Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

To the yurt

A couple weeks ago I got to go on a snowshoeing trip to a yurt. It was pretty warm in Denver, but we were assured that there was plenty of snow up in the mountains. It was a looooong drive. But here we are, ready to start out.

Click on any picture for a larger version.

Hiking up the trail:

Cheeto break:

While there had only been maybe 4 inches of snow around the parking lot, there were a couple feet up at the yurt, which was just 2 miles uphill. Amazing. A yurt, by the way, is a circular-frame tent. Here is the inside of the yurt:

With a very small cooking area:

And bunks... my camera decided to make this photo super-saturated, and I left it that way:

We are eating pumpkin pancakes.

It was good to have six people there, because there was more work to do than on a typical camping trip... shoveling, feeding the woodstove, constantly gathering snow to melt for water... firewood was provided, but had to be split to smaller pieces. And since a two-burner propane stove with a full complement of dishes was provided, we had real meals, which meant lots of cooking and dish washing.

I have never needed to drink snowmelt before, and I have to say... snow looks pristine, but it is actually full of tiny bits of tree and dust and elk hairs.

Here are some photos of the surroundings, and of us having winter fun:

There was a rustic outhouse, which I took lots of pictures of, because it seemed like something out of a coffee-table book. About outhouses.

Here is my snow creation, and below it, Mike's:

Before hiking out.

As we started our hike out, we came upon a party with an injured skier. The skier was unable to walk and they were trying to tow her on a sled made out of skis, which wasn't working very well. We tried to help them reinforce the sled. Below, see the injured skier in background, her leg splinted with sticks, sleeping pad, and ace bandage, and "sled" with sticks and some small bits of twine in foreground. We had maybe a foot of duct tape amongst us. I don't usually bring duct tape if I'm only going to be 2 miles from the car... that's not too far to walk with a broken pack strap, right? (And come on, how often do you have to forge a sled out of three skis? I bet you've never even done it once.) We returned to the yurt to check the first aid box for tape, but it was filled with playing cards.

Tim and Mike carried out the packs of the injured skier and the person towing her. One member of our party, who was a nurse, stayed behind with the skiing party and I hiked down with Tim and Mike.

Our walk out was very beautiful. We hadn't gotten to see any scenery on the way in, the snow was so thick. Now the sun was out. Sort of.

As we were walking, some snowmobiles with a rescue sled came up. They brought the injured skier down and soon we were in the parking lot. However, in our tremendous foresight, we had left the keys for the vehicles with the people who had been onerously pulling the skier and were still a mile back. So we stood in the cold a while and waited for them to come down. The poor skier shivered and shivered in her rescue sled.

On the drive back down, we passed three cars that had skidded off the road. The first two were already being helped by emergency personnel. The last we found after dark, and first saw it as bright reflectors beaming back at us from the river, 20 feet below the road. We stopped near another a truck that had pulled over and asked if we should call 911. But another 45 minutes later, we still had no cell phone service, and pulled into a bar to ask to use their phone. We were told that 911 had already been called and that the two women who had been in the car were having a beer in the bar. This made me wonder what the poor person waiting by the river was doing. Or whether, perhaps, there was yet a fourth car off the road somewhere that we had missed.

We shall never know. The rest of the drive back to Denver was uneventful. I leave you with a photo taken on the drive out of the mountains, before the sun set...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fall in New England

Well, we're recently returned from Connecticut and Rhode Island, the area where I grew up. Sarah had never been there, so we did touristy things, which was a lot of fun. It was a little past peak for fall color and I didn't take too many pictures of trees, so this post will probably disappoint in that respect. But here is what I did take photos of...

The Newport mansions... these were built during America's Gilded Age as summer "cottages" for the rich. The first below, the Breakers, was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II and it has 70 rooms. It's a really cool tour so if you are in Newport I would definitely do that.

Here is the Elms. It had very nice grounds we played around on for a while:

Back in CT, we went to the beach... we kept finding slipper shells. I told Sarah that this snail likes to stick together in big stacks to mate with each other. She wanted more info but I had never seen such a stack. But then we found some, alive and sticking to each other. The females are on the bottom and males are on the top. If the females all die, the biggest male will turn into a female.

We went to Mystic Seaport, which is an open-air museum with reproductions of all kinds of things you might have found in a turn-of-the-century fishing or whaling village, and tons of staff to bring it to life. Here, some staff demonstrate how fishermen would go out in a dory to set lines for fish such as cod. We learned many amazing things.

Below-decks on the L.A. Dunton... those cubbies are bunks which are actually 6 feet long, though it doesn't look like it in the photo:

Here's a shot from a preserved house... I thought about photoshopping out the other tourists, who refused to move, but I was too lazy.

A shot from the Seaport's interesting collection of figureheads:

And the Joseph Conrad, another of the tall ships you can go on:

Generic Seaport shot:

Here I am on the deck of the Charles W. Morgan, the world's last remaining wooden whaling vessel, which is currently being restored for a voyage in 2014 (not to hunt whales).

I hadn't been to the Seaport since I was a kid and it was better than I remebered, so if you are in CT or RI you should go.

We also went to a party at my brother's... we had schlepped these costumes from Denver because it was shortly after Halloween and we were invited to come in costume. Of course, we turned out to be the only ones in costume.

And we got to go kayaking on the Mystic River. The next three photos were taken by my father:

Sarah is using a pedal kayak. It was in the 40s that day, so we are wearing wetsuits, but we were very comfortable.

Towards sunset, it became very calm, the water was glassy and lovely. It made me really miss kayaking - I used to have a kayak when I lived here and being out on the water can be addictive. I just wanted to keep paddling and paddling.

And finally, we took a hike in the woods. We arrived past the peak of fall colors and most of the trees had lost their leaves, but it was still really nice.

We DO NOT KNOW what our next adventure will be! The future is a blank page.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Zion 2

This is part 2 of our recent trip to Zion National Park. To read part 1, click here.

We woke early on the morning of our last full day in the park. We wanted to get an early start hiking Angel's Landing, partly because it can be a very hot hike and partly because it is no fun trying to pass crowds of people on a 2-foot-wide ledge overhanging a 1,200' drop. We took the 7:15AM shuttle from the visitor's center to the trailhead, and soon found ourselves pretty much alone. It was very quiet and luminous clouds hung over the canyon. I snapped some shots of Angel's Landing, which is the promontory at right below and to the left in the second picture.

After going up steeply for quite a ways, the trail turned into Refrigerator Canyon, where signs warn hikers to lower their voices in order to preserve the natural sounds. We heard frogs peeping and birds chirping. I took a shot looking outward, back out of the mouth of the canyon:

There is something primeval about Zion -- it reminds you of every old movie or fantasy book cover you've ever seen in which dinosaurs roamed the land.

And yet, Sarah appears to be yawning in this picture. I guess when you've seen one majestic, primeval landscape, you've seen them all.

We ascended the series of 23 switchbacks known as Walter's Wiggles and came up to Scout's Lookout, where I spent about 15 minutes trying to find a place to pee that was out of sight of the handful of people sitting quietly surveying the landscape. I finally had to water the plants in a spot where any of the upward-bound hikers could have seen me if they'd turned around. When I climbed back to the trail, I realized there were vault toilets nestled up behind where we'd first climbed onto the ridge.

But we were ready to cross to Angel's Landing. As you have already read (if you saw my blog post three years ago, written after my first trip to Zion), Angel's Landing is a perch 1,500' above the canyon floor. It's reached by traversing a sandstone fin with sheer drops on either side. Carved steps and chains bolted to the rock help you get across. It is often listed as one of the best hikes in the country and even the world, but it is certainly not for small children or those with a fear of heights.

I actively enjoy heights, but looking straight down to a valley floor some thousand feet below does make my innards quiver. In an enjoyable way. The quiver factor of the climb to the top is mitigated somewhat by the fact that you're looking up most of the way, but if you were to stop and look behind you, you'd get a hint of what it will be like on the way back:

There are very few places where a stumble would lead necessarily to death, but there are a couple. It's an exhilarating hike that requires concentration and sober confidence -- those who get too shaky can become a danger to themselves and others. I'm very grateful that this amazing trail was built and that the park service continues to keep it open despite the deaths that have occurred here, not all of which were due to horseplay. (In fact, it's amazing that only a relative handful of deaths have occurred, especially considering the lack of care we witnessed in a couple of young men racing through the trail after us.)

From the trailhead, it took us an hour and a half to reach the Landing. There were a few other parties up there enjoying the lovely weather, the view and the extremely fat chipmunks crawling all over everyone and chewing open bags of snacks. Well, that wasn't quite as enjoyable. But the views were, of course, spectacular.

And here we are:

My hair looks like it's had a bad fright, itself. The views are literally breathtaking, but it's impossible to adequately capture that sense with a camera. Try holding your breath until your heart is pounding and then looking at the below:

Close-ups of people crossing the fin:

Sarah also had me take this panorama video, for your viewing pleasure:

When we finally descended, we found it useful to turn around and go backwards down some of the slopes, leading to this picture, which makes it look like Sarah is dangling suspended from the chain:

On the way back down we paused in the lovely Refrigerator Canyon. I took some shots of an intricately eroded sandstone wall as a canyon wren's strange song echoed in the cool air. (Click here to listen to the canyon wren's song.)

Afterward, we drove out to the east side of the park, where we encountered some desert bighorn sheep ewes grazing beside the road.

 well as Checkerboard Mesa, named for the distinctive pattern eroded into it:

We hiked the Canyon Overlook trail. By the time we got to the viewpoint, it had started to rain, leaving the Altar of Sacrifice and other promontories shrouded in mist:

Zion is full of weeping walls and hanging gardens, where water that has been traveling through the rock seeps out and supports plant life. At this particular weeping wall I stopped to examine this small tree growing in a tiny crevice (Sarah for scale). My fingers fit into the crevice with little room to spare. It seemed impossible for a bird to land there, so how did the seed get there?

That afternoon we had planned on going for a dip in the Virgin River, but it had turned downright cold. We huddled in the car for a while, eventually falling asleep, then as the sun set we made a groggy effort to get down to the beach and sit in the white sand in our jeans and jackets, reading books.

That night it was cold and windy as we went to bed, but I woke up at 3AM to find the air had turned warm with no hint of a breeze. And then, when we woke up at 6 to hike, it was cold and windy again. We probably should have gone hiking at 3AM. We couldn't bring ourselves to get up before the sun was. We did have time before leaving to hike the Watchman Trail, from which we watched the moon set and the rays of the rising sun sweep over the rest of the park.

And it was time to go.

On the plane ride back, we happened to be seated so as to have a view of the park.

This allowed us to see, from behind, the very peaks (the Tower of the Virgin, the Sundial, and the Altar of Sacrifice, among others) that were visible on our hike and that can be seen above in the picture where Sarah is silhouetted before them. Below, I have circled the approximate spot where I stood to take that photo, and drawn lines indicating our view.

We also got to see the Narrows:

...and many other interesting things, including this fascinating canyon that I had to look up when I got back home. I found it is Coyote Gulch, another beautiful canyon of southern Utah, which I would love to visit next. (Unfortunately, it's a wee bit more than an hour's drive from an affordable airport.)

And below is Monument Valley, which I have driven past a couple times, in the upper-right (remind yourself of what Monument Valley is here):

But before long the red rocks petered out, and we were crossing green, and then white! It was late September and already the Colorado mountains were covered in snow.

And we had to come home. Back to work and chores and traffic. But it was an adventure we will always remember, and anyway, we will be having more!