Daniel

cutting across Wyoming

the mountains appear just far enough away

to hold back the storm clouds

 

over Cottonwood Creek

past Cottonwood Ranch

the fence leaping deer make light work

of this rolling, undulating land

 

sudden outcrops of red rock

elephant footed in appearance

the wind gusting

nothing to stop it

 

you could get lost out here

in a ravine or gulch

befriend the black crows

the mighty eagles

 

become the next wilderness man

as far away as you want

just follow the telegraph poles

back in time to Daniel…

 

I took a chance

headed out west from Chicago

joined the Emigrant Trail

supplies loaded in a covered wagon

spades, picks, long handled axes

enough wire to demarcate what was mine

a thousand acre plot of sagebrush

hard truths and honest labour

a new way of living

pioneer

settler

adventurer

 

this is my story

part truth

part myth

 

I wasn’t the first man to brave this frontier

there were others before me

natives

trappers

gunslingers

government forces

 

go plant the Stars and Stripes

they told us

find water

a hollow for your cattle

trees for stakes

hurdles

firewood

shelter from the summer heat

the ingredients for success

 

the first year was the hardest

some never made it through

dust driven droughts turned

to winter snows

the big sky our canvas canopy

our kingdom

heaven

hell

godforsaken

god given

 

we fixed

we made good

sharpened our tools

honed our skills

saw out that first harsh winter

with prayers

determination

 

we scrimped and saved

every dime and dollar counted

for in the spring

the cattle men came

our chance to pick the finest

barter prices

share whiskey

stories

fights

 

to have a herd

was to be a herdsman

some might say a cowboy

a rancher

a dream believer

 

with the first calves

some cash to reinvest

a proper cabin

long, dark days planning

cleaning gun barrels

stoking fires

flaming our faces

fortune telling

 

and maybe in a year or two

a wife and family

the privilege to provide

for town and country

 

the old Pony Express route

well that’s long gone

the telegraph poles came

and you can still find me

just follow them down through time

find the town that bears my name

 

Daniel

Population 150

Elevation 7192

Wyoming

USA

 

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(this is a reimagining of history. Daniel, Wyoming is a real enough place. I drove through it today. There’s not much to see but, as with most places, history is never far behind us. I’ve just mixed it around a bit that’s all)

 

Yellowstoned

We are all driving around on this fragile caldera

Aware yet ignoring our apocalypse awaiting

She’s a brewing, bubbling, scenic wonder

Unpredictably natural with wanderlust beauty

Laughing deep within her magma filled belly

Sending warnings out vents and geyser breasts

There to entertain us, fumaroles and mudpots

Hissing, belching, stinking fumes of sulphur

Her colourful pools tempt with innocent eyes

Grand Prismatic Spring and Morning Glory

Clearest boiling blues, cooler orange browns

Either way, her hot tubs are not an invitation

With acidic spit her kisses will dissolve you

The Continental Divide she partly straddles

But one day she will wrench herself apart

Blow asunder, cause havoc, global winters

And all the souvenirs, postcards and trinkets

Will be but reminders as we struggle for survival

 

I’ve been here a few days so I can honestly say

That I’m Yellowstoned out, I’m super volcanoed

It’s time to leave before the next deadly eruption

Hopefully make it back home to relative safety

Just one more night with fading torch batteries

Blood pressure pills and scary late night reading

You can worry about bears, stampeding bison

But underground there is a helluva commotion

The devil’s own Armageddon of vengeance

Today, tomorrow or a thousand years hence

We simply don’t know, we simply don’t care

So let’s keep driving around on this fragile caldera.

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BE BEAR AWARE !!

On our campground sign

There was written this line:

Please: BE BEAR AWARE !!

But where was the bear?

 

We asked the old elk

But she was of no help

And the big bison too

Stepping over his poo

 

We peered round the trees

And up through their leaves

But all that we saw

Were chipmunks galore

 

So we made us a plan

Asked National Park Man

But all he that he said

Was the ranger was dead!

 

Oh, how come he died?

Did a bear kill this guy?

Oh no, said our friend

But he met a bad end

 

He fell into Old Faithful

A geyser most ungrateful

His tubes became blocked

All the tourists were shocked

 

We gave up on our bear

Forgetting: BE BEAR AWARE !!

And back at our tent

With a look of content

 

Guess what we found

Spread all over the ground

A broken camp chair

And a big hairy bear

 

He’d eaten our grub

Was asleep on our rug

So what can we say

Now we’ve spent the whole day

 

They are out there you know

But not always on show

So if you search for a bear

Remember: BE BEAR AWARE !!

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(My attempt at writing a poem for children! I saw lots of animals in Yellowstone – bison, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, white pelicans, ground squirrels – but sadly no bears!)

Zips

lying in my tent

listening

imagining

sounds outside

night creatures

rustling

exploring

curious eyes

waiting to pounce

rip me apart

 

turn on my phone

a bright light

comforting

Google logo

my portal

my contacts

web of wonders

safety in numbers

take me anywhere

away from here

 

unzip the door

shine the torch outside

see nothing

zip it closed

rest assured

for a little while

a car drives past

headlights casting

shadows thrown

what are they doing?

 

need a pee

unzip again

step out

behind a tree

and there above

the Milky Way

from left to right

jaw dropping

unexplainable

vast

 

back inside

temperature dropping

zip up

blanket over

try to find comfort

tiredness

shouldn’t be afraid

it’s only nature

doing its thing

turn off phone

 

darkness 

sleep

but what was that?

 

 

 

coyotes?

 

 

dogs?

 

 

 

no

 

 

Zabriskie Point

The approach to Death Valley from the south was a motoring challenge in itself
Unpaved roads and windblown sands tinkled and teased my rental car’s frame
In the neighbouring Searles Valley my attention was grabbed by some painted rocks
Just another piece of Nevada desert graffiti to entertain the travellers
Or so some might have thought.

I rounded the corner, braked and pulled onto the sloping gravel shoulder
Blast furnace heat sucked the air from my lungs, made me gasp
The side of the hill on my right was green and crumbled to the touch
Just another colour in this spilt pallet of a painter’s landscape dream
Or a geologist’s psychedelic field trip.

Beyond the bend in a dried out wash a roadside memorial caught my eye
Superhero figures and a cross of axes amongst beer cans to quench the thirst
Captain Travis Flores-Lee had come to Nevada from Hawaii in 2001
Just another firefighter whose life ended too soon to be remembered
Or so he may have thought.

Later in an overpriced Las Vegas motel I found his story on Google
His car had left the road on his way to work at the Searles Valley Mineral Fire Department
His colleagues must cross themselves in remembrance every time they pass the spot
Just another tragedy in this Dante’s inferno of a lunatic landscape
Or a statistic on a road sign.

Antonioni directed his cult classic which divides opinion to this day
Love or hate it there’s no doubt he left his mark somewhere along the movie time line
The painted plane, the love scene, the exploding house finale
Just another contribution to the existential road movies of late sixties counter culture
Or a work of genius to some.

At Zabriskie Point a couple from Iceland took a picture of me and the view
Perhaps it was sacrilege to take those photographs of Dolores-Lee’s shrine
As the old Navajo woman had shaken her head and frowned at me for asking
Just another tourist buying her trinkets but not allowed to remove her soul
Or perhaps for a few dollars more.

There’s only ever been one thing on my bucket list of things to do before I die
And yes, I have seen the movie several times and own a copy of the soundtrack
I even played it on the way into Death Valley to put me in the mood
Just another of the weird and wonderful things that demand my attention
Or not as the case may be when it wanders.

My mind turns once more to the unfortunate case of Dolores-Lee
I wonder how he would have felt knowing he’d become part of the valley folklore
My bucket list is empty now like his firefighting superhero dreams
Just another reason to turn off the air-con to prevent overheating
Or play the soundtrack one more time.

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Trailblazers

they were the explorers

pathfinders and land cruisers

range roving defenders

of prairie frontiers

from Colorado

to Silverado

surf to tundra

the rebel wagon rams

on the edge of

Yukon escalades

Comanche commandos

the canyon pilots of

Navara ridgelines

terrain wranglers

titans of the suburban scene

defenders of the Sierras

Tacoma mountain toppers

Dakota rogues

dodging the avalanches

evoking the Cherokees

traversing the highland escapes

with a Sante Fe forester

or a tornado discovery

hummers and forerunners

they were the offroad journeymen

and patriots all.

traces

in buckskin hide

through red rock canyons

he came on stolen mustang

bareback riding mesas, buttes

dried out washes

and in this wilderness silence

he left no lasting trace

but a wake of grasshopper flights

hoofmarks on silver grass plains

hunted buffalo bones

campfire spoken story tales

of creation, birth, human survival

 

now under barbed wire fences

he sneaks a peek at once

his land of riches

mostly under new ownership

largely mismanaged

railroaded and crisscrossed

with interstates, strip malls

gaudy neon diners

crumbling, decaying, sun beaten

worshipped

for all the wrong reasons

preoccupied, never pausing to listen

 

voices call from the past

echoes caught on overlooks

rock strewn escarpments

scanning the distance

his hand shields his eyes

a false new wealth

of reservation compensations

cash dollar tourist casinos

trading post trinkets

a commercialised culture

his voice calls out for the sunset

one last time

 

Ever see a rainbow lit up by a sunset?

Ever see a rainbow lit up by a sunset?

Lightning forking across darkening skies

Neon lights stripteasing the night threats

Thunder truck rolling between your eyes

 

Ever stood waiting in a pool of starlight?

Colours mixing on burning streets of oil

Sirens announcing the coming firefight

Temperatures blistering as eyes recoil

 

Ever felt the heat of a stray arrow’s kiss?

The rose petal splash of crimson fears

Passions cloud over and lovers reminisce

Blindfolding their eyes with lambswool tears

 

Ever wondered how to ignite the new day?

Set gasoline fires on your demon badlands

Lonely back road promises drive them away

Covering your eyes you take both my hands

 

Forever we will journey in this quiet disguise.

 

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(Just a bit of daily post one word prompting imaginative writing inspired by setting foot outside my motel room tonight in Tucumcari, New Mexico and seeing this amazing sunset rainbow).

Chance Meetings

I was never planning to do the Route 66 pilgrimage but flooded interstates in South Louisiana pushed me north to Memphis and it seemed an opportunity not to miss. Much of the original highway has been lost to time and the creeping sideshoots of  modern day expansionism but there are stretches and towns which still retain some of the flavour of bygone travel.

My point of first contact was northeast of Oklahoma City at the historic Round Barn and POPS angular steel-beamed gas station which displays and offers for sale a mind boggling array of bottled sodas and beers. I bought a Route 66 grape soda and a Dublin Vintage Cola.

In El Reno the 1892 hotel, red barn and museum contained a treasure trove of antiquities. One of my constant beefs is the way larger museums feel the need to minimise their exhibits, picking just a chosen few choice objects for display in interactive isolation. I wanna see the whole collection. Don’t hide it away in the vaults. It’s well worth visiting and supporting these small town museums run by volunteers.

So I planned to make Amarillo by sunset but all my dalliance was running me late and I didn’t want a repeat of yesterday’s long drive. I managed to pick up some decent wi-fi at the Domino’s in Texola before crossing the state line into Texas. Shamrock up the road seemed a good place to stop and the Country Inn had good reviews. I made it there in Texas quick time.

Shamrock turned out to be one of those chance layovers that revealed more than I could ever have hoped. It was a photographer’s dream with its rusty old scrapyard cars and Route 66 memorabilia.

I was taking pictures of the famous Conoco Tower Gas Station and U-Drop Inn when I noticed a guy on the opposite side of the street doing the same. We got chatting and it turns out he’s a photographer who likes documenting back roads US highways.

He’d been to the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo and his kids were still covered in paint from adding their mark to that weird roadside installation. As the sun set behind us we snapped away and one by one the neon lights of the old building came on. From the clutter in the trunk of his car he produced a shrink-wrapped copy of his book Garish, a collection of colour Polaroid shots taken on his travels and promptly signed and wrote a message inside for me. Did I say I was glad I’d stopped in Shamrock? His name is Robert Jones btw and the e-book is available on Amazon.

http://www.robertjonesphoto.com/

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