That Wicked Country

"When are you going to that wicked country?  Your father tells me you are heading down soon.  How do you pronounce it? Ba JA?"  my 86 year old grandmother inquired from my cousin's couch in San Diego.

"Dan and I are leaving tomorrow morning."

"But it's Christmas.  You're not going to stay?  You just got here?"

"I know, Oma, but the highways in Baja will be empty."

"Isn't it dangerous?  I hear all these stories of people being found with their heads off."

"It sure can be.  The border areas around Texas and incredibly dangerous,  but the place where I go is empty.  It's just fishermen and a handful of surfers," I explained.

"What do you do for food and water?  Isn't it incredible arid?"

"Well we bring food and water in jugs, and we spear fish.  Depending on our luck, we buy fish from fisherman"

"So there aren't restaurants or towns?"

"Think of it like Nevada with waves.  You drive 10 hours on a beat up, two lane road and then turn off and drive a few hours on dirt roads and then you park on the beach."

"...And then you surf all day?  Sounds wonderful."

"It sure is Oma.  Especially if you're into surfing."

My cousin Becca sat down on the other side of my grandmother, and the conversation shifted away from my upcoming trip.  It was already 9:30, and my jet-lagged relatives from the east coast were starting to wind down.  The fireplace popped away on wood trucked in from the Sierras and the smell of a Christmas tree overpowered the scraps of dinner still lying on the dinning room table.  I was full, too full, and I laid my head back against the wall.  I could fall asleep right now, I thought to myself.   Across the room, Dan talked with my aunt.  Over the chatter, it sounded like he was having a similar conversation with my aunt about the tenets and risks of driving to Baja.

Sunset at low tide in Central Baja.

Para Gringos!

A Taco stand in Guerrero Negro.

Two 10 footers.

Naranjas for sale on the side of the 1 in Northern Baja.

There is a bad moon on the rise.

Home is where you park it!

Dan after a four hour session.

The refrigerator at a road side Taqueria.

Off my wave cook.

Be prepared.

Foot warmers.

Red, white and blue #vanlife.

A gringo dog watching over a camp in Central Baja.

At 5:32,  the standard IOS allarm went off, waking me from my slumber on the couch.  Rolling over, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked out the window.  It was still pitch black.  The street lamps lit the palm trees and a sixty degree Southern California breeze blew in from the open window.  Nothing felt like Christmas morning.  My cousin Nikko's snore crept under the bedroom door into the living room.  Sunrise wasn't for another two hours, but we still had to park Dan's van at the airport and get gas.  Those two hours would go by fast.  Kicking off the blankets,  I reached for my jeans and pulled them on.  Feeling around in the dark, I grabbed my backpack and made sure my iPhone charger was in it.   Being as quiet as possible,  I locked the door behind me and headed out to my van.

Dan was already waiting right behind my van.

"Merrrry Christmas."

"Happy Kwanzaa to you too."

"You ready to go?"


Here are some more links,

Out of Reception (Tumblr).


The Washougal River Mercantile

Pulling off the Washougal River Road into the gravel parking lot, I scanned the dozen or so parked cars for a familiar face.   None stood out,  but then again,  I hadn't been a regular at the Washougal River Mercantile for the better part of a decade.

"Do you still come here a lot Mom?" I asked.

"All the time." She responded from the passenger seat.


Parking in an empty place, I checked my pockets for my wallet and grabbed a handfull of change from the ash tray.  I was hungry, and the Merc (as it is is called by locals), was the only option for 20 miles.

The steel bell chimed as I pushed the door open.  A few members of the Fuller family (three generations work at the store) stood around the cash register and met me with a familiar smile. I said hello back and continued towards the grocery section.  They layout, selection and prices, haven't changed much since is started going there 20 years.  Heading towards the  deli section,  I searched the heat lamps for a bacon egg and cheese breakfast sandwich.  All sold out.

"A little late to the party." I murmured as I checked my watch and headed towards the expansive beef jerky section for my protein fix.

Growing up 10 minutes away from the Merc afforded me an intimate knowledge of its offerings.  Some of the more glamorous purchases over the last 20 years include but aren't limited to; my first .22 there, a Savage Single shot bolt action, my first rated R movie there, The Rock,  and my first steelhead fishing set up were all purchased at the Merc.  In addition to these notable purchase are countless Charleston Chews,  gallons of milks,  pipe fittings, and dozens of eggs.

As a kid,  it seemed liked the best store in the world with everything I wanted and nothing I didn't.  It still holds true.

Once ubiquitous in rural areas,  these stores are fading to obscurity in the wake of suburban sprawl and shopping centers.  It's happening in Washougal.  With the Portland Metro area constantly growing outward,  places like the Merc are feeling increased pressure from chain grocery and sporting good stores.

All the beverages you need.

The hunting and fishing bragging wall. Someday I'd like to make it on here.

Two locals.

Grabbing my coffee and Tillamook beef jerky pack, I walked past the pluming section towards the cash registered.

While searching my pockets for rolled up dollar bills I made small talk with the clerk.  She had been my baby sitter when I was 10 and hadn't recognize me.  While talking, I noticed a hand written sine taped to the cash register.  The Sharpie on 8.5X11 paper read, "Gas Purchases limited to 10$."  Taking a swig of my coffee, I bid farewell and pushed the sliding door open.  Walking towards the syncro, I milled the implications of the sign over.

"No gas sales over 10$?  Would that even get you to Washougal?" I asked my Mom as she walked up to the Syncro. I stood with my back against the drivers side.

"It's not good.  They must be really strapped for cash."

"Those places are going the way of the Blackberry.  what a shame," I said popping open the drivers door and jumping into the seat.

"Sure is," she agreed.

Here are some more links,

Washougal River Mercantile (Yelp).


West Wind

A statue honoring the Veterans of the Korean War stood watch over a lone Dodge at the county park.  Across from the empty jungle gym, unidentifiable country music from a Central Oregon radio station hummed through the 'lowered windows.  The west wind bent the top of the pine trees and wafted over-heated coolant from the front grill of the truck.   A girl's legs  hung from the passenger window and a shirtless teenager slouched in the bench seat.  It was late summer 2012 in The Dalles.

"Should we tell them their engine overheated?" My mom said,  leading her Irish Terrier, Lucy, down the sidewalk.

"No, Mom...  let them be," I said, taking the leash from my mom's hand and continuing along.

It's hard to predict which moments come to identify a specific place or time,  often it's the most seemingly trivial ones that capture my imagination and spark my sense of nostalgia.

Here are some more links,

West Wind (Facebook).


Four Corners

We followed US 89 out of the east end of Flagstaff as the lengthening afternoon shadows and dropping temperatures signaled the eminence of the high desert sunset.

"How far do you think we should make it tonight?" I asked Tim as he peered at the Gazeter of Arizona.

"Ehhh it all depends..."

"Just pick a place, and we'll head there.  All this," I motioned out the windshield towards the expanse of sage and sandstone, "is government land.  God's country.  We can camp where-ever-the-fuck-we-want."

"I know, but we're getting close to Navajo Nation.  I feel weird for camping in their land."

"Are you serious?  This shit is abandoned.  There's a gazilion dirt roads leading off into the middle of nowhere."

"I still feel strange about it.  If I were them,  I wouldn't want a bunch of gringos camping on my land," Tim said, as if addressing the possibility of Sasquatch.

"Alright, alright.  Let's head towards a monument then. I want to be within striking distance of Four Corners tomorrow.  I can't do any more of this interstate highway shit," I said, alluding to the hours spent tracking east out of LA on the 40.

Nodding in agreement, Tim flipped to the page, searching for suitable monument or national park.  " Navajo National Monument is....less than 100 miles from here.  Lets head there."

"The Dude Abides."

Rolling down the window,  the warm desert air masked the smell of sweat and dirt has amassed in the Syncro over the last nine months.  With a destination picked, my angst  settled and I stuck my hand out of the open window.  Flowing like a sine wave, I hummed the melody of a familiar Warren Zevon song.  The miles ticked by.


Mexican Hat.


My brother Tim has a photo blog called Cairn Culture.  Take a look.

Last light.

Yours truly looking over the edge. Timer.



The Clan of the Van.



Burning the last rares of daylight,  we pulled off the empty two lane highway and headed towards the Monument.  Judging by the suns position, hovering a few degrees over the horizon to the west,  we hand less than an hour before the first stars would dot the unpolluted sky.

"I wonder what's at the Navajo National Monument,"  I mused, half to my brother, half to my sleepy self.

"We'll see first thing in the morning."

Pulling off on a packed dirt road with scraps of spring grass growing in the middle, we headed half a mile towards a canyon.  Periodic slabs of sandstone broke broke the ground,  sending the Syncro on a trail that resembled a centerfold of an off road magazine.  Arriving on one such sandstone bulge,  I rolled to a stop.

"This looks about as good a place as any."

"Sure does."

Pulling the parking break, I slipped into second gear and released the clutch.  Popping my seat belt, I opened the door and jumped down to the still warm sand stone.  Stiff from the hours of driving,  I spread my arms and arched my back.

"Home is where you park it!" I laughed.

Here are some more links,

Four Corners (Facebook).