Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Canada, Eh!

OK, so I’ve been delinquent in blogging. What can I say? My parents have been a bad influence on me. We met up in Banff National Park, Alberta for a few days, and we’ve been busy catching up and having fun. They’re now returning to Atlanta, and we’re sad that they have to go home, but we’re also anxious to get on the move again. We can certainly say, “Wish you were here!” Anyway, let me update all of you on the past few days.

We drove from Glacier National Park north via the Russville border crossing into British Columbia on our way to Banff. The first thing we noticed was metric speed limits. The highest I’ve seen is 100 kph, which is about 62 mph. More often, the speed limit is either 90 kph or even 70 kph. I find these limits ridiculously slow. Since Texas, the speed limit on every major road has been 75 mph, which says to me, “Pick your speed. It’s an empty road, what do we care?” and I like it. I can pick the optimum running speed for both making time and conserving gas. Canada won’t let me do either one. To make matters worse, we have no idea what the reasonable speeding margin is. In the US, you know how fast you can really go on a road no matter what the sign says, but in Canada, 5 mph over is more like 10 kph over, and that’s a big number. If you’re not careful, you can go 30 over in the metric system. Anyway, I’m definitely sold on the Imperial system for driving. Miles > kilometers, ‘nuff said.

The drive up to Banff is quite pretty. You pass greener than green meadows, blue-green lakes, and follow lazy rivers up to the mountains. They are as steep and forbidding as the valleys are serene and inviting. As we neared Banff, we entered Kootenay National Park. I’m pretty sure that “Kootenay” is an Athabaskan word, but it sounds like it was made for Canada. Say it a few times out loud and see what you think. Yes, you will definitely feel like a goof ball saying “Kootenay” out loud, but it’s pretty fun. The park follows several river valleys up to the Continental Divide. The mountains loom and seem to lean over the valleys with their dark slopes peppered with snow. Deer graze on both sides of the road, and the glow of the departed sun is still visible at 9:30 pm. As we cross the divide, we enter Banff National Park and are treated with views of even more fantastically-shaped mountains. Some are pyramids, other sleeping giants, one is very clearly a castle, and some defy description. At the southern end of the park, we find the town of Banff settled into a narrow valley beneath Mt. Rundle with its sheer cliffs facing the town and smooth slope descending into marshes and ponds north of town. On one side of a canyon, stands a castle. It has multiple spires and turrets and a beautiful courtyard. Dad informs us that this is our hotel for the night. The Fairmont Banff Springs is clearly first class. A castle is the only way to describe it, but unfortunately we can only stay for the night.

The next day, we explored the area around town. There are multiple lakes reflecting the mountains, and each one has a character of its own. Some are narrow, others circular. Some have a blue green color, others are turquoise. Bighorn sheep claim one of the parking areas and seem to dare people to try to move them from their own territory. We naturally give them their space and move on. We eventually reach Lake Louise, our destination for the night. The lake itself is the most perfect turquoise I have ever seen. High mountains surround it on three sides, and at the end, rises Mount Victoria with the Victoria Glacier. The blue ice is suspended in a perpetual fall down the mountain. Our hotel is the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise right on the lakeshore. It’s not a castle, but it is more modern and elegant than Banff Springs. It has about eight restaurants and extremely luxurious accommodations. Mom and Dad really went all out. They’ll certainly remember where they spent their 30th anniversary, Congratulations!, and they were generous enough to put us up in the same hotel.

On our second full day in the Canadian Rockies, we drove the Icefields Parkway north to Jasper National Park. It would be a fruitless exercise for me to describe all the noteworthy views, so I won’t begin to try. It was a long day, but we enjoyed the time for the four of us to catch up and talk in such grand surroundings. Yesterday, we travelled over to Yoho National Park. It’s on the western side of the divide and is consequently much wetter than Banff, not that Banff is dry. The sun only deigned to show his face our first day. It has been cool, cloudy, and occasionally raining since. Yoho contains more mountain scenery, one of the highest waterfalls in Canada, and a little jewel called Emerald Lake. The water is green. The grass is green. The trees are green. The whole landscape is one shade of green or another. The whole effect is like a black and white photo. As light and shadow become more prominent without color, the little nuances of greenness become apparent when it is the only color to be found. There’s so much depth in even one color you could study it all day, but we only stayed for lunch.

Today, we transferred gear back and forth and prepared for the journey to Alaska, and for Mom and Dad, the journey home.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bears and the Art of Rock Skipping

So we left Jackson and traveled north through Yellowstone and into Montana. On our way, we found a bear. According to a ranger, he was a two year old cub who had just killed an elk calf. We watched the bear at fairly close range for almost an hour before he decided he was done with us and left.

Our trip up through Yellowstone and into Montana was relatively uneventful. There was a traffic jam because a few bison decided to use the road as a trail, but this too was routine. Traveling north through Montana, we decided that it’s one of the prettiest states we’ve been through. It seems to be all green meadows and tall pine trees. The first thing we noticed was the smell. I’m sure you know how a Christmas tree makes your whole house smell great… Well, Montana has millions of Christmas trees, so most of the state smells pine fresh.

Our destination in Montana was Glacier National Park. Glacier is one of the most popular and famous national parks for its mountain scenery and grizzly bears. Unfortunately there’s been so much snow that the road over the pass still hasn’t opened. Every year, the park service has to plow Going to the Sun Road to open it from June through October. At the beginning of the season, the road can have up to 100 feet of snow covering it. Opening the road is a tremendous task every year, but this year it has been especially difficult. Only last week over two feet of snow accumulated at the pass. Snow has been the story of the year here as it was in Yellowstone. We decided to move to the east side of the park and check out the Two Medicine area.


Two Medicine Valley is a long, deep valley into steep-walled peaks with several lakes at the head of the valley. Two Medicine Lake is surrounded by steep peaks and a mountain that amounts to a wall on one side and a pyramid-shaped mountain at one end. The spot is incredibly peaceful. The only sounds are the wind, water lapping at the pebbles, and the occasional bird. Fresh air blows out of the mountains and down across the lake. The mountain air is cool but sharp and invigorating. Water falls out of the lake and down the valley in a small creek. The beach is made of smoothed rocks in fantastic colors. Deep reds and greens predominate in the rocks. When they shine underwater, it gives the lake a jewel-like appearance. As the cool wind blows and the sun descends below the peaks, we decide to stay a while and skip stones. Two Medicine Lake seems designed for rock skipping. Each rock is the perfect size and many are smooth and flat. The water is calm, and the scene is peaceful. We spend the last minutes before sunset skipping rocks across the lake and enjoying the quiet.

The next morning, we rose for the sunrise again and walked to the lake. It was a mirror for the sky above, the mountains in the distance, and the trees all around the shore. We watched the light bathe the peaks mirrored in the even more peaceful lakes. The rock skipping was exceptional when we decided to stop shooting. Now for the Art of Rock Skipping with Greg. Greg recommends for successful rock skipping: Choose rocks that fit well in the hand. Plant your weak forward foot and make sure to use a level follow-through. You can control the type of skip by the angle you hit the water. Throw slightly down for high jumps, and throw smooth and level for many long skips. Above all enjoy yourself and spend some time. That’s what this is all about.

After our rock skipping, we moved to the Many Glacier section of the park. On the way, we saw a black bear cub on the side of the road. He was simply sitting there, swinging his head from side to side. I’ve never said this of a bear before, but this little one definitely looked huggable, but you must always remember that all bears are wild animals and that the little cub you see is not near as dangerous as that the mother bear you don’t see. We continued on and saw an absolutely huge black bear walking along a lakeshore. He was so big that many people mistook him for a grizzly bear. The Many Glacier Valley is much like Two Medicine, but has many more hiking trails. We decided to pick a trail and start walking. The Swiftcurrent Trail follows a chain of lakes up a glacial valley to the cirque at the end and then continues over a mountain pass. It was an excellent walk. We saw loons on the first lake and a waterfall at its head. The turquoise water flows over blood red rock in a torrent. Above the falls is yet another lake nestled in between two lines of sharp peaks. Further up the valley, the final lake lies right in the glacial cirque, a natural amphitheatre carved by the glacier. Greg and I decide that this is a truly special place. The mountains encircle the calm water, and the pine smell is twice as strong here as anywhere else we’ve found. The rock hangs and soars thousands of feet above us. We spend the time we can and return the way we came – over a rather sketchy and damaged swinging bridge, several snowy sections, a couple of creeks, and four miles of trail. It was eight miles well spent.


Needless to say, we’ve had a full and very exciting day.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


For the past two days, we’ve been photographing. To many people, this sounds like driving around and taking pictures of the mountains, but it’s really a lot of work, so I’ll take you through a day in the life of a photographer in the Tetons.

The day starts in the afternoon. You must first decide where to spend tomorrow morning. This decision is extremely important because you have to scout your location for sunrise. If you fail for whatever reason to scout, you’ll end up spending precious minutes searching for the perfect place to put the tripod or you’ll miss your turn or estimate the drive time wrong and end up being late. All of these are debilitating misfortunes, so you make your choice and scout the location right down to the perfect place to stand preferably to the nearest foot. In the case of one famous spot in the Tetons, you must set up within three feet of a certain spot or the shot simply doesn’t work. That said, you find out exactly where you’re going to place the tripod and shoot and maybe even mark it so that you can find it again. After this, you can look for wildlife. Maybe you find some agreeable animals. Maybe you don’t. If you do find animals willing not to run away or simply lose interest and walk away, you have about a 5% chance of getting a decent shot. You continue with wildlife until the light fades and go to a late dinner. All the while you are mentally preparing for getting up at 4:30 the next morning. You catch all the precious minutes of sleep you can. You jump out of bed at 4:30, throw your clothes on, and pray that you don’t fall asleep while driving. You drive to the predetermined location and set up the gear and wait. In a few minutes, the sun starts to rise and light your subject, so you’re busy for the next hour or half hour. When the light is gone, you drive back, eat breakfast (it’s only 7 am), and take a shower. After the shower you probably sleep until lunch and spend the early afternoon thinking about tomorrow until the next day begins. Well, that’s a day in the life of a photographer.

The past two days we’ve spent in this fashion, but I’ve quite intentionally left out the best part – the sunrise! Those 30 to 45 minutes make up for the rest of the day, the horrible hours, and all the times wind or cloud kills your shot. First the sky becomes bright. All but the brightest stars go to sleep. The eastern sky glows a bright yellow fading through orange into a pale blue up to the deep, dark sky. In the west a pink glow fades down into blue again. Everything is visible as it is in daylight, but there are no shadows. It’s as if everything glows with a light of its own. Everything is quiet, and even the wind hesitates to blow. The whole world seems to hold its breath. The mountains have the faintest extra glow to their edges. This glow isn’t really a color. It simply seems luminescent. There is no light striking them, yet they begin to have silvery-golden edges. Then the very first rays of light caress the summit of only the tallest mountain. The light is pink and soft. It’s almost as if the dawn wants to wake the sleeping giant as gently as possible. Then, the light paints further and further down. Gradually becoming brighter, sharper, and the slightest bit more orange. This is magic time. All the rocks and every snow field jumps out and salutes in flaming color the rising sun. This only lasts five to ten minutes at most. The light turns golden and becomes harsher. After gold, it turns white and harsh and seems to burn the eyes compared to the soft and glowing colors. Sunrise is over and it’s now day.

Yesterday morning we shot at the most famous spot in America, Shwabacher’s Landing. If you’re a photographer, you’ve heard of it and probably have shot there. It’s simply a beaver pond situated at the perfect angle to reflect Grand Teton and the surrounding peaks at sunrise. Every morning photographers line the shore to see the show. Our morning had not a cloud in the sky, and the wind quit for a moment at just the right time. It was wonderful.

This morning we went to Oxbow Bend. This is a place in the Snake River where it becomes very wide and still amid willows and aspens. Moose love the area, and the river sometimes reflects Mount Moran. Moran is a less-famous neighbor of the Grand, but it is an absolute monolith. It stands alone, huge and towering above the valley with a glacier flowing down in a fall down the center and its flat summit looking like broad shoulders, strong and immovable. This morning the aspens were yellow-green with their new spring leaves and the wind waited until after sunrise to blow. Fish jumped and fed throughout the river and birds sang. It was special thing for two such sunrises to happen in a row.

Today we’re leaving Jackson. We’re sad to go but excited about what’s ahead. As we often do, we’re leaving without knowing how far we’ll go or where we’ll spend the night. Something will come to us and we’ll figure it out though.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Well, I expected some snow in Jackson in June. Every time I've been here this time of year we've gotten at least a couple of inches, but it generally lasts a day, maybe two and melts. With the snow and rain, we decided that we should go up to Yellowstone since we couldn't see the mountains. We wanted to look for bears and wolves. Predators are more wary of humans than herbivores, and they are extremely difficult to photograph, but we wanted a challenge, so off we went.

The snow started shortly after we woke up and got continually stronger until we were on the road in white out conditions. Again, this wasn't surprising in the least. The snow wasn't sticking, and the temperature was a solid 35 degrees. This is perfectly normal June weather, so we continued. By the time we reached Yellowstone, there were old snow patches among the trees and the storm had gotten worse. We crossed the continental divide at about 8000', and it looked like winter. There were drifts of snow everywhere! It covered the grass, the trees, the rocks, and even some of the small ponds were frozen. The snow continued to fall. The whole world turned white. It eliminated color, depth, texture, light. Snow was the defining fact of existence. A uniform quiet descended with the myriad snowflakes and blanketed the landscape.

Hayden valley is usually a picture perfect world. The river winds slowly through the green valley full of grass and shrubs. Herds of bison graze lazily on the grass and cross the river as the mood takes them. Armadas of geese patrol the river slowly. Ducks dabble in the shallows, and the occasional eagle soars over it all, eyeing the scene and approving of its beauty. But this day was different. The river, the grass, the bison, the geese, the ducks, the eagle were all obscured by a blanket of white. We checked into our campsite and found that we could only drive part of the way in because of the snow drift that had flowed right into camp.

On a brighter note, we'd heard that there were indeed wolves in the area, so we went back down to the valley to see what we could see. In the afternoon, the blizzard loosened its grip, and we could see some distance, so we scanned the tree line for movement and kept our eyes sharp for wolves. About 6, I noticed two dots in the binoculars at over 1000 yards. The dots moved, so we decided to wait them out. Gradually it became clear that there was a black dot and a grey dot. After over an hour of waiting they came slightly closer and we could make out the profile of two wolves! The one was black as night, and the other the typical grey. They found a small rodent of some sort and pounced and jumped and played. Wolf mothers don't teach their children not to play with their food. After the snack, they continued on out of sight. It was a good sighting. Wolves are the most difficult animals to find in Yellowstone.

The next morning we awoke to a winter wonderland. Merry Christmas!... in June. Oh well. We'd had over six inches of fresh powder during the night, but we kept warm and remained resigned to winter weather.

That day, the plan was to find our wolves again. We traversed the valley back and forth looking for any sign of them. After a while, we decided to sit and wait. We picked a likely pullout and stopped to read our books and keep a lookout.

At one overlook, someone pulled out a spotting scope and found a bear on the far hill. After careful inspection, there appeared to be five bears. Two different mothers each with a cub and one big boar. (Male bears are boars, females are sows.) It was another good sighting, but they were very far away. There was no sign of our wolves except for two coyotes that were impersonating wolves for a little while. In the late afternoon, we decided that we were done with the snow and wanted to go back to Jackson. So we did. On the way, we found bison, elk, and pronghorn. We were driving along in the Grand Teton National Park, and Greg yelled, "Bear!" I pulled over, and a grizzly walked out of the trees 30 yards away! We watched him for no more than 30 seconds before he went back into the trees and wasn't seen again. Six bears in one day! Not bad, not bad at all. We were also able to approach a herd of elk with more than 20 calves. They were running and playing and having a great time. That sight marked the close of a very good day.



Now the weather has cleared, and we are looking forward to some good conditions for photographing. We'll keep you updated as always.

-- Jason

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Let it Snow!

Since our last entry the weather has changed. It cleared up in the afternoon, and we could see our first full view of the mountains. We drove around the park looking for animals and found more bison, moose, elk, deer, and pronghorn. We also saw a golden eagle and a sandhill crane. All in all it was a nice afternoon, and we returned to eat Chinese food in town. On our way back to camp, the clouds were dimly lit in blue twilight, while the mountains were backlit by the glowing horizon to the west. It was a peaceful time before dusk and rather pleasant. The night promised to be cool, so we took appropriate measures and went to sleep.


When we woke up this morning, the wind was howling and it was cold. We popped our heads outside and saw snow! Several inches had accumulated on the sage and the truck! I was expecting a little precipitation, but the snow still managed to surprise us.

Our fingers froze as we packed up the tent, but we eventually managed and went into town for another Bubba's breakfast. (We really meant to post pictures, but when the food came, we forgot all about it and dug in. By the time we remembered all the food was gone.) After a hot breakfast, we went next door to Joe's Gourmet Coffee, my new favorite coffee shop. It has good coffee, good prices, free wifi, and comfy couches. If you're in Jackson, I highly recommend it.

The plan for today is to head north into Yellowstone and try to find bears and wolves, from the safety of our car of course.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Let it Rain

Well, it's been another crazy couple of days. After our bad experience with lodging in Zion we tried to go into the park the following day. During the warmer months, the Park Service runs a propane powered bus into the park. This is the only way you are allowed in. Most of what I've read said that it was a great experience without crowds or traffic. For me, it was just the opposite. You walk up to the little entrance station with a big sign that says, "Welcome to Zion!" The man in the window asks you how many, you pay, and he gives you a little map with all the bus stops on it. Then, you walk through a crowd of tourists in bright colors with screaming little children to the busses. The busses are two part tram-like things which you can ride to one of six different stops in the park. As the bus started to move, an automated tour guide started giving a cheesy tour of the various features of the canyon. The whole effect was rather like Disney World. It was a National Park nightmare! Being in Disney World totally ruined the experience of this great wilderness and spectacular landscape. It made me angry. How dare they turn such a special place into a theme park! Granted, the traffic may have been bad before the bus system, but this is not a solution! By this point, we were so frustrated that we decided we needed to leave. Not just outside the park either. We were so fed up that we had to leave altogether.

We decided to hot foot it north. Way north. The desert had lost its charm. Trees, mountains, and rain beckoned us to come to their territory, so we answered the call. We're now in Jackson, WY. We arrived here yesterday and staked out a campsite on the Gros Ventre River in Grand Teton National Park and went to look for wildlife. Our first major sighting was three moose in the campground. They were browsing in the cottonwoods and minding their own business. After the moose, we found several herds of pronghorn grazing and running around on the flats. We were able to approach one group and get some good video. Past the pronghorn, bison with their calves lounged and ate, true to their character, and light rain fell from the high clouds which just obscured the tops of the Tetons. The mountains rise like a jagged set of teeth from the valley floor and seem to bite into the soft clouds with their snow-covered canines. Then we notice a coyote jogging through the green sage. He spots a lone pronghorn antelope and chases it. The antelope is too fast and agile at first, but the coyote makes a second attempt. This one is more unsuccessful than the first. The pronghorn turns on the coyote and chases it trying to stomp and kick. They eventually disengage and run about 100 yards apart. Several more rounds followed in the same manner, sometimes the coyote, sometimes the antelope gaining the upper hand. Then the coyote grabs hold of the neck of the pronghorn just where it attaches to the shoulder. The pronghorn shakes the coyote and runs off at full speed. The pronghorn antelope is the world's fastest land animal. It is capable of running at speeds of over 60 mph for close to an hour. The pronghorn escapes, but eventually continues the battle. After about 20 minutes of sporadic fighting, the pronghorn decides to rejoin the herd and quit. Everyone survived, so you can heave a sigh of relief. Greg has excellent action footage of this encounter. It really seems like something straight out of National Geographic.

We spent a cool, rainy night in the tent and woke up to go to breakfast at Bubba's. Many of you have probably heard me talk about Bubba's, but for those that haven't, they have the best breakfast you can find. It's a simple BBQ restaurant with stainless steel table tops. A biscuit is 6 in. in diameter and 3 in. thick. I can only eat one and a half. The pancakes are the size of a full dinner plate and an inch and a half thick. If you ever go, don't try to eat two. You will fail miserably. Though the biscuits and gravy and pancakes are excellent, the Mexican scramble takes the cake. It’s scrambled eggs with beans, cheese, sausage, a tortilla, and hot sauce. The flavor and portions are absolutely excellent.

That pretty much brings you up to date, so here some coordinates to have fun with.





Oh, and if you've posted comments, I've probably responded with another comment, so check back if you asked questions or want to see a response. I promise I'll have pictures next time.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

(More) Dust in the Wind or How to discover where "the middle of nowhere" really is.

It's been a while, but we're learning more and more about this part of the country every day. Cell service is shoddy at best, and internet is really difficult to find. I'm writing from the town of Hurricane, UT in the southwestern portion of the state. It's quite a long way from Moab over here, and it reminds us just how big the country is.

We left Moab to head south. On our way, we passed through the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Unfortunately, the scenery here paled in comparison to the desert wilderness of the White Rim. Everything seemed to be on a smaller scale when compared to the epic proportions of the canyons of the Colorado and the Green, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

Right outside the park is a place called Newspaper Rock. It's a rather interesting Native American archaeological site. There are so many petroglyphs on this rock that to some observers, it seems like a newspaper. To tell the truth, archaeologists are neither so insightful nor so adventurous as Indiana Jones, so the following is the stated explanation of the petroglyphs, and I quote: "There are no known methods of dating rock art. In interpreting the rock figures, scholars are undecided as to their meaning or have yet to decipher them... Unfortunately, we do not know whether the figures represent storytelling, doodling, hunting magic, clan symbols, ancient graffiti, or something else. Without a true understanding of the petroglyphs, much is left for individual admiration and interpretation." In other words, "We don't know what we're talking about so feel free to have fun on your own." And so I will. Please notice the photos below. Look for bulls, deer, flying squirrels, bear prints, hunters on horseback, an indescribable monster in the lower left corner, a rather scary looking cowboy complete with sword and lassos protruding from his head like snakes from Medusa, and my personal favorite, a yeti. Needless to say, Newspaper Rock was the highlight of our day.

From there we continued south through the last chance gas station of Blanding, UT on to Natural Bridges National Monument. The Monument protects a small area of canyons containing three natural bridges. (Geological Note: A natural bridge is formed when the eroding force of a stream or river breaks through a rock wall which forms the canyon wall for an oxbow bend. The wall then becomes rock bridge through which the stream now flows, abandoning its accustomed course for the newly formed path of least resistance, which, in turn, enlarges the bridge. Note that a natural bridge is geologically different from a natural arch, which is eroded by dust in the wind rather than water. In short, a natural bridge is formed by water; whereas an arch is formed by wind. [Of which I apparently have plenty this morning.]) As I was saying, the monument has three quite large natural bridges and an important archaelogical site, but its most important claim to fame is the darkest night sky in the United States according to the International Dark Sky Association. It recieves virtually no light pollution and has extremely low moisture content in the air, so we took the last spot in the campground, cooked an excellent Mexican dinner, and waited for the sun to go down. After dark, we hiked to one of the bridges and set up a star trail shot that is indisputably our best yet, thanks to Greg's growing genius in star trails.

The following morning we moved on to go toward Capitol Reef National Park to the west. There are quite literally two buildings in the 130 miles between Blanding and Hanksville, UT. One is the ranger station for Natural Bridges. The other is a misplaced hotel which serves the mapmakers as the "town" of Fry Canyon. We passed over Lake Powell and through Glen Canyon, another canyon cut by the Colorado and continued without seeing so much as another vehicle for almost a hundred miles. Capitol Reef is a long line of cliffs separating the badlands to the east from the arid highlands to the west. It was mostly unremarkable, but we did stop for accustomed picnic lunch of ham and salami sandwiches with fruit and a cookie. We never knew until we spent time in the desert how truly tasty and satisfying the traditional lunch of a schoolboy really is.

Seeing that Capitol Reef was unspectacular without being able to explore the narrow canyons because of the threatening rain,(Any rain in these canyons can cause flash flooding and likely death.) we decided to move on to Zion National Park hopefully by way of a good bookstore. (Yet another side note. We've been getting a tremendous amount of reading done, and this has caused an especial crisis for Greg. He's simply run out of books that he wants to read. Since Moab we have yet to see the first bookstore or even public library for that matter. I, for one, thought that every county seat in America, at the very least had a public library, even if it wouldn't do us any good. Alas, I was wrong! I am at a complete loss as to how those who were inclined to read in this part of the country found books before the internet! Best leave my worries for rural Utah aside. Greg needed a book. It took about 300 miles to find a bookstore that sells novels, so he bought several and we continued on.)

When we arrived at the entrance to Zion, we discovered a problem. There are lots of people. Lots and lots of people. Entire busloads and crowds and droves and throngs of people. I literally was laughed at for asking for a place to pitch a tent for the night, and this man told be about some public land five miles away to camp on. He gave the mile marker it would be at and sent me off. We then encountered a problem. There was no public land along the road, and the mile marker didn't even exist! Having been sent on a wild goose chase we decided to punt and continue along this road until we could find a place to stay, and so that is how we came to Hurricane. I hope the next post will end on a happier note than "No room in the inn, or the stable either. Thank you very much."

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Stars

Well, I'm sorry. I don't have any pictures for today, but that's because the interesting things happened at night. We returned to Moab from Glenwood Springs and decided to take a sunset shot at Green River Overlook. This spot looks down on the area we were driving in a couple of days ago. It's an absolutely HUGE view and made a really beautiful sunset shot. Unfortunately, the pictures are all on the big cameras, so we can't post them to the blog. After sunset we joined a park ranger for a stargazing program. He was very knowledgable and helped to pick out some major constellations along with night direction finding. After he left, we took a star trail shot. This kind of photography is a little different than conventional daytime shooting. You have to set for a 20 minute to 3 hour exposure. This means a lot of time wait and looking up. At the end of the exposure, hopefully you have a photo that shows the stars moving in the sky. They look like bright streaks, and it's a really neat effect. Greg got an especially good one where you can actually see both the canyon below and the stars above. Star trails are his new favorite form of photography, so that will probably translate into a lot of time staring up into the night sky.

OK, now it's time to change gears. I have several neat things you can do to keep up with us. The first is commenting on this blog. At the end of each post there's a little link that says comments. If you click on it, you can write a comment on the post or just let us know that you're reading if you like.

The second cool thing is my favorite. I will post a few sets of geographic coordinates. If you go to google and click on maps, you can copy these coordinates into the search field and see exactly where we've been. The cool part is if you click on "sattelite" to get sattelite imagery of the location. There's a lot of fun you can have looking at the world from space right on your computer. So here's the first few sets of coordinates.






OK, let me know if you have any trouble with these, and I'll try to make the directions clearer. Have fun!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The White Rim (or How to really understand what the word "DESERT" means)

Well, I promised an update after our backcountry adventure and here it is. We started down the White Rim Road Sunday morning bright and early recently resupplied with 10 extra gallons of gas tied to the roof and no less than 15 gallons of water. The beginning of the road is 35 or so miles from the nearest services of any kind, and from there it's over 100 miles off pavement back to Moab, so this kind of advance preparation is absolutely necessary. You must have all water, food, gas, and shade you will need for four days, and we had it all. The road drops from the Island in the Sky into Shafer canyon via a steep series of scenic switchbacks down to the the next rim. This area is made of a harder rock than the surrounding red sandstone, so it remained relatively intact as the Colorado cut its way into the canyon. This phenomenon creates a second canyon rim of white rock, hence the White Rim. We paralleled the river to the south, but the canyon is so deep and wide that we could only see it at select points. The country is very scenic with huge buttes of red, orange, and black rock, and below pinnacles of various shapes and sizes surround the river. We reached our first campsite a little after noon and pitched the tent. About the time we were finished, we realized that it was getting hot. We set our chairs out in the shade and relaxed, but soon the wind started to howl. It was sustained at least 30 mph with much higher gusts. You might think that wind would help in 100+ degree heat, but this was a hot desert wind. It basically blows dust and sand in your eyes and cakes it all over your body. The next thing we knew the ladder to the tent was moving. We were mildly surprised and decided to anchor it with a rock. A little later, the wind moved both the ladder and the rock! We caught it and added another rock. We figured that 35 lbs. would anchor it just fine. In the meantime, we decided to make a sandwich. In the process of making it, the soft, moist bread became hard and stale like toast. After lunch we learned that we could deal with the heat and the wind if we stayed in the shade and used the truck as a wind block, but just about the time we started to feel the worst was over we hear a crash. We looked up, and the wind had blown the tent completely back on itself in spite of our anchors. At this point all we could do is laugh and right the tent. After sundown the wind finally quit, so we watched the stars for a while. Scorpius rose bright in the south. We figured out how the big dipper actually is a bear, and Sagitarius was riding across the horizon as we turned in. Our second day was the longest driving day. We changed our philosophy a little and started driving at 10 am rather than the early starts we'd been striving for. We reasoned that we should be outside while it's cool and calm and drive during the middle of the day. The scenery only got better on day two with formations so fantastic that they didn't seem real. The southernmost point on the road was a real highlight. The canyons of the Colorado and Green Rivers converge here, and the point offers 360 degree views of the canyon. It's a truly majestic sight to be absolutely surrounded by these canyons. That night we camped near the White Rim with a view of the Green River. The sunset was spectacular at the edge of the canyon. We watched the river slip along through the canyon as cliff swallows wheeled and performed acrobatics in the wind. The sun descended below the opposite rim and left a rainbow of colors on the few clouds in the western sky. Then we woke up early for sunrise and watched the warm morning light bathe the cliffs in pink and orange. The air was calm and it was so quiet you could hear the swallows fly by. We started driving late again and explored a slot canyon on the way to our final campsite. Occasional rains had carved an extremely narrow canyon into the White Rim to reach to the river. Patterns in the rock revealed where the water swirls, and the inside feels like a smooth slide. We followed the Green River often right at its side to our turnoff into Taylor Canyon. Five miles up this canyon we camped looking up to rock pinnacles called Moses and Zeus. We arrived at camp around midday again, and there was no shade to be found, so we hid from the sun under a rock for about an hour until we could strategically position the truck to give us sufficient shade. It was another hot afternoon, but that night it began to get cloudy and windy. We looked back down the canyon and saw rain falling from the dark clouds like fingers of mist reaching down, but the rain never hit the ground. The air sucked the moisture, and the raindrops evaporated before they ever reached the earth. It was really a dissappointment. The next morning we broke camp to return to Moab, looking forward to a shower and anywhere they serve icewater. The drive back was uneventful other than a warning light on our dash. We called our friends at Land Rover and they told us to go to the nearest dealer, so we spent the afternoon taking the truck to Glenwood Springs, where we are now waiting for news on what caused the problem. It's been a busy few days, but we've really enjoyed them.