Thursday, June 23, 2011

2500 miles and counting.........

Today marks my 26th day on the road and my odometer has clicked off just over 2500 miles. Maybe my standards are getting a bit low (or my stench unbearable) but a shower was an absolutely divine way to start the day!

Now before you go and say that the shower looks gross consider that is smelled clean. I talked with the owner of the motel and that he had recently purchased the place and was starting to make upgrades. He then told me a few stories of when he backpacked in Africa and fought off a baboon with an ice ax......not sure why he had an ice ax in Africa? Nevertheless I had a good time listening.

Although the day was cool I loaded up the cooler with ice and headed up to Hells Backbone. I climbed the road to 9000 feet above sea level where it was lightly raining and a few random snow flakes drifted down.

This is the Hells Backbone bridge. As you can see its a long way to the canyon floor below on either side. This road was the first automobile route connecting the towns of Escalante and Boulder. Until the 30's the only way to get to Boulder was along a rough and rugged wagon trail. When president Roosevelt announced the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) the town jumped at the chance to get a road built. The road was completed in 1933 and served as the towns lifeline to the outside world. The road climbs high into the mountains between the two towns. Because of its location the winter snow often blocked the route and travel was redirected to the old wagon roads. It wasn't until 1940 that an all weather (highway 12) was built. Once highway 12 was built the town of boulder was no longer isolated as it was in the past.

A section of "rip gut" fence in boulder. The residences here were so isolated that they had to construct fences with what local materials they could find. Store bought fencing was just too difficult to obtain. Boulder town was so isolated that they were one of the last areas in the United States to have mail delivered by mule train. Now only two such routes exist, both in the Grand Canyon. Also interestingly enough the town didn't get electricity until 1947. The homes in Salt Gulch didn't receive power until 1953! A reminder of the remoteness and ruggedness of the landscape here.

Heading down the Burr Trail towards the Waterpocket Fold. The Burr trail was built in the 1880's as a route to move cattle from boulder to winter pastures near the Colorado River.

I made a quick side trip to the Wolverine Petrified Forest. (no the standing isn't petrified.....I just thought it looked cool) The ground in the washes here is littered with bits of petrified wood from trees that lived here 225 million years ago. During this time the region was much closer to the equator and was covered in a wet sub tropical forest. The hike from the trail head is about a mile long and it leads you to large petrified trunks of ancient trees. I started down the wash when I stepped on a cactus......went strait through the sole of my boot in several spots. I couldn't get one spine that was lodged deep in my flesh without the aid of tweezers. So I hobbled back to the Jeep.

And for a public service announcement about visitor registers. It may seem trivial to sign in and out but it could save your life! Something as simple as sprained ankle miles from the trail head could suddenly turn into a life threatening situation. Without signing in and out there is almost no way of knowing how long a vehicle has been at the trail head, how many were in the group or where the occupants disappeared to. The desert doesn't care who you are, if you are unprepared it can and will take your life.

I hobbled my way up to the overlook above the Waterpocket Fold. The view and geology here is amazing! The fold is a series of reefs that stretch for 90 miles from north to south. The fold is also home to the life sustaining waters of the Fremont River.

I headed down the Burr Trail switchbacks and made it north to the southern most campsite in Capitol Reef National Park. I pulled up to the cedar mesa campground and made camp. I hopped into the tent to exhausted to even make dinner.

Shaken baby syndrome.

After spending a day relaxing and resting up I awoke ready to tackle the trail. The plan for the day was to wander up the Smokey Mountain Road and visit Hole-in-the-rock. The Smokey Mountains are named such because of they are actually smoldering. Deep below the plateau there are large deposits of coal that continuously smolder. It is unknown wither the fires were started by lightning or if the coal auto-ignited. It is likely that this has been going on here for centuries. The Bureau of Mines spent months in the 60's with bull dozers working the area in an attempt to stop the fires. With the hopes that one day the coal would be recovered. The fires stopped where the dozers worked, but the  smoldering would just flare up in new spot. Since the campaign did little to stop the fire the effort was abandoned. Now that most of the coal deposits are contained within the boundaries of Grand Starcase-Escalante National monument it is likely that the coal deposits will continue to smolder unbothered just as they have for centuries.

I turned on the GPS, punched in some coordinates and headed out. I missed a turn off along the way accidentally right out of the gate. Garmin apparently doesn't believe in telling users to make a U-turn so while i wasn't paying attention it auto routed me on a 80 mile detour. I managed to get 32 miles off course before I even realized it........stupid me! I usually watch the GPS and turn off the auto routing once I have reviewed the route, today I forgot and I paid the price. Long story short I ended up traveling up the rough and bumpy Croten Road. It turned out to be a lot of miles of backtracking and traveling the same roads twice to see the Smokey Mountains......I decided to leave the trail for another adventure at a later date.

Since I had goofed up my first destination for the day I headed to the second: Hole-in-the-rock. The Hole-in-the-rock expedition was an amazing achievement made by Mormon pioneers. The Mormon church called upon members pack up and settle in what is now Bluff, Utah. However the route to get there was 500 or so miles. The pioneers decided to forge their own path and create a "short cut." In 1879 two hundred men, women and children departed in 83 wagons herding nearly a thousand cattle ahead of them. They set up camp near Dance Hall rock.
Because of the acoustical properties and flat floor of the bowl here pioneers would hold dances and play the fiddle here to break away from labors of cutting a new trail.

This is the Hole-in-the-Rock. This proved to be the most difficult challenge of the new route. The canyon here was narrow and steep. Pioneers blasted, chiseled and shoveled a route to the river almost 2000 feet below. At points men were lowered down in barrels to place charges of dynamite. The trail ended up a 45 degree chute strait down to the river! A member of the expedition recalls the descent:

"It nearly scared me to death. The first wagon I saw go down they put the brake on and rough locked the hind wheels and had a big rope fastened to the wagon and about ten men holding back on it and they went down like they would smash everything. I'll never forget that day. When we was walking down Willie looked back and cried and asked me how we would get back home."

Once to the bottom the wagons were loaded on a ferry and taken across the river. On the other side the wagons faced a treacherous climb back up to the plateau. The "shortcut" that was suppose to take the settlers six weeks to forge ended up taking the six months to complete. In the end the route was just too dangerous and after about a year the route was abandoned.

I spent some time hiking partway down the chute contemplating the determination of the Mormon pioneers. The hike is steep and difficult. Today the lower third of the passage is under the waters of Lake Powell. Also many large boulders have fallen into the passage. Nevertheless it is still an interesting piece of history. While I was here I ran into a woman who was carrying gear up the hole. I asked her what on earth she was doing. She explained that she had floated down the Escalante River and paddled her way across the lake. She had spent the entire day portaging her raft and gear up the slope! She hoped to hitch hike out to the highway in the morning. Certainly a very determined woman!

After resting in the shade and rehydrating I decided it was time to face the road to Escalante. Ahead of me lay 53 miles of the worse washboards I have ever seen. It didn't seem to matter what speed you traveled you were destined to be shaken to death. The gear was rattled so badly in the back and I developed a few odd squeaks that I now need to investigate.

How would you like to have been the one to drive these fence posts?

I also stopped to take pictures of this water truck with a flat tire. I was not particularly interested in it, nor did I feel it was photo worthy but I needed a few minutes to allow my stomach and pounding head to settle before I pressed on. Finally after almost two hours of deplorable roads I made it to Escalante. I needed fuel so I fueled up at the only place in town open weekends. Still not sure where I was going to spend the night I wandered over to a dumpy RV park. I inquired about a tent site and was told $10 for the night and they had a shower. It was getting late (about 10:30) I was sweat drenched and exhausted. Plus it had been several days since my last shower. I gladly handed over the money and made camp.

Lazyness in the sun.

This morning I woke up at sunrise, but I felt lazy. So, after snapping a few pictures I decided to go back to bed. The morning was was cool and cloudy when compared to the last few mornings so the tent didn't heat up......before I knew it it was noon. Since I had wasted the better part of a day I decided that I would take the rest of the day and relax. Twenty four days on dusty, dry, hot desert trails has somewhat started to wear on my psyche......I spent the rest of the day napping, eating, texting friends, meditating and enjoyed the view.

I only took a few pictures......I didn't feel much like picking up the camera after Antelope Canyon. I am actually still sitting the fence wither the $50 was worth it. I got a few neat shots but for what I paid I may as well have just bought posters.

Gunsight butte from camp at sunrise.

And at sunset.

Well that's all I really have to say today. I wont drivel on like I usually do, until tomorrow!

Herded like cattle.

I woke late this morning because of the events of the previous night. I tried my hardest to sleep in but the sun was beating down on the tent since I was exposed in full sun. It was getting far too hot inside the tent to sleep. Reluctantly I got up and made some breakfast. The campers next walked over and asked it I was the one who had turned off the generator. I sheepishly answered yes. They thanked me and we proceeded to trash talked the guy while I ate and packed up.

I didn't have to be in Page for my tour for a few more hours so I went to the Glen Canyon Dam and walked around.

You could hear the electricity buzzing from this tower even though it was across the canyon!

Since I had slept in instead of waking up early as planned the photos (not my original intent) I made it to Big Bend much later than I had hoped. The lighting was great since I had missed the softness of the morning light. However it was still an interesting sight to see.

An interesting out cropping on the short hike to the bend.

I glanced at my cell phone to see how much time I had left before my ride to Antelope Slot Canyon departed. I about had a heart attack when I saw I was suppose to be there in 5 minutes! I ran back to the Jeep and zipped into town, only to remember that Arizona doesn't observe daylight savings and therefore has an hour time difference. Since I was early I drank plenty of water and relaxed in the air conditioned comfort of the tour office.

Antelope Slot Canyon is a truly amazing place. The canyon was stumbled upon in 1932 by a young Navajo girl herding sheep. A few sheep had wandered towards the mouth of the canyon and she followed. When she returned home she told her family of the amazing place she had discovered. It is likely that others had visited earlier, however they left no record. The canyon was open to the public until 1997 when the Navajo Nation decided to protect the area by requiring you to have a Navajo guide. The ride to the canyon takes you through some deep sand. Many of the tour companies have lifted trucks with big tires to get through the sand with ease. After a short ride we arrived:

 My favorite shot of the tour. I think its post card worthy......not bad for just being dumped from the camera card with no editing!

From the pictures above you would think that this place is the most beautiful and serene place on earth. Its beautiful, but sadly this is reality:

At any given point in time there are 100-200 people in this narrow canyon. The guides have the timing of the light beams to an exact science. our guide was push and did a great job of directing traffic to enable us to take shots. Antelope Slot Canyon is a beautiful place, however I feel that the specialness has been squashed by commercialization. On a busy day they bring 1000 people here. At 30-50 bucks a visitor you can see how lucrative the canyon is. The tour guides push everyone through like cattle, shout at people and tell you where to set up your tripod. The pictures tell one story, reality is another thing. One British gentleman in our group suggested that our bossy little tour guide would make a good dominatrix and that he would like to see what she could do with a whip in the bedroom........

Once the tour was over I went to the local gas station, fueled up and got ice for the cooler. I spotted this neat Hi-lux from Germany:
We crossed paths at Wahweep, the gas station and Mc Donald's. Unfortunately it was only a passing, I would have loved to have sat around a campfire and heard of his journey!

Stocked up on food, ice and fuel I made my way to the Smokey Mountain road and towards Alstrom Point high above the lake.

Ever seen the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes? These bentonite hills were used in several scenes. Maybe they look familiar to you? Its been a long time since I have seen it, but I would assume it was used for one of the "forbidden zone" scenes. One word of caution when traveling across this kind of clay. In the wet months or after a rainstorm the clay will make the trail extremely slippery and can rut deeply. My grandpa would say that the wet clay is: "slicker than snot on a breadboard." Luckily no such problems today!

I finally made it to my perch above the lake.

Even the Jeep seemed to be taking in the view!

I found a slightly sheltered spot amongst the rocks and set up camp. From this high vantage point I had wonderful cell phone reception. I made the best of it by catching up with some friends I haven't talked to much since my journey began. After catching up with old friends I climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sanctuary for a lucky few

The main destination on my agenda for the day is The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. As I was driving out of my canyon I was reminded that Hog Canyon is a haven for OHV activity.

This area was created in conjunction with the BLM and the Canyon Country 4X4 club. I know the club has put in many hours with the BLM opening the area and spends many more hours maintaining it. Just an example of how when a club gets involved we all win. The area has moderate sandy trails to extreme rock buggy trails where carnage isn't a possibility, is expected
. Since I slept in I didn't have much time to explore I wandered some of the sandy trails and made it to where some of the trails started to get rougher than my little Jeep could handle.

I made my way back to the highway. After a short drive on pavement I was at the Sanctuary. Best Friends is the largest no kill sanctuary in the United States. At any given time there are 1800-2000 animals living here. They have dogs, cats, birds, sheep, ducks, geese, horses, burrows and even pot belly pigs. I checked in at the visitors center and made arrangements to take a tour of the facilities.

This hound mix puppy is named Dream. She was born here at the sanctuary when her abandoned mother was brought in. She was eventually adopted, however for some reason her adoptive family was unable to keep her. And today was her first back at the sanctuary. She was an extremely sweet dog but was a bit timid and hesitant to be your friend at first. Who could blame her? If I was not midway through my journey I would have gone through the process of adopting and brought her home with me. Her story really struck the soft spot in my heart and brought a tear to my eye.

We then went to cat world and visited the cats. I am really not a cat person, but it was still interesting nevertheless. It was amazing to see the individual care that the staff here gives to the animals.

After the tour I wandered my way to the cemetery of the sanctuary: Angels Rest.

This is a really nice peaceful place, as most cemeteries are. Around 5000 once abandoned and forgotten animals are buried here. I couldn't help but notice but this cemetery was better kept and had more marked graves than many I have visited so far.

Once I was finished with my visit to the sanctuary I made my way down the interstate to Page, Arizona. Once I was in town I looked into signing up for a tour of the Antelope Slot Canyon. If you have ever seen a photo of a picturesque slot canyon with a bright beam of light shining down this is where it was taken. I found that most people book their tour weeks or months in advance, but planning ahead is something I am not the best at. I was pleased to find that the company had one spot left for the photography tour the next day. I planned to visit and take some pictures, so the picture tour sounded good to me. I felt that $50 asking price for a tour was more than a bit on the steep side.......after all the tour is only an hour and a half. I parted ways with my money and made the reservation hoping I had made the right decision.

I made my way to the Wahweep Marina for a quick shower and to refill my water jug. The showers here were nice, clean and warm. $2 worth of quarters gets you  15 minutes of shower time. The shower so felt wonderful after having gone a few days without one the heat of the desert. After taking my shower I felt civilized again and made my way to Lone Rock primitive camping area to set up for the night. I set up the tent, made dinner, watched the sunset and was finally drifting off to sleep when it got noisy to sleep. It was well after midnight when some jackass with a loud diesel truck and a 5th wheel as big as a house pulled up. He proceeded to blind campers with his headlights and yell at his wife in his search for the perfect camping spot right next to the water. Finally the guy got settled in and the noise died.........until at 2:00 he turned on his generator! I was absolutely blown away at the disrespect this giant mega douche bag was showing to his fellow campers. He had set his noisy generator up 50 or so feet from his trailer. I bet he didn't want to listen to it either. I unplugged his extension cord and threw it off into the sage brush. Unable to find the kill button in the dark I ripped off the spark wire tearing the wire off the boot in the process. I am usually a pretty passive person, but this guy just kept pushing my buttons. More than a little bit irritated and half expecting a confrontation I walked back to the Jeep to get some sleep.

Hiking where angels tread.

I woke up early and headed to the bathrooms to take a shower. The bathrooms were so dirty I didn't dare use them. The dirtiness was from beyond the previous days use. (Too bad I conned the front desk into giving me an extra shower token)
Consider this my review of Zion Canyon Campground & RV Resort:

  • Free WIFI was s-l-o-w. (I tried a few different spots on the property to no avail)
  • Tent sites were shady, but nothing spectacular
  • Bathrooms were really dirty. 
  • Overpriced! $33 for a tent site? 

Needless to say I thought I was not pleased with what I got in return for my money. I was reminded exactly why I dry camp out in the boonies: its cheaper, quieter and although the bathroom is a just a bucket its at least clean.......enough of me venting, on to the good stuff!

I started my visit by wandering the visitors center.
The visitors center was built with a couple of neat features.The eaves are designed so that the summer sun never shines directly in the windows. However they are built so the sun shines in and warms the building during the winter months. Also the towers you see are not just for decoration. They are actually large swamp coolers that utilize the canyon breezes for cooling.

I hopped on the shuttle and disembarked at the Grotto stop. I have always wanted to make the hike to Angels Landing. I have made the trip several times to do so but had been disappointed each time. Either it rained or the group I was with wasn't interested in the hike. The weather was warm, but today would be the day I would fulfill my dream.
Looking up at Angels Landing from the canyon floor. The landing was named by a preacher because he said the only creature that could make ever be able to make it to the top could be an angel.

If you look very carefully you can make out hikers climbing up to the landing on the razor thin edge to the summit

If your scared of heights this hike is probably not for you. This part of the trail is only a few feet wide with drops of several hundreds of feet on BOTH sides.

Looking out of the mouth of the canyon.

The view looking towards the Temple of Sinawava. Yes that thin ribbon on the canyon floor is a road!

After taking in the amazing views and talking to folks from England, the Netherlands, Russia and Nepal I reversed my course and headed down

Looking down Walters Wiggles

The hike into the narrows was closed due to high water flows. With my next plan nixed I rode the shuttle back to the Jeep. I made up a quick lunch and then headed out of the park via the Zion- Mt. Carmel Highway. This route is very scenic. In fact on a trip with my grandpa as a young child this is the highway that kindled my lifetime love for the red rock of southern Utah. I intended to take pictures on the way up but every turn out was full of tourists snapping pictures

Checkerboard Mesa: near the summit of the Zion- Mt Carmel Highway

On my way towards Kanab I made a stop at the Moqui Cave
The Moqui Cave is a neat little tourist trap. The cave was bought in the 1950's by the family that owns it today. They plastered the cave white inside, they built an entrance and poured a cement floor. Once that was done the proprietor built a bar and a dance hall, one of the first in the area. (according to the tour, however I don't totally believe it)

What was once dance hall is now a display of rocks that glow under a black light. The bar is still here (although no longer in service) and the rest is a gift shop. The staff at the cave was a bit interesting. They were a bit pushy at times. On more than one occasion i was enjoying an exhibit when the young woman would pop over and rattle a memorized list of facts at high speed. It was a bit forced and at times they were overbearing but it was a neat way to beat the heat of the afternoon.

I made my way a few more miles down the highway until I made it to Hog Canyon. Looking on my GPS it looked like a good place to pull over and make camp for the night. Before I went to sleep I played with the camera for a bit in the dark and came up with this shot:
Not spectacular, but for an amateur like me I was pleased.