Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Three out of the Four corner states

I’m writing this from a gazebo in a random little park in Las Vegas, NM. We happily discovered electrical outlets and are charging all our electrical things. Seymour is chasing his tail and John is playing on the charging Nintendo DS. The sun is about to set, and my belly is full of pizza and beer. My fingers are cold, but in my happy alive state, I don’t mind one bit.

After leaving the glorious area of Springdale, UT and Zion National Park, we headed North East to Bryce Canyon. When I had visited Bryce with all the other canyons in 2007, Bryce had been my favorite. This time around, however, I was seeing it with different eyes. On my hike day on the second day there, I discovered why I loved it so. The hoodoos, as the tall skinny towers are called, are out of this world. The surrounding landscape in the park is your typical desert with low shrubs and scrappy trees that look like they could kick another tree’s ass. As you step below the rim suddenly you’re in a different landscape all together. All around you are these tall, bizarre hoodoos. The visitor center tells you that they were formed by wind and erosion, but still, it’s almost hard to understand-and they are everywhere. 360 degrees of crazy scenery unlike any other.  The bright white against the bright burnt reds against the deep, bright blue sky makes me wish I were a painter. Although I’m sure no one that hasn’t been to Bryce Canyon would believe that it was an actual landscape painting and not from a sci-fi dream of mine.

Eventually, though, I got sick of the up and down hills. (Although not really tired, I’m proud to say. At one point a couple resting on the switchbacks commented how they had just watched me pass everyone that was behind them without losing my breath. This is what happens when you live in your car, eat very little fat or dairy, and hike a few times a week!) However, Zion is now officially my new favorite National Park, taking even the place of Bryce, Redwood and Yosemite. I needed the test of a second trip to Bryce to be sure.
Earth bending at Arches, my favorite kind of bending. (Avatar: the Last Airbender, for those that don't know. And no, not the blue people, and no, not the M. Night movie.)

After we were done with Bryce Canyon, we drove on to Arches National Park. At this point in the trip we had been Seattle-ites who had not seen rain for 63 days (except for a 10 minute downpour at the Grand Canyon.) As we pulled into Arches it was sprinkling rain and the clouds were promising to give us more. We were stoked! We planned to spend the day trading turns during mini hikes. (Since Arches didn’t seem to offer us any hikes to make us feel badass; more chips thrown into Zion’s bucket.) However, within an hour the clouds were gone and it was gross, sweaty hot out again. We had put on jeans and long sleeve shirts and had been so excited to be rained on, and so this put us in a sour mood for the rest of the day. We stopped at the view points and went on the little hikes, but we found it difficult to be too excited when we felt like raisins drying up. As John likes to say, he likes it cold, dark and damp, and we had been experiencing hot, bright and dry for way too long.

Cranky hot whining aside, Arches is a unique landscape, and the arches at this park, a monument to erosion of the Earth, will only be around for so long. The night before we arrived one of the 200 or so arches collapsed in the night-however, not the famous skinny one. The longest arch in the world-longer than a football field, only 6 feet thick at its thinnest point, Landscape arch is pretty much expected to go any day now. I watched the sun go down behind it and then went to get some cereal to ease my cranky hot mood.

After sleeping on highway shoulders and in rest areas for the last 2 weeks, John and I were ready for some quiet semi-privacy. We found a free campsite just past the Colorado border and headed to it. Oh boy, what an oasis this place was! We had a beautiful epic view of the Colorado River with a huge, perfect rainbow over it as soon as we arrived. We spent 3 wonderful nights there and 2 long lazy days. Our first night it rained a little. We didn’t care how little it was, it sounded loud on the tent, and we pretended it was a storm. We spent both days in our pajamas, only leaving the tent to retrieve snacks or new books from the car. It was exactly the rejuvenation we needed.
Our cloudy beautiful FREE campsite

On our second day there, our camping neighbor told us he heard there would be a storm the next day, so he was heading out. That night, the third night, we saw that storm. We had been yearning so hard for rain, and we got it! As we were lying down to go to sleep, the rain started to come down on the top of the tent harder than ever. John felt confident that the tarp over top of the tent would keep us dry, but warned me to not touch the sides. Well, I’m almost 6 feet tall; it’s very difficult to not touch my head and my feet to the sides of our little tent, especially when the wind is whipping it around! A couple hours after falling asleep I woke up with wet feet. I bent my knees a little bit and figured if I stayed like that I could make it through the night. An hour later I woke up to find that the water had pursued me. At this point I have John cramping my space on one side and poor little Seymour trying to steal my warmth on the other. I bend my knees more and hope that I can make it the rest of the night. The rain pours down more and in an hour the water has accosted me in that position as well! I realize I would have to stay in the fetal position all night, cramped, cold and uncomfortable and I still may not escape getting soaked. I decided that whatever John wants to do, I’ve gotta move to the car if I want to sleep anymore that night. John, whose about 3 inches shorter and likes curling up in his sleep, declared that although he could stay in the tent, we’re a team, and so let’s do this thing while the rain has paused itself.

It was 2 am, dark, wet and cold. We moved 2 days’ worth of stuff from this tent (remember we haven’t left the tent the whole time except to bring more things in), the bed mats, 2 bins and the wet bedding.  And a cold, confused dog that has recently decided he’s afraid of the dark and must growl whenever he sees it. We also had to take down the tent and stack heavy things on it to keep it from blowing away. It was a fun middle of the night adventure to have, that’s for sure. We chose the least wet of the blankets, layered with the sleeping bag that had stayed in the car and made a new bed, falling asleep fast. And it’s a good thing we moved in there after all-the storm got so bad that it was shaking even our big fat van, which had trees on either side.

Because we’d gone living in the van for over 2 months without any rain, we had also have gone over 2 months without discovering one little problem: the back door leaks. Right onto where our feet are. This time I was able to make it the rest of the night with bent knees, being that there was only half a night left anyways. Needless to say, we left this oasis earlier than we had planned, and headed straight for hot coffee and a Laundromat. Our hearts, however, have been filled with the love and life that rain gives, and for that I forgive the wet feet. We are still trying to figure out the best combination of tarps, duct tape and wedged towels to keep our blankets and feet dry when it rains.

After the success of this campsite, we ventured to find another one. We took a beautiful drive over the continental divide through the Rocky Mountains. We had never planned on coming to Colorado, it had been a consolation prize for the loss of the rest of the trip. The aforementioned campsite, the friendly people with hot coffee in Grand Junction and this drive, have made Colorado a damn good consolation prize.

However, this luck with wonderful like-minded coffee drinking hippies and gorgeous free campsites was short lived. Our next town visit and free campsite were a total bust-the road to the campsite was paid and closed anyways by the time we got there. And we realized we were venturing into country where when John wears his hippie jacket with Ohms painted all over it, he gets more untrusting looks than compliments.

And so we ended up at some more rest areas, then we paid for a campsite we hadn’t looked into. It ended up being the most expensive and the least scenic site we’ve had on the trip so far, so we learned that lesson.

Today we have ventured into New Mexico, my home state from age 14-18. Tonight we’re splurging (gas is $3.25 over here!) on pizza and a movie, and tomorrow we start our loop of southern New Mexico, visiting the famous aliens, caverns, and nuclear weapon testing sites. Our trip is winding down to its end after that-after Carlsbad Caverns, we head North West the rest of our time in the car. We’re starting to transition our excited energies into our dreams of coming home. Oh boy, to have a home! I will never again underestimate how lovely it is to have running water and a refrigerator! Last night I daydreamed about all the different types of cheese I could keep in my house at the same time without them going bad! But, of course, the end of this dream is coming up, and that is a bummer thing. While our crazy exciting hiking days are pretty much behind us, I will continue to live it up and relish every moment of the next 3 chilly weeks.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Holy Land, Fires of Rock and Portals of the Desert

Hey y'all! It's John again.  I'm trying to keep my posts a bit more regular (mainly so that I don't have to suffer the accusing looks from baristas wondering why I've been sitting in their shop for 3 hours on one cup of coffee.)  Nevertheless, there is much to report. 

Zion National Park

I'll start with the gorgeous and adventurous Zion National Park.  I had not really looked much into what I was getting into with this place and was therefore very pleasantly surprised to find it to be both very engaging as well as very accessible.  We came in through the east entrance, driving through many wonderous sites and eventually came to the west entrance which boarders the town of Springdale.  Luckily for us, Springdale had both a nice little park (which we used on our off days quite freely), a free shuttle which runs through the main drag of the town, and several turn outs perfect for sleeping.  In short, it had everything we needed. 

During our 'off' days we mostly spent time at the local park, which fortunately enough, had a dog park attached in which Seymour could run around and fetch sticks out of a nice little river.  Being that it was very hot and he is covered in black fur, he enjoyed this very much.  Otherwise, there was a lot of time spent sitting under the shade of various trees reading books and practicing guitar for me.  The first morning of our stay was also the morning of the local farmers market at the Bit and Sur Park a bit up the road.  We grabbed some pears and were ready to tackle the Park!

My first hike was the Angel's Landing, a very steep uphill climb through a canyon and then up a mountain to a breathtaking view of the valley.  And although the view is one that I'll never forget, I will have to say that it is the hike itself that left the greatest impression.  Over the course of two and a half miles there is about a 1400 foot gain.  For those of you not familiar with such things, that is like trudging up a very steep staircase for 2 1/2 miles.  Not only that, but about 3/4 of the way up the trail a remarkable change occurs.  Instead of making your way up a trail a few feet wide, even if very steep path, you are faced with bare rock.  On one side is a chain that you can use to climb up the side of this cliff and on the other side a sheer drop of about 1000 feet.  This goes on for about a half a mile, sometimes more secure than at other times, sometimes with no chain and the drop off on both sides, sometimes with people coming the opposite way down the same trail.  It was an adventure to be sure.  But when you reach the top, you really feel as if you had earned it.  What surprised me the most was the great range of people accomplishing this.  You had there seasoned hikers, teenagers, old ladies, and even a few kids around age 9 or 10.  I spent about an hour at the top, taking in the view, eating lunch and watching the chipmunks scurry around collecting scraps.  Then it was time to head down.  And let me tell you, if I thought the way up was scary, the way down was terrifying!  I think this is probably because when you are climbing you are looking up the whole time and when you are descending you are forced to look down in order to get your next foot hold.  The drop is ever before you!  Needless to say, I made it down alive. 

Since I had some time left in the day, I decided to check out a couple of other trails including the Weeping Rock, a natural spring which pours out like a trickling shower from the side of great sandstone cliffs producing hanging gardens of wild plantlife.  I also went a mile and half out of my way to see the incredibly underwhelming Emerald Pools.  After hiking up to Angels Landing and seeing the Weeping Rock, I was expecting a pond of emerald hue.  Instead, I found a puddle, no more than 12 feet in diameter with some moss in it.  It was a big let down, but the day in general was a fantastic experience.

The next day was my down day, but certainly not uneventful.  It was Amber's day to hike and she tackled the Narrows.  Earlier that week we had heard of a music festival which was to be occurring that weekend and since we hadn't really had a night out since L.A. we figured it would be a perfect place to blow some money and have a good time.  And we were absolutely correct!  Just as we arrived we could hear delicious bluesy rock music and a sultry voice coming from a mass of tents.  As we went in we headed for the beer garden (an unusual feature in Utah, a relatively dry state).  After a couple of beers and hamburgers consumed while watching the West Coast Jazz Players the real fun started.  At the other stage was a New Orleans band who had all of the danciest music that my little heart could take.  And after dancing up a storm for a good couple of hours, I was thoroughly drenched in sweat, happy and tired.  I don't have to tell you we slept excellently that night.

After all that it was my turn for the Narrows.  For those of you who have never heard of it, the Narrows is a hike that takes you up the Virgin River through the narrow canyon which it is busy creating.  This hike was very different from the Angels Landing.  While the first had been very hot, uphill and dangerous with a big payoff at the end, this one was very cool, wet, with constant marvels around.  In fact, most of this hike is in the river itself.  For this reason, just before the hike begins you can find many walking sticks leaning against the rock that have supported countless adventurers.  After choosing from among these, I happily punged my feet into the water and set off! It was not long before my body up to my chest had been submerged and I was pushing my way up the river against the current.  On either side of me could be seen all manner of textures on the rock, ranging from very smoothe to stripped colors to almost ninety degree cuts to large sultry curves and more.  The canyon itself varies greatly in width sometimes being hundreds of feet wide and at other times being just wide enough for a few people to pass through.  The like I have already said the shapes and colors of the rocks around you are in constant flux.  If you look up you also see many jutting pires and mountains beyond the reach of the river.  Being that it is a river, ther are also many plants and the occasional animal living off the life giving properties of the water.  About 3/4 of the way up the river it splits.  To the right is the narrowest part of the canyon which is very cool.  To the left the river continues to the terminating point of the trail (to go on you must obtain a wilderness permit).  At this final point the river becomes very deep again and to the right as you look out to another very narrow point in the canyon is another weeping rock type spring with attendant hanging gardens.  The way back is of course much easier as you are walking with the current instead of against it and I found myself back to the entrance where I had collected my trusty walking stick in about half the time it took me to battle against the current.  The experience will definitely stay with me. 

Bryce Canyon National Park

Done with Zion's treasures, we mournfully said goodbye and headed north a few miles to Bryce Canyon National Park.  If Zion had been the heavenly place hear on Earth, Bryce was a place you'd expect to see in some other world in the heavens.  This time it was my turn to hike first and I chose to do a hodge podge amalgamation of several trails including the Queen's Loop, Navajo Loop and Rim Trail.  Immediately when you look out on to this bizarre landscape you cannot help but be overcome by its uniqueness.  Everywhere there are towers of red on white rock of all sorts of sizes.  The Queen's Loop takes you down into these polyliths.  Below you is blindingly white rock and above you are red, orange and white petrified fires against blue skies.  It is really quite American, lol.  For those of you who ever watched the show Dragon Ball Z as a kid, the environment can't help but make you think of the places where the Z fighters had many battles.  At every turn I half expected to see a couple of Super Saiya-jins duking it out.  Anyway, all super heroes aside, the trail is very awe inspiring as you see many of these different spires move across eachother as your perspective shifts.  At the junction with the Navajo Loop the trail stops going down hill and takes a steep uphill turn through very narrow passes through fins of the canyon.  As you scale the side of the canyon your view is ever evolving from looming cliff walls to a valley of the tops of the towers to an eventual view of the canyon as a whole.  From there I made my way from Sunset Point where the Navajo Trail terminates to Inspiration Point, a view point from a fair bit higher up that looks over the whole canyon.  There I spent some time resting, taking in the view and eating my lunch.  Because the park itself is much smaller than the others the whole hike only took me a few hours so Amber, Seymour and I spent the remainder of the day one of the picnic areas.

Arches National Park

Our final stop on this tour of Utah was Arches National Park.  The main thing that set this park apart for us was that it is not filled with adventuresome hikes, but rather, it has many view points with short hikes bringing you to some of the more fantastic arches and geological formations.  This was lucky for us, for we were starting to get tired from the many long hikes and driving.  Along the road through the park we stopped to see the Balanced Rock, Garden of Eden, the Window Arches, Double Arch and Delicate Arch.  Amber also ventured out to see the Landscape Arch, but I was a bit too tired.  The arches are certainly marvelous and as you look through them, you can't help but feel as if they are somehow portals to another world.  Yet, amazing as they were, I kept finding myself drawn instead to the long reaching view of the surrounding desert.  Every direction could be seen for many miles and because the air is so dry a surprising amount of detail can be made out.  We only spent a day there but it was certainly a memorable experience and deserves its place among the experiences of this trip.

We are now in Junction, CO.  Ahead of us lies about a week of camping and relaxing in several of Colorado's many free campsites.  Hopefully we won't have any more encounters with our furry friends the bears, but we shall see.  Until next time!