A Personal Account: Travels, Health Recovery and Political Outlook

The Holiday Season is upon us.

However, before I dive into the chronicle of my recent travels, I should briefly check back in on the important subject of my last BLOG, namely the discussion of Cancer.

Many of you will be familiar with the subject. If you are not, you will be eventually. Such is modern life and current medical progress.

For my part, as I write I am 11 weeks past a partial nephrectomy performed with robotic surgery at the Keck Institute of USC in LA. I have no Chemo planned and am simply on the watch for future new and reoccurring signs. My strength is largely returned and like most people the memory of events is fading.

For all practical purposes I have already moved on. Inevitably, tomorrow can be another story for us all.

What is NOT fading into the past is my awareness of the stress, anxiety and fears that illness from cancer brings to others. When people meet with me, I become quickly attuned to their seemingly universal underlying beliefs in the sinister nature of cancer. It is clear most suspect that eventually the next shoe will drop: another phase or bout with the disease is on the horizon. This is what so many transparently expect.

There is also the awareness of how traumatized are both friends and relatives by the occurrence of the disease in those they know. They obviously fear what they cannot see or control and dread what might lie ahead for these others and themselves.

It is difficult to watch the thinly disguised anguish these traumatized observers endure.

Inevitably, I too must watch ongoing difficult battles being fought against cancer by people I know. There are new combatants, some recently afflicted and others longstanding. With the awareness of their struggles comes the knowledge of the pain and distress of their loved ones and friends. The tentacles of cancer reach far and wide.

There are also many victims who willfully ignore obvious symptoms; some out of denial, others for fear of what they might discover. Delay invariably compounds problems.

So, if you are currently involved with a sufferer, I hope you can bring some solace to their door.

And if you witness symptomatic suffering being ignored, encourage victims to investigate and quickly.

As for this piece, let me now move off to lighter discussion ( 😉 ) regarding my most recent travels…

Given the backdrop of Covid-related inconveniences my latest month of travels have been restricted to the Domestic front:  first up to Redding (CA) for a regular Drift fishing trip Euro-nymphing for rainbow trout, regular weekends sailing on the quiet San Francisco Bay followed by an extended journey across the US Southwest.

The low, cold and turbid waters of the Lower Sacramento (CA) dam release yielded well for my Birthday fishing trip in mid-November. I rounded off my special day with a visit to a lively Sushi and Mongolian BBQ bar in Redding. A fine day out and splendid celebration.  😊

As for sailing on the Bay, it remains lonely. The diminished sail-boat traffic of the Covid era has not fully returned and we are now headed into the naturally quieter Winter Season.

Commercial traffic has improved a little: A few more ferries run these days though less Container Ships are queued up below the Bay Bridge waiting for their turn to move dockside and progress their cargoes slowly through the weakened Supply Chain. I suspect vessels now embark at later times to arrive for more predictable unloading opportunities, rather than sit off-shore anchored-up, just waiting.

Finally, when late November rolled around the time for an early Holiday Season Trip was upon us. So, we confirmed our plans, finalized the bookings, checked the weather, packed our bags and set out…

As a group of four we left before Thanksgiving to see the Canyons of the Southwest:  Grand, Antelope(s), Bryce and Zion. And I think I have found myself a personal (albeit qualified) winner in the contest for the most spectacular viewing.

The journey began with masked-up travel through SFO (airport), for a United flight into Las Vegas to pick up the rental car and overnight before moving onward.

The Bellagio Hotel (and Casino) in Vegas rekindled old memories and provided people-watching opportunities galore. Sitting just off the main lobby under the massive Chihuly-designed, vividly colored glass-flowered ceiling, it seemed like the entire world passed before my eyes.

An endless stream of Covid-masked vacationers ambled by the piano-bar, gazing at the massive Christmas tree, wandering about its surrounding displays. Children of all ages were in awe, stopping to pose and take photographs then paddling along their way, passing down wide overdecorated carpeted corridors to exits providing them access to other Hotels along the Strip.

The next day we rose early navigating the Bellagio check-out and car reclaim, then heading to the familiar Tusayan Village just outside the Grand Canyon National Park.

There followed trips and hikes around the sites and stops, on the opposite side of the Canyon from the already closed (for Winter and storm season) and higher Northern Rim. This was my third visit. I always arrive a little off-season when temperatures have already dropped. But this time there was no sprinkling of early Winter snow.

The Grand Canyon was formed by the mighty Colorado River cutting 5,000’ deep into a plateau over a period of some (est.) six million years. Exposed rocks at the bottom of the canyon are a billion years old.

This rim would be the lowest elevation we would visit on our journey.

We arrived where the usual spectacular views were laid out below, a mile deep and crisply clear on a chilly yet sunny day. Parking at the Visitor Center I visited Maher Point, Yavapai Point and Museum and walked down to the head of the Bright Angel Trail quietly slipping down into the Canyon from the side of the Art Gallery in the Village.

The trail quickly passes through a much-trafficked arch then can be seen winding back and forth in several hairpin bends to appear again a few thousand feet directly below where it snakes off across flats and through small, lightly wooded areas to vanish suddenly in the distance over the edge of a distant plateau, deep below.

Later that day we drove out, parked and hiked a mile to enjoy a sunset viewing of the massive Horseshoe Bend which once again lived up to its legendary reputation.

That evening we found a large rustic restaurant back in town to host us where we savored our traditional Thanksgiving meal alongside a giant 30’ x 40’ segmented screen which rolled spectacular videos and shots of year-round Grand Canyon images taken from aircraft and ground locations.

The next day we ran into a couple of resting moose, laying quietly beneath shade trees just off the walking trail. Another pair of giants later ambled slowly and deliberately just feet in front of our halted vehicle.

We wound up our Grand Canyon viewing and Photo Ops at Navajo Point, then latterly the Desert View Watchtower before driving off towards Page (AZ), passing and visiting numerous Navajo roadside stalls and markets along the way towards Antelope and Bryce Canyons.

Crowds had quickly thinned and numbers diminished everywhere we went as soon as Thanksgiving had passed. It is critical to view these marvels when seasonal heat is not oppressive, the Holidays are done, traffic is massively reduced and well before the bitter Winter cold sets in, yet most services and places remain open, sufficiently staffed.

Hot days, large crowds and traffic delays severely dimmish even these spectacular viewing experiences. Things can then be miserable. Our visit timing hit the sweet spot throughout the journey.  😊

Following our arrival in Page we enjoyed three major outings: two visits of Antelope Canyon(s) and a UTV trip into the local mountains.

First came the UTV trip. We ran in side-by-sides for 2hrs in a gradual climb to the locally named 6000’ high Hot Dog Point (HDP) overlooking the Paria River a few thousand feet below which runs down to the distant Lee’s ferry and joins the Colorado River. The precipitous views of the Echo and Vermillion cliffs was something to behold and photographed well.

The so-called Honeymoon Trail runs beside the Paria River away from the Ferry and upstream, far below where we were perched. It was named for the journey made by early settlers returning home with newly acquired brides.

The UTV ride back followed a much faster trail and we returned our rented off-roader just an hour after leaving HDP. We then spent 20 minutes trying to rid ourselves of the deep red trail dust that covered everything we wore, even including the insides of sunglasses and goggles. 😊

Next, we made trips to the Upper Upper Antelope and the Lower Antelope Canyons. The former visit gifted us a private Navajo guide (as required on these lands) who regaled us with tales of the Canyon’s ownership and interesting aspects the Navajo Culture.

He was himself half Apache, so in his words not true Navajo. There is no such name as Navajo in the Native language as the people call themselves Dee Nay (spelled here as pronounced to me) and name their reservation land similarly, too. The name Navajo was just a Western Import unwantedly bestowed upon the people by Spanish invaders.

As for the culture itself, it is entirely Matriarchal. It seems with all the (specifically) household say and management directed by women, men often find reasons to stay away, absent themselves frequently or simply leave. There are tribal Elders and a Counsel where men are normally featured and valued, but as for Chiefs, the Navajo have no such thing(s); claiming their stated existence is simply considered a lie.

I trust our guide was being fully accurate with the snippets of information (listed above) that he provided.  😉

He took us through the Upper Upper Canyon after we had climbed 100’ down ramshackle staircases. Antelope is formed by flashfloods carving ancient lake-bed sediment into smooth, deep sculptured channels in the red and buff-colored strata of soft rock. Distant rainfall run-off can suddenly roar in, pouring into the narrow channels and over steep canyon walls.

This Canyon was mostly >40’ deep with the high walls making it difficult to survive any flash-flood. Our guide told us of the time he was caught and extracted a Texas couple from such and event. They were extremely cold, shaken yet thoroughly inspired by the time the torrent subsided and they waded out though chilling waist-deep waters to clamber up a scalable cliff face.

The Antelope Canyon series were discovered less than 100 years ago by (the story goes) young girls locating sheep that had wandered down through crevasses which were found to burrow deeper the further they were explored. Native children first played in there and eventually they were turned into tourist attractions as early visitors explored, photographing and publishing the novel images of these mysterious water carvings and light effects in Nationally famous journals.

Next, we visited the much more famous Lower Antelope Canyon. There have been original pictures taken of illusional light effects and wall carvings sculpted from water-action within the bowels of this feature that have sold for as much as $6M and $4M, respectively. Even Microsoft has used images from within for Screensavers; visitors and people from across the world have adorned their homes with their own photography and professional works of this natural marvel.

You descend carefully supervised into this canyon, backwards down a brief sequence of robust steel ladder staircases that run to perhaps 100’ deep with a narrow opening spilling in light across the 100-200 yds or so of its length. At its very bottom, the walking width can vary from a usable foot wide to several yards, weaving and zigzagging to open areas with gradually increasing elevation changes.

There are surfaces, walls, colors and illusions of light and shape to photograph at every turn. Guides help create further illusions and point out shapes appearing as George Washington, The Ghost, Seahorse, Dancing Lady and dozens more impressive Photo Ops.

At its end, the canyon floor gradually and imperceptibly elevates as you crouch slightly, weaving upwards through channels, finally clambering up the last dozen steps to eventually stand and walk upright out of a crevasse in the rock. Quite an adventure and a spectacular way to emerge once again into full daylight.

When the flooding water courses through these canyons it can rage with currents reaching over 100 mph in the tightest spots to (still irresistible) just 10’s of mph in the widest and most tame runs. And the shapes that are carved and light effects that result must be seen to be believed.

So much for the unique experience of Antelope Canyon(s). A guide told me that when he helped place a Verizon tower atop a distant sheer 10,000’ high local Navajo Territory Mesa he could look down and see countless similar unexplored canyons carved below. There is still much to explore and discover in this region.

So next we moved on to the Town of Bryce, just 5 minutes outside of the drive-in National Park entry gates.

Bryce Canyon is again spectacular. I know some who say it is their favorite of all Natural wonders. Indeed, it is strange, unique and mightily impressive.  😊

The main viewing is from multiple expertly positioned sites around a grand Amphitheatre (about 2 miles across) of so-called Hoodoos. Bryce can be seen on the distant horizon from even further away than Page. It towers to almost 10,000’ and the lowest areas of the rim are around 5000’ with the base of the canyon at most a few thousand feet below.

The region was formed as an ancient ocean bed, covered and exposed some 6-7 times every 15 million years. There are massive sedimentary deposits from these incursions that have been eroded since the earth mantle last raised up and displaced the waters. Each day the altitude brings frigid air that freezes moisture in the rocks to be melted by the warm sun the following days; this has resulted in massive erosion which produced thousands of odd-shaped and often precariously balanced individual columns of rock (Hoodoos), vertically colored and stratified by the eons of varied sedimentary deposits made upon the ancient ocean bed.

A massive basin has formed at Bryce, filled with the world’s largest collection of these Hoodoos. And as you look further into the distance towards the horizon you can see the (6-7) layers of unique strata depositions made during the separate periods when an ocean was present.

Visitors come out all day to walk the rim and visit their own choice locations to view the Sunset and Sunrise. Photographs are best made in the middle day to avoid massive shadows from peaks entering the frame and detracting from the overall image. As usual with such grand landscapes it is often better to have SOME foreground reference (people, trees or things) that helps convey the massive scale of the views.

As for our party we viewed the sunrise at the (locally) recommended Bryce Point and followed up through the day with visits to other Points: Sunrise, Sunset and Inspiration. Walks and climbs at these altitudes get your attention when moving around the rim. We were again spoiled by the sparsity of visitors and welcome privacy following the Thanksgiving weekend.

Later in the Day we drove some eight more miles further out and climbed to almost 9,000’ to enjoy both Farview and the famous Natural Bridge. Again, magnificent and unique photo ops if you have the skills and equipment, though even an amateur’s efforts cannot fail to impress with such subject material.  😉

So much for Bryce Canyon National Park. Following this last outing we packed our bags and began the two-hour scenic route drive to Zion. There were mini, Bryce-like Hoodoos and occasional red-rock vermillion cliffs adorned by the midday sunshine all along the way.

Temperatures remained consistent throughout the entire trip: Mid 40’s early morning after sunup, warming to at best mid 60’s in the sunlight and out of the breeze. However, the higher altitudes of Bryce Point before a sunrise viewing did manage to slip temperatures down to the high 20’s while we were there.

Along the way to Zion were numerous exotic (Ostrich, Beef, Alligator, Bison, Wild Boar etc.) jerky-buying opportunities and a large, fenced-in sedentary Buffalo Herd for viewing and Photo Ops. As we drew close to the Park, a wildfire drove smoke 100’s of feet into the cloudless sky and the roadsides were littered with the rotting carcasses of several unfortunate mule deer, victimized in traffic incidents.

Finally, we approached the empty traffic lanes of the Entry Posts for Zion and entered the National Park itself. What a stunning find. The huge rolling rocks and colored mountains that rise both sides of the snaking pass are truly spectacular. I find Zion to be my first choice among all the Canyons viewed on this trip through the Southwest.

Bryce has the highest elevation of the canyons we visited. As for Zion, the walls of the canyon run up 1000’-1500’ above the floor with its highest peaks matching the lowest elevations in Bryce and its canyon floor matching the high rims around the Grand Canyon.

The Canyon walls of Zion run from pale beige through every shade that sediment can present to stunning deep clay-colored reds. What a spectacle.

We drove along the Canyon floor, then into long tunnels bored through the massive peaks and fell out the other side of the park immediately into the Town of Springdale and our waiting Hotel.

After checking in we found the local Visitor Center inside the Park a mile up the road offered plenty of souvenirs to shop. Rangers sat unmasked outside the buildings under tents, providing advice and suggestions to maximize your visit.

The seasonal Shuttles that ferry visitors throughout the park had stopped operating the day before as the post-Thanksgiving guest numbers had completely fallen off. Cars were now allowed inside the park for trips and viewing, not just to access the famous Lodge.

While there we rented eBikes two consecutive days and made the 20-mile roundtrip up the Scenic Route to the Temple turnabout and walked the short hike from there into the Narrows, which is so often subject to dangerous flash-flooding.

The whole region was once again the product of ancient water sedimentary deposits, but this time the massive rock structures and canyon bed was formed by the mighty Virgin River that over the last 15 million years has driven rainy season currents that put the mighty Colorado to shame.

We were once again spoiled by the fortunate time we had chosen to visit. We dodged the sweltering heat of Summer, avoided Seasonal Holiday crowds and were just ahead of the biting freeze of Winter. There were very few cars replacing the recently terminated shuttle service.

All our travels along the Zion Canyon bed were comfortable, cool and spectacularly scenic from dawn till dusk.

And the friendly Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, Bars and Services of the small town are all geared entirely to the support of the privileged Visitors to Zion.

On our final night in Zion, we drove out to a newly rated official Night Sky Viewing Spot to watch the stars with little-to-no night glow interference from the Town of Springdale or the very few local buildings inside the park. It was quite a show. A truly vast display of stars, planets, galaxies and constellations.

The next morning, we watched the sunrise tumble down the vermillion cliff-face behind our hotel room, grabbed the offered breakfast, packed and set off back to Vegas for our last night, once again scheduled in the Bellagio Resort.

After checking in there I wandered the Casino area for a short while and viewed the punters eagerly placing bets, anxiously awaiting the outcomes. Many seemed to lose, some won quietly but others reveled in their victories.

One Craps table exploded in congratulations and celebrations as the dice settled to cheers, handshakes, hugs and thankyous. “That is what we live for,” called out one gambler. A joyous event, yet a sad statement of the values and needs of they who imbibe.

After a little more wandering our group met with two more friends who were in town for a weekend outing. We all dined at Spago’s in the Bellagio and were treated throughout the evening on the heated outdoor balcony to the famous Water Fountain Shows, just yards away.

There was even a surprise visitor to our table. The Head Chef and Owner of Spago’s, Wolfgang Puck, joined our ranks and graciously stood in for a Photo Op. He is a great Host and wise Businessman who mingles well with very appreciative guests.

Gene Simmons and Wolfgang Puck Host Rocktoberfest Opening Night at L.A. Live in Los Angeles on October 15, 2012

The evening closed back at the piano bar in the Hotel Lobby, people-watching again, reminiscing and listening to a pianist who has entertained more than one US President. These were the closing throes of a memorable trip.

And eventually, we reluctantly retired.

After a few hours sleep we reclaimed the car, checked out and returned our vehicle to the Las Vegas Car Rental Center, grabbed a Starbucks and breakfast in the airport and clambered aboard the flight back to SFO. This was quickly followed by a short flight and long drive home to Santa Cruz in the Monterey Bay.

That trip was over. And now the planning for Christmas and New Year’s travel has begun.

So next, entirely changing subject there are the issues of Local (CA), National and Global political shenanigans and events to consider. Unfortunately, there are many troubling news items percolating as long-term problems…

First up is my Home State of California. For some reason we like to regularly declare water shortage emergencies, hereabouts. It turns out that there is less a Water Shortage Issue, than there is an issue with Water Collection.

California has made few improvements and no Additions in this area in the last 40 years. Yes, they have collected FUNDING to facilitate such work, but it appears that money went elsewhere. You have probably guessed that the population of the State has grown around 50% over this same period.

So, you might rightly ask, why would a naturally water-poor, dramatically growing State NOT take the necessary actions? There is more than just the Mismanagement of Water, in notorious California. ☹

On the National front we have a laundry list of crises:  Southern Border Illegal Immigration, Drug Smuggling and Exploding Drug Usage, Human Trafficking, Gas Prices, Record Inflation, The Afghan Withdrawal, Violent Crime Escalation, Promotion of Racism, Expanding Supply Chain Catastrophes, Massive National Debt Growth, COVID-19 Mismanagement etc. And always few to no answers.

Every Government Policy pursued begins fraught with foolishness, Executive Actions are lead-ins to inevitable failure, and Administration Positions are blatantly flawed even at their introduction.

The only question remaining is whether these calamities are Intentional, the result of Gross Incompetence or a mixture of BOTH

Whomever is charge simply cannot govern. ☹

And frighteningly, we now have >35 States reporting Voting Issues with the 2020 elections. So what reason is there to suppose that there is ANY chance future elections will be other than heavily compromised?

On the Global front, everyone that matters are dressing for war

China has large and growing inflation problems and a massive property bubble. When you additionally infect the planet (with Covid) so consequently diminish general product demand, your government cannot hide the issues forever, even when disconnected from World Markets that would otherwise readily illuminate your crisis.

Chinese territorial expansionism (in the South China Seas, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan etc.) by passing Internal Laws, the making of Global edicts and taking actions, exacerbates problems the World cannot ignore indefinitely. Let us face fact, China’s leadership could really use the distraction of a War.

Russia has witnessed first-hand American frailty in leadership and has eyes on the balance of Ukraine. Putin also needs to distract from leadership credibility and economic issues at home. So, the Russians are lining up at their border.

The US-created power vacuum is now recognized and visible throughout the World. Both Russia AND China will want to push their luck to maximum advantage around the Globe.

And nobody needs a brand-new War to distract the Public from his failures more than the already sunken President Joe Biden.

Have you ever seen folks dress up for a party and then not attend? Possibly. But have you ever seen Leaders NEED a War and not get one underway?

For myself, this about completes the content of the Blog. Next time there will be tales of how my upcoming international travel fares in the teeth of a ramping Covid profile that always seems to thrive in colder weather.

Have you planned a break for yourself? It is likely the turmoil of this era is also weighing on your loved ones and friends.

Perhaps you should find ways to bring a little joy and comfort to the lives of others?

Everyone needs time to kick-back and regenerate. Find yourself an opportunity to relax and enjoy this Winter Season. And Happy Holidays!

Ian R. Mackintosh is the author of Empower Your Inner Manager Twitter@ianrmackintosh.

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