"Fly fishing is my passion, hunting is my weakness, and mules are a perplexing addiction."

Sunday, November 20, 2011


My wife, Cathy, maintains that were she not present to drag me around to various functions and events, I would drop off the face of the earth and become a hermit. That is total nonsense, of course. I didn't sleep entirely through school. As I recall; history, geology, and physics clearly tell us the earth is not flat and that gravity would prevent me from falling off; but the hermit part, I like, and her summation is probably true.

While it's not exactly as closely guarded a secret as say the recipe for Coke, or why women scrunch their mouths when putting on eye mascara, most folks are unaware that I am shy; painfully shy, in fact. I'll give you a moment to settle down and quit laughing…

That little secret really is true. Over the years, some friends have stated that when they first met me they thought I was standoffish or stuck up because of my expression and silence. For the record; I'm really neither of those. That goofy look on my face is probably just due to gas.

The fact-of-the-matter is that only a very few of my closest friends are aware of my crippling shyness. I don't know why I have this affliction, and I have spent a lifetime attempting to overcome it. There was a time, in my youth, when beer, bourbon, and tequila worked well in helping me over come my shyness, but suffering the following morning's scull-cramps, hearing bizarre tales of riding motorcycles through the VFW, dancing like a white guy, and other embarrassing exploits that should remain buried forever forced me to abandon that cure. That, and the fact my body will not let me drink alcohol anymore. For these reasons I have been forced to confront my crippling timidness to the point I think that somewhere, over time, I have just learned to accept it; I'm shy and uncomfortable around people, and that's that.

Now as a rule I perform an adequate job of avoiding places where there are large crowds, and especially those places that are located outside of my comfort zone. I can do rodeos, the local 4th of July parade, and even venture off the hill into the city for a quick visit to Bass Pro if there is a sale on camo; but amusement parks, festivals, and events such as the Do-Dah Parade, or any other large gatherings where I don't know anyone are definitely on my avoid-at-all-cost-list. So imagine the dichotomy I face, not to mention the sheer irony to realize that one of my favorite pastimes in this world is people watching.

I mention this because Cathy has this bucket list of things she wants to do before she kills me, and at the top of this list is that she wants to visit all the national parks in the U.S. I have explained to my sweetheart that there are over 365 national park service areas in this country, and even if we managed to visit two a year, at some point she'd have to share in the driving since I'd be around one-hundred-and-sixty years-old by the time we wrapped things up. I also pointed out that at the rate Senator Dianne Feinstein was going, that list would no doubt double and Bakersfield would probably be a National Park by then. Oh well, we've been there.

This year we visited the Grand Canyon. Having spent time hunting on the North Rim of the canyon in the Kaibab National Forest, I wanted Cathy to see this area for two reasons. The view of the canyon from this vantage is spectacular, and more importantly, because of its remoteness, there are far fewer people on this side of the canyon.

When we reached Jacob's Lake we learned that Hwy 67 to the North Rim was closed for the winter and the road wouldn't open for a couple of more weeks. Upon expressing our dismay with the owner of the cafe, imagine my elation to learn from him that locked gates don't mean much around that part of the country and that there was a way around the large and foreboding, iron gate that was blocking the highway. Forty miles of dirt roads and two hours later, with the aid of twelve napkins of hand-drawn hieroglyphics loosely resembling a map, we pulled up and set the parking brake on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at Crazy Jug Point; literally on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

For two days, except for the resident deer herd hanging around our camper, we had the North Rim of the canyon to ourselves to hike and explore. I must admit that bidding ado to the North Rim and the Bambi family was difficult for me, especially since now our itinerary called for driving the two-hundred-fifty-plus miles around to the South Rim and doing the tourist thing I was so dreading because of the large crowds I was certain we would encounter.

Upon leaving the Navajo Bridge near Lee's Ferry we ran the gauntlet of roadside jewelry stands stretching across the Navajo Nation and at last entered the east end of the Grand Canyon National Park. We then proceeded along the rim and spent the day stopping to survey each of the viewpoints along the way.

We spent the night at the RV Park, snagging the last available pull-in, and imagine my elation to be fortunate enough to spend the night in my camper surrounded by several thousand folks in rent-a-rigs; most of which who'd never RV'd before. I must admit I spent an inordinate amount of time, (not to mention an enjoyable one) observing these poor souls attempting to figure out how to level their rigs, hook-up their septic connections, and put out their awnings. (The Germans seemed to do the best!)

The next morning we beat-feet for the small town of Williams, fifty or so miles south of the rim off Interstate 40. This would begin our adventure Cathy had thoughtfully arraigned for us and that would be to take the old Grand Canyon Train ride back down to where we had just been.

The following morning, it was spitting snow and colder than a tin toilet seat, we boarded the train for the South Rim, but before we were allowed to climb aboard we were forced to sit through an old west skit performed by a troupe of thespians who fancied themselves a cross between Butch Cassidy, Jesse James, and the Marx Brothers.

As I mentioned, it was cold. I was keenly aware of this fact because standing near us at the Keystone Kowboys theatrical performance was a young woman wearing nothing but short-shorts, tennis shoes and a splendid-fitting tank top. She had a smile that could sell toothpaste and her assets were such that it was obvious to a keen eye such as mine that she probably didn't suffer from a problem with buoyancy, and I was fairly convinced she could see in the dark by the way her headlights were beaming. The young beauty was accompanied by her teenage son, a six-foot-four lad weighing in at three-hundred-pounds plus at the very least. Junior, who was wearing cargo shorts, flip-flops, and a black Metallica tee-shirt, was a masterpiece of faulty construction whose blood type was somewhere between gravy and Spackle. It was painfully obvious the young man had a difficult time saying no to groceries and I suspected that somewhere upon him, hidden from the world, a button was screaming.

By now the wind had picked up and it was cold enough to make a penguin hunt cover. Mercifully, the acting troupe's attempt at theatrics concluded and we at last boarded the train. The ride to the canyon was, I must admit, a pleasant experience and the entertainment provided was enjoyable, and the fact that Betty the buxom brunette and Junior were parked in the isle across from us turned out to be an added bonus. I think the scenery outside was adequate as well.

After being cooped up on a train for two-and-a-half hours and being fortunate enough not to contact the disease of the week, we stepped off the train at the South Rim depot where we were to jump on a tourist bus and revisit, (along with about two-hundred other folks) most of the viewpoints Cathy and I had seen just the day before. Since we had already been to every view point the South Rim had to offer except the short stretch where the train depot was, we elected to skip the bus tour and just hang out near the Bright Angel Trail and see the sights right there. We bid ado to Buxom Betty, Junior, and the contingency from Japan and set out through the maze of people to see the main tourist trap part of the canyon I had so dreaded.

Upon seeing the incredible views this part of the canyon offered and visiting the venues, we ended up at the El Tovar Hotel. The neat thing about the regal, old, log structure is that it has a huge covered porch that screams, "Sit here in this wicker rocker and relax." I did, and it was here I discovered what a wonderful people-watching place the South Rim of the Grand Canyon really is. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is basically the United Nations of Wal-Mart on vacation.

For the next hour I was entertained by the comings and goings of what seemed to me to be every nationality on the face of the planet. True I don't get around much, and also true it doesn't take much to entertain me, but this was much better than your run-of-the-mill cardboard box Cathy lets me play with. And while I wouldn't know a Swedish dialect from a Finn's, or a German accent from that of a Pole, I had an interesting time coming up with my version of what folks were saying to each other and where they were from.

Just as it was about time for me to leave my wicker throne at the El Tovar I noticed a familiar pair. Buxom Betty and Junior were making their way back to the train depot. Betty was walking along slowly, reading a canyon brochure she had picked up along the way. Apparently the cold had finally gotten the better of her and she had purchased a souvenir of her visit in the way of a large, hooded sweatshirt. Junior, oblivious of the thirty degree temperature and snow flurries was still sporting the same uniform he had back in Williams. Apparently starving from the strenuous ordeal of shuffling one foot in front of the other, Junior slothed along behind his mother, his flip-flops never fully clearing the ground, twirling a stick of pink cotton candy in front of his face.

Cathy and I made our way over to the depot where our train was located, and in route, I very nearly suffered a hysterectomy as we were fortunate enough to witness one of the funniest spectacles I have seen in a long time. It seems that a misguided, lady tourist, under the impression the resident elk herd roaming the park were tame and placed randomly about the rim of the canyon for tourist photo-ops, had chosen a particular elk cow as her intended subject. As the woman crept closer and closer, she kept the camera held up to her face, framing the elk for the perfect photograph.

The cow, having seen this routine a hundred times before, ignored the woman for some tasty morsels of sprouting grass and showed an admirable amount of restraint as the gal (camera still pressed to her face) closed the gap. Nearly close enough now to share the same toothpick, the cow at last lost her patience with the encroaching paparazzi and without warning, head-butted the would-be wildlife photographer into the Central Time Zone. Call me twisted, but the unscheduled lift off of the surprised photographer was nearly as funny as her landing and in my view, a perfect example of just why the gene pool needs to be thinned a bit from time to time.

At any rate, our vacation was terrific and while I managed to face my fears and muddle through the crowds unscathed I did learn a very valuable lesson I would like to share with you.

Should you ever wake up some morning and get all swelled up about yourself, deciding you're a pretty important person, or maybe you think just the opposite; that your life sucks and what's the point; I urge you to take a few days off and make the trip to the Grand Canyon to see the sights and do a little people watching. The majesty of the canyon will humble you, and the people watching will convince you your life really isn't that bad after all.

And remember; should we someday meet for the first time and you discover a pained or goofy expression on my face; it's probably just gas!