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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tanzania: FAQs

Mark and I have been asked a lot of questions about our trip to Tanzania, some of which have come up so frequently I thought I'd write up the answers here. Many of them included blood and mayhem (I'm starting to wonder about our choice of friends) but most of them were about the practicalities of traveling in a foreign country with only a rented vehicle as a home.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Canyonlands National Park: The White Rim Road

That lighter red stripe at the edge of the cliff on the left side of the photo? That's the road. If you think it looks like you could easily drive right off the edge, you'd be right.
The sweat on my palms mixed with the red dust on the armrest, creating an unappealing paste in the crevices of my hands. I wiped them on my shorts as we peered over the hood of the truck at the latest section of switchbacks. The (barely) one lane road began with a pavement of loose rocks, led down under an enormous overhanging boulder, then disappeared around a corner, all at a downward 45 degree angle. Mark had a grim look on his face as he put the truck into 4x4 low and shifted to the lowest gear the Ford has.

I guess we're gonna do this.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Carrizo Plain National Monument: Raw California

As a fourth generation California native, I've been known to get cranky about the ever increasing population I'm forced to share my state with. Currently there are 38.8 million people here, crowding the roads, booking campsites in Yosemite and lining up ahead of me at my favorite taqueria. Don't get me wrong; for the most part, I'm proud of my state and can see why everyone wants to live here. But every time an empty field gets plowed up to build yet another set of ugly apartment buildings it really puts my teeth on edge.

If you've read any of my previous blog entries it should come as no surprise I love big empty spaces. If I'm to be expected to work indoors full time I need to be allowed to stand outside at least four weeks a year staring at open land, breathing real air uninterrupted by phones, computers, traffic and crowds. Over the years it seems we have to go farther afield in order to do this. It's frustrating because the longer it takes to get there equates to less time staring and breathing.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Natural Bridges National Monument: A River Runs Under It

I've been wracking my brains trying to think up a creative way to describe Natural Bridges National Monument. It's one of those places that's a bit off the beaten path, slightly familiar (if you've spent much time in Utah) yet completely it's own.

In other words, completely worth a visit.

Like most of Utah, Natural Bridges park is composed of layered sandstone, shaped by wind and water into red winding canyons. There is evidence of ancient cultures, arches, caverns and lush vegetation throughout the park. The unique feature of this area is the way the stream has cut right through the sandstone in places, forming gigantic "bridges" over the water. These bridges are hulking masses of continuous slick rock, hanging over the canyon like giant red sculptures. You can drive the one way loop road and view them from above or, even better, take the hike down into the canyon and check them out from below. Don't stand there too long though; the bridges are prone to shedding bits and pieces. In fact, in June of 1992 4,000 tons of rock fell from the Kachina Bridge. The area is prone to earthquakes and flash floods, and every time we've visited we've been chased off the overlooks by thunderstorms. This place is not for the faint of heart.

I thought I'd take you on a virtual hike through the canyon.

The day these photos were taken we opted to take the loop trail in order to see the entire canyon and all three of the bridges from below. (The first time we visited it was during a nasty storm; we parked at each overlook, waited for a break in the lightning, ran out and back to the truck before we got too soaked/electrocuted–not a good day for a hike.)

If you decide to hike the entire loop you'll be following the roughly u-shaped canyon, then popping up at the last bridge overlook. From there, you have to hike across the section that spans the middle of the loop drive. Don't let the map fool you (like it did us); the last section is not an easy ramble across flat terrain. The trail leads across multiple smaller hills and canyons, with the added insult of throwing in a few steep climbs involving ladders and slick rock scrambling in the last .2 of the total 8.6 miles of trail. There was some cursing involved at this point, at least on my part. Did I mention the park is at a 6500 foot elevation? Not Yosemite tough, but enough to make this sea-level dweller breathe a little harder on the uphill.

We started our hike at the Sipapu Bridge parking area (the first one you pass on the loop road). It's the most interesting way down; a series of stairs and ladders down the cliff side leads past an old Puebloan ruin and down to the canyon floor through a grove of oak trees. I thought it was the most beautiful of the three bridge areas, although the trees cut down on the view. The nice thing about the shape of this park is all the trails interconnect; you can start at any of the overlooks and be able to make your way back to your car without having to double back.

Here we go!

The trail follows the White Canyon then branches over to the Armstrong Canyon
Down, down, down into the canyon via stairs and ladders.

The first stairway down the cliffside.

Ladder #1

It always amazes me how beautiful the rock stairways are in these parks.
Someone went to a lot of trouble to get these rocks placed;
not only are they straight and smooth, but gracefully designed.
Mark pauses to take a photo (and try not to
knock his head)

A rock structure on a ledge halfway down the mesa.

Making our way down the slick rock.
Ladder #2

Sipapu Bridge, as viewed from about halfway down.

The last ladder
The trail was pretty lush under Sipapu Bridge.
Sipapu Bridge
Sipapu Bridge from the canyon floor.

The trail leading away from Sipapu Bridge. Gambel Oaks are thick in these parts.

Small saplings will soon be taking over the canyon.

Wildflowers were making the scene

The trail follows the stream, sometimes crossing over it.
A wall with evidence of an ancient culture. That, or a recent summer camp activity.
Closeup of the handprints.

A tree had fallen over, probably during a flash flood.
No matter, it took a right turn and just kept growing.

The sandstone rocks and pebbles made a beautiful pavement.

Apparently Utah is popular with European tourists. The fellow on the left was a tour guide for a group of Germans. We saw them later packed into a large van with a tour company logo on the side. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, in between cigarette breaks anyway.
Kachina Bridge
Kachina Bridge, where the stream takes a hard turn.

Kachina, from the other side

The trail leads up the mesa from Kachina; the canyon is still forming, and the sandstone drops off suddenly here. We had to cut up the cliff to get back down to the top of the"Knickpoint"

The "Knickpoint" from a distance

The top of the Knickpoint. It seems so benign, but imagine what it must look like during a flash flood.

The water is working it's way down.

Indian paintbrush

A pond full of impressive pollywogs.

A lizard hiding in the grass. See it?

An electric green algae in a stagnant part of the stream. Probably not a good place to fill your water bottle.
An old foundation. Not sure if it was an old structure, or a stairway base.

Owachomo Bridge
Owachomo bridge in the distance.

A little closer...
(Click on this photo and look closely at the right side of the bridge opening. Mark is standing there in a red shirt.)

Owachomo underbelly. This photo makes me dizzy, just the memory of standing underneath it on a sloped surface, watching the clouds fly by while trying to focus on the stone.

Just a trickle of water was coming down under the bridge. If we had stayed much longer it would have been considerably more. Those clouds were ready to let go.

A giant rock formation at the top of the mesa near Owachomo.

Back to the truck
The trail leading across the mesa back to the truck. It started out so mellow. 

The view across the mesa. Those clouds were seriously making us nervous. It was nice to be out of the canyon, but now we were worried about lightning.

The trail crosses the road a few times. No missing these crosswalks.

So glad to be back. Time to get to camp for a cocktail.

When we visited we stayed in the campgrounds in the park. There are only 13 sites in the official campground and the park is located in a remote corner of Utah so it's the only game in town. Thankfully, BLM land surrounds it and it's possible to drive off and find your own camp nearby if the campground is full. One of the benefits of it's remote location is some of the best star gazing in the U.S. since there are virtually no cities within 100 miles.

Getting to Natural Bridges takes some doing: it's located off Utah's Hwy 95 in the southeastern corner of the state. It's not really close to anything, but you can make it part of a larger trip through Arizona or Colorado if you're one to appreciate a scenic route. The closest (relatively) nearby attraction is Capitol Reef National Park, another place that's worth a stop.

Hope to see you on the trail someday.