Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day.

Memorial Day. A day set aside to commemorate those who died while in military service to their country. My country.

Among the many who have given their lives for our country are two of my ancestors:
  • William Alexander (4th great grandfather). Lived in the area of Cecil County, Maryland and Chester County, Pennsylvania. He enlisted July 24, 1776 and by March of 1777, he was a 1st Lieutenant of the 7th Battalion of the Maryland Regulars Regiment, serving in the 5th Company. He was killed on Aug 27, 1777 on the 2nd day of battle at "Landing Head of Elk" Maryland.
  • Jacob Wise (3rd great grandfather). Was drafted and mustered in on October 5th 1864, at Kendallville, Indiana. He served as a Private in Company "C" of the 30th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers. His widow's pension application states "and having served Honestly and Faithfully with his Company to the present date, is now entitled to a Discharge by reason of Death in Hospital at Nashville, Tenn. on May 17, 1865 of chronic diarrhea." Widow's Pension Application 101.119. On April 28, 2007 Jacob was inducted as a part of the Charter Member Class into the Society of Civil War Families of Indiana, a program sponsored by the Indiana Genealogical Society.
In May of 2007, I posted a list of The Veterans in My Family, which included immediate family members and ancestors. In November 2008 were added three more lists of extended family who have served from the War of 1812 through Vietnam. Links to those three lists are at the bottom of the May 2007 post. It is an honor to publish the names of these people who are, in some way, related to me. It is an honor to be related to them. I thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for their service and their sacrifices.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Canyonlands National Park :: Island in the Sky

I'm not sure what it was about Canyonlands that “threw me for a loop”. Its stark beauty? Its isolation? I don't know. Perhaps I was a little intimidated by the yawing canyons and deep valleys but I just didn't feel comfortable there. I was in a funk, not in a “hiking mood” and I still haven't figured out why! It would be a great place to explore with someone who had a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

There are several sections in Canyonlands National Park. I visited two of them: Island in the Sky in the north and several days later, the Needles District in the south.

I drove the main roads, opting not to travel down the unpaved dirt roads, pulling off at each of the turnouts for the spectacular views dimmed somewhat by the hazy-blue sky. The only trails I took were short ones, where the tourists were.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sunset at Horsethief Campground

Utah is blessed with five National Parks, two of them near Moab – Arches and Canyonlands. I decided to try and find somewhere else to stay for a couple more nights rather than having to “wait and see” if a camp site was available at Arches.

The road to Canyonlands is a few miles north of Arches but then it is a 30+ mile drive to get into the Park and the campground is a little further in. It is a magnificent drive however. Arriving at the Canyonlands campground I discovered that there are only 12 sites! 12. Of course, they were all taken. Ugh. But, the Ranger says “There is a BLM campground ten miles back from the park entrance.” I had passed it on my way in but didn't check it out because it was on an unpaved road. So I turned around and went back.

Horsethief Campground is on a high plateau with little protection from the wind and other elements but it is in a beautiful location. The amenities are few. A place to park, pit toilets, no water. If you put up a tent you have to use rocks to keep it in place – stakes just can't go through solid rock! But there were a couple of the 60 or so sites still available; I ended up staying there for three nights, using it as a base camp to explore the area – Canyonlands, Arches, and Moab.

It was early afternoon when I arrived at Horsethief Campground and as I was walking back to my site from dropping off payment, there was Hunter (the older gentleman with whom I had shared a site last night at Arches)! He was sitting at a picnic table in the site a short distance from mine. We talked for a few minutes then I headed back to my site. I had decided to spend the afternoon just lazying around, reading a book, relaxing.

It wasn't too much later that the sky quickly darkened and gray clouds moved in above us. I grabbed my chair and book and slid into the van just as rain came pouring down. It lasted a good while, well into the evening and cleared up shortly before sunset. Along with about a dozen other campers, I made my way out of the campground to a little rise for a good view of the sunset. I looked for Hunter but didn't see him. I stopped at his site on the way back to mine but he was no where around. I didn't see him again. In the morning I was just getting out of bed when I heard something hit the windshield. I looked out and Hunter was walking away toward his site. By the time I got out of the van he was gone, but he had left me a note beneath the wiper blade, now soaked by the morning dew. It said, simply “Becky – Happy Trails. Hunter.” What a touching gesture. What a sweet man he was.

If I get nothing else out of this journey, the joy and pleasure of meeting some wonderful people, will suffice. I find it truly amazing how quickly friendships form. We meet someone, spend a few minutes or hours together, then go our separate ways. But the thoughts and memories linger and I often wonder about them. Larry, at Big Bend. Sophia, on top of Angels Landing. Hunter, at Arches and Horsethief. I've been astounded by the people I've met on the trail who, after talking with them for perhaps half an hour, have invited me to visit them when I get in their area – they have given me their email and phone number and fully expect me to contact them. And I just might! This has been an incredible experience thus far – almost nine months on the road – and it isn't over yet!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Arches National Park :: A Few More Views

These pictures were taken on the morning of May 17th on my final drive-through of Arches National Park. It was another beautiful day!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Arches National Park :: Sharing a Site

After completing the Devil's Garden Trail and eating lunch, I headed back over to the campground. There was a site available and because there was space for two vehicles, I agreed to share the site with the older gentleman who had arrived that morning at the same time that I had. He seemed like a nice guy. It's not uncommon to share sites with people you don't know. I've done it several times before. However, there have been a few times that I have declined to share my site, usually because I just don't feel “comfortable” with that particular person.

Anyway, about half an hour later, the gentleman arrived at our site. His name was Hunter. He was 82 years old, from California, traveling by himself, hiking and getting around like he was 30 years younger! An amazing man. And very nice. He set up his tent over a ridge toward the rear of the site so he would have a good view of the sunrise the next morning. We sat at the picnic table and talked. We sat in silence and read our respective books. We talked when we had something to share. It was rather nice.

There was a trail off the south side of the campground and about 5:30 I decided to see where it went.

The La Sal Mountains in the distance.

They called this one Broken Arch because there is a crack running down the middle, just to the left and above where the man is standing.

This huge rock formation reminded me of the statues of lions guarding the gates, but these seem to have lost their heads! The trail was fun. Easy in some places and not quite so easy in others, with a bit of scrambling over rocks and squeezing through several tight spots.

These arches were on a short offshoot from the main trail. This was as close as I got, that trail went no further. It would have been interesting, I think, to walk through and in them.

It is difficult to imagine the scale and size of these formations even when there are people included in the pictures. They are huge and the variety of shapes and sizes and colors are amazing and fascinating. It is a weird and wonderful place.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Arches National Park :: Devil's Garden

It was early on Thursday morning (May 13th) when I arrived at Arches National Park, which is north of Moab, Utah. And the awful weather of the previous two days had finally drifted away! It was a beautiful day. The campground is 18 miles from the entrance station and visitors center. Bypassing the latter for the time being, I drove on out to the campground in hopes of getting a campsite for the night. I was dismayed to discover that this year the campground was switched to a reservation only system.

This meant that I “might” get a site if someone canceled or was a no-show. There was an older gentleman who arrived at the same time I did. The camp host was very nice in explaining the situation to us and, luckily, said that it was likely that “something” would be available later in the afternoon. He suggested that we go take a hike and return about three o'clock.

So, that's what I did. The Devil's Garden Trail was just down the road and since it was still early (about nine o'clock) there was plenty of parking available. This trail is the longest of the maintained trails in the park and goes to eight arches with views of several others. It is actually a series of trails with a total length of 6.2 miles round-trip. It wasn't “easy” by any means, but overall it wasn't all that difficult with the exception of several crucial spots that involved scrambling over rocks and walking along the tops of fins (large, very long, sometimes narrow rocks).

Pine Tree Arch.

Tunnel Arch.

There were several groups of school kids on the trail.

Landscape Arch, taken at an angle to get the entire length in one shot, even then I didn't get the ends of it completely. At 310 feet long (with a 290 foot span), it is reportedly the longest freestanding natural arch known to exist. At its thinnest point it is only six feet thick. When I visited the park in 1979 there was a trail where you could walk under the arch. (Somewhere, I have a photo from that trip that shows someone walking on the arch!) It has become more fragile with age, and several large chunks fell off in 1995, so for safety reasons and to help preserve it a little longer they closed the trail that went underneath the arch.

There was a bit of a bottleneck with the school kids traversing the rocks. The trail split a short distance ahead. They went one way and I went the other!

A southwest view of the valley from near Navajo Arch.

The valley view through Partition Arch, looking east.

A portion of the trail went along the top of a fin, with the “added bonus” of several rocks on top, which provided challenging obstacles. It was about 25-30 feet to the ground.

Fins alongside the trail.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Scenic Highways

When I left Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park on the morning of May 12th it was downright cold. I stopped at a roadside rest area on US 89 about 40 miles north (and somewhat higher in elevation) and saw a few trees and plants with tiny icicles hanging off of them!

About 11 am I arrived at the visitor center at Bryce Canyon National Park. There were campsites available, but the temperature was a “brisk” 35ยบ and I opted to continue on my way, knowing that I could return later. I also wanted to stop at Kodachrome Basin State Park, which was nearby, but not when it was so cold.

Utah Route 12, which is the highway that passes by Bryce Canyon and goes north towards Capitol Reef National Park, is a Scenic Byway. And it is quite beautiful. The little bit that I saw of it anyway. It started out rather nicely. But the sky was strange looking. The clouds were blue!

The canyons near Escalante, looking westward. The midway point between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef parks.

Another view of the canyons, taken 10 minutes later, looking west.

The canyons near Escalante, looking to the north. Uh, oh.

I drove into the clouds and saw no more pretty views for the next hour. It snowed. Quite heavily in some places, but the roads were clear. It snowed all the way through the Boulder Mountains.

Near the summit (9600 feet high) of Boulder Mountain the sky started to clear. Steam was rising from the road surface. It felt quite warm when I stepped out of the van to take the picture. But alas, it was just a temporary clearing. It snowed, and sleeted, and slushed most of the way to Torrey, the turnoff to Capitol Reef.

Once again, I stopped at the visitor center. The campground was full. There was BLM land nearby where I could spend the night if I wished. But it was early afternoon, the weather was lousy and more of the same was predicted for the next day. I opted to continue on my way, knowing that I could return later. At least I glimpsed portions of the scenery as the highway meandered through the park.

A check of the map showed that Goblin Valley State Park was an hours drive to the north on Utah Route 24 so I set my sights on spending the night there, which is what I did.

Shortly after I arrived at Goblin Valley, hail fell. Then it thundered and rained. Along about sunset time I glanced out the window and saw the tail end of a rainbow! Ah, Mother Nature in all her glory!

Yes, the photo is slightly out of focus, but it was such an unexpected and glorious sight that lasted only a few moments. It was there. Then it was gone.

You may think that I “complain” a lot about the weather. It's cold. It's hot. The rain. The snow. But I also frequently mention the beautiful blue skies and sunshine. Mother Nature can be fickle and even cruel at times, but you can be assured of just one thing – she is constantly changing. When you are living “on the road” the conditions “outside” are everything, you become more aware of them. The conditions affect your mood. They affect what you do and when you do it. So, yeah, I talk a lot about the weather. It's all I can do. Can't change it, though sometimes I wish I could.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Big Sandbox

After nearly two beautiful weeks at Zion National Park, the weather took a turn for the worse the morning I left. I had checked the weather forecast for Bryce Canyon. It didn't look good. High probability of snow the next few days. Looking at the map I saw that the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park was on US 89 a few miles southeast of Zion. (US 89 North is the route to Bryce Canyon.)

I had some extra time since I had left Zion rather early so decided to take an indirect route which took me through the mountains to Hurricane and Apple Valley in Utah as well as Colorado City and Moccasin in Arizona. It snowed. And rained. And snowed some more. The higher elevations had several inches of the white stuff on the ground. Back in Utah, I stopped in Kanab at one of the smallest McDonald's restaurants that I have ever seen! But they had free Wifi. At one point it was almost a white-out with big flakes of snow blown by the swirling wind. But that didn't last very long. By the time I left, about an hour later, it was still cold but it had stopped snowing and the sun was shining!

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is a few miles north of Kanab. I checked into the campground and found a site. Then, after adding another layer of outerwear, went off to play in the sand dunes. Did I mention that it was cold and windy? But the sun was shining. Well, sometimes it was – when it wasn't hidden by clouds. Still, it was a wonderful day.

The two largest dunes, in the distance, are about 100 feet high. And yeah, I climbed to the top of both of them. To me, they didn't seem to have that “coral pink” color although the color did change depending upon the intensity of the sun and shadows from the clouds.

above: The southern big dune as seen from the top of the other one.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Impressions of Zion

There are many trails at Zion that take you into some interesting places... The Emerald Pools (Lower, Middle, and Upper), which weren't green (at least they weren't when I was there). This waterfall is cascading into the Lower Emerald Pool and soaking anyone who dares walk beneath it, though this young man doesn't seem to mind getting all wet.

Weeping Rock - so porous that water seeps through it and a variety of plants grow on its walls.

Along the river were many trees with oddly shaped roots. This one wasn't too far from my campsite.

On the eastern side of the park, through a tunnel (a marvel of engineering completed in 1930) is Checkerboard Mesa.

And the eastern side is also where you might see Bighorn Sheep. I was lucky and saw several on this day. (I wasn't very close, these were taken with the 7x zoom magnification.)

Of course, spring flowers were in bloom. Not covering massive areas (as in California) but quite a few scattered here and there, and in the most unusual places. Like on the side of a canyon wall or in the crevice of a rock.

There was only one thing (and lots of that one thing) that even slightly marred my stay at Zion National Park. Worms. Though technically I guess they were caterpillars. They were creepy, crawly things. Lots of them. And they really liked my red tent. I mean, really. Every morning and every night and whenever I'd notice them, I'd pick them off the outside of the tent, 10 or 15 at a time.

The afternoon of the day before I left, I took the tent down. First I picked them off of the outside and from under the “skirt” along the bottom. Some were harder to remove because they had started creating their little cocoon. Once I had them all off, I started folding up the tent, but I kept seeing them as I closed up the poles. At first I thought the wind was blowing them off the trees, but I didn't see any flying through the air! Then I realized they were inside the “loops” where the support poles go. Oh, yuck. And some of them had also started making their little cocoons. It took forever (about two hours) to get them out and I'm not positive that I got them all. I haven't put the tent up since I left Zion but I have visions of little critters (Caterpillars? Moths?) coming at me when I do finally open it up again!

Even with that, my stay at Zion was incredible. The weather was perfect most of the time. Sunshine. Warm but not too warm for comfortable hiking. Nights and mornings were on the chilly side but nothing extreme and it warmed up nicely when the sun came up. The wind was strong several days but mostly just a light breeze. Near perfect conditions. Great hikes. Nice camping neighbors. Marvelous scenery. 'Nuff said.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Observation Point

The guide for the Observation Point Trail states “This is a long strenuous trail with many steep sections and unprotected drop-offs. Not for anyone who is out of shape, or has a fear of heights.” An apt description, I might add! It ascends 2,148 feet in four miles, making it an eight-mile round-trip. Observation Point provides another view of the Zion Canyon, including Angels Landing, from above.

When I was about one-third of the way up, I began to be passed by small groups of kids. They just kept on coming. And passing me. Finally, several of them had stopped to take a break and I took that opportunity to talk with them. There were 63 kids (ranging in age from 11 to 13) and 12 adults from a satellite school in Houston, Texas. They had been at Zion for eight days and had gone on a hike every day, each hike being progressively more difficult. The day before they had ALL made it to the top of Angels Landing! In fact, each and every one of them had completed every hike they had done. Pretty impressive. However, I was extremely glad that they weren't doing Angels Landing at the same time as I was. It's not that they were terrible kids, because they were the most well-behaved group I think I've ever seen. It's just that there were so many of them!

A short time later I began to play leap-frog with a fellow, probably in his 30s, and asked if he was with the group of kids from Houston. Turns out he was the husband of the principal. We talked for a while as we slowly walked along the trail. He told me that each of the kids had earned their way during the school year by “doing the right thing” as much as possible. They have a system using baseball as an analogy, hits for the good things and strikes for the not so good. Sixty-three kids had enough “hits” to make the trip while 42 were back in Houston.

Anyway, by the time I got to Observation Point I had been passed by nearly everyone in their group, as well as a few other hikers. But I got there! And again, the views from the top and along the way were well worth the effort.

Part way up the trail, eyeball to eyeball with Angels Landing (with the help of the 7x zoom). It doesn't look quite so “bad” from this angle.

After you go up a series of steep switchbacks you enter a narrow canyon that has a stream running through it, but there wasn't much water actually flowing. This was one of the neatest parts of the hike, in my opinion!

There were pools of standing water but we didn't get our feet wet.

The sky and the walls of the canyon are reflected in one of the pools of water.

This was taken on the way back down, entering the canyon from the east.

The trail has exited Echo Canyon and is progressing up the east side of the canyon wall.

I'm still going up, but they are going down.

The destination, Observation Point, is just above the red “lines” in the center.

This last uphill stretch seemed never-ending.

Finally, the plateau. But there is still a ways to go to get out to the point.

Part of the group of 63 kids. A very well-behaved group they were.

The lower portion of the trail, coming up out of the Zion Canyon floor. The Observation Point trail goes off to the left (top center of photo). The three topmost switchbacks belong to the Hidden Canyon Trail, which goes off to the right.

The top of Angels Landing ranges from 20 to 40 feet in width. There are people up there...

As I was promised by my camping neighbors, Maryann and Rob, the view from Observation Point is spectacular. The Virgin River flows through the valley, Angels Landing is in the Center, and then the eastern wall of Refrigerator Canyon. Fantastic.