Friends have told us we’re crazy for traveling with two large dogs for a year. Sometimes, we do feel a little crazy. But you know what’s really nuts? Living with eight dogs in one house for a week.

My mom has a dog problem — she can’t stop bringing them home. After our family dog died two years ago — after, by a miracle of God, surviving 16 years of eating popcorn and licking ice cream bowls — my mom began volunteering with the local SPCA. Her goal was to foster dogs. She failed. Every dog she fostered she kept. Gradually her quiet, dogless house began to fill with adopted Shitzus, poodle mixes and chihuahuas. She’s at six.

My mom is not alone in this. My stepdad, Dar, who is by nature a surly, tough-talking jokester, now openly sweet-talks the dogs as he prepares their meals of boiled chicken, rice, cottage cheese and wet dog food.

These dogs are a ratty crew of misfits — pesky and demanding. But they’ve suckered my parents into surrendering their home, their bed and their lives to them. All it takes is a snort from a shitzu or a prairie-dog-style beg from a chihuahua and my folks turn to putty in little paws. Each of the six dogs has its own behavioral issue, health problem or social anxiety. Some are old. Some were peripheral victims of the housing crisis. Some were abused and left for dead. All were abandoned and homeless — until they met the world’s biggest suckers.

As if rescuing this bunch weren’t enough, each week mom and Dar head to the pound to pick up a filthy dog in need of some grooming and a little TLC. For dogs so matted and dirty you can’t see their face, a bath and trim can be the difference between being adopted and not. Dar struggles with visiting the pound. For all his tough talk, seeing several rows of unwanted dogs is too much for him to bear. My mom, in her capris and heeled sandals, surveys every cage looking for a small dog — adoptable, dirty and scared. She keeps a standing appointment with a groomer — every Thursday. On this Thursday, she picks a scruffy terrier mix. He has a good disposition and big brown eyes. Mom likes him; Dar does, too — but not enough to entertain the thought of a seventh dog in the house.

Scott and I joke about our own mutts and their mysterious pedigrees — Jack being part pig, Isabel being equal parts jackal and demon. We’re proud to have rescues. We always will — even though we’ve been known to drool over the occasional well-behaved Rhodesian Ridgeback or Great Pyrenees at the dog park (usually while Jack is taking a dump in the worst place possible and Isabel is barking at some dog from the top of a picnic table).

(Left to right, clockwise) Travis, Mia, Lucky Spike, Miss Priss, Kiki, Scruffy

At mom’s house, dogs come and go as they please through the open sliding glass door separating the living room and back patio. A barricade prevents the sassy six from entering the dining room, hall and guest bedrooms. Little dogs with big personalities and behavioral issues can’t be completely trusted. Look at a small dog cross or ignore the little bugger, and he’ll invariably get even by lifting a leg on a dining room chair.

Jack loves small dogs with his whole 75-pound being. But unnerved by the six kamikaze balls of fluff traveling in a swarm like killer bees with high-pitched barks, Jack cowered and looked to me for help. Isabel, not fully convinced she’s a dog, found higher ground with the people, a healthy distance away. But soon enough, all the dogs settled. The pack went went from six plus two to an integrated eight within an afternoon.

Evenings at my mom’s house were peaceful, if not entertaining. At night we took to the couch for a movie. Jack and Isabel at the foot of the sofa. Miss Priss sleeping atop the couch cushion. Travis on Dar’s lap. Mia on mom’s. Scruffy pacing with indecision about whether to be on the couch or on the ground or on the couch. Lucky Strike standing guard at the slider. And Kiki doing what Kiki does best — seducing me with those ridiculous chihuahua eyes.

It might be crazy, but it works. Six dogs in one house. It’s loud at times, and there are the occasional “accidents,” but I’m sure my folks couldn’t imagine it any other way. These furry rescues have done more than just infiltrate my parents’ house — they’ve helped mom and Dar find a cause into which they can pour their time and love (and, quite possibly, my inheritance). Little dogs all over California’s Central Valley are better off because of it.


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.


After a pit stop in Phoenix to prepare our tax return and help our fabulous new renter get settled into our house, we are repacking and reloading for another long stretch on the road. That entails updating the iPod with some new tunes.

Back in December, before we set out on the first leg of our journey, I caught part of the 32nd Anuual Kennedy Center Honors. One of this year’s honorees was Bruce Springsteen, and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder paid tribute to The Boss with a cover of “My City of Ruins”. Springsteen wrote this gospel-tinged song about the deterioration of Asbury Park, N.J., but it took on new meaning after September 11 and, later, Hurricane Katrina.

Vedder’s version of the song is available on iTunes, and proceeds from each download benefit victims of the earthquake in Haiti via Artists for Peace and Justice. I was happy to find this recording, and I have friend and former co-worker Stephanie Heckathorne to thank for pointing me in the right direction. Stephanie and I share a love for both Eddie Vedder and gospel-influenced rock ‘n’ roll, and in the months ahead Jill and I will definitely miss Steph’s late-night, red-wine-slurping, story-swapping visits to our home in Phoenix.

P.S. If you dig this particular live performance by Vedder, check out his haunting cover of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” at a 1992 tribute to Dylan.


As newbie bloggers and fairly rudderless travelers, one of the greatest rewards we get is when a reader takes the time to tell us about a destination we should point our car toward. People we meet keep asking us what our plan is, and the honest truth is that we don’t have one. At least not much of one. Our unofficial rules of the road are, (1) if we like a place, we linger; (2) if we can avoid interstates and chain restaurants, we do; and (3) if someone tells us about a place we shouldn’t miss, we circle it on the map.

That’s why I loved reading the following comment from Greg Lewis, an old friend and former professor of mine at Fresno State:

“To do Utah right, you need to include a trip down to Moab. Just north of there, heading west off US 191, is state route 313 which, on the map, runs about 30 miles to a dead end and a spot labeled “view point.” Any place on a map so labeled and served by a 30-mile dead-end road is worth checking out. But when you do, you must plan to be there well before dawn. Park at the dead end and walk about 200 yards south to the edge of the cliff. There will be no machines there, no animals, no insects and no other people. Sit there, preferably alone, and wait while the sun comes up. Then you will understand part of why this land is sacred to it’s earliest inhabitants. If you don’t breathe too hard and your heart doesn’t pound, the only sound you’ll hear is the wind blowing past your ears.

We’re headed away from Moab right now, but you better believe we’ll circle back. I’m pretty sure the only way to get Scott anywhere “well before dawn” is to sleep there, but if I have to head out alone with my camera, I will. After such a thoughtfully and thoroughly composed suggestion, how could I not?

Thanks, Professor Lewis, for pointing us in an enlightening direction.


Our journey would not be possible if not for the hospitality of friends and family across the country who have promised to open their homes to our weary heads, dirty clothes and smelly dogs. So from time to time we’d like to pay tribute to our benefactors in a small, bloggy way. Our inaugural hosts: Kreg and Maryn Edgmon of Kaysville, Utah.

My first job out of college was at a newspaper in Logan, Utah. I arrived in a rattling moving truck with three days days left on the rental agreement. I needed to find a place to live, and I needed to do it fast. After two and a half days of fruitless searching, I came across a “For Rent” sign in front of a one-bedroom apartment in the second story of a 100-year-old house. It occupied a corner lot with a giant spruce tree, five blocks from my new workplace.

It was perfect. But a phone call revealed that the landlord did not live in town and was presently en route to show the apartment to four other prospective renters. I decided to sit tight and join the tour when it commenced.

The landlord arrived early to open up the place, and I introduced myself. He was not what I expected. He was about my age, which back then was 25. He had the appearance of a guy who’d just been hard-scrubbed with Ivory and dressed by J. Crew, yet his speech rhythm suggested heavy marijuana usage. I would soon discover that not only did he not smoke pot, he didn’t even drink caffeine.

This was Kreg.

Employing my fledgling reportage skills, I peppered Kreg with questions while we waited for the other would-be renters to arrive. I learned his family had just purchased the house as an investment. I learned he would be living in the downstairs apartment while he pursued a doctoral degree at Utah State University. I learned the house would be the first property he had ever managed. I learned he owned a golden retriever named Pote. I learned he had served an LDS mission in France, and that Pote was French for “buddy”.

A quiet doctoral student who’s best bud was a golden retriever?  This was my kind of landlord. Unfortunately, the other candidates for the apartment seemed more like his kind of renters. All were well dressed, polite and seemingly fresh from that same Ivory scrubbing. Me, I was just an unshaven guy with a redneck drawl and no other options.

When the others finished their handshakes and got in their cars, I lingered and made a Hail Mary pitch. “Listen,” I told Kreg, “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t listen to loud music, and if something breaks I don’t mind trying to fix it.” At least three of these things were actually true. “I work nights, so it will be like I’m not even here.”

Against what was surely his better judgment, Kreg took a chance on me. And since I knew no one else in town, he helped me move in furniture. A week later, when I asked to “borrow” his dog for companionship on a midday hike, Kreg said yes. Pote soon became my best buddy.

Turns out Kreg was a bit of a night owl. Quick hellos in the stairwell turned into long discussions about life. We talked about the import stuff: family, religion, girls. One evening I invited Kreg upstairs for pizza. He gave me a sideways glance when he saw a bottle Jack Daniel’s and cluster of cigars atop my fridge. I shrugged and handed him a Dr. Pepper.

In the age of Facebook, when friendships are “accepted” more often than forged, thinking about how a devout Mormon landlord and his backslid Southern Baptist tenant formed a brotherly bond on stairs, hiking trails and ski slopes makes me feel as warm and fuzzy as all the fleece I packed for this trip.

A lot has changed in the 12 years since I moved out of that upstairs apartment: Pote has passed away (Kreg called me the day he had to put him down); Kreg got married (he and Maryn have three ridiculously sweet redheaded girls); and he owns his own business (it’s a residential treatment center for troubled boys).

One thing, though, hasn’t changed: When I need a place to stay in Utah, I can count on Kreg to open his house to me and make me feel like family.

Kreg, Maryn and their three ridiculously sweet redheaded girls