Hello, readers!

Hello, readers!

I am on the road!!! Check back every couple of days for updates on Jane and I's adventures through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico!!

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Timely Arrival of Chaos


I left the sleepy town of Baker late in the morning - and yes, it was still sleepy at 10 AM - and hopped back on America's Loneliest Highway. I'm at the point in my trip now where 6 hours of highway driving seems only like a hop, skip, and a jump. Nothing major, 6 hours. It's just 360 minutes, plus some time for gas stops. Just 400 miles, or roughly 640 kilometers, if you're metrically inclined. Easy peasy.

Nevada is, for the most part, a barren desert. It can be kind of rough to drive through. But there's something about Highway 50 that is just pleasant even in its desolation. As you head across the state, you find yourself blasting across wide flat plains with the road laid out in front of you for miles.

And just when you get bored with those plains, you come to a gentle rise, which turns into a kind of large hill that could almost count as a mountain, and you make your way up into the clouds themselves. And just when you start to wonder where the road ends and the clouds begin, you've reached the summit and then you're down through to the other side and... it's back to the wide plains.

This pattern repeats over, and over, and over again. It's mesmerizing - and even better, it keeps you from realizing how much time has passed! Is this the third time you've been through a valley, or the fifth? If you cover up the clock, time can only be measured by the slow sweep of the gas gauge towards empty.

Of course, being Highway 50, you've really gotta keep an eye on that gas gauge, because there are very few places to fill up. But as long as you sort yourself out with a good halfway point station, then you've got nothing to worry about.

Six hours passed this way in an almost leisurely fashion as Jane ate up the blacktop, the howl of the wind and the scream of the exhaust evaporating into the desert like rain after a summer storm. I found myself entranced, lulled into a kind of languid complacence. I was nothing but a foot on a pedal and a hand on the steering wheel, and that was just wonderful.

And then, at the end of those six hours, chaos arrived. An urban sprawl dotted with glittering high-rise casinos suddenly materialized out of the desert, mirage-like but oh so real. I had arrived at Reno.

Every year it's almost shocking transitioning from the open road to the bustling city. Suddenly, I have to remember how to navigate traffic, and stoplights, and signs, and freeway exits. And everywhere there are distractions: clean classic cars bedecked in hues of decades long past cruising up side streets, hot rods snarling and barking their way up the interstate, rat rods slouching against curbs, and everywhere miles of dazzling chrome. I white-knuckled my way to the Grand Sierra Resort, host of Hot August Nights, where I joined a staggering number of other classics in the hunt for a parking spot amidst crowds of thousands of spectators and owners. Fortunately I was able to snag a spot, shoehorning my very bedraggled, very dusty little pony car between two immaculate but completely different classics.

I sorted out my registration and then roamed the lot for a bit. If you want variety, Hot August Nights is the place to go. Each car has its own story, its own history. But the thing that makes every single car here unique is in the way it reflects the lives, personalities, wants and desires of the owners. In all of the cars, you can see bits and pieces of the people who own them: a flair for the dramatic, the need for order, an inclination to let things slide, a quirky proclivity, a desire for a challenge. It's all there, laid bare in the vehicles sitting in the lot, if you're looking out for it.

If this doesn't say "flair for the dramatic", nothing does.

I spy a couple gallons of coolant...

A challenge: a truck with no reproduced parts

A silly badge on an otherwise very clean Biscayne

Bizarrely engineered huge amounts of horsepower.
I sometimes wonder what people see of me when they look at Jane.

It was the wondering that led me to realize that my car was absolutely, atrociously filthy, and people probably either thought that my car was a barn find, or that I am the world's biggest slob and most neglectful owner. So I cleaned Jane up - half of her, at least - as the evening wore on and Reno came alive.

The chaos of Reno and Hot August Nights is always something to be cherished.

Kelly signing out.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Importance of Pie and Experiencing Insignificance


This morning I returned to Capitol Reef for a full day of hiking and exploring. The drive back into the park was just as spectacular as I remembered, and more. Rocky scenery is just so much more interesting when you have a good idea of what the rocks are really telling you. A tall orange rock proclaims the majesty of a fossilized sand dune, a soft multicolored slope whispers of its history of tidal flats or a muddy marine realm, and blocky black boulders reminisce over the violence of volcanoes. The ordinary becomes extraordinary (or the extraordinary becomes extra-extraordinary) when you can interpret the ancient history of the Earth all around you.

I started out with a relatively simple trail up to the Hickman Arch, which I’ve never seen before. It's a pretty short trail and an easy hike, barring the initial climb. Fortunately, I've spent the past week working my lungs hard at high elevations, so it was a snap.

Took a while to get this photo as the trail was pretty heavily trafficked

Right underneath the arch, I found a giant rock full of carvings and graffiti. At first, I was offended and a little outraged. Who claws their name into rocks in a national park?? But then I looked a little closer, and saw the dates under some of the names. Some of the carvings dated back to the 1930's! And just like that, unsightly disrespectful graffiti became something of historical significance to be viewed with awe. Funny how that happens.

As I made my way back down the trail, I saw the clouds starting to gather. Ugh! Last time I was here, some major storms really put a damper on our Capitol Reef experience. I was determined not to let rainstorms ruin it again.

I headed down the scenic drive first, figuring that the dramatic clouds would be ideal when juxtaposed against the uplifted strata of the front of the Capitol "Reef". That, and I know that the scenic road is prone to flooding, and I had absolutely no interest in getting Jane stuck in a flash flood.

Yes, Jane is wearing a GoPro! And yes, I do have a video of this drive... which I will post once I figure out what to do with it. 

I didn't stop at many places on the scenic drive, as the clouds had really started to close in and I could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. My plans to hike a wash were quickly revised, and I headed to the visitor center to ask about an alternative. A ranger suggested the Cohab Canyon Trail, which sounded like a pretty good option for an early afternoon hike.

But first, I had to stop at a very important waypoint. You see, Capitol Reef has a really amazing secret: it contains a small homesteaders house that is still maintained and staffed to educate visitors about homesteading life. And that small homesteaders house sells pies. Delicious, delicious pies.

I stopped in and grabbed a cherry pie and a drink, then sat at a table outside and watched the storm rumble closer. Yes, I wanted to get another hike in, but you can't rush pie. Sometimes you just have to sit outside and enjoy the amazing weather and look at your really great car against a really great landscape and consume a really great pie. That's just life, you know?

Well, it's mine, at least.

I finished my pie up and struck off towards the Cohab Canyon Trail, conveniently located right across the parking lot. The trail starts with a series of steep switchbacks, which is not necessarily a great thing when you are full of pie. But I persisted and made it up and into Cohab Canyon. 

Looking out from the trail

Right at the entrance to the canyon, I saw a really cool contact between the Chinle Fm and the Wingate SS. The ranger at the front desk told me that the blue-green tendrils are root traces, but I'm really not sure that they are - they look more like burrows to me in their size/shape. But they could be! Regardless, they sure do look cool.

I stepped into the canyon and immediately remembered it. Yep, I've been here before - back in 2014, when I visited with my parents. Oops! I was hoping to get some variety in with this visit, but oh well. I decided that I wanted to see the canyon again anyways, mostly because it is full of really interesting bedforms and cool eroded pockets and holes. Swiss cheese rocks!

See, I wasn't lying: these rocks are FULL of holes.
Another interesting feature of the canyon is a single hoodoo with a single bush growing on top of it. It's cool, to be sure, but not nearly as cool as the hundreds of goblin-like hoodoos that I saw yesterday, so I nearly hiked right past it without even noticing.

At the end of the canyon, the trail forks up to a couple of overlooks that allow hikers to view the leading edge of Capitol Reef for dozens of miles. It was from the top of one of those overlooks that I saw the storm sweeping in, thunder roaring, lightning cracking, wind whipping. And there I was, standing on one of the highest points of the Capitol Reef. I briefly wondered if the ranger who recommended this trail to me was trying to kill me.

I skedaddled down the trail very quickly, trying to get down into the canyon before I got zapped. Within the canyon, a steady rain came down. It's interesting - I should have been soaked, but I think that a lot of the water evaporated on its way down (or evaporated off of my skin and clothes) as I didn't end up nearly as wet as I thought I should be. One of the benefits of hanging out in the desert, I guess.

As I came out of the canyon and around the face of the cliff to make my way down the switchbacks, I got slammed with a huge wall of wind. I just love it when it rains sideways. It really ensures that I am evenly soaked in every direction, you know?

I was a little bedraggled by the time I reached Jane at the bottom of the trail, but hey, I'd consider the events of the day a success so far anyways. Pie goes a really, really long way towards making sure that my spirits stay high, no matter what happens. So sure, it was raining and I was soaked. But I had hiked two cool trails, seen a really beautiful scenic drive, and eaten a delicious pie. Clearly, my day could not be bad.

I did decide to take off and make my way further west, as the forecast showed that the rain was going to persist for the rest of the afternoon. Someday, I will have go to back to Capitol Reef (again) and hope for less rain and better hiking conditions. It really is an amazing park. But man, it just seems very prone to unpredictable storms.

The rest of the afternoon was uneventful as I hopped on Highway 50 and drove the rest of the way across Utah. The weather cleared right up and a steady stream of wind through Jane's window quickly dried my clothes, which I was thankful for.

The further west I drove, the flatter the scenery got, becoming very reminiscent of classic Nevada landscapes. Dramatic hills, mesas, and buttes gave way to more grassy plains dotted with the occasional hill, which seemed to always be somewhere off in the distance. And the further west I got, the more lonely the road began to feel. I don't mean lonely in a bad way - being alone is nice, sometimes. And it's not that the road or the landscape are empty - there are cars, sometimes, and there's certainly lots to look at on the side of the road. But it begins to feel like there is so much space in the world that you are surely insignificant, easily swallowed by the depths of the sky and the hypnotic rustling grasses of the rolling plains. It begins to feel like a place where you disappear. And that, I suppose, is why Highway 50 has been dubbed "America's Loneliest Road".

I had planned things such that I was still on the road when the Golden Hour hit, illuminating the fields in wide swathes of gold and draping soft shadows over the hills and depressions in the landscape. Highway 50 in the golden hour is almost otherworldly in its beauty and remoteness. It is a kind of breathtaking beauty that is impossible to capture on film, because to understand it and really feel it, you have to be there. 

That's a cliche thing to say, I know. Surely, with modern photography techniques, someone has to have been able to capture the essence of this road in a photo. But I would have a very hard time believing it. In a two-dimensional photo, it is impossible to render the pure vastness of the area, the feeling of almost too much air. You can't see all of the little details that really give you a sense of scale. You can't hear the whistling of the wind across the plains and the absence of all other noise, feel the shocking sense of stillness that runs counter to the grass that you can see rippling for miles and miles. It is the kind of place that seems so quiet that you think that if you strain hard, you could almost hear the sound of the clouds passing by overhead.

The most unusual thing, to me, is that you can feel all this, even while driving a loud, unrefined, angry little pony car. It's almost like the plains swallow some of the sound of the car until even that seems uncharacteristically quiet, muffled. Maybe they don't like to be disturbed.

And so, Jane and I roared soundlessly across the landscape, leaving no trace of our passing. 

At sunset, we pulled into Baker, NV, a town that only exists as a portal to Great Basin National Park. For us, it served as the only possible pit stop between Capitol Reef and Reno, so the small campsite I found was more than good enough. Tomorrow I'll drive the rest of the way across Nevada into Reno, where I will immerse myself in the cacophony of noise that is Hot August Nights. But until then, I will enjoy the silence.

Kelly signing out.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Goblins and a Castle in the Sky


It was time for me to move on west from Colorado National Monument, heading towards my ultimate destination of Reno. But, as always, I am fairly prone to moseying with a good amount of extraneous exploring. So instead of going to Reno, I went to Goblin Valley!

I've wanted to visit this place for years now, but have just never found the time. Fortunately, it was only a couple of hours away from Fruita, somehow. Seems like it should have been further.

As always, the southern Utah scenery was breathtaking. Something about the wide flat grassy plains dotted with brilliantly-colored buttes and mesas has just always impressed me, more so than any other landscape I've ever encountered.

Also, Utah has the best entrance signs.

But I didn't know how much of a treat I was in for. As I turned off of the main highway to head south to Goblin Valley, I crossed and then paralleled one of Utah's most interesting geologic features: the enormous San Rafael Swell. And yeah, now we're back on geology.

The San Rafael Swell was created, more or less, by tectonic compression, which caused rocks to buckle upwards in a convex dome. Over time, erosion cut down through the uplifted strata, leaving behind these really cool toothlike projections of rock, with bedding pointing up into the sky.

So cool! Highway 24 runs down quite a few miles of the swell, which provided a great opportunity for photos and thinking about rocks (like I don't already think about rocks enough). It is a gem of a highway, with great black fresh asphalt and almost no traffic. I was almost sad to get off of it at Goblin Valley... almost.

But I got excited again when I turned a corner and this amazing butte (mesa?) came into view, looking for all the world like a grand castle in the sky.

I pulled over at the entrance station, which also served as the visitor center, and went in to speak with the person at the front desk. Usually, my habit is to pick up a map and then ask them about their favorite trails, fun things to do, expected time, etc. So I have to say I was hugely disappointed when I asked the girl at the counter these questions, and simply got back a, "Well, there's pretty much one place to go and that's the Goblin Valley... there's not really any trails worth doing other than that, and most people don't spend longer than two hours here." I suspect she was wrong about the trails worth doing, but hey, at least I got honesty from her.

I stepped outside and waited for people to finish taking pictures of Jane - a common occurrence when I'm in parks like this - and then took off for the Goblin Valley. After snapping my own photo, of course.

Yep, lookin good.
It was a 5-minute drive over to the valley, easy peasy. I parked and got out to survey the valley below the parking lot - and quickly found that this park is one of the unstructured ones, where people are encouraged to go wherever they want. I've always had difficulty reconciling that in my head. On the one hand, it's amazing that you are just free to explore and range around wherever you like. But on the other hand, it goes against my inclination to preserve the incredible sights that the park was established to protect in the first place. You never know when someone is going to get it in their head that they should hike across some field and tramp down some critically endangered flower or something. Goblin Valley has, in the past, also had problems with people toppling the goblins (hoodoos), which took thousands of years to form - but only minutes to destroy. It is sad that we have to take steps to protect the natural landscape from the destructive tendencies of people (intended or not), but I still support it.

At any rate, the people in charge of Goblin Valley seem to trust that people for the most part have limited destructive capabilities here, so you are free to range as you like! I headed down into the "valley" of "goblins" - or, more accurately, the eroded depression filled with hoodoos, which were formed by wind- and water-driven erosion of very soft silty rocks. Those closest to the parking lot were fairly unimpressive as hoodoos go, but the further away I got, the more interesting outcrops I found!

I can see why they would call these goblins - they do look like people, especially in silhouette!

A super bizarrely shaped outcrop
On the far side of the valley, I happened to find a small track leading up and over the outcrop serving as the "side" of the valley. Of course I took it - and I found myself looking over an even more awesome collection of goblins! Since this area was much less trafficked, the silt - eroded off of the outcrops and redeposited on the valley floor - was much deeper here. But wow, the varieties of shapes and sizes and groupings were amazing!

A good view of the bedding styles and slight lithological differences that become planes of weakness for erosion

Somehow ended up on top and came out with this amazing view
I wandered around in the back area for a couple of hours - not just to defy the girl who had told me that most people only stayed for two hours, but because I was truly fascinated - and was confronted with a myriad of hoodoos at every turn. Some were tall and slender, some short and squat, some featuring precariously balanced "heads" atop impossibly narrow bodies. It is incredible to think how long it took for those columns to get whittled down to their present state, and sobering to think that every year some of them must collapse entirely. But that is the nature of things, I guess.

At some point, I became aware that it was late afternoon and the temperatures were well into the triple digits. This landscape is unforgiving, harsh in a way that few others are, so much so that barely any vegetation grows near the hoodoos. Part of it is probably the softness of the sediment, and the high abundance of it, but the hoodoos also act as baffles, reducing wind to next to nothing. The rocks also soak up the sun's rays, reflecting it back and intensifying the heat in the bowl. It's no wonder that plants don't want to live here!

I was able to climb up to the top of some sturdier formations to get a few breaths of fresh air every once in a while, but I admit that I was wilting after a few hours had passed. I found another trail going back over the outcrop into the valley next to the parking lot, which was much cooler because of its lower density of goblins.

Maybe it was the heat doing funny things to my brain, but suddenly those goblins looked like sentinels, guarding a castle in the sky.

I hiked back up to the parking lot and then saw a trail going off the side, so I took it and traveled along the rim of the valley for a bit. Off in the distance, out of the main valley, I saw a lone outcrop of three goblins. They seemed to me to be looking out across the plains at the castle, watching and waiting for... what? Maybe they are guardians, keeping the secrets of the castle in the sky safe. Or maybe they are petrified giants, covered in dust and waiting for the day when they are uncovered so they can go home. Or maybe I'm close to heat stroke. Probably the latter, really.

Before I left, a nice man offered to take a couple of photos of Jane and I, which I gladly accepted. I don't get very many "family photos", you know, since I am always the one holding the camera.

After that we jumped back on the road, the hot breeze streaming through the window feeling like the world's most luxurious air conditioning. I do actually have air conditioning, but got out of the habit of using it, and an open window is usually good enough for me. It wasn't really that hot out once we got away from the valley anyways.

I continued southwest and found myself in a familiar place: Capitol Reef National Park. It's been five years since I was here last, back when I was on my first road trip with Jane. At the time, my parents had come out to visit me but we found our explorations cut short by a series of massive storms that swept through and ruined most opportunities for hikes. So I hoped to revisit the park to see a little more of it this time.

As I drove through, I quickly realized how much I've learned in the past five years, geologically speaking. In 2014, I drove through and saw cool cliffs. But now, I drive through and see the remnants of fossilized sand dunes, tidal flats, and even volcanic flows. Ultimately, the end impression is the same: Capitol Reef is a really cool, criminally underrated park.

I realized that I intentionally put bits of Jane into my photos when I take pictures while driving - my way of including the car in my adventure - but probably people just want to see the spectacular scenery, so here's the previous picture but without Jane's wing window in the way.

Hmm, looks like a storm is brewing
As evening was approaching, and a storm with it, I opted to just drive through and into Torrey, where I found an amazing campsite at Thousand Lakes. I know I've said "amazing" a lot in this post, but I'm not lying: this campsite was AMAZINGGGGG!!

Even better, they had brownie sundaes available at the local restaurant, so I got myself one of those and sat down to admire the view and wait for sunset. This part of Utah truly is one of the most beautiful places in the States. Can't wait to revisit Capitol Reef tomorrow!

Until then... Kelly signing out.