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Back to Borrego, Barefoot

February 27, 2017

“Are we there yet?”

One of my favorite still-happenin’ family traditions started in the early 1960s: a late-winter camping weekend at Anza Borrego Desert State Park, during which a 3-mile hike up Palm Canyon was mandatory.

This past weekend my motley crew of siblings and our kids and grandkids enjoyed classic desert weather (brilliant sunshine-then wind-then-rain) and extraordinary green-ness and wildflower-wow as we waxed nostalgic whilst also creating new desert memories with the next generation.


The 21st century twist? I now spend the entire weekend shoe-less–something my reputation-aware parents would never have allowed.

As the years and miles have passed, others in my extended family have dabbled in barefootery with me, with our Palm Canyon hike providing an excellent reason to remove the shoes: multiple water crossings.


The first of many creek crossings on the way to the palm grove.

My obvious delight in wading through the shallow cobbles seems to have been an inspiration: all but one of the hikers in the photo above had their shoes off by the time we had crossed a few more times.



(The trick is getting someone else to CARRY those shoes!)


Along with barefoot-appreciation, I hope to instill in my grandkids an awareness of (and love for) the amazing life of the desert . . . what lovelier place to start than by noticing wildflowers, like the teeny-tiny Bigelow’s Monkey Flower these three young fingers are pointing out.


Did somebody say “wildflowers?” Late February is pretty early in the bloom season, but there was already much to admire:


The tiniest poppy ever (Eschscholzia minutiflora) and wild canterbury bells (Phacelia minor) gladden the trail. Or at least our hearts.

Desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata) with popcorn flowers and/or clouds: either way a cheerful combo.


Brown-eyed primrose (Chylismia claviformis) is part of a big family (yep. way bigger than mine): about 650 species of herbs, shrubs, and trees that occur on every continent. Here’s an inspiring quote for aspiring herablists: “All of the Gauras, Epilobiums, Oenotheras and other closely allied Onagraceae family members are both cooling and moistening. They tend to be astringent, mucilaginous and relaxing, with a taste that is usually bland and sweet, although some Oenothera spp. have a peppery bite to them. They also tend to be high in oils, especially in the flowers and copious seedpods. All of this makes them an excellent overall nourishing Summer tonic where signs of heat, dryness and tension are present.”


Cheerful pink sand verbena (Abronia villosa), whose traditional uses include both external as a poultice as well as a concoction taken as a diuretic.


Wild heliotrope (Phacelia distans): the pre-bloom greens can be steamed and eaten, as we learn by researching the ingenuity of earlier People.


Brilliant scarlet chuparosa: named after the hummingbirds which it attracts. But bees also find it delectable and make the entire shrub hum.


The above plant has captivated me so much on visits to Anza Borrego that I have attempted to grow it in captivity in my back yard. Desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi) does not exactly thrive in inland Orange County, but if I can keep all water away from it in the summer, it blooms (as I write this!) just steps from my back door, with a scent that is reminiscent of lavender but infinitely more wild and delicious. The photo above was taken at sunrise, when all are transformed–desert, sky, even me–into an ephemeral glow show:




Then the weather changes; in the desert, wind will shake you awake with tent flapping, and Easy-Ups going easily down.


Rain high in the mountains, but none on us–just a rainbow-reminder:


So many photos! So much desert wildlife! (I call this one “braid-mania.”)



This critter has the Best. Name. Ever. Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion. Its sting is supposed to be way less toxic/painful than other scorpions, which I wish I would have known when I was attempting this addition to my “bare feet with critter” image collection . . . the blurry image is the result of being in a bit of a hurry to get my foot back out of striking range. Yikes . . . 

On a more feathered note: here’s a black-throated sparrow that was singing the morning away perched high in a desert lavender:

This blog post is starting to feel like one of those (1960s) neighborhood slide shows where the carousels of over-exposed images taken by someone else’s Nikon never seem to end and you are desperate for some excuse to leave the room.

So let’s leave where we began: happily hiking the Palm Canyon Trail barefoot with my fabulous family.  The desert is a rough, beautiful, fragile, life-giving, deadly place. Go for the wide-open sky (the stars! some day I’ll figure out how to get them inside my camera), stay for the endless surprises.


And take a kid or two with you . . .

Happy Wildflowery Trails!

A brief wander to Grand Canyon in mid-February

February 20, 2017


“The Grand Canyon provokes two major reactions: the urge to protect it, and the temptation to make a whopping pile of money from it.” 

This quote (from a recent, lengthy and fascinating article titled “Grand Canyon: Two Backpacks, 650 Miles, and the Story of a Lifetime”) seems to fall into the “sad but true” category.

Last weekend I spent two full (8am-5pm) days sitting and listening to speaker after speaker expound on a variety of topics that could all, somehow, be traced to these two ideas.

The seminar: 2017 Grand Canyon Hiking Guide Training.

The place: “Shrine of the Ages” (former multi-faith chapel, now all-purpose activity center) on the South Rim.


A gentle snowfall provided much distraction for this girl from no-snow So Cal.

The attendees: well over 100 mostly young(er) folks who make their livings (but probably NOT whopping piles of money) interpreting human and rock and plant and animal tales of Grand Canyon (Ongtupqa or “salt canyon” in the Hopi tongue).

My connection: I am an instructor for the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute (GCAFI); as such, I lead a three-day creative writing workshop at the North Rim (this June 16-18 will be my third annual). 
I also serve as “WooFeR” (Wilderness First Responder) assistant for GCAFI adventures–in May I will assist with two: Take a Load Off: Mule-Assisted Camping as well as Paria Canyon Geology Backpack.

The presenters: a variety of geologists, historians, non-profit representatives, authors, National Park Service and GCA staff, and members of two tribes who call the canyon home (Hopi and Navajo).

The topics: Holy Cow. Way too many to list, but highlights included: lightning fire statistics (2382 since 1931), risk management (“How Not to Kill Your Clients in the Field”), Search and Rescue statistics (deaths in the canyon average 15/year), updates on uranium mining and the Escalade (a proposed rim resort + tram down to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers), sedimentary rock (super interesting! I “heart” geology) and volcanoes (ditto!) at Grand Canyon, an entire Powerpoint of insane river-raft-flipping photos, how to answer “stupid questions’ (#1 on list: “Is it real?”), Bright Angel Trail history, and voices from People who have ancient and enduring connections to this place.

My reactions:

Information overload. (But in a good way, like the sensory overload of standing on the rim looking out and over and down.)

Ironic back pain from being trapped inside for a two-day seminar about leading hikes in this magnificent place.

Happiness at being around so many like-minded Canyon-loving folk (including the nice young men who let this old grandma strum her ukulele along with their expert guitar stylings at the evening campfire).

Optimism at getting a chance to shake hands with the new Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent, who listened politely and asked a few good questions as I urged her to bring back the Artist-in-Residence program (being AIR at the North Rim back in June of 2011 is what started my relationship with Grand Canyon).

Serendipitiociousness at re-meeting the Phantom Ranch ranger to whom I turned over care of the male college student suffering heat illness on a breath-takingly stupid “run to the river and back” during a heat alert last June. She told me that she made sure he cooled off in the ranger quarters shower, then gave him intravenous fluids, and even allowed him and his Midwestern (i.e. clueless) friends to spend the night at the bottom (supplying them with sleeping gear from the giant box o’ left-behind stuff at the ranger station. It was nice to know he recovered; more than once I’d wondered what happened after I dropped him off and continued on my way across the canyon for my first night crossing . . . partly barefoot . . . but those midnight scorpions!)

The drive: 486 miles to get there: I-15 to I-40 to Route 64.  While I was gone (and I wasn’t gone long), So Cal had another fabulous flush of rain, and I-15 lost a couple of southbound lanes in the Cajon Pass area. So . . . I added 48 creosote-scented post-rain desert miles between Needles and Blythe to my drive home so as to miss the multi-hour delay in Cajon Pass. Mmm . . . the Colorado Desert after a rain.


Highway 95 between Needles and Blythe, CA: puddle-wonderful!

But my aching (caution: geology pun ahead) seden-mentary body! That’s two more days–almost 1000 miles–of: sitting. “Grrrr,” said my lower back and major body joints each time I exited the car. “Yikes,” said my tense shoulders and grippy fingers each time an 18-wheeler whizzed toward/around/past/behind me.

New word: Incringing (can’t remember which speaker created this): they seemed to mean a combination of infringing and encroaching. I like it.

Old word, newly learned: Hozho (Hopi for “living in balance”)

Best question from audience: “What do you wish us guides would tell our guests on trips?”
Answer from Lyle Balenquah, Navajo Nation: “To educate them about ‘real Indians’ vs. Hollywood and media stereotypes. To emphasize our common humanity: ‘We should all be able to walk in each other’s shoes.’ “

Best advice: PRACTICE HEADLAMP ETIQUETTE! (That’s right; I’m shouting in agreement with Ranger Della, who bewailed the ruination of nighttime in Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Camp when people wear headlamps and slash the lovely dark with mega-lumens while traversing the trail that goes RIGHT THROUGH the backpacker’s campground. Her advice? “Hold the light in your hand. Point it down.” For those spending the night, Ranger Della asks, “Why do you want to sit around your camp at night and blind the people you’re talking to?”)

Favorite Powerpoint slide:


Jason Nez, Hopi, was part of the presentation “A Time of Profound Change: Hopi and Navajo perspectives on the advent of federal land management policies; the creation of public lands; and the meaning to native people of the past and present.”

Most distressing: when one presenter spoke about “wilderness” at Grand Canyon without acknowledgement of the fact that Jason Nez had so graphically displayed on the above slide: our continent was not an uninhabited wasteland before the Europeans arrived; it was populated with People who have made (and continue to make) their homes here–People with no language for the concept of “wilderness” (for this is surely an imported-to-America idea).

Second most distressing: The tendency of so many (mainly NPS folk?) to refer to Grand Canyon as a “resource.” I was going to try to make a jokey comparison here: “Notre Dame Cathedral as ‘asset’ on France’s balance sheet” . . . but . . . sheesh . . . )

So we all sat and learned (and sometimes suffered) for two days, not to make “whopping piles of money” from this place . . .but maybe just a bit of a living while we nudge Grand Canyon visitors toward knowledge, appreciation, connection . . . protection?

And a few more images from the weekend:


This trailhead! So many good memories of starting/completing hikes here. I was there between storms, so the trail was not icy at all, but a storm was on the way yesterday . . .


It was an action-packed couple of days, without much time for hiking (insert giant sad face here). But I did wander a little ways down the Bright Angel Trail, where an edging of snow remained from a recent storm.


Cloud and rock layers! What a lunch break on Saturday!


Lunch break selfie–me and all the other tourists.


How small we are here . . . an important reminder, always.


Temps in the 30s at night, 40s by day: I capitulated. Sandals it is.


Then the adventure homeward after all the West got a good drenching.


Even the truck stops were transformed into places of great beauty.


The Whitewater exit off I-10: where the 10,800-foot scarp of Mt. San Jacinto dwarfs the monstrous 150-foot tall wind turbines with blades half the length of a football field.


Roadside puddles called me to stop more than once.

Happy puddlicious trails! It’s raining again!

A Break in the Rain = Wildflowers!

February 10, 2017


So much rain this winter: 13.61 inches! 205 % of normal for this time of year!

I managed to hit the Irvine Park trails this afternoon, before the next round of stormy weather (it’s raining again now as I write this). To my surprise and delight the poppies had popped on some south-facing slopes near Barham Ridge.

While the sight of mass blooms of Eschscholzia californica is an iconic, beloved sight for Californians, this plant is considered an invasive weed in many parts of Australia where it spreads so aggressively that it chokes out native plant habitat.


This image shows poppies and pesky pink Erodium; imported to the US from the Mediterranean in the 18th century, this ubiquitous invasive is edible, although I have not tried it. 

The trail traffic was Friday-light; the wildflowers were spring-intense (even though it’s only February and many parts of the US are blizzarding this week). Here’s a few (with my best guesses at identification):


Parry’s phacelia (Phacelia parryi)


Common phacelia (Phacelia distans)


California wood-sorrel (Oxalis californica) These few clusters are the only occurrences of these I’ve ever seen in this part of OC. Recent activity to widen the single-track has me worried about their fate.


The wood-sorrel and its neighbor prickly pear on a steep east-facing slope.


No bloom yet, but the distinctive blunt-tipped narrow leaflets lead me to suspect this is a Collar lupine (Lupinus truncatus).


It’s easy to just dismiss all little white flowers as generic “popcorn flowers.” I’ll hazard a guess: Cleveland cat’s-eyes (Cryptantha clevelandii). 


Don’t taste this! Deadly nightshade comes in 19 “flavors” (species) in California, “more than half of which are introduced weeds” (according the indispensable reference Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains).


California wishbone bush (Mirabilis laevis). Mirabilis = wonderful in Latin) Yes, a wonderfully lovely plant.


They’re everywhere! School bells are ringin’ in the wildflower new year! (Dichelostemma capitatum)


Wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus). Another name is “man-root” because the vine sprouts out of a giant underground tuber-potato.


It’s not spring until the wild morning glories trumpet forth. Ta-da!


Lemonadeberry in bloom means there will be tart fruit to taste in a few months . . . like sour lemon candy. The leaves are super-astringent; I read somewhere that earlier People would chew the leaves to stimulate saliva when they were out on long treks without drinking water. 


Not in bloom yet, but this coastal cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia prolifera) is just as fat and sassy and happy with all the rain as all its  chaparral neighbors. 


Waxing wonderful! Wow! This laurel sumac’s new growth is just as stunning as the most vivid wildflower.


One final view over the poppy field; below is the rain-flooded willow wilds behind Villa Park Dam. 


Time to get that camera timer ticking . . . it’s hard to capture how giggly I am to be RUNNING again after almost four months of lower-right-fibula stress-fracture recovery. I am grateful for God’s good gifts of rocks and flowers and steep trails on this, the third anniversary of my dad’s death. 

Happy wild-and-flowery trails!




Guest Poem for January

January 29, 2017


With permission from a local writer . . . a lovely poem (which inspired me to find images to accompany it on its internet journey):

by Diane Dorman

I walk in amber aura
of sun filtered leaves,
golden palmate,
still clinging to sycamore trees.
Wet sand from the trail
coats my bare feet:
our California winter.


Wow–in just a few lines, Diane captured so much of what I love: winter sycamore, sun (leaves), walk-trail, wet . . . bare feet!

Thanks, Diane; I appreciate that you thought to send me your work . . . it made my day (and now I hope it can brighten up others with a bit of our California gold).

A few more images of golden light from yesterday . . . post-last-weekend’s-deluge:


Behind the Villa Park Dam: suddenly, water!


Four days of rain last week really transformed my favorite trails (transformed meaning “submerged” for the area called The Willows)


Ceanothus in bloom: springtime in January . . . in Southern California.

Happy (wet and wild) Winter Trails!





Seven lessons learned in seven years of barefoot hiking/trail running

January 16, 2017


In January 2010 I attended a local bird-watching workshop and noticed some of the attendees were shoeless. Fascinated (and puzzled as to why anyone would want to go barefoot in winter), I returned home to research. What I found littering the rocky landscape of the interweb convinced me to try barefoot running as a way to (finally?!) overcome my nemesis: chronic left knee pain dating back to a 20-mile trail race in 2004.

Seven years later, the knee pain is long gone. I have a really long braid. My grandkids don’t always wear shoes (even in winter).


Son, grandkids, grand-dog: not a shoe to be seen

I’m taking early retirement at the end of this semester to write and hike barefoot even more than I already do.

To celebrate all the good weirdness that losing my shoes has brought into my life, I came up with the highly original idea to make a list of seven barefoot-related lessons, one for each year of fun. (Warning: I am neither doctor, psychologist, nor orca trainer. Implement these lessons at your own risk.)


Lesson #1

There is more to life than following conventional wisdom.

Stiff shoes, high boots: neither are necessary to enjoy trail running, hiking, or back packing–even six-day adventures up and down steep, rocky Grand Canyon trails.

As with other muscle groups, strong feet/ankles develop via use, not immobilization (hiking boots = ankle girdles/foot coffins).

Throughout years of getting strong via many hours of shoeless trail time, my capable feet have enjoyed the following Grand Canyon adventures (mostly shoeless, but some in lightweight sandals when I’m being paid to backpack with a group as WFR): four rim-to-rims; week-long backpacking trips to Havasu Falls, Boucher Creek, and Thunder River; and quite a few “short” overnight trips to Bright Angel Camp and Cottonwood Camp (each seven miles below the rim of the Canyon).

In 2016, I also completed my first trail ultra (50k through the Navajo Reservation at Monument Valley) mostly barefoot, with Sockwas for places where pokey stickers were too much to handle.

Question: what other areas of our lives do we need to question conventional wisdom? If Big Phalanges (shoe/boot companies) are wrong about the need for shoes to enjoy trails, where else might we have reason to speculate/hyperventilate about conspiracies to keep us consuming unnecessary shizz?


Barefoot KenBob and his barefoot companion.

Lesson #2

Many fellow hikers/runners/bikers out on the trails feel compelled to say something about my lack of footwear.

Question: why the huge need to state, “You’re barefoot.”? As if:

a) I don’t know this and/or

b) Their verbalization will somehow change the situation to something they can wrap their Big-Phalanges-brainwashed mind around.

Recently I’ve heard more than a few “How do you do that? I can’t even go barefoot in my living room.”

Bonus question: is it difficult for me not to launch into a diatribe when I hear this.

Answer: Yes. Yes, it is. (But I don’t, these days, having learned over the last seven years that folks really don’t want me to reply with a sermon-on-the-mountain; they just need a safe space to verbalize their dismay at my unconventional lifestyle/shoestyle choice.)


Lesson #3

Barefoot running offers no guaranty for curing or preventing running injuries.

My physical therapy doctor can vouch for this during any one of my many regular visits to play whack-a-mole with my owie-du-jour.

Q: How was your barefoot trail running going before your stress fracture last October?

A: Pretty darn good. Best in my 57-year existence.


Limping along with friend Gina at Irvine Park last week.

Lesson #4

Even when injured (that pesky lower right fibula stress fracture being the most recent and by far the worst so far), limping along on a trail barefoot is better than doing most anything with shoes on.

Q: Are you back to barefoot trail running again?

A: Yep. [Cue “Still Crazy After All These Years“] I continue to inter-web my brains out looking for the magic key to unlock they mystery of my chronic running/life aches and pains, and I continue to be fascinated by the connections of not only gait mechanics, but psychological/mind-body factors in chronic pain. (And I thank God I can trail run barefoot again!)


Lesson #5

Barefoot trail running can lead one down a slippery slope that has nothing to do with mud and everything to do with life changes inspired by discovering the power of shoelessness.

Q: What the heck does that mean?

A: I have let go of haircuts, sleeping-with-a-pillow, mouth-breathing, some-but-not-all carbs, etc.



Happiness is a barefoot foot-hug with grandkids at a waterfall in Big Sur.

Lesson #6

Smiling is unavoidable when trail running with a long braid.


My awesome (and no-longer-available) Merrill Pipidae Wrap sandals

Lesson #7

While I still wear sandals (the same ones I backpack in) to eat out, work, go to church, etc, it’s getting more and more difficult to keep them on once at table, desk, or pew.

Q: Why don’t you stop wearing footwear altogether, then?

A: After seven years, am I still hung up on “conventional wisdom” that says only crazy people go out and about in public without shoes? How fun is it to answer a question with a question?

A: Almost as fun as traveling trails with happy, free toes.


Happy Trails . . . seven times seven!

Happy Barefoot & Muddy Trail Runnin’ New Year!

January 1, 2017



To celebrate both my return to running (after suffering a lower right fibula stress fracture back in October) as well as all the fabulous end-of-year rain here in So Cal, I decided to film a sequel to “I Like Mud (and barefoot running)” (which has had 21,000+ YouTube views in the last three years . . . yikes . . .).

Here it is . . . a much-shorter version of the same plot: crazy old lady goes for a run in the mud and reverts to her childhood.

This time my hair looks a bit wilder, bringing to mind the good old CSN&Y song: “I wonder why/ I feel like letting my freak flag fly.”

But fly it did/does:


May mud (and other simple pleasures of God’s good creation) enrich your life in 2017!


Barefooted-ly Leaving 2016 in the Dust (or Mud)

December 29, 2016


My daughter and I had a fun Christmas Eve afternoon stroll around Irvine Regional Park, during which she used her photography super-powers to make my feet feel like celebrities:

And, of course, having a camera pointed in my direction definitely inspired me to show off–as much as my still-healing-stress-fractured-lower-right-fibula would allow:

It was a stellar day, all puffy clouds and chilly sunshine and 60-mile views of the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains:


(In case you missed it: Look! Snow!)


For weeks, I’ve been trying and trying to work up to more than a few seconds of easy jogging, but the pain keeps reminding me, “Wait! We’ve got a bit more healing to do!”

Sigh. Here’s me “pretending” to run. (None of the rocks were fooled.)


As the above photo shows (and all the above photos were by my talented daughter! Thanks!) the trails were luscious with damp dirt and vivid new growth–in Southern California the winter rains bring LIFE to the wild lands (inspiring a poem):

After December rain

a blessing of green
fringes the trail:
plump, glow, unfurl, leap–
all our damp feet
are glad for the springing
of chaparral winter
and the promise
of wild February

So the wildflowers are on their way . . . just like Scarlett O’Hara reminds us: “Tomorrow is another day.”

And my own personal “tomorrow” finally happened today: I was able to ascend the mile+ trail back to the top of Barham Ridge where the views of the Pacific Ocean were just as amazing as I remembered.


That is correct: on December 29, 2016, at 3:45 pm, I finally RAN (slowly) for many minutes! Up and down hills! In running shorts! (It was over 70 degrees today! How many exclamation points can we get away with here?!)


So that’s pretty much the end of my barefoot running in 2016; with two days of rain in the forecast, our county park trails will be closed again, and I’ll sulk around the house until my next (2017!) adventure in the wild Orange County foothills that are habitat and home to so much shoe-less life . . . including . . . you-know-who . . .


Happy New Year! Happy Trails!