Friday, July 31, 2020

A Painting Hero of the Grand Canyon: Gunnar Widforss

July 31, 2020
   Caught up with one of my painting heroes last week. That would be this guy.

“Plateau Point” by Gunnar Widforss

c. 1930, Watercolor on paper

   And here's another beauty by Gunnar as well.

"Death Valley Near 20 Mule Camp"
by Gunnar Widforss, c. 1934

   When we were at the Grand Canyon last week I asked my friend and Windforss expert, Abe Hays, where Gunnar is buried and he told me the prolific artist is buried near El Tovar, and it was Kathy who found his grave in the Pioneer Cemetery at the South Rim.

Gunnar's modest grave at the South Rim

Note the paint brushes stick in the ground. Next time I go up there I am bringing a paint brush to stick in the ground as well.

   The Widforss Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was named for Gunnar Widforss. The trailhead is approximately 3 miles north of the North Rim Lodge. The trail follows the canyon rim and meanders through the forest to emerge at Widforss Point. Widforss Point is a narrow, wooded promontory half a mile southeast of the end of the Widforss trail.

   I want to go visit this trail. Meanwhile, my old, studio compadre, Ed Mell, owns a Gunnar Widforss original that portrays the North Rim area that has the trail named for him.

Gunnar original, of the North Rim,
 owned by Edmundo Segundo

   Jealous? Oh, I think so.

"The world may be a stage, but the play is badly cast."

—Old Vaquero Saying

Thursday, July 30, 2020

What Exactly Does "Jugs Iced Free" Mean?

July 30, 2020
   Okay, we are fast approaching the time when people don't get our references, and thus, our jokes. Case in point:

Ancient photo showing a long lost custom.

Kids Today
   "Forgive me, but what exactly does 'jugs iced free' mean?"
—Dave Valerio

   First of all, you are forgiven. Here's the deal. A long time ago (BAC in cars), everyone carried a thermos, or a "jug" of water. Thus, if you bought gas from Al Bell, in Kingman, Arizona, back in 1957, you got a snot-nosed kid who played right field (weak arm) for the Oddfellow Yankees, to take your "jug" into the lube room and put free ice and water in the jug and return it to the car, totally free!

   "Forgive me, but what's BAC?"

   Before Air Conditioning In Cars.

   "Forgive me, but what's a car?"

   Okay, I think you know where this is going.

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Ignorance And Power & Dust Storm Mamacitas

July 29, 2020
   That poor little, Irish, orphan boy. Well, come to think of it, don't feel too sorry for him. As Add Casey put it, "He had more sweethearts on the creek than a little."

Daily Whip Out:
"A Querida In Every Plaza"
(In progress)

   Got my scanner back today. Had a monitor out and it had to be replaced. So, I finally got a chance to scan some recent efforts.

Daily Whip Out: "Dust Storm Mamacita"

Daily Whip Out: "Dust Storm Mamacita II"
alternate title: "He Didn't Stand A Chance"

Still looking for these images to illustrate the quotes. Every single one of them, I did a painting for in the last 30 years. If only I can find them!

"He came to town dressed like a country jake with shoes instead of boots. He wore a six-gun stuck in his pants."

"If I only had my Winchester, I'd lick the whole crowd."

"At least two hundred men have been killed in Lincoln County during the past three years, but I did not kill all of them."

"He scorned to beg for sympathy."
—Pat Garrett

"Quien es, Pete?"

"In the darkness, Death crouched, waiting, ready."

"Nothing is more dangerous than ignorance and intolerance armed with power."

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Icing Jugs Launches Kingman Kid Into Damned History Career

July 28, 2020
   Time to get to work on my third book (revised and updated) on the outlaw who launched me on a thirty year career. That would be this guy.

Daily Whip Out:
"Billy the Kid Walks The Deadliest Street
In America"

      And, yes, that would be Lincoln, New Mexico.

Daily Whip Out:
"Billy the Kid: Death at His Elbow"

   The true beginning of my career can be traced back to this specific driveway.

Al Bell's Flying A, on Route 66, at Hilltop,
just outside Kingman, Arizona.

   When I was eleven-years-old, my first job at Al Bell's Flying A was to ice those jugs—as the sign clearly says—for free! I actually made $11 in tips that first summer and bought a book, "The Biographical Album of Western Gunfighters" out of True West magazine. Little did I know a career was about to be born, thanks to those wonderful jugs!

Rough sketch for "66 Chicks"

      In addition to chicks, the 66 Kid had other passions and they revolved around Old West outlaws, especially the Kid.

Daily Whip Out:
"Billy the Kid Launches Himself Into Eternity"

   Plus, I just dig old photos, like this.

   Samuel Kilborn posted this great photo of a border family, circa 1900. I could stare at this for days. I guess that is another reason I got into the history game. Well, that, and this:

"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly alone in a room."
—Blaise Pascal

Monday, July 27, 2020

On The Road Home And Other Road Trip Peculiarities

July 27, 2020
   Back from a six day roadtrip to northern Arizona. We motored home from the Canyon via Williams, Ashfork, Chino Valley, Prescott, Peeples Valley, Congress Junction, Wickenburg and on to Cave Creek.

   Lots of insights into the state of the pandemic—or, the Pandemic of the State—from the far right (Obama created the virus to derail Trump and the mask wearing is a scam and a hoax) to the far left (a petition drive to change the name of Kit Carson Campground because the frontiersman participated in Native American genocide). Of course neither one is true, but here we are:

"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you."
—Steelers Wheel

   But all of the toxic, political BS was no match for the scenery.

Afternoon storm over the Grand Canyon

   Anyone who has been to the canyon, will tell you, this photo does not even begin to do justice to the actual view. It is overhwhelming to actually see, with the naked eye, the incomparable vastness and scope. No camera—or artist—can quite capture it.

   It rained every day we were there and it was heavenly. Made for great naps! Even a walk down the railroad tracks behind our lodge, was spectacular.

Train Tracks Thunderhead

   But the big storms over El Tovar and Hopi House still remain my favorite memories of the trip.

Storm Over Hopi House at The South Rim

   Meanwhile, not to be outdone, got this stunning vista from my friend Jay Dusard:

Portal Peak, Chiricahua Mountains,
Arizona, 2015, photograph by Jay Dusard

   And, just for grins, saw this wonderful parody of those old, cheesy, fifties-style potboiler paperbacks.

   I don't know who is doing these but they are sure damn funny. Speaking of funny, here's my favorite post-pandemic line, so far:

"When this virus thing is over there are still some of you I want to distance myself from."
—Old Pandemic Saying

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The New Normal & Surviving A 600 Foot Drop

July 25, 2020
   My view last night in the dining room of El Tovar.

   This was our official anniversary dinner and we had a grand time. Notice the social distancing. Basically every other table is empty and this has been true in all of the venues we have seen on our trip. Lots of other things have changed since March 13, probably for good, certainly for safety. Coffee makers in rooms. Gone. Available check-in terminals, cut in half.

Maswik Lodge check in spacing

   Notice the clever placement of the tape and poles narrowing the approach to a window with heavy plastic shielding between you and the desk clerk. So, instead of four windows to speed up check in, now there are only two. And here is the view going into the cafeteria at Maswik:

Spacing and Distance at the Grand Canyon

   They have an actual spacing bouncer during peak eating hours and he only allows a few at a time to enter. So, many commercial ventures have had to cut their available money makers in half. Which brings up a good question.

Just Who Is Making Out In This Pandemic?
   "We tried to buy a bike rack and the guy just laughed at us. 'Everyone is a cyclist now,' he told us. No bike racks, no trailer hitches, no campers, no campsite. But the Canyon is clear!"
—Deena Bell Bortscheller

   Other clear winners, besides grocery stores and liquor distributors: anyone who makes protective panels or barriers. Meanwhile, here's a guy who has been making out like a bandit for a very long time:

   On the very first day we were here, a big, fat raven showed up above our room. He walks down the roofline and peers over at each porch, looking for stray food. So we left out part of a banana yesterday and he jumped down and took a bite then left, in disgust. We have named him Craven The Raven.

   Reading the book, "Over The Edge: Death In Grand Canyon" by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers. It is compelling reading and they have done an exhaustive amount of work tabulating all of the deaths in the Canyon from accidental falls to suicides (one crazy dude, stole a car in Florida, drove to the Grand Canyon to end his life, got into a high speed chase with the Canyon police on New Year's Eve (2007) and jumped off a cliff at Thor's Overlook into the dark void and fell hundreds of feet in zero temperature. And lived!) I'll explain his crazy circumstances tomorrow.

   Now, here is a typical drop off. Do you think you would survive this fall?

No thanks.

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Friday, July 24, 2020

Grand Canyon Mules Have A Superior Sense of Humor

July 24, 2020
   Perhaps the biggest, unsung star of the Grand Canyon experience is the mule. They have been stalwarts here from before the beginning of the park in 1908 and when you see how steep the drop offs are on the trails, where they carry tourists down and back up, daily, you will realize why they are heroes. Only a mule could do this day in and day out and be so damn dependable.

Mule riders at the start of Bright Angel Trail

   This looks like the 1920s and I totally dig that hat and riding rig on the wrangler at bottom, who looks to be Native American.

Mule riders in the old days, looks like 1910s.

   According to the best-selling book, "Over The Edge: Death In Grand Canyon," at least 125 tourists have fallen to their deaths on the steep trails (as of 2019), but not one tourist has ever been lost while riding a mule. And, to make the point even more clear, here's an early clarification:

"If the mule should slip, all would be over, BUT—the mule doesn't slip. The trail is never as narrow or as steep as you will describe it when you get back home. If it were, no living animal could possibly make the trip safely."
—Fred Harvey publication, 1909

   The local newspaper, Grand Canyon News, carries a current, front page article, on the return of the mules to the park after the shutdown on April 1. Seventy of the mules were carted to a ranch in Tropic, Utah, outside of Bryce Canyon Park, kept in shape, and only recently returned. The reporter who wrote the article, V. Ronnie Tierney, mentions that these mules have "an incredible sense of humor." Well, that got my attention, so I walked down to the mule barn this morning to talk to this guy.

John Berry, Grand Canyon Livery Master

   When I asked him about the "incredible sense of humor" of mules, he repeated V. Ronnie Tierney's story about being in the corral with two of her mules when one of them came up and got in her face and nuzzled, while the other one snuck up behind and grabbed her hat off her head and ran down to the other end of the corral with it. If true, I'd say that's a pretty good example of superior mule humor. Wanting to get a second confirmation on this amazing story, when I left the barn I encountered this guy, who not only confirmed the anectdote but, in fact, he tried to grab my hat!

Grand Canyon Mule backs up hat theft story

      Of course, I am joking about this last part (I didn't give him the chance to grab my hat!) but Tierney stands by her story. I enjoyed it so much I intend to use it in a story I am still developing about this guy.

Daily Whip Out:
"Mickey Free's Big, Bad Jack"

   One final note: John Berry offered to take me down into the canyon on one of his mules so I could experience their incredible abilities to see for myself, and I assured him I would be back to take him up on the offer.

"So I'm sitting in a hotel
Trying to write a song
My head is just as empty
As the day is long
Why it's clear as a bell
I should have gone to school
I'd be wise as an owl
Stead of stubborn as a mule."

—John Prine, "Big Old Goofy World"

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Rain & Serenity All to Ourselves at The Grand Canyon

July 23, 2020
   Woke up to glorious rain in the canyon. That would be this canyon.

Early morning rain over there,
 near Phantom Ranch

   We feel like we have the whole place all to ourselves. Check this out.

Empty pathway at Kolb Studio

See, I wasn't kidding. Empty.

 This is the normally packed courtyard
in front of Bright Angel Lodge.

And this is looking the other way in case you thought I was padding this. (That is a park employee sweeping at left.)

   The Park Service offered 30% off rooms earlier this month, so we took them up on it. We are here to celebrate our anniversary and here's what that looked like.

Dining apart in El Tovar dining room.

   The food was excellent, the seating was appropriate and the ventilation superb.

A view of Indian Gardens in mid-distance.
It looks close, but I can assure you
that is one long hike.

   We made this hike with Dan and Darlene Harshberger, forty years ago, and going down was fine but coming back up it's three miles straight up (technically, it's one mile straight up, but with the switchbacks you are basically walking up stairs for three miles) and we were so sore, the following day, when we stopped in Flag on the way home we had a hard time stepping up on the curb, to go into a cafe, we were so sore.

   On the way out of the lodge I stopped in the bookstore and bought a book I have been hearing so much about: "Over The Edge: Death In Grand Canyon." Such an odd and dark subject in such a bright and beautiful place, but as it says in the preface, "Alcohol and the world's most frightening dropoff is a lethal combination. . ." Details and amazing examples to follow.

"The Grand Canyon wasn't built by attorneys and engineers."
—Tom Jensen, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Trust, explaining why the canyon isn't "idiot proof."

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Chill & The Thrill of Trout And Eggs On Beaver Street

July 22, 2020
   Kathy and I took off for Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon yesterday at two.

   We were headed for the cool (it was 108 when we left) and this morning we got it:

65 degrees, trout and eggs (and one pancake)
at Brandy's Cafe on Beaver Street

   On the trip up yesterday, we ran into a back-up on I-17 at Anthem. Turned out it was a brush fire in the median. Took about ten minutes to get through. Down to one lane, you know the drill.

Brush fire in the median at Anthem and I-17

   Now here's the shocker: there were burned sections along the roadway all the way to Flag! We must have passed 20 blackened areas, some going on for miles. Shocking really. They even had one of those big signs on wheels that said, "Do not report fires. We already know," or words to that effect. Evidently, everyone calls 911 to report the fires and it jams up the switchboard, or something. Full disclosure, some of these burned areas are from fires in previous years. The one up near Sunset Point closed down the freeway last year when I was on my way to a speech in Prescott.

   I certainly don't remember ever seeing so many fires in Arizona but I remember reading that this year the fire season has LESS fires than last year when we had over 500. What the hell?

  Anyway, the rest of the trip was non-eventful, other than us watching the thermometer drop from 108 to 82 as we pulled into Flagstaff. And, for grins it was 54 when we woke up this morning! After breakfast, we walked across the NAU campus and the only people we saw were NAU maintenance men. It still was a little shocking to see all of those massive buildings, empty. So, at least they got to keep their jobs. On the downer side of the ledger, one of our favorite dinner spots, The Cottage, is now back to being a, ahem, cottage.

The Cottage is now simply a cottage

   Here's the line, with the six-foot pandemic spacing in front of a European Coffee House, adjacent to Brandy's at seven this morning.

Social Distancing on Beaver Street

   We got there early enough that we were the only ones out front. Made for a delightful morning. After months of triple digit quarantine, it felt wonderful to be outside AND chilly. Hard to even imagine.

   One last stop before we leave for the Canyon, and if you know me you already know where that is going to be.

"So that's two orders of huevos rancheros, over easy? And, by the way, isn't this your second breakfast of the day?"
—A nosy Martann's waitress

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Rain Clouds, New Growth And Leaking Testicles

July 21, 2020
   It wants to rain so bad.

Come on, over here! Over here!

   This is Ratcliff Ridge this morning at sunrise. We never got a drop but it sure looked like it wanted to rain.

Rain clouds and scorched saguaros

   But the good news is, we already have some new growth sprouting up at the base of burnt bushes.

New growth

Meanwhile, Here's The Leaking Testicles Bit:
   I was reading the Hollywood Reporter this morning and they had a virtual roundtable of comedian/actors plugging their shows, including Dan Levy (Schitt's Creek), Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), Kenan Thompson (SNL) and Remy Youssef (Ramy) and, of course, Ricky Gervais (Afterlife).

   All of them are very thoughtful and really smart, but the knock down, drag out, funniest of them all is Ricky Gervais and he just kills it every time he opens his mouth. The interviewer, Lacey Rose, wants to get into their insecurities, and she asks this: "Do you ever get nervous, Ricky?

   "I don't know, I have anxiety dreams," Ricky says. What kind of anxiety dreams? "Well, I'm on a train and I'm going in and out of a tunnel and my dad spills milk all over my face."

   He also says, at one point, "A big part of my comedy is saying things I do not mean." And, "if there is one person that doesn't get it, I can live with that. . .That someone might take you at face value doing an ironic joke or a satirical joke, well,  yeah, some people try to inject themselves with bleach. There are stupid people in the world."

   When Kenan Thompson tries to explain how he has endured on SNL far longer than anyone, he goes off on this thoughtful advice, ending with "If you're so focused on getting fired every single show, you can't focus on entertaining people. It just doesn't work like that." To which Gervais quips: "No, you've got to try to get fired, that's my advice."

    Nanjiana is horrified. "Ricky, that's terrible advice. . ." Undaunted, Gervais shrugs, "They'll thank me later." (laughter).

   But the best quip, is when they discuss Nanjiani's beefed up body (he is playing a Marvel Pakistani superhero in "The Eternals"). So Ricky says, as if he's relating to the body building, "I had a lot of liposuction, but only in my testicles because that's where I put all my fat. So, I just had enormous balls and I've had them leaked."

One of my cartooning heroes
R. Crumb at his very best.

" He who laughs at himself, never runs out of things to laugh at."

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Payson Manifesto Turns One And The Duke of Dust Turns Too

July 19, 2020
   A year ago we were getting ready to go to Payson for our first True West Writer's Retreat. It was very productive and here is a recap, in case you missed it.

The Payson Manifesto

  Since then, we lost Don Dedera and it was an honor and a treat to work with him in his home stomping grounds. 

   Worked all weekend on ambitious stuff. Here's a taste.

Daily Whip Out: "Dust Columns"

Daily Scratchboard Whip Out: "Onward!"

Daily Whip Out: "Lightning Rider"

   Of course, none of these are exactly what I really wanted, but then, I kind of agree with this French guy:

"Perfect is the enemy of good."

   True that. I can never quite capture the scenes in my head. Here's an example:

Daily Whip Out:
"He Stood Zero Chance Against Her
And He Knew It"

   Still, in time, I think I can make this even better.

"The trouble is, you think you have time."

Saturday, July 18, 2020

What A Year It's Been, So Far!

July 18, 2020
   A year ago, in July, I was living it up in San Francisco, gigging in Chinatown.

Chinatown Gitpickers
Bruce Lee Approved!

   I had such high hopes for 2020. Here I am now.

"I'll drink to that!"

"The most dangerous liars are those who think they are telling the truth."
—Old Vaquero Saying