Thursday, December 20, 2018

~ Wild Botswana ~

"All good things are wild and free" ~  Henry David Thoreau.   


Photo by Denise Griego.

I never expected in my lifetime to return for the third time.  Forty-three years ago, I was in Botswana, Africa.  Destiny does have a say in life.

“Would you go back to Botswana with me?  I want to go there, but not by myself.  It will be my 40th birthday and that’s what I really, really want to do.”  Her words came at me in rapid-fire, offering little time for me to respond in any way other than, “Yes.”  It's hard to say no to your daughter.

Botswana again.  My mind races with delight.  Soon, we began to plan for this adventure back in time.  I say that because once you are in wild Botswana, time slows down, crawls, and yet moments are crystal clear.

Honestly, I don't know if it's today, yesterday, or if I'm dreaming.  Photo by Denise Griego.

I think about that first trip to Botswana years ago.  I was maybe 25 or 26 years.  As our airplane landed on the small air-strip in Gaborone, I thought “What have I done. I’ve brought my wife and 1 ½-year-old son here to Africa.”  Despite my initial fears, we would live here for two years, make long-lasting friends, and fall in love with Botswana.  [see Wild Botswana, part 1 and Wild Botswana, part II].

I worked for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks while taking a leave of absence from the National Park Service.  Our international team came here to help Botswana with the development and protection of its national parks, pristine lands, and precious life in the Okavango Delta.  The rains falling months earlier in Angola reach the thirsty Okavango Delta.  It is said that the Okavango Delta can be seen from space.  My own view of a bush plane was incredible.

We would live in Gaborone, the nation’s capital but we made frequent trips into the “bush.”  Then, the pavement ended just twenty miles outside of the city limits.  The dirt roads were sandy and full of “wash-boards.”  I remember on one of our outings, just 30 miles outside of the city limits, the Land Rover that I was driving straddled a cobra on the track.  In my rearview mirror, I could see its head swaying back-and-forth, three feet off the ground, and while unhurt, it was clearly agitated.


View of the Okavango Delta from our bush plane.

Years ago, we traveled over 600 miles from Gaborone into the bush of northern Botswana.  It took weeks.  We carried camping supplies, water, and six five-gallon drums of petrol on top of our Land Rover.  It was an adventure full of danger, yet I never felt afraid.  I remember getting stuck in a 5-ton Bedford under the hot sun in the Kalahari Desert, chased by baboons on a picnic with Denise and Keith narrowly escaped a charging hippo at Savute Channel and outrunning a bull elephant on a motorcycle on a trip to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

That’s what I’m thinking as I pack, and more importantly how our daughter Lori, will see Botswana.  It will be her 40th birthday and this trip will be memorable.  I know that she will love it.  I plan to watch her watching wildness. 

Me, I'm thinking about the Okavango Delta and the life it brings.  In 1975, there were about 17,000 elephants in Botswana.  Today, I’m told that there are about 140,000 elephants.  I love these massive animals and how quietly they walk, how they play in the river, and the compassion they display for each other.

In the back of my mind, however, is the vivid image of that bull elephant that charged Denise and me on a Honda 250cc motorcycle. We narrowly escaped with our lives. Our 1 1/2-year-old son stayed behind in Kasane with our good friend Jerry Neville, a UN Volunteer from Australia.  You never really forget an incident like that.  It's ingrained in memory.  All wildlife deserves respect and admiration.  Thank goodness, we were young when that bull elephant charged.  If it had turned bad, our son Keith would have been raised by Jerry.  No doubt.  He was a kind man and helped Chobe National Park grow.

This trip, however, is not on a motorcycle.  Relax I tell myself.  To see Botswana through the eyes of our daughter is the moment.  We would be part of an organized group operated by Road Scholar.  We would soon meet our leader and the others in Johannesburg, South Africa.  In the morning, we board a plane to begin an epic adventure into wild Botswana.

We met as strangers, we left as friends.  The magic begins.

Our group, Chobe National Park.

Lori wanted a picture of hugging a tree.
This massive Baobab worked.  Picture by Sally Galvan.

Elephants on the Chobe River, the magic begins.

Elephants are so protective of the young.  Photo by Denise Griego.

I need to end with meaningful words. Yesterday as I began to write this story, Lori posted on Instagram a picture of elephants playing in the Chobe River.  Her words touched us.  She captured her feelings about Botswana, and as parents, those words brought us to tears:

"Take me back.  Let me stare into an elephants’ eyes and feel it’s soul.  Let me laugh with the baboons and admire the zebras.  Let me be in awe of the giraffes and hold my breath watching the lions.  Take me back, a piece of my heart is in Botswana."                                                                                                                                      Lori Jimenez

Lori, you have often said that it's the journey and the moments in life that count. Your wish was to travel to Botswana for your 40th birthday. You did it. Relish those moments. They will be with you forever.

Even a dragonfly relishes the water of the Okavango Delta. Photo by Denise Griego.

Those eyes looked right through us. Photo by Denise Griego.

We were here 43 years ago - Gubatsa Hills, ancient San rock paintings.
That image, taken 43 years ago, is on my cell phone.  Our son, Keith was 2 years old at the time.

Now, our family has seen these rock paintings.

Beautiful mom and daughter.

Dad and beautiful daughter.

Bob, Lori, Denise -  Savute Channel. Photo by Sally Galvan.

Lori, Chobe Game Lodge.

Celebrating Lori's 40th birthday with a homemade cake
at Leroo La Tau Lodge along the Boteti River in Botswana. 

 ~ Dreams do come true ~

When I asked what are you looking at? she replied "Africa."

The magic remains -  I see it, I feel it, I smell it. Will I ever return?
As our group leader, Keith said, "Never say never."

Monday, December 3, 2018

~ The Nation's Christmas Tree ~

The article The Nation's Christmas Tree" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 12/06/2017.

Reflecting back on my last National Park Service assignment, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park were managed as one giant park with a huge Sierra heart.  After all, these parks have two of the largest living trees in the world.  The largest sequoia tree resides in Sequoia National Park and that is special.  However, Kings Canyon National Park has the honor of having the Nation’s Christmas Tree and that is where this story begins.  I don’t have a current picture of the General Grant Tree, so that is my rationale for this impromptu motorcycle trip.
The weather is mild so I decide to ride my motorcycle from Three Rivers (elevation 900 feet) to Grant Grove (elevation 6,300 feet) in Kings Canyon National Park.  The weather in the Sierra Nevada range can change abruptly so this mild weather is my opportunity to visit this iconic sequoia tree to celebrate, a bit early, our Nation’s Shrine.
The General Grant Tree, in Kings Canyon National Park, was dedicated in April 1926 as the National Christmas Tree.  The General Grant Tree was made a national shrine to honor the nation’s fallen military.  National Park Service officials, the Sanger Chamber of Commerce, and the Fresno International Guard 144 Fighter wing will place a wreath at the base of the massive tree on December 10.
The Nation’s Christmas Tree was named after Ulysses S. Grant in 1867.  The General Grant Tree reaches upward to 267 feet tall and is nearly 29 feet in diameter.  This giant sequoia is second in size only to the General Sherman Tree which is located in Sequoia National Park and is the world’s largest tree, measured by volume.  The General Sherman Tree stands 275 feet tall and is over 36 feet in diameter at the base.  These giant sequoias were here some 2,000 years ago.
In April 1925, President Calvin Coolidge designated the General Grant Tree as the Nation’s Christmas Tree for all to enjoy.  In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the tree a memorial, calling it a “National Shrine” to the men and women of the armed forces who served, fought and gave their lives for our freedom.

Park officials have said that entrance fees to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks will be free to those wishing to experience the celebration.  Find your park online, or for suggestions, check out my series “In Pursuit of Wildness,” about exploring America’s national parks.
My trip home can only be described as “ice cold” as a wet fog covers the top of the big trees along the Generals Highway at about 7,600 feet with patches of snow.  When I arrive home well after dark, my wife has a cozy fire burning in the fireplace and simply asks, “Did you get your picture?”

Text and photography: Robert Griego

Saturday, October 13, 2018

~ Sí Se Puede ~

"We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.” ~ Dakota saying.

Leaving Three Rivers, California at sunrise for Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

The hot desert sun beats down near Mojave, California as I push forward towards the cool Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  My first day is always a long one and this trip is no different.

“Just beyond Mesquite, Nevada as you leave the Narrows, there is a small BLM campground next to the Virgin River,” my brother Leo describes.  He has been almost everywhere and I listen carefully to his words.

I love Utah and its scenic views.

It's been a long first day, and the Virgin Canyon Campground is there as he described. I set up my hammock, and skip a fire, as the bright moon beckons to be my companion tonight. It is a quiet, peaceful place. I love to think about life at moments like this.  Where did we come from, where do we go….no answers? It is only now. Moments. The moon disappears behind some massive mountains and the stars take their place. I find the Big Dipper and my finger draws a straight line to the North Star.

The adventure before me is daunting. My figures cross the map easily but it's still a long road to Rocky Mountain National Park. OK, doing the math, that’s still another 800 miles. I try hard not to count days or miles, but this trip has a deadline.  

On September 23, 2018, my brother Leo is retiring as a Detective after 46 years from the Barstow Police Department. “OK, be calm,” I tell myself. “You have 13 days to see Rocky Mountain National Park, drop into New Mexico to attend the La Joya Fiestas, cross Arizona, and then full-throttle, hot-and-fast for Barstow where his retirement party will be held.”

Honestly, I don’t think I’ll make it as I fall warily asleep after my first long day.

Spotted Wolf View Area in Utah.

The scenery in Utah slows me down considerably.  At a view, the area called the Spotted Wolf, a young man is looking over my motorcycle.  It is windy and his hair blows freely. I think he is startled by my question. “Do you want a picture sitting on my motorcycle?” The grin on his face is his answer. 

I love talking with people who gravitate to my motorcycle.  They want to connect with the adventure, and when they hear about the miles it will take, they smile and dream. Nothing wrong with dreaming.

He smiled broadly when I asked, "Do you want a picture sitting on my motorcycle?"

The mild weather across Utah pushes me past Green River towards Grand Junction, Colorado.  We have a friend who I worked with at Pinnacles National Monument that lives there.  I find their house but they are not home.  I leave a brief note, “Hi Greg, stopped by on my way to Rocky Mountain National Park, perhaps I’ll see you on another trip. Bob.”

I’m taking some backroads now, heading north on Highway 131 a few miles past Rifle, Colorado.  At a rest stop, I look over my map.  An older gentleman comes up asking, “Can I sit and have some of your shade to eat my sandwich?”  Absolutely, I reply.  His little dog sits down next to him.  

“I’m heading north on Highway 131 and then Highway 1 on the Trough Road.  Have you ever been on that road?” I ask.  “I’ve traveled that route many times.  Is that your motorcycle, pointing to my bike?" As he and his little dog walk away, he stops and says, "It is high up there and you'll need your oxygen mask." 

OK, now that grabbed my attention.  The mountains were high and the Quaking Aspen colorfully lit up the hillsides.  

I hope to camp tonight at the Timber Creek Campground on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.  A traffic accident has closed down the highway west of Kremmling and has me concerned as I was hoping to grab a campsite before dark.  This high elevation ride is smooth and I did not need my oxygen mask.  There are three sites left at the Timber Creek Campground and I feel lucky to get one arriving shortly before dark. 

Heading for the Rocky Mountains.

“Thanks for flying the American flag,” she says as her small dog carefully looks over my motorcycle.  I respond wearily, “Thanks, something that I do.”  

A few minutes later just before dark, she and her husband return each with a bundle of firewood. “It’s late, we know, but we wanted you to have a cozy fire,” she says.  The fire, that I did not expect, warmed my body and soul by the kindness of strangers.  In the morning, I thank them again for the firewood.  I explain that I’m here to write a story for RoadRUNNER Motorcycle and Touring &Travel magazine.  They are eager to read about it so I give them my business card. I tell them, “That we lived at Estes Park for nearly seven years where I worked for Rocky Mountain National Park.”

I worked 6 1/2 years at Rocky Mountain National Park.

So in fairness to them and other readers, this is just a glimpse into that article. Trail Ridge Road, reaching 12,183 feet, has some of the world’s most spectacular high alpine views.

The Quaking Aspen color the landscape.

The weather through the Rocky Mountains is mild but that will change as I cross into New Mexico.  The dark sky ahead of me looks forbidding.  Raindrops begin to hit my windshield and I fear that the storm will intensify.  Just like that, there is a road sign pointing to a Rest Stop along Highway 25 offering refuge.  The wind has now grown stronger and huge lightning bolts zig-zag across the sky.  My rain gear is always easily accessible and I begin to put on my gaiters, rain pants, and jacket.

That’s when I see a trucker get down from his 18-wheel big rig.  “You’re not going to ride into that storm are you?” He asks.  I nod, and he shakes his head. “Well, you will hit some fierce winds and buckets of rains.” With all my rain gear on, I enter the highway into the eye of the storm.  While I caught wind and rain, it was not that intense.  It was black all around me, and somehow I think, I was in the eye of the storm where it was calm. How lucky was that?

I'm on a Rocky Mountain high.

Riding Trail Ridge Road.

Saw these cool bikers coming towards me on Trail Ridge Road. 
I would later meet these French bikers at a pull-out.

So cool seeing these French riders on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I explained to these French bikers who were touring the United States, that I took their picture earlier as they rode past.
"Please send them to us," they asked.

This bad-ass biker was riding a bad-ass Indian.

Las Vegas, New Mexico is my destination tonight for a warm motel room. It rains all night long and I feel lucky to weather the storm inside this cozy room watching TV. In the morning, I explore historic downtown Las Vegas before heading for Abo Ruins, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument for another RoadRUNNER story. Abo, is only about 30 miles from La Joya where I plan to camp for the annual Fiestas. My sister Elva and her husband Robert live at Abo where Robert’s family has been for generations.

Abo Ruins, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.

I was born in La Joya village.  My roots are here; I love returning. I go first to the cemetery to pay my respects to our families. 

I’ll camp behind my mom and dad’s adobe house. To my surprise, my brother Gilbert and nephew Ruben are already here. They have collected firewood and have a nice fire burning. We call this place Jewels Camp. They even picked some apples from the large apple tree near the acequia.  It's good to have company.  The music playing is our signal that the fiestas have started.  We buy our meal tickets and feast on green chili, beans, and sopapillas. The music is a bit on the country-western side which suits me just fine. 

All of us will be here just one day, knowing that’s it’s a long way back to California where we plan to attend Leo’s retirement celebration.

Gilbert and Ruben take Interstate 40 back home and I favor the more crooked, less-traveled Highway 60 through Socorro, Magdalena, Datil, Apache Creek, Reserve, Luna, Alpine, Springerville, and then Interstate 40 heading west towards Barstow, California.

It’s now a tradition.  On Sunday morning, I’ll stop by Sophia’s Kitchen in Socorro, New Mexico for huevos rancheros, red chili, sopapillas, and some country-western music.  Doug Figgs is playing this morning and I’ve heard his music before.  It is straight-up New Mexico country-western music. I buy his latest CD, “A Cowboy Like Me” which I plan to give to Leo.  There isn’t anything finer than eating breakfast at Sophia’s and listening to Doug Figgs. I request a Johnny Cash song for the road, and he obliges, making me feel special. I hum his words for miles.

Though this is the scenic route; I know that I have miles to go. There is a campsite, about 9.5 miles south of Ash Fork, Arizona that I call Middle Satellite. I love this USFS dispersed camping as there is plenty of firewood and it is quiet. There are the occasional sounds of coyotes. 

In the morning, it’s breakfast at the Ranch House Café in Ash Fork. I don’t know how many times I’ve eaten here, but it’s a lot. It’s the same each time – two eggs over easy, corn beef hash, hash browns, sourdough toast, water, and coffee. I’ve been traveling now for about 13 days and about 2,600 miles so far (when I arrive home, it will be 3,015 miles). I hope to make Needles, California, and grab a motel room, not so much for sleeping, but getting cleaned up for the celebrations that start at 11:30 a.m. – Barstow is now only 150 miles away.  Denise is planning to meet me there and I’m hoping to ride the freeway under the radar. I pull up at 11:15 a.m. to the historic Harvey House at the train station where the celebrations will occur.

There are well over 300 people there and the Barstow Police Department has a first-class retirement party for Leo. There are pictures everywhere depicting his 46-year career beginning as Police Officer with the Barstow Police Department and ending as a Detective. There is also an ongoing slideshow of him, many pictures that I had not seen. 

The Mayor, Police Chief, Judge, District Attorneys, Detectives, fellow Police Officers, and fellow workers of Barstow spoke passionately about his distinguished career and honored him with dozens of awards and memorabilia. 

Leo, your legacy is etched in the granite of Barstow’s history.

We are very proud of you!

A thousand pictures paint a single man.

Leo Griego, D-1.

Irma and Leo Griego, and family.

Susan 'Griego' Aguayo, Leo Griego, Robert Griego, Elva 'Griego' Esquibel, Gilbert Griego.

David Griego and Wil Griego.

There were many others from New Mexico that could not attend Leo's retirement and sent their heartfelt congratulations to him.

"Leo, this is Tudi Romero.  Happy retirement."
Belen, NM.

"Leo, standing at your door.  Happy retirement bro."  Stanley Esquibel.
La Joya, NM.

"Leo, remember me - James Garcia.  Happy retirement man."
Jewels Camp, La Joya, NM.

"Leo, sorry we can not be there, but we congratulate you on your retirement."  Buddy and Benji Moya.
Dance Hall, La Joya, NM.

Maybe Leo is retiring here in Las Vegas, NM.

A relaxed Leo after his retirement celebration. 
He asked for this picture in front of the Barstow Police truck. 

Detective Leo Roy Jose Griego
~ Retired on September 28, 2018, after 46 years of distinguished service for the Barstow community. ~

Monday, October 1, 2018

~ In Pursuit of Wildness: Zion National Park ~

The article "In Pursuit of Wildness:  Zion National Park" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 9/17/2018.

"In wildness is the preservation of the world."  HENRY DAVID THOREAU

In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the two bank- and train-robbing bandits sought these red canyons as their hideout from the law. I was mesmerized by Paul Newman and Robert Redford in this modern-day Western, but honestly, the scenery captivated me more. I knew that one day I would have to visit the wild canyons of Zion National Park.
I’m relieved to see only 11 vehicles ahead of me when I arrive at the South Campground at 5 a.m., after riding 535 miles from Three Rivers, CA. It’s first come, first served here, and so I patiently wait until the campground opens at 7. In just 10 minutes, 30 more vehicles are lined up behind me. In past years when the campground was full, I have camped near Virgin on Bureau of Land Management land. There is a perfect spot there, just off Mesa Road, high on a mesa where free public land camping is available with incredible views. That’s my back-up plan.
The campground Ranger approaches, smiling. “You’ll get a site today,” she says. “After a camper leaves, you’ll be assigned your campsite.” I like this system. “Ok”, she says a short while later, “go to campsite #68.” My assigned spot is next to the Virgin River and I can’t wipe the grin off my face. There’s another campground called Watchman which is on a reservation system, and that one fills up months early. I’m tired. The desert sun near Needles, CA, drained me. I set up my hammock between two cottonwood trees and the cool breeze sways me to sleep. I think about the three things I’m going to experience: Walter’s Wiggles, the Narrows, and that mile-long tunnel.
In the morning, I’ll be hiking the Angels Landing Trail to see Walter’s Wiggles for the first time. The immense landscape slows me down considerably. The higher elevations, with each step, create panoramic views of the Zion Canyon below. It’s not easy walking, but the views are incredible. Finally, I stop at Walter’s Wiggles, the 21 short switchbacks leading from Refrigerator Canyon to Scout Lookout.
This portion of the Angels Landing Trail was designed and built by Walter Ruesch, the first Superintendent of Zion National Park and the grandfather to another one, Scott Ruesch. Scott and I worked together at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and while I knew that his mom and dad were National Park Service professionals, I had never heard about his grandfather. Walter was my inspiration to travel some 600 miles from Three Rivers to see this landmark for myself. I had never met the man, but I was determined to see the marvel he created. Pictures don’t do it justice. You must walk this trail, breathing the thin air, and see the heavenly views to appreciate the rock work along this iconic walkway, named Walter’s Wiggles, an amazing feat by today’s engineering standards and incredible for 1926!
The Narrows is best described as an adventure. In waist-deep water, I’m soaking wet as I move up the Virgin River like an explorer. The red canyon walls are high and I imagine I’m a scout for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It’s wild and I feel alive within the grandeur of this canyon.
The mile-long tunnel heading toward Fredonia is a must on a motorcycle. There are “windows” along the tunnel, displaying fantastic views of a wonderland where very little has changed since outlaws roamed the trails.

Planning a Visit
Zion National Park offers a variety of activities across several geographic regions. In 1909, it began as Mukuntuweap National Monument but was granted national park status in 1919. Billions of years ago, the Virgin River carved valleys on the sandstone in southwest Utah. Now, we can walk through the canyon of Zion National Park.

Zion means “the heavenly city” and the park’s Kolob Canyons are named for a heavenly body described as being nearest God’s throne in Mormon scripture. You won’t find any churches in the park, but there are certainly plenty of sights that inspire reverence.
Backpacking, bicycling, birding, camping, canyoneering, climbing, hiking, horseback riding, Ranger-led activities, visitor centers, picnicking, and stargazing.

Visit nearby Pipe Springs National Monument, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Canyonlands National Park.
Park your motorcycle and take the stress-free park shuttle, which is efficient and an excellent way to see the park. It can be boarded at visitor centers, campgrounds, and most lodges.
Zion National Park is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Some services and facilities may close or reduce hours during parts of the year. Always carry water!
Costs are $25 per motorcycle; $15 individual; and $30 a vehicle. Zion Annual passes are $50. Keep in mind that parks keep 80 percent of all fees collected; the remaining 20 percent is deposited in a special account to be used for parks where fees are not collected. These proceeds fund projects not funded by Congress. Parks are a great deal. Take advantage.

For more information or to purchase a pass, visit:

Text and photography: Robert Griego.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

~ 150,000 Miles ~

"The Wind, the Open Road, and my Motorcycle" -  this is my mantra. - Robert Griego

150,000 miles!

A few days ago, a milestone was reached.  My 2007 Yamaha Road Star turned 150,000 miles on an awesome motorcycle ride in Malibu called, Ride to the Flags.

There were over 1,000 bikers on this ride.  It was honor to ride the miles for this worthy cause.

So today there will be few words, only admiration for my 2007 Yamaha Road Star which I bought new in 2007.  It has been a dependable mount.  It has given me such a joy.

This is a special moment!  So proud to be part of this special benefit ride for USN Holly Katke.

This is my favorite picture.  It was taken just after a heavy rain storm at the base of Mount Whitney. 
This black and white photo stopped time in between the rain drops