My Kind of Wasteland

by Izaak Diggs


It would be easy to dismiss Barstow as a wasteland: You've got the heat in the summer and the poverty year round. Faded mobile homes and salvagers making monkey shapes as they strip valuable tiles off collapsing houses. To the casual glance it is just a place to fill your gas tank or grab a burger or use a restroom. Just another desert town, just another exit or two along the interstate to somewhere else. Why was I there? Was I following a genuine spark of inspiration or had I lost my mind? All I could do was wring my hands, question my sanity, and take more notes. 

Barstow has always been a hub. Starting in the nineteenth century it served long distance travelers and the mining towns in the region. The desert is a popular place for mines: Men digging holes in the ground, getting a little closer to Hell in the hope of cheating the Devil at poker and getting a monopoly on brimstone. Gamblers with chin beards and suspenders who directed other men into the dark recesses of the earth. They oversaw the creation of towns that thrived for awhile only to die and be reclaimed by the desert after.  Fortunes made and lost; a story told countless times in the history of mankind. The story of Barstow is nearly identical to scores of towns scattered like seeds throughout the Southwest.   

I went down to the desert with nearly every penny I had. I stood on a salt flat, waited for the wind to rise, and tossed all the bills in the air. They were carried in every direction; to fast food restaurants and cheap motels and gas stations. Like those men with chin beards and suspenders I gambled everything I had on a dream, on an idea.  I gambled it on the desert; I gambled it on all the little towns like Barstow and Lone Pine and Tuba, Arizona and Capitan, New Mexico. I rolled the dice that there was a story there lurking like a scorpion in a yucca.

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What Happened in the Wilderness

On a cool sunny dawn, after getting up at 4 a.m., my friend and I began our hike into the Grand Canyon after agreeing that we would each walk at our own pace and meet at the rest stops. She took off and I followed behind, starting down the 14-mile hike on the Kaibab Trail, munching a protein bar and drinking the electrolyte-water in the bladder of my backpack for breakfast. As the golden rays of the sun highlighted huge stone canyon structures, I felt blessed by the beauty surrounding me.

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Channeling City Slickers’ Billy Crystal for a Day

by Fyllis Hockman 

Heels down. Toes out. Squeeze with calves, not knees. Lighten up on the reins. Sink your butt into the saddle. So began my first riding lesson at the Arizona Cowboy College in Scottsdale which was followed by instructions in grooming, shoeing, advanced riding techniques and roping. And this was just a one-day primer to what other “city slickers” experience in their six-day cattle drive at the College -- but more on that later.

First, despite the city’s admonition of 300 days of sunshine, it was cold and rainy when we were there. And for my story, I had my cowboy shirt, hat and boots all on for the requisite photo op but ended up ensconced in multiple layers instead, including winter jacket, wool cap and gloves borrowed from the ranch. Wasn't exactly the fashion statement I was going for.

The day began with some initial instruction from ranch manager and Jigger Boss Elaine Pawlowski, whose main goal seemed to be to keep us from falling off the horse and to avoid getting kicked when not on it.

My experience up to then had been an occasional trail ride where the horse was presented to me all spruced up and saddled and all I was expected to do was mount it. Not so here. Prior to even thinking about actually riding the animal, I was taught how to groom and brush her -- Billie, a brown mare -- and how to do so safely. I had never been this close to a horse from all sides, responsible for the behind-the-scenes handling. Elaine showed me how to pick up Billie’s hooves and clean out the bottom of the horseshoe with a pick, removing the excess dirt, pebbles or nails before taking her out. My first thought was, “You want me to do what?” As I was cleaning out one of her hoofs, I couldn’t help thinking there’s 1200 pounds of horse flesh here that with one thrust of the hoof I’m holding can flatten me. Fortunately, Billie was not so inclined.

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Spiritual GPS: Discovering holiness in every moment

by Richard Rossner

Where can we find holiness?

Sometimes I feel like I am in a grand hide-and-seek game with the Creator.  Just when I think I’ve found the deepest of the deep, He escapes me.  Just when I’ve found the perfect light, the right sound, the special spot for a spiritual experience, a hiccup or sneeze ruins the instant.

Then again, moments in life occasionally arrange themselves to create spontaneous experiences that become life-long memories with deep teachings that touch the soul.  They sneak up on you like the first warm smell of Spring that subtly tickles your nose.  You have to stop to make sure they really happened.  To miss these moments would be to miss the juiciest slices of life.

In 1994, I had just moved from Los Angeles to Scottsdale, Arizona.  The Northridge earthquake shook up more than the foundations of my West L.A. town home.  I was shaken to my very core.  I wanted out.  I had been blinded by too much show biz (I had been a writer on a hit show), too much disappointment (I was off the hit show and didn’t bag another staff position), and I was finally tiring of too much life in and out of the Hollywood fishbowl.

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Meeting the Buddha in Sedona

story + photos by Suzanne Marriott


My husband was lying in the hospital bed, dying. It wasn’t as if I should be surprised—he had been in and out of hospitals many times that year, suffering from complications of multiple sclerosis. Yet, I was. I was in shock.

I had been his caregiver for the last ten years, and now, at the time of his death on January 1, 2006, I couldn’t stop. I still had to take care of him. Less than a minute after he drew his last breath, I began reading a Tibetan Phowa, or prayer, to Amatabha Buddha to guide Michael’s transition. It was a long and beautiful poem that guided him as he experienced the stages of death and the many levels of transition. Amitabha is a Sanskrit word that literally means boundless light and boundless life. He is the Buddha in the Land of Ultimate Bliss (Pure Land), in which all beings enjoy unbounded happiness. He can provide a “short cut” to enlightenment. By reading this phowa, I felt still connected to Michael, still able to care for him.

Nearly six years after my husband’s death, I hardly expected to meet Amatabha Buddha again in Sedona, Arizona, and this was not the only surprising thing that happened there.

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TRAVELS WITH FRANKIE: Discovering Pet-friendly Perks at Dateland, Arizona

by Edie Jarolim

Many years ago, I went to Spain with a man who turned out to be an Ugly American. The beer was never cold enough for him and he often mangled the language, but got annoyed at even my mildest attempts at correction.  So I kept my mouth shut when, in a bar in Barcelona, he loudly insisted on a “servicio frio, muy frio” rather than a chilled cerveza. The bartender, not comprehending why anyone would demand a very cold bathroom, nevertheless pointed him towards the men’s room.

These days, I mostly travel with my small terrier mix, Frankie. He rarely embarrasses me and never by being arrogant. But Frankie presents the opposite problem to my Spain experience: that of the very hot bathroom.

Let me backtrack a bit.

It’s almost an annual tradition, my summer drive from Tucson to San Diego, started when I moved from Manhattan to Arizona nearly 20 years ago. I go to escape the triple digit desert heat and to visit friends I made when I was doing dissertation research at the University of California, San Diego.

Once you get on to I-8 from the soul destroying I-10, the drive, through pristine swathes of Sonoran Desert, is spectacular. Few people slow down to enjoy the view, however. Keeping up with the traffic flow means going about 85mph. I’d zip along until I reached Yuma -- at the Arizona/California border and about the halfway point in the seven-hour drive -- and get gas at one of the many convenience store/stations clustered near the turnoff and use the bathroom. 

At least that’s what I did until I got Frankie, my first dog, a few years ago.

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TUCSON AFTER THE SHOOTING: To go or not to go?

by Eric Lucas

It was just an ordinary neighborhood Safeway until a heavily armed lunatic showed up with a pistol. What happened next was disastrous.

I’m speaking, of course, of our local Safeway in Ballard, Washington, where I live—but you thought I was talking about the store in the Tucson foothills where an unbalanced young American gunned down six people and tried to assassinate a U.S. congresswoman. What happened at the Ballard Safeway was “milder” but in its own way illuminating, and the irony struck me because both places are well known to me. I visit Tucson a half-dozen times a year and wrote a guide to the city for a major global internet site. I am very fond of both places. I buy great heaps of toilet paper at the Ballard Safeway; at the Tucson Safeway, I help out my dad by loading up sacks of salt for his water softener.

You know what happened at the latter store, so let me describe the scene at the Seattle one when a member of the “open-carry” movement decided to saunter about one day last year. These are Americans who believe the way to assert the right to carry firearms is to, well, do so, even when you are shopping for toilet paper. Who knows when a TP bandit may strike? So Messr. Six-Gun clumped around, pistol strapped to his thigh, severely alarming everyone in the store. Our neighborhood is not a gun-totin’ place. He departed without shooting anyone, preventively or otherwise, but the incident provoked a storm of controversy on the chat-boards at our neighborhood website. Hundreds of comments flew back and forth; about 80 percent wanted to vote Mr. S.G. off the island.

Ballard is a wonderful place and I urge all to come visit—great restaurants, nice people, fresh salt air off Puget Sound, and believe me, you are very, very unlikely to be shot.

I’d say much the same for Tucson.

Lost in the coverage of the Tucson catastrophe is the fact the city is a marvelous place to visit. Its cuisine includes a unique local specialty, the Sonoran hot dog, which uses onions and chiles to meld ballpark frankfurters with North Mexico culinary styles. Its many first-class resorts include one of America’s finest spas, Canyon Ranch, and a distinctive selection of family-owned guest ranches. The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum is among the world’s leading natural history facilities. Tucson’s cultural climate makes it Arizona’s most progressive community. It’s the heart of the Sonoran Desert, a lovely and interesting Southwestern landscape that is surprisingly lush because, even though it’s an arid ecosystem, it has two distinct rainy seasons a year.

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Many happy returns

by Eric Lucas

Oh, how I love new places, new tastes and smells and sights and sounds. Just this year, I have discovered hot, amber sabia chiles in Tucson, peaceful historic beguinages (cloisters) in Bruges, the warm chartreuse water of Kanaka Bay in British Columbia, the mind-bending apocalyptic canvases of John Martin in London.

Love, love, love. But.

While we’re admiring the snazzy glamour of new discoveries, let me bring on stage the simple wonder of happy returns.

It was while visiting Tucson last week, dipping into the pool at dawn with my wife Leslie, that I had second thoughts about the siren song of newness. Not second, exactly; call them revisionist or retrospective. I was enjoying something I have often done before, in the exact place I had been many times. Hundreds of times, in fact, have I slipped into this exact pool, which is framed by subtropical plantings and the stern, cactus-clad heights of the Santa Catalina foothills behind, burnished by the fierce, loving sun of the Sonoran Desert.

A morning breeze feathered the mesquite fronds of the desert woods just yards away. A hummingbird buzzed by. Spent bougainvillea blossoms laid their vermilion origami on the surface of the water. A Gila woodpecker whacked a roof tile. The summer-warmed water was 85 degrees, both cleansing and comforting. Tendrils of overnight thundershowers curled by nearby escarpments, and the monsoon humidity lent the air a silken touch.

“Doesn’t this feel like Tobago?” asked my wife.

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Arizona and the Ethics of Travel Writing

by Jules Older


Travel writers aren't famous ethicists. If we aren't cavorting on some pristine beach in the Caribbean, we’re scarfing down lamb chops at some snooty restaurant in San Francisco.

But every once in awhile, we get to flex our moral muscles. And I've just come from my workout at the Ethics Gym.

I started pumping iron when Arizona’s governor signed what the papers are calling “the most restrictive immigration bill in the country” and which I’m calling, “the Up against the wall, Brownie!” law.

And heading for her signature is a second bill. This one will require American presidential candidates to prove — to the Arizona Secretary of State — that they were born in the USA. So, come next election, President Obama could be kept off the ballot in Arizona, since nothing will ever convince the hardcore that he’s not a Commie-Muslim from Kenya.

The papers call this the “birther” bill. I call it the “Klan in cowboy boots” bill.

Most of my friends agree that the law and the bill are nasty, bigoted and more in keeping with the spirit of 1910 than 2010. But since my friends don’t live in Arizona, they think there's not much they can do about it.

Oh, but I can. I'm a travel writer.

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Dead And Dragged Out On The Throughway: Is this really a better way to go than by air?

by Sallie Bingham

Santa Fe to Tucson in a one-day mad dash

Jack the Pup is riding shotgun on the roommate’s lap as we head west on I-40 at nine AM, planning to reach my sister’s house in Tucson in time for dinner. The first miles across the desert, numbingly familiar by now, yield as this time we’d planned a back roads excursion south, just across the Arizona border. The map shows one of those intriguing dotted lines, a scenic highway, just what we need after hours of rumbling 18-wheelers…

To ready ourselves for adventure, we stop in Gallup at what is now our favorite eatery: Earl’s Family Restaurant. Here in Navajo Country Earl’s is shopping center, family reunion, and good staple New Mexico food: guacamole, burritos and so forth. Outside, Navajo craftspeople jam the sidewalk with their tables; inside, they patrol the aisles, silently holding out pins, bracelets, necklaces, and, in a departure from the usual, a pair of weird lamps, the ceramic bases coated with sand and then painted with iconic motifs. I’m charmed, I must buy at twenty dollars each, then wonder, too late, where in the world I’m going to put them….

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