Sunday, September 29, 2013

Road Trip 2013: Day Six

Chasing the Moondog

September 20, 2013


  • Alice in Chains -- The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
Friday.  Time to head for home.  We had studio time booked for Saturday and Sunday, so I needed to be back in time to load in Friday evening.  I didn't have to rush, though, so I would take Highway 395 up the back of the Sierras and cut over at the Tioga Pass, which would take me through Yosemite National Park.

Death Valley National Park, CA
The drive up 395 is one of my favorites.  As you drive North, the Sierras are on the left the entire way up to the Pass.  It's a 120 mile drive alongside a ten thousand foot tall impassable granite wall that refuses to give in at any point along that drive.  It's as impressive as mountains get in the lower forty-eight.

Owens Valley, CA
Tioga Pass takes you into the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  What you can't see while driving along the back of the Sierras is just how wide they are.  At this particular point, the mountain range is roughly sixty miles across.

Tuolumne River, Dana Fork, Yosemite National Park, CA
Mormon Fritillary
Tuolumne Meadows had a nice view of the mountains I'd just passed through.  I guess normally you can go out and walk in the meadows, but there were signs along the way asking people not to enter.  I'm not sure if this was due to the Rim Fire or some other reason.  The granite domes rise right out of the meadow floor.

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, CA
Highway 120 passes right along the shore of Tenaya Lake.  That water is cold!

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park, CA
The highway doesn't take you directly into Yosemite Valley.  Half Dome can be seen from Olmstead Point.  This pretty much marked the end of my adventure.  From Olmstead Point, I put my head down and barrelled home.  I drove through a lot of recently burned out forest.  The Rim Fire's path stretched for maybe thirty miles, starting in earnest at 120's West gate, but defensive burns had been set all along the road starting somewhere around Siesta Lake.  It was a bit sobering.  Only YOU can prevent forest fires!

Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park, CA

Friday, September 27, 2013

Road Trip 2013: Day Five

Won't You Spare Me Over 'til Another Year?

September 19, 2013


  • Cibo Matto -- Viva La Woman!
  • American Music Club -- Mercury

Thursday I found myself back on the road heading to California.  It started with the biggest mistake of my trip, which was wasting the early morning hours at Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
I woke up before dawn again.  What I should have done was head directly to the Queen's Garden Trail.  I'd have been able to get down the trail and back and on the road by nine o'clock.  I'd still have been able to make a leisurely drive and made it to Panamint Springs before dark.  I wouldn't have been able to horse around in Death Valley much, that would have been the trade off.  I can do Death Valley in a weekend, though.  That's not the case with Bryce Canyon.  Well, hindsight is twenty-twenty, right?

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
It wasn't a horrible mistake, mind you.  I got some great early morning shots from Inspiration Point.  I'd been there in the evening and knew the place would light up a lot better in the morning.  It certainly did.  It was freezing, though, so I didn't stick around to take a lot of pictures.  My plan was to take a leisurely drive through Zion National Park then on to Vegas and Death Valley.  I figured if I got tired of driving I'd just stop in Las Vegas for the night.

Zion National Park, UT
Zion is about a two hour drive from Bryce Canyon.  When you hit the red paved roads of the park, you know you've arrived at someplace special.

Zion National Park, UT
The highlight for me was seeing a small herd of bighorn sheep along the side of the road.  I've never seen bighorn sheep in the wild.  I've always heard they're a bit elusive.  These guys didn't seem to be too bothered by the cars and people stopping to take pictures.  They didn't even seem to mind the kid yelling "Fight!  Fight!" at them.  Such patience.

Desert Bighorn Sheep -- Zion National Park, UT
It looks like there's a lot to see and do in Zion.  I'm definitely going to have to take a few days to spend there next time.  There's even a ghost town nearby.  I've never been to a ghost town.  I hear there's one near Mono Lake.  I need to check that out, too.

Zion National Park, UT
After Zion I headed on to Las Vegas.  Well, I basically drove around the outskirts of Las Vegas.  That's an interesting town.  I stopped at a casino for lunch.  I ate at the buffet.  It wasn't bad.  I won sixty dollars playing roulette.  Yeah, I'm pretty much a high roller.

Virgin River, North Fork, UT
If you're heading to Death Valley from Las Vegas, it's pretty easy to get there.  You head up Interstate 95 until you get to Highway 373, where you turn left.  You'll know you're at the intersection of 95 and 373 because the Space Alien Brothel is right there at the intersection.  You can't miss it.  There's a big pink sign and space aliens.
Dante's View, Death Valley National Park, CA
The nice part about coming in off of 373 is that it sets up a trek out to Dante's View pretty well.  The fourteen mile road to the viewpoint is right on the way into the valley.  I didn't go to the viewpoint last time I was in Death Valley because it's so far out of the way.  It's well worth the drive, though.  If the view looks familiar to you but you can't place it, if you go back and watch Star Wars again you'll recognize it as Mos Eisley.

Death Valley National Park, UT
After taking in that amazing view, I headed down to Furnace Creek, where the temperature gauge outside the general store read 120 degrees.  I'm skeptical that it was that hot, but it was definitely hotter than the 34 degrees I'd woken up to that morning.  I was going to drive down to Badwater Basin where the road was recently washed out by a flash flood, but it was getting late and I wanted to walk the Mesquite Flat Dunes in my bare feet before it got dark, so I headed there instead.

Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park, CA
I'm fascinated by these dunes.  The sand is very different than what you'd find on a beach.  The winds forms almost a hard crust on the surface that is lined with little ridges.  The dunes drift, but they don't move.  There have been sand dunes on this same spot for a hundred and fifty years.  I'm sure they've actually been there a lot longer than that.  There will be dunes in this spot for years or even centuries to come.  This is the point where wind current collide in the valley, dropping the dust they are carrying in the process.  It's amazing to me that these massive dunes could be created simply by dust in the wind.  That's all they are, just dust in the wind.
Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park, CA
Yeah, I know.  Now that stupid song is stuck in your head.

Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park, CA
I made it to Panamint Springs after dark.  That place is awesome.  It has a restaurant and a bar and the entire campground has wifi access.  There's zero cell phone coverage, which I don't mind since I so rarely use the damned thing.  The night air was incredible.  It was warm, probably over seventy degrees, with a nice dry breeze blowing.  After shutting the bar down (it closes at 9:00, fwiw) I sat outside in the warm air with no shirt on, smoked a cigar and finished off the beer in my cooler.  What a great night, a fitting final evening to my road trip.

Road Trip 2013: Day Four

Of Canyons, Crowds and Cattle
September 18, 2013

Mornings in Bryce Canyon in September are cold.  It's this cold that is the main force behind the creation of the hoodoos.  Moisture seeps into the cracks and crannies of the sandstone, where it freezes in the non-summer months.  When it freezes the ice expands, cracking apart the rocks.  The process is known as frost wedging.  Wind and rain also play their parts, helping to force loosened rocks out of place.  I guess Bryce Canyon isn't technically even a canyon since it wasn't carved by flowing water.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
What's the point, aside from a geology lesson and noting I froze my tootsies off making breakfast in the morning?  The monsoon storms of the previous week had wreaked a bit of havoc on the hoodoos and walls of the not-a-canyon.  All of the trails into the not-a-canyon's amphitheater were closed due to rockfall except for the Queen's Garden Trail.  Only one trail down, that would have to be my destination for the day.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Rockfall at Capitol Reef
I left out the story of the minor avalanche I half witnessed at Capitol Reef in my previous post.  It occurred Monday afternoon.  I'd hiked up close to a large red cliff to have a look at the formations.  As I was walking away, I heard the unmistakable sound of large rocks falling.  I turned and saw a large cloud of dust near the top of the cliff.  I took a few pictures but it's not obvious what's going on.  It looks like there are a couple of petroglyphs in the picture, though.  Needless to say, I was taking the idea of a large boulder falling on my head rather seriously.

So, after I'd made myself a nice pancake breakfast with coffee, I got in my car to drive to the amphitheater parking lot.  The lot was full except for one little spot at the end of the loop that was tucked in behind a large motor home.  This should have warned me that there was going to be a problem.  It didn't.  It was when I ran into the families with baby strollers on the trail that I knew this day wasn't going to shape up the way I had planned.

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
The Queen's Garden Trail was jammed with people.  There was only one trail down into the amphitheater, so everyone who wanted to go down had to use it.  Don't get me wrong, I love being in a crowd at an event like a concert or a baseball game.  Crowds can be a lot of fun.  This was not how I wanted to spend my day at the park, though.
Least Chipmunk -- Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Short-horned Lizard
I noticed that the Rim Trail heading North looked pretty empty, so I went in that direction instead.  I hiked out to Fairyland Point and back.  I only ran into a few people on that trail.  They, like me, were looking to avoid the big crowds.  I found a nice secluded hill just off the trail with some amazing views of the canyon.  I took a short siesta beneath a tree there.  I saw a tiny little horny toad.  I didn't make it down into the hoodoos, but I had a nice relaxing morning away from the herd, so no regrets.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Well, when I say I have no regrets, what I mean is I have no regrets about avoiding that big crowd.  I would have been miserable.  I should have gone back early Thursday morning, though.  I was up before dawn again, I could have hiked in and out before anybody even showed up.  That didn't occur to me until some point Thursday afternoon in Nevada.  D'oh!

Utah Prairie Dog -- Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
For the afternoon's adventure, I drove out to the Whiteman Trail head.  It's a one mile trail that connects with the Under-the-Rim back country trail.  There was one car at the trail head, and I passed a couple on my way down the trail, but other than that I didn't see any people on this short hike.

Whiteman Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Whiteman Trail weaves through a burned out section of the forest.  It ends by connecting to the Under-the-Rim Trail at Swamp Canyon.  I didn't know about Swamp Canyon when I headed out.  See, there were these fliers around the park with a picture of a big black bear, saying this particular bear had been seen hanging out around Swamp Canyon.  I was pretty sure I was headed to Swamp Canyon after I saw the bear tracks in the mud on the trail, though.

There were a lot of tracks on the trail.  I thought they were probably elk tracks, since they were too big to be deer or pronghorn.  I'm no animal tracker, mind you.  I ran into the owners of the feet that made those tracks near the bottom of the trail.

Cattle in Bryce Canyon?  Huh?

There's a famous quote that has been ascribed to Ebenezer Bryce (after whom the not-a-canyon is named) about the not-a-canyon: "It's a hell of a place to lose a cow."  These cows and bull were apparently lost.  Cattle and sheep used to range freely in Bryce Canyon, but that was put to an end fifty years ago.  Apparently some still find their way onto the park.

Yeah, that bull did not like me.  I have over a dozen pictures of him, and he's always glaring at me.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
The payoff to this hike, aside from getting the stink eye from that bull, was what felt like my own personal view of a less visited area of the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
As I turned around to head back up the hill a I saw a large flash of brown in the trees.  My heart jumped into my throat.  The black bear had come to eat me!  Honestly, there was a couple seconds of panic there, I'm not sure what I was doing.  Running?  Walking?  Crying?  I was trapped with my back to the cliff.

A ravenous bear?
Once I got my wits about me I took a second look.  It wasn't a black bear at all, it was just a straggler from the lost herd.  She was actually very sweet looking.  She stopped right on the side of the trail and I thought about trying to pet her, but I gave her a wide berth instead.

You shall not pass!
That was pretty much it for my full day at Bryce.  I did take one other micro-hike around the campground and ran into another horny toad.  This one was probably five times as large as the first one I saw.  It's hard for me to believe they're the same species, but all I've been able to figure out is that they're some sort of short-horned lizard.