Road Trip 2022, Part XI: Crossing the Desert

We left Sequoia National Park and started looking for someplace to stop for lunch. Every eatery we passed was overcrowded with cars and people, so we kept driving until we came to a picturesque but oddly empty Mexican restaurant. As we pulled into the parking lot we made a few jokes about how terrible the food must be if no one wanted to eat there. Turns out the joke was on us. The food was…subpar, to put it kindly. Luke ordered a chocolate shake with his meal, and the waitress apparently misheard him, because she brought him a slice of chocolate cake. Luke accepted the cake, but asked her to box it up to go. Later that day, many miles down the road, we pulled out the cake only to discover that it was riddled with mold. Luke is still salty about the whole experience.

In Keene we detoured off the highway to visit the grave of a personal hero of mine, Cesar Chavez. The gravesite is a National Monument at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, where the United Farm Workers of America is headquartered. The visitor center was closed, but the graves and memorial gardens were accessible.

A heady mix of jasmine, mock orange, roses and other fragrant blossoms rolled over us like a warm wave as soon as we opened the car doors in the parking lot. Most of the garden plants must have been chosen for their scent, because the place smelled amazing.

“It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.”

There’s also a desert garden here, a tribute to Chavez’s birthplace in Arizona.

After we’d paid our respects, we returned to the highway and continued southeast. We passed a rusty old boat with “SS Minnow” painted on the side…

…and crossed another segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. That was satisfying, like a bookend. And then, rather suddenly, we were out of the foothills and into the Mojave Desert.

I can neither explain nor fully describe the stupefying effect this desert had on us. Luke and I took turns driving in short shifts of an hour or two at a time, because that was all we could manage without dozing off at the wheel. Our Fellowship of the Rings audiobook, that had entertained us through a few tedious miles earlier in the trip, now required more concentration than we could muster. Fast music was an annoyance, slow music was a sedative. We drove in silence, two of us sleeping while the third struggled to keep their eyes open enough to stay on the road. It was like that field of cursed poppies in “The Wizard of Oz.” After everything we’d seen and done in our travels, the Mojave Desert nearly defeated us.

We were briefly roused by a middle-of-nowhere travel stop called the Cima Mining Co., that lured us in with promises of exotic jerked meats (Alligator! Elk! Buffalo!) and fresh date shakes. Alas, most of the jerkies were too caliente for our taste. But we did find some really good maple-wild-boar jerky, and the date shakes were great. That kept us mostly awake for the rest of the way to Las Vegas.

We had planned to walk around Vegas a bit, but the combination of lingering desert grogginess and Memorial Day Weekend crowds squelched our enthusiasm for sightseeing. We settled for driving down the Strip instead of bypassing it completely.

We pulled into a small truck stop to spend the night, but the whole parking lot was flooded with lamplight. As tired as we were, we couldn’t sleep there, so we dragged on to another, more vagabond-friendly travel stop.

We woke up the next morning with a single goal: make it home that day. There was nothing left on our to-do list, no more sights we wanted to see. Or so we thought!

I was not prepared for the beauty of central Utah. Here among the plateaus and canyons, our sense of urgency faded and we stopped often along the highway to get out and admire the views.

I had finally traded in my marino wool top, jeans and leggings for tee shirts and shorts back in Sequoia. Now the air was chilly again as we climbed back up into the higher elevations.


As we crossed back into Colorado, the weather was almost identical to what it had been when we left: lowering skies, raining off and on.

As eager as we were to get back to our own beds, we made one more stop on the way: we picked up dinner to go from our favorite local Chinese restaurant. Colorado has a reputation for lacking diversity, but if you know where to look you can find really wonderful authentic food from all over the world.

It felt nice to be back. It felt like coming home.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Death, environment, Family, food, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adventures in Nepal XXI: Pashupatinath Temple

I’ve promised Elizabeth that I will wrap up the Nepal Saga before I write about anything else. This should be the penultimate entry.

Our heroes’ next (and last) stop on their guided tour of Kathmandu was Pashupatinath Temple.

Foreigners (in this case “non-Hindu people”) are not allowed inside the main temple.

The guide showed the girls around the exterior areas.

As in most of Nepal, there are animals everywhere, just living their lives.

Elizabeth told me that bodies were being cremated here and their ashes poured into the river.

I did some research into that, and found this:

Pashupatinath is the most important temple dedicated to god Shiva. Every year this temple attracts hundreds of elderly followers of Hinduism.

They arrive here to find shelter for the last several weeks of their lives, to meet death, be cremated on the banks of the river and travel their last journey with the waters of the sacred river Bagmati, which later meets the holy river Ganges. Hinduists from every corner of Nepal and India are arriving here to die.

It is believed that those who die in Pashupatinath Temple are reborn as a human, regardless of any misconduct that could worsen their karma. The exact day of their death is predicted by astrologers of the temple. If you are attracted to the places where the spirit of death can be felt, then consider Pashupatinath as your first destination. It is a temple with special atmosphere of death; death is present in almost every ritual and every corner of it.

One of the cremation ovens:

After Pashupatinath, they returned to the hotel.

View from the hotel window:

Next post: a little shopping, and then the long journey home!

Categories: Death, Friends, Life, Nepal, Travel | Tags: | 1 Comment

Adventures in Nepal IX: A Stairway to Heaven, Part A

These Nepal posts are starting to feel like a work of historical non-fiction, like revisiting a world not yet overtaken by pandemic. Covid-19 is sweeping the globe, changing everything in its path. In just a few short weeks the death toll has climbed into the tens of thousands and is still rising exponentially.

Even so, I enjoy writing these posts. They’re a sweet reminder of simpler days, and of the beauty still waiting to be explored once the danger has passed.

On January 22 – the same day that China’s government announced a citywide quarantine of Wuhan – Emma and Elizabeth visited Shanti Stupa, the World Peace Pagoda.

Getting to the Pagoda is no simple undertaking. It involves buses and boats and many, many, many stairs.

Good morning, Paljorling Camp!

Good morning, picturesque sheep!

Good morning, Elizabeth!

This is a public bus in Pokhara:

The girls took the bus back to Lakeside…

and back to Phewa Tal.

The white dome on the mountaintop is the World Peace Pagoda. You have to climb the mountain to reach it. Not to worry, there are stairs. Lots and lots of stairs.

To get to the mountain, the girls rented a boat.

There are eateries and other amenities near the landing. Here’s a typical restaurant.


Anyway, they found the trailhead and started up the mountain.

So many stairs.

Looking back down at the lake. I like this pic because it sorta looks like the boat is floating in the sky.

A view of Lakeside from the trail. There’s the little island with the Japanese temple!

There are lots of little rest stops and stupas and shrines all the way up the mountain.

And I’ve just about reached the limit of how many images I can cram into one post without making it impossible for my low-bandwidth peeps to access. So…to be continued!

Categories: Covid-19, Death, environment, Friends, Health, Holidays, kids, Life, Nepal, Travel | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Nature’s Clean-Up Crew


[Click through to see additional photos. Warning: Animal Death]

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Categories: Animals, Death, environment, Life, trail rides, Wildlife, Winter, Wordless Wednesday | Leave a comment

Progress and History

Mahogany’s training is coming along great. We even ventured out onto a paved road today, although we turned back when we came to a bridge with no pedestrian or bike lane. I want to be just a little surer of Mahogany’s cooperation before I ask her to dash over a bridge during a lull in traffic.

Wildlife encounters on today’s ride included this majestic fellow…


…some cows that were too deep in the brush to photograph, and the free-roaming herd of horses.



I think most of the livestock down there uses the river itself to get around the fences between properties. One of these days I’m going to figure out where they’re climbing up and down on the part where I ride, and maybe start exploring that way myself.

** ** **

My Texas driver’s license finally came in the mail. It was a hassle and a half to obtain, and I want to talk about that for a minute.

To get a Texas driver’s license, I needed my California license, my birth certificate, and my social security card. No problem. Except that the surname on my birth certificate is, of course, not the same surname as on my driver’s license. So I was also required to produce a certified marriage license or divorce decree.

Fine, whatever. Except that I don’t have a marriage license among my records, and California does not issue divorce decrees. The closest thing in my court records is a “Notice of Entry of Judgement,” which the California courthouse assured me is the same thing. So I paid $26 for a certified copy of that, and got it in the mail a few days later.

…Only to be told by the Texas Department of Public Safety (the department that issues driver’s licenses in Texas; their DMV is only for vehicle registration) that my document is insufficient because it doesn’t have my maiden name on it. I pointed out that even if it did, that still wouldn’t be the same same as what’s on my birth certificate, since I took my stepfather’s surname when my mom remarried. I said that both of the name changes are formally entered in my Social Security record. The TxDPS replied that they never use Social Security information for anything.

So I have to produce my Social Security card as proof of identification, but my actual Social Security record is of zero use to me in this process.

I explained to them that the 90 days in which I could legally continue to use my California license was almost up, and that NOT driving is not an option for me, and that I can’t possibly be the only divorced woman who has ever moved from California to Texas and needed a new driver’s license, and that there must be some way to make it happen.

They referred the matter to a higher-up, who actually researched the matter online, learned that California does not, in fact, issue divorce decrees, and decided to allow my Notice of Entry of Judgement as a valid document. I feel like it could have gone either way, which is unsetting.

All of this was still fresh in my mind yesterday when I watched a video of the appalling Daily Show interview that cost Don Yelton his job. If you haven’t seen it, basically Yelton proudly admits that one of the main purposes of dismantling the Voting Rights Act is to make it harder for Democrats to vote.

I try not to mix blogging and politics, but the hassle I went through to get a Texas driver’s license — which I assume is the same hassle I would have gone through to get any form of Texas ID that would allow me to vote — was due to a bit of red tape that applies ONLY to women, a demographic that is statistically more likely to vote Democrat. I can’t help but wonder how many other little bits of red tape are scattered throughout the process to make it harder for other target demographics to obtain a valid ID in Republican states.

** ** **

Most of the time, though, progress and history nestle comfortably together here. Texas is seeing an economic boom right now, and construction is going on everywhere. It’s fantastic that the infrastructure is being upgraded while the money is flowing, even if it makes driving around a little scarier in the meantime. But I like that while roads and bridges and buildings are being built or torn apart and reassembled, bits of the past are carefully left in place.

One of my favorite local examples of this is on Bedford Road. This is a pretty, suburban street lined with attractive residences, schools and businesses. It’s wide and well-groomed and parts of it smell distinctly of wealth. But tucked in amongst the houses and churches and shopping centers is this:




The graves here are old, and the landscaping looks more like an untouched prairie meadow than a typical manicured cemetery lawn.




And too many of the markers are tiny and sad.



Gravestones for infants and children always make me want to cry. I can’t imagine the grief.

Next to the cemetery is a Civil War Veterans Memorial.




I’ve spent most of my adult life in California, a state that wasn’t affected all that much by the Civil War. For me, it’s strange to think of having not-so-distant ancestors whose lives were torn apart by that conflict. The whole thing felt more real and personal as I read the names carved into the stones. Which I guess is the whole point of a memorial.

I like living in a place that remembers and preserves its past even while it reaches energetically toward the future. Texas’ forward progress isn’t always smooth, for sure. I suspect that my struggle to get a driver’s license here may be an indication of that. But DFW has something beautiful to see almost everywhere I look, and I think that says a lot about the people who live here.

I hope that they bring the best of the past into the future, and eventually leave the not-so-great bits behind.

Categories: Death, Horses, Life, trail rides, Wildlife | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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