Herman Jones pretends to take a flying leap into the Grand Canyon

How Did That Happen?

What can you say about the Grand Canyon, except “Get the thesaurus?”  Because “grand” just doesn’t cut it.  And if you haven’t been there you can’t really imagine it.

Herman hadn’t and he couldn’t . . . but I love his reaction.  First he goofed around to take the edge off the awe. But when I left the paved Rim Walk and stepped closer to the precipice, he got protective.  “Please. Don’t be foolish,” he said.  “And if your hat blows away, just let it go.”

Then he stood, stared at the canyon, shook his head, and said the thing that pegged him as the father of three grown but eternally boisterous children. I’m sure it was the same tone and question he had asked many times through the years in the face of big messes, property damage, and large holes in the family’s serenity.  “How,” he said, “did that happen?”

Charlotte Jones on her bicycle overlooking the Grand Canyon

It’s Rim Walk, not Ride, but we didn’t know that when we took our bikes. The ranger forgave us.

Herman Jones standing overlooking the Grand Canyon


Walls of Saloon 10 in Deadwood, South Dakota, covered with Wild Bill Hickock memorabilia and taxidermy

The Decor at Saloon 10 in Deadwood, South Dakota

Wild Bill Hickok was playing poker with his back to the door of Saloon 10 in Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1876  when outlaw Jack McCall shot him dead. I had my back to the door of Saloon 10 when I won $18 on a $40 stake playing an hour or so of Texas Hold ‘Em with a tableful of local regulars.  At Saloon 10, there’s sawdust on the floor; a slew of pictures¸ memorabilia, and taxidermy on the walls; an ornate bar; and slot machines, a couple of blackjack tables, and a trio of poker tables. Early in the evening, around 5:30 on a Friday, the players are an Air Force enlisted woman who is a week away from retirement, a burly red-faced young father whose wife brings their baby by in a stroller for a quick visit and photo, and a couple of late middle-aged guys who apparently have been trading tequila shots and winning hands for years.  When I sit down, one of the buddies asks my name and warns me this is a friendly game.  It remains so until a few more men roll in; the tequila starts to take effect; the old pals start splashing twenty dollar bets toward the pot; and the Airman rolls her eyes and puts her I-Pod earphones in.  That’s when I head for the cashier.  I keep one of my $1 chips as a souvenir.

I love the idea of having played a few hands in the original Sin City.  In its short heyday—like most towns built around get rich quick opportunities–Deadwood attracted risk-takers and rewarded them with readily available liquor, gambling halls, and brothels.  One of the small but thoughtful exhibits in the Adams Museum downtown suggests that Deadwood and its denizens like Wild Bill, Wyatt Earp, and Calamity Jane became famous because of the convergence in 1876 of America’s centennial year and the height of the South Dakota gold rush.  People were hungry for interesting stories about the opening of the West and a strapping, handsome and accomplished gunman like Hickok, a steel-eyed lawman like Wyatt Earp, and a cross-dressing, bull-jawed woman who drank like man made great fodder.

Today, gambling is alive and well on a small scale in Deadwood.  Revenues fund historic preservation and education projects.  Mount Moriah Cemetery, for example, on a steep hillside near downtown is one beneficiary. Time, people, and the elements have chipped away at the grave markers there but a one dollar admission fee and gaming pay for repairs and upkeep. Well-tended walkways and walls outline the graves of Deadwood’s earliest citizens, including Hickok and Calamity Jane, whose own last wish, more than a quarter century after his death, was to be buried at his side.

Herman, Charlotte, and Carmen Jone outside Saloon 10, in Deadwood, South Dakota

Happy to Have Gotten Away with My Hat

Carmen Jones and her father, Herman Jones, outside Saloon 10, in Deadwood, South Dakota

Herman and His Daughter, Carmen, at Saloon 10

Bronze marker with a bust of Wild Bill Hickok, on his grave at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, South Dakota

Wild Bill Hickok's Grave in Mount Moriah Cemetery, Deadwood

Herman and Charlotte Jones smiling at the edge of a small canyon in the Tonto National Forest

The unsuspecting couple Facebooks themselves on the edge of a small canyon in the Tonto National Forest, which borders the Superstition Mountains in Arizona

The last time we got a TripTik travel planner from AAA was at least fifteen years ago . . . long before the GPS, Google maps, and the smart phone.  Back in the day, a living, breathing, and (with luck) thinking person pulled dozens of small area maps from file drawers, stacked them in the order of your route, used a highlighter to mark your way, and bound the whole thing together so you could follow it page by page. That person was aware of your special instructions and preferences. Did you prefer scenic byway?  Interstate highways?  Or, were you, perchance, driving a top-heavy, wind-vulnerable, 13-foot high, 40-long motor home and towing a car and bicycles behind? Somehow we had hoped that person still existed in a back room but when we got our TripTik we could see that it was computer generated and probably didn’t give a darn about our circumstances. Even so, we put our faith in it.  Which is how Herman found himself driving through Arizona’s Superstition Mountains between the Painted Desert and Tombstone. 

It would be hyperbole to suggest that his knuckles actually turned white, but the skin was certainly stretched tight across them. Neither one of us had ever been in hills like these. And goodness knows Herman hadn’t hauled a motor home through anything like that. He’s from the coalfields of southern West Virginia and his hometown was eight miles around an Appalachian mountain from the next town.  The first time he took me there, he warned me that at one point in the trip we would go around the same tree three times . . . and we did.  He and his brothers all drive those roads with one hand on the wheel, swinging the car calmly into the center lane around the bends. Until she was 89, his mother did the same. But those are curves on a moderate incline. These loop-de-loops in Arizona were switchbacks on a two-lane highway at a 6% grade with yellow warning signs of trucks careening off on one set of wheels or pitching nearly vertically down the road. The only other vehicle of any size with us was a tractor-trailer with Minnesota plates.  We picked him up when we pulled off very skittishly at a scenic overlook.  I overlooked.  Herman fretted over how close I got to the edge and probably worked on getting his heart back out of his throat from the driving.  We followed the trucker and his rig for a few miles until he pulled off at another stop.  To cool his brakes?   To curse the AAA TripTik that had gotten him on this road?  To marvel at sights he had never seen in Minnesota?

Maybe, because that certainly was a beautiful place in a godforsaken way.  Herman’s West Virginia mountain are covered in green and softly rounded with hollows running up the hills toward mountaintop springs and creeks. The Superstition Mountains are barren, jagged, and gray, with canyons and small stands of prickly pear cactus poking out of granite rocks. The Salt River cuts sharply through at one point, leaving  a steep cubist canyon covered in white. It looks like the elementary school science experiment where we supersaturated a glass of water with table salt and let it evaporate to  grow crystals on a strand of twine suspended from a pencil  placed across the rim. It looks like a rugged, yet sugar-coated, Cinderella’s castle. It is difficult to describe and even more difficult to photograph through the windshield of a motor home.  And heaven knows after we negotiated the first overlook we weren’t going to stop to take pictures. In fact, we were worried a lot of the time about whether we would be able to stop at all or if we were going to tumble to a salty death at the bottom. I did think to myself, well, at least we’ll go together. That was more than two weeks ago.  The passage through the Superstition Mountains has become our benchmark for a rough day of drivin.g.  And the scenery is something we will never forget, in a parade of landscapes that are starting to blur together.  I overheard Herman tell someone at a truck stop the drive scared him to death, a rare admission from my macho man. 

At the time we didn’t even know the name of the mountains.  I googled it later and when I did, I learned that the range is only about an hour’s drive from Phoenix.  The person in the back room at AAA would probably have sent us that way down flat four lane highways.  In retrospect, I’m glad the computer didn’t.

Rugged granite mountain face in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona

Superstition Mountain face

Herman stands with hands on hips far from the edge of a scenic overlook in the Superstition Mountains, Arizona

Herman catches his breath, far from the edge of the scenic overlook.

Highway sign reading "Entering Tombstone, Elevation 4539, Founded 1879"

Entering Tombstone

When we were planning the trip, Herman was thinking “the journey.”  I was thinking “destinations.”  Every time I asked where he wanted to go, he said, “The only place is Tombstone.”  To hear him tell it, he’s not hepped up about the Grand Canyon, although I can’t wait to see his reaction.  He has no idea what he’s in for.  On the other hand, I had done a feature story many years ago about a guy who lived down in Bisbee, Arizona, even further south of Tucson on State Route 80.  I passed

Statue of Wyatt Earp in front of his home in Tombstone, Arizona

The Wyatt Earp House

by Tombstone in my rental car and it didn’t look to me as though there was much to see.  But if Herman wanted to go, we’d go. 

He had his reasons.  When he was a kid, back in the day of movie serials and of a Western practically every week, Herman and his dad went to the movies on Saturdays. Everybody in his family loves Westerns. His mother loves Westerns. The grown kids love Westerns. Our tv is always tuned to AMC on the weekend because they run Westerns, just like good ole’ times. Sometimes I think the world in the Westerns must be everything Herman believes the world should be but isn’t. The good guys win. The bad guys lose. You can easily tell ‘em apart and you always know which way they are going: thataway. There are enough explosions and

Horses pulling a wagon in Tombstone, Arizona

Horse and Wagon Tour

gunshots and fistfights to keep things loud and interesting. And the wives don’t have so darned many opinions, or at least they’re the type who keep them to themselves. Plus Herman likes history.  Unless you’re an actual historian or historiographer, history seems pretty reliable, solid. It is what it was. Just the facts, ma’am.  So Tombstone it was for him.

We got there on Saturday afternoon.  There are three RV parks around Tombstone and we passed right by the one where we had reservations because it looked so run down.  As a result, we dragged the motor home and the car and the bicycles along the two-lane highway into the town. I could tell Herman was disappointed. There were just a couple of antique shops and a freshly painted house with statues of horses and of Wyatt Earp outside. This was it? I felt awful for him.

We pulled our wagon train around through a parking lot, headed back down the hill, checked in, got set up, unhooked the car and went back toward town.  Finally we discovered it. Off the highway is about a twelve square block area of hardpan streets and original painted one and two-story wood buildings dating back to the 1880s. The main street, Allen, is closed to cars, but horse-drawn stage coaches, wagons, and carriages clop and rumble up and down, kicking up a thick dust that clings to skin, the inside of noses, and everybody’s shoes and clothing. Among the tourists and day-trippers from Tucson and Phoenix, men tread the well-worn boardwalks in late nineteenth-

Herman checks out a shooting iron at the bar at the Birdcage Saloon.

Herman bellies up to the bar and tries out a shooting iron at the Birdcage Saloon. The Birdcage is preserved just as it was when Doc Holliday dealt cards there.

century style Western wear.  They sport the mustaches and tall brushed hats, bolos and trimmed beards, long black duster coats, collarless shirts, and embroidered vests of the Earps and their town ilk.  Or they wear the baggy pants, flannel shirts, side-arms, and battered straw and felt hats of the miners and prospectors who came to Tombstone to make money and fortunes. There are women among them, sometimes in prim pioneer cotton dresses, and other times sporting the bloomers and lace of the bordellos.

For years, whenever we have been somewhere with carriage rides, I have cajoled and pleaded, and once in a while actually talked Herman into one. In Tombstone, I didn’t even have to open my mouth. He happily handed over the ten dollars each and we climbed into the back of a covered wagon for a thirty minute tour. The driver pointed out landmarks and recited a script in a monotone that indicated the tour company hired him for his beard, his ability to memorize word-for-word, and probably for his way with horses. Herman claimed he already knew everything the guide had reeled off, but I didn’t.

At its peak in the early 1880s, when there was so much silver to be mined that tunnels ran deep beneath its streets,  Tombstone was the fastest growing town between St. Louis and San Francisco.  It was home to

Sign outside reading

Sign Outside the Bronco Mercantile in Tombstone

18,000 white men and an uncounted number of women, children, African-Americans, and Chinese. There were 100 saloons to keep all those men happy and only four churches to save their souls. This was the West at its wildest.  Despite the movie myths, the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday didn’t come here to tame it, they came to make their own fortunes dealing cards, owning bars, investing in mines, and doing a bit of racketeering. The gunfight at the OK Corral really took place in an alley down the street and wasn’t exactly about law and order, but was just one episode in a territorial feud between the Earps and two aligned families of cattle ranchers and rustlers, the Clantons and McLaurys.

And even though it was said that one man a day was shot here, that’s not how Tombstone got its name.  Instead, when  founder Ed Schieffelin set off from Fort Huachuca in 1880 to prospect for silver in the area, his friends scoffed and told him the only thing he was going to find in that Apache Indian country was his own . . . you got it.


Back to 3G and maybe some good wireless. More posts coming. In the meantime, this is the view from our site at the Cortez-Mesa Verde KOA. Burgers on the grill and mojitos.

The Man's Hat Shop, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Man's Hat Shop, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The last time Herman walked into The Man’s Hat Shop in downtown Albuquerque he was on TDY at Kirtland Air Force Base for a nuclear weapons course in 1978.  He bought two fur felt Stetson hats–one in brown and one in black–and a very spiffy leather double hat box to hold them. In the seventeen years that I have known him, he has rarely, rarely worn them, but from time to time he mentions them affectionately. Once or twice, he has even gone to the trouble to pull down the  hat box and let me take a look at them.  One has a card tucked in the inner band that reads, “Like hell it’s yours.  But you can get one like it at The Man’s Hat Shop.” Every time the subject of these Stetsons comes up he says, “If I ever get back to Albuquerque, I’m going to get the brims reshaped.”  Last week he got back to Albuquerque. And he was ready.  Those hats had ridden in their case in the cargo hold of the motor home all the way from Virginia.

He called the number on the “Like hell” card and found that the shop was in the exact same spot and that they still offered the service of reshaping a brim to its original snappiness. If he could get there by 3:30, he could have the hats back before they closed at 5:30.  We unhitched the car in a hurry, punched the address in the GPS, and raced downtown.

Interior of The Man's Hat Shop showing stacks of hats

Thousands of Hats

In this economy, in this century, this was an amazing convergence of old school values.  That a man could hold onto one  hat, much less two, for 32 years, and then return to the very place that he first bought them, cradled in a case that hadn’t rotted, warped, or come unglued, and have his brims reshaped, was downright miraculous. I think we were all astonished.

I know I was.  And, so, I think, was Bill Sisk, who has worked at The Man’s Hat Shop for about the amount of time I have known Herman.  The only person who seemed to take it in stride was Herman himself.  I asked him what he thought about all of this and he shrugged. What was I talking about?  Unusual?  But that’s just Herman, I guess.  Steady.  Optimistic.  And maybe a little confused about what decade this really is.

Herman and Bill Sisk at The Man's Hat Shop with Herman's hat case

Herman, Bill Sisk, and the Famous Hat Box

Motor home stuck at Anderson Car and Truck Repair, Sedona, Arizona

The blinking behemoth at Anderson Car and Truck Repair, Sedona, Arizona

Here we are again stuck seeing the business end of a truck repair shop and missing what we came to enjoy. We’ve endured the jack breakdown in Oklahoma. (Never fixed. We’re just doing without. Hope to God we don’t roll down a ravine in our sleep one night in the Rockies.) Brakes in Willcox and Tucson, Arizona. And now the air compressor system in Sedona . We don’t think it’s the motor home. We think it’s the owner. When we went to make up the bed the night before we left we could see the platform had been broken and jerry-rigged with plywood and the Select Comfort mattress replaced with the undersized inflatable topper from an Ethan Allen sofa bed and two mismatched bars of foam. Really?

“Oh. Well. Yes,” the owner mumbled when we called to raise cain. “That bed got damaged and I retrofitted it.”   Thank goodness we had a queen Aerobed of our own that we could bring along. We left his junk in our garage.

“Retrofitted,” we said to each other and laughed.  Uneasily.  Because, let’s face it, those kind of shenanigans–verbal and otherwise–meant that this man had turned out to be someone who could not be trusted.  We were right.  Other things don’t quite work on the motor home.  Things big and small.  We’re not stupid but now we are looking and feeling stupider by the day, which just adds to the misery.   Now we know for sure that “retrofitted” means let it break. Didn’t get it checked. Don’t give a hangy-dee-dang about your safety and comfort on this trip. Definitely didn’t just drive this baby to church on Sunday. Rode her hard. Put her up wet.  Oh, and that puddle of water in your driveway?  It’ll probably just go away.  It hasn’t.  The guy who crawled under the chassis to replace the front brakes in Tucson smiled sweetly and asked, “Did you know your fresh water tank is cracked all along the seam?” Well, yeah.  We kind of suspected, since we flush twice and make one pot of coffee and the darned thing is a third of the way to empty.

I’m not sure which is the worst:  getting on the road in the morning and not knowing what’s going to break next?  having to juggle our schedule every couple of days and missing things we really wanted to see? or feeling like the one P.T. Barnum said was born every minute.

We’re trying to be philosophical and not let it ruin our trip.  We’re trying to be kind to each other instead of barking.  But heaven help him if I get within haranguing distance of that son of a gun of an owner.