California, September, 2017 – Part 2

Brewery in a re-purposed warehouse

We next visited the Bay Area, to see my grandson Quin Miller off to a year in Italy, and otherwise spend time with our two families – the Levys and Millers. In Berkeley, we went to The Rare Barrel. I’d never had “sour beer” before.

My son, Ethan Miller, pays for the beer


Other Millers.

Jenny Miller – Ethan’s ex-wife and mother of my grandchildren

Grandson Quin

Granddaughter Shannon

My ex-wife. Karen Miller. Grandmother of Jenny and Ethan’s kids


Ethan’s wife, Florence Landau, at their home in Albany

Sun-lit corner, Albany, CA

Kathy and I began our return to New Mexico by driving over Tioga Pass, in  Yosemite NP. Smoke somewhat obscured the views to the south and west.

The vast granite expanse of Clouds Rest Pk. is located at the upper end of Yosemite Valley, from Olmsted Point area

Half Dome

Granite slab, at Olmsted Point


We then drove south on Hwy 395, along the steep eastern slope of the Sierras.

From a pull-out on Hwy 395, on the descent to Bishop:  Looking west to Mt. Tom (left), with Four Gables and, in the distance, a ridge of unnamed peaks and pinnacles on the Sierra crest

Four Gables Mtn. (left), and a ridge of unnamed peaks and pinnacles on the Sierra crest

And, from the same pull-out on Hwy 395: looking southwest, to the Middle Fork of Bishop Creek and Mt. Thompson (left) and Mt. Powell

And yet more to the south: The South Fork of Bishop Creek, Bishop Pass and Mt. Goode (right)

We spent the night in the small town of Independence, which sits at the foot of Mt. Williamson. We stayed at the Winnedumah Hotel (and B&B).

Mt Williamson from the north, by evening light

Mts Williamson (left) and Tyndall, looking west

Winnedumah Hotel, with Kathy

Winnedumah Hotel, with Kathy

Wine glass, at dinner that night


The next stop was Lone Pine, and it’s fabulous view of Mt. Whitney and Lone Pine Peak.

Mt. Whitney (right), and Lone Pine Peak, with the granite boulders of the Alabama Hills in the middle distance

The Alabama Hills

Mt. Corcoran (left), Lone Pine Pk. and the Alabama Hills

Mt. Corcoran

Mt. Whitney (right) and Keeler Needle (next peak to the left of Mt. Whitney)

All photos, from close-ups to superzooms, were taken with a Coolpix P900 camera.

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California, September, 2017 – Part 1

On September 1, 2017, Kathy and I left New Mexico for southern California, to participate in the annual Hammerlee family beach reunion. As in recent years, we occupied the Raccoon group site at Carpinteria State Beach, which State Beach is located to the south of Santa Barbara. I’ve posted before on prior such reunions at Carpinteria.

Besides being a great beach for the kids of the assembled families, other attractions  include the tar seeps, bird life, harbor seals and sea life.

Carpinteria got its name because Spanish sailing ships stopped there for carpentry repairs, which included using the naturally-occurring tar for caulking purposes.

Tar on beachside rock

Tar on sand

Tar on sand

A variety of sea birds can be seen on the beach.


Curlew with mole crab

Curlew probing for mole crabs


Elegant terns

There is a harbor seal rookery down the beach a ways.

Harbor seals on the offshore rocks

Harbor seals on the offshore rocks

Kathy and the kids usually tear into stranded kelp holdfasts, to see what critters are at home.

Small octopus from holdfast

Same small octopus (p.s. this octopus was safely returned to an appropriate location)

On and around the rocks.

Mussels and barnacles cover the wave-washed rocks

There are two kinds of sea anemone to be found. Below is the Solitary anemone.

Solitary anemone

Anemones somehow manage to attach bits of broken seashell to their protective mantle.

Solitary anemone. At top center, one sees the fans that barnacles deploy to feed

Solitary anemones

Solitary anemones, closed up

Partially-closed solitary anemone

Aggregating anemones are small and pack themselves (aggregate) closely together.

Aggregating anemones

Aggregating anemones

Both types

Some of the kids.

Benet Levy (left), Fletcher Piatt (right)

Fletcher Piatt (left), Benet Levy (right), 

Fletcher. What a happy kid!

Rowan Piatt and Kathy. Sand sculptor Trevor behind.



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Natural Beauty and the Evolution of Joy


Few would say that they don’t find nature to be beautiful. Perhaps some would point out that they don’t like creepy, crawly things, or biting insects. But they might also admit that, upon closer examination, these creatures show beauty in their design. Why do humans find beauty in nature? Is there some immanent quality of nature that makes it beautiful? Is nature inherently/intrinsically beautiful?

Creationists will argue that the beauty of design that we see in nature has been bestowed by God, the designer. They maintain that you cannot have design without a designer. And, if so, we find beauty in nature because God designed nature and designed us to find beauty in nature. But, as a Darwinist, I would counter that the design we see in all organisms is the product of natural selection, operating over the full length of time that life has been present on Earth – 4 billion years. Evolution by means of natural selection has produced the wondrous diversity of life on Earth we call nature. Can this evolutionary perspective also answer the question of why we find it beautiful?

Humans arrived late on the scene, in this story that stretches back so unimaginably far. Whereas life on Earth appeared billions of years ago, human life (the genus Homo) is between 2 and 3 million years old. All of nature, therefore, was present when we humans first “opened our eyes”, and our subsequent evolution shaped us to live and make a living in those natural settings that were our first homes. All evidence points to Africa as our first home, as we diverged from our ape-like closest kin. The common ancestor of ourselves and modern apes ate mainly vegetable matter, as chimps and gorillas do today. But, somewhere along the line, humans began to scavenge animal remains and then hunt animals, and our way of life thus evolved into a combination of hunting meat and gathering vegetable food. This means of subsisting continued unchanged for at least a million years, until the end of the last ice age (10,000 yrs ago), when humans invented agriculture and domesticated animals.

People who “live off the land” get to know that land very well. They gain intimate knowledge of the terrain, weather patterns, the habits of the prey animals that live in the area, the locations of plant foods and the times of the year that they are available, which plants can be used to make poisons or dyes, which rocks make the best stone tools, which wood makes the best spears, which materials can be used to make huts and clothes, and on and on and on. Stone-age hunters-gatherers educated themselves about every element of the environment that bore on their physical and emotional well-being, and each individual had, by adulthood, acquired PhD amounts of understanding of the subject. As humans spread over the globe, this was accomplished in every habitable environment on Earth. For example, those who have lived with, studied and reported on the Inuit people (Eskimos) of the arctic region have been amazed by the ingenuity of their subsistence technologies. From fashioning igloos, to making kayaks out of skin, bones and driftwood, to making clothes out of animal skins, to hunting seals at breathing holes in the sea ice, to carving hearths from soapstone, so as to have seal oil cooking fires in their igloos, to building weir dams to catch migrating fish in rivers, to domesticating dogs to pull sleighs  and much much more, these people have/had mastered the arctic environment. A case in point – in 1845, the Franklin Expedition left England to explore the Canadian arctic. Their wooden ships became icebound and were crushed, with the loss of the complete expedition – 129 men. Meanwhile, nearby Inuit families were going about their daily routines, and it was they who first came upon the wrecks, taking useful materials home with them.

Hunters/gatherers found the subjects they studied to be of great interest, and this interest, along with intellect, are the products of natural selection. Satisfying the basic needs of food and shelter are called (in evolutionary science) the “ultimate” (or underlying) cause of subsistence activities, whereas the “interest” in the things and activities involved in subsistence are the “proximate” (closer at hand) cause. What exactly do I mean by “interest”? Do we not all have hobbies, which we pursue with great “interest”? Think of collecting rocks or fossils, gardening, building models, dancing, archery and hunting, tying flies for fly fishing and fishing, knitting and sewing, re-enacting historical events, skiing and snowboarding, rock climbing and mountaineering, birding, scuba, running whitewater, hiking, caving, horseback riding and keeping pets, ball games and other chase and capture games, throwing a javelin (!) and travel to new places. We find all of these, and many more pursuits, to be “interesting”. And why is that? It’s because we are innately predisposed (evolutionarily-inclined) towards finding these sorts of things interesting. The engagement with such activities is, in other words, self-rewarding – the proximate cause of the behavior is that it is fun. We are built to enjoy these things, and look forward to doing them. What commonalities do we see in the above list? There is fabricating things (e.g. shelters, clothing, weapons, tools, ornaments), there is classifying things collected (e.g. rocks, fossils), there is engagement with plants and animals (e.g. gardening, raising animals, birding, plant collecting, hunting, fishing, scuba diving), there is the acquisition of fine motor skills (e.g. making stone tools), there is motor activity that includes walking, running, chasing, climbing, swimming and other kinds of motion over the surface of the land or water (e.g. skiing, roller skating, surfing, sailing etc. etc.) and exploring new terrain. These self-rewarding activities are otherwise known as play (and no different from what we call play in animals).

What this tells us is that we are innately predisposed to enjoy doing the kinds of things that we needed to do in order to survive as hunter-gatherers in the world of nature. And, along with that, our play is practice. Along with fun, there is yet another motivating element that needs mentioning. That element is joy. The fine-tuning of an adaptation in higher organisms provides an experience of joy (again, as a proximate cause) to a creature that successfully performs adaptive behavior. What is the most adaptive behavior that we humans perform? It is pair-bonding and parenting. It is falling in love and copulating with the object of that love, and then welcoming into the world the child you have jointly created. These are the most joyous experiences available to us. And what comes next? It is being loved by one’s relations and friends. Our fundamental reproductive and social behaviors provide joy in amounts equal to their adaptive importance. But, is our capacity to love  limited only to our romantic partners and our closest allies? Decidedly not. We love Earth and all of nature. We love animals especially, along with everything else that is part of nature – trees and forests, grass, coral reefs, flowers, sky, clouds, sunsets, rain, snow, bodies of water, lightning, glaciers, rivers and waterfalls, plains, mountains, canyons, seashores and on and on. We find joy in nature because we are predisposed to do so. Joy is the result of an evolutionary fine-tuning that can make life especially rewarding, and a joyous creature, happy in what it does, functions at the highest level. It’s critical to our emotional well-being and, therefore, to our adaptive functioning that we find joy in the world, and we do.




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Alpha Males are What’s Wrong in the World

I know what is wrong in the world. It’s Alpha males. But I don’t know how to remedy that, and there is a strong likelihood that it cannot be remedied. But read on …

I earned a Masters Degree from Harvard University (1970) in Anthropology, with my main interest being the biological basis (evolution) of human social behavior – and I have pondered that subject ever since.

To better explain why Alpha males are what is wrong in the world, I need first to go over some facts of evolutionary biology, in general, and human evolutionary biology in particular. Natural selection occurs as the consequence of competition over “reproductive success”. This is a keystone term of evolutionary theory, and use of the term actually and always implies “relative reproductive success”, since organisms compete with one another to leave a greater number of offspring. The combination of traits possessed by those organisms that compete successfully predominate in successive generations. This is how evolution takes place. And, therefore, the DNA of every organism on Earth has one and only one goal – live and reproduce to the greatest degree possible. Is this also true of ourselves, who, we suppose, are free of strict genetic programming? Are we not free to choose what we want to do with our lives? Well, yes and no. Some people do choose to commit suicide, while others choose to remain childless. Some humans can, in other words, override the strong predispositions organisms have to live and reproduce. Further, isn’t it the case that people don’t ordinarily think or talk about being “reproductively successful”? It’s an abstract concept. But people think and talk a lot about something that is far more concrete – having sex.  This fact highlights an important evolutionary mechanism – the “proximate” cause of a behavior. Proximate means near by. It’s contrasted to the ultimate (or farther off) cause of a behavior. In this instance, the proximate cause of human sexual activity is wanting to have sex. The ultimate cause is that your genes want to be transferred to new bodies. It does take some effort to imagine that one’s sexual activity is caused by the demand of your genes to be reproduced – but were that not so, evolution would not have happened and we would not be here, talking about how we got here. The beauty of evolution, in this case, is that you, as a sexual actor, don’t need to understand what underlies your sexual appetite. What works to fulfill that ultimate aim of your genes – to be reincarnated in new bodies – is that you have sexual appetites, and that you are damn well going to satisfy those appetites.

We see, in nature, two principal mating systems – monogamy and polygyny (polygamy in which a man has more than one wife). The two differ in a number of characteristics: 1. presence or absence of pair-bonding; 2. presence or absence of male parenting activity; 3. presence or absence of physical and behavioral differences between the sexes and 4. presence or absence of male fighting over access to females. In regard to these characteristics, monogamous species (e.g. Canada geese) exhibit: 1. long or life-long mating bonds; 2. male parenting activity; 3. little or no difference in size and appearance between the sexes and 4. little or no fighting between males over access to females. Polygynous species, on the other hand, exhibit just the opposite: 1. no individual mating bonds; 2. no male parenting activity; 3. considerably differences in size and appearance between the sexes (e.g elk) and 4. male fighting over access to females. These are remarkable differences. So … why does one species end up as monogamous and another as polygynous? What is the logic that underlies each system? Reproductive success has two components – the first is success at mating, and the second is success at parenting. Newborns and young of some species require a lot of parenting activity and others very little. To use one of the examples cited above, canada geese parents must both contribute to the rearing of their young. Why? Because they must fledge their young before the summer is out (which is generally the case with birds), and this requires that they become a fully cooperating monogamous pair. In the case of elk, a newborn is on its feet within minutes, and requires only suckling from its mother thereafter. No parental contribution (called “parental investment”) is required of the father, and no pairing occurs. The requirement (or not) of male parental involvement in the rearing of young is the crucial factor that determines which mating system is adopted.

There is another reason for monogamous pairing where male parenting effort is called for. It is the question of “certainty of paternity”. Certainty of paternity means that a male who is acting as a parent needs to be sure that the kids are, in fact, his. Being cuckolded is the very worst thing that can happen to a male’s attempts to be reproductively successful. His efforts in rearing young have furthered his rival’s reproductive success – not his. Thus, both a strong pair bond and vigilance on the part of the male (female guarding) are part of the monogamy package.

Item 3 above refers to the presence or absence of sex differences. The presence of sex differences is called “sexual dimorphism”, and can include differences in behavior, size and adornment. Why do the sexes differ in polygynous species? Being free of parenting duties, males in polygynous species can concentrate on maximizing copulations. But this inevitably brings them into conflict with each other (Item 4). In polygynous species, males fight each other over access to females. This conflict leads to the establishment of  a “dominance hierarchy”, where the the most aggressive male rises to the top,  and becomes known as the “Alpha” male. To speak of elk again, the top male will gather all local breeding females into a “harem”, fight off other males who try to mate with these females, and, thus, end up being the only male to sire offspring by those females. The fighting over access to females constitutes a “selection pressure” (or push to evolve in a particular direction) on size and pugnacity in males. When all offspring in a local population are sired by one male, that next generation of elk, in its entirety, inherit the attributes of that male that enabled him to create and hold onto a harem. This is considered strong selection pressure towards size and aggressiveness in male elk. Another item comes into play here. It is known as “sexual selection”, and is a variant of natural selection. In many species, males exhibit a certain flamboyant trait and behavior that females find desirable. The male who displays the most developed form of the trait/behavior is considered the most desirable (and may, in fact, be the strongest male in the group), and is chosen by one or all of the local females as a breeding partner. An avian version of this is the “lek” – a spot where males of a particular species gather and strut their stuff to an audience of a female or females. Probably the most famous of lekking birds is the brilliantly-colored male Andean cock of the rock.

So … what does all this have to do with humans? Let’s first consider sexual dimorphism.  Question: Do males differ from females in size and adornment (musculature)? Answer: Yes. The human species is sexually dimorphic. Question: Do males compete over access to females? Answer: Many or most do. Question: Do males fight over females? Answer: Some do.  These facts are consistent with a polygynous mating system. How about pair-bonding? Do humans form life-long pair-bonds? Some, but not all, do. How about male parental “investment” (rearing activity)? Do males contribute to the rearing of young? Many, but not all, do. How do we interpret this, where some characteristics indicate a polygynous tendency and others a monogamous tendency?

It appears that there is no single genetically-ordained human mating system, but rather a variable adaptation, where individuals and societies veer towards one mating system or the other. Today, as in the past, there are societies that allow men to have multiple wives (and harems), societies that allow women to have multiple husbands (polyandry), societies where serial monogamy is a common practice, societies that advocate strict non-serial marriage and so on. See Fig. 1.

Figure 1. Frequency of Marriage Types Across Cultures (from Robert Quinlan, ANTH 468, Washington State U)

Additionally, we observe that, across the board, some males are more inclined towards monogamy, while others are more predisposed to polygyny. And, there is a reproductive success calculus that undergirds the choice of one over the other. A common pattern of behavior for human males who are strongly predisposed towards polygyny (sometimes called sex-addicted males) is to maximize copulations while minimizing parental investment in the children that those copulations produce. The females that are inseminated by these males (“absentee fathers”, in modern society) are thus required to raise their children by themselves, which puts those children at risk. The calculus is this: although a certain (probably high) percentage of these single-parented children will end up as damaged goods, a male who inseminates many women will still have some children who survive in fair condition to reproductive age. I call this the “shotgun strategy” (a marketing term), because it depends on quantity over quality. How about non-combative males who are inclined towards monogamy? What is the calculus here? Because these males become pair-bonded, the number of children they may sire is limited to the number of pregnancies that their mates are capable or desirous of. But, that relatively fewer number of children will be reared by two, not one parent, which is a 100% improvement over the lot of a child reared by one parent. This suggests that a much greater percentage of children born into two-parent families will survive in good condition to reproductive age, but probably in smaller absolute numbers. As opposed to the shotgun approach, this strategy is based on the quality of child-rearing. Thus, the strategic choice for the DNA of human males in the competition over reproductive success is one between quantity (polygyny/no parenting) and quality (monogamy/parenting). The variability seen in the human mating system reflects the fact that the DNA of some male humans directs them towards one strategy, while the same directs other male humans towards the other strategy.

An additional factor that bears on this “choice” is the absolute need of human infants for sustained and highly-attentive rearing. The size of the female birth canal puts a limit on how big a newborn’s brain (head) can be, with the result that humans are born with small and, therefore, undeveloped brains, and are correspondingly helpless at birth and for a significant period of time thereafter. Moreover, humans, being less under the control of genetic imperatives than any other species, are more susceptible to negative environmental influences that may cause young people to go astray during development, and turn out “bad”, putting a yet greater premium on quality child-rearing. The logic of monogamy is that the male will assist his mate from the very beginning, by providing food when she is burdened with a completely dependent newborn, followed by unrelenting support until “the kids are out of the house” (and often later still). I should add the obvious:  that, despite the associated risks, both bonded males and females will cheat on their partners – males, to secure additional  copulations, and females to procure better genes (e.g. from the tennis coach or her husband’s “dream boat” best friend). Not every mating circumstance or pair-bond is likely to be purely one way or the other. Sex-crazed males do marry and rear children e.g. Tiger Woods. Donald Trump, who delights in grabbing women by the pussy, has married a succession of women and appears to take an interest in raising his children. Even the keepers of harems marry. The Sultan of Brunei, famous for his harems, has multiple wives and children.

Before going on, we should consider what a women needs, in the way of maximizing reproductive success. Whereas men have an unlimited and lifetime supply of semen, a woman has a limited number of eggs and a limited number of years in which to produce offspring. Thus, with only a limited number of children possible to her, a mother hopes to provide them with the highest-quality rearing possible. With that in mind, what kind of contribution does she look for from a male parent? She, like a female cock of the rock, wants good genes. But, perhaps more than good genes, she wants as much of a guarantee as possible of material support sufficient to the quality rearing of the children she and her mate have brought into the world. A monogamous pairing should, in theory, provide most, if not all, of that. If she cannot, however, find a male who is willing and capable of providing material support to any children they may together produce, she will, then, settle for good genes (good looks) alone.

Another aspect of human evolution needs mention. Humans evolved to be highly effective small group nomadic hunters-gatherers, who shared food and everything else of importance, and this very successful adaptation enabled our antecedents to colonize all of the habitable earth, from the polar regions to the deserts. Alongside the sharing of food, tools and subsistence techniques, these were egalitarian societies, without coercive leadership. Equality/mutual aid was the name of the game. Because of that, these hunter-gatherer groups had to have been mainly monogamous. Competition for mates and dominance hierarchies would have been fatal to the unity of an egalitarian mutual-aiding group.

All of the above argues for the idea that a society based on monogamous pairing is probably the best way for humans to achieve individual reproductive success (not to mention greater likelihood of social harmony). But I also observed that we have a variable adaptation, with a percentage of males in every population who want only to maximize copulations i.e. have sex with (or at least grab the pussy of) every woman in sight. Other would-be Alpha males are motivated, simply, to dominate. For them, access to females is the underlying (ultimate) reason for engaging in dominance competition, whereas the wish to dominate others is the proximate cause. When we look around the world today, we see Alpha males – whether in sports, business, politics, religion, entertainment, the military, as cult leaders and any other sphere characterized by a dominance hierarchy – using their status to gain increased interest from and access to women. To me, a basketball court looks like a lek. And what is the reward for soldiers victorious in war? Besides pillage, it’s rape – a way to greatly enhance one’s reproductive success – and the reason why “1 in 200 men (are) direct descendants of Genghis Khan“. (Discover blog).

At the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 yrs. ago), the introduction of agriculture led to the rapid disappearance of small group nomadic hunting-gathering from most parts of the earth. Larger societies, towns and cities quickly appeared, and these societies were, without exception, “socially-stratified”, meaning a class society that is ruled from above by an elite group. Once established, such elites remained in power through hereditary kingship, a royal guard, an army and a priesthood that confered the divine right to rule upon that elite. Japan had an empire established along these lines at the onset of WW II. The Emperor of Japan was considered to be “divine”. These initial societies (the beginning of so-called “civilization”) were dominance hierarchies, ruled by collections of the most vicious Alpha males. And nothing has changed since.

*Here’s the most important part of this examination: small-scale egalitarian hunter-gatherer society did not tolerate “bossy”men. When peer pressure failed to bring such men around, they were either exiled or murdered. This mechanism was critical to the retention of equality and equity i.e, egalitarianism. Also critical was the small-scale of these societies, which allowed for effective peer pressure and action. But, with the introduction of larger societies, this mechanism of control was forever lost. Today’s world is dominated by Alpha males in business, government, the military and elsewhere, all vying with each other for power and constantly at each others’ throats. With such men in control of our collective destinies, what can one expect for the future? Can anyone reasonably believe that human society will remain “civil”, as the pressures of increasing population, decreasing resources and the scourge of climate change mount? As to climate change – people ask why some politicians don’t “get it”. They get it. It’s just that, like Trump, they don’t give a shit. Besides grabbing pussy, Trump cares about one and only one thing – the creation of a dynasty for Ivanka, Jared and their children. In his reckless, ruthless ways, Trump is the new exemplar of the Alpha male, and of what is wrong in the world.

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Your Bubble and Mine

Everyone is trying to figure out what’s happening to American culture (“all the rancor”), as though there is a single American culture. There isn’t. There have long been profound divides amongst Americans, with the most intractable divide being between the South and the rest of the country. The South is still fighting the Civil War, and still refuses to accept that blacks are as good as whites. Other divides: urban vs. rural; rednecks vs. the college educated; the right vs. the left; the ultra-greedy vs those who wish to see an equitable society, with the former now in total control. What’s currently exacerbating these divides like never before is social media. Nowadays, one can talk with the like-minded from the world over via a constant stream of blather that supports one’s biases and encourages ever more extreme commitment to the “cause”. Now we have the opportunity to communicate with millions of select others, and become, as a rule, hardened in our beliefs. This, we have been informed, is how ISIS recruits suicide bombers. The left-wing used social media to rally behind Bernie Sanders, as did the right-wing lunatic fringe behind Trump. We have now, they say, isolated ourselves in our own chosen social media bubbles, talking only with those that agree with us. This is certainly true for me, but I’ll tell you what – it’s OK with me. I’m not decrying this phenomenon. It’s not like I’m not aware of what the other side holds dear. I just don’t want to spend time acquainting myself with the details of their various insanities. I accept that we are in what may be the terminal stages of the battle between good and evil. I don’t believe that we can overcome, with dialogue, those divides mentioned above. We are going to have to fight for what is right. There are no win/win solutions in sight. So, like the other side, I’m herein using social media to extend into the world, to bring to the attention of the like-minded, my thoughts on the subject.

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Steve Miller Publishes “The Salt River”

“The Salt River, a Photo Journey and Visual Guide” , by Steve Miller, joins “The Grand, the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, a Photo Journey and Visual Guide, together showcasing Arizona’s two most sought-after river trips. Like the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, the Salt River is unique. The 52-mile trip down the Salt River combines exciting whitewater and spectacular scenery in a Sonoran desert setting, which most notably includes Arizona’s spectacular saguaro cactus. At the heart of the trip is the 32,000 acre Salt River Canyon Wilderness, where, in the Jump Off Canyon section, one finds the most challenging whitewater and most awe-inspiring scenery. With almost 500 photos, annotated maps and 17 movies of rapids, everything of interest is shown: Class 2-4 rapids, spring wildflowers, cacti of all sorts, side canyons and swimming holes, sculpted and polished rocks, potholes, ripple-marked slabs, gorges of white granite and dark metamorphic rock, wildlife, campsites, waterfalls, indian ruins, every rock layer that the river has carved through, spectacular vistas, mileages, historical information, environmental concerns and more.

Steve Miller is the VP of New Wave Rafting Co, located on the Rio Grande, near Taos, NM.



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New Mexico Great Outdoors, May 22, 2017

New Mexico Great Outdoors, May 22, 2017. As far as the Great Outdoors is concerned, yesterday (5-22-17) started with some of the wild cacti that have begun to bloom around our house. We have been keeping a particular  eye on the pincushion cactus:

Pincushion cactus

Pincushion cactus

Pincushion cactus

BTW, some sources identify this cactus as a beehive cactus. If anyone can help me out in confirming which cactus this is, I’d be very grateful. The pricklypear are also beginning to bloom:

Pricklypear cactus

Then, at the stroke of 5 PM, Kathy and I headed up the Rio Grande to take a quickie hike. We decided to search out a spot off the Petaca Point Trail (in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument) that Kathy had been told about. We drove up the dirt road from Taos Junction Bridge to the rim of the gorge (Hwy 567), where the trailhead is located. Our destination was a pour-off on the rim that can be seen from the parking lot of the Vista Verde Trail, below.

Pinon pines and the opposite side of the gorge, near the beginning of the walk

In a mile or less, we came to the following sign:

BLM trail sign

Here, we’ve descended into a drainage, and are looking southeast, and across the gorge to the Picuris Mountains. In mid-distance is an impoundment on this drainage, marked by the large juniper tree. Just past this check dam the drainage resumes and leads directly to the pour-off.  Kathy had been told that we would find petroglyphs in the mini-gorge that precedes the pour-off:





Claretcup, at the pour-off

Indian paintbrush, at the pour-off

Taken from the pour-off are these two telephoto views: Screaming Right-hand Turn Rapid, in the Taos Box section of the Rio Grande, upstream of Taos Junction Bridge, and Taos Creek.

Screaming Right-hand Turn Rapid

Taos Creek is roaring

In the drainage between the check dam and pour-off are these polished and/or sculpted basalt rocks:

Polished basalt, Kathy

Polished basalt

Polished and sculpted basalt

Other cacti and flowers seen along the trail:


Sego lily


Here’s a Google map of the hike:

Petaca Point pour-off

We drove through a brief shower as we headed home, and we were treated to this evening rainbow set into orange-hued clouds:

Rainbow against orange-hued clouds

It was another day of New Mexico Great Outdoors!


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