Friday, April 24, 2015

From Canyons to Blind-Ass-Jump - Day 8, September 22, 2014

The night proved to be a wonderful adventure in sound. We were surrounded by bugling elk all night and into the early dawn hours. I really wish we could have seen one, but despite sounding like giant, raging elephants, they were elusive. Yesterday, we had arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and landed the most amazing camp site, but sadly we had only one night to stay here. You can read more about Desert View Campground and the previous day at the link above. 

In the morning we met an older couple who were camped across the way from us, Steve and Valerie from Wisconsin. They were breaking camp as well and offered us a canister of gas for our burner. They were getting ready to head home after a nice, long vacation.  We built a campfire and made ourselves some coffee and breakfast burritos from some of the stuff we had left in the cooler, after which we got a relatively early start. 

64 West heads through the long expanse of the South Rim, winding its way along 26 miles. There are any number of turn-offs on the way, in which you can stop and take in various views of the depths and distances of the canyon. 

Not too far from the campground, we ran into a little bit of backed up traffic. After crawling along for a short distance, we saw that there had been a terrible motorcycle accident. There were several motorcycles (as far as we could tell) that had plunged off the road into the scrub. It didn't look good. We think that they had been heading east, and possibly were dealing with early morning sun in their eyes. Like I said in an earlier post, I wouldn't even want to try to navigate some of these roads on a bike. Since then, I've tried to search for information about the accident but have turned up nothing.

Because we were so startled and freaked out, we pulled into the next turn off so we could walk around and try to feel a little better about the day. It turned out to be a spectacular view from this point. (See the rock formation above.) We started to take a closer look at the vegetation as well, given that a lot of it was in flower.  We continued our drive on 64 heading west, which ultimately brings you to Grand Canyon Village and then out of the park, through Tusayan, Valle, and on to Williams. 

These gorgeous yellow flowers were shot with the tilt shift lens. I think they are Snakeweed, but cannot be certain. It was here that Jeff discovered the close up possibilities with this lens. Both the long distance, like the canyon below, and the feathery seed pods (following) look amazing through the tilt shift. The plumed seeds of the Cliffrose appear in the fall, all along the South Rim.

Another beautiful lookout point along the way on 64.

Leaving Grand Canyon we hit Williams and turned right onto 40 taking us into Kingman, AZ. At Kingman, we turned south towards Lake Havasu City.  Part of the Colorado River forms the Lake here. We stopped and ate at a local brewery called Barley Bros. on the other side of the river, which is still in Arizona. Pizza and ribs sounded pretty good, seeing it was already well past lunch and it was now 102 degrees and the heat was unrelenting. 

After a well needed lunch, we continued south on 95 along the Colorado into Parker. Here we crossed into California onto 62. The car was stopped at the border at the Vidal Border Station, part of the California Border Protection Stations, in order to be inspected for fruit or plant materials. Having never gone through this process, and being caught completely unaware, we showed the border patrol several pieces of very sad looking fruit that we had in the cooler, and thankfully they were not infested with any invasive insects. 

Here we leave Arizona, and venture into the Mojave Desert and California, crossing all kinds of incredible landscape. We passed the Turtle Mountains, the Granite Mountains, Old Woman Mountains, and Sheep Hole Mountains, all along 62. Parts of 62 are insane. One section, around Rice and coming up on the Granite Mountains, was a crazy roller coaster ride of some amazing road dips. There were signs that said "Dip" to warn you of the impending fun. We were driving pretty fast and sometimes I think the wheels actually came up off the road on the upside of the dips!  Such fun! Such chaos!  I didn't count the dips, but there were LOTS of them, and each one was unique in its trajectory. 

If I had to travel that road every day I'd have a name for each dip... like "mad snake dip" that starts the downside, turns into a curve in the middle and shoots you out the top like a mad rocket, or "blind ass jump" where you can't see the road that falls off in the distance so it looks like you are driving off the edge of the Earth. Awesome!  Not only this, but we were driving directly west, directly into the setting sun that was blazing in the window at maximum solar intensity. 

This insanity eventually traverses the northern edge of Joshua Tree National Park and brings you into Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree, and Yucca Valley, where the house we rented was located. To the North on 62 is the largest US Military base I've ever seen. The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. Officially known as Twentynine Palms Base, it has its own zip code. 

We took a total of two photos after we left Grand Canyon on the 22nd.  The one above of the road and wind turbines, and the one below showing 3,619.9 Miles to Joshua Tree!  

It was an 7 hour drive covering 425 miles!  I can't wait to show you our photos of Joshua Tree. More soon. Good night!!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Differing Perspectives - From North Rim to South Rim, Grand Canyon - Day 7 - September 21, 2015

After the exciting day of travel the day before, we were in for the most staggeringly beautiful day yet on this trip. It's hard to believe now, in retrospect, everything that we saw in this remarkable part of the country on this one day. Waking up in our camp site on the North Rim, we cooked some breakfast over a fire, enjoyed our coffee, broke camp, and then it was a short drive to the Lodge and the trail head for Bright Angel Point. 

It has taken the Colorado river over six million years to carve this canyon from the rock, and at some points it is 6,000 ft. deep and 18 miles across at its widest.  This is considered "arid-land erosion" and the canyon is 277 miles long. In its geologic formations, you can see three of earth's four eras of geologic history. Let's consider it a work in progress.

It was a short, but precarious, walk from the lodge to the overlook even with the paved trail to get out there. Bright Angel Point basically sits at the end of a needle-like peninsula that sticks out into the canyon. I can imagine that a lot of people become unable to go further, if they suffer from fear of heights or vertigo. Worth the effort to get past the nominal fears the trail and heights induce though.

Here's an awesome example of my video taking skills!  Check out the view from Bright Angel Point! 

North Rim - Grand Canyon - September 21, 2014 from Briana Taylor on Vimeo.

Setting out early, so that we could enjoy some time at the South Rim before sunset, we traveled back through Kaibab National Forest, past the Vermillion Cliffs, back over the Navajo Bridge, and followed 89 South until we hit 64 East, which is basically the entrance to the Grand Canyon from the Eastern side. This is not the main entrance to the Park, as it seems most people are coming from the Flagstaff area. We were hoping to get a camp site at Desert View Campgrounds, just inside the Park. We had reservations at the Mather Campground near the main Grand Canyon Village, but that would add another 26 miles to our estimated 189 we were due to travel that day. Desert View was also more isolated, with only 50 camp sites, and on a first come, first serve basis. 

Traveling back through Kaibab we stopped in this burned out area on top of the ridge that leads back down to the Vermillion Cliffs. In the photo below, you can see them looming off in the far distance.  The burned out area was exquisitely beautiful, and despite it being the end of September, it was full of spring colors. Chartreuse, and an abundance of white, purple, and pink flower, and thistles in full bloom. The contrasting black of the burned trees and various logs laying around the landscape was stunning, surrounded by such new growth all around. 

 Crossing the Navajo Bridge again ...
We had luck, and found a camping spot at Desert View on the far Eastern edge of the South Rim. It was site #44, and being a first come, first serve campground made it likely for us to find a spot so late in the season. The spot was so perfectly isolated from the rest of the campground, and we only had one neighbor across the way which we could see. I'll tell you about them in the next day's post!

I had spotted elk prints out behind our camp site and when Jeff returned from paying the camping fee, I brought him out to show him the tracks I had found. We were surprised by a small tarantula, who was quickly moving along the elk tracks. Not what I expected to show Jeff at that moment, but it was a very cool surprise. After, I walked over to the restrooms, and visited with the camp host, whose camper was right next to the facilities. I told him about the tarantula, and he informed me that they were migrating at this time of year!  Tarantula Migration... Seriously?!  These amazing arachnids migrate...  So very cool, and scary too.  We were certain to close up the tent every time we went in and out so that we wouldn't wake up to a furry friend nested in our bed.

Our camp host hailed from Maine, and this was his first year at Grand Canyon. He looked like Walt Whitman, with a giant white and gray beard, and larger than life build. He was busy sweeping one of the said tarantulas that had wandered into the ladies room. He said he hoped to hear the elks bugling on this night. It was now high rutting season for the elks and the males were busy scouting, fighting, and bellowing for mates.

Here, you can see by this map, we stayed in Desert View, instead of traveling over to Mather campground. We had come around from the right side and entered the park on the Desert View side. 

Taking the opportunity to get a glimpse of the South Rim from Desert View before the sun would set, and also needing some supplies for the camp, we headed over to the Visitor center. It's a small center, compared to Grand Canyon Village, 26 miles to the west of this spot, but the views are spectacular from here and it's much quieter on a tourist level.  The sun was setting pretty rapidly, but we felt very leisurely about walking along the rim of this part of the canyon. It was very quiet with not too much wind, as at Bright Angel Point in the morning.  I've never seen anything like it, and was stunned by the sheer vastness of the landscape all around. I found it hard to get my mind around the scene, and it all seemed so unreal. I felt myself looking and looking, and now, three months later, I finally feel like I've recorded this scene in my mind as a reality. Revisiting these photos as time progresses actually has had the effect of anchoring the memories in my mind. 

Later, after setting up the camp site, we did hear the bugling of the elks! They began their calls in the early afternoon, and continued to call throughout the night into the early morning. If you are interested in hearing what they sound like, check out this video on YouTube of an elk calling.

The following photos will sum up the views we took in from this side of the South Rim. I hope to go back here and get to stay for some time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

492 Miles of Awesome - from Ridgway State Park to the North Rim of Grand Canyon - Day 6 - September 20, 2014

There is something really great about cooking breakfast while camping. The percolating coffee smells about 1,000 times better than any coffee you've ever made at home, and any food you might have in the cooler can be deemed breakfast worthy. This morning we had our first experience with the miracle of Juustoleipa, otherwise known as bread cheese. It's a cheese that the Finnish have apparently been making for over 200 years...keeping the secret safe, I guess.  Whole Foods in Colorado Springs had this in the cheese bin, and the package explained that it could be grilled easily. We cut up slices and included them in the cast iron pan, along with the Black Forest Bacon, two eggs, and we had our first delicious camp breakfast. All this stuff is not on my list of lower cholesterol foods, but ... bread cheese!  Seriously, this stuff is so good, simply sliced up and put right on the pan. I hope our Whole Foods has some.

We had such a great day the day before. Perfect weather, not too hot, lots of sun and blue sky, and spectacular views!  It was hard to leave the Ridgway after just one night. We loved it there, but we hoped to be in the Grand Canyon on the North Rim on this night. It was good that we had reservations in the camp ground there, so we could relax knowing that there would be a place for us no matter when we arrived.

I cannot remember what view this is, but I think it is just as you are heading into Utah from Colorado at the border near Dove Creek. The landscape is unreal. Flat, wide open spaces, wind, and heat.

We set out on Route 62 from Ridgway, and connected with 145 up to Naturita, passing over the Dallas Divide into Placerville, up to Norwood, and Redvale. Just as we were turning onto 141 S in Naturita, we passed a pickup truck on the side of the road with a banner saying they had sweet corn. Jeff jumped out of the car, barefoot and disheveled, and the farmer, a man of Mexican decent with a beautiful gold tooth, and a weathered, kind face, wondered out loud to Jeff if he had any shoes to wear.  We only wanted a couple ears of the corn, but he insisted that we take at least six. In the end, we were glad we did. One of our favorite things is roasting corn in the husk right in the coals of the fire. It caramelizes the corn, making it even sweeter. The corn looked suspect to us, and we were thinking "cow corn" because of the size of the ears. 

The following two photos are from the Gypsum Gap just outside of Slick Rock, Colorado. There isn't much information on-line about the Gypsum Gap area. A search results in only  publications about the Gypsum Gap Geologic Quadrangle, and some very cool topographic maps for sale. I hoped to find out more, but there isn't even a Wikipedia page. Weird. Apparently there is a good hike to the Gypsum Gap Rock Shelter, though. It's beautiful through here, and after you cross the pass at 6,100ft. you cross the Dolores River. 

141 brings you down into Dove Creek, CO, just on the border of Utah, where we got onto 491 crossing the state line, bringing us into Monticello. This brings you by the Manti-La Sal National Forest, were you can see both Abajo Peak, at 11,360ft, and  Mt. Linnaeus at 10,961ft. The Devils Canyon is here as well, which looks amazing, but we didn't get a chance to check it out. In the future, we have plans to come back to Utah and spend at least two weeks exploring.  

In Monticello, we connected with 191S into Blanding and continued onto 163, to Bluff at the Navajo Twin Rocks all the way to the border of the Navajo Nation at the junction of 261 and 163. This is where you cross the San Juan River, which forms the northern border of the Navajo Nation, and here we saw Mexican Hat.  It's one of those formations that just can't be believed!  The flat rock on top is nearly 60 feet in diameter. It might look small in these photos, but that's the length of our house... 60 feet.  That's our house, balancing on top of a rock up there!

Spanning between Utah and Arizona here on 163, you pass through Monument Valley.  "Monument Valley is like a national park, but falls within the jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation's 27,425 square mile territory in the four Corners region of the United Sates. Of that 17 million acres, more than 91,000 acres are set aside (in 1959) as Monument Valley Tribal Park, a space larger than Arches National Park".  Find out more about the Navajo Nation Tribal Parks here on their website. 

A photo from inside the car on rout 163. The expanse is intense! It was about 95 degrees in the valley, and dry. In the Northeast, we do not experience this kind of dry ever! 

Somewhere along 163, and sadly we didn't get any photos, or note exactly where it happened, but as we were driving along we noticed way off in the distance what looked like a small airplane on the ground. Was there a small airport nearby, like Northampton airport? We hadn't seen many little planes on our travels so far. As we approached, it became clear the the plane was ON the road! The plane had landed on the road and was facing towards us. Now we started to slow down, approaching with some caution, not knowing what was going on. The plane maneuvered to the left, and was sideways across the road and shouldered onto the grassy terrain to the side of the road. I guess we were stunned. We didn't get out our cameras, or our phones to take photos...mostly because we were trying to figure out what had happened.  There were power lines just up the road, and obviously the plane had had to navigate its way through these and onto the road. As we drove away, we passed several police cars heading in the direction of the plane. A Google search does not turn up any news about the plane on the road, and we don't know which police station responded to the incident, so we have no information on what happened. At least it wasn't a crash. We suspect it that had been flying over the Grand Canyon, and either ran out of gas, or had engine trouble, so they set down in the safest spot they could see. 

Continuing on 163, you come into Kayenta, Arizona, meeting up with 160 which goes through Black Mesa, Cow Springs, Red Lake, into Tuba City. At Tuba City, we jumped on 89 N, which is the only way to get up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. First though, you travel through miles of spectacular landscapes, Cedar Ridge, Bitter Springs, Marble Canyon on the left. This is all still part of the Navajo Nation, which covers over 27,000 square miles in the states of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. The population is over 250,000. The roads which brought us through this area didn't reveal a lot of homes, or centers, but we did see a lot of small stands on the sides of the roads, especially on the Navajo Bridge, where local people were selling their pottery and jewelry to tourists. This part of 160 also brings you by the upper Northwest corner of the Hopi reservation, situated inside the Navajo Nation land. More information can be found about the 20 Tribal nations found in Arizona on the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. (ITCA) website. 

The Navajo Bridge crosses the Colorado River at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  All along the right side of Alt.89, after you pass over the Bridge are the Vermillion Cliffs. This was one of my favorite places, and surprisingly we didn't take a lot of photos along here. Mostly because you hold up the camera and discover that it just can't capture how it really looks, not to mention how it feels as well. 

In the photo below you can see the Vermillion Cliffs in the background. There are miles of these cliffs as you drive up towards the Kaibab National Forest. Check out this gallery on National Geographic, for more photos! You could spend a week, or more, here exploring the landscape. 

 This is the Colorado River, from the Navajo Bridge, facing North toward Utah

And here, the incline starting up into Kaibab, with a view down to the Vermillion Cliffs. 

storm was setting in as we headed into the Kaibab National Forest, and small periods of rain and thunder. The drive through this area is very beautiful. The road starts heading upwards, so you are climbing as you head towards the Canyon area, and the landscape starts to change again.  There were signs that told you to be cautious because a fire was currently burning through the area. We saw small patches of smokey areas as we headed up through the forest. There were also signs warning of free range cattle crossing roads, which we saw as we entered the Grand Canyon area, giant black cows crossing the road in groups. 

We stopped and found some butter for the corn at Jacob Lake Inn, just at the intersection of 89 and 67 which takes you right into the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

At this point, we passed a really sad looking bicyclist, waving a dislocated tire, and obviously trying to get a ride. We stopped, not imagining that we'd be able to fit another person, never mind a bicycle, into our completely packed car. His name was Paul, and he had two flat tires on his bike, a hopeless situation, and completely dependent on getting a ride back to his camper parked on the side of the road, at least 15 miles away. After a lot of shifting, and rearranging, we managed to pack him, and his bike, into the back of the car. Turns out he was working at the Grand Canyon in the accounting department, which sounds totally boring, but look where he was on Saturday afternoon! He invited us to come for dinner with him at the employee cafeteria, if we were hungry. Such a nice guy. We declined his offer, knowing that the sun was quickly setting and we wanted find our site and get our tent set up.

On the way up we saw lots of mule deer and a large herd of bison, in the various meadows that line the side of the road up to the park.

I'm pretty sure we were in Site #48 in the North Rim Campground. It was $18 for a night and the ranger station was thankfully open when we arrived after dark. We did get a little lost trying to find the campground, and walked up to the main lodge to try to get directions. The lodge was what you'd expect. A giant, stone and wood structure, with a restaurant, and views of the canyon from inside. We didn't spend too much time inside, as it was getting dark. I took the next two images from the North Rim Grand Canyon website.

So, we didn't get to see much of the scenery when we arrived, due to darkness, and rain. The thunder / lightning storm that we drove through coming into the park was just fizzing out as we were setting up our tent.  After quickly setting up, we had several glasses of wine and cooked our corn in the coals of a nice fire. It was an uneventful night of camping and I think we were so tired that I was asleep before touching the pillow. 

And we traveled 492 miles this day!  Seemed like a breeze. I hope to mention in the next post, that we had started listening to a book on CD, WAY back in West Virginia. It was John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley in Search of America. Read by Gary Sinise.