Thursday, December 31, 2015

Living the Dream, Day 4 - Temple Butte to Tapeats

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZip! On hands and knees I crawl, slowly and deliberately, out of my tent, bones creaking and muscles aching. Why on Earth do I do this? Why do I subject myself to this torture, sleeping atop a clammy boat mattress on the cold, hard ground with a measly six-inch square of two-inch foam sponge as a pillow?

Oh wait, I know why. Because I get to wake up to this:

The sun rises on the Redwall Limestone (click on any pic to enlargenate)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Living the Dream, Day 3 – Whither the Devonian?

It is inevitable, along this downstream Grand Canyon journey. The rock layers we have come to know so intimately must now retreat, above and beyond the water level of the Colorado River. They now graciously extend the limelight to newer (at least to our eyes) yet older layers. We have spent the morning hours enveloped within the sheer walls of the Redwall Limestone, getting to know its Mooney Falls and Thunder Springs members, Vasey’s Paradise, Redwall Cavern, the Bridge of Sighs. Our j-rigs are transporting us down canyon and down section, into deeper geologic time.

The Redwall recedes from river level (click on any pic to enlargenate)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Living The Dream, Day 3 - Swinging a Cat in the Redwall Limestone

Departing South Canyon, our guides deftly maneuver the rafts ever-so-carefully backwards, away from the beach and into the main channel. We happily avoid crashing into and sinking the flotilla of dainty dories that has stealthily crept up behind us. We cheer, wave, and point our behemoth boats downstream, leaving the dory riders to make their own discoveries amid the South Canyon ruins. It is mid-morning of our first full day rafting on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. I am beside myself with enthusiasm, thrilled that there is room on the raft for both of me.
Dories incoming! (click on any pix to enlargenate)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Living the Dream, Day 3 – Ruins and the Redwall

I awaken slowly in the spring dawn and stretch inside my sleeping bag, feeling stiff and brittle as a sun-bleached boat paddle. Footsteps crunch gently across the sandy beach. Softly muffled chatter grows louder, pots and pans clang more frequently as our guides begin breakfast preparations at their lavish camp kitchen. It is time to extricate myself from my ground-dwelling nest. The coffee gong sounds brash and heavenly. It is the morning of our first full day on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon; on hands and knees I crawl out of my already sandy tent and shake myself awake, keen to continue the adventure. Just throw me in the river and I will limber up in no time.

The cowboy coffee is perfect, nearly strong enough to stand a spoon upright in the middle of my cup. Breakfast is hot and plentiful, and apparently we have choices.

Guide in gaudy flowered apron: How would you like your eggs?

Me: How about eggs Benedict?

Guide: Scrambled it is!

Packing the j-rigs
(click on any pic to enlargenate)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Living the Dream, Day 2 – Peeling Back the Layers

Over hundreds of millions of years, the seas came in and the seas went out, covering and then exposing the changing landscape of western North America. Sediments were deposited, uplifted, and eroded in the eternal cycles of geologic time. The vertical cliffs and tumbling slopes of Grand Canyon expose the most complete stratigraphic record of Earth’s geologic history, a record more extensive than anywhere else on the planet. I have wanted to see these rocks from a raft on the Colorado River for as long as I can remember. I am finally living my dream.
Pointing at Rocks
(click on  any pic to enlargenate)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Living the Dream, Day 2 – Goodbye Moenkopi, Hello Coconino

We are up at 5am in the northern Arizona spring dawn, knocking back styro-cups of bad hotel room coffee and microwavedly weak tea. Kris takes off out the door for a pre-float jog. I stand in the middle of the room, bewildered, alternately stuffing stuff into or pulling stuff out of my dry bags (How many field guides do I really need?). Binoculars could come in handy, though, so back in they go (Damn, those little rascals are heavy). Kris returns refreshed. We eventually manage to drag our bags down the hall, into the elevator, and out into the lobby by the appointed 6am time, along with 21 other people of our ilk who have gone through pretty much the same ordeal. Kris stores her remaining valuables in a storage room locked until our return. I throw all leftover field guides into the back of my car and lock it, hoping it will be there when I return. After checking out of our rooms we are herded, along with 69 dry bags of assorted weightiness, into the latest reincarnation of an old school bus, upon whose seats we are soon swaying seatbelt-free and gleeful along a downtown stretch of Route 66.  We turn north onto highway 89 and are on our way out of Flagstaff toward Lee’s Ferry, our put-in point.
Putting in at Lee's Ferry
(click on any pic to enlargenate)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Living the Dream, Day 1 – Rafting Grand Canyon

It had been, after all, a twist of someone else’s fate that my adventurous friend and I were even able to go this year. We were finally on our way to Flagstaff AZ, on the first day of our 2015 excellent adventure. We would be rafting down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. We would run the full canyon in a surprisingly quiet motorized raft, 226 blissfully geologic miles from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek, over eight days and seven nights. Let the stratigraphy begin!
View from Navajo Bridge -  we would be on that river the next day
 (click on any pic to enlargenate)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Beyond the Caldera – Breathtaking Beartooth Loop

I knew I would return before the summer faded into fall (I said so here). I just had to find a victim Hiking Buddy willing to accompany me. 
Hey, Brian! Do you want to go hiking in the Beartooths?
The trail head is around 10,400 feet above sea level.
No problem.
The loop is about 10 miles long.
OK, whatever.
I pose at the trailhead, blissfully unaware of the hiking nightmare that awaits me

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Beyond the Caldera – Back to the Beartooths

In 2011, I spent barely 30 minutes crawling around a patch of outcrops on the road to Lulu Pass.
In 2012, I took eight hours to drive the 64 miles across it, stopping to take a picture approximately every 30 feet.
In 2013, I slept overnight in a dimly lit motel room on it, on top of the world.
In 2014, I drove across it again while following a geologic road log, then slept in my car in a rain–drenched rocky canyon.
Earlier this month I reconnoitered two of its high–country trails and told myself that I would be back before summer has faded to autumn.

Island Lake, Beartooth Plateau

Friday, June 26, 2015

Lesser Known Yellowstone - Desolation in Hayden Valley

Everyone so often in Yellowstone I find myself off the beaten path, on an older track less traveled, sometimes by choice and sometimes by accident (and hopefully not face first into a hot spring). A few weeks ago, my path took me beyond the boardwalks and well-traveled trails of the Park, into an area of Hayden Valley where few people venture. 
The old road less traveled in Hayden Valley

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Step Back in Time – Missouri Headwaters State Park

I am still here. I have not fallen off the edge of the earth. However, for a few months I was afflicted by a serious case of writer’s block along with symptoms of mental inertia. I found it impossible to put pen to paper…or in this case, fingertips to keyboard. My lame excuse is that I spent most of March, all of April, and half of May binge–watching “House of Cards” on Netflix. That is not to say I didn’t actually go anywhere. Canyonlands called and I answered. An eight–day raft trip down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon overwhelmed my senses; before succumbing to photographic exhaustion, I snapped over a thousand pictures. I drove back to Yellowstone for my summer rangering job. In addition, I went to Montana for a day. Some things just need doing, and so you (eventually) do them.
A sign welcomes you to Missouri Headwaters State Park

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Can’t Get Enough of Canyonlands

For someone who can’t get enough of a place, I certainly don’t go there very often. I went maybe thirteen years ago to visit friends living in Moab, Utah, and to watch the Perseid meteor shower on a moonless night in Arches National Park. It is not that far from my home, really, as far as western distances go – just over 300 miles away, barely five hours and change. My friends still live there.
Shafer trail takes off near Island in the Sky visitor center - La Sal Mountains in distance

Monday, March 30, 2015

Skiing Bryce Canyon

Before the lamb of March turns into the showers of April, there are unanswered questions from my previous post that must be addressed.
1) Will we make it out alive before the amphitheater erodes completely?
2) When exactly does the sun go down over the yardarm?
3) Will we ever put on those skis?

Monday, March 23, 2015

To Ski…Or Not To Ski?

Spring has sprung at last, but it seems as though it has been here for months already. Usually, snow can linger well into summer, up on the high plateaus of southern Utah. Several weeks ago, two friends and I hoped it would last at least through the middle of March. We wanted to ski, and we wanted to ski at Bryce Canyon. To ski you need snow, and there has been a noticeable lack of it this winter. Temperatures have been higher than average here in Utah, with conditions great for hiking but abysmal for skiing (click here for that story). The generally thick blanket of snow we know so well had morphed into slightly more than a veneer. We could only hope for the best as John, Cathy, and I stuff our skis, suitcases, and snack items into the back of my car and drive off in wild anticipation of the miles of cross–country ski trails that Ruby’s Inn grooms just outside the Park. We would spend two nights at the Inn and get in as much skiing as our little hearts desired.
Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Wild Weather on the Wildcat Canyon Trail

Generally, “February” and “Wildcat Canyon” are not words you hear in the same sentence around southwest Utah, except for maybe in this sentiment: “Wildcat Canyon? You can’t hike there in February. There’s too much snow!” Or perhaps in this little nugget: “Wildcat Canyon? On the Kolob Terrace road? You need a snowmobile to get up there!
No snow on the Kolob Terrace Road in February?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rocking the Watchman Trail

I have never met a trail in Zion National Park that I did not like. Long, short, steep, level, paved, rocky, hard sandy slickrock or soft forest soil, it does not matter. I will hike wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself. A few weeks ago when I had to be in the Park for a 1:30pm volunteer meeting, just such an opportunity appeared. Dizzy and hyper after snacking on a German chocolate brownie during the drive over, I left my friend Lucy happily napping on a picnic table in the early February sunshine. When I exited my meeting two hours later, we headed for the Watchman Trail.
Watchman trail

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Winter Road Tripping – Lost Palms Oasis

In the waning hours of my two–week “2014 Winter SoCal Adventure” last month, fate offered up a gorgeous southern California Christmas Eve Day hike. Barely 20 miles up the interstate from my condo in Indio, I found exactly what I was looking for once more in the fan palm oases of Joshua Tree National Park.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Winter Road Tripping – Forty Nine Palms Oasis

On my recent “Winter 2014 SoCal Adventure,” I found myself in a dilemma. Should I pocket an easy $100 and burn some morning daylight by sitting through what should be no more than a one–hour time–share presentation, knowing that pigs would fly before I ever bought into anything? Or, should I just forget the quick cash and head for the hills of nearby Joshua Tree National Park? For a summer seasonal park ranger and barely employed geology adjunct, the decision made itself.