Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


I've spent the past week visiting Katie out in western CO... she is based in the town of Montrose, which is surrounded by farms and vineyards in a large basin. To the south are the San Juan mountains, the same mountains in which my field location is found. In fact, you can see the other side of Uncompahgre peak from Montrose. However, it takes about two hours to get from Lake City to Montrose because there is no direct route.

Last Thursday, which was my birthday, we went out to dinner at the Thai place in Montrose, which serves things like pumpkin curry and banana curry as well as dishes with elk meat. The next day I went out with Katie on her job looking for dinosaur footprints in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. This area is run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which seems virtually unknown in the east, but which manages an eighth of the land in the U.S., including a third of Colorado (and 76% of Nevada!). The whole area around Montrose is managed by the BLM's Uncompahgre Field Office, or UFO.
We didn't find any dinosaur footprints, but we found some plant fossils...

which necessitated filling out pages of government forms to document them. Here is Katie protecting Your Public Resources:

I am camping nearby. I came back after dark the first night and my tent was gone. I found it a few minutes later upside down in a ditch, covered in cactus spines. (I put more stakes in it the next time I set it up.)

The next day we visited antique shops around Montrose, of which there are billions. We also found a place where you could get Navajo Tacos... we are not really that far from the Navajo reservation here.
Two years ago on 4th of July weekend we visited the Grand Canyon. This time we went to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, one of the smallest national parks in the U.S. The canyon is known for its steep, dark walls. Here is a diagram from the visitor's center comparing the widths and depths of various famous canyons:

At the top are the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Zion Canyon, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Middle is the Hells Canyon of the Snake, and bottom is the Grand Canyon. The width-to-depth ratio is greatest for the Black Canyon. This has to do with how strong the metamorphic rocks forming it are.

Proof that Katie and I are actually with each other, 2000 miles from Rhode Island, and I did not just make this up for a good story.

There is a very steep road that leads down to the bottom of the canyon so you can see the river. It has a 16% grade. The river is very green with algae, the greenest river I have seen. It was also too cold to put body parts in for more than a few seconds, but I tried.

On Monday we went north to Grand Junction, which has funny names for its roads...

...and to Colorado National Monument. Like much of the Colorado Plateau areas I have already visited (and like the Black Canyon too), this place was uplifted by some geologic event, which made the streams steeper and gave them more energy, so they began to cut through the rock, forming canyons and spires.

The last picture has two ravens chatting on the rock.

On Tuesday, Katie went back to work and I hiked through the conservation area down to the river... this is downstream from the national park. The canyon is not quite as steep here.

It is also not as cold, so I had a refreshing dip in the water. There was no one else around, and there were many swifts darting around the surface of the water catching insects. It was extremely lovely. Although the hike back up out of the canyon in 95-degree sun made me all sweaty and dirty again.

The BLM tries to take care of its areas, here providing a little encouragement (and some supplies) to hikers:
That night... which was last night... we went to a local mexican restaurant that had 20 dishes on the menu that included prawns. Prawns with mushrooms, prawns with mushrooms and garlic and butter, prawns with mushrooms and butter but no garlic, prawns with mushrooms and peppers, etc. This got my attention so I had the prawn "especial" but it was just some prawns in some sauce with rice. There was nothing particularly memorable about it. Perhaps prawns are a dietary staple in some part of Mexico.

We also went back to the Black Canyon to see the sun set. Along the way we saw a herd of elk, with little elklets that were making funny squeaking noises:

...and some sunset pics...

I have stayed out here longer than I meant to, but I didn't particularly want to be sitting around in Golden all day until work starts again next Monday. Anyway, I like it better out here. First there is the weather, which is uniformly in the 90s, which I like. (Although right now I am freezing in an air conditioned library.) Second, it is quieter here... even though Montrose is a much bigger town than Golden, Golden happens to be in a valley and the noise from the two highways running through it can be heard everywhere you go. Third, the country is more open here, with views clear across the basin, and it is mostly sedimentary rock, which is a lot more interesting (and pretty, I think) to look at than granite. Last, every view here is not studded with giagantic, ugly houses owned by rich people. In fact I have not seen a single gigantic ugly house out here. It's just quieter and nicer.
I wouldn't have expected to have this take on things, considering how "nice" Golden is, but I guess in the end there are certain things I like more than being able to walk to a great little downtown or drive into the city. It is absolutely silent at night at my campsite. Here is a picture this morning from just down the road:

So, I don't really want to go back home, but there is not all that much for me to do here right now... anyway, if you'll recall, the job Katie has is the one we both applied for, and they are still interested in me, so it looks like I could work here next summer if I want. However, there is a lot of the west left to visit. I will be able explore many of the other areas in which I might take a job.

Tomorrow I will probably move on to Great Sand Dunes National Park, a few hours to the east... then home, where I have a week of office work before we leave for Lake City again.

1 comment:

Mom said...

Love the picture of you by the water.

Love, Mom