Papago Park Doesn’t Suck

I dig the Buttes. Big time.

I dig the Buttes. Big time.

“That trail SUCKS!” my husband Lou said the other day as we drove past Papago Park.

He was referring to the Eliot Ramada Loop on the west side of Galvin Parkway. The trail offers a paved portion for the first half mile until you reach the Eliot Ramada, a large shady structure poised between the massive, erosion-pocked red rocks called the Papago Buttes.

The trail is easy.

Easy for us anyway. Because, save a few creaky joints and Lou’s “arthritis” in his toe (eye roll), we are young, able-bodied hikers in the prime of our lives.

Not everyone has the luxury of hating that trail, however.

About four years ago, I convinced my grandmother’s caregiver and a few family members to meet up for a hike. With a heavy blanket tucked around her limp body and gray curls poking out from under her fuzzy beanie, GJ (our nickname for her) felt the chilly December air as we took turns (okay, brother Alan did most of it) pushing her wheelchair along the paved trail in Papago Park.

It was hard work.

Shortly after our family hike, GJ had another stroke. A big one. And it pretty much kept her at home for the rest of her life.

After my mother’s stroke earlier this year, we ventured to Papago Park once again for weekly hikes. Mom could walk okay but I had to keep a hand on her belt so I could yank her straight if she started to lose her balance. We started with the paved portion, taking breaks at each bench. We made it to the ramada. After a couple weeks, we braved the uneven terrain of the surrounding dirt trails. Eventually, we could walk the whole park.

That's Mom. Dwarfed by the amphitheater in Papago Park.

That’s Mom. Dwarfed by the amphitheater in Papago Park.

Today, Mom is hiking the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A, a much more challenging trail, three times a week by herself.

Papago Park is where my GJ got out of the house for one of the last times. Papago Park is where Mom healed from her stroke. Papago Park doesn’t suck.

This is the very same speech I gave Lou after he made his callous remark. Needless to say, he recanted his comment.

Nobody fucks with my trails. Nobody.

Check out more photos, gps information, and other details of  this hike on my page which shows a loop we created one day. A detailed review of a Papago Park hike is featured in my upcoming book, Take a Hike Phoenix, which hits bookstores fall 2013 and is now available at or

A Problem Life

Here’s an essay by my late grandmother. I recently found a stack of her essays, written when she was in her 80′s.


David was my youngest child, my fourth son. By the time I started his Cub Scout den I felt cool, experienced; I’d been through a lot and felt I could pretty well cope with any set of eight-year-old boys. The first meeting disabused me of that idea. Braced for their noisy slam-bang arrival, I was instead alarmed by wild noises in the backyard. Sliding open the dining room door, I found mayhem, a whirling ball of arms and legs. Wading in, I seized a couple of boys at a time, finding at the center a kid who was a stranger to me, beating up on Joey, an inoffensive neighbor. The rest of the den had been trying to separate them.

I didn’t try to sort it out, just ordered them into the house, announced a no-fighting policy and moved on with the organizational meeting. The aggressor, Gary, was the only one not from our neighborhood. I decided not to pursue why he had been assigned to me. He didn’t give me any more trouble that day. Next meeting, same thing: Gary beating up on a different Cub, the rest trying to stop the fight. This happened every week. He didn’t disrupt the meetings, but didn’t participate much either. The other boys pretty well ignored him. He brought out my social-worker side, but I still had all my children t home, each one needing my full attention, and I couldn’t spare any time for him. I decided to follow the medical precept “At least, do no harm.” and didn’t berate him for his conduct.

Eventually, he stopped fighting and became relatively invisible in the hurlyburly of the den meetings. He did emerge when we had our clay animals project. Most of the animals were lumpy body-legs-head affairs, requiring some tact to discover just what animal was intended, but not Gary’s: his was a rolypoly stylized purple creature, with a few telling additions immediately identifying it as a hippopotamus. During the project, he had offered a few good suggestions — the proper way to stand a paint brush, for example — which were well-received by his denmates. His mother, it seems, was an artist. (His father, I had found, was a pediatrician who appeared on TV every noon for a five-minute health program.) After that brief flurry of attention, he reverted to fighting occasionally, but I settled for quick resolutions.

Our big event, topping the year, was the Pinewood Derby. This was a national competition, in which each Cub made his own car and raced it competitively within his den; winners competed with other dens’ winners, and so on, with national Cub Scout Pack finalists competing in Dayton, Ohio. Originally, it had been strictly a boys’ project, but so many boys’ dads did the actual work that it was officially declared a “father-son” pr0ject. I ordered kits for all my cubs and gave them what instruction I could; then it was up to each boy…and the competitive level of his father.

The Cub Pack fathers built a regulation steep wooden track; gravity would propel 2 cars at once down to the finish line and the car with the better time would go on to compete again. On the big night, the boys were excited, noisy, apprehensive, each bragging tot he other on his own car. I lined them up, nothing that Gary had not arrived. I had been interested in meeting his dad, but got caught up in events and forgot him. One den at a time competed; just before our turn came up, Gary sidled in. I greeted him and hustled him into the line. As our boys competed, he kept backing to the end of the line. Finally, Gary and the other boy who was left had to step up to the track.

Gary had drawn his car out of his pocket; for the first time I saw it and my heart sank. The corners of the block of balsa wood had been crudely hacked, sanded not at all, and painted orange with watercolor paint that had sunk into the wood; the wheel/axle units had been attached to the car with very large staples, which hung the car up so the wheels wouldn’t turn.

The fathers at the track worked with it, doing what they could, but it was hopeless. The car would not run. They had to put both cars on the track and the other one ran to the bottom. Gary’s car didn’t move. The adults were sympathetic, the boys didn’t jeer…their very silence was hard to bear. Gary, expressionless, picked his car off the track and swung about. Silent, motionless, helpless, we all watched as he marched across the gym; at the door, with one stiff motion, he dropped his car int he trash bin and disappeared alone into the night.

That was the end of that year of scouting. I never saw Gary again, but I learned something about his life. My younger daughter acquired a kitten that summer and we took it to the vet for whatever it is that one must do with new pets. As we settled into the waiting room I recognized, from his daily TV show, Gary’s farther, Dr. G, the pediatrician. He had with him two beautiful Irish Setters; another man was asking him about them.

Proud of them, delighted to talk about his cherished dogs, he held forth on his program: it was most important to spend lots of time with them, giving them love and rewards…positive reinforcement was the clue. He went on to say he spends every Saturday morning taking them out to open spaces where they could run and frolic and he could train them with love and attention. The dogs skylarked about him, competing for his attention; he caressed their heads and scratched behind their ears. He was bursting with pride, the picture of a satisfied man. We were called to bring in our kitten; when we came out he and his dogs were gone.

I never saw him again, either. Years passed; I was downtown at Red Cross headquarters to visit my friend Lois, the director. As I waited for her in the main room, I watched some volunteers who chatted while they rolled bandages; I was caught by the sound of a name: “Mrs. G…”. Just then my friend came out of her office. I said casually;

“Isn’t that Mrs. G? Her son Gary was in my cub scout den.”

“Is that right?” said Lois. “Pity about that boy, isn’t it? I hear he’s in County Jail again.”

Important Object #1

Here’s another essay by my late grandmother. I recently found a stack of her essays, written when she was in her 80′s.

She discovered kayaking in her 70’s and fell in love.


My kayak is a turquoise dream holder, a badge of belonging, a passport to adventure, an arrow shot from my double paddle, the nether half of my mermaid persona, my cradle among other water babies, shelter from icy waters, refuge from city clamor, my gift from Neptune, a memory treasure trove, a landlubber’s challenge, a child’s magic transport, the embodiment of a thousand excursions from daily humdrummery.

Just looking at it, tidily slung from the rafters, recreates the worlds where it has taken me, on countless occasions: a world of water, shores, coasts, far-seeing boaters and the myriad boats that connect them all. I see the hills across the bay, dotted with dark majestic trees, some spectacular volcanic rocks: black, porous, enigmatic…and terribly impressive homes no one seems to frequent.

I smell the breeze, the salt, the crisp water, promising aromas from the marina java shop, satisfying wafts from beach barbecues.

I hear the endless, lonely  jangle of mast lanyards from beached boats, the shriek of gulls, the slap of water on big boats, the dogs barking from that disreputable tub with the pile of old tires cascading along the deck, kids calling to each other over the water, whistle signals coding messages through the kayak group: “Stay closer,” “Raft up, ” “Single file past the rocks.”

I feel the kayak slide through the ripples, ferry wakes, smart whitecaps; I battle the current and tide to shoot up onto the rough shale shore of Angel Island. I sit in calm water under a full moon and marvel at the silver filigree of The City, as we silently contemplate the  meaning of life.

I pretty much slide over the two hours of washing boats and gear, carrying them that impossibly long distance to the containers, and stowing it all just so, ready for the next team. I move directly to the heavenly lassitude of Having Kayaked, in blissful exhaustion.

And all without leaving home…

The Old Roue

As promised, here’s yet another essay written by my late grandmother. I recently found a stack of her essays, written when she was in her 80′s.

The Old Roue

By Jeanne Menconi

Reviewing the Medicare eligibility of elderly patients in nursing homes took me into all those facilities in our five local counties every week. I came to know the patients who regularly sat near the desks where I took my notes in each facility. My favorite among these was Jock, a dapper youngster of 94, at Walnut Whitney Convalescent Hospital.

No wheelchair for him. He sat on a straight chair, always in a fresh white long-sleeved shirt, his black eyes snapping as he swiveled about, hailing each person who approached. His vigorous white hair, neatly barbered, gleamed under the neon lights; he had a jolly quip for everyone. I had often thought it was a pity he was confined to a facility, but apparently he’d outlived all his family and had no choice.

One day, however, arriving there late in the day, I saw Jock had a visitor: a large shambling man stood dejectedly in front of him, holding two bags: a gallon just of wine showed at the top of one; the other was stuffed with several freshly laundered white shirts. Jock gestured impatiently for him to set the bags down and began haranguing him.

“When are you going to get me out of this place?” he demanded. “I’m tired of being cooped up. Take me home!” He was strident and impatient.

Yes, I thought, why are you leaving your poor father isolated all these debilitated people? He’s bored to death! But I kept still and pretended to be immersed in my note-taking. When I finished I started down the long hall to the front door, almost in step with the dejected visitor. I couldn’t resist:

“Is that your dad?” I asked.

Turning his anguished face to me, he said, “Yes, and he’s really mad at me because I won’t take him home.”

And well he might, you ungrateful son! I thought to myself. Aloud, I said only, “A good question. Why don’t you take him out of here?”

He turned a tortured face to me.

“Lady,” he groaned, “He’s been married eight times! If I let him out, he’ll just get married again. I’m seventy-six years old. I’m too old to go through all that again!”

Saved in the Desert

As promised, here’s yet another essay written by my late grandmother. I recently found a stack of her essays, written when she was in her 80’s. Here’s one about my grandfather, Leslie, and how he saved his wife in the desert.

Jeanne Menconi…many years before the incident in the desert occurred.


By Jeanne Menconi

Returning from our daughter’s outdoor wedding near Salt Lake City, Les and I were traversing that huge part of Utah which has no redeeming features at all. The divided highway ribbons into the distance; an occasional bit of scrub growth relieves the uninspired terrain; the light is dull, but we know that outside our cool Oldsmobile capsule it’s a hot, hot day.

I was at the wheel — more an indication of Les’s utter boredom with the landscape than a testimonial to my driving skills. We were alone in the universe and I was making good time. Suddenly, looming out of the heat waves, a car rocketed toward us. As it passed, I groaned to Les, “A Highway Patrolman!” In my rear view mirror I saw him execute a neat, swift u-turn across the divider. No longer alone in the universe, I slowed onto the shoulder preparing to face my fate.

Citation book in hand, he recorded my information. Courteously, he asked me to step out of the car; Les unfolded himself on the passenger side. Still the gentleman, the officer invited me into his air conditioned cruiser. As I slid across the smooth vinyl seat, it came to me in a flash what all this courtesy was about: mounted on his dashboard was a little electronic screen with flashing numerals; in discreet green flickered: “54 – 54 – 54”. Above these cool numbers, in fiery red, were the damning digits: “72 – 72 – 72”. I’d never seen a radar screen before, but I caught the significance at once: I was cooked. The speed limit at the time was 55.

My nemesis slid silently behind the wheel. Les-the-quick-witted, head bent in the doorway and one foot still on the pavement, said conversationally, “Oh, you have radar. We can’t use it in California.”

I could almost see the antennae rising next to the patrolman’s ears as he said, “You traffic?”

My hero replied, laconically, “Nope. Narcotics.”

Women’s lib went out the window and I began a stealthy slide under the dashboard. From my invisible perch, I listened to the two professionals establish rapport.

The officer explained that the 55 limit was dangerous in this barren landscape, as drivers tended to fall asleep at the wheel. The trouble was, he continued, that the slower speed was mandated by the federal government to conserve energy, and federal funds for the state depend on cooperation in maintaining this limit. The two colleagues bonded in their feelings about bureaucracy and stupid laws. I held my breath; my name was already on a ticket. Was it too late? My heart sank as he filled out the ticket and gave it, not to me, but to his pal Les.

As Les swung the car out onto the highway to resume our journey, he handed me the ticket: a $5 fine for wasting energy.

I Have Seen

Nurse, mother, bridge partner, New Yorker, military wife, world traveler, widow, student, hiker, kayaker, volunteer, grandmother, writer…just to name a few.

My grandmother was, among many other things, a writer. She was born in 1921 and passed away last October at age 90. Having lived so many decades, “writer” was just one of many identities she embraced.

The other day, I discovered some of her essays. Most were charming narratives about family life, traveling, or kayaking all written with lively language and wit. She really was a great writer. She also loved attention so I doubt she’d mind if I shared a few of her essays on this blog. Here’s one that I find particularly touching.


By Jeanne Menconi

Armistice Day parades of WWI soldiers

The Brooklyn Bridge from an old Ford, on a rainy night

A mother struggling to make Christmas for five children with $35

The Chrysler Building from the top of a tree in Queens

Niagara Falls the only time it froze over

Red Rocks Park Amphitheater with its perfect acoustics

The noble peaks of the Rockies west of Denver

The nursing world I love

The first patient I lost to death

San Francisco with its heady air of adventure about to happen

Torpedo-damaged warships slowly steaming in to the Navy Yard for repairs

Sailor amputees with pinned-up pajama legs and/or sleeves

Formal dinner aboard a warship

A restaurant in La Jolla with waves crashing on the windows

Lively roadhouses on frosty nights in Wisconsin

My incredible first baby, just like the “typical newborn” in my obstetrics book

The Tomb of the Unknowns with its eternal flame

Japanese cherries in bloom in The Tidal Basin

The unbelievable lively green of eastern Pennsylvania

The presidential yacht Williamsburg, lit up all night, Saturdays, for Harry Truman and his poker pals

The Delaware River, so narrow anybody could throw a dollar across it

A quiet little hospital roommate who saved me from strangling on my tongue

A harrowing flight over the Pacific with two preschool sons and only two seats, plus another kid who loved our coloring books

The Aloha spirit of the Islands before it was commercialized

The fifty-four waterfalls of Kole Kole Pass, on Oahu, after a rain

Formal Whites and Flaming Sword Dinners

A huki-lau fisherman throwing his net, at sunrise, silhouetted on a craggy rock

Luxury over the Pacific in the last of the Flying Boats

Eucalyptus windbreaks marching along the orange groves of Southern California

The swallows’ punctual return to Capistrano

Disneyland opening, just down the road from our home

Trains roaring along the Southern California beaches

The whole mother-of-six thing, 25 years

The perfect life, in Santa Rosa, for one brief year

Freshman year, American River College

My first Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Suicide Rapids, in a raft

Scrawny-chicken grandson, lighting my life

The nursing world I love

Countless bridge games

Hungry people eating their fill, at Loaves and Fishes

Hiking the Grand Canyon, up from Ghost Ranch

Full-moon-lit San Francisco, from the waters of the Bay

Napali Coast, Kauai, from the ocean

Kids getting hot breakfasts at Wellspring Women’s Center

Every new day, beautiful, rain or shine