Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for February, 2010

For Enhanced Detail, Rich Charpentier Advises High Pass Filtration

posted: February 23rd, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Here’s a technique I learned yesterday from Rich Charpentier, a good friend who provides informative photo seminars from his base in Prescott, Arizona. As well Rich has a print shop located not far from the town’s historic courtyard center.

Right now Rich’s class to Vulture Ghost Town is full, but you can still get into his next class, one which will center on an incredible area known as White Pockets. Rich, as I’ve discovered before (and from his blog), not only knows the areas around which he centers his class, but can convey this knowledge. He is a born communicator, a patient and persistent teacher.


The technique Rich shared with me by phone is intended to increase the definition of an image in a way no other technique can equal. You must have PhotoShop. To duplicate the technique create a new layer (Ctrl J), then use a High Pass filter on the layer, which will create a faint “etching” that seems foreign to the original.




You’ll have to experiment with the pixel change, but I set mine to 9. Then blend the two layers (original and new) using Hard Light or Vivid Light, and behold, you’ve created an image whose impact has just been increased dramatically, particularly apparent with larger images.


The technique really helps to amplify the floral structures of wildflowers (as they’re now appearing in Anza Borrego!), and if your goal is to generate an appreciation of the natural world – or just the world around you –through the art of photography, Rich can help!

To learn more about PhotoShop, Lightroom and photography, and do so in unique settings, I join many others in recommending his photo seminars.




*Anhinga Trail



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Emerging Desert Lilies Suggest Spectacular Spring in Store for Anza Borrego

posted: February 21st, 2010 | by:Bert


One of Anza Borrego's most celebrated wildflowers now emerging and is abundant.

©Bert Gildart: One of the desert’s most celebrated wildflowers is now emerging in areas surrounding us here at Pegleg, a campground within the sprawling Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Known as Desert Lily various people from our campground have surrounded sprouting leaves with circles of rocks to protect them from the many footfalls of local hikers. Their efforts have been rewarded for now emerging are undamaged specimens of what many describe as one of the desert’s most beautiful wildflowers.

Appropriately the generic name of the plant is Hesperocallis and it roughly translates from Greek as “west beauty.” (Greek hesperos, “west,” and kallos, “beauty.”) Indeed the flowers are beautiful and though I photographed one the other morning and posted it on a previous blog, the images here show more fully developed specimens and their most conspicuous features, and that is the fully opened large, cream-colored sepals and petals. Usually sepals are a different color but in the case of many lilies, sepals have become more like petals, and that’s true of the desert lily.

Though the plant is now abundant, individual specimens do not always bloom, requiring a sufficient amount of rain to activate the bulb, which can be buried several feet in the soil. Spanish called the desert Lily “Ajo (garlic) Lily” because of the bulb’s flavor.

Like the glacier lily of Glacier National Park (where I worked as a seasonal ranger), Native Americans sometimes harvested the bulb as a food source. In Glacier, grizzly bears still seek out the succulent bulbs and I have to speculate that when the California grizzly roamed this great area, it might have once sought out bulbs of this or a similar California lily, for bulbs of Montana’s glacier lilies and Anza Borrego’s desert lilies are similar. Certainly local tribes made use of the bulb, just as they made use of the agave plant, a species to which the desert lily is closely related.


Though called a lily, I find from the literature that there is much dispute as to whether the species really should be placed in the family Liliaceae. From botany courses I know that members of the lily family have the floral formula of 3-3-6-3, meaning they have three sepals, three petals, six stamen and three pistils. Our desert lilies conform to this formula, but with the advent of molecular science, taxonomists are finding molecular differences they now believe are more important than morphological features.


Desert Lilies now heralding what should be a colorful spring desert.

Now they say these features reveal that the Desert Lily is more akin to the agave and relegate it to the family Agavaceae. Adding to the confusion, yet others relegate it to the family Hesperocallidaceae, and that’s interesting as this family contains no other species but Hesperocallis undulate, our desert lily. And, yes, yet others leave it right where it’s been, and that’s in the lily family.


Books on taxonomy say that to identify the desert lily, you should look for characteristic long, thin, narrow leaves that appear wavy or undulating, as suggested by the specific name undulate. You can see that feature in my photographs, but literature also says individual specimen might sometimes display thicker leaves with straight edges.

Look, too, for a flower which at times sports a stem one- to three-feet in height. At times, these structures may contain as many as 20 buds, though only a few may be open at any one time.

Some say the flower is similar to that of an Easter lily, and after spending time photographing it, must concur that the two appear somewhat similar. Photos incidentally were made during a strong wind, but my two strobes arrested leaf and flower motion. For depth of field, natural light setting had to be f-32 dropping shutter speed to 1/8th of a second.


Look for long narrow leaves that often appear wavy.


That, however, would not have worked and resulting images would have been horribly blurred. With strobes and the camera set to manual, I was able to change the shutter speed to 1/250 of a second; aperture remained f-32.


Most people, of course, probably care little about the technicalities imposed by taxonomist and by camera buffs such as myself, and are probably looking for a plant that simply adds beauty to a desert setting that can sometimes appear drab. If you fit that category, now is the time to explore Anza Borrego’s spectacular desert. Wildflowers are beginning to emerge and that news is presaged by the desert lily, one of the most beautiful of all desert flowers.



*Badwater, Where An Entire River Disappears


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Sighting of Desert Bighorn Lamb Topped Day of Superlatives at Anza Borrego

posted: February 18th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: For Eric Hansen and me the day could not have started out better! About a half hour after departing our camp at Pegleg, we found ourselves driving through a rugged portion of Anza Borrego Desert Park on our way to Indian Hill (also a rugged). Though the sun was just barely peeping over the horizon, as we rounded a  steep curve not far from one of the park’s major passes,  Eric, who is always on the lookout for bighorn sheep, hollered: “Bert! Up there on that cliff.  A ewe and a lamb.”


Distant sighting of young lamb topped day of superlatives at Anza Borrego.

For my Montana friends familiar with sheep biology, mark down February 17. Here ewes give birth in mid February, not early June as they do in Glacier National Park. But the conditions are similar. Both desert bighorns and Rocky Mountain bighorns seek out the most rugged terrain they can find, and this ewe was no different, for the high pass was about as rugged as you can find. Similarly, young seem born with protective camouflage, blending as they do almost perfectly in color with the surrounding rocks.

How do the ewes known to find terrain that so perfectly matches their young? And how did we know this lamb was just born?

Though I can’t answer the first question, the fact that the lamb still retained a shriveling umbilical cord was proof positive. More than likely this tiny lamb was no more than four- to five-days old – if that.


Click to see expanded caption and for larger image.

The photographs I made were all taken from the road and from a distance as well. The pair showed no concern responding to our presence simply by moving behind a creosote bush. We drove on to our day’s objective, which was Indian Hill, a remote section of the park.


Our goal was to find a unique set of pictographs, and though we were unsuccessful, we were highly successful in other ways. Several agave plants were in bloom, meaning that a long life is about to end. Though also called “Century Plants,” most likely they grow but 35 to 50 years, finally, putting forth flowers at life’s end. Several had completed their life span and were now – at long last — flowering. Not only were the yellow blossoms gorgeous, but they were attracting bees and hummingbirds, and, so, were serving another function.

Rocks in the Indian Hills area also created interesting patterns, which I photographed. As well a railroad track reminded us that the rocks were once an impediment for those constructing the Carrizo George Railway. Evidence of past construction was manifest and we found a now deteriorating wall that had been built, in part, with explosive cans.


Click to see expanded caption and for larger image.

But the rocks were not an impediment to all, and once served as ancient Indian shelters and as sites for the creation of pictographs. And though we couldn’t find any that’s not all bad for the country was gorgeous, meaning that we have an excuse to return.

And then, of course, there was our rare sighting of the new-born desert bighorn lamb, which really topped the day.




Gator Drama in Shark Valley


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More Phenomena at Anza Borrego Desert State Park

posted: February 14th, 2010 | by:Bert


Native Americans once gathered fairy shrimp in tightly woven baskets.

©Bert Gildart: Since my posting about fairy shrimp, I have learned more about this tiny crustacean by visiting with several of the volunteer naturalists at Anza Borrego Desert State Park. As I explained recently, rains dissolved the cyst that protects the species from the fiery sun and the desiccating winds. But what naturalists explained is that that all life-perpetuating functions are performed in a period of just two weeks.

Another interesting fact is that Native Americans once gathered fairy shrimp by the thousands collecting them in baskets woven so tightly that these half-inch long creatures could not escape.

Fairy shrimp then served as a source of food. Obviously the food source was marginal as rains sufficient to bring forth the large numbers Janie and I saw at Clark Lake several days ago only occur once every five or six years. This is one of those years.


Rains in this park are also beginning to bring forth spring flowers, and there are two particularly showy species now blooming. One is a species of cacti known as the Fishhook Cactus, which can now be seen along the trail to the old Marshal South homestead in Blair Valley.

The other is a Gold Poppy and Eric Hansen and I photographed it yesterday while looking for sheep along the Palm Canyon trail. Eric and Sue are a husband wife writer/photographer team, also members of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America, and Janie and I have known them for years. They’ll be here for a week or so.

To photograph the two species I used two different techniques. I photographed the cactus using two strobes lights, a technique described in other postings. I photographed the Gold Poppy by asking Eric to create a shadow over the plant, so reducing shadows that tend to be excessively contrast-y in the harsh desert light.

Eric and I are both interested in photographing the desert bighorn and, yesterday, we had some success, but it wasn’t easy. We departed our campground about six in the morning and were at the trailhead shortly thereafter. By sunrise we were a long way up the canyon when Eric spotted a ewe-lamb group on the side of Indian Head Mountain.


Bighorn sheep scurry along side of Indian Head Mountain; fishhook cactus now blooming along trail to Marshal South’s old homestead.


The sheep demonstrated but little concern and drifted toward us. Half an hour later we were close enough to perch on the side of a rock and allow them to acclimate further to our presence, which they did. Several minutes later several moved even closer toward us. Then, they began scampering around as though in play. Two of the young rams began a mock battle of head butting, but all that occurred behind a patch of creosote.


Gold poppies now in bloom along Palm Canyon trail.


Though the images I did obtain were not exceptional, I was delighted that I could document these magnificent animals in the rugged setting which has been their home for centuries. It is my hope to amass a portfolio of desert bighorn and with ones taken here several years ago, believe I am beginning to achieve that objective.  Borrego, of course, means sheep, so while here the effort as a photographer seems appropriate.



*The Dry Tortugas


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Rain at Anza Borrego Desert State Park Works Magic for Fairy Shrimp

posted: February 12th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Once every five to six years, California’s Anza Borrego Desert State Park is deluged with rain water and if it pools, a miracle occurs. Embedded in the playa of Ancient Lake Borrego, the lake from which Clark Lake (also dry) eventually derived, tiny crustaceans break free of their cysts. Specifically, the cysts have enabled early stages of the tiny fairy shrimp to survive desiccating winds and the summer temperatures that often exceed 120 degree Fahrenheit.


Here in Anza Borrego, tiny shrimp are now finding their place in the comos


That’s what’s has recently happened at this 50,000 year old lake bed. Rains have been exceptional, particularly in recent months. And now, with yet another downpour last week, the shriveled and dried up surface that until recently comprised Lake Clark, has soaked up enough moisture so that the phenomena has occurred. Rains have  softened the cysts; and they have erupted; and you can now see the half-inch-long fairy shrimp powering along the edge of this ancient lake now slightly watered.


Though difficult to see, fairy shrimp perform all the functions of life we consider normal, they but do so with structures that are certainly different from those with which we are familiar. They have a thorax which consists of 11 segments, and leaflike legs. And here is where you find the breathing organs as well as  lobes for paddling. You’ll see the shrimp if you take the time to study the water’s edge, and though they won’t be seting records for speed, they sure can move.

Look even closer and if one of these tiny creatures stops you might even see the animal’s two sets of antennae. One is extra long and it is used for grasping females during mating. Later, eggs fall to the surface mud where they might sink slightly and then develop to an early embryo stage, remaining dormant then until the next wet season. Here at Clark Lake that could be another five years down the road when heavy rains fall once again. At that time, eggs will hatch about 30 hours after rains fill the pools.


Though the United States hosts a number of different species of fairy shrimp, five species are endangered. Declines are the result of habitat loss from agricultural and urban development, alteration of wetland by draining – and from off-road vehicle activity.

ClarkLake-9Shrimp-1ClarkLake-10Clark Lake-11

CLICK TO SEE ENLARGED IMAGE AND FOR EXTENDED CAPTION. L to R: Ancient Clark Lake, fairy shrimp, bicycling  to Clark Lake, proof that fines are not sufficient to curtail activities of a certain segment of society.

In Anza Borrego off-road use is tolerated in specific areas, but a certain segment of the group flagrantly ignore signs. Their actions serve to give all in the group a bad name, which is unfortunate, as most in  are law abiding. Sadly there was much evidence this past week of such activity immediately adjacent to a posted sign at Clark Lake. (See photos of JUST ONE example.)

Fairy shrimp serve as an important cog in the food chain, providing sustenance for a variety of shore birds. Photographing the species requires specialized equipment and much patience, but I  enjoy looking at them as they remind me of the extraordinary adaptations life has made to endure under the most capricious of circumstances.




*Spring Awakening Death Valley




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Archaeoastronomy Weekend at Anza Borrego

posted: February 8th, 2010 | by:Bert

Daria Mariscal Aquiar

Daria Aquiar of Baja California and a member of the Paipai nation demonstrates basket making techniques.

©Bert Gildart: This past weekend Anza Borrego Desert State Park in southern California presented its annual Archaeoastronomy weekend, opening its museums for visitor tours – and hosting a tribe of Native Americans.

The group is known as the Paipai and they hale from the Santa Catarina area of the Baja Pennisula, which is located about a four hour drive south of Anza Borrego. As many who follow our blog know, Janie and I have a particular interest in Native Americans and have, in fact, devoted an entire page of our website to the Gwich’in Indians of Alaska.

Over the years, my stories and photographs of Native Americans have appeared in dozens of publications to include Christian Science Monitor, Native Peoples Magazine, National Wildlife and Time/Life.


The presence of the Paipai at the Visitor Center this past weekend provided us with an opportunity to meet a group of people who are actively attempting to preserve their indigenous ways, specifically, by the continued creation of baskets, bows and arrows, and pottery.

But the weekend was also about the area’s ancient past, and not to gloss over the work of all the volunteer archaeologists, the weekend also provided insights into a time when mammoths, zebras, llamas, camels, and ancient horses roamed the shores of ancient inland seas that once spread north from the Sea of Cortez. Indeed, the archaeological weekend provided not only a number of photographic opportunities, but also an excellent time to learn about the area’s incredible past.


Because most of the Native artists spoke Spanish, Horacio Moncada served as a translator for artists Enriqueta Castro, Melina Zazueta and Adan Arenivar. He said the baskets were made from Jeffrey pine needles and palm leaves to create the intricately coiled pine leaves. They are proud that their use does not harm the trees as leaves and needles are gathered from those that have fallen to the ground. Horacio said that techniques for making the items were handed down over a period of almost 1,000 years.

Adan Arenivar created the bows and arrows and the sling shot, and with the exception of the rubber for the sling shot, all materials were derived from the land.


Click for enlarged version and to see extended caption.

Our visits with members of the Paipai Tribe occurred immediately in front of the Visitor Center, but not so tours of the museum. Normally, the area is off limits, but during this special weekend tours were conducted into actual working labs. Judy Smith, an RVer and also a volunteer who has undergone intense training, explained that zebras, sloths, and camels once occupied what is now the badlands terrain. From this area, the park has amassed a rich collection of bones.


Archaeologists have then identified the bones and the results are amazing. Zebras and camels once occupied the area, but so, too, did horses and llamas. Interesting, these latter two species then migrated, horse to Asia and llamas to South America. Then, several million years ago those in North America all died out.

Volunteer Judy SmithElder-2_DSC8842-2N-American-1

Click for enlarged version and to see extended caption.

In other words, though horses and llamas evolved here and later populated other portions of the world, it was up to the Spanish explorers to reintroduce horses, and up to the Mexicans to reintroduce llamas by bringing them across the isthmus of Panama.

During the weekend, the park also offered a number of seminars, many of which we attended. All were interesting, but for us, the opportunity to meet another group of Native Americans and some of the actual field people now serving as volunteers was the highlight.



*A Letter To Save The Everglades


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Some Say Endangered Species Protection for the American Pika “Not Warranted”

posted: February 5th, 2010 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: Two years ago I wrote a major story for a magazine produced by The Wilderness Society about global warming. At the time I quoted Dr. Erik Beever, one of the premier scientists working on the subject. He was concerned about the effect rising temperatures would have on pika, a tiny member of the rabbit family and one I have posted on previously. Much of his work has been centered on pika in wilderness areas of the Great Basin. Because pika can not tolerate the increasing temperatures associated with global warming he said that the species is like the canary in the coal mine, telling us world temperatures are too high.


A member of the rabbit family whose survival depends on the cold temperatures previously associated with high altitudes.


Beever says that archaeological evidence proves pika have inhabited the Great Basin for the past 40,000 years and that in 1940, scientists cataloged 25 distinct populations in the region. In 1992 Beever began his investigations but found only 19 pika populations. In 2004 subsequent research indicated his 19 had dropped to 17 and that all pika had migrated up about 130 vertical yards.

Despite the fact that he believes pika will most likely be gone from the Great Basin,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service released findings today saying the pika need not be placed on the endangered species list. Though their findings contradict those of some scientists, here is what they had to say.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“Although the American pika is potentially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in portions of its range, the best available scientific information indicates that pikas will be able to survive despite higher temperatures. Pikas will have enough suitable high elevation habitat to prevent them from becoming threatened or endangered. As a result, the pika does not meet the criteria for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“We have completed an exhaustive review of the scientific information currently available regarding the status of the American pika and have analyzed the potential threats to the species,” said Steve Guertin, the Service’s Director of the Mountain-Prairie Region. “Based on this information, we have determined that the species as a whole will be able to survive despite increased temperatures in a majority of its range and is not in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future…


“A key characteristic of the American pika is its temperature sensitivity. Pikas cannot tolerate much higher body temperatures than their norm of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, the species is found at progressively higher elevations, where cooler temperatures are found, as one moves south through the range of the species.  In Canada, populations occur from sea level to 9,842 feet, but in New Mexico, Nevada, and southern California, populations rarely exist below 8,202 feet.


The pika is like the canary in the coal mine telling us by its demise that world temperatures are critically high.

“Several climate change variables can affect pika populations, including extremely hot or cold days, average summer temperatures, and duration of snow cover.  In general, pika biologists agree that temperatures below the habitat surface, such as in loose rock area crevices, better approximate the conditions experienced by pikas because they rely on subsurface habitat to escape hotter summer daytime temperatures and obtain insulation during the colder winter months. Therefore, surface temperatures may not be as useful as subsurface temperatures for predicting the effects of climate change on pika populations…”

The paper continues, noting that their finding suggest pika will survive in the Great Basin as well as in areas such as Bodie, California and in the hot climates of Craters of the Moon (Idaho) and Lava Beds National Monuments (California). They say that pikas persist at these sites because they reduce activity during hot mid-day temperatures by retreating to significantly cooler conditions under the loose rock areas and perform daily activities during the cooler morning and evening periods. Despite altering their behavior in response to high temperatures, pikas can maintain high birth and low mortality rates.

Obviously there are different theories regarding the future of the pika and although I’m inclined to place more credence in the finding of Mr. Beever, I hope the USFW is correct. Pikas are diminishing in number from Glacier National Park (as well as the park’s glaciers!) as well as from the Great Basin. I also hope enough of these charismatic little creatures survive to ultimately replenish their kind.



*Badwater, Where An Entire River Can Disappear


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The Slabs — For Some, It’s All In What You Make It

posted: February 2nd, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: During the Saturday night dance at the Slabs in southwestern California, which is nestled between a half-submerged wasteland of derelict buses and vehicles known as Bombay Beach and an environmental catastrophe known as the Salton Sea, Janie and I were paid an immense compliment. “You all,” said Solar Mike, “are Slabbers.”

The compliment followed a rousing song played by a band that might have performed here when “Alexander Supertramp,” the young man featured in the book and movie Into the Wild… lived here. He was befriended by Leonard Knight, the man who has spent the last 20 years of his life building Salvation Mountain. Last year I wrote about him in one of my blogs and was glad to see that although the torrential rains of last week slowed him down it didn’t destroy him.


Leonard Knight, architect of Salvation Mountain whom I interviewed last year.


Solar Mike paid us the complement after his splendid accompaniment on his harmonica with a local band. Upward would go his head when the band struck high notes and then down — when the band launched in some blues. And while he played, Janie and I danced, and immediately after his last performance he came over. “Wow,” he said. “You all dance like Slabbers. You’d fit right in.”


No question, we were having a ball, and Mike was laughing, but the fact of the matter is that Slab City caters to folks from virtually every conceivable style of life you can imagine. For some it is the end of the road. Here’s where a large number of people come to park their run-down RVs at absolutely no cost. They have no other place to go, and all they need here are a few solar panels and a shovel to scoop out a big “gopher” hole.


CLICK TO SEE LARGER VERSION AND EXTENDED CAPTIONS. L to R: Slab City library, Christopher, Saturday night dance, “Solar Mike,” Don examining library books.

When the “gopher hole” is filled “residents” cover it and then the sun bakes out the odor. Several of the occupants include two sisters (now 91 and 92), and for them this is certainly the end of the road.  Still  they seem to love their life as it is.   Many fit into a similar category and it even includes a few PhDs who must have taken a wrong turn somewhere in another life.

Not everyone, of course, is at wit’s end, and Solar Mike is certainly not one of them. About 20 years ago Mike departed the state of Washington where he’d been employed as a social worker. Recognizing a need, Mike settled in with his Motorhome, began adding solar panels (they now number about 40) to his own evolving structure and began accepting business. Today, that business has garnered him a reputation as the Guru of everything that can be operated by solar power.


For us this is a repeat visit. Last year we made the two hour drive from Pegleg (where we’re still based) and had Mike install a single solar panel which wasn’t quite enough. This time we sat down with Mike and reviewed our actual usage, which we had not adequately described previously. Mike concluded that we needed a three stage charger rather than the factory installed one. We also needed another panel and yet another battery. Though Airstream builds a good unit, we believe they equip their units for those who primarily want to stay in RV parks. That’s not us. Essentially, we stay in national parks and in out-of-the-way places — places that offer but few amenities.


And, so, after one month with us at Pegleg, Don and Nancy depart, leaving after an exhilarating weekend in the Slabs. (Note our new solar panels.)


After assessing our needs, Mike then turned the work over to several of his employees. One was a man named Christopher who had become an astute observer on life. He believes that Janie and I are better off in our Airstream than fifty percent of the rest of the world, and as we thought about it concluded he is probably right. Here in the Slabs, the analogy was appropriate, as a number of the people here are destitute.


Yet another person whose life has impacted this eclectic community was the librarian who passed away about seven years ago at age 57. Her name was Peggy Sadlik and if you visit the library you’ll see her grave marker on the north side of the library, buried beneath a slab of concrete. She preferred to be called Rosalie and she began the library about 1995 by adding a few books to a shack build by a local character known as Goldman. Originally she stipulated that if you took a book you left a book, but now, because the library has grown, if you see something you like you can simply take it. The library is open 24 hours a day, but you’ll need a flashlight if you visit at night.

We spent three days at the Slabs and have to say we enjoyed it once again. We enjoyed the notion that there are still some places in the U.S. where you can pretty much do as you will. Of course there’s a down side, but if you can handle the problems that must arise from time to time then you can carve out a respected niche, one so respected that when such a man tells you that you could be a Slabber… why you believe you’re among the chosen.



*Lessons From Yaquitepec


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