Roger Keezer, Coachella Valley Hiking Club hike leader, Search and Rescue Volunteer for Riverside County Sheriff, and great friend conceived the phrase, "Cactus to Clouds", a now well-known extreme hike. Fred and I recently hiked with his wife, Maria, to his memorial in the mountains near Palm Springs, California.
I've a vague memory of the first time I met Roger and Maria Keezer 26 years ago. We were among other hiking enthusiasts invited to the first meeting of the Coachella Valley Hiking Club, founded by Philip Ferranti. Ideas for a new hiking club were being considered: what kind of hikes should we offer, to where, how do we rate their difficulty, and who wants to be a hike leader?
Etched in my memory, however, is Roger's silhouette as he climbed in front of the sun and up the steep side of a mountain, walking stick in hand, pack on his back, with shade from a canvas brimmed hat. He wasn't a big man, but he could take long strides and climb like a mountain goat as we trailed behind him, our legs burning and hearts pounding. I still marvel at Roger and Maria's strength and endurance, and their hiking accomplishments. They celebrated Roger's milestone years of 70 and 75 hiking rim-to-rim the Grand Canyon one day, turning around and hiking back the next day. To do this, you must be fit, as Roger and Maria were. Walking from the North Rim to the South Rim is ~ 22 miles with a 6,000 foot elevation loss followed by a 4,500-foot climb out of the canyon. They were "rim-to-rimmers" before that term became popular.
Roger and Maria Keezer, on summit of Quail Mountain, the highest in Joshua Tree National Park
Roger Keezer conceived the name for arguably the toughest hike in America - an extreme physical test that climbs from Palm Springs to the top of Mt. San Jacinto in one day - a 10,300 foot heart-pounding gain. In 1993, six of us, including Roger and Maria, completed this hike. When I asked for a name for t-shirts to commemorate this extreme hike, Roger quietly said, "Cactus to Clouds". Our event was then dubbed the "First Cactus to Clouds Challenge". This hike is on many an extreme hiker's and runner's bucket list.
First Cactus to Clouds Challenge - Summit of Mt. San Jacinto - 1993
(Roger and Maria Keezer standing 3rd and 4th from left)
On trail near Palm Springs, California
Joyous to be out of the Boise snow this winter, Fred and I hiked with Maria under a warm desert sun near Palm Springs, California to a place where we celebrate Roger's memory on one of his favorite trails - a place that meant a lot to Roger. It is here that friends and family remember Roger with cards, photos, valentines and poems. So wonderful were many things on this hike: the sun warming the cool morning, the scent of creosotes, the satisfying crunch of gravel under foot, and especially walking on the trail again with Maria. But, oh, do I miss Roger's determined steps and gentle spirit!
Roger and Maria started their hiking career after retiring from Lucky Stores in 1992. We all became hike leaders with the Coachella Valley Hiking Club. After many hikes, many miles, many stories, many awesome mountain top views, much sweat and effort, our friendship endures. Quick-paced with stick in hand and pack on her back, Maria still marches up and down desert trails, and I'm still trying not to fall behind.
Maria Keezer still hikes steady and strong
Roger didn't talk much about himself. It was a few years after I met Roger that he told us he was a submariner during his Navy days. He was a quiet man with a gentle laugh, who could serve up a great-tasting tequila shot for hors d'oeuvres, followed by the most perfectly grilled tri-tip for dinner. He had a beautiful mint-condition 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback that he and Maria took on "Mustangs Across America" - a trip from Las Vegas to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Fred, Sue and Maria near Palm Springs, California
California Barrel Cactus - Ferocactus cylindraceus
Roger often had interesting stories about helping to rescue lost people in the Coachella Valley and San Jacinto Wilderness when he was a volunteer with Riverside County Sheriff. Those were the happy stories, however, there were also the stories of body recoveries.
Wildhorse Trail near Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California
"Teddy Bear" Cholla - Cylindropuntia bigelovii
Maria and Roger Keezer, Ray Wilson, Scott Tanner, Fred Birnbaum on Art Smith Trail, Palm Desert, California
The view from Roger's memorial is stunning. I could see many places we had all hiked together in the washes and mountains surrounding us. The air was clear and the sun high as we stood and reminisced about the last 25 years of our friendship - and Roger's life. It's good to know there is a particular place we can go to remember Roger, although for me his spirit is still present in and around the desert mountains that he loved so much.
View of Mt. San Jacinto Wilderness from the top of Murray Peak, Coachella Valley, California
Maria and Roger Keezer, Fred Birnbaum
September 23, 1929 - August 22, 2015
About this blog
– "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
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