“It was lit up like a PRIDE event yet it felt like Christmas”


Strolling through the rainbow lit town of Prescott, I wondered what local event had generated such community support.


I’d been so focused preparing for this trip that I had forgotten it was the month of December, it was officially Santa season. The downtown colored lights made two lesbians feel very welcomed, even the religious Santa was happy to see us. Santa’s wife Mrs. Clause, or perhaps Mrs. Cause, as her motives were faith-based, was very excited and willing to take our picture with her husband.


I really don’t remember the last time I had my photo taken with Santa. As a kid, I always felt rather silly having my photo taken with a fat bearded man who somehow became the face of Jesus’s birthday. Could Santa have been one of the wise men? The wise men traveled far and wide in order to bring gifts to Jesus, as did Santa with me as a child.

Easter was even more confusing for me. Imagine praying to a hanging dead man on your church wall, only to commemorate his death with a white rabbit delivering chocolate eggs. I vividly remember asking my catholic church Sunday school teacher if rabbits were present at Jesus’s crucifixion. Her answer was not helpful to a curious mind. Shaming instead of explaining seemed to be the conditioned authoritative response when it came to my endless questioning about the church. I would later learn from a fellow student that the rabbits and eggs were symbolic of “new life”. My uncle hunted rabbits on his farm, did this mean he was anti-Christ?

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Mrs Clause made sure we did not leave Prescott empty-handed. With a religious brochure titled “The Real Santa” in one hand and a bag of gold coin chocolates in the other, Clarissa and I left the town square with a lasting impression of Prescott.


Prescott for me is a town with a strong sense of community. Residents seemed mindful of others and there was no sense of impatience or tension due to crowd gathering in the town square. After having spent the past nine months in a remote outpost town, Prescott was rather harmonious, my dream urban reintegration experience.


As we headed out to Seligman, I felt grateful that Clarissa’s flight had been redirected to Prescott. The few hours we spent wandering around town made me feel less awkward. I was still recovering from the reality that I was incapable of greeting her with eye contact at the airport. Even more embarrassing, she noticed and mirrored it back to me.

Imagine driving and internally celebrating the fact you can now look at the perfect stranger for a few sacred seconds?

Would you feel exposed and somewhat naked knowing your co-pilot is a body language expert?

For the next eight days, your middle name is “Busted”, and you simply don’t care.

Every head bow, smirk, smile, and body position will be noted and cataloged for future reference in the vault, more commonly known as the perfect stranger’s brain.


As we pulled into Stagecoach Hotel 66, I realized we spent the entire drive bonding through music. I have always felt one should play to their strengths when feeling vulnerable. My strength has always been music. Sometimes one can find comfort rapping and entertaining your co-pilot to House Of Pain’s, “Jump Around”. So here’s to two women, car karaoke, and the feeling of being naked while fully clothed.



Hotel check-ins and registrations are either very formal or rather funny. Forced formalities in chain motels feel very fake to me hence why I appreciate the personality and down to earthness of family owned lodges. On this rainy registration night, our experience was funny, informal, and rather entertaining. Imagine two giggling women doing Belinda Carlisle impressions as the poor male attendant tried to process our check in.


There was instant laughter from the peanut gallery when the attendant asked if we wanted to upgrade to a themed room. Prior to our arrival Clarissa and I had both insisted upon pre-booking a non-themed, non-smoking room, that offered two beds. The Stagecoach 66 website had given us the impression that themed rooms housed only one bed. Did the attendant pick up on our chemistry or was he just hopeful that perhaps he was checking in two playful lesbians? In honor of Heath and Jake, we upgraded to the “Brokeback Suite” as it accommodated us with two beds.



For the next three hours, we went through the Perfect Strangers gear and prepared her pack.

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Since the early planning of this trip, Clarissa had referred to me as her Sherpa, primarily because I had given her clothing and gear requirements. The word proud comes to mind when Clarissa unzipped her pack and revealed all her new adventure wear.


The Perfect Stranger had made sure she obtained everything on the list. From this day forth Clarissa would be a poster child for Columbia’s Omni-Heat line, not to mention we were now both Keen hiking boot twins.



As the rain continued to pour outside, I reminded us both we could be looking at a snowy drive in the morning. We were both excited about possible snow, yet both knew the weather could be a game changer.


When a facebook friend messages you and asks “Do you have any adventure trips coming up” and you say YES!

For almost twenty years it’s been a dream of mine to backpack Havasupai Falls. As a kid, I remember seeing photos of a sacred place that the Supai believed was the birthplace of the human race.


In mid-October, I started to plan my solo hike and was rather adamant that this adventure would be just mine. I felt this decision was rather cemented in my soul until I received a Facebook message from an acquaintance asking if I had any upcoming adventure trips. Indeed, I did have an adventure coming up, and surprisingly enough I found myself inviting them to join me.


Have you ever agreed to share an eight day adventure into the unknown with an online friend?

Would you be willing to share a tent, camp in a car, and split a hotel room with somewhat of a stranger?

What if after one day in the car, you found no commonality with your Facebook friend?

Would you bail on the trip or be committed to making it a fun experience?

These are of few of the questions my friends asked me when I told them I had invited a Facebook friend to join me on an eight day adventure in Arizona.


For some, entertaining the unknown can be rather terrifying. The unknown can elicit feelings of fear, the entertaining of the dreaded “what if’s”, and at times can turn a spontaneous internal YES into a paralyzing public NO. Call me weird; however, I tend to find comfort in the unknown. I have come to realize control is more an illusion than a reality. In the past when I tried to control a situation or experience, I felt I spent more time trying to maintain my comfort zone as opposed to venturing out of it. These days showing up, being present, and honoring a willingness to entertain and explore the unknown, has led to some life changing experiences. Little did I know, this adventure into the unknown would be heart altering and life transforming.


On a cold foggy morning, I found myself driving through the calm and quietness of Vermilion Cliffs, while my new adventure buddy was prepping to board her flight to Kingman.

In preparation for our adventure, the Perfect Stranger had outfitted herself with all the necessary cold weather gear and outdoor clothing; but how does one prepare to spend 24/7 with the unknown? Is this blind faith or perhaps the true definition of living: assume nothing and experience everything.


Following Interstate 40 to Seligman, Arizona, I exited onto the longest continuous stretch of  Route 66 in the U.S.A.


Route 66, Arizona’s Main Street of America, has long celebrated Mom & Pop businesses, family-run restaurants, and trading posts. Undoubtedly, Interstate 40 is far more time efficient; however, if you appreciate rural, unique and eclectic experiences, then Route 66 is a must drive!


Seligman first gained its name as the “Birthplace of Historic Route 66” in 1987.


Known as the “Father of the Mother Road”, Seligman resident Angel Delgadillo was the man responsible for convincing the State of Arizona to dedicate Route 66 as a historic highway.


With the opening of Interstate 40, Route 66 was delisted from the United States Highway system in 1985. How could this once important stretch of highway become an unwanted ghost town road?


Thirty years after the historic highway dedication, I found myself enjoying some roadside art on the outskirts of Seligman.


“ Do Stupid Things Faster ”, the sign read. It reminded me of something an Aussie would say. I started to wonder if any Australians lived in town. It seems no matter where I travel, regardless of the location, I can always find an Australian, an Aussie influence, or a permanent mark left by a visiting Australian tourist.


It would be my lunch time visit to “Road Kill Café” that confirmed my observations about the influence of Aussies abroad. While the waitress confirmed that no Australians lived in Seligman, she did point to the tourist memorabilia wall.


And there you have it!


As the dark afternoon clouds came rolling in my morning weather concerns became a reality. The storm coming in from California had hit Arizona sooner than expected. Clarissa’s flight had been canceled.


With a pending 90 minute drive to Prescott Airport, I headed back out onto the open road. Today was going to be a longer day than expected. The original plan of meeting in Kingman and driving an hour back to our hotel in Seligman had now become a Route 66 boomerang experience.



I arrived at the very quaint Prescott Airport 30 minutes prior to the perfect stranger’s tarmac touchdown.


I feel the charm of rural airports lies in their simplicity. Simplicity in their architecture, their proximity to town, ease of parking, and let’s not forget traffic free.


As I waited for Clarissa to disembark from the plane I started to wonder what the next 24 hours would bring. It was 5pm, and we still had to drive back to our Seligman hotel and prepare our backpacks for Havasupai. Mother nature’s mood had already altered our plans for today, and with expected overnight snow storms I knew we would both have to be flexible in our trip planning. Communication was going to be crucial, yet I was not concerned or worried.


What was rather concerning though was my shyness and inability to maintain eye contact with my new adventure buddy. What was that about? I think Walter Egan’s song, “For You are a Magnet and I am Steel” sums it up best. I felt drawn to someone I barely knew.

Our twenty-minute drive into downtown Prescott, followed by a ten-minute walk to dinner, confirmed one feeling I could identify, she felt familiar.


“I’m not a people person, but if you get a thousand people coming by to say howdy and shake your hand…. it changes you. It changed me. I’m a much better person than I was.”  Elmer Long

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Desert people and those living in rural communities are some of the most creative and resourceful people I know. Some may say they are making something out of nothing; however, I feel they are creating something out of everything.

Desert visionaries tend to be very humble and simplistic in nature. For some, their survival and livelihood are dependent on creating and inventing, while for others pursuing their passion has evolved into an art form. While some desert visionaries remain visibly invisible to mainstream society, they are undoubtedly a part of modern-day Americana.

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I have been blessed to meet a few desert visionaries over the years. Ten years ago, I spent time with a former cattle rancher in Mina, Nevada who decided to farm fresh water lobsters from Australia.

How does a former cattle rancher start farming freshwater Aussie lobsters?

Sea Base in Utah, stemmed from a woman’s need to dive and snorkel year round. Imagine purchasing land with geothermal properties and creating Olympic sized pools filled with tropical marine life.

Leonard from Salvation Mountain was another visionary artist I was blessed to meet.

Leonard sadly passed away this year; however, his work and vision have become a precious part of California’s desert- scape. Recently I heard about another desert visionary, Elmer Long. For decades, Elmer has collected glass bottles and made trees out of them. This forest of bottle trees can be found at Elmer’s home, Bottle Tree Ranch.

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My curious George side wanted to ask Elmer how did this happen? How does one decide to create a bottle tree forest in the desert? As tempting as it may be to ask Elmer ‘why’, I know that asking someone ‘why’ sounds more like a demand to defend or explain one’s actions and decisions. Sometimes I feel art needs no explanation, as everyone interprets art differently. Perhaps that’s the beauty of art: it just is! I decided if I was fortunate enough to meet Elmer I planned on asking him “how did this happen”.

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As I entered Elmer’s property, I wondered how many other artists around the country maintain a 24-hour open door policy. Elmer’s gate is never closed! Even when Elmer is not home he embraces and welcomes visitors to his ranch. He averages over a thousand visitors a month. Both domestic and international travelers make the pilgrimage along Route 66 to honor the artist and his body of work.

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Shadow and I wandered around Bottle Tree Ranch mesmerized by the colorful bottles catching the desert rays.

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As we headed towards the back of the property I could hear a man’s voice talking shop about bottles. It had to be Elmer, I was hoping it was Elmer, it was Elmer.


Elmer told me I was lucky to find him as he had not been around much lately. He was more than happy to give me a tour of his ranch and share stories about his life experiences.

Elmer grew up in Manhattan Beach and was raised with babysitters for the first few years of his life. One of his former nannies was from Texas, hence the presence of a slight Texan accent. His father also named Elmer, was an aviation engineer who loved the desert and its undiscovered treasures. Elmer’s dad would spend hours at the library researching the Mojave Desert’s ghost towns and mining camps. With a metal detector in hand, both father and son would head out to the desert unearthing antiques and modern machine made trash.

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“When it came to bottles my father was all about the search, hunt, digging, unearthing and researching the prize find” said Elmer. At the age of 17, Elmer joined the Marines, serving in both Vietnam and Hawaii. Upon leaving the military he decided he never wanted to pay rent.

Elmer moved to the desert in 1968 after landing a job at a cement plant. Fulfilling his self-promise of never paying rent Elmer lived in his Volkswagen van for two years. During the desert winters, Elmer would rent a room for $35 a month, which included utilities.

“If you want to get ahead you have to put your turkey neck across the block once in while and take a chance” said Elmer.

When Elmer bought his ranch he boycotted all utilities by installing a water pumping windmill for his well and installed 28 solar panels for electricity. These days he is connected to electricity; however, he admits he lived off solar panels for years. “I try to live under the wire so I do not show up on radar” says Elmer.

As Elmer continued his personal tour around the ranch I asked if there was a Mrs. Long. Elmer has been married to his wife Linda for over 40 years. Together they raised three sons who now live in the city. Elmer told me that his wife spends most of her time at their other home in Crestline, California. He bragged about his wife’s love of reading. He admitted he makes it very difficult for his wife to read as he was always teasing her.

For Elmer, it’s not just about the collection of bottles, family mementos, and Americana, it’s also the stories that go with them.

Elmer’s latest project is a chicken coop he is building on his property.

After Elmer’s father passed away, Elmer inherited his father’s collection of bottles and Americana. What does one do with such a collection? In 2000, Elmer turned an idea into an art form, building his first bottle tree. Today there are over 200 bottle trees, creating a permanent desert forest of Americana.

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According to Elmer, building bottle trees has changed him. By his own account, Elmer once considered himself judgmental of people, easy to anger, and a man who settled scores. These days Elmer feels free of any feelings of confrontation.

For me, Elmer is a living message outside the bottle.