Look at that title, will you? What do YOU think of when you hear the word wheels? Those of you who know me well have always been amused by my lifelong love affair with wheels.

AUTOMOBILES HAVE WHEELS. Memories of: At the wheel of a Mercedes yclept Hannah from Utah to Phoenix; nine or ten cross country trips; snowy, icy streets sending me into space; highways under construction, including landslides. Dodging forest fires and watching flames reach several hundred feet in the air.

TENT CAMPING HAS WHEELS. We had a series of VW Buses. Memories of: Yes, we slept in tents! Sleeping under a VW “bus” until chased by a skunk that was trying to eat my bra. Bird watching through clouds of mosquitos in summer at wildlife refuges; and sliding off the same auto trail in icy weather. Up Pike’s Peak, up Mount Washington, up Yellowstone roads – but, of course, then one has to drive down. Driving all over Arizona presenting Have Rocks – Will Travel for the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in all six corners of Arizona. Side visits to Utah and New Mexico.

IN MY DAYS OF YOUTH: Running away from home in my teens several times, and hitchhiking with truckers. And driving a sixteen wheeler, too. Learning to ride a bicycle on rutted dirt roads and managing to sail into space to land in a swamp. Yes, I was rescued from the mud. Come to think of it, swamp visits still go on.

So you see, ALL MY WHEELS ARE NOT CONFINED TO AUTOMOBILES. Roller skating the streets of New York City – a place of hills, curves, heavy traffic. Pulling myself out of the Hudson River. Jumping freight trains to parts unknown. Riding buses and subway trains the width and breadth of the greatest city on Earth until I got married. Then we expanded to the rest of the country.

Did I mention cog railways? Yes, I learned to drive trolley cars, and even subways. Then at the ag of eighteen, I dated a railroad conductor. Just think! Free transportation in exchange for a few kisses. Later on, I dated a crop duster – now, THAT’s scary.

Eventually, because I believe in paying it forward, I became a First Aid Squad volunteer and learned how to drive an ambulance on the trails and isolated sections of northern New Jersey’s hills. Only one person died. No! not because of my driving, I was trying to resuscitate him while we careened down a mountain trail.

MORE WHEELS: Elevated – and sometimes heart stopping – cog railroads – monorails – provided verrrrry interesting experiences in Disneyland; mountainous areas throughout the the United States. It was a great deal of fun. When I drove up Mount Washington, I never breathed ONCE on the way down. Evntually just took the bus or cog railway up.

OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES there were those rail/cog adventures, too. I rode on rickety splickety non-grounded trains in China, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, Kenya and Tanzania. Buses and local drivers. Army vehicles. Police vehicles – but I was always released.

And this brings me back to 1941 in the United States. Mom and I rode cross country on a Greyhound Bus from New York City to California by way of Chicago and Arizona. I was sea-sick for five days. Incidently, ten years ago, I found the very road we had travelled on at the Arizona / California border. The bus stop is still there. And their food is still good.

We returned by railroad from New York City to California. Eventually we came back through Nebraska and Chicago.

In 2009, I visited what I thought were the last two of the fifty states I had never set foot in: Nebraska and North Dakota.

It was seventy-fifth birthday trip lasting seventy-nine hours.

Surprise! I had been in Nebraska in 1971.The gigantic Union Station in Omaha is a museum now. I immediately recognized the interior. Within half an hour, I walked onto a train in the train exhibit section. There was the very same train Sleeping Car compartment Mom and I had travelled in to return home! When I walked into the compartment, its two bunk beds, which were set up at night were there.I immediately saw a two inch doodle which had been carved on the wood of the wall. I remembered it!

In the morning, the bunks were dismantled into regular train seats for daytime use, All these seventy five years of my life I thought I had never been in Nebraska. And here I was. I had been wrong.

By the way, Enterprise Rental gave me my automobile and found out the purpose of the trip, they took one hundred dollars off the rental fee.

Now sing with me: Oh the wheels on the bus go round and round. Round and round. Do you remember the rest of the words?


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Liz in my hat.


This essay started out as a light hearted tale of my delightful adventures in Northern Arizona which I was anxious to share with friends and Eva’s writing class. Then tragedy struck.

Now there are three parts.  Part I: The Fires of Hell ~ Part 2: Light reading ~ A humorous look about my adventures “up there”. ~ Part 3: There are no answers to this tragedy.


Part I: The Fires of Hell:  Forest fires in Arizona? I’ve seen miles and miles and miles of forests or desert grasslands burning as I drove past the many areas struck by the veritable Fires of Hell.

            I’ve been in unintended – but luckily: few – scary spots; including several times being pulled over by law enforcement – once was even given an oxygen mask – because the smoke made highways impassable.
            Twice I’ve lugged water in a volunteer fire brigade. It’s not much fun.

 As the years transitioned into the Twenty First Century, the fires got more vicious and widespread.
            Total desolation was observed by me after thousands of acres of lush forest land were turned to piles of ash. Increasingly, homes, cars, farms, farm vehicles, pasture land, businesses, schools, and government buildings have been devoured by flames.
            Indeed, I’ve met several dozen of the brave heroes who annually risk their lives to put out these fires. They are quiet, self-effacing, humble men, and include some women.

            My personal, deep-rooted thankfulness for the way they risk their lives because they chose to be of service to their communities is part of my feelings. God bless them and their families!

Late in this year’s spring and summer, air temperatures in Arizona reached record highs of a hundred twenty degrees and higher. I fondly reminisce about my explorations throughout the state where I lived for nineteen years. (New Jersey and Arizona are my two favorite states because of their natural diversity of geology and living things.) Temperatures were lower then; drought had not dried the land into dust.
            Parenthetically: after 2001, thousands of raging wildfires starting erupting in Arizona and other parts of the Southwest and Southeast. Slowly at first, wildfires began increasing in scope in locations throughout the forests and grasslands of the state. The decade of 2000 became a nightmare. Decade 2010 is beginning to look horrendously worse.

There are reasons for this: drought, climate change, population explosion, unrealistic government regulations based on pseudo science. That’s without the capital letter. Science is real and is appalled by the various levels of government’s ignorance and greed.
            Family and close friends who are residents in the state are concerned. We talk frequently about the awful heat and ongoing drought.
            Some of them seek refuge in the relatively cooler mountainous areas of North Central Arizona. The heat is close to hundred degrees there, too. However, the nights, as my close friend Grani, said, “are definitely cooler.”

Our conversations started me thinking about my nineteen year sojourn in what is the last state in the lower 48 to join the union.

So, on Memorial Day, I happily set out to write about some of my Arizona adventures which  celebrate the people I interacted with, including some of whom I still am in touch who live within the Prescott, Yarnell, Wilhoit, Peebles, and other adjoining places of the mountainous areas of north central Arizona.
            “Memorial Day”? How tragically “coincidental”!

Around July 1st, a wildfire erupted in those north central mountains – already a drought-struck area. Hours later, two thousand acres were aflame and out of control because of high winds and piled forest debris.

Within several more hours, over eight thousand acres were destroyed in the Towering Flames of Hell: Swiftly moving, raging flames devoured some 200 homes and businesses in the towns of Glen Isla and Yarnell, 30 miles south of Prescott and about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.

            The increasing nightmare devoured the land and reduced it to smoldering ashes from this uncontrolled wildfire as even more homes and businesses were destroyed in the ensuing hour.
            A call from the US Forest Service went out to their nationally professional personnel available. Included in this call was the need for specially trained firefighters – elite teams called HotShots, who risk their lives to put out raging flames.

            Coincidently a team of Hotshots – and their families – reside in Prescott. Many of their families have lived there for generations. Known as the Granite Mountain HotShots, they had just returned from fighting a fire in another state, and were recuperating from their stint.

When the wildfire burst out of control, they immediately joined other firefighters to control the growing nightmare devouring settled and land. The area was reduced to smoldering ashes. And the fire spread to the four compass points. 

They died several hours after arrival on this day of tragedy. The men, who wanted only to serve others – died within minutes as the fire roared from two thousand to over eight thousand acres. There were twenty HotShots. Nineteen died. One survived.
            The shock waves which reverberated throughout Arizona and the rest of the world were laced with pain. Loving fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, cousins, friends – were overwhelmed by the flames.

May the Lord bless and keep you and your families and bring healing to them.


.With few exceptions, my original purpose was to speak about some of my personal adventures in the mountains or North Central Arizona. In particular, tell of a delightful personal encounter with one caring individual who typifies the region’s residents.

            And then I hit a totally unexpected brick wall.

As I researched the background information, I came to a shattering personal conclusion: The HotShots gave their lives because of federal and state governments’ simplistic, non-scientific rules involving problems solving serious situations.

What was I to do? One solution seemed to totally ignore the governmental guilt; however, Science and History raised their heads and nudged my conscience.

After a week of mulling the situation, my research showed this is not by any stretch of the imagination a national issue. The problem is world-wide! So, at the end of this adventure, I will present the facts. {See Part 3: There are no answers to this tragedy.}















Part 2: Light reading ~ A humorous look about my adventures “up there”.

            After the tragedy, Many, many people asked me if I “have been in the Yarnell and Prescott areas”.
            Yes I have. It is one of my most favorite spots on Earth. I would visit “up there” about twenty times a year, though winter visits were sometimes well nigh impossible because of the snow and snow and ice which begin falling at the four thousand feet altitude mark The demarcation boundary is simple: when the hug Saguaro Cacti peter out, the snow begins its onslaught.

            Dear friends live up there. In fact, my daughter, who has lived in Phoenix for almost thirty years will be buying a house in Prescott in the next six months or so.

            To get to the area, I soon discovered a short cut which was about fifty miles shorter than the less than exciting Interstate Route. However the last ten miles on my road  are delightfully exciting: a road climb of  2000’ to 6000’ in the last twenty six miles, followed by a somewhat curvy, precipitous elevation drop of six hundred feet right into the heart of Prescott.

            If you look at Google or Mapquest, you will see how this scenic 113 miles short cut brought me from my home in Phoenix (at an elevation of 1000’) to Wickenburg (at 2300’ elevation) in an hour or less. From there, a steady climb on curvy, somewhat narrow roads took me thirty four miles further to Yarnell, an oasis of six hundred people in the wilderness. Granite Mountain, where the nineteen firefighters lost their lives, is a half mile west of Yarnell. The huge hunk of rock has an elevation of 4,780’. 
            And then, just north of Yarnell, the northward-bound adventure really begins. The final thirty five miles of road.  (twenty-six miles north as the eagle flies) It may be paved, however the two lanes consist of contorted curves, triple switchbacks, climbs, drops, broken roadways, destroyed railings. Over the edge, one glimpses dozens of smashed trucks, cars, motorcycles, and several buses which line the 89 highway slopes which sail into space and drop several hundred feet to the valley ledges and floor far below.

            I arrive at the top, go past the HotShots fire station. As I pass the Welcome to Prescott sign, I descend six hundred feet within a few miles; arriving jubilantly at Prescott’s lowest point: a 5372’ elevation.

Highway 89 will ever be a speedway. The highway was originally only two lanes wide. It still is awaiting widening in the last forty miles.  Accidents were frequent. And still are.

Sometimes the lower road has to be closed because road construction during the 90’s hadn’t accounted for an unstable layer of clay and sand layering the sides of new road cuts. The worst case closed Highway 89 for months when thousands of tons of debris slid down a two-mile-long stretch of the road. Reconstruction was not a simple task. Roadways snake over and under each other, double back on themselves, tunnel through mountains, and sometimes contain median strips up to a quarter of a mile across.

            Still, despite the improvements, minor slides of several hundred feet in length after rainstorms occur regularly during the Monsoon Season in late summer and fall.

The media keeps the warnings of hazards up to date.

Four years ago, as I was heading north, a Monsoon drencher passed through, thus causing an unstable clay based landslide which just missed my car by inches.The construction workmen screamed in horror as a I slid and careened from one side of the highway to the other – over the median to the outside drop zone, and barely avoided going over a six hundred foot drop. The rain had caused a different landslide which pushed the safety rails to slide down the mountain. I arrived in the south-bound lane, facing oncoming traffic. Then I shut down the motor and dissolved in tears onto the steering wheel.

The men were drenched, but brought me water, kisses, and hearty cheers as they pulled me from my car, 4-man carried me back to the north lane. They hand pushed the car back onto the highway, across the median strip and to the northern lanes. They had to stand guard to make sure no one smashed into my vehicle. Whew!

Snow storms were a royal pain in the neck. Theyseldom occrred below 2,500’ elevation. At times, I had to turn around and go back to Phoenix because the roads were impassable as the road climbed. Sometimes, snow plows arrived to open a path to the southbound lanes.

Did I enjoy my adventures?


I soaked up the excitement of my explorations by car and on foot through miles and miles of uninhabited land wearing my “gambler’s hat” (not a “ten gallon cowboy hat”); carrying spare water and food, cell phone, first aid kit, my camera, binoculars, and my trusty nine-shooter thrust into my holster.
            Yes, I was an expert shot, and had earned a hidden weapons permit.

For years, I happily exploted mesas, canyons, mountains, deserts, waterfalls, swamps, bogs. Plants? 3900 species! Plant trvia? Insect eating plants. Trees such as Ponderosa Pine. Desert plants are spiny. Rule #1: Don’t fall onto a cactus.

Was there another “the catch” SR 89 leading to Prescott? Well, yes. Speed was NOT an option any more than the curves were. There were near collisions with deer, jack rabbits, raccoons, skunks, hawks, vultures, caracaras, ferrets, prairie dogs, bats, turtles, frogs, snakes; but, as I could not drive very fast on the mountain roads, the animals survived.

I have to admit I often picked up road kills to bring home. Mammals were almost impossible, so I contented myself by photographing the corpses. In fact, I photographed anything: dead or alive. Became a decent photographer, too.

By the way, it is illegal to pick up native birds – dead or alive. Fines are hefty. Working for the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in Phoenix, often enabled me to legally bring in bodies and/ or feathers from eagles, caracaras, and other birds of prey. My license plate was on file with the INS (illegal immigrant police), the State Police, and many local police departments. But that’s another story.

One of the Phoenix Magazines wrote a humerous article about my travels throughout the state. Most of the feathers were put on display, but I kept one from each species. Alas! When I moved, that box disappeared.

            Don’t laugh. One of my identification guides was Flattened Fauna: A Field Guide to Common Animals of Roads, Streets, and Highway.
            Many of the police officers, state troopers, and sheriff’s posses I got to know in my travels often stopped by the museum to have rocks and minerals identified, and we became friendly over soda in the back kitchen. How did I get to know them? This essay tells one such tale.  
            A Sheriff’s posse? Um, there are a great many criminals and mysogynssts in those terrain. People actually live as hermits in remote areas of the state, but upon meeting, we got along quite well as I hiked the canyons and slopes.

The last stretch of the so called “road” between Wilhoit and Prescott is so curvy and dangerous, cars commonly sail into space when driving too fast. There are no fences or barriers. Knowing the lay of the land I would play a game coming down the thirty six miles of unfenced road. Keep in mind road shoulders do not exist on the curves; nor on the ensuing ten miles of highway to Wilhoit. I was determined not to use brakes – and at fifteen mph, was quite successful. Often, I would see tourists on the straightaway who had used the road for their first (and only time!) screech to a stop at the end of curves, pour out of their cars, and lose their last meal while sobbing uncontrollably.

The lack of road shoulder on the straightaway often kept me from exploring. I could not park on the narrow shoulder. Leaving the car parked there,would mean the State Police would have it immediately towed away. The fines were hefty. However, whenever a speeding vehicle took the metal rail fence down on the straightaway, it opened up a parking spot in the wilderness until the railing was repaired. Most of the state and local troopers – who knew me – would merrily wave at me as I trudged around.

Once, I stumble upon a sixty inch long harmless snake too close to the road, draped it around my neck, and took it to safety.

This background brings me to the most delightful Prescott adventure which started this whole essay. It honors  people living and working in the various parts of Arizona; especially those involved in paying it forward.

I worked for now defunct Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum for thirteen years, and during that time, developed a program entitled Have Rocks Will Travel. Thanks to generous grants, I was able to visit schools throughout the state; travelling to and from all six corners of Arizona and points in between – sometimes on overnight two/three day trips.

We received generous grants, and I had a fantastic time presenting programs to isolated, distant, Indian reservations, small town schools ranging from regular size populations, elementary and high school; as well as those schools with fewer than twenty students in one and two rooms, ranging from grades K through eight. Friend Grani was my assistant several times a year. But, that, as I keep saying, is another story.

Earlier that day I had presented a program to the elementary school in Peebles – north of Yarnell – then headed up to Prescott to visit some friends. Late in the afternoon, I left for Phoenix.

As I came down “the 36 mile stretch” to the straightaway on 89, I glanced at a huge thunderstorm sweeping over a several thousand foot high mesa several miles to the west of me. There were six rainbows arched over it. The sky was coal black. I was in sunshine.
            Quickly, I pulled onto the narrow shoulder lane on the right. It was just wide enough for my car. I got out, waited for cars to whiz by, and happily began taking pictures.

The state trooper, about forty years old, who had been following me down the mountain immediately pulled in front of me and asked, “You have a problem, ma’am?”

He looked familiar.

“No! Thank you for caring. Look at Griffin Top Mesa! Ten thousand seven hundred feet elevation! Six rainbows!!” I gushed as I quickly took pictures.

“Are you out of your mind, lady?” he shouted.

“Huh? What? No! I’m taking photographs.”

“This road KILLS people who stop to rubberneck, lady! You nuts? Haven’t you seen them careening down the hill? And that reminds me, your brake lights aren’t working.”

“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry, officer! Er, I don’t use the brakes, I just do fifteen mph, and haven’t had an accident yet.”

“Yeh, well, I was behind you. Didn’t make the connection. Let’s see your license and registration.”

We moved to the trunk of my car, and I brought the paperwork over to him. Then he saw the id card around my neck.

 First he checked out my paperwork on his radio. All clear. I was “clean”.  ” Oh, it’s THAT Anderson. Didn’t I see you passing water buckets over by Four Peaks last August during the fire?

“Yah, was coming down from doing a program up Flagstaff way. They were stopping cars to pass buckets. Two hours of hell. You know, I do recall you being there.”

He smiled. “It’s a time passer. But when we need to help, ya know. We help.” I work wilfires with firefighters during forest fires when I’m off. Deliver supplies and water and tools and stuff.”

I smiled broadly. We shook hands. “Yah. I do the AZMMM Outreach Program, and was on my way home from the Peebles Elementary School. There are only forty children in the entire school.”

“Oh, yeh, I saw part of the program and looked in at the lunchroom. My two kids go there. You are funny.”

“Officer, I am SO sorry about parking.”

“For God’s sake, get outta here, will you? Wait til I tell my kids I almost gave you a ticket.”

He grinned.

I thanked him profusely and waited while he stopped traffic for safety. After the cars screeched to a halt I headed for home.

The following year, I did the program again, and here he was, but not in uniform.

This time he stayed the entire time. I made him my assistant, and we had a terrific time.

At one point, I asked him how much he thought a huge head-sized chunk pumice weighed. He grinned and guessed about twenty pounds. Actually, it only weighed about a pound and floated in water. I carefully tossed it at him. He caught it, somersaulted backward while I gasped in horror, then continued somersaulting to the back of the lunchroom, clutching the rock to his chest.. After my first gasp of fear. I realized he had known the weight all along.

He got up, dusted himself off, and then overhand threw the hunk back at me. The students, teachers, and I all laughed hysterically.
            The applause was thunderous.

I love that back road to Prescott!




Part 3: There are no answers to this tragedy.

POSTSCRIPT: Parenthetically, after 2001, thousands of raging wildfires starting erupting in Arizona and other parts of the Southwest and Southeast every dry season. There are reasons for this: drought, climate change, population explosion, unrealistic government regulations. There are no viable solutions.

Before remote areas were heavily settled, annual periodic controlled burning was practiced for centuries from native occupation through to extensive settlement and the Industrial Revolution through the 1960’s. These fast moving and relatively non-destructive fires were annually set by lightning or deliberate torching.

            They cleared farmlands, were good for native plant and animal species, and kept forests clear so people could maneuver them.

            The periodic fires reduced forest floor debris, preserved wildlife habitat, restricted invasive vegetation and animals – often brought in from other lands, and maintained habitats so species of living things did not become endangered. I will mention the woodpeckers, sandhill and whooping cranes, hawks and eagles, mammals, reptiles, fish, butterflies; but many less spectacular species of native animals are affected.  

The Industrial Revolution brought about misuse of living things and their habitats. Animals were wiped out with over hunting. NOT sports hunting.

Eventually the endangered species and endangered habitat laws were passed.

Some scientists claim this is a simplistic approach, and, like them, many, many of us wonder why the plant and animal species survived the fast fires and thrived.

In the eighteen and until the late nineteen hundreds, dozens of species of plants and animals were endangered or became extinct by overkilling and human product greed. However, once these habits were controlled, and an national conscience developed, it wasn’t hunting that wiped them out as we shot towards the twenty first century. Especially in lush natural land areas, it was the lack of controlled burning.

There needs to be something such as a section to section plan laid out, not the hole-y blanket of scientific / political version of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

            Some caveats –  #1: I ask the reader to be seriously aware of my stance as citizen of this, the greatest nation on Earth. #2: I do NOT belong to any political splinter groups because I maintain ultimate faith in our system of government. #3: Either Science or Government, or both – have failed in their efforts to solve a serious problem by ignoring the developed laws of their respective professions.

Tax monies support government. It’s the truth, and a workable system. So governments faced with overpopulation on local and national levels support home and retail expansion in once natural areas.

Avoidance of guilt in the Yarnell Fire deaths is truly a conundrum. There may never be an answer.

This disturbing answer seems to be wildfire control is a world-wide crisis,and governments are unwilling to take intelligent steps of prevention. I fear  there seem to be no viable solutions.

Remember WWJD? I have seen it replaced with WWJRD. Is that guidance being presented to us?

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Just One Out of Seven ~ But the Grand Canyon is the best. So was the plane ride.

Photo copyright Liz Anderson 2009



          It amazes me when I discover most people are not aware there is more than one Grand Canyon in our nation. I’ve been to the three underlined others. The other Grand Canyons are found in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, New York, Hawaii, and Illinois.            
           Certainly, the most famous and the largest is the so-called Inner Gorge, known as Grand Canyon National Park. The gorge is a two hundred seventy seven mile gash in the Earth, located in Arizona. Miles of inter-connected canyons of every size are found north and south of it, and are part of the national park.
          These many canyons carry varying volumes of waters which feed the Colorado River, the watercourse at the bottom of the chasm. As seen from the air, these interconnected canyons form a mind-boggling network. My cousin commented, upon seeing it from the air, “The formations and canyons are reminiscent of an ancient multiple-legged monster.”
                Several acquaintances, who are National Park Rangers enjoy hearing the tourists gasp when, with a deadpan face, the guides say, “Incidentally, the Colorado River is actually more than fourteen hundred miles long and originates in Rocky Mountain National Park. This mighty river travels rapidly downstream through Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, and New Mexico. Along the way, forms Lake Mead, the reservoir made by Hoover Dam, and finally trickles into the Gulf of California. Lake Mead is only one reservoir in the chain. So much water is entrapped in man-made reservoirs that the Colorado has become a salty, sometime brook at its outlet.”
                Since my first visit in 1973 (See Bolt From Above), I have visited the Big One well over one hundred times. And, in these explorations, I only scratched the surface, so to speak, of its wonders. The Grand Canyon developed between two billion and two hundred millions years ago. It was discovered by Spanish Explorers in the early 1500’s, and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt designated it as the 17th national park.

 Despite what people think, the Colorado River didn’t carve out the Grand Canyon; rather, the igneous (volcanic) , sedimentary (layered/fossils), and metamorphic (totally changed) rock layers were pushed upward from within the depths in and beneath the Earth’s crust, leaving the river far below. Igneous and metamorphic rocks often contain valuable minerals. Indeed, the GC and its surrounding areas have been the centers of mining activity since prehistoric times. A great deal of mining still is active in the areas adjacent to, but not part of the park.

During my fifteen years’ sojourn in Phoenix, this national park was an easy three hours auto travel north of the city. Interstate 17 climbed from Phoenixat nine hundred feet elevation, to the North Rim, at seven thousand feet. The Canyon areas are somewhat cooler than Phoenix, differing over fifty to sixty degrees (F) between the two areas.
                Going downhill to home was an hour shorter and was quite easy on the gasoline consumption. With time, we frequent travelers learned not to ride the brakes on the way home. With a legal speed of 75 mph, it was an easy skill to learn. Often on my own, and sometimes with my friends or out of state visitors, I spent the day there and was easily able to return home to my own bed within sixteen hours.
                In April of 2004, cousin Judy came from Australia to celebrate our joint birthday at the park and adjacent natural areas over a period of three days. It was quite an adventure, and we happily luxuriated in one of several dozen resort hotels just outside the park boundary along the North Rim. Temperatures were low up North. We saw a great deal of deep snow lying on roadsides and inner areas of the canyon, whilst the temperature in Phoenix hovered around ninety. Judy was impressed by the temperature difference.
                In my lifetime, one of the greatest pleasures I have experienced after moving to Arizona became a delightful annual event. A close friend lived only two hours south of the park. So, began a tradition when she first lived in Phoenix for a few years after moving from Massachusetts.  On her day after Thanksgiving, she and I travelled up to the North Rim and happily consumed our Thanksgiving leftovers sitting with our feet dangling into space. That day after the Big Feast was unique! The photograph was taken at one of our leftovers’ feast after she moves an hour further north. Unlike the summer mobs of millions of people, very few ~ perhaps barely a thousand, and mostly foreigners at that, were there on this off-season day. Interestingly enough, something like eighty per cent of native Arizonans have never visited the Grand Canyon. “It’s been there a long time. I don’t expect it will go away,” is the most common comment.

Inside the Canyon itself are indescribable geologic wonders colored by the most exotic of hues, colors and / or shapes which beggar description. These unique creations were formed through time as rocks and minerals were crushed, torn apart, or thrust upward and possibly covered with lava flows. They were further refined by erosive forces. In these rocks and minerals you will find nooks and crannies varying in size from a coat closet to the size of Burlington County here in New Jersey. Buttes, peaks, mesas, side canyons, hiking trails! And geologic wonders from dinosaur fossils through invertebrates abound. Ancient lava flows of every hue are plentiful, still frozen in the midst of ancient flows and eruptions. Erosion can do little to alter their bizarre beauty.
                The distances in the GC are so grand, it actually does look dusty when viewed from the rims. No, it’s not dust! One sees distant forests, their clustered trees towering up to ninety feet high. My beloved mother-in-law was stunned the first time she visited. Holding up her hand, she tried to touch the distant formations. Confused by the size, she stammered, “But it’s so dusty!”  Later I took her on some forest trails onto the gorge areas, and she finally was convinced there were indeed trees and forests on those distant monuments of time.

Plant and animal life in the GC is inconceivably varied. The birds – native and migratory – are everywhere, and include condors and eagles. Mammals from wolves through wolverines are bountiful, as are stray dogs which have been tossed over the edge by uncaring owners and have managed to survive. Many are rescued by native Indians and become pets in the villages in and around the area.

Attached to heights of between two thousand and six thousand feet, outside or adjacent to the National Park, are active Indian tribal villages tucked in parts of the formations dozens of miles up and downstream from the National Park. Official Indian Reservations, separated by ancient tribal history, surround the park. When I worked for the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum, I was an annual presenter in many of these places. Unfortunately, even though I had an invitation, I never made it to the village at the bottom of the canyon. The mules would not carry boxes of heavy rocks up or down, and the Park Service said the selfsame boxes were not “critical cargo”.  Nor, after application, was I considered as such.
                “And you’ll never make it alive coming up that seven thousand foot high trail,” laughed Sue, my boss. “With the twists and turns and deep sand, it’s not for you.” She was right. Then she added, “Four hours down on foot. Six coming up the next day.”

In addition, human history has left mines, bridge skeletons, marked and unmarked gravesites, as well as ghost towns, and the remains of scatte4red cabins built of rock. Fugitives and the tales of their peccadilloes are intriguing and both skeletal or mummified remains. On occasion, the law officers find a living fugitive one holed up in a cave or a canyon and cart them off to trial and prison. Hermits and other misanthropes find holes and shelters in which they survive. As long as they don’t bother anyone, however, the law only checks them out at regular intervals.          
                Potable water is plentiful through out, ranging is size from miniature to overwhelming: there is a plethora of falls, lakes, rivers, streams, rapids; as well as salt, chemical, and hot springs. Roads are not common, but most of the Grand Canyon could be seen on foot, canoe, raft, river boat, and motorized craft. RV, horse or mule, helicopter, and plane are common, although sightseeing by the latter two is now prohibited. The list of outdoor recreational activities though out the four seasons is endless.

An old friend of mine still pays four visits a year to the resort hotels on the northern and southern rims, and drinks himself unconscious over a five day visit. “I have to be sober by Sunday, ‘cause that’s when I drive home to Phoenix,” he sighed to me. “My brother, now, he works there at the general store, and can get drunk every night.” He paused, then said thoughtfully, “I don’t think he ever sobers up all the way. My cousin, now works at the IMAX on the North Rim and is trying to get them to build one of them on the South Rim.” Again, he pauses thoughtfully. “Doesn’t drink, though.”


In the early 1980’s, co-worker and friend, Hattie ~ who was also the principal of our school ~  and I, went out on our first of many trips to the American West over Easter Break. My own first trip there had been in 1973, when our family was knocked down by lightning. Bolt From Above is all about that particular adventure. It will be added to the blog in July. That, being said, is another story. She, as have so many Easterners, who had flown over it on the way to California, knew nothing about the GC or the natural wonders of the western states. When I told her the Canyon was a resort “hot spot” she was skeptical, but her sense of adventure dictated we book our trip.

To this day, she speaks with wonder of the sights we saw. Although, as with me, she says,  “Names and faces are now somewhat vague in my head, however, every single sight and adventure still remains fresh!”

 After we arrived, we checked into the hotel on the North Rim and checked out some of the souvenir shops, we went to the rim trail. The Canyon stunned her senses. The souvenir shops no longer intrigued her. The IMAX meant nothing. We decided to forgo a mule ride to the bottom, as well as the white water rafting adventure in favor of a plane ride through the Canyon. A Park Ranger friend of mine recommended a dependable tour company near Hoover Dam, so we set out one morning with high anticipation. The Colorado River flows toward the Gulf of Mexico out of the Grand Canyon and fills the reservoir behind this majestic dam on theArizona–Nevadaborder.

We therefore made the next day’s first reservations for 7:30 am.. We drove off at sunrise and within an hour, we arrived at the small airport, with Hoover Dam gleaming in the distance. While waiting to be called for the flight, we wandered delightedly through their museum. After the flight, our next stop was to be Hoover Dam and the elevator ride to the turbines at the bottom.

Right on time, our flight was announced, and we given a jeep ride onto the tarmac, where our seven passenger, single-winged Piper Cub waiting.

As soon as I saw it, I started giggling, and my girlfriend asked why. “When I lived on the farm, we called these planes a Rubber Bander,” I told her. “They were used for crop dusting. I hope this one has seats.”  The jeep driver roared with laughter and agreed. Hattie was used to flying all over the world, and this little toy did NOT appeal to her at first. He introduced his daughter, Patsy, who was industriously cleaning the plane inside and out. She appeared to be about twelve years old. This girl was skinny; about a woman’s size three. A long, braided ponytail on her back reached below her waist. As we talked, she continued vacuuming, then began checking out the tires and other parts of the plane. Her dad went back for some unexpected passengers.
                Hattie asked her if her father owned the business. “Yes.” smiled Patsy. “And even though I have my pilot’s license for this Rubber Bander, he still makes me do the dirty work.”
                Hattie and I gasped. “Pilot’s license? How old are you, child?” we chorused.
                “Twenty-nine. I flew cargo planes in the Air Force before my ten year discharge.”

“Well, you’re a woman. That means you’re competent,” said Hattie in her best principal’s voice. “You GO, girl. I’m ready.” We all roared with laughter and gave each other a group hug, then continued chatting amicably.
                The jeep came roaring up with three overweight men who were smoking cigars, and an equally overweight woman who inhaled the smoke from hers. The four were loud, obnoxious, and arrogant. The men made crude remarks to Patsy and then to me. She ignored them, reached into the plane, pulled out and strapped on her brace of six-shooters. They gasped.

“How the **** old are you girlie?” said one. I walked up to them and gave them my sternest Teacher Look. They quietly retreated back to the jeep. Dad kept grinning as he collected the cigars and told the four they were not allowed to smoke nor carry cigars on the airplane..

The woman companion screamed in redneck laughter and addressed me. “You gotta tell them. They’re mean.”
                Hattie and I silently stared at her, and she grew bright red, then waddled off in retreat, reluctantly surrendering her cigar to the boss. 
                Patsy came over to us, and asked in a low voice,  “Do you ladies get air sick?”
                “Naw. ” We chorused.
                ”Are you in the mood for some wild flying?”
                “Yaw.” We giggled. 

“We both like roller coasters and carnival rides,” I giggled.

“Er, why?”

“I’m gonna make these creeps s-i-c-k with stunts.” Patty grinned. And we grinned back.

                “Well, when we land, do not remove your seat belts, girls, because we’ll have another forty minutes in the flight for quiet sightseeing.”

Patty walked to the plane, strapped on her helmet, and pointed out our seats. Hattie sat in the front seat next to the pilot and quickly strapped herself in. Patty nodded in approval. She placed me in the middle row seat behind Hattie. I also strapped myself in and received a smile and a thumbs up from Patty. Blubber Lady sat in the left seat next to me.

                The three male chauvinists were scrunched in the last row, barely fitting. Patty would not touch them, and it took a long time for them to be hooked up. Blubber Lady got the seat next to me and I strapped her in.

After telling us the rules, and warning she would cut the flight short if they didn’t listen, Patsy revved the motors, then took off vertically, slamming the four against their seats. She then headed straight for Hoover Dam, about two miles away. With a glance at Hattie, she did a vertical climb up the wall and then skimmed the highway crossing it. Then she turned around over the reservoir, zipped back over the two lane highway on top and went nose first almost to the water.  Silence in the back.

Without further ado, she flew along the Colorado River to a wide spot, then returned toward Hoover. Up and over! Without a word, she headed further straight up, said “three thousand feet.” and did a loop over the lake, turned right, and into the Canyon. What a ride! We were having fun. The other passengers screamed, panted, and became green. They needed several sets of sea-sickness bags.

Patty flew straight at buttes and peaks with last minute ups or downs. Sometimes she flew sideways between numerous squeezes. drawdowns and dropdawns with sharp turns brought screams from the four other passengers. Skipping low enough on the waters of the river to leave a wake brought more screams. Sideways. Side climbs. Drop downs. Whirls.
                The four gasped, actually turned greener, and desperately tried to survive. Hattie and I had a wonderful time.

                It made any roller coaster seem tame.

                As soon as the others were quiet, Patsy gave us a delightful history of the places we were seeing. The four others clutched their seatbelts and mouths and remained silent. On occasion, one would start to say something, and Patsy went back to creative flying.

There was not another sound. Nada.
                Then one of men began to berate our pilot. She said, “We’re going back.”

                Twenty five minutes after takeoff, we returned to base, ending in a three-bump-long-squeaky-skid-slid- landing.  We were told to sit still.

The jeep was waiting. Our four passengers got out, lost their breakfast on the tarmac, then waddled rapidly toward the waiting jeep. Without a word, dad offered to return their cigars. The offer was declined with head shakes, which caused more nausea. The jeep drove off, hitting potholes as it went. We heard faint screams.
                Without further ado, Patty hosed down the tarmac, then stepped back into the pilot’s seat. She was grinning. So were we.

Patsy’ dad soon came back, laughing uproariously. “We know how to teach people manners, teacher ladies.”

She told him we were going up for another twenty minutes, and we took off again. It was a much quieter ride, and we saw many incredibly stunning sights.

When the flight ended, we and our pilot hugged. With giggles and skips, we approached the jeep, waved goodbye as the next set of passengers were loaded on, and then skipped back to Hoover Dam and into the American West.

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AUTOMANIAC ~ “We Girls” are driving an old truck and a new Mercedes from Utah to Arizona.

In 2001, Mina, a dear girlfriend, moved from Park City, Utah southwest of Salt Lake City, to return to Phoenix, Arizona. The trip home would not be easy. We planned on driving on Interstates, a seven hundred fifty mile journey, in approximately twelve to thirteen hours. There were several shorter routes, but the Interstates’ route, although mountainous and sporting some dangerous downhill curves, climbed up to a high point of 6000’ for several miles, then eventually dropped down to 900’ near her Phoenix home. This route only had three traffic lights to contend with in all, as opposed to the dozens along the shorter route which snaked through many small and medium-sized towns.

Our twenty-four foot, four-axle, six-tire U-Haul truck would be loaded with her numerous possessions by two, er, shall I say, “gentlemen”  whom we knew well ~ her soon-to-be-ex, and her know-it-all son. Neither had any idea of how to pack such a vehicle. They could have researched the topic, but, as I said, they were males and declined to do so. We tried to give them advice and give them focus, but were rejected out of hand. Therefore, taking the advice of the Beatles, we let them be ~ and hoped for the best. Well, you know, a stacked deck is, after all, a stacked deck.

Hmmmm, considering the results, perhaps the word stacked is a poor choice?

We started the truck loading around six in the morning. One of the packers was in his early twenties and quite enthusiastic. Unfortunately, he was not aware of the first rule of truck loading: always load the furniture right side up and not askew. The other packer, a man in his fifties who believed he knew all the answers, sat and waited for the younger man to fill up the floor area with whatever he handed to him inside the truck. There were suitcases, chairs, small bureaus, and innumerable treasured pieces of furniture. After the truck floor was covered to a depth of three feet, the fellows finally tackled heavier pieces such as a dining room table, refrigerator, bureaus, dishes, heirlooms very carefully packed by Mina in the preceding weeks, and open clothing racks. To secure the clothing, the men fastened the hanger hooks with duct tape.

We happened to see the racks disappear into the truck and, too late, went out to bring the cardboard clothing boxes. To our horror, the large dining room table had been not put in upside down on a quilted pad. Rather, a thick pad was duct-taped to the upright table top, still on its legs. It was then loaded down and wedged in with carpeting, towels, small furniture, bedding.

Our two heroes kept measuring how much head room was left, and when it reached a five-foot height, they brought out the heaviest object, which had been was saved for last. As we gasped in disbelief, huge, two door refrigerator was lifted by pulleys, pushed over to the cab space, and was laid on innumerable quilts and blankets, door side down in the space over the cab. “In order,” the men proudly explained, “to protect the coils.” 

The appliance was then wrapped in by other blankets and quilts. When we asked about the possibility of it sliding, we received a proud answer. They pointed to a large tri-section bureau standing on the ground. It was, with a great deal of effort put on top of the padded coils, then tightly wedged in by odd pieces of furniture, suitcases, quilts, blankets, chairs, food boxes, and other miscellany.

By nine thirty in the morning, the men were finished. The U-Haul was jammed with no spare space visible.

Mina and I both took photographs.

She and I had efficiently loaded the car the night before, and while the truck was being loaded, added some valuable trivia. When we came out to get into our vehicles, the men said goodbye, then drove off to Salt Lake City. Mina’s son would fly back to Phoenix ~ a short ninety minute trip.

When we had first planned the trip, Mina, who had experience driving trucks, took on the task of driving the U-Hal. My job was to follow behind her, driving her brand new Mercedes Benz sedan with the heated seats. Mina had named the auto Hannah.  

We told each other, “Two hours to the border, then another ten hours to Phoenix.” Little did we know what was awaiting us.

The local roads were no problem for either of us. Five miles later, the Interstate beckoned. Just before we entered the Interstate, we checked if our cell phones were operational. If we only knew we would spend a great deal of time communicating with each other!

As we started to climb to the first plateau, Mina discovered the vehicle was top heavy and very unstable. It listed drunkenly to starboard, then snapped back over and over again. Twenty miles down the road, we pulled into a rest stop and tried to redistribute the load somewhat. Impossible task! Even Hercules, with his knowledge of the Augean Stables, would have found it impossible.
On the road again, we climbed up endless hills and snaked down impossible curves at a speedy thirty miles an hour. Cars whizzed past us at almost three times our pace, often honking in exasperation.

As I followed closely behind the truck, I was horrified by the unstable weaving truck. At times I truly believed it would overturn. It was terribly scary for her as she fought with all her strength to keep it upright. However, as she told me the next day, it was even more terrifying to think of me, not the world’s best driver, piloting her beloved Mercedes.

We kept in touch by cell phone with growing apprehension and stopped at every rest stop to try redistributing our. Finally, we had to admit there was nothing we could do.

Three hours from our starting point, we finally reachedUtah’s high summit at 6000’ elevation. Slowly, we inched up the rise, and barely daring to breathe in sheer fear, slowly descended ten curved miles steeply downhill to the border, until, totally stressed, we pulled into an Arizona Rest Stop.

Something had to be done and we explored our options. I believe the express is holding a war council. After considering numerous options, including staying two nights in a motel while the vehicle was repacked by a nearby moving company, we decided to leave the interstate tour and travel eastward on the flatter roads wending gradually downhill through the towns and villages of the Arizona Panhandle and its polygamist Mormon towns.

Although the route was meandering, we were facing shorter mileages. Our drive was incredibly scenic: Escalante National Monument, the rose-colored cliffs and mountains by the roadsides, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, sand dunes! The immediate destination was Page, AZ, and the Glen Canyon Dam which we would cross over on a bridge over the Colorado River. It was a road well known to both of us and was actually one hundred miles shorter to home. Traffic went though settled areas, and in many places, the road consisted of just two lanes. There were a great many traffic lights on that route, but we thought with great pleasure of all the stops and the slow traffic.

The thought of reaching Phoenix in another nine/ten hours of relatively easy driving encouraged us. Two hours to Page, and then, we could expect to be home in seven more hours by continuing due south through Flagstaff, 7000’ above sea level, and a relatively minor annoyance.  Once through the city we would then enter I-17, a fairly harmless Interstate to Phoenix, one hundred twenty five miles south. The exit in Phoenix, at 900’ feet altitude, was less than a fifth of a mile from our destination. We rightly figured the gradual descents, short ascents, sweeping curves, and slower traffic at seventy five miles per hour on ascents and flats, would be safer than our earlier planned interstate route to the west, with its high summits and frightening descents.

We reached Page in ninety minutes and then began the homeward journey. Eight hours later, we were home, and parked the vehicles. Each of us went to our respective homes, and dropped into bed totally exhausted.

The younger man had arrived in Phoenix hours before we did. He showed up bright and early the next morning, and both of us refused to open our doors to him.

Later in the day, an unpacking party of approximately twenty friends showed up and emptied the truck in less than two hours. As we drank beer and consumed pizza, we regaled one and all with our adventures.

Mina’s son was not surprised that so little damage had been done. The refrigerator worked! Much to our complete surprise, although there were innumerable dings and scratches, nothing was broken.

The Mercedes survived my piloting, but for years afterwards, I could swear I heard her growl whenever I got into the passenger seat.

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Decade-nt Photos of Oma Liz ~ Actually, they’re me during the past two decades.

   China: September, 2006.  Top left: new friend on Yangtze River. Top right: string figures are universally accepted.

Middle left: We’re both the same age. I have more teeth than her. She looked. Middle right: Yangtze cruise. Jinny with hat.

Bottom left. Tiananmen Gate ~ Jinny and me. Bottom Middle. We arrive at Tiananmen Square. Bottom Middle. On the Yangtze.




                                                                                                    Top left. Lisa, our guide and now my friend in the caves.


Top right. New friends. Universal gestures.

Middle left. Fossil museum. Middle right. Jinny, Sue, me, and guide.

Bottom left. Jinny and me under dinosaur. Bottom Middle. There were elevators to the top of the tower. Bottom right. Lisa and me.




Top left. My 75th birthday adventure 4/21/2009: 49 hour adventure seeing the last two states of the fifty. Omaha here. North Dakota next. Top right. Attitude #1.

Middle left. Lost weight. Me today. Middle right. My sister and me.

Bottom left. I am NOT laughing. It’s a Disney roller coaster ride. Bottom middle. I relate to the simian. Bottom right. On the Navajo Reservation on Thanksgiving Day. Attitude #2.

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Patience Is Golden ~ Why I do not look for or pan for gold.

In 1986 I went to Alaska and had my first experience with recovering gold “just like the old prospectors do.” 

  Despite the shock of standing thigh deep into a swiftly running, numbingly cold river, I managed to keep my balance. Although my bones and teeth were chattering loudly, I could hear our leader shouting encouragement from the rocky bank where he was sitting, as we dug rocks and sand out of the watercourse   bottom.

After collecting about a gallon of sand and rocks, each of us dumped our own cache on the bank. Then we placed a few handfuls of the material in a genuine gold miner’s pan. After filling the pan with water, the mixture was swirled around and around, spilling water and lighter stones until we came to the very bottom of the sand. The purpose of spilling out the lighter materials is to leave only the heaviest behind.

Iron is a heavy material, but gold is heavier. Lead is heavier than iron, and, in fact, gold is two and a half times as heavy as lead. Lead and gold are sometimes found together, but iron and gold are commonly formed in underground veins throughout the world. After all the other materials are swirled out, a magnet removes the iron, and a fine pair of tweezers removes the gold.

After the first hour of fruitless searching, I had nothing to show for my torturous experience. My cache was gone. I wanted to go home and have a cup of hot cocoa in the cabin’s living room.

            “C’mon Liz!” shouted Mitch. “Keep up the good work! Dig up some more sand. Do be patient, girlie.”

            Patient? I was cold and shivering. “My clothes are soaked. This is ridiculous. I will become a patient when they carry my frozen body into the ER.” I grumbled.

            None of the half dozen people in my party had any luck either. So, with Mitch shouting encouragement, we good sports kept trying.

            After two hours, shivering violently, I wearily climbed onto the bank with my loot: real gold consisting of two tiny nuggets of real gold the size of a rice grain, a half dozen pieces smaller than a quarter grain of rice, and a teaspoonful of what is called “gold dust.”

“I am finished. F I N I S H E D. My patience froze to death in that water. How much is this gold worth, Mitch?”

            He looked carefully at my loot as he transferred it to a small glass vial. “Hmmmm – I would say about two cents.”

            Later on, I would make up a saying about that two cents deal.

            I didn’t say a word. Clutching my vial, I walked back to the jeep-bus high on the bank of the stream, had him turn on the motor and the heat, and slumped down in disgust.

            The other participants looked at me, then at each other, and finally, marched out shivering violently.

            “Hey, guys,” Mitch snickered, “you have no patience at all. It takes time to get rich.”

             We laughed ruefully, then we silently stared at him until he got behind the wheel and took us back to our cabins at our camp in the middle of McKinley National Park. The director of the camp greeted us.

            “Another batch of impatient souls,” said Mitch.

            No one mentioned gold the rest of the trip.

            Nearly thirteen years later, I moved to Arizona and began working at the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum. Arizona is famous for its high gold yield. My young grandchildren wanted to go gold panning, so during the winter months, when it was a delightful 75 degrees during the day, I went out into desert areas to look at the streams where we could placer for gold. It’s pronounced “plass-er” by the way.

            There were no water filled streams. Hundreds of thousands of acres, and the stream beds were there, but they were dry.

            “The streams fill to overflowing during the summer-early fall monsoon season,” I was told by fellow employees. “During other times of the year, nearly every single small to medium watercourse in the desert areas of the state is bone dry. Only the largest rivers continue to flow then.”

“But you can’t go out in the summer,” I exclaimed. “It’s between 110 and 130 out in the desert!  Nor can I take the grandkids to the tunneled gold mines. They are all under claim.”

            “You’d get shot at by the owners, too. Claims are taken seriously here in Arizona. You have to be patient, Liz” answered my friend, Doug. “Let me show you how you can go placering without using a natural water source.”

            The following Sunday afternoon, I joined him and his wife and several friends for a trip to the desert. I had been given a shopping list and had dutifully purchased a spade, a long-handled shovel, a heavy duty magnet, and a heavy duty rock pick. There were also two metal buckets with snap-on covers, ten gallons of bottled water, and several pieces of 12” x 12” heavy window screens. The spaces between the screens ranged from one inch, half an inch, quarter inch, and down to eighth inch. Our gift shop sold glass vials with screw on covers, and I purchased several of those, too. . I must not to forget to mention the three sizes of tweezers. All my equipment was put into an open back pack made of heavy canvas, which also had to be purchased.

            We arrived at our destination about an hour’s drive northwest of the city.  The two jeeps drove right into the dry, deeply pitted gullies where water had once flowed, and headed in an upstream direction toward distant mountains, about fifteen miles away.

 “This is a good placer bed,” explained Doug. “We could walk, but we want to get to a relatively flat area about three miles in. Be patient, it’s a rough ride.”

            Doug, as I had found out while working with him, was the master of understatement.

            Forty-five jarring minutes later, dodging deep ruts and huge boulders scattered in the stream bed, we arrived at our destination, which was marked by a green metal stake pounded into a palo verde tree on the bank.

            We got out, shouldered our packs, and walked another half mile in.

            Then we began our task. I wanted to go home. I really wanted to go home!

            The system is simple. One finds large boulders stuck in the deep sand of the stream bed and goes to the upstream side one of the large rocks. The distant mountains showed us the upstream side.

Using our magnets tied to a string, we began dragging them through the sand. Soon, pieces of iron ore the size of sand grains began to appear by some of the boulders. “See,” said one of the women, “iron is almost as heavy as gold, so where iron gathers, you should find gold beneath it. The gold and iron are heavy, and as they carried downstream by running water, the boulders act like dams and slow the water down. That’s when the heavy metals drop down. Then sand is dumped at the upper side of the boulder and covers the ores.”

Everyone picked a likely boulder and began to dig a hole that eventually was large enough to stand in. After going down through two to three feet of sand, we stepped into the hole. The next procedure was brutal. Like the others, I started shoveling out sand with the spade and threw it into one of the buckets. It was hot, tiring work.

“Be patient, girl,” Doug commented.

I was getting tired of hearing that word!

“You can only drink two gallons of water. You save another gallon for washing yourself off when we leave. The rest is for placering. Don’t worry about bathrooms. You’ll sweat out all the water you take in. “Or,” and he grinned, “you can take the buckets home and use the water there.”

The first bucket was soon full of rocky sand. I placed the inch wide mesh over the second bucket and carefully shoveled the contents of the first bucket into it. Pieces larger than an inch were caught in the mesh and discarded. I repeated the process, using the smaller mesh screens over and over until an almost half full bucket of fine sand remained.

Time flies, they say, when you’re having fun. Noon came, and we had lunch. I asked about the rock pick. Everyone giggled. Someone said, “You use it to smash rocks that have gold imbedded in them.”

I stared with disbelief, but they laboriously demonstrated the technique and recovered a few flakes of gold from the fragments.

“Think I’ll stick to placering, “ I muttered.

Everyone roared with laughter.

Then I returned to my search for gold by putting two handfuls of the strained sand into the placer pan. Carefully husbanding my precious water, I poured in enough of the liquid to cover the sand. Swirling the water and pouring out the sand and lighter rocks, I had about half left. Patiently, I kept repeating the process until only a square inch of iron ore and possible gold were left at the bottom of the pan. The magnet pulled out the iron, which was discarded.

Success! About five gold nuggets the size of rice grains were left. I transferred them to the glass vial and poured in water.

Doug mentioned I should submerge the vial with the gold in a pot full of water and then screw the cap on under water. “That way,” he grinned, “if someone opens the vial, the water will spill on them, and they’ll gasp. It protects your investment. It’s an old miner trick.” He winked at me. “See, it pays to be patient.”

We spent five more hours repeating our labor. At the end of the day, I had half a vial full of nuggets, worth about five dollars.

 I was exhausted and covered with dirt and mud, blisters, and had sore buttocks. My clothes had rips from thorns and rocks and thorny trees.

“Two hours. Two cents. Too hard,” I would tell visitors to the museum when they asked why I didn’t go gold prospecting.

I still have the vial, but have never been patient enough to pan again.

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My Aspirations Began In NYC ~ NYC catered to my sense of adventure.

                                                                                      photo © 2007-2010 Oma Liz

If I had my choice of any place on Earth of where to live three seasons of the year, there is no question in my mind it would be New York City. During the summer I would vacation in some of favorite parts of the United States. New York City’s nickname as The Big Apple began in the late 1880’s. To me, that eponym implies slices of one of my favorite fruits. Don’t, for a moment, believe any single story about sources of the various Apple names. All the tales are true.

In August, 1938, my own adventures in the city began when my mother and I followed my father who had escaped earlier that June from the Nazi regime to the New World. Until we arrived, he lived with his Aunt Malvina,

Tante Mali and her husband had arrived in New York in the early twenties. They acquired a large fortune from the manufacture and sale of fine handbags. Before going to meet my great aunt, I had been warned how her close connections to Austrian royalty had inspired her to aspire to be a grande dame in business and in private life. Her goal, as she often told me, was to leave this Earth as a respected and disquieting member of her life circles.

She also, I was told, had no use for young children, including her own. She mourned not being able to inspire them to follow in her footsteps. The first time we met, she walked to the playground where I was enjoying the sandbox under my parents’ watchful eye.  After a short introduction, which included kissing her hand kiss and doing the obligatory curtsey on my part, she peremptorily ordered me to leave my parents to come with her to visit her home for tea. I was about four and a half.

“I must give my regrets,” I said in formal German, followed by a curtsey. “My parents brought me here, and if they are not invited, I will not come with you.”

“They have been talking about me, yes?”

I nodded assent.

“Are you so afraid of me, then?”

“No, madame,” I said pleasantly and quietly. “I have been taught to have good manners. My parents and I came here together, and we will visit you together, or I shall not come.” I again curtsied.

In shocked silence, my parents watched.

She glared at the three of us and, a smile appearing on her face, said, “Finally! A Brück with audacity!  This child is not namby-pamby like so many of my kin,” glaring at my father, who was shaking, with good reason, in fear. “She has spirit and intelligence.”

The sweet smile remained on her face. Later, my father said he had never seen her smile sweetly in all the years he had known her. “I have heard your two grandmothers have great influence over you. Their goal is to leave this world knowing they have inspired you to follow in their footsteps. I certainly intend to train you. They will approve.”  Those were confusing thoughts for a child approaching five, but eventually I did begin to understand and appreciate what they wished to bequeath to me. Thanks to them, I know before I expire, I will have reached innumerable goals and successes fueled by their belief in me as a proud bearer of their combined DNA.

To the day of her death, Tante Mali and I remained great friends, fellow conspirators, and fellow explorers. She avidly encouraged my love of theatrics, music, museums, exploration, and of adventure, which, she boasted, outdid her own. “Liesl is not like my children,” she often gleefully told family members, including her offspring. “She and I are not afraid to speak up or to take risks as we walk on this Earth.” Then she would wink conspiratorially at me, and we would both giggle.

By the way, her children and I remained close until their deaths over the years. Astonishingly enough, they taught me the same lessons as their mother and my own grandmothers.

Our first domicile was a small rental at the intersection of Riverside Drive and 82nd Street, on the banks of the mighty Hudson River some fifty feet below the street. It was a short five-block walk to and from the luxury apartment building in which Tante Mali held court. She and her older daughter Blanche each lived in palatial private residences in an imposing apartment edifice. Blanche, who had married well, actually had outdone her mother by choosing a two story apartment with its own internal elevator. Tante Mali told me privately, “My own residence has two hundred more square feet than Blanche’s. If she hadn’t had the elevator installed, it would be the same size.” Our place had two small bedrooms and definitely could not be described as high end. Baths were taken in a huge iron bathtub sitting majestically in the middle of the kitchen. Mom would heat hot water on the gas stove to add to the cold water she had put in earlier. The order of use, on Saturday night, was my father, then my mother, and finally, me. Emptying the tub was a distasteful chore until my parents bought a garden hose to use as a siphon to the postcard-sized rear garden.

Mom could not afford a baby sitter for me until her employment status eventually improved, and she did not get home from work until after 6 pm. Until we moved to the borough of Queens, TanteMalitook turns with the grandmothers to baby sit after I returned from school. She and I attended concerts, cinema, and stage productions. Children under the age of ten for cinema, and sixteen for the other events, were not permitted in those places in the 1940’s, but she was well-known as a patroness of the arts and I was permitted to accompany her.

We explored neighborhoods throughout the city, visited libraries, monuments, and countless bridges, some of whom we crossed on foot, only to take a cab back to our starting point. We watched the long freight trains running the tracks on the east bank of the Hudson. She introduced me to the shopping streets of Madison, Park, and Fifth Avenues. When I visited with her after accompanying either of my grandmothers on exploratory trips, I was expected to give full and detailed reports over coffee and cakes served by her maid. TanteMalidid not believe in tea. Sometimes we would dress up in her furs and jewels and make imaginary visits to the rich and famous with whom she consorted. She had a huge, exquisitely furnished doll house in her living room. Ten or so years ago, just before her own death, Blanche told me it was three stories high, and four feet by five feet in area. She still kept it in her own home.

A life of exploration keeps the brain from expiring.          

Thanks to TanteMali, Oma Mausi, and Oma Feld, I gained the courage to follow their lead. I wouldn’t exchange the past learning experiences for any other. It was my personal Renaissance of culture.

Before I expire, I aspire to add a trip to Iceland, where one may stand on where the tectonic poke out of the sea. I will stand where these slowly moving tectonic plates of the Earth as they spread apart at the rate of several centimeters annually. As I place one foot on the European geologic plate and the other on the North American geologic plate, I will slowly sip a glass of wine or two to celebrate science and its marvelous truths, before I reluctantly return to the real world beyond the volcanic plates.


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