Category Archives: camping

Tragicomedy—Canyon de Chelly chapeau

My daughter took this shot of me and my chapeau a few minutes before she disappeared in the distance on Park Avenue in Utah’s Arches National  Park. She is one of three daughters that I claim, the middle one in terms of actuarial longevity, the one that lives, loves, photographs, plans, plants, reaps, parties and publishes and otherwise  stagnates in Virginia while she could be living in The Great State of Texas—not, of course, that I ever bring that up in discussions—never have and never will, neither vocally nor in written discourse. She posted the photo below on her blog and I commented on the posting—my comment is reproduced below. Click here to view her original posting. When you get there you’ll find this photo:

As one can see, I cropped the photo as originally posted—I was a bit uncomfortable  with that gull hanging around overhead, and that cloud could have contained rain, a condition beneficial neither to a straw hat nor to its wearer, hence the cropping.

This is my original comment on her posting, a comment that she used as the subject for a revisit to her original post.

I have been very remiss in not commenting on this posting and I extend my apologies! Obviously I’ve been very busy—too busy to acknowledge the photographic expertise reflected in these photos, particularly in the shot of that handsome chapeau sported by the handsome dude seated directly below said hat.

How I loved that hat! I remember chasing it in Arizona when an unkindly wind removed it from its wearer and sent it rolling and tumbling toward Canyon de Chelly with its wearer in hot pursuit. Had providence not placed a small bush a few feet from the precipice of the canyon, I may have followed that hat to the canyon’s floor, a sheer drop of 600 feet. However, thanks to providence, the hat’s forward progress was stopped by a strategically placed bit of flora, an indigenous plant equipped with thorny branches that stopped my hat in its race and in its tracks—and me in mine. No, I did not run into the bush—I wisely skidded to a stop when I saw the bush reach out and capture my hat.

That hat and I were inseparable for several more years, but one day it became conspicuous by its absence—it had mysteriously disappeared without leaving the slightest hint of how, when, where or why it left me.

I suspect that my hat felt—even though it was a straw hat rather than a felt hat—from the beginning of that windy day at Canyon de Chelly that its future was inextricably intertwined with the canyon floor, that because of its lightness and its ability to drift with the wind, it would wind up undamaged by the 600 foot drop, and would ultimately live a long life, squared securely atop the head of a person of the four-state region, either New Mexico, Arizona, Utah or Colorado, possibly a direct descendant of the greatest chief in Navajo history, or one of the Apache tribes, Geronimo or Chief Sitting Bull or another of the native American Indians immortalized in literature and movies and television, and still living in the tales told by the most respected elders of various tribes in the great Southwest. Tales of their exploits are also told in the great state of Texas, fantastic recitals that dance—precipitously, so to speak—on the rim of the unbelievable.

Please accept my abject apologies for my failure to respond sooner. I would also be remiss if, driven by my use of the word sooner, I failed to say that the word sooner reminds me that there are also many tall tales told in the great state of Oklahoma.

So now I do so say.


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425 pounds of marijuana—my first seizure . . .

My first seizure—425 pounds of marijuana . . .

I made my first significant seizure early in my first year as a Customs inspector working on the international border between Texas and Mexico. The port was Progreso, Texas, the day was Saturday, the month was February and the year was 1972. The marijuana was in a pickup truck driven by a Mexican national with a tarjeta, a local border crossing card, an official Immigration document that allowed him to enter the US and travel no more than 25 miles from the border and remain in the U.S. for no more than three days.

To my question as to citizenship, he replied Mexican and displayed the tarjeta. To my question of what, if anything, he was bringing to the US he replied Nada—nothing. There was nothing visible in the front seat or floorboard and a quick glance into the bed of the truck through a side window of the camper showed nothing. And to my question of the purpose of his trip, he said a comprar cosas—to buy things—in other words, to go shopping.

I stopped asking questions and told him to park the truck and lift the hood for me. Not that I expected to find anything under the hood—I expected to find something in the roof of the camper. My quick look into the rear should have shown me metal, but I noticed that the roof of the camper was paneled, indicating possibly that the ceiling was fitted with insulation. I needed to see what kind of insulation had been installed, so the order to park and lift the hood was an attempt to allay any suspicion he might have concerning his referral for a secondary inspection.

He was driving a late model Ford pickup truck with a camper shell installed. The truck had a manual gearshift, and while he talked he kept the truck in gear and the clutch depressed with his left foot. On the surface he seemed calm and at ease, but the clutch on that Ford was apparently very stiff—he was having a hard time keeping the clutch down and disengaged, so hard that his leg was shaking from the effort and I could hear coins jingling in his pocket, and the rest is history.

He parked the truck, killed the engine, stepped out and raised the hood. A brief glance and my suspicions were confirmed—nothing there. I took the driver by the arm and told him we needed to talk inside. He went with me without protest, and I turned him over to the inspectors inside and told them that I believed he was loaded.

Subsequent inspection of the camper’s roof revealed 425 pounds of marijuana in small plastic–wrapped packages. The camper’s roof was fitted with 2x4s on edge along its length, with stiffening blocks running from side to side. The packages were placed in the spaces provided and the paneling added by screwing it to the 2x4s. This was the first of many that would be intercepted following dissemination of the method of concealment Service-wide, but seizures dropped when the smugglers learned of our findings and went to other methods.

I am convinced, and I am honest enough to admit it, that had I not heard the coins jingling in the driver’s pocket I probably would have released him without any inspection beyond the primary questions.

I learned a lot about making enforcement that day, the day of my first significant seizure. I learned that the smallest, most seemingly unimportant action of a person could be very important, and I learned that just because someone is a fellow inspector it doesn’t mean he can be trusted.

One of my fellow inspectors, an old-time Border Patrol officer that transferred to the more leisurely life of an inspector, obligingly helped me open the ceiling of the camper and extract, count and weigh its contents.

When the time came to document the enforcement action, I was ordered to share the action with the old fart—I can call him that without fear of repercussions—he is long retired and long dead. The port director apologized for the order, explaining that was how the system worked and he had no choice. Had I told the other inspector to keep his hands and his distance away from my seizure, I would have not been required to share it.

The result was that he shared equally in the citations that the Service provided in recognition of our enforcement efforts. He knew full well what he was doing and why, and capitalized on my ignorance of seizure procedures. Another factor was that Customs  wants as few inspectors involved in individual seizures as possible—should such cases go to court, the fewer inspectors involved in the seizure the better, because of the drain on personnel resources on court days.

I made many more mistakes in my 26-year career in federal enforcement, but this was the first and the only mistake I made of this nature. We live and learn by our mistakes, so I always make a determined effort to not repeat any mistake I’ve made.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!


Posted by on September 12, 2010 in bridge, bridges, camping, drivers, law enforcement


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Lightning, lobsters and babes in the woods . . .

The e-mail that follows was sent by one of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and works in Virginia. She suggested that I tell the story of a camping trip we took in the summer of 1986, a jaunt that began in northern Virginia and took us through Washington D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and back to Virginia—ten states, eleven counting Virginia, and the District of Columbia, all in just six days. We were really happy to get back home!

This is her e-mail:

Here’s a memory to get you started: Our road trip to Maine….you wanted lobster…I ordered chicken (no surprise there)…she brought us the food, then left. You called her over to ask for the lobster cracker thingies and she said, “That family over there is using them.” We were blown away that they only had one set—-something about “people keep taking them” or something like that. I don’t remember what happened or how long you had to wait, but it put a damper on your “famous Maine lobster” adventure.

Then the night in the tent in the campground…and the lightning and raining and horrendous thunder…seeing shadows of trees through the tent when the flashes occurred….then you whispered, “Where are your arms?” I asked why and you said, “Tuck them in and don’t touch the metal on the bed….JUST IN CASE.” Way to go to scare your kid, pop! This would have been spring or early summer 1985, I think. I’ll check the date on my slides to verify, though.

My daughter touched on the lobster snafu and the night we spent in a non-waterproofed tent while a storm raged around and over us, and one might legitimately say, with one of its components—water—inside the tent with us. At twilight that day we luckily stumbled upon a small state park in Maine with tent grounds, and we pitched our tent under the comforting arms of a giant oak, reasoning that its shade would be welcome the following day. The Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton said it best with the phrase that began his 1830 novel Paul Clifford: It was a dark and stormy night . . .

For us it was not only a dark and stormy night—it was also a very wet night that we spent in our two-person tent, an item we purchased new just before we began our odyssey, along with two aluminum folding cots, two light-weight sleeping bags, a one-burner Coleman camp stove and a Coleman two-mantle lantern, both of which used white gas for power. Using the booklet provided we practiced pitching the tent in the parking lot at our apartment, but decided not to follow the instructions to “waterproof your tent by using the waterproofing tubes included.” Since the skies were clear that day in Arlington, Virginia, we surmised, wrongly of course, that they would remain clear for the duration of our camping trip. They did not remain clear.

Note for campers: Do not—I repeat, do not—pitch a tent of any size under a tree of any size regardless of the weather and regardless of whether the tent is waterproofed. The absolute last place one should be in a storm is under a tree, whether in a tent, a car, a trailer, a wagon or just standing, sitting or lying under a tree. Trees and lighting bolts appear to have a passion for one another—everyone knows, of course, that lightning goes upward from the ground, quite often from a tree, and is met by its counterpart coming down from the clouds. We can pass this gem of knowledge we gleaned on our trip: Weather has an odd way of changing abruptly—in our case it changed so abruptly that we had neither time to relocate our tent, nor time (or the means) to waterproof it.

The massive storm hit around 9:00 p.m. and lasted for an eternity, with brilliant flashes of lightning and rolling thunder, sounds comparable to the sounds made by massive landslides with huge trees snapping like twigs—before the night was over it sounded like Mount Helena blowing its top. Of course my imagination was at high pitch, fueled by something similar to fear—no, not just similar to fear, it was fear. For awhile I feared that I could drown even if the lighting didn’t get me. Not surprisingly, my daughter slept soundly through most of the bedlam, awakening only when I whispered, “Where are your arms?”

At one point during the storm I imagined that I could smell sulfur, an odor associated with lightning strikes—some say brimstone, as in “fire and brimstone.” In 1983 in Arizona it smelled like sulfur. I was in a moving automobile at ground zero near the Arizona/Mexico border when a lighting bolt struck and mangled an aluminum guardrail just a few feet from my front-seat passenger position. Come to think of it, that may not have been sulfur I smelled, but I definitely smelled something!

We survived the ordeal of the storm and emerged from our tent, a bit bedraggled but bound to continue on our great adventure, and as time passed we began to remember that night as a fun time and one of the most memorable moments in our trip.

Prior to finding the state park where we camped that night, we stopped in a couple of travel-trailer parks to see if they allowed tent campers. Neither provided sites for tents, but a woman in the second park mentioned that “a nice family” owned and operated a camp nearby and accepted tent campers. While giving me directions, she included a but, a but as in, “But they only accept family campers.” Thinking perhaps that family size was a factor for admission, I told her there were just two of us. She repeated the provision that, “They only accept families,” with strong emphasis on the word families, and then I realized the reason for her repetition of the sentence. She had a good view of me standing in front of her, of course, and she could clearly see my daughter standing outside near our car.

Note: My daughter was twenty-three years old at the time, and I was rushing toward my fifty-third birthday, an approximate age difference of some thirty years. I said, “Oh, I see,” and turned on my heel and left, my heart and my chest swelling with pride, knowing that she actually believed that I could entice a female non-family member such as the lovely 23-year-old girl standing by my car to embark on an extended camping trip with me. As I pranced out of that office I felt much taller than I did when I entered—had I been capable of doing so, I would have snorted, whisked my tail and whinnied all the way out to the car.

Enough is enough, at least for now. I have been criticized and censured for making my postings too long—evidently some viewers’ truncated attention spans prohibit them from spending very much time reading, especially if there is a dearth of photo images in a posting. I will therefore terminate this posting, a tiny vignette, but representative of the memorable experiences we accumulated over the six-day period, and return at a later date with more details.

I promise.


Posted by on February 12, 2010 in camping, Family, Humor, Travel


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