October 30, 2009


I am going to hell for the things I have done to mice.

My favourite items to receive in my loot bag on Halloween were Wagon Wheels. I make no bones about this. I hand them out to the kids who come to our door now, always saving one for myself. My least favourite items – enemies, even – were bulk-bin orange-and-black wrappered toffees doled out by thrifty-pantsed clueless types who obviously had lost touch with their own childhoods. But I digress.

Mice. I suspect they are even searching for cracks in our house as I recant this tale. I know they are after me. A dusting of early fall snow last year revealed tracks around and about our weathered foundation.

Halloween 1985, 10 years old, and I return home from a valiant night of trick-or-treating, an old pillowcase slung over one tired shoulder, straining under the weight of a champion Halloween stockpiling. Within days all chocolate had been purged. By mid-November chips and raisin boxes were consumed. Not long thereafter, Rockets, Sweet-Tarts and suckers were subsequently taken down.

What remained were the toffees. Countless toffees. In said old pillowcase. In my closet, left in spite. It was no coincidence that with winter came the mice. They invaded the confines of our dark unfinished basement and, to no one's surprise but my own, my bedroom closet. My mom scolded me over the abandoned loot bag and set out little stacks of death-bringing poison pellets. And then – no more mice.

I grew older and out of Halloween traditions, and my bedroom evolved into an everyday teenager haunt. Despite my best efforts to keep the place clean, I was teen-aged – and as such did not smell the rotting mouse corpse deep underneath the Billy bookshelf units.

We moved from that house in the summer of '92. As I made disappear long-obscured dust bunnies and dirtpiles with the family's never-quit 1960s-era Hoover, I made a discovery. A tiny, curled, sleeping mouse skeleton inside an orderly ring of brown-grey fur and dried insect shells. The grisly scene rattled into the vacuum hose, and was quickly gone. I did not tell a soul.


Halloween 2002, and the onset of a cruel winter. I was then living in a small but decent apartment in a ramshackle building for four years, but had not seen mice until this time. Watching Battlebots on a late Friday night, I detected a darting form from the corner of my eye.

Mouse. I knew it to be true, and I was on the case instantly. With a can of compressed air I flushed it from hiding time and time again, looking to corner and trap the beastie. It escaped my hockey stick-wielding clutches.

I set about mouse-proofing my pad, but to no avail; the apartment was made of holes. That winter many mice invaded my space, yet none would munch on my munchables nor take bait from the standard traps placed about the suite. They did not even make poop. They seemed interested only in passing through, announcing their skittery presence with a squeak or two, then vanishing – likely to filthier apartments within the building.

I had to strike at them with the last resort of any mouse-hunter: the dread sticky trap. All my resident mice did were walk; I had to strike at them where they walked. Thus began a wintertime opus of 4:00am piercing peals for mercy. What ensued: a quick tipping of the gooey plastic tray and its squirming contents into a Nike shoe-box, a closing of the lid, then a boxer-shorts-and-parka death march to the dumpster outside. One mouse out of the house, the shoe-box cocked and ready for the next transport. Five times this ritual occurred in total before the hordes were extirpated from my home.

Five celestial rodents now await me in the afterlife. Six, I guess – with one giant plastic tray of gooey spread toffee for my own personal Han Solo carbonite treatment. But they are waiting.

October 29, 2009

216: WYUTAZCO, Part Four

Top row (left to right): Ranger Dan shows us the Mesa Verde ropes; Cliff Palace; early morning and Delicate Arch. Middle row (left to right): Kerry, in Mother Nature’s stockade; petroglyphs! Bottom row: one last sit-down before the long trip home.


Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park and Utah's famous Arches National Park provided fodder for the remainder of our time, before finally putting our heads and the pedal down for the non-anticipated and arduous trek home. Both locations offered incredible sights and distractions from the looming two-day Interstate marathon.

Mesa Verde was plenty scenic, a towering plateau of rock rising from desert and scrubland. The location is more well-known for its historic content, housing countless restored and untouched Puebloan cliff dwellings and villages. We signed up for guided tours of two such ruins, learning our brains and navigating the jungle-gym network of trails, ladders, ledges and tunnels – then saved time for a solo jaunt on an entertaining trail that led to a wall of petroglyphs. Come late afternoon we took off for the thrill-seeker haven of Moab, Utah, and the base for our final day spent hiking and exploring in Arches.

Arches is the ultimate cartoon landscape, and immensely popular, even on a weekday in the middle of October. We arrived early and beat the tourist onslaught to Delicate Arch, quite possibly one of the most recognizable and photographed pieces of work Nature has cobbled on the continent. But the majority of this final day was spent tackling possibly our most grueling hike in the Devil's Garden, traversing sand, inclines and slippery-smooth swaths of slick-rock, which earned Kerry – and I still chuckle – likely the only booter for hundreds of bone-dry miles. We saved just enough time to witness the sunset, sinking the park's west facades into hues of deep red, coming to a close in the cathedral of Double Arch. Bloody awesome.

I'll tinker with my scads of photos for days and months probably, but a good, solid set of photos is now up and running. Click here for the set, or here for the whiz-bang slideshow treatment.

October 27, 2009

215: WYUTAZCO, Part Three

Top row (left to right): the Jerome Gold King and his pet donkey Pedro; my badass birthday Haunted Hamburger; Kerry crosses the line. Middle row (left to right): Monument Valley spire; Grand Canyon with eggplants. Bottom row: grand pano.


A whistle-stop was all we afforded the Grand Canyon; it was our intention all along to take snapshots and move on, figuring the size and scope of America's greatest natural attraction was bigger than our two-week plans to see as much as we could. From Kanab we visited the less-visited North Rim and breathed in a few vantage points. But after being so close and personal with previous stops, the Grand Canyon seemed unapproachable. At least for our schedule, and I will grant it that. It's really a destination unto itself.

But it was on this day, traveling to Sedona, we did witness the true openness of American southwest desert country – there is indeed not much going on between the Canyon and Flagstaff beyond scrub, Harleys and a Navajo-language lite-rock radio station. Sedona, on the other hand, is a comparative oasis ­ of enterprise, traffic and eyebrow-raising New Age craziness. We took a day off from nature and went on a birthday excursion to nearby Jerome, a reinvented hillside mining town now dedicated largely to a lively arts and crafts scene. Despite this, we concocted a visit to the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town – essentially a glorified packrat scrapyard ­ for some red-blooded American kitsch (with donkey!), and a stop-in at the Haunted Hamburger for the most badass of all the world's hamburgers. Shopping was also in order; I procured a sweet Stetson cowboy shirt.

This was to be as far from home as we would go. From here we would turn back north, through the Painted Desert and Tuba City (a most disappointing town, in comparison to its name), past the Coyote-and-Roadrunner-inspired monoliths of Monument Valley and into Colorado for a visit to the ruins of Mesa Verde National Park.

October 26, 2009

214: WYUTAZCO, Part Two

Top row (left to right): Bryce Canyon at sunrise; the colours! Middle row (left to right): juniper antlers; our car shall not pass; dwarfed in Zion. Bottom row (left to right): look up, look way up; the rocks are melting.


The drive from Old Faithful to Bryce Canyon, Utah, was longer than I anticipated – near-empty interstates and 80mph speed limits notwithstanding. But the day was encouraging in that we ably ditched the snow of Yellowstone for the sun of the desert in a matter of hours. Regression back to summer kicks an early winter's ass every time.

Warmer weather in tow, we could finally ditch the car and set out on foot – which we did at Bryce, totaling over 2o kilometres of ups and downs in the candyland spires of this fantastic place. The park is comparatively compact, and with one solid day we got a good fill of what the place is about. Starting out at daybreak on the less-traveled Fairyland Loop trail, we walked and gawked at this trippy otherworld. My memory card filled fast with amazing hues of red, yellow and white. Nearer midday we connected with some of the park's more popular routes for those willing to navigate the switchbacks into the canyon floor, made our way out of the park's namesake "ampitheater" through the cavernous formations of Wall Street, and finished with an exhausting return to the car via the Rim Trail from one end to the other. The place never ceased to amaze; some of its geography was near laughter-inducing. And in our combined stupour we both received fine October sunburns.

Bryce is for lovers of good lighting. The next day allowed us time to slowly make our way to nearby Zion National Park and Kanab, our ensuing place to crash for the night – and I used this opportunity to leave pre-dawn to catch one of Bryce's famous sunrises while Kerry slept. It did not disappoint; I camped out in a good spot with other photographers on the same pilgrimage and watched the show.

We would experience Zion in a similar vein (sans vehicle), but a random day of shunts and spurs was laid out in between. The nearby rehabilitated ghost town of Grafton made a fine turnaround point – we checked out its rickety remains and desert cemetery before making a bee-line to Kanab, and failed attempts to locate two other nearby ghost towns before nightfall. Kerry wrote about one such attempt, to find the town of Paria, that I hope to show in the future. She's a great storyteller.

Zion and Bryce are two hours apart, yet on altogether different planets. Where Bryce displays delicacy and curiousity, Zion imparts sheer blunt force. It's the immovable object, with vistas and grandeur to rival any mountain range. Playing one-day tourists, we hopped the park's shuttle service and made an attempt on its most famous hiking excursion, the Angel's Landing trail, a precipitous series of switchbacks and chain-aided clifftop scrambles. But so did every man and his dog (or kids), and midway we opted instead for a palette of lesser-known – and just as thrilling – hikes into hanging valleys, porous, dripping cliff faces and crevasse-like dry canyons.

That night, and the night previous, we stayed in the area hub of Kanab – home of two highly-recommended establishments: the Rocking V Cafe and the wonderfully-eclectic Bob-Bon Motel. I won't do this often, but both of these places were very, very cool.

October 24, 2009

213: WYUTAZCO, Part One

Top row (left to right): Kerry, at the northwest entrance; Lower Falls, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone; foyer of the Old Faithful Inn. Middle row (left to right): colours on display at West Thumb; I can't see a damned thing. Bottom row: Mammoth Hot Springs.


I've decided to break down our epic, 8,000-kilometer road trip into bite-sized pieces – this because I worked my camera(s) overtime and have spent much of the past week culling and processing photos (we returned last Saturday night). I don't want to write a marathon, and for those of you not keen on the written word, there is a newly-posted Flickr photo set of snapshots and stitched panoramic photos now available. I've gotten as far as our time spent in Yellowstone National Park. More will follow.

Yellowstone was our first stop. It would end up being nothing like the remainder of our trip, an anomaly in every sense of the word. It was cold, snowy, blustery. It was also insanely eerie, otherworldly and head-scratching. It's a zoo of a park, encapsulating so many unique landscapes, creatures and bizarre geological oddities it made us sometimes laugh. We saw much more of the park in our three days than we ever intended, hoping to tough out a pair of long day hikes. But the temperatures and constant threat of snow kept us close to Bill, our unsuspecting and prairie-spoiled Honda Civic.

Our first two days were spent making the best of less-than-ideal conditions. Luckily the place was so fascinating; the glut of hot springs, fumaroles, steam vents, hissing puddles, gurgling mud pots, teasing half-geysers and neon pools all did their part to distract and temporarily warm us up. We explored Yellowstone's north end: Mammoth, the Lamar Valley and one of its resident grizzly bears, Tower Fall, Norris and the park's namesake canyon. The weather channel was predicting the worst, snow was falling in the higher altitudes and we feared we'd have to scuttle our last day.

But the next morning, we awoke to sunshine and newly-reopened roads to the south, passing through the bison-clogged Hayden Valley, West Thumb and the famous swath of geysers surrounding the even-more-famous Old Faithful itself, capped with a one-night stay at the grand and rickety Old Faithful Inn (meeting up with online friend and Baltimore-based photographic whiz Janet Little, coincidentally shooting in the area). The sun and patches of fresh snow made for an entirely different day than the previous two; even though it was just as crisp, it was decidedly more pleasant. And the new light provided all manner of great photo opportunities.

Onwards and downwards, we'd had enough of this early winter and headed for the heat. Our next night would be spent in the southern fringes of Utah.