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Grand Canyon

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Stars and Sleeping by the Colorado River

Stars and Sleeping by the Colorado River

2011 Grand Canyon Star Party Image by Dean Ketelsen.

It’s been a little more than a week since my friends and I came out of the Grand Canyon. But I still wake up at night looking for the stars.

Many of us wake up in the middle of the night worrying about life, and trying hard to go back to sleep.

For five nights in May, when something woke me on my blue cot on some sandy beach beside the Colorado River, I tried very hard to stay awake…to look at the stars and the Universe in all its glory.

I live outside of Houston, and look up at Orion’s Belt, faint in the sky. But in the Canyon, the stars of the constellations are brighter than streetlights in a neighborhood. The Little Dipper was our constant nighttime companion, but it was not alone, surrounded by more stars than I can see anywhere else I’ve been in the world.

When I’m in the Canyon, I miss my wife…I dislike the sand…I long for beer other than Coors (!).

When I’m out…I miss the stars and waking up in the middle of the night to see the galaxy above me.

The 2013 Grand Canyon Star Party is on the South Rim June 8-15.


Grand Canyon app in Apple App Store

As a lover of books and technology, I’ve spent a lot of time the past few years investigating how to combine them. The proliferation of tablet computing, and the need/availability for interaction, have pushed us to a point where a book can be more. Terms like enhanced eBook, interactive eBook and others have been bandied about; but whatever the term, adding multimedia to a print book turns it into something more.
We also recently have been working with non-profit organizations, such as my friends at the Texas State Historical Assoication, helping them to take their unique and valuable content (most of it in print format, or even out-of-print) and get it into a digitized, interactive medium…into a format that will continue to promote their goals of education, research, preservation and membership.

I stumbled across the work of some fine people utilizing HTML5 to build enhanced eBooks (the Baker Framework, and the Laker Compendium. With the current ePub standard, there is no standard support for adding multimedia; Amazon’s Kindle format provides some, but only on certain platforms.

With these converging trends, technologies and paths, I’ve put together an app for the Apple App Store that is an experiment of sorts; a proof point, if you will, that not only can you build an entertaining enhanced eBook, but that utilizing available content that you can use this content as a bridge to sustainable funding for non-profits.

That available content happened when my brother took me on a journey through the Grand Canyon, with some great guys. A once in a lifetime trip – hiking, rafting, and experiencing one of the natural wonders of the world.

With that introduction, I am happy to announce:

Cecil does the GRAND CANYON holding a poptart
For iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch

If you want to reflect back on a trip you made to the Grand Canyon, one of the eight natural wonders of the world, or you just want to imagine one, this app will take you there.SittingOnARock

With proceeds benefiting the Grand Canyon Association, this Grand Canyon app follows the author, friends and guides as they:

  • hike down Bright Angel Trail;
  • raft one hundred miles down the Colorado River;
  • hike the so-called “Death March” hike to Thunder River and Surprise Valley;
  • visit Havasu;
  • brave Lava Falls (and live to tell about it);
  • helicopter out from Whitemore Wash.

Containing hi-definition videos, hundreds of photos, maps and the story of the journey, this multimedia application will be sure to remind you of your own trip to the Grand Canyon…or increase your desire to visit.


Grand Canyon – Up and Out

Previous post: Grand Canyon – Lava Falls, the Grand Finale

April 15

We awakened on our last morning in the Canyon with bittersweet feelings. In a few short hours, I’d be able to speak to my wife and kids for the first time in four days, using the “always-on” technology that was not only used by me as a consumer, but was the lifeblood of my business. But frankly, I didn’t miss it. For four days, no email, no Facebook, no phone calls, no instant messaging…it truly was peaceful.thegroover

It also meant one last trip to “the Groover”, our porta-john in a tent. Without turning this blog too risque, if you are holding out from camping for hygiene reasons, this is the way to go. This was much cleaner than some of the porta-cans we’ve encountered at Rugby tourneys or running events. And the girlie mags were a nice touch (thanks, Ron; good article on Milla Jovanovich).

We loaded differently this morning, wearing dry clothes, Walker’s promise that we wouldn’t get wet convincing us. Instead of the dry bags, we packed in CRATE duffle bags. We embarked, and once more watched the sunlight creep down the walls of the canyon. (more…)


Grand Canyon – Lava Falls, the Grand Finale

Previous Post: Grand Canyon – the “Death March” hike

April 14

This was the big day that most of the boys had been waiting for, and had gotten waterproof video cameras for: Lava Falls. Rate 8-10 out of 10 with a 13 foot drop, followed by the Lower Lava Rapid with a 14 foot drop.

Because of the hike, we had 42 miles of river between us and Lava Falls.

cimg1037The wind the previous night had me tracking down the clothes I had lain out to dry, but the hike led to a good sleep. We awoke to our last full day in the canyon, and watching the sunshine creep down the walls of the canyon was just as amazing as it was the first morning of the trip.

During the fire line to load the bags, I was at the front of the boat, throwing/handing up our bags and supplies to those on the boat. I threw the last personal compression bag up on to the boat, not realizing that John who was catching had his back to me. I saw that it was going into the water, so I dove across the metal front of the boat to try and grab it, but missed. Walker looked at me and calmly said “you’re going to have to go in after it, before it passes the rapids.” after a quick curse, I jumped into to the cold Colorado and retrieved the bag, which ended up being my brother’s. Luckily, only his fleece was damp so he let me live. (more…)


Grand Canyon – the “Death March” hike

Previous post: Grand Canyon – Elves Chasm and other waterfalls

April 13

Since some of us wanted to do a long hike, Walker (with suggestions from Mike, who had lots of experience in the Canyon) set up options: part of us could raft down the river a bit and do a small hike, and some could do a longer hike. Showing excellent sales and marketing talents, Walker named the optional longer hike “the Death March”. The Death March was an eleven mile hike, lots of climbing, but with Thunder River as one of the highlights. Much discussion ensued the night before over adult beverages concerning who would participate in which adventure.Tapeats meets Colorado River The fact that I had to choose from over 200 pictures for this post shows that choosing the Death March was wise; the scenery was unbelievable.

We were awakened early, this time by Dewey’s coffee call, followed by an enthusiastic “woo hoo”. I am assuming it was enthusiastic because Dewey was not attending the Death March.

We went downriver a few miles, and offloaded myself, Walker, my brother, Ron, John, Mitch and Alex. After bidding a fond farewell to those staying on the boat (and informing them where our wills are), we set off hiking along Tapeats Creek.
Tapeats Creek
The hike immediately turned up, with a series of switchbacks that rapidly got us above the Colorado. We then paralled Tapeats, and eventually dropped back down to the water level, where Alex laid down in the water to cool off. (more…)


Grand Canyon – Elves Chasm and other Waterfalls

Previous Post: Grand Canyon – Bright Angel Trail
April 12

It is hard to describe sleeping and waking up on the banks of the Colorado River inside the Grand Canyon. I awoke a couple of times at night, with a magnificent view of the Big Dipper over the North Rim, something you just don’t see everyday. There were bats swooping down close to my cot, grabbing insects for their morning breakfast (and probably keeping the mosquitoes and flies away).The sun wakes you up, as does Walker’s yell of “Coffee!!” followed a bit later by “Breakfast!!”. The coffee is Cowboy Coffee, brewed in a big pot with the grounds in, poured through a filter. It was tasty, but whoever got the first cup (me twice!) got some extra fiber in their coffee. Breakfast was terrific.

To setup and break camp, we formed a fire line to load and unload our bags.loading the boat Grand Canyon Each camper had two compression bags, one for sleeping supplies (mat, ground cover and sleeping bag) and one for your backpack and clothes. We also each had an ammo can, which was mostly watertight. All three were numbered, mine with lucky number 13.

The rules of the camp are pretty simple:

  • Leave nothing behind;22,000 people raft through the Canyon every year (according to our fearless leader) and they all obviously obey this rule;
  • Everyone chips in;
  • Relieve yourself downstream (an important rule, given the 15 cases of beer);
  • Wash your hands to prevent disease;
  • Everyone chips in;

We added the following unwritten rules:

  • Happy hour starts as soon as camp setup is complete;
  • You cannot say that you have been “drinking all day” unless you have a beer with breakfast (with kudos to John for this definition). (more…)

Grand Canyon – Bright Angel Trail

Previous Post: Grand Canyon – The Start

Grand Canyon App in the Apple App Store

April 11
It was 13-17 degrees in the morning, causing the snow at the top of the trail to turn to ice. The plan was to leave at 6:30AM, but my brother Terry and I plus our guide Dewey (who was always on the river, so this was his first hike Bright Angel Trail Grand Canyondown from the rim) needed “yak tracks”, spiky soles that attached to the bottom of your shoes. The gift shop operator was nice enough to open a bit early, so we got on the trial about 15-20 minutes later that the rest of our group. Being from Texas, I was skeptical about “a little ice”. But for the first couple of miles, it would have been quite dangerous without the “tracks”.

I had my Blackberry (ok, start with the geek jokes, but I was “testing” for a new app we are writing….seriously) and had coverage all the way to Indian Garden. While in the ice, my mom called…then Dewey called his mom. Hiking down one of the natural wonders of the world, through the ice, with yak tracks, talking to our mothers…serious geek bonding there. Dewey had no idea what was in store. (more…)


Grand Canyon – The Start

  • Temperatures at 13 degrees at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon;cimg0934
  • Ice on the trail, forcing us to wear “yak tracks” on our shoes;
  • A 9 mile hike down to the Colorado Riveriver;
  • 100 miles down river on a raft;
  • An eleven mile hike called the “Death March”;
  • A trip over Lava Falls, with our captain reading from John Wesley Powell’s notes on exploring the Grand Canyon;

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? It was.

But it was also a magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It could have been a disaster. The U.S. Government, the weather, the people or the equipment, all could have conspired to make this a colossal waste of a week. But none of them could get in our way. (more…)

Texas Driver’s License – where not to wait

Let’s just call this a public service announcement.

Like many, I am not a fan of waiting, nor the English perfected fine art of “queueing”. When I had to get my Driver’s License renewed in person, I could find no information on-line for which Harris County Driver’s License office had the shortest lines. I hope this information saves you some time.

  • All of the offices appear to triple the test of your patience by having three lines: the line to the information desk; the line (or chairs) to wait to be called; and the final “hidden” queue to have to take your test or have your picture taken.
  • If you are in northwest Harris county, avoid the Grant Road office (10503 Grant Road); the first line just to get to the Information Desk is almost always out the door, and announced wait times of 3-4 hours are not uncommon;
  • The Townhurst office (1601 Townhurst, near I-10 West and Beltway 8) was the one I went to, and I waited less than 90 minutes for the entire process; plus the people in that office were helpful, and amusing (one lady kept announcing that “lovely new people in line should go to the Dacoma office”);
  • The Dacoma office (4545 Dacoma, near 290 and the Loop) that was being pushed as an alternative had apparently just been renovated and reopened, new, clean and no waiting; whether that will hold out once folks know it is reopened, I have no idea;
  • I heard unsubstantiated reports on the Baytown office (usually no waiting, but too far for me) and the Vantage Parkway office (near the airport, avoid it for its long lines).

Hope this helps you wait less.

This Weekend-Trinity U. Alumni Booksigning and Beerdrinking

For the fourth year in a row, I’ll be at the Trinity University Alumni book signing on campus in Ruth Taylor Hall. For the third year, my partner in crime (and excellent author) Robert Flynn and I will share a table, which is dangerous just in the intent. Also for the fourth year, beer drinking and mexican food consumption will commence shortly after the book signing (or as Bob calls it, being ignored by non-readers) ends.

My next novel will not be ready in time for the signing (I will have information on it), but Bob’s latest Echoes of Glory will be there. Bob was the writer in residence at Trinity about a hundred years ago, and has won many awards for his Texas and Vietnam based fiction, and for his excellent collection of humorous essays. I’ve read Echoes of Glory and enjoyed it, my notes on it are here.

Come on by if you are close.

Re-reading MSandT

Re-reading Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

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Dusk Before the Dawn

Dusk Before the Dawn

Software By the Kilo

Software by the Kilo


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