Sunday, January 2, 2011

Roundup! Book Signing a Good Excuse to See WWA Friends

One of the great fans – and friends – of Western writing is Larry Siegel, community relations manager for Barnes & Noble’s North Scottsdale, Ariz., store. Larry not only enjoys a good tale about the Old West, he’s also a big supporter of Western authors, and in particular, the Western Writers of America (WWA).

So when I got an email from Miles Swartout, one of the WWA’s members telling me Larry and the WWA were setting up a December book signing for Roundup! – the Western Writers of America’s latest Western anthology – well, I had to be there.

You see, Roundup! is published by my company, La Frontera Publishing, and Miles, a close pal, is one of the authors featured in the anthology. It also was a good excuse for me to go visit one of my favorite cities in the West.

Things came together pretty well, and on Dec. 11, the store played host to seven of Roundup!’s authors, including Johnny Boggs, Tom Carpenter, Paul Andrew Hutton (the anthology’s editor), Cheewa James, Susan Cummins Miller, Miles Swarthout, and Robert Utley. Also on hand was Candy Moulton, editor for the WWA’s member magazine, and an accomplished Western author.

In the photo above, you see Larry Siegel, left, community relations manager for Barnes & Noble’s North Scottsdale, Ariz., store, and Dr. Paul Hutton, right, editor of Roundup!, the Western Writers of America’s latest Western anthology, looking on as Johnny Boggs, one of the book’s short-story authors, personalizes a copy.

Each author also brought some of their own works for signing, and a couple of local Arizona authors also were invited to the signing.

The afternoon went pretty well, and it was great to catch up with what each author was doing.

From the beginning, Roundup! was an exciting project for me and my company.

It is the latest collection of Western fiction and nonfiction short stories and poetry presented by the WWA and written by some of today’s top Western writers.

From Native Americans, famed frontiersmen, cowboys and outlaws, to contemporary tales of ranching, lost treasure, and urban challenges, the anthology presents the full range of the American West.

Inside Roundup! you’ll find the works of WWA Wister-award-winning authors such as Elmer Kelton (in his final WWA publication), Bob Utley, Matthew Braun (over 40 million books in print), and Richard Wheeler. They join many WWA Spur-award-winning authors along with several fresh, young writers.

The collection includes a bonus feature: A special Western novella—a rip-roarin’ tale of the Old West written by television icon (he wrote and produced the John Wayne film Chisum) and WWA Wister Prize-winner for Lifetime Achievement, Andrew J. Fenady.

It also was a pleasure to work with Paul Hutton, who is the Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of New Mexico and also serves as the Executive Director of the Western Writers of America.

The afternoon went much too quick, as these events usually go. Between meeting customers, chatting with friends and getting industry news from Larry, suddenly it was 5 o’clock and the book signing was over.

Roundup! (ISBN: 978-0-9785634-7-9) is available at Larry’s North Scottsdale store, of course, where you will find author-signed copies, unless they’re sold out.

You also can find Roundup! online at, Barnes & Noble’s Internet store. It’s also available at Amazon, can be ordered at major independent booksellers, or at the University of New Mexico Press, my company’s distributor.

Looking ahead, one of the major book events for 2011 will be the third annual Tucson Festival of Books, scheduled for March 12-13 on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. Both Festival entry and parking are free.

Sponsored by the Arizona Daily Star and hosted by the University of Arizona, net proceeds from the Tucson Festival of Books helps promote literacy in Southern Arizona.

The event has become one of the must-attend book events in the county. The Western Writers of America will have a booth in the main area, and I plan to be there to catch up on all the latest news and titles. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Airport Patdowns and Full Body Screenings

First off, let me tell you that I don’t like to fly anymore.

I used to enjoy traveling by commercial air carriers, but that was before the airlines started charging for every little thing that used to be included in the price of a ticket.

A passenger gets scanned.
TSA photo
I enjoyed those days when my friends or family waved me goodbye from just outside the doorway to the tunnel passageway to the airplane, then directly walking onto the aircraft and being warmly greeted. Once airborne I felt welcome when the stewardess asked if I wanted a pillow, maybe a blanket, or a magazine to read. How about a cup of coffee? Maybe a cocktail?

I remember when flying was a pleasurable experience. Yes, I know those days are long gone, as are some of my favorite airlines, such as PanAm, TWA, PSA and Western. The stewardess is now an overworked flight attendant, friends and family can’t walk with you past the airport ticket counter, and once airborne, food service is lousy or nonexistent. A package of peanuts? That will be fifty cents, please.

Yes, I know about terrorists, the vicious, cold-blooded attack our nation received on 9/11, the shoe and underwear bombers and the continued threats our nation and our commercial airplanes receive. I fully realize we are at war.

And just when I think things can’t get more uncomfortable for passengers, it does.

Now there’s the choice from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to either be screened by full-body imaging technology or allowing a patdown from a TSA agent that includes an agent’s hands moving along a woman’s breasts and inside thighs to the crotch area, male or female. Don’t touch my junk, buddy.

I’ll repeat myself: I know we are at war and that extremists are trying to kill us.

The public hears that full body screens are necessary to detect hidden weapons and explosive devices. That advanced imaging technology is safe, and that should a passenger choose to have a patdown instead of being exposed to imaging radiation, that such patdowns are impersonal, professional and quick. Do it to be patriotic, we’re told.

But I’ve had enough. Walking through a metal detector is acceptable to me. Taking my shoes off is OK. Having an agent take a metal detector wand and move it all around my body is fine. But I’ve drawn the line on this new stuff.

I’ve decided that if I can’t drive my car, take a train or even ride a bus, I’m not going. Period. I’ve had it. I’ll use Skype to see and talk with associates around the West or use web conferencing software for meetings.

Being able to take a Southwest flight lasting a few hours (I think it is the best airline going these days) to Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Kansas City or Seattle, spending the weekend playing tourist, then flying back on another two- to four-hour flight is not worth the aggravation to me.

What did people do before commercial aviation? They included extra time for their trips. Remember, Hollywood was built by moguls and stars taking the Super Chief or the City of Los Angeles or the Golden State Limited between New York and Los Angeles via Chicago. Meals were excellent, beds were comfortable and you made new friends over cocktails in the lounge.

I’ve decided my parents were right: Getting there is half the fun. I want to see the West by looking out a window, seeing what I’ve been missing, seeing new things, and I don’t mean looking down from 36,000 feet.

My decision works for me. I’m not asking you to stop flying. But really, what’s your hurry?

Monday, November 1, 2010

New! Exploring the West’s Scenic Highways

The view from
the Environmental Camps at
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
Photo by Stan Russell
With our November 2010 issue we’re starting “Scenic Drives” – a new section for Travel & History Magazine, and you told us it’s a feature you really want to see.

Our first Scenic Drive is an overview of central California’s Big Sur Coastline, Highway 1 between Monterey and San Simeon, home of Hearst Castle You can read our story by clicking here.

The Big Sur Coast is one of our favorite drives in the West, right up there in our top five excursions to take. The scenery is breathtaking. You drive along a two-lane highway squeezed in between the vast Pacific Ocean and the rugged Big Sur rocks and canyons.

When you go, you’ll see windswept cypress trees, fog-shrouded cliffs, rugged canyons, towering redwoods, sea birds, sea lions, and maybe even a whale migrating along the coast.

Plan on at least five hours to drive along Highway 1, because you’ll want to stop and take plenty of photos, breathe clean, salty air, and see vistas like nowhere else.

California’s Big Sur Coast is only the first of many scenic highways we’ll be bringing you in the months ahead. We’ll be offering scenic travel drives in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and all the states west of the Mississippi River.

The West is one of the biggest, most spectacular geographic settings in the world, and it’s right in our own backyard.

Be sure to check back with us frequently, because we’ll be bringing you the best of the West’s highways every month. And drop us a line if you have a scenic drive you want us to feature!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Exploring the Mother Road, Route 66, and Del’s: Part Two

Del's Restaurant - you can't miss it.
 No longer a part of the United States Highway System, Route 66 today is a highway of legend. During its short lifetime Route 66 was the popular path westward from Chicago to Los Angeles, winding its way through seven states.

In 1985 it was decommissioned, bypassed by the faster, straighter, wider Interstate 40 and other concrete highways. Portions remain however, and tourists and fans will find those bits and pieces if they look for the Historic Route 66 designation.

Reflecting the public’s demand for nostalgia and perhaps a yearning for calmer times, many of the old Route 66 towns have embraced the new version of Route 66; some more than others.

No eating counter, all tables at Del's
 One of those towns trying to cling to its highway history is Tucumcari, New Mexico, where earlier this summer I stopped to explore the legend. Besides, it was past lunchtime and I was hungry. And I wanted something other than fast-food blah.

So I stopped at Del’s Restaurant in Tucumcari, where the sign said it had been around since 1956. You can’t miss the sign; there’s a big cow on top.

I walked inside, and instantly felt as if I’d stepped back a few decades. A slower, nicer time when people actually chatted with each other, shared local news and baseball scores over pie and coffee.

I asked my server if the original owner was still around, but she told me no. Maybe Del sold out and moved to Oregon, maybe he went to the big restaurant in the sky. She wasn’t sure. Would I care to see a menu?

“Sure,” I said, asking who now owns Del’s.

“Two sisters, Yvonne and Yvette,” she said smiling. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Coffee,” I answered. “Black.”

Left by myself to study the menu, I felt as if the fare was right from a 1950s diner. Chicken fried steak, tuna melt, liver and onions, roast beef and gravy. Some Hispanic items as well. Carne Asada, stuffed sopaipillas, quesadillas. Hummm. Nope, has to be a hamburger. That’s the real test of any highway restaurant. So that’s what I ordered.

There’s no eating counter and stools at Del’s. All round wooden tables with chairs in three cozy rooms, and lot’s of memorabilia to enjoy. I’m seated in the back room, where an old player piano stands in the corner, a do-not-touch sign on the music stand. Near the checkout counter there’s a small gift shop, with everything touristy from postcards to t-shirts.

Within 10 minutes, my hamburger is served. All the ingredients are there – crisp lettuce, thinly-sliced white onion, a generous slice of fresh tomato, pickles – and spread on one side of the toasted bun, a smear of mayonnaise. On the table, bottles of catsup and mustard. The gastronomic jewel on the center of the bun, however, catches my eye. A beef patty obviously formed by human hands.

Now you may say a hand-formed patty is insignificant, but think about it. The patty was not one of those machine-formed patties you find at every fast food chain in the West, or across the nation, for that matter.

Back in the kitchen, the cook took a chunk of ground beef, placed it in the center of his or her palm, then flattened and formed it into a thing of culinary beauty, just like the way they did in the 1950s. It was irregular in shape, but just round enough so it would fit on the bun.

Plopped on the grill, it sizzled and cooked until it was exactly the way I wanted it when my server had asked, “How do you want it cooked?”

“Medium rare,” I said.

Tasty, very tasty. So were the French fries – more like steak fries, actually. Thick, crisp, hot and not greasy. I placed a big squirt of catsup on my plate so I could dip my fries into it, and so the meal was perfect. American diner food at its best.

I had stopped in after the lunch crowd, but it was obvious from the friendly banter among those present that folks new each other.

After finishing the last bite of my hamburger, I asked for the check and thanked my server, who had diligently checked in on me a few times, saying “How’s everything? Can I get you anything else? A piece of fresh pie?”
No, but thanks, I said. Everything was great.

Burger, coffee and tip came to about seven bucks. Not bad. For that price, not only did I get a good, leisurely meal, but a chance to revisit a calmer, gentler time that can still be found in the West, if you just get off the Interstate.

Give it a try next time you’re driving across this wonderful country.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Exploring the Mother Road, Route 66

The main drag, Tucumcari Street,
noon on a Saturday in June.
Author John Steinbeck called it the “Mother Road,” and while Route 66 no longer is part of the interstate highway system it remains a highway of legend and dreams and a very big part of the West.

Earlier this summer I took one of my seasonal drives through the West, I-40 to be exact. I like I-40, because it’s pretty straight, and going through parts of Arizona and New Mexico (weather permitting) legally I can drive at 75 miles per hour. Stops basically are for gasoline and a restroom.

So I’m buzzing along in cruise control mode through New Mexico, being passed by a lot of cars (and even 18-wheelers), when I see the sign for Tucumcari. A little bell goes off in my brain. Tucumcari. Route 66. The Mother Road. Why not stop?

Tucumcari (pronounced TOO-kum-kair-ee) is one of those names that’s hard to forget. Little word games to play. Sounds like…two can carry…carry what? Two can carry a bag of potatoes easier than one can. The toucan carried a piece of fruit out the window. Anyway, Tucumcari is a name that can be fun, especially when you’re driving by yourself with nothing to do.

It’s also a town on the old Route 66 road. Many Route 66 towns were bypassed when the interstate was built, but several have used the popularity of Route 66 by nostalgia seekers as way to attract tourist dollars.

Amarillo, Texas and Elk City, Oklahoma are two cities in the West that have embraced Route 66, its history – and the tourists. Elk City, by the way, is home to the National Route 66 Museum.

So, here I was pulling off I-40 to go visit the toucan – I mean Tucumcari.

I pulled off at Exit 332 – with two huge truck stops on either side beckoning me to stop for relatively cheap gasoline – and head into town. After a couple of stop lights, there it is. The ghost of Route 66.

I’m at the corner of 1st Street and Tucumcari Street. I decide to drive West. I’m looking, but all I see are empty shops and businesses, some run down, and some in need of being torn down. Maybe I went the wrong way. I head east. Much of the same.

Tucumcari is in very sad shape. Maybe it’s the lousy economy right now. Maybe it’s because nobody pulls off I-40 except to get gas at the big truck stops. Maybe it’s both.

I’m in a hurry, but maybe too big a hurry. I look at my watch and figure, hey, slow down a bit. Look around. There are some classic Route 66 businesses in Tucumcari, such as the Blue Swallow Motel and Del’s Restaurant.

While staying overnight is not in my plans, I figure I have time to get a nice lunch at Del’s, walk inside and actually sit down at a table. Maybe meet some people.

The first thing I see is the big sign out front that reaches maybe twenty feet into the sky. On the top is a giant white and brick-red colored heiffer standing nobly above the words, “Del’s Restaurant / Since 1956.”

I pull into a parking space in front of the restaurant, turn off the ignition, and step out of the car. Man, it’s hot, maybe in the 90s. I walk inside. Suddenly, I step back decades to maybe a nicer time, definitely a slower time. The aromas coming from the kitchen are wonderful.

Next: The best hamburger in a long time

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Three Museum Treats Waiting for You

If you plan on visiting California, New Mexico, or Oklahoma in the near future, three of the West’s great museums – the Autry National Center, the New Mexico History Museum, and the National Cowboy Museum – are presenting outstanding exhibits that you really should try to go see.

Here’s a quick overview of each to tantalize you into traveling.

The Autry National Center in Los Angeles is offering The Art of Native American Basketry: A Living Tradition, running through May 30, 2010. More than 250 hand-crafted baskets from more than 100 cultures, arranged in 11 geographic regions, are on display, offering a unique view of how Native Americans designed and used baskets in their daily lives.

On view are a variety of sizes and shapes, ranging from small Pomo feather baskets crafted for sale to tourists, to enormous Apache olla baskets that were used for storing large quantities of seeds.

The exhibit’s objects are selected from the nearly 14,000 baskets found in the Southwest Museum of the American Indian’s unique collection, which many experts judge to be one of the world’s premier holdings of Native American baskets To the right is a photo of a Pomo-feathered basket from the early 20th century, from the Edwin Greble Collection. Photo by Susan Einstein.

The exhibition can be seen at the Autry’s Museum of the American West in Griffith Park.

Both the Southwest Museum and the Museum of the American West are part of the Autry National Center, an intercultural organization dedicated to expanding the public’s understanding of the many diverse peoples of the American West.

For museum hours of operation, admission prices and directions, visit the Web site at

The New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe, N.M. is presenting Santa Fe Found: Fragments of Time: The archaeological and historic roots of America’s oldest capital city; this exhibit runs through May 21, 2011, so you have more time to plug it into your travel plans than the other two exhibits I have for you.

The exhibit presents more than 160 artifacts from the 17th-century, selected from roughly 90,000 objects that were unearthed from four historic sites during a two-year dig at 113 Lincoln Ave., the location of the New Mexico History Museum, which opened in May 2009.

“This exhibition [gives] visitors a broad perspective of the settling of Santa Fe and the web of cultural influences the Spanish brought with them,” Josef Diaz co-curator of the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, said in a press release. “The founding of Santa Fe is a big and complex story to tell, and this show will offer a glimpse of different aspects of Spanish colonial life, from the domestic to the economic to the political and religious." To the right is a photo of a gold earring that was recovered from a 17th-century deposit found below the north wall of the Palace Print Shop during excavation. Photo by Blair Clark, N.M. Department of Cultural Affairs.

According to the museum, the exhibit includes “…Spanish majolica, blue-and-white Mexican pottery modeled on examples from the Ming Dynasty in China, colorful Mexican pottery and Pueblo pottery. Also found were tobacco pipes, gold earrings, gunflints and arrowheads.”

Most amazing to me, you’ll even see a few small pieces of delicate Ming vases, most likely that reached Spain’s colony of Santa Fe after leaving China on board a Spanish galleon, arriving at Mexico after months at sea, then traveling across the frontier by caravan up El Camino Real. The bumpy journey north would have taken at least six months.

For museum hours of operation, admission prices and directions, visit the Web site at

The National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla. Is showcasing The Guitar: Art, Artists and Artisans, now through May 9, 2010.

According to the museum’s release, “Included in the exhibition are approximately 50 guitars worth millions, from top entertainers – recording artists whose image and career is tied closely to this instrument. These notable artists include Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Toby Keith, Lynn Anderson, Brooks & Dunn, Eddy Arnold and Marty Robbins.”

The guitars also span more than 150 years of history. There’s even a C.F. Martin, circa 1845, which had been lavishly ornamented and presented to Benito Pablo Juárez, President of Mexico.

Also on display for guitar music fans is a collection of 12 guitars covered with Swarovski crystals that make up a guitar chandelier designed by Dallas, Texas artist Amanda Dunbar of Dunbar Studios. To the right is a photo of the Elvis Presley King of Rock J-200 Signature Artist Series made by Gibson in honor of 'The King of Rock and Roll.' Photo courtesy of the Dickinson Research Center.

For museum hours of operation, admission prices and directions, visit the Web site at

I love today’s American West museums because they are so far removed from the stogy, static museums I remember visiting as a boy. Today’s museums are geared to delivering a unique experience for visitors. Curators and boards of directors are really beginning to understand that the public wants more, and better exhibits deliver more.

If you haven’t been to a museum that focuses on the American West, do yourself a favor and go visit one. Drop me an email after you do. Tell me where you went, what you liked, and what you didn’t like. I’ll include some of them in a future report.

And if you want to discover places in the West to visit, explore, go camping, hiking or sightseeing, visit Travel & History Magazine at for some ideas.

Friday, December 4, 2009

How can we better serve you?

Sure, I know, it’s early December and you’ve lots on your mind. Probably you’ve yet to pick out a tree, put the outside lights up, and remember where you put the illuminated, plastic made-in-China Santa Claus that traditionally goes in the front yard.

The list in front of you is almost too much to think about. Where will you find the new Super Mario Bros. Wii game that Junior wants? Can you get the spare bedroom cleaned up before jolly Aunt Molly arrives for her week-long stay?

With all of that pressing on your mind, here I am asking you to think about one more thing: Travel & History Magazine.

How can we better serve you?

I mean, what would you like to see us cover each month; the stories, features and travel ideas that you would enjoy reading, and even seeing via video on our eZine?

Any editor worth his or her salt knows that if a publication or Web site isn’t in tune with its readers, or viewers, it won’t be around much longer. Bottom line: You have to understand what you, the user, wants.

So, what would you like to see?

More coverage of rodeos? Maybe tips and suggestions that will make your summer vacation in the West more enjoyable, such as what’s the best way to really enjoy the Grand Canyon? How about some white water rafting at Grand Canyon, such as you see at the right in this NPS photo?

Go to our eZine – – and take a few moments to give us your feedback in the poll we’ve set up on the lower right hand corner of just about any page you land on. Check the box you really want to see given more coverage.

The topic choices you’ll find include: best scenic drives in the West, best places to camp, rodeos in the West, Old West festivals, travel destinations, historic towns to visit, best restaurants in the West, best trails to hike or bike, RVs and trailers, and dude ranches.

Unfortunately, the way the poll is set up you can only check one box. If you would like to give us feedback on more than one item, please drop me an email at and let me know what topics or stories you’d like to see.

I deeply appreciate your time, and I promise we will embrace your answers.

And if you want to discover places in the West to visit, explore, go camping, hiking or sightseeing, visit Travel & History Magazine at for some ideas.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A River of Money from Congress, a Trickle for Grand Canyon

Politics is the art of making yourself look good, so maybe that’s why there’s so much finger pointing about how many jobs really have been created by the borrowed money flowing from Congress.

Think about it. It’s like a river of money, or should I say, a river of red ink. A torrent of billions of dollars cascading out of Washington, D.C., feeding a variety of bureaucratic streams with millions of greenbacks, and the millions then flowing into numerous regional creeks, brooks and rivulets that trickle tens of thousands of bucks into local work projects. And, of course, someone says he or she was responsible for the bounty.

For the moment, forget where the billions come from (you know: it’s us). So where does it all go?

Usually I scratch my head in wonder, but one place where I can see how the latest federal largesse is having some kind of a positive impact is at Grand Canyon National Park, funding some of the much-needed repairs and deferred maintenance projects.

Earlier this month I received a press release from the rangers at Grand Canyon, updating Travel & History Magazine on some of those projects.

According to the release, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed earlier this year earmarked $3 billion to the Department of the Interior. Of that amount, the National Park Service received $750 million. Grand Canyon received about $10 million of that sum to pay for 11 park projects.

You get the picture – first a river, then a stream, then a creek.

Now for me, $10 million still is a lot of money. However, while nice to receive, the $10 million is only a drop in the bucket for Grand Canyon National Park’s needs.

“Grand Canyon has a total deferred maintenance of well over $262 million, $24 million of which is attributed to trails and over $9 million of which is attributed to housing,” park superintendent Steve Martin was quoted in the press release.

Huh? How Much?

I digress.

Two projects getting ARRA money and now underway at Grand Canyon are the repair of historic North Rim forest trails (some of them damaged by wildfire), and replacing the roofs on 59 employee houses and nine garages on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. You can see at the right one of the workers replacing shingles in this National Park Service photo.

Dollar-wise, that means $495,000 is going to trails projects and $194,000 for the reroofing.

The Uncle Jim Trail is the primary focus of the North Rim forest trails project, which is a five-mile-long trail winding through the forest to a point that overlooks the canyon. Also used by concessionaire mules, the trail starts at the North Kaibab Trail parking lot.

In the release, rangers said the money is being used to buy supplies and equipment, and to hire crews. Workers are rebuilding structures to hold the trail in place, replacing water bars, building hitching posts, and creating a gravel trail near the trailhead to a new composting toilet.

When that’s finished, crews will start on other North Rim trails, specifically the Ken Patrick Trail, Widforss Trail, and the Transept Trail. Completion date is late 2010.

“Work on these two projects would not have been possible without funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” Martin said in the press release. “In addition to reducing the park’s deferred maintenance, these funds also help in creating local jobs, and help support the tourism industry that is so important to the economic vitality of the Grand Canyon region and the state of Arizona.”

I was glad to receive the update from our friends at Grand Canyon National Park, and I’m happy that some repairs are being made, but for me a couple of questions remain.

First, if the park is so important for tourism, and the economic health of the Grand Canyon region and the state of Arizona, why isn’t Congress allocating rangers what they need to make those other repairs? Second, if there’s $262 million in deferred maintenance at Grand Canyon, just how bad is the situation at other parks, especially those in the West?

Maybe Congress and the White House should take a long, hard look at the many pork barrels stacked up in Washington and rethink their funding priorities. And maybe our politicians should take another look at Ken Burns’ excellent documentary on our national parks (as if they need a reason), but then I’m assuming they even bothered to watch it in the first place.

If you’re thinking along the same lines, maybe you should call or write the superintendent at your favorite (or nearest) national park and ask if they are facing deferred maintenance issues. If the answer is yes (I’m guessing it is), drop a note to your senator or congressional representative (or event President Obama) and tell them they need to take care of our national treasures.

Not later. Now. Not after the pork barrels get filled to the brim. Now.

To see a list of the other Grand Canyon projects planned for the ARRA money, go to at the park’s Web site.

And if you want to discover places in the West to visit, explore, go camping, hiking or sightseeing, visit Travel & History Magazine at for some ideas.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Grand Canyon’s Dia de la Familia a Big Success

Wow! Who ripped a couple of months out of my calendar?

Here I was, smugly thinking I had everything under control, and wham! Today starts the second week of November, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

One of the things I had wanted to share with you was some of the back story and successes concerning Grand Canyon National Park’s first (and they hope annual) Dia de la Familia, or Day of the Family, celebration, held Sept. 26, 2009. It coincided with this year’s National Public Lands Day, and also tapped into National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Well, thinking about Thanksgiving over the weekend made me think of my family, and voila! I remembered the Dia de la Familia pre-event story that we did for you back in September. If you’d like to see the story, click on the following link:

Last month I had a chance to catch up with Dave Smith, district interpreter on the South Rim at Grand Canyon, and we chatted about the park’s first Dia de la Familia, how it came about and how successful it was.

“For many years, we’ve been trying to come to terms with the fact that our user base doesn’t demographically match with the whole, and we’re always looking for ways to broaden our message to all our audiences,” he told me. “Our big challenge is: how can we make the park mean something to all of our country’s diverse communities?”

Specifically, he was talking about the nation’s growing Hispanic population, especially since the Hispanic community makes up a big slice of the demographic pie in the Southwest.

Coming up with a tie-in to National Hispanic Heritage Month (actually, the observance stretches between September and October), and leveraging off National Public Lands Day was a natural. Why not leverage the two events to try and reach a new group of potential park visitors – Hispanic families?

According to the press release put out by the Grand Canyon staff, “The National Park Service team that developed and promoted the Dia de la Familia idea was made up of recent graduates of the park’s first GOAL (Generating Organizational Advancement and Leadership) Leadership Academy. The academy brought together a promising group of diverse Grand Canyon employees to work together to develop leadership skills. As a part of the program, participants were expected to develop new relationships with existing and potential park partners while implementing a program that achieved park and NPS goals.”

Dia de la Familia team members partnered with the US Forest Service, who provided staff, an appearance by Smokey the Bear, and information on recreational and job opportunities to assist with the event. Team members also coordinated with the new director of the Western Discovery Museum (planned for development in Tusayan), who was planning a privately sponsored, community fiesta the night before the event.

According to Smith, the results of the first Family Day event was good, with Rangers making more than 2,600 visitor contacts that would not otherwise have been made.

Dia de la Familia was a bilingual celebration, he said, that commemorated the Hispanic heritage of the American Southwest and of Grand Canyon National Park.

The group brought in six artists from Oaxaca, Mexico, to demonstrate such skills as weaving, sculpting, candle making and other art forms. Each artist had an English translator on hand to answer questions from those not speaking Spanish. On the right, Sofia Ruiz Lorenzo of Oaxaca, Mexico, demonstrates traditional candle making and decorating skills. NPS photo.

An added bonus: The entrance fee was waved on that day because of Public Lands Day.

“We also did a lot of kids programs, a star walk, we had daytime astronomy programs, and reading circles,” Smith added. There was even a job fair, an effort to make the National Park Service work force more diverse.

He rated the day a good first effort at reaching out to Hispanic families, from Phoenix to Flagstaff.

And for 2010?

We definitely will do a Dia de la Familia next year,” he said. “We’ll do even more outreach with the Hispanic community.”

Good work, and congrats to Dave and everyone else at Grand Canyon who worked so hard to make Dia de la Familia a success.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Something Other Than Halloween

October—what a month! It starts the final quarter of the year, welcomes the first day of fall, encourages leaves to turn color, honors Columbus, and of course, marks Halloween and trick or treating.

But the month has more to offer than Knights of Columbus parades and children terrorizing their neighbors with spooky masks and demands for candy. Yes, there are adventures to be had beyond costume shopping at Wal-Mart.

For example, on Oct. 10 you can experience the early frontier and the lives of the traders, trappers, and tribes that participated in the fur trade at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site along the Santa Fe Trail. Located eight miles east of La Junta, Colorado on State Highway 194, Bent’s Old Fort features a reconstructed 1840s adobe fur trading post.

Each year, the park becomes a living history lesson as a fur trade encampment unfolds, recreating all the sights, sounds, and smells of the past with guided tours, demonstrations, and special events. More than 50 living-history volunteers will set up camp near the fort and bring the post back to life for visitors to experience. In the photo to the right, a trapper tells a story of his escape from a grizzly bear. NPS photo. For more information, visit or call (719) 383-5023.

If mountain men and trappers aren’t your thing, two special, family-friendly activities will be taking place on the weekend of Oct. 10-11 at Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnston City, Texas.

The park’s Friends of LBJ National Park is sponsoring a family fun run that begins at 9 a.m. on Oct. 10 and a bike tour hosted by Luci Baines Johnson, President Johnson’s younger daughter, on Oct. 11 at 2 p.m. To register for either or both, go to For more information, call (830) 868-7128 ext. 244. The park’s Web site can be found at

Finally, the 1850s California Gold Rush comes to life in Coloma on Oct. 10-2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

For three days, Coloma brims with images, sounds, and hands-on experiences that bring the Gold Rush back to life. Merchants hawk wares, the Coloma Cemetery Players bring historical figures back to life, miners tell tales from the goldfields, and visitors rub shoulders with adventurers and historic figures, including James Marshall, who found the first nuggets.

A live history tent encampment recreates Gold Rush history in this authentic setting under the huge oak and sycamore trees along the south fork of the American River. Volunteers interpreting history in period dress cook over open fires, show visitors how to pan for gold, make rope, and demonstrate trades such as historic timber frame construction, blacksmithing, spinning, weaving, basket making and more. Children’s hands on activities and games from the 19th Century entertain, as musicians play period instruments and sing songs of early California immigrants. It’s a lively and colorful way to learn and enjoy the history that is unique to California. You can read and write actual Gold Rush letters at the General Delivery tent and visit the early exhibit buildings of Coloma that were developed soon after the gold discovery.

“Coloma Gold Rush Live!” is presented by Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park and the Gold Discovery Park Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the interpretation and conservation of the park. Parking is $10 per vehicle.

For more information call (530) 295.2162. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is located in Coloma on Highway 49 between Placerville and Auburn, only one hour from Sacramento. The Web site can be found at

I know there’s lots more happening in October in the West. Check out your local state or county park, or national park if there’s one close to you. October is a great time to see the West, and you might even find some pumpkin carving ideas along the way.

And if you want to discover places in the West to visit, explore, do camping, hiking or sightseeing, visit Travel & History Magazine at for some ideas.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Roll Up Your Sleeves and Get Dirty

In my last blog, I sounded the warning bell about our youth and the decline we are seeing in getting them outdoors. Too busy, and not interested were the two major answers why youngsters don’t go hike, camp or bike riding.

Well, I’ve got an idea for you about how you might motivate them, yourselves and even give back a little to Mother Nature: Get out and volunteer this weekend, get a little dirty and sweaty.

This Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 is National Public Lands Day, a time when many of us will grab a shovel, trash bag and gloves and give back to our parks, beaches and trails. It has become the nation’s largest one-day volunteer program for our public lands.

This year, more than 130,000 volunteers are expected to step out and help repair, cleanup and otherwise pitch in to make our public lands a little cleaner, brighter and fixed up. The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) is the organization behind National Public Lands Day, and the group is expecting to improve on 2008’s statistics.

Last year across the country roughly 120,000 volunteers planted an estimated 1.6 million trees, fixed hundreds of miles of hiking trails and removed trash at nearly 1,900 sites. Volunteer efforts totaled an estimated $13 million worth of time and in-kind contributions. This year, the number of sites is expected to grow to more than 2,000 with expected contributions over $14 million.

As an example of what folks did last year, here’s a photo of volunteers helping to clean up the Goodman Fire Area in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado. It’s a Bureau of Land Management site. The photo is courtesy of the National Environmental Education Foundation, and I appreciate them letting me share it with you.

Some sites may be near you. For example, there are 93 sites in California planning National Public Lands Day activities, 24 Sites in Arizona, 38 Sites in Colorado, 43 Sites in Texas, and 19 Sites in Missouri—Well, you get the idea.

Go to to locate a site in your state where you can join in the clean up effort and have a little fun along the way. Each state has a list of sites, the volunteer projects planned, and the work they need done. You’ll also find contact names and telephone numbers.

Drop me an email and let me know how you spent National Public Lands Day; I’d like to hear from you.

What am I doing? I’m grabbing a shovel and planning to move a little dirt.

And if you want to discover places in the West to visit, explore, do camping, hiking or sightseeing, visit Travel & History Magazine at for some ideas.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Are We Cheating Our Children?

Are we letting our children down? Are we so focused on getting them on track to the “right” school, to scholastically achieve ahead of their peers in math, science, music, dance, baseball, tennis or golf lessons, to so fill their daily hours with schedules of things to do, that they literally have no time for anything else, such as getting outdoors?

If you look at the statistics in The Outdoor Foundation’s 2009 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, released Sept. 16 by the not-for-profit organization, the conclusion I reach is—yes.

Of this year’s key findings, one of the continuing trends is a decline in participation in outdoor recreation among youth ages 6-17. For 2008, according to the report, involvement in outdoor activity by young people in that age category dropped six percent – resulting in a combined 16.7 percent drop over the last three years.

According to the organization’s press release, “Today’s kids are struggling to find time to get active outdoors and are foregoing outdoor pursuits in favor of other competing priorities. Among outdoor participants ages 6-17, lack of time is the primary reason they don’t get outdoors more often.”

The report’s summary is even more blunt.

“Taxed by the requirements of their often highly structured, overscheduled lives, today’s kids are struggling to find the time to get active outdoors and are foregoing outdoor pursuits in favor of other competing priorities. Among outdoor participants ages 6 to 17, a lack of time is the primary reason they don’t get outdoors more often. This lack of time is closely followed by a lack of interest and too much schoolwork.”

There’s more bad news, and I think especially for parents, in the report.

“For kids ages 6 to 17 who don’t participate in outdoor activities, the chief barrier is a lack of interest — an ambivalence to the outdoors that is likely the result of a lack of outdoor experience and a surplus of competing priorities.”

When asked who influences you the most to participate in outdoors activities, parents obviously were number one in the age categories 6-12, and 13-17. Ranking behind parents were brothers, sisters or other relatives for the 6- to 12-year-olds, but behind friends for the 13- to 17-year-olds.

Community programs (such as the Boy Scouts, YMCA, or a neighborhood program) ranked only fifth for ages 6-12, and low for ages 13-17.

Parents, you have a heavy responsibility to our future generations.

So what’s the big deal? You might ask. So what if your children are too busy to get outdoors, to go hiking, camping, mountain biking, fishing, or trail running?

I would answer that such a parental attitude is stealing from a child’s future, from memories of being outdoors, of having fun with family and friends around a campfire, of eating s’mores, seeing a hawk or eagle soar high above, of hearing an owl call out at night.

Taking your child to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or Yosemite national parks is a priceless experience, and an adventure that obviously needs budgeting and planning, I grant you, but what about just taking a day at your nearest state or county park? Leave the cellular phone, Blackberry or iPhone behind. Pack a lunch, take water, grab a camera, make memories.

I look back and wish I had done more with my children, who are all now adults. But looking at The Outdoor Foundation’s 2009 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, I won’t let that stop me. I think I’ll give my kids a call and see if they want to take a walk in the woods, or maybe go fishing. It’s not too late for making memories.

Maybe you should do the same.

Check out The 2009 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report for yourself; it’s available as a PDF at:

And if you want to discover places in the West to visit, explore, do camping, hiking or sightseeing, visit Travel & History Magazine at for some ideas.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Like Being a Kid Again

As a boy, I grew up on Western movies. I spent a lot of Saturday afternoons at the local theater watching Joel McCrea, John Wayne and Gary Cooper finish off the bad guys. I had a lot of fun eating popcorn, drinking a Coke and rooting for the hero.

Lots of good memories, and I’m still a big fan of Westerns.
That’s one of the reasons why I like the Autry National Center in Los Angeles. The Autry has a fabulous collection of Western movies and music material, everything from movie props and posters to a wonderful radio section covering the history of Western serials.

There’s even part of a Hollywood Western back lot, and a mechanical stunt horse that you can mount, complete with a blue screen background. Press a button, video comes up and all of a sudden you’re smack dab in a chase scene.

The Hollywood section of the Autry is called the Imagination Gallery, and it includes the Western Legacy Theater where the museum shows rotating films about the American West and the making of Western films.  Here's a photo of a part of the gallery, courtesy of the Autry and photographer Abel Gutierrez. 

This Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009, for example, the museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Bonanza, one of TV’s longest-running Westerns. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the museum is showing a continual stream of Bonanza episodes in the Western Legacy Theater.

Earlier this month the Autry hosted the unveiling of the new Gary Cooper commemorative stamp from the U.S. Postal Service. More than 200 fans and friends of Cooper were on hand for the ceremony, and film critic and historian Leonard Maltin served as Master of Ceremonies. A special film tribute to Cooper, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies, featured moments from his many films.

Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper Janis, was there for the unveiling and has loaned her father’s Academy Award Oscar for High Noon (1952) to the Autry and it will be on display in the gallery through the end of the year.

Other Hollywood Western items you’ll find at the Autry include more than 1,200 movies catalogued, lobby cards, items from silent Westerns, film serials, foreign Western movies, and Western television programs, costumes and costume design, including Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors, and costume designers Edith Head, and Margaret Miele. There's also the children's merchandise section that includes the recreation of what a child's room may have looked like at the time Westerns were all the rage. From the wall decorations to the bedspread and outfits, there was a cowboy or cowgirl item to match.  Hey, I just remembered: somewhere in a box, I still have my 'Hoppy' lamp.

And of course, the museum is named after its founder and Hollywood legend Gene Autry. Many of Gene’s personal items are on display.

I really enjoy the Imagination Gallery at the Autry museum. Don’t tell anyone, but for me it’s almost like being a kid again.

For any Western fan, the Autry is just a great place to go and touch some of Hollywood’s Western make believe, some of its stars and some of its history. Located in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, the Autry National Center is easy to get to.

The Autry’s Web site is . Next time you’re in Los Angeles, plan a visit and go have some fun.

And if you want to discover places in the West to visit, explore, do camping, hiking or sightseeing, visit Travel & History Magazine at  for some ideas.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Vacation Souvenir for Just a Quarter

OK, I’ll admit it: I have a bias towards the West.

So when I found out that the first five designs for the U.S. Mint’s new America the Beautiful Quarters were all going to be properties in the West, well, I just had to let you know about it.

According to the Mint, beginning in 2010 and in each year through 2021 you will see five new national site designs depicted on the reverse of the America the Beautiful Quarters, issued in the order in which the property was first established as a national site.

For 2010 the five sites are Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming; Yosemite National Park, California; Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, and Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon.

Apparently, the Mint’s 50 State Quarters program was successful enough that Congress and the Mint decided a series of quarters honoring America the Beautiful would be a good idea. After all, it doesn’t cost the Mint a quarter to manufacture a quarter, and collector sales make a profit. (We know the federal government needs the money!)

Eventually, all 50 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia will have a national park or other federally-preserved area represented on the reverse (tails side) side of a quarter.

While I’m all for promoting America the Beautiful, and saluting national parks, forests and Fish & Wildlife properties, parents of young children might see the program as a cost-effective (make that cheap) way of getting kids their souvenirs on future vacations.

Let’s say next year you and the family are visiting one of the sites in the West. You pull up to the entrance center, pay your entrance fee and ask the ranger if some of your change can be given in new quarters with the image of the park on the back.

With the new quarters in hand, you then turn around to your bright-eyed children securely strapped in their car seats and say, “Hey kids! Look at the neat souvenir I’m handing you!” Then when you go into the gift store, and junior wants you to buy something, you can smile and say, “but you already have a souvenir!” Think of the money you’ll save.

OK, I’m not that mean, really. No really.

I do think the America the Beautiful Quarters program is a good promotion, and may help to raise the public’s interest in visiting our public lands. Management at the parks and other federal properties, however, should make sure they have plenty of quarters on hand to pass out as change. It’s good public relations.

By the way, here’s the order in which the first five national properties were established:

Hot Springs National Park / April 20, 1832
Yellowstone National Park / March 1, 1872
Yosemite National Park / Oct. 1, 1890
Grand Canyon National Park / Feb. 20, 1893
Mt. Hood National Forest / Sept. 28, 1893

I’ve got one more question: The National Park Service is represented, so is the U.S. Forest Service and Fish & Game. But no Bureau of Land Management. How come?

For more information about the American the Beautiful Quarters program visit the U.S. Mint’s Web site at

And if you want to discover places in the West to visit, explore, do camping, hiking or sightseeing, visit Travel & History Magazine at for some ideas.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Let’s Be Careful Out There

National and state parks welcome millions of visitors each year, and they usually take home many good memories of hiking, camping, swimming, boating or just sitting around a campfire talking with friends.

Expectations run high. Maybe we’ll see a moose, a deer or even a bear. In national parks such as Yellowstone and Glacier, traffic jams – or bear jams, as they’re also known – can make for frustrations. Why’s that car stopping? Is there an accident? Nope, just a bear by the side of the road.

It’s easy to drop your guard, especially when visiting one of the major national parks, maybe because there’s so much infrastructure: asphalt roads, trails, gift stores, cafes, lodges, buses, trams, and plenty of traffic signs. Kind of like home. Where’s the danger? Getting hit by a car?

So maybe it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security, especially in the big parks. But by end of summer, park statistics and news stories can paint a sorrowful picture.

Here’s a quick sampling of post-Labor Day Weekend 2009 headlines from the National Park Service for you to consider:

BIGHORN CANYON NATIONAL RECREATION AREA / Boy In Intensive Care After Suffering Rattlesnake Bite.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK / Hiker Dies In Fall From Fern Lake Trail.

GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK / Rangers Rescue Stranded Boaters From Snake River.

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK / Search For Missing Man Continues.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK / Injured Climber Medevaced From Longs Peak.

LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA / Two Brothers Drown In Lake Mohave Cove.

LAKE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL RECREATION AREA / Man Paralyzed From The Neck Down In Diving Accident.

OK, summer’s almost over, but fall and winter offer great opportunities for visiting our national and state parks. Go visit a park in the off season. Have fun, camp, fish, ride your bike, or go climbing. But just remember, you’re not visiting Disneyland. When rangers try to share some ideas about being careful, or caution about a trail that is closed, take time to listen. They’re there to help you.

Take home good memories, lots of photos and a few souvenirs, not a busted arm, or worse.

And if you want to discover places in the West to visit, explore, do camping, hiking or sightseeing, visit Travel & History Magazine at for some ideas.