Category Archives: Road trips

Kayaking on Banks Lake, Washington; September 2016

Summer is ending. So last Friday, on impulse, we put our sea kayaks on the car and drove from Seattle to Banks Lake in eastern Washington.  It’s an artificial lake that’s part of the irrigation system fed by Grand Coulee Dam. The lake fills a coulee – a desert canyon filled with rock formations and sheer basalt cliffs. The addition of water pumped up by the dam transformed the canyon into a fjord, the rocks into islets and the dunes into beaches. This was our third trip to Banks Lake. It’s a marvelous place to kayak, tho it’s subject to high winds.

loadedWe were out of practice in the arcane art of attaching boats to a car. The kayaks, racks, straps and cable locks were just as much trouble as were the bicycles on our Port Townsend trip; but we remained in good cheer. The first step was to attach two bars across the roof of the car. They’re held in place by clamps on the top edges of its doorframes. Getting them in the right position, with the padded cradles attached to them pointing straight up, was a challenge. We were working from Yakima’s instruction book that covers every car ever made but not in much detail.

Next we put the boats sideways on the cradles and strapped them in. What to do with the end of the strap so it won’t slap around while we’re driving is a minor issue; Pat and I each think we’ve arrived at the optimum solution. My method is to wrap it around the base of the rack pillar, tuck the end back into the roll and twist the whole roll until it’s tight. She prefers to weave it around the strap where it’s pressed against the deck of the boat. Both good! The bows of the boats have a different kind of strap that ends in a hook. Our Toyota Corolla, like many imported cars, has anchor rings built into its frame to hold it to the deck of a ship. So these straps run down from the bows and over the front bumper to the anchor rings. We run each strap to the opposite side of the front to resist any sideways force on the bow.

Finally, we put cable locks on the boats. Each lock has two loops, designed to pull over the kayak’s pointy bow and stern. We ran the cables under the racks and over the tops of the boats so the locks wouldn’t bonk on the roof of the car. The racks’ clamps also have locks; but I’d lost one key and I couldn’t find the other one. Moving right along!

img_2196We made a late start, and got caught in rush-hour traffic.  East of Bellevue, it thinned out. We followed I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, emerged from the eastern Cascade foothills into desert, and crossed the Columbia River on the Vantage Bridge. East of George, we left the freeway and headed north on back roads as darkness fell. Our first attempt at dinner was at a Mexican restaurant in Ephrata, a little desert town. Two big parties had assembled long tables, and were singing and talking excitedly. We sat in the entryway for a while, but couldn’t get attention, tho we saw empty tables. So we moved on to Mommy Yum-Yum’s, an unfortunately-named Vietnamese restaurant.  It was nearly empty, but we did get fed. We arrived at the modest Sky Deck Motel in Electric City on Bank Lake’s north shore just before its office closed at 10 PM.

Breakfast next morning was at Flo’s Cafe, a community fixture.  Two employees were absent, we learned; so the owner’s neighbor had come in to help.  The restaurant was once a gas station and garage; its goofy decor includes license plates collected from that era.  Pat had a massive omelet; I had French toast. At one o’clock we finally got our boats in the water, at Steamboat Rock State Park, a peninsula near the north end of the lake.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-1-43-12-pmSo did a lot of other people.  Speedboats, jet-skis, water skiers, fishing boats, paddleboards, rowboats, kayaks and rubber rafts abounded.  One speedboat roared out from the shore ahead of us, made a couple of show-off loops and returned to shore. As we progressed further north into the rocks, the other craft thinned out, tho a group of power-boaters that had hooked their craft together to have a party was anchored in one of the side-canyons.  We also met a large group of kayakers and paddle-boarders, some of whom were diving into the water from a tall rock.

This is only the second time we’ve used our new kayaks.  They are smaller and narrower than our old ones.  They’re more responsive and quite nice to drive thru the water.  We landed at a campground where a man was throwing a bright green ball for his 15-year-old Australian Cattle Dog.  He tossed it in the middle of the inlet; the dog just stared at it and hung her head.  I paddled over and tossed it closer to her.  She plodded out to retrieve it without much interest, and brought it to her owner.  “She loves this game!”  He assured us.  “She’s just tired.”  He kept on throwing it, and his old dog kept on trudging into the water to get it.

As we paddled back south toward the boat launch, a strong wind rose in our faces.  The lake is 40 miles long; by the time the waves reached us they were pointy-topped rollers, and the wind was blowing foam off their tops.  I wanted to put on my skirt (it’s like a nylon bib overall, but instead of legs the bottom is a skirt whose rim stretches around the edge of the cockpit).  But we would have had to land to do it, and the only beach on our side of the crossing was parallel to the waves, a treacherous course.  It seemed safer to just cross the lake and keep our bows into the waves.  The kayaks sliced into them, flinging water to each side in a satisfying manner; it only slopped into my lap occasionally. Paddling upwind was the real problem. I’d feathered my paddle, putting a half-twist in it so the blade that was in the air wouldn’t catch the wind. But I couldn’t feather my body. Pat hadn’t feathered her paddle; but by the end of the day she was paddling ahead of me.

beachWe landed on a rocky beach on the park peninsula to rest and eat a snack.  A man in a noisy speedboat made a few passes in front of us, looking to see if we were watching him. We continued around to the boat landing. Now we were in the lee of the peninsula, so waves were no problem; but we were still paddling against the wind.

After we got the boats on the car and started for home, the wind continued to strengthen.  The valley was filling with haze, and I could see a vague cloud filling the southern sky. A sudden gust shoved the front rack to one side.  We pulled off to check it. The right clamp had released; scary! We tightened the rack and the straps by headlamp-light while wind howled in our ears, and anxiously continued. We were listening to 2 AM At the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helene Bertino. The book helped keep us from imagining the boats hitting the pavement, or a gust catching them like a sail to shove the car into the ditch.

We had dinner at the Last Stand Diner And Saloon in Grand Coulee, at the south end of the lake. Country Western music was playing; the décor was pictures of rodeos and metal sculptures made out of horseshoes. Most of the food was breaded and fried; but I had a nice oriental salad with grilled chicken.

We checked the straps and racks, and headed on into the night. A sign at the Vantage Bridge warned of high winds. Pat had trouble keeping the car on the road. We checked the boats again at a Texaco gas station on the other side. The straps had stretched from the strain and the kayaks were loose. The people working in the station advised us to stop for the night. But the forecast for Sunday was stronger wind, and we needed to be in Seattle. Pat drove slowly to minimize the stress, meekly following the trucks we usually pass.

When we got into the mountains the wind subsided. We made it home at midnight, put the boats in the garage and fell into bed.  We woke up stiff and sore the next morning. So we must have had an adventure! We’re hoping to rent a house or cabin on Banks Lake for a week next year. And our next car is going to have a permanently attached roof rack.

Screen Shot 2016-09-13 at 1.49.36 PM.png

Northeast Olympics Trip; July 2016

Pat, my brother Michael and I spent a week on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The Port Townsend Jazz Festival was my main objective. We also explored beaches and old bunkers, bicycled and just relaxed.

Getting ready

Bicycling was to be a big part of this trip. Mike and I hadn’t ridden for years. I checked my helmet; the adhesive had failed and it was falling apart. I couldn’t find my bike lock. Mike was missing both; so we bought helmets and locks at Alki Bicycles. I also wanted some bungee cords to hold the bikes steady. But they didn’t have any; instead they gave me some old inner tubes to cut up and use to tie things together.

A couple of weeks before we left, Mike and I practiced mounting the bike rack on the car and putting our bikes on it. The rack was an old Thule someone had given us; it had no instructions, and one of the four cradle latching straps was missing. We figured out reasonable places to hook the straps onto the car, and we hung the bikes on the rack. Now we felt ready for the real thing.

The drive over

Wednesday 7/27: After the car was packed, we mounted the rack and bikes. The inner tubes were a bad idea; knots in them were difficult to untie, and they were so stretchy that they didn’t hold the bikes steady. We’d thought the rack’s bottom hooks went under the bumper; but the edge of the bumper was rubbery and couldn’t hold them. Pat pointed out that the weight of the bikes was pulling the rack’s padded supports away from the car. And she wasn’t happy with how the bikes could swing and shift around. We spent a long time wrestling with heavy, greasy bikes and wimpy inner tubes in the hot sun before we felt ready for a road test.

In Edmonds we stopped at a PCC grocery for ice cream bars to eat in the ferry line. We looked at the bike rack. The straps running from its top to the trunk lid hinges had stretched; the rack had slipped off the bumper and was hanging by them. We reworked it again in the parking lot.

IMG_1953

Scampi and Halibut

 

We got on the car ferry to Kingston after a short wait, and drove thru Port Gamble and over the Hood Canal Bridge to Port Hadlock. Our rental apartment turned out to be quite nice; it’s the upper story of a house. It has a big deck, and it’s decorated with an East Indian Buddhist theme. Dinner was at Scampi And Halibut, a popular diner that features seafood. Our table was under a pole lamp with glass fronds shaped like coconut leaves; glass nuts were the shades for its bulbs.  I had Hawaiian mahi mahi; it seemed overdone, but the side dishes and dessert were good.

 

The innkeeper’s booklet that we found in the apartment warned about ants. I had a cup of tea with honey. Tiny sugar ants swarmed all over the jar and my hand. We Windexed them and cleaned everything carefully. They’ll keep us on our toes in the kitchen.

Port Townsend

 Thursday 7/28: We shopped at the nice Food Coop in Port Townsend, and admired an odd vehicle in the lot; an electric tricycle with a canopy, two seats and pedal-assist. It was an Elf, made by Organic Transit. Solar cells in its roof recharge its battery. Its maximum speed is 20 miles per hour; no license is required to drive it.

IMG_1957

Michael on the Larry Scott Memorial Trail.

 

In the afternoon, we went to the south end of the Larry Scott Memorial Trail. Mike and I rode the trail seven miles to Port Townsend, and Pat walked four miles. It was a lovely little lane that took us past fields, thru woods and along the beach to a boatyard on the town’s outskirts. While we waited for Pat in the shade of the moorage authority building, we talked to a lady named Cass. She’d grown up on a farm in nearby Beaver Valley. She and her husband had a 160-acre farm for a while. But she’d lost it somehow (I didn’t want to probe); now she lives in an apartment without so much as a planter box.

“Do you ever go back and look at it?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said sadly.

While Pat was making dinner (balsamic mushroom wraps) she discovered that the eggs hadn’t made it into the car in Seattle. So I rode my bike down Irondale Road to “downtown” Port Hadlock to buy some at the QFC grocery. I picked up a box of Borax too, because Pat had heard that it kills ants. As I pedaled I had time to look over our neighborhood. It’s on a low plateau that funnels down to the sea at its east end, where the few shops are located. Some homes are quite nice; others are dilapidated and surrounded by overgrown cars and trailers. Campers, boats and RVs are everywhere, and on some streets I could smell horses. A small church near our house had a little A-frame cabin for a rectory. The north wind bore the rotten-egg aroma of a pulp mill. On my way back home, a pickup with a defective muffler blatted arrogantly past.

Friday 7/29: Pat tried sprinkling borax on the kitchen shelves and counters. The ants walked around it without paying it any mind. I did a brief web search and found out that the ants have to eat the borax to die. They don’t much like it, so it’s necessary to mix it with something sweet like honey. We spread a borax and honey mixture on a piece of cardboard and taped its edges down on a counter. It was very popular; but more ants kept coming. We made a second bait offering and put it in a cupboard next to the dishwasher, whose enclosure is a major thoroughfare for ants. So far it hasn’t seen much action. Maybe the ants are too full of borax already?

Jazz Festival

IMG_1979

A pillbox overlooking Admiralty Inlet and Mt. Baker.

 

Pat took Mike and me into Port Townsend for the evening jazz festival performance in Fort Worden State Park. The fort is on the tip of a peninsula that juts into the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward Canada. We’d arrived early with flashlights and smoked salmon salad sandwiches (salmon from Pat’s sister Gwen). First we walked on the beach and explored the pre-World War I bunkers. The hills facing the water are honeycombed with gun emplacements, pillboxes, tunnels and underground rooms built between 1902 and 1918. The fort never fired in anger; its cannon were moved to more urgent fronts during the world wars, or were scrapped. The bunkers have been cleaned out; only gun pits, creaky iron doors and inky-dark galleries of rooms are left for tourists to explore.

 

After a picnic supper in the shelter of a mortar emplacement, we strolled down to McCurdy Pavilion, the theater that an arts organization called Centrum uses for the festival. The cement theater with all its flights of stairs reminded us of the bunkers. The bands we heard were:

  • JD Allen and Sean Jones
  • The Jeff Hamilton Organ Trio

The music was good, tho quite improvisational. While the second band was playing, the electric organ (played by Akiko Tsuruga of New York) conked out. The drummer undertook a long solo to give her time to fix it, to no avail. The band stopped playing. Technicians climbed onto the stage while the audience waited patiently. Then the MC announced that the show was over. The audience gave the band a standing ovation anyway.

Saturday 7/30: Now and then a lone ant scouts the kitchen counter. Our second bait offering has had no business. The innkeeper told us he’d put borax around the house’s foundation.

Chetzemoka Park

Pat discovered Chetzemoka Park in Port Townsend, and visited with the sea otters. She said that they were sometimes quite close to her. They watched her eyes, and if she looked at them they shied away.

IMG_1984

Clayton Brothers Quintet

 

Meanwhile, Mike and I returned to Fort Worden State Park to hear more jazz. There were three bands, all very good, and there were no instrument malfunctions:

 

  • Clayton Brothers Quintet
  • Rene Marie, Dee Daniels, Dena Derose
  • Woody Herman Tribute Band, led by Jeff Hamilton and Joe LaBarbera

I quite liked the Clayton Brothers playing “Close Enough For Love,” a sad sweet song.

Afterward we walked down to the sandy beach; and then to the military chapel, which is still in use. Unlike Seattle’s Fort Lawton (now Discovery Park), most of whose buildings were removed, Fort Worden’s elegant late 19th century houses and barracks have been preserved. They have deep eaves and comfortable balconies, and are painted creamy white with charcoal trim. Some have been repurposed; others are available to rent. One large structure overlooking the parade ground is now an artillery museum.

Pat made a wonderful marinara shrimp and mushroom dinner. We hurried to the Wheel In Motor Movie, a drive-in theater, to experience this rare 1950s anachronism. But due to an emergency it was closed. We drove up to Port Townsend, but the movies at the Rose Theater had already started and the shops were closed. We window-shopped and strolled out to the viewing pier. The sun had set, and a chilly sea breeze had set in; the sky and the water were spacious and quiet. We watched a square white ferry take on a few cars and shuttle across the empty sea to Whidbey Island. Then we went home to our books and photos.

Chimacum Creek

IMG_1991Sunday 7/31: While Pat and Mike went to a Unitarian church service, I ran laundry and bicycled to nearby Chimacum Creek Beach. I followed a man in an electric wheelchair down the last bit of road to a small parking lot. Another man came in from the beach, unlocked his car and asked me to keep an eye out for his phone; but happily he discovered it in his coat.

Once a mill stood on piles at the mouth of the creek; but I didn’t see any remnant of it. The beach was coarse sand with bits of clamshell, backed by a narrow sandy meadow and forest. A flock of gulls foraged in the seaweed at the mouth of the creek. The creek was placid, reflecting the woods. heronGray herons maneuvered on the water, speaking in short, deep croaks. I followed a meadow trail up into the woods, but gave it up when it veered steeply inland. I had a snack on the creek bank under a tree, and got a text from Pat that they were coming home. Since I had the key, I needed to beat them home; so I did.

Marrowstone Island

After lunch, which included a mug of leftover marinara shrimp sauce for everyone, we set out for Marrowstone Island. We crossed a bridge to the south end of securely-fenced Indian Island (a Navy magazine), then continued over a causeway to Marrowstone. We passed a little village on a lovely inlet, tho I think that at low tide it wouldn’t look as nice.

The north end of the island is Fort Flagler State Park, another shore battery fallen into disuse. We drove down a narrow bluff road to visit the lighthouse northeast of the park entrance. In the parking lot, an old man was sitting on the tailgate of his pickup, pulling on hip waders. Pat parked in a smallish spot next to his truck, and we went over to talk to him.

Folk music was pouring out of the cab of his truck. “I don’t know why we fish here. We never catch anything,” he chuckled.

“Is it all right if I park beside you?” Pat asked.

“I’d charge you $10 for it. But that guy over there would make me split it with him,” he said, indicating somebody he probably didn’t know. Proudly he showed us an immense wristwatch; it had a little date dial that was a day slow, and a left-handed stem. He had fifteen watches, many of them monsters like this one. “If I catch a fish, you owe me $5,” he asserted.

“Do I get to keep the fish?” Pat asked with a grin.

“No.”

“What if I don’t even see you catch it? How will I know there ever was a fish?”

“Okay, $2.50 then.”

IMG_2006.jpg

Pat and Michael at the Fort Flagler lighthouse.

We walked up the beach to the little lighthouse. The beach was stones at the top and fine white sand further down; it had a great deal of driftwood. A couple of families were playing on the beach and building a shanty out of driftwood. Several people stood in the water up to their waists, fishing. The lighthouse was just a light on top of a short square building; the old man had warned us not to be depressed when we saw it. It and the surrounding buildings were in a restricted-access compound, signed as a fisheries research station. Beyond it was wetland; and beyond that, forest.

No place to go here; so we retraced our route to the museum near the park entrance. It was closed; but Pat found a map of the park somehow anyway. We walked down to a gun battery that had two small cannon, with racks of (empty) powder cartridges on display. Half a dozen middle-aged men roared up on motorcycles. They stopped to explore the battery and take pictures of each other in front of it.

IMG_2017Mike and I walked the north bluff trail while Pat drove to the sand spit at its west end to meet us. Our way took us past aging cottages and sheds, more empty batteries and remnants of their support structures. One relic was a building near a cliff from which a short length of track ran thru double doors and out thirty feet to a spot overlooking the sea. It had once housed a generator and a searchlight, used before radar was invented to find infiltrating ships. The wide path took us thru forest filled with the sound of waves. We skirted a campground and came out on an isolated road. I got turned around and led us east, away from our meeting point. After a long walk, I realized my mistake. I called Pat, interrupting her quiet meditation on the beach, and she rescued us.

We drove back to Port Hadlock and had dinner at the Ajax Cafe on its little waterfront. The restaurant was heavily decorated with hats and bric-à-brac. We were provided with a box of trivia cards to occupy us while our dinners were cooking. I had a New York steak and key lime pie; very good. We peered thru the windows of a wooden-boat building school, and strolled onto a dock to admire the evening reflections.

Monday 8/1: More ants are patrolling the counter over the dishwasher, even tho we keep it clean. Maybe they’re plotting revenge?

I rode down to town to mail postcards. Irondale Road was busy, so I found my way across it into the next neighborhood and rode on the side-streets. That neighborhood was nicer than ours; I even saw a Mercedes. I relied on Google Maps to bring me to the Post Office. But it turned out to be a VFW “Post.” I found the real Post Office a block away, concealed behind a hedge.

I visited with our innkeepers. They used to live in a beach cottage near Hana, a remote town on Maui. There they would paddle out to sea in their inflatable kayak, and slap the water with their paddles. Whales would come and visit them. “But the energy was so strong there that we couldn’t deal with it; so we had to move,” the woman explained. Besides, land and the cost of living are very expensive in Hawaii.

Dungeness Spit

IMG_2035

Pat made a pancake feast for brunch. We drove to Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge, and hiked thru forest to the beach. Pat had forgotten to bring a sweater, and it was cold and windy. So she went back to the car to read her book, while Mike and I walked along the spit. We met lots of people; it’s a popular beach despite the long walk. The tide was high, and big waves were roaring in.  To stay dry, we sometimes scrambled over the driftwood or walked along the shore of the lagoon. The beach is mostly sand; large flat stones occur in random patches. Some logs were immense old-growth trees from the Olympic mountains. Our glasses got foggy with salt. We walked back against the gusty west wind and the glare of the lowering sun.

We had dinner in Port Angeles at the Garden Cafe, a seafood and Italian place. I had pan-seared salmon; it was very good.

Port Townsend again

Tuesday 8/2: We drove up to Port Townsend; Michael and I walked from the old Customs House / Post Office on top of the embankment to the waterfront, and then back thru downtown. (Port Townsend is divided by a tall vertical cliff, created to make level land along its waterfront.) A cold north wind gusted thru the town. Although the jazz festival had ended, I saw lots of tourists exploring the waterfront boutiques. Indulgent parents followed a boy who was wearing tall green rubber boots. On the viewing docks, half a dozen teenagers chattered and laughed. A man sat on a bench typing, with the screen of his laptop on his legs and its keyboard on his stomach. The Maritime Center displayed a chart of the intricate Inside Passage to Alaska. Puget Sound is a small appendage of it, and Port Townsend oversees its entrance.

I found the Lively Olive, an oil and vinegar tasting bar we’d visited last year, and picked up a bottle of black currant vinegar for a friend of Pat’s. At Quimper Mercantile I bought a wide-brimmed hat for myself, and a T-shirt for Pat that had an Indian-style bird image. The checker told us that she’d retired and moved here from Wisconsin a few months ago. “A friend and I came here on a fact-finding mission; and I found the fact that I wanted to live here.” She planned to buy a 400 sq. ft. “tiny house” with no animals and no men. She said that “Quimper” is the name of the peninsula on which the town is located.

We found a long wooden stairway to the upper town and rejoined Pat. Pat and I made curried chicken for dinner. Dessert was big bowls of blueberries with coconut milk.

The drive home

Wednesday 8/3: We packed the car and hung the bikes on the back. Each time we used the rack we experimented with a different strap arrangement. On this drive the bottom straps came unhooked from the car, but no harm done.

We stopped in Port Ludlow, a private resort where we’d read that some hiking trails were open to the public. We never found a trailhead sign, or even a public restroom. Pat found a trail near a parking lot and explored it.

We stopped again at Kitsap State Park after crossing the Hood Canal Bridge. Pat and I each have childhood memories of visits to this park. Pat remembers digging up clams and leaving them in a bucket of salt water to spit out their sand. When her family returned, the bucket was empty; crows had stolen them. I remembered running around in a big forest of tall trees with some kids I met there. Pat pointed out a little grove and said that was probably the place. Mike and I walked down the bluff trail to the stony Hood Canal beach.

We made our way around a detour, and reached Kingston in time to drive right onto the ferry to Edmonds. Our adventure was about over. We dropped Michael’s bike off at the Goodenough Community’s center in West Seattle and headed home.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 5.28.54 PM.png

Southwest wilderness adventures 2016 — part 5

Northern Arizona

Tuesday 4/19:  This morning we saw that our iPhones had adjusted themselves to Arizona’s peculiar time zone; but, to our confusion, our car’s clock had not. It’s complicated, and we’ll be in New Mexico in two days; so we’re putting up with it.

I went down to check our motel’s kidney-shaped pool with five fountains. The water was just right. This reminded me of an incident on a 1991 road trip thru Oregon with our teenage girls and April and Domenique. We’d stopped at a motel that advertised a heated pool; but when I put my hand in it, it was cold. I went to the office to complain. “It is heated, by the sun,” the manager explained. I’ve finally thought of a comeback; “I’m tipping you, with these words.” Back in the present, I managed 20 laps in the mid-sized pool with frequent breaks for panting. It was in full sun, so I wore my hat. The wet hat was comfortably cool for an hour afterward.

Lower Antelope Canyon

We drove to the Navajo LeChee reservation east of Page AZ to join a walking tour of Lower Antelope Canyon. Set in a broad orange desert dotted with little shrubs, Ken’s Tours’ modest visitor center sits at the head of a dusty parking lot in the shadow of a power station’s three giant smokestacks. Self-guided exploration of the canyon was once allowed. But today, entrance is only permitted with guides, due to a flash flood in the ’90s in which 11 people were killed. In addition to the permanent canyon structures, rope ladders are available for evacuation. The operation is prepared to evacuate the canyon in an emergency; and they did so last Friday during a rainstorm, although it didn’t cause a flash flood. The average flood level in the narrow canyon is five to seven feet, and the canyon has been known to fill to the brim with torrential floodwater.

antelope topFrom above, the canyon looks like a slight depression paved with lumpy purple slickrock. From inside, it’s an organic pink-orange cathedral, the most beautiful canyon I’ve ever seen. We’d switched from our reserved photography tour to a general tour, feeling intimidated by the requirement that each participant have a DSLR camera and a tripod extending to three feet or more. Instead we used our phones, as did most of our group of 15. We befriended a German-speaking Swiss couple and took pictures for each other. Our young Navajo guide also took peoples’ pictures, pointed out good vantage points, and gave camera-setting advice. In addition to being the prettiest slot canyon ever, Lower Antelope was the easiest; there was no wading, scrambling or squeezing here. Dry sand floors and sturdy steel stairs made the trip easy (for the able-bodied)–a good thing, because I could hardly tear my eyes away from the swirling walls to watch where I was going. Afterward, one of the German women gave us hugs, knowing that we could hardly speak and would never see each other again. “Have a wonderful life!”

This adventure was followed by a long, dull drive to Cottonwood AZ, south of Sedona. Sadly, this motel had a dinky pool fit only for children.

Wednesday 4/20:  This was a less good day, tho it ended okay. I hurt my back while getting out of the shower. An allergy, some pollen I suppose, had me sneezing and sniffling; the antihistamines that I’ve had good luck with in Seattle barely affected it here. It was hot too; in Cottonwood the temp hit 91 F.

Huckaby Trail

Huckaby trailWe drove to the Forest Service’s Huckaby trailhead, east of town. This trail traverses a mountainside overlooking Sedona and the impressive mountain north of it. It was like a garden path, copiously lined with pale blue flowers and paddle-shaped cacti. The fragrance of the wildflowers was powerful; I could hardly do anything but blow my nose. We gave it up and had lunch (spring rolls for me) at Thai Spices in Sedona, Cottonwood’s wealthy, tourist-infested cousin. We drove past Red Rock State Park and retreated to our cool motel room.

In the evening we went out in search of Old Town and had dinner there at Bocce, a lively pizzeria. We sat at the counter and watched the cheerful gang of chefs move pizzas in and out of a flaming oven with a long-handled shovel. I had a pesto chicken pizza and ate the whole thing.

Tuzigoot and Montezuma Well

TuzigootThursday 4/21:  We visited two pueblo sites on our way to New Mexico. Tuzigoot National Monument, outside of Cottonwood, is a hilltop complex overlooking a floodplain where the 12th-century residents grew their crops. It was excavated and restored in 1932, providing jobs to the area. Apache Tribe members who worked on the project were upset at the prospect of disturbing ancestors, and conducted purification ceremonies. On the other hand, the project brought to a halt theft and damage by “pot-diggers” seeking Anasazi artifacts for the black market.

potTuzigoot, like nearly all of the southwest’s pueblo communities, was abandoned by 1300, long before Spanish missionaries and American pioneers came on the scene.  We looked at an exhibit here that diagrammed the growth of the Tuzigoot pueblo; many buildings were added around the central tower later in its history.  This parallels what we saw at Mesa Verde National Park (CO) on a previous trip; a population explosion, followed by abandonment.  It’s as if, in response to food shortages and external threats, a stone-age feudalism set in and ultimately failed.  The conventional explanation for the exodus is drought; and the modern-day southwest drought gives credence to the theory.  However, in the small museum here we read about a different theory.  Some Hopi and Pueblo descendants of the Anasazi say that the southwest’s pueblos and cave dwellings were meant to be temporary, and that a further migration had been intended.  What was the ultimate destination?  Was this further migration attempted?  I don’t know any more about this; it’s an intriguing mystery.

We also visited Montezuma Well National Monument to the east. Montezuma had nothing to do with this site, nor with nearby Montezuma Castle; they were misnamed by impressionable settlers. The pond is illogically located at the top of a barren, rocky hill in a steep-walled circular basin. This spring-fed pond is 55 feet deep, and another 45 feet of “fluidic mud” (quicksand?) extends below the water to its true bottom. The briny-looking water supports tiny shrimp and other such creatures who probably imagine that their wet little world is the universe. A ranger offered peeks thru a telescope focused on a horned owl’s nest.

We turned east on I-40, and crossed a vast sandy plain on which scattered bits of grass struggled to survive.  On the horizon we saw long, low buttes turned blue by distance. Now that’s a desert. On the Interstate, it became clear that our Chevy Trax was a gutless car. “It makes motor noises, but it doesn’t actually do anything,” Pat grumbled. Occasionally we passed abandoned tourist traps and long freight trains. We crossed the New Mexico border at dusk, losing the hour we’d gained when we entered Arizona’s nonconforming time zone.

New Mexico again

Friday 4/22:  We set out from Gallup NM on the final leg of our trip, eating up our food and giving or throwing away our guidebooks, Styrofoam cooler, etc. to fit our stuff into our luggage for flying. We were looking for a gas station where we could scrape the bugs off our windshield. We stopped at a Shell station; but, while I was filling the tank, Pat found out that somebody had stolen all the squeegees.

I shut off the pump, and we moved on to a Philips 66 on Route 66 in Grants to finish our fill-up. When I went in to get my change, the man ahead of me was wearing a cap with “Route 66” printed on the back. He bought a lottery ticket, asking for number 6. This prompted me to read up on The Number Of The Beast. Apparently, Route 66 is the road to hell.

We picnicked in a windy softball park outside of Albuquerque, turned in our car and caught the Seattle plane. This trip was nearly all good. We had lots of fun with Alice, but for the most part we missed Jenn. We’ve never before seen such climate extremes, from snow to 90 degrees, during the same trip. We learned to be skeptical of Google Maps. I charted a course to Cottonwood’s Old Town only to end up at the Old Town RV Park. “She” also delivered us to a dead-end behind a park and the featureless back wall of a supermarket. I barely used my hiking boots or DSLR camera, and I never used my tripod (though Pat did). These things probably won’t be invited along next time.

Previous; Central Utah     Map     More pictures

Southwest wilderness adventures 2016 — part 4

Central Utah

Friday 4/15:  We planned to drive west to Boulder UT today. Our way led thru higher mountains where the forecast was bad; Boulder had a 70% chance of snow showers and a high of 40 F. We drove north around the Canyonlands area to Hanksville; and bought gas and treats in the “hollow mountain” gas station, which except for its pumps is built inside a tunnel in a sandstone cliff.

Rain and snow hit us as we drove over the Waterpocket Fold ridge in Capitol Reef National Park. We paused at the visitor center. A ranger, on learning our intended route, warned us that the Boulder Mountain Pass snowplow stops working at dusk. She urged us to get over the pass quickly. Anxious about getting stranded, we bought a bag of groceries in Torrey. The storekeeper pointed out that the temperature was 46 F., too warm for snow to be a problem. “It never freezes until 4 AM,” she assured us.

Boulder PassArmed with contrary opinions, we headed up U-12. We soon saw snow, first in the trees and grass and then on the road. For several miles on each side of the 9600-foot pass, the world was white; fog obscured the mountains, and snow blew across the road. The temperature dropped to 26 F. A blurry, puny sun peered down thru the mist. That storekeeper must have been speaking of the weather in Torrey, not up here. We crept along, watching for poles and signs to stay on the road.

We dropped down out of the storm and started looking for our rental house. At first I couldn’t get on the Internet with my phone. Then I could, but Google Maps couldn’t locate the address. We saw nothing like the instructions the owner had emailed me. After three phone calls to the owner and a visit to a cafe for directions, we found a back road with the right name. I remembered that the picture of the house on the Internet had a single gable in the middle. We found a house with no number sign that had a single gable in the middle. I walked all around it in blowing snow and gathering darkness, peering under the doormats. No key.

I was for driving back to town and calling the owner. But Pat remembered hearing something about a pansy in the driveway; so we continued up the road. A few driveways later, we came to one with a plastic sunflower and the house-number we wanted. It was a very nice house; but we were a bit upset, and hungry too.

We drove back downtown (a clutch of small buildings at a kink in the highway) and had a good dinner at the surprisingly elegant Hell’s Backbone Grill. I wondered what the owner of the first house would make of our tire-marks and footprints in the snow. “It’s probably happened before,” Pat guessed.

Saturday 4/16:  The wind roared around the house during the night. It was snowing a bit during breakfast; then the clouds started to clear up. We went to the Anasazi State Park Museum in Boulder. Here are interesting exhibits of Anasazi artifacts and explanations of their technology, all based on an excavated pueblo ruin behind the museum.

This pueblo was built in about 1150, and abandoned after only 50 years. The pueblo had been purposefully burned–by whom and for what reason is unknown. We entered a replica of part of one building. Walls were formed of stones with adobe mortar (mud and stones). Small stones were used to fill in large gaps between the big stones. Ceilings were made of log crossbeams, covered by mats of small branches, covered by adobe. The ceiling was somewhat low. The Anasazi averaged 5 feet 4 inches tall–the same height as were Europeans at that time.

filntWe drove down U-12 to milepost 72, where a museum handout said there was a trail to a natural bridge on the Escalante River. We followed a faint car-track to a dry wash, and then followed the wash. Here and there pinion pines and juniper grew, or it was choked by flood debris. We came to a sandstone dome and clambered up onto it. We never found the bridge; but Pat found a sandy basin with a lot of thin, sharp, slightly curved shards of flint and chert. Flint-knappers had made spearheads here; or had done so nearby, and these fragments had been washed into this basin. Such relics are not to be removed; “Take only photographs, leave only footprints.”

Hole In The Rock Road

Sunday 4/17:  When we got up, we saw a bit of dry snow in the grass outside the kitchen window. It didn’t look like an auspicious day for wading; but we would soon be doing that.

We drove down to the Burr Trail Trading Post (a nice little café) to meet guide Keith Watt of Earth Tours for a day of hiking and canyoneering along the Hole In The Rock road. Keith was a geology PhD who’d opted out of working for corporations and academia; “If you hate your job, just walk away and live your life.” Our party also included Meera, a business analyst and amateur opera soprano from California; her dog Sadie; Ace, a local photographer, volunteer ranger and guide-in-training; and his dog Genghis Khan. This is BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, so dogs are allowed, unlike the policy of national parks and monuments.

As our SUV followed twisty U-12 into canyon country, Keith donned a wig and did a hilarious impression of local explorer John Wesley Powell, raving about how every little rivulet below Boulder Mountain and 50-mile Mountain had carved a giant canyon. “I’m glad I’m driving today instead of him,” Ace commented.

Midway between Boulder and Escalante, we turned south off U-12 onto Hole In The Rock Road. It’s named for a notch in the Glenn Canyon cliff to which it leads. The 1879 Mormon Hole In the Rock (San Juan) expedition widened and graded the hole with great labor (and dynamite) to make a passage down to the Colorado River for their wagons and livestock. Pioneers seldom afterward used the road; but it has become a route for recreational access to the heart of the Escalante canyon wilderness. This was a good dirt road as far as we went. If it were wet, of course, things would have been different.

Candyland

We parked and set off down an unpromising trail thru desert scrub. I told Ace, who was hiking rear guard, that I was going up a dry wash to pee. He walked ahead to the rest of the group and deadpanned, “Where’s Paul?”

We paused while Meera summoned Sadie, who’d found a rabbit to chase. It was all Ace could do to restrain Genghis, who was desperate to join the hunt.  Another group of hikers approached as we were about to turn off the main trail. Keith started channeling Powell again, delivering a pompous geology lecture sprinkled with Latin terms, until they moved on. “Works every time,” he chortled.

candylandHe didn’t want anybody to see where we were going. Before we left the main trail, he and Ace placed some fallen branches over the start of the side-trail, regretting that they hadn’t brought a broom to wipe out footprints. Then they led us to the trail by another route. “When you go off-trail, walk on rock to protect the plants and crypto (cryptobiotic soil, a fragile ground-cover of lichen and other microorganisms). If you have to cross sand, step on grass, or as a last resort walk in each others’ footsteps to minimize the damage. Sand in washes is okay to walk on, because the crypto can’t grow there.” Where no grazing is allowed, Keith has seen the delicate, frothy-looking crypto reach heights of 6 inches. Like Alice, he broke up any cairns he found, while muttering darkly about how the Internet is ruining the wilderness.

We hiked over several slickrock domes and crossed more washes. (Slickrock is sandstone bedrock. It’s usually fine to walk on unless sand makes it slippery. Early settlers whose metal-shod livestock had trouble with it named it slickrock.) We came to a sand-bottomed canyon whose pink and white-striped walls drew together like a funnel. Keith calls this place “Candyland.” (It has a more common name on the Internet, which I’m omitting here.) We stopped to change to shorts and put on water-shoes, left our gear and dogs in Ace’s care, and entered the funnel.

candyland canyonFirst came what seemed like an endless wade thru ice-cold water up to knee-deep. It hurt, and it didn’t get any better; “Faster!” I gasped. Keith obligingly sped up. I worried that I’d step into a depression that was really deep, but that didn’t happen. Next came a tight squeeze between canyon walls as little as one foot apart at shoulder height that met at the bottom. (This is what makes it a ‘slot canyon.’) We waded some more, then scrambled and squeezed our way (and pushed and pulled each other) thru several tight spots with coaching and help from Keith. Meera unleashed an operatic trill to test the echo.

When we’d gone as far as we could (about 400 feet) we turned back, taking pictures of the striped, fluted canyon walls until direct sunlight entered the canyon and made photography impossible. We left the same way we’d entered, with the advantages of gravity working in our favor and a bit of practice.

After drying off and changing back to normal hiking garb, we worked our way toward Tunnel Canyon, another slot canyon. A guide friend had told Keith that the water here was waist-deep; so we merely looked in. I saw a narrow canyon full of water, and was grateful to leave it at that. Part of the canyon was a double-ended cave; thus the name. But we weren’t able to see that part.

moqui marblesThe beige-colored slickrock in this area had collected spherical nodules along crevices and in shallow basins. They were heavy, dark brown and up to about 1.5 inches across; and there were millions of them. They were “Moqui marbles,” formed by iron dissolving out of sandstone and then precipitating onto iron cores. Silica also precipitated onto the cores; they were about 25% iron, and covered in rust. We’d noticed them sticking out of the canyon walls; as the sandstone erodes away, the Moqui marbles fall out and roll into low spots on the surface.

I wondered if a Moqui marble had a magnetic field. Kevin checked one with a magnet built into the strap of his eyeglasses and said apparently not. The name “”Moqui” comes from Spanish explorers’ term for the Anasazi; and from early Mormon pioneers who noticed little rooms in cliff dwelling ruins and guessed that a race of midgets, the Moqui, had built them. (The little rooms were really granaries.) I wanted to take home a marble as a souvenir. But the BLM had placed a “No Collecting” sign at the start of our trail, and I’m a good boy.

Keith picked up a clump of marbles cemented together with sandstone, commenting, “You need to be careful when you pick these up. There might be spiders under them or something.” A minute later he picked up another one and gasped. There was a scorpion on it! It was a rubber one, the worst kind; fortunately, its stinger had broken off.

Keith and Ace gave an interesting description of the Boulder community. Its population of 200 is half Mormon old-timers and half non-Mormon newcomers. The old-timers take a dim view of environmentalists (“Greenies”). “Greenies obstruct progress and take away jobs.” Keith grumbled about having to attend a boring Highway 12 meeting, but issues were afoot that he couldn’t ignore. There’s been a proposal to pave the Hole In The Rock road. And the billboard industry has been donating money to local politicians with an eye toward loosening advertising regulations. Billboards on U-12, which dances thru a series of beautiful canyons, would be a dismal prospect.

Devil’s Garden

We made another stop at Devil’s Garden. This short, easy loop trail circles a group of distinctive sandstone formations, including a sweet little arch.devil's garden

The Crack

Monday 4/18:  Hoping to locate a canyon that Keith had described, we returned to the Anasazi State Park Museum for maps and advice. The helpful attendant sent us down the Burr Trail Road that weaves thru the canyons east of town. A “No Collecting” sign was posted at the start of the road. We descended through white Navajo sandstone into the orange layer below. We stopped at a short dirt road 11 miles from Boulder, and walked down a dirt ramp into a canyon that locals call “The Crack.”

Here a small stream weaved across the narrow floor of a canyon with dramatic layered walls. A cottonwood forest within the canyon displayed fresh green leaves. Mexican grass, tumbleweed and willows lined the stream; we saw no sign of the invasive Russian olive and tamarisk trees that we’d seen along the San Juan River. Pat pointed out that the willows had dirt and debris banked up against their trunks; most or all of the canyon must have flooded earlier in the spring.

Pat at the CrackThree times we crossed the stream on “volunteer” stepping-stones. Pat noticed an interesting tree, which turned out to mark a side trail. This led us to a dry wash that climbed the side of the canyon. We found a shady spot for a snack. Then we got curious about what might be further up. From far away a canyon wall just looks colorful; but standing on it reveals a complex world.

We left our packs and climbed a steep dome above our picnic spot. Part of a ledge around the base of the dome broke under my weight; so I wanted to find a different route back down. We found a level stretch of a higher wash, and followed it down to a dirt hill next to our picnic spot. But I didn’t want to climb that hill because I might damage the crypto on it.

I told Pat I’d find a way down to the first wash and follow it back up to our picnic spot. The wash I was following joined onto a bigger one with a pink sandstone floor. This led to a drop-off that made me nervous. So I turned back, missed the side-channel I’d come out of and was lost. I saw some interesting stuff while casting around for the way I’d gotten here, including a slot side-canyon that might be the real “Crack.” But I resisted temptation, and went back to the drop-off to see if I could climb down somehow. Pat was standing in the basin below it, looking for me.

It was about an eight-foot drop, shaped like the spout of a pitcher. Slippery sand was present; handholds were not. So I walked back toward the slot canyon until I could climb over the left-hand ridge between the washes and meet Pat. This turned out to be the place I’d started from. So I slid down the dome to our picnic spot, despite the broken ledge, and was unlost.

All this fooling around had used up an hour; so we quickly hiked back to the car. Pat stopped at an organic grocery in Boulder and emerged clutching a weapons-grade dark chocolate bar to propel us into Arizona. On our way out of Boulder we saw a school bus; the driver was wearing a cowboy hat.

We drove down U-12, past the Hole In The Rock turnoff, to Escalante; then on U-89 past Bryce National Park (what a thing to skip!) to Mt. Carmel Junction. We had supper at the ’50s-themed Thunderbird Restaurant, featuring “Ho-made pies,” and moved on to Page AZ. Upon crossing the state line we gained an hour, because Arizona doesn’t acknowledge daylight saving time.

Previous; Moab area     Map     More pictures     Next; Northern Arizona

Southwest wilderness adventures 2016 — part 3

Tuesday 4/12:  We had a hearty breakfast at the Love Muffin, and picked up Alice for a day of hiking. She guided us to Canyonlands National Park’s Island In The Sky unit, southhwest of Moab. It’s named for its high, isolated plateau whose layered cliffs frame the deep Colorado River valley.

We strolled around the visitor center and found an area filled with cairns. “A cairn garden,” Alice growled, kicking several of them down and throwing the stones aside. In the southwest, where much of the terrain is solid stone, rangers make cairns to mark hiking routes that might otherwise be invisible; to avoid confusion, “volunteer” cairns are forbidden. All the picnic tables in ramadas next to the parking lot were full. So Alice led us to a convenient rock on the edge of Shafer Canyon for a picnic with a view.

Lathrop Canyon

Lathrop Canyon field

Lathrop Canyon trail; Canyonlands Nat’l Park, UT

Afterward we drove south to the Lathrop Canyon trailhead. This trail is classified as strenuous; but, if you turn back at the rim of the canyon, it’s an easy five-mile hike to great views. We followed a narrow, dusty trail that cut across a prairie for a mile or more, passing low clumps of furry purple locoweed. The trail emerged onto a sandstone platform. From here the way was mostly solid stone, with cairns marking the recommended route but no obstacles to wandering. We found a line of small domes of pale Navajo sandstone. Beyond these were larger and larger domes. Each row of domes was lower than the last, tempting us further into the canyon. Juniper and blackbush grew wherever they could; bright orange Indian paintbrush punctuated crevices. Twice we decided to turn back, but changed our minds because the next level down looked so interesting.

Afterward, Pat and Alice made a short hike to Mesa Arch, a long, low arch that stands on a cliff edge. They were inspired to get up early the next day and photograph the sunrise thru the arch.

Mesa Arch

Wednesday 4/13:  I decided not to make the photography pilgrimage to Mesa Arch. Here is Pat’s account:


Alice and I agreed to meet at 5 AM so we would have enough time to drive to the Mesa Arch parking lot, walk out to the Arch and set up our tripods and cameras. Alice warned me that there would be a crowd, and she was right.

Mesa arch sunrise

Sunrise at Mesa Arch.  Photo by Patricia de Anguera.

We arrived just as the moon was giving up the light to the little bit of sunlight that came from the depths of the horizon. With a flashlight, we were able to hike out to the Arch without falling on our heads. Upon arrival we saw a lineup of almost a dozen photographers in front of the arch. One of them was firmly planted on the edge of the cliff next to a bush in the middle of the arch. He had announced earlier that he had arrived at 4 am and, therefore, deserved to be where he was, by golly! There was no way to get a full photo of the arch without someone being in the photo. Alice and I set up nearby; we had a clear view of part of the arch, and of the Washerwoman rock formation in the distance through the arch.

As the sun rose, more and more people showed up. Because we were kind of off to the side without a guard of people surrounding us, the new arrivals would slide in and out of our view. After taking some photos, we moved back and allowed others to come in and enjoy the amazing view of sunrise through Mesa Arch.  I started taking photos of the photographers with the sun shining through the arch behind them.  It was a lot of fun.

On our drive back we stopped to look over the ledge near a pullout on our road. We had a grand view of Schafer road zigzagging down the cliff wall to the valley about 2000 feet below.

A great morning, followed by breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe with Paul, the morning guy who opted out.


Tower Arch

After laundry and naps, Pat and I drove an eight-mile dirt road to the Tower Arch trailhead in the remote northwest part of Arches National Park. The road was very good (road graders were working on it at the time); signs warned that it was impassable when wet. The trail crossed two ridges; the first was a rocky scramble, guided by cairns. The second was a slog thru deep sand, again depending on cairns. Happily, we didn’t see any volunteer cairns. Sand filled my shoes. Gusts of wind raised dust that got in my nose and gritted between my teeth. But the beautiful chess-piece-like sandstone formations rewarded us for our trouble.

Tower Arch

Tower Arch

Beyond the second ridge we found Tower Arch. It’s crowned with a stone pillar, like the handle of an upside-down magnifying glass; thus the name. We scrambled into a shallow basin underneath it. We had the place to ourselves for twenty minutes before another couple showed up. I greeted them. “We’d heard voices, but we didn’t see anybody,” the man said. “I thought for a minute that the tower was talking.”

“Buy Microsoft,” I intoned.

“Honey, we’re going home now!”

Negro Bill Canyon

Thursday 4/14:  A windstorm was predicted for this afternoon. Jenn, fairly recovered from flu, left early in the day for a business meeting in Salt Lake City. We picked up Alice and drove to Negro Bill Canyon, east of Arches National Park. Our plan was to go on a short morning hike, shop for lunch food and then wait out the storm at Alice’s house. When Alice realized that her silly parents planned to hike without lunches, she’d packed all the snack food she had. She fed us and kept us going.

Pat and Alice, Negro Bill Canyon, east UT.

Pat and Alice at Negro Bill Canyon.

Negro Bill Canyon was a rugged oasis, lush with trees and wildflowers. The green of the foliage seemed more intense than what we see in Seattle, perhaps because of its contrast with the orange-red cliffs, or just because it was spring. The canyon is named for mixed-race pioneer William Granstaff.

The trail alternated between sandy stretches, rocks to clamber over, and stream crossings scantily furnished with stepping-stones thrown in by other hikers. We met many people on the trail, from joggers and dog-walkers to campers with full backpacks. Everyone was very friendly. I helped an old lady down from a rock. Several groups of 20 or so young people tramped past; two of these groups were school outings, and a third was the employees of a home automation and security company. While we were resting by the stream, two kids and their mother waded past us. Alice identified Fremont’s mahonia and pepper grass. She said the lovely descending birdsong we heard from time to time was a canyon wren.

Morning Glory Arch

Paul at Morning Glory Arch.   Photo by Alice de Anguera.

We entered a side canyon; the trail became a fun obstacle course of high ledges, wobbly stepping-stones and tight squeezes. When we reached Morning Glory Arch I saw that it was huge and nearly impossible to photograph. It sheltered a pleasant sandy alcove which I later read was infested with poison ivy. Here the stream emerged from a hole in the rock wall. We ate Alice’s food (and Pat had some nuts) while sitting on a block of stone and watching kids and dogs wade in the stream. After half an hour, gusts of wind flung sand in our eyes, so we beat a hasty retreat. I thought we’d been caught early by the storm we were expecting. But the wind lessened as we descended the canyon, and we had a leisurely return hike.

We came back to town, shopped and hunkered down at Alice’s house; but we saw no more of the storm. I helped Alice research cars; we made spaghetti for dinner; and Pat baked muffins. Dessert was fresh raspberries with ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Previous; Southeast Utah     More pictures     Next; Central Utah

Southwest wilderness adventures 2016 — part 2

Southeast Utah

Saturday 4/9: We had a long drive in the dark to Mexican Hat UT. (The town is named for a rock formation.) I discovered that the car’s USB plug wouldn’t charge my phone. The car’s manual claimed that its “infotainment system” was compatible with iPhones. Regardless, my phone refused to have anything to do with the car. This was a problem because I was navigating with my phone. I ran my battery down to 2%, turning it on occasionally to check our progress.

Our room at the San Juan Inn was trapezoidal, and it had no windows other than in the front and back doors. A palm-sized spider was on the inside knob of the back door. Usually I grab a spider with toilet paper and flush it to oblivion; but this one looked too big for that to be a good idea. Maybe it was dead? It moved between the door-window and its curtain. Uneasily, we decided to ignore it.

Before we could go to bed we had to organize our things for tomorrow’s river float; the tour company had sent a list of recommended bad-weather gear, and tomorrow would start out cold.

San Juan River

Sunday 4/10:  Early in the morning, we presented ourselves at Wild Rivers Expeditions in Bluff UT.  A young woman named Kim drove us to the launch site. A single mother of two, she’d studied to be an x-ray technician but couldn’t find a job. Now she drives the shuttle van and works for the county library, and hopes to become a river guide. Our guide, a nice young Navajo man named Greg who wore glasses and sported a faint beard and moustache, was readying a big rubber raft when we arrived. We were the only customers that day, so we got a private tour.

The San Juan River was about 40 feet wide, its water an opaque green-brown, peaceful-looking but moving steadily. Greg said the river was rising due to rain two days ago.   He estimated the flow at 1,000 cubic feet per second. “Imagine a thousand basketballs floating past you every second, and you’ve got it,” he explained. Our raft was about 18 feet long; a steel frame with two big storage boxes that doubled as seats spanned the middle third of the raft. There were two oars. Greg said they were just for backup in case the small outboard motor failed. He spent a long time pulling the motor’s cord before it sputtered to life.

We glided downstream at a good pace. Now and then we heard a clunk when the propeller enclosure struck an underwater rock. The gravel banks were lined with brush and trees. Cottonwood, a gnarled, branchy tree with deep grooves in its bark, is native. Russian olive and tamarisk were planted to stabilize the riverbank and stop the San Juan from changing its course. These invasive species have become a nuisance; both have thorns, and the thorns of the Russian olive are long and poisonous. We also saw Mexican grass, from which the Navajo made and still make an antiseptic. Greg turned the boat upstream from time to time to point out sights. An ancient ladder of chipped-out steps in a cliff wall brought an interesting insight. The Pueblo Indians, while building their cliff dwellings, chipped such steps. In addition to the steps they needed, they made dummy ladders that led to dead ends, to confuse attackers. We saw lots of animals, including two types of herons, Canadian geese, ducks in mated pairs, deer, bighorn sheep and cattle. When we landed, we saw lizards and wild horses.

An Anasazi medicine man; Butler Wash, UT

An Anasazi medicine man; Butler Wash, UT

We stopped for a short hike to Butler Wash to see the petroglyphs. The ancestors of the Pueblo Indians made them about 13 centuries ago, prior to their cliff-dwelling period. We used to call these people “Anasazi;” now the term is considered politically incorrect, but the Navajo still use it. Greg told us that “Anasazi” is a Navajo word meaning “Enemy of the people.” (Dictionary.com translates “Anasazi” as “Ancestors of the enemies.”) Greg said that some Navajos who take the river trip won’t come up from the raft to see the petroglyphs. And he recalled that he once felt very uneasy in a Pueblo ruin. The drawings include pictures of medicine men; so they might have had a magical purpose.

River House

Greg and Pat hiking to River House. San Juan River, UT

Our next stop was a longer hike to River House, a restored cliff dwelling ruin. It followed the typical design; small square-sided stone buildings sheltered within a natural amphitheater in a south-facing cliff. Greg pointed out that this arrangement provided cool shade in the summer while admitting sun in the winter for warmth. The community’s fields would have been on the gently sloping ground between the cliff dwelling and the river. We were allowed to climb up into the ruin and go into the buildings. They had square windows and T-shaped doorways. Their floors were the stone base of the amphitheater. Small, aligned holes in the walls near the ceiling once held wooden roof beams. Greg pointed out some datura plants below the amphitheater; they might be remains of a medicinal herb garden.

Our raft carried us on into a canyon. Its walls were beautifully layered pink and white sandstone. White Navajo sandstone stood above a yellow layer close to the water (“Old Yeller”), and Paradox sandstone below. (Later, Alice told us that the Paradox layer is named after the valley in which it was first documented. That Colorado valley was so named because the Dolores River cuts across the valley from side to side, rather than flowing down its middle like rivers in most valleys.). Greg said that geologists who take float trips down this river are interested in Old Yeller because, in some places, oil is trapped under it.

San Juan RiverIn the canyon the river quickened and modest rapids appeared. Midway down the canyon, we landed on a sandy beach and set up a folding table in the shade of some small trees for lunch. Lunch was a generous collection of rolls, cold cuts, tuna salad and fresh fruit and vegetables. We set off into more rapids, and a cold headwind developed. The lower canyon walls were more chaotic and deformed. In one area, tectonic forces had broken huge sections of bedrock and rotated them 90 degrees; sediment laid down in horizontal layers was now vertical. In another, the sandstone layers were warped from squeezing (which, I suppose, is still going on). We saw that Old Yeller now appeared at the cliff tops.

At our landing, the Mexican Hat campground, we saw a tent that had blown into the river. The owner was retrieving it; he’d set it up over his boat to make a floating bedroom. He was playing music while he worked, and he didn’t seem particularly upset. Kim and her kids arrived in a van towing a flatbed trailer. She and Greg winched the raft up onto the trailer and brought us back to Bluff.

Fort Bluff

Fort BluffPat and I visited Fort Bluff, a private museum that was originally the compound built by the 1879 Hole In The Rock (San Juan) expedition. Small log cabins (newly constructed and not authentic) represented families descended from expedition members. They were furnished with antiques provided by the families. Each cabin had an audio system that played readings of expedition diaries and journals. The struggle to cross the rugged land and establish the town of Bluff made for impressive and evocative stories. The Joseph Barton cabin, built by the great grandfather of a museum docent with whom we talked, was a partly restored original. Unlike the trim little modern cabins, its logs were crooked and had big gaps between them. This and the other original cabins had been built of cottonwood, the only building material then available. Cottonwood trees are gnarled and crooked, and they take up a great deal of water. The logs shrank and warped for years afterward, requiring constant recaulking.

When we returned to the San Juan Inn, the maintenance man came to tell us that he hadn’t found the spider, so he’d sprayed the room. The spray was probably worse for us than the spider. After he left, Pat found the spider back between the back-door window and curtain.

We had dinner in the inn’s café. I chose an “Indian Taco” consisting of Indian fry-bread (a bready pancake with a rim like a plate) filled with chili and beans and accompaniments.

Monday 4/11:  This morning Pat found that the spider had moved to the wall above the bathroom sink.  She caught it in a plastic container. It was colored the same light tan as Navajo sandstone, and it had black feet and head. The owner of the inn said it was a banana spider. They are known to jump and bite. She let it go over the fence on a bluff above the river.

We followed U-261 up the west side of Valley Of The Gods to a tall, layered cliff face. Here the road turned to gravel. This section of U-261 is called the “Mokee (Moqui) Dugway;” depending on the weather, it can be impassable even for 4WD vehicles. It wound up the cliff for three miles with a 10% grade, and then turned back to paved highway. We stopped at a pullout at the summit to look at the view, and noticed a woman selling turquoise jewelry.

Cedar Mesa

We stopped again at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. I asked a ranger about road access to the Mule Canyon trailhead. I learned that there are actually three canyon trails here; lower and upper Mule Canyon and Arch Canyon. Were the roads drivable? She looked out the window at our rental SUV and wasn’t very impressed. “You can get to the trailheads all right, but I don’t recommend the back-country roads beyond that point.” If it rained, she warned, the roads would become more difficult.

Salvation Knoll

Salvation Knoll trail

We turned east on U-95, and stopped in a pass at Salvation Knoll. From here, a scouting party from the 1879 Hole In The Rock expedition had seen the Blue Mountains, a crucial landmark. We followed a short, pretty trail up the knoll to a 360 degree view of Cedar Mesa, a broad forested plateau. To the north, clouds standing on pillars of rain crowded against the mountains.

A few miles beyond, we stopped for a roadside picnic at the Mule Canyon pueblo ruin. Here was a restored stonewalled kiva (an underground temple consisting of a circular pit with stone benches along its sides).   A tunnel had originally connected the kiva to an apartment house. Another tunnel had run from the kiva to a tower. The tower was visible from another pueblo, and so might have been used for signaling. A second, earth-walled kiva hadn’t been restored. Only the stone kiva and the foundations of the house and tower remain today.

Lower Mule Canyon

Lower Mule Canyon

We drove down to the Lower Mule Canyon trailhead, resolving to watch the weather and retreat to the paved highway if rain set in (it never did). We hiked in to House On Fire, a small, primitive cliff dwelling. The canyon held a chaotic mix of forest, rock outcroppings and dry washes (gullies that flood during rainstorms). The stream was nearly dry, and we were able to walk in its bed for much of the way; it was sand, gravel and mud with sections of flat sandstone. We met two women who told us that House On Fire was so named because at certain times of day sunlight reflects from the cliff above. A spring in a cave next to the ruin still flows. On our way back, we walked thru a culvert under the road to the south end of the canyon. This end looked intriguing too–but we were out of time.

We continued east on U-95 to U-163, then north to Moab. The clouds that had been lurking all day were now stuck on the Blue Mountains west of our route; we drove thru a bit of rain north of Monticello. In Moab, we picked up our daughter Alice (who is a ranger at Arches National Park) and went to Jeffry’s Steak House for a late dinner. Her wife Jenn had stomach flu and couldn’t come. I had salmon filet drowned in a rich sauce.

Previous; Northwest Arizona     Map     More pictures    Next; Moab area

Southwest wilderness adventures 2016 — part 1

New Mexico

Friday 4/8:  We flew 2.5 hours from Seattle WA to Albuquerque NM, losing an hour, and exchanging a warm sunny day in Seattle for cold and rain in the southwest desert. Our first stop was the local Costco; we were looking for a compact camera for Pat. We settled on a Panasonic Lumix with the encouragement of a passerby who had owned two of them.

Next, dinner. I noticed the Artichoke Cafe in the AAA guidebook; Pat loves artichokes, so we had to check it out. It turned out to be a small gourmet place owned by its chef. The host didn’t think he could seat us. While we sat in the anteroom, people with reservations arrived in droves. We gave up after a while and left to find a more ordinary, less popular place. While we were waiting on the corner for the light to change, the host hurried outside to tell us he had a table for us after all. Pat gave the artichoke appetizer a good report. We both had excellent grilled halibut.

Now we had to drive two hours west on Interstate 40 to Gallup NM. This gave us some time to learn about our rented 2015 Chevrolet Trax, a small SUV. I’d hoped it would embolden us to tackle the dirt roads some trailheads have. We found that it was a comfortable road trip car; but due to its designy windows it had large blind-spots, and the roll-over warning label on the back of the sun visor was disturbing. Other than occasional town lights, the night was inky-dark. We could see lightning flashes ahead, and soon a deluge hit us–like driving thru a car-wash. The rain stopped, and we paused at a truck stop outside of Gallup. When we came outside we had to run, because it had started again–big cold drops, and lots of them.

Northwest Arizona

Saturday 4/9:  A cool, sunny day. We drove north and west thru the large Navajo Reservation, passing a crowded fair and scattered prefab houses. In Chinley we stopped for lunch at a Denny’s. From our table we saw a large white dog in the parking lot; his fur was matted, his ribs showed, and one eye was red. A young couple with children went to their car. He gazed longingly after them, glanced at the restaurant and trudged away.

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly (shay) National Monument is a cooperative effort of the Navajo Nation, which owns the land, and the national park system. It encompasses the same-named canyon and Canyon de Muerte. The two canyons merge in the west to form a wide, V-shaped valley, the heartland of the Navajo Nation.Canyon de Chelly p

We drove up the south rim of Canyon de Chelly, a steep-sided flat-bottomed oasis that meanders across the desert. Indians live and farm in the canyon; we read that they are not to be disturbed, and that an Indian guide is required for most off-road travel. We saw two trucks driving down the shallow stream that in places serves as a road. “No vending” signs warn peddlers away from parking lots and the rare public trails. However, Pat talked to a woman in one lot who was selling turquoise jewelry out of her car. We also met a travel nurse. Travel nurses accompany disabled people who need or want to travel. She told us that her agency had contracted her to a clinic in Gallup, from which she’d driven up to Canyon de Chelly for the day.

We hiked a public trail 600 feet down into the canyon to see the White House, a ruined Pueblo cliff dwelling. Crumbling adobe and stone buildings stood within a natural amphitheater in a south-facing cliff; more buildings, probably kivas or granaries, were on the ground below. Such ruins are not Navajo; they were built about 11 centuries ago by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo and Hopi tribes. Trees with lush green leaves grew along the placid stream, contrasting with the pink cliffs and vivid blue sky.

More pictures     Map     Next; Southeast Utah