The Call Of The Slots.

No.  Not slot machines.  I’m not in Vegas this trip.  Read on…

Many years ago I somehow got involved in caving.  I’m not sure how it started but it was a very exciting time.  My friends and my older brother got involved as well.  We became members of the local caving club (often called a Grotto).  I explored many caves and even re-discovered a cave that had been lost for 40 years.  That cave had virgin passage (never seen nor touched by humans).  Exploring those passages are as close as I will get to having a “first man on the moon” feeling.  It was dark, dirty, and dangerous fun.  Many fond memories were had exploring these dark places.  After caving we discovered slot canyoneering.  It’s similar to caving except with open sky above you (most of the time).   We were all living in UT at the time and UT is a mecca for slot canyons.  They are deep, foreboding, and dangerous as hell if you don’t know what you’re doing.  We’ve seen some amazing places that canyons hide and made memories that can only be described as priceless.  The places are not easy to get to.  If it was easy, then everyone would be doing it.

It’s been many years since I’ve done any canyoneering.  Most of the time you find me on a bike.  I live in Arizona now and it’s an amazing place.  It’s a shame to not take advantage of the variety and beauty that abounds here.  In fact, Arizona has one of the granddaddy of all slot canyons in the known world.  I’m not referring to the Grand Canyon either.  It is however northeast of there.  Well, the call of the slots sounded again.  It beaconed me and I did answer.  There is a slot near the Phoenix metro that in some books is unnamed.  Rather, the author makes up a name, but on maps there is no name listed.  It is near Tortilla Flats.  It looked interesting enough.  So a buddy and I put on our explorin’ hats and set out one Saturday to do just that.  Needless to say, I was impressed.  It was even cave like in some spots.  Browse through the gallery and take a look.  Enjoy.

The High Rollin “River Mountains Loop Trail” Near Las Vegas

I’ve ridden this trail before.  However, I’ve only just ridden a portion of the loop.  This is a shared use trail.  The last time I rode it was around Presidents day 2013 and I discovered it purely by accident.  Back in Feb I made up my own route around the city of Henderson, NV and ended up on a portion of it.  I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered it wound its way around (all the way around) the River Mountains.  At that time I picked it up on the Southeast corner of Henderson, followed it to Lake Mead Pkwy (almost to the Three Kids Mine) then returned to my point of origin along Lake Mead Pkwy. I have a fond memory here of stopping on the trail to take a picture and being yelled at to GET OFF THE TRAIL TO TAKE YOUR DAMN PICTURE!  “Damn” added for dramatic effect.  The other cyclists sort of snuck up on me.  I thought I was the only one out there.   Since that time, the trail has been on my list to return to and complete.  Even the portion that I did ride was super fun and I couldn’t wait to get back to it.

I was on a return trip to AZ for the weekend by way of Las Vegas and so I opted to make it a point to stop and ride the entire loop.  I arrived at noon and parked near the trail at Railroad Pass Casino.

Trailhead mile 0 at the Railroad Pass Casino

Trailhead mile 0 at the Railroad Pass Casino

This is a good place to start because mile marker zero begins here.  The trail markers count up milage in a clockwise direction.  You have the option of going either direction and is paved the entire route of 35 miles.

At the casino trailhead.  Mile marker zero.

At the casino trailhead. Mile marker zero.

Like I said, this is designated a shared trail so you will likely encounter walkers, runners, inline skaters, boarders, and even a horse or two (designated horse portion on the Northeasterly side).  You will most certainly encounter horse excrement on the portion that horses are allowed but this can be easily avoided if you keep your eye out for it.  Starting where I did at the casino, the trail follows a decent of rolling hills and a few short, sharp 15 degree climbs.  Mostly though, the trail descends gradually all the way to Lake Mead Marina.

Perhaps the most isolated portion, this drops into Lake Mead recreation area.

Perhaps the most isolated portion, this drops into Lake Mead recreation area.

Vista of Lake Mead

Vista of Lake Mead

Don’t expect to coast all the way down.  There are climbs.  Be prepared to have the legs for it!  The real climb begins after Lake Mead Marina.  A gradual 7 mile climb paralleling the road to the marina then following the old railroad grade from the Alan Bible visitor center until you meet up again with State route 93.  Here you bike up a drainage that doubles as the trail.

When riding parallel to route 93 you ride in this storm water drainage canal.

When riding parallel to route 93 you ride in this storm water drainage canal.

One of the many tunnels you ride through on the Boulder city side

One of the many tunnels you ride through on the Boulder city side

Shared use again, with storm water!  I’m sure steps would be taken to close this portion should such a storm threaten its use.  Once you get well into Boulder City the trail levels out (PRAISE JESUS!) and makes the final push back to the casino.  Here the trail also passes at the base of Bootleg Canyon Park.  There are many MTB trails here as well as those for hiking and even zip lines (if you want to use these you’ll need to contact the local outfitter for a guide).  I still think it’s strange to find zip lines where there are no trees.  Anyhow, I see that I’ll have to return again to bike the trails in Bootleg.  Looks like mighty fun to be had.

My mileage on the trail came to about 35 miles.  The information around the trail tries to convince you it’s 31 (However, when that trail info was posted it was perhaps that milage.  It’s finished know and is clearly longer).  Climbing totaled around 2500 feet. This trail is SUPER fun and well worth the ride but the climb out of Lake Mead seems to last forever.  Be sure you have the legs and lungs for it and LOTS of water.  It’s dry here.  IT’S A DESERT FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!  Overall, I’d have to say this is one of my favorite loops.  Stunning desert scenery, stark isolation, well planned trails and best of all SUPER FUN.

Here are some additional shots from the ride (Click on picture to open in new tab and enlarge in all it’s glory):

Now on the north side of Lake Mead Pkwy you head up and over towards the Las Vegas wash

Now on the north side of Lake Mead Pkwy you head up and over towards the Las Vegas wash

This is on the North side around the Three Kids Mine.

This is on the North side around the Three Kids Mine.

You guessed it. Lake Mead

You guessed it. Lake Mead

This is on the east side and the sun was in the western hemisphere.  This gave the mountains a very black foreboding look.

This is on the east side and the sun was in the western hemisphere. This gave the mountains a very black foreboding look.

Looking at Lake Mead.  Marina is just to the right.

Looking at Lake Mead. Marina is just to the right.

Wirepass.  Electric supply running from Hoover dam.  This portion is the climb out on the old railroad grade.

Wirepass. Electric supply running from Hoover dam. This portion is the climb out on the old railroad grade.

Riding parallel to Lake Mead Pkwy.  Pointing to the east.

Riding parallel to Lake Mead Pkwy. Pointing to the east.

Heading south now before Lake Mead marina

Heading south now before Lake Mead marina

One of the steepest hills on the trail.  So steep, you can't even see it.

One of the steepest hills on the trail. So steep, you can’t even see it.

Trail info board.  There are more like this but often with  more interesting information like the landscape, history, old cultures that lived there and animal life.

Trail info board. There are more like this but often with more interesting information like the landscape, history, old cultures that lived there and animal life.

Coastal energy currents.

As I write this post a dust storm is moving into the neighborhood.  I imagine there is enormous energy contained in this phenomena.  About two years ago, around this time, one of those storms reared it’s head and moved through PHX.  I do not say reared it’s “ugly” head because the footage of it was amazing.  It was beautiful.  I was not here at the time.  Perhaps I might think otherwise if I was in PHX. Some statistics would suggest it was ugly.  Over a 4 year period storms like this caused 15 deaths and 614 accidents in AZ (the same article I got that from suggested 2,323 accidents in NM.  Strange considering the population density in AZ is higher…I think.) That storm was called a 100 year storm.  Some called it a curse from God (from comments in some articles).  I do not claim to know God’s will but calling it a curse from God is just ridiculous and demonstrates a lack of critical thinking.  Alas, that’s another post for another time.

Just as there is energy in a dust storm (or any storm. Imagine being able to harness that amount. WOW!) there is energy in places.  There are many of these places.  This energy is hard, if not impossible to measure.  The energy I refer to is the restorative energy one might receive from being in a favorite place.  For me one of those places is the coast.  I’ve spent time on both east and west coasts and while I love both my favorite is the Pacific side.  I am a bit biased through.  I grew up in the West and spent many family vacations in Southern California.  I currently live in a desert and the call of the ocean was strong recently so I made a trip out there to scratch that itch.  I can’t quite explain it but the ocean has a very regenerative energy and incites much needed inspiration.  The gallery included in this post contain photos from that trip.  I’ve been experimenting with filters (some are filtered out the wazoo).  Enjoy.

Bouncin’ and rollin’ round the Arizona High-Country

It’s been a while since I posted as I have been doing just as the title of this post describes.  Out of band as they say in tech circles…and perhaps other circles for all I know.  When one is “out of band” or “off the grid” and travelling as I have been, it provides much time to think and ponder. (My brother is a truck driver.  He knows too well what this is like).  I have reflected on much the past two weeks and I have much work ahead to get to where I want to be.  I will admit that I am guilty sometimes of thinking about the past.  It’s sometimes hard to let it go.  It’s getting easier as time progresses but that’s true of many things.  Time heals most if not all things.

So, we move forward.  It’s what we must do.  What I must do.  I’ve reflected on the choices I’ve made and I am reminded of a wise rule: “Fret not where the world will take you.  Instead concentrate on the first step.  That’s the hardest part and that’s what you are responsible for.  Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow.  Do not go with the flow.  Be the flow.” – one of the rules (If you know where this is from you win a prize!).

The flow of my travels have taken me to a few new places and I was able to capture some of that here.  Many of these pictures were captured in the high country above Show Low, AZ.  After that trip, AZ is becoming one of my favorite places to ride.

Enjoy.

Science is beautiful and astounding.

I present to you today a short 3.5 minute video with Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Currently he is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space and a research associate in the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History.

We are small and we are big.  Because we are. Because we live. It is a beautiful thing. It is amazing and astounding.

Now, if you are a free thinking and open minded and can spare 15 min, you should watch this video.  This is cold hard truth.  Warning: you might not receive this well if you are a religious person.  Science is beautiful and you are AMAZING!

On location with amateurs and a high end camera

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I like photography. I always have. I’ve even dreamed of becoming a professional photographer and publishing my insanely gorgeous photos in a book that would find a place on coffee tables worldwide. You know the ones I’m talking about. Big oversized books that don’t even fit in a typical bookshelf. The kind that only fit by laying them down on their sides…or left peacefully on a coffee table.

Recently I assisted on a photo shoot. I would not call it a professional shoot but since it felt like one, I shall call it that.   A friend of mine was commissioned (possibly for the fee of dinner) to take photos of a daughter of another friend. Our model that day was the photogenic Sasha (not her real name). Our backdrop, a train museum and a ranch with…old stuff.

Our pseudo professional gear consisted of the camera and reflective heat shields from my car. They worked quite well but made Sasha tear up it was so bright sometimes.

Keep in mind these photos were totally random of the shoot in progress and I did nothing to set them up.

Enjoy!

The desert…listen…it speaks.

The desert is a beautiful place.  When in bloom, it’s spectacular.  Here are a few photos I took while out mountain biking at Usery Park, Mcdowell Mnt Park, and Tumbleweed park (I wasn’t mountain biking here.  I was assisting on a photo shoot).  While mountain biking out at Usery, my biking buddy suggested stopping, closing eyes, and just listening.  Without the sound of dirt and gravel crunching underneath tires and the wind in your ears, I heard a dull, yet surprisingly loud, rushing sound.  Much like you hear when you are near a busy road.  It wasn’t road.  It was the sound of thousands of arthropods (bees and all variety of insects).  It was a mass harvest while the flora are in bloom.  The only time I’ve heard such a “roar” was being in close proximity of a beehive.  Not so this time.  It was wide open desert and it had something to say.  Shhhh.   Listen.  It speaks.  It’s fascinating.

Living Authentically: Part 1 of…more to come

I’m going to write a series of posts about living authentically but I don’t know how many parts it will be.  So, this is part 1 of 2, or 3, or 4, or where ever it ends up going.  Undetermined.  Authentic living has been a featured quest in my life and as each moment passes I get closer to figuring out what that actually means.  This week there is something quite historic happening.  It’s hard to ignore it.  It’s all over the news.  It’s about DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act).  However, this post is not about DOMA.  It’s about a guy I knew in high school.  I didn’t know him well. In fact, the part I remember of him most is dancing around a stage in red and white stripped pajamas(in fact I think they were onesie pajamas). He was part of group that I was not included in (unless you want to count drama.  I was into stagecraft.  He was into acting.  ACTING!!!).  This is about Fred.  More importantly, it’s about Fred’s journey of self acceptance and living true to his authentic self.  The lengthy text below is Fred’s story.  Like Fred, I was born into the Mormon religion.  I have since departed from that faith as it does not meet my view of the world or what comes after.  I totally relate to Fred because of this.  I had no idea Fred was in such turmoil as he hid it well.  Now, so many years later, this part of his story is an open book.  He reminds me what it means to stand up and live with authenticity, even in the face of so much contradiction.  I raise my glass and toast your courage to do so.  Here’s to you Fred.

I am posting this to my blog with his permission.  Please take a moment or two to read it.  Also a note to those who read this and are confused as to my sexual preference…I am a heterosexual man.  More importantly, this article has NOTHING to do with sexuality.  NOTHING.

PROP H8:
A PERSONAL TAKE ON THE U.S. SUPREME COURT
AND MARRIAGE EQUALITY

By Fred

Just wanted to throw this disclaimer out before I jump in: I’m about to get super personal here…on Facebook. I know, not always the smartest thing to do. And yet, because this is an incredibly historic and important week, I want to share with my friends and family exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday mean to me and why. So if you have a few minutes (this will read more like a blog entry than a status update), and if you’re up for it, please hang with me as I go into big-time serious mode.

We’ve all heard the rule: never discuss sex, religion or politics in public. So, fair warning to those who may take offense; I’m about to discuss all three. I’m going to talk gay stuff, Mormon stuff and political stuff. These are my own conclusions. I speak for no one else. If you are on my friend list, and think you may be offended, don’t read on. I am not looking to debate or dispute your personal views, and I’m not interested in you debating or disputing mine. That is not why I’m doing this. I respect your right to post your beliefs and views on your own page and expect you to do the same for me. We don’t have to agree. I simply want to share some incredibly important and personal stuff with people I care about. So here goes…

Growing up in a small town in Utah, I knew “it” when I was just seven years old, maybe even younger. From my earliest childhood memories I had always felt innately different, yet couldn’t explain exactly why. When I was ten, I remember looking up “homosexual” in the dictionary and quickly coming to the frightening realization that “it” had a name. This was me. It hit me with great force; and I knew it immediately. This was what made me so different from all my friends.

It was completely terrifying because I had already learned in church what would happen to people like me. At age twelve, amid nightmares and non-stop guilt, I went to my Mormon Bishop and told him what I knew to be true: I was gay. Then nearly every single Sunday, right on through my teen years and straight into college, I would continue to confess any and all thoughts and feelings associated with this truth to my bishop.

I was scared to death and sure that I was eternally damned. Everything I heard in church bore this out. There would be no “place” for someone like me. There would be no happy Mormon “forever family” to hope for. No “plan of happiness”, no companionship, no romantic love. Ever. Per Mormon theology, if I wanted to even have a shot at some “lower level” of heaven I had only one alternative: stay in the church and commit myself to a life of strict celibacy and loneliness until I died.

Why would God want this for me? Was this, as many believe, my “cross to bear”, an “illness” or a “special challenge”? Years later I would find that nothing could be further from the truth. The only illness was the self-hate and damning guilt I was feeling; that was the real cross I was bearing. I would one day find that far from being a special challenge, my sexual identity- or being gay- was, in fact, an awesome gift and an intrinsic part of who I am. Yet at that time, as an impressionable and scared kid, I deeply believed everything I had been taught; it was the only reality I knew.

I was carrying around the biggest and darkest of secrets and it was almost unbearable at times. There were thoughts of suicide and even some close calls on that front. Still, I was never bullied at school; and I always did my level best to keep it all inside. I had amazing friends and in spite of my inner turmoil, from the outside looking in, I had a great junior high and high school experience. I worked overtime to keep up appearances; outwardly happy but internally pretty messed up.

Throughout this time and on into my college years, at the behest of my bishop, and in a frantic attempt to “change”; I dated girls continually. I was lying to myself and to them about my true identity and doing everything I could to ignore the powerful inner feelings that constantly reminded me I was a complete fraud. I was desperate to convince myself God could “cure” this “dark and evil thing” that was so obviously turning out to be completely incurable.

Throughout my time as a Mormon missionary and on through my college years and into my professional career, literally all aspects of my life were over-shadowed by this private hell. I was doing anything and everything I could to change my orientation; to “pray away the gay”. My church put me through so-called “reparative therapy”, which included mandated prescription drugs and years of counseling—all in a futile and self-image destroying attempt to change something that was never meant to be changed. These years were incredibly dark and the internal struggle and damage was severe.

I didn’t completely leave the Mormon Church and permanently shut the closet door behind me until I was 35. It took me that long to finally break free. Obviously, it was not a decision I took lightly. Though it has been almost thirteen years since I resigned my church membership, I will always have a great love for my friends and family who are Mormon. I am grateful they continue to be a part of my life. There are many wonderful people in the church; amazing, kind and good individuals. The church has done, and continues to do, much good for many people.

But when it comes to this issue, the damage caused by the Mormon Church, and other religions with similar doctrines, is painfully real. The staggering number of gay Mormon suicides, broken families and severed relationships are clear evidence of this. Those years as a gay Mormon were very nearly my undoing. Thankfully, there were members of the church who quite literally saved me. Many of them never knew it, but they often pulled me through the darkest days and helped me toward a path of peace that eventually led me out of the church and into the best chapter of my life.

It is no exaggeration to state that leaving the church and finally “coming out” was unequivocally the best and single most important decision I have ever made. I have never had a single moment of regret about that choice. Quite to the contrary; the spiritual clarity, peace, joy and calm it has brought into my life cannot be measured. After so many years of private darkness I am humbled every single day for the gift of being alive; to live a life without fear or shame and to acknowledge the opportunity to simply be the man I am. Ever since 2000, when I finally made this decision, there have been so many amazing people in both Los Angeles and San Diego who have been incredible role models and examples to me. In addition to this, I have always been able to rely on lifelong close friends who have stood by me no matter what.

So, of course, this week’s historic U.S. Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 (marriage equality in California) and DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) are a very big deal for me. Ever since I was that scared and confused seven year old kid, and throughout all those years of figuring out my path, there has always been a constant: my greatest single wish has been to have a family. Growing up, my home life was pretty messed up and I always hoped that one day I would be able to be the kind of father I never had. It was the main reason I had fought so hard to “change” myself. In addition to being convinced I would go to hell for being gay, I had also believed that a fraudulent straight marriage was the only way I would ever be a father and a husband.

And that is why this week matters so much to me. Though the ultimate decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on Prop 8 and DOMA won’t come until June, based on what they hear this week, their ruling could pave the way for me to be able to legally marry the person I love. It would mean I have the exact same rights as any other American. Domestic partnerships and civil unions don’t do this; the word “marriage” really does matter. A civil union or domestic partnership (only legal in eleven states) doesn’t include over 1200 federal rights and benefits that are protected only in a marriage.

A ruling in favor of marriage equality would be the latest in a series of hard fought historic victories for gay rights. It is a legacy that has been decades in the making; from the Mattachine Society of the 50’s to the Stonewall Uprising in the summer of 1969. It continued on through the 70’s with transformational civil rights heroes like Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978 while working to win rights for gay Americans. In the 80’s and 90’s there were courageous and brave activists who fought against the apathy surrounding AIDS, and over the past several years we have witnessed those who stood up to fight the battle against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell… All of it was vital groundwork for these landmark hearings this week in the U.S. Supreme Court. I feel so incredibly humbled and grateful to be alive at this time.

As for my own political activism, I’m relatively new to all of this. I started my involvement with Marriage Equality back in 2007 while working on the “Let California Ring” campaign and was heavily involved in the fight against Prop 8 throughout 2008 and beyond. There is no other subject I have been more emotionally invested in. To me, no single issue has mattered more. To watch gay friends legally marry in California in the summer of 2008 and then to see that right taken away at the ballot box just a few months later was a tremendous outrage. The very idea that people could actually “vote away” my civil rights was sickening. There were similar votes against the basic civil rights of blacks in the 60’s and it took the U.S. Supreme Court to finally overturn those propositions as well. History is repeating itself.

The fact that my former church –and other churches as well—donated millions of dollars to make the Prop 8 victory possible made it all the more painful, offensive and personal. Even though I had left the Mormon Church years before they were still exerting major control over my life. To them, there was clearly no separation of church and state. The Mormon Church, a tax-exempt religious organization, was using chapel pulpits to issue political directives in a concerted effort to take away the civil rights of fellow American citizens.

When Prop 8 was finally overturned and declared discriminatory in the California Supreme court, and as it continued to lose legal challenges time and again, it was incredibly satisfying and vindicating. Why? Because outside of “religious reasons”, and simple bigotry and fear, no one has ever been able to adequately explain exactly how marriage equality would harm America. There is simply no cogent legal case to be made. “My God said so” does not make for a powerful legal argument; neither does “tradition” or “child bearing”. The Prop 8 proponents found this out in court first hand—and lost, twice.

Prop 8 completely unraveled and died in the California courts. The transcripts show it clearly; and to read them is to see illuminating evidence of the prejudice and utter lack of reason hiding behind this discriminatory proposition. This week’s hearings before the U.S. Supreme Court on whether or not to let the California Appeals Court rulings stand could result in marriage equality once again becoming the law of the land in my state in June.

With California added to the map, there would be ten states plus D.C. where same-sex marriage is legal. Ten states out of fifty may not sound significant, but these ten states comprise over 76 million Americans or roughly 25% of the U.S. population! A U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Prop 8 would be a powerful and exciting step toward the inevitable day when marriage equality is the law nationwide.

The gravity of it all is stunning; the fact that we have come so far so quickly makes me think how different it must be to grow up gay in 2013. Lately, when I consider my own journey, I feel much less frustration or sadness about the past. Those feelings are gradually being replaced with a healing sense of peace and optimism about the future. Undoubtedly, in some small town in Utah today there is a scared Mormon kid or teenager who will hear about the U.S. Supreme Court hearings this week and maybe not feel quite so alone. He will have something to hope for, something to believe in. He can know there is a life waiting for him out there; that he is fine just the way he is, and that things really do get better.