Category Archives: Nature

10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert

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So you’re going to escape the worst of winter by heading to the deserts of Southern Arizona (the Sonoran), Southern New Mexico (the Chijuajuan) or Southern California (the Mojave). Maybe you’re going to Quartzsite to attend The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or to stay in a Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA). Congratulations!

While you probably won’t face seemingly unending days of ice and snow, a desert environment can pose its own challenges. If you’ve never been to the desert before (or you’re a desert dweller who needs some reminders to shake you out of your complacency), here are ten tips to help you survive and thrive in the desert.

#1 Drink plenty of water. Even if your winter desert isn’t hot, it’s still extremely dry. Even in the winter, it’s important to stay hydrated. Drink before you feel thirsty.

#2 Alcohol can dehydrate you, so limit your consumption. The desert environment has probably already dehydrated you, and alcohol can make things worse. Take it slow with the alcohol until you determine how your body is reacting to the dry environment. If you’re drinking alcohol, up your water intake.

#3 Don’t get too much sun. Yes, you’ve escaped the harsh winter and the sun feels good on your skin, but don’t overdo it. Be sure you have some shade to escape to during the hottest part of the day; yes, even in the winter, a desert can get hot. Wear long pants and long sleeves made from light cotton to protect your skin, and wear sunscreen on any parts you leave uncovered. I use sunscreen on my face, and I wear my hat with the wide brim to further protect my face. My hat also provides a barrier between the sun and my head.

#4 Deserts can get cold too, so have appropriate gear. Even if a winter day in the desert is sunny and relatively warm, the night can get cold. Especially if you’re going to be out and about in the desert night, be prepared with long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a warm hat. If you tend to feel cold and depending on the temperature, you may also need a jacket and gloves. If your ears are sensitive be prepared to protect them from the wind. Check the weather forecast before you head to your desert destination so you know what clothing you may need.

#5 Watch for Critters. You’re less likely to see a rattlesnake in the winter than the summer, but the snakes are still around. Especially on a warm and sunny day, rattlers may be on the move. Don’t stick your hands or feet into any crack or crevice you haven’t first visually inspected. If you do encounter a rattler (or any other snake) give it a wide berth so it has plenty of room to escape. Don’t poke or prod it, and let it be on its way.  If you are bitten by a nonpoisonous snake, clean the wound and get a tetanus shot if you need too. If you are bitten by a poisonous snake, get to an emergency room ASAP.

Turn your shoes upside down and shake them out before you put them on. This will help prevent your toes from meeting any unwelcome spider or scorpion visitors. Check out these tips from the Mayo Clinic about what to do if you’re stung by a scorpion before you need them. Maybe print out the tips and include them in your first aid kit.

Coyotes aren’t likely to attack an adult human but it does happen. They’re known to snatch cats and small dogs (even in broad daylight!) and lure larger dogs to their deaths. Don’t leave your pet unattended in the desert! Stay with your dog when it’s outside and keep it in your rig when you can’t watch it.

#6 Don’t get too close to cholla. Pronounced [chaw-yah], there are more than 20 species of this cactus in the deserts of North America. The joints of this cactus are attached very loosely and will easily attach to a person or dog who brushed by. The joints are full of spines, and if you touch them, you’re likely to be full of spines too!

Keep inquisitive dogs away from cholla. When a dog tries to sniff cholla, it usually ends up with spines in its nose. The dog then tries to use its paws to scratch at the spines in its nose, thus getting spines in its paws. The situation can quickly escalate into a full-blown mess.

According to the 2013 articled “How To Remove Cactus Spines From Your Perforated Body,” by Chris Clarke

Many desert rats accustomed to living in cholla country will carry a large comb with them: it’s an excellent tool for prying cholla stems off yourself.

#7 Be ready for wind and the dust it can bring. I grew up in the Deep South where the wind was nothing to get upset about unless we found ourselves in the midst of a hurricane. I began to learn about real wind when I moved to the Midwest, but I really didn’t know wind until I spent time in New Mexico and Arizona. A desert wind is quite a wind. It can blow hard for hours or days on end and whisk away folding tables and chairs and other gear you may have outside your rig. Any tents or easy-ups must be held down securely so the wind doesn’t blow them away and mangle them in the process.

Without moisture to hold it down, desert dust is easily blown around, sometimes leading to poor air quality. Be prepared to stay in your rig with the windows closed when the dust is at its worst.

#8 Don’t camp in arroyos or other low-lying areas. An arroyo (pronounced [uhroi-oh] and also known as a wash, gully, gulch, or ditch) is a place where water flows when it rains. (Yes, it rains in the desert, sometimes in the winter.) Even if it’s not raining where you are, a flashflood caused by heavy rain upstream can fill an arroyo with water suddenly and unexpectedly. I’m not talking a trickle of water; I’m talking enough water to wash away your camp.

In a footnote to a 2016 the Scientific America article “Instant Peril: Flash Floods (and How to Survive Them)“, author Dana Hunter offers some advice.

I can tell you from bitter experience that even though that flat, sandy wash bottom makes a bonza place to pitch a tent, it is horrible if there’s a thunderstorm in the night. At worst, you’re swept away and drowned. At best, you’re awakened in the middle of the night by the stream that’s now flowing through your sleeping bag, and you have to haul your soaked self and belongings to high ground. In the dark. In the rain. And you’ll do a terrible job pitching the tent. Where you won’t be able to sleep because you’re too wet.

#9 Be careful when driving through or parking on sand. It’s easy to get stuck in sand. Bob Wells has an excellent article about getting stuck and how to get unstuck on his Cheap RV Living blog. I suggest reading his post “Getting Stuck: How to Avoid it and What to Do if it Happensbefore you encounter desert sand.

#10 Old mines are dangerous; don’t go in them! There are thousands of abanoned mines on Bureau of Land Management sites throughout the deserts of the Southwest. I saw one while camping on BLM land outside Ajo, Arizona and did some research, leading me to write a blog post about what I disovered. The the BLM’s FAQ on Abandoned Mine Lands says such mines can lead to physical and human health hazards.

  • Physical hazards: Unsecured AML [Abandoned Mine Lands] sites pose a risk of death or serious injury by falling down open mine shafts.
  • Human health hazards: Exposure to toxic gases and chemicals, cave-ins, explosives, and water hazards endanger human health

If you see any signs like the one pictured here, stay safe by keeping your distance.

Don’t be discouraged! Being prepared for the challenges of the desert can help you avoid the environment’s pitfalls and increase your chances of enjoying yourself. I was in my 40s before I grew acquainted with the desert, but now it’s my winter destinations of choice. You might find you grow to love it too!

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you for or protect you from every problem you might encounter in the desert. Only you are responsible for you! Do your research before you head to the desert, use common sense, and think before you act.

I took all the photos in this post.

Windows Trail

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North Window

The next big adventure at Arches National Park for the Lady of the House and me was the Windows Trail. The Windows are on one side of a large parking area, and the Double Arch is on the other side. The Lady and I had gotten a late start that day and only had time to see one of the attractions. We decided to hike the Windows Trail and see the North and South Windows and Turret Arch.

Before we left the parking area, we took advantage of the pit toilets there, and I got just close enough to snap a photo of the Double Arch. Those necessities out of the way, we started our hike.

The sign at the trailhead told us there were actually two trails around these formations. One could return to the parking area via the longer and more difficult primitive trail. The primitive trail goes around the back of the Windows. It is less developed and climbs a hill. Because we had limited time and wanted to conserver our energy, we decided we would skip the primitive trail on the way back and return on the same route we’d arrived.

Stairs leading to the North Window

Calling what we had to do to get to the Windows a hike is something of an exaggeration. The path starts out as a flat stretch, and where it goes up (with only a 150 foot elevation gain), there are steps to help visitors with the ascent. Compared to the Cave Spring Trail I’d hiked the day before (where I climbed down ladders!), the walk on the Windows Trail was barely strenuous.

As we walked up, we saw people standing in the opening of the North Window. Again, the humans looked tiny in the grand scale of nature. The Lady encouraged me to go ahead of her so she could take photos of me standing in the Window.

From a distance, the window looked like a good-size opening in the rock, but when I got close, I realized the opening was actually huge, enormous, immense. How in the world had nature made a window in that massive rock? The main answer, of course, is time. Secondary answers are wind and the sand it blows through the air. Human are not just physically small in the grand scheme of geology, but also ridiculously short-lived.

Tiny me facing the North Window

After The Lady and I got our fill of the North Window, we took the short walk to the South Window. Substantially fewer people were looking at the South Window, although it was no less spectacular than the one to the north. We had a few peaceful moments at the South Window before strangers approached.

South Window

As we walked over to Turret Arch, I saw a man aiming a camera in the direction of the North and South Windows. There must be something cool going on over there, I thought, so I turned around to look. From our vantage point, we could see the North and South Windows side by side. Wow! It was a good reminder that sometimes it’s a good idea to turn around and contemplate what’s been left behind. (It’s also a good idea to pay attention to what people with fancy cameras are doing.)

North and South Windows

Turret Arrch and window

The Lady and I decided we didn’t need to get up close and personal with Turret Arch. I took some photos of it, and we were content to look at it from a distance. To be honest, I was already in rock overload, and we still had The Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, Natural Bridges National Monument, and Monument Valley ahead of us.

I wish we could have spent several days in Arches National Park. I would have enjoyed exploring the area around Double Arch, and I think I would have enjoyed an early morning hike to Delicate Arch. Maybe I could have even survived a ranger-led hike in the Fiery Furnace, “a natural labyrinth of narrow passages between towering sandstone walls.” In any case, I hope there’s another visit to Arches National Park and the Windows in my future.

Me with the South Window

 

How to Stay Safe and Healthy in the Forest

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  Let’s face it: a lot of us boondockers are city kids who’ve found ourselves spending a lot of time in the woods now that we’re living in our vans (or motorhomes or truck campers or cars or whatever). The forest can be a worrisome place for folks who didn’t camp much during our formative years. While I don’t sit around worrying about treachery at every turn, I do believe in taking precautions to keep myself and my belongings safe. Sometimes it’s easy to let our guard down when we’re surrounded by the beauty of nature, but vigilance is important, especially for folks out on their own.

Whether you’re camping in a tent or a motorhome or something in-between, you want to stay safe and healthy during your time in the forest. These tips can help you if you’re spending just a weekend out in the trees or moving from forest to forest while living nomadically.

#1 Don’t leave your belongings lying around. You may be honest, but your neighbors may not be. Whether you’re in a campground or boondocking in the wilderness, it’s a good idea to put valuables away when you leave your camp. If you’d be sad if an item were stolen or if you can’t afford to replace it, lock it up before you go.

If I’m camping somewhere for more than one night, I’ll often set up a tent to use as my storage shed. If I leave camp, I can easily stow my stove, propane tank, and tables in the tent. It’s quicker than packing everything into the van, and while it won’t stop a determined thief, it will slow down someone who can’t resist easy pickings.

#2 Don’t open your door to strangers. Just because you’re out of the city doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious about who you let into your living space. If a stranger knocks, talk through a window. While I believe most people in the world are good at heart, don’t let a bad apple into your rig by mistake.

#3 Make sure your campfire is dead out when you don’t want to supervise it anymore. Going on a hike? The fire needs to be dead out. Going to bed? The fire needs to be dead out.

If you set the forest on fire, your safety is at stake too. If you’re away from your campsite or asleep when your campfire starts a wildfire, your property and life will be in danger.

The Forest Service gives these tips for making sure your campfire is completely out:

  • First, drown the campfire with water!
  • Next, mix the ashes and embers with soil.
  • Stir the embers after they are covered with water and make sure that everything is wet.
  • Feel the coals, embers, and any partially-burned wood with your hands. Everything (including the rock fire ring) should be cool to the touch. Feel under the rocks to make sure [there are] no embers underneath.
  • When you think you are done, take an extra minute and add more water.
  • Finally, check the entire campsite for possible sparks or embers, because it only takes one to start a forest fire.
  • Remember…if it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.

#4 Keep your pet leashed and under your control or in your rig. If coyotes are in the area, small dogs and cats are at risk of being snatched. If you’re in bear country, even a large dog is no match for an adult Ursus americanus (black bear), much less an Ursus arctos (grizzly bear). Dogs antagonize bears and bears attack dogs. Protect your dog by not letting it run loose.

#5 Speaking of bears, don’t attract them with food and garbage left around your campsite. Keep a clean camp. Food and garbage lying around can attract not just bears, but other critters like flies, rodents, raccoons, and ravens. Of course, you don’t want to tangle with bears, but even smaller animals can create a huge mess by dragging food and garbage all over your campsite. Flies carry disease, and no one wants to get sick while they’re supposed to be enjoying trees and birdsong.

If you’re in a campground, put trash in garbage cans or dumpsters right away. Be sure you close garbage containers securely. If you’re boondocking in a place with no trash containers, tie garbage bags and stow them securely in your rig until you can pack out what you’ve packed in.

If bears are a problem where you’re camping, store all food and trash in bear boxes if provided or use your own bear canister.

#6 Beware of falling branches. It’s nice to park in a shady spot when the summer sun is beating down, but a falling branch can wreak havoc on your rig or tent. Look up before you pick your spot and notice any obviously dangerous tree limbs. Even if no limbs seem to be in danger of falling, remember that a high wind can send branches crashing to the ground with no warning.

A Forest Service website gives tips to keep you and your belongings safe from falling branches. Read all about it before you head off into the woods.

#7 Don’t pick up critters. The forest where I work seasonally posts warnings about plague and hanta virus. Picking up a sick animal greatly increases one’s chance of infection. In most wild places, wild animals won’t let humans get anywhere near them. If a cute little critter lets you pick it up, it’s probably not healthy. Don’t risk your well-being by picking up a creature that might be infectious.

#8 Watch out for snakes. While most snakes aren’t poisonous, you still don’t want to be bitten by one. Even a nonpoisonous snake bite may require medical attention. When a friend of mine  was bitten by a rattler in his own driveway, he ended up spending a couple of nights in the hospital. I certainly don’t have the time or money for anything like that.

For a comprehensive guide to keeping your space free of snakes, see the great article “How to Keep Snakes Away from Your Campsite” on the TakeOutdoors website.

#9 Wash your hands. E. coli doesn’t take a vacation just because you’ve left civilization. If, like me, you don’t have running water in your rig, you can set up a handwashing station in your camp. I use a seven gallon water jug with a spigot so I can control the flow of water and conserve the precious resource. At a bare minimum, wash up after performing elimination functions and before handling food.

#10 Know what creepy crawlies and flying critters you need to protect against. In certain areas, bug bites can be more than a temporary annoyance. Do the local mosquitoes carry the West Nile Virus? Are you at risk from getting Lyme disease from the ticks where you’re camping? Do you need to worry about brown recluse or black widow spiders? If the pests where you’re camping are poisonous or carry disease, you’re going to have to be extra vigilant about protecting yourself.

Ticks are creepy whether or not they carry Lyme disease.  If you find an attached tick during a full-body inspection, you’ll want to remove it immediately. Go to the Centers for Disease Control website to learn the steps for removing a tick. You may want to print out the steps to include in your first aid kit.

The Mobile RVing website has a good article on “How to Control Mosquitoes at Your Campsite.”

The Pronto Pest Management offers “10 Tips to Protect Yourself from Ticks While Camping.”

The USA Today website has an article with tips on “How to Keep Spiders from Campsites.”

There’s no way to imagine or prepare for every single danger one might encounter in the woods. In life we run into situations that could lead to harm, whether we’re in the city or the wilderness. I hope these tips help you plan for your health and safety when you leave the concrete and venture out into nature.

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you or protect you from every danger you might encounter in the forest. You are responsible for our own self. Research the problems you might encounter in the area you plan to camp in before you get there. Call the local BLM field office or Forest Service ranger station responsible for the place you want to camp and ask about hazards in the area. Think before you act. If something you’re about to do seems potentially dangerous, don’t do it!

I took the photos in this post.

Balanced Rock

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The first major attraction The Lady of the House and I visited at Arches National Park was Balanced Rock. The rock is balanced because two kinds of stones are eroding at different rates. A sign at the trailhead explains “The caprock of the hard Slick Rock Member of the Entrada Sandstone is perched upon a pedestal of mudstone. This softer Dewey Bridge Member of the Carmel Formation weathers more quickly than the resistant rock above. Eventually the faster eroding Dewey Bridge will cause the collapse of Balanced Rock.”

At Arches, visitors are not supposed to climb on any formation with a name. A sign at the trailhead of this particular formation specifically declares in red print, “Climbing on Balanced Rock or its base is prohibited.” The day we visited, two young men had either failed to get the message or just didn’t care because they had climbed Balanced Rock. They were a good ways up the Dewey Bridge Member, looking like tiny insects high on the formation.

Can you see the tiny little man in the neon yellow shirt way up there on Balanced Rock?

I was worried for the safety of the young men, and I was perturbed by their flagrant disregard of the rules. I’m not one for rules for their own sake, but I’m sure people climbing on the rocks wear them down, and even minute damage would be amplified if only a fraction of the one million visitors each year climbed on them. Prohibiting visitors from climbing on the popular, easily accessible formations certainly protects the rocks. The prohibition against climbing surely helps people too. It’s all fun and games until someone slips and falls from 50 feet up, crashes to the ground smashing his/her skull and other important bones, and lies on the ground in excruciating pain while waiting for an ambulance to make a thirty minute drive into and through the park so the EMTs can load the injured party into the ambulance for a ride to the nearest hospital.

On the other hand, it was exhilarating to watch those bold souls standing so high on Balanced Rock. Of course, I knew the rocks were massive, but seeing humans scrambling around on them helped me understand how huge they really were. The young men were nearly insignificant next to the immensity of the rocks.

I was relieved when the young men returned to the ground. Even though they were rule breakers and daredevils, I didn’t want to see them fall. They may have been wrong to climb balanced Rock but the story of their visit is exceedingly more exciting than my story.

Balanced Rock from a different vantage point

There’s an easy path around Balanced Rock, and The Lady and I walked it so we could look at the formation from many different angles. I was amazed by how different the formation looked depending on where we stood in relation to it. Of course, I had a theoretical understanding of how the look of something changes in relation to the viewer’s proximity to it, but it was fascinating to experience the phenomenon myself in relation to Balanced Rock.

One day, the underlying layer of mudstone will erode to the point it can no longer support the caprock of Entrada sandstone, and the caprock will fall to the ground. How soon that will happen, no one knows. What if it happens within our lifetime? The Lady and I asked each other. We agreed we were glad we’d seen it as it stood on the early April day of 2018, and we’d be even happier to have seen it if the capstone falls during our lifetimes.

Do you think they’ll change its name when the top stone falls? we wondered.

The Park Service will have to post new informational signs if the capstone falls. Of course, Balanced Rock may stay balanced for a good long time. When it falls, there may no longer be a Park Service or a United States of America or civilization as we know it. It may fall in a lonely landscape with no humans around to see or hear the first moments in its next state of existence.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

Arches National Park

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The Lady of the House and I got to Arches National Park early in the afternoon. Once again, I was impressed by the rock formations visible from the parking lot near the visitor center, and once again, The Lady gave me a knowing smile. She’d visited this park the previous summer, and she knew what magnificence I would see shortly.

We didn’t see this formation from the visitor center, but I think it was one of the nameless formations that impressed me.

During The Lady’s visit the previous July, she and her companions had hiked to Delicate Arch. She said it had taken them about three hours to hike to the Arch and back. The trail was in the direct sun, she reported, and they were quite tired by the time they returned to the car. While I would have liked to see the iconic landmark up close, I didn’t really want to use my one day in the Park getting there and back. The Lady said there was a viewpoint a short walk from a parking area where we could see Delicate Arch from a distance. I decided seeing it from a distance was good enough for me if that meant I could also see other fantastic natural beauty in the Park.

From the visitor center, I drove the van up up up on the narrow, winding road. I mostly kept my eyes in front of me, but my furtive glances to the side showed me the deep drop to the world below. Arches National Park really is above it all.

Balanced Rock

Our first stop was at the Courthouse Towers area. I felt so tiny surrounded by ever taller rock formations. I already felt like I was literally on top of the world, yet the world rose up taller around me. How was a person from the flatlands (even someone like me who’d been living among mountains for some years) supposed to make sense of this geology?

Our next stop was Balanced Rock. One day the top rock will fall, and I’ll feel grateful I was able to experience the formation when it was all in one piece. Will they rename the formation when the top rock falls? Will we call it “Formerly Balanced Rock” or “Fallen Rock” or “The Rock Formerly Known as Balanced”?

After walking the short trail around Balanced Rock, I drove us to the parking area with Double Arch on one side and The Windows Trail on the other. We decided not to walk the trail to Double Arch, but I was able to snap a decent photo of it.

The walk to the North and South Window Arches was not very strenuous, and the visual payoff was fantastic! Across from the Window Arches is the Turret Arch, so a visitor gets to see three thrilling formations for one expenditure of energy.

Double Arch

Back in the van, I drove to the Fiery Furnace lookout. The trail here is apparently quite challenging. A limited number of permits for self-guided hikes are issued each day, or folks can go on ranger-led tours of the area. The Lady and I had signed up for neither due to time constraints (and my probable inability to enjoy a quite strenuous hike). So we contented ourselves with stopping briefly and taking some photos.

Our final destination of the day was the Delicate Arch viewpoint.

Before we got on the trail to the viewpoint, we saw a rustic cabin that I wanted to take a closer look at. The National Park Service says it was built in 1906 by John Wesley Wolfe to please his daughter Flora. The Lady maintained Edward Abbey stayed in this cabin during his two seasons (1956 and 1957) as a park ranger at Arches, but I could find no official information confirming that assertion. (Once back home, The Man of the House, who was then reading Desert Solitaire, said Abbey spent a night or two in the cabin during his time in the park, but hadn’t lived there extensively as I had imagined when The Lady said he’d stayed there. I think there should be signage saying “Edward Abbey slept here” or something to that effect.)

Turnbow Cabin, part of the Wolfe Ranch. Edward Abbey slept here, maybe once or twice.

I looked at the cabin and thought, I could live here, although hauling water would probably be quite an endeavor, and I bet it’s dark out there at night. Of course, it’s probably hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but I could imagine myself living there. I wonder how many other visitors even consider the place as a possible dwelling for themselves.

We took a short walk to the viewing area, and there it was—Delicate Arch. It didn’t look so big from where we were standing, but The Lady assured me it’s huge when one is standing right under it. The informational sign says the Arch’s opening is 45 feet high and 33 feet wide. That’s pretty dang big! The Lady pointed out the people standing around the Arch; they looked like tiny colorful specks, as if someone had thrown confetti around the formation.

Delicate Arch, from a distance

We contemplated Delicate Arch for a few minutes. It’s “carved in Entrada Sandstone”, the sign says, and “is composed mostly of the Slick Rock Member. The top is a five-foot thick layer of Moab Tongue.” I zoomed my camera’s lens in for a few grainy photos. Maybe someday I’ll hike out and see Delicate Arch up close, but in the meantime, I’ll revisit it on nearly every Utah license plate I see.

I took all the photos in this post.

Cave Spring Trail

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My first ladder

The Lady of the House had told me about the ladders.

On some of the trails she’d hiked during her family vacation in Utah, visitors had to climb up or down (or up and down) ladders to get to different levels of the trail. Today I would experience my first ladder.

We were in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. We’d just hiked Pothole Point Trail, and now we were on our way to Cave Spring Trail.

It was early afternoon and warm. I was glad it was early April and not full-on summer because despite the mild temperature, the sun was beating down. The last hike had mostly been in direct sun, and even with long cotton clothing covering m body and my big hat covering my head, I knew the sun would wear me down. Hiking in the sun and the heat—well, that’s not my idea of a good time. But as I said, the heat wasn’t so bad, and I was enjoying myself.

The Lady had read a description of Cave Spring at the visitor center or maybe in the informational newspaper about Canyonlands she’d picked up during her last visit to the park. She knew this was the hike with the ladder. I was calmly excited to climb a ladder on a hike because it’s not something everyone had done. Climbing a ladder on a hike would probably make me a little tougher, gave me a little extra trail cred. Lord knows I need all the trail cred I can get.

The first interesting stop on the trail was the cowboy camp. According to the sign at the trailhead, this first alcove served as an open-air bunkhouse. I’m not sure when this particular area was in use, but the sign says cowboys lived in isolated camps like this one from the 1890s until cattle ranching was discontinued in Canyonlands in 1975.

Cowboy artifacts. The photo on the sign shows them better than this photo of mine does.

I don’t know  if the items in the alcove are the actual items left in this particular spot by actual cowboys or if they were set up here to represent what a cowboy camp might have looked like. The sign alludes to the fact that this is the real deal, but doesn’t come right out and say so. When I believe real cowboys left these actual items in this particular place, I feel real lonely. Did the cowboys know they would never return and decided these items weren’t even worth taking out, or did they think they’d be back someday to pick up their things? Did anyone ever miss the blue bowl left on the table?

The actual spring in the cave on the eponymous Cave Spring Trail

The next point of interest was Cave Spring itself. Located in more of an alcove than an actual cave, the trailhead sign calls it “one of the area’s few year-round water sources.” No wonder the cowboys wanted to camp nearby! There wasn’t a lot of water there—barely a pool—but enough for people to live off of when other sources were dry. I love the vivid green of the plants growing by the spring, especially against the browns and tans of the rock and dirt.

We soon saw that cowboys weren’t the only people who utilized this place. The sign at the trailhead says the area “contains evidence of almost 1,000 years of human use.” Past the cowboy camp, near the spring, we saw cave paintings.

We saw the handprints first. They’re not actually paintings, but the outlines of hands held up against the wall of stone while some white pigment was thrown or blown around the fingers. Who was this person who centuries ago decided to lean an “I was here” mark on the stone? Were there two people leaving evidence of their lives on that wall? (Only while looking at my photo of these hand outlines months later did I realize the outline on the left is that of a right hand—well, unless the person had the back of the hand pressed against the rock and not the palm as I’d first supposed.) Why is the outline on the right not very good? Was the wall too bumpy there for a good outline? What is the white pigment and how has it lasted for centuries? Did the person who left this mark imagine someone so far in the future would see it and wonder about it? Some of these questions may be answerable (how I wish I’d been able to attend a ranger talk at this site!) but the thought process that went into these marks will forever remain a mystery.

We saw more prehistoric art by the spring, these pieces produced with a rusty orange pigment. Most of the figures appear to me to be humanoid—I could see what I thought were meant to be arms and legs—but I have no idea what the figures are supposed to represent. Gods? Shamans? Aliens from outer space? Mom and Dad? Were these figures religious representations or the equivalent of a child’s drawing of the family fastened to the refrigerator door? Again, I doubt we’ll ever know with certainty.

The last of the rock painting we saw depicted hands again. I’m not sure if these were actual hand prints or paintings of handprints. The bright orange one to the far right looks most like an actual handprint done by someone who wasn’t very good at making handprints. (The outline of the thumb is barely there.) The others that look more spirally in the palm—was that from slightly different positioning in repeated printings? I wish now I had paid attention to the size of the hands, perhaps taken a photo with my own hand close by for comparison. I also wish I had seen the trail guide the sign at the trailhead describes as offering “more information on the human history of the area.”

The first part of the hike had been mostly in the cool of the shade. Especially near the spring, the air was damp and almost chilly. Soon after we saw the last of the rock paintings, we moved out into the open and back into the sun. It wasn’t long before I was climbing my first ladder!

There were actually two ladders on the tail. The trailhead sign says, “Past the spring, two wooden ladders lead to views of the surrounding terrain.”

View of the surrounding terrain

The ladders weren’t as rickety as I had feared. I thought they’d be more rustic, but they were held together with modern metal bolts and washers. (Not to worry, I’d get my share of rustic and rickety ladders at Natural Bridges National Monument.)

Why ladders? I wondered. Did the native people of the area use ladders to get to different levels of the land? Were ladders less cost prohibitive than were metal or wooden stairways? Did wooden ladders blend into the landscape better than other options did? I have no answers to these questions.

Past the spring, this is not a trail for people with serious physical limitations. I made it down the ladder ok, but I went slowly and carefully. I gripped the rung in front of me before I moved to place my feet carefully on the rung below. I wouldn’t say I was scared, but I would say I was definitely cautious. I certainly felt tough once I had my feet back on the ground. Oh, yeah! I do hikes that involve climbing ladders! I’m a badass!

As someone who enjoyed studying anthropology, the human history aspect of Cave Spring Trail made it one of my favorite hikes. I was fascinated by what’s been left behind there by humans of the past. And did I mention I climbed down two ladders while hiking that trail? Did I mention I’m a badass?

Badass with a big ass, and I’m ok with that.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Pothole Point Trail

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Pothole Point in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park was the first trail The Lady of the House and I hiked on our epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. At just .6 mile, it was a good way to start.

Pothole Point Trail is named for the indentions in the rock which are known as “potholes.” After a rain, each pothole is an ecosystem of various snails, beetles, worms, and shrimp which have hatched from eggs or emerged from dormancy.  Each ecosystem is fragile, and visitors are encouraged to keep hands and feet out of the potholes. Even when the indentions are dry, eggs may be lingering in them, waiting for a rain so they can hatch. Other creatures may also be in the potholes, also waiting for rain to move into the next phase of their lifecycle. A hand or especially a foot in a pothole could crush delicate life.

We were lucky to see these potholes filled with water.

The Lady and I were really lucky; all the rain the night before had filled the potholes. We were both excited to see the potholes filled with water; they really stood out when wet.

The hike was mostly across bare rock. The trail was marked by cairns (pronunced \ ˈkern \) because there was no visible path of well-worn dirt or trampled vegetation as one might see in a forest or desert. All we could do to navigate was follow small piles of rocks. It was my first hike with only cairns to guide me.

A cairn marking the trail.

Visitors are asked not to build cairns of their own because too many cairns or cairns built in the wrong places can be confusing to hikers. Unfortunately there were many unofficial cairns along the trail. Fortunately, The Lady was really good at navigating and kept us on the trail. Had I been alone, I might still be wandering around from one pile of stones to another, never finding the way back to my van.

Not only does the trail take hikers across bare sandstone, there’s very little shade along the way. I was glad for my big hat and glad we were hiking on a spring morning. I would not have enjoyed this hike nearly as much had I been doing it at midday in the summer.

The Lady and I took frequent water breaks, thanks to her reminders.

The trail wasn’t crowded, probably because our visit occurred before the high tourist season of Memorial Day to Labor Day. I absolutely encourage anyone who can manage it to do their exploring of any tourist attraction during the off-season.

Pothole Point Trail is a loop, and I was glad to see my van when we circled back around. I enjoyed the scenery and the company, but I was glad to get out of the sun and take a little break while driving us to the second hike on our itinerary. Next stop: Cave Spring Trail.

Some of the scenery we saw while hiking Pothole Point Trail.

I took the photos in thie post.

Canyonlands National Park, The Needles District

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The Lady of the House and I woke up in Superbowl Campground to a beautiful view. It was difficult to believe any rock formation could be redder or more beautiful, but The Lady just smiled knowingly. She’d never visited The Needles District, but she’d been to Arches National Park and the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands the previous summer. She knew there was a lot more fantastic ahead of us.

After eating breakfast and cleaning up, we got on the road to the Needles District of Canyonlands. We showed The Lady’s Southeast Utah Parks Pass at the admission booth, then stopped at the visitor center to plan our day. We decided to drive the scenic loop, stopping at overlooks and going on two hikes—Pothole Point Trail and Cave Spring Trail. While these two hikes weren’t the longest or most strenuous in the Park, at .6 miles each, they were long enough for me. We also planned to do the very short (.3 mile) Roadside Ruin Trail on our way out of the Park.

I was in awe at the wondrous formations we could see from the visitor center. Again, The Lady indicated You ain’t seen nothing yet, and we set out on our driving tour.

I was in awe from the moment I got out of the van at the Needles District visitor center.

The first magnificent formation I saw didn’t even have a name.

This is Wooden Shoe Arch. It really looks like a wooden shoe! Nature is incredible.

What’s it called? I kept asking The Lady. Why doesn’t it have a name?

Certainly something this majestic deserved a name.

The first named formation we stopped to see was Wooden Shoe Arch. It was my first arch, and it really did look like a wooden shoe! Erosion is an amazing phenomenon.

Next we drove to the Confluence Overlook Trailhead, which was at the far end of the loop. We had no plans to hike the 10 mile trail, but we did walk around the area near where we had parked, and we looked out over the vast wonder of nature. It was scary to stand on the edge of a massive drop-off, but feeling like a tiny bug that could be swallowed by the earth does put the human experience into perspective.

The Lady stands on the edge. It may look as if she could step down to the next level of ground, but in reality she was way high up and the ground was way down below.

Both the Pothole Point Trail and The Cave Spring Trail were a bit strenuous for a couch potato like me, but I certainly enjoyed the sights I saw along both trails. (Each of these adventures warrants a future individual blog post.)

My first ladder.

My most memorable moment in The Needles District was descending my first trail ladder. This event occurred on The Cave Spring Trail. I tend to be clumsy, so I took things slow and made it down with no problem.

As planned, we walked the Roadside Ruin Trail on our way out of the Park. It was a short and easy trail, more of a stroll than a hike, and perfect for the end of the day. We dashed up, saw the relic,

one of the region’s many ancient granaries – used by various Native American cultures who cultivated corn, beans, and squash when the climate in the area was wetter,

according to the Modern Hiker website. The Lady and I agreed it was cool, but we were tired, hungry, and ready to go, so  we returned to the van for our drive to Moab.

The aforementioned Modern Hiker article says, “…this granary – built sometime between 1270 and 1295 CE – is particularly well-preserved (and is also unique in that it’s accessed via a door on top of the granary instead of the sides).”

I took all the photos in this post, except for the photo of myself. The Lady took that one.

Meteor Crater Natural Landmark

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I took this photo on the road to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark complex the first time I tried to visit in 2015.

I’d planned to visit Meteor Crater Natural Landmark once before. I’d taken exit 233 and driven nearly 6 miles to the parking lot. I’d even gone into the visitor center, but when I saw the price of admission, I turned around and left.

I’d budgeted $10 to see this roadside attraction. I probably would have splurged and spent $12, but when I saw the price of admission was $18, I went back to my van and got back on the road. I doubted looking at a crater would be worth $18.

The Lady of the House thought this story was hilarious.

She’d never seen the meteor crater either, but her son, The Boy (now a grown man in his 20s), had visited some years ago on a field trip. The Boy had been quite impressed by the crater during a time in his life when he was not easily impressed. (Upon visiting the Grand Canyon as a child, all The Boy could say was, I hate this stupid Grand Canyon; his favorite part of the trip was the ride on a shuttle bus from the parking lot to a scenic viewpoint.)

He just kept talking about how big it was, The Lady said of her son after his visit to Meteor Crater Natural Landmark.

The crater wasn’t originally on our trip itinerary. We hadn’t planned to be on I-40 at all, but waiting for my van’s water pump to be replaced delayed us by four days. We cut the New Mexico portion of our trip out entirely, which meant we had to get to Utah by a different route.

Since we’d be on I-40, The Lady really wanted to see the meteor crater.

You pay the $10 you budgeted when you stopped before, The Lady told me, and I’ll pay the $8 difference.

I told her it was a deal.

The Meteor Crater website said guided tours were available. I called the Meteor Crater office and found out the guided tours were included in the price of admission. I always like to take a guided tour if it doesn’t cost extra. I find I learn more from a tour guide than I do if I’m left to my own devices reading informational placards.

The night before our visit to the crater, we boondocked off I-40 between Flagstaff and Winslow, just outside Walnut Canyon National Monument. We’d hoped to arrive at the crater in time for the first tour at 9:15 in the morning, but we were running late. In retrospect, we were glad we’d missed the first tour because when we arrived, we still had time to use the (clean) restroom, buy a few souvenirs in the (well-lit, neatly arranged, not overpriced) gift shop, and watch the (entertaining, informative) short documentary IMPACT! The Mystery of Meteor Crater.

This photo shows the entrance to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark complex.

Before we did any of those things, we had to pay the admission fee.

The worker who greeted us at the door was all smiles. She welcomed us and pointed to the sign above the box office where she said we’d see the prices listed. We already knew the prices (they’re on the internet, as The Lady said to me later, thus a matter of public record), so when The Lady walked up to the box office, she chirped Two, please! and didn’t balk when the ticket seller asked for $36.

A young couple walked in right behind us. I’d noticed them in the parking lot. They looked like neo-hippies, or at least the man did. He had long hair and a big beard and wore baggie pants that probably allowed him to do the sun salutation in the morning and wrap his legs around a djembe at the drum circle at night. The woman looked less like a hippie and more like a Whole Foods athletic urbanite in a tank top and those hiking leggings that are in fashion with women who engage in outdoor sports.

The fellow was talking to the greeter. I wasn’t following their conversation, but I heard the fellow say $18? in surprise. He lady friend echoed $18? in pure disbelief. I thought it was really funny that the couple was having the same reaction I’d had during my first brief visit.

The greeter must have confirmed the $18 admission fee. Then the fellow seemed to be asking if there were a place they could look at the crater for free; I’d had that same thought during my first visit. The greeter must have told them there was no free viewing because the couple left the building.

The Lady and I, however, went deeper into the building. Then we went out a door, up some steps, past the under-construction Astronaut Park, and into another door. We were now in the area housing the Discovery Center, the restrooms, the Subway restaurant, the gift shop, and the theater.

I guess they wanted to get their money’s worth on that graphic, The Lady said.It was on everything from road signs to restroom signs.

First stop: Restrooms.

Second stop: Gift shop where I bought postcards and The Lady bought The Boy a souvenir t-shirt to replace the one he’d bought during his visit and outgrown.

Third stop: Theater where we watched the informative short documentary IMPACT! The Mystery of Meteor Crater.

After the movie was over, it was time for a tour. We fell in with Jake, our tour guide, who took us right out to the edge of the meteor crater. I was glad we’d opted for the tour because visitors don’t get nearly as close without a guide. I was glad the weather was good too because tours are cancelled due to bad weather, including high wind speeds. I was also glad The Lady and I were visiting in spring because in the hot Arizona summer the tours are cut short.

While visitors can see the crater from the observation area (including through a big glass window for the days it’s too hot and/or too windy to go outside) and can get close-up looks through the free telescope views, no one goes out to the edge of the crater without a guide. I’m sure it would be a huge liability issue to have people standing so close to the edge and perhaps trying to climb down into the crater. The people who own the crater (yes, it’s privately owned) must feel safer having a guide keep an eye on people who go where there are no barriers.

We walked out on a short paved path, and there it was to our left—Meteor Crater. The Boy was right; it was big. Other words that came to mind when I saw the crater were huge, massive, immense, and fantastic, yet it’s difficult to put into words or even capture in photographs just how stupendous the crater really is.

We learned from the movie that the floor of the crater is large enough to house 20 football games being played at the same time, while the sloping sides of the crater could accommodate stands big enough to seat 2 million fans. That’s difficult to imagine, even while I was standing right there looking at the crater.

I didn’t quite begin to understand how big the crater is until I looked through one of the observation telescopes. Looking through the telescope, I could see the floor of the crater where a 6’ tall (I later read) cutout of an astronaut stood in front of a chain link fence. The cutout and the fence both looked itty bitty, even through the telescope.

I learned the following information from a brochure we received at the ticket counter: From the viewing platform,

the floor of the crater is 550 feet deep, equivalent to a 60 story building.

The crater is over 4,000 feet across and 2.4 miles in circumference.

Wowza!

Jake the tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. He talked about the impact of the meteor that had

The Lady dances with (a cardboard cutout of) an astronaut in the Discovery Center.

created the crater and the process by which the theory that the crater was made by a meteor (not a volcano as originally thought) was proven. The Lady really enjoyed the second stop on our tour—The Rock Table—where Jake did a show-n-tell of how the meteor impacted (my pun—totally intended) the geology of the area surrounding the crater.

After the tour ended, The Lady and I made a quick pass through the Discovery Center. This area had a lot of

information about meteors and space. There were interactive exhibits, like the one letting the visitor lift an earth rock and comparably sized piece of a meteorite to show the difference in their weights. The Discovery Center seemed to do a good job explaining scientific information in ways kids could understand, while still keeping  the exhibits interesting for adults. I wasn’t so excited about the Discovery Center that day after being out in the sun and the wind during our tour, and knowing I still had hours of driving ahead of me, we kept our visit short. However, the Center must be very popular on days when it’s too windy to go outside or during the summer when the heat cuts the tours short.

You’re probably wondering if the entire experience is worth the $18 admission fee. Folks do get a lot for the price of admission, including the guided tour, the opportunity to view the movie, free use of the telescopic viewers, and access to the Discovery Center. Once you’re in, you’re not nickeled and dimed to death. Also, visitors are allowed to bring in water and snacks, or get their hands stamps for reentry and go out to their vehicles to eat and drink. Every part of the operation The Lady and I saw was clean and well-maintained, so no one is slacking on maintenance in order to line pockets. Finally, all of the employees I encountered (including the clerks in the gift shop) were friendly and seemed happy, so I suspect the workers are being paid decent wages. I’m always happy when workers are earning decent money.

So while I can’t say an $18 admission fee is in my budget, I do think the people who pay that amount get good value for their money. For folks interested in space and heavenly bodies in general and meteors and the impact they’ve had on earth in particular, as well as those interested in geology and the history of the earth, Meteor Crater Natural Landmark would be a very interesting attraction. I’m glad I went, and I appreciate The Lady subsidizing my admission fee, but I wouldn’t encourage travelers on tight budgets to give up something else to visit here unless they were huge fans of meteors and the craters they leave behind.

This photo does no justice to how deep and wide Meteor Crater really is.

I took all the photos in this post.

Nature Comforts Me

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What I find comforting about being out in nature is that nature don’t give a fuck about me. Nature doesn’t care if my boyfriend dumped me, if my transmission fluid is slowly leaking, if I’m drifting aimlessly through my life. Nature doesn’t care if I live or die, because I’m miniscule and unimportant in the grand scheme of life. My life is but a blip on the landscape of geologic time. I can see how that could make a person feel depressed or otherwise distressed, but I feel comforted. Nature ain’t worried about my problems, so why should I worry? My problems are tiny compared to the height of a mountain or the number of grains of sand in a dune. Being out in the vastness of nature gives me new perspective on how much my woes really matter.

I took the first photo in this post at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The Man took the photo of me hugging the tree in Deer Creek Grove in Sequoia National Forest.