Archive for the ‘being alone’ Category

arches national park   no comments

Posted at 12:03 pm in being alone,geology,Utah

NOTE: As mentioned some time ago, the comments function of this blog no longer work. I tried to get the problem sorted out before going on the road last autumn, but to no avail. I finally resorted to setting up a new blog at another URL. It contains all of the posts that reside at this URL, but also has all of the missing comments and allows new comments to be posted. You can find the version of this post to which you can post comments here. I’ll try to remember to put up new posts here, but I suggest updating your bookmark to the new URL.

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In my last post, I wrote about our first night at Big Bend campground on the Colorado River a few miles above Moab. The following morning, the dogs and I departed for a day of touring through Arches National Park. Arriving shortly after opening time, there were few other visitors on the main roadway that meanders through the park. I believe that the weather may have been keeping people away – there was a severe weather warning for rain and snow in the forecast. Fortunately, in addition to scaring away the visitors, the approaching storm front also made for some wonderful cloud formations in an area where clear blue skies are common. For a photographer, drifting clouds can create some dramatic light conditions over such vast landscapes.

I had some difficulty choosing just a handful of photos to represent our day at Arches, but I believe that this selection will provide some idea of the type and scale of the rock formations. Also, I wanted to show how theatrical these landscapes can become when the sunlight and clouds work their magic under certain conditions. I took great delight in standing awhile at each spot, watching as the formations could be transformed within seconds. In the past, I’ve enjoyed this effect over rock formations in other vast landscapes in places such as John Day Fossil Beds. Some of you may even remember me writing about such light effects back on my old “Burning Silo” blog back in November 2006.

Another interesting aspect of these formations is how much the appearance can change as you move around the periphery. What at first looks to be an irregular wall of rock may, within seconds, reveal a massive arch. Likewise, spires and boulders balanced atop rock towers often morph into the heads of howling wolves, a dragon, a group of people, or whatever else one might imagine.

Soon after arriving at Arches, I noticed that my way of looking at the place seemed to differ from that of the other visitors on that day. Very few would stop at the turn-outs where you would have a view of the landscape and the rock formations at a distance. Most would bypass these spots, rarely even slowing down, but instead driving on to park before an arch or other formation to snap a few photos. For myself, I loved the distant views where I could watch the storm front passed over the landscape. It was amazing to see a formation from a couple of miles off, and then drive toward it, marveling over how it would change as I drew increasingly near.

The only problem with Arches is the same I have encountered in the past. After four or five hours of being immersed in red rock, I begin to experience a sense of overload. There’s just so much that your eyes and mind can handle before it begins to feel like a little too much — at least, for this easterner who is more accustomed to lakes and forests. By the turnaround loop at the end of the road, I had seen enough red rock landscapes for one day and was ready to return to my campsite on the Colorado.

The weather forecast proved to be correct. That evening, shortly after cleaning up after preparing our meal, the rain began to fall – gentle at first, but then increasing until it was pounding on the van roof. When the deluge continued for a couple of hours, I began to consider how such a downpour might change the flow of the river alongside our campsite. When you have camped in red rock country enough times, you learn to have some respect for the effect that heavy rains can have on creeks and rivers. A dry creek bed can soon fill and become a raging torrent, tearing and transfiguring its sandy banks. After a time, I opened the window near my head and listened to the river. The gentle sound of waves lapping on the shore had now become a growling rumble in the utter darkness. During a lull in the rain, I decided to get up, pull on my jacket and take a good look at the river with my largest flashlight. I was quite sure we were in no danger of flash flooding on this section of river – the campground being located quite a few feet up from the water’s edge. Also, there was little evidence of previous flood damage – always a pretty good indication that it’s a safe spot. Still, in my travels, I have seen the remains of long-established campgrounds that were torn apart by raging rivers – so much so that they were never repaired or re-established. I’ve also met camp hosts who are out checking river levels during the night, deciding whether to tell people to move to higher ground (the Smith River in northern California being one place where this has happened). That thought was enough to get me up shining a beam along the shore. However, after checking out the river, I found it was a little higher than earlier in the day, but not enough to be concerned. Now I would be able to go back to bed and go to sleep, knowing that there probably was little chance that we would need to relocate to higher ground.

The heavy rains continued on through much of the night. By morning, the air temperature in the canyon was much different than on the previous couple of days. Gone was the slight warmth that seemed to radiate from the great masses of stone about us. In its place, there was a frigid walk-in freezer feel to the air. I’d been thinking of staying on another couple of nights, but knew we would probably feel cold and miserable. I decided to break camp after breakfast and go exploring elsewhere. I wasn’t quite sure where we would go, but knew that just about any site would be warmer than the one we were leaving.

I’d been thinking of going up to see the petroglyphs and pictographs up at Sego Canyon near Thompson Springs, so that became our morning destination. After that — well, surely we would come upon a good place to camp a night or two. That’s the way I try to think when traveling — to remain optimistic that something interesting will present itself. Most times, that’s just how it goes.

I’m going to end this post with something a little different. A friend in New Mexico sent me a link today, saying that this song made him think of me. I watched the video and soon discovered why. The song is entitled Lighthouse, performed by Antje Duvekot, written by Antje Duvekot & Kate Klim. Here is a link to the lyrics for those who are interested. Thanks to Dusty for sending this along. I very much enjoyed hearing this song.

Written by bev on February 26th, 2011

two days on the road   no comments

Posted at 1:54 pm in being alone

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we say goodbye to Writing-on-Stone and the Sweetgrass Mountains

NOTE: As mentioned in a recent post, the comments function of my blog no longer works. I tried to get the problem sorted out before going on the road, but to no avail. I finally resorted to setting up a new blog at another URL. It contains all of the posts that reside at this URL, but also has all of the missing comments and allows new comments to be posted. You can find the version of this post which you can post comments to here. I’ll try to remember to put up new posts here, but I suggest updating your bookmark to the new URL. — Additional Note: I am just catching up on putting these posts onto this secondary blog. They have existed at the new blog URL for a few weeks.

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It’s been about two weeks since I’ve been able to put up a post. I was never able to resolve the problem of setting up the iPad for use in the states, so my only means of posting is to find a wifi hotspot. My wanderings over the past while have not taken me to the kind of places where that would be likely to occur. However, tonight we are holed up in a motel for a night, so I’m making the best of this opportunity to reconnect.

Although I’m now far beyond the places I describe in this post, I wanted to include the following musings. When I’m on the road, scenes and personal encounters flow past in a way that plays out rather like a movie. On the two days I’ve chosen to write about, I scribbled key words in pen on a paper towel — enough to remind myself of each sight or incident. If this account seems oddly disconnected, that’s just about how it feels many times when I’m on the road.

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A week after arriving at Writing-on-Stone, there’s a change in the weather and I’m feeling that it’s time to turn south. I had planned to cross into Montana at a border station near the park, but one look at a pick-up truck that has just driven over that road tells me it would be a poor choice on this day. The truck is so heavily plastered with mud that the rear license plate looks like a slab of grimy slate. I now turn toward Milk River to cross at Sweetgrass, Montana. I came north by this route last spring and remember the countryside as bleak and lifeless. However, under autumn skies, it has a different feel. The fields rolling off to the horizon are shades of golds and warm browns rather than the cold grays I was expecting.

There is a large storm front moving in from the west. Towering clouds race eastward and powerful winds buffet the van as I drive south on the interstate. At a rest area, I call my brother on the blackberry and report that i can almost lean forward and let the wind catch my fall. There are dozens of election signboards along the highway. Some are obviously homemade and rattle wildly, looking set to tear loose in the gale force winds, I don’t want to be anywhere in their path. As I near Great Falls, the western storm front is colliding with a similar front from the east. An angry swirling rorschach is unfolding directly above the highway.

My plan was to look for a campsite around Helena, but snow clouds loom ahead. Taking the freeway exit, I choose the closest motel. They have pet friendly rooms, so I check in, then pick up burgers for the dogs – a treat they enjoy on the rare nights when we motel it. We return to our room and I’m feeling a certain relief for being indoors this night. The wind is bitterly cold and I dig around in the truck looking for my wool hat and gloves when I take the dogs for their final walk of the evening.

The next morning, I’m not quite certain of my plans. I’m feeling tired from the previous day of driving against the wind. Merging onto the freeway, I decide to drive as far as Dillon and perhaps look for a campsite. However, once on the road, I feel better and up to a longer day. Between Dillon and Butte, the weather turns ugly. I remember this stretch of highway from my spring trip, and that I took note of how I would not want to drive this particular pass in snow — but here I am in the middle of a snow squall. There’s a snowplow up ahead. I adjust my speed so that I won’t overtake him. It’s one of those mountain highways with two lanes in each direction and a concrete barrier snaking in between. Most of the traffic is going my speed, but on one steeply curving down-grade, I’m passed by a pickup truck towing a slat-sided gooseneck livestock trailer sardined with ice-encrusted Herefords. He’s blasting past everyone. In the open pickup box, a large, brindle farm dog stands hunched, eyes squinted tightly, looking like he’d rather be any place else.

On a tight bend, a forested mountainside fills my entire field of vision. It’s lightly dusted with snow beneath dark conifers. Quite unexpectedly, I am hammered by the memory of the many times that Don and I would hike in just such forests during the early season snows. It’s this element of surprise that always feels so painful – like the sudden twist of a knife – as I think of how it is that we will never walk together in a wintry forest again. However, I must quickly release such unbidden thoughts as the road is too slick to allow for distraction.

At last, we reach lower elevation and the snow abates. Now I’m driving through a landscape of ranches with barns and houses clad with dark, sun-scorched planks. I arrive in Butte and decide to keep going. This morning’s fatigue has been thrown off and now I feel like getting to a place where the snow can’t find us.

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A certain landscape catches my eye and I can’t resist turning off the interstate to take a few photos. I stop the truck just shy of a cattle guard grate and wander ahead with my camera. Sage begins to bark crazily, but I ignore the rising crescendo and snap a few more pics. As I turn to make my way back to the van, I spot the source of her agitation. A hulking Hereford bull is walking directly toward me – more curious than threatening. He snorts and his eyes follow as I cross over the cattle guard once more.

A couple of miles further on, Sabrina yelps twice to signal that she wants a drink. It’s a new system that she has introduced for this year’s trip. Fortunately, there’s a rest area just ahead. It’s unusually tidy for such a place. While filling the dog bowls, I notice a bearded man picking paper trash out of a hedge. He’s trailed by a strawberry-blonde, bob-tailed dog carrying a frisbee. Periodically, the man tosses the frisbee as his dog races ahead, leaping high into the air to intercept its flight. As they pass by, I remark on his bright, beautiful dog. The man looks pleased.

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Along our southward route, rivers lined with golden-leaved cottonwood are an almost constant delight. Now I’m crossing the state line into Idaho. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I see the dogs looking restless. I take the next exit, which turns out to be the access road for Stoddard Creek recreational area. There’s a wide spot on the shoulder where I park the van. A street sign points the way to Porcupine Pass. I walk the dogs up a lane leading to a gate. For some reason, This feels like a good spot for a cemetery. We approach the gate and discover that, in fact, there is an old family cemetery beneath the trees.

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While helping Sabrina climb back up into the van, I spy something moving about in the rabbitbrush next to the road. I watch for awhile and see a small creature descend to the ground. A short while later, it reappears amid the spent blooms of a nearby plant. I approach with my camera and take a few photos. The creature turns out to be a colorful little chipmunk which is gathering seeds and fluff from each plant. I’m feeling lucky to have been in this place at this time.

Soon, we’re back on the road. I decide that I’ll try to get us to City of Rocks – a place we camped last spring on our homeward trip. However, as we reach the area, I see mountains covered with snow and realize that we’d probably be quite miserable up there. For the second time in two days, I find a pet-friendly motel and call it an early day. Determined to make the best of a bad thing, I use the motel’s laundromat to replenish my supply of clean clothes. Yes, it’s pretty mundane stuff, but being on the road for weeks at a time does have its less than romantic moments. I’ve now done laundry in coin washes in a host of towns all over the map. It’s all just a part of living the life of a nomad.

That afternoon, a large charter bus rolls into the parking lot near my room. The passengers disembark and disperse into their rooms. They’re Chinese and at first I’m thinking they’re tourists. However, then I notice that two of the passengers are fussing with food storage coolers and a couple of large woks. Shortly after, everyone departs on the bus. Late that evening, they reappear. This is interesting. I puzzle over who they might be. The next morning, the front page of a newspaper in the motel lobby features a colour photo with a headline about JIGU! Thunder Drummers of China playing in town the previous night.

At last the weather clears up ahead and we’re back on the road. It’s been an odd but familiar couple of days.

NOTE: I will probably be without a net connection for another week or so. We’ve been having a good trip and I’ve been taking plenty of photos. When we arrive at the rental house in Bisbee, I’ll have some catching up to do.

Written by bev on December 10th, 2010