Archive for March 2013

Road Trip Part 2   3 comments

After a peaceful night in Las Vegas, James and I loaded the car,  got onto I-15 and headed for Salt Lake City.

A hearty breakfast at the cafe right next to the Motel 6. How convenient is that?

A hearty breakfast at the cafe right next to the Motel 6. How convenient is that?

On I-15, heading northeast out of Vegas--it isn't the most exciting terrain in the world--yet.

On I-15, heading northeast out of Vegas–it isn’t the most exciting terrain in the world–yet.

Entering Utah, rhe mountains start and snow appears in the distance.

Entering Utah, rhe mountains start and snow appears in the distance.

Rugged and barren country.

I thought we would be climbing that mountain I saw in the distance, but instead the road went down.

With one canyon behind us, even more snow appears in the distance. It may seem commonplace to most of you, but snow is a big deal to me. I just don't ever get any in Phoenix.

With one canyon behind us, even more snow appears in the distance. It may seem commonplace to most of you, but snow is a big deal to me. I just don’t ever get any in Phoenix.

Mountains are never out of sight in Utah.

Mountains are never out of sight in Utah.

 . . . and they just keep getting bigger.

. . . and they just keep getting bigger.

Coming into St. George.

Coming into St. George.

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Snow on the ground just outside the car--not on distant mountains but all around us now!

Snow on the ground just outside the car–not on distant mountains but all around us now!

It's a road trip. You're going to see lots of pictures of the road. I love this part. Just sailing along through unfamiliar territory, watching the landscape unfold in front of me.

It’s a road trip. You’re going to see lots of pictures of the road. I love this part. Just sailing along through unfamiliar territory, watching the landscape unfold in front of me.

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Stopping for lunch in Fillmore, Utah.

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Stretching my legs. Larry did not get my business--I didn't see his place in time. I guess location really is everything.

Stretching my legs. Larry did not get my business–I didn’t see his place in time. I guess location really is everything.

Salt Lake City, here we come, but first we have to get past Mona.

Salt Lake City, here we come, but first we have to get past Mona.

Woo hoo! We have arrived at Henry's house, only getting lost in the suburbs once. This hardworking Entish mailbox is the work of my niece Angela St. Andre, and is the coolest mailbox post in the state of Utah, imho.

Woo hoo! We have arrived at Henry’s house, only getting lost in the suburbs once. This hardworking Entish mailbox is the work of my niece Angela St. Andre, and is the coolest mailbox post in the state of Utah, imho.

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A bear welcomes us to Henry’s front door.

Gail St. Andre welcomes us to her home. The fact that we could stay with family really made the trip worth while . . . and saved money on hotel bills.

Gail St. Andre welcomes us to her home. The fact that we could stay with family really made the trip worth while . . . and saved money on hotel bills.

Eep! The bear is friendly, but I don't know about the giant spider.

Eep! The bear is friendly, but I don’t know about the giant spider.

Henry St. Andre, the youngest of my 3 brothers, shows off an elk-skin cap that he made for himself. The spirit of the American frontier is still alive in this household.

Henry St. Andre, the youngest of my 3 brothers, shows off an elk-skin cap that he made for himself. The spirit of the American frontier is still alive in this household.

Henry is a farmboy at heart. He keeps turkeys in his huge back yard, and chickens, and two cats.

Henry is a farmboy at heart. He keeps turkeys in his huge back yard, and chickens, and two cats.

We arrived on Monday night. On Tuesday, Henry took James and me to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.

We arrived on Monday night. On Tuesday, Henry took James and me to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.  This is just the freeway heading into the city proper.

Henry and James are posing with a patriotic and very colorful buffalo on the island.   You can see part of the Great Salt Lake behind them.

Henry and James are posing with a patriotic and very colorful buffalo on the island. You can see part of the Great Salt Lake behind them.

We climbed a very steep hill to get a better view, carefully stepping over the trail markers left behind by the real buffalo on the island.

We climbed a very steep hill to get a better view, carefully stepping over the trail markers left behind by the real buffalo on the island.

Another view of the lake.

Another view of the lake.  The brown stuff in the foreground is a kind of scummy algae that grows in the briny water.  There are no fish in this lake–it’s too salty, but there are brine shrimp, also known as sea monkeys, and sea gulls nest in the area.

I am looking down an almost sheer cliff at the lake below. This is the kind of trail where one wrong step means serious injury or death. I was careful.

I am looking down an almost sheer cliff at the lake below. This is the kind of trail where one wrong step means serious injury or death. I was careful.

And here's a picture of me on the island. Ya think I should make it a profile pic?

And here’s a picture of me on the island. Ya think I should make it a profile pic?

I am standing about 30 yards from a real live American bison. I know it's just a big cow, but it is a wild animal. He was busy eating, and I didn't do anything to disturb him.  James and Henry stayed inside the truck, but I'm fearless.  :)

I am standing about 30 yards from a real live American bison. I know it’s just a big cow, but it is a wild animal. He was busy eating, and I didn’t do anything to disturb him. James and Henry stayed inside the truck, but I’m fearless. 🙂

After leaving the island, I had Henry take me further north to Ogden, Utah. This is the town where I was actually born, and I haven't been here since I was a baby--totally don't remember it, and would claim I've never seen it before.  It was a mixture of old and new, and I kind of liked the looks of it.

After leaving the island, I had Henry take me further north to Ogden, Utah. This is the town where I was actually born, and I haven’t been here since I was a baby–totally don’t remember it, and would claim I’ve never seen it before. It was a mixture of old and new, and I kind of liked the looks of it.

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This is the only shot I got of the skyline of Salt Lake City.

And this is my niece, Angela St. Andre. She is a talented artist and metal sculptress. Here she is holding a small metal armadillo that I commissioned her to make formy friend Steve Crompton and his wife. They collect armadillos, and it seemed a great chance to get them a one-of-a-kind original.

And this is my niece, Angela St. Andre. She is a talented artist and metal sculptress. Here she is holding a small metal armadillo that I commissioned her to make for my friend Steve Crompton and his wife. They collect armadillos, and it seemed a great chance to get them a one-of-a-kind original.

And with that, my camera memory was full.  I couldn’t take any more pictures. So you don’t get to see the very friendly cat that followed me around and jumped into my lap every chance it got.  You don’t get to see me teaching some of Angela’s friends how to play Tunnels and Trolls.  You don’t get to see my very handsome nephew Nathan who does nature walk blogs of his own.  You don’t get to see any of the drive back to Arizona, including the ruggedly beautiful terrain around Page and the Glen Canyon Dam.  I could have easily taken another 50 photos on this trip, but the camera filled up, and I had to stop.  Lucky you!

The trip back to Phoenix took two days, but I got home in time to join the Fellowship of the Troll for supper at the Talking Stick Resort east of Scottsdale.  I saw a chunk of the Navajo reservation I’ve never seen before since Highway 89 between Page and Harper’s Ferry at the Vermillion Cliffs was destroyed by a landslide last month and may take years to repair.

The only thing that really went wrong for me on the trip was that I accidentally left behind the fantasy paperback I was reading at Henry’s house.  I hope Angela or Nathan or Henry discovers it and gets a good read out of it.

If you have pictures of scenic Page, Arizona, or have visited the Great Salt Lake, or seen the dinosaur tracks in the stone outside of Yoba City, why not leave a comment?  The road trip is over, but perhaps I’ll do it again some day.

–end

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Road Trip, Part 1   3 comments

Spring Break 2013.  Yes, the old troll goes to school–Phoenix College where I take usually one or two courses per semester.  I had just finished my mid-term exam in Microsoft Office products (and I think I got an A, but I know I have at least a high B.), and I thought about how millions of college kids would be going off to party through the week, and I decided to take a trip.  My youngest brother, Henry, has been inviting me (for the last 10 years at least) to come visit him in Utah, and I never did it.  On the spur of the moment, I decided that this would be a good time. After a couple of phone calls that verified it would be okay with Hank to come see him now, the trip was on.  I wouldn’t go alone, but would also take my son James to help with the driving and the photography.

The rest of this fairly long blog is going to be mostly pictures that James or I took as we traveled, and I mean that literally.  As an experiment, I tried taking some pictures from inside the car as we were moving.  They didn’t look too bad.  If there’s a little blur to some of these, you now know the reason.  If you don’t like family vacation things, stop reading now.  Thanks for stopping by.  Keep reading and you’ll gain a few insights into my personality, for whatever good that might do you.

Since we were heading north, and since Bear warned me that there was a road blockage/collapse on the way to Utah, I decided to go by way of Las Vegas where my daughter Jillian lives with her husband Nick.  I saw her last at the end of November, and it’s good to see the kids once in a while.

We got off on the wrong foot by forgetting to take a picture of us getting into the car as we left Phoenix.  Now begin the pictures with fhe first one I did think to take.

Heading west near Lake Pleasant north of Phoenix. We tried taking a picture from a moving vehicle looking straight ahead. Blue skies of Arizona.

Heading west near Lake Pleasant north of Phoenix. We tried taking a picture from a moving vehicle looking straight ahead. Blue skies of Arizona.

The desert gets bumpier. Still bemused by the fact that this was working so well, I'm wasting shots I could have used on better scenery later.

The desert gets bumpier. Still bemused by the fact that this was working so well, I’m wasting shots I could have used on better scenery later.

First stop in Wickenburg, Arizona for lunch. The town lives off tourism, and plays up its old west image. Covered wagon and saguaro cactus--what could be more Arizona?

First stop in Wickenburg, Arizona for lunch. The town lives off tourism, and plays up its old west image. Covered wagon and saguaro cactus–what could be more Arizona?

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North of Wickenburg on the road to Wickiup, the road turned mountainous with strange vegetation.  This is a forest of giant cactus trees, growing as much as twenty feet high, all thorns and prickles.  They are called Joshua trees.

There is some rough terrain between Wickenburg and Kingman.  The highway, however, has been upgraded and is really nice. This is fun to drive.

There is some rough terrain between Wickenburg and Kingman. The highway, however, has been upgraded and is really nice. This is fun to drive.

We stopped for a break at my favorite roadside attraction between Phoenix and Las Vegas--a trading post/cafe called Luchia's that specializes in pie and Indian artifacts.  Why am I squatting beside this car?  Look very closely at its license plate.  Science fiction weirdness follows me wherever I go.

We stopped for a break at my favorite roadside attraction between Phoenix and Las Vegas–a trading post/cafe called Luchia’s that specializes in pie and Indian artifacts. Why am I squatting beside this car? Look very closely at its license plate. Science fiction weirdness follows me wherever I go.

The front of the trading post is newly painted with kachinas. This is son James, who is quite proud of his newly grown beard, I think, posing with the God of Turquoise.  Really, I have no idea who this kachina is, but he takes a nice picture.

The front of the trading post is newly painted with kachinas. This is son James, who is quite proud of his newly grown beard, I think, posing with the God of Turquoise. Really, I have no idea who this kachina is, but he takes a nice picture.

A wildlife diorama inside the post all done in handcrafted silver for the animals and plants.

A wildlife diorama inside the post all done in handcrafted silver for the animals and plants.

We stopped at Love's truck stop before reaching Kingman. James is pumping gas into the car. I cleaned the windows. We also had lunch and played a few games of Magic.

We stopped at Love’s truck stop before reaching Kingman. James is pumping gas into the car. I cleaned the windows. We also had lunch and played a few games of Magic.

The best truck stops in Arizona look a lot like this.

The best truck stops in Arizona look a lot like this.

Snow on the mountains outside of Kingman, Arizona. It may seem commonplace to you, but I go for years in Phoenix without ever seeing snow.  The watery white stuff is about to become the theme of this adventure.

Snow on the mountains outside of Kingman, Arizona. It may seem commonplace to you, but I go for years in Phoenix without ever seeing snow. The watery white stuff is about to become the theme of this adventure.

North of Kingman now and truly on the road to Vegas.

North of Kingman now and truly on the road to Vegas.

A poor view of the Colorado River Canyon before reaching Hoover Dam.  The area between Arizona and Nevada is some of the ruggedest country in the west.

A poor view of the Colorado River Canyon before reaching Hoover Dam. The area between Arizona and Nevada is some of the ruggedest country in the west.

For a moment I thought I had got a shot of the new bridge that crosses the Colorado above Hoover Dam, but this is only a little one that leads up to the main bridge. You can't get a picture of the really spectacular one when you go over it. There is nothing to see.

For a moment I thought I had got a shot of the new bridge that crosses the Colorado above Hoover Dam, but this is only a little one that leads up to the main bridge. You can’t get a picture of the really spectacular one when you go over it. There is nothing to see.

A closer, better shot of the same nameless bridge. I wonder if it has its own troll.

A closer, better shot of the same nameless bridge. I wonder if it has its own troll.

Nevada is famous for its casinos. This is the first one you see as you cross into the state.

Nevada is famous for its casinos. This is the first one you see as you cross into the state.

A distant view of Lake Mead.  This manmade lake on the Colorado is vital to the water supply and electrical power of Nevada, California, and Arizona.

A distant view of Lake Mead. This manmade lake on the Colorado is vital to the water supply and electrical power of Nevada, California, and Arizona.

Coming into Las Vegas. We have been driving for most of the day, and are glad to see that the end is in sight.

Coming into Las Vegas. We have been driving for most of the day, and are glad to see that the end is in sight.

Lost in Las Vegas. We had a little trouble finding our motel.

Lost in Las Vegas. We had a little trouble finding our motel.

Freeway driving in unfamiliar cities is so much fun!

Freeway driving in unfamiliar cities is so much fun!

I find our place to stay for the night.  Nothing but the best for the St. Andres on the road.

I find our place to stay for the night. Nothing but the best for the St. Andres on the road.

Oops! I thought I was in Las Vegas. How did I get to New York? The motel was in the very heart of downtown Las Vegas so we walked around and did a little sightseeing.

Oops! I thought I was in Las Vegas. How did I get to New York? The motel was in the very heart of downtown Las Vegas so we walked around and did a little sightseeing.

This casino is called Excalibur, but they got it all wrong. King Arthur's sword was Excalibur.  His castle was Camelot. Wrongly named, but very pretty.

This casino is called Excalibur, but they got it all wrong. King Arthur’s sword was Excalibur. His castle was Camelot. Wrongly named, but very pretty.

With our room secured, James and I went off to see his sister Jillian a few miles northwest of downtown Vegas.  She has a nice home in the suburbs with her husband Nick and friends Todd and Steve.  It is a model for the new extended family of 21st century America, a sharing of resources that none of them could afford on their own.

This is my lovely daughter Jillian, 8 months pregnant, and about to make me a grandfather for a second time.  She reluctantly agreed to be in this travelogue.

This is my lovely daughter Jillian, 8 months pregnant, and about to make me a grandfather for a second time. She reluctantly agreed to be in this travelogue.

Greenlee is 2 years old now, and such a cutie. Last time I saw her I teased her with my hat, popping it on her head just to watch her throw it off. This time she accepted the Trollgod's hat quite calmly and wouldn't give it back until she tired of it. I think she looks better in it than I ever did.

Greenlee is 2 years old now, and such a cutie. Last time I saw her I teased her with my hat, popping it on her head just to watch her throw it off. This time she accepted the Trollgod’s hat quite calmly and wouldn’t give it back until she tired of it. I think she looks better in it than I ever did.

I might claim it was to visit family, but the real reason for going to Vegas was to play Settlers of Catan.  I talked them into playing a randomized setup version, but couldn't get Tod and Steve to try the "pick your own number instead of rolling the dice" variant that I created.  Tod won this game. I was crushed.

I might claim it was to visit family, but the real reason for going to Vegas was to play Settlers of Catan. I talked them into playing a randomized setup version, but couldn’t get Tod and Steve to try the “pick your own number instead of rolling the dice” variant that I created. Tod won this game. I was crushed.

And we followed Catan with Apples to Apples.  Jillian won that game. I came in second.

And we followed Catan with Apples to Apples. Jillian won that game. I came in second.

When the games were over, James and I left Jillian's place and went back to our motel. We still had time to do some sightseeing.

When the games were over, James and I left Jillian’s place and went back to our motel. We still had time to do some sightseeing.

After walking all through the Hooters Casino that was next to our motel, we went upstairs and entered Excalibur on the second level.

After walking all through the Hooters Casino that was next to our motel, we went upstairs and entered Excalibur on the second level.

We found colossi sitting inside the black pyramid that is the Luxor casino.  We walked through a Fun Dungeon at one point--entertainment for kids.  The slot machines and gambling tables didn't appeal much, but the displays were magnificent.

We found colossi sitting inside the black pyramid that is the Luxor casino. We walked through a Fun Dungeon at one point–entertainment for kids. The slot machines and gambling tables didn’t appeal much, but the displays were magnificent.

This was like a personal message from the universe and a bit of validation for me.

This was like a personal message from the universe and a bit of validation for me.  Anyone interested in a Tacos and Tequila roleplaying game?

More of Las Vegas by night. It is a spectacular place from a distance.

More of Las Vegas by night. It is a spectacular place from a distance.

After a couple of hours of walking around gawking, but not gambling, we returned to our motel and went to bed. The plan was to get up early on Monday morning and drive through most of Utah to reach Salt Lake City by Monday night.

If you have enjoyed being on this road trip with me, or have anything to add about the places i’ve visited, please leave a comment.  And come back in a day or two when I do Road Trip, Part 2.

–to be continued

Hard Times in Dragon City   1 comment

It's a very stylish cover that doesn't tell you much about the contents of the book.

It’s a very stylish cover that doesn’t tell you much about the contents of the book.

Matt Forbeck is a talented guy–an author, a gamer, a game designer, and ghod only knows what other talents he has.  In 2012 he set out to write a 12 novels in 12 months project, funded through Kickstarter.  And he got his funding, and for all I know, he did actually write 12 novels in 12 months.  When I think back on it, I’ve written about 3 novels in 66 years–let’s cut it down to 46 years, since I really only thought about writing novels since I was 20 or so.  As a fiction writer, that makes him 184 times as prolific as I am.  Sigh!  He’s also younger than me, better looking than me, has more kids than me, and more games designed than me.  I kinda hate him.

But I have to admire him.  So a few weeks ago, I decided to buy a copy of his fantasy series: Shotguns and Sorcery.  You can see the cover of the book I bought up above.  I got it in the mail 2 weeks ago, and finished reading it while on my road trip last week. (Gonna talk about the road trip in the next blog.)

The book is called HARD TIMES IN DRAGON CITY.  It’s a hardboiled crime noir story of an ex-adventurer who has become a private investigator in a fantasy milieu.  The place is called Dragon City because the place is ruled by a dragon.  It’s very much my kind of world–a world where elves, dwarves, humans, goblins, orcs and others intermingle in one society.  The protagonist is Max Gibson, a low-level wizard–he would be a rogue in Tunnels and Trolls–he knows a few spells, but magic isn’t really his bread and butter.  He has a familiar but antagonistic relationship with the cops that we’ve all seen before in various private eye tv shows and movies.  The story starts when some of Max’s friends get killed in a gruesome and bloody manner, and he decides to investigate.  Then an old (elfin) girlfriend looks him up, and complications ensue.

I’m not going to tell you the plot or the story.  The style is a lot like Glen Cook in his Garrett fantasy detective series that started with SWEET SILVER BLUES in 1987.  That series is still going with a 14th novel scheduled for July of 2013.  Forbeck also apes Mike Hammer, Phillip Marlowe, and every other American style tough guy with a heart of gold detective you’ve ever read.  He does it well.  The writing is smooth, entertaining, and he keeps the story moving right along.  It also reads a bit like Jim Butcher’s Dresden files books.  Harry Dresden is a wizard/detective in a modern world where elves, vampires, trolls, and all the old bogey-men of fantasy are alive and well.

It’s hard to tell what the tech level of Dragon City is.  It is obviously a high magic world–with magic used for all kinds of things we’d use technology for.  But they have guns, and very modern effective ones that fire magical bullets.  I didn’t see any sign of electricity, or modern conveniences like cell phones or television, but nothing in the story seems to rule such things out.  Matt’s main gimmick is that his hero does his light shooting with spells from a wand, carried like a pistol in a shoulder holster, and  his heavy work with a shotgun.

I liked it.  I recommend it.  I’m planning to get the next two books in the series and read them too.  I have one niggling criticism and that is only a matter of style.  I prefer books with illustrations.  My own recent fantasy novel, ROSE OF STORMGAARD, is profusely illustrated. Matt has no illustrations at all. Perhaps that didn’t seem important to him, or he prefers to let the reader create their own mental pictures of what’s going on, or he just consider illos unnecessary.  Getting them would slow down his writing–all good and valid reasons for leaving them out.  But it isn’t like he doesn’t know fantasy artists who would be delighted to illustrate his books–Matt knows everybody.  And I like my fantasy with illustrations.

4.5 stars out of 5 possible for HARD TIMES IN DRAGON CITY.

If  you’ve read anything by Matt Forbeck, or if you just want to comment on having private eyes in fantasy settings, why not leave a comment?

–end