of jeweled facets gleaming in the sun. However all that glitters is not gold and Biosphere 2 is no exception. Plagued by controversy and labeled by many as a “failure”, this massive experiment has managed to prove that Biosphere 1, our planet, is an incredibly complex system, and that man’s puny efforts to replicate or control it often produce less than the desired result. We recently spent the day there and here is our report.

Funded by wealthy oilman Edward P. Bass, the initial project was designed to study how man might create artificial earthlike sanctuaries in space and on other planets, as well as to learn more about how our planet does what it does so seamlessly, flawlessly and seemingly effortlessly. What looks like a giant greenhouse, is in reality a complex set of systems designed to regulate the water, air and soil that was to be the key to the inhabitants survival. What they learned was that mother nature has spent billions of years, not millions of dollars to perfect her systems, and that there are so many pieces to the puzzle, that missing even the slightest detail like forgetting to seal the concrete which resulted in a gradual loss of oxygen, can be a disaster. But unlike Biosphere 2, where the occupants always had the option to open the doors and step back into Biosphere 1, we have no options when it comes to our survival.

As with any experiment, the outcome is not always certain, that is why you conduct it. So Biosphere 2 is considered by many, as living proof of how resilient life is on this planet, and yet how fragile, surviving only within a narrow band of environmental parameters. If, like the designers of Biosphere 2, we miss a few details about the impact of human activities on the ecosystems, the results may be, just like at Biosphere 2, the shutdown or collapse of those ecosystems.

When the first eight Biospherians were sealed inside the structure in 1991, the whole world was watching, and the problems began almost immediately. Food production was inadequate due in part to unusually cloudy skies caused by El Nino. Plastic used to reinforce the millions of cubic feet of glass reduced the UV radiation reaching the inhabitants resulting in vitamin deficiencies. Cockroaches, brought into the experiment as they were considered important for their ability to breakdown organic materials, began to overrun the place. And the people, both constantly under the microscope from the outside, yet hopelessly trapped with each other inside, began to breakdown as well. Yet remarkably, these eight people stuck it out, and for two years they worked and lived in this sealed goldfish bowl with no inputs from the outside world. The diminishing oxygen finally resulted in new oxygen having to be imported from the outside world, but in all other respects, they lived and breathed and ate and drank from the same materials, recycled endlessly, that they had entered with. When they left, they were all 25 lbs. lighter, their skin tone reflected the lack of natural sunlight, and while relatively healthy, they all looked like hell. I can only imagine the strength it took to tough it out.

By the time the second group of Biospherians entered the structure in 1994, many of the original environmental bugs had been worked out. However six months later the human factor would bring the entire mission crashing to an end, and Biosphere 2 would never again be operated as a sealed environmental test.

Today, time has taken its toll on the habitat within the structure. The various Biomes including the 850 square meter ocean complete with coral reef are in different states of health. The coral reefs, much like our own, have collapsed completely, and the science being conducted is now being changed to help us understand the effects that global warming may have on our ecosystems. The rain forest is slowly being dried out to replicate the effects of drought, and the CO2 levels in some of the other Biomes are being increased to study those effects as well. The University of Arizona now operates the project, and it appears they have saved it, at least in the short-term, from the destruction many thought would occur when a land developer who has plans for a resort hotel and housing development bought the property in 2007.

Stephen Hawking, the brilliant mathematician has said that the survival of the species may depend on our ability to leave this planet at some time in the future. I would argue that why should we waste our time and precious resources trying to find or create a new home on a distant or inhospitable planet, when we have a perfectly good one right here. Biosphere 2 has proved that it is not any easy job to steward a planet. We have a lot of work to do.

For more info and pictures, CLICK HERE to visit our website.

Monday, December 21, 2009

6 months, 17,000 Miles, 32 States, and One Lifetime Later

As 2009 draws to a close, Kate and I find ourselves in the desert of New Mexico taking a bit of a hiatus from our travels. In part because we found that trying to do one of our shows or visits became more difficult as the holidays approached, in part because we wanted a chance to visit with family and friends, and finally because we needed a bit of a break from the rigors of the road.

So what have we learned in 6 months, 32 States, and 17,000 miles of traveling? Well, first of all it has been an incredible journey so far. We have met a multitudinous array of people, and virtually without exception, from North to South and East to West, these people have welcomed us warmly, treated us kindly and opened their hearts and their homes.

Sure, there were a couple of jerks, like the guy who sprayed the side of our vehicle with gravel when he became impatient in a line of cars and did a “burn out” next to us. Or the gal that sat there in front of a gas pump and finished a long cell phone conversation while our Airstream sat sticking our in the road and snarling up traffic. Or the vandals that decided to take a hammer to the side of our vehicle in New Mexico. But these were pretty minor annoyances in comparison to the hundreds of people that toured our Airstream, or the dozens that offered us a place to stay, a warm meal, or a hand with anything we needed. Many of these people were family, many were friends old and new, but many of them were complete strangers, and as we count the days to Christmas we are counting our blessings as well.

We also learned, and hopefully taught many others that you can reduce your footprint on this planet without giving up all the comforts we often take for granted. Yes, you have to make adjustments. Like turning the water on and off as you shower, which saves a remarkable volume and still leaves you feeling fresh and clean. Or how to operate a composting toilet, which although is a bit more work, the feeling you get from NOT flushing down several gallons of fresh drinking water each time you get rid of your excrement actually makes you feel guilty when you do use a regular toilet. But the biggest thing we learned is that although we lived with a lot less, we still lived in relative comfort and style, and that “giving up” things doesn’t have to be sacrifice, indeed it can be a joyful liberation.

Sometimes we learned that which we already should know. Like how the fact that our water is a finite resource becomes painfully clear when you have only a 30 gallon tank of it, and you have to think about where that next 30 gallons is going to and coming from. And as we predicted the Airstream has become for us a microcosm of the real world, and of our planets potential future. A world where water is in short supply, where our waste of all types must be carefully recycled, where when it gets hot or cold outside, it gets hot or cold inside, where a safe place to sleep at night is not a given, and where each of us considers more carefully the effects of our actions on the environment.

The first thing you learn from small space living is that no matter how few material possessions you take with you, you need less. During months of preparation for this trip, we carefully went through each item to determine it usefulness, and like many travelers we have been shedding items ever since. When you think about it, we are all just travelers on this planet. Here until the end of our journey, we will either leave it clean and ready for the next round of visitors, or trashed like some funky campground full of pop bottles, candy bar wrappers, and cigarette butts.

Our children and grandchildren are the next visitors to this campground people, what on earth will they find? We all use too much, we are all guilty, and if there is even a glaciers chance in hell of stopping catastrophic climate change, we all have to do more to use less. Here in this great country that we have been blessed to be born in, where nearly all of uses more than our fair share of our precious resources, will have to bear more of the burden for change or the less fortunate people of this world will suffer terribly as our resources become increasingly scarce.

Decidedly, not everyone we met agreed with our views. Indeed some disagreed passionately. But what was interesting is that everywhere we went, people were willing to talk about it. I remember in the 1960’s when the war in Viet Nam was raging and the struggle for civil rights had reached its peak, and it seemed like most everybody was on either one side or the other. War protesters and civil rights demonstrators were beaten in the streets by the police who were clearly aligned with the powers that be, whether it was the military industrial complex or the institution of racism, and meaningful dialog was hard to come by.

But today, and I believe due in a large part to the courageous struggles of the 60’s that changed our society forever, people seem at minimum willing to talk, and frequently willing to listen. However as they say, talk is cheap, and as we just learned in Copenhagen recently, we can talk a lot and get little or nothing done. The time for action is upon us, and personally we have decided to act. We hope from our actions will come results, and from those results, a chance to keep learning more about how we can shape the future. We hope you will continue to join us.

Best wishes from the road!

John & Kate

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Photo Galleries




We've just added several new photo galleries for your enjoyment. To see hundreds of new photos, CLICK HERE!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Gas Museum

As we were headed toward Taos on our way to visit the Earthship Landing Zone, we passed an amazing pile of gas station memorabilia and a sign that said “Museum”. Intrigued, we pulled in and started to take some pictures. Before long we were greeted by a man who appeared from the back of the property. Surrounded as we were by the thousands of pieces of old gas stations and other automobile paraphernalia, I said “Wow! Nice collection! How long you been doing this? ” “Bout two weeks” he fired back, chuckled and wandered off towards an old Coca-Cola cooler that was sitting on the front porch.

Reaching in to the cooler, he wrestled around for a few seconds and came back up with a small wrapped package about the size of an ice cream bar. I had noticed the sign out front, in addition to saying “Museum”, also said “Moon Pies”. Having not seen a Moon Pie since some time in the 60’s, I assumed the sign was just part of his collection. But lo and behold, here he was clutching an honest to goodness Moon Pie! As he unwrapped it to eat, I couldn’t help but notice the Moon Pie almost looked like it had been around since the 60’s, but he happily began to munch on what had been one of my favorite treats when I was very young and before my Mom realized they probably weren’t the best snack food in the world.

His collection was incredible, and included everything from vintage gas pumps to oil cans and posters, and even an old typewriter of the same make and model I remember my Dad banging away on a few hundred years ago. With obvious pride he showed my brother-in-law Simon and I around the museum which was packed so tight you get barely get down the aisles. Out in the parking lot sat a nearly complete, although quite dilapidated small diner on wheels. Everything was still there, from the 50’s style bar stools to the sink and stove, and even some of the pots and pans. Johnnie, as I found out his name was, was planning on doing a full restoration this summer and selling some ice cream out of it to go with his Moon Pies.

Simon bought a small trinket, and I made a donation which I found out Johnnie gives to the local Humane Society each year. As we drove away, I realized that someday all the paraphernalia of the fossil fuel powered automobile age will end up in a museum. Perhaps Johnnie is just a little bit ahead of his time.

To enjoy more photos of the Gas Museum and New Mexico CLICK HERE to visit our photo gallery.