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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 22,476

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Some recent photos from my current fire lookout .. enjoy!

Full moon night at Lemmon Rock (moon through the trees to the left of the lookout)

Moonrise in heavy drift smoke

Standing dead at dawn, with drift smoke and hawk

Moonrise over Lemmon Rock

On the Rock (I actually LIVE here!)

My Breakfast with the Champ: Muhammad Ali

It must have been December 7, 1970, because that was when Muhammad Ali fought Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena, at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. I was flying missions in Cambodia that day. The frag area was northwest of Pleiku, over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We had departed Cam Ranh Bay at 04:45 to be over the target area at 05:55 (the mission was called “The Triple Nickle”). We arrived at the TACAN initial point, the 306 degree radial for 55 nm off TACAN Channel 53 (Pleiku), on time. We were working electronic counter-warfare targets in Cambodia, near the infamous TBA (Tri Border Area), where Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia meet.

With a 12 hour time difference, I would assume that Ali and Bonavena were putting on their war faces for the night fight at the Garden as we lifted off from Cam Ranh Bay before dawn. It is also probably safe to assume that both boxers were a little nervous going into their big fight. I know that my crew and I were nervous as hell going into the fight over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Per our frag order, we came off the target in time to touch down at Pleiku at 10:00 am. The plan was to park in a protective revetment, re-fuel, and stay with the aircraft (which was loaded with top secret crypto gear) until our next mission into Cambodia started four hours later.

We taxied in, and were directed to a steel revetment at the base of the control tower. A tug waited for us, and positioned us in the revetment after the engines were shut down. As the engine noises ceased, I started to hear strange sounds coming from the control tower. Doing my post-flight walk-around inspection of the airplane, I realized the loud sound coming from the tower was a radio broadcast of a prize fight. AFVN Radio (Armed Forces Vietnam Radio, later of “Good Morning, Vietnam!” fame) was airing the Ali-Bonavena fight (and I still don’t know if it was live, or with a slight time delay).

We spread poncho liners out under and on the wings, broke out the box lunches and sodas, and had a tarmac picnic while listening to a fight half way around the world. If that sounds strange – and it was – stranger things were just a few fight rounds away. Ali had boasted that Bonavena was “Mine in Nine,” but I seem to recall that the fight went to 15 rounds (Ali won with a TKO). But another knockout was in our cards, in round five (IIRC), and we would not hear the end of the fight in Madison Square Garden.

The Pleiku Air Base control tower was built on pilings, and about 50 feet tall. With its catwalk around the tower cab, it looked like a classic US Forest Service L-4 fire lookout tower. There were four PA loudspeakers, one on each corner of the control tower. From these speakers the fight in NYC blared, at about 90+ decibels. Of interest too: the perimeter wire was not far at all from the control tower, and the perimeter guard towers were only manned at night.

Now, the Viet Cong (VC), about whom Ali famously said, “I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong,” generally worked nights, and – perhaps – slept during the day. I guess after five rounds of this strange 90+ dB noise coming from the AF control tower, several VC just had enough. They emerged from their spider holes just beyond the perimeter, and opened fire on the control tower with B-40 rockets.

I was on my poncho liner catching some rays when the first little finned rocket whooshed overhead and struck the tower. Followed quickly by at least a half dozen more. All scored direct hits. Left jabs. Shrapnel and glass rained down on us and on the aircraft. The tower staff evacuated down the steps (miraculously, no injuries to anyone). The tower was heavily damaged, and the prize fight was over, for us. One PA loudspeaker was smoking, and all four were silent.

Naturally, we went into defensive positions around our aircraft. But it was over before it even got started good. The VC disappeared, and US Army helicopter gunships and arty pulverized the already barren stretch just beyond the wire.

Almost three decades later, I had a chance to tell Muhammad Ali this story. It was over breakfast at the Ambassador West Hotel in downtown Chicago. It was in my airline pilot days, and our crew had a long layover in Chicago. One of the flight attendants was Ali’s niece (her mother was Ali’s sister). I had flown with Ali’s niece numerous times (we were both DCA based), and I had told her the story about the VC stopping the fight at Pleiku. She loved the story, and thought her uncle would really get a kick out of it.

So Muhammad Ali and his sister came to the hotel lobby in the morning, a couple of hours before our limo departure time for O’Hare Airport. I went down for breakfast, and was asked to join the three of them (I was in my airline uniform). Ali was soft spoken and engaging. We chatted a while, and when he got me really comfortable, I told him my VC story (I think his niece had told him about the story, and I think he was eager to hear it from me).

Well, he loved the story and he coaxed additional details from me. He made it fun to tell the story, and we both relished its absurdities. I ended by saying, ”Champ, you said ‘I ain’t got no quarrel with no Vietcong,’ but I think on that big fight night in New York City, the VC in Pleiku had a quarrel with you. The VC scored a knockout in round five.”

Wilderness of Rocks
June 4, 2016

Looking for the Florida DUer who helped Faulkner build his sailboat, the Ringdove.

IIRC, said DUer was a professor at a college in the Florida Panhandle. He posted me this about 10 years ago on DU:

"In the Summer of 1956, while I was a student at Ole Miss, my brother and I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Faulkner on the restoration of his sail boat, "The Ringdove". The project lasted about two summer months. We did the work in the yard of "Rowan Oak".

He was a soft spoken, courteous gentleman. During the many hours of work with him, I don't recall any conversation about literature or art. For the most part, we discussed the boat project. I do remember that on one occasion, my brother and I, who were jazz musicians, were discussing the fact that we had to run by our homes and "pick up our axes for a gig we were playing that night". He was curious to know what the terms "axe" and "gig" meant. We explained that "axe" meant musical instrument and that a "gig" was a dance or party job for which we provided the music. He immediately related the tie in between "gig" and the French dance form "Gigue". Subsequently, he remained interested in every jazz slang word that we used.

When the boat was ready, we towed it to Sardis Reservoir for the first test run. His daughter Jill, her husband Paul, Mr. Faulkner, my brother and I piled into Paul's jeep for the slow tow job to the lake. As we were launching the boat near the mouth of the Tobi Tubby Creek, we met an old black man. As Mr. Faulkner was conversing with him, I heard the old man ask Faulkner, "Ain't you the one that wrote the book"? Personally, I've often wondered how he knew that bit of information.

Shortly after that summer, Mr. Faulkner began spending time in Virginia. We rarely saw him in Oxford. However, I do recall the last time I saw him. He was entering Grundy's Cafe and saw me across the street. He stopped and sort of shouted across the street, "How is your brother"?"

Like to talk more about this!


BTW: DU people are the most interesting people in the world. Period. Can't make this shit up.

Faulkner's Barn at Rowan Oak

Photo links (click and be happy)



Native Watercraft Slayer Propel 10 Test Drive

1. The pedal propulsion system is awesome. I achieved some good boatspeed on a small mountain lake on Caesar's Head. The direct-drive allows instant reversal. Mechanism kicks up when shallow water is encountered (or can be totally retracted with ease). The two-bladed plastic prop is big, with an easily accessible sheer pin.

2. I loved the left-hand rudder steering tiller. Reminded me of a Boeing jet!

3. The Slayer 10 is stable enough to stand up and cast a fly rod, with care. But it ain't a beamy Boston Whaler!

4. A tripod fits fine just in front of the seat, without the pedal-system installed (see CONS).

5. The high seat is a fantastic improvement (for my back) over my Folbot kayaks'. This alone is why I am considering this class of kayaks.

6. The Slayer 10 paddles very well, with a very long paddle (because of the boat's beam). My longest paddle was a good 6" longer than anything Sunrift Outfitters had available for their demo kayak fleet. Turns on a dime, yet tracks well with the rudder centered.

1. With the pedal propulsion drive installed, there is very little room for anything in this 10' kayak. The only storage is behind the seat, and that is hard to access underway. There are optional accessories (like rod holders) that address this problem to a degree.

2. The pedal drive mechanism is a pain when stripping off fly line (line catches). But I think a beach towel thrown over the exposed drive would take care of that.

3. Native Watercraft claims a fitted weight of 57 pounds. When pigs fly! I am used to a true weight of 38 pounds in my Folbot Aleut. However, the Slayer 10 was manageable solo. And with my Hully-Rollers back on the Rack-N-Roll trailer (they are down in Greenville, where they don't belong) it will be much easier.

4. Pricey! You pedal, you pay.

I'm giving this kayak a 8.0 (out of 10) for fishing, and a 6.5 for photography. The Slayer 13' appears to have the same "space" problem up front, and (I am told) the 13-footers' higher aspect ratio makes it a bit less stable for stand-up casting (which would be expected).

I return the Slayer 10 to Sunrift tomorrow, and pick up the Wilderness Systems ATAK140 (14'). The ATAK140 is longer and heavier than the Native Watercraft, and it does not yet have propulsion other than paddle (or an umbrella as a sail, which I often use in my Folbot!). But it is roomy, and an electric motor option is in the works. Plus, it is built right here in Greenville, SC!

Three of my favorites ..

Death Valley, CA

Apalachicola, FL

Mogollon, NM

Three for thee

Mogollon, NM

Apalachicola, FL

Death Valley, CA

White Sands/Chihuahuan Desert: A Photo Memoriam (PHOTO HEAVY)

I last hiked the Alkali Flats "trail" into the White Sands National Monument dunes late in the day on July 12, 2015. I carried two cameras, a tripod, lots of water, a Sylvan Ranger compass and a map. Shadows were long with the sun low in the west, and outflow from some distant monsoonal thunderstorms cooled the Chihuahuan Desert. I have been on the Alkali Flats Trail before, either early morning or late afternoon (and usually in a cooler month than July or August).
I always count "trail" markers, and then - usually - turn due south by the compass and count paces (as best I can in the soft sand), until I find a good spot to shoot the sunrise or sunset. Hiking back by compass puts me right on the trail markers (there is no well defined trail in the constantly sifting sand).
The man and woman from France who died at White Sands a few days ago were hiking near the Alkali Flats Trail, very close to where I hiked last month. It is a sad story that well illustrates the dangers of the desert (as did the death of British actor David Legeno - "Harry Potter" - at Death Valley, California, in July 2014).
I post some of my White Sands collection (all photos I have taken between 2012 and 2015) in their memory. Good people doing what they thought was a good thing. In the desert, one just cannot be too careful.

Fire Season 2015 in Photos (Part 1)

My Arizona fire season ends on 7/24. Here are the first of several groups of photos from this 2015 Fire Season.

Fire Season 2015 winds down as monsoon flexes muscles. I scramble for photo ops.

My boss told me today that we close the lookout on July 24. Tentatively. But with the rains we are getting, most likely. I am way behind on my "photo-quoto." But today was good. The hawks must have heard my lament. They showed up at the lookout early, and played all morning. The monsoonal sunrise was great. As was sunset during a storm.

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