Sunday October 10, 2004

Back across the Mojave to Vegas, then home...


Today wasn't all that interesting. It was just a travelling day. We began the long hike back across the desert with a farewell glance at Grand Canyon all covered in morning mist and looking blue. On the way out of the park area, a family of mule deer crossed the street in front of us.

I can't even begin to describe how sore I feel today. Oof. It's not good. Sitting in a car and plane all these hours doesn't help either.

Driving back, we put on Brian Wilson's amazing new SMiLE CD. It was pretty inspiring to listen to a disc about American manifest destiny while driving through the west. We crossed the Hoover Dam while "Child Is The Father Of The Man" and "Surf's Up" played. It only made the sights more aweing.

On the Nevada side of the dam, we ran across several herds of bighorn sheep. They were on either side of the road. 'Twas another wild sighting. We stopped in Boulder City ("a place called Boulder on the wild Colorado") for lunch and headed on to Vegas. After returning the car, we did the whole security thing at the airport.

I was so tired and exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was fly anywhere. Despite the "fear factor" yesterday, I still saved a little for the way home. Our flight took off on time at 2 p.m. PST. It was a bit bumpier than the way out. I did start feeling a bit airsick when we had to fly way up over a storm somewhere around Oklahoma or Texas. The main problem was that for some reason, the temperature in the plane was like a meat locker. I had to put on a jacket and gloves and still froze! That only made me more tense. I got through it all okay, though.

After an endless 3 and a half hours, we landed in Atlanta at approximately 9 p.m. EST. It was so nice to come down from the clouds and see the diamond and gold shining city lights on what appeared to be black velvet..

The first thing I did was run to a Chinese Restaraunt in the airport for the wonderful sweet tea. Oh, how I've missed ye!

After finally finding our car (yeah, we lost it), we travelled on home to catch up with our crustacean friends back in Athens. It's so good to be home and in my own comfy, comfy bed.

What a trip! I'll never forget it.

Now I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.





Saturday October 9, 2004

Relieved, exhausted and thankful after mule ride into the Grand Canyon.


"When I'm 64..."

John Lennon would've made it to that magical number today. Imagine what he could've accomplished in the past 24 years if given a chance...

Me? Well, I'm at the Grand Canyon in Arizona (like there's another one) today.

Last night's sleep wasn't very sound either. There's no air conditioning in this old lodge and we're in an end room. That basically means that every 10 minutes or so it sounds like a crypt is being opened at the head of the bed. It's not very conducive to a restful night. I wound up jamming my earplugs in and got a few hours despite this.

Amanda and I were up at dawn to meet up with the mule train to Plateau Point which is about 4000 feet down and still 1300 feet over the Colorado. I felt terrible getting up that early. It was cold, too. We're talking right at freezing, (which I thought I was). I had to layer on a hat, two jackets and an obnoxious yellow issue cover that said (subtly) MULE RIDER on the back in big black letters. I guess that was in case the mule wasn't an obvious enough tip off.

Soon, a couple of dozen mules were being herded into the corral while all of us "dudes" gathered round. The trail bosses went on and on about how dangerous this was, how someone gets sick everyday, how we're likely to get dehydrated, etc. I didn't particularly want to hear how about 1 person dies at the Canyon a week. I didn't want to hear about how 300 or so have to be rescued or flown out by a helicopter due to serious injury. Geez, that's nearly one a day. Now I was extra confident, eh?

Add to it the fact that I was exhausted, not quite adjusted to the altitude and had never ridden an animal before and I was ready to quit right then. I decided I'd be a trooper. It's important to Amanda. What's the worse that could happen? Oh...oh excruciating death from pummeling down nearly a mile over rocks. So that whole "what's the worst" logic didn't quite work here.

My mule was named Bone. This somehow seemed appropriate. He was one of the biggest ones there. And here I've got to get up on him. I did good with that. I even latched right on. Everyone said I was a "natural." That was before we made the first turn into the trail and looked down into that gorge. "My God, what have I done?" About a minute in, I said, "I can't do this. I'm going to quit now. I'll just ruin it for everyone else if I try to continue." Our trail boss Donna gave me a big speech about how this is the scariest, highest part. This is a once in a lifetime thing. "You'll never forget it. Just hang in there." I reluctantly said I'd try it a little longer. A few minutes later, we made our first stop. Now - the mules are trained to face out over the Canyon when they stop. They all abrubtly turn with their head and neck over the edge. You are within inches of being over the side. It's purely terrifying. Especially for me. I felt so insecure up on old Bone...even if he was an amazingly well-tempered creature. Amanda's mule Suzanne, then leaned down even further to start eating grass on the Canyon wall. OK - this is crazy. I don't know how I'm ever going to get through it. I was possibly more scared than I've ever been! And the trip down and back was due to last for 7 freakin' hours.

Bone, being the biggest mule, regularly had to hang over the edge to fit around the tight turns and switchbacks (I think there were 40 switchbacks/hair-pin turns). I never got used to it. Every now and again, I'd look away from the trail to see the morning sun rising over the most amazing landscape I've ever seen. After an hour of sheer terror, it became moderate terror as the trail flattened a bit. It helped that "Bubba from Texas" was riding behind me. He made me feel better by joking around. "Where'd you get them cowboy boots? (my checkerboard sneakers) I might want to get me some." Trail boss Donna kept checking in on me, too.

A rock tumbled down the Canyon wall and hit Amanda's sun glasses, completely knocking out one of the frames. Thank God she had 'em on. That would've done some damage to her eye. She was okay, though. For her, it was more than worth it. Later she admitted to me that she too was extremely scared at first. Nothing scares her so that made me feel a little better about my fear.

Every now and again, you'd see a hiker. Bubba would always greet them and ask how long they'd been down. "3 days" most of 'em said. Geez! One guy said he'd been down there living off the land for 4. I have a new found respect for the pioneers and people who "tamed" the west and came across country. This is one inhospitable environment.

Time became a blur of unreal views and bad jokes but we eventually got down to Indian Gardens for our first break. That was such a weird place. In the middle of this rocky environment was a green lush area of trees and grass. By now, it was getting hot. We shed our jackets and tied 'em to the mules. It was 34 degrees up top. Here, it was 100. Yep. I'm not kidding. Unbelievable. We went from as cold as it ever really gets where I live to as hot as it ever really gets in a couple of hours.

By now, it was just a little ways more to Plateau Point, our destination. It was basically a grassy knoll of a plateau that juts out over the middle of the Canyon overlooking the Colorado. From there, you're surrounded by views that are absolutely indescribable when life-sized. There's no way a picture could ever do it justice. And unlike most tourist photos taken from the rim, you're inside the canyon. It's all around you and above you on all sides.

Down at Plateau Point, I was feeling okay. We were on ground. I was walking. It was flat. Whew! We had a skimpy lunch and took turns taking pictures of each other. Bubba agreed to take a picture of Amanda and me. Just as he did, a huge raven swooped up from the depths and over his head, buzzing him.The raven then swooped around the air currents around us before disappearing again. Bubba, his wife Kay, Amanda and I hung out for a good half hour or so just soaking it in. We never could.

Time to re-mount and head back up. Here comes the fear again. At least the first part of the return won't be bad. I even was able to look out and enjoy the ride for awhile. Of course, by now I was terribly "saddle sore." That's a new sensation for me. I can't see a reason why I'd ever want to repeat it. Muscles were hurting that I didn't even know I had!

Because of the heat and the ridiculous incline, we had to keep stopping to let the mules rest. Bone was actually sweating a bit on the return ride. But he was just as sweet and patient as ever. By the very end, he was getting a little grumpy and wanted to eat, so he'd snack on any greenery he could reach.

He was nothing like Amanda's horse, Suzanne. She stopped in the trail constantly. At one point, we were riding past several hikers when Suzanne decided to pay them a special tribute that Amanda took to calling "rocket blasts." The hikers were so horrified that we were all in hysterics. I think Suzanne enjoyed amusing us so much that she decided to do it every time we passed from now on. So much for looking majestic as we passed on the trail!

Getting closer to the top and more tired. It's exhausting maintaining that level of fear, I tell ya. We eventually made it back up and had one of the greatest senses of accomplishment I've ever felt. I did something completely alien to me, fought my fear and won. Still, I'll never do it again. When they say "once in a lifetime," in my case, it will be. Don't get me wrong. It is something I'll never forget. I recommend that everyone do it once. But it's just too much for me to ever be brave enough to do it again.

Donna (the trail boss) asked around our group on who she should pick on at the end of the ride. I was the group's unanimous choice. I was given a diploma as a certified mule skinner. I earned it. I deserve it. I'll display it proudly.

We took some more pics of the group and gave Donna a generous tip for putting up with me. Then I went back to the room to collapse. Which I did. Amanda had to go to the restaraunt to grab something to eat for me. I couldn't move. I was in a lot of pain, exhausted and massively stressed. After an hour or so, I was feeling better so we went out and walked around the rim. Tourists from all over the world were wondering at the Canyon. I looked way down at Plateau Point and couldn't help but be amazed all over again.

Well, we've got to go back to Georgia tomorrow so we'd might as well hit an early dinner and bed to make it easier to get on the road in the morning. We ate again at the Bright Angel Lodge Restaraunt. We both got the trout and I mixed up a concoction of my magic elixir by adding a boatload of sugar to what normal people call ice tea. How the rest of the world survives without sweet tea is beyond me! That little bit of caffeine and sugar does wonders for me.

After dinner, we did a little shopping for the nieces and nephew. We looked at the little museums and walked out to say goodnight to the canyon.

I was sure I'd have dreams about falling into that thing all night. I was wrong. I was too tired. I fell right asleep...

...then the crypt opened...

so I jammed my earplugs in again...

and back to sleep...






Friday October 8, 2004

Taking a sight seeing break at the Arizona side of Hoover Dam on the way to Grand Canyon.


We checked out of the Flamingo before noon to go pick up a rental car for another travelling day. We took off in our humble little Ford Focus across the Mojave desert going east through Nevada.

The desert was nothing like it is in my mind. I had always thought it was sweeping sand dunes or something. I had no idea that it was basically a desolate mountain region. It was new to me. Within an hour, the mountains had turned to chocolate and we were getting close to the Arizona border. Soon, a stunning blue mass of water appeared on the left. Lake Mead signalled the approach of the Hoover Dam. Here we stopped for longer than we probably should have. It was just such an amazing sight with the mountains, the Colorado River and the lake. We even took the tour and went down inside the dam to see the turbines. It was kind of scary being so far down. There was a tunnel through the black canyon walls at one point. The dam is always moving slightly. It had me a bit spooked. When I saw the "seepage" coming through the walls it amazed me even more. The tour guide asked us not to use the "L" word (leak).

After the tour we checked out the amazing monuments to the people who built this awe inspiring place. It's funny, they built the dam from 1931-35. They're now building the Hoover Dam bypass. It says to expect construction related road delays from 2003-2008 on the signs. It took less time to build the monster than to bypass it.

I was told that Kingman, Arizona was just over the state line so I figured I'd have lunch there. What a mistake! Suddenly, I was famished, in the middle of the desert with nothing but tumbleweeds and otherworldly scenery. After much grumbling, we made it to the Kingman KFC over an hour later. Kingman was one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. It was an oasis to me. There was nothing particularly special about it but it allowed me to keep going without collapsing in a pile on the side of the road.

We headed on up the road. We refilled on the Route 66 exit. It was the Andy Devine Parkway. I know that Andy Devine did a lot of movies back in the early days of flicks through the '70s. But I know him better as the lead character in the Frank Zappa song "Andy." So I couldn't help but smile when I saw the sign. Strangely, it happened to be next to the Lido Motel. Could this be the same place mentioned in Zappa's "Willie The Pimp"? I'm sure Zappa must've ridden through here many times. Odds are good.

Then came the long stretch of road. The really long stretch. My God - it goes on forever. There's nothing here! As sunset began, we were still driving. The only thing of note (besides the usual incredible scenery) were the joshua trees and a herd of pronghorn antelope on the right side of the road. It's one thing to hit a deer back east. I can only imagine what one of these suckers could do to a car.

We searched for an NPR station on the radio to check in with the Presidential Debate. Nope, I couldn't even miss it on the road. It's too important. Bush sounded better prepared this time and even made a few solid points, but I think Kerry still beat him soundly. He didn't annihilate Bush like the first go round but I'm glad there were no knockouts from the other side.

By the time we made it to the Grand Canyon park it was full-on night. The nights out here in the middle of nowhere are extra dark. I had a migraine from all the driving and odd-time eating. We checked into the Bright Angel Lodge and had to sign legal wavers to be allowed to go on the mule ride into the Canyon bright and early in the a.m. It basically just said, "It's quite possible that you will be severely injured or killed on a mule ride. By signing this, you are taking full responsibility and waive any legal recourse should the worst happen. Enjoy your ride."

Then a 30-minute wait to eat. By now my head was killing me and I was not in a cheerful mood. I let Amanda know how overbooked I thought we were and how little time I had to appreciate anything. She dealt with me with surprising patience. After a decent steak dinner, we walked out to the rim of the canyon just a few feet behind us. It was just an empty blackness in the dark. The sky was amazing. There are so many stars without the lights of a city. Amanda even noticed the stream of the Milky Way washing over us. We stared for a few minutes before heading back to our very basic room. We needed rest. It was already almost 10 p.m. pacific time. It felt like 1 a.m. to me. I had to be up around 6 a.m. to partake in one of the biggest, scariest adventures of my life...



Thursday October 7, 2004

Las Vegas...where to begin?eir togetherness Thursday night.


Today, we took our time. There's just too much to do to really make a decision so we'll wander. We made them change our room from the 4th to the 20th floor. It's much quieter. Last night's sleep was interrupted constantly. We were next to a parking deck. After we moved upstairs, it became clear just how monstrous this place is. It's apparently the 2nd largest hotel in the world. It's a massive maze that has a casino at every exit.

In the afternoon we wandered the strip. We found ourselves at Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden at The Mirage. After wandering past the white tigers, Amanda played ball with a dolphin. Then we passed on through to see Panthers, Elephants and all kinds of other exotic sights.

At lunch (yes, even the food courts were based around gambling), I couldn't resist dropping a buck in a Twilight Zone slot machine. Lost that pretty quick!

Amanda bought a dollar frozen margarita that tasted amazing. It really hit the spot. The weather was perfect. Nice and warm, but not too hot. It's so weird without the humidity. I kept feeling light-headed and thirsty but a little liquid would normalize me quick. You've really got to keep drinking out here. The humidity in the Secret Garden reminded me of home!

We decided to do an earlier dinner tonight. We went back to the Paradise Buffet in the hotel. It was so nice to be in a place stocked heavy with comfort foods and fancier stuff, too. We ate surrounded by waterfalls. Swans, ducks and koi floated around us and giant trees towered above. And this was the everyday common place for Vegas.

After dinner, we almost went to see Wayne Newton at The Stardust. Then we decided that if we did that we'd have no time to really see the city. Besides, there were just too many choices to make a choice. You know? So this time, we hit the strip going the other direction. We took lots of pics of us around Caesar's Palace and then headed on past the Aladdin (KISS' "I Was Made For Lovin' You" blasting outside) to the Paris where we posed in front of the Eiffel Tower. Queen's musical We Will Rock You was playing there and a lame rendition of the title song looped into madness outside.

Latinos stood on the street handing out flyers for girls who you could have delivered to your room for $44. They were aggressively handing them out to me...and Amanda! This is definitely a different place. You want anything from a "business woman" to a "cheerleader", they'll be sent to your room...and all in short skirts. I wonder if they're free if delivery takes more than 30 minutes.

We lapped back around our hotel to see the volcano explode in front of the Mirage. By then, it was already bed time.

We didn't really get to see Vegas on this trip and we've got to head out after breakfast tomorrow. This was more of a meeting trip. We met Vegas but we haven't become acquainted yet. I can't wait 'til we can get to know each other better.



Wednesday October 6, 2004

Heading west from Atlanta to Vegas...


Got up as usual in Athens. By lunchtime, Amanda and I were on the way to Atlanta-Hartsfield airport for our flight out West.

As I said yesterday, I'm a nervous flyer. After some delays, we took off at about 4:20 p.m., white knuckles and all. By 4:40, I started to calm a bit. Luckily, it was a routine flight with very little turbulence.

After flying for 3 and a half hours, we suddenly caught a glimpse of suburbs in the middle of the Mojave desert. Then suddenly through the window we saw a giant golden hotel next to a big black pyramid next to the New York skyline...all in the middle of nowhere. What a sight!

When I landed I took some notes on Flamingo Las Vegas stationary. Here's what I noted...

"5:30 p.m. PST

Flew over the South, farmlands, piecharts, reptile skin, snow-peaked mountains, desert and velvet mountains to get here. Made it on time. The city's right at the airport. Looks like a great time. Can see Caesar's, The Mirage, Treasure Island, Harrah's and a colorful desert sunset on the mountains from our window.

Rodney Dangerfield's voice welcomed us at the day late...

Throat's sore from the plane's air pressure and the dryness here. Must go eat now. It's almost 9 o'clock to my body even though my watch says it's only 5:40!

Glad to be on the ground...

8:08 p.m.

Had a ridiculous buffet feast, wandered through the hotel gardens to Bugsy Siegel's original site. We saw the pools, penguins (yep penguins in the desert), flamingos, koi, swans, etc. Came back through the casino and threw away about 5 bucks in slots and video poker machines.

Way tired 'cause I'm still on Eastern time. Everything's just beginning and I'm back in the room ready for bed at 8 p.m. local time. That'll be an evening wasted...

I can't comprehend that Gladys Knight is in the hotel performing now. George Wallace will be on in an hour and a half. The Second City Comedy Troop will be on soon. Across the street is Celine Dion and Penn and Teller. Blue Man Group, Wayne Newton and Neil Sedaka surround us...all at once. Unreal.

Vegas is too much.

Seriously...TOO MUCH!"





Tuesday October 5, 2004




Ahhhh...back to the same old normal grind (almost). It's not relaxing but it's not particularly stressful. Today, Tom and I worked on a back and forth article on SMiLE for Flagpole (it'll make sense when you see it - I hope), I sent in a bunch of requested shots for a potential Pollstar cover and that was about it. It doesn't sound like much, but a lot of it was slow going.

Tomorrow is what I'm worried about. That's when we're off for a "relaxing" vacation out west. That's in quotes because I am (I'm nearly ashamed to say) still quite a-feared of the new fangled flying machines. I've never gotten accustomed to it and I'm just your old fashioned white-knuckler on an airplane. I do it when I have to and nothing else. At the moment, I haven't been on a plane in a year and half or so. As I said, I kind of try to avoid it.

And this'll be a long one, too. Once I flew from South Carolina to Chicago and out to San Francisco. That's my longest flight. The rest have been relatively brief - Atlanta to New Orleans or New York or Chicago.

Of course, I always fear the worst. And an incredibly turbulent flight to New York when Amanda was on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? hasn't helped things. I won't even MENTION a certain date that sounds like an emergency phone number.

Anyway - wish me a safe trip (please!) and hopefully, I'll be back home Sunday with tales to tell of Vegas and the Grand Canyon!

Take care and adios, amigos!



Monday October 4, 2004

Here's a sneak preview of the beautiful R.E.M. composite that was made from my pics for the October 6 issue of Flagpole.

Today wasn't quite as hectic as the last few days. In fact, I spent the day updating this site. In addition to the reports on the Georgia Theatre and Mulligan's shows, I got dozens of photos from the last week's band activity uploaded to Live Shots and The Band in the Photos section. Go diggin' around if you dare. I also uploaded the second song (of four) in a month's worth of weekly new uploads. Check it out by visiting the Rarities section of Music.

The other news is just that the rest of my life seems to be coming together right now also. First off, I'm super proud of the Flagpole Cover that you see to your left. Cindy Jerrell designed this R.E.M. live composite using photos that I took last year in Atlanta. This is one of those things that really makes me feel like I'm a part of the Athens scene. I usually feel completely outside. But hey, how much more Athenian can you get than doing the cover of the indie news / entertainment weekly with photos of R.E.M. to celebrate the release of their new album and series of political concerts? I'm proud to be a part of it and thank Cindy for all of her hard work in putting it together.

Also, I finally got paid from licensing photos. What a weird feeling! My mailbox had my first check from Retna. In addition to the Courtney Love shot that was used in Blender, apparently they sold a shot I took of Rachael Yamagata to Entertainment Weekly. I wish I would've known about it. So if anyone stumbles across the August 13 copy of EW, save it for me!

According to Wire Image, I've sold a few shots, too. One of my photos of Ashlee Simpson first ever concert has been licensed to America Online for something. I just wish I got to see how and what it's been used for.

That's pretty cool to me. It just feels like it's all coming's about time!

Check out last week's wondrous Georgia Theatre show (photos, linkage) and all the other lowdown by clicking here!