Wednesday, February 8, 2017
No Dogs. No Trina. Plenty of Dirt. Rock. Water. Cactus. Lots of canyons.
I had time but she didn't. Colorado had snow, which I'm not that great at camping in. I headed south/southwest into the desert. Sought dry warmth. Found it. But also found rain and chill. Visited some places I hadn't explored before. New bike trails in Arizona. California's Death Valley. Other places along the way. Saw some creatures. Met a few people. And had a buddy from home join up for the last part of the trip. I'll let the photos tell most of the story.
Water was a major theme of the trip. While I traveled, the whole Southwest region saw rain. Dry washes were running. Rivers and creeks were full.
To dodge the rain, I headed for Death Valley, the driest spot in North America. It rained. Most of the non-paved routes were closed. Dry rivers ran over dirt roads. Water collected in the bottom of Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level.
When the skies cleared, the mountain tops were covered in snow. Some canyons dried quickly. Water lingered elsewhere, ice in higher places.
Thanks for checking in, on our lately-much-neglected blog.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
I thought it's probably time to share these photos. Now, while outside it's raining cold rain that may turn to snow. While it's probably snowing in the nearby mountains. But before the pockets of snow melt off the north side of the lower mesas. Before the wildflowers run rampant. (We've already seen a few.) Before spring arrives and thoughts turn away from the winter fun. So...
In December, Mike once again invited me on a snowbike adventure. Nothing went as planned. I should not have been surprised. Of the, oh, five snowbike "rides" he's invited me on over the past few years, they pretty much all went like this one.
We loaded up bikes, packed for single-digit-F camping (or what we hoped would work for single-digit-F camping) and headed down the trail. Riding? No. Pushing our bikes. Because that's (apparently) how it's done. We pushed our bikes through snow too soft to ride. And while pushing, often plunging knee deep, thigh deep, hip deep or even deeper where the snow was too soft to walk, either. This we did for about 4 hours. Only very rarely riding, usually deep in the trees where the snow was more solid. But even this riding involved a tightrope-like concentration of balance and weight distribution, but with way more falling. Falling which created a large hole in the snow that one was then obliged to claw one's way out of.
After these 4 hours, we realized that it would take another 4 hours to arrive at a trail that was (supposedly) packed hard enough to actually ride. As it was already getting dark (and colder) we changed the plan. We'd just backtrack and cross to a firmer trail that would take us out another way. So we turned around and slogged back through the soft snow. Managing to ride a little bit more, due to the cold hardening the trail, plus the snow stamping we'd done by slogging the same trail on the way out. But mostly we post-holed our way back. Then did some riding -- some actual riding, slow, ponderous riding -- on the firmer route that led out. This quick escape route "only" took another 2 hours or so. By the time we were back to a trailhead, we were cold, tired and somewhat demoralized. And we realized we didn't have anything to prove by staying out any longer, so we hit a piece of frozen highway that took us back to our cars, loaded up bikes and drove home to our warm houses.
In early January, Mike invited me for another trip up the mountain for a day of snowbiking. I, fool that I am, accepted. And this time it was all that he's been promising (and failing to deliver) for all these years. The singletrack was well packed by all the folks who had gotten snowshoes for a holiday gift, and had driven up the mountain to try them out. The wide snow tires of our bikes could zip along quite nicely on the soft-yet-packed surface -- though still with some care, as the un-packed sides of the trail were always ready to grab a tire and suck it in, sending the rider into the deep, soft snow. But overall, it felt very much like riding a bike! And was even fun, in that pedaling/swooping/zooming way that riding a bike is! The weather was freezing but "warm". There was a spot or two of sunshine. And if Mike could somehow guarantee that it would always be that fun, I'd definitely go back up with him.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
The vast spaces of the Grand Canyon surrounded us each day as we paddled and made camp. Still, I found time to wander into a few of the quiet corners, moving slowly, eyes to the details. The sense of the immense and wild space of towering canyon walls, slopes, ledges, peaks and mesas all around pervaded these wanderings. Yet I found myself drawn to the details, to small objects, minuscule mysteries, clues, stories in sand, leaf, fossil, creature or tracks of creature, artifact, blossom and stone — especially stone. These details helped make the wider space seem more alive and also more ephemeral. These signs of change, both rapid and geological, narrowed the focus down to these single moments. Moments seen. The shadows of the moments held carefully within the camera. As I moved slowly. Peered intently. Formed questions. Imagined answers.
Each of these moments could perhaps be seen to reflect outward again, to the immeasurable moments that have collected across time and place to create this canyon. Mountains ground to sand. Sand blown into dunes. Oceans born and drained. Small lives lived and the skeletons of those lives sunken and compressed into stone. Of heat and fire, lava and storm. Of mud and water and wind and grit and the grinding away of the deep spine of the earth. All the multitudes of moments gathered into a single moment of observation. Gathered. Then gone. Because the canyon, the world, everything continues to change.
Perhaps change caused by the hasty hand of humanity is as inexorable as the forward grind of geology. The Grand Canyon has been changed. In the 4000 years since humans first arrived. In the 150 years since it was re-explored by the progeny of an industrial revolution. In the 50 years since the river above was dammed. Changed in tiny ways and extravagant ways by every human who has exploited the resources, floated the river, descended the slopes and cliffs, flown over in an airplane or peered over the edge from the rim. And this change will continue.
As I wandered into side canyons, across the beaches and along the river, it was pleasing to see few signs of the industrial society that spreads across the planet and crowds the edges of this refuge; an industrial society that, admittedly, had allowed me—by way of car and road, boat and paddle, information and infrastructure, finances and leisure time—to come to this place. I had a sense that, despite the long string of travelers and explorers and exploiters, the Grand Canyon continues to hold something important. Something more than air and light and water and stone.
Perhaps this: that beneath my feet, churning below the veneer of civilization, there is still a wilder world. And that this wilder world is vitally important. I may visit the small corners where the wildness shows through. I may stand and peer toward these places. Or I may only imagine these places exist. But it remains important for me to know that they do exist. And that were I to lose them, I would have lost something that makes me human. Something that, with gentle attention, I may be able to capture. And hold. If only for a moment.