Category Archives: US National Parks


Many years ago, in Greece, I met a staff writer for The New Yorker.  I asked for advice on writing a book about my travels, but he told me, “Don’t write about travel; write about living in Hawaii. That’s what people are curious about.”  What?  I was so discouraged.  Who would want to read about ordinary life in Hawaii?  But I think finally I get it: life on the continent is not at all like life on a speck of cooled (or flowing!) lava, where everyone knows everyone, or at least her calabash cousin; where creatures evolved like no other place on this earth; where the idea of a place (mai tais, orchids, and happy natives) has nothing to do with its reality.  Yes, California’s desert is spectacularly different from my old Hawaii rain forest, but that’s just a minor distinction in the scale of things.  

Anyway, something makes my jaw drop every single day in this expansive and bright-skied California valley, like the other morning when two coyotes slunk across the dirt road in front of my rental car.  When I stopped to watch them, they too stopped, peering over their shoulders at me: all of us checking each other out.  When morning commuters came barreling down the road, filling the air with dust, the two canines conferred with each other, and then trotted off, blending into the brush.  Goodbye!  Have a good day!  Hope you find some water to drink! 

(So yeah, no coyotes in Hawaii. Hawaii has only one native mammal: the hoary bat.  Being in the center of an ocean does that.)

The desert’s blendy-ness is a bit of a problem for showing it off in photos, that and its grandness.  The coyotes melted into the background – can you see one in the photo above?  A photo of a mountain range that is splendid in the here and now is reduced to a fraction of its imposing power in just a few square inches.  Please, use your imagination to feel the magic.

I visited Joshua Tree National Park the day after Thanksgiving, imagining many people would be too busy shopping to visit, but no, it was crazy busy there.  I arrived about nine a.m. but already parking lots were full, and stressed-out Park employees were frazzled and barking orders: “No! The parking lot is closed!  You have to turn around! Move along!  LEAVE!” So I did, after driving around for a while and snapping what shots I could from the roadside.  As I exited the Park, a Ranger ran after my car; “Show me your pass!” he shouted. What? Upon leaving? Why?  Because the line to enter is so long, he replied.  Huh.  The poor park employees: they were in for it – as I drove out, I passed a line of stopped cars almost two miles long waiting to enter, and then saw hundreds more driving towards the entrance on my way down.  People are really gonna get yelled at today, I thought.

See the photo below of the young man meditating on top of the rock?  It took some serious scrambling and a few leaps for him to get there.  He was still there about two hours later on my way out of the park.  I worry that he got a sunburn, lost in his nirvana.  

And, yes, listening to U2’s Joshua Tree while in the Park is perfection.

Live all you can.  It’s a mistake not to.  

16% Humidity and Tortoise as Pet

Today there was a mere 16% humidity in my little dwelling, even measured next to the jungle of plants I bought because The Internet told me they would add moisture to my surroundings. 16% is, um, rather dry. My nose and throat and eyes and ear channels are angry with me. However, I have had tremendous success with the wide assortment of glop I spread all over my body and the cotton gloves and socks I wear to sleep at night in order to to combat the cracking of my skin.  Back in Hawaii, I ran three dehumidifiers throughout my house to fight the wet. At least in my little room here in the desert I only run one humidifier. Oh the resources we humans employ to change environments to suit us.

Yet – in spite of all that fussing – the outdoor weather is near perfect: big, bright skies; warm breezy days; and clear if rather cold nights. Just the 360 degree view of the valley’s mountains is worth the price of admission. And it’s super quiet, except for the daytime watery wupwup of the quail in the yard, the cawcaw of the raven couples who tumble lovingly in the sky above my head, or the wush of the roadrunners dashing to their important business; and except for the nights the live Mexican bands play their bouncy music or the hippies down the street bongo the night away.

Those hippies keep a tortoise for a pet, and its pen is situated along the road for all to enjoy.  On the day I took the photo below, the tortoise was playing? chasing? in love with? the dog in the pen.  I have no idea, but it was a sight to see.

I had lunch at a small and crowded restaurant today, and a man and a young girl wound up sharing a table with me.  I’d noticed a Hawaiian design on the man’s shirt, but the logo read OCC, which I assumed had to do with nearby Orange County and the design was a riff on a Hawaiian theme.  With the close proximity, we began a conversation, and no, it was not an Orange County shirt, it was an Oahu swim club logo: my seatmate was from Hawaii.  What are the chances?  We chatted and established, by Hawaii cultural law, who our mutual acquaintances might be (there were a few).  And here’s a funny thing: when we parted ways, I, without thinking, flashed the shaka sign, something I would never, ever do back in Hawaii.  Funny how 3000 miles can alter behavior.

I visited the aptly named Sunnylands botanical garden today.  The plots of native and drought-resistant plants are arrayed in precise and orderly rows – no random explosions of color or shape as found in nature – similar to the hundreds of orderly subdivisions that have been imposed on the monochromatic sands of this desert. This area is nothing if not controlled and managed.  That is until one day: the San Andreas fault rests just beneath the roads and malls and manicured lawns. I think about the San Andreas fault daily, about the ensuing chaos of earthquakes, which is weird, and probably a remnant of my Shaking Summer of 2018.

If you wonder about the last photo, for some odd reason the desert garden gift shop offered patchwork hippos for sale.

Note: one regret of leaving Hawaii: losing easy, abundant access to fabulous avocados. To those I left behind in Hawaii: cherish the avos.  You may not know how lucky you are.

Request:  I’m having a heck of a time trying to decide about a vehicle purchase for my future gambols across North America.  Today I test drove a new Honda Odyssey, the 12th vehicle I’ve checked out.  All of them have had flaws: too many miles on the odometer, too low MPG, too short for me to sleep in, too complicated for me to manage.  The Odyssey’s only flaw seems to be its cost. Your chiming in would be greatly appreciated.





Live all you can – it’s a mistake not to. Just ask this hippo.

Volcano Life

Note: I assume anyone reading this post is aware of Kilauea’s current activity.

pink smoke

I’m pretty sure I was awakened seven times last night due to the swaying and jostling of my house; the USGS earthquake record supports this with the number of quakes nearby in that timeframe. That said, perhaps I was dreaming or imagining the movement: since the 6.9 quake the other day I’ve felt shaking and wobbling that does not officially appear on the list, and I’m checking it a lot (, zoom to Hawaii). Phantom earthquakes? Why my body feels the need to imagine more drama is beyond me.

jesse tunison

I love Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park; I live just a few miles from its entrance. I have photographs of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater by local artist Jesse Tunison and glowing lava by G. Brad Lewis on my bedroom walls. I ‘know’ about lava and eruptions. Or rather, I thought I knew. I’ve been surprised a lot lately.

g brad lewis

My house, built twenty feet off the ground, has all the required earthquake joists and connectors – in theory it is better to sway than to snap – but I surmise it also makes the house more responsive to the moving rock beneath it. But I don’t really know. I had to agree to these specifications when building; it’s not like I seriously imagined that there would come a 24-hour time period with over 200 earthquakes in the vicinity.

At over 3000 feet, I expect that my four acres are not in danger of opening fissures, as is the case downslope, but the fact of the matter is that there is a ginormous river of magma down below me. In 2014 I was stunned when lava inched towards the town of Pahoa. The current inundation of residential areas south and east of Pahoa is also a shock, although locals know the area is officially in the number one spot of Lava Hazard Zone reckoning (one holds the most danger; nine the least; but the 2006 6.7 earthquake, sans lava, did a lot of damage in Zone Nine). I barely took notice of the designation when searching for property; when Madame Pele is not active, it is easy to forget what lies beneath (see photo of my driveway above). My current property is in Zone Three (although it abuts a Zone One); as the crow flies I’m some twenty miles upslope from the photos you are seeing in the news of the ongoing devastation. I do smell what I assume to be volcanic gas, but it’s not at the deadly levels of Leilani Estates.

A 1955 event near the current activity lasted months and covered thousands of acres, including the town of Kapoho. Wish us all luck.

Post note: After experiencing the wettest winter since I’ve lived in this area, and just before all the Civil Defense alerts started flying, I undertook to clean every inch of my house, top to bottom. I’m still cleaning, even though the fact remains that a particularly situated earthquake could level the entire structure. I’ve just stopped long enough to put down my thoughts about what’s happening in my neck of the woods. Now back to moving furniture and dusting. Hey, I haven’t felt a quake in the last half hour – woo hoo!

To see more of Jesse’s work:

G. Brad Lewis:

The photo of pink smoke is from the internet, source unknown.

A Super Blue Blood Moon (and gorgeous coastline)

Instead of listening to the State of the Union, I went down to the sea to check out the state of the world.

I left my home – about 3000 ft/914 m elevation – and drove up to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park entrance – at about 4000 ft/1219 m elevation, then headed all the way down the Chain of Craters Road to the ocean.  The sun set in the west, the moon rose in the east, and I had a perfect view of both.  Lovely.  Where I was, no lava was entering the ocean, but as night came on, I did see a small red glow up slope.












(The little black shapes are terns skimming the water, possibly after the flying fish I saw.)









Live all you can.  It’s a mistake not to .