I have been watching Ken Burns' The National Parks: America's Best Idea.
It is a must see
Monday, September 28, 2009
There was the slightest nip of fall in the air as I drove home from Charlotte yesterday. The skies had a western feel to them as the clouds were visible well into the distance, not lost to some endless southern haze. It seems fall has a way of clearing the air even on cloudy days and sparking memories of western travel.
I am ready to go back, but fear a long wait.
I am ready to go back, but fear a long wait.
Posted by Chip at 9/28/2009 02:33:00 AM
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Light map of the US.? Nah. But, all the same, distasteful to our modern Luddites in the environmental movement.
Hmm, there appears to be a little darkness on the NC. coast....in a watery sound.
The Goosenecks, and Natural Bridges areas are appropriately dark.
Last hint: California's distaste for corporations that cater to affordability shows up darkly. Cali's a little too dark for Cali. in my opinion.
For answers go to he who deserves thanks. Stephen Von Worley at weathersealed.com.
Posted by Chip at 9/23/2009 08:30:00 PM
Friday, September 18, 2009
Woke up. Got out of bed. Dragged a comb across my head.........Huff. Puff. Huff.........Looking up I noticed I was late.....................
The day started with the same morning routine...only rushed. We had planned an excursion to Bears Ears and needed to get there, hunt for petrified wood and get back to the campground before checkout. We thought it best to leave the camper behind not knowing terrain ahead. A good choice!
I am constantly taken aback by the sudden changes in climate out here. The experience usually occurs when crossing a pass, and once again, we were not prepared for the change experienced after crossing the ridge between Bears Ears. We were greeted by grazing bovine, green fields, ponds, and large pines. The change in climate forced us to break out the camera. We had forgotten it up to that point due to hurried nature of the morning. Just moments before we had been surrounded by juniper trees stunted by thirst amid perpetually exposed rocks and soil. Then we we were looking at a pond surrounded by cows. Astounding! What a morning!
At that point we had driven between and beyond Bears Ears. After a few pics we turned around and wound back to Bears Ears to check things out. Below us we were able to see the canyon that housed the natural bridges we saw the afternoon before. It was a nice change in perspective. There were no interesting rocks directly under the "ears", though. We had been told to look under Bears Ears for petrified rocks by a Park Ranger the day before, but that left us wondering.....where? There was a lot of area under Bears Ears. All we could do was poke around. This, initially, led to finding a whole lot of nothing. There were plenty of outcrops, though, along the side of the gravel road we were on. We kept out eyes on those and we stopped many times as we descended back down the mountain. At one stop we found some wildflowers and got a couple of photos of them with one of the Bears Ears as a backdrop.
Perhaps a quarter of the way down the mountain we finally stopped near a wash or dry creek bed. I decided that a wash downstream from Bears Ears might be a good place to kick a few rocks. Bingo!! One piece of petrified wood led to another. Some rocks were clearly not petrified wood, but were downright interesting. We added to the total weight we toted around the country that day.
We hurried back to the campground to get our camper before checkout. We were ten or fifteen minutes late but that was OK. We were on our way to Capital Reef before any new campers had shown up.
A short time later we were crossing the Colorado River along an arched metal bridge. I find arched bridges graceful and they only become more so when the arch rises above the traveled portion of the bridge. The one we were on did this. We didn't know it at the time, but this bridge became an indication of scale later. In fact, this bridge shows up in each and every photo touching this paragraph. After crossing the Colorado we began to ascend out of the gorge cut by the Colorado and were treated with stunning peeks of the area we had been driving through below. We soon came upon a view point and stopped. We were not alone there. There were around a dozen others milling around enjoying the view. Most of them were on Harleys and that includes one small dog that rode with a couple. The pup rode in an equally small collapsible pet carrier mounted to the rear fender. Cute.
We continued our drive through some of the most unusual country I have ever seen. There was erosion on a grand scale. It was not Grand Canyon style erosion, but rather an erosion that was more familiar. It reminded me of a sand castle overrun by waves or of honey making its way across pancakes. I think this area was eroding at a very quick pace compared with the Grand Canyon.
There were very few gas stations in the area so we stopped at the most interesting one at the first town we hit, Hanksville Utah. It's not that we expect distinction from a convenient store, but when given the choice between a plain old fuel/food stop and one that has been carved out of a big rock, the big rock will win every time. We made use of their facilities which fortunately required a walk past storage areas to the back of the store. This took us past less finished portions of the store that confirmed the fact we were inside a rock. Tourists like myself were taking photos back there; photos of a convenience store. I had left my camera in the van.
We were still driving through hot low land, but were making our way to higher land to set up camp. First, though, we drove through Capitol Reef National Park. Small black rocks were everywhere. They had the appearance of chocolate chips in cookies. A quick visit to the visitors center confirmed that they were volcanic rock deposited by glaciers. While there we saw a home made teardrop set up for off the grid camping as evidenced by the roof mounted solar panels. Prior to the stop at the visitors center a pull off led us to some ancient Fremont Indian petroglyphs chronicling their spacesuit trials. Nice.
As we left Capitol Reef we continued our climb into higher altitudes for another 30 miles. It was getting late and we feared we might find only full campgrounds along our route. We stopped at the first one and found it was nearly empty but unappealing so we pushed on to the one that had the pleasing name of Oak Creek Campground in Dixie National Forest. We were hoping for a creek.
We were greeted by cows and only one other camper as we entered Oak Creek. We began to setup camp near the cows but after a short orientation walk decided to move to a site next to the...creek! This was by far the best campsite of he trip so far. The kids immediately made like children and played in the water. It seems dams are still the first order of business in creek play. Days are long on the western edges of the time zones so the kids had a couple of unexpected hours of play before dark. We built a campfire to warm them and later I checked out the site nearest us. It required parking near our site and a walk across a bridge to set up camp. Very nice.
Posted by Chip at 9/18/2009 03:17:00 PM
Friday, September 11, 2009
This was our last morning in Buckboard Campground. We planed to leave by way of the "back" of the mountain and visit . First, though, we had to contend with breakfast and a little bathing.
The sun was bright and the sky clear. Perhaps yesterday's rain was the result of fresh weather moving through. We can hope. I took advantage of the clear weather to take a few pics of the campground, flowers, and the town below us. I took multiple strolls that morning and on one I took Ian to the bath room. On the way he saw me photographing some wildflowers and had to pick some for his Mama.
One of the interesting things here are the nice pit toilets. Yes I wrote NICE. Well, nice for a pit toilet. They are essentially a well made outhouse constructed of prefab concrete slabs glued together. Mechanical fasteners were not visible but they could have been hidden from view. Inside was a molded fiberglass toilet that users were expected to close after use. This, of course, helped with the odor. No flush was needed. Combined with the big black vent outside (I imagine it warmed air within causing a chimney like draft) interior odor was nonexistent. Plastic fragrance things had been stickied to the walls and for a moment I felt like I could be home ...almost. The visible hole past the toilet seat was a killer.
One benefit, so far unmentioned, was the dark color of the exterior. It not only looks nice but warms the concrete walls and roof during the day. After darkness falls and the temperature follows, visits are still comfortably warm.
With the morning's duties concluded we hitched the van and camper once again and headed down the back of the mountain. This time down we took a few more pics as we had sunlight to work with. At many points we could see Canyonlands in the distance. Unfortunately there was no roundup.
As we sank into the valley we had seen from the mountain, it began to warm. It never got hot, though. Once again we were weather lucky. Once we entered the park (no park pass was needed as this was a free entry weekend) we went straight for the visitors center. Getting oriented allows us to get the most out of a park. It's construction, which I found pleasing, definitely took the immediate environment into account. ---Hot dry and HOT--- Inside we found there were plenty of hiking and four wheel drive trails. Unfortunately, I never seem to be able to find the minivan trails. Discrimination I say. Heh.
On the way out we passed a group of three park rangers in conversation. I got the attention of one and asked her a few questions about the stratigraphy within the park. I was attempting isolate which layers might contain the fossilized stuff I was interested in. I knew I was looking for layers near Navajo sandstone, but the info I got from her didn't jive with what I already knew. I decided she either didn't know what she was talking about or was BS'ing me. It's not that I wanted to keep anything I found, I just wanted to know if I could find something at all.
We left the rangers and dove into the park. We like checking out the campgrounds offered within the parks we visit so one of the first stops was the Canyonlands campground, Squaw Flat. It was a nice desert campground that I would have enjoyed but there were couple of strikes against it. The first was that it was summer and we avoid midday camping in the desert in the summer, secondly we needed to get a few miles under our tires before we set up camp again.
We headed deeper into the canyon with the hope of seeing the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. Unfortunately we didn't. We got as far as Big Spring Canyon Overlook. From there a trail continued along another 4.5 miles of rough ground to the confluence. We didn't take the trail and instead played on the rocks of the overlook. Then we left the park the way we came in.
I had hoped to leave the park a different way than the one we came in on. Our GPS indicated there were other possible routes, but each one appeared to be a long forgotten wagon trail. We avoided these as they were not quite minivan appropriate. Heh. I have begun to wonder if a deer trail would qualify as a road to the GPS mapping folks. It would be dangerous for some people to travel these "roads".
There was a part of the park to the north that we did not visit, . It boasted a view of Canyonlands from atop a butte and supported a second visitors center for the park. We did not go as it was too far out of our way. We instead drove south through Monticello and Blanding in an effort to get to Bryce Canon in a day or two.
After leaving Blanding, 95 west led us into ....guess....a canyon. This was notable mostly for the shock of seeing the temperature gauge rise while climbing back out. None of the Toyotas I have owned have ever run warm. We crested the western edge of the canyon without needing to stop to allow the engine to cool, but I was left nervous. We were, after all entering what I considered a "no breakdown area". You know.....areas devoid of people and more importantly the infrastructure that supports them.
Not long after that scare we unexpectedly came upon another park. . It was one of those "We're here. Lets check it out." things. We were surprised to find it had a campground. Then the park ranger at the visitor's center surprised us yet again when he said they had a site left. A single site. We hurriedly sized it up. It was still available when we got to it and we decided to claim it for the night. It was our home in the desert for the night.
Although it was late, there was still light enough left to check out the park a little closer. Its sights were on a 10 mile loop of minivan friendly road. We learned that natural bridges are different from the arches we had seen the day before due to the way they are formed. Arches form much slower and due to repeated freezing and thawing of condensation or melt. Natural bridges, on the other hand, form as a result of more aggressive river erosion as a meandering river snakes back on itself pinching a hole into the rock.
We saw Sipapu Bridge, accidentally drove past Kachina Bridge and finally hit Owachomo Bridge where there was a sign pointing out two hills in the distance referred to as Bears Ears. And yes, they looked like a pair of bears ears. (Pic of Bears Ears borrowed from Ireed7649 on flickr. We missed our chance.) Along the way I stopped to take a pic of the area's interesting soil by the road. I walked all over it in the process. I found out later that the soil in the park is alive with bacteria and walking on it damages it. Without the bacteria to hold the soil together the soil blows away and vegetation dies."Don't Bust the Crust" they say. Oops.
Back at the site we had a visit from a park ranger. She was walking the campground loop letting folks in the park know she had a presentation after nightfall. We agreed to go as it was educational and new to us. Upon arrival I saw that she had set up a Jeopardy type of question and answer educational game. It was fun, but what caught my attention were the rocks propping the displays up. Petrified wood! Before leaving I spoke to her about the "rockwood" and mentioned I would like to go rock hunting with my kids if an appropriate place to do so could be found. She said that not even the rangers could collect what was in the park but there was BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land nearby that they would visit when some was needed. Individuals can collect rocks on BLM land up to around 25 ponds each per year. I asked her where. She said under Bears Ears.
Posted by Chip at 9/11/2009 05:00:00 PM