Neal Cassady in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: A Reminiscence

Copyright 2019 by Diane Sward Rapaport

Reproduction only by permission of the author

In 2006, an email from a stranger reeled me back  into my life in San Miguel Allende, Mexico during the nineteen sixties. “I have an interest in Neal Cassady’s time here. Anything you can tell me about Neal during this period would be greatly appreciated. Recall any of your conversations?”

Neal was mythologized in two rebel cultures: beatniks and hippies. He was barely disguised as Dean Moriarity in Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road—two mavericks on a drug-laced adventure across country to find God. Neal was the chauffeur of ‘Further,’ the garish psychedelic bus that took a menagerie of Merry Pranksters across the country in the mid-sixties. Their rollicking adventures, fueled by LSD and other psychoactive drugs, were chronicled in Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”


The Magic Bus—a 1939 Iternatioanl  Harvster repainted by the ‘Merry Pranksters that toured the country with Ken Kesey.

I flipped the stranger off. “I’m sorry I don’t remember much. It’s like the old joke about spaced-out hippies: ‘If you can remember the sixties, you weren’t really there.’”

The truth was that I wasn’t spaced out. I was a wannabee writer with a Master’s degree in Renaissance Lit from Cornell University who was fleeing from my first husband and packing two young children under five years old. In 1964, I was twenty-five years old, hadn’t read Kerouac’s books and didn’t know any hippies.

When I was eighteen, I thought I knew what I was doing. In San Miguel, I woke up to the much sadder recognition that I didn’t have any clear vision of who I was and who I would become—a pretty ingénue whose identity was still unshaped.

I had retreated to a remote, hilly village, terraced with cobblestone streets, where I could live on $100 a month.

That was the context for meeting Neal Cassady.

One of my friends took me to an evening party at Taboada, a local hot springs out of town. I was surrounded by people who knew everything I did not about the hippie culture, most of them nude, with propensities for consuming large amounts of speed, acid, peyote mushrooms and marijuana, swallowed with tumblers of tequila.

Neal was hanging out on the outskirts of the group with his back turned on them. He was easily the handsomest man there—early forties and dressed in khaki pants and clean shirt. No beard. No long-hair. As I moved closer, I heard him delivering a rapid-fire monologue to the full moon, describing everyone at the party with what seemed unusual canniness, acerbity, wit and accuracy. As the party got wilder a, Neal kept throwing pills down his throat, lucid as the brilliant light that etched him into that surreal scene. When we drove away, he was still talking to the moon, the last man standing.


Neal Cassady. Used by permission of Carolyn Cassady.

It was my first introduction to hippies. At first, they seemed like just another group of flamboyant Americans who were passing through.

I was an enthusiastic observer of people with no center to them, no thread that could seam them together and make something whole. San Miguel was full of them, a remote town where Americans and Canadians drifted in to invent their past lives and try on new ones. I was in that middle stage, a past life in shambles and a new one I couldn’t yet glimpse.

One of my friends said that I avoided people getting too close to me by making then talk about themselves. It wasn’t that I was afraid of people getting too close—the observer in me was a refuge I could contain myself in until I could figure out the maelstrom that was swirling inside me.

I was pulled into Neal’s orbit and became one of the satellites that circled around the brilliance of his sun.

Part II.

Neal arrived in San Miguel Allende in 1964 in George Walker’s red Lotus convertible to a huge fanfare among the hippies. It was easily the most exotic car anyone had ever seen on these narrow streets.


The Red Lotus Elan—a Classic in any generation.

The hippies had a large reverence for Neal. Each told me he was their newest best friend and emphasized his assured place in history (how Kerouac worshipped him; how he was the LSD acid king, how he spent two years in prison; how he was addicted to bennies (speed) and could out drink and out drug them all. I was struck by what seemed like hero worship from young down and outers who venerated this collection of odd accomplishments.

What his friends considered heroic, I considered sad. As I came to know Neal, I understood that he too considered his life sad: he was a legend for all the wrong reasons. As I would later find, sadness and isolation often accompany fame, and these can warp into addiction and a self-destruct that finally destroys the talent that spawned it.

“How would you like to go out to the hot springs and take some mushrooms, Neal asked soon after we met. I said yes, not knowing in the least what was going to happen. He dosed me and then wandered away, as I slowly began to recede into my inner journey. At some point my sense of time vanished. There were no boundaries between me and a color, a word, a number, a star; everything was broken into fragments. I didn’t know whether I was alive or dead and I was too out there to care, fascinated to be floating among so many disparate images. No sentences. No thoughts. No revelations.

The sound of a train hauled me back to the hot springs. It was beginning twilight, but I had no idea whether I had been there for days or weeks. Then everything became a sequence of comic strips that set me laughing uncontrollably. No Neal. The wind rippled shadows through the grasses like waves. Eventually Neal appeared, and we went home. I didn’t speak. Didn’t talk about ‘my trip.’

Ten years would pass before I did mushrooms again. I didn’t like being that far out of control. And who knows perhaps seeing my mind break into all those fragments was a metaphor for not really being able to piece together my life into one coherent whole.

Part III.

Neal and I did become lovers, but only for a short while. The chemistry was off. Instead, we became close friends. We shared a spacious home in the center of town, the Murillo house we called it, with a large interior patio with two trees. It belonged to some middle class people who mysteriously fled and disappeared. The house was rented to us for $40 a month by Rosendo, an old and odd Mexican, who had a drooping red eyeball that always seemed ready to fall out. Every morning, the roosters would start crowing at 4 a.m.; then the dogs howled starting from far up town; and on Sundays, the bells of twenty-seven Catholic churches tolled, not all in perfect pitch—a splendid cacophony.

Some of the time that Neal was in San Miguel, he would stay with his girlfriend JB and take a lot of speed. He’d show up at my house when he needed to come down off of eight or ten days of speed and little sleep. I would immediately boil up a dozen soft-boiled eggs, which he drank in one big gulp. He told me that protein helped restore his dopamine. Then he’d sleep for twelve to sixteen hours. When he woke up, he had a different lucidity, one that enabled us to become solid friends, He’d stick around my house unstoned for many days, and we were easy and comfortable with each other. He liked that I didn’t relate to him as an icon. He became someone I could talk to freely about my emotional wreckage; and he to me about his, which included two wives and five children. He revealed to me how deeply ashamed he was; and that the drugs were his hideout, and I was a refuge. He told me that I knew his internal engineering better than anyone he’d ever met.

One night, Neal burst into my bedroom while I was sleeping, turned on the light and killed a scorpion crawling towards me on my pillow. Another time he showed up at the house quite unexpectedly, because he had some flash I was going to burn the house down; and indeed I had left a stove burner on with a wooden cutting board carelessly left on top. I was to come to know well the psychic quality in people that had done hundreds of acid and mushroom trips. Their minds become unhinged and they easily pass through the thin membrane that leads to clairvoyance.

Neal was the first addict I knew with any specificity. What I came to realize was that his hatred of himself and his addiction, and the love many had for him, could not help him from deraiing his life.

For the next four years, Neal came to San Miguel about once a year, always leaving abruptly. Our lives would intersect, and then we’d go our separate ways. The second year Neal was gone, I got talked into finding jobs for a rock band that one of my friend’s had put together, largely because one of the lyric writers claimed he had once played with the Beatles and was having his upright bass repaired in Mexico City. Eventually he ripped a bunch of money from the band and left town. Several years later, we discovered he fled back to Kansas and his old job as a shoe salesman. The job I got the band in Mexico City led to a good living in San Miguel and a distinguished career as an artist’s manager in the music industry.

The last time Neal was in San Miguel was early 1968. He told me, “Look, I’m becoming all my worst images. I’ve got no work, and I’m a lousy lover. What else is there, I mean?” He professed wanting to quit speed; hoped that Allan Ginsberg would come down and somehow save him. He told me how tortured he was by the menagerie that flocked around him and clung like leeches. I would talk to him about what it might be like to live somewhere anonymously and reinvent his life.

He was the first addict I knew with any specificity. What I came to realize was that his hatred of himself and his addiction, and the love many had for him, could not help him from derailing his life.

The night before he died, I had a dream. Neal was spinning and breaking up in front of my eyes. He became a shooting star dropping into a small smiling crescent moon that has just emerged from the horizon.

I woke up to a tapping at my door. A policeman had come to tell that me Neal was dead. He was found some twenty miles outside of town, near the railroad tracks. He had fallen in with a party of Mexicans and rode his life out on speed and tequila, a runaway train bound for destruction.

Later that day, I learned that Neal had written his own epitaph. Scrawled in red lipstick on the bathroom mirror of his girlfriend’s house was: “Just a gigolo, wherever I go.”


Happy New Year 2019. Namaste.

IMG_1780.JPGOnce again, history began at breakfast, heralding news of shocking surprises and the potential for disillusion.

Two years ago, at a vista in Canyonlands National Park, the changes that sculpted this wilderness of pinnacles, canyons and rivers occurred long ago. The rocks I stood on were once ocean.

Whatever legacies ancient races left behind are lost in the detritus of petroglyphs and ruins—symbols of greatness and transience. Roots of juniper and pinon coil downwards, forging pathways into sandstone. I move carefully around the petrified logs of a pine forest that existed 200 million years ago. The cataclysm that buried it happened quickly; the processes that mineralized the wood occurred particularly slowly. The twin forests of death and rebirth at my feet remind me about the yin and yang cycles of change. Thoughts disappear into the breath of the air.

If this wilderness, in its pristine and natural disarray, had not been preserved so that I could quiet myself down, it would be more difficult not to give in to primal bewilderment. History would always begin at breakfast. I would protect myself by hoarding my treasures, arming myself with guns, and guarding my larders. Greed and loneliness would become constant companions.

Here, in sweet Southeast Oregon, I teach tai chi and qigong to help people heal themselves, quell anxiety, and follow a path of peace, compassion and balance in times of strong and confusing changes.

It’s what I can do.

Diane Sward Rapaport 2019

The Little Daisy: A Miner’s Hotel Transformed into a Baronial Mansion

The Little Daisy, as we have all come to know it, holds many happy memories of living in Jerome, Arizona.

Before it was so elegantly and lovingly restored by Walter and Lisa Acker, it was a playground for children, a great party hotel for weddings and barbecues, the site of the first Jerome Music Festival, and a favorite place to draw, paint and photograph from. My friend the photographer Bob Swanson took some amazing photos of these ruins, reproduced here with permission. You can see many of his photos of Jerome, some of which were reproduced in my book, Home Sweet Jerome (now out of print) taken in the late eighties, by going to

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Photo by Bob Swanso, reproduced with permission

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Photo by Bob Swanso, reproduced with permission

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Photo by Bob Swanso, reproduced with permission

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Photo by Bob Swanso, reproduced with permission

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Ths week, the Little Daisy was put up for sale.

Jerome was once one of the nation’s largest copper producers and one of Arizona’s wealthiest cities. Large quantities of zinc, silver, and gold were also mined. Legend has it that the value of the gold and silver was enough to cover the expenses of mining the copper and zinc. These mines made billions of dollars in profits.

Jerome’s two great mines, the United Verde Copper Company (UV) and the Gold, Silver and Copper Mining Company (UVX), operated within a mile of each other, but its ore bodies were quite separate.

The United Verde comprised the open pit and buildings just outside of town and below Sunshine Hill. William Andrews Clark, the robber baron who was reputed to be richer than Rockefeller, owned the UV.

James Stuart Douglas was the owner of the UVX mine. Its shafts were located on the land below the beautiful white mansion that Douglas built for himself and his family. The UVX nicknamed his mine the Little Daisy and pulled out 3.9 million tons of copper, 221 tons of silver, and 6.25 tons of gold.” The mine was fable among geologists throughout the world because of the high concentrations of ore it contained. The UVX averaged 12 to 14 percent copper to the ton, with some concentrations as high as 45 percent, which made it one of the two highest-grade deposits found in the world at that time.

Jimmy Douglas closed the UVX in 1938, because the high-grade copper ore had played out. Afterward, many of the mine buildings were demolished. The tram and the railroad carried away the tools, the large earthmoving equipment, and ore carts to other mines. After the trains made their last trips down the hill, the tracks were taken up. The large elevator shafts below the Douglas Mansion, a few office buildings, and tailings piles remained.

The Little Daisy Hotel, a monument to the largesse of Douglas’ reign, was de-roofed and gutted to its walls and arches but not before vandals had broken in and carted away furniture, bathtubs, and fixtures.

The Ackers graciously took me on a tour of this most amazing restoration, which included a maze of copper tubing under the main floor of the Daisy for radiant heat, a photo of which can be seen in the listing photos (second link in this blog).



In all the time I worked in the music industry in San Francisco (!967-1980), I was never groped, kissed, patted on the butt or forced upon without explicit permission. And neither were the women singer/songwriters that I managed, two of whom were extraordinarily beautiful.

In the late nineteen sixties and seventies, free love reigned in the music business and among the hippies that moved into San Francisco’s Haight district. It did seem to me, that everyone was shagging everyone, talking about it, celebrating it, in the most outrageous manner possible. And maybe that kept lewd and lascivious behavior, at least in this business, confined to the bedroom.

Magnolia Thunderpussy

After one of my first Fillmore West shows, my boyfriend took me for dessert at Magnolia Thunderpussy’s near Haight and Ashbury. I burst out laughing at the menu of erotic deserts. My boyfriend ordered up a “Pineapple Pussy” (hollowed out pineapple filled with strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, topped with chocolate shavings and a cherry). I ordered up “The Montana Banana,” a salacious version of the banana split: upright peeled banana, two scoops of ice cream, artfully placed at the bottom of the banana, surrounded by a little shredded coconut, and a dollop of whipped cream at the discretely split end of the banana.


Herb Caen, famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist was an ardent fan of Magnlia’s and so were rock bands and hippies. I went there often for Magnolias’s concoctions and her free-wheeling, rambunctious sense of humor.

Margot St. James; Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics

Margot St. James was arguably San Francisco’s most outspoken and famous hooker, I met her when graphic designer David Wills and I were hatching up the magazine Music Works: a Manual for Musicians. Margot had an office next to ours: I knew her then only as a licensed private investigator that gave her access to women imprisoned for sex crimes. She wanted these women to be given equal treatment under the law as their male counterparts, including access to therapists, medicines and doctors.

Margot hired me to be the producer of the first Coyote Hooker’s Masquerade Ball in San Francisco at Longshoreman’s Hall in 1974, just around Halloween. The profits would fund legal fees for the women arrested for sex crimes.


Margot St. James wasn’t pretty in a conventional sense, but she had a vitality and energy that drew people to her causes.

My job was to hire the bands, the sound and light crew, write the press releases, and on the night of the dance, hold a street parade, and make sure no one got out of hand. No big deal, I figured.

Margot thought I could do this because I had just quit working as an artist’s manager for legendary rock ‘n roll concert producer Bill Graham. I struck out of my own to teach busness to musicians and was called a revolutionary by a well-known Bay Area rag. Who would have thought that empowerment for musicians was revolutionary?

But empowerment for hookers and for women jailed for sex crimes—that was much more revolutionary. I had great respect for Margot’s cause, as I did (and still do) for anyone that stuck out their neck for disenfranchised people.

That ball was one wild rockin’ San Francisco event, in a city known for them. It’s theme on all the posters: “Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics.”

It began with me watching the Marin County firemen that Margot talked into helping rig Longshoreman’s Hall, while I helped a bevy of gorgeous hookers assemble mailings and lick stamps.

Just before the ball, there was a pre ‘get-it-up’ fund-raising party with the same bevy of women serving canapés to many of San Francisco’s politicos, rumored to be their clients. Sally Stanford was there—she ran one of the city’s most notorious brothels, and so was Linda Lovelace, the famous porn star.

The dance itself was a huge costume party of San Francisco’s gay men and women, bisexuals, transgenders, queens, and cross dressers. The mayor and police chief came, and the only incident was a lavishly dressed clown with a cane who had climbed on top of one of the speaker stacks and was trying to ‘hook’ the chandelier. I don’t remember how one of my crew talked him safely down.2449034427

I went on to produce the next four ‘balls,’ which became among the largest of Bay Area’s fundraisers—and the wildest. The one I loved the most was the fourth, which took place at what is now called the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. In the entry hall were tables laden with marijuana (illegal then). Inside the ceiling was hung with balloons made of condoms that were donated by manufactuers. Margo rode into the hall on an elephant to announce her candidacy of Presidency of the U.S. I wish I had a copy of the press release I wrote.

Margot raised a lot of money; and she spent in on the causes she espoused,

Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party

“The Dinner Party” was held in 1979 at San Francisco’s Modern Museum of Art. A triangular table was lavishly set with thirty-nine place settings, each celebrating a famous woman of mythology and history, such as Sappho or Joan of Arc.010_the_dinner_party_installation

What was served up was an art installation that drew more people than any other art show up to that time. Each setting had the motif of the era lived in by each woman that was honored.

Other rooms in that installation honored women’s home arts: crochet, lace, china painting, weavings—some of the finest I have ever seen.


The ‘draw’ of that show, however, which had people waiting in line for many blocks and for many months, were Judy Chicago’s fourteen-inch china-painted sculptured plates that were modeled on women’s vaginas.

The Dinner Party has a permanent home at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Musuem, New York.

Stella Resnick

My friend Stella, who lived in San Francisco in the nineteen seventies, was just beginning her career as a clinical psychologist specializing in sexual enrichment in relationships.

When she moved to Los Angeles, she grew a large private practice and wrote two ground-breaking books: The Heart of Desire: Keys to the Pleasures of Love and The Pleasure Zone: Why We Resist Good

Stella and I often talked about those free-wheeling days in San Francisco, often in her outdoor redwood hot tub. I credit her for saying, “We had ten years of free love,”

That was before the tragic aids epidemic that hit so many cities like an out of control freight train.

And perhaps before the lewd behavior of men and sexual harassment of women that has crept into all walks of life and dominates media news.

I applaud the women speaking out. It can’t be easy.

Naked, Kickass Katie Lee

Much publicity has been garnered from the beautiful black and white photos of Katie Lee nude in Glen Canyon in the 1950s that were taken by photographer Martin D, Koehler and printed for a special fine arts edition by master printer Richard Jackson of Flagstaff, AZ.


The photos are now part of the Katie Lee archives at Cline Library, Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the special collection “Colorado Plateau.”

At no level did I ever see these photos of Katie as being ‘sexy.’ Katie was as natural in the wilderness as any wild animal, completely unselfconscious, in a manner that very few people are when they are naked.


“The Nymph,” photo by Martin D. Koehler, is part of a poster sold by Glen Canyon Institute.

Yes, she was a remarkably beautiful woman when the photos were taken, but when she was in those canyons, she was part of the sandstone that she said she was born with in her veins. It was as though these canyons were part of her body.

In Katie’s comments about the photos, she said, “When I met Glen Canyon it was love at first sight—a place far from the inbred taboos of our society— closer to a dreamland than to reality. I have never posed as a model and am not doing so here…only doing what I always did in Glen Canyon—climbing, dancing, walking, touching, talking to the stone, swimming in the river, lying in the shallows, sliding down the falls, crawling through ruins, inching up crevasses, hanging from tree limbs, covering myself with mud, playing, singing, living with the canyon. I can always tell when a model is photographed in a place she’s never seen or experienced before; it’s in body language that can’t be hidden.”

Hiking and Boating with Katie

Anyone who has ever hiked or boated with Katie in the wilderness knows she will shed her clothes as quickly as she possibly can and not put them on again until she gets close to her car.

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Although this photo was taken when she was able to boat down Glen Canyon I had the pleasure of hearing her play her guitar in Gravel Canyon when we backpacked there together many years ago. She was singing in harmony with the coyotes.

Wasn’t she afraid of getting ‘scratched’ someone once asked. I remembered walking naked with Katie and Joey in an absolutely fabulous cactus forest in Southern Baja California. You just had to pay attention, a perfect lesson in ‘being present’ in that silent, but very vibrant world.


The second of Katie Lee's trilogy about a lost eden

The second book of Katie Lee’s trilogy of a lost eden., Cover art by Serena Supplee.

In her book Sandstone Seduction: Rivers and Lovers, Canyons and Friends, Katie wrote: “When I suggested to someone that reveling in that nude world was like taking a bath in awareness, they asked, “Of yourself?”

“Oh no,” Katie said. “Awareness of the earth, the elements, that blue roof up there, the old stone dune with its birthmarks, that fitting hollow, the sound that sometimes comes from the tone when I put my ear to it.” For her, it was the canyons that were sexy: “The luscious sandstones of Glen Canyon began their beckoning call to me after my first year in these sequestered erogenous zones—those deep sinuous paths between Mother Earth’s labia, so private, so impermissible, I’d back away. Should we even be allowed to see such things?” (page 162)
Dandy Crossing

The cover of Katie’s book, Ghosts of Dandy Crossing, featured herself nude, =grinning and pointing a Ruger at her friend and lover, the cowboy-miner Buck.

Book cover of Katie Lee's latest book.

Dandy Crossing was a ferry crossing on the old Colorado River between Hite Village and White Canyon, about three miles downstream from what is now Hite Marina.  The book is still available from her website

Perhaps more than any other book about Glen Canyon that Katie wrote, this one is about the people that lived and worked there before the canyon was dammed—the miners, cowboys, the ferryman, people who explored and settled the west. She felt at home with them and vice versa, whether or not she was nude. Their lives were upended with the building of Glen Canyon reservoir, a sadness some did not recover from, including Katie, who made her life’s work getting rid of the dam and restoring the flow of the Colorado River.

She had no airs in the company of those folk. She always said that the life she led as a performer was only to make money to get her back to her friends in Glen Canyon, exploring its labyrinths and byways.

KT 2 at The Gate

Katie Lee, the glamorous folk singer in the nineteen fifties.

And in those days, that meant performing in places like the Gate of Horn in Chicago or the Hungry Eye in New York.

Perhaps one of the more poignant passages in that book is when Jason, one of her river companions, goes to visit a glamorous Katie when she was singing in Chicago, an awkwardness between them that can’t be bridged, both unable to reach the easy communication with each other that was part of their river journeys, where she was always totally naked.

Do Any Famous Artists Live in Jerome?

Katie was comfortable with her nudity throughout her old age, when her body was full of sags and crinkles, freckles and liver spots. She just didn’t care. Sometimes you’d go to her house, and she’d meet you nude at the door.

I was once asked by a tourist visiting Jerome, “Do any famous artists live in Jerome.” I thought about this and answered, “Katie Lee.” “Oh, isn’t she the woman that rode naked through town on her bike?”

Katie told me she’s likely to be more famous in Jerome for her ride than for her books and music. Sadly, she was right. No stores in Jerome carry her books and music. During the last couple of years, a few Katie-come-lately’s (as my friend Richard Martin put it) laid claim to knowing her, but few have read her books or listened to her music.

An exception is the song written by Katie’s friend Kate Wolf called “Old Jerome, which Wolf wrote while staying at Katie’ house. The song was adopted as the official town song by the Jerome Town Council in the 1990s and is often played and sung by Jerome’s Ukilele Orchestra.

And yes, Katie is famous in Jerome for riding her bike through town naked except for a helmet and boots when she was seventy-seven years old. She howled with laughter as she sailed the mile downhill from Main Street to her house. It was her way to shed the glum, sad feelings she had after a close Jerome friend died.

Katie on her bike

Jane Moore, one of the owners of Made in Jerome, made this plate for Katie for her 93rd birthday commemorating her famous ride

The day she decided to do it was the kind of sticky and hot it gets just before a summer monsoon. “Friends were snapping at each other like loony birds in a tank of toxins and the humidity was a wet, down comforter under a 110-degree heating pad.” (Sandstone Seduction, “The Ride”)

She streaked past bar owner Paul Vojnic as he talked with Ray, the town cop. Paul said, “Well, aren’t you going to arrest her?” “What am I going to arrest her for” Ray said. “Floppy tits?”

Even before Katie reached her house, people who saw her started shaking the phone calls with their laughter. “Do you know what Katie Lee just did?”

Years later, friends put together a memorial to that ride on Katie’s maybe 87th birthday, where they rode their bikes, dressed up in fake big balloon boobs and padded bras over their clothes, before congregating on the steps opposite Paul and Jerry’s Bar. Only Katie and I showed up bare-breasted.

Foul-Mouth, Kick Ass Katie Lee

Maybe more than the nude photos, Katie was known for her foul-mouth. “It took me almost 20 years to get used to her saying the word ‘F. . . .K’, a close friend recently told me. The word would just roll out of her mouth—in conversation, but especially at lectures on the loss of Glen Canyon and the bottled up Colorado River.

Although most of our friends knew that Katie in the nude was her natural self, Katie in front of an audience put clothes and words together for shock and awe, including swear words. She was trained as an actress and used that training when she sang and lectured or was being filmed. Her appearances were not only unforgettable, but often brought audiences to tears. She was a fabulous performer. Then, she was happy to be known as a bad ass or a kick ass. It’s what she was going for. (The phrase ‘Kickass Katie Lee’comes from a short film by the same name that is produced by Beth and George Gage and shown at the 2016 Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride.

The only time I saw Katie embarrassed was when she delivered a commencement address at Prescott College to graduating teachers sometime in the 1990’s. It was laced with swear words and rants. Many graduates were Navaho women who were hugely offended. Afterwards Katie said to me, “This is the first time I’ve ever given a speech when absolutely NO ONE came back to tell me how great it was.” “Well, Katie,” I said, “look at your audience, young Navaho women, who had never heard another woman swear like that.“ First time I ever saw her blush.

Katie wouldn’t back off when I suggested she rename her book Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, A History of the American Cowboy I Song, Story and Verse. She instantly hit red-line anger and screamed at me, “It’s a famous f….king cowboy song, goddammit.” That book might have been a classic hit among ranchers were it not for the title. The famed Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada wouldn’t carry the book; and many cowboy poetry festivals wouldn’t hire Katie either.

One of the best histories ever written about cowboys.

“A beautiful job, exact, comprehensive and witty. Should remain a basic history of the subject for many year to come.”  Edward Abbey

I sure hope the University of Arizona Press, current publishers of the book, will continue to reprint it and keep it alive. Some copies are still available at Katie’s website: (The odd website name, by the way comes from a conflation of the word Katydid, one of Katie’s favorite insects, and the phrase ‘doo dit.’ She couldn’t call the website by her real name because there was a cookbook author and chef by the same name who had taken the website name for herself.

The word tact was not in Katie’s vocabulary. Whatever she said or felt, she told you. I once chided her: “Katie, sometimes it might pay to be more tactful.” Again, full redline scream: “Tact is a f…..king waste of time.” She said that to me when she was just about the same age as I am now (78) and I try to say exactly what I mean, just not using the swear words.

I was fortunate to know most aspects of Katie— at home sewing, making beads, hiking nude, driving, performing—a giant kaleidoscope. And wherever I landed, what I saw is what I got. Inimitable Kick Ass Katie Lee.  I am still immensely sad at her passing on November 1, 2017.

If you want to read more about Katie: My personal tribute:

And a great obituary in The New York Times:

Copyright 2017 Diane Sward Rapaport

Joey van Leeuwen: The Singing Coyote

Copyright 2017 by Diane Sward Rapaport

Joey van Leeuwen died on November 2 by his own hand in Jerome, AZ. Katie Lee, his partner for 36 years, died peacefully the night before. Joey was 85 years old.J&K Home 2011

Among friends, it was always Katie and Joey, never one without the other. They had increasing disabilities, and for many years, told each other that they could not live without the help of the other. It’s how it is when people age and need to rely on one another.

Joey loved birds, painted portraits of them, carved them, and wrote and illustrated a little gem of a book called The Birds of Jerome. Anyone who walked into Katie and Joey’s home immediately saw a virtual aviary: hawks, eagles and ravens that Joey had carved hanging from the ceiling; doves, ducks, hummingbirds, owls, swallows, and finches perched on window sills and bookcases, a blue heron for the backporch.

Joey bird flying1.jpg

Joey planted an arboretum in his backyard, eighty-six trees, almost as many as there are birds in his book, including chokecherry, hackberry, mulberry, elderberry, squawbush, California buckthorn, walnut, peach, and apricot, eight species of pine and many Gambel oaks. He grew three different types of cherries on one tree. In the evening, he and Katie would sit on the back porch with binoculars and watch the birds feast on a smorgasbord of fruits, berries and nuts.

It gave Katie much pleasure, until some of the trees grew so tall they obscured some of the incredible views of the Verde Valley and red rock canyons beyond. Joey trimmed the trees best he could.

I had the pleasure of hiking with Katie and Joey, not only in the remote Utah canyons, but on a camping trip to Western Australia in 1986. He was a gentle, tall, canny and modest man, as steadfast a friend as I could ever want, with a sweetness that balanced Katie’s more caustic aspects.

Friends and I nicknamed him Hawkeye. He could name a bird at the flick of a color, the shape of a tail, the nest it wove, or from a feather lodged in a prickly pear cactus. He could imitate their songs. Once he told me he watched long-tailed grass finches in Western Australia become drunk on termites. In the spring, the termites secrete some kind of acid that makes the birds so drunk they can hardly fly.

A child’s curiosity and an adult’s skepticism about certain so-called ‘facts’ once led Joey to painting a dozen aluminum cans with a wild bouquet of colors. He filled them with sugar water and sat back to observe which color hummingbirds preferred. “Which ones, Joey,” I asked. “Red. They like red.” He had to find out for himself.

He was born in Holland, emigrated to Australia where he worked on a sheep station in Western Australia for many years, before moving to Jerome, AZ in 1978 to live with Katie. In Australia, Joey was a member of many bird clubs and was sought after for his expertise on aviaries. He fell in love with Katie Lee and moved to Jerome too soon to finish his book of Australian bird lore, “The ABCs of Bird Keeping.”

Joey bird100_0441.JPG

It takes a gentle person to observe their quirky habits and make them companions. Joey’s reward was pure pleasure, a quenching of curiosity and a deepening of knowledge for its own sake. Joey had those traits, as well as the capacity to love without aggression.

Before he died, Joey meticulously labeled which of his carvings were to be gifted to friends. He gifted me one called “Singing Coyote.” I’d like to think he read my tribute to Katie, where I mentioned some of the most magical moments in the canyons, where she played her beat-up guitar (which Joey carried in his backpack) and sang, with the coyotes adding their wild harmonies. I’d like to think Joey and Katie are somewhere in the wild canyons, hand-in-hand singing along with those wild coyote yips.

Joey is survived by two brothers, three children in Australia, Stephen, Elizabeth and Joanne,  five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Katie Lee: I Will Return

Copyright 2017 by Diane Sward Rapaport

My close friend Katie Lee died peacefully in her home in Jerome on November 1, 2017. She was 98 years old. I am immensely sad.

Activist Katie Lee

Katie Lee was a vibrant, energetic, and eloquent singer, author and activist never stopped fighting to drain it and return the natural flow of the Colorado River.

Katie lit a wildfire in her heart about the loss of Glen Canyon when it was drowned to become Lake Powell Reservoir. She called it Loch Latrine or Rez Foul. Often called the “Grand Dame of Dam Busting,” she never stopped fighting to drain it and return the natural flow of the Colorado River.

She left a torch that won’t be extinguished. She knew how to scorch with her words, whether in her books, stories, songs, or lectures. I seldom met an audience of hers that didn’t shed tears and give her a standing ovation.

I once asked Katie why she was so attached to Glen Canyon. She replied,It’s as if my feet are still stuck in the sand at the edge of the river. It’s where I live. This other life I walk around in all day—well, that’s a passing thing. And in many ways it’s my defense against the sadder mechanisms of life around us. And God knows we all need those mechanisms from keeping ourselves from going crazy in this mad world.”

Although she leaves a potent legacy, one she was fortunate to realize in her lifetime, I offer here a few personal memories.


The last time I saw Katie was two years ago when I took her to lunch in Cottonwood, Arizona on her birthday. She cussed at me all the way down the mountain from Jerome for my atrocious driving.You’re f****g braking too often, you need to learn to downshift around these curves; you’re too jerky.” And of course, the more she cussed and yelled, the more nervous and jerky I got. By the time we reached the restaurant, Katie was carsick, and I was mortified.

Then I remembered her acknowledgments about me in her book Sandstone Seduction under the heading, Category Indefinable: “I can teach her only two things: where to hike and how to drive.”

Katie learned to drive from her third husband, Brandy, who was a racecar driver. She became superb at driving fast and smooth, cursing and honking at anybody in her way.

She just never managed to teach me.


Katie did teach me where to hike. Her topo maps showed me how to choose the places where there was virtually no possibility of seeing anyone else. (Hikes she has taken are highlighted with yellow or orange markers on topo maps, which will be archived at Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library).\

At 42 years old, I was a backpacking neophyte; a city slicker newly arrived in Jerome, AZ, who had made some waves in the music industry. I had never before spent a night that was not in a national park with groomed trails and signs telling me where to take a photo. Katie took her mate Joey, my husband Walter and I, and her friend Merlin on a ten-day trip into Gravel Canyon, in Utah’s White Canyon area—possibly not traveled by anyone (including the cows) since the Native Americans left in the fourteenth century. We accessed it from the top. Katie drove up some scraggy, scarred dirt road, which scared the piss out of me, one of my first experiences with Katie behind the wheel.

We started down canyon over many large tree trunks and refrigerator size boulders left by years of flash floods, sending Merlin ahead, sometimes for many hours, to see whether the canyon would continue to “go” or would box us out. He was training for some Chilean snowbound mountain backpacking and carrying 70–80 pounds.

Katie is her most natural self in these wild places—funny, easy to be around, and helpful. She is a gifted storyteller and those wonderful canyon amphitheaters inspired her and turned anybody with her into a rapt audience. The most magical moments were when she played her beat-up guitar and sang, with the coyotes adding their wild harmonies.

We found side canyons full of untrammeled ruins, whole pots, areas strewn with corncobs and grinding stones, and other remnants of lives long gone.

After we rappelled down a forty-foot cliff to walk out, Katie broke one of her two steadfast rules: Never tell anybody where you went. (The other was Don’t go down something you can’t get back up). We found a mauled and looted grave at the end of the rappel, human bones scattered everywhere, and it made Katie furious. We stopped at the Kane Gulch ranger station and told the ranger about it. “How did you happen to find it?” asked the ranger. “We came down canyon,” Katie blurted out. “Oh,” said the ranger, “I didn’t know you could come down that canyon.” Two years later, Outside Magazine did a story on it.

Hikes with Katie taught me to appreciate why those lonesome places are shelters for our emotional upheavals and havens for spiritual growth.

Je Reviendral

Katie loved making bead necklaces for her friends. A few weeks before she died, she told me she was making a necklace for her friend Candace of natural green polished stones and four tiny silver charms: a snake (“because I love them”); a pen (“because I’m a writer”); and a ladder (“of success”); the fourth was a tiny disk engraved with the words Je reviendral (“I will return”).

I’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, Katie never left. The wildfires that she set in my heart continue to spread.

More info:

A lovely video of Katie singing “Song of the Boatman,” accompanied by Peter McLaughlin, at a birthday party about a week before she died. Lyrics by Katie Lee. Music adapted from the song “Cry of the Wild Goose,”by Terry Gilkyson. Katie gifted the guitar she played for so many years to him. Video by Michael.

An elegant obituary in The New York Times on November 10 written by Robert Sandomir.


In case you missed the NBC special on its Today show: