Saturday, June 7, 2014

White Sands National Monument

My time in the Grand Canyon was fun, but the I was definitely ready to not sleep in a tent anymore.  Imagine that, me - all camped out!

So from Grand Canyon I treated myself to a night in a hotel in Albuquerque where I am happy to report I did not make a wrong turn. I did, however, enjoy visiting a couple of microbreweries and enjoyed food that wasn't ramen, noodles, lentils, quinoa, or rice.  A brick, wood-fired oven pizza just of the U of NM campus was just the right spot for some great food.

The next day I drove south to White Sands National Monument.  It was 103 F, which even in dry heat is hot.  I waited at the visitor center (read my Nook) until about 6 or 6:30 and then hopped in my car for the 7 mile drive to the trailhead and hiked about a mile in to my campsite.

The dunes here were not anywhere near as tall as the ones in Death Valley, though in places the sand was soft and breakaway making climbing up them difficult, especially with a backpack on.  The neat part about White Sands is that they rent sleds and encourage folks to go walk the dunes and go for a sled or two.

The dunes are white, as you can see from the photos, due to the gypsum that washes down from the mountains.  White Sands sits at the bottom of a basin, and apparently the water table isn't that deep here, so you will see trees (cottonwood?) that get buried by the moving dunes that are able to survive due to the abundant water not far from the surface.

And while the white sands are very cool, what was far more interesting was at the edges of dawn and dusk, when the sun hangs very low and the color of light is very warm - pinks and oranges - the sand takes on the same color.

I've not monkeyed with Photoshop or Lightroom to change the colors of the sand - they are white but they reflect the color of light shining on them. So very early in the morning and very late in the evening, they go from white (and blue in the shadows) to this surreal pink and orange/yellow.  Very neat!

Well, that ends my trip.  I am in San Antonio eagerly awaiting the arrival of Catherine and the kids.  I've swum in our pool a time or two, have started running again, and am waiting to get started in school again.  My mother will be coming to help us unpack - the movers get here Tuesday.  Sleeping on an inflatable mattress gets as old as sleeping in a tent for three weeks straight.  I'm meeting with a friend from my deployment tomorrow, who I haven't seen in close to three years now, definitely looking forward to that; as well as planning to hit up a Farmer's Market.  That should keep me occupied...

Come on Tuesday!!



Friday, June 6, 2014

Grand Canyon National Park

From Antelope Canyon I drove a long 3+ hours the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Compared to the crowds at Zion, Antelope, and the South Rim, the North Rim was a slice of heaven!

I got there with plenty of time to set up my camp and have a leisurely dinner before heading out to one of the lookout points.  Sunset kind of fizzled, but as always was still nice to watch - even more so to watch the light climb out of the Canyon.

I was on the North Rim for two nights and on the South Rim for two nights.  Every night I put myself in a position to catch a sunset and every morning got up pretty early to put myself in a position to watch the sunrise; an experience I highly recommend.  On the North Rim, it was usually just me and one or two other people.  On the South Rim, I had to get there very early or walk down the Rim Trail a ways to get some solitude.

Some of you may recognize my new Facebook photo (above).  I was in no real danger, and once I took my photo everyone else just had to do it, too!  I got here fairly early, which since I was just sitting around not rushing from place to place meant that people felt comfortable chatting me up.  I met three South Korean exchange students that were bicycling Route 66.  They had a great time laughing at my photo and then re-enacting it.  I don't mean to brag, but as a former Ranger I obviously am immune to fear, so this photo above will likely get me the Tony/Oscar/Emmy/Nobel . . . I expect a phone call any day now ;-)

The next day I was in for a real treat for my sunset photo attempt (below).  As I was standing around waiting for the light to get good, this rainstorm came out of literally nowhere (it was cloudless, blue skies for the hours preceding this).  Unfortunately I had to use my hat to protect my real camera, but pulled out my iPhone for this photo.  It isn't the best from a technical perspective, but that arc on the (double) rainbow was HUGE so I couldn't get the Canyon and the rainbow in one shot, so I opted for the rainbow.

There was a wildfire in the area, it was more of a threat to the North Rim, but nothing terribly close to where I was camped.

Have a great day everyone!


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Antelope Canyon

Part of what I was hanging around southern Utah for was that the campsites at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon were all taken, and I really wanted to see Antelope Canyon for myself.  I'd seen plenty of photos, but again really wanted to see it for myself.

Antelope Canyon is on Navajo Nation land, and requires that one has a Navajo guide/tour company.  How this is enforced is beyond me as it was a literal madhouse in there; though the very deep sand requiring 4-wheel drive to get there probably helps.

Antelope Canyon is a small slot canyon, taking less than 10 minutes to walk through, even with a ton of people to avoid.  It wasn't found, apparently until the 1950's by a sheepherder looking for a lost sheep (how sheep survive out there is another matter).

I haven't messed with the photos at all (no time, trust me that I will).  What you see is pretty much what you get.  I had to pay for a special "Photographer's Tour" to be able to bring my tripod in and to get in when the sun was roughly overhead.  It was pretty cool to watch the sunbeams and sunspots move over time.

At times, the walls were very tight and the opening to the slot was upwards of 30-40 feet overhead, which combined with the red sandstone really made the colors pop.  All in all it was a very cool part of my trip.

Have a great day,


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

White House Campground in the Vermillion Cliffs region of Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument

From Zion National Park, I got up early and made my way to Kanab, Utah where I went to the Ranger Station/Visitor center to attempt a shot to enter the lottery for the beautiful "The Wave" portion (North Coyote Buttes).  There were 113 other people vying for 10 slots, so needless to say I didn't win the lottery.  It was interesting to watch, though, as they stringently enforce the rules - a couple of people were ejected for entering the lottery twice.

So from there I drove to the White House campgrounds (not sure why it is called white house, but there you go) where I set up my tent.  It was pretty hot and very deserty.  Though I was continually surprised by the amount of flowers and color in the southern Utah desert.

The first day, I first set up camp and then put on my pack and hiked down the Pariah River Gulch.  I hiked about 5-6 hours, guessing about 10 miles total.  The Pariah River isn't particularly deep, though I did have to search a bit to find good crossing points to help keep my feet dry, never walking more than five minutes before I needed to cross once again.

At the end, the river all of a sudden stopped - but continued to roll and expand down-gulch towards the confluence with Buckskin Gulch.  It was pretty neat to watch a river being "born" in the desert!

I made it back to my camp in time to have a nice dinner (by camping standards), and then took some time to chat with my fellow campmates.  Once guy was from Colorado and his buddy was from Nevada.  They had been meeting every year for many years for various hikes and trips throughout the southwest - it was fun to share a beer and listen to their stories.

The next day I hike down Buckskin Gulch to it's confluence with Wire Pass.  That was another 12-14 mile day, and the temps were in the upper 90's.  Thankfully I was able to find some shade in the gulch - though honestly that was 1.5-2 hours in; otherwise it was pretty wide open.

Buckskin is the longest slot canyon in the southwest, and once you get in there is very pretty.

Buckskin never got terribly thin, but a short walk up Wire Pass really brought the walls close.

I then drove to Page, Arizona to check out where I needed to go for my (much anticipated) next part of my trip.  I then shot down the highway for a couple of miles to go see horseshoe bend.  I originally was going to stick around for a sunset shot, but was already pretty tired from my 12+ miles in Buckskin and really just wanted to get some rest.

And not to mention that this little old-timer settler's fence (walking distance from my tent) was west facing and with the flowers in bloom it really caught my eye.  All in all, White House was a very nice part of my trip.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Zion National Park

From Death Valley I made my way to Zion National Park.  I blew out a tire almost as soon as I entered Utah.  Thankfully USAA makes things uber-easy and after a couple of hours I finished my trip to Zion.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to complete my first hike (Angel's Landing), though my campground did offer free showers - so, bonus.

The next morning I hiked to the Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools and then up to Angel's Landing.  I should say that Angel's Landing is definitely not for the feint-hearted or those with a fear of heights.

Unfortunately the weather was cloudy (who else can bring rain to the desert? . . . this guy! {two thumbs pointing back at me}).  But that didn't stop me and 1928 of my newest friends from making our collective way up to Angel's Landing at the same time, much of it with room only for one.  While beautiful, Zion is definitely not a place to expect any sort of solitude in the front country, much like Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, or Yosemite.

While the hike was crowded and slow going (groups/masses of people wait to go up for the group/mass of people coming down in the thin areas with room for only one direction of travel at a time).  It did give me some time to take some photos of the sheer drop to either side.

Later that day I attempted a hike up the Narrows, but it started to rain literally within the first minute of getting my feet in the Virgin River.  I continued on, but then the sound of thunder and loads of people practically running out of the Narrows prompted me to turn around too.  I decided to have dinner at a local restaurant (camp food wears thin after three, maybe four days).  As I was shown to my seat I heard my name; it turns out my three European friends from Death Valley (the three I took to Mesquite Dunes) decided to have some coffee there, which meant I didn't have to eat alone.  Nice.

Next day I left the park and went to a little canyon called Kanarra Canyon outside of the park.  I was specifically looking to take a photo of the waterfall and ladder (below).  I still need to do some work on it, but for now this will do.

It was a short hike in the canyon (the upper falls ladder was washed out in a flash flood earlier this year), but still plenty of fun.  I drove back to Zion National Park and made my was back to the Narrows, and hiked to the furthest point that the Park wants you to without a permit.  In both canyons there is just no way to avoid walking in the river - it is the "trail" and often fills the canyon from wall to wall.  It was a lot of fun and well worth the effort!  The photo below is from very early in the Narrows (first five minutes).  Two hours or so later I made it to the Orderville Canyon junction.  While there, some friendly people told me the barometer was dropping, so we all made as quick an exit from the Narrows as we could...about two hours of walking.



Monday, June 2, 2014

Sequoia/King's Canyon and Death Valley National Parks

After getting snowed on in Yosemite, I made my way south through Fresno and then east to King's Canyon/Sequoia National Park.  It was sunny and warm in Fresno, but was snowing up at elevation by the time I got into King's Canyon/Sequoia National Park.  Along the way I found another bear, he was just eating some grass off the side of the road.

I was super lucky in Sequoia in that at lower than 7500 ft it was no longer snowing (yay no closed roads!) and the dogwoods were blooming.  The massive sequoia's framed by the flowering dogwoods were really something to see.

I spent one night in the lower foothills at Sequoia and then drove to Death Valley.  My silly GPS had "explore" on the mind, as once I left Bakersfield I drove through some very remote valleys and back highways to get to Death Valley.  I set up my tent, using rocks at the corners to anchor it, and then set off for the Mesquite Dunes 10 minutes away.

The wind wasn't blowing when I left, but according to my campsite mates - four from Germany, two from France, and one from Poland - my tent went rolling across the highway when the wind picked up.  They graciously recovered my tent and then threw some rocks inside it to anchor it (successfully) in place.

They had arrived after me and didn't explore that night, so while we chatted that evening, they asked about places to explore.  I told them I was going back to Mesquite Dunes to watch the sunrise, and three of them asked if they could go with me...of course!

I got up early the next morning (so did three of them) and went and walked the dunes.  The photo above is from sunset, as sunrise fizzled due to some low clouds in the east.  While it wasn't the prettiest sunrise in the world, it was still very calm and pretty.



Mono Lake and Yosemite National Park

From Lava Beds National Monument I made my way south through a corner of Nevada and then back into California.  I spent one night on the east side of Yosemite National Park at Mono Lake.  I went to South Tufa Beach and waited for sunset, which did not disappoint.  There were a bunch of people there, but I think I snagged a great spot.  There was a German couple that I spent several minutes chatting with, which was fun.

I got up really early the following morning and made my way west over the recently opened Tioga Pass.  The first part of the drive wasn't too pretty, but once you get up to elevation, it got spectacular.  I was going to attempt a hike up to Cathedral Lakes from Tuolumne Meadows, but snow (and the fact that I had three weeks of food in my car that must be legally stored in bear lockers - too big of a hassle!) and rerouting of the trail away from the lakes had me turn around and make my way to my campsite.

I had three nights/four(ish) days to explore Yosemite.  The place is huge, and I found the valley to be fairly busy.  Not packed, per se, but definitely busy and the scenic pull outs not well marked.  I spent about an hour or two driving the valley to get my bearings, and then the remainder of the day hiking around the valley to just explore.

The next day I drove up to  Glacier Point for a sunrise (meh) and then spent the day hiking from the Taft Point trailhead to Taft Point (there were two tightropes up there that still make my stomach queasy just thinking about - whoever did that has an insane lack of fear of heights!!!!) to Sentinel Dome, and then back to Glacier Point for more photos.  All told, I put on maybe 6-8 miles of hiking.

The following day I wanted to hike around the valley.  I hiked up to and past Mirror Lake and then up the Merced River to Vernal Falls and then up and over Nevada Falls.  That particular trail was spectacular (photo above).  Along the way back I encountered a fairly large bear; it was a good thing he was headed up-mountain as I had only the trail to travel on (down hill/cliff was not an option).

The last night there was pretty noteworthy.  First, some jackwagon who couldn't hold his liquor awoke most of the camp before his buddies could get him back to sleep.  There was some thunder in the background during his histrionics, but nothing exciting.  Within about 10-15 minutes the storm hit, and boy was it a light show!  Flash to bang was well under one second for about 20 minutes, and it was technically a thunder-snow storm.  It lasted all told for about an hour or so.  The photo above is the clearing remnants from Tunnel View from the next morning.  My timing was pretty good, since Tioga Pass and Glacier Point were both closed to travel due to the snow accumulation.

I'll get more photos posted from Texas, so stay tuned.  Have a great day!


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Smith Rock, Oregon to Lava Beds National Monument

The fun meter is officially PEGGED!  Only two more nights before I'll be sleeping at our home in Texas - can't wait. Anyhoo . . . The last time I posted I was in Bend, Oregon enjoying the Ale Trail. I rode my bike all over town and basically had a great time.  The day that I headed out I traveled north a ways to Smith Rock State Park to check it out. I'd seen photos and knew that I wanted to get some of my own.

It is a decent sized park, taking about an hour or two to walk all around the mountainous terrain.  It is interesting because this portion of Oregon is basically high (altitude) desert, and Smith Rock juts out of nowhere with the pretty Crooked River meandering along the base.  It is popular with climbers, though when I was here portions of the park were closed as it is a golden eagle nesting grounds.

So after that it was off to northern California to Lava Beds National Monument.  I hadn't realized how much of the west has been shaped by vulcanism, with large swathes of Idaho, Oregon, and California (throw in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico for fun!) just littered with huge broken lava fields.  Lava Beds adds a new twist with many caves (many in a short, one-minute walk from each other) and old lava tubes to explore.

The light part to the right of the photo (my left) is the exit.  This is the only cave that had lighting provided.  The first cave I went in (Skull cave) descended a good ways down to a permanent ice-cave portion that was unfortunately blocked off.

The "topside" portion of the park was pretty desert-like with mostly low growing bushes and very rough, broken basalt to walk on; though trees were growing in patchy locations.  It felt hot, coming from Washington, but the caves made a nice respite.  Some caves you just walked down in, others required climbing a ladder or two sometimes making a tight squeeze.

More to come, stay tuned. Cheers,