Canyon Dream

Deep deep down

That canyon is still there

Beneath bayou mud

And autumn snow


Her river runs

Within my blood

To never reach

The sea


Salt Cedar

Cheat grass

And Vegas

Suck her dry


And I

May never

See her there



Now I only see

These weekend cowboys

Who’ve never seen a drive-way

Much less a drive


And fools who curse


In states

It has no land


This canyon runs

Deep within me

Beyond the hundredth

And far beyond your mind




photography from across America


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Trying out Zazzle

So, despite my love for my regular printer Joshua House Fine Art Photography

I am sadly not able to offer calendars so, I am now offering them via Joshua House Calendars

At this time I only intend to offer calendars on  Zazzle.

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Oregon Trail Card Game Thoughts

Many of us over the age of twenty-five began learning about the concept of Manifest Destiny playing the classic computer game “Oregon Trail” which went through numerous versions over the decades and innumerable operating systems that allowed players to travel west from Independence Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

With people developing an interest in the social aspect of board gaming and other table games, it was only a matter of time before someone purchased the license for Oregon Trail and brought it to the physical world.  Target, which is based out of Minnesota (as is the original publisher) has the exclusive rights to distribute the game and from what I’m told it has been sold out in parts of the country, but I was able to find a copy at my local Target here in Houston.

I’ve had the opportunity to play the game through twice, once with a group of children I work with and once with adults who are in the original games target market.  Both groups were able to finish the game (which is considered a success if only one player lives all the way to Oregon) but while the adults lost two players to character death the children were able to get the entire six-member party across the continent.

Game play itself is somewhat troublesome.  For one thing, the rules can be unclear, do you draw a new trail card at the end of your turn?  For another it is VERY random. Before I played the first game with the children I played a couple of simulated games in one of them one of the two hands I was running died nearly immediately.  Equally random is your supply situation.  It is entirely possible to set off from Independence with a player having only clean water for example.   As you likely remember, in the computer game you have the ability to purchase various supplies, while in the card game it is completely randomized, which when combined with the randomness of the calamity cards means that you may be losing party members left and right.  Another missing element is the risk of running out of food.  There are a limited number of cards that effect your food supply, but there is nowhere near the level of food stress that exists in the computer game.  Also missing is the opportunity to pilot a raft down the last portion of the trail that existed in some editions of the computer game, although that would be difficult to reproduce in this setting.


Playing this game with children caused me to have a lot of thoughts on gaming, how companies “rate” games, and America as a whole.  First of all, the children were all engaged throughout the game, which honestly feels it can potentially run a bit long.  They actively tried to keep all the other players alive throughout the journey.  Secondly, while they quickly agreed to allow the 10 and 11-year old’s to play, the 12-year old’s initially pointed out that the box clearly stated 12+.  I explained to them that part of the game was the concept of player death, and that the publishers had put the age there to protect children who might not deal with that well, and they then understood.  We also discussed cholera, which they found suitably disturbing as a way to die.

Games like Oregon Trail have in many ways been passed by in the 21st century.  For one thing computers of one sort and another have become so ingrained in our lives that the idea of children playing games on them at school (where most of us first played Oregon Trail) is kind of passé.   Another matter is the fact that many of today’s youth don’t have ties to western expansion.  Of the six people who played the game with the children, I was the only Anglo.  Educational games that reflect modern America are needed, from games that look at what was like to be an exoduster, what it is like, to being a refugee, or fairly reflecting a world where the world is often intentionally stacked against you.  Some would call these niche games, but so are many if not most games made for Android and iOS.  Hopefully the next generation of games will address these issues.


Posted in American Historic Sites, American History, board games, card games, Houston, park and recreation, social commentary, Social Justice, Texas | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reread this from 3 years ago

The blog I wrote about the injustice of the death of Trayvon Martin.  It should be re read again.

It’s been a week since the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, giving people a chance to actually think about it beyond their initial reactions that night, hopefully you’ve actually taken that time.

Now for a brief disclosure:  I’m white.  Now, many of you who read this know me and are thinking “No shit you’re white, you look like Opie if he’d grown up.” And many of the readers who don’t actually know me are thinking “No shit you’re white, you blog almost entirely about hiking, backpacking and photography.” But I thought I’d get that out of the way for those who are stumbling on the blog for the first time.

I spent most of Sunday either in church, resting, or wandering around on foot.  I wandered through an empty industrial park on foot going to and from the church and got passed by the sheriff’s deputy.  He didn’t bat an eye at a guy carrying a suit coat which he’s never seen before on foot in 95 degree heat in an empty industrial park.  Later that night, around twilight, I walked to a super market, and cut through the empty parking lot for a tech company that was rebuilding its structure.  There was a security guard there sitting in his AC cooled car.  I dropped off my DVD from Redbox, grabbed a Vitamin Water and a Payday and headed back to my hotel the way I’d come, with a bit of jay-walking thrown in.  As I was cutting across that parking lot the first time the irony of just what I was up to hit me.   Why exactly is it that I am allowed to cut across private property in strange neighborhoods while others can’t safely walk on public streets?  Remember, there was no legitimate evidence that Mr. Martin was committing a crime when Mr. Zimmerman first spotted him.  He was simply a person who was unknown in the neighborhood he happened to be in.

There are many injustices in the situation surrounding the death of Mr. Martin, the most obvious one being that he is dead.  But the injustice of his death, and all other injustices that stem from his death, come from one single injustice, that for young black men it is entirely possible to be completely within the law, and still get into a situation that leads to your death simply for being in the wrong place with the wrong person around.  Now I’m certain that someone will come along and cite various cases of black on white crime.  That’s not the issue here.  Even the verdict is not the issue here.  The issue is the fact that justice was not served from the moment Mr. Zimmerman chose to confront another person without legitimate cause.  And it was equally unserved the moment I entered that parking lot and was NOT confronted.  In a truly just world, all men are equal under the law.

Take the time to think about your life today.  Where are you going?  How are you getting there?  What do you have in your pockets?  Are your hands in plain sight?  Now think about why you may not ever have to have those thoughts in your mind.  Let us hope for a day when none of us need that worry.

Here I stand, I can do no other.

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Adirondack Weekend 4th of July 2011

Five years ago I was working in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State with the Department of Environmental Conservation as what was called a “back country steward”.  Essentially this meant that I spent my workweek in the forested mountains surrounding Lake George in the eastern Adirondacks.  Some parts of the Lake George Wild Forest have numerous visitors, especially on weekends, having fairly simple but worthwhile hikes and easily reachable car camping sites, the most obvious of these being Dacy Clearing Road area.  Other parts of the Wild Forest are rarely visited, even by other DEC staff.


The 4th of July Weekend took me to one of the off the beaten track portions of the Wild Forest.  In fact, from when I reached the trail head to when I returned to the house a group of us had rented I saw a single person over the four nights I was out there, and I only saw him as he canoed on a pond I was camping beside, we never spoke at all.


That weekend I came quite close to getting seriously hurt.  Now obviously if you’re camping alone in the forest there are some risks, but I also had a variety of tools for maintaining trails as well as some for measuring campsite impacts, and these tools included a pair of “loppers” basically very large pruning shears that are intended to punch through tree limbs that need removing.


Somehow, and I’ve wondered about it for years now, the blade broke off and flew within an inch or two of my left ear.  I could have been cut, or had it strike my eye, and then would have been SOL. Assuming I could get radio contact where I was it would have been quite a slog for EMS to reach me.  From the trail head the trail stopped being a lumber road after perhaps 500 to 1000 yards at the edge of the first of several beaver ponds and dams.  The day before I had broken the loppers I’d hiked in carrying my gear.  And like any reasonable person when the opportunity came to avoid having to wade through the pond by walking across the top of the dam I took advantage of it.  Such an opportunity wouldn’t really be there for an EMS crew, it being far too narrow to get a medical ATV across.  After that it would have been just a simple task of going up the trail and eventually finding me.  But still, not the best situation.

Photos below:


Broken Lopper Blade


Broken Lopper Blade


beaver lodge


Coffee anyone?  I actually cook with this same jetboil a few times a week still despite living indoors.


my pack with the day pack strapped to it’s back,, and the handles of the loppers sticking up.


Fog along the trail beside Long Pond

Aerial of Long Pond Aerial Of Long Pond in Horicon


Interested in buying any of my images of the Adirondacks, or at least looking at them?

Adirondack Art

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Lost in the Bells Part Seven

“Well, that was curious.” Philip Quan said looking up from his USFS issued radio.

Sarah, the most Masters level student from Quan’s team glanced towards him and then returned her eye to the spotting scope she was using to watch marmots two hundred meters away.

“What did you happen to overhear?  A weather report perhaps?”  Sarah was used to rain and the monsoon season, but the other students were still unfamiliar with such conditions, being from Vanderbilt, and not familiar with the late summer storms and was already tired of their whining about having gotten wet the night before.

“No, I could only hear half the conversation, and I suppose only part of that, but it sounded like there might be a helicopter coming.  I’m not really sure why.”

“Coming where?  Here?  You can’t land a helicopter here, it’s Wilderness, there’s not meant to be any motor vehicles used here, let alone a helicopter! “

“I get that.  And how do you propose to stop a helicopter from landing once it arrives?  If it even lands.  It can hover and strictly speaking not have entered the Wilderness.”

“Hey, Philip, Sarah, look over there away to the west, there’s smoke rising.”

“Hmmm, looks like it’s between Inmann Pond and the trailhead.  We’ll keep an eye on it and see if it increases any, meanwhile, back to the marmots.”

Philip made a note in the occurrence log that fire had been sighted, and thought to himself that perhaps that was what the helicopter was about.   Not coming to the mountain, but to drop water on the fire if it had to.  He knew that many fires would be starting in the next few weeks, and of those many would be allowed to take their natural course of action.  But with his team cut off from the trailhead he did worry about this one. Yet duty called, and that meant observing this marmot colony on Scruggs Peak.  In an hour or so he’d radio in and find out more about the fire, but the marmots would soon go into their dens and work needed doing until then.

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Lost in the Bells Part Six

“8034, I’m seeing a great deal of smoke coming off the fire between you and your trailhead.”

“I’m starting to see wisps of it myself.  This really doesn’t look good.  I’m going to be honest, I don’t know the current forest manager at all.  If a helicopter landed up in the alpine zone on Scruggs Peak how much would he lose his shit?”

“It’s big W Wilderness.  You know that.  He’d have hell to pay with every environmental group West of the 100th.  Why are you even asking that? Just who do you have with you if not the former president?

“I said Obama wasn’t with me.  I didn’t say I didn’t have a former president with me.  The First Dude is out here with a pair of secret service agents and twelve teenage boys from his foundation on the North Side of Chicago.”

“So basically you’re saying that if you get up on top of Scruggs Peak to avoid the fire you may call for a helicopter?”

“I’m saying that one may be sent either way.  It may not be legal, but it’s next to impossible to prevent.”

“Well, that’s true enough.  Anyway, if you’re beside Inmann Pond you’d better get them underway soon.  By the way, I was speaking to one of the naturalists earlier, he said that a cougar they’ve got a collar on is near there.”

“Yeah, just to make things more fun.  I saw it’s tracks earlier, and the agents spotted it just before sunrise using their night vision gear.  Seems to be letting them alone.  Where abouts is the naturalist?”

“Along the tree line on Scruggs Peak actually.  He’s up there working with some students looking at marmots.”

“How many students?”

“Four plus the naturalist, so that’s a party of five, plus your fifteen, and you of course for twenty-one.  So, who misses the ride out?”

“Do you even have to ask?”

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How I write Fiction

How I write fiction- Joshua House

I realize that all authors of fiction write it in different ways.  Many still write long hand and then have it transcribed, or transcribe it themselves.  Others write simply on a word processor, typewriter or computer.  Some plot out the entire story in their minds, while others allow it to flow out onto the page.

Where is this?

The fiction that I’ve written and posted on this blog has, with one exception been free to flow out as it is written.  For example, that’s why the current story is titled “Lost in the Bells”.  When it was started I intended to set it in the Maroon Bells -Snowmass region in Colorado, but in fact, I’ve never been there, and the setting has become a fictional region of mountains with no clear map.

Who is this President?

When I first had the idea for this short story I was picturing what it would be like to work with, well I wasn’t sure who.  You’ll notice that the person being guarded by the two Secret Service Agents isn’t a real political figure.  It’s not Bill Clinton, who when this is written (March and April 2016) stands a good chance of becoming the first man to be the spouse of the President of the United States.  Should Hillary Clinton become president he will define the roll for all future husbands of Presidents.  Nor is the fictional character a fictional Barack Obama, although a fictional Barack Obama is mentioned in this story.  While Bill Clinton may become the first “First Dude” President Obama will have the chance to redefine the life of a former President.  He will be a mere year older then George W. Bush was when he became president, and two years younger than Jimmy Carter was when he left the White House.  As a still relatively young man President Obama may well go backpacking with teens from the South Side, lecture at the University of Chicago, Stanford, Harvard, or any other university he chooses.  He could return to Hawaii and live on his family property on the north shore and surf for the rest of his life, or he could follow Jimmy Carter into humanitarianism.  The world is open to him, much as it was to Bill Clinton in 2001

I would be gratified to have the opportunity to serve either of these men as they define their respective potential future roles.

What is S.S.O.I.L.

The Social Security Office of Intentional Liens is a somewhat nonsensical system for saving Social Security where families sign over their real estate to the Federal Government in exchange for a comfortable retirement.  Obviously it has some flaws, otherwise I’d be running for office, but as a plot device it’s not bad.

Who is Dodd?

Dodd is a former USFS Forest Ranger who works with the fictional Barack Obama’s foundation and library in the South Side of Chicago.  Although an acquaintance of the former President, it is an employer-employee relationship.  Dodd’s wife, who is mentioned is also an employee of the presidential library.

Dodd is based on Rangers that I have known over the years, and is who I would like to be, a Ranger who gets the job done, ‘everyone goes home, safety begins with me’.

Dodd is of course named for “Rifleman Dodd” by C.S. Forester.

What is “Big W Wilderness”?

Believe it or not, Wilderness is a legally defined term.  Federal Wilderness are defined by the Wilderness  Act of 1964.  The Wilderness society has a good overview of their purpose and history here.  Wilderness Society overview of the concept of Wilderness

Will we see these characters again?

Perhaps.  There are certainly stories that could be told about both Dodd and former President Mulligan.

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Lost in the Bells Part Five

“So, here’s the situation from what Dodd has told me.  First of all, the cougar isn’t a major threat, it’s likely gone off searching for easier morsels.  As long as we keep our guard up and no one wanders off we should be ok as far as that goes.  He seems much more concerned about a fire that sprung up overnight from a lightning strike.  He said he’ll be back by 1030.”

“So we’re still not supposed to take down the tents?” Jones asked, looking at the tents and then scanning the horizon for the telltale plumes of smoke.

The former president, and now husband of the sitting president watched Jones as he scanned the horizon and realized that they might be in over their heads.

An independent moderate, he had made a fortune in the retirement industry, first in selling mutual funds and retirement plans, and then in a national chain of retirement communities.  It had been a good life, but he’d wanted more, he’d wanted to secure retirement for everyone, not simply wealthy clients, and so had his wife, a state representative in Wisconsin.  It was a strange life they’d led, her representing the extreme northern suburbs of Chicago in another state while he’d built an empire across the country all out of offices in Wrigley Ville.  Even though his official residence was there on Chicago’s north side, most weekends had been spent in Kenosha with his wife, while most of his week days had been spent in the back of a Lear Jet visiting communities around the country.

With the advent of boomer retirement his fortune, and his influence had blossomed like a carpet of wildflowers in the desert after the rain.  Something like 8% of the nation’s retirees either lived, or had investments with his companies and as in all past generations retirees made up a disproportionately large part of the electorate.  He had found the one way to guarantee Social Security for the Boomers and their children and grandchildren.  But it was controversial.  Very controversial in fact, to the point that he had to become a political candidate.  It wasn’t something he’d ever really wanted for himself, not in the way his wife had sought it out from the time they first met at the University of Chicago.  His political career had taken him directly to the White House, skipping the usual steps of Congress or a governorship.  But he had been a single term president.  Which was something he’d campaigned on.  He had run on a single plank, fixing and saving Social Security, and somehow won.  And they’d done it.  So he returned to the North Side of Chicago and begun the traditional foundation and library that somehow had become expected of former presidents in the last part of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.  He was fortunate in that he had his own fortune to use for it, and no one was filing FOIA suits every week to see where the donations were coming from.  But after all, his own company had been a major benefactor from the S.S.O.I.L. bill (Social Security Office of Intentional Liens) it having paid for the retirements of millions of baby boomers who otherwise might have worked nearly forever.

And now, to further his wife’s career as the first female president he was out in a forest in the mountains in Colorado, trying to look the part of a man’s man, leading a group of boys on a backpacking trip.

But his leadership was for appearances.  Dodd was the one really leading the trip.  And while he carried his own pack he wasn’t any more in charge then the 14 and 15 year olds around him. And now Dodd was away, and people were looking towards him, as if he knew what to do.

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Lost in the Bells Part 4

“Alright 8034, I’ve got four, no five smoke plumes visible.  You got any special reason you’re asking?”

“I’m on a VIP guide trip.  Where abouts are those fires?”

“Three of them are to the south-west of Rice Mountain Lookout, one is to my north east, and another away almost directly east of me.  You’re not out here with President Obama again are you?”

“No, a different group from Chicago, but no, they’re in Hawaii I think.  It’s not like we see each other every day or anything.”

“Still the only person I know who sees a president on a regular basis man.”

“Yeah I can see that.  Of course, you’re in a lookout so it’s like you get out much.”

“true that.  I’m seeing a lot of smoke coming off that fire away to my east.  Where abouts are you?”

“Two ridges to your east.  Sounds like the fire is between our camp site and the trail out.  I need to take care of something, talk to you in a few minutes.”

“Alright, you make, and I’ll talk to you in a few.  Got a spade up there with you?”

“yeah, but that’s not what I need to take care of.”

“if you say so.  Rice mountain out”

“8034 out.”

Flipping the sat phone open he checked for signal and then hit send.  After a couple of chirps, he heard Gonzalez on the other end of the line.

“So, I take it you were trying to warn us about the giant cat?”

“yes, so I take it you saw it?”

“Just briefly before it faded back into the forest, how worried should we be?”

“A bit.  Just keep everyone inside the tent circle for the moment and it will likely leave you alone.  There are other options around from its point of view.

“Options for what exactly?”

“Options to eat.  It’s probably off looking for mule deer by now.  They will eat people but not that often.  Anyway we’ve another concern as well.  It looks like the storm overnight started a fire between us and the trail head. We may be stuck.  If people aren’t up yet get them up, feed them, pack everything but the tents for the moment I’m going to stay up here for one last satellite cycle, get a better feel for the fire, and then head back.  I should be there by 1030. “

“Should I tell the First Dude about the fire?  He already knows about the cougar.”

“Inform him and the other adults.  Don’t let the boys know yet, there’s no need to panic them.”

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