The cracked concrete and peeling paint of Bisbee’s exteriors is eye candy for a photographer with a Holga camera. This old copper-mining town is roughly aged, yet an influx of artists has dusted off the grit just enough to uncover the place’s quirk and class. Bisbee is a blend of the antiquated, new age and plain ol’ old. It’s the perfect subject for a camera that prides itself on recreating photographs from the past, with square negatives, faded colors and random imperfections.

Created in the early 1980s as a medium-format toy camera, the Holga has attracted a cult following. It’s a lightweight, plastic, film camera that requires little technical skill. All you need is a daydreamer’s curiosity and some sunshine. All of this kid-like fun can be had for 30 bucks, plus the cost of film. It brings us photographers back to the days before DPI, RAW and JPEG. It’s just shooting because you love taking pictures.

The best part of shooting with a Holga is not knowing exactly what you’ll get. You see, because of its fantastic plastic construction, the Holga leaks light. This will do one of two things to your photo: make it groovy or flat-out destroy it. In a photography world full of sure things and magical tricks—thanks to giant LCD screens, autofocus and Photoshop—the whimsical Holga makes me feel like a real rebel.


Biosphere 2, in Oracle, Ariz., is a bizarre and magnificent place, a temple of triangular glass and white steel erected on a high desert plain for the edification of space cowboys and the betterment of nerdkind.

On Sept. 26, 1991, eight humans locked themselves inside this futuristic structure in the name of science. They came out two years later, cantankerous and gaunt and pale as vellum.

For the uninitiated, Biosphere 2 is pure oddity; for aficionados of science, it is cause for pilgrimage. I suppose I fall into both categories: Jill will confirm that I blissfully vacillate between ignorance and geekiness depending on the mood of the day and the character of the roadside attraction at hand. So it didn’t surprise her when, after a pleasant picnic lunch at Catalina State Park, I decided we simply must see Biosphere 2 before departing metropolitan Tucson.

I drove like a bat out of hell to get there in time for the last guided tour of the day, cursing the traffic along Oracle Road, which is one of those scenic Arizona highways that has been besmirched by retail development. But if you drive northward far enough, the road narrows to one lane and the stoplights end, and there is little to distract you from snow-dusted beauty of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

It is here, on a 2,500-acre ranch in the shadow of Mount Lemmon, that Ed Bass, a Yale-educated venture capitalist from Texas, and John P. Allen, a Harvard-educated metallurgist from Oklahoma, built Biosphere 2 — an artificial ecological system they hoped might one day help humans colonize Mars.

Bass forked out $30 million to get the project off the ground in the mid ’80s, and the elaborate structure — which houses a rain forest, an ocean, a mangrove swamp, a savannah and a fog desert — took four years to construct. The four men and four women who entered Biosphere 2 in the fall of 1991 did so with the mission living inside this completely sealed ecosystem for two years, raising their own food and subsisting on recycled air and water.

All sorts of drama ensued. Ants preyed on pollinating insects. Birds died. Cockroaches prospered. Pet monkeys went rogue. Tribulations were even worse among the biosphere’s human inhabitants. Hunger was perpetual. Philosophies clashed. Romances formed and unraveled. Eventually, the eight crew members split into quarreling factions that ceased to speak to one another.

It was an epic experiment in reality TV, only without the TV.

America wasn’t able to watch back then, but anybody with $20 and a healthy curiosity can explore Biosphere 2 today. As billed, it resembles a miniature planet Earth, complete with trees and caves and a coral reef – a weird and wonderful terrarium in the middle of the desert. (In case you’re wondering, Biosphere 2’s name reflects its sequel status: Earth itself is considered “Biosphere 1.”)

While the five “biomes” of Biosphere 2 call to mind a fantastical movie set or Disneyland ride, the real genius of the place lies in its belly. The underground engineering that controls the biosphere’s “weather” — by raising and lowering air temperature and regulating moisture levels — is beyond my powers of description. Our tour guide mentioned more than once that the 3.15-acre structure is “sealed better than the space shuttle,” and perhaps its most fascinating bit of engineering — a pair of “lungs” that modulate air pressure caused by hot days and cold nights in the desert — is the subject of scores of scientific articles.

Unfortunately for the humans who lived inside Biosphere 2, none of this technological forethought could prevent oxygen levels inside the super-sealed structure from plummeting. The atmosphere came to resemble that of a 14,000-foot mountain, causing fatigue and sleep apnea among a crew already beset by caloric deficiency. This prompted the medical team to order an injection of oxygen into Biosphere 2 a month before the mission concluded.

A second biosphere mission was launched in 1994, but it was disbanded after just six months amid defection, sabotage and a visit by a federal marshal. Disheartened, the owners relinquished management of Biosphere 2 to Columbia University, which used the facility as a research site. Columbia pulled out in 2003, and the biosphere sat relatively dormant until its owners sold it to a real estate developer for $50 million in 2007. These days, the University of Arizona pays $100 annually to the developers to keep Biosphere 2 open.

The catch phrase for Biosphere 2 on its official website is “Where Science Lives.” But a more accurate motto might be “Where Science Crashes on the Couch” or “Where Science Stops by for a Cup of Tea.” Nominally, the university uses the structure to study climate change, but I suspect its real value lies in revenue generation as a tourist attraction and conference facility. Unscientifically, I counted hundreds of tour goers and zero researchers during my visit.

About that tour experience: Throughout it, sunshine and cottony clouds were visible through the biosphere’s geodesic glass panes, and our fit and attractive guide related stories about the project’s engineering feats and scientific ambitions with confident cheer. Yet, as I strolled single-file through this surreal environment with my fellow tour goers, little pangs of sadness crackled though me like static electricity.

Creative minds dreamed up Biosphere 2, and lots of smart people worked hard to create it. But now that the $200 million compound isn’t being used for its intended purpose, it emits a faintly mournful odor of improvidence. In this way Biosphere 2 reminds me of Graceland, the late Elvis Presley’s singularly audacious home in Memphis, Tenn. The footsteps of gawking tourists keep both places alive, but those footsteps mostly lead backwards through time. Progress, it seems, is futile.

But all may not be lost. William Shatner, a visionary in his own right (and one who, like Elvis, has a penchant for stretchy polyester), saw potential in Biosphere 2 and chose it as the setting for his low-budget sci-fi flick Groom Lake. Maybe this will lead to Biosphere 2 opening its air-locked doors to Hollywood, giving the facility new life and a fresh revenue stream.

One lonely night, I shall convince Jill to stream Groom Lake to her fancy laptop, and we will bask in the movie’s cool glow inside our tent. Until then, we will continue to muddle along in Biosphere 3 — which is a lot like Biospheres 1 and 2, except all matter within it is covered in dog hair.


A long, long time ago, on a college campus far, far away, I made my first leap into the mediasphere as a sportswriter for the University of Tennessee’s student newspaper, The Daily Beacon.

I wasn’t a very intrepid cub reporter, but I did date the paper’s sports editor, a pugnacious and flirty young woman who, much to my consternation, seemed to have previous romantic attachments and dorm-room phone numbers for the football team’s entire defensive backfield. These connections helped me attach my byline to a scoop or two about Tennessee football, which in turn led an invitation to be a guest on a local sports-talk radio show.

The show’s host, Tony, was a fast-talking Italian guy with a bulbous nose and tightly curled black hair — a transplanted New Yorker who was trying to make inroads in the Knoxville market — and I felt pretty important when I put on headphones and pulled up a chair across from him.

“You done any radio before?” Tony asked, his glottal voice resonating clearly inside my headphones.

I shook my head. “Never.”

“Then we might be launching a career here,” Tony said, flashing a smile that revealed a mouthful of jumbled, yellowed teeth. The sentence he uttered next stings my vanity to this day: “You remind me of myself at your age — a smart kid with a face for radio.”

Turns out I not only had a “face for radio” but a voice for newspapers. After stammering through a half hour with Tony and his callers, I kept myself away from airwaves of all kinds for the next two decades. Television cameras make me self-conscious; microphones make me bitter.

Jill shares my disdain for broadcast-media outlets, especially when it comes to local TV reporters. As a newspaper photographer, she had her sightline blocked by many a cameraman and witnessed on-air talent devote more care to applying their makeup than working a story.

So when a TV producer at Phoenix’s Fox affiliate sent me an e-mail expressing her interest in doing a story about the whole “12 Legs” thing, Jill and I were wary. We feared a TV reporter might package our story as cutesy. We worried a TV appearance might reek of self-promotion. And, well, the thought of being interviewed on camera scared the hell out of us.

But the producer’s e-mail came at a moment when Jill and I were trying to figure out what we wanted this blog to be. We created it as a way to keep friends and family abreast of our travels. But, almost immediately, our professional pride took over, and we began writing and shooting as if our audience were much bigger than it was. Then, as we awoke morning after morning in beautiful places with no office to report to, we started daydreaming about how we might make a living out of this type of “work”.

We didn’t have an answer for that question — and still don’t — but we figured a good first step would be to increase the blog’s exposure. And what better way to do that than to go on TV? Besides, even if the story turned out silly, our respective mothers would get a big kick out of it.

So I returned the producer’s e-mail and told her Jill and I were game. We arranged to meet the reporter during a quick swing through Phoenix. On the day of the interview I washed the dogs and trimmed my beard; Jill put on makeup and a pair of big earrings.

It must be said that the reporter, Jayme King, laid to waste both our notion of TV reporters and our expectations about the interview. He arrived early with a courteous cameraman named Juan and interviewed us for more than an hour. He asked thoughtful questions, took copious notes and didn’t mind getting dog hair on his slacks. The fruits of Mr. King’s labor can be viewed below.

Tragically, I still have a face for radio. But I happen to think the camera loves Jill nearly as much as I do. Perhaps some producer from the Travel Channel or National Geographic will stumble across this video and make her the host of a web series, and our dreams of office-less globetrotting will come true.

More likely, though, we’ll just get a comment from my mom telling me to shave.



The last time I walked the dusty streets of Tombstone, Ariz., I was with my Grandpa Ernie. I was maybe 12 years old. I remember going to a “saloon,” where my sister and I saddled up to the bar and drank sarsaparillas while grandpa sipped a beer.

Grandpa Ernie and Grandma Ruth with my uncle Gary and my father Karl.

For me, there was nothing really exotic about Tombstone. I’d grown up around cowboys, horses and stories of the Southwest. It’s rumored that Pancho Villa stole my family’s fortune. On display at grandpa’s house were old Indian tomahawks, and pistols and spurs that grandpa said belonged to outlaws of the past. Tombstone felt like a diorama built to impress someone else.

Grandpa Ernie

Still, for the sake of nostalgia, I wanted to stop in Tombstone as Scott and I drove through southern Arizona. It hasn’t changed much, and it holds even less appeal for me now than it did back then. I don’t play dress-up, and I don’t care to drink sarsaparilla with city slickers in new cowboy hats and boots. We spent a total of 2 hours there. We strolled along the main drag, toured the historic courthouse. Feeling as though I needed to photograph something, I shot boots — beautiful boots worn by cowboy actors performing simulated shootouts on the hour, every hour.

There’s something so expressive about a man’s cowboy boots. When your wardrobe consists of blue jeans, leather and dirt, boots are the one of the few things that lend themselves to some flash. I remember my father’s cowboy boots, which were typically covered in cow shit — “the smell of money,” my mom use to say. When he arrived home from work, my sister and I would rush to the door to greet him. We’d fight over which one got the to help him pull off his boots. They were worn and dirty, and getting them off required a lot of yanking and twisting. They seemed molded to his short, square feet — feet I inherited and futilely try to squeeze into stilettos.

A few months ago, I received a pair of boots that once belonged to my grandfather. He’s the real deal, a big ol’ cowboy. In the last few years, he’s become ill. He’s traded boots for Velcro sneakers. I keep his old boots on top of my dresser, unsure of where to put them. They are worthy of a stage or a shrine. Beautiful, cracked leather. Soles worn uneven by grandpa’s crooked gait. They represent his personality and decades of back-breaking work.

While Grandpa Ernie’s cowboy days are over, being a cowboy never ends. He still talks about cows, horses and women. He’s still a wheeler and a dealer and a teller of tales, only now he wheels and deals and tells tales in a home for seniors with dementia. I can’t wait to see him and listen to all his cowboy talk. I don’t care what’s real and what’s not — for me, exaggerated cowboy stories are nothing new.


Tom Ziegler has been tending bar at the Tap Room inside Hotel Congress for 51 years. But hardly anybody knows his name — at least not his Christian one.

Nobody calls Ziegler “Tom.” Not the regulars who visit during his daytime shift. Not the guys who deliver the beer and liquor. Not the hotel’s managers, desk clerks or maintenance men. Not even the owner.

To them, and everyone else, Tom Ziegler is, and has always been, simply “Tiger.”

You don’t have to spend much time around Tiger to deduce that cheerful irony drips from his nickname like beer down the sides of an overfilled pint glass. He’s not at all ferocious or cunning; on the contrary, he is gentle and exquisitely mannerly, much more apt to peer over his spectacles than bear his teeth.

Tiger is of slight, wispy build, with excellent posture and a full head of silvery hair that he parts on the left. He smokes frequently and elegantly, and he is fond of wearing crew-neck sweaters over Oxford shirts — a little bit Truman Capote, a little bit Mister Rogers.

Tiger is 76 years old, and he first stepped behind the business end of the Tap Room bar in 1959. My only concept of 1959 comes from history books and Happy Days. But to give you some context, here are some of the events Tiger might remember from his first year on the job:

  • Two stars were added to the American flag to commemorate Alaska and Hawaii gaining statehood.
  • A band of guerilla revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara overthrew the Cuban government.
  • A chartered plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed in Iowa.
  • Berry Gordy started Motown Records in Detroit.
  • The very first Daytona 500 was won by Lee Petty. (That’s Richard Petty’s dad.)
  • And a new toy called the Barbie doll hit department-store shelves.

I’ve never lasted at any one job more than four years. I cannot imagine doing the same job — and relishing it — for more than half a century.

Remember Jesse Helms? It seemed like he catatonically sat in the Senate since the dawn of time. Well, Tiger’s tenure at the Tap Room is longer by 21 years. Does it feel like Dick Clark’s been ushering in New Year’s nearly as long as Father Time? Child’s play — Tiger’s got 13 years on him. Tiger’s even been making margaritas and pouring beer longer than Mick Jagger’s been caterwauling as The Rolling Stones’ frontman.

I know very few septuagenarians who hold down regular jobs; I know even fewer who work as bartenders; I know fewer still who report to work sucking on a cigarette and looking like their mother has dressed them for the first day of elementary school.

But I do know one: His name is Tiger, and, like the hotel where he prowls, he is an Arizona treasure.